The Last Ally
HUGH S. EAYRS
QYN0PS1S.—Donald Fenton, a young Canu odian, was traveling in Europe when the war broke out. Returning to enlist, he finds it necessary to travel through the Balkans and in Ironia calls on his old friend, Percival Yarden, who has married the Baroness Draschol and settled down in Serajoz, the capital. Ironia is bound to be drawn into the tear and rival factions are fighting to direct her course. Fenton goes to a royal ball and meets Princess Olga, daughter of Prince Peter, leader of the faction fighting to enlist Ironia with the allies; and falls in love with her. He happens to overhear the assassination of Prince Peter planned at a meeting of the Society of Crossed Swords, which has been formed in the interests of an Austro-Germanic alliance. His presence is discovered and he narrowly escapes being shot. He meets Miridoff, the leader of the society, in the ballroom and finds that he is a marked man. Next morning, Miridoff, who has been chosen by King Alexander as the future husband of Princess Olga, calls upon her to communicate the King’s wishes and meets with a rebuff. That day General Pau, the French hero, passes through Serajoz on his way to Russia, and is given a great reception, stage-managed by Fenton. Next day, as a result of the riots in Serajoz, Prince Peter decides to send the Princess to Kail Baleski, his country estate. Anna Petrowa\ learns of a plot to waylay her and carry her off into the mountains as a hostage against her father’s activity in the allied cause. Fenton follows in Varden’a motor cahr and reaches Kail Baleski to find that the abduction has been successfully carried out. Here he meets Phil Crane, a young English engineer, who has been working in the Ironian oil fields, and has just escaped from detention. Crane accompanies Fenton into the mountains where they meet Take Lorescu, the leader of the hill people who offers to help them. In the meantime Olga is taken to an old hunting lodge near Miridoff’a estafes and is there kept a p riso tier. Miridoff threatens to assassinate her father unless she consents to marry him at once, and arranges for the ceremony to take place over the tongs. Fetiton meet s Miridoff and in a struggle on the cliff8ide the latter is thrown over. Fenton then takes his place at the ceremony. In the meantime the lodge has been captured by Larescu and Crane. It is found to be equipped with wireless.
COMPLETING the sending of a final message, Crane suddenly sprang up from the instrument. Dragging her from her chair, he waltzed her around the room with the wildest delight, winding up the performance by lifting her bodily to a seat on the table. Standing before her, he declaimed excitedly: “You’ve witnessed the making of history, girl ! A most stupendous piece of luck has come our way. I’ve blundered on to the means to bring Ironia into line. Tomorrow we’ll be at war with Austria!” And he danced up and down the room, his red face redder than ever.
The first flush of his excitement over, he picked up his pipe again and began to pull at it furiously.
“Pardon the exuberance,” he said. “I felt so pleased with myself and everything in general that I simply had to do something. You see, I’ve got an idea, a scheme that’s going to take some working out. It’s a big idea, too. Didn’t know I had it in me. But say, look here, I can’t leave for fear the operator over the line there in Austria takes it into his head to let out some more state secrets. Now, that’s a good girl, run down and order Fenton to come up here.”
While Anna had gone, Crane did some hard thinking. He had the faculty of quick calculation. It had instantly occurred to him how the message he had waylaid might be turned to good account, and in a dim way too, he sensed the details necessary for the success of his scheme. Swiftly he turned and touched the keys. In a
few moments he was in touch with the Austrian regiment from whom the first message had come. So intent was he on the business in hand that he paid no attention when the others entered the
“Where exactly is the Ironian regiment ready to join yours?” This was the question he sent. In a moment he got his answer, and, having assured the officer with whom he was in communication that his earlier request should be attended to, he turned and nodded to Fenton.
“Fenton,” he said, “Fve just received a message that reveals the whole of Miridoff’s plan. It came from Austrian headquarters ten miles across the line. An hour ago, in accordance with a pre-arranged plan, a thousand Austrian troops moved out of camp in the direction of the Russian frontier. The plan, as I understand it now, is this.”
He grasped a piece of paper and roughly sketched a map of the district.
“Here’s our present position approximately,” he explained. “We’re about three miles from the frontier. Now here’s the Bhura River which serves as the dividing line between the two countries. Five miles up the river, a small tributary branches off from the Bhura into Ironian territory; but if you cross this stream just at its junction with the river you find yourself in Russia. An Ironian regiment, which has been stationed on the frontier, is now camped close to the junction point.
