"And now," said Coronel, "we'd better decide what to do."
"But I don't mind what we do now," said Hyacinth happily. "She may have the throne and Father and Udo, and—and anything else she can get, and I shan't mind a bit. You see, I have got you now, Coronel, and I can never be jealous of anybody again."
"That's what makes it so jolly. We can do what we like, and it doesn't matter if it doesn't come off. So just for fun let's think of something to pay her out."
"I feel I don't want to hurt anybody to-day."
"All right, we won't hurt her, we'll humour her. We will be her most humble obedient servants. She shall have everything she wants."
"Including Prince Udo," smiled Hyacinth.
"That's a splendid idea. We'll make her have Udo. It will annoy your father, but one can't please everybody. Oh, I can see myself enjoying this."
They got up and wandered back along Wiggs's path, hand in hand.
"I'm almost afraid to leave the forest," said Hyacinth, "in case something happens."
"What should happen?"
"I don't know; but all our life together has been in the forest, and I'm just a little afraid of the world."
"I will be very close to you always, Hyacinth."
"Be very close, Coronel," she whispered, and then they walked out together.
If any of the servants at the Palace were surprised to see Coronel, they did not show it. After all, that was their business.
"Prince Coronel will be staying here," said the Princess. "Prepare a room for him and some refreshment for us both." And if they discussed those things in the servants' halls of those days (as why should they not?), no doubt they told each other that the Princess Hyacinth (bless her pretty face!) had found her man at last. Why, you only had to see her looking at him. But I get no assistance from Roger at this point; he pretends that he has a mind far above the gossip of the lower orders.
"I say," said Coronel, as they went up the grand staircase, "I am not a Prince, you know. Don't say I have deceived you."
"You are my Prince," said Hyacinth proudly.
"My dear, I am a king among men to-day, and you are my queen, but that's in our own special country of two."
"If you are so particular," said Hyacinth, with a smile, "Father will make you a proper Prince directly he comes back."
"Will he? That's what I'm wondering. You see he doesn't know yet about our little present to the Countess."
* * * * *
But it is quite time we got back to Belvane; we have left her alone too long. It was more than Udo did. Just now he was with her in her garden, telling her for the fifth time an extraordinarily dull story about an encounter of his with a dragon, apparently in its dotage, to which Belvane was listening with an interest which surprised even the narrator.
"And then," said Udo, "I jumped quickly to the right, and whirling my—no, wait a bit, that was later—I jumped quickly to my left—yes, I remember it now, it was my left—I jumped quickly to my left, and whirling my——"
He stopped suddenly at the expression on Belvane's face. She was looking over his shoulder at something behind him.
"Why, whoever is this?" she said, getting to her feet.
Before Udo had completely cleared his mind of his dragon, the Princess and Coronel were upon them.
"Ah, Countess, I thought we should find you together," said Hyacinth archly. "Let me present to you my friend, the Duke Coronel. Coronel, this is Countess Belvane, a very dear and faithful friend of mine. Prince Udo, of course, you know. His Royal Highness and the Countess are—well, it isn't generally known at present, so perhaps I oughtn't to say anything."
Coronel made a deep bow to the astonished Belvane.
"Your humble servant," he said. "You will, I am sure, forgive me if I say how glad I am to hear your news. Udo is one of my oldest friends"—he turned and clapped that bewildered Highness on the back—"aren't you, Udo? and I can think of no one more suitable in every way." He bowed again, and turned back to the Prince. "Well, Udo, you're looking splendid. A different thing, Countess, from when I last saw him. Let me see, that must have been just the day before he arrived in Euralia. Ah, what a miracle-worker True Love is!"
I think one of the things which made Belvane so remarkable was that she was never afraid of remaining silent when she was not quite sure what to say. She waited therefore while she considered what all this meant; who Coronel was, what he was doing there, even whether a marriage with Udo was not after all the best that she could hope for now.
Meanwhile Udo, of course, blundered along gaily.
"We aren't exactly, Princess—I mean——What are you doing here, Coronel?—I didn't know, Princess, that you—— The Countess and I were just having a little—I was just telling her what you said about—How did you get here, Coronel?"
"Shall we tell him?" said Coronel, with a smile at Hyacinth.
"I rode," said Coronel. "It's a secret," he added.
"But I didn't know that you——"
"We find that we have really known each other a very long time," explained Hyacinth.
"And hearing that there was to be a wedding," added Coronel——
Belvane made up her mind. Coronel was evidently a very different man from Udo. If he stayed in Euralia as adviser—more than adviser she guessed—to Hyacinth, her own position would not be in much doubt. And as for the King, it might be months before he came back, and when he did come would he remember her? But to be Queen of Araby was no mean thing.
"We didn't want it to be known yet," she said shyly, "but you have guessed our secret, your Royal Highness." She looked modestly at the ground, and, feeling for her reluctant lover's hand, went on, "Udo and I"—here she squeezed the hand, and, finding it was Coronel's, took Udo's boldly without any more maidenly nonsense—"Udo and I love each other."
"Say something, Udo," prompted Coronel.
"Er—yes," said Udo, very unwillingly, and deciding he would explain it all afterwards. Whatever his feelings for the Countess, he was not going to be rushed into a marriage.
