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

He rode out of Rome that afternoon as the light was failing. He rode at a quick trot, and did not notice at the corner of a street a big stalwart man who sauntered along swinging his stick by the tassel with a vacant look of idleness upon the passers-by. He stopped and directed the same vacant look at Gaydon.

But he was thinking curiously, "Will he tell Charles Wogan?"

The stalwart man was Harry Whittington.

Gaydon, however, never breathed a word about the Caprara Palace when he handed the passport to Charles Wogan at Schlestadt. Wogan was sitting propped up with pillows in a chair, and he asked Gaydon many questions of the news at Rome, and how the King bore himself.

"The King was not in the best of spirits," said Gaydon.

"With this," cried Wogan, flourishing the passport, "we'll find a means to hearten him."

Gaydon filled a pipe and lighted it.

"Will you tell me, Wogan," he asked,—"I am by nature curious,—was it the King who proposed this enterprise to you, or was it you who proposed it to the King?"

The question had an extraordinary effect. Wogan was startled out of his chair.

"What do you mean?" he exclaimed fiercely. There was something more than fierceness in the words,—an accent of fear, it almost seemed to Gaydon. There was a look almost of fear in his eyes, as though he had let some appalling secret slip. Gaydon stared at him in wonder, and Wogan recovered himself with a laugh. "Faith," said he, "it is a question to perplex a man. I misdoubt but we both had the thought about the same time. 'Wogan,' said he, 'there's the Princess with a chain on her leg, so to speak,' and I answered him, 'A chain's a galling sort of thing to a lady's ankle.' There was little more said if I remember right."

Gaydon nodded as though his curiosity was now satisfied. Wogan's alarm was strange, no doubt, strange and unexpected like the Chevalier's visit to the Caprara Palace. Gaydon had a glimpse of dark and troubled waters, but he turned his face away. They were none of his business.



CHAPTER X

In an hour, however, he returned out of breath and with a face white from despair. Wogan was still writing at his table, but at his first glance towards Gaydon he started quickly to his feet, and altogether forgot to cover over his sheet of paper. He carefully shut the door.

"You have bad news," said he.

"There was never worse," answered Gaydon. He had run so fast, he was so discomposed, that he could with difficulty speak. But he gasped his bad news out in the end.

"I went to my brother major to report my return. He was entertaining his friends. He had a letter this morning from Strasbourg and he read it aloud. The letter said a rumour was running through the town that the Chevalier Wogan had already rescued the Princess and was being hotly pursued on the road to Trent."

If Wogan felt any disquietude he was careful to hide it. He sat comfortably down upon the sofa.

"I expected rumour would be busy with us," said he, "but never that it would take so favourable a shape."

"Favourable!" exclaimed Gaydon.

"To be sure, for its falsity will be established to-morrow, and ridicule cast upon those who spread and believed it. False alarms are the proper strategy to conceal the real assault. The rumour does us a service. Our secret is very well kept, for here am I in Schlestadt, and people living in Schlestadt believe me on the road to Trent. I will go back with you to the major's and have a laugh at his correspondent. Courage, my friend. We will give our enemies a month. Let them cry wolf as often as they will during that month, we'll get into the fold all the more easily in the end."

Wogan took his hat to accompany Gaydon, but at that moment he heard another man stumbling in a great haste up the stairs. Misset broke into the room with a face as discomposed as Gaydon's had been.

"Here's another who has heard the same rumour," said Wogan.

"It is more than a rumour," said Misset. "It is an order, and most peremptory, from the Court of France, forbidding any officer of Dillon's regiment to be absent for more than twenty-four hours from his duties on pain of being broke. Our secret's out. That's the plain truth of the matter."

He stood by the table drumming with his fingers in a great agitation. Then his fingers stopped. He had been drumming upon Wogan's sheet of paper, and the writing on the sheet had suddenly attracted his notice. It was writing in unusually regular lines. Gaydon, arrested by Misset's change from restlessness to fixity, looked that way for a second, too, but he turned his head aside very quickly. Wogan's handwriting was none of his business.

"We will give them a month," said Wogan, who was conjecturing at the motive of this order from the Court of France. "No doubt we are suspected. I never had a hope that we should not be. The Court of France, you see, can do no less than forbid us, but I should not be surprised if it winks at us on the sly. We will give them a month. Colonel Lally is a friend of mine and a friend of the King. We will get an abatement of that order, so that not one of you shall be cashiered."

"I don't flinch at that," said Misset, "but the secret's out."

"Then we must use the more precautions," said Wogan. He had no doubt whatever that somehow he would bring the Princess safely out of her prison to Bologna. It could not be that she was born to be wasted. Misset, however, was not so confident upon the matter.

"A strange, imperturbable man is Charles Wogan," said he to Gaydon and O'Toole the same evening. "Did you happen by any chance to cast your eye over the paper I had my hand on?"

"I did not," said Gaydon, in a great hurry. "It was a private letter, no doubt."

"It was poetry. There's no need for you to hurry, my friend. It was more than mere poetry, it was in Latin. I read the first line on the page, and it ran, 'Te, dum spernit, arat novus accola; max ubi cultam—'"

Gaydon tore his arm away from Misset. "I'll hear no more of it," he cried. "Poetry is none of my business."

"There, Dick, you are wrong," said O'Toole, sententiously. Both Misset and Gaydon came to a dead stop and stared. Never had poetry so strange an advocate. O'Toole set his great legs apart and his arms akimbo. He rocked himself backwards and forwards on his heels and toes, while a benevolent smile of superiority wrinkled across his broad face from ear to ear. "Yes, I've done it," said he; "I've written poetry. It is a thing a polite gentleman should be able to do. So I did it. It wasn't in Latin, because the young lady it was written to didn't understand Latin. Her name was Lucy, and I rhymed her to 'juicy,' and the pleasure of it made her purple in the face. There were to have been four lines, but there were never more than three and a half because I could not think of a suitable rhyme to O'Toole. Lucy said she knew one, but she would never tell it me."

Wogan's poetry, however, was of quite a different kind, and had Gaydon looked at it a trifle more closely, he would have experienced some relief. It was all about the sorrows and miseries of his unfortunate race and the cruel oppression of England. England owed all its great men to Ireland and was currish enough never to acknowledge the debt. Wogan always grew melancholy and grave-faced on that subject when he had the leisure to be idle. He thought bitterly of the many Irish officers sent into exile and killed in the service of alien countries; his sense of injustice grew into a passionate sort of despair, and the despair tumbled out of him in sonorous Latin verse written in the Virgilian measure. He wrote a deal of it during this month of waiting, and a long while afterwards sent an extract to Dr. Swift and received the great man's compliments upon its felicity, as anyone may see for himself in the doctor's correspondence.

How the month passed for James Stuart in Rome may be partly guessed from a letter which was brought to Wogan by Michael Vezozzi, the Chevalier's body-servant.

The letter announced that King George of England had offered the Princess Clementina a dowry of L100,000 if she would marry the Prince of Baden, and that the Prince of Baden with a numerous following was already at Innspruck to prosecute his suit.

"I do not know but what her Highness," he wrote, "will receive the best consolation for her sufferings on my account if she accepts so favourable a proposal, rather than run so many hazards as she must needs do as my wife. For myself, I have been summoned most urgently into Spain and am travelling thither on the instant."

Wogan could make neither head nor tail of the letter. Why should the King go to Spain at the time when the Princess Clementina might be expected at Bologna? It was plain that he did not expect Wogan would succeed. He was disheartened. Wogan came to the conclusion that there was the whole meaning of the letter. He was, however, for other reasons glad to receive it.

"It is very well I have this letter," said he, "for until it came I had no scrap of writing whatever to show either to her Highness or, what I take to be more important, to her Highness's mother," and he went back to his poetry.

Misset and his wife, on the other hand, drove forward to the town of Colmar, where they bought a travelling carriage and the necessaries for the journey. Misset left his wife at Colmar, but returned every twenty-four hours himself. They made the excuse that Misset had won a deal of money at play and was minded to lay it out in presents to his wife. The stratagem had a wonderful success at Schlestadt, especially amongst the ladies, who could do nothing day and night but praise in their husbands' hearing so excellent a mode of disposing of one's winnings.

O'Toole spent his month in polishing his pistols and sharpening his sword. It is true that he had to persuade Jenny to bear them company, but that was the work of an afternoon. He told her the story of the rich Austrian heiress, promised her a hundred guineas and a damask gown, gave her a kiss, and the matter was settled.

Jenny passed her month in a delicious excitement. She was a daughter of the camp, and had no fears whatever. She was a conspirator; she was trusted with a tremendous secret; she was to help the beautiful and enormous O'Toole to a rich and beautiful wife; she was to outwit an old curmudgeon of an uncle; she was to succour a maiden heart-broken and imprisoned. Jenny was quite uplifted. Never had a maid-servant been born to so high a destiny. Her only difficulty was to keep silence, and when the silence became no longer endurable she would run on some excuse or another to Wogan and divert him with the properest sentiments.

"To me," she would cry, "there's nothing sinful in changing clothes with the beautiful mistress of O'Toole. Christian charity says we are to make others happy. I am a Christian, and as to the uncle he can go to the devil! He can do nothing to me but talk, and I don't understand his stupid language."

Jenny was the one person really happy during this month. It was Wogan's effort to keep her so, for she was the very pivot of his plan.

