XXVII
ON THE BALCONY AGAIN

Three persons in the royal castle of Graustark, worn by the dread and anxiety of weeks, fatigued by the sleepless nights just past, slumbered through the long afternoon with the motionless, deathlike sleep of the utterly fagged. Yetive, in her darkened bed chamber, dreamed, with smiling lips, of a tall soldier and a throne on which cobwebs multiplied. Grenfall Lorry saw in his dreams a slim soldier with troubled face and averted, timid eyes, standing guard over him with a brave, stiff back and chin painfully uplifted. Captain Quinnox dreamed not, for his mind was tranquil in the assurance that he had been forgiven by the Princess.

While Lorry slept in the room set apart for him, Anguish roamed the park with a happy-faced, slender young lady, into whose ears he poured the history of a certain affection, from the tender beginning to the distracting end. And she smiled and trembled with delight, closing not her ears against the sound of his voice nor her heart to the love that craved admission. They were not dreaming.

After dinner that evening Lorry led the Princess out into the moonlit night. The November breezes were soft and balmy and the shadows deep.

“Let us leave the park to Dagmar and her hero, to the soldiers and the musicians,” said Yetive. “There is a broad portico here, with the tenderest of memories. Do you remember a night like this, a month or more ago? the moon, the sentinel and some sorrows? I would again stand where we stood on that night and again look up to the moon and the solemn sentinel, but not as we saw them then, with heartache and evasion.”

“The balcony, then, without the old restrictions,” Lorry agreed. “I want to see that dark old monastery again, and to tell you how I looked from its lofty windows through the chill of wind and the chill of life into the fairest Eden that was ever denied man.”

“In an hour, then, I will meet you there.”

“I must correct you. In an hour you will find me there.”

She left him, retiring with her aunt and the Countess Dagmar. Lorry remained in the hall with Halfont, Prince Bolaroz, Mizrox and Anguish. The conversation ran once more into the ever-recurring topic of the day, Gabriel's confession. The Prince of Dawsbergen was confined in the Tower with his confederate, Berrowag. Reports from Dangloss late in the afternoon conveyed the intelligence that the prisoner had fallen into melancholia. Berrowag admitted to the police that he had stood guard at the door while Gabriel entered the Prince's room and killed him as he slept. He described the cunning, deliberate effort to turn suspicion to the American by leaving bloodstains. The other Dawsbergen nobles, with the exception of two who had gone to the capital of their country with the news of the catastrophe, remained close to the hotel. One of them confessed that but little sympathy would be felt at home for Gabriel, who was hated by his subjects. Already there was talk among them of Prince Dantan, his younger brother, as his successor to the throne. The young Prince was a favorite with the people.

Bolaroz was pleased with the outcome of the sensational accusation and the consequent removal of complications which had in reality been unpleasant to him.

One feature of the scene in the throne room was not discussed, although it was uppermost in the minds of all. The positive stand taken by the Princess and her open avowal of love for the dashing American were never to be forgotten. The serious wrinkles on the brow of Halfont and the faraway expression that came frequently to his eyes revealed the nature of his thoughts. The greatest problem of them all was still to be solved.

As they left the room he dropped behind and walked out beside Lorry, rather timidly detaining him until the others were some distance ahead.

“You were closeted with the Princess this morning, Mr. Lorry, and perhaps you can give me the information I desire. She has called a meeting of the ministers and leading men of the country for to-morrow morning. Do you know why she has issued this rather unusual call? She did not offer any explanation to me.”

“I am only at liberty to say, your excellency, that it concerns the welfare of Graustark,” answered the other, after a moment's thought. They walked on in silence for some distance.

“I am her uncle, sir, but I love her as I would love my own child. My life has been given to her from the day that her mother, my sister, died. You will grant me the right to ask you a plain question. Have you told her that you love her?” The Count's face was drawn and white.

