Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: The Doomsman
Author: Sutphen, Van Tassel, 1861-1945
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Doomsman" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes:

A number of typographical errors found in the original text
have been corrected in this version. A list of these errors
is provided at the end of the book.

       *       *       *       *       *



THE DOOMSMAN

BY

VAN TASSEL SUTPHEN


AUTHOR OF
"THE CARDINAL'S ROSE"
"THE GATES OF CHANCE"
ETC.


ILLUSTRATED


NEW YORK AND LONDON
HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
MCMVI


Copyright, 1905, 1906, by
The Metropolitan Magazine Company.


Copyright, 1906, by HARPER & BROTHERS.

_All rights reserved._

Published June, 1906.



[Illustration: "CONSTANS AND NIGHT WERE DOWN." See p. 28]


CONTENTS


CHAP.                                  PAGE

I.      THE VERMILION FEATHER             1

II.     THE NIGHT OF THE TERROR          14

III.    THE NEW WORLD                    19

IV.     THE MAN ON HORSEBACK             25

V.      THE RAT'S-HOLE                   32

VI.     TROY TOWN                        41

VII.    THE BREAD OF AFFLICTION          50

VIII.   IN THE SHADOW OF DOOM            58

IX.     THE KEYS OF POWER                67

X.      THE MESSAGE                      83

XI.     THE SISTERS                      93

XII.    THE HEDGE OF ARROWS             106

XIII.   GODS IN EXILE                   120

XIV.    ARCADIA HOUSE                   136

XV.     A MAN AND A MAID                150

XVI.    AS IN A LOOKING-GLASS           162

XVII.   THE AWAKENING                   173

XVIII.  A PROPHET OF EVIL               181

XIX.    IN QUINTON EDGE'S GARDEN        188

XX.     THE SILVER WHISTLE BLOWS        199

XXI.    OXENFORD'S DAUGHTER             209

XXII.   YET THREE DAYS                  223

XXIII.  THE RED LIGHT IN THE NORTH      231

XXIV.   THE EVE OF THE THIRD DAY        238

XXV.    ENTR'ACTE                       242

XXVI.   THE SONG OF THE SWORD           250

XXVII.  DOOMSDAY                        266

XXVIII. IN THE FULNESS OF TIME          274

XXIX.   DEATH AND LIFE                  281

XXX.    THE STAR IN THE EAST            290



ILLUSTRATIONS


"CONSTANS AND NIGHT WERE DOWN"           _Frontispiece_

"OUT LEAPED QUINTON EDGE'S SWORD"        _Facing p._ 48

"CONSTANS LOOKED ABOUT HIM IN WONDERMENT"       "    64

"THE BLOWS RAINED DOWN UPON HIS FACE"           "    76

"THEY PARTED WITHOUT FURTHER SPEAKING"          "    90

"AN INSTANT LATER THE BOWSTRING TWANGED"        "   118

"SHE STOOD MUTE AND WIDE-EYED BEFORE HIM"       "   156

"OF DOOM SHALL WE REQUIRE IT"                   "   220



       *       *       *       *       *



THE DOOMSMAN

I

THE VERMILION FEATHER


A beach of yellow sand and a stranded log upon which sat a boy looking
steadfastly out upon the shining waters.

It was a delicious morning in early May, and the sun was at his back,
its warm rays falling upon him with affectionate caress. But the lad was
plainly oblivious of his immediate surroundings; in spirit he had
followed the leading of his eyes a league or more to the westward, where
a mass of indefinable shadow bulked hugely upon the horizon line.
Indefinable, in that it was neither forest nor mountain nor yet an
atmospheric illusion produced by the presence of watery vapor. It did
not change in density as does the true cloud; for all of its mistiness
of outline there was an impression of solidity about its deeper shadows,
something that the wind could not lift nor the light pierce. A mystery,
and the boy devoured it with his eyes, his head bent forward and his
shoulders held tensely.

The place was a rocky point of land jutting forth into a reef-strewn
tideway. The forest came down close to the strip of beach, but there was
comparatively little underwood, and the grass, growing up to the very
roots of the trees, gave to the glade an appearance almost parklike.
There was no house in sight, not even the thin, blue curl of a smoking
hearth to proclaim the neighborhood of man. Yet the sign of human
handicraft was not wholly wanting; through the tree trunks, at perhaps a
hundred yards away, appeared the line of a timber stockade--enormous
palisades, composed of twelve-foot ash and hickory poles, set in a
double row and bound together by lengths of copper wire. It was to be
further observed that the timbers had been stripped of their bark and
the knots smoothed down so as to afford no coigne of vantage to even a
naked foot. Add, again, that the poles had been charred and sharpened at
the top, and it will be understood that the barrier was a formidable one
against any assault short of artillery.

There was no beaten road or path near the line of palisades, but,
following the curving of the shore, a forest track, already green with
the young grass that was pushing its way through last year's stubble,
stretched away to the north and south. It was hardly more than a runway
for the deer and wild cattle, but it did not give one the impression of
having been originally plotted out by these creatures, after the
immemorial fashion of their kind. An animal does not lay out his road in
sections of perfectly straight lines connected by mathematical curves,
neither does he fill up gullies nor cut through hills, when it is so
easy to go around these obstructions.

The boy, who sat and dreamed at the water's edge, was in his eighteenth
year or thereabouts, slenderly proportioned, and with well-cut features.
The delicately moulded chin, the sensitive nostril--these are the signs
of the poet, the dreamer, rather than of the man of action. And yet the
face was not altogether deficient in indications of strength. That heavy
line of eyebrow should mean something, as also the free up-fling of the
head when he sat erect; the final impression was of immaturity of
character rather than of the lack of it. From the merely superficial
stand-point, it may be added that he had brown eyes and hair (the latter
being cut square across his forehead and falling to his shoulders), a
good mouth containing the whitest of teeth, and a naturally light
complexion that was already beginning to accumulate its summer's coat of
tan.

He was dressed in a tunic or smock of brown linen, gathered at the waist
by a belt of greenish leather, with a buckle that shone like gold. His
knees were bare, but around his legs were wound spiral bands of
soft-dressed deer-hide. Buskins, secured by thongs of red leather and
soled with moose-hide, to prevent slipping, covered his feet, while his
head-dress consisted of a simple band of thin gold, worn fillet-wise.
This last, being purely ornamental, was doubtless a token of gentle
birth or of an assured social station. A short fur coat, made from the
pelt of the much-prized forest cat, lay in a careless heap at the boy's
feet. It had felt comfortable enough in the still keenness of the early
morning hour, but now that the sun was well up in the sky it had been
discarded.

In his belt was stuck a long, double-edged hunting-knife, having its
wooden handle neatly bound with black waxed thread. A five-foot bow of
second-growth hickory leaned against the log beside him, but it was
unstrung, and the quiver of arrows, suspended by a strap from his
shoulders, had been allowed to shift from its proper position so that it
hung down the middle of his back and was, consequently, out of easy
hand-reach. But the youth was in no apparent fear of being surprised by
the advent of an enemy; certainly he had made no provision against such
a contingency, and the carelessness of his attitude was entirely
unaffected. It may be remarked that the arrows aforesaid were
iron-tipped instead of being simply fire-hardened, and in the feathering
of each a single plume of the scarlet tanager had been carefully
inserted. Presumably, the vermilion feather was the owner's private sign
of his work as a marksman. So far the lad's dress and accoutrements were
in entire conformity to the primeval rusticity of his surroundings.
Judge, then, of the reasonable surprise which the observer might feel at
discovering that the object in the boy's hand was nothing less
incongruous than a pair of binocular glasses, an exquisitely finished
example of the highest art of the optician. One of the eye-piece lenses
had been lost or broken, for, as the youth raised the glasses to sweep
again the distant sea-line, he covered the left-hand cylinder with a
flat, oblong object--a printed book. Its title, indeed, could be clearly
read as, a moment after, it lay partly open upon his knee--_A Child's
History of the United States_--and across the top of the page had been
neatly written in charcoal ink, "Constans, Son of Gavan at the Greenwood
Keep."

Mechanically, the boy began turning the leaves, stopping finally at a
page upon which was a picture of the lower part of New York City as seen
from the bay. Long and earnestly he studied it, looking up occasionally
as though he would find its visible presentment in that dark blur on the
horizon line. "It must be," he muttered, with a quick intake of his
breath. "The Forgotten City and Doom the Forbidden--one and the same.
Well, and what then?" and again he fell upon his dreaming.

For the best part of an hour the boy had sat almost motionless, looking
out across the water. Then, suddenly, he turned his head; his ear had
caught a suspicious sound, perhaps the dip of an oar-blade. Thrusting
the field-glass and book into his bosom, he drew the bow towards him and
listened. All was still, except for the chatter of a blue-jay, and after
a moment or so his attention again relaxed. But his eyes, instead of
losing themselves in the distance as before, remained fixed upon the
sand at his feet. Fortunately so, or he must have failed to notice the
long shadow that hung poised for an instant above his right shoulder and
then darted downward, menacing, deadly.

An infinitesimal fraction of a second, yet within that brief space
Constans had contrived to fling himself, bodily, forward and sideways
from his seat. The spear-shaft grazed his shoulder and the blade buried
itself in the sand. The treacherous assailant, overbalanced by the force
of his thrust, toppled over the log and fell heavily, ignominiously, at
the boy's side. In the indefinite background some one laughed
melodiously.

Constans was up and out upon the forest track before his clumsy opponent
had begun to recover his breath. It was almost too easy, and then he all
but cannoned plump into a horseman who sat carelessly in his saddle,
half hidden by the bole of a thousand-year oak. The cavalier, gathering
up his reins, called upon the fugitive to stop, but Constans, without
once looking behind, ran on, actuated by the ultimate instinct of a
hunted animal, zigzagging as much as he dared, and glancing from side to
side for a way of escape.

But none offered. On the right ran the wall of the stockade,
impenetrable and unscalable, and it was a long two miles to the north
gate. On the left was the water and behind him the enemy. A few hundred
yards and he must inevitably be brought to a standstill, breathless and
defenceless. Yet he kept on; there was nothing else to do.

The horseman followed, putting his big blood-bay into a leisurely
hand-gallop. A sword-thrust would settle the business quite as
effectually as a shot from his cross-bow, and he would not be obliged to
risk the loss of a bolt, a consideration of importance in this latter
age when good artisan work is scarce and correspondingly precious.

Constans could run, and he was sound of wind and limb. Yet, as the
thunder of hoofs grew louder, he realized that his chance was of a
desperate smallness. If only he could gain a dozen seconds in which to
string his bow and fit an arrow.

But he could not make or save those longed-for moments; already he had
lost a good part of his original advantage, and the horseman was barely
sixty yards behind. His head felt as though it were about to split in
two; a cloud, shot with crimson stars, swam before his eyes.

The track swung suddenly to the right, in a sharp curve, and Constans's
heart bounded wildly; he had forgotten how close he must be to the
crossing of the Swiftwater. Now the rotting and worm-eaten timbers of
the open trestle-work were under his feet; mechanically, he avoided the
numerous gaps, where a misstep meant destruction, and so at last gained
the farther bank and sank down panting on the short, crisp sward.

The cavalier reined in at the beginning of the trestle; he looked
doubtfully at the ford above the bridge; but the Swiftwater was in
spring flood, and, was the chase worth a wetting?

Evidently not, for, with a shrug of his shoulders, the horseman threw
one leg across the saddle-pommel and sat there, very much at his ease,
while he proceeded to roll himself a cigarette from coarse, black
tobacco and a leaf of dampened corn-husk.

Constans felt his face flush hotly as he noted the contempt implied in
his enemy's well-played indifference. Already he had put his bow in
order; now he stood up and, with some ostentation, proceeded to fit an
arrow to the string. The cavalier looked at these preparations with
entire calmness and busied himself again with his flint and steel.

"It would be murder," muttered Constans, irritably, and lowered his
hand. Then, moved by sudden impulse, he took aim anew and with more than
ordinary care. The arrow sung through the air and transfixed the fleshy
part of the cavalier's bridle-arm. The horse, whose withers had been
grazed by the shaft, started to rear, but his rider neither moved nor
changed color. Quieting the frightened animal with a reassuring word,
he deftly caught the tinder spark at the tip of his cigarette and drew
in a deep inhalation of the smoke. Then, with the utmost coolness, he
proceeded to snap the arrow-shaft in twain and draw out the barb,
Constans yielding him grudging admiration, for it was all very perfectly
done.

"Here is a man," thought Constans, and looked him over carefully.

And truly the cavalier made a gallant figure, dressed as he was in the
bravest raiment that the eyes of Constans had ever yet beheld. For his
close-fitting suit was of claret-colored velvet with gilt buttons, while
his throat-gear was a wonderfully fine lace jabot, with a great red
jewel fastened in the knot. A soft hat, trimmed with gold lace and an
ostrich-feather, covered his dark curls, while yellow gauntlets and high
riding-boots of polished leather completed his outward attire. Not an
unpleasing picture as he sat there in the sunshine astride the big
blood-bay, but Constans, looking upon him, knew that neither now nor
hereafter could there be any verity of peace between them. There is such
a thing as hate at first sight even as there is love.

The horseman had retained the feathered end of the arrow-shaft, and he
proceeded to examine it with an appearance of polite interest.

"Your private token, young sir?" he inquired, indicating the single
feather of scarlet. His voice was pitched in an affectedly high key, his
manner languidly ceremonious. Constans could only bow stiffly in the
affirmative.

"Ah, yes; it is one not to be easily forgotten. I, too, have my
sign-manual, and I should have been glad to have exchanged with you."

Again Constans bowed. He wanted to say something, but the words would
not come. The cavalier smiled.

"But there may be another opportunity later on," he continued. "At
least, we may hope so." He bowed, lifting his plumed hat. "To our future
acquaintance." He turned his horse's head to the southward, and rode
away at a slow canter without once looking back.

Constans watched the ostrich-crest as it rose and fell, until it was
lost to sight among the tree-trunks. Then, drawing his belt tight, he
started on a dog-trot in the contrary direction; the barrier, admitting
him to the protection of the stockade, was still some distance away, and
he must reach it without delay and give the warning. But, even as he
ran, he heard the tolling of a bell; it was the alarm that the Doomsmen
were abroad. Now, indeed, he must make haste or he would find the
barrier closed against himself.

Ten minutes later he stood before the northern entrance of the Greenwood
Keep. Already the warders were fitting into place the gates of
iron-studded oak, but they recognized the voice of their lord's son and
allowed him to squeeze his way through. Guyder Touchett, the burly
captain of the watch, clapped him familiarly on the back.

"Your legs have saved your skin, master. God's life! but you flashed
through the cover like a cock-grouse going down the wind. Yet I trembled
lest a cross-bow bolt might be following even faster."

"They have come--the Doomsmen?" panted Constans.

"Garth, the swineherd, reported their landing at the Golden Cove an
hour before sunup. Three war-galleys, which means twice that score of
men."

"Some mischance of wind or tide," said Constans, thoughtfully. "I
noticed that the water in the Gut was rougher than is usual at dawn."

"Like enough," assented Touchett. "These night-birds are not often seen
in a blue sky, and luckily so, for the safety of your father's ricks and
byres. After all, there is no certainty in the matter; Garth is stupid
enough betimes for one of his own boars, and there was a
christening-party at the barracks last night. You know what that
means--the can clinking until the tap runs dry."

"Yet you say he saw----"

Guyder Touchett shrugged his shoulders. "Anything you like. When the ale
is in the eye there are stranger things than gray cats to be discovered
at the half-dawn. In my opinion, Garth is a fool and a liar."

"And, as usual, your opinion is wrong," retorted Constans, "for the Gray
Men are really here. But I cannot wait; I must speak with Sir Gavan
himself."

"You will find him at the water gate," bawled Touchett, as the boy ran
past him.

Constans sped rapidly up the green slope leading to the house a quarter
of a mile away. As he ran, he mentally rehearsed the story of his late
adventure. Surely, now, Sir Gavan would permit him to bear a man's part
in the impending crisis. Had he not already drawn hostile blood--the
first?

Sir Gavan awaited his son at the water gate, his ruddy countenance
streaked with an unwonted pallor and his gray eyes dark with trouble.

"Where is your sister?" he asked, abruptly, as Constans ran up.

The boy stared. "She did not go out with me, sir. Do you mean that
Issa----"

"Hush! or your mother will overhear. Come this way." And Sir Gavan
preceded his son into the guard-room on the left of the vaulted
entrance, walking heavily, as one who bears an unaccustomed burden upon
his shoulders. Yet when he spoke again his voice had its accustomed
steadiness.

"No one has seen her since ten of the sundial. It is now noon, and the
alarm-bell has been ringing this half-hour."

Constans felt something tighten at his own throat. "You have searched
the enclosure?" he faltered.

"Every nook and corner," returned Sir Gavan. "Tennant, with a dozen men,
is now beating the upper plantations."

Constans thought guiltily of that cleverly concealed gap in the
palisades just beyond the intake of the Ochre brook. He and Issa had
shared it between them as a precious secret, and he had used it this
very morning as a short cut to the water-side. Tennant, their elder
brother, was not aware of its existence, but then Tennant was a prig,
and not to be trusted in truly momentous affairs.

There was his father's wrath. Constans turned sick at the thought of
arousing it. No; he could not tell him.

"I don't know," he said, vaguely.

Sir Gavan looked at him searchingly, then turned and strode out of the
room.

Constans felt his cheeks grow hot. Why had he not told all the truth?
He was a coward, a liar, in all but the actual word. He sat down on a
bench and buried his face in his hands; then the recurring thought of
Issa and of her peril stung him to his feet. Where had Sir Gavan gone?

Constans made his way, hesitatingly, into the court-yard of the keep. He
found it thronged with men, his father's retainers and servants. The
archers were busy putting new strings to their bows; the spearmen were
testing, with grave eagerness, the stout ash of their weapons, or
perchance whetting an edge on the broad blades. Half a dozen of the
younger men were engaged in covering the roof of the main and out
buildings with horse-hides soaked in water, as a protection against
burning arrows; others were driving the protesting cattle into the byres
and sacking up a quantity of newly threshed grain that lay upon the
flailing floor; everywhere the noise of shouting men and of hurrying
feet.

Sir Gavan was not to be seen, and Constans, after inquiring for him
through a fruitless quarter of an hour, entered the main house and
sought the fighting platform on its roof. Why had no lookout been
stationed here? Surely an oversight. He gazed eagerly about him.

Directly to the right of the house lay the home paddock, stretching away
some two hundred yards to the edge of a white-birch plantation. The
Ochre brook bounded it on one side, and the current had scoured out for
itself an ever-deepening channel in the soft, alluvial soil. A clump of
alders, just bursting into leaf, masked the bed of the stream at one
particular point, where the bank rose into a miniature bluff. Constans,
from his elevated position, was enabled to overlook this point, and so
to make out the figure of a mounted man behind the alder screen, his
horse standing belly deep in the water. It was the cavalier of the
ostrich-feathers; and then, through the white trunks of the birches, he
caught the flutter of a woman's gown. Constans tried to shout, to call
out, but the vocal chords refused to relax, the sounds rattled in his
throat.



II

THE NIGHT OF THE TERROR


The reader, desiring to inform himself _in extenso_ regarding the
physical and social changes that followed the catastrophe by which the
ancient civilization was so suddenly subverted, would do well to consult
the final authority upon the subject, the learned Vigilas, author of
_The Later Cosmos_ (elephant folio edition). But for our present purpose
a brief epitome should suffice. To borrow then, with all due
acknowledgments, from our admirable historian:

       *       *       *       *       *

"It was in the later years of the twentieth century that the Great
Change came; at least, so the traditions agree, and how is a man to know
certainly of such things except as he learns them from his father's
lips? True, the accounts differ, and widely so at times, but that much
is to be expected--where were there ever two men who heard or saw the
same things in the same way? It is human nature that we should color
even transparent fact with the reflected glow of our passions and
fancies, and so the distortion becomes inevitable; we should be
satisfied if, to-day, we succeed in making out even the broad outlines
of the picture.

"It appears tolerably certain that the wreck of the ancient civilization
took place about three generations ago, the catastrophe being both
sudden and overwhelming; moreover, all the authorities agree that only
an infinitesimal portion of the race escaped, with whole skins, from
what were, in very sooth, cities of destruction. These fortunate ones
were naturally the politically powerful and the immensely rich, and they
owed their safety to the fact that they were able to seize upon the
shipping in the harbors for their exclusive use. The fugitives sailed
away, presumably to the southward, and so disappeared from the pages of
authentic history. We know nothing for certain; only that they departed,
and that we saw their faces no more.

"Let us reconstruct, as best we may, the panorama of those few but awful
days. The first rush was naturally to the country, but the crowds,
choking the ferry and railway stations, were quickly confronted with the
terror-stricken thousands of the suburbs, who were flocking to the city
for refuge. And all through the dragging hours the same despairing
reports flowed in from the remoter rural districts; everywhere the
Terror walked, and men were dying like flies. From ocean to ocean, from
the lakes to the gulf, the shadow rushed, and now the whole land lay in
darkness.

"Such was the situation in what was then the United States of America,
and similar conditions prevailed throughout the habitable world. London
and Hong-Kong, Vienna and Pekin, Buenos Ayres and Archangel--from every
direction came the same inquiry, to every questioner was returned the
same answer. It was the end of all things.

"Coincidently with this great recession of the human tide, occurred the
eclipse of industry, science, and, indeed, every form of thought and
progress. The plough rusted in the furrow, the half-formed web dropped
to pieces in the loom, the very crops stood unharvested in the fields,
to be finally devoured by the birds and by a horde of rats and mice. Up
to the last moment there had been confusion and dismay certainly, but
the wheels of trade and of the civil administration had continued to
turn; men had stood at their posts in answer to the call of duty or
impressed by the blind instinct of habit. And then, suddenly, the sun
went down, only to rise again upon a silent land.

"The relapse into barbarism was swift. The few who had escaped were
segregated from one another in small family groups, each man content
with the bare necessities of animal existence and fearing the face of
the stranger. Under such circumstances, there could be but little
neighborly intercourse, and the ancient highways speedily became
overgrown with grass and weeds, or else they were undermined and washed
out by the winter storms. It was not until the second generation after
the Terror that men once more began to draw together, in obedience to
inherited instincts, and even then the new movement must have been
largely brought about through the increasing aggressions of the
Doomsmen. But of this in another place.

"It has been asserted that fire played a principal part in the
destruction of the ancient cities, and it was at one time supposed that
these extensive conflagrations were partly accidental and partly
attributable to the wide-spread lawlessness that marked the closing
hours of the greatest drama in all history. But later researches have
evolved a new theory, and it now seems probable that the torch was
employed by the authorities themselves as a final and truly a desperate
measure. An heroic cautery, but, alas, a useless one.

"The comparative exemption of New York from the universal fate goes to
support rather than to discredit this hypothesis. It escaped the
dynamite cartridge and the torch simply because in that city no
recognized authority remained in power; there was no one to carry out
the imperative orders of the federal government. There were, of course,
many isolated cases of incendiarism, but the city did not suffer from
any general and organized conflagration, as was the fate of Philadelphia
and St. Louis and New Orleans. The destiny of the metropolis was decided
in a different way; already it had passed into the keeping of the
Doomsmen.

"In effect, then, the highly civilized North American continent had
relapsed, within the brief period of ninety years, into its primeval
estate. In every direction stretched an inhospitable wilderness of
morass and forest, with a few feeble settlements of the Stockade people
fringing the principal waterways, and here and there the smoke of an
encampment of the Painted Men rising in a thin spiral from out of the
vast ocean of green leaves. To-day the wild boar ranges where once the
tide of human passion most turbulently flowed, and the poor herdsman,
eating his noonday curds from a wooden bowl, crushes with indifferent
heel the priceless bit of faience lying half hidden in the rotting
leaves. Everywhere, the old order changing and disappearing, only to
recreate itself in form ever more fantastic and enfeebled, a dead being,
and yet inextricably bound up with the life of the new age. And over
all, the shadow of Doom, gigantic, threatening, omnipotent."



III

THE NEW WORLD


Again we make acknowledgment to the "Laudable" Vigilas and quote at
large from the luminous pages of _The Later Cosmos_. Now the reader,
scenting more learned discourse, may meditate upon skipping this
chapter; nay, will probably do so. Yet, to my thinking, he will act more
wisely in buckling down to it, seeing that it contains matter of moment
for the perfect understanding of the narrative proper. The studying of
guide-posts is not an amusing occupation, but it is infinitely less
tedious than to wander around all day in a fog and perhaps miss one's
destination altogether.

       *       *       *       *       *

"It is, indeed, a small world as we know it to-day. Our philosophers,
reconstructing, as best they may, the science of the ancients from the
treatises, few and sadly incomplete, that have come down to us, affirm
that the earth is an orb and that another continent (perhaps more than
one) lies beyond the rim of the eastern horizon. It may be so, but the
issue is not of practical importance, seeing that there are none who
care to make adventure of the great salty gulf that lies between. And so
the sea keeps its mysteries.

"On the other hand, we count it inadvisable to wander far afield. To
the north, to the west, and to the south stretches the unbroken forest,
and in a few hours a man's legs may easily carry him out of hailing of
the voice of his kind. The waterways form the only regular channels for
social and commercial intercourse, and the busybody and gad-about are
not regarded with favor by honest people.

"It appears highly probable that the human race was virtually
annihilated over the general area of the ancient United States of
America; it persisted only in a few particularly favored localities and
through accidental circumstances of which we know nothing definite. In
our own day, the northern, central, and southern group of colonies
maintain a system of infrequent intercommunication, and beyond that
certain knowledge does not extend. It is possible that mankind may exist
in a degraded state, in many inaccessible corners of this vast continent
of ours, but this is only a possibility, concerning which the theories
of the learned are no more susceptible of proof than are the idle
speculations of the vulgar.

"For convenience, we will accept the popular classification of the human
race as it exists to-day--the Painted Men, the House People, and the
Doomsmen. To take them up in that order.

"The Painted Men, otherwise the Wood Folk, are the descendants of the
Indians of old, but the strain is largely mingled with that of the negro
race, and, with hardly an exception, it is the weaker qualities both of
body and of mind that have been emphasized in the hybrid. From their
Indian forebears they have preserved the custom of painting their face
with crude and hideous pigments upon all occasions of ceremony; hence
their popular designation--the 'Painted Men.'

"The House People are conveniently subdivided into two classes--the
townsmen, or House People proper, and the stockade dwellers,
colloquially, the Stockaders.

"The House People of the walled towns represent as nearly as may be the
middle classes of the ancient civilization. Originally, the family was
the political and social unit, just as with the patriarchs of Holy Writ,
but within the last generation the community idea has been growing
rapidly, and there are perhaps a score of towns and villages scattered
along the banks of the Greater and Lesser rivers.

"The Stockaders, reversing the procedure of their kinsmen of the towns,
live apart from one another, each proprietor depending wholly upon his
own resources for sustenance and defence. Some of the larger estates
contain several hundred acres enclosed by a strong timber stockade and
otherwise defended against the assaults of enemies. The head of the
family, or clan, as it might more properly be termed, is lord paramount
within his own borders, even possessing the rights of life and death.
But this last authority is rarely called in exercise, since these folk
of the free country-side are naturally wholesome, honest,
generous-hearted men, content to lead a simple life and coveting no
man's honor or goods. On the other hand, it must be admitted that the
stockade dweller is both provincial of habit and prejudiced of mind. He
looks down upon the townsman as a huckster in private and a shuffler in
public life, and this feeling of contemptuous enmity is fully returned
by the cit, who regards the free proprietor in the light of a boor and a
bully. Moreover, it rankles in the Houseman's breast that no Stockader
pays a farthing of head-money to the treasure-chest of the Doomsmen. Now
and then some well-to-do proprietor may suffer loss from cattle thieving
and rick burning, but as often as not the marauders pay full price for
all they get. And this leads us to a consideration of the Doomsman
himself, that foul excrescence upon our modern body politic.
Fortunately, history here speaks clearly, and we have only to listen to
her voice.

"It was a natural procedure, upon the coming of the Terror, to throw
open the doors of the jails and other punitive institutions, thereby
giving the wretched inmates an equal chance for life. The great mass of
these degraded beings gravitated inevitably towards the cities, seeking
plunder and opportunities for bestial dissipation that even the dread
presence of the Terror could not restrain. Without hope and without
fear, they rushed to the vulture's feast; here was wine and gold and
soft raiment; let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.

"It was the ancient city of New York that received the vast bulk of this
army of human rats; naturally so, since it was the supreme
treasure-house of the western world. In such overwhelming numbers did
these vermin come that the civil and military administrations were
literally swarmed over. Between two days the outlaws were in complete
possession, and the small remnant of the decent residents retired
precipitately, preferring to meet death under the open sky rather than
in company with their new masters.

"The years went on, but the changes that they brought were few. The
descendants of the ancient criminals remained in the ruined city, at
first of necessity, afterwards by choice, finding there fuel and shelter
in abundance besides large stores of non-perishable food supplies. When,
in the next generation, these provisions became exhausted it was
inevitable that the refugees should fix covetous eyes upon the
threshing-floors and herd-stalls of their rural neighbors. But although
the outlaws had continued to gain in numbers, their natural increase was
not proportionate to the growing power of their adversaries. Little by
little the Doomsmen began to lose ground; already they had been defeated
several times in pitched battle, and it looked as though the
hornet's-nest would soon be smoked out.

"It was at this critical juncture that the infamous personality of Dom
Gillian made itself of commanding account, and thenceforth the balance
began to incline the other way. It was but the weight of one man's hand
in the scale-pan, yet there are still many of us who remember how heavy
that hand could be.

"Infamous is the adjective deliberately applied, and with reason.
Dominus Gillian, to give him his full name, was a renegade, the unworthy
son of a distinguished Stockader family. Admittedly a man of fine
intellect and force, it is equally unquestionable that he was entirely
devoid of moral sense. He possessed a genius for organization, and he
succeeded in consolidating the unruly Doomsmen into a compact and
disciplined body of outlaws. Murder and rapine were quickly reduced to
exact sciences, and, unfortunately, the House People could not be made
to see the necessity of united action; the townsman and the stockade
dweller preferred to contend with each other rather than against the
common enemy. As a consequence, the freebooters had a clear road before
them, and so was established that intolerable tyranny under which the
land still groans. All this occurred upward of sixty years ago.

"It only remains to add that Dominus, or, more colloquially, Dom
Gillian, still lives, albeit he must be verging upon ninety years of
age. For many years he has not been seen in the field, and it is even
asserted that he no longer takes active part in the councils of the
Doomsmen. Be that as it may, his will still remains dominant to animate
and direct the malign powers created by his wicked genius. And the evil
that men do, doth it not live after them?

"Such is the world, or, rather, one infinitesimal portion of the cosmos,
in the year 2015, according to the ancient calendar, or 90 since the
Terror."



IV

THE MAN ON HORSEBACK


Gavan of the Greenwood Keep was a prosperous man according to the
standard of these latter days, and his estate was reckoned to be the
largest and finest holding in all the western country-side. A man might
walk from break of day until darkness and yet not complete the periphery
of its boundary-lines, but the palisaded portion included only the
arable land and home paddocks and was of comparatively limited extent.
Viewed from a bird's-eye elevation, this stockaded enclosure appeared to
be laid out in the shape of a pear, the house being situated near the
small end. The greatest length of the area thus enclosed was a mile and
a half, and it was three-quarters of a mile wide at the big or southern
side, tapering down to a couple of hundred yards at the northern
entrance or barrier.

A quarter of a mile back from the north gate stood the keep, not one
distinct building, but rather several, built in the form of a hollow
square and consolidated for mutual protection. The principal entrance,
the one at the northern end, was called the water gate, for it should be
explained that the keep stood on the bank of the Ochre brook and access
was only possible by means of a drawbridge. Some day Sir Gavan intended
to turn the course of the stream so as to carry it around the keep and
thereby secure the protection of a continuous moat. But hitherto other
duties had seemed more pressing, and the plan was still in abeyance.

Entering through the covered way of the water gate, with guard-room and
bailiff's office to the right and left, one found himself in the
court-yard, some fifty yards in the square. On the right were the
cow-barns, horse-stalls, granaries, tool-houses, and store-buildings,
while the dwelling proper, known as the Great House, occupied the entire
left of the square, the kitchens and other offices adjoining the
retainers' quarters on the south. An enormous hall, running clear to the
roof, took up the central portion of the house, staircases and galleries
affording access to the store and sleeping-rooms on the second and attic
stories. The roof proper was surmounted by a para-petted and loop-holed
structure called the fighting platform, and it was thither that Constans
had repaired upon receiving the startling intelligence of his sister's
disappearance. Let us rejoin him there.

In the leisurely moving figure glimpsed through the birches, Constans
had instantly recognized Issa. Plainly she had been out flower-hunting;
with the aid of his binoculars he could determine that she carried a
bunch of the delicate pink-and-white blossoms that we call May-bloom.
She was directing her steps straight for the house, but either she was
unaccountably deaf to the continuous clanging of the alarm-bell or,
still more strangely, unaware of its significance; she walked as though
in a reverie, slowly and with her head bent forward. Thunder of God! it
was a trap, and the foolish girl would not see. Unquestionably, the
Doomsmen had forced the stockade at some distant point and were even now
in ambush about the keep. But Constans, for all his keenness of vision
and the assistance of his glass, could discover nothing to indicate the
presence of any considerable body of men. There was no one in actual
sight save he who sat upon his blood-bay steed, girth deep in the Ochre
brook under shadow of the alders. Only one, but that one!

Constans found himself in the court-yard; how he scarcely knew. The
water gate still stood open with the drawbridge lowered, but both could
be easily secured within a few seconds should the enemy venture upon any
open demonstration. Sir Gavan stood in the covered way talking anxiously
with his eldest son Tennant, who had just returned from an unsuccessful
search of the upper orchard.

Constans, in his confusion of mind, did not notice his father and
brother; he ran across the court-yard to the horse-boxes. His black mare
Night whickered upon recognizing her master, and tried to rub her muzzle
against his cheek as he fumbled with the throat-latch of the bridle. An
instant longer, to lead out the mare and vault upon her back, and he was
clattering through the court-yard and covered way.

Upon reaching the open Constans saw that the situation had developed
into a crisis. The cavalier of the ostrich-feather had forced his horse
up the steep bank of the Ochre brook and was riding slowly towards the
girl, who stood motionless, realizing her perilous position, but unable
for the moment to cope with it. She half turned, as though to seek again
the shelter of the birchen copse; then, clutching at her impeding
skirts, she ran in the direction of the keep. He of the ostrich-plume
spurred to the gallop; inevitably their paths must intersect a few yards
farther on.

From behind came the noise of men shouting and the thud of quarrels
impinging upon stout oak; the Doomsmen, hitherto in hiding, were making
a diversion, in answer, doubtless, to a signal from their leader. A
hundred gray-garbed men showed themselves in the open, coming from the
shelter of the fir plantation back of the rickyards; they ran towards
the open water gate, exposing themselves recklessly in their eagerness
to reach it.

But the defenders were not to be surprised so easily, and Constans,
glancing backward, saw that the drawbridge was already in the air and
the gate closed. The outlaws, realizing that the surprise was a failure,
and unwilling to brave the arrows sent whistling about their ears from
the fighting platforms of the keep, fell back in some disorder. At the
same moment a solitary figure appeared, emerging as though by magic from
the solid wall of the keep--Sir Gavan himself, a father forgetful of all
else but the peril of his children. He must have used the "Rat's-Hole"
for egress; he hurried down the green slope, calling his daughter by
name. All this Constans saw in that swift backward glance. Well, there
was but one thing that he could do.

And Night knew it, too; brave little Night, how cleverly you forced
yourself under the towering bulk of that brute of a blood-bay! A thunder
of hoofs and they were in touch; Constans felt himself hurled into
space; the bridle-reins of tough plaited leather were torn from his
hands; Night and he were down.

The dust cloud cleared and the boy struggled up, although his head was
still spinning from the shock of the encounter. Ten yards away lay the
black mare with a broken foreleg. She was trying to rise, her eyes
glazed with pain and her flanks heaving horribly.

The blood-bay had kept his feet and his master his saddle--a hardy pair,
these two. But the desperate expedient had proved successful in that
Issa was safe. Already Sir Gavan had her in his arms, and before the
horseman had fully found himself the fugitives were under the shadow of
the keep's walls.

The question of his own danger did not immediately concern Constans; he
had no eyes for anything but Night lying there in her agony. His father
had given him the horse when she was a foal of a week old, and Constans
had broken and trained her himself. Well, she had served him faithfully,
and in return he would show her the last mercy. His knife-sheath hung
from his girdle; he drew out the blade and drove it home just behind the
glossy black shoulder. Night shuddered and lay still. The knife had
sunken deep, and Constans had to exert all his strength to withdraw it.
The bare point of a rapier touched him meaningly on the arm; he stood up
and faced his enemy.

The man on horseback laughed softly. "Oho, my young cockerel, it was but
a touch of the gaff, and now that you are ready is reason sufficient why
I should prefer to wait. But that neither of us may forget--" He bent
down and caught Constans by the shoulders, turning him around and
forcing him backward until his head rested against the blood-bay's
withers. Two slashes of his hunting-knife and a tiny, triangular nick
appeared on the upper part of the lad's right ear.

"That is my sign-manual of which I spoke to you an hour or more ago. It
is Quinton Edge's mark, as all men know, and it brands whatever bears it
as Quinton Edge's property. Some day I may deem it worth while to claim
my own; until then you can be my caretaker, my tenant. What! no answer?
And yet it is a generous offer, I think, considering how sore my arm has
grown and how impertinently you behaved just now in interfering between
me and a lady. Light of God! but she is a bewitching bundle of
femineity. But twice, boy, have I seen her; hardly a dozen words have
passed----"

He stopped abruptly and gazed hard at Constans. Then slowly:

"Your sister, I take it; there is the same straight line of eyebrow. No
answer again? Well, we will pass it over for the nonce; you have still
many things to learn, and, chiefly, to becomingly order body and soul in
the presence of your lord. After all, it pleases me better to have the
last word from the lady's own lips; she had been most discourteously
treated, and I would fain be shriven. Until we meet again, then."

The cavalier put spur to the blood-bay's flank and rode straight for the
Great House. The boy stood staring after him; he did not notice the
trickle of blood from the cut in his ear; he was not even conscious that
he was still in life. He remembered only the unforgivable affront which
this man had put upon him, the mark which was the infamous badge of the
bondman, the slave. Quinton Edge! Ah, yes; he would remember that face
and name.

The Doomsman had ridden in cool defiance up to the very walls of the
keep. It would have been an easy matter for one of the garrison to have
bored his gay jacket through with a feathered shaft, and for a moment
Constans trembled, fearing lest some overzealous partisan should thus
rob him of his future vengeance. But the very audacity of the man proved
the saving of his skin. They were brave men who manned the fighting
platforms of the Greenwood Keep, and they could not bring themselves to
set upon naked courage.

Constans fancied that the man spoke to some one who stood hidden in the
deep embrasure of a window, but it was too far to either see or hear.
Then it seemed that a small object fell lightly from the window-sill.
The Doomsman caught it dexterously and fastened it on his breast.
Another low bow and, wheeling his horse, he dashed down the slope.
Constans ran blindly to meet him; why, he did not know. He who named
himself Quinton Edge swerved slightly in his course so as to pass within
arm's-length, calling out as he did so:

"Gage of battle and gage of love; a fortunate day for me. Believe me
that at some future time I shall answer for them both."

It was a sprig of the May-bloom that the cavalier wore in his
button-hole; Constans had only time to recognize it when the blood-bay
broke into full gallop. The lad flung himself at full length upon the
turf, face downward, and lay there motionless.



V

THE RAT'S-HOLE


It was a warm, cloudy night some two weeks later, and Constans sat in
the great hall of the keep, listlessly regarding the preparations that
were being made for the evening meal. Six or seven of the house-servants
were bustling to and from the buttery laden with flagons and dishes,
which they deposited with a vast amount of noise and confusion upon the
tables. These latter were of the most primitive construction, nothing
more than puncheons smoothed down with the adze and supported by wooden
trestles.

The main table ran nearly the full length of the hall, and was intended
to accommodate the men-at-arms and the superior servants, together with
such strangers of low degree as might chance to be present. The
furniture was of the rudest pattern--platters of bass and white wood,
which were daily scoured with sand to keep them clean and sweet,
earthenware pitchers of a bricklike hue, drinking-cups of pewter and
leather, and clumsy iron forks. There was no provision of cutlery;
evidently the guests were expected to use their hunting-knives and
daggers for the dismemberment of the viands.

At the upper or dais end of the hall there was a second table, placed at
right angles to the long one and elevated above it by the height of the
superior flooring upon which it stood. This principal board was, of
course, for the exclusive use of the family and distinguished guests,
and from the circumstance of its being raised above the main level the
master could command an unobstructed view of the entire household in the
event of any overt disorder or indecorum.

The viands were quite in keeping with the simplicity of the table-gear.
Huge chines of beef and mutton, with spare-rib and fowl in apparently
unlimited quantity, formed the staple of the repast, and were reinforced
by vast bowls of the commoner garden vegetables and by bread made of
unbolted flour. Sweetmeats were scarce, for the products of the
sugarcane are difficult to procure in these northern latitudes. Maple
sugar and honey serve as the ordinary substitutes, and even these are
regarded as luxuries, since maple-trees are few in number and
bee-keeping is but little practised. Finally, there were the drinkables,
these including hard cider and a thin, acid wine made from the wild
grape.

Annoyed by the clatter of the dishes and the half-whispered conversation
of the domestics, Constans rose and walked to the dais end of the hall,
where his mother and sister were seated, engaged in the agreeable
occupation of inspecting the contents of a peddler's pack. It was an
imposing array to the eye, and the chapman, kneeling on the floor close
by Issa's stool, kept handing up one article after another for closer
examination. The stuff seemed worthless enough to Constans--trumpery
pieces of quartz crystal set in copper and debased silver, rings and
bangles of a hue unmistakably brassy, hair ribbons, parti-colored dress
goods, pins, needles, and a miscellaneous assortment of useless
trinkets. Constans was genuinely astonished that Issa, who had been
hitherto something of a good-fellow, should seem interested in such
rubbish; but then women were all alike when it was a question of pretty
things to buy. He looked sharply at the peddler, but the latter appeared
commonplace enough, a man of forty or thereabouts, and dressed in the
looped-up gray gaberdine peculiar to the guild of itinerant chapmen.
Possibly he was bald, for he wore a close-fitting skull-cap; his beard,
however, was luxuriant and effectually hid the contour of the lower half
of his face. Constans stood by frowning lightly, but he had no
reasonable pretext for interfering with his sister's amusement, and in
the feminine catalogue of diversions the peddler's infrequent visit held
a prominent place.

The major-domo, wearing a silver chain about his neck by virtue of his
office, advanced to his mistress's chair and announced that the meal was
ready for serving. The Lady Rayne nodded, a brazen gong sounded, the big
folding-doors at the south end were thrown open, and the hall was
quickly filled with the customary throng of retainers and hangers-on.
But all remained standing in silence until the master and mistress had
taken their places. Sir Gavan entered from his workshop, and, offering
his hand to his wife, led her ceremoniously to her seat, Issa and
Constans following.

To Constans's indignant amazement the peddler stepped forward, as though
to take the vacant seat alongside of Issa. But before Constans could
move or speak the chapman appeared to recognize the impropriety of
which he had been so nearly guilty; with a profound genuflection, he
withdrew from the dais and found a place at the lower table. The
incident had been so momentary that it had passed entirely unnoticed by
his father and the Lady Rayne; Constans could not even be sure that Issa
had understood, and certainly she gave no sign of discomposure.

"What presumption!" muttered Constans, under his breath. "These fellows
are becoming more insufferable every day, and my father sees nothing."
Constans resolved that the man should be packed off immediately upon the
conclusion of the meal. He could easily persuade Sir Gavan that the
fellow had none too honest a look, while his wares were assuredly the
cheapest trash. He must be got rid of before the women had been beguiled
into spending all their pin-money.

The repast dragged out to its end, and the women withdrew to the upper
end of the hall, comparative privacy being secured by large leather
screens set up along the edge of the dais. The men remained at the table
for deeper potations and the smoking of rank black kinnectikut tobacco in
huge wooden pipes.

A heavy thunderstorm, the first of the season, had come up, and Constans
recognized, to his vexation, that he would have no decent excuse for
turning the peddler out-of-doors. So he kept his seat at the table in
sulky silence, watching the man closely, and ready to note anything of
further suspicion in his actions and bearing. But he had his trouble for
his pains, for the fellow was the itinerant chapman to the life, even to
the stock of gross stories with which he kept his bucolic audience in an
uninterrupted guffaw. Pah! would Sir Gavan never finish his second pipe
and give the signal to rise?

The storm had turned into a heavy downpour, and the peddler was
consequently sure of his night's lodging. He had been summoned again to
the presence of the ladies, and, as before, Constans stood aloof and
wondered irritably how his fastidious sister could find aught in common
with this wayside huckster. She was talking to him now with an animation
rare with her, her checks flushed and her eyes glowing.

"And you have been in Doom--in the city itself?" she asked,
incredulously.

"Yes, gracious lady; and not once, but a score of times. The brocades
that I promised to show you after supper will be my witness. And there
are some superlative satin and silk lengths which my Lady Rayne wished
particularly to see. Will you allow me, then?"