There remains yet one other who had most reason of all to repine at the delay, the Princess Clementina. Her mother wearied her with perpetual complaints, the Prince of Baden, who was allowed admittance to the villa, persecuted her with his attentions; she knew nothing of what was planned for her escape, and the rigorous confinement was not relaxed. It was not a happy time for Clementina. Yet she was not entirely unhappy. A thought had come to her and stayed with her which called the colour to her cheeks and a smile to her lips. It accounted to her for the delay; her pride was restored by it; because of it she became yet more patient with her mother, more gentle with the Prince of Baden, more good-humoured to her gaolers. It sang at her heart like a bird; it lightened in her grey eyes. It had come to her one sleepless night, and the morning had not revealed it as a mere phantasy born of the night. The more she pondered it, the more certain was she of its truth. Her King was coming himself at the hazard of his life to rescue her.



CHAPTER XI

Therefore she waited in patience. It was still winter at Innspruck, though the calendar declared it to be spring. April was budless and cold, a month of storms; the snow drifted deep along the streets and M. Chateaudoux was much inconvenienced during his promenades in the afternoon. He would come back with most reproachful eyes for Clementina in that she so stubbornly clung to her vagabond exile and refused so fine a match as the Prince of Baden. On the afternoon of the 25th, however, Clementina read more than reproach in his eyes, more than discomfort in the agitation of his manner. The little chamberlain was afraid.

Clementina guessed the reason of his fear.

"He has come!" she cried. The exultation of her voice, the deep breath she drew, the rush of blood to her face, and the sudden dancing light in her eyes showed how much constraint she had set upon herself. She was like an ember blown to a flame. "You were stopped in your walk. You have a message for me. He has come!"

The height of her joy was the depth of Chateaudoux's regret.

"I was stopped in my walk," said he, "but not by the Chevalier Wogan. Who it was I do not know."

"Can you not guess?" cried Clementina.

"I would not trust a stranger," said her mother.

"Would you not?" asked Clementina, with a smile. "Describe him to me."

"His face was wrinkled," said Chateaudoux.

"It was disguised."

"His figure was slight and not over-tall."

M. Chateaudoux gave a fairly accurate description of Gaydon.

"I know no one whom the portrait fits," said the mother, and again Clementina cried,—

"Can you not guess? Then, mother, I will punish you. For though I know—in very truth, I know—I will not tell you." She turned back to Chateaudoux. "Well, his message? He did fix a time, a day, an hour, for my escape?"

"The 27th is the day, and at eight o'clock of the night."

"I will be ready."

"He will come here to fetch your Highness. Meanwhile he prays your Highness to fall sick and keep your bed."

"I can choose my malady," said Clementina. "It will not all be counterfeit, for indeed I shall fall sick of joy. But why must I fall sick?"

"He brings a woman to take your place, who, lying in bed with the curtains drawn, will the later be discovered."

The Princess's mother saw here a hindrance to success and eagerly she spoke of it.

"How will the woman enter? How, too, will my daughter leave?"

M. Chateaudoux coughed and hemmed in a great confusion. He explained in delicate hints that he himself was to bribe the sentry at the door to let her pass for a few moments into the house. The Princess broke into a laugh.

"Her name is Friederika, I'll warrant," she cried. "My poor Chateaudoux, they will give you a sweetheart. It is most cruel. Well, Friederika, thanks to the sentry's fellow-feeling for a burning heart, Friederika slips in at the door."

"Which I have taken care should stand unlatched. She changes clothes with your Highness, and your Highness—"

"Slips out in her stead."

"But he is to come for you, he says," exclaimed her mother. "And how will he do that? Besides, we do not know his name. And there must be a fitting companion who will travel with you. Has he that companion?"

"Your Highness," said Chateaudoux, "upon all those points he bade me say you should be satisfied. All he asks is that you will be ready at the time."

A gust of hail struck the window and made the room tremble. Clementina laughed; her mother shivered.

"The Prince of Baden," said she, with a sigh. Clementina shrugged her shoulders.

"A Prince," said Chateaudoux, persuasively, "with much territory to his princeliness."

"A vain, fat, pudgy man," said Clementina.

"A sober, honest gentleman," said the mother.

"A sober butler to an honest gentleman," said Clementina.

"He has an air," said Chateaudoux.

"He has indeed," replied Clementina, "as though he handed himself upon a plate to you, and said, 'Here is a miracle. Thank God for it!' Well, I must take to my bed. I am very ill. I have a fever on me, and that's truth."

She moved towards the door, but before she had reached it there came a knocking on the street door below.

Clementina stopped; Chateaudoux looked out of the window.

"It is the Prince's carriage," said he.

"I will not see him," exclaimed Clementina.

"My child, you must," said her mother, "if only for the last time."

"Each time he comes it is for the last time, yet the next day sees him still in Innspruck. My patience and my courtesy are both outworn. Besides, to-day, now that I have heard this great news we have waited for—how long? Oh, mother, oh, mother, I cannot! I shall betray myself."

The Princess's mother made an effort.

"Clementina, you must receive him. I will have it so. I am your mother. I will be your mother," she said in a tremulous tone, as though the mere utterance of the command frightened her by its audacity.

Clementina was softened on the instant. She ran across to her mother's chair, and kneeling by it said with a laugh, "So you shall. I would not barter mothers with any girl in Christendom. But you understand. I am pledged in honour to my King. I will receive the Prince, but indeed I would he had not come," and rising again she kissed her mother on the forehead.

She received the Prince of Baden alone. He was a stout man of much ceremony and took some while to elaborate a compliment upon Clementina's altered looks. Before, he had always seen her armed and helmeted with dignity; now she had much ado to keep her lips from twitching into a smile, and the smile in her eyes she could not hide at all. The Prince took the change to himself. His persistent wooing had not been after all in vain. He was not, however, the man to make the least of his sufferings in the pursuit which seemed to end so suitably to-day.

"Madam," he said with his grandest air, "I think to have given you some proof of my devotion. Even on this inclement day I come to pay my duty though the streets are deep in snow."

"Oh, sir," exclaimed Clementina, "then your feet are wet. Never run such risks for me. I would have no man weep on my account though it were only from a cold in the head."

The Prince glanced at Clementina suspiciously. Was this devotion? He preferred to think so.

"Madam, have no fears," said he, tenderly, wishing to set the anxious creature at her ease. "I drove here in my carriage."

"But from the carriage to the door you walked?"

"No, madam, I was carried."

Clementina's lips twitched again.

"I would have given much to have seen you carried," she said demurely. "I suppose you would not repeat the—No, it would be to ask too much. Besides, from my windows here in the side of the house I could not see." And she sighed deeply.

The fatuous gentleman took comfort from the sigh.

"Madam, you have but to say the word and your windows shall look whichever way you will."

Clementina, however, did not say the word. She merely sighed again. The Prince thought it a convenient moment to assert his position.

"I have stayed a long while in Innspruck, setting my constancy, which bade me stay, above my dignity, which bade me go. For three months I have stayed,—a long while, madam."

"I do not think three years could have been longer," said Clementina, with the utmost sympathy.

"So now in the end I have called my pride to help me."

"The noblest gift that heaven has given a man," said Clementina, fervently.

The Prince bowed low; Clementina curtsied majestically.



"Will you give me your hand," said he, "as far as your window?"

"Certainly, sir, and out of it."

Clementina laid her hand in his. The Prince strutted to the window; Clementina solemnly kept pace with him.

"What do you see? A sentinel fixed there guarding you. At the door stands a second sentinel. Answer me as I would be answered, your window and your door are free. Refuse me, and I travel into Italy. My trunks are already packed."

"Neatly packed, I hope," said Clementina. Her cheek was flushed; her lips no longer smiled. But she spoke most politely, and the Prince was at a loss.

"Will you give me your hand," said she, "as far as my table?"

The Prince doubtfully stretched out his hand, and the couple paced in a stately fashion to Clementina's table.

"What do you see upon my table?" said she, with something of the Prince's pomposity.

"A picture," said he, reluctantly.

"Whose?"

"The Pretender's," he answered with a sneer.

"The King's," said she, pleasantly. "His picture is fixed there guarding me. Against my heart there lies a second. I wish your Highness all speed to Italy."

She dropped his hand, bowed to him again in sign that the interview was ended. The Prince had a final argument.

"You refuse a dowry of L100,000. I would have you think of that."

"Sir, you think of it for both of us."

The Prince drew himself up to his full stature.

"I have your answer, then?"

"You have, sir. You had it yesterday, and if I remember right the day before."

"I will stay yet two more days. Madam, you need not fear. I shall not importune you. I give you those two days for reflection. Unless I hear from you I shall leave Innspruck—"

"In two days' time?" suddenly exclaimed Clementina.

"On the evening of the 27th," said the Prince.

Clementina laughed softly in a way which he did not understand. She was altogether in a strange, incomprehensible mood that afternoon, and when he learnt next day that she had taken to her bed he was not surprised. Perhaps he was not altogether grieved. It seemed right that she should be punished for her stubbornness. Punishment might soften her.

But no message came to him during those two days, and on the morning of the 27th he set out for Italy.

At the second posting stage, which he reached about three of the afternoon, he crossed a hired carriage on its way to Innspruck. The carriage left the inn door as the Prince drove up to it. He noticed the great size of the coachman on the box, he saw also that a man and two women were seated within the carriage, and that a servant rode on horseback by the door. The road, however, was a busy one; day and night travellers passed up and down; the Prince gave only a passing scrutiny to that carriage rolling down the hill to Innspruck. Besides, he was acquainted neither with Gaydon, who rode within the carriage, nor with Wogan, the servant at the door, nor with O'Toole, the fat man on the box.

