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´╗┐Title: Princess Maritza
Author: Brebner, Percy James
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 "Princess Maritza" ***

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



Joshua Hutchinson, Juliet Sutherland, Charles Franks and the Online


PRINCESS MARITZA

[Illustration]



PRINCESS MARITZA

By PERCY BREBNER

WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY



To V. F. G.



CONTENTS



CHAPTER I.-PLAYING TRUANT

CHAPTER II.-MONSIEUR DE FROILETTE

CHAPTER III.-THE WOMAN IN THE SILK MASK

CHAPTER IV.-THE COURT OF STURATZBERG

CHAPTER V.-TWO VISITORS

CHAPTER VI.-FRINA MAVRODIN'S GUEST

CHAPTER VII.-THE TIME ARRIVES

CHAPTER VIII.-THE IRON BRACELET

CHAPTER IX.-THE DUEL

CHAPTER X.-THE FOLLY OF A SOLDIER

CHAPTER XI.-IN THE BOIS

CHAPTER XII.-GRIGOSIE

CHAPTER XIII.-THE CASTLE IN THE HILLS

CHAPTER XIV.-THE TOKEN IS DELIVERED

CHAPTER XV.-THE RACE FOR LIFE

CHAPTER XVI.-THE TRAITOR

CHAPTER XVII.-THE TRUE WORTH OF BARON PETRESCU

CHAPTER XVIII.-SIX LOYAL MEN

CHAPTER XIX.-IN DESPERATE STRAITS

CHAPTER XX.-TREACHERY OR SACRIFICE

CHAPTER XXI.-THE RESCUE

CHAPTER XXII.-IN VASILICI'S STRONGHOLD

CHAPTER XXIII.-THE TEMPTATION OF FRINA MAVRODIN

CHAPTER XXIV.-HOW MARITZA ENTERED STURATZBERG

CHAPTER XXV.-'TWIXT LOVE AND PITY

CHAPTER XXVI.-REBELLION

CHAPTER XXVII.-IN PURPLE AND RED AND GOLD

CHAPTER XXVIII.-THE DIPLOMACY OF LORD CLOVERTON

CHAPTER XXIX.-AFTER WAR--PEACE



CHAPTER I.

PLAYING TRUANT



A breezy morning after a night of rain. Fleecy clouds, some in massive
folds and fantastic shape, some in small half-transparent wisps like
sunlit ghosts, were driven rapidly across the blue. Hurrying shadows
flecked the swelling bosom of the downs, and where the grass was long
it rippled like a green sea, making rustling music. Overhead the larks
fluttering upward, ever-diminishing specks to the empyrean, carolled
their joyous song, and a thousand perfumes filled the air. It was a
morning to live in, to enjoy, to take into one's lungs in deep,
intoxicating draughts, until the sorrows of life and its cares were
forgotten; a morning that lent strong wings to ambition, filling the
future with hope and the promise of realized desires.

Something of the aspect of the morning was reflected in the face of
the man who stoutly climbed the downs against the wind. He was above
the average height, but did not give the impression of being tall. His
frame was well knit and muscular; strength and power of endurance above
the common were evident in every movement; and there was a quiet
determination in his face which proclaimed him one of those who would
be likely to succeed in anything he undertook, no matter what dangers
and difficulties might stand in his path, one who would march straight
forward to his object even as he breasted the downs this morning. Most
men would have pronounced him handsome, judging, as men ever do, by
build and muscle; women might have hesitated to give an opinion in
spite of the well-cut, clean-shaven face, and the dark blue eyes which
never looked away from a person with whom their possessor talked.
Perhaps there was a want of sympathy in the face, a certain lack of
that gentle deference which so appeals to women in a man, that silent
recognition of the woman's power which is so pleasant to her.

Desmond Ellerey had had little to do with women. He did not pretend
to understand them, and it had never occurred to him that there was
any reason why he should strive to do so. He had experienced pleasant
moments in their company, but one woman was pretty much the same as
another to him, and it is quite certain that no such thing as a faded
flower, or a glove, or love token of any kind held a place among his
treasures. No woman in the past had given him a single heart throb
which love lent a sense of pain to, and it seemed unlikely that any
woman would wish to do so now. For Desmond Ellerey was a man under a
cloud, a very black cloud, the gloom of which even this breezy morning
could not entirely dispel from his face. He had set himself to bear
his burden bravely, but the task was a heavy one. Surely those
straightforward blue eyes gave the lie to much that was said against
him?

There were few hours in the day in which he did not brood over his
trouble, over the loss of his career which it involved, and as he
approached the top of the downs his eyes were bent upon the ground in
deep thought, while in his heart was fierce rebellion against the world
and his fellow men.

He was suddenly startled by a sharp and shrill "Hallo!" and at the
same moment was aware of a straw hat racing past him a little to his
left. A run of a few yards enabled him to intercept it, and he grasped
it in his strong fingers, regardless of the flowers and ribbons upon
it. Then he turned to discover the owner.

She was standing on the summit of the downs, her loose hair streaming
in the breeze. She did not come to meet him, but waited for him to go
to her.

"I am afraid it is not improved," he said, handing her the hat.

"I hardly expected it would be when I saw the way you dived for it,"
she answered with a smile; "but thanks all the same. Had it got past
you, it would have been good-bye to it altogether. Isn't this a
morning?"

"Very pleasant after the rain," he said.

"Pleasant!" she cried. "Is that the best you can say for it? Pleasant!
Why it makes me feel that there is nothing in the world which is beyond
my power; no difficulty I could not fight and overcome; no danger I
could not despise and laugh at. My blood is full of the very fire I
of life, and I pant to do something-something unexpected, outrageous,
desperate. Don't you ever feel like that?"

"Sometimes."

"It is good to be a man," she went on. "He has the world before him,
with its high places waiting to be won. There is nothing out of his
reach, if he strive sufficiently, no honor he may not win to. Oh, I
wish I were a man!"

There was a half-whimsical smile upon Ellerey's face, at her enthusiasm,
and in his eyes a look of admiration, which he could not conceal, at
her beauty. Her loose hair streaming in the wind was the color of
burnished copper, rich as a golden autumn tint in the glow of an evening
sun. Her eyes were dark, yet of a changeful color, as full of secrets
as a deep pool in the hollow of a wood, quiet, silent secrets which
presently, when the time came, a lover might seek to understand, yet
promising angry and tempestuous moods should storms happen. Her lips,
parted often as though she were waiting for someone with eager
expectation, revealed an even row of pearly teeth, and the pink flush
of health and beauty was in her cheeks. She was tall: with her hair
done up, would have passed for a woman already, Desmond thought; with
it down, and her frock to her boot-tops, she was still a girl, a
beautiful girl, a very pleasant picture to contemplate.

"Being a man is not always such a grand thing as you suppose," Ellerey
said after a pause.

"He has a freedom which a woman never has," the girl answered quickly.
"Oh, yes, women try, especially in this country, I know, but it is
never the same. She cannot be a statesman, she cannot be a soldier.
She cannot take her life by the throat, as it were, and win place and
power by the sheer force of a good right arm as a man can."

"But she often succeeds in ruling the man after he has won place
and power," Ellerey answered.

"That sort of conquest does not appeal to me."

"Ah, but it will some day," he returned quickly, and then he half
regretted his words, remembering she was but a girl.

She looked at him curiously for a moment, a smile upon her lips, yet
a little anger lurking in her eyes.

"You think I am very young," she said.

"Are you not?"

"And very innocent, or ignorant, or whatever word you would use to
explain me."

"You can hardly have probed life very deeply yet," said Ellerey.

"Much deeper than you would imagine," she answered. "You are not so
very wise and old yourself, are you?"

"Indeed, no; I fancy I am more of a fool than anything else," he
laughed.

"You should not let yourself think that," she said gravely. "To think
highly of one's powers is half-way to success. That sounds as if I had
stolen something from a copy-book, doesn't it? But no, I am speaking
from experience. Why do you laugh? Some of us have to touch life's
hardships early."

"You do not show the marks of such experience," said Ellerey, hardly
knowing whether to treat her seriously or not.

"No, but I might, were I conscious of what is before me. I am not as
other girls. There is a destiny I have to struggle towards, an end I
must win. It was born into, handed down in my blood through generations
of men of action. The ambition of those generations of men beats to-day
in the heart of a woman. It is a pity, but I shall win, or die
fighting."

"At least the spirit in you deserves success."

"Come a little this way," she said, touching his arm, and then she
pointed down into the valley below them. "Do you see that building
yonder, white among the trees, with a point of conical roof at the end
of it?"

"Yes."

"Do you know what it is?"

"No."

"By this time they are hunting for me all over that place down there.
I heard the bell ring half an hour ago. That's a school, a big,
expensive, fashionable school, where they teach young ladies how to
behave properly, how to grow up to rule those fighting men we were
speaking of, how to fit themselves to be their wives, and in due time
the mothers of their children--in short, how to fulfil their destiny,
woman's destiny. They are trying to teach me."

"You? Then--"

"Yes, I'm one of the girls there, and I've played truant, and--yes,
I think I shall go back presently, when I have taken my fill of freedom
and this glorious morning."

"And will get punished, I am afraid," said Ellerey.

"Perhaps; but it will not be very heavy punishment. It is strange, but
they rather like me there, in spite of everything."

"I do not think that is strange at all."

"No, you wouldn't; you're a man," she answered quickly, "and men are
weak where attractive women are concerned, all the world over."

Such a declaration coming from a truant schoolgirl somewhat startled
Ellerey, and yet, as he looked at her, he was more conscious of the
woman than the girl.

"Oh, yes, I know I am attractive," she went on, and there was no
deepening of the color in her face as she said it. "I am glad that it
is so. My looks will help me when the work of my life begins in earnest,
when I have played the truant from school for the last time, and do
not go back."

"Then you intend to run away eventually?"

"Yes, unless another way should seem better. That shocks you. I often
shock them down at the white house yonder, and they excuse me because
I am a foreigner. You English are so polite. You do not seem to expect
foreigners to know how to behave, and you make excuses for them. It
is very funny. It makes me laugh," and she laughed so merrily that her
former gravity seemed more unnatural.

"You speak English perfectly. I should not have taken you for a
foreigner," said Ellerey.

"And French, and German, and my own tongue, I speak them all perfectly.
I have lived in all these countries. It was necessary."

"And you do not like England nor Englishmen?"

"I have not said so," she answered; "but here in England I am being
taken care of, kept out of mischief, and sometimes I feel like a
prisoner. It is only that which makes me dislike England. Of Englishmen
I know little, but I have read about them, and they have done some
good, brave deeds. They are, perhaps, just a little conceited with
themselves, don't you think? There is no one quite like an Englishman
it would seem."

"There are all sorts, good and bad," said Ellerey carelessly. "At the
best he wants a lot of beating; at the worst, well, he wants a lot of
beating that way, too. How is it you feel like a prisoner?"

The girl drew herself up to her full height. There was something haughty
in her demeanor, occasioned, perhaps, by the careless way in which he
asked the question. She felt that he was treating her rather like a
spoilt child, while she felt herself a determined woman.

"In my own country I am a princess," she said.

"Indeed?"

"You do not believe me?"

"Why not? You look every inch a princess," he answered.

"It is so like a man to say what he thinks will please," she returned
with a flash in her eyes. "You do not believe me, but you are afraid
to say so. Go down there and ask them."

"I do not disbelieve you," said Ellerey quietly.

The girl relented in a moment.

"We should be very good friends, you and I, if we knew each other. You
have ambition. I can see it in your face."

"I had, Princess."

"Hush, no one calls me that here. Why do you say you had ambition?"

"You would not understand."

"Try me and see," she said, standing close beside him as though to
measure her strength against his for a moment. "You may trust me. I
would trust you anywhere, in peace or war."

Ellerey looked at her curiously for an instant, with a sudden desire
to take her into his confidence. Then he shook his head slowly. It was
pleasant to hear such faith expressed in him, and he was unwilling to
destroy the faith of this fair woman. Altogether a woman she seemed
to him just then.

"You will not. Never mind, perhaps one day you will. Only never speak
of ambition as something past. That is weak and unmanly."

"Upon my honor, you do me good," Ellerey exclaimed.

"And you me," she answered eagerly. "To look at you makes me feel
strong. It is good when a man makes a woman feel like that. I am a
woman, although I am still at school. There is southern blood in me,
and we become women earlier than English girls do. Listen! There are
England, and France, and Germany, and Austria, and Russia all interested
in me, and nothing would please them all so much as my death. As it
is, I am a difficulty in all their politics. They would like me to
forget who, and what, I am. They would marry me to some nobleman of
no importance, if they could, just to keep me quiet."

"And you will not be quiet."

"No. Why should I be? Would you? In my country a usurper is upon the
throne, kept there, held there, like a child who would fall but for
its nurse's arms, by all the Powers of Europe. It is I who should be
there. It is I who will be there one day. Shall I tell you? There are
hundreds, thousands, of men who are ready to strike in my cause when
the time is ripe. Even now there is a statesman working to set these
countries at cross purposes with one another, and when they quarrel,
then is my opportunity. You shall see. That is why I said I would be
a man if I could. It would be so much easier for a man, but as it is,
a woman shall do it."

"I hope you may. You deserve to."

"But you doubt it?" she said.

"There seem to be heavy odds against you."

"That helps me. It stirs up the best that is in me. It is good to have
something to struggle for, something to win, and if I may not win, I
hope to fall in the press of the fight, and, to the loud funeral music
of clashing steel, find the death of a soldier. What is your name?"

"Desmond Ellerey."

"It is an easy name to remember. Well, Desmond Ellerey, if your ambition
finds no outlet in England, come to my country, to the city of
Sturatzberg, and claim friendship with Princess Maritza. She shall
find you work for your good right arm."

She walked away from him as though she had bestowed a great favor,
never looking back. She went in the opposite direction to the school,
her truant spirit not yet satisfied, and Ellerey watched her until he
lost sight of the tall, graceful figure in a fold of the downs. Then
he turned and went slowly back the way he had come.

Desmond Ellerey had declared that she had done him good. It was true.
Although he walked slowly, his spirit was stirred within him, and his
blood ran with something of its old vigor. Faced by a thousand
difficulties, this girl had the courage to look upon them bravely, and
to believe in her power to overcome them. That was her secret, the
belief in her own power. He had faced his difficulties bravely enough,
but he had not had the courage to hope; therein lay his weakness, and
this girl, this princess, had shown it to him. He had allowed himself
to drift into a backwater; it was time he pulled out into the stream
again, and fought his way back to his rightful place, inch by inch,
against whatever tide might run.

For some little time he had been staying with Sir Charles and Lady
Martin, two people who had looked into his eyes when he had denied the
charges brought against him, and had believed him.

As he crossed the lawn toward the house he met his host.

"I have had an adventure, Charles; I have met a princess."

"There are some pretty rustic maidens in the village. I have been
struck with their beauty myself."

"I mean a real Princess; at least, she said so," Desmond answered.
"She was playing truant from school, a large white house, on the other
side of the downs."

"Do you mean a tall, red-headed girl?" asked Sir Charles.

"Have you seen her?" Desmond asked.

"No, but I know all about her."

"Ah, I thought you couldn't have seen her, or you wouldn't describe
her as a tall, red-headed girl. She's the most beautiful woman I ever
saw. She spoke the truth, then; she is a Princess?"

"Oh, yes, but the sooner she forgets the fact the better for her and
for--for everybody. She is the descendant of a line of rulers chiefly
remarkable for their inability to rule, and her chance of ascending
the throne of her fathers is absolutely _nil_, fortunately for Europe.
You are not a student of contemporary history, Desmond, or you would
know something about Wallaria and its exiled Princess."

"I am not a diplomat, but a soldier--at least, I was," Desmond answered.
"Still, I should like to improve my knowledge."

"That is easily managed," said Sir Charles. "If you come into the
library I can find you a heap of literature concerning this little
wasps' nest of a state, and when you have mastered the position, thank
your natal stars that you were not born to take a hand in ruling it.
It is a menace to Europe, Desmond, that's the truth of the matter.
Wallaria may at any time be the cause of a European war. If this
Princess of yours had her way, that time would not be long in coming."

For the remainder of the day Desmond Ellerey filled a corner of the
library with tobacco smoke, and his head with a thousand details
concerning Wallaria. When he went to dress for dinner he felt that he
had been reading an absorbing romance, and blessed the good fortune
which had brought about the meeting on the downs.

"Helen and I have been talking about you, Desmond," said Sir Charles
after dinner.

"Not revising your opinion of me, I hope."

"No," said Lady Martin, "but thinking of your future. Why not travel
for a little while, Desmond; for a year or so? It will give time for
the truth to leak out. It will leak out, you know, even as a lie does."

"I have made up my mind to go abroad," said Desmond quietly. "I shall
clear out of England before the month is over. It has been awfully
good of you both to have me here at a time when most of my friends
found it convenient to forget me. I shall not come back until the men
who were so ready to accuse me have eaten their words and the country
so ready to dispense with my services asks for them again."

"That will come in time," said Lady Martin.

"I am glad to hear your determination," said Sir Charles. "Where are
you going?"

"To Wallaria."

"Wallaria!"

"Why not? It seems there is room for a soldier there."

Sir Charles looked grave.

"But, Desmond, supposing--"

"I know what you would say," returned Ellerey quickly. "Supposing
Englishmen should have to fight against Wallaria, and I should have
to carry arms against my country; well, with whom does the fault lie,
with England or with me? England has dispensed with my services,
believing a lie; she drives me from her, and makes me a renegade. What
allegiance do I owe to England? I will offer my sword to Wallaria, and
if she will have it, by Heaven, she shall."

Lady Martin put her hand upon his shoulder, pressed it in kindly
sympathy for a moment, and then left the room.

"Sleep on it, Desmond, you will think better of it in the morning," said
Sir Charles.

"You have been very good to me, both of you," said Ellerey, turning
round suddenly when Lady Martin had gone. "I can never thank you enough.
It seems poor gratitude to pain you now. Such a contingency as we
imagine will probably never arise, but I have decided to go."

"The Princess has bewitched you."

"Nonsense. Am I not offering my sword to the usurper, her enemy? My
ambitions have been nipped like a tree in the budding here, and I see
a new outlet for my energies yonder, that is all. My own country
despises me. I hope for better things from the country of my adoption."



CHAPTER II.

MONSIEUR DE FROILETTE



At a turn of the road which had been deserted for some two hours past,
a man suddenly reined in his horse to a walking pace. He had ridden
far, for his dress was dusty, and the animal showed signs of fatigue.
The evening was stormy-looking, and there was a bite in the wind
blowing from the higher lands to the plain.

The road ran, with many a twist and turn, between dense woods on one
side, and rugged waste ground, with tangled patches of undergrowth,
on the other. Here and there a clearing had been made in the woods,
and a rough dwelling erected, but they were apparently deserted; there
were no signs of life about them this evening. The man rode easily,
yet with constant watchfulness. The times were unsettled and dangerous,
and the slightest unfamiliar sound instantly attracted his attention.
He was accustomed to be on the alert, and whatever thoughts held sway
behind his gloomy looks, they were not sufficiently absorbing to render
him careless for a moment.

Suddenly he pulled his horse to a standstill, turning sharply in his
saddle to look back upon the way he had come. Then he examined his
holster, and, moving his horse to a position which gave him a better
command of the road, sat quietly waiting.

The sound which had attracted his attention grew rapidly nearer, and
presently three riders came round the bend at a gallop, one some paces
in advance of his companions. He pulled up short, seeing the motionless
horseman by the roadside, scenting danger and ready for it; but the
next moment he raised his hat with pronounced courtesy, and bowed low
in his saddle.

"Pardon, monsieur," he said, "but one sees a possible enemy in so
unexpected an encounter."

"Unexpected, monsieur?"

"I said so. May I add fortunate, too?"

"Such enemies as you suggest seldom stand singly," was the rather
ungracious answer.

"And in these times wise men seldom ride alone, monsieur," came the
quick retort. "I travel with an escort myself, you see, Captain Ellerey.
I do not make a mistake, I think; you are Captain Ellerey of his
Majesty's Regiment of Chasseurs?"

"That is my name."

"And you are returning to Sturatzberg? Good! We can proceed together,"
and without waiting for an assent to this arrangement, he ordered his
servants to go forward, and watched them until they had disappeared.
"Now, monsieur, we may go forward at our leisure."

"I have not the honor of--"

"My name. Ah, it is of small consequence. Jules de Froilette, at your
service. It is unknown to you?"

"I think so, but your face seems familiar," said Ellerey, as they went
on together.

"Ah, yes. I go to Court sometimes."

"And I but seldom, monsieur."

"Then you may have seen me in the streets of Sturatzberg. I know the
city well, and have nothing to hide. I have interests in this country,
let us say, in timber; it is the answer I give when I am questioned,
for no one respects a lazy man. A voluntary exile from my country, I
have no quarrel with France, nor she with me. In these days men are
become cosmopolitan, is it not so?"

"It looks like it in Sturatzberg," Ellerey replied.

"Monsieur is also an exile, and has no quarrel with his motherland?"

"At least I do not speak of it, Monsieur De Froilette."

"Pardon me, I am not inquisitive. You crave for excitement, so come to
Sturatzberg. The promise of adventure will ever attract men of spirit
and--"

"And the failures at home," suggested Ellerey.

"I was going to say men of courage," De Froilette answered, "but the
failures come, too, and succeed--sometimes."

"You are as doubtful of the reward as I am," said Ellerey, laughing.

De Froilette did not join in his merriment.

"A Captain of Horse is not to be despised," he said slowly, glancing
furtively at his companion.

"True, but he remains a Captain of Horse. I expected rapid events in
this country, and quick promotion for those who came out of the struggle
with their lives. Instead, we have an expedition against some brigands'
fastness, which is deserted when we arrive, or a troop to quell a petty
riot which has fizzled out when we get there, and that is all."

"And monsieur thirsts for more; the desperate encounter and the bloody
sword; for high place and Court favor."

"Is it too great an ambition?" Ellerey demanded. "Do we not all from
the bottom rung of the ladder look eagerly toward the top--the student
to the masters of his profession, the apprentice to the seat of his
employer? Why should not a soldier look for high favor at Court?"

"Such favor must be won, Captain Ellerey."

"I am willing to win it."

"Patience. You shall not always find those fastnesses deserted, those
riots quelled when you arrive. This is the waiting time, the preparing
time, and there are difficulties in the way of promotion. Let me ask
you, are you loved in your regiment?"

"Neither loved nor hated."

"And in the city?"

"I have few friends. A Captain of Horse does not command them."

"That is not the reason. It is because you are a foreigner," De
Froilette answered. "You are welcome to fight this country's battles,
welcome to get killed in them, but you must not participate in any
rewards. If Sturatzberg could do without us, how many foreigners would
wake tomorrow in the city, think you?"

"All Europe has talked of such a rebellion, but it does not come,"
said Ellerey.

"It will," was the answer, "and if you are strong enough you may take
the reward."

"You speak in riddles."

"Is it wise to speak plainly?" and De Froilette swept out his arm as
though the prospect before them gave the answer. They had left the
woods and the rough country behind them, and were approaching houses,
for Sturatzberg had grown and spread itself beyond its walls. In the
distance the lights of the city blinked under the dome of growing
darkness, while to the right a long line of light marked the citadel
and the palace of the King.

"There are ever-watchful eyes, ever-waking ears about us, looking and
listening for treachery," De Froilette went on. "Every man suspects
his neighbor, and has fingers ready for the knife handle. Yonder in
the citadel, amid the laughter and the music, a dozen plots will creep
forward a space before the dawn. Does monsieur, the Captain, long to
play a part in the intrigues there?"

"Yes, so that it is honest."

"Monsieur must decide. We part here, it is better so. Come to me
to-night, at the Altstrasse, 12, at ten o'clock. We can talk further.
Until then, _au revoir_" and De Froilette put his horse into a canter,
leaving Ellerey to pursue his way alone.

Entering the city by the eastern gate, Ellerey crossed the Konigplatz
at walking pace on his way to his lodging by the Western Gate. They
were a pleasure-loving people in Sturatzberg, working as little as
possible, and spending without a thought of the morrow. The cafes were
full to-night, the laughter sounded genuine enough, and there was
little indication of the coming storm of revolution so confidently
predicted by De Froilette. Ellerey's mind was busy with the events of
the afternoon. For two years he had been in Sturatzberg, ready to seize
the opportunity of distinguishing himself whenever it arose. It had
not come yet. His life had been passed on a dead level of inactivity,
and the stirring times he had hoped for seemed as far away as ever.
Many a time had his thoughts gone back to that breezy morning on the
downs, and he devoutly wished that Princess Maritza would come to
Sturatzberg, so that he might go to her, claim friendship with her,
and ask for that work for his good right arm which she had promised
to give. Who was this De Froilette, and why should he take an interest
in him or wish to help him? For such favors there was always a price
to be paid in some form or other. Would it be wise to go to the
Altstrasse? And another question came to him, a question that set his
pulse beating faster for a moment. Was this De Froilette an emissary
of the Princess Maritza? Might she not be in Sturatzberg now? Might
he not see her to-night? "I would risk anything for that," he said,
as he swung himself from the saddle, "and whatever the adventure is,
so that it has a spice of danger in it, it is welcome. I shall know
how to take care of myself if the price asked be too heavy."

A big, bearded man came forward to take the horse, and the manner in
which he drew the back of his hand across his mouth suggested that he
had left the tankard hastily.

"Has anyone inquired for me, Stefan?"

"No, Captain, I have been undisturbed until now," the man answered in
a deep voice well suited to his frame, as he led the horse away. Knowing
his soldier-servant's weakness and his capacity for indulging in it
with impunity, Ellerey wondered how long a time he would require
undisturbed before signs of his potations showed themselves. Drink
heavily he certainly did, but since he never exhibited any ill effects
from it, at night or morning, it would have been unjust to call him
a drunkard.

The Altstrasse was of the old town, a narrow thoroughfare of gaunt
houses which now sheltered a dozen families in rooms where the wealthy
had once lived, and in which Ministers and Ambassadors had entertained
the wit, beauty, and bravery of nations. These glories had departed
to the palatial buildings which had grown up round the citadel, leaving
the Altstrasse as misfortune may leave a gentleman, the marks of
breeding evident though he be clad in rusty garments. Over the doorways,
through which tatterdemalions, men, women, and children, flocked in and
out, were handsome carvings, deep-cut crests and coats-of-arms; ragged
garments were hung to dry over handsome balustrades and
wrought-iron railings; while in the rough and broken roadway garbage,
cast there days since, lay rotting where it had fallen. Poverty had
seized upon the place, flaunting poverty, seeking no concealment.
Ellerey had passed through the Altstrasse before to-night, but the
surroundings had had no particular interest for him then. Now they
arrested his attention. What plots might not have birth and grow to
dangerous maturity in such surroundings, among such people as these?
The rabble had overrun these deserted mansions; might it not one day
hammer at the doors of the palaces by the citadel yonder with demands
not to be gainsaid? What manner of man was this De Froilette, what
ends had he in view, that he should live in such a place?

Number 12 looked as faded as its neighbors, showed even fewer lights
in its windows, and, except that no small crowd hung about the closed
door, was no whit more attractive than ever. Ellerey's summons was
answered immediately, however, and he entered a large bare stone hall,
the dim light which hung in the centre disclosing many fast-closed
doors on either side.

"Monsieur is expected," said the man deferentially, leading the way
down a stone passage and up a flight of stairs to a landing
corresponding with the hall below. But how different! Here was luxury.
A deep carpet deadened the footfall, rich curtains hung over windows
and doorways, and ancient arms were upon the walls. Ellerey had little
time to appreciate more than the general effect, for the man, drawing
back a heavy curtain, opened a door, and without making any announcement
stood aside for him to enter.

"Welcome, mon ami, welcome," said De Froilette, coming forward to meet
him. "Confidences are easier here than on the highway."

The room was perfect, the abode of a man of taste with the means to
gratify it to the full. It was costly and unique, a collector's room,
discriminately arranged, and the owner, motioning his guest to a chair,
was worthy of his surroundings. In the afternoon he had been muffled
in a cloak, and Ellerey had noticed little of his appearance beyond
the fact that his eyes were dark and restless. Now he saw a man courtly
and distinguished in a manner, with a clever, earnest face, at once
attractive and inviting confidence. His hair, cut short, and his beard
trimmed to a fine point, were black with a few streaks of white in
them, but his face was young looking, the lines few and faint. His
fifty years sat lightly upon him. One would have judged him a student,
or a traveller, rather than a politician, or a man fighting life
strenuously.

"My surroundings surprise you?" he said, with a smile.

"Such things are hardly looked for in the Altstrasse," Ellerey answered.

"They are a part of myself, Captain Ellerey, but I wish to remain in
privacy. Your elect of the city do not naturally visit in the
Altstrasse, and I have rooms below bare enough to impress uninteresting
people with the fact that I am a poor sort of fellow, and likely to
be an unprofitable acquaintance. For my friends--well, you see, I have
other apartments."

"I thank you for the preference shown me," said Ellerey, with a bow.

"And since we parted have been speculating on the reason, is it not
so?"

"Naturally."

"I think I can help you; I believe you can assist me. There is the
position in a nutshell. I am honest. I make no pretence of liking
unprofitable friends myself. But we will talk afterward, monsieur,"
he added, as a servant announced supper, and De Froilette led the way
into an adjoining room. The meal was faultlessly served at a round
table lighted by candles in quaint silver candlesticks. Although not
exactly an epicure, De Froilette understood a supper of this description
as perhaps only a Frenchman can, and his taste in wines was excellent.
He led the conversation into general topics, talked of Paris and London
with equal ease and knowledge, and of Berlin, Vienna, and St. Petersburg
only a little less intimately.

"I have said I am cosmopolitan," he explained. "After all, it is the
greatest nationality to which a man can belong. Coffee in the library,
Francois."

De Froilette ushered his guest into another room, which from floor to
ceiling was lined with books--books on all subjects and in many
languages. A huge writing-table, littered with letters and foreign
newspapers, occupied the centre of the apartment, which was evidently
a working room, though luxurious in all its appointments. De Froilette
did not speak until the servant had placed the coffee on a side table
and had left the room, when he turned suddenly toward Ellerey.

"I followed you to-day, monsieur; it was not a chance meeting."

"I am not surprised," said Ellery. "Twice before you overtook me I
heard the sound of galloping horses, and was prepared for an enemy."

"And instead, behold a friend," De Froilette laughed, pushing a silver
box of cigarettes across the table. "You must bear with me if I am
prosy for a time. I can promise you that the end of the story is better
than the beginning."

Ellerey settled himself to listen attentively.

"The history of this country, monsieur, is composed, as it were, of
the rough ends and edges of the histories of other countries. Every
crisis in Europe causes trouble of some kind here, and first one family
and then another have become paramount in Sturatzberg. All the Powers
have recognized one fact, however, that Wallaria must be kept inviolate;
so it is that this is an independent kingdom to-day. The position is
unique, and gives the King, within his own realm, a power more
autocratic than the Czar's should he care to use it, since he has only
to play off one great Power against another to preserve himself from
attack. You follow me?"

Ellerey murmured an assent, wondering what this recital was to lead to.

"It is clear that his Majesty does not use this power," De Froilette
went on. "He may be timid, he may lack ambition, we will speak no
treachery; but in times past there have been ambitious monarchs, and
still little has happened. Why? Because, monsieur, recognizing that
this country is one of the chief factors in preserving the peace of
Europe, the nations have sent the ablest men they possess as their
Ambassadors to Sturatzberg. Your British Minister is a case in point.
The result is that to the present time no monarch has risen with courage
enough, allied to sufficient political acumen, to take his own course,
carry it to success. Have you ever realized, monsieur, that Sturatzberg
might play with the nations of Europe as a gambler plays his hand of
cards?"

"I am no diplomatist," Ellerey answered.

De Froilette shrugged his shoulders as though the point were immaterial
to him, and went on:

"To all appearance, the facts are to-day as they have always been,
with one great and important exception--the people. The people are
awaking to the sensation that they are ruled and oppressed, for so
they consider it, by foreigners. They have had secretly preached to
them, and they understand, what possibilities there are; and a wave
of national enthusiasm is silently stealing through the length and
breadth of the land. The bolder spirits have already declared against
law and order, as it exists, by flying to the hills and associating
themselves with the brigands there. The forces under the outlaw
Vasilici, I am told, increase daily. You have heard of him, Captain
Ellerey?"

"And have tried to find him," Ellerey answered, with a smile. "But his
fastness in the mountains was always deserted when we got there."

"Some day it will not be. A leader worthy of the cause will be found.
The people will remember that there are others with an equal, or better,
right to the throne than his Majesty, and then you will have the
revolution."

"I presume, monsieur, the leader is found, and only awaits the
opportunity?" said Ellerey.

"You are right, Captain, she is found," De Froilette answered slowly.

"A woman!" Ellerey exclaimed, and he felt the color flush to his face
as he spoke. He forgot for a moment that his sword was pledged to the
King. His thoughts went back to that breezy morning on the downs, and
the tall, straight girl with her bright hair streaming in the wind.

De Froilette laughed.

"A woman, Captain Ellerey, who destines you for high service. Let her
plead for herself," and as he spoke he opened the door, and stood aside
with bowed head.

A woman entered. Tall she was, and of imperial mien. Diamonds glistened
in the coils of her raven hair. Her face was beautiful, her smiling
lips and deep, soft eyes, full of sympathy and tenderness, seemed
incapable of any stern expression of anger. A woman born to rule, born
to lead, but not the woman Ellerey had expected to see.

It was the Queen, and Ellerey bowed low before her.

"You have not been unnoticed by us, Captain Ellerey," she said in a
low voice, "and we would have you more constantly at Court."

"I shall obey your Majesty," Ellerey answered.

"There are stirring times at hand," she went on; "times in which men
may strive and win. His majesty, the King, is fettered, politically
bound, by conflicting interests, watched, carefully nursed by this
Power and by that. He is unable to move as his people would have him.
It is for me to act for him in this matter, secretly until the appointed
hour strikes. Remember, Captain Ellerey, I am Queen as his Majesty is
King, with equal rights, not as consort merely. Your sword is pledged
to me as to the King. Therefore I can demand your service. I prefer
to ask it."

"Your Majesty is gracious."

"It will be secret service, for the present secret even from the King.
I may require it to-morrow, a week hence, or it may be in a month's
time. I cannot tell. It is perilous service, but that will not deter
Captain Desmond Ellerey. May I claim your full and perfect allegiance?"

"I hold myself entirely at your Majesty's disposal."

"You shall not find me ungrateful," she said, giving him her hand.
"Choose you a dozen stout men on whom you can rely. Good pay you may
promise them. Have them in readiness to set out at an hour's notice.
Then wait and watch. We shall call you into private audience on some
occasion, either personally or by Monsieur De Froilette, and now that
we have found the man, may the time be quick in coming."

There was delicate flattery in her words and manner, yet withal perfect
consciousness of her own power, the power that beauty gives. Ellerey
felt the magic of her influence, and his eyes looked unflinchingly
into hers for a moment; the woman in her understood what manner of man
he was in whom she trusted. "If I read you aright, Captain Ellerey,"
she said, with a radiant smile, "it is not your nature to be frivolous,
to catch pleasure as it flies and play with it while the bubble lasts;
yet must you school yourself to do so. The light-hearted cavalier and
careless lover will not be suspected of any deep design, and it would
be well that that should seem your character at Court. More easily
will you keep the nearer to our person, for love of pleasure and the
gratification of the moment is thought to be our end and aim also.
Even his Majesty is deceived in this, and knows not that under the
surface we are working night and day in his cause. Monsieur De Froilette
shall see to it that you have ample opportunity to be merry, and I
promise you active, hazardous service, work after your own heart, in
the near future."

"In the one as in the other, I shall hope to win your Majesty's
approval," Ellerey answered.

The Queen turned, and retired as quickly as she had come. De Froilette
bowed low as she passed out, but exchanged no word with her, nor did
he attempt to follow her. Her coming and her going had evidently been
prearranged for Ellerey's benefit.

"I surprise you for the second time to-night," said De Froilette, as
he closed the door.

"Yes, I expected another woman--Princess Maritza."

De Froilette started at the name, and looked keenly at his companion.
For an instant he showed surprise, perhaps annoyance, but he was quickly
himself again, and asked quietly:

"What do you know of the Princess Maritza?"

"I have studied something of the history of this country in my leisure,
monsieur, that is all; and I fancied you might be interested yourself
in the fortunes of the exile. You spoke of others with an equal or
better right than his Majesty."

"I was thinking of the Queen. The Princess is impossible. Her fathers
sat upon the throne, it is true, and by their misplaced ambition and
folly not only lost the support of every foreign Power, but alienated
the love of the people besides. Her father barely escaped assassination.
The Princess is known to me, as her father was. At present she is in
England."

"Does she make no claim for herself?"

"She might were the throne vacant, but she could not succeed. The
people would never accept her. In two days will you do me the honor
of accompanying me to Court, as her Majesty desires?"

"The honor will be mine. I thank you for bringing me into notice,"
Ellerey answered.

"I will come for you at your lodging," said De Froilette, and then a
servant entered, apparently without being summoned, and in silence
conducted Ellerey to the bare hall again. All the doors were fast
closed as before, but the air seemed to vibrate with life and the
silence to be ready to break into a hoarse roar of voices at a moment's
notice. Yet only in a window here and there was there a dim light when
Ellerey looked up at the gloomy house as he stood alone in the
Altstrasse.



CHAPTER III.

THE WOMAN IN THE SILK MASK



Once alone, there were many questions which Ellerey regretted he had
not put to his host, and some misgivings arose in his mind whether he
had not been led to promise service which might be contrary to the
oath which he had taken to the King. The scheme to enlist his help had
evidently been carefully considered and prepared, with the result that
he had pledged himself to some hazardous task of the nature of which
he was entirely ignorant. Not a clue had been given him, and were he
desirous of turning traitor, he realized that it was not within his
power to do so. Not a word of information could he speak, and who would
believe that alone, and apparently unattended, the Queen had visited
the Altstrasse at midnight? That she had done so for the purpose of
speaking to him proved to Ellerey that her need for him was urgent;
that she had explained nothing pointed to the fact that she was not
inclined to trust him fully at present.

"I judge there is work for my sword," he said, as he drew his cloak
closer round him. "It would seem there is employment for my wits also.
At least, I have my wish: a part to play which holds possibilities.
A Queen, a designing Frenchman, and an ambitious Captain of Horse, who
may be a fool. Well, the drama may prove exciting. We shall see!"

Desmond Ellerey was, after all, an adventurer, of the better sort,
perhaps; driven to the life by force of circumstances--yet still an
adventurer. His position proclaimed him one. He looked for reward from
the country which had purchased his sword, and had no inclination to
fritter away his chances of espousing any cause but the winning one.
At the same time he was an Englishman: a birth privilege carrying with
it weighty responsibilities, which he could not away with as easily
as he had cast aside his country. There were few ties to bind him to
England. He had become that unenviable member of a family--the black
sheep. He had run deeply into debt; a fact that had grievously told
against him when he had to face the accusations which had ruined his
career. In withdrawing from England he had probably left only two
friends, Sir Charles and Lady Martin, who would ever trouble to send
a kindly thought after him. His going had aroused the keenest
satisfaction in the breast of his brother, Sir Ralph Ellerey, tenth
baronet of the name, who was quite ready to believe the very worst
that was said of Desmond, remarking that it was little more than he
expected. Sir Ralph's cast of mind was perhaps narrow and ungenerous,
but, since the sympathy so usually shown to the open-handed spendthrift
was not forthcoming in this case, it must be assumed that popular
opinion condemned Desmond Ellerey, and sympathized with Sir Ralph. It
had been easy, therefore, for Desmond to become a stranger to his
native land; it was impossible for him to forget that he was an
Englishman: that a peculiar code of honor was demanded of him by the
fact.

The Altstrasse was deserted as he passed through it; the lights were
out in most of the houses, and silence was over the whole city. The
sky was black with clouds, giving promise of heavy rain before morning
if the wind dropped. Ellerey walked quickly, his ears alert, and his
eyes keenly searching every shadow on either side of him. Attacks in
the street for the purpose of plunder were of too general occurrence
to make a lonely walk in Sturatzberg safe or desirable at night, and
in this quarter of the city help would be slow in coming.

As he turned out of the Altstrasse, a woman, coming hastily in the
opposite direction, ran against him, and, with a faint cry, started
back in fear. A cloak was gathered tightly round her, showing nothing
of her dress and little of her figure, and the hood of it was pulled
so low down that little of her face was visible.

"Help, monsieur!" she cried, striving for breath, which came in
spasmodic pants after her running. "Help, monsieur, if you be a man!"

"How can I serve you?"

"Ah, a soldier!" she cried, seeing the cloak he wore. "Quick! There
is no time to delay. While we speak, murder is being done."

"Where?"

"Come. It is a house yonder. Are you armed? Ah, but they are cowards,
and only attack defenceless women!" And she plucked him by the arm to
compel him to follow her. She did not appeal in vain.

"Show me," Ellerey said, and taking her hand, that he might help her
pace, he ran with her, their footsteps resounding along the silent
street.

As they ran, he tried to get a better view of her face, but in vain.
He noticed that her cloak, which flapped outward with every step she
took, revealed a rich white skirt beneath, and there was the rustle
of silk. She kept up bravely with him, seeming to gain new courage in
his company. She led him round two corners, across a dark square, and
to the open door of a house in a small street beyond. "Quick! They are
within. Straight up the stairs to the first floor."

Ellerey released his hold of the girl; indeed, she pulled her hand
away that she might not detain him from dashing to the rescue, and,
as he touched the stairs, he heard the door close with a loud
reverberating slam behind him.

"Quickly!" she cried after him.

The house was dark and quiet, doubly quiet it seemed now that the door
had closed. Not a sound came from the rooms above, as Ellerey went up
the stairs. If murder were here to-night, he had surely come too late.

He had reached the top of the stairs, had stretched out his hand to
feel his way by the wall, and had paused to listen for a sound or to
discern a glimmer of light to guide him, when suddenly the air about
him seemed to break into life, and before he had time to turn and throw
his back against the wall, strong arms were about his shoulders and
legs. In an instant Ellerey had grasped one man in the darkness, and
kicked himself free from a second, who went rolling down the stairs,
uttering curses as he struck the balustrade heavily, making it crack
to breaking point. Another received his heel squarely in the face, and
dropped with a thud upon the floor, a thud that almost had the sound
of finality in it. Meanwhile the man he had seized wrenched himself
free, and another pair of arms were flung round Ellerey's waist,
obviously to prevent his getting at any weapon he might carry. Ellerey
strained every nerve to free himself from this assailant and to get
his back to the wall, striking out right and left, now hitting a man's
neck or shoulder, now landing a heavy blow between eyes he could not
see, anon beating the air only. How many his adversaries were he could
not determine. The air was full of panting breaths and growling
imprecations, of swaying bodies, and heavy blows, which were, for the
most part, wide of the mark. Every moment Ellerey expected to be his
last; expected to feel the sharp thrust of a blade, or to fall into
sudden oblivion before the sound of the revolver shot had time to reach
his ears. Yet he still lived; fighting, struggling, being slowly spent
by the odds against him. Why did these murderers not end it? Were they
fearful of injuring a comrade in the darkness, or were they desirous
of not injuring him too severely? Indeed, it seemed so. Had he fallen
into a trap, baited with the frightened woman who had petitioned him
for help? The thought that he could have been such a fool, that so
transparent a device should have deceived him, maddened him, and he
redoubled his exertions to free himself, trying to drag his assailants
with him to the head of the stairs, so that he might fling himself and
them down, and chance regaining his liberty in the shock of the fall.
But the men appeared to perceive his motive, and redoubled their
efforts, too, straining every nerve to end the struggle. The man who
held him round the waist was dragged this way and that, yet never for
a moment relaxed his hold. Other hands were upon his legs now, and
Ellerey suddenly felt his feet drawn together with a snap. The next
instant he was thrown backward, knees were pressed upon his chest, his
arms were twisted and caught with a rope, his ankles bound together,
and he was helpless.

"I'd like to bury this knife in your cursed carcass," whispered a voice
in his ear.

"I've been expecting you to do so," said Ellerey, panting for breath.
"Why don't you?"

"I don't know. By Heaven, I don't know why not."

"Well, I'm sure I don't," panted Ellerey.

"Is he secure?" said another voice.

"Yes," at least half a dozen voices answered. "Then drag him in. Perhaps
we'll have leave to despatch him presently."

A door was opened, and, with scant ceremony, Ellerey was dragged by
his feet across the floor into a room. The door was shut again, and
someone produced a lantern.

Ellerey found himself lying in a bare room with seven or eight men
standing in a circle round him, regarding him with sullen and angry
looks, yet with curiosity and some respect; and on more than one face
there were marks of the struggle, savage flushes that would blacken
to-morrow, and blood on lips. He looked from one to the other, but saw
no face he recognized, yet they were not such a murderous set of
scoundrels as he had expected to see, and although more than one of
them, perhaps, would have taken the keenest pleasure in burying a
knife-blade in him to revenge the hurt he had received, it appeared
evident that some consideration held them back. Whatever they
contemplated doing, murder was not their intention.

"It takes a lot to knock the sense out of you," said one man, and
Ellerey thought he recognized the voice which had ordered him to be
dragged into the room: "and there are one or two of us who have
something to settle. That must wait for a more convenient season."

"If I am to make a fight for it, it certainly must," said Ellerey,
with a smile. "I suppose it's no use asking you to loosen my wrist a
little. The cord is very tight."

"Not a bit of use."

"May I know why you have trapped me in this way? I should like to see
the little hussy who deceived me."

The men laughed.

"She's a safe bait, is a woman, all the world over," said the spokesman,
"and this one's finished her part of the business well enough. Now our
parts have got to be done. Some time to-night you received a token.
We want it."

"You are welcome to any token I received," Ellerey answered.

"Give it me, then."

"Because I received none," Ellerey added.

"That's a lie," said one man.

"It is well for you that I am bound hand and foot," said Ellerey
quietly. "If I remember your face, I may ask you to repeat that some
day."

"I ask you again to give me the token you received to-night. Once it
is in my hands, you are free to depart," said the spokesman.

"And I repeat that I received no token to-night," answered Ellerey.

"Search him!" cried several voices, and at a gesture from their leader,
they fell on their knees beside him.

It was rough handling Ellerey received for the next few minutes. His
coat was torn open; rough hands were thrust into his pockets, and even
his under-garments were rent apart lest by any means he should have
secured the token next his skin.

"There is nothing," they said, rising to their feet one by one. The
last man knelt a moment longer, and turned an evil eye toward his
chief.

"May it not happen by an accident?" he said. "An accident would be
forgiven, and it would be so much safer."

The dim light shone on the keen blade the man had ripped eagerly from
his girdle, and Ellerey doubted whether the chief's word would have
power to save him; whether, indeed, it would be spoken. His salvation
came from quite an unexpected quarter.

"Why that knife, Nicolai?" said a voice which caused the man to spring
to his feet, and made Ellerey turn his head. "You would dare to disobey
my commands, Nicolai? Stand aside. I have no faith in you."

The ruffian slunk back into the shadows of the room without a word.
Ellerey was astonished that so mild a reprimand should have so great
an effect. He looked at the dim figure, which the mean light of the
lantern revealed; a woman's figure, closely cloaked from head to foot,
while an ample scarf was wound round her head, and her face hidden by
a silken mask. She had entered by a door somewhat behind him, and he
and the man who was so desirous of killing him were the last to become
aware of her presence.

"Have you found it?" she demanded, after a pause.

"No; he declares no token was given. At any rate, it is not upon him,"
answered the man who was in charge of the ruffians.

The woman took the lantern from the man who carried it, and, as she
held it up, saw more distinctly the faces of the men about her.

"He has given you trouble, it seems. You bear marks of the conflict.
Eight of you."

"And two on the stairs who have not yet recovered," said one.

"He should be a good man, then, for a hazardous enterprise," and the
woman bent down, holding the lantern low to look into Ellerey's face.

Ellerey could see the eyes through the holes in the silk mask, but
they told him nothing. He had hardly noticed the eyes of the woman who
had stopped him at the corner of the Altstrasse; he did not know whether
they were the same. This woman seemed taller; yet there was a familiar
ring in her voice. She gazed at him for some moments in silence, and
then, standing erect, handed the lantern to one of the men. Behind the
mask she smiled. "Your cut-throats, madam, have made a mistake. I have
no token," said Ellerey.

"Do any of you know this man?" she asked, turning to her followers.

"A foreigner," growled one. "A soldier," said another.

"A King's man," said a third, "and better put out of the way, if I may
advise."

"You would be as Nicolai yonder, under my displeasure," she answered
sharply. "Have a care. I shall know how to deal with the first man who
disobeys me."

Was this the Queen? Ellerey thought she must be, half-believing he
recognized something familiar in her manner. Was this her method of
proving his daring before she fully trusted him?

"You have no token?" she said, addressing Ellerey.

"No, madam."

"Yet you went on a secret mission to the Altstrasse to-night?"

"I went openly."

"Openly! To visit whom?"

"Surely, one who lives in the Altstrasse," Ellerey answered.

"And were graciously entertained?"

"I ate and drank, madam, and both food and drink seemed to me of
excellent quality."

"And afterward?"

"We talked."

"Monsieur De Froilette, you, and--"

"Yes, madam, we talked, and smoked, but the matter of the token
surprises me. I heard no word of such a thing mentioned."

"I am inclined to believe you," she answered. "You have not yet been
sufficiently proved."

"I would bow my thanks for your compliment, were I able. I make but a
sorry picture at the moment, I fear, but my ragged and hardly
respectable appearance you will excuse. May I know to whom I am
indebted for this adventure?"

"Not yet. I may have need of you again."

"An invitation less hastily devised would please me better," said
Ellery. "I am not rich enough to adventure such good garments as
these often."

"A bullet would certainly have made less havoc with them, Captain
Ellerey," she returned.

The mention of his name startled him.

"A word of warning," she went on. "Beware of Monsieur De Froilette,
and of any enterprise he may handle. There will be specious promises,
but small fulfilment. Beware of the lady who visited the Altstrasse
to-night. Hesitate to do her bidding. Unless I mistake not, you will
thank me for the warning one day," and then, turning to the men about
her, she said, "Unloose him."

They hesitated, and did not move.

"Unloose him, I say," and she stamped her foot sharply.

Two or three fell on their knees beside Ellerey and unfastened the
cords, and, stretching his limbs to take some of the ache out of them,
he rose to his feet.

"You are free," she said; "but for the safety of these men, you must
consent to be blindfolded, and led to the place you came from."

"By the same lady who brought me here?" Ellerey inquired.

"That might hardly be to her liking," was the answer.

At a sign from her, Ellerey's eyes were bound with a scarf, and in a
few minutes he was being guided along the streets.

"One moment, monsieur," said one of his guides, presently. "There are
footsteps, surely!"

Ellerey stood still and waited, listening. He heard no footsteps, and
presently did not perceive the breathing of the man beside him. Then
he understood the ruse, and tore the bandage from his eyes. He was
alone at the corner of the Altstrasse, and the rain was beating
slantwise into his face.



CHAPTER IV.

THE COURT OF STURATZBERG



Ellerey's servant had fallen asleep on a settle, partly induced,
perhaps, by the liquor the empty tankard beside him had held, but he
started, wide awake on the instant, as his master entered. Ellery
expected him to remark upon his sorry condition, as he threw off his
cloak, but the man did not do so.

"There has been some rough handling in my neighborhood to-night,
Stefan."

"That's plain enough, Captain," was the answer. "They were good clothes,
too."

"And interest you more than the man inside them," said Ellerey, grimly.

"For the moment, yes. The man is unhurt, while the clothes are only
fit for the rag-shop or to be given to me."

"And, for choice, you would sooner have a corpse to deal with, so that
the clothes were untorn?"

Stefan shrugged his shoulders.

"I could spare most of my acquaintances to be made corpses of, for
acquaintances are easier come by than good clothes. It was a street
attack, Captain, I suppose?"

"They are common enough in Sturatzberg," Ellerey answered lightly.

"The tale will serve as well as another," Stefan returned. "If I tell
it, I am not compelled to believe it, and if I chance to be lying, it
is no sin of mine."

"Why, rascal, what else should it be?"

"It might be a friend turned enemy, or the pursuit of a woman, or the
touching of one of the many intrigues in Sturatzberg; but let it be
a street attack. Was any man left sobbing out his life in the corner
of the wall? It is well to have the story complete."

"No; it was an encounter of blows and bruises only."

"In such a plight as yours most men would have had some boast to make,
pointing to their own condition to prove their statements. I have heard
of half a dozen men lying dead, or dying, at a street corner, victims
to a single sword, yet was there never a corpse to be found in the
morning. Your easy boaster is ever a ready liar."

"Patch up the clothes and wear them, Stefan, if you can persuade your
bulk into them," laughed Ellerey. "Some day, perhaps, when I am certain
of your affection, I may tell you more of the adventure, and ask your
help."

The man took up the tankard, looked into its emptiness, and put it
down again. Then he turned round suddenly: "Some time since I was
offered higher pay to serve another master, Captain."

"Why didn't you go?"

"I'm beginning to think I was a fool, since you trust me so little,"
Stefan answered; "but I may yet prove a better comrade in a tight place
than many. Good-night."

A soldier, one of his own troop of Horse, Stefan had drifted into
Ellerey's service, perhaps because he was a lonely man like his master.
He appeared to have no ties whatever, nor wanted any, and declared
that the first man he met in the street who was old enough might be
his father, for anything he knew to the contrary. His mother, he knew,
had died bringing him into the world; a wasted sacrifice, he called
it, since the world could have done very well without him and he without
it. Being in it, he took all the good he could find, and if he held
his own life cheaply, he was even less interested in the lives of
others. Women he hated, and his good opinion could be purchased by a
man for a brimming tankard, and lasted, as a rule, so long as any
liquor remained.

It was hardly wonderful that Ellerey should not trust such a man with
any secret of his. Yet the soldier's parting words, and the look on
his face as he spoke, made him thoughtful.

"I shall want at least one stout companion on whom I can rely," he
mused. "I might choose a worse man than Stefan."

He spoke of his adventure to no one else. He did not even attempt to
locate the house into which he had been decoyed. To show too much
interest in the affair would only be to attract attention to himself
and his movements, which was undesirable, whether it were her Majesty
who had taken occasion to test his courage, or others who, knowing the
Queen's schemes, sought to defeat them. One thing appeared certain.
Some token was to come into his possession, and was to bring peril
with it.

On the second evening, Ellerey accompanied Monsieur De Froilette to
Court.

"You are prepared to be frivolous, monsieur, as her Majesty wishes?"
said De Froilette, as they went. "You will find it tolerably easy,
but, pardon the advice, make few friends; they are a danger to one
with a secret mission."

"Do you speak of men, monsieur, or women?" Ellerey asked.

"I spoke generally, but perhaps I was thinking of women," was the
answer. "Of one man, however, beware. There is a little, ferret-eyed
devil at Court who can spy out secrets almost before they are
conceived--the English Ambassador, Lord Cloverton. He is a great man,
and I hate him."

Ellerey had no time to ask questions, for the carriage stopped, and
the next moment he was following De Froilette up the wide staircase
which many people, men and women, were ascending. His companion spoke
to no one as he went up, nor did anyone address him. To the casual
observer, he might have passed for an unimportant personage in that
gay throng, but Ellerey, who had every reason to be interested in the
Frenchman, noticed that many people turned to look after him, whispering
together when he had passed. Ellerey himself attracted some little
attention, due, he imagined, to the fact that he was in De Froilette's
company, until he chanced to be left alone for a few moments at the
head of the grand staircase. Some half-dozen paces from him four men
were engaged in earnest conversation. From their position they could
scrutinize every one who ascended the stairs or crossed the vestibule,
and it seemed to Ellerey they were there of set purpose; more, that
his arrival had been expected and waited for. One of the four was a
man of about his own age, richly dressed, and of distinguished bearing.
He appeared chief among his companions, who addressed him with a certain
deference, and followed his movements, so that when he turned to look
at the newcomer, Ellerey found himself the focus of four pairs of eyes.
He met their searching looks with equal inquiry, but experienced a
certain attraction toward the man who led the scrutiny. He might be
an enemy, but he looked as though he would prove an honest and open
one, incapable of anything mean or underhand. Presently he made some
remark to his companions, who nodded acquiescence, and then they
separated, and were lost in the crowd crossing the vestibule, just as
De Froilette returned.

"Pardon me for leaving you, monsieur; shall we seek her Majesty?"

Ellerey passed with the Frenchman into a magnificent room, brilliantly
lighted from a domed roof, one of a suite of rooms which were all of
splendid proportions. From the distance came soft, dreamy music, hushed
in the murmur of voices. There were a great many people present, and
dancing had commenced in the ball-room. It was a brave assembly, men
wearing brilliant uniforms and the decorations of every nation in
Europe, and women beautiful in themselves, glorious in sheen of satin,
rustle of silk, and flash of jewels. Women's light laughter answered
men's jests--on every side were gayety and careless acceptance of the
pleasures of the passing hour. It was difficult to believe that under
it all lay deceit and treachery. Ellerey was inclined to doubt it, as
he followed his companion.

In one of the rooms, surrounded by a group of men and women, with whom
she turned to speak and laugh between the welcome she extended to each
new arrival, sat her Majesty. She was even more beautiful to-night
than when she had come to the Altstrasse, and, surrounded as she was
by beautiful women, seemed to hold by right the central position of
the group. Jewels glistened at her throat and in her hair, and across
her breast she wore the scarlet ribbon of the Golden Lion of
Sturatzberg.

"Ah, Monsieur De Froilette, you are welcome," she said. "I was just
saying that your countrywomen are the most accomplished, the most
fascinating, in Europe, and Count von Heinnen laughs at my opinion."

"Your Majesty will not understand," said Von Heinnen, in guttural tones
which ill agreed with a compliment; "I loved the women of France until
I arrived in Sturatzberg."

"I would narrow the Count's limit, and say the palace of Sturatzberg,"
said De Froilette, bending over the Queen's hand.

