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great battle of Vienna. There is no other in the world - "

Wogan cut the treasurer short.

"You will take it again to his Highness. You will express to him my
gratitude for his kindness, and you will say furthermore these words:
'Mr. Warner cannot carry back into Italy a present for himself and a
refusal for his Prince.'"

Wogan spoke with so much dignity that the treasurer had no words to
answer him. He stood utterly bewildered; he stared at the jewel.

"Here is a quandary!" he exclaimed. "I do declare every circumstance of
me trembles," and shaking his head he went away. But in a little he came
again.

"His Highness distinguishes you, Mr. Warner, with imperishable honours.
His Highness solicits your company to a solitary dinner. You shall dine
with him alone. His presence and unfettered conversation shall season
your soup and be the condiments of your meat."

Wogan's heart jumped. There could be only one reason for so unusual an
invitation on such a day, and he was not mistaken; for as soon as the
Prince was served in a little room, he dismissed the lackeys and
presented again the turquoise snuff-box with his own hands.

"See, Mr. Wogan, your persuasions and your conduct have gained me over,"
said he. "Your refusal of this bagatelle assures me of your honour. I
trust myself entirely to your discretion; I confide my beloved daughter
to your care. Take from my hands the gift you refused this morning, and
be assured that no prince ever gave to any man such full powers as I
will give to you to-night."

Wogan's gratitude wellnigh overcame him. The thing that he had worked
for and almost despaired of had come to pass. For a while he could not
speak; he flung himself upon his knees and kissed the Prince's hand.
That very night he received the letter giving him full powers, and the
next morning he drove off in a carriage of his Highness drawn by six
Polish horses towards the town of Strahlen on the road to Prague. At
Strahlen he stayed a day, feigning a malady, and sent the carriage back.
The following day, however, he took horse, and riding along by-roads and
lanes avoided Prague and hurried towards Schlestadt.

He rode watchfully, avoiding towns, and with an eye alert for every
passer-by. That he was ahead of any courier from the Emperor at Vienna
he did not doubt, but, on the other hand, the Countess of Berg and Lady
Featherstone had the advantage of him by some four days. There would be
no lack of money to hinder him; there would be no scruple as to the
means. Wogan remembered the moment in his bedroom when he had seen the
dagger bright in the moon's rays. If he could not be arrested, there
were other ways to stop him. Accidents may happen to any man.

However, he rode unhindered with the Prince's commission safe against
his breast. He felt the paper a hundred times a day to make sure that it
was not stolen nor lost, nor reduced to powder by a miracle. Day by day
his fears diminished, since day by day he drew a day's journey nearer to
Schlestadt. The paper became a talisman in his thoughts, - a thing
endowed with magic properties to make him invisible like the cloak or
cap of the fairy tales. Those few lines in writing not a week back had
seemed an unattainable prize, yet he had them; and so now they promised
him that other unattainable thing, the enlargement of the Princess. It
was in his nature, too, to grow buoyant in proportion to the
difficulties of his task. He rode forward, therefore, with a good heart,
and one sombre evening of rain came to a village some miles beyond
Augsburg.

The village was a straggling half-mile of low cottages, lost as it were
on the level of a wide plain. Across this plain, bare but for a few
lines of poplars and stunted willow-trees, Wogan had ridden all the
afternoon; and so little did the thatched cottages break the monotony of
the plain's appearance, that though he had had the village within his
vision all that while, he came upon it unawares. The dusk was gathering,
and already through the tiny windows the meagre lights gleamed upon the
road and gave to the falling raindrops the look of steel beads. Four
days would now bring Wogan to Schlestadt. The road was bad and full of
holes. He determined to go no farther that night if he could find a
lodging in the village, and coming upon a man who stood in his path he
stopped his horse.

"Is there an inn where a traveller may sleep?" he asked.

"Assuredly," replied the man, "and find forage for his horse. The last
house - but I will myself show your Honour the way."

"There is no need, my friend, that you should take a colic," said Wogan.