“I have, sir. I loved her before I knew she was a Princess. As her protector, it was to you that I would have told the story of my unfortunate love long ago, but my arrest and escape prevented. It was not my desire or intention to say to her what I could not speak about to you. I do not want to be looked upon as a coward who dares not face difficulties. My love has not been willingly clandestine, and it has been in spite of her most righteous objections. We have both seen the futility of love, however strong and pure it may be. I have hoped, your excellency, and always shall.”

“She has confessed her love to you privately?” asked Halfont.

“Against her will, against her judgment, sir.”

“Then the worst has come to pass,” groaned the old Count. Neither spoke for some time. They were near the foot of the staircase when Halfont paused and grasped Lorry's arm. Steadily they looked into each other's eyes.

“I admire you more than any man I have ever known,” said the Count, huskily, “You are the soul of honor, of courage, of manliness. But, my God, you cannot become the husband of a Princess of Graustark! I need not tell you that, however. You surely must understand.”

“I do understand,” said Lorry, dizzily. “I am not a prince, as you are saying over and over again to yourself. Count Halfont, every born American may become ruler of the greatest nation in the world-the United States. His home is his kingdom; his wife, his mother, his sisters are his queens and his princesses; his fellow citizens are his admiring subjects if he is wise and good. In my land you will find the poor man climbing to the highest pinnacle, side by side with the rich man. The woman I love is a Princess. Had she been the lowliest maid in all that great land of ours, still would she have been my queen, I her king. When first I loved the mistress of Graustark she was, you must not forget, Miss Guggenslocker. I have said all this to you, sir, not in egotism nor in bitterness, but to show my right to hope in the face of all obstacles. We recognize little as impossible. Until death destroys this power to love and to hope I must say to you that I shall not consider the Princess Yetive beyond my reach. Frankly, I cannot, sir.”

The Count heard him through, unconscious admiration mingling with the sadness in his eyes.

“There are some obstacles that bravery and perseverance cannot overcome, my friend,” he said, slowly. “One of them is fate.”

“As fate is not governed by law or custom, I have the best reason in the world to hope,” said Lorry, yet modestly.

“I would indeed, sir, that you were a Prince of the realm,” fervently cried the Count, and Lorry was struck by the fact that he repeated, word for word, the wish Gaspon had uttered some hours before.

By this time they were joined by the others, whereupon Grenfall hurried eagerly to the balcony, conscious of being half an hour early, but glad of the chance afforded for reflection and solitude. Sitting on the broad stone railing he leaned back against a pillar and looked into the night for his thoughts. Once more the moon was gleaming beyond St. Valentine's, throwing against the sky a jagged silhouette of frowning angles, towering gables and monstrous walls, the mountain and the monastery blending into one great misty product of the vision. Voices came up from below, as they did on that night five weeks ago, bringing the laughter and song of happy hearts. Music swelled through the park from the band gallery; from afar off came the sounds of revelry. The people of Edelweiss were rejoicing over the unexpected deliverance from a fate so certain that the escape seemed barely short of miraculous.

Every sound, every rustle of the wind through the plants that were scattered over the balcony caused him to look toward the door through which she must come to him.

At last she appeared, and he hastened to meet her. As he took her hands in his, she said softly, dreamily, looking over his shoulder toward the mountain's crest:

“The same fair moon,” and smiled into his eyes.

“The same fair maid and the same man,” he added. “I believe the band is playing the same air; upon my soul, I do.”

“Yes, the same air, La Paloma. It is my lullaby. Come, let us walk. I cannot sit quietly now. Talk to me. Let me listen and be happy.”

Slowly they paced the wide balcony, through the moonlight and the shadows, her hand resting on his arm, his clasping it gently. Love obstructs the flow of speech; the heart-beats choke back the words and fill the throat.

Lorry talked but little, she not at all. Times there were when; they covered the full length of the balcony without a word. And yet they understood each other. The mystic, the enchanting silence of love was fraught with a conversation felt, not heard.

“Why are you so quiet?” he asked, at last, stopping near the rail.