The peddler, opening an inner compartment of his pack, drew out several
pieces of stuff wrapped up in brown linen. Removing the covering, he
spread the goods upon the rug before the ladies, holding up each
separate piece to the light and expatiating upon its merits in the
approved fashion of the shopman. The two women gave a little gasp of
astonishment; never had they seen such wondrous beauty of color and
finish; their little market-town of Croye held nothing to compare to
this.

"I must send for Meta to advise me," said the Lady Rayne, glancing
fondly from one rich fabric to another. "She ought to know good silk
when she sees it, after living so long in Croye; and you, Issa, seem
strangely indifferent to-night. You hardly looked at this piece of
brocade."

Meta, the Lady Rayne's bedwoman, speedily appeared, and mistress and
maid fell into earnest converse. Issa, as in duty bound, listened; then
her attention seemed to flag again. She bent over the open pack and
picked up a chain of filigree work. It was beautifully fashioned and
looked like gold.

"It is gold," said the chapman, answering the question in her eyes. "The
pure gold of the ancients; you never see that pale yellow nowadays. Ah,
yes, a pretty trinket to have brought from the heart of Doom for the
delight of a fair woman's eyes, and well worth its price of a man's
life. But, then, fortune was kind, and I did not have to pay."

"Tell me about it," said the girl, beseechingly, and her breath came
short and hot.

Whereupon the chapman drew a little nearer and began a wondrous tale of
a secret visit that he had lately made to Doom, the Forbidden; of how he
had crossed the river on a raft, the moon being in its dark quarter; of
his landing upon a shaking wharf, where each foot-fall left a print of
phosphorescent fire on the rotting planks; then of the marvels that he
had seen there--vast warehouses covering whole acres of ground and
filled with incalculable store of goods; lofty buildings, whose
chimney-pots were in the clouds; palaces of sculptured stone, now empty
and despoiled, the habitation of foxes and unclean nocturnal creatures.

Then again of hidden treasure, heaps and heaps of yellow gold; of the
fierce Doomsmen who guarded it so well; of pitfalls and gins and siren
voices that lured the soul astray; of ghastly shapes that crept along
the crumbling walls; of mystery in every sound and shadow; of
treacheries and alarms and the ever present terror of death--a tale of
amazing wonder, at which the blood ran alternately warm and cold and the
heart fluttered with a certain fearful joy.

How the maid hung upon the word, her little breasts heaving and her lips
parted! "You have seen all these things?" she panted. "How wonderful!
And you were not afraid? That was like a man--to be brave----" She
blushed deeply, stammered, and turned to the neglected brocades.
Constans, standing close at hand, was moved to new anger. The
impertinent, how dared he! Yet he had listened himself, and in spite of
himself, for assuredly the fellow talked well.

The evening was now well advanced and the customary hour of retirement
was at hand. It was still raining, but Guyder Touchett, who came in
dripping from his nightly task of posting the watch, remarked that the
wind was changing and that it was likely to clear when the moon rose. Of
course the peddler would now spend the night at the keep, and at his own
request he was allowed to remain in the hall, a straw pallet being
brought in for his accommodation.

       *       *       *       *       *

"The Rat's-Hole!"

Constans repeated the words half aloud, holding the paper close to the
guttering candle. It was but a tiny scrap, scarce large enough for the
writing that it held. But paper of any kind is rare in these days, and
so the gleam of white had caught his eye as he went up-stairs to his
sleeping apartment. The handwriting was unfamiliar, and besides it was
in back-hand, and it may be disguised as well; he was hardly an expert
in such fine distinctions. But it was plainly a message, and its
possible import startled him. For the Rat's-Hole was the secret exit
that existed behind the jamb of the fireplace at the upper end of the
hall. So cunningly had the panelled door been joinered into the
wainscoting that a man might search for hours and yet not discover the
spring that threw it open. Furthermore, the wainscoting was but a screen
for the real door of iron-bound oak giving passage directly through the
outer wall of the keep to the open country. A jealously guarded secret,
this matter of the Rat's-Hole, and supposed to be known only to the
master of the household and his immediate family. Even among them its
existence was never referred to in ordinary conversation, while its
actual use was restricted to the gravest of emergencies.

"The Rat's-Hole!" A message, an agreement, an appointment? By whose hand
had these words been written? For whose eye had they been intended?

It would have been the wiser course to have communicated at once with
Sir Gavan, but the latter, feeling somewhat indisposed, had retired
early, and Constans hesitated to disturb him. Moreover, the boy stood in
awe of his father, and of late a feeling of estrangement had been
growing up between them. To Sir Gavan, Constans, with his dreamy,
inactive nature, was a keen disappointment--so different from his
brother Tennant. And Constans felt that his father did not understand
him nor, indeed, cared to do so. Latterly, they had gone their own ways,
and now at this perplexing juncture Constans could not bring himself to
take his father into his confidence.

When, a few moments later, the lights had been formally extinguished for
the night, Constans made his way back to the hall; he had to pass close
by the pallet occupied by the peddler, and he paused an instant to
listen to his deep and measured breathing. Surely the man slept.

Even in the dark Constans knew how to put his hand on the spring in the
wainscoting, and it yielded to his touch. It was discomposing to find
the key of the real door standing, ready for turning, in the lock. In
theory, the key was never out of the master's immediate possession. An
oversight, then? Constans's mind reverted to the one occasion in his
remembrance on which the Rat's-Hole had been used, that day a fortnight
back, when his sister Issa came out of the birch-copse, with her hands
full of May-bloom and Quinton Edge had waited under cover of the alders.
It was possible; his father might have forgotten. And yet----

Constans took the key and slipped it into the bosom of his doublet. Then
closing the secret door in the wainscoting, he drew one of the big
leather screens into convenient position and crouched down behind it.
The dying fire gave out a flickering and uncertain light; he watched the
grotesque procession of the shadows on the opposite wall until his eyes
grew heavy. The odor of a smouldering bough of balsam-fir hung in the
air--warm, spicy, soporific. He slept.



VI

TROY TOWN


Constans awoke just as the footsteps died away; he listened, but again
the stillness was profound. He felt his way to the secret door; the
wainscot screen stood ajar. It was plain that some one had come to the
Rat's-Hole only to discover that the key of the outside door was
missing. Constans realized that he, too, had missed something--his
chance to get to the bottom of the mystery. Shame on such a sentinel!

Without any definite plan of action, Constans made his way to the lower
hall. The moonbeams were pouring a flood of light through the east
windows and he could see plainly. The peddler's couch was empty, save
for his gabardine of gray and the false hair that had served him for a
beard. There were two figures dimly visible in the obscurity of the
vaulted entrance to the water gate. They were working at the clumsy
fastenings of the doors. As Constans ran up he recognized his sister
Issa and the man who called himself Quinton Edge.

Without a word Constans seized the girl by the arm and swung her behind
him. He struck at the Doomsman with his hunting-knife, but the latter
caught his wrist with the grip of a wolf-trap. Yet even at that moment
of stress Quinton Edge's voice preserved its soft, mincing inflections;
the man wore his irritating affectations of speech as jauntily as he did
the ostrich plumes in his cap.

"A brave ruffling of feathers--but gently, gently boy, you are
frightening the lady. She goes with me of her full consent. Is it not
so, sweetheart?"

"You lie!" said the boy, thickly.

The man laughed. "I tell you," he went on, "that the girl is mine by her
own choice, and you have only to stand aside quietly to save the house
and your own skin. But softly now; you are tearing the lace of my
sleeve. A plague on your clumsy fingers!"

With a wrench Constans twisted himself free and turned to face his
sister. "Issa!" he implored.

But she, with eyes like rain-washed stars, only looked beyond him to
where Quinton Edge stood, softly smiling and holding out his womanish
white hands. She would have rejoined him, but once again Constans forced
her back. The dangling rope of the alarm-bell grazed his hand; he
clutched at it, and a clang re-echoed through the court-yard, rousing
the recreant warders from their slumbers. In that same instant Quinton
Edge blew his whistle.

The Doomsmen must have already crossed the moat and been close up to the
water gate, for the response to their leader's call was immediate.
Quinton Edge had just time to remove the last of the bars securing the
barrier when the night-watch streamed out tumultuously from their
quarters under the arch, and he was obliged to retreat into the
court-yard. But already the outlaws had forced apart the wooden leaves
of the water gate; now they filled the vaulted passageway, and by sheer
impact of superior weight began to drive back the bewildered and
disorganized defenders. Friend and foe together, the mass surged into
the quadrangle, a blind, indefinite cluster of struggling men, like to a
swarm of hiving bees.

The storm had blown over, but the moon was every now and then obscured
by masses of scurrying cloud-wrack, and in these periods of
semi-darkness Doomsman and Stockader were hardly to be told apart. So
closely packed was the scrimmage that the use of any missile weapon was
impossible. The dagger and the night-stick (the latter a stout truncheon
weighted with lead) were doing the work, and effectively, too. And in
that press a man might be struck and die upon his feet, the corpse being
stayed from falling through its juxtaposition to the bodies of the
living.

The men of the keep, now that they had recovered from their first
discomfiture, rallied manfully. So stubborn and bitter raged the
struggle that there was not a sound to be heard outside the noise of
scuffling feet and the thud of blows. A man when hard beset for his life
has no breath to spare for either oath of despair or shout of triumph.
But not for long were the scales to swing so evenly; presently the ranks
of the Stockaders yielded again to the pressure and broke into separate
groups. Then were to be heard the groans of the wounded and dying; then
for the first time the yell of the Doomsmen broke forth, ear-piercing in
its exultancy.

Constans had managed to reach the shelter of the Great House, half
dragging, half carrying the fainting form of his sister. Already Sir
Gavan, with Tennant and the house-servants, were under arms and making
what preparations they could for the final stand. A hopeless task it
seemed, for the outlaws were now in full possession of the rest of the
keep. The retainers occupying the general quarters in the south barracks
had fallen easy victims. Surprised, out-numbered, and poorly armed, they
had been quickly cut down as they reached the court-yard, and active
resistance to the invaders was at an end.

Now the attack was turned directly upon the entrance to the Great House,
and Sir Gavan, with his handful of followers, waited on the threshold
for the inevitable issue. Already the ponderous door of iron-banded oak
was groaning and splintering under the hail of blows. And in the
forefront, with a laugh upon his lips, hewed Quinton Edge.

The barrier was down at last and the wolves were free to fall upon their
quarry. A score of men, all told, against a hundred; the outcome was
hardly doubtful. Yet it was not Gavan of the Greenwood Keep who held up
his hand in sign of parley, but the Doomsman, Quinton Edge.

"The maiden Issa," he said, speaking with a smooth insolence that made
Constans set his teeth. "Give her safely to my hand and your goods and
your lives shall go free of further damage. A cheap bargain; but speak
quickly, old man, these hounds of mine are not to be held in leash for
long."

The partisans on either side had fallen back, leaving the two leaders
face to face. Sir Gavan plucked twice at his throat, where the veins
stood out like cords, constricting the vocal passages so that he
stuttered thickly as he spoke.

"This--this gallows-scape!" he stammered. "This burner of peasants'
hayricks, this pitiful plunderer of hen-roosts and cattle byres! If it
were a man, now--to nail the insult to his lips----"

"We lose time," interrupted the Doomsman. "I have named my price."

"The price--ah, yes, the price. Tennant, Constans, you heard what he
said. But where is my child? Let the girl stand forth; she is her
father's daughter, and she shall answer for herself."

"I will abide by it," said Quinton Edge, with cool confidence.

The half-circle opened and Issa stood before them; a mere child she
looked in her simple slip of white and with her fair hair all unbound. A
vague terror seized upon Sir Gavan. What was this question that he was
about to ask of his daughter? Could there be other than the one answer?
How quietly she stood there and waited. Yes, and they were all waiting
upon him; he must speak.

"Issa!"

It seemed to him that he had shouted aloud; then he realized that he had
not spoken at all. "Issa!" he said, again, and she turned towards him.

"This man; he is not known to you. How could it be?"

"Yet it is the truth, my father," answered the girl, steadily. "It is
just a month ago that chance set us face to face--one day when I rode
alone in the green drive."

"And thereafter?"

"Once he came to the walled garden, adventuring the thousand chances of
discovery. Yet how he managed to cross the stockade-line I know not,
for I was frightened, and begged him to leave me. And this he did most
courteously, only swearing that he would again return."

"The third time?"

"That was the day--the day of the first May-bloom--the Ochre brook and
the Doomsmen----" The girl's voice faltered.

"Yet never a word to me or to your mother?"

"It was not my secret," she answered, bravely; and upon that Quinton
Edge himself took up the word.

"The blame is mine, since I used the peril in which I stood to set a
seal upon her lips. A true and loyal maid is your daughter, and it was
only after she had twice said me nay that I resolved to take without the
asking. So I came that day which we both remember, and waited under the
alder bushes, and once again I missed my cast. Yet was the quest not
altogether fruitless, for I carried away this token from my lady's
hostile garden."

He drew a faded spray of the May-bloom from his doublet and touched it
lightly to his lips.

"What gentleman could refuse to redeem so dear a pledge? You have seen
how I took head in hand and sat me down under your own roof-tree, my
good Gavan of the keep. Faith, it was an even chance on which side the
platter would fall, but this time the luck was mine. We should have been
leagues away in the sun's eye by now, only that a peevish boy would have
his way."

"And this--this is also true?" said Sir Gavan, and it seemed that the
preceding silence had been very long.

"It is true." She had answered quietly, almost mechanically, but the
heart of the Lady Rayne thrilled to the new note in her child's voice.

"Issa!" she cried, softly, and fell to weeping, not as a mother for her
daughter but as one woman who sorrows for another.

"Issa!" she said, again, but neither then nor thereafter did the girl
vouchsafe her mother look or word, all her soul seeming to hang upon the
will of the man who had brought this woe upon her house. There was no
need for word to pass; reading the command in her lover's eyes, she
slipped from her mother's detaining clasp and placed her hand in his.
Now, Issa was exceeding fair to look upon, and Quinton Edge's blood
stirred hotly within him. And so for once he lost his head and did a
foolish thing (only that no woman would agree that it was foolish), for
there, in the presence of all, he quickly drew her face to his and
kissed her on the lips. Then turning to his men, he made as though to
send them from the house.

But it was not to be. A keen-pointed, heavy throwing-knife hung at Sir
Gavan's side. Without a word he snatched it from the sheath, poised and
flung it with all his force at his enemy's heart, a master throw and
executed like a flash of light. Issa felt rather than saw the coming of
the missile, and with an instinctive movement contrived to interpose her
own delicate body. The steel bit deep into the white flesh, and with a
little, shuddering cry the girl sank to the floor; out leaped Quinton
Edge's sword. Constans, supporting his mother, felt her hand grow cold
in his. He laid her gently down upon a convenient settle and thanked God
that she, too, was safe.

It seemed to Constans that he was wandering in a bristling thicket of
steel points; thunderous crashes re-echoed in his ears; the red light
from the burning building eddied about his feet, a sea of blood and
flame. His father and Tennant were down, never to rise again; a few
paces in front of him Guyder Touchett headed a little knot of the
defenders, swearing furiously as he hewed and hacked. A half-dozen
against ten times their number; the issue could not be doubtful. Even as
he gazed, two of the six sunk to their knees and then fell face
downward, a dreadful sign that even a child might understand.

Now, Guyder Touchett stood alone, and about him a snarling pack of Dom
Gillian's wolves, waiting cautiously upon one another, for the Stockader
had a long sword-arm. Thereupon a man broke out of the press, signing
the prudent ones to fall back. It was Quinton Edge, and, as ever, he was
laughing, only that now his laughter sounded like to a bell that has
cracked in the ringing. The swords clashed together; then the Doomsman
dropped his point.

"You are too good a man for crows' meat," he said, shortly. "Stand clear
and save your ears; my business is with the white-faced boy behind you."

But Guyder Touchett, ruddy, full-bodied, and loving his life as well as
any man, only girded at him, saying:

"Is there, then, a deeper hell than this? I follow where my master has
gone, and you, my lord, shall show me the way."

"The more fool you," quoth Quinton Edge, and drove at him.

[Illustration: "OUT LEAPED QUINTON EDGE'S SWORD"]

Again the blades engaged, and a great fear suddenly tightened at the
boy's heart. His champion had been exhausted by his previous efforts,
and now his strength was going fast. Constans saw Touchett stagger and
Quinton Edge preparing for a final stroke; he turned and ran for the
upper end of the hall--the Rat's-Hole.

The key was still in his bosom, and in a few seconds he had passed the
postern, closing and locking it behind him. Five minutes' hard running
and he was free of the stockade and at the summit of a hill that
commanded the scene which he had just left. The conflagration was
progressing with astonishing rapidity; already the Great House itself
was in flames, and dark figures could be seen issuing from the water
gate. There! the red cock was crowing from the top of the bell-tower,
and now the whole court-yard was a furnace of fire. A spark carried by
the wind fell on his naked shoulder, where it bit like a fiery serpent.
Yet he scarcely felt the smart; he stood motionless, looking upon the
wreck of his little world, the only one that he had ever known.

"So in the end he made me a coward as well," said the boy, speaking
softly to himself. "Is it that a slave must be a slave--always?"

He drew a long breath. "No, not always. But in the mean time I am to go
on living and bearing everywhere his mark--Quinton Edge's mark. Well, I
will begin by learning how to wait."

He stood irresolute for a moment longer, gazing at the scene of the
night's tragedy as though to impress it indelibly upon his memory. Then
turning his back to the east, where the faint saffron of early dawn was
now showing, he started off on a long, swinging trot that speedily
carried him down the slope and into the deeper shadow of the wood
beyond.



VII

THE BREAD OF AFFLICTION


Two miles from the keep was a cave that Constans had discovered on one
of his hunting-trips, and which, boylike, he had proceeded to fit up
with some rude furniture for lodging and cooking, little dreaming that
he should ever stand in actual need of these necessities.

Thither he betook himself, impelled primarily by the mere instinct for
refuge and shelter. Fortunately, the larder had been replenished within
the past week, there was an abundance of dry fuel stacked up in the
interior of the cavern, and the woods were full of game. But during
those first two or three days it is doubtful if Constans would have
remarked either the presence or the absence of these creature comforts;
he ate when he was hungry and went to sleep when it grew dark. The rest
of the time he sat motionless, thinking, thinking--living for the most
part in that past that now seemed so infinitely far away.

Of course, the cavern had been the storehouse of his treasures. Here he
kept a spare hunting-bow and a full stock of arrows, together with his
fishing lines and nets and a miscellaneous assortment of traps and
tools. Here, too, was the secret depository of his cherished
spying-glasses and of another equally marvellous but unfortunately
valueless piece of mechanism--a revolver of large caliber. This latter
had belonged to his grandfather (for whom he had been named), and upon
his death Constans had claimed and taken possession of it. The weapon
was in perfect order, for its former owner had been careful to keep it
well cleaned and oiled; an absurd whim, of course, since without its
ammunition it was useless. The boy used to puzzle mightily over it,
setting the hammer and watching the cylinder as it revolved, then
pulling the trigger and listening to its fascinating click. But he never
got any nearer to the secret.

Even more precious than the pistol and binoculars were his books, an
oddly assorted library that included the child's pictorial history
already mentioned, Dryden's translation of the _Iliad_, an imperfect
copy of _The Three Musketeers_, and _The Descent of Man_. These, indeed,
made up the full list of books belonging to the keep, and Constans had
been permitted to appropriate them, nobody else caring to waste time
over their stained and worm-eaten pages.

With Constans, however, it had been different. In company with the other
children he had been set at the task of learning his letters, and at
first he, too, had rebelled at the uncongenial labor. What possible use
could these ugly, crooked characters ever be to him? And then, suddenly,
he found in them a magic key unlocking a door that opened upon an
undiscovered country--that of the mighty past.

Naturally he experienced some difficulty in viewing this new old world
in anything like its proper proportions, and it was the literal baldness
of the child's school-book that first gave him anything like a true
perspective. Here was both the written story and the visible picture of
the world as it once was, as it might be again. Studying these records
and achievements of the ancient civilization, Constans found himself
possessed of the knowledge of many things and consumed by the desire to
lay hold of many more.

But all this lay in the past--ages ago, when as yet no Doomsman had
landed at the Golden Cove, and the pine-tree banner still flew from the
fighting platform of the Greenwood Keep. Now nothing mattered to the boy
sitting dull-eyed and inert in the darkest corner of his miserable
refuge, while outside it was raining in torrents. But on the third day
it cleared, and the rays of the morning sun, striking level with the
mouth of the cave, fell full upon the lad's face, rousing him in a
double sense. He sprang to his feet and drew in a deep breath of the
morning air. How blue the sky! How golden the sun! As he sat eating his
frugal breakfast of oat-cake and honey he rapidly reviewed his present
condition and future prospects, coming at last to the decision that he
would go to Croye and see what his uncle Hugolin might be inclined to do
for him.

It was inspiriting, the mere fact that he had determined upon a course
of action, and Constans immediately began his preparations for
departure. It did not take long to put together his worldly wealth--the
four books, the binoculars, the pistol, and the chief of his other
possessions; now he had everything compactly stowed away in a shoulder
pack and was ready for the journey.

The town of Croye was situated on the Greater river (formerly the
Hudson) and some ten miles north of the ancient city of New York. It
boasted a population of quite fifteen hundred souls, and this, with its
importance as a trading centre, made it a notable municipality for these
latter days. Its appearance, however, does not call for any extended
description; assuredly, it was not imposing. A heterogeneous jumble of
low, half-timbered houses and mud-plastered hovels; dirty, unpaved
streets, a mean-looking market-place, where the shrill clamor of
huckstering never seemed to cease; some pretentious-looking public
buildings, with stuccoed fronts; outside of all, the inevitable earth
rampart, topped by a palisade and pierced by sally-ports at the cardinal
points--such was Croye, the principal city of this western hemisphere in
the year 2015, or ninety since the Great Change.

Constans frowned as he gazed upon this unlovely picture. Yet he
determined that he would find something of good in it, and as though
answering his thought, the sun reappeared at that very moment from
behind a passing cloud, its rays lighting up the red tiling used as
roofing in the houses of the better class--the one note of cheerful
color among these dingy browns and grays. It was an omen, and he
accepted it as such.

It was to one of these red-topped mansions that Constans finally found
his way, after experiencing several rebuffs from churlish citizens of
whom he had ventured to inquire for the whereabouts of his uncle. Now,
as he laid his hand upon the knocker, he was conscious that the feeling
of despondency had again fallen upon him; he recalled the old story of
Messer Hugolin's bitter opposition to the marriage of his sister Rayne
and Gavan of the keep, of how he had refused to attend the wedding and
had sent no gift. Since then there had been no real intimacy between the
families, although the breach had been outwardly healed and formal
civilities infrequently passed. A poor prospect, it would seem, for the
success of Constans's appeal. But blood is blood, and there was
literally no one else to whom he could turn in this his extremity. He
let the knocker fall.

Messer Hugolin, a stout man, with crafty lines creased in his broad
face, received his nephew with nominal cordiality and listened
attentively to his story. But he was not over-prompt with either advice
or offer of assistance, and Constans, with a sore heart, finally rose to
go.

"Don't be in a hurry," said his uncle, coolly. "Let me think this over
again. After all, we are of the same stock, although your father always
flouted me for a mean-spirited churl. Poor Gavan, we may forgive him
now."

After another period of cogitation and incidental homilies upon the
sinfulness of pride and free living, Messer Hugolin came to the point;
he offered to take Constans into his employ as an apprentice in the
tannery. Of course, Constans would have no wages until his indenture was
out, but he would, at least, be assured of lodging, food, and clothes,
the bare necessities of existence. Not an especially attractive
proposition, but Constans, after a short consideration, concluded to
accept it. He had a purpose in remaining here in Croye, almost within
sight of Doom the Forbidden; he had not forgotten that therein dwelt one
Quinton Edge.

And now a new life began for the boy, and a hard one. Lodged in a corner
of the garret, clad in the meanest garments, fed on the coarsest fare,
his lot was little better than that of the actual serf, and in some
respects inferior to it, for it was good policy to treat the slave with
some decency and so secure a full life's work from the human machine.
Constans, on the other hand, was bound for four years only, and it was
policy to drive him at full speed.

Messer Hugolin's business was of a general nature. He bought and sold
everything in the way of raw product and finished goods, but cloth and
leather formed the staple of his trade. The latter he manufactured
himself, and his tannery was the largest in Croye. It occupied extensive
yards along the river-front, and Constans entered upon the agreeable
occupation of unloading stinking hides from the barges which came down
from the upper river twice in the week, a routine varied only by long
hours of pounding at interminable lengths of white-oak bark, preparing
it for use in the tan-pits. Hard, dirty, malodorous work it was, but he
kept at it steadily, his purpose always in view.

Little by little his plans had been taking shape, and now at last he had
arrived at something definite. A secret, of course, and fortunately
opportunity had been given him in which to develop his idea. To explain
more particularly:

On ordinary days the working-hours were from dawn to dark, but Sunday
was his own, save for the hour immediately following sunrise and that
preceding sunset, when everybody was required to attend upon public
worship.

Every Sunday, then, Constans made his way through the town barriers
immediately upon their unclosing, and betook himself to a wooded
river-cove about a mile south of the town. For three months he had been
working on a canoe, shaping it with fire and adze from a poplar log, and
now, after infinite difficulty, the task approached completion. Could he
have had a confidant, a helper, the work might have been done in a third
of the time, for Constans was not much of a mechanic. But there was no
one among his fellow-workmen whom he dared trust, and so he toiled on
alone.

The canoe had been launched, and, to Constans's delight, she was but
slightly lopsided. A few stones brought her to trim, and she paddled
beautifully.

He had fixed upon the third Sunday in August for the great trial, for
the Monday following was a civic holiday, the anniversary of the
founding of the city. The double event would give him abundant time in
which to make a reconnoissance of his enemy's position and then return
to Croye to resume his position in Messer Hugolin's tanyard. For his
foothold there must not be endangered; if he returned at all, he would
find it more necessary than ever.

Permission to absent himself from Saturday night to Tuesday morning had
to be obtained from the city authorities. They objected at first, but
finally accorded their consent. With his uncle, the matter was quickly
settled. Messer Hugolin did not approve of holidays for apprentices, but
he dared not controvert the law, and Constans was already in possession
of the blue ticket which would enable him to pass the city barriers
after sunset on Saturday. So Messer Hugolin contented himself with
black looks and an acid jibe at the vanity of his civic associates, who
multiplied holidays that they might have opportunity to display
themselves in their gold chains and red robes of office.

"And harkee, boy!" he concluded, harshly. "Let me see you at roll-call
Tuesday morning or not at all. With flour at ten tokens the quarter,
there is no bread of idleness to be eaten in my house." And thereupon
they parted without further speaking.

It was a warm August evening when he finally pushed out from shore and
laid his course down-stream. He had not ventured upon the experiment of a
sail, but the tide was beginning to run out, and that, with the current,
should carry him to his destination without the dipping of an oar. But
he reflected that the moon would rise at nine o'clock, and as it was
barely past the full the light might betray him to watching eyes. He
could take no risks, and so must reach the city under cover of darkness.
Accordingly, he bent to his paddle, taking it easy at first, and then
lengthening out the stroke as he gained confidence in this hitherto
untried art.



VIII

IN THE SHADOW OF DOOM


An hour wore on, and Constans was approaching the suburbs of the ancient
municipality. But it did not suit his purpose to make a landing here.
His plan was to reach the lower end of the island upon which the city
was built, then to work his way northward on foot until he should
discover the innermost citadel of the Doomsmen. To get a fair idea of
his task, he proposed to ascend one of the immensely high buildings
which stood crowded together in the down-town district. From such a
vantage-point he could surely fix upon landmarks for his future guidance
in penetrating the labyrinth of streets. It would not be a pleasant
experience to lose one's way, and, perhaps, stumble by mistake on Master
Quinton Edge's front door.

Now, as Constans travelled onward, the ruined city began to grow upon
him in ever heavier and darker mass. Here and there a half-demolished
church-spire raised itself above the neighboring roof-line; plainly this
had been one of the old-time residential sections and of the better
class. Still farther down the stream and the water-front stood crowded
thickly with wharves and warehouses, the scene of the mighty commerce of
the past. The ships themselves were there, great monsters of iron and
steel, scaled and honeycombed with red rust. But the wharf-slips had
long since silted up, and the vessels, careening little by little with
the subsidence of the water, had finally broken away from the
restraining hawsers and lay on their beam-ends in the mud, a sorrowful
spectacle.

The moon was rising and it was time to go ashore. Accordingly, he
directed his course for a pier that extended somewhat farther than its
fellows into the stream. There was just water enough to float the canoe
within arm's-length of the girders--a fortunate circumstance, since
Constans had not liked the idea of trusting himself upon the
treacherous-looking mud-flat left uncovered by the ebbing tide. Securing
the boat under shadow of the structure, he took his hunting-knife and
basket of provisions and climbed easily to the floor of the pier, then
picking his way across its broken planking he reached solid ground. At
last he stood within Doom the Forbidden.

Now this street, which ran parallel with the river, was of unusual
width, and Constans crossed it quickly, seeking for cover in some
narrower and darker thoroughfare. A cross-street opened directly in
front of him. He plunged into it without hesitation, for the moonlight
was now in full flood and there might be sharp eyes about.

In the open spaces along the water-front grass grew thick and tall as in
a meadow, but in this narrow, crooked lane the wholesomer, sun-loving
plants found little encouragement to existence. In their stead,
pale-colored creepers mantled the house walls, and everywhere were moss
stains and the spore of the various fungoid growths. Constans's
footsteps fell hollowly upon the pavement slippery with weed and the
August damp, and as he walked along an unearthly radiance suddenly
illuminated his path; from every cornice and eaves-end hung balls of the
pale St. Elmo's fire; not a house but boasted its array of
corpse-candles that flickered with a greenish flame.

A terrifying sight, but harmless. Far more dangerous, could he have
known it, were the invisible but deadly gases from the century-old
corruption that rose to meet him and were unconsciously inhaled. Then,
as the fumes mounted to his brain, sober reason was ousted from her
throne and imagination rioted unchecked, peopling the void with horrors
and ineffectual phantoms. From the sashless windows grotesque faces
stared down upon him, scowling malignantly, while others, with still
more hideous smile, invited him to enter and become one of their
dreadful company. Insane laughter re-echoed in his ears, and the music
of lutes, irresistible in its languor-compelling potency. Already had
Constans stopped twice to listen, and upon each occasion he had been
obliged to exercise all his failing strength of body and mind to resume
his forward march. If he halted again it would be forever; of that he
felt perfectly assured, but neither the imminence nor the character of
the peril in which he stood seemed sufficient to arouse him from his
lethargy. Yet he kept on, walking with the shuffling stride of a
mechanical doll; now he wavered and hesitated, as though the propelling
spring had wellnigh run down. The night reek, hot and damp, hung like a
poisoned veil upon his mouth and lips; he could not breathe; he gasped
and threw up one arm as does a swimmer who looks his last upon a
pitiless sun and sky.

The wind had risen with the moon; it had been growing in strength, and
now a strong gust rattled among the chimney-pots. One fell with a crash,
and a tiny fragment of brick struck Constans on the check, cutting the
skin. The shock and the trickle of blood brought him to with a sharp
shock; he ran forward a few steps and found himself sinking. The roadway
immediately in front of him had doubtless been undermined by the action
of water; for the space of a dozen yards or more the pavement was but a
shell concealing an abyss.

Constans had already proceeded too far for retreat; he must go on or
founder where he stood. He flung himself forward, the oblong blocks of
granite, with which the street was paved, grinding together underneath
his feet as the mass yielded to the downward pressure. He was sucked in
to his knees, but instinctively he kept the upper part of his body
extended horizontally, his out-stretched hand seeking for some chance
holdfast. Then, as he was beginning to despair, he found it, a section
of small diameter lead piping that had been uncovered by the breaking
away of the surrounding earth. It bent under his clutch but did not give
way. With one last effort he pulled himself clear, gained the firm
ground beyond, and lay there trembling.

When afterwards he came to reason soberly over the adventure, the
conclusion seemed obvious that the pitfall had been a consequent upon
the breaking out of one of the ancient springs, so that the water, in
endeavoring to find an outlet, had finally undermined the whole
roadway. The chasm, as he looked back upon it, extended dear across the
street. Its depth was only conjectural, but the mass presented the
treacherous appearance of quaking sand, and Constans shuddered as he
gazed. Yet he had escaped; the peril was past; let him forget what was
behind and press forward.

Half a block farther on and he found himself in a cul-de-sac. The street
was filled from house-wall to house-wall with an immense mass of broken
stone, brick, and other débris. The cause was not far to seek.

Immediately upon the left rose one of the fabulously high buildings for
which the ancient city had been famous. It could not compare in
magnitude with the tremendous structures that he could discern still
farther ahead, but its dozen and a half of stories loomed up imposingly
when contrasted with the moderate sized houses adjoining it. Constans
looked up in wonder at its towering façade, then started back with an
exclamation of alarm.

It appeared that the foundations of the structure had in some way become
weakened, for the whole building had settled and was leaning over at a
terrifying divergence from the perpendicular. Being constructed of iron
truss-work similar to that of a bridge, the essential framework still
held together, but the outside walls, mere shells of stone and brick,
had cracked and given way under the strain, falling piece-meal into the
street below. Even as he looked, a stone dropped from a window pediment
and crashed into splinters on the pavement a few yards beyond where he
stood. The angle of inclination seemed to grow larger as he gazed at
it; the enormous mass poised itself above him, monstrous, informed,
threatening to strike.

With that uncomfortable contraction of the scalp-skin that attends upon
the sudden presence of peril, Constans backed hastily away; not for
worlds would he have ventured again under that overhang of artificial
cliff. Yet behind him was the stretch of sunken pavement; he could not
risk another passage of that. A single alternative remained--to enter
one of the small houses that lined the street, ascend to its roof, and
so escape to the nearest cross thoroughfare.

With a sigh of relief, Constans threw open the scuttle and climbed out
upon the leads. He had entered at random one of the mean-looking
edifices that hemmed him in at the right and left, and it was pleasant
to escape from the close atmosphere of its long-unused staircases and
corridors. Apparently the house had been occupied as a tenement in the
ancient time; the marks of its degradation had survived the universal
decay, and there was even a fetid suggestion in the air of old-time
squalor and disease. Glad he was to be free of it all, and he let the
scuttle fall to with a bang.

After surveying the different routes as best he could, Constans
determined to work his way to the southward. He took one forward step
and stood transfixed; from below then came a faint but unmistakable tap,
tap upon the closed scuttle. The bare suspicion that there could be some
living thing in that hideous interior, that it was appealing to him for
aid, made him physically sick. But better to meet any horror face to
face than to wrestle longer with the invisible presence of Fear; he
threw aside the hatch, and a big white owl flew out, its wing grazing
his face. He could have shouted aloud, so nakedly had his nerves been
laid bare in the last quarter of an hour; then setting his teeth hard he
took hold of himself and laughed at his own vaporing. The worst was over
now; he was sure of that, and so again took courage.

It was an easy matter to pass from one connecting roof to another, and
thereafter down a fire-escape to the side street. A few steps took him
round the corner and into a wide thoroughfare leading directly to the
more important business quarter.

Constans looked about him in wonderment. The high buildings stood
shoulder to shoulder, hemming him in on every side; the street itself
was but a fissure in a mountain-range. The moon had now risen high in
the heavens, and her beams performed odd tricks of shadow play as they
danced through these colossal halls of emptiness and silence. Nothing
seemed real or substantial; these enormous masses of masonry and iron
looked almost dreamlike, the ghosts of a forgotten past, shadows that
must surely vanish with the morning sun.

To sober his imagination, Constans began counting the number of stories
in a sky-scraper that reared its monstrous bulk directly in front of
him. Thirty-six in all, and so higher by half a dozen floors than any of
its neighbors. It should make an excellent observatory, and he
determined upon exploring it.

[Illustration: "CONSTANS LOOKED ABOUT HIM IN WONDERMENT"]

The street doors stood wide open, and the entrance-way was half blocked
up by piles of dust and other refuse blown in from the street by the
winter storms. On the left, as one entered, was the principal suite of
offices; it had been occupied by a banking firm, to judge from the
desk fittings and the long array of safes and vaults. These latter were
open and empty, the doors having been shattered by some powerful
explosive. In all probability the vaults had been closed and locked by
their owners, and had afterwards been looted by the criminals who
thronged the doomed city and who would naturally seek their richest
booty in the financial district. The floor was literally knee-deep in
papers of all description, and in the heap were a number of bundles of
the old-time bank-notes, neatly labelled and banded. These the
plunderers had evidently discarded as beneath their notice, for all that
they represented wealth so vast as to be wellnigh incalculable. With the
Great Change at hand these paper promises had become valueless; only the
precious metals themselves were worth the picking up, and the plunderers
had accordingly made a clean sweep of the specie drawers. It was by the
merest accident that Constans, in kicking aside a pile of elaborately
engraved stock certificates, uncovered two of the smaller gold coins, a
five and ten dollar piece. He put the treasure-trove carefully away, but
in spite of this promising beginning he was not tempted to proceed
further on this golden trail. He had another purpose in view, and so
found his way to the principal staircase and began the upward climb.

Interminable it seemed, and the sense of loneliness and oppression,
which lay heavy on Constans's spirits, increased steadily as he went
from one landing to another. Each succeeding story was so precisely like
the one he had just left; it was always the same long, marble-paved
corridor, with every door and window exactly duplicated. How could
living men and women have endured the appalling uniformity of this
human beehive? Everywhere, too, were the same recurring evidences of the
haste and panic that had characterized the final moments of that
terrible hegira. Hats and garments, cash-boxes and account-books,
littered the hallways, and were piled in little heaps at the entrances
to the elevators--impedimenta that must inevitably be abandoned at the
last if life itself were to be saved. And the final tragedy--an elevator
cage that had jammed in its ways and so hung fixed between two landings.
Its occupants had suddenly found themselves entrapped, with no one to
hear or to help. One can fancy the growing uneasiness, the wild amaze,
the terror that was afraid of the sound of its own voice. Constans
hurried by; he had looked but that once.

Onward and upward, and at last he had gained the topmost floor. It was
hardly worth his while to ascend to the roof itself, and so he walked
into a room that faced the north and consequently commanded a view of
the city along its longitudinal axis. He gazed long and earnestly into
the obscurity, and far in the distance he caught the faint twinkle of a
solitary light--a camp-fire, perhaps. He tried to fix its bearings in
his mind; if it were a fire it must indicate the neighborhood of the
Doomsman stronghold.

For a long time Constans stood at the window seeking to penetrate the
mystery of the darkness that surrounded him; then at last nature
asserted her rights, he yawned vigorously, and his eyelids fell. There
was a brown leather lounge in the room, still in tolerable condition,
and he threw himself down without even troubling to remove the thick
coating of dust that covered it. He slept.



IX

THE KEYS OF POWER


The sun was high in the sky when Constans awoke. For a moment or two the
unfamiliar environment puzzled him; then the keen edge of remembrance
sheared through the mists of sleep and he sprang to his feet, alert and
ready for whatever might befall. He walked over to the window facing the
north and looked out.

For miles and miles the ruined city stretched away, a wilderness of
brick and mortar. Here and there were areas of blackness and vacancy,
where fire had worked its will, but these latter were confined for the
most part to the region along the water-front and to the poorer
residential portions. The business section, with its substantial shops
and warehouses, and the central district, made up of the clubs,
churches, theatres, and the handsomer private houses, remained intact,
in outward appearance at least. Viewed under the rays of a glorious
midsummer sun, the city seemed fair and proud as of yore, a stupendous
monument to the industry and genius of the race.

And yet, withal, the spectacle was a singularly mournful and depressing
one, for nowhere were there any signs of life. Not a plume of vapor
waved against the azure sky, not even a dog ranged the grass-grown
streets. The silence reigned infinite and profound, and Constans started
in alarm as it was suddenly broken by the scream of an eagle out of the
blue. Here was the picture of a desolation incomparably more complete
than that of the untrodden desert upon which the life-giving spirit has
never breathed. For in this place there had existed a very citadel of
being, and behold! a night had passed and it was not.

Suddenly Constans bethought himself of that indefinite twinkle of fire,
and he trained his broken binoculars on the spot where he had marked it
down the night before. The glass disclosed the existence of a
comparatively open space, doubtless one of the public squares of the
ancient city. It was bordered by a number of handsome edifices, and one
unusually large, cream-colored building, whose distinctive architectural
feature was a tower of remarkably graceful proportions, attracted
Constans's attention; it should serve him for a landmark, and he took
its bearings carefully.

Breakfast of brown bread and cold smoked beef was a simple and
expeditious meal, and, with his appetite appeased, Constans descended to
the street. He had his general direction in mind, and so was able to
proceed at once upon his journey of exploration, keeping as closely as
possible due north. He found the sidewalks and roadway encumbered by
rubbish, and here and there almost entirely blocked by fallen masonry;
but in spite of these obstructions he managed to maintain a fair average
pace. Indeed, it was the strangeness of his surroundings rather than the
material obstacles that caused his steps to loiter. The glimpses that he
got through the windows of the deserted shops amazed him; a hundred
times he would fain have halted to investigate some fresh marvel. But he
withstood the temptation, telling himself that these things were but
trifles, and that the real objects of his quest lay farther on.

An hour's walk brought Constans to within three blocks of the building
with the tower. He had purposely diverged from the direct line in
approaching it, being shrewdly of the opinion that the stronghold of the
Doomsmen was not far distant. He was convinced of the truth of this
conjecture when he reached the next cross-street, which debouched into
the public square already mentioned. He could see that the end of the
street was filled by a barricade of paving-blocks and flag-stones torn
up from the roadway; it looked as though the whole square were one vast
and formidable fortress.

It was still early in the morning, and up to this time Constans had not
seen sign of man. Now, as he continued his cautious examination of the
barrier, he noticed two or three spirals of smoke rising behind the
parapet and going straight up into the windless air. The hornets were
stirring then, and it behooved him to keep well away from their nest.

After some consideration Constans decided that he would continue on
towards the north, skirting this centre of danger at a safe distance
until he should be some distance above it. He would then work cautiously
back towards the citadel, finally seeking some elevated point, such as
the roof of a tall building, from which to complete his observations.

After proceeding about a mile in an up-town direction, Constans turned
and walked westward for a couple of blocks. It was a broad and handsome
avenue on which he now found himself, and from the character of the
buildings which lined it Constans concluded that here was where the
wealth and fashion of the ancient world had had its chosen habitation.
Once again he would gladly have lingered for a closer examination of the
many things that interested him, but the spur of his purpose as often
pricked him on. Yet finally he did stop, thrilling with the sense of a
great discovery.

It was a large and architecturally impressive building that had
attracted Constans's attention, and a flash of intuition enabled him to
pronounce upon its true character at first sight. He was now at the very
heart of the city's social and intellectual life; here, if anywhere, he
might expect to find one of the magnificent libraries upon which the
ancient municipality had prided itself. He must decide the question,
and, after some further searching, he discovered a side door that
yielded to his touch.

He was right, then; this was truly a library, and could he ever have
imagined that there were so many books in the world! A cloud of dust
rose under his feet as he went up to the cases and tried to read the
tarnished titles of the volumes on the shelves. Again Chance led him
aright, and his eye brightened as he discovered an unpretentious volume
that proclaimed itself: _The Official Visitors' Guide to the City of New
York for the Year 1905_. He pulled out the book and opened it. Of course
it contained what he wanted, a large folding map, and spreading the
latter out upon a table Constans set himself to studying it earnestly;
this was his enemy's territory, and he must acquaint himself as
thoroughly as possible with its points of weakness and its points of
strength.

The task of identification proved easier than he had thought possible.
Here was where he had landed the night before. Step by step he could
trace his walk up-town, and the identity of the building in which he now
stood was made certain by the ruins of the great white cathedral a few
blocks farther north. And there, a dozen or more blocks to the south,
there was the citadel, the living heart of the outlaw world, there was
the stronghold in which one Quinton Edge sat secure and at his ease. A
cold misgiving suddenly struck at Constans's heart. How could he hope to
make way alone against a host? How could he think to reach an enemy
protected by these impregnable walls? For such a task he would need to
wield the thunderbolts of the gods, and he had only his useless pistol
and his long bow. He sighed and let his head droop for a moment, then
felt ashamed of his weakness and straightened up again. The way was
there; he would find it.

Mechanically, his eyes roved along the serried shelves of books, and a
new light came into them. In these dusty tomes themselves were hidden
the keys of power; he had but to seize them and the secrets of the
mighty past would be revealed to him, to him alone. Armed with these
potencies he might dare and accomplish anything--everything.

Trembling with excitement, he went and stood before the cases, scanning
the various titles. Again his lucky star guided him; on the row level
with his eyes stood an encyclopædia of the applied arts and sciences. He
carried the two bulky volumes to a convenient table and sat there
absorbed.

Constans looked up in the sudden consciousness that he was observed, and
met the half-defiant, half-terrified, and wholly curious gaze of a girl.
Hardly more than a child she seemed, not over fourteen at the outside,
and with a figure that was all flatness and unlovely angles. Certainly
an exceedingly ugly duckling, yet there was promise of future swanship
in the clean curves of her neck and in the firm poise of the small head.
Moreover, her coloring was good, a clear brown through which a scarlet
flush, born of the excitement of the moment, glowed intermittently, like
the flashing of distant signal-flags. And in her eyes there was a
curious red glint where the light fell slantingly upon the pupil.
Constans found his feet awkwardly and stood gazing at her. She in turn
scanned him with attention, and obviously grew at ease in noting his
increasing disconcertment.

