HotFreeBooks.com
Clementina
by A.E.W. Mason
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

The fears bred of imagination had now left him; he was restored by the shock of an actual danger. He leaned forward quietly and felt if the key was still in the lock. But there was no lock to this door. Wogan felt the surface of the door; it was of paper. It was plainly the door of a cupboard in the wall, papered after the same pattern as the wall, which by the flickering light of his single candle he had overlooked.

He opened the door and stretched out his arms into the cupboard. He touched something that moved beneath his hand, a stiff, short crop of hair, the hair of a man's head. He drew his arm away as though an adder had stung it; he did not utter a cry or make a movement. He stood for a moment paralysed, and during that moment a strong hand caught him by the throat.

Wogan was borne backwards, his assailant sprang at him from the cupboard, he staggered under the unexpected vigour of the attack, he clutched his enemy, and the two men came to the ground with a crash. Even as he fell Wogan thought, "Gaydon would never have overlooked that cupboard."

It was the only reflection, however, for which he could afford time. He was undermost, and the hand at his throat had the grip of a steel glove. He fought with blows from his fists and his bent knees; he twisted his legs about the legs of his enemy; he writhed his body if so he might dislodge him; he grappled wildly for his throat. But all the time his strength grew less; he felt that his temples were swelling, and it seemed to him that his eyes must burst. The darkness of the room was spotted with sparks of fire; the air was filled with a continuous roar like a million chariots in a street. He saw the face of his chosen woman, most reproachful and yet kind, gazing at him from behind the bars which now would never be broken, and then there came a loud banging at the door. The summons surprised them both, so hotly had they been engaged, so unaware were they of the noise which their fall had made.

Wogan felt his assailant's hand relax and heard him say in a low muffled voice, "It is nothing. Go to bed! I fell over a chair in the dark."

That momentary relaxation was, he knew, his last chance. He gathered his strength in a supreme effort, lurched over onto his left side, and getting his right arm free swung it with all his strength in the direction of the voice. His clenched fist caught his opponent full under the point of the chin, and the hand at Wogan's throat clutched once and fell away limp as an empty glove. Wogan sat up on the floor and drew his breath. That, after all, was more than his antagonist was doing. The knocking at the door continued; Wogan could not answer it, he had not the strength. His limbs were shaking, the sweat clotted his hair and dripped from his face. But his opponent was quieter still. At last he managed to gather his legs beneath him, to kneel up, to stand shakily upon his feet. He could no longer mistake the position of the door; he tottered across to it, removed the chair, and opened it.

The landlord with a couple of servants stepped back as Wogan showed himself to the light of their candles. Wogan heard their exclamations, though he did not clearly understand them, for his ears still buzzed. He saw their startled faces, but only dimly, for he was dazzled by the light. He came back into the room, and pointing to his assailant,—a sturdy, broad man, who now sat up opening and shutting his eyes in a dazed way,—"Who is that?" he asked, gasping rather than speaking the words.

"Who is that?" repeated the landlord, staring at Wogan.

"Who is that?" said Wogan, leaning against the bed-post.

"Why, sir, your servant. Who should he be?"

Wogan was silent for a little, considering as well as his rambling wits allowed this new development.

"Ah!" said Wogan, "he came here with me?" "Yes, since he is your servant."

The landlord was evidently mystified; he was no less evidently speaking with sincerity. Wogan reflected that to proffer a charge against the assailant would involve his own detention in Ulm.

"To be sure," said he, "I know. This is my servant. That is precisely what I mean." His wits were at work to find a way out of his difficulty. "This is my servant? What then?" he asked fiercely.

"But I don't understand," said the landlord.

"You don't understand!" cried Wogan. "Was there ever such a landlord? He does not understand. This is my servant, I tell you."

"Yes, sir, but—but—"

"Well?"

"We were roused—there was a noise—a noise of men fighting."

"There would have been no noise," said Wogan, triumphantly, "if you had prepared a bed for my servant. He would not have crept into my cupboard to sleep off his drunkenness."

"But, sir, there was a bed."

"You should have seen that he was carried to it. As it is, here have I been driven to beat him and to lose my night's rest in consequence. It is not fitting. I do not think that your inn is well managed."

Wogan expressed his indignation with so majestic an air that the landlord was soon apologising for having disturbed a gentleman in the proper exercise of belabouring his valet.

"We will carry the fellow away," said he.

"You will do nothing of the kind," said Wogan. "He shall get back into his cupboard and there he shall remain till daybreak. Come, get up!"

Wogan's self-appointed valet got to his feet. There was no possibility of an escape for him since there were three men between him and the door. On the other hand, obedience to Wogan might save him from a charge of attempted theft.

"In with you," said Wogan, and the man obeyed. His head no doubt was still spinning from the blow, and he had the stupid look of one dazed.

"There is no lock to the door," said the landlord.

"There is no need of a lock," said Wogan, "so long as one has a chair. The fellow will do very well till the morning. But I will take your three candles, for it is not likely that I shall sleep."

Wogan smoked his pipe all the rest of the night, reclining on a couple of chairs in front of the cupboard. In the morning he made his valet walk three miles by his horse's side. The man dared not disobey, and when Wogan finally let him go he was so far from the town that, had he confederates there, he could do no harm.

Wogan continued his journey. Towns, it was proved, were no safer to him than villages. He began to wonder how it was that no traps had been laid for him on the earlier stages of his journey, and he suddenly hit upon the explanation. "It was that night," said he to himself, "when the Prince sat by the Countess with the list of my friends in his hands. The names were all erased but three, and against those three was that other name of Schlestadt. No doubt the Countess while she bent over her harp-strings took a look at that list. I must run the gauntlet into Schlestadt."

Towards evening he came to Stuttgart and rode through the Schloss Platz and along the Koenigstrasse. Wogan would not sleep there, since there the Duke of Wuertemberg held his court, and in that court the Countess of Berg was very likely to have friends. He rode onwards through the valley along the banks of the Nesen brook until he came to its junction with the Neckar.

A mile farther a wooden mill stood upon the river-bank, beyond the mill was a tavern, and beyond the tavern stood a few cottages. At some distance from the cottages along the road, Wogan could see a high brick wall, and over the top the chimneys and the slate roof of a large house. Wogan stopped at the tavern. It promised no particular comfort, it was a small dilapidated house; but it had the advantage that it was free from new paint. It seemed to Wogan, however, wellnigh useless to take precautions in the choice of a lodging; danger leaped at him from every quarter. For this last night he must trust to his luck; and besides there was the splash of the water falling over the mill-dam. It was always something to Wogan to fall asleep with that sound in his ears. He dismounted accordingly, and having ordered his supper asked for a room.

"You will sleep here?" exclaimed his host.

"I will at all events lie in bed," returned Wogan.

The innkeeper took a lamp and led the way up a narrow winding stair.

"Have a care, sir," said he; "the stairs are steep."

"I prefer them steep."

"I am afraid that I keep the light from you, but there is no room for two to walk abreast."

"It is an advantage. I do not like to be jostled on the stairs."

The landlord threw open a door at the top of the stairs.

"The room is a garret," he said in apology.

"So long as it has no cupboards it will serve my turn."

"Ah! you do not like cupboards."

"They fill a poor man with envy of those who have clothes to hang in them."

Wogan ascertained that there were no cupboards. There was a key, too, in the lock, and a chest of drawers which could be moved very suitably in front of the door.

"It is a good garret," said Wogan, laying down his bag upon a chair.

"The window is small," continued the landlord.

"One will be less likely to fall out," said Wogan. One would also, he thought, be less likely to climb in. He looked out of the window. It was a good height from the ground; there was no stanchion or projection in the wall, and it seemed impossible that a man could get his shoulders through the opening. Wogan opened the window to try it, and the sound of someone running came to his ears.

"Oho!" said he, but he said it to himself, "here's a man in a mighty hurry."

A mist was rising from the ground; the evening, too, was dark. Wogan could see no one in the road below, but he heard the footsteps diminishing into a faint patter. Then they ceased altogether. The man who ran was running in the direction of Stuttgart.

"Yes, your garret will do," said Wogan, in quite a different voice. He had begun to think that this night he would sleep, and he realised now that he must not. The man might be running on his own business, but this was the last night before Wogan would reach his friends. Stuttgart was only three miles away. He could take no risks, and so he must stay awake with his sword upon his knees. Had his horse been able to carry him farther, he would have ridden on, but the horse was even more weary than its master. Besides, the narrow staircase made his room an excellent place to defend.

"Get my supper," said he, "for I am very tired."

"Will your Excellency sup here?" asked the landlord.

"By no manner of means," returned Wogan, who had it in his mind to spy out the land. "I detest nothing so much as my own company."

He went downstairs into the common room and supped off a smoked ham and a bottle of execrable wine. While he ate a man came in and sat him down by the fire. The man had a hot, flushed face, and when he saluted Wogan he could hardly speak.

"You have been running," said Wogan, politely.

"Sir, running is a poor man's overcoat for a chilly evening; besides it helps me to pay with patience the price of wine for vinegar;" and the fellow called the landlord.

Presently two other men entered, and taking a seat by the fire chatted together as though much absorbed in their private business. These two men wore swords.

"You have a good trade," said Wogan to the landlord.

"The mill brings me custom."

