A.E. W. Mason.

Clementina online

. (page 15 of 20)
Online LibraryA.E. W. MasonClementina → online text (page 15 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Princess Clementina, he would pity the Chevalier de St. George, - there
was a fine tale there. Wogan could trace it across the tea-tables of
Europe, and hear the malicious inextinguishable laughter which winged it
on its way. He drove off quickly from the church door.

"He leaves Peri at nine," said Wogan. "He will have no time to make
inquiries. We have but to avoid the inn he stays at. There is a second
at the head of the village which we passed."

To this second inn Wogan drove, and was welcomed by a shrewish woman
whose sour face was warmed for once in a way into something like
enthusiasm.

"A lodging indeed you shall have," cried she, "and a better lodging than
the Prince of Baden can look back upon, though he pay never so dearly
for it. Poor man, he will have slept wakefully this night! Here, sir,
you will find honest board and an honest bed for yourself and your sweet
lady, and an honest bill to set you off in a sweet humour in the
morning."

"Nay, my good woman," interrupted Wogan, hastily. "This is no sweet lady
of mine, nor are we like to stay until the morrow. The truth is, we are
a party of four, but our carriage snapped its axle some miles back. The
young lady's uncle and aunt are following us, and we wait only for their
arrival."

Wogan examined the inn and thought the disposition of it very
convenient. It made three sides of a courtyard open to the road. On the
right and the bottom were farm-buildings and a stable; the inn was the
wing upon the left hand. The guest rooms, of which there were four, were
all situated upon the first floor and looked out upon a little thicket
of fir-trees at the back of the wing. They were approached by a
staircase, which ran up with a couple of turns from the courtyard itself
and on the outside of the house-wall. Wogan was very pleased with that
staircase; it was narrow. He was pleased, too, because there were no
other travellers in the inn. He went back to the landlady.

"It is very likely," said he, "that my friends when they come will,
after all, choose to stay here for the night. I will hire all the rooms
upon the first floor."

The landlady was no less pleased than Mr. Wogan. She had a thought that
they were a runaway couple and served them breakfast in a little parlour
up the stairs with many sly and confusing allusions. She became
confused, however, when after breakfast Clementina withdrew to bed, and
Wogan sauntered out into the high-road, where he sat himself down on a
bank to watch for Captain Misset. All day he sat resolutely with his
back towards the inn. The landlady inferred that here were lovers
quarrelling, and she was yet more convinced of it when she entered the
parlour in the afternoon to lay the table for dinner and saw Clementina
standing wistfully at the window with her eyes upon that unmoving back.
Wogan meanwhile for all his vigilance watched the road but ill.
Merchants, pedlars, friars, and gentlemen travelling for their pleasure
passed down the road into Italy. Mr. Wogan saw them not, or saw them
with unseeing eyes. His eyes were turned inwards, and he gazed at a
picture that his heart held of a room in that inn behind him, where
after all her dangers and fatigues a woman slept in peace. Towards
evening fewer travellers passed by, but there came one party of six
well-mounted men whose leader suddenly bowed his head down upon his
horse's neck as he rode past. Wogan had preached a sermon on the
carelessness which comes with danger's diminutions, but he was very
tired. The head was nodding; the blow might fall from nowhere, and he
not know.

At nightfall he returned and mounted to the parlour, where Clementina
awaited him.

"There is no sign of Captain Misset," said he.

Wogan was puzzled by the way in which Clementina received the news. For
a moment he thought that her eyes lightened, and that she was glad; then
it seemed to him that her eyes clouded and suddenly as if with pain. Nor
was her voice a guide to him, for she spoke her simple question without
significance, -

"Must we wait, then, till the morning?"

"There is a chance that they may come before the morning. I will watch
on the top stair, and if they come I will make bold to wake your
Highness."

Their hostess upon this brought their supper into the room, and Wogan
became at once aware of a change in her demeanour. She no longer
embarrassed them with her patronage, nor did she continue her sly
allusions to the escapades of lovers. On the contrary, she was of an
extreme deference. Under the deference, too, Wogan seemed to remark a
certain excitement.

"Have you other lodgers to-night?" he asked carelessly.

"No, sir," said she. "Travellers are taken by a big house and a bustle
of servants. They stay at the Vapore Inn when they stay at Peri, and to
their cost."

