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Title: The secret spring

Author: Pierre Benoît

Release date: November 1, 2022 [eBook #69281]
Most recently updated: December 4, 2022

Language: English

Original publication: United States: Dodd, Mead and company, 1920

Credits: Laura Natal Rodrigues (Images generously made available by Hathi Trust Digital Library.)











Long have I hesitated to give back to Life the legacy left me by Death. But at last, reflecting that Lieutenant Vignerte and She whom he loved have vanished into the eternal shades, I have decided that there is no longer any reason to keep silence about the tragic events staged in the German court of Lautenburg-Detmold in the months immediately preceding the Great War.

P. B.


"Unpile Arms!"

Of its own motion and by that force of habit which makes the word of command superfluous, the dark mass of the company rose and formed fours to the right.

The darkness was falling, cold and cruel, slashed with long liquid streaks. It had been raining all day. In the middle of the clearing a grey-green sky looked up at us from shadowy pools.

An order rang out: "Quick March!" The little body moved off. I was at the head. At the edge of the wood was a country-house, some eighteenth-century fantasy; two or three shells had been enough to demolish the wings. The chandeliers of the big ground-floor room, multiplied in its mirrors and sparkling through its tall windows, enhanced the sinister blackness of the falling October night.

Five or six shadowy forms in long cloaks stood out against this background of light.

"What Company?"

"The 24th of the 218th Regiment, sir."

"Are you taking over the Blanc-Sablon trenches?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. When you've got your men installed, go for your orders to battalion headquarters. Your C.O. has them. Good luck!"

"Thank you, sir."

In the darkness, like a group of fantastic hunch-backs, the men stood round, leaning on their sticks and arching their backs under the amazing weight of their packs, crammed with miscellaneous paraphernalia. For the trenches were a desert island. How could you tell what you might want there? So the men took down everything they could carry.

They maintained a grave, morose silence, the usual silence that marked the occupation of a new sector. Besides, Blanc-Sablon had a bad reputation. The enemy's trenches were some way off—three or four hundred yards—it is true, but the nature of the ground was such that the only cover consisted of a few wretched dug-outs which were always collapsing and indeed, only kept in existence at all by great baulks of timber. Further, the place was wooded and cut by ravines where you could not see fifty yards ahead of you. And nothing in war is so nerve-racking as the mystery of the invisible.

A voice—"Any chance of lights?"

"Lights" meant cards. Card-playing was permitted when the dug-outs were deep enough and there was a good thick tarpaulin to cover the entrance.

Another muttered:

—"How long are we going for?"

A question that remained unanswered. In October, 1914, the war had not yet become an affair of administration, with a rota of reliefs, leave.... You never knew how long you would stay in bad trenches which you could not make up your mind to improve. It was not worth while. You might have been there a month already, but you would be certain to be moved off before the end of the week.

I felt my way with my stick down the forest path, helped by three feet of light from the puny lantern which a soldier hid under his cloak. It is a trying experience to lead men by unfamiliar paths through a forest at night. Behind you the men, and even the officers, follow like sheep, their one concern being to avoid knocking their noses against the pack of the man in front—their sole horizon—at some sudden stop. The others could think of reliefs, their cards, their homes, anything.... But I was preoccupied solely with the necessity of keeping my sightless column on the right track.

Nothing could be heard but the muffled tramping which wound along indefinitely behind me. The trees made a dark dome above our heads. Every now and then we looked up as we came to a clearing, but the sky was as dark as the vault of foliage.

"Where is Lieutenant Vignerte?"

"At the head, sir."

A hand was placed on my shoulder. It was Vignerte's.

Since our Captain left us after Craonne to command a battalion of another regiment, Raoul Vignerte, senior to me in the service, had been in command of the company. He was a man of twenty-five, slight, with a splendid dark head. Two months of war had done more than ten years of peace could have done to draw us together. We did now know each other before August, 1914, yet we had common memories of those bygone days. I came from Béarn, he from Landes. I had taken German at the Sorbonne. He, two years later, had taken history. Alternately jovial and absorbed, he was always a wonderful company commander. Occasionally the men found him a trifle distant, irresponsible, perhaps, but they liked his calm, soldierly bearing, his never-failing interest in their welfare. Vignerte did not sleep with the men, as I did. But they knew that if he kept his dug-out to himself it was invariably the most dilapidated, straw-less, and exposed he could find.

As far as I was concerned, he left nothing undone to make me forget that, though he was two years younger than myself, he was my superior officer. On my side, glad though I was to have such a comrade to obey, I was even more glad to escape all the responsibilities of a company commander. Strength-returns, discussions with the sergeant-major and the quartermaster, company accounts (though these are reduced to a minimum in the field), would never have been much to my liking. Vignerte, who had not slept one hour a night during the retreat, who had been the last to leave Guise in flames and the first to enter Ville-aux-Bois in ruins, this same Vignerte dealt with the horrible mass of detail with methodical vigour. Every now and then when I saw this charming intellectual wholly absorbed in such sordid duties, I would think: What distraction is he seeking? From what black thoughts is he fleeing?... Then, as if fearing detection, he would come to me with some joke and that day the regiment would know no one more merry and careless.

This evening he was in his dark mood. And why not, with the responsibility of introducing two hundred and fifty men to a new sector? Besides, he might have orders of which I did not yet know.

"Where are we?" he asked.

"Ten minutes more to battalion headquarters," I replied. And, lowering my voice, I queried: "Any news?"

"I believe one company of the battalion is to carry out some operation. But it's not our turn. Besides, I'm going to remain at headquarters. You can carry out the relief without me. I shall come down with the orders a quarter of an hour afterwards."

Blanc-Sablon was indeed a lugubrious spot. On one wall of a ravine rose its shell-riven dwarf forest, with wooded horns and great caves of shadow, while away in front a road, barricaded with tree-trunks, stretched to the village, a few hundred yards off, occupied by the enemy.

The men, hitherto silent, could no longer restrain a hasty comment.

"Good Lord! What a show! Here's a pretty place for you! We always strike a hole like this!"


In some respects taking over is not unlike the figure of a cotillon. The Company-Commander, each section officer, corporal and man must immediately seek out his opposite number, the company-commander, section officer, corporal or man whose place he has to take.

It was all over in five minutes, soundlessly, of course, or hostile artillery would soon have had this human mass, half of it without cover of any kind, under fire and reduced to pulp.

Silence, comparatively easy to obtain from the incoming party, was nothing like so easy to exact from the departing host. The pleasant prospects of approaching sleep under cover and a few days' "rest" behind the lines loosened their tongues. They could not resist a few words of advice to their successors:

"I'd advise you to keep clear of that loophole. There's a gent over there who doesn't love me. I have had three pots at him today. If he isn't dead he will be wanting his turn. And then ..."


Truly a vile sector—four, five small posts to be manned, twelve sentries to be found, not to mention patrols. Not much chance of sleep for my poor fellows here.


"Good-bye. Thanks for your help."

It was the officer of the out-going company who was moving off. The sound died away in the woods.

It was high time. The moon was already up.

Swathed in pale yellow mist, she swam mournfully through a sea of grey flakes. She had turned her lamp on the desolate white countryside, the shattered tree-stumps, and clayey wastes. The men vanished into their shelters. The sentries kept their rifles down lest the bayonet should catch the light. Behind us a number of small, flat mounds, with pathetic wooden railings, loomed into view.

These were the graves.

The men had not noticed them. All the better. It was better they should not see them until next morning—by daylight, when they would have got used to the place and our little world would be feeling the comparatively enlivening influence of the sun.

* * * * * *

My five small posts and twelve sentries were placed. The company was established in its burrow. Those not on watch were already snoring. With two trusty men—you can always find some of that breed, wakeful and inquisitive—I started on my rounds.

"Tell Lieutenant Vignerte I have gone to get into touch with the 23rd. Ask him to wait for me in my dug-out. I shall be back in a quarter of an hour."

We crept along the hedges. At regular intervals lights soared from the German trenches and fell back to earth in a pale blue halo.

"Who goes there!"



"It is the officer of the 24th sent to get into touch with you. Anything new on your side?"

"No, sir, unless it's the scrap we've just had with a German patrol. It was the shots you heard just now. We've killed one."

A corpse was lying in the grass. I bent over it. On the shoulder strap was the number "182."

"What about his papers!"

"The Captain has them."

"Our small post is two hundred yards away, there, in the coppice.... Oh, yes! At two o'clock a patrol will come round. Don't forget it!"

"Very good, sir."

"Good night."

When I got back Vignerte was in my dug-out. He was smoking a cigarette.

"Anything fresh?" I asked him.

"Nothing," he replied, "at any rate for tonight. But of course the 22nd may get a knock. In front of them is a horn of the wood where we have reason to think that the Boche is working on a sap. The 22nd are to inspect and, if possible, upset their game. One section goes over at 6 A.M., the rest follow to support it. As soon as the explosions are heard the 23rd are to fire at the trenches opposite to hold down their occupants, but we ourselves are not to move unless things go wrong. In any case the 23rd attack before us. So we can count on a quiet night. Have you anything fresh?"

"The company has taken over all right," I said. "They're so uncomfortable, in fact, that I don't think we need worry about them. Many of them can't help keeping awake. I have got into touch with our neighbours; their is nothing to report in that quarter except that they've had a scrap with a German patrol. They've knocked out one."

"Really," said Vignerte. "Infantry or Jäger?"

"Infantry. 182nd Regiment of Prussian Infantry."

"I should like to know," said my friend, "where those folk opposite come from."

So saying he drew out his pocket Lavanzelle. "160th—Posen, 180th—Altona, 181st—Lippe, 182nd—Lautenburg ... Lautenburg ..."


He repeated, "Lautenburg."

"Do you know Lautenburg?" I said, struck by the tone of his voice.

"Yes," he replied gravely. "Are you sure of the number?"

"Of course," I replied rather sharply. "But what does it matter—Lautenburg or anywhere else!"

"Yes," he murmured, "what does it matter!"

I looked at him closely. It was quite easy, because, absorbed as he was, he had no thought for me at all.

"Vignerte," I said, "what's the trouble; you don't seem yourself—any bad news?"

But he had already recovered and shrugged his shoulders.

"My dear chap! Bad news! From whom? I have no one in the world and you know it."

"That may be," I answered, "but you are upset tonight. I want you to stay with me and you can fix up company headquarters where you like."

"I admit I'm a bit overwrought," he broke in. "What's the time?"

"Seven o'clock."

"Let's play cards."

The suggestion was so unexpected coming from him that the two men with me looked up in amazement. No one in the company had ever seen Lieutenant Vignerte touch a card.

"Here, Damestoy," he said, "surely you or Henriquez have got some cards."

They nodded.

As if they would be without!

"What can you play?"

"Écarté, sir."

"All right; écarté." For a full hour Vignerte lost steadily. It was an odd game. The two penniless soldiers were looking at each other in amazement, unable to determine which was the more remarkable feature of this adventure, the honour Lieutenant Vignerte had done them or the sum—12 francs—they had won from him.

I looked at him in growing perplexity. Suddenly he threw down the cards: "A silly game. It's eight o'clock and I'm going out to see the first relief."

"I'm going with you."

I shall never forget that night. The sky had gradually shed its fleece of clouds, and the moon, almost at the full, shone in the cold blue dome. Below, the line of sandbags and trenches made long white tracks.

Starshells were now useless and none were seen.

Dead silence reigned. Occasionally a sharp buzz marked the passage of a stray bullet close by and soon after the crack of the rifle down in the valley was heard.

In low tones we exchanged the password with our sentries, some sprawling full length in a shell-hole, others crouching behind bushes. The company was strung out over a long front, five hundred yards at least, and our round took us a good hour.

When we got to the end of it Vignerte asked me:

"Where is the last post of the 23rd?"

We visited it. The four men were about to bury the German who had just been killed as deeply as they could.

Vignerte quickly stepped down among them and leaning over the grave searched in the soil they were throwing back. The corpse appeared.

"—182nd. That's it," he murmured.

He shivered and turned to me: "Let's go back. I'm beginning to feel cold."

* * * * * *

Damestoy and Henriquez were asleep in the dug-out where the three runners had come for them. With the natural deference of the private soldier they had arranged the best spots for us—two holes with plenty of straw and a pile of dark blankets.

The silence was broken only by the gentle breathing of these good fellows and, occasionally, the squeak of a field-mouse hunting for the ears still left in the straw. I could not see Vignerte, who was lying beside me, but I was sure he was not asleep. The open door of the dug-out showed a blue patch of sky with a silvery star hanging like a tear in its depths.

An hour, perhaps, passed thus. Vignerte had not moved. He ought to have been asleep, this mysterious comrade whom the war had sent me. Why was he so moved tonight? What memories had possessed a mind which appeared to be fixed ruthlessly on the thousand details of war as if to avoid straying aimlessly through forbidden worlds?...

And suddenly I heard a deep sigh while a hand clasped mine.

"Vignerte, what on earth's the trouble?"

An even more convulsive clasp of his hand was all my reply.

Then I burnt my boats.

"Old man, dear old man. I think I've earned the right to call you that. Let me share the trouble that's weighing on you. You are unhappy tonight. Tell me your sorrow. If we were in Paris, or anywhere else, I should not be guilty of this indiscretion. But a confidence which would be absurd elsewhere becomes sacred here. Tomorrow, perhaps, we shall be in action, Vignerte! Tomorrow, perhaps, four men will be digging our graves where that German sleeps now. Won't you speak to me, Vignerte, won't you tell me? ..."

I felt the pressure of his hand relax.

"It will be a long story, old fellow. And will you understand? I mean, won't you think me a bit mad?"

"I'm listening," I said firmly.

"You shall hear then. For these memories almost choke me, and indeed there are some which it would be selfish for me to take away alone. So much the worse for you. You will get no sleep tonight! ..."

This is the strange story which Lieutenant Vignerte told me that night of October 30th, 1914, at the spot which those who have known it call the "Crossroads of Death."



YOU are a University man, he began. You must forgive me if the opening of my story is not free from a suggestion of bitterness against the University of which I was never a member. No doubt my feelings are without justification, since to the fact that I was never admitted I owe memories which, after all, I would not exchange for a chair at the Sorbonne.

I took the course marked out for those with some intelligence and no money, and went in for scholarships. That means I undertook, somehow, to get through examinations every year, to acquire a certain habit of mind and with it, as climax, a teacher's diploma and a post in a provincial school.

At first I justified the hopes reposed in me by the Council-General of my Department. My scholarship at the Mont-de-Marsan school was succeeded by another in advanced rhetoric at the Henry IV. school. There it was that in 1912 I tried to get into the École Normale Supérieure. Thirty-five candidates were accepted. I came out thirty-seventh. By way of consolation prize I was offered a scholarship at the Faculté des Lettres of Bordeaux University.

I then did something which met with disapproval from the few friends who took any interest in me. During my year as a boarder I had glimpsed Paris as a convict sees green fields through the bars of his cell. I remember myself as a penniless schoolboy walking in the Champs-Elysées one Grand-Prix day in June. All the millionaires were returning home from the races. Each of the cars that flashed down the avenue in a brilliant stream cost ten times more than my poor self had cost since I came into the world. A wonderful lemon and mauve light flooded the scene. I was dazzled. This vision of extravagance inspired me with none of the sentiments that turns the underdog into a rebel.

If only I could have my share some day! "Balzac is an excellent realist," my professor of rhetoric used to splutter out. And if that narrow-minded but honest old fellow said so, it vouched for the truth of those adventures of young provincial heroes who, rather than accept insignificance in an obscure corner of their native land, have come to the Great City, tamed her and made her the submissive hand-maid of their desires.

And now they were proposing to send me to the end of the earth. I had been weighed in the balance and found wanting. Well, we should see!

Accordingly I resigned my scholarship and decided to enrol myself at the Sorbonne with a view to taking my licence ès lettres. A voice within said: "Do not enter the University, but do not despise its degrees. They are only useful when you have not been there. Outside they are excellent blinds."

In a year I had taken my licence, living on the lessons I managed to give here and there, and imbibing from these tasks an ever-keener longing for freedom. But in the end I felt myself beaten, and resigned myself to the fate I had despised. I entered for a scholarship in history, asking for Bordeaux. And I bade farewell to Paris.

The Consultative Committee of Public Education, whose duty it is to decide in these matters, usually met at the beginning of October. I spent the intervening two months at a fishing village in the Landes, at the house of an old curé (it sounds dull, but it's true), who opened his poor house to me in memory of my parents, whom he had known.

It was there, my friend, that I passed the most peaceful days of my life. I was free to roam at will through the great woods of the district, with no other appointments beyond meal-times. For the first time my reading was confined to such things as did not figure in an examination syllabus or the annual competition, and my mind could take in undistracted the glorious miracle of the dying season.

The curé's house was at one end of a small lake which communicated with the sea through a narrow channel choked with aquatic plants. In the morning the roar of the tide woke me in my open room. From my window I would watch the irresistible advance of the great green ocean under a pink and grey sky. Wild duck and curlew wheeled overhead with their plaintive cries. What a temptation to stay there for ever! To watch the calm passage of the seasons. To be free from social ties, official routine, or any link with life. To spend all day and every day on the long straight dunes, where the great waves roll up ceaselessly in the wind and the jelly-fish thrown up high and dry on the silvery sand look for all the world like amethyst pendants.

Then one October morning came two letters, one from the Bordeaux Academy which announced that the Consultative Committee "regretted they had been unable to give favourable consideration to my application for a post." The other was signed by Monsieur Thierry, Professor of Germanic Language and Literature at the Sorbonne. This good man and conscientious scholar had been my tutor for a year, and he it was who had corrected the thesis I submitted in July for my licence—on "Clausewitz and France," of all things. I had never had anything but praise for him. I knew he cherished friendly feelings for me and possibly reproached himself somewhat. He was on the Committee and his letter was an endeavour to justify the decision. Personally he had done what he could, but some of the members had expressed doubts as to my suitability for the teaching profession, and on this point even he himself had to confess he spoke without much conviction. But in any case, it was better thus. He could not imagine me a provincial student. "Return at once," he ended up, "there is perhaps a way out which will enable you to live in Paris."

I bade farewell to my good old curé, promising him to return in the January vacation, and next day I stepped out on the platform of the Gare d'Orsay.

It was already winter. You could easily count the statues in the leafless Luxemburg. The fire was crackling in M. Thierry's little room in the Rue Royer-Collard.

"My dear boy," he began—and lonely as I was, I felt extremely grateful for this preface—"you mustn't think hardly of the Committee. It is the duty of my colleagues to keep a single eye on the interests of the University, and you yourself won't deny that in your work you have often displayed—how shall I put it?—a spirit of fancy, yes, a spirit of fancy likely to alarm folk so ... serious-minded. I, of course, know you, and it's another matter. I know that that spirit under good guidance will become nothing more than a pleasant originality. But first let me put a question. Do you really feel a call to the teaching profession?"

What reply was to be expected from a man with exactly one hundred and seven francs and a few centimes in his pocket? I stoutly protested my conviction.

"Well," he went on, "I have the very thing for you. That post would have given you one thousand two hundred francs at the most. I have recommended you to an old friend of mine who is director at the Ternes, a private institution. He is looking out for a history teacher. Six hours a week for one hundred and seventy-five francs a month, and the chance of some private tuition. For example, you may, if you wish, continue your own studies at the Sorbonne at the same time. I know you and will make myself responsible for you. It is now Tuesday. If you like the prospect you can start on Friday."

I felt the harsh, cold grip of usherdom upon my neck. Oh, those Champs-Elysées! The furswathed women with their entrancing wake of perfume behind them! But how could I fail to "like the prospect"? One hundred and seven francs and a few centimes....

I overwhelmed him with my gratitude.

He rubbed his hands.

"I am seeing M. Berthomieu this evening. Come back at ten tomorrow and I will give you place and time."

* * * * * *

Tuesday, October 21st, 1913.—Night was falling. In the Rue August-Comte I ran into groups of schoolboys coming out of the Lycée Montaigne. Oh, schoolboys, scholars and otherwise, stick to your mathematics, enter the Arts et Métiers, keep to your counters, lest one day you, too, find yourselves this comic puppet which skirts the Luxemburg and is lost in the Rue d'Assas.

Always that "spirit of fancy" of which my kind tutor disapproved! Well, let's give the poor thing a farewell treat and take it to dine on the right bank.

Vignerte paused at this point of his story. Then he resumed:

"A bullet whistled past a short time back—there, just above our heads. Did it occur to you that if you had happened to pop your head out at that precise moment you'd have been laid out stiff! How far do you think luck goes in life?"

"The other day," I answered, "there was trouble in the 11th Squad. No one wanted to go on water fatigue. Each of them said it wasn't his turn. As the squabble grew fiercer I intervened. I sent the first man I came across, the one who had been protesting loudest, as it happened. He went off grumbling that it wasn't fair. He left his cap behind him. When he came back he couldn't find it. It had been pulverized by a shell and his twelve comrades with it."

"We seem to agree," said Vignerte.

He resumed his story.

What impulse was urging me on that evening, I, who confined myself to the tawdry delights of the Latin Quarter and never crossed the bridges at night? I remember I tried a one-man orgy at the "Grand V." Then I thought I'd like to take my coffee on the terrace of the Weber. Pretending I could refuse myself nothing, I passed before the lamps of the Olympia with the fixed intention of granting myself the joys of the promenade. Rather excited after my bottle of Barsac I walked very straight, staring brazenly at the girls.

It was cold. I went back to Weber's and at once the lights and the throng restored my natural timidity. I sat down humbly in a corner with that lack of ease characteristic of a man who is afraid that people will notice he is not used to being there.

Opposite me a group of young people were making a good deal of noise. Enviously I studied their clothes and that air of easy assurance, the sure sign of a happiness which, perhaps, I should never attain. Truly I was not exactly made for the University, I whom learned expositions, bibliographies and works of reference left sceptical, I whose heart almost beat quicker at the sight of a well-cut waistcoat, a well-tied tie and elegant socks visualized under well-creased trousers!

They were a party of four, one a woman, pink and pretty, in her furs. Painted a little, perhaps, though I've never minded that. She was seated next to one of the handsome young men, and facing me. The other two had their backs to me, but in the mirror I could see their faces, slightly flushed by a good dinner, which was then approaching its end.

That evening I realized the humiliation of those who go for their coffee to a fashionable restaurant. Said I to myself: "You'd far better have stayed at home, dined anywhere, gone to bed and slept, yes, slept. Sleep is the poor man's haven. You oughtn't to have come here."

And yet.... It was gradually beginning to dawn upon me that one of the men with his back to me was studying me closely in the mirror, when he got up and came over to me.



I had come across this Ribeyre during my advanced rhetoric course. He had already obtained his licence, and was, like me, a candidate for Normale, though he displayed that indifference to results which comes from a private income and ambitions in other directions.

"What are you up to?"

"You can see for yourself," I said, somewhat stung. Then I added quickly:

"What about you? Anything new since Henri IV.?"

"Don't mention that awful hole, old boy. Talk about instructing youth! I should have made a mess of things if I'd listened to them...."

He, too, added:

"What about you?"

"I couldn't help having to listen to them. I'm still listening to them," I replied bitterly. "But what's your job now? You don't seem to be having a bad time."

"I've been extraordinarily lucky, my boy. I was appointed Private Secretary to a Deputy, and six months later he became Minister for Foreign Affairs. I followed him to the Foreign Office. There we are! But come out of your corner and I'll introduce you to the friends of Ministers."

Ribeyre did indeed introduce me.

"My friend Vignerte—a worker if there ever was one. Got his diploma and Lord knows what else—Agrégé, perhaps? No—so much the better for you. Who knows it better than we three, not to mention Clotilde."

Clotilde nodded stiffly and gave me an ironical glance.

I was on the rack. This panegyric was so suited to my poor, baggy trousers! It was very charming of them all the same, though perhaps this praise of my brains was more a compliment to their own tact and skill in dealing with any situation.

After a short time Ribeyre got up.

"Good-bye till tomorrow, you people. My salaams, Clotilde. You must come with me, Vignerte, and see me home."

Outside he took my arm.

"I'm going to the office. There are some letters of the old man's to send off. Come with me."

The Rue Royale was a blaze of light. Women swathed in long silk cloaks stepped from cars at restaurant doors. The sight of this world of luxury intoxicated me, urged me, drove me to try and extract some material advantage from my chance meeting with Ribeyre. I felt he was only too anxious to dazzle me with his new glory. Who knows, perhaps I should end by getting something out of his desire to parade his power. What can't be got from human vanity!

What about my own vanity, when I ascended the steps of the Foreign Office at his side? A tall lackey took us up in the lift—another received us on the first floor.

"Any telephone messages, Fabien?"

"Yes, sir, one from the Minister of Commerce. He is dining with the Minister tomorrow, and says they will meet at the Chamber. I took the message down in writing."

A minute later we were in a charming little grey and gold room. Ribeyre tapped the desk.

"Vergennes' table," he said casually. "Excuse me," he added, sitting down. He began to open letters, marking them with a red pencil as he did so. "Don't mind about talking. This isn't a very exacting job. Tell me what you are doing. How far have you got with the University?"

I told him the whole story from my leaving Henri IV. to my approaching appointment at M. Berthomieu's. He looked up.

"You've accepted it?"

"What else could I do?" I answered sharply. "I can't starve."

Starve! The word sounded oddly among all the Gobelins, Boule furniture and Sèvres.

Ribeyre rose. I had an intuition that I was saved.

"You needn't go to Berthomieu's, old chap. You'll do for yourself at that game. I know you, and I'm positive you're not made for the University. What you want is this."

With a sweep of his hand he indicated the pageant of power about us.

What a psychologist Ribeyre was!

"Listen," he said, perching himself on the arm of my chair. "Have you any objection to leaving the country for a bit? I say for a bit, because it is only in Paris that the game is really played and won. At present you haven't a sou. This is the sort of place where a fellow like you with enough to live on for a year and no material preoccupations could have the future at his feet."

"Well?" said I, breathless.

He went on, relishing the pleasure of appearing such a great man. "All right, then. You will do me a good turn in exchange for mine. I lunched this morning with Marçais at the German Embassy. Do you know Marçais? He is our Minister at Lautenburg. Have you heard of Lautenburg?"

"It is one of the German States."

"It is the Grand Duchy of Lautenburg-Detmold. Reigning Sovereign, His Highness Frederick-Augustus," he said magisterially. "His Highness is afflicted with an heir of about fifteen, for whom he is seeking a tutor. You know that French is a sine qua non in every Court. Have you got your licence?"


"Good. Do you know German?"

"Fairly well; enough for the Sorbonne."

"Doesn't matter. They all talk French over there. Well, the Grand Duke instructed Marçais, when he left for Paris, to find him a tutor. Marçais is a charming fellow, a man of real distinction!... Charvet makes him his exclusive ties. Afterwards he destroys the model. But this is no reproach. He's not much good at getting out of a hole. Yesterday he casually told me of his mission. He is going to the Ministry of Education tomorrow, and as you can imagine, he will find tutors galore there, especially in view of the salary the Grand Duke offers—ten thousand marks a year."

"Ten thousand marks!" I echoed in amazement.

"We must fix the thing up at once. I'll write a note to Marçais."

He read it out to me. I could only blush at the compliments he lavished on me.

"Marçais will get this tomorrow morning. He is a punctilious old fellow, and if he's up at nine o'clock it will be to summon you. By the way, what's your address?"

"7, Rue Cugas."

"Don't forget to give your Rue Cugas a call or you may miss his appointment."

"Give me the note," I said. "I'll post it myself."

My eagerness obviously flattered him. A vain smile spread over his face.

"Lucky dog! Instead of old Berthomieu's fare you're going to sample life at a castle, or, rather, a palace. Lautenburg is a marvellous place, I'm told. Marçais preferred remaining there to two years' promotion. The Grand Duke is a pleasant fellow. The Grand Duchess hunts foxes better than a man. Marçais told me he killed his best horse trying to keep up with her. The only thing is, mind you make a place for yourself."

I saw him glance at my poor clothes.

"You need not be afraid of that," I broke in, with an assurance that surprised him. He looked at me and smiled again.

"I do believe I'm revealing you to yourself. Keep at it over there, old chap. Come back to us with a few spare thousands. My chief is well established here, but if he sinks I shall leave the ship first. We shall come up smiling. If you really want to get something useful out of people you must have passed the stage of depending on them. There's nothing better than a Minister's cabinet, but you must be able to sit tight and have something in reserve. Otherwise you may find yourself reduced to selling local offices for two thousand francs. You won't find it hard to save six thousand marks over there. You'll have no expenses, so fit yourself out well. It is money invested at a hundred per cent. You might copy Marçais in that. If he wasn't so well-dressed he'd have been booted out long ago."

So spake Etienne Ribeyre. Among other valuable tips, he had just proved to me that in life it may often happen that a casual acquaintance can do more for you than a friend.

Oh, lovely October moon, gazing down on Paris! The Seine flowed in a soft purple mist. I posted my note in the Rue de Bourgogne at the corner by the Chamber of Deputies. Then I felt I must have a walk to be alone with my thoughts. Ten thousand marks! Twelve thousand, five hundred francs! Money does not mean happiness! Then what on earth does? What had given me that confident step, that self-assurance, that lightness of heart?

The Rue de Varenne, the Rue Barbet-de-Jouy, the Boulevard Montparnasse, in turn witnessed my triumphal march. I took no notice of my fellowmen, for I was in my hour. I do not know how my gaze happened to fall, near the Observatory, on a figure moving furtively under a lamp. It was a slip of a girl, with a fleece of red-gold hair. My joy was too great that evening for me to bear it alone. But, standing by her, not for a moment did I think that her body was really her own. The slight form was that of the women of the Champs-Elysées, of the beauties of Maxim's, nay, of those maidens, incomparably fairer, who were doubtless even then awaiting me in a far away German Court, on the banks of a Wagnerian river, beguiling the weary hours with the sweetest strains of the Intermezzo.

* * * * * *

Ten o'clock, and the appointment with M. Thierry which I had almost forgotten. He was reading in a corner by the fire, and when I entered he came forward with a beatific smile.

"I have arranged everything with M. Berthomieu. You are to go to him."

"My dear master," I replied, "I'm afraid I have given you all the trouble for nothing."

And I told him all that had happened the previous evening. In spite of my wish to appear unmoved, I could not manage to conceal my pleasure. I was disappointed that he did not seem to share it at once. He looked at me with astonishment, even with disapproval, I thought.

These university people are all the same, I reflected, no salvation outside the University. I abandoned the pose I found so unnatural to proclaim far and wide my pride in my new glories.

"And, after all," I wound up, "I ask myself how many examinations I should have to pass, how many years I should have to wait to reach the position which is open to me at the start, ten thousand marks a year."

"That's true," he murmured, musing. He looked into the fire for a minute, then got up and went to the bookcase, from which he returned with a large volume in one of those dull-coloured, gilded, but tasteless bindings which characterize many English and German books.

"Are you certain that the proposal has been made to you on behalf of the Grand Duke of Lautenburg-Detmold?" he asked.

"Yes," I replied, "on behalf of the Grand Duke Frederick-Augustus."

"That's the man. To be tutor to his only son, Duke Joachim."

It was thus that I learnt the name of my future pupil.

My old tutor thought a few seconds more, and then, raising his glasses towards me:

"May I ask if you are already bound by any formal contract?"

"Not yet, strictly speaking, but my mind is made up, and I shall go unless some one else is preferred to me."

"In that case let us say no more," said M. Thierry, putting the book back.

I was intrigued and a little annoyed.

"My dear master," I said, "will you be really frank with me? I know you are too interested in my welfare to suggest my refusing such an attractive offer unless you had very serious reasons for doing so. Besides, I may confess that in coming to you this morning I hoped to obtain some valuable information about the Court of Lautenburg-Detmold for your unique knowledge of the men and affairs of modern Germany. I am sure you are even more familiar with these details than I suspected. I am to interview Count de Marçais, our Minister at Lautenburg, very shortly, but it will not be easy for me to question him. Besides, a diplomatist must doubtless observe a certain reticence, which you have not the same reason to consider with me. To put it shortly, may I ask you a question which sums up all this? If you had a son, Monsieur Thierry, would you let him do what I propose to do? Would you let him go to Lautenburg?"

He looked straight at me, and replied firmly, "No."

I confess that my astonishment began to give place to a slight feeling of apprehension. I knew perfectly well that it was not childish pique at my not accepting the post he had found for me, that influenced a man of his profound judgment.

"You must have very good reasons, sir," I said, my voice trembling a little, "to give me so categorical an answer."

"I certainly have," he replied.

"Would you mind telling me what it was you looked up in that book?"

"My dear boy, don't start thinking that that year book of Reigning Houses contains any details of a kind to justify the apprehension I feel at your going to Lautenburg. I have verified a name, confirmed certain recollections—that's all.

"It is true that I have certain private information about the House of Lautenburg-Detmold of which Count de Marçais himself might know nothing, even assuming that he were a more gifted diplomatist than he is reported to be. Besides, he has not been very long at Lautenburg, and never knew the late Grand Duke Rudolph."

"Who was the Grand Duke Rudolph?"

"Haven't you ever heard of him? He was the elder brother of the present Grand Duke. He died a few years ago, two, if I remember rightly."

"So it was his death which gave the succession to the Grand Duke Frederick Augustus?"

"Not directly. The constitution of Lautenburg-Detmold is peculiar. The Salic Law does not apply, and the ducal crown, on the Grand Duke's death, passed to his wife, the Grand Duchess Aurora Anna Eleanor."

"So she has married her brother-in-law?"

"Quite so, and thus it happens that in the absence of children of the Grand Duke Rudolph, your future pupil, Duke Joachim, son of the Grand Duke Frederick and some German countess, is now the heir presumptive to the State of Lautenburg-Detmold. To alter the situation the marriage of his father with the Grand Duchess Aurora would have to be honoured with a bond, a thing which seems most improbable."

"I seem to remember something about it now," I said. "Wasn't there a German Grand Duke who died in Africa—the Congo—while engaged in geographical research two or three years ago?"

"Precisely," replied M. Thierry. "That was the Grand Duke Rudolph. He was always an enthusiastic geographer. His travels could not, it is true, be described as altogether unpolitical. When I remember that a few months later we had Agadir and the loss of the Congo, I can't help thinking that the Grand Duke of Lautenburg had been sent to accomplish some mission on behalf of his august cousin, the Kaiser. It is true he hadn't much time in which to effect his purpose as he died in the Congo shortly after his arrival. It would be interesting...."

"But what is there in all this, sir," I broke in, "that in any way accounts for the solicitude you've just shown on my behalf?"

He seemed put out.

"My dear boy," he said, with an obvious effort. "A historian's plain duty is to accept as fact only what he has been able to verify. From that point of view I confess that my knowledge is confined to vague rumours barely susceptible of proof. Certain reports, an allusion or two, and last—but not least—certain details communicated to me some time back by a friend whose name I must withhold—that's all. I should perhaps add the proverb that there is no smoke without fire."

"Couldn't you be a little more precise as to the purport of the rumours?"

"Will you promise you will keep this entirely to yourself?" he said.

"I give you my word."

"I am told that violent deaths are not unknown at the Court of Lautenburg-Detmold."

My curiosity reached fever-heat.

"What does that mean?" I asked.

"Unfortunately, or rather, fortunately, nothing definite. Still, we can't ignore the fact that two persons stood between Duke Frederick Augustus and the crown."

"But the Grand Duke Rudolph died of sunstroke in the Congo," I said. "It was reported in the press."

"Agreed. That was a natural death all right, but apparently the same cannot be said of the death of Countess von Tepwitz—the present Duke's first wife and the mother of Duke Joachim."

"Do you mean that the Grand Duke was responsible for her death?"

"The Grand Duke Frederick Augustus is a very extraordinary man," continued M. Thierry, "able, well-educated, but a master of dissembling. Is he playing for his own hand? Or for that of the King of Würtemberg, his immediate suzerain? Or, indeed, for the Kaiser? I have studied this question from the point of view of German high politics. It isn't a simple one. Frederick Augustus is a man of ambition, and I don't think he would stop at anything."

"Anyhow," I said, "his calculations have had to take account of the Grand Duchess Aurora. Her consent to marry him was an essential factor."

M. Thierry smiled.

"They might have been in collusion. I admit I don't know that side of the question. In fact, I know nothing of the Grand Duchess except her age," he said, taking up the blue and gold book again, "her Christian names—Aurora—Anna—Eleanor; her Russian origin, and that she was a Tumene princess. The Tumenes are the most powerful family in the Government of Astrakhan. Has she acted in collusion with the present Grand Duke? It is possible. You know as well as I that reasons of state sometimes dictate marriages, but, as I said, I know nothing about her."

"All this does not seem very enlightening, but in any case, I can't see why a humble tutor should have to suffer for the intrigues of such high personages."

"That sounds plausible, but how can you ever say what may result from these sordid affairs. You might find yourself drawn in without knowing it Do you know, in fact, exactly what your duties are? I will tell you what is really in my mind. Your salary is to be ten thousand marks, isn't it? I can't help thinking that figure is unduly high. Your friend Boubelet, with Normale and his agrégation behind him had only eight thousand from the King of Saxony."

I saw clearly that the old professor had some very definite reason for speaking in this way, but that fear of compromising himself prevented him from saying more. I admit it would have made no difference in any case. My curiosity was thoroughly aroused. The lust of adventure was kindled within me, and there was no hesitation about the tone in which I answered:

"I am very much obliged, sir, for your kind warning but my mind is made up. By minding my own business and sticking to my own job, I think I can avoid any and every danger. You admit that it is by no means certain I am running any risk. Will you grant me one more favour?"


"If anything ever strikes me as suspicious, I will write to you about it and ask your advice. Then will be the time ..."

"Don't do any such thing, my young friend. You had better realize now that over there you will inevitably be surrounded by spies. Never write a letter you don't want the Grand Duke to read for you can be quite sure that if he wants to, he won't ask your permission. Once at Lautenburg you'll be absolutely isolated from the world. I know the palace. Its magnificence does not prevent it being more of a fortress than a château."

