A.E. W. Mason.

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beyond my powers."

"Ah," said she, drily, "you own as much? I would never have believed you
would have owned it."

"But what is the answer?" asked a voice at which Wogan started.

"The answer," replied the Countess, "is Mary, Queen of Scots, who was
most unjustly imprisoned in Fotheringay," and she tore the paper into
tiny pieces.

Wogan turned towards the voice which had so startled him and saw the
gossamer lady whom he had befriended on the road from Florence. At once
he rose and bowed to her.

"I should have presented you before to my friend, Lady Featherstone,"
said the Countess, "but it seems you are already acquainted."

"Indeed, Mr. Warner did me a great service at a pinch," said Lady
Featherstone. "He was my postillion, though I never paid him, as I do
now in thanks."

"Your postillion!" cried one or two of the ladies, and they gathered
about the great stove as Lady Featherstone told the story of Wogan's
charioting.

"I bade him hurry," said she, "and he outsped my bidding. Never was
there a postillion so considerately inconsiderate. I was tossed like a
tennis ball, I was one black bruise, I bounced from cushion to cushion;
and then he drew up with a jerk, sprang off his horse, vanished into a
house and left me, panting and dishevelled, a twist of torn ribbons and
lace, alone in my carriage in the streets of Bologna."

"Bologna. Ah!" said the Countess, with a smile of significance at Wogan.

Wogan was looking at Lady Featherstone. His curiosity, thrust into the
back of his mind by the more important matter of his mission now
revived. What had been this lady's business who travelled alone to
Bologna and in such desperate haste?

"Your Ladyship, I remember," he said, "gave me to understand that you
were sorely put to it to reach Bologna."

Her Ladyship turned her blue eyes frankly upon Wogan. Then she lowered
them.

"My brother," she explained, "lay at death's door in Venice. I had just
landed at Leghorn, where I left my maid to recover from the sea, and
hurrying across Italy as I did, I still feared that I should not see him
alive."

The explanation was made readily in a low voice natural to one
remembering a great distress, but without any affectation of gesture or
so much as a glance sideways to note whether Wogan received it
trustfully or not. Wogan, indeed, was reassured in a great measure.
True, the Countess of Berg was now his declared enemy, but he need not
join all her friends in that hostility.

"I was able, most happily," continued Lady Featherstone, "to send my
brother homewards in a ship a fortnight back, and so to stay with my
friend here on my way to Vienna, for we English are all bitten with the
madness of travel. Mr. Warner will bear me out?"

"To be sure I will," said Wogan, stoutly. "For here am I in the depths
of winter journeying to the carnival in Italy."

The Countess smiled, all disbelief and amusement, and Lady Featherstone
turned quickly towards him.

"For my frankness I claim a like frankness in return," said she, with a
pretty imperiousness.

Wogan was a little startled. He suddenly remembered that he had
pretended to know no English on the road to Bologna, nor had he given
any reason for his haste. But it was upon neither of these matters that
she desired to question him.

"You spoke in parables," said she, "which are detestable things. You
said you would not lose your black horse for the world because the lady
you were to marry would ride upon it into your city of dreams. There's a
saying that has a provoking prettiness. I claim a frank answer."

Wogan was silent, and his face took on the look of a dreamer.

"Come," said one. It was the Princess Charlotte, the second daughter of
the Prince Sobieski, who spoke. "We shall not let you off," said she.

Wogan knew that she would not. She was a girl who was never checked by
any inconvenience her speech might cause. Her tongue was a watchman's
rattle, and she never spoke but she laughed to point the speech.

"Be frank," said the Countess; "it is a matter of the heart, and so
proper food for women."

"True," answered Wogan, lightly, "it is a matter of the heart, and in
such matters can one be frank - even to oneself?"

Wogan was immediately puzzled by the curious look Lady Featherstone
gave him. The words were a mere excuse, yet she seemed to take them very
seriously. Her eyes sounded him.

"Yes," she said slowly; "are you frank, even to yourself?" and she spoke
as though a knowledge of the answer would make a task easier to her.