As soon as she had left the room Wogan asked of Clementina, -

"When did her manner change?"

"I had not remarked the change till now," replied Clementina.

Wogan became uneasy. He went down into the courtyard, and found it
empty. There was a light in the kitchen, and he entered the room. The
landlady was having her supper in company with her few servants, and
there were one or two peasants from the village. Wogan chatted with them
for a few minutes and came out again much relieved of his fears. He
thought, however, it might be as well to see that his pony was ready for
an emergency. He crossed silently to the stable, which he found dark as
the courtyard. The door was latched, but not locked. He opened it and
went in. The building was long, with many stalls ranged side by side.
Wogan's pony stood in the end stall opposite to the door. Wogan took
down the harness from the pegs and began to fix it ready on the pony. He
had just put the collar over its head when he heard a horse stamping in
one of the stalls at the other end of the stables. Now he had noticed in
the morning that there were only two horses in the building, and those
two were tied up in the stalls next to that which his pony occupied. He
walked along the range of stalls. The two horses were there, then came a
gap of empty stalls, and beyond the gap he counted six other horses.
Wogan became at once curious about those six other horses. They might of
course be farm-horses, but he wished to know. It was quite dark within
the building; he had only counted the horses by the noise of their
movements in their stalls, the rattle of their head-ropes, and the
pawing of their feet. He dared not light a lamp, but horses as a rule
knew him for a friend. He went into the stall of the first, petted it
for a moment and ran his hand down its legs. He repeated the process
with the second, and with so much investigation he was content. No
farm-horse that ever Wogan had seen had such a smooth sleek skin or
such fine legs as had those two over which he had passed his hands. "Now
where are the masters of those horses?" he asked himself. "Why do they
leave their cattle at this inn and not show themselves in the kitchen or
the courtyard? Why do they not ask for a couple of my rooms?" Wogan
stood in the dark and reflected. Then he stepped out of the door with
even more caution than he had used when entering by it. He stole
silently along to the shed where his trap was housed, and felt beneath
the seat. From beneath the seat he drew out a coil of rope, and a lamp.
The rope he wound about him under his coat. Then he went back to his
staircase and the parlour.

Clementina could read in his face that something was amiss, but she had
a great gift of silence. She waited for him to speak. Wogan unwound the
coil of rope from his body.

"Your Highness laughed at me for that I would not part with my rope. I
have a fear this night will prove my wisdom." And with that he began
deliberately to break up the chairs in the room. Clementina asked no
questions; she watched him take the rungs and bars of the chairs and
test their strength. Then he cut the coil of rope in half and tied loops
at intervals; into the loops he fitted the wooden rungs. Wogan worked
expeditiously for an hour without opening his mouth. In an hour he had
fashioned a rope-ladder. He went to the window which looked out on the
back of the wing, upon the little thicket of fir-trees. He opened the
window cautiously and dropped the ladder down the wall.

"Your Highness has courage," said he. "The ladder does not touch the
ground, but it will not be far to drop, should there be need."

The window of Clementina's bedroom was next to that of the parlour and
looked out in the same direction. Wogan fixed the rope-ladder securely
to the foot of the bed and drew the bed close to the window. He left the
lamp upon a chair and went back to the parlour and explained.

"Your Highness," he added, "there may be no cause for any alarm. On the
other hand, the Governor of Trent may have taken a leaf from my own
book. He may have it in mind to snatch your Highness out of Italy even
as I did out of Austria; and of a truth it would be the easier
undertaking. Here are we five miles from the border and in a small
tavern set apart from a small village, instead of in the thick of an
armed town."

"But we might start now," she said. "We might leave a message behind for
Mrs. Misset and wait for her in Verona."

"I had thought of that. But if my mere suspicion is the truth, the six
men will not be so far from their six horses that we could drive away
unnoticed by any one of them. Nor could we hope to outpace them and six
men upon an open road; indeed, I would sooner face them at the head of
my staircase here. And while I hold them back your Highness can creep
down that ladder."

"And hide in the thicket," she interrupted. "Yet - yet - that leaves you
alone. I could give you some help;" and her face coloured. "You were so
kind as to tell me I had courage. I could at the least load your
pistols."

"You would do that?" cried Wogan. "Aye, but you would, you would!"

For the first time that day he forgot to address her with the ceremony
of her title. All that day he had schooled his tongue to the use of it.
They were not man and woman, though his heart would have it so; they
were princess and servant, and every minute he must remember it. But he
forgot it now. Delicate she was to look upon as any princess who had
ever adorned a court, delicate and fresh, rich-voiced and young, but
here was the rare woman flashing out like a light over stormy seas, the
spirit of her and her courage!

"You would load my pistols!" he repeated, his whole face alight. "To be
sure, you would do that. But I ask you, I think, for a higher courage. I
ask you to climb down that ladder, to run alone, taking shelter when
there's need, back to that narrow gorge we saw where the path leads
upwards to the bluff. There was a hut; two hours would take you to it,
and there you should be safe. I will keep the enemy back till you are
gone. If I can, when all is over here I'll follow you. If I do not come,
why, you must - "

"Ah, but you will come," said she, with a smile. "I have no fears but
that you will come;" and she added, "Else would you never persuade me
to go."

"Well, then, I will come. At all events, Captain Misset and his wife
will surely come down the road to-morrow. If I rap twice upon your door,
you will take that for my signal. But it is very likely I shall not rap
at all."

Wogan shivered as he spoke. It was not for the first time during that
conversation, and a little later, as they stood together in the passage
by the stair-head, Clementina twice remarked that he shivered again.
There was an oil lamp burning against the passage wall, and by its light
she could see that on that warm night of spring his face was pinched
with cold. He was in truth chilled to the bone through lack of sleep;
his eyes had the strained look of a man strung to the breaking point,
and at the sight of him the mother in her was touched.

"What if I watched to-night?" she said. "What if you slept?"

Wogan laughed the suggestion aside.

"I shall sleep very well," said he, "upon that top stair. I can count
upon waking, though only the lowest step tremble beneath a foot." This
he said, meaning not to sleep at all, as Clementina very well
understood. She leaned over the balustrade by Wogan's side and looked
upwards to the sky. The night was about them like a perfume of flowers.
A stream bubbled and sang over stones behind the inn. The courtyard
below was very silent. She laid a hand upon his sleeve and said again
in a pleading voice, -

"Let me watch to-night. There is no danger. You are racked by
sleeplessness, and phantoms born of it wear the face of truth to you. We
are safe; we are in Italy. The stars tell me so. Let me watch to-night."
And at once she was startled. He withdrew his arm so roughly that it
seemed he flung off his hand; he spoke in a voice so hoarse and rough
she did not know it for his. And indeed it was a different man who now
confronted her, - a man different from the dutiful servant who had
rescued her, different even from the man who had held her so tenderly in
his arms on the road to Ala.

"Go to your room," said he. "You must not stay here."

She stepped back in her surprise and faced him.

"Every minute," he cried in a sort of exasperation, "I bid myself
remember the great gulf between you and me; every minute you forget it.
I make a curtain of your rank, your title, and - let us be frank - your
destiny; I hang the curtain up between us, and with a gentle hand you
tear it down. At the end of it all I am flesh and blood. Why did I sit
the whole long dreary day out on the bank by the roadside there? To
watch? I could not describe to you one traveller out of them all who
passed. Why, then? Ask yourself! It was not that I might stand by your
side afterwards in the glamour of an Italian night with the stars
pulsing overhead like a smile upon your lips, and all the world
whispering! You must not stay here!"

His eyes burnt upon her; his hands shook; from head to foot he was hot
and fierce with passion, and in spite of herself she kindled to it. That
he loved she knew before, but his description of his city of dreams had
given to him in her thoughts a touch of fancifulness, had led her to
conceive of his love as something dreamlike, had somehow spiritualised
him to the hindrance of her grasp of him as flesh and blood. Thus, she
understood, she might well have seemed to be trifling with him, though
nothing was further from her thoughts. But now he was dangerous; love
had made him dangerous, and to her. She knew it, and in spite of herself
she gloried in the knowledge. Her heart leaped into her eyes and shone
there responsive, unafraid. The next moment she lowered her head. But he
had seen the unmistakable look in her eyes. Even as she stood with her
bowed head, he could not but feel that every fibre in her body thrilled;
he could not but know the transfigured expression of her face.

