XII
A WAR AND ITS CONSEQUENCES

Lorry was removed to another room before dinner, as she had promised.

After they had dined the two strangers were left alone for several hours. Anguish regaled his friend with an enthusiastic dissertation on the charms of the Countess Dagmar, lady-in-waiting to the Princess. In conclusion he said glowingly, his cigar having been out for half an hour or more because his energy had been spent in another direction.

“You haven't seen much of her, Lorry, but I tell you she is rare. And she's not betrothed to any of these confounded counts or dukes either. They all adore her but she's not committed.”

“How do you know all this?” demanded Lorry, who but half heard through his dreams.

“Asked her, of course. How in thunder do you suppose?”

“And you've known her but a day? Well, you are progressive.”

“Oh, perfectly natural conversation, you know,” explained Anguish, composedly. “She began it by asking me if I were married, and I said I wasn't even engaged. Then I asked her if she were married. You see, from the title, you can't tell whether a countess is married or single. She said she wasn't, and I promptly and very properly expressed my amazement. By Jove, she has a will and a mind of her own, that young woman has. She's not going to marry until she finds a man of the right sort—which is refreshing. I like to hear a girl talk like that, especially a pretty girl who can deal in princes, counts and all kinds of nobility when it comes to a matrimonial trade. By Jove, I'm sorry for the Princess, though.”

“Sorry for the Princess? Why?” asked the other, alert at once.

“Oh, just because it's not in her power to be so independent. The Countess says she cries every night when she thinks of what the poor girl has to contend with.”

“Tell me about it.”

“I don't know anything to tell. I'm not interested in the Princess, and I didn't have the nerve to ask many questions. I do know, however, that she is going to have an unpleasant matrimonial alliance forced upon her in some way.” “That is usual.

“That's what I gather from the Countess. Maybe you can pump the Countess and get all you want to know in connection with the matter. It's a pretty serious state of affairs, I should say, or she wouldn't be weeping through sympathy.”

Lorry recalled a part of the afternoon's sweetly dangerous conversation and the perspiration stood cold and damp on his brow.

“Well, old man, you've chased Miss Guggenslocker to earth only to find her an impossibility. Pretty hopeless for you, Lorry, but don't let it break you up completely. We can go back home after a while and you will forget her. A countess, of course, is different.”

“Harry, I know it is downright madness for me to act like this,” said Lorry, his jaws set and his hands clenched as he raised himself to his elbow. “You don't know how much I love her.”

“Your nerve is to be admired, but—well, I'm sorry for you.”

“Thanks for your sympathy. I suppose I'll need it,” and he sank back gloomily. Anguish was right—absurdly right.

There was a rap at the door and Anguish hastened to open it. A servant presented Count Halfort's compliments and begged leave to call.

“Shall we see the old boy?” asked Harry.

“Yes, yes,” responded the other. The servant understood the sign made by Anguish and disappeared. “Diplomatic call, I suspect.”

“He is the prime minister, I understand. Well, we'll diplome with him until bed-time, if he cares to stay. I'm getting rather accustomed to the nobility. They are not so bad, after all. Friendly and all that—Ah, good evening, your excellency! We are honored.”

The Count had entered the room and was advancing toward the couch, tall, easy and the personification of cordiality.

“I could not retire until I had satisfied myself as to Mr. Lorry's condition and his comfort,” said he, in his broken English. He seated himself near the couch and bent sharp, anxious eyes on the recumbent figure.

“Oh, he's all right,” volunteered Anguish, readily. “Be able to go into battle again tomorrow.”

“That is the way with you aggressive Americans. I am told. They never give up until they are dead,” said the Count, courteously. “Your head is better?”

“It does not pain me as it did, and I'm sure I'll be able to get out to-morrow. Thank you very much for your interest,” said Lorry. “May I inquire after the health of the Countess Halfont? The excitement of last night has not had an unpleasant effect, I hope.”

“She is with the Princess, and both are quite well. Since our war, gentlemen, Graustark women have nothing to acquire in the way of courage and endurance. You, of course, know nothing of the horrors of that war.”

“But we would be thankful for the story of it, your excellency. War is a hobby of mine. I read every war scare that gets into print,” said Anguish, eagerly.

