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recovered from his lunge; the jerk at the cloak threw him off his
balance, his legs slipped forward under him, in another moment he would
have come crashing down the stairs upon his back, and at the bottom of
the flight there stood one man absolutely unharmed supporting his
comrade who had been wounded in the throat. Wogan felt the jerk,
understood the danger, and saw its remedy at the same instant. He did
not resist the impetus, he threw his body into it, he sprang from the
stairs forwards, tearing his cloak from the leader's hands, he sprang
across the leader, across the soldier who had fired at him, and he
dropped with all his weight into the arms of the third man with the
pierced throat. The blood poured out from the wound over Wogan's face
and breast in a blinding jet. The fellow uttered one choking cry and
reeling back carried the comrade who supported him against the
balustrade at the turn of the stairs. Wogan did not give that fourth man
time to disengage himself, but dropping his sword caught him by the
throat as the third wounded man slipped between them to the ground.
Wogan bent his new opponent backwards over the balustrade, and felt the
muscles of his back resist and then slacken. Wogan bent him further and
further over until it seemed his back must break. But it was the
balustrade which broke. Wogan heard it crack. He had just time to loose
his hands and step back, and the railing and the man poised on the rail
fell outwards into the courtyard. Wogan stepped forward and peered
downwards. The soldier had not broken his neck, for Wogan saw him
writhe upon the ground. He bent his head to see the better; he heard a
report behind him, and a bullet passed through the crown of his hat. He
swung round and saw the leader of the four with one of his own pistols
smoking in his hand.

"You!" cried Wogan. "Sure, here's a rabbit attacking a terrier dog;" and
he sprang up the stairs. The man threw away the pistol, fell on his
knees, and held up his hands for mercy.

"Now what will I do to you?" said Wogan. "Did you not fire at my back?
That's reprehensible cowardice. And with my own pistol, too, which is
sheer impertinence. What will I do with you?" The man's expression was
so pitiable, his heavy cheeks hung in such despairing folds, that Wogan
was stirred to laughter. "Well, you have put me to a deal of
inconvenience," said he; "but I will be merciful, being strong, being
most extraordinary strong. I'll send you back to your master the Emperor
with a message from me that four men are no manner of use at all. Come
in here for a bit."

Wogan took the unfortunate man and led him into the parlour. Then he lit
a lamp, and making his captive sit where he could see any movement that
he made, he wrote a very polite note to his Most Catholic Majesty the
Emperor wherein he pointed out that it was a cruel thing to send four
poor men who had never done harm to capture Charles Wogan; that no King
or Emperor before who had wanted to capture Charles Wogan, of whom there
were already many, and by God's grace he hoped there would be more, had
ever despatched less than a regiment of horse upon so hazardous an
expedition; and that when Captain O'Toole might be expected to be
standing side by side with Wogan, it was usually thought necessary to
add seven batteries of artillery and a field marshal. Wogan thereupon
went on to point out that Peri was in Venetian territory, which his Most
Catholic Majesty had violated, and that Charles Wogan would accordingly
feel it his bounden duty not to sleep night or day until he had made a
confederation of Italian states to declare war and captivity upon his
Most Catholic Majesty. Wogan concluded with the assurances of his
profoundest respects and was much pleased by his letter, which he sealed
and compelled his prisoner upon his knees to promise to deliver into the
Emperor's own hands.

"Now where is that pretty warrant?" said Wogan, as soon as this
important function was accomplished.

"It is signed by the Governor of Trent," said the man.

"Who in those regions is the Emperor's deputy. Hand it over."

The man handed it over reluctantly.

"Now," continued Wogan, "here is paper and ink and a chair. Sit down and
write a full confession of your audacious incursion into a friendly
country, and just write, if you please, how much you paid the landlady
to hear nothing of what was doing."

"You will not force me to that," cried the fellow.

"By no means. The confession must be voluntary and written of your own
free will. So write it, my friend, without any compulsion whatever, or
I'll throw you out of the window."

Then followed a deal of sighing and muttering. But the confession was
written and handed to Wogan, who glanced over it.

"But there's an omission," said he. "You make mention of only five men."

"There were only five men on the staircase."

"But there are six horses in the stables. Will you be good enough to
write down at what hour on what day Mr. Harry Whittington knocked at the
Governor's door in Trent and told the poor gout-ridden man that the
Princess and Mr. Wogan had put up at the Cervo Inn at Ala."

