XVI
A CLASH AND IT'S RESULT

“I feel like spending the rest of my days in that monastery up there,” said Lorry, after dinner that evening. They were strolling about the town. One was determined to leave the city, the other firm in his resolve to stay. The latter won the day when he shrewdly, if explosively, reminded the former that it was their duty as men to stay and protect the Princess from the machinations of Gabriel, that knave of purgatory. Lorry, at last recognizing the hopelessness of his suit, was ready to throw down his arms and abandon the field to superior odds. His presumption in aspiring for the hand of a Princess began to touch his sense of humor, and he laughed, not very merrily, it is true, but long and loudly, at his folly. At first he cursed the world and every one in it, giving up in despair, but later he cursed only himself. Yet, as he despaired and scoffed, he felt within himself an ever-present hope that luck might turn the tide of battle.

This puny ray grew perceptibly when Anguish brought him to feel that she needed his protection from the man who had once sought to despoil and who might reasonably be expected to persevere. He agreed to linger in Edelweiss, knowing that each day would add pain to the torture he was already suffering, his sole object being, he convinced himself, to frustrate Gabriel's evil plans.

Returning late in the evening from their stroll, they entered a cafe celebrated in Edelweiss. In all his life Lorry had never known the loneliness that makes death welcome. To-night he felt that he could not live, so maddening was the certainty that he could never regain joy. His heart bled with the longing to be near her who dwelt inside those castle walls. He scoffed and grieved, but grieved the more.

The cafe was crowded with men and women. In a far corner sat a party of Axphain nobles, their Prince, a most democratic fellow, at the head of a long table. There were songs, jests and boisterous laughter. The celebration grew wilder, and Lorry and Anguish crossed the room, and, taking seats at a table, ordered wine and cigars, both eager for a closer view of the Prince. How Lorry loathed him!

Lorenz was a good-looking young fellow, little more than a boy. His smooth face was flushed, and there was about him an air of dissipation that suggested depravity in its advanced stage. The face that might have been handsome was the reflection of a roue, dashing, devilish. He was fair-haired and tall, taller than his companions by half a head. With reckless abandon he drank and sang and jested, arrogant in his flighty merriment. His cohorts were not far behind him in riotous wit.

At length one of the revelers, speaking in German, called on Lorenz for a toast to the Princess Yetive, his promised bride. Without a moment's hesitation the Prince sprang to his feet, held his glass aloft, and cried:

“Here's to the fairest of the fair, sweet Yetive, so hard to win, too good to lose. She loves me, God bless her heart! And I love her, God bless my heart, too! For each kiss from her wondrous lips I shall credit myself with one thousand gavvos. That is the price of a kiss.”

“I'll give two thousand!” roared one of the nobles, and there was a laugh in which the Prince joined.

“Nay! I'll not sell them now. In after years, when she has grown old and her lips are parched and dry from the sippings I have had, I'll sell them all at a bargain. Alas, she has not yet kissed me!”

Lorry's heart bounded with joy, though his hands were clenched in rage.

“She will kiss me to-morrow. To-morrow I shall taste what no other man has touched, what all men have coveted. And I'll be generous, gentlemen. She is so fair that your foul mouths would blight with but one caress upon her tender lips, and yet you shall not, be deprived of bliss. I shall kiss her thrice for each of you. Let me count: thrice eleven is thirty-three. Aye, thirty-three of my kisses shall be wasted for the sake of my friends, lucky dogs! Drink to my Princess!”

“Bravo!” cried the others, and the glasses were raised to lip.

A chair was overturned. The form of a man landed suddenly at the side of the Prince and a rough hand dashed the glass from his fingers, the contents flying over his immaculate English evening dress.

“Don't you dare to drink that toast!” cried a voice in his astonished ear, a voice speaking in excited German. He whirled and saw a scowling face beside his own, a pair of gray eyes that flashed fire.

“What do you mean?” he demanded, anger replacing amazement. The other members of his party stood as if spell-bound.