“We, of Graustark, at present have every reason to recall the last war and bitterly to lament its ending. The war occurred just fifteen years ago—but will the recital tire you, Mr. Lorry? I came to spend a few moments socially and not to go into history. At any other time I shall be—”

“It will please and not tire me. I am deeply interested. Pray go on,” Lorry hastened to say, for he was interested more than the Count suspected.

“Fifteen years ago Prince Ganlook, of this principality,—the father of our princess,—became incensed over the depredations of the Axphain soldiers who patrolled our border on the north. He demanded restitution for the devastation they had created, but was refused. Graustark is a province comprising some eight hundred square miles of the best land in this part of the world. Our neighbor is smaller in area and population. Our army was better equipped but not so hardy. For several months the fighting in the north was in our favor, but the result was that our forces were finally driven back to Edelweiss, hacked and battered by the fierce thousands that came over the border. The nation was staggered by the shock, for such an outcome had not been considered possible. We had been too confident. Our soldiers were sick and worn by six months of hard fighting, and the men of Edelweiss—the merchants, the laborers and the nobility itself—flew to arms in defense of the city. For over a month we fought, hundreds of our best and bravest citizens going down to death. They at last began a bombardment of the city. To-day you can see they marks on nearly every house in Edelweiss. Hundreds of graves in the valley to the south attest the terrors of that siege. The castle was stormed, and Prince Ganlook, with many of the chief men of the land, met death. The prince was killed in front of the castle gates, from which he had sallied in a last, brave attempt to beat off the conquerors. A bronze statue now marks the spot on which he fell. The Princess, his wife, was my sister, and as I held the portfolio of finance, it was through me that the city surrendered, bringing the siege to an end. Fifteen years ago this autumn—the twentieth of November, to be explicit—the treaty of peace was signed in Sofia. We were compelled to cede a portion of territory in the far northeast, valuable for its mines. Indemnity was agreed upon by the peace commissioners, amounting to 20,000,000 gavvos, or nearly $30,000,000 in your money. In fifteen years this money was to be paid, with interest. On the twentieth of November, this year, the people of Graustark must pay 25,000,000 gavvos. The time is at hand, and that is why we recall the war so vividly. It means the bankruptcy of the nation, gentlemen.”

Neither of his listeners spoke for some moments. Then Lorry broke the silence.

“You mean that the money cannot be raised?” he asked.

“It is not in our treasury. Our people have been taxed so sorely in rebuilding their homes and in recuperating from the effect of that dreadful invasion that they have been unable to pay the levies. You must remember that we are a small nation and of limited resources. Your nation could secure $30,000,000 in one hour for the mere asking. To us it is like a death blow. I am not betraying a state secret in telling you of the sore straits in which we are placed, for every man in the nation has been made cognizant of the true conditions. We are all facing it together.” There was something so quietly heroic in his manner that both men felt pity. Anguish, looking at the military figure, asked: “You fought through the war, your excellency?”

“I resigned as minister, sir, to go to the front. I was in the first battle and I was in the last,” he said, simply.

“And the Princess,—the present ruler, I mean,—was a mere child at that time. When did she succeed to the throne?” asked Lorry.

“Oh, the great world does not remember our little history! Within a year after the death of Prince Ganlook, his wife, my sister, passed away, dying of a broken heart. Her daughter, their only child, was, according to our custom, crowned at once. She has reigned for fourteen years, and wisely since assuming full power. For three years she has been ruler de facto. She has been frugal, and has done all in her power to meet the shadow that is descending.”

“And what is the alternative in case the indemnity is not paid?” asked Lorry, breathlessly, for he saw something bright in the approaching calamity.

“The cession of all that part of Graustark lying north of Edelweiss, including fourteen towns, all of our mines and our most productive farming and grazing lands. In that event Graustark will be no larger than one of the good-sized farms in your western country. There will be nothing left for Her Royal Highness to rule save a tract so small that the word principality will be a travesty and a jest. This city and twenty-five miles to the south, a strip about one hundred fifty miles long. Think of it! Twenty-five by one hundred fifty miles, and yet called a principality! Once the proudest and most prosperous state in the east, considering its size, reduced to that! Ach, gentlemen—gentlemen! I cannot think of it without tearing out a heart-string and suffering such pains as mortal man has never endured. I lived in Graustark's days of wealth, power and supremacy; God has condemned me to live in the days of her dependency, weakness and poverty. Let us talk no more of this unpleasant subject.”

