A.E. W. Mason.

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Wogan went downstairs. He could leave the three of them shut up in that
room to come by a fitting understanding. Besides, there was other work
for him below, - work of a simple kind, to which he had now for some
weeks looked forward. He crept down the stairs very stealthily. The hall
door was still open. He could see dimly the figure of a man standing on
the grass.

* * * * *

When the Chevalier came down into the garden an hour afterwards, a man
was still standing on the grass. The man advanced to him. "Who is it?"
asked the Chevalier, drawing back. The voice which answered him was
Wogan's.

"And Whittington?"

"He has gone," replied Wogan.

"You have sent him away?"

"I took so much upon myself."

The Chevalier held out his hand to Wogan. "I have good reason to thank
you," said he, and before he could say another word, a door shut above,
and Maria Vittoria came down the stairs towards them. O'Toole was still
standing sentry at the postern-door, and the three men escorted the
Princess Caprara to the Pilgrim Inn. She had spoken no word during the
walk, but as she turned in the doorway of the inn, the light struck upon
her face and showed that her eyes glistened. To the Chevalier she said,
"I wish you, my lord, all happiness, and the boon of a great love. With
all my heart I wish it;" and as he bowed over her hand, she looked
across his shoulder to Wogan.

"I will bid you farewell to-morrow," she said with a smile, and the
Chevalier explained her saying afterwards as they accompanied him to his
lodging.

"Mlle. de Caprara will honour us with her presence to-morrow. You will
still act as my proxy, Wogan. I am not yet returned from Spain. I wish
no questions or talk about this evening's doings. Your friend will
remember that?"

"My friend, sir," said Wogan, "who was with me at Innspruck, is Captain
Lucius O'Toole of Dillon's regiment."

"_Et_ senator too," said the Chevalier, with a laugh; and he added a
friendly word or two which sent O'Toole back to his lodging in a high
pleasure. Wogan walked thither with him and held out his hand at the
door.

"But you will come up with me," said O'Toole. "We will drink a glass
together, for God knows when we speak together again. I go back to
Schlestadt to-morrow."

"Ah, you go back," said Wogan; and he came in at the door and mounted
the stairs. At the first landing he stopped.

"Let me rouse Gaydon."

"Gaydon went three days ago."

"Ah! And Misset is with his wife. Here are we all once more scattered,
and, as you say, God knows when we shall speak together again;" and he
went on to the upper storey.

O'Toole remarked that he dragged in his walk and that his voice had a
strange, sad note of melancholy.

"My friend," said he, "you have the black fit upon you; you are plainly
discouraged. Yet to-night sees the labour of many months brought to its
due close;" and as he lit the candles on his chimney, he was quite
amazed by the white, tired face which the light showed to him. Wogan,
indeed, harassed by misgivings, and worn with many vigils, presented a
sufficiently woe-begone picture. The effect was heightened by the
disorder of his clothes, which were all daubed with clay in a manner
quite surprising to O'Toole, who knew the ground to be dry underfoot.

"True," answered Wogan, "the work ends to-night. Months ago I rode down
this street in the early morning, and with what high hopes! The work
ends to-night, and may God forgive me for a meddlesome fellow. Cup and
ball's a fine game, but it is ill playing it with women's hearts;" and
he broke off suddenly. "I'll give you a toast, Lucius! Here's to the
Princess Clementina!" and draining his glass he stood for a while, lost
in the recollecting of that flight from Innspruck; he was far away from
Bologna thundering down the Brenner through the night, with the sparks
striking from the wheels of the berlin, and all about him a glimmering,
shapeless waste of snow.

"To the Princess - no, to the Queen she was born to be," cried O'Toole,
and Wogan sprang at him.

"You saw that," he exclaimed, his eyes lighting, his face transfigured
in the intensity of this moment's relief. "Aye, - to love a nation, - that
is her high destiny. For others, a husband, a man; for her, a nation.
And you saw it! It is evident, to be sure. Yet this or that thing she
did, this or that word she spoke, assured you, eh? Tell me what proved
to you here was no mere woman, but a queen!"

The morning had dawned before Wogan had had his fill. O'Toole was very
well content to see his friend's face once more quivering like a boy's
with pleasure, to hear him laugh, to watch the despondency vanish from
his aspect. "There's another piece of good news," he said at the end,
"which I had almost forgotten to tell you. Jenny and the Princess's
mother are happily set free. It seems Jenny swore from daybreak to
daybreak, and the Pope used his kindliest offices, and for those two
reasons the Emperor was glad to let them go. But there's a question I
would like to ask you. One little matter puzzles me."