The door opened as the landlord spoke, and a big loud-voiced man cheerily wished the company good evening. The two companions at the fire paid no heed to the civility; the third, who had now quite recovered his breath, replied to it. Wogan pushed his plate away and called for a pipe. He thought it might perhaps prove well worth his while to study his landlord's clients before he retired up those narrow stairs. The four men gave no sign of any common agreement, nor were they at all curious as to Wogan. If they spoke at all, they spoke as strangers speak. But while Wogan was smoking his first pipe a fifth man entered, and he just gave one quick glance at Wogan. Wogan behind a cloud of tobacco-smoke saw the movement of the head and detected the look. It might signify nothing but curiosity, of course, but Wogan felt glad that the stairs were narrow. He finished his pipe and was knocking out the ashes when it occurred to him that he had seen that fifth man before; and Wogan looked at him more carefully, and though the fellow was disguised by the growth of a beard he recognised him. It was the servant whom Wogan had seen one day in the Countess of Berg's livery of green and red galloping along the road to Prague.

"I know enough now," thought Wogan. "I can go to bed. The staircase is a pretty place with which we shall all be more familiar in an hour or two." He laughed quietly to himself with a little thrill of enjoyment. His fatigue had vanished. He was on the point of getting up from the table when the two men by the fire looked round towards the last comer and made room for him upon their settle. But he said, "I find the room hot, and will stay by the door."

Wogan changed his mind at the words; he did not get up. On the contrary, he filled his pipe a second time very thoughtfully. He had stayed too long in the room, it seemed; the little staircase was, after all, likely to prove of no service. He did not betray himself by any start or exclamation, he did not even look up, but bending his head over his pipe he thought over the disposition of the room. The fireplace was on his right; the door was opposite to him; the window in the wall at his left. The window was high from the ground and at some distance. On the other hand, he had certain advantages. He was in a corner, he had the five men in front of him, and between them and himself stood a solid table. A loaded pistol was in his belt, his sword hung at his side, and his hunting knife at his waist. Still the aspect of affairs was changed.

"Five men," thought he, "upon a narrow staircase are merely one man who has to be killed five times, but five men in a room are five simultaneous assailants. I need O'Toole here, I need O'Toole's six feet four and the length of his arm and the weight of him—these things I need—but are there five or only four?" And he was at once aware that the two men at the fire had ceased to talk of their business. No one, indeed, was speaking at all, and no one so much as shuffled a foot. Wogan raised his head and proceeded to light his pipe; and he saw that all the five men were silently watching him, and it seemed to him that those five pairs of eyes were unnaturally bright.

However, he appeared to be entirely concerned with his pipe, which, however hard he puffed at it, would not draw. No doubt the tobacco was packed too tight in the bowl. He loosened it, and when he had loosened it the pipe had gone out. He fumbled in his pocket and discovered in the breast of his coat a letter. This letter he glanced through to make sure that it was of no importance, and having informed himself upon the point he folded it into a long spill and walked over to the hearth.

The five pairs of eyes followed his movements. He, however, had no attention to spare. He bent down, lit his spill in the flame, and deliberately lighted his pipe. The tobacco rose above the rim of the bowl like a head of ale in a tankard. Wogan, still holding the burning spill in his right hand, pressed down the tobacco with the little finger of his left, and lighted the pipe again. By this time his spill had burned down to his fingers. He dropped the end into the fire and walked back to his seat. The five pairs of eyes again turned as he turned. He stumbled at a crack in the floor, fell against the table with a clatter of his sword, and rolled noisily into his seat. When he sat down a careful observer might have noticed that his pistol was now at full cock.

He had barely seated himself when the polite man, who had come first hot and short of breath into the room, crossed the floor and leaning over the table said with a smile and the gentlest voice, "I think, sir, you ought to know that we are all very poor men."

"I, too," replied Wogan, "am an Irishman."

The polite man leaned farther across the table; his voice became wheedling in its suavity. "I think you ought to know that we are all very poor men."

"The repetition of the remark," said Wogan, "argues certainly a poverty of ideas."

"We wish to become less poor."

"It is an aspiration which has pushed many men to creditable feats."

"You can help us."

"My prayers are at your disposal," said Wogan.

"By more than your prayers;" and he added in a tone of apology, "there are five of us."

"Then I have a guinea apiece for you," and Wogan thrust the table a little away from him to search his pockets. It also gave him more play.

"We do not want your money. You have a letter which we can coin."

Wogan smiled.

"There, sir, you are wrong."

The polite man waved the statement aside. "A letter from Prince Sobieski," said he.

"I had such a letter a minute ago, but I lit my pipe with it under your nose."

The polite man stepped back; his four companions started to their feet.

The servant from Ohlau cried out with an oath, "It's a lie."

Wogan shrugged his shoulders and crossed his legs.

"Here's a fine world," said he. "A damned rag of a lackey gives a gentleman the lie."

"You will give me the letter," said the polite man, coming round the table. He held his right hand behind his back.

"You can sweep up the ashes from the hearth," said Wogan, who made no movement of any kind. The polite man came close to his side; Wogan let him come. The polite man stretched out his left hand towards Wogan's pocket. Wogan knocked the hand away, and the man's right arm swung upwards from behind his back with a gleaming pistol in the hand. Wogan was prepared for him; he had crossed his legs to be prepared, and as the arm came round he kicked upwards from the knee. The toe of his heavy boot caught the man upon the point of the elbow. His arm was flung up; the pistol exploded and then dropped onto the floor. That assailant was for the time out of action, but at the same moment the lackey came running across the floor, his shoulders thrust forward, a knife in his hand.

Wogan had just time to notice that the lackey's coat was open at his breast. He stood up, leaned over the table, caught the lapels one in each hand as the fellow rushed at him, and lifting the coat up off his shoulders violently jammed it backwards down his arms as though he would strip him of it. The lackey stood with his arms pinioned at his elbows for a second. During that second Wogan drew his hunting knife from his belt and drove it with a terrible strength into the man's chest.

"There's a New Year's gift for your mistress, the Countess of Berg," cried Wogan; and the lackey swung round with the force of the blow and then hopped twice in a horrible fashion with his feet together across the room as though returning to his place, and fell upon the floor, where he lay twisting.

The polite man was nursing his elbow in a corner; there were three others left,—the man with the cheery voice, who had no weapon but a knobbed stick, and the companions on the settle. These two had swords and had drawn them. They leaped over the lackey's body and rushed at Wogan one a little in advance of the other. Wogan tilted the heavy table and flung it over to make a barricade in front of him. It fell with a crash, and the lower rim struck upon the instep of the leader and pinned his foot. His companion drew back; he himself uttered a cry and wrenched at his foot. Wogan with his left hand drew his sword from the scabbard, and with the same movement passed it through his opponent's body. The man stood swaying, pinned there by his foot and held erect. Then he made one desperate lunge, fell forward across the barricade, and hung there. Wogan parried the lunge; the sword fell from the man's hand and clattered onto the floor within the barricade. Wogan stamped upon it with his heel and snapped the blade. He had still two opponents; and as they advanced again he suddenly sprung onto the edge of the table, gave one sweeping cut in a circle with his sword, and darted across the room. The two men gave ground; Wogan passed between them. Before they could strike at his back he was facing them again. He had no longer his barricade, but on the other hand his shoulders were against the door.

The swordsman crossed blades with him, and at the first pass Wogan realised with dismay that his enemy was a swordsman in knowledge as well as in the possession of the weapon. He had a fencer's suppleness of wrist and balance of body; he pressed Wogan hard and without flurry. The blade of his sword made glittering rings about Wogan's, and the point struck at his breast like an adder.

Wogan was engaged with his equal if not with his better. He was fighting for his life with one man, and he would have to fight for it with two, nay, with three. For over his opponent's shoulder he saw his first polite antagonist cross to the table and pick up from the ground the broken sword. One small consolation Wogan had; the fellow picked it up with his left hand, his right elbow was still useless. But even that consolation lasted him for no long time, for out of the tail of his eye he could see the big fellow creeping up with his stick raised along the wall at his right.

Wogan suddenly pressed upon his opponent, delivering thrust upon thrust, and forced him to give ground. As the swordsman drew back, Wogan swept his weapon round and slashed at the man upon his right. But the stroke was wide of its mark, and the big man struck at the sword with his stick, struck with all his might, so that Wogan's arm tingled from the wrist to the shoulder. That, however, was the least part of the damage the stick did. It broke Wogan's sword short off at the hilt.

Both men gave a cry of delight. Wogan dropped the hilt.

"I have a loaded pistol, my friends; you have forgotten that," he cried, and plucked the pistol from his belt. At the same moment he felt behind him with his left hand for the knob of the door. He fired at the swordsman and his pistol missed, he flung it at the man with the stick, and as he flung it he sprang to the right, threw open the door, darted into the passage, and slammed the door to.

It was the work of a second. The men sprang at him as he opened the door; as he slammed it close a sword-point pierced the thin panel and bit like a searing iron into his shoulder. Wogan uttered a cry; he heard an answering shout in the room, he clung to the handle, setting his foot against the wall, and was then stabbed in the back. For his host was waiting for him in the passage.

Wogan dropped the door-handle and turned. That last blow had thrown him into a violent rage. Possessed by rage, he was no longer conscious of wounds or danger; he was conscious only of superhuman strength. The knife was already lifted to strike again. Wogan seized the wrist which held the knife, grappled with the innkeeper, and caught him about the body. The door of the room, now behind him, was flung violently open. Wogan, who was wrought to a frenzy, lifted up the man he wrestled with, and swinging round hurled him headlong through the doorway. The three men were already on the threshold. The new missile bounded against them, tumbled them one against the other, and knocked them sprawling and struggling on the floor.

Wogan burst into a laugh of exultation; he saw his most dangerous enemy striving to disentangle himself and his sword.

"Aha, my friend," he cried, "you handle a sword very prettily, but I am the better man at cock-shies." And shutting the door to be ran down the passage into the road.