At nightfall the Prince came to Nazareth, a lonely village amongst the mountains with a single tavern, where he thought to sleep the night. There was but one guest-room, however, which was already bespoken by a Flemish lady, the Countess of Cernes, who had travelled that morning to Innspruck to fetch her niece.

The Prince grumbled for a little, since the evening was growing stormy and wild, but there was no remedy. He could not dispute the matter, for he was shown the Countess's berlin waiting ready for her return. A servant of the Count's household also had been left behind at Nazareth to retain the room, and this man, while using all proper civilities, refused to give up possession. The Prince had no acquaintance with the officers of Dillon's Irish regiment, so that he had no single suspicion that Captain Misset was the servant. He drove on for another stage, where he found a lodging.

Meanwhile the hired carriage rolled into Innspruck, and a storm of extraordinary violence burst over the country.



CHAPTER XII

In fact, just about the time when the Prince's horses were being unharnessed from his carriage on the heights of Mount Brenner, the hired carriage stopped before a little inn under the town wall of Innspruck hard by the bridge. And half an hour later, when the Prince was sitting down to his supper before a blazing fire and thanking his stars that on so gusty and wild a night he had a stout roof above his head, a man and a woman came out from the little tavern under the town wall and disappeared into the darkness. They had the streets to themselves, for that night the city was a whirlpool of the winds. Each separate chasm in the encircling hills was a mouth to discharge a separate blast. The winds swept down into the hollow and charged in a riotous combat about the squares and lanes; at each corner was an ambuscade, and everywhere they clashed with artilleries of hail and sleet.

The man and woman staggered hand in hand and floundered in the deep snow. They were soaked to the skin, frozen by the cold, and whipped by the stinging hail. Though they bent their heads and bodies, though they clung hand in hand, though they struggled with all their strength, there were times when they could not advance a foot and must needs wait for a lull in the shelter of a porch. At such times the man would perhaps quote a line of Virgil about the cave of the winds, and the woman curse like a grenadier. They, however, were not the only people who were distressed by the storm.

Outside the villa in which the Princess was imprisoned stood the two sentinels, one beneath the window, the other before the door. There were icicles upon their beards; they were so shrouded in white they had the look of snow men built by schoolboys. Their coats of frieze could not keep out the searching sleet, nor their caps protect their ears from the intolerable cold. Their hands were so numbed they could not feel the muskets they held.

The sentinel before the door suffered the most, for whereas his companion beneath the window had nothing but the house wall before his eyes, he, on his part, could see on the other side of the alley of trees the red blinds of "The White Chamois," that inn which the Chevalier de St. George had mentioned to Charles Wogan. The red blinds shone very cheery and comfortable upon that stormy night. The sentinel envied the men gathered in the warmth and light behind them, and cursed his own miserable lot as heartily as the woman in the porch did hers. The red blinds made it unendurable. He left his post and joined his companion.

"Rudolf," he said, bawling into his ear, "come with me! Our birds will not fly away to-night."

The two sentries came to the front of the house and stared at the red-litten blinds.

"What a night!" cried Rudolf. "Not a citizen would thrust his nose out of doors."

"Not even the little Chateaudoux's sweetheart," replied the other, with a grin.

They stared again at the red blinds, and in a lull of the wind a clock struck nine.

"There is an hour before the magistrate comes," said Rudolf.

"You take that hour," said his companion; "I will have the hour after the magistrate has gone."

Rudolf ran across to the inn. The sentinel at the door remained behind. Both men were pleased,—Rudolf because he had his hour immediately, his fellow-soldier because once the magistrate had come and gone, he would take as long as he pleased.

Meanwhile the man and woman hand in hand drew nearer to the villa, but very slowly. For, apart from the weather's hindrances, the woman's anger had grown. She stopped, she fell down when there was no need to fall, she wept, she struggled to free her hand, and finally, when they had taken shelter beneath a portico, she sank down on the stone steps, and with many oaths and many tears refused to budge a foot. Strangely enough, it was not so much the inclemency of the night or the danger of the enterprise which provoked this obstinacy, as some outrage and dishonour to her figure.

"You may talk all night," she cried between her sobs, "about O'Toole and his beautiful German. They can go hang for me! I am only a servant, I know. I am poor, I admit it. But poverty isn't a crime. It gives no one the right to make a dwarf of me. No, no!"—this as Wogan bent down to lift her from the ground—"plague on you all! I will sit here and die; and when I am found frozen and dead perhaps you will be sorry for your cruelty to a poor girl who wanted nothing better than to serve you." Here Jenny was so moved by the piteousness of her fate that her tears broke out again. She wept loudly. Wogan was in an extremity of alarm lest someone should pass, or the people of the house be aroused. He tried most tenderly to comfort her. She would have none of the consolations. He took her in his arms and raised her to her feet. She swore more loudly than she had wept, she kicked at his legs, she struck at his head with her fist. In another moment she would surely have cried murder. Wogan had to let her sink back upon the steps, where she fell to whimpering.

"I am not beautiful, I know; I never boasted that I was; but I have a figure and limbs that a painter would die to paint. And what do you make of me? A maggot, a thing all body like a nasty bear. Oh, curse the day that I set out with such tyrants! A pretty figure of fun I should make before your beautiful German, covered with mud to the knees. No, you shall hang me first! Why couldn't O'Toole do his own work, the ninny, I hate him! He's tall enough, the great donkey; but no, I must do it, who am shorter, and even then not short enough for him and you, but you must drag me through the dirt without heels!"

Wogan let her run on; he was at his wits' end what to do. All this turmoil, these tears, these oaths and blows, came from nothing more serious than this, that Jenny, to make her height less remarkable, must wear no heels. It was ludicrous, it was absurd, but none the less the whole expedition, carried to the very point of completion, must fail, utterly and irretrievably fail, because Jenny would not for one day go without her heels. The Princess must remain in her prison at Innspruck; the Chevalier must lose his wife; the exertions of Wogan and his friends, their risks, their ingenuity, must bear no fruit because Jenny would not show herself three inches short of her ordinary height. O'Toole had warned him there would be a difficulty; but that the difficulty should become an absolute hindrance, should spoil a scheme of so much consequence, that was inconceivable.

Yet there was Jenny sobbing her heart out on the steps not half a mile from the villa; the minutes were passing; the inconceivable thing was true. Wogan could have torn his hair in the rage of his despair. He could have laughed out loudly and passionately until even on that stormy night he brought the guard. He thought of the perils he had run, the difficulties he had surmounted. He had outwitted the Countess de Berg and Lady Featherstone, he had persuaded the reluctant Prince Sobieski, he had foiled his enemies on the road to Schlestadt, he had made his plans, he had gathered his friends, he had crept out with them from Strasbourg, yet in the end they had come to Innspruck to be foiled because Jenny would not go without her heels. Wogan could have wept like Jenny.

But he did not. On the contrary, he sat down by her side on the steps and took her hand, gentle as a sheep.

"You are in the right of it, Jenny," said he, in a most remorseful voice.

Jenny looked up.

"Yes," he continued. "I was in the wrong. O'Toole is the most selfish man in the whole world. Cowardly, too! But there never was a selfish man who was not at heart a bit of a coward. Sure enough, sooner or later the cowardice comes out. It is a preposterous thing that O'Toole should think that you and I are going to rescue his heiress for him while he sits at his ease by the inn fire. No; let us go back to him and tell him to his face the selfish cowardly man he is."

It seemed, however, that Jenny was not entirely pleased to hear her own sentiments so frankly uttered by Mr. Wogan. Besides, he seemed to exaggerate them, for she said with a little reluctance, "I would not say that he was a coward."

"But I would," exclaimed Wogan, hotly. "Moreover, I do. With all my heart I say it. A great lubberly monster of a coward. He is envious, too, Jenny."

Jenny had by this time stopped weeping.

"Why envious?" she asked with an accent of rebellion which was very much to Wogan's taste.

"It's as plain as the palm of my hand. Why should he make a dwarf of you, Jenny?—for it's the truth he has done that; he has made a little dwarf out of the finest girl in the land by robbing her of her heels." Jenny was on the point of interrupting with some indignation, but Wogan would not listen to her. "A dwarf," he continued, "it was your own word, Jenny. I could say nothing to comfort you when you spoke it, for it was so true and suitable an epithet. A little dwarf he has made of you, all body and no legs like a bear, a dwarf-bear, of course; and why, if it is not that he envies you your figure and is jealous of it in a mean and discreditable way? Sure, he wants to have all the looks and to appear quite incomparable to the eyes of his beautiful German. So he makes a dwarf of you, a little bear dwarf—"

Jenny, however, had heard this phrase often enough by now. She interrupted Wogan hotly, and it seemed her anger was now as much directed against him as it had been before against O'Toole.

"He is not envious," said she. "A fine friend he has in you, I am thinking. He has no need to be envious. Captain O'Toole could carry me to the house in his arms if he wished, which is more than you could do if you tried till midday to-morrow," and she turned her shoulder to Wogan, who, in no way abashed by her contempt, cried triumphantly,—

"But he didn't wish. He let you drag through the mud and snow without so much as a patten to keep you off the ground. Why? Tell me that, Jenny! Why didn't he wish?"

Jenny was silent.

