XIII
UNDER MOON AND MONASTERY

For two days Lorry lived through intermittent stages of delight and despondency. His recovery from the effects of the blow administered by Dannox was naturally rapid, his strong young constitution coming to the rescue bravely. He saw much of the Princess, more of the Countess Dagmar, and made the acquaintance of many lords and ladies for whom he cared but little except when they chose to talk of their girlish ruler. The atmosphere of the castle was laden with a depression that could not be overcome by an assimilated gaiety. There was the presence of a shadow that grew darker and nearer as the days went by, and there were anxious hearts under the brave, proud spirits of those who held the destiny of Graustark in their hands.

The princess could not bide the trouble that had sprung up in her eyes. Her laugh, her gay conversation, her rare composure and gentle hauteur were powerless to drive away the haunted, worried gleam in those expressive eyes of blue. Lorry had it on his tongue's end a dozen times during the next day or so after the count's narrative to question her about the condition of affairs as they appeared to her. He wondered whether she, little more than a girl, could see and understand the enormity of the situation that confronted her and her people. A strange, tender fear prevented him from speaking to her of the thing which was oppressing her life. Not that he expected a rebuff from her, but that he could not endure the thought of hearing her brave, calm recital of the merciless story. He knew that she could narrate it all to him more plainly than had her uncle. Something told him that she was fully aware of the real and underlying conditions. He could see, in his imagination, the proud, resigned face and manner of this perplexed Princess, as she would have talked to him of her woes, and he could also picture the telltale eyes and the troubled expression that would not be disguised.

The Countess Dagmar, when not monopolized by the very progressive, or aggressive Anguish, unfolded to Lorry certain pages in the personal history of the Princess, and he, of course, encouraged her confidential humor, although there was nothing encouraging in it for him.

Down by the great fountain, while the soldiers were on parade, the fair but volatile Countess unfolded to Lorry a story that wrenched his heart so savagely that anger, resentment, helplessness and love oozed forth and enveloped him in a multitude of emotions that would not disperse. To have gone to the Princess and laid down his life to save her would have given him pleasure, but he had promised something to her that could not be forgotten in a day. In his swelling heart he prayed for the time to come when he could take her in his arms, cancel his promise and defy the troubles that opposed her.

“She will not mind my telling you, because she considers you the very best of men, Mr. Lorry,” said the Countess, who had learned her English under the Princess Yetive's tutor. The demure, sympathetic little Countess, her face glowing with excitement and indignation, could not resist the desire to pour into the ears of this strong and resourceful man the secrets of the Princess, as if trusting to him, the child of a powerful race, to provide relief. It was the old story of the weak appealing to the strong.

It seems, according to the very truthful account given by the lady, that the Princess had it in her power to save Graustark from disgrace and practical destruction. The Prince of Axphain's son, Lorenz, was deeply enamoured of her, infatuated by her marvelous beauty and accomplishments. He had persuaded his father to consider a matrimonial alliance with her to be one of great value to Axphain. The old prince, therefore, some months before the arrival of the Americans in Graustark, sent to the Princess a substitute ultimatum, couched in terms so polite and conciliatory that there could be no mistaking his sincerity. He agreed to give Graustark a new lease of life, as it were, by extending the fifteen years, or, in other words, to grant the conquered an additional ten years in which to pay off the obligations imposed by the treaty. He furthermore offered a considerable reduction in the rate of interest for the next ten years. But he had a condition attached to this good and gracious proposition; the marriage of Graustark's sovereign. His ambassador set forth the advantages of such an alliance, and departed with a message that the matter should have most serious consideration.

The old Prince's proposition was a blow to the Princess, who was placed in a trying position. By sacrificing herself she could save her country, but in so doing her life was to be plunged into interminable darkness. She did not love, nor did she respect Lorenz, who was not favorably supplied with civilized intelligence. The proposition was laid before the cabinet and the nobility by the Princess herself, who said that she would be guided by any decision they might reach. The counsellors, to a man, refused to sacrifice their girlish ruler, and the people vociferously ratified the resolution. But the Princess would not allow them to send an answer to Axphain until she could see a way clear to save her people in some other manner. An embassy was sent to the Prince of Dawsbergen. His domain touched Graustark on the south, and he ruled a wild, turbulent class of mountaineers and herdsmen. This embassy sought to secure an endorsement of the loan from Prince Gabriel sufficient to meet the coming crisis. Gabriel, himself smitten by the charms of the Princess, at once offered himself in marriage, agreeing to advance, in case she accepted him, twenty million gavvos, at a rather high rate of interest, for fifteen years. His love for her was so great that he would pawn the entire principality for an answer that would make him the happiest man on earth. Now, the troubled Princess abhorred Gabriel. Of the two, Lorenz was much to be preferred. Gabriel flew into a rage upon the receipt of this rebuff, and openly avowed his intention to make her suffer. His infatuation became a mania, and, up to the very day on which the Countess told the story, he persisted in his appeals to the Princess. In person he had gone to her to plead his suit, on his knees, grovelling at her feet. He went so far as to exclaim madly in the presence of the alarmed but relentless object of his love that he would win her or turn the whole earth into everything unpleasant.

