The postillion drove so close to the cart that he touched it as he passed. "We are lost!" he shouted in an agony; and O'Toole saw the hind wheel of the berlin slip off the road and revolve for the fraction of a second in the air. He was already putting his horse at the precipice as though it was a ditch to be jumped, when the berlin made, to his astonished eyes, an effort to recover its balance like a live thing. It seemed to spring sideways from the brink of the precipice. It not only seemed, it did spring; and O'Toole, drawing rein, in the great revulsion of his feelings, saw, as he rocked unsteadily in his saddle, the carriage tearing safe and unhurt down the very centre of the road.
O'Toole set his spurs to his horse and galloped after it. The postillion looked back and laughed.
"Trinkgeldt!" he cried.
O'Toole swore loudly, and getting level beat him with his whip. Wogan's head popped out of the window.
"Silence!" said he in a rage. "Mademoiselle is asleep;" and then seeing O'Toole's white and disordered face he asked, "What is it?" No one in the coach had had a suspicion of their danger. But O'Toole still saw before his eyes that wheel slip over the precipice and revolve in air, he still felt his horse beneath him quiver and refuse this leap into air. In broken tones he gasped out his story to Wogan, and as he spoke the Princess stirred.
"Hush!" said Wogan; "she need not know. Ride behind, O'Toole! Your blue eyes are green with terror. Your face will tell the story, if once she sees it."
O'Toole fell back again behind the carriage, and at four that afternoon they stopped before the post-house at Brixen. They had crossed the Brenner in a storm of snow and howling winds; they had travelled ten leagues from Innspruck. Wogan called a halt of half an hour. The Princess had eaten barely a mouthful since her supper of the night before. Wogan forced her to alight, forced her to eat a couple of eggs, and to drink a glass of wine. Before the half-hour had passed, she was anxious to start again.
From Brixen the road was easier; and either from the smoothness of the travelling or through some partial relief from his anxieties, Wogan, who had kept awake so long, suddenly fell fast asleep, and when he woke up again the night was come. He woke up without a start or even a movement, as was his habit, and sat silently and bitterly reproaching himself for that he had yielded to fatigue. It was pitch-dark within the carriage; he stared through the window and saw dimly the moving mountain-side, and here and there a clump of trees rush past. The steady breathing of Gaydon, on his left, and of Mrs. Misset in the corner opposite to Gaydon, showed that those two guardians slept as well. His reproaches became more bitter and then suddenly ceased, for over against him in the darkness a young, fresh voice was singing very sweetly and very low. It was the Princess Clementina, and she sang to herself, thinking all three of her companions were asleep. Wogan had not caught the sound at first above the clatter of the wheels, and even now that he listened it came intermittently to his ears. He heard enough, however, to know and to rejoice that there was no melancholy in the music. The song had the clear bright thrill of the blackbird's note in June. Wogan listened, entranced. He would have given worlds to have written the song with which Clementina solaced herself in the darkness, to have composed the melody on which her voice rose and sank.
The carriage drew up at an inn; the horses were changed; the flight was resumed. Wogan had not moved during this delay, neither had Misset nor O'Toole come to the door. But an ostler had flashed a lantern into the berlin, and for a second the light had fallen upon Wogan's face and open eyes. Clementina, however, did not cease; she sang on until the lights had been left behind and the darkness was about them. Then she stopped and said,—
"How long is it since you woke?"
Wogan was taken by surprise.
"I should never have slept at all," stammered he. "I promised myself that. Not a wink of sleep betwixt Innspruck and Italy; and here was I fast as a log this side of Trent. I think our postillion sleeps too;" and letting down the window he quietly called Misset.
"We have fresh relays," said he, "and we travel at a snail's-pace."
"The relays are only fresh to us," returned Misset. "We can go no faster. There is someone ahead with three stages' start of us,—someone of importance, it would seem, and who travels with a retinue, for he takes all the horses at each stage."
Wogan thrust his head out of the window. There was no doubt of it; the horses lagged. In this hurried flight the most trifling hindrance was a monumental danger, and this was no trifling hindrance. For the hue and cry was most certainly raised behind them; the pursuit from Innspruck had begun twelve hours since, on the most favourable reckoning. At any moment they might hear the jingle of a horse's harness on the road behind. And now here was a man with a great retinue blocking their way in front.
"We can do no more, but make a fight of it in the end," said he. "They may be few who follow us. But who is he ahead?"
Misset did not know.
"I can tell you," said Clementina, with a slight hesitation. "It is the Prince of Baden, and he travels to Italy."
Wogan remembered a certain letter which his King had written to him from Rome; and the hesitation in the girl's voice told him the rest of the story. Wogan would have given much to have had his fingers about the scruff of that pompous gentleman's neck with the precipice handy at his feet. It was intolerable that the fellow should pester the Princess in prison and hinder her flight when she had escaped from it.
"Well, we can do no more," said he, and he drew up the window. Neither Gaydon nor Mrs. Misset were awakened; Clementina and Wogan were alone in the darkness.
She leaned forward to him and said in a low voice,—
"Tell me of the King. I shall make mistakes in this new world. Will he have patience with me while I learn?"
She had spoken upon the same strain in the darkness of the staircase only the night before. Wogan gently laughed her fears aside.
"I will tell you the truest thing about the King. He needs you at his side. For all his friends, he is at heart a lonely man, throned upon sorrows. I dare to tell you that, knowing you. He needs not a mere wife, but a mate, a helpmate, to strive with him, her hand in his. Every man needs the helpmate, as I read the world. For it cannot but be that a man falls below himself when he comes home always to an empty room."
The Princess was silent. Wogan hoped that he had reassured her. But her thoughts were now turned from herself. She leaned yet further forward with her elbows upon her knees, and in a yet lower voice she asked a question which fairly startled him.
"Does she not love you?"
Wogan, indeed, had spoken unconsciously, with a deep note of sadness in his voice, which had sounded all the more strange and sad to her from its contrast with the quick, cheerful, vigorous tones she had come to think the mark of him. He had spoken as though he looked forward with a poignant regret through a weary span of days, and saw himself always in youth and middle years and age coming home always to an empty room. Therefore she put her question, and Wogan was taken off his guard.
"There is no one," he said in a flurry.
Clementina shook her head.
"I wish that I may hear the King speak so, and in that voice; I shall be very sure he loves me," she said in a musing voice, and so changing almost to a note of raillery. "Tell me her name!" she pleaded. "What is amiss with her that she is not thankful for a true man's love like yours? Is she haughty? I'll bring her on her knees to you. Does she think her birth sets her too high in the world? I'll show her so much contempt, you so much courtesy, that she shall fall from her arrogance and dote upon your steps. Perhaps she is too sure of your devotion? Why, then, I'll make her jealous!"
Wogan interrupted her, and the agitation of his voice put an end to her raillery. Somehow she had wounded him who had done so much for her.
"Madam, I beg you to believe me, there is no one;" and casting about for a sure argument to dispel her conjectures, he said on an impulse, "Listen; I will make your Highness a confidence." He stopped, to make sure that Gaydon and Mrs. Misset were still asleep. Then he laughed uneasily like a man that is half-ashamed and resumed,—"I am lord and king of a city of dreams. Here's the opening of a fairy tale, you will say. But when I am asleep my city's very real; and even now that I am awake I could draw you a map of it, though I could not name its streets. That's my town's one blemish. Its streets are nameless. It has taken a long while in the building, ever since my boyhood; and indeed the work's not finished yet, nor do I think it ever will be finished till I die, since my brain's its architect. When I was asleep but now, I discovered a new villa, and an avenue of trees, and a tavern with red blinds which I had never remarked before. At the first there was nothing but a queer white house of which the original has fallen to ruins at Rathcoffey in Ireland. This house stood alone in a wide flat emerald plain that stretched like an untravelled sea to a circle of curving sky. There was room to build, you see, and when I left Rathcoffey and became a wanderer, the building went on apace. There are dark lanes there from Avignon between great frowning houses, narrow climbing streets from Meran, arcades from Verona, and a park of many thickets and tall poplar-trees with a long silver stretch of water. One day you will see that park from the windows of St. James. It has a wall too, my city,—a round wall enclosing it within a perfect circle; and from whatever quarter of the plain you come towards it, you only see this wall, there's not so much as a chimney visible above it. Once you have crowded with the caravans and traders through the gates,—for my town is busy,—you are at once in the ringing streets. I think my architect in that took Aigues Mortes for his model. Outside you have the flat, silent plain, across which the merchants creep in long trailing lines, within the noise of markets, the tramp of horses' hoofs, the talk of men and women, and, if you listen hard, the whispers, too, of lovers. Oh, my city's populous! There are quiet alleys with windows opening onto them, where on summer nights you may see a young girl's face with the moonlight on it like a glory, and in the shadow of the wall beneath, the cloaked figure of a youth. Well, I have a notion—" and then he broke off abruptly. "There's a black horse I own, my favourite horse."
"You rode it the first time you came to Ohlau," said the Princess.
"Do you indeed remember that?" cried Wogan, with so much pleasure that Gaydon stirred in his corner, and Clementina said, "Hush!"
Wogan waited in a suspense lest Gaydon should wake up, which, to be sure, would be the most inconsiderate thing in the world. Gaydon, however, settled himself more comfortably, and in a little his regular breathing might be heard again.
"Well," resumed Wogan, "I have a notion that the lady I shall marry will come riding some sunrise on my black horse across the plain and into my city of dreams. And she has not."
"Ah," said Clementina, "here's a subterfuge, my friend. The lady you shall marry, you say. But tell me this! Has the lady you love ridden on your black horse into your city of dreams?"
"No," said Wogan; "for there is no lady whom I love." There Wogan should have ended, but he added rather sadly, "Nor is there like to be."
"Then I am sure," said Clementina.
"Sure that I speak truth?"
"No, sure that you mislead me. It is not kind; for here perhaps I might give you some small token of my gratitude, would you but let me. Oh, it is no matter. I shall find out who the lady is. You need not doubt it. I shall set my wits and eyes to work. There shall be marriages when I am Queen. I will find out!"
Wogan's face was not visible in the darkness; but he spoke quickly and in a startled voice,—
"That you must never do. Promise that you never will! Promise me that you will never try;" and again Gaydon stirred in his corner.
Clementina made no answer to the passionate words. She did not promise, but she drew a breath, and then from head to foot she shivered. Wogan dared not repeat his plea for a promise, but he felt that though she had not given it, none the less she would keep it. They sat for awhile silent. Then Clementina came back to her first question.
"Tell me of the King," she said very softly. And as the carriage rolled down the mountain valley through the night and its wheels struck flashes of fire from the stones, Wogan drew a picture for her of the man she was to marry. It was a relief to him to escape from the dangerous talk of the last hour, and he spoke fervently. The poet in him had always been sensitive to the glamour of that wandering Prince; he had his countrymen's instinctive devotion for a failing cause. This was no suitable moment for dwelling upon the defects and weaknesses. Wogan told her the story of the campaign in Scotland, of the year's residence in Avignon. He spoke most burningly. A girl would no doubt like to hear of her love's achievements; and if James Stuart had not so many to his name as a man could wish, that was merely because chance had served him ill. So a fair tale was told, not to be found in any history book, of a night attack in Scotland and how the Chevalier de St. George, surprised and already to all purposes a prisoner, forced a way alone through nine grenadiers with loaded muskets and escaped over the roof-tops. It was a good breathless story as he told it, and he had just come to an end of it when the carriage drove through the village of Wellishmile and stopped at the posting-house. Wogan opened the door and shook Gaydon by the shoulder.
"Let us try if we can get stronger horses here," said he, and he got out. Gaydon woke up with surprising alacrity.
"I must have fallen asleep," said he. "I beseech your Highness's forgiveness; I have slept this long while." It was no business of his if Wogan chose to attribute his own escape from Newgate as an exploit of the King's. The story was a familiar one at Bologna, whither they were hurrying; it was sufficiently known that Charles Wogan was its hero. All this was Wogan's business, not Gaydon's. Nor had Gaydon anything to do with any city of dreams or with any lady that might ride into it, or with any black horse that chanced to carry her. Poets no doubt talked that way. It was their business. Gaydon was not sorry that he had slept so heartily through those last stages. He got down from the carriage and met Wogan coming from the inn with a face of dismay.
"We are stopped here. There is no help for it. We have gained on the Prince of Baden, who is no more than two stages ahead. The relays which carried him from here to the next stage have only this instant come back. They are too tired to move. So we must stay until they are refreshed. And we are still three posts this side of Trent!" he cried. "I would not mind were Trent behind us. But there's no help for it. I have hired a room where the Countess and her niece can sleep until such time as we can start."
Clementina and Mrs. Misset descended and supped in company with Gaydon and Wogan, while Misset and O'Toole waited upon them as servants. It was a silent sort of supper, very different from the meal they had made that morning. For though the fare was better, it lacked the exhilaration. This delay weighed heavily upon them all. For the country was now for a sure thing raised behind them, and if they had gained on the Prince of Baden, their pursuers had no less certainly gained on them.
"Would we were t'other side of Trent!" exclaimed Wogan; and looking up he saw that Clementina was watching him with a strange intentness. Her eyes were on him again while they sat at supper; and when he led her to the door of her room and she gave him her hand, she stood for a little while looking deep into his eyes. And though she had much need of sleep, when she had got into the room and the door was closed behind her, she remained staring at the logs of the fire.
For she knew his secret, and to her eyes he was now another man. Before, Wogan was the untiring servant, the unflinching friend; now he was the man who loved her. The risks he had run, his journeyings, his unswerving confidence in the result, his laborious days and nights of preparation, and the swift execution,—love as well as service claimed a share in these. He was changed for ever to her eyes; she knew his secret. There was the cloud no bigger than a man's hand. For she must needs think over all that he had said and done by the new light the secret shed. When did he first begin to care? Why? She recalled his first visit long ago to Ohlau, when he rode across the park on his black horse charged with his momentous errand. She had been standing, she remembered, before the blazing log-fire in the great stone hall, much as she was standing now. Great changes had come since then. She was James Stuart's chosen wife—and this man loved her. He had no hope of any reward; he desired even that she should not know. She should no doubt have been properly sorry and compassionate, but she was a girl simple and frank. To be loved by a man who could so endure and strive and ask no guerdon,—that lifted her. She thought the more worthily of herself because he loved her. She was raised thereby. She could not be sorry; her blood pulsed, her heart sang, the starry eyes shone with a brighter light. He loved her. She knew his secret. A little clock chimed the hour upon the mantel-shelf, and lifting her eyes she saw that just twenty-four hours had passed since she had driven out of Innspruck up the Brenner.
As she got into bed a horse galloped up to the inn and stopped. She remembered that she had not ridden on his black horse out of the sunrise across the plain. He loved her, and since he loved her, surely—She fell asleep puzzled and wondering why. She was waked up some two hours afterwards by a rapping on the door, and she grew hot and she recognised Wogan's voice cautiously whispering to her to rise with all speed. For in her dreams from which she had wakened, she had ridden across the flat green plain into the round city of dreams.
When the horse galloped up to the door, the Princess turned on her side and went to sleep. In the common-room below Gaydon and Wogan were smoking a pipe of tobacco over the fire. Both men rose on the instant; Wogan stealthily opened the door an inch or so and looked down the passage. Gaydon raised a corner of the blind and peered through the window. The two remaining members of the party, Misset and O'Toole, who as lackeys had served the supper of the Princess, were now eating their own. When the Princess turned over on her side, and Wogan stepped on tiptoe to the door and Gaydon peeped through the window, Misset laid down his knife and fork, and drawing a flask from his pocket emptied its contents into an earthenware water-jug which stood upon the table. O'Toole, for his part, simply continued to eat.
"He is getting off his horse," said Gaydon.
"Has he ridden hard, do you think?" asked Misset.
"He looks in a mighty ill-humour."
O'Toole looked up from his plate, and became gradually aware that something was occurring. Before he could speak, however, Gaydon dropped the blind.
"He is coming in. It will never do for him to find the four of us together. He may not be the courier from Innspruck; on the other hand, he may, and seeing the four of us he will ask questions of the landlord. Seeing no more than two, he will very likely ask none."
O'Toole began to understand. He understood, at all events, that for him there was to be no more supper. If two were to make themselves scarce, he knew that he would be one of the two.
"Very well," said he, heaving a sigh which made the glasses on the table dance, and laying his napkin down he got up. To his surprise, however, he was bidden to stay.
"Gaydon and I will go," said Wogan. "Jack will find out the fellow's business."
Misset nodded his head, took up his knife and fork again. He leaned across the table to O'Toole as the others stepped out of the room.
"You speak only French, Lucius. You come from Savoy." He had no time to say more, for the new-comer stamped blustering down the passage and flung into the room. The man, as Gaydon had remarked, was in a mighty ill-humour; his clothes and his face were splashed with mud, and he seemed, moreover, in the last stage of exhaustion. For though he bawled for the landlord it was in a weak, hoarse voice, which did not reach beyond the door.
Misset looked at him with sympathy.
"You have no doubt come far," said he; "and the landlord's a laggard. Here's something that may comfort you till he comes;" and he filled a glass half full with red Tyrol wine from the bottle at his elbow.
The man thanked him and advanced to the table.
"It is a raw hot wine," continued Misset, "and goes better with water;" and he filled up the glass from the water-jug. The courier reached out his hand for it.
"I am the thirstiest man in all Germany," said he, and he took a gulp of the wine and immediately fell to spluttering.
"Save us," said he, "but this wine is devilishly strong."
"Try some more water," said Misset, and again he filled up the glass. The courier drank it all in a single draught, and stood winking his eyes and shaking his head.
"That warms a man," said he. "It does one good;" and again he called for the landlord, and this time in a strange voice. The landlord still lagged, however, and Misset did not doubt that Wogan had found a means to detain him. He filled up the courier's glass again, half wine, half water. The courier sat heavily down in a chair.
"I take the liberty, gentlemen," said he. "I am no better than a dung-heap to sit beside gentlemen. But indeed I can stand no longer. Never have I stridden across such vile slaughter-house cattle as they keep for travellers on the Brenner road. I have sprained my legs with spurring 'em. Seven times," he cried with an oath,—"seven times has a horse dropped under me to-day. There's not an inch of me unbruised, curse me if there is! I'm a cake of mud."
Misset knew very well why the courier had suffered these falls. The horses he had ridden had first been tired by the Prince of Baden, and then had the last spark of fire flogged out of them by the Princess's postillions. He merely shrugged his shoulders, however, and said, "That looks ill for us."
The courier gazed suddenly at Misset, then at O'Toole, with a dull sort of suspicion in his eyes.
"And which way might you gentlemen be travelling?"
"To Innspruck; we're from Trent," said Misset, boldly.
The courier turned to O'Toole.
"And you too, sir?"
O'Toole turned a stolid, uncomprehending face upon the courier.
"Pour moi, monsieur, je suis Savoyard. Monsieur qui vous parle, c'est mon compagnon de negoce."
The courier gazed with blank, heavy eyes at O'Toole. He had the appearance of a man fuddled with drink. He heaved a sigh or two.
"Will you repeat that," he said at length, "and slowly?"
O'Toole repeated his remark, and the courier nodded at him. "That's very strange," said he, solemnly, wagging his head. "I do not dispute its truth, but it is most strange. I will tell my wife of it." He turned in his chair, and a twinge from his bruises made him cry out. "I shall be as stiff as a mummy in the morning," he exclaimed, and swore loudly at "the bandits" who had caused him this deplorable journey. Misset and O'Toole exchanged a quick glance, and Misset pushed the glass across the table. The courier took it, and his eyes lighted up.
"You have come from Trent," said he. "Did you pass a travelling carriage on the road?"
"Yes," said Misset; "the Prince of Baden with a large following drove into Trent as we came out."
"Yes, yes," said the courier. "But no second party behind the Prince?"
Misset shook his head; he made a pretence of consulting O'Toole in French, and O'Toole shook his head.
"Then I shall have the robbers," cried the courier. "They are to be flayed alive, and they deserve it," he shouted fiercely to Misset. "Gallows-birds!"
He dropped his head upon his arms and muttered "gallows-birds" again. It seemed that he was falling asleep, but he suddenly sat up and beat on the table with his fist.
"I have eaten nothing since the morning. Ah—gallows-birds—flayed alive, and hanged—no, hanged and flayed alive—no, that's impossible." He drank off the wine which Misset had poured out for him, and rose from his chair. "Where's the landlord? I want supper. I want besides to speak to him;" and he staggered towards the door.
"As for supper," said Misset, "we shall be glad if you will share ours. Travellers should be friendly."
O'Toole caught the courier by the arm and with a polite speech in French drew him again down into his chair. The courier stared at O'Toole and forgot all about the landlord. He had eaten nothing all day, and the wine and the water-jug had gone to his head. He put a long forefinger on O'Toole's knee.
"Say that again," said he, and O'Toole obeyed. A slow, fat smile spread all over the courier's face.
"I'll tell my wife about it," said he. He tried to clap O'Toole on the back, and missing him fell forward with his face on the table. The next minute he was snoring. Misset walked round the table and deftly picked his pockets. There was a package in one of them superscribed to "Prince Taxis, the Governor of Trent." Misset deliberately broke the seal and read the contents. He handed the package to O'Toole, who read it, and then flinging it upon the ground danced upon it. Misset went out of the room and found Wogan and Gaydon keeping watch by Clementina's door. To them he spoke in a whisper.
"The fellow brings letters from General Heister to the Governor of Trent to stop us at all costs. But his letters are destroyed, and he's lying dead-drunk on the table."
The three men quickly concerted a plan. The Princess must be roused; a start must be made at once; and O'Toole must be left behind to keep a watch upon the courier, Wogan rapped at the door and waked Clementina; he sent Gaydon to the stables to bribe the ostlers, and with Misset went down to inform O'Toole.
O'Toole, however, was sitting with his eyes closed and his head nodding, surrounded by scraps of the letter which he had danced to pieces. Wogan shook him by the shoulder, and he opened his eyes and smiled fatuously.
"He means to tell his wife," he said with a foolish gurgle of laughter. "He must be an ass. I don't think if I had a wife I should tell her. Would you, Wogan, tell your wife if you had one? Misset wouldn't tell his wife."
Misset interrupted him.
"What have you drank since I went out of the room?" he asked roughly. He took up the water-jug and turned it topsy-turvy. It was quite empty.
"Only water," said O'Toole, dreamily, and he laughed again. "Now I wouldn't mind telling my wife that," said he.
Misset let him go and turned with a gesture of despair to Wogan.
"I poured my flask out into the water-bottle. It was full of burnt Strasbourg brandy, of double strength. It is as potent as opium. Neither of them will have his wits before to-morrow. It will not help us to leave O'Toole to guard the courier."
"And we cannot take him," said Wogan. "There is the Princess to be thought of. We must leave him, and we cannot leave him alone, for his neck's in danger,—more than in danger if the courier wakes before him."
He picked up carefully the scraps of the letter and placed them in the middle of the fire. They were hardly burnt before Gaydon came into the room with word that horses were already being harnessed to the berlin. Wogan explained their predicament.
"We must choose which of us three shall stay behind," said he.
"Which of us two," Misset corrected, pointing to Gaydon and himself. "When the Princess drives into Bologna, Charles Wogan, who first had the high heart to dare this exploit, the brain to plot, the hand to execute it,—Charles Wogan must ride at her side, not Misset, not Gaydon. I take no man's honours." He shook Wogan by the hand as he spoke, and he had spoken with an extraordinary warmth of admiration. Gaydon could do no less than follow his companion's example, though there was a shade of embarrassment in his manner of assenting. It was not that he had any envy of Wogan, or any desire to rob him of a single tittle of his due credit. There was nothing mean in Gaydon's nature, but here was a halving of Clementina's protectors, and he could not stifle a suspicion that the best man of the four to leave behind was really Charles Wogan himself. Not a word, however, of this could he say, and so he nodded his assent to Misset's proposal.
"It is I, then, who stay behind with O'Toole and the courier," he said. "Misset has a wife; the lot evidently falls to me. We will make a shift somehow or another to keep the fellow quiet till sundown to-morrow, which time should see you out of danger." He unbuckled the sword from his waist and laid it on the table, and that simple action somehow touched Wogan to the heart. He slipped his arm into Gaydon's and said remorsefully,—
"Dick, I do hate to leave you, you and Lucius. I swept you into the peril, you two, my friends, and now I leave you in the thick of it to find a way out for yourselves. But there is no remedy, is there? I shall not rest until I see you both again. Goodbye, Lucius." He looked at O'Toole sprawling with outstretched legs upon his groaning chair. "My six feet four," said he, turning to Gaydon; "you must give me the passport. Have a good care of him, Dick;" and he gripped O'Toole affectionately by the arms for a second, and then taking the passport hurried from the room. Gaydon had seldom seen Wogan so moved.
The berlin was brought round to the door; the Princess, rosy with sleep, stepped into it; Wogan had brought with him a muff, and he slipped it over Clementina's feet to keep her warm during the night; Misset took Gaydon's place, and the postillion cracked his whip and set off towards Trent. Gaydon, sitting before the fire in the parlour, heard the wheels grate upon the road; he had a vision of the berlin thundering through the night with a trail of sparks from the wheels; and he wondered whether Misset was asleep or merely leaning back with his eyes shut, and thus visiting incognito Woman's fairy-land of dreams. However, Gaydon consoled himself with the reflection that it was none of his business.
But Gaydon was out of his reckoning. There were no fairy tales told for Misset to overhear, and the Princess Clementina slept in her corner of the carriage. If a jolt upon a stone wakened her, a movement opposite told her that her sentinel was watchful and alert. Three times the berlin stopped for a change of horses; and on each occasion Wogan was out of the door and hurrying the ostlers before the wheels had ceased to revolve.
"You should sleep, my friend," said she.
"Not till we reach Italy," he replied; and with the confidence of a child she nestled warmly in her cloak again and closed her eyes. This feeling of security was a new luxury to her after the months of anxiety and prison. The grey light of the morning stole into the berlin and revealed to her the erect and tireless figure of her saviour. The sun leaped down the mountain-peaks, and the grey of the light was now a sparkling gold. Wogan bade her Highness look from the carriage window, and she could not restrain a cry of delight. On her left, mountain-ridge rose behind mountain-ridge, away to the towering limestone cliffs of Monte Scanupia; on her right, the white peaks of the Orto d'Abram flashed to the sun; and between the hills the broad valley of the Adige rolled southwards,—a summer country of villages and vines, of mulberry-trees and fields of maize, in the midst of which rose the belfries of an Italian town.
"This is Italy," she cried.
"But the Emperor's Italy," answered Wogan; and at half-past nine that morning the carriage stopped in the public square of Trent. As Wogan stepped onto the ground, he saw a cloud of dust at the opposite side of the square, and wrapped in that cloud men on horseback like soldiers in the smoke of battle; he heard, too, the sound of wheels. The Prince of Baden had that instant driven away, and he had taken every procurable horse in the town. Wogan's own horses could go no further. He came back to the door of the carriage.
"I must search through Trent," said he, "on the mere chance of finding what will serve us. Your Highness must wait in the inn;" and Clementina, muffling her face, said to him,—
"I dare not. My face is known in Trent, though this is the first time ever I saw it. But many gentlemen from Trent came to the Innspruck carnival, and of these a good number were kind enough to offer me their hearts. They were allowed to besiege me to their content. I must needs remain in the shelter of the carriage."
Wogan left Misset to stand sentinel, and hurried off upon his business. He ran from stable to stable, from inn to inn. The Prince of Baden had hired thirty-six horses; six more were nowhere to be found. Wogan would be content with four; he ended in a prayer for two. At each house the door was shut in his face. Wogan was in despair; nowhere could delay be so dangerous as at Trent, where there were soldiers, and a Governor who would not hesitate to act without orders if he suspected the Princess Clementina was escaping through his town. Two hours had passed in Wogan's vain search,—two hours of daylight, during which Clementina had sat in an unharnessed carriage in the market square. Wogan ran back to the square, half expecting to find that she had been recognised and arrested. As he reached the square, he saw that curious people were loitering about the carriage; as he pushed through them, he heard them questioning why travellers should on so hot a morning of spring sit muffled up in a close, dark carriage when they could take their ease beneath trees in the inn-garden. One man laughed out at the Princess and the comical figure she made with her scarlet cloak drawn tight about her face. Wogan himself had bought that cloak in Strasbourg to guard his Princess from the cold of the Brenner, and guessed what discomfort its ermine lining must now be costing her. And this lout dared to laugh and make her, this incomparable woman, a butt for his ridicule! Wogan took a step towards the fellow with his fists clenched, but thought the better of his impulse, and turning away ran to the palace of Prince Taxis.
This desperate course alone remained to him; he must have speech with the Prince-bishop himself. At the palace, however, he was informed that the Prince was in bed with the gout. Mr. Wogan, however, insisted.
"You will present my duties to the Prince; you will show him my passport; you will say that the Count of Cernes has business of the last importance in Italy, and begs permission, since the Prince of Baden has hired every post-horse in the town, to requisition half a dozen farm-horses from the fields."
Mr. Wogan kicked his heels in the courtyard while the message was taken. At any moment some rumour of the curious spectacle in the square might be brought to the palace and excite inquiry. There might be another courier in pursuit besides the man whom Gaydon kept a prisoner. Wogan was devoured with a fever of impatience. It seemed to him hours before the Prince's secretary returned to him. The secretary handed him back his passport, and on the part of the Prince made a speech full of civilities.
"Here's a great deal of jam, sir," said Wogan. "I misdoubt me but what there's a most unpalatable pill hidden away in it."
"Indeed," said the secretary, "the Prince begs you to be content and to wait for the post-horses to return."
"Ah, ah!" cried Wogan, "but that's the one thing I cannot do. I must speak plainly, it appears." He drew the secretary out of ear-shot, and resumed: "My particular business is to catch up the Prince of Baden. He is summoned back to Innspruck. Do you understand?" he asked significantly.
"Sir, we are well informed in Trent as to the Emperor's wishes," said the secretary, with a great deal of dignity.
"No, no, my friend," said Wogan. "It is not by the Emperor the Prince of Baden is summoned, though I have no doubt the summons is much to his taste."
The secretary stepped back in surprise.
"By her Highness the Princess?" he exclaimed.
"She changes her mind; she is willing where before she was obdurate. To tell you the truth, the Prince plied her too hard, and she would have none of him. Now that he turns his back and puts the miles as fast as he can between himself and her, she cannot sleep for want of him."
The secretary nodded his head sagaciously.
"Her Highness is a woman," said he, "and that explains all. But it will do her no harm to suffer a little longer for her obstinacy, and, to tell you the truth, the Prince Taxis is so tormented with the gout that—"
"That you are unwilling to approach him a second time," interrupted Wogan. "I have no doubt of it. I have myself seen prelates in a most unprelatical mood. But here is a case where needs must. I have not told you all. There is a devil of a fellow called Charles Wogan."
The secretary nodded his head.
"A mad Irishman who has vowed to free her Highness."
"He has set out from Strasbourg with that aim."
"He will hang for it, then, but he will never rescue her;" and the secretary began to laugh. "I cannot upon my honour vex the Prince again because a gallows-bird has prated in his cups."
"No, no," said Wogan; "you do not follow me. Charles Wogan will come to the gallows over this adventure. For my part, I would have him broken on the wheel and tortured in many uncomfortable ways. These Irishmen all the world over are pestilent fellows. But the trouble is this: If her Highness hears of his attempt, she is, as you sagely discovered, a woman, a trivial, trifling thing. She will be absurd enough to imagine her rescue possible; she will again change her mind, and it is precisely that which General Heister fears. He would have her formally betrothed to the Prince of Baden before Charles Wogan is caught and hanged sky-high. Therefore, since I was pressing into Italy, he charged me with this message to the Prince of Baden. Now observe this, if you please. Suppose that I do not overtake the Prince; suppose that her Highness hears of Wogan's coming and again changes her mind,—who will be to blame? Not I, for I have done my best, not Prince Taxis, for he is not informed, but Prince Taxis's secretary."
The secretary yielded to Wogan's argument. He might be in a great fear of Prince Taxis, but he was in a greater of the Emperor's wrath. He left Wogan again, and in a little while came back with the written permission which Wogan desired. Wogan wasted no time in unnecessary civilities; the morning had already been wasted. The clocks were striking one as he hurried away from the palace, and before two the Princess Clementina was able to throw back her cloak from about her face and take the air; for the berlin was on the road from Trent to Roveredo.
"Those were the four worst hours since we left Innspruck," she said. "I thought I should suffocate." The revulsion from despair, the knowledge that each beat of the hoofs brought them nearer to safety, the glow of the sun upon a country which was Italy in all but name, raised them all to the top of their spirits. Clementina was in her gayest mood; she lavished caresses upon her "little woman," as she called Mrs. Misset; she would have Wogan give her an account of his interview with Prince Taxis's secretary; she laughed with the merriest enjoyment over his abuse of Charles Wogan.
"But it was not myself alone whom I slandered," said he. "Your Highness had a share of our abuse. Our heads wagged gravely over woman's inconstancies. It was not in nature but you must change your mind. Indeed, your Highness would have laughed."
But at all events her Highness did not laugh now. On the contrary, her eyes lost all their merriment, and her blood rushed hotly into her cheeks. She became for that afternoon a creature of moods, now talking quickly and perhaps a trifle wildly, now relapsing into long silences. Wogan was troubled by a thought that the strain of her journey was telling its tale even upon her vigorous youth. It may be that she noted his look of anxiety, but she said to him abruptly and with a sort of rebellion,—
"You would despise any woman who had the temerity to change her mind."
"Nay; I do not say that."
"But it is merely politeness that restrains you. You would despise her, judging her by men. When a man changes his mind, why, it is so, he changes his mind. But when a girl does, it may well be that for the first time she is seriously exercising her judgment. For her upbringing renders it natural that she should allow others to make up her mind for her at the first."
"That I think is very true," said Wogan.
Clementina, however, was not satisfied with his assent. She attacked him again and almost vindictively.
"You of course would never change your mind for any reason, once it was fixed. You are resolute. You are quite, quite perfect."
Mr. Wogan could not imagine what he had done thus to provoke her irony.
"Madam," he pleaded, "I am not in truth so obstinate a fellow as you make me out. I have often changed my mind. I take some pride in it on occasion."
Her Highness inclined to a greater graciousness.
"I am glad to know it. You shall give me examples. One may have a stiff neck and yet no cause for pride."
Wogan looked so woe-begone under this reproof that Clementina suddenly broke out into a laugh, and so showed herself in a fresh and more familiar mood. The good-humour continued; she sat opposite to Mr. Wogan; if she moved, her hand, her knee, her foot, must needs touch his; she made him tell her stories of his campaigns; and so the evening came upon them,—an evening of stars and mysterious quiet and a clear, dark sky.
They passed Roveredo; they drew near to Ala, the last village in the Emperor's territories. Five miles beyond Ala they would be on Venetian soil, and already they saw the lights of the village twinkling like so many golden candles. But the berlin, which had drawn them so stoutly over these rugged mountain-roads, failed them at the last. One of the hind wheels jolted violently upon a great stone, there was a sudden cracking of wood, and the carriage lurched over, throwing its occupants one against the other.
Wogan disentangled himself, opened the door, and sprang out. He sprang out into a pool of water. One glance at the carriage, dark though the night was, told him surely what had happened. The axle-tree was broken. He saw that Clementina was about to follow him.
"There is water," said he. "It is ankle-deep."
"And no white stone," she answered with a laugh, "whereon I can safely set my foot?"
"No," said he, "but you can trust without fear to my arms;" and he reached them out to her.
"Can I?" said she, in a curious voice; and when he had lifted her from the carriage, she was aware that she could not. He lifted her daintily, like a piece of porcelain; but to lift her was not enough, he must carry her. His arms tightened about her waist, hers in spite of herself about his shoulders. He took a step or two from the carriage, with the water washing over his boots, and the respectful support of a servant became the warm grip of a man. He no longer held her daintily; he clipped her close to him, straining her breasts against his chest; he was on fire with her. She could not but know it; his arms shook, his bosom heaved; she felt the quick hammering of his heart; and a murmur, an inarticulate murmur, of infinite longing trembled from his throat. And something of his madness passed into her and made a sweet tumult in her blood. He stopped still holding her; he felt her fingers clasp tighter; he looked downwards into her face upturned to his. They were alone for a moment, these two, alone in an uninhabited world. The broken carriage, the busy fingers about it, the smoking horses, the lights of Ala twinkling in the valley, had not even the substance of shadows. They simply were not, and they never had been. There were just two people alive between the Poles,—not princess and servant, but man and woman in the primitive relationship of rescuer and rescued; and they stood in the dark of a translucent night of spring, with the stars throbbing above them to the time of their passionate hearts, and the earth stretching about them rich as black velvet. He looked down into her eyes as once in the night-time he had done before; and again he marvelled at their steadiness and their mysterious depths. Her eyes were fixed on his and did not flinch; her arms were close about his neck; he bent his head towards her, and she said in a queer, toneless voice, low but as steady as her eyes,—
"I know. Ah, but well I know. Last night I dreamed; I rode on your black horse into your city of dreams;" and the moment of passion ended in farce. For Wogan, startled by the words, set her down there and then into the pool. She stood over her ankles in water. She uttered a little cry and shivered. Then she laughed and sprang lightly onto dry soil, making much of her companion's awkwardness. Wogan joined in the laughter, finding therein as she did a cover and a cloak.
"We must walk to Ala," said he.
"It is as well," said she. "There was a time when cavaliers laid their cloaks in the mud to save a lady's shoe-sole."
"Madam," said Wogan, "the chivalry of to-day has the same intention."
"But in its effect," said she, "it is more rheumatical."
Wogan searched in the carriage and drew out a coil of rope which he slung across his shoulders like a bandolier. Clementina laughed at him for his precautions, but Wogan was very serious. "I would not part with it," said he. "I never travelled for four days without being put to it for a piece of rope."
They left the postillion to make what he could of the berlin and walked forward in the clear night to Ala. The shock of the tumble had alarmed Mrs. Misset; the fatigue of the journey had strained her endurance to the utmost. She made no complaint, but she could walk but slowly and with many rests by the way. It took a long while for them to reach the village. They saw the lights diminish in the houses; the stars grew pale; there came a hint of morning in the air. The laughter at Wogan's awkwardness had long since died away, and they walked in silence.
Forty-eight hours had passed since the berlin left Innspruck. Twenty-four hours ago Clementina knew Wogan's secret. Now he was aware that she knew it. They could not look into each other's faces, but their eyes conversed of it. If they turned their heads sharply away, that aversion of their gaze spoke no less clearly. There was a link between them now, and a secret link, the sweeter on that account, perhaps,—certainly the more dangerous. The cloud had grown much bigger than a man's hand. Moreover, she had never seen James Stuart; she had his picture, it is true, but the picture could not recall. It must create, not revivify his image to her thoughts, and that it could not do; so that he remained a shadowy figure to her, a mere number of features, almost an abstraction. On the other hand the King's emissary walked by her side, sat sleepless before her, had held her in his arms, had talked with her, had risked his life for her; she knew him. What she knew of James Stuart, she knew chiefly from the lips of this emissary. On this walk to Ala he spoke of his master, and remorsefully in the highest praise. But she knew his secret, she knew that he loved her, and therefore every remorseful, loyal word he spoke praised him more than it praised his master. And it happened that just as they came to the outskirts of the village, she dropped a handkerchief which hung loosely about her neck. For a moment she did not remark her loss; when she did and turned, she saw that her companion was rising from the ground on which no handkerchief longer lay, and that he had his right hand in his breast. She turned again without a word, and walked forward. But she knew that kerchief was against his heart, and the cloud still grew.
They reached Ala towards two o'clock of the morning. The town had some reputation in those days for its velvets and silks, and Wogan made no doubt that somewhere he would procure a carriage to convey them the necessary five miles into Venetian territory. The Prince of Baden was still ahead of them, however. The inn of "The Golden Lion" had not a single horse fit for their use in its stables. Wogan, however, obtained there a few likely addresses and set out alone upon his search. He returned in a couple of hours with a little two-wheeled cart drawn by a pony, and sent word within that he was ready. Clementina herself with her hood thrown back from her face came out to him at the door. An oil lamp swung in the passage and lit up her face. Wogan could see that the face was grave and anxious.
"Your Highness and Mrs. Misset can ride in the cart. It has no springs, to be sure, and may shake to pieces like plaster. But if it carries you five miles, it will serve. Misset and I can run by the side."
"But Lucy Misset must not go," said Clementina. "She is ill, and no wonder. She must not take one step more to-night. There would be great danger, and indeed she has endured enough for me." The gravity of the girl's face, as much as her words, convinced Wogan that here was no occasion for encouragement or resistance. He said with some embarrassment,—
"Yet we cannot leave her here alone; and of us two men, her husband must stay with her."
"Dare we wait till the morning?" asked Clementina. "Lucy may be recovered then."
Wogan shook his head.
"The courier we stopped at Wellishmile was not the only man sent after us. Of that we may be very sure. Here are we five miles from safety, and while those five miles are still unbridged—Listen!"
Wogan leaned his head forward and held up his hand for silence. In the still night they could hear far away the galloping of a horse. The sound grew more distinct as they listened.
"The rider comes from Italy," said Clementina. "But he might have come from Trent," cried Wogan. "We left Trent behind twelve hours ago, and more. For twelve hours we crept and crawled along the road; these last miles we have walked. Any moment the Emperor's troopers might come riding after us. Ah, but we are not safe! I am afraid!"
Clementina turned sharply towards him as he spoke this unwonted confession.
"You!" she exclaimed with a wondering laugh. Yet he had spoken the truth. His face was twitching; his eyes had the look of a man scared out of his wits.
"Yes, I am afraid," he said in a low, uneasy voice. "When I have all but won through the danger, then comes my moment of fear. In the thick of it, perils tread too close upon the heels of peril for a man to count them up. Each minute claims your hands and eyes and brain,—claims you and inspires you. But when the danger's less, and though less still threatens; when you're just this side of safety's frontier and not safe,—indeed, indeed, one should be afraid. A vain spirit of confidence, and the tired head nods, and the blow falls on it from nowhere. Oh, but I have seen examples times out of mind. I beg you, no delay!"
The hoofs of the approaching horse sounded ever louder while Wogan spoke; and as he ended, a man rode out from the street into the open space before the inn. The gallop became a trot.
"He is riding to the door," said Wogan. "The light falls on your face;" and he drew Clementina into the shadow of the wall. But at the same moment the rider changed his mind. He swerved; it seemed too that he used his spurs, for his horse bounded beneath him and galloped past the inn. He disappeared into the darkness, and the sound of the horse diminished. Wogan listened until they had died away.
"He rides into Austria!" said he. "He rides to Trent, to Brixen, to Innspruck! And in haste. Let us go! I had even a fancy that I knew his voice."
"From a single oath uttered in anger! Nay, you are all fears. For my part, I was afraid that he had it in his mind to stay here at this inn where my little woman lies. What if suspicion fall on her? What if those troopers of the Emperor find her and guess the part she played!"
"You make her safe by seeking safety," returned Wogan. "You are the prey the Emperor flies at. Once you are out of reach, his mere dignity must hold him in from wreaking vengeance on your friends."
Wogan went into the inn, and calling Misset told him of his purpose. He would drive her Highness to Peri, a little village ten miles from Ala, but in Italy. At Peri, Mrs. Misset and her husband were to rejoin them in the morning, and from Peri they could travel by slow stages to Bologna. The tears flowed from Clementina's eyes when she took her farewell of her little woman. Though her reason bowed to Wogan's argument, she had a sense of cowardice in deserting so faithful a friend. Mrs. Misset, however, joined in Wogan's prayer; and she mounted into the trap and at Wogan's side drove out of the town by that street along which the horseman had ridden.
Clementina was silent; her driver was no more talkative. They were alone and together on the road to Italy. That embarrassment from which Wogan's confession of fear had procured them some respite held them in a stiff constraint. They were conscious of it as of a tide engulfing them. Neither dared to speak, dreading what might come of speech. The most careless question, the most indifferent comment, might, as it seemed to both, be the spark to fire a mine. Neither had any confidence to say, once they had begun to talk, whither the talk would lead; but they were very much afraid, and they sat very still lest a movement of the one should provoke a question in the other. She knew his secret, and he was aware that she knew it. She could not have found it even then in her heart to part willingly with her knowledge. She had thought over-much upon it during the last day. She had withdrawn herself into it from the company of her fellow-travellers, as into a private chamber; it was familiar and near. Nor would Wogan have desired, now that she had the knowledge, to deprive her of it, but he knew it instinctively for a dangerous thing. He drove on in silence while the stars paled in the heavens and a grey, pure light crept mistily up from the under edges of the world, and the morning broke hard and empty and cheerless. Wogan suddenly drew in the reins and stopped the cart.
"There is a high wall behind us. It stretches across the fields from either side," said he. "It makes a gateway of the road."
Clementina turned. The wall was perhaps ten yards behind them.
"A gateway," said she, "through which we have passed."
"The gateway of Italy," answered Wogan; and he drew the lash once or twice across the pony's back and so was silent. Clementina looked at his set and cheerless face, cheerless as that chill morning, and she too was silent. She looked back along the road which she had traversed through snow and sunshine and clear nights of stars; she saw it winding out from the gates of Innspruck over the mountains, above the foaming river, and after a while she said very wistfully,—
"There are worse lives than a gipsy's."
"Are there any better?" answered Wogan.
So this was what Mr. Wogan's fine project had come to. He remembered another morning when the light had welled over the hills, sunless and clear and cold, on the road to Bologna,—the morning of the day when he had first conceived the rescue of Clementina. And the rescue had been effected, and here was Clementina safe out of Austria, and Wogan sure of a deathless renown, of the accomplishment of an endeavour held absurd and preposterous; and these two short sentences were their summary and comment,—
"There are worse lives than a gipsy's."
"Are there any better?"
Both had at this supreme crisis of their fortunes but the one thought,—that the only days through which they had really lived were those last two days of flight, of hurry, of hope alternating with despair, of light-hearted companionship, days never to be forgotten, when each snatched meal was a picnic seasoned with laughter, days of unharnessed freedom lived in the open air.
Clementina was the first to perceive that her behaviour fell below the occasion. She was safe in Italy, journeying henceforward safely to her betrothed. She spurred herself to understand it, she forced her lips to sing aloud the Te Deum. Wogan looked at her in surprise as the first notes were sung, and the woful appeal in her eyes compelled him to as brave a show as he could make of joining in the hymn. But the words faltered, the tune wavered, joyless and hollow in that empty morning.
"Drive on," said Clementina, suddenly; and she had a sense that she was being driven into bondage,—she who had just been freed. Wogan drove on towards Peri.
It was the morning of Sunday, the 30th of April; and as the little cart drew near to this hamlet of thirty cottages, the travellers could hear the single bell in the church belfry calling the villagers to Mass. Wogan spoke but once to Clementina, and then only to point out a wooden hut which stood picturesquely on a wooded bluff of Monte Lessini, high up upon the left. A narrow gorge down which a torrent foamed led upwards to the bluff, and the hut of which the windows were shuttered, and which seemed at that distance to have been built with an unusual elegance, was to Wogan's thinking a hunting-box. Clementina looked up at the bluff indifferently and made no answer. She only spoke as Wogan drove past the church-door, and the sound of the priest's voice came droning out to them.
"Will you wait for me?" she asked. "I will not be long."
Wogan stopped the pony.
"You would give thanks?" said he. "I understand."
"I would pray for an honest heart wherewith to give honest thanks," said Clementina, in a low voice; and she added hastily, "There is a life of ceremonies, there is a life of cities before me. I have lived under the skies these last two days."
She went into the church, shrouding her face in her hood, and kneeled down before a rush chair close to the door. A sense of gratitude, however, was not that morning to be got by any prayers, however earnest. It was merely a distaste for ceremonies and observances, she strenuously assured herself, that had grown upon her during these ten days. She sought to get rid of that distaste, as she kneeled, by picturing in her thoughts the Prince to whom she was betrothed. She recalled the exploits, the virtues, which Wogan had ascribed to him; she stamped them upon the picture. "It is the King," she said to herself; and the picture answered her, "It is the King's servant." And, lo! the face of the picture was the face of Charles Wogan. She covered her cheeks with her hands in a burning rush of shame; she struck in her thoughts at the face of that image with her clenched fists, to bruise, to annihilate it. "It is the King! It is the King! It is the King!" she cried in her remorse, but the image persisted. It still wore the likeness of Charles Wogan; it still repeated, "No, it is the King's servant." There was more of the primitive woman in this girl bred in the rugged country-side of Silesia than even Wogan was aware of, and during the halts in their journey she had learned from Mrs. Misset details which Wogan had been at pains to conceal. It was Wogan who had conceived the idea of her rescue—in the King's place. In the King's place, Wogan had come to Innspruck and effected it. In the King's place, he had taken her by the hand and cleft a way for her through her enemies. He was the man, the rescuer; she was the woman, the rescued.
She became conscious of the futility of her attitude of prayer. She raised her head and saw that a man kneeling close to the altar had turned and was staring fixedly towards her. The man was the Prince of Baden. Had he recognised her? She peered between her fingers; she remarked that his gaze was puzzled; he was not then sure, though he suspected. She waited until he turned his head again, and then she silently rose to her feet and slipped out of the church. She found Wogan waiting for her in some anxiety.
"Did he recognise you?" he asked.
"He was not sure," answered Clementina. "How did you know he was at Mass?"
"A native I spoke with told me."
Clementina climbed up into the cart.
"The Prince is not a generous man," she said hesitatingly.
Wogan understood her. The Prince of Baden must not know that she had come to Peri escorted by a single cavalier. He would talk bitterly, he would make much of his good fortune in that he had not married the Princess Clementina, he would pity the Chevalier de St. George,—there was a fine tale there. Wogan could trace it across the tea-tables of Europe, and hear the malicious inextinguishable laughter which winged it on its way. He drove off quickly from the church door.
"He leaves Peri at nine," said Wogan. "He will have no time to make inquiries. We have but to avoid the inn he stays at. There is a second at the head of the village which we passed."
To this second inn Wogan drove, and was welcomed by a shrewish woman whose sour face was warmed for once in a way into something like enthusiasm.
"A lodging indeed you shall have," cried she, "and a better lodging than the Prince of Baden can look back upon, though he pay never so dearly for it. Poor man, he will have slept wakefully this night! Here, sir, you will find honest board and an honest bed for yourself and your sweet lady, and an honest bill to set you off in a sweet humour in the morning."
"Nay, my good woman," interrupted Wogan, hastily. "This is no sweet lady of mine, nor are we like to stay until the morrow. The truth is, we are a party of four, but our carriage snapped its axle some miles back. The young lady's uncle and aunt are following us, and we wait only for their arrival."
Wogan examined the inn and thought the disposition of it very convenient. It made three sides of a courtyard open to the road. On the right and the bottom were farm-buildings and a stable; the inn was the wing upon the left hand. The guest rooms, of which there were four, were all situated upon the first floor and looked out upon a little thicket of fir-trees at the back of the wing. They were approached by a staircase, which ran up with a couple of turns from the courtyard itself and on the outside of the house-wall. Wogan was very pleased with that staircase; it was narrow. He was pleased, too, because there were no other travellers in the inn. He went back to the landlady.
"It is very likely," said he, "that my friends when they come will, after all, choose to stay here for the night. I will hire all the rooms upon the first floor."
The landlady was no less pleased than Mr. Wogan. She had a thought that they were a runaway couple and served them breakfast in a little parlour up the stairs with many sly and confusing allusions. She became confused, however, when after breakfast Clementina withdrew to bed, and Wogan sauntered out into the high-road, where he sat himself down on a bank to watch for Captain Misset. All day he sat resolutely with his back towards the inn. The landlady inferred that here were lovers quarrelling, and she was yet more convinced of it when she entered the parlour in the afternoon to lay the table for dinner and saw Clementina standing wistfully at the window with her eyes upon that unmoving back. Wogan meanwhile for all his vigilance watched the road but ill. Merchants, pedlars, friars, and gentlemen travelling for their pleasure passed down the road into Italy. Mr. Wogan saw them not, or saw them with unseeing eyes. His eyes were turned inwards, and he gazed at a picture that his heart held of a room in that inn behind him, where after all her dangers and fatigues a woman slept in peace. Towards evening fewer travellers passed by, but there came one party of six well-mounted men whose leader suddenly bowed his head down upon his horse's neck as he rode past. Wogan had preached a sermon on the carelessness which comes with danger's diminutions, but he was very tired. The head was nodding; the blow might fall from nowhere, and he not know.
At nightfall he returned and mounted to the parlour, where Clementina awaited him.
"There is no sign of Captain Misset," said he.
Wogan was puzzled by the way in which Clementina received the news. For a moment he thought that her eyes lightened, and that she was glad; then it seemed to him that her eyes clouded and suddenly as if with pain. Nor was her voice a guide to him, for she spoke her simple question without significance,—
"Must we wait, then, till the morning?"
"There is a chance that they may come before the morning. I will watch on the top stair, and if they come I will make bold to wake your Highness."
Their hostess upon this brought their supper into the room, and Wogan became at once aware of a change in her demeanour. She no longer embarrassed them with her patronage, nor did she continue her sly allusions to the escapades of lovers. On the contrary, she was of an extreme deference. Under the deference, too, Wogan seemed to remark a certain excitement.
"Have you other lodgers to-night?" he asked carelessly.
"No, sir," said she. "Travellers are taken by a big house and a bustle of servants. They stay at the Vapore Inn when they stay at Peri, and to their cost."
As soon as she had left the room Wogan asked of Clementina,—
"When did her manner change?"
"I had not remarked the change till now," replied Clementina.
Wogan became uneasy. He went down into the courtyard, and found it empty. There was a light in the kitchen, and he entered the room. The landlady was having her supper in company with her few servants, and there were one or two peasants from the village. Wogan chatted with them for a few minutes and came out again much relieved of his fears. He thought, however, it might be as well to see that his pony was ready for an emergency. He crossed silently to the stable, which he found dark as the courtyard. The door was latched, but not locked. He opened it and went in. The building was long, with many stalls ranged side by side. Wogan's pony stood in the end stall opposite to the door. Wogan took down the harness from the pegs and began to fix it ready on the pony. He had just put the collar over its head when he heard a horse stamping in one of the stalls at the other end of the stables. Now he had noticed in the morning that there were only two horses in the building, and those two were tied up in the stalls next to that which his pony occupied. He walked along the range of stalls. The two horses were there, then came a gap of empty stalls, and beyond the gap he counted six other horses. Wogan became at once curious about those six other horses. They might of course be farm-horses, but he wished to know. It was quite dark within the building; he had only counted the horses by the noise of their movements in their stalls, the rattle of their head-ropes, and the pawing of their feet. He dared not light a lamp, but horses as a rule knew him for a friend. He went into the stall of the first, petted it for a moment and ran his hand down its legs. He repeated the process with the second, and with so much investigation he was content. No farm-horse that ever Wogan had seen had such a smooth sleek skin or such fine legs as had those two over which he had passed his hands. "Now where are the masters of those horses?" he asked himself. "Why do they leave their cattle at this inn and not show themselves in the kitchen or the courtyard? Why do they not ask for a couple of my rooms?" Wogan stood in the dark and reflected. Then he stepped out of the door with even more caution than he had used when entering by it. He stole silently along to the shed where his trap was housed, and felt beneath the seat. From beneath the seat he drew out a coil of rope, and a lamp. The rope he wound about him under his coat. Then he went back to his staircase and the parlour.
Clementina could read in his face that something was amiss, but she had a great gift of silence. She waited for him to speak. Wogan unwound the coil of rope from his body.
"Your Highness laughed at me for that I would not part with my rope. I have a fear this night will prove my wisdom." And with that he began deliberately to break up the chairs in the room. Clementina asked no questions; she watched him take the rungs and bars of the chairs and test their strength. Then he cut the coil of rope in half and tied loops at intervals; into the loops he fitted the wooden rungs. Wogan worked expeditiously for an hour without opening his mouth. In an hour he had fashioned a rope-ladder. He went to the window which looked out on the back of the wing, upon the little thicket of fir-trees. He opened the window cautiously and dropped the ladder down the wall.
"Your Highness has courage," said he. "The ladder does not touch the ground, but it will not be far to drop, should there be need."
The window of Clementina's bedroom was next to that of the parlour and looked out in the same direction. Wogan fixed the rope-ladder securely to the foot of the bed and drew the bed close to the window. He left the lamp upon a chair and went back to the parlour and explained.
"Your Highness," he added, "there may be no cause for any alarm. On the other hand, the Governor of Trent may have taken a leaf from my own book. He may have it in mind to snatch your Highness out of Italy even as I did out of Austria; and of a truth it would be the easier undertaking. Here are we five miles from the border and in a small tavern set apart from a small village, instead of in the thick of an armed town."
"But we might start now," she said. "We might leave a message behind for Mrs. Misset and wait for her in Verona."
"I had thought of that. But if my mere suspicion is the truth, the six men will not be so far from their six horses that we could drive away unnoticed by any one of them. Nor could we hope to outpace them and six men upon an open road; indeed, I would sooner face them at the head of my staircase here. And while I hold them back your Highness can creep down that ladder."
"And hide in the thicket," she interrupted. "Yet—yet—that leaves you alone. I could give you some help;" and her face coloured. "You were so kind as to tell me I had courage. I could at the least load your pistols."
"You would do that?" cried Wogan. "Aye, but you would, you would!"
For the first time that day he forgot to address her with the ceremony of her title. All that day he had schooled his tongue to the use of it. They were not man and woman, though his heart would have it so; they were princess and servant, and every minute he must remember it. But he forgot it now. Delicate she was to look upon as any princess who had ever adorned a court, delicate and fresh, rich-voiced and young, but here was the rare woman flashing out like a light over stormy seas, the spirit of her and her courage!
"You would load my pistols!" he repeated, his whole face alight. "To be sure, you would do that. But I ask you, I think, for a higher courage. I ask you to climb down that ladder, to run alone, taking shelter when there's need, back to that narrow gorge we saw where the path leads upwards to the bluff. There was a hut; two hours would take you to it, and there you should be safe. I will keep the enemy back till you are gone. If I can, when all is over here I'll follow you. If I do not come, why, you must—"
"Ah, but you will come," said she, with a smile. "I have no fears but that you will come;" and she added, "Else would you never persuade me to go."
"Well, then, I will come. At all events, Captain Misset and his wife will surely come down the road to-morrow. If I rap twice upon your door, you will take that for my signal. But it is very likely I shall not rap at all."
Wogan shivered as he spoke. It was not for the first time during that conversation, and a little later, as they stood together in the passage by the stair-head, Clementina twice remarked that he shivered again. There was an oil lamp burning against the passage wall, and by its light she could see that on that warm night of spring his face was pinched with cold. He was in truth chilled to the bone through lack of sleep; his eyes had the strained look of a man strung to the breaking point, and at the sight of him the mother in her was touched.
"What if I watched to-night?" she said. "What if you slept?"
Wogan laughed the suggestion aside.
"I shall sleep very well," said he, "upon that top stair. I can count upon waking, though only the lowest step tremble beneath a foot." This he said, meaning not to sleep at all, as Clementina very well understood. She leaned over the balustrade by Wogan's side and looked upwards to the sky. The night was about them like a perfume of flowers. A stream bubbled and sang over stones behind the inn. The courtyard below was very silent. She laid a hand upon his sleeve and said again in a pleading voice,—
"Let me watch to-night. There is no danger. You are racked by sleeplessness, and phantoms born of it wear the face of truth to you. We are safe; we are in Italy. The stars tell me so. Let me watch to-night." And at once she was startled. He withdrew his arm so roughly that it seemed he flung off his hand; he spoke in a voice so hoarse and rough she did not know it for his. And indeed it was a different man who now confronted her,—a man different from the dutiful servant who had rescued her, different even from the man who had held her so tenderly in his arms on the road to Ala.
