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- Princess Maritza - 1/63 -


PRINCESS MARITZA

[Illustration]

PRINCESS MARITZA

By PERCY BREBNER

WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY

To V. F. G.

CONTENTS

CHAPTER I.-PLAYING TRUANT

CHAPTER II.-MONSIEUR DE FROILETTE

CHAPTER III.-THE WOMAN IN THE SILK MASK

CHAPTER IV.-THE COURT OF STURATZBERG

CHAPTER V.-Two VISITORS

CHAPTER VI.-FRINA MAVRODIN'S GUEST

CHAPTER VII.-THE TIME ARRIVES

CHAPTER VIII.-THE IRON BRACELET

CHAPTER IX.-THE DUEL

CHAPTER X.-THE FOLLY OF A SOLDIER

CHAPTER XI.-IN THE BOIS

CHAPTER XII.-GRIGOSIE

CHAPTER XIII.-THE CASTLE IN THE HILLS

CHAPTER XIV.-THE TOKEN IS DELIVERED

CHAPTER XV.-THE RACE FOR LIFE

CHAPTER XVI.-THE TRAITOR

CHAPTER XVII.-THE TRUE WORTH OF BARON PETRESCU

CHAPTER XVIII.-SIX LOYAL MEN

CHAPTER XIX.-IN DESPERATE STRAITS

CHAPTER XX.-TREACHERY OR SACRIFICE

CHAPTER XXI.-THE RESCUE

CHAPTER XXII.-IN VASILICI'S STRONGHOLD

CHAPTER XXIII.-THE TEMPTATION OF FRINA MAVRODIN

CHAPTER XXIV.-HOW MARITZA ENTERED STURATZBERG

CHAPTER XXV.-'TWIXT LOVE AND PITY

CHAPTER XXVI.-REBELLION

CHAPTER XXVII.-IN PURPLE AND RED AND GOLD

CHAPTER XXVIII.-THE DIPLOMACY OF LORD CLOVERTON

CHAPTER XXIX.-AFTER WAR--PEACE

CHAPTER I.

PLAYING TRUANT

A breezy morning after a night of rain. Fleecy clouds, some in massive folds and fantastic shape, some in small half-transparent wisps like sunlit ghosts, were driven rapidly across the blue. Hurrying shadows flecked the swelling bosom of the downs, and where the grass was long it rippled like a green sea, making rustling music. Overhead the larks fluttering upward, ever-diminishing specks to the empyrean, carolled their joyous song, and a thousand perfumes filled the air. It was a morning to live in, to enjoy, to take into one's lungs in deep, intoxicating draughts, until the sorrows of life and its cares were forgotten; a morning that lent strong wings to ambition, filling the future with hope and the promise of realized desires.

Something of the aspect of the morning was reflected in the face of the man who stoutly climbed the downs against the wind. He was above the average height, but did not give the impression of being tall. His frame was well knit and muscular; strength and power of endurance above the common were evident in every movement; and there was a quiet determination in his face which proclaimed him one of those who would be likely to succeed in anything he undertook, no matter what dangers and difficulties might stand in his path, one who would march straight forward to his object even as he breasted the downs this morning. Most men would have pronounced him handsome, judging, as men ever do, by build and muscle; women might have hesitated to give an opinion in spite of the well-cut, clean-shaven face, and the dark blue eyes which never looked away from a person with whom their possessor talked. Perhaps there was a want of sympathy in the face, a certain lack of that gentle deference which so appeals to women in a man, that silent recognition of the woman's power which is so pleasant to her.

Desmond Ellerey had had little to do with women. He did not pretend to understand them, and it had never occurred to him that there was any reason why he should strive to do so. He had experienced pleasant moments in their company, but one woman was pretty much the same as another to him, and it is quite certain that no such thing as a faded flower, or a glove, or love token of any kind held a place among his treasures. No woman in the past had given him a single heart throb which love lent a sense of pain to, and it seemed unlikely that any woman would wish to do so now. For Desmond Ellerey was a man under a cloud, a very black cloud, the gloom of which even this breezy morning could not entirely dispel from his face. He had set himself to bear his burden bravely, but the task was a heavy one. Surely those straightforward blue eyes gave the lie to much that was said against him?

There were few hours in the day in which he did not brood over his trouble, over the loss of his career which it involved, and as he approached the top of the downs his eyes were bent upon the ground in deep thought, while in his heart was fierce rebellion against the world and his fellow men.

He was suddenly startled by a sharp and shrill "Hallo!" and at the same moment was aware of a straw hat racing past him a little to his left. A run of a few yards enabled him to intercept it, and he grasped it in his strong fingers, regardless of the flowers and ribbons upon it. Then he turned to discover the owner.

She was standing on the summit of the downs, her loose hair streaming in the breeze. She did not come to meet him, but waited for him to go to her.

"I am afraid it is not improved," he said, handing her the hat.

"I hardly expected it would be when I saw the way you dived for it," she answered with a smile; "but thanks all the same. Had it got past you, it would have been good-bye to it altogether. Isn't this a morning?"

"Very pleasant after the rain," he said.

"Pleasant!" she cried. "Is that the best you can say for it? Pleasant! Why it makes me feel that there is nothing in the world which is beyond my power; no difficulty I could not fight and overcome; no danger I could not despise and laugh at. My blood is full of the very fire I of life, and I pant to do something-something unexpected, outrageous, desperate. Don't you ever feel like that?"

"Sometimes."

"It is good to be a man," she went on. "He has the world before him, with its high places waiting to be won. There is nothing out of his reach, if he strive sufficiently, no honor he may not win to. Oh, I wish I were a man!"

There was a half-whimsical smile upon Ellerey's face, at her enthusiasm, and in his eyes a look of admiration, which he could not conceal, at her beauty. Her loose hair streaming in the wind was the color of burnished copper, rich as a golden autumn tint in the glow of an evening sun. Her eyes were dark, yet of a changeful color, as full of secrets as a deep pool in the hollow of a wood, quiet, silent secrets which presently, when the time came, a lover might seek to understand, yet promising angry and tempestuous moods should storms happen. Her lips, parted often as though she were waiting for someone with eager expectation, revealed an even row of pearly teeth, and the pink flush of health and beauty was in her cheeks. She was tall: with her hair done up, would have passed for a woman already, Desmond thought; with it down, and her frock to her boot-tops, she was still a girl, a beautiful girl, a very pleasant picture to contemplate.

"Being a man is not always such a grand thing as you suppose," Ellerey said after a pause.

"He has a freedom which a woman never has," the girl answered quickly. "Oh, yes, women try, especially in this country, I know, but it is never the same. She cannot be a statesman, she cannot he a soldier. She cannot take her life by the throat, as it were, and win place and power by the sheer force of a good right arm as a man can." "But she often succeeds in ruling the man after he has won place and power," Ellerey answered.


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