He had seen a house that afternoon with a high garden wall about it a quarter of a mile away. Wogan ran towards it. The mist was still thick, but he now began to feel his strength failing. He was wounded in the shoulder, he was stabbed in the back, and from both wounds the blood was flowing warm. Moreover, he looked backwards once over his shoulder and saw a lantern dancing in the road. He kept doggedly running, though his pace slackened; he heard a shout and an answering shout behind him. He stumbled onto his knees, picked himself up, and staggered on, labouring his breath, dizzy. He stumbled again and fell, but as he fell he struck against the sharp corner of the wall. If he could find an entrance into the garden beyond that wall! He turned off the road to the left and ran across a field, keeping close along the side of the wall. He came to another corner and turned to the right. As he turned he heard voices in the road. The pursuers had stopped and were searching with the lantern for traces of his passage. He ran along the back of the wall, feeling for a projection, a tree, anything which would enable him to climb it. The wall was smooth, and though the branches of trees swung and creaked above his head, their stems grew in the garden upon the other side. He was pouring with sweat, his breath whistled, in his ears he had the sound of innumerable armies marching across the earth, but he stumbled on. And at last, though his right side brushed against the wall, he none the less struck against it also with his chest. He was too dazed for the moment to understand what had happened; all the breath he had left was knocked clean out of his body; he dropped in a huddle on the ground.

In a little he recovered his breath; he listened and could no longer hear any sound of voices; he began to consider. He reached a hand out in front of him and touched the wall; he reached out a hand to the right of him and touched the wall again. The wall projected then abruptly and made a right angle.

Now Wogan had spent his boyhood at Rathcoffey among cliffs and rocks. This wall, he reflected, could not be more than twelve feet high. Would his strength last out? He came to the conclusion that it must.

He took off his heavy boots and flung them one by one over the wall. Then he pulled off his coat at the cost of some pain and an added weakness, for the coat was stuck to his wounds and had roughly staunched them. He could feel the blood again soaking his shirt. There was all the more need, then, for hurry. He stood up, jammed his back into the angle of the wall, stretched out his arms on each side, pressing with his elbows and hands, and then bending his knees crossed his legs tailor fashion, and set the soles of his stockinged feet firmly against the bricks on each side. He was thus seated as it were upon nothing, but retaining his position by the pressure of his arms and feet and his whole body. Still retaining this position, very slowly, very laboriously, he worked himself up the angle, stopping now and then to regain his breath, now and then slipping back an inch. But he mounted towards the top, and after a while the back of his head no longer touched the bricks. His head was above the coping of the wall.

It was at this moment that he saw the lantern again, just at the corner where he had turned. The lantern advanced slowly; it was now held aloft, now close to the ground. Wogan was very glad he had thrown his boots and coat into the garden. He made a few last desperate struggles; he could now place the palms of his hands behind him upon the coping, and he hoisted himself up and sat on the wall.

The lantern was nearer to him; he lay flat upon his face on the coping, and then lowering himself upon the garden side to the full length of his arms, he let go. He fell into a litter of dead leaves, very soft and comfortable. He would not have exchanged them at that moment for the Emperor's own bed. He lay upon his back and saw the dark branches above his head grow bright and green. His pursuers were flashing their lantern on the other side; there was only the thickness of the wall between him and them. He could even hear them whispering and the brushing of their feet. He lay still as a mouse; and then the earth heaved up and fell away altogether beneath him. Wogan had fainted.



CHAPTER VII

It was still night when Wogan opened his eyes, but the night was now clear of mist. There was no moon, however, to give him a guess at the hour. He lay upon his back among the dead leaves, and looking upwards at the stars, caught as it seemed in a lattice-work of branches, floated back into consciousness. He moved, and the movement turned him sick with pain. The knowledge of his wounds came to him and brought with it a clear recollection of the last three nights. The ever-widening black strip in the door on the first night, the clutch at his throat and the leap from the cupboard on the second, the silent watching of those five pairs of eyes on the third, and the lackey with the knife in his breast hopping with both feet horribly across the floor,—the horror of these recollections swept in upon him and changed him from a man into a timorous child. He lay and shuddered until in every creak of the branches he heard the whisper of an enemy, in every flutter of leaves across the lawn a stealthy footstep, and behind every tree-stem he caught the flap of a cloak.

Stiff and sore, he raised himself from the ground, he groped for his boots and coat, and putting them on moved cautiously through the trees, supporting himself from stem to stem. He came to the borders of a wide, smooth lawn, and on the farther side stood the house,—a long, two-storeyed house with level tiers of windows stretching to the right and the left, and a bowed tower in the middle. Through one of the windows in the ground-floor Wogan saw the spark of a lamp, and about that window a fan of yellow light was spread upon the lawn.

Wogan at this moment felt in great need of companionship. He stole across the lawn and looked into the room. An old gentleman with a delicate face, who wore his own white hair, was bending over a book at a desk. The room was warmly furnished, the door of the stove stood open, and Wogan could see the logs blazing merrily. A chill wind swept across the lawn, very drear and ghostly. Wogan crept closer to the window. A great boar-hound rose at the old man's feet and growled; then the old man rose, and crossing to the window pressed his face against the panes with his hands curved about his eyes. Wogan stepped forward and stood within the fan of light, spreading out his arms to show that he came as a supplicant and with no ill intent.

The old man, with a word to his hound, opened the window.

"Who is it?" he asked, and with a thrill not of fear but of expectation in his voice.

"A man wounded and in sore straits for his life, who would gladly sit for a few minutes by your fire before he goes upon his way."

The old man stood aside, and Wogan entered the room. He was spattered from head to foot with mud, his clothes were torn, his eyes sunken, his face was of a ghastly pallor and marked with blood.

"I am the Chevalier Warner," said Wogan, "a gentleman of Ireland. You will pardon me. But I have gone through so much these last three nights that I can barely stand;" and dropping into a chair he dragged it up to the door of the stove, and crouched there shivering.

The old man closed the window.

"I am Count Otto von Ahlen, and in my house you are safe as you are welcome."

He went to a sideboard, and filling a glass carried it to Wogan. The liquor was brandy. Wogan drank it as though it had been so much water. He was in that condition of fatigue when the most extraordinary events seem altogether commonplace and natural. But as he felt the spirit warming his blood, he became aware of the great difference between his battered appearance and that of the old gentleman with the rich dress and the white linen who stooped so hospitably above him, and he began to wonder at the readiness of the hospitality. Wogan might have been a thief, a murderer, for all Count Otto knew. Yet the Count, with no other protection than his dog, had opened his window, and at that late hour of the night had welcomed him without a word of a question.

"Sir," said Wogan, "my visit is the most unceremonious thing in the world. I plump in upon you in the dark of the morning, as I take it to be, and disturb you at your books without so much as knocking at the door."

"It is as well you did not knock at the door," returned the Count, "for my servants are long since in bed, and your knock would very likely have reached neither their ears nor mine." And he drew up a chair and sat down opposite to Wogan, bending forward with his hands upon his knees. The firelight played upon his pale, indoor face, and it seemed to Wogan that he regarded his guest with a certain wistfulness. Wogan spoke his thought aloud,—

"Yet I might be any hedgerow rascal with a taste for your plate, and no particular scruples as to a life or two lying in the way of its gratification."

The Count smiled.

"Your visit is not so unexampled as you are inclined to think. Nearly thirty years ago a young man as you are came in just such a plight as you and stood outside this window at two o'clock of a dark morning. Even so early in my life I was at my books," and he smiled rather sadly. "I let him in and he talked to me for an hour of matters strange and dreamlike, and enviable to me. I have never forgotten that hour, nor to tell the truth have I ever ceased to envy the man who talked to me during it, though many years since he suffered a dreadful doom and vanished from among his fellows. I shall be glad, therefore, to hear your story if you have a mind to tell it me. The young man who came upon that other night was Count Philip Christopher von Koenigsmarck."

Wogan started at the mention of this name. It seemed strange that that fitful and brilliant man, whose brief, passionate, guilty life and mysterious end had made so much noise in the world, had crossed that lawn and stood before that window at just such an hour, and maybe had sat shivering in Wogan's very chair.

"I have no such story as Count Philip von Koenigsmarck no doubt had to tell," said Wogan.

"Chevalier," said Count Otto, with a nod of approval, "Koenigsmarck had the like reticence, though he was not always so discreet, I fear. The Princess Sophia Dorothea was at that time on a visit to the Duke of Wuertemberg at the palace in Stuttgart, but Koenigsmarck told me only that he had snatched a breathing space from the wars in the Low Countries and was bound thither again. Rumour told me afterwards of his fatal attachment. He sat where you sit, Chevalier, wounded as you are, a fugitive from pursuit. Even the stains and disorder of his plight could not disguise the singular beauty of the man or make one insensible to the charm of his manner. But I forget my duties," and he rose. "It would be as well, no doubt, if I did not wake my servants?" he suggested.

"Count Otto," returned Wogan, with a smile, "they have their day's work to-morrow."

The old man nodded, and taking a lamp from a table by the door went out of the room.

Wogan remained alone; the dog nuzzled at his hand; but it seemed to Wogan that there was another in the room besides himself and the dog. The sleeplessness and tension of the last few days, the fatigue of his arduous journey, the fever of his wounds, no doubt, had their effect upon him. He felt that Koenigsmarck was at his side; his eyes could almost discern a shadowy and beautiful figure; his ears could almost hear a musical vibrating voice. And the voice warned him,—in some strange unaccountable way the voice warned and menaced him.