"You see, if he is not envious, he is at all events a coward," argued Wogan, "else he would have run his own risks and come in your stead."

"But that would not have served," cried Jenny. It was her turn now to speak triumphantly. "How could O'Toole have run away with his heiress and at the same time remained behind in her bed to escape suspicion, as I am to do?"

"I had forgotten that, to be sure," said Wogan, meekly.

Jenny laughed derisively.

"O'Toole is the man with the head on his shoulders," said she.

"And a pitiful, calculating head it is," exclaimed Wogan. "Think of the inconvenience of your position when you are discovered to-morrow. Think of the angry uncle! O'Toole has thought of him and so keeps out of his way. Here's a nice world, where hulking, shapeless giants like O'Toole hide themselves from angry uncles behind a dwarf-girl's petticoats. Bah! We will go back and kick O'Toole."

Wogan rose to his feet. Jenny did not move; she sat and laughed scornfully.

"You kick O'Toole! You might once, if he happened to be asleep. But he would take you up by the scruff of the neck and the legs and beat your face against your knees until you were dead. Besides, what do I care for an angry uncle! I am well paid to put up with his insults."

"Well paid!" said Wogan, with a sneer. "A hundred guineas and a damask gown! Three hundred guineas and a gown all lace and gold tags would not be enough. Besides, I'll wager he has not paid you a farthing. He'll cheat you, Jenny. He's a rare bite is O'Toole. Between you and me, Jenny, he is a beggarly fellow!"

"He has already paid me half," cried Jenny. It was no knowledge to Wogan, who, however, counterfeited a deal of surprise.

"Well," said he, "he has only done it to cheat you the more easily of the other fifty. We will go straight back and tell him that it costs three hundred guineas, money down, and the best gown in Paris to turn a fine figure of a girl into a dwarf-bear."

He leaned down and took Jenny by the arm. She sprang to her feet and twisted herself free.

"No," she said, "you can go back if you will and show him what a good friend you are to him. But I go on. The poor captain shall have one person in the world, though she's only a servant, to help him when he wants."

Thus Wogan won the victory. But he was most careful to conceal it. He walked by her side humble as a whipped dog. If he had to point out the way, he did it with the most penitent air; when he offered his hand to help her over a snow-heap and she struck it aside, he merely bowed his head as though her contempt was well deserved. He even whispered in her ear in a trembling voice, "Jenny, you will not say a word to O'Toole about the remarks I made of him? He is a strong, hasty man. I know not what might come of it."

Jenny sneered and shrugged her shoulders. She would not speak to Wogan any more, and so they came silently into the avenue of trees between "The White Chamois" and the villa. The windows in the front of the villa were dark, and through the blinding snow-storm Wogan could not have distinguished the position of the house at all but for the red blinds of the tavern opposite which shone out upon the night and gave the snow falling before them a tinge of pink. Wogan crept nearer to the house and heard the sentinel stamping in the snow. He came back to Jenny and pointed the sentinel out to her.

"Give me a quarter of an hour so far as you can judge. Then pass the sentinel and go up the steps into the house. The sentinel is prepared for your coming, and if he stops you, you must say 'Chateaudoux' in a whisper, and he will understand. You will find the door of the house open and a man waiting for you."

Jenny made no answer, but Wogan was sure of her now. He left her standing beneath the dripping trees and crept towards the side of the house. A sentry was posted beneath her Highness's windows, and through those windows he had to climb. He needed that quarter of an hour to wait for a suitable moment when the sentry would be at the far end of his beat. But that sentry was fuddling himself with a vile spirit distilled from the gentian flower in the kitchen of "The White Chamois." Wogan, creeping stealthily through the snow-storm, found the side of the house unguarded. The windows on the ground floor were dark; those on the first floor which lighted her Highness's apartments were ablaze. He noticed with a pang of dismay that one of those lighted windows was wide open to the storm. He wondered whether it meant that the Princess had been removed to another lodging. He climbed on the sill of the lower window; by the side of that window a stone pillar ran up the side of the house to the windows on the first floor. Wogan had taken note of that pillar months back when he was hawking chattels in Innspruck. He set his hands about it and got a grip with his foot against the sash of the lower window. He was just raising himself when he heard a noise above him. He dropped back to the ground and stood in the fixed attitude of a sentinel.

A head appeared at the window, a woman's head. The light was behind, within the room, so that Wogan could not see the face. But the shape of the head, its gracious poise upon the young shoulders, the curve of the neck, the bright hair drawn backwards from the brows,—here were marks Wogan could not mistake. They had been present before his eyes these many months. The head at the open window was the head of the Princess. Wogan felt a thrill run through his blood. To a lover the sight of his mistress is always unexpected, though he foreknows the very moment of her coming. To Wogan the sight of his Queen had the like effect. He had not seen her since he had left Ohlau two years before with her promise to marry the Chevalier. It seemed to him, though for this he had lived and worked up early and down late for so long, a miraculous thing that he should see her now.

She leaned forward and peered downwards into the lane. The light streamed out, bathing her head and shoulders. Wogan could see the snow fall upon her dark hair and whiten it; it fell, too, upon her neck, but that it could not whiten. She leaned out into the darkness, and Wogan set foot again upon the lower window-sill. At the same moment another head appeared beside Clementina's, and a sharp cry rang out, a cry of terror. Then both heads disappeared, and a heavy curtain swung across the window, shutting the light in.

Wogan remained motionless, his heart sinking with alarm. Had that cry been heard? Had the wind carried it to the sentry at the door? He waited, but no sound of running footsteps came to his ears; the cry had been lost in the storm. He was now so near to success that dangers which a month ago would have seemed of small account showed most menacing and fatal.

"It was the Princess-mother who cried out," he thought, and was reminded that the need of persuasions was not ended for the night with the conquest of Jenny. He had to convince the Princess-mother of his authority without a line of Prince Sobieski's writing to support him; he had to overcome her timidity. But he was prepared for the encounter; he had foreseen it, and had an argument ready for the Princess-mother, though he would have preferred to wring the old lady's neck. Her cry might spoil everything. However, it had not been heard, and since it had not been heard, Wogan was disposed to forgive it.

For the window was still open, and now that the curtain was drawn no ray of light escaped from the room to betray the man who climbed into it.



CHAPTER XIII

Meanwhile within the room the Princess-mother clung to Clementina. The terror which her sharp cry had expressed was visible in her strained and startled face. Her eyes, bright with terror, stared at the drawn curtain; she could not avert them; she still must gaze, fascinated by her fears; and her dry, whispering lips were tremulous.

"Heaven have mercy!" she whispered; "shut the window! Shut it fast!" and as Clementina moved in surprise, she clung the closer to her daughter. "No, do not leave me! Come away! Jesu! here are we alone,—two women!"

"Mother," said Clementina, soothing her and gently stroking her hair, as though she in truth was the mother and the mother her daughter, "there's no cause for fear."

"No cause for fear! I saw him—the sentry—he is climbing up. Ah!" and again her voice rose to a cry as Wogan's foot grated on the window-ledge.

"Hush, mother! A cry will ruin us. It's not the sentinel," said Clementina.

Clementina was laughing, and by her laughter the Princess-mother was in some measure reassured.

"Who is it, then?" she asked.

"Can you not guess?" said Clementina, incredulously. "It is so evident. Yet I would not have you guess. It is my secret, my discovery. I'll tell you." She heard a man behind the curtain spring lightly from the window to the floor. She raised her voice that he might know she had divined him. "Your sentinel is the one man who has the right to rescue me. Your sentinel's the King."

At that moment Wogan pushed aside the curtain.

"No, your Highness," said he, "but the King's servant."

The Princess-mother dropped into a chair and looked at her visitor with despair. It was not the sentinel, to be sure, but, on the other hand, it was Mr. Wogan, whom she knew for a very insistent man with a great liking for his own way. She drew little comfort from Mr. Wogan's coming.

It seemed, too, that he was not very welcome to Clementina; for she drew back a step and in a voice which dropped and had a tremble of disappointment, "Mr. Wogan," she said, "the King is well served;" and she stood there without so much as offering him her hand. Wogan had not counted on so cold a greeting, but he understood the reason, and was not sure but what he approved of it. After all, she had encountered perils on the King's account; she had some sort of a justification to believe the King would do the like for her. It had not occurred to him or indeed to anyone before; but now that he saw the chosen woman so plainly wounded, he felt a trifle hot against his King for having disappointed her. He set his wits to work to dispel the disappointment.

"Your Highness, the truth is there are great matters brewing in Spain. His Majesty was needed there most urgently. He had to decide between Innspruck and Cadiz, and it seemed that he would honour your great confidence in him and at the same time serve you best—"

Clementina would not allow him to complete the sentence. Her cheek flushed, and she said quickly,—

"You are right, Mr. Wogan. The King is right. Mine was a girl's thought. I am ashamed of it;" and she frankly gave him her hand. Wogan was fairly well pleased with his apology for his King. It was not quite the truth, no doubt, but it had spared Clementina a trifle of humiliation, and had re-established the King in her thoughts. He bent over her hand and would have kissed it, but she stopped him.

"No," said she, "an honest handclasp, if you please; for no woman can have ever lived who had a truer friend," and Wogan, looking into her frank eyes, was not, after all, nearly so well pleased with the untruth he had told her. She was an uncomfortable woman to go about with shifts and contrivances. Her open face, with its broad forehead and the clear, steady eyes of darkest blue, claimed truth as a prerogative. The blush which had faded from her cheeks appeared on his, and he began to babble some foolish word about his unworthiness when the Princess-mother interrupted him in a grudging voice,—

"Mr. Wogan, you were to bring a written authority from the Prince my husband."

