"A PRINCESS IN GREEN AND TAN."

THE STORY OF A BLOOMSBURY SENSATION.

By Arthur Preston.

 

Never did my prospects seem worse or more gloomy than in the winter of 188-.

I had returned to England from a five years' sojourn in the more unsettled parts of British Columbia, after an unsuccessful pursuit of fortune in that land of gold, mountains, and timber. It was at Felixstowe—that charming watering-place, where my people then had a house—that I first came into relation with those who were afterwards to exercise such influences for good or evil on my life.

I was walking round the place renewing my acquaintance with the English life, when I was confronted with the most beautiful face I have ever seen. It belonged to a young girl of eighteen or nineteen, quietly dressed in a green walking-skirt and tan jacket, while her blue eyes looked out from under a mass of golden hair, in turn surmounted by a sailor hat.

As her eyes for a moment met mine, I was conscious of that magnetic thrill which I was told afterwards my mistress exercised on all those with whom she came in contact. She was accompanied by a lady somewhat older than herself, and whom, from her likeness, I mentally set down as being, if not her sister, at any rate her near relative. As soon as I conveniently could, I turned round and followed them, and noticed them enter a house which—as a perusal of the Felixstowe visitors' list, hastily bought and perused, informed me—was at present occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Delaine.

I was both astonished and delighted at this, as this Mrs. Delaine was a person upon whom my mother had by mutual friends been asked to call.

That very afternoon, I determined, should obtain for me at least a bowing acquaintance with her. Alas for my dreams! Our ring at the bell produced a man-servant, who stated that Mrs. Delaine was away from home, and he did not know when she would return. From then on I haunted the walks about Felixstowe, meeting my divinity over and over again, but never once could I see that she betrayed the least knowledge that these frequent momentary meetings were anything but the results of accident.

At last a day came when I no longer saw her. In vain I walked up and down the promenade and through the town. Felixstowe was full indeed, but to me it was empty, for the golden hair, the blue eyes, the tan jacket, and the green skirt no longer greeted my longing and expectant gaze.


It was in Piccadilly—that world in miniature, and the scene of so many strange occurrences—that the first act of the drama took place, of which the foregoing was merely the prelude.

I was strolling down the thoroughfare, nearly a month after the disappearance of my lady (for so I called her to myself), and thinking, as indeed I always was, of her, when my own immediate affairs and embarrassments did not fill my mind, when I met her face to face. The thing was at once so natural and at the same time so coincident with my own thoughts, that I could do little more than stare blankly after her.

It was nearly noon, and the well-dressed crowd jostled and pushed me as I stood there. Mechanically I turned to follow after her, when she was joined by the lady who had been with her at Felixstowe, and the two, hailing a hansom, were driven away rapidly, leaving me staring stupidly after the fast disappearing vehicle.

As I was retracing my steps I felt a tap on my shoulder. Turning, I perceived a tall man of about thirty-five or forty years of age, his keen grey eyes surmounted by heavy black eyebrows and lashes, while a big moustache almost hid his firm mouth, and drooped down to his heavy square chin.

"You know that lady?" he queried, more with the air of stating a fact than of asking a question.

"I know that I am not in the habit of answering lunatics, or impertinent strangers," I answered, hotly—for my temper is hasty, and the man's manner was abrupt.

"Nevertheless, you do know her," he answered, doggedly.

 A PRINCESS IN GREEN AND TAN.

I turned, leaving the man there, and walked into Sackville Street. I had not gone twenty yards, when I heard his hurrying step behind me.

"She is in danger, Mr. Darcy," he hissed into my ear.

This time I turned round, amazed at the man's knowledge of my name.

"And she needs help," he said, looking me full in the face.

"You know my name," was all I could say, stupidly.

"It is my business to know things," he said, impatiently; "but will you help her?" he added.

"Help whom, man?" I replied, testily.

"The lady who was at Felixstowe, and ten minutes ago got into a cab," he answered.

"But there were two," I said.

"Only one needs help," he replied, grimly; "the other——" He broke off abruptly. "But come to my rooms where we can talk without interruption," he added.

I was so amazed that I followed the man unquestioningly to a quiet turning off Burlington Street.

"Now," he said, when he had waved me to a chair and seated himself—"now we can talk freely."

"You ask for my help," I said, "and on behalf of some lady who is in danger. You talk in riddles, man; I——"

"Is it possible you do not know who she is?" he interrupted.