"I fought, I climbed that wall, I crossed the lawn, I took refuge here for love of a queen. For love of a queen all my short life I lived. For love of a queen I died most horribly; and the queen lives, though it would have gone better with her had she died as horribly."

Wogan had once seen the lonely castle of Ahlden where that queen was imprisoned; he had once caught a glimpse of her driving in the dusk across the heath surrounded by her guards with their flashing swords.

He sat chilled with apprehensions and forebodings. They crowded in upon his mind all the more terrible because he could not translate them into definite perils which beyond this and that corner of his life might await him. He was the victim of illusions, he assured himself, at which to-morrow safe in Schlestadt he would laugh. But to-night the illusions were real. Koenigsmarck was with him. Koenigsmarck was by some mysterious alchemy becoming incorporate with him. The voice which spoke and warned and menaced was as much his as Koenigsmarck's.

The old Count opened the door and heard Wogan muttering to himself as he crouched over the fire. The Count carried a basin of water in his hand and a sponge and some linen. He insisted upon washing Wogan's wounds and dressing them in a simple way.

"They are not deep," he said; "a few days' rest and a clever surgeon will restore you." He went from the room again and brought back a tray, on which were the remains of a pie, a loaf of bread, and some fruit.

"While you eat, Chevalier, I will mix you a cordial," said he, and he set about his hospitable work. "You ask me why I so readily opened my window to you. It was because I took you for Koenigsmarck himself come back as mysteriously as he disappeared. I did not think that if he came back now his hair would be as white, his shoulders as bent, as mine. Indeed, one cannot think of Koenigsmarck except as a youth. You had the very look of him as you stood in the light upon the lawn. You have, if I may say so, something of his gallant bearing and something of his grace."

Wogan could have heard no words more distressing to him at this moment.

"Oh, stop, sir. I pray you stop!" he cried out violently, and noting the instant he had spoken the surprise on Count Otto's face. "There, sir, I give you at once by my discourtesy an example of how little I merit a comparison with that courtly nobleman. Let me repair it by telling you, since you are willing to hear, of my night's adventure." And as he ate he told his story, omitting the precise object of his journey, the nature of the letter which he had burned, and any name which might give a clue to the secret of his enterprise.

The Count Otto listened with his eyes as well as his ears; he hung upon the words, shuddering at each danger that sprang upon Wogan, exclaiming in wonder at the shift by which he escaped from it, and at times he looked over towards his books with a glance of veritable dislike.

"To feel the blood run hot in one's veins, to be bedfellows with peril, to go gallantly forward hand in hand with endeavour," he mused and broke off. "See, I own a sword, being a gentleman. But it is a toy, an ornament; it stands over there in the corner from day to day, and my servants clean it from rust as they will. Now you, sir, I suppose—"

"My horse and my sword, Count," said Wogan, "when the pinch comes, they are one's only servants. It would be an ill business if I did not see to their wants."

The old man was silent for a while. Then he said timidly, "It was for a woman, no doubt, that you ran this hazard to-night?"

"For a woman, yes."

The Count folded his hands and leaned forward.

"Sir, a woman is a strange inexplicable thing to me. Their words, their looks, their graceful, delicate shapes, the motives which persuade them, the thoughts which their eyes conceal,—all these qualities make them beings of another world to me. I do envy men at times who can stand beside them, talk with them without fear, be intimate with them, and understand their intricate thoughts."

"Are there such men?" asked Wogan.

"Men who love, such as Count Koenigsmarck and yourself."

Wogan held up his hand with a cry.

"Count, such men, we are told, are the blindest of all. Did not Koenigsmarck prove it? As for myself, not even in that respect can I be ranked with Koenigsmarck. I am a mere man-at-arms, whose love-making is a clash of steel."

"But to-night—this risk you ran; you told me it was for a woman."

"For a woman, yes. For love of a woman, no, no, no!" he exclaimed with surprising violence. Then he rose from his chair.

"But I have stayed my time," said he, "you have never had a more grateful guest. I beg you to believe it."

Count Otto barely heard the words. He was absorbed in the fanciful dreams born of many long solitary evenings, and like most timid and uncommunicative men he made his confidence in a momentary enthusiasm to a stranger.

"Koenigsmarck spoke for an hour, mentioning no names, so that I who from my youth have lived apart could not make a guess. He spoke with a deal of passion; it seemed that one hour his life was paradise and the next a hell. Even as he spoke he was one instant all faith and the next all despair. One moment he was filled with his unworthiness and wonder that so noble a creature as a woman should bend her heart and lips from her heaven down to his earth. The next he could not conceive any man should be such a witless ass as to stake his happiness on the steadiness of so manifest a weathercock as a woman's favour. It was all very strange talk; it opened to me, just as when a fog lifts and rolls down again, a momentary vision of a world of colours in which I had no share; and to tell the truth it left me with a suspicion which has recurred again and again, that all my solitary years over my books, all the delights which the delicate turning of a phrase, or the chase and capture of an elusive idea, can bring to one may not be worth, after all, one single minute of living passion. Passion, Chevalier! There is a word of which I know the meaning only by hearsay. But I wonder at times, whatever harm it works, whether there can be any great thing without it. But you are anxious to go forward upon your way."

He again took up his lamp, and requesting Wogan to follow him, unlatched the window. Wogan, however, did not move.

"I am wondering," said he, "whether I might be yet deeper in your debt. I left behind me a sword."

Count Otto set his lamp down and took a sword from the corner of the room.

"I called it an ornament, and yet in other hands it might well prove a serviceable weapon. The blade is of Spanish steel. You will honour me by wearing it."

Wogan was in two minds with regard to the Count. On the one hand, he was most grateful; on the other he could not but think that over his books he had fallen into a sickly way of thought. He was quite ready, however, to wear his sword; moreover, when he had hooked the hanger to his belt he looked about the room.

"I had a pistol," he said carelessly, "a very useful thing is a pistol, more useful at times than a sword."

"I keep one in my bedroom," said the Count, setting the lamp down, "if you can wait the few moments it will take me to fetch it."

Mr. Wogan was quite able to wait. He was indeed sufficiently generous to tell Count Otto that he need not hurry. The Count fetched the pistol and took up the lamp again.

"Will you now follow me?"

Wogan looked straight before him into the air and spoke to no one in particular.

"A pistol is, to be sure, more useful than a sword; but there is just one thing more useful on an occasion than a pistol, and that is a hunting knife."

Count Otto shook his head.

"There, Chevalier, I doubt if I can serve you."

"But upon my word," said Wogan, picking up a carving-knife from the tray, "here is the very thing."

"It has no sheath."

Wogan was almost indignant at the suggestion that he would go so far as to ask even his dearest friend for a sheath. Besides, he had a sheath, and he fitted the knife into it.

"Now," said he, pleasantly, "all that I need is a sound, swift, thoroughbred horse about six or seven years old."

Count Otto for the fourth time took up his lamp.

"Will you follow me?" he said for the fourth time.

Wogan followed the old man across the lawn and round a corner of the house until he came to a long, low building surmounted by a cupola. The building was the stable, and the Count Otto roused one of his grooms.

"Saddle me Flavia," said he. "Flavia is a mare who, I fancy, fulfils your requirements."

Wogan had no complaint to make of her. She had the manners of a courtier. It seemed, too, that she had no complaint to make of Mr. Wogan. Count Otto laid his hand upon the bridle and led the mare with her rider along a lane through a thicket of trees and to a small gate.

"Here, then, we part, Chevalier," said he. "No doubt to-morrow I shall sit down at my table, knowing that I talked a deal of folly ill befitting an old man. No doubt I shall be aware that my books are the true happiness after all. But to-night—well, to-night I would fain be twenty years of age, that I might fling my books over the hedge and ride out with you, my sword at my side, my courage in my hand, into the world's highway. I will beg you to keep the mare as a token and a memory of our meeting. There is no better beast, I believe, in Christendom."

Wogan was touched by the old gentleman's warmth.

"Count," said Wogan, "I will gladly keep your mare in remembrance of your great goodwill to a stranger. But there is one better beast in Christendom."

"Indeed? And which is that?"

"Why, sir, the black horse which the lady I shall marry will ride into my city of dreams." And so he rode off upon his way. The morning was just beginning to gleam pale in the east. Here was a night passed which he had not thought to live through, and he was still alive to help the chosen woman imprisoned in the hollow of the hills at Innspruck. Wogan had reason to be grateful to that old man who stood straining his eyes after him. There was something pathetical in his discontent with his secluded life which touched Wogan to the heart. Wogan was not sure that in the morning the old man would know that the part he had chosen was, after all, the best. Besides, Wogan had between his knees the most friendly and intelligent beast which he had ridden since that morning when he met Lady Featherstone on the road to Bologna. But he had soon other matters to distract his thoughts. However easily Flavia cantered or trotted she could not but sharply remind him of his wounds. He had forty miles to travel before he could reach Schlestadt; and in the villages on the road there was gossip that day of a man with a tormented face who rode rocking in his saddle as though the furies were at his back.



CHAPTER VIII

The little town of Schlestadt went to bed betimes. By ten o'clock its burghers were in their night-caps. A belated visitor going home at that hour found his footsteps ring upon the pavement with surprising echoes, and traversed dark street after dark street, seeing in each window, perhaps, a mimic moon, but no other light unless his path chanced to lie through Herzogstrasse. In that street a couple of windows on the first floor showed bright and unabashed, and the curious passer-by could detect upon the blind the shadows of men growing to monstrous giants and dwindling to pigmies according as they approached or retired from the lamp in the room.