"I shall earn enough drink to correct the colic," said the man. He had a
sack over his head and shoulders to protect him from the rain, and
stepped out in front of Wogan's horse. They came to the end of the
street and passed on into the open darkness. About twenty yards farther
a house stood by itself at the roadside, but there were only lights in
one or two of the upper windows, and it held out no promise of
hospitality. In front of it, however, the man stopped; he opened the
door and halloaed into the passage. Wogan stopped too, and above his
head something creaked and groaned like a gibbet in the wind. He looked
up and saw a sign-board glimmering in the dusk with a new coat of white
paint. He had undoubtedly come to the inn, and he dismounted.

The landlord advanced at that moment to the door.

"My man," said he, "will take your horse to the stable;" and the fellow
who had guided Wogan led the horse off.

"Oh, is he your man?" said Wogan. "Ah!" And he followed the landlord
into the house.

It was not only the sign-board which had been newly painted, for in the
narrow passage the landlord stopped Wogan.

"Have a care, sir," said he; "the walls are wet. It will be best if you
stand still while I go forward and bring a light."

He went forward in the dark and opened a door at the end of the passage.
A glow of ruddy light came through the doorway, and Wogan caught a
glimpse of a brick-floored kitchen and a great open chimney and one or
two men on a bench before the fire. Then the door was again closed. The
closing of the door seemed to Wogan a churlish act.

"The hospitality," said he to himself, "which plants a man in the road
so that a traveller on a rainy night may not miss his bed should at
least leave the kitchen door open. Why should I stay here in the dark?"

Wogan went forward, and from the careful way in which he walked, - a way
so careful and stealthy indeed that his footsteps made no sound, - it
might have been inferred that he believed the floor to be newly painted
too. He had, at all events, no such scruples about the kitchen door, for
he seized the handle and flung it open quickly. He was met at once by a
cold draught of wind. A door opposite and giving onto a yard at the back
had been opened at precisely the same moment; and as Wogan stepped
quickly in at his door a man stepped quickly out by the door opposite
and was lost in the darkness.

"What! Are you going?" the landlord cried after him as he turned from
the fire at which he was lighting a candle.

"Wilhelm has a wife and needs must," at once said a woman who was
reaching down some plates from a dresser.

The landlord turned towards the passage and saw Wogan in the doorway.

"You found your way, sir," said he, looking at Wogan anxiously.

"Nor are your walls any poorer of paint on that account," said Wogan as
he took his wet cloak and flung it over a chair.

The landlord blew out his candle and busied himself about laying the
table. A great iron pot swung over the fire by a chain, and the lid
danced on the top and allowed a savoury odour to escape. Wogan sat
himself down before the fire and his clothes began to steam.

"You laugh at my paint, sir," said the landlord. He was a fat,
good-humoured-looking man, communicative in his manner as a Boniface
should be, and his wife was his very complement. "You laugh at my
paint, but it is, after all, a very important thing. What is a great
lady without her rouge-pot, when you come to think of it? It is the same
with an inn. It must wear paint if it is to attract attention and make a
profit."

"There is philosophy in the comparison," said Wogan.

"Sir, an innkeeper cannot fail of philosophy if he has his eyes and a
spark of intelligence. The man who took refuge in a tub because the
follies of his fellows so angered him was the greatest fool of them all.
He should have kept an inn on the road to Athens, for then the follies
would have put money into his pocket and made him laugh instead of
growl."

His wife came over to the fireplace and lifted the lid of the pot.

"The supper is ready," said she.

"And perhaps, sir, while you are eating it you can think of a name for
my inn."

"Why, it has a sign-board already," said Wogan, "and a name, too, I
suppose."

"It has a sign-board, but without a device," said the landlord, and
while Wogan drew a chair to the table he explained his predicament.

"There is another inn five miles along the road, and travellers prefer
to make their halt there. They will not stop here. My father, sir, set
it all down to paint. It was his dream, sir, to paint the house from
floor to ceiling; his last words bade me pinch and save until I could
paint. Well, here is the house painted, and I am anxious for a new
device and name which shall obliterate the memory of the other. 'The
Black Eagle' is its old name. Ask any traveller familiar with the road
between Augsburg and Schlestadt, and he will counsel you to avoid 'The
Black Eagle.' You are travelling to Schlestadt, perhaps."

Wogan had started ever so slightly.