"I had no thought to hurt you," she said, and her voice trembled, and it
was not with fear or any pain. Wogan took a step towards her and checked
himself. He spoke sharply between clenched teeth.

"Lock your door," said he.

The curtain between them was down. Wogan had patched and patched it
before; but it was torn down now, and they had seen each other without
so much as that patched semblance of a screen to veil their eyes.
Clementina did not answer him or raise her head. She went quietly into
her room. Wogan did not move until she had locked the door.

Then he disposed himself for the night. He sat down across the top step
of the stairs with his back propped against the passage wall. Facing him
was the door of Clementina's room, on his left hand the passage with the
oil lamp burning on a bracket, stretched to the house-wall; on his right
the stairs descended straight for some steps, then turned to the left
and ran down still within view to a point where again they turned
outwards into the courtyard. Wogan saw to the priming of his pistols and
laid them beside him. He looked out to his right over the low-roofed
buildings opposite, and saw the black mountains with their glimmering
crests, and just above one spur a star which flashed with a particular
brightness. He was very tired and very cold; he drew his cloak about
him; he leaned back against the wall and watched that star. So long as
he saw that, he was awake, and therefore he watched it. At what time
sleep overtook him he could never discover. It seemed to him always that
he did not even for a second lose sight of that star. Only it dilated,
it grew brighter, it dropped towards earth, and he was not in any way
surprised. He was merely pleased with it for behaving in so attractive
and natural a way. Then, however, the strange thing happened. When the
star was hung in the air between earth and sky and nearer to the earth,
it opened like a flower and disclosed in its bright heart the face of a
girl, which was yet brighter. And that girl's face, with the broad low
brows and the dark eyes and the smile which held all earth and much of
heaven, stooped and stooped out of fire through the cool dark towards
him until her lips touched his. It was then that he woke, quietly as was
his wont, without any start, without opening his eyes, and at once he
was aware of someone breathing.

He raised his eyelids imperceptibly and peered through his eyelashes. He
saw close beside him the lower part of a woman's frock, and it was the
frock which Clementina wore. One wild question set his heart leaping
within his breast. "Was there truth in the dream?" he asked himself; and
while he was yet formulating the question, Clementina's breathing was
suddenly arrested. It seemed to him, too, from the little that he saw
between his closed eyes, that she stiffened from head to foot. She stood
in that rigid attitude, very still. Something new had plainly occurred,
something that brought with it a shock of surprise. Wogan, without
moving his head or opening his eyes a fraction wider, looked down the
staircase and saw just above the edge of one of the steep stairs a face
watching them, - a face with bright, birdlike eyes and an indescribable
expression of cunning.

Wogan had need of all his self-control. He felt that his eyelids were
fluttering on his cheeks, that his breath had stopped even as
Clementina's had. For the face which he saw was one quite familiar to
him, though never familiar with that expression. It was the face of an
easy-going gentleman who made up for the lack of his wit by the
heartiness of his laugh, and to whom Wogan had been drawn because of his
simplicity. There was no simplicity in Henry Whittington's face now. It
remained above the edge of the step staring at them with a look of
crafty triumph, a very image of intrigue. Then it disappeared silently.

Wogan remembered the voice of the man who had spurred past the doorway
of the inn at Ala. He knew now why he had thought to recognise it. The
exclamation had been one of anger, - because he had seen Clementina and
himself in Italy? He had spurred onwards - towards Trent? There were
those six horses in the stables. Whittington's face had disappeared very
silently. "An honest man," thought Wogan, "does not take off his boots
before he mounts the stairs."

Clementina was still standing at his side. Without changing his attitude
he rapped with his knuckles gently twice upon the boards of the stair.
She turned towards him with a gasp of the breath. He rapped again twice,
fearful lest she should speak to him. She understood that he had given
her the signal to go. She turned on her heel and slipped back into her
room.