"Ask your question," said Wogan.

"To-night through that door in the garden wall which I guarded, there
went in yourself and a lady, - the King and a companion he had with
him, - four people. Out of that door there came yourself, the lady, and
the King, - three people."

"Ah," said Wogan, as he stood up with a strange smile upon his lips, "I
have a deal of clay upon my clothes."

O'Toole nodded his head wisely once or twice. "I am answered," he said.
"Is it indeed so?" He understood, however, nothing except that the room
had suddenly grown cold.




CHAPTER XXV


An account remains of the marriage ceremony, which took place the next
morning in Cardinal Origo's house. It was of the simplest kind and was
witnessed by few. Murray, Misset and his wife, and Maria Vittoria de
Caprara made the public part of the company; Wogan stood for the King;
and the Marquis of Monti Boulorois for James Sobieski, the bride's
father. Bride and bridegroom played their parts bravely and well, one
must believe, for the chronicler speaks of their grace and modesty of
bearing. Clementina rose at five in the morning, dressed in a robe of
white, tied a white ribbon about her hair, and for her only ornament
fixed a white collar of pearls about her neck. In this garb she went at
once to the church of San Domenico, where she made her confession, and
from the church to the Cardinal's Palace. There the Cardinal, with one
Maas, an English priest from Rome, at his elbow, was already waiting for
her. Mr. Wogan thereupon read the procuration, for which he had ridden
to Rome in haste so many months before, and pronounced the consent of
the King his master to its terms. Origo asked the Princess whether she
likewise consented, and the manner in which she spoke her one word,
"Yes," seems to have stirred the historian to pæans. It seems that all
the virtues launched that one little word, and were clearly expressed in
it. The graces, too, for once in a way went hand in hand with the
virtues. Never was a "Yes" so sweetly spoken since the earth rose out of
the sea. In a word, there was no ruffle of the great passion which these
two, man and woman, had trodden beneath their feet. She did not hint of
Iphigenia; he borrowed no plumes from Don Quixote. Nor need one fancy
that their contentment was all counterfeit. They were neither of them
grumblers, and "fate" and "destiny" were words seldom upon their lips.

One incident, indeed, is related which the chronicler thought to be
curious, though he did not comprehend it. The Princess Clementina
brought from her confessional box a wisp of straw which clung to her
dress at the knee. Until Wogan had placed the King's ring upon her
finger, she did not apparently remark it; but no sooner had that office
been performed than she stooped, and with a friendly smile at her
makeshift bridegroom, she plucked it from her skirt and let it fall
beneath her foot.

And that was all. No words passed between them after the ceremony, for
her Royal Highness went straight back to the little house in the garden,
and that same forenoon set out for Rome.

She was not the only witness of the ceremony to take that road that day.
For some three hours later, to be precise, at half-past two, Maria
Vittoria stepped into her coach before the Pilgrim Inn. Wogan held the
carriage door open for her. He was still in the bravery of his wedding
clothes, and Maria Vittoria looked him over whimsically from the top of
his peruke to his shoe-buckles.

"I came to see a fool-woman," said she, "and I saw a fool-man. Well,
well!" and she suddenly lowered her voice to a passionate whisper. "Why,
oh, why did you not take your fortunes in your hands at Peri?"

Wogan leaned forward to her. "Do you know so much?"

She answered him quickly. "I will never forgive you. Yes, I know." She
forced her lips into a smile. "I suppose you are content. You have your
black horse."

"You know of the horse, too," said Wogan, colouring to the edge of his
peruke. "You know I have no further use for it."

"Say that again, and I will beg it of you."

"Nay, it is yours, then. I will send him after you to Rome."

"Will you?" said Maria Vittoria. "Why, then, I accept. There's my
hand;" and she thrust it through the window to him. "If ever you come to
Rome, the Caprara Palace stands where it did at your last visit. I do
not say you will be welcome. No, I do not forgive you, but you may come.
Having your horse, I could hardly bar the door against you. So you may
come."

Wogan raised her hand to his lips.

"Aye," said she, with a touch of bitterness, "kiss my hand. You have had
your way. Here are two people crossmated, and two others not mated at
all. You have made four people entirely unhappy, and a kiss on the glove
sets all right."

"Nay, not four," protested Wogan.

"Your manners," she continued remorselessly, ticking off the names upon
her fingers, "will hinder you from telling me to my face the King is
happy. And the Princess?"

