“They say, Mark, that a royal flush beats everything. Well, I played that.”
Mark tried to catch him but, with a low chuckle, he slipped into the room and closed the door.
THE “DUCHESS” ABDICATES
A few hours later—about ten o’clock—an automobile stopped in front of the New Willard Hotel, and the Minister and his secretary alighted. The visitors were shown at once into Father Murray’s room where Mark, Saunders and the priest waited. His Excellency took the chair offered him and, with some hesitation in his choice, of words, opened the conversation.
“Gentlemen,” he said, “I first wish to congratulate you on your persistence. That persistence led me to think that there was some justice in your case. You can scarcely blame me, however, for not granting your wish immediately, especially since, as my secretary informed you, the effects of the dead lady seemed to indicate that it was Miss Atheson who had been killed. I find that I was mistaken. It was the Grand Duchess. There is absolutely no question about that now. As soon as you are ready to receive Miss Atheson, she shall leave the Ministry where, as you understand, she has been an honored guest.”
The impetuous Saunders broke out: “Your Excellency means an honored prisoner.”
But Father Murray stepped into the breach.
“Not at all, Saunders,” he said, “not at all.” Then he turned to the Minister. “Miss Atheson has been an honored guest at the Ministry. That is perfectly understood, Your Excellency, perfectly understood.”
The Minister bowed. “I thank you, Reverend Sir. I am glad you do understand. Miss Atheson was a friend of the Grand Duchess Carlotta. She had known her in Europe. Why should she not have been a guest at the Ministry of the nation which exercises a protectorate over the domains of her late Royal Highness? I should wish to have that known to the public. This afternoon we shall give to the press the sad story of the visit to America of Her Royal Highness, under strict incognito. Her friend, Miss Atheson, was of course awaiting the arrival of the Grand Duchess, having come down in advance. Miss Atheson will, I am sure, be kind enough, and considerate enough of the memory of Her Highness, not to deny any of these statements.”
“I am sure, Your Excellency,” said the priest, “that Miss Atheson will keep strict silence as to the past. She would not wish to embarrass the situation nor in any way stain the memory of her dead friend. Of that you may rest assured.”
“I beg your pardon,” said His Excellency, “but—I trust I may rely upon the discretion of these gentlemen?”
Mark and Saunders bowed their assurance.
“Your Excellency may rely on our discretion.”