"What are you doing here?" she demanded, abruptly. "You are not of the
children of the Doomsmen."

"No," he answered, and compressed his lips obstinately.

"You are very foolish," she retorted, with a slow shake of her head. "If
Master Quinton Edge catches you he will nick your ear, and then you will
have to row in the galleys."

Constans winced. Could she possibly have discovered his secret? But no;
the hair fell in a thick wave upon his ears--it had been but a chance
shot.

"I am not afraid," he said, coldly. The tawny eyes, with their heart of
fire, rested upon him approvingly.

"I am Esmay," she answered. "What is your name?"

"What does it matter?--well, then, Constans." He spoke impatiently,
being anxious to get back to his book. He glanced at it longingly, and
she, who, as it afterwards appeared, had a part to play, took the cue.

"Such stupid-looking books!" She bent carelessly over the volume on the
table. "Nothing but wheels and dotted lines and wheels again. It is a
ridiculous book."

"It is not," said Constans, hotly.

The damsel smiled. "Oh, if you like that sort of thing, I know of a book
over there." She pointed airily to an alcove at the opposite end of the
hall. "It has many more pictures and many more wheels in colors, too,
red and yellow and blue."

Constans was all on fire in an instant. "Will you show it to me?" he
asked.

"In there," said the girl, and pointed to a recess between two tall
cases.

Ten feet above his head ran a metal gallery that gave access to the
upper tiers of shelves, but Constans did not look up, being intent upon
the treasure. Where was it? He could not see.

The noose of a rope had tightened upon his arms before he was aware that
it encircled them. He made one furious, ineffectual effort to free
himself, and then stood motionless, waiting for the next move of the
unseen enemy. Forthwith, a second noose dropped smoothly around his
neck; it was at once drawn taut, and Constans was obliged to stretch
himself to his full height to avoid being strangled. He heard Esmay clap
her hands, and steps descending from the gallery; then his captor stood
before him. He was a boy of Constans's own age, but of shorter,
sturdier build. A pleasant, ingenuous face it was, flushed now with the
joy of triumph.

"Got him," he announced, importantly, to the traitress Esmay, who had
retreated towards the door. "Don't be such a coward; he can't get away,"
he continued, examining his victim's bonds with critical attention.

"Look, Esmay; if he moves he hangs himself. A fix, isn't it?" and the
boy laughed contentedly. It had been rare sport, this trapping of a man,
worth half a dozen wolves or even a bear.

"Hollo! Esmay," he called again, and the girl came up slowly. "You did
it splendidly," said the boy. "Here's the bracelet I promised you," and
he held out a circlet of gold-filigree work studded with carbuncles.
"They match your eyes," he added, in awkward compliment, and then
blushed for the incredible weakness of mind that had prompted his words.
Was she going to laugh at him?

But the girl took, the bracelet without even a look at the donor. She
snapped it on her wrist and walked defiantly, straight up to the
prisoner, as though she would compel him to admire her treasure, to
congratulate her upon it.

Constans held himself serenely imperturbable, not even turning his head.
Her face burned. She threw the bauble on the floor; it lay there crushed
and shapeless. Then she turned upon her accomplice in the successful
treachery.

"I hate you! I hate you!" She walked away, imperially offended, and
stood looking out of a window that faced the street.

"Whew!" whistled the boy, in dismay, that was half comic and half real.
He addressed himself to Constans, naively confident of masculine
sympathy. "Well, if that isn't--" but the words failed him.

Constans, angry and humiliated as he was, could not help smiling.

"You know it wasn't exactly fair," he said.

The boy considered, then answered, honestly:

"It wasn't, then, but what are we going to do about it? You are a
Houseman, and you have come to spy out the secrets of Doom the
Forbidden. Any of the men who saw you would kill you like a snake."

"Perhaps so, but they would not wait until my back was turned or get a
girl to help them."

Constans suddenly realized that he stood free of his bonds. The boy had
severed them with his clasp-knife, that being the quickest means of
releasing his captive.

"We will fight for it, then," he said, simply.

Constans nodded.

It was not at all an even match, for Constans was at least thirty pounds
lighter than his adversary, and his slightly longer reach of arm was
more than counter-balanced by the latter's ability to take any amount of
punishment.

Half a dozen ineffectual passes and they clinched. Constans was forced
backward; he tripped and fell. The blows, short but savage, rained down
upon his face. He tried to strike back, but his throat was gripped hard;
he was suffocating. Consciousness was about to desert him, and he felt
vaguely angry at this betrayal of his senses; then the light returned,
and he sat up, his head swimming. A man stood between him and his late
opponent. It was Quinton Edge, and the recognition was a mutual one.

"Oh, you!" drawled Quinton Edge, with that well-remembered,
fine-gentleman inflection. "I am almost sorry that I interfered, but
this young lady would have it so, and a woman's will is always law. Eh,
Ulick?"

But the boy Ulick scowled. "It was no business of yours," he said,
angrily.

"That depends. Besides, it stands to reason that no man likes to see his
own property mishandled. You don't realize, my good fellow, that you
have a fist as rough as a shark-skin."

"Your property!" echoed the boy, in disdain. "Prove it."

"Easily," smiled Quinton Edge, and drew aside the lock of hair that
concealed the V-shaped nick in Constans's left ear.

"Oh!" said Ulick, shortly. He had been quick to see and interpret the
appeal in his prisoner's eyes. "It makes not a particle of difference,"
asserted Ulick, stubbornly. "He is my captive, taken in fair fight, and
he belongs to me for all of his nicked ear. I sha'n't give him up, and
that's my last word to you, Master Quinton Edge."

Half a dozen men entered the hall hurriedly; the girl Esmay must have
summoned them when she had disappeared a few minutes before. Sturdy
varlets they were, clad in green jerkins and armed with ashen lances
pointed with steel. As Constans came afterwards to know, they were of
the personal body-guard of the old Dom Gillian, to whom the boy Ulick
was both grandson and presumptive heir. Now Quinton Edge was not yet
ready to measure swords with Dom Gillian. So he veiled his irritation
and answered, equably:

[Illustration: "THE BLOWS RAINED DOWN UPON HIS FACE"]

"You know the law about harboring a House-dweller, and since you choose
to violate it"--here he shrugged his shoulders detestably--"let Dom
Gillian see to it. Yet, for the sake of peace, I will ask you once more
to surrender this serf, who bears my mark and is legally proved my
property. In the end it may save a mountain of trouble. What say you?"

"No!" thundered Ulick, roundly, for he was angered at the implied
threat, and would have held his ground now out of pure stubbornness.
Whereupon Quinton Edge smiled and sauntered out, adjusting the ruffles
at his wrist and carrying himself as gallantly as though he had been the
victor, not the vanquished, in this little contest of wills.

Constans went up to Ulick and held out his hand. "Thank you," he said,
awkwardly, and Ulick flushed in his turn.

The guardsmen were crowding about the two boys, looking curiously at
Constans. But Ulick ordered them out imperiously, and they obeyed, being
men of slow wit and not used to argue with their superiors. Ulick turned
to Constans. "Well, that was fair enough, to make up for--for the other
thing?"

Constans nodded a hearty assent; he hesitated, and then spoke, steadily:
"But you must understand that I would rather fight again than wear the
iron collar of a slave, or call any one master, even you. You will kill
me, for you are the better man with the naked fist. But I should prefer
it that way."

"Will you leave this with me?" asked Ulick, nodding his head wisely,
and Constans wondered and submitted.

They went out into the breathless noon of an August day. Two or three
men were loitering about, and Ulick frowned as he saw them.

"I shall have to take you to my grandsire," he whispered. "These are
Quinton Edge's men, and they are doubtless under orders to watch us.
This way," and Constans followed obediently.

Ulick stopped at a beautiful Gothic edifice, built about a small
court-yard, in which a score of the green-jerkined guardsmen were
lounging. In a corner stood a wooden cistern for the collection of
rain-water from the roof-spouts. Ulick drew a pannikin of water and
offered it to Constans that he might bathe his face, which was badly
puffed and marked. How reviving, the touch of the cool, clean liquid!
Constans arose, mightily refreshed; then, in response to his guide's
look, he followed him into the main hallway of the house and up the
broad stairs.

The building, judging from its size and appointments, must have been the
dwelling of one of the richest members of the ancient plutocracy, and
the traces of a splendid luxury were to be seen on all sides. The
colored marbles underfoot, the gilding overhead, the gorgeous, albeit
torn and weather-stained tapestries that covered the walls--these things
were eloquent of a pristine magnificence that could hardly have been
equalled, even in this city of palaces. Constans kept looking about him
with all his eyes, but Ulick strode along indifferently. Every son of
the Doomsmen might possess a dwelling measurably as fine as this if he
chose to look for it, but from a practical point of view the sole
qualification for a man's house was that it should be standing in plumb
and tolerably weather-proof. Gold-leaf and silken hangings would not
keep out the rain, and it was folly to spend time in making repairs.
When a house became uninhabitable it was a simple matter to move into
another.

The apartment into which they now entered was long and lofty. The thick
curtains remained drawn before the windows, excluding so much of the
light that Constans had great difficulty in finding his way about. Then,
his eyes adjusting themselves to the obscurity, he saw before him a
divan piled high with pillows. Propped up against them was the figure of
an old man.

And such a man! In his prime he must have been a very colossus of
strength and stature, and even now, in his senility, the muscles that
had made terrible those great limbs could be plainly traced. For this
was Dominus Gillian, whose name had been first a byword and then a
terror, and even now was a power to conjure with; Dom Gillian, renegade
and hero, gallows-bird and world-builder, but ever and in all things a
man, as all other men will bear witness.

He knew his favorite grandchild, and smiled as Ulick respectfully raised
and kissed his hand, that hand in whose hollow had lain the world, now
shrunken and nerveless, scarce able to crush an impertinent fly. Ulick
spoke slowly and distinctly, explaining his action and seeking boldly to
justify it.

This dog of the House People had dared, under veil of darkness, to creep
into the Gray Wolf's den. He, Ulick, had captured him alone and unaided;
surely such an exploit deserved recognition, and Ulick desired to keep
the prisoner as his own property. Could he do so, no matter what claim
might be urged against his right?

The old man listened, and looked at Constans indifferently. Then he
spoke in the inflectionless monotone of extreme old age:

"A House-dweller and a snake, my son--crush them when you can, for the
woods are full of shadows, and a man cannot always see where to plant
his foot. I have lived very long, and I know."

"But, my father, if you will only let me----"

"I am tired," interrupted the even, expressionless tones. "Go away and
leave me to sleep. To-morrow we will cut out this Houseman's eyes and
tongue, so that he may see nothing and tell nothing. Then you may have
him for your plaything--it will be better so."

The eyelids fell, and the old man slept placidly, his face serene as
that of a babe. The two boys stole quietly away.

Down a narrow passage and a flight of stairs into a dark, cool room,
underground, as Constans conjectured. Ulick left him there, counselling
quiet and repose for the next few hours.

It was night when Ulick finally appeared and conducted his departing
guest to the open air. The moon had not yet risen, and the danger of
detection was practically past.

"You are sure that you can find your boat," whispered Ulick, as they
stood facing each other, curiously loath to part.

"Yes," answered Constans, "for I shall follow the river straight down.
It will take a little longer, but that matters not. Good-bye; I sha'n't
forget."

A slender figure slipped out from the shadow of a doorway and confronted
them. It was Esmay, and she spoke with serene gravity.

"Since you and Ulick are friends you ought to make it up with me also.
But not unless you really want to," she added, hastily.

Constans smiled with youthful cynicism.

"Of course," he answered, magnificently condescending. "You are a woman,
and knew no better."

She snatched her hand away. "Yes, I am a woman, Master Constans, and
some day you will know what that means." She moved away, majestically as
does a goddess, conscious of her power but magnanimously refraining from
using it. Constans and Ulick laughed after the manner of men-kind who
find it easy to disbelieve in what they do not understand. Then, with a
long hand-grip, they parted.

The canoe was still in its hiding-place underneath the ruined pier, and
Constans's first care was to stow away in the stern-locker the two
volumes of the scientific cyclopædia that he had been reading at the
time of his capture. Ulick of his own volition had stolen the books from
the library hall, and had put them into Constans's hands at the moment
of parting. They made a heavy load for him to carry, but what a precious
burden it was and how gladly he assumed it! For these were the keys of
power.

As Constans paddled out into the stream he heard the steady thumping of
oars in rowlock. He shoved back into the shadow of the pier just as a
great galley filled with men came foaming down the river. Constans could
see that it was a war-vessel of the largest size, for there were full
sixty oars on a side arranged in two banks. The figure-head was the
representation of a black swan, and on the poop-deck stood the slight,
graceful figure of a man wearing a plumed hat. Constans saw him remove
the cigar from his lips as he turned to give an order. Instantly the
port-oars held and backed, and the galley, swinging round on her heel,
headed up-stream again, passing within fifty yards of Constans's
hiding-place. The boy's bow was in his hand, but he had not attempted to
fit an arrow to the string. "It will come--the time," he said, under his
breath.

Constans stared gravely after the _Black Swan_ as she drove along. But
for the best of good-fortune he might now be tugging at a heavy ashen
oar, with the lash of the deck-master striping his back. Ulick,
Esmay--yes, he had much to remember.

Two hours later he had scaled the wall of Croye, without being
discovered by the sleepy sentinels, and was safe on his pallet of
corn-husks in Messer Hugolin's attic.



X

THE MESSAGE


Three years had passed since that first memorable visit to Doom the
Forbidden--years of work and of growth. The simple out-door life and the
physical toil had been good discipline for Constans, and he was now a
well-built young fellow of two-and-twenty, nearly six feet tall and with
muscles like steel wire.

The nights, too, had afforded compensation for the labors of the day,
for then he could read and study. The two big volumes of the scientific
cyclopædia had been his school-masters, and he had striven faithfully to
learn of them. What a wonderful lesson it had been, for while there was
much in this teaching that he could not understand at all, there was
much again that, with the aid of the illustrations and diagrams, he
could make really his own. And so, little by little, he had been able to
reconstruct, in imagination, at least, the lost civilization of the
ancient world; how men had tamed the lightning and bade it speak their
will and work their pleasure; how the same vapor that issued from the
pot bubbling on Martina's fire could be harnessed and made to draw a
hundred wagons at once upon the old-time steel-railed highways; how a
child's hand on the crank of a machine-gun might hurl invisible death
among a regiment of men and put even an army to flight. Steam and
gunpowder and electricity, what wonderful ideas were connoted in the
words! The very names thrilled him with a sense of infinite power.

A wonderfully fascinating study, and yet at times it left him
unspeakably weary and depressed, for what did all this knowledge avail
without the practical means to apply it? The great machines that the
ancients had built, what were they now but masses of red rust, useless
alike to the fool who laughed at them and to the visionary who could
only dream of their magnificent potentialities.

A dream, for, in truth, a lion was in the way. So long as the Doomsmen
held sway in the land, so long must the wheels of progress stay locked.
Unable to use themselves the treasures of knowledge stored under their
hands, they were unwilling that another should even touch them. What
could he or any other one man do?

Once, indeed, during the three years, Constans had found brief
opportunity to revisit the scenes of his old home in the valley of the
Swiftwater. In this general district of the West Inch were to be found
nearly all of the larger estates, a fitting cradling-place, it would
seem, for the new liberty, the awakening era.

But time was not yet come, as Constans soon saw clearly. He had been
hospitably enough received, for the country-side had not forgotten the
story of the Greenwood Keep, and it was plain to see that this
clear-eyed, well-set-up lad was of the true Stockader breed. One of his
father's bond-friends, Piers Major, of the River Barony, had even
offered Constans a home under his roof-tree in exchange for
sword-service. But this he declined, with becoming gratitude indeed,
but none the less firmly. He had no fancy to spend the rest of his life
in a trooper's saddle riding down naked savages--an agreeable
occupation, whose only variation was an afternoon at pig-sticking or a
chance crack at some Doomsman's head. Better to endure the drudgery of
the tan-pits than to part with all purpose in life.

And so the crusade, which Constans had hoped to father, died at its
birth. The kinsmen and friends of his family were sincere enough in
their sympathy, but they could not be expected to risk their own skins
in the furtherance of his private quarrels, and, so far as it was a
question of political economy or of patriotism, these easy-going
gentlemen troubled themselves not one whit. For the most part the
Doomsmen kept their distance from a Stockader's threshold, and
_laissez-faire_ was a good motto for both sides to adopt.

Constans returned to Croye and to Messer Hugolin's attic neither
overmuch surprised nor discouraged by the results of his mission. After
all, his ultimate object was a personal one--his revenge--and only his
own hand could discharge that debt in full. Did the time seem over-long,
the way unendurably lonely and toilsome? He had only to close his eyes
to remember--to remember. And so the years had passed.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was the noon spell on a day in late October, and Constans sat on the
river end of the long wooden pier at the tanyard eating his luncheon of
bread and bacon scraps. The tide was running up slowly, as could be
noted from the bubbles and drift-wood that circled past the piling of
the wharf, and Constans, happening to glance down into the swirl, saw
something that brought him to his feet. Nothing more remarkable than a
bottle of thick, greenish glass, but bottles of any kind had become
valuable now that the art of glass blowing was so little practised, and
such flotsam was not to be despised.

Having strung a length of noosed cord to a light pole, Constans threw
himself flat along the string-piece of the pier and began angling for
the prize. A failure or two and then he had it snared securely; now it
was in his hand.

The bottle was foul with slime and fungous growth, showing that it had
been in the water for a long period. Possibly it had been out to sea and
back many times before this particular flood-tide had brought it to
Messer Hugolin's tannery and under the eyes of one who would have the
wit to distinguish it from a rotten stick. At all events it had found a
port at last.

The bottle had been corked and then sealed with pitch, and Constans had
to use some care in getting at its contents, a slender cylinder of
tightly rolled paper. Finally he succeeded in drawing it out uninjured,
and saw that it was superscribed to his uncle Hugolin.

The old man looked up with a frown as Constans presented himself at the
door of the counting-room. The rest hour was over and Constans's place
was at the tan-pit. How was the work to get done if everybody shirked
their part of the common task? A message in a bottle. What foolery was
this? Nevertheless, Messer Hugolin extended his hand to receive the
roll, and, removing the waxed string that bound it, knit his brows over
the enclosure--half a dozen sheets of writing. Constans was about to
retire discreetly, but Messer Hugolin raised his hand.

"The writing is too fine for my eyes," he grumbled. "Read it for me,
nephew; but, harkee! you will keep your mouth shut whatever its import."
Then, in a sudden gust of passion: "A thousand plagues on that fool of
an up-river factor who broke for me my reading-glass! Not another one to
be had in Croye for good-will or gold, and I compelled to borrow
another's eyes, to live at the mercy of my meanest clerk. Come, boy, you
must have the sense of it by this time!"

"Shall I read it aloud?" asked Constans, and then, in compliance with
his uncle's nod, he began:

     "'Dated at Doom, in the year 90 after the Great Change.

     "'It is a score of years my brother, since that moonless August
     night when the Doomsmen came to Croye and I went back with them,
     tied to Mad Scarlett's saddle-bow. Twenty years of silence in the
     City of Silence, and I but a slim, brown-faced maid who might be
     found one day playing at polo and lamenting her lack of mustachios,
     and on the very next, mooning over a love charm. It was only
     through the look in my cousin Philip's eyes, as he died under the
     weight of the Doomsmen battle-axes, that I knew myself a woman,
     that I finally entered upon my sex's heritage of sorrow.

     "'Does this seem an old and hardly remembered tale to you, Anthony
     Hugolin, Councillor Primus of Croye, and a rich man, if one may
     judge from the yearly tax rate that stands opposite your name in
     Dom Gillian's head list? Withal, you are still my brother, and you
     must listen to what I have now to say, the first and the last word
     from me to you.

     "'I must be just and acknowledge that he truly loved me, the man
     who plucked me like an apple from the bough; later on he made what
     amends he could by proclaiming me his wife under the Doomsman law.
     Yet it was a tiger-cat rather than a woman whom he had taken to his
     bosom, and I wonder now that I did not a thousand times overpass
     the limits of his forbearance. Assuredly, in that first agony, I
     tried my hardest to stretch his patience to the breaking-point, in
     the hope that a knife-thrust might open for me the doors of the
     prison-house. You see, I was very young, and I could not forget my
     cousin Philip's eyes.

     "'A woman's heart is like a cup; it holds but one fixed quantity of
     life's essential liquor, be the latter sweet or bitter. An infinity
     of little sips or one deep draught, what does it matter? The vessel
     is empty in either case. Yet, as time went on, I grew to endure
     existence; afterwards, when my Esmay was born, I valued it again
     for her sake. Moreover, she was his daughter as well as mine, and
     so I came finally to endure and even to welcome the touch of my
     master's hand. In all these years it had never been aught but
     gentle, for all that they called him Mad Scarlett, and the children
     were taught to believe that he always wore gloves, because he had a
     bloody palm whose stain no water would wash away. Yes, and I wept,
     as any wife and mother might do, on that gray November day when I
     knelt beside his bier.

     "'But this concerns only myself, and it is of Esmay, my daughter,
     that I would speak. In a year she will be seventeen, and before
     that time, if at all, the way must be opened for her to go to her
     mother's people. I am helpless, except for this one opportunity of
     committing a message to the hands of Chance, one slender line
     dropped into the ocean of uncertainty. Yet nothing remains to me
     but to make the cast, for in six months' time I shall be dead; I
     can count the downward steps of my disease as clearly as though
     they formed part of the actual stairway under my feet.

     "'And this also I know--that the message will reach you, my
     brother; so far, at least, my eyes are permitted to explore the
     advancing darkness. You will assuredly receive this letter, but
     with what disposition of heart? That, alas! I may not know. Nor can
     I give aught of service in either counsel or means; I must trust to
     your love and good-will for everything. I can only say that the
     girl is known to all in Doom as Mad Scarlett's daughter. She has
     her father's tawny hair and red-brown eyes, and her name, as I have
     already told you, is Esmay.

     "'To-morrow night I shall make my opportunity to reach the river
     edge unobserved. I shall then commit to the current the bottle
     containing this message, a precious freight, for it is my darling's
     life and happiness.

     "'To you, my brother, the gift and the grace of God, according as
     you deal with me and mine.
                                  ELENA.

            *       *       *       *       *

     "'Watch him whom they call Quinton Edge.'"


"The date is a year ago, lacking a month," added Constans, as he handed
the roll to his uncle.

Messer Hugolin tied up the document with a piece of tape, labelled it
with the date of receipt, and laid it away in a pigeon-hole.

"Well?" said Constans, interrogatively.

"Do you want me to put myself within reach of the Gray Wolf's paws?"
retorted Messer Hugolin, shrewdly. "I was flayed badly enough the last
time the _Black Swan_ cast anchor before Croye, and I am not paying
between rent-days."

"The year is almost up," urged Constans, insistently.

"I have lived my life," returned the old man, with sombre fixity of
resolve, "and these things do not interest me. I have other use for my
hands than to keep them stretched out idly in the dark."

"But that letter--a mother pleading for her child. You have but to give
the word--there are men who will go, and gladly."

"I doubt it not, for there are always drones a-plenty around a beehive.
But why should I spend my good, red gold to make a beggar's holiday?"

Constans felt his cheeks burn. "Their blood is redder than your gold,"
he said. "And if they are not afraid to risk----"

"What has cost them nothing and for whose loss there is quick repair in
a few square inches of sticking-plaster. Tush! boy, you speak of these
things as one who dreams visions at noonday. While I--what I know, I
know. There is but one thing precious in the world, and that is what a
man holds safely in his strong-box. Why should I spend myself for
naught?"

"The girl is your niece--your flesh and blood."

"No more so than yourself, nephew. And tell me, have I ever been
over-tender with you on that account? Can you call to mind when and
where I have spared you because you were of my kin? At least, I make a
virtue of my honesty."

Messer Hugolin smiled. He saw from Constans's face that he need not plot
out the thought in plainer words, and so they parted without further
speaking, although the blood throbbed in Constans's temples as he made
obeisance and walked away. He was conscious that he must keep himself in
hand; the stocks and the whipping-post were ever ready for the
rebellious apprentice, and a single hasty act might imperil his whole
future. But as he lay awake that night in his attic bedchamber he
resolved that this should be his last week's work in Messer Hugolin's
tan-pits. The time had come for him to make a second visit to Doom the
Forbidden, and to remain there for an indefinite period--until his work
had been accomplished.

It would have been impossible for Constans to have embarked upon this
new adventure were it not for the two small gold coins that he had found
and carried away from Doom on the occasion of his former visit. It was
against the common law of the land for a bound apprentice to possess any
money, even a handful of copper pence. He had to be careful,
therefore, with whom he dealt, and he expected to be cheated in making
his bargain for a boat and a supply of provisions. As it was, he was
skilfully skinned by the rascal with whom he finally ventured to open
negotiations, and Constans thought himself lucky to exchange it for a
leaky, flat-bottomed tub and fifty pounds weight of absolute
necessaries, chiefly sun-dried strips of beef and parched grain.

[Illustration: "THEY PARTED WITHOUT FURTHER SPEAKING"]

His personal belongings were not burdensome to transfer--the books, half
a dozen in all, his revolver and field-glass, and a good ash bow with
twelve dozen arrows, each bearing his private mark of a scarlet feather.
These last he had been at work upon through many a long evening in the
last two months, and he was sure that they would serve him well should
need arise. Clothing and blankets he did not trouble about, even with
the cold weather close at hand, for he could reckon certainly on finding
abundant supplies of this nature in the city itself.

On the fourth night after the finding of the bottle Constans swung
lightly out of his garret window. He cast one farewell glance at the
shuttered windows of Messer Hugolin's office. Through a chink struggled
a feeble beam of pale, yellow light, but his uncle was poring,
doubtless, over his ledgers and had heard no sound. The wolf-hound Grip
wagged his tail as Constans passed, and he patted his head, the one
single creature in his uncle's household who might regret his absence on
the morrow. Now the way was clear; he stole off into the darkness,
finding no difficulty in scaling the wall, and so was free.

The night was misty and starless and the tide on a strong ebb. The
voyage down-stream was without incident, and by midnight he had landed
within the city lines, but much farther up-town than upon the occasion
of his first adventure. His plan was to seek some uninhabited house
within convenient distance of the library building and make that his
temporary headquarters. He found what he wanted in the block immediately
to the westward of the library, and in three or four trips he had
transported thither his stock of food and other impedimenta. The boat
had leaked badly on the way down the river, and was plainly unseaworthy.
There was no place in which to hide the craft, and to allow her to
remain moored at the pier would be tantamount to announcing his arrival
to the first sharp-eyed Doomsman who might chance to pass that way. So,
pushing her out into the current with a vigorous shove from his foot,
Constans watched the little hull disappear in the darkness. Henceforth
he must depend entirely upon his own resources, inadequate as they were
for the task before him. But upon this phase of the situation he would
not allow himself to dwell. Such unprofitable meditation could breed
naught but irresolution and be unnerving to both body and mind; if he
were to play the coward now he but invited the fate he feared. Courage,
then, and forward!



XI

THE SISTERS


A young girl sat before a magnificent fireplace of cut stone gazing into
the fire of drift-wood that burned diffidently upon a hearth whose
spaciousness would have been more fittingly adorned by Vergil's "no
small part of a tree." Out-of-doors the snow was whirling down in small,
frozen flakes that the northwest gale ground into powder against the
granite walls and then sifted through every crack and crevice; not a
door-sill or window-seat but wore its decoration of a pure white wreath.
Bitterly cold it had grown with the closing in of the dusk, and the girl
drew her cloak, a superb garment of Russian sables, closer about her
shoulders and stretched out her hands to the dying blaze. Then she
clapped them impatiently. A long interval and a middle-aged man answered
the summons--a servant, as the coarse quality of his clothing
proclaimed. He shuffled across the floor, his big boots creaking
unpleasantly.

"More wood, Ugo," said the girl, without looking around; "and I do wish
you would grease your boots. It is unbearable the way you clatter
about."

"Grease my boots!" echoed the man, with ironic emphasis. "That is good
counsel, seeing there isn't enough lard in the house for the frying of
an egg; yes, and no egg to fry."

The girl half turned, as though about to speak, then checked herself.
Ugo went on impertinently:

"I could see long ago how things were going, but, Lord, what was the use
of breaking my heart over it! A dainty lip means a short purse-string,
and a sick woman's fancy is a bottomless well. Let's have plain speaking
about this; it can't hurt any one now, and your mother----"

He stopped short, disconcerted, for all his bravado, by the sudden glint
of red that lit up the girl's eyes. Her hand plucked at the black ribbon
around her throat; yet when she spoke her voice was clear and even.

"Never mind about my mother," she said, and the man kept sulky silence.

"Is it really true that there is no food in the house?" she continued.

"There was never a rope made that hadn't an end," answered the servant,
with a trifle more of his former assurance. "Not a scrap of bacon nor a
handful of flour in the larder; even the rats will tell you that. I saw
two of them leaving to-day, and I've about made up my mind to follow
them."

The girl unlocked a drawer in the teak-wood table that stood at her
elbow, and took from it a leathern thong some eight inches in length and
knotted together at the ends, a purse-string in common parlance. Upon it
were strung three of the thin brass tokens pierced in the centre by a
square hole that were in ordinary use among the Doomsmen as currency,
redeemable against the material supplies on hand in the public
storehouses.

The girl untied the thong and let the coins fall upon the table. She
pushed them over to the fellow with a gesture superbly indifferent.

"Go now," she said, curtly. The man Ugo pocketed the money with a
darkening face and turned to depart. At the door he hesitated, making as
though he would say a final word. But the girl cut him short.

"Go!" she reiterated, and he had no choice but to obey.

"I should have been in peril of having my ear nicked," he said, under
his breath, as he crossed the threshold. "It's just as well that I kept
my tongue between my teeth and concluded not to mind Quinton Edge's
business." He closed the door.

It had grown quite dark, and the fire was making its last stand for
life. Only one small piece of wood remained unconsumed, and the flame
licked at it lazily, like a beast of prey hanging over a carcass, gorged
to repletion and yet unwilling to give over employment so delicious.
Suddenly the girl rose to her feet and went to one of the long windows
that looked out upon the street. The casement shook and rattled under
the gale's rough hand. Hardly knowing what she did, she flung the window
wide open.

In an instant she seemed to have been transported into the midst of the
tumult, her face lashed by windy whips, her eyes blinded by fine
particles of frozen snow, her ears deafened by the multitudinous voices
of the storm sprites shrieking to their fellows. Something in her
nature, fierce and untamed, leaped forth to meet the tempest.
Intoxicated by the strong wine of its fury, she flung out her arms, half
fearing, half hoping that she might be swept away, whirled like some
wild sea-bird, into the heart of the madness. A strong hand pulled her
back.

"Esmay!" shrieked a voice in her ear. "Esmay!"

Loudly as the call must have been uttered, it came to her, as though
from a great distance, thin and of an infinite littleness. Yet she
allowed herself to be drawn back into the room, and made no demur to the
closing of the window.

It was a tall, finely built woman of thirty or thereabouts who stood
beside her--a woman with a dark, passionate face shaded by a mop of
raven hair as coarse as a horse's mane. "Esmay!" she said again, with an
accent of wondering reproach.

The girl stood silent, motionless for a moment; then, with a swift
intake of her breath:

"Don't be angry, Nanna, but something is going to happen. I've got to
laugh or to cry--I don't know which."

It was a laugh, low but genuine, and full of a silver trickle of sound.
The elder woman caught up the girl impetuously into a close embrace.

"My dear! my dear! is it really you? I can't believe it. After these
dreadful three months in which you have hardly said as many words. It
would be a miracle, if there were any saints in Doom to work one."

She drew away for a moment, her eyes ablaze with excitement. There was a
smooth, graceful strength in her every movement that was almost
animal-like; she suggested the idea of a big cat as she alternately
released the girl and then returned, in a half-circle, to take renewed
possession of her. "A miracle!" she repeated.

"Indeed, it almost needed that to bring me to myself," said the girl,
gravely. "But now I see things clearly; it seems almost as though the
mother herself had stood beside me and drawn the veil away. It was Ugo,
though, who really did it," she added, and laughed again softly.

"Ugo!" echoed the other, indignantly. "And, if you please, where is the
fellow? The candles have not been lighted, the fire is dying out, and
not a sign of supper visible. It is unbearable, Esmay, and he shall pack
this very night."

"But Nanna!"

"I won't listen to a word."

"You will. He has gone already."

She pushed the elder woman into a chair. "Now don't dare to move until I
am back with wood and a light. Not a word, sister mine--if you love me."
Taken by surprise, Nanna let her go, and sat waiting.

The girl returned in a few minutes with a basket containing several
lumps of sea-coal.

"This is a thousand times better than Ugo's boards and barrel-staves,"
said Esmay, triumphantly, and transferred the fuel to the hearth, where
it presently burst into a cheerful flame. "There are three or four boxes
of the stuff in the cellar, enough to last us all winter. Now for the
lamp."

On the mantel-piece stood a shallow dish containing a small quantity of
cotton-seed oil and a piece of lampwick. Esmay took down the vessel and
inspected it with a calculating eye. "It will last until bedtime," she
announced, and lit it with a spill of paper.

Nanna looked at her half-sister questioningly, but did not offer to
speak. She had never seen Esmay just like this, and the change was
especially noticeable after the silence and apathy of the past months.
Her thoughts travelled back to the human link that had united them for
so long--the woman whom each had called mother, although to Nanna it had
been only a step-relationship. How impossible it had once seemed that
there could be any new adjustment of life's machinery; how difficult the
realization that nature is accustomed to settle these matters in her own
time and way, and invariably does so! Yet here was Esmay suddenly
returned to herself, moving about, alert and eager, knitting her brows
over the one important problem of the moment, the question of supper.

"You'll have to make out with the firelight for a little while," said
Esmay, picking up the rude lamp. "But you won't mind, dear?" She
stooped, kissed her sister, and was gone again.

The elder woman felt her eyes brimming saltily. The girl, so far as
years were concerned, might almost have been her daughter, since Nanna
had been both wife and widow at seventeen. For all that, the sisterly
relation was the true one between them; they were of the same strong
breed, even if Esmay were only in half a daughter of the Doomsmen. Nanna
had never been able to forget that her father's second wife had been of
the blood of the despised House People. In spite of herself she had
learned to love the dead Elena; she adored Esmay as a part of herself. A
primitive emotion, but then Nanna was the elemental woman.

When Esmay returned she brought with her a bowl containing a small
quantity of cottage cheese, hard and yellow with age. Surmounting the
bowl was a plate upon which were some crusts of bread and a knuckle of
ham, the latter being little more than the bare bone. A table stood in
the middle of the room, a handsome piece of buhl-work. Esmay drew it
forward to the fire and proceeded to arrange her feast. Scanty enough it
seemed, but the cloth covering the table was of the finest damask, the
plates that she took from a glazed cabinet were of the precious china of
Sèvres, the knives and forks were in solid silver, and the drinking-cups
of silver-gilt had been fashioned by a great artist. A strange contrast!
beggar's fare served so royally; but hunger is not nice about trifles
one way or the other. And so it was upon the viands that Nanna's
attention was immediately concentrated. She glanced suspiciously at the
cheese, despairingly at the knuckle-bone, and then said, solemnly:

"Tell me, Esmay, what does it mean? Where is Ugo?"

"Ugo has deserted us--like the rats," answered the girl. "And the
situation--it is just this." She stopped and took a swallow of water.
"It is three months now since she--the mother--slipped away from our
arms, and of course the pension stopped with her. I gave the last
handful of tokens to Ugo to settle up his wages. So you see I'm a
beggar. It's a woman against the world, and one of us will have to
devour the other. Lucky, isn't it, that I woke up desperately hungry?
That means that I'll make a fight for it. Have the first bite."

"Esmay! You know that I have still my widow's rate."

"Yes, and I also know that it is barely enough to keep one body and soul
together; the two of us would only starve by inches. No use, Nanna, we
must take things as we find them. But isn't it strange--" She stopped
abruptly and let her glance wander over the luxurious table-service, the
gleaming surface of the silver reflecting her troubled eyes. She went on
slowly:

"All this meant something once--this array of silver and jewelled glass,
the tapestries on the walls, the fur cloak about my shoulders. Think of
it, Nanna! These things must have been the envied treasures of the rich,
the luxuries of life. And now any one may possess them who cares to
fight their battle with moth and rust."

"While a single one of Dom Gillian's brass tokens outweighs it all,"
rejoined Nanna, nodding her head wisely. "It is not hard to understand
why, for with the token any one may buy a quarterweight of flour at the
public stores or a fore-shoulder of mutton."

"And bread and meat mean life, don't they? Well, and suppose one doesn't
happen to possess a long purse-string laden with these wonderful,
miracle-working bits of token-money, what then? A woman can't put on a
quilted coat and steel cap and go out with the raiders to earn her share
of the loot. Fancy my teaching a fat House-dweller how to dance on a
red-hot plate or riding the toll roads of the West Inch in a jacket full
of arrow-holes."

"That is true," agreed Nanna, gravely.

Esmay rose and walked excitedly up and down the long room.

"It's just hopeless, Nanna, to stay on here in this city of the dead."

She stopped and faced her sister.

"So I have decided; I am going back to my mother's people. There is a
chance in their world for a woman to secure her own living; here she
can only starve or accept some man's protection."

The elder woman remonstrated feebly, but the girl swept her aside.

"Listen to me, Nanna. You know that Messer Hugolin, Councillor Primus of
Croye, is my uncle, my mother's own brother. She ever insisted that in
his charity I had a final resource. He might not offer it, but surely he
could not deny me, if I sought it. Nanna, you recall what the mother
herself said--how she always believed that the message would reach him.
My own uncle and Councillor Primus of Croye," she concluded, hopefully.

But Nanna was not to be so easily convinced. "But, Esmay, it is
impossible," she exclaimed. "You could never escape from Doom."

"But I will."

"You cannot. The High Bridge to the north is always guarded, and on the
other three sides of the city there is deep water."

"I shall manage it," returned the girl, confidently. "It is simply a
question of my going empty-handed to my uncle's house. Now gold among
the House-dwellers has a value that it does not possess with us; so Ulick
once told me. They use it as money."

"Here in Doom it is nothing," assented Nanna, "save that we women like
the pretty things that the ancients fashioned from it."

"Precisely; and as you know there is not much of it in existence, even
here in Doom, where silver is almost as common as iron."

"Well, and then?"

"Don't you see? If only golden tongues could plead my cause in Croye I
should be independent, even of my uncle Hugolin. Now there is store of
this gold somewhere in Doom. It must be so, for the war-galleys always
carry a money-chest when they sail to the northern colonies."

"A treasure," said Nanna, slowly. "Who would know of it here in Doom?
Dom Gillian himself--or perhaps----"

"Master Quinton Edge," supplied Esmay, and thereupon silence fell
between them.

The minutes passed away. Then, suddenly, Esmay stopped in her monotonous
pacing of the room and flung herself on her knees by her sister's chair.

"You goose!" she exclaimed, with tender suspicion. "I believe you have
been crying."

"Not a bit of it," returned Nanna, sitting bolt upright and staring hard
at the ceiling. "I only want you to be sure and let me know before you
go. Or couldn't you take me with you?" she added, wistfully, as though
the idea had but just occurred to her.

"Why, Nanna, as though I could have dreamed of anything else! Go without
you! Don't you see yourself how ridiculous that would be?"

"Then nothing else matters," said Nanna, comfortably, and openly wiped
her eyes. "When do you want to go--to-night?"

"Foolish one! But then you love me, and I can forgive you. Now let me be
quiet; I want to think out my--our plan."

Nanna left the room softly. Esmay sat looking into the fire, her small,
firm chin propped in her palm. So violent was the storm that she did not
hear the opening and closing of the street-door, but the flickering of
the lamp in the swirl of a current from the outer air warned her that
she had a visitor. She recognized him instantly as he came forward, his
laced hat in the hollow of his arm. There was no one in Doom besides
Master Quinton Edge who bowed with so easy a grace--a woman has a quick
eye for such trifles.

"You are Esmay, daughter of Mad Scarlett," he began, gently. "My
intrusion is unseasonable, perhaps, but none the less unavoidable."

The girl made no answer.

"I will speak to the point," he went on. "Are you ready to make choice,
to-night, between young Ulick and his oafish cousin Boris? I have a
reason for asking, believe me."

Esmay flushed with annoyance. "I will not listen to either of them," she
said. "Boris I detest, and Ulick is only a boy, and a silly one; I have
told him so a score of times."

"I thought as much, but I wanted the confirmation of your own lips, my
dear child. The knowledge emboldens me to offer you an asylum under my
own roof for the next few months--or longer. Ulick, as you say, is but a
boy, half hot, half muddle-head. He, perhaps, could be kept in
check----"

"I can manage that sufficiently well," broke in the girl, haughtily.

"No doubt, no doubt; but with Boris also in the field the situation
becomes a complicated one. Accordingly, I have concluded to offer you my
assistance in dealing with it."

"It is difficult to think of Master Quinton Edge in the light of a
disinterested adviser. Perhaps you have other motives."

"Possibly," returned the man, with calm assurance. "Why not a dozen of
them? But to disclose them--this is not the time. You have only to
accept my offer and be thankful."

"Suppose that I refuse?"

Quinton Edge glanced over his shoulder, and the three men who had been
standing motionless in the shadow of the doorway took a step forward.

"You perceive that there is no such alternative," he said, suavely.

The girl started but kept herself in hand. "My sister goes with me?"

"No," said Quinton Edge.

But Nanna's arms were already encircling her treasure. She had entered
unobserved, and she had heard enough to understand. "You!" she said, and
spat at Quinton Edge.

The man's face paled. He stepped forward as though making to push the
intruder away. In a flash she had turned upon him and her teeth closed
upon the fleshy part of his right hand. He shook her off as one does a
snake.

"A true forest-cat," said Quinton Edge, and smiled as he twisted a fine
lawn handkerchief about the wounded member. Then, with entire
good-humor: "I apologize for my incivility and truth; it were a biting
rejoinder. Madam, you, too, are welcome to my poor house. With such a
dragon in the garden, he will be a brave man indeed who thinks to filch
my apples."

Nanna, huddled up in a corner of the room whither she had been flung,
answered not a word, but watched him steadily, unwinkingly, her eyes
narrowed to two gleaming slits. Esmay went over and assisted her to her
feet.

"You will give us time to get a few things together," said the girl,
turning to Quinton Edge. "A woman cannot be moved about like a piece of
furniture."

"Ten minutes."

It were waste of breath to renew the argument, and within the quarter of
an hour the two women, closely shawled and veiled, descended the steps
to the street. It was still storming. A coach drawn by two horses was
waiting at the curb, and the Doomsman, having assisted his unwilling
guests to mount within, took his place on the box with the driver, the
three men following on horseback. The little company moved slowly down
the avenue; then, turning into a side thoroughfare, proceeded directly
eastward.



XII

THE HEDGE OF ARROWS


For the first few days following upon his arrival in the city, Constans
kept under rover, venturing forth only after nightfall. He wanted to
make sure of all his bearings before taking any long step in advance,
and the extent and strength of the enemy's defences particularly
interested him. Fortunately for his purpose the weather was growing
colder every day, autumn having given place to winter much earlier than
usual, and on these chilly nights the Doomsmen were not inclined to
wander far abroad. By keeping closely to the side streets he ran but
little risk of discovery through a chance encounter; at the same time he
must get inside the danger zone if he hoped to obtain any information of
value.

Constans found the solution of his problem by betaking himself to the
house-tops. Through the aid of a rope, furnished with cross-pieces
inserted in the strands at regular intervals and a grappling-hook at the
free end, he could pass easily from roof to roof of contiguous
buildings, and so gain points of observation that otherwise he would
never have dared to approach.

One of these aërial routes led from the side avenue on the east to a
moderate-sized building situated on the Citadel Square and directly
overlooking the fortress. Twice now he had ventured to spend the whole
of a day lying perdue in this convenient eyrie, his binoculars in
constant use, and what he saw and learned increased his thoughtfulness,
although he would not let it shake his resolution.

So far as he could judge, the Doomsmen could not be regarded as
formidable through mere weight of numbers. Their available fighting
force Constans estimated at two hundred, which would indicate a total
population of a round thousand. Now Croye alone was a city of full
fifteen hundred inhabitants, and the census of the West Inch should show
twice that number. In an open field, and man to man, the House-dwellers
were much more than a match for Dom Gillian's wolves.

On the other hand, the Doomsmen were all trained warriors, and to smoke
them out of their own nest--one would have to think twice about that.
Here was a half-ruined city, several square miles in actual area, and
surrounded by unfordable tidal rivers. Deep at its heart was the
citadel, strongly built and abundantly supplied with water and
provisions. Under these circumstances it was a simple matter for a small
force to maintain itself indefinitely; it would necessitate the
employment of an attacking army four or five times as large as the
defence to even up the chances. This, of course, on the presumption that
both sides were armed alike. Constans's thoughts reverted to the fire
artillery of the ancients; with that at his disposal he would hold the
balance of power. The possession of a single score of rifles should
enable him to demonstrate the feasibility of the attempt to his
sluggard kinsmen, the Stockaders, and to the even more reluctant
townsmen. He determined to take the first opportunity to make a careful
search of the city armories and ammunition depots; in the mean time, it
was his business to acquaint himself as thoroughly as possible with the
material situation.

