Chapter VIII

Edgar Rice Burroughs

AS Macklin Donovan entered the Thorn library a few moments later with Goertz, Nariva Saranov, and his father, he spoke pleasantly to the Glassocks and the Thorns. Percy Thorn returned his greeting cordially; Miss Euphonia, crushed and weeping, was too buried in her own grief to notice anyone. Genevive Glassock nodded indifferently and looked in another direction, while Mrs. Peabody Glassock, looking directly through him, failed apparently to perceive either him or his salutation; unless a slightly increased elevation of her patrician chin denoted aught to the contrary.

“It is strange,” she whispered later to her daughter, “that the Thorns should have tolerated such people; but then poor Mason could not have known. It is Percy’s fault—he must have gotten it from his mother; her grandfather, you know, had nothing—absolutely nothing. Ah, blood will tell—always! One can see it in that Donovan person—common, very common.”

She was interrupted by Lieutenant Donovan’s gruff voice. “Now, Goertz,” he was saying, “if you’ve got anything to say I want to tell you first that it may be used against you.”

“I understand,” replied the butler. “In the first place, Lieutenant Donovan, it may help you to understand matters better from the first if I tell you that this young lady,” he indicated Nariva Saranov with a respectful inclination of the head, “is not the daughter of Saranov. She is the Princess Nariva, daughter of Prince Michael Semepovski, whom, doubtless, you will recall.”

Terrance Donovan’s face betrayed the astonishment the statement induced.

“As you know, the Crown Prince Alexander of Assuria was brought to America in infancy to preserve him from the wrath of the revolutionists, who assassinated the balance of the imperial family the day following his removal from the palace. Only Prince Semepovski and the emperor’s valet, Paul Drovoff, beside yourself and your wife, held the secret of the whereabouts of the Crown Prince.

“Drovoff joined the revolutionists, but he kept the secret of the Prince until recently, using his knowledge to extort money from Prince Semepovski, the head of the monarchist party. For the past three years he has been the infamous power behind the infamous government that has reduced Assuria to bankruptcy and starvation. Recently the power of the monarchist party has increased tremendously, until it now constitutes the hope of Assuria and the only menace to the criminal coterie that has for so long held the fate of the country in their bloodstained hands.

The hope of the monarchists lay in the young Crown Prince, though only a few knew that he still lived, and only one, Prince Michael Semepovski, knew where and under what name and disguise. But Drovoff knew, too, and we have been watching him closely. For that purpose the Princess Nariva and I gained access to the councils of Drovoff and his fellows. We learned that Drovoff had conceived a great ambition and to further it he brought together the malcontents from all parties and formed them into the so-called Republican Party. A coup-d’etat was planned for next month, when the present government was to be overthrown and a republic proclaimed with Drovoff provisional president. The next step was to be a dictatorship, following which Drovoff was to seize all the reins of government, announce an empire and crown himself Emperor of Assuria.

“There was every possibility for the success of his bold play. The greatest obstacle lay in the existence of a rightful heir to the throne—the Crown Prince would constitute an ever-present menace to his power. Drovoff, therefore, determined to search out the young Prince Alexander and kill him; but Drovoff was clever. Really, he trusted no one, and made no confidants. Until tonight not even we who were closest to him realized his true intentions. His party consisted of many factions all of which must be appeased. He claimed, therefore, that he was coming to America to find the Crown Prince and to prevail upon him to return to Assuria as the first president of the new republic, thus winning the confidence of both the lukewarm monarchists who had joined his forces and the out-and-out republicans as well.

“The Princess Nariva and I were sent by the true monarchists to watch him, for Prince Semepovski, naturally, feared the man’s every motive. We had the greatest difficulty in locating Prince Alexander, due to the fact that his present calling is such that he was forced to assume an identity different from that which we were told would reveal him to us. None of us knew him by sight—not even Drovoff; while the Prince himself is ignorant of his true identity.

“We have searched for months. Tonight we found him. Drovoff got the first clue yesterday morning, but said nothing to us. Saranov clinched it a few minutes after Mr. Thorn was murdered, as did I, though I think Drovoff may have told Saranov earlier in the night—that, I do not know.

“Lieutenant Donovan, I do not need to tell you who the Crown Prince is, nor the gratitude that every true Assurian owes you for your faithful service to the Empire and the dynasty. I should like to be the first to salute my future emperor, but there is one who better deserves that honor.” Once again he turned and bowed to the Princess Nariva. “As her father had given his fortune, so she had dedicated her life and risked it many times for the sake of the Imperial House of Assuria.”

The Princess Nariva smiled and inclined her head toward Goertz, then she turned to Macklin Donovan, and, curtsying low before him, took his hand in hers and raised it to her lips. “Sire, I salute you!” she said.

Donovan grasped her arm and raised her to her feet. His face was flushed with embarrassment. He drew her close to him and threw an arm about her waist, as he turned toward Goertz.