"I shall always have Count de Marçais."

M. Thierry smiled, a smile which recalled Ribeyre's words: "He's not much good at getting out of a hole."

"Well," he said, "I see your mind is absolutely made up. After all, my apprehensions are possibly exaggerated. You are young and without dependents. You have resolution and strength of mind. I don't know whether I have any right to blame your thirst for adventure. From that point of view I'm possibly too much the slave to my academic outlook. Give me peace and a library. For instance," he concluded, "at Lautenburg you will have one of the finest libraries in the world at your disposal. The Grand Duke's collection is famous. It contains the manuscripts of Erasmus and most of Luther's. So go, my boy.

"One minute, though," he added. "Come back after you have seen Count Marçais. I may be able to give you some practical hints on the best way of performing your tutorial functions."

A note, with a dainty purple seal, was waiting for me at my lodgings. Count Marçais wrote that he would be delighted to see me that day at three o'clock. As I walked to the house of the French Minister at Lautenburg in the Rue Alphonse de Neuville, I reviewed the details of my conversation with M. Thierry. He knows a good deal more than he likes to say, I thought. Was I really being a fool? Well, it remained to be seen. After all, there is no greater folly than letting 12,000 a year go at twenty-five for the pleasure of leading a dull, cul-de-sac existence.

In the light of after events my opinion remains the same.

* * * * * *

Count Mathieu de Marçais had much the same appearance and presence as those with which tradition endows Melarclus, notably the reserved, knowing air of the diplomatist. With such a mask a man can afford the luxury of an empty head. No one can ever find anything to challenge there.

A pleasant-looking woman in her forties, surrounded by elaborate implements, was engaged in manicuring the nails of the Minister Plenipotentiary when I was shown up.

"I cannot apologize enough, sir," he said in his very best style, "for the unceremonious manner in which I have to receive you. But time, dear sir, you know what a precious gift time is in Paris. You can imagine how I, who only spend a fortnight a year in this delightful city, have to economize it."

He poured out half a dozen commonplaces of the same species, looking at himself in the mirror, and stealing sidelong glances at me. I guessed intuitively that this preliminary survey, so important for a man of his stamp, was not altogether unfavourable. But I also gathered that I should not exactly shake his poor opinion of the way in which University men dressed.

When one of his hands had been finished, and was dangling in a bowl of warm rosewater, he decided to get to the point.

"Of course, dear sir, nothing was further from my thoughts than to ask you here to put you through a kind of entrance examination, a task for which I am totally unfitted. I know that you possess all the educational qualifications required. As to the moral and intellectual qualifications, your friend Ribeyre's recommendation guaranteed them even before I was in a position to judge from my own observations."

I bowed. He bowed. He seemed overwhelmed with his own eloquence.

"You will, no doubt, wish to know the nature of your duties at Lautenburg. They will not be exacting! Duke Joachim already has a science tutor. Major von Kessel is responsible for his military education. Your functions will be to teach him French and History. General History, of course. Oh, yes! There is one thing on which the Grand Duke particularly insisted...."

"Now we're coming to it," I thought, remembering M. Thierry's suspicions.

"Do you read poetry well?"

I was somewhat taken aback, though the question was disarmingly simple.

"I really can't say. It's a little difficult...."

"It's essential. The Grand Duke told me to insist upon it. The reason is that the Grand Duchess is passionately fond of French poetry. Probably you will be lent to her occasionally. It is a surprise that his Highness has in store for his wife, who is always complaining that Lautenburg is very lacking in this respect. 'My dear Count,' he said to me, 'I know you are a man of culture and good taste, I leave it to you.' So you will forgive me, dear sir, if I ask for proof in this matter. See," he added, indicating a bookcase with his wet hand. "There are some excellent poets there. Pick and read what you like."

To tell the truth, the collection in the bookcase was very much out of date. I was obliged to select a volume of Casimir Delavigne, and I did my best with his splendid poem Les Limbes:

Ils volent, mais on n'entend pas
Battre leurs ailes.

"Excellent! Excellent!" quoth Count Marçais, the connoisseur. "Isn't it, Madame Mazerat?"

The manicurist made a sharp, clucking noise to demonstrate the pleasure my performance had given her. I've seen many absurd scenes in my life—but none more absurd than that.

"All is well, then," said the Count. "I have no need to tell you that you will be treated with the deference due to your position. The Grand Duke is a man of the greatest charm. The Grand Duchess"—he raised his eyebrows—"is a Russian, and that means everything as regards beauty. Prince Joachim is very tractable, but perhaps a trifle slow-witted. After all, we don't look for French vivacity in Germans. Lastly, the Court is full of charming men and lovely women. Do you ride?"

I indicated that I did not.

"You must learn. You will ride with Kessel, a marvellous horseman. Of course you must come to lunch at the Legation. I have a weird little sketch by Poiret, of which you must give me news. You will see it when I get back in ten days' time. You leave before me as you are expected as soon as possible. If you catch the 10 P.M. the day after tomorrow, you will be in Lautenburg about nine on Sunday morning."

"Very well," I said.

"Very well. Remember me gratefully to the Grand Duke, and convey my respectful homage to Her Highness the Grand Duchess. Oh, Heavens! What am I forgetting!"

He rose, and took a sealed envelope from his wallet.

"The Grand Chamberlain, Herr von Soldau, asked me to give you this," he said discreetly. "Travelling expenses. Good-bye and good luck. Excuse me, Madame Mazerat. I am now entirely at your service."

* * * * * *

I had never spent a penny on a cab in Paris, except when luggage made one necessary going on or returning from holidays. As soon as I came out, however, I took one straight to my lodgings, so great was my haste to see what was inside that envelope I dared not open in the street.

Indeed, I soon began to feel the benefits that accrue from the society of the great. "The Herr Tutor," ran a document, with the heading of the Ducal chancery, "will please find within the first quarter's salary and a thousand marks for travelling expenses." Three thousand five hundred marks accompanied this pleasant invitation.

Four thousand francs and more! I, who had entered Paris only the day before without knowing what I should have to live on in a week's time, possessed four thousand francs and more!

My call on M. Thierry was on my mind, and I decided to get it over at once, telling him I should be leaving the next day.

I found him in his room.

"I can see by your face," he said, "that everything is going well with you. I am glad of it, as perhaps I have alarmed you unnecessarily. When do you start?"

"Tomorrow," I said.

"So this is your last visit, dear boy. What can I say to you? I am sure you will carry out your pedagogic functions admirably. Don't forget the great maxim of Pascal's father: 'Try to keep your pupil ever worthy of his task.' That principle cannot be observed by the ordinary schoolmaster who has to address himself to the average of a class. But when you are dealing with a single pupil you can, and should, apply it."

The splendid old man then gave me some suggestions as to the choice of books in preparing my courses of study. He insisted on my taking his History of German Literature, which I was to find extremely valuable on many occasions at Lautenburg.

"You've no need to thank me," he said, as I murmured words of gratitude. "Probably it is I who will be in your debt. I told you that at Lautenburg you will have a magnificent library at your disposal. The librarian, Professor Cyrus Beck—whom I have met occasionally at various conferences—is a jealous guardian, but he is also a man of learning. I have no doubt that you will be allowed the use of the books and manuscripts which do not bear directly on the great work—the history of the theories of the transmutation of metals—on which he is engaged. You may know, perhaps, that I am myself writing a book on manners and customs at the Court of Hanover at the end of the seventeenth century. I noticed at the Nationale in the catalogue of the Ducal library at Lautenburg, that it contains material of the very highest importance. When you left me this morning I went there to make a list of the principal works I should like you to consult for me if you would be so kind. I am sure that you would find the task very absorbing. Here is my list. I attach particular importance to this work, Stattmutter der Köninglichen Häuser Hannover und Preussen, by the Grand Duchess of Ahlden, published at Leipzig in 1852. In Paris we have only an incomplete reprint. I also recommend the works of Cramer and Palmblad as well as the Roman Octavia (Die Römische Octavia) of Duke Ulrich von Wolfenbüttel.

"Unfortunately," he continued, as I carefully folded his list, "I have only been able to note the printed books. The manuscripts at Lautenburg are not catalogued, but it is by examining them, dear boy, that you can render me the greatest service. There is not the slightest doubt that you will discover there the most precious material on German society of the seventeenth century, that society superficially so refined to the outward eye, but in reality more vicious and cruel than has ever been imagined."

He held out his hands. His emotion told me that there was something still to come.

"I would not for anything hark back to our conversation of this morning," he murmured at length; "but you know, my boy, the interest I take in you. I am more conscious of it than ever now you are going. I beg of you never to yield to the desire, even to the invitations you will doubtless get, to be drawn from your academic functions. Lautenburg is a rich mine of material for those like ourselves whose mission it is to write history. Let us write it and avoid the temptation to make it."

There was nothing but sincerity in my promise to keep this parting advice ever present in my mind.

"Just one other thing. I know nothing of the Lautenburg household except Prince Joachim, the Grand Duke, the Grand Duchess and Count Marçais. At one time there was a certain Baron von Boose there. If he is still there don't see more of him than you can help. Be on your guard against him; always be on your guard against him."

I was curious to know the reason of this final warning, but M. Thierry was once more the historian, the discreet official.

"No, no," he said, "these impressions are too personal. Above all, if that man is no longer at Lautenburg, never ask anything about him. Wait till his name is mentioned or some allusion is made to him. Come, dear boy, it is time to go."

We shook hands. I have never seen him since.

* * * * * *

The feeling of depression in which this visit left me quickly vanished when I got to the money-changers, where I converted half my German notes into French money. I spent the rest of the afternoon in visits to tailors, boot makers and hosiers. For the first time in my life I knew the exquisite, almost painful joy of spending money without reckoning. As I was stock size I had no difficulty at "Old England" in finding a suit, overcoat, and boots to fit. My shabby clothes were wrapped up and sent to my lodgings. Then, as my confidence rose, I tried my luck at a fashionable tailor's. On the strength of my new appointment, I ordered dress clothes, a frock coat and another lounge suit I paid the eight hundred francs required in advance in return for the promise that they would be delivered during the evening of the next day.

Seven o'clock.

Oh! the wondrous beauty of the Boulevard des Capucines in October! Oh, the joy of finding oneself well dressed and with money—lord of all, absolutely lord of all!

The pale blue lamps of the Olympia presented their barbaric curtain of light. Cabs rolled by. Taxis tooted. The Madeleine, peering through the evening mist, raised on high its huge, shadowy entablature. On, on. All this would be behind me the day after tomorrow. I meant to enjoy my ephemeral royalty.

I experienced a curious sensation. I had money, but I could not make it give me acquaintances on the spot I had money, but without a friend to prove it, I might just as well have been without it.

A sudden recollection brought a bright idea to my mind. I went into Weber's. Ribeyre and his friends of the previous evening would be just on the point of meeting. The thought of Clotilde possessed my mind. She had been wearing a long black velvet cloak above which peeped her small head with its coils of glossy fair hair.

What a treat to appear before her in my new glory!

Ribeyre had already arrived.

"Hullo, old boy! All's well. I've just seen Marçais. He's delighted. You seem to have the voice of the charmer all right. Good Lord, you haven't wasted much time," he said, noticing my transformation.

I thought I detected a touch of sarcasm in his tone. I thought of Gautier's story of Baudelaire rubbing his new suit with sandpaper to take off that offensive nap so dear to philistines and bourgeois. My confidence was a little shaken. I almost expected to see my newly-won joys dissolve on the spot. Then I thought, "What does it matter? I know it's only ready-made, but I couldn't come here in my shabby boots and a suit two years old. Just let them wait a day or two!"

And the knowledge that I had been fitted out at one of the most expensive tailor's restored my spirits entirely.

Clotilde arrived. She had on white fox furs which seemed to me the last word in luxury and good taste. When I had bought a poor flower-seller's entire stock of violets for her, she condescended to notice my existence and soon made me feel I was much more to her liking.

"Clotilde," said Ribeyre, "if you love me you will exchange Surville for my friend Vignerte this evening. He is in funds and he's leaving the day after tomorrow, two things which women seldom fail to appreciate."

A quarter of an hour earlier this extremely masculine joke would have jarred on me very greatly, but the terrible white port was already at work, and besides Clotilde wore an amused smile and did not say no.

Surville arrived with the other man, one Mouton-Massé. They were both in the Ministry of the Interior.

"We can't stick in this hole," said lanky Surville. "Twice running is too much. Charmed to see you, sir. You dine with us, of course?"

"My friend Vignerte wants you to give him the pleasure of being your host," said Ribeyre. "He is leaving the day after tomorrow for the Court of Lautenburg and wants us to share his travelling expenses."

Little Mouton-Massé indicated that my desire met with his approval.

"Where shall we go?"

For a good ten minutes these gentlemen discussed the point, tossing from mouth to mouth names utterly unknown to me: "Viel," "Les Sergents," "La Tour," and even stranger animal names, "Le Coucou," "L'Escargot," "L'Ane Rouge."

I was not listening. A third glass of port had wafted me to Paradise itself. The warm restaurant atmosphere went to my head. I thought with some disdain of my prospects of yesterday, with its poor man's education, its fellowships, the Heads of the four Faculties and the Vice-Rector in his room in the Rue des Écoles. These fashionable women and young men of the world who flittered round me under the lights reminded me of the cold passages of the Sorbonne and Henri Martin's fresco of Anatole France, dressed as an explorer in a landscape dotted with flowers, explaining to a dozen ill-dressed young graduates his personal conception of human destiny.

There is the true conception of life, I thought, gazing admiringly at Clotilde, who was pinning the mauve and green bouquet to her white fur.

Ribeyre and his friends being at length of one mind we took a taxi which put us down in the Place Gaillon at the door of some restaurant, the name of which I have forgotten. Within, heavy hangings shut off the dining-room from the prying eyes of passers-by. Surville knew the place and led us to a small private room where five covers were soon laid.

I sat next to Clotilde, or rather (a matter of more concern to me) the woman who bore that name. I may as well say I have completely forgotten what we had at this famous meal. Everything was unquestionably highly spiced, for we drank like fishes. "You must give me carte blanche," said Ribeyre, with a mocking glance first at Clotilde, then at Surville. A diminutive black waiter took our orders in the grand manner. I'm not certain but I think Ribeyre had met him before. "No champagne," he had said. I know no more. We began with a little Pouilly, dry as frost, to accompany the oysters. Then Mouton-Massé, who hailed from that region, suggested some '92 Saint-Emilion, whereupon Clotilde insisted upon Beaune, the wine of her own country. I did not lose this opportunity of winning her favour and ventured to ask the waiter to bring the best. Then Ribeyre improved the occasion by ordering Wolscheim in one of those long-necked, narrow-mouthed bottles. I should add that the greatest triumph was mine in winding up with the suggestion of a wine from the sandy Landes. None of the others had ever tried this formidable juice of grapes which on our barren dunes drink in the pale yellow rays of an ocean sun—a drink which leaves your head clear and your body active but plays the devil with your legs.

Surville and Mouton-Massé kept me in small talk. Clotilde called me Raoul and made me promise to send her postcards. Ribeyre, stronger in the head, never stopped talking to the little black man except to signal, "Don't you worry," with his eyes.

I felt a god, with the extra joy of being aware of my rapid ascent. I saw again the miserable boneshaker which had borne me two days before to the God-forsaken station in the Landes. One small lamp in the darkness; and wind, real wind, wind from the sea. Within me even blacker darkness.

The Sauterne, liquid gold, sparkled in the glasses. The shades of the lights were reflected in it like little crimson tulips. I saw Clotilde's teeth shine on the glass from which she sipped, with little laughs that made her white throat shake. Her hand on mine communicated to me the tremors of that yielding, artless creature. Ribeyre was in the highest spirits. Mouton-Massé was busy with crêpes-au-Kirsch; Surville was drinking.

There was a scene when the liqueurs came and Surville insisted on claret glasses.

Mouton-Massé vainly pointed out that liqueur glasses would do if the bottles were left on the table. He wouldn't be satisfied, so they gave him one. The staff had gone. The cigar smoke dimmed the light. The flowers were dying on the table. Surville snored. Mouton-Massé had pulled out a note-book and was attempting some absurd calculation in which he got tied up and swore volubly. Ribeyre, who hadn't abandoned his original notion, slipped his right arm under my left, his left under Clotilde's right, and drew us together. Then he whispered in the ear of the girl, who laughed gaily, her lips moist and a little shiver rippling down her back.

* * * * * *

By the evening of Friday, October 24th, 1913, everything was ready for my departure.

My clothes were packed in a big, new trunk. A smaller one held my books. I hadn't the heart to throw away any of the poor friendly things I had accumulated in my lodgings, the relics of three years of joyless toil. I had it all properly packed in the old box which had been my mother's, not forgetting my uniform of an officer of the Reserve, already shabby with two periods of training—poor officers are never slow to avail themselves of these extra trainings. I took it to the station myself and dispatched it addressed to the old curé with whom I stayed in my vacations.

At five o'clock I had finished a letter telling him of my new start in life. I had settled up my affairs. I had rather more than 2,300 francs left, allowing for ten louis I had been glad to lend Ribeyre. I decided to send the same amount to my old curé for his crumbling church among the dunes.

When I had posted my letter in the Rue de Tournon, I made my way to Luxemburg. I passed the white Medici Fountain, where I had so often waited for the nymphs of my dreams. The sentry was sheltering out of sight in his box. The great Royal garden had never been so deserted as on this evening when autumn felt the first touch of winter. Beneath the bare trees, under a darkening golden sky, the cold circle of queens on their marble pedestals showed strangely white in the falling light.

The clock of the Senate struck half-past five. The silence of death reigned in the heart of Paris. The fountains had ceased to play and the great octagonal basin spread its mirror, clearer—by some miracle—than the sky itself. A man, the only man beside myself in the famous garden, was standing at the edge in the curious attitude of a man sowing seeds. He was throwing bread to the birds. There were some three dozen sparrows, and fat grey pigeons, gawky, restless birds. He was an old man in a seedy black coat with the remains of a fur collar. There was a bag at his feet. I went up and the birds flew away. The old fellow cast me a reproachful glance, threw his bag over his shoulder and shambled off. When I left the garden myself it was quite dark.

Four hours later I caught the Paris-Berlin express at the Gare de l'Est.


The clear, cold star which had been shining in the steel blue sky had disappeared.

Vignerte started. "What time is it?"

I lit my electric torch. "Ten minutes to twelve," I said.

I awakened the two runners.

"Henriquez, go to the third section, tell the adjutant to see to the relief of the second platoon and report to Lieutenant Vignerte. Damestoy, go to the second section and tell the section officer to do the same for the first platoon. He mustn't forget the two o'clock patrol. It will be supplied by the eleventh squad, Corporal Toulet. Got that? Come, look sharp!"

The two men climbed out. For two seconds the patch of blue sky was hidden.

A weird, soundless night. A stray rifle shot at long intervals. The guns silent.

Vignerte resumed his story.

HAVE you ever read Baron von Heidenstamm? Meyer Forster has borrowed something for it from Tolstoy—the whole chapter on the race for the Emperor's Cup is taken from Anna Karenina—and a good deal, unfortunately, from our Octave Feuillet. Still, you shouldn't miss the description of Hanover, life in a German garrison town, and the royal park in snow. The impressions you get are very much what I felt on my arrival at Lautenburg at ten o'clock on the morning of Sunday, October 26th, 1913.

For the previous eight hours I had been watching the gradual displacement of the Walpurgis Harz, shrouded to the south in copper-coloured clouds by a fertile but ugly, featureless plain. When the train had crossed the Aller the country became more undulating. Foaming in its basaltic bed appeared the winding river Melna which joins the Aller some forty miles below Lautenburg. I was nearing my destination.

The sky was dull and grey. The town, clinging to the slopes of a hill in a bend of the Melna, had a certain resemblance to Pau, or, rather, Saint-Gaudens, thanks to its red-brick houses. Crowning all, in a distant clump of trees, I saw an old tower. The Castle, I thought.

Like a horse with its head for home the train put on steam. We ran along and over a number of streams gliding between willow-lined banks. The white patches where the water ran over boulders and the swaying of the vegetation spoke of the gentle murmur we could not hear. You would call it clean, peaceful country, not unlike the Ile-de-France; yes, a country you could live and be happy in.

Lautenburg station, on the other hand, was frankly monstrous, a smaller but more extravagant copy of the famous station of Metz. But before I had time to take in the details, I heard an obsequious murmur of: "Professor Vignerte?" from a man in a peaked cap who took my ticket.

Marçais had wired the time of my arrival. The man in the cap signalled and two huge lackeys in black and gold livery suddenly appeared before me. One of them took my luggage while the other assisted me to enter an enormous limousine which started at once. In ten minutes we had passed through Lautenburg and were entering at top speed what I took to be the great courtyard of the Castle. At all events a sentry presented arms.

"Will the Herr Professor kindly get out?" said the lackey, opening the door while the chauffeur sounded his horn.

A round, red-faced steward appeared on the steps and bowed three or four times.

"Has the Herr Professor had a pleasant journey? Will he be kind enough to follow me and I will take him to his room."

With all the fellowships rolled into one I shouldn't have been addressed as "Professor" as many times in ten years in France as I was in Lautenburg on the morning of my arrival alone.

My luggage was in my room. I admit that it was not without a feeling of approval that I saw a very enticing meal spread out on the table.

"If the Herr Professor wants anything, he has only to ring. Ludwig, his valet, is at hand, entirely at his service."

As he was going out the stout functionary bowed even lower than before and handed me an envelope studded with red seals.

"Will the Herr Professor kindly accept the letter left for him by Major von Kessel."

Major von Kessel, the tutor of his Highness Duke Joachim, offered his apologies for his inability to receive me on my arrival. Unfortunately the whole Court of Lautenburg had gone hunting and he himself had to accompany his pupil. He therefore suggested my spending the day in making myself at home in the palace. He would have the honour to receive me at a quarter to ten on the following morning, Monday, with a view to presenting me to the Grand Duke Frederick-Augustus.

Wishing to test my new powers at once, I rang. Ludwig appeared.

"Good Lord!" I thought, "if M. Thierry could only see you he'd feel reassured."

The fellow, thirty years old or so, had the most amazingly inexpressive face I had ever beheld before I went to Germany. Subsequently I became quite used to these good-natured, blue-eyed bran-bags. His head was that of nine out of ten of our prisoners.

I only managed to extract from Ludwig one piece of information, that I should take my meals on the ground floor (my room was on the floor above) in a room reserved for the civil and military establishment of Duke Joachim, that is to say myself, Major von Kessel and Professor Cyrus Beck, of Kiel University. In addition we could all have meals served in our own rooms if we wished.

Vignerte had hitherto spoken in the same level tone, finding no difficulty in recalling the smallest detail of a story with which he visibly lived night and day. But at this point he paused.

I see, my friend, that my tale is not boring you, but I begin to be conscious now of the difficulties of my task. Hitherto chronological order has been enough, but at this point I must change it for a time or I shall risk confusing you and obscuring the broad outline with a mass of petty detail. Let me give you now a detailed description of Lautenburg and its inhabitants. When I have done this we will return to the course of events. They will group the picture.


I should say palaces, rather than palace, as the residence of the Grand Dukes of Lautenburg-Detmold is a combination of a Renaissance castle, built on one side of a Gothic keep, and a Louis Quatorze palace shamelessly copied from Versailles. Taken separately, each of these components is not without architectural merit, but their combination presented enormous difficulties to the architect of the Grand Duke Ulrich, the present sovereign's grandfather, who was instructed to make a symmetrical whole of these incompatible edifices. He solved his problem by throwing out a wing on the left, erecting a flanking tower on the right, and adding in the centre a kind of hall which is a cross between the Gare d'Orsay and the Chapel at Versailles. I admit his task was appalling, but why is it that these insoluble architectural puzzles are always to be met with in Germany?

Such as it is, this immense hall is used both as council chamber and banqueting-hall, and I must say that, communicating with the gallery of the palace and the Great Hall of the castle, it serves its double purpose well enough.

The palace meets the castle in the middle, so that the combined edifice has the shape of a T. It crowns a hill which towers over the town, and falls away sheer at the foot of the castle, but in a gentle slope behind the palace. The Melna passes through the town and winds round the castle in a gorge, a hundred feet deep or so, before glancing off to bound the French garden, which stretches behind the palace.

On the town side, leading up to the ducal residence, is a huge open space, again recalling Versailles. It is also the parade ground, where all reviews are held. A gilded railing starts from the left wing of the palace, encloses a triangular court, and terminates at the right wing of the castle, leaving the great central keep outside.

From this keep, the sole relic of the old Gothic fortress of the burgraves of Lautenburg, flies the standard in black and white, with a golden leopard and the Lautenburg motto: Summum decus, flectere. This tower has been spoilt, of course, like the rest of the castle, by an overload of decorative ornament, in the Augsburg style. Thus the keep is distinguished by battlements with a lining of zinc, while the peristyle, the steps of which have a balustrade in excellent taste, is surmounted by a Corinthian pediment.

The side overlooking the Melna is less debased. The uninviting ravine has been responsible for this, I expect, as the plaster artists no doubt looked twice before embarking upon their course of "improvement." Decorative detail has been replaced by ivy, and exceptionally huge beeches, which overhang the river and sway their dark heads under the high lancet windows.

I need not describe the palace. It is a diminutive Versailles, with twenty-five windows in the façade instead of eighty-nine, but none the less an imitation good enough to make a majestic copy of majesty.

The French park, albeit under a Hanoverian sky, made a direct appeal to one's heart. Obviously the owners had lavished every care upon it. German orderliness had done wonders. Everything was straight and smooth. A faultless green lawn led to the Persephone fountain, a good example of Ernout, himself a good pupil of Coysevox. You have only to know that this garden was planned by La Quintinie, who sent his best workmen to carry it out, to understand the secret of its spacious nobility.

If the Grand Duke George William, a pensioner of the King of France, was a great admirer of Louis XIV., his grandson Frederick was one of the finest products of the age of enlightened despotism. He entertained Voltaire on a visit, and met Rousseau at Grimm's house. He was responsible for the English garden, surrounding the French park laid out by his grandfather, which slopes in picturesque disorder down to the Melna. The clear, rapid torrent is crossed by a wooden bridge, which still keeps its name of "Pond de la Meilleraie," and is wide enough to admit the passage of the cavalcades which start from the castle to hunt in the Herrenwald, that magnificent forest whose leafy roof, as seen from the terraces, stretches away to the horizon.


Two large panelled chambers on the first floor, in the northern wing of the castle, opposite the great court. The room in which I usually worked looked out on the terrace. Through the open window I could see the dark sea of foliage in a tawny sunlight. An overwhelming silence reigned.

The other, less melancholy, had two windows looking out on the ravine where the Melna plunged and roared, and beyond that the Königsplatz, the barracks of the 182nd Regiment and the Cathedral, a garish eyesore. A white trail of smoke floated on two shining bars—the Hanover express which had brought me.

I blessed the decision which had deposited me in this part of the building. It possessed an enormous open grate, with curious ironwork, and everything dated from the time when German taste was not yet hopelessly debased.

I was at the extreme end of the castle, immediately above the room known as the "Armoury." This was a very curious place, though it had been almost entirely stripped of its contents. The splendid suits of armour of the great burgraves had been removed, notably that of Goetz von Vertheidigen-Lautenburg, who was the right arm of Albert the Bear, that of Miltiades Bussmann, who wounded Henry the Lion, and that of Cadwalla, mentioned by Hugo, whose helm still bears the mark of the fearful blow dealt him at Bouvines by the mighty Guillaume des Barres.


The Grand Duke Frederick-Augustus had his apartments on the first floor. His bedroom, like that of Louis XIV., was in the centre of the main building, and there was a study on the right, overlooking the park.

Thither Kessel led me at ten o'clock in the morning of the day after my arrival.

The Grand Duke was working at a plain Louis Quinze bureau. He rose and held out his hand.

"Monsieur Vignerte, I have no need to tell you all the compliments Count Marçais pays you in his letter. I know that you represent the personal choice of the French Minister for Foreign Affairs. It would be absurd of me to conceal from you that I am absolutely satisfied with such references. My only wish is that you may find at Lautenburg something of the welcome we hope to give you."

The Grand Duke, only a year younger than his elder brother, the late Grand Duke Rudolph, is fairly tall. Born in 1868, he is now forty-five. Fair, rather bald and clean-shaven, he has blue eyes, which at first seem to fasten on you and then wander away. Except on ceremonial occasions I have never seen him in anything but the undress uniform of a Divisional General, dark blue with the red collar and no decorations.

He had fine hands, which he appeared to contemplate with some satisfaction.

"Major von Kessel," he continued, "has probably explained to you the nature of your duties. I need hardly say that I wish you to have the utmost liberty as to the way in which you perform them. My son is entered for Kiel University, and I wish him to take his degree there. You must therefore keep your eye on a syllabus. But beyond that, adopt what methods you think good. Your special subjects are History and Literature. I do not know your political views, Monsieur," he added, smiling. "No doubt somewhat Liberal. But don't feel obliged to change them. Liberalism is formidable only to democracies. Intelligent sovereigns have always known how to use it for their own purposes."

He rang a bell.

"Inform Duke Joachim that I want him to come to my study."

My pupil was a tall, very fair young man, rather sleepy-looking. I realized that I should never have cause to check the speed of his wits.

"Joachim," said the Grand Duke, in a less pleasant tone than that with which he had favoured me, "this is Monsieur Vignerte, your new Professor of Literature. I hope the progress you make under his charge will be more rapid than when you were with Herr Ulricht. What marks did he get, Kessel, in his last tactics examination?"

"Eight out of twenty," replied Kessel.

"It's not enough. You must get half marks next time. You can go."

The young man went out with ill-concealed relief.

"You see, monsieur," said the Grand Duke, turning to us, "you can always count absolutely on my authority. Mark my son strictly, if anything stiffly, and you will always have my approval."

He motioned to us to withdraw. "By the way," he added, recalling me, "did Marçais tell you you might occasionally be required to display your gifts as a reader to the Archduchess? Oh," he added, "I ought perhaps to give you a warning, though it may be excessive caution on my part. It is quite possible that my wife won't call upon you at all. At the moment she has returned to her old passion for horses. But, in any case, it does no harm to be forewarned, and you may be quite sure," he concluded, with a smile which he well knew how to make irresistible, "that I shall see that no unreasonable demands are made upon your leisure."

"I shall be happy to put myself entirely at the Grand Duchess's disposal whenever she so desires."

"Thank you," he said, and turned to his work.

In the corridor Kessel said:

"If the Grand Duchess takes it into her head to see you, she will send a message immediately through me. I shall communicate with your valet, so don't fail to call at your rooms."

Thus it was that from the day after my arrival at the castle to the day of the fête of the Lautenburg Hussars, where I saw her for the first time, I called at my rooms five or six times a day, more disappointed than I cared to admit that the summons which would manifest the good pleasure of the Grand Duchess Aurora-Anna-Eleanor towards me was not forthcoming.


I doubt whether I should say "Court" in speaking of the entourage of the Dukes of Lautenburg. The word is somewhat too heavy, but it fits in well enough with the rigid etiquette which reigned at the castle.

I have already spoken of Major Count Albert von Kessel, of the 11th Prussian Artillery Regiment, stationed at Königsberg. He passed out top of the Kriegs Academie at Berlin, and is undoubtedly one of the best officers in the German Army. He's an officer to his finger-tips, and although devoted body and soul to his profession, displays only the inevitable minimum of that impossible Prussian arrogance. He always treated me with the most perfect courtesy, and I have nothing but praise for the advice he gave me and the influence he had over Duke Joachim.

Portly Colonel von Wendel, of Hanau Cuirassiers, combines the functions of governor of the palace and head of the military household of the Grand Duke. In the second capacity he has under his orders Captain Müller, of the Würtemberg Chasseurs, and Lieutenants Bernhardt and von Choisly, Uhlans and officers of the Grand Duke's staff.

He is a good sort, who spends his time shouting when the Grand Duke isn't there, and trembling like an aspen leaf when he is. I suspect Kessel has a profound contempt for him. He, on the other hand, treats Kessel, who is on the Great General Staff, with the greatest deference. It would never enter his head that his double functions authorize him to give orders to the taciturn artilleryman.

His bête-noire, however, is little Lieutenant von Hagen, of the Lautenburg Hussars, the Grand Duchess's orderly officer. Rows between the Colonel and the Lieutenant are of frequent occurrence, but the junior is backed by the Grand Duchess, who cannot do without him. The Grand Duke won't hear a word against him. Wendel has to give way. In the first few days I became conscious of the mutual hatred of these two men. Without ever getting as far as confidences, the Governor of the castle made two or three bitter remarks about the difficulties of his task. I felt that with a little encouragement...

But I'd promised to keep to my own job and never mix myself up in their affairs.

All the same, little Hagen irritated me beyond words, with his monocle, his way of looking you up and down, and the self-satisfaction of the man who feels secure against anything. He had been attached as orderly to the Grand Duchess for two years, and I understand that at the time she took him from the Lautenburg Hussars he was on the point of blowing his brains out as a result of some gaming scandal.

The rest, on the whole, are pleasant enough. They became a good deal more agreeable when they learned I "was an officer of the Reserve." That day Colonel von Wendel asked me to dinner. Frau von Wendel, a motherly, red-haired woman of forty, called me "Monsieur le lieutenant." At dessert she asked me in a tender voice if I had read the "Fiancée de Messine." After all this was a better way of spending my time than at the Sorbonne attending the lectures of M. Seignobos. I only mention his name because it will do as well as any other.


The former plays so considerable a part in my story, that I must devote a little space to a description of it. As for the latter, Professor Cyrus Beck, of Kiel University, it seems only just that I should say a few words in praise of the man of whose death I have been the innocent cause.

The library had been fitted up in the dismantled chapel of the castle, a chapel somewhat in the Jesuitical style having been built in the palace.

The beautiful ogival chamber which cuts the great hall and the armoury at right angles has thus been laid open. The door on the left leads to the armoury, and the way into the library is by the door at the far end of the great hall.

Though three or four times larger, it bears a strong resemblance to the library of the Château de Montesquieu at La Brède, except that, if I remember rightly, the vaulting at La Brède is romanesque. Otherwise the general plan is the same. In the centre there is a huge case containing a remarkable collection of coins, among them a gold medallion of Conradin, which is a masterpiece. Five or six lecterns have been transformed into portable desks, the very thing for working. A splendid system of electric light makes research an easy matter, for the room is, indeed, so dark that it is impossible to read or write without artificial light.

Don't expect me to give you even the most summary description of the riches amassed here since the time of Gutenberg.

I don't believe it possible to write any kind of book on Germany without having recourse to the library of Lautenburg. The visitors' book contains the most famous signatures. Amongst others I noticed those of Leibnitz, Humboldt, Otfried Müller, Curtius, Schleiermacher and Renan. Even more precious are the treasures contained in the sacristy. There, in old wooden chests, formerly reserved for vestments and chalices, are housed the priceless manuscripts which comprise the public and private archives of the Dukes of Lautenburg, or purchases made by several of those dukes who were interested in such matters. They have to thank the Grand Duke Rudolf, brother of the present Grand Duke, for several of the most important items of the collection. The librarian, Herr Cyrus Beck, who is engaged in classifying them, kept them jealously under lock and key.

This Professor Cyrus Beck, of Kiel University, was lent to the Grand Duke Rudolf ten years ago by the Rector Etlicher, for the special purpose of cataloguing his manuscripts.

The present Grand Duke retained him in the same post in exchange for an undertaking to give four hours a week to teach Duke Joachim the exact sciences.

The old man spent half his remaining time among the manuscripts in the sacristy, the rest in his laboratory, surrounded by furnaces and retorts. This laboratory is situated in the triangle formed by the armoury, the chapel and the walls of the castle. Like my room, it looks out on the ravine of the Melna, or rather on the trees which almost entirely shut out the view. The first time I ever entered the laboratory, accompanied by Kessel, who was to introduce me to our colleague, I was received much as Gulliver was among the spiders' webs of the magician of Laputa. A harsh voice screamed out an order to shut the door, declaring that the draught was putting out the burners. Then a furious little fellow emerged from amid pungent fumes. Dr. Cyrus Beck had a bald pate, as polished as if it had been subjected to the most powerful acids. A long yellowish overall, covered with chemical stains, enveloped him from head to foot. Among all his paraphernalia he looked exactly as if he had stepped out of Hoffmann's tales.

He calmed down at the sight of Kessel, proffered his apologies, and told us that he had just reached the psychological moment in his experiments on the insulation of ... (something the name of which I have forgotten). He had almost become pleasant when my companion told him that I myself intended to do some research work in the manuscript section. He bowed as Kessel told him that the Grand Duke hoped he would give me every facility for this purpose, but I could see that he would not do more than he could help.

"We'll see," I reflected philosophically. "This old chap is full of fads. Sooner or later I'll find out the one to play up to."

I was in no hurry, having given myself a fortnight before starting on what was then Professor Thierry's work, but eventually to be my own.


The Grand Duchy of Lautenburg-Detmold, one of the twenty-seven States of the German Confederation, is about sixty miles long from north to south. Its breadth varies between twelve and twenty-five miles. It has a population of two hundred and eighty thousand. The Schwarzhugel, a last buttress of the Harz, is the only orographical system which breaks the monotony of the Hanoverian plain.

As regards its river system, the Grand Duchy is bounded by the Weser, and crossed by the Aller. The Melna is the most important river, judging by the length of its course in Lautenburg territory.

The Herrenwald, a forest of beech and fir, which starts to the north of Lautenburg, covers a good third of its area. The rest consists of a sandy tract, very difficult for agriculture, but particularly suited to brick-making, the principal resource of the State.

There are two towns: Sandau, exclusively industrial, in the northern plain, with twenty thousand inhabitants; Lautenburg, the capital, forty thousand inhabitants, seat of a bishopric and the central assizes. A cavalry brigade formed of the 11th Dragoons and the 7th Hussars, a regiment of infantry, the 182nd, a half-regiment of artillery, and a detachment of the 3rd Engineers are stationed there.