The stronghold of the Doomsmen occupied the middle section of the
ancient city square. In shape it was an irregular oblong, the original
builders being apparently content to enclose sufficient space without
reference to architectural symmetry. Its perimeter might be roughly
estimated at eight hundred yards, respectable proportions, and
indicating a capacity to comfortably accommodate the whole population of
Doom should the necessity arise.

The barricade was constructed of stone, principally paving-blocks torn
up from the adjoining streets, and since the material was unlimited in
quantity the walls were of massive proportions, sixteen feet in height
and nearly six feet in thickness at the bottom course. At the several
corners stood towers elevated some ten feet above the wall veil and
properly loop-holed. Under the east and south walls and virtually built
into them were a series of huts, which served as storehouses and for
living quarters in time of siege. At present these huts--low,
uncomfortable-looking structures of stone and roofed with broad, flat
flags--were untenanted save for the two or three used by the small
garrison on duty. The western side of the enclosure was occupied almost
entirely by storehouses for grain and other provisions; here, too, were
pens for cattle on the hoof and immense cisterns for the storage of
drinking-water. Somewhat to the south of the centre of the square stood
what appeared to be the administration building, a round, tower-like
structure, three stories in height and with enormously thick walls. One
could fancy it the scene of a last stand in a lost cause.

Directly opposite, in the north wall, was the gateway. It opened on to
the Palace Road, one of the principal avenues of the ancient city, and
was in the form of a vaulted passageway defended by flanking towers and
superimposed battlements. A notable stronghold was this citadel of the
Doomsmen, wisely planned and well built, and Constans could hardly fall
into the error of under-estimating its resources. For all that, he would
not acknowledge that it was impregnable; stone walls cannot stand
forever against stout hearts.

Day by day went on and Constans kept adding steadily to his stock of
information. Most important of all, he had succeeded in definitely
locating the several positions of the enemy. It appeared that the
district actually inhabited by the Doomsmen included only the fortified
square and a few of the city blocks contiguous to it on the north. The
distance from the citadel to the library building and Dom Gillian's
house was about a mile, and it was some five miles further to the tidal
estuary which formed the northern boundary of the city proper. Of the
various structures that had formerly spanned the stream, but one, the
High Bridge, remained. Built of massive masonry, it had wonderfully
resisted the disintegrating processes of time, and stood to-day,
immovable as the granite hills of which it formed the connecting link.
Being the sole means of landward approach to Doom, it was guarded
carefully, and a detail from the general garrison was at all times on
duty there.

The final conclusion to which Constans arrived was that he had only to
avoid the immediate neighborhood of the Palace Road and the Citadel
Square to pursue his investigations with entire safety. Accordingly he
grew venturesome, and began to go out-of-doors at all hours of the day
or night. And then on the fourteenth day after his arrival in the city
his immunity came abruptly to an end.

It was early in the forenoon, and Constans was exploring a quarter of
the city that lay to the northeast of the Citadel Square. He became
interested in the curious, bridgelike structure which spanned the
street; enough of it remained standing to show him that it had been
designed for overhead traffic, a highway in the air. There were the
rails, the signal-boxes, and other mysterious adjuncts of the ancient
railways; he had read about them in his books and he recognized them at
once.

Now this particular section of the aërial railway must have been a
branch line, for it ended abruptly in front of a building of unusual
size and consequent importance. Beyond this again could be seen a
surface net-work of iron rails converging to the black mouth of a great
tunnel--a highway under the earth. Constans felt a lively impulse to
push his explorations further. This was evidently a terminal station of
the wonderful steel roads of the ancients; within the building itself he
might reasonably expect to find some of the old-time engines and wagons
with which the traffic had been carried on.

Passing through a central hall of fine proportions, Constans found
himself standing under an immense arched structure of stone and iron and
glass. The ancient car-shed, so Constans conjectured; then he paused
excitedly before a long platform, at which stood a complete train, made
up and ready to start.

Constans examined this new find with critical attention. The enormous
locomotive-engine, with its driving-wheels that stood higher than a
man's head, impressed him mightily, for all that the monster's burning
heart had grown cold and its stentor breathing had been hushed forever.
He climbed into the cab and wondered hugely at the multiplicity of
stopcocks and levers and cabalistically lettered dials. It seemed
incredible that the giant could have moved even his own weight, and yet
there was his appointed task strung out behind him, fifteen long and
heavy vehicles--it was amazing!

Behind the engine came the cars for luggage, piled high with bags and
boxes, and then the regular train equipment, a long line of coaches.
These last were of the most luxurious pattern--that was plain to see,
although the varnish had blistered on the panels and the silken curtains
at the windows hung in tatters. The last car of all had clearly been in
service as an eating apartment, and fortunately the doors of this coach
had been left closed and the windows remained intact. Constans entered
and looked about him, noting that the tables still bore their weight of
plate and china and napery. Most moving of all was the little nosegay
that stood in a tall glass at each cover. But even as he gazed,
delighted that the flowers still retained recognizable shape, they broke
and crumbled into nothingness.

It was difficult to understand why the train should have been abandoned,
it being evident that it had stood here, ready for immediate departure,
but the unquestionable fact may serve to emphasize again the suddenness
of the final catastrophe. People had simply dropped and forgotten
everything. In the extremity of terror civilized man had become a
savage, reverting to primeval instincts in preferring his legs to any
other means of escape. There was but one thing left for him--to run
away.

It was a depressing experience to be standing solitary and alone under
these vast arches that had echoed to the tramp of feet innumerable. A
sense of his loneliness pressed heavily upon Constans; then, suddenly,
he became aware of the presence of a man, who stood leaning against a
pillar a short distance away and watched him from under close-knit
brows.

The fair hair and frank, kindly face seemed dimly familiar to Constans;
and what thighs and breadth of shoulder! The stranger stood little short
of gianthood, and Constans would have run small chance against him as
man to man. Bitterly he regretted having left his bow behind; even his
double-edged hunting-knife was missing from his belt.

The man walked deliberately forward to meet him. Certainly his dress and
equipment proclaimed him a Doomsman, and by the same token he must have
recognized that Constans was an alien. Yet he smiled and held out his
hand as he came up.

"It is Constans, of course; for who else among the House People would
dare to cross the Gray Wolf's threshold. Do you not remember Ulick?"

The two young men shook hands heartily, albeit a certain constraint was
immediately to fall upon them. For Constans could not be unmindful of
his purpose, and Ulick was a true Doomsman, and hatred of the
House-dweller was the first article in his hereditary creed. The
inheritance of a naked sword lay between them. Was it not inevitable
that one or the other of them should be moved to take it up?

It was Constans who realized that only frankness could save the
situation, and as they walked along he told Ulick the full story of the
enmity between him and Quinton Edge, then of the years of his
apprenticeship to his Uncle Hugolin, and of the message in the bottle
that had served to crystallize desire into action. The purport of the
letter was still fresh in his mind, and he repeated it as nearly as he
could word for word.

"Esmay, did you say?" interrupted Ulick. "It was Esmay who helped me
trap you. Don't you remember her eyes, brown and with a flame in them
like to the carbuncles in the bracelet that I gave her? Elena was her
mother."

Constans assented, indifferently. In truth, he had entirely forgotten
about the girl.

"Ten days ago she disappeared," said Ulick, gloomily, "and not a trace
of her have I been able to discover. Yet I believe that your friend
Quinton Edge could tell me if he would."

"I don't understand."

"Nor does anybody else. For all that, I am sure that he does not want
her for himself; no woman has ever been able to boast that Master
Quinton Edge looked at her twice. Were it otherwise I think I should go
mad."

Constans shrugged his shoulders impatiently; then he looked up and saw
the pain in the big fellow's face. It touched him, although he could not
comprehend the weakness (for such it seemed to him), that had given it
birth.

"If you could see her, you would understand," continued Ulick, as though
divining his thought. Again they walked along in silence. Constans broke
it abruptly:

"And your grandsire, is he still living? I can see him yet, that
terrible old man who wanted to cut out my eyes and tongue so that you
could have a new toy."

Ulick smiled, and the current of his darker mood was diverted.

"Lucky for you that he fell asleep again before he could give the order
for the irons to be heated. And so we ran away trembling, and I brought
you to the vault underneath the sidewalk--do you remember?"

"I remember," said Constans, briefly.

"He is living still; think how old he must be! Nowadays he sleeps nearly
all the time; sometimes for a week on end he will not leave his couch in
the darkened room. Then again he will have himself apparelled and his
great sword girded upon him, and he will come down into the court-yard
and walk in the sun for hours. You should see those lazy rascals of
guardsmen scatter at the first sight of him--like mice running to their
holes when puss begins to yawn and stretch herself."

"You are still the heir?"

"Yes, unless the council sees fit to set my rights aside in favor of my
cousin Boris. To tell the truth, neither of us is fit to be chief in
Doom while Quinton Edge lives."

"Tell me."

"Why, you see, Boris is a brute whose brains, such as he has, are always
fuddled with ale. And I----" Ulick stopped and laughed a little
sheepishly.

"Well?"

"Frankly, then, I don't want to carry the weight of the wolf-skin; I
should feel like a man buried up to his neck in sand. I dreamed of that
the other night, and how a raven that had Quinton Edge's face came and
pecked at my eyes."

"Then you really don't care," commented Constans, shrewdly.

"No; except to have my fair share of the fighting and feasting--and, of
course, Esmay."

Constans laughed. "You always come back to the girl."

"How could it be otherwise, since I love her?" said Ulick, simply.

Constans grew sober again. "Strange that it should be the same man,
Quinton Edge, for whom we are both seeking. I can see, however, that my
arrow must not leave the string until first you have had speech with
him."

"But that is just what I cannot do," returned Ulick, with a frown. "It
is a week now that any one has seen him, and yet neither galley nor
troop has left the city since the new moon."

"He must show himself in time; we have only to wait."

"Waiting! it is the one thing----"

"Yet you must; the chance is certain to come. Only, if I help you in
this, then afterwards when you have learned what you want----"

Ulick nodded. "Do what you will, but until then it is Esmay who stands
first, and he lives under her shadow."

The young men had been walking in the direction of the Citadel Square,
and the time had come for Constans to decide whether or not he should
give Ulick his full confidence. Yesterday he had moved all his
belongings to a large building on the south side of the square
overlooking the fortress, and he was minded to establish himself there
permanently. It might seem foolhardy for him to take up his abode, not
under, indeed, but just above the noses of his enemies; in reality, he
was as safe in one place as in another. Here was an immense building,
containing literally hundreds of apartments; it was like being in a
rabbit-warren, a labyrinth of passages and rooms that it would take a
regiment to explore. He had only to observe reasonable prudence in
entering and leaving his lair to be assured against the ordinary risks
of discovery, and he depended, too, upon the obvious negligence of the
sentinels. It was a simple application of the principle that what is
nearest to the eye is oftenest overlooked.

For where he stood he could see the huge bulk of the sky-scraper
towering into the blue. The building had been constructed upon a narrow,
triangular plot of land, and its ground-plan bore a fanciful resemblance
to the shape of a flat-iron. Its acute angle was pointed towards them;
one compared it instinctively to the prow of some gigantic ship of stone
ploughing its way through billows of brick and mortar.

"Come," said Constans, and Ulick, understanding the confidence about to
be reposed in him, followed silently.

It was a small front-room on the third floor that Constans had fitted up
as his abode, and after Ulick had passed approving judgment upon his
friend's domestic arrangement they walked over to the window and stood
there looking down into the thoroughfare upon which the building faced.
Formerly this open space had been paved with small oblong blocks of
stone, but these had long since been incorporated with the walls of the
fortress, and in their stead was a stretch of thick, short turf. Pacing
slowly along, there came in sight the figure of a man, his head bent
down and his hands clasped behind his back. Constans recognized him
instantly, even before Ulick's eager whisper had reached his ear. It was
Quinton Edge.

Constans knew that he was doing a foolish thing, but the humor of the
moment gripped him, and he yielded to it. To make sport of this
insolent, and so wipe out, in some measure, the memory of his own
humiliation--the temptation was too great to be resisted, and the next
instant the bowstring twanged and an arrow plunged into the ground, a
scant yard in front of Quinton Edge, and stuck there quivering.
Involuntarily, the Doomsman stepped back and another arrow grazed his
heel; a half turn to the right and a third shaft sheared the curling
ostrich-plume from his hat. A fourth arrow to the left of him, and then
Quinton Edge understood. He drew himself up and stood still while a
dozen more skilfully directed bolts winged their way to complete the
barbed circle that hemmed him in. And each missile bore its individual
message to his memory--a tiny tuft of scarlet inserted in the
feathering.

Quinton Edge waited an instant or so, as though out of pure politeness,
then turned and faced the great building that towered mountainously
above his head. There were hundreds of window openings in the tremendous
façade of the "Flat-iron," and he had no means of guessing the precise
one in whose deep embrasure his enemy stood concealed; at any moment he
might expect the final shaft striking home to his heart and staining its
feathering all crimson in his life blood. Yet there was no hint of
perturbation in the affected languor of his voice; he bowed slightly and
spoke:

"What a sorry marksman! See! I will give you a final chance to hit the
gold. Make the most of it, for here in Doom no man's hair grows long
enough to hide a nicked ear."

He threw back his cloak of crimson cloth and unbuttoned the white,
ruffled shirt that he wore underneath, exposing his naked throat and
breast. And not an eyelash quivered, while he stood there for the space
in which one might count a score slowly.

"As you please, then," he continued, readjusting his garments with
punctilious care. "I must warn you, however, that standing so long in
this chilly air may mean the influenza for me. By the Shining One! if we
keep on like this the interest due on our little account is likely to
exceed in amount the original principal. That would be a pity as
happening between gentlemen, who know naturally nothing of what they
call business and have no desire to cheat each other."

[Illustration: "AN INSTANT LATER THE BOWSTRING TWANGED"]

Then he laughed heartily, unaffectedly. "What a comedy! and you and I
cast for the fools in it. Which is the bigger one neither of us should
be willing to say. And for the best of reasons, we don't know. My
compliments, brother imbecile, and so good-day."

Quinton Edge doffed his hat as though to intimate that the interview was
at an end, then stepped lightly across the hedge of arrows and proceeded
at an even pace to the eastern angle of the fortress, around which he
disappeared.

Ulick's eyes were sparkling as he turned to Constans.

"He is at least a man," he said, half proudly, half enviously.

But Constans only set his teeth the harder. "I could have gone out, met
him face to face and killed him," he said, sombrely, "only for you and
your Esmay."



XIII

GODS IN EXILE


February, and a full three months since Constans had come to Doom. And
yet he was virtually at his starting-point, so little had he been able
to accomplish along the line of his purpose. A dozen times indeed he
might have planted an arrow between the delicately shrugged shoulders of
Master Quinton Edge as he strolled, of a sunshiny morning, along the
Palace Road, surrounded by his little body-guard of flatterers and
political courtiers. But such an act would have stained his honor
without fully satisfying his vengeance; he did not want to strike until
he should know where it would hurt the most.

It had been Ulick always who had stood in the road; Ulick with his
eternal lamentations over the maid Esmay. Together they had searched for
her in every possible quarter. But where was one to look first in this
wilderness of stone? It would have been an obvious procedure to have
kept close watch upon the movements of Quinton Edge, whose complicity
was a matter of reasonable suspicion. But the first attempts at
shadowing him had resulted in nothing, and early in December the _Black
Swan_, with Quinton Edge himself in command, had left her moorings in
the Greater river, bound doubtless on some piratical expedition.

It was an added aggravation of Constans's impatience that Ulick himself
was ordered away at the end of January. He had been drafted to take part
in a raid, and since the route of the proposed foray led far to the
southward he would probably be absent for a considerable time. It would
take a fortnight's hard riding for the band to reach the distant colony
against which the attack had been planned, and fully six weeks would be
required in which to drive the cattle home. Two full months, then, and
as yet only one had passed; the returning raiders would not cross the
High Bridge much before the first day in April.

As the weeks went heavily on, Constans, in spite of his philosophy,
began to fret and chafe. He could put in a part of each day in the
library poring over his books and digging out the ancient wisdom from
the printed page by sheer force of will. But there always came a time
when only physical exertion would have any effect in dispelling the
mental disquietude that possessed him, and then he would throw aside his
books and walk the empty streets for hours.

The weather continued bad, bitter cold alternating with storms of rain
and sleet. Towards the end of January the snow came in earnest: it lay a
foot deep on the level, and the Doomsmen, after their custom, kept
closely within doors. Constans would occasionally note a few fresh
tracks along the Palace Road, and the smoke that curled steadily from
scattered chimney-pots and the bivouac fires on the Citadel Square might
be taken as evidence that the suspension of social activities was only
temporary. But for the present, at least, Constans had the city to
himself, and he wandered about as he chose without a thought of
possible danger.

An anxiously longed-for discovery was the reward of one of these lonely
excursions. In a shop that had once been devoted to the sale of
fire-arms, Constans found a quantity of ammunition of a caliber that
would fit the chambers of his revolver. The cartridges had been packed
in hermetically sealed cases, presumably for export-shipment or upon a
special order. However that might be, the precaution had prevented the
deterioration of the powder, and the ammunition was consequently, in
condition for use. Constans nerved himself to make the experiment, but
although his studies had made him well acquainted with the theory of the
explosive projectile, he had to summon all his resolution for the actual
pulling of the trigger.

The detonation that followed startled him out of his self-possession. He
dropped the pistol, and was out of the shop and half way across the
street before he could recover himself. Then, ashamed of his cowardice,
he forced himself to pick up the weapon and went forward to examine the
two-inch plank at which he had taken aim. To his astonishment and
delight he saw that a hole had been drilled clean through the solid oak
and the bullet itself was lying on the ground, flattened from its impact
with the masonry behind the planking. All this, let it be said again,
was perfectly familiar to Constans in theory, but its realization in
fact gave him a strange thrill. A score of men armed with these large
caliber pistols, or, better still, rifles, might easily enough compel
the surrender or bring about the destruction of the entire fighting
force of the Doomsmen.

Inspired by this new thought, Constans made a thorough examination of
the stock of arms in the shop. To his disappointment he found most of
the rifles in unserviceable condition, covered with rust and verdigris.
Finally, however, he came across a dozen carbines carefully wrapped and
packed for a prospective shipment across the ocean. Protected by their
heavy coverings the weapons had suffered comparatively little damage,
and Constans spent the best part of a week in cleaning them and getting
the mechanism of their working parts into tolerable order.

Later on, Constans removed the serviceable ammunition, amounting to
several hundred rounds, to a convenient hiding-place in the cellar of a
building fronting on the Lesser or Eastern river, and he also
transported thither the carbines, the latter carefully wrapped in
greased rags to preserve them from dampness. Some day the opportunity
would come to put these things to use. And now, February had passed, and
March was well into its third quarter; in a few more days the returning
sun would cross the line, and spring, the time for action, would be at
hand. How he longed for its advent.

This was the third occasion upon which Constans had noticed that
peculiar noise, a continuous, deep, humming note, such as might have
been made by swarming-bees multiplied a hundredfold. On the day that he
first heard it he happened to be walking three blocks to the westward of
the Citadel Square, and it seemed then that the seat of the mystery lay
almost due south. A week later he happened to be in the same locality.
Once more, those deep-toned vibrations smote upon his ears; now the
sound-waves were all about him and the sense of direction was lost;
again, and they plainly proceeded from somewhere to the eastward. It was
perplexing, but the varying quarter and strength of the wind might be
sufficient to account for the difference, and in one curious particular
the two observations corresponded. The day of the week in each case had
been Friday, and the humming noise had commenced at precisely the same
time--the passing of the sun over the meridian.

To-day was the third successive Friday, and Constans had made
preparations for the careful noting of the phenomenon should it reoccur.
He waited with a lively sense of expectation, and he was not
disappointed. At high noon the humming began again, and it seemed to be
louder than when he had listened to it on the two former occasions--the
air was full of the vibrant droning. There was a sinister quality, too,
in its monotone, and Constans for the moment felt himself swayed by a
gust of superstitious terror. He recalled the traditions current among
the House-dwellers, the belief that Doom was inhabited not only by the
outlaws but by demons of many a grewsome sort and kind. There were
strange tales of lights that lured the wanderer onward, only to vanish
as the victim sank into some frightful abyss; of invisible hands that
plucked at the rash intruder's skirts; of monstrous shapes that leered
and gabbled behind the traveller's back and were only blocks of stone
when he turned to face them; of bloodless creatures that one might meet
in the full flood of day, and whose unearthly character was only to be
proved by observing that they cast no shadow in even the brightest
sunlight; of vampires and ghouls and fair women with enchanting voices,
who enticed their victims into blind passageways and then changed
suddenly to foul, harpy-like monsters. But in this latter case the
foolish one had only himself to blame, for if he kept on the lookout he
could always detect the masquerade by observing the creature's hands.
The harpies could transform themselves in every other way, but their
claws remained unchanged, and they were, consequently, obliged to cover
them with gloves. "Beware the gloved hand," was a familiar aphorism
among the wise women of the West Inch, and Constans, shaken in spite of
himself by the remembrance of these old fables, felt the sweat break out
upon his forehead, for all that the wind blew shrewdly cold.

Yet as he waited and listened and still nothing happened his natural
good-sense reasserted itself. Overhead a glorious winter sun was
shining; as everybody knew, the sirens never sang until after dark, and
assuredly they were accustomed to give a much more artistic performance.
His courage re-established, curiosity asserted her rights; he must
discover the source and nature of this mystery, and so he proceeded
cautiously in the direction from whence it now appeared to come, a
course that led him south by east for perhaps ten of the city blocks.

Constans found himself a short distance below the Citadel Square and in
a quarter of the city that he had never yet explored. Suddenly he came
upon a large building of brick covering a full square in area but only
two stories in height. As he approached the humming noise grew louder
and louder; the secret, whatever it was, lay concealed behind those
common-place-looking walls. Constans held his breath and went forward
slowly.

The street, upon which the main elevation of the building faced was an
unusually wide one, and directly in front of the entrance to the
structure the snow had been cleared away from a circular space whose
diameter was about forty feet. In this enclosure were three women whose
costume, a dark gray cloak and scarlet hood, proclaimed them to be of
the Doomsmen. They were kneeling on the hard pavement, and kept
alternately bowing their foreheads to the ground and then bringing the
upper body to a vertical position, the arms extended and the palms
turned outward. The movements were done in time to the rhythmic throb of
the mysterious humming, and undoubtedly the ceremony possessed some
religious significance.

For perhaps ten minutes Constans stood motionless, watching the scene.
Then, together, the women rose to their feet and approached a rude,
block-shaped structure of stone that apparently served as an altar. Upon
it each in turn laid her gift, some article of food, and immediately
departed. In his eagerness to see what would follow, Constans stepped
boldly around the corner, and so came within the view of a man who had
just made his exit from the building.

It was too late to retreat, and Constans stood his ground, noting that
the stranger seemed equally astonished with himself at the encounter. An
elderly man, to judge by the whitening beard, but his eye was bright and
searching, and there was no hint at superannuation in either port or
movement. He was dressed in a long skirtlike garment of black
cloth--true priest garb--and for a girdle he wore a length of hempen
rope tied in the peculiar and sinister fashion known as the "hangman's
knot." Around his neck, suspended like a priest's stole, hung a steel
chain with pendent manacles or handcuffs that jangled unmusically as he
moved. A grotesque, almost ridiculous figure this priest of the
Doomsmen, but with the first look into the man's face one forgot about
the fantastic garb. A singular contradiction it presented, for the
large, square jaw was indicative of a mind keenly rationalistic, while
the high, narrow forehead assuredly proclaimed the partisan and the
bigot.

It was the elder man who broke the silence.

"The time is long since a man of the Doomsmen has appeared to pay his
vows to the Shining One. You are welcome, my son."

Constans wondered if he had heard aright. Then he remembered that he was
wearing a suit of Ulick's clothes and that his hair was cut after the
Doomsmen fashion. It was a comfortable assurance of the merit of his
disguise that it had passed muster so easily; he had only to guard
against talking too much, and detection was practically impossible. So
he contented himself with what might pass for an obeisance and some
vague words of apology. The priest, however, paid no attention to his
excuses, but continued in a tone of sarcastic bitterness:

"Strange that you should think it worth while to seek a god who is
served only by women. Yet the Shining One seems neither to know nor to
care that the sons of the Doomsmen come no longer into his presence
chamber and bring no gifts to his altar. A god forsaken by his people, a
neglected shrine, a worn-out creed--why, indeed, should any one do
reverence to such things as these? Yet you have come."

"I--my father----" stammered Constans. "There are reasons; I will
explain----"

"It matters not," interrupted the priest, impatiently. "It is enough
that you are here, and, being a man, you have the privilege of the inner
mysteries. And possibly a message may be awaiting you. Come."

He took Constans by the hand and drew him towards the vaulted
entrance-way. There was no reasonable opportunity for protest, and
before Constans was fully aware of what was happening he had been
hurried through the passage and into a large, semi-darkened building
that was filled with the rumble and clank of machinery in rapid motion.
Constans, having recovered from the first surprise and his eyes becoming
accustomed to the obscurity, looked about him with a dawning sense of
comprehension.

In the middle of the hall was installed an enormous piece of machinery,
a vast cylindrical construction revolving at great speed, and Constans
became the more certain of its real nature as he proceeded to examine it
in detail. He recalled the illustrations and diagrams that he had been
poring over only the day before at the library building, and he was sure
that this monster could be nothing else than an electric dynamo, and one
of the very largest size, delivering as high as fifteen thousand
horse-power of potential energy. But how to account for the chance that
had preserved this mightiest of the Old-World forces? What miracle had
been wrought to keep this soulless giant in life through so many years
of darkness and of silence? Constans felt his head spinning; the
consciousness of a fact so tremendous was overwhelming; to save himself
he turned away from the dynamo proper and began looking about for the
source of its mechanical energy. He found it in an odd-appearing motor,
to which the dynamo was connected by the ordinary means of a shaft and
belting.

The engine was simple enough in outward construction. All that could be
seen was an apparatus consisting of two ten-foot tuning-forks of steel
supported on insulated pedestals, and between them a disk of some
unknown composition, mounted in a vertical plane and revolving at
inconceivable velocity. The power was taken from the shaft of this
revolving disk and reduced in speed by means of gear-wheels before being
conveyed to the dynamo. The prongs of the big tuning-forks continued to
vibrate strongly, and gave out in unison the loud, humming note that had
originally attracted Constans's attention. It was undoubtedly, a form of
motor whose power was derived from some secret property of vibratory
bodies, a recondite subject to which his books alluded but obscurely.
Yet in the years immediately preceding the Great Change the principle
seems to have been reduced to practical utility. Here was the engine in
actual operation, and whatever its source of fuel supply or the ultimate
secret of its energy there could be no doubt about its production of
power. It moved, it was alive, and Constans gazed upon it with
fascinated eyes.

The priest had risen to his feet; he touched Constans lightly on the
shoulder.

"The presence chamber," he said, in a whisper. "Come, that you may look
upon the face of the Shining One; he will rejoice in knowing that there
is left even one faithful in Doom."

He opened a door leading to a room at the left of the main hall and
motioned Constans to enter. The door closed behind them and they stood
in darkness. Then came the click of a switch-key, and out of the
blackness faint lines of radiance appeared, changing slowly to a fiery
brightness. And as the lines grew visible they resolved themselves into
the semblance of a great and terrible face, the countenance of a man of
heroic size with long hair. There was no suggestion of a body, only that
majestic head crowned with hyacinthine locks and limned in lambent fire.

Constans felt his knees shaking under him, and involuntarily he
prostrated himself; then again he heard the switch click, and the vision
faded into nothingness.

There was the sound of a shutter being thrown back, and the daylight
streamed in. He rose uncertainly to his feet and looked about him.

It was a small apartment, low-studded, with cement walls and a tiled
floor. Near the door and fastened against the wall was a wooden
framework, bearing a complicated arrangement of push-buttons and levers.
Constans had seen its like pictured in his books, and he instantly
conjectured it to be an electrical switch-board, designed to control and
direct the current generated by the dynamo. On the opposite wall was
suspended a thick sheet of some insulating substance--vulcanite--and
fixed upon it was a net-work of wires in whose outlines he could
distinguish the lineaments of the fiery face. Now he understood; it was
simply a trick, the passing of a strong current of electricity through
platinum wires until they became incandescent.

The recognition of those material agencies for the production of the
apparition that had so terrified him gave Constans back his confidence;
his books had not deceived him, and he was ready now for any fresh
marvels that might be on the cards. But the attitude of the priest
puzzled him. Was he really the charlatan, the trickster that he seemed?
Was it not equally simple to regard him as the self-deluded votary? He
could not decide.

"You have looked upon the face of the Shining One," said the old man,
breaking the silence. "Now behold his throne; perchance he will accord
you the honor of sharing it with him."

In the middle of the apartment stood the only piece of furniture proper
that it contained, a massive oaken chair, with a head-piece, upon which
was fastened a metal plate. On the arms of the chair were copper clips,
the size of a man's wrist, and all the points of contact were supplied
with cups containing sponges. Again Constans understood. It was only
necessary to dampen these sponges to ensure a perfect discharge of the
electrical current passing through the head-rest and the metal
wrist-clips. Constans shuddered, and this time with reason; he knew
enough of the science to realize that the slightest contact with those
enormously charged electrodes must be fatal.

The priest went to the switch-board, and, after a series of
genuflections and the mumbling of what might have been an invocation, he
turned a lever. Constans stepped back hastily.

"Now is the Shining One come upon his throne. Take your seat at his side
if you would put his divinity to the proof. Or else be content to serve
him in silence and singleness of heart, even as I."

Constans guessed acutely that the full current from the dynamo must be
passing through the metal framework of the great chair; he moved a
little farther back and stood on guard. There was a glitter in the old
man's eye that was disquieting, and Constans did not relish the idea of
a hand-to-hand struggle in this contracted space with these
wicked-looking wires running in every direction. One of them had been
broken, and from the dangling end, which hung close to a metal
wall-bracket, a continuous stream of sparks fizzed and spluttered.

"I am content," he said, quietly.

The priest smiled grimly. "Yet it is a pity that your doubts are not of
a more stubborn growth, for it is many a year since the Shining One has
taken a man to his arms. Of a truth, the ancient faith has failed
miserably among the children of the Doomsmen, and I alone of all his
priests remain to serve our lord."

There was silence, the old man remaining apparently absorbed in his
bitter reverie. Constans had been growing more and more uncomfortable,
and this seemed to be his opportunity to escape. He edged towards the
door. Now the metal knob of the door handle was within reach; he grasped
it, and received a severe electric shock. Unable to master his startled
nerves, he gave utterance to a cry of pain. The priest turned quickly, a
frosty smile upon his lips.

"The sentinels of the Shining One are faithful to their duty," he said,
quietly. He touched a push-button, and Constans was at last able to let
go of that innocent-looking door-knob; he fell to rubbing his arm
vigorously in order to relieve the contracted muscles. What a ridiculous
figure he had made of himself, he thought, vexedly.

"My son."

There was a new note in the old man's voice, an inflection almost
kindly, and Constans wondered.

"Nothing happens of itself," continued the priest, "and it was more than
chance that led you thither. Surely, the Shining One has been mindful of
his own, for I am an old man and my days are numbered. Therefore, has he
sent you, my son, that to you I may commit the secrets of his power and
worship. Then shall I ascend in peace upon the knees of the Silent One,
knowing that his honor is safe in your hands. What say you?"

Constans realized that he was in a difficult position; nay more, that he
was absolutely at the mercy of his new acquaintance. There was no means
of exit save by the one door, and he had no desire for a second trial of
strength with the electric current. The old priest might be ignorant of
the real nature of the forces under his control, but certainly he was
well provided with practical formulas for their exploitation, as witness
the illuminated face and the electrically charged door-knob. Constans
understood that he was in a trap, where even to come into contact with
the walls of his prison-house might mean death. There was but one thing
to do, and that was to surrender.

"I will serve the Shining One," he said, quietly.

"You have chosen well, my son," returned the old man. "Now a fool would
never have understood that a net may be none the less strong for being
invisible, and our lord does not love to speak twice. You have heard
and you have obeyed; it is good."

He stepped to the switch-board, and, after going through a series of
genuflections, accompanied by an undertone of carelessly gabbled ritual,
he depressed a lever. Instantly the room was in darkness and the
spluttering wire ceased its crackling. The priest passed into the great
hall, motioning Constans to follow him. Another brief and
incomprehensible ritual and he approached the vibratory motor. Constans
watched intently as he proceeded to manipulate a series of polished rods
and levers. Suddenly the loud, humming note separated into two distinct
tones, at first in musical accord and then becoming more and more
dissonant. The revolving disk slowed down and stopped, and with it the
dynamo came finally to rest. The hour of worship had come to an end; the
Shining One had departed from his sanctuary.

At the suggestion of his ecclesiastical superior Constans brought within
doors the offerings of food that had been left by the earlier
worshippers. There were some dry cakes, baked of rye flour, a pot of
honey, cheese, milk, and two bottles of wine. These provisions he was
ordered to carry to a room on the story above the street, where a fire
of sea-coal burned cheerfully in a brazier. Here they sat down and
feasted amicably together, for the frosty air had put a keen edge to
appetite and the noon hour was long overpast. And then as they sat at
ease after the meal and the old man was well started on his second pipe,
Constans came directly to the point.

"If I am to serve the Shining One acceptably," he said, "there are many
things that I should know. May I speak, my father?"

The priest looked at him searchingly. "As you will," he replied.

All through the afternoon and deep into the night they talked earnestly
together. And so, from time to time, in the days that were to follow,
for it was a question of many things, and of some that were hard of
understanding.



XIV

ARCADIA HOUSE


Little by little, Constans succeeded in piecing together the puzzle, for
puzzle indeed it was. Here in this city of the dead he had found in
actual operation one of the great power-producing plants of the ancient
world. How to account for the miracle of its preservation during the
generations that had passed since the sun of knowledge had disappeared
beneath the sea of mental darkness. What sufficient explanation could
there be for this amazing fact?

From Prosper, the priest, Constans drew the main outlines of the story,
and his studies enabled him to fill in the details. In brief, it may be
set down as follows:

When the convicts and criminals, who were the ancestors of the Doomsmen,
took possession of the old-time city, it is reasonable to suppose that
among them were a certain proportion of technically educated
men--artisans, mechanics, engineers. A power-plant of such imposing
proportions (designed, we may conjecture, for the furnishing of motive
power to one of the great transportation systems) could hardly escape
their notice, and they would certainly know how to utilize it if they
cared to do so. And they did--for a peculiar reason.

It is a matter of record that in the twentieth century the universal
form of capital punishment was execution by electricity. In every
state-prison stood the "death-chair," the visible embodiment of the
moral force which the wrong-doer had defied, and which, in the ensuing
struggle, had proved too strong for him. No wonder that it was both
feared and hated by the citizens of the underworld of crime.

Now that the social fabric lay in ruins, now that the very foundations
of law and order had been razed, what could be more natural than the
impulse to turn this instrument of legal punishment into one of
unlicensed vengeance? Society had dealt, mercilessly, with the breaker
of laws, and now it was to suffer in its turn. So it came to pass that
whenever a House-dweller (as representative of the old law-creating and
law-abiding classes) fell alive into the hands of the Doomsmen, it was
invariably ordained that he must take his seat in the chair of death and
in his own body make satisfaction for the ancient debt.

But the years rolled on, and with the new generations came a slow but
sweeping change in sentiment. The Doomsmen were now the dominant race,
and the Housemen had become their vassals. It was not good policy for a
master to wantonly destroy productive property, and so by degrees these
barbarous reprisals slackened. The time was now ripe for the second
stage of the evolution--the introduction of the religious element and
the final conversion of the execution into the sacrifice. That the
transformation was a natural one may be easily shown.

Even among the ancient scientists the nature of electricity was but
imperfectly understood, and as the night of ignorance settled down upon
the world it was inevitable that the various phenomena of electrical
energy should come to be regarded with ever-increasing awe. To the
commonalty among the Doomsmen this invisible, inaudible, intangible
force which slew at a breath, became invested with supernatural
attributes; it was the spirit of a god that came and sat in the chair of
death, now transformed into the high altar of his chosen sacrifice.

But outside of the vulgar crowd were the initiated, the _illuminati_,
the technically trained adepts who managed the whole business. How about
them? In the beginning, doubtless, they would be tempted to foster the
new cult, recognizing in it a weakness upon which they could profitably
play. And this they did, only to be trapped, in turn, in the net of
superstition which they had helped to weave. It was now three
generations back to the electricians and mechanical experts to whom the
care of the great engines had originally been intrusted. Their sons and
grandsons continued to preserve the practical knowledge which was
required for the management of the machinery under their charge, but as
time went on they cared less and less about the principles of the
mysterious forces that they controlled. Now, let the tide of religious
fervor sweep onward to its flood, and inevitably the apprentice would be
replaced by the acolyte; the neophytes of the fourth generation would be
taught only so much about the engines as was absolutely necessary for
their maintenance in running order. At last, the Shining One had come to
his own, and all bowed before his throne.

Following upon this culmination came decadence; it is the universal
law. Through imperceptible degrees men fell away from the faith of their
fathers, and the worship of the god had become unfashionable. The
devotees were reduced to a handful of women; of the once all-powerful
priesthood, Prosper alone remained, and he was an old and feeble man.

One man but he had stood unfalteringly at his post; every Friday for
more than thirty years he had caused the spirit of the god to descend
into his sanctuary, and had called upon all true-hearted believers to
draw near and worship. That they would not heed was no concern of his;
his duty was accomplished, and beyond this no man may go.

"And surely the Shining One is jealous of his own honor," said Constans,
guardedly. "Will he not bring to naught these foolish contemners of his
majesty? Without doubt, else he were no god."

It was the afternoon of the following day, and the two men had been busy
with the care of the machinery in the great hall, polishing up the
bright parts and examining with infinite patience the innumerable
bearings, their oil-cups and dust-caps. The conversation had naturally
been colored by the pious character of their task, and Prosper had
spoken more unreservedly than was his wont, emboldening Constans to ask
the question recorded above. "Else he were no god," he repeated,
insistently. The old man turned on him.

"And who shall tell us whether he be a god or no?" he demanded, with
startling vehemence. "What manner of divinity can he be who allows these
feeble hands to call him into existence and again to reduce him to
nothingness? A god! This senseless block of iron that lives only at my
will and pleasure. Behold, boy! shall the Shining One suffer indignity
such as this and not worthily avenge himself?" and as he spoke, he
caught up a handful of refuse from the floor and deliberately threw it
at the great dynamo before which they were standing.

"A god!" he reiterated, with contemptuous bitterness, and spat upon the
mass of polished metal.

There was a moment of suspense so real that Constans, despite his
vantage ground of superior knowledge, trembled with an inexplicable
terror. Surely, the outraged divinity had started into life; it was
preparing to strike down the blasphemer.

"Perchance he is on a journey, or he sleeps," said the old priest,
coldly. "He is a wise man who knows in whom he believes, and the Shining
One shall, doubtless, be justified of his children." Then, with a
gesture of indescribable dignity, he drew a corner of his flowing outer
cape across his face and passed out into the gathering shadows of the
winter day.

The task was still unfinished, but not for worlds would Constans have
remained alone in that echoing, wind-swept cavern, surrounded by these
monstrous shapes of metal. Lever and piston, wheel and shaft, the
familiar outlines had disappeared, and in their stead a vast,
indefinable bulk loomed through the dusk. It hung in the background like
a wild beast, eternally watchful and waiting, waiting. Of a sudden,
Constans felt horribly afraid. Stumbling and panting he ran up-stairs
and gained the shelter of his own little room. A fire was smouldering on
the hearth; he blew the log into a flame and lighted every candle upon
which he could lay his hand. Then as mind and body relaxed under the
cheering influence of light and warmth he drew a chair to the fire and
sat down to seriously consider his future course of action. The
situation had forced itself upon him. How was he to grapple with it?

In the first place, here was this tremendous power whose secret he alone
possessed; the day and hour might even now be at hand when he should be
able to wrest this superior knowledge to advantage.

Secondly, there was the question of personal safety, and assuredly it
would be to his interest to be numbered among the accredited servants of
the Shining One. The people might have grown indifferent to the worship
of their ancient gods, but superstition still counselled an outward
measure of respect towards those who wore the priestly garb. Finally,
there was the pressing necessity of putting food into his mouth, a
commonplace but still cogent consideration. Constans had been living on
short rations now for a week past, his provisions were just about
exhausted, and the prospects for the future had caused him no little
anxiety. In the service of the Shining One he would at least be fed. So
he resolved to accept the issue that had been forced upon him: he had
passed his word, and he would keep it until destiny itself absolved him.

Several days later Constans adventured forth, making directly for the
Citadel Square and from thence into the Palace Road. His official garb,
a long black soutane and hood, was a tolerable disguise in itself, while
the emblem of the forked lightning, worked in gold thread upon his left
sleeve, vouched for his sacerdotal character as a member of the
inferior priesthood. The Doomsmen whom he encountered looked at him
with indifference, a very few saluted him with a perfunctory respect. It
was plain that his appearance awakened neither interest nor distrust,
and during the course of his walk he was enabled to add materially to
his stock of knowledge about the city and its defences.

Half way down the Palace Road he overtook a man, a squat,
broad-shouldered fellow, who limped as he walked. Constans would have
brushed by, but the man plucked at his sleeve, and he was forced to stop
and accommodate his pace to that of his interlocutor. A disagreeable
appearing personage, with a crafty face, yet he spoke civilly enough.

"A fair day, master. Eh! but a black cassock's a rare bird nowadays upon
the Palace Road."

"Is it not wide enough for us both?" returned Constans, as easily as he
could.

"Oh, of a most noble broadness; I've no complaint to make on that score.
It's the length of the way that is troubling me just now--this cursed
leg of mine! Might I be so bold to ask the loan of your arm so far as
the fortress? An old sailorman with a sprung spar navigates but badly on
these icy stones."

Constans could do nothing but comply, albeit somewhat ungraciously. His
new acquaintance did not seem to notice his coldness. He went on
volubly:

"A fair day, as I have said, but I should prefer a leaden sky and the
fighting-deck of the _Black Swan_, with the oars ripping through the
yeast of a north-wester."

"The _Black Swan_!" ejaculated Constans, forgetting himself for the
moment.

"Ay, master, and I may well curse my luck in missing the chance,"
continued the fellow grumblingly. "There is always fat picking to be had
under that same bird's beak, but this bad knee of mine has kept me out
of it for twice a twelvemonth. Perhaps it might be worth my while," he
added, hesitatingly, "to humble myself before the Shining One. Who knows
but that he might help me, seeing that all the physicians have failed.
How about a quarter of hung venison, my lord, and a gallon or so of the
best apple-wine--just by way of a peace-offering?"

"The Shining One makes no bargains," answered Constans, sternly, in
virtue of his assumed office. "Submit yourself to his will, and then
perchance our lord may deign to hear. He grants his favors to his
obedient children; he sells them to none."

"But, my father----"

"Our ways part here," said Constans, decidedly, for they had now reached
the north gate of the citadel and he was beginning to feel more and more
uncomfortable under those sharp eyes. "Farewell, my son, and remember
that penitence precedes healing, whether of soul or of body."

Constans passed on, and the man stood looking after him with a certain
malevolent curiosity.

"Now so surely as I am Kurt, the Knacker, there is more in this
priestling than meets the eye," he muttered. "Is a blithe young chap,
with such a pair of shoulders, to willingly prefer a black robe to a
velvet jacket, a priest's empire over a score of silly women to a seat
in a trooper's saddle, and the whole green world from which to pick and
choose his pleasures? Bah! it isn't reasonable, and if this knee of mine
will permit me to hobble into the presence of the Shining One some fine
morning I will have another guess at the riddle.

"To-morrow, now, is Friday," he continued, thoughtfully, "and my little
doves have been teasing me to give them an outing. There is the
certainty of a smile or even a kiss from the black-browed Nanna to
recompense my good-nature, and a possible secret hanging in the wind.
Finally, the off chance that the Shining One is not so hopelessly out of
fashion as we have been led to think. In this backsliding age he should
appreciate the honor of my attendance in person, to say nothing of the
venison and the wine." Kurt, the Knacker, laughed silently under his
curtain of black beard, and then stumped over to a bench in the gateway,
sheltered from the wind and open to the sun. There he sat him down and
proceeded to enjoy the pleasures of social converse with the warders on
guard, an occupation pleasingly diversified by an occasional black-jack
of ale and innumerable pipefuls of Kinnectikut shag. A highly respected
man among his fellow-citizens was Kurt, the Knacker.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was the hour of the weekly sacrifice, and Prosper, the priest, stood
before the altar of the Shining One, performing the uncouth and ofttimes
wholly meaningless ritual of his office. Constans, in his capacity of
acolyte, stood on the right of the altar. He felt out of place and
somewhat ridiculous; he was conscious that he performed his
genuflections and posturing awkwardly, and there were all these women
watching him. Especially the two in the front row, accompanied by the
limping scoundrel to whom he had yesterday lent his arm on the Palace
Road. The one who seemed the elder of the two scanned him with bold,
black eyes, unaffectedly amused by his clumsiness; the other, whose face
was hidden by a veil, looked at him but once or twice, yet Constans felt
sure that she, too, was laughing at him. His position was becoming an
intolerable one. Would the farce never come to an end?

