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- The Grand Babylon Hotel - 30/45 -


'The Emperor has nothing to do with the affair. I shall renounce my rights.

I shall become a plain citizen.'

'In which case you will have no fortune to speak of.'

'But my wife will have a fortune. Knowing the sacrifices which I shall have made in order to marry her, she will not hesitate to place that fortune in my hands for our mutual use,' said Aribert stiffly.

'You will decidedly be rich,' mused Eugen, as his ideas dwelt on Theodore Racksole's reputed wealth. 'But have you thought of this,' he asked, and his mild eyes glowed again in a sort of madness. 'Have you thought that I am unmarried, and might die at any moment, and then the throne will descend to you - to you, Aribert?'

'The throne will never descend to me, Eugen,' said Aribert softly, 'for you will live. You are thoroughly convalescent. You have nothing to fear.'

'It is the next seven days that I fear,' said Eugen.

'The next seven days! Why?'

'I do not know. But I fear them. If I can survive them - '

'Mr Sampson Levi, sire,' Hans announced in a loud tone.

Chapter Twenty MR SAMPSON LEVI BIDS PRINCE EUGEN GOOD MORNING

PRINCE EUGEN started. 'I will see him,' he said, with a gesture to Hans as if to indicate that Mr Sampson Levi might enter at once.

'I beg one moment first,' said Aribert, laying a hand gently on his nephew's arm, and giving old Hans a glance which had the effect of precipitating that admirably trained servant through the doorway.

'What is it?' asked Prince Eugen crossly. 'Why this sudden seriousness? Don't forget that I have an appointment with Mr Sampson Levi, and must not keep him waiting. Someone said that punctuality is the politeness of princes.'

'Eugen,' said Aribert, 'I wish you to be as serious as I am. Why cannot we have faith in each other? I want to help you. I have helped you. You are my titular Sovereign; but on the other hand I have the honour to be your uncle:

I have the honour to be the same age as you, and to have been your companion from youth up. Give me your confidence. I thought you had given it me years ago, but I have lately discovered that you had your secrets, even then. And now, since your illness, you are still more secretive.'

'What do you mean, Aribert?' said Eugen, in a tone which might have been either inimical or friendly. 'What do you want to say?'

'Well, in the first place, I want to say that you will not succeed with the estimable Mr Sampson Levi.'

'Shall I not?' said Eugen lightly. 'How do you know what my business is with him?'

'Suffice it to say that I know. You will never get that million pounds out of him.'

Prince Eugen gasped, and then swallowed his excitement. 'Who has been talking? What million?' His eyes wandered uneasily round the room. 'Ah!' he said, pretending to laugh. 'I see how it is. I have been chattering in my delirium. You mustn't take any notice of that, Aribert. When one has a fever one's ideas become grotesque and fanciful.'

'You never talked in your delirium,' Aribert replied; 'at least not about yourself. I knew about this projected loan before I saw you in Ostend.'

'Who told you?' demanded Eugen fiercely.

'Then you admit that you are trying to raise a loan?'

'I admit nothing. Who told you?'

'Theodore Racksole, the millionaire. These rich men have no secrets from each other. They form a coterie, closer than any coterie of ours. Eugen, and far more powerful. They talk, and in talking they rule the world, these millionaires. They are the real monarchs.'

'Curse them!' said Eugen.

'Yes, perhaps so. But let me return to your case. Imagine my shame, my disgust, when I found that Racksole could tell me more about your affairs than I knew myself. Happily, he is a good fellow; one can trust him; otherwise I should have been tempted to do something desperate when I discovered that all your private history was in his hands. Eugen, let us come to the point; why do you want that million? Is it actually true that you are so deeply in debt? I have no desire to improve the occasion. I merely ask.'

'And what if I do owe a million?' said Prince Eugen with assumed valour.

'Oh, nothing, my dear Eugen, nothing. Only it is rather a large sum to have scattered in ten years, is it not? How did you manage it?'

'Don't ask me, Aribert. I've been a fool. But I swear to you that the woman whom you call "the lady in the red hat" is the last of my follies. I am about to take a wife, and become a respectable Prince.'

'Then the engagement with Princess Anna is an accomplished fact?'

'Practically so. As soon as I have settled with Levi, all will be smooth.

Aribert, I wouldn't lose Anna for the Imperial throne. She is a good and pure woman, and I love her as a man might love an angel.'

'And yet you would deceive her as to your debts, Eugen?'

'Not her, but her absurd parents, and perhaps the Emperor. They have heard rumours, and I must set those rumours at rest by presenting to them a clean sheet.'

'I am glad you have been frank with me, Eugen,' said Prince Aribert, 'but I will be plain with you. You will never marry the Princess Anna.'

'And why?' said Eugen, supercilious again.

'Because her parents will not permit it. Because you will not be able to present a clean sheet to them. Because this Sampson Levi will never lend you a million.'

'Explain yourself.'

'I propose to do so. You were kidnapped - it is a horrid word, but we must use it - in Ostend.'

'True.'

'Do you know why?'

'I suppose because that vile old red-hatted woman and her accomplices wanted to get some money out of me. Fortunately, thanks to you, they didn't.'

'Not at all,' said Aribert. 'They wanted no money from you. They knew well enough that you had no money. They knew you were the naughty schoolboy among European Princes, with no sense of responsibility or of duty towards your kingdom. Shall I tell you why they kidnapped you?'

'When you have done abusing me, my dear uncle.'

'They kidnapped you merely to keep you out of England for a few days, merely to compel you to fail in your appointment with Sampson Levi. And it appears to me that they succeeded. Assuming that you don't obtain the money from Levi, is there another financier in all Europe from whom you can get it - on such strange security as you have to offer?'

'Possibly there is not,' said Prince Eugen calmly. 'But, you see, I shall get it from Sampson Levi. Levi promised it, and I know from other sources that he is a man of his word. He said that the money, subject to certain formalities, would be available till - '

'Till?'

'Till the end of June.'

'And it is now the end of July.'

'Well, what is a month? He is only too glad to lend the money. He will get excellent interest. How on earth have you got into your sage old head this notion of a plot against me? The idea is ridiculous. A plot against me? What for?'

'Have you ever thought of Bosnia?' asked Aribert coldly.

'What of Bosnia?'

'I need not tell you that the King of Bosnia is naturally under obligations to Austria, to whom he owes his crown. Austria is anxious for him to make a good influential marriage.'

'Well, let him.'

'He is going to. He is going to marry the Princess Anna.'

'Not while I live. He made overtures there a year ago, and was rebuffed.'

'Yes; but he will make overtures again, and this time he will not be rebuffed. Oh, Eugen! can't you see that this plot against you is


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