"To Strasbourg," he said, and thereafter ate his supper in silence,
taking count with himself. "My friend," so his thoughts ran, "the sooner
you reach Schlestadt the better. Here are you bleating like a sheep at a
mere chance mention of your destination. You have lived too close with
this fine scheme of yours. You need your friends."

Wogan began to be conscious of an unfamiliar sense of loneliness. It
grew upon him that evening while he sat at the table; it accompanied him
up the stairs to bed. Other men of his age were now seated comfortably
by their own hearths, while he was hurrying about Europe, a vagabond
adventurer, risking his life for - and at once the reason why he was
risking his life rose up to convict him a grumbler.

The landlord led him into a room in the front of the house which held a
great canopied bed and little other furniture. There was not even a
curtain to the window. Wogan raised his candle and surveyed the dingy
walls.

"You have not spent much of your new paint on your guest-room, my
friend."

"Sir, you have not marked the door," said his host, reproachfully.

"True," said Wogan, with a yawn; "the door is admirably white."

"The frame of the door does not suffer in a comparison." The landlord
raised and lowered his candle that Wogan might see.

"I do not wish to be unjust to the frame of the door," said Wogan, and
he drew off his boots. The landlord bade his guest good-night and
descended the stairs.

Wogan, being a campaigner, was methodical even though lost in
reflection. He was reflecting now why in the world he should lately have
become sensible of loneliness; but at the same time he put the Prince's
letter beneath his pillow and a sheathed hunting-knife beside the
letter. He had always been lonely, and the fact had never troubled him;
he placed a chair on the left of the bed and his candle on the chair.
Besides, he was not really lonely, having a host of friends whom he had
merely to seek out; he took the charges from his pistol lest they should
be damp, and renewed them and placed the pistols by the candle. He had
even begun to pity himself for his loneliness, and pity of that sort, he
recognised, was a discreditable quality; the matter was altogether very
disquieting. He propped his sword against the chair and undressed. Wogan
cast back in his memories for the first sensations of loneliness. They
were recent, since he had left Ohlau, indeed. He opened the window; the
rain splashed in on the sill, pattered in the street puddles below, and
fell across the country with a continuous roar as though the level plain
was a stretched drum. No; he had only felt lonely since he had come near
to Schlestadt, since, in a word, he had deemed himself to have
outstripped pursuit. He got into his bed and blew out the candle.

For a moment the room was black as pitch, then on his left side the
darkness thinned at one point and a barred square of grey became
visible; the square of grey was the window. Wogan understood that his
loneliness came upon him with the respite from his difficulties, and
concluded that, after all, it was as well that he had not a comfortable
fireside whereby to sun himself. He turned over on his right side and
saw the white door and its white frame. The rain made a dreary sound
outside the window, but in three days he would be at Schlestadt. Besides
he fell asleep.

And in a little he dreamed. He dreamed that he was swinging on a gibbet
before the whole populace of Innspruck, that he died to his bewilderment
without any pain whatever, but that pain came to him after he was quite
dead, - not bodily pain at all, but an anguish of mind because the chains
by which he was hanged would groan and creak, and the populace,
mistaking that groaning for his cries, scoffed at him and ridiculed his
King for sending to rescue the Princess Clementina a marrowless thing
that could not die like a man. Wogan stirred in his sleep and waked up.
The rain had ceased, and a light wind blew across the country. Outside
the sign-board creaked and groaned upon its stanchion. Once he became
aware of that sound he could no longer sleep for listening to it; and at
last he sprang out of bed, and leaning out of the window lifted the
sign-board off the stanchion and into his bedroom.

It was a plain white board without any device on it. "True," thought
Wogan, "the man wants a new name for his inn." He propped the board
against the left side of his bed, since that was nearest to the window,
got between the sheets, and began to think over names. He turned on his
right side and fell asleep again.

He was not to sleep restfully that night. He waked again, but very
slowly, and without any movement of his body. He lay with his face
towards the door, dreamily considering that the landlord, for all his
pride in his new paint, had employed a bad workman who had left a black
strip of the door unpainted, - a fairly wide strip, too, which his host
should never have overlooked.

Wogan was lazily determining to speak to the landlord about it when his
half-awakened mind was diverted by a curious phenomenon, a delusion of
the eyes such as he had known to have befallen him before when he had
stared for a long while on any particular object: the strip of black
widened and widened. Wogan waited for it to contract, as it would be
sure to do. But it did not contract, and - so Wogan waked up completely.