Now the service was over, and one by one the worshippers withdrew. Last
of all the two women, escorted by the man who called himself Kurt, the
Knacker. They passed within arm's-length of Constans, but he made as
though to turn his head away; youth is proverbially sensitive to
ridicule. He noticed, however, that the pilgrimage had not been of
marked benefit to the lame man, for he limped as badly as ever. Then
their eyes met, and Constans felt somewhat uncomfortable at being
favored with a particularly sour smile of recognition. Still he need not
concern himself. It was evident that these people were not true
worshippers; it was mere curiosity that had brought them before the
gates of the Shining One, and now that they had seen the show they were
doubtless satisfied. Let them depart whence they came; it was but a
passing incident.

The snow that covered the ground a week before had nearly disappeared
under the influence of a three-days' warm rain. This morning had given
promise of even more springlike weather, but as the day wore on it had
grown cloudy and the air had turned chill. It had begun to snow again
shortly before the hour of service, and so fast had the flakes come down
that the fall was already over an inch in depth. Constans, turning the
corner into the side-street to get a more extended view of the eastern
sky, suddenly halted to contemplate a curious appearing mark in the pure
white expanse--the imprint of a woman's foot.

It was an exquisitely moulded thing; even the slender arch of the instep
had been preserved in unbroken line and curve, and yet Constans wondered
vaguely why it should seem so beautiful to him. He put out his own foot
and compared the two, laughed, half understood, and was silent.

He went on a little farther, following the successive footprints as they
led down the street. Once his heavy boot half obliterated one of the
delicately marked prints; he backed quickly away, as though his
clumsiness had been an actual offence. Then he knit his brows over the
absurdity of the affair and stopped to consider.

Sophistry suggested that it might be the missing girl, Esmay, and
certainly she who had walked here was the veiled woman of the temple
worshippers; there were the footprints, broader and heavier in
appearance, of her companion, and the halting progress of the
black-chapped ruffian, who had accompanied them, was also plainly
visible. Constans followed the trail at a smart pace, for it was snowing
harder than ever, and it would not take long to obliterate the marks.
But three blocks farther on the three sets of footprints suddenly turned
at right angles to the sidewalk and disappeared.

A mystery whose solution should have been apparent at once from the
wheel-tracks parallel with the curb, but for a minute or two Constans
did not realize their true nature. The ordinary vehicle in use among
the House People was a springless cart, whose wheels were simply
sections of an elm-tree butt, and these primitive constructions creaked
horribly upon their axles, unless liberally greased, and left a track
six inches or more in width. It is not surprising, then, that Constans
was momentarily puzzled by the narrow, delicately lined marks that
betokened the passage of a real carriage. For while Doom contained many
examples of the ancient coach-builder's skill, they were not in general
use. The old Dom Gillian occasionally employed a carriage in taking the
air--at least, so Ulick had told him, but Constans had never seen it.
For all that the check was but a momentary one; his wits had been
sharpened by use, and now they helped him to the truth. He ran on at top
speed.

A course of a mile or more and he was entering a poorer part of the city
a little north of east and close to the shore of the Lesser river. It
was a region of tenement dwellings, a huddle of nondescript buildings,
flanked by huge factories and sprawling coal and lumber yards--an
unpromising region, surely, in which to look for Master Quinton Edge's
particular retreat. And yet it would have marked the subtlety of the man
to have set his secret here, where it would have been at once so easily
seen and overlooked. Every labyrinth has its clew, but the fugitive
walks safely in a crowd.

The wheel-tracks turned sharply to the right, going straight down a side
street to the river-front. On the left were the ruins of one of the
ancient plants for the manufacture of illuminating gas. The yard was
but a wilderness of rusty iron tanks and fallen bricks; surely there
was nothing here to interest.

On the right, however, there was an enclosed area that comprised the
greater part of the block. It was separated from the highway by a brick
wall ten feet in height, and the general level of the ground was
considerably higher than that of the street. Constans could see trees
growing and the ruins of a pergola and trellises for fruit; it actually
looked like a garden, and through the naked branches of the trees there
gleamed the white stuccoed walls of a dwelling-house, with a flat roof,
surmounted by a cupola. The estate, for it possessed certain pretensions
to that title, looked as though it had been transported from some more
favored region and set down all in a piece among these hideous iron
tanks and dingy, cliff-like factories.

Constans quickened his pace; his imagination was on fire. Yes, there was
a gateway, and surely the carriage had passed through but a few minutes
before. Constans halted at the barrier and studied it attentively. It
was snowing hard now, and he ran but small risk of being observed from
the house.

The doors of the driveway were of heavy planking studded with
innumerable bands and rivets, and they were suspended between massive
brick piers. A structure of light open iron-work spanned the gateway and
supported a central lantern, with a coat of arms immediately below it.
The device upon the shield was three roundels in chief and the crest, an
arm holding a hammer.

In the left wing of the gate proper a small door had been cut for
pedestrian use. It had been painted a dark green, the knocker and
door-plate being of brass. Constans by dint of rubbing away some of the
verdigris succeeded in making out the inscription. It read:

      ARCADIA HOUSE
    RICHARD VAN DUYNE
         1803

Actuated by a daring impulse he lifted the knocker and let it fall. The
rat-tat sounded hollowly, but there was no response. Constans looked
longingly at the wall, but without some special appliance, such as a
notched pole or grappling-hooks, it was unscalable. There were no signs
of life to be seen in or about the house. Not a light in any of the
windows or curl of smoke from a chimney-pot. The wheel-tracks leading
through the gateway had already become obliterated by the rapidly
falling snow; the silence was profound. The whole adventure seemed to be
vanishing into thin air; the wheel-tracks having led him into this land
of folly had disappeared after the accustomed fashion of those mocking
spirits whose delight is in leading the unwary traveller astray.
Involuntarily, Constans glanced over his shoulder; he almost expected to
see some shadowy bulk stealing up behind him preparing to make its
spring.

Yet as he retraced his steps to the temple of the Shining One he
resolved that he would pay another visit to Arcadia House. "To-morrow,"
thought Constans, "I may find some one to answer the door."



XV

A MAN AND A MAID


In spite of that brave "to-morrow," it was several days before Constans
found opportunity to revisit Arcadia House. A misstep upon an icy
flag-stone had resulted in a sprained ankle, and for that there was no
remedy but patience.

Yet the time was not wasted. Here was a fascinating problem to be
solved, and, yielding to importunity, Prosper was finally induced to
talk freely of the sacred mysteries of the Shining One. He was even
persuaded to put the machinery in operation, outside the canonical
hours, in order that Constans might test the theories derived from his
books. One experiment interested them greatly.

Constans took a "live" wire and allowed its free end to hang in close
proximity to a leaden water-pipe. Then he placed a piece of oily rag
near by and saw it answer his expectation by bursting into flame. He
looked triumphantly around at Prosper, to whom he had previously
explained the nature of the experiment.

"Would the fire descend wherever the wire led?" demanded the priest.

"Yes," answered Constans, confidently. "Under the same conditions, of
course--a broken circuit and inflammable material close at hand."

The old man frowned. "It is wonderful," he said, grudgingly, "but it
proves nothing. Is your viewless, formless electricity anything more or
anything less than my god? What am I to believe? Is it the spirit of the
lightning-cloud that thrills in this little wire, or have you learned
how to bottle fire and thunder, even as a House-dweller who fills his
goat-skins with apple-wine? Is the Shining One at once so great and so
small that we can be both his servants and his lords?"

Constans would not be drawn into an argument, being as little versed in
theological subtleties as was the old priest in scientific terminology.
But he noticed that Prosper was studying the subject after his own
fashion. Nearly every night now he would start up the machinery and
spend hours in watching the revolutions of the giant dynamo. It was not
unusual for Constans to fall to sleep, lulled by the monotonous humming
of the vibratory motor and awake to find the machinery still in motion.

It was within this week that the _Black Swan_ returned to port. On the
fourth day after the accident to his ankle Constans managed to hobble to
one of his posts of observation, and he discovered immediately that the
galley was lying at her accustomed pier. It was vexatious! to have
Quinton Edge return at this precise time. Annoying! that this fair field
should be closed before he had had a chance to explore it. Well, it was
fortune, and he must accept it; he was all the more eager now to make a
second call at Arcadia House.

It was a dull, thawy afternoon when Constans found himself standing
again before the closed door that bore the name of the inhospitable Mr.
Richard van Duyne. He had brought with him a rope ladder, provided with
grappling-hooks, and the mere scaling of the barrier should not present
any great difficulty. It would be well, however, to reconnoitre a little
further before he attempted it.

Following the wall down to the river, he saw that it was continued to
the very edge of the water, where it joined a solidly constructed
sea-wall. There were the remains of a wooden pier running out from the
end of the street proper, and Constans adventured upon its worm-eaten
timbers, intent on obtaining a more extended view of this singular
domain of Arcadia House.

A large and somewhat imposing structure it was, albeit of a curiously
composite order of architecture.

Originally, it must have been a villa of the true Dutch type built of
stuccoed brick, with many-gabled roof and small-paned, deeply embrasured
windows. A subsequent proprietor had enlarged its ground-plan, added an
upper story, and changed the roof to one of flat pitch crowned by a
hideous cupola. Still a third meddler had tried to make it over into a
colonial homestead by painting the stucco white and joining on an
enormous columned porch. The final result could hardly have been
otherwise than an artistic monstrosity, yet the old house had acquired
that certain unanalyzable dignity which time confers, and the gentle
fingers of the years had softened down insistent angles and smoothed out
unlovely curves. It was a house with a soul, for men had lived and died,
rejoiced and suffered within its walls.

A house--and such a house!--set in its own garden amid the incongruous
surroundings of tenement buildings and malodorous gas-works. How to
account for it, what theory could be invented to reconcile facts so
discordant? In reality, the explanation was simple enough; as between
the house and its environment, the former had all the rights of prior
possession. In the early days of the settlement of the city the banks of
the Lesser river had been a favorite place of residence for well-to-do
burghers and merchants. But foot by foot the muddy tide of trade and
utilitarianism had risen about these green water-side Edens; one by one
their quiet-loving owners had been forced farther afield.

Yet now and then the standard of rebellion had been raised; here and
there might be found a Dutchman as stiff-necked as the fate that he
defied. His father and his father's father had lived here upon the
Lesser river, and nothing short of a cataclysm of nature should avail to
budge him. The commissioners might cut up his cabbage-patch into
building sites and reduce his garden to the limits of a city block, but
they could not touch his beloved Arcadia House, with its white-porticoed
piazza that gave upon the swirl and toss of the river--a delectable spot
on a hot June morning. Let them lower their accursed streets to their
thrice-accursed grade; it would but leave him high and dry in his
green-embowered island, secure of contamination to his fruit trees from
unspeakable gas and sewer pipes. A ten-foot brick wall, with its top set
with broken bottles, would defend his quinces and apricots from the
incursion of the street Arabs, and wind and sky were as free as ever.
Yes, he would hold his own against these vandals of commercialism,
while one brick of Arcadia House remained upon another. So, let us
fancy, quoth Mynheer van Duyne away back in _anno Domini_ 1803, and when
he died in 1850 or thereabouts, the estate, having but a moderate value
as city property goes, was allowed to remain in _statu quo_; the heirs
had ground-rents enough and to spare without it, and Arcadia House might
be considered a proper memorial of the ancient state and dignity of the
Van Duynes. But this is getting to be pure conjecture; let us return to
Constans and the facts as he saw them.

The main house stood close to the river, there being but a strip of lawn
between the piazza and the top of the sea-wall. On the left, as Constans
faced, an enclosed vestibule led to a secondary structure, which
probably contained the domestic offices and servants' quarters. Still
farther on, and under the same continuous albeit slightly lower
roof-line, were the stables and cattle barns, the wood and other
storehouses forming the extreme left wing. In its day, Arcadia House had
been an eminently respectable and comfortable dwelling, and even now it
presented a tolerably good appearance; certainly it might be called
habitable. Constans, straining his eyes, for the afternoon was
advancing, thought he saw smoke ascending from one of the chimneys, and
this incited him to an actual invasion of the premises.

He chose the southwestern corner of the block as being farthest removed
from the range of the house windows. A lucky throw made the grapples
fast, and it took but an instant to run up the rungs. There was no one
in sight, so Constans, shifting the ladder to the inner side, made the
descent quite at his ease, and found himself in a little plantation of
spruce-trees.

The evergreens grew so thickly together that he had some difficulty in
forcing his way through them. Breaking free at last, he stepped out into
the open, and stood vis-à-vis with a girl who had been advancing, as it
were, to meet him. Constans knew instantly that this could be none other
than Mad Scarlett's daughter, and there, indeed, were the proofs--the
red-gold hair and the tawny eyes, just as Elena had described them in
her message and Ulick in his endless lover's rhapsodies.

She stood mute and wide-eyed before him, the color in her cheeks coming
and going like a flickering candle. Constans naturally concluded that
his appearance had frightened her. He retreated a step or two; he tried
to think of something to say that would reassure her. Perhaps he might
use Ulick's name by way of introduction. He ended by blurting out:

"Don't be afraid; I will go whenever you say."

Her lips formed rather than uttered the warning, "Sh!" She listened
intently for a moment or two, but there was only the distant dripping of
water to be heard, the air being extraordinarily still and windless.

"Come!" she panted, and, clutching at her skirts, led the way to a
thatched pavilion some eighty yards distant, a storehouse, perhaps, or a
building once used as a farm office. Constans tried to question, to
protest, but for the moment his will was as flax in the flame of her
resolution; he yielded and ran obediently at her side.

Arrived at the little house, the girl pushed him bodily through the
doorway and entered herself, turning quickly to slip into place the
oaken bar that secured the door from the inside. Constans swelled with
indignation at this singular treatment. He was a man grown, not a truant
child to be led away by the ear for punishment. Yet she would not abate
one jot of her first advantage, and his anger melted under the quiet
serenity of her gaze; in spite of himself he let her have the first
word.

"Did you think I was afraid for myself?" she asked, with a slow smile
that made Constans's cheeks burn. "You see, I remembered that Fangs and
Blazer are generally out by this time, a full hour before dark."

"Fangs and Blazer?"

"The dogs, I mean. They will track a man even over this half-melted
snow, and old Kurt has trained them to short work with trespassers. You
did not know that?"

"No," answered Constans, simply. "But then it would not have made any
difference."

"You mean that you are not afraid?"

He had to be honest. "I'm not sure about that, but still I should have
come."

The girl's eyes swept him approvingly.

"Of course," she said, well pleased, for a woman delights in placing her
own valuation upon the courage of which a man speaks diffidently.

"I am Esmay," she announced, and paused a little doubtfully.

"I know," assented Constans.

"Then you do remember? Even the bracelet with the carbuncles, and how
you would not make up because I was a girl and knew no better?"

"It was a very foolish affair from beginning to end," said Constans,
loftily, intent upon disguising his embarrassment.

[Illustration: SHE STOOD MUTE AND WIDE-EYED BEFORE HIM]

"Of course I knew you at once," she went on, meditatively. "You were so
awkward in your ridiculous priest robes that morning in the temple of
the Shining One. How Nanna and I did laugh!"

Constans winced a trifle at this, but he could not think of anything to
say. She laughed again at the remembrance--provokingly. Then she turned
on him suddenly. "Why have you come to Arcadia House?" she asked.

Constans hesitated, tried to avoid the real issue, and of course put
himself in the wrong.

"It was on Ulick's account. I had promised him----"

"Oh!" The look was doubly eloquent of the disappointment inherent in the
exclamation, and Constans thrilled under it. What delicious flattery in
this unexpected frankness! He made a step forward, but Esmay in her turn
drew back, her eyes hardened, and he stopped, abashed.

It had been a sudden remembrance of her childish threat--"a woman ...
and some day you will know what that means"--that had tempted her to the
rashness which she had so quickly regretted. For she had forgotten that
a proposition is generally provided with a corollary. If she had become
a woman he no less had grown to manhood, and that one forward step had
forced her to recognize the fact. She was silent, feeling a little
afraid and wondering at herself. Constans, in more evident discomfiture,
blundered on, obsessed by a vague sense of loyalty to his friend.

"Ulick is away--on the expedition to the southland. He was anxious that
you should be found, and I promised to do my best. He will be glad to
know."

"When is he coming back?" demanded Esmay, with an entire absence of
enthusiasm.

"This month, certainly; indeed, it may be any day now."

"You must promise me that you will not tell him where I am or even that
you have seen me."

"But--but----"

"Remember now that you have promised."

Constans felt himself called upon to speak with some severity to this
unreasonable young person.

"You are giving a great deal of trouble to your friends," he said,
reprovingly.

"My friends!" she echoed, mockingly.

"There was your mother and her message to your uncle Hugolin in Croye."

"Yes, I know," she broke in. "Then it was received--the message----?"
She stopped, unable to go on; an indefinable emotion possessed her.

"My uncle has sent you to fetch me," she whispered. "You are his
messenger."

Constans had to answer her honestly, and was sorry.

"No," he said, bluntly. "Messer Hugolin could not see his way to
anything."

Her pride came to her aid. "Oh, it does not matter," she said, and so
indifferently that Constans was deceived.

"But you cannot stay here," he insisted--"here among the Doomsmen."

"They are my father's people, and you have just told me that my uncle
Hugolin does not want me."

"And what does Quinton Edge desire of you?" he asked.

"I do not know," she answered, returning his gaze fearlessly, whereof
Constans was glad, although he could not have told her why.

"Yet you are a prisoner?"

"It seems so, and my sister Nanna as well. But we have nothing of which
to complain, and doubtless our master will acquaint us with his pleasure
in good time."

"It is always that way," said Constans, bitterly. "His will against mine
at every turn; a rock upon which I beat with naked hands."

"He is a strong man," answered Esmay, thoughtfully, "but I think I know
where his power lies. It is simply that neither his friends nor his
enemies are aware of how they stand with him."

But Constans did not even notice that she was speaking; the remembrance
of his unfulfilled purpose seized and racked him. He had hated this man,
Quinton Edge, from that first moment in which their eyes had
clashed--ever and always. At first instinctively; then with reason
enough and to spare; and yet this small world still held them both. How
long were his hands to be tied? Once and again his enemy had stood
before him and had gone his way insolently triumphant. He might be now
in the house yonder, and Constans looked at it eagerly. A master
passion, primitive and crude, possessed him.

The girl divined the hostile nature of the power which held him, and
instinctively she put forth her own strength against it.

"Listen!" she said, and plucked him by the sleeve. Constans looked at
her.

"I am going to trust you," she went on, quickly. "The time may come when
I can no longer remain in safety at Arcadia House. When it does I will
let you know by displaying a white signal in the western window of the
cupola. Then you will come?"

"I will come," he answered, albeit a little slowly and heavily as one
who seeks to find himself.

Esmay opened the door and looked out. It was almost dark, and after
listening a moment she seemed satisfied.

"You have a ladder? Very well, you need not be afraid of the dogs, for
when you see the signal I will arrange that they are kept in leash. And
now you had better go; they are surely unchained by this time, and any
moment may bring them ranging about. Good-bye, and remember your
promise."

They walked along together until they came to the plantation of
spruce-trees. Constans could see that his ladder was still in place on
the wall; his path of retreat was open. He put out his hand, and her
slim, cool palm rested for a moment in his. She nodded, smiled, and left
him, going directly towards the house.

Moved by an inexplicable impulse, Constans followed for a short
distance, keeping under the shelter of the trees. Then suddenly to him,
straining his eyes through the dusk, there appeared a second figure,
that of a woman, clothed wholly in white, hovering close upon the
retreating steps of the girl.

Constans felt his knees loosen under him, the ancient superstitions
being still strong in his blood for all of his studies and new-found
philosophy.

"It is her sister Nanna," he muttered to himself, and knew that he lied
in saying it. The old wives' tales, at which he had shuddered in
boyhood, came crowding back upon him--grisly legends of vampire shapes
and of the phantoms, invariably feminine in form, who were said to
inhabit ruined places. A panic terror seized him as he watched the
apparition gliding so swiftly and noiselessly upon the unconscious girl.
Yet he continued to run forward, stumbling and slipping on the
treacherous foothold of melting snow.

Esmay had reached a side door of the main building; quite naturally she
entered and closed the door behind her, while the white-robed figure,
after hesitating a moment, walked to a far corner of the house and
disappeared. Out of the indefinite distance came the deep-throated bay
of a hound. Constans turned and fled for his life.

Safely astride the wall coping he looked back. All was quiet in the
garden, and at that instant a light shone out at an upper window of the
house.

"She is safe," he told himself, and that was enough to know.

As he walked slowly westward, the thought of Ulick came again to him.
Had he really promised the girl that he would tell Ulick nothing?
Ridiculous as it may appear, he could not remember.



XVI

AS IN A LOOKING-GLASS


Arcadia House, while it certainly stood in need of the repairer's hand,
was by no means uninhabitable, a fact which spoke well for the honesty
of its old-time builders. Its oak beams, fastened together with
tree-nails instead of iron spikes, were still sound, and its brick
walls, unusually massive in construction, were without a crack. Most
important of all, the roof, shingled with the best cypress, remained
water-tight, and so protected the interior from the ruinous effects of
moisture. In outward appearance, however, Arcadia House had sadly
degenerated. The stucco that originally covered the outer walls had
fallen away here and there, leaving unsightly patches to vex the eye,
and in many of the windows the glazing had been destroyed either wholly
or in part.

Some years before Quinton Edge had taken possession of this abandoned
Eden. The summers in the city were usually warm, and the Doomsmen were
in the habit of seeking the upper stories of the tall buildings for
relief, just as in the twentieth century people went to the mountains
for the heated term. Quinton Edge, having accidentally discovered
Arcadia House recognized its advantages as a summer residence, and he
had his own reasons for desiring the privacy that its secluded
situation afforded. He was satisfied with putting three or four of the
rooms into livable condition, and as for the rest it was only necessary
to repair the wall surrounding the grounds and stock the storehouses
with fuel and provisions to make of Arcadia House the proverbial castle.
That it _was_ his castle was his own affair, and he had taken care that
only the fewest possible number should be in the secret. Old Kurt and a
couple of negro slave women made up the ordinary domestic staff of the
establishment, and until the advent of Esmay and Nanna, some three
months before, Arcadia House had received no visitors. And he would be a
foolish man who called upon Quinton Edge without an invitation.

Esmay, after parting from Constans, paused a moment at the side entrance
of the house. She wanted to look back, but a stronger instinct forbade
it; she opened the door and passed into the hall.

It was a broad, low-ceilinged apartment, and served as a common
living-room to the master of Arcadia House and his guests. A few embers
burned on the hearth, and a solitary candle set in a wall-sconce strove
with its feeble glimmer against the full tide of silver moonshine that
poured in through the uncurtained windows facing on the river. Quinton
Edge himself was sitting at the corner of the fireplace smoking a
red-clay pipe with a reed stem. He rose as Esmay entered, detaining her
with a gesture as she would have passed him.

"One moment, if you will."

The girl stopped and waited for him to continue. He considered a moment,
looking her over coolly. And indeed she made an attractive picture as
she stood there, the firelight glinting redly in her tawny eyes and her
cheeks incarnadined with excitement. Quinton Edge told himself that he
had made no mistake. Then he spoke:

"You have waited most patiently for me to announce my intentions. Let me
see; it is nearly three months since you came to Arcadia House?"

The girl made no reply. Alert and keeping herself well in hand, she
would force him to the first move. And Quinton Edge realized that he
would have to make it.

"It won't be any news to you that there are several people who would be
glad to be informed of your whereabouts. There's Boris, for one, and
young Ulick--we spoke of them some time ago."

"But to no purpose, sir; you remember that."

"Perfectly. Still, in three months a woman may change her mind many
times."

"But only for her own satisfaction."

"Then it is hopeless to expect a decision from you?"

"Evidently."

"In that case it may become necessary for me to act for you."

"Oh!"

The exclamation told its own story, and the girl in her vexation bit the
lip that had betrayed her. Quinton Edge smiled.

"Don't distress yourself," he said, smoothly. "I am only giving you the
warning that courtesy entitles you to receive."

Esmay reflected. Whatever his intentions concerning her, she could not
be the worse off for knowing them. So she went on, steadily:

"Since you have already decided upon my future, argument would be
useless. But perhaps I may assume that you have acted with some small
regard for my interests."

"Not the least in the world," returned Quinton Edge, and Esmay smiled
involuntarily at frankness so unblushing. Whereupon and curiously
enough, Quinton Edge became suddenly of a great gravity, the flippancy
of his accustomed manner falling from him as a cloak drops unnoticed
from a man's shoulders. He rose to his feet, strode to a window, and
stood there for perhaps a minute looking out upon the moonlit waters of
the Lesser river. When he turned again to the girl there were lines of
hardness about his mouth that she had never noticed before. Yet, in
speaking, his voice was soft, almost hesitating.

"Why should I tell you of these things, and then again why not? We are
both children of the Doomsmen, and the matter concerns us nearly. Not
equally, of course, but listen and draw your own conclusions."

"There are clouds in the political sky, and our little ship of state is
in danger of going upon the rocks, coincident with the death of Dom
Gillian, its old-time helmsman. And that contingency in the natural
course of events cannot be long delayed.

"Now there are two nominal heirs--Boris and Ulick. Each deems himself
the chosen successor to his great-grandfather, and each is incompetent
to play the part. In the past the reins of power have been held by the
man who stands between them. I am that third man."

"As everybody knows now."

"No; and for the simple reason that there are few to care who rules so
long as the figure-head remains a presentable one. But let me continue.

"Dom Gillian will formally nominate one of his grandsons as his heir. It
makes no difference whether Boris or Ulick succeeds--the outcome must be
the same. Both have personal followings, and that of the disappointed
one will form a minority insignificant in numerical strength, but
capable of being kneaded by strong hands into a compact mass."

"A revolution, then?"

"By no means. I accept the situation as it is and simply turn it to my
own advantage--as third man. This makes it necessary that the
disappointed one should become my absolute property. Now I hold the
price that he will demand for the surrender of his rights and
freedom--nothing less than yourself."

"I shall not affect to be surprised," said the girl, coolly. "But are
you quite sure that I am valued at so high a figure? It would be
mortifying for you to go into the market and find that your currency had
depreciated on your hands."

"I am not afraid," he answered. "The passion with Boris and Ulick alike
is genuine enough, albeit of somewhat different sort. As you care for
neither, it should be a matter of indifference whose property you
become."

The blood burned redly under the girl's brown skin. "No one but a woman
could know how unforgivable is that insult," she said. Then, with a
suddenly conceived appeal to the man himself:

"But why a bargain at all? You have the strength, the courage, the
brains--why chaffer when you have but to strike once to win all? You
stand between Boris and Ulick; crush them both in a single embrace and
take their birthright of power."

"Bah!" said the Doomsman, contemptuously. "Do you think that the mere
possession of the wolf-skin is the object of the hunt? It is the game
that amuses me and not the final distribution of the stakes. The game, I
say, and it happens to suit my humor to play it in this particular way.
You are simply a piece on the board, and I may win with you or lose with
you, or conclude to throw you back in the box without playing you at
all--just as it pleases me."

"The means are at least nobler than the end," retorted the girl. "A
lofty ambition, truly, to stand behind a screen and pull the strings of
a puppet, who in turn lords it over a handful of rick burners and cattle
reivers. Even my uncle Hugolin, Councillor Primus of Croye, cuts a
better figure when, clad in his state robe of silver-fox fur, he
presides over his parliament of shopkeepers."

"Granted," returned Quinton Edge, "but one and all dance together when I
choose to pipe. Is it such a contemptible thing to rule a small world,
if, indeed, it be the world? I take all that there is to be taken. Could
Alexander or Cæsar do more?"

"I am beginning to comprehend," she said, slowly. "An ambition that
confessedly overleaps all bounds is at least not an ignoble one."

He turned and searched her eyes.

"You will play the game with me?"

"No."

"Yet a moment ago you were considering it--the possibility, I mean."

"For the moment--yes. After three months of Arcadia House dulness
almost any amusement would seem worth while. But, frankly speaking, it
is the nature of the risk that appalls me. I cannot afford to lose my
stake nor even to adventure it."

"To speak plainly?"

"Well, then, you contribute to the common capital but one thing--your
brains. Later on, if the play goes against us, you may have to throw on
the table your liberty, and, in the last extremity, your life. But that
is the utmost limit of your losses. I, on the contrary, must contribute
myself to the hazard, and no man understands what that means to a
woman."

"How long is it since the woman has understood?" he asked, mockingly,
but Esmay was silent.

"Well, then, if I cannot have you with me I want you actively against
me--the more balls in the air, the better sport for the juggler. And at
least we understand each other."

"There is just the one question--perhaps an obvious one."

"Yes."

"Boris or Ulick? For of course you know which of them is to be the old
Dom's heir."

"I do."

"I am to be informed of my purchaser's name--after the bargaining is
over? And only then?"

"Since you choose to put it in that way--yes."

Neither chose to break the silence that fell between them, and Esmay,
catching up her skirt, turned to go.

"Good-night," she said, but Quinton Edge did not answer. Apparently he
had forgotten her very existence; he sat with feet out-stretched to the
fire, his eyes fixed upon the curl of blue smoke that hung above his
pipe bowl.

Esmay went up to the room on the second floor which she shared with her
sister. Nanna was already in bed and asleep, but she started up as Esmay
entered, like a dog that has been listening in its dreams for its
master's footsteps. "Are you coming to bed?" she asked, drowsily, and
fell back among the pillows without even waiting for the answer.

Esmay, unconscious of the cold, remained seated at the window looking
out upon the river, her mind busy with the ultimatum which had just been
presented to it. That it was an ultimatum, she could not doubt; Quinton
Edge had been in deadly earnest in confronting her with her fate--a
double-faced one, as she thought, with a little shiver. She could not
avoid seeing it, no matter which way she turned.

A waning moon in a clouding sky. Even as she looked the two faces seemed
to start out from the uncertain shadows--Boris, the Butcher--involuntarily,
she shrank back from the window--never that!

Ulick? Yes, she had been fond of Ulick; they had been comrades and
friends for so long as she could remember. But Ulick in this new
light--ah, that was different again. Strangely enough she found herself
contemplating this last possibility even more fearfully than she had the
first. If the "Butcher" but laid a finger upon her, surely her arm was
strong enough to drive the dagger home. But if it were Ulick, what could
she do but turn the weapon against her own breast.

Plan and counterplan, and the argument invariably came back to where it
began--she must call upon Constans for the aid which he had promised to
place at her disposal. Hardly two hours had passed since they had made
the compact, and now she was come to ask for its fulfilment. What would
he think of her? How interpret a precipitancy so foreign to the cool
assurance of her bearing in the garden? She frowned; the instinct that
urges a woman to any folly short of the supreme blunder of unveiling
herself to masculine eyes took possession of her. But only for a moment,
for again the imminence of the peril in which she stood broke over her
like a wave. There was but one thing to do; the signal must be set this
very night. The returning expedition from the south might even now be
encamped at the High Bridge, and if Constans could help her at all it
must be at once.

Without waiting to parley further with herself, Esmay went to the door
opening into the hall and looked out. The hour must be close upon
midnight; the house was quiet and dark.

A piece of white cloth had been the signal agreed upon, and a fluttering
handkerchief should answer the purpose well enough without being too
conspicuous to alien eyes. Nanna still slept, and Esmay, slipping into
the hallway, stood listening for a moment. Then she went on boldly; the
moon was still high, and she would not need a light.

It had been arranged that the signal should be displayed from the
southwestern window of the cupola crowning the main roof. But the stairs
to the third story and attic were in a wing; to reach them she must
traverse a long corridor which led past the apartments occupied by
Quinton Edge. Esmay noticed a gleam of yellow light upon the threshold
of his half-closed door as she passed it on winged feet, but there was
nothing extraordinary in that--it often burned there throughout the
entire night. But he was talking to somebody; she could hear distinctly
the opposition of the two voices. Who could it be? for none of the
servants ever entered these rooms, and she had never known of any
stranger being invited thither. She stopped and listened for a moment or
two. But she could make out nothing distinctly, and then she flushed
hotly to think that she had been tempted to eavesdropping. Let her be
satisfied in knowing that Quinton Edge was in his room and busily
engaged; at least, he would not disturb her.

The upper stories of the house had not been occupied for many years, and
it took all the girl's courage to carry her through the shadow-haunted
garret and up the ladder leading to the cupola proper. But she
accomplished the task of putting the signal-cloth in position, and,
still shaking with cold and excitement, began to retrace her steps.

At the entrance to Quinton Edge's room she stopped again, not out of
curiosity, but as though yielding to the pressure of an invisible hand.
The door still stood ajar, but there was no sound of voices. Again it
was the invisible hand that seemed to draw the door away, permitting the
girl to look within. An empty room, save for the figure that sat at the
table, his head buried in his hands, the whole attitude one of intense
weariness and dejection. Even as she stood there he looked up, and she
saw his face mirrored in the glass that hung suspended from the opposite
wall. It was Quinton Edge's face, indisputably; but could she ever have
imagined that such capacity of pain lay behind the mask she knew so
well? The dark eyes seemed to seize and hold her fast; then she realized
that they saw nothing beyond their own mirrored reflection. Again the
head sank forward into the hollowed hands, and only the slow heave of
the shoulders made certain that it was a living man who sat there in the
silence.

Noiselessly closing the door, Esmay regained her room and, all clothed
as she was, crept into bed. Nanna stirred sleepily and put out a
protecting arm. How blessed the comfort of that strong, warm clasp!



XVII

THE AWAKENING


Constans climbed to his observatory on the roof of the "Flat-iron" as
usual that next morning. It was a fine, bright day and so clear that he
could see for miles without the use of his glass. And there was
something to see--far away to the north he discovered a thin thread of
smoke that must mark the spot of a newly extinguished camp-fire. At last
the raiders were back from the Southland; they would be within the city
boundaries by this time and should arrive at the Citadel Square by noon
at the latest.

Glancing down into the fortress he saw that already tidings of the
return must have been received. Torch signals had probably been sent
during the night from the High Bridge announcing the fact of the
arrival, and now all was bustle and excitement.

It was a colorful and inspiriting scene--soldiers engaged in polishing
their accoutrements or clouting up hitherto neglected rents in cloak or
tunic; musicians tuning their simple instruments; negro slaves grooming
horses; women busy over saucepans that bubbled upon extemporized
furnaces of piled-up bricks; children and dogs on all sides, chattering,
squealing, under everybody's feet, alternately and impartially cuffed
and caressed. An air of joyous expectancy lightened every face, for now
the long months of waiting and of anxiety were past; the outriders of
Doom had returned from the Southland with goodly store of corn and wine
and of fat beeves for future feasting. It was, indeed, chilled and aged
blood that did not run the faster on this day of days.

Outside of the White Tower stood a groom, holding the bridle of a horse
whose housings were of the most gorgeous description, a blaze of crimson
cloth and gold thread. The owner's spear, with its pennon of embroidered
silk, stood close at hand, its iron-shod shaft wedged tightly into a
convenient crack in the pavement. Upon the banneret, Constans, with his
glass, made out the symbol used by Quinton Edge, a raven in mid-air
bearing a skull in his beak. Evidently he was to command the guard of
honor who would escort the returned warriors down the Palace Road, and
the hour must be close at hand. A few moments later and Quinton Edge
himself appeared, issuing forth from the White Tower. A splendidly
gorgeous figure he presented, for over his close-fitting suit of claret
cloth he wore a surcoat of white velvet ornamented with gold lace and
buttons of amethyst. His hat of soft felt was decorated with a white
ostrich-plume, exquisitely curled and secured by a jewelled clasp, and
in his left hand he carried an ivory truncheon tipped with gold, the
emblem, doubtless, of his high position in the councils of the Doomsmen.
Apparently he was in good-humor this morning; he chatted animatedly with
those nearest to him, and once or twice he even laughed aloud.

A trumpet sounded, and, without much pretence at military smartness, the
escorting party scrambled into their saddles and the cavalcade moved
forward through the north gate and up the Palace Road. By noon at the
latest they should return, and preparations immediately began for the
feast that was to be given in honor of the long-absent warriors now
happily restored to the society of their families and friends. A score
or more of wine-casks were rolled out from the public stores and made
ready for broaching. In the centre of the square the board flooring had
been removed from a huge circular pit that measured twenty feet across
by six or eight in depth; it was lined and bottomed with flat
paving-stones. A fire of hard-wood had been burning in it for hours, the
preliminary to a gigantic barbecue of fat oxen. Upon the open space in
front of the guard-huts, slaves were erecting long trestle-tables to
serve as the banqueting-board. The day had turned so warm that there
would be no discomfort in dining out-of-doors, for all that the date was
March 22d and the last snow-fall still lay a foot or more in depth in
the side streets. The square itself had been thoroughly cleaned, or it
would have been a veritable sea of slush. Astonishing! but as the sun's
rays became more and more inclined to the vertical, it became apparent
that the day would not only be warm but actually hot.

Constans had grown tired of making his observations at long range; he
resolved to descend and mingle boldly with the people in the square. He
had only Quinton Edge to fear, and it should be easy to keep out of his
way. Moreover, this was a golden chance for him to pick up some intimate
information about the defences of the Citadel Square.

Carefully adjusting the details of his ecclesiastical costume, Constans
prepared to descend. His last act was to cast a perfunctory glance in
the direction of Arcadia House, and it seemed that his eye caught the
flutter of something white. He raised the binoculars--it was true, the
signal was there, a handkerchief tied to the lattice-blind of the cupola
window.

Constans frowned and reflected. It was only last night that the girl had
asserted her entire ability to look after herself--it was like a woman
to be so soon of another mind. And there was Ulick--Ulick who would have
shed the last drop in his veins to serve her. Yet she would have none of
him, and she had deliberately tied Constans's hands in exacting the
promise that he should not reveal her whereabouts to the man who of all
things desired to serve her. There could be no reasoning with this
wilful young person; she would have her way in spite of all the
masculine logic in the world, and he realized the fact with a growing
resentment.

Yet there was his promise and it must be kept. He would go again to
Arcadia House sometime during the afternoon or evening, for the matter
was not one of absolute urgency. In the latter case two signals would
have been displayed, and there was but the one. So, dismissing the
matter from mind for the present, he made his way to the street and
joined with the crowd that was continually passing in and out of the
north gate.

With an air of easy unconcern, he directed his steps towards the
entrance. A harsh croak greeted him, and he recognized the crippled
sailor who called himself Kurt the Knacker. He glanced up to see that
worthy ensconced in a snug corner of the gateway and surrounded by his
accustomed cronies the warders on duty. Plainly, there had been more
than one replenishing of the black-jack that stood on the settle beside
him, for his face was flushed and the purple veins in his high, bald
forehead presented an inordinately swollen appearance.

"Hola! shipmet," said the Knacker, in a tone that was doubtless intended
to be affable. "It is to be a brave show to-day and you are come in good
time to see it. Seven thunders! but one always sees the black-jackets
flocking thick as flies in a pudding when the smell of the saucepan is
in the air. Your master yonder was of too proud a stomach to clink can
with us, but you will be more amiable. There's a fresh cask on the
trestles and not a token to pay."

Constans, following the direction in which a stubby forefinger pointed,
caught sight of the tall form of Prosper, the priest. He was moving
slowly along in the press and only a few yards away. Now Constans had no
desire for a meeting with his ecclesiastical superior; so, without
troubling himself to reply to the Knacker's hospitable invitation, he
tried to edge forward and again seek concealment in the crowd. But Kurt
reached out and caught his sleeve. "No skulking, reverend sir," he said,
maliciously. "Which shall it be, a swig from my black-jack or a full
toss of the horn? For drink you must, if you would enter here."

One of the guardsmen held out a full ox-horn of wine, and the Knacker
seized it and forced it into Constans's hand.

"After all, the good malt is for stronger stomachs; wine is the tipple
for women, boys, and priests. Down with it right cheerfully or take a
sousing in the butt itself--to drown there or drink it dry."

It was not a prudent thing to do, but Constans was angry. Seizing the
ox-horn, he dashed its contents full in his tormentor's face, and Kurt,
the Knacker, half strangled, fell back coughing and breathing
stertorously. It was a critical moment, but luckily the temper of the
by-standers was in mood to be amused. A great roar of laughter went up,
and under cover of it Constans managed to push his way on through the
crowd and so reach the open square. Stepping into one of the empty
guard-huts he quickly divested himself of cowl and cassock, and rolling
them up into a bundle he tossed them into a dark corner. His under suit
was made of the ordinary gray frieze worn generally among the Doomsmen,
and now neither Prosper nor the witnesses of the fracas at the gate
would be likely to identify him.

Constans gazed about him with lively interest. Yet so accurate had been
his previous bird's-eye observations that he found but little to add to
them. He noticed, however, that a banquette of earth, rammed hard, ran
around the inside periphery of the walls, affording vantage for the
defenders to discharge their arrows and other missiles over the parapet.
But, as Constans quickly saw, this same terrace would give useful
foothold to the besiegers should once the top of the wall be gained.
Instead of being obliged to draw up their scaling-ladders, or risk the
sixteen-foot drop to the hard surface of the enclosure, they had only to
jump onto the banquette and from thence to the ground. He would have
liked to investigate what engines of defence could be brought into
service by the garrison, but there was nothing to be seen beyond two
machines, sadly out of repair, which were intended for the casting of
heavy stones through the force of twisted ropes. So Constans turned his
attention again to the scene before him.

A gang of carpenters were putting the finishing-touches to an elevated
platform which stood near the entrance to the White Tower. A crimson
canopy warded off the sun's rays, and the structure was probably
intended for the accommodation of the more distinguished guests. A large
chair stood in the centre of the dais, and over it a gray wolf-skin had
been draped; certainly this must be the official seat of Dom Gillian
himself. But as yet it stood empty.

How hot the sun was! And yet this was only the day of the vernal
equinox; it was most extraordinary. Everywhere the gutters ran streaming
with water, the snow melting under the unexampled heat of the solar rays
like wax in a candle flame. The trees growing in the square were
leafless, and the tropic sun's rays blazed mercilessly through their
naked branches. Constans found himself panting for breath.

As the hours dragged on Constans felt a vague uneasiness pressing down
upon him, and he could see that the people also were growing restless
under the unaccountable delay. The laughter and talk little by little
died away; men stood in silent groups staring through the open gate, up
the long avenue of the Palace Road, shading their bent brows under their
hollowed hands. Would they never come!

With noon a small diversion offered. Four negro slaves carrying a litter
issued from the door of the White Tower. There was no mistaking that
great head with its mane of coarse, white hair--the old Dom Gillian.
With infinite difficulty the attendants succeeded in hoisting the
unwieldy bulk upon the platform, and so into the great chair. The people
looked on in silence; not a murmur of applause greeted the appearance of
their lord. And with equal indifference did Dom Gillian regard his
people; plainly he was wearied, for his hands rested heavily upon the
arms of his chair, and he neither spoke nor moved. A slave stood on
either hand wielding a fan; presently the gaunt figure seemed to
collapse into a heap, the eyes closed, and Dom Gillian slept.

Again the slow hours dragged along. The sun had already passed the
zenith, the barbecue-fires were dying out, on the western sky-line
rested a cloud in bigness like to a man's hand and of the blackness of
night itself. Would they never come!

Far down the vista of the Palace Road a black dot stood out against the
snowy background. A moment later it had resolved itself into the figure
of a horse and his rider. The man was riding fast, heedless of the
slippery, dangerous footing; now he was at the gate and the crowd
pressed back to give him room. On and on, with the red drops falling
from his spurs, until he drew rein at the very steps of the platform.
And no man durst speak or move as Quinton Edge flung himself from the
saddle and ascended to where the Lord Keeper of Doom still slept
placidly in his great chair with the wolf-skin upon his knees.



XVIII

A PROPHET OF EVIL


Standing at Dom Gillian's side Quinton Edge bent down and whispered a
few words in his ear, inaudible even to those who stood nearest. And yet
the people knew that woe had fallen upon Doom. Like flame upon flax the
voiceless signal leaped from heart to heart; here and there in the crowd
appeared little centres of disturbance, the strong pushing the weak
forcibly aside that they might the quicker fill their own gasping lungs;
an inarticulate murmur rose and swelled, like to the stirring of forest
leaves under the breath of the rough north wind. Quinton Edge heard, and
turned to face the people.

"It is true," he said, and gripped hard upon the rail on which his hand
rested. "A child's trick it was, but the Southlanders are men of smooth
tongue and our brothers were encumbered with the cattle and perhaps
overconfident now that their faces were turned at last towards home.
Six-score brave men"--he stopped and swallowed at something in his
throat.

"The ambuscade was well-planned, and the Southlanders had enlisted the
aid of the Painted Men, to their shame be it said. So our brethren found
themselves hemmed in at every point. Yet they sold their lives at a
good price, and they are mourning to-day in the Southland, even as we
here. Not a Doomsman set out upon his long journey to the shadowland but
that a Southron was forced to bear him company. It was well done--a good
fight, the sword-point driven home, and then the dropping of the
curtain. Hail! a hail! to our brothers who have passed beyond."

A few wavering and uncertain voices took up the cry, but it quickly died
away before the uplifted hand of Prosper, the priest. He had pushed his
way through the crowd and was now standing in its outmost rank directly
opposite the platform.

"There were six-score who rode away," he said, addressing himself
directly to Quinton Edge. "Six-score, and how many have returned?"

An insolent question in the manner of its asking, but the Doomsman's
answer matched it well.

"Four that I counted, but there may be a straggler or two to come in
later. Does the Shining One no longer know where his own thunderbolts
have struck, that he sends his hired servants to gather up the gossip of
the market-place?"