"She was born to be a queen," replied Wogan, stubbornly. "Happiness,
mademoiselle! It does not come by the striving after it. That's the
royal road to miss it. You may build up your house of happiness with all
your care through years, and you will find you have only built it up to
draw down the blinds and hang out the hatchment above the door, for the
tenant to inhabit it is dead."

Maria Vittoria listened very seriously till he came to the end. Then she
made a pouting grimace. "That is very fine, moral, and poetical. Your
Princess was born to be a queen. But what if her throne is set up only
in your city of dreams? Well, it is some consolation to know that you
are one of the four."

"Nay, I will make a shift not to plague myself upon the way the world
treats you."

"Ah, but because it treats you well," cried she. "There will be work for
you, hurryings to and fro, the opportunities of excelling, nights in the
saddle, and perhaps again the quick red life of battlefields. It is well
with you, but what of me, Mr. Wogan? What of me?" and she leaned back in
her carriage and drove away. Wogan had no answer to that despairing
question. He stood with his head bared till the carriage passed round a
corner and disappeared, but the voice rang for a long while in his ears.
And for a long while the dark eyes abrim with tears, and the tortured
face, kept him company at nights. He walked slowly back to his lodging,
and mounting a horse rode out of Bologna, and towards the Apennines.

On one of the lower slopes he came upon a villa just beyond a curve of
the road, and reined in his horse. The villa nestled on the hillside
below him in a terraced garden of oleander and magnolias, very pretty to
the eye. Cypress hedges enclosed it; the spring had made it a bower of
rose blossoms, and depths of shade out of whose green darkness glowed
here and there a red statue like a tutelary god. Wogan dismounted and
led his horse down the path to the door. He inquired for Lady
Featherstone, and was shown into a room from the windows of which he
looked down on Bologna, that city of colonnades. Lady Featherstone,
however, had heard the tramp of his horse; she came running up from the
garden, and without waiting to hear any particulars of her visitor,
burst eagerly into the room.

"Well?" she said, and stopped and swayed upon the threshold. Wogan
turned from the window towards her.

"Your Ladyship was wise, I think, to leave Bologna. The little house in
the trees there had no such wide prospect as this."

He spoke rather to give her time than out of any sarcasm. She set a
hand against the jamb of the door, and even so barely sustained her
trifling weight. Her knees shook, her childlike face grew white as
paper, a great terror glittered in her eyes.

"I am not the visitor whom you expect," continued Wogan, "nor do I bring
the news which you would wish to hear;" and at that she raised a
trembling hand. "I beg you - a moment's silence. Then I will hear you,
Mr. Warner." She made a sort of stumbling run and reached a couch. Wogan
shut the door and waited. He was glad that she had used the name of
Warner. It recalled to him that evening at Ohlau when she had stood
behind the curtain with a stiletto in her hand, and the three last days
of his perilous ride to Schlestadt. He needed his most vivid
recollections to steel his heart against her; for he was beginning to
think it was his weary lot to go up and down the world causing pain to
women. After a while she said, "Now your news;" and she held her hand
lightly to her heart to await the blow.

"The King married this morning the Princess Clementina," said Wogan.
Lady Featherstone did not move her hand; she still waited. It was just
to hinder this marriage that she had come to Italy, but her failure was
at this moment of no account. She heard of it with indifference; it had
no meaning to her. She waited. Wogan's mere presence at the villa told
her there was more to come. He continued: -

"Last night Mr. Whittington came with the King to Bologna - you
understand, no doubt, why;" and she nodded without moving her eyes from
his face. She made no pretence as to the part she had played in the
affair. All the world might know it. That was a matter at this moment of
complete indifference. She waited.

"The King and Mr. Whittington came at nine of the night to the little
house which you once occupied. I was there, but I was not there alone.
Can your Ladyship conjecture whom I brought there? Your Ladyship, as I
learned last night from Mr. Whittington's own lips, had paid a visit
secretly, using a key which you had retained to the house on an excuse
that you had left behind jewels of some value. You saw her Highness the
Princess. You told her a story of the King and Mlle. de Caprara. I rode
to Rome, and when the King came last night Mlle. de Caprara was with the
Princess. I had evidence against Mr. Whittington, a confession of one of
the soldiers of the Governor of Trent, the leader of a party of five who
attacked me at Peri. No doubt you know of that little matter too;" and
again Lady Featherstone nodded.

"Thus your double plot - to set the King against the Princess, and the
Princess against the King - doubly failed."