There were three men in that room booted as for a journey. Their dress might have misled one into the belief that they were merchants, but their manner of wearing it proclaimed them soldiers. Of the three, one, a short, spare man, sat at the table with his head bent over a slip of paper. His peruke was pushed back from his forehead and showed that the hair about his temples was grey. He had a square face of some strength, and thoughtful eyes.

The second of the three stood by the window. He was, perhaps, a few years younger, thirty-six an observer might have guessed to the other's forty, and his face revealed a character quite different. His features were sharp, his eyes quick; if prudence was the predominating quality of the first, resource took its place in the second. While the first man sat patiently at the table, this one stood impatiently at the window. Now he lifted the blind, now he dropped it again.

The third sat in front of the fire with his face upturned to the ceiling. He was a tall, big man with mighty legs which sprawled one on each side of the hearth. He was the youngest of the three by five years, but his forehead at this moment was so creased, his mouth so pursed up, his cheeks so wrinkled, he had the look of sixty years. He puffed and breathed very heavily; once or twice he sighed, and at each sigh his chair creaked under him. Major O'Toole of Dillon's regiment was thinking.

"Gaydon," said he, suddenly.

The man at the table looked up quickly.

"Misset."

The man at the window turned impatiently.

"I have an idea."

Misset shrugged his shoulders.

Gaydon said, "Let us hear it."

O'Toole drew himself up; his chair no longer creaked, it groaned and cracked.

"It is a lottery," said he, "and we have made our fortunes. We three are the winners, and so our names are not crossed out."

"But I have put no money in a lottery," objected Gaydon.

"Nor I," said Misset.

"And where should I find money either?" said O'Toole. "But Charles Wogan has borrowed it for us and paid it in, and so we're all rich men. What'll I buy with it?"

Misset paced the room.

"The paper came four days ago?" he said.

"Yes, in the morning."

"Five days, then," and he stood listening. Then he ran to the window and opened it. Gaydon followed him and drew up the blind. Both men listened and were puzzled.

"That's the sound of horseshoes," said Gaydon.

"But there's another sound keeping pace with the horseshoes," said Misset.

O'Toole leaned on their shoulders, crushing them both down upon the sill of the window.

"It is very like the sound a gentleman makes when he reels home from a tavern."

Gaydon and Misset raised themselves with a common effort springing from a common thought and shot O'Toole back into the room.

"What if it is?" began Misset.

"He was never drunk in his life," said Gaydon.

"It's possible that he has reformed," said O'Toole; and the three men precipitated themselves down the stairs.

The drunkard was Wogan; he was drunk with fatigue and sleeplessness and pain, but he had retained just enough of his sober nature to spare a tired mare who had that day served him well.

The first intimation he received that his friends were on the watch was O'Toole's voice bawling down the street to him.

"Is it a lottery? Tell me we're all rich men," and he felt himself grasped in O'Toole's arms.

"I'll tell you more wonderful things than that," stammered Wogan, "when you have shown me the way to a stable."

"There's one at the back of the house," said Gaydon. "I'll take the horse."

"No," said Wogan, stubbornly, and would not yield the bridle to Gaydon.

O'Toole nodded approval.

"There are two things," said he, "a man never trusts to his friends. One's his horse; t' other's his wife."

Wogan suddenly stopped and looked at O'Toole. O'Toole answered the look loftily.

"It is a little maxim of philosophy. I have others. They come to me in the night."

Misset laughed. Wogan walked on to the stable. It was a long building, and a light was still burning. Moreover, a groom was awake, for the door was opened before they had come near enough to knock. There were twelve stalls, of which nine were occupied, and three of the nine horses stood ready saddled and bridled.

Wogan sat down upon a corn-bin and waited while his mare was groomed and fed. The mare looked round once or twice in the midst of her meal, twisting her neck as far as her halter allowed.

"I am not gone yet, my lady," said he, "take your time."

Wogan made a ghostly figure in the dim shadowy light. His face was of an extraordinary pallor; his teeth chattered; his eyes burned. Gaydon looked at him with concern and said to the groom, "You can take the saddles off. We shall need no horses to-night."

The four men returned to the house. Wogan went upstairs first. Gaydon held back the other two at the foot of the stairs.

"Not a word, not a question, till he has eaten, or we shall have him in bed for a twelvemonth. Misset, do you run for a doctor. O'Toole, see what you can find in the larder."

Wogan sat before the fire without a word while O'Toole spread the table and set a couple of cold partridges upon it and a bottle of red wine. Wogan ate mechanically for a little and afterwards with some enjoyment. He picked the partridges till the bones were clean, and he finished the bottle of wine. Then he rose to his feet with a sigh of something very like to contentment and felt along the mantel-shelf with his hands. O'Toole, however, had foreseen his wants and handed him a pipe newly filled. While Wogan was lighting the tobacco, Misset came back into the room with word that the doctor was out upon his last rounds, but would come as soon as he had returned home. The four men sat down about the fire, and Wogan reached out his hand and felt O'Toole's arm.

"It is you," he said. "There you are, the three of you, my good friends, and this is Schlestadt. But it is strange," and he laughed a little to himself and looked about the room, assuring himself that this indeed was Gaydon's lodging.

"You received a slip of paper?" said he.

"Four days back," said Gaydon.

"And understood?"

"That we were to be ready."

"Good."

"Then it's not a lottery," murmured O'Toole, "and we've drawn no prizes."

"Ah, but we are going to," cried Wogan. "We are safe here. No one can hear us; no one can burst in. But I am sure of that. Misset knows the trick that will make us safe from interruption, eh?"

Misset looked blankly at Wogan.

"Why, one can turn the key," said he.

"To be sure," said Wogan, with a laugh of admiration for that device of which he had bethought himself, and which he ascribed to Misset, "if there's a key; but if there's no key, why, a chair tilted against the door to catch the handle, eh?"

Misset locked the door, not at all comprehending that device, and returned to his seat.

"We are to draw the greatest prize that ever was drawn," resumed Wogan, and he broke off.

"But is there a cupboard in the room? No matter; I forgot that this is Gaydon's lodging, and Gaydon's not the man to overlook a cupboard."

Gaydon jumped up from his chair.

"But upon my word there is a cupboard," he cried, and crossing to a corner of the room he opened a door and looked in. Wogan laughed again as though Gaydon's examination of the cupboard was a very good joke.

"There will be nobody in it," he cried. "Gaydon will never feel a hand gripping the life out of his throat because he forgot to search a cupboard."

The cupboard was empty, as it happened. But Gaydon had left the door of the street open when he went out to meet Wogan; there had been time and to spare for any man to creep upstairs and hide himself had there been a man in Schlestadt that night minded to hear. Gaydon returned to his chair.

"We are to draw the biggest prize in all Europe," said Wogan.

"There!" cried O'Toole. "Will you be pleased to remember when next I have an idea that I was right?"

"But not for ourselves," added Wogan.

O'Toole's face fell.

"Oh, we are to hand it on to a third party," said he.

"Yes."

"Well, after all, that's quite of a piece with our luck."

"Who is the third party?" asked Misset.

"The King."

Misset started up from his chair and leaned forward, his hands upon the arms.

"The King," said O'Toole; "to be sure, that makes a difference."

Gaydon asked quietly, "And what is the prize?"

"The Princess Clementina," said Wogan. "We are to rescue her from her prison in Innspruck."

Even Gaydon was startled.

"We four!" he exclaimed.

"We four!" repeated Misset, staring at Wogan. His mouth was open; his eyes started from his head; he stammered in his speech. "We four against a nation, against half Europe!"

O'Toole simply crossed to a corner of the room, picked up his sword and buckled it to his waist.

"I am ready," said he.

Wogan turned round in his chair and smiled.

"I know that," said he. "So are we all—all ready; is not that so, my friends? We four are ready." And he looked to Misset and to Gaydon. "Here's an exploit, if we but carry it through, which even antiquity will be at pains to match! It's more than an exploit, for it has the sanctity of a crusade. On the one side there's tyranny, oppression, injustice, the one woman who most deserves a crown robbed of it. And on the other—"

"There's the King," said Gaydon; and the three brief words seemed somehow to quench and sober Wogan.

"Yes," said he; "there's the King, and we four to serve him in his need. We are few, but in that lies our one hope. They will never look for four men, but for many. Four men travelling to the shrine of Loretto with the Pope's passport may well stay at Innspruck and escape a close attention."

"I am ready," O'Toole repeated.

"But we shall not start to-night. There's the passport to be got, a plan to be arranged."

"Oh, there's a plan," said O'Toole. "To be sure, there's always a plan." And he sat down again heavily, as though he put no faith in plans.

Misset and Gaydon drew their chairs closer to Wogan's and instinctively lowered their voices to the tone of a whisper.

"Is her Highness warned of the attempt?" asked Gaydon.

"As soon as I obtained the King's permission," replied Wogan, "I hurried to Innspruck. There I saw Chateaudoux, the chamberlain of the Princess's mother. Here is a letter he dropped in the cathedral for me to pick up."

He drew the letter from his fob and handed it to Gaydon. Gaydon read it and handed it to Misset. Misset nodded and handed it to O'Toole, who read it four times and handed it back to Gaydon with a flourish of the hand as though the matter was now quite plain to him.

"Chateaudoux has a sweetheart," said he, sententiously. "Very good; I do not think the worse of him."

Gaydon glanced a second time through the letter.

"The Princess says that you must have the Prince Sobieski's written consent."

"I went from Innspruck to Ohlau," said Wogan. "I had some trouble, and the reason of my coming leaked out. The Countess de Berg suspected it from the first. She had a friend, an Englishwoman, Lady Featherstone, who was at Ohlau to outwit me."