Wogan's speculations, however, were interrupted by the entrance of
Princess Casimira, Sobieski's eldest daughter. Wogan welcomed her coming
for the first time in all his life, for she was a kill-joy, a person of
an extraordinary decorum. According to Wogan, she was "that black care
upon the horseman's back which the poets write about." Her first
question if she was spoken to was whether the speaker was from top to
toe fitly attired; her second, whether the words spoken were well-bred.
At this moment, however, her mere presence put an end to the demands for
an explanation of Wogan's saying about his horse, and in a grateful mood
to her he slipped from the room.

This evening was but one of many during that Christmastide. Wogan must
wear an easy countenance, though his heart grew heavy as lead. The
Countess of Berg was the Prince Constantine's favourite; and Wogan was
not slow to discover that her smiling face and quiet eyes hid the most
masterful woman at that court. He made himself her assiduous servant,
whether in hunting amid the snow or in the entertainments at the palace,
but a quizzical deliberate word would now and again show him that she
was still his enemy. With the Princess Casimira he was a profound
critic of observances: he invented a new cravat and was most careful
that there should never be a wrinkle in his stockings; with the Princess
Charlotte he laughed till his head sang. He played all manner of parts;
the palace might have been the stage of a pantomime and himself the
harlequin. But for all his efforts it did not seem that he advanced his
cause; and if he made headway one evening with the Prince, the next
morning he had lost it, and so Christmas came and passed.

But two days after Christmas a courier brought a letter to the castle.
He came in the evening, and the letter was carried to Wogan while he was
at table. He noticed at once that it was in his King's hand, and he
slipped it quickly into his pocket. It may have been something
precipitate in his manner, or it may have been merely that all were on
the alert to mark his actions, but at once curiosity was aroused. No
plain words were said; but here and there heads nodded together and
whispered, and while some eyed Wogan suspiciously, a few women whose
hearts were tuned to a sympathy with the Princess in her imprisonment,
or touched with the notion of a romantic attachment, smiled upon him
their encouragement. The Countess of Berg for once was unobservant,
however.

Wogan made his escape from the company as soon as he could, and going up
to his apartments read the letter. The moon was at its full, and what
with the clear, frosty air, and the snow stretched over the world like
a white counterpane, he was able to read the letter by the window
without the light of a candle. It was written in the Chevalier's own
cipher and hand; it asked anxiously for news and gave some. Wogan had
had occasion before to learn that cipher by heart. He stood by the
window and spelled the meaning. Then he turned to go down; but at the
door his foot slipped upon the polished boards, and he stumbled onto his
knee. He picked himself up, and thinking no more of the matter rejoined
the company in a room where the Countess of Berg was playing upon a
harp.

"The King," said Wogan, drawing the Prince apart, "leaves Bologna for
Rome."

"So the letter came from him?" asked the Prince, with an eagerness which
could not but seem hopeful to his companion.

"And in his own hand," replied Wogan.

The Prince shuffled and hesitated as though he was curious to hear
particulars. Wogan thought it wise to provoke his curiosity by
disregarding it. It seemed that there was wisdom in his reticence, for a
little later the Prince took him aside while the Countess of Berg was
still playing upon her harp, and said, -

"Single-handed you could do nothing. You would need friends."

Wogan took a slip of paper from his pocket and gave it to the Prince.

"On that slip," said he, "I wrote down the names of all the friends
whom I could trust, and by the side of the names the places where I
could lay my hands upon them. One after the other I erased the names
until only three remained."

The Prince nodded and read out the names.

"Gaydon, Misset, O'Toole. They are good men?"

"The flower of Ireland. Those three names have been my comfort these
last three weeks."

"And all the three at Schlestadt. How comes that about?"

"Your Highness, they are all three officers in Dillon's Irish regiment,
and so have that further advantage."

"Advantage?"

"Your Highness," said Wogan, "Schlestadt is near to Strasbourg, which
again is not far from Innspruck, and being in French territory would be
the most convenient place to set off from."

There was a sound of a door shutting; the Prince started, looked at
Wogan, and laughed. He had been upon the verge of yielding; but for that
door Wogan felt sure he would have yielded. Now, however, he merely
walked away to the Countess of Berg, and sitting beside her asked her to
play a particular tune. But he still held the slip of paper in his hand
and paid but a scanty heed to the music, now and then looking doubtfully
towards Wogan, now and then scanning that long list of names. His lips,
too, moved as though he was framing the three selected names, Gaydon,
Misset, O'Toole, and "Schlestadt" as a bracket uniting them. Then he
suddenly rose up and crossed the room to Wogan.