"No word for the women of their own country," laughed the Queen. "Are
we so unpatriotic, Baron Petrescu?" and she turned to a man who was
standing close behind her.

"I fear so, your Majesty. I have been in England, and, for my part,
I think the English women are the most beautiful in the world."

Baron Petrescu was the man who had looked so searchingly at Ellerey
in the vestibule. He looked at him now, as though his answer had some
reference to him; and the Queen, who did not seem too pleased with the
frankly spoken answer, following the direction of the Baron's glance,
let her eyes rest on Ellerey for the first time.

"Captain Ellerey, you, too, are welcome," she said. "You come but
seldom to Court. As an Englishman, you will doubtless support the
Baron's opinion."

"I find something to contemplate in all women, your Majesty, but, as
yet, I have placed none above all others."

"That confession should fire feminine ambition in Sturatzberg," laughed
the Queen. "Spread the report of it, Monsieur De Froilette, and we
shall witness excellent comedy, or tragedy--I hardly know which love
may be. Oh, you are doubly welcome, Captain Ellerey, for the sport you
shall give us, and we will ask for a repetition of that confession
constantly. The first time you look down before our questioning eyes,
and stammer in your answer, we shall know that love has laid siege to
the citadel of indifference, and captured it." Ellerey smiled, as he
moved aside to make room for others. He would have approached Baron
Petrescu had he been able to do so, but he was prevented; first, because
someone who knew him slightly spoke to him, and, secondly, by a general
movement in the room occasioned by the King's entrance.

When the history of Ferdinand IV. comes to be written, the King will
probably have as many characters as he has biographers. The character
given him will so entirely depend upon the point of view. As he walked
slowly across the room, his manner was not without dignity, but had
little graciousness in it. There were a few who feared him; many who
despised him; some who hated him; and from east to west of his kingdom
it is doubtful whether a dozen loved or admired him. In appearance he
was cadaverous-looking, tall and thin, with a stoop in his shoulders.
His skin was parchment-colored, and his eyes heavy and slow of movement.

Europe's plaything, a witty Frenchman had once called him; but those
about him found it hard work often to make him dance to their piping.
Perhaps no one understood him better, or had greater influence with
him, than the man who now walked a pace or two behind him, and was so
small that, beside the King, he looked almost ridiculous. His mincing
gait, and his apparently nervous deference to everyone about him, would
have amused those who did not know the man, or until they had made a
more careful study of his face. Nature seemed to have tried her hand
at a caricature, and had placed upon this diminutive body a leonine
head. The face was a network of lines, as though wind, rain, and
sunshine had worked their will upon it for years. The hair was white
as driven snow, and thick, shaggy, and long, while, set deeply under
heavy brows, his small eyes were never still. For a fraction of time
they seemed to rest on everyone in turn, and to note something about
them which would be stored up in the memory.

"A ferret-eyed devil, monsieur, is it not so?" whispered De Froilette
in Ellerey's ear after the Ambassador had passed. "He has already noted
your presence, and will know all about you before he sleeps--if he
ever does sleep. We must be very frivolous to escape detection."

To be frivolous at the Court of Sturatzberg was no difficult matter.
Whether it was the report of what he had said to the Queen had made
him especially interesting to women, or whether those steady blue eyes
of his were the attraction, Ellerey found it easy to make friends. He
studied to catch the trick of pleasing with a light compliment or
pleasant jest, and before many days had gone had earned a reputation
as an irresponsible cavalier; one whom it would be dangerous to take
too seriously or believe in too thoroughly. Such a man was, for the
most part, after the heart of the feminine portion of the Sturatzberg
Court, and that he played the part well the Queen's smile constantly
assured him. In one point, however, Ellerey was peculiarly unsuccessful.
He had been attracted to Baron Petrescu, and went to some trouble to
become acquainted with him, but to no purpose. Either the Baron avoided
him intentionally, or a train of adverse circumstances intervened. Not
a single word passed between them.

On several occasions the Queen made Ellerey repeat his confession, and
he did so with a smile upon his lips.

"I expected downcast eyes and a stammering tongue to-night," she said
one evening, and as Ellerey looked at her, she glanced swiftly across
the room toward a small group, of which a woman was the centre--a
beautiful woman, with a silvery laugh which had the spirit and joy of
youth in it. By common consent, her beauty had no rival in the Court
of Sturatzberg. Men whose tastes on all else were as wide asunder as
the poles were at one in praise of her, and even women were content
to let her reign supreme. Her dark eyes, fringed with long lashes,
were, perhaps, the most perfect feature of a perfect face. They could
persuade, they could reprove, and it was dangerous to look into them
too constantly if one would not be a slave. Her hair, which had a wave
in it, and was rich nut-brown in color, was gathered in loose coils
about her head, a veritable crown to her, and her voice was low, as
if compelling you to listen to some sweet secret it had to tell, a
secret that was only for you.

"I can still make my confession, your Majesty," said Ellerey, wondering
whether his words were quite true, for he had looked into this woman's
eyes many times. Then he went toward the group, quick to observe that
Baron Petrescu left it at his coming.

Ellerey understood that the Queen must have watched him carefully. To
this woman he had certainly paid more attention than to any other. She
was in close attendance upon the Queen, was treated by her with marked
favor, and many envious and angry glances had been cast upon Ellerey,
because she seemed to find pleasure in being with him. Ellerey could
not deny that the time spent in her company sped faster than all other
hours, but he had another reason for seeking her so persistently. He
had seen little of the face of the woman who had cried to him for help
that night at the corner of the Altstrasse, being more concerned with
what was required of him than with her who petitioned, but somehow
this woman always reminded him of that night. Whenever she walked
beside him, he recalled that other woman who had run hand-in-hand with
him through the deserted streets. Was she the woman, or, at least, was
she aware of what had occurred that night? Why had she so easily given
him her friendship? Why should she so obviously prefer his company to
that of others? There was some reason, and yet she had made no
confession, had stepped into none of his carefully prepared traps. Did
she know Maritza? Were those Maritza's eyes which had looked through
the silken mask?

"You will dance with me, Countess?"

She placed her hand upon his arm at once.

"You are ever generous to me," he said, as they went toward the
ball-room. "I wonder why?"

She looked up at him. He might have been laughed at for not
understanding such a look.

"A Captain of Horse is a small person in Sturatzberg," he said
carelessly.

"Even if he is honored with her Majesty's friendship?" she asked.

"Is he?"

"Well, are you not? I can judge by what I see, and you seem welcome
always."

"I have noticed that, Countess, and have thought sometimes that you
might tell me the reason."

"Of her Majesty's welcome, do you mean?"

"Of her welcome, and of your own kindness to me," Ellerey answered.

The woman laughed.

"I think Englishmen are slow of comprehension," she said.

"But a Captain of Horse, Countess?"

"Who may be of much higher rank to-morrow, and in his own country may
be--Ah! you know, so many come to Sturatzberg."

"Many vagabonds, Countess."

"Oh, yes, and others," and then she made a gesture that they should
dance, and they floated gracefully out among the couples gliding over
the floor of the ballroom to the strains of a sensuous German waltz.
Ellerey danced well. He had earned the reputation in many a London
ball-room, and the Countess Frina danced as few English women can,
with the soul of the music in her feet.

"Those others are sometimes difficult to distinguish," Ellerey said
presently.

"Not to a woman," was the answer. "She has an intuition which is denied
to most men. Indeed, I only know one man who has it in the fullest
sense, in greater measure even than most women, and he is an Englishman,
curiously enough. Yonder!"

With a touch she directed Ellerey's attention to one side of the room,
where Lord Cloverton was standing talking to two men. He seemed to be
interested in the conversation, but at the same time took notice of
every couple which glided by him. Ellerey thought the Ambassador's
eyes rested upon him for a moment, although he did not go near him.

"He, too, has noted you," the Countess whispered, "and if you have
aught to conceal, Captain Ellerey, take care that the secret be well
buried, or those small eyes will spy it out."

"You do not like the Ambassador?" said Ellerey, as he guided his partner
to a deserted seat in an alcove.

"I admire him. It is not the same thing, but admiration I cannot help.
There would have been desperate work for you soldiers long since had
it not been for Lord Cloverton."

"And that would have pleased you?"

"It would have given my friends a chance of distinction," she answered.
"And turned some friends into enemies, Countess. Surely you must know
that. There are such conflicting interests in Sturatzberg."

"I have taken great care in choosing my friends," she answered.

"Ah, then, you have a very definite idea to which interest you are
attached."

"Of course."

"And which is it?" he asked in a whisper, leaning toward her.

"The same as monsieur's," she said.

Ellerey was baffled. He had expected to surprise her into a confession.
He did not suppose he had subjugated this woman so completely that she
would make her interests identical with his own, and he could only
explain her answer by presuming that she was sufficiently in the Queen's
confidence to know something of the mission to which he stood pledged.

"You seem very certain of me, Countess."

"Have I not said that I take great care in choosing my friends?"

"I cannot conceive any reason for your faith in me, unless---"

"Well, you may question me."

"I had lately a strange adventure, Countess, in which a woman was
concerned. She found me after midnight at the corner of the Altstrasse,
and---"

"Monsieur! monsieur!" she exclaimed, holding up her hand. "Do you
imagine I should visit the Altstrasse for my politics, and after
midnight, too?"

"I confess that was in my mind."

"It pleases you to jest, Captain Ellerey, and I am in no mood for
such jesting."

She rose, and he was forced to take her from the ballroom. He had
succeeded in making her angry, and had gained nothing. He had been
ill-advised to question her.

"You must pardon me," he said.

"You must earn your pardon, monsieur," was her answer, as she turned
away with another partner who had approached, leaving Ellerey perplexed.

"A love quarrel, monsieur? I have noted several; they are frequent
here."

At the slight touch on his arm Ellerey turned to face Lord Cloverton.

"Hardly a quarrel, my lord; certainly not a love one," he said.

"I was mistaken then, or you think so, Captain Ellerey. Love is a
curious disease at all times, and in all places, difficult to diagnose
sometimes. In the Court of Sturatzberg one has ample opportunity of
studying it. I may be right after all, Captain Ellerey. I have more
knowledge of this Court than you have; I have spent a longer time in
it."

Lord Cloverton moved forward smiling, evidently expecting Ellerey to
walk beside him across the room.

"I endeavor to fit myself to my surroundings," Ellerey said, as he
walked slowly by the Ambassador's side, striving in vain to accommodate
his step to the mincing gait of his companion.

"Quite so, but it is hardly the best atmosphere for a young man to
develop himself in."

"Perhaps not."

"You interest me, Captain Ellerey."

"Since when, my lord?"

The small, deep-set eyes were turned upon him for a moment, as though
to gauge the full meaning of the question, and they looked into steady
blue eyes, which, perhaps, made Lord Cloverton more interested than
ever, although he did not say so. "You are thinking that I might have
taken notice of a countryman before this," he replied. "Well, perhaps
there is something in the thought. Still, you were not brought to my
notice at the Embassy. I heard no mention of Desmond Ellerey as a
friend of anyone connected with the Embassy, nor, indeed, any remark
that an English officer was serving his Majesty the King of Wallaria."

"No, my lord, my friendships are few, and, in truth, I have no great
desire to increase the number."

"I might, indeed, repeat your question--since when?" laughed Lord
Cloverton, "for lately surely you have made many new acquaintances,
and move in the sunshine of Royal favor."

"I am afraid I have not been conscious of the fact," Ellerey returned.
"I must be more careful to study his Majesty."

"I was speaking of the Queen."

Ellerey looked at Lord Cloverton in astonishment.

"Indeed, I think you are mistaken. Her Majesty is very gracious to
all. I do not think she has been especially so to me."

"Another mistake of mine," said the Ambassador, with a smile. "I am
full of them to-night. They began immediately after dinner. I dropped
two lumps of sugar into my coffee, instead of one. It made it
abominable, and I had to leave it. But there is another reason why I
have become interested in you lately. I heard that you were the brother
of Sir Ralph Ellerey. I know Sir Ralph."

"We are certainly sons of the same father; our relationship has got
no further than that. If you know my brother well enough to accept his
opinion about me, you have, doubtless, accorded me a very low place
in your estimation."

"I am supposed never to accept another man's opinion about anything,"
the Ambassador replied; "certainly, I seldom do in judging men I come
in contact with. Sir Ralph, however, gives some prominence to the name
of Ellerey, and his brother can hardly hope to pass through the world
unnoticed."

"I am succeeding beyond my expectations," said Ellerey.

"Are you?"

"Believe me, my lord, I am."

They were standing apart in a corner of one of the rooms. There was
no one near enough to overhear their conversation. Lord Cloverton
glanced over his shoulder to make sure of this before he went on
quietly:

"I have heard that Desmond Ellerey was obliged to leave a crack cavalry
regiment on account of his cheating at cards and for other dishonorable
practices. I took you to be this same Desmond Ellerey."

"Yet another mistake to-night, my lord," Ellerey answered, looking the
Ambassador unflinchingly in the eye. "The Desmond Ellerey you speak
of was an unfortunate English gentleman and honorable soldier, whose
services his King and country had no further need of. He was foully
murdered by a lie. The Desmond Ellerey who has the honor to speak to
you is a Captain of Horse in the service of his Majesty Ferdinand IV.
of Wallaria, and looks for favor and reward only from the King and
country he serves."

He turned on his heel as he spoke, and the Ambassador stood looking
after him until his figure was lost in the moving crowd.



CHAPTER V.

TWO VISITORS



Lord Cloverton sat in his private room at the Embassy, a knitted brow
and tightly-closed lips showing that he was deeply occupied in a problem
which either baffled him altogether, or which, having been solved,
gave him considerable anxiety. He had pushed his chair back from the
table, and his attention was concentrated on the papers he held in his
hand. They had come during the past few days, and although he had read
each one carefully on its arrival, he had put them aside until he could
study them together. They were all before him now, and he had spent
the greater part of the morning reading them, and in piecing together
the information they contained into one complete and intelligible
story. It was not an easy task, and the result he arrived at gave him
little satisfaction.

"This pestilential fellow will make trouble for us," he said to himself,
and then he went systematically through the letters again.

"Absolutely no doubt of his guilt," he read slowly from one of them.
"He denied everything, of course, but the evidence was exceedingly
strong against him. That he accepted the verdict and disappeared in
the manner he did, would seem to confirm the truth. That is what I
cannot understand," said the Ambassador, arguing the point to the empty
room. "Why did he accept it and disappear? Why didn't he stand and
face the frowning world and beat it? That is what I should have expected
from such a man, and with such eyes, too."

He took up another paper.

"The question can hardly be reopened, my lord, and since it was closed
nothing has transpired to suggest that there was any error of justice
in the matter. Of course he might bring an action for slander in the
civil courts, and for this purpose be persuaded to return to England."

The Ambassador shook his head; he had not much faith in persuasion in
this case. Then he turned to another letter and read one paragraph in
it more than once. It impressed him.

"'I feel convinced that Desmond Ellerey is an innocent man. One has
such convictions without being able to explain them. That he accepted
the inevitable I think I can understand, considering the weight of
evidence against him; and although I endeavored to persuade him against
his determination to offer his sword to another country, I can
appreciate his point of view since his career had been ruined in his
own. If you think any good will come of my writing to him, making on
my own account the suggestion contained in your letter, I will certainly
do so, and shall, of course, not mention that I have heard from you,
or that we are known to each other.'" The Ambassador looked at the
signature--"'Charles Martin.' An excellent man to have for a friend,
and I believe he is right."

He turned over another paper signed Ralph Ellerey.

"He does not count," said the Ambassador with a gesture of contempt,
and threw the letter aside without troubling to read it again. Then
he rang a bell upon his table, and a man entered.

"Ask Captain Ward to come to me."

The Ambassador was pacing the room with little short steps when the
Captain entered. "Do you know a Desmond Ellerey, who lodges by the
Western Gate, Ward?"

"I know there is such a man, but I know nothing about him."

"He is likely to be dangerous. I want you to keep an eye upon his
movements. He is friendly with Monsieur De Froilette, and is in her
Majesty's favor. I do not want you to make Ellerey's acquaintance. I
don't want him to know who you are, for the present at any rate."

"I understand."

"I should be glad to see him turn his back upon Wallaria; failing that,
I am uncharitable enough to hope he may meet with an accident," said
Lord Cloverton.

"That might be arranged," was the answer.

"Sturatzberg is having a bad effect upon your moral sense. At least
we will try persuasion first," and it was difficult to tell from the
Ambassador's smiling face whether a sinister thought had entered his
head or not. After a moment's pause he added: "Will you also have a
telegram sent to Sir Charles Martin? Just say, 'Please write,
Cloverton.' He will understand."

The extent of the Ambassador's interest in him would have surprised
Ellerey considerably had he known of it. After his interview with Lord
Cloverton he had half-expected that he would seek to question him
further, or, if he had any reason to suppose he was in his way, might
bring pressure to bear upon the King to dismiss him from the army. He
certainly did not do the one, and Ellerey had no reason to think he
had attempted to do the other. At Court the Ambassador had bowed
slightly as he passed him, and the flicker of a smile had been on his
face for a moment when he saw him crossing the room with Countess
Mavrodin, almost as though he wished him to remember what he had said
about a lovers' quarrel. Ellerey had made his peace with the Countess
as speedily as possible. He was likely to make so many enemies that
he could not afford to lose a friend, and he felt that this woman was
a friend. He had duly humbled himself and had been forgiven, and even
when she questioned him about his adventure in the Altstrasse, he
refused to speak of it lest he should again offend. He succeeded, as
he hoped to do, in raising her curiosity.

"But if this woman so resembled me, surely it would be a satisfaction
to me to know something more about her," she said.

"It was dark, Countess, but she seemed to be pretty. That misled me
perhaps. I was foolish to imagine for a moment that it could have been
you."

Ellerey knew that such an explanation would not content her. Would it
satisfy any woman? He had only to wait and she would ply him with
further questions, and, if she were not the woman, would not rest until
she had discovered who the other woman was. She would probably help
him to some explanation of his adventure in the long run, her curiosity
leading her to play the part of a useful ally.

The days passed and no message came from the Queen, neither did he see
nor hear anything of De Froilette. The Frenchman was not at Court, and
Ellerey did not meet him in the streets of Sturatzberg. He did not go
to visit him in the Altstrasse; it had been agreed that he should not
do so.

After consideration Ellerey had taken Stefan into his confidence. He
believed the rough soldier had some affection for him, so had told him
something of his adventure in the Altstrasse, and of the mysterious
mission he might be called upon at any moment to perform. Such men as
Ellerey wished to enlist in the enterprise were not easy to find. There
were plenty of adventurous spirits ready for any service so they were
well paid, but such men were quite likely to desert him at the critical
moment if they saw any benefit to themselves in doing so.

"Now, Stefan, can we find the men we want?" Ellerey asked.

"A dozen of them?" queried the soldier, thoughtfully. "Twelve trusty
comrades? It's a large order in a world where it's safest to trust
nobody."

"There is adventure, there is good pay, two attractions to the soldier
of fortune."

"Yes, Captain; but the soldier of fortune in Sturatzberg is a scurvy
sort of rascal. He's not over fond of his trade when there's any danger
in it. But I'll sound one or two I know of, and you can see what you
think of them. And mark this, Captain, don't pay them too much until
they've earned it. A few coins to oil their courage is enough to begin
with."

The choosing of the men became Stefan's work, but only half a dozen
had been determined on when Ellerey received an unexpected letter from
Sir Charles Martin.

It was a pleasant letter of friendship, such a letter as brings forcibly
to the senses of the mind the sunlight and shadow dappling an English
lane, and the familiar sounds and refreshing fragrances which linger
about an English home. Toward the end Sir Charles turned to a painful
subject, but wrote hopefully. "Let me urge you," he said, "to return
home. I am convinced that the time has come for you to begin to slowly
prove that you are innocent. While the affair was fresh in people's
minds you were at a disadvantage, but that time is past. One thing I
may tell you. A person very highly placed has expressed his complete
belief in you. Come home, Desmond."

Ellerey was musing over this letter and the remembrance it brought
with it, when Stefan entered. "A gentleman to see you, Captain."

Ellerey rose hastily. The one or two brother officers who visited him
stood on no such ceremony as this. He bowed in silence as Lord Cloverton
came in. Neither of them spoke until Stefan had closed the door.

"You will pardon the intrusion, Captain Ellerey."

"I am honored, my lord," said Ellerey as he placed a chair for his
visitor.

"I am still interested in you, you see," said the Ambassador, "but
have not considered it wise to draw attention to ourselves at Court.
A man in my position labors under a disadvantage of never being supposed
to speak a word that has not weighty matter behind it. Some people
will find a mystery in my simple utterance of 'Good-evening.' You and
I are both Englishmen, and to be seen often in intimate conversation
would start a small army of rumors on the march."

Ellerey bowed. He intended to let the Ambassador lead the conversation.

"Do you mind looking at me, Captain Ellerey?"

Ellerey did so, and for the space of thirty seconds the two men gazed
into each other's eyes.

"No, I do not believe it."

"To what do you refer?" Ellerey asked.

"To that card scandal of yours. I believe you are an innocent man. Why
don't you prove it?"

Ellerey took up the letter which he had thrown on the table when Lord
Cloverton entered.

"Do you know Sir Charles Martin?" he asked, holding the letter out to
him.

"I have heard of him. Who that is interested in English politics has
not? I may live to see him Prime Minister. What, do you wish me to
read this?"

"If you please." Lord Cloverton read the letter through.

"Evidently an intimate friend of yours. You could not have a better
sponsor for your character. I think he gives you excellent advice."

"You would give me the same, Lord Cloverton?"

"Certainly."

"Why?"

"Because you are an innocent man. It is your duty to fight for your
character to the last ditch."

"Why should you suppose I am not fighting for my character?" Ellerey
asked.

"Here in Sturatzberg?"

"Why not? Words will never mend a broken reputation; deeds may."

"Deeds done here will not count in England."

"And in England, or for England, I am debarred from doing anything.
A sorry position, is it not, my lord?"

"I am advising you to alter it."

"But you have not told me why," said Ellerey. "Shall I tell you the
reason, Lord Cloverton? You wish me to leave Sturatzberg."

"Why should I?"

"That you must tell me."

"There is a candor about you, Captain Ellerey, that compels
straightforward treatment in return, and you shall have it. I have a
misgiving that your presence here will tend to hamper my work, and by
my work I mean England's interests. I do not pretend to know exactly
in what direction you will hinder me, but I can guess, and you are too
good a man to be crushed while striving against your own country. Go
back to England. I thoroughly believe in you, and you shall have my
hearty support in your endeavor to establish your innocency."

"You are very good, my lord, and I thank you; but I regret that I
cannot comply with your wishes. I shall not leave Sturatzberg."

"You prefer to be crushed?"

"Yes, in the service of my adopted country. We fight with different
weapons, Lord Cloverton."

"Then it is to be war between us?"

"You seem to say so. I cannot leave Sturatzberg."

"Is it not possible that some sense of honor may exist here, that
officers here may not care to associate with one who has been convicted
of cheating, even though he be a foreigner?"

"I am not afraid that Lord Cloverton will spread such a report of me."

"My country stands first with me, Captain Ellerey."

"But not to make you dishonorable. You are attempting to do yourself
an injustice. Besides if I were driven to use such weapons in
self-defence, is it not possible that Lord Cloverton has some enemies
in Sturatzberg?"

"Many, no doubt."

"I might suggest, for instance, that he had secretly sought to alienate
the loyalty of one of his Majesty's officers."

"Enough, Captain Ellerey," said Lord Cloverton rising. "I see that we
must unfortunately be enemies. It is a pity. You will be crushed under
the Juggernaut of international politics."

"It may be so, it may not," said Ellerey. "Believe me, I am not
unmindful of your kindness; but as I have said, we fight with different
weapons. You wield the power of the politician; I have only my sword.
We cannot therefore meet in hand-to-hand encounter. I should hesitate
to use my sword against my countrymen, but until British soldiers hold
the heights above Sturatzberg there is no need to consider that
question; and your work, I presume, lies in preventing any chance of
such a contingency. If you could forget that I am an Englishman, and
remember only that I am a Captain of Horse, subject to the commands
of my superior officer, you would understand my position better."

"You are a difficult man to deal with, but I rather like you," said
the Ambassador, holding out his hand. "I regret that Fate makes us
enemies, and if at the last moment I can save you from being entirely
crushed, I will."

"Thank you. I, too, may find an opportunity of rendering you a service,
my lord."

As Lord Cloverton went quickly away, a man who had been sitting at a
small table in a cafe opposite, who had sipped two glasses of absinthe
and smoked innumerable cigarettes, rose hastily and crossed the street.
His dress was travel-stained, and he had evidently ridden through dirty
weather, for his boots were thickly cased with mud. Ellerey was almost
as surprised to see De Froilette as he had been to see the Ambassador.

"You have been away from Sturatzberg," he said.

"I have only just returned," De Froilette answered, throwing out his
arms to draw attention to his clothes, "and before going to the
Altstrasse came to prepare you. I have been waiting at the cafe opposite
until Lord Cloverton came out."

"And wondering why he visited me?" asked Ellerey, smiling.

"Wondering, rather, how far you would be successful in deceiving him."

"He was disposed to be friendly," said Ellerey, carelessly taking up
Sir Charles Martin's letter from the table and putting it in his pocket.
"Friendly! A trick of his, monsieur, a trick."

"Exactly. We have agreed to be enemies."

"Ah, but that was foolish," said De Froilette quickly. "You should
have played with him even as I do. He believes that I am very friendly,
while I hate him."

"That is your method; it is not mine. I am not an adept at crawling,
even to the British Ambassador."

"What does he suspect?" asked De Froilette after a pause, during which
he had seemed inclined to resent Ellerey's words.

"Naturally, he did not say, and I am unable to guess, which is hardly
remarkable, seeing that I am entirely in the dark myself."

"But why did he come?"

"He used his knowledge of some friends of mine in England as an excuse
for visiting me, but he had probably taken upon himself for the time
being the office of spy. As I had no information to give, he has
returned little wiser than he came. When am I to be fully trusted,
monsieur?"

"You are fully trusted now, Captain Ellerey, but the time for striking
has not arrived. It approaches, however. Until the man in Sturatzberg
was ready we could not proceed. Look at me; I have come from a journey.
I have been doing my part, and I come to you and say, Be ready. At any
moment her Majesty may send for you."

"I am waiting," said Ellerey.

"Not to-night, perhaps, nor to-morrow, but soon."

Knowing the Frenchman's secretive method, Ellerey was convinced that
the time was at hand. Were it not, De Froilette would hardly have
risked seeking him at his lodging; he had been so careful to avoid all
appearance of intimacy with him. Ellerey was not inclined to place
implicit trust in De Froilette. He did not pretend to a keen insight
into other men's characters, but he conceived that De Froilette would
not be likely to lose sight of his own interests, no matter whom he
served, nor how humbly such service might be tendered. Ellerey was not
even convinced that the Frenchman's support of the Queen's schemes was
whole-hearted, and believed him quite capable of giving just so much
help as would presently enable him to thwart her and reap benefit for
himself. Whatever the mission was which he was about to undertake,
Ellerey intended to do his utmost to carry it to success; and if De
Froilette by chance stood in his way, it was not likely to be merely
a question of words between them.

More subtle, more given to abstract reasoning, a successful student
of character, it must be said for Monsieur De Froilette that he fully
trusted Captain Ellerey, in so far that he believed he would do whatever
task was set him better, probably, than most men would. That he would
be a match for such men as Lord Cloverton, with the weapons Lord
Cloverton would use, he did not expect, and that the Ambassador had
visited Ellerey troubled him not a little. That Lord Cloverton could
possibly suspect the true state of things he did not for a moment
believe; but every hour's delay now would be in the Ambassador's favor,
and the sooner the blow was struck the better--the more hope of success
was there. Everything was ready, and it was now that De Froilette's
anxiety was greatest. He was too complete a schemer not to realize how
often it was the small insignificant thing which served to ruin great
enterprises built up with so much care and elaboration. Over and over
again he had tested every point in his plans, and had not succeeded
in finding any weak spot. There seemed to be no contingency he was not
prepared to meet, for which he was not ready; and yet a sense of
misgiving, almost amounting to a feeling of insecurity, oppressed him
as he walked along the Altstrasse. The people hanging about the door
saluted him, for the Frenchman had been liberal to his poor neighbors,
and had an excellent name for charity. He had made many friends of
this kind in Sturatzberg, and since he had confessed to disliking
unprofitable friends, it must be assumed that he looked to reap some
reward from them in the future. He was not the man to pay merely for
respect and smiles.

He went to his room, the room in which he and Ellerey had sat talking
after dinner, the room to which the Queen had come. A pile of unopened
letters was upon the desk, for Monsieur De Froilette employed no
secretary, and he turned over these letters without opening them before
ringing for Francois.

"Well, Francois?" he said as the man entered. He always asked the
question in the same manner when he had been absent for any time, and
listened to the servant's answer without interrupting him. The answer
was usually a long one, full details of the happenings during the
master's absence, not of those in the house only, but of those in the
city as well. To-day, however, there was no long answer. Francois
seemed fully aware of the essential point.

"Monsieur, the Princess, she has left England!"

"My good Francois, you are uninteresting. That happened weeks ago. The
Princess is cruising to the British Colonies. It is known, indeed was
arranged, by the British Government."

"It was, monsieur, that is right--it was; but the Princess found a
substitute for that voyage. She did not go. She slipped away quietly,
and no one knew." De Froilette's face was suddenly pale. He did not
speak, but Francois read the question in his eyes.

"It is so, monsieur," he said. "The Princess Maritza is in Sturatzberg."



CHAPTER VI.

FRINA MAVRODIN'S GUEST



For some time Monsieur De Froilette remained silent. The return of the
Princess was a contingency he had not provided for.

"Where is she?" he asked suddenly.

"Alas, monsieur, I do not know," Francois answered. "She has powerful
friends in Sturatzberg, and they conceal her well. I saw her for one
moment in Konigsplatz. She was alone, and entered a shop there. I
followed her, but she was gone. I called myself her servant, and
inquired about her, making the sign that has so long been used by her
partisans to secure an answer. It had no effect. I was told that I was
mistaken, that no such lady as I had described had entered. Do you not
understand, monsieur, the sign must have been changed?"

De Froilette understood only too well. At his very door were enemies,
the more dangerous because they had been partially admitted into his
plans. He had himself given them reason for watching him, and the
opportunity of doing so. That was past and beyond reparation, but this
arch schemer was not the man to stand idly regretting a mistake. Even
mistakes might be used to advantage.

"I will dress, Francois," he said presently. "I had not intended to
go to Court to-night, but this news compels me."

"And how shall we find the Princess, monsieur?"

"We will not trouble. We will set others to do that. Matters will be
for our benefit in the end, Francois. Quickly, I must dress."

De Froilette dined alone and dismissed the man who waited upon him as
soon as possible. A portrait of Queen Elena stood on a side table, and
he got up and placed it beside him, contemplating it thoughtfully as
he sipped his wine.

"If we succeed," he mused, "there is high place and distinction to be
won. This Englishman may win it for me. In a revolution a King's life
is as other men's, dependent on the hazard of a die. If I read her
smile aright I shall have my reward. And if we fail?"--he paused to
consider the course of events in such a case--"who knows? My reward
might come the easier. There would be few shelters open to her. Only
in defeat through Princess Maritza's influence is there danger to me.
Success or failure otherwise, what does it matter? I shall win. The
paths to mountain peaks are ever rugged, but men reach the summits.
Why should I fail? The road to power may be closed against me, but the
road to love--" And he gazed into the eyes of the portrait, finding
an answer in them. This man of action was a dreamer too.

When he entered the palace that evening, De Froilette inquired whether
Lord Cloverton had arrived, and being answered in the negative, remained
at the head of the stairs, speaking a few words to this acquaintance
and to that, bowing a well-turned compliment to one fair lady, or
meeting another's pleasantry with an answering jest. He was in excellent
good humor.

Presently Lord Cloverton came mincing up the steps, pausing half a
dozen times to greet acquaintances. He, too, was in excellent humor;
but then he seldom allowed people to see him otherwise.

"How I hate the man," De Froilette said to himself, going toward the
Ambassador as he reached the vestibule. "May I have a word with you,
my lord?"

"A thousand, my dear Monsieur De Froilette. Ah, a private word is it?"
he added as the Frenchman led him aside.

"My lord, you have my greatest esteem, as you are aware."

Lord Cloverton bowed.

"If, as a loyal Frenchman, I would see France predominant in the affairs
of this country, that is natural, is it not so?"

"Most natural indeed, and, monsieur, I say frankly, France is playing
a very worthy part."

"No doubt, my lord," De Froilette answered. "I am but a looker-on,
with certain business interests which politics might affect, and
therefore I take some notice of politics. Perhaps I see more clearly
than some, my lord--the lookers-on often do; and I am convinced that
British policy is at the present moment the safeguard of Wallaria."

"I rejoice to hear it, monsieur."

"And if you will allow me, my lord, I will add that your presence in
Sturatzberg is the great security."

"You flatter me," Lord Cloverton returned. "You will be pleased to
learn that I have received no notification that I am likely to be
removed from Sturatzberg."

"That would indeed be a disaster," said De Froilette. "So, my lord,
any small help, any little information I can give you, I shall give
gladly. Regard for yourself and my business interests will prompt me.
We have all a vein of selfishness in us."

"I am honored by your confidence, and you will be welcome at the Embassy."

"I will give you the information now," said De Froilette. And he lowered
his voice as he leaned toward the Ambassador: "The Princess Maritza!"

"Is in Australia at present, I believe."

"Exactly," said the Frenchman. "Making a tour of the English Colonies.
A delicate attention to an honored guest and unfortunate exile, designed
to keep her out of the way while the present unsettled feeling in
Wallaria lasts; is it not so?"

"Your political acumen is not at fault."

"No, my lord, but yours is. The lady at present in Australia, or
wherever she may be, is not the Princess, but a substitute. It needs
very powerful friends to carry through such a deception as that."

Lord Cloverton turned sharply toward him, and, as Francois had done,
De Froilette answered the unasked question.

"Yes, my lord; Princess Maritza is in Sturatzberg."

"Hiding where?"

"That I do not know. You will doubtless take means to find out. Command
me if I can help you in any way."

"I thank you for the information. If you are not mistaken, the wayward
child has been very ill advised. I gather, monsieur, that your business
affairs would suffer were such a thing as a rising in the Princess
Maritza's favor to take place?"

"Have I not said that there is a selfish vein in all of us?"

Lord Cloverton smiled, and together they crossed the vestibule.

Their short colloquy had not been overheard, nor had their presence
been particularly noticed there except by one person--the Countess
Mavrodin. She had reached the head of the stairs as De Froilette had
leaned confidentially forward toward the Ambassador, and she hastily
greeted a friend, keeping her standing at the top of the stairs while
they talked. She had good reason to be curious regarding such a
confidence between two such men, and while she laughed and talked she
watched them. She did not move until they had crossed the vestibule,
and when they separated she followed Lord Cloverton.

Desmond Ellerey met her and found her in a gracious mood.

"Have I quite pardoned you for mistaking me for another woman that
night in the Altstrasse?" she said gayly.

"I hope so; indeed, I thought so."

"I am sorry. I ought to have reserved some of my displeasure."

"Why?"

"So that I might demand a favor."

"You have but to demand, Countess."

"Then stay with me and keep me near Lord Cloverton," she said.

"What! Has he incurred your displeasure, too?"

"Must I give reasons for my demand?"

"No."

"Then you trust me?"

"As I would trust any woman."

For a moment she seemed satisfied, and then she turned toward him.

"Is there a meaning underneath that? Do you trust no woman?"

"I have learnt my lessons in a hard school, Countess. I trust few,
either men or women, and I have more knowledge of men than women."
They followed Lord Cloverton across the rooms, and she noticed every
one to whom he spoke. Presently he stood to watch the dancing for a
moment, but he seemed to avoid any person who might detain him in
conversation for any length of time.

"I think the Ambassador will leave early to-night," the Countess said.
"May I beg another favor, Captain Ellerey? Will you see that my carriage
is ready waiting for me?"

Ellerey went to do her bidding, wondering why she was watching the
Ambassador so keenly. It took him some time to find her servants, and
as he returned he met Lord Cloverton. With the slightest of recognitions
the Ambassador got into his carriage.

"The Embassy, quickly," he said.

Countess Mavrodin came down the stairs as Lord Cloverton drove away.

"I thank you," she said. "I have a habit of remembering favors."

"I shall remember that you have said so," Ellerey answered. "Indeed,
I can even now ask one. Only this afternoon Lord Cloverton was pleased
to tell me that he looked upon me as an enemy. Should you discover
anything which might affect me, will you tell me?"

"He said you were an enemy; then I am not suspicious in vain. Yes, I
will tell you if I can. One word, monsieur. You neither trust women
nor men, so perchance the warning is unnecessary; but of all men at
least distrust one--Jules De Froilette."

"Did her Majesty bid you give me that message?" Ellerey asked.

"No, monsieur; it is an original idea. I have ideas of my own sometimes.
I have one now. If you are leaving the palace, I will drive you to the
Western Gate." She was pretty, and Ellerey was only human. Strictly
speaking, his duty was to remain, lest the Queen should send for him;
but he helped the Countess into her carriage and seated himself beside
her. She refused to be serious as they drove through the city, and
when Ellerey entered his lodging he was left to wonder at what point
the incidents of the evening touched his mission. Why should the
Countess become suddenly interested in the movements of Lord Cloverton?
and since she was closely attached to the Queen, why should she warn
him against De Froilette, who was also deep in her Majesty's confidence?
The problem was beyond his power to solve.

Frina Mavrodin was a far more important person in Sturatzberg than
Ellerey imagined. It was not only at Court that she was popular; she
was besides the Lady Bountiful to the poor. She was immensely wealthy,
and her beautiful home by the river, in the southwest of the city, had
been called the beggars' paradise, for those who asked charity were
seldom sent away empty. The general criticism of her was that she was
a pretty woman, very adorable, a little frivolous perhaps, and possessed
of much more heart than head. She seemed to take delight in such
criticism, and to be at some pains to fully merit it. But there was
another side to her character which few persons ever got even a glimpse
of. Her profound knowledge of current politics would have startled
Lord Cloverton, and her capacity for intrigue and scheming would have
astonished even Monsieur De Froilette into admiration. There were few
clubs and societies in Sturatzberg, where discontent was fostered and
secret plans discussed, which were not known to Frina Mavrodin. She
was conversant with their secret signs, their aims, and their means,
and knew by sight most of their influential members. A single word
from her would have sent many a man to prison who walked the streets
freely. Perhaps, in all Sturatzberg, there was only one person who
gave her credit for such knowledge, and who was content to be guided
in some measure by her advice.

This person, at present, occupied a suite of rooms in Frina Mavrodin's
house, and this evening she reclined at full length among the cushions
of a low couch, and watched a door at one end of the room expectantly.
Her hand was stretched out to a bowl of flowers on a table by her side,
and she plucked a petal at intervals which she crushed and let fall.
Something of the girl's character seemed to be in the action. She was
not weary, not worn out with the day's work or pleasure, whichever it
might have been, but was waiting anxiously, irritably even, for news,
or for someone's coming. Her hair had loosened by contact with the
cushions, and fell about her shoulders in luxuriant copper-colored
tresses. Presently the door opened, and an elderly woman entered--an
English woman, plain in feature and resolute in manner.

"You have been spoiling your flowers," she said, seeing the scattered
petals on the carpet.

"Never mind them. Has Dumitru come, Hannah?"

"Just come."

"Then bring him in, bring him in. Why do you wait?" exclaimed the girl,
half-rising from her reclining position. "I cannot afford to have
fools about me in such times as these."

"You haven't," the woman answered bluntly, evidently quite used to the
petulant moods of her mistress. "I was one when I came out of Devon
to a heathen place like this; but that time is past." And she went to
the door and beckoned to a man to come in. As he entered she went out,
closing the door behind her. When she had gone the man dropped swiftly
on one knee by the couch.

"Well, Dumitru?"

"He returned to-day," said the man, rising and standing erect. "He
went straight to the lodging of this English Captain."

"And then?"

"To Court, Princess."

"And his mission, Dumitru--was it in my interests, think you?"

The man made a fierce clicking sound with his tongue.

"Ah, no, no, no; and again a hundred times, no. He is for the Queen
a little, and for himself very much. Have you still a doubt, even now?
A sudden death should be his reward."

"Patience, Dumitru."

"The English Captain had another visitor to-day--the British Minister."

"This English Captain is in great requisition, it would seem," she
said.

"Aye, he is a man, I grant you that--strong, resolute, and rides as
though horse and rider were one piece."

"And honest, Dumitru. I have looked into his face and thought him so."

"Can one judge so easily?" asked the man. "Besides, honest or not, he
is for our enemies."

"Our enemies must be swept aside," she said imperiously, as though not
only the will, but the power to do so were hers.

"Thus, Princess," and the man's dark eyes gleamed as he just showed
the keen, thin blade of a dagger which he carried in his cloak.

"Not without my command, Dumitru," she said hastily. The man bowed
low, disappointed perhaps that the same spirit was not in her as was
in him.

"We may use this English Captain for our ends," she went on. "I have
a way and you shall help me, Dumitru, when the time comes. That Lord
Cloverton has visited him shows that some new pressure is to be brought
to bear upon him. We shall see how he stands in this, whether firm or
not, and may learn how to act ourselves."

"He is ready to act when the token is given him," said Dumitru. "He
has a few desperate men who are pledged to his service."

"You are sure of this?"

"Quite sure."

"Who will follow for love of him?" she asked.

"They are of the kind who follow more readily for money," answered the
man.

The girl remained thoughtful for a few moments. Something in the man's
information had set her thoughts running in a new channel, and while
she mused Frina Mavrodin entered the room hurriedly.

Dumitru bowed low before her.

"You are early," said the Princess.

Frina turned to Dumitru.

"Captain Ellerey has returned early to his lodging, too; it would be
well to watch. I do not think it will happen to-night, but should any
messenger seek him we must know at once."

"Go, Dumitru," said the Princess, and when he had gone she turned to
her companion: "What has brought you home so early?"

"You, Maritza. I wondered whether you had remained safely here, or
whether you had again jeopardized your cause by going so openly into
the streets. It is known that you are in Sturatzberg."

"By whom?"

"That lynx-eyed servant of De Froilette's saw you, as you know. You
thought he would believe himself mistaken, but I knew better. His
master returned to-day, and to-night I found Monsieur De Froilette and
Lord Cloverton in confidential conversation. When two men who hate
each other as they do, agree, it is time to prepare for the storm. You
must remain an absolute prisoner here for a while."

"I am tired of inactivity."

"You will not have to wait long," Frina answered. "Within an hour, I
warrant you, there will be spies out in every quarter of the city to
try and find your hiding-place. You are safe so long as you remain
here. What an advantage it is to have such a reputation for
empty-headedness as I have. No doubt De Froilette played a trump card
in telling Lord Cloverton of your presence in Sturatzberg. The task
of finding you will occupy the Minister's attention for a little while,
and if De Froilette is ready, he will seize the opportunity to strike
his blow. That is why I offered to drive Captain Ellerey to his lodging.
If the token is to be given to-night he will not be there to receive
it."

"It may be sent to him," said the Princess.

"That is why Dumitru watches by the Western Gate."

"The moment the token is given I must know," said Maritza. "I have a
plan. I have had plenty of lonely hours in which to mature plans. I
am longing to put them into action. We are too cautious, Frina."

"Your want of caution in going openly into the city has nearly ruined
us, Maritza."

"I have many friends in the city."

"True, and many enemies; and it is the enemies who happen to be in
power. Do not be impatient."

"Over-caution may be as fatal as impatience," Maritza answered. "We
should advance a step each day, each night; do we advance?"

"So fast that we shall have to run quickly to keep abreast of affairs
shortly. A few weeks ago had you any real hope of being in Sturatzberg?
Yet you are here. Had you even a suspicion that Jules De Froilette had
been working in his own interests for these two years past, and not
in yours?"

"True, Frina, we have advanced. Heaven help De Froilette when I touch
power. Who knows what injury he may not have done to my cause in these
two years? And he has succeeded in drawing this English Captain into
his schemes."

"Captain Ellerey does not like De Froilette," said Frina. "Tell me
your plan, Maritza."

The Princess drew a flower carefully from the bowl and held it to her
face, as though she were absorbed for a moment in its beauty and
fragrance.

"Captain Ellerey left the Court with you, to-night," she said. "That
was wisely thought of. Did he come willingly?"

Frina laughed, such a joy in the laugh that the Princess looked at her
in astonishment.

"Yes, he came willingly, most willingly, I think."

"You hope to win him to my cause?"

"He is a man, I am a woman; I shall try."

"And then?"

"Then, Maritza--ah, we run on too fast. Tell me your plan."

"It is strange," said the Princess slowly; "but in England, as I told
you, I once met Captain Ellerey. I told him who I was, and promised
him work for his sword should he ever come to Wallaria."

"You told him that! Why?"

"I am a woman, and he is a man," the Princess answered.

For a moment the two women looked into each other's eyes. Then Frina,
looked down and straightened a fold of her dress, while Maritza bent
to inhale the perfume of the flowers in the vase. The Princess did not
tell her plan, and Frina Mavrodin forgot to question her.



CHAPTER VII.

THE TIME ARRIVES



Within a short time of Lord Cloverton's return to the Embassy, spies
and secret-service agents were abroad in the city endeavoring to
discover the whereabouts of Princess Maritza. The Ambassador at once
telegraphed to the Foreign Office in London, and received the answer
that the report of her return to Wallaria was absurd, that she was
certainly on her way to Australia. This confident answer, however, did
not satisfy Lord Cloverton, in spite of the fact that no news of the
Princess was forth coming. That she could have returned to Sturatzberg
without his knowledge, more, without the knowledge of any of those who
were so eager to keep her out of the country, seemed impossible; but
then in diplomacy it was often the impossible things which happened.
He was too astute a man to underrate the undoubted ability of De
Froilette. There were few men who probed more accurately the likely
trend of future events, or who were quicker to recognize opportunities
and seize them than the Frenchman, and Lord Cloverton argued that he
was far too clever a man to tell such an unlikely story merely to serve
his own ends. He would know that the very improbability of the tale
would have the effect of drawing attention to himself and his actions.
No, whether the report were true or not, De Froilette believed it, and
evidently saw danger to himself in the presence of Princess Maritza.
At the same time he might perceive a favorable opportunity in the state
of affairs to exploit his own plans, and Lord Cloverton took the
precaution to have the Frenchman under careful observation.

The unexpected information had also caused the Ambassador to reconsider
Captain Ellerey's position in Sturatzberg. It was quite possible that
he knew more about the Princess than any one else. He was the kind of
man who would have nerve and determination enough to attempt a desperate
venture, and having little to lose and all to win, might go far toward
success. He and De Froilette apparently held little communication with
each other; the characteristics of the two men were antagonistic; and
the Englishman might be quite as capable of playing a deep game as the
Frenchman was.

It was a sleepless night for the Ambassador. This was just such a
complication as might embroil the nations of Europe in strife, an
excuse which might serve to snap diplomatic relations and spread the
lurid clouds of war from the Ural range to the shores of the Atlantic.
One thing seemed certain, De Froilette had not repeated his information
broadcast. No intimation reached Lord Cloverton that the report had
even been whispered in any of the other Embassies, and there was some
consolation in this.

No news came during the following day. Wherever the Princess was, her
secret was well kept, probably because only a few persons had been
admitted into it, and it seemed evident that no special movement had
taken place in her favor, or had even been arranged for. Some bold
_coup d'etat_ might be in contemplation, and although the many and
diverse interests in the country were probably sufficient to render
any attempt abortive in itself, yet such an attempt might be the one
thing needed to fan the smouldering ashes into flame, starting a
conflagration which would burn throughout Europe. Such fires never die
out--they are always smouldering.

Any person who had watched Lord Cloverton closely when he went to the
palace that night, would have been struck by his particular alertness.
He was observant of the composition of the different groups in the
rooms, of those who were chiefly about her Majesty, and of those who
danced together. The slightest confidential whisper near him attracted
his attention, and more than once he caused a blush to mount to a
pretty woman's cheeks by suddenly surprising a murmured love passage
meant for no other ears but her own. To those to whom he spoke he
succeeded in giving the impression that he had only a few moments to
spare them, that he was purposely keeping himself free, but he managed
to suggest that it was not business, but some pleasure he anticipated.

He glanced round all the rooms in search of Captain Ellerey, who either
had not yet arrived, or had already retired into some quiet corner,
probably with the Countess Mavrodin. The last conjecture was wrong,
however, for standing in a position which commanded the entrance to
the suite of state rooms, the Ambassador presently saw Frina Mavrodin
on the arm of an _attache_ of the Austrian Embassy, an offshoot of a
princely house who, rumor said, had already been twice refused by the
fair lady, and was only awaiting an opportunity to adventure his case
for a third time. He was evidently persuading her to dance with him,
and she was laughingly protesting, perhaps promising to do so later
in the evening. She was, however, not averse to his company, for she
palpably kept him by her side, and they remained talking and laughing
together, the man extremely happy, the woman watchful and rather
preoccupied, the Ambassador thought.

For half an hour or more she remained there, evidently using the
Austrian's presence to keep herself free from other companions. Several
spoke to her, but since the _attache_ did not move away, the new
arrivals were obliged to leave her after exchanging a few words. At
last Lord Cloverton noticed that the expression of her face suddenly
changed. She looked at him, or rather beyond him, and turning to
discover the cause, he saw Desmond Ellerey crossing the room toward
her. He also became aware that Baron Petrescu was standing close to
him and that he was watching Ellerey, too.

Frina Mavrodin spoke quickly to her cavalier, telling him perhaps where
he would find her for the promised dance, but at any rate she dismissed
him. For a few moments Ellerey stood beside her, her smiling face
raised to his, and then they went slowly toward the ball-room.

"The little comedy interests you, my lord."

"Well, Baron, my white hair gives me credit for greater age than does
the feeling of youth which is still in me. I am young enough, even
now, to recognize love, and to take an interest in it--in others, of
course."

Baron Petrescu shrugged his shoulders rather contemptuously.

"The moth ever flits to the candle, and usually gets burnt," he said.

"Would not the lodestone be the more apposite simile?" asked Lord
Cloverton. "In that case the attraction brings no hurt, Baron."

"Time will show which is the best simile," was the answer. "He interests
me, this Captain Ellerey."

"He interests the lady too, it seems," replied the Ambassador. "Indeed,
Captain Ellerey interests many people."

"I trust his courage is equal to his ambition," said the Baron with
a smile. "There are others striving for the same prize, my lord, who
do not easily accept defeat, and are content to pin their honor to the
sword's point."

"Jealous," said Lord Cloverton to himself as the Baron turned away,
still with a smile upon his face, but with a movement of his shoulders
which suggested an angry bird ruffling its feathers. "He means mischief.
Ellerey may find his hands fuller than he expects, if the Baron's
weapon is as ready as his tongue. Sentiment compels me to wish my
countryman victory, but politically--ah! a cunning thrust which would
lay him aside for a few weeks would be very convenient to me, and
perhaps not the worst thing which could happen for him." And Lord
Cloverton went toward the ball-room.

The Countess and her cavalier had disappeared.

"Are you still watching the Ambassador?" Ellerey had asked, as she
placed her hand upon his arm.

"No."

"Then let us get out of the crowd. Few people seem to know of the
alcove off the ball-room."

"And why such a desire for solitude, Captain Ellerey?" she said, seating
herself in a corner and making room for him beside her.

"Not solitude, Countess, but restful companionship. I am not desirous
of living perpetually under the eye of Lord Cloverton, and, after what
he said, I imagine he watches me pretty closely."

"And is as closely watched," she replied.

"Have you found out anything which affects me?" Ellerey asked after
a pause.

She hesitated.

"Not directly."

"Indirectly, then?"

"Perhaps, a little. It is a small matter, but it interested me. It has
nothing to do with Sturatzberg, but with England."

Ellerey was silent. Could Lord Cloverton have repeated his story?

"May I know the nature of the--crime is it?--which is imputed to me?"

"It is no crime, Captain Ellerey--rather a romance. I should have
repudiated the idea of a crime in connection with you."

"Countess, that is the kindest thing you have ever said to me."

She looked into his face, and the color came into her own.

"Are we not friends?" she said, "and is it not the elemental part of
friendship to believe nothing ill? I would hardly believe a confession
of crime, though your own lips spoke it. No, this information was about
a woman."

"Unknown women are a dangerous subject between us, Countess," said
Ellerey, with a smile. "I am barely forgiven yet for the mysterious
lady of the Altstrasse."

"This is not an unknown woman, but a very famous one--none other than
Princess Maritza of Wallaria. You have heard of her?"

"I have not only heard of her, but seen her and spoken to her."

"And admired her?" she asked.

"Yes, her beauty and her indomitable courage."

"That is what I heard, that you admired her."

"It is a very strange thing for you to hear. I only saw her once, for
ten minutes, perhaps. She was a schoolgirl, and playing truant. We met
upon the downs one breezy morning, a hat blown away by the wind served
for introduction, and I have never seen her since."

"It was not for her sake, then, that you came to Wallaria?"

"Ah! is that what Lord Cloverton thinks!" exclaimed Ellerey. "Now I
understand his attitude more clearly."

"You do not answer my question," she said.

"Her story of the state of affairs in Wallaria certainly gave me the
idea of seeking fortune in this country."

"And love?" she said.

Ellerey looked at her quickly and wondered. He was not one of those
who believe that they have the power of charming any woman, and his
companion's sudden question and attitude startled him. More than one
answer sprang to his lips ready to trip lightly and pleasantly to her
ears, but they were not spoken. Instead he laughed gayly and said:

"A Princess and a poor Captain of Horse, Countess? Such a flight of
fancy after ten minutes' conversation! Oh, you jest and laugh at me."

There was a further question in her glance and attitude, but it was
not asked, for a man appeared at the entrance of the alcove.

"I have been seeking you, Captain Ellerey," he said. "Her Majesty
commands your attendance. Will you come with me?"

Ellerey rose at once.

"You will pardon me, Countess. I must make another opportunity of
quarrelling with you for laughing at me. Shall I take you back to the
ball-room?"

"No, thank you. I am tired, and will stay here." And with a low bow
Ellerey left her.

The fact that he had been sent for and the probable meaning of that
interview, did not take first place in Frina Mavrodin's thoughts for
a time. She was considering Ellerey's answer to her question, trying
to understand it when viewed in the light of the Princess's declaration.
Maritza could only have intended her to understand one thing, and
to-night she had endeavored to surprise the truth from Captain Ellerey.
Had she succeeded in learning anything? Surely in such a casual meeting
no lasting impression could have been formed, and yet love works in
sudden and inexplicable fashion sometimes. The Princess seemed to have
treasured the memory of that meeting; Ellerey admitted that it was the
cause of his coming to Sturatzberg. Frina Mavrodin remembered, as
though they had been noted down in one continuous story, everything
Captain Ellerey had ever said to her, and the manner in which he had
said it. She had allowed herself to indulge in a dream, which had had
naught but pleasure in it until the Princess had looked into her eyes
in so strange a fashion; and now that she had sought the truth from
Ellerey himself, she was still left in doubt, in a half-waking
uncertainty, which had a sense of pain in it.

It was some time before the thought that Ellerey was with the Queen
came uppermost in her mind, urging her to be on the alert. She was in
the act of rising when a shadow fell upon her, and Lord Cloverton stood
in the entrance.

"Alone, Countess!" he exclaimed. "What great event has happened in
Sturatzberg?"

"None that I am aware of, my lord."

"And yet you are alone. It is so rare a circumstance that you must
pardon my astonishment."

"Even such a frivolous person as I am welcomes solitude sometimes,"
she answered.

"I would not allow my dearest friend to so malign you, Countess," said
the Ambassador, seating himself beside her. "I expected to find Captain
Ellerey with you."

"You wish to speak with him?"

"Yes, but it can wait," answered Lord Cloverton carelessly. "Success
is the result of skilfully seizing opportunities, and in finding you
alone an opportunity comes to me. Will you spare me a moment?"

She bowed a smiling acquiescence as though the question were
unnecessary.

"Like me, Countess, I am sure you take little interest in uninteresting
people, therefore you must have found this Captain Ellerey interesting.
So have I--so interesting, indeed, that I have wondered why he came
to Wallaria."

"He has not given me so much of his confidence as you appear to imagine,
my lord."

"He has not told you! Ah, then I will, in confidence, Countess, in
confidence."

"I understand, and I shall respect it," she answered, eager to learn
what explanation the Ambassador would give.

"He had enemies in England who made certain charges against him which
were absolutely without foundation; but so skilfully had they been
manipulated that Captain Ellerey was unable to prove them false. His
nature is an impatient one, and in anger he turned his back upon England
and came to Sturatzberg. In Wallaria there were possibilities. I can
understand his action, Countess; it was a natural one in a man of his
independent character, but it was foolish. It gave credence to the
tales which had been circulated. Now, Countess, influential friends
have taken up his case, and he ought to go back to England."

"But why tell this to me, my lord?"

"A woman's persuasion, Countess, is all-powerful."

She looked at him quickly.

"But you have told me this in confidence. How can I approach the subject
and yet keep confidence?"

"You flatter me most delicately by asking my advice on such a matter.
Is it not true that a woman can frame her questions so that a man is
compelled to answer?"

"Some men, perhaps."

"Captain Ellerey, I think," said the Ambassador.

"Under certain conditions."

"Exactly," he answered.

"When the questions are asked by one particular woman," she said.

"You have caught my meaning exactly, Countess."

"But as it happens, Lord Cloverton, I am not the one particular woman."

The Ambassador turned a smiling countenance toward her.

"My dear lady, you do yourself a gross injustice."

The look he expected to find in her face he did not see there. He had
believed himself possessed of one secret. He suddenly perceived that
he had possibly discovered another--one that might be even more
certainly used to his own advantage, and he made haste to turn it to
account.

"If I am mistaken," he said slowly, "Captain Ellerey sinks in my
estimation as a stone in water. If I am wrong your displeasure should
urge his return to England, for he is no fit cavalier for Countess
Mavrodin. He would be a mere adventurer to whom every woman is a
pleasant plaything--one whose honor is for barter to the highest bidder.
Such men may well be advised to return to their native land."