Wogan drew himself up straight.

"Your Highness," said he, with a bow of the utmost respect, "I was given such an authority."

The Princess-mother held out her hand. "Will you give it me?"

"I said that I was given such an authority. But I have it no longer. I was attacked on my way from Ohlau. There were five men against me, all of whom desired that letter. The room was small; I could not run away; neither had I much space wherein to resist five men. I knew that were I killed and that letter found on me, your Highness would thereafter be too surely guarded to make escape possible, and his Highness Prince Sobieski would himself incur the Emperor's hostility. So when I had made sure that those five men were joined against me, I twisted that letter into a taper and before their faces lit my pipe with it."

Clementina's eyes were fixed steadily and intently upon Wogan's face. When he ended she drew a deep breath, but otherwise she did not move. The Princess-mother, however, was unmistakably relieved. She spoke with a kindliness she had never shown before to Wogan; she even smiled at him in a friendly way.

"We do not doubt you, Mr. Wogan, but that written letter, giving my daughter leave to go, I needs must have before I let her go. A father's authority! I cannot take that upon myself."

Clementina took a quick step across to her mother's side.

"You did not hear," she said.

"I heard indeed that Mr. Wogan had burnt the letter."

"But under what stress, and to spare my father and to leave me still a grain of hope. Mother, this gentleman has run great risks for me,—how great I did not know; even now in this one instance we can only guess and still fall short of the mark."

The Princess-mother visibly stiffened with maternal authority.

"My child, without some sure sign the Prince consents, you must not go."

Clementina looked towards Wogan for assistance. Wogan put his hand into his pocket.

"That sure sign I have," said he. "It is a surer sign than any written letter; for handwriting may always be counterfeit. This could never be," and he held out on the palm of his hand the turquoise snuff-box which the Prince had given him on New Year's day. "It is a jewel unique in all the world, and the Prince gave it me. It is a jewel he treasured not only for its value, but its history. Yet he gave it me. It was won by the great King John of Poland, and remains as a memorial of the most glorious day in all that warrior's glorious life; yet his son gave it me. With his own hands he put it into mine to prove to me with what confidence he trusted your Highness's daughter to my care. That confidence was written large in the letter I burnt, but I am thinking it is engraved for ever upon this stone."

The Princess-mother took the snuff-box reluctantly and turned it over and over. She was silent. Clementina answered for her.

"I am ready," she said, and she pointed to a tiny bundle on a chair in which a few clothes were wrapped. "My jewels are packed in the bundle, but I can leave them behind me if needs be."

Wogan lifted up the bundle and laughed.

"Your Highness teaches a lesson to soldiers; for there is never a knapsack but can hold this and still have half its space to spare. The front door is unlatched?"

"M. Chateaudoux is watching in the hall."

"And the hall's unlighted?"

"Yes."

"Jenny should be here in a minute, and before she comes I must tell you she does not know the importance of our undertaking. She is the servant to Mrs. Misset, who attends your Highness into Italy. We did not let her into the secret. We made up a comedy in which you have your parts to play. Your Highness," and he turned to Clementina, "is a rich Austrian heiress, deeply enamoured of Captain Lucius O'Toole."

"Captain Lucius O'Toole!" exclaimed the mother, in horror. "My daughter enamoured of a Captain Lucius O'Toole!"

"He is one of my three companions," said Wogan, imperturbably. "Moreover, he is six foot four, the most creditable lover in the world."

"Well," said Clementina, with a laugh, "I am deeply enamoured of the engaging Captain Lucius O'Toole. Go on, sir."

"Your parents are of a most unexampled cruelty. They will not smile upon the fascinating O'Toole, but have locked you up on bread and water until you shall agree to marry a wealthy but decrepit gentleman of eighty-three."

"I will not," cried Clementina; "I will starve myself to death first. I will marry my six feet four or no other man in Christendom."

"Clementina!" cried her mother, deprecatingly.

"But at this moment," continued Wogan, "there very properly appears the fairy godmother in the person of a romantical maiden aunt."

"Oh!" said Clementina, "I have a romantical maiden aunt."

"Yes," said Wogan, and turning with a bow to the Princess-mother; "your Highness."

"I?" she exclaimed, starting up in her chair.

"Your Highness has written an encouraging letter to Captain O'Toole," resumed Wogan. The Princess-mother gasped, "A letter to Captain O'Toole," and she flung up her hands and fell back in her chair.

"On the receipt of the letter Captain O'Toole gathers his friends, borrows a horse here, a carriage there, and a hundred guineas from Heaven knows whom, comes to the rescue like a knight-errant, and retells the old story of how love laughs at locksmiths."

As Wogan ended, the mother rose from her chair. It may have been that she revolted at the part she was to play; it may have been because a fiercer gust shook the curtain and bellied it inwards. At all events she flung the curtain aside; the snow drifted through the open window onto the floor; outside the open window it was falling like a cascade, and the air was icy.

"Mr. Wogan," she said, stubbornly working herself into a heat to make more sure of her resolution, "my daughter cannot go to-night. To-morrow, if the sky clears, yes, but to-night, no. You do not know, sir, being a man. But my daughter has fasted through this Lent, and that leaves a woman weak. I do forbid her going, as her father would. The very dogs running the streets for food keep kennel on such a night. She must not go."

Wogan did not give way, though he felt a qualm of despair, knowing all the stubbornness of which the weak are capable, knowing how impervious to facts or arguments.

"Your Highness," he said quickly, "we are not birds of passage to rule our flight by seasons. We must take the moment when it comes, and it comes now. To-night your daughter can escape; for here's a night made for an escape."

"And for my part," cried Clementina, "I would the snow fell faster." She crossed to the open window and held out her hands to catch the flakes. "Would they did not melt! I believe Heaven sends the snow to shelter me. It's the white canopy spread above my head, that I may go in state to meet my King." She stood eager and exultant, her eyes shining, her cheek on fire, her voice thrilling with pride. She seemed not to feel the cold. She welcomed the hardships of wind and falling snow as her opportunity. She desired not only for escape, but also to endure.

Wogan looked her over from head to foot, filled with pride and admiration. He had made no mistake; he had plucked this rose of the world to give to his King. His eyes said it; and the girl, reading them, drew a breath and rippled out a laugh of gladness that his trusted servant was so well content with her. But the Princess-mother stood unmoved.

"My daughter cannot go to-night," she repeated resentfully. "I do forbid it."

Wogan had his one argument. This one argument was his last resource. He had chosen it carefully with an eye to the woman whom it was to persuade. It was not couched as an inducement; it did not claim the discharge of an obligation; it was not a reply to any definite objection. Such arguments would only have confirmed her in her stubbornness. He made accordingly an appeal to sentiment.

"Your Highness's daughter," said he, "spoke a minute since of the hazards my friends and I have run to compass her escape. As regards four of us, the words reached beyond our deserts. For we are men. Such hazards are our portion; they are seldom lightened by so high an aim. But the fifth! The words, however kind, were still below that fifth one's merits; for the fifth is a woman."

"I know. With all my heart I thank her. With all my heart I pity her."

"But there is one thing your Highness does not know. She runs our risks,—the risk of capture, the risk of the night, the storm, the snow, she a woman by nature timid and frail,—yet with never in all her life so great a reason for timidity, or so much frailty of health as now. We venture our lives, but she ventures more."

The mother bowed her head; Clementina looked fixedly at Wogan.

"Speak plainly, my friend," she said. "There are no children here."

"Madam, I need but quote to you the words her husband used. For my part, I think that nobler words were never spoken, and with her whole heart she repeats them. They are these: 'The boy would only live to serve his King; why should he not serve his King before he lives?'"

The mother was still silent, but Wogan could see that the tears overbrimmed her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. Clementina was silent for a while too, and stood with her eyes fixed thoughtfully on Wogan. Then she said gently,—

"Her name."

Wogan told her it, and she said no more; but it was plain that she would never forget it, that she had written it upon her heart.

Wogan waited, looking to the Princess, who drying her tears rose from her chair and said with great and unexpected dignity,—

"How comes it, sir, that with such servants your King still does not sit upon his throne? My daughter shall not fall below the great example set to her. My fears are shamed by it. My daughter goes with you to-night."

It was time that she consented, for even as Wogan flung himself upon his knee and raised her hand, M. Chateaudoux appeared at the door with a finger on his lips, and behind him one could hear a voice grumbling and cursing on the stairs.

"Jenny," said Wogan, and Jenny stumbled into the room. "Quiet," said he; "you will wake the house."

"Well, if you had to walk upstairs in the dark in these horrible shoes—"

"Oh, Jenny, your cloak, quick!"

"Take the thing! A good riddance to it; it's dripping wet, and weighs a ton."

"Dripping wet!" moaned the mother.

"I shall not wear it long," said Clementina, advancing from the embrasure of the window. Jenny turned and looked her over critically from head to foot. Then she turned away without a word and let the cloak fall to the ground. It fell about her feet; she kicked it viciously away, and at the same time she kicked off one of those shoes of which she so much complained. Jenny was never the woman to mince her language, and to-night she was in her surliest mood. So she swore simply and heartily, to the mother's utter astonishment and indignation.

"Damn!" she said, hobbling across the room to the corner, whither her shoe had fallen. "There, there, old lady; don't hold your hands to your ears as though a clean oath would poison them!"