"Lady Featherstone!" said Misset. "Who can she be?"

Wogan told them of his first meeting with Lady Featherstone on the Florence road, but he knew no more about her, and not one of the three knew anything at all.

"So the secret's out," said Gaydon. "But you outstripped it."

"Barely," said Wogan. "Forty miles away I had last night to fight for my life."

"But you have the Prince's written consent?" said Misset.

"I had last night, but I made a spill of it to light my pipe. There were six men against me. Had that been found on my dead body, why, there was proof positive of our attempt, and the attempt foiled by sure safeguards. As it is, if we lie still a little while, their fears will cease and the rumour become discredited."

Misset leaned across Gaydon's arm and scanned the letter.

"But her Highness writes most clearly she will not move without that sure token of her father's consent."

Wogan drew from his breast pocket a snuff-box made from a single turquoise.

"Here's a token no less sure. It was Prince Sobieski's New Year's gift to me,—a jewel unique and in an unique setting. This must persuade her. His father, great King John of Poland, took it from the Grand Vizier's tent when the Turks were routed at Vienna."

O'Toole reached out his hand and engulfed the jewel.

"Sure," said he, "it is a pretty sort of toy. It would persuade any woman to anything so long as she was promised it to hang about her neck. You must promise it to the Princess, but not give it to her—no, lest when she has got it she should be content to remain in Innspruck. I know. You must promise it."

Wogan bowed to O'Toole's wisdom and took back the snuff-box. "I will not forget to promise it," said he.

"But here's another point," said Gaydon. "Her Highness, the Princess's mother, insists that a woman shall attend upon her daughter, and where shall we find a woman with the courage and the strength?"

"I have thought of that," said Wogan. "Misset has a wife. By the luckiest stroke in the world Misset took a wife this last spring."

There was at once a complete silence. Gaydon stared into the fire, O'Toole looked with intense interest at the ceiling, Misset buried his face in his hands. Wogan was filled with consternation. Was Misset's wife dead? he asked himself. He had spoken lightly, laughingly, and he went hot and cold as he recollected the raillery of his words. He sat in his chair shocked at the pain which he had caused his friend. Moreover, he had counted surely upon Mrs. Misset.

Then Misset raised his head from his hands and in a trembling voice he said slowly, "My boy would only live to serve his King. Why should he not serve his King before he lives? My wife will say the like."

There was a depth of quiet feeling in his words which Wogan would never have expected from Misset; and the words themselves were words which he felt no man, no king, however much beloved, however generous to his servants, had any right to expect. They took Wogan's breath away, and not Wogan's only, but Gaydon's and O'Toole's, too. A longer silence than before followed upon them. The very simplicity with which they had been uttered was startling, and made those three men doubt at the first whether they had heard aright.

O'Toole was the first to break the silence.

"It is a strange thing that there never was a father since Adam who was not absolutely sure in his heart that his first-born must be a boy. When you come to think philosophically about it, you'll see that if fathers had their way the world would be peopled with sons with never a bit of a lass in any corner to marry them."

O'Toole's reflection, if not a reason for laughter, made a pretext for it, at which all—even Misset, who was a trifle ashamed of his display of feeling—eagerly caught. Wogan held his hand out and clasped Misset's.

"That was a great saying," said he, "but so much sacrifice is not to be accepted."

Misset, however, was firm. His wife, he said, though naturally timid, could show a fine spirit on occasion, and would never forgive one of them if she was left behind. He argued until a compromise was reached. Misset should lay the matter openly before his wife, and the four crusaders, to use Wogan's term, would be bound by her decision.

"So you may take it that matter's settled," said Misset. "There will be five of us."

"Six," said Wogan.

"There's another man to join us, then," said Gaydon. "I have it. Your servant, Marnier."

"No, not Marnier, nor any man. Listen. It is necessary that when once her Highness is rescued we must get so much start as will make pursuit vain. We shall be hampered with a coach, and a coach will travel slowly on the passes of Tyrol. The pursuers will ride horses; they must not come up with us. From Innspruck to Italy, if we have never an accident, will take us at the least four days; it will take our pursuers three. We must have one clear day before her Highness's evasion is discovered. Now, the chief magistrate of Innspruck visits her Highness's apartments twice a day,—at ten in the morning and at ten of the night. The Princess must be rescued at night; and if her escape is discovered in the morning she will never reach Italy, she will be behind the bars again."

"But the Princess's mother will be left," said Gaydon. "She can plead that her daughter is ill."

"The magistrate forces his way into the very bedroom. We must take with us a woman who will lie in her Highness's bed with the curtains drawn about her and a voice so weak with suffering that she cannot raise it above a whisper, with eyes so tired from sleeplessness she cannot bear a light near them. Help me in this. Name me a woman with the fortitude to stay behind."

Gaydon shook his head.

"She will certainly be discovered. The part she plays in the escape must certainly be known. She will remain for the captors to punish as they will. I know no woman."

"Nay," said Wogan; "you exaggerate her danger. Once the escape is brought to an issue, once her Highness is in Bologna safe, the Emperor cannot wreak vengeance on a woman; it would be too paltry." And now he made his appeal to Misset.

"No, my friend," Misset replied. "I know no woman with the fortitude."

"But you do," interrupted O'Toole. "So do I. There's no difficulty whatever in the matter. Mrs. Misset has a maid."

"Oho!" said Gaydon.

"The maid's name is Jenny."

"Aha!" said Wogan.

"She's a very good friend of mine."

"O'Toole!" cried Misset, indignantly. "My wife's maid—a very good friend of yours?"

"Sure she is, and you didn't know it," said O'Toole, with a chuckle. "I am the cunning man, after all. She would do a great deal for me would Jenny."

"But has she courage?" asked Wogan.

"Faith, her father was a French grenadier and her mother a vivandiere. It would be a queer thing if she was frightened by a little matter of lying in bed and pretending to be someone else."

"But can we trust her with the secret?" asked Gaydon.

"No!" exclaimed Misset, and he rose angrily from his chair. "My wife's maid—O'Toole—O'Toole—my wife's maid. Did ever one hear the like?"

"My friend," said O'Toole, quietly, "it seems almost as if you wished to reflect upon Jenny's character, which would not be right."

Misset looked angrily at O'Toole, who was not at all disturbed. Then he said, "Well, at all events, she gossips. We cannot take her. She would tell the whole truth of our journey at the first halt."

"That's true," said O'Toole.

Then for the second time that evening he cried, "I have an idea."

"Well?"

"We'll not tell her the truth at all. I doubt if she would come if we told it her. Jenny very likely has never heard of her Highness the Princess, and I doubt if she cares a button for the King. Besides, she would never believe but that we were telling her a lie. No. We'll make up a probable likely sort of story, and then she'll believe it to be the truth."

"I have it," cried Wogan. "We'll tell her that we are going to abduct an heiress who is dying for love of O'Toole, and whose merciless parents are forcing her into a loveless, despicable marriage with a tottering pantaloon."

O'Toole brought his hand down upon the arm of the chair.

"There's the very story," he cried. "To be sure, you are a great man, Charles. The most probable convincing story that was ever invented! Oh! but you'll hear Jenny sob with pity for the heiress and Lucius O'Toole when she hears it. It will be a bad day, too, for the merciless parents when they discover Jenny in her Highness's bed. She stands six feet in her stockings."

"Six feet!" exclaimed Wogan.

"In her stockings," returned O'Toole. "Her height is her one vanity. Therefore in her shoes she is six feet four."

"Well, she must take her heels off and make herself as short as she can."

"You will have trouble, my friend, to persuade her to that," said O'Toole.

"Hush!" said Gaydon. He rose and unlocked the door. The doctor was knocking for admission below. Gaydon let him in, and he dressed Wogan's wounds with an assurance that they were not deep and that a few days' quiet would restore him.

"I will sleep the night here if I may," said Wogan, as soon as the doctor had gone. "A blanket and a chair will serve my turn."

They took him into Gaydon's bedroom, where three beds were ranged.

"We have slept in the one room and lived together since your message came four days ago," said Gaydon. "Take your choice of the beds, for there's not one of us has so much need of a bed as you."

Wogan drew a long breath of relief.

"Oh! but it's good to be with you," he cried suddenly, and caught at Gaydon's arm. "I shall sleep to-night. How I shall sleep!"

He stretched out his aching limbs between the cool white sheets, and when the lamp was extinguished he called to each of his three friends by name to make sure of their company. O'Toole answered with a grunt on his right, Misset on his left, and Gaydon from the corner of the room.

"But I have wanted you these last three days!" said Wogan. "To-morrow when I tell you the story of them you will know how much I have wanted you."

They got, however, some inkling of Wogan's need before the morrow came. In the middle of the night they were wakened by a wild scream and heard Wogan whispering in an agony for help. They lighted a lamp and saw him lying with his hand upon his throat and his eyes starting from his head with horror.

"Quick," said he, "the hand at my throat! It's not the letter so much, it's my life they want."

"It's your own hand," said Gaydon, and taking the hand he found it lifeless. Wogan's arm in that position had gone to sleep, as the saying is. He had waked suddenly in the dark with the cold pressure at his throat, and in the moment of waking was back again alone in the inn near Augsburg. Wogan indeed needed his friends.



CHAPTER IX

The next morning Wogan was tossing from side to side in a high fever. The fever itself was of no great importance, but it had consequences of a world-wide influence, for it left Wogan weak and tied to his bed; so that it was Gaydon who travelled to Rome and obtained the Pope's passport. Gaydon consequently saw what otherwise Wogan would have seen; and Gaydon, the cautious, prudent Gaydon, was careful to avoid making an inopportune discovery, whereas Wogan would never have rested until he had made it.