"As I am not the one particular woman so am I not a plaything, my lord.
Has your philosophy no position which a woman may occupy between the
two?"

"In this case I think not."

"Such a small position as friendship, for instance," she said, rising.
"Captain Ellerey and I are fast friends."

"I hardly know whether I can congratulate you," said Lord Cloverton,
rising, too, and showing no sign of annoyance or recognition of defeat.

"You will pardon me, but I fear I may have been missed," and then as
they passed into the ball-room he went on, "I will respect your
confidence, but may I suggest that your knowledge of Captain Ellerey's
affairs may be useful to him? Why not advise him yourself? At present
he is with the Queen; when I see him again I will tell him that you
wish to speak to him."

"I have already given him my advice, Countess. I thought to do him a
service by sending him a more powerful advocate." And the Ambassador
left her and went quickly toward the vestibule. As she turned, Monsieur
De Froilette bowed low to her; he too was hastening toward the
vestibule.

When Desmond Ellerey had followed the messenger across the ball-room,
his guide suddenly paused and said in a low tone:

"Her Majesty is in her private apartment, and I am instructed to take
you there. Will you come with me this way?"

He turned from the ballroom and led Ellerey along a corridor and through
a door, which he locked after him. They passed up one corridor and
down another for a little distance, and then ushering him into an
ante-room, his guide left him there while he went to inform the Queen
of his arrival. In a few moments he returned, and, holding open a door,
bid him enter.

The Queen was alone, seated by a table at which she had been writing.
Ellerey approached her and bent over her hand.

"The time has come, Captain Ellerey," she said. "You are ready?"

"I am only waiting your Majesty's commands."

"You have been sent once or twice, Captain Ellerey, to dislodge a
certain brigand called Vasilici from his fastnesses in the mountains,
and have experienced disappointment perhaps in not finding him."

"That is so, your Majesty."

"It was never intended that you should find him," she answered. "For
months past loyal subjects have been gathering in the mountains with
Vasilici, waiting for our word to revolt against the thraldom this
country is under to foreign nations. In the future it is for us to
dictate, not to obey. His Majesty, watched as he is, cannot act freely,
so the duty devolves on me. It is for you to proclaim that we in
Sturatzberg are ready, by carrying a token to Vasilici, which I will
give you, and which you must guard with your life, Captain Ellerey.
The mission with which you are intrusted is a hazardous one. Faction
is rife in the country, and spies lurk in every corner of it. Even now
there may be some setting out upon the road to bar your way to Vasilici.
But for the trusted bearer of this token await high honor and great
reward."

"Even for a foreigner?" asked Ellerey.

"You are no more one, Captain Ellerey. This is the land of your
adoption, and by this service are you not proving yourself a worthy
son?"

"Your Majesty commands. I am content to trust to your Majesty for my
reward; but one thing troubles me."

"What is that?"

"The revolution--for such it must be--will heat men's blood against
the foreigner. May I ask consideration for Lord Cloverton and his staff
at the British Embassy?"

"You have our word that no harm shall come to them. We are not fighting
Embassies, but the riff-raff which has come into our land--the
adventurers who bear themselves as though they were our masters. We
have been under an iron flail from the palace to the hovel. It is
against this subjection that we rebel. You are prepared to fight and
win with us."

"I am waiting for the token, your Majesty."

"I love a man of few words," she said; "and as surely as success will
come, I pledge my word that the ribbon of the Golden Lion of Sturatzberg
shall be yours, Captain Ellerey, and with it revenue sufficient to
bear it fittingly. This is the token," she went on, baring her arm,
on which, just above the elbow, was a bracelet of iron, a chain joining
together four medallions. "It is an ancient treasure of Wallaria, worn,
it is said, by savage kings in this country before ever the Romans had
trampled it with their all-conquering legions. I will seal it in this
box, which you must guard with your life and bear to Vasilici. Seeing
it, he will welcome you as he would ourself. With him return
triumphantly to Sturatzberg, and if a rabble of rebellious soldiery,
led away by traitors who are among us, stand in your way, I can trust
Captain Ellerey's sword to cut a path through it. Will you unclasp the
bracelet for me? the fastening is difficult."

As she held out her arm the door opened, and the servant who had fetched
Ellerey entered.

"Monsieur De Froilette, your Majesty, has just informed me that his
Majesty is on his way here."

For one moment the Queen stood undecided.

"Do not unfasten it, Captain Ellerey," she said, laying a detaining
hand upon his. "To-morrow, some time before midnight, it shall be sent
to you. Not to your lodging, that might be dangerous. Wait for it at
the Toison d'Or. It is an inn of no repute in the Bergenstrasse, which
runs toward the Southern Gate. This same messenger who came to you
to-night shall bring it, sealed as I have said. Then make all speed
to Vasilici, who lies in the neighborhood of the Drekner Pass. Now go.
Quickly. He will show you the way."

It was by a different way they returned.

"The Toison d'Or about midnight," said his guide as he stood to open
a door, "and monsieur would do well to leave his lodging by the Western
Gate as soon as he has prepared for the journey. This passage will
take monsieur to the vestibule."

As he went toward the staircase, determined to leave the palace at
once, Ellerey saw Baron Petrescu leaning against the marble balustrade
talking to one of his companions. There were certain men at Court who
appeared to follow the Baron like his shadow. He was watching all those
who left the palace as carefully as on a former occasion he had
scrutinized all those who entered it, and again Ellerey's appearance
seemed to release him from his labors. With a whispered word to his
companion he moved hastily among the people who were crossing to the
stairs, and contriving to jostle Ellerey, came to a standstill directly
in front of him.

"I am waiting, monsieur," he said.

"For what?"

"Your apology."

"You jest with me. I have none to make."

"Monsieur is slow to appreciate," said the Baron, with a curl of his
lip. "He forgets that he has stared most insufferably at me on many
occasions, and that now he attempts to bar my progress."

"I appreciate that you wish to quarrel with me," Ellerey answered
bluntly, "but I am in no mood for quarrelling. Will monsieur oblige
by standing out of my way, or must I be at the trouble of throwing him
down the stairs?"

The answer came quickly and was to the point. With a sudden sweep of his
arm Baron Petrescu struck Ellerey sharply across the face with his
glove.

Perhaps there was something in Ellerey's expression which made the
Baron's companion step hastily to his side. Experience may have taught
him that Englishmen have a strange habit of punishing such insults on
the spot with a total disregard of all formalities. Perhaps it was his
action which prevented Ellerey carrying out his intention. He drew
himself up to his full height, the air whistling through his clenched
teeth as he caught his breath, and then he bowed slightly to the Baron,
who turned away, leaving his companion to settle the matter.

"Monsieur will give me the name of a friend, so that we may arrange
for this affair to-morrow."

"Why not to-night? I never sleep upon my quarrels."

"Impossible, monsieur."

"Is not the choice with me?"

"Certainly, but--"

"Then I say to-night," Ellerey answered. "There was a moon when I
entered the palace."

The man shrugged his shoulders, disgusted at the utter barbarity of
these Englishmen.

"The name of your friend, then, monsieur?"

Ellerey was in a difficulty. He could think of no one to whom he was
desirous of intrusting an affair of this kind. Before he could reply,
however, he felt a touch upon his arm.

"Can I be of service?" The speaker was an Englishman and a stranger
to him.

"You will be doing me a great favor, monsieur, and I thank you."

The stranger at once went aside with the Baron's friend, In a few
minutes he returned.

"Come, Captain Ellerey. It is in half an hour's time." And with an
assenting inclination of his head Ellerey went slowly down the stairs
with his companion.

As he did so a woman came from a corner, and leaning over the
balustrade, watched the descending figures. Her face was pale, and her
lips trembled.

"I have sought you for my promised dance," said a voice behind her.
"What is interesting the Countess so much?"

"I was thinking that the moon will be setting shortly," she answered
absent-mindedly. "In an hour it will be dark or very nearly."

"Well, Countess, what can that matter?" said the Austrian _attache_.

She looked at him vaguely for a moment, thinking of the man who had
just descended the stairs. Then she said with manifest effort and a
faint smile as she laid her hand upon the _attache's_ arm:

"No, indeed; what can it matter--to me?"



CHAPTER VIII.

THE IRON BRACELET



When Lord Cloverton left Frina Mavrodin he hurried to the vestibule and
sent a message to the King, asking for an immediate and private
audience, and De Froilette saw the Ambassador go to the King's private
apartment soon afterward. De Froilette knew that this sudden audience
could only relate to one of two matters--either Lord Cloverton had made
some discovery respecting the Princess Maritza, or else he was aware
that Ellerey was with the Queen and was about to make some move which
would defeat any conspiracy which might be in progress. That the
Ambassador had any idea of the real state of affairs, De Froilette did
not believe. He did not go at once to warn the Queen. It was only as the
King and the Minister were leaving the private apartments that he
realized the danger.

Lord Cloverton was troubled. The various pieces of the puzzle which
he had fitted into places to his satisfaction suddenly seemed inadequate
to fill the places he had assigned to them. To-night he had discovered
a depth in Frina Mavrodin the existence of which he had never suspected.
She had fenced him with his own weapons in a manner he was little
accustomed to, and he had signally failed to make use of her in the
way he desired. True, she had told him that Ellerey was with the Queen,
but she had mentioned it as a circumstance of small importance. Was
it? Was the casual information meant to mislead him? This frivolous
woman was beginning to take a new position in the Ambassador's
calculations, and he began, almost unconsciously, to look for some
large space in the intricate puzzle which she might possibly fill. He
had imagined that love linked her to Desmond Ellerey, and he was
apparently mistaken; it was only friendship, and such friendship might
mean anything.

He spoke to Captain Ward, telling him to be particularly observant of
Ellerey, and then went to the King. It was unusual with him, but for
once he had not determined what course of action to take even when he
entered the King's room.

"What important twist have affairs taken, my lord?" asked the King.

"It is to prevent any twist that I ventured to ask for this audience,
your Majesty. I am forced to refer again to a subject which, on a
former occasion, gave you some displeasure. You must pardon my
importunity, since I believe the danger is imminent."

"I am all attention," the King answered, conscious of the slight
embarrassment there was in Lord Cloverton's manner.

"As you are aware," the Ambassador went on slowly, "I have always
considered many of the plots which from time to time become apparent
in Sturatzberg of small importance. I have, on the other hand,
consistently warned your Majesty of the danger which might at any time
manifest itself in a sudden development of the tactics of the brigands
in the mountains. Their chief, Vasilici, may be a chief only in name,
and it is certain that during the past few months many have joined him
who are not brigands in any sense of the word, and who, I conceive,
are merely using this outlaw as a convenient cloak to their wider and
more sinister intentions."

"Certainly you have always been an alarmist in this matter," said the
King, with a smile. "Whatever their intentions may be, the fact remains
that they have always fled at the approach of a handful of troops."

"Which is rather unnatural, it seems to me," Lord Cloverton answered
quickly. "Whatever else he may lack, your brigand is not deficient in
courage, and it must be remembered that the troops sent against these
men have never succeeded in finding a trace of their spoils."

"Do you suggest that they have been warned of the expeditions sent
against them?"

"I think it probable."

"By whom, my lord?"

"We might laugh at the danger, your Majesty, could I answer that
question," replied the Ambassador. "It must be remembered that there
are many in Sturatzberg who, while personally loyal to you, are not
satisfied with your foreign policy; who believe that Wallaria is too
much under the direction of the greater European Powers, and would
help you to emancipation in spite of yourself."

"A judgment which is the outcome of ignorance, Lord Cloverton."

"I think so, but it is not reasonable to suppose that they do," returned
the Ambassador. "Such a feeling is prevalent in all grades of society
in Sturatzberg, from her Majesty Queen Elena, down to the beggars in
the Altstrasse."

"The Queen, my lord!" exclaimed the King sharply.

"I do not speak hastily, your Majesty, Queen Elena has all those
attributes which go to make a great ruler. She has courage, diplomacy,
tact, and deep in her heart lies a living, beating interest in her
country's welfare."

"Such praise seems merely the mask for an accusation, my lord. I must
request you to be more explicit."

"To be so, your Majesty, was my reason for asking for this interview.
I humbly protest, however, that I make no accusation in the ordinary
sense of the word. Her Majesty's conception of her country's welfare
is, I venture to think, an erroneous one, although I imagine her
desire is only to help forward a policy which she believes is near
to your heart."

"Enough, Lord Cloverton, let us get to the root of the matter quickly.
Our absence will be remarked and occasion comment."

The King spoke irritably, and the Ambassador felt the delicacy and
difficulty of the position. He was not quite sure of his ground. He
was rather in the position of one who draws a bow at a venture, and
yet he had a shrewd suspicion in which direction the mark lay. Of one
thing he was certain--the danger; and he felt justified in taking any
risk for the purpose of preventing trouble.

"To-night the Queen has given a special audience to a countryman of
mine, a Captain Desmond Ellerey in your Majesty's service," said the
Ambassador, speaking quietly and concisely. "This Captain Ellerey is
a man of courage and resource, in a way an adventurer, prepared for
any hazardous enterprise if he is once convinced that it is in the
service of his adopted country. I believe the Queen intends to send
him upon some secret mission which, although she may be ignorant of
the fact, will militate against your Majesty, and against your peaceful
policy."

"An accusation of treason!" exclaimed the King. "You go too far, my
lord."

"I make no such accusation; I only fear an act which may lead to treason
in others, and seek to prevent it."

"Why not question Captain Ellerey?"

"I have done so, but to no purpose."

"I will question him," said the King. "Why not question her Majesty?"
Lord Cloverton suggested. "Captain Ellerey is with her at this moment."

"You shall go with me, Lord Cloverton," said the King. "Since you have
such suspicions it is no time for secret questionings. Her Majesty
shall hear your accusation and shall answer it."

The Ambassador bowed. The King's decision pleased him. If he had not
succeeded in raising the King's suspicion, he had raised his anger,
which would serve the same purpose, and Lord Cloverton still held the
trump card in his hand.

The moment Ellerey had left her, the Queen glanced hastily around the
room. She slipped the box she had shown him underneath some papers in
her drawer, and then with a smile reseated herself, and, drawing paper
toward her, she rapidly began to write a note to Frina Mavrodin.

She rose quickly with a little gesture of surprise when the King and
the English Ambassador were announced. The King strode into the room,
anger still in his face, but Lord Cloverton came to a halt near the
door.

"Your Majesty is welcome," said the Queen, "but you look troubled. I
fear I spend too little time helping to share your Majesty's
difficulties."

"To defeat intrigues is my hourly occupation, Elena, but there are
some intrigues, or whispers of them, which call for special treatment;
they are not to be met by counterplot, but by open speech and outspoken
denial."

"Am I accused?" the Queen asked.

"Lord Cloverton has seen fit to warn me."

"Of what?" she asked innocently, looking toward the Ambassador.

The King hesitated for a moment, almost as though he wished Lord
Cloverton would speak. "To-night you have received Captain Ellerey in
private audience," he said after a moment's pause.

"I have."

"May I know for what purpose?"

The Queen looked first at her husband, then at the Ambassador, her
glance lingering on the latter for a moment.

"I cannot tell you why," she answered slowly. "It was a matter of no
great importance, but it was essentially private. I would be unfair
to Captain Ellerey to speak of it."

It may have been the flicker of triumph upon the Ambassador's face
which urged the King on.

"We expected to find Captain Ellerey still with you."

"The audience was a short one," was the answer.

"I am afraid I must demand to know its purport," said the King. "I do
so in your own interests."

"You wish me to deny some accusation Lord Cloverton has made against
me. I tremble lest I may be unable to do so. Of what frivolity do I
stand accused?" and she smiled at the Ambassador with an innocent
expression on her face pleading for lenient judgment.

"Of no frivolity," said the King. "Lord Cloverton has suggested that
you have despatched this Captain Ellerey upon some secret mission to
the enemies of our country, seeking to do us a service, but in truth
jeopardizing our policy of peace, perchance our throne. In substance,
my lord, that is your accusation, I think?"

"That is so," returned the Ambassador.

"To what enemies?" asked the Queen, after a pause.

"Is there any need to particularize?" said the King irritably. "The
accusation is either true or false."

"It is false."

The denial was quietly spoken, but an angry flush glowed in her cheeks.
"By your Majesty's leave, such an accusation should be definite, and
again I ask, what enemies?"

"I will be definite," said Lord Cloverton. "Doubtless you have not
considered well--"

"Be direct, too, my lord; what enemies?"

"I will. I mean those enemies who are in communication with the traitors
who have joined the brigand Vasilici in the mountains."

"You accuse me of holding communication with these men?"

"Your Majesty must pardon my bluntness, I do."

"You are pardoned, and thanked also," she said lightly. "Such bluntness
comes more directly at the heart of the matter than much diplomacy,
and is more easily answered. I deny the charge." And then, turning to
the King, she went on: "For my own protection I am constrained to tell
you the purpose of Captain Ellerey's visit to me. He has quickly
received the favor of one of the ladies of our Court, a favor for which
I am in some measure responsible. When Captain Ellerey first came among
us, he furnished us with subject for jesting by declaring that no woman
had ever played a serious part in his life. I expressed a belief that
such a statement would rouse feminine enthusiasm in Sturatzberg, and
I have since often questioned him whether he could truthfully repeat
the declaration. It was a jest, but seriousness has come of it. Captain
Ellerey's ambition has flown high, even to the Countess Mavrodin. Such
an ambition must bring him bitter enemies, in numbers like leaves in
autumn; and if to-night I have persuaded him against soaring so high,
if I have made Frina Mavrodin's position in Sturatzberg plainer to him
and endeavored privately to warn him against such an ambition, have
I done aught to pander to my country's enemies or to jeopardize your
Majesty's throne?" The question was asked in such a manner as to make
the King laugh.

"No, but by my faith, your interference may have jeopardized the lady's
happiness. Is she to have no voice in the matter?"

"I fear she is somewhat fascinated by Captain Ellerey," said the Queen
with a smile, "but such a thing as marriage is not to be thought of.
Think of it. Frina Mavrodin and a Captain of Horse! You English place
no limits to your ambition," she added, turning to Lord Cloverton.

"Love leaps over all obstacles," said the King.

But her Majesty was ready with arguments to prove that the affair was
no laughing matter. She even suggested that such a marriage might have
a political significance, might lead to complications which would have
serious consequences, even to some revolution such as Lord Cloverton
had accused her of fostering. It was no laughing matter as his Majesty
would make it, and her interference was not unnecessary, but intended
to serve the State. Even were Captain Ellerey to rise to great
distinction, she argued, such an alliance would still be fraught with
danger. The Countess Mavrodin with her wealth, with her prestige, and
her close connection with the noblest houses in Sturatzberg, was not
for a soldier of fortune, as, at the best, Captain Ellerey was. She
became eloquent upon the subject, and the King watched the Ambassador,
a smile upon his lips, in anticipation of his discomfiture.

"I had already begun a letter to the Countess," said the Queen, taking
up the paper on which she had written a few lines. "I want to show her
plainly the impossibility of such a thing. Are you satisfied, Lord
Cloverton?"

The Ambassador had remained standing by the door and had not taken his
eyes from the Queen as she talked rapidly. There was no tell-tale
expression on his face to indicate his thoughts. Now he advanced.

"Your Majesty thinks then that this folly, so far as the Countess
Mavrodin is concerned, is a serious matter?"

"I want to find out."

"If I am any judge, it is," said Lord Cloverton, "more serious with
the lady than with the man. Her words went far to confirm my ideas
respecting Captain Ellerey, her manner betrayed her own secret."

"You have spoken to her!"

"Yes, only to-night. Your Majesty exaggerates the political significance
of such a marriage, I feel sure; it would make enemies for Captain
Ellerey, no doubt, but he is the kind of man who is very capable of
defending himself. A greatly daring Englishmen is an awkward man to
encounter, and there seems to be a general desire to enlist the sympathy
of Desmond Ellerey. That has made me suspicious, and using some
knowledge which I possess concerning him, I have endeavored to make
him apply for leave to return to England."

"To save him from the Countess?" said the Queen.

"No, your Majesty; to prevent his being drawn into a plot which seeks
to overthrow the present government of this country."

"Is there such a plot?" she asked innocently.

"A dozen have existed ever since I came to the throne," said the King.
The Ambassador's persistency made him angry.

"Hiding themselves in holes like hunted vermin," Lord Cloverton returned
sharply, "afraid to strike, afraid to be seen, with no plan of action
ready, and altogether futile. I do not speak of such plots as these,
but of one particular plot, whose ramifications spread and grow from
end to end of Wallaria, penetrating to the very heart of the nation
as surely as tree roots push their way to water. The head of it looks
up watchfully from the hidden intrenchments on the mountains at
intervals, waiting for the moment to strike. Anxiously is it waiting
now."

"For what?" cried the King. "In heaven's name, for what, Lord
Cloverton?"

"For the token her Majesty delivered to Captain Ellerey to-night."

A profound silence followed this deliberate accusation. So unflinchingly
was it made, so evident was it that the Ambassador had some knowledge
which he had not divulged, that the King found no words to utter. He
looked helplessly at the Queen like a man who has received a blow which
has dazed him for the time being. The Ambassador's knowledge startled
the Queen, too, but she did not shrink before his steady scrutiny. She
was the first to break the silence.

"I gave no such token," she said.

Lord Cloverton started slightly at being given the lie so directly.
What subterfuge was a woman not capable of?

"You have your answer, my lord," said the King, moving toward his wife.

The Ambassador bowed. He could hardly pursue the matter further unless
the King assisted him, and he turned to leave the room.

"You are not satisfied?" said the King sternly.

"No, your Majesty."

"What proof can you have? What was the token?"

Lord Cloverton turned quickly. It was the very question he had hoped
for.

"A sacred treasure of Sturatzberg, the iron bracelet her Majesty is
accustomed to wear upon her arm." Again there was silence, and, set
as his face was, the mask was insufficient to hide the Ambassador's
excitement. The Queen stood for a moment quite conscious of the dramatic
effect of the silent pause, and then she made three rapid strides
toward the Ambassador. With a sudden sweep of her right hand she ripped
open the left sleeve of her gown from wrist to shoulder and thrust out
her arm to him.

"I demand your apology, Lord Cloverton."

She stood imperiously before him, looking down at him. Fire was in her
eyes, an angry flush upon her cheeks, triumph in look and gesture. It
would have gone hard with any subject who had dared to accuse her. The
Ambassador was obliged to murmur his apology, for, tightly clasped
upon the gleaming white and rounded arm, was the bracelet of iron.



CHAPTER IX.

THE DUEL



The aspect of the night had changed when Ellerey and his companion
left the palace. Fleecy clouds raced across the sky, veiling the face
of the moon at intervals, and making her light fitful and uncertain.
The air struck cold after the warmth within, but beyond drawing his
cloak a little closer round him, Desmond Ellerey seemed indifferent
to the night and to the business he had in hand.

He asked no questions, and with his eyes bent on the ground followed
his companion mechanically. The cause of the quarrel interested him
more than the issue of it. Why had Baron Petrescu drawn him into this
duel? It had obviously been carefully planned, and the insult
deliberately given at a moment when Ellerey was least desirous of
placing his life in jeopardy. He could only assume that her Majesty's
schemes were, to some extent at least, known to the Baron, and that
having other interests to serve, he was bent on incapacitating him
from performing the mission he had undertaken. That the Baron had any
personal quarrel with him he did not believe.

Ellerey's companion, on the other hand, was interested in the night.
Each time the moonlight grew pale, or died out altogether for a moment,
he looked at the sky and glanced quickly at Ellerey. He was the more
excited of the two.

"This is a treacherous light for our work," he said, presently. "We
should have been wiser to have waited until morning."

"I have other work for the morning," Ellerey answered.

"Are you a skilful swordsman? The Baron is."

"Is he?" said Ellerey, indifferently. "I have some reputation in my
regiment, but doubtless I shall be a better judge of my skill presently.
Where do we go?"

"To tell the truth, I hardly like the rendezvous," was the answer. "It
is a stretch of sward behind an obscure tavern in this part of the
town. Did I not know the Baron to be an honorable man, I should have
refused the meeting in such a place. Your decision to fight to-night
made our choice limited."

Ellerey stopped and looked about him. They had turned from a side
street into a narrow thoroughfare with tall, dark houses on either
side. The neighborhood looked particularly uninviting.

"Where are we?" he asked suddenly, remembering that he knew nothing
of his companion, and that by accepting the service he had so readily
offered he might be quietly stepping into a trap. Such a thing would
agree very well with the rest of Baron Petrescu's behavior.

"Beyond knowing that we are in the purlieus of a lower part of the
town and on the outskirts of the city, I am as puzzled as you are."

"You seem very credulous of the Baron's honesty, monsieur, to agree
so such a place as this. Which way now?"

"To the bottom of this street, where we are to wait. The Baron's friend
will meet us there."

"We will keep the appointment so far," said Ellerey shortly. "I came
to meet Baron Petrescu, but I am not minded to step blindly into a
nest of cut-throats." He strode on as alert now as he had been
indifferent before, and it was not until they had nearly reached the
end of the street that his companion spoke.

"One moment," he said. "By that light yonder we are to wait. You do
not trust me, Captain Ellerey?"

"I have not said so."

"That admits my statement," was the answer. "Until a moment
ago that aspect of the case had not presented itself to
me, but on reflection I can hardly wonder at your distrust. The
circumstances tell against me, but had I been in any conspiracy against
you, I should hardly have called your attention to the strangeness of
the rendezvous. I have, however, a better guarantee of my honesty: I
am a countryman of yours, an Englishman. I like this affair as little
as you do; but if you are minded to see it through, I have a sword and
the will to fight beside you should there be any attempt at treachery.
There's my hand upon it."

It was not the words, but the manner in which they were spoken that
convinced Ellerey, and he took the hand held out to him.

"Forgive my momentary suspicion," he said. "We meet by the light yonder,
you say."

The light came from a dim lamp in an upper window. It might have been
placed there as a signal, or some poor seamstress, in the struggle for
a livelihood, might be ruining her health and sight by it. It must,
at any rate, have been very constantly there, or it would not so readily
have been mentioned to mark a place of meeting. As they went toward
it, the figures of two men became dimly visible standing in the shadow
of the wall. One advanced to meet them, and addressed himself to
Ellerey's companion.

"I much regret this unusual mode of procedure, but it is unavoidable
under the circumstances and in view of your friend's decision to fight
to-night. May I request that you will follow us in silence?"

The other man moved from the shadow. It was Baron Petrescu; and going
to the house which was next to that in which the lamp shone, he knocked
twice at the door in a peculiar manner which was evidently a known
summons to those within. Some considerable time elapsed before the
summons was answered, but the Baron showed no impatience, and this
manifest knowledge of the ways of the establishment did not inspire
Ellerey with confidence. Once within, murder and concealment of the
crime might be easy. Who was there in all Sturatzberg to know that he
had ever entered this house? And how many were there in the wide world
to care whether he ever left it?

Presently the door opened a little space, and a shaggy head was thrust
out in a truculent manner. Whether the Baron spoke to him, or whether
the man recognized his visitor, Ellerey could not determine, but the
door was opened wide, and they were admitted into a small, ill-lighted
lobby. The entrance was a private one, not a usual _cafe_ entrance,
but the smell of stale liquor and smoke and the reek of highly spiced
dishes proved that the _cafe_ was under the same roof, and proclaimed
it as a resort of that lower stratum of society which loves its food
pungent and highly flavored. That there was such silence in the house
was surprising.

"A private visit, Theodor," said the Baron. "We do not join the assembly
to-night. Reassure them, and let us have a word with you."

Theodor opened one of the folding-doors in the lobby, and in a
stentorian voice shouted some word, which Ellerey did not catch. Its
effect was magical. Immediately there arose a loud hum of voices, the
clinking and clatter of innumerable glasses and plates, and the rattle
of dice and dominoes. Then Theodor let the door swing to again, muffling
the sounds of this living hive, and led the way into a small bare room
at the side.

The Baron's companion now became the spokesman.

"We have a little matter to settle, Theodor, a private quarrel which
does concern the good fellows yonder, and of which they must know
nothing. The grass alley in the garden will serve our purpose. Let us
out quietly, and have a care that no one wanders that way to cool an
aching head until we have departed."

Theodor looked from the speaker to his companions, each in turn, and
Ellerey keenly watched the man's eyes to note if any look of
understanding were exchanged. He could detect none.

"Of course, of course, it is a good spot for such matter, but if one
is killed?"

"Well, Theodor, there is earth enough in the garden for burial."

Theodor shrugged his shoulders.

"And you will call none to help you with that work?"

"No. Have I not said that the matter is private?"

"And there is no surgeon."

"I have sufficient skill for that," was the answer. "Come, Theodor,
time presses, and the moon will not serve us long."

"Is it in the cause?"

"No," said Baron Petrescu, sharply, as though he were afraid some
different answer would be given, but Ellerey could not help believing
that the cause, whatever it might be, was at the bottom of the whole
affair, that the Baron had designedly insulted him that evening because
of it, and that his speedy removal was considered necessary to the
well-being of it. Theodor did not seem to believe the Baron's statement
either, but it was apparent that either he had not the power or the
desire to oppose the Baron, for he answered quickly:

"I see. Will an hour be enough?"

"More than enough."

"Good. Then in one hour I will walk through the garden, and shall find
it empty. I shall know that anyone with an aching head is free to cool
it there, and if there be a grave to trample on, what matter? No one
will know."

Without further words he led the way down a narrow passage, at the end
of which he quietly unbarred a door.

"Three steps down," he said by way of caution, as he stood aside to
let them pass. He watched them until their figures were lost in the
shadows of the garden, and then he closed and barred the door again.

It was a garden of some extent, and little heaps of chairs and small
three-legged tables showed that on warm nights the frequenters of the
cafe drank their wine and threw their dice there instead of within.
The lights in the house--the cafe seemed to occupy only the back of
it--shone through the shrubberies, and the murmur and clatter were
plainly audible as the four men crossed the lawn and went toward the
end of the garden along tortuous paths which made the really short
distance seem a long one.

At last they came out on to a level piece of turf surrounded on all
sides by high hedges, through which were many openings leading to other
parts of the garden, and through one of which they had come. There
were trees here and there, the long shadows thrown across the turf,
and without absolutely obscuring the moonlight, they made it extremely
difficult to fight a duel by. Baron Petrescu walked to one end of the
lawn, and Ellerey to the other, leaving the two seconds together to
make final arrangements. Once convinced that his adversary contemplated
no treachery, Ellerey sank again into his indifferent state, paying
no attention to the choosing of the ground, taking no note of the
light, nor considering how he might best use his position to the full
advantage. The Baron, on the other hand, was quick to observe exactly
how the shadows fell, and to calculate every chance which might help
him.

"We are ready, Captain Ellerey."

Without a word Ellerey threw off his cloak and coat, and taking his
sword, weighed it in his hand, testing its poise and balance.

"In case of accident is there anything you wish me to do?" asked his
companion; "anything to take charge of, any message to send? The affair
has been so hurried that there has been no time to make these small
arrangements."

"Thank you, there is nothing," Ellerey answered. "Under the
circumstances I am fortunate in not possessing a friend in the world
who cares a snap of his fingers whether I am living or dead."

"Nor a woman?"

Ellerey hesitated for a moment.

"The Countess Mavrodin might be interested to learn that I was dead.
Yes, if anything should happen, please tell her."

"But in England?"

"There is no one," Ellerey answered.

A cloud passed over the moon as the combatants faced each other, and
not until it had passed was the signal given. Then steel rang on steel
with a music which sounded weirdly in the night. No other sound was
there save a rustling in the leaves now and again as though they
trembled in sympathy to some swift lunge or quickly parried thrust.
The moon shone clearly for a space, touching the swords into two streaks
of flashing light, and painting the men's set faces with a cold hue,
ghostly, and deathlike. The Baron had a reputation as a swordsman, had
stood face to face with an antagonist many times before, and more than
once had seen his adversary turn sightless eyes to the morning sky.
It was therefore, perhaps, only natural that he should have contemplated
his encounter with the Englishman with equanimity. At the same time
Ellerey's determination to settle the quarrel at once and by moonlight
may have had the effect of making him more cautious than usual.
Certainly his second, who had often seen him fight before, marvelled
at his deliberation to-night. The well-known brilliancy of his attacks
was wanting, and he could only suppose that the Englishman was a more
worthy swordsman than he had imagined. Whatever deliberation the Baron
used, he at first pressed the fight far more than Ellerey, whose whole
attention seemed occupied in defending himself. He was less attractive
to watch than the Baron, slower, it seemed, in his movements, and with
less invention and resource, yet Petrescu appeared to gain no advantage.
Every thrust he made was parried, if rather late sometimes, still
parried, and he found that his adversary's wrist, if less flexible
than his own, was of iron. He changed his tactics, he pressed the fight
less and less, hoping to make the Englishman careless, and tempt him
to attack more vigorously. In a measure the device succeeded. Ellerey's
point began to flash toward him with a persistency he had not expected,
but there was no less caution. Twice, thrice, the Baron used a feint
and thrust which had seldom missed their intention, and had proved the
undoing of many an adversary; but now they were met in the only manner
it seemed that they could be met successfully. At the third failure
the Baron's computation of the Englishman's skill underwent a rapid
change. He had met his match, a foeman worthy of his steel, as
consummate a swordsman as himself; and if for a moment there was a
sense of disappointment, it was quickly followed by one of keen
satisfaction not unmingled with a feeling of friendship for his
antagonist. There was that in Baron Petrescu which he had received no
credit for, even from his friends. What contempt he had had for Ellerey
disappeared, and a desire to win for the mere sake of winning took
possession of him. All the thoughts which had prompted him to this
duel were forgotten; he was no longer intent on killing his adversary.
Now to verify his superiority and to prove it to this worthy foeman
was his ambition, and it was in this spirit he pressed the contest
with increased energy. The night became full of eyes for him, eager
eyes, watchful of his skill, and hushed in the silence a thousand
voices seemed ready to proclaim his victory.

There was no such complication of thoughts in Ellerey's mind. The Baron
had grossly insulted him, had forced this quarrel upon him, and he
meant to punish him if he could. Whether he killed him or not was of
small consequence so long as he thoroughly taught him a lesson.

Yet to him also the night had eyes, and the air a feeling of movement
in it, stealthy movement that walked on tiptoe and held its breath.
The steel sang, now high, now low, distinct sounds and continuous. The
breeze rustled the leaves then and again, but something else was
stirring in the night, now behind him, now to his right, just where
the high hedges enclosed the lawn. Once he heard it like the rustle
of some startled animal among the dried and fallen leaves, and again
he heard it, less distinct perhaps but more pervading, as when a crowd
waits spellbound.

The Baron's attack grew fiercer again; twice he nearly broke through
Ellerey's defence just when the sounds were audible in his ears. The
Baron's most dangerous thrusts, and the coming of the sounds seemed
to synchronise, as though there were a connection between them, as
though they were parts of some whole. Ellerey almost expected to read
a solution of the mystery in his opponent's eyes, which glittered in
his pale, moonlit face. But the solution was not in the Baron's eyes--it
was behind him. For one instant Ellerey glanced over the Baron's
shoulder to the thick-set hedge beyond, and in an alley there the
moonlight fell for a moment upon a pale face thrust forward a little
too eagerly. The night was alive with eyes.

"It is treachery, then, after all!" Ellerey burst out suddenly, and
as he spoke he used the Baron's own particular feint and thrust, and
his sword point ran swiftly and smoothly into soft flesh.

With a low cry his adversary staggered back and fell, and in that
moment the night was full of voices, too. Men rushed with angry cries
and gesticulations from every alley of the garden, some to this side,
some to that, to surround the little party. In an instant the seconds
had drawn their swords and were beside Ellerey.

"Back, you fools!" came faintly from the wounded man, but the eager
crowd did not heed, even if they heard, him as they rushed to the
attack in overwhelming numbers.

"On my oath, Captain Ellerey, this is no work of mine," said the Baron,
attempting to stagger to his feet, but falling to the ground again.

His second, too, shouted to the crowd, using the Baron's name to enforce
his words, but he might as well have shrieked forbiddance to the
incoming tide. The mad crowd rushed upon the three men from all sides,
and although the flashing swords kept them back for a few moments, and
harsh cries told that one blade or another had done its work, it was
certain that only in flight was their safety against such odds.

As one ruffian staggered back with a yell of pain from the point of
Ellerey's sword, the Baron's second whispered in his ear:

"Make for the alley just in front of you, to the left, to the right
and then to the right again. There is a door in the high wall of the
garden. You are safe if you can reach it. It is you they want, they
will not harm the Baron. Rush for it. I will keep them off as long as
I can."

Ellerey whispered the same instructions to his second, and then, waiting
until the crowd had fallen back for a moment, he suddenly rushed
forward, using his sword and his clenched fist to force himself a
passage. The crowd was taken by surprise, and a cloud hiding the moon
at that moment was in Ellerey's favor. Before they understood his
intention he had reached the alley.

"To the right, then left, then right!" he shouted to his companion,
who was running swiftly at his heels.

"To the door!" rose the shout behind him, and the whole garden was
full of rushing feet.

Ellerey gave a cry of triumph as he caught the latch of the door and
pulled it open, half turning to his companion as he did so. Had he
been an instant later that exultant cry would have been his last, for
at that moment a dagger flashed down upon him, and only by a quick
spring aside did he avoid the blow. The man who had followed him so
closely was not his second.

Before his adversary could recover himself, he struck him full in the
face with the hilt of his sword and sent him reeling back into the
arms of the foremost of his companions. The next instant Ellerey had
slammed the door behind him, and was in a narrow lane on the other
side of the wall.



CHAPTER X.

THE FOLLY OF A SOLDIER



It was not until he had run some distance along the lane that Ellerey
stopped to listen, and fully to realize that his companion was not
beside him. There were no sounds of hurrying feet in pursuit. He could
not have out-distanced his enemies so completely in so short a time;
either they had come no farther than the door in the wall, or had
turned in the opposite direction, perhaps following his companion.

With his sword still in his hand, held ready for deadly work at a
moment's notice, he retraced his steps, his senses sharp set to detect
the slightest sound or movement near him. Heavy clouds had engulfed
the moon now, the darkness was extreme, and the silence of the night
unbroken. He went forward carefully; the darkness might hold a legion
of foes, and the silence be a trap to catch him. Ellerey found the
door with difficulty, indeed by chance, for it was cunningly hidden.
Whatever the danger, he must enter the garden again in search for his
comrade. The door was shut, and as he felt along it from top to bottom,
touching no latch nor handle, nor keyhole even, he realized that
entrance that way was barred. The door only opened from within. He had
stepped back to consider how, and at what point, he could best scale
the wall, when a slight movement close beside him caused him to stand
on the defensive in a moment.

"Is that you, Ellerey?"

"You got out, then? Thank heaven!"

"Yes; I didn't speak because I thought you were one of them, and just
now I'm no match for a babe in arms."

He was leaning against the wall a few feet from the gate. Ellerey had
supposed him farther off by the faintness of his voice.

"Are you hurt?"

"Nothing serious, I think, but I've had a good deal of blood let out
of me. I should have occupied that grave in the garden for a certainty
had it not been for the Baron's second, who stood over me when I fell,
and, when the blackguards retreated from the door, put me outside.
This wasn't the Baron's doing."

"Perhaps not," Ellerey answered. "Can you manage to walk?"

"Yes, if you'll let me hang on to you, and we don't have to go far.
When I was put outside something was said about going to the left."

"We'll go to the left, then; but I haven't an idea where we are."

The wounded man was weaker than he imagined. Before they had gone fifty
yards he began to reel, and even as he suggested that Ellerey should
go on and get help, he fainted. Ellerey took him in his arms and carried
him. His one idea was to get as far away from the scene of the night's
adventure as possible, but his progress was slow. His comrade revived
presently, but although he tried to walk again, the task was beyond
him. So Ellerey carried him, resting at intervals, all through the
night. As long as darkness lasted and they were on the outskirts of
the city they were unlikely to be stopped and questioned, but with
dawn it would be different. Ellerey was without his coat and cloak,
there had been no time to seize them as he rushed from the garden, and
he carried a grievously hurt man in his arms. The first peasant,
trudging to his early toil, who caught sight of them would run and
tell the news as he went. Such publicity was to be avoided at all
costs, or there would be small chance of his being at the Toison d'Or,
in the Bergenstrasse, to keep his appointment. Already a long, thin
streak of gray showed low down in the east, and Ellerey pressed forward
as quickly as possible to find an asylum. He passed the first scattered
dwellings he came to, having no desire to knock up some sleepy peasant
and have to combat his inquisitiveness, as well as his annoyance, at
being so unceremoniously disturbed. Presently where two cross-roads
met he espied a small habitation, from which a thin wreath of smoke
was rising into the morning air, and decided to try his fortune here.
He had set his burden down by the gate when an old woman came from the
house with a pail going to a well in the garden for water.

"Good mother," Ellerey called out, "I would claim your hospitality."

The woman turned to look at him, then set down the pail and came to
the gate.

"What is it? Defend us, there's blood on him!" she exclaimed, pointing
at the prostrate man. "An attack in the night by some ruffians who
would have murdered us, good mother. My comrade is wounded, you see.
Will you give him rest here while I go into the city for help?"

"It is ill work assisting strangers," answered the woman.

"Look at me; is there not honesty in my face?"

"Aye, I quarrel not with your face, but there is that on your tongue
which does not greatly please me."

"The accent of a foreigner?" asked Ellerey. "Shall I tell you a secret?
The time is coming when you shall have little enough of such an accent
through the length and breadth of the land."

"For such a prophecy you are welcome," she answered, opening the gate.
"You may come in."

Ellerey carried his companion up the garden path, and with the help
of the woman and her grandson, who stared in wonder at their coming,
soon had him comfortably placed on a pallet in the little room.

"Send Dr. Goldberg to me," said his companion; "he lives close to the
palace, and is a friend and discreet."

The mention of the name caused Ellerey to look closely at the man's
face for a moment. He had been a true comrade, and Ellerey had given
little thought to his identity; now he wondered, and a smile wrinkled
the corners of his mouth.

His companion in safe keeping, Ellerey began actively to consider his
own affairs. He knew Dr. Goldberg by reputation, but he had no desire
to visit him just now. To invent a tale to satisfy the doctor would
be difficult, and might well be left to the wounded man. He took up
his companion's cloak--he could hardly go into the city as he was--and
then left the room, beckoning the woman to follow him.

"I will send the doctor at once, good mother," he said, "and there is
something to help my poor thanks. Can you give me a piece of paper and
lend me a pencil?"

The golden coins clinking in her hand would have purchased a far greater
service. The pencil and paper were brought, and Ellerey wrote rapidly
for a few moments; then tore the paper in half. He folded each portion
carefully, placing one in his pocket, the other he kept in his hand.

"If the lad would earn something, send him after me quickly," he said,
and then he went up the garden path and took the road to the city.

In a few moments the boy overtook him.

"Do you know the palace, my lad?"

"Yes."

"To the right of it there is a large square."

"I know it," answered the boy; "the foreigners who hate us live there."

"I would curb that young tongue of yours, or you'll be using it
squealing for mercy under the whip. Ask there for Dr. Goldberg's house,
and give him this paper. Do you understand?"

The lad nodded.

"Run quickly then, and afterward come to me in the Grande Place. You
know the statue of King Ferdinand there? I shall be beside it. Away
with you. The quicker you do your errand, the greater your reward."

The lad needed no second bidding. He started off at a brisk trot, and
Ellerey pursued his way to the city. The gates were open, and there
were few abroad in the streets as yet; but the thought of the many
hands which had sought to despatch him in the garden last night made
Ellerey proceed with greater caution than he had ever exercised. Only
a few in the dim light could have seen his face sufficiently to
recognize him, but he drew the cloak up to his chin and concealed his
face as much as possible. He avoided the larger thoroughfares, being
undesirous of meeting any acquaintances; and in the smaller streets
which he traversed he might at any moment come face to face with one
of that crowd he had so recently escaped from. He went warily,
therefore, looking for the slightest glance of recognition in the face
of every man he met.

In the neighborhood of the Grande Place he lingered in a side street
until he saw the lad approaching the statue, when he went to meet him.

"You delivered the letter?"

"Yes. I was asked who gave it me, and I said a man I did not know."

"That was true enough," Ellerey returned. "Here's for your trouble.
Would you earn more?"

The boy's eyes glistened as his fingers closed on the silver. It was
easy to buy faithful service in Sturatzberg so long as no one was near
to offer a higher price for unfaithfulness. Ellerey judged that such
a messenger as this lad would pass unchallenged and unnoticed.

"Take this to the Western Gate and ask for the lodging of a Captain
called Ellerey. He has a servant named Stefan--give him the paper."

"He shall have it."

"There is double payment, then. Run, I shall know if your errand is
quickly done, and woe-betide you if you loiter." And having watched
the lad disappear, Ellerey went quickly down a side street, and by
many turnings and doublings on his track, sought to escape any spy who
might chance to be watching him.

At dawn Stefan stretched out his huge limbs upon the settle, and awoke
with a heavy grunt. No matter how deep his potations on the previous
evening, he always awoke early; not fresh, perhaps, that were too much
to expect, but with his wits clear. Sitting up, he glanced round the
room for signs of his master's return, and, seeing none, grunted again
in wonder. A tankard was on the floor beside him, and he drank the
flat remains from last night's measure with a wry face. Then he pushed
open the door of his master's room and looked in.

"Empty!" he said, satisfied that his master had not entered without
being heard. "Here's another street quarrel, maybe, and more torn
clothes to sell to the ragman."

Then Stefan made his morning toilet. It was a simple process. His
ablutions were taken at irregular intervals, sometimes at long
intervals, and this was not the time for them. He ran his fingers
through his hair to take some of the tangle out of it, shook his great
frame to force his clothes into comfortable position, tightened his
loosened belt, and took off his boots. For a few moments he sat on the
settle, his legs stretched out wide apart, then he drew his boots on
again, and stamping himself firmly into them, was ready for whatever
the day might bring forth.

The street was still silent and deserted as Stefan went to the door
and looked to right and left. The neighborhood was one of the last in
the city to stir itself. If Stefan felt any anxiety regarding his
master, there was no expression in his face to mark it. He was stolid
and imperturbable; would have remained so probably had Ellerey been
carried up the street dead on a shutter. He grunted now and then,
walked half a dozen paces from the door and back to circulate his
blood, and then leaned with his shoulders against the wall as though
he were a fixture there until desperate necessity moved him.

The boy, who turned quickly into the street, and then came along slowly,
looking to this side and that, hardly appeared the kind of visitor
necessary to move the soldier. Stefan looked at him because there was
no one else in the street to look at; but he was little interested.
As the lad came nearer, however, the soldier became aware that the
sleepy street was beginning to rouse itself. The blind in a window of
the house opposite was drawn aside for a moment, and a face looked
out. The aspect of the morning seemed speedily to satisfy, for the
blind quickly fell back into its place again. Without actually looking
up, Stefan had seen those peering eyes, and curiously enough they had
him interested in the lad, who suddenly stopped in front of him.

"Can you tell me where a Captain Ellerey lodges?"

"Were you told to go into a street and bawl for information like that
until you found him?" asked the soldier gruffly.

"I spoke no louder than I always do," answered the boy.

"Then it's a hale pair of lungs you've got concealed in that body of
yours. I'm nigh deaf with your shouting. Come within the doorway, my
lad, and whisper. Perhaps I'll catch the meaning of your question when
it does not drum through me like the cry of a drunken crowd of rioters."

Somewhat abashed, the boy did as he was told, and repeated his question
in a lower tone.

"By a strange chance he lives in this selfsame house, but he's not
abroad yet," said Stefan. "We do sometimes sleep, and our day doesn't
begin at cock-crow."

"I don't want him," said the lad, "I want his servant, Stefan."

"By another strange chance he lives here, too. What do you want with
him?"

"Is he abroad yet?"

"Aye, he never sleeps at all."

"I live too nigh the city for fairy-tales," said the boy. "Will you
bring me to this same Stefan? I have a message for him."

"Don't bawl it, lad, whisper. He's of a delicate constitution, this
Stefan--I know, for I am he."

The boy looked doubtful for a moment.

"Is that truth?"

"I like your caution," Stefan returned. "You'll succeed, whether you
deal with men or women, though the women will bring out all your mettle,
I warrant. Yes, truth, I am Stefan."

"I was to give this paper to you."

The soldier opened it and read it, not without some difficulty, it
seemed.

"Who gave you this?"

"A man, I know no more of him."

"Good. Which way lies your home?"

"On the road toward Breslen."

"Good again. Get you home quickly, and look you, my lad, should any
ask what errand you have been on this morning, be a fool and forget.
If your memory's too good, it's like enough some friend of mine will
be spoiling those fine lungs of yours. Hast ever heard a man try to
shout with a sword thrust through him?"

"No, sir."

"I have," Stefan answered. "It's a fearsome sound, like a whisper
bubbling up through water. I'd be sorry to hear it from you. Off with
you."

Stefan watched the boy out of the street, then he went in, and striking
a match, burnt the paper, scattering the charred fragments on the
hearth.

"Here's news that's an excuse for wine," he said, pouring out a liberal
draught into the tankard. "A man gets rusty as an old lock with waiting.
This will grease the action somewhat."

"It's early hours for such refreshment," said a voice at the door.

Stefan winked one eye over the rim of the tankard at the intruder, but
did not pause in his drinking until three parts of the liquid was gone.
Then he drew the back of his hand across his beard and mustache and
sighed with satisfaction. "Never too early to drink thanks for good
tidings, Monsieur Francois."

The Frenchman, with a quick glance round the room, stepped in, a smile
upon his lips. He had told his master more than once that this servant
of Captain Ellerey's was a drunkard and a fool, and that little was
to be got out of him because nothing was ever trusted to him.


"And what are the good tidings," he asked.

"You'll be laughing at me, because you don't understand my disease,
Monsieur Francois. I hate women."

"Hate them! _Ma foi_! Then is your disease very lamentable."

"Well, there it is--I hate them," said Stefan, "but there was one woman
who would not hate me, do what I would. She was a bonny wench, so far
as I am a judge, of bigger girth than most you meet, and with an arm
of muscle to appeal to a soldier like me. At the street corner she'd
wait awhile to see me pass, and she'd remark on the cut of my features
and the stalwart looks of these legs of mine. I took no notice, but
her love was proof against a trifle of that kind. She'd 'make a husband
of me some day,' she said, and those that heard her told me the saying.
There's a vein of superstition in my composition, and for months past
I've been expecting her to keep her word. When a woman's set upon a
matter, where's the hole a man may find safety in? Tell me that,
Monsieur Francois."

The Frenchman shrugged his shoulders, thinking what a fool his companion
was.

"This morning there comes a lad looking up and down the street to find
me, and he says to me, 'Where lives Stefan, he who is servant to that
Captain Ellerey we hear so much about?' And I answers cunningly, knowing
the value of caution in such times as these. At last I admit that I
am, and he says, 'There's a fat woman'--that's what he called her,
Monsieur Francois--'There's a fat woman you're afraid of because she's
going to marry you.' I sweated from every hole in my skin, thinking
the time had come. Then says he: 'You needn't be afraid any more. She
was married yesterday to a timber-cutter from Breslen way, and he'll
tame her fast enough like you might a hungry sparrow in winter time.'
Good tidings, Monsieur Francois, believe me, though I doubt the taming
and pity the woodcutter. Why, the muscles in her arm wouldn't blush
to be seen by the side of mine, and a woodcutter would have to cut
deep into the forest before muscles stood out like these." And with
a great laugh Stefan bared his brawny arms for the Frenchman's
inspection.

"Very beautiful," said Francois.

"I believe you. Too good to waste in fondling a woman. Ugh! What brings
you so early to the Western Gate?"

"I have a message for the Captain."

"Ah, from Monsieur De Froilette?"

"I only carry messages for my master."

"I'll deliver it. Tell me quickly, and you shall taste a drop of real
Burgundy, to keep the morning air out of your return journey."

"I was to tell it to the Captain personally."

"What!" thundered Stefan, "am I not to be trusted, then?"

"You know the value of caution in these times," said Francois, "you
spoke of it just now. Monsieur De Froilette is over-cautious, Stefan;
that is the truth."

"It is a weakness of all masters," the soldier replied, "and so they
overreach themselves. Give me a little confidence, and I am content,
but distrust me, and my ears are ever on the stretch to catch news
which I may use to my advantage. But I have no quarrel with you. The
Captain is out, you must await his return, and while you wait you shall
taste his Burgundy."

"Out! So early!"

"Oh, he's in love, I think, for he walks under the stars often, and
on his return sighs like a gathering storm. I hear things, Monsieur
Francois. I know."

The wily Frenchman nodded sympathetically.

"Perhaps I might find a market for what you know."

"That's been in my mind these many days," Stefan answered. "It's the
first word that sticks in my throat. I've never let out secrets before,
maybe because no man has told me any. Come, the wine may loosen my
tongue."

He took two tankards and a key from the shelf, and led the way along
a passage. The Frenchman followed eagerly, laughing at his companion's
simplicity. It would be strange if Stefan could not tell him some news
which would be useful to Monsieur De Froilette.

"You have your wine in safe keeping," he said, as Stefan went down
into a cellar, bidding Francois to wait until he had struck a light.

"Would you have us keep it in the doorway for every thirsty throat in
Sturatzberg? Come down now. Sit you on that empty barrel there. Here's
wine should make you dream to your heart's content. The Captain will
think that it has leaked somewhat. Scurvy treatment, Monsieur Francois,
to have such wine in hiding and never ask a soldier comrade to pass
an opinion. So we help ourselves."

"To his wine and to his secrets, eh?"

Stefan drowned his loud laughter in a copious draught, while Francois
sipped with the air of a connoisseur.

"Fit for a king's palate," he murmured.

"Say rather for the gods. Nectar, monsieur, nectar! My secrets bubble
to my tongue as the wine bubbles to the surface."

"Turn them into good money, Stefan. After all, what is this English
Captain to you?"

The soldier set down his tankard and lowered his voice into a
confidential whisper.

"There are some who take me for a fool," he said, coming nearer to his
companion. "The Captain did not return last night, and there have been
watchers in the street."

"Watchers? Go on, Stefan, what else?" said the Frenchman, eagerly.

"Aye, I saw one draw back a blind in the house opposite not an hour
ago. What do you make of that, Monsieur Francois?"

The answer was a smothered gurgle, for a cloth had been suddenly tied
across the Frenchman's mouth. It was in vain that he tried to free
himself. He was no match against the muscles Stefan had shown him a
little while ago; and before he had fully realized what had happened,
he was bound, gagged, and lying on his back on the floor.

"You'll have ample time to find out how much of a fool I am, Monsieur
Francois," said Stefan, "for unless a miracle should happen you'll be
sharp set for a meal before you leave here. Never look so solemn, man;
you won't die. I'll send and release you as soon as it is safe to do
so; and if it will save your character I'll let your master in the
Altstrasse know that you did your best to carry out his instructions
and make a fool of me. Should you be able to drag yourself about
presently you have my full permission to hold your mouth under any tap
there in the cellar, and we'll never ask for payment of the score."
And drinking the wine which remained in his own tankard and also in
the Frenchman's he left the cellar, locking the door after him.

A few minutes later he walked down the street with a self-satisfied
smile, a strapped-up bundle under his arm, and was soon lost to view
in the lower purlieus of the city.

That night seven horsemen left Sturatzberg, riding singly, and not all
by the same gate. But, by whichever gate they left, they halted when
they had ridden out of sight, and turned aside to reach the Breslen
road. The last to go was Stefan. He went by the Southern Gate, and
once free of the city, urged his horse forward toward the forest which
lies between Breslen and Sturatzberg.



CHAPTER XL

IN THE BOIS



The Bois lay without the Northern Gate. The work of planting gardens
and cutting carriage roads through the nearer stretches of the forest
which touched the city on this side was due to Ferdinand I, whose
statue stood in the Grande Place, the only useful action of which he
had ever been guilty, it was said.

Early in the morning men riding in the Bois had inquired of one another
whether the story concerning Baron Petrescu were true. One had heard
this, another that. It was whispered that the Baron had been killed
in a duel by a member of the British Embassy, who had also been
seriously wounded; and again, that he had wounded his adversary and
had then been nearly killed by his adversary's partisans. Then one man
inquired the name of the woman and another where the duel had been
fought, for there was a law against duelling, although it was seldom
enforced. The true story did not become public property, but it was
presently known that the Baron's wound was a slight affair after all,
and that the duel had not been fought with a member of the Embassy.
Captain Ward had certainly been injured, but that was the result of
an accident; they had Dr. Goldberg's word for it. It was then that the
younger wiseacres smiled. Baron Petrescu was an easy lover, and had
been punished for some indiscretion. Some townsman, perhaps, with the
luck on his side, had got the better of the master of fence. No wonder
the Baron wished to keep the matter quiet. Lord Cloverton knew the
true story. Captain Ward had sent to him directly Dr. Goldberg had got
him home, and the Ambassador shut himself in his room to consider his
course of action. After his failure to entrap Queen Elena last night,
and the King's anger consequent upon his accusation, his position was
an extremely difficult one. The Queen had outwitted him, but the fact
remained that Captain Ellerey was not to be found at his lodging this
morning. He had ascertained this fact. There was no doubt that Ellerey
had some understanding with her Majesty, and might have already left
the city on his mission. The token might have been changed at the last
moment. He had failed to arouse the King's suspicion through the Queen,
but the interests at stake demanded instant action, and another method
must be used. So Lord Cloverton went to the King and again apologized
for the mistake his zeal had led him into. Her Majesty had, of course,
proved how innocent her audience with Captain Ellerey had been, but
the fact remained that Ellerey was the moving spirit in a rebellion.
The sooner means were taken to obtain possession of his person the
better. In this manner the Ambassador quickly made his peace, and
messengers galloped hastily through the city from the palace.

The night had been a sleepless one for Frina Mavrodin. From the moment
she had seen those figures descending the stairs, her thoughts had
been fixed in one channel. She knew the Baron's reputation as a
swordsman, and her heart went with the man who had met his insult with
so swift a demand for retribution. The cause to which she was attached,
for which she was prepared to squander her wealth, to give her life
even were that necessary, had compelled her companionship with this
adventurous Englishman. She had met him in a spirit of raillery,
measuring her woman's wit and beauty against his brusqueness, and his
resourcefulness and calm determination had won her admiration. The
cause was altogether forgotten sometimes in the mere pleasure she had
in being with him. He was not as other men, quick with a compliment,
ever ready to please. Not a word of love had he spoken to her, yet his
eyes had always sought her first in the throng, whether it were in the
Bois or at Court, and, having found her, he looked no further. If she
indulged in dreams sometimes, they were shadowy visions, pleasant
enough, but taking no distinct shape, demanding no definite
consideration.

The awakening had come when Princess Maritza had spoken of him. She
had said little, but Frina had read the deeper meaning underneath her
words. As a Princess, Maritza had watched the man's career, believing
that one day he might prove useful to her cause; but as a woman she
had also remembered the circumstances of their meeting, and had
treasured them in her heart. Only with this discovery had Frina Mavrodin
become fully conscious of all Captain Ellerey's companionship meant
to her. The flood-gates were suddenly opened, and the rushing torrent
of her emotions threatened to sweep away all thought of the cause she
had worked for, and loved, and believed in. Almost had she told him
her secret to-night by her eager questions, and the blood mounted to
her cheeks as she remembered. How would he have answered her had he
not been summoned to audience with the Queen? Leaning at the open
window, looking at the heavy clouds which presently obscured the moon,
she passed a night of restless anxiety. Somewhere, perhaps very near
her, the man she loved had faced death to-night, calmly, fearlessly;
even now he might be lying with sightless eyes toward the coming day,
the new day which was so long in coming.

It came at last, and with her eyes bathed to remove all traces of the
night's vigil, she went as usual to breakfast with the Princess, who
was always an early riser. Since the night they had spoken of Captain
Ellerey there had arisen a subtle difference in their relations toward
each other. It hardly amounted to restraint, but the Countess was more
reserved, and the Princess talked little of her hopes and plans. She
made more show of taking her companion into her confidence, but told
her less. For this difference, perhaps, Frina was chiefly responsible.
Maritza felt that she had grown lukewarm, not to her personally, but
toward the cause which took so few and such trifling steps toward its
end. She did not wonder at it. No day passed in which she herself had
not a period of despair, a passionate longing to drive things to a
speedy conclusion, though the end brought failure. To her, her cause
was paramount, and she would not allow herself to think of Desmond
Ellerey apart from it; yet when Frina had in a manner claimed him, she
remembered that morning on the downs, every hue of land and sky, every
sound that had sung in her ears, every perfume the air held, and the
centre of all was this man, who seemed then to be her possession. He
had come to her country, not at her bidding, perhaps, but at her
suggestion surely, and she had a right to his allegiance. It was a
woman's argument, and a weak one, yet her heart seemed to excuse her.

They were still at breakfast when Dumitru was ushered in.

"Pardon, Princess, but I have news--important news. It could not wait."

"You are welcome, good Dumitru. Does the news mean action? Such is the
only news I long for now."

"Yes," was the answer. "This English Captain is about to move. Whether
he has the token or not I do not know, but Baron Petrescu believes he
has. Last night he picked a quarrel with him, and they fought, and--"
"Fool that he is!" exclaimed the Princess, starting from her seat.
"Does not the Baron know that I had work for this Englishman? and now
he has killed or maimed him in a useless quarrel."

"But it was not so, Princess; it was the Baron who fell."

Frina Mavrodin had also risen from the table, her hands clasped firmly
together in her excitement, and a little sigh of relief echoed Dumitru's
words.

"A new experience for Baron Petrescu," she said calmly.

"Ah, Countess, this Englishman is a devil," the man went on rapidly.
"I had it from one who watched the fight. There was little moon, and
the light was dancing and treacherous. The Baron used all the art which
before has brought death when he willed, but this English Captain cared
not. He knew all the Baron's art, and besides something which the Baron
knew not. The Baron would have been killed had not those who were
watching saved him."

"They interfered?" said the Princess.

"Yes, to save the Baron."

"They did not stop at that?" said the Countess eagerly. "Tell me what
happened."

"Have I not said he is a devil?" answered Dumitru. "They rushed upon
him and he fought them all. A sword thrust here, a blow with his fist
there, a savage breaking through them, and he escaped--unhurt."

"Splendid!" exclaimed Frina, her face aglow.

"Splendid, Frina? Is not the Baron our friend?" Yet there was a glow in
Maritza's eyes, too.

"And is not Captain Ellerey the man you have work for? You should
rejoice."

The Princess looked at her for a moment, and then she smiled. "Yes,
it was splendid, as you say. What more, Dumitru?"

"The friend of the Englishman was killed, I think. He was of the
Embassy. There will be much questioning over the affair."

"The Baron's folly is likely to ruin us," said the Princess.

"There is still Captain Ellerey," said Frina.

Dumitru looked at the Princess, the slightest flicker in his eyes
attracting her attention.

"I am not sure the other man is dead," he said. "Might I suggest that
the Countess should drive as usual, and hear what is said in the Bois?
Then to-night we can plan and arrange. The time has surely come."

"Will you, Frina?"

"I will, and you may rest assured that I will have the whole story by
to-night."

When she had left the room Princess Maritza turned hastily.

"What more, Dumitru?"

"Much more, Princess; but it is only for your ears."

Frina Mavrodin had sped along the corridor so swiftly that she did not
hear the door locked after her to prevent her sudden return or the
intrusion of others. For a while she had no thought but a half-barbaric
satisfaction that Baron Petrescu had justly suffered for his unprovoked
insult; but this was succeeded by fears for Ellerey's safety. He had
escaped last night, but he had other enemies besides those who had
attempted to assassinate him in the garden-more dangerous enemies,
perhaps. She determined to know nothing, to school her face to
indifference, while she eagerly learned all she could.

She lunched with a friend, the wife of a member of the Austrian Embassy
who had often quite unconsciously given her valuable information, but
she could add nothing to her knowledge to-day. She knew Baron Petrescu
had fought a duel and had been wounded, but she did not know who his
opponent was. Later, in the Bois, Frina heard many versions of the
story, but not in one of them was Captain Ellerey's name mentioned.
She did not understand it. There was some undercurrent of intrigue
going on of which she was ignorant. Her carriage was drawn up to the
side of the road, where she was holding a small court of pedestrians,
when she caught sight of Lord Cloverton. It was seldom that he walked
in the Bois, but that he should be there in confidential colloquy with
Monsieur De Froilette was nothing short of marvellous.

Lord Cloverton saw the Countess, and stopped a little distance away.
He wanted to speak to her, but had no desire that De Froilette should
be a third at the interview.

"I am exceedingly obliged to you, monsieur," he said to his companion.
"Any information respecting Captain Ellerey's whereabouts just now
will be of immense advantage to me--that is, to the country. He is one
of those reckless young men who, while winning our admiration, do not
blind us to the fact that they are dangerous."

"Ah, I have admired him and seen the danger for a long time," De
Froilette answered. "The commercial interests I have in this country
force me to keep pace with its politics. I am not an expert, and it
is sometimes very difficult."

"I can quite believe it," said the Ambassador, looking, however,
wonderfully incredulous. "I do not fancy I have ever heard in which
direction your commercial interests lie."

"Timber, my lord."

"A profitable business."

"I hope so in the future. At present there is too much unrest. With
the Princess Maritza in Sturatzberg--"

"In that I think you are mistaken, monsieur."

"No, my lord. Mine was trusted information. Through the same channel
I shall learn where Captain Ellerey is."

"A spy, monsieur?"

"He would be hurt to hear himself called so. He is a servant of mine,
interested in my business, and a valuable fellow. He has known Captain
Ellerey's movements for months past, and even now, I warrant, is at
his heels. You shall hear from me, my lord, the moment he returns."

"A thousand thanks, monsieur; you will place me under an obligation.
And the value of the news will depend on the state of the timber trade,"
he added to himself as he turned away. "Something has frightened
Monsieur De Froilette; I wonder what it is."

Joining the little crowd round the Countess Mavrodin, he entered into
the conversation with the heartiness of a man who hasn't a care in the
world; and one by one the others withdrew, it was so evident that the
Ambassador intended to remain. Frina Mavrodin desired nothing better.
Lord Cloverton could doubtless tell her the truth, and although she
did not for one moment expect him to do so, she thought she could
probably draw it from him with the help of the knowledge she already
possessed.

"My horses are getting rather restive, they have been standing so long.
Will you drive with me, Lord Cloverton?"

He thanked her and got in beside her.

"One seldom sees you in the Bois," she said.

"No. I will be honest. I sometimes sleep in the afternoon, Countess."

"And to-day?" she queried, with a laugh. "To-day business brought me.
I hoped to see you."

"Surely you flatter me. Since when have you considered me capable of
being business-like?"

"I am all seriousness, Countess. Politics in Sturatzberg are as dried
wood stacked ready for burning, and a torch is already in the midst
of it. Until now the torch has been moved hither and thither, giving
the wood no time to catch; but now I fear the flame is held steadily.
I seem to hear the first sounds of the crackling."

"I seem to have heard the beginning often," she answered, "but a swift
hand has always saved the situation."

"The danger has never been so imminent as it is now, Countess."

"Are you not still in Sturatzberg to cope with the danger?" she asked,
turning to him with a radiant smile. "I stand alone, Countess; what
can one man do? I wonder whether you can credit me with
disinterestedness, whether you can believe that I have the welfare of
this country at heart while carrying out the policy of my own?"

"Is not that the position of every Ambassador?"

"Nominally, perhaps. I was asking you to believe something more definite
in my case," he returned. "Do I ask too much? In a measure, you and
I are drawn together in this crisis. We should be allies."

"Are my poor wits of service either way?"

"A woman is always a valuable ally, and the Countess Mavrodin knows
her power. No, I am beyond turning pretty speeches to-day," he went
on quickly; "the times are too serious for them. You know, Countess,
what occurred last night?"

"I left the palace somewhat early," she said; "but there was an air
of constraint about. What caused it, Lord Cloverton?"

"I was referring to Baron Petrescu's affair. No one has talked of
anything else to-day."

"And you can tell me the truth of it," she exclaimed. "I am glad. I
have heard many stories since I entered the Bois."

"I was expecting to hear the real truth from you," said the Ambassador,
fixing his eyes upon her.

"From me! Am I the wife of some _bourgeois_ in the city to inflame the
Baron's susceptibilities into indiscretion? It is some such tale I
have heard."

"But which you knew to be untrue, Countess."

"I have thought more highly of Baron Petrescu than that, I admit."

"Naturally, seeing that Captain Ellerey is not a _bourgeois_ of the
city, and has no wife as far as I know. My young countryman is no
boaster beyond his worth, it would seem. The Baron has found his match."

"Is that the truth of it?" she asked innocently.

"I congratulate you upon your champion," returned the Ambassador. "You
look surprised, Countess; but in the inner circle of such a Court as
we have here in Sturatzberg such secrets will find a tongue."

"You have changed your serious mood, my lord, it appears, and I am at
a loss to understand the pleasantry."

"Believe me, Countess, I was never more serious. Something of the
Baron's political leanings are known to his Majesty, and the affair
has assumed a political significance in his eyes. The law has lain
dormant, it is true, but duelling is an offence against the crown, and
the King has seen fit to set the law in motion. Captain Ellerey is
sought for in Sturatzberg. I would do my countryman, and you, a service
if I could."

"How am I concerned? I may thank you for your courtesy if you will
tell me that."

"Is it not true that you were the cause of this quarrel?"

"It is absolutely false."

"Stay, Countess, it may be that you are unaware of the fact, but I
have the best reason for knowing that such is the case."

"Captain Ellerey had no cause to draw sword on my behalf, Lord
Cloverton; neither of his own wish, nor at my bidding, did he do it."

"Strange," mused the Ambassador. "It is evident that he thought of
only one person last night. He left instructions with his second that
you were to be immediately informed if any harm befell him. He left
no other message or remembrance to anyone."

She was not sufficient mistress of herself to prevent the Ambassador
noting that the information was pleasant to her.

"It may have been presumption on his part," he went on slowly; "still
such thought can hardly be without some interest for you. No doubt you
would render him a service if you could."

"My friendship would prompt me to do so."

"Then urge him, Countess, to withdraw from Sturatzberg. The torch now
put to the dried wood is in his hand. What is he to me? Nothing; but
I would save him if I could. What he is to you, I do not know. I am
not skilled with women; but for your country's sake urge his departure.
It must be done promptly, for I warn you the fire has already caught
hold, and not all, even now, shall escape the burning."

"Your appeal to my patriotism might stir me, Lord Cloverton, did I
know where to find Captain Ellerey."

"In that, Countess, I cannot help you. I had hoped you would know.
Have I your permission to stop the carriage?" She inclined her head.
They had returned close to the spot from which they had started. There
were fewer carriages in the Bois, and hardly any pedestrians now. Lord
Cloverton had, however, seen a man standing close to the roadway, and
he beckoned him to the carriage.

"What news?" he asked sharply.

"Every gate is closely watched, my lord. By the King's orders Captain
Ellerey is to be stopped if he attempts to leave the city."

"I fear we are too late to render any service," said the Ambassador,
turning to the Countess. "It is a pity. The hand that holds the torch
can hardly escape."

"It is not thought that the Captain has already left, but all efforts
to find him have failed," said the man, and then at a sign from Lord
Cloverton he withdrew.

"I believe we are allies at heart, Countess; it is a pity we have no
power to act."

"Perhaps you exaggerate the danger."

"I fear not," he answered, as he stepped from the carriage. "I foresee
evil days for Sturatzberg. Good-day, Countess; if I can save the
situation, it must be by the sacrifice of my countryman, I fear. It
is a pity."

He stood bareheaded until the carriage had driven away, and then went
quickly toward the Embassy. If Frina Mavrodin knew where Captain Ellerey
was, as Lord Cloverton was convinced she did, she would warn him.
Whatever interests Ellerey had at heart, he would not chance disaster
by attempting to leave the city until the watch upon the gates was
relaxed to some extent. There must, therefore, be delay in whatever
plot was in hand, and a few days now were of priceless value.

Politics had little place in Frina Mavrodin's thoughts as she drove
homeward through the city. She had denied that Desmond Ellerey had
drawn sword in her cause, and yet might he not have done so after all?
What she had seen might only have been the end of a quarrel. Baron
Petrescu may have spoken some light word concerning her which Ellerey
had resented. If Lord Cloverton had spoken the truth, Ellerey's last
thought had been of her. She was quite content that her fair fame
should rest in his keeping. Now he was in danger. Whatever Lord
Cloverton's aims might be, one thing was certain--the city gates were
closed against Ellerey's departure. Without warning he would almost
certainly be taken. How could she help him?

There was confusion at her door when the carriage stopped. Servants
were in the hall expectantly awaiting her.

"What is it?" she asked.

"In your absence, Countess, we were powerless," answered her major-domo,
pale even now with indignation. "The order was imperative."

"What order?"

"The order to search the house."

The Countess started, but was self-possessed again in a moment. Not
all her servants knew of the identity of the Princess.

"For whom were they looking?"

"For an English Captain named Ellerey," was the answer. "I said that
no such person visited here at any time, but they would not believe
me, and searched the whole house."

"And found--"

"No one, Countess."

The man was wise; he said no more before the other servants.

"I will complain to his Majesty," Frina answered, and then she went
quickly to the apartments occupied by the Princess Maritza. Hannah met
her on the threshold. "Has she not returned, my lady?"

"Where is she? How did she have warning?" asked Frina.

"She had gone long before. She went without a word to me. When they
came asking for some Englishman, I had just wit enough to answer that
I was your ladyship's servant, and knew no Englishman; but it was hard
work not to ask them what had become of my Princess."

"And Dumitru?"

"Gone, gone. I always took him for a cut-throat with that naked knife
hidden in his shirt. I believe he has made away with her."

"Peace, woman. Say nothing. A word may ruin her. You can go."

"But, my lady--"

"You can go, I say."

There was a tone in the command that brooked no disobedience. The woman
left the room hastily, leaving the Countess alone.

Alone. A wild rush of thoughts overwhelmed her. The hope and joy that
had budded in her heart were suddenly blighted. The world seemed to
slip away from her, leaving her alone indeed.



CHAPTER XII

GRIGOSIE



The Toison d'Or was an ancient inn standing back from the Bergenstrasse
and reached by a narrow court. It did not advertise itself, was not
easily found, and its frequenters were few. Those who used it seemed
to use it often, for the landlord welcomed them like old friends. They
were of the poorer sort, and the want of comfort in the place did not
disturb them; perhaps the quality of the liquor made amends.

It presented a narrow front to the court, the great walls on either
side appeared to have squeezed it. The two little windows above, the
signboard flat against the wall, and the single door rather suggested
a face; and the door, out of the perpendicular, looked strangely like
a mouth awry uttering a cry of pain. The building was deep, however,
and there was a long, narrow, low-pitched room at the rear, of which
all the frequenters of the place were not aware. This room, even in
broad daylight, was dim, and it grew dark there early. It was still
light in the wider streets of the city, but in this room a candle was
burning on the corner of a table, beside which a man sat. He had pushed
back the remains of a meal, and his fingers played reflectively with
the tankard which the landlord had replenished a few moments before.

The landlord had asked no questions, had attempted no conversation.
When Desmond Ellerey had entered and called for liquor, he had made
a sign to the landlord as he had been instructed, and which was
perfectly understood. Two men were drinking in the doorway at the time,
and when they had gone the landlord led Ellerey to the long room.

"There will be inquiries for me, landlord. Whoever gives the sign bring
him in at once, but no one else, mind."

The landlord nodded.

"Let me have food and drink. I care not what so there is plenty of it.
I have not broken fast since yesterday."

Throwing aside one cloak which he carried over his arm, and loosening
the one he wore, Ellerey disclosed the fact that he was well armed,
and booted and spurred for a journey. Earlier in the day Stefan had
met him at a tavern in the city, bringing these clothes with him as
directed in the note which the boy had delivered. The remains of the
Court uniform which he had worn last night had been hidden away, and
there was nothing now in Ellerey's dress to mark him as a King's
officer.

He had already waited three hours, or more, and began to grow impatient.
The men who had been chosen for this desperate service were already
on their way to the place of rendezvous, and men of this description
were wont to fret at delay and inactivity. He wanted to be away himself,
and until he had the Queen's token safely in his possession he could
not put aside his fears that it would not come, that something had
happened to prevent her sending it. The King's sudden interruption
last night might have forced her to change her plans, might possibly
have caused her to sacrifice him to save herself. At the best, delay
must be dangerous, and he chafed at his enforced idleness, which made
the minutes drag.

At last the door opened and a man entered. It was the same man who had
come to summon him to the audience last night. "You are welcome,"
Ellerey said. "I began to think some circumstance had intervened."

"We have only just escaped such a calamity," was the answer. "By some
means Lord Cloverton had received information of our plans. In the
presence of the King, immediately after your departure, he accused her
Majesty of trafficking with the brigands in the hills, and challenged
her to show the bracelet. It was fortunate that the Queen could do so,
and indignantly demand apology. The first move is much in our favor,
for the accusation made the King extremely angry, and the British
Ambassador is in ill favor to-day. His hands are tied for a little
while, at any rate."

"That I would believe if I saw the knotted cords about his wrists, but
not otherwise," Ellerey answered. "My worthy countryman is not so
easily beaten."

"It is true her Majesty bid me warn you, but without the King what can
he do?"

"He is capable of anything, and has the English vice, or virtue--it
depends on the point of view--of never knowing when he has got the
worst of it."

"Her Majesty is fortunate in also having an Englishman for her
messenger."

"Thank you, monsieur. I think there is something of the same spirit
in me."

"There is the token, Captain Ellerey," and the man handed him a small
sealed box. "The streets are yet full, so it would be wise to delay
your departure for a while. Her Majesty also bid me give you this, an
earnest of what shall fall to the share of her successful messenger."

In Ellerey's palm lay a ring, the jewel in it catching light even from
the feeble ray of the candle. For one moment Ellerey was disposed to
refuse the gift until he had earned it, the independence of the
Englishman rising in him; but a brief hesitation gave the spirit of
the adventurer opportunity to rise uppermost. He might fail, and for
his life be compelled to leave Sturatzberg. It would be some consolation
not to go altogether empty-handed.

"I thank her Majesty," he said. "I shall keep it as a key to win her
further favor should I deserve it."

"Then I will leave you, Captain Ellerey. Fortune smile on you and on
the cause."

As the door closed upon his visitor, Ellerey secured the sealed box
and the ring about his person in such a fashion that the treasure lay
close to the skin. While life was in him no one should rob him of it.
Then he sat down to possess his soul in patience until the streets
should grow dark enough and empty enough for his departure.

It was market day, and he had elected to go by the Southern Gate at
the hour when many would be leaving the city on their homeward journey.
He had no desire to be recognized, and he hoped to pass unnoticed in
the crowd. Stefan had arranged to have his horse waiting for him at
a forester's cottage off the Breslen road, a mile from the city. By
making the meeting-place in the forest toward Breslen, precaution was
taken that should riders be seen going in this direction their real
destination would never be suspected. The brigands lay in the mountains
near the Drekner pass, in exactly the opposite direction to Breslen,
and a wide detour round Sturatzberg would have to be accomplished when
the united band set out in earnest upon its expedition. The token was
at last in his possession, his comrades awaited him, and Ellerey was
anxious to be gone. But he was not the man to fail by being too
precipitate. None knew better the value of deliberate caution, and
with Lord Cloverton fully alive to the danger, there might be many
obstacles to face which had not entered into his calculations. So
Ellerey sat there waiting, while the candle burnt lower, casting, as
the room darkened, a sharper outline of his figure upon the wall.

"Time, surely, now!" he exclaimed at last, starting to his feet.
"Landlord."

The door opened so suddenly that the handle must have been turned even
as Ellerey shouted. But it was not the landlord who entered. Two figures
came in swiftly and closed the door.

"Pardon, Captain Ellerey."

"Well, sirs, what would you with me? I have little time to waste. I
have already called the landlord to pay my reckoning," and as he spoke
Ellerey raised the candle above his head to see what manner of men his
visitors were.

"Friends, Captain," said the foremost of the two, making the same sign
which had gained admittance for the bearer of the token.

He was a man of set features with a pair of keen eyes deeply sunken.
His figure was lithe and sinewy, his movements quick and not ungraceful.
His dress was of the better peasant class, a short knife was sheathed
in his girdle, and one hand rested lightly on the hilt of it as he
stood motionless under the Captain's scrutiny. He might have been a
forester. His companion stood silently in the shadows behind him.

"By that sign you should know the business I have in hand, and that
I have no time to waste in words."

"True, Captain. We are from her Majesty, and know that the token has
been delivered into your keeping here to-night. You have comrades
waiting for you, but too few, such is the Queen's opinion, and she bid
us join your company."

"I do not like the arrangement," Ellerey answered. "My comrades are
picked men that I know the muscles of. I know nothing of you."

"It's a poor welcome, Captain, but it must serve. I have other news
for you which may increase our value."

"You run on too fast, my friend," said Ellerey. "Your coming at this
eleventh hour ill fits with my precaution."

"We have horses without the city, Captain; we are not ill conditioned
for the enterprise."

"You may pass muster for a man. What is your name?"

"Anton."

"You have muscle enough to strike a good blow on occasion, but I know
naught of your courage. And your companion there, what of him? Step
into the light and let me look at you. How are you called?"

"Grigosie, if it please you, Captain."

He stepped out of the shadow as he spoke, and with his arms folded
across his breast, threw back his head defiantly, as though such
inspection were little to his taste. He was a lad in figure and in
voice. His face was innocent of even the down of dawning manhood. His
limbs were clean cut and supple, but they looked too young for stern
endurance. His dress was similar to his companion's save that it was
green in color, and he wore a cap of green drawn down to his brows.

"You're a good-looking boy enough," laughed Ellerey, "but Heaven forgive
her Majesty. Does she think I am bent on some summer picnic that she
sends a child to bear me company?"

"We are wont to go together, Captain. Grigosie is a good scout, and
I warrant is likely to prove useful," said Anton.

"For cooking and bedmaking maybe. We shall have little opportunity for
either one or the other," [illustration: "YOU WILL PARDON ME COUNTESS!"]
Blank Page "Nor should I do either of them except of my own will,"
said the lad.

"A stroke or two of the whip would make you tell a different tale,"
said Ellerey; "and you may thank your lucky fortune that I will not
take you, for the whip would certainly follow."

"I have heard of Captain Ellerey," said the boy, "but never that he
was a bully."

Ellerey looked at him quizzically.

"Well, lad, I did not mean to hurt your feelings. You do not lack
courage, and you'll grow into a stout man for rough work some day. In
this expedition I cannot use you."

"I can use a sword and am a master of fence, and the sword is not the
only weapon which victory hangs upon."

"Peace, Grigosie; I will give the Captain an excellent reason for
taking you."

"Peace, yourself, Anton. Am I to be taken out of charity? Set me to
prove my worth, Captain."

"I have no time, lad," said Ellerey, picking up his cloak. "Anton may
come since we are few, but---"

"There is a fly on the wall, Captain."

"Well, what of it? You are a strange lad."

"It is gone, I warrant; but in case I have missed--darkness."

Two revolver shots cracked in quick succession as he spoke, and the
room was in darkness. Then the landlord rushed in.

"The candle is out; light it again, landlord," said the boy, and then
when it had burnt up he pointed with the revolver to the spot where
the fly had been and where now there was a hole. "I do not think I
missed."

"Leave us, landlord," said Ellerey. "It was the deciding of a foolish
boast."

The lad slipped the revolver into his pocket again and refolded his
arms.

"That was a foolish jest, youngster," Ellerey said. "Do you think such
boastfulness fits you for such work as ours?"

"There are few who could have done it," was the answer.

"True."

"Such precision might serve you were your enemies three to one."

"True again."

"Then ask me to go with you," was the prompt reply.

"May I not even take you out of charity?"

The lad shook his head with a smile, and there was something very
winning in his smile.

"Very well. Will you come with me?" asked Ellerey.

"To the death."

"Your hand on that bargain."

"I'll earn the grip of comradeship before I take it, Captain. Until
then it is for you to order, be it to cooking or to bedmaking."

"You'll serve for sport and as a relief to monotony, if for nothing
else," said Ellerey. "Orders, then. We must be starting."

"You have not heard my further news," said Anton. "It is not time to
start yet."

Ellerey turned upon him angrily. Was his authority so soon to be
questioned?

"Every gate is closed against Captain Ellerey by the King's orders,"
said Anton. "It has been so since noon to-day."

"Is the scent so hot already?"

"We shall leave the city, but not yet. The lad here will show us the
way," Anton answered. "You see I am to be of some service quickly,
Captain," said Grigosie. "Trust me. My way is clear enough, and no
King's order has power to bar it. We must wait a little. I have some
money in my pouch; may I pay for liquor?"

"You're doing me good, youngster," laughed Ellerey. "Order your drinks,
and tell me who they were who fathered and mothered you that you have
such wit. You are not fashioned after the usual breed in Wallaria."

"I am of the pure breed which is being forgotten in the bastard race.
I am of the old stock reared without the city walls. Anton can answer
for me."

"That I can."

The drinks were brought, but the lad drank sparingly. Ellerey liked
him none the worse for that. If wine were found upon the journey, one
sober comrade, though he were a lad, might be more profitable than
half a dozen boasters. The boy talked brightly, and his air of
boastfulness fell from him. There was a tone of deference to the Captain
in his manner which sat gracefully on his young shoulders.

"Were it not that they brought your favor, I should regret the fly and
the candle," he said presently. "I crave your pardon."

"Say no more of it. We'll give you better marks before long, maybe."

"You carry two cloaks, Captain. How is that?"

"One my own, one I borrowed this morning. I am going to leave it with
the landlord to be returned."

"Wear it until we are free of the city. It may conceal you from some
prying eyes. I warrant you are well looked for to-night."

"Have we far to travel to this exit of yours?"

"Some distance, and by narrow ways. If there should be prying eyes we
must close them quickly. We want no shouts to raise a rabble. Is it
not time, Anton?"

"Yes, the gates have been closed for half an hour."

"Come, then," said the lad. "Must we go through the court?"

"There is no other way," Anton answered.

"Then Captain, will you permit that Anton and I go first?" said
Grigosie. "Follow close upon our heels; but should we stop, do not
you; overtake us and push us roughly aside, and we will overtake you
again in a moment. Your pardon that I seem to lead in this matter, but
I know the road we must take."

Ellerey returned a gruff assent to the arrangement. He had looked into
the boy's eyes and seen honesty there, but he was not going to walk
carelessly, for all that.

The inn was empty, so was the court, and there were few people abroad
in the Bergenstrasse. Grigosie and Anton, leading the way by scarce
a dozen paces, turned almost directly from the main thoroughfare into
a side street, and had soon turned to left and right so often that
Ellerey would hardly have found his way back to the Toison d'Or. Not
once did they stop, and if they looked back to see that their companion
was following them, Ellerey was not aware of the fact. He kept close
upon their heels, ready to stand on the defensive at the first sign
of treachery, but he took little notice of where they led him.

Suddenly a street corner struck him as familiar, and the next moment
the truth flashed upon him. It was the street he had traversed last
night. At the bottom there they had met Baron Petrescu. Even now the
light was dimly burning in the upper window as it had been then.
Grigosie and Anton stopped, but when Ellerey reached them he did not
push them aside; he stopped, too. "And now which way?" he asked.

"Toward the light yonder," Grigosie answered.

"My lad, there is a point beyond which I trust no one," said Ellerey.
"I know that light."

"It marks our point of safety."

"Yours, perhaps; not mine."

"I do not understand, Captain."

"If you are innocent, how should you? If you are false, why should
you? Last night I had an appointment beneath that dim lamp. With
difficulty I escaped with my life."

"But you did escape; you know how. To-night there will be no duel. We
shall go direct to that door in the wall."

Who was this youngster that he knew so much?

"It seems to me a desperate chance even if you are honest in advising
it," said Ellerey. "Look you, lad, I give you warning. My life I am
prepared to give, but if by treachery it is taken, I'll see that you
bear me company on that journey, even as you have sworn to follow me
to the death on the other."

"I am content," was the short answer. "Muffle your cloak about your
face and leave me to speak."

They went together toward the light, and Grigosie knocked at the door
as Baron Petrescu had done. There was the same delay, the self-same
shaggy head was thrust out to the intruders. Silence reigned again
until the stentorian voice had shouted, and then the clattering and
the voices started instantly.

The man led them aside into the same room.

"Pass us out through the garden and ask no questions," said Grigosie.

"Who have we here?" asked the man, pointing to Ellerey. "Neither ask
questions nor answer any," Grigosie returned.

"That's too pert a tongue to satisfy me," growled the man. "Signs and
passwords are easily stolen. I'd sooner let some one bear witness with
me after last night."

In an instant the lad was beside him. What he said was in so low a
tone that Ellerey could not catch a word, but the effect was magical.
The surly brute became alert and obsequious. He led them quickly down
the passage, and opened the door leading into the garden. Perhaps
Grigosie did not altogether trust him, for he caught him by the arm,
saying that he should see them safely through the garden, and Ellerey
noticed that Anton was particular to keep close to the man.

At the door in the wall the boy stopped.

"Your cloak, monsieur," he said, turning to Ellerey "You wish it
returned, do you not?"

Ellerey gave it to him and nodded, but did not speak

Grigosie gave the cloak to the man.

"Theodor, see that this is returned to Captain Ward at the British
Embassy. Send it by a trusted messenger, and let him say that he had
it from Captain Desmond Ellerey to-night, an hour before midnight--mark
the time--when he met him in the Konigplatz. Good-night."

The man bowed low as he opened the door for them. When it had closed
upon them Grigosie turned to Ellerey.

"Are you satisfied, Captain?"

The boy's knowledge astonished Ellerey.

"You have reproved me twice to-night, youngster; first for being a
bully, now for doubting you."

"My anger is forgotten," laughed the lad. "The cloak was a good thought.
They will know that you were in the city to-night, and they will search
Sturatzberg for you all day to-morrow. So we gain time. Our horses
await us on the Breslen road; and yours, Captain?"

"Also on the Breslen road."

"Then, Captain, will you order the march? My brief command is over."



CHAPTER XIII

THE CASTLE IN THE HILLS



The first light of a new day awoke a chorus of blended voices within
the depths of the forest. The early matin praise of the birds rose
high and clear above the low-hummed hymn of the insects. The trees
shook out their rustling garments, glorious autumn robes of color,
scattering the dewy tears of night before the smiling day. Among the
fallen leaves were hasty rushes to and fro, while rabbits flashed
across the narrow open tracts.

There was stirring, too, in a dry hollow securely hidden by dense
undergrowth from any traveller who chanced to pass that way. The
whinnying of a horse sounded on the morning air, the rough rubbing of
leather trappings, and the sharp click of steel. There were gruff
laughter and gruffer oaths, man's salutation to the new day, and some
low spoken words of discontent.

The addition to their number was not pleasing to them. The more they
were, the less would each man receive as reward, they argued. Last
night they were half-asleep, and had barely roused at Ellerey's coming.
The men who had come with him, they supposed, were soldiers of fortune
like themselves, men they knew, and even they were not welcome;
but with morning discontent broke out. The new arrivals were not
soldiers, were strangers to them, and one at least was a mere lad.
What good was he in their company?

Stefan did not complain. He noted Anton from head to foot, and did not
like him. He looked at Grigosie and he laughed aloud. He turned to
find Ellerey close beside him.

"This is the first day of the festival, then, Captain?"

"Festival?"

"Surely since we have such company. Some of these fellows might have
brought their sweethearts with them had they known the kind of
expedition they were engaged for. You bid me choose carefully, picked
men who held life and death in such easy balance that they would take
whichever happened without a murmur; and now you bring us a lean
forester who is good for naught but felling trees, and a lad whose
mother might still whip him without offence."

"The lad is well enough, Stefan, and served me well last night."

"Thank him, then, and send him home again. I have a message to send
into the city. It will be employment for him to take it."

"No, he goes with us."

"There'll be much grumbling, Captain. These fellows like comrades they
know the stomach of."

"I'll answer for the boy."

"You'd best do it quickly, then, or there'll be one or two riding back
into Sturatzberg as yesterday they rode out."

"If that is their spirit I'd sooner have lads like yonder beside me
in a tight place," Ellerey answered angrily. Then he went to the men
who were looking to their saddle girths preparatory to mounting.
"Comrades, we have a journey before us which may run smoothly, but
which may bring us hard knocks. The reward is generous to those who
win through. Are we prepared to take our chances one and all?" He
paused, but only a grunt of tardy consent answered him.

"Last night I brought two others to join in our enterprise."

"What need of them?" growled one man, "and one of them a boy."

"They go with me whoever else stays behind," said Ellerey, turning
quickly to the man who had spoken. "Haven't you faith enough in me to
trust my discretion?"

There was no reply.

"It must be tacit obedience, swift action to my command from every man
who bears me company. Mount."

In a moment every one was in his saddle excepting Ellerey himself, who
stood with his horse's bridle over his arm.

"Yonder lies the Breslen road, an easy morning's canter into
Sturatzberg. Who likes may ride that way and free himself from my
authority."

No man spoke or moved.

"Then are we comrades, and do not growl among ourselves," said Ellerey,
springing into his saddle. "Forward! You must find some other carrier
for your message, Stefan."

"And soon, or I'll have murder on my soul," was the answer, as the
troop rode singly out of the hollow and picked its way along a forest
track.

It was high noon before they chanced upon a woodcutter and his boy.

"Give me leave, Captain," said Stefan, bringing his horse to a
standstill. "Here's one may take my message. Aye there, how far is it
to Sturatzberg by the shortest road?"

"Five miles by foot, but riding you'll scarce do it in ten," answered
the woodcutter. "Will you or the lad carry a message there?"

"To-morrow I would. I go with a team there, taking timber."

"To-morrow," mused Stefan. "Why not? He'll last until then. Well, then,
to-morrow. Here's a key. Take it to the Altstrasse. Do you know the
Altstrasse?"

"Surely. I have a brother living there."

"To the Altstrasse--thirteen--to the house of Monsieur De Froilette."

"I have heard of him."

"Then you will do him this service," said Stefan.

"Give him the key, and say that if he has lost his servant, this key
fits a certain cellar door in a certain lodging by the Western Gate.
He will guess which lodging. His servant, loving wine too much, lies
behind that cellar door, howling for his liberty."

"I'll take the message."

"Here's for refreshment by the way," said Stefan, tossing him the key
and a coin. "Monsieur De Froilette will reward you liberally, I
warrant."

"And who shall I say gave me the key?"

"Say a woman you met by the road, if your conscience will sanction the
lie; if not, say a man, and word my picture as you please so that you
make it handsome enough. But do not fail to deliver the message, for
the man behind that door is slowly dying, and, if you do not go to his
rescue, will surely curse you from his grave."

"What does this mean, Stefan?" Ellerey asked, as the troop rode on,
laughing at their companion.

"Francois was watching us, and saw the boy who carried your message
to me yesterday. He came to question me, thinking me a fool, and went
with me to the cellar to hear my story and to drink your wine. He got
no story, and little wine for that matter, unless the ropes have slipped
from his wrists and ankles. I tied him securely before I made him free
of all the cellar contained. He'll be wanting food badly by to-morrow,
when his master finds him."

"It was well done, Stefan. We want no spies about us; but why should
Monsieur De Froilette spy upon me?"

"For the same reason that a hawk watches its prey; it's his nature.
You may snatch chestnuts out of the fire for monsieur, but it's only
the charred husks will be your portion if the dividing is left to him."

All that day they kept to the forest, making a wide detour round
Sturatzberg. Progress was slow along the narrow tracks, and they went
singly for the most part, careful of their horses' steps. That night
they lay within a circle of trees, deep hidden in the woods and far
from the road. For two days they were able to hold to the forest, and
had no expectation of being surprised. They met no one save an
occasional woodcutter or charcoal-burner, and once they disturbed some
robbers who were perhaps near the place of their hidden booty. On the
third day they were on the edge of the forest, and much open country
lay between them and the mountains. The utmost caution was necessary
now.

Ellerey called Grigosie to him.

"Anton said that you would be useful at scouting work."

"Yes, Captain."

"You will go forward with Stefan. Use your eyes and ears well."

The lad saluted, and presently rode out with Stefan. Anton asked to
go with them, but this Ellerey would not allow. He was glad of the
opportunity of separating Grigosie from his companion for a little
while. He had no reason to suspect them, but keeping them apart was
a precaution. Ellerey had instructed Stefan to use the lad well, and
with a grim smile upon his face the soldier rode with his youthful
companion, keeping silence for a time.

"You're a slip of a lad for such work as we have on hand," he said
presently. "How came your mother to part with you so early?"

"Rest her soul, she's dead."

"Your father, then?"

"Dead also," answered Grigosie.

"Well, you knew them, and understand whether their loss was a big one
or not," said Stefan. "Parents haven't counted for much in my case,
so I'm not qualified to speak of their usefulness. You've managed to
grow into a likely sort of lad. Who's had the training of you?"

"I'm my own manufacture for the most part," answered Grigosie, "but
I'm not too proud to learn from an old campaigner like you, Stefan."

The soldier drew himself up in his saddle, and looked knowingly at his
young comrade.

"There's sense in you. Maybe I can teach you a few things. My experience
has been wide and peculiar, and if you listen to my advice and model
your fighting on mine, you'll make a soldier, not of my girth, perhaps,
for that's a gift of nature and not to be had for the asking."

"No; I shall always be of the lean sort, I fear," said Grigosie.

"Don't you be discouraged, lad. There's often good stuff in the lean
ones. It's deep potations that give a man breadth sometimes, and his
habit of growling strange oaths that gets him credit for valor."

Grigosie plied him with questions, and heard many a strange tale of
fighting in which Stefan had done marvellous things.

"Is there no reward for bravery in Wallaria?" said Grigosie at last.
"How is it that no great distinction has come to you?" Stefan turned
toward him and shut one eye.

"Dodge the distinctions, lad, as you would the devil. They lead to
Court and the society of women, two things to be avoided."

"Why so, Stefan?"

"Court fetters a man as a chain does a dog, and is unnatural, while
a woman is the keenest weapon in all the devil's armory."

"I have heard some well spoken of," said Grigosie.

"And they are the most dangerous," said Stefan. "Why do you suppose
women were made pretty and fashioned to wear pretty clothes?"

"Indeed I cannot tell."

"To conceal their natural defects, lad. Whenever you see a pretty
woman, look at the next harridan you meet, and remember that the
difference between them is only on the surface."

"You are too hard, Stefan," said Grigosie, laughing heartily.

"Wisdom, youngster--the ripe wisdom of experience."

"I wonder whether the Captain is of your way of thinking, Stefan."

"I have seen him pause in the midst of his drink sometimes, which has
made me anxious."

"The fetters of the Court, perhaps," said Grigosie.

"Seemed to me it was more like a woman," was the answer.

That night they encamped between two spurs of the lower hills. Two
hours before sunset they had begun to ascend from the plain. It was
among the hills they would be looked for as soon as the object of their
mission were known; and having chosen a camping-ground which could
easily be defended against odds, Ellerey placed sentinels to prevent
any surprise. The camp-fire was pleasant to draw close to, for the
night was cold. Ellerey lay in a half-reclining position, his feet
stretched toward the blaze; and at some little distance on the opposite
side the men were sitting in a circle playing cards, Grigosie and Anton
standing beside them, looking on.

"There, boy, what did I tell you?" he heard Stefan say as he turned to
Grigosie. "A woman again plays me false, and it's the queen of hearts,
too."

The boy laughed. Evidently he and Stefan had become fast friends during
their day's ride together. It was a merry laugh, pleasant, Ellerey
thought, after the gruffer tones of the soldiers.

Presently the boy left Anton's side and threw himself down by the fire
near Ellerey.

"Are you tired, Grigosie?"

"A little. Lately I have not been used to so many hours in the saddle.
What point do we make for to-morrow?"

"The Drekner pass. Do you know it?"

"I was quite a youngster when I last crossed it," was the answer.
"There used to be a castle there, perched on the hill-side like an
eagle's eyrie."

"So many years cannot have passed since then that the castle should
have crumbled away," said Ellerey, with a smile. "I expect it is still
there."

"You do not know the pass, then?"

"No."

Grigosie lapsed into silence, and then after a while he said suddenly:
"Some day I hope to be an honored soldier like you are, Captain."

"Wish better things for yourself, Grigosie."

"Are you not honored, then?"

"Enough to be given a dangerous post."

"And to receive good reward if you succeed. The Queen will load you
with gifts--and, perhaps, greater happiness still, some other woman
will smile on you."

"You begin to think of such things over early," Ellerey answered.
"You'll have your troubles soon enough that way, no doubt."

"Already, Captain."

"So soon?"

"This is a southern country, and we begin early. Are you a woman-hater,
as Stefan is? In the back of my mind there is a reverence for women."

"Keep it, lad, if you can; it may bring you to much good. For my part,
I hardly know my position in the matter."

"Would telling the tale to me help your judgment?" inquired the lad.

"A man does not speak of such things often, Grigosie."

"Ah, your love tale has advanced some way, then. It was not a glance
and a passing word, and a thorn left in the heart to hurt terribly at
times. That was my case."

"There is a woman I deeply respect and honor," said Ellerey. "To love
her would be much to my advantage."

"Why not, then?" asked the boy.

"Because of a memory, the memory of another woman. With her it was a
passing word and a look; but they came to me when life was at its
darkness, and I have never forgotten them. It was an early morning in
England, a morning that has no equal in the whole world, full of
sunshine and breeze and perfume; and she came into it suddenly and
unexpectedly. She would not choose to remember me if she thought such
a memory lingered in my heart. She was out of my reach even then, and
in those days I was something more than a Captain of Horse."

"But after this enterprise you will be something more."

"I cannot become a Prince, Grigosie, and my lady of the breezy morning
was a Princess."

"Really, or is that your fanciful name for her?"

"Really a Princess," Ellerey answered. "I wonder why I should be telling
this story to you?"

"Is there not sympathy between all who love?" Grigosie answered. "It
is the one common bond there is in the world, knowing no difference
of creed or nationality."

For two days the little band journeyed in the mountains, keeping to
the lower track on account of the horses. Progress was slow, for the
going was rough, and the horses often had to be led. The track lay
between the lower hills and the main mountain range, and they had lost
sight of the open country, which lay below them. It was late in the
afternoon of the second day that they crossed a spur which jutted out
toward the plain, and from its vantage ground Grigosie was the first
to point out the head of the pass, a precipitous opening in the
mountains to their left. At the same time Stefan, looking across the
open country, pointed out a cloud of dust on the horizon.

"That means a moving body of men," he said.

"In the pass lies our greatest security until we are prepared to meet
the enemy," Ellerey answered. "If that castle of yours has not crumbled
to dust, Grigosie, it will make excellent quarters for us."

The Drekner pass had long ago ceased to be used. Once, doubtless, it
was the highway into Wallaria from the north, but that was long ago,
not within the memory of the oldest man. Nature herself had closed the
way by casting a great spur of the mountain into the deepest and
narrowest part of the defile. It was still possible to climb this, but
it had effectually closed the pass for all useful purposes; and the
castle, which in old times had been used to guard the way, had fallen
into decay. It stood gaunt against the hillside upon a natural plateau,
the pathway to it, long and zig-zag, cut out in the hillside. Vegetation
had taken root in the crevices of its broken walls, and some of the
stonework, shivered by the lightning stroke perhaps, lay in the roadway
at the foot of the hill. Silence reigned, and an eagle hovering on the
heights above doubtless had his eyrie there. A thin stream of water
trickled down the hillside, finding its way from the snow on the
mountains, which reared white-hooded heads here and there above their
humbler brethren.

"My castle in the hills!" cried Grigosie enthusiastically as a turn
of the track brought it in view.

"Peace, Grigosie, and take that child's chatter of yours to the rear,"
said Ellerey. Then turning to Stefan, he directed him and another of
the men to climb up carefully to the plateau. "Some outpost of
Vasilici's may hold it," he remarked.

Leaving their horses, Stefan and his companion went up the zig-zag way
and were lost to view. It seemed a long time before their figures stood
on the edge of the plateau and waved to their comrades to ascend.

"My castle, Anton," whispered Grigosie. "It was I who told them that
it stood here."

"They liked not your claiming it so."

"They will forgive much to my youth, even if I am put to cooking and
bedmaking to-night as punishment," laughed the boy. "You shall be snug,
Anton, and know that the gods are with us."

The incline of the zig-zag way had been carefully graduated so that
it was possible to lead horses up, and they all dismounted and went
singly. At the top of the path a stone gateway, broken and of small
service now, shut in the plateau. This was the only means of reaching
the castle, and in old times formed the first point of defence. "Empty,
but an airy perch to spend the night," said Stefan, meeting them at
the gateway. "Here's a trysting place for every wind that blows, and
holes enough for them to whistle through."

This was evident. The walls were broken in every direction, and heaps
of stonework lay scattered on all sides.

"The tower yonder seems to have held together," said Ellerey.

"Aye, there's fine sleeping room there, and you may see the stars
through the roof."

But the tower had much to commend it. The door that closed it still
hung upon its hinges, and in the lower chamber, at least, there were
no rents in the wall save the window holes, narrow slits in the outside,
but widening inward through the thickness of the walls. On one side
stone steps, unprotected in any way, led to the floor above, which was
entered through a trap door still in place and capable of being bolted
down. Here the walls were broken in places, and part of the roof had
fallen. More steps, which mounted to the roof, ended abruptly and were
open to the sky. A turret had been displaced at some time and had
crashed through, breaking part of the stairs away.

"We can make shift to stable the horses between some of the walls
outside, and ourselves in the tower," said Ellerey. "It might be worse,
Stefan, and with fortune our stay will be short."

"It must be if we're to live. There is no food for a siege," Stefan
answered.

Meanwhile the men had unsaddled, and a fire was already crackling on
the old hearth. There was promise of comfort for the night, and they
were not disposed to grumble. While some looked to the horses, others
made haste to prepare a meal. A kid caught earlier in the day suggested
a feast. Others, finding a broken door, made shift to set it on four
stones, improvising a table, on which they set out the wine flasks and
the food they carried with them, while one man paced up and down the
edge of the plateau watching the mountains opposite and the pass
beneath.

Kid's flesh, even when roasted over a wood fire, may not be to the
taste of all who can choose their viands, but it is honest food for
all that, and no one round that improvised table uttered a word against
it. More logs had been piled on the fire, and the blaze threw dancing
shadows on the stone walls and lit up the rough faces of the men. They
were silent for a while, their sharp set appetites fully occupying
them, but a draught of wine set the tongues wagging again.

"A song, Stefan: I've heard you roar a good stave ere this."

"Not a love song, surely?" said Grigosie.

"No, of wine."

"In all the verse I ever heard love and wine strangely go together,"
said the boy.

"Proving that the joys of both are transitory, perhaps," said Ellerey,
who sat beside him. He spoke only to Grigosie, but Stefan heard him.

"Love, Captain--a snap of the fingers for love; but wine's the very
heart of life. There's wisdom and truth in wine, there's valor in it,
and it's powerful enough to make even good sound men fall in love.
There's a stave I've heard which you may have if you will." And with
much sound but little music Stefan broke into song.

It was a tavern ditty, and not too nice in its sentiments, as, indeed,
why should it be, to please its hearers? There was a lilt in its chorus
which even Stefan's unmusical voice could not hide, and it set the
men's heads nodding in time as they roared it out together, waking the
echoes with the declaration that--"The eye of a maid may sparkle, And
the fools may for love repine, But the wise man knows As his road he
goes That the best of life's gifts is wine."

"That isn't true, is it, Captain?" whispered Grigosie. "We know better
than that."

Ellerey laughed, but he was not displeased to keep the lad in low
conversation. The song had let loose a flood of jest and anecdote which
lost none of their ribaldry in the telling. They were ill suited for
a boy to hear and batten on.

"Yes, lad; we know better, you and I," he said. "Let them talk, we
need not listen."

"I suppose it is natural in youth to shudder at some things they talk
of, and much I do not understand."

"Keeping such ignorance you will be the happier. And do not drink much
wine to-night, Grigosie; you must take your turn at sentry duty. It
is share and share alike in an enterprise like this."

"Grant, then, there be stars to-night. I never feel lonely under the
stars," the lad answered. "It was good wine that was poured into my
flask at starting; I have hardly tasted it until now. Is yours good?"

"It might be worse, and I was never a heavy drinker."

"Taste mine."

"No, lad; why should I rob you?"

"Indeed, it will be no robbery. If you do not take it I shall offer
it to Stefan presently. It is too strong for me."

"I'll taste it before I sleep, if you will. The air is close here. Let
us go and fill our lungs with mountain breezes."

The boy sprang to his feet at once, careful to take his wine flask
with him, and followed Ellerey on to the plateau.

There were stars in the clear sky, and a crescent moon that seemed to
be poised on a sharp edge of the higher mountains. The air was keen,
tingling in throat and nostrils.

"...the wise man knows As his road he goes That the best of life's
gifts is wine," came again the lilting chorus from the tower. It was
the only sound that disturbed the silence--the silence of a world.

"A night for regrets, Captain, yet one to speed ambition," said
Grigosie.

"Yours has been too short to accumulate regrets."

"They get heaped together very rapidly sometimes," was the reply. "How
long shall we stay here?"

"Only until we have seen Vasilici and delivered our message."

"And then back to Sturatzberg with our demands backed by an army of
patriots," said Grigosie. "And for the success of the scheme--how do
you reckon the chances?"

"If I expected failure I should not be here."

"Your own ambition supplies the motive, then? There is no love for a
cause behind?"

"Hush, lad; those are dangerous questions to ask a soldier. If I know
that reward awaits success, it is as certain that failure means death.
Those who employ my sword would not hesitate to sacrifice me to save
the situation; so you see, Grigosie, you set out on a venture some
enterprise when you joined my company."

"Yes, we may fail and die, and yet other nights will be just as full
of stars as this is. I wonder how it is that such a beautiful world
is cursed to go so awry."

"Chiefly, my lad, because most of us care nothing about the beauty,
but think only of using it as a plaything. Let us go in again. You
should sleep before you go on duty." Some of the men had already
stretched themselves cut in sleep, and there was weariness in the slow
speech of the others. Only Anton seemed really awake, and he did not
speak as the two entered the tower.

"Here is the wine," Grigosie whispered, handing the flask to Ellerey.
"Drink to success in it, to success in war--and love."



CHAPTER XIV

THE TOKEN IS DELIVERED



The logs burnt low upon the hearth, and only a feeble light was in the
tower. Anton saw Ellerey drink the wine and then cast himself down not
far from Grigosie; but it was too dim for him to see whether all his
companions were asleep. Some certainly were, for they snored, and
others were restless, for they shifted their positions at intervals
and sighed heavily. Where Ellerey and Grigosie were there was deep
shadow, growing deeper as the fire died down. One sleeper there was
restless for a little while, and then his breathing proclaimed that
his sleep was heavy. Once Anton thought there was a darker shadow
within the shadow, which moved quite silently, but he did not speak;
he only listened very eagerly and raised himself on his elbow a little.
Presently Anton slept too.

Ellerey awoke with a start. Some shock in a dream seemed to wake him,
and as he raised himself his hand went to his breast, as it constantly
did on waking. The token lay there safely. Then he leaned over toward
Grigosie and stretched out his arm. The lad's place was empty. He was
startled for a moment, as men may be on awaking suddenly from a dream,
but he quickly recovered himself, remembering that the lad was sentry
part of the night.

He lay down again, being heavy-eyed, but could not sleep. The air was
oppressive, and a dull pain was in his head as though a steel band
were clasped tightly round his forehead. The dream was still surging
unpleasantly through his brain, and at last his restlessness prompted
him to go out on to the plateau.

The stars were still bright, but the crescent moon had gone. At the
edge of the plateau, resting upon his gun, stood the motionless figure
of the sentry. Ellerey did not wish to startle him, so coughed slightly
to let him know of his presence.

The boy did not turn.

"Grigosie."

"Is that you, Captain? I was just coming to call you. Watch the mountain
opposite, and tell me if my eyes are deceiving me. There is nothing
for the moment, but wait, and look steadily."

The top of the opposite side of the pass stood out clearly against the
sky, but below was darkness. Grigosie pointed to that part which lay
rather below the level of the plateau on which they were standing.

"They must be good eyes to see anything there," said Ellerey.

"Wait," whispered the boy.

Even as he spoke there shone for a moment a wisp of light like a firefly
in the darkness, and then another, moving a little below it. Several
times this was repeated in different places in the darkness, the point
of light gleaming for a moment only and then suddenly going out.

"They have followed us, Captain, and by morning will have climbed high
enough to command this position."

"When did you first see the lights, Grigosie?"

"Not ten minutes ago."

"Get to the gate at the top of the zig-zag pass--quickly! I will call
the others."

The boy ran to his post at once, and in a few moments the whole of the
little company was upon the plateau watching the points of light which
came and went on the mountain opposite. There was no more sleep that
night, only a waiting for dawn; and as daylight crept slowly down them,
the mountains looked innocent enough. The sunlight bursting suddenly
over the eastern ridges glinted upon no points of steel betraying
hidden men in the hollows of the hills. Ellerey and Stefan stood
together looking for such a sign, or the thin curl of smoke from a
camp-fire.

"There's no army from Sturatzberg yonder, Captain," said the soldier.
"Whoever climbed there last night showed lights only to guide their
fellows, either not expecting us to see them, or not knowing that we
are here."

"The brigands, perhaps," said Ellerey.

"The same thought was in my mind," Stefan answered.

Sharp eyes watched from the plateau during the early hours of the
morning. Weapons were looked to, and the horses saddled ready for any
emergency; but no attempt was made to conceal their presence there.
Sharp eyes doubtless had also watched their movements from the mountains
opposite, for three men presently appeared in the pass below. By what
path they came there the watchers on the plateau could not tell. No
sign of them had they perceived until they suddenly stood in full view.

"To travel in such fashion those must be born mountaineers," said
Stefan. "Shall I signal to them, Captain?"

"Yes. Let them come up the path; we will meet them at the top. Grigosie,
you stand on the rising ground there, and if there be any sign of
treachery see you repeat the marksmanship you boast of."

The three men came up the zig-zag path fearlessly. They did not pause
when they saw the soldiers waiting for them at the ruined gateway, but
came on until they halted some five paces in front of them.

"We are sent to know your mission in the hills," said one, stepping
slightly in advance of his companions.

"From whom do you come?" inquired Ellerey.

"From a friend, if we make no mistake, one whom you are sent to seek
near the Drekner pass. Are you from Queen Elena?"

"I am the bearer of a message to Vasilici."

"You are welcome, then. We will bring you to him."

"Is he far from here?"

The man turned and pointed up the pass: "An hour's journey."

"We will come. The message I carry will need prompt action, for across
the plain there are troops watching the road to Sturatzberg."

"There are more ways than one to the capital, and many men in those
troops perchance who will welcome the sight of us."

"I do not doubt it," Ellerey answered. "Is the way passable for horses?
We shall not want to return here."

"Yes, to the entrance of the chief's resting-place. How many are you?"

"Ten in all."

"Your numbers guarantee a friendly message," was the smiling answer.
"We will await you at the foot of the path."

As the men departed Grigosie lowered the rifle which he had held ready
for use, his finger resting lightly on the trigger; but he did not
move from his post until Ellerey called him.

"Ready, lad; we march at once."

"You are satisfied with the embassy?"

"Quite. In an hour's time the first stage of our mission will be
accomplished."

"And then?"

"The result lies on the knees of the gods," said Ellerey.

"Do we all go?" asked the boy. "Yes."

"And leave none to keep this refuge?"

"What should we want with a refuge? We have come too far for that. If
success does not lie in the road before us, the only refuge we can
hope for is in death."

"I have a strange liking for life, Captain, just now."

The men led their horses down the zig-zag path, Ellerey and Stefan
bringing up the rear. Grigosie turned to look back at the ruined walls,
and the tower standing gaunt against the mountain-side. He had
enthusiastically called it his, and in the desertion of it there may
have been some regret. From the castle the lad's eyes followed the
shape and direction of the ridges which lay about it, as though to
impress the picture on his mind, but he spoke no word, and studiously
avoided Anton's eyes, which questioned him. He was in no mood to reduce
the thoughts which surged through his brain to any order. They raged
and beat against the unknown shores of the future as a wind-swept ocean
will against a rocky coast, carrying with them his hopes and ambitions,
which were driven to and fro like brave craft struggling against
shipwreck. There was some reason why he should regret the comparatively
quiet haven of that castle in the hills.

In silence he mounted with the others at the foot of the path, and the
little band of horsemen proceeded at walking pace, so that the envoys
from Vasilici, who were on foot, might keep up with them. Ellerey and
Stefan rode side by side, and at a sign from the former fell a few
paces farther in the rear.

"It is evident that we shall presently have to leave the horses, Stefan;
you and Anton shall stay with them while the rest of us go forward to
deliver the token. While you wait keep a keen lookout on the hillsides
and on--"

"On Anton," Stefan suggested. "I need no bidding, Captain. I do not
trust him. I should trust him still less had I not taken a liking to
his companion, Grigosie."

"The boy is stanch, I think, but it is perhaps as well to have them
separated," said Ellerey; "that is why I leave Anton to you."

"He'll be in strict company, Captain, have no fear."

"I see no reason to doubt success," said Ellerey, after a pause, almost
as if he had misgivings and wanted to be laughed out of them.

"There are many who have looked upon success, and yet have not had arm
long enough to grasp it," said Stefan. "It's as well not to smack the
lips until the liquor is running in the throat."

Their way lay up the pass toward the narrow defile which nature had
closed long ago. There was an upward incline, but it was quite easy
for the horses. The pass gradually narrowed as they went, and the
mountain-sides grew more precipitous, shutting them in like great walls
on either side. Little foothold was there for a lurking enemy, and
there were no deep gorges where an ambuscade might hide. To defend
this part of the pass in the old days must have meant a hand-to-hand
struggle in the narrow way. Ellerey noted this as he went. His life
in Sturatzberg had made him observant.

Presently the leading horseman stopped.

"It is difficult work for horses from here," said one of the brigands.
"They can be fetched afterward to the place the chief directs."

"You, Stefan and Anton, will stay with them," said Ellerey. "I will send
Grigosie back with orders presently. Take orders from none but
Grigosie."

Stefan saluted and gathered the bridles together, smiling to see that
Anton was not pleased at being left behind He looked at his youthful
comrade, who took no notice of him, and obeyed with an ill grace.

"Why should he leave us?" he asked, when the others had gone, climbing
the slope in front of them.

"Why not?" asked Stefan laconically.

"It is the business of servants and lackeys to mind horses."

"But we have neither."

"At least we are given no honorable service."

"For my part, I do as I am told," said Stefan, "and you'll be wise to
do the same. That young comrade of yours is capable of looking after
himself."

Anton looked at the soldier curiously for a moment, but Stefan's
thoughts were always difficult to read. His face never showed a sign
of any meaning beyond the words he uttered.

Following the three brigands, the others climbed up the slope of the
landslip which had filled up the pass. It was uneven ground, and they
were soon hidden from their companions with the horses. Descending
presently into a ravine, the brigands stopped.

"As a careful Captain, you will appreciate the caution of our chief,"
said the spokesman, turning to Ellerey. "We were ordered to bring you
no farther than this. He will come to you here."

"We are only eight; let him come with no larger following," Ellerey
answered. "There shall be precaution on both sides."

"I will give your message, but--"

"Unless he fulfils my terms I depart the way I have come, and make my
terms in the shadow of the castle yonder."

"I will tell him so," said the man, and the brigands went quickly up
the ravine and disappeared.

"This is their vantage ground," said Ellerey. "Stand apart, all of
you, near enough to help each other, but not in each other's way should
a rush come. Grigosie, stand there, carelessly as it were, but with
ready fingers. We have no knowledge of the honor of these men."

They had not long to wait. From the bend in the ravine came three men,
the central figure a man of great stature. He walked proudly, with
long, swaggering strides and swinging arms. His long black hair, bearded
chin, and beady eyes set under heavy eyebrows, gave a ferocity to his
appearance which Ellerey did not find attractive. He looked like a man
in whom the barbarian was still active, whose laws of right and wrong
and honor were likely to be of his own fashioning--one in whom it
would be dangerous to trust too implicitly. Yet he was a striking and
a handsome figure, and his dress gave him distinction. A scarlet feather
was in his hat, and he wore a scarlet cloak which the weather had
stained. A heavy knife was stuck in his belt, and it was obvious that
his companions treated him with marked respect.

"Is this bravado, or does he know that a hundred pairs of eyes are
watching us?" said Ellerey.

Grigosie did not take his eyes from the three men. He stood in a
careless attitude, one hand resting on his hip, the other thrust into
his breast, and his fingers were upon a revolver. No gesture of the
men escaped him, and long before they came to a standstill in front
of Ellerey he had learned their features thoroughly.

The big man gave a short salute rather as acknowledging an inferior
than answering an equal.

"You have a message for me, Captain."

"I can answer that question when I know who you are," said Ellerey.

The big man laughed, with a glance at his companions, who laughed too,
pleased to humor him. "You are a stranger in these hills, or you would
know me. I am Vasilici."

He did not call himself great, but his manner easily filled the
omission. He glanced at Ellerey, and at the soldiers, to see the effect
of his words.

"Then I have a message for you from Queen Elena."

"It has been so long in coming that I have almost grown tired of
waiting," Vasilici answered. "I presume she would have done without
my help if she could."

"I am only the bearer of one message," Ellerey said shortly. The
fellow's insolent manner came near to raising Ellerey's temper. This was
a dangerous ally the Queen had chosen. "Do you know the nature of the
message I bring?"

"Aye, as I know the price to be paid for my help. The Queen has not
dared to question my terms, has she?"

"I know nothing of the price. I might find it too high if I did."

"Nor were you sent to argue, Captain, but to deliver the token," said
Vasilici, holding out his hand.

Ellerey swallowed his rages a best he could, with a determination to
take the pride out of this boaster some day; and drawing out the sealed
box containing the bracelet of medallions, handed it to the brigand.

"At last the great day dawns for me and for Wallaria!" Vasilici
exclaimed. "The kingdom of the hills comes to power and honor."

"Did they tell you that an army lies in wait between here and
Sturatzberg?" asked Ellerey.

"Fifty armies will not stop me and those I lead when I elect to strike,"
cried the brigand, snapping his fingers. "The puppets in Sturatzberg
will either bow to me or squeal at their punishment when I enter the
city."

"You'll find the gates shut and some good men to guard them," Ellerey
answered. "I am in a position to know that."

"We may use you, Captain, and for good service there is something more
than thanks."

Ellerey laughed loudly; it was the only way he could prevent himself
from cursing this insolent scoundrel. He almost despised himself for
being even in the same cause with this swaggerer. For a moment Grigosie
glanced at him, understanding something of what was in his mind, but
the next instant he had turned again to watch Vasilici. The man was
a swaggerer through and through, although if the tales told of him
were true he did not lack courage. He had for a long time impressed
his followers with his bluster and attitudes, playing a carefully
studied part before them, appealing to that vein of romance which life
in the mountains had fostered in them; and he played the part now for
the benefit of Ellerey and his comrades. Falling into a pose, he turned
the box this way and that, as though the opening of it were a supreme
thing which a little delay would materially add to. Then with a
flourish he drew the knife from his belt and broke the seals, pausing
again to carefully replace the knife.

"Freedom to this wretched land at last," he said, "and so I open the
Queen's token."

The box fell to the ground with the packing it had contained, and then
with an oath Vasilici drew himself to his full height, one hand upon
the haft of his knife in a moment.

"Is this how her Majesty attempts to fool me!" he cried.

Ellerey took a step forward to look, and an oath burst from his lips,
too. It was not the iron bracelet of medallions which Vasilici held
up, but a cross of gold, curious in shape and workmanship, upon which
the sun glinted as it swung by its little chain in the brigand's hand.



CHAPTER XV

THE RACE FOR LIFE



The action a man will take in a crisis is exceedingly difficult to
gauge beforehand. As a rule, such moments happen from a chain of
circumstances which the man has not foreseen, and therefore has made
no preparation to meet, and his conduct is likely to be guided entirely
by the attitude of those about him, without any question of right or
wrong, without a thought of what has occurred in the past or what may
happen in the future. This was Ellerey's position. He had expected to
see the bracelet of medallions; instead he saw a golden cross. He knew
that in some manner he had been deceived, and who but the Queen could
have placed this unexpected token in his keeping? By his manner he
knew that the golden cross held some meaning for the brigand, a meaning
of which Ellerey was absolutely ignorant; and under other conditions
he might have admitted his ignorance and entered into explanations.
As it was, the whole bearing of Vasilici, his bluster and his swagger,
had roused Ellerey's anger. He had felt that the man was a crafty enemy
even at the moment of delivering what he supposed to be a friendly
message, and the keen desire to show his contempt for him had made his
tongue smart with unspoken words, and his hands tingle to be clenched
and to strike. He had forced himself to decent speech and attitude,
but now his anger asserted itself. No question of duty or expediency
seemed to bind him; only a boastful enemy was before him to be answered
in the same fashion as he questioned, and if that did not suffice, to
be punished as he merited.

"That is the token as I received it," said Ellerey.

As the brigand had held up the token Grigosie had leant forward to see
it, the color mounting into his cheeks. Now his enthusiasm appeared
to get the better of his prudence, and he cried out:

"Long live our country! Down with all who dishonor her! The golden
cross gleams in the light of God's good sun; it is a benediction on
this day, a promise of brighter days to follow. Summon your legions,
Vasilici, and on to Sturatzberg where the hornets are nesting ready
for destruction."

The brigand glanced at the boy contemptuously.

"What bantam is this you have brought to crow for you?"

"The boy speaks well enough," said Ellerey. "There is the token, where
is your answer?"

"Here, and here," was the quick answer, as he hurled the cross high
into the air behind him, and at the same time blew a shrill whistle.
"That is Vasilici's answer to liars, and this his swift punishment."

The man's movements were so lithe and quick, so utterly unexpected,
that he had sprung upon Ellerey before the words had fully left his
lips. The long blade of his knife caught the sunlight, even as the
golden cross had caught it a moment ago, and Ellerey's upraised arm
alone protected his breast from the downward thrust. But the swift
stroke did not come. A revolver shot awoke the echoes of the hills,
and with a howl the great brigand leapt backward, his knife falling
harmlessly to the ground, and his arm useless to his side.

"The bantam's answer," cried Grigosie. "To me, Captain!" It was at
once evident that Vasilici had not ventured to the interview without
support. The hills in front of them were immediately alive with men
scrambling downward to the very ground the little band occupied. Men
were in the ravine behind them rushing up to cut off retreat that way.
Cries and shouting were on every side, some calling for surrender,
others shouting that the soldiers had been deceived by their Captain.
In the sudden confusion Ellerey gave quick commands, as, with sword
in hand, he sprang to the rising ground where Grigosie stood; but his
orders were either not heard or came too late for obedience. Before
the soldiers could come to him, the brigands were between them.

"It is madness to stay," whispered Grigosie. "The hill behind us is
clear." The boy fired twice in quick succession at men who had raised
their rifles ready to fire at them, and although in answer a dozen
bullets sang past them, the aim was faulty in the excitement.

"Shoot them both!" was the shout.

"Shoot them!" thundered Vasilici.

"Come," whispered Grigosie.

They scrambled upward together, the unevenness of the hillside
protecting them for a moment from the flying bullets.

"I marked our direction," said Grigosie. "We can keep to this kind
path for a little way, and with luck cross the open presently toward
the horses."

They ran on, crouching lest their heads should be seen and mark the
direction they had taken. Grigosie refilled the empty chambers of his
revolver as he went, and Ellerey put up his sword and took his revolver
instead. Behind them the firing had ceased, but they could not doubt
that they were being swiftly followed; and spread over the open which
they must needs cross, a hundred men probably barred their way.

"Unless they were already there when we passed, they will hardly have
time to intercept us," was Grigosie's answer to this fear.

"Probably they were there, lad," said Ellerey. "We've about an equal
chance with the hare that is being coursed."

"He gets away sometimes," was the answer.

They ran swiftly, mounting higher and higher as they went. Once they
caught sight of men running in the path below them, and presently of
others climbing the hillside to reach the summit before them, but no
shout told them that they themselves had been seen.

"Don't fire, Grigosie, unless it is absolutely necessary," said Ellerey.
"It would betray our whereabouts, and we shall want all our cartridges
to stop them across the open."

The boy nodded and ran on.

"The top at last!" he exclaimed. "That height yonder is our mark. If
we can reach it we shall be in sight of the horses. How far behind
have we left them?"

He stood for a moment to look back along the ridge under which they had
come. Some distance away men were coming into view.

"Quick, Grigosie; it's speed now," said Ellerey.

The way before them was clear, and they ran side by side, careful of
their steps lest a hole might mean a fall and a sprained ankle.
Presently a bullet passed between them, and they began to run in zig-zag
fashion to puzzle the marksmanship. Ellerey constantly turned to look
back. There were many pursuers, some widely straggling, but a few of
them were gaining rapidly. These did not pause to fire; they ran,
judging their pace and distance to a nicety. Long before the point for
which the fugitives were making could be reached these men would be
upon them.

"We must stop them, Grigosie."

The lad looked back. He was beginning to pant heavily.

"Not yet," he said; "they are not close enough."

So they ran on. It was evident to Ellerey that the boy's pace was
palpably slackening, and there was yet some distance to cover to the
height, to say nothing of the final dash for the horses. The men behind
were rapidly overtaking them. Ellerey could hear the dull, rhythmic
pad of the running feet.

"Twelve paces, Grigosie," he murmured, "then turn sharply. Do not kill,
lame them; their companions may stop to help them."

Ellerey counted the twelve paces aloud, and then they both turned. Four
shots rang out sharply, and three of the foremost runners stumbled and
fell. An answering bullet cut through Ellerey's coat sleeve, and there
was the pain as of a hot skewer laid for a moment on his flesh as he and
Grigosie ran on again.

"Every step lessens the distance, lad," he said encouragingly. "That
will teach them to keep a little farther in the rear."

Still Ellerey turned constantly to watch their pursuers. One or two
had stopped by their wounded companions, but the rest held on their
way, undeterred by the fate of their comrades. Twice again did Ellerey
count twelve paces, and he and Grigosie turned together and fired. The
foremost runner on the last occasion was Grigosie's mark, and he missed
him. The man had bounded forward to make his capture when Ellerey's
revolver sounded again. It was not the moment to hazard a shot, to aim
at the swiftly moving limbs. The man leapt into the air and fell
sprawling on his face, and with one spasmodic kick lay still. Grigosie
turned and ran on again without a word. They were close to the height
now. It was to their left, and the boy pointed to a depression which
lay between it and another elevation. The way was narrow, which was
in their favor, and if only the brigands were not in force on the other
side, and Grigosie had made no mistake in the direction, there was a
chance of escape.

Ellerey let Grigosie enter the narrow way first, and then paused in
the entrance. Only two men followed them, and seeing Ellerey stop,
they fired. Ellerey fired twice in answer, and without waiting to see
if the shots had taken effect dashed after Grigosie.

The boy had made no mistake. They had come out half-way down the rising
ground which they had climbed directly after dismounting. Below them
stood Stefan and Anton with the horses, and higher up the slope above
them more of the brigands were hastily descending. Some of the men had
gone this way to cut off their retreat, and the fugitives had not a
moment to waste in their final dash for freedom.

Ellerey fired into the air to put Stefan on the alert, and seizing
Grigosie's arm--for the boy was nearly beaten--he dashed down the steep
incline. Stefan saw them and spoke quickly to Anton, who for a moment
seemed inclined to lose his head. The soldier's sharp command steadied
him, and the moment Grigosie was beside him he lifted him bodily into
the saddle and then sprang to his own.

"No others?" Stefan shouted, wheeling Ellerey's horse round toward him.

"No."

Without a word Stefan cast loose the reins of the other horses, and
the next instant the four riders were galloping for dear life up the
pass, Ellerey and Grigosie in the centre, Anton and Stefan on either
side. Knee to knee they galloped, their bodies low upon their horses'
necks. Several shots followed them, but went wide of the mark, and a
bend in the pass soon covered them. Still they held on their way,
speaking no word. There was only the sound of the rapidly beating hoofs
and the rough purring of the leather as the legs rubbed the saddles.

Ellerey thought that along the pass any surprise or ambush was
impossible. He had taken careful notice of the mountain walls which
shut them in, but he was not so satisfied that they would find the
castle open to them. Those who occupied it, if any were there, could
hardly have heard of the failure of the meeting yet, and he therefore
hoped that he might gain possession of it by stratagem. To ride out
of the pass would be madness, with the armies from Sturatzberg guarding
the plain. The castle was their only hope--their place of refuge, as
Grigosie had prophetically called it.

Ellerey drew rein presently.

"We have distanced them," he said. "What do you think, Stefan--will
the castle be empty?"

The soldier shrugged his shoulders.

"If any brigands still occupy the hills about it, they cannot know
that our mission has failed."

"These fellows manage to signal very quickly to one another," Stefan
answered.

"Then we must fight for its possession. It is our only chance."

"Our chance is a poor one if it comes to fighting," said Stefan.

"We will try strategy first," Ellerey said. "Let us ride easily."

"What happened?" queried Stefan.

"The box did not contain the right token, and they attacked us without
a word of warning."

"What of the others?"

"Heaven knows. They hardly seemed to strike a blow after we were
surrounded. It was Grigosie who thought of the way across the hills,
and we've had to run for it like hunted rabbits, eh, lad?"

Grigosie smiled faintly, but did not speak. He was still panting after
his tremendous exertion. Anton had stretched out a hand to support him
in his saddle as they galloped.

"They are dead then, those others?" said Stefan.

"I fear so."

"And we've been deceived, sent into a trap like a lot of rats. There's
a reckoning to be paid."

"Time enough to think of that, Stefan. Let us secure the castle first,"
said Ellerey.

"I'm fearing the reckoning must be left for others to pay," growled the
soldier. "It's putting our trust in a woman that's been the curse of
us."

No one contradicted him, and they rode on in silence until the castle
came in view. It looked gaunt enough, as silent and deserted as when
they had first seen it. There was no movement on the plateau, no sign
that any living creature except themselves was near it.

"Look!" exclaimed Stefan suddenly.

He pointed to the hillside on which the lights had shone mysteriously
last night. Here and there were moving figures descending the slopes.
Whether they had caught sight of the riders and jumped to the conclusion
that something was wrong, or whether they had learnt of the escape
from signals across the hills, it was impossible to say. At any rate
they were descending rapidly, and there was no time to lose.

"Once in the zig-zag path the odds will be more evenly balanced," said
Ellerey. "Forward! Gallop!"

"It seems to me they are making for a point beyond the castle," said
Stefan. "They are expecting us to ride out of the pass."

"So fortune favors us," said Ellerey. "Rein up altogether at the
entrance to the path, dismount, and up to the plateau quickly."

Even as they stopped with exact precision, a loud challenge came from
the opposite hill, and, no answer being given, several shots whistled
across the pass and struck close to the entrance of the zig-zag way.

"Up with you quickly!" shouted Ellerey, who brought up the rear. "There
is little harm in such firing, and they will think twice before they
follow us."

"Careful in front, lad," Stefan called out to Grigosie, who led the
way. "Keep sharp eyes, the plateau may be occupied."

The boy nodded, but he had been looking out keenly before the soldier's
warning, leading his horse in such a manner as to cover himself as
much as possible. The precaution proved unnecessary; the castle was
empty. Stefan was right. The brigands had not expected the fugitives
to make for their old resting place, and when they saw them go up the
path they shouted as though victory were already won, nor did they
attempt to follow them. Why should they? Their foes were caught surely
as birds netted by the fowler.

"See to the horses, Grigosie," said Ellerey. "Put them as far back in
the ruins as possible. Now, Stefan, Anton, we'll heap stones across
this broken gateway at the head of the path. It shall be our first
line of defence, and if it is taken we will see to it that it is dearly
bought."

"It is not the fighting that frightens me, it's the empty condition
of the larder," said Stefan.

"Truly we are pariahs on God's earth," Ellerey answered. "Every man's
hand against us, but we'll snarl and bite awhile in our stronghold,
and then make a dash out and die in the open."

They toiled with a will all through the afternoon, heaping fragments
which had fallen from the ruins across the gateway, and driving in
stakes, rudely fashioned from any planks they could find, behind the
stonework to strengthen it. Grigosie, by Ellerey's orders, did not
assist in this work, but stood sentinel upon the plateau. The boy had
had as much as he could stand for one day.

It was growing dusk in the pass below when they had finished. Daylight
was still upon the summit of the mountains, but twilight had gathered
in the deep valleys and ravines. The brigands still hung about the
pass, watching the castle, but keeping out of range. It did not appear
that they had any intention of attacking it. As they stood together
looking down upon their enemies, Ellerey told Stefan what had happened
and the details of their escape.

"Surely those are our fellows, Captain." But there was no tone of
pleasure at the escape of his comrades; no note of welcome in the
soldier's voice.

"This looks like desertion," said Ellerey.

One of the soldiers below called out in a stentorian voice which carried
clearly in the quiet air.

"Ho there, Stefan!"

"Well, comrade?"

"We're betrayed by that devilish Englishman. Is he there with you?"

"The Captain is here. What of him?"

"Throw him down to us along with the boy," was the answer shouted back.
"He's tricked us all, and that imp of Satan has helped him. The token
he carried was not from her Majesty. He's a conspirator against the
King, and carried the golden cross. You know what that means. Throw
him down."

"It were easier for you to show your courage and come and fetch him."

"Our good friends here will do that. We have other work in hand. We
ride back to Sturatzberg to tell our story, and heaven help you if you
are alive when we return. There'll be little mercy for the companions
of that devilish Englishman. Will you come with us?"

"I'm too old to run away," shouted Stefan, "and the company of cowards
is not to my liking. May they cut your throats on the plain yonder and
ask for your story afterward."

The brigands yelled with rage, and the soldiers shouted back coarse
oaths.

"It would do my soul good to have a shot at them," said Stefan.

"Let them go," said Ellerey. "We shall want every shot we have. We are
not without friends in the capital who may hear of our need. Against
their will these fellows may help us."

The soldiers below moved on. It was evident that here they were to
part with the brigands.

"Hold them fast for punishment," cried the same stentorian voice. "We
shall return with the true message. Down with all lovers of the golden
cross! Death to them who serve Maritza! Down with Maritza!"

"What is that they shout?" said Ellerey.

The answer came loudly, borne upward on the air, as the soldiers put
their horses into a canter and rode down the pass.

"Death to the Princess Maritza!"

"You hear, Captain. Some one has fooled us all."

"Princess Maritza!" Ellerey exclaimed. "What has she to do with us?"

"Sufficient to give us a violent ending," Stefan answered.

"The golden cross is the sign of her house, her token; and you, Captain,
have been her messenger."



CHAPTER XVI

THE TRAITOR



A smile wrinkled Stefan's face, not of amusement at the deception which
had been practised upon them, but in expectation of disappointed rage
from Ellerey. With diplomacy and the fine points of strategy Stefan
the soldier had little to do. His business was fighting. It was his
livelihood, and some day, near or far in the future as fate decreed,
it would be his death. His respect for his fellows was measured by
their power of withstanding him, and the man he had the greatest
affection for, perhaps, was a soldier, now incapacitated, who had once
in a melee succeeded in knocking him from his saddle. At the same time
he believed in his own astuteness, not without some reason be it said,
and in the back of his mind there was always a certain admiration for
the man who could get the better of him. It is more than possible that
if he ever married he would thoroughly respect his wife on account of
her cleverness in having hoodwinked him into marrying her.

But the burst of anger did not come. Ellerey's eyes were fixed on the
point in the pass round which the soldiers had disappeared, and for
some minutes he did not speak.

"What is done must remain as it is," he said at last. "We have only
ourselves to consider now. We must watch two and two, one on the
plateau, one at the path. Anton and you, Stefan; Grigosie and I. It's
short rations for us and careful use of cartridges. We must understand
how our enemy is going to conduct this siege before we calculate our
chances. What ammunition have we?"

It was little enough that the four of them could display. If every
cartridge accounted for a man, small damage would be done to their
foes.

"I flung a belt of cartridges in a corner of the tower before we left,"
said Grigosie.

They all turned to look at him.

"Did you fling some food into a corner, too?" asked Stefan.

"No, but I marked that birds used the plateau in the early morning,"
Grigosie answered.

"They'll be coming in larger numbers presently, and, maybe, get a good
picking off the four of us," said Stefan. "You haven't happened upon
a fountain of wine, have you?"

"That, too, is supplied, Stefan; you can hear it leaping down the
mountain-side, and see it too," and the boy pointed to a corner of the
plateau which was within reach of the narrow stream which, from the
heights, fell with many a cascade into the pass beneath.

Stefan looked at him for a moment, and then said in disgust: "Water
and birds; fairies' fodder."

"It might be worse," said Anton.

"Wait a day or two, comrade, and you'll be crying a different tale,"
said Stefan, "although, for that matter, the food will doubtless last
our time. Had we, in our small circle here, half a dozen taverns filled
from cellar floor to garret ceiling, those fellows yonder would give
us little chance of visiting them. Keep watch here, Anton; I'll go to
the gate."

"We'll rest, Grigosie," said Ellerey.

The boy turned and entered the tower, but Ellerey did not follow him
at once. He paced in and out the ruined walls, his hands clasped behind
him, deep in thought and troubled.

Who had deceived him? It could only be the Queen, or the man who had
brought him the token, or perhaps De Froilette. Indeed, they might all
be in a conspiracy to deceive him. Yet why should the Queen desire to
deliver the token of Princess Maritza's house to the brigands? How
could it serve her ends? De Froilette's position and political aims
were less clear. Ellerey had never believed him heart whole in his
devotion to her Majesty; yet surely he would have taken the precaution
to find out how such a token would be received before sending it. He
was not the man to risk the work of years without some real hope of
success. Then Ellerey's thoughts turned to the woman who had craved
his help in the Altstrasse, the manner in which he had been searched
for the token, the masked woman who had come to look upon him, and the
warning she had given him. Baron Petrescu, too, had probably forced
the duel upon him because of the token, believing that it had been
delivered to him that night by the Queen. At his interview with her
Majesty, the token which had been decided upon was the bracelet of
medallions; it was hardly likely that it would be suddenly changed.
Somehow the bracelet had been filched from the sealed box, and the
golden cross placed there instead. Ellerey decided that the power to
effect this change lay only with the man who had brought him the token,
and on this man he fixed the blame.

Whoever was responsible for it, the scheme had failed miserably, and
it was difficult to see how success could ever have been hoped for.
On the other hand it could hardly be supposed that all those who
followed the fortunes of the golden cross were fools, acting upon
sudden impulse, courting disaster. They must have had some reason for
believing that the token would receive some consideration from the
brigands and those who had gathered to their standard. Possibly they
had themselves been deceived, even as they had attempted to deceive.
Ellerey could not doubt that Princess Maritza had a considerable
following in Sturatzberg, that the seeds of the rebellion were widely
scattered. The soldiers now riding toward the capital would spread the
news of failure, and the rebellion in self-defence might be forced to
break into open conflict at once. Even then, would Maritza's followers
give a thought to the remnant of the band who had carried the message?
If Countess Mavrodin had a voice in their councils, as surely she must
have, they might. The chance of rescue was a slender one, but a hope
did exist.

Strange to say, anger at the trick which had been played upon him did
not assert itself in any great degree, in spite of the fact that all
hope of honor and advancement was now at an end. Vasilici's attitude
had doubtless something to do with Ellerey's state of mind, personal
antagonism rising above ambition; but this would not have been the
case probably had Ellerey been forced against his will into any other
service than that of Princess Maritza. There was a charm for him in
her name, the memory of her had dwelt with him and lent a halo of
romance to his present position. He saw her again with her hair
streaming in the breeze, and felt again the subtle strength and vigor
that were in her. Had he not thought then that it would be good to
fight in her cause? Why should he rage at the circumstances which had
forced him into it?

When he entered the tower Grigosie was asleep, and he lay down to
snatch what rest he could before relieving Anton and Stefan.

When they went on duty, Grigosie watched by the path, Ellerey on the
plateau. "They will wait for Vasilici," Stefan said, when he reported
that all had been quiet so far.

Ellerey paced up and down, pausing at short intervals to listen. Not
a sound broke the deep silence. The great world seemed to lie still
and motionless under the glow of the moonlit night and the pale glimmer
of the stars. It was a time to dream of life and realized ambition,
not to ponder on lurking death and failure. He walked presently to the
head of the zig-zag path.

"Your castle has proved a refuge after all, Grigosie. How came you to
be prophetic?"

"I did not believe my own prophecy."

"Yet you hid the cartridges."

"Believing, perhaps, that they would never be wanted," Grigosie
answered. "I am full of strange thoughts and superstitions to-night,
Captain, and cannot talk."

"It is the moon and the stars, Grigosie."

"Madmen's time, when everything is distorted," answered the lad.

"And lovers' time too, Grigosie."

"Which are you, madman or lover?"

"A little of both, I think," Ellerey answered.

"And below us death is waiting," said Grigosie.

"I don't think death is coming to us this time," replied Ellerey.

The boy did not answer. Several times during those watching hours
Ellerey went to the head of the path, but Grigosie never spoke, never
turned to him. His thoughts and superstitions occupied him; and with
the light of day Ellerey noticed that there was something in his face
which was new. He had changed during the night. Something--was it his
courage?--seemed to have left him, but in its place there had come an
addition to him, to his expression, almost to his character, Ellerey
fancied. He watched the lad enter the tower, saw him cast himself
wearily into his corner, and would have followed him had not Stefan
detained him.

"I was right, Captain. Vasilici is coming. They are gathering in the
pass waiting for him."

A little later a shout proclaimed the arrival of the chief, and Ellerey
saw his huge frame in the midst of his followers. His right hand was
swathed in a handkerchief and rested in a sling, and savage ferocity
was in his face as he looked up toward the castle. His orders, and he
appeared to give many, were promptly obeyed, and he struck one man
viciously, perhaps because he dared to offer advice unasked.

It was evidence of his power among them that no one interfered, nor
did the victim himself retaliate. Men began to climb the opposite
slopes, while others massed themselves at the foot of the zig-zag pass.

"They are going to attack us at once, Captain," said Stefan. "It is
to be hot work for us to-day."

At the head of the path the little band of defenders waited.

"Every shot must tell," Ellerey whispered, "and keep well behind the
stonework, all of you."

The path was narrow with deep sides. The brigands came up it boldly
enough until the last bend in it showed them the stone-barred gateway.
Then they halted, and the foremost leaned back upon those behind who
pushed them on and shouted: "Forward!" Two men fired blindly at the
stone wall, and then rushed upon it, never to reach their goal. Only
two shots rang out, but both men threw up their arms and staggered
backward upon their companions. Not more than two abreast could come
up the narrow way, and twice again a speedy death crowned the temerity
of those who rushed to the attack. Those behind shouted to be let up
to the front, and those before made every effort to let them come. The
spirit of the brigands seemed to die out of them as their eyes fell
upon their dead companions and that silent death-dealing barricade.
Then one fellow suddenly picked up a corpse, and holding it before him
as a shield, dashed forward with a shout.

"Let him come," whispered Ellerey. "Shoot at those who follow."

The man rushed to the wall until the dead body struck the stonework.
Success for a moment seemed to be his. He had plugged one narrow slit
through which the bullets came, and he cheered his comrades on. They
came, but only to have their leader fall back into their arms. Through
the slit Ellerey had driven his sword with all his strength, piercing
the living through the dead. It had been an ugly rush, but for the
present it was the last.

"They'll try some other plan before attempting this way again," said
Stefan.

"Is there any other way?" Grigosie asked.

"For mountaineers there may be. These fellows can walk in places where
we should never venture and only expect to find flies."

From the opposite mountain a desultory fire was maintained upon the
plateau, which could only do harm if the defenders were careless. For
the rest of the day the brigands held aloof, standing or sitting in
parties in the pass and watching the castle. Vasilici strode from one
group to another, but no movement followed. There was no sleep for the
defenders that night, and at dawn, in spite of Stefan's forecast,
another attack was made upon the gate. It was as unsuccessful as the
first, nor was it made with such determination. The obedience to orders
was only half-hearted.

Later in the day it became evident that a council of war was being
held. The murmur of the men's voices reached the plateau, but no words
could be distinguished. An oath from Vasilici sounded clearly now and
again, but that was all. Some persuasion was apparently pressed upon
the chief which he jeered and laughed at, but there was a shaking of
heads when he pointed to the zig-zag way. His followers were not
inclined to try that road to victory again. They had had their surfeit
of it. Vasilici was quick-witted enough to see that he must listen to
counsel, and with lowering visage he turned first to one and then to
another as they spoke. Presently one speaker seemed to please him, for
his features relaxed into a grim smile. A movement ran through the
whole assembly, men turned to one another and nodded their satisfaction.
Some definite conclusion had been arrived at.

"They seem to have hit upon another way of getting at us," said Stefan.

"Is there another way?" asked Grigosie, repeating the same question
he had asked before. No one answered him, nor did he seem to expect
an answer. He stood watching the now moving mass below, little interest
in his eyes. His alertness had departed.

Vasilici had disappeared into some pathway at the foot of the opposite
slope, and then the crowd fell aside for one man, who, standing alone,
took off his neckcloth and waved it toward the plateau.

"A parley, Captain. Shall I answer?" said Stefan; and then, having
permission, he shouted: "Hallo!"

"I would speak with your Captain," came the answer.

"I'm a mouthpiece, comrade, same as you are. Speak on."

"I am commanded to offer you your lives and freedom on one condition."

"And the condition?" Stefan shouted, prompted by Ellerey. "You are
free to leave the pass unmolested if you will deliver up the youth who
is of your company."

"We'll see you--" Stefan began, without any prompting.

"Word it as you will," said Ellerey, "the coarser the better, perhaps,
for such a devilish suggestion."

"Wait!" exclaimed Grigosie. "Ask for time to consider."

"Who wants to consider such a thing as that?" growled Stefan.

"We gain time," said Grigosie, turning to Ellerey. "Say you will
consider the suggestion and answer them tomorrow. We sorely need rest;
what does it matter how we gain it?"

"My gorge revolts against their even fancying that we should consider
such a thing," said Stefan.

"Command him, Captain," pleaded Grigosie. "In war and love everything
is fair."

Ellerey gave way and Stefan shouted the answer.

"Until to-morrow," came the answer. "The youth once in our hands, you
are free to depart. If he is not given up to us we will have our
revenge, though half the sons of these mountains fall in the gaining
it; and the longer that revenge is delayed the fiercer shall it be
when it does come. Until to-morrow. There shall be peace between us
until then."

"But we'll keep watch by the gate for all that," growled Stefan, who
was not in the best of tempers at having to answer the brigands in
this fashion.

"There is another way, you see," said Grigosie. "I have got an answer
to my question."

"Well, lad, when you alone are in their hands, the rest of us will
have said his last prayer, or growled his last oath, whichever pleases
him best at the hour of departure."

"The question is not so easily settled, Stefan," Grigosie said. "Send
Anton to the gate, Captain, while we discuss it."

Ellerey laughed at the lad's strange mood as he entered the tower with
him. Stefan followed them and stood in the doorway.

"The question is worth consideration, though you may not think so,"
Grigosie began. "You have been deceived, Captain, and also those who
served with you."

"Enough of that, lad. It is past, and the present is our concern. If
we come out of this with our lives we may talk of punishing those who
deceived us."

"Should it not be a bitter punishment?" queried the boy.

"As bitter as the death to which they have brought us face to face,"
said Ellerey fiercely, his whole being roused for a moment at the
thought of the outrage practised upon him.

"But that revenge seems out of your power," Grigosie went on. "For you
and Stefan there is almost certain death to-morrow or a week hence, it
may be."

"It is very likely. I have looked death in the face before, and so has
Stefan there. When we look into his eyes for the last time I warrant
we shall not change color."

"Except with the heat of our final struggle," said Stefan from the
doorway.

"Your comrades have gone. You two stand alone," said Grigosie.

"With you and Anton," said Stefan.

"And we wish for no better companions," added Ellerey. "Vasilici's
knife would have written finis to my history had it not been for you,
Grigosie."

The boy colored a little with pleasure.

"Still you forget, Captain, that Anton and I were not of your choosing.
We forced ourselves into your company."

"What of it? I am glad, I--" and then the look in Grigosie's eyes
stopped Ellerey suddenly. Stefan, too, started from his leaning position
and stood upright in the entrance, looking straight at the boy.

"By your leave, I would become the hostage for your safety," said
Grigosie. "I asked you to take me with you; now I ask you to give me
up."

"Plague upon you, lad, you almost anger me. You are beyond my
understanding," was Ellerey's answer, but he still looked fixedly at
him.

"Since I have deceived you it is fitting that I should pay the penalty,"
said the boy quietly. "I would sooner meet death at their hands than
at yours. Grant me this much, and make an end of it."

"You!" exclaimed Ellerey. "You deceived me! I do not believe it."

"It is the truth. Stay, I would not have you think too ill of me. It
was not done wantonly. Those who made me believe that there was a good
chance of success misled me, but if I thought you too would reap the
benefit, it is none the less true that I deceived you. I came not from
the Queen; I came to work this very thing that has happened, the
delivery of the golden cross instead of the bracelet. I have played
my hand and lost. Mine should be a bitter punishment; you yourself
have said it. Grant me this only, that I receive it from the brigands
yonder, and not from you."

Ellerey hardly seemed to hear the boy's latter words. The sudden
confession was all his brain seemed to have the power to take in.
Stefan remained motionless, statue-like, still staring at Grigosie.
For a space there was silence in the tower. Then Ellerey turned sharply
upon the boy and laid his hand roughly on his shoulder, so roughly
that he winced a little, but showed no sign of fear.

"You lie, Grigosie, confess that you lie. The box containing the token
has never left me, night or day. As I received it from her Majesty so
it has always been, so I delivered it. Of course you are lying."

"You slept soundly, Captain, the night you drank from my wine flask."

"Was it then, you scoundrel?"

"It was then."

Deep down in every man is the instinct of the savage, the acceptance
of the law which demands an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
Given occasion great enough, it may rise even in the man who has all
his life studied to curb his passions, and in his judgments to be
merciful. Ellerey was of the rough and readier sort. He was a
disappointed man, one who nursed the thought of revenge against those
who had injured him. He was a soldier among soldiers who had much of
the barbarian in them. He was an adventurer among adventurers. If the
youth of this deceiver and betrayer appealed to him for a moment, the
thought was sternly crushed. If the thought of what they had come
through together came into his mind, there also came the knowledge
that he had committed the unpardonable sin. He had betrayed his
comrades.

"Heaven forgive you for making me your judge," Ellerey cried; "but
what is there except death for the traitor?" and his sword rang from
its scabbard as he spoke.

He paused a moment and looked toward Stefan.

"It's hateful, but it's just," muttered the soldier in his beard, and
he did not move from the doorway. He only lowered his head so that he
might not see.

"I admit the justice," said Grigosie; "but will you not grant my request
and deliver me to the brigands? So you shall escape."

"Escape!" cried Ellerey. "For what? Is there any truth and honor in
the world? I have not found them, and the end may come when it will.
It is an easier death you shall have from my hands than you would have
from theirs."

The sword was ready, and Stefan turned in the doorway just in time to
see Anton and to catch his uplifted arm as he attempted to rush past
him toward Ellerey. Not a word spoke the soldier, but he fiercely
twisted Anton's aim, and the knife he held rattled to the floor.

"As my fathers faced death, so can I, unflinchingly," Grigosie cried.
"Strike, Captain! God knows it was not such work as this I thought to
find for the strong arm of Desmond Ellerey."

As he spoke, he tore his shirt open at the throat to receive the blow.
His cap fell from his head, and curls, the hue of copper, slipped
loosely down upon his forehead, while the open shirt just revealed the
curve of a white bosom.

"A woman!" exclaimed Stefan, letting go of Anton in his blank
astonishment.

Slowly Ellerey's sword was lowered, and for a moment he did not speak.
Then almost in a whisper he said:

"Maritza! Princess Maritza."



CHAPTER XVII

THE TRUE WORTH OF BARON PETRESCU



There was excitement in Sturatzberg. Rumor flies fast, and the moment
it was whispered that the city gates were watched, that Captain Ellerey,
of his Majesty's Horse, was to be arrested, men began to stop and
gossip at street corners, and women to stand upon their thresholds
ready to give, or to receive, information. Strange stories grew current
in this manner, which served to keep the excitement alive until more
definite news were forthcoming. There was unwonted stir in the secret
societies and clubs, sympathy being with Ellerey, since he had in some
manner offended the Government. They did not stay to inquire what he
had done, or, indeed, to think whether his action would tend to further
any scheme of their own; it was enough that he had shown defiance to
the powers that be. Every hour fresh rumors were started and eagerly
discussed and as eagerly denied. Only two things were definite: there
was much coming and going at the palace, and Captain Ellerey was not
to be found.

Those who lead rebellion, or pull the wires of conspiracies, are seldom
open with those they lead, any more than the policy of King's Ministers
is wholly spread before the people. There were leaders in Sturatzberg
who knew many things, who shrewdly guessed at more, and their knowledge
was not reassuring.

Lord Cloverton did not expect the immediate arrest of Ellerey after
the failure to discover him at the Countess Mavrodin's. He had fully
believed that he was there, and had purposely kept the Countess driving
in the Bois until such time as the search should be accomplished. The
failure was disappointing, but his interview with the Countess would
bear fruit. Ellerey would have to move cautiously, and time was
therefore gained. The gates were closed that night, and no Captain
Ellerey had passed through them. Countess Mavrodin's house was watched,
and no one had left it. So the Ambassador met the morning with a smile;
so far his prompt action had saved the situation. A few hours were
destined to bring him surprises. First came the  news of the return
of Captain Ward's cloak. The messenger who brought it was promptly
taken before the Ambassador and sharply questioned. He had received
it from Captain Ellerey himself an hour before midnight, he said.

"Why were you chosen as a messenger?" asked Lord Cloverton.

"I cannot say. I brought it because I was paid to do so."

"You seem very certain of the time. Did Captain Ellerey tell you the
hour?"

"No, sir; the clocks were striking the hour as he spoke to me."

"What is Captain Ellerey like?"

The description given seemed satisfactory until after the man had been
dismissed, and then Lord Cloverton recognized that it would fit many
men. The cloak was Captain Ward's, but there was no certainty that
Ellerey was the man who had given it to the messenger. To-day the city
was being searched; the return of the cloak went to prove that Ellerey
was still in Sturatzberg; had that been the intention in returning it?
The smile of satisfaction slowly faded from the Ambassador's face, and
he began to grow feverish for further news. Later he was with the King
when the Countess Mavrodin begged for an audience.

"She may unwittingly enlighten your Majesty," said Lord Cloverton, He
could not believe that his cleverness would not be sufficient, sooner
or later, to make the Countess betray herself, although the past was
utterly barren of result.

So Frina Mavrodin was admitted. The presence of the British Ambassador
did not disconcert her. She went to the point at once.

"Is it true, your Majesty, that my house was searched yesterday by
your instructions?" she asked.

"Countess, how can you think that?" said the King. "It is true that
I commanded the arrest of Captain Ellerey, and that command may have
been used to open your doors, as it would serve to open any door in
Sturatzberg."

"I have heard of no other house being entered by force," the Countess
answered. "Naturally, I seek to know why I am suspected."

She puzzled Lord Cloverton more than ever. This was a bold stroke to
disarm suspicion.

"My dear Countess," said the King, blandly, "would you hold me
responsible for the actions of my officers? Believe me, the city is
being searched in every corner for this rebel Captain. It is pardonable
if in the search some annoyance is given to innocent persons, is it
not? Their loyalty should overlook the offence."

"True; but your Majesty, I would humbly submit, overlooks one fact of
the gravest importance to me. That my house is searched for a rebel
is nothing; but when it is searched for a man who, at Court, has been
somewhat in my company, the action affects me curiously. It is not a
question of loyalty, but one which concerns my fair fame."

"Surely, Countess, you exaggerate."

"Indeed, your Majesty, I do not, as Lord Cloverton can prove. Only
yesterday, in the Bois, he made it evident that Court gossip linked
my name with Captain Ellerey's, and even suggested that I might
render service to my country and this Englishman at the same time
by saying all I knew. Is it not so, my lord? You were very anxious
to save your countryman and get him out of the city?"

This was more than the Ambassador had bargained for and an answer did
not come readily to his lips.

"Is it not so, my lord?" the Countess repeated.  "I admit, Countess,
that, fancying there was some tender understanding between you and my
countryman, I was willing, if possible, to render you a service. I
seem to have heard that love has been accountable for strange, and
even foolish actions. This is the beginning and the end of my offence."

"Are you sure of that?" she said. "Forgive me if I am mistaken, but
the searching of my house was strangely timed with our drive in the
Bois."

"Oh, Countess!" the Ambassador exclaimed. "Surely you forget that I
only availed myself of your courteous invitation."

"Which I could do no less than give since you explained that you had
foregone your afternoon sleep to meet me there," she replied quickly,
and smiled, the smile of a very charming woman of the world, as most
people considered her; but Lord Cloverton seemed to catch some meaning
behind the smile, and the King felt that he ought to come to his rescue.

"We have both fallen under the Countess's displeasure; how can we prove
how unjustly? I will reprimand my too zealous officers, and they shall
make you an apology."

"Your Majesty is good," she answered. "For myself it is no great
consequence, but had you witnessed the consternation of my servants,
you would have understood how serious a matter it was in their eyes."

"Subjects and servants alike, Countess, are our masters," said the
King.

Frina Mavrodin departed full of thanks and wreathed in gracious smiles.
When she had gone, the King and the Ambassador looked inquiringly at
each other.

"I think your suspicions were unfounded, my lord," the King said.

"I missed the centre of the target, your Majesty, but I believe I aimed
at the right mark. She is a clever woman; I admire her more every day."

Lord Cloverton spoke the truth; he did admire her. Like all great men,
he was quick to recognize the sterling worth of his adversaries, and
it was borne in upon him more and more that in this crisis he had a
clever and beautiful woman to deal with, and what antagonist could be
more powerful? He began to rearrange his thoughts upon this basis,
passed in review all the seemingly trivial incidents with which Frida
Mavrodin had been connected, and found many new meanings in them. The
possibility that her influence might be paramount in Sturatzberg dawned
upon him. Such a subtle power at work would explain many things, and
the Ambassador determined to watch her more closely than ever.

All that day search was made for Captain Ellerey throughout the city.
Many places, known to be haunts of the dissatisfied, were entered, but
were innocent of even the appearance of evil. There were too many ready
to bear warning for such places to be taken unawares. But no other
houses of such importance as the Countess Mavrodin's were disturbed.
There was no result. No one had seen Captain Ellerey; indeed, few
people appeared to know him, or to have heard of him. This Lord
Cloverton did not believe. He thought he recognized Frina Mavrodin's
influence at work in such ignorance.

It was on the following day that Monsieur De Froilette called at the
Embassy, and was shown into Lord Cloverton's room. With this new train
of thought in his mind, the Frenchman's importance in the politics of
Wallaria appeared to sink into insignificance.

"You are welcome, monsieur. Is this a friendly visit or--"

"Friendly, certainly, but something more," De Froilette answered. He
had not come to the Embassy without due deliberation. He had had an
audience with the Queen that morning, and there was something in her
tone which decided him to make his own interests doubly secure by
giving help to the British Ambassador--such help that might count for
much when the time for settling accounts came, but which should not
materially hasten that time.

"I had begun to think you had forgotten your promise," said Lord
Cloverton, "News of Captain Ellerey would be very useful to--to the
Government of this country. You had a servant watching him, I think."

There was something resembling the Queen's tone in the Ambassador's--a
want of appreciation of his position and importance.

"That is so," replied De Froilette quietly. "I understand you--that is,
the Government--have done your utmost to find this Englishman, and have
failed."

"At present, monsieur, at present."

"Which is hardly wonderful," continued De Froilette. "I have so
constantly observed that you--the Government, I should say--concentrates
its energies in the wrong direction; is it not so, my lord?"

"An opinion which may--observe, I do not say which does, but which
may--arise from an entirely wrong conception of the Government's aims."

"_Ma foi_, that is so!" laughed the Frenchman, conscious that the
Ambassador was annoyed. "Of course, in my ignorance I have supposed
that the Government, in searching for this Captain Ellerey, really
wanted to find him. Foolish of me! It was a mere blind, a strategy,
to mislead. The Government is really looking for some one else. Pardon
me, my lord, for taking up your time." And De Froilette rose to go.

"You are too hasty, monsieur; pray be seated again. It is Captain
Ellerey we want."

"Ah! Then I am not deceived," said De Froilette, sitting down again.
"Tell me, why do you so persistently look for him in the wrong place?"

"Can you show us the right one, monsieur?"

"Send your troops out by the Southern Gate and bid them march toward
Breslen, and let sharp eyes watch the depths of the forest. They may
be rewarded by seeing men gathering to a centre there. Find that centre
and you shall find Captain Ellerey."

"Is it your timber business which teaches you so much?" inquired Lord
Cloverton with a smile, some contempt looking out from behind it.

"You laugh at my trade, but it may prove useful even to you. You watch
the city gates, you search every street and corner of Sturatzberg, and
behold your bird is flown and is many hours upon his journey before
you even start in pursuit."

"This is most interesting, monsieur, but--"

"But you do not believe it," interrupted De Froilette. "I have had a
message from this Captain Ellerey. My servant watched his lodgings.
Early in the morning a boy brought a message to the Captain's servant.
Francois, my man, entered the house and got into conversation with
this servant, a rude soldier with small understanding, but with stanch
love for his master. Put upon his guard by Ellerey, doubtless, he
conceives the possibility that Francois may be playing the spy, and
falling upon him unawares he gags and binds him and locks him in a
cellar. The next day Captain Ellerey, a band of horsemen with him,
meets a woodman in the forest toward Breslen, and by him sends me word
that my servant is gradually starving behind his cellar door, of which
the woodman gives my the key. I go to the Captain's lodging, and there
is Francois. _Pauvre garcon_, he was hungry, my lord; and, _ma foi_,
he will be very terrible the next time he and that soldier meet."

"On the Breslen road, you say," Lord Cloverton remarked thoughtfully.
He had made up his mind quickly.

"Probably in Breslen itself by this time. I understand there is much
dissatisfaction there."

"And Captain Ellerey's object, monsieur?"

The Frenchman shrugged his shoulders as though such a consideration
had not occurred to him.

"Is my opinion worth anything, my lord? I am not in the councils of
the Government. I know little of the State's difficulties, the plots
which threaten, the particular points of danger; but as a private
person I should incline to the belief that it has to do with the
Princess Maritza. I have already told you that she is, or was, in
Sturatzberg You do not believe it. That is a pity."

"I am beginning to believe it, monsieur," the Ambassador answered,
"and I thank you for coming here to-day. The gates of Sturatzberg are
not so well guarded as they should be."

"That is not my affair," said De Froilette with a smile. "I have given
my information to you because I know the prestige of Lord Cloverton
and his value to the peace of Wallaria."

With these parting compliments the Frenchman bowed himself out, feeling
that he had established his position with the Ambassador, and put him
off the real scent at one and the same time. The pleasant security of
the latter feeling was destined to be quickly and rudely dispelled.
Some troops certainly did leave the city and go toward Breslen, but
many more set out in the opposite direction and stretched across the
country which lay between Sturatzberg and the mountains. Lord Cloverton,
in advising the King, was still convinced that the most imminent danger
threatened from the brigands in the hills.

The despatch of the troops did not surprise Frina Mavrodin. That they
should go chiefly toward the hills seemed only natural, seeing that
the brigands lay there. The time since she had returned to find that
her home had been searched had passed in a whirl of conflicting
emotions. For a few moments after dismissing Hannah she had stood
upright, immovable, with a sense of being alone in the world. All the
interests and hopes of her life seemed to slip from her and fall into
a heap of dead ashes at her feet. The Princess had gone. Doubtless she
had meant to go when Frina had left her that morning, and had got her
out of the way on purpose. It was Dumitru who had suggested her going
into the Bois; it was Dumitru, probably, who had persuaded Maritza
that the time to act had come. Not for a moment did Frina suppose that
Dumitru was cognizant of the fact that her house would be searched;
she did not believe that they had gone to escape discovery. If such
had been the case she would have been taken into their confidence. No;
the departure had taken place for the furtherance of plans in which
she had no part, and which she promptly linked with the disappearance
of Captain Ellerey. It never occurred to Frina to set watches to warn
the Princess should she return. She would not return. For good or ill
she had begun the final move toward her goal. What were her plans?
What chance had they of success? Frina knew what secret societies
nursed the cause of Princess Maritza in the city. She knew to a unit
what support could be depended upon, knew the exact value of it, the
strength and the weakness of it. The cause had looked to the hills for
support, not without reason, perhaps. Were not the men gathered there
rebels, ready to strike a blow at the Government? This had always been
Maritza's argument, and there had been some signs that she was right.
Frina knew that the material for revolt was to hand, but a resolute
leader had been lacking. Now this want had been supplied by Captain
Ellerey. It was round Ellerey that the whirl of Frina's emotions
centred. Her relief that the Princess had gone before the house was
searched gave place to the apprehension that she had gone to join
Captain Ellerey. She saw only a rival in her late guest. It was her
love for the man which ruled Frina Mavrodin's actions, not her love
for the cause. It was in this spirit that she made her complaint to
the King, for the time might come when her house would prove the only
safe refuge for Ellerey. It was in this spirit that, with her maid in
attendance, she presently went to visit Baron Petrescu.

The Baron's wound had not proved serious, but it had kept him to the
house. The Countess found him lying on a sofa, from which he half rose
as she entered. She hurried forward to prevent him.

"This is good of you, Countess," he said. "Strangely, you were in my
thoughts when you were announced."

She inquired about his wound and expressed her regrets in a few prettily
turned sentences. "It was nothing," said the Baron. "The greatest hurt
was to my pride."

"And, of course, you long for an opportunity of wiping out the defeat?"
said Frina.

"Curiously enough, that idea has not risen uppermost in my thoughts,"
Petrescu answered. "I owe the Englishman an apology for the attack
which was made upon him directly he succeeded in wounding me. He is
a gentleman and a gallant swordsman, and I writhe under the fear that
he believes that attack was of my contriving."

There was the genuine ring of truth in the Baron's words. Frina Mavrodin
was not surprised. She believed that she thoroughly understood him,
or would not have visited him.

"You would befriend Captain Ellerey were it in your power?" she
questioned.

"Gladly, for his own sake and for yours. Pardon me, Countess, if my
own confession slips out with these words. Those who love recognize
love quickly."

"Was that in your mind when you forced this duel upon Captain Ellerey?"
she asked.

"I have tried to believe that love for the cause stood first, Countess.
Please question me no further. I take refuge behind the punishment I
have received. That I have not forfeited all your esteem is proved by
your presence here. Tell me how I can serve you."

"Like many others, Baron, you jump to a conclusion too quickly; but
let it pass. There is weightier business in hand," and then she told
him all that was known about Ellerey, and of the disappearance of
Princess Maritza. "Knowing that the Princess always had it in her mind
to use Captain Ellerey when the time came," she went on, "I have little
doubt she has joined him in whatever mission he has undertaken. What
art she will, or can, use to turn him to her service, I do not know."

"He is not the man to be lightly turned from the cause he has espoused,"
said the Baron thoughtfully, "and that cause is not ours."

"Love might prove incentive enough," said Frina.

Petrescu turned to her quickly. The look in her eyes told him her
secret plainly enough, but her words were sufficient to have a
quickening influence on the hopes which had died within him.

"I may be jumping to a rash conclusion," Frina went on hastily, "but
if I am right--indeed, whatever art is used, what hope is there of
success?"

"None, unless those in the hills are with us," replied the Baron
decisively. "Here in Sturatzberg we have much enthusiasm, much talk,
much jealousy; but I doubt the fighting temper behind it. The Princess
has moved too soon."

"Is there any chance of her being able to persuade the brigands?"

"Where men are concerned I dare not limit the power of a woman," he
answered; "but since the Princess has moved, we are bound to be on the
watch. Failure will be disastrous to you and me, Countess."

"It will probably mean death to Princess Maritza, to Captain Ellerey
certainly."

"I understand," said the Baron. The hope that was in him died, and it
is doubtful if the woman ever gave him full credit for what his words
cost him. "I understand. To-morrow I shall be out again. Command me
and trust me. There shall at least be one arm to strike a blow in the
Englishman's defence, and back to back, Countess, he and I would render
no mean account of ourselves." She had taken the hand he held out in
token of her thanks and the compact between them when the door was
suddenly opened and a man entered hurriedly. He stopped abruptly,
seeing that his master was not alone.

"I have no secrets from this lady," said the Baron. "You may speak
freely."

"The city is in excitement," said the man. "Some horsemen have ridden
in saying that Captain Ellerey is in the hills surrounded by the
brigands. Instead of being on the King's service, as the men supposed,
he carried the token of Princess Maritza's house. The brigands
immediately attacked the party."

"Yes, and then?" exclaimed Frina.

"These men deserted, my lady, and left the Captain and two or three
companions to their fate. These fellows are boasting loudly of their
loyalty to the King."

"And the others, are they dead or captured?" asked the Baron quickly.

"It seems they managed to gain some ruin in the hills, and are there
making a last stand."

The Baron dismissed the man, and then turned sharply to the Countess.

"You must go quickly and learn all the news," he said. "My wound shall
be made to serve a useful purpose. It shall be sufficient to keep me
free from visitors for some days to come, but it will not prevent my
leaving Sturatzberg to-night. I have a few men I can rely upon. We may
not turn failure to success, but we may effect the escape of Captain
Ellerey and those who are with him. Have you a trusted messenger you
can send to me?"

"Yes."

"Learn all you can, then, and send word to me here before nine
to-night. At that hour you may know that I have departed, and what a
man may do, rest assured Countess, I will."