"My daughter wrote that a woman must attend her. It is a necessary
provision."

"Your Highness, Misset has a wife, and the wife matches him."

"They are warned to be ready?"

"At your Highness's first word that slip of paper travels to Schlestadt.
It is unsigned, it imperils no one, it betrays nothing. But it will tell
its story none the less surely to those three men, for Gaydon knows my
hand."

The Prince smiled in approval.

"You have prudence, Mr. Warner, as well as audacity," said he. He gave
the paper back, listened for a little to the Countess, who was bending
over her harp-strings, and then remarked, "The Prince's letter was in
his own hand too?"

"But in cipher."

"Ah!"

The Prince was silent for a while. He balanced himself first on one
foot, then on the other.

"Ciphers," said he, "are curious things, compelling to the imagination
and a provocation to the intellect."

Mr. Wogan kept a grave face and he replied with unconcern, though his
heart beat quick; for if the Prince had so much desire to see the
Chevalier's letter, he must be well upon his way to consenting to
Wogan's plan.

"If your Highness will do me the honour to look at this cipher. It has
baffled the most expert."

His Highness condescended to be pleased with Wogan's suggestion. Wogan
crossed the room towards the door; but before he reached it, the
Countess of Berg suddenly took her fingers from her harp-strings with a
gesture of annoyance.

"Mr. Warner," she said, "will you do me the favour to screw this wire
tighter?" And once or twice she struck it with her fingers.

"May I claim that privilege?" said the Prince.

"Your Highness does me too much honour," said the Countess, but the
Prince was already at her side. At once she pointed out to him the
particular string. Wogan went from the room and up the great staircase.
He was lodged in a wing of the palace. From the head of the staircase he
proceeded down a long passage. Towards the end of this passage another
short passage branched off at a right angle on the left-hand side. At
the corner of the two passages stood a table with a lamp and some
candlesticks. This time Wogan took a candle, and lighting it at the lamp
turned into the short passage. It was dark but for the light of Wogan's
candle, and at the end of it facing him were two doors side by side.
Both doors were closed, and of these the one on the left gave onto his
room.

Wogan had walked perhaps halfway from the corner to his door before he
stopped. He stopped suddenly and held his breath. Then he shaded his
candle with the palm of his hand and looked forward. Immediately he
turned, and walking on tiptoe came silently back into the big passage.
Even this was not well lighted; it stretched away upon his right and
left, full of shadows. But it was silent. The only sounds which reached
Wogan as he stood there and listened were the sounds of people moving
and speaking at a great distance. He blew out his candle, cautiously
replaced it on the table, and crept down again towards his room. There
was no window in this small passage, there was no light there at all
except a gleam of silver in front of him and close to the ground. That
gleam of silver was the moonlight shining between the bottom of one of
the doors and the boards of the passage. And that door was not the door
of Wogan's room, but the room beside it. Where his door stood, there
might have been no door at all.

Yet the moon which shone through the windows of one room must needs also
shine into the other, unless, indeed, the curtains were drawn. But
earlier in the evening Wogan had read a letter by the moonlight at his
window; the curtains were not drawn. There was, therefore, a rug, an
obstruction of some sort against the bottom of the door. But earlier in
the evening Wogan's foot had slipped upon the polished boards; there had
been no mat or skin at all. It had been pushed there since. Wogan could
not doubt for what reason. It was to conceal the light of a lamp or
candle within the room. Someone, in a word, was prying in Wogan's room,
and Wogan began to consider who. It was not the Countess, who was
engaged upon her harp, but the Countess had tried to detain him. Wogan
was startled as he understood the reason of her harp becoming so
suddenly untuned. She had spoken to him with so natural a spontaneity,
she had accepted the Prince's aid with so complete an absence of
embarrassment; but none the less Wogan was sure that she knew. Moreover,
a door had shut - yes, while he was speaking to the Prince a door had
shut.

