A.E. W. Mason.

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taste."

The secretary stepped back in surprise.

"By her Highness the Princess?" he exclaimed.

"She changes her mind; she is willing where before she was obdurate. To
tell you the truth, the Prince plied her too hard, and she would have
none of him. Now that he turns his back and puts the miles as fast as he
can between himself and her, she cannot sleep for want of him."

The secretary nodded his head sagaciously.

"Her Highness is a woman," said he, "and that explains all. But it will
do her no harm to suffer a little longer for her obstinacy, and, to tell
you the truth, the Prince Taxis is so tormented with the gout that - "

"That you are unwilling to approach him a second time," interrupted
Wogan. "I have no doubt of it. I have myself seen prelates in a most
unprelatical mood. But here is a case where needs must. I have not told
you all. There is a devil of a fellow called Charles Wogan."

The secretary nodded his head.

"A mad Irishman who has vowed to free her Highness."

"He has set out from Strasbourg with that aim."

"He will hang for it, then, but he will never rescue her;" and the
secretary began to laugh. "I cannot upon my honour vex the Prince again
because a gallows-bird has prated in his cups."

"No, no," said Wogan; "you do not follow me. Charles Wogan will come to
the gallows over this adventure. For my part, I would have him broken on
the wheel and tortured in many uncomfortable ways. These Irishmen all
the world over are pestilent fellows. But the trouble is this: If her
Highness hears of his attempt, she is, as you sagely discovered, a
woman, a trivial, trifling thing. She will be absurd enough to imagine
her rescue possible; she will again change her mind, and it is precisely
that which General Heister fears. He would have her formally betrothed
to the Prince of Baden before Charles Wogan is caught and hanged
sky-high. Therefore, since I was pressing into Italy, he charged me with
this message to the Prince of Baden. Now observe this, if you please.
Suppose that I do not overtake the Prince; suppose that her Highness
hears of Wogan's coming and again changes her mind, - who will be to
blame? Not I, for I have done my best, not Prince Taxis, for he is not
informed, but Prince Taxis's secretary."

The secretary yielded to Wogan's argument. He might be in a great fear
of Prince Taxis, but he was in a greater of the Emperor's wrath. He left
Wogan again, and in a little while came back with the written
permission which Wogan desired. Wogan wasted no time in unnecessary
civilities; the morning had already been wasted. The clocks were
striking one as he hurried away from the palace, and before two the
Princess Clementina was able to throw back her cloak from about her face
and take the air; for the berlin was on the road from Trent to Roveredo.

"Those were the four worst hours since we left Innspruck," she said. "I
thought I should suffocate." The revulsion from despair, the knowledge
that each beat of the hoofs brought them nearer to safety, the glow of
the sun upon a country which was Italy in all but name, raised them all
to the top of their spirits. Clementina was in her gayest mood; she
lavished caresses upon her "little woman," as she called Mrs. Misset;
she would have Wogan give her an account of his interview with Prince
Taxis's secretary; she laughed with the merriest enjoyment over his
abuse of Charles Wogan.

"But it was not myself alone whom I slandered," said he. "Your Highness
had a share of our abuse. Our heads wagged gravely over woman's
inconstancies. It was not in nature but you must change your mind.
Indeed, your Highness would have laughed."

But at all events her Highness did not laugh now. On the contrary, her
eyes lost all their merriment, and her blood rushed hotly into her
cheeks. She became for that afternoon a creature of moods, now talking
quickly and perhaps a trifle wildly, now relapsing into long silences.
Wogan was troubled by a thought that the strain of her journey was
telling its tale even upon her vigorous youth. It may be that she noted
his look of anxiety, but she said to him abruptly and with a sort of
rebellion, -

"You would despise any woman who had the temerity to change her mind."

"Nay; I do not say that."

"But it is merely politeness that restrains you. You would despise her,
judging her by men. When a man changes his mind, why, it is so, he
changes his mind. But when a girl does, it may well be that for the
first time she is seriously exercising her judgment. For her upbringing
renders it natural that she should allow others to make up her mind for
her at the first."

"That I think is very true," said Wogan.

Clementina, however, was not satisfied with his assent. She attacked him
again and almost vindictively.

"You of course would never change your mind for any reason, once it was
fixed. You are resolute. You are quite, quite perfect."

