XXVIII
THE MAID OF GRAUSTARK

Expectancy, concern, the dread of uncertainty marked the countenances of Graustark's ministers and her chief men as they sat in the council chamber on the day following, awaiting the appearance of their Princess, at whose call they were unexpectedly assembled. More than two score eyes glanced nervously toward the door from time to time.

All realized an emergency. No sooner were they out of one dilemma than another cast its prospects across their path, creating the fear that rejoicing would be short. While none knew the nature of the business that called them together, each had a stubborn suspicion that it related to the stirring declarations of the day before. Not one in that assembly but had heard the vivid, soulful sentence from the throne. Not one but wished in secret as Gaspon and Halfont had wished in open speech.

When the Princess entered with the prime minister they narrowly scanned the face so dear to them. Determination and cowardice were blended in the deep blue eyes, pride and dejection in the firm step, strength and weakness in the loving smile she bestowed upon the faithful counsellors. After the greetings she requested them to draw chairs about the great table. Seating herself in her accustomed seat, she gazed over the circle of anxious faces and realized, more than at any time in her young life, that she was frail and weak beyond all comparison. How small she was to rule over those strong, wise men of hers; how feeble the hand that held the sceptre.

“My lords,” she said, summoning all her strength of mind and heart, “I am gratified to find you so ready to respond to the call of your whimsical sovereign. Yesterday you came with hearts bowed down and in deepest woe. To-day I assemble you here that I may ask your advice concerning the events of that strange day. Bolaroz will do as he has promised. We are to have the extension papers this afternoon, and Graustark may breathe again the strong, deep breath of hope. You well remember my attitude on yesterday. You were shocked, horrified, amazed by my seemingly ignoble effort to preserve my preserver's life. We will pass over that, however. It is to discuss my position that I have called you here. To begin, I would have sacrificed my kingdom, as you know, to save him. He was innocent and I loved him. If, on yesterday, I would not let my kingdom stand between me and my love, I cannot do so to-day. I have called you here to tell you, my lords, that I have promised to become the wife of the man who would have given his life for you and for me—that I love as a woman, not as a Princess.”

The silence of death stole into the room. Every man's eyes were glued upon the white face of the Princess and none could break the spell. They had expected it, yet the shock was overwhelming; they had feared it, yet the announcement stupefied them. She looked straight before her, afraid to meet the eyes of her subjects, knowing that sickening disapproval dwelt in them. Not a word was uttered for many seconds. Then old Caspar's tense muscles relaxed and his arms dropped limply from their crossed position on his breast.

“My child, my child!” he cried, lifelessly. “You cannot do this thing!”

“But the people?” cried Gaspon, his eyes gleaming. “You cannot act against the will of the people. Our laws, natural and otherwise. proscribe the very act you have in mind. The American cannot go upon our throne; no man, unless he be of royal blood, can share it with you. If you marry him the laws of our land—you know them well—will prohibit us from recognizing the marriage.”

“Knowing that, my lords, I have come to ask you to revise our laws. My throne will not be disgraced by the man I would have share it with me.” She spoke as calmly as if she were making the most trivial request instead of asking her ministers to overthrow and undo the laws and customs of ages and of dynasties.

“The law of nature cannot be changed,” muttered Caspar, as if to himself.

“In the event that the custom cannot be changed, I shall be compelled to relinquish my right to occupy the throne and to depart from among you. It would break my heart, my lords, to resort to this monstrous sacrifice, but I love one man first, my crown and my people after him.”

“You would not leave us—you would not throw aside as despised the crown your ancestors wore for centuries?” cried Gaspon. “Is your Royal Highness mad?”

The others were staring with open mouths and icy hearts.

“Yes, as much as it would grieve me, I would do all this,” she answered, firmly, not daring to look at her uncle. She knew his eyes were upon her and that condemnation lurked in their depths. Her heart ached to turn to him with a prayer for forgiveness, but there could be no faltering now.

“I ask you, my lords, to acknowledge the marriage of your ruler to Grenfall Lorry. I am to be his wife; but I entreat you to grant me happiness without making me endure the misery that will come to me if I desert my father's throne and the people who have worshipped me and to whom I am bound by a tie that cannot be broken. I do not plead so much for the right to rule as I do for the one who may rule after I am gone. I want my own to follow me on the throne of Graustark.”