The soldier turned a startled face on Wogan.

"So you knew!" he cried.

"Oh, I knew," answered Wogan, suddenly. "Look at me! Did you ever see
eyes so heavy with want of sleep, a face so worn by it, a body so jerked
upon strings like a showman's puppet? Write, I tell you! We who serve
the King are trained to wakefulness. Write! I am in haste!"

"Yet your King does not reign!" said the man, wonderingly, and he wrote.
He wrote the truth about Harry Whittington; for Wogan was looking over
his shoulder.

"Did he pay you to keep silence as to his share in the business?" asked
Wogan, as the man scattered some sand over the paper. "There is no word
of it in your handwriting."

The man added a sentence and a figure.

"That will do," said Wogan. "I may need it for a particular purpose;"
and he put the letter carefully away in the pocket of his coat. "For a
very particular purpose," he added. "It will be well for you to convey
your party back with all haste to Trent. You are on the wrong side of
the border."




CHAPTER XX


Wogan went from the parlour and climbed out of the house by the
rope-ladder. He left it hanging at the window and walked up the
glimmering road, a ribbon of ghostly white between dim hills. It was
then about half-past twelve of the night, and not a feather of cloud
stained the perfection of the sky. It curved above his head spangled
like a fair lady's fan, and unfathomably blue like Clementina's eyes
when her heart stirred in their depths. He reached the little footway
and turned into the upward cleft of the hills. He walked now into the
thick night of a close-grown clump of dwarf-oaks, which weaved so dense
a thatch above his head that he knocked against the boles. The trees
thinned, he crossed here and there a dimpled lawn in the pure starshine,
he traversed a sparse grove of larches in the dreamy twilight, he came
out again upon the grassy lip of a mountain torrent which henceforth
kept him company, and which, speaking with many voices, seemed a friend
trying to catch his mood. For here it leaped over an edge of rock, and
here in a tiny waterfall, and splashed into a pellucid pool, and the
reverberating noise filled the dell with a majestic din; there it ran
smoothly kissing its banks with a murmur of contentment, embosoming the
stars; beyond, it chafed hoarsely between narrow walls; and again half a
mile higher up it sang on shallows and evaded the stones with a tinkling
laugh. But Wogan was deaf to the voices; he mounted higher, the trees
ceased, he came into a desolate country of boulders; and the higher he
ascended, the more heavily he walked. He stopped and washed his face and
hands clean of blood-stains in the stream. Above him and not very far
away was the lonely hut.

He came upon it quite suddenly. For the path climbed steeply at the
back, and slipping from the mouth of a narrow gully he stood upon the
edge of a small plateau in the centre of which stood the cabin, a little
house of pinewood built with some decoration and elegance. One unglazed
window was now unshuttered, and the light from a lantern streamed out of
it in a yellow fan, marking the segment of a circle upon the rough rocky
ground and giving to the dusk of the starshine a sparkle of gold.
Through the window Wogan could see into the room. It was furnished
simply, but with an eye to comfort. He saw too the girl he had dared to
bear off from the thick of a hostile town. She was lying upon a couch,
her head resting upon her folded arms. She was asleep, and in a place
most solitary. Behind the cabin rose a black forest of pines, pricking
the sky with their black spires, and in front of it the ground fell
sharply to the valley, in which no light gleamed; beyond the valley rose
the dim hills again. Nor was there any sound except the torrent. The
air at this height was keen and fresh with a smell of primeval earth.
Wogan hitched his cloak about his throat, and his boots rang upon the
rock. The Princess raised her head; Wogan walked to the door and stood
for a little with his hand upon the latch. He lifted it and entered.
Clementina looked at him for a moment, and curiously. She had no
questions as to how his struggle with the Governor of Trent's emissaries
had fared. Wogan could understand by some unspoken sympathy that that
matter had no place in her thoughts. She stood up in an attitude of
expectation.

"It grows towards morning?" said she.

"In two hours we shall have the dawn," he replied; and there was a
silence between them.

"You found this cabin open?" said Wogan.

"The door was latched. I loosed a shutter. The night is very still."

"One might fancy there were no others alive but you and me across all
the width of the world."