So it was that the Princess of Graustark, erstwhile Miss Guggenslocker, was being dragged through the most unhappy affairs that ever beset a sovereign. Within a month she was to sign away two-thirds of her domain, transforming multitudes of her beloved and loving people into subjects of the hated Axphain, or to sell herself, body and soul, to a loathsome bidder in the guise of a suitor. And, with all this confronting her, she had come to the realization of a truth so sad and distracting; that it was breaking her tortured heart. She was in love—but with no royal prince! Of this, however, the Countess knew nothing, so Lorry had one great secret to cherish alone.

“Has she chosen the course she will pursue?” asked Lorry, as the Countess concluded her story. Isis face was turned away.

“She cannot decide. We have wept together over this dreadful, this horrible thing. You do not know what it means to all of us, Mr. Lorry. We love her, and there is not one in our land who would sacrifice her to save this territory. As for Gabriel, Graustark would kill her before she should go to him. Still she cannot let herself sacrifice those northern subjects when by a single act she can save them. You see, the Princess has not forgotten that her father brought this war upon the people, and she feels it her duty to pay the penalty of his error, whatever the cost.”

“Is there no other to whom she can turn no other course?” asked Lorry.

“There is none who would assist us, bankrupt as we are. There is a question I want to ask, Mr. Lorry. Please look at me—do not stare at the fountain all the time. Why have you come to Edelweiss?” She asked the question so boldly that his startled embarrassment was an unspoken confession. He calmed himself and hesitated long before answering, weighing his reply. She sat close beside him, her clear gray eyes reading him like a book.

“I came to see a Miss Guggenslocker,” he answered at last.

“For what purpose? There must have been an urgent cause to bring you so far. You are not an American banker?”

“I had intended to ask her to be my wife,” he said, knowing that secrecy was useless and seeing a faint hope.

“You did not find Miss Guggenslocker.”

“No. I have not found her.”

“And are you going home disappointed, Mr. Lorry, because she is not here?”

“I leave the answer to your tender imagination.”

There was a long pause.

“May I ask when you expect to leave Graustark?” she asked, somewhat timidly.

“Why do you wish to know?” he asked in turn.

“Because I know how hopeless your quest has been. You have found Miss Guggenslocker, but she is held behind a wall so strong and impregnable that you cannot reach her with the question you came to ask. You have come to that wall, and now you must turn back. I have asked, how soon?”

“Not until your Princess bids me take up my load and go. You see, my lady, I love to sit beneath the shadow of the wall you describe. It will require a royal edict to compel me to abandon my position.”

“You cannot expect the Princess to drive you from her country,—you who have done so much for her. You must go, Mr. Lorry, without her bidding.”

“I must?”

“Yes, for your presence outside that wall may make the imprisonment all the more unendurable for the one your love cannot reach. Do you understand me?”

“Has the one behind the wall instructed you to say this to me?” he asked miserably.

“She has not. I do not know her heart, but I am a woman and have a woman's foresight. If you wish to be kind and good to her, go!”

“I cannot!” he exclaimed, his pent feelings bursting forth. “I cannot go!”

“You will not be so selfish and so cruel as to increase the horror of the wreck that is sure to come,” she said, drawing back.

“You know, Countess, of the life-saving crews who draw from the wrecks of ships lives that were hopelessly lost? There is to be a wreck here; is there to be a life-saver? When the night is darkest, the sea wildest, when hope is gone, is not that the time when rescue is most precious? Tell me, you who know all there is of this approaching disaster?”

“I cannot command you to leave Edelweiss; I can only tell you that you will have something to answer for if you stay,” said the Countess.