“The plan is simplicity itself. The Austrians march until they reach this junction of the two streams. Then they
signal to the Ironians, who are officered by men in Miridoff’s pay. A joint raid across the river into Russian territory follows, with the burning of a village or two. The Russian troops will soon drive the raiders back, of course, but the mischief will be done. Ironia will have committed an open act of war against Rus-
“A diabolically clever scheme,” exclaimed Fenton. “Not even the death of Miridoff can stop it. Certainly we can do nothing now.”
“Can’t we?” cried Crane triumphantly. “By the roaring bull of Bashan, we can stop it! I have a plan that will just reverse things completely. Look at this map again. Two miles west of the first tributary there is another stream branching off the Bhura in the same direction as that higher up the river. If the Austrians in the darkness were to mistake this stream for the one higher up, they would cross the Bhura there and so get into Ironian territory instead of Russian! Now, just supposing that they made this mistake, they would run right into an Ironian hamlet consisting of a church and a dozen houses or so. In accordance with instructions, they would proceed to set fire to this, with the idea that it was a Russian village. Ironians, conveniently stationed there for the purpose—under our friend Larescu—would promptly attack the invaders and drive them back across the river. The same result follows as is expected if the plan of Miridoff is carried out, except that the position of the countries will be reversed. Austria will have committed an open act of war against Ironia. It will act like a spark in dry tinder. Ironia will blaze up and war will follow immediately.”
“That is all very plausiblel” said Fenton, “but, the possibility of the Austrians crossing at the wrong stream is negligible. Their plans will be too carefully laid for any miscarriage.”
“They will cross at the wrong place!” declared Crane, triumphantly. “The wireless message that first came through was from the officer in command of the Austrians. He’s new to this part of the country and, as the Bhura is starting to flood, he wanted Miridoff to send someone over to guide him to the best junction-point with the Ironian troops. I wired back that one Neviloff was leaving at once for the purpose. Well, what with the darkness of the night, the floods and the similarity of the two streams, Neviloff will see that they get over the wrong one!”
“Neviloff?” The question came from Fenton and Anna simultaneously.
“Exactly. You see, I had to have some name and that was the first I thought of.”
“Do you mean that you intend to go yourself?” asked Fenton, in surprise.
“That’s the grand plan, Don,” replied Crane, enthusiastically. “I speak both German and Ironian, and there ought to be a suitable uniform around this place somewhere. Well, I ride over to Tisza,” he indicated a point on the map just across the border, “and report to the Austrian commander there. Luckily
I’ve been all along the Bhura on a surveying trip. What would be easier on such a night than to make a mistake and bring them over the river too soon—over into Ironia, where the tribesmen of Take Larescu will be waiting to provide a suitable welcome? The plan can’t go wrong.” “You propose to decide the fate of Ironia on a gambler’s throw,” said Fenton. “It’s a wonderful scheme, Crane. But, man, do you realize what it would mean to you? You take your life in your hands. If they find you out, they’ll shoot you on the spot. It will be a Hungarian troop sent for this work—and the Magyars are a vindictive lot. But even if you escape detection at first they would certainly suspect when they discovered they had been led astray.
“No danger at all,” said the Englishman easily. “I’ve got it all figured out, and there’s not one chance in a hundred of failure. When the fighting starts, I’ll slip away easily enough. Now, Fenton, you get started on your part of the undertaking, which is to have Larescu on hand with a couple of thousand of his men to drive the Austrians back. We’ll have to take a chance on the Ironian troops not moving out. I don’t think they will. In all probability, Miridoff intended to ride over there and direct things. Not hearing from him, they will wait for further orders.”
Fenton grasped Crane’s hand warmly. “Phil, it is worth trying,” he said. “If it succeeds, the credit for deciding the fate of Europe may belong to you. I wish I could go with you.”
“When Mr. Crane returns I shall tell him how wonderful it is I think him to be,” said Anna, shaking his hand in
“I’m coming back right enough,” replied Crane, with a steady regard—and retaining her hand the while. “And when I do, I shall have something myself to say to you.”
Half an hour later, warmly cloaked, and booted and spurred, Crane rode down the mountain side toward the Bhura River. Looking back, he could see a beacon light burning brightly on one of the highest peaks, and he knew that Larescu was gathering his band for the night’s work.
Planning a Future
AS the hours passed, the hill country awoke to restless activity. On several prominent peaks the beacon fires blazed, summoning the followers of Take Larescu. From all sides they began to troop in, silent, grotesque, armed to the teeth. The glen, along the ridge of which Fenton had carried his bride earlier that night, was soon crowded with the hill men. By midnight more than a thousand had assembled, and from all directions they were still coming at the urgent summons of the flaring bea-
Take Larescu took charge of the situation and skilfully wrought order out of chaos. He organized his followers into
detachments, and to each allotted positions along the stretch of foot-hills where the Austrians would be awaited. On receiving their instructions from the gigantic master of ceremonies, the detachment moved off into the enshrouding darkness as silently as they had come. The oddly garbed figures coming and going in the flickering light of torches, the warlike gestures, made the whole proceedings seem a phantasm of the imagination, a wild, strange dream.