Gaydon stayed in Rome a week, lying snug and close in a lodging only one street removed from that house upon the Tiber where his King lived. Secrets had a way of leaking out, and Gaydon was determined that this one should not through any inattention of his. He therefore never went abroad until dark, and even then kept aloof from the house which overlooked the Tiber. His business he conducted through his servant, sending him to and fro between Edgar, the secretary, and himself. One audience of his King alone he asked, and that was to be granted him on the day of his departure from Rome.

Thus the time hung very heavily upon him. From daybreak to dusk he was cooped within a little insignificant room which looked out upon a little insignificant street. His window, however, though it promised little diversion, was his one resource. Gaydon was a man of observation, and found a pleasure in guessing at this and that person's business from his appearance, his dress, and whether he went fast or slow. So he sat steadily at his window, and after a day or two had passed he began to be puzzled. The moment he was puzzled he became interested. On the second day he drew his chair a little distance back from the window and watched. On the third day he drew his chair close to the window, but at the side and against the wall. In this way he could see everything that happened and everyone who passed, and yet remain himself unobserved.

Almost opposite to his window stood a small mean house fallen into neglect and disrepair. The windows were curtained with dust, many of the panes were broken, the shutters hung upon broken hinges, the paint was peeling from the door. The house had the most melancholy aspect of long disuse. It seemed to belong to no one and to be crumbling pitifully to ruin like an aged man who has no friends. Yet this house had its uses, which Gaydon could not but perceive were of a secret kind. On the very first day that Gaydon sat at his window a man, who seemed from his dress to be of a high consideration, came sauntering along that sordid thoroughfare, where he seemed entirely out of place, like a butterfly on the high seas. To Gaydon's surprise he stopped at the door, gave a cautious look round, and rapped quickly with his stick. At once the door of that uninhabited house was opened. The man entered, the door was closed upon him, and a good hour by Gaydon's watch elapsed before it was opened again to let him out. In the afternoon another man came and was admitted with the same secrecy. Both men had worn their hats drawn down upon their foreheads, and whereas one of them held a muffler to his face, the other had thrust his chin within the folds of his cravat. Gaydon had not been able to see the face of either. After nightfall he remarked that such visits became more frequent. Moreover, they were repeated on the next day and the next. Gaydon watched, but never got any nearer to a solution of the mystery. At the end of the sixth day he was more puzzled and interested than ever, for closely as he had watched he had not seen the face of any man who had passed in and out of that door.

But he was to see a face that night.

At nine o'clock a messenger from Edgar, the secretary, brought him a package which contained a letter and the passport for these six days delayed. The letter warned him that Edgar himself would come to fetch him in the morning to his audience with James. The passport gave authority to a Flemish nobleman, the Count of Cernes, to make a pilgrimage to Loretto with his wife and family. The name of Warner had served its turn and could no longer be employed.

As soon as the messenger had gone, Gaydon destroyed Edgar's letter, put the passport safely away in his breast, and since he had not left his room that day, put on his hat. Being a prudent man with a turn for economy, he also extinguished his lamp. He had also a liking for fresh air, so he opened the window, and at the same moment the door of the house opposite was opened. A tall burly man with a lantern in his hand stepped out into the street; he was followed by a slight man of a short stature. Both men were wrapped in their cloaks, but the shorter one tripped on a break in the road and his cloak fell apart. His companion turned at once and held his lantern aloft. Just for a second the light therefore flashed upon a face, and Gaydon at his dark window caught a glimpse of it. The face was the face of his King.

Gaydon was more than ever puzzled. He had only seen the face for an instant; moreover, he was looking down upon it, so that he might be mistaken. He felt, however, that he was not, and he began to wonder at the business that could take his King to this mysterious house. But there was one thing of which he was sure amidst all his doubts, Rome was not the safest city in the world for a man to walk about at nights. His King would be none the worse off for a second guardian who would follow near enough to give help and far enough for discretion. Gaydon went down his stairs into the street. The lantern twinkled ahead; Gaydon followed it until it stopped before a great house which had lights burning here and there in the windows. The smaller man mounted the steps and was admitted; his big companion with the lantern remained outside.

Gaydon, wishing to make sure of his conjectures one way or the other, walked quickly past him and stole a glance sideways at his face. But the man with the lantern looked at Gaydon at the same moment. Their eyes met, and the lantern was immediately held aloft.

"It is Major Gaydon."

Gaydon had to make the best of the business. He bowed.

"Mr. Whittington, I think."

"Sir," said Whittington, politely, "I am honoured by your memory. For myself, I never forget a face though I see it but for a moment between the light and the dark, but I do not expect the like from my acquaintances. We did meet, I believe, in Paris? You are of Dillon's regiment?"

"And on leave in Rome," said Gaydon, a trifle hastily.

"On leave?" said Whittington, idly. "Well, so far as towns go, Rome is as good as another, though, to tell the truth, I find them all quite unendurable. Would I were on leave! but I am pinned here, a watchman with a lantern. I do but lack a rattle, though, to be sure, I could not spring it. We are secret to-night, major. Do you know what house this is?"

"No," replied Gaydon. "But I am waited for and will bid you good-night."

He had a thought that the Chevalier, since he would be secret, had chosen his watchman rather ill. He had no wish to pry, and so was for returning to his lodging; but that careless, imprudent man, Whittington, would not lose a companion so easily. He caught Gaydon by the arm.

"Well, it is the house of Maria Vittoria, Mademoiselle de Caprara, the heiress of Bologna, who has only this evening come to Rome. And so no later than this evening I am playing link-boy, appointed by letters patent, one might say. But what will you? Youth is youth, whether in a ploughboy or a—But my tongue needs a gag. Another word, and I had said too much. Well, since you will be going, good-night. We shall meet, no doubt, in a certain house that overlooks the Tiber."

"Hardly," said Gaydon, "since I leave Rome to-morrow."

"Indeed? You leave Rome to-morrow?" said Whittington. "I would I were as fortunate," and he jerked his thumb dolefully towards the Caprara Palace. Gaydon hesitated for a moment, considering whether or not he should ask Whittington to be silent upon their meeting. But he determined the man was too incautious in his speech. If he begged him not to mention Gaydon's presence in Rome, he would remember it the more surely, and if nothing was said he might forget it. Gaydon wished him good-night and went back to his lodging, walking rather moodily. Whittington looked after him and chuckled.

Meanwhile, in a room of the house two people sat,—one the slight, graceful man who had accompanied Whittington and whom Gaydon had correctly guessed to be his King, the other, Maria Vittoria de Caprara. The Chevalier de St. George was speaking awkwardly with a voice which broke. Maria listened with a face set and drawn. She was a girl both in features and complexion of a remarkable purity. Of colour, but for her red lips, she had none. Her hair was black, her face of a clear pallor which her hair made yet more pale. Her eyes matched her hair, and were so bright and quick a starry spark seemed to glow in the depths of them. She was a poet's simile for night.

The Chevalier ended and sat with his eyes turned away. Maria Vittoria did not change her attitude, nor for a while did she answer, but the tears gathered in her eyes and welled over. They ran down her cheeks; she did not wipe them away, she did not sob, nor did her face alter from its fixity. She did not even close her eyes. Only the tears rained down so silently that the Prince was not aware of them. He had even a thought as he sat with his head averted that she might have shown a trifle more of distress, and it was almost with a reproach upon his lips that he turned to her. Never was a man more glad that he had left a word unspoken. This silent grief of tears cut him to the heart.

"Maria!" he cried, and moved towards her. She made no gesture to repel him, she did not move, but she spoke in a whisper.

"His Holiness the Pope had consented to our marriage. What would I not have done for you?"

The Chevalier stooped over her and took her hand. The hand remained inert in his.

"Maria!"

"Would that I were poor! Would that I were powerless! But I am rich—so rich. I could have done so much. I am alone—so much alone. What would I not have done for you?"

"Maria!"

His voice choked upon the word, his lips touched her hair, and she shivered from head to foot. Then her hand tightened fast upon his; she drew him down almost fiercely until he sank upon his knees by her side; she put an arm about his shoulder and held him to her breast.

"But you love me," she said quickly. "Tell me so! Say, 'I love you, I love you, I love you.' Oh that we both could die, you saying it, I hearing it,—die to-night, like this, my arm about you, your face against my heart! My lord, my lord!" and then she flung him from her, holding him at arm's length. "Say it with your eyes on mine! I can see though the tears fall. I shall never hear the words again after to-night. Do not stint me of them; let them flow just as these tears flow. They will leave no more trace than do my tears."

"Maria, I love you," said the Chevalier. "How I do love you!" He took her hands from his shoulders and pressed his forehead upon them. She leaned forward, and in a voice so low it seemed her heart was whispering, not her mouth, she made her prayer.

"Say that you have no room in your thoughts except for me. Say that you have no scrap of love—" He dropped her hands and drew away; she caught him to her. "No, no! Say that you have no scrap of love to toss to the woman there in Innspruck!"

"Maria!" he exclaimed.

"Hush!" said she, with a woful smile. "To-morrow you shall love her; to-morrow I will not ask your eyes to dwell on mine or your hand to quiver as it touches mine. But to-night love no one but me."

For answer he kissed her on the lips. She took his head between her hands and gave the kiss back, gently as though her lips feared to bruise his, slowly as though this one moment must content her for all her life. Then she looked at him for a little, and with a childish movement that was infinitely sad she laid his face side by side with hers so that his cheek touched hers.