So far Wogan's speculations had travelled when the moonlight streamed
out beneath his door too. It made now a silver line across the passage
broken at the middle by the wall between the rooms. The mat had been
removed, the candle put out, the prying was at an end; in another moment
the door would surely open. Now Wogan, however anxious to discover who
it was that spied, was yet more anxious that the spy should not discover
that the spying was detected. He himself knew, and so was armed; he did
not wish to arm his enemies with a like knowledge. There was no corner
in the passage to conceal him; there was no other door behind which he
could slip. When the spy came out, Wogan would inevitably be discovered.
He made up his mind on the instant. He crept back quickly and silently
out of the mouth of the passage, then he made a noise with his feet,
turned again into the passage, and walked loudly towards his door. Even
so he was only just in time. Had he waited a moment longer, he would
have been detected. For even as he turned the corner there was already a
vertical line of silver on the passage wall; the door had been already
opened. But as his footsteps sounded on the boards, that line
disappeared.

He walked slowly, giving his spy time to replace the letter, time to
hide. He purposely carried no candle, he reached his door and opened it.
The room to all seeming was empty. Wogan crossed to a table, looking
neither to the right nor the left, above all not looking towards the bed
hangings. He found the letter upon the table just as he had left it. It
could convey no knowledge of his mission, he was sure. It had not even
the appearance of a letter in cipher; it might have been a mere
expression of Christmas good wishes from one friend to another. But to
make his certainty more sure, and at the same time to show that he had
no suspicion anyone was hiding in the room, he carried the letter over
to the window, and at once he was aware of the spy's hiding-place. It
was not the bed hangings, but close at his side the heavy window curtain
bulged. The spy was at his very elbow; he had but to lift his arm - and
of a sudden the letter slipped from his hand to the floor. He did not
drop it on purpose, he was fairly surprised; for looking down to read
the letter he had seen protruding from the curtain a jewelled shoe
buckle, and the foot which the buckle adorned seemed too small and
slender for a man's.

Wogan had an opportunity to make certain. He knelt down and picked up
the letter; the foot was a woman's. As he rose up again, the curtain
ever so slightly stirred. Wogan pretended to have remarked nothing; he
stood easily by the window with his eyes upon his letter and his mind
busy with guessing what woman his spy might be. And he remained on
purpose for some while in this attitude, designing it as a punishment.
So long as he stood by the window that unknown woman cheek by jowl with
him must hold her breath, must never stir, must silently endure an agony
of fear at each movement that he made.

At last he moved, and as he turned away he saw something so unexpected
that it startled him. Indeed, for the moment it did more than startle
him, it chilled him. He understood that slight stirring of the curtain.
The woman now held a dagger in her hand, and the point of the blade
stuck out and shone in the moonlight like a flame.

Wogan became angry. It was all very well for the woman to come spying
into his room; but to take a dagger to him, to think a dagger in a
woman's hand could cope with him, - that was too preposterous. Wogan felt
very much inclined to sweep that curtain aside and tell his visitor how
he had escaped from Newgate and played hide-and-seek amongst the
chimney-pots. And although he restrained himself from that, he allowed
his anger to get the better of his prudence. Under the impulse of his
anger he acted. It was a whimsical thing that he did, and though he
suffered for it he could never afterwards bring himself to regret it. He
deliberately knelt down and kissed the instep of the foot which
protruded from the curtain. He felt the muscles of the foot tighten, but
the foot was not withdrawn. The curtain shivered and shook, but no cry
came from behind it, and again the curtain hung motionless. Wogan went
out of the room and carried the letter to the Prince. The Countess of
Berg was still playing upon her harp, and she gave no sign that she
remarked his entrance. She did not so much as shoot one glance of
curiosity towards him. The Prince carried the letter off to his cabinet,
while Wogan sat down beside the Countess and looked about the room.

"I have not seen Lady Featherstone this evening," said he.

"Have you not?" asked the Countess, easily.

"Not so much as her foot," replied Wogan.

The conviction came upon him suddenly. Her hurried journey to Bologna
and her presence at Ohlau were explained to him now by her absence from
the room. His own arrival at Bologna had not remained so secret as he
had imagined. The fragile and gossamer lady, too flowerlike for the
world's rough usage, was the woman who had spied in his room and who had
possessed the courage to stand silent and motionless behind the curtain
after her presence there had been discovered. Wogan had a picture before
his eyes of the dagger she had held. It was plain that she would stop at
nothing to hinder this marriage, to prevent the success of his design;
and somehow the contrast between her appearance and her actions had
something uncanny about it. Wogan was inclined to shiver as he sat
chatting with the Countess. He was not reassured when Lady Featherstone
boldly entered the room; she meant to face him out. He remarked,
however, with a trifle of satisfaction that for the first time she wore
rouge upon her cheeks.