CHAPTER XVIII

SIX LOYAL MEN



From the Northern to the Southern, from the Eastern to the Western
gates Sturatzberg was in an uproar. Excitement was in every face, and
the wildest rumors were given credence. When the guards at the gates
were doubled and companies of soldiers were met in the streets, it was
firmly believed that the brigands were marching in overwhelming numbers
upon the city. Comparatively few had heard the news from the returned
horsemen's own lips, and from much reporting the tale had grown out
of all knowledge. After the excitement caused by the search for Captain
Ellerey the city was ready to believe anything.

As the Baron's servant had related, the horsemen were loud in their
boasting of loyalty. They had followed Captain Ellerey because they
believed they were on the King's service, they said, and never for a
moment had they supposed otherwise until they had seen the golden cross
in Vasilici's hands. This was the story they told the King when they
were taken to the palace, with much more concerning their own valor
when the brigands rushed upon them. They disagreed somewhat concerning
one another's valour, each one striving to impress the King in his own
favor; but they were of one voice regarding Ellerey's treachery and
the deceit which had been practised upon them. "What message or token
could you suppose I was sending to the brigands?" asked the King.

"It was not for us to inquire, your Majesty," they answered. "We knew
Captain Ellerey, and we obeyed him."

In the main their story was true. If Ellerey had mentioned the Queen
as their employer they had considered the King and Queen as one, and
no question was put to them to make them differentiate between them.

They were dismissed, and the King was for some hours closeted with one
or two of his prominent Ministers. They were men the King trusted, but
it was doubtful if their opinion ever weighed with him to the same
extent that Lord Cloverton's did. The news astonished the Ambassador,
but was reassuring. Whatever the cause, the Queen's plans at any rate
had miscarried, and the brigands were evidently not to be tempted into
the service of Princess Maritza. For the moment there was no danger
to be apprehended from them.

"I think we may leave this turbulent Captain and his companions to
Vasilici's tender mercies, my lord," said the King. "All we have to
guard against is a riot among the dissatisfied in Sturatzberg."

Perhaps the Ambassador felt sorry for Ellerey, but there was nothing he
could do.

"Has your Majesty ever supposed that Princess Maritza is, or has been
lately, in Sturatzberg?" he asked after a pause.

"It is impossible. Your Government has sent her visiting your colonies,
a delicate attention, which, no doubt, she appreciates."

"Just so, and yet I had a strange story brought to my notice. I heard
that she had managed to escape the delicate attention of my Government
and had returned to Wallaria. Needless to say, I did not believe the
story, but the deliverance of her token certainly lends credence to
it."

"She might send her token," said the King; "she would not venture
herself in the country, much less in Sturatzberg."

"That was my opinion," answered Cloverton.

"Do you mean that it is not your opinion now?"

"I am in a transitional stage, your Majesty, and have not yet decided."

So there were troops of soldiers in the streets lest rioters should
gather together and do damage. No one imagined there was enough power
behind them to really menace the city. A few men talked together
excitedly in side streets, but these dispersed quietly after a little
while without any interference from the soldiers.

The Countess Mavrodin drove in the Bois as usual. She held a little
court, her carriage drawn up to the sidewalk, and she listened to and
laughed at all the news. What could it all matter to her so long as
she could laugh and chatter and be happy?

"My horses will not stand still if you talk politics," she said to one
man. "They know their mistress is of the nature of a butterfly." The
man was one who was likely to be well informed, and she did not say
it until he had told her all he knew.

This butterfly nature of hers caused her to drive about a great deal
that day. She had shopping to do in the Konigplatz, in the square out
of which the Altstrasse ran and in the Bergenstrasse nearly as far
down as the Southern Gate. More than once she caught sight of a group
of excited men at a street corner, and once or twice she noticed that
a man would walk leisurely toward them, pause a moment, and then pass
on. Whenever this happened the little crowd dispersed immediately as
though some urgent business had suddenly occurred to each member of
it. It was late in the afternoon when the Countess returned home, and
before she retired to her private rooms she gave instructions for
certain servants, whom she mentioned by name, to be in readiness, as
she would require them presently. She had a small reception that evening
and was the most brilliant, as she was the most frivolous, among her
brilliant and frivolous guests. Yet before nine o'clock Baron Petrescu
had received some closely written sheets in her handwriting, and knew
much of what had happened in Sturatzberg that day.

But not all; that was, of course, impossible. In dark corners of the
city through which it was dangerous to travel after nightfall, there
were dismal houses, behind the fast-closed doors of which ready orators
held the attention of eager listeners. The time was near. The
emancipation from their slavery was at hand. What they had heard in
the city to-day was proof of it. Be ready! It was the same story
wherever men were gathered together. And in the constant coming and
going at the palace, the keenest eyes might easily have failed to
notice some who entered and left; and within there were many passages
known only to the initiated. One man passed in unnoticed, and in a
side room was met by another who, without a word, beckoned him to
follow.

"No further news?" asked the first.

"None," was the answer.

Along the same passage which Ellerey had once traversed was De Froilette
taken, and ushered into the Queen's presence. He bowed low, but she
had no thought of ceremony just now.

"Can you read this riddle, monsieur?" she asked. "All kinds of solutions
come to me, madam, but none that seem to entirely fit the case."

"One thing only stands clear," said the Queen: "this Captain Ellerey
is a traitor. You were a fool, monsieur, to bring him to my notice."

"I may have been mistaken."

"May? Indeed you have," she answered. "Heaven help him if he returns to
Sturatzberg; he will sorely need it."

"I say I may have been mistaken, your Majesty, and that is what I
mean," said De Froilette calmly. "Francois has seen these men who have
come back, and I am convinced that Captain Ellerey was as astonished
to see the token as any one."

"How could he be?"

"Are you certain of the man who delivered it to him?"

"As I am of myself. Do you still trust this Englishman?"

"If he wished to deceive us he could have done so in a much more
effectual way," said De Froilette, "and served his own ends better.
Men like Captain Ellerey do not join themselves to such a cause as
ours for the love of it, but in their own interests. I have put down
his somewhat off-hand treatment of me to his feeling of security in
being your Majesty's trusted messenger."

"So Monsieur De Froilette, ever so suspicious, has lived to become
weakly confiding."

"I have another reason to urge," the Frenchman went on. "I believe
Princess Maritza has been in Sturatzberg."

"Have you seen her?"

"No, but Francois says he did. He may have been mistaken, but the
delivery of her token goes to confirm Francois. Now, your Majesty, one
of Ellerey's companions may be a partisan of the Princess, and may
have changed the token. The fact that I have led the Princess, while
she has been in England, to believe that I have worked in her cause,
might induce her to think that the golden cross would be acceptable
to the brigands, that they would welcome the message it held."

"Had she trusted you in any degree, monsieur, she would have made her
presence known to you."

"She may have come to watch me, and even then she could hardly discover
my real object. I have worked in your service too secretly. Even Lord
Cloverton trusts me."

"I would Lord Cloverton were removed from Wallaria either by his
Government or by--"

"Ah, madam, death seldom strikes where we would have it. If heaven
were pleased to remove him we should have one obstacle the less in our
way; but many would still remain. Death would have to be busy to make
our enterprise sure."

"Lord Cloverton stands by most of those obstacles to give them
strength," answered the Queen, her hands tightening a little. "The
King would be pliant in my hands were this man not beside him to stiffen
him. Is there any other man in the world who would have dared to put
me to the test he did? I hate him."

"It is fortunate he has done so; he will not dare to repeat the
offence," said De Froilette.

"I am not sure of that."

"If he does, the bracelet is mislaid," said De Froilette. "The mere
fact that it has not been delivered will prove that you never sent it.
For the moment we are powerless to act, but another token will be sent
presently, another messenger found to take it. Have we not the assurance
of Russia that the moment the standard of revolt is raised she will
find plausible excuse to cross the frontier? Has not your Majesty
rather hoped to succeed without the help of Russia?"

"The possibility may have occurred to me," answered the Queen.

"These rebels who would help you to occupy the throne of Wallaria alone
would be difficult to rule without an army at your call to cow them
into submission."

"We are looking to the future; it is the present which concerns us,
monsieur."

"We can only wait and watch events," said De Froilette. "These deserters
declare that they rode out with Captain Ellerey in the belief that
they were upon the King's service. Your Majesty is not mentioned by
them. We are safe so far."

"Some one, monsieur, holds my token; until that is in my possession
again there is no safety."

"It is mislaid," said the Frenchman; "if that will not suffice, it has
been stolen; if that is not enough, pick out some servant you can spare
and accuse him of the theft. The sufferings of one man must not count
beside the safety of a cause involving many lives."

"You seem to forget that Captain Ellerey knows the truth," said the
Queen.

"You were alone when you told him of his mission. You have told the
King that your conversation related to the Countess Mavrodin--hold to
that story. Is the word of a traitor, struggling to shield himself,
to be taken against yours?"

"I act more readily than I lie, monsieur."

"Pardon, madam, a lie is a vulgar cowardice; we are dealing with secrets
of the State."

"I am woman enough to find small difference between them."

"And Queen enough to forget the woman when the sovereign must use
diplomacy," answered De Froilette. "Besides, we rush far out to meet
trouble. What can three or four men accomplish against an army of
mountaineers fighting in their own hills? By this time Captain Ellerey
lies food for the preying vultures. We are quite safe, your Majesty."

De Froilette left the palace unnoticed as he had come, and returned
quickly to the Altstrasse. Francois hastened to attend him.

"There is nothing to report, monsieur," he said, in answer to his
master's look of inquiry. "The city is quieting down. Is monsieur in
any danger?"

"Perhaps, Francois, but it does not trouble me. I have been in danger
before. Many channels of information are open to a timber merchant,
and those in authority find me useful."

"We can wait, monsieur, but those who are expecting us to speak the
word, will they wait?"

"I think so, Francois; still, you may have everything ready for a hasty
departure. And if by any chance circumstances should necessitate our
leaving separately, you must look for me in London at the old address."

Such instructions caused the servant no surprise. His master had usually
managed to steer successfully through the troubled waters he
encountered, but on many occasions such preparations for rapid flight
had been made.

"Did you call to inquire after Baron Petrescu, Francois?"

"Yes, monsieur; his wound is giving him increased trouble."

"I rejoice to hear it. We can well dispense with his crowing in
Sturatzberg just now. A walk through the city in an hour or so,
Francois, might be good for your health." The servant smiled, falling
in with his master's humor, and went out. The streets were quiet when
he traversed them an hour or two later. A few soldiers were in the
Konigplatz and at the top of the Bergenstrasse, but, except where some
entertainment was going forward, and carriages and servants were
congregated without, the city was unusually lifeless. Perhaps the
presence of the soldiers drove law-abiding citizens home early lest
they might come under suspicion, and the lawless were evidently not
inclined to run risks. Francois stood for a few moments outside the
Countess Mavrodin's watching the arrivals, among whom he recognized
many notabilities, including the British Ambassador; and then he went
for some distance down the Bergenstrasse before returning home. Had
he traversed this street farther he would probably have been convinced
that the exciting news of the day was already forgotten, for he would
hardly have heard the laughter and songs which came from the Toison
d'Or unless he had actually gone up the narrow court in which it stood.

The door was shut, but the light shone dully through the red blinds
which were drawn across the windows. They were like two huge eyes
bleared with strong drink, and as a late comer pushed open the door
at intervals and disappeared within, a watcher might have had the
sensation of seeing an ogre swallowing his victim. Another thing might
have struck him. There were many late arrivals, and they all came
singly, entering swiftly and letting the door swing quickly to behind
them. The tavern was, surely, fast becoming overcrowded, for no one
came out.

But there was much room in the Toison d'Or, and the chamber in which
Ellerey had waited for the token was thrown open to-night. It was
crowded with men eager to listen to the horsemen who had ridden into
Sturatzberg that day. They were the centre of attraction, and had long
ago become talkative and more than ordinarily boastful. They shouted
answers to every question, and were regaled with tankard after tankard
of liquor. They drank deep healths to the King, and swore to their
unswerving loyalty with many a strange oath. They sang snatches of
ribald songs at the bidding of any man who had the wherewithal to pay
for wine--snatches only, which became less coherent as the evening
advanced. They cursed the traitor Ellerey, and made jests upon Maritza,
"who was called 'Princess' by some fools and vagabonds."

"Down with her, and all who have a word for her!" cried one of them,
trying to rise to give vehemence to his words, but falling back helpless
into his seat.

"Curse her again, comrade," said a thin, morose-looking man in his
ear. "Don't go to sleep yet. Curse her again. We like to know the true
ring of your minds."

It was beyond the soldier's power to reply, but the other soldiers did
it for him, vying with one another in their language.

"That's right," said the thin man. "You are all agreed. She is a pest
in the land, this Princess, an evil to be trodden down, one to be
killed if opportunity occurs, and the fact of her being a woman shall
win her no mercy. You are all agreed on that?"

"No mercy!" shouted one soldier.

"Less because she's a woman," growled another.

"Down with her," said a third in a drunken whisper.

"One more drink round, landlord," said the morose man. "We'll drink
it standing. Those who cannot stand, let their comrades hold them up.
This is a loyal and sacred toast for the last. Not a man shall sit
down to it. Tankards round, landlord!"

The soldiers struggled to their feet obediently, but each of them had
to be held up on either side, and they laughed at their drunken
inability. Seizing a tankard, the thin man sprang upon a chair.

"See that none fail to honor my toast!" he cried. "Let it tell its
tale to Sturatzberg before the dawn. Here's to our Sovereign Lady,
Princess Maritza!"

Too drunk to understand the purport of the words, the soldiers raised
their tankards to drink, and then let them fall to the ground with a
clatter, the untasted liquor splashing upon the floor. Each man jerked
forward where he stood, and, when those who held him let him go, fell
down with a thud. A groan or two, a convulsive movement, and then they
lay still, while something mixed with the spilt liquor and dyed it to
a darker hue. The six men who had stood immediately behind them wiped
their keen long knives and sheathed them again in silence.

"Go quickly!" shouted the man, still standing on the chair. "See that
the Bergenstrasse is clear. They shall rest there to-night, and
Sturatzberg may find them there presently and read the lesson as it
will."

In the early hours of the morning, when the guests were leaving the
Countess Mavrodin's a man rushed past them into the hall.

"Is Lord Cloverton still here?"

The Ambassador came forward at once.

"What is it?"

"The men who returned to-day--the soldiers."

"What of them?"

"They have just been found lying side by side in the Bergenstrasse,
dead--murdered!"



CHAPTER XIX

IN DESPERATE STRAITS



Desmond Ellerey stood with his sword lowered and his head bowed. As
he spoke her name a flush came into his cheeks. His anger at Grigosie's
deceit had been great, stern, cold, and judicial--only in such a spirit
could he take vengeance on the lad; now it was shame which flamed into
his cheeks. He had drawn his sword against a woman--in another moment
the blade would have been dyed in her blood--the very thought of it
was horrible.

In Maritza's face there was no look of triumph. If for a moment it had
lightened her eyes, if the woman's power over the man defiantly
proclaimed itself as she tore open her shirt to reveal the truth, it
was gone more quickly, more completely, perhaps, than Ellerey's anger.

The Princess was the first to break the silence.

"You will not strike?" she said, closing the shirt again with hasty
fingers.

"Regrets are useless. I had hoped to succeed. I will tell you why when
you choose to listen to me. To-morrow you can deliver me to the
brigands; until then I am Grigosie again."

As she picked up her cap and drew it over her curls Ellerey looked up.
It was a relief to see the lad before him as he had always known him.

"And Grigosie talks folly," he said. "I would far sooner take his life
myself than deliver him to the tender mercies of the brigands." A cry
from Stefan, which was half an oath, startled them, and in an instant
Ellerey had sprung to the soldier's side. Anton at the same moment
seized his knife, and all three men were in the doorway slashing and
thrusting furiously at those without. For a moment there were only two
or three, who had approached silently, but their shouts upon being
discovered brought a crowd rushing to their assistance.

When Anton had deserted his post to come to Grigosie's help, the
temptation to secure an easy victory had been too great for those who
watched the plateau. Vasilici may have given no orders that the truce
should be thus flagrantly broken, but those who had seized the
opportunity knew well enough that success would win easy forgiveness.

As it had been at the gate guarding the zig-zag path, those in front,
wounded or dying, were thrown back upon their companions, impeding the
rush which must have effected an entrance. Perhaps there was still a
desire among most of them to let any comrade who would force himself
into the forefront of the attack. The prowess of the defenders had
already taught them a salutary lesson.

"Quick, Stefan; see that the door will close and fasten," whispered
Ellerey. "When it is ready, shout; give us a moment to thrust back the
foremost of them, and a moment to get in, and then we'll shut them
out, if we can."

Stefan made a sharp cut at the first man within reach of him, and then
slipped back into the tower. He shouted almost immediately, for Grigosie
was already at the door, and had seen that it was in working order.
At the shout Ellerey and Anton made a dash out as if in a last attempt
for freedom. A slash to right and left, a cringing back of those in
front gave them the opportunity and the time they wanted. In another
instant they were within the tower, the door was shut, and the great
bolts in it shot home.

"It's not likely we'll be using this way out for a while," said Ellerey,
"so we'll pile everything against it we can to strengthen it."

They worked with a will, and while the brigands beat at the door
without, they barricaded it within; and having heaped up against it
everything they could lay their hands on, they drove in some wooden
stakes at an angle to hold the obstruction in its place and resist the
pressure.

"That will stop them for a little while," said Ellerey.

No one answered him. As soon as the work was accomplished Grigosie
turned away, and Stefan, wiping the sweat from his brow with the back
of his hand, looked with unutterable fierceness at Anton.

"You--you----" And then he burst out with a mighty oath. "There's no
word in devil's or man's vocabulary to call you by. You're to thank
for this. Weren't you ordered to keep guard by the barrier yonder?"

"Let him be, Stefan," said Ellerey, laying his hand on the soldier's
arm. "He did rightly in leaving it. He came to protect his mistress."

Stefan glanced at Grigosie, whose back was toward him, and muttered
something deeply; oaths they may have been, but the words seemed to
lose themselves in his beard. Anton said not a word. He looked at
Ellerey, and it was a look of which it was difficult to read the
meaning. It was one of wonder rather than of gratitude. Perhaps he was
trying to understand the real character of this strange Englishman.
The brigands still continued to hammer at the door, but it showed no
sign of giving.

"It will hold for a time," said Ellerey, "but we must see what can be
done to interrupt their attentions as much as possible. A shot or two
from the chamber above might help them to become quieter. Come, Stefan,
and let us see what we can do."

In the chamber above there were narrow slits in the walls, and the top
of the zig-zag was commanded from this vantage place, but those
immediately below were out of danger. Some men were standing by the
broken-down barrier, and Stefan wanted to fire at them, but Ellerey
stopped him. Their ammunition was too valuable to throw away. A
cartridge presently might be worth much more to them than one man's
life just now.

"Those at the door below are the danger," said Ellerey.

"There's a good deal of loose stonework on the roof," said Stefan. "A
piece of that heaved over at intervals might give them something to
think about besides hammering at that door."

"They shall have a lesson at once," said Ellerey, climbing carefully
up the broken stairway which led to the roof. It has been said that
a turret had fallen in, breaking part of the stairs away, but the roof
could easily be reached. There were many fragments, some large, some
small, lying there, and one piece of considerable size Ellerey and
Stefan managed to get on to the wall of the parapet immediately over
the door. The manoeuvre was apparently unnoticed, for there came no
warning shout to those below.

"Over with it," said Ellerey.

It did its work effectually. There were groans and execrations, and
several bullets struck harmlessly about the stonework from whence this
message had been hurled, but the hammering at the door ceased, and the
besiegers retired to a safe distance.

"We must keep watch from here, Captain," said Stefan. "Help me to mount
another piece upon the wall. It can rest there until they get courageous
again and ask for it to be thrown upon them."

Ellerey did so, and, leaving Stefan there for the present, returned
to the basement of the tower.

Anton was standing in exactly the same place as when Ellerey had mounted
the steps, but the expression on his face had changed. It was quite
evident that in the interval some words had passed between him and
Grigosie, and that, whatever the subject of the conversation, Anton
disapproved of it. Grigosie was leaning against the wall counting the
cartridges he still had in his possession.

"We have stopped their hammering for a while," Ellerey said. "While
the loose stones on the roof last, we have another weapon of defence."

"Do I relieve Stefan?" asked Grigosie.

"No; Anton. Rest while you can. There will be little enough sleep for
any of us."

"And little enough food, too," said Grigosie, when Anton had cast
himself down in a corner.

"We are truly in a sad case, Princess."

"Grigosie, please; let me remain Grigosie. It will be easier for both
of us."

She crossed over to the steps which led to the upper chamber and sat
down.

"As you say, our position is hopeless," Grigosie went on. "In
Sturatzberg there are some who would strike a blow for Maritza, but
no one knows of Grigosie. It is a poor end to make, Captain. I have
had my moments of despair, but whenever I have thought of failure, I
have never pictured such a miserable failure as this. I was prepared
to face death and disaster, but if death came, I meant that it should
be glorious, that it should come in a fashion to set Europe ringing
with the news. It was a magnificent setting I had arranged for
myself--the going down of a sun in purple and red and gold."

"Even as it is we make a mountain legend of it," said Ellerey, with
a short laugh; "and legend lives long, longer than fame, often. You
have a fair chance of being remembered by the generations to come."

"I have brought you to this, so it is your privilege to laugh at me,"
she said.

"At least, we can be honest with each other now," said Ellerey. "At
the best we can only keep these wolves at bay for a few hours. Though
these old walls stand, we have little food, little ammunition. Death
has no very great terrors for me. I seem to have lived my life for the
express purpose of showing how a man can fail, and, having been unjustly
robbed of my honor, you succeed in robbing me of my self-respect by
making me lift my hand against you--a woman."

"I am sorry. Question me as you will."

"How could you hope for anything else but failure from such a mad
enterprise?" he asked.

"Captain Ellerey, do you remember what I said when we met on the downs
that day?"

"Every word."

"That I spoke truly you now know. You know how my claim stands, and
whether you love my cause or not, you must recognize the justice of
it. While I was in England, kept there to be out of the way, my friends
were working in Sturatzberg. My adherents, my well-wishers, are in
every grade of society there, but there was one man on whom I thoroughly
depended. He was in constant communication with me, and one of his
great schemes, a plan which he swore was ripening every day, was getting
the brigands to espouse my cause. To these hills have flocked all the
malcontents of the country. They are not robbers; they are political
outcasts many of them, and should welcome one who is by right their
ruler. So said this man, so he swore they were ready to do, but
constantly advised a little further delay. You cannot understand what
this waiting day after day, month after month, meant to me. Impatient
in heart, I was yet patient in action. I might still be quietly waiting
but for two things. First I learnt that to be put further out of the
way I was to visit England's colonies, a pleasure trip graciously
arranged for me by your Government; secondly, I was informed that the
man I trusted was scheming for his own ends more than for mine. It was
the parting of the ways, Captain Ellerey, and I had to choose. Another
stepped on board the vessel placed at my disposal in my stead, and
while she was taken to the colonies I came secretly to Sturatzberg.
There I have since lived, watching and waiting, in the house of the
woman who devised and helped me to carry out this plan."

"A woman!" Ellerey exclaimed.

"Countess Mavrodin, whose power is only the greater because no one has
any idea of its existence. My first work was to watch the man whom I
believed had been working for me. I quickly found that my interests
were not first in his consideration, but I learned also that he feared
his own schemes would fail should some unlucky chance bring me to
Sturatzberg. In this fear I saw my hope. Was this unnatural?"

"Is this man De Froilette?" asked Ellerey.

"He is the man. Unconscious of my presence in the city he continued
to work against me. Queen Elena had now become his dupe. The men in
the hills would help to set her alone upon the throne in Wallaria, and
the King once got rid of and the country in insurrection, De Froilette
would have sold it to Russia--more, would have aspired to the hand of
the Queen. Perhaps he loves her, perhaps he only loves the power he
would gain. His conspiracy was well laid, and he only wanted a man to
lead, to bear the brunt of the fight, to pay the penalty should failure
come, while he remained an uninterested citizen ready to be the first
to cry out against the rebellion if necessary. His choice fell upon
Desmond Ellerey."

Ellerey did not answer. This recital was making many things clear to
him.

"I knew something of this Captain," the Princess went on. "In my heart
I had long ago chosen him to lead my cause. I tested his courage on
the night I believed he had received the token. It was I, Captain
Ellerey, who ran with you along the deserted streets from the Altstrasse
that night; it was I who, when only numbers had succeeded in binding
you, came and looked into your eyes and was satisfied."

"Yet you didn't trust me enough to whisper your name," said Ellerey.

"At Court you came under the influence of Frina Mavrodin," she went
on hastily. "Perhaps, even with her, my cause took second place then.
You were stanch to the mission you had undertaken; she could not turn
you from that, although she influenced you in another way."

"What do you mean, Princess?"

"I have heard her speak of you, I have noted the light in her eyes;
do you think I could be deceived?"

"And do you think, Princess, that I have no memory? Since that morning
on the downs---"

"Her success did not help my cause, therefore what was it to me!" cried
Maritza, suddenly starting to her feet. "It was time for me to act.
You know the rest. There are spies everywhere, and I knew when the
token was given, how it was sent, and enclosed in a similar fashion
I had my own. De Froilette was afraid of me, therefore it was possible
that the brigands, or some of them, at least, were ready to take up
my cause. The wine that night made you sleep heavily, and I changed
the tokens. There is a loose brick in yonder corner, under it lies the
Queen's bracelet of medallions. So, Captain Ellerey, you have me in
your power. I brought you to this strait--the remedy is in your own
hands. Deliver me and the Queen's token into Vasilici's hands, and--who
knows, you may yet win place and power in Sturatzberg."

With an impatient gesture, Ellerey walked across the chamber, and as
he did so Anton raised his head.

"What, old watch-dog, so you think as basely of me as your mistress
does," he said, noticing the sudden movement.

Anton did not answer, but waited, resting on his elbow.

"No man loves being fooled, Princess," Ellerey went on, turning round
hastily, "and that I have been by the Queen, by De Froilette, and by
you, but of them all you only have insulted me. What contempt must you
have for me to think even of such a thing! Let me be as short and
brutal. If by the sacrifice of a dog to those wolves without I could
purchase my freedom, I would not buy it at the price. I will wake you
presently, Anton. You, at least, I can understand," and Ellerey mounted
the steps and disappeared into the upper chamber. He went no farther
for a time, but sat on some fallen stones to think, and his thoughts
were not of how to escape from his enemies, nor even how to hold them
at bay as long as possible, but of two women. One, a woman of the
world, for so she seemed, the centre of attraction, beautiful, witty,
frivolous, shimmering in silk and lace and jewels, jewels that were
no brighter than her eyes. He had not mentioned her among those who
had fooled him. She had not done so. She had been a pleasant companion,
a true comrade, perhaps; indeed, was ready to give him even more than
friendship. He might have loved her but for the other woman, whom he
saw again as in a vision, standing on the summit of the downs, talking
of empire and power, stirring his soul from its lethargy and bidding
him play the man. If she had stirred him then, how much more did she
make his pulses throb now, now that she had shared his dangers and
braved so much! Had she any memory such as his, of that breezy morning
long ago? And then the horror of the present overwhelmed him for a
time. He was powerless to help her.

"There is no future for us beyond tomorrow, or the day after," he
murmured. "Fate has strangely linked me with these two women, and made
sport of me. One might have loved me perchance, and will regret me;
the other I love, and she cares not, and I am likely to lay down my
life in a last endeavor to save her. Thank God for such a death! A man
could scarcely die a better one, although Stefan would hardly think
so," and he climbed to the roof to talk to the soldier there.

Princess Maritza stood for some time where Ellerey had left her. She
too, perhaps, forgot the present for a little while, and her thoughts
sped to Frina Mavrodin, Then she crossed the chamber quickly.

"Dumitru, are you asleep?"

"No, Princess," the man answered, starting up.

"Lie down again, Dumitru, and listen. If he comes, be asleep, as I
shall feign to be; but listen, and if you do not understand, question
me until you do."

"You distrust this Captain, Princess?"

"No; he may yet do good work for us."

For a long time she continued to speak in a whisper.

"It is madness," murmured the man.

"Wise men would call all I have done madness," she answered. "Listen,
Dumitru, there is more."

When she had finished there was silence.

"You would have me play the traitor," said the man, slowly.

"He is never a traitor who obeys the word of his sovereign," she
answered.

"But, Princess---"

"Am I your sovereign, Dumitru?"

"My beloved Princess, indeed."

"Then obey, Dumitru. Act promptly when I give the word. It shall be
soon. Perhaps to-night."



CHAPTER XX

TREACHERY OR SACRIFICE



All that night the stone, menacingly balanced on the wall above the
door, remained in its place. The brigands had no desire to court a
useless death, and they could afford to wait.

At dawn Ellerey ascended to the roof of the tower and found Anton
pacing its narrow limits to keep the warmth in his limbs.

"Nothing happened, Anton?"

"Nothing, Captain."

"You have helped your mistress into a desperate strait. How could you
hope for anything else but failure?"

"The Princess has told you, Captain?"

"Aye, man, but that was a woman's hope--a brave one if you will, but
there was no weighing of chances, no counting the cost in it. Was there
nothing more than this desperate hope at the back of your mind, no
sane man's reasoning to see the peril of it?"

"I am but a servant to obey," Anton answered. "Yet desperate ventures
have succeeded, and we had honesty on our side, Captain. Ours is the
just cause, and that counts for something."

"No wonder Princess Maritza's history is one of failure if her
counsellors have advised after this manner," said Ellerey.

"Are you certain she has failed, Captain?" Anton asked, turning quickly
toward him. The earnestness of the question, added to its seeming
absurdity, was startling. Could there be any doubt of the failure?

"Can your eyes penetrate beyond the spur of the hills yonder and see
an army marching to our rescue, or your ears catch the welcome sound
of tramping feet?" Ellerey said, pointing to the head of the pass.

"No, Captain."

"Is there any hope that a single man has set out from Sturatzberg to
help us?"

"I know of none," was the answer.

"And about us the plateau is full of men, and below us in the pass men
wait--enemies all. Outside this tower there is certain death for us,
and within there is food enough to satisfy one man for a day perhaps."

"I know, Captain, and yet the Princess may not have failed."

Ellerey did not answer. He leant against the parapet watching the day
grow brighter, and Anton resumed his quick pacing to and fro.

The men on the plateau and below in the pass were beginning to stir.
Sentries were changed. There was the murmur of voices, and presently
rising curls of faint blue smoke from fires cooking the morning meal.
There was sunlight on the higher slopes, and the song of birds in the
air, a welcome new day to myriads of creatures on the earth. To the
man looking out across the panorama of mountain peak and gorge
everything seemed a mockery. There was something cruel in gladdening
the eyes with the beauty of earth and sky when in a few short hours
those eyes must close forever. In the full possession of his life and
strength the man rebelled against his fate. It was the end of a rat
in a trap--ignoble, inglorious. That he would fall in striking a last
blow for a woman who cared naught for him had little attraction for
him just now. If he could save her, if his death could bring some good
thing to pass, it would be different.

Once or twice Anton stopped in his pacing backward and forward to look
steadily toward the head of the pass.

"Can you hear the tramping feet?" Ellerey asked when he stopped again.

"No, Captain."

"Can you see anything?"

"No, Captain; but it is too good a morning to accept failure."

"The sun doesn't put on mourning for every miserable dog that dies."
And then, as Anton resumed his walk without a word, Stefan's voice was
heard calling Ellerey to breakfast.

All the stones which had once served for seats and a table had been
piled up against the door, and the food was spread in a little circle
in the centre of the floor. It was Stefan's arrangement. He had refused
all help from the Princess, gruffly but firmly, although the gruffness
may have been something less than his usual manner and intended for
courtesy. Maritza stood with her hands behind her watching him, a smile
upon her lips.

"There's more table than breakfast, Captain," he said as Ellerey came
down; "but it's as well to have things orderly. There's little enough
to say grace for, but there's a lesson in the display, for all that.
It represents all that stands between us and starvation."

"With care, Stefan, we can live for--" And then Ellerey paused.

"Quite so, Captain. I've been trying to fix a limit myself and failed."

Ellerey looked at the scraps of food. At any other time he would have
spurned them as a meal of any sort; but in such a case as theirs was,
morsels of food bulk large with possibilities.

"To-day and perhaps to-morrow," he muttered.

"Yes, we'll be quite ready to welcome a change of diet by to-morrow
night," said Stefan, "and for my part I shouldn't quarrel with any
kind of food and drink which happened to arrive sooner. There's no
drawing from the mountain stream now and the flasks hold little."

"Much may happen in two days," said Maritza quietly.

"True. They may storm the tower successfully and put us beyond the
want of food before to-morrow night," Ellerey answered.

They ate their small portions in silence, and having eaten them remained
silent. Each one was conscious that there was something to be said,
yet each one waited for the other to say it.

"Captain." It was a relief to hear Stefan's voice, and Ellerey looked
up. "Captain, I make no claim to be much of a man at giving advice.
I've seldom been asked for it, and I've usually been in a large enough
company for it to be done without; but as we are, I take it each one
of us becomes of more importance than under ordinary circumstances."

Ellerey nodded.

"Well, then, my case is this: Years ago someone found me in the streets,
and for some reason known only to themselves decided that I should
live. I may have been hungry then--I don't remember--but I've never
been hungry since. I may have had to steal my victuals, but anyway
I've got them. It follows, therefore, that in fighting hunger I'm not
to be depended on. The weapons in use for such a fray are new to me,
and I don't know how to handle them. I'm afraid of the enemy."

"Well, Stefan?"

"Now death, I suppose, is as certain within the next few hours as
anything well can be, and I should like to meet the kind of death I
understand. Let us fix a time for hauling down the barricade, and then
make a dash for it. We'll get as far as the path, perhaps--there is
just a chance that some of us may get farther; but anyhow, we die in
the open."

"Have you thought of the Princess?" Ellerey asked.

"The circumstances don't make it easy to forget her," Stefan answered.

"Nor difficult to hate her," said Maritza.

"I took a kind of liking to Grigosie which somehow keeps me back from
hating her," Stefan went on, speaking to Ellerey and not looking at
the Princess. "I don't suppose, however, that she knows much more about
starvation than I do, and dying in the open may suit her case as well
as mine."

"But a woman, Stefan?"

"I've naught to do with women, Captain, and I see none in our company.
I only see two good comrades before me, one lacking a bit of muscle
it may be, but lacking no courage. He shall go between us, and Anton
shall cover our rear. There's such pleasure in the thought of striking
another blow that there's even a hope in it that we may win though."

"Stefan is right," Maritza said. "Let us make the attempt to-morrow."

"Why not to-day?" Stefan asked.

"The food is not all gone," she said; "besides, the day holds
possibilities. Let us wait a day, Captain."

"If the attempt is to be made, why not make it to-night? The darkness
will help us," said Ellerey.

"I prefer dying in the sunlight," said Stefan, "but so long as I die
in the open the stars will serve."

"In the night if you will, but not to-night," pleaded Maritza, laying
her hand on Ellerey's arm. "Let it be to-morrow night.

"Hope dies hard with you, Princess."

"I have a fancy to look upon another dawn," she returned. "Perhaps
to-morrow is the anniversary of some great event in my history, and
that is why I long to see it. I do not know, but in us all there is
a vein of superstition. I will go and relieve Anton."

Stefan watched her as she went up the stairs and disappeared into the
upper chamber.

"If anyone could make me change my opinion of women, she would," he
said; but Ellerey took no notice of the remark. He had commenced walking
up and down, deep in thought.

The day passed quietly. The brigands made no attempt to storm the
tower, and the huge stone above the doorway remained balanced on the
wall. But to those within the hours dragged heavily. Stefan spent his
time feeling the edge of his sword and seeing that the revolvers were
in good order and loaded. The occupation seemed to bring him nearer
to his emancipation. Ellerey walked from wall to wall, turning with
the regularity of a wild beast in a cage. A dozen times or more he
climbed to the roof, but hardly spoke a word to whoever happened to
be sentry there. Maritza lay down and appeared to sleep a good deal
when her duty on the roof was over, for she demanded to take her turn
with the rest; and Anton was restless and nervous. He lay down, but
he did not sleep; his eyes were constantly on the Princess.

"You know what we have decided?" said Ellerey to him during the day.

"Yes, Captain."

"You have no better plan?"

"No, Captain, so that I die with her I am content." The day drew slowly
to its ending. A camp-fire blazed upon the plateau, and two in the
pass below, around which the besiegers gathered. Still there were no
signs that an attack was meditated, and Ellerey watched the moving
figures for a long time and marked the position of the sentries. Such
knowledge might prove useful to-morrow night. And he determined which
direction to take should Providence so far favor them as to allow them
to gain the pass. It was a relief to find even this employment to
occupy his mind.

After the weary day the night was almost welcome. First Stefan, then
Ellerey, had watched through the early hours; now Anton paced the roof
restlessly while Maritza still slept. She was to go on duty at dawn,
so might she see the new day break as she wished. When Ellerey came
down, Stefan was sleeping heavily, and the Princess lay in her corner
with her arm under her head, a picture of graceful repose and rest.
The thought of the certain death that awaited her made Ellerey sick
almost, and with a shudder and a curse at his own impotence, he cast
himself down. For a time he tossed and turned restlessly this way and
that until, utterly wearied out, sleep fell upon him and held him fast,
smoothing the care from his face with pleasant dreams. Now he climbed
a stretch of sunny, wind-swept downs, the song of a lark and the sighing
sound of the long waving grass in his ears; now he heard the rustle
of silk beside him and a sweet low voice and pleasant laughter answered
him, a little foot stepped out bravely beside his own, and a little
hand rested confidently in his. There was music and laughter about
him, and then a sudden pause, and darkness, and out of it a sharp
crackling sound.

"What was that?"

Ellerey had started up only half awake. It was Stefan's sudden question
which thoroughly aroused him. The dawn had come and a dim light was
in the chamber, strangely dim and sombre after the light and movement
in his dream. He looked across at Maritza's corner and saw that it was
empty.

"We have slept soundly, Stefan," he said, springing to his feet. "The
Princess has gone on duty."

"It sounded like revolver shots to me," the soldier answered as he
followed Ellerey quickly to the roof. They stepped from the broken
stairs into the open, and then stood still, turning to look at each
other. There was no one there. The stone still rested on the wall, and
a rope which had been in the lower chamber lay sprawling over the roof,
one end of it hanging a few feet over the parapet. Both men ran to the
wall together. The plateau was empty, not a man remained there. No
sentry paced along the edge of it, no one stood there at the head of
the zig-zag path.

"Gone!" Ellerey exclaimed. It was not of the brigands he was thinking,
and Stefan knew it.

"By that rope. And Anton, too. Maybe we woke none too soon, Captain."
And then, as Ellerey turned questioning eyes to him, he added: "There's
the look of treachery in this."

Ellerey did not answer, but the question asked a moment later showed
the direction his thoughts were taking.

"Have they really gone?" he said, pointing to the plateau.

The soldier shook his head doubtfully and then suddenly leant forward,
his hand stretched out toward the pass before them. "Look yonder!"

The light was growing stronger every moment, and the moving figures
in the valley could be seen distinctly. There was more going forward
there than the awakening of a camp to a new day. The men were moving
in orderly groups, and there was no curling smoke from newly-lighted
fires. "They are on the march, Captain: and--look, is not the lad in
the midst of them?"

Ellerey's eyes might not have served him to pick out the slim figure,
but thus directed he had no doubt it was the Princess in the midst of
the men who marched quickly along the pass for a little way and then
turned aside and seemed to be swallowed up in the foot of the mountain
opposite.

"She could not have gone of her own accord, Stefan. They must have
found means to capture her."

"Anton may have helped them, perhaps."

"No; he was faithful--my life on that. Great heavens! She is in their
power, in Vasilici's power, and we stand here doing nothing."

"She may have gone willingly," said Stefan, as Ellerey rushed toward
the steps; "besides, what can we do?"

"Come or stay as you will!" Ellerey shouted as he disappeared.

"She went willingly," Stefan murmured, lingering behind for a moment
to look at the rope. "At least, she climbed down to them, not they up
to her. I never trusted Anton. If I hadn't taken a liking to Grigosie
I shouldn't trust the Princess. She's a woman."

Although only a few moments had elapsed, Ellerey was already throwing
down the barricade at the door in the lower chamber of the tower. Stefan
first looked at his weapons and then went across to the corner which
the Princess had occupied. Ellerey did not notice him, and he rose
from his knees there only as Ellerey had sufficiently thrown down the
stones to draw back the bolt and open the door wide enough to get out.

"One moment, Captain. I am with you, but be prepared for attack."
Ellerey, sword in one hand, revolver in the other, rushed out on to
the plateau, Stefan at his heels. No shout rang out, no man sprang
from his hiding-place among the ruins to bar their way. Even the valley
was empty. The last of the men who had encamped there had been swallowed
up by the mountain opposite.

"Captain, the token which the Princess said was hidden under the loose
brick yonder is gone."

The sword which Ellerey held ready to defend himself fell suddenly,
almost as it had done when he recognized that he had raised it against
a woman. Shame had sent the color to his cheeks then, and the color
came into his face now, anger bringing it there. Had she deceived from
first to last, played carelessly with all the finer feelings that were
in him, using them boldly and deliberately for her own end? These were
the thoughts which ran swiftly through his mind, and well might they
stir him to anger. Then came the reaction, suddenly, swiftly. No, she
could not have deceived him in this manner. There was some reason for
her going, something unforeseen had happened. After all they had come
through together, she could not be guilty of treachery.

"You found nothing else?" he asked hoarsely.

"Yes, this. A piece of stone lay upon it to keep it in its place close
to where she slept last night."

Ellerey seized the scrap of paper Stefan held out to him.

"I have brought you to this," he read, written faintly in pencil; "I
have thought of a plan to save you. At dawn I shall have gone, but so
will the brigands. You will be free to go to Sturatzberg, if you will,
or across the mountains northward to safety. I wonder which way you
will take? Mine is a desperate venture. If I fail, think of me
sometimes, for to me also there has often come the memory of that
breezy morning in England--Maritza."

"Look, Captain!" Stefan cried.

On the slope of the opposite hills, where the path rose over a spur,
a party of the marching brigands had come into view. The sunlight had
come, and it touched the men as they went. The distance was too great
to distinguish the slim figure in the midst, but one spot of white
showed clearly, quivering as the sunlight touched it. For a moment it
disappeared, then it fluttered again, and, as Ellerey looked, a crowd
of conflicting thoughts and emotions were in his brain. This was not
treachery, but sacrifice.

"A waving handkerchief, Captain; a signal of farewell," Stefan murmured
in a low gruff voice.



CHAPTER XXI

THE RESCUE



The white signal had gone, but Ellerey's eyes remained fixed upon the
moving black line until a fold in the hills hid it from sight. Something
seemed to have gone out of his life, suddenly as a candle is blown out
in a room. Then he turned and held out the paper to the soldier.

Stefan read the pencilled lines, turned the paper over meditatively,
and then read them again. The words seemed to burn their way into his
brain as they had burnt into Ellerey's, but the effect was somewhat
different.

"It is not like a woman, is it?" said Stefan.

"Very like, I think."

Stefan shook his head, as though he regretted his companion's ignorance.

"I took a liking to Grigosie," he said. "I saw the making of a grand
comrade in Grigosie. I can understand his doing this kind of thing,
but not a woman."

"The fact remains that she is a woman," said Ellerey.

"Wonderful," answered the soldier, as he handed back the paper. "It
would appear that the making of a man rests much in his clothes. I've
never known good come from a petticoat. Grigosie didn't wear one. Maybe
he recognized that he was a man, hidden by a cruel mistake in the shape
of a woman. Ah, Captain, women have had the spoiling of many a good
man I've drunk with and fought beside. I wish you a better fate than
theirs."

"This does not look like treachery," said Ellerey. It was evident
that he had not been attending to his companion, but had been
following out a train of thought of his own, and now put his decision
into words.

"We're standing here like two fools, at any rate," Stefan said. "We
ought to know the value of precaution by this time. What is to be done,
Captain? Are you for Sturatzberg, or for crossing the mountains
northward? It's a speedy making up our minds that is needed if we are
not to starve."

Ellerey was still following his own thoughts.

"What can her plan be?" he said. "What hope for her cause is there in
these hills? What mercy can she expect from Vasilici?"

"As Grigosie, none; as a woman, she may persuade these men to anything,"
Stefan answered. "Some power she has, or why did they not kill Grigosie
at once?"

"It is a terrible thought, Stefan, but may they not have reserved her
for Vasilici's vengeance? Did they not cry to us that we might go free
if the lad were given up? She heard that; she argued with us, you
remember. She has sacrificed herself for us."

"Well, Captain, shall we follow? Give me but leave to kill something
on the way and get on friendly terms with my stomach. I care not which
road we take, nor to what it leads us."

"We will follow her," said Ellerey.

"I'd never leave so good a comrade as Grigosie in a tight place,"
murmured Stefan. "Keep watch, Captain, while I gather up what we take
with us, and fill our flasks at Grigosie's fairy fountain yonder."

When Stefan returned, he found Ellerey standing on the edge of the
plateau looking down into the pass.

"What is it, Captain?" he called out as he came. "They have not kept
their promise, Stefan, that is all," Ellerey answered, pointing down
into the valley.

A savage oath burst from Stefan's lips. "They've played the lad false
in this, they'll play him false in all," and the tone in which he said
it revealed for a moment the real heart of the man hidden deep down
under this rough exterior.

From a hidden pathway at the foot of the hills the brigands came out
singly, fourscore of them at least. Each man looked up at the plateau
as he issued from the path, and the manner in which his eager steps
gave way at once to an easier and more slouching gait showed plainly
enough that the object of their coming had been attained, that no
further hurry was necessary. Some went to the places where the fires
had been, and kicked the ashes together; while others stacked their
arms, and sat down in twos and threes along the pass.

"Those were revolver shots that woke us, Captain," said Stefan
thoughtfully. "I expect Grigosie meant to rouse us as soon as we could
no longer prevent his going, and intended us to make the best of our
chances."

"And we've missed them," said Ellerey. "I fancy this is meant to be
our last adventure, Stefan."

"They'll come up the path presently, and the sooner the better," was
the answer. "A few of them shall finish their adventures along with
us; but we'll fight our last fight here, Captain, not in the tower
yonder."

"I have a sudden lust for life, Stefan, a longing to be face to face
with Vasilici once more," whispered Ellerey, as though he imagined the
men in the valley below might hear his secret. "If we wait until sundown
we might get through them in the darkness."

"Our original plan," Stefan answered. "I am with you, Captain, and if
you will watch those blackguards yonder, I'll turn my attention to a
bird that's hovering on the mountain above. Heaven grant he comes
within range, and an empty stomach does not put my eye out."

But the bird seemed to have no more intention of serving two hungry
men for food than the brigands meant to throw away their lives by an
attempt to win the plateau. They posted sentinels, one near the foot
of the zig-zag path, and one beyond the camp-fire toward the head of
the pass; the rest sat or stood at their ease between these two points,
and, unless they changed their plan at night, Ellerey perceived that,
if the sentry at the foot of the path were once silenced without being
able to give warning, the road to the way taken by the Princess and
her captors would be clear. He studied the shape of the hills and the
distance carefully, so that he might the more easily find that road,
and he noticed how long a time elapsed between the relief of the
sentries. If they attacked the man soon after his coming on duty, so
much the longer start would they obtain.

The day wore on, and he and Stefan finished the scraps of food which
were left, and thanked their good fortune that they had not the terrors
of thirst to face. Stefan still watched the mountains above for a bird,
and Ellerey planned the work of the night in every detail, explaining
some new point to the soldier every time he approached him. He had
paid little attention to the men in the valley below for some time,
when he was startled by a single shot, which rang out clearly in the
still air. For a moment he thought that Stefan had got his bird at
last, but the next instant the soldier was beside him, as startled as
he was. It was the sentry toward the head of the pass who had fired,
and he now came rushing toward his companions, who quickly seized their
weapons.

"Do I hear horses?" exclaimed Stefan excitedly. "By the father and
mother I never knew, there are horses galloping up the pass. There are
several of them, and they come quickly."

The brigands were evidently unprepared for such an attack, and did not
appear to have a capable leader among them. They had not come there
to fight, only to starve two men into surrender, and as they ran
together there was a general movement toward the path they had come.

Into the pass galloped some two dozen horsemen, who, at a sign from
their leader, drew rein upon seeing the brigands, and turned to shout
to others who had not yet come into view.

"An advance guard only," muttered Stefan.

The brigands evidently thought the same, and those who could not reach
the mountain path in time began a hasty retreat up the pass, firing
in a desultory manner as they went. They had no intention of attempting
to hold their position; safety was all they cared about. The horsemen
paused a moment to fire a volley, and then charged, but there was
little fighting. Two or three of the brigands were cut down, and one
horseman pitched forward suddenly as a bullet brought his horse to the
ground, but that was all. The brigands scrambled into the mountain
paths or up the mountain slope out of reach, and the leader of the
troop checked any pursuit of those who were fleeing rapidly up the
pass.

"Is this a rescue, or have we only changed our enemy?" said Ellerey.

"They are dismounting, and will come up the zig-zag way; we had better
meet them at the top of it," said Stefan.

Only one man came up to them.

"There is not much distinction to be had from routing such an enemy,
Captain Ellerey," he said. "Baron Petrescu!"

"At your service, although barely recovered from the effects of our
last meeting. Time pressed, so I did not wait for a doctor's certificate
of fitness."

"I thank you, but I hardly understand the situation, Baron," said
Ellerey.

"And that is not to be wondered at," was the answer; "but there will
be time to explain presently. Enough that we can shake hands over a
past quarrel for which I have paid the penalty, and know that we stand
together now."

Ellerey took his outstretched hand without a word.

"The Princess is with you?" Petrescu asked.

"She was until this morning."

"Killed!" cried the Baron.

"No; and yet I do not know that worse has not happened to her."

"While you explain, Captain, have I your leave to go down and make the
acquaintance of our new comrades?" said Stefan. "My stomach yearns
toward them, and their victuals and drink."

"I had forgotten," said the Baron hastily. "You can explain while we
eat and drink, Captain."

"A few moments will make no difference, Baron," said Ellerey, nodding
a consent to Stefan, who went down into the pass quickly. Then he went
on: "Do you know the Princess's plans, Baron?"

"I thought I did, but her sudden disappearance from Sturatzberg was
unexpected by me; still, I know enough of your mission to guess her
reason for joining you."

"Then, Baron, you know my position. It was not Princess Maritza's cause
which brought me to these hills. I am the victim of a conspiracy; but
at the same time, my only thought now is for the safety of the
Princess." The Baron nodded, and glanced swiftly at his companion.

"I understand, Captain."

Shortly Ellerey told him what had occurred since Princess Maritza had
joined him at the Toison d'Or, reserving nothing, not even his own
anger at the deceit which had been practised upon him.

"It was a desperate enterprise, doomed to failure from the beginning,"
he went on; "but as it was, only one course was open to me, to protect
the Princess to the best of my ability. Our food was gone, and we had
determined to make a dash for safety after dark to-night. That we did
not do so last night was by the Princess's desire. Her going must have
been in her mind then."

"She took the bracelet of medallions with her?" said Petrescu
thoughtfully.

"She told me it was in the tower yonder; it is not there now, so I
presume she took it."

"It may possibly secure her safety."

"Vasilici is a truculent villain," Ellerey answered. "He is not likely
to forget, or forgive, that shot which saved my life."

"Then you would follow her?"

"Stefan and I had decided to do so when those fellows stole back to
prevent us. We should have taken our chance after dark to-night."

Petrescu was thoughtful for a time.

"I hardly know what course to advise," he said presently. "We may not
be able to help her much in these hills, while in Sturatzberg we might
stir up the people in her cause."

"At least I have small power in the city," said Ellerey, with a smile.
"Those who trusted me very naturally think me a traitor, and I should
quickly be delivered over to enemies who would make short work of me."

"Yet you have powerful friends there."

"Indeed?"

"When the men who deserted you rode into the city with stories of your
treachery, Captain Ellerey's name suddenly became known to hundreds
who had never heard it before, and to each one of them he became a
friend, since his fate was linked with Princess Maritza's."

"Would such friendship protect me from my enemies?"

"At least many a hiding-place in the city would be open to you, and
some men might sooner give up their lives than betray you. There is
one proof of the truth of what I say. The men who deserted you all
died a violent death that night. They were found lying side by side
in the Bergenstrasse, in spite of the fact that the city was patrolled
by troops."

Ellerey looked at him inquiringly.

"No, Captain, I was not privy to their assassination, although I might
make a shrewd guess in what quarter the plot originated."

"Then Sturatzberg is in uproar?"

"No; it is strangely quiet, all things considered--that quiet which
presages a storm. The King would strike if he knew where to strike,
but he hardly knows who are his enemies."

"The sight of me would give him some idea where to aim a blow," said
Ellerey.

"Yes; and yet he might think twice before striking it. You have powerful
friends, one very powerful friend--one very powerful friend."

"You do not mean her Majesty?"

"I think you know I do not, Captain Ellerey," the Baron answered. "It
was the Countess Mavrodin who bid me come."

"I know that the cause of Princess Maritza is dear to her," said Ellerey
quietly.

"It is, and to me," said the Baron; "and yet we are probably not doing
the best for it by bringing two dozen horsemen into the hills. There
are no more behind. Our calling back as though there were was a
stratagem to strike greater terror into the brigands. No, Captain, the
Countess bid me come to rescue the Princess, and you, to aid your
escape out of Wallaria if need be, and her command is my law. Do we
understand each other, Captain Ellerey?"

They looked into each other's eyes for a moment.

"Do you understand why I forced a duel upon you?" Petrescu went on.
"I might tell you that I believed the Queen's token was in your
possession; it would be true; but that was not uppermost in my thoughts
when we stood face to face. Therefore, when I come to you at her
bidding, you may well trust me, since I have little to win by it."

"Only partly do I understand you, Baron."

"You Northmen, in spite of your many virtues, are slower to understand
than we Southerners are. Would you have me pluck the fruit for you as
well as show you the tree? Sturatzberg may be in open rebellion before
a week is out, and Frina Mavrodin may have to leave it. I will say no
more. Even my generosity has a limit."

Ellerey could not fail to understand his meaning.

"You had better read that, Baron," he said, handing him Maritza's
letter.

Petrescu took the scrap of paper and read it carefully.

"I met Maritza long ago in England," he said as Petrescu looked at
him. "She has remembered it, you see, and I--I came to Sturatzberg."

"Then the Countess is--"

"My friend, but Maritza---We waste precious time, Baron; I must follow
Maritza."

"I understand. Come and eat. We must lose no time."

It was arranged to leave some of the men in charge of the tower and
of the horses. They were to wait there six days, and if by that time
Baron Petrescu and his party had not returned, they were to go back
to Sturatzberg, taking a circuitous road to avoid the soldiers encamped
in the plain. Stefan was left in command of these men, since he had
had experience how the plateau could best be defended in case of need.
That the brigands would attack them, however, seemed unlikely, for
they had evidently fled in the belief that the men they had seen were
only an advance guard.

Night was falling when the party, well armed and full of excitement,
set out. There was a silver light behind the distant heights, herald
of the moon, so there was little need to wait for the dawn; besides,
one of the brigands had only been slightly wounded, and was pressed
into their service as guide. He loudly declared that he had no idea
where his chief was hiding, until the Baron held a revolver to his
head, and gave him half a minute to find whether his memory could not
be jogged sufficiently to serve him better. Before the thirty seconds
had passed, it had worked to good effect, and he set out with a man
on either side of him who had strict injunctions to see that he should
be the first to pay for any treachery which might happen.

"Some of the brigands cannot be far in front of us," said the Baron;
"and this fellow will know their likely haunt and give us warning in
time. If he forgets to do so, the sun will rise in vain to-morrow for
him."

They tramped silently through the night, often in single file, for the
way contracted often to the narrowest of defiles. That they had started
right Ellerey knew, and he was inclined to think that so far their
guide had not misled them. There seemed to be no other way by which
they could have come.

Just before dawn the brigand stopped; his memory had been excellently
aroused.

"We approach an open space where my people sometimes halt," he said.

Two men were sent forward to reconnoitre, but found the place empty,
and here they halted.

"How much farther to where Vasilici is?" asked Petrescu.

"We should reach the place by noon," the brigand answered; "but he may
have moved. My comrades will have told him of your coming to the pass."

"I dare say you will remember where he is likely to have removed to,"
the Baron returned, "since your miserable life depends upon it."

They were just preparing to continue their journey after a short rest
and hasty meal, when they heard the sound of falling footsteps coming
rapidly toward them. Only one man, and he was running with that easy,
measured stride which a runner falls into when his journey is likely
to be a long one. A moment later he ran into the midst of them.

"Stop!" cried several voices.

The man, with a glance to right and left of him for a way of escape,
stood still; but in an instant a knife gleamed in his hand, and in
that moment Ellerey recognized him.

"Anton!"

The man turned toward him and lowered the knife at once. "The Princess,
Anton, where is she?"

"Yonder; alive," Anton answered. "Give me a moment and some drink. I
have a message."

"For me?"

"For all, Captain, who love her."



CHAPTER XXII

IN VASILICI'S STRONGHOLD



Although Anton had declared to Ellerey that there was no certainty
that the Princess had failed, he did not believe in his own optimism.
True, death seemed certain in the tower, but it had been kept at bay
until now almost miraculously, it seemed to him, and a faith in Captain
Ellerey had grown up in him. The Princess's resolution to deliver
herself to the brigands appeared little short of madness to Anton; he
even considered whether he would not be acting in her best interests
by disclosing the plan to Ellerey; and he felt a traitor even when he
carried out her commands.