Fenton, wearing the military cloak of Miridoff, watched proceedings from a vantage point in the rear. He had early found that Take Larescu was master of the situation; and had discreetly withdrawn into the background. Larescu had fought through several campaigns and had gained a reputation as the Napoleon of mountain warfare. So he could be counted upon to give the Austrians a warm reception.
A light touch on the Canadian’s arm caused him to tum. Olga had come quietly behind him. She was muffled snugly and warmly in a heavy cloak with a hood, so that Fenton could discern little else but a pair of glowing eyes.
“We have much to talk about, my lord,” she said, placing an arm through his. “Could not you manage to spare me a few minutes now?”
“I am at your service for eternity,” said Fenton, happily. “There is nothing for me to do here in any case. Larescu has taken everything into his own hands.”
It was distinctly cold. Fenton guided his wife up a steep and rocky path that led to the foot of the centuries-old beacon light, in which the fire was now slowly dying down. At the foot was a smooth rock of some size and here they seated themselves. Fenton’s arm found its way protectingly around the slender form of his princess bride; and the lovely hooded head, without any hesitation, nestled back against his shoulder.
“I have won you, after all!” exclaimed the Canadian, exultingly. “It is hard to realize that you are really my wife—and yet I felt right from the first that nothing could keep us apart. We were intended for each other, even if half the globe did separate us.”
“One can see the hand of fate in it all,” whispered Olga. “It must have been intended by One who is mightier than we. For you see, I had made up my mind to give you up. Nothing could have induced me to marry you, dear, of my own free will.”
“Olga!” cried Fenton, indignantly. “Then you don’t love me after all? If you really loved me, nothing could have kept you from me in the end.”
“Yes, dear boy, I loved you—from the first, I think.” she replied, looking up. Seated directly beneath the beacon, they were partly in the shade; and Fenton could not see her very clearly—but he discerned enough ofthe loving message in her eyes to bring about an extended interruption of the conversation.
“That will do, Donald,” she said finally. Then she laughed—the happy, light laugh of one who loves and is loved,
which begins without cause and ends as suddenly as it begins. “It is the first time I have said your funny name, husband mine. Did I say it right?”
“I hope I never hear anyone else utter the name,” said Fenton, ecstatically. “After hearing it on your lips, it would seem profanation from any other source.”
“It is rather a nice name—although it seemed so strange at first,” she said judiciously, as she repeated it over several times almost in a whisper. “I used to wonder if I could ever come to call you that.”
“Now you’ve given yourself away,” cried Fenton, triumphantly. “If you had wondered that, you couldn’t have made up your mind that you would give
“I have indulged much in day dreams since I met my strange lover from over the seas,” she said. “But—it would have made no difference. My father would never have consented to my marrying you; not even if you had saved his life many times and had been a thousand times too good for an ignorant little Ironian princess—as you are. And I would never have disobeyed him. You do not understand us, my own. We Ironians are bound by custom, by traditions of which you have no conception in your free country. It would have broken my heart, but — I would have remained Princess Olga all my life.”
Fenton was silent, pondering this thought, terrifying to him even in negative perspective.
“But I am now quite free in my conscience,” she went on. “I thought to save my father’s life by marrying the man I feared, and the good Father of all gave me instead the man I loved.
It must have been His will that I should come to you. And so I look forward to the future before us, which may be very dark at times, with no misgivings.
And I am so happy.”
There was another suggestion of future troubles contained in her words of welcome to Fenton, for it promised an opportunity to protect her, to assert his right and power to shield her. His arm about her tightened almost fiercely.
“I begin to see that after all I owe a lot to Miridoff,” he said. A silence of several moments followed.
“You will have to take me away from Ironia,” said Olga, a
little out of breath from the ardor of her husband’s embrace. “I could never go back to court. My father will refuse to forgive me at first, and will perhaps talk of having our marriage set aside. But, in time, he will perhaps learn to forgive his wayward girl. That is the only reason I cannot feel complete happiness now.” She paused for a moment.
“You see what you have done,” she went on, with a gaiety that did not entirely mask the strain of sadness beneath. “And so, my lord and master, what are you going to do with me? I begin a new life with you.”
“The future will be in your hands as much as in mine,” interpolated Fenton. “When the war is over, we shall travel all over the world. Then will come the question of settling down, of building a permanent nest. I hope, when the time comes, you will have found no place more to your liking than my own country.”