“I mean that you speak of the Princess of Graustark. Do you understand that, you miserable cur?”

“Oh!” screamed, the Prince, convulsed with rage, starting back and instinctively reaching for the sword he did not carry. “You shall pay for this! I will teach you to interfere—”

“I'll insult you more decidedly just to avoid misapprehension,” snarled Lorry, swinging his big fist squarely upon the mouth of the Prince. His Royal Highness landed under a table ten feet away.

Instantly the cafe was in an uproar. The stupefied Axphainians regained their senses and a general assault was made upon the hotheaded American. He knocked another down, Harry Anguish coming to his assistance with several savage blows, after which the Graustark spectators and the waiters interfered. It was all over in an instant, yet a sensation that would live in the gossip of generations had been created. A Prince of the realm had been brutally assaulted! Holding his jaw, Lorenz picked himself from the floor, several of his friends running to his aid. There was blood on his lips and chin; it trickled to his shirt front. For some moments he stood panting, glaring at Lorry's mocking face.

“I am Lorenz of Axphain, sir,” he said at last, his voice quivering with suppressed anger.

“It shall be a pleasure to kill you, Lorenz,” observed his adversary, displaying his ignorance of lese-majeste.

Anguish, pale and very much concerned, dragged him away, the Prince leaving the cafe ahead of them, followed by his chattering, cursing companions. Prince Gabriel was standing near the door as they passed out. He looked at the Americans sharply, and Anguish detected something like triumphant joy in his eyes.

“Good Lord, Lorry; this means a duel! Don't you know that?” cried he, as they started upstairs.

“Of course, I do. And I'm going to kill that villain, too,” exclaimed Lorry, loud enough to be heard from one end of the room to the other.

“This is horrible, horrible! Let me square it up some way if—” began the alarmed Anguish.

“Square it up! Look here, Harry Anguish, I am the one who will do the squaring. If he wants a duel he can have it at any old time and in any style he desires.”

“He may kill you!”

“Not while a just God rules over our destinies. I'll take my chances with pistols, and now let me tell you one thing, my boy: he'll never live to touch his lips to hers, nor will there be a royal wedding. She cannot marry a dead man.” He was beside himself with excitement and it was fully half an hour before Anguish could bring him to a sensible discussion of the affair. Gradually he became cool, and, the fever once gone, he did not lose his head again.

“Choose pistols at ten paces and at eight tomorrow,” he said, nonchalantly, as a rap at the door of their apartment announced the arrival of the Prince's friend.

Anguish admitted two well-dressed, black-bearded men, both of whom had sat at the Prince's table in the cafe. They introduced themselves as the Duke of Mizrox and Colonel Attobawn. Their visit was brief, formal and conclusive.

“We understand that you are persons of rank in your own America?” said the Duke of Mizrox, after a few moments.

“We are sons of business men,” responded Mr. Anguish.

“Oh, well, I hardly know. But his Highness is very willing to waive his rank, and to grant you a meeting.”

“I'm delighted by his Highness' condescension, which I perfectly understand,” observed Mr. Anguish. “Now, what have we to settle, gentlemen?”

“The detail of weapons.”

When Anguish announced that his principal chose pistols a strange gleam crept into the eyes of the Axphainians, and they seemed satisfied. Colonel Attobawn acted as interpreter during this short but very important interview which was carried on in the Axphain language. Lorry sat on the window-sill, steadfastly gazing into the night. The visitors departed soon, and it was understood that Prince Lorenz would condescend to meet Mr. Lorry at eight o'clock on the next morning in the valley beyond the castle, two miles from town. There was no law prohibiting duels in Graustark.

“Well, you're in for it, old man,” said Anguish, gloomily, his chin in his hands as he fastened melancholy eyes upon his friend.

“Don't worry about me, Harry. There's only one way for this thing to end. His Royal Highness is doomed.” Lorry spoke with the earnestness and conviction of one who is permitted to see into the future.