He waked up with a shock of the heart, with all his senses startled and
strained. But he had been gradually waking before, and so by neither
movement nor cry did he betray that he was awake. He had not locked the
door of his room; that widening strip of black ran vertically down from
the lintel to the ground and between the white door and the white door
frame. The door was being cautiously pushed open; the strip of black was
the darkness of the passage coming through.

Wogan slid his hand beneath his pillow, and drew the knife from its
sheath as silently as the door opened. The strip of black ceased to
widen, there was a slight scuffling sound upon the floor which Wogan was
at no loss to understand. It was the sound of a man crawling into the
room upon his hands and knees.

Wogan lay on his side and felt grateful to his host, - an admirable
man, - for he had painted his door white, and now he crawled through it
on his hands and knees. No doubt he would crawl to the side of the bed;
he did. To feel, no doubt, for Mr. Wogan's coat and breeches and any
little letter which might be hiding in the pockets. But here Wogan was
wrong. For he saw a dark thing suddenly on the counterpane at the edge
of the bed. The dark thing travelled upwards very softly; it had four
fingers and a thumb. It was, no doubt, travelling towards the pillow,
and as soon as it got there - but Wogan watching that hand beneath his
dosed eyelids had again to admit that he was wrong. It did not travel
towards the pillow; to his astonishment it stole across towards him, it
touched his chest very gently, and then he understood. The hand was
creeping upwards towards his throat.

Meanwhile Wogan had seen no face, though the face must be just below the
level of the bed. He only saw the hand and the arm behind it. He moved
as if in his sleep, and the hand disappeared. As if in his sleep, he
flung out his left arm and felt for the sign-board standing beside his
bed. The bed was soft. Wogan wanted something hard, and it had occurred
to him that the sign-board would very well serve his turn. An idea, too,
which seemed to him diverting, had presented itself to his mind.

With a loud sigh and a noisy movement such as a man halfway between
wakefulness and sleep may make he flung himself over onto his left side.
At the same moment he lifted the white sign-board onto the bed. It
seemed that he could not rest on his left side, for he flung over again
to his right and pulled the bedclothes over as he turned. The sign-board
now lay flat upon the bed, but on the right side between himself and the
man upon the floor. His mouth uttered a little murmur of contentment, he
drew down the hand beneath the pillow, and in a second was breathing
regularly and peacefully.

[Illustration: "WITH HIS RIGHT ARM HE DROVE HIS HUNTING KNIFE DOWN INTO
THE BACK OF THE HAND." - _Page 69_.]

The hand crept onto the bed again and upwards, and suddenly lay spread
out upon the board and quite still. Just for a second the owner of that
hand had been surprised and paralysed by the unexpected. It was only
that second which Wogan needed. He sat up, and with his right arm he
drove his hunting knife down into the back of the hand and pinned it
fast to the board; with his left he felt for, found, and gripped a mouth
already open to cry out. He dropped his hunting knife, caught the
intruder round the waist, lifted him onto the bed, and setting a knee
upon his chest gagged him with an end of the sheet. The man fought
wildly with his free hand, beating the air. Wogan knelt upon that arm
with his other knee.

Wogan needed a rope, but since he had none he used the sheets and bound
his prisoner to the bed. Then he got up and went to the door. The house
was quite silent, quite dark. Wogan shut the door gently - there was no
key in the lock - and bending over the bed looked into the face of his
assailant. The face was twisted with pain, the whites of the eyes glared
horribly, but Wogan could see that the man was his landlord.

He stood up and thought. There was another man who had met him in the
village and had guided him to the inn; there was still a third who had
gone out of the kitchen as Wogan had entered it; there was the wife,
too, who might be awake.

Wogan crossed to the window and looked out. The window was perhaps
twenty feet from the ground, but the stanchion was three feet below the
window. He quickly put on his clothes, slipped the letter from under his
pillow into a pocket, strapped his saddle-bag and lowered it from the
window by a blanket. He had already one leg on the sill when a
convulsive movement of the man on the bed made him stop. He climbed back
into the room, drew the knife out of the board and out of the hand
pinned to the board, and making a bandage wrapped the wound up.