During his long hours of watching on the roof, it had been comparatively
easy to communicate with the brigands on the plateau. Having attracted
their attention, he dropped a paper, wrapped round a piece of stone,
telling them who the youth really was, that she was ready to go with
them to Vasilici, on condition that her companions were allowed to
leave the hills unmolested; that she had in her possession the token
which Vasilici expected and was, moreover, the bearer of a message
which those who were with her would not allow her to deliver. The
brigands accepted the terms, and although they broke faith and came
back to secure the two men in the tower if possible, they made no
attempt to injure the Princess when she climbed down the rope after
Anton and stood in the midst of them. She was not wrong in thinking
that she was far too valuable a prisoner not to be taken with all speed
to Vasilici. As the brigands surrounded her, Anton caught the rope,
and, with a quick, dexterous turn of his arm, sent the end of it flying
upward to the roof.

"You may trust us," said one man, trying to keep the anger out of his
voice.

"I do," Maritza answered; "but nothing was said about the rope, and
a small matter may make a difference in such a treaty as ours."

As they descended the zig-zag path, Maritza fired three times into the
air, causing the men near her to start back.

"They are sleeping," she said, nodding toward the tower. "That is to
wake them, and let them know of the treaty."

"I must ask you for that weapon," said the leader, but in spite of
himself he spoke with a certain deference. "It is a dangerous plaything
in your hands."

"It is empty and of no further use to me," she answered, with a smile,
handing him the revolver. "Keep it, my friend. It has my initials
engraved on it, and may serve you as a boast some day when you entertain
your fellows with tales of your adventures."

Having arranged which men should gradually fall out in twos and threes
and presently return to the pass, the brigands made haste to march,
and they did not interfere when Maritza waved her handkerchief to the
two solitary figures standing on the plateau. It would show that the
Princess was safe and allay any suspicions they might have; they would
probably not hurry their departure, and were likely to fall into the
hands of the men returning to the pass. Nor did they make any objection
to Anton walking beside the Princess; there was so evidently no idea
of attempting to escape. "How long a march have we before reaching
Vasilici?" Maritza asked, turning to a man who walked near her.

"We shall reach him to-night," was the answer, "unless we make a long
halt on the way."

The man did not look at her as he spoke. He had been specially told
off to keep near her and to listen should she talk secretly with her
fellow-prisoner. His companions immediately near straggled a little
as they marched, and presently he drew nearer to Maritza, and she
noticed it.

"Take no heed of me and do not look at me," he said. "Have you a hope
of winning over Vasilici?"

"I have a message for him."

"A doubtful protection," was the answer.

"Perhaps so, but I have friends in his company."

"You were ill-advised to make this journey; I have warned you." And
still keeping his even pace, the man moved farther from her side.

This whispered conversation set many thoughts surging through Maritza's
brain--not new thoughts exactly, for there were few contingencies she
had not provided for when she determined to place herself in the hands
of the brigands, but thoughts which began to cut deeper, as it were,
into a channel already made. This man's action proved that he was not
altogether indifferent to her, and it was hardly likely that he was
the only one among Vasilici's followers who might be ready to speak
a word for her, perhaps even strike a blow for her, could she stir
them sufficiently. Brigandage was not the natural calling of many who
had flocked to Vasilici's standard, nor were they likely to rest
contented with Vasilici's leadership for long. Were they not even now
waiting for a message from the Queen, to whom in the future they would
look for favor?

At noon, when a halt was called, this same man saw that Maritza had
sufficient to eat, and replaced the flask of wine given her by another,
saying that it was better and that she would want all her strength.
He took no notice of Anton, who, by the Princess's instructions, spoke
to no one unless he were spoken to. She wanted to draw as little
attention to him as possible, and sought by various means to show that
he was a servant only, and not a very highly valued one. She felt that
his insignificance might render him trebly valuable under certain
conditions. So utterly absorbed was she by her thoughts that the length
of the march did not greatly fatigue her. She failed to recognize that
the way was often rough and difficult, and that the pace of the whole
band had slackened somewhat as the day advanced.

It was late in the afternoon when they entered a narrow defile between
two precipitous mountain walls, which looked as though some huge giant
had cut out one slice from the top to the bottom of the mountain.
Perhaps through many ages a rapid narrow torrent had rushed here cutting
slowly but surely deeper. There was no water now, but the way was paved
with loose pebbles, which made progress slow and tiring. It was not
a way one would choose, and since near the entrance there were other
paths more inviting, Maritza concluded that they were nearing the end
of the journey. For a moment on entering the defile her heart sank
within her. It was like leaving the open world and the sunlight to
creep into the dark unknowable, where some horrible fate might await
her. Would she ever step freely into the open light of day again? Her
thoughts sped backward to the tower standing above the pass and to the
man she had left there. Which road had he taken--the way to Sturatzberg,
or the path across the mountains northward which led to safety? If to
Sturatzberg, why had he gone there? Her hands clenched a little as an
answer came quickly to her question, but she murmured to herself: "What
is it to me? I am Maritza, the lawful ruler of this land. What is
anything to me but the memory of my fathers and the battle for my
rights?" The thought brought back her courage, and made her calm.

They had not proceeded far along the narrow defile before they were
challenged by a sentry posted upon a narrow pathway which seemed to
have been scooped out of the solid rock above the rough road they were
traversing. The challenge was a mere form, for he could not fail to
recognize many of his companions, but his gun was not lowered until
the pass-word had been shouted back. This was evidently the brigand's
stronghold, and it was well guarded. In a retreat so defended by nature,
the brigands could defy any army sent against them, and for the first
time Maritza understood why no effort had been successful in dislodging
them.

At the end of the defile they were challenged again, this time by a
small body of men on guard there, and having answered and been allowed
to pass, they emerged into a large circular hollow in the hills. On
every side it was enclosed by precipitous walls in which, here and
there, were narrow openings, evidently paths similar to the one they
had travelled. The hollow was covered with tents and wooden huts, the
latter put together with a solidity which showed that they were
permanent structures, and suggested that whatever enterprise the
brigands entered upon, this stronghold was never left undefended.

The party was evidently expected. The news that Princess Maritza had
determined to place herself in his hands had been quickly carried to
Vasilici, and with a few of his leading men he was seated in front of
a long wooden shed when his captive was brought into the hollow. His
arm was still in a sling, and his expression was morose and fierce,
although a grin of satisfaction lightened his face for a moment when
he saw the trim, youthful figure and knew that the cause of his bandaged
arm was now in his power. Perhaps in the back of his mind he had already
begun to devise fitting tortures for his enemy. During the long march
Maritza had pictured this moment, and had determined how to act; but
the real scene was rather different from the picture she had imagined.
As the men who had brought her fell back, leaving her alone, with Anton
a few paces behind her, she glanced round at the crowd and said:

"Which among you is Vasilici?"

His appearance sufficiently marked him out from his companions, but
Maritza was quick to perceive that there was a half-concealed smile
on the faces of some of the men near him when she pretended not to
recognize him. Perhaps Vasilici saw the smile, too, for, although his
face darkened, he answered the question without any sudden outburst
of anger.

"Greeting," said Maritza. "I would be seated while I talk. The journey
which I have undertaken into these hills has been a hurried one over
a rough road; and, besides, it is not usual for a sovereign to stand
in the presence of her subjects."

Vasilici burst into a loud laugh, which found an echo among many of
his followers, but not all. Even while he laughed, and before he could
say a word to prevent it, one man had stepped forward and placed a
rough stool beside Maritza.

"Carry it nearer, Anton; that will do." And then she seated herself,
Anton standing behind her.

"Thus we can talk more easily," she said after a pause. "Are all your
leading men here, Vasilici--all those who form your council? for what
I have to say concerns all."

"In these hills my will is law," was the answer.

"So long as you please your followers, or the majority of them; I
understand," Maritza said quickly. "Absolute power lies in the pleasure,
or the fear, of the majority."

"Not here," said the chief, raising his voice angrily. "I alone am the
law."

"Then indeed are you great among the kings of the earth."

Her question had forced him to exalt himself, and this was not pleasing
to all those who stood about him.

"What you have to say, say quickly," Vasilici went on. "The death of
good comrades lies at your door, and punishment is swift here. We move
too rapidly to burden ourselves with prisoners."

"I will be brief," said Maritza. "For a long time you have been
intriguing with Queen Elena, through a servant of hers, one Jules de
Froilette. By him you have been told to expect a certain token from
her Majesty, upon the receipt of which you were to sweep down upon
Sturatzberg, join yourselves with those who espoused her cause in the
city, and set her alone upon the throne of Wallaria. That token was
brought to you by Captain Ellerey."

"It is a lie," Vasilici burst out, "and you know it. He delivered the
golden cross, the sign of your house, if indeed you be the Princess
Maritza as you say."

"Captain Ellerey brought the Queen's token," Maritza went on quietly,
as though there had been no interruption, "and delivered it as he
supposed. He was as astonished to see the golden cross as you were."

"Then you--"

"Yes, I changed them. There is the proof." And she tossed the sealed
box carelessly into Vasilici's hands. He cut it open quickly, while
dead silence reigned around him, and then held up the bracelet of
medallions that everyone might see.

"By this message you accuse yourself," cried the brigand, standing at
his full height. "Now, hear your punishment."

"Wait!" said Maritza; "there is more to tell."

Absolute as he had proclaimed himself to be, Vasilici nevertheless
glanced at those about him and, seeing that they were inclined to hear
all the Princess had to say, waved his hand for her to continue. The
fact that the chief was not quite so strong as he said was not lost
on Maritza.

"It is true that I changed the token," she went on, not addressing
herself especially to Vasilici, "and if I had a hope that there might
be men loyal to me in these hills, for so this miserable scoundrel De
Froilette has told me, that was not my only reason for changing it.
De Froilette never told you that there was a time when he espoused my
cause; he has never said how he would come fawning to me to-morrow
were it in his own interests to do so; he has never explained what is
to follow your devotion to the Queen. Rewards, place, honor, he has
promised them all; yet on the frontier at this moment lies a Russian
army only waiting this De Froilette's word to enter Wallaria and secure
every benefit which you have pledged yourselves to fight for."

"The proof! The proof!" shouted many voices.

"What proof can I carry of such a scheme? Send for De Froilette on
some pretext or other and question him, or send to the frontier and
spy upon the army that waits there. You have the Queen's token; I have
delivered it. Go out and meet the King's army, which lies ready to
contest your way to Sturatzberg, if you will, but remember this: if
you win your way to the city, if you succeed in overthrowing the present
Government and setting Queen Elena alone upon the throne, you will not
have advanced the cause of your country one step. You will be forgotten
as soon as your work is done, and be under the firm hand of the
Muscovite. You will have fought your enemies' battle for them and sold
yourselves into slavery. You will have played into the hands of this
Frenchman, De Froilette, who is serving his own ends only, who cares
nothing for Wallaria, whose reward lies ready for payment in Russian
coffers, who is as false to Queen Elena and to you as he has been to
me."

There was a low murmur among the eager crowd as Maritza stopped
abruptly, and those sitting and standing near Vasilici turned to one
another and whispered together. Whatever hopes lay in the hearts of
these men, selfish hopes for the most part, perhaps, yet with some
patriotism in them, too, it was evident that the accusation against
De Froilette was not entirely a surprise. There were men there who had
never trusted him, and Maritza recognized that her words were not
without weight. While they still whispered, and even grew quarrelsome
over their opinions, she rose from her seat.

"For a long time I have been in Sturatzberg watching events," she said,
raising her voice a little and obtaining instant attention. "There are
many there who love my cause, some because of my right, some because
they have learnt that Wallaria is merely the plaything of the nations.
Are there not here about me many who love their country, who have fled
from tyranny to the freedom of these hills, not to defy just laws, but
to withstand oppression? I tell them that Queen Elena's promises are
valueless. I tell them that every move the Queen has made is known in
Sturatzberg, discounted and guarded against by the Ministers of foreign
powers who rule the King. I tell them that the token of the bracelet
of medallions has no power to help them to freedom, that from first
to last they have been deceived. I might point to the golden cross and
tell them that it is the sign of this country's salvation; but Vasilici,
who stands for chief among you, has spurned it. I might stand here and
cry to you that he is no chief worthy to lead an army of patriots,
that there is another now among you whose right it is to lead, who has
the power to win success; but men who bow to windy words are no
countrymen of mine, and I scorn to tempt them to such false loyalty.
Judge for yourselves and choose. There stands Vasilici, a brigand,
King of these hills; and here stand I, Maritza, Princess, daughter of
Wallarian kings, come among you of her own free will. I promise you
not success, that knowledge is in the mind of God only; but this I do
promise: I will lead you toward success, and, if we fail, die fighting
in the midst of you. Choose, therefore, Maritza or Vasilici."

The stroke was a bold one. Brave men could understand the daring of
flinging down such a challenge to a man like Vasilici, here in his own
stronghold. It appealed in a manner that nothing else she could have
done would have appealed, and she enhanced the force of her words by
her apparent indifference as to what their decision might be. She
resumed her seat as abruptly as she had risen from it, and beckoned
Anton to approach her.

"Princess!" There was reverence in his tone as he bowed before her.

"Listen," she said quickly. "You marked well the way we came?"

"Yes, Princess."

"There is division among them, and for the present we are safe, perhaps,
but the issue is doubtful. If they decide to hold me prisoner for a
while, if their decision be anything short of making me their leader,
take the first opportunity to escape back to Sturatzberg as swiftly
as you can, and tell them what has happened in the hills. Wherever
there is a man who loves me, tell him the story, tell Countess Mavrodin,
tell Captain Ellerey if he be in the city. Give me but a score of men
to shout my cause, and there are many here who will gladly add their
voices to such an acclamation. Tell them that."

No shout, not a murmur, even, had followed Maritza's challenge. Those
who hated her most were astonished into silence. Vasilici's face grew
a shade more savage, but he was quick to note that the Princess had
not appealed altogether in vain. He did not turn to those about him
at once and mock her pretensions. It was not the moment to assert an
authority which he well knew some of those with him in the hills
resented. For a time he made no effort to suppress the whisperings on
all sides; he had to determine on some counter-stroke. Suddenly he
turned toward Maritza--

"Princess," he said, "I love a courageous foe. All here shall be your
judges, not I."

"I am content," she answered.

At a sign from the chief, food and wine were brought to her, while the
brigands gathered together and listened eagerly to this counsel and
to that. There were many who, like Vasilici, had taken to the hills
merely to swoop down upon the defenceless for pillage and for ransom,
who cared nothing who might sit upon the throne in Sturatzberg, and
among these there was a certain resentment that latterly there had
come a change into the councils, that the organization was in danger
of growing into a political one. What rewards in the city could
compensate for the loss of their freedom in the hills? This faction
was strong, but hardly strong enough to make it possible for Vasilici
to break with his other followers. The chief knew it was the time for
plausible arguments rather than domineering demands, and these he well
knew how to use. He listened to the counsel of others, and he advised,
and gradually there arose a large majority in the camp to whose decision
the minority bowed because their opinions were subtly provided for.

There was a smile upon Vasilici's face as he stood forward to speak
from which Maritza argued no good.

"Princess, I am but the mouthpiece, not the judge," he said. "It is
true that there are many political refugees among us to whom you appeal
personally, even if your cause does not; but chiefly we are not
political. We are against all kings and the laws which make men either
rich or poor, and we have set up in these hills a kingdom of our own
of which I am at present the head. We take our living where we find
it. Such a leader as you would make should draw men to your cause; but
are they drawn? Is there any real force in Sturatzberg to rise and
fight at your bidding? We doubt it. We are not patriotic enough to
throw our lives away upon a dream. Yet you may be right, and the time
may come when the golden cross will send us to fight your battles; but
that time is not yet. We want more certainty before we espouse so
desperate a venture. Those friends you have in the city yonder should,
however, be strong enough to insure your safety if their loyalty is
as you say, and for them the time has come to prove that loyalty. For
us, we have to live. It has been decided, therefore, to hold you to
ransom. We shall despatch messengers to the troops which lie in the
plain, and for a price we shall deliver you to them. I doubt not you
will receive as great courtesy from them as from us."

Maritza did not answer.

"You are content, Princess?" said Vasilici.

"I am disappointed," she returned. "I perceive that they were only the
cowards who fled from Sturatzberg to these hills; the brave hearts
remain in the city."

"We move to-night," said Vasilici, turning to those about him. "Let
the messengers start at once."

"Remember, Anton: to Sturatzberg with all the speed you may. Now leave
me alone," whispered Maritza.

To the good offices of the man who had shown kindness to the Princess,
Anton owed his ability to slip past the guards as soon as night had
fallen, and he had travelled a long way when he fell in with Ellerey
and Baron Petrescu's party at dawn. He told his tale quickly.

"Only in Sturatzberg can we help her," Anton declared. "It is useless
going forward. She will certainly be delivered to the soldiers."

His counsel prevailed, and they returned as quickly as possible to the
castle in the hills, taking the brigand who had been their guide with
them. They could not let him go and divulge their plans. Before another
dawn came they were riding as swiftly as the rough way would permit
in the direction of Sturatzberg.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE TEMPTATION OF FRINA MAVRODIN



Lord Cloverton pushed his chair back from the table, and with his arms
folded gazed abstractedly at the ceiling. Captain Ward sat opposite
to him, turning over a pile of papers, noting their contents, and
placing them in order.

"De Froilette was right after all, Ward. Princess Maritza has been in
Sturatzberg."

"And will be again almost immediately, now that the brigands have
delivered her up. She is likely to be brought into the city to-morrow,
I understand."

"Yes, and lodged in the palace under safe keeping, and then--then,
Ward?"

"She must bear the consequences of her folly," Ward answered. "Has
England any part to play in whatever treatment she may receive?"

"No, I think not. One may pity the woman, but even a woman must pay
the penalty of her actions. Still the death or banishment of the
Princess may do little to relieve the situation; indeed, may only
intensify it. There have been other influences at work, and we are as
ignorant of them as ever we were."

"I see you have some scheme maturing, my lord," Ward said with a smile.

"It might mature at once did I know what had become of Captain Ellerey.
Would he seize the opportunity and escape out of Wallaria, think you?"
"Not if he thought anyone who had a right to his help needed it. He
is the kind of man who would return, no matter what the danger might
be," answered Ward.

"I believe some friendship of the sort does bind him to Sturatzberg,"
said Lord Cloverton, "and I should be happier if he were in Princess
Maritza's company. I should know how to act then."

The door opened and a servant brought in a card.

"Ah, now we may hear news," said the Ambassador. "De Froilette, the
timber merchant. Show him in. You need not go, Ward."

De Froilette came in quickly and was cordially greeted by the Minister.

"My secretary, Captain Ward; you may safely speak before him, monsieur."

"It is no secret information I have to give," said De Froilette. "I
came rather impudently to give myself the pleasure of laughing at your
lordship."

"You have seen fit to praise me so often, monsieur, that I can no doubt
bear your ridicule with the same equanimity as I accepted your praise."

"A witty retort to my pleasantry, my lord. You did not believe me when
I said Princess Maritza was in Sturatzberg. You see I was right."

"Monsieur, I grant your information was valuable; my policy might have
suffered considerably by my disbelief. I have learnt a lesson and wish
to profit by it. Can you tell me where Captain Ellerey is?"

"No, my lord; but I can tell you where to watch for him."

"You will help me by doing so," said Cloverton.

"In Sturatzberg, my lord," said De Froilette.

"Do you imagine he will return to the very centre of his danger? I am
inclined to think he has crossed the hills and taken the quickest way
out of Wallaria."

"You do not know the man, and you forget he is an Englishman," said
De Froilette. "They are desperate fellows, these English adventurers.
They have no eyes for danger, and are lacking that diplomacy which
makes men feel that it is honorable to retreat sometimes. He is one
of those who love their sword and would fain die with their boots on.
Besides, he is in love."

"Ah, now you interest me, monsieur," Cloverton exclaimed. "I have been
wondering whether he had not some weak spot."

"I heard him once speak of Princess Maritza," De Froilette went on.
"He had met her in England; and I read the story behind his careless
words. Here in Sturatzberg the Princess must have seen him, and for
love of her he espoused her cause. She is being brought to the city,
and he will surely follow her. Seize him, my lord, and you nip the
rebellion in the bud."

"You think so," said Cloverton reflectively.

"I am certain of it," was the answer. "I am even bold enough to give
advice. The King can afford to treat the Princess leniently. She has
no strong personality to guide and counsel her; alone she is no danger,
or the brigands would not have given her up. But this mad Englishman
has the power to keep her cause alive. The King cannot afford to pardon
him. Kill him, my lord, as quickly as you can. With her lover dead,
the Princess will have no heart to plot."

"I think you are right, monsieur. I shall advise the King."

"And I will do my part in watching for Ellerey," said De Froilette.
"You will be serving the State, monsieur," said the Ambassador; "but
are there no others who are dangerous?"

The Frenchman was thoughtful for a moment.

"No, I think not," he answered. "There are some who talk loudly in the
back streets, but their talk serves them instead of fighting, and does
no harm."

"Quite so, monsieur; but I was not thinking of them," Lord Cloverton
returned. "There is one curious feature in the situation. The brigands,
it is true, have played into the hands of the State, but there seems
little doubt that they were waiting for a message from Sturatzberg and
were prepared to act upon it. They did not receive the message they
expected, and so became revengeful. Now what message did they expect,
and from whom was it to come?"

De Froilette shrugged his shoulders.

"Perhaps Captain Ellerey betrayed his trust and delivered the wrong
message," suggested the Ambassador.

De Froilette looked at him in astonishment.

"By doing so he may have unconsciously served the State," Lord Cloverton
continued, "and perhaps--of course, monsieur, one has to guess rather
wildly sometimes--perhaps balked the intentions of those Russian troops
which, for no apparent reason, have been gathering on the frontier."

Then De Froilette laughed.

"You are prepared for all emergencies, my lord; it is wonderful, your
foresight; but I conceive that you are making something out of nothing.
The diplomatic brain is so fertile it surpasses me."

"It is a soil which so many persons throw seed into, monsieur," was
the answer. "Those who deal in timber are not the only merchants who
scent danger to their interests in the political ferment of the times.
But your advice is good; I shall advise the King. When Captain Ellerey
comes he may tell us more." And the Ambassador rose, putting an end
to the interview.

When the door had closed upon the Frenchman he resumed his seat and
smiled benignantly. The smile invited comment from his companion.

"Personal enmity as regards Ellerey," said Ward, "and astonishment at
your accurate knowledge."

The Ambassador nodded.

"He should be watched," said Ward.

"That is no longer necessary," was the quick answer. "Whatever power
he may have had is gone. He is chiefly concerned about his own skin
nowadays, and it would not surprise me to hear that business had
suddenly called him away from Sturatzberg. Still, I thank him for
giving me an idea. I shall see the King."

De Froilette went quickly back to the Altstrasse, and it would appear
that Captain Ward's estimate of his attitude was near the truth. He
sent for Francois at once.

"The net is being drawn in, Francois," he said.

"Are we within it?"

"We shall easily escape," was the answer. "Is everything ready to depart
at a moment's notice?"

"Yes, monsieur."

"Good. You carry a revolver, Francois?"

The man showed it to him.

"Good again. Captain Ellerey will return to Sturatzberg--may have done
so already. That he has played us false we know, that he can give
evidence against us is certain. Revenge and safety, therefore, lie in
the same direction. Watch for him, Francois, as I shall, and silence
him."

"And his servant?" asked the man.

"If your private quarrel with the servant leads you to do so, no harm
will be done." And with a wave of the hand he dismissed him.

The news that Princess Maritza was in the hands of the King's troops
and was being brought to Sturatzberg had reached the city early that
morning, but the news was not immediately known to Frina Mavrodin. It
was being conveyed to her by a trusted messenger who had much to do
on his way, and the fact that she had lately kept much at home accounted
for her not hearing it from any other source.

The days of waiting are ever the longest days to live through, and the
hours had dragged heavily for Frina Mavrodin since Baron Petrescu had
started for the hills. Hardly anyone saw her except Hannah, and the
old serving woman pitied her, judging her distress by her own. She
little knew the terrible struggle which raged in the breast of this
beautiful woman, how all that was good and bad in her, all those latent
forces which lie in the heart of everyone, sprang into life and fought
equally for the mastery. It was not the Princess who was first in her
thoughts from dawn to dark, or whose image passed incessantly through
her restless dreams. It was the man who was beside the Princess, who
had fought desperately for her whether he loved her cause or not, who
was hourly under the spell of her enchantment. The potency of that
spell seemed to grow the more she thought of it, and all the charm
which some had professed to find in herself seemed to sink into
insignificance. It was not sufficient to win the love of this man. And
those waiting hours, too, are hours of danger. Troubles or desires,
or whatever thoughts assail at such a time, lose their proportion, and
idleness lends vitality to the evil lying dormant. Was there no way
to win her desire? Between it and her stood only the Princess, an enemy
to the State. Might she not be swept out of the way? How easy such a
thing seemed to be. She had only to speak a few words to dash to the
ground all Maritza's hopes of success. Why not speak them? In love and
war all means are fair. And then arose the good in her, and she turned
away in horror from the very thought of such treachery.

It was in a fierce moment of her struggle that the messenger arrived.
Dumitru, travel-stained yet unweary, more keenly alive now perhaps
than he had even been as Anton in the hills, came to her.

"What news? What news?" she cried, springing up.

"The worst, Countess."

"Dead?"

"No; the Princess lives."

"Yes, yes; and those who are with her?"

"Are on their way to the city," Dumitru answered. "We could not enter
openly; we had to delay, and exercise the greatest care. Baron Petrescu
will come to-night if possible, but extreme caution is needed. I came
on. I am of no importance and pass unnoticed. I have visited a score
of places in the city already, and I have much more to do before
sunset."

"Does Captain Ellerey return to Sturatzberg?" asked Frina thoughtfully.

"Aye; and he is a man whose equal these eyes are never likely to see
again. He is fit to be a king."

"A king!"

"Yes, a king, and though he be a foreigner, I for one shout for him."

"A king, Dumitru; tell me, does he love the Princess?"

"Surely he must, since for her cause he has shown no great affection.
He will be here to strike one more good blow for her, and, loving her,
may learn to love her cause too. We may yet triumph, Countess. But
listen. The Princess has been delivered by the brigands," and Dumitru
told her the whole story quickly. "To-night she will be brought back
to Sturatzberg," he went on, "although it is given out that she will
not come until the morning. The gates will be shut, and when the streets
are quiet they will be opened again. Not many soldiers are with her,
and those within the gates will hold all danger cheap. The city will
be hushed and still, but there are many who will not sleep. A signal
will blaze forth in the darkness and a few may fall in the streets,
but the Princess will be free. You will be ready to receive her,
Countess?"

"Here?"

"Is it not the safest refuge in Sturatzberg?" asked Dumitru. "There
are hiding-places here, and you are not a suspect in the city."

"And afterward?" said the Countess.

"I know not. A small success in the city would perhaps raise the
country; the afterward is for the Princess to decide. She will have
to consider the welfare of those who strike to-night. You will be ready
to receive her, Countess?"

"Yes," Frina answered, and Dumitru went to pursue his way through the
city, calling men to arm and prepare, little dreaming what thoughts
troubled the beautiful woman he had left.

The frail little hopes she had found consolation in vanished at
Dumitru's words. Desmond Ellerey loved Maritza. Dumitru had said it,
and had he not had ample opportunity of judging? Now Maritza was to
come a fugitive to her house; her very life perhaps lay in her hands.
How easy it would be to speak the few words which would tell her enemies
where she was hidden, and who would know, who would guess, that it was
the Countess Mavrodin who had betrayed her? Such specious arguments
did the evil that was in her whisper in her ear, and she could not
shut the whisperings out. All day long her restlessness increased. Her
solitude became unbearable. She longed for the world of men and women,
hungered to hear laughter and the sound of voices--anything to distract
her from her thoughts. That evening she went to Court, beautiful,
reckless, heartless to all seeming, ready to be flattered and to
flatter--a dangerous mood for such a woman to be in.

So, all unconsciously, she was driven forward by destiny. She was in
a mood to be tempted, and the greatest temptation of all was lying in
wait for her.

She had shown such marked preference for Captain Ellerey when he came
to Court that a host of her admirers had perforce to stand sullenly
aside. To-night they gathered round her, each one in his turn receiving
some little favor which buried in oblivion all past disappointments;
such virtue lies even in the least of a beautiful woman's favors. Frina
Mavrodin had always had the subtle power of making her companion of
the moment believe that he was the one person in all the world she
would wish to have beside her, and this power she exercised to the
full to-night.

Lord Cloverton, covertly watching her, was constrained to admire her,
and even his old blood tingled with a remembrance of youth as he did
so. But he did not approach her. It was not his part to play the tempter
to-night. He had arranged otherwise. Presently he saw the King enter
the room alone, and look round in search of some one. His eye fell
upon Frina Mavrodin, and he went toward her. Perhaps, too, in his veins
the blood tingled a little.

"An hour of ease which so seldom falls to me renews my strength to-night,
Countess, and youth and beauty draw me like a lodestone," said the King.

"Your Majesty is pleased to flatter me," she answered with a sweeping
curtsey.

"That would indeed be impossible. I am honored, doubly so, if you will
take my hand in the dance."

It was a set dance, stately in its measure, and those who watched
remarked how the grace of the woman seemed to lend grace to the King's
movements, who danced but seldom, and that, in truth, somewhat
awkwardly.

The King thanked her as he led her to a seat when the dance was over.
It was in the alcove where she had so often sat with Ellerey, and the
coincidence impressed her.

"There should be brighter times at hand for Wallaria, Countess," said
the King. "The Princess Maritza will enter Sturatzberg--a
prisoner--to-morrow."

"So I have heard, your Majesty."

"And you loyally rejoice with us, Countess?"

The question was so marked in the intonation of the King's voice that
Frina Mavrodin was on her guard in a moment. "She is a woman, your
Majesty, and, since I am no politician, I pity the woman."

"I am not without pity, either, Countess," was the answer. "The Princess
has been ill-advised, and the onus lies with those who have advised
and supported her. It is upon them punishment should rightly fall."

"And who are they?" asked the Countess.

"That is a question to which there is no complete answer," said the
King. "There is only one I can name definitely. But there is one person
in Sturatzberg who could answer the question, so I am informed, and
so I believe."

"And he will not answer?"

"She has not yet been asked," the King returned.

"A woman, your Majesty?"

"A very beautiful woman; yourself, Countess."

Perhaps Frina Mavrodin was prepared for the King's words. She did not
start, the color did not rise to her cheeks. She remained silent for
a few moments, feeling that the King's eyes were fixed upon her.

"I can guess who was your Majesty's informant," she said quietly. "Lord
Cloverton. He has always credited me with a power I do not possess,
and has often set traps for me. They were subtly hidden, well devised
to catch a schemer; but, being innocent, they failed to ensnare me."

"We ourselves have eyes, Countess; it is not necessary that the British
Ambassador should see for us."

"No, your Majesty; but we, the Court, sometimes fancy that he attempts
to take that duty upon himself," Frina answered.

"Then you will not help me, Countess?" said the King with a smile.

"In any way I can, your Majesty."

"But not in the way I want. It is a pity. You will force me to harsh
measures. There is one other I may constrain to tell me, unless he
values his secret more than life."

Frina looked at him, a question in her eyes, but her lips gave it no
words.

"A brave man," said the King, "although circumstances have made him my
enemy. You might save him."

Still Frina was silent.

"Probably Captain Ellerey will not speak, therefore it is certain that
Captain Ellerey must die," said the King slowly.

"Is he in Sturatzberg?"

"Ah, Countess, you must not try and surprise my secrets; but rest
assured he must die unless you choose to save him."

"How can I save him?" she asked.

The King suddenly laid his hand on hers, which were folded in her lap.
"To-morrow, early, send me by a trusted messenger the names of those
who are foremost in Maritza's cause, the names of the societies whose
plans and aims they govern, and, so far as is in your knowledge, the
plans which they have formed. On my royal oath, none shall know from
whom I received this information, and Captain Ellerey shall be free
to leave Wallaria."

"He is a brave man, and I would help him if I could," she said.

"You can, Countess; if you love him, you will."

"Your Majesty is strangely at fault; Captain Ellerey is nothing to me."

"I have touched your hand, Countess, as you asked a question concerning
him, and felt the quiver in your frame. Your heart would not answer
as your lips do. Remember this: he dies unless you save him."

"But I am powerless, your Majesty."

"Then, Countess, his case is hard indeed. There are some hours before
to-morrow; use them to understand how powerful you are in this matter."

"So far I will obey your Majesty."

"Always remembering, Countess, that if you cannot save him no power
on earth can;" and, with a bow, the King left her alone.

Here was the opportunity she had dreamed of. No one would ever know.
What to her were Princess Maritza and all her followers in comparison
with Desmond Ellerey? There was a look of determination in her face
as she left the alcove quickly. The few hours before tomorrow seemed
all too short for her.



CHAPTER XXIV

HOW MARITZA ENTERED STURATZBERG



It was a dark night without a moon, and only a faint star or two
glimmered in the sky. The smell of rain was in the air, and there was
a closeness in the atmosphere which made the effort of breathing a
conscious one. It was still early as Frina Mavrodin was driven rapidly
homeward. She left the palace immediately after her conversation with
the King. The few hours before to-morrow were best spent alone. A wild
confusion of thoughts surged through her brain, but one thought was
ever dominant--how could she save Desmond Ellerey without betraying
others? For while the King's suggestion was a subtle and potent
temptation, it had the effect of steadying the Countess. Such an idea
as a wholesale betrayal of those who had trusted her had never occurred
to her; her only thought had been how to raise a barrier between Maritza
and Desmond Ellerey, how to act so that they might be effectually
separated forever. Such plans as had come into her mind may have been
mean and unworthy, but the circumstances had excused them. The King's
words had robbed them of all excuse, had shown her that base treachery
belonged to them as surely as to the larger scheme which he had
suggested. It did not occur to her to blame him for the suggestion;
politically, perhaps, he was justified; but that he could believe her
capable of such treachery showed her that, between her private jealousy
and her political position, there was no room to draw even the finest
of lines. So the few hours before to-morrow were not to be used, as
the King supposed, in a struggle between her honor and her desire, but
in concentrated thought of how his Majesty might be outwitted. Desmond
Ellerey must be saved, but neither the Princess nor her followers must
be sacrificed to save him. Her own desire must stand aside, whatever
the suffering might be. Thus, through the fierce fire of temptation
Frina Mavrodin came forth a stronger woman, a keener slave to duty,
because that duty must cost her so much. And having shaken herself
free from the fetters of selfishness, her thoughts and conceptions
became more acute.

It was hardly possible that Desmond Ellerey had yet returned to
Sturatzberg. No one could know his movements better than Dumitru, and
he had shown no fear concerning him. Even if the King possessed
information which might point to the probability of his arrest,
Ellerey's courage and resourcefulness were factors to be reckoned with
before his arrest could become an accomplished fact. That in Maritza's
defence he might prove reckless was true, but he would hardly do so
until every other means had failed. No; the King had played upon her
fears, and she had fallen a victim to his cunning. She had plainly
shown that Ellerey was dear to her, that she was prepared to sacrifice
much to secure his safety; she had, moreover, given the impression
that she could betray many in Sturatzberg if she would, and therefore,
should the rescue of Maritza prove successful, she herself, and her
house, and all who belonged to her would be closely watched. She had,
in fact, undone what she had so persistently taken pains to accomplish;
she had given cause for suspicion; she had rendered her house by the
river an unsafe place of refuge. How was she to retrieve the position?
Entering her house she gave rapid instructions to certain of her
servants, and then went to her own rooms and sent for Hannah. The old
serving woman came quickly, and to her Frina made her first confession.

"I have been cross, Hannah, sometimes," she said; "forgive me."

"Oh, no, my lady, you have only been troubled. We all have our own way
of showing grief."

"True, Hannah, and I have had troubles which you cannot know of. Your
quick pardon teaches me a lesson."

"O my lady---"

"Listen, Hannah, there is much to do and little time to do it in.
To-night, perhaps, the Princess will return."

"Here!" Hannah exclaimed.

"Yes; but she will be a fugitive from her enemies, and how long this
house may be a safe refuge for her I cannot tell. Come with me. I will
show you a means of escape should the worst happen--a stout door which
will hold back pursuers for a long time. It opens from a room which
shall be yours for the time. The key shall be in your possession. Study
to look innocent, Hannah, when you are questioned, and in a crucial
moment you may prove a far better defence than a dozen armed men.
Come."

As Frina Mavrodin had driven through the city there were many people
in the streets. The cafes were still full, and there were no signs of
any unusual excitement. A few may have discussed Princess Maritza over
their coffee, liquor, or syrup, but in most cases it was with casual
interest, or with a remark that, if they "were abroad early enough,
they might walk down to the Southern Gate to see her enter." What had
her fate to do with them? Though the times were troublous they would
go their way to-morrow as they had done to-day, as they would every
day until their own small circle of interest were touched. They had
as little sympathy with the agitator as they had with the Government;
neither the one nor the other did anything to affect them materially.
So these law-abiding citizens, law-abiding only because there was no
temptation to be otherwise, perhaps, finished their coffee and went
home, and the streets of Sturatzberg grew quieter, and, with the closing
of the cafes, darker. The city gates were shut, and if a few soldiers
appeared at the corners of streets, they caused little interest to the
people going home. Since the murdered bodies had been found lying in
the Bergenstrasse, it was only right that the city should be well
guarded.

The soldiers themselves grumbled somewhat. Fighting was their trade,
and they were discontented at being made a city watch. Beyond a late
reveller or two no one was out after midnight. What was the use of all
this precaution? In the smaller streets there was even greater silence.
Where one might have expected to find whatever dissatisfaction existed
in the city, there was only the greater peace. Hardly a light shone
out from any of the dark buildings, no one lurked in shadowy corners,
and although the soldiers had been ordered to be especially careful
tonight, there seemed to be even less than usual to demand their
attention. They believed that the Princess Maritza was to enter the
city at dawn.

At the guard-house of the Southern Gate the men were alert. An hour
ago their officer had told them what was to happen, and the news was
presently conveyed to the soldiers at the corners. The officer of the
guardroom kept a steady watch upon the slowly passing minutes, while
outside the city a small army had approached under cover of the
darkness.

Without and within there was silence. Yet wakeful and watching men may
be as silent as those who sleep. Throughout the day a man had passed
from one narrow street to another with quick and stealthy steps. Into
this house he went, mounting the stairs swiftly, and disappeared for
a few moments into some upper room; then as swiftly he came down again,
and, gliding up alleys and half-deserted streets, entered one little
cafe after another, and mounted to many a room whose occupants listened
eagerly to his words and made a sign that they were understood. Long
before darkness had fallen upon Sturatzberg there were many cafes doing
little business to all seeming, which, nevertheless, were crowded with
men hidden away and waiting.

Such a crowd waited in the long room at the rear of the Toison d'Or.
The men who composed it had gathered there one by one, as they had
done that night when they came to drink with the soldiers who had been
found dead in the Bergenstrasse next morning. Many of the same men
were in the crowd, many also of those who had once chased Ellerey so
furiously through the garden of that other tavern where was the door
in the wall. They greeted each new arrival with a nod, and for the
most part were silent or spoke only in whispers.

"At what hour?" asked one.

"Two hours after midnight."

"Are our numbers sufficient?"

"Quite sufficient," answered another. "At a dozen places I have had
our brothers gathered, close to the spot from which they will make
their rush upon the troops. The attack will come from all sides at
once, and the soldiers will be taken by surprise. We cannot fail."

"Does the Princess know, Dumitru?"

"Not certainly, but she will be expectant and ready. You understand
whose command you have to obey, and the signal?"

The men about him nodded and smiled with quiet confidence, while Dumitru
passed on to others to answer similar questions. He was of much
importance among them to-night. They felt that he was but the mouthpiece
of the Princess, that she was their real leader, that the time they
had waited for and plotted toward had really come. A few nervous ones
there were among them who calculated what the price of failure would
be, and had planned what they might do for their own safety in such
an event; but the majority of them were enthusiasts who rejoiced that
the hour of action had arrived at last.

"After to-night, Dumitru, there will be no turning back," whispered
one man, who, standing on a chair, had called for the toast to Maritza
on that night fatal to the deserting soldiers. "The next few days will
make the name of Sturatzberg ring through the world, and our deeds
strike terror into the heart of the nation."

Dumitru nodded and passed on, but he too kept eager watch upon the
time, even as did the officer at the guardhouse.

The crowd became more excited and restless as the hands of the clock
crept farther and farther from midnight. "Surely it is time now," they
whispered at intervals. And the leaders had some difficulty in
restraining them. As it was in the Toison d'Or, so it was in many a
dark house where men lay hidden and waiting.

From the watchman over the gate word was sent to the officer that the
prisoner had come, and at his command the gates silently swung back
upon their hinges. It was a large body of men that entered, having in
their midst a slim boyish figure mounted on a charger. So Maritza
entered Sturatzberg.

The men at the word of command halted to right and left, and only a
few, comparatively, continued their silent march along the
Bergenstrasse. With the city full of troops what chance of escape had
that lonely prisoner, who spoke no word, yet furtively glanced to this
side and that, and studied the attitude of the men nearest to her? She
noted that soldiers stood at attention at street corners, a few here,
a few there; that of all other signs of life the streets were empty.
She realized that she had been brought in at an unexpected hour, and
the silence over the city fell upon her soul. Hopelessness and despair
seized her, and a wild thought prompted her to make a sudden dash for
freedom. Death might come, but such a death was preferable to the fate
which must await her at the end of this journey. Her fingers had
tightened on the reins, when the silence was suddenly broken, and,
with a swift hiss, a streak of light cut through the darkness skyward,
paused a moment, and then, with a muffled detonation, burst into globes
of light which floated downward. The foremost of the troop reined in
their horses sharply at the unexpected flight of the rocket, causing
some confusion among those behind. Then came a quick command from an
officer which was half lost in the great shout which rent the air on
every side--

"For Grigosie! Grigosie!"

Had the cry been for Maritza the soldiers might possibly have understood
better what this sudden stopping of their progress meant; but, as it
was, a black, rushing mass was upon them before they had time to draw
their weapons. The attack was so fierce, so sudden and overwhelming,
that when the meaning of it had thoroughly dawned upon the soldiers,
they had enough to do to protect themselves without giving much thought
to their prisoner. There was hardly a trooper who was not in a moment
separated from his fellows by a swaying mob, whose one object seemed
to be to force the soldiers apart and prevent any concerted action.
The ring of steel and the crack of revolvers mingled with groans and
curses and sharp cries which blades thrust home drew forth. Here a
horse fell prostrate on its knees, bringing its rider head foremost
into the arms of his assailants; and there some plunging charger,
dexterously managed, beat down and trampled on a writhing mass of
limbs. Shouting came from a distance, as the soldiers from the various
street corners came running into the Bergenstrasse to the assistance
of their comrades, and, since they ran compactly and with bayonets
fixed, the mob gave way before them. An officer, whose plunging horse
cleared a path before him, slashed right and left as he came, and
shouted: "To the prisoner! Secure the prisoner!" and desperately he
struggled toward the slim figure carried this way and that by the
swaying, fighting crowd. At his shout the crowd threw itself more
savagely upon him. The greatest danger seemed to centre in this man,
and bullets sang about him, and steel struck at him from every side.

"Quickly, Princess!"

A strong arm was about her and drew her swiftly from her horse. In a
moment a ring of men had formed about her as they pushed their way
through the crowd. Two soldiers who sought to stop them fell back
groaning, and were trampled under foot; and then the little band with
the slim figure in the midst of it was outside the mob, and at the
entrance to a narrow, dark street.

"Hold this street with your lives!" cried one. "This way, Princess,"
and with half a dozen men to guide and guard her she ran forward, the
din of the struggle in the Bergenstrasse growing fainter and fainter
as they went.

Another rocket hissed skyward, and then tactics changed. The crowd
knew what the signal meant, and instead of throwing themselves fiercely
on the soldiers, they began to draw back to side streets, fighting
desperately at corners for a few moments and then fleeing, breaking
up into small knots and turning by twos and threes into alleys and
dark passages into which the soldiers did not deem it wise to follow
them. Fully an hour passed before the Bergenstrasse was cleared, and
many a dark form lay stretched in the roadway, and not a few who wore
the King's uniform. Some lay quite still, their troubles and ambitions
over; some attempted to crawl away and hide themselves; while others,
too hurt to move, groaned and cried piteously for help. The inhabitants
of the Bergenstrasse had been rudely awakened, but for a long time
none ventured out to render any help to the wounded, lest the soldiers
should attack them.

Meanwhile, running feet woke the echoes of the quieter streets and
distant parts of the town--men speeding toward safety. More troops
would march from the castle presently, and it would be dangerous to
be found in the streets to-night. Doors in dark streets opened and
quietly closed again; weapons were carefully hidden away under loose
boards, and their owners became harmless citizens again.

One little band of men held together, running lightly, and certain of
every corner they turned. Some of them were those who had guided the
Princess to safety, and now they were bent on carrying the good news
to others who were waiting eagerly to hear it. The foremost stopped
at a door and gave a peculiar knock. It was opened immediately, and
the custodian asked no questions as the men filed in and went quickly
to the rooms looking on to the garden, where, not so long ago, they
had helped to put an end to a duel. As they entered the long room,
which was only dimly lighted, they paused. It was easy to see that
there was consternation among the men gathered there, and strangers
were present. "Well?" cried a dozen voices.

"She is safe."

"Safe! Gone to her death and destruction," was the answer. "The Countess
is a traitor."

"It's death to the first man who repeats that accusation," thundered one
of the strangers, his hand upon his sword hilt, and as the men drew back
before such sudden fury, they noticed that the other stranger, a bearded
soldier of huge proportions, grasped his sword hilt too.

The men who had run from the Bergenstrasse waited for an explanation.

"Are we not all friends here?" exclaimed Baron Petrescu hastily. "There
is some mistake. Tell us your story again," and he turned to a man who
had only ceased speaking as the newcomers had entered. He had come in
breathless haste at the very moment that Petrescu had brought Desmond
Ellerey and Stefan through the garden. Willing hands had opened the
low door in the wall for them, forewarned of their coming by Dumitru.
Ellerey's fame had run before him, and eagerly was he looked for and
recognized as the leader of the rebellion which must quickly follow
the work going forward in the city to-night. He had come; the
conspirators had succeeded in rescuing Princess Maritza; and now came
this man with a tale which filled their hearts with consternation.

"I had it from one who fills a chief servant's place in the palace,
and who is one of us," said the man, speaking rapidly. "He was delayed
in coming to me, or I should have been here earlier. The King sought
out the Countess, danced with her, and then, seated in an alcove,
behind some curtains of which this man was hidden, the King persuaded
her to betray those who favored the cause of the Princess, and the
Countess was tempted, and promised. Early to-morrow she is to send the
information to the King by a trusted messenger, and the King has given
his oath that no one shall know from whom it comes."

"I do not believe it," said the Baron. "She may have promised, but she
had some reason for doing so."

"She had, Baron. The King persuaded her that her act of betrayal should
be the salvation of a rebel."

"What rebel? Princess Maritza?" asked Petrescu.

"No, Baron; Captain Ellerey."

"It was indeed a subtle temptation," and Petrescu turned slowly to
look at his companion.

"The truth shall quickly be put to the test," said Ellerey. "Give me
wine, a full measure, to put new strength in me. Is mine to be the
only voice raised in her defence? Are you all so ready to believe evil
of the woman who has served your Princess so well? I stake my honor
that with her Maritza is safe."

"True; but speak less harshly, Captain," whispered Petrescu. "These men
are our friends; do not anger them."

"He from whom I had the news ever speaks the truth," said the man who
had told the story. "He has never failed us in the past."

"Has the Countess ever failed you in the past?" Ellerey cried. "Shame
on you all for the thought. Her loyalty shall be proved on the instant."

"You can do nothing to-night," said Petrescu.

"Soldiers are in every street," said a chorus of voices.

"Therefore give me wine to renew my strength," Ellerey cried, and he
seized the tankard held out to him.

"It is madness to go now," said Petrescu.

"For you, perhaps, for you, but not for me. Man--man, do not you
understand? Besides the woman whose truth I would vindicate, is not
Maritza there? She once gave me life yonder in the hills; even less
than love would repay such a debt as that. To-morrow, comrades, we may
fight side by side in the streets of Sturatzberg, but this hour is my
own. Let me pass. It is death to rebel or soldier who seeks to stay
me to-night." And throwing down the empty tankard, he went quickly to
the door, followed by Baron Petrescu and Stefan.



CHAPTER XXV

'TWIXT LOVE AND PITY



Long before midnight Frina Mavrodin had completed her work of
preparation. The servants who were in her confidence had been told of
the coming of the Princess. Some were at the main entrance ready to
admit her if she came that way; others were waiting at a small door
which opened from the garden into a side street. They were instructed
to show surprise, but not consternation, should any officer of the
King demand admittance, and servants were stationed on the stairs and
in the corridors, a signal arranged between them, so that news of any
such demand might be immediately conveyed to the Countess silently,
and without any man rushing to her and causing suspicion to those who
entered.

"If Captain Ellerey comes, let him pass to me at once," she said. "And
at the usual hour put out all lights that shine upon the street. This
house must seem to sleep, no matter how wakeful it may be."

Only a dim light burned in her own room, which looked toward the garden,
and here the Countess paced up and down with slow, thoughtful steps.
She had changed the dress she had worn at Court that night for a soft,
loose gown of delicate rose color, caught in at the waist by a silken
girdle of a deep shade of the same color. A filmy cloud of lace was
about her throat, and fell over her shoulders and from the short loose
sleeves.

Once or twice she stopped before a glass to set a wayward tress of her
hair in its place, or to arrange the falling folds of the lace, and
perhaps lingered for a moment in contemplation of her own reflection,
half conscious that she looked fairer dressed as she was than in Court
attire of costly silks and flashing jewels.

Many times she paused at the open window, drawing aside the curtains
to listen for footsteps in the garden, and she listened often for
footsteps in the corridor. Princess Maritza was coming; perhaps Desmond
Ellerey would come, too.

How to outwit the King should Desmond Ellerey fall into his hands, she
did not know. She thought of little else as she paced the room, but
no solution of the problem came to her. If he should be taken, it
seemed as if he must suffer for the cause into which he had been
pressed. If by her betrayal of others he only could be saved, she knew
now that he must perish. There was no thought in her mind of writing
out a list of names to send to the King to-morrow. She put her hands
before her eyes to shut out the hideous vision which rose before her--
Ellerey standing with folded arms, facing a dozen loaded muskets waiting
for the order to fire; but even in her vision the face of the so-called
traitor, firm, resolute, determined, in this supreme hour, as it had
been throughout his life, as it would be in reality when such time
came, thrilled her soul and made him only the greater hero.

"Oh, to be at his side then!" she exclaimed in a low voice. "What would
I not give to share that death with him?"

But Ellerey was not yet in the King's hands, that seemed certain. She
felt convinced that some time before the dawn she would see him; that
he would enter the house to stand by Maritza's side to the last. Had
she not power to save him then? There was a way of escape for the
Princess; that same way could Desmond Ellerey go. He and Maritza should
go together to find in some other land a quiet haven of happiness.

"Yes," she murmured, her little hands clasped so firmly behind her
that the rings cut into the flesh, though she hardly noticed it; "yes,
that is how it shall be. Even if my life pays the forfeit, they shall
go together. Perhaps, when his happiness is greatest, he will sometimes
think of the woman who helped him to it."

There were hurried steps in the corridor, and the next moment Princess
Maritza and Dumitru entered.

"So far the fates are with us, Frina," said the Princess, taking the
Countess's hands in hers and kissing her; "but I little thought to use
your house again as a refuge."

"It may prove an insecure retreat," Frina answered. "There is no escape
from this room. I have arranged another place for you. Come, and come
quickly."

"Are you suspected, Countess?" asked Dumitru anxiously.

"I fear so, but they will hardly trouble me to-night. Still, I do not
feel that you are safe in this room, Maritza."

Frina led the way down several corridors and up and down short flights
of steps until she came to the room where Hannah waited. The old serving
woman came hurriedly forward as the door opened. For a moment she did
not recognize Maritza in her boy's dress, and it was not until she
spoke that the old woman's arms were stretched out with trembling
eagerness toward her, and her joy found its expression in tears.

"O my Princess! O my dear lady!" was all she could say.

"Dumitru has brought her back, you see, Hannah," said the Countess,
"You owe Dumitru some apology for the hard thoughts you have had of
him. Go with him while I speak to your mistress a moment."

"Gladly, now she has come back," said Hannah; "and then I'll be looking
out decent garments for you, Princess. I should not wish all the world
to see you as you are."

"This is a safer retreat for me, is it?" said Maritza, glancing round
the room when Hannah had closed the door. "It is a corner of your house
I do not know, Frina. Thanks for your great care of me. It is not long
that I shall trouble you."

"What do you mean?"

"Mean! Why, that the days for sitting idly down to wait are over. There
has been deadly work in the Bergenstrasse to-night, and to-morrow the
King will seek to avenge it! Do you suppose I shall leave them without
a leader? Before dawn, those who love me will be preparing for the
final struggle. To-night's work will convince many who until now have
wavered. Rest assured, there will be a goodly host about me when the
King sends to take me."

"It is madness, Maritza!" exclaimed the Countess. "What can these men,
untrained, undisciplined as they are, do against the troops which even
now doubtless are pouring into every street? Wait."

"My dear Frina, you are a woman; I, in heart at least, am a man.
Hundreds are in jeopardy because of me to-night; would you have me
desert them? You were wont to be of better courage."

"But wait--wait for counsel and advice."

"From whom?" asked Maritza.

"From Desmond Ellerey."

The two women were looking into each other's eyes; neither fully
understood the struggle in the other's heart, yet each of them knew
something of the other's secret. For some moments there was silence.

"Is Desmond Ellerey here?" asked Maritza presently.

"No; but he will come. Something tells me that he will come. Wait until
then, Maritza. That door," Frina went on, pointing to one which was
hardly discernible from the panelled walls of the room, "opens into
a passage which leads to a small building by the river, where there
is only rubbish. No one is likely to search there. Hannah has the key,
and it is a way of escape if they come to this house. I implore you
to wait for Captain Ellerey. Has he not struggled for you? Is he not
returning to Sturatzberg to stand beside you in the hour of your need,
rather than take the road to safety as he might have done? Have you
not a hundred times in your heart chosen him the champion of your
cause?"

"If he comes to-night he may help me, but I cannot wait," was
the answer. "The people call for me; they shall not call in vain."

"Maritza! Maritza! I tell you it is madness. Be persuaded. Think of
your love for him; think of his love for you. Ah, you must be ruled
by me in this," the Countess went on desperately. "I might let you go
to your death. I have been tempted to let you go. Yes, it is true,
look at me as you will. Mine has been the waiting part, and temptation
comes easily then; more than once it has nearly conquered me. Only
to-night the King persuaded me to betray his enemies to him; I am to
send a list of them to-morrow; no, it is to-day--in a few hours."

"You have promised to do this?" said the Princess, laying her hand
sharply on her companion's arm. "I promised to think of it--aye! and
when I made the promise I meant to think of it. Shall I tell you why?"
And Frina looked straight into Maritza's eyes. "The King made me believe
that Desmond Ellerey was already in his hands, and he swore to spare
him if I would do his bidding. It was the keenest temptation he could
have assailed me with. Do you understand, Maritza?"

"And you will send that list?" repeated the Princess.

"Can you ask the question now? No, I have fought my battle and won.
What is to come will be easy after the stress of that fight. But that
the King should so tempt me shows that I am suspected; therefore you
are here in this room with the means of escape at hand. Wait for Captain
Ellerey, Maritza. For the present, at least, I believe your cause is
lost; but a way of escape, desperate though it be, still lies open,
and you will take it with the man you love to defend you. Wait,
Maritza."

The hand that had rested on Frina's arm stole slowly round her, and
the Princess kissed her.

"I understand," she whispered. "I have had my struggle, too. I have
never forgotten that meeting long ago in England, and now--now I love
him. Ah, Frina, you may pity me. Many a time in the hills I longed to
cry out to him to take me northward into safety, to give me love instead
of helping me to a kingdom. And then would surge into my soul the
memory of my fathers, and I felt myself a coward. If you have been
tempted to treachery, so have I. I have my mission to fulfil, my work
is before me, and there is no place for love in it. If ever I call any
man husband, he must be a king who will satisfy the State."

"But he loves you, Maritza."

"Do not make it harder for me, sister of mine. Fate deals ungently with
us both. If Desmond comes before daybreak, bring him to me, and he shall
give me counsel. Should I taste failure, should I--should I never see
him again, say to him--"

"Maritza!"

"Yes, speak my name and say that you loved me, too. If I understand
him he will love you for that. I am very weary and have much to do
to-morrow. Send Hannah to me and let me sleep."

In silence the two women kissed each other, and then Frina returned
to her room while Maritza threw herself on a couch, Hannah watching
beside her. Dumitru stood sentinel outside her door.

For Frina there was no sleep, only a restless pacing to and fro, and
a longing for to-morrow--the end, surely the end would come to-morrow.

The dim light in her room grew dimmer, paling before the coming day.
A bird in the garden whistled a long note, and after a silence it was
answered from another part of the garden, and then quickly from another.
A star gleamed low in the ever-lightening purple of the east, the
herald of the dawn, and from her window Frina watched it, wondering.
There was mystery in the breaking of a new day; would her eyes behold
its setting? What thoughts would be in her brain as the golden light
faded once more into the black pall of night?

She turned from the window sharply as she heard quick footsteps in the
corridor.

Long hours had she waited for them, and now they had come. Her heart
seemed to throb violently to a sudden standstill, and having taken one
hurried step toward the door, she paused as it opened, and Desmond
Ellerey stood before her.

Looking forward to this meeting it had seemed to Frina Mavrodin that
in it her life must reach a crisis; but the reality fitted none of her
preconceived notions of what this meeting would be like. Ellerey's
dress was travel-stained; there was a rent in his sleeve, and he looked
as though he had come through some struggle. She noted all this, but
it was the expression on his face which fixed her attention. It was
stern, unyielding, desperate; and her frame stiffened, and a flash
came into her eyes as though she were angry at his intrusion.

"The Princess, Countess?" said Ellerey.

"Is sleeping," she answered.

"I would see her."

"She has need of your counsel. Come."

She swept past him without another word, without looking at him even,
and led the way.

