The Lad and the Lion

Chapter Eleven

Edgar Rice Burroughs

THE KING sat scowling at the crown prince; but that was nothing unusual, as the King always scowled, only he scowled most at Ferdinand.

“You are twenty-one,” he said. “It is time you were marrying. I have arranged for you to go to her father’s capital and ask for the hand of the Princess Maria.”

“I do not want to marry yet,” said Ferdinand. “I do not want to marry Maria at all. She has a long face and buck teeth. I can never decide whether she looks more like a horse or a rabbit.”

“It makes no difference what you want or what she looks like,” snapped Otto; “you are going to marry her. I command it. You still have the little Dutch girl —”

“Who says that?” demanded Ferdinand. “It’s a lie.”

King Otto sneered. “You were not bright enough to fool Sarnya,” he said. “He can tell you every time you have met the girl and where.”

“Damn Sarnya!” snapped Ferdinand. “When I am king, I’ll —”

“When you are king, if you ever are, you’ll do well to make your peace with Sarnya and do what he tells you to do, like a good boy. He is all that stands between the throne and revolution—all that stands between us and The Terrorists—and Death. I don’t like him myself—he shows too little respect for my position—but I know when I am well off.”

“It is too bad that that man Bulvik was such a poor shot,” said Ferdinand.

“If he had been a better shot it might have been our turn next,” said the King, “and you wouldn’t have had to marry the Princess Maria. The arrangements have all been made for you to visit her father the first of the month. You will have a good time, and you can thank Bulvik’s poor aim.”

.     .     .     .     .

Hans de Groot had graduated from The Royal Military Academy, and was now a second lieutenant of cavalry. His regiment was stationed along the frontier, strung out in isolated posts with only a few men and an officer to a post. Their duties consisted mostly of preventing contraband goods and political undesirables from crossing the border. The assignment was monotonous; Hans found it hateful. He wished that he might be stationed in the capital. He often mentioned this in his letters home to his father and mother. He never wrote to Hilda nor mentioned her in any of his letters. Sometimes his mother said Hilda was well and sent her love, but his father never mentioned Hilda either.

Martin de Groot had a nursery on the outskirts of the city. He was far more prosperous than when he had been working as head gardener for the King. When people saw Hilda come home for a visit with her mother, as she occasionally did when her father was away, they would have thought Martin de Groot must be making a great deal of money; for Hilda rode in a beautiful English car with a chauffeur and footman. She wore expensive clothes, and in the winter time her furs were the envy of the capital.

The neat little cottage where Martin and his wife lived was too small and too far from the center of the capital to suit Hilda; so, for these and other reasons, she lived in an expensive apartment a few blocks from the palace. One day, when Ferdinand dropped in for cocktails, Hilda chanced to be alone. She had come in just ahead of him and still had on her hat and wraps. Ferdinand asked her where she had been.

“I have been visiting Mother,” she said. “I saw a letter from Hans. He does not like it on the frontier. He said he wished he could be transferred to another regiment—one stationed here in the capital. He would like to be near Mother and Father; and they would like to have him, for they are very much alone now. You will do that for me, dear, won’t you?”

“Hans does not like me very well,” said Ferdinand. “Do you think it would be safe to have him here? I had him sent to the frontier because I thought it would be safer for both of us.”

“Oh, Hans is a man now,” said Hilda. “He will look at things differently, and when I tell him that we are going to be married as soon as you are king everything will be all right.”

Ferdinand looked very uncomfortable. He lit a cigarette and threw it away; then he drank a cocktail at a single gulp and lighted another cigarette.

“I don’t know that everything is going to be all right,” he said. “I have some bad news.”

“Bad news? What is it?” demanded Hilda.

“The King wants me to marry.” “Whom?”

“The Princess Marla.”

“I don’t believe he wants you to marry her,” sobbed Hilda. “You love her. You are tired of me.”

“Love that horse-faced scarecrow! Don’t be silly. I don’t love anyone but you. I never have and never shall,” and that was the truth. It was one of the few decent things about Ferdinand.

“Then if you loved me, you’d marry me—you wouldn’t marry her.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Hilda! Can’t you understand that I have nothing to do with it? The King has commanded that I marry her. As soon as I’m king, I’ll divorce her and marry you. Nobody can stop me!’

“I won’t have you; I won’t ever see you again, if you marry her,” sobbed Hilda. “You could do something about it if you cared.”

Do something about it! Ferdinand sat staring at the carpet, his eyes wide as though he were frightened, his fingers twitching. Do something about it!

.     .     .     .     .

“It is quite difficult getting here or anywhere else unobserved,” said Carlyn. “Sarnya’s people are everywhere.

