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The King's Jackal Part 10

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"Or on how we die," Kalonay added. "I am glad to hear you speak so.

If you wish, I shall attach you to the person of the Crown Prince. You shall be on the staff with the rank of Colonel."

Gordon made a low and sweeping bow.

"Rise, Sir Archibald Gordon," he said. "I thank you," he added. "We shall strive to please."

Miss Carson shook her head at him, and sighed in protest.

"Will you always take everything as a joke, Archie?" she said.

"My dear Patty," he answered, "the situation is much too serious to take in any other way."

They moved to the door, and there the priest and Mrs. Carson joined them; but on the threshold Kalonay stopped and looked for the first time since he had addressed him at the King.

He regarded him for some seconds sternly in silence, and then pointed, with his free hand, at the crown of Messina, which still rested on the table at the King's elbow. "Colonel Gordon," he said, in a tone of a.s.sured authority, "I give the crown of Messina into your keeping. You will convey it, with all proper regard for its dignity, safely on board the yacht, and then bring it at once to me."

When he had finished speaking the Prince turned and, without looking at the King, pa.s.sed on with the others across the terrace and disappeared in the direction of the sh.o.r.e, where the launch lay waiting.

Gordon crossed the room and picked up the crown from the table, lifting it with both hands, the King and Barrat watching him in silence as he did so. He hesitated, and held it for a moment, regarding it with much the same expression of awe and amus.e.m.e.nt that a man shows when he is permitted to hold a strange baby in his arms. Turning, he saw the sinister eyes of the King and of Barrat fastened upon him, and he smiled awkwardly, and in some embarra.s.sment turned the crown about in his hands, so that the jewels in its circle gleamed dully in the dim light of the room. Gordon raised the crown and balanced it on his finger-tips, regarding it severely and shaking his head.

"There are very few of these left in the world now, your Majesty," he said, cheerfully, "and the number is getting smaller every year. We have none at all in my country, and I should think--seeing they are so few--that those who have them would take better care of them, and try to keep them untarnished, and brushed up, and clean." He turned his head and looked inquiringly at the King, but Louis made no sign that he heard him.

"I have no desire, you understand me," continued Gordon, unabashed, "to take advantage of a man when he is down, but the temptation to say 'I told you so' seems almost impossible to resist. What?" he asked--"I beg your pardon, I thought you spoke." But the King continued scornfully silent, and only a contemptuous snort from Barrat expressed his feelings.

Gordon placed the crown carefully under his arm, and then removed it quickly, with a guilty look of dismay at its former owner, and let it swing from his hand; but this fas.h.i.+on of carrying it seemed also lacking in respect, so he held it up again with both hands and glanced at the King in some perplexity.

"There ought to be a sofa-cus.h.i.+on to go with this, or something to carry it on," he said, in a grieved tone. "You see, I am new at this sort of thing. Perhaps your Majesty would kindly give me some expert information. How do you generally carry it?"

The King's eyes snapped open and shut again.

"On my head," he said, grimly.

Gordon laughed in great relief.

"Now, do you know, I like that," he cried. "That shows spirit. I am glad to see you take it so cheerfully. Well, I must be going, sir," he added, nodding, and moving toward the door. "Don't be discouraged. As someone says, 'It's always morning somewhere,' and in my country there's just as good men out of office as there are in it. Good-night."

While the sound of Gordon's footsteps died away across the marble terrace, the King and Barrat remained motionless and silent. The darkness in the room deepened and the silence seemed to deepen with it; and still they remained immovable, two shadowy figures in the deserted apartment where the denunciations of those who had abandoned them still seemed to hang and echo in the darkness. What thoughts pa.s.sed through their minds or for how long a time they might still have sat in bitter contemplation can only be guessed, for they were surprised by the sharp rattle of a lock, the two great doors of the adjoining room were thrown wide open, and a broad and brilliant light flooded the apartment.

Niccolas, the King's majordomo, stood between the doors, a black silhouette against the glare of many candles.

"His Majesty is served!" he said.

The King lifted his head sharply, as though he found some lurking mockery in the words, or some fresh affront; but in the obsequious bow of his majordomo there was no mockery, and the table beyond glistened with silver, while a pungent and convincing odor of rich food was wafted insidiously through the open doors.

The King rose with a gentle sigh, and nodded to his companion.

"Come, Barrat," he said, taking the baron's arm in his. "The rascals have robbed us of our throne, but, thank G.o.d, they have had the grace to leave me my appet.i.te."

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