"You must lie there till morning, my friend," Wogan whispered in his
ear, "but here's a thing to console you. I have found a name for your
inn; I have painted the device upon your sign-board. The 'Inn of the
Five Red Fingers.' There's never a passer-by but will stop to inquire
the reason of so conspicuous a sign;" and Wogan climbed out of the
window, lowered himself till he hung at the full length of his arms from
the stanchion, and dropped on the ground. He picked up his saddle-bag
and crept round the house to the stable. The door needed only a push to
open it. In the hay-loft above he heard a man snoring. Mr. Wogan did not
think it worth while to disturb him. He saddled his horse, walked it out
into the yard, mounted, and rode quietly away.

He had escaped, but without much credit to himself.

"There was no key in the door," he thought. "I should have noticed it.
Misset, the man of resources, would have tilted a chair backwards
against that door with its top bar wedged beneath the door handle."
Certainly Wogan needed Misset if he was to succeed in his endeavour. He
was sunk in humiliation; his very promise to rescue the Princess shrank
from its grandeur and became a mere piece of impertinence. But he still
had his letter in his pocket, and in time that served to enhearten him.
Only two more days, he thought. On the third night he would sleep in
Schlestadt.




CHAPTER VI


The next afternoon Wogan came to the town of Ulm.

"Gaydon," he said to himself as he watched its towers and the smoke
curling upwards from its chimneys, "would go no further to-day with this
letter in his pocket. Gaydon - the cautious Gaydon - would sleep in this
town and in its most populous quarter. Gaydon would put up at the
busiest inn. Charles Wogan will follow Gaydon's example."

Wogan rode slowly through the narrow streets of gabled houses until he
came to the market square. The square was frequented; its great fountain
was playing; citizens were taking the air with their wives and children;
the chief highway of the town ran through it; on one side stood the
frescoed Rathhaus, and opposite to it there was a spacious inn. Wogan
drew up at the doorway and saw that the hall was encumbered with
baggage. "Gaydon would stop here," said he, and he dismounted. The
porter came forward and took his horse.

"I need a room," said Wogan, and he entered the house. There were people
going up and down the stairs. While he was unstrapping his valise in his
bedroom, a servant with an apron about his waist knocked at the door
and inquired whether he could help him.

"No," said Wogan; and he thought with more confidence than ever, "here,
to be sure, is where Gaydon would sleep."

He supped at the ordinary in the company of linen merchants and
travellers, and quite recovered his spirits. He smoked a pipe of tobacco
on a bench under the trees of the square, and giving an order that he
should be called at five went up to his bedroom.

There was a key in the lock of the door, which Wogan turned; he also
tilted a chair and wedged the handle. He opened the window and looked
out. His room was on the first floor and not very high from the ground.
A man might possibly climb through the window. Gaydon would assuredly
close the shutters and the window, so that no one could force an
entrance without noise. Wogan accordingly did what Gaydon would
assuredly have done, and when he blew out his candle found himself in
consequence in utter darkness. No glimmer of light was anywhere visible.
He had his habits like another, and one of them was to sleep without
blinds or curtains drawn. His present deflection from this habit made
him restless; he was tired, he wished above all things to sleep, but
sleep would not come. He turned from one side to the other, he punched
his pillows, he tried to sleep with his head low, and when that failed
with his head high.

He resigned himself in the end to a sleepless night, and lying in his
bed drew some comfort from the sound of voices and the tread of feet in
the passages and the rooms about him. These, at all events, were
companionable, and they assured him of safety. But in a while they
ceased, and he was left in a silence as absolute as the darkness. He
endured this silence for perhaps half an hour, and then all manner of
infinitesimal sounds began to stir about him. The lightest of footsteps
moved about his bed, faint sighs breathed from very close at hand, even
his name was softly whispered. He sat suddenly up in his bed, and at
once all these sounds became explained to him. They came from the street
and the square outside the window. So long as he sat up they were
remote, but the moment he lay down again they peopled the room.

"Sure," said Wogan, "here is a lesson for architects. Build no shutters


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Online LibraryA.E. W. MasonClementina → online text (page 4 of 20)