The constitution is monarchical, the Grand Dukes succeeding each other in order of primogeniture, and women are not excluded. The Grand Duchess Charlotte-Augusta reigned alone at the end of the eighteenth century, and today the Grand Duke Frederick-Augustus owes his title to his marriage with the Grand Duchess Aurora.

The Grand Duke of Lautenburg is the immediate vassal of the King of Würtemberg, and mediate vassal of the German Emperor.

The State of Lautenburg sends three deputies to the Reichstag. Two of them are agrarians; the third, representing Sandau, is a Socialist. All three sit of right in the Ducal Diet, which meets twice a year at the Castle of Lautenburg. The President of the Municipal Council of Lautenburg and two councillors elected by their colleagues are also ex-officio members of the Diet. The other members are elected, on a narrow franchise, by the general population of the Grand Duchy. The Grand Duke is President. A permanent committee of six members, somewhat similar to our departmental commissions, dispatches current business when the Diet is not in session.


Four times a week I gave Duke Joachim his lessons, two of history, one of philosophy and one of literature. For this purpose I went to his room in the right wing of the palace. You will remember that his father occupied the middle portion, while the left wing was reserved exclusively for the Grand Duchess Aurora. The walls of Duke Joachim's study are hung with the best German maps made by Kiepert himself. There are two portraits, one of the Grand Duke, and the other of his first wife, née Countess von Tepwitz, a worthy Bavarian with a Luther's cross, who died three years ago. Duke Joachim is her living image.

You couldn't have a more tractable pupil than this young German duke. He knows a good deal already, but unfortunately it's all in the same class. I shouldn't be at all surprised if the State of Lautenburg-Detmold lapses to the imperial crown on the death of the Grand Duke Frederick-Augustus.

Those who have always had all they want will probably bridle at the suggestion that a life with every material comfort is enough for happiness. Nevertheless, I was thoroughly happy. I had nothing but my professional duties to worry about. Two or three books, unknown over here, practically performed them for me.

I was very happy, I repeat. Lunch with the Grand Duke was still a treat in store, but I had already dined three times with Colonel von Wendel. His wife took a great fancy to me. I lent her several books I had really intended for the Grand Duchess. She was a kindly soul, and, besides, it was just as well to be on good terms with the Colonel.

I generally lunched with Cyrus Beck, Kessel, and the staff. Little Hagen came every now and then. When he did, the others chuckled maliciously, and said that the Grand Duchess must have let him out for the day. In the evening every one vanished. Most of them had friends in the town. I usually stayed behind with the professor, and sometimes, not always, the taciturn Kessel. Cyrus Beck then monopolized the conversation with a recital of his woes. His pupil made no progress. Besides, tutoring wasn't his job! The Grand Duke Rudolph, now, did know how to treat a professor. He was a scholar!

I was given to understand that as a geographer he had scarcely a rival.

Kessel, finishing his liqueur, broke in calmly:

"A geographer who didn't understand the handling of a field gun."

Cyrus retorted in scorn:

"Then you prefer the present Grand Duke?"

"I never knew His Highness the Grand Duke Rudolph," replied Kessel, unruffled. "I only know that the first duty of a Grand Duke is to be a Grand Duke, which means perfect familiarity with artillery, heavy and light, so that geographers can work in peace and safety."

The odd thing is that the professor poured out his complaints to Kessel, of whom he stood in visible awe, rather than to me, a Frenchman. I tell you the loyalty of these folk is beyond belief. We in France are never happy except when at loggerheads. But their habit of mind, backed by the Imperial Police, who are admirably organized, makes them sheep, compared to which Panurge's flock was imaginative and refractory.

In the daytime my principal amusement was strolling in Lautenburg. The splendid German uniforms delighted me, though I had moments of dismay over that prodigious display of discipline. Twice a week the band of the 182nd played in the Königsplatz, opposite the theatre. I liked the charming gaucherie of the group of girls I passed. They recalled and exemplified the truth of the old cavalry General von Dewitz's remarks to his aide-de-camp:

"These girls are thoroughbreds, my boy, a real treat to watch! None of your faked demi-women, but mothers, real mothers. I'd answer for whole generations of them. Just look at that buxom wench down there! There's red cheeks for you, and what a stride! A yard if it's an inch! What a treat for an old soldier like me. I like looking at 'em!"[1]

I, too, liked "looking at 'em." The spectacle never failed to please, and that utter docility, that abject acceptance of their destiny, recalled the words of the French officers who passed through here into captivity after the disaster at Sedan:

"Priez une Allemande à s'asseoir. Elle se couchera."

Night falls, a haze of purple and gold. Lights and noise herald the hour of café and tavern. A flower-seller passes. I am to dine tonight at the Colonel's. I must take Frau von Wendel a bunch of Vergiss-mein-nicht!...

[1]W. Meyer-Forster: Baron von Heidenstamm. Part I. 1.


ONE morning in December I was snugly ensconced by my big log fire, preparing a lesson for the afternoon. There was a dry, cold snap in the air, and the pale winter sun was dissolving, the night's mist in opal drops on my windows.

There was a knock at the door.

"Come in."

Outside stood Otto, an ex-non-commissioned officer and head-butler, in fact, the connecting link between the palace officials and the horde of valets, workmen and supers whom he had under his orders. His white shirt-front and round red face stood out sharply against the dark background of the corridor. Behind him loomed two men bearing some strange bundles.

"Excuse me, Herr Professor. I hope I am not disturbing you?"

"No, Otto. What is it?"

He came in, followed by the two men, who had their arms full of bunches of flags.

"Tomorrow is the fête-day of the 7th Lautenburg Hussars, Herr Professor. The town takes a holiday. We decorate the whole palace, and I have come to arrange your three windows."

I looked out. The Königsplatz was, indeed, dotted with tiny figures bustling about with the multifarious paraphernalia of public rejoicings, tall poles, bunches of flags and streamers.

"Go ahead, by all means."

Very deliberately they set to work. Three huge shields, with the German imperial standard between the white and red flag of Würtemberg and the Lautenburg-Detmold banner (a golden leopard on a black and white ground) were duly erected. The whole was then linked to the other windows by festoons of enormous green garlands like laurel wreaths at prize-givings.

Standing there supervising, Otto described to me the next day's ceremony.

"It is always a very big affair, Herr Professor. Tonight the palace will be lit up, and there will be a torchlight procession on the arrival of His Majesty the King of Würtemberg and His Excellency General von Eichhorn, who is representing His Majesty the Kaiser."

"Is the Kaiser represented at every regimental fête?"

"Not all, Herr Professor, but the 7th Hussars is not a regiment like others. Its flag is decorated. Prince Eitel is a captain in it, and most important of all, its colonel is Her Highness our Grand Duchess, the Emperor's cousin. So you will realize ..."

"I realize, Otto, that it is going to be a very fine affair, and you must have plenty to do."

"You are right, Herr Professor. We have finished now. Come on, you two. We are very grateful for your kindness, Herr Professor."

I appreciated the turn of events which was to enable me to witness one of these magnificent German ceremonies, even more when, about eleven o'clock, a note came up from Major von Kessel. The Prince's tutor informed me that his pupil was to accompany the Grand Duke at the preliminary review of the garrison in the afternoon. He therefore requested me to be good enough to postpone my lesson for a couple of days.

At lunch, Doctor Cyrus Beck, more hoffmannesque than ever, came down late in a state of great excitement. I wanted to get some further information out of him.

"Here's a disgraceful thing," he burst out, enraged. "Have you read this libelous stuff, sir?"

He held out La Peau de Chagrin.

"Libelous stuff?" I said in amazement.

"Yes, silly, libelous nonsense. It takes a frivolous Frenchman to treat certain subjects with such levity. It is science itself that is ridiculed here, sir. Just consider. You spend your life in the study of two or three questions, break retorts, bum your face over crucibles, run innumerable risks of being blown up and your laboratory with you—and all that for a tomfool novelist to come along, and, in a few contemptuous words, which he takes for eternal verities, tell you your business and make you a public laughing-stock."

"I don't know what particular passage of La Peau de Chagrin is responsible for your recriminations," I said, "and I'm afraid, in any case, I'm not competent to defend Balzac on this point. You should know, however, that, generally speaking, he was extremely accurate. The historical parts of his work are an important authority. I once heard a good commercial lawyer say that his descriptions of César Birotteau's bankruptcy and the sale of the Roguin property are masterpieces from the legal point of view. Besides ..."

"Sir," he broke in with rising anger, "neither Law nor History has ever claimed to be an exact science. A superficial intelligence like your Balzac's can easily excel in them. But science, sir ..."

"My dear Herr Beck," I said, a little nettled, "if La Peau de Chagrin can produce such an effect upon you, I wonder what you'll say when you've read La Recherche de l'Absolu? It refers to a certain Balthazar Claës, who, like you studies high matters and with the same wealth of experience as yourself. It is possible that you might discover many valuable suggestions there."

He was not quite certain whether to take me seriously or not; but prudently wrote the title of the book on his cuff. Then his lips went to his spoon, which, in the German fashion, never left the surface of his soup.

"Are you going to the review tomorrow?" I asked.

I expected a formal negative, and my surprise was great when he told me he would not fail to attend the ceremony.

"We have seats reserved in the Royal Stand," he said unctuously, "next to the Corps Diplomatique."

I was very much tickled at the child-like delight of this barrack-room savant at having an official place at a military ceremony. "What a world of difference from our anti-militarist intellectuals," I thought, without knowing for certain which of the two attitudes was the better.

The entire palace was in a state of extreme confusion. Officers in full-dress uniform swarmed like ants. I met Kessel up to the eyes in it.

"The King arrives at nine o'clock," he said. "You should go to the station. It will interest you. Meanwhile, if you like, you can watch the review which the Grand Duke is holding at three o'clock on the parade-ground."

I thanked him, but not wishing to take the gilt off the next day's spectacle, and, if the truth must be told, feeling rather small and absurd among all these folk in brilliant uniforms, I hid myself in the library. There I began to jot down a few notes bearing on the young Duke's next lesson on the history of Alexandrine Philosophy.

When I came out darkness had fallen, and I decided to go for a stroll in the town. It was already illuminated. When I reached the middle of the parade-ground I looked back, and the whole castle appeared before me in a blaze of light. My childish pleasure in the coloured lights and fairy lamps prevented me from noticing that the exhibition did not err on the side of good taste. But in Germany there is always too much of everything except that.

In the centre there was an enormous imperial eagle, ten yards high, carried out in yellow lights. On the left the Würtemberg lion in red, and on the right the Lautenburg lion in green. The difficulty of distinguishing these animals with electric lamps had been a very serious problem for the artist in charge, but in the end a fair measure of success had been achieved.

A confused murmur of admiration rose from the shadowy groups about me. At the far end of the parade-ground the Royal Stand was all ready for the next day's review. The Hanover Strasse, the finest street in Lautenburg, was thronged with people, who were walking up and down on the pavements, as if impelled by some mechanical device. At a given moment the barracks poured out a stream of uniforms. The red tunics of the Lautenburg Hussars blended with the blue of the Detmold Dragoons and the dark jackets of the infantrymen. Students who had come specially from Hanover, flaunted their various caps and duelling scars with an arrogance which vanished quickly whenever they passed an officer. Thanks to the approach of Christmas, the brilliantly-lighted shop-fronts were crammed with a mass of weird and fantastic wares, the childishness of which was enough to make you weep. The provision stores were crammed with geese absurdly decorated with the colours of the twenty-seven German States. A goose adorned with the Rudolstadt blue was cheek by jowl with a goose in Würtemberg red. The pork butchers exhibited pyramids of sausages made in the shape of the most famous public buildings in the Empire—the Reichstag, the Central Station at Berlin, Cologne Cathedral, etc. But the masterpiece was a triumphal arch of lard, with bas-reliefs in red jelly and an entablature of foie gras.

Girls strolled along in parties of three or four, arm in arm, modestly lowering their eyes under the insolent stares of the officers.

I dined at the Lohengrin tavern, the largest and most ornate in Lautenburg. You remember the roundabouts of our childhood. The part reserved for the band and the old blear-eyed, tinsel-covered nag bears a very striking resemblance to a fashionable German tavern. They are the only places, I think, where people can smoke without inconvenience. The clouds of tobacco smoke which rise to the ceiling suggest nothing so much as a rabelaisian Walhalla. It was striking eight when yells of "Hoch! hoch!" in the street brought the diners en masse to the door. Amid a forest of sabres a squadron of dragoons was on its way to the station to act as guard of honour to the King of Würtemberg and General von Eichhorn.

There was such a mob around the station that I gave up any idea of trying to get in. It was from a corner of the Roon Strasse that I managed to get a glimpse, through the hedge of dragoons, of the car in which the Grand Duke Frederick-Augustus and the King of Würtemberg were sitting opposite my pupil and General von Eichhorn.

I was absolutely deafened by the noise. From one café I had to flee in terror of immediate asphyxiation. Students standing on the table declaimed, sang and bawled out their slogans while tossing off the contents of colossal pewter mugs. Under blinding electric standards in the streets women, dressed in the fashion of 1900, with hats slanting skywards and hopelessly drunk, mingled the eternal pan-German "Hoch!" with suggestive invitations.

As I turned the corner of the Königsplatz, on my way back to the castle, I passed by the officers' mess. For one second the bright window revealed to me the pandemonium within. Through the thick curtain of smoke I caught a glimpse of some thirty men, and, stretched on the table among the flowers and pools of wine, two naked women.

* * * * * *

At eight o'clock Pastor Silbermann, at the Tempel in the Siegstrasse, and Monsignor Kreppel in the Cathedral, celebrated the offices of the respective cults, to which the soldiers of the Catholic and Reformed confessions were conducted in detachments. Then at ten o'clock came the review.

The weather favoured the 7th Lautenburg Hussars. The sun shone bright and cold. From the square you could see the black leaves, gripped by the gentle westerly breeze, fall slowly from the castle trees into the Melna. I have said before that from my room I could not see the parade-ground where the review was to be held. But rising at daybreak I was in time to watch the 182nd Prussian Infantry Regiment, of which two companies had been told off for general police duties, crossing the Königsplatz en route to its post. The immense throng filled my heart with the joy of those who know that their seats are reserved.

At seven o'clock I was ready, although I had quite decided not to turn out until much later, certainly not before the stands were half full. I picked up some book and tried to read it, not stopping to analyse the reasons for my growing excitement.

At nine o'clock the noise below became so marked and insistent that I thought I could go down without looking absurd. How small and insignificant I felt crossing the great square, the emptiness of which was emphasized by the enormous crowd gathered round it, only kept within bounds by a cordon of infantry with fixed bayonets. The stands were three-quarters full when I arrived, and I should have had considerable difficulty in finding my place if I hadn't seen a hat frantically waved to attract my attention. It was Count de Marçais.

"You're next to me," said the obliging diplomat. "All the better. We can chat while we're waiting."

Glad of an opportunity of impressing me, he told me the names of the distinguished individuals around us: Count Bela, the Austro-Hungarian Minister, almost swallowed up in furs and an astrakhan cap with a silver aigrette; M. Nekludoff, the Russian Minister, in a very unassuming frock-coat; Monsignor Kreppel, with his heavy gold cross on a purple sash, and Rector Etlicher, of Kiel Academy.

Suddenly I pressed his arm. A most attractive young woman had just taken her place in the first row of the stand immediately in front of us. She might have been twenty or twenty-five. Dark, extremely smooth-skinned and languid in her movements, she was wearing a long blue coat and skirt edged with skunk. One of her arms hanging loosely by her side, ended in one of those huge muffs so fashionable at that time. A toque of skunk framed the heavy black coils of her hair.

She noticed Marçais and greeted him with a languid bow.

"Who is she?" I murmured.

"What," he said ecstatically. "You mean to say you don't know the Maid of Honour, the Grand Duchess's inseparable confidante, Fräulein Melusine von Graffenfried? What on earth have you been doing with your time since you came?"

"What a beauty she is!" I said.

"She's a beauty all right! You're not the first to make that discovery. But you'd better realize, my boy," he added, with a curious sly glance, "that there's nothing doing. Besides, you'll forget her existence when the Grand Duchess arrives. Meanwhile she'll do, won't she ..."

Translating words into deeds he touched our beautiful neighbour gently on the shoulder.

"Fräulein von Graffenfried, there are some things in the castle we don't value as we should. Here is one of its residents, who has not yet been presented to you and now solicits that honour. My fellow-countryman, Monsieur Raoul Vignerte, tutor to His Highness Duke Joachim."

The charming young woman turned round and gave me an angelic glance, which, for some reason or other, reduced me to extreme confusion.

"Thank you, dear Count, for giving me an opportunity of knowing Monsieur Vignerte otherwise than by reputation. Monsieur, let me hope we shall meet again without having to wait for so special an occasion. But I'm told you work so hard."

It was not the first time I was to learn how much more tactful distinguished imbeciles are than people of reputed intelligence. Count de Marçais gave me further proof of this when he answered for me:

"No offence meant, dear friend, but perhaps it is easier to gain admittance to the castle library than to your affections!"

Melusine's eyelids quivered imperceptibly.

"No offence taken, I assure you," she rejoined, smiling. "Monsieur Vignerte is a true scholar, and will tell you that the very best libraries are those to which admission is most difficult. Isn't that so, Herr Beck?" She added, turning to the old savant, who had just arrived and was lost in astonishment at the troops concentrated at the two ends of the parade-ground.

I admired the surpassing skill with which she turned a conversation verging on delicate ground.

"You are unquestionably right, Fräulein," my old colleague hastened to reply, with the utter ingenuousness of the man of learning. "Monsieur Vignerte knows only too well that the whole library, manuscripts included, is at his disposal."

"Hush!" said Fräulein von Graffenfried, turning round. "Here's the King."

A group of horsemen had just appeared opposite us, on the other side of the square, in the courtyard of the castle. There was immediately a volley of sharp commands. Cavalry and infantry stiffened to attention. With a noise like sheets of metal tearing, bayonets were fixed to the muzzles of rifles. Three thousand swords flashed out, three thousand tongues of lightning.

Trumpets and fifes began a slow march, a kind of summons to arms, very sharp and strident, but quite in keeping with the keen December morning. When it stopped, there burst out one wild universal cheer, solid, raucous and prolonged, like the roll of a wave which never breaks.

The little group of horsemen advanced at the trot in the huge empty square. The King of Würtemberg, in field-marshal's uniform, was in front on a black horse. On his right was the Grand Duke Frederick-Augustus, in general's uniform, very plain. On his left General von Eichhorn displayed all the glories of the Great General Staff. Close by was young Duke Joachim, looking very well in the blue tunic of a lieutenant in the Detmold Dragoons.

Behind them came a display of the finest uniforms in the German Army: a colossal officer of the White Cuirassiers; an officer of the Guard Artillery in black and gold with crimson facings; grey Hussars, a green Uhlan.

"Where's the Grand Duchess?" I murmured to Marçais.

"What! You call yourself an officer of the Reserve! Where do you expect to find the colonel at a review? At the head of his regiment, of course. Look, there's Colonel von Mudra of the 182nd. The review begins with his regiment. He's the man just in front of the Staff. He will drop back into line when his unit has been inspected."

At a gallop the Royal group passed between the companies of the regiment, which smartly opened out for the manœuvre. The white and black standards were lowered at their passage. Then came a sharp order and the ranks closed up. It was the turn of the Detmold Dragoons.

Colonel von Becker, slim and straight, a fine figure in his blue tunic, white gauntlets and black-spiked helmet with its silver eagle, rode up to the King, whom he saluted with a broad sweep of his sabre, presenting to him his superb regiment, a host of giants on motionless giant steeds. This solid mass gave me such an impression of overwhelming force that I involuntarily pressed Marçais' hand.

"H'm!" he murmured. "Our Cuirassiers and Spahis will have their work cut out if it ever comes."

An order, passed down by the commanding officers, captains and lieutenants, and the earth trembled beneath the hoofs of the 11th Detmold Dragoons moving off by the right, behind the 182nd Infantry, to take its place for the march past.

It was Marçais' turn to press my arm.

"Look!" he said.

In front of us, in the first row, Fräulein Melusine von Graffenfried was leaning over the rail with a smile on her lips. Two riders were advancing towards the King. One was little Hagen, rather pale and plainly full of himself. He was riding eight or ten paces behind the Colonel of the Lautenburg Hussars.

To tell the truth, I could not clearly distinguish the features of the Grand Duchess Aurora. I could only see the outline of her slight form.

She was walking a little horse gorgeously caparisoned. Above her riding skirt was the tunic of the Lautenburg Hussars, red with orange facings. Her black kolbach reared its long gold cockade above her head.

She also presented arms to the King of Würtemberg, who, urging his horse forward, bowed over her hand and kissed it. A tremendous cheer went up from the crowd:

"Hoch for the Grand Duchess! Hoch for the King! Hoch for the Kaiser!"

Marçais touched Melusine gently on the arm.

"The Grand Duchess is a very placid Amazon today," he said.

"Do you think so?" replied the girl, shrugging her shoulders but not turning round. "She had two bottles of 'Extra Dry' put in Taras-Bulba's oats this morning. That explains everything."

"Taras-Bulba! Is that her horse?" I asked.

"Yes, a fearful little brute, hairy as a mat, you can see. She brought him from the marshes of the Volga. He's ugly, vicious and obstinate. She's absolutely the only person who can ride him. He tries to bite the groom's face off, but she can do what she likes with him."

"Sh!" said Melusine. "Look!"

The Hussars were advancing at full trot to take their places behind the Dragoons, who were drawn up behind the infantry.

With their backs to the stand and ourselves, the King of Würtemberg and General von Eichhorn faced the Grand Duke Frederick-Augustus and Duke Joachim, who, at the other end of the parade-ground, presented the troops marching past. I have no bias in favour of the Prussian goose-step, but I assure you that though we may mock at it in France, it is remarkably appropriate to German military atmosphere.

The 182nd marched past in line of columns of companies. You could have heard a pin drop. The six field artillery batteries followed at a gallop, the copper bobs on their black helmets sparkling in the sun. Then, by squads and keeping faultless alignment, the Detmold Dragoons advanced, followed at a distance of two hundred yards or so by the Lautenburg Hussars.

The Grand Duchess was between the two regiments. Little Hagen, stiller than ever, looked in the seventh heaven. A feeling of mute hatred of the man rose within me.

The march past was over. Whilst the Grand Duke Frederick-Augustus and Duke Joachim came over to join the King of Würtemberg and General von Eichhorn in front of the stand, the two calvary regiments massed for the final charge at the place the princes had just left.

"Look!" said Marçais to me. "You are going to see the Cossack style."

On the right was the blue mass, on the left the red, smaller. Twenty paces in front of them two riders, almost side by side. Colonel von Becker's great bay snorted. Taras-Bulba, quivering with suppressed excitement, did not move.

Leaning forward, Melusine looked on, her gaze at once roving and rapt.

Two sabres flashed and immediately, with a deafening roar, the great wave broke.

And now one horse was ahead—Taras-Bulba. How long would it last? Possibly ten seconds, and then the wave, three thousand horses and three thousand riders, stopped dead before the stands amid a rattle of oaths and the jingling of stirrups. The earth seemed to open.

I shall never forget the sight. On the right Becker, leaning back in his saddle, his horse rearing, saluted the sovereigns with his sword. On the left was Taras-Bulba pawing the air.

Five or six yards away from me the Grand Duchess sat her prancing horse. No pink glow on her pale face spoke of that breathless rush. Her huge black kolbach entirely hid her hair. Her green eyes shone gloriously. A Murat among Amazons, she held her sword raised above her head.

She smiled to us.

At that same moment a cry of admiring wonder broke from three throats. Melusine von Graffenfried, Marçais and I had the glory of leading a frantic burst of cheering.

Then Taras-Bulba fell back on his fore feet. With one hand Aurora von Lautenburg patted his shaggy mane, while she extended the other to King Albert, who kissed it again.

* * * * * *

An invitation card, handed to me by Ludwig when I returned to my rooms, intimated that my presence was requested at the dinner to take place at eight o'clock in the Great Gallery, in honour of His Majesty the King of Würtemberg and His Excellency General von Eichhorn. Third table; place 23.

I spent the afternoon in my room, playing with some manuscript or other, turning over pages, but not reading. At seven o'clock I went out into the park. Two hours earlier I had heard the last strains of the hunting horns, distant at first, die out in the ravine of the Melna. It was there that the hunt, led by the King and the Grand Duchess, had concluded.

The palace was a blaze of light, and through its lofty windows I could see the great tables groaning beneath their load of flowers and glass.

Most of the high officials and all the Lautenburg officers had been invited, and three hundred covers were laid at twelve tables.

I went in between a major of the Dragoons and the wife of a Court Councillor, and neither of them said a single word to me during the meal. The band of the 182nd played in the Council Chamber in the intervals between the courses.

I could not see the Grand Duchess, the King, or the Dukes, as the top table was completely hidden from me by a forest of flowers.

In the hubbub of toasts and champagne I slipped out, and went through the Council Chamber to the Great Hall, hoping to get a good view of the entrance of the royalties. A charming voice drew me from the well of my reflections:

"Well, Monsieur Vignerte, why so solitary?"

I was alone in the great room with Fräulein von Graffenfried.

"What about yourself, Fräulein?"

"I? Oh, that's a different matter. The Grand Duchess has asked me to have a look round before the others come in. The waiters are so stupid. She is most anxious that the flowers should be well arranged."

I looked around at the tasteful floral display about us. Purple iris alternated with yellow roses, larger and finer than anything I have ever seen, before or since.

"These flowers are from her own home," Melusine explained; "iris from the Volga and roses from Daghestan. She has a waggon-load sent every month, as she thinks the flowers here very poor. They are beautiful, aren't they?" she added, with her face buried in a large bunch.

"Not more so than she!" I murmured, not knowing what I said.

Melusine gave me a smiling glance. She was dressed in a gown of ivory satin under a tunic of tulle embroidered with iridescent pearls. No jewels, save for a necklace of pink pearls round her smooth throat.

Her whole personality, elegant, languid and perfumed, spoke in that smile.

"Yes, she is," was all she said.

Then with sudden irony:

"So it was her flowers that suggested herself? I shall tell her."

"I beg of you, Fräulein ..."

"No, no! I want you to know her. You must come and see us. We get bored, you know, seeing no one but little Hagen. He isn't always amusing."

"He is in love with her, I suppose," I said, drawing close up to her.

Melusine laughed.

"He's quite tiresome enough for that."

"And she?"

"Monsieur Vignerte," said Melusine, smiling again. "You go from one extreme to the other, the depths of modesty to the heights of indiscretion. Don't you realize that, to say the least, your questions are not very flattering to me?"

She leaned forward, almost touching me. Her black hair brushed my cheek.

"I think you found me much better-looking this morning before seeing her, didn't you?" she whispered.

She took my arm with an imperious gesture.

"Well, you can look at her now."

With a clatter of swords and spurs the procession entered the Great Hall just as a thousand lights were turned on at once.

* * * * * *

German Court functions have all the incomparable splendour that the magnificent imperial uniforms give them. I was almost blinded by the amazing display of blue, red and black tunics, bedecked with fur and sparkling with gold.

The hedge of Lautenburg Hussars presented swords.

The Grand Duchess Aurora came first on the arm of the King of Würtemberg.

A draped gown of dark green velvet, amazingly décolleté, left one shoulder absolutely bare. Behind her trailed her long train, with a wonderful design in silver embroidery.

On her right hand she had a single diamond set in platinum, on the left an emerald set in a circle of brilliants.

I had not seen her hair in the morning, but now I beheld that cloud of tawny gold, fashioned in great coils round her head, beneath a gold-lace cap surmounted by a strange barbaric tiara of emeralds.

For one second her eyes met mine. I had an intuition that what she read there did not displease her. I was probably the only human being in that etiquette-ridden concourse who dared gaze thus frankly at that woman.

Do you remember Gustave Moreau's Fée aux Griffons? You will recall the fantastic creature in a vivid blue landscape—that colour is less intense than the green of Aurora of Lautenburg's eyes. The picture will give you a dim idea of the Grand Duchess.

There was the same ethereal atmosphere, the same haunting mystery of outline. Melusine, exquisite, even unnerving as she was, seemed almost commonplace beside that Titania.

What Moreau's picture does not explain is the blending of ingenuousness and resolution which is the whole charm of this princess. She has something of the northern Creole, at once listless and impulsive, and again something of snow in sunshine, sparkling and hard on the surface, soft in substance.

Her waist, perhaps a little too slender, is rather high. You knew how delicately lovely her waist would have been if she had cared to lace it in, for the velvet gown moulded the form in a way that is only possible when there is direct contact with the flesh beneath. The thought that that form could emerge from its sheath like a cold, pure lily sent the blood surging to one's brain.

Among all those faces, on which wine had already begun to leave its purple traces, that pale statue, half unrobed, was miraculously white and pure. Her lips were rouged, her eyes darkened, and, to tell the truth, her nails were unnaturally pink. But you felt she made light of these adventitious aids on which others rely for beauty. You could imagine her smiling at resorting to them. She only uses them to show that she can just as well dispense with them.

The smile which hovered on her pale face was set, artificial. A slave to etiquette, she wore the appropriate official mien. Any one who watched her closely could the better observe an occasional emotion, dead at birth, which for a brief moment disturbed the grave, self-imposed mask. I knew that such an emotion must focus as many impulses as the colours in a prism. I felt that if I ever came to know Her Highness better, I should perhaps succeed in analysing them; but in the meantime that glimpse revealed two elements with unfailing certainty—irony and ennui.

Was this gentle, listless creature, indeed, the Amazon of the morning? I preferred her then. The bare, white shoulder hurt me, and I wanted a heavy ermine cloak to throw over it. There were a dozen around her. Oh! I knew that she was their sovereign, and that their glances, in her presence, were little more than mechanical. But if they had not thought themselves observed what reserve would they have shown?

And who, in Heaven's name, is that little red Hussar, lurking down there behind the flowers and casting covetous glances at that fair shoulder?... Hence, clown! Go back to your tame, fat German women, with their bulging arms and diabolo figures. She is not of your race. She is not for you, lout! I hate you, yet I envy you. I envy your scarlet tunic, your yellow facings, your gold tinsel, your lieutenant's rank in the 7th Hussars, which, when all else fails, is a bond between you and your soul-stirring Colonel. I could then approach her and proffer, as you do now, my compliments on the display of the morning.

With her face almost buried in the bouquet of irises she held to her nostrils, she thanked, in a low voice, the officers who congratulated her.

"Oh, no! You exaggerate. Taras-Bulba deserves all the praise. I'm always amazed at the way you keep up with him on your chargers. Compared with him the animals here are like brewers' horses."

Was I wrong, or could she really if she had wished have spoken German with less of a foreign accent?

Behind a screen of plants on the left the band of the 182nd struck up a waltz. The ball began.

"We are keeping out the dancers, gentlemen. Go and find your partners. They will be getting angry with me. Please take me to my place, Count," she said, taking General von Eichhorn's arm.

These Germans, male and female, waltzed with that grave, concentrated resolution that characterizes them. Spurs clinked merrily, and the beautiful imperial colours mingled under the lights into one fascinating kaleidoscope.

"Monsieur Vignerte, you are not dancing!"

"It is only because I'm such a poor performer, Fräulein. Besides, a black coat cuts a poor figure among all these uniforms."

"That's no reason," replied Melusine. "Why, there's good Frau von Wendel who will go very well with your clothes. You must ask her."

"If I must dance, I should prefer it to be with you."

"I'm afraid I haven't time. My business is to wander round and look after the wallflowers and more bashful dancers. Let me take your arm. You can accompany me."

A pretty woman on my arm gave me the confidence I lacked.

"Fräulein von Graffenfried! Monsieur Vignerte!" The voice of Marçais.

The last word in elegance, he was sitting near the Grand Duchess. Great Heavens! He beckoned to me to go up.

"Can't we ever get hold of you?" he said, laughing. "Here, monsieur."

He presented me to the Grand Duchess.

"It was partly for your sake, Madame, that I brought Monsieur Vignerte here. But you seem in no hurry to use the gifts we offer."

She replied casually:

"I? My wish is nothing better than to know Monsieur Vignerte. I am told he is charming. You must forgive me, monsieur, if I say 'I am told.' I have hitherto had no chance of judging for myself. You work very hard, I understand."

The same words as Melusine had used. Oh, the shame of it! Was I always to wear the pedant's gown? Was I always to be the man who "worked very hard," I, whose nights were passed in dreams of a voluptuousness that none suspected?

I was going to reply. I think I was going to tell that haughty creature the plain truth. But she rose.

"Excuse me! I must dance—at any rate, once! Herr von Hagen," she called.

The little red Hussar was there. He came forward, humble but radiant. I knew a day would come when I should box his ears!

A space had been cleared on the floor. The Grand Duchess Aurora's dance seemed to be a maëlstrom from which the dancers turned aside lest they be drawn in. They waltzed at first the slow German waltz in three time. Then the measure quickened, changing to two beats in the bar. It was no longer even the boston, but a wild, harmonious whirling.

A murmur of admiration went up. The Grand Duke Frederick-Augustus looked on with a smile which was almost a smile of triumph.

It was not Hagen, elegant and accomplished though he was, who set the pace, but the tall green and white form. Round and round she went, listless as ever. Hagen let himself be carried along. An ecstatic flush suffused his fair, boyish face. He was as clay in the hands of his Sovereign. Red, green, red, green, then a blur. The complementary colours appeared. They turned, turned, turned...

In France we should have clapped.

She went back to her place a drooping lily. As she adjusted her right shoulder-strap, she let fall the lovely bouquet of purple iris which she had been carrying. I rushed forward and picked it up.

"Thank you, monsieur," she said casually. Then, this time voluntarily, she dropped them again.

Good Lord! they were already faded.

* * * * * *

I went back to my room, opened the window, and, gazing out at the cold stars, drank the dregs of humiliation. I understood. She felt a hopeless antipathy to me. What was it? What had I done? I didn't know.

The outcast's motto came back to me: "To work!"

I could still hear the distant strains of the band. Limousines crossed the Königsplatz with their glaring headlights. Their occupants were happier than I, for they had seen her since I had.

To work!


WELL, Raoul Vignerte! What are you after now? What's this new craze of yours? Why! only a few weeks ago you didn't know in the morning where your dinner was coming from. Your acme of happiness was to be certain of the next day's meals. Here you are certain not only of tomorrow's, but next month's, and even for years to come. You have only to devote yourself to your work—work, the only thing that brings no regret. And with all this you are unhappy, not merely unhappy, but actually miserable. You are more miserable than on the day when you arrived at the Gare d'Orsay, turning out your pockets to see if you could find a proper tip for the porter without changing your one gold piece, which, once broken into, would vanish all too quickly. What is the cause of your suffering? Your cursed imagination. Isn't it because you know that henceforth all the beauties of Paris, all the treasures of France, could not satiate the longings within you? She! a beauty, a Grand Duchess! Poor fool! You called yourself an anti-romanticist and used to make fun of the Romantic Drama. Yet here you are, when it suits your purpose, repeating all unconsciously the adventure of Ruy Blas, lackey to Monseigneur the Marquis de Finlas. Is this what your gods, Le Play and Auguste Comte, have brought you to? You are a funny creature! Why, the queen of your dreams is even further from you than from that little red Hussar with his elegant indolence, rank, and a coat-of-arms to back him....

I got to work and gradually found that the dust of the library chased away my envy, hatred and regret. I accustomed myself to the idea that I should never set foot in the left wing of the palace. I liked to think that she dawdled out life there with her Melusine, and that I was never made for such a place. I deliberately intended to take away from my visit to Lautenburg everything I thought could help or amuse me. In two years' time I should have saved five or six thousand francs and collected material for three or four books. I would return to Paris, and with my methodical industry and the memory of what I had missed, would make her mine. After all, Paris was better than this scornful, barbaric beauty!

Professor Thierry had drawn up an excellent plan of campaign, and the further I explored the library, the more I appreciated his wisdom. The history of the German dynasties contemporary with Louis XIV. sheds a wonderful light on his reign, throwing its natural attraction into greater relief. The single preoccupation of German princelings towards the close of the seventeenth century was to imitate the King of France, the usual method being to secure the services of artists, or pupils of artists, who had worked for him. But while every French seigneur made a point of having a particular artist to work exclusively for him, it is amusing to see how the Germans usually clubbed together to share the expense of commissioning some particular painter, sculptor, or gardener. It reminds one of the way in which poor Parisian families club together to buy a sack of vegetables or a whole lamb at the Halles.

I discovered among the archives most of the estimates of the French painters and sculptors who worked not merely for the Dukes of Lautenburg and Detmold, but also for the Dukes of Lüneburg-Celle and the Electors of Hanover. Ernout executed most of the statuary groups in the gardens. Gourvil, a pupil at La Quintinie, laid them out. Lesigne, a pupil of Lebrun, was commissioned to do the frescoes. A Catalan, Giroud, was in charge of the iron and locksmith's work. Zeyer, a painter in lacquer and instructor to Princess Sophie-Dorothea, has left some charming work on the doors of the Herrenhausen Palace at Hanover and of the Palace of Lautenburg.

Their accounts were hotly disputed by the stewards of these Sovereigns, and in many cases the princes themselves did not hesitate to suggest reductions in their own hands. I examined with great interest a long bill of Giroud's, exhibited by that artist before a Hanover tribunal in 1690, to justify his charges for the installation of a number of secret springs at the Herrenhausen. Duke Ernest-Augustus, the future Elector, failed to establish his case for reduction. At that date, at any rate, Hanover had judges who judged.

I had decided in principle to confine my researches to the influence of France on the Courts of Germany in the seventeenth century. I had at my disposal a mass of documents, more than enough for Professor Thierry's purpose and comprising material for a book of my own. It is to that Zeyer, lacquer artist and instructor to Princess Sophie-Dorothea, that I owe the extension of my original plan. I found among his accounts a transcript of his evidence before the Commission of Enquiry which tried the unhappy Hanoverian sovereign. He is thus responsible for the events which were to follow.