"Shall I tell you my thought?" she asked. "Shall I dare to tell you it?"

"Tell it me!"

"God has died to-night. Hush! Do not move! Do not speak! Perhaps the world will slip and crumble if we but stay still." And they remained thus cheek to cheek silent in the room, staring forward with eyes wide open and hopeful. The very air seemed to them a-quiver with expectation. They, too, had an expectant smile upon their lips. But there was no crack of thunder overhead, no roar of a slipping world.

The Chevalier was the first to move.

"But we are children," he cried, starting up. "Is it not strange the very pain which tortures us because we are man and woman should sink us into children? We sit hoping that a miracle will split the world in pieces! This is the Caprara Palace; Whittington drowses outside over his lantern; and to-morrow Gaydon rides with his passport northwards to Charles Wogan."

The name hurt Maria Vittoria like a physical torture. She beat her hands together with a cry, "I hate him! I hate him!"

"Yet I have no better servant!"

"Speak no good word of him in my ears! He robs me of you."

"He risks his life for me."

"I will pray that he may lose it."

"Maria!"

The Chevalier started, thrilled and almost appalled by the violence of her passion.

"I do pray," she cried. "Every fibre in me tingles with the prayer. Oh, I hate him! Why did you give him leave to rescue her?"

"Could I refuse? I did delay him; I did hesitate. Only to-day Gaydon receives the passport, and even so I have delayed too long. Indeed, Maria, I dare not think of the shame, the danger, her Highness has endured for me, lest my presence here, even for this farewell, should too bitterly reproach me."

At that all Maria Vittoria's vehemence left her. She fell to beseechings and entreaties. With her vehemence went also her dignity. She dropped upon her knees and dragged herself across the room to him. To James her humility was more terrible than her passion, for passion had always distinguished her, and he was familiar with it; but pride had always gone hand in hand with it. He stepped forward and would have raised her from the ground, but Maria would have none of his help; she crouched at his feet pleading.

"You told me business would call you to Spain. Go there! Stay there! For a little—oh, not for long! But for a month, say, after your Princess comes triumphing into Bologna. Promise me that! I could not bear that you should meet her as she comes. There would be shouts; I can hear them. No, I will not have it! I can see her proud cursed face a-flush. No! You think too much of what she has suffered. If I could have suffered too! But suffering, shame, humiliation, these fall to women, always have fallen. We have learnt to bear them so that we feel them less than you. My dear lord, believe me! Her suffering is no great thing. If we love we welcome it! Each throb of pain endured for love becomes a thrill of joy. If I could have suffered too!"

It was strange to hear this girl with the streaming eyes and tormented face bewail her fate in that she had not won that great privilege of suffering. She knelt on the ground a splendid image of pain, and longed for pain that she might prove thereby how little a thing she made of it. The Chevalier drew a stool to her side and seating himself upon it clasped her about the waist. She laid her cheek upon his knee just as a dog will do.

"Sweetheart," said he, "I would have no woman suffer a pang for me had I my will of the world. But since that may not be, I do not believe that any woman could be deeper hurt than you are now."

"Not Clementina?"

"No."

Maria uttered a little sigh. Her pain gave her a sort of ownership of the man who caused it. "Nor can she love as deep," she continued quietly. "A Sobieski from the snows! Love was born here in Italy. She robs me of you. I hate her." Then she raised her face eagerly. "Charles Wogan may fail."

"You do not know him."

"The cleverest have made mistakes and died for them."

"Wogan makes mistakes like another, but somehow gets the better of them in the end. There was a word he said to me when he begged for my permission. I told him his plan was a mere dream. He answered he would dream it true; he will."

"You should have waked him. You were the master, he the servant. You were the King."

"And when can the King do what he wills instead of what he must? Maria, if you and I had met before I sent Charles Wogan to search out a wife for me—"

Maria Vittoria knelt up. She drew herself away.

"He chose her as your wife?"

"If only I had had time to summon him back!"

"He chose her—Charles Wogan. How I hate him!"

"I sent him to make the choice."

"And he might have gone no step beyond Bologna. There was I not a mile distant ready to his hand! But I was too mean, too despicable—"

"Maria, hush!" And the troubled voice in which he spoke rang with so much pain that she was at once contrite with remorse.

"My lord, I hurt you, so you see how I am proven mean. Give me your hand and laugh to me; laugh with your heart and eyes and lips. I am jealous of your pain. I am a woman. I would have it all, gather it all into my bosom, and cherish each sharp stab like a flower my lover gives to me. I am glad of them. They are flowers that will not wither. Add a kiss, sweetheart, the sharpest stab, and so the chief flower, the very rose of flowers. There, that is well," and she rose from her knees and turned away. So she stood for a little, and when she turned again she wore upon her face the smile which she had bidden rise in his.

"Would we were free!" cried the Chevalier.

"But since we are not, let us show brave faces to the world and hide our hearts. I do wish you all happiness. But you will go to Spain. There's a friend's hand in warrant of the wish."

She held out a hand which clasped his firmly without so much as a tremor.

"Good-night, my friend," said she. "Speak those same words to me, and no word more. I am tired with the day's doings. I have need of sleep, oh, great need of it!"

The Chevalier read plainly the overwhelming strain her counterfeit of friendliness put upon her. He dared not prolong it. Even as he looked at her, her lips quivered and her eyes swam.

"Good-night, my friend," said he.

She conducted him along a wide gallery to the great staircase where her lackeys waited. Then he bowed to her and she curtsied low to him, but no word was spoken by either. This little comedy must needs be played in pantomime lest the actors should spoil it with a show of broken hearts.

Maria Vittoria went back to the room. She could have hindered Wogan if she had had the mind. She had the time to betray him; she knew of his purpose. But the thought of betrayal never so much as entered her thoughts.

She hated him, she hated Clementina, but she was loyal to her King. She sat alone in her palace, her chin propped upon her hands, and in a little in her wide unblinking eyes the tears gathered again and rolled down her cheeks and on her hands. She wept silently and without a movement, like a statue weeping.

The Chevalier found Whittington waiting for him, but the candle in his lantern had burned out.

"I have kept you here a wearisome long time," he said with an effort. It was not easy for him to speak upon an indifferent matter.

"I had some talk with Major Gaydon which helped me to beguile it," said Whittington.

"Gaydon!" exclaimed the Chevalier, "are you certain?"

"A man may make mistakes in the darkness," said Whittington.

"To be sure."

"And I never had an eye for faces."

"It was not Gaydon, then?" said the Chevalier.

"It may not have been," said Whittington, "and by the best of good fortune I said nothing to him of any significance whatever."

The Chevalier was satisfied with the reply. He had chosen the right attendant for this nocturnal visit. Had Gaydon met with a more observant man than Whittington outside the Caprara Palace, he might have got a number of foolish suspicions into his head.

Gaydon, however, was at that moment in his bed, saying to himself that there were many matters concerning which it would be an impertinence for him to have one meddlesome thought. By God's blessing he was a soldier and no politician. He fell asleep comforted by that conclusion.

In the morning Edgar, the Chevalier's secretary, came privately to him.

"The King will receive you now," said he. "Let us go."

"It is broad daylight. We shall be seen."

"Not if the street is empty," said Edgar, looking out of the window.

The street, as it chanced, was for the moment empty. Edgar crossed the street and rapped quickly with certain pauses between the raps on the door of that deserted house into which Gaydon had watched men enter. The door was opened. "Follow me," said Edgar. Gaydon followed him into a bare passage unswept and with discoloured walls. A man in a little hutch in the wall opened and closed the door with a string.

Edgar walked forward to the end of the passage with Gaydon at his heels. The two men came to a flight of stone steps, which they descended. The steps led to a dark and dripping cellar with no pavement but the mud, and that depressed into puddles. The air was cold and noisome; the walls to the touch of Gaydon's hand were greasy with slime. He followed Edgar across the cellar into a sort of tunnel. Here Edgar drew an end of candle from his pocket and lighted it. The tunnel was so low that Gaydon, though a shortish man, could barely hold his head erect. He followed Edgar to the end and up a flight of winding steps. The air grew warmer and dryer. They had risen above ground, the spiral wound within the thickness of a wall. The steps ended abruptly; there was no door visible; in face of them and on each side the bare stone walls enclosed them. Edgar stooped down and pressed with his finger on a round insignificant discolouration of the stone. Then he stood up again.

"You will breathe no word of this passage, Major Gaydon," said he. "The house was built a century ago when Rome was more troubled than it is to-day, but the passage was never more useful than now. Men from England, whose names it would astonish you to know, have trodden these steps on a secret visit to the King. Ah!" From the wall before their faces a great slab of the size of a door sank noiselessly down and disclosed a wooden panel. The panel slid aside. Edgar and Gaydon stepped into a little cabinet lighted by a single window. The room was empty. Gaydon took a peep out of the window and saw the Tiber eddying beneath. Edgar went to a corner and touched a spring. The stone slab rose from its grooves; the panel slid back across it; at the same moment the door of the room was opened, and the Chevalier stepped across the threshold.

Gaydon could no longer even pretend to doubt who had walked with Whittington to the Caprara Palace the night before. It was none of his business, however, he assured himself. If his King dwelt with emphasis upon the dangers of the enterprise, it was not his business to remark upon it or to be thereby disheartened. The King said very graciously that he would hold the major and his friends in no less esteem if by any misfortune they came back empty-handed. That was most kind of him, but it was none of Gaydon's business. The King was ill at ease and looked as though he had not slept a wink the livelong night. Well, swollen eyes and a patched pallid face disfigure all men at times, and in any case they were none of Gaydon's business.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse