A.E. W. Mason.

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body. The door of the room, now behind him, was flung violently open.
Wogan, who was wrought to a frenzy, lifted up the man he wrestled with,
and swinging round hurled him headlong through the doorway. The three
men were already on the threshold. The new missile bounded against them,
tumbled them one against the other, and knocked them sprawling and
struggling on the floor.

Wogan burst into a laugh of exultation; he saw his most dangerous enemy
striving to disentangle himself and his sword.

"Aha, my friend," he cried, "you handle a sword very prettily, but I am
the better man at cock-shies." And shutting the door to be ran down the
passage into the road.

He had seen a house that afternoon with a high garden wall about it a
quarter of a mile away. Wogan ran towards it. The mist was still thick,
but he now began to feel his strength failing. He was wounded in the
shoulder, he was stabbed in the back, and from both wounds the blood was
flowing warm. Moreover, he looked backwards once over his shoulder and
saw a lantern dancing in the road. He kept doggedly running, though his
pace slackened; he heard a shout and an answering shout behind him. He
stumbled onto his knees, picked himself up, and staggered on, labouring
his breath, dizzy. He stumbled again and fell, but as he fell he struck
against the sharp corner of the wall. If he could find an entrance into
the garden beyond that wall! He turned off the road to the left and ran
across a field, keeping close along the side of the wall. He came to
another corner and turned to the right. As he turned he heard voices in
the road. The pursuers had stopped and were searching with the lantern
for traces of his passage. He ran along the back of the wall, feeling
for a projection, a tree, anything which would enable him to climb it.
The wall was smooth, and though the branches of trees swung and creaked
above his head, their stems grew in the garden upon the other side. He
was pouring with sweat, his breath whistled, in his ears he had the
sound of innumerable armies marching across the earth, but he stumbled
on. And at last, though his right side brushed against the wall, he none
the less struck against it also with his chest. He was too dazed for the
moment to understand what had happened; all the breath he had left was
knocked clean out of his body; he dropped in a huddle on the ground.

In a little he recovered his breath; he listened and could no longer
hear any sound of voices; he began to consider. He reached a hand out in
front of him and touched the wall; he reached out a hand to the right of
him and touched the wall again. The wall projected then abruptly and
made a right angle.

Now Wogan had spent his boyhood at Rathcoffey among cliffs and rocks.
This wall, he reflected, could not be more than twelve feet high. Would
his strength last out? He came to the conclusion that it must.

He took off his heavy boots and flung them one by one over the wall.
Then he pulled off his coat at the cost of some pain and an added
weakness, for the coat was stuck to his wounds and had roughly staunched
them. He could feel the blood again soaking his shirt. There was all the
more need, then, for hurry. He stood up, jammed his back into the angle
of the wall, stretched out his arms on each side, pressing with his
elbows and hands, and then bending his knees crossed his legs tailor
fashion, and set the soles of his stockinged feet firmly against the
bricks on each side. He was thus seated as it were upon nothing, but
retaining his position by the pressure of his arms and feet and his
whole body. Still retaining this position, very slowly, very
laboriously, he worked himself up the angle, stopping now and then to
regain his breath, now and then slipping back an inch. But he mounted
towards the top, and after a while the back of his head no longer
touched the bricks. His head was above the coping of the wall.

It was at this moment that he saw the lantern again, just at the corner
where he had turned. The lantern advanced slowly; it was now held aloft,
now close to the ground. Wogan was very glad he had thrown his boots
and coat into the garden. He made a few last desperate struggles; he
could now place the palms of his hands behind him upon the coping, and
he hoisted himself up and sat on the wall.

The lantern was nearer to him; he lay flat upon his face on the coping,
and then lowering himself upon the garden side to the full length of his
arms, he let go. He fell into a litter of dead leaves, very soft and
comfortable. He would not have exchanged them at that moment for the
Emperor's own bed. He lay upon his back and saw the dark branches above
his head grow bright and green. His pursuers were flashing their lantern
on the other side; there was only the thickness of the wall between him
and them. He could even hear them whispering and the brushing of their
feet. He lay still as a mouse; and then the earth heaved up and fell
away altogether beneath him. Wogan had fainted.


It was still night when Wogan opened his eyes, but the night was now
clear of mist. There was no moon, however, to give him a guess at the
hour. He lay upon his back among the dead leaves, and looking upwards at
the stars, caught as it seemed in a lattice-work of branches, floated
back into consciousness. He moved, and the movement turned him sick with
pain. The knowledge of his wounds came to him and brought with it a
clear recollection of the last three nights. The ever-widening black
strip in the door on the first night, the clutch at his throat and the
leap from the cupboard on the second, the silent watching of those five
pairs of eyes on the third, and the lackey with the knife in his breast
hopping with both feet horribly across the floor, - the horror of these
recollections swept in upon him and changed him from a man into a
timorous child. He lay and shuddered until in every creak of the
branches he heard the whisper of an enemy, in every flutter of leaves
across the lawn a stealthy footstep, and behind every tree-stem he
caught the flap of a cloak.

Stiff and sore, he raised himself from the ground, he groped for his
boots and coat, and putting them on moved cautiously through the trees,
supporting himself from stem to stem. He came to the borders of a wide,
smooth lawn, and on the farther side stood the house, - a long,
two-storeyed house with level tiers of windows stretching to the right
and the left, and a bowed tower in the middle. Through one of the
windows in the ground-floor Wogan saw the spark of a lamp, and about
that window a fan of yellow light was spread upon the lawn.

Wogan at this moment felt in great need of companionship. He stole
across the lawn and looked into the room. An old gentleman with a
delicate face, who wore his own white hair, was bending over a book at a
desk. The room was warmly furnished, the door of the stove stood open,
and Wogan could see the logs blazing merrily. A chill wind swept across
the lawn, very drear and ghostly. Wogan crept closer to the window. A
great boar-hound rose at the old man's feet and growled; then the old
man rose, and crossing to the window pressed his face against the panes
with his hands curved about his eyes. Wogan stepped forward and stood
within the fan of light, spreading out his arms to show that he came as
a supplicant and with no ill intent.

The old man, with a word to his hound, opened the window.

"Who is it?" he asked, and with a thrill not of fear but of expectation
in his voice.

"A man wounded and in sore straits for his life, who would gladly sit
for a few minutes by your fire before he goes upon his way."

The old man stood aside, and Wogan entered the room. He was spattered
from head to foot with mud, his clothes were torn, his eyes sunken, his
face was of a ghastly pallor and marked with blood.

"I am the Chevalier Warner," said Wogan, "a gentleman of Ireland. You
will pardon me. But I have gone through so much these last three nights
that I can barely stand;" and dropping into a chair he dragged it up to
the door of the stove, and crouched there shivering.

The old man closed the window.

"I am Count Otto von Ahlen, and in my house you are safe as you are

He went to a sideboard, and filling a glass carried it to Wogan. The
liquor was brandy. Wogan drank it as though it had been so much water.
He was in that condition of fatigue when the most extraordinary events
seem altogether commonplace and natural. But as he felt the spirit
warming his blood, he became aware of the great difference between his
battered appearance and that of the old gentleman with the rich dress
and the white linen who stooped so hospitably above him, and he began to
wonder at the readiness of the hospitality. Wogan might have been a
thief, a murderer, for all Count Otto knew. Yet the Count, with no other
protection than his dog, had opened his window, and at that late hour of
the night had welcomed him without a word of a question.

"Sir," said Wogan, "my visit is the most unceremonious thing in the
world. I plump in upon you in the dark of the morning, as I take it to
be, and disturb you at your books without so much as knocking at the

"It is as well you did not knock at the door," returned the Count, "for
my servants are long since in bed, and your knock would very likely have
reached neither their ears nor mine." And he drew up a chair and sat
down opposite to Wogan, bending forward with his hands upon his knees.
The firelight played upon his pale, indoor face, and it seemed to Wogan
that he regarded his guest with a certain wistfulness. Wogan spoke his
thought aloud, -

"Yet I might be any hedgerow rascal with a taste for your plate, and no
particular scruples as to a life or two lying in the way of its

The Count smiled.