"Go on," said Lady Featherstone, moistening her dry lips. Wogan told her
how from the little sitting-room on the ground-floor he had seen the
King and Whittington cross the lawn; he described his interview with
the King, and how he had come quietly down the stairs.

"I went into the garden," he went on, "and touched Whittington on the
elbow. I told him just what I have explained to you. I said, 'You are a
coward, a liar, a slanderer of women,' and I beat him on the mouth."

Lady Featherstone uttered a cry and drew herself into an extraordinary
crouching attitude, with her eyes blazing steadily at him. He thought
she meant to spring at him; he looked at that hand upon her heart to see
whether it held a weapon hidden in the fold of her bosom.

"Go on," she said; "and he?"

"He answered me in the strangest quiet way imaginable. 'You insulted
Lady Featherstone at Ohlau, Mr. Wogan,' said he, 'one evening when she
hid behind your curtain. It was a very delicate piece of drollery, no
doubt. But I shall be glad to show you another, view of it.' It is
strange how that had rankled in his thoughts. I liked him for it, - upon
my soul, I did, - though it was the only thing I liked in him."

"Go on," said Lady Featherstone. Mr. Wogan's likes or dislikes were of
no more interest to her than the failure of her effort to hinder the
marriage.

"We went to the bottom of the garden where there is a little square of
lawn hedged in with myrtle-trees. The night was very dark, so we
stripped to our shirts. From the waist upwards we were visible to each
other as a vague glimmer of white, and thus we fought, foot to foot,
among the myrtle-trees. We could not see so much as our swords unless
they clashed more than usually hard, and a spark struck from them. We
fought by guesswork and feel, and in the end luck served me. I drove my
sword through his chest until the hilt rang upon his breast-bone."

Then just a movement from Lady Featherstone as though she drew up her
feet beneath her.

"He lived for perhaps five minutes. He was in great distress lest harm
should come to you; and since there was no one but his enemy to whom he
could speak, why, he spoke to his enemy. I promised him, madam, that
with his death the story should be closed, if you left Italy within the
week."

"And he?" she interrupted, - "he died there. Well?"

"You know the laurel hedge by the sun-dial? There is an out-house where
the gardener keeps his tools. I found a spade there, and beneath that
laurel hedge I buried him."

Lady Featherstone rose to her feet. She spoke no word; she uttered no
cry; her face was white and terrible. She stood rigid like one
paralysed; then she swayed round and fell in a swoon upon the floor. And
as she fell, something bright slipped from her hand and dropped at
Wogan's feet. He picked it up. It was a stiletto. He stood looking down
at the childish figure with a queer compassionate smile upon his face.
"She could love," said he; "yes, she could love."

He walked out of the house, led his horse back onto the road and mounted
it. The night was gathering; there were purple shadows upon the
Apennines. Wogan rode away alone.




EPILOGUE


Sir Charles Wogan had opportunities enough to appreciate in later years
the accuracy of Maria Vittoria's prophecy. "Here are two people
cross-mated," said she, and events bore her out. The jealousies of
courtiers no doubt had their share in the estrangement of that unhappy
couple, but that was no consolation to Wogan, who saw, within so short a
time of that journey into Italy, James separated from the chosen woman,
and the chosen woman herself seeking the seclusion of a convent. As his
reward he was made Governor of La Mancha in Spain, and no place could
have been found with associations more suitable to this Irishman who
turned his back upon his fortunes at Peri. At La Mancha he lived for
many years, writing a deal of Latin verse, and corresponding with many
distinguished men in England upon matters of the intellect. Matters of
the heart he left alone, and meddled with no more. Nor did any woman
ever ride on his black horse into his city of dreams. He lived and died
a bachelor. The memory of that week when he had rescued his Princess and
carried her through the snows was to the last too vivid in his thoughts.
The thunderous roll of the carriage down the slopes, the sparks
striking from the wheels, the sound of Clementina's voice singing softly
in the darkness of the carriage, the walk under the stars to Ala, the
coming of the dawn about that lonely hut, high-placed amongst the pines.
These recollections bore him company through many a solitary evening.
Somehow the world had gone awry. Clementina, withdrawn into her convent,
was, after all, "wasted," as he had sworn she should not be. James was
fallen upon a deeper melancholy, and diminished hopes. He himself was an
exile alone in his white _patio_ in Spain. In only one point was Maria
Vittoria's prophecy at fault. She had spoken of two who were to find no
mates, and one of the two was herself. She married five years later.

THE END











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