His hearers pitied the frank, proud old man from the bottoms of their hearts. He had told them the story with the candor and simplicity of a child, admitting weakness and despondency. Still he sat erect and defiant, his face white and drawn, his figure suggesting the famous picture of the stag at bay.

“Willingly, your excellency, since it is distasteful to you. I hope, however, you will permit me to ask how much you are short of the amount,” said Lorry, considerately yet curiously.

“Our minister of finance, Gaspon, will be able to produce fifteen million gavvos at the stated time—far from enough. This amount has been sucked from the people from excessive levy, and has been hoarded for the dreaded day. Try as we would, it has been impossible to raise the full amount. The people have been bled and have responded nobly, sacrificing everything to meet the treaty terms honorably, but the strain has been too great. Our army has cost us large sums. We have strengthened our defenses, and could, should we go to war, defeat Axphain. But we have our treaty to honor; we could not take up arms to save ourselves from that honest bond. Our levies have barely brought the amount necessary to, maintain an army large enough to inspire respect among those who are ready to leap upon us the instant we show the least sign of distress. There are about us powers that have held aloof from war with us simply because we have awed them with our show of force. It has been our safeguard, and there is not a citizen of Graustark who objects to the manner in which state affairs are conducted. They know that our army is an economy at any price. Until last spring we were confident that we could raise the full amount due Axphain, but the people in the rural districts were unable to meet the levies on account of the panic that came at a most unfortunate time. That is why we were hurrying home from your country, Mr. Lorry. Gaspon had cabled the Princess that affairs were in a hopeless condition, begging her to come home and do what she could in a final appeal to the people, knowing the love they had for her. She came, and has seen these loyal subjects offer their lives for her and for Graustark, but utterly unable to give what they have not—money. She asked them if she should disband the army, and there was a negative wail from one end of the land to the other. Then the army agreed to serve on half pay until all was tided over. Public officers are giving their services free, and many of our wealthy people have advanced loans on bonds, worthless as they may seem, and still we have not the required amount.”

“Cannot the loan be extended a few years?” asked Lorry, angry with the ruler in the north, taking the woes of Graustark as much to heart as if they were his own.

“Not one day! Not in London, Paris, nor Berlin.”

Lorry lay back and allowed Anguish to lead the conversation into other channels. The Count remained for half an hour, saying as he left that the Princess and his wife had expressed a desire to be remembered to their guests.

“Her Royal Highness spent the evening with the ministers of finance and war, and her poor head, I doubt not, is racking from the effects of the consultation. These are weighty matters for a girl to have on her hands,” solemnly stated the Count, pausing for an instant at the door of the apartment.

After he had closed it the Americans looked long and thoughtfully at each other, each feeling a respect for the grim old gentleman that they had never felt for man before.

“So they are in a devil of a shape,” mused Anguish. “I tell you, Gren, I never knew anything that made me feel so badly as does the trouble that hangs over that girl and her people. A week ago I wouldn't have cared a rap for Graustark, but to-night I feel like weeping for her.”

“There seems to be no help for her, either,” said Lorry, reflectively.

“Graustark, you mean?”

“No—I mean yes, of course,—who else?” demanded the other, who certainly had not meant Graustark.

“I believe, confound your selfish soul, you'd like to see the nation, the crown and everything else taken away from this helpless, harrassed child. Then you'd have a chance,” exclaimed Anguish, pacing the floor, half angrily, half encouragingly.

“Don't say that, Harry, don't say that. Don't accuse me of it, for I'll confess I had in my heart that meanest of longings—the selfish, base, heartless hope that you have guessed. It hurts me to be accused of it though, so don't do it again, old man. I'll put away the miserable hope, if I can, and I'll pray God that she may find a way out of the difficulty.”

They went to sleep that night, Anguish at once, Lorry not for hours, harboring a determination to learn more about the condition of affairs touching the people of Graustark and the heart of their Princess.

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