"Go to your room," said he. "You must not stay here."
She stepped back in her surprise and faced him.
"Every minute," he cried in a sort of exasperation, "I bid myself remember the great gulf between you and me; every minute you forget it. I make a curtain of your rank, your title, and—let us be frank—your destiny; I hang the curtain up between us, and with a gentle hand you tear it down. At the end of it all I am flesh and blood. Why did I sit the whole long dreary day out on the bank by the roadside there? To watch? I could not describe to you one traveller out of them all who passed. Why, then? Ask yourself! It was not that I might stand by your side afterwards in the glamour of an Italian night with the stars pulsing overhead like a smile upon your lips, and all the world whispering! You must not stay here!"
His eyes burnt upon her; his hands shook; from head to foot he was hot and fierce with passion, and in spite of herself she kindled to it. That he loved she knew before, but his description of his city of dreams had given to him in her thoughts a touch of fancifulness, had led her to conceive of his love as something dreamlike, had somehow spiritualised him to the hindrance of her grasp of him as flesh and blood. Thus, she understood, she might well have seemed to be trifling with him, though nothing was further from her thoughts. But now he was dangerous; love had made him dangerous, and to her. She knew it, and in spite of herself she gloried in the knowledge. Her heart leaped into her eyes and shone there responsive, unafraid. The next moment she lowered her head. But he had seen the unmistakable look in her eyes. Even as she stood with her bowed head, he could not but feel that every fibre in her body thrilled; he could not but know the transfigured expression of her face.
"I had no thought to hurt you," she said, and her voice trembled, and it was not with fear or any pain. Wogan took a step towards her and checked himself. He spoke sharply between clenched teeth.
"Lock your door," said he.
The curtain between them was down. Wogan had patched and patched it before; but it was torn down now, and they had seen each other without so much as that patched semblance of a screen to veil their eyes. Clementina did not answer him or raise her head. She went quietly into her room. Wogan did not move until she had locked the door.
Then he disposed himself for the night. He sat down across the top step of the stairs with his back propped against the passage wall. Facing him was the door of Clementina's room, on his left hand the passage with the oil lamp burning on a bracket, stretched to the house-wall; on his right the stairs descended straight for some steps, then turned to the left and ran down still within view to a point where again they turned outwards into the courtyard. Wogan saw to the priming of his pistols and laid them beside him. He looked out to his right over the low-roofed buildings opposite, and saw the black mountains with their glimmering crests, and just above one spur a star which flashed with a particular brightness. He was very tired and very cold; he drew his cloak about him; he leaned back against the wall and watched that star. So long as he saw that, he was awake, and therefore he watched it. At what time sleep overtook him he could never discover. It seemed to him always that he did not even for a second lose sight of that star. Only it dilated, it grew brighter, it dropped towards earth, and he was not in any way surprised. He was merely pleased with it for behaving in so attractive and natural a way. Then, however, the strange thing happened. When the star was hung in the air between earth and sky and nearer to the earth, it opened like a flower and disclosed in its bright heart the face of a girl, which was yet brighter. And that girl's face, with the broad low brows and the dark eyes and the smile which held all earth and much of heaven, stooped and stooped out of fire through the cool dark towards him until her lips touched his. It was then that he woke, quietly as was his wont, without any start, without opening his eyes, and at once he was aware of someone breathing.
He raised his eyelids imperceptibly and peered through his eyelashes. He saw close beside him the lower part of a woman's frock, and it was the frock which Clementina wore. One wild question set his heart leaping within his breast. "Was there truth in the dream?" he asked himself; and while he was yet formulating the question, Clementina's breathing was suddenly arrested. It seemed to him, too, from the little that he saw between his closed eyes, that she stiffened from head to foot. She stood in that rigid attitude, very still. Something new had plainly occurred, something that brought with it a shock of surprise. Wogan, without moving his head or opening his eyes a fraction wider, looked down the staircase and saw just above the edge of one of the steep stairs a face watching them,—a face with bright, birdlike eyes and an indescribable expression of cunning.
Wogan had need of all his self-control. He felt that his eyelids were fluttering on his cheeks, that his breath had stopped even as Clementina's had. For the face which he saw was one quite familiar to him, though never familiar with that expression. It was the face of an easy-going gentleman who made up for the lack of his wit by the heartiness of his laugh, and to whom Wogan had been drawn because of his simplicity. There was no simplicity in Henry Whittington's face now. It remained above the edge of the step staring at them with a look of crafty triumph, a very image of intrigue. Then it disappeared silently.
Wogan remembered the voice of the man who had spurred past the doorway of the inn at Ala. He knew now why he had thought to recognise it. The exclamation had been one of anger,—because he had seen Clementina and himself in Italy? He had spurred onwards—towards Trent? There were those six horses in the stables. Whittington's face had disappeared very silently. "An honest man," thought Wogan, "does not take off his boots before he mounts the stairs."
Clementina was still standing at his side. Without changing his attitude he rapped with his knuckles gently twice upon the boards of the stair. She turned towards him with a gasp of the breath. He rapped again twice, fearful lest she should speak to him. She understood that he had given her the signal to go. She turned on her heel and slipped back into her room.
Wogan did not move. In a few minutes he heard voices whispering in the courtyard below. By that time the Princess should have escaped into the thicket. The stairs creaked, and again he saw a face over the edge of a step. It was the flabby face of a stranger, who turned and whispered in German to others behind him. The face rose; a pair of shoulders, a portly body, and a pair of unbooted legs became visible. The man carried a drawn sword; between his closed eyelashes Wogan saw that four others with the like arms followed. There should have been six; but the sixth was Harry Whittington, who, to be sure, was not likely to show himself to Wogan awake. The five men passed the first turn of the stairs without noise. Wogan was very well pleased with their noiselessness. Men without boots to their feet were at a very great disadvantage when it came to a fight. He allowed them to come up to the second turn, he allowed the leader to ascend the last straight flight until he was almost within sword-reach, and then he quietly rose to his feet.
"Gentlemen," said he, "I grieve to disappoint you; but I have hired this lodging for the night."
The leader stopped, discountenanced, and leaned back against his followers. "You are awake?" he stammered.
"It is a habit of mine."
The leader puffed out his cheeks and assumed an appearance of dignity.
"Then we are saved some loss of time. For we were coming to awake you."
"It was on that account, no doubt," said Wogan, folding his arms, "that you have all taken off your boots. But, pardon me, your four friends behind appear in spite of what I have said to be thrusting you forward. I beg you to remain on the step on which you stand. For if you mount one more, you will put me to the inconvenience of drawing my sword."
Wogan leaned back idly against the wall. The Princess should now be on the road and past the inn—unless perhaps Whittington was at watch beneath the windows. That did not seem likely, however. Whittington would work in the dark and not risk detection. The leader of the four had stepped back at Wogan's words, but he said very bravely,—
"I warn you to use no violence to officers in discharge of their duty. We hold a warrant for your arrest."
"Indeed?" said Wogan, with a great show of surprise. "I cannot bring myself to believe it. On what counts?"
"Firstly, in that you stole away her Highness the Princess Clementina from the Emperor's guardianship on the night of the 27th of April at Innspruck."
"Did I indeed do that?" said Wogan, carelessly. "Upon my word, this cloak of mine is frayed. I had not noticed it;" and he picked at the fringe of his cloak with some annoyance.
"In the second place, you did kill and put to death, at a wayside inn outside Stuttgart, one Anton Gans, servant to the Countess of Berg."
Wogan smiled amicably.
"I should be given a medal for that with a most beautiful ribbon of salmon colour, I fancy, salmon or aquamarine. Which would look best, do you think, on a coat of black velvet? I wear black velvet, as your relations will too, my friend, if you forget which step your foot is on. Shall we say salmon colour for the ribbon? The servant was a noxious fellow. We will."
The leader of the four, who had set his foot on the forbidden step, withdrew it quickly. Wogan continued in the same quiet voice,—
"You say you have a warrant?" And a voice very different from his leader's—a voice loud and decisive, which came from the last of the four—answered him,—
"We have. The Emperor's warrant."
"And how comes it," asked Wogan, "that the Emperor's warrant runs in Venice?"
"Because the Emperor's arm strikes in Venice," cried the hindermost again, and he pushed past the man in front of him.
"That we have yet to see," cried Wogan, and his sword flashed naked in his hand. At the same moment the man who had spoken drew a pistol and fired. He fired in a hurry; the bullet cut a groove in the rail of the stair and flattened itself against the passage wall.
"The Emperor's arm shakes, it seems," said Wogan, with a laugh. The leader of the party, thrust forward by those behind him, was lifted to the forbidden step.
"I warned you," cried Wogan, and his sword darted out. But whether from design or accident, the man uttered a cry and stumbled forward on his face. Wogan's sword flashed over his shoulder, and its point sank into the throat of the soldier behind him. That second soldier fell back, with the blood spurting from his wound, upon the man with the smoking pistol, who thrust him aside with an oath.
"Make room," he cried, and lunged over the fallen leader.
"Here's a fellow in the most desperate hurry," said Wogan, and parrying the thrust he disengaged, circled, disengaged again, and lunging felt the soldier's leather coat yield to his point. "The Emperor's arm is weak, too, one might believe," he laughed, and he drove his sword home. The man fell upon the stairs; but as Wogan spoke the leader crouched on the step plucked violently at his cloak below his knees. Wogan had not recovered from his lunge; the jerk at the cloak threw him off his balance, his legs slipped forward under him, in another moment he would have come crashing down the stairs upon his back, and at the bottom of the flight there stood one man absolutely unharmed supporting his comrade who had been wounded in the throat. Wogan felt the jerk, understood the danger, and saw its remedy at the same instant. He did not resist the impetus, he threw his body into it, he sprang from the stairs forwards, tearing his cloak from the leader's hands, he sprang across the leader, across the soldier who had fired at him, and he dropped with all his weight into the arms of the third man with the pierced throat. The blood poured out from the wound over Wogan's face and breast in a blinding jet. The fellow uttered one choking cry and reeling back carried the comrade who supported him against the balustrade at the turn of the stairs. Wogan did not give that fourth man time to disengage himself, but dropping his sword caught him by the throat as the third wounded man slipped between them to the ground. Wogan bent his new opponent backwards over the balustrade, and felt the muscles of his back resist and then slacken. Wogan bent him further and further over until it seemed his back must break. But it was the balustrade which broke. Wogan heard it crack. He had just time to loose his hands and step back, and the railing and the man poised on the rail fell outwards into the courtyard. Wogan stepped forward and peered downwards. The soldier had not broken his neck, for Wogan saw him writhe upon the ground. He bent his head to see the better; he heard a report behind him, and a bullet passed through the crown of his hat. He swung round and saw the leader of the four with one of his own pistols smoking in his hand.