“You probably imagine that,” suggested Andresy, “because you have a guilty conscience.”

“Perhaps,” agreed Carlyn. “However, I feel that we should not attempt it again until —”

“Yes, you are right. However, I did want to see you. There are several things we should discuss. How are you progressing?”

“Exceptionally well; but first tell me about your trip to Switzerland. Did you accomplish anything?”

“Very little,” replied Andresy. “Lomsk is not trustworthy. He is also a coward; and he is actuated by his desire to satisfy his greed and his vanity, both of which are inordinate. He would do anything for money. He would betray us or Ferdinand as quickly as he would Otto, if the price were right. But to be General Count Lomsk, Chief of Staff, he would sell his soul; and not for any constructive purpose, either—just to wear the epaulets and strut before the ladies. He might have done something for us in Switzerland by consolidating the expatriates there and in France, but all he did was to spend the money we have been sending him on a blonde from Germany. However, we shall have to put up with him. He will be a power behind the throne when Ferdinand is king. And now, tell me how things .have been going with you. Are you any closer to the palace?”

“I am practically in it,” replied Carlyn. “Within a day or two I am to be transferred to The Guards. I don’t know how Ferdinand accomplished it, unless it is that Sarnya is attempting to keep peace in the family by granting unimportant favors to Ferdinand—what Sarnya thinks are unimportant. Once in The Guards, some day I shall be Officer of the Guard inside the palace. It will be an ordinary, routine detail. That, my good friend, Andresy, will be the day!”

“Let us drink to it,” said Andresy, raising his glass.

“I have another matter to report that may be important and may not,” continued Carlyn. “It has possibilities, however; and I shall continue to follow it up.”

“Yes? and what is it?”

“Recently a young lieutenant was transferred from the frontier to my regiment here. He is the brother of Hilda de Groot. When I found that out, I cultivated him, you may be sure. He is a very fine young man. I made it a point to take him under my wing, and now we are the best of friends. As I suspected, he hates Ferdinand.”

“Good!” exclaimed Andresy. “It is well to be prepared for any eventuality, especially in this instance, as I am quite sure that Ferdinand is going to make a very bad king who will want his own way—a mistake that the more experienced kings have recently learned to avoid.”

“Now,” said Carlyn, “as I may not be able to see you again before The Day; I should like to explain exactly what I wish done when I send you the word. I have worked it all out very carefully. Please do not ask any questions—just trust me. I shall be gambling my life, you know.”

“I would like to place a bet that you do not lose it,” said Andresy, with a smile.

“I do not intend losing it,” Carlyn assured him. “Now listen carefully.”

.     .     .     .     .

Lieutenant Hans de Groot dropped into the little cottage on the outskirts of the capital one afternoon for a short visit with his mother and father, but neither one of them was there. The maid-of-all work told him that the latter was away on a job and that his mother was out shopping but would be back soon.

While Hans was waiting in the little parlor, a limousine stopped at the curb, a liveried footman sprang out and opened the door, and Hilda de Groot stepped from the tonneau. She did not know that Hans was in the cottage; and Hans, who was reading a magazine, had not heard the quiet motor as it pulled up and stopped. He heard the front door open and close; and when he looked up, Hilda was standing in the doorway of the parlor. It was the first time that they had seen one another since that fateful night four years before when Hans had waited in the garden to kill Ferdinand. Hilda was now a beautiful young woman, from whose pulchritude the art of Molyneaux had certainly detracted nothing.

Hans came slowly to his feet. His face was stem and uncompromising. The girl’s great beauty struck him almost as a blow in the face. To him, it was the hallmark of her shame, of the disgrace she had brought upon the family.

Hilda flushed. “Oh, Hans!” she breathed. “It is so good to see you. Please do not be cross. Why can you not understand?”

“Understand! What is there to understand that all the world does not know?”

“If you knew anything of love, you would understand—and forgive.”

“Love!” He spit the word out.

“It is love,” she said, simply. “We love each other so much.”

“And because he loves you so much, he has gone away to ask another woman to marry him!”

“That is not his fault,” the girl defended. “The King commanded it, but Ferdinand will never marry her. He has promised me that he will not; and when he is king, he will marry me.”

“And you believe that?” “Absolutely.”

“Then I am sorry for you because you are such a fool. He will never marry you. He has no intention of marrying you; and even if he had, they would never permit it. Do you think the nobles, the army, or the people would accept a Dutch gardener’s daughter as queen?”

“Stranger things than that have happened,” she replied; “even swineherds have become kings. When Ferdinand is king, he will be king; then he will do as he pleases. He is not afraid of them.”

“I shall wait and see what he does when he is king,” said Hans.

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