"One could wish it," she said beneath her breath, and crossed to the
window where she stayed, breathing the fresh night. The sigh, however,
had reached to Wogan's ears. He took his pistols from his belt, and to
engage his thoughts, loaded the one which had been fired at him. After a
little he looked up and saw that Clementina's eyes dwelt upon him with
that dark steady look, which held always so much of mystery and told
always one thing plainly, her lack of fear. And she said suddenly, -

"There was trouble at Peri. I climbed from the window. I had almost
forgotten. As I ran down the road past the open court, I saw a little
group of men gathered about the foot of the staircase! I was in two
minds whether to come back and load your pistols or to obey you. I
obeyed, but I was in much fear for you. I had almost forgotten, it seems
so long ago. Tell me! You conquered; it is no new thing. Tell me how!"

She did not move from the window, she kept her eyes fixed upon Wogan
while he told his story, but it was quite clear to him that she did not
hear one half of it. And when he had done she said, -

"How long is it till the morning?"

Wogan had spun his tale out, but half an hour enclosed it, from the
beginning to the end. He became silent again; but he was aware at once
that silence was more dangerous than speech, for in the silence he could
hear both their hearts speaking. He began hurriedly to talk of their
journey, and there could be no more insidious topic for him to light
upon. For he spoke of the Road, and he had already been given a warning
that to the romance of the Road her heart turned like a compass-needle
to the north. They were both gipsies, for all that they had no Egyptian
blood. That southward road from Innspruck was much more than a mere
highway of travel between a starting-place and a goal, even to these two
to whom the starting-place meant peril and the goal the first
opportunity of sleep.

"Even in our short journey," said Clementina, "how it climbed hillsides
angle upon angle, how it swept through the high solitudes of ice where
no trees grow, where silence lives; how it dropped down into green
valleys and the noise of streams! And it still sweeps on, through dark
and light, a glimmer at night, a glare in the midday, between lines of
poplars, hidden amongst vines, through lighted cities, down to Venice
and the sea. If one could travel it, never retracing a step, pitching a
tent by the roadside when one willed! That were freedom!" She stopped
with a remarkable abruptness. She turned her eyes out of the window for
a little. Then again she asked, -

"How long till morning?"

"But one more hour."

She came back into the room and seated herself at the table.

"You gave me some hint at Innspruck of an adventurous ride from Ohlau,"
and she drew her breath sharply at the word, as though the name with all
its associations struck her a blow, "into Strasbourg. Tell me its
history. So will this hour pass."

He told her as he walked about the room, though his heart was not in the
telling, nor hers in the hearing, until he came to relate the story of
his escape from the inn a mile or so beyond Stuttgart. He described how
he hid in the garden, how he crossed the rich level of lawn to the
lighted window, how to his surprise he was admitted without a question
by an old bookish gentleman - and thereupon he ceased so suddenly that
Clementina turned her head aside and listened.

"Did you hear a step?" she asked in a low voice.

"No."

And they both listened. No noise came to their ears but the brawling of
the torrent. That, however, filled the room, drowning all the natural
murmurs of the night.

"Indeed, one would not hear a company of soldiers," said Clementina. She
crossed to the window.

"Yet you heard my step, and it waked you," said Wogan, as he followed
her.

"I listened for it in my sleep," said she.

For a second time that night they stood side by side looking upon
darkness and the spangled sky. Only there was no courtyard with its
signs of habitation. Clementina drew herself away suddenly from the
sill. Wogan at once copied her example.

"You saw - ?" he began.

"No one," said she, bending her dark eyes full upon him. "Will you close
the shutter?"

Wogan drew back instinctively. He had a sense that this open window,
though there was no one to spy through it, was in some way a security.
Suppose that he closed it! That mere act of shutting himself and her
apart, though it gave not one atom more of privacy, still had a
semblance of giving it. He was afraid. He said, -

"There is no need. Who should spy on us? What would it matter if we were
spied upon?"

"I ask you to close that shutter."

From the quiet, level voice he could infer nothing of the thought behind
the request; and her unwavering eyes told him nothing.

"Why?"