Vignerte stopped, thought a moment and then put an unexpected question.

"Do you know the dramatic story of Count Philip Christopher of Königsmark?"

For answer I repeated the following lines:

The Count of Königsmark once loved a queen,
Became the queen's own lover, so folk say,
In her own room, censed with fresh-burnt verbene
When nights were young as when they died to-day.
What idle thoughts she poured into thy mind
Who could declare, what idle tales she told
As beaded bluebells all the while she twined
With hearts' ease in her locks of russet gold.

"The author of those lines," said Vignerte, "had read Blaze de Bury's book. It is the only useful work in French on the tragedy. Do you remember it?"

"I'm afraid I've forgotten most of it," I confessed.

"I shall have to give you the story in some detail. It will not explain my own adventure. It makes it even more extraordinary."

You will certainly remember what was the general situation in the State of Hanover in 1680. Its sovereign was Ernest-Augustus, a profligate versed in all the arts of statesmanship, who had been successively Bishop of Osnabrück, and Duke and Elector of Hanover. His brother, George-William, was Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg. Ernest-Augustus had a son, George: George-William a daughter, Sophie-Dorothea.

The ambitions of Ernest-Augustus had a double goal. His primary aim was to recover his brother's estates for his family. There was only one method—to marry George to Sophie-Dorothea. The marriage took place in 1682 when the Duchess of Brunswick-Lüneburg was only sixteen.

The other ambition of Ernest-Augustus soared higher. It was the crown of England. Fortune favoured him. One after another the twelve children of Queen Anne were gathered by death. Ernest-Augustus was not to see the fulfilment of his work—he died in 1698—but his son George reaped its fruits. On the death of Queen Anne in 1714 he mounted the throne of Great Britain as George I. He mounted it alone. Eighteen years before he had separated from his wife as the result of an infamous intrigue, and when her husband assumed the crown of England the wretched Sophie-Dorothea was dragging out her weary days in the Castle of Ahlden, more prison than palace.

You must forgive me for this dry summary of facts. It is essential I should be clear.

The story of Sophie-Dorothea's divorce is the story of the assassination of Count Philip-Christopher von Königsmark.

A member of one of the highest and most ancient Swedish families, friend of the Prince-Elector of Saxony, as dark and handsome as Sophie-Dorothea was fair and lovely, Count Philip and the Duchess of Brunswick-Lüneburg had known each other at Celle in their childhood when they were affianced in the ingenuous manner of the times. Their ways had parted, however, and Philip had led the adventurous life of a gallant Swedish free-lance at the Courts of James II. and Louis XIV., at Dresden and Venice.

Was Sophie-Dorothea's marriage a spur to his old love or a blow to his vanity? Whatever the reason, the fact remains that one fine morning Hanover witnessed the arrival of Count Philip von Königsmark.

The Court of the Elector was a den of debauch, a garbage-heap on which Sophie-Dorothea, fair lily, was slowly fading. Betrayed by a husband whom she had ever despised, compelled to tolerate, as gracefully as she could, the virago Countess von Platen, the abject favourite of Ernest-Augustus, she spent her weary life in solitude, preoccupied solely with the education of her two children—a son who was destined for the throne of England, and a daughter who was one day to be Queen of Prussia.

Then Königsmark arrived at Hanover and the drama opened.

Count Philip had come to take his revenge by winning back the heart of Sophie-Dorothea. But before he had even set eyes on her Countess von Platen had her eye on him. He deemed it wise not to flout the all-powerful favourite, but he was obliged to go to great lengths in order to soothe the susceptibilities of that woman—a Messalina and Lady Macbeth in one. He went, in fact, to the furthest limit. Once compromised, she would be in his power—but it was he who found himself in her clutches.

Then began the idyll of Philip von Königsmark and Sophie-Dorothea. The gloomy Herrenhausen Palace witnessed their ephemeral loves. Sophie-Dorothea's first notion was that the gallant Count had come to Hanover only to see for himself the misery and desertion of her who had been compelled by her father's wishes to marry another. His practically open liaison with Countess von Platen added fresh torture to her lot. But one morning, going with her lady-in-waiting to the little wood in the Herrenhausen park where she sat out every day, she spied the Count just moving off. A note was left on the seat, with these lines, in the style of Benserade:

In other days a fickle swain was I;
Upon the green from lass to lass
At any hour I'd lightly pass;
Only a change, this pleased my eye
But since I've seen my fairest Sylvia's face,
From her my love no more can range,
I'll make one last supreme exchange.
From her I'll never change my place.

Was Sophie-Dorothea Königsmark's mistress? I still doubt it, even after reading their correspondence in the archives of La Gardie. But I must freely confess that it must have been quite impossible to doubt it in so corrupt a Court as Hanover, where it was common knowledge that Duke George's wife received the handsome Swedish adventurer every evening in her apartments.

The vindictive Countess von Platen was the last to know that she was the laughing-stock of the whole palace, but that day the doom of both Count and Duchess was sealed.

On the evening of Saturday, July 1st, 1694, Königsmark, returning to his room, found on his table a note with a few words scribbled in pencil:

Princess Sophie-Dorothea will expect Count Königsmark this evening, after ten.

This note, a forgery imitating Sophie-Dorothea's handwriting, was the work of Countess von Platen. Königsmark, unsuspecting and brave as a lion, kept the appointment. He left the Princess at two in the morning.

Next morning Sophie-Dorothea saw from her balcony two men furtively wandering in the park as if they had lost something. They were Count Philip's servants searching for their master. He was never to be seen again, by them or any one else.

There you have the tragedy, my friend. There remains the dénouement, the divorce of Sophie-Dorothea. That unhappy young woman of twenty-eight lived in a world of enemies. She wished to leave her husband, who was a nightmare to her, but was prevented by the wishes of her father, who had forced a marriage on her for political reasons. A love-sick girl could not be allowed to upset the pretty scheme which had the throne of England as its possible goal. The unhappy creature refused to lend herself to it. She was dangerous for other reasons. The Swedish Count had relations. And so she was duly divorced after a trial in which she suffered every outrage and humiliation. Her children were taken out of her care, and ultimately the wife of the King of England, once more plain Duchess, died a prisoner in her Castle at Ahlden in 1726. Then only did the parental fury relent. The vaults of the castle in which she was born were opened to her corpse. There, in the obscurest corner of the crypt of the keep of Celle, is a humble coffin, bearing no inscription. It contains the mortal remains of Sophie-Dorothea, wife of the Elector George-Lonis of Hanover, King of England under the name of George I.

I have outlined, as briefly as I could, the story of Philip von Königsmark and Sophie-Dorothea. I need hardly say that many points in the tragedy have never yet been cleared up. The assassination of the Count is undoubtedly the most obscure incident in the whole affair. Witnesses agree that it was Countess von Platen who set the trap in which he perished. Ten hired assassins pierced him with their swords and the horrible Countess herself dealt him the final blow. But what was done with the corpse? This is where the mystery begins.

Opinions are divided. Was the Count, as some say, buried in a grave in the park? Or, according to another version which I have reasons to believe the true one, was his corpse covered with quick-lime and thrown under the stone floor of the room known as the "Knights' Hall"? Or was it simply cast into the latrines which communicated with the Lüne flowing at the foot of the castle, as the author of the "Secret History"[2] would have us believe? Was his the corpse, as Horace Walpole asserts, which was discovered twenty years later under the floor of a retiring-room in the Herrenhausen? I only put these problems to explain to you, though to me it still remains inexplicable, my feverish resolution to solve them. You may well imagine that the mystery was more vivid and intriguing to me than to any other man, partly because of the situation at the palace, with its many points of resemblance to that in which the tragedy took place, and partly because of the priceless material at my disposal in the ducal library.

The most valuable authority till then available was the correspondence of Königsmark and Sophie-Dorothea, to be found in the archives of the La Gardie Library at Loeberod in Sweden. This correspondence was discovered by Professor Palmblad, who published extracts from it at Upsala in 1851. When Professor Thierry in taking leave of me had referred me to Palmblad's work, he hoped that at Lautenburg I should be able to discover a portion of the correspondence, which wandered all over Germany before finding a definite home at Loeberod. I was, however, unable to find anything, though I had compensation for my disappointment in another and most fruitful discovery.

You remember I spoke of Sophie-Dorothea's daughter a short time ago. She married the Crown Prince of Prussia, the future "Drill-Sergeant King," Frederick I. "A harsh and tyrannical husband," as Blaze de Bury writes, "his first act, on mounting the throne, was to forbid his wife formally to hold any sort of communication with the prisoner of Ahlden. It was only when Sophie-Dorothea had inherited from her mother a revenue of twenty thousand crowns, a very considerable sum in those days, that the royal miser began to soften towards her, though his sudden concern was purely mercenary, being based solely on his wife's possible interest in the inheritance, an interest which the celebrated jurisconsult, Thomasius, had laboured to establish."[3]

The Queen of Prussia was the meekest of women, but, urged on secretly by her confessor, she had never ceased to reproach herself for not having boldly taken her captive mother's part, convinced as she was of her innocence. She began to take advantage of her forbidding husband's better moments to collect the material on which to base proceedings to clear her character. Unfortunately Sophie-Dorothea died in 1726. This did not deter her royal daughter from pursuing her labour of love. Thanks to her resolution and the learned assistance of the jurisconsult Thomasius already mentioned, an enormous dossier, comprising some twelve hundred documents, was prepared. It established beyond doubt Sophie-Dorothea's innocence and Countess von Platen's ignominy. This monument of filial devotion was never to serve any practical purpose. An anonymous note at the top of the file records that on the representations of George II., King of England, communicated to his brother-in-law, Frederick I. of Prussia through the British Minister, the rehabilitation suit was never begun. The English King observed to his sister, not without truth, that every piece of evidence disproving their mother's guilt only established their father's.

The submissive Prussian Queen yielded to the force of this political argument. The file, a monument of futile industry, after various wanderings recorded in the note I have mentioned, ended by falling in 1783 into the hands of the Grand Duchess Charlotte-Augusta of Lautenburg, niece of the reigning sovereign. It was this very file that I had the good fortune to discover among the uncatalogued manuscripts in the ducal library at the end of January, 1914. From the original notes of the cross-examination of Fräulein von Knesebeck, Sophie-Dorothea's confidante, to the record of Countess von Platen's confession,[4] had before me everything required to reconstruct the story of the mysterious Herrenhausen drama. In the casual manner of historians in dealing with uncatalogued manuscripts I carried off to the privacy of my room the six packets containing the whole melancholy story.

What a pageant of love and chivalry, crime and passion, grandeur, life and death, was unrolled for me in its musty pages and clerkly script in divers tongues! At night, when the castle was asleep, I pulled my table up to my glowing log fire and worked in a kind of burning frenzy. Here I touched history, live history, not the poor second or third hand imitation which was doled out to us, according to syllabus, from the Sorbonne Library. I will admit, I must admit, that the fumes of romance mingled with the soulless passion for knowledge that seized my very being. The Court of Hanover danced before my eyes, fantastic and brutal—Ernest-Augustus, the Silenus of politics; George-Louis, the narrow-minded profligate; Countess von Platen, the fearsome Messalina, beautiful and winning notwithstanding; Königsmark, the swarthy adventurer in his blood-stained doublet of pink and gold; pure-souled Sophie-Dorothea, fair and slender in her wedding gown of silver brocade.

Silver, did I say? There spoke the historian, the maker of books. But oh! how much fairer, how much nearer, I imagined her in another gown, a gown fresh in my mind! A gown of green velvet!

Winter was almost over, already yielding to the spring. I had opened my window to help my fire to draw, and through it the air wafted in with the magic touch of living breath. Through the darkness I felt the presence of the black trees, their bare branches quivering with the promise of life.

Several times, my friend, my dear friend—when death hovers overhead why should I not confess those follies which are the price and glory of life for men like ourselves?—under the spell of that old story of a gallant, murdered lover and a fair dead Queen, and impelled by an instinct the sureness of which Fate was in due course to reveal, I pushed open the door of my room with a beating heart. The corridor was dark. The old staircase creaked beneath my steps. Often in the great hall I had seen the lantern of the sleeping watchman. What on earth should I have said, had I been challenged?

The open postern exposed a great steel blue vault in the middle of which mysterious Cassiopeia seemed to shiver. I went out, crossing the moon-bathed lawns, hiding in the shadows of the yews. A light shone in the centre wing of the palace. The Grand Duke Frederick-Augustus must be a late worker! All was dark in the left wing, but when I reached the end of the building and pressed myself against the wall I knew that here, too, there were some who kept late hours.

Spring was not yet with us, but one felt that the song of the nightingale would soon be heard. Bright and spearlike, a ray of light spanned the gravel path, emanating from another window dark with heavy hangings and curtains.

The nightingale was not yet singing in the French park, embedded in the heart of that Germany whither Fate had led me. But behind that window a poignant long-drawn wail, interrupted at intervals by maddening silences that made my nerves quiver with apprehension, came slowly and softly from the silent palace straight to my heart. For Fräulein von Graffenfried was playing Schumann's most plaintive berceuses to her mistress on her violin.

[2]Secret History of the Duchess of Hanover, published in London in 1732, without the author's name but attributed to Baron von Bielefeld, chargé d'affaires of the Court of Prussia at Hanover. For this and later references I have amplified Vignerte's particulars with the aid of Blaze de Bury's articles, which appeared first in the Revue des Deux Mondes and were collected into one volume, the "Episode de l'Histoire du Hanovre, Les Königsmark," in 1855.

[3]Blaze de Bury: "Episode de l'Histoire du Hanovre." Notes and evidence, p. 378.

[4]A duplicate in manuscript of this confession, entitled "Funeral Oration of Countess C. E. von Platen," may be seen in the archives of Vienna.


PETERMANN'S MITTHEILUNGEN is the most exhaustive. And also it must be confessed the best, geographical work in the world. Our Annales de Géographie is only a feeble reflection of it. The Russians have an excellent geographer, Woïkow. We have Vidal de la Blache, whose preface to Lavisse's Histoire de France is a masterpiece. But these are only fragments and do not cover the whole ground. The astonishing feature of Petermann's Mittheilungen is its universality. My tutors at the Sorbonne—I won't mention names as it would hardly be kind to them at the present moment—have told me hundreds of times that no serious geographical work could be attempted without the assistance of this powerful machine.

I will not exaggerate either the scope or value of the lessons I gave my pupil by having you imagine that I never prepared one without consulting the Mittheilungen. But I can assure you that whenever it was necessary to emphasize some particular point I never failed to fortify myself by reference to the great work.

Accordingly I had recourse to it when occasion arose to instruct Duke Joachim on a question which was indeed a topic of the hour—the question of the Cameroons and the recent German acquisitions in the Congo. It was just two years since the Cambon-Kiderlen-Wächter conversations had resulted in an agreement which gave Germany the famous "Duck's bill" and Togoland. It, therefore, seemed to me a natural proceeding to dwell at some length on the region which had been the cause of the Kaiser's famous bang on the diplomatic table.

I shall never forget that day—Monday, March 2nd—nearly eight months ago now.

I first ran through the Table of Contents of the Mittheilungen in order to look up the references and authorship of the six articles on the Cameroons and the Congo. The second I came across was the work of Professor Heidschütz, of Berlin University, describing the means of access (natural and artificial) to this territory.

I carried the appropriate volume to the library table and began to make some notes. As I was opening the book at the page of the article I wanted, a piece of paper fell out. It was a sheet, folded in four and already yellow with age, and the writing on it was large, thick and free. It was German in Latin characters. No signature. Even without that writing to help me I had immediately guessed what was its subject and who had written it.

It contained the complete plan of a journey in one of the remotest parts of the Congo, along the famous, or, rather, notorious, river Sangha. The routes were carefully drawn up, with the assistance of the information given in Professor Heidschütz's article, which, as I expected, was the very last word on these regions. All practicable tracks, fords, and resources available to the explorer of the country—from the moment he left Libreville to the time of his return there—were noted. Each halt was marked: Ouesso, two days—French post, water, porters: Manna, one day—porters: Gléglé, on the N'Sagha, canoes, etc.

A fierce joy possessed me. Fate had delivered up to me the Grand Duke Rudolph's own plan, in his own hand, for his scientific journey in the very region where he was to meet with his death. Mine was not, I realized, the triumph of the historian at the discovery of a document throwing interesting light on German designs in the Congo, a document in itself proof positive, in view of the rank and personality of the explorer, that the Agadir coup was premeditated. What cared I for dryasdust History at that moment? In a flash I realized that pique had been the motive for all my labours since that famous occasion when the Grand Duchess had insulted me before the whole world!

If you would know the nature of the emotions that convulsed me as I scrutinized the precious document I must tell you how my imagination had been at work since that date. I had tried in vain to hate the Grand Duchess. I could not do so. The effort only had the effect of sharpening my desire to approach her, claim her notice, convince her that my end in life was to devote myself to her service.

Devote myself! Good God, what on earth could have led me to think that this dazzling, distant goddess might need my humble devotion?...

It was here, my friend, that my imagination led me on. To tell the truth it certainly had something to build upon. You don't suppose that during my long, lonely nights I had forgotten the confidences of a man of Professor Thierry's standing? Quite the reverse. What wealth of meaning had I not read into them? In a vague way I felt myself in an atmosphere of mystery. I felt, just as I feel you now at my side in the dark, that some tragedy was at the bottom of the presentiments of evil that flooded my mind from time to time. My work and the nights devoted to the tragic story of Königsmark had only aggravated my apprehension. All moonshine, you will say; the diseased imaginings of a brain excited by work in solitude, and, perhaps, a stronger emotion. You might have some reason for thinking so if events had not abundantly justified my excitement.

Whatever the cause, my friend, even before I discovered the Grand Duke's plan I had pieced together a story which satisfied my notions. I imagined the Grand Duke Frederick-Augustus, correct and kind as he always was towards me, as the executioner of his wife, that adorable Grand Duchess. You see beauty made me fundamentally unjust. It made me attribute imaginary wickedness to the man who, obviously, had many virtues and was, in any case, the author of my present prosperity, while I raised a monument in my mind to the woman who had once held me up to public scorn and subsequently seemed to ignore my existence whenever I had been thrown in her way. In my lucid moments I would reflect that there was little of the martyr about the cold, haughty creature who spent her nights listening to her Melusine's violin and her days on horseback, hunting with her miserable red Hussar! That Hagen.... Wasn't it plain as a pikestaff that it was the Grand Duke who deserved pity and affection!... I should never have had his patience!

Useless sedatives. Vain strivings to forget. A moment later, back among my fantastic imaginings I pictured Aurora of Lautenburg turning to her fiery mount, hunting, music—anything to assuage her grief at the loss of her first husband, that handsome, gallant husband who had loved her, whom she still loved, no doubt.... And the jealousy born of these reveries made me cherish them all the more.

Many conversations had failed to convince me of heir lack of substance. It was useless for Frau von Wendel, with her sullen hatred of the Grand Duchess, to sigh out tales of poor, dear Grand Duke Rudolph, who had been so unhappy. I ruthlessly cleared everything from my path that seemed to threaten the integrity of my fantastic fabrications.

You can call me a lunatic. But assuming I was one, you can imagine the frenzy with which I put back the volume of the Mittheilungen, thrust my precious sheet into my case and went up to my room.

Open, Sesame! I had now in my possession the mysterious key which would open the way to the Grand Duchess's presence, and enable me to compel her regard. "When she sees these lines," I thought, "in the handwriting of a beloved husband, she will know that he who brings them to light and gives them to her does not deserve the unworthy indifference she shows him. Perhaps she will ask my pardon. Then I shall have compelling words to stay the flow of regrets on those fair lips. She will only wonder the more at her own past behaviour."

Twice I attempted to write a letter to accompany the document, and twice I threw it into the fire. The first did not seem respectful enough. The second was too full of the importance of my discovery. Eventually I hit upon the simplest possible form of words:


By pure chance I have discovered a document which cannot fail to concern your Highness. Permit me to enclose it with this note, in witness of your humble servant's respectful devotion.

I had thought of entrusting my missive, with a couple of words of explanation, to Fräulein von Graffenfried, who had never ceased to show me a marked regard which was very flattering. But I was doomed to disappointment, as Melusine had just gone out into Lautenburg, so I had to be content with an old half-witted Russian waiting-woman. The ancient dame took it, not without suspicion, and went off mumbling something unintelligible.

I went back to my room at once and there my excitement oozed away. In fact, I was soon practically taking myself to task for my action. What purpose would it serve? Why was I mixing myself up in the affair? I think I almost wished the old Russian even sillier than she seemed so that she might lose my letter.

A step sounded in the corridor and there was a knock at the door. Ludwig entered.

"Excuse me, Herr Professor. The Herr Professor has been sent for."

Stepping aside he ushered in a lackey. I thought I should collapse when I saw the blue and gold livery of the Grand Duchess.

"Will the Herr Professor kindly come with me?" said the man.

Stunned by the almost immediate effect of my action, I followed him, even forgetting my hat. We cut across the park. Where was he taking me? We reached and descended the slopes of the English garden. Soon we were among the willows by the Melna, flushed with the ruddy glow of dying day.

A shot rang out from a clump of chestnut trees, and I thought I heard a rustle in the branches as if a bird were falling.

"Will the Herr Professor please step this way?"

I was now in a kind of arbour. The Grand Duchess was standing with her gun still smoking in her hand.

"Excuse me, monsieur. I am having a little thrush shooting," was all she said.

And she nodded to her lackey to leave us.

* * * * * *

I was alone with the queen of my dreams. I had known that this moment would come, but never imagined that it would find us in this leafy tunnel, which I had passed many a time in my walks, without suspecting its existence.

For a few seconds she gazed at me in silence. My embarrassment was absolutely indescribable. It was only later, much later, that I learned how well it had served my cause. So nervous a visitor could hardly be an enemy.

At length she spoke, and her voice was soft, so soft that I did not recognize it.

"I am grateful, Monsieur Vignerte, for your communication. You were right in thinking that any relic of the late Grand Duke Rudolph could not be a matter of indifference to me. Will you tell me," she added, "how this paper came into your possession?"

I told her the whole story of my discovery. There must have been a wealth of emotion and candour in my words, for I felt she was touched.

"Monsieur," she said, and her words were gentleness itself, "if, as I hope, we are to know each other better, you will, I feel sure, cease to bear me any ill-will for what may have seemed unmannerly in my behaviour towards you. No, don't protest. That behaviour was deliberate, monsieur. Indifference in a woman is always feigned. You must believe that, to understand me, certain factors are required which are far from being in your possession."

Where was the pretty speech I had promised myself in reply to these words, long foreseen?

"Are you always working, Monsieur Vignerte?" asked Aurora, with a smile tinged with delicate irony.

"Madam!" I murmured, overcome.

"Oh! I have no intention of taking you from your exalted pupil, but I cannot help remembering that when the Grand Duke brought you here, it was with a kindly idea of lending you to me occasionally. I have only myself to blame for not taking advantage of his forethought before."

My doubts as to whether she was serious or not nailed me, dumb, to the spot.

"Do you play bridge?" she asked.

"Yes—a little," I stammered, blessing Kessel and old Colonel von Wendel, to whom I owed this latest accomplishment.

"We—that is, Fräulein von Graffenfried, Lieutenant von Hagen and I—play bridge every evening. You shall make a fourth. You will do us a much greater service than you imagine," she added, smiling. "I need hardly add that you must come when you like."

"I understand, too," she continued, "that you have some most interesting French books. I do a certain amount of reading, and should be very glad to become acquainted with them, providing I'm not robbing that good Frau von Wendel."

I blushed atrociously.

"Very well, then," she said, noticing nothing. "You will come when you like, Monsieur Vignerte; but if you will let me give you further proof of my gratitude by making a request, may I say that I shall be happy to see you in my boudoir this evening, about half-past nine."

I bowed and was about to withdraw when she beckoned me back.

"Monsieur," she said in low, grave tones, "of course, it is understood that everything touching this is strictly between ourselves."

She indicated my letter, which she had just drawn from one pocket of her black, full-skirted jacket.

I bowed again.

"This evening, then, Monsieur Vignerte, and if you would do me a last kindness, please go out as quietly as you possibly can, so as not to scare away the thrushes."

I returned to the palace by a circuitous route, along the Melna. A kingfisher skimmed backwards and forwards over the darkening water. It was of the same colour as the emerald I had just noticed on the white finger of Aurora of Lautenburg-Detmold.

* * * * * *

The Grand Duchess's bridge-table was set in a curious little Louis Quinze salon on the first floor. Two Bouchers, a Largillière and an excellent Watteau were its best features. Flowers, masses of flowers, everywhere.

Remembering that Hagen would be there, I had made a special point of not arriving first. Indeed, it was a quarter to ten when I knocked at the door of Aurora of Lautenburg.

It was Melusine who opened it.

"I'm very pleased to see you!" the charming creature murmured as she took my hand. The Grand Duchess gave me a smile of welcome and beckoned me to the table, at which she was already sitting with Hagen. I had an impression that the red Hussar was in a thoroughly bad temper, and this pleased me so much, that I lavished the most delicate attentions upon him all the evening.

Aurora of Lautenburg was wearing a kind of black silk tunic, very décolleté, with masses of gold braid and edged with chinchilla at the neck and sleeves. A net of gold filigree confined her cloud of tawny hair.

She played with careless assurance, nearly always winning, and never missing a lead, and Melusine, too, played well. I made appalling mistakes, but as luck would have it, calmly trumped my partner's tricks and ended by winning. The thought that Hagen would several times have thrown his cards in my face if it had not been for the Grand Duchess's presence made me almost delirious with joy.

The first rubber came to an end as the clock struck eleven. The Grand Duchess rose.

"Cards will ruin you, little man!" she said familiarly to Hagen. "I haven't forgotten that you have General Hildenstein's inspection tomorrow, and must be down by six in the morning. You needn't hesitate to leave Melusine and myself alone," she added, "as Monsieur Vignerte has kindly consented to keep us company. So you'd better go to bed."

With maternal solicitude she offered him his sword. He took it with a fiendish glance at me, which I pretended not to see.

Melusine von Graffenfried smiled her eternal sphinx smile.

"Let us go to my room," said Aurora. "Monsieur Vignerte, don't forget the books you have brought me."

* * * * * *

In accordance with the principles set forth in Edgar Allan Poe's "Psychology of Furnishing," the Grand Duchess's room was elliptical. A large mauve globe, set in the ceiling, shed a misty, shadowless light.

On the walls were prints of Burne-Jones, Constable and Gustave Moreau.

The room was full of the three things I love most—flowers, rugs and precious stones. Flowers invaded every corner, and it was quite five minutes before I got used to their overpowering scent. Then the soothing fragrance possessed me, and I was almost able to distinguish between them. Roses and lilies, of course, predominated, though merely as a glorious framework in which the riches of the Tcherna and the Caucasus were exhibited in bewildering profusion. Against the walls were massed the mullein of Mongolia, with their great spikes of flowers nearly a yard long. The musky pink centaury swarmed on every table. Purple passion-flowers, the spring marvel of Aral's desolate shores, tuberoses from Erivan, crimson scabious, monster carnations of every hue, linaria and love-lies-bleeding, balsam and nigella, primroses of Kasbeck, huge red moonflowers from the defiles of Daried, the everlasting-flower of Colchis, once the refuge of the mythical green bird—all these flowers, known or unknown among us, turned that cool room into the haunt of eternal spring.

The sweet-smelling irises, of a deep violet hue approaching black, almost held me spellbound. The Grand Duchess noticed this and smiled.

"Those are what I love best. They are brothers to those I used to gather in my childhood by the banks of the Volga."

She sat down on the great, low bed, with its two polar-bear skins for a cover, and took off the net which confined her hair. Her tawny mane fell out over the white rugs. At her feet Melusine, stretched on a tiger-skin, with her arm on the great beast's head, toyed with a kind of guzla from which she drew wavering, plaintive sounds.

The Grand Duchess took off her jewels, one by one, and put them on little side-tables about the bed. On a chest, with a top of green onyx and painted like a Persian cabinet, I noticed the barbaric tiara she had worn at the fête of the 7th Hussars. By it was another, even heavier one, in sapphires.

The floor was strewn with rugs on which little red and green roses from Armenia swarmed like scarabs and ladybirds. A long necklace of amber and turquoise, strung chaplet-wise, hung from the head of the bed, and above it was a dark little niche where a burning lamp showed up a blue and gold ikon.

Two large silver bowls, gloriously chased, stood near the Grand Duchess. One was full of petals, the other of uncut jewels. In this she plunged her hand, and as fine sand slips through the fingers, she let fall a smooth bright rain of pearls and corundum, chalcedonies and beryls, sardonyx and peridots.

O Margravine of Lautenburg, as you reclined there before me, you were once more the Tartar princess, the fay of the East, the peri of the Volga's mystic waters.

* * * * * *

She asked me to tell her the circumstances which had brought me to Lautenburg, She had heard some of the details from Marçais, but from the smile with which she told me this I had no difficulty in guessing her opinion of that diplomatist's perspicacity.

It was plain that she wanted to know my story, and I met her wishes with straightforward simplicity. Towards the end, as I felt her interested and friendly, I could not help giving her a moving picture of the distress our first meeting had caused me, I who had no sooner set eyes on her than my sole idea in life had been to gain her regard.

Melusine von Graffenfried nodded approval, closing her eyes as she blew rings from her cigarette to the ceiling.

"Please let us forget all that, Monsieur Vignerte," said the Grand Duchess. "Give me your hand." Then, turning to Melusine, she spoke in Russian, not knowing that I had a smattering of her native tongue.

"It's no good relying on him for my admission to the Kirchhaus."

Fräulein von Graffenfried replied with a shake of the head, which might be interpreted as "Didn't I say so?"

"Melusine," said the Grand Duchess, "light the samovar."

While the girl arranged the teacups round the heavy, humming tower of burnished copper, Aurora rose from the bed and opened a small secretaire. She beckoned me to her.

"Do you know that writing?" she asked, holding out a letter.

I examined the paper. I had never seen the writing in question.

"It is the hand of the late Grand Duke Rudolph," she said simply.

My surprise grew to amazement. She could not restrain a smile.

"But, excuse me, madame. I don't understand. Then whose is the document I sent you, to which I owe ..."

"Don't get excited; keep calm, Monsieur Vignerte. The paper to which you owe my regard—nay, my friendship—was not written by my husband, the late Grand Duke. But it is not without its value for me. It may even have a greater value."

As she spoke she unfolded the document "I see there a name," she said. "Sangha. Do you know where it is?"

"Yes," I answered. "I found out this morning. It is a miserable village in the Cameroons—the last German post, ten leagues from Fort Flatters, the first French post."

"That's the place," she added, "and you don't seem to know that it was in that very village that the Grand Duke Rudolph died of sunstroke on the 10th of May, 1911. He is buried there. Now you will realize my feelings on seeing in the list of projected stages of his journey the name of the place where he was to stay for ever."

"But whose is this list, then? Who drew it up?"

"A friend," replied the Grand Duchess, "the Grand Duke's faithful companion. The same man who saved his life twice in the Congo. The same who stayed with him to the end, and rendered him the last services, though he was unable to save him from the fell malady."

"What was his name?" I asked.

"Baron Ulrich von Boose."

"Boose!" I cried. "So it was Boose!"

The Grand Duchess turned rather pale and drew herself up to her full height. Melusine, at her feet, had stopped playing the guitar, which was lying on the floor.

"What do you mean, monsieur?" said Aurora of Lautenburg. "Please explain yourself."

I had already recovered myself somewhat, and was vaguely conscious of my stupidity. I wanted to turn the conversation, but the Grand Duchess was not to be put off.

"Do you know Baron von Boose?"

"Excuse me, madame," I stammered. "I don't really know whether I ought, whether I can ..."

"What oughtn't you to say? What can't you say?"

I cursed my clumsy and premature exclamation, which looked like compromising in one second two months of patient approach. Thoroughly alarmed, and grasping at a straw, my eyes fastened on Melusine.

The Grand Duchess seemed to doubt the meaning of that look.

"Monsieur," she said, "Fräulein von Graffenfried is my friend, and you must know that I have no secrets from those I have once called by that name. You can speak freely before her. Indeed, I ask you to."

There was only one way out of the impasse. Stammering in the approved manner of those with nothing definite to say, I told her as well as I could about my conversation with Professor Thierry in the course of which I had first heard the name of Baron von Boose.

Aurora of Lautenburg's forehead showed a wrinkle.

"I understand," she murmured at length, "or, rather, I think I understand, in spite of the intentional reservations in your story."

She reflected a moment, then recovered her wonted calm and said:

"This proves, monsieur, how much one should distrust hasty conclusions. I do not know where your Professor Thierry went for the story with which he has stuffed your head. If, as you say, he is a conscientious historian, I think he would have acted less precipitately if he had been in possession of this—and this."

She handed me the letter I had just seen and with it another.

"These," she explained, "are two of the last letters written to me from the Congo by the Grand Duke Rudolph. In the first he tells me how he was saved by Ulrich von Boose from a buffalo which had killed his horse; in the second, how this same Boose rescued him from five or six natives who would have given him a bad time."

She looked at me with a smile while I read the passages she indicated.

I bowed, feeling somewhat sheepish.

Melusine had just filled the cups and we drank some very strong tea, in which pieces of citron-peel floated. Then I kissed the Grand Duchess's hand and clasped Melusine's.

"Au revoir till tomorrow, ami," said Aurora.

I went back through the park to my room, not without noticing, as I went out, a shadow which had more than a suggestion of Lieutenant von Hagen about it.

A shot, then another, rang out through the clear, empty night. We listened. Nothing followed.

Vignerte shrugged his shoulders.

"Some sentry with the creeps."

"Lend me your torch," he said.

He turned on the light and held out two pieces of paper.

"What are they?" I asked.

"The first," he replied, "is a letter addressed to Aurora of Lautenburg by the Grand Duke Rudolph. This other is the document drawn up by Boose, which, as I have told you, secured my restoration to the Grand Duchess's favour. It is as well," he added, "that you should not think you are dreaming as you listen to my story. Try a little contact with reality."

I scanned the two documents eagerly, one covered with Boose's strong, vigorous writing, the other adorned with those long feminine characters which indicate a temperament more prone to reflection than action. I was deeply moved by this letter of the German Grand Duke, who now rested beyond the seas in the hot clay of the Congo, between the glowing boundaries of the tropics. Mere contact with it conjured up a startlingly clear vision of her to whom it was written. Aurora of Lautenburg stood before us. I felt as if I had known her for ages.

Vignerte turned off the light and the rectangle of night sky reappeared. I handed back the papers. He continued.

Brunetière, speaking of the Lettres de Dupuis et de Colonet, says that they show less actual wit than a striving after wit. And that is more or less true of all Musset's work. Reverse that saying, and you have the best possible description of the Grand Duchess's conversation. That proud woman was always aptness itself. She was an exceptional being, and consequently what she said had always a quality of its own. Her judgments were severe, perhaps, but never pretentious or bookish.

She avoided the commonplace as the cat avoids water.

I had no idea how much she knew or what she liked, so the three books I took her that evening were Le Voyage du Condotière, Les Eblouissements, Les Evocations.

Next morning she gave me them back.

"I've read them all," she said, "but your selection was not a bad one. I see you like poetry."

Several books lay on a sofa. She picked one up and handed it to me.

"It is the Caucasian Review, which is published at Tiflis, and there is more beauty in these rude pages and simple tales of travel in unforgettable lands than in most of your modern poets. This is the rare spring to which the poets of tomorrow will come to drink."

She continued:

"Shakespeare has been dead three centuries, and the haunts of Macbeth are now treeless and a waste of factories. In Spain Don Quixote has been succeeded by a horde of commercial travellers from here. In Italy Carducci is a kind of half-witted Hugo. Like Switzerland, your romantic countries are now the hunting-grounds of tourists. There are turnstiles at the bottom of all your peaks.

"Suarès, whose book you lent me, felt all this, and surpasses himself when speaking of our Dostoevsky. He ought to come, if only for a short time, to our gorges of Dariel. I am quite sure he would prefer them to those of the Ebro and Douro, of which you see pictures in every station.

"There is no doubt that Madame de Noailles is your greatest poet. But why insist on calling her Greek! She is no more Greek than the Ariadne of the Indian Dionysus or the Circassian Medea. All that is best in her she owes to Armenia and Persia, our countries. Greek indeed! How silly they are! Haven't you ever seen her? I once lunched with her at Evian. I can tell you I took a great fancy to her. She's lovely and malicious, but honestly she is not Greek at all. At home we have a species of bird that you call jackdaw. It is very wild, flies high and has a vicious peck. Its plumage is blue and black, and it is strong, though slight. Your Madame de Noailles is a Tartar jackdaw, not a fat, lazy Greek dove."

"What about this?" I said, holding up Renée Vivian's volume of verse.

She kissed the book. "My words are too clumsy for her," she replied. "I adore her."

I was almost drank with joy to hear the woman whom I admired to the point of idolatry speak of things dearest to my heart in a setting which satisfied my exotic tastes. I told her so in a few simple words—as one always should.

I think she was touched, for she laid her hand on my shoulder and murmured, I have forgotten in what language:

"Thou art kind and I love thee well, my comrade."

Turning to Melusine, she repeated the Russian phrase of the previous evening:

"No, indeed, it's no good my relying on for my admission to the Kirchhaus."

Then, resuming her old sprightly tone:

"I believe I called you 'thou' just now, ami. You mustn't mind that. I mix all my dialects occasionally, and in my country we use 'thou' to practically every one, from our cattle up to the Czar himself."

A long silence followed, broken only at rhythmic intervals by the weird strains Melusine drew from her guzla.

Incense was burning in a bowl.

I began to turn over, without reading, the pages of a book which lay open on a small table beside me.

"Do you like that?" Aurora asked.

"That" was the Reisebilder.

I told her I was a great lover of Heine.

"Now what I value most in a poet," she said, "is a certain quality of soul. That is why I love Shelley and Lamartine, and dislike this Heine. Oh, I know what you'll say, the Nordsee and the rest. No one knows my debt to him better than I; but he's like Deutz, who sold your Duchesse de Berry, and I always feel I want to offer him the tribute of my admiration with a pair of tongs."