Dumitru stood at the door, doubly alert at the sound of approaching
footsteps. One hand was thrust inside his cloak, and it was easy to
guess what his fingers played with there. He smiled as he saw who the
newcomer was.

"Welcome, Captain," he whispered.

"Is all well?"

"Sleeping," was the low answer.

Frina opened the door softly, and then she motioned Ellerey to enter;
but he came no farther than the threshold. The Princess lay on a couch
sleeping peacefully, dreaming pleasantly it may be, for her lips were
half parted in a smile. One arm was thrown above her head, her fingers
thrust through her bright curls, and over her feet Hannah had spread
a leopard-skin rug. A lamp was still burning on a table, and the glow
from it lit up the graceful figure. For some moments Ellerey gazed
upon the sleeper, taking in the whole picture.

"Shall I wake her?" asked Frina. "No, let her sleep awhile," said
Ellerey, as he went back into the corridor. Then he turned to Dumitru.
"Is there a way of escape open?"

"Yes."

"When will you go?"

"When the Princess commands, unless it should be necessary suddenly,"
Dumitru answered. "There are servants watching who will let me know.
The Countess has arranged." He knew nothing of the tale which had been
told concerning the Countess.

Frina had closed the door and stood beside them, but she did not speak.
As Ellerey turned and showed that he had no other question to ask
Dumitru, she led the way back, but at the door of her room she paused.

"You have come to protect the Princess, Captain Ellerey. You are
welcome. Use my house and my servants as you think fit."

"Countess, will you give me leave to speak to you a few moments? You
must."

He followed her into the room and closed the door; then Frina turned,
facing him, and waited.

"To-night, Countess, I entered Sturatzberg by a way you know of,
doubtless, to hear two things. One that Princess Maritza had been
rescued and brought to your house; the other that you were a traitress."

Frina started, but Ellerey went on quickly--

"Hear me to the end. Heaven knows I am in no mood to take you unawares.
The man who brought this tale of you came from the palace. Why you
should have been spied upon I neither know nor care; but every word
you said to the King last night was heard, and out of them came this
story, that you had agreed to betray to his Majesty all those who favor
the cause of Princess Maritza. No; hear me out, Countess; I swore it
was a lie. Petrescu, Stefan, and I came together. Do you know, Countess,
that this house is surrounded, watched by the King's troops? Every way
of entrance that the Baron knew of was guarded, and only after long
waiting have we managed to scale the garden wall and get in unseen.
What does it mean? Is the Princess trapped? If she is, who has betrayed
her?"

She was silent, but her eyes did not fall before his.

"For heaven's sake, speak, Countess!"

"The tale is untrue," she said in a low voice, "and yet--"

"Yes, yes; tell me. I have pledged my honor; trample on it if you will,
only tell me the truth now."

"I have been tempted," she said. "Yes, you shall hear the truth. I
have been tempted, perhaps even I have stumbled, but I have not fallen.
I am a woman first, then a conspirator, and I have had many idle hours.
Look into my eyes, read my secret if you can and judge me. I was
tempted, and the King's words seemed for a moment to help my decision.
I did not promise to betray, but I did promise to think of betraying."

"To gain time, that was it, merely to gain time," said Ellerey.

"No; I think when I promised I had almost decided to act."

"Ah, how could you!" Ellerey exclaimed.

"You have heard the story; were you told the bribe the King offered?"

Ellerey did not answer, but Frina understood in a moment that he did
know.

"Yes, Captain Ellerey, that tempted me; but with it came a clearer
knowledge, and I saw that for me only one road lay open. I have taken
it. Maritza is in a room from which there is an escape. The King
suspects me. He has surrounded my house with soldiers; presently they
will hammer at my closed doors, and I shall stay to face them; but
Maritza will have gone, and you will go with her. She would stay in
Sturatzberg to fight with those who love her cause; only you can
persuade her to go. Do you understand, only you? Go now and wake her.
Hannah has the key of that secret way. If in my temptation I have been
trapped into showing that I have power in Sturatzberg, that I have
knowledge of this conspiracy and the conspirators, I have opened the
way of escape too. I am prepared to meet the King's wrath. Go to
Maritza, and think less hardly of me."

Ellerey stood with lowered head, his hands pressed before his face.

"What can I say, Countess? God has brought into my life two noble
women. I am powerless to help the one; to the other it seems I have
only given sorrow."

"You must not say that," she said softly. "You are powerful to help
her and to counsel her. As for me, I am a weak woman; if fault there
was it was mine. Go now--now that I am forgiven--to Maritza. She expects
you. I told her I would send you."

The door was suddenly burst open and Stefan entered.

"Quick, Captain. They demanded admission, which was refused, and they
are breaking in. The Baron and those with him will hold them as long
as possible."

"The Princess!" Ellerey exclaimed.

"She has been warned," said Stefan.

"She will get away. She will have time," said Frina. "They will not
find her room easily."

"Whatever is done must be done quickly," said Stefan from the door.
"Even now they drive the servants up the stairs, and the good fellows
fight every inch of the way."

"By the river is a house," exclaimed Frina--"only rubbish is in it.
Maritza will come that way. Go to her. The window. You can easily
drop into the garden."

"And you?"

"I shall stay here."

"You cannot; you must not."

"Quickly, Captain," said Stefan.

"Go, go!" Frina cried. "You must be with her. She will need all your
love and courage to-day."

"But you--what will you do?"

"I, too, may find a way to help her."

He caught her hand and raised it to his lips.

"God keep you," he whispered.

"And you, Desmond."

Then he sprang to the window.

"Do I come?" asked Stefan.

"No," Ellerey answered. "The Countess is in your keeping. Guide her
to safety."

"I will do all a man may do," Stefan answered, as Ellerey swung himself
free by the stout branch of a creeper near the window, and dropped
into the garden.



CHAPTER XXVI

REBELLION



The servants, heartened by Baron Petrescu, contested the stairs step
by step. With all the odds against them not one turned to fly. They
were fighting for the mistress they loved, and were staunch to a man.
Some fell, staining the thick carpet with their blood, yet even in
dying struck one more blow as the soldiers trampled over them. Meeting
with such unexpected resistance made the soldiers savage, and there
was no quarter given or asked for. In the forefront of the battle
Petrescu's sword did deadly work, for so mixed up were besieged and
besiegers that those behind dared not fire. It was a hand-to-hand
struggle, steel to steel, and although there could be no real doubt
of the issue, the Baron knew that the longer he could hold the soldiers
in check, the more time would the Princess and the Countess have to
get away.

Stefan was silent until the sound of Ellerey's quick steps in the
garden had ceased.

"Where does that lead to, Countess?" he said, pointing to a door at
the other end of the room.

"To my bedroom."

"And from there?"

"There is a door on to a landing seldom used," she answered.

"That is our way, then," said Stefan. "I shall stay here. I am safe
from them. It is only the King who would dare--"

"The gentlemen fighting yonder are in no tender mood; I know them.
Besides, the Captain left me in command, and you must obey, Countess.
This is war time, and I am only doing my duty. So we'll lock this outer
door, and we'll put as many more between us as possible. Is this your
cloak?"

"Yes," Frina answered.

In a moment Stefan had ripped a piece from the edge of it and stuck
it in the creeper at the window, and thrown the cloak into the garden
below. Then he tore down one of the curtains.

"They'll think we've gone that way, maybe. Come, Countess, you can get
another cloak as we pass through your room."

There was strength in this great bearded soldier, and besides, Desmond
trusted him, so Frina Mavrodin obeyed.

At every point the servants were driven back, and the soldiers spread
through the house, cutting down anyone who opposed them, but not making
any particular effort to pursue those who got out of their way. They
were there to take the Princess Maritza and the Countess Mavrodin.
Such were the orders the officers had received. But long before the
servants had given way on the stairs, Hannah had opened the door leading
to the passage, and the Princess and Dumitru had gone together swiftly,
while Hannah waited for the coming soldiers, her heart growing the
lighter the longer that coming was delayed. She had locked the door
again, but kept the key lest others should want to use that way of
escape presently. The soldiers rushed in at last, and Hannah's face
assumed an astonished look as if they had roused her from sleep. "Who
are you?" demanded one man sharply.

"I might as well ask that question of you," she replied curtly. "What's
come to the city that a band of ruffians break into an old serving
woman's room before she's scarce awake?"

"Do serving women sleep on couches only in this house, and are they
pampered with leopard skins for covering?"

"How they sleep, and what they're covered with is none of your affair,"
Hannah said.

"A soft tongue will serve you best," replied the man. "Tell me who
slept on that couch during the night?"

"And how she slept and what she dreamt about, I suppose. Well, I had
no dreams of such a rough awakening as this."

Other men were turning over the things in the room, and presently one
espied the door. He called the attention of the others to it at once.

"Open it," they cried.

"It's locked."

"The key, woman--quickly," said one who seemed to command.

"It's likely I shall let you pry into my cupboards, isn't it?"

"This is no cupboard. Give me the key."

"I haven't got it," said Hannah, and with a sudden swing of her arm
she sent the key flying through the open window with unerring aim.

"Curse you!" cried the man.

"In the time you take to find it you may learn better manners," said
Hannah defiantly.

Brave, staunch old soul, full worthy of that far-off Devon county which
gave her birth. The man followed his curse with a blow--a heavy blow,
striking with the hand which held his sword, and the woman fell with
a thud to the ground, to lie there until Stefan and the Countess,
stealing from the house presently, covered the dead serving woman with
the leopard skin.

To find the key was hopeless, and the door was a stout one. It resisted
the soldiers' efforts for a long while. When at last it yielded they
rushed along the passage to the small house by the river, but, save
for rubbish, it was empty. No boat lay upon the water. There was no
sign of the fugitives. "They must have come this way," said one man.
"Had not that old beldame resisted us we should have caught them."

"Back to the house, comrades," shouted another; "there should still
be something there worth laying hands on."

Until now Ellerey had waited, hidden by the river house. He had reached
it almost directly after the Princess and Dumitru had left it; but
ignorant of this fact, he had waited for them. From the soldiers' words
he learnt the truth. Soldiers were in the garden now, and as only a
little while since he had sought to enter it unseen, he now sought to
leave it, crouching from tree to tree and from shrubbery to shrubbery.
His life was too valuable to be uselessly thrown away. He succeeded
presently in scaling a wall and dropping into a side lane, to fall in
later with a band of conspirators, some of whom were present when the
tale of the Countess's treachery was told last night, and who were now
quietly making their way to an arranged meeting place.

"But the Princess, comrades?" said Ellerey. "My place is beside her."

"Fear nothing, Captain. She will come and help us to make this day a
glorious one in Sturatzberg." The morning was advancing, but people
who respected the law kept within their houses, and left their doors
fast barred. From early dawn the soldiers were in the streets, and it
was evident that to-day the ordinary business of life must be suspended.
As the hours passed there were sounds of fighting on every side, the
fierce rattle of musketry at street corners, flying men charged by the
soldiers, turning sometimes into every alley and place of refuge which
offered, turning sometimes at the shout of one determined leader to
withstand the charge, to be cut to pieces or to bear the soldiers back,
leaving many a King's man and King's enemy lying dead or writhing with
their wounds, their enmity forgotten in their common suffering.

In one side street, soon after such a skirmish had swept it from end
to end, a dark figure glided from door to door. He had not fought; he
seemed unwilling to do so, for at the sound of approaching conflict
he was in readiness to retreat and hide himself. More than one wounded
man in the roadway pleaded for help, or cried for water, but he was
deaf to their entreaties. He was making all speed to some point, and
would allow nothing to hold him back. Now he ran forward a few paces,
now stopped and turned hastily into an alley and went quickly on again.
He came at last to the house of Frina Mavrodin, when it was close on
noon. The door at the chief entrance had been torn from its hinges,
there was nothing to bar his entrance. The servants who had escaped
death had fled, or lay hidden in secret places in the house. The
soldiers had deserted it, finding their quarry gone, to go and help
their comrades in the streets. At the moment the street was empty, and
the man slipped across the threshold, stepping over the dead which lay
in the hall, grim witnesses of the fierceness of the fight there. The
man passed from room to room rapidly, his ears intent to catch every
sound. It was clear that robbery was not his object, for there was
none to stay him taking whatever he would. He passed on, touching
nothing, and, by the way he glanced down this corridor and that, it
was evident that the house was not familiar to him. Chance directed
his footsteps and brought him to the room where Princess Maritza had
been. The broken door at the further end attracted his notice and he
entered the room, stopping for a moment to look into the face of Hannah.
The leopard skin had not been thrown over her yet. She was the first
woman lying dead he had come across, and he grew excited. She had been
killed because she stood in the way, and she would not have stood in
the way unless she had had someone in imminent danger to defend. She
must have been with the Princess, he argued, and if so, this must be
the way they had taken. He went quickly along the passage and up to
the house by the river. Someone had certainly been there, but which
direction had they taken afterward? He glanced to right and left, and
stood for some time looking across the river.

"He would not leave the Princess, and he would take her as far as
possible from these fighting madmen in the streets," he mused. "Surely
he cannot escape such a day as this."

The man went slowly back along the passage again, and then he stopped
suddenly. The sound of voices reached him distinctly.

"Brave woman," he heard one say. It was a woman's voice and the man's
heart beat high.

"Cowards to treat her thus," came the muttered answer in a man's lower
tone.

There was a moment's silence. "Help me to cover her," said the woman.

There was a turn in the passage, and the man standing waiting there
could not see into the room. But the passage was dark, and if those
in the room came that way they were not likely to see him, and his
mouth widened into a malicious smile. Would they come? He had hardly
whispered the question to himself when it was evident that they had
entered the passage and were approaching. The waiting man drew back
against the wall, a knife in his hand, and if this failed his other
hand grasped a revolver. They came slowly, cautiously, and just before
the turn paused. It was clear that they meant to be careful, for the
man said, after a moment's hesitation--

"It is clear."

Then he came, but alone and swiftly, with his sword in his hand. The
waiting man had not recognized Stefan's voice, nor, had he done so,
would he have feared detection. Stefan's eyes and ears were quick,
however, and in that pause he had held up a warning finger to his
companion and had then sprung forward.

"I took you for your master," cried the waiting man when he saw that
he was discovered, "but---"

The cruel blade flashed swiftly down, but fell on Stefan's sword only,
and then before his fingers could pull the trigger of his revolver,
the sword point was thrust through his throat, and the man, who had
so stealthily waited for his victim, fell back against the wall, upright
for a moment, and then collapsed, only a gurgled sigh sounding in the
silent passage.

"My ancient friend of the cellar," said Stefan, bending over him.
"Waiting for the Captain, eh? Well, you did your best, Master Francois,
and so I will report to your master, should I find him. Come, Countess,
the light is too dim to see the unpleasant sight," and the soldier
held out his hand to her.

Frina shuddered a little as she stepped past the fallen man, and she
and Stefan went slowly out of the passage together. The soldier's eyes
were searching and keen as they went. The servant was dead, but the
master might not be far off, and he would be even a more dangerous
enemy. They passed stealthily from street to street, much as Francois
had done a little while since. Stefan had a plan, a goal to win, but
he did not speak of it to the Countess.

Suddenly Frina stopped. They were at the end of a deserted alley, but
the roar of voices came from a distance; then the sudden rattle of
musketry, the harsh and discordant music of battle.

"Which way now?" she asked.

"To safety," said Stefan.

"While others fight and fall?" she said.

"So the Captain willed it."

"I will go no further toward safety--not yet. Time for that when the
day is lost. Our way lies there." And she pointed in the direction
from which the roar of battle came.

"Countess, I have my orders."

"And have obeyed them; now listen to mine. Yonder, where they fight,
lies the Grande Place. Lead me there by the quietest way we can travel."

"That is to go to your death."

"Listen, Stefan--and look!" She pointed to the street into which the
alley opened. Some men were running swiftly to the battle. "I have but
to cry my name and they will come to me. Shall I cry?"

"For heaven's sake, Countess---"

"Then lead me as I say."

"I cannot. I dare not. The Captain---"

"Follow me then if you will." And before he could stop her she had
darted from him.

"Stay!" cried Stefan, rushing after her. "Stay! If you will go, let
me lead you."

"Show me the quiet ways if you can, but come." And though Stefan argued,
though he tried to deceive her at every corner they came to, she would
not be turned from her purpose. Ever, as they went, the roar of battle
grew louder in their ears, and there was fear in the heart of Stefan
the soldier because of the woman who walked beside him.

Francois was dead. That was one enemy the less, but of the master there
was no sign. It had been as wakeful a night for Jules de Froilette as
it had been for Frina Mavrodin, but he had spent it in no restless
pacing up and down, nor in listening for expected footsteps. Francois
he knew was prowling about the streets. In the early hours of the
morning the servant had come hastily and told his master of the rescue
of Princess Maritza. De Froilette had turned pale and dropped back in
his chair, dumbfounded at the news, but he quickly recovered himself.
Her freedom could be only temporary. There might be some street
fighting, but her re-capture was certain. Francois had neither heard
nor seen anything of Captain Ellerey, but he was sure to come, and the
servant had gone out to roam about the city again in search of him.
Jules de Froilette spent his time in busily destroying papers, now and
then placing an important one aside, sometimes reading one with greater
care and hesitating over it. At intervals he leaned back in his chair
and remained buried in thought for awhile, and once he got up and went
to a side table on which stood the portrait of Queen Elena.

"If Ellerey were out of the way we might win through yet," he mused.
"I wonder what has become of the bracelet of medallions. If it were
in my hands I might save the situation, or the Queen might have to
leave Sturatzberg, and then who is there to protect her but me?"

The dawn found him still sorting and destroying. He expected Francois
to return with further news, but the servant did not come. The
Altstrasse began to wake, and grew noisy at an earlier hour than usual.
The fact made De Froilette lean back in his chair in thought again.
The news that the Princess had escaped was spreading--that was natural,
and with the town in an uproar, rebellion in the air, there were many
who would look to him for a sign. They had been waiting for it and
expecting it hourly during the last few days. Had he not for a long
time been fostering rebellion, a revolt that should set him in high
place, that should bring him riches from Russian coffers, that should
bring him love? Was not his house at this moment full of men to whom
he had promised much--men who should presently help the brigands to
seize the city, and then in their turn be quelled and crushed by Russia,
whose army on the frontier was only awaiting the word from him? His
scheme had failed through this cursed Englishman, but De Froilette had
not dared to tell the waiting men so, had not dared to tell them at
any moment he might be compelled to fly for safety. They were rebels,
and would be quick to see treachery in any failure when they had not
even been given the chance to strike a blow for success.

Presently a servant brought him coffee and some rolls.

"The city is noisy," De Froilette said.

"Yes, monsieur."

"Where is the rioting chiefly?"

"Toward the Southern Gate they say, monsieur; but the soldiers are
everywhere."

"What about the Northern Gate and the Bois?"

"It is quieter that way, monsieur, I am told."

De Froilette nodded and the servant went out.

The Altstrasse became quieter presently. The men had gone to swell the
crowds in the Bergenstrasse, not to fight perhaps, but to hang about
in side streets and seize whatever loot they could. With dead and dying
men lying in the roadway, there would be much to be picked up. Many
of the women had gone too, for in the Altstrasse much of the human
refuse of the city had its home, and sex counted for little.

It was toward noon that De Froilette's door opened suddenly, and a
tall figure, cloaked to the eyes, glided in, closing the door. In an
instant De Froilette was on his feet, and then as the man let the cloak
fall apart, he exclaimed--

"Vasilici!"

"Yes, Vasilici," was the answer.

"They are not your men who are fighting in the streets, are they?" asked
De Froilette, a ray of hope in his eyes.

"No; my men remain in the hills."

"We have been overreached," said De Froilette; "but only for a little
while. It was a good move of yours to deliver up the Princess, although
it might have been wiser to shoot her. There will be many lives lost
through her today. She escaped last night. Do you know that?"

"I have heard nothing else since I entered the city," returned the
brigand.

"It was bold of you to enter it at all just now," said De Froilette.

"I am used to dangers," said the brigand, grandiloquently, "and I had
business with you."

"With me?"

"With you and with one other," Vasilici answered. "It was fortunate
this Princess came into our hands; we learnt many things. We were to
do the fighting, monsieur, but to have little of the reward; that was
for the Russians lying on the frontier. It was a pretty plot you and
the Queen had arranged."

"Whose tale is that, Vasilici? You are easily deceived if you believe
it."

"We learnt the truth when we received this, monsieur." And the brigand
held up the bracelet of medallions.

"Whoever your messenger was, he lied to you," said De Froilette. "Her
Majesty shall presently convince you of that. I will return the bracelet
to her."

Vasilici burst out laughing. His quick eyes had taken in every detail
of the room, had noted what lay upon the table, had keenly scanned his
companion from head to foot.

"We are not all fools in the hills, monsieur. I am going to deliver
this to her Majesty myself. She is the other I spoke of with whom I
have business in Sturatzberg. Ah, you are clever," he went on, replacing
the bracelet in his pocket, "but you have failed. We are not to be
sold to Russia just yet, and by a foreigner, too. Exterminate the
foreigners, monsieur, that has been your cry. It is a good one. Tell
me, why should you go free?"

He did not wait for an answer. With a sudden spring, his glittering
dagger raised to strike, he was upon his adversary. But the blow fell
limply, and his fingers relaxed, letting the knife fall with a clatter
upon the table. The brigand's swaggering courage had risen as he
contemplated his defenceless enemy. From the moment of his entrance,
however, the Frenchman understood that he came in no friendly mood,
and was prepared. As Vasilici sprang forward, two shots in quick
succession startled the echoes of the room, and the tall figure swayed
for a moment, then fell sideways on to the table, and slithered to the
ground.

In an instant De Froilette was at the door and had locked it. There
were running feet in the passage without, and cries of "Monsieur!
Monsieur!"

"It is nothing," De Froilette shouted. "The weapon was loaded and I
had forgotten the fact. I am not hurt. _Dejeuner_ at once."

As the servants departed, De Froilette bent over the dead body.

"Fool! _Canaille!_ To think to make an end of me so easily," and he
took the bracelet from the dead man's pocket. "In bringing this you
have served me, and I thank you. I would give you decent burial had
I the leisure, but time presses. You must rest here until they find
you."

De Froilette hastily put some papers in his pocket, and reloading the
two chambers of his revolver, slipped that too into his pocket.

"Now if I can only see Ellerey as silent as this brute, I can laugh
at them all. With the bracelet in my possession I am safe. It will buy
the King's courtesy, or, if it suits better, the Queen's obedience.
I thank you, friend Vasilici," and with a mocking bow to the lifeless
brigand, De Froilette took up his hat and cloak, and left the room by
a door concealed in the wall behind his writing table.



CHAPTER XXVII

IN PURPLE AND RED AND GOLD



The attack upon the Countess Mavrodin's house had commenced soon after
daybreak. At that early hour few persons were abroad in the streets
except the soldiers, who had been hastily marched to all points of
vantage in the city as soon as the escape of the Princess became known;
but it was not until an hour or two later that the news of the attack,
and the desperate resistance the soldiers had met with, began to
circulate.

When the riot, which had resulted in Maritza's rescue, had been quelled,
and the rioters had melted away before the onslaught of the troops,
it was hoped that a salutary lesson had been administered which would
prevent any recurrence of open rebellion. That the Princess could not
long elude recapture seemed certain, and her brief triumph had been
dearly paid for. Citizens lying dead in the streets were a grim reminder
of the reality of law and order.

The strenuous defence of the Countess Mavrodin's house had come as a
severe blow to the complacency of the authorities. It seemed probable
that Princess Maritza had found shelter there, that she was actually
in the house when the attack was made, and her defenders had succeeded
in holding the soldiers back until she had escaped. But this was not
all. It was evident that it was not only upon the rabble that the
Princess could depend. Her cause was espoused by Frina Mavrodin, and
those who had considered her only a beautiful, frivolous woman awoke
to the fact that she had power and unlimited wealth. She had played
a part, she had become a Lady Bountiful in Sturatzberg, and it was
easy to understand how far reaching her commands might be at this
crisis. Baron Petrescu, too, had been a prominent figure in the
resistance which had been made, and was still unharmed; it was
impossible to foretell how many others, from one cause or another.

That the attack had been successfully resisted, in so far that the
Princess had been able to escape, gave an enormous stimulus to the
courage of the rebels. The death of companions last night had had a
sobering effect upon some; they were inclined to argue that they had
done what they had set out to do, and that for the present enough had
been accomplished; but the news of the morning raised fresh passions
within them, and their leaders were not slow to add fuel to the furnace.
These enthusiasts declared that it was only necessary to seize the
advantage already gained, to win the city and to force their will upon
the country. Was not their Princess among them? Had not important
persons already declared for her? Were there not hundreds of others
ready to do so, only that fear of the people's fickleness and
half-heartedness held them back?

So the carefully secreted arms were taken out again. There were stir
and determination in every corner of the city. The word had gone forth
that the day so long looked for had indeed come; that before nightfall
Sturatzberg would be in their hands; that Maritza, their sovereign,
would most surely come amongst them in the Grande Place to lead them,
and that by noon all loyal men must win their way there. It was no
mere rabble to whom this command was given. Some organization, at
least, had been proceeding for a long time. Points of meeting were
known. Leaders had been chosen and accepted, men who knew every alley
and byway of the city, and had made a study of street fighting, the
cover to be had and taken advantage of, and the narrow ways where the
soldiers would manoeuvre at a disadvantage, being compelled to fight
singly and hand to hand.

As the morning advanced, separate bands traversed the meaner streets,
avoiding conflict for the present as much as possible. Here and there
sharp skirmishes took place, but no determined effort was made to rush
the soldiers, nor were the soldiers successful in dispersing those
with whom they came in conflict, except, perhaps, to make them change
their route. The rebel leaders had no wish to make boldly for the
Grande Place before noon, that would only be to make known what their
objective was. When the time came, their numbers would be overpowering,
and when once the soldiers saw that they were hemmed in, many of them
would be fighting with them instead of against them. Was it not common
knowledge that among the troops there was dissatisfaction?

Desmond Ellerey had fallen in with one of these bands when he escaped
from Frina's garden. The leader, a lusty enthusiast, who had already
looked forward to the rewards which must accrue from this day's victory,
could tell him all that was to happen, but of Maritza's whereabouts
at that moment he knew nothing. All he was sure of was that she would
be in the Grande Place at the appointed time. He was a skilful leader.
He took his followers by a multitude of back streets, avoiding every
point where soldiers were likely to be. Every man was valuable, and
to lose even one in a skirmish which could achieve nothing was to
jeopardize the success of the rebellion to that extent. He constantly
turned aside to avoid some particular corner which the scouts sent on
before reported occupied; but although this often necessitated returning
for some distance along the way they had come, he managed gradually
to approach the place of rendezvous, until a little before noon he had
brought his band into an alley opening out of one of the streets which
led directly into the Grande Place.

"An excellent battle ground for us," he said, turning to Ellerey. "The
space is confined, narrow streets abound for us to fight in, which
will prevent the soldiers rushing us or bringing guns into action."

Ellerey nodded, but his heart was heavy. Enthusiasm might accomplish
much, but he did not believe in the ability of the rebels to withstand
the military force which would be opposed to them. After last night,
Sturatzberg was not likely to be caught asleep. What was this day to
bring to the woman he loved? If he could have known that she was in
safety, he could have drawn his sword with a lighter heart, and struck
boldly for her cause--died for it, if need be. But she was not safe.
Unless she had already fallen into the hands of her enemies, she was
coming to the Grande Place. She had promised, and that promise was the
mainspring of the enthusiasm which was on every side of him. He knew
her too well even to hope that she would not come. And her coming must
mean death. His love made him afraid. He could not see even the barest
possibility of victory, nor had he any hope that she could escape now.
Love made him a coward--his vital force seemed numbed, and his hand
shook. He had been an entire stranger to such a sense of fear until
this moment, and it was only with a great effort that he was able to
throw off the paralyzing effect it had upon him.

From the tower of the Hotel de Ville the hour of noon sounded clear
and musically over the city.

"Ready!" said the leader. "But the Princess?" said Ellerey.

"She will come," was the answer. Would she? The striking of the hour
was evidently the signal. The last stroke had not died away when the
men moved out from the alley into the street, and went quickly towards
the Grande Place. Similar bands of men came from other alleys, and
from every street they poured impetuously into the Square.

No place had been assigned to Ellerey, no duty had devolved upon him,
and as the forward rush was made, he contrived to keep at the side of
the street, so that he might not be forced to the front of the crowd.
Once in the Square he stepped aside, sheltering himself in the angle
of a wall, and no one noticed his movements as they rushed past him.

There were comparatively few soldiers in the Grande Place, and for
them the striking of noon had had no warning. The sharp rattle of
musketry came swiftly, but in a moment the soldiers were swept back
or beaten down. There was a triumphant shout at this success, but the
men were well in hand. They did not attempt to follow the enemy into
the side streets into which they were driven, but, having in the first
onslaught seized every entrance to the square, took up their positions
to hold them. For a few moments there was silence, save for the quick
commands of rebel leaders, and the hurrying feet of men taking their
appointed places. They were heartened and enthusiastic. They had only
to hold the Grande Place for a while--comrades were marching from every
quarter of the city--and the soldiers would be between two fires. So
the leaders encouraged, and the men believed and were content.

Ellerey still remained in the angle of the wall, endeavoring to attract
as little attention as possible. Were he seen and recognized, some
position of command was likely to be thrust upon him, and this he was
most anxious to avoid. His place was beside Maritza when she came. One
man spoke to him, asking him what orders he had received. "To protect
the Princess," he answered.

The man gave him a friendly nod, and Ellerey conceived that to certain
men some such command had been given, and that his answer was a happy
one.

From the opposite side of the square came the crack of rifles again,
quickly answered. The rebels were well armed, and, whatever the issue,
the struggle was to be a desperate one. Here was no loose rabble to
turn and flee, but enthusiasts bent on disputing every inch of the way.

"Charge!" came an order from the distance, and there followed the
sudden growling of conflict. Yonder the battle had begun in earnest,
and a moment later a roar of triumph proclaimed that the soldiers had
been thrust back. There was wisdom in making them fight in narrow
streets.

It was difficult for Ellerey to remain where he was. Fighting was going
forward, and the spirit of the soldier in him made him restless to
take his part in it. His hand was upon his sword, when suddenly a great
roar of voices from every side seemed to shake the Square. Again and
again it rose swelling and breaking like storm waves lashing a shore.
There was quick movement round the statue of Ferdinand, a frantic
waving of arms, and then the mighty roar became articulate.

"Maritza! Maritza!"

She had come among them--a warrior, even as her fathers were: it was
fitting that her name should resound over Sturatzberg.

"Charge!"  Again the distant command, again the fierce cries and
groaning of conflict, and still the rebel ranks remained unbroken;
again the soldiers were beaten down and driven back. Maritza had come,
and that meant victory. The belief was deep seated in the heart of
every man.

From what point she had entered the square, Ellerey could not determine,
but in a few moments he saw her. She was standing on the steps of the
statue, a pathetic, yet an heroic figure. She was still in her boy's
dress, her bright curls falling loosely from under her cap. She said
something which Ellerey could not hear, and then the shouting broke
out again. Men ran to join their comrades, impatient only for
opportunity to strike a blow at the foe, leaving the Princess in the
midst of a little band, evidently a picked bodyguard, among them Baron
Petrescu and Dumitru.

For a moment Ellerey watched her. She had come. There was no sign of
fear in her face; how should there be? Did he not know her courage?
When had Maritza ever failed when the time for action arrived? Had he
not full reason to know what a splendid comrade she was in a tight
place? All these who shouted her name were her comrades; was it likely
she would desert them in the hour of their need? And this was the woman
he loved, the woman who loved him--yes, in that instant all doubt
seemed to fade into knowledge. Almost he fancied that her quick glance
sought him in that striving crowd, and, not finding, that disappointment
touched her heart. Oh, it was good to be loved, even for one short
hour, by such a woman as this.

His sword was naked in his hand as he went swiftly across the square
and shouldered his way to her.

"Desmond Ellerey!" she cried, a wondrous light glowing in her eyes as
she stretched out her hand to him.

"At your service and command, Princess," he answered.

In her glad cry at his coming he heard the confession of her love; he
read it in her eyes, yet he did not call her Maritza. To-day, indeed,
she claimed the address of sovereignty.

"I thought perhaps you would not come," she said in a lower voice.
"You do not love my cause."

"To-day I stand or fall for it, Princess," he said aloud; "because--"

"Desmond!"

"Because I love you," he whispered.

It was said. It had to be said now, lest she should never know, for
this day was a day of battle, and, before evening, ears might be deaf
and lips silenced forever.

For a moment longer she held his hand in hers, and then, fearing,
perhaps, that others about her might see some preference in her welcome,
she cried aloud:

"Ah, God must surely destine me for victory. He has given me so many
brave and true men!"

The roar of conflict was not confined to one side of the Square now.
Street after street took up the fight. The soldiers were attacking
from every quarter. The sharp command to charge rang out more often,
and the sudden growl of the hand-to-hand struggles was fiercer and
longer and more continuous. Here and there was an ominous bending
inward of a mass of defenders, but it was straightened again by mere
force of numbers.

"They want more men there," said Ellerey, pointing with his sword to
one place.

Maritza gave a quick order to a man near her, and immediately other
men were hurrying to strengthen the position.

"Who commands?" asked Ellerey, turning to the Baron.

"The Princess," was the answer.

"A dozen leaders fight for me," said Maritza; "but I look to you and
the Baron to advise me."

"What forces have you in the city beside these?" Ellerey asked, turning
to Petrescu.

"Many are hurrying to join us," he answered.

"And will have to fight their way to us," said Ellerey. "We must hold
the Square at all costs, for I see no line of retreat."

"Retreat!" exclaimed Maritza. "There is no retreat for me. To-day makes
me Queen in Wallaria or nothing."

"Still, Princess, a momentary retreat might save the day."

"We have no way of retreat, Captain," said Petrescu, and the look in
his face told Ellerey plainly enough that, loyal as he was, he had
little hope of success. "Circumstances have forced matters to an issue,
and we must stand or fall as the fates decide."

The rattle of musketry was now continuous on all sides, and for those
who fell there was little help or thought, friend and foe alike
trampling them to death in the struggle. More than once soldiers,
thrust forward by those behind them, had broken through the ranks of
the defenders, only to be shot or stabbed before they could recover
themselves. Again the rushes were stopped and repulsed, but still they
were made with unabated fury, and Ellerey saw that each one was more
determined, more difficult to meet than the last. Constantly that
ominous bending inward was only straightened with great effort.

Presently he touched the Baron on the shoulder, and pointed to one
street where, in the distance, mounted men could be seen.

"I have been wondering why they did not use them," said Ellerey.

"The streets are narrow for them," said Petrescu.

"True; but if only a dozen break through there will be confusion." And
then, lowering his voice, Ellerey went on: "Is there no way of escape
for her?"

"We may carve one for her, Ellerey, you and I; it is the only way I
know of."

They had spoken in a low tone, but, had their voices been louder, it
is doubtful whether Maritza would have heard them. She was absorbed
in watching the deadly struggle which raged around her. She was
unconscious of the bells above her, which told quarter after quarter,
sounding musically over the city. Perhaps the thought came to her that
these men were dying in her cause, at her bidding; but how could she
blame herself? Had not thousands before them died for her fathers?
Were her rights less than those of her fathers? And was she not among
her subjects to cry victory with them, or to die in their midst? She
asked from them no sacrifice which she herself was not prepared to
make.

"Will those others who are coming never fight their way to us?" she
said turning to Ellerey suddenly.

"If they can, Princess."

It was a vain hope. In every street which led to the Grande Place there
had been desperate struggles. In the roadways lay the dead and dying,
while others fled to find safety if they could. There was no help to
come, and Ellerey did not expect it.

"Charge!"

The command rang out simultaneously from all sides, and there was the
jingle of harness and the thud of horses' hoofs.

Here the attack was hurled back, horses riderless, here horse and man
pitched forward to be shot and stabbed; and here the same, and here;
but yonder the defenders had been driven in, and there too. A dozen
horsemen were in the square, and although they fell, confusion had
begun. The defense was weakened at several points, more horsemen fought
their way in, and with them foot-soldiers gained an entrance. Step by
step the rebels were driven backward toward the statue where Maritza
stood. "Will those others never fight their way to us?" she cried in
almost piteous tones.

"You cannot stay here," said Ellerey. "Come!"

Men were already rushing past them. Once beaten back, hopelessness
came quickly, and many of those who had been foremost in the fight now
shouted to their comrades to escape if they could. The soldiers,
resistlessly pressing forward, were closing in on them when Ellerey
spoke. Maritza did not answer.

"Come!" he said again, his hand on her arm.

The touch roused her.

"I have brought you to this; forgive me, Desmond," she said. Her whole
ambition was forgotten for a moment in the thought of the man beside
her.

Ellerey did not answer. There was no time. The soldiers were upon them.
With Petrescu on one side and Dumitru on the other Ellerey threw himself
before the Princess. The final struggle had commenced, and so fierce
was the resistance of these three men that the soldiers hesitated and
fell back a pace.

"Fly, Princess, while there is time," Ellerey shouted.

"Victory or death, I stay" (and her voice rang clear above the uproar)
"with you, Desmond."

The last words were spoken almost in a whisper, and they maddened him.
Here was death, butchery, and she was in the midst of it.

"Maritza! Go, dear! Go!" he cried. "Let me hold them back for a moment.
I will follow. Petrescu! Dumitru!"

So determined was the struggle round the steps of the statue that the
tide of battle seemed to have turned again, and some of the rebels
dashed fiercely back into the fray.

"Take her, Dumitru," Ellerey whispered. "We'll hold them while we can."
Suddenly from a corner of the Grande Place, rushing swiftly through
the ranks of the flying rebels, came a woman.

"Are you cowards or men?" she cried aloud as she came, and some turned
at that cry and met death with a shout of defiance, while others stood
irresolute until fear overcame them.

Ellerey saw her as she reached Maritza's side, and then he was conscious
that a stalwart arm was raining heavy blows upon the foes which seemed
to surround him.

"She would come. I could not stay her," said Stefan between his deeply
panted breaths as he struck again and again.

"Fly, Maritza!"

"Frina! You!"

"Fly, Maritza!" The salvation of Maritza seemed her one thought. The
hope that she might accomplish it, even at the last moment, had drawn
her hither. How it was to be done she had not asked herself. Yet now
she appeared to have found the way.

Even as she spoke Dumitru seized the Princess.

"Come!" he said, as he threw a cloak about her to conceal her identity.
"To-day we fail; to-morrow--Ah!"

It was a short, sharp cry, a cry with finality in it. Whatever to-morrow
might bring forth, he should have no part in it. His hand still grasped
the cloak as he fell backwards, and Maritza was dragged down with him.

"Grigosie," said Ellerey to the soldier beside him as he saw Dumitru
fall. He used the name that Stefan might understand to the full. Was
there anything that Stefan would not do for Grigosie?

Frina Mavrodin stood for a moment alone above the surging, fighting
mass. She had shuddered when she had passed the dead body of Francois
in the passage, now she drew herself to her full height and looked
down upon the battle. She stood there that all men might see her, that
Maritza might escape, and then she saw Ellerey with the sweat and grime
of the conflict upon him. For an instant their eyes met, her lips
whispered his name, and then she threw up her arms, and with a low cry
fell prone upon the steps of the statue.

Maritza, who was bending over Dumitru, turned swiftly and made one
step towards her when Stefan stopped her.

"Come," he said. And this time he waited for no pleading. Drawing the
cloak tightly round her, he caught her in his arms, and, in the midst
of those who fled, rushed from the Square. The plan he had made earlier
in the day when the Countess walked beside him he would carry out now.
He had ears for no entreaty, for no threat.

"We'll win through, Grigosie," he said over and over again as he
turned now into one alley, now into another, leaving the flying rabble
further and further behind. "We'll win through, Grigosie. It's the
Captain's orders."

Ellerey heard that cry too, and knew its meaning. There was a shout
of triumph from the soldiers pressing forward, a swaying back of the
rebels, and he was carried along with them unable to use his sword in
the seething mass of friends and foes.

"She is dead!" someone cried; and the effect was instantaneous. Men
took up the cry and shouted that Maritza was dead, and the soldiers
may have thought it was so seeing a woman fall. Every rebel was at
once struggling to fight his way out of the crowd, his own safety his
only thought. They day was lost, it was the time to seek safety if it
were to be found. The Baron and Ellerey were still side by side, and
together they were forced back toward a narrow street.

"There is still a chance for you," Petrescu whispered. And the next
moment he was striving madly to force his way back to the statue, to
the side of the woman he had loved. Then he was cut down and trampled
under foot as Ellerey was carried away in a rush of pursued and
pursuers. Suddenly the pressure relaxed, the open street was before
him.

"Ellerey! No matter who else escapes, seize Ellerey!" He had been
recognized, and for him there was no hope of mercy. He swung round one
sweeping blow of his sword and sprang forward. The way seemed clear,
when a figure suddenly dashed from a doorway and fired at him point
blank, twice in quick succession, crying his name to those who appeared
to have lost him for a moment.

A pain like the running in of a red-hot skewer was in Ellerey's arm,
but not his sword arm, and the weapon flashed high in the air and fell
with relentless force.

"Quits, you devil!" he cried as De Froilette reeled backwards, cut
with deadly depth downward from the shoulder. Then Ellerey rushed on
again, one among hundreds seeking safety, followed by their conquerors,
who showed no mercy. Suddenly an arm was outstretched from an alley
and seized him. The impetus of being thus turned in his headlong flight
carried him some yards down the narrow way.

"Quickly!" said a voice in his ear. "To the right, now to the left."

A guiding hand and a supporting arm urged him forward. Ellerey asked
no question, never turned toward the man who ran beside him, but went
on mechanically. His brain was full of a whirling nightmare. Then a
door was slammed heavily, there was the sensation of rapid movement,
the quick beating of galloping horses, and then faintness and oblivion.

The red sun sank westward, glowing on the roofs and spires of the city.
The minutes passed swiftly, and the hours. Still in the smaller streets
and the narrow alleys there were flying feet, and now and again a
shriek as some poor wretch pitched forward, shot or stabbed by his
relentless pursuers. Resistance there was none; that was over. The
dead and dying lay in the roadways where they had fallen, the only cry
now was for mercy, and that was seldom granted. The soldiers were
savage too, and rebellion must be stamped out.

By the statue of Ferdinand a squad of soldiers was halted, and on the
steps, just as she had fallen, lay Frina Mavrodin. She was beautiful
in death, and there was a pathos in that prostrate form which appealed
even to these rough soldiers. Had she not been the Lady Bountiful in
that city? They were silent for the most part, or if they spoke, hushed
their voices to a whisper, and used no oaths. She had sacrificed her
life for the man and woman she loved. Here in the Grande Place of
Sturatzberg, where a little while since fierce conflict raged; here
where Maritza's cause had been fought for and lost; here where so many
turned sightless eyes to the deepening sky, Frina Mavrodin had found
her rest. No tramping, struggling feet had touched her, and only the
blood staining the brown hair where the bullet had struck showed that
this was death and not sleep. The minutes passed, and the hours, the
bells sounding musically at short intervals over the city, and the sun
slowly sank lower and lower into his bed of purple and red and gold.



CHAPTER XXVIII

THE DIPLOMACY OF LORD CLOVERTON



Desmond Ellerey recovered consciousness slowly and gradually. After
the sensations of movement and galloping horses, there was utter
oblivion for a time, followed by sharp pain which seemed to be caused
by someone bending over him--a shadowy figure whose attack upon him
he was powerless to resist. Then he heard voices, and more than one
shadow flitted vaguely across his vision. Presently he realized that
he was stretched out at full length, and that he was in a room which
had an intricate pattern on the ceiling, the lines and curves of which
his eyes were trying to follow.

"Well, Doctor?"

"Nothing serious," was the answer. "A bullet has torn the fleshy part
of the arm, but it would hardly account for his collapse. The man is
thoroughly played out, and has had no sleep for some nights probably,
and has been at high tension for a long time."

"But will he be able to travel?"

"He would be better for twenty-four hours' sleep first."

"That is out of the question," was the answer.

"Is it a long journey?" asked the doctor.

"Yes; but he will be well cared for, and will have nothing to do."

"It will pull him down a bit, but he will stand it all right," the
doctor returned. "His is the sort of constitution which stands
anything." At first Ellerey had only been conscious of voices, now he
partly understood what was said, and half raised himself.

"Where am I?" he asked faintly.

"Ah, that's better," said the doctor; "drink this, it will start you
toward recovery. No, leave that arm alone, it will be all right
presently."

"It hurts a bit," Ellerey answered. "I remember; De Froilette did it.
I think I struck him down; I forget what happened after that," and he
drank from the glass handed him.

"Well, Goldberg, he looks better already," said the other man, coming
forward and standing by the couch. "Do you know me, Ellerey?"

"Lord Cloverton!"

"I told you I would pluck you from under the wheels of Juggernaut's
car if I could, and so far I have succeeded."

"I don't know how you have done it, but I thank you."

"I will leave you for a little while," said Dr. Goldberg. "How long
before he starts? Delay it as long as you can."

"A couple of hours," said Cloverton.

"Very well. I will come in and see him comfortably packed up."

"I cannot go," said Ellerey as the door closed upon the doctor.

"Listen to me," said the Ambassador, sitting down on the end of the
couch. "I am not going to criticize your actions, and that you are
here in the Embassy proves that I still feel some interest in you. I
hardly expected to save you, but Captain Ward was fortunate in choosing
the right spot to rescue you, and he managed to get you here without
anyone knowing. You are still being eagerly sought for."

"I should like to thank Captain Ward," said Ellerey.

"You shall before you go."

"I cannot leave Sturatzberg," said Ellerey.

"You can understand that under the circumstances I have run some risk
in having you brought to the Embassy," Lord Cloverton went on. "It is
quite impossible for you to remain here, and to go into the streets
of the city would be to go to your death."

"Still, I must go, Lord Cloverton. You do not understand."

"Perhaps not; but I have myself to think of as well as you. For both
of us it is necessary that you cross the frontier as soon as possible.
In two hours we start. I am going as far as Breslen on my own affairs,
and, in case of accident, an escort is to accompany my carriage, which
will be closed. I have made the most of the dangers to myself, and
have demanded that my person shall be well guarded. You will go with
me, and for your journey from Breslen I have made further arrangements.
You are unlikely to be stopped."

"But, my Lord--"

"You owe no further allegiance to the cause you have striven for. You
can depart in all honor. The cause is annihilated."

"I know, my Lord, I know; still, I cannot leave Sturatzberg."

"Somehow I expected to find you difficult to persuade," said Lord
Cloverton, rising. "I have no time to argue with you; I will send
someone else to do that. I hope to find you more tractable when I
return."

He went out of the room, closing the door gently behind him. Ellerey
raised himself on the couch, wincing with the pain his arm gave him,
but determined to balk the Ambassador while he had the opportunity.
It was evident that if he remained there Lord Cloverton would force
him to this journey, and he was too weak to offer any real resistance,
but once in the streets he could hide and wait, and seek Maritza in
every corner of the city until--

The door opened again, and closed. Ellerey's back was toward it, and
he did not turn. It was only a servant, probably, who would go away
presently.

"Desmond!"

A few hurried steps, the quick rustle of a dress, and then a figure
was kneeling by the couch, and a head was pillowed on his breast.

"Desmond!"

For a moment he did not speak; he could not. His confusion returned,
and seemed to overwhelm him. Surely he was still dreaming?

"Maritza! You? Is it really you? How wonderful it is, this waking! Is
it you, Maritza?"

"Yes, dear. Thank God for bringing you to me again."

"It is wonderful," Ellerey murmured. "Red blood is before my eyes
still, and in my ears shouting and groaning. We have lived through it
all, you and I--"

"And so many are dead, Desmond, have died for me. My heart is heavy
and full of tears, only--only there is you, and you are here, and, God
forgive me, there is joy in my soul because of this."

It was a strange, new thing for him to see Maritza weep.

"And Frina. Frina gave her life for mine, Desmond," she whispered.

He did not speak, but his fingers closed over hers, and they were both
silent.

"They are looking for us in every corner of the city," she said
presently.

"How did you escape?" he asked.

"I hardly know. Stefan caught me up and ran with me. I strove to free
myself in vain. I pleaded, I threatened, but it was of no use. I was
a child in those great arms of his. He brought me here. Lord Cloverton
was very kind."

"Where is Stefan now?"

"Here still. He is going with us. Lord Cloverton says that you will
not go; but you will, Desmond, won't you? I want you to take me away,
anywhere, Desmond--anywhere away from Sturatzberg."

"I would not go, my darling, because you were not with me. When you
came in I was making up my mind to drop from the window that I might
look for you; but now--"

"My poor love, you are weak; how could you?"

"My sword arm is whole still, though it is tired--very tired."

"It shall rest now," she said, taking it and pressing it to her breast.
"Desmond."

"Yes, dearest."

"Only once have you said to me: 'I love you.' Never yet have I been
in your arms. Put this one-this strong one--round me now. Say 'I love
you.' Tell me. Oh, how often have I longed to hear those words from
your lips."

"I love you, Maritza, my Princess," he whispered, and he kissed her
lips as a little contented sigh escaped them.

"How beautiful you are!" he went on, after a moment's pause. "It is
strange, Maritza, but since that morning on the downs I have never
seen you dressed as a woman."

"Once, Desmond."

"Ah, then you wore a mask."

"And looked through it with eyes of love, Desmond."

"Even then?"

"Yes, even then. These are borrowed clothes. Lord Cloverton persuaded
someone to lend them. He was nervous until I became a woman. Grigosie
is dead, Desmond."

"Is there no regret in your heart?"

"None," she answered.

"You lose a kingdom, Maritza."

"It is well lost for love, Desmond. I have found my king."

She was kneeling beside the couch when Lord Cloverton entered.

"Well, Captain Ellerey, are you ready to go?"

"How can I thank you, my Lord?"

"By going," the Ambassador answered, with a smile. "Sight of the
Princess is evidently good medicine for you. You have both given me
many anxious hours."

"You must forgive us," said Maritza.

"Princess, I am an old man; I envy my countryman his youth. But for
all that, I shall find my work in Sturatzberg easier when I know you
two rebels are safely over the frontier."

Dr. Goldberg came in, and with him Captain Ward.

"I owe you much," said Ellerey, grasping the latter's hand. "Thank
you."

"It is but repaying the debt I incurred on the night of the duel,
Captain Ellerey."

"The carriage is waiting," said Lord Cloverton. "It is in the inner
courtyard. We must be silent, for the escort, which waits without, has
no knowledge that I am accompanied. Now, Doctor, wrap up your patient,
and help him out. Here is a cloak for you, Princess. You travel with
light luggage, but that, I am afraid, cannot be helped."

"And Stefan?" asked Ellerey.

"Goes with us. He is waiting. Come!"

The travelling carriage was large and roomy, and they entered it in
silence in the inner courtyard. Stefan was waiting, and saluted Ellerey,
but neither of them spoke then. The windows were drawn up, the blinds
closed, and then they moved out. There was a sharp word of command as
they passed into the street, and so, escorted by the King's troops,
the man and woman who were being searched for in every corner of the
city passed out by the Northern Gate and through the Bois, and were
presently driving along the Breslen road.

Lord Cloverton's arrangements had been very carefully and completely
made. In Breslen the carriage drove into an inn yard, the escort
remaining without, and in the yard another carriage was waiting. The
driver was in possession of the papers necessary for the journey, and,
unless something unforeseen should happen, nothing could prevent the
fugitives reaching the frontier in safety.

"Wait until I have gone," said Lord Cloverton, "and then start. _Bon
voyage_," he whispered, as he raised Maritza's hand to his lips. "I
hope we shall meet again under happier circumstances--in England, it
may be. Your marriage will render a very charming Princess powerless
to disturb the peace of Europe."

"Thank you a thousand times," said Ellerey. "You have given me more
than life--happiness."

When the Ambassador had gone, Ellerey turned to Stefan.

"What can I say to you, old comrade?"

"Better say nothing, Captain. I'm nearer to tears just now than I ever
was in my life."

"I had forgotten," said Ellerey; "you are leaving Sturatzberg."

"Oh, they're not tears of that kind," said Stefan. "I think they're
happy ones, but having shed so few I'm a poor judge. I only know,
Captain, it's good to be beside you again. I know it's good to have
served you, and--and Grigosie, the name will slip out--and if you want
to say anything, just promise that you won't send me packing as soon
as we get free. I can turn my hand to other things beside soldiering."

"You shall stay with us, Stefan," said Maritza.

"I don't think I could have known any real woman before," the soldier
muttered.

Ten minutes later they had passed out of the inn yard, and were
galloping toward the frontier.

And in the midst of his escort, Lord Cloverton was riding back to
Sturatzberg. So far he had succeeded, but he knew how often some little
thing destroyed the best-laid scheme. He drove direct to the palace,
and was admitted to the King. Queen Elena was with him.

"Do you bring us news of this countryman of yours, my Lord?" said the
King, and he spoke somewhat curtly.

"Or of Princess Maritza?" said the Queen. "It is very strange that
neither of them can be found."

"So they have not been found yet?" said the Ambassador.

"No, my Lord; but they will be. I have it on good authority, only a
moment ago, that they are even now between Breslen and the frontier.
It was cleverly conceived, Lord Cloverton, but it is not too late to
stop them," and the King's hand was raised to strike a gong to summon
a messenger.

"One moment, your Majesty."

"Why delay?" exclaimed the Queen impatiently. "Every moment is of
value. Five minutes have slipped away already since this news was
brought to you. Telegraph to the frontier at once. I shall not rest
until Maritza is taken."

"And De Froilette, your Majesty?" said the Ambassador quietly.

"He is dead."

"I know," was the answer. "Had he been alive, he too would have been
hurrying toward the frontier. Your Majesty should rejoice in his death.
He was not a man to be trusted."

"My Lord, you tell us only what we know," said the Queen.

"A little more, I think, your Majesty," was the quiet answer. "A servant
of mine saw Monsieur De Froilette struck down by Captain Ellerey, and,
knowing the man, searched him. He carried much that was incriminating
upon him." And then, turning to the King, he added: "Would it not be
well to let Captain Ellerey and the Princess go?"

"What do you mean?" asked the King angrily.

"Lord Cloverton only seeks to delay that message," said the Queen. "Send
it. Some of your enemies are dead, but these two escape."

"And must be allowed to escape," said the Ambassador.

"Do you threaten, my Lord?" said the King.

"I ask the Queen to support me with regard to these fugitives."

"And I refuse," she answered. "Send the message."

"Will your Majesty show the King the bracelet of medallions?" said Lord
Cloverton.

The King rose angrily.

"Once before, my Lord--" and then he stopped.

"Send the message," cried the Queen.

"And then look to your own safety," said Lord Cloverton, turning sharply
to the King. "Russia has plotted against you; her troops lie still on
the frontier, and treachery has been beside you. By a strange chance
the plot miscarried, but it was near to success. This was found in
Jules de Froilette's possession," and he held up the bracelet.

The King looked at it. The Queen drew in her breath sharply, and bit
her lip until the blood came. "What is the meaning of this?" said the
King, turning to her after a pause.

"At a fitting time I will answer," she said.

The King sat down heavily in his chair.

"I will send no message," he said.

Lord Cloverton bowed, and placing the bracelet carefully on the table,
silently left the apartment.



CHAPTER XXIX

AFTER WAR--PEACE



Peaceful times had fallen upon Wallaria. It is whispered sometimes
that the relations between the King and the Queen are not of the
happiest; but who that would publish such a statement can possibly
know the truth with any certainty. It is a fact that the country is
better governed. At nights the streets of Sturatzberg are far safer
than they were formerly, and the brigands in the hills have been
dispersed. Some political malcontents among them have been banished,
but many have been pardoned, and go in and out of the city unmolested.
The Court is still a brilliant one, but in these days there is no woman
there as beautiful as Frina Mavrodin, and Lord Cloverton is no longer
British Ambassador. He has been transferred to Paris, and this fact
alone is sufficient to show that the Powers are more agreed concerning
Wallaria. A less experienced man than Lord Cloverton is now at the
Embassy, and has had no such troublous times to steer through as fell
to his predecessor.

Yet Princess Maritza is not forgotten in Sturatzberg, and for a small
bribe many a man will tell the traveler her romantic history, and will
perhaps whisper in his ear, as though the spirit of revolution were
not altogether dead in him:

"I was among those who fought that day in the Grande Place." So long
as they live, Desmond Ellerey and his wife will not forget that day,
but they seldom speak of it. It is quite certain that Maritza has never
regretted the kingdom she lost. Love has crowned her life, and she is
satisfied.

Long since has it been known that the story which drove Ellerey away
from his country was a lie, told and substantiated by the real culprit
to shield himself. By this man's tardy confession, Ellerey's character
was cleared, and many expected him to return to England at once, but
he did not do so. When his brother died, and he became Sir Desmond
Ellerey, he did return for a while, however, staying for some time
with his old and staunch friends, Sir Charles and Lady Martin, and his
beautiful wife caused a sensation. She visited her old school, and she
stood with her husband upon the downs on the very spot where they had
first met. But England was not for them, they decided, and their
permanent home is in Italy, in sight of dancing blue waters and under
a blue sky.

And in this Italian home is Stefan, whose chief duty seems to consist
in worshipping Ellerey's small son, who is going to be a soldier when
he grows up and win a wife like his mother, just as his father did.
It is Stefan who tells him stories of the past, Stefan who fashions
wooden swords for him, and who would willingly lay down his life for
his father, mother, or son.

"Once I didn't care for anybody," Stefan said to the lad one day.

"You didn't know father then."

"No; and for a long time after that I hated women."

"Until you met my mother?" asked the boy.

"Yes; and until I knew Grigosie."

"Grigosie? Who was Grigosie?"

"She was a Princess."

"My mother is a Princess. Father says so."

"And some day, when you are old enough, he will tell you all about
Grigosie, too, and how it is you are not a king."

"Mother sometimes calls me her little king," said the boy.

"I don't wonder. Now it's time to mount and charge home."

So the little warrior is quickly lifted on Stefan's shoulder, and with
waving wooden sword, and with curls flying, is whirled off on his
willing charger.





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