“What is the meaning of all this idiocy?” he demanded.

“It is the truth, your majesty,” replied Goertz; “Lieutenant Donovan can assure you of all that.”

“I think you’re all gone crazy,” snapped Macklin Donovan, “and anyway all this has nothing to do with the business that interests me now—who murdered Mason B. Thorn, and why? There is a great deal more to be explained, Goertz, too. I want the history of the past few hours—not the ancient history of Assuria.”

“Very well, Majesty.”

“Cut the ‘Majesty’!”

“Yes, Maj—yes, sir!” assented Goertz with a smile. “Yesterday morning you were followed to and from Lieutenant Donovan’s home. That was evidently Drovoff’s first direct clue as to your identity. He thought you a spy employed by the monarchists. When he found who you really were he told us that he had discovered that you were about to expose us to the United States Government. Of course such a step would have effectively ruined all the plans of the Republic. He said you must be killed. Princess Nariva and I tried to warn you, though we had no idea who you really were. Saranov forged the note that was slipped under your door, and that was to lure you to your death. Poor Mr. Thorn chanced to pass through the hall at the instant you were expected and the bullet that was intended for you killed him. It was fired by Drovoff from a sliding panel in the wall of the Princess’ closet. Come up stairs and I will show you.”

He led the way to the second floor and into the room occupied by the Princess.

“This closet,” and he stepped into it, “is connected with both Saranov’s closet and Saranov’s room by panels similar to the one I showed you in—ah—Mr. Donovan’s closet.” He smiled as he pronounced the name. “There is also a similar connection between Saranov’s closet and the house next door, thus giving entrance to that house from all three rooms on this side of the hall.

“Now look here,” and he raised a small panel in one end of the closet, revealing a breast-high aperture a few inches square that opened into the hallway opposite the head of the stairs leading to the library. “Drovoff shot Mr. Thorn from here. He entered through Saranov’s closet. The Princess, realizing that you were to be shot, hastily printed a note of warning, passed back of Drovoff, through Saranov’s closet to the house next door and thence to your closet, in which there is a small look-out panel similar to this. When you went to your dressing room, she entered the outer room and placed the note on your table where you discovered it.

“After she left your room to return to her own she heard the shot and thought it was you who had been killed. She screamed, and though she was in the next house you were able to hear her scream distinctly because she chanced to be opposite an open window in the light-and-air shaft which opens between the two houses.

“Saranov, too, thought that you had been killed. Possibly he showed surprise when he discovered that it was Mr. Thorn whom Drovoff had murdered by mistake, for he certainly must have been surprised and shocked too, since Mr. Thorn was to have financed the stroke that they expected would result in giving Assuria a new government.”

“What did my father have to do with it?” demanded Percy Thorn.

“Your father was very much deceived. He thought that he was aiding mankind with his money, but he was only playing into the hands of unscrupulous tricksters. I do not know all that they told him, but you may be sure that little or none of it was truth.”

“Go on with the story of what happened here this night,” directed Terrance Donovan.

“Well, the Princess had difficulty getting back to her room without being observed by Drovoff, and she only did reach it just as you were about to have the door broken in. She was sure you had been killed, Mr. Donovan, and she told me that she almost betrayed herself when she discovered you alive.

“After you all went to the library she returned to the house next door to watch Drovoff and the others. It was in the library that I at last realized your true identity, for I knew that the reputed son of Lieutenant Donovan was in reality Crown Prince Alexander of Assuria. I immediately hastened to the house next door and acquainted the Princess with the facts. She had just learned something else from Petroff, one of Drovoff’s tools. Immediately after Mr. Thorn had been killed Saranov had gone to his room as had most of the others, and from there he had entered Mr. Donovan’s room from the house next door and hidden Mr. Donovan’s pistol beneath the mattress. The Princess barely had time to reach the room and remove the weapon before the police searched the room. From then on she and I had to watch you, and Saranov, and Drovoff almost constantly to prevent them from finding a way to kill you.

“At last we determined that we must tell you of your danger, but when the Princess attempted to do so in the hallway Saranov discovered her and interfered. From then on he was suspicious, and we had difficulty in even getting the little notes of warning to you.

“Saranov attempted to reach your room and stab you to death with a dagger belonging to the Princess. I tried to shoot him from an upper window, but succeeded only in hitting the dagger and knocking it from his hand. Then, a few minutes later, the Princess discovered that Saranov was planning to enter your closet and shoot you from the small panel. Distracted, she knew not what to do. It was then that she shot Saranov from his closet as he was about to enter it on his way to your closet.

“To shield herself she ran to Drovoff and told him that one of the police had killed Saranov. As there were papers on his body that Drovoff did not want to fall into the hands of the police he sent Kubosk and Salitch to carry Saranov’s body into the house next door. When they had done so it was discovered that Saranov was only stunned by a scalp wound, and he soon recovered consciousness.