“Will you help me if I show to you that I can reach the wreck and save the one who clings to it despairingly?” he asked, smiling, suddenly calm and confident.

“Willingly, for I love the one who is going down in the sea. I have spoken to you seriously, though, and I trust you will not misunderstand me. I like you and I like Mr. Anguish. You could stay here forever so far as I am concerned.”

He thought long and intently over what she had said as he smoked his cigar on the great balcony that night. In his heart he knew he was adding horror, but that persistent hope of the life-saver came up fresh and strong to combat the argument. He saw, in one moment, the vast chasm between the man and the princess; in the next, he laughed at the puny space.

Down on the promenade he could see the figures of men and women strolling in the moonlight. To his ears came the occasional laugh of a man, the silvery gurgle of a woman. The royal military band was playing in the stand near the edge of the great circle. There was gaiety, comfort, charm and security about everything that came to his eyes and ears. Was it possible that this peace, unruffled, was so near its end?

He smiled as he heard Harry Anguish laugh gaily in his good old way, his ringing tones mingling with a woman's. There was no trouble in the hearts of the Countess and his blithe comrade. Behind him rose the grim castle walls, from the windows of which, here and there, gleamed the lights of the night. Where was she? He had seen her in the afternoon and had talked with her, had walked with her. Their conversation had been bright, but of the commonplace kind. She had said nothing to indicate that she remembered the hour spent beside his couch a day or so before; he had uttered none of the words that struggled to rush from his lips, the questions, the pleadings, the vows. Where was she now? Not in that gay crowd below, for he had scanned every figure with the hawk's eye. Closeted again, no doubt, with her ministers, wearying her tired brain, her brave heart into fatigue without rest.

Her court still trembled with the excitement of the daring attempt of the abductors and their swift punishment. Functionaries flocked to Edelweiss to inquire after the welfare of the Princess, and indignation was at the highest pitch. There were theories innumerable as to the identity of the arch-conspirator. Baron Dangloss was at sea completely. He cursed himself and everybody else for the hasty and ill-timed execution of the hirelings. It was quite evident that the buzzing wonder and intense feeling of the people had for the moment driven out all thought of the coming day of judgment and its bitter atonement for all Graustark. To-day the castle was full of the nobility, drawn to its walls by the news that had startled them beyond all expression. The police were at work, the military trembled with rage, the people clamored for the apprehension of the man who had been the instigator of this audacity. The general belief was that some brigand chief from the south had planned the great theft for the purpose of securing a fabulous ransom. Grenfall Lorry had an astonishing theory in his mind, and the more he thought it over the more firmly it was imbedded.

The warm, blue coils from the cigar wafted away into the night, carrying with them a myriad of tangled thoughts,—of her, of Axphain, of the abductor, of himself, of everything. A light step on the stone floor of the shadowy balcony attracted his attention. He turned his head and saw the Princess Yetive. She was walking slowly toward the balustrade, not aware of his presence. There was no covering for the dark hair, no wrap about the white shoulders. She wore an exquisite gown of white, shimmering with the reflections from the moon that scaled the mountain top. She stood at the balustrade, her hands clasping a bouquet of red roses, her chin lifted, her eyes gazing toward the mountain's crest, the prettiest picture he had ever seen. The strange dizziness of love overpowered him. His hungry eyes glanced upward towards the sky which she was blessing with her gaze, and beheld another picture, gloomy, grim, cheerless.

Against the moonlit screen of the universe clung the black tower of that faraway monastery in the clouds, the home of the monks of Saint Valentine. Out of the world, above the world, a part of the sky itself, it stood like the spectre of a sentinel whose ghostly guardian ship appalled and yet soothed.

He could not, would not move. To have done so meant the desecration of a picture so delicate that a breath upon its surface would have swept it forever from the vision. How long he revelled in the glory of the picture he knew not, for it was as if he looked from a dream. At last he saw her look down upon the roses, lift them slowly and drop them over the rail. They fell to the ground below. He thought he understood; the gift of a prince despised.

They were not twenty feet apart. He advanced to her side, his hat in one hand, his stick—the one that felled the Viennese—trembling in the other.

“I did not know you were here,” she exclaimed, in half frightened amazement. “I left my ladies inside.”

He was standing beside her, looking down into the eyes.

“And I am richer because of your ignorance,” he said, softly. “I have seen a picture that shall never leave my memory—never! Its beauty enthralled, enraptured. Then I saw the drama of the roses. Ah, your Highness, the crown is not always a mask.”