"The All-Wise both sees and knows," retorted the priest. "It is the
people you deceive who have need to look and listen, if haply they may
understand. You have dared to take the name of the Shining One upon your
lips; stand forth now like a man, if you would face him in his wrath."

During the past few minutes it had grown suddenly dark; the sun had
disappeared and a curtain of opaque cloud was rapidly overcasting the
sky; a peculiar, yellowish light had replaced the radiance of day.

"And what does your god demand that his anger may be turned away?" asked
Quinton Edge. "Doubtless the daily offerings upon which his faithful
priests depend for their easy, unearned living. Sides of fat beeves and
measures of wheat, not forgetting a cask or two of apple-wine or corn
brandy."

But the priest, disdaining to answer the taunt, had turned and was
speaking directly to the people.

"Is it that you seek a deliverer and find none? But how shall the
Shining One keep faith with you who turn your feet away from his
sanctuary and bring no victims to his altars? Has he not called to you
daily, and have you not stopped your ears? And now that ye call in turn,
shall he indeed hear? Already is your woe come upon you, children of
Doom. Look and listen!"

A flash of lightning accompanied the priest's last words and the crash
of the thunder came almost simultaneously. The obscurity was momentarily
increasing, and the gigantic, nimbus cloud-band now reached far beyond
the zenith, its slate-blue edges contrasting vividly with the
green-and-saffron tints of the narrow strip of clear sky that still
remained visible. And in another moment that, too, had disappeared; such
was the darkness that a man could not see his neighbor's face, though
their elbows might be touching.

"To your holes and dens!" shouted the priest, now quite beside himself
in his fanatical exaltation. "He speaks again, he speaks again! Woe, woe
to the city of Doom!" Once more the firmament seemed cleft in twain, and
the earth trembled under the reverberations of the tremendous electrical
discharges. The effect upon the overwrought nerves of the throng was
instantaneous; as one man the crowd turned and made for the exits from
the Citadel Square. Even the personal attendants upon Dom Gillian were
affected by the panic, and leaped over the guard-rails of the platform
into the mass of humanity below. In half a score of minutes the enormous
square was deserted save for a few infirm and crippled stragglers, and
Constans himself thought it prudent to withdraw to the shelter of one of
the guard-huts from whose doorway he could still watch the progress of
events.

Only Prosper, the priest, remained in the open, standing there with
uplifted hands and gazing steadfastly into the sable vault above him.
Quinton Edge called to him, but he answered not. Then the Doomsman,
leaning far over the balustrade of the platform, struck the priest
sharply on the shoulder with his truncheon of office.

"Come up here and help me with the Lord Keeper. These dogs have all
sought their kennels and left us to shift for ourselves."

Gathering up his long, black robe, Prosper ascended the steps of the
platform and passed to the Lord Keeper's side. He looked eagerly into
Dom Gillian's eyes, but the old man's face might have been a mask in its
impassive stolidity. Plainly he had neither heard nor understood aught
of all that had passed.

"It is too late," muttered the priest. "The crash of steel is now the
only music to which the old lion will prick his ears, and the Shining
One must strike for his own honor."

Suddenly the obscurity lightened. A downpour of rain was imminent, but
the sky had lost its terrifying aspect of abnormality; the yellowish
haze that in superstitious eyes presaged some dreadful convulsion of
nature had drifted away before the rising wind--it would be a pelting
shower and nothing more. Quinton Edge looked around, smiling.

"So it was only a player's effect--a few fireworks and the rattling of a
big drum--an opportune conjunction of bad news and bad weather that is
hardly likely to occur again. The next time that the Shining One
condescends to forge his thunderbolts----"

"They will fall from out of a cloudless sky," interrupted the priest,
with a vehemence that in spite of himself shook the cool confidence of
the Doomsman. Yet the latter flung back the challenge contemptuously.

"Words, words--painted bladders with which to belabor the backs of fools
and children. It calls for a buffet of sturdier sort to convince a man."

The priest measured his adversary. "Let it be a blow, then," he said,
coldly, "since a prating mouth knows no other argument than the mailed
fist. But you shall not see the hand that smites, nor even know the
quarter from whence it comes. Build high your walls and your bulwarks;
they shall but prove the greater peril when they crumble under the
impact of our lord's hammer. You will believe; yes, when trencher-mate
and bedfellow are stricken at your side, and yet no man shall be able to
say at what instant the avenger's shadow passed between, or catch the
faintest sound of his retreating footsteps. All in his good time to whom
a day and an hour and a cycle of the ages are as one."

A dozen big raindrops splashed down, and from the distance came the
patter of the advancing hail. Quinton Edge drew himself up stiffly; the
necessity of immediate action was a relief more welcome than he would
have cared to own. He stepped to Dom Gillian's chair, and, putting his
hands under the armpits of the old man, lifted him unresisting to his
feet.

"Help me with him to the White Tower," he said, with curt command, and
Prosper obeyed in silence. Together they managed to get Dom Gillian down
the steps and across the open space to the entrance of the tower, barely
gaining the shelter when the storm broke in earnest, the rain coming
down in great, gray masses as though the clouds had been literally torn
asunder by the weight of their burden. For a few moments everything was
blotted out by the deluge, then it lightened again with the coming of
the hail, and Constans drew in his breath sharply as he saw a little
cavalcade trotting slowly through the north gate from the Palace Road.
First came a few of the escort-guard and behind them three or four
troopers, survivors of the ill-fated expedition, followed by a couple of
horse-litters, improvised from fence-poles and blankets. In these rough
beds lay two grievously wounded men, and Constans gazed, half in hope,
half in fear, upon their wan faces upon which the stinging hail beat
down. Soldierly men they were, too, for they made no complaint, but
Ulick was not one of them. A moment later Constans saw him bringing up
the rear on a big bay horse. He had a bandage about his head, and looked
thin and careworn, but he was alive, and Constans felt glad at heart for
his friend. He managed to catch Ulick's eye as the train swept by, and
for an instant the latter drew rein, bending low over his saddle-bow as
he whispered to Constans, standing in the shadow of the guard-hut:

"In half an hour at the old library," and then, with passionate
eagerness, "Esmay--have you seen her?"

"Yes," answered Constans, and the next instant could have bitten his
unthinking tongue in twain.



XIX

IN QUINTON EDGE'S GARDEN


It was late that night when the friends finally parted. Their interview
had been a trying one; it might have ended in a serious estrangement had
Constans been of nature less straightforward or Ulick of disposition
less generous. Friendship between men is a beautiful thing, but of such
delicate poise that only the touch of a finger is needed to displace it.
And the disturbing hand is generally that of a woman. Esmay had come
between them, and it needed but the mention of her name that a certain
constraint should at once manifest itself.

"We'll have to drop the subject, then, or, rather, leave it where it
began," said Ulick, breaking the final pause. "Perhaps it's just as well
that I don't understand the reason why--it's even possible that you
don't know clearly yourself. I sha'n't ask you to tell me."

Constance flushed, and was angry with himself, at this evidence of a
weakness so unexpected. "It can't go on in this way," he said,
decidedly. "Neither of us could wish that, and it lies with me to make
it plain--to her, you know. Of course, you must have guessed that there
are certain contingencies----" He stopped abruptly, as the remembrance
of what Esmay had said rushed back upon him. "I don't see that Boris is
with you," he continued, gravely.

"He lies under the shadow of the southern pines--one of the first to
fall that morning when the storm of gray goose arrows drove down upon
us. A good end and perhaps the better one."

Constans was silent. Here was one of his contingencies that existed no
longer; with Boris out of the way, the decision that Esmay must make was
enormously simplified. Or was it still more infinitely complicated? With
a woman to consider, the question was not so easy to answer. Nor would
he attempt it. He rose, and put out his hand, "I am going to tell her,"
he said, simply, and Ulick, in his turn, had no further word to say; so
they parted.

It was not until noon of the following day that Constans found
opportunity to set out for Arcadia House, for all that morning he had
been kept in close attendance at the temple. The old priest had
displayed a new and astonishingly practical interest in the mysterious
power that had been for so long under his nominal control; he had even
joined Constans in the latter's daily task of cleaning and polishing up
the working-parts of the machinery, and, as they worked, he had
questioned him searchingly.

"The Shining One may be a god or no," he said, cunningly, "but it is
meet that I should know him better, if only to serve him the more
faithfully. You, my son, are wise, and you will tell me what you have
learned from your books, that it may be added to all that our fathers
have handed down by word of mouth. So shall our lord have great honor,
and the unbelievers be put to shame."

Constans had no recourse but to obey, and for several hours they worked
steadily, experimenting with the intricacies of switch-board and
commutator, stringing various wires about the hall and noting the
conditions under which they might be charged and discharged from the
central source of power. Dangerous work, as they came to realize after
Constans had narrowly escaped being burned by contact with a live wire.
Yet undeniably fascinating, this uncovering of a great world secret,
this sense of growing mastery over a power that could be none else than
twin-brother to the thunderbolt. But the face of the old man gave no
sign, no one could have guessed whether he now believed all or believed
nothing. Certainly he was proving himself an astonishingly apt pupil,
his years of practical experience with the machines admirably
supplementing Constans's theoretical knowledge. It was not until mid-day
that he gave the order to shut down the engines, and Constans was at
liberty.

He walked rapidly in the direction of Arcadia House, for this was the
hour of the principal meal with the Doomsmen, and the streets were
entirely deserted. The abnormally high temperature of yesterday still
prevailed, although the sky was clear, and everywhere could be heard the
sound of running and dripping water. The snow, that twenty-four hours
ago lay a foot deep upon the ground, was now a mass of slush, making
locomotion exceedingly disagreeable. How hot the sun was! it might have
been midsummer instead of the last of March; how oddly sounded the
premature chirping of the birds in the leafless trees!

Arcadia House was once more in sight, and Constans's first thought was
for the signal. It was still flying from the cupola window, but that
fact, of itself, meant little. All or nothing might have happened in the
twenty-four hours that had elapsed since its first setting.

The rope-ladder was in its hiding-place, and Constans, by its aid, was
quickly on the garden wall. Here he waited for an instant, to look and
listen.

All was quiet, and there was no sign of life in the closely shuttered
house. The snow in this exposed and sunny enclosure had entirely
disappeared; there would be no fear of his footprints being noticed. The
dogs--but Esmay had assured him that they would be kept in leash so long
as the signal was flying. He wasted no further time in reflection, but
descended into Quinton Edge's garden.

The plantation of spruce-trees screened him for the moment; then he ran
swiftly across the open space and reached the shelter of the pavilion.
It was empty, but he had expected that; he had previously set his
answering signal at the window of a house overlooking the garden at the
back, and he would now have to wait until Esmay should find opportunity
to join him.

An hour passed, and there was no sign of her appearance. Constans grew
restless, impatient, uneasy, until finally inaction became intolerable.
Certainly Esmay should have come by this time, supposing that she had
observed his answering signal. She might be absent, ill, a prisoner.

He looked searchingly at the apparently deserted house; the bold thought
struck him to examine it more closely, even at the risk of discovery. He
had his rope-ladder with him, and, at a pinch, could make a run for it.
Along the northern wall of the enclosure there was a wind-break of
evergreens that would protect him up to the sunken carriageway, and,
surely, he could adventure thus far and then trust Fortune and his own
wits for the next move.

The piece of open ground was some seventy yards in width; he crossed it
at speed and dived into the shadow of the trees, keeping close to the
wall as he worked along. He reached the road without misadventure and
dropped lightly down upon its stone-paved surface. It was cool and damp
in this semi-subterranean causeway; the stone flagging was blotched with
lichenous growth, and ferns flourished rankly in the wall crevices.
Constans stood for a moment gazing up at the blank façade of the north
wing, wondering how best to proceed. Then, suddenly, a face appeared at
a window; Esmay herself was looking down upon him in wide-eyed
astonishment. She hesitated, then motioned him towards the eastern or
river side of the house, and he obeyed unquestioningly. Following the
driveway around, he found himself before the pillared portico that
masked the front of the main edifice; springing up the steps, he met her
standing at one of the long windows that opened off the drawing-room of
the mansion. She drew back, inviting him to enter.

"You are very foolish," she said, in a whisper, yet looked upon him
approvingly as a woman always must upon the man who dares.

"I told you that I would come," he answered. "Yesterday it was the
unexpected that happened, the return of the expedition. Between the
storm and Ulick, you and the signal were clean put out of mind until too
late."

She flushed. "Then you have seen Ulick?"

"Yes; he is safe and well." He hesitated. How should he tell her the
truth about the other? He ended by blurting it out.

"You know that Boris--he will not return."

"He is dead?"

Constans nodded. The girl turned and looked out of the window for
perhaps half a minute.

"I was to have decided between them this very day. He who is my master
had so determined, and that is why I sent for you. For indeed I
cannot----" She stopped; it was so difficult to put into words what must
be said. Then she went on, speaking softly:

"If it had finally come to that, I must have named Boris, for I could
have gone on hating him just the same as before. With Ulick it is
different, for he really cared."

"But now," interrupted Constans, impatiently, "it is no longer a
question of choice, but of a decision."

"I have already come to it," she returned. "I must escape from Doom; I
cannot stay here for even another day."

In their absorption neither noticed how the door leading into the
central hall slowly opened. It remained ajar, its very attitude that of
a listener.

"You want my help," said Constans, half to himself. He was casting over
in his mind the effect that the death of Boris might have upon Quinton
Edge's intrigues, and he could not but conclude that Esmay had become a
factor more necessary than ever in their successful development. Ulick
was now the sole heir to the old Dom Gillian, and he was hostile to
Quinton Edge. Only through Ulick's passion for this slip of a girl
could the Doomsman hope to control him. What an admirable stroke, then,
to snatch the card from his hand before he had a chance to play it.

"I will help you," he continued, aloud. "But where to find a boat?"

"There is a canoe which is generally kept moored at the garden dock; you
can see it from the terrace. It is a good, stout dugout, and, oh----"

"Well?"

"There is Nanna, my sister; I cannot go without her."

"She is in no danger," said Constans, with calm indifference. "The boat
will carry only two--is that it?"

"Yes."

"Very well, then; Nanna must remain behind."

"It is impossible to leave her; I have promised."

"No; it is her coming that is impossible, and because I say so."

The girl remained silent. Had she yielded to a will stronger than her
own? The door seemed to hesitate; then it closed noiselessly.

Esmay crossed over to one of the windows opening on the garden grounds
and flung the shutters open. The coolness of the later afternoon breeze
fell gratefully upon her hot cheeks; the horizontal, reddish-rays of the
declining sun emphasized the warm coloring of her hair and complexion,
and brought out again those curious carmine flecks in her eyes of topaz
that Constans had noticed once or twice before. An odd combination, but
he realized now that he had thought it pretty. The girl divined the
unspoken word and drew back a trifle.

Retreat is the first and essential principle of feminine strategy, and
in practice it should suggest the ambuscade to even the most thoughtless
of masculine minds. But it never does. Constans stepped up a little
closer.

"Nanna must go with me," repeated the girl, hurriedly. "You will help us
to get out the boat and tell me in what direction Croye lies. We shall
find our way, never fear, for I know the stars, and Nanna can paddle all
day long as well as a man."

"And what will you do when you get to Croye?" asked Constans, gently.
"Must you hear the whole truth about your uncle, Messer Hugolin? It is
not that he is unable but unwilling to turn a hand in your behalf. The
humblest shelter, the meanest food--I know what you would say. But not
even a night's housing in the cattle-byre or a plate of broken victuals
is to be had from Messer Hugolin unless one is prepared to pay, and
roundly, too. Remember that I, too, am of his blood, and have dwelt in
his house."

The girl's eyes grew cloudy and troubled. "There is the town itself,"
she faltered. "Surely among so many people there must be some chance for
a livelihood--there is work---"

"Not of the honest kind and for such as you," he retorted. "Must I make
you understand? Look at yourself, then, in the glass behind you."
Suddenly he took her hand between both his own. "Who would dare hint at
work to those fingers so slimly white? But one may live delicately, even
in Croye."

The girl recoiled as though from a blow, and Constans felt the shame of
having actually struck one. "But not you," he stammered, and raged
inwardly at himself. She forgave him in a look. "But, Esmay," he said,
humbly. She smiled to him to go on.

"You are thinking of the world beyond, but indeed you do not know
it--its cruelty to the weak, above all to a woman. Here, at least----"

"Here the least of all," she interrupted, but would not look at him to
make her meaning clearer.

"Yet you see how I could not let you go alone or even with Nanna," he
urged.

"Yes, I understand that. What is it that you wish me to do?"

Constans started. Was he, then, prepared to make himself responsible for
this young creature's future? Of course she could not remain longer in a
position so dangerous and equivocal. But why should she not be
reasonable? It was true that Nanna was quite capable of managing the
boat; he had only to assist them to get away and give the word to Ulick
that he might follow. Ulick would go to the end of the world to serve
her.

A thoroughly sensible solution of the problem, and then in a twinkle
Constans forgot that he had ever wanted Esmay to be reasonable, forgot
the faith owed to a friend and the vengeance sworn against an enemy,
forgot times and seasons and the peril in which they stood, forgot all
things save that he was a man and she was a woman, and that he had
suddenly come to desire her above all else in life.

"A woman, and some day he would come to know what that meant." Now he
knew.

Esmay stood waiting for the answer to her question.

"You cannot go alone," he said, in a half-whisper, "and your sister's
protection is useless. You will have to trust yourself to me."

Esmay had turned away her head, but a treacherous mirror intercepted the
confession in her eyes and flung it back to him who had compelled its
utterance. Now a man may never yet have seen that look on a woman's
face, but he need not fear lest he fail to recognize it when at last his
time comes. Constans saw, and suddenly the primeval passion of the world
seized and shook him. "I want you," he said, and would have taken
her--then stopped, confounded and appalled.

Through the open window came the sharp, staccato yelp of a hound at
field. Yes; the dogs were out, and already they were at work, ranging in
great semicircles, alert with the joy of the chase. There was Blazer,
with his tawny muzzle, and behind him Fangs, the great, black bitch,
half mastiff and half bloodhound, the saliva dripping from her jaws as
she ran. Constans drew a deep breath as he watched them. Already they
were nearing the pavilion; in a few seconds at the farthest they would
be giving tongue upon the striking of his scent. He must decide quickly
then, and he turned to Esmay.

A black suspicion gathered in Constans's mind as he looked upon her mute
agony and misinterpreted it.

"What is it?" he asked, with rising anger, but she answered no word. The
memory of the ancient betrayal rushed back upon him.

"Perhaps another bracelet of carbuncles?" She shrank back as though from
a blow.

"Esmay!" he said, roughly, and shook her by the shoulders, not being in
fear for himself but intent upon knowing the truth, however incredible.
Then as she still gave no sign he flung her from him and strode away,
the flame of a fierce anger in his heart. To die here--the base fate of
a runaway slave upon whose trail the master has set his hounds--no, it
should not be! Yet, with only his bare hands, for there was not even a
billet of wood lying about--well, if it must be-- Then he bethought him
of the boat that Esmay had told him was always kept moored at the garden
landing-stage. He glanced out and saw that the canoe had disappeared. He
turned to the girl and announced the fact. "If indeed it were ever
there," he added. It seemed as though her eyes pointed to the door
leading to the other part of the house, but he shook his head. "I would
rather meet it in the open," he said, coldly.

He considered a moment longer, and threw off his black soutane, having
determined to take to the water, although it was truly a desperate
chance, the current running like a mill-race with the ebbing tide, and,
moreover, being choked with ice-floes. Ah, there was Blazer's bay, he
must lose no time. Without another glance at that silent, rigid figure,
he stepped quickly through the long window and gained the portico.
Something snapped in the girl's throat, her lips quivered hysterically,
and she laughed aloud, a flood of silvery sound.



XX

THE SILVER WHISTLE BLOWS


Constans remained motionless at the window. Every instinct of
self-preservation urged him onward, but yet he stopped and listened to a
girl's laughter. It ceased, and he sprang forward--too late! for already
the blood-hounds were upon him.

Fangs, the bitch, was in the lead, and as she sprang Constans kicked out
savagely, his heavy boot catching the animal squarely on the flank. The
portico had no guard-railing, and the dog, taken off her balance, was
precipitated to the terrace below. Constans shouted exultantly, but
there was still Blazer with whom to deal. Before he could recover, the
brute had him by the throat and was bearing him downward; man and dog
rolled together on the stone-paved floor of the gallery. Something
passed with the swift rustle of wind-distended garments, but Constans
could see nothing, his eyes being blinded by the acrid foam from the
animal's jaws. Fortunately, the high collar of leather that he wore
prevented the dog's teeth from fastening on his actual throat, but that
advantage could not endure, and already he could feel that the animal
was shifting its hold for a better one. Then, as he despaired, his right
hand struck upon something round and hard in the outside-pocket of his
doublet; it was the handle of the loaded revolver that he had carried
for a month past. A supreme effort and he managed to seize it; without
attempting to draw it from the pocket he pulled the trigger. The report
followed, and immediately he felt the dog's grip relax; he pushed the
dead weight from off his chest and rose to his feet.

Up from the river terrace came Esmay, and behind her ran Quinton Edge.
Constans turned to meet them; then, as they gained the portico, he saw
the girl's face go white and realized dizzily the danger that still
menaced him. But he was past caring now, and so stood stupidly in his
tracks as the great, black bitch crawled up behind him, her belly close
to the ground, and crouching for her rush. He heard Quinton Edge shout
and saw him raise his hand; the dog, recognizing her master's voice,
even as she leaped, was quick to obey, arching and stiffening her back
in mid-air so as to break the force of her spring; he saw her fall in a
heap at his feet, and lie there whimpering. Whereupon, for a brief
moment, the trees seemed to bow themselves before him and the sky grew
black.

When again he found himself, he saw Quinton Edge bending over the dead
hound and inspecting, with curious attention, the ragged hole in its
chest. But the Doomsman asked no questions; he spoke, lightly and
carelessly, as was his wont.

"Fortunate that I happened to be returning from an excursion on the
river, for my pets are a difficult pair to manage, even for one who
carries a thunderbolt in his doublet-pocket. You scored nicely on poor
Blazer, but I venture to think that Fangs would have avenged her mate
had I let her have her way." He stopped and patted the brute's huge
head. "My compliments, old woman; doubtless this visitor of ours will
always remember you respectfully as one who feared neither God, man; nor
devil, but only Quinton Edge. Now be off with you." The hound licked her
master's hand and limped away. Quinton Edge straightened up and passed
his lace-edged handkerchief across his lips. Then, with smooth irony:
"An honor, indeed, to entertain so unexpected a guest at Arcadia House;
to what happy chance am I indebted?"

"That I am here should be condemnation sufficient for your purpose,"
said Constans, slowly. "I have nothing to add to it."

He hardly troubled to look up as he spoke; exhausted and dispirited as
he was, what did it matter what he answered.

"Then you do not even plead a first offence?"

Constans remained silent. Like a disobedient school-urchin, he told
himself, glowering sulkily in the presence of his tutor. Between this
man and himself lay an enmity that was deeper than the grave, and yet to
Quinton Edge he was merely the petulant boy to be scolded and punished
or, even more contemptuously, ignored. Was he never to stand before him
as man to man?

"It is just as well," continued the Doomsman, "since there have been
other eyes who have kept watch for me. I am not entirely uninformed
concerning a romantic adventure of two days ago at the pavilion in the
garden. But perhaps on this count the maid may choose to answer for
herself, speech being a woman's prerogative, and ofttimes her
opportunity."

But Esmay, holding herself as straight and white as the portico column
behind her, made no sign of even hearing, and Quinton Edge fell upon a
sudden earnestness of speech and manner.

"Then since neither of you have a word to say, you must perforce listen
to me of a matter equally concerning you, Esmay Scarlett, a daughter of
the Doomsmen, and you, Constans, son of Gavan of the keep. For to-day
the fate of the world lies between us three--a ball that we may toss
from hand to hand.

"You know both the strength and the weakness of Doom. We have lost
heavily in the expedition to the south; every man in the reserve must
now be called upon to fill up the ranks. Dom Gillian is fast sinking
into the grave, where Boris already lies. Ulick, who must now succeed,
in the ordinary course, has only physical courage to recommend him. That
is not enough if Doom is to remain mistress of the world.

"Yet if our weaknesses are patent, no less apparent are our springs of
power. Here in Doom and here alone will you find that unity of action
which makes for empire. Were the Stockaders and the House People to join
hands they could overwhelm us in a night, but they will not, since
jealousy digs an ever-widening chasm. Moreover, it is a strong position
that we hold here in this wilderness of stone, when every brick is a
man. There is no need for boasting; this is the truth, as you know.

"Yet there is one thing lacking--a man to lead and a brain to guide.
Ulick may possess the strong arm, and doubtless I have the wits, but I
fear that, like oil and water, we, too, shall never mix. Besides, I may
grow weary of the business, or the time may come when I must turn my
back upon it all. Yet I could not be content that chaos should reign in
my stead. I must leave a man behind me, and that man is you, Constans,
son of Gavan.

"Nay, but hear me out. Apostate, renegade--I know what you would say.
Yet what are these but words--mere words. You are alone in the world,"
and here for just an instant Quinton Edge dropped his eyes, although the
even tones of his voice never wavered. "You owe no debt of gratitude to
either Stockader or Houseman. A crust from one, a bone from the other;
they would have done as much for a starving dog. You see that I have
watched you longer than you have been aware.

"And so I offer you the first and last of the things that all men crave.
The first is love, and she who stands there is fair, else why do I find
you in my garden? The last is power, and it is the world that I put
under your feet."

He stopped abruptly and seemed to catch at something mounting upward in
his throat. Then he continued:

"There is still the blood-debt between us, and I promise you it shall be
paid and to the last drop. The only condition is that you must leave it
to another to name the day of reckoning; that privilege belongs neither
to you nor to me. Rest assured that when that day does come, I shall be
ready; ay, more than ready to pay my score."

Again silence fell between them for the space of a full minute. Quinton
Edge turned to adjust the jabot of fine lace about his neck, and that he
might have both hands free he laid upon a wicker garden table the
object he had been carrying. Constans saw that it was a bunch of
May-bloom, a glorious cluster of pink-and-white blossom.

"I am waiting for my answer," said Quinton Edge.

Constans tried to command his voice, but he could not speak, and Quinton
Edge turned to Esmay:

"We have both of us omitted to remember where courtesy is first due.
Madam, I should have informed myself of your pleasure in this matter."

"No, oh no!" she stammered.

The Doomsman laughed. "Yet I must ask you to reconsider; nay, even to
use what arts you possess to induce this short-sighted young gentleman
to accept my generous proposition. For, mind you, there is a consequent
upon his refusal--and yours."

The hidden fire in the girl's eyes seemed to leap forth, a bolt of fiery
scorn that would have fused, upon the instant, metal less resisting.

"A consequent--of course. And it is----"

"A lofty one. He mounts either to Dom Gillian's chair or to the yard arm
of the _Black Swan_. A spy's death for a spy--it is but justice."

Esmay turned to Constans.

"Surely it were shame enough for any woman to find herself made part of
such a bargain. But my humiliation goes even deeper, for I must parade
my poor wares before you like any huckster, beseeching you to buy. My
lord, it is for your life, and I am but a flower that it may please you
to wear to-day and cast aside to-morrow. Buy of me, my lord, and at what
price you will--it is for your life. But be quick; he will not wait
over-long." She plucked at his sleeve. "Do you not understand? The men
are coming; you can hear the rattle of the sheaf-blocks at the mast-head
of the galley--Constans!"

But Constans looked only at his enemy, Quinton Edge. "I am ready," he
said, coldly.

Esmay passed through the long window and so into the drawing-room. To
her overly excited senses the signal was already sounding in her ears,
and a gradual faintness mounted to her brain, even as water rises about
the swimmer advancing through the shingle to the first shock of the
surge. Then, in deadly truth, she heard Quinton Edge blow his whistle,
and the darkness closed in upon her.

For the second time the Doomsman raised the pipe to his lips. It slipped
from his fingers and fell to the garden-table at his side.

As he bent to recover it the subtle, uprising scent of the May-bloom
struck him like a blow; a dark flush overspread his brow. He spoke,
quickly, insistently:

"The canoe is still at the landing-stage. Go, while there is yet time."

He seized Constans by the shoulders, slewing him around and pushing him
towards the steps that led to the terrace.

"Go, and forget all that you have seen and heard in Doom the Forbidden.
You and your secrets are known; be content to leave my people with
theirs. And to me my memories."

The madness of protest, of resistance, was still upon Constans, and yet
he found himself yielding to this stronger will. Mechanically, he leaped
to the terrace below, and from thence ran on to the landing-stage just
as Kurt, the Knacker hobbled around the corner of the house at the head
of a squad of sailors from the _Black Swan_. An arrow or two flew wild,
but Constans quickly had the boat in the current, which was running out
on a strong ebb-tide, and so was safe from further molestation. Half a
mile down-stream he ventured to make a landing. The dozen or so of
rifles and store of ammunition that he had left in hiding at this point
were too precious a treasure to be abandoned without an effort. Yet
hardly had he transferred the last case of cartridges to his boat than
he became aware that the Doomsmen were close upon him, and this time he
got a bruised shoulder from a spent cross-bolt by way of a parting
salute. The canoe was heavily laden, but fortunately the wind had gone
down with the sun, and the water was unusually smooth. Constans bent to
his paddle, shaping his course to the southwest, the direction of his
old home on the West Inch.

How cool and pure the air! How clean and sweet the stars that shone
above him! Little by little the fever and the fret of life departed from
him, and he was at peace. He wondered now at the madness that had
possessed him, at the passion that had thrilled him at the touch of a
woman's hand. He had come so near to proving himself a traitor, a
recreant to all that was sacred in his life. And then a hound had bayed,
and a girl had laughed, and the shining bubble had vanished into the
air. Beguiled, betricked, betrayed--base repetition of the ancient
injury. What a fool he had been!

Then, his heart being sore, he tried to comfort himself after a man's
fashion. It had been all a mistake from the beginning; he had never
really loved this amber-haired enchantress; it had been the infatuation
of passion only, and he had escaped; let him be thankful. Or even
granting that love lay behind, was not all of life before him? One day
had passed, but another was soon to dawn, a day for new purposes, fresh
consecrations. In his present exalted mood, even his long-cherished
vengeance upon Quinton Edge seemed a small, a contemptible thing. What
were either his love or his hate in the world-drama that was being
enacted under his eyes. Again, as in days long past, he thrilled to the
thought of a new and larger life, the redemption of humanity, the
establishment of peace and righteousness, the shadow of Doom forever
lifted from the land. There were the rifles and ammunition lying at his
feet, potencies irresistible; surely this was the fulness of time. What
a splendid vision! How glorious his own part in it might be! And so,
through the night, he dreamed and drifted.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a week later that Esmay looked into Nanna's face bending over
her, and knew that remembrance had come again. She had listened
silently, as Nanna, between fits of weeping and stormy self-reproach,
made her confession, of her eavesdropping at the door, of her jealous
terror lest she should be separated from her darling, of her new-born
hatred of this Constans, who dared to stand between herself and Esmay,
of the final madness that had tempted her to the unchaining of the dogs.
Yet, when it was finished, Esmay had put forth her hand and drawn the
rough, tear-stained face close to her own. "You could not know, dear,"
she said, quietly, "and it was all for love of me."

It was not until the end of another week, a sunny day, when she had
ventured out for the first time, that Esmay found courage to ask the
question that had risen so often to her lips.

"When did the _Black Swan_ sail away?"

"That same morning," answered Nanna. "Although it's a living wonder that
I should have cared to take notice of anything beyond your face that lay
so still and white upon my arm."

"And our master--he carried out his purpose?"

Nanna looked puzzled. Then she answered, carelessly, "Does he ever fail
in that?"

There was a pause, and Esmay turned again to look upon the shining
river.

"He might have saved his life--and lost it," she whispered to herself.
"I am glad for him. And for myself--for now he knows."



XXI

OXENFORD'S DAUGHTER


Constans had now spent nearly a fortnight in the valley of the
Swiftwater, and, while he had been hospitably received and entertained,
he made but small progress in his mission; it seemed as though this
second propaganda were also doomed to failure. There was neither
unanimity nor enthusiasm among these rustic seigneurs; they were content
to leave well enough alone, and the rest of the world could shift for
itself, as in the past.

"Doom will not trouble us, and why should we concern ourselves about the
flaying of a few fat burghers. Mayhap a little blood-letting now and
then is efficacious in warding off the falling sickness, and in the end
the churls get it back out of us. Your own worthy uncle, Messer Hugolin,
has squeezed me more than once. As for your ideal republic, stuff of
dreams, lad! Take an old man's word for it."

Piers Major, of the River Barony, spoke decidedly, yet withal not
unkindly, for he had been blood-brother to Constans's father, and he
liked the boy for his own sake. Constans had gone; to him last of all;
unconsciously he had been counting upon his support, whatever else
failed, and to be repulsed in this quarter was bitter indeed. The old
man looked into the clouded face before him and continued, earnestly:

"A dream, I tell you. Let the morning wind scatter these vapors; you are
young, and the world is before you. Harkee, lad, for I speak for your
own good--nothing less. There is the Greenwood Keep, and it still
remains 'no man's land.' True, the house was badly gutted by the fire,
but there is plenty of good timber in the forest, and every man among us
will be glad to lend a hand to the reconstruction of your fortunes.
Finally, there is your tall cousin Alexa, 'Red' Oxenford's daughter.
Methinks she looks upon you not unkindly, and she bade me be sure to
bring you to her coming of age to-day. The whole country-side will be
present, and you may bag all your birds with one fairly shot bolt. What
say you?"

Constans was silent; for the moment he was conscious of being allured by
an offer so well and kindly meant. To restore the old home, to find
himself again among his kinsmen and friends, contentedly sharing their
simple, wholesome life, to plough his own acres and see the smoke
curling upward from his own hearthstone--were not these things, after
all, the actualities of life?--was he to be always turning his back upon
them to grasp at clouds mirrored in running water, shadows that ever
eluded his grasp? His cousin Alexa--undoubtedly she was a pretty girl,
with her rose-leaf complexion and bright, gray eyes. He had met her on
two or three occasions, and he was not wholly unaware of her shy
pleasure in his companionship, impersonal as it had hitherto been. He
might, indeed, stop and consider.

Yet the temptation passed as quickly as it had presented itself. There
was that other work in the world to-day, and who was to take it up if he
drew back? Others might be of gifts more competent, but at least he had
come to know himself through hard experience, and knowledge so bought
was not to be lightly flung away.

"It cannot be," he said, shortly. "Believe me, that I am not ungrateful,
but my own way is plain, and I must take it." He hesitated. "You are of
my father's covenant," he continued, slowly.

"The blood-bond is between us," assented the other, heartily enough, and
yet knitting his brows as he spoke.

"Then if I choose to exact the full obligation of brotherhood, even to
sword-service----"

"It must be paid, and it shall be," said Piers Major, quickly, and still
his countenance was troubled.

Constans deliberated. "I shall not require so severe a test of your good
faith," he said at length. "Yet I may ask you to hold the question open,
to give me a chance to prove that my plans are feasible and that action
is necessary for the future peace of all."

"That I can agree to with all my heart. But, mind you, the argument must
have a keen edge and weight behind it. We Stockaders are a stubborn
generation."

"So, too, are facts," returned Constans, "and possibly you may have to
deal with them rather than with my theories. It is a long time since the
men in gray have needed to go afield in this direction, but the country
around Croye is a dry sponge, and I happen to know that there were more
empty saddles than full hands in the expedition that has just returned
to Doom from the Southland. I stood on Harbor Hill last night, and there
were lights in the Narrows."

"It may be so," said the old man, sombrely, "but the graybacks should
not have forgotten already the lesson we taught them at the Golden Cove
the year of the red comet. But, Constans, lad, we should be on our way
if we would not have the pretty Alexa furrowing her forehead over our
empty seats at her birthday board. Hola! Willem; the horses!"

The way to Deepdene, Red Oxenford's stronghold, led through the forest,
and the green drive was a pleasant place on this brightest of May
mornings, there being the languor of coming summer in the fitful breeze.
The two horsemen rode slowly, yet their speech was brief, each being
absorbed in his own thoughts and questionings.

A couple of miles farther on and they came to the crossing of the Ochre
brook. As they rode their horses into the ford, a wild dog that had been
lapping at the brink started up with a snarl under the very feet of
Piers Major's steed. Now such is the cowardly nature of the wood-dog
that he will run from the presence of man if chance of escape be
offered; yet if cornered he will show all the ferocity of a wounded
boar. In this instance the dog could not retreat to advantage, and so he
sprang at the horse, gripping the tender muzzle in his strong, sharp
teeth, and hanging there like a rat on a terrier. The horse, maddened
with pain, plunged and reared. His master drew his hunting-knife and
made an ineffectual pass at the ugly beast.

"Hold!" shouted Constans. "Back in your saddle and leave him to me."

The pistol in his hand spoke once, and the dog, shot through the lungs,
fell back into the water. A bubble of crimson foam floated for a moment
on the current, and he was gone.

"That was well done," said Piers Major, gravely. He had finally
succeeded in quieting his horse, and they were again on their way.

"It is one of the ancient secrets," said Constans, and explained as best
he could the mechanism of the revolver and the composition of its
explosive cartridge. The old man examined the strange weapon with
respectful attention; he had had proof of its powers.

"Have you ever killed a man?" he demanded.

Constans was obliged to answer in the negative, and the other seemed a
little doubtful. "Look," said Constans, and, drawing rein, he took aim
at a beech-tree a few yards distant. The bullet ploughed into the wood,
leaving a small, round hole in the smooth bark. "See how deeply it has
penetrated," he continued. "Think you that a man could endure to have
this lump of lead drilled through heart or brain? Ay, and against it no
cuirass of quilted cloth will avail, however well it may turn an
arrow-point."

Piers Major smiled grimly. "If I questioned your assertion," he said,
"you would doubtless invite me to stand up and put the matter to the
proof. I am content."

"In a secret place, some three miles from here," went on Constans, "I
have in store a dozen similar weapons, together with as many of a larger
pattern--rifles as they were anciently called. Also abundance of
ammunition. Put them in the hands of brave men, and would not the odds
be in our favor, even if the Doomsmen out-numbered us?"

"Yet may not our enemies provide themselves with the same means of
offence?"

"No," said Constans, decidedly. "It took me a month's hard work to get
what I have into serviceable condition. Besides, the weapons are useless
without the cartridges of gunpowder and lead. Of these only a small
quantity remained fit for use, and I have secured it all."

The old man's eye brightened. "Good," he said, laconically, and relapsed
into his abstracted mood.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a joyous and inspiring spectacle that presented itself when they
finally drew rein before the doors of Deepdene. On the smooth lawn
within the stockade full a hundred horses were picketed, while their
masters strolled about in the bright sunshine. For the most part they
were well-built young fellows, clad in all the bravery of a rustic
holiday. Constans and his companion paused only long enough to receive
the salutation of those nearest, and then passed into the house to pay
their respects to the host. They had been among the last of the guests
to arrive, and now the signal was given for the festivities of the day
to begin in earnest.

The sports were of the sort characteristic of such a
gathering--wrestling and foot-races, target-shooting and bouts at
cudgel-play and night-stick. Towards the middle of the afternoon, when
the athletic prowess of the young men had been fully exploited, came the
great spectacle, the bull-fight, and of this it will be necessary to
speak somewhat particularly.

The pen, or corral, as it might more properly be called, was a circular
enclosure of fifty yards in diameter, the ring being formed of stout
post-and-rail fence. The victim, a wild bull, was first turned
blindfolded into the enclosure and baited by the dogs until excited to
frenzy. Then half a dozen of the bolder youths would vault into the ring
armed only with their throwing-knives, and the real sport would begin.
The master of the ring, having provided himself with a long pole to
which a sharp knife-blade had been bound, would watch his opportunity to
cut the thong that secured the blind-cloth about the animal's eyes. Woe
now to him who was dull of eye or laggard of foot!

The object of the game was, of course, to strike the fatal blow; but,
skilled as were the young Stockaders in the art of throwing the knife,
it often happened that a bull would be bleeding from a hundred wounds
and still keep his feet. Commonly, too, he would manage to score upon
one or more of his adversaries before succumbing, for while it was
permissible for a contestant to leave the ring, he could only do so
after he had thrown his knife and as a last resort against the bull's
charge. When the animal's attention had been diverted by an attack from
another quarter, the disarmed contestant would vault again into the ring
and recover his weapon. Here, indeed, was a game that might well stir
the coldest blood, since life itself was the stake for which it was
played.

The company had gathered about the bull-pen, pressing closely against
the barrier, that they might lose no part of the show. It should be a
spectacle worth more than ordinary attention, for the bull was an animal
of exceptional size and of a temper to correspond; the knowing ones
opined that the contest would be a protracted one, and expatiated
gravely upon the animal's strong points to their less-informed brethren.
Wagers were being booked; there were endless arguments, asseverations,
questionings; the smoke from innumerable pipes hung like a blue haze
above the heads of the throng, and here and there a fretful child lifted
up complaining voice. Already the sun hung in the zenith, and it was
time to begin if the sport were not to encroach upon the dinner hour.

At the north end of the enclosure a wooden gallery had been reared for
the accommodation of the principal guests, and Constans, to his
surprise, found himself included in this privileged number. Possibly the
pretty Alexa could have explained the mystery of his invitation; certain
it is that she favored him with a radiant smile when he made his
appearance on the platform, a mark of encouragement which might have
justified him in appropriating the vacant seat at the maiden's right
hand. But Constans, being of a retiring disposition, and even a little
indifferent to his opportunities, let the chance slip, and another who
had been waiting anxiously upon the lady's nod was finally made happy.

A murmur of applause had greeted the entrance of the bull, and truly he
was a magnificent creature, deep chested and of the true checkered
marking in black and white. The customary baiting had been omitted, for
the ugliness of his temper needed no external stimulus, and the young
men were already in the ring when he appeared.

The preliminary encounter was a mortifying experience for the sextet of
overconfident youth. One by one they launched their weapons and either
missed outright or else scored but lightly; successively they had been
forced to retreat beyond the barrier by the animal, whose agility in
getting around the ring was marvellous. Unfortunately for the
contestants, all the knives had fallen on virtually the same spot, and
the bull proceeded to mount guard over them as though aware that their
possession was the guarantee of his own immunity. The game was now
indefinitely blocked, since it was certain death for a player to attempt
the recovery of his throwing-knife, and the rules did not permit the
substitution of fresh weapons. The crowd laughed ironically as the
situation dawned upon them, and the discomfited players were compelled
to submit to many a gibe. The bull remained master of the field, and the
spectators, grown tired of waiting, began to express their disapproval
audibly.

Piers Major pushed his way to Constans's side. "A chance for you and
your fire-stick," he whispered. "I have been talking to Red Oxenford and
the others about it, and they are curious to see for themselves. Think
you that you can drop that fellow where he stands?" and he nodded at the
bull, who still kept watch over his spoils.

"Yes," answered Constans, confidently. Here was the supreme moment at
last arrived; the very thought of failure was impossible; he must and
would succeed in the task imposed. Obeying the beckoning finger of his
host, Constans advanced to the edge of the platform overhanging the
enclosure.

An excited murmur rose from the crowd below, and even the dignitaries
upon the gallery jostled one another to obtain a favorable
vantage-point. Alexa stood immediately behind Constans, her eyes bright
with excitement, and her slim hand hidden in her father's huge fist.
Without attempting to take aim, Constans raised the revolver and fired.

The bullet struck the ground in front of the bull and threw up a
spiteful puff of dust, at which the animal pawed disdainfully. But if
the shot had missed its mark, the report of the explosion did full
execution among the spectators. The women shrieked, and the men nearest
the enclosure pushed back hastily among the crowd. For a moment a panic
was imminent, but Constans quieted it with a word.

"It is only the bark of the dog," he said, smilingly, and his hearers
somewhat shamefacedly resumed their places, but this time leaving a dear
space in which he might stand and handle his weapon.

Constans took steady aim, and, to his surprise, missed again, the bullet
flying wide. The failure nettled him. He made his preparations for the
third essay with care, raising and lowering the pistol several times,
until he was sure that he could not miss the mark. A third failure--the
bullet clipping a splinter from a fence-post on the opposite side of the
ring. A mist rose before Constans's eyes; what did it mean? Could he
have deceived himself in thinking that he had mastered this secret of
the ancients? Was it to fail him now, when all depended upon success?
His hand trembled so that he could hardly draw the trigger. The hammer
fell for the fourth time, but no explosion followed, the cartridge
having missed fire. He had now but one shot left, and the whispers of
disapproval and disappointment among the crowd were plainly audible.

Without stopping to reflect, Constans leaped over the rail of the
gallery to the arena below. As he jumped, the girl, Alexa, started, and
a cry escaped her parted lips; it was a sigh rather than an exclamation,
the voice of a crushed flower suspiring its last vital breath. And
Constans did not hear.

For perhaps half a dozen seconds man and beast stood motionless, waiting
upon each other. The bull tossed his head savagely, his tail twitching,
and a cloud of dust and gravel rising under his impatient hoof.
Constans, with finger on trigger, moved a step to the right so as to
face him fairly. Suddenly the great horns came down with a vindictive
sweep, the shoulders heaved in the first impulse of the coming charge.
Like the snap of a whip the report rang out clean and sharp, and the
bullet went home at just the one vulnerable point in the thick
skull--that at which the butcher aims his pole-axe. The bull pulled up
short, the glaring eyes softened as though in wonder at this strange
performance that had been enacted before him; then, as the people still
held their breath, the brute sank quietly to his knees and rolled over
dead.