She took the book from me and looked through it.

I had no idea what time it was. Suddenly a whiff of air, with that sharp nip in it that heralds the dawn, was wafted in through the open window behind the curtains. The smoke of the incense trembled like a tottering pillar.

Buried in the Reisebilder, the Grand Duchess had forgotten my presence. Melusine put a finger on her smiling lips and took me out without her mistress noticing that we had gone.

It was very cold outside. To the east the blue sky was undergoing a magic change, slowly turning to violet, then green, then orange. I sat down on a seat by the door beneath the Grand Duchess's window, indulging in a kind of mournful ecstasy. For it was the very spot whither I had come so many evenings solely in order to be near her.

Then, languid and monotonous, but pure as the icy waters of a mountain stream, came the sound of a voice. The Grand Duchess was singing to the accompaniment of Melusine's guzla. She was the very incarnation of harmony, and her voice was, indeed, the voice of my dreams.

She was singing Ilse's romance, the best of the Reisebilder. And because we had just been speaking of it together I seemed to be still with her in her room:

The Princess Ilsa am I named, my home dark Ilsen's rock;
Oh come within my castle gate; there we shall happy be.
My sunlit waves shall bring a balm to soothe thine aching
Thy deep-set griefs thou shalt forget, poor youth all sick with
I'll kiss thee and I'll hold thee fast, as once I held and kissed
The Emperor Henry, my heart's love; ah me! He is no more.
The dead are dead; they only live who are alive today;
I still am fair and full of grace; my heart still smiles and
My heart still smiles and throbs.... Come see within my
crystal halls
My maids and knights together dance, my squires right glad
at play.
There's rustling of their silken trains, the clink of golden
My merry dwarfs their cymbals clash, their lutes and trumpets
But thee my foam-white arms shall clasp, as once they clasped
the King,
When with my hands I stopped his ears against the clarion's
* * * * * *

I was in the middle of an ancient history lesson with my pupil when the Grand Duke came in. He beckoned to us to sit down and told me not to stop.

I had been speaking to Duke Joachim of Alexander's successors, from the fighting of the Epigones in the streets of Babylon to the victory of Cyropedeon, which established the dynasties of the Lagides and Seleucides after the downfall of Lysimachus. I had been trying to bring before the eyes of my young German prince the grand and tragic figures of Eumenes, chief of the Argyraspides, Polysperschon, Antipates, Antigone Gonates, and Demetrius Poliorcetes. He listened attentively, taking notes with a docility which I should have preferred less abject....

The Grand Duke had sat down, and was also listening. Hypnotized by his grave, intellectual face, it was really to Frederick-Augustus, not the dull-witted Joachim, that my words were addressed. He was my audience as I closed with an attempt to show how the crumbling empires of the Epigones were to facilitate the victory of centralizing Rome.

As at this point I began to show signs of embarrassment, Frederick-Augustus broke in, with a smile:

"Don't let my presence embarrass you if you want to establish a parallel between Rome and Prussia."

It was obviously difficult for me to emphasize, in front of him, the dependence of the princes of the German Confederation on the King of Prussia. I did so, however, and he approved.

"God grant that this dependence," he said, "like the dependence of the powers allied to Rome, may mean the greatness of Germany and the peace of the world."

I ended by giving my pupil a list of the books bearing on my lesson, and mentioned that indispensable work, Droysen's "History of Hellenism."

"But excuse me, monsieur," said the Grand Duke, "is there no French work which can be used instead of Droysen?"

Even at the Sorbonne I had never felt so ashamed to say that there was not.

Eleven o'clock struck.

"Joachim," said the Grand Duke, "you can go. Please stay, Monsieur Vignerte."

We were alone.

"Monsieur," he said in his fine but grave, indeed rather melancholy voice, "you have hitherto had reason to think me sparing of compliments which you must have considered your due. I have always had the bad habit of waiting a long time before expressing opinions. The right moment has now arrived, monsieur. Yesterday, unknown to you, your pupil was examined by a Professor of Kiel University with little predilection for French methods. This professor has had to confess himself astonished at the results you have obtained."

He added, in a tone in which I detected a certain trace of bitterness:

"I know that the harvester deserves all the more praise when he has obtained his harvest from poor soil. Allow me to address my thanks to you today, and express the wish that the hospitality of Lautenburg may be sufficiently attractive to keep you here until you have completed a task so well begun."

"Your Highness's kindness overwhelms me, sir," I replied, deeply moved.

"No," he broke in emphatically, "it is I who am your debtor. I have just heard, Monsieur Vignerte, that you devote part of the little leisure that the education of my son leaves you to a task which is perhaps even more dear to me. This must, of course, be entirely between ourselves. I know the difficulties you must have met with before winning the confidence which I believe the Grand Duchess now extends to you. At first I did not know you well enough to speak more openly of my desire that you should be at her disposal, and try to interest her and save her from the fits of depression and that kind of spiritual disorder which are so fatal to her physical health. You understood, and have succeeded better than I could have hoped. You will thus realize that I am indeed in your debt."

There was so much sorrowful dignity in his voice that I was utterly overcome.

"Sir," I murmured, "I promise you ..."

He held out his hand.

"I don't need promises, monsieur. I know you now, and am certain that you will do everything you can to help the Grand Duchess. There is no better way of justifying my confidence in you. The task will not be always easy, I fear. A woman, especially when she has been stricken by the death of a man she loves, does not preserve that balance of mind of which we men are so proud. Do your best, monsieur." There was silence for a moment; then he continued: "I should add another form of thanks if it were not that any further mark of esteem is superfluous after the one I have given you in speaking as I have done. You must, however, allow me to offer you some recompense for the additional demands I am making upon you. I have just given orders that your salary is to be raised to fifteen thousand marks."

He met my protests with an exclamation.

"Nonsense!" he said, with his most charming smile. "Don't you play bridge every night at five pfennigs a point?"

* * * * * *

I was rather late for lunch, and found Professor Cyrus Beck in the thick of a dispute with Kessel. The latter obviously enjoyed teasing the old savant, who had a poor sense of humour and was purple with indignation.

My mind was far too full to pay any attention to what they were saying. I had a vague idea that the professor was explaining that chemistry in the next war would play a more important part than any other arm, and that he, Cyrus Beck, was on the high road to a discovery which would enable an ordinary laboratory and a few retorts to annihilate a whole army corps.

He was furious at Kessel's gibes.

He ended by appealing to me as witness against the Major, asking me to quote the passage in which Renan expresses a wish that the destiny of mankind should be entrusted to a committee of savants armed with a supply of explosives sufficiently strong to blow the earth to smithereens if its inhabitants tried to disobey them.

I admit I had not been listening very carefully. "Certainly," I said. "Allow me, Herr Beck, to ask you something in return."

"By all means."

"Can you tell me what the Kirchhaus is?"

The old man rose. To my intense amazement he glared savagely at me and went out, slamming the door, before I had time to recover from my surprise. I looked at Kessel, but he, usually a model of self-possession and good manners, was literally shaking with laughter.

"What on earth's the matter?" I asked.

"You've fairly put your foot in it," he managed to get out at last. "Poor old chap; did you notice how furious he was? And to think that he had hoped you'd back him up!"

"But what's upset him?" I asked, and my astonishment was so genuine that it was Kessel's turn to be surprised.

"You mean to say you didn't do it on purpose?"


"Didn't you ask him what the Kirchhaus was on purpose?"

"I asked him because I didn't know and wanted to," I said, rather nettled.

He looked at me and began to laugh even more hilariously than before.

"Well, if that isn't the best thing I've ever heard! Don't you know what the Lautenburg Kirchhaus is, my friend?"


"Well, good God, it's the asylum!"

* * * * * *

The Grand Duchess loved sport in season and out of season. Every now and then she would condescend to hunt foxes or deer by way of entertaining the officers of the 7th Hussars. But her private and peculiar delight was sport in solitude, preferably on a wet and windy day without grooms, attendants or beaters. All she required was a dog and the off-chance. Many an evening have I seen her in her little room making up her own cartridges. The pretty little cylinders, blue, violet, green, yellow, or red, white and blue, were spread out before her on a table, into which the ramrod was screwed. Carefully packing the copper loaders, she gave to each its dose of powder, wad, charge of shot and little piece of white cardboard. When she had rammed all this home, she wrote the number of the charge on each. Hagen was always present on those occasions, and as it was part of his duties, it would have been very difficult to get rid of him. Melusine von Graffenfried, indolent and a poor walker, preferred to stay behind, lying on rugs and smoking her eternal cigarettes. Count Marçais, on the other hand, always came with us. These excursions gave him a chance of showing off his sensational sporting clothes, on which Aurora never failed to compliment him. I must admit he was excellent company, with his high spirits and charming manner. We used to ride out of the castle about two o'clock in the afternoon. The first stage was the Herrenwald. Squirrels swarmed in the trees. Pheasants rose heavily from the ground as we passed. At the bottom of some wooded ravine we could hear the fussy but invisible flight of a woodcock.

Marçais would have preferred to stay there. He liked woodland sport, pheasant shooting in the open with some one beside him to load his gun and point out the game: "A cock on the left, Herr Count," "A hen on your right!"

But this kind of thing was not to the liking of the Grand Duchess Aurora, who detested everything official on such occasions and in any case showed a marked preference for water-fowl.

Soon the stunted trees grew rarer, great wastes of marsh appeared, under a sheen of grey and pale green. The sun above was already a glowing ball, low down on the horizon.

Two servants were waiting for us at a little rustic hut. They took our horses. Marçais had his dog, Dick, a big Auvergne pointer, hard of mouth and apt to range rather far, though it came to heel well. The Grand Duchess's ugly black and red spaniel seemed a kind of dog brother to Taras-Bulba.

In sheer joy Aurora dropped the reins and sprang from her horse. I can still see her opening her "Hammerless" and slipping in the two mauve cartridges. I can still hear the sharp click of the brass rim against the steel of the barrel....

At fifteen, armed with an old fowling-piece, I had already tasted the extraordinary delights of shooting over marsh. When, later, I was in the army, firing at disappearing targets had seemed to me mere child's play compared to the fine right and left at diverging snipe I managed to pull off more than once in those early days.

To the north of Dax there is an immense marsh bounded by the wretched hamlets of Herm and Gourbera. You reach it through a gorge known as "La Cible" because the Emperor's gamekeepers used to shoot there in bygone days.

Here was the same misty waste. How well I remember the soft squish of the wet ground, as if the earth itself were dissolving, and the tall yellow grasses, which are sharp as a knife and cut your hands if you're foolish enough to touch them.

I knew all the birds and beasts, all the varied life of those stretches of mud, treacherous beds of green moss, reed-fringed ponds—the whole great expanse that looks so flat and monotonous.

Like the fair sportswoman of the Volga marshes, I knew all the birds that haunt these wan regions: the black, or water-rail, which hops about in leafless trees; the red-rail, or corn-crake, which runs at lightning speed through the high grass, throws the best dogs off the scent, reduces the sportsman to breathlessness and makes you think you are after a hare, until it suddenly decides to take wing, from which moment it becomes an easy prey, poor, silly thing.

There were many species of duck, which sweep dizzily overhead in their curious oblique and rigid flight; shovellers, pochards, sheldrake, with their pretty red heads; shrill-voiced teal, which fly in couples and have a trefoil of three black feathers on their ruddy breasts.

There were lapwings, black and white, like magpies, which rise up swiftly with their croaking cry and then swoop wildly to earth to dodge your shot.

There were plovers, handsomest of birds, in their golden spring raiment.

And, last and best, there was snipe, queen of the marshes, and the finest and hardest of shots; the jack snipe, smaller than a lark, which has blue and green stripes; the common snipe, which is about the size of a quail, and amazingly timid, and the great snipe, rarest of all, which is as big as a partridge.

With their plaintive, hoarse cry they fly in disconcerting zig-zags at an incredible speed. You aim to the right and when the wind has blown away the smoke you see the little grey bird vanishing in the dim distance on the left.

In the midst of these Hanoverian marshes, so like our marshes of the Landes, Aurora of Lautenburg was even more beautiful than in all her finery at the palace. Wearing a feather toque and huge but shapely top-boots, she jumped as lightly as a bird over the sodden turf. The yellow mist of that water-laden atmosphere seemed to cast a pale mauve halo about her. Marçais shot calmly and well. Little Hagen was fussy and always fired too soon. I was a much better shot than either of these two, but what a poor figure I cut beside the Grand Duchess!

Leaving us the rail and duck, she devoted her attention exclusively to the snipe. Gradually night came down on the watery waste. The sky turned to burnished copper in a last conflagration. The great pools were sheets of green which grew darker and darker. A thin tongue of flame began to leap from the barrel of our guns every time we fired, a tongue which became redder as the darkness grew more intense.

It was the Grand Duchess's hour. Her diabolical spaniel was everywhere at once. We could hear the snipe start up before her and her repeated cries of "Heel!" Neither Marçais, Hagen nor I could see them at all. But Aurora saw them all right; each of her shots brought down a little grey bird.

We would wait for a second. Then out of the darkness came the sound of rustling grass. The spaniel, dripping, black and shining, with his eyes full of phosphorus, suddenly appeared, bearing the dead snipe to his mistress.

It was now quite dark. In the low sky an invisible procession of cranes passed over our heads, with remote, raucous cries. The Grand Duchess took the bird from her dog. We went up. I saw her run her fingers over the poor little body, still warm. No wound could be seen, nothing to reveal the presence of that tiny ball of lead, or the imperceptible black hole whence that little life had fled.

Then, with that inconsequence which is the hallmark of the sportsman, Aurora raised the inert little head to her lips and kissed it.


IT was on Saturday evening, May 16th, 1914, that the Grand Duchess of Lautenburg did me the honour of telling me the story of her life. Let me repeat that story to you, not only because certain of its incidents are absolutely indispensable to a proper understanding of the drama which is fast approaching its climax, but above all because it gives me an exquisite pleasure to open this jewel-case and handle the beautiful, barbaric stones it contains, gems which will always light me through my blackest hour.

Hagen had had to go to a dinner, given by the 7th Hussars, and was not there. It gave me no small pleasure to see that she was always more open with me in his absence, however casually she treated that moody and stubborn adorer.

Reclining on the white bearskin thrown over her chaise-longue, she was dressed that evening in a very loose, light tunic of yellow Turkish silk, embroidered in mauve and silver.

Every now and then she passed her fingers through a bowl of huge roses standing on a low table close by, and we could hear the petals falling softly on the blue carpet.

Melusine, her hair shaken loose, was sitting on the carpet, resting her drooping head on the bare feet of her mistress, which she clasped in her arms from time to time.

From the chair where I was sitting I could see the voluptuous curves of the girl's smooth throat in the opening of her Valenciennes fichu. The window was open behind the drawn curtains, and the night breeze, wafting them apart from time to time, mingled the balmy scents of the Herrenwald with the heady odours of amber, roses and cigarettes.

With her utter indifference to effect or style, Aurora spoke, mixing up three languages and interchanging the French "you," the German third person, and the Russian "thou."

"I expect you know," she began, "that I did not exactly go up in the world when I married. Once a princess, I am now no more than grand-duchess, and though I am allied to the Hohenzollerns my husband's family is not nearly as old as my own.

"I am a Tumene princess. I know, of course, that your western histories say practically nothing about us. But if you went to Samarkand or Kara-Koroum, or indeed no further than Tiflis, you would find in our ancient Mongolian chronicles things that would amaze you as to the antiquity of our origin, and you would realize that your Broglies and Cumberlands are mere parvenus compared with us.

"One Tumene prince was beheaded for his hostility to Yaroslav the Great, and I will go back no further, least I weary you with jaw-breaking names. Another, much later, gave Ivan the Terrible so much trouble that that sovereign preferred to treat with him and sent him magnificent presents, notably an enormous clock with the signs of the zodiac in sapphires. This was not enough, however, to prevent that Tumene's son from assisting the Khan of the Crimea with forty thousand horsemen when he started out to besiege Moscow, in 1571, if I remember rightly.

"You must not think that we were no better than savages because at first we fought against the Czars. Boris Godounov was glad enough of our help against the Tartars, Circassians and Cheremisses. I admit we always preferred fighting against European enemies. It was Alexis Tumene, son-in-law of Peter the Great, who led the great charge at Pultawa. As a reward the Czar ordained that his reforming edicts should not run in Tumene territories. We have at home a portrait in the style of your Mignard representing Alexis in a feathered cap, a golden lambskin, embroidered like a chasuble, and wearing his moustaches long, a fashion which the Czar had forbidden every one else.

"The first Tumene to shave was my great-grand-father, Vladimir. He it was who was nearly shot by the orders of Barclay de Tolly. I don't remember the reason. He was in command of the Astrakhan Cossack Corps who bivouacked in the Champs-Elysées and apparently played the devil there. My great-grandfather did a good deal of looting, but converted his booty into cash which he soon lost at the Palais-Royal. You see he banked on red, and black came up fourteen times running.

"Vladimir's father was at first on excellent terms with Catherine II. When she had had enough of him she made him marry a lady from Anhalt. This was the first time my family had contracted an alliance in this country. I hope I shall close the list. I don't say that to hurt your feelings, Melusine, but really that particular German was stupid and miserly. For instance, of the seven children she gave her husband not one was in her own image. They were all little Cossacks.

"My grandmother came from Erivan. I am told I'm like her, but she was better-looking than I. She was madly in love with my grandfather, and abjured her faith in order to marry him. But before this she adored shooting, which is a long way the finest faith on earth.

"Papa, who will come into my story again, is the second, member of the family to marry a German, and once more a Hohenzollem. But you must hear how it happened. Like his grandfather Vladimir, he was an inveterate gambler. He took an oath to win back everything his grandfather had lost in France. Indeed, he would have utterly ruined himself there, if you ever could ruin yourself with lands as big as six of your departments, Cossacks too numerous to count and flocks and herds which doubled every year.

"He always spent ten months of the year in Paris—he was a member of the Jockey Club—Aix, Nice and every other place to which men of his type resort. It was at Aix that he met my mother. The year was 1882. One evening he was at the Villa des Fleurs with King George of Greece and the Grand Duke Vassily. They had been drinking a good deal and should not have been alone. Then Papa began to pour out scandal about women, swearing that they were all alike and that he, a Tumene prince and obliged to marry to perpetuate his name, had decided to marry any one Fate threw in his way.

"'All right,' said the Grand Duke, 'marry the first woman who comes in here.'

"'Certainly, provided, of course, that she's not married already,' added my father, who was religious.

"'I bet you won't.'

"'How much?'

"'A hundred thousand roubles.'


"I believe King George of Greece had never had such an amusing time before. Poor man, I was genuinely grieved when he was assassinated six months ago. Just imagine, you two, what a scene it must have been, with those three men waiting for the door to open on her who was to be a Tumene princess, for they knew my father's obstinacy, and that he would marry Queen Pomaré or Madame Dieulafoy rather than lose his bet.

"The first-comer was my mother, the Duchess Eleanor of Hesse-Darmstadt, then aged sixteen, and behind her was her English governess. I still shiver at the thought that, if the Englishwoman had preceded her, Papa would certainly have married her and I should have been much less pretty.

"As it happened Mamma was beauty itself, a blonde Melusine. Perhaps not quite as lovely as you, dear Melusine. I never knew her well, as I was only five when she died. She never managed to make herself at home in our Tartary. I remember how she would shiver in the early autumn evenings at the cry of the curlew in the Volga marshes. Papa was terribly unfaithful to her. She could only weep, and I'm afraid that's just the thing that annoys men most.

"I still cannot understand how any one could fail to be happy in our palace. Please don't think it was a barbarian lair. In 1850 we were visited by a Frenchwoman, and you can read the book she wrote, 'Voyages dans les Steppes de la Caspienne.' It was published in Paris. Her name was Madame Hommaire de Hell, and her husband was an engineer employed on some geodetical mission. You can verify all this in your books. She was received by my grandfather and has given a very full description of the palace.

"This palace is built on an island in the Volga. My ancestors selected the site on account of marauders. The marauders are no more, but the place is as picturesque as ever.

"My earliest memory is the noise of the hooter of the paddle-steamer which plied between us and Astrakhan three times a week. It was an agreeable sound because it meant visitors—the governor, the French Minister, a pleasant individual like Marçais, who brought me dolls and, later on, books. Like a true aristocrat, Papa was never happier than when entertaining company.

"The window of my room looked over the river. I used to watch the wild duck, just like so many little mechanical toys, floating solemnly down the brown waters—especially when my governess, Mlle. Jauffre, droned out the rules about participles: when the complement precedes, it agrees; when it follows.... I would get up quietly, take my long fowling-piece and some 'Number four' and let fly, bang! bang! among the ducks. The servants went out in boats to bring them in. Papa never minded as long as I had killed at least half a dozen. Having told you this, you mustn't be surprised if I make slips in my grammar.

"For the piano I had an Italian professor. He was a republican. He was always trying to explain to us, with a meaning smile, that he was a natural son of Garibaldi. I can only remember his Christian name, Teobaldo. One day, when I was fifteen, he was behind me turning over the pages of some music I was reading, and kissed the back of my neck. I must confess I had encouraged him a little, just to see what he'd do. I burst out laughing. He took that for a responsive thrill and kissed me again. I laughed as if I should never stop. Suddenly Papa came in. I thought I was in for trouble, but the room was dark. He picked up his ramrod, which he had left on the table, and went out. For small game Papa always made his own cartridges, to get a proper spread.

"Next day I was walking with Mlle. Jauffre in a very thick fir copse at the western horn of the island. We almost ran into a long, flabby form, hanging from a cedar. It was poor Teobaldo. Mlle. Jauffre screamed and fled. I turned him round by the feet to have a good look. Then I fled also, as fast as I could. His black, swollen tongue was hanging out over his tie. His eyes were dead white and fat flies were already as busy on him as on a rotten apple. Perhaps the most horrible thing was that he had the same expression as when he was kissing me. Since then I have always loathed men.

"It was about this time that I became melancholy through reading the 'Demon' of Lermontoff, who is a much greater poet than your Vigny, or even Byron. I was very pale and there were scarlet flushes on my cheeks. A doctor came from Astrakhan. Between ourselves I managed to bribe him, and he ordered me to take the waters of Piatigorsk. That was exactly what I wanted, for you no doubt remember that it was at Piatigorsk that Lermontoff was killed in a duel.

"The 'waters' of Piatigorsk are a series of waterfalls where the stream leaps over walls of black granite and glittering mica. That sounds very impressive, but at the end of a week I was so thoroughly bored that my cure was complete.

"I don't believe I should ever have lasted out the fortnight Papa had decreed if I hadn't made the discovery of an extremely picturesque old Frenchman who gained his living at Piatigorsk by acting as guide to foreigners on their expeditions in the mountains. He was a political criminal. I rather think he had been a friend of Vaillant. Anyhow, he had been exiled from France in Carnot's time, and, like every one else, had taken refuge in Russia.

"He was a learned old fellow, but he had some peculiar ideas. I took a particular liking to him, mainly because Mlle. Jauffre used to throw up her hands and wail: 'What would His Highness say!' every time he spoke to me of folk I'd never heard of before: Saint-Simon, Enfantin, Bazard, Karl Marx, Lassalle and the Iron Law. Heaven knows what else!

"I had never read any Tolstoy. The old man lent me 'Resurrection.' I never knew such a world existed. I had Tolstoy's social creed expounded to me, to tease Mlle. Jauffre. The old man was jubilant. 'Oh, mademoiselle! If only you would, what a chance!'

"The result was that when we left Piatigorsk I took old Barbessoul (for that was his name) back with me. Papa was certainly somewhat astonished to see the patriarch in our train, but, as I looked so well, said nothing. To tell the truth, he was used to my caprices.

"He did more. Quite close to the island in the Volga on which the palace stood was another small island, perhaps a square half-verst in area. Papa gave it to me, and with it fifty moujiks, men, women and children. There, under the old man's direction, I set up a socialist community, half Saint-Simon, half Tolstoy: no private property, division of the instruments of labour according to needs and capacities, etc., etc.

"At first all went well. I spent four hours a day in my socialist paradise. Old Barbessoul was triumphant. His part in the organization was something between priest and foreman. Papa thought I was mad.

"You won't be surprised to hear I had soon had enough of it, if only because things began to go wrong. Feeling safe under my protection, the members of the community used to go out in boats at night to rob the hen-roosts of the riverside farmers. Papa had very kindly consented to relieve them of taxation and compulsory labour. It was perfectly alarming the amount of kwass they drank. Old Barbessoul was the only one who couldn't perceive how strongly they smelt of drink, even the women. Why, after two months, one of them found himself the possessor of all the agricultural implements. All the others had pawned them to get kwass. Then, as they could not work, they loafed about all day and spent the night robbing the neighbouring peasants. One night there was a regular battle. Two moujiks were killed. Papa was wild with rage, called me a silly fool, and wanted to hang old Barbessoul. On my entreaties he refrained, but the community was broken up.

"That was my last experiment with Socialism. It is certain that if it had not been for Papa's Cossacks all those folk would have cut each other's throats.

* * * * * *

"One day in February, 1909, when I was just on twenty, I was shooting duck from a boat in a branch of the Volga when I saw on the bank Papa's favourite Cossack signalling wildly with his cap on the end of his sabre.

"He was shouting as well, though I couldn't hear him. I gathered that something must have happened at home, but I wanted to appear indifferent in spite of my burning curiosity to know what all the fuss was about. I only put in to the bank an hour later, when the poor man was almost dead with waving his arms and shouting so much. He told me the Prince wanted me in his study. I took as long as I could getting there, anticipating a good lecture.

"I got nothing of the kind. Papa seemed radiant about something. He kissed me, then, showing me a large envelope with red seals on his bureau, he told me what it was about.

"It was a letter to Papa from the Czar. It informed him that in May the Emperor William was to visit St. Petersburg and that there would be great celebrations, ending up with a review at Tsarskoïe-Selo; that he therefore wished the Astrakhan and Aral Cossacks to be represented, and begged the Tumene Prince to bring a brigade with him. 'The Czarina,' he added, 'will be glad to make her little niece's acquaintance on this occasion.' I had forgotten to tell you that I was her niece, owing to Papa's marriage with a Grand-Duchess of Hesse-Darmstadt.

"I can assure you that I had never found the days long in our Volga palace, yet, as I listened to my father, I must confess to a feeling of joyous excitement, and from that moment I had only one idea—to astonish the Czar, the Czarina, the German Emperor and, indeed, the whole world. I spent days on end looking into my glass, and admit that I was not altogether displeased with what I saw there.

"Hitherto I had had my clothes made at Astrakhan by Menjuzan Sœurs, excellent French dressmakers who visited Paris once a year for their models and did good business with fashionable Circassian society. Papa gave me unlimited credit and two days later I left with Mlle. Jauffre. But I must tell you I had a scheme of my own.

"I came back from Astrakhan and told him I could find nothing at all. I wept all over him and vowed I would never appear at Court dressed like a savage. You can imagine that I had no intention of missing such a splendid opportunity of seeing Paris. Papa took a good deal of persuading, but I soon realized he wouldn't be sorry to see his old friends there again.

"We left early in March. My one fear when we arrived in Paris, of which my head was full, was to betray any sort of astonishment, and that is no doubt why my manner was somewhat affected.

"Papa lost no time in finding out that he had a whole mass of visits and engagements. He only put in an appearance at the 'Ritz' for meals and not always for them.

"He wanted me to go to Redfern, but I chose Doucet, out of perversity. I have never seen anything more absurd than Mlle. Jauffre, in her pince-nez and black satin gown, smothered in jet, standing among the lovely girls who bowed to me and walked up and down to help me to choose.

"I was asked: 'What does your Highness require?'

"'Everything,' I replied coldly.

"In a twinkling I had ordered six evening gowns, twelve tailor-mades, two riding-habits, and everything else on the same scale.

"Nothing was décolleté enough for my taste. Mlle. Jauffre was green in the face. The head saleswoman took it upon herself to tell me it was rather risqué for a young lady. I told her to get on with the fitting. Besides, Papa appeared on one occasion and approved my choice. He gave me a proud look that made me altogether happy, for I knew what a good judge he was.

"That evening he must have had a twinge of conscience at leaving me so much to myself, for he told me we were to dine together and instructed Mlle. Jauffre to bring me to Laurent's in the Avenue Gabriel at eight o'clock to the minute. I need hardly say that at eight o'clock no one was there. I sat down on a form and waited. To while away the time I drew out the little inlaid dagger I carried in my belt and cut my initials on the bench. I expect they're still there.

"At ten minutes past eight, seeing an old gentleman hovering round us and feeling the need of a little dissipation, I told Mlle. Jauffre to go out to the tobacco kiosk in the Avenue Matignon and buy me a box of Mercédès. She demurred at first, but ultimately went. The old man then came up to me. He had check trousers and a grey felt hat. He began a very entertaining conversation and mentioned a little flat in the Rue d'Offémont and a lift hung with tapestry curtains. I turned my head to hide my uncontrollable laughter and was all the more astonished to hear a resounding smack. When I turned round I saw Papa. The old gentleman beat a dignified retreat, murmuring something about having a little joke. In the moonlight I noticed that his grey hat had been badly battered.

"Mlle. Jauffre came back with the Mercédès. Papa told her frigidly to return to the 'Ritz' for dinner, and go to bed.

"Laurent's is a place where you dine outside at little lamp-lit tables under the beautiful trees. The place was crowded. Papa was far more at home there than in our Volga palace. He introduced me to lots of celebrities: Bunau-Varilla, Charles Derennes, Monsieur de Bonnefon, Princess Lucien Murat, Maurice Rostand. I took a great fancy to Rostand, with his choir-boy's face and manner. We still write to each other, and he's coming to see me at Lautenburg.

"At eleven o'clock Papa took me back to the 'Ritz' and told me he had to call at the Embassy in the Rue de Grenelle. You don't suppose I felt like going to bed! Mlle. Jauffre was snoring like a Nüremberg top, and I thought I should never wake her. You should have seen her look of amazement when I told her that she must get up as Papa had arranged to meet us at midnight.

"We took a taxi in the Rue de la Paix. Grelot I told the driver. I had heard the name at Laurent's.

"Le Grelot is in the Place Blanche. I don't suppose, dear friend, that a serious student like you has ever been there. When we went in I was a little jealous of the chorus of approval that greeted Mlle. Jauffre's spangled gown. A little roué, hopelessly drunk, called out that it was Madame Fallières. Then the whole assembly rose as one man and sang the chorus of a well-known song:

'La tante Julie,
La tante Octavie,
La tante Sophie,
Le cousin Léon,
L'oncle Théodule,
L'oncle Thrasybule,
Les cousins Tibulle,
Et Timoleon.'

"I laughed as if I should never stop, and my high spirits infected everybody—they had looked bored to extinction when we first entered.

"We drank champagne—unlimited champagne. Then we danced. I just showed those Frenchmen what a Russian princess could do. The only man who could waltz properly with me was a member of the Hungarian band. We received a tremendous ovation.

"A negro in the orchestra invited Mlle. Jauffre to dance. You may find it hard to believe, but she accepted. After all that champagne she was a different woman. Two dancing girls came and sat by me. One of them, Zita, a dark girl, wore a dress of blue and silver; the other, 'The Shrimp,' was all in pink and called me 'Princess,' not knowing that I was one. They ate my food and drank my champagne. I was in the seventh heaven and murmured, rather excitedly: 'Paris is lovely, lovely!'

"I suddenly noticed that many of these poor girls had darns in the heels of their silk stockings just above their patent shoes, so I called out and threw a handful of louis into the air. They scrambled for them and found them all with the exception of five or six, on which some of the most elegant of the gentlemen had neatly put their feet.

"I think I should have stayed there all night if I had not suddenly heard loud shouts in the next room.

"'Lili, Lili, here's Lili! Vive Lili!'

"I looked up and saw Papa coming in. It was he whom they called 'Lili,' obviously derived from his Christian name, Vassily.

"He, too, was in the highest spirits. On each arm was a girl, handsome enough to make me feel thoroughly jealous.

"He was far too busy to see me. I lost no time in making preparations to go, but it proved a terrible business getting Mlle. Jauffre away. She was exceedingly loth to leave her negro. In the taxi she sang at the top of her voice:

'Caroline, Caroline,
Put on your shiny black shoes.'

"Then, without warning, she leaned out of the window and began to weep vigorously, complaining that I had not shown her sufficient respect.

"Papa had a bill from Doucet for thirty-eight thousand six hundred francs. He did not demur, and I gathered that his daughter's requirements had as a matter of fact been less formidable than those of other ladies—a thought which disgusted me not a little.

* * * * * *

"When we got back to Russia, we found another letter from the Czar, telling Papa that the Kaiser's arrival at St. Petersburg was fixed for May 15th, so that we ought to make our arrangements at once.

"I could give you no idea of the gorgeous way in which he fitted out his brigade. The Astrakhan Cossacks wear the Armenian high black cap, something like a sugar-loaf, red coats edged with fur, and yellow bandoliers. The Aral Cossacks have sky-blue coats, white bandoliers, and wear the round Kalmuck busby, two feet in diameter, from which they derive their nickname of 'Bigheads.' They carry the curved sabre, on which the Aral Cossacks, who are Mohammedans, engrave verses of the Khoran, a whip with lead balls, and a long lance.

"Papa had all the woollen facings replaced by others of gold and silver. He reviewed his squadrons one day towards the end of April when the early crocus was peeping shyly forth. There was only a pale yellow sun, but it was quite enough to make those superb warriors look so magnificent that we could easily imagine what they would be like in the brilliant May sunshine at Tzarskoïe-Selo.

"There was nearly a catastrophe the day they left for Petersburg. You must remember that these simple folk, who fear neither man nor whirlwind, spirits of marsh nor spirits of flood, stand in mortal terror of railways. Their horses share that emotion. Half of them had been bundled in when they suddenly caught sight of the squat little engine, puffing and blowing, in the middle of the steppe. Not one of them would have moved if the priest had not turned up and blessed this strange animal.

"We got them off at last in twelve trains, which took twelve days to cross Great Russia. We ourselves were travelling by the express, so we only had to leave the palace a week later. The Czar had a special Pullman car put at our disposal. We invited the two colonels and the six majors to join us. The priest was with Mlle. Jauffre and Kunin, Papa's favourite Cossack. I had put them in charge of my wardrobe.

"Petersburg is a splendid city, with barracks, churches and fine gardens. You can see that the man who laid it out had a definite scheme in mind. We were housed royally at the Winter Palace and had a private audience of the Czar the night we arrived. 'Hello! so this is the little niece,' he said, and I could see he thought me pretty. The Czarina kissed me and called the Grand Duchesses, my cousins, in order to introduce us. I gave Olga and Tatiana each a necklace of Caucasian rubies, which seemed to have a diamond tear inside, and for the little girls there were necklaces of pink pearls. Papa had brought the Czarevitch an aigrette buckle, made out of one huge diamond, for his kolbach, and a little Cossack sword with the hilt set in sapphires and brilliants.

"Two days later all the bells of the capital announced the arrival of the Kaiser. The Czar, the Czarevitch and the Grand Dukes went to Kronstadt to meet him.

"Since then I have seen so many royal entries into various cities that the memory of this particular occasion has gradually faded entirely from my mind. But that doesn't matter. It was a magnificent spectacle.

"I witnessed the arrival at the palace from my balcony. The White Cuirassiers, with the Grand Dukes, rode up to the gates. The honours were rendered by the Preobrajensky guards. All this time Papa's Cossacks were installed in two barracks and forbidden to leave them. This annoyed me at first until I learned, as I soon did, that it was because they were the finest in all the Russias and the Czar was reserving them jealously for the grand finale.

"Under the soft, fleecy sky of Bothnia the breastplates and sabres sparkled with blue and gold.

"The Kaiser was with the Czar, the Czarevitch and the Crown Prince in the first carriage. He was wearing the uniform of a colonel of the Russian Cuirassiers, with the golden eagle on his silver helmet. He saluted frequently and wore a happy smile. Frederick William was wearing the uniform of the Black Hussars.

"The Empress and the Czarina came next, with a host of German princes and generals.

"The introductions seemed as if they would never come to an end. I had my little success. 'So this is the little niece,' said the Kaiser, taking my hand and leading me to the Empress. The motherly old hen kissed me from beneath her lace and ostrich plumes, and told me how much she loved my poor Mamma. I was still the 'little niece' to them all. Meanwhile Frederick William and Adalbert did stare, I can tell you! Adalbert is a fine young man, but he looks pig-headed and sly. I prefer the Crown Prince, who looks full of mischief. I can tell you Germany won't be dull when he succeeds his father.

"I spent the whole afternoon getting ready for the banquet in the evening. I was so afraid I shouldn't make an impression that I got quite irritable and would have quarrelled with Mlle. Jauffre for two pins. It was almost as if I had a presentiment of all the evils that were to come upon me as a result of that cursed evening.

"You can have no idea what a gorgeous affair a fête at the Peterhof is. The Kaiser had donned another uniform, even more striking than the first. But you should have seen his face when he saw Papa's!

"His uniform was not to be compared to that of the Tumene Prince. The Empress's diamonds looked like the tawdry gewgaws of a suburban housewife by the side of the brilliants on the chain which secured his scarlet cloak at the left shoulder.

"When I went in I saw the Czar repress his astonishment. For one moment I thought I must be too décolleté. Then this fear vanished as I realized the impression I was making. You must remember I had secured Doucet's admitted chef d'œuvre, a gown of sapphire velvet, made very simply, but closely moulded to the form, and my jewellery consisted of nothing but sapphires. Child as I was, I was already anticipating my next day's success. 'But what will they say,' I said to myself, 'when they see my Number 2, the red gown with nothing but rubies!'

"We danced. I was amused to see the Germans, accustomed to their slow waltz, miss the beat of our rapid Russian waltz and put in a couple of hops—or stand like herons—to catch up again.