The Princess-mother fell back in her chair.

"Does she speak to me?" she asked helplessly.

"Yes," said Wogan; and turning to Jenny, "This is the kind-hearted aunt."

Jenny turned to Clementina, who was picking the cloak from the floor.

"And you are the beautiful heiress," she said sourly. "Well, if you are going to put that wet cloak on your shoulders, I wish you joy of the first kiss O'Toole gives you when you jump into his arms."

The Princess-mother screamed; Wogan hastened to interfere.

"Jenny, there's the bedroom; to bed with you!" and he took out his watch. At once he uttered an exclamation of affright. Wogan had miscalculated the time which he would require. It had taken longer than he had anticipated to reach the villa against the storm; his conflict with Jenny in the portico had consumed valuable minutes; he had been at some pains to over-persuade the Princess-mother; Jenny herself amongst the trees in the darkness had waited more than the quarter of an hour demanded of her; Wogan himself, absorbed each moment in that moment's particular business,—now bending all his wits to vanquish Jenny, now to vanquish the Princess-mother,—even Wogan had neglected how the time sped. He looked at his watch. It was twenty-five minutes to ten, and at ten the magistrate would be knocking at the door.

"I am ready," said Clementina, drawing the wet cloak about her shoulders and its hood over her head. She barely shivered under its wet heaviness.

"There's one more thing to be done before you go," said Wogan; but before he could say what that one thing was, Jenny, who had now recovered her shoe, ran across the room and took the beautiful heiress by both hands. Jenny was impulsive by nature. The Princess-mother's distress and Clementina's fearlessness made her suddenly ashamed that she had spoken so sourly.

"There, there, old lady," she said soothingly; "don't you fret. They are very good friends your niece is going with." Then she drew Clementina close to her. "I don't wonder they are all mad about you, for I can't but say you are very handsome and richly worth the pains you have occasioned us." She kissed Clementina plump upon the cheek and whispered in her ear, "O'Toole won't mind the wet cloak, my dear, when he sees you."

Clementina laughed happily and returned her kiss with no less sincerity, if with less noise.

"Quick, Jenny," said Wogan, "to bed with you!"

He pointed to the door which led to the Princess's bedroom.

"Now you must write a letter," he added to Clementina, in a low voice, as soon as the door was shut upon Jenny. "A letter to your mother, relieving her of all complicity in your escape. Her Highness will find it to-morrow night slipped under the cover of her toilette."

Clementina ran to a table, and taking up a pen, "You think of everything," she said. "Perhaps you have written the letter."

Wogan pulled a sheet of paper from his fob.

"I scribbled down a few dutiful sentiments," said he, "as we drove down from Nazareth, thinking it might save time."

"Mother," exclaimed Clementina, "not content with contriving my escape, he will write my letters to you. Well, sir, let us hear what you have made of it."

Wogan dictated a most beautiful letter, in which a mother's claims for obedience were strongly set out—as a justification, one must suppose, for a daughter's disobedience. But Clementina was betrothed to his Majesty King James, and that engagement must be ever the highest consideration with her, on pain of forfeiting her honour. It was altogether a noble and stately letter, written in formal, irreproachable phrases which no daughter in the world would ever have written to a mother. Clementina laughed over it, but said that it would serve. Wogan looked at his watch again. It was then a quarter to ten.

"Quick!" said he. "Your Highness will wait for me under the fourth tree of the avenue, counting from the end."

He left the mother and daughter alone, that his presence might not check the tenderness of their farewell, and went down the stairs into the dark hall. M. Chateaudoux was waiting there, with his teeth chattering in the extremity of his alarm. Wogan unlatched the door very carefully and saw through the chink the sentry standing by the steps. The snow still fell; he was glad to note the only light was a white glimmering from the waste of snow upon the ground.

"You must go out with her," Wogan whispered to Chateaudoux, "and speak a word to the sentry."

"At any moment the magistrate may come," said Chateaudoux, though he trembled so that he could hardly speak.

"All the more reason for the sentinel to let your sweetheart run home at her quickest step," said Wogan, and above him he heard Clementina come out upon the landing. He crept up the stairs to her.

"Here is my hand," said he, in a low voice. She laid her own in his, and bending towards him in the darkness she whispered,—

"Promise me it shall always be at my service. I shall need friends. I am young, and I have no knowledge. Promise me!"

She was young indeed. The freshness of her voice, its little tremble of modesty, the earnestness of its appeal, carried her youth quite home to Mr. Wogan's heart. She was sweet with youth. Wogan felt it more clearly as they stood together in the darkness than when he had seen her plainly in the lighted room, with youth mantling her cheeks and visible in the buoyancy of her walk. Then she had been always the chosen woman. Wogan could just see her eyes, steady and mysteriously dark, shining at him out of the gloom, and a pang of remorse suddenly struck through him. That one step she was to take was across the threshold of a prison, it was true, but a prison familiar and warm, and into a night of storm and darkness and ice. The road lay before her into Italy, but it was a road of unknown perils, through mountains deep in snow. And this escape of to-night from the villa, this thunderous flight, with its hardships and its dangers, which followed the escape, was only the symbol of her life. She stepped from the shelter of her girlhood, as she stepped across the threshold of the villa, into a womanhood dark with many trials, storm-swept and wandering. She might reach the queendom which was her due, as the berlin in which she was to travel might—nay, surely would—rush one day from the gorges into the plains and the sunlight of Italy; but had Wogan travelled to Rome in Gaydon's place and talked with Whittington outside the Caprara Palace, it is very likely that she would never have been allowed by him to start. Up till now he had thought only of her splendid courage, of the humiliation of her capture, of her wounded pride; she was the chosen woman. Now he thought of the girl, and wondered of her destiny, and was stricken with remorse.

"Promise me," she repeated, and her hand tightened upon his and clung to it. Wogan had no fine sentiments wherewith to answer her; but his voice took a depth of sincerity and tenderness quite strange to her. Her fingers ceased to tremble.

They went down into the hall. Chateaudoux, who had been waiting in an agony of impatience, opened the door and slipped out; Clementina followed him.

The door was left ajar behind them, and Wogan in the hall saw Chateaudoux speak with the sentinel, saw the sentinel run hurriedly to Clementina, saw Clementina disappear into the snow. Chateaudoux ran back into the hall.

"And you!" he asked, as he barred and locked the door. "The magistrate is coming. I saw the lights of the guard across the avenue."

Clementina was outside in the storm; Wogan was within the house, and the lights of the guard were already near.

"I go by the way I came," said he; "I have time;" and he ran quickly up the stairs. In the room he found the Princess-mother weeping silently, and again, as he saw this weak elderly woman left alone to her fears and forebodings, remorse took hold on him.

"Courage, madam," said he, as he crossed the room; "she goes to wed a king."

"Sir, I am her mother," replied the Princess, gaining at this moment a suitable dignity from her tears. "I was wondering not of the King, but of the man the King conceals."

"You need not, madam," said Wogan, who had no time for eulogies upon his master. "Take his servant's loyalty as the measure of his merits."

He looked out of the window and suddenly drew back. He stood for a moment with a look of great fear upon his face. For the sentinel was back at his post; Wogan dared not at this moment risk a struggle, and perhaps an outcry. Clementina was waiting under the avenue of trees; Wogan was within the house, and the lights of the guard were already flaring in the roadway. Even as Wogan stood in the embrasure of the window, he heard a heavy knocking on the door.



CHAPTER XIV

Wogan closed the window cautiously. The snow had drifted through and lay melting in a heap beneath the sill. He drew the curtain across the embrasure, and then he crossed to the bedroom door.

"Jenny," he whispered, "are you in bed?"

"Yes."

"Lie close! Do not show your face nor speak. Only groan, and groan most delicately, or we are lost."

He closed the door upon Jenny, and turning about came face to face with the Princess-mother. She stood confronting him, a finger on her lips, and terror in her eyes; and he heard the street-door open and clang to below.

"The magistrate!" she whispered.

"Courage, your Highness. Keep them from the bed! Say that her eyes are weak and cannot bear the light."

He slipped behind the curtain into the embrasure, picturing to himself the disposition of the room, lest he should have left behind a trifle to betray him. He had in a supreme degree that gift of recollection which takes the form of a mental vision. He did not have to count over the details of the room; he summoned a picture of it to his mind, and saw it and its contents from corner to corner. And thus while the footsteps yet sounded on the stair, he saw Clementina's bundle lying forgotten on a couch. He darted from his hiding-place, seized it, and ran back. He had just sufficient and not a second more time, for the curtain had not ceased to swing when the magistrate knocked, and without waiting for an answer entered. He was followed by two soldiers, and these he ordered to wait without the door.

"Your Highness," he said in a polite voice, and stopped abruptly. It seemed to Wogan behind the curtain that his heart stopped at the same moment and with no less abruptness. There was no evidence of Clementina's flight to justify that sudden silence. Then he grew faint, as it occurred to him that he had made Lady Featherstone's mistake,—that his boot protruded into the room. He clenched his teeth, expecting a swift step and the curtain to be torn aside. The window was shut; he would never have time to open it and leap out and take his chance with the sentry underneath. He was caught in a trap, and Clementina waited for him in the avenue, under the fourth tree. All was lost, it seemed, and by his own folly, his own confidence. Had he only told her of the tavern under the city wall, where the carriage stood with its horses harnessed in the shafts, she might still have escaped, though he was trapped. The sweat passed down his face. Yet no swift step was taken, nor was the curtain torn aside.

