“I’d rather go to the gibbet,” he growled.
“Which you would doubtless grace to advantage,” replied Ivan. “Each of us has his appointed place in the universal scheme of things—yours is not the throne.”
The prince scowled, and then, after a moment’s silence: “At least I make as good a prince as that hideous little half-wit does a princess.”
“Granted,” exclaimed Ivan with a grimace. “If Boris could but see what was destined for him! Thank the Lord he was spared the ordeal, for he is such a good natured fellow that he might have acquiesced out of pity for her and brought a toothless idiot to the throne of Karlova. As it is our little substitution may save Karlova from a war with Margoth, since there is little likelihood that his majesty, Alexis III, will be over keen to have you for a son-in-law, and so will view with relief your indifference to his royal daughter. If Boris himself had come things would have been different. Alexis could not have but looked with favor upon him, and his refusal to marry the Princess Mary would have resulted in precipitating the long-brewing war—not, however, that we would not welcome a war with these contemptible Margothians.”
“I am not interested in history,” growled the crown prince. “At present I am interested in but one thing, and that is to get as far away from that frightful state dinner at Klovia as possible.”
“You wished to be a prince, my friend,” Nicholas reminded him, “and state dinners are a part of the penalty of being a prince.”
“I have had all of this prince business that I care for,” replied the other, scowling. “Get me out of here. Get me back to Peter’s Inn, and let me go my way. I am sick of seeing people laugh at me behind their hands, and even openly as they did in the streets this morning. If you do not get me out of here I will reveal the truth to the king of Margoth before I am an hour older.”
The three noble conspirators saw that the man was in earnest. They were far from loath to humor him, since they themselves had felt the sting and the burden of embarrassment since they had entered Margoth in his company.
It was Alexander Palensk who first suggested a feasible plan of escape from the impossible position in which the levity of the true Boris had placed them all. It was, in short, to wait until dark, and then hurry away on the Roman road for Sovgrad, after sending word to Alexis at Klovia that Prince Boris had been taken suddenly ill with what appeared to be a mild attack of ptomaine poisoning. Ivan Kantchi was to bear the message and apologies.
And thus it was that the pseudo prince and his two companions rode out of Demia under the cover of darkness that very evening while Ivan Kantchi made his way to Klovia with the excuses of his royal master to the king of Margoth.
It was evident to the young noble that Alexis was far from displeased to be rid of his gauche guest, and as a result Ivan could not resist the temptation to bait the Margothian ruler.
“It is evident, Sire,” he said, “that the charms of her royal highness, Princess Mary, have captivated my prince; and I trust that I may be the bearer of the glad tidings to him that his suit is looked upon with favor by both your majesty and her royal highness.”
For a moment Alexis III was silent. It was apparent that he labored under the stress of powerful emotions which he would have gladly hidden; but at last indignation got the better of diplomacy and he blurted out his true feelings to the friend and confidante of the Karlovian prince.
“My god, sir,” he cried,”do you think for a moment that I would give the hand of my daughter to the ill-bred boor who disgraced my capitol today, to the monkey who was the laughing stock of all Demia?”
Ivan Kantchi forgot for the moment the truth of the other’s statements. He thought only of the affront that had been put upon the name of his friend and prince. His face went white, and he straightened very stiffly as he replied in a cold, ironic tone.
“By leaving thus under the cloak of simulated illness Prince Boris but endeavored to spare you the knowledge of his true sentiments—sentiments which were shared by all those Karlovians who looked upon the Princess Mary to-day. Do I make myself quite plain, Your Majesty?”
Alexis III flushed, rose from his chair, and without another word turned his back upon the ambassador of the Karlovian prince and left the apartment. Ivan shrugged and turned away toward the door that had opened to admit him to the presence. As he passed out of the palace his lips formed a sentence in which at least one word was repeated several times—a word which sounded much like ‘war.’