"No," I said, "I do not, nor do I know you either. All I know of the lady I can tell you in a few words," and then and there I told him of my meeting her at Felixstowe, my call at the house, her disappearance, and my recognition of her again in Piccadilly, which he himself had witnessed. "But I have never spoken to her," I concluded.

"But of the lady with her?" he interrupted eagerly, "the lady who met her in the street, and accompanied her in the hansom—was she there all the time?"

"The lady with her?" I repeated, slowly. "I hardly noticed her." And in very truth I had indeed hardly done so, having no eyes for anyone but my lady, and beyond the fact that she was pretty (as indeed she must needs be to so closely resemble my lady) I had not paid any attention to her. "There was a lady closely resembling her with her all the time," I continued, "and at one time another woman, and once a man."

"Dark, and with a scar on one cheek?" interposed my companion.

"Yes," I answered, slowly, for now he mentioned it I clearly recalled noticing a scar on the fellow's cheek.

My companion mused for a few seconds, then—

"I had better give you the whole story," he said, and commenced as follows:—

"My name is Von Bieberstein, at one time equerry to Her Serene Highness the Princess Elsa, Hereditary Princess of Schwannenwald, but I was dismissed from her service through the machinations and false representations of her enemies and mine, though God knows Her Highness has no truer servant than I.

"She is the younger of the two ladies you have seen; the elder is Her Highness's first cousin, the Grand Duchess Hedwig, also of Schwannenwald, and heir after her cousin in the direct line to the throne of Schwannenwald. She is an ambitious woman, and a fiend incarnate, and as wicked as she is beautiful. The man with the scar was her equerry, Von Zahn, and the two combined are as unscrupulous and as dangerous a couple as you could find."

 "'SHE IS IN DANGER,' HE HISSED."

"But, man," I broke in, "we are in London, and in the nineteenth century. You cannot imagine Her Highness's life to be in danger."

"No, I don't," he answered, grimly, "I know it. Do you suppose crowns are less valuable now than in the seventeenth century, or that when a throne is at stake our boasted civilisation does not peel off as easily as an old glove? It was a glimmering of this plot that cost me my place, and almost my life."

As he spoke he bared his chest, and showed me the small round white scar of a bullet wound. "Fired, if not by the Grand Duchess's finger, at least by her direction," he said, with a grim smile. "But the question is, will you help me?"

"I am a total stranger to you," I commenced, "and——"

"The affair at Eagle's Nest is not unknown even in Schwannenwald," he said, with a smile.

I started. The affair to which he alluded had happened during my third year in British Columbia, when a party of three white men (of which I was one) and a lady had been surrounded in a log cabin by hostile Indians. I was lucky enough at some little risk to escort the lady to a place of safety.

Von Bieberstein rang, and ordered his man to bring up a bottle of champagne and glasses.

"I have a health to give you," he said; "you can wait, John," he added to the man. When the glasses were filled, Von Bieberstein rose to his feet.

"To the health of Her Serene Highness the Princess Elsa," said he.

"And confusion to her enemies. May she never lack a plain English gentleman to do her bidding for the sake of his lady and her own bonny face!" I added, ecstatically.

Von Bieberstein looked at me for a moment, then—

"Spoken like the man of Eagle's Nest. Can you use a sword?" he said.

"I studied under Andretti at Milan in '84," I said, "but——"

"Let us try," he said, briefly, reaching a couple of foils from a corner.

We fought for some few minutes, when with a quick movement he disarmed me with a wrench.

"You are well enough," he said. "Nay, do not look so downfallen, man." He smiled, noticing my foolish look. "It was but a trick of the wrist, and better men than you have deemed it no shame for Von Bieberstein to disarm them. Now, listen," he continued, laying aside his foil. "To-night the Duchess Hedwig holds a council of the chief of her supporters in the house she and her sister the Princess have taken in Great Coram Square, Bloomsbury. The council will be held after the Princess Elsa has retired to her own apartments in a different wing of the house. It is there I must see her, and lay such proof of the plot before her as will persuade her to fly. You, for your part, will be an unobserved observer of the Duchess's council, for the double purpose of identifying the persons present, and of guarding me against possible interruption."

"But of the danger to the Princess," I began. "Is she not——"

"The fact of her being at liberty to-day is an indication that no immediate villainy is contemplated," broke in my companion.

"But how in the world can she be harmed here in London?" I exclaimed. "She cannot be poisoned or shot, without investigation exposing the whole dastardly plot."