CHAPTER XIX


Wogan did not move. In a few minutes he heard voices whispering in the
courtyard below. By that time the Princess should have escaped into the
thicket. The stairs creaked, and again he saw a face over the edge of a
step. It was the flabby face of a stranger, who turned and whispered in
German to others behind him. The face rose; a pair of shoulders, a
portly body, and a pair of unbooted legs became visible. The man carried
a drawn sword; between his closed eyelashes Wogan saw that four others
with the like arms followed. There should have been six; but the sixth
was Harry Whittington, who, to be sure, was not likely to show himself
to Wogan awake. The five men passed the first turn of the stairs without
noise. Wogan was very well pleased with their noiselessness. Men without
boots to their feet were at a very great disadvantage when it came to a
fight. He allowed them to come up to the second turn, he allowed the
leader to ascend the last straight flight until he was almost within
sword-reach, and then he quietly rose to his feet.

"Gentlemen," said he, "I grieve to disappoint you; but I have hired this
lodging for the night."

The leader stopped, discountenanced, and leaned back against his
followers. "You are awake?" he stammered.

"It is a habit of mine."

The leader puffed out his cheeks and assumed an appearance of dignity.

"Then we are saved some loss of time. For we were coming to awake you."

"It was on that account, no doubt," said Wogan, folding his arms, "that
you have all taken off your boots. But, pardon me, your four friends
behind appear in spite of what I have said to be thrusting you forward.
I beg you to remain on the step on which you stand. For if you mount one
more, you will put me to the inconvenience of drawing my sword."

Wogan leaned back idly against the wall. The Princess should now be on
the road and past the inn - unless perhaps Whittington was at watch
beneath the windows. That did not seem likely, however. Whittington
would work in the dark and not risk detection. The leader of the four
had stepped back at Wogan's words, but he said very bravely, -

"I warn you to use no violence to officers in discharge of their duty.
We hold a warrant for your arrest."

"Indeed?" said Wogan, with a great show of surprise. "I cannot bring
myself to believe it. On what counts?"

"Firstly, in that you stole away her Highness the Princess Clementina
from the Emperor's guardianship on the night of the 27th of April at
Innspruck."

"Did I indeed do that?" said Wogan, carelessly. "Upon my word, this
cloak of mine is frayed. I had not noticed it;" and he picked at the
fringe of his cloak with some annoyance.

"In the second place, you did kill and put to death, at a wayside inn
outside Stuttgart, one Anton Gans, servant to the Countess of Berg."

Wogan smiled amicably.

"I should be given a medal for that with a most beautiful ribbon of
salmon colour, I fancy, salmon or aquamarine. Which would look best, do
you think, on a coat of black velvet? I wear black velvet, as your
relations will too, my friend, if you forget which step your foot is on.
Shall we say salmon colour for the ribbon? The servant was a noxious
fellow. We will."

The leader of the four, who had set his foot on the forbidden step,
withdrew it quickly. Wogan continued in the same quiet voice, -

"You say you have a warrant?" And a voice very different from his
leader's - a voice loud and decisive, which came from the last of the
four - answered him, -

"We have. The Emperor's warrant."

"And how comes it," asked Wogan, "that the Emperor's warrant runs in
Venice?"

"Because the Emperor's arm strikes in Venice," cried the hindermost
again, and he pushed past the man in front of him.

"That we have yet to see," cried Wogan, and his sword flashed naked in
his hand. At the same moment the man who had spoken drew a pistol and
fired. He fired in a hurry; the bullet cut a groove in the rail of the
stair and flattened itself against the passage wall.

"The Emperor's arm shakes, it seems," said Wogan, with a laugh. The
leader of the party, thrust forward by those behind him, was lifted to
the forbidden step.

"I warned you," cried Wogan, and his sword darted out. But whether from
design or accident, the man uttered a cry and stumbled forward on his
face. Wogan's sword flashed over his shoulder, and its point sank into
the throat of the soldier behind him. That second soldier fell back,
with the blood spurting from his wound, upon the man with the smoking
pistol, who thrust him aside with an oath.

"Make room," he cried, and lunged over the fallen leader.

"Here's a fellow in the most desperate hurry," said Wogan, and parrying
the thrust he disengaged, circled, disengaged again, and lunging felt
the soldier's leather coat yield to his point. "The Emperor's arm is
weak, too, one might believe," he laughed, and he drove his sword home.
The man fell upon the stairs; but as Wogan spoke the leader crouched on
the step plucked violently at his cloak below his knees. Wogan had not


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 15 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryA.E. W. MasonClementina → online text (page 15 of 20)