A woman started in to laugh hysterically, but her voice was drowned in a
mighty shout; like a wave the crowd passed over the barrier, and
Constans grasped helplessly at half a hundred out-stretched hands. A
babel of voices arose; the arena, filled to overflowing with excited men
and women, was comparable only to some gigantic ant-hill.

Fifty yards outside of the main palisade stood an oak-tree. Under the
Stockader law no standing timber should have been permitted at a less
distance than one hundred paces, but the oak was such a fine specimen
that Red Oxenford had allowed it to remain--a fatal error.

A bowstring twanged; the arrow sped to its mark--the fair young breast
of Oxenford's daughter--and in her father's arms the maiden gasped and
died; all this in the space of time in which a cloud of the bigness of a
man's hand might pass across the sun. Down from the lower branches of
that accursed oak dropped the lithe figure of a man garbed all in gray.
"Stop him!" called a weak, uncertain voice, but no one moved. The man in
gray waved his hand derisively and disappeared into the bush. An
inarticulate sound arose from the closely packed throng in the
enclosure, the exhalation of a universal sigh.

Red Oxenford had made neither sound nor sign. He stood motionless, his
daughter's head cradled in the hollow of his arm; he stared stupidly at
the girl's face, so pitifully white and small it seemed, with its
virginal coronal of flaxen hair--then he fell in a heap, like to a
collapsing wall.

Piers Major gently withdrew the bolt from the wound and held it up to
view. Its message was plain to all, for none save the Doomsmen feathered
their arrows with the plume of the gray goose. Only now the quills were
stained to a darker hue.

"It is her blood," he said, and the shaft of polished hickory snapped
like a straw between his fingers. "Her blood! and of Doom shall we
require it." And at that all the people shouted and then stood with
uncovered heads, while the young men bore away the body of Oxenford's
daughter on their locked shields and gave it to her mother.

[Illustration: "OF DOOM SHALL WE REQUIRE IT"]

That night Constans rode out from Deepdene at the head of twenty picked
men, leading them to the secret place where he had stored the guns and
ammunition which he had brought from Doom. Two days of practice with the
unfamiliar weapons, and on the morning of the third the little squad,
reinforced by a company of two hundred men-at-arms, set out upon the
northern road.

Towards noon they passed through Croye. It had been their intention to
stop here for the mid-day meal, but none cared to propose a halt after
entering this strange city of silence. Ordinarily the central square
would have been filled with a voluble, chaffering crowd, it being a
market-day; now there was not a living thing to be seen, not even a hog
wallowing in the kennel nor a buzzard about the butcher-stalls. Yet
there were no traces of fire and sword, the houses had suffered no
violence, and stood there barred and shuttered as though it were still
the middle watch of the night.

"What think you?" said Piers Major to Constans. "Is it the plague?"

"No, or there would be fires burning in the streets and yellow crosses
chalked upon the door-lintels. Those who keep so close behind their
bolts and bars are living people, hale and strong as ourselves. But,
assuredly, some great fear has been put upon them. Perhaps we shall know
more as we go on."

The answer to the riddle was given as they turned the corner by Messer
Hugolin's house. The strong-room on the ground-floor stood empty and
despoiled of its treasures, yet the gold and silver had not been carried
away, but lay scattered about in the filth of the street, as though
utterly contemned by the marauders.

And there, hanging from a cross-bar of the broken window, was the body
of Messer Hugolin, Councillor Primus of Croye, dressed in his scarlet
robes of office, and with a great gold chain about his neck. His head
was bowed upon his breast, so that the face was not visible, and for
this indulgence Constans gave inward thanks.

"Ride on," commanded Piers Major, shortly, and the cavalcade clattered
forward. It is not worth while to linger where once Dom Gillian's
tax-gatherers have passed.



XXII

YET THREE DAYS


Esmay sat in the gardens at Arcadia House. It was the loveliest of
spring days, and there were blossoms everywhere--the vivid pink of the
Judas-tree, the white glory of the dogwood, and each Forsythia bush a
cascade of golden foam. It was all so beautiful, and in that same
measure it hurt so keenly. The girl flung herself face downward in the
grass, seeking to shut out from sight and hearing the world that mocked
her.

That same night Esmay went to Nanna and announced her intention of
paying another visit to the "House of Power."

"Our lord cannot be wholly unmindful of his children," she said, "and
light may come to us from the Shining One. Besides," and here her color
deepened, "it is where he lived, he who was my friend. If I could but
find some little thing that had been his--a glove or one of his books!
Now do be a good Nanna and help me in this."

But the practical Nanna shook her head. "That mad, old graybeard, who
considers it a contamination to even look upon a woman, is it likely
that he will invite you into his sanctuary and set himself to answer
your foolish questions? It is supposed to be sufficient grace for a
woman if the Shining One deigns to accept the gifts that she lays upon
his altar."

"Then we will go dressed as men. There is everything we can want in the
presses up-stairs, and I can steal the key of the wicket gate from out
of Kurt's very pocket. Now, Nanna, dear----"

And of course Nanna yielded, for she saw that her darling's heart was
set upon this thing. Quinton Edge was still absent in the _Black Swan_,
and it would be an easy matter to hoodwink old Kurt; he was always
fuddled with ale nowadays. To-morrow would be Friday, the day of the
weekly sacrifice; they could make the trial then.

It was hard upon noon of the following day when the two women drew near
to the temple of the Shining One. Nanna, clad in doublet and
small-clothes, swung jauntily along, one hand on dagger-hilt and
careless challenge in her snapping, black eyes, the picture of a
swaggering younker. But Esmay, at the last moment, could not bring
herself to don habiliments exclusively masculine. So she compromised by
wearing a round jacket with a rolling collar and tucking away her hair
under a boy's cap. A long rain-coat, for which the showery morning was
an excuse, completed her outward attire and concealed her petticoats
from casual view. Yet in any case her blushes had been spared, for they
met nobody on their way, and the open space in front of the temple was
deserted. Not a single worshiper had come to pay honor and tithe to the
Shining One; the altar was empty of offerings, and the priest himself
was absent from his accustomed post. Yet upon the ear fell the rumble
and clang of moving machinery, and the eye, piercing through the
half-lights of the archway, caught indefinite glimpses of the pulsing
mysteries of wheel and piston-rod that lay within the shadows.

"He must be within," said Nanna, leading the way. "Don't stumble around
like that. Here, take my hand."

Prostrate in front of the switch-board they found the priest, a mere
anatomy of a man, with his checks shrunken to the jaw, and his wasted
limbs no larger than those of a child. Yet he was alive and conscious,
the deep-set eyes glowing with suspicious fire as they turned upon his
unexpected guests.

"Starving," said Nanna, briefly, and proceeded to force a few drops of
wine from a pocket-flask between his lips, while Esmay ran for the
basket of food which had been brought along as an offertory in their
assumed character of worshippers. The stimulant acted powerfully, and
within the hour Prosper was so far restored as to be able to partake of
some solid food. Then he insisted upon getting to his feet, a gaunt and
terrible figure in his rusty cassock.

"I have my work to do," he reiterated, stubbornly. "I must be preparing
the harvest field for my lord's sickle, and already the time is ripe for
his appearing. Behold and believe!"

With a firm step he approached the switch-board and turned one of the
controlling levers. A flash of light, succeeded by a stream of crackling
sparks, leaped from the free end of a broken wire at the other end of
the building, and a pile of straw lying near it burst into flame. An
expert in electrical engineering would have understood that the broken
wire must be in proximity to a mass of metal, and that the powerful
current was being visibly hurled across the gap. Esmay uttered a cry,
and even Nanna shrank back. Prosper smiled.

"Who can abide the displeasure of the Shining One? Who can stand before
the flame of his wrath? A mighty and a terrible god, yet he would have
left his servant to starve before his altar--you have seen that for
yourselves. It is ten days now since even a woman has condescended to
kneel at his shrine and make her offerings of meat and drink. I, his
high-priest, may eat no common food, but how should the lord of heaven
and earth keep such trivial circumstances in mind? He had forgotten, and
so I must have died but for your opportune coming and pious gifts.

"One might argue that our lord employed you as the instruments of my
deliverance," continued the priest, musingly. "I might think it, but
that I know the Shining One of old. It is his pleasure to punish, not to
help; to slay and not to make alive. Never has he given aught of grace
to me who have served him faithfully for these threescore years. And
to-day, if I should sit with him upon the death-chair, he would consume
me as utterly as though I were the foulest-mouthed blasphemer in all
Doom. What think ye, in all honesty, of the Shining One? Is he a god to
be propitiated by sacrifice and offering, to be worshipped and
adored--supreme, almighty, everlasting? Or are we but blind fools,
trembling before a blind force that knows and sees and is nothing,
except as we, its lords and masters, may compel it to work our will?"

The muttering of thunder broke in upon the priest's last words. A
storm-cloud was driving in from the west, low-hanging and menacing. The
priest's face changed.

"He comes! he comes!" he continued, with fanatic intensity. "This is our
lord, in very truth, who now stands before us, calling upon his people
to turn to him ere it be too late. Yet three days, and Doom, Doom the
Mighty, is fallen, is fallen! He has said it--yet three days."

The two women stayed neither to see nor to listen further. Hand-in-hand
they gained the street and ran in the direction of the Citadel Square,
heedless of the rain that was now beginning to fall. Several blocks away
they paused, exhausted, compelled to seek shelter in a doorway from the
fury of the storm. Some one was already there--a man. He turned as they
entered, and Esmay saw that it was Ulick.

For several moments they stood side by side without exchanging a word,
and, indeed, no speech would have been audible amid the almost
continuous crashing of the thunder-peals. Then, as the first violence of
the storm expended itself, Esmay heard her name uttered, and realized
that Ulick was holding her hand in both his own.

"Don't!" she pleaded, and drew her hand away.

Ulick's face hardened. "I might have known it," he said, bitterly. "Yet
he who has been false to friendship may betray love as well."

"He is dead," she said, and Ulick started.

"Constans--dead!" he stammered.

"Hanged at the yard-arm of the _Black Swan_. But Quinton Edge still
lives."

"You loved him?" persisted Ulick, the sense of his injury still strong
within him.

The girl drew herself up proudly. "Yes, I loved him--that is for you and
all the world to know. But be comforted; he cared not a whit for me.
That, in the end, was made plain enough."

Ulick's fare was pale. "But he still stands between us?" he said.

"Yes," she answered, simply.

The rain had almost ceased; Esmay made a movement to depart.

"There is nothing--no way in which I can serve you?" he asked.

She shook her head. "Nothing. I am going back to Arcadia House, but I
shall have Nanna with me. There is nothing to fear."

He regarded her fixedly. "What can you do against Quinton Edge? He is
the master--our master."

"I do not know; I have not thought. But I can watch and I can wait."

"Waiting! If that were all----"

"No, no! it could not be." She colored hotly, and he stopped, abashed.

"You must go now," she went on, gently. "Ulick, dear Ulick, I am sending
you away, but, indeed, it is better so. And I shall remember--always."

He would have spoken again, but something in her face restrained him. He
bent and kissed her reverently, as a brother might, and went out. And
she, watching him go, found her vision suddenly blurred by a mist of
tears. For there is something in every woman's heart that pleads a true
man's cause, for all that she may not accept the gift he proffers.

Nanna had disappeared into the house some few minutes before; now she
returned from her journey of discovery, wearing an expression of gravity
quite new to her. "Come," she said, "I want to show you something."

She drew Esmay after her down the draughty passage that led to the
offices of the long-since-deserted dwelling-house. There was a large
apartment at the end of the passage--the kitchen, to judge from the
character of the fittings. The room had been formerly lighted by
electricity, and Nanna pointed out a lampwire whose free end was
dangling in close proximity to a lead water-pipe. Underneath was a small
heap of oil-soaked rags.

"You remember what we saw at the House of Power?" said Nanna,
significantly.

Esmay examined the wire carefully. At the broken end the insulating
fabric had been stripped off and the copper scraped clean and bright
with a knife-blade.

"I found this on a nail in the passage," went on Nanna, and held out a
bit of cloth that had been torn from a garment. It was of that peculiar
weave worn only by the priests of the Shining One.

Esmay looked at it with troubled eyes. "What does it mean?" she asked,
but Nanna only shook her head.

"Of course, I remember what happened at the temple," said Esmay,
hesitatingly. "We saw him turn a handle, and the wire a hundred feet
away spouted fire. If a hundred feet, why not half a mile?"

"It is a trap," asserted Nanna.

"But for what purpose?"

Nanna was not to be moved. "A trap," she persisted. "I do not
understand, but I can feel what it is just as do the wolverine and the
fox. Come away."

They walked down the street.

"What could Prosper hope to catch in such a snare--for whom could he have
set it?" asked Esmay, putting into audible language the question over which
both were puzzling. "Unless," she went on, thoughtfully--"unless this is
only one of many."

Nanna nodded. "Dozens, hundreds of them, and scattered all over the
city. It is the harvest-field of which he spoke."

As they passed a street corner that commanded a view of the Palace Road,
Nanna caught Esmay by the arm and bade her look. Towering head and
shoulders above the throng of idle men and gossiping women strode
Prosper, the priest, and as he went he proclaimed the woe that must
shortly come upon the city, a message to which none gave heed. But for
all their mocking he would not forbear, and long after he had passed out
of sight Esmay could distinguish the accents of his powerful voice
rising above the din that strove to drown it:

"Yet three days, and Doom the Mighty--is fallen, is fallen!"



XXIII

THE RED LIGHT IN THE NORTH


It had been Constans's original plan to cross the river some miles above
Croye, and so avoid attracting the attention of the Doomsmen should any
of their parties be afield. The expedition would then move cautiously
down the east bank in the hope of surprising the guard at the High
Bridge, and so gain entrance to the city. But Piers Major, at the
council of war that first evening, brought about a reconsideration.

"Against the citadel," he said, shrewdly, "we should rather choose to
direct an unexpected blow. The bridge may be carried by a rush, but not
so the stone walls that guard the heart of Doom. In that assault a man's
life must be paid for each rung gained on the scaling-ladders. We have
no batteries with which to hammer at the gate-hinges, and as for a
siege--well, it is weary work starving out rats whose fortress is a
granary in itself. Let us move, indeed, but cautiously, prudently.

"Splendor of God!" shouted Red Oxenford, and he sprang to his feet. A
man of full habit and ruddy face he had been in his day, but since the
death of the young Alexa he seemed to have aged and whitened visibly.
His eyes were bright, as though with fever, and he went on with growing
vehemence:

"Are we, then, chapmen of Croye, calling to collect an overdue
account--prepared to sit down in humble expectancy at Dom Gillian's door
until it may pleasure him to open it? Caution, expediency! he is no
friend to Oxenford who would utter such words as these."

But Piers Major was not to be daunted. He put his hands on the shoulders
of the angry man and forced him backward into his seat.

"Nay, but you have not heard me out," continued Piers Major. "It is a
debt, indeed, for which we are pressing payment--only one of blood
rather than of gold. All the more reason, then, that the settlement
should be in full and the cost of collection kept small. Now, Dom
Gillian has shut his door in our faces, and it is a strong one. If we so
elect we may butt out our brains against it, and be none the better off.

"A fortress and a woman, there is always more than one way in which they
may be taken. Let us find that back door, and some of us may quietly
enter there while the others are parleying at the front. Once within the
walls, the fire-sticks should quickly clear the house for us."

"Ay, man," broke in Oxenford, impatiently, "but all this is words, not
deeds. What can we do so that Dom Gillian hangs from his own door-post
before a second rising of the sun?"

"I propose, then," answered Piers Major, "that the score of men who are
armed with the new weapons shall take boat down the river and make a
landing to the south of the Citadel Square, remaining in hiding until
the rising of the moon to-morrow night. The main body will force the
High Bridge at the coming dawn, and should be able to drive the Doomsmen
to cover within the next twelve hours. Then the frontal attack in force
and the gun-fire from behind. If they follow each other at the proper
interval, our victory is assured."

"It is your idea that I should go with the flanking-party?" asked
Constans.

"Naturally, since you alone know the city. We can reach the Citadel
Square from our side without difficulty, for it is a simple matter of
hewing our way thither. But with your party it must be the progress of
the snake through the grass."

Without further parley the plan proposed was adopted. Piers Major would
command the main body in person--about one hundred and fifty men in all.
Constans selected Piers Minor, son of Piers Major, as his lieutenant,
and, somewhat to his surprise, Oxenford elected to join the smaller
command. "It is the better chance," he explained, grimly, "for my
getting a face-to-face look at the old, gray wolf."

Fortunately, the question of transportation for the river party was
quickly settled. One of Messer Hugolin's flat-boats, coming down from
the upper river with a cargo of hides, had anchored for the night a
half-mile up-stream; it was an easy matter to impress crew and vessel
into service. The hides were tossed ashore, and by midnight the
expedition was ready to start. The scow was fitted with two masts,
carrying square sails, and, as the wind was directly astern and blowing
strongly, the clumsy craft swept away from her moorings with imposing
animation, leaving a full half-acre of bubbles to mark her wake.

"For the third time," said Constans to himself as he sat in the bow with
his back to the squat foremast and watched the river flowing darkly by.
Twice now had he measured strength with Doom the Forbidden, and twice
had the battle been drawn, the issue left undecided. This time one or
the other must fall.

The long night wore away, and presently the sky was streaked with the
pink and saffron of the coming dawn. A landing was made without
difficulty, and Constans was soon leading his little band through the
rubbish-encumbered thoroughfares to the appointed station. The men
marched along in sulky silence, for their night's rest on the open
boat-deck had been an uncomfortable one, and they wanted their
breakfast.

Constans had determined to make use of his old quarters in the
"Flat-iron" building, on the south side of the Citadel Square, and his
relief was great when the last man passed within the shelter of its
walls. Once mustered in one of the large rooms on the fourth floor, the
haversacks and canteens were quickly requisitioned, and the men feasted
gloriously upon oat-cake and cold coffee, brewed from parched grain,
with a pipe for dessert. After this agreeable interlude, there was
nothing to do but to wait, and the majority curled themselves up in some
convenient corner and resumed their interrupted slumbers. Constans
posted himself at a window overlooking the square, with the intention of
keeping close watch on all that passed below. But, in spite of all his
efforts, Nature insisted upon her rights, and he, too, slept.

Over at Arcadia House, Nanna, being wakeful with the torture of an
aching tooth, happened to glance through the north windows of the room
occupied by the sisters and saw a dull-red glow on the horizon--a
conflagration. She aroused Esmay, and the two girls watched it,
wondering.

"It is in the direction of the High Bridge," said Esmay, and Nanna
nodded acquiescence. "And it is the morning of the third day," continued
Esmay, and Nanna nodded again.

The fire was a long way off, low down on the northern sky-line. But
every now and then a crimson streamer would leap upward almost to the
zenith, showing how great and vehement the conflagration must be. As the
two girls stood watching it, they heard a window flung up sharply, and
Quinton Edge's voice calling to Old Kurt and bidding him saddle a horse
with all speed.

Nanna's eyes glowed. "It is something big," she said, excitedly, and
began scrambling into her masculine attire. "Something that is worth our
while to know all about," she continued.

"But, Nanna----" began Esmay, doubtfully.

"Do you suppose that our master is going out to pick flowers? Help me
with this buckle, little sister, and talk not so foolishly."

And forthwith Esmay submitted to this new Nanna in doublet and
small-clothes, who spoke with authority and took such tremendously long
strides. If great events were really at hand, it were well to be
forewarned, and Nanna, thanks to the dash of wild-folk blood in her
veins, would be both hawk and hound upon such a trail. So Esmay
contented herself with an admonition to caution, and helped the
impatient one to depart, stealing down with her into the great hall, in
order to rebolt the outer door. She feared lest she might meet Quinton
Edge as she remounted the stairs and flew along the corridor to her
room, but she regained its shelter undisturbed. It had been many weeks
now since the master had returned, but Esmay had only seen him at a
distance, walking for hours at a time in the garden. Strange, that
seemingly he should have forgotten her very existence, but neither sign
nor message had come to her. Even his larger plans had apparently been
laid aside; not once had he left the boundaries of Arcadia House, except
for the weekly council meeting at the Citadel Square. But perhaps,
again, this was the crisis for which he had been waiting; even as she
meditated she heard his step in the hallway and his knock at her door;
then it opened, and Quinton Edge stood before her.

He did not appear to notice Nanna's absence, but crossed over to the
window where Esmay stood. "Come," he said, and Esmay obeyed, being yet
faint with terror lest his hands should touch her. And this he must have
guessed, for he drew aside and passed out first, motioning her to
follow. The door leading to his apartments stood open. Esmay hesitated.

"Yes," said Quinton Edge, and the girl turned and searched his face. She
did not understand what she saw there, yet it contented her, and she
crossed the threshold. Quinton Edge followed, reappearing almost
immediately and carefully locking the door behind him. He descended the
stairs and passed out to the eastern portico, where his horse should
have been in waiting. It was not there, and Quinton Edge grew angry.
"Kurt!" he called, once and twice and thrice. Then at last the
delinquent appeared. The sullenness of sleep was still upon him, and
when his master would have reproved him for his tardiness he answered
back insolently.

"Enough!" said Quinton Edge, and struck him across the mouth with his
riding-whip. Then vaulting into the saddle, he spurred through the
gateway, riding hard for the northwest.

Old Kurt gazed after his master. "Thirty lashes at Middenmass," he
muttered, "and now this--this----"

       *       *       *       *       *

Three hours later a boyish figure scaled the wall and dropped into the
sunken way. Fangs, who was sunning herself on the terrace, looked up
with white teeth bared, then rose, wagging her tail in friendly
greeting. But Nanna, with a hasty word to the dog, entered the house and
ran up to Esmay's room. Great news indeed! But where was the child?
Nanna stood stock-still, gazing stupidly around the empty room. "Esmay,"
she murmured, in a half-whisper, and passed out into the corridor. She
went straight to the door leading to Quinton Edge's apartments. A tiny
hair-pin of tortoise-shell lay on the floor. Nanna picked it up with a
sob and regarded it fixedly. She knocked twice upon the door, but there
was no response. She tried her strength against it, and shook her head.
Nothing could be done here. She went down-stairs, and looked to see if
the key of the wicket gate was hanging in its accustomed place behind
the master's leather chair. It was there; she took it and let herself
into the street. There was only Fangs, the great, black bitch, to watch
her go, the dog whining and leaping upon the wicket gate as it swung
back into place.



XXIV

THE EVE OF THE THIRD DAY


A touch upon Constans's shoulder and a voice in his ear aroused him. He
sprang to his feet; the sunshine was streaming through the glazeless
casements, and Constans, being yet heavy with sleep, blinked against it
as a man drunken with wine. Oxenford confronted him. "The attack?"
questioned Constans, and for the life of him could not help yawning
prodigiously.

Red Oxenford laughed. "In that case I should have pulled your ear off
instead of wasting time shouting into it. By the thunders of God, man,
but you sleep soundly."

Constans was fully awake now. He glanced at the sun, which was high in
the sky, and then at Oxenford's gaunt face.

"I have left you to do the watching alone," he said, apologetically.

"What matter?" was the indifferent answer. "For me slumber would not
have meant forgetfulness, and the watching made the waiting so much the
easier."

Constans stood by the window looking across the Citadel Square and
directly up the Palace Road. "I see no sign of Piers Major," he said at
length.

"Down in the square," replied Oxenford, laconically.

In truth there was a most unusual activity pervading the stronghold of
the Doomsmen. Already the long rows of guard-huts were tenanted by a
throng of women and children, and the number was being constantly
reinforced by fresh arrivals. Guards were pacing the walls, and a squad
of the younger men were engaged in setting up the artillery machines for
hurling stones so as to command the open space in front of the north
gate. New ropes were being fitted to the torsion levers, and an ox-cart
loaded with ammunition, in the shape of rounded boulders, creaked
noisily through the gateway.

"The warning must have come down from the High Bridge at an early hour,"
said Constans, thoughtfully. "How long has all this been going on?"

"Only within the last hour," returned Oxenford. "I waited for the old
gray wolf himself to seek his lair before arousing you. He has but just
crawled into it--out of arrow-shot," he added, regretfully.

Constans could see half a dozen of the green-jerkined guards lounging
about the entrance to the White Tower, evidence that Dom Gillian was
resting within. There was nothing to be seen of Quinton Edge, but surely
he would not be far away from the storm-centre. Probably he was
directing the defence at the northern boundary or even at the High
Bridge.

Slowly the day dragged on for the watchers in the "Flat-iron." It was
impossible to form any conjecture as to how the preliminary conflict was
proceeding; it was not even certain that it had begun. Piers Major had
undoubtedly forced the passage of the bridge, but apparently he had been
content with holding his advantage. He might not begin to move until
late in the day, and he would proceed slowly and cautiously.

From time to time a messenger galloped down the Palace Road. At once he
would be surrounded by an eager throng and escorted to the guard-room of
the White Tower, where Ulick had set up his headquarters. For it was
Ulick who had been left in command of the citadel garrison and intrusted
with the preparations for the impending siege. Twice Constans had caught
him fairly with his binoculars, and he could not be mistaken in the
features and carriage of his friend. His friend--one might say the only
friend that he had ever had--and Constans felt his heart heavy within
him, knowing that they must henceforth walk on diverging paths.

Constans found it difficult to keep his men under discipline. It was
all-important that their presence should be unsuspected by the enemy,
but it would have been betrayed a score of times had not his vigilance
intervened. Red Oxenford, in particular, grew more and more
unmanageable; he had neither eaten nor slept now for three days, and the
strain was telling on him. Finally he announced that he would wait no
longer. The north gate was open, and what should prevent his walking
straight up to the White Tower and sticking his boar-spear into the gray
wolf's hide? "And I will--by the seven thunders of God!" His voice rose
into a shriek.

It took half a dozen men to gag and bind him; he lay on a truss of
straw, his eyes fixed malevolently on Constans, whose orders had
prevented him from carrying out a plan so eminently practicable.

The shadows were growing long when Piers Minor pointed out a cloud of
dust far up the Palace Road. Later on they could distinguish the figures
of men and horses. Stragglers and wounded began to dribble away from the
fighting-line; they came running down the Palace Road, one by one, then
in bunches of two and three and four. Piers Major, with his greatly
superior force, was evidently driving the defenders back.

Half an hour later the conjecture became accomplished fact. The
Doomsmen, retreating with admirable steadiness, fell back upon the
shelter of the citadel walls. Quinton Edge, with a score of mounted
cross-bowmen, brought up the rear, and he himself was the last man to
pass through the north gate.

Three hundred yards away the Stockaders came suddenly into view, but it
was close to sunset, the time for the evening meal, and, as though by
mutual consent, both sides laid aside their arms for the homelier
utensils of the cuisine. Down in the Citadel Square a hundred little
fires started up, and as many pots and kettles began to bubble
cheerfully. The invaders contented themselves with building huge
bonfires, intended for warmth rather than for cooking, since their light
marching order precluded the carrying of anything more than cold
rations. From far up the avenue came the boom of an ox-horn, militant,
almost brazen in its sonority. A drum, beaten noisily, rattled back an
impudent defiance from the citadel.



XXV

ENTR'ACTE


There had been no final understanding between Constans and Piers Major
as to the precise line of the attack upon the citadel. That must depend
upon the successful carrying of the defences at the boundary and upon
the duration of the skirmishing in the streets. Both had agreed,
however, that a night assault offered the better chances of victory. The
Stockaders had no siege artillery with which to batter down the gates at
long range; they would have to march straight to the walls, and the
darkness would be in the nature of a protection from the missiles of the
enemy. The moon, a little past the full, rose about nine o'clock, but
its light was liable to be obscured by clouds. One of the sudden changes
characteristic of the month of May was in progress, and a cold wind was
blowing from the northwest. It promised to be half a gale by midnight,
and already the sky was partially overcast. The initiative lay, of
course, with Piers Major, and Constans must use his own judgment in
making the diversion in the rear.

"They are throwing up an inner barricade," said Piers Minor, at
Constans's elbow. He looked, and saw that the space immediately in front
of the storehouses was being enclosed by a barrier of earth and
paving-stones. The Doomsmen were prepared, then, for the possible
carrying of the main walls by assault. What could be the weak point in
the defence?

"The gate," suggested Piers Minor.

Constans levelled his glass and examined the barrier with attention. The
vaulted archway through the walls was about sixteen feet long by ten
wide and as many high. At the street end it was closed by a gate
consisting of two wooden leaves, swung on hinges in the ordinary manner,
and having as a central support a stout post firmly sunken into the
ground. The timber construction was of the heaviest, but axe and sledge
would make short work of it could they be brought near enough for
effective use.

At the inner entrance to the archway was suspended a portcullis of
wrought-iron bars. This was the real barrier, for, even if the attacking
party succeeded in battering down the outer gate, they would find
themselves cooped up in the passageway and exposed to missiles
discharged both through the grating and from trap-doors in the vaulted
ceiling. A well-conceived theory of defence, but its present practice
was complicated by an unexpected difficulty--the portcullis, long
unused, had become jammed in the ways and refused to descend. A squad of
men were sweating at the task, but so far they had accomplished nothing.

"You are right," said Constans, letting the glass fall and turning to
Piers Minor. "What can they be thinking of--wasting time in that
hopeless tinkering? The one important thing is to close the
passageway--if possible, by means of the portcullis; failing that, to
block it up. If Piers Major but knew--nay, he _must_ know."

Piers Minor nodded; he understood the appeal.

"I am going to tell him," he said, imperturbably. "I will be careful
about keeping out of sight until well away from the vicinity of the
'Flat-iron.' So as not to spoil sport for you," he added, smiling.

Constans accompanied Piers Minor to the street entrance, going over in
detail the message that he was to bear to his father. A final admonition
of caution, and they parted. It was still broad daylight, and Constans
returned to his post of observation.

Of course, the expected happened. A report of the portcullis's
unserviceable condition had been finally made to Quinton Edge, and
already he was on the scene--a master indeed. The confusion, the
contradictory babel of voices, dies away into order and silence, and, as
Constans had foreseen, his orders were to suspend operations on the
portcullis and proceed with all speed to the blocking-up of the archway.
Choked to the ceiling with loose stones and other débris, it would be a
formidable barricade to carry by assault.

Constans strode up and down the room, devoured by impatience. Piers
Minor had been gone now upward of half an hour, and yet there was no
sign of preparation in the camp of the allies. It would take possibly an
hour longer to make the vaulted passage impassable; Piers Major must
advance within half that time if he would take advantage of this secret
weakness in the defence. Failing to do so, he would be thrown back upon
the desperate adventure of the scaling-ladders, and the whole issue
would then hang upon the effectiveness with which Constans could bring
off his attack from the rear.

The restless fit passed, and Constans leaned out upon the window-sill,
watching the darkening sky. A fierce revulsion seized him as he pictured
to himself the scene upon which the morning sun would look--the kennels
red with blood, the horrors huddled in every corner, all the dreadful
jetsam cast up by the ensanguined tide of war. Of necessity, perhaps,
must such things be--the endurance of a lesser evil that the greater
wrong might be forever blotted out. And yet his heart was heavy.

He looked out again upon the ruined wilderness of stone that hemmed him
in. How he hated this monstrous city of Doom, infernal mother of
treacheries and spoils! How weary he was of wandering through its stony
labyrinths, fit symbol of his own oft-thwarted hopes! A vision of green
fields and quiet waters rose before him, he seemed to be walking
knee-deep in the lush grass starred with purple asters and the sweet
meadow-flag--it was the old home paddock of the Greenwood Keep; there
was the copse of white beeches, and through it came the flutter of a
woman's gown. Eagerly he watched as she came to meet him--Issa; then she
turned her face full towards him, and he saw that it was Esmay. He
sprang forward.

A roll of drums beating the charge, and Constans started. "At last!" he
said.

       *       *       *       *       *

Piers Minor, keeping as closely as possible to cover, worked his way
slowly to the northward and towards the Stockader camp, on the Palace
Road. But, being unfamiliar with the topography of the district, he
insensibly kept edging into dangerous proximity to the Citadel Square;
suddenly he found himself within a short block of its eastern front. He
turned to retreat, and came face to face with a slender, black-eyed
youth who must have been following close upon his heels. Discovered, he
tried to dodge, but Piers Minor was too quick, and they closed. The
youth struggled gallantly, but the Stockader had all the advantage in
strength; in another moment Piers Minor had his antagonist crushed
helplessly into a corner. He looked at the boy contemptuously.

"Not a sound, mind, or I'll twist your throat as I would a
meadow-lark's. Why were you following me?"

The black eyes snapped back at him unwinkingly.

"Let me speak, then--you hurt me."

Piers Minor loosened his hold upon the slender throat.

"Go on."

"You are a Stockader, and there is a young man with you, fair-haired and
with dark eyes--Constans by name? Do you know him?"

"Well, and if I do?"

"Will you tell me where and how I can see him? Just a word, or, if not,
then to send him a message."

"It is impossible," said Piers Minor, stolidly. "This is a time of war,
and only for life and death----"

"It is a question of that," insisted the youth.

Piers Minor shook himself impatiently.

"Speak out, can't you? What is it that he would care to know?"

"Tell him, then, that last night Esmay disappeared, and yet still
remains in Arcadia House. He will understand, for he knows Quinton
Edge."

"A woman!" ejaculated Piers Minor, in supreme disdain. "Always that."

"Yes, always that," retorted the boy, and Piers Minor burst into a
laugh.

"You are a bold one," he said, half admiringly. "Well, I will tell him;
I promise you that. And now what am I to do with you?"

The boy made a grimace. "We may part as we have met, with no one the
wiser."

"I am not so sure of that," said the other, suspiciously. "You are a
Doomsman, and you know me to be a Stockader--a spy, if you like. If it
were for myself alone I might trust you, but so much may hang----"

He stopped abruptly and his eyes darkened. "The only sure way lies at my
knife-point." He scanned intently the face which paled before his gaze,
yet changed not in the smallest line.

"Good!" said Piers Minor, heartily. "Although, indeed, I could never
have done it. Yet I must bind and gag you," he added.

The boy pouted. "No; I will not have you touch me." He tried by a sudden
movement to slip under Piers Minor's detaining hand. The shock displaced
his cap, a fastening gave way at the same instant, and a mass of long,
black hair tumbled down upon the youth's shoulders. Even then Piers
Minor, being of masculine slow wit, might not have guessed the truth but
for a bright blush that overspread brow and cheek, a confession that
even his dull senses could not misinterpret.

"A woman!" he said, confusedly, and blushed as unrestrainedly in his
turn.

Beholding his embarrassment, Nanna was relieved of her own.

"You will have to trust me, you see," she said, coldly.

The abashed Piers Minor murmured an indistinct assent.

"And you will not forget my message?"

"No, no! He shall have it at the earliest possible moment."

"Very good--it is understood, then. Now you may go."

Piers Minor had not a word to say. He had been meditating upon a
thousand possible explanations, excuses, apologies, and his tongue would
not utter one of them. He accepted his orders meekly, but as he turned
to go he managed to stammer out, "Of course--to meet again."

Nanna, to her own infinite amazement, answered with a look that meant
yes, and knew that he had not failed to so understand it. As she walked
over to the Citadel Square she could feel that he was standing where she
had left him and looking after her. She would have turned to fittingly
rebuke behavior so indecorous, but something told her that her insulted
dignity would be better saved by removing it to a greater distance.

Nanna entered the Citadel Square after some parley with the sentinels on
the walls, who grumbled at the trouble to which they were put to let
down a rope-ladder; but, being a daughter of the Doomsmen, she could not
be denied.

A little crowd of women and elderly men gathered about an ox-cart in the
centre of the square attracted her attention. They were listening to a
speaker who, standing upright in the wagon-body, was haranguing them
earnestly. Nanna recognized him--Prosper, the priest.

It was the old story--repentance, the wrath of the Shining One, and the
imminence of the judgment. The men of the garrison, absorbed in their
preparations for defence, paid no heed; only this handful of old men and
fearful women, who crept a little closer together as they listened and
sought one another's hands. "To-day, to-day, even to-day, and Doom is
fallen, is fallen!"

A disquieting thought flashed into Nanna's mind, the remembrance of
those carefully arranged broken wires in the empty house not more than a
block away from the Citadel Square. Then of those other wires in the
temple of the Shining One, spluttering their wicked-looking sparks. She
strained her ears to catch the humming drone of the engines in the House
of Power, but there was no sound to be heard--they could not be running.

"Yet there will be mischief worked to-night if the priest has his way,"
said Nanna to herself, and shook her black-polled head safely. "I almost
wish that I had told _him_ of that, too." And then, unaccountably, she
blushed again, for all that it was dark and no one was looking at her.



XXVI

THE SONG OF THE SWORD


It did not take long for Constans to arouse and collect his men; tired
of inaction, they were only too glad to respond to the summons. And at
the last, Constans, unable to withstand the entreaty in Red Oxenford's
eyes, ordered his release.

"But, with the others, you must wait upon my word," he said, sternly,
and Oxenford, fearful above all things of being left behind, gave ready
assent to the condition.

Under the south rampart of the citadel they halted. There were but two
guards on duty here, and they were easily surprised and secured before
they could give an alarm. As one by one the rest of the company ascended
the scaling-ladder, they were ordered to throw themselves prone on the
flat top of the wall, to await the final signal. Over at the north gate
the clamor grew momentarily--there were blows of axes on wood, and clash
of arms, and the confused crying of many voices.

"The snapping-turtle must be at his work," said Constans to himself.
"Wait until his teeth show through that flimsy wooden screen."

       *       *       *       *       *

Piers Major had advanced promptly upon receiving the message brought by
his son. The chances of a frontal attack had already been discussed
between him and Constans, and the latter had devised a formation which,
in theory at least, should make such an undertaking feasible. In its
basic idea it was the Roman _testudo_, described by Julius Cæsar in the
Gallic Commentaries. The phalanx of marching men were protected from
arrows, darts, and ordinary missiles by a continuous covering formed of
their ox-hide shields, the latter being held horizontally above the head
and interlocked. The overlapping shields bore a fanciful resemblance to
the scaly carapace of a tortoise--hence its name; and, so long as the
essential principle of unity of action was maintained, it might be
reckoned an effective engine of warfare.

As the _testudo_ moved down the Palace Road and towards the wooden
barrier of the north gate, it was to be observed that the front-rank men
and the file-closers carried their shields in the ordinary fashion, in
order to ward off horizontally flying missiles. Once under the shelter
of the walls, the leaders would immediately discard their now useless
bucklers and begin to ply their axes, protected from overhead assaults
by the overlapping shields of their comrades. The formation advanced
steadily; there was a suggestion of terrific irresistibility in the very
slowness of its progress; to the eager fancy it might have been the
veritable recreation of some prehistoric monster, the illusion being
heightened by the torchlight that flickered uncertainly over the rounded
bellies of the shields of greenish leather and was reflected redly from
their copper bosses.

The defence had been quick to recognize the character of the assault,
and had done their best to repel it. The catapults had been brought
into action, and their huge projectiles hurtled constantly through the
air, but for the most part innocuously, the machines not being in the
best of order and the artillerymen unpractised in their use. It was not
until the _testudo_ had advanced to within fifty yards that a shot
discharged by a machine, worked by Quinton Edge in person, took effect,
the missile striking the _testudo_ on the left wing and disabling three
men. Before the advantage could be followed up the files had been closed
again and the formation had advanced so far that the catapults became
useless, it being impossible to depress them beyond a certain angle. The
front rank had now reached the barrier, and the axes fell furiously upon
the wooden leaves of the gate. The Doomsmen on the walls renewed the
attack with hand-weapons, the slingers and archers hurling their
missiles vertically downward and the spearmen watching their opportunity
for an effective body-thrust. The affair would be short and sharp, for
the _testudo_ could not be expected to hold its position for longer than
a few minutes--it was not in flesh and blood to withstand indefinitely
that fierce and deadly shower. Already there were gaps in the protective
roof of shields--impossible to repair, for in that close-packed mass the
bodies of the wounded and dead impeded the progress of those who would
otherwise have taken their places. Yet the struggle went stubbornly on.

A sharp-eyed youth who was lying next to Constans touched him on the
arm, directing his attention to a squad of the defenders who were
working to dislodge one of the massive coping-stones of the gateway
arch. Already it was oscillating under the heave of the levers; if it
fell, a score of men might be crushed beneath its weight, and the
destruction of the _testudo_ would be a certainty. Constans raised his
rifle. It was a long shot, but he could not wait to take deliberate aim;
he fired.

The bullet had found its mark, for one man was fallen where he stood and
another nursed a broken wrist. The workers at the gate were thrown into
confusion and the stone settled back into its bed. The assailants
redoubled their efforts, and the thunder of the axe-blows became
continuous.

"Through! they are through!" shouted Constans, and sprang down upon the
banquette. In his excitement he entirely forgot about the new weapon
that had but just now rendered such signal service; he threw aside the
rifle for the more familiar sword. And he noticed that his followers had
acted under the same primitive impulse; the fire-stick might be given
the honor of drawing first blood, but it was for cold steel to finish
the work.

Shoulder to shoulder the men raced across the square to the gate. The
attempt to block up the passage, had failed for lack of time, and the
Stockaders were pouring through pellmell, intent on securing foothold in
the open. The Doomsmen, forsaking the now useless walls, met them man to
man; there was the clash of opposing bucklers, and through the din
pierced the keen, clear ring of blades in play--the Song of the Sword.

The diversion in the rear came at the opportune moment. The Doomsmen had
so far greatly out-numbered the Stockaders, and the latter were being
forced back into the vaulted passage, thereby blocking it against the
main body of their comrades. But now the Doomsmen, attacked from behind,
were obliged to devote part of their attention elsewhere, the pressure
at the gateway was relieved, and reinforcements, with Piers Major and
Piers Minor at their head, made their way through and took active part
in the struggle. Even then the defenders were slightly superior
numerically to the invading party, and the issue remained in doubt.

Constans felt himself carried into the thickest of the press; he fought
on mechanically, thrusting and cutting with the rest, and yet hardly
conscious of what he was doing. His mind would not work easily; he found
himself dwelling upon inconsequential trifles--what had become of his
cap? and how tall was that big fellow with the broad-axe who seemed so
anxious to come to close quarters with him? He was not in the least
afraid, but he wondered if it were possible for him to come out of all
this alive. It seemed unthinkable that the ring of steel surrounding him
could be broken by any mortal power; sooner or later it must contract
and crush him. Even the momentary vision of Ulick, stripped to the waist
and with a broad, red streak across his forehead, failed to arouse him.
He could think only of a thresher with his flail as Ulick, bludgeoning
right and left, won clear from the press of Stockader foes surrounding
him and rejoined his own ranks. A confused idea that he wanted to speak
to Ulick suddenly oppressed Constans; he half started to follow him.
Piers Minor, at his elbow, held him back and shouted a caution.

"Keep up your guard, man, or that big chap will have you yet! And let
them come to you--don't rush them!"

In a hand-to-hand encounter there can be but little opportunity for
strategy or leadership, except in the purely physical sense. Yet, on
either side, the men fought as though animated by a common instinct, the
Doomsmen striving to force the Stockaders back into the gateway passage,
and the latter endeavoring to cut their way bodily through the mass of
the defenders and so divide its strength. For a while the tide began to
run with the allies, and the Doomsmen were obliged to fall back slowly
towards the interior barricade on the east side of the square that
protected the women and children. Constans, panting from his exertions,
snatched at this moment of respite to regain his breath. A moment before
he had stumbled against a small keg that was rolling about under the
feet of the struggling men; this he up-ended and mounted for a better
look around.

It was true; the Doomsmen were really giving way, and the victory was
all but won. Yet not quite, for even as he gazed the onrushing line of
the triumphant Stockaders sagged backward at the centre, and the
Doomsman yell broke out. What was it? What had happened?

Emerging from the portal of the White Tower came half a dozen bearers
carrying between them a chair in which sat a man--an old man with a
shock of snow-white hair covering his massive head. And those shoulders
needed no identification from the familiar wolf-skin that lay across
them. This could be none other than Dom Gillian, Chief and Overlord of
the Doomsmen, Father of the Gray People. He wore no armor and carried no
shield, but his hand gripped a great war-mace studded with silver nails,
fit emblem of the authority supreme that its own weight had created.
But that had been full half a century ago.

The old man made a movement as though to rise. Two of the attendants
attempted to assist him, but he waved them back. Ah, the wonder of it as
that huge bulk reared itself to full height! An ordinary man might stand
comfortably under his out-stretched arm and barely join the tips of his
fingers in measuring around the monster's girth. But there was more than
mere bigness with which to reckon. The close observer might notice that
his armpits and the corresponding parts under the knee were not hollow,
as is ordinarily the case, but were filled with a solid mass of muscle
and tendon. And this was Dom Gillian, with the weight of ninety-odd
years upon his back. What manner of man must he have been in the noonday
of his strength!

As though by common consent the conflict came to an abrupt end; the two
lines drew apart and silence fell between them. Dom Gillian took two or
three forward steps. He seemed to be uncertain of where to plant his
feet, as is the natural consequent when one has not walked for a long
time; but once squarely set, he stood solidly--like a column of masonry.
The bent shoulders had straightened up and the chest had filled out;
there was no evidence of decrepitude in the ease with which he
manipulated his ponderous mace, swinging it from side to side in great,
slow circles. Only Constans noticed that he kept his head turned
constantly in one direction, where there was a great flare of light, a
dozen cressets and link-torches burning together. Could it be that his
eyesight had failed save for the mere distinction between light and
darkness? It might be well to know surely, and, stepping down from his
vantage-point, Constans forced his way to the front. Quinton Edge was
speaking, and Constans listened with the rest.