"I danced with the Crown Prince. He complimented me on my dress and said that the German Emperor was not an absolute monarch, as he'd never been able to make his Court ladies do with less than six colours in their gowns. I wanted to irritate him, so I replied that it was not surprising, and that mine came from Paris. But he said I was right and there was no place like Paris. With those priceless grimaces which are quite his own he told me a whole heap of risqué stories about Paris, and as he took me back to my place I heard the old hen murmur in his ear: 'Now, Fritz, behave!'

"At the same moment she beckoned to me to go and sit beside her.

"That morning I had noticed among the officers of the Kaiser's entourage a tall Hussar in a scarlet uniform with yellow facings. He had sandy hair and fine eyes, his blue, insistent eyes of a short-sighted man. He had had his eyeglass fixed on me the whole time, but of course I was careful to pretend I noticed nothing. I should have been astounded then if any one had told me that one day I should be wearing that scarlet uniform myself.

"'Aurora,' the Empress said, 'this is my cousin Rudolph, Grand Duke of Lautenburg-Detmold. He wants a dance with you.'

"The red Hussar danced atrociously, though he made the most superhuman efforts. He thought he ought to apologize, but I gave him no reply and not even a word of thanks when the dance ended. He resumed his place behind the Empress and wiped his eyeglass from time to time, looking miserable enough to melt a stone.

"The next day I was delighted to hear that there was to be some fox-hunting two days later. How thankful I was to have brought Taras-Bulba, my wicked little Barbary horse, with me! I went to see him at the barracks where our Cossacks were. He had behaved so outrageously that he had been shut up by himself in a stable—the door of which he'd nearly smashed to pieces on his way in.

"When he saw me he whinnied rapturously and soon bolted the sugar I had brought him.

"'You've just got to show what you can do,' I said, running my hand through his long, thick mane. 'We'll leave them all behind, won't we?'

"He nodded amiably to show he'd understood, and I went out to try on my riding-habit.

"When I reached my room I found Papa there, looking calm but radiant. I always loathe surprises. They are sure to be unpleasant.

"I saw that Papa didn't know how to begin, and that in itself made me suspicious.

"'You must hurry,' I said. 'I have to dress.'

"'My daughter,' he said, 'I have something important to say to you.'

"'That is no reason why you shouldn't hurry up.'

"'My daughter, how would you like to be a Queen?'

"'Queen of what?'


"We may have been brought up among savages, but I know my Gotha. So I asked Papa if he wanted me to marry the King of Würtemberg, who was then sixty-two.

"'It is not His Majesty the King of Würtemberg who has done me the honour to ask your hand. It is His Highness the Grand Duke of Lautenburg-Detmold.'

"Papa is a prince himself, and to hear him mouthing 'Majesties' and 'Highnesses' drove me crazy.

"'What!' I cried. 'The boiled lobster? Never!'

"'Let's be serious,' said my father.

"'Never,' I repeated, stamping my foot. 'Besides, I don't see the connection between this short-sighted red-beard and the crown of Würtemberg.'

"'It's this,' said my father magisterially. 'King Albert of Würtemberg has no children. He is sixty-two, as you correctly observed, and a martyr to diabetes. The Grand Duke of Lautenburg is his heir.'

"'I don't care,' I replied. 'I'd rather marry Kunin, and, besides, I don't want to marry at all.'

"Papa began to lose his temper. He came out with the whole story. Rudolph of Lautenburg was madly in love with me. He had spoken to the Empress, his godmother, who had spoken to the Kaiser, who had spoken to the Czar, who had just spoken to him. Hints of this kind, flattering though they are, are virtually orders, and...

"'You consented, without waiting to ask me?' I broke in.

"'Not exactly,' he replied in some confusion, 'but, after all, what could I do but thank him and consent ...'

"'Consent to what!'

"'Consent to—oh, something which commits you to nothing. I agreed that the Grand Duke should be your companion at the meet the day after tomorrow.'

"'If that's all,' I said, 'you can rely on me to make this German sorry he ever came to Russia for an heiress.'

"'Promise me to be nice,' begged my father in alarm. 'You make me regret I have given you so much liberty. Remember it's a question of a royal crown. Neither more nor less.'

"A crown! To see his daughter a queen! That was all the old Kalmuck thought about.

"That evening as I was entering the car to go to the gala performance I was made to realize that Papa had committed me much further than he had dared admit.

"'Here's our little fiancée,' said the Kaiser, taking my hand.

"The Empress, more the brood hen than ever, kissed me on the forehead. It appears that this is a family mania.

"And so it went on up to the Czar, who remarked to the Kaiser, with one of his sad smiles:

"'So you're not satisfied with flooding me with your subjects, but must needs come to take away mine!'

"I put on my frankest smile, but cast many a sidelong glance at my red Hussar, who didn't know what to do. I said to myself:

"'You wait a bit, my fine fellow! You'll be paid out for this the day after tomorrow!'

* * * * * *

"The day came. My only fear was that the country we hunted would be too flat, too easy. I was quickly reassured. It is true that there were a good many paths in the woods, quite suitable for ladies, but there were also patches of thick scrub, several streams, and here and there some tricky ditches.

"Before we started I gave Taras-Bulba half a pound of sugar soaked in whisky, and he was very lively though full of dignity.

"I won't pretend that there was not a chorus of exclamation when he appeared. The Crown Prince asked me why I didn't have him clipped.

"'Don't listen to them, old friend,' I murmured in my little steed's ear. He understood and knowingly tossed his head.

"The Grand Duke Rudolph rode up beside me. I made myself so agreeable that the poor man evidently felt encouraged and said in a low voice:

"'Then you don't regret having me for your companion, mademoiselle?'

"'How could you think so, sir?' I answered. 'This Court half suffocates me. We never have a moment to ourselves. There's room to breathe out here. We can talk.'

"'So you love Nature!' he murmured, radiant. 'How happy I am!'

"I was happy, too. I was certain that he wouldn't leave me for a second.

"The first fox was started. Nothing remarkable happened except, perhaps, when Taras-Bulba, fired by the sound of the horn, performed a polka and came down with his forelegs on the back of Adalbert's mare, almost unseating her rider. After that they all kept away from my little horse as if he'd been the plague.

"The Grand Duke of Lautenburg was riding one of those horses so beloved of the Germans, a great dark bay with hocks as big as a ham, and a back like a billiard-table. Moreover, it didn't take me long to notice that the ugly brute had a hard mouth and galloped with his head between his legs.

"My poor friend, I thought, you'll have some fun soon when you come to the ditches.

"A second and a third fox were killed easily enough. Suddenly a fourth started up between me and the Grand Duke. I caught sight of him, a long, lean animal with hardly any tail. I knew at once he was what I was after.

"'Ours!' I cried to Rudolph.

"He spurred his great brute into a gallop.

"The fox was a hundred yards ahead. Good little beast! He made straight for the thickest cover.

"Every now and then the Grand Duke turned round:

"'I'm not going too fast, am I? Can you keep up?' he asked, panting.

"'Go on! Go on!' I replied.

"And Taras-Bulba snorted as if to echo:

"'Go on! Go on!'

"Soon we were in the depths of the woods. Then I just touched my little nag's neck and gave him his head. In a moment the Grand Duke was left behind.

"I caught a glimpse of him, all red and breathless.... He was now a quarter of a verst behind me.

"I told Taras-Bulba to slow down and he did so.

"'You did give me a fright,' said the poor man as he came up. 'I thought your horse had bolted.'

"'Look out!' I cried.

"There was a stream at our feet. He got over it by the skin of his teeth. The fox, with three hounds at his heels, was running ahead in a flat meadow that sloped away from us.

"Then came more woods. I held my head down and thus escaped the scratches of the branches which were pushed aside for a moment by Taras-Bulba's head, only to close up immediately behind him. But my poor companion's face was already covered with blood. A twig carried away his eyeglass. I felt he was done. His big horse was blowing like a steam-engine.

"'Keep going,' I cried, 'the fox is tiring!' and I gave Taras-Bulba a touch of the spur.

"The little animal doesn't like liberties. He gave a tremendous bound. His rival followed painfully behind amidst a terrible noise of broken branches.

"'You're beginning to tire,' I said to myself. 'You'll come down next time.'

"'Next time' appeared in the form of a ditch fifteen feet wide and as many deep, with a half-concealed and extremely tricky edge. For a second even I asked myself whether Taras-Bulba, with the pace he had just been keeping, would manage to get over. But lo and behold! He picked himself up, the gallant little beast, and flew over like a swallow.

"Then I turned round, knowing full well what would happen.

"It did happen. Horse and rider came down in one terrific crash. The beast missed the edge with its hind legs and unceremoniously hurled its master to the ground.

"I jumped down and went up to the Grand Duke, feeling vaguely that I had gone a bit too far.

"'You haven't hurt yourself, I hope?'

"'I don't think so,' he murmured faintly. 'I was so frightened to see you go over this vile ditch.'

"Poor man! I wanted to beg his pardon.

"'Can I help you up?' I said, in some embarrassment.

"'I should be glad if you would.'

"But I tried in vain to get him on to his feet. It was then that I noticed how pale he was.

"'You've broken your right leg,' I cried.

"'Oh, I don't think so,' he said, in his gentle, disarming way. 'Nothing worse than a sprain.'

"'I tell you you've broken your leg; I know what I'm saying.'

"I pulled out my hunting-knife and slit up his boot. The leg appeared, all swollen.

"'We're in a nice fix,' I thought, 'at least six versts from the field.'

"Rudolph was silent, but looked at me out of his fine, gentle eyes. You'd have thought he was happy.

"'Thank you,' he just murmured.

"'What for?' I burst out. 'I have broken your leg and you thank me! You might at least wait until I've got you out of this mess.'

"He looked very contrite and ventured:

"'You'd better go back and send up some help.'

"'What!' I exclaimed in scorn. 'Go back without the fox, and, when I'm asked where the Grand Duke Rudolph is, tell them that I left him at the bottom of a ditch with his leg in little pieces! No, thank you, sir!'

"'As you please,' he replied faintly. 'But I don't know what you can do.'

"'You shall see.'

"His big horse was standing by, browsing placidly under Taras-Bulba's wicked little eye.

"'Come here, you brute!'

"When I got hold of him I realized I should never have the strength to get the Grand Duke into the saddle.

"'What's the good of horses like haystacks?' I cried in exasperation.

"The injured man looked at me, still wearing that perpetual air of apology which at last got on my nerves.

"'Taras-Bulba!' I called.

"The little beast came, though with a bad grace. He suspected what was going to happen.

"Rudolph of Lautenburg could not restrain a movement of apprehension.

"'You're not going to put me on that animal, are you?' he muttered. 'I'd rather stay here.'

"'Never,' I said, stamping. 'Taras-Bulba is as quiet as a lamb. Now just do what I tell you.'

"That German was a tremendous weight, but I managed to get him up and tie him firmly in the saddle with the reins.

"Then I mounted his great beast.

"You can imagine how I cursed myself for my folly as we went back. The man I wanted to hate had won my sympathy—and I'd done it myself! It only wanted Taras-Bulba's look of amazement to complete my discomfiture:

"'What on earth have I done?' he seemed to say, 'for you to give me a German to carry, while you desert me for that ugly, hairless, brown brute with hoofs the size of frying-pans?'

* * * * * *

"You mustn't break a man's leg if you don't want to marry him. I need hardly tell you the sequel. Creatures like myself are bound by their actions only, and my wildness had committed me to something which the will of all the Kaisers in the world could not have brought about.

"There was a most sensational scene when I returned on the bay, followed by Taras-Bulba with his Grand Duke tied on to him. The hunt was stopped. They all came crowding round us. I had to tell the whole story and made a point of being as brief as possible, as one does with things of which one isn't too proud. But the injured man filled in the details. His fever made him eloquent and transformed me into a heroine. I had to put up with the congratulations of the whole Court.

"The Kaiser, who magnifies and distorts everything, cried out:

"'What a splendid girl she is—to save her fiancé's life the very first day!'

"The Empress kissed me. It's a family mania. My father was radiant.

"'My compliments to Your Majesty,' he whispered in my ear.

"I was angry, though amused, and vented my rage on Taras-Bulba, who had more whip as we went back to the palace than he's ever had since.

"I have one good quality. I like to know exactly where I stand. I realized that, largely by my own fault, I had put myself in a position from which there was no escape without one of those scandals which any princess, worthy of the name, hates more than the certainty of her own unhappiness. So I decided to acquaint my 'fiancé,' as the Court already styled him, with my conditions that very evening.

"I asked him to receive me, and he complied at once, after sending out the attendant who was arranging the cage over his leg.

"When we were alone, this is more or less what I said:

"'My action in coming here will possibly astonish you, sir. But I am, and always shall be, in the habit of doing what I think advisable without undue concern for mere decorum. Now I think it is of the highest importance than you should know this:

"'I came to Petersburg to be with my father, to witness some splendid celebrations and enjoy myself generally—not to find a husband. As regards husbands, you will do me the honour to believe that I have refused as many as there are provinces in Russia. The last was a Persian prince, who possesses a mountain in which emeralds are as plentiful as truffles in Périgord—and even larger.

"'Well, I came here, and I don't know what has come over everybody, but, apparently, I must be married. I don't put it that way to offend you. After all, sir, we hadn't set eyes on each other until three days ago.

"'However that may be, I'm practically bound to marry you. The circumstances are too strong for mere individuals like you and me. In our history there are four emperors and empresses, several crowns, and, no doubt, enormous fortunes. I am sure that Papa would fall ill if I didn't become a queen, now that he's seen there's a chance. But, above all, I have broken your leg.'

"He made an impatient movement: 'Don't speak of that.'

"'I must speak of it. I tell you frankly that it is this accident, for which I am responsible, that has constrained me to accept something which I would not allow even to be mentioned only yesterday. It is this mishap which enables me to think that my marriage will not be absolutely a political affair—a thought which is very pleasing to a girl like me.'

"'I'd rather have the other leg broken, and both arms, too,' he said in his gentle, melancholy way, 'than hear you use that terrible expression, "political affair."'

"'I'm sure you would,' I replied, unmoved. 'I agree to be your wife. But you will not misunderstand me if I make one or two trifling stipulations.'

"'Tell me, tell me,' he said with some emphasis. 'You know that everything you may ask is granted beforehand.'

"'Oh! Oh!' I laughed. 'You may find in a minute that you've been just a little hasty. Well, dear friend' (I laid some stress on that word), 'from my childhood I have always enjoyed the most perfect liberty, and I don't intend to be deprived of it when I marry. It must be clearly understood that nothing is to be changed, nothing, you understand.'

"'How could you think it of me!'

"'Don't let us have any misunderstanding as to the meaning of words,' I said. 'Please realize that it is not a child, nor yet a woman, who is speaking, and understand that my stipulation, the expression of an unshakable resolve, is that our union is to be a relation of friendship, excluding everything else.'

"I don't know if I should ever have dared to continue my shocking little speech if his masculine stupidity had not shown me how.

"'You're in love with some one else!' he said in a hoarse voice.

"'You forget yourself, and please don't be foolish,' I replied gently. 'I will condescend to tell you that I love no one, unless, perhaps—for the word "love" is a jack-of all-trades—my native land, hunting, flowers, to be left alone and two or three other things, which really should not arouse a jealousy only to be regretted in a man of intelligence. Are you satisfied?'

"He smiled wanly.

"'This,' I went on, 'is our little private compact. The chanceries will no doubt attend to the public formalities—and everything else. I attach no importance to them. Nor do you, I hope. I need not say that you will always find in me a consort worthy of yourself, equal to any situation that may arise, and capable, if God so wills it, of bearing worthily that famous crown of Würtemberg. Here's my hand on it.'

"He took it and kissed it fervently. A great joy had banished the trouble in his eyes. I had never expected him to accept his fate so quietly. Then I suddenly grasped his reasoning: 'I shall be so good, so tender and thoughtful to her that she must be won over in the end, though I cannot now tell how far off that end may be.'

"There was so much unaffected pathos in the poor man's delusions that I couldn't help being rather touched. We parted the best friends in the world.

"As I went back to my room I heard a terrible uproar in the Great Court. It was Taras-Bulba, who had got bored with his stall, kicked open the stable-door, knocked down an ostler and two sentries, and was neighing fiercely to me from below. It was a much more difficult matter to get him quiet than to deal with the Grand Duke Rudolph.

* * * * * *

"After I became the Grand Duchess of Lautenburg-Detmold in the autumn of 1909, my first concern was to set about the improvements required to make this place reasonably comfortable. The gardens had been allowed to run riot, and as for the palace, it was crammed with horrors that even a negro chief would not have tolerated.

"I soon revolutionized all that. Melusine, who came in the summer of 1910, would tell you that I spent my time then very much as I do now, except that when I felt particularly low-spirited I used to escape to Russia to relieve my feelings.

"The person who did change was the Grand Duke Rudolph. Not that he ever ceased to treat me with the most unwearying attention, poor man! But after a year, when he had quite realized that his innocent little scheme was not working, and never would work, and that I should never be anything more to him than I had said, he became melancholy and spent most of his time indoors, Henceforth he was known at Lautenburg as 'Rudolph the Silent.'

"Worse than that, he was out of favour with the Kaiser. William II. likes to think himself a kind of Louis XIV. He does not like German princes who don't haunt Berlin and accuses them of separatism. Now Rudolph has ceased to go to Court altogether.

"He disliked seeing anybody, even at Lautenburg. The 7th Hussars had to get on as best they could without their colonel. He spent half his day, and nights in the library, studying works on mineralogy, his favourite science. It was, in fact, occupying his whole time when Baron von Boose came upon the scene.

"Melusine knew this Boose, the mention of whose name made you start. There never was a worse bridge-player—was there, Melusine? He only knew ordinary bridge. I had asked the Grand Duke to lend him to us to make a fourth, but he was so stupid and disagreeable that I was soon only too glad to send him back to his beloved books.

"He was very learned. That much at least must be said for him. For at thirty-two, though only a lieutenant in the Engineers, he was professor of topography at the Kriegs Academie. His book the 'Geotectonics of the Hanoverian Plain,' is a standard European work. At Berlin one day he assaulted a major who had asserted that there were rocks of quaternary origin in the Harz. Rudolph admired his work and went before the court-martial to give evidence on his behalf. Thanks largely to his intervention, Boose got off with sixty days' solitary confinement in a fortress. When his time was up my husband secured his appointment to the 3rd Battalion of Engineers at Lautenburg.

"In the spring of 1911 I went to Russia, to spend Easter with Papa. It was while I was there that I received a letter, which I ought to have shown you, from the Grand Duke. He told me that the Kaiser had summoned him to Berlin, and asked him whether he was prepared to use his scientific knowledge in the service of the Empire. Exploration had just proved the existence of immense mineral wealth in the Cameroons. It was necessary to confirm this discovery, and also ascertain as discreetly as possible the mineral resources of the neighbouring territories, so that the question of Germany's interest in annexing them might be considered. I'm sorry to say, my friend, that the territories in question form that part of the Congo which France ceded to Germany by the treaty of 1912.

"So Rudolph was going off to Africa with Boose. With a sorry pretence of indifference he made his excuses for leaving Europe without waiting for my return, pleading the urgency of the imperial orders. He added that if he allowed himself to take such a course, it was only because he was certain that his absence would make no difference to the normal course of my existence. In that my poor friend was woefully wrong.

"Letters from him reached me from Paris, Bordeaux, and Saint-Louis in Senegal. From the Congo itself came the two or three which I have shown you. Then came an interval, rather a long interval, and one day my brother-in-law, Frederick-Augustus, arrived at Lautenburg, bringing the sad news that the Grand Duke had had sunstroke, and died at Sangha, almost at the end of his journey. My name had been the last on his lips.

"Melusine will tell you how I mourned for Rudolph, and not indeed as I should mourn for Taras-Bulba, were he to die tomorrow, for I have never done that horse a wrong. But though I was always frank and loyal to Rudolph, I could not get rid of the feeling that in some way I was to blame for his death.

"As a funeral was impossible, a magnificent service was held in memory of him who rests under the sun-baked clay of Africa. The Emperor and Empress and all the German princes were present. The red Hussars of Lautenburg, with crêpe on their swords, rendered the last honours, and their uniforms during the service made me think sadly of the poor red Hussar of the Peterhof who danced so badly but was so kind.

"Every sentence of my story, my friend, has been a mark of my confidence in you. You shall now have clear proof in every word that follows.

"You know my little orderly officer, Hagen, and have no particular liking for him. I can't say whether devotion or love is his ruling passion. Devotion enables one to repose absolute trust in another, but love makes one alive to another's interests in a way that is impossible for oneself.

"Six months after Rudolph died neither I nor Melusine had the slightest suspicion of what was to follow. I was occupied exclusively with my duties as sovereign and surprised myself with my punctiliousness in carrying them out. I presided at the Diet and council meetings. I signed decrees, summoned the tribunals, appointed officials—to the satisfaction of all concerned, I think. The town of Lautenburg was never more prosperous than under my rule.

"Hagen, on the other hand, was uneasy. I watched him grow more morose every day. After some time, hating the company of a face as long as a fiddle, I called him up and told him to explain himself or go on leave. He fell at my feet.

"'How could I be anything else,' he sobbed, 'when you are going to be another's?'

"He was very much surprised when I told him I didn't know what he meant.

"'How can that be,' he muttered, 'for at Berlin, and even here, they talk of nothing but your approaching marriage to Duke Frederick-Augustus?'

"It was too much this time! The woman I pride myself on being can be married once, by surprise. But twice!

"When Hagen, who was in the habit of going to Berlin several times a month, had told me the story, I realized that something serious was afoot. I had a clearer understanding of affairs next morning, when I received a letter from my father. It was all too plain that he had been carefully coached, taken on his weak side—his desire to see his daughter a queen.

"I hate worrying you with dynastic details, but I must prepare you for what follows. I'll make them as short as possible. Why had I become Grand Duchess of Lautenburg? In order that I might realize Papa's ambition and become Queen of Würtemberg on the death of King Albert. The Lautenburg succession is not subject to the Salic Law, so that I still remained Grand Duchess on Rudolph's death. On the other hand, the succession to the throne of Würtemberg is governed by that law. So we have this situation: only a Grand Duke of Lautenburg can mount the throne of Würtemberg. Therefore, before I could be Queen of Würtemberg I must first marry Duke Frederick-Augustus and thereby make him the Grand Duke of Lautenburg-Detmold.

"The sole object of Papa's letter was to reconcile me to that marriage.

"I'm afraid that in my reply, which was exceedingly prompt, I rather forgot the respect a daughter owes her father, whatever he does.

"But you can realize how exasperated I was. Was I to be forced to marry every German prince in turn? What a prospect for one who had never wanted to marry at all!

"About a week passed, and then I received a letter from the Empress. I've no doubt she called me her 'dear child,' and overwhelmed me with friendly flattery, but there was no mistake about the firm invitation to go to Berlin with which that letter concluded....

"You can imagine that if I submitted it was less from a sense of obedience than from the desire to fathom any plot that was being hatched at Court for my benefit.

"I took Melusine and Hagen with me. The Empress received me with considerable confusion as I had anticipated, and her explanation was characteristic. Need I say what it was?

"'Tis not love that must rule a princess and her fate,
To obey is the glory and end of her state.

"Love! Obey! What was the good of my protesting that her reasoning was false; that I had never loved any one, and that in any case I hadn't married to obey the first time. Poor Rudolph wasn't there to produce our little compact which absolved me from those very obligations. And, anyhow, what was the good of arguing with a worthy dame who was merely repeating her lesson?

"I listened, my lips pressed together, and said nothing. She got thoroughly muddled, and when she had finished I asked:

"'May I ask your Majesty what date has been fixed for my marriage with the Grand Duke Frederick-Augustus?'

"She protested that the Kaiser had never had any idea of precipitating matters, and that no date had been settled.

"'Only the principle!' I said.

"She didn't answer.

"I went back to my room, calm and collected.

"'I leave tonight for Astrakhan,' I said to Melusine and Hagen, who were anxiously awaiting my return. 'Have my things packed. Those who love me can follow me.'

"Hagen gave me my letters, which had been sent on from Lautenburg. There were five or six, and one had a Russian stamp. I recognized Papa's writing.

"What excellent use they had made of the fact that I had been unsuspecting! I found out later that the letter I had written to him a fortnight earlier had been forestalled by a special envoy from the Kaiser. It hadn't taken much diplomacy to win over my father. The famous crown of Würtemberg had once more played its part. Gently but firmly he told me his wishes. 'Marry Frederick-Augustus, or ...'

"I didn't read on but tore up the letter into little pieces. Then and there I wrote out a telegram—some thirty words of passionate pleading and threats—to the Tumene Prince.

"You remember, Melusine, how we suspected postal censorship at Berlin, and how you took the train and sent off the telegram from Köpenick.

"When you had gone my feelings overcame me, and I burst into tears—tears of rage and hatred. I can still see myself in that awful Berlin room. Hagen was sobbing at my feet. He had taken my hands, and even my arms—this is absolutely true—and was covering them with tears and kisses. 'I will go with you, I shall follow you, where and when you will,' he murmured. When all's said and done I am proud to think that it only wanted a word from me to make a Prussian officer throw up his profession and abjure his native land.

"But the touch of that moustache on my arm quickly brought me back to a sense of reality. I remembered Louisa of Saxony and all the low lackeys who have made money out of their notoriety as the lovers of queens. I pushed the innocent Hagen away and recovered my self-possession.

"I didn't go out at all during the two days while I was waiting for the reply to my telegram. Then it came, the little blue slip. You were looking hard at me, Melusine, so I smiled as I opened it. It contained these simple words:

"'I will never see my daughter until she has done her duty.'

"What a heart of flint the old Kalmuck had!

"I read it and fell to the floor like a stone.

* * * * * *

"I'm afraid I most stop to explain matters at this point, ami, or you may find the rest incomprehensible. No doubt you are asking yourself: 'How it could ever have come about that a will like Aurora's could have yielded? What could this invisible and powerful Frederick-Augustus have done to get the Empress, Rudolph's godmother, and the Kaiser on his side?'

"I expect you read your foreign news carefully enough in 1909 to know that about that time the Eulenburg affair and a Moltke-Harden case were causing a considerable stir in German Court circles. Personally, the way these folk took their pleasures was a matter of indifference to me. What strikes me as monstrous is the fact that these scandals had a considerable effect on my fortunes.

"Frederick-Augustus seldom stayed at Lautenburg in his brother's lifetime. I only saw him three or four times, the first occasion being my wedding, and the second, six months later, the funeral of his wife, a worthy but stupid woman with wrists like a scullery-maid's. His Serene Highness your pupil is hardly more intelligent than she.

"The rest of his time was spent in Berlin. The man you have seen so reserved and formal led a very gay life there. Never believe those who tell you that profligacy is harmful ami. The rise of Frederick-Augustus is proof to the contrary.

"The one thing in which the present Grand Duke is past-master is the art of compromising others without compromising himself. He made ample use of it at Berlin in 1909. Intimate with the Bülows, and a bosom friend of Eitel and Joachim, he alone could tell you the scenes in which he figured at that time. But he will never tell you, ami, just as he has never told me, as neither you nor I will ever be able to pay the price of his confidences. Why, it was his silence alone that gained him the grand-ducal crown, and may one day bring him the throne of Würtemberg. When the Empress, with quivering voice, was preaching the virtue of submission to my destiny, the honest dame was only defending the honour of two of her sons.

"The brain fever that followed the receipt of my father's telegram lasted a month, during which I hung between life and death, while Melusine and Hagen, with a devotion I shall never forget, took turns in nursing me night and day.

"At length I was convalescent. My hair had been cut off. I was thin but still pretty. One day, while I was studying in my mirror the pathetic figure I looked with the little fair curls clustering on my head, Hagen, who was on orderly duty, came in and announced Duke Frederick-Augustus.

"I was still really too ill to receive him, but I was longing for the encounter. I must confess, to my shame, that I didn't come out on top that day.

"He came in and bowed ceremoniously. His blue eyes, in his pale, smooth face, were bright and dim by turns.

"'My dear sister, what a pleasure to find you up at last, and looking so well.'

"His perfect ease of manner froze me. He went on:

"'There is no point in not telling you at once the pleasant object of my visit. Tomorrow it will be nine months since the death of my regretted brother, the Grand Duke Rudolph. As the legal period of your widowhood then expires their Majesties the Emperor and Empress would be glad if you could see your way to fix a convenient date for the celebration of our marriage. They have expressed their intention of being present.'

"'Tell their Majesties, my dear brother,' I replied, 'that I will fix any date that suits their pleasure, and kindly add that I hope it will be the last time I shall give them this trouble.'

"He bowed gravely.

"'That is also my heart-felt desire, dear sister,' he said.

"And he went out.

"We were married one day in March, 1912, a dull, threatening day. The Emperor and Empress, true to their promise, were present at the religious ceremony and left for Berlin in the evening. About five o'clock, first at the Rathaus and then at the castle, the State authorities and magistrates took the oath of fealty to the new Grand Duke. At eight the superior officers and higher dignitaries of the Grand Duchy, some thirty guests, were present at a dinner, informal on account of our recent mourning, in the banqueting-hall on the ground floor.

"The second course had hardly begun when the sound of tapping, now loud, now soft, was heard coming from the first floor, immediately above our heads.

"At first no notice was taken. But the noise continued, tap, tap, tap, with exasperating regularity.

"The Grand Duke, frowning slightly, beckoned to the lackey standing behind him.

"'What's that noise?' he asked in a low tone. 'Go and stop it.'

"The man had not returned in a quarter of an hour, but the noise did not cease.

"'Here, Kessel,' cried the Grand Duke, half annoyed, half amused, 'try and find out what's going on above our heads. Excuse me, gentlemen,' he said, turning to our guests.

"Kessel went. Five minutes later he came back, very red. The noise had stopped.

"'Well!' said the Grand Duke, what was it?'

"Kessel was still silent.

"'Look here, Major,' Frederick went on, beginning to lose patience. 'You can't have discovered a plot up there, I presume. I must ask you to reassure my guests. What was the matter?'

"'Builders, your Highness,' murmured Kessel.

"'Builders! at this hour! Today of all days! That's too much of a good thing. What on earth are they doing? Come, Herr von Kessel, tell me, please!'

"'They are walling up the yellow corridor,' the officer managed to get out.

"There was a frigid silence. The yellow corridor was that which connected the apartments of the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess of Lautenburg.

"Frederick-Augustus is a man of resource, ami. I realized it that evening and genuinely admired him when, tapping his forehead significantly, as much as to say, 'Of course! I'd forgotten,' he turned to a steward and said:

"'Just see that those good fellows are well looked after. They'll have to work all night.'

"I didn't mind. You see I was pleased with myself, for I felt there was something of admiration in the sly look he gave me, a look that seemed to say:

"'And now, you and I must have it out.'"

Aurora had stopped. For a few minutes silence reigned. Then Melusine went to the window and swiftly drew back the curtains. We saw it was already light.

I looked at the Grand Duchess, lost in reverie, elbow on knee and chin in hand. Her beautiful features and clear skin betrayed not the slightest sign of her night-long vigil.

The chilly dawn found Aurora even more beautiful than the glowing dusk had left her.


OCCASIONALLY, perhaps once or twice a week, the Grand Duchess preferred to be alone, and on these evenings I used to resign myself to work.

My study of the Königsmark had been virtually abandoned. I no longer found much pleasure in disturbing that ancient dust now that fate had summoned me to witness another drama, the actors in which lived and moved around me, and spoke to me every day.

There had been a great storm on a certain July evening which Aurora's pleasure doomed me to spend alone. Through the window, open to the lowering night sky, I heard the trees dripping. I was working in an extremely half-hearted manner, my mind straying from the tragedy of the Herrenhausen to the lands whither the Tumene princess's story had wafted me. Indeed, it was a piece of pure luck that thrust before my eyes the supremely important document of which I must now speak.

I told you some time back, with details which must have seemed tedious, of the dossier compiled by the Queen of Prussia with a view to the rehabilitation of her mother Sophie-Dorothea. That evening, after analysing two or three documents of secondary importance, I came to another, marked S.2—No. 87.

It consisted of two large pages covered with writing in German characters, crowded closely together. My listlessness vanished after the first few lines. My mind sprang to attention, for I realized that I had at last got hold of something decisive.

This document contained the confession of a certain Bauer, who had died a game-keeper in the service of the Grand Duke of Rudolstadt, and who, twenty years earlier, had been employed at the Herrenhausen. In his last moments this man, a Catholic, had asked a priest to confess him. The latter, who had heard of the Queen of Prussia's investigation, made his absolution subject to a formal statement of the events in which Bauer had taken part. It was that very confession, bearing the signatures of the dying man, the confessor and two witnesses, that I was engaged in examining.

You will understand that, with that proof of authenticity before me, it chained my attention.

Bauer had been one of the ten men who assisted Countess von Platen to assassinate Count Königsmark on the tragic night of July 1st, 1694.

His confession related how Countess von Platen prepared punch for her men while they were waiting for the Count to come out of the Princess's apartments.

He denies being among those who actually attacked him with their swords and daggers, but admits that he held him down while Countess von Platen, with her foot on his head, tried to extort a confession from him that he had been Sophie-Dorothea's lover.

I was familiar with most of these details. They can also be found in Blaze de Bury's book. But the statements following definitely settled the famous controversy as to what happened to the Count's corpse.

When Count Königsmark was quite dead, said Bauer, Countess von Platen ordered us to carry him to the great fireplace at the back of which is a bronze plaque six feet wide. Countess von Platen touched a spring. The plaque divided in two, revealing a little chamber. I just caught a glimpse, for I was very much perturbed in mind, of a whitish heap which looked like lime. We laid the corpse down there. Countess von Platen then sent us away, after telling us to wash off the blood which had stained the clothes of some of the men. She remained in the Baron's Hall with her attendant, a certain Festmann....

You see now that I had my reasons when I told you, casually, that Königsmark's corpse is concealed behind the fire-back in the Knight's Hall of the Herrenhausen. Moreover, Bauer's document had, in my eyes, a further importance beyond settling the spot once and for all. To me it was also a proof of the complicity either of Ernest-Augustus or his son. Remember that Countess von Platen had worked a secret spring, and also bear in mind that German princes in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were exceedingly jealous of their secret lock-systems. If that secret was communicated to Madame von Platen it was only for some vital purpose.

Before starting work I had made some coffee and had three cups, one after the other. This coffee began to have its effect, by which I mean that, excited by my first discovery, my mind was absolutely clear at that moment. Please note this detail as it has its importance.

To discover something is nothing. To establish the truth of your discovery is everything. Now how was I to go to Hanover, obtain permission to visit the Herrenhausen and be alone in the Knight's Hall for the necessary time. You can imagine I had no intention of putting some palace curator on the track I had just found.

It was then that an idea occurred to me which I will disclose to you as a proof of the value of coffee in deductive reasoning. You will remember that when I was studying the question of the employment of French artists by German princes in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries I discovered that the locksmith's work had been given by the Elector Ernest-Augustus of Hanover to a Catalan named Giroud who had also worked for the Grand Duke of Lautenburg. This Giroud had even had difficulties with Ernest-Augustus over his accounts. At that time I had only cast a cursory glance at the file dealing with the case. It was necessary for me to examine it more carefully. Perhaps I should be able to find something about the system of secret springs installed by Giroud at the Herrenhausen. I decided to clear the matter up then and there.

It was just after midnight I put an electric torch in my pocket and quietly left my room. At that moment I thought I heard a faint noise in the deserted corridor.

"Come," I thought, "I can't let myself be scared like this by old papers!"

When I got to the library I was disagreeably surprised to find the lights on. Professor Cyrus Beck was hard at work covering a black board with his formulæ and only stopping to consult five or six treatises open in front of him.

There was, of course, nothing unusual about my appearance there. I had often gone down late at night to the library to clear up some point in my next day's lesson. All the same he looked at me with that suspicious air of the savant who always thinks you're going to rob him of something.

Two or three pleasant words quickly reassured him. He condescended to confide to me that he was at a decisive moment in his experiments and that the next day, without doubt, perhaps that very night.... Through the open door came the noise of his furnaces, roaring like chimneys on fire.

I thought it unwise to tell him that I, too, had reached the same stage as himself in another affair. Besides, almost at once he put away his books, folded up his notes, rubbed out his formulæ, wished me good-night and went.

I was eager for his departure as I had already found what I wanted.

With a sureness of method which astonished me I had put my hand straight off on the vital document, a bill of Giroud's, dated 1682, and addressed to Ernest-Augustus.

It was a long bill, but I found the following item at once:

For the chimney-place of the Baron's Hall, six springs, in my name, at one hundred and fifty livres the spring.—Total 900 livres.

I did not need to have a very profound knowledge of secret springs and locks to know what it meant. The system is still used in safes, Fichet's and others. It meant that on the fire-back of the chimney-place in the Baron's Hall of the Herrenhausen there were six lettered locks. You made the spring act by taking for each lock in turn one of the six letters forming the name of the inventor, Giroud.

When you remember that this Giroud was the master-locksmith of the Grand Duke of Lautenburg you won't have much difficulty in realizing that my first thought was to use the fire-back in the armoury of the castle of Lautenburg as a test of the accuracy of my reasoning with regard to the fireplace of the Baron's Hall in the Castle of Hanover. So you may imagine how impatiently I watched Cyrus Beck's departure.

When at last he had gone I waited a quarter of an hour. Then I turned out the lights, opened the right-hand door of the library and banged it to as if I had gone back to my room. Then, taking great care not to fall over anything and picking my way among the desks and show-cases I returned and cautiously opened the door on the left hand side which led into the armoury.

Great pools of moonlight, shaped like the tall lancet windows, flecked the dark floor. I went straight to the chimney-place. I started at touching the heavy iron fire-back. It was only when my fingers found a kind of knob high up on the left that I switched on my electric torch.

I had no difficulty in dealing with the knob. It pivoted on a hinge, revealing a kind of dial. The whole thing was not unlike one of our gas-metres.

I started back in dismay. I was expecting letters, but this dial had numbers. It was divided into twenty-five sections.

Turning off the lamp I sat down on a heavy oak stool close by.