“I would go anywhere with you,” she said, confidently. “I have made up my mind on one thing, never to let you out of my sight. If you go where the fighting is to-night, I go too.”
“That you do not,” said Fenton, laughing with cool masculine superiority. “Darling, I am going to take you back at once to the lodge. And you must go right to bed and to sleep. You need rest. And in the morning I shall bring you news of the repulse of the invaders.”
“No,” said Olga, determinedly. “I could not sleep. I must go with you. There will be no danger. There are many women down there in the glen. And see —I came prepared. I shall be quite safe with you in this costume.”
She threw back her cloak, and stood revealed in the dress of a woman of the hills. She made a pretty gypsy figure in her bright-colored garb. Fenton took her face in both his hands and shook his head at her adoringly, submissively.
“You shall have your own way,” he said, “in this and—I am afraid—in most things. I begin to realize how well fitted you are for the new world; where women have found the way to get everything they want.”
They returned slowly to the glen below; and Larescu greeted Fenton with a roar of exultation.
“They come!” he cried. “One of my men has brought the word. The Austrians are crossing the river!”
' I 'HE Austrian cavalry regiment, which had ridden out of Tisza shortly before midnight, with Crane in the van, struck the Bhura River a mile below the point where the first tributary branched off. The night was so dark that it was impossible to see very far ahead, even with the assistance of the torches that a few of the troopers had attached to the ends of their lances. The roads were so muddy that but slow progress was made. Evidences of the floods farther up the river had already been encountered at points where the road ran close to the river banks. On the lower reaches of the Bhura the water was beginning to overflow the banks.
Crane reined in his horse and turned to the officer who rode beside
“The stream we are to cross runs south from the Bhura a mile ahead,” he said in German, “but I am doubtful if it will be possible to get over there. See, the water is rising high-
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er all the time. There is a bridge not a hundred yards ahead of us—unless the rising water has already swept it away, I propose that we cross there. It may be impossible higher up.”
“It is well advised, what you suggest,” replied the officer. “I am worried, however, about the possibilities of the return trip. Suppose the floods rise so rapidly that it will be impossible to recross the river? We should be trapped on Russian
Crane shrugged his shoulders.
“Our orders cover only the advance,” he said. “After we have carried out that which has been entrusted to us—the return, that is strictly our business. For the mission on which we are bound, it might be better if none of us returned. Austrian and Ironian troops massacred on Russian soil would surely bring about
“I don’t fear to die,” said the officer. “But I would prefer to fall in open battle and not in an obscure border affray. But, as you say, we have our orders to follow. Nothing else need count. God! it is dark! A damnable night for our purpose, Neviloff !”
“An admirable night,” said Crane. “We can carry out our raid under the cover of this darkness and get safely back across the border without loss. If the floods let us, that is.”
“Hein! we are into the.water now,” ejaculated the officer, reining in his horse.
“The road is low here and the water has come up over it,” said Crane, peering intently ahead. “But the gods are with us. I can see the bridge ahead; it is still holding. We had better get across while we may.”
The troop clattered across the bridge at a smart gallop and turned up a road on the Ironian side of the Bhura, which was still quite dry. Ten minutes brought them to the first stream. It was swollen with the rising water but, being but a narrow creek, was still fordable.
“Across there is Russia,” said Crane, pointing over the stream. “My troops are crossing some miles below and will join us near the first village. We must lose no time. Every minute now lessons our chances of getting back over the Bhura
“It’s strange,” said the officer. “I didn’t think we were so close to the Russian frontier. Are there not two streams branching south from the Bhura?”
“Yes,” replied Crane, “there is another stream behind us. We passed it some time before we reached the flooded section.”
Orders were passed along the line of troops and the work of crossing the turgid stream began. The horses balked at the brink and had to be beaten and spurred
into the swirling, yeasty flood; so that the passage of the regiment was a noisy one with much shouting and cursing and snapping of whips.
On the other side, the troops formed up and followed Crane along a narrow lane that led back on a slowly ascending scale toward the foothills.
Almost before they knew it, the regiment had ridden through a small hamlet. Darkened houses lined each side of the road and just ahead of them loomed the spire of a church. The noise of the galloping horses aroused no signs of life and this made Crane feel certain that they had reached the appointed place; it having been arranged that Larescu was to warn the villagers to make good their escape.
The troops set about their work with eagerness, even with noisy gusto. They broke in doors and windows and set fire to the houses. Soon one end of the village, was in flames and in the bright light that suffused the whole, the fact that the village was deserted became apparent.