“I cannot tell you why. It seems to me that I am afraid of you,” she answered, a shy quaver in her voice.

“Afraid of me? I don't understand.”

“Nor do I. You are not as you were before this morning. You are different—yes, you make me feel that I am weak and helpless and that you can say to me 'come' and 'go' and I must obey. Isn't it odd that I, who have never known submissiveness, should so suddenly find myself tyrannized?” she asked, smiling faintly.

“Shall I tell you why you are afraid of me?” he asked.

“You will say it is because I am forgetting to be a Princess.”

“No; it is because you no longer look upon me as you did in other days. It is because I am a possibility, an entity instead of a shadow. Yesterday you were the Princess and looked down upon the impossible suitor; to-day you find that you have given yourself to him and that you do not regard the barrier as insurmountable. You were not timid until you found your power to resist gone. Today you admit that I may hope, and in doing so you open a gate through the walls of your pride and prejudice that can never be closed against the love within and the love without. You are afraid of me because I am no longer a dream, but a reality. Am I not right, Yetive?”

She looked out over the hazy, moonlit park.

“Yesterday I might have disputed all you say; to-day I can deny nothing.”

Leaning upon the railing, they fell into a silent study of the parade ground and its strollers. Their thoughts were not of the walkers and chatterers, nor of the music, nor of the night. They were of the day to come.

“I shall never forget how you said 'because I love him,' this morning, sweetheart,” said Lorry, betraying his reflections. “You defied the whole world in those four words. They were worth dying for.”

“How could I help it? You must not forget that you had just leaped into the lion's den defenseless, because you loved me. Could I deny you then? Until that moment I had been the Princess adamant; in a second's time you swept away every safeguard, every battlement, and I surrendered as only a woman can. But it really sounded shocking, didn't it? So theatrical.”

“Don't look so distressed about it, dear. You couldn't help it, remember,” he said, approvingly.

“Ach, I dread to-morrow's ordeal!” she said, and he felt the arm that touched his own tremble. “What will they say? What will they, do?”

“To-morrow will tell. It means a great deal to both of us. If they will not submit—what then?”

“What then—what then?” she murmured, faintly.

Across the parade, coming from the direction of the fountain, Harry Anguish and Dagmar were slowly walking. They were very close together, and his head was bent until it almost touched hers. As they drew nearer, the dreamy watchers on the balcony recognized them.

“They are very happy,” said Lorry, knowing that she was also watching the strollers.

“They are so sure of each other,” she replied, sadly.

When almost directly beneath the rail, the Countess glanced upward, impelled by the strange instinct of an easily startled love, confident that prying eyes were upon her. She saw the dark forms leaning over the rail and rather jerkily brought her companion to a standstill and to a realization of his position. Anguish turned his eyes aloft.

“Can you, fair maid, tell me the names of those beautiful stars I see in the dark dome above?” he asked, in a loud, happy voice. “Oh, can they be eyes?”

“Eyes, most noble sir,” replied his companion. “There are no stars so bright.”

“Methought they were diamonds in the sky at first. Eyes like those must belong to some divinity.”

“They do, fair student, and to a divinity well worth worshiping. I have heard it said that men offer themselves as sacrifices upon her altars.”

“Unless my telescope deceives me, I discern a very handsome sacrifice up there, so I suppose the altar must be somewhere in the neighborhood.”

“Not a hand's breadth beneath her eyes,” laughed the Countess, as she fled precipitately up the steps, followed by the jesting student.

“Beware of a divinity in wrath,” came a sweet, clear voice from the balcony, and Anguish called out from his safe retreat, like the boy he was:

“Ah, who's afraid!”

The Princess was laughing softly, her eyes radiant as they met those of her companion, amused yet grave.

“Does he have a care?” she asked.

“I fear not. He loves a Countess.”

“He has not to pay the price of ambition, then?” said she, softly.

“Ambition is the cheapest article in the world,” he said. “It concerns only a man's self.”

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