“You are better fitted for a court jester than a crown prince,” he shouted. “Your escapades are the gossip of the capitol. Scullery maids and hostlers know you better than do the nobility of the unhappy kingdom which some day will be forced to acknowledge you its king. You are a disgrace to the royal blood of the house of Kargovitch. You—you—you—”
“Otherwise,” interrupted the crown prince, “I am everything which your majesty could desire.”
The face of King Constans of Karlova turned from red to purple, he half rose from his chair and beat upon the desk with two fists instead of one.
“Enough of your impudence!” he cried. “You are under arrest, sir! Go to your quarters, and remain there—indefinitely.”
“Yes, Sire,” replied Prince Boris; “but I suggest that you place a guard over me, as I have not given you my parole. Confinement is irksome to me—I shall escape, if I can; and then there is no telling but that I may marry a scullery maid and infuse into the veins of the Kargovitches a few ounces of red blood.”
“Your marriage already is arranged,” roared the king. “It was upon that subject I wished to speak with you—your impudence drove it from my mind. You will wed the Princess Mary of Margoth—if she will have you; and you will remain under arrest until Baron Kantchi has arranged the time of your visit to the court of Margoth.”
The young man took a step toward his father.
“But, your majesty,” he exclaimed, “I do not wish to marry yet—and above all others I do not wish to marry a Margoth princess, who, unquestionably has a scrawny neck and the temper of a termagant.”
“It is immaterial whether she has any neck or any temper,” replied the king; “you are going to marry her; and I trust that she will be able to accomplish what I have failed to—the awakening in you a realization of the obligations of your exalted birth.”
“I hope so,” said the crown prince aloud; but what he thought is not recordable.
The king touched a bell upon his desk, and an instant later an officer of the guard entered the apartment and bowed low before his sovereign.
“You will conduct Prince Boris to his quarters,” said Constans. “He is under arrest. Place a guard over him, as he has refused us his parole.”
The officer bowed again, and backed from the presence, followed by the crown prince.
In silence the two traversed the corridors of the palace until they came to the apartments of Prince Boris. A soldier, already on guard there, saluted as the two passed within; and a moment later the officer emerged and transmitted to the sentry the orders of the king.
Within the apartment Boris glanced at his watch. A smile touched his lips. “An hour,” he murmured, “—I can barely make it.”
He approached the door and opened it. The sentry saluted, stiff and rigid. The crown prince examined the man’s features—he did not recognize them. The man was a recruit in the palace guard. Boris sighed. A veteran might have been easier to handle, for the veterans all loved the crown prince.
“My man,” said Boris, “if you will just cast your eyes in the other direction for a moment you will not see me escape—and what people don’t see, you know, won’t ever do them any harm.”
The sentry wheeled about and faced the crown prince, barring the doorway with his rifle.
“I am sorry, your highness,” he said respectfully; “but I cannot do it—I cannot violate the oath I took when I was sworn into the king’s service.”
“Quite right,” exclaimed Boris. “I am glad to hear you say that—it goes to prove that you are a loyal fellow. I saw that you were new in the service and I wished to test you—you did well to refuse.”
He turned to re-enter the room, but as he was about to close the door after him he paused and cast a quick glance over his shoulder at the sentry.
“You have never before stood guard before my apartment?” he asked.
“Never, your highness,” replied the soldier.
“And your sergeant told you nothing about my nightmares?” continued the prince.
“Nothing, your highness.’
“He should have,” commented Boris. “He should have instructed you that I am subject to nightmares, and that when you hear me moaning or crying out in my sleep you should come in at once and awaken me.
“But your highness’s valet sleeps in the adjoining apartment,” suggested the soldier; “—he will awaken you.”
“He sleeps like a dead man,” replied Boris. “Nothing awakens him. If you hear me, come in at once and awaken me—do you understand?”
“Yes, your highness,” and the soldier saluted again.
“Good-night,” said the prince, “and lose no time when you hear me—I usually have them early in the night, when I first fall asleep.”
“Good-night, your highness,” replied the sentry. “I will come if I hear you.”
For a few minutes Prince Boris moved about his apartment, talking in low tones to his valet; but he did not remove his clothes. Presently he dismissed the man, turned out his lights and clambered into bed with all his clothes on. A broad smile illumined his countenance, and it was with difficulty that he repressed a chuckle.
Beyond the door the sentry stood in statuesque rigidity in the corridor. The great clock at the far end of the passageway ticked out the seconds. Slowly the minutes passed. Silence reigned in this part of the palace, though it was still early in the evening.
Presently the sentry cocked an attentive ear—instantly alert. An unmistakable moan had issued from the apartment of the crown prince. It was immediately followed by a smothered wail. The sentry wheeled, turned the knob and entered the apartment. As he crossed quickly toward the bed where Prince Boris lay his back was toward the doorway leading into the adjoining apartment where the prince’s valet was supposed to be sleeping like a dead man, and so the sentry did not see the dark robed figure which glided into the bed chamber of the prince and followed him to the royal bed-side.
Another moan came from the tossing figure upon the bed. The sentry leaned over and shook the sleeper by the shoulder; and as he did so the bed clothes rose suddenly and enveloped his head, a pair of strong arms encircled his neck about the bed clothes and another pair of arms seized him from behind.
A moment later he lay bound and gagged upon the bed recently occupied by Prince Boris of Karlova. A dark robed figure glided silently from the apartment, and the crown prince touched a button which flooded the room with light. The sentry looked up into the smiling face of his captor.
“Awfully sorry, my man,” said Prince Boris; “but I have a very important engagement for this evening—see you later. Hope you find my bed comfortable; and whatever you do don’t have a nightmare, for my man is a very heavy sleeper—just like a dead man, you know,” and Boris of Karlova slipped a light cloak over his shoulders and passed out into the corridor before his apartments.
Ten minutes later a solitary horseman rode slowly through the darker streets of the capitol and out of the city by the long unguarded west gate. Once in the country he put spurs to his mount and rode at a sharp trot along the wide, grey pike.