The officer in command, plainly uneasy, rode up to Crane, who had kept in the van with his eyes open for a chance to make good his escape. The Austrian was. clearly suspicious.
“Not a soul in the place,” he said. “Whynot? Some one carried word of our plans ahead of us; that must be it. What’s, this?” The rattle of musketry broke out ahead of them. Some of the men, gettingin advance of Crane and himself, had been fired on from the bush in which the long single street of the village terminated. As if by magic, though no oneknew whence it came, the word passed' down the ranks: “Ironian troops are firing on us.” And, as a natural corollary, the most discerning saw and voiced what had happened. “We have burned an Ironian village,” said the officer who rodeby Crane. The latter sensed trouble.
“No you don’t,” came sharply from theAustrian, as Crane put spurs into his horse. But the Englishman was putting yards and more yards between him and the officer. He did not hesitate now. He knew that his safety depended upon his ability to get away at once. Kicking thesteel into his horse’s flanks he started it into a wild gallop. Guttural but loud' shouts behind him warned him of impending retribution—if they could shoot straight. Instinctively he dropped flat over his horse’s neck. Shots rang out, and' one bullet plowed through his hair, touching and grazing his forehead in its passage. The blood trickled down over his brow and filtered over his eyes. He brushed it away and found he wasn’t really badly hurt. But a moment later another shot apparently hit his horse for the animal screamed, stumbled and lunged forward on its knees. Crane hurtled over its head and came down with a thud on the rough muddy road.
WHEN Crane returned to consciousness, ‘he found himself lying in a cramped and painful position on a rough clay surface. His arms were tightlystrapped to his sides, so that any motionwas extremely difficult and painful.
He fell into a violent fit of coughing. The atmosphere about him was smokecharged and stiflingly close and hot. A steady, crackling sound above gradually impressed itself upon his groping mind with startling import. He was confined in a building of some sort and it was on fire!
After many futile attempts, Crane managed to struggle into a sitting position. The light from the burning roof provided sufficient illumination to enable him to see that he was confined in one of the small hovels that had constituted the looted hamlet. The fire had gained such headway that to remain longer where he was would be fatal. Breathing had become difficult and painful. The smoke that filled his lungs shook him with rasping, suffocating spells of coughing. Dimly he heard sounds of a receding conflict in the village streets.
Crane struggled to his feet and lurched weakly toward the door. Blinded with the smoke, he groped vainly for the handle. Next moment, overcome with the intense heat, he fainted dead away and, his weight falling against the door, caused it to swing outward, precipitating him into the street.
It was some time after, that Crane again regained consciousness. This time he was lying on the ground, his head reclining comfortably on a pillow made of some folded garment. A water-soaked bandage encircled his brow, giving inexpressible relief. His arms were free, though still tingling painfully from the pressure of the rope that had bound them. He attempted to pull himself together and sit up, but desisted from the effort with an involuntary groan.
“Hello, here’s old Crane coming around after all,” said the voice of Fenton, somewhere close at hand.
“Right as rain in a minute,” said Crane, weakly. Then, after a pause, “Where am I?”
“Don’t know exactly myself,” said Fenton. “We got you out of the burning village just in the nick of time and carried you back into the woods here. How are you feeling now?”
“A little brandy would make a new man of me. Any handy?”
A flask, containing some raw, pitchhot Ironian equivalent, was procured and a liberal measure poured down his throat. Crane coughed, spluttered and finally sat up, little the worse for wear, but still weak and decidedly giddy in the head.
“What happened?” he demanded.
“Everything went off as per schedule,” said Fenton. “The Austrians started to set fire to the village, and then Larescu and his men opened fire on them. They put up a short fight, and retired with more precipitancy than order. Last I saw of it, they were headed for the river with the hill men in hot pursuit. If the river has continued to rise, the Austrians will have some difficulty in getting back to their own side. I didn’t join in the chase, as I was getting anxious about you. Luckily, Mile. Petrowa found you and managed to drag you out of the road just before the front of the hut fell out.”
“Mile. Petrowa! Now what, on the
word of a bald-headed friar, was she doing there?” exclaimed Crane.
A soft voice, proceeding from some point close behind him, spoke up.
“It is indeed the great pleasure that Mistaire Crane has recovered. One judges from his choice of words that he is feeling much the better.”
“I have a double duty to perform then —to thank you for saving my life and to lecture you for your folly in being where you could do it,” said Crane, with a return of his habitual manner.