“The roses were—were of no consequence,” she faltered.

“I have heard how you stand between two suitors and that wretched treaty. My heart has ached to tell you how I pity you.”

“It is not pity I need, but courage. Pity will not aid me in my duty, Mr. Lorry. It stands plainly before me, this duty, but I have not the courage to take it up and place it about my neck forever.”

“You do not, cannot love this Lorenz?” he asked.

“Love him!” she cried. “Ach, I forget! You do not know him. Yet I shall doubtless be his wife.” There was an eternity of despair in that low, steady voice.

“You shall not! I swear you shall not!”

“Oh, he is a prince! I must accept the offer that means salvation to Graustark. Why do you make it harder with torture which you think is kindness? Listen to me. Next week I am to give my answer. He will be here, in this castle. My father brought this calamity upon Graustark; I must lift it from the people. What has my happiness to do with it?”

Her sudden strength silenced him, crushed him with the real awakening of helplessness. He stood beside her, looking up at the cold monastery, strangely conscious that she was gazing toward the same dizzy height.

“It looks so peaceful up there,” she said at last.

“But so cold and cheerless,” he added, drearily. There was another long silence in which two hearts communed through the medium of that faraway sentinel. “They have not discovered a clue to the chief abductor, have they?” he asked, in an effort to return to his proper sphere.

“Baron Dangloss believes he has a clue—a meager and unsatisfactory one, he admits—and to-day sent officers to Ganlook to investigate the actions of a strange man who was there last week, a man who styled himself the Count of Arabazon, and who claimed to be of Vienna. Some Austrians had been hunting stags and bears in the north, however, and it is possible he is one of them.” She spoke slowly, her eyes still bent on the home of the monks.

“Your highness, I have a theory, a bold and perhaps a criminal theory, but you will allow me to tell you why I am possessed of it. I am aware that there is a Prince Gabriel. It is my opinion that no Viennese is guilty, nor are the brigands to be accused of this masterpiece in crime. Have you thought how far a man may go to obtain his heart's desire?”

She looked at him instantly, her eyes wide with growing comprehension, the solution to the mystery darting into her mind like a flash.

“You mean—” she began, stopping as if afraid to voice the suspicion.

“That Prince Gabriel is the man who bought your guards and hired Geddos and Ostrom to carry you to the place where he could own you, whether you would or no,” said Lorry.

“But he could never have forced me to marry him, and I should, sooner or later, have exposed him,” she whispered, argumentatively. “He could not expect me to be silent and submit to a marriage under such circumstances. He knows that I would denounce him, even at the altar.”

“You do not appreciate my estimate of that gentleman.”

“What is to become of me!” she almost sobbed, in an anguish of fear. “I see now—I see plainly! It was Gabriel, and he would have done as you say.” A shudder ran through her figure and he tenderly whispered in her ear:

“The danger is past. He can do no more, your Highness. Were I positive that he is the man—and I believe he is—I would hunt him down this night.”

Her eyes closed happily under his gaze, her hand dropped timidly from his arm and a sweet sense of security filled her soul.

“I am not afraid,” she murmured.

“Because I am here?” he asked, bending nearer.

“Because God can bless with the same hand that punishes,” she answered, enigmatically, lifting her lashes again and looking into his eyes with a love at last unmasked. “He gives me a man to love and denies me happiness. He makes of me a woman, but He does not unmake me a princess. Through you, He thwarts a villain; through you, He crushes the innocent. More than ever, I thank you for coming into my life. You and you alone, guided by the God who loves and despises me, saved me from Gabriel.”

“I only ask—” he began, eagerly, but she interrupted.

“You should not ask anything, for I have said I cannot pay. I owe to you all I have, but cannot pay the debt.”

“I shall not again forget,” he murmured.

“To-morrow, if you like, I will take you over the castle and let you see the squalor in which I exist,—my throne room, my chapel, my banquet hall, my ball room, my conservatory, my sepulchre. You may say it is wealth, but I shall call it poverty,” she said, after they had watched the black monastery cut a square corner from the moon's circle.

“To-morrow, if you will be so kind.”

“Perhaps I may be poorer after I have saved Graustark,” she said.

“I would to God I could save you from that!” he said.

“I would to God you could,” she said. Her manner changed suddenly. She laughed gaily, turning a light face to his. “I hear your friend's laugh out there in the darkness. It is delightfully infectious.”

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