Mr. Wogan could not imagine what he had done thus to provoke her irony.

"Madam," he pleaded, "I am not in truth so obstinate a fellow as you
make me out. I have often changed my mind. I take some pride in it on
occasion."

Her Highness inclined to a greater graciousness.

"I am glad to know it. You shall give me examples. One may have a stiff
neck and yet no cause for pride."

Wogan looked so woe-begone under this reproof that Clementina suddenly
broke out into a laugh, and so showed herself in a fresh and more
familiar mood. The good-humour continued; she sat opposite to Mr. Wogan;
if she moved, her hand, her knee, her foot, must needs touch his; she
made him tell her stories of his campaigns; and so the evening came upon
them, - an evening of stars and mysterious quiet and a clear, dark sky.

They passed Roveredo; they drew near to Ala, the last village in the
Emperor's territories. Five miles beyond Ala they would be on Venetian
soil, and already they saw the lights of the village twinkling like so
many golden candles. But the berlin, which had drawn them so stoutly
over these rugged mountain-roads, failed them at the last. One of the
hind wheels jolted violently upon a great stone, there was a sudden
cracking of wood, and the carriage lurched over, throwing its occupants
one against the other.

Wogan disentangled himself, opened the door, and sprang out. He sprang
out into a pool of water. One glance at the carriage, dark though the
night was, told him surely what had happened. The axle-tree was broken.
He saw that Clementina was about to follow him.

"There is water," said he. "It is ankle-deep."

"And no white stone," she answered with a laugh, "whereon I can safely
set my foot?"

"No," said he, "but you can trust without fear to my arms;" and he
reached them out to her.

"Can I?" said she, in a curious voice; and when he had lifted her from
the carriage, she was aware that she could not. He lifted her daintily,
like a piece of porcelain; but to lift her was not enough, he must carry
her. His arms tightened about her waist, hers in spite of herself about
his shoulders. He took a step or two from the carriage, with the water
washing over his boots, and the respectful support of a servant became
the warm grip of a man. He no longer held her daintily; he clipped her
close to him, straining her breasts against his chest; he was on fire
with her. She could not but know it; his arms shook, his bosom heaved;
she felt the quick hammering of his heart; and a murmur, an inarticulate
murmur, of infinite longing trembled from his throat. And something of
his madness passed into her and made a sweet tumult in her blood. He
stopped still holding her; he felt her fingers clasp tighter; he looked
downwards into her face upturned to his. They were alone for a moment,
these two, alone in an uninhabited world. The broken carriage, the busy
fingers about it, the smoking horses, the lights of Ala twinkling in the
valley, had not even the substance of shadows. They simply were not, and
they never had been. There were just two people alive between the
Poles, - not princess and servant, but man and woman in the primitive
relationship of rescuer and rescued; and they stood in the dark of a
translucent night of spring, with the stars throbbing above them to the
time of their passionate hearts, and the earth stretching about them
rich as black velvet. He looked down into her eyes as once in the
night-time he had done before; and again he marvelled at their
steadiness and their mysterious depths. Her eyes were fixed on his and
did not flinch; her arms were close about his neck; he bent his head
towards her, and she said in a queer, toneless voice, low but as steady
as her eyes, -

"I know. Ah, but well I know. Last night I dreamed; I rode on your black
horse into your city of dreams;" and the moment of passion ended in
farce. For Wogan, startled by the words, set her down there and then
into the pool. She stood over her ankles in water. She uttered a little
cry and shivered. Then she laughed and sprang lightly onto dry soil,
making much of her companion's awkwardness. Wogan joined in the
laughter, finding therein as she did a cover and a cloak.

"We must walk to Ala," said he.

"It is as well," said she. "There was a time when cavaliers laid their
cloaks in the mud to save a lady's shoe-sole."

"Madam," said Wogan, "the chivalry of to-day has the same intention."

"But in its effect," said she, "it is more rheumatical."

Wogan searched in the carriage and drew out a coil of rope which he
slung across his shoulders like a bandolier. Clementina laughed at him
for his precautions, but Wogan was very serious. "I would not part with
it," said he. "I never travelled for four days without being put to it
for a piece of rope."

They left the postillion to make what he could of the berlin and walked
forward in the clear night to Ala. The shock of the tumble had alarmed
Mrs. Misset; the fatigue of the journey had strained her endurance to
the utmost. She made no complaint, but she could walk but slowly and
with many rests by the way. It took a long while for them to reach the
village. They saw the lights diminish in the houses; the stars grew
pale; there came a hint of morning in the air. The laughter at Wogan's
awkwardness had long since died away, and they walked in silence.

Forty-eight hours had passed since the berlin left Innspruck.
Twenty-four hours ago Clementina knew Wogan's secret. Now he was aware
that she knew it. They could not look into each other's faces, but their
eyes conversed of it. If they turned their heads sharply away, that
aversion of their gaze spoke no less clearly. There was a link between
them now, and a secret link, the sweeter on that account,
perhaps, - certainly the more dangerous. The cloud had grown much bigger
than a man's hand. Moreover, she had never seen James Stuart; she had
his picture, it is true, but the picture could not recall. It must
create, not revivify his image to her thoughts, and that it could not
do; so that he remained a shadowy figure to her, a mere number of
features, almost an abstraction. On the other hand the King's emissary
walked by her side, sat sleepless before her, had held her in his arms,
had talked with her, had risked his life for her; she knew him. What she
knew of James Stuart, she knew chiefly from the lips of this emissary.
On this walk to Ala he spoke of his master, and remorsefully in the
highest praise. But she knew his secret, she knew that he loved her, and
therefore every remorseful, loyal word he spoke praised him more than it
praised his master. And it happened that just as they came to the
outskirts of the village, she dropped a handkerchief which hung loosely
about her neck. For a moment she did not remark her loss; when she did
and turned, she saw that her companion was rising from the ground on
which no handkerchief longer lay, and that he had his right hand in his
breast. She turned again without a word, and walked forward. But she
knew that kerchief was against his heart, and the cloud still grew.




CHAPTER XVIII


They reached Ala towards two o'clock of the morning. The town had some
reputation in those days for its velvets and silks, and Wogan made no
doubt that somewhere he would procure a carriage to convey them the
necessary five miles into Venetian territory. The Prince of Baden was
still ahead of them, however. The inn of "The Golden Lion" had not a
single horse fit for their use in its stables. Wogan, however, obtained
there a few likely addresses and set out alone upon his search. He
returned in a couple of hours with a little two-wheeled cart drawn by a
pony, and sent word within that he was ready. Clementina herself with
her hood thrown back from her face came out to him at the door. An oil
lamp swung in the passage and lit up her face. Wogan could see that the
face was grave and anxious.

"Your Highness and Mrs. Misset can ride in the cart. It has no springs,
to be sure, and may shake to pieces like plaster. But if it carries you
five miles, it will serve. Misset and I can run by the side."

"But Lucy Misset must not go," said Clementina. "She is ill, and no
wonder. She must not take one step more to-night. There would be great
danger, and indeed she has endured enough for me." The gravity of the
girl's face, as much as her words, convinced Wogan that here was no
occasion for encouragement or resistance. He said with some
embarrassment, -

"Yet we cannot leave her here alone; and of us two men, her husband must
stay with her."

"Dare we wait till the morning?" asked Clementina. "Lucy may be
recovered then."

Wogan shook his head.

"The courier we stopped at Wellishmile was not the only man sent after
us. Of that we may be very sure. Here are we five miles from safety, and
while those five miles are still unbridged - Listen!"

Wogan leaned his head forward and held up his hand for silence. In the
still night they could hear far away the galloping of a horse. The sound
grew more distinct as they listened.

"The rider comes from Italy," said Clementina. "But he might have come
from Trent," cried Wogan. "We left Trent behind twelve hours ago, and
more. For twelve hours we crept and crawled along the road; these last
miles we have walked. Any moment the Emperor's troopers might come
riding after us. Ah, but we are not safe! I am afraid!"

Clementina turned sharply towards him as he spoke this unwonted
confession.

"You!" she exclaimed with a wondering laugh. Yet he had spoken the
truth. His face was twitching; his eyes had the look of a man scared out
of his wits.

"Yes, I am afraid," he said in a low, uneasy voice. "When I have all but
won through the danger, then comes my moment of fear. In the thick of
it, perils tread too close upon the heels of peril for a man to count
them up. Each minute claims your hands and eyes and brain, - claims you
and inspires you. But when the danger's less, and though less still
threatens; when you're just this side of safety's frontier and not
safe, - indeed, indeed, one should be afraid. A vain spirit of
confidence, and the tired head nods, and the blow falls on it from
nowhere. Oh, but I have seen examples times out of mind. I beg you, no
delay!"

The hoofs of the approaching horse sounded ever louder while Wogan
spoke; and as he ended, a man rode out from the street into the open
space before the inn. The gallop became a trot.

"He is riding to the door," said Wogan. "The light falls on your face;"
and he drew Clementina into the shadow of the wall. But at the same
moment the rider changed his mind. He swerved; it seemed too that he
used his spurs, for his horse bounded beneath him and galloped past the
inn. He disappeared into the darkness, and the sound of the horse
diminished. Wogan listened until they had died away.

"He rides into Austria!" said he. "He rides to Trent, to Brixen, to
Innspruck! And in haste. Let us go! I had even a fancy that I knew his
voice."

"From a single oath uttered in anger! Nay, you are all fears. For my
part, I was afraid that he had it in his mind to stay here at this inn
where my little woman lies. What if suspicion fall on her? What if those
troopers of the Emperor find her and guess the part she played!"

"You make her safe by seeking safety," returned Wogan. "You are the prey
the Emperor flies at. Once you are out of reach, his mere dignity must
hold him in from wreaking vengeance on your friends."

Wogan went into the inn, and calling Misset told him of his purpose. He
would drive her Highness to Peri, a little village ten miles from Ala,
but in Italy. At Peri, Mrs. Misset and her husband were to rejoin them
in the morning, and from Peri they could travel by slow stages to
Bologna. The tears flowed from Clementina's eyes when she took her
farewell of her little woman. Though her reason bowed to Wogan's
argument, she had a sense of cowardice in deserting so faithful a
friend. Mrs. Misset, however, joined in Wogan's prayer; and she mounted
into the trap and at Wogan's side drove out of the town by that street
along which the horseman had ridden.

Clementina was silent; her driver was no more talkative. They were alone
and together on the road to Italy. That embarrassment from which Wogan's
confession of fear had procured them some respite held them in a stiff
constraint. They were conscious of it as of a tide engulfing them.
Neither dared to speak, dreading what might come of speech. The most
careless question, the most indifferent comment, might, as it seemed to
both, be the spark to fire a mine. Neither had any confidence to say,
once they had begun to talk, whither the talk would lead; but they were
very much afraid, and they sat very still lest a movement of the one
should provoke a question in the other. She knew his secret, and he was
aware that she knew it. She could not have found it even then in her
heart to part willingly with her knowledge. She had thought over-much
upon it during the last day. She had withdrawn herself into it from the
company of her fellow-travellers, as into a private chamber; it was
familiar and near. Nor would Wogan have desired, now that she had the
knowledge, to deprive her of it, but he knew it instinctively for a
dangerous thing. He drove on in silence while the stars paled in the
heavens and a grey, pure light crept mistily up from the under edges of
the world, and the morning broke hard and empty and cheerless. Wogan
suddenly drew in the reins and stopped the cart.

"There is a high wall behind us. It stretches across the fields from
either side," said he. "It makes a gateway of the road."

Clementina turned. The wall was perhaps ten yards behind them.

"A gateway," said she, "through which we have passed."

"The gateway of Italy," answered Wogan; and he drew the lash once or
twice across the pony's back and so was silent. Clementina looked at his
set and cheerless face, cheerless as that chill morning, and she too was
silent. She looked back along the road which she had traversed through
snow and sunshine and clear nights of stars; she saw it winding out from
the gates of Innspruck over the mountains, above the foaming river, and
after a while she said very wistfully, -

"There are worse lives than a gipsy's."

"Are there any better?" answered Wogan.

So this was what Mr. Wogan's fine project had come to. He remembered
another morning when the light had welled over the hills, sunless and
clear and cold, on the road to Bologna, - the morning of the day when he
had first conceived the rescue of Clementina. And the rescue had been
effected, and here was Clementina safe out of Austria, and Wogan sure of
a deathless renown, of the accomplishment of an endeavour held absurd
and preposterous; and these two short sentences were their summary and
comment, -

"There are worse lives than a gipsy's."

"Are there any better?"

Both had at this supreme crisis of their fortunes but the one
thought, - that the only days through which they had really lived were
those last two days of flight, of hurry, of hope alternating with
despair, of light-hearted companionship, days never to be forgotten,
when each snatched meal was a picnic seasoned with laughter, days of
unharnessed freedom lived in the open air.

Clementina was the first to perceive that her behaviour fell below the
occasion. She was safe in Italy, journeying henceforward safely to her
betrothed. She spurred herself to understand it, she forced her lips to
sing aloud the Te Deum. Wogan looked at her in surprise as the first
notes were sung, and the woful appeal in her eyes compelled him to as
brave a show as he could make of joining in the hymn. But the words
faltered, the tune wavered, joyless and hollow in that empty morning.

"Drive on," said Clementina, suddenly; and she had a sense that she was
being driven into bondage, - she who had just been freed. Wogan drove on
towards Peri.

It was the morning of Sunday, the 30th of April; and as the little cart
drew near to this hamlet of thirty cottages, the travellers could hear
the single bell in the church belfry calling the villagers to Mass.
Wogan spoke but once to Clementina, and then only to point out a wooden
hut which stood picturesquely on a wooded bluff of Monte Lessini, high
up upon the left. A narrow gorge down which a torrent foamed led upwards
to the bluff, and the hut of which the windows were shuttered, and which
seemed at that distance to have been built with an unusual elegance, was
to Wogan's thinking a hunting-box. Clementina looked up at the bluff
indifferently and made no answer. She only spoke as Wogan drove past
the church-door, and the sound of the priest's voice came droning out to
them.

"Will you wait for me?" she asked. "I will not be long."

Wogan stopped the pony.

"You would give thanks?" said he. "I understand."

"I would pray for an honest heart wherewith to give honest thanks," said
Clementina, in a low voice; and she added hastily, "There is a life of
ceremonies, there is a life of cities before me. I have lived under the
skies these last two days."

She went into the church, shrouding her face in her hood, and kneeled
down before a rush chair close to the door. A sense of gratitude,
however, was not that morning to be got by any prayers, however earnest.
It was merely a distaste for ceremonies and observances, she strenuously
assured herself, that had grown upon her during these ten days. She
sought to get rid of that distaste, as she kneeled, by picturing in her
thoughts the Prince to whom she was betrothed. She recalled the
exploits, the virtues, which Wogan had ascribed to him; she stamped them
upon the picture. "It is the King," she said to herself; and the picture
answered her, "It is the King's servant." And, lo! the face of the
picture was the face of Charles Wogan. She covered her cheeks with her
hands in a burning rush of shame; she struck in her thoughts at the face
of that image with her clenched fists, to bruise, to annihilate it. "It
is the King! It is the King! It is the King!" she cried in her remorse,
but the image persisted. It still wore the likeness of Charles Wogan; it
still repeated, "No, it is the King's servant." There was more of the
primitive woman in this girl bred in the rugged country-side of Silesia
than even Wogan was aware of, and during the halts in their journey she
had learned from Mrs. Misset details which Wogan had been at pains to
conceal. It was Wogan who had conceived the idea of her rescue - in the
King's place. In the King's place, Wogan had come to Innspruck and
effected it. In the King's place, he had taken her by the hand and cleft
a way for her through her enemies. He was the man, the rescuer; she was
the woman, the rescued.

She became conscious of the futility of her attitude of prayer. She
raised her head and saw that a man kneeling close to the altar had
turned and was staring fixedly towards her. The man was the Prince of
Baden. Had he recognised her? She peered between her fingers; she
remarked that his gaze was puzzled; he was not then sure, though he
suspected. She waited until he turned his head again, and then she
silently rose to her feet and slipped out of the church. She found Wogan
waiting for her in some anxiety.

"Did he recognise you?" he asked.

"He was not sure," answered Clementina. "How did you know he was at
Mass?"

"A native I spoke with told me."

Clementina climbed up into the cart.

"The Prince is not a generous man," she said hesitatingly.

Wogan understood her. The Prince of Baden must not know that she had
come to Peri escorted by a single cavalier. He would talk bitterly, he
would make much of his good fortune in that he had not married the


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Online LibraryA.E. W. MasonClementina → online text (page 14 of 20)