For within the room the magistrate, a kindly citizen of Innspruck who had no liking for this addition to his duties, stood gazing at the Princess-mother with a respectful pity. It was the sight of her tear-stained face which had checked his words. For two days Clementina had kept her bed, and the mother's tears alarmed him.

"Her Highness, your daughter, suffers so much?" said he.

"Sir, it is little to be wondered at."

The magistrate bowed. That question was not one with which he had a mind to meddle.

"She still lies in bed?" said he, and he crossed to the door. The mother flung herself in the way.

"She lies in pain, and you would disturb her; you would flash your lanterns in her eyes, that if perchance she sleeps, she may wake into a world of pain. Sir, you will not."

"Your Highness—"

"It is the mother who beseeches you. Sir, would you have me on my knees?"

Wogan, but this moment recovered from his alarm, became again uneasy. Her Highness protested too much; she played her part in the comedy too strenuously. He judged by the ear; the magistrate had the quivering, terror-stricken face before his eyes, and his pity deepened.

"Your Highness," he said, "I must pray you to let me pass. I have General Heister's orders to obey."

The Princess-mother now gave Wogan reason to applaud her. She saw that the magistrate, for all his politeness, was quite inflexible.

"Go, then," she said with a quiet dignity which once before she had shown that evening. "Since there is no humiliation to be spared us, take a candle, sir, and count the marks of suffering in my daughter's face;" and with her own hand she opened the bedroom door and stood aside.

"Madam, I would not press my duty an inch beyond its limits," said the magistrate. "I will stand in the doorway, and do you bid your daughter speak."

The Princess-mother did not move from her position.

"My child," she said.

Jenny in the bedroom groaned and turned from one side to the other.

"You are in pain?"

Jenny groaned again. The magistrate himself closed the door.

"Believe me," said he, "no one could more regret than I the incivilities to which I am compelled."

He crossed the room. Wogan heard him and his men descending the stairs. He heard the door open and shut; he heard Chateaudoux draw the bolts. Then he stepped out from the curtain.

"Your Highness, that was bravely done," said he, and kneeling he kissed her hand. He went back into the embrasure, slipped the bundle over his arm, and opened the window very silently. He saw the snow was still falling, the wind still moaning about the crannies and roaring along the streets. He set his knee upon the window-ledge, climbed out, and drew the window to behind him.

The Princess-mother waited in the room with her hand upon her heart. She waited, it seemed to her, for an eternity. Then she heard the sound of a heavy fall, and the clang of a musket against the wall of the villa. But she heard no cry. She ran to the window and looked out. But strain her eyes as she might, she could distinguish nothing in that blinding storm. She could not see the sentinel; nor was this strange, for the sentinel lay senseless on the snow against the house-wall, and Mr. Wogan was already running down the avenue.

Under the fourth tree he found Clementina; she took his arm, and they set off together, wrestling with the wind, wading through the snow. It seemed to Clementina that her companion was possessed by some new fear. He said no single word to her; he dragged her with a fierce grip upon her wrist; if she stumbled, he jerked her roughly to her feet. She set her teeth and kept pace with him. Only once did she speak. They had come to a depression in the road where the melted snow had made a wide pool. Wogan leaped across it and said,—

"Give me your hand! There's a white stone midway where you can set your foot."

The Princess stepped as he bade her. The stone yielded beneath her tread and she stood ankle-deep in the water. Wogan sprang to her side and lifted her out. She had uttered no cry, and now she only laughed as she stood shivering on the further edge. It was that low musical, good-humoured laugh to which Wogan had never listened without a thrill of gladness, but it waked no response in him now.

"You told me of a white stone on which I might safely set my foot," she said. "Well, sir, your white stone was straw."

They were both to remember these words afterwards and to make of them a parable, but it seemed that Wogan barely heard them now. "Come!" he said, and taking her arm he set off running again.

Clementina understood that something inopportune, something terrible, had happened since she had left the villa. She asked no questions; she trusted herself without reserve to these true friends who had striven at such risks for her, she desired to prove to them that she was what they would have her be,—a girl who did not pester them with inconvenient chatter, but who could keep silence when silence was helpful, and face hardships with a buoyant heart.

They crossed the bridge and stopped before a pair of high folding doors. They were the doors of the tavern. Wogan drew a breath of relief, pulled the bobbin, and pushed the doors open. Clementina slipped through, and in darkness she took a step forward and bruised herself against the wheels of a carriage. Wogan closed the door and ran to her side.

"This way," said he, and held out his hand. He guided Clementina round the carriage to a steep narrow stairway—it was more a ladder than a stair—fixed against the inner wall. At the top of this stairway shone a horizontal line of yellow light. Wogan led the Princess up the stairs. The line of light shone out beneath a door. Wogan opened the door and stood aside. Clementina passed into a small bare room lighted by a single candle, where Mrs. Misset, Gaydon, and O'Toole waited for her coming. Not a word was said; but their eyes spoke their admiration of the woman, their knees expressed their homage to the Queen. There was a fire blazing on the hearth, Mrs. Misset had a dry change of clothes ready and warm. Wogan laid the Princess's bundle on a chair, and with Gaydon and O'Toole went down the stairs.

"The horses?" he asked.

"I have ordered them," said Gaydon, "at the post-house. I will fetch them;" and he hurried off upon his errand.

Wogan turned to O'Toole.

"And the bill?"

"I have paid it."

"There is no one awake in the house?"

"No one but the landlady."

"Good! Can you keep her engaged until we are ready?"

"To be sure I can. She shall never give a thought to any man of you but myself."

O'Toole passed through a door at the bottom of the staircase into the common-room of the inn. Wogan gently opened the big doors and dragged the carriage out into the road. Gaydon with the horses galloped silently up through the snow, and together the two men feverishly harnessed them to the carriage. There were six for the carriage, and a seventh for O'Toole to ride. The expedition which Wogan and Gaydon showed was matched by the Princess. For while they were fastening the last buckles, the door at the top of the stairs opened, and again that night Clementina whispered,—

"I am ready."

"Come!" replied Wogan. She wore a scarlet cloak upon her shoulders, and muffling it about her head she ran down with Mrs. Misset. Wogan opened the lower door of the inn and called for O'Toole. O'Toole came running out before Wogan had ended his words, and sprang into his saddle. Gaydon was already on the box with the reins gathered in his hand. Wogan had the carriage door open before Clementina had reached the foot of the stairs; it was shut upon her and her companion almost before they were aware they were within it; the carriage started almost before the door was shut. Yet when it did start, Wogan was beside Gaydon upon the box. Their movements, indeed, occurred with so exact a rapidity, that though the hostess at once followed O'Toole to bid her guests farewell, when she reached the big doors she saw only the back of the carriage lurching through the ruts of snow.

"Quick!" cried Wogan; "we have lost too much time."

"A bare twenty minutes," said Gaydon.

"A good twelve hours," said Wogan.

Gaydon lashed the horses into a gallop, the horses strained at their collars, the carriage raced out of the town and up the slopes of the Brenner. The princess Clementina had been rescued from her prison.

"But we must keep her free!" cried Wogan, as he blew through his gloves upon his frozen fingers. "Faster! Faster!"

The incline was steep, the snow clogged the wheels, the horses sank deep in it. Gaydon might ply his whip as he would, the carriage might lurch and leap from side to side; the pace was all too slow for Wogan.

"We have lost twelve hours," he cried. "Oh, would to God we were come to Italy!" And turning backwards he strained his eyes down through the darkness and snow to the hidden roofs of Innspruck, almost fearing to see the windows from one end of the town to the other leap to a blaze of light, and to hear a roar of many voices warn him that the escape was discovered. But the only cry that he heard came from the lips of Mrs. Misset, who put her head from the carriage and bade him stop.

Gaydon brought the horses to a standstill three miles out of Innspruck.



CHAPTER XV

Wogan jumped down from his box and ran to the carriage-door.

"Her Highness is ill?" he cried in suspense.

"Not the least bit in the world," returned Clementina, whose voice for once in a way jarred upon Wogan's ears. Nothing short of a positive sickness could justify the delay.

"What is it, then?" he asked curtly, almost roughly, of Mrs. Misset.

"You carried a packet for her Highness. It is left behind at the tavern."

Wogan stamped impatiently on the ground.

"And for this, for a petticoat or two, you hinder us," he cried in a heat. "There's no petticoat in the world, though it were so stiff with gold that it stood on end of itself, that's worth a single second of the next forty-eight hours."

"But it contains her Highness's jewels."

Wogan's impatience became an exasperation. Were all women at heart, then, no better than Indian squaws? A string of beads outweighed the sacrifices of friends and the chance of a crown! There was a blemish in his idol, since at all costs she must glitter. Wogan, however, was the master here.

"Her Highness must lose her jewels," he said roughly, and was turning away when her Highness herself spoke.

"You are unjust, my friend," she said. "I would lose them very willingly, were there a chance no one else would discover them. But there's no chance. The woman of the tavern will find the bundle, will open it; very likely she has done so already. We shall have all Innspruck on our heels in half an hour;" and for the first time that night Wogan heard her voice break, and grieved to know that the tears were running down her cheeks. He called to O'Toole,—

"Ride back to the tavern! Bring the packet without fail!"