"Oh, I'm so glad," said Hyacinth. "I felt somehow that it must be coming, because you've seen so much of each other lately. Wiggs and I have often talked about it together."
("What has happened to the child?" thought Belvane. "She isn't a child at all, she's grown up.")
"There's no holding Udo once he begins," volunteered Coronel. "He's the most desperate lover in Araby.
"My father will be so excited when he hears," said Hyacinth. "You know, of course, that his Majesty comes back to-morrow with all his army."
She did not swoon or utter a cry. She did not plead the vapours or the megrims. She took unflinching what must have been the biggest shock in her life.
"Then perhaps I had better see that everything is ready in the Palace," she said, "if your Royal Highness will excuse me." And with a curtsey she was gone.
Coronel exchanged a glance with Hyacinth. "I'm enjoying this," he seemed to say.
"Well," she announced, "I must be going in, too. There'll be much to see about."
Coronel was left alone with the most desperate lover in Araby.
"And now," said the Prince, "tell me what you are doing here."
Coronel put his arm in Udo's and walked him up and down the flagged path.
"Your approaching marriage," he said, "is the talk of Araby. Naturally I had to come here to see for myself what she was like. My dear Udo, she's charming; I congratulate you."
"Don't be a fool, Coronel. I haven't the slightest intention of marrying her."
"Then why have you told everybody that you are going to?"
"You know quite well I haven't told anybody. There hasn't been a single word about it mentioned until you pushed your way in just now."
"Ah, well, perhaps you hadn't heard about it. But the Princess knows, the Countess knows, and I know—yes, I think you may take our word for it that it's true."
"I haven't the slightest intention—what do you keep clinging to my arm like this for?
"My dear Udo, I'm so delighted to see you again. Don't turn your back on old friendships just because you have found a nobler and a truer—— Oh, very well, if you're going to drop all your former friends, go on then. But when I'm married, there will always be a place for——"
"Understand once and for all," said Udo angrily, "that I am not getting married. No, don't take my arm—we can talk quite well like this."
"I am sorry, Udo," said Coronel meekly; "we seem to have made a mistake. But you must admit we found you in a very compromising position."
"It wasn't in the least compromising," protested Udo indignantly. "As a matter of fact I was just telling her about that dragon I killed in Araby last year."
"Ah, and who would listen to a hopeless story like that, but the woman one was going to marry?"
"Once more, I am not going to marry her."
"Well, you must please yourself, but you have compromised her severely with that story. Poor innocent girl. Well, let's forget about it. And now tell me, how do you like Euralia?"
"I am returning to Araby this afternoon," said Udo stiffly.
"Well, perhaps you're right. I hope that nothing will happen to you on the way."
Udo, who was about to enter the Palace, turned round with a startled look.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, something happened on the way here. By the by, how did that happen? You never told me."
"Your precious Countess, whom you expect me to marry."
"How very unkind of her. A nasty person to annoy." He was silent for a moment, and then added thoughtfully, "I suppose it is rather annoying to think you're going to marry somebody whom you love very much, and then find you're not going to."
Udo evidently hadn't thought of this. He tried to show that he was not in the least frightened.
"She couldn't do anything. It was only by a lucky chance she did it last time."
"Yes, but of course the chance might come again. You'd have the thing hanging over you always. She's clever, you know; and I should never feel quite safe if she were my enemy. . . . Lovely flowers, aren't they? What's the name of this one?"
Udo dropped undecidedly into a seat. This wanted thinking out. The Countess—what was wrong with her, after all? And she evidently adored him. Of course that was not surprising; the question was, was it fair to disappoint one who had, perhaps, some little grounds for——? After all, he had been no more gallant than was customary from a Prince and a gentleman to a beautiful woman. It was her own fault if she had mistaken his intentions. Of course he ought to have left Euralia long ago. But he had stayed on, and—well, decidedly she was beautiful—perhaps he had paid rather too much attention to that. And he had certainly neglected the Princess a little. After all, again, why not marry the Countess? It was absurd to suppose there was anything in Coronel's nonsense, but one never knew. Not that he was marrying her out of fear. No; certainly not. It was simply a chivalrous whim on his part. The poor woman had misunderstood him, and she should not be disappointed.
"She seems fond of flowers," said Coronel. "You ought to make the Palace garden look beautiful between you."
"Now, understand clearly, Coronel, I'm not in the least frightened by the Countess."
"My dear Udo, what a speech for a lover! Of course you're not. After all, what you bore with such patience and dignity once, you can bear again."
"That subject is distasteful to me. I must ask you not to refer to it. If I marry the Countess——"
"You'll be a very lucky man," put in Coronel. "I happen to know that the King of Euralia—however, she's chosen you, it seems. Personally, I can't make out what she sees in you. What is it?"
"I should have thought it was quite obvious," said Udo with dignity. "Well, Coronel, I think perhaps you are right and that it's my duty to marry her."
Coronel shook him solemnly by the hand.
"I congratulate your Royal Highness. I will announce your decision to the Princess. She will be much amu—much delighted." And he turned into the Palace.
Pity him, you lovers. He had not seen Hyacinth for nearly ten minutes.