"You!" cried Wogan. "Sure, here's a rabbit attacking a terrier dog;" and he sprang up the stairs. The man threw away the pistol, fell on his knees, and held up his hands for mercy.
"Now what will I do to you?" said Wogan. "Did you not fire at my back? That's reprehensible cowardice. And with my own pistol, too, which is sheer impertinence. What will I do with you?" The man's expression was so pitiable, his heavy cheeks hung in such despairing folds, that Wogan was stirred to laughter. "Well, you have put me to a deal of inconvenience," said he; "but I will be merciful, being strong, being most extraordinary strong. I'll send you back to your master the Emperor with a message from me that four men are no manner of use at all. Come in here for a bit."
Wogan took the unfortunate man and led him into the parlour. Then he lit a lamp, and making his captive sit where he could see any movement that he made, he wrote a very polite note to his Most Catholic Majesty the Emperor wherein he pointed out that it was a cruel thing to send four poor men who had never done harm to capture Charles Wogan; that no King or Emperor before who had wanted to capture Charles Wogan, of whom there were already many, and by God's grace he hoped there would be more, had ever despatched less than a regiment of horse upon so hazardous an expedition; and that when Captain O'Toole might be expected to be standing side by side with Wogan, it was usually thought necessary to add seven batteries of artillery and a field marshal. Wogan thereupon went on to point out that Peri was in Venetian territory, which his Most Catholic Majesty had violated, and that Charles Wogan would accordingly feel it his bounden duty not to sleep night or day until he had made a confederation of Italian states to declare war and captivity upon his Most Catholic Majesty. Wogan concluded with the assurances of his profoundest respects and was much pleased by his letter, which he sealed and compelled his prisoner upon his knees to promise to deliver into the Emperor's own hands.
"Now where is that pretty warrant?" said Wogan, as soon as this important function was accomplished.
"It is signed by the Governor of Trent," said the man.
"Who in those regions is the Emperor's deputy. Hand it over."
The man handed it over reluctantly.
"Now," continued Wogan, "here is paper and ink and a chair. Sit down and write a full confession of your audacious incursion into a friendly country, and just write, if you please, how much you paid the landlady to hear nothing of what was doing."
"You will not force me to that," cried the fellow.
"By no means. The confession must be voluntary and written of your own free will. So write it, my friend, without any compulsion whatever, or I'll throw you out of the window."
Then followed a deal of sighing and muttering. But the confession was written and handed to Wogan, who glanced over it.
"But there's an omission," said he. "You make mention of only five men."
"There were only five men on the staircase."
"But there are six horses in the stables. Will you be good enough to write down at what hour on what day Mr. Harry Whittington knocked at the Governor's door in Trent and told the poor gout-ridden man that the Princess and Mr. Wogan had put up at the Cervo Inn at Ala."
The soldier turned a startled face on Wogan.
"So you knew!" he cried.
"Oh, I knew," answered Wogan, suddenly. "Look at me! Did you ever see eyes so heavy with want of sleep, a face so worn by it, a body so jerked upon strings like a showman's puppet? Write, I tell you! We who serve the King are trained to wakefulness. Write! I am in haste!"
"Yet your King does not reign!" said the man, wonderingly, and he wrote. He wrote the truth about Harry Whittington; for Wogan was looking over his shoulder.
"Did he pay you to keep silence as to his share in the business?" asked Wogan, as the man scattered some sand over the paper. "There is no word of it in your handwriting."
The man added a sentence and a figure.
"That will do," said Wogan. "I may need it for a particular purpose;" and he put the letter carefully away in the pocket of his coat. "For a very particular purpose," he added. "It will be well for you to convey your party back with all haste to Trent. You are on the wrong side of the border."
Wogan went from the parlour and climbed out of the house by the rope-ladder. He left it hanging at the window and walked up the glimmering road, a ribbon of ghostly white between dim hills. It was then about half-past twelve of the night, and not a feather of cloud stained the perfection of the sky. It curved above his head spangled like a fair lady's fan, and unfathomably blue like Clementina's eyes when her heart stirred in their depths. He reached the little footway and turned into the upward cleft of the hills. He walked now into the thick night of a close-grown clump of dwarf-oaks, which weaved so dense a thatch above his head that he knocked against the boles. The trees thinned, he crossed here and there a dimpled lawn in the pure starshine, he traversed a sparse grove of larches in the dreamy twilight, he came out again upon the grassy lip of a mountain torrent which henceforth kept him company, and which, speaking with many voices, seemed a friend trying to catch his mood. For here it leaped over an edge of rock, and here in a tiny waterfall, and splashed into a pellucid pool, and the reverberating noise filled the dell with a majestic din; there it ran smoothly kissing its banks with a murmur of contentment, embosoming the stars; beyond, it chafed hoarsely between narrow walls; and again half a mile higher up it sang on shallows and evaded the stones with a tinkling laugh. But Wogan was deaf to the voices; he mounted higher, the trees ceased, he came into a desolate country of boulders; and the higher he ascended, the more heavily he walked. He stopped and washed his face and hands clean of blood-stains in the stream. Above him and not very far away was the lonely hut.
He came upon it quite suddenly. For the path climbed steeply at the back, and slipping from the mouth of a narrow gully he stood upon the edge of a small plateau in the centre of which stood the cabin, a little house of pinewood built with some decoration and elegance. One unglazed window was now unshuttered, and the light from a lantern streamed out of it in a yellow fan, marking the segment of a circle upon the rough rocky ground and giving to the dusk of the starshine a sparkle of gold. Through the window Wogan could see into the room. It was furnished simply, but with an eye to comfort. He saw too the girl he had dared to bear off from the thick of a hostile town. She was lying upon a couch, her head resting upon her folded arms. She was asleep, and in a place most solitary. Behind the cabin rose a black forest of pines, pricking the sky with their black spires, and in front of it the ground fell sharply to the valley, in which no light gleamed; beyond the valley rose the dim hills again. Nor was there any sound except the torrent. The air at this height was keen and fresh with a smell of primeval earth. Wogan hitched his cloak about his throat, and his boots rang upon the rock. The Princess raised her head; Wogan walked to the door and stood for a little with his hand upon the latch. He lifted it and entered. Clementina looked at him for a moment, and curiously. She had no questions as to how his struggle with the Governor of Trent's emissaries had fared. Wogan could understand by some unspoken sympathy that that matter had no place in her thoughts. She stood up in an attitude of expectation.
"It grows towards morning?" said she.
"In two hours we shall have the dawn," he replied; and there was a silence between them.
"You found this cabin open?" said Wogan.
"The door was latched. I loosed a shutter. The night is very still."
"One might fancy there were no others alive but you and me across all the width of the world."
"One could wish it," she said beneath her breath, and crossed to the window where she stayed, breathing the fresh night. The sigh, however, had reached to Wogan's ears. He took his pistols from his belt, and to engage his thoughts, loaded the one which had been fired at him. After a little he looked up and saw that Clementina's eyes dwelt upon him with that dark steady look, which held always so much of mystery and told always one thing plainly, her lack of fear. And she said suddenly,—
"There was trouble at Peri. I climbed from the window. I had almost forgotten. As I ran down the road past the open court, I saw a little group of men gathered about the foot of the staircase! I was in two minds whether to come back and load your pistols or to obey you. I obeyed, but I was in much fear for you. I had almost forgotten, it seems so long ago. Tell me! You conquered; it is no new thing. Tell me how!"
She did not move from the window, she kept her eyes fixed upon Wogan while he told his story, but it was quite clear to him that she did not hear one half of it. And when he had done she said,—
"How long is it till the morning?"
Wogan had spun his tale out, but half an hour enclosed it, from the beginning to the end. He became silent again; but he was aware at once that silence was more dangerous than speech, for in the silence he could hear both their hearts speaking. He began hurriedly to talk of their journey, and there could be no more insidious topic for him to light upon. For he spoke of the Road, and he had already been given a warning that to the romance of the Road her heart turned like a compass-needle to the north. They were both gipsies, for all that they had no Egyptian blood. That southward road from Innspruck was much more than a mere highway of travel between a starting-place and a goal, even to these two to whom the starting-place meant peril and the goal the first opportunity of sleep.
"Even in our short journey," said Clementina, "how it climbed hillsides angle upon angle, how it swept through the high solitudes of ice where no trees grow, where silence lives; how it dropped down into green valleys and the noise of streams! And it still sweeps on, through dark and light, a glimmer at night, a glare in the midday, between lines of poplars, hidden amongst vines, through lighted cities, down to Venice and the sea. If one could travel it, never retracing a step, pitching a tent by the roadside when one willed! That were freedom!" She stopped with a remarkable abruptness. She turned her eyes out of the window for a little. Then again she asked,—
"How long till morning?"
"But one more hour."
She came back into the room and seated herself at the table.
"You gave me some hint at Innspruck of an adventurous ride from Ohlau," and she drew her breath sharply at the word, as though the name with all its associations struck her a blow, "into Strasbourg. Tell me its history. So will this hour pass."
He told her as he walked about the room, though his heart was not in the telling, nor hers in the hearing, until he came to relate the story of his escape from the inn a mile or so beyond Stuttgart. He described how he hid in the garden, how he crossed the rich level of lawn to the lighted window, how to his surprise he was admitted without a question by an old bookish gentleman—and thereupon he ceased so suddenly that Clementina turned her head aside and listened.