"A very different medium will be employed," he replied. "I have good reason for believing that dynamite——"

"Dynamite!" I exclaimed, incredulously.

"Ay, dynamite, man!" he replied, grimly. "You have already told me we are not in the seventeenth century, and in a modern crime the perpetrators will undoubtedly use modern weapons."

"But how, man?" I commenced, by no means convinced.

"There are always the Anarchists," said my companion, "and London, thanks to the British Government, is known to be a hot-bed of them. Her Highness has several times received threatening letters, and for the rest the thing is easy. Come," he said, smiling, "you are on her side now, and she sorely needs help. Meet me in Great Coram Square to-night at ten, and bring a sword. A long cloak and a hansom will hide the incongruity of the weapon in modern London. There may be use for it, and for obvious reasons they will not use firearms."

"But——" I began, and paused, for I had a natural reluctance to confess to this comparative stranger that the state of my purse precluded the purchasing of swords and the taking of hansoms.

"Ah!" he said, smiling, and as usual divining my thoughts with great perspicacity. "Is that how it is? Well, thank God, Schwannenwald can always be sure that those that rally to her banner can at any rate go properly equipped to the fight. And a brave man is none the worse when he looks on his last florin, or takes the gold which he has earned," he said, pressing a roll of notes on me.

"But I have not earned it," I objected.

"At any rate I think I can promise that before to-morrow morning you will have done so." He smiled, and with a hearty grip of the hand he waved me to the door. "To-night at ten," he said.

After a light meal I went out to make my preparations. A light rain was falling as my hansom made its way through the crowded streets to the quieter parts of Bloomsbury. About a hundred yards from my destination I dismissed my cab, and walked to the square, which, owing to the rain and the hour, was completely deserted. It was a gloomy spot, and Von Bieberstein was nowhere to be seen. As I strolled up and down I wondered which house was our destination. A light touch on the arm recalled me, and turning I saw Von Bieberstein.

"I have a carriage at the corner waiting," he said, "and an hour, if all goes well, should see the Princess on her way to safety. That is the house yonder," he said, pointing to a gloomy-looking house on the opposite side of the square, standing between two others whose boards proclaimed them to be let. The house might have been as deserted as its fellows had it not been for a faint light which gleamed through the glass at the top of the front door. The rest of the house was in darkness.

"The apartments in use are at the back of the house," said Von Bieberstein at my elbow.

"How are we to get in?" I whispered.

"I have arranged all that," he said, softly. "One of Her Highness's women has left a basement window open. We shall make our way down the area, enter the window, and ascend the back stairs till we stand inside that front door. You will then make your way up the main staircase till you come to a passage; proceeding along this, you will come to a door on the right-hand side. Enter this, and you will see what you have to do.

"If in an hour you hear no alarm, make your way out as you came; but if you are attacked, guard the door you entered by until I can come to you or send assistance. There," he said, with a sigh, for he was no great lover of long speeches, "that is all, and should anything happen to us—well, good-bye, and remember Eagle's Nest"—this with a smile. He gave me a hearty grip of the hand, and we made our way towards the house.

Every thing came about as Von Bieberstein had said. Leaving our cloaks in the area, and with naked swords in our hands, we entered the window, and in a few minutes stood inside the door, the exterior of which I had seen from the square. A confused murmur came from above us, and a dim light hung from a chain above our heads. Von Bieberstein pointed with his sword to the staircase before us, and with a nod I made my way towards it, holding my sword tightly in my hand. It was thickly carpeted, and my ascent was made without noise, and I soon found myself in the passage mentioned.

The voices grew more distinct as I proceeded, until at last, when I reached the door on the right, I could hear a word here and there. The door itself was ajar, but no glimmer of light made its way out, so with my heart in my mouth I quietly pushed it open and entered. I found myself in a long narrow room with one window heavily curtained at one end, but my attention was riveted to what I saw immediately before me. Two heavy curtains, closely drawn together with here and there a bright chink of light penetrating where they met, divided the room I was in from a larger one.

Cautiously advancing towards these, I managed by applying my eye to one of the chinks to see into the room. Round a table, brilliantly lighted by a cluster of electric lights immediately above it, were seated half a dozen men in court dress and wearing swords; at the head of the table and on a seat slightly higher than the others was seated a lady, whom I at once recognised as the companion of my lady of Felixstowe. She was in evening dress, and a coronet of diamonds surrounded her head. She wore several sparkling orders, prominent among which I recognised the White Eagle of the reigning house of Schwannenwald. I looked through my chink long and curiously at her.