“At the same time that Saranov was shot Drovoff was in your closet waiting for Saranov. He heard the shot, feared interference, and fired at you through the panel in your closet door. He did not wait to note the effect of this shot, but ran for the safety of the adjoining house.

“The last time we warned you, Saranov was on his way again to get you, and the Princess had to drop the note through one of the listening holes from the dark-closet on the third floor through the ceiling of your room. At the same time I made my way to Saranov’s room, determined at last that I must tell you face to face of your great danger. It was then that you caught me, sir.”

“And I’d like to know how you disappeared so easily,” said Donovan.

“Through a panel in the dark-closet on the third floor, sir—it is very easy, if you know this house.”

“I’d like to know who had all these secret panels and things put into this house,” said Percy Thorn.

“Your father did, Mr. Thorn,” replied the butler. “Like any other man, he had a mania for secretiveness. He also craved romance and adventure. Most of his intrigues were entirely harmless, but he chose to work under the greatest semblance of mystery. Petroff and Kubosk were skilled cabinet-makers. It was they who did the actual work.”

“Go on with what happened in the house,” said Macklin.

“There is not much more to tell that you do not already know. You nearly killed Princess Nariva when you fired at the light shining from your closet. She had been hiding there, expecting either Saranov or Drovoff, or both, to come again in search of you. She dimly discerned someone on the balcony and turned the light upon them—it was Saranov, as you know. The light frightened him away.

“Then she turned the light on you to make sure that it was you and not Drovoff. When you fired at her you missed her head by scarce an inch and she left the closet, fearing you might fire again. She had already removed the key from the outside lock by the simple expedient of reaching through the small aperture in the door—the same one through which Drovoff fired, and that she used to shine the flashlight on Saranov and you.

“When you followed Saranov into the house next door it was I who dragged you into the closet and then hustled you to your own room in the Thorn house. You had a narrow escape that time, sir.

“I guess that is all, Lieutenant,” Goertz concluded. “I have tried to cover every point; and now won’t you explain to—an—er, his majesty who he really is?”

“Wait a moment,” said Terrance Donovan. “Not so fast. A week ago I could have told him, for I thought I knew. Now, I’m damned if I know. We got a letter from Prince Michael then. It told me something about his fears of a plot to assassinate Mackie, and for us to watch him very close as the time was almost ripe for him to return to Assuria.

“When I read the letter to my wife she fainted, and when she came out of the faint she suffered a stroke. She has only rallied partially a couple of times since, and then she told me something that I don’t know whether to believe or not, when the condition of her mind is taken into consideration. She kept cryin’: ‘I can’t let him go—my little Mackie, my little Mackie!’ And then, just in broken bits, she told me that he is our son—that it was the Crown Prince who died on the ship comin’ over; an’ I always thought that it was our own boy that died.”

Goertz appeared dumbfounded. “We must get the truth at any cost, sir,” he said.

“Who are you?” demanded Macklin.

“He is Count Macansk,” said the princess. “He was a lieutenant in the Guards at the time of the revolution, and very loyal always to the imperial family.”

“Can we not go to your wife at once and explain the necessity of knowing the truth?” insisted Goertz. “The fate of Assuria hangs in the balance—the happiness and prosperity of countless millions of people.”

Lieutenant Donovan hesitated. “She is close to death’s door,” he said.

“But your promise to the emperor!” Goertz reminded him.

“Very well, we will go,” the lieutenant said, “but whether we shall question my wife or not depends upon the decision of the doctor.”

It was already daylight when they entered the taxis that had been summoned to take Terrance Donovan, Count Macansk, Princess Nariva and Macklin to the bedside of Mrs. Donovan. The police lieutenant and the count occupied one of the cabs, Nariva and Macklin the other. As they drove off Mrs. Peabody Glassock turned to Percy Thorn with a sickly smile. “And to think,” she said, “that you have been entertaining the future Emperor of Assuria without suspicioning his true identity! But really, didn’t you notice, Percy, his distinguished and majestic mien? Quite noticeable and very impressive.”

In the second cab Macklin Donovan and the Princess Nariva sat in silence that was presently broken by the man.

“Before I knew that you were a princess I told you that I loved you,” he said.

“Before I knew that you were an emperor I told you that I loved you,” she replied; “but now we must forget all that. You see how impossible it is.”

“If I am an emperor nothing should be impossible. If I am only Mackie Donovan, the son of an Irish policeman, though, that will make the difference, for how could such aspire to the hand of a princess?”

“I pray to God that you are only Mackie Donovan, dear,” she whispered, “for then I can show you how easy it is to win the hand of a princess.”

He took her in his arms. “Emperor or Mick,” he said, “I’m going to marry you.”

Beware! - Contents

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