"If there is one among you," he said, with smooth distinctness, "who
thinks himself a man, let him stand forth and make answer to our father,
Dom Gillian, face to face, so that our lord may particularly inquire
concerning these dogs of Stockaders who dare to show a naked blade in
the inmost citadel of Doom the Forbidden. You have tracked the gray wolf
to his lair, now send you out a gallant who will clip his claws."

Constans, intent upon his theory, noticed that Dom Gillian had turned
his head in the direction of Quinton Edge's voice when he first began to
speak, but almost immediately his attention had flagged and his eyes had
wandered back to the lights. Now, as Quinton Edge stopped, the old man's
face changed suddenly, the eyebrows contracting and the jaw setting
itself rigidly. It seemed as though he were about to speak, but there
was only that murmur in his throat, hoarse and unintelligible. Then
Constans understood that this was no longer a man that stood before
them, but merely a wild beast in leash. The monster seemed annoyed by
the silence. He moved forward uncertainly for a few steps and stood
still; one could hear him purring softly like a big cat.

"We are waiting," said Quinton Edge.

A man brushed by Constans and stepped into the open. It was Oxenford the
"Red."

"This belongs to me--to none other," he said, and looked about him.

No man moved.

"I am ready," he continued, and threw his upper coat on the ground
behind him. Constans stood for an instant at Oxenford's ear.

"The old wolf is nearly blind," he whispered. "Take care not to get
between him and the light yonder and you have a chance."

Oxenford nodded. His manner was quiet and collected, and his face,
though pale, had lost the strained look that had characterized it for
these last few days. "Stand clear!" he said, and Constans moved away and
stood watching.

Man to man, Oxenford, though by no means a weakling, was yet outclassed
in every particular of height, weight, and reach. But he possessed one
inestimable advantage--that of agility. Quick footwork should save him
at even the closest pinch--that and his wits. Then, if the giant were
really blind!

Realizing the futility of trying to meet Dom Gillian with weapons
similar to his own, Oxenford had provided himself with a simple
truncheon of lignum-vitæ, while in his belt was stuck a broad-bladed,
double-edged knife. The latter was for close quarters, but it would
require some manoeuvring to get there, and Dom Gillian would ask
opportunity but for one clean stroke.

The men faced each other steadily for perhaps a minute. Then Oxenford
rapped his antagonist smartly across the knuckles and sprang back out of
reach. The colossus, with a growl, swung his mace to right and left,
striking at random, for Oxenford had cunningly contrived to turn Dom
Gillian so that the light was at his back. Quinton Edge must have
noticed the ruse, for he beckoned to an attendant and ordered that
every available torch and cresset should be placed about the arena. But
the affair was over long before the command could be obeyed.

Again the giant struck out, and this time so strongly that he came near
to losing his balance. Oxenford, rushing in, discharged a quick half-arm
blow on the Doomsman's right wrist, and the mace dropped from the
suddenly paralyzed grip. Confused and terror-stricken, Dom Gillian
dropped on all-fours, groping about in the darkness for the weapon that
had rolled away and out of immediate reach. Oxenford, drawing his knife,
struck downward, aiming for the angle of neck and collar-bone. But in
his eagerness he overshot the mark, the blade making only a trifling
flesh wound, and the next instant Dom Gillian had him in his clutch. The
two stood up together.

It seemed a long time, hours indeed, that Dom Gillian waited for his
injured wrist to recover its strength, holding Oxenford easily in his
left hand and shaking the other incessantly to restore the interrupted
circulation. Even when at last satisfied that the wrist could be trusted
to do its duty, he did not appear to be in any hurry; he seemed to be
meditating upon the most effective use to which he could apply the
advantage that he had gained. Then, suddenly, Dom Gillian bent down and
grasped his victim by the ankles, swinging Oxenford into the air as
easily as a thresher does his flail. With every muscle starting to the
strain, the Doomsman whirled his enemy's body once, twice, and thrice,
at full sweep about his head, then downward into crushing contact with
the pavement. A final superhuman effort, and the inert mass was hurled
clean over the heads of the on-lookers, falling with the dead sound of
over-ripe fruit against the wall of the White Tower.

A full minute passed, and still every eye remained fixed on Dom Gillian.
He had not moved, except to turn his head again in the direction of the
light--a dumb instinct like to the compass-needle that seeks the
magnetic pole. A colossal statue, but Constans fancied that it was
swaying at its base, then he saw the great chest heave convulsively and
a bubble of reddish foam issuing at his lips.

But the man was dying hard; in another moment he had straightened up,
and was resolutely swallowing back the salty, suffocating tide, beating
the air with his hands as he strove for breath. Only for an instant,
however, for now the tide had become a flood, and, with a little fretful
moan, like to that of a tired child, Dom Gillian, Overlord of Doom, sank
to earth, not falling headlong, as does a felled tree, but quietly
settling into a heap, just as an empty bag collapses into itself.

       *       *       *       *       *

The fighting had begun again; no man could say why or how. True, the
Doomsmen had been disheartened by the fall of their champion, but they
were not yet ready to yield themselves; they had retreated to the
shelter of the interior barricade, and would make there a final stand.
The Stockaders, flushed with anticipated triumph, drove blindly,
recklessly at the barrier. Constans felt the blood singing in his ears,
then a weight suddenly lifted from his brain; his eyes cleared and the
fierce joy of conflict captured him. He forced his way to the front,
gaining foothold on the barricade. Ten feet away stood Quinton Edge,
and Constans's heart was glad. At last!

A hand caught at the skirt of his doublet, and impatiently he jerked
himself loose. Again the detaining grasp; he bent down to strike and
looked into Ulick's eyes. Obedient to the unspoken request, he knelt
down and tried to move his friend into a more comfortable position. The
crushed chest sank horribly under his hands, and he was obliged to give
over.

"Close to me," whispered Ulick, and Constans bent his head to listen.

"It is of Esmay," he said. "Nanna but just now told me--a
prisoner--Arcadia House--you will go to her?"

"Yes," said Constans.

But Ulick had followed the direction of his eyes and seen that they
rested on Quinton Edge.

"At once; it must be now--else too late."

Constans did not answer.

"Now!" reiterated Ulick, insistently.

"I cannot."

"Yes."

"I will not."

"Yes."

Constans's voice was hard; he rose to his feet.

"I have been waiting upon this chance for years--you do not understand."

"Yes--I understand."

"All along; it was you who loved her."

"But you--whom she loved."

"No," said Constans, sullenly.

"It is--true."

"No!" again cried Constans. Then, suddenly, it seemed that a great
light shone about him. But the wonder of it lay not in this new
knowledge of Esmay's heart, but in the revelation of his own. He loved
her, he knew it now, and not as in that brief moment of passion at
Arcadia, when even honor seemed well lost. For this was the greater love
that draws a man to the one woman in the world who has the power to lift
him to the heights whereon she herself stands. A supreme joy, that
humbled even while it exalted, swept over Constans. "I will go," he
said, and took Ulick's hand in both his own.

The storm-centre of the fighting had moved away from them; above their
heads the stars shone serenely. Constans could not speak, but he pointed
them out to his friend.

       *       *       *       *       *

Piers Minor, fighting in the press at the gate as became his stout
breed, chanced to rescue a boy from being crushed to death. The lad had
been crowded up against a projecting angle and was quite breathless when
the Stockader, arching his back against the pressure, broke the jam by
sheer strength and pulled the stripling out of his dangerous position.
But what a fine color came back into the white cheeks as the twain
recognized each other!

"You!" said Nanna, and at that moment she would have given all she
possessed in the world for just a skirt.

"You!" re-echoed Piers Minor, and immediately a horrible dumbness fell
upon him.

The thunder of the captains and the shouting filled their ears, but they
heard not, the red light of battle danced before their eyes, but they
saw not. Some miracle swept them clear of the struggle, and guided them
to the shelter afforded by a half-completed barricade of ox-carts. And
here Piers Minor, seeing that she trembled and edged closer to him like
any ordinary woman, took on a wonderful accession of courage.

"Little one!" he murmured, in his big, bass voice, and laughed
contentedly, just as though death were not standing at his other elbow.
But then Piers Minor was not a man to think of more than one thing at a
time.

"I have seen Ulick," whispered Nanna, "and he promised to give the
message to Constans. Surely he will do so--tell me?"

Piers Minor put his arm around her. "Of course," he answered, stoutly,
without comprehending in the least who Ulick was or what the message
could be about. But he did understand that she wanted comfort in her
trouble, and so he said and did precisely the right thing. All of which
was exceedingly clever for Piers Minor.

Some one brushed rudely against them, and Piers Minor turned in anger.
But Nanna laid her hand upon his arm. "Hush!" she said, "it is Prosper,
the priest."

The old man stood motionless for an instant surveying the wild scene
before him.

"It is the third day," he muttered, "the day of Doom. The day and now
the hour. So be it, lord; it is thy will, and I obey."

With the last word he wheeled and disappeared into the shadows. An
intuitive sense of the impending peril seized the girl. "Come!" she
panted, and dragged at her companion's sleeve. "It is the vengeance of
the Shining One. But there is a chance--if we follow."

Piers Minor did not hesitate. "As you will," he said, briefly, and Nanna
flashed back at him a brilliant smile, hand-in-hand they sped through
the now deserted passageway of the north gate.

       *       *       *       *       *

For the last time Constans bent his lips to the ear of the dying man.
"Ulick!" he called. There was no answer, and Constans felt that the hand
that lay in his was growing cold. Then for one brief instant the soul
looked out from the hollowed eyes.

"The sun!" he said, and smiled as one who, having kept the watches of a
long night, looks upon the dawn. "The sun!" he cried again, and his
spirit went forth to meet it.

       *       *       *       *       *

Constans rose unsteadily to his feet.

The sun! A vivid glare beat down upon him. The sun! and rising in the
west!

A vast shaft of fire shot upward to the zenith, and all along the
western horizon pinnacles and roof-line stood out etched in crimson.
Constans saw that the entire quarter of the city west of the Citadel
Square was in conflagration, and the flames, borne on the wings of a
northwest gale, came driving swiftly down. A rain of red-hot cinders
fell about him.

A shout of terror went up from Doomsmen and Stockader alike, and the
fighting ended abruptly. Then began a rush for the gate, victors and
vanquished mingled indiscriminately together, constrained only by the
one common impulse to seek refuge in flight. To add to the confusion,
fresh explosions were heard on the north and south, followed almost
immediately by the appearance of flames in these latter quarters. Where,
then, led the path to safety?

Constans, running towards the southern rampart, where he knew he should
find his ladder, saw a tall figure just ahead of him. He recognized
Quinton Edge, but the Doomsman had reached and scaled the wall before
Constans could overtake him. Yet he caught a glimpse of his enemy
proceeding rapidly in a northeast direction. Constans followed
immediately, tightening his belt for the hard run that lay before him.



XXVII

DOOMSDAY


Prosper's start upon Piers Minor and Nanna had been a short one, and
under ordinary circumstances he could hardly have retained his
advantage. But in her nervous confusion Nanna made two wrong turns, and
so many precious moments were wasted.

A quarter of a mile away from the citadel they were halted by the sound
of a heavy explosion. Piers Minor spoke his astonishment frankly.

"Thunder on a cool night in May! Who ever heard of such a thing?"

"It is the voice of the Shining One," said Nanna to herself, and hurried
on the faster.

"Yet the lightning must have struck somewhere," persisted Piers Minor,
"for the sky is red. There! look for yourself."

Half a dozen blocks away to the westward they could see flames shooting
from the windows of a warehouse. Its contents must have been highly
combustible, for they were burning like chaff in a furnace draught. As
they stood and watched the conflagration a second explosion occurred,
and so close at hand that the ground seemed to rock beneath their feet.
And with that Nanna's heart grew faint within her, for now she knew
certainly that they were too late. The Shining One had spoken, and Doom
was falling.

Piers Minor looked at his companion with troubled eyes. What was this
devil's work?

"The Shining One," she whispered, and clung to his arm. "See how his
tongues of fire lick up the dust of Doom."

"But who is the Shining One?" demanded the young man, wonderingly.

"Listen!"

Deep under the crackling of the flames vibrated the diapason of the
great dynamo. Piers Minor turned pale.

"He speaks," whispered the girl. "And now look, look!"

A little distance away stood one of the ancient telegraph-poles carrying
a tangled mass of wire ends. The pole had been swaying dangerously in
the rising gale; now with a loud crack it broke off close to the ground
and fell so that the wires were brought into naked contact with a copper
cable suspended on the opposite side of the street. Instantly the "dead"
wires awoke to life, spluttering and hissing like a bunch of snakes; a
cataract of yellow-blue sparks poured from the broken ends.

"The tongues of fire," said Nanna. "You may have seen them devour a
single tree in the forest or suck out a man's life with a touch, but
to-night they are hungry and they are eating up the world."

A terrifying conclusion that was not so far away from the truth. During
the last few minutes the area of the conflagration had increased
tremendously and the whole central portion of the city, including the
Citadel Square, was now a vast furnace in which no life could possibly
exist. For the moment the general direction of the wind had shifted, and
the flames were not bearing down so rapidly as before upon the two
fugitives. They would be in comparative safety for some time yet unless
the gale veered back to its former quarter.

"We can never get through to the north," said Piers Minor.

"There is no necessity," returned Nanna. "I know of a wharf on the
Lesser river where the shad-fishers keep their boats. We can reach it
from here in a quarter of an hour."

"Good," said Piers Minor, and waited for her to lead the way. Then, as
she still held back, he went on, impatiently, "The wind may change at
any moment, and it is foolish to wait."

"It is my sister," explained the girl. "She is here in the city--a
prisoner----" Her voice shook and failed her.

"But what can we do?" asked the young man. "You do not even know--in
Quinton Edge's house, you say? But that is a mile or more away, and the
road is already blocked. It is impossible."

"Yes, I know, but suppose there should be a chance--the hand that has
moved the Shining One to strike, may it not be lifted again to repair
the evil?"

"I do not understand," said Piers Minor.

And thereupon Nanna described as clearly as she could the part that
Prosper, the priest, had played in the impending tragedy. Surely he
might be prevailed upon to avert the judgment from the innocent. He who
had released the flames could as easily restrain them. Or, at least,
Arcadia House might be spared.

"But where are we to find him?"

Nanna pointed down the street. "There--in the House of Power."

"Come," he said, and they went on quickly.

At the entrance to the temple of the Shining One they stopped and
listened. The air was all tremulous with the hum of the rapidly
revolving dynamos, the thud of the reciprocating machinery, and the
grinding of the badly lubricated shafting.

Piers Minor knew that he was horribly afraid, but for very shame he
could not hold back. Together they stole a little way within the vaulted
entrance and listened again. Nothing but the roar of the machinery. The
vast hall would have been in utter darkness save for the glare of the
conflagration; as it was, they could see clearly that there was nobody
within.

"The little room beyond," said Nanna, and shivered. These were forbidden
sights for a woman's eyes, and the god would be very angry. Yet it must
be done. They joined hands like two children and went forward.

Now they stood, wondering, within the little room with its low ceiling
and bare white walls. Could it be that so great a god as the Shining One
could dwell here? An empty room, save for the oak chair standing in the
middle of the floor and that curious-appearing board fixed against the
wall, with its multiplicity of keys, knobs, and levers. That was all,
and yet a vague terror laid its hand upon them; they remained motionless
and speechless.

Something, some one had entered the room--slow footsteps and the rustle
of trailing garments. Then the sound of a lever snapped to its
connecting points, and the great, shining face flamed out of the
darkness. In his intense absorption, the old priest saw nothing of the
two who also waited there. Advancing to the centre of the room, he stood
and looked upon the countenance of the Shining One, while a man might
count twoscore. Then he spoke, slowly and hesitatingly, as one who
excuses himself of grievous fault:

"Let the Shining One be content--it is accomplished. And now, O father,
have mercy. For the sins of thy people--a sacrifice----"

With unfaltering step he walked to the great chair and seated himself.
Then, in a clear voice, "Lord--if indeed thou art lord----" There was
the click of a switch-key; the man's body half rose from its seat and
sank back again.

Piers Minor felt the girl's dead weight thrown suddenly upon him.
"Nanna!" he cried, and she responded bravely, fighting with all her
strength against the inflowing tide of faintness. One forward step,
taken with infinite precaution, and then another. The stillness remained
unbroken.

The great chair stood with its back towards them, and they could not see
the seated figure. But Piers Minor caught one glimpse of a hand gripped
hard upon the chair arm, and he saw that it was burned hard and black as
a coal. Now the door was within reach and they passed out. In the little
room, Prosper, the priest, sat upon the knees of the Shining One, and
the great, white face looked down upon him.

       *       *       *       *       *

Not an instant too soon had Piers Minor and Nanna reached the open
street. The wind had shifted back to the northwest, and the fire,
breaking out in one place after another from the gale-scattered brands,
was coming down upon them in great bounds, as though it were some
gigantic beast of prey. A suffocating smoke choked their throats and
nostrils; they could neither speak nor breathe. Then, by the mercy of
God, a fierce counter-current drove the smoke back a little way; they
ran at full speed towards the south-east. Now they stopped an instant to
refill their panting lungs, then on again, for the air about them was
full of flying sparks that stung the unprotected flesh and even burned
holes in their clothing of stout woollen. On and on, till their heads
felt light as a child's toy balloon and the blood in their ears pounded
like a mill-wheel. Piers Minor stumbled and fell.

"I am blind," he gasped. "Leave me." But Nanna would not give over,
tugging at the man's weight until she had him to his feet again, with a
convenient railing at his back. She picked up some water from the gutter
with her hands held cup-wise, and dashed the liquid in his face. Piers
Minor straightened up, and from his eyes the darkness cleared away.

"Courage!" she said, and he smiled back at her.

There was the shining of the river; now they could see the pier and the
boats of the shad-fishers lying alongside. Piers Minor cast off the
largest and most seaworthy-looking of the lot, and, without troubling to
bail out the standing water, he brought the craft broadside to the wharf
and held out his hand to Nanna. But she, looking to the northward, where
the gilded cupola of Arcadia House shone out against the sky, neither
moved nor spoke.

"Come," he said.

The girl turned. "She is there," she said, and pointed to the north. "I
must go to her--my little sister."

Piers Minor swung himself up on the wharf and seized her.

"You shall not," he said.

She tried to wrench herself free; she struck him full in the face. But
Piers Minor only smiled grimly and held on the tighter. And then, to his
astonishment, this tiger-cat became suddenly metamorphosed into a dove.
Her breast heaved, and she turned her head away; he knew that she was
weeping just like any other woman. Whereat Piers Minor smiled again, but
not grimly, and held her a little closer.

"Listen," he said, and forced her gently to look at him. "It is
impossible to reach Arcadia House; even now the fire is there before
you. You must believe that Constans received the message and was able to
get there in time. Believe it, because it is I who tell you."

She did believe, but, being a woman, she hesitated again--at the very
brink of surrender.

"Let me go," she said, in a low tone, and Piers Minor was so astonished
that he immediately complied, and stood looking at her helplessly. But
when, coloring like a rose and with downcast eyes, she would have passed
him, the masculine instinct of possession awoke again; he barred the way
determinedly.

A little distance away an enormous brick storehouse was burning
fiercely. A tremendous explosion threw a roof bodily into the air; a
shower of incandescent particles descended and drove directly at the
fugitives. Nanna felt herself lifted bodily off her feet and swept with
a rush down the wharf. One little gulp of regret for her lost
independence and she yielded--deliciously. The boat rocked from side to
side, then it shot out upon the open river.

Piers Minor had stopped rowing, for the sparks no longer fell about
them. The spectacle of the burning city was a magnificent one. The
inverted bowl of the sky shone as though it were made of copper, and the
gale had flattened out the flames horizontally so that they resembled
the flying masses of a woman's unbound hair.

Nanna's eyes filled with tears.

"It was my world," she said, softly, "the only one I knew."

"Nanna!" said Piers Minor. She let her hand rest in his, and the boat
floated on.



XXVIII

IN THE FULNESS OF TIME


The streets were as light as noonday, and Constans found no difficulty
in keeping the dying figure in sight. But, run as he would, he could not
gain a yard.

"Arcadia House," muttered Constans, under his breath, as he noticed the
direction taken by the runner. What more natural than that a man should
seek his own home at such a time? But Constans's brow was clouded as he
followed in Quinton Edge's footsteps.

Arcadia House, and why? There could be but one answer to that question
after Nanna's message, conveyed to him through Ulick's dying lips. Esmay
had disappeared, and yet had remained in Arcadia House. He, who knew
Quinton Edge, would understand.

Constans told himself grimly that he did understand. This insolent
wanted the girl, just as he had desired many another thing in life, and
it had always been his way to take what he coveted. But this
time--Constans set his teeth hard, and now, at last, Arcadia House was
in sight.

During this last quarter of an hour the progress of the conflagration
had been perceptibly slower, and the great sheaf of flame in the western
sky had almost disappeared. It was like the lull that so often takes
place in a storm, a period of sudden quiet in the element strife that
should warn the prudent that the worst is still to come. To Constans it
was the most fortunate of happenings, the comparative darkness enabling
him to keep close upon Quinton Edge without risk of discovery.

As though satisfied that he had arrived in time, Quinton Edge now
slackened his pace, making for the gateway on the side street. Whereupon
Constans determined to scale the wall at the rear and take the short cut
through the garden, so as to intercept the Doomsman at the entrance.
Once over the wall, the way was clear. Disdaining caution, he crashed
recklessly through the shrubbery, the wet and tangled grass wrapping
itself exasperatingly about his ankles as he ran. At the carriage-drive
he stopped, flinging himself full length on the ground and close against
the wall that marked the sunken way. The run had winded him, and he was
thankful for the moment's breathing-space.

From where Constans lay he could command sight of the north terrace that
connected the porticos of the river and western fronts. Suddenly it
seemed to him that the terrace was occupied by some living thing. A
moment before he had noticed a darker blur in the shadows at the river
corner; it had appeared to move. He heard a soft padding on the
flag-stones as of an animal moving cautiously. He strained his eyes,
striving to resolve that dusky blotch into shape intelligible; then a
new burst of flame lit up the western sky and he saw clearly--it was
Fangs, the hound.

The dog stood motionless, her head thrown upward as though listening.
She could not possibly see Constans where he lay, but the smallest noise
must betray him.

His revolver was in a side pocket, and he drew it forth with infinite
care. Then he discovered that it was unloaded and that he had no more
cartridges. His knife also had disappeared from its sheath; he realized
that he was absolutely unarmed and helpless.

The hound leaped lightly from the terrace and began ranging in great
half-circles. Constans looked on with fascinated eyes. It could be a
matter of seconds only when she must cross his scent, and he knew that
she would remember it--there was a blood-feud between them--the death of
Blazer, who had been her mate.

The pass-key rattled in the lock of the postern-door, and Quinton Edge
entered the sunken way. Fangs heard the noise, hesitated a moment, then
tossed her black muzzle in the air and bounded forward to meet her
master. Constans wiped away the sweat that was blinding his eyes and
waited. Quinton Edge, with the hound by his side, went up the steps
leading to the terrace.

Some one came forward to meet him--a slim, womanish figure dressed in
white. Constans's heart gave a great bound, for who but Esmay carried
her small head with so irresistible a grace. She held out her hands as
Quinton Edge reached her side, but he crushed her into his arms and
kissed her on the lips. They walked slowly along the terrace, turned the
corner of the eastern portico, and disappeared. Constans, running up,
was just an instant too late; he heard Quinton Edge calling the dog
inside, then the sound of the closing door.

By a supreme exercise of will Constans stopped short of the insanity
that impelled him to thunder on the barrier and demand admittance. Yet
he must gain instant entrance to the house, and he ran around the
terrace to the river portico. As he had expected, the hall-door was
fastened, but he had no difficulty in forcing one of the long windows of
the drawing-room; he stepped into the dark and empty room and stood
listening.

There was perfect silence everywhere, but he could not trust to it--eyes
and ears might be in waiting at every turn, and, above all, there was
the dog. He wondered that the hound had not already detected his
presence in the house, and his pulse thumped at the thought; he fancied
that he could hear deep breathing and the oncoming of padded feet.

The minutes passed, and the silence remained unbroken. Then the sense of
his cowardice smote him; the jaws of the brute would be preferable to
this intolerable inaction, and he went forward through the half-opened
door and into the main hall.

This, too, was empty, and, having windows that faced the west, it was
sufficiently well lighted by the conflagration to make the fact of its
desertion certain. And Constans owed it to the friendly flames that he
was once more provided with a weapon. There was a rapier hanging upon
the wall, slender and yet strong, of very ancient make; in an instant he
had it down and was trying the temper of its blade upon the hearthstone.

The touch of the cold steel was like a tonic; heart and blood responded
immediately. Its discovery had been a fortunate chance, for again the
illumination in the west died down the final pianissimo before the full
crash of the orchestra--and the darkness returned deeper than before.

Constans, with the rapier held shortened in his hand, found his way to
the staircase and began the ascent. At the turn of the second landing he
stopped, feeling instinctively that there was something in the way. When
he could bear no longer to wait and listen, he put his hand down and
felt beneath it the smooth, hairy coat of the hound's body. The dog was
quite dead, and lying in a pool of her own blood; there was a warm,
sickly smell of salt in the air, and Constans's hand was wet when he
fetched it away. Who had done this thing, and why?

He went on, with every sense on edge. He could hardly have mistaken his
way now, for the door before him stood partly ajar, and there was a
light in the room; Constans guessed that it must be the first of the
private apartments belonging to Quinton Edge.

He looked in. The room was a large one and luxuriously furnished. An
ancient hanging-lamp of brass hung from the ceiling, diffusing a soft
radiance; the curtains that concealed the deep window-seat were closely
drawn, and, had Constans made his observations with more care, he might
have noticed that something moved behind them, an unwieldy bulk that
gathered itself as though for a spring.

But he took no account of these smaller things, his eyes being full of
Esmay only, and surely that was she who stood there in the shelter of
Quinton Edge's arms; now she half turned her head, the better to look
into her lord's face, and Constans could trace the outline of her
profile--the upper lip, so deliciously short, and the exquisite curve
of her throat. His breath came quick as he watched them, and his grasp
tightened upon the rapier hilt. So she had deceived him, after all; she
had played the traitress from the very beginning. Twice, now, she had
smiled into his eyes and sold him for some piece of trumpery--a bracelet
of carbuncles or a kiss from Quinton Edge's lips. Well, he could kill
them both, and almost at a single stroke, since they stood with their
backs to the doorway and were quite unconscious of his presence. But,
upon further thought, he determined to wreak positive vengeance on
Quinton Edge alone. It was shame to strike a woman, and unnecessary--it
would be her punishment to live.

Dispassionately he reviewed his decision and reaffirmed it; it was now
the time for action. But he had delayed just a moment too long. Before
he could take that first forward step the one who waited behind the
window-curtains had passed before him, an ungainly figure of a man, who
limped upon one knee and whose black beard fell like a curtain before
his cruel mouth and lips--Kurt, whom men called the "Knacker." A knife
was in his hand, and he struck once and twice at Quinton Edge.

"This for the thirty lashes at Middenmass!" he shouted; "and this----"

But here Constans's rapier passed through his throat, and he fell back,
gurgling horribly and tearing at his windpipe.

It had all happened so quickly that the two living men could only stare
alternately at each other and at the burden that lay in Quinton Edge's
arms. A slim, white figure, with that red stain upon her
breast--spreading, spreading.

Constans gathered himself with a mighty effort. "Let me help you," he
said, and between them they carried her over to the couch and laid her
down. On a near-by table stood a ewer of water; Constans fetched it and
began moistening the bloodless lips. They parted with a little sigh, and
then the eyes of his sister Issa opened upon him. "Little brother," she
whispered, and smiled.

Constans looked over at Quinton Edge, but he shook his head and stood
back among the shadows.

"Little brother," said Issa again, and put out a wavering hand.



XXIX

DEATH AND LIFE


It had been very quiet in the room for a long time. Constans had tried
to make the dying woman more comfortable, but every attempt to move her
had only resulted in the wound breaking out afresh. It was cruelty to
persist, and so he gave it over, waiting for what must come.

Now it seemed that Issa slept, for her eyes were closed and the lines of
pain had wholly disappeared from the smooth, white brow. Quinton Edge
kept his place at the back, where he could see and not be seen; a statue
could not have been more immobile. Constans, kneeling by the couch,
still held his sister's hand in his, keeping watch upon the pulse that
fluttered so delicately. Once or twice the heavy eyes had opened and she
had smiled up at him--contentedly as a child resting after the long
day's play.

Constans had not attempted to speak; his mind was still seeking its
wonted bearings, and he was afraid. His sister Issa!--the little Issa
with whom he had played at fox-chase and grace-hoops. Issa!--the maiden
who had gathered her May-bloom in the long ago, and who had given
herself and all for love of the stranger within her father's gates; yes,
and who had died within that self-same hour upon her lord's breast.

And yet if this miracle were indeed the truth it accounted for more than
one thing that had troubled him. He remembered now the white-robed
figure that had appeared to him in the gardens of Arcadia House and the
superstitious terror with which he had watched it following upon the
unconscious footsteps of the girl Esmay. Then, again, the fair-haired
woman who only a few minutes ago had come to meet Quinton Edge on the
north terrace, an apparition so ravishing that Constans must needs
confound it with the flesh-and-blood presentment of his own dear lady.

She was speaking now, almost fretfully. "Is the night never to be gone?
The hangings at the window are so heavy. And where is my father?"

Constans rose and went to the window, intent on flinging it wide open.
But Quinton Edge was there before him and stayed his hand.

"No," he said, and Constans obeyed, being greatly troubled in mind and
uncertain of himself, even as one who wanders in a maze. This Quinton
Edge must have perceived, for he spoke gently, making it plain to him
that this was, indeed, the maid whom they had both loved and not some
disembodied shadow from the underworld. And having come finally to
believe this, Constans was comforted and desired to hear the matter in
full. "Tell me," he said, and Quinton Edge went on:

"It was weeks and weeks that she lay weak and speechless upon a pallet
of dried fern, her only shelter the thatch of a mountain sheepfold.

"There was no one among us who had any knowledge of surgery, and so I
had to be content with simples--cold-water compresses for the wound and
a tea made from the blossoms of the camomile flower to subdue the fever
in the blood. So the days dragged by until the turn for the better came.
Little by little I nursed her back to life again, and in time we came
safely to Doom.

"Arcadia House was a secure hiding-place for my treasure, and during all
these years no one has even guessed at the secret. I had no need to
trust my servants, for they knew nothing; the walls had neither eyes nor
ears, and I kept my own counsel. Until to-day no man's eye but mine has
looked upon her face.

"But even yet you do not wholly understand. Have you forgotten, then,
that the body may be in health and yet the soul be darkened? She had
come back to life, indeed, but it was the life of a butterfly in the
sun, unconscious of aught else than the light and warmth that surrounds
it. For her the past had been sealed; to me the future. Do you
understand now? A woman grown and yet as a new-born babe in heart and
mind. What was there for me to do but to bear my punishment as patiently
as I might, the cup of love ever at my lips, but never to be tasted."

Constans kept silence for a little space. When he spoke it was
haltingly.

"Then you think--you think----"

"She recognized you. Could you not see it--that note in her voice as of
one who wakes from a long sleep? That was why I stopped you from
throwing aside the window-curtains. The light of the burning city--it
might have brought back the memory of that night at the keep."

"And for the same reason you have kept yourself out of sight," said
Constans, coldly.

The man trembled. "Yes; I am afraid," he answered, and Constans, for all
his bitterness of heart, was fain to pity him.

A series of muffled explosions startled them. Quinton Edge moved softly
towards the outer door. "The fire must be coming nearer," he whispered.
"I will make sure of our position and return within a few minutes. Hush!
she is sleeping again."

But when Constans went and stood by the couch, Issa was looking at him
with wide-opened eyes.

"Constans--little brother," she said, weakly, and yet with an infinite
content. He dropped to his knees beside her and tried to answer, but
could not.

"Surely it must be close to morning now," she went on, slowly. "I can
hear the doves cooing on the tiles, the wind is blowing over the
water-meadows, and the lark is in the blue--ah, God! how beautiful this
dear world of ours! It is the May-time, little brother, and the arbutus
will be in bloom--the shy, pink blossoms that nestle on the sunny slopes
of the rocks and at the roots of the birch-trees. We will gather
them--you and I--and bring them home to deck our lady mother's chamber.
The May-bloom--it is in the air. How sweet--how sweet!"

Constans, following the look in her eyes, saw a low table standing
against the opposite wall. Upon it was a bowl filled with the delicate
arbutus--fresh and fragrant as though but lately gathered. He went
softly across the room and despoiled the bowl of a spray. She took it
from him eagerly. Then the violet eyes clouded.

"I cannot remember--it must be that I am still so tired--it is strange.
The morning--it cannot be far distant--now----"

Quinton Edge at the threshold held up a beckoning finger, and Constans
went to him.

"It is upon us," said the Doomsman. "The out-buildings are smoking
already, and the lumber-yard on the north will become a furnace the
instant that the first spark falls there. There is but one chance--the
river. You will find a boat at the dock. The girl Esmay--ah, you could
think that, too, of me. Yet it was natural enough."

Constans would have spoken, but the words tripped on his tongue. Quinton
Edge interrupted him imperiously.

"She is there," he said, and pointed to a door leading to the interior
apartments of the suite. "I could not leave Issa entirely alone on this
last night. So I brought the girl here--for once, she trusted me. For
once, you can do likewise."

Constans bowed his head. "But Issa," he said, thickly.

"She would be dead in our arms before we reached the stairs," returned
the other. "Can you not leave her to me for just this little while
longer?" His voice hardened savagely. "She is mine, do you hear--mine,
mine. I have paid the price, double and treble, and now I take what is
my own."

His voice rang like a trumpet in the narrow room. And yet, straight
through its clamor, pierced the sound of a stifled cry. Constans turned
instantly, but Quinton Edge, trembling, kept his eyes fixed on the
floor.

Sitting upright upon the couch, Issa looked at the two men steadfastly,
and then only at the one. The violet depths in her eyes had darkened to
pools of midnight, and her lips were like a thread of scarlet against
the ivory of her face. A miracle! but Constans would not look again,
knowing that for him this hour had passed forever.

Constans went to the inner door and opened it. Esmay was kneeling at the
window; he went over and touched her on the shoulder. "Come," he said.
She looked up at him, and he saw that her face whitened for all of the
glare from the flaming sky that fell upon it. Yet she let him lead her,
unresisting, into the other room, where Quinton Edge still stood
motionless and looked upon the floor. Constans plucked at his sleeve,
drawing him out into the full circle of the lamp-light. Face to face for
the last time, and, though no word was said, each knew that there was
peace between them.

"Go to her," whispered Constans, and pushed him gently towards the
couch.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now the room had fallen into semi-darkness, for the oil had failed in
the lamp, and there was only that dull-red line along the edge of the
window-curtains. And there was silence, too, for all that words could
say had been said already.

       *       *       *       *       *

The minutes passed, but the man had ceased to count them. The hand that
lay in his was growing cold, but the knowledge had ceased to concern
him; the brain no longer registered the messages sent by the nerves,
and he was conscious only of an immense weariness, of an overwhelming
desire to sleep. The maiden Issa's hair lay within the hollow of his
arm, a pool of rippled gold; it was like looking down into an enchanted
well; the waters seem to rise and meet him. The glow at the curtain-edge
grew stronger; now it was a lake of liquid fire into which he gazed.

       *       *       *       *       *

The threshold of the door had warped and sprung, and through the crack
crept a thin line of smoke; it raised itself sinuously, as does a snake;
it darted its head from side to side, preparing to strike.

       *       *       *       *       *

Descending the staircase, Constans saw that the time was growing
perilously short. On three sides of them the buildings were burning, and
Arcadia House itself was on fire at the southern wing. The hurricane,
shifting back to the northwest, was at its wildest, and the air was full
of ashes and incandescent sparks. As Constans and Esmay emerged from the
shelter of the house, it seemed as though the universe itself was on
fire. Could they ever hope to reach the river? His heart sank as he
looked at that fiery rain through which they must pass. He turned to
Esmay.

"It is the only way," he began, and then stopped, wondering that she
should look so strangely upon him.

"I thought you dead," she answered, humbly. "It was the last thing I
heard--the silver whistle and Nanna misunderstood my question."

"Oh," said Constans, enlightened, and at the same time subtly warned
that he must not press her too far. "So you feared that it might have
been my spirit that came to fetch you?"

"No; not feared," she answered, and with such sweet confidence that
Constans's heart thrilled to new courage. By God's splendor! this woman
trusted him and he would save her.

Half way to the boat-stage they were caught in a whirlwind of choking
vapor; they struggled onward for a few steps, and then the girl fell.
With infinite difficulty Constans half carried, half dragged her down
the last slope to the landing. The boat, a small canoe or dugout, was
there, but he could find only one broken paddle. It was a mad thing to
venture out upon the wind-lashed river with equipment so imperfect, but
there could be no choice of another way.

The tide was running out strongly and Constans could do nothing more
than keep the craft on a straight course and out of the trough of the
heavier seas. He looked longingly at the opposite shore, so near to the
eye and so impossible to attain against that wind and tide; he realized
that they were drifting down into the open bay, and that would be the
end. Yet he would fight for it, and now that the fresh air had aroused
Esmay from her swoon, she crept to his side and sat there comforting
him.

Four hours later the keel grated on a pebbly shingle, and Constans,
looking about him with weary eyes, recognized the little bay, with its
fringing semicircle of trees. Here was the very log upon which he had
sat and dreamed of unutterable things that bright May morning in the
long ago, a dream from which he had awakened to make first acquaintance
with Quinton Edge.

A little way up the grassy glade a fire was burning, and there was the
savory odor of roasted meat in the air. Constans helped Esmay out of the
boat, and with stiffened limbs they dragged themselves up the forest
way. There was a little shriek, a rush of feet, and swishing skirts, and
Nanna's arms were about her sister, while Constans was looking into
Piers Minor's honest eyes.

Far in the north, a smoke as of a furnace ascended, and the sky was
darkened. But here the sun shone brightly, the grass was green
underfoot, the birds sang in the branches above their heads, and the
smell of the spring-tide was in the air. Truly, life and light are sweet
to him who has once walked in the shadow.



XXX

THE STAR IN THE EAST


It was in October of the same year that Constans and Esmay stood one day
in the court-yard of the Greenwood Keep, now restored and rebuilt.

His father's blood friends had helped generously in the rehabilitation
of his fortunes, and Constans had worked hard with his own hands. Now
the task was finished, and he had persuaded Esmay to ride over from the
River Barony and pronounce in person upon its merits. For let it be
known that Piers Minor had lost no time in bringing home his bride, and
both he and Nanna had insisted that Esmay must live with them. And Esmay
had accepted gratefully, for all that she was an heiress in her own
right, through inheritance of her uncle Hugolin's estate, and could have
bought and sold Piers Minor and Nanna, and all their holdings, ten times
over. But all of her red gold could not buy love, and Esmay was wise
enough to know this. Moreover, the River Barony was but twenty miles
distant from the Greenwood Keep, and at least twice every week Constans
rode over and spent the night. It was pleasant to hear him tell proudly
of the progress of the work; how yesterday the roofing of the
guard-house had been started, and how to-day they had turned for the
first time the waters of the Ochre brook into the moat. Esmay always
listened attentively, and it pleased her to think that Constans looked
at her when he talked, even though his actual words might be addressed
to Piers Minor or to Nanna. Listening always, but speaking seldom, for
she felt that he was waiting purposely until some milestone of
achievement had been passed, and she feared that he might consider her
unwomanly. So the summer had gone, the great work was accomplished, and
now they were viewing it together. They had seen everything, going in
turn from lighting platform to calving-barn; from forge and smithy to my
lady's bower. And Esmay had duly admired all and pronounced it good.

Now they were standing in the great hall watching the martins as they
circled around the red-capped gatehouse, and the white doves cooing in
the eaves. A silence had fallen between them, and Constans, leaning
against the window-casement, seemed to have forgotten of Esmay's very
existence. Quietly she drew aside and left him, impelled by an
irresistible desire to know if he would notice her absence and would
follow her. Hardly had she stolen five steps away than she heard him
start, and then turn to seek her. A sheer delight coursed through her
veins, and she began to run.

"Esmay!" he called, but she would not stop, gathering up her skirts in
both her hands, and trying not to look behind her. But he was quickly at
her heels, and an inexplicable terror seemed to seize her; she looked
about for a hiding-place; a door presented itself, and she clutched the
handle desperately, but it refused to turn. Seeing her discomfiture,
Constans believed that he was entitled to enjoy his triumph. He walked
up with leisurely deliberation. "You are a goose," he said, and took
her hands in his, as one who reproves a wilful child.

She assented meekly.

"To run away like that--so foolish, when I had something serious to say
to you. Why do you suppose I brought you here? Why should I want you to
see the house? why did I build it at all? Be good enough to answer me."

She looked up at him with the most innocent expression in the world.
"Why?" she echoed, as though mightily puzzled, and immediately the male
creature became miserably bewildered, and lost his confident bearing in
the twinkling of an eye. Had she really misunderstood him? had he been
deceiving himself from the very beginning? He turned pale and dropped
her hands, and she, misinterpreting this relinquishment of ownership,
felt the blood receding from her own checks. Two utterly foolish
creatures, and yet their folly is not to be argued away by the wise men.
For while it is the accepted theory that a woman always knows when she
is loved (with which men please themselves), and _per contra_ that a man
is never unconscious of the favor in which he stands (with which women
torment themselves), yet the truth is that neither man nor woman is ever
certain of the fact until it is finally proclaimed in actual speech. So
this is why lovers are always being asked to repeat and repeat again the
magic words upon which all their happiness depends.

"The reason--you know--the reason why," he stammered, and then she came
to his aid.

"Yes, I know, but _tell_ me."

And thereupon he did tell her.

A year later, and Constans and his wife sat on a high point of land that
overlooked the waters of the Lower bay and the broad, salt sea beyond
the dunes. Several of Constans's neat-cattle had strayed, and he had
determined to ride to the fishermen's village below the Narrows to
inquire if the estrays had been seen in that direction. Esmay had
accompanied him, and they had been all day in the saddle and were weary.
Nevertheless, they were satisfied, for the lost cattle had been
recovered, and in the morning the herdsmen would be sent over to drive
them home.

They had shared a frugal supper of bread and cheese and dried grapes,
and now they were waiting until the horses should have cropped their
fill. There was no hurry, the moon not rising for an hour yet, and it
was useless to arrive at the Kills before the time of slack water.
Constans had his back against a pine-stump, and Esmay's head rested on
her husband's shoulder. They sat in silence, gazing out upon the gray
sea, content in their present happiness and looking forward to a yet
greater one in the near future. For to Constans Esmay had just made a
wife's final confession, the secret being whispered into his inmost ear,
though there was only the land and the sea to overhear.

Suddenly, on the darkened eastern sky-line, a bright light flashed out,
in color like to a star, and yet incomparably more brilliant. And the
light was not fixed, but continually changed its base, as was shown by
the broad band of rays that now swept the surface of the sea and then
traced their luminous way on the overhanging clouds. Another shift and
the shining pathway reached to their very feet, illuminating with its
radiance every object within its focus, down to the tiniest shell upon
the beach. Esmay, startled, clung to her husband's arm.

"What is it?" she asked, but he could not answer her.

Yet as they gazed upon the new star, insensibly they became comforted.
Whatever this prodigy foretold, it could not be an omen of lasting evil.
Had they not seen for themselves that, even in the worst of worlds,
righteousness and justice and truth had been something more than names.
Doom had fallen; for more than a twelvemonth the ruins had smouldered,
and to-day they were but the harmless haunt of bat and badger. And the
world relieved of that intolerable incubus, and recovered of its purging
and cleansing sickness, had started once more upon its appointed
path--slowly, indeed, at the first, but ever onward and upward.

"It is only one more of the things that we cannot understand," said
Constans at the last. "But we who love need not fear."

He drew his wife's face to his own, and there, full in the radiance of
the unknown star, he kissed her on the lips.

       *       *       *       *       *

Early that same evening Sub-Lieutenant Jarvison, watch-officer of the
electric cruiser _Erebus_, reported to his commander that a landfall had
been made six points away on the port bow. Captain Laws immediately
hastened to the bridge of the vessel and ordered that the engines be
stopped and the customary signals shown. But no reply was received to
the rockets displaying the red, green, and white colors of the Antarctic
Republican Navy; apparently the country was not inhabited. Yet to make
sure, the search-light was put in requisition. Up and down, from side to
side, swept the giant beam, and now they could see that the land on the
left rose gradually into a considerable headland. Beyond opened the wide
waters of what must be a great bay. Captain Laws reflected for a moment,
and then gave another order to his executive.

Under half speed, and with a leadsman in the chains, the _Erebus_ moved
steadily towards the unknown coast.


THE END



       *       *       *       *       *

TYPOGRAPHICAL ERRORS CORRECTED

The following typographical errors in the text were corrected as
detailed here.

In the text: "It was only necessary to dampen these sponges to ensure
a perfect discharge of the electrical current passing through the
head-rest ..." the word "ensue" was corrected to "ensure."

Some hypenation was inconsistently used in the original. These have been
retained as they appear in the original text.

       *       *       *       *       *





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Doomsman" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home