 "'TO THE HEALTH OF HER SERENE HIGHNESS,' SAID HE."

Standing beside her chair was the equerry Von Zahn, who at that moment was speaking.

"I think we are all agreed, gentlemen," he was saying, "that in the troublous times that must succeed the lamented demise of His present Majesty, the throne of Schwannenwald will have need of a clear head and a firm ruler. Beauty is of course to be respected, but the two do not always go together. When they are united"—and here he bowed with respect to the Duchess—"I for my part see no reason to look further."

His words seemed to have the assent of the men at the table, with the exception of one man who seemed about to speak. But the equerry, evidently divining this, went on quickly.

"Her Serene Highness," he said, "who has already deigned to give us many tokens that our humble counsels are not altogether unappreciated by her, has chosen to-night for a final attestation of this, and proposes to confer on the gentlemen here present the Royal Order of the Garter of Schwannenwald. Allow me, gentlemen, to be the first to congratulate you on this honour."

With this, he stepped to a side table and returned with a jeweller's box and a small velvet cushion, the former of which he handed to the Duchess. The Duchess placed her hand in the box and laid one of the glittering orders on the cushion, which the equerry immediately bore round to the first recipient, who, rising, fell on his knee at the Duchess's chair, murmuring his thanks and devotion as he kissed her hand. The same thing happened until it came to the turn of the man who had been inclined to speak at the first. Then I noticed a shade cross the Duchess's face, and—

"How is this, sir?" she cried angrily to the equerry. "Is Count Heindrich to receive no order, or is this some ill-timed pleasantry on your part?" and she held up the empty box.

"Your Highness misjudges me," answered the equerry; "the mistake is evidently a stupid one of the jeweller's, and if I have your Highness's permission, and that of Count Heindrich,"—and he glanced towards that gentleman, who was now scowling freely—"I will to-morrow——"

"Nay, if that be all," broke in the Duchess, gaily, "I think I can rectify it, at any rate for the time," and she rose from her seat and disappeared behind a large screen. A moment later she reappeared, holding something in her hand.

"After all, it is the giver, not the gift," she said, advancing with a blush to Count Heindrich, "and 'twas how the order originated," and she handed the pretty bauble to him. It was a dainty notion, cleverly conceived and cleverly carried out, and I could see from the flush that mantled the heavy face of the man that he was her slave from that time.

This incident had hardly terminated, when there was a knock on a door of the room situated beyond the council table and immediately opposite where I stood, and the equerry hastily went out, closing the door behind him. He re-entered almost immediately, bearing a small scrap of paper, twisted in the form of a note, which he handed to the Duchess, who opened and read it.

"Gentlemen," she said, "I am compelled to break up the meeting, and to ask you to retire at once, and by the usual exit."

As soon as their footsteps had died away, the Duchess rose to her feet, and went slowly towards the wall. As she did so, the electric light in her room was suddenly extinguished, while mine became a blaze of light, and at the same time the heavy curtains dividing the rooms rolled wide apart.

The Duchess regarded me for a minute with a quiet smile, then—

"Good evening, Mr. Darcy," she said; "our poor houses seem to have an attraction for you; but may I venture to point out that private houses in Bloomsbury are not such public property as the walks at Felixstowe. Or perhaps," she went on, before I could open my mouth, "another trusty sword has come to range itself under my banner," and she pointed at my weapon.

I shook my head impatiently. "Your Highness knows well enough why I am here," I said, sternly.

"But that is just what Her Highness does not know," she said, petulantly. "Can it be possible you are on the other side—on Baby-face's side?"

"I am on the side where an English gentleman ought to be," I answered, "on the side of justice against injustice, of trust against black deceit, and of innocence against infamy."

"For one who does not know her, you sum up my pretty cousin's virtues very well indeed," she cried. "That is just what she is: trustful and innocent. Ten thousand curses on her doll's face! Fancy that baby on the throne of Schwannenwald in such times as are coming. But she shall never have it."

At that instant the clash of steel upon steel rang through the house. The Duchess sprang away from me as though I had pricked her with my sword.

"Heindrich! Von Zahn!" she called, shrilly, but only the Count rushed into the room. "That man must not escape," she cried, as she ran quickly past him, and out of the door beyond.