Calmly he prepared to write some letters, not to say farewell, but to explain to certain persons the cause of the duel and to say that he gloried in the good fortune which had presented itself. One of these letters was addressed to his mother, another to the father of Prince Lorenz, and the last to the Princess of Graustark. To the latter he wrote much that did not appear in the epistles directed to the others. Anguish had been in his room more than an hour, and had frequently called to his friend and begged him to secure what rest he could in order that their nerves might be steady in the morning. But it was not until after midnight that the duellist sealed the envelopes, directed them and knocked at his second's door to say:

“I shall entrust these letters to you, Harry. You must see that they start on their way tomorrow.”

Then he went to bed and to sleep.

At six his second, who had slept but little, called him. They dressed hurriedly and prepared for the ride to the valley. Their own new English bull-dog revolvers were to serve as weapons in the coming combat, and a carriage was to be in waiting for them in a side street at seven o'clock.

Before leaving their room they heard evidences of commotion in the hotel, and were apprehensive lest the inmates had learned of the duel and were making ready to follow the fighters to the appointed spot. There was a confusion of voices, the sound of rushing feet, the banging of doors, the noise increasing as the two men stepped into the open hall. They were amazed to see half-dressed men and women standing or running about the halls, intense excitement in their faces and in their actions. White uniformed policemen were flocking into the corridors; soldiers, coatless and hatless, fresh from their beds, came dashing upon the scene. There were excited cries, angry shouts and, more mystifying than all, horrified looks and whispers.

“What has happened?” asked Lorry, stopping near the door.

“It can't be a fire. Look! The door to that room down there seems to be the center of attraction. Hold on! Don't go over there, Lorry. There may be something to unnerve you, and that must not happen now. Let us go down this stairway—it leads to a side entrance, I think.” They were half way down the stairs when the thunder of rushing feet in the hall above came to their ears, causing them to hesitate between curiosity and good judgment. “They are coming this way.”

“Hear them howl! What the devil can be the cause of all this rumpus?” cried the other.

At that instant a half dozen police-guards appeared at the head of the stairs. Upon seeing the Americans they stopped and turned as if to oppose a foe approaching from the opposite direction. Baron Dangloss separated himself from the white coats above and called to the men below. In alarm they started for the street door. He was with them in an instant, his usually red face changing from white to purple, his anxious eyes darting first toward the group above and then toward the bewildered Americans.

“What's the matter?” demanded Lorry.

“There! See!” cried Dangloss, and even as he spoke a conflict began at the head of the stairs, the police, augmented by a few soldiers, struggling against a howling, enraged mass of Axphainians. Dangloss dragged his reluctant charges through a small door, and they found themselves in the baggage-room of the hotel. Despite their queries he offered no explanation, but rushed them along, passing out of the opposite door, down a short stairway and into a side street. A half dozen police-guards were awaiting them, and before they could catch the faintest idea of what it all meant, they were running with the officers through an alley, as if pursued by demons.

“Now, what in thunder does this mean?” panted Lorry, attempting to slacken the pace. He and Anguish were just beginning to regain their senses.

“Do not stop! Do not stop!” wheezed Dangloss. “You must get to a place of safety. We cannot prevent something dreadful happening if you are caught!”

“If we are caught!” cried Anguish. “Why, what have we done?”

“Unhand me, Baron Dangloss! This is an outrage!” shouted Lorry.

“For God's sake, be calm! We are befriending you. When we reach the Tower, where you will be safe, I shall explain,” gasped the panting Chief of Police. A few moments later they were inside the prison gates, angry, impatient, fatigued.

“Is this a plan to prevent the duel?” demanded Lorry, turning upon the chief, who had dropped limply into a chair and was mopping his brow. When he could find his breath enough to answer, Dangloss did so, and he might as well have thrown a bombshell at their feet.

“There'll be no duel. Prince Lorenz is dead!”

“Dead!” gasped the others.