“My good friend, the brave Mistaire Crane, will please forget the thanks and save the lectures until he is stronger,” insisted Anna. “If I have been foolish, it has been in the best company. Her Highness was helping in the search for
“Yes, they both insisted on coming along,” put in Fenton. “I had the greatest difficulty in keeping them off the firing line. If all the women of Ironia are as fiery as the pair I’ve had on my hands to-night, I shall feel the deepest compassion for any army that attempts the invasion of the country!”
“I’ll never forgive myself for this night’s work,” said Crane, dejectedly. “I bungled things and let the Austrians truss me up in a burning building. Then Mademoiselle has to risk her very valuable life to save my very worthless
It was still dark. A soft hand from somewhere was slipped confidingly into his. Crane did not finish the sentence.
A moment later a gypsy-clad girl who had been sitting silently by during the dialogue, rose unobtrusively and led Fenton away.
“I am glad,” whispered the Princess. “ I have been most jealous of that woman.”
With the first light of dawn, came Take Larescu, an unsheathed sword in his hand. The gigantic leader of the hillmen was mud-stained and dishevelled, but thoroughly well pleased with himself.
“Not an Austrian remains on the sacred soil of our Ironia,” he declared, rubbing his brow with a bright silk handkerchief, drawn from his belt, “except a hundred or so who will never go back. And more good news for you, my young friend. A party of my men have burned Kirkalisse to the ground. Everything comes to him who strikes while the iron is hot.”
For a moment Fenton said nothing. Then: “Kirkalisse burnt. Miridoff dead. Austrian invasion of Ironian soil. Ironian rout of the Austrians. This is news. It must be gotten to Serajoz, and that at once.”
“As to the raid of the Austrians,” replied the brigand chief, “I have already arranged that news be got abroad. Messengers have been sent east, west and south. All Ironia will know within the next twenty-four hours that our country has been invaded, and that means—”
“That war is certain.” Fenton finished the sentence spiritedly.
Neither spoke for a second. Then the hill leader drew Fenton closer and whis-
pered to him, “We captured several of Miridoff’s men at Kirkalisse.”
“Yes. What did you find out?”
“They told us all they knew. One of them was the young gypsy who had been sent with the token—the Princess's ring, was it not?—which would stop the assassination of Prince Peter. But he had not been able to find his man, to warn him.” Fenton started. In a moment he visualized all that this item of news meant. Was, then, Miridoff’s death of no avail?
“Do you mean, then,” he asked, “that the assassin has done his work?”
“No. Prince Peter, it appears, changed his plans and returned to Serajoz by another route.”
“Thank God! Then everything will be alright.”
“I don’t know,” said Larescu, shaking his shaggy head. “The assassin has followed him on the road. But I think the Prince had start enough, from what I hear, to get to Serajoz a good few hours before the assassin could come up with him. Nevertheless, someone should go to the capital immediately—”
“Yes, you are right,” broke in the Canadian. “I shall go myself. Find me a guide back through the mountains.”
The New King
KING ALEXANDER of ironia stood in
an embrasure of the royal council room. He appeared to be gazing over the crowded, turbulent Lodz but in reality he saw nothing; nor did the wild clamor that rose from the mob-ridden square in front of the palace reach his ears. The King stared into space while angry emotions ran riot in his mind. Adamant determination, black anger and futile longing for strength to combat his aroused subjects, filled the brain of the baffled monarch. A truly royal figure he appeared standing there alone by the window—arms folded on his breast, mouth set in ominous lines, staring out into space as silent and as motionless as a statue.
Back in the council room, a number of men were seated around a long table, conversing in low tones and furtively regarding the solitary figure of the monarch.
“His Majesty will never give in,” said Danilo Vanilis, the shrewdest and strongest of the King’s councillors. “I know him. He is a Hohenzollern ; and the proudest of them all. He has sworn not to fight his kinsman at Potsdam—and he will die rather than break his pledge.”
“But he can’t resist longer," interjected another. “The Austrian invasion has stirred the country up from one end to the other. The army clamors for war. Officers, who have been known to favor the Austrian cause, have been forcibly ejected. There is not a man left in Ironia to back the King. He must give in.” “Look at him,” said Vanilis. “There he stands, like a lion at bay; see the poise of the head, the set of the lips, the brooding light in the eyes. Alexander would stand fast if the whole world took sides against him ; he would fight single-handed against the hosts of the Archangel. It is a pity that such determination, such grand devotion, should have found its
vent only in upholding a family tradition !”
“It is most strange that the Austrians should have committed this open act of war,” whispered a third. “It was rumored that Miridoff had a carefully concocted scheme that would inevitably result in plunging us into war with the Russians. Then, like a bolt from the blue, comes this mad exploit of the Austrians. And, strangest of all, Miridoff himself disappears.”