I didn't have to think long. 25! What a fool I was!

I pulled out a pencil and a piece of paper, turned on the lamp again and, kneeling at the stool, I had soon written out the twenty-five letters of the alphabet and underneath a row of figures to correspond. Then I wrote Giroud's name and obtained the following combination: 7, 9, 18, 15, 21, 4.

791815214. It will be a long time before I forget that number.

I examined the whole face of the metal rectangle with my lamp. A terrible disappointment was in store for me. Instead of the six knobs that I had expected I could only find two.

When a single factor throws out the kind of calculations I had just made it can only mean that one's theory is radically false. I might have known. That would have been much too simple....

Solely to prove myself wrong, I tried the first knob and turning the pointer on the dial I set it on the figure 7—g.

I crossed to the other side and repeated the operation on the other knob, putting the pointer on the figure 9—i.

All at once I could hear my heart beat. A black vertical line appeared in the centre of the plaque. That line got wider and wider. The two panels thus formed slid back to each side, leaving a gap some two feet six inches wide.

I was on the right track. The mystery of the Herrenhausen was to be solved at last!

I had recovered control of myself, perfect control. I remember saying: "What a delightful way of studying history! I wonder what Monsieur Seignobos would think of it?"

I passed through the opening, taking with me the stool which had been my table. On the inside the fire-back had two handles, one on each side. Very gently, but quite easily, I drew the panels together again, not absolutely touching, however, for fear of releasing some fatal spring.

Do you remember the 24th August, my friend, in the village of Beaumont, in Belgium, when you and I went down into a cellar where the inhabitants said five Uhlans were hiding? You called me a rash fool and came behind, but I couldn't help smiling at the thought that those five fugitives were nothing compared with the darkness in which I was wrapped that night.

When I had pulled the two panels to behind me I found myself in a little chamber, six feet wide, and six feet high. On each side of me were blank walls, but at the back was another bronze plaque with, as I expected, two more knobs to right and left.

I put the hand of the first dial on the figure 18. The pointer of the second had just reached 15 when the noise of tearing wood, absolutely terrifying in that dead silence, froze me from head to foot. The lower half of the immense plaque, opening horizontally about three feet from the ground, had swung forward and smashed to matchwood the heavy stool I had placed against it as I came in.

If I hadn't jumped back so smartly my feet would infallibly have been crushed.

"Excellent!" I murmured. "So their secrets are man-traps, too!"

I bent down and got into the second chamber, which was of exactly the same dimensions as the first. You can imagine that this time I took all precautions, standing carefully to the left as I put the pointer of the fifth dial on 21 and to the right as I turned that of the sixth to 4. I might have saved myself the trouble. The plaque parted in two vertically, like the first one, and the panels rolled aside on invisible hinges.

Then I passed into the third and last chamber.

It was of the same height, but twice as long and wide. The small arc of my electric torch gave a good light, but covered but a small area.

At first I could only see what looked like white splashes on the floor.

But suddenly, my friend, my very marrow froze within me. I was frightened, horribly frightened, for in the corner to my left a curious little white heap had just come into view. Drawn by some over-mastering instinct I approached it, and even as I approached I wanted to bolt, and between my chattering teeth I muttered: "It's a hallucination. I'm dreaming. I know I'm dreaming. I'm not at Hanover. This is Lautenburg. The palace. There's Doctor Cyrus Beck just round the corner working. There's the night-watchman. There's Ludwig, my servant. There's Major von Kessel, honest, kind Kessel ..."

The heap of quicklime was now at my feet. I fell, rather than knelt, before it.

Fantastic fragments were sticking out of it, shapeless, gruesome white fragments. Dithering as I was, how did I ever have the courage to pick one up, run my fingers over it, examine it....

Yet that is exactly what I did. I had that bone, a right tibia, in my hands, feeling it, examining it.

And then I uttered a loud cry, for in the middle of that bone my finger came into contact with the mark of an old fracture.

* * * * * *

How I managed to give Duke Joachim his history lesson next morning is a thing I've never ceased to wonder at. I kept my eyes off the mirror, terrified lest I should see a ghastly face reflected in it.

At eleven o'clock I was in the Archduchess's small boudoir.

The old Russian waiting-woman went off to tell Melusine, who came at once. I could see from the half-humorous surprise in her manner that my call, at that hour, was considered extremely strange.

"You want to see the Grand Duchess, my friend! You are very bold. Well, as it's you... I'm sure you wouldn't have come without some very good ..."

As she spoke she drew aside the curtains. The sun shone full on my face. She started at my appearance, and with difficulty suppressed an exclamation.

"I'll go and fetch her," she said simply.

I seemed to have been walking in my sleep, pushed on by the force of the night's events. Left to myself my decision seemed utterly crazy. Why, in a minute's time I should certainly be taken for the madman I had brought myself to believe I was. How would Aurora take the story of my extraordinary adventure? "Save her from the fits of depression and that kind of spiritual disorder which are so fatal to her physical health." The words came back to me. It was the request made to me by the Grand Duke Frederick-Augustus. This was an odd way of carrying out his wishes. I wanted to bolt.

But the Grand Duchess was already there. She was in such high spirits that morning that I thought I should never have the strength of mind to break my news to her.

"Well, my friend," she said. "To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit? Have you changed your time-table? Have you decided to give me your mornings in future?"

My tell-tale face produced the same effect on her as on Melusine.

She took my arm and made me sit down on a sofa beside her.

"You nearly fell as you sat down," she said gravely. "Melusine, bring me the blue casket."

It was a diminutive box in blue enamel. What heathen stimulant could it contain? As soon as I had inhaled it at Aurora's bidding, I started as if I'd had an electric shock.

"There!" she said, "you're better already." And added:

"Begin as soon as you feel you can. We're listening."

I told her everything you already know, from my first researches into the Königsmark drama to the final climax, my visit to the secret chamber in the armoury and my sinister discovery.

From beginning to end she listened, calm and self-possessed, only occasionally exchanging with Melusine a glance which revealed astonishment rather than emotion.

When I had finished she did not speak for a moment, and then said quietly:

"You have told us an extraordinary exciting story, but you mustn't be surprised to hear that it does not arouse any other emotion in me. There's one thing I admit, which comes as rather a shock: the fact that at Lautenburg you have found a skeleton in the very same place where there must be one in the palace of Hanover. But what does it prove, granting that natural death is out of the question, but that the old Dukes of Lautenburg had no greater respect for human life than their Hanoverian neighbours? I have always thought so, and it's no great surprise."

"But it isn't the presence of the skeleton which has been such a shock, madame," I answered.

"What is it, then?" she said, in that slightly scornful tone she immediately assumed when she thought you were trying to mystify her.

"It is," I said simply, but picking my words carefully, "that I had in my hands the right tibia of the corpse which was concealed there, and that in the middle of that tibia, on its outer surface, was the join of an old fracture."

Aurora was standing now. She was pressing her hands to her temples. She had turned deadly pale. Her staring eyes grew bigger and bigger.

"You're mad! You're mad!" she screamed. "Melusine, tell him he's mad!"

Fräulein von Graffenfried rushed to the Grand Duchess, who had fallen back, rigid, on the sofa. Her eyelids were half closed. I read inexpressible terror in the look she gave me.

"Mad! Mad!" she screamed again. "He's at Sangha. I have his letters. Sangha!"

"At Sangha! At Sangha!" the heartrending voice rang out again.

"I've only done what I thought was my duty," I murmured to Melusine, helping her to get her mistress to inhale the little blue casket.

The kind creature gave me a look charged with meaning, as much as to say: "I know it, you've no need to apologize."

"Don't be alarmed," she said in an undertone. "Her brain fever has left her extremely sensitive. And you must admit there's good reason on this occasion. Look, she's coming round."

Aurora was opening her startled eyes. She saw us two bending over her and memory came back. There must have been an expression of terrible concern in our faces, for she smiled and held out a hand which I covered with kisses.

"Forgive me, children, for giving you such a fright. Good Melusine, always at her post when she's wanted! And you, dear friend, my thanks."

"You are not angry with me?" I pleaded.

She smiled and shook her head, giving me for answer the Russian saying:

"Do the rooks hate the sun for showing up the sportsman's gun?"

She added:

"Melusine, go and tell them that he'll stay to lunch."

To be present at Aurora's table was a signal honour. Melusine alone had been thought worthy of it hitherto. It was not long before I learnt to my cost how great the honour was. Meanwhile I only saw in it further proof of the importance of my revelation.

One would have expected the meal to suffer from the effects of recent events. It did not suffer in the least, and though Aurora's spirits seemed a little forced, she was gay throughout. She talked about other things the whole time. I admired her self-possession all the more, because my secret was enough to have destroyed it altogether. In that hour, big with the burden of coming events, I knew the joy of realizing how indispensable I had become to the haughty princess, who had seemed to ignore my very existence only five short months before.

When the coffee came Melusine rose.

"Where are you going?" the Grand Duchess inquired.

"To say that you won't be going calling this afternoon," she replied.

"Shan't I?" said Aurora, smiling. "I'm not so overcome as all that. Just go and say that the car is to be ready at four instead of five."


"Yes. I want a few hours' rest before coming to fetch you at midnight," she said, turning to me.

Melusine and I stared at her.

"Does that surprise you?" she continued. "Do you call what you have just told me important or not? Now this is what I think. One person can suffer from a delusion. It's highly improbable that two will. At midnight, my friend, I shall knock at your door. Then you will have an opportunity of proving your knowledge of secret springs. You understand, now? Now, Melusine, go and order the car for four o'clock. I've twice postponed my call on the good Burgomaster's wife, and I mustn't break my word a third time."

There was so much authority in this order that Melusine went, casting a long, imploring glance in my direction.

"Poor little girl," said the Grand Duchess. "That look gives me into your care. Midnight, you understand, without fail."

"Madame," I said firmly, "I'll do anything your Highness wishes. I understand your resolution. Indeed, I can only approve it. May I just make two remarks? First, that it would be much better for me to come and fetch you rather than that you should run the risk of meeting some one in the corridors of the castle. In the second place, you should know that the watch make their rounds at midnight. They may be a little early tonight, and it is most advisable to avoid any chance of being disturbed in so delicate an enterprise as ours."

"Very well," she said. "What then?"

"With your permission I'll be here at half-past ten. An hour will give us plenty of time. Fräulein von Graffenfried can stay in your apartments and receive any callers."

She smiled:

"If by that you mean Hagen, jealous young man, you may as well know that he's due at his mess tonight, for one of those drinking-bouts for which any good German would gladly sacrifice the Loreley."

"Hagen or another," I said, with a shade of irritation in my voice. "We must provide for all emergencies."

"You're right, dear friend," she said gravely. "Then I'll expect you at half-past ten."

* * * * * *

When I went back to my room after dinner I really thought the time to go and fetch the Grand Duchess would never come.

At length ten o'clock struck, then quarter past. I went out quietly and peeped through the library door. Good. There was no light. If Cyrus Beck had unfortunately taken it into his head to work there that night we should have had to begin all over again.

Half-past struck, but it took me barely two minutes to cut across the garden. I wasn't late.

Very quietly I opened the door leading into the park. A puff of fresh air braced me up.

As I was closing it again I started. A hand had just been placed on my shoulder. At that moment I heard a voice:

"Professor Vignerte, I'm delighted to meet you!"

It was Lieutenant von Hagen.

The night was pitch-black, and we could not see each other. But I thought I detected that the hand he had put on my shoulder was a little unsteady. In an instant I recovered all my self-control.

"I thought you were at your mess," I said.

"I'm supposed to be," he replied. "But we all change our minds sometimes. What about yourself? No doubt you intended to spend the evening working in your room. Yet here you are."

"It's so stifling tonight," I said, "that I came into the garden for a breath of air."

"In that case I don't suppose you'll mind having my company for your walk."

This time I detected so much impertinent irony in his tone, that I saw it was a case of putting all my cards on the table.

"I'm very much flattered by your attentions, Herr Lieutenant, but I won't pretend that I wouldn't rather be alone."

He giggled. "Quite alone?" he demanded.

A quarter to eleven had just struck. The sound made me furious. Was this imbecile to wreck all our plans?

"What do you mean?" I asked angrily.

I realized his idea was to make me lose my self-control.

"Herr Professor," he said, "in Germany we hold one thing very sacred. Our word of honour. I like to think that it's the same in France. I won't trouble you any further if, here and now, you will give me your word of honour that you have no appointment this evening with the Grand Duchess Aurora."

I started. How much did this man know of what had happened? Once more I restrained myself.

"Herr von Hagen, one of your novelists, Beyerlein, has written a very bad book, 'The Retreat.' You and I are about to repeat the most absurd scene in that book, with the difference that it does not concern the daughter of a quartermaster-sergeant, but your sovereign, the Grand Duchess of Lautenburg-Detmold. I'm surprised...."

"I know," he said in a hoarse voice. "And that's just why I intend ..."

"What do you intend? Tell me. Let's have it out!"

"To kill you, Herr Professor."

"And why, if you please?"

"Because you love her and because ..."

The red Hussar choked down a sob. His hand, on my arm, trembled violently.


"Because she loves you."

I almost pitied him at that moment. But the Grand Duchess was waiting for me in her room.

"I'm at your service, sir," I said. "Tomorrow, or any day you like."

"Tomorrow," he replied bitterly. "Do you think I'm going to give you a chance of seeing her? She's waiting for you, I know. You haven't given me your answer. I must have it now, sir. At once."

This was too much. I wrenched my arm away and thrust him aside with great violence. He crashed into the wall.

He drew his sword.

I felt quite equal to snatching it from his hand and turning it against him then and there. But I ran the risk of being wounded, and, besides, there would be a commotion, a scene. That must at all costs be avoided.

"Herr von Hagen," I said in low tones, "listen to me. I know you wouldn't be talking like this or trying to pick a quarrel, if you didn't love the Grand. Duchess yourself."

"Sir," he replied, furious, "I forbid you ..."

"Just listen to me," I said, and there was a ring of impatient authority in my voice which impressed him. "You love her, I repeat. I'm going now to appeal as much to your love as to your loyalty as a soldier. The Grand Duchess Aurora, that glorious woman, is in terrible danger tonight. You must understand that. Every minute, every second, that you make me lose increases that danger. On that I can give you my word of honour here and now."

I saw that I had hit home.

"What do you mean, sir?" he murmured in alarm. "Danger?"

"Yes, Herr von Hagen. Go back to your rooms at once. Don't go to bed. Perhaps Aurora of Lautenburg will need your help tonight."

He hesitated, then resigned himself to his lot.

"Very well, sir. I accept. I'll go back. But remember that if you've deceived me ..."

"You need have no fear of that," I replied. "You must understand that the little meeting you suggested just now must be postponed till tomorrow morning if you like. I'm just as anxious for it as yourself."

"Until tomorrow, then," he said, smiling. "What time?"

"Six o'clock. At the Meilleraie bridge. It's a secluded spot and the Melna is handy."

"What about weapons?"

"You can choose," I said. "I leave it entirely to you."

"By ourselves, of course," we said in the same breath.

He stood to attention, gave me a military salute, and vanished in the darkness.

"At last!" I murmured, with a sigh of relief. Eleven o'clock was striking as I entered the Grand Duchess's apartments.

* * * * * *

She was alone in her boudoir, standing, rather pale.

As I entered, my expression must have told her that something unusual had happened, for she asked no questions as to why I was late.

"Anything serious?" she asked simply.

"Nothing, madame. But we must be quick. We've only just time."

As we reached the door leading to the staircase the door of Melusine's room opened and Fräulein von Graffenfried appeared.

"What!" she said. "So soon?"

"Yes," said Aurora. "I forgot to tell you we decided to make it an hour earlier. Don't be alarmed, dear. Stay here and don't let any one in. We shall be back before midnight."

She kissed her on the forehead.

Torn with apprehension, and her beautiful eyes full of tears, Melusine von Graffenfried had seized my hands.

"Swear to me no harm shall come to her," she begged. "I commit her to your care."

"Come, come," said Aurora. "We've no time to lose. Turn out the light on the staircase."

We went down into the darkness.

When we got to the landing, I felt the pressure of the Grand Duchess's hand on my arm. She wasn't trembling, I can assure you.

"Are you armed?" she said.


"Child!" she murmured, and even as she spoke I could feel her hand slipping something into the pocket of my jacket.

"It's a Browning, a good one. Don't hesitate to use it if the occasion arises, against any one. I'll set you the example myself."

We were now at the bottom of the staircase. She was leading, and it was she who opened the door.

"Well?" I said.

She had stopped, blocking the doorway. A dull cry escaped her.

"Didn't I tell you so! Oh, didn't I tell you so! He's a strong man, a very strong man!"

"What is it?" I asked in terror.

To our right a huge red glare lit up the night sky. Half the castle was on fire.

Against that background of flame the yews of the park stood out like black cones. The water in the Persephone fountain gleamed black and red.

"But who could have told him that we should come tonight?" said the Grand Duchess. "Only three of us knew: I, you and ... she."

For a few seconds we gazed at the tragic scene. Then noises began to be heard in the palace, startled from its first sleep.

"Come," said Aurora, "let's go and see."

As we approached we ran into Hagen. He was flying down the steps of the right wing like a maniac.

"You! You!" he almost screamed with joy on recognizing the Grand Duchess. "I was terrified! I am so thankful."

He kissed her hands frantically.

"Forgive me, forgive me!" he stammered, turning to me.

"Stay here with her," I said, and, running off, I made for the banqueting-hall at top speed.

"Where's he going?" cried Aurora. "Stop him!"

But I was already too far. Crossing the banqueting-hall, I got into the right wing of the castle. It was the left which was on fire, with the library, and, of course, the armoury.

What was I thinking of? I had no very clear idea myself. Some force, with which argument was useless, was urging me on. Some time later I tried to reason out my action. In my room was my money, papers, a few letters from my mother—my whole life, so to speak. Yet I'm certain that not for one moment did I think that I was running such risks for things like these.

Dense clouds of smoke shot with sparks were pouring out of the first-floor corridor, at the end of which was the door of my room.

I met Kessel coming down. I heard him shout:

"Where are you going? The stairs are in flames. The corridor's burning!"

But I'd already left him far behind. I took off my jacket and wrapped it round my head. I don't know how I managed to get to the door of my room. I only remember that when I touched the handle I burnt my fingers.

Try as I might, I couldn't get the door open. The key turned in the lock as usual, but the door resisted.

It was then that I noticed a stout iron bolt, screwed into the door at one end and clamped to the wall at the other.

"So that's it!" I said, "and my window looks on to the ravine of the Melna!"

I didn't even start I understood. I knew what I wanted.

"So you thought, sire, that I should be still in my room! Didn't you, now?"

To come and go was but the work of a minute. When I was at the bottom of the staircase a fearful crash was heard. The upper half of the whole corridor had just collapsed.

When, wild-eyed and scorched, I got back to the Grand Duchess, several groups had already collected in the park. A tall man was standing with her and Hagen. It was the Grand Duke.

"Monsieur Vignerte," he cried rapturously, when he saw me. "Oh, what a weight you've taken off my mind! Have you come from far?"

"Yes, indeed, sir, very far!" I replied, and nearly fell.

"Hold him!" cried Aurora to Hagen.

The little red Hussar obeyed.

"Look out!" the Grand Duke broke in suddenly. "That's exactly what I feared."

Catching hold of his wife, he had suddenly jumped back a dozen yards or so. We all followed suit, stupefied.

An enormous flame, purple and gold, shot up into the glowing sky, followed by an appalling explosion. We saw the walls of the castle part asunder, totter and then collapse with a crash. A shower of fragments of every kind, wood and plaster, tiles and sparks fell on and around us. Beside us Captain Müller, who had gone forward, was hit by something. We saw him fall to the ground, with his head bleeding.

Professor Cyrus Beck's laboratory had just blown up.

The firemen turned up almost immediately and set to work to localize the fire. In the Great Court behind we could hear the measured, muffled sound of the garrison troops coming up at the double.

By one o'clock the fire had been got under. At half-past they were bringing out the first corpses.

About two the first streaks of gold appeared in the sky and a serene dawn shone forth.

Just then a stretcher, borne by four soldiers, came past us. We recognized the body of the professor, terribly mangled.

The Grand Duke bent over it and took a long look. Then, throwing back the cloth over the horrid vision, he murmured:

"This was bound to happen sooner or later, with an old fool like that."

Such was the funeral oration of Herr Professor Cyrus Beck, of Kiel University.

* * * * * *

The Grand Duchess, Melusine and I went back to the left wing of the palace. It was about six o'clock. The day already promised to be very hot, for the summer sun rose red over the awful scene of desolation.

Melusine had joined us when the fire first began. She had spent the time helping the Grand Duchess to attend to the injured firemen and soldiers, who had been taken to the banqueting-hall.

Aurora hadn't a word to say as she walked, and, busied with the burden of our own reflections, we respected her silence.

Suddenly she raised her head and smilingly showed me something in the blue sky, already turning white with heat.

A bird, coming from the east, was flying above our heads. It had a curious, jerky flight, now rising, now falling, the flight of birds with short wings, like the quail and partridge.

It disappeared to our left in the depths of the English garden by the Melna.

A second, then a third flew by and passed out of sight at the same spot. Then a score or more followed.

"The first missel-thrushes," said Aurora. "They are going to the sorbs of the Melna."

We had now reached her apartments. "Poor Melusine," she said in a curious tone; "you're absolutely done up. You must go and rest. I'm going to my bower to try and get a little recreation with those birds."

"I want to come, too," said Melusine.

"No, no!" replied the Grand Duchess. "Raoul Vignerte will come with me. I've something to say to him. You must go and rest. I order it. Just bring me down my gun and some cartridges. Lend yours to Vignerte. He's left his own behind, under the ruins of the castle."

The girl still insisted on going with us.

"Go!" said Aurora sternly.

Melusine left us. She seemed almost dead with fatigue and the strain.

To avoid disturbing the thrushes we took a winding path to the bower, where I had had my first interview with the Grand Duchess of Lautenburg. Every now and then we saw a thrush rise above the clumps of sorbs, take a good look round and then drop down, satisfied.

When we were in the leafy tunnel I thought we should have to make some kind of loophole, for the foliage was amazingly thick, and shut us in with its green, almost opaque wall.

The Grand Duchess didn't seem to mind. She had not spoken a word as we walked. Her face wore an expression of firm resolution. I hadn't broken the silence either. What could I have said? I'm sure our thoughts were the same at that tragic moment. What was the good of exchanging them?

Suddenly the set expression of her features relaxed a little. She began to talk in low tones. I was astounded by her extraordinary conversation, and the not less extraordinary notion of going there at such a moment to shoot the birds, whose habits she was describing.

Her loaded gun lay across her knees, and she had a curious smile, which made me think that the events of the night must have turned her brain. This is what she said:

"Missel-thrushes. You know them well. They're like ordinary thrushes, only larger. They're on you very much quicker. Very difficult to shoot, though they don't look it. Treacherous creatures. You know they're near, as we do now. But you can't see them. You guess where they are and when to fire. I'm used to them myself. So when I say 'Fire,' and show you the direction, you must fire. Don't worry about a target. You'll go and look and there'll be a thrush on the ground."

She lowered her voice until it became a mere whisper, then, stretching out her arm, she pointed to something, an imperceptible rustling in the thick foliage.

"Fire!" she ordered, "fire, now, fire!"

"But I can't see anything," I said, disconcerted.

"Fool," she murmured. "I will then."

She raised her gun to her shoulder and fired.

A bang, then a terrible heartrending scream.

I trembled like the leaves which were still quivering under the shower of lead.

Leaning on her smoking gun, the Grand Duchess said to me with a wan smile, "Go and see...."

Obediently I staggered up and passed the green wall. Behind it, in a pool of blood fast soaking into the ground, Melusine von Graffenfried was writhing in her death agony, her face literally blown to bits by the charge which she had received almost at point-blank range.

"What a ghastly accident!" I cried in a horror-stricken voice.

The Grand Duchess had come out of her bower.

One of Melusine's eyes was blown out, but the other was fixed on Aurora with a mad look of terror and torture.

Aurora gazed at her coldly, and murmured the words of Hamlet after he had killed Polonius:

"I took thee for thy better!"

With a horrible gasp Melusine expired.

For one moment the Grand Duchess stood motionless. The rigid lines in her face almost terrified me. Not a tremor shook her at the contemplation of the dead girl's glassy eye.

"Let's go back," she said at length, "we must let them know about this fresh calamity."

From my trembling fingers she took the light, engraved gun which had been Melusine's, and laid it down beside the corpse.

She signed to me to stay behind, and went off quickly.

Left alone with the corpse, at first I couldn't bring myself to look at it.

My God! where was now that lovely smooth skin, that perfect oval face, those melting eyes. Loathsome, bloody pulp of flesh, earth and hair.

Disgusting green insects were already buzzing round the horrid mass. I cut a leafy hazel branch and kept brushing them off, much as the old muffin men at home brush the flies off their trays with paper fans.

The Grand Duchess was soon back. Madame von Wendel, two or three waiting-women and Melusine's maid came with her, weeping copiously. With her usual self-possession she gave the necessary orders. Melusine's body was placed on a stretcher and carried to the palace.

Just as we reached it we saw the Grand Duke coming to meet the sad procession. He was on his way to visit the casualties of the night, when he was informed of the new blow that had fallen upon the Court of Lautenburg.

He rushed up visibly moved.

"Oh, madame," he said, pressing Aurora's hand, "what a dreadful misfortune."

"Fate brings these catastrophes, sir," replied the Grand Duchess, with wonderful self-possession.

"However did it happen?"

"How should I know, sir?" replied Aurora. "Truth to tell I know no more about it than you yourself know of the origin of tonight's fire."

The blow went home, but the Grand Duke did not lower his head.

"You are right, what does it matter how it happened since the dreadful results are only too self-evident? Let me associate myself with you in mourning the terrible loss you have suffered in Fräulein von Graffenfried's death."

"Terrible it is, sir," replied Aurora, "and that is why I hasten to express my gratitude to you, since I have you to thank for the fact that it is not utterly irreparable. Perhaps you had some forebodings of what was to come when you decided to give me a second confidante in the person of Monsieur Vignerte?"

Frederick-Augustus bit his lips. But his reply was terrible.

"I know, Madame, that you value M. Vignerte's services highly, and I am delighted. And if Fräulein von Graffenfried's dreadful end moves me so much, in its effect on yourself, it is because I know that there are some things for which a woman is irreplaceable."

Such an exchange of envenomed condolences seemed to me almost terrifying. Kessel, Colonel von Wendel, and the others who were standing round, had no idea of the full meaning of the tragedy. I was at once proud and dismayed to share such confidences. Memories of Professor Thierry shot through my mind. I had promised him never to mix myself up in the private affairs of the Lautenburg sovereigns!...

I did not know which to admire more, the portentous courtesy of the Grand Duke, or the icy dignity of the Grand Duchess. I thought for a moment that she would flinch and lose her self-possession under the infamous insinuation he had just made. She did nothing of the kind, and her reply was better than the attack that had provoked it:

"Irreplaceable you have rightly said, sir. And so it is with no idea of his taking Melusine's place that I ask you to leave Monsieur Vignerte entirely at my disposal. On the contrary, I rely on his devotion to help me to preserve as vivid a recollection as possible of our dear dead friend and the events of this tragic night."

She added:

"Owing to the fire M. Vignerte is actually without a roof. Will you kindly allow him to be my guest from this day forth?"

The Grand Duke bowed.

"It shall be done, madame, according to your wishes. May his society accord you a slight measure of that relief so necessary to your mental health after the heavy blows the will of the Most High has seen fit to inflict upon us."

Thereupon he left us.

In the Grand Duchess's boudoir, converted into a mortuary chapel, the coffin was smothered under a mass of Circassian roses and iris, between bowls from which the smoke of incense arose.

Aurora had wished to be alone with me to watch by the bier of her dead friend. Callers who diffidently asked for admittance received short shrift, I can assure you.

Dressed in a black Armenian tunic, she recited the beautiful prayers of her faith in low tones.

I had not closed my eyes for two days, and about midnight I sank into a chair worn out, and on the verge of collapse.

When I opened my eyes again the Grand Duchess was standing by me. In the light of the tall candles soft flickering shadows passed over her face. She put her hand on my forehead and murmured with a sweet, sad smile:

"You are tired out. Go to bed, dear friend, poor friend, whom I once doubted."

Oh, human frailty! Sleep swept me off that night, a night I could have spent entirely alone with her amidst the suggestive scent of funeral wreaths in the very presence of death, from which anything can be expected. I slept in Melusine von Graffenfried's room. The old, half-witted waiting-woman came grumbling to change the sheets.

* * * * * *

It was on Tuesday, the 28th, that Melusine's obsequies were celebrated. The Grand Duke, the Grand Duchess and Duke Joachim walked behind the hearse, its white pall hidden under the fragrant glories of Daghestan.

I was lost in the crowd of officers, palace officials and leaders of Lautenburg society. The Grand Duchess had ordered a squad of the 7th Hussars to render the honours. By the Grand Duke's orders the great bell of the cathedral beat time to the procession with its heavy measured toll. A tall old man, with the ascetic face of a Moltke, in an ancient, shiny black frock coat, came first, with a haughty and sullen lieutenant in the blue uniform of the Brunswick Hussars. They were Richard and Albrecht von Graffenfried, the dead girl's father and brother.

When the coffin entered the Temple of the Siegstrasse my very marrow seemed to freeze. It made me shiver to think that Melusine, whose voluptuous form seemed to cry aloud for the luxurious pomp of the Catholic ritual, should have belonged to the reformed faith.

I had never been in a Protestant temple before. They are awful places. Your very tears seem afraid to rise, lest they should freeze on your eyelids.

Pastor Silbermann delivered a sermon, his thin form, in its uncouth gown, reminiscent of the master of some masonic lodge emerging from a kind of revolving pulpit. For some reason I could not fathom he had selected from the Scriptures the incident of Jephthah's daughter. Nothing could have been less appropriate to the frail departed than this reference to the sacrifice of that dismal, austere Jewess.

For a whole half-hour the pastor expounded, with the indefatigable enthusiasm of a mathematics' master the three conditions for the equality of triangles.

When he came to the celebrated phrase, "Strike this bosom which for thee is unveiled," my eyes sought the Grand Duchess. I saw she was weeping.

We went from the Temple to the station in cars. The coffin, with its fast-fading flowers, was put in a special carriage.

When I returned to the palace I met Lieutenant von Hagen in the Great Gallery, as deserted at five o'clock in the afternoon as if it had been midnight. He was pale and appeared as if he had been waiting for me.

"Monsieur," he said, in a low voice, "yesterday morning I waited for you two hours at the La Meilleraie bridge."

"I had entirely forgotten our little meeting," I said. "I admit it frankly."

"After this," he muttered quietly, "may I hope there'll be no more of your troublesome lapses of memory?" And so saying he tapped my cheek with the glove in his right hand.

I had some difficulty in keeping myself from retaliating with a good sound cuff. His elaborate pretence of self-possession saved me.

"Sir," I said, "I shall be at your disposal at six o'clock tomorrow."

"Let us arrange everything now, if you please. No seconds, no witnesses, of course. As you are the challenged party, what weapon will you choose?"

If I had been less excited than I was this question would have been a very awkward one. As it happened, I didn't hesitate.

"This," I replied, drawing the Grand Duchess's revolver from my pocket.

I could see it was a shock, but he concealed it.

"It's not exactly usual, is it?" he said. "But, after all, what does it matter? All right. Seven shots at discretion, immediately after the signal. What about the distance?"

"Ten paces," I replied, utterly indifferent to what I was saying.

A sickly smile wreathed his mouth.

"A duel to the death then, monsieur. It shall be as you wish."

He turned and left me.

I found the Grand Duchess in her room. I had not been there since the tragedy. She beckoned to me to sit down, but did not speak. Gradually darkness descended upon us. The lamp which burned before the ikon began to glow. Melusine's guzla was still lying on the carpet. Our thoughts were the same. They dwelt on that other glorious instrument of delight, already a prey to the mysterious transformations of death, which also would never vibrate again.

* * * * * *

When did Aurora sleep? Melusine alone could have known. We heard the birds awakening at the first coming of dawn. The shrill piping of finches and sparrows succeeded the plaintive note of the nightingale. I wonder whether I should hear the birds wake on the morrow.

I realized that the time had come. It was contrary to etiquette, but I said to Aurora:

"Forgive me for leaving you. I'm very tired." There was a tinge of reproach in the look she gave me. I felt she was thinking that Melusine was never tired.

"If she only knew!" I said to myself. And for an instant I was almost tempted to tell her everything.

I went back to my room and left it a few moments later, taking care to go out through the Great Court, for fear lest she might see me from her window.

It was not yet five o'clock when I reached the La Meilleraie bridge. That hour's respite seemed to me an eternity of bliss. Never had earth seemed so fair and life so dear as in those moments which I thought might very well be my last.

I knew that Hagen was one of the finest swordsmen in the garrison. He was also a crack pistol shot, while I—well, my education had been confined to firing off two, perhaps three, dozen cartridges with a revolver during my training periods as an officer of the reserve.

Leaning on the parapet I watched the Melna dashing over the boulders far below me. Little silvery trout darted up out of the foaming water, and reminded me of my trout-fishing days, ten years before, in the Ossau stream, between Laruns and Pont de Béon.

Where was this river going? To join the Aller, which meets the Weser, which flows into the North Sea, which joins the Channel, which is an arm of the Atlantic, which receives the waters of the Adour, into which the river of Pan, swollen by the Ossau stream, runs close by the blue hamlet of Peyrehorade. Little German trout, little French trout. Foolish, childish thoughts which carry the mind of a man facing death back through the course of his life, and bridge the gulf between distant epochs.

"I am sorry to have kept you waiting, Herr Professor. But it's not yet quite six o'clock."

Hagen! I hadn't seen him come. I'd almost forgotten him, in fact.

We both bowed.

"I've brought with me," he explained, "everything required for a meeting without seconds."

He produced a fountain-pen and some paper.

"Revolvers being the weapon selected," he said, "I've brought mine. We can draw lots if you like, but I think it's hardly necessary. The model is the same. Now will you be good enough to sign this?"

He had taken the precaution of drawing up a statement, in my name and his, wherein the two adversaries testified in advance that everything had been quite fair and regular.

"In case there's an accident, this will save the survivor a good deal of trouble," he thought fit to explain.

Officialism could hardly go further. All the same I was curious to know how the signal was to be given. I couldn't help asking him.

He smiled, a smile full of self-satisfaction.

"I've seen to that all right," he replied.

With these words he opened a parcel containing an alarm-clock.

"I've set the alarm for ten minutes past six," he said. "You can test it, if you like. When it goes off we will fire, changing places if we like. It's all put down in the statement."

I couldn't say whether tragedy or absurdity was the more conspicuous feature of the proceedings.

Hagen paced out the distance.

"Eight, nine, ten. Herr Professor, you're a little taller than I. Will you pace it out too, and if you like, we'll take the mean."

"It doesn't matter," I said. "This is all right for me."

He bowed and drew his revolver from his pocket.

"Seven minutes past," he said. "We'd better take our places."

I toed the line he had drawn at the start. We were now face to face.

The clock was placed on the parapet of the bridge, where we could both see its face. Its sharp ticking sounded above the distant roar of the river.

I looked at my opponent. His eyes, bashfully cast down like those of a girl, were fixed on my feet.

Nine minutes past six.

He is listening for the sound, while I am looking at the hand, I thought. Suppose the alarm went off too soon!

Suddenly I saw Hagen raise his head. His elegant self-possession had left him, and a look of unutterable terror was stamped on his features.

I turned round, regardless of the fact that this movement might have cost me my life. At that very moment the alarm went off, a loud buzz that went on and on.

The Grand Duchess Aurora was behind me. Then I understood why the officer hadn't fired.

Aurora was now standing between us.

"Will one of you gentlemen kindly explain the meaning of this curious scene?" she said coldly.

There was no answer.

The document drawn up by Hagen was under the clock. She picked it up.

"I understand," she said, when she had read it. "Revolvers! Monsieur Vignerte, you make very bad use of things you're trusted with. Lieutenant von Hagen, my compliments to you. Your ingenuity is amazing."

Her voice was ironical, but now became very hard:

"Gentlemen, if this is your method of proving that devotion with which you have never ceased to assail my ears, I may tell you that I have a very poor opinion of it. You're a foreigner, Monsieur Vignerte, and cannot be expected, perhaps, to know our duelling regulations. But they are well known to you, lieutenant."

Hagen hung his head.

"In particular, you know that an officer of the 7th Hussars may not fight without first obtaining his colonel's permission. Only a year ago Lieutenant Techner was given thirty days' close confinement in a fortress for breaking this rule. Have you forgotten?"

Hagen didn't answer.

"Go back and put on your uniform, Herr von Hagen. Then go to the orderly-room and place yourself at the disposal of Major von Hougwitz until you receive official notification of the fifteen days' confinement to which I reduce your punishment in view of your services. You can go, sir. Don't forget your clock."

Lieutenant von Hagen saluted his colonel, faced about and disappeared.


A dark form appeared at the entrance of our dug-out, through which the chilly morning air was now stealing.

"It's five o'clock, sir."

It was the soldier of the party whom I had told off to wake us without fail.

"We've half an hour before the attack," said Vignerte. "Let's go out. I'll finish my story outside. I'm very near the end."

The stars had all vanished. One alone still twinkled low down in the Eastern sky, waiting for daybreak to blot it out.

We sat down on a ledge projecting from the side of a ravine. It commanded an excellent view of the line held by our Company, and we couldn't have had a better position to follow the course of the coming raid.

Close by us a soldier's lowly grave, a shadowy rectangle of dead branches. On the little wooden cross I could read these words, already almost obliterated by rain:

"Mohammed Beggi ben Smaël, Private, 2nd Tirailleurs. He died for France, September 23rd, 1914. Pray for him."

I have seldom seen anything more moving than that little cross pleading for a Christian prayer for the humble Mussulman soldier.

