“Come, all of you; you, Gretchen, and you, Hildegarde; come, Carmichael, and you, Arnsberg; all of you! Let us go and pay a visit to our good friend, Herbeck!”
A LITTLE FINGER
The king of Jugendheit, Prince Ludwig, and the chancellor sat in the form of a triangle. Herbeck was making a pyramid of his finger-tips, sometimes touching his chin with his thumbs. His face was cheerful. His royal highness, still in the guise of a mountaineer, sat stiffly in his chair, the expression on his face hardly translatable; that on the king’s not at all. He was dressed in the brilliant uniform of a colonel in the Prussian Uhlans, an honor conferred upon him recently by King William. Prior to his advent into the Grand Duchy of Ehrenstein he had been to Berlin. A whim, for which he was now grateful, had cozened him into carrying this uniform along with him on his adventures. It was only after he met Gretchen that there came moments when he forgot he was a king. He was pale. From hour to hour his heart seemed to grow colder and smaller and harder, till it now rested in his breast with the heaviness of a stone, out of which life and the care of living had been squeezed. He rarely spoke, leaving the burden of the conversation to rest upon his uncle’s tongue.
“So your royal highness will understand,” said Herbeck, “that it was the simplest move I could make, and the safest. Were it known, or had it been known this morning, that the king of Jugendheit and the prince regent had entered Dreiberg in disguise and had been lodged in the Stein-schloss, there would have been a serious riot in the city. So I had you arrested as spies. Presently a closed carriage will convey you to the frontier, and the unfortunate incident will be ended.”
“Thanks!” said Prince Ludwig.
“And when you cross the frontier, it would be wise to disperse the troops waiting there for you.”
Prince Ludwig smiled. “It was only an army of defense. The duke had nearly twenty thousand men at the maneuvers. I have no desire for war; but, on the other hand, I am always ready for it.”
“There will never be any war between us,” prophetically. “The duke grows impatient at times, but I can always rouse his sense of justice. You will, of course, pardon the move I made. There will be no publicity. There will be no newspaper notoriety, for the journalists will know nothing of what has really happened.”
“For that consideration your excellency has my deepest thanks,” replied Prince Ludwig.
“I thought it best to let you go without seeing the duke. The meeting between you two might be painful.”
“That also is thoughtful of your excellency,” said the king. “I have no desire to see or speak to his highness.”
“There is, however, one favor I should like to ask,” said the prince.
“Can I grant it?”