Then followed a long, animated discussion, growing brighter and more hopeful as the speakers' willing hearts warmed to the proposition. Lorry was a favorite but he could not be their prince. Hereditary law prohibited. Still his children if God gave him children, might be declared rightful heirs to the throne of their mother, the Princess. The more they talked, the more the problem seemed to solve itself. Many times the Princess and her wise men met and overcame obstacles, huge at first, minimized in the end, all because they loved her and she loved them. The departure from traditionary custom, as suggested by the Princess,—coupled with the threat to abdicate,—was the weightiest, yet the most delicate question that had ever come before the chief men of Graustark. It meant the beginning of a new line of princes, new life, new blood, a complete transformation of order as it had come down through the reigns of many Ganlooks. For the first time in the history of the country a woman was sovereign; for the first time there had been no direct male heir to the throne. With the death of old Prince Ganlook the masculine side of the illustrious family ended. No matter whom his daughter took for a husband, the line was broken. Why not the bold, progressive, rich American? argued some. Others fell in with the views of the few who first surrendered to the will of Yetive, until at last but one remained in opposition. Count Caspar held out until all were against him, giving way finally in a burst of oratory which ended in tears and sobs and which made the sense of the gathering unanimous.

The Princess Yetive won the day, so far as her own position was concerned. But, there was Lorry to be considered.

“Mr. Lorry knows that I called you together in consultation, but he does not know that I would have given up my crown for him. I dared not tell him that. He knows only that I was to ask your advice on the question of marriage, and that alone. Last night he told me he was confident you would agree to the union. He is an American, and does not appreciate the difficulties attending such an espousal. Over there distinction exists only in wealth and intelligence—position, I believe they call it, but not such as ours. He is a strange man, and we have yet to consult him as to the arrangement,” she said to her lords, pursing her lips. “I fear he will object to the plan we have agreed upon,” she went on. “He is sensitive, and it is possible he will not like the idea of putting our marriage to the popular vote of the people.”

“I insist, however, that the people be considered in the matter,” said Gaspon. “In three month's time the whole nation can say whether it sanctions the revision of our laws of heredity. It would not be right or just for us to say who shall be their future rulers, for all time to come, without consulting them.”

“I have no hesitancy in saying that Graustark already idolizes this brave American,” said Halfont, warmly. “He has won her affection. If the question is placed before the people to-morrow in proper form, I will vouch for it that the whole nation will rise and cry: 'Long live the Princess! Long live the Prince Consort!'”

“Goin' back, I see,” said Sitzky, the guard, some months later, addressing a very busy young man, who was hurrying down the platform of the Edelweiss railway station toward the special train which was puffing impatiently.

“Hello, Sitzky! Is it you? I'm glad to see you again. Yes, we are going back to the land of the Stars and Stripes.” The speaker was Mr. Anguish.

“You'll have fine company 's fer as Vienna, too. D' you ever see such a celebration's dey're havin' here to-day? You'd t'ink d' whole world was interested in d' little visit Her Royal Highness is goin' to pay to Vienna. Dummed if d' whole city, soldiers an' all, ain't down here to see 'er off. Look at d' crowd! By glory, I don't b'lieve we c'n pull d' train out of d' station. 'Quainted wid any of d' royal crowd?”

“Slightly,” answered Anguish, smiling. He was watching a trim figure in a tailor-made gown as it approached, drawing apart from the throng. It was Mrs. Harry Van Brugh Anguish.

“Say, you must cut some ice wid dese people. But dat's jest like an American, dough,” the little guard went on. “De Princess married an American an' dey say he's goin' to put d' crown away where d' moths won't git at it an' take her over to live in Washington fer six months. Is it a sure t'ing?”

“That's right, Sitzky. She's going back with us and then we're coming back with her.”

“Why don't he keep 'er over dere when he gits her dere? What's d' use—what's d' use?”

“Well, she's still the Princess of Graustark, you know, Sitzky. She can't live always in America.”

“Got to be here to hold her job, eh?”

“Inelegant but correct. Now, look sharp! Where do we find our—Ah!” His wife was with him and he forgot Sitzky.

The guard turned to watch the procession—a file of soldiers, a cavalry troop, carriages and then—the carriage with spirited horses and gay accoutrements. It stopped with a jangle and a man and woman descended.

“The Princess!” cried Sitzky.

“Long live the Princess!” cried the crowd. “God save our Yetive!”

Sitzky started as if shot, Raring at the tall man who approached with the smiling Sovereign of Graustark. “Well,” he gasped, “what d' you t'ink o' dat!”

The train that was to carry them out of the East into the West puffed and snorted, the bell clanged, the people cheered, and they were off. Hours later, as the car whirled through the Hungarian plain, Yetive, looking from her window, said in that exquisite English which was her very own:

“Ah, the world, the dear world! I am so sorry for queens!”

THE END

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