CHAPTER V


Wogan, however, was not immediately benefited by his discovery. He knew
that if a single whisper of it reached the Prince's ear there would be
at once an end to his small chances. The old man would take alarm; he
might punish the offender, but he would none the less surely refuse his
consent to Wogan's project. Wogan must keep his lips quite closed and
let his antagonists do boldly what they would.

And that they were active he found a way to discover. The Countess from
this time plied him with kindness. He must play cards with her and
Prince Constantine in the evening; he must take his coffee in her
private apartments in the morning. So upon one of these occasions he
spoke of his departure from Ohlau.

"I shall go by way of Prague;" and he stopped in confusion and corrected
himself quickly. "At least, I am not sure. There are other ways into
Italy."

The Countess showed no more concern than she had shown over her
harp-string. She talked indifferently of other matters as though she had
barely heard his remark; but she fell into the trap. Wogan was aware
that the Governor of Prague was her kinsman; and that afternoon he left
the castle alone, and taking the road to Vienna, turned as soon as he
was out of sight and hurried round the town until he came out upon the
road to Prague. He hid himself behind a hedge a mile from Ohlau, and had
not waited half an hour before a man came riding by in hot haste. The
man wore the Countess's livery of green and scarlet; Wogan decided not
to travel by way of Prague, and returned to the castle content with his
afternoon's work. He had indeed more reason to be content with it than
he knew, for he happened to have remarked the servant's face as well as
his livery, and so at a later time was able to recognise it again. He
had no longer any doubt that a servant in the same livery was well upon
his way to Vienna. The roads were bad, it was true, and the journey
long; but Wogan had not the Prince's consent, and could not tell when he
would obtain it. The servant might return with the Emperor's order for
his arrest before he had obtained it. Wogan was powerless. He sent his
list of names to Gaydon in Schlestadt, but that was the only precaution
he could take. The days passed; Wogan spent them in unavailing
persuasions, and New Year's Day came and found him still at Ohlau and in
a great agitation and distress.

Upon that morning, however, while he was dressing, there came a rap upon
his door, and when he opened it he saw the Prince's treasurer, a foppish
gentleman, very dainty in his words.

"Mr. Warner," said the treasurer, "his Highness has hinted to me his
desires; he has moulded them into the shape of a prayer or a request."

"In a word, he has bidden you," said Wogan.

"Fie, sir! There's a barbarous and improper word, an ill-sounding word;
upon my honour, a word without dignity or merit and banishable from
polite speech. His Highness did most prettily entreat me with a fine
gentleness of condescension befitting a Sunday or a New Year's Day to
bring and present and communicate from hand to hand a gift, - a most
incomparable proper gift, the mirror and image of his most incomparable
proper friendship."

Wogan bowed, and requested the treasurer to enter and be seated the
while he recovered his breath.

"Nay, Mr. Warner, I must be concise, puritanical, and unadorned in my
language as any raw-head or bloody-bones. The cruel, irrevocable moments
pass. I could consume an hour, sir, before I touched as I may say the
hem of the reason of my coming."

"Sir, I do not doubt it," said Wogan.

"But I will not hinder you from forthwith immediately and at once
incorporating with your most particular and inestimable treasures this
jewel, this turquoise of heaven's own charming blue, encased and
decorated with gold."

The treasurer drew the turquoise from his pocket. It was of the size of
an egg. He placed it in Wogan's hand, who gently returned it.

"I cannot take it," said he.

"Gemini!" cried the treasurer. "But it is more than a turquoise, Mr.
Warner. Jewellers have delved in it. It has become subservient to man's
necessities. It is a snuff-box."

"I cannot take it."

"King John of Poland, he whom the vulgar call Glorious John, did rescue
and enlarge it from its slavery to the Grand Vizier of Turkey at the


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Online LibraryA.E. W. MasonClementina → online text (page 3 of 20)