"Because I am afraid, as you are," said she, and she shivered. "You
would not have it shut. I am afraid while it stays open. There is too
much expectation in the night. Those great black pines stand waiting;
the stars are very bright and still, they wait, holding their breath. It
seems to me the whirl of the earth has stopped. Never was there a night
so hushed in expectation;" and these words too she spoke without a
falter or a lifting note, breathing easily like a child asleep, and not
changing her direct gaze from Wogan's face. "I am afraid," she
continued, "of you and me. I am the more afraid;" and Wogan set the
shutter in its place and let the bar fall. Clementina with a breath of
relief came back to her seat at the table.

"How long is it till dawn?" she said.

"We have half an hour," said Wogan.

"Well, that old man - Count von Ahlen, you said - received you, heaped
logs upon his fire, stanched your wounds, and asked no questions. Well?
You stopped suddenly. Tell me all!"

Wogan looked doubtfully at her and then quickly seated himself over
against her.

"All? I will. It will be no new thing to you;" and as Clementina raised
her eyes curiously to his, he met her gaze and so spoke the rest
looking at her with her own direct gaze.

"Why did he ask no question, seeing me disordered, wounded, a bandit,
for all he knew, with a murder on my hands? Because thirty years before
Count Philip Christopher von Königsmarck had come in just that same way
over the lawn to the window, and had sat by that log-fire and charmed
the old gentleman into an envy by his incomparable elegance and wit."

"Königsmarck!" exclaimed the girl. She knew the history of that
brilliant and baleful adventurer at the Court of Hanover. "He came as
you did, and wounded?"

"The Princess Sophia Dorothea was visiting the Duke of Würtemberg,"
Wogan explained, and Clementina nodded.

"Count Otto von Ahlen, my host," he continued, "had a momentary thought
that I was Königsmarck mysteriously returned as he had mysteriously
vanished; and through these thirty years' retention of his youth, Count
Otto could never think of Königsmarck but as a man young and tossed in a
froth of passion. He would have it to the end that I had escaped from
such venture as had Königsmarck; he would have it my wounds were the
mere offset to a love well worth them; he _would_ envy me. 'Passion,'
said he, 'without passion there can be no great thing.'"

"And the saying lived in your thoughts," cried Clementina. "I do not
wonder. 'Without passion there can be no great thing!' Can books teach
a man so much?"

"Nay, it was an hour's talk with Königsmarck which set the old man's
thoughts that way; and though Königsmarck talked never so well, I would
not likely infer from his talk an eternal and universal truth. Count
Otto left me alone while he fetched me food, and he left me in a panic."

"A panic?" said Clementina, with a little laugh. "You!"

"Yes. That first mistake of me for Königsmarck, that insistence that my
case was Königsmarck's - "

"There was a shadow of truth in it - even then?" said Clementina,
suddenly leaning across the table towards him. Wogan strove not to see
the light of her joy suddenly sparkling in her eyes.

"I sat alone, feeling the ghost of Königsmarck in the room with me," he
resumed quickly, and his voice dropped, and he looked round the little
cabin. Clementina looked round quickly too. Then their eyes met again.
"I heard his voice menacing me. 'For love of a queen I lived. For love
of a queen I died most horribly; and it would have gone better with the
queen had she died the same death at the same time - '" And Clementina
interrupted him with a cry which was fierce.

"Ah, who can say that, and know it for the truth - except the Queen? You
must ask her in her prison at Ahlden, and that you cannot do. She has
her memories maybe. Maybe she has built herself within these thirty
years a world of thought so real, it makes her gaolers shadows, and
that prison a place of no account, save that it gives her solitude and
is so more desirable than a palace. I can imagine it;" and then she
stopped, and her voice dropped to the low tone which Wogan had used.

"You looked round you but now and most fearfully. Is Königsmarck's
spirit here?"

"No," exclaimed Wogan; "I would to God it were! I would I felt its
memories chilling me as they chilled me that night! But I cannot. I
cannot as much as hear a whisper. All the heavens are dumb," he cried.

"And the earth waits," said Clementina.

She did not move, neither did Wogan. They both sat still as statues.
They had come to the great crisis of their destiny. A change of posture,
a gesture, an assumed expression which might avert the small, the merely
awkward indiscretions of the tongue, they both knew to be futile. It was
in the mind of each of them that somehow without their participation the
truth would out that night; for the dawn was so long in coming.

"All the way up from Peri," said Wogan, suddenly, "I strove to make real
to myself the ignominy, the odium, the scandal."