But I had no intention of attempting to escape. Now, if at all, was the time arrived when I was to earn that roll of notes which Von Bieberstein had forced on me that morning. I had taken up my position at the door by which I had entered, and waited sword in hand. Nor had I long to wait. With an oath the Count sprang towards me, and as our swords touched I knew I had to deal with an ugly customer.

 THE DUCHESS HELD A SECRET MEETING TO SECURE THE THRONE FOR HERSELF.

For some few minutes we fought in silence, and indeed it was all I could do to guard myself from the furious lunges of the Count, and before we had been five minutes at the game I knew the man was my master in fence, and that if I could withstand him for as long again it would be as much as I could do. At the same instant that I recognised this fact, I heard Von Bieberstein's voice below.

"Darcy! Darcy!" it cried, "come on, man."

But whether he called for aid or to warn me I had no means of telling, nor did I dare take my eyes off the Count for a second.

"I am here!" I shouted, as loud as I could, but indeed it was a poor shout at best, as I was well-nigh winded.

At that moment, and by the same trick of fence that Von Bieberstein had used that morning, the Count disarmed me, and my weapon flew jangling against the wall of the room. I heard a hurrying step, a revolver was fired, so close to my ear that it well-nigh deafened me, and the Count, his arm drawn back for the lunge that was to finish me, fell headlong towards me.

"Run, man, for your life," I heard Von Bieberstein's voice say, "we are safer on a volcano than here," and he started off down the passage. I raced after him: down the staircase I tore, and through the open door. I heard a low roar behind me, a sheet of red flame appeared before my eyes, and I remembered no more.

It seems that, after I had left him in the house in Great Coram Square, he had made his way to the Princess Elsa's apartments, and after some difficulty had persuaded her to listen to him. She was on the point of accompanying him from the house, when Von Zahn, who may or may not have suspected something, had come upon and immediately attacked him. He was, however, no match for his antagonist, and Von Bieberstein had, after two minutes, passed his sword through his body. It was the clash of their swords that had alarmed the Duchess when she was with me.

Von Bieberstein, after hastily conducting the Princess to the awaiting carriage, had rushed back to the house for me, arriving in the nick of time. As he had smelt burning on his second entry into the house, and guessed that the fuse connected with the dynamite had been lighted, his bravery in coming to my assistance can better be imagined than described. It was a small portion of falling masonry from the front of the house that had knocked me senseless, and indeed nearly killed me.

The Princess returned safely to Schwannenwald, but when I had nearly recovered my health and strength, Von Bieberstein announced she was on her way back to London again, her father having died, and had taken a suite of apartments at L——'s Hotel, and there we also took up our abode.

But it was not until the day following her arrival that Von Bieberstein announced to me that Her Highness awaited my attendance on her.

She was standing by the open window when I went in (for it was late in June), and she turned to me with a smile. "Your face is not altogether unfamiliar to me, Mr. Darcy," she said, "but I never thought I should be under such obligations to the owner."

 "'I AM YOUR HIGHNESS'S MOST OBEDIENT SERVANT,' I SAID."

"I am always your Highness's most obedient servant," I said, sinking on my knee.

"Nay," she returned, raising me, "if that were so, we should have to put you in livery, and the most I could do would be to let you choose your own."

"I should choose green and tan," I said, enthusiastically.

"That would be rather bizarre for a man, would it not?" she smiled.

"I venture to think otherwise, your Highness," I rejoined.

"Nevertheless, I should not like it," she said.

"Gold is a pretty colour," said I, looking at her hair, "or blue," I added, looking at her eyes.

A blush, a frown, a smile, chased one another across her face, but the smile remained.

"I am afraid you are as foolish as you are brave, Mr. Darcy," she said; "but I shall need an extra equerry, and if you would care to enter my service permanently, the place is at your disposal."

I fell again on my knee, mumbling my acknowledgments, for indeed I had not dared to look for so much.

There was a knock at the door, and Von Bieberstein entered.

"I have offered Mr. Darcy the position of equerry in my service," began the Princess, "and he has consented to fill it. Will you see that the necessary uniforms——"

"Of green and tan," I said, softly.

"What?" ejaculated Von Bieberstein.

"I ought perhaps to have said blue and gold," I answered, as I bowed my way from the room.

Von Bieberstein looked after me anxiously, but there was a smile on the Princess's face.

Such was the way in which I became equerry to a Princess in Green and Tan.