“Found dead in his bed, stabbed to the heart!” exclaimed the Chief.

“We have saved you from his friends, gentlemen, but I must say that you are still in a tight place.”

He then related to them the whole story. Just before six o'clock Mizrox had gone to the Prince's room to prepare him for the duel. The door was closed but unlocked, as he found after repeated knockings. Lorenz was lying on the bed, undressed and covered with blood. The horrified duke made a hasty examination and found that he was dead. A dagger had been driven to his heart as he slept. The hotel was aroused, the police called, and the excitement was at its highest pitch when the two friends came from their room a few minutes after six.

“But what have we to do with this dreadful affair? Why are we rushed off here like criminals?” asked Lorry, a feeling of cruel gladness growing out of the knowledge that Lorenz was dead and that the Princess was freed from her compact.

“My friend,” said Dangloss, slowly, “you are accused of the murder.”

Lorry was too much stunned to be angry, too weak to protest. For some moments after the blow fell he and Anguish were speechless. Then came the protestations, the rage and the threats, through all of which Dangloss sat calmly. Finally he sought to quiet them, partially succeeding.

“Mr. Lorry, the evidence is very strong against you, but you shall not be unjustly treated. You are not a prisoner as yet. In Graustark a man who is accused of murder, and who was not seen by any one to commit the crime, cannot be legally arrested until an accuser shall go before the Princess, who is also High Priestess, and swear on his life that he knows the guilty man. The man who so accuses agrees to forfeit his own life in case the other is proved innocent. If you are to be charged with the murder of the Prince, some one must go before the Princess and take oath—his life against yours. I am holding you here, sir, because it is the only place in which you are safe. Lorenz's friends would have torn you to pieces had we not found you first. You are not prisoners, and you may depart if you think it wise.”

“But, my God, how can they accuse me? I knew nothing of the murder until I reached this place,” cried Lorry, stopping short in his restless walk before the little Baron.

“So you say, but—”

“If you accuse me, damn you, I'll kill you!” whispered Lorry, holding himself tense. Anguish caught and held him.

“Be calm, sir,” cautioned Dangloss. “I may have my views, but I am not willing to take oath before Her Royal Highness. Listen You were heard to say you would kill him; you began the fight; you were the aggressor, and there is no one else on earth, it is said, who could have wished to murder him. The man who did the stabbing entered the room through the hall door and left by the same. There are drops of blood in the carpet, leading direct to your door. On your knob are the prints of bloody fingers where you—or some one else—placed his hand in opening the door. It was this discovery, made by me and my men, that fully convinced the enraged friends of the dead Prince that you were guilty. When we opened the door you were gone. Then came the search, the fight at the head of the stairs, and the race to the prison. The reason I saved you from that mob should be plain to you. I love my Princess, and I do not forget that you risked your life—each of you—to protect her. I have done all that I can, gentlemen, to protect you in return. It means death to you if you fall into the hands of his followers just now. A few hours will cool them off, no doubt, but now—now it would be madness to face them. I know not what they have done to my men at the hotel—perhaps butchered them.”

There was anxiety in Dangloss's voice and there was honesty in his keen old eyes. His charges now saw the situation clearly and apologized warmly for the words they had uttered under the pressure of somewhat extenuating circumstances. They expressed a willingness to remain in the prison until the excitement abated or until some one swore his life against the supposed murderer. They were virtually prisoners, and they knew it well. Furthermore, they could see that Baron Dangloss believed Lorry guilty of the murder; protestations of innocence had been politely received and politely disregarded.

“Do you expect one of his friends to take the oath?” asked Lorry.

“Yes; it is sure to come.”

“But you will not do so yourself?”

“No.”

“I thank you, captain, for I see that you believe me guilty.”

“I do not say you are guilty, remember, but I will say that if you did murder Prince Lorenz you have made the people of Graustark rejoice from the bottoms of their hearts, and you will be eulogized from one end of the land to the other.”

“Hanged and eulogized,” said Lorry, grimly.

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