O'Toole galloped off, and Gaydon drove the carriage to the side of the road. There was nothing to do but to wait, and they waited in silence, counting up the chances. There could be no doubt that the landlady, if once she discovered the jewels hidden away in a common packet of clothing, must suspect the travellers who had left them behind. She would be terrified by their value; she would be afraid to retain them lest harm should come to her; and all Innspruck would be upon the fugitives' heels. They waited for half an hour,—thirty minutes of gloom and despair. Clementina wept over this new danger which her comrades ran; Mrs. Misset wept for that her negligence was to blame; Gaydon sat on the box in the falling snow with his arms crossed upon his breast, and felt his head already loose upon his shoulders. The only one of the party who had any comfort of that half-hour was Wogan. For he had been wrong,—the chosen woman had no wish to glitter at all costs, though, to be sure, she could not help glittering with the refulgence of her great merits. His idol had no blemish. Wogan paced up and down the road, while he listened for O'Toole's return, and that thought cheated the time for him. At last he heard very faintly the sound of galloping hoofs below him on the road. He ran back to Gaydon.

"It might be a courier to arrest us. If I shout, drive fast as you can to Nazareth, and from Nazareth to Italy."

He hurried down the road and was hailed by O'Toole.

"I have it," said he. Wogan turned and ran by O'Toole's stirrup to the carriage.

"The landlady has a good conscience and sleeps well," said O'Toole. "I found the house dark and the doors shut. They were only secured, however, by a wooden beam dropped into a couple of sockets on the inside."

"But how did you open them?" asked Clementina.

"Your Highness, I have, after all, a pair of arms," said O'Toole. "I just pressed on the doors till—"

"Till the sockets gave?"

"No, till the beam broke," said he, and Clementina laughed.

"That's my six foot four!" said she. O'Toole did not understand. But he smiled with great condescension and dignity, and continued his story.

"I groped my way up the stairs into the room and found the bundle untouched in the corner."

He handed it to the Princess; Wogan sprang again onto the box, and Gaydon whipped up the horses. They reached the first posting stage at two, the second at four, the third at six, and at each they wasted no time. All that night their horses strained up the mountain road amid the whirling sleet. At times the wind roaring down a gorge would set the carriage rocking; at times they stuck fast in drifts; and Wogan and Gaydon must leap from the box and plunging waist-deep in the snow, must drag at the horses and push at the wheels. The pace was too slow; Wogan seemed to hear on every gust of wind the sound of a galloping company.

"We have lost twelve hours, more than twelve hours now," he repeated and repeated to Gaydon. All the way to Ala they would still be in the Emperor's territory. It needed only a single courier to gallop past them, and at either Roveredo or Trent they would infallibly be taken. Wogan fingered his pistols, straining his eyes backwards down the road.

At daybreak the snow stopped; the carriage rolled on high among the mountains under a grey sky; and here and there, at a wind of the road, Wogan caught a glimpse of the towers and chimney-tops of Innspruck, or had within his view a stretch of the slope they had climbed. But there was never a black speck visible upon the white of the snow; as yet no courier was overtaking them, as yet Innspruck did not know its captive had escaped. At eight o'clock in the morning they came to Nazareth, and found their own berlin ready harnessed at the post-house door, the postillion already in his saddle, and Misset waiting with an uncovered head.

"Her Highness will breakfast here, no doubt?" said Gaydon.

"Misset will have seen to it," cried Wogan, "that the berlin is furnished. We can breakfast as we go."

They waited no more than ten minutes at Nazareth. The order of travelling was now changed. Wogan and Gaydon now travelled in the berlin with Mrs. Misset and Clementina. Gaydon, being the oldest of the party, figured as the Count of Cernes, Mrs. Misset as his wife, Clementina as his niece, and Wogan as a friend of the family. O'Toole and Misset rode beside the carriage in the guise of servants. Thus they started from Nazareth, and had journeyed perhaps a mile when without so much as a moan Clementina swooned and fell forward into Wogan's arms. Mrs. Misset uttered a cry; Wogan clasped the Princess to his breast. Her head fell back across his arm, pale as death; her eyes were closed; her bosom, strained against his, neither rose nor fell.

"She has fasted all Lent," he said in a broken voice. "She has eaten nothing since we left Innspruck."

Mrs. Misset burst into tears; she caught Clementina's hand and clasped it; she had no eyes but for her. With Gaydon it was different. Wogan was holding the Princess in a clasp too loverlike, though, to be sure, it was none of his business.

"We must stop the carriage," he said.

"No," cried Wogan, desperately; "that we must not do;" and he caught her still closer to him. He had a fear that she was dying. Even so, she should not be recaptured. Though she were dead, he would still carry her dead body into Bologna and lay it white and still before his King. Europe from London to the Bosphorus should know the truth of her and ring with the wonder of her, though she were dead. O'Toole, attracted by the noise of Mrs. Misset's lamentations, bent down over his horse's neck and looked into the carriage.

"Her Highness is dead!" he cried.

"Drive on," replied Wogan, through his clenched teeth.

Upon the other side of the carriage, Misset shouted through the window, "There is a spring by the roadside."

"Drive on," said Wogan.

Gaydon touched him on the arm.

"You will stifle her, man."

Wogan woke to a comprehension of his attitude, and placed Clementina back on her seat. Mrs. Misset by good fortune had a small bottle of Carmelite water in her pocket; she held it to the Princess's nostrils, who in a little opened her eyes and saw her companions in tears about her, imploring her to wake.

"It is nothing," she said. "Take courage, my poor marmosets;" and with a smile she added, "There's my six feet four with the tears in his eyes. Did ever a woman have such friends?"

The sun came out in the sky as she spoke. They had topped the pass and were now driving down towards Italy. There was snow about them still on the mountain-sides and deep in drifts upon the roads. The air was musical with the sound of innumerable freshets: they could be seen leaping and sparkling in the sunlight; the valleys below were green with the young green of spring, and the winds were tempered with the warmth of Italy. A like change came upon the fugitives. They laughed, where before they had wept; from under the seat they pulled out chickens which Misset had cooked with his own hands at Nazareth, bottles of the wine of St. Laurent, and bread; and Wogan allowed a halt long enough to get water from a spring by the roadside.

"There is no salt," said Gaydon.

"Indeed there is," replied Misset, indignant at the aspersion on his catering. "I have it in my tobacco-box." He took his tobacco-box from his pocket and passed it into the carriage. Clementina made sandwiches and passed them out to the horsemen. The chickens turned out to be old cocks, impervious to the soundest tooth. No one minded except Misset, who had brought them. The jolts of the carriage became matter for a jest. They picnicked with the merriment of children, and finally O'Toole, to show his contempt for the Emperor, fired off both his loaded pistols in the air.

At that Wogan's anxiety returned. He blazed up into anger. He thrust his head from the window.

"Is this your respect for her Highness?" he cried. "Is this your consideration?"

"Nay," interposed Clementina, "you shall not chide my six feet four."

"But he is mad, your Highness. I don't say but what a trifle of madness is salt to a man; but O'Toole's clean daft to be firing his pistols off to let the whole world know who we are. Here are we not six stages from Innspruck, and already we have lost twelve hours."

"When?"

"Last night, before we left Innspruck, between the time when you escaped from the villa and when I joined you in the avenue. I climbed out of the window to descend as I had entered, but the sentinel had returned. I waited on the window-ledge crouched against the wall until he should show me his back. After five minutes or so he did. He stamped on the snow and marched up the lane. I let myself down and hung by my hands, but he turned on his beat before I could drop. He marched back; I clung to the ledge, thinking that in the darkness he would pass on beneath me and never notice. He did not notice; but my fingers were frozen and numbed with the cold. I felt them slipping; I could cling no longer, and I fell. Luckily I fell just as he passed beneath me; I dropped feet foremost upon his shoulders, and he went down without a cry. I left him lying stunned there on the snow; but he will be found, or he will recover. Either way our escape will be discovered, and no later than this morning. Nay, it must already have been discovered. Already Innspruck's bells are ringing the alarm; already the pursuit is begun—" and he leaned his head from the window and cried, "Faster! faster!" O'Toole, for his part, shouted, "Trinkgeldt!" It was the only word of German which he knew. "But," said he, "there was a Saracen lady I learned about at school who travelled over Europe and found her lover in an alehouse in London, with no word but his name to help her over the road. Sure, it would be a strange thing if I couldn't travel all over Germany with the help of 'Trinkgeldt.'"

The word certainly had its efficacy with the postillion. "Trinkgeldt!" cried O'Toole, and the berlin rocked and lurched and leaped down the pass. The snow was now less deep, the drifts fewer. The road wound along a mountain-side: at one window rose the rock; from the other the travellers looked down hundreds of feet to the bed of the valley and the boiling torrent of the Adige. It was a mere narrow ribbon of a road made by the Romans, without a thought for the convenience of travellers in a later day; and as the carriage turned a corner, O'Toole, mounted on his horse, saw ahead a heavy cart crawling up towards them. The carter saw the berlin thundering down towards him behind its four maddened horses, and he drew his cart to the inside of the road against the rock. The postillion tugged at his reins; he had not sufficient interval of space to check his team; he threw a despairing glance at O'Toole. It seemed impossible the berlin could pass. There was no use to cry out; O'Toole fell behind the carriage with his mind made up. He looked down the precipice; he saw in his imagination the huge carriage with its tangled, struggling horses falling sheer into the foam of the river. He could not ride back to Bologna with that story to tell; he and his horse must take the same quick, steep road.

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