“It can only be understood when it is explained that it occurred in the mounains,” said a fourth. “Anything can happen there. Take Larescu led the force which drove the Austrians back over the Bhura. Mark my word, Larescu is at the bottom of this. And, what is more, I am convinced that Miridoff has been killed. He has been tactfully eliminated in a way Uiat is typical of Larescu.”
“And not too soon!” A murmured chorus of assent ran around the board. Vanilis, after a pause, remarked in a lowered tone: “It is strange that Peter has not returned. He was to have been with us. You all heard the rumor that an attempt would be made to assassinate him on his way back. It cannot be that—”
He paused. There was no need to finish the sentence for the faces of all in the company advertised the fact that the same fear had entered the mind of each man there. It was a disquieting thought; for all men recognized now that the strong hand of Prince Peter was needed at the
The King had faced about. Slowly, with white, set face and dignified stride, his Majesty walked back to the head of the table. He glanced coldly about the board.
“You have demanded that we sign this heinous paper,” he said, his voice cold with the evenness of an irrevocable decision. “An ungrateful country clamors for war. Our word has been pledged that Ironia shall not join the pack that seeks to drag down the German empires. That word must stand. Sirs, we refuse absolutely to sign this iniquitous declaration!” “But, sire,” protested Vanilis, “recollect what this refusal means. The army is determined. Even the household guards have joined in the clamor. Sire, your life might even be placed in jeopardy!”
“Our life is of no value beside our honor,” said Alexander, with dignified scorn. He reached into the breast of his uniform and drew out a document, which he placed on the table before him. “There is our answer. The hand of Alexander shall never sign the order that declares this infamous war. But, sirs, if on war you are bent, war you shall have. We gladly lay down the distasteful task of ruling a nation of ingrates.”
The men round the table sat silent. But each of them knew that that paper was the King’s abdication!
As he turned the sound of sudden tumultuous cheering came up to them from the streets below. It was almost as though the news of the stubborn King’s dramatic exit had been translated by some speedy telepathy to the eager crowds without. Alexander frowned bitterly and turned back to the silent company about the council table.
“They cheer now,” he said, grimly. “What will they do after your mad determination and their lust has flooded the country in blood—and German Uhlans ride down the Lodz ! Sirs, I have warned you. The ruin of Ironia be on your heads!”
He walked slowly from the room, head held proudly high, one hand clenched across his breast, the other pressed tightly on his sword hilt.
“The King is dead,” uttered one of the men, almost with awe ; “Long live the—”
“Long live King Peter!” cried another, with enthusiasm.
For a door at the other end of the hall had opened to admit the Prince; his sudden arrival the cause, quite apparently, of the clamor that had broken out in the square below. Prince Peter was flushed with rapid riding and spattered with mud. It was clear that he had ridden far and fast to attend this momentous conference.
“Gentlemen, it is war!” he cried, with high enthusiasm. “The country through which I have come is literally ablaze. Nothing can hold us back now. Austria has struck the first blow. And I bring you news. The Russian armies move on Mulkovina to-morrow. Ironia must declare herself to-day.”
Danilo Vanilis, sitting at the end of the table, rose and held a paper out toward
“All that is needed is the signature of his Majesty the King. Sign, sire!”
Peter gazed at the other for a moment, growing wonderment on his face. Then he glanced quickly around the crowded board.
“Alexander abdicated five minutes ago. King Peter now rules in Ironia,” announced Vanilis with a low bow.
Peter was a man of quick comprehension and decision. He grasped the pen.
“That King is fortunate,” he declared, “whose first duty is to fight a cause so dear to the hearts of the people over whom he has been called to rule ! To-night, sirs, we leave for the front!”
TU'VENTS moved fast in Ironia. At five o’clock Peter was publicly declared King, the announcement being received with manifestations of the wildest joy in Serajoz. At 5.30 an official statement of Ironia’s intentions was communicated to the ambassadors of Austria, Germany and Turkey, and their passports were handed to them. At six o’clock the first regiment marched out of the capital for the front, through streets lined with deliriously happy multitudes.
The work of mobilization was begun with feverish haste. King Peter spent three hours directing the efforts of the general staff and in conference with the leading bankers. In Balkan warfare, the financing of the campaign is even more important than the mobilization of the forces. As he worked, however, the new monarch never for a moment lost sight of the grim spectre that had haunted him for two days. Varden had brought him word of the abduction of Olga just as he was preparing for his trip to the
I frontier. Since then, he had heard no j news of her.
A stem Spartan in everything else, Peter had been the most loving and indulgent of fathers. Left an orphan when less than a year old, Olga had soon gained ! complete possession of her father’s heart. He had pampered and petted her in quite as complete degree as any foolishly partial narent that ever ruined a child in sheer blindness of affection; but Olga, having ! one of those rare natures that cannot be spoiled, even by parental indulgence, had developed greater stores of sweetness and grace in the strong light of her father’s love. It can be surmised, therefore, that when the news of the abduction of the Princess reached him, he had been thrown into a ferment of fear; but, knowing how much the welfare of Ironia depended upon him, Peter had delayed his departure only long enough to issue instructions for the pursuit of her abductors.
The news awaiting him on his return had been disquieting. No direct clue as to her whereabouts had been found, although there was plenty of evidence to show that the abduction had been the work of brigands from the hills. It was with a heavy heart, therefore, that Peter applied himself to the multitudinous duties devolving upon him with his sudden accession to the throne of Ironia on I the eve of her entry into the war.
Outside the demonstration continued, growing in enthusiasm as hour suc| ceeded hour. Military headquarters was Í besieged by men begging for an opportunity to enlist. A statue in the j square before the royal palace, representing the lost provinces, was literally j covered with flowers. The public streets were rendered quite impassable by the masses of exuberant citizens who loudly acclaimed the new king, and clamored for a sight of him.
1 About the time that His Majesty rose from the desk to which he had been chained for three hours of unremitting activity, Fenton, weary and dust-laden, astride a foam-flecked horse, turned into the north end of the Lodz. On receiving the startling intelligence that the human instrument of Miridoff’s foul purpose had followed Peter to the capital, intent on carrying out his work, Fenton had at once secured a guide from Larescu and had negotiated a difficult short cut through the mountain country. Arriving at the base of the chain of hills in the early forenoon, he had procured a horse. An all-day gallop with one change of mount in the late afternoon, brought him to the city about nine o’clock in a condition bordering on total collapse. Since his arrival in Ironia, Fenton had found little opportunity for sleep, and his exploits had been as varied as they were arduous. By sheer force of will only, was he able to maintain his seat in the saddle.
The presence of dense crowds in the Lodz did not surprise him: all the way down from the hill country he had found increasing evidences of excitement which satisfied him that Crane’s spectacular coup had finally brought Ironia into the war. As the density of the crowd grew, he was forced to abandon his mount, and
continue forward toward the palace of the prince on foot. It became very slow work, until finally Fenton’s patience gave way. Fearing that every moment lost might cost the prince his life, Fenton broke recklessly through the crowd, using his fists freely when occasion demanded. This inevitably brought him into conflict in a crowd where the fighting spirit ran so high. As he crossed the square in front of the king’s palace, a much excited and picturesquely ragged man blocked his way determinedly. Fenton roughly elbowed him aside, and received in reprisal a blow in the face. His assailant .poured out a volume of abuse in French, which caused the Canadian to turn and regard him curiously. To his delight, Fenton recognized his acquaintance of the Greek restaurant, M. François Dubois.
“Dubois, by all that’s holy!” he cried. “It’s lucky I can claim a prior acquaintance. Otherwise I fear you would be inclined to show me no mercy. You have plenty of strength left in that arm of yours, my friend.”
“M. Fenton,” cried the Frenchman. “Ah, my young friend, forgive me. I have strength left, yes — strength *to shoulder a rifle, monsieur. To-morrow I enlist for the service.”
‘ft am just back from the hill country,” said Fenton. “What is the news? Has war been declared yet?”
“War was declared by our good King Peter within an hour of bis accession to the throne,” cried the Frenchman.
“King Peter!” exclaimed Fenton, surveying M. Dubois as though he feared the Frenchman had been suddenly bereft of his senses.
“It was just as I told you, Monsieur, Alexander would not give in. When he found that war could no longer be staved off, he abdicated. And so Peter became king.”
“Then I must lose no time,” cried Fenton. “It is doubly important that I get to him at once. I have news of a plot against his life.”
He plunged with reckless haste through the crowds, opening an avenue by sheer force and thus enabling M. Dubois to follow along in his wake without difficulty. “Make way! In the name of the King!” cried the Frenchman at intervals, in the native tongue. This caused the people in front to give way. Nevertheless the progress of the pair was intolerably slow.
There is an emotional strain in the Ironian which manifests itself in moments of stress and unusual excitement. When stirred by any deep emotion he will emit strange cries and break into highpitched interminable chants. To the visitor this tendency is inexplicable, and it has contributed not a little to the feeling among other races that there is something uncanny about the men of the Balkan mountains. As Fenton piloted M. Dubois through the square, a monotonous chant arose from all sides and, mingling with the shrill and warlike cries, created a literal pandemonium of sound.
To Be Continued.