"But you could not," said Clementina, with a nod of comprehension, as
though that inability was a thing familiar to her.

"When I reached the hut, and saw that fan of light spreading from the
window, as it spread over the lawn beyond Stuttgart, I remembered Otto
von Ahlen and his talk of Königsmarck. I tried to hear the menaces."

"But you could not."

"No. I saw you through the window," he cried, "stretched out upon that
couch, supple and young and sweet. I saw the lamplight on your hair,
searching out the gold in its dark brown. I could only remember how
often I have at nights wakened and reached out my hands in the vain
dream that they would meet in its thick coils, that I should feel its
silk curl and nestle about my fingers. There's the truth out, though
it's a familiar truth to you ever since I held you in my arms beneath
the stars upon the road to Ala."

"It was known to me a day before," said she; "but it was known to you so
long ago as that night in the garden."

"Oh, before then," cried Wogan.

"When? Let the whole truth be known, since we know so much."

"Why, on that first day at Ohlau."

"In the great hall. I stood by the fire and raised my head, and our eyes
met. I do remember."

"But I had no thought ever to let you know. I was the King's
man-at-arms, as I am now;" and he burst into a harsh laugh. "Here's
madness! The King's man-at-arms dumps him down in the King's chair! I
had a thought to live to you, if you understand, as a man writes a poem
to his mistress, to make my life the poem, an unsigned poem that you
would never read, and yet unsigned, unread, would make its creator glad
and fill his days. And here's the poem!" and at that a great cry of
terror leaped from Clementina's lips and held them both aghast.

Wogan had risen from his seat; with a violent gesture he had thrown back
his cloak, and his coat beneath was stained and dark with blood.
Clementina stood opposite to him, all her quiet and her calmness gone.
There was no longer any mystery in her eyes. Her bosom rose and fell;
she pointed a trembling hand towards his breast.

"You are hurt. Again for love of me you are hurt."

"It is not my wound," he answered. "It is blood I spilt for you;" he
took a step towards her, and in a second she was between his arms,
sobbing with all the violence of passion which she had so long
restrained. Wogan was wrung by it. That she should weep at all was a
thought strange to him; that he should cause the tears was a sorrow
which tortured him. He touched her hair with his lips, he took her by
the arms and would have set her apart; but she clung to him, hiding her
face, and the sobs shook her. Her breast was strained against him, he
felt the beating of her heart, a fever ran through all his blood. And as
he held her close, a queer inconsequential thought came into his mind.
It shocked him, and he suddenly held her off.

"The blood upon my coat is wet," he cried. The odium, the scandal of a
flight which would make her name a byword from London to Budapest, that
he could envisage; but that this blood upon his coat should stain the
dress she wore - no! He saw indeed that the bodice was smeared a dark
red.

"See, the blood stains you!" he cried.

"Why, then, I share it," she answered with a ringing voice of pride. "I
share it with you;" and she smiled through her tears and a glowing blush
brightened upon her face. She stood before him, erect and beautiful.
Through Wogan's mind there tripped a procession of delicate ladies who
would swoon gracefully at the sight of a pricked finger.

"That's John Sobieski speaking," he exclaimed, and with an emphasis of
despair, "Poland's King! But I was mad! Indeed, I blame myself."

"Blame!" she cried passionately, her whole nature rising in revolt
against the word. "Are we to blame? We are man and woman. Who shall cast
the stone? Are you to blame for that you love me? Who shall blame you?
Not I, who thank you from my heart. Am I to blame? What have we hearts
for, then, if not to love? I have a thought - it may be very wrong. I do
not know. I do not trouble to think - that I should be much more to blame
did I not love you too. There's the word spoken at the last," and she
lowered her head.

Even at that moment her gesture struck upon Wogan as strange. It
occurred to him that he had never before seen her drop her eyes from
his. He had an intuitive fancy that she would never do it but as a
deliberate token of submission. Nor was he wrong. Her next words told
him it was her white flag of surrender.

"I believe the spoken truth is best," she said simply in a low voice
which ever so slightly trembled. "Unspoken and yet known by both of us,
I think it would breed thoughts and humours we are best without.
Unspoken our eyes would question, each to other, at every meeting; there
would be no health in our thoughts. But here's the truth out, and I am


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Online LibraryA.E. W. MasonClementina → online text (page 16 of 20)