Vignerte, looking straight in front of him, was waiting for the moment when the growing light would reveal the lie of the land. But that hour was not yet come. Only the dark line of the heights occupied by the enemy could be distinguished on the horizon.

OVER there is Hurtebise and Craonne, he said, and beyond it Laon, Saint Richaumont and Goise. Farther still is La Capelle and the forest of Nouvion, where we charged the White Cuirassiers. How often do my thoughts fly over them to the sandy plains of Hanover and Lautenburg where I have left Aurora? What is she doing in her room among her rugs and her jewels? What have they done to her, my God!

When we returned to the palace after the scene on the La Meilleraie bridge she said not a word to me. We had our breakfast together, then she began to arrange large purple iris and white nigella in vases.

About ten o'clock she summoned one of her waiting women.

"Is Mademoiselle Marthe there?" she asked. Receiving an affirmative reply the said:

"Show her in."

Mlle. Marthe came every year about this time to show the Grand Duchess the last word in novelties from Paris. A delicate suggestion of the Boulevard de la Madeleine seemed to enter with this good-looking, dainty girl.

"Have you had a pleasant journey, child?" asked Aurora.

"I arrived last evening, madame," replied the girl. "Please excuse me for intruding on your Highness so soon, but I have to go back this evening."

"What have you got for me this year?"

Mlle. Marthe opened her boxes and revealed dainty jewellery, tulle fans, vanity bags in velvet and moiré, diminutive stamp boxes, powder boxes, patch-boxes—those Parisian fallals which make all others look cheap.

"Leave me these," said Aurora. "Tell Duvelleroy it will be all right. In November I shall want a Watteau fan, or at any rate a Lancret. It must be ready when I arrive in Paris."

"Your Highness shall have it," replied the girl confidently.

"Good. You had better take the five o'clock express this evening. You will stay to lunch with me and tell me what the Rue de la Paix will be doing this winter."

During the meal I admired the unaffected ease with which the little Parisian girl replied to the Grand Duchess's questions. It made me proud of my pretty fellow-countrywoman to see Aurora, who had so little love for the women of Lautenburg, treat her as an equal. But how much greater was my admiration for the self-possession of this princess, who, after three days and nights such as would have broken a strong man, was able to carry on light conversation about the thousand and one little trifles of Paris fashions.

"You still recommend Cartier?"

"Yes, madame, they are still the best for hats."

"Laurence has left the Rue des Pyramids; she has a big establishment in the Rue Auber. I shall probably give her a call."

"I should suggest Your Highness going there. Laurence specializes in the export business. Most of her trade is with foreign houses."

It was a pleasure to hear all this small talk, a refreshing, idle interlude in tragic events; it almost helped me to forget.

About three o'clock the Grand Duchess handed Marthe an envelope.

"This is for your journey, my dear. I don't want you to miss your train. A car will take you back to your hotel, then on to the station. I am quite satisfied. Don't forget my fan. Good-bye. I shall be calling on you in November."

When the little ray of sunshine had vanished the Grand Duchess remained a moment in thought, fingering the trifles that lay scattered about the room. Then she said:

"Monsieur Vignerte, I have an important piece of news for you."

My reply was a look of hungry questioning.

"I have the honour to inform you," she continued, "that I have just received a letter—a letter from Baron von Boose."

I showed my astonishment.

"Do you imagine," she said, "that dear little Marthe has come from Paris solely to bring me Duvelleroy's baubles, charming though they are?"

* * * * * *

Friday evening. Eight o'clock. We had just finished dinner. A footman entered with the evening post—a dozen letters—which he handed to the Grand Duchess.

"Will you excuse me?" she said.

She looked at the seals of all the envelopes, then she opened one.

"That's it," she said when she'd read it.

She handed me the letter. It was a request for a subscription from some philanthropical society in Hambourg. It informed the Grand Duchess that there was to be a bazaar the following Monday for the benefit of working class crèches.

"We will go," said Aurora quietly. "This is the signal I arranged with Boose."

I had known everything for two days. She had told me that when I gave her the document I had found in Petermann's Mittheilungen she had written to Baron von Boose in the Congo. I have never known what kind of force she had brought to bear upon the man, but the fact remains that the letter Marthe had brought told the Grand Duchess that he had just left Africa. He was now at Hambourg. It could hardly be doubted that he had important revelations to make.

"I've made it worth his while," she murmured with her wan smile.

"We will go tomorrow," she said.

She looked at me, reflected a moment and then said:

"'Tis a little late in the day perhaps, my friend, but I begin to have scruples. I'm abusing your devotion. Do you realize that you have embarked upon a dangerous undertaking?"

"And you?" I said.

"Oh, it's different with me. I am fighting for my liberty, which is more to me than life. Besides, whatever happens, I am the Grand Duchess of Lautenburg, and, more than that, a Tumene Princess. Behind me there is the Czar and all the Russias. They would think twice in my case; but you, dear friend! Think of Cyrus Beck. Think of Melusine. Why, for what would you sacrifice yourself?"

There was such intensity of reproach in the look I gave her that proud and haughty sovereign though she was, she hung her head.

"Forgive me," she murmured.

Then she added:

"Very well, we're agreed. We will start tomorrow. Ring. I must give the necessary orders."

I pressed an electric bell. We heard steps. There was a knock at the door.

"Come in," said Aurora.

The door opened.

"Oh!" was all the Grand Duchess said.

Lieutenant von Hagen had just appeared in the doorway. He was rather pale and stood stiffly at attention, his right hand to his Kolbach, the burnished chin-strap of which encircled his clenched jaw.

"Lieutenant von Hagen!" said Aurora when she had recovered from her surprise. "Since when have officers under arrest acquired the habit of leaving the citadel?"

Hagen stood like a rock and said nothing.

"Will you be kind enough to explain?... Your sentence has not been remitted, so far as I know."

"It has, Your Highness!" murmured Hagen.

"It has!" cried the Grand Duchess. "Herr von Hagen, are you mad?"

"No, Your Highness," replied the little officer, in a low, insistent voice. "My detention ceased this evening."

"Ceased!" exclaimed Aurora, beside herself. "Do you realize, Lieutenant, how far this jesting may carry you? Do you know that one thing, and one thing only, can remit a sentence of detention ordered by me?"

"I know it, Your Highness," said Hagen.

"And that one thing is ..."

"—WAR." The officer completed her sentence. It may strike you as highly improbable, but the fact is that in the midst of the series of tragedies which had just taken place at the Court of Lautenburg the great events of the last week of July had passed almost unnoticed. We knew all about the note to Serbia, of course, but since the night in the armoury nothing had existed for us but the events I have described to you, not even the Austrian Ultimatum, or the German "Kriegzustand." Nothing, absolutely nothing. And now that one little word—War.

I looked at Hagen in stupefaction. He had exchanged his red cloak for the grey-green field tunic.

Checking her surprise and trying to look as unconcerned as possible, Aurora asked:

"War! Herr von Hagen? And against whom?"

"Russia, probably tonight, Your Highness," said the little officer. "France, tomorrow, almost certainly. The Grand Duke arrived from Berlin an hour ago, bringing with him the mobilization order for the Army Corps."

Aurora went to the window and threw it wide open. It was stiflingly hot.

"I suppose, Lieutenant, that the Grand Duke commissioned you to convey this important piece of news to me.... In that case I don't see why you needed the escort of the four hussars I see down there at the door."

Hagen blushed violently, then turned pale. "Your Highness!" he murmured.

"What?" she said, with cold dignity.

"I have another duty to perform. Will you excuse me ..."

"Come, come, Lieutenant, don't be so nervous. If you are not even capable of telling me your mission you'll never have the strength of mind to carry it out. Tell me I'm a prisoner in my own palace. That is so, isn't it?"

"Oh, Your Highness!" cried Hagen. "How could you think such a thing.... I, to accept such a ..."

"Then what is the trouble?"

The officer did not reply, but looked in my direction.

"Madam," I said, stepping forward, "please do not torture yourself thus. Really, Herr von Hagen, it's so easy to say that you have been sent to arrest me."

There was a pause.

"Is that true, sir?" said the Grand Duchess. Hagen hung his head.

"Can you explain the reason for this arrest?"

"Madam," said Hagen, recovering himself a little, "I am a soldier and can only carry out my orders without questioning them. But it is not difficult to understand. Monsieur Vignerte is French, and moreover, an officer. France is mobilizing against us. We are told that French aviators have already bombed ..."

"You are a soldier, sir, and obey the orders you receive," the Grand Duchess interrupted. "That is as it should be, but are you quite sure that you didn't suggest this particular order yourself?"

Hagen didn't answer, but the look of hatred he gave me was eloquent enough.

The Grand Duchess turned to me sharply and said:

"Go and get dressed!"

She herself put on a long dark cloak. Then she went to her bureau. I saw her rummage in it and bring out several objects which she slipped into the roomy packets of the cloak.

"Herr von Hagen," she said, coming back, "are you to take Monsieur Vignette to the citadel? At what time?"

"He must be there at ten o'clock, Your Highness."

With a smile of infinite scorn she put her hand on his shoulder.

"And so you actually thought," she said, "that I would let you lock him up?"

There was overwhelming majesty in her look, her pose, her words. I saw the officer hang his head. He trembled in every limb.

"Ludwig von Hagen," she continued, "a certain day, four years ago, I learned that an officer of the 7th Hussars had cheated at cards. It meant death and dishonour to him. The next day that officer's debts were paid, the affair was hushed up and he himself, selected by me for my orderly officer, astonished the whole garrison by his strange and rapid change of fortune. Remarks were passed to which I paid no attention. You know yourself that the sole motive of my action was my wish to rescue from infamy a brave young man, who bore a great name and in whom I believed.

"He, on the other hand," she said, pointing to me, "not only owes me nothing, but indeed suffered at first from my indifference, nay, scorn, the result of unworthy suspicions. He never showed any resentment. Quietly, secretly he has been working for me. Perhaps he himself does not know the full meaning of what he has done. But he certainly knew he was risking his life. And now the man who owes me everything has come to arrest the man to whom I owe everything!"

Tears ran down the face of the little hussar.

"What do you wish me to do?" he murmured in a tremulous, hoarse voice.

"I want you to pay the debt you owe me," replied Aurora. "The time has come and you cannot complain, for you have brought it on yourself."

"Give your orders," he said. "I will obey."

"Go downstairs and begin by sending your men away. Find some pretext which won't be awkward for you later on.

"Now go to the garage," she said, when he came back. "There are still some chauffeurs about. Make them get out the big grey with a full supply of petrol. Don't light the lamps. Bring it down below yourself. It is now twenty minutes to nine. Be there at ten to."

Aurora laid a map out on the table and studied it. "It's obviously shorter by Aix-la-Chapelle and Belgium," she murmured, "but I know the Wiesbaden-Thionville route better."

"Are you ready?" she said.

"What are you going to do?" I asked.

"Take you back to France, of course."

She added:

"I have put some money and a revolver in the pocket of your coat. You can get anywhere with those."

Aurora was just beauty itself then, my friend. If you'd only seen her at that moment you'd understand why I can't control my voice at this point.

There was a dull roar under the window. The Benz was there.

"Come," said Aurora.

At that moment Hagen came in. His air of sullen annoyance had deserted him now, I can tell you. He fell at the Grand Duchess's feet.

"You are going! You are going with him, for ever!" he murmured with a sob in his voice.

She looked at him more kindly.

"If that is your idea, Herr von Hagen, it is all the more praiseworthy of you to have obeyed. You may know, however, that I'm not going. I'm bound to this place which I loathe by the task that still lies before me. But for the moment my duty is to save him who has given up everything for me."

"Oh, thank you! thank you!" said the young man.

"You had better wait a bit before thanking me," she said. "I presume, Herr von Hagen, that you have your identity card and mobilization orders on you?"

He rose, quivering with horror.

"My mobilization orders?" he repeated, deadly pale.

"Yes," she said calmly. "Oblige me by handing them over to Monsieur Vignerte. We might be stopped between here and the frontier. Of course I know that in all probability I shall only have to mention my name to get through. But we might come across some stupid sentry. We must not lose any time. Lieutenant von Hagen will be able to get anywhere. Come. Quick!"

The officer was white as death. A terrible conflict was raging within him.

"You are now taking my honour from me, Madam!" he blurted out at length.

"I should only be taking back what I gave you myself, Herr von Hagen," said Aurora, pitilessly. "But you mustn't exaggerate. It will be your own fault if you are compromised. I ask but two things of you. First that you wait until ten o'clock to give the alarm that we have gone. Secondly, that you arrange matters so that they shall think we have taken the Aix-la-Chapelle route. If the Grand Duke is shameless enough to telegraph or telephone it must not be in our direction. Come. Good-bye. I shall be back by this time tomorrow."

She held out a hand which he bathed with his tears.

"I may count on you, friend, mayn't I?"

Choking with emotion, he nodded.

I myself was utterly overcome and went forward to offer my hand to the man who was risking everything for me at that moment. But he started back and replied with a look of unutterable hatred.

"Monsieur, I pray God that we may meet again elsewhere—and soon."

Aurora shrugged her shoulders, and I heard her murmur something about the stupidity of men. But she was already on the stairs. I followed her, but not before I had had one last look at her room with its rugs, its jewels, and its glorious, fading flowers.

"Get in," she said in a low voice.

I climbed into the great car and we started off.

As we sped over the La Meilleraie bridge the clocks of Lautenburg and in the old tower of the castle were just striking nine.

* * * * * *

The road, an endless white ribbon, sparkled softly in the light of the moon. It slipped beneath our wheels as the car whirled along at a giddy pace. And every time we turned a corner I learned how amazingly sure were the hands of the woman who was driving me.

The whole thing had happened so quickly that when I was once more in a condition to take things in we had already done quite sixty miles. Then Aurora's expression, "I shall be back by this time tomorrow," came to mind, and I realized in a flash that in a few short hours I should be separated from the Grand Duchess.

I did not rebel. The prodigious speed at which we were going lulled me into a kind of helpless torpor which soon developed a curious bliss of its own. Dark clumps of trees and funny little switchback bridges over silvery rivers fled behind us. We passed a cart laden high with hay: a few inches more to the left would have meant death. Death. I uttered that word and glanced at Aurora's set face. Her gauntleted fingers looked like thin, white bars on the steering wheel.

Suddenly my thoughts turned to the war. Was it really a fact? How should I find my country? I confess to my shame that such was the intoxication of speed, so great its power of tearing me from myself that I could not concentrate my mind on that dreadful thought. At that hour I was wholly indifferent to what the future might have in store for me.

A shaded electric lamp showed up every detail of the map, but Aurora hardly looked at it once. She knew the way by heart I remember her telling me that she had passed that way many a time when going to take the waters.

She knew exactly at what point to make a detour round the towns whose red halo emerged from the darkness to right and left, grew before our eyes, was overtaken and disappeared in the night. Three or four times she muttered: Cassel, Giessen, Wetzlar!

Cassel, Giessen, Wetzlar! What did I care?

The light from the lamp lit up a clock near the speedometer. But I could not see the time. Thought had deserted me....

Without slowing down we went through a hilly town with houses hidden among dark clumps of trees.

"Wiesbaden," murmured Aurora. "My villa," she remarked as we passed one of these houses. "It's not yet one o'clock. We have come very well."

She turned to the right where the road forked. Far away on the left the lights of a big city glowed in the night sky.

"That's Mainz," she said, "and here's the Rhine."

At top speed we crossed the sacred river by a suspension bridge. A dull roar came up from below. Here and there, where the darkness was less intense, we could see its green waters.

At the far end of the bridge we thought we heard an order. A hoarse, "Who goes there!" Then, unmistakably, the sharp sound of a shot.

"They fired at us," said Aurora. "We must be getting near the frontier. We must be a little more careful now."

I looked at the compass. We were going due west. The speedometer registered 70. For the first time I had a real shock.

Aurora saw it and smiled.

"We were going 90 between Wetzlar and Wiesbaden," was all she said.

Soon another red glow appeared in the west.

"Thionville," said Aurora. "It must be crammed with troops."

To my great surprise I observed that she made no attempt to avoid this town, as she had avoided the others. Our lamps were now lit and we were making straight for the fortress, whose walls mounted higher and higher into the sky.

The car slowed down. We passed houses, suburbs. Then came an imperious, "Who goes there!" We stopped.

A dozen soldiers surrounded us. All of them were wearing the grey-green uniform and covered helmet.

"Your papers," said the rough voice of a non-commissioned officer.

"I will show them to your officer," replied Aurora. "Please go and fetch him."

He arrived in due course. He was a kind of blonde giant, very angry at being disturbed in his sleep. When he saw we were civilians, politeness vanished from his questions.

"Lieutenant," said the Grand Duchess dryly, "I must first ask you to stop your men from breaking up my car with their rifle butts. Then perhaps you will be good enough to look at this."

So saying she flashed the lamp upon the Lautenburg arms painted on the door.

The officer started.

"Have I the honour of addressing Her Highness the Grand Duchess of Lautenburg?" he said, stiffening to attention.

"You have, lieutenant," replied Aurora.

"I must ask Your Highness to excuse me," the man said in dismay. "Back there!" he bawled to his men, thrusting back the foremost. "How can I serve Your Highness?"

"Very easily," said the Grand Duchess. "I presume General von Offenburg is still commanding at Thionville? I suspect His Excellency is not asleep on a night like this. Be so good as to take me to him. Lend me one of your men to come with us and show us the way."

The officer at once did what was required. He bowed very low, expressing his regret that his duties did not permit him to conduct us himself.

The General in command of the fortress was not at headquarters, but in the end we found him at the station with his staff. He was watching the detraining of the troops at the platforms, which were literally black with them. In the great square an enormous mass of guns projected their antediluvian silhouettes on the night. I received an impression of sheer numbers and brute force which made me shudder.

When an orderly officer had informed General von Offenburg of the Grand Duchess's presence he came forward at once. He was a fine figure of a man, in his long grey cloak with the scarlet collar. He bowed to Aurora and reminded her that he had once had the honour of dancing with her in Berlin. But with all his efforts he could barely conceal his astonishment at our presence at that hour and in such a guise.

"Don't be too much surprised, General," said Aurora, with a smile. "As soon as I heard of the great events in prospect in this quarter I felt I could not remain at Lautenburg. I wanted to see and admire our men at the frontier, and here I am, with my orderly officer Lieutenant von Hagen, of the 7th Hussars," she said, presenting me.

I saluted as stiffly and punctiliously as I possibly could.

"Then why, Your Highness," exclaimed von Offenburg, "have you come this way? There is nothing very interesting here. The 16th Corps is a rock which nothing can move. Why did you not go round by Aachen?"

"Yes," she said. "That was suggested. Round by Aix-la-Chapelle ...?"

"Hadn't you heard that the whole army is being concentrated there?" the General whispered.

"That's true," said Aurora. "But the Belgian frontier doesn't interest me. I should never have forgiven myself if I had not seen the French frontier at the very outbreak of war."

"I greet you as the intrepid colonel of the brave 7th Hussars," said von Orenburg, kissing her hand. "Can I assist you in any way?"

"Most certainly you can," said Aurora. "Do you realize your sentries arrested me off-hand just now? I ought really to ask you for an escort, but I'm afraid my Benz would be hard put to it to keep up with your dragoons. May they take me as far as the outposts, and please give me some kind of permit to save me from any more little accidents when I come back. We must hurry on. It will soon be dawn, and I want to see the first rays of sunlight on the frontier-posts."

The General had a permit brought. "There," he said, initialling it with a flourish. "You've just got time. Villerupt, in France, is a mile and a quarter from the frontier, and barely thirteen from here. You will be there in less than half an hour. But don't expect to see any French soldiers. Their Government has ordered them to withdraw two leagues from the frontier, to avoid any accident likely to precipitate war," he concluded with a coarse laugh.

Escorted by a half-troop of dragoons we made an impressive exit from Thionville. When we had covered rather more than a mile on the Audun-le-Roman road the Grand Duchess whispered in my ear:

"They are very kind, but I'm afraid we would find them a nuisance in the long run."

And she let the car out to its top speed. Behind us, in the first faint light of day, the dragoons were soon strung out, and, a moment later, out of sight on the dark road.

The chilly breeze of dawn fanned my temples. My emotions now began to overwhelm me. Indeed, at that moment I had not even a thought for her for whom I would have sacrificed everything, the woman I was about to leave for ever. I gazed before me at the little hills, which now began to emerge, one by one, out of the yielding darkness. The amazing originality of the manner of my return was forgotten, and I was possessed by another sentiment, far stronger and more poignant.

I was wholly under its influence when the car stopped so suddenly as almost to throw me on to the wind-screen. Without a word the Grand Duchess pointed to a frontier post ten paces away on the right of the road.

The spectacle of that six-foot post, one side white and black, the other blue, white and red, was extraordinarily moving.

I looked at the Grand Duchess and a great joy filled me as I saw the emotion in her set face.

It was not yet quite light. The car was now going very slowly. It was as if Aurora wanted me to notice the little night flowers which trembled in the wind on the sides of the banks.

Suddenly I caught hold of my companion's arm. The car stopped. Less than two hundred yards away, at the top of a hill above the road, a motionless horseman had just appeared, a dark silhouette against the sky.

It was a French dragoon. We could see the buff cover of his helmet and the red and white pennon on his lance. Then two more appeared, then ten, then twenty, and they came forward at a canter to meet us.

"It is your turn to do the talking this time," said Aurora, with a smile.

An officer came first. He was a tall young man, dark and rather pale. His chin-strap drew a shining line across his black moustache. He saluted us with his sabre and asked to see our permits.

"I must confess, monsieur," replied the Grand Duchess, "that I do not possess anything of the kind, for I don't suppose you will be satisfied with this which was given me by the German general in command at Thionville," she said, showing von Offenburg's permit.

The young officer assumed an expression denoting that the occasion was hardly suitable for trifling.

"Monsieur," continued Aurora, when she had satisfied herself at a glance that for the moment I was completely unable to say a word, "there are some things it would take too long to explain from a car to a horse in the middle of the road. These are the facts. I am the Grand Duchess of Lautenburg-Detmold. Monsieur Vignerte, my companion, is a French officer, a lieutenant like yourself. I don't know whether in France you have already taken the precaution of arresting Germans. But in Germany we have been arresting Frenchmen since yesterday. This gentleman was about to be arrested; I have brought him to you. That is all."

And, moved apparently by the look of amazement which had spread over the dragoon's face, she added:

"I should, perhaps, say, monsieur, that I am Russian by birth, so you need no longer doubt either myself or my immediate purpose."

The officer had dismounted. He bowed respectfully to Aurora, who had, like myself, just stepped out of the car.

"Lieutenant de Coigny, 11th Dragoons, of Longwy," he said.

I introduced myself. We shook hands.

"You have come a long way, comrade. What shall we do with you?"

"You have a spare horse to lend him?" said the Grand Duchess. "Now, if I may offer a little advice, take him at once to your civil or military authorities. He has come straight from Germany, and knows much that may be valuable to this country, where the flowers are lovely, but which is never sufficiently on its guard, I think."

As she spoke she was looking at some wild roses hanging over the edge of the bank. Lieutenant de Coigny plundered the thickest tufts and collected a pink bunch which he handed to the Grand Duchess.

"Thank you, monsieur," she said, with a charming smile to the young man, who was under the spell of her wondrous beauty. "Would you be good enough to make your horses stand aside? The road is narrow, and I must turn my car."

Then I utterly broke down.

Gone were my indifference of the night, my sudden emotion on entering France once more. They were things of the past. One thought alone obsessed me: in a quarter of an hour I should have lost her for ever.

Lieutenant de Coigny had made his men stand back. I heard the Grand Duchess say to him in her soft, tender voice:

"Excuse him, monsieur, he has just suffered greater shocks than the war will ever bring him."

And now I felt her hand on my brow.

"Courage, ami," she said, in low but firm tones. "You are going back to your own home, your own fair land, a land I love. It will need you, for the coming struggle will be terrible, much more terrible than you can imagine. But you will know many glorious emotions, horses galloping in the August sun; heaven-sent transports in which reason forsakes one, everything, indeed, which could make a woman like myself regret I am not a man.

"It will be terrible, very terrible. But over there, beyond the frontiers, other horsemen are springing into the saddle, horsemen called 'Big Heads', with astrakhan caps, curving sabres and leaden whips, who charge with their terrible cry of 'Huâ! huâ! huâ!' so that the stoutest hearts fail and the strongest arms fling away their weapons the better to flee the Cossacks of Tumene.

"Remember you have no cause for grief. And if you would have proof, think of the fate in store for her who is returning to Lautenburg without you."

"Alas!" I murmured through my tears. "Stay with us. Don't go back. Think of what may happen to you there!"

I heard her voice and it was almost a hiss.

"Child, child, I thought that after knowing me so well you would have learned a little of what hate can mean. Boose has come back. Have you really forgotten the fireplace in the armoury, the letters from the Congo, the whole treacherous mystery? Do you really think that just at the moment when I am about to unravel the secret of the crime I shall let the criminal go?"

My tears fell uncontrolled. Then suddenly a sensation of extreme relief exalted my despair, as for one second I felt the touch of her lips upon my forehead....

I started up with a terrible cry. Like one possessed I began to run after her down the road till I stumbled and fell full length in the ditch.

When I picked myself up, breathless and desperate, the car was nothing but a tiny grey speck in the east.

* * * * * *

Thanks to the horse which one of Lieutenant de Coigny's dragoons had given up to me I reached Audun-le-Roman about seven o'clock. There a car was immediately requisitioned, and I was taken to Nancy.

I had expected that mobilization would already have been ordered in France. But nothing had been done, and my mind became obsessed by the memory of the tremendous preparations I had witnessed that night, preparations which removed any lingering doubt.

We went straight to the Prefecture, and I was taken before the Prefect. I told him as fully as possible everything I had seen and heard. He listened to me with the closest attention, taking notes. When I left him he was already telephoning to Paris the information I had given him.

I wandered about in the streets of Nancy, as my train was not leaving until twelve midday.

Too harassed and excited to rest, I went into a café in the Place Stanislas. When I put my hand in my pocket to pay I drew out the note-case which Aurora had put there. I had never felt so well off as at that moment when money, once the most coveted of possessions, seemed to have lost all value for me.

I walked in a main street and stopped, all unconsciously, at a shop. I went in and bought the clothes you see me in now. I was so stupefied that I didn't even notice that for field service the blue tunic had taken the place of the old black tunic with red collar.

At midday the train started for Paris. For the first time I saw all those places that the retreat has engraved on our minds: Dormans, with its bridge that we crossed on September 2nd in the added gloom of the anniversary of Sedan; the lovely Jaulgonne road down which we chased the enemy; Château-Thierry on the Marne, with its ruined castle perched up on high, where we slept in a bed for the first time.

It was twenty minutes past five when the train drew up in Château-Thierry station. There I learned the news of the general mobilization. The wall of fire and steel which separated me from my beloved sovereign of Lautenburg had at last been raised.

The atmosphere was heavy and thunderous when I got out at the Gare de l'Est, but the great city of Paris was calm. Oh, Paris, once I had feared so much for you when this terrible moment should come; your excitability, your fits of passion, your very ardour, which might be treason's opportunity. And now the hour had come and not even assassination had shaken your quiet resolution, the assassination of the man who had boasted that he could start or stop revolution at his will.

My mobilization orders had disappeared in the fire at the castle of Lautenburg, but that didn't worry me much. I knew them by heart and decided to leave next morning to rejoin the 18th Infantry at Pau.

I put on my uniform in a hotel bedroom and then, walking through the Rue Lafayette, I made for the centre of the city.

People were much more excited than noisy. There were a good many soldiers about, already officers like myself, but all of them had on their arms mothers or wives who looked into their eyes with an indescribable expression of pride and tenderness. But I was lonely and alone on that tragic evening, even more lonely in that city than on the night when I had left it.

I hadn't as yet any notion whither I was wending my way. But I began to have some inkling when I had reached the Rue Royale with its brilliantly lit terraces swarming with people. As I passed Weber's I thought of Clotilde. "It's August. She hasn't got her white fox now. She must be wearing a light silk blouse...." Then memories of the girl filled me with loathing.

A pall of shadow was beginning to settle on the trees of the Champs-Elysées under the darkening sky. I turned to the right and chose the little alleys which remind you of a watering-place with their trees and casinos. Cars stopped with a jerk before well-lit restaurants. Commissionaires opened their doors.

I had reached the Avenue Gabriel, a dark tunnel of foliage. I walked up it slowly. A feeling of unutterable anguish invaded my whole being. Soon I saw lights in a restaurant window. On the door of that restaurant I read the word "Laurent."

I sat down opposite that door, on the bench I knew I should find there. My fingers groped over the rough surface of the back, striking here and there the round, flat heads of the big nails.

At last they stopped. They had found what they wanted. I leaned down and had no difficulty, though it was now quite dark, in deciphering the three marks, those three letters "A. A. E." which the little Tumene princess had once carved there.


"My story is told," said Vignerte.

He lapsed into silence and I respected his feelings. Then, little by little, we both felt our thoughts wandering from the tragedy he had just conjured up and concentrate on that other drama that was about to be unfolded before our eyes.

It was a quarter to six. It was not yet light, though we felt that day was at hand. The four runners, one for each section, had silently come up behind.

Six o'clock!... The hour fixed for the attack. A minute passed, a minute that seemed an eternity. Then the distant sound of a whistle reached our ears. The 22nd were leaving their trenches.

There was about three hundred yards between their trenches and the horn of the wood which our comrades were to clear. To cross a space of three hundred yards, mainly on your stomach, requires a good quarter of an hour.

The night was cold, but light clouds, already turning to burnished gold in the grey eastern sky, promised a fine day. You can't imagine what a tragic moment those minutes of breathless expectation are. And yet none of those who have come back from the dreadful experience ever regret having known it.

Suddenly a sharp shot rang out at the bottom of the valley. Then two, three.... A German post had given the alarm, but too late, judging by the time that had elapsed. Our men must have been on them.

Then to our right volleys crashed out, like a sheet of metal being ripped in two. It was the 23rd Company, whose orders were to maintain a steady fire on the Germans opposite with a view to holding them down and preventing them from helping their comrades in distress.

Now the whole hostile line replied with nervous bursts which augured well for us. Their shooting was bad and their bullets flew high above our heads. Now and then a snapped twig fell beside us, like a leaf fluttering to earth. Any one who has done any fighting in wooded country knows what I mean.

The din had lasted about five minutes when, on our right, an enormous flame shot up into the sky, illuminating all the heights opposite, and then dying out in a shower of debris. At the same moment there was the deafening roar of a terrific explosion.

"That's what we wanted," I murmured to Vignerte. "There was a mine there, and they've fired it."

On our own bit of front the firing had begun again with redoubled vigour. Then there was a sudden silence. A rocket went up from our lines.

That rocket told our artillery that the 22nd had just got safely back to its trenches and that its turn had now arrived. The barrage opened immediately.

We could now hear the invisible monsters coming from behind, describing their deadly curves above our heads. That roar gets louder and louder and yet seems so slow, so terribly slow, that you can never explain how it is you cannot see one of these birds that make such a tremendous noise.

And then comes the end of the journey in the enemy's trenches, the blue and red flame, the earth and debris flying heavenwards in a sulphur column, the ear-splitting crash of the explosion.

Vignerte and I watched the effects of the bombardment through our glasses.

All at once I heard some one calling me.

It was the runner between us and battalion headquarters. He came up, out of breath with running.

"Sir! Sir!"

"What is it?"

"The Commandant wants you at once at his headquarters."

"I'm off," I said to Vignerte. "What news have you at your end?" I asked the man. "Do you know if the raid of the 22nd succeeded?"

"Splendidly, sir. They only lost two men. They have blown up a mine, destroyed the trench and brought back nearly forty prisoners. Very good work, sir. But please come quickly. The Commandant is in a hurry."

I started at a run. There was a very decent communication trench leading to battalion headquarters, situated some few hundred yards back. There was only one place, a kind of open slope, which offered no cover. I crossed it without quickening my pace, for at that moment the German lines were silent under our bombardment, and I ran no risk.

The Commandant was standing at the door of his dug-out.

"Oh, there you are. I'm sorry to have made you run. But it is all owing to the success of the 22nd."

"What can I do, sir?"

"Look here. You're an expert in German, while I have hardly touched the beastly language since I left Saint-Cyr. We have here a prisoner of rank. I've had a shot at questioning him, but can't get a word out of him. Yet he could give us some mighty useful information. He's a major in the Engineers, and it was he who was organizing the sap we've just played Old Harry with. Coste got him, and he'll certainly get his captaincy for it."

"A senior officer who can't speak French! That's an extraordinary thing!" I said. "You know many of them pretend not to speak it."

"I do know, otherwise I shouldn't have sent for you. He won't be able to pretend he doesn't understand the excellent German in which you'll address him. There is the fellow."

I went into my Commanding Officer's dug-out, where I found the German major, guarded by the two men of the 22nd who had brought him across from the German lines. They were so proud of their achievement that they couldn't help giving me the following piece of information:

"He shot poor Labourdette with his revolver. But with Lieutenant Coste's help we got him at last."

He was a man about forty, with cold blue eyes and hard but intelligent features. He hardly replied to the salute I gave him as I entered.

I put several questions to him, but without success.

"Monsieur," he said at length, in the very best French, "as I told you, what is the good of these questions? I shall only tell you things that don't matter, such as my name, which does not interest you. As for military information, I am an officer. So are you. If you were in my place, you'd say nothing, wouldn't you? Let me do the same."

He lapsed into his obstinate, scornful silence.

"We sha'n't get anything out of him," I said to my chief. "Hadn't he anything on him, any papers, when he was taken?"

"Nothing at all," replied the Commandant helplessly.

"Didn't you find anything?" I said to the men.

"Nothing but this, sir," one of them replied, taking a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket.

"Let me see it," I said.

The fragment he handed me was written in pencil and half illegible. It was the draft of a letter. I had an electric shock the minute I began to read.

The prisoner watched me with a sly look.

I stepped up to him, beside myself.

"I know your name, now, sir!" I said.

"That is very remarkable," he replied insolently, "for the paper you have in your possession is not signed, and you are not a wizard."

"You wretch!" I burst out. "Your name is Ulrich von Boose, and you are the murderer of the Grand Duke Rudolph of Lautenburg-Detmold."

His face turned deadly pale. His hands contracted convulsively. But he had enough presence of mind to say to my chief in a quivering voice:

"I protest against this treatment, sir! Please be good enough to stop your lieutenant from insulting an enemy prisoner. It's infamous!"

"Oh, don't you bother me!" shouted my chief. "But really, lieutenant, what's all this about? What's in that paper?"

I had the greatest difficulty in controlling my feelings.

"Excuse me sir," I murmured. "I don't feel able to explain myself.... But would you be kind enough to send for Lieutenant Vignerte at once! He knows all about this man, and can tell you everything."

"All right," grumbled my chief. "What a business!"

He gave the order.

At the sound of Vignerte's name the German had turned even paler. There was rage and hatred in the look he gave me. If the two soldiers had not held him tight he would certainly have flung himself upon me and tried to snatch away the paper I was about to re-read with rather more composure.

Once more, for the last time, I tell you this: I have seen too much of your methods with others not to know what your intentions are as regards myself. I agreed to go to the war. But the war is dragging on. Every day I run the risk of never returning at all. No doubt that is exactly what you want: after the Grand Duke, after the Grand Duchess, my turn, I suppose! And then there'll be nothing to trouble your sleep.... I am not such a fool as that. If, within fifteen days, I am not withdrawn from the front and appointed to a staff post, with the rank to which I think my services have entitled me, I can promise you this—a detailed description of the whole affair will be published by friends of mine, in a large number of neutral or enemy papers, addressed to all those whose enlightenment you have most reason to fear. And I can assure you that it will be all the more credible because the documents will contain a specimen of a handwriting which you know well.

The last sentence was in a totally different handwriting from that of the rest of the letter. The latter was fine and spidery, the other big and bold. I had been able to examine them both earlier in the night. One was the handwriting of the letters written from the Cameroons by the Grand Duke Rudolph, the other that of the sketch-map I had found in the "Mittheilungen."

Everything was clear now, horribly clear. "Vignerte's going to know at last!" I thought, in a transport of joy.

Then suddenly an icy sweat broke out from my temples. What price was he going to pay for that knowledge! Fool that I was, I had forgotten that she, too....

"He mustn't! He mustn't!..." I muttered.

Too late.

"There's Vignerte," said my chief, gazing out from the door of his dug-out.

It was all over. The fatal step had been taken.

Day dawned, suffusing the earth with pink and blue tints. A thrush sang on a shattered tree.

I soon saw Vignerte in the ravine below. He was coming up slowly. I could see his tall, elegant form and, little by little, distinguish his dark, clean-cut features.

"O God!" I cried.

"Come, sir," said my chief, "have you gone mad?"

And now Vignerte was only a hundred yards away. I saw him stride out as he got to that open slope which still separated him from the Commanding Officer's dug-out.

Then, from the clear depths of infinite distance a horrible sound came out of nothing, and swelled to a great shriek. In the pallid sky an invisible mass was approaching with the noise of a train entering a station. The shriek grew louder and louder and we realized that the hellish journey was to end on us.

We saw the men skip into their holes like so many frogs.

Surprised in the very middle of the bare slope, Vignerte had stopped. Should he go on, or go back? We felt his fatal hesitation.

The shriek was now a roar of thunder.

"Vignerte!" I screamed frantically. "Lie down! For God's sake, lie down!"

I saw him for one second more. He had not moved. Drawn to his full height, and facing the approaching storm with a gentle smile of acquiescence and ecstasy, he was gazing in rapt attention towards the dawn.

Then came the crash.

A shower of stones and steel fragments fell on the roof of the dug-out into which my chief had hastily pulled me at the last moment. When the dreadful rain had ceased, we looked out, our eyes starting from our heads with horror.

At the edge of the slope an enormous black crater now yawned with some pathetic red and blue fragments on the far side.

Thus died Lieutenant Vignerte on October 31st, 1914, for love of the Grand Duchess Aurora of Lautenburg-Detmold.