"Your visit is not so unexampled as you are inclined to think. Nearly
thirty years ago a young man as you are came in just such a plight as
you and stood outside this window at two o'clock of a dark morning. Even
so early in my life I was at my books," and he smiled rather sadly. "I
let him in and he talked to me for an hour of matters strange and
dreamlike, and enviable to me. I have never forgotten that hour, nor to
tell the truth have I ever ceased to envy the man who talked to me
during it, though many years since he suffered a dreadful doom and
vanished from among his fellows. I shall be glad, therefore, to hear
your story if you have a mind to tell it me. The young man who came
upon that other night was Count Philip Christopher von Königsmarck."

Wogan started at the mention of this name. It seemed strange that that
fitful and brilliant man, whose brief, passionate, guilty life and
mysterious end had made so much noise in the world, had crossed that
lawn and stood before that window at just such an hour, and maybe had
sat shivering in Wogan's very chair.

"I have no such story as Count Philip von Königsmarck no doubt had to
tell," said Wogan.

"Chevalier," said Count Otto, with a nod of approval, "Königsmarck had
the like reticence, though he was not always so discreet, I fear. The
Princess Sophia Dorothea was at that time on a visit to the Duke of
Würtemberg at the palace in Stuttgart, but Königsmarck told me only that
he had snatched a breathing space from the wars in the Low Countries and
was bound thither again. Rumour told me afterwards of his fatal
attachment. He sat where you sit, Chevalier, wounded as you are, a
fugitive from pursuit. Even the stains and disorder of his plight could
not disguise the singular beauty of the man or make one insensible to
the charm of his manner. But I forget my duties," and he rose. "It would
be as well, no doubt, if I did not wake my servants?" he suggested.

"Count Otto," returned Wogan, with a smile, "they have their day's work

The old man nodded, and taking a lamp from a table by the door went out
of the room.

Wogan remained alone; the dog nuzzled at his hand; but it seemed to
Wogan that there was another in the room besides himself and the dog.
The sleeplessness and tension of the last few days, the fatigue of his
arduous journey, the fever of his wounds, no doubt, had their effect
upon him. He felt that Königsmarck was at his side; his eyes could
almost discern a shadowy and beautiful figure; his ears could almost
hear a musical vibrating voice. And the voice warned him, - in some
strange unaccountable way the voice warned and menaced him.

"I fought, I climbed that wall, I crossed the lawn, I took refuge here
for love of a queen. For love of a queen all my short life I lived. For
love of a queen I died most horribly; and the queen lives, though it
would have gone better with her had she died as horribly."

Wogan had once seen the lonely castle of Ahlden where that queen was
imprisoned; he had once caught a glimpse of her driving in the dusk
across the heath surrounded by her guards with their flashing swords.

He sat chilled with apprehensions and forebodings. They crowded in upon
his mind all the more terrible because he could not translate them into
definite perils which beyond this and that corner of his life might
await him. He was the victim of illusions, he assured himself, at which
to-morrow safe in Schlestadt he would laugh. But to-night the illusions
were real. Königsmarck was with him. Königsmarck was by some mysterious
alchemy becoming incorporate with him. The voice which spoke and warned
and menaced was as much his as Königsmarck's.

The old Count opened the door and heard Wogan muttering to himself as he
crouched over the fire. The Count carried a basin of water in his hand
and a sponge and some linen. He insisted upon washing Wogan's wounds and
dressing them in a simple way.

"They are not deep," he said; "a few days' rest and a clever surgeon
will restore you." He went from the room again and brought back a tray,
on which were the remains of a pie, a loaf of bread, and some fruit.

"While you eat, Chevalier, I will mix you a cordial," said he, and he
set about his hospitable work. "You ask me why I so readily opened my
window to you. It was because I took you for Königsmarck himself come
back as mysteriously as he disappeared. I did not think that if he came
back now his hair would be as white, his shoulders as bent, as mine.
Indeed, one cannot think of Königsmarck except as a youth. You had the
very look of him as you stood in the light upon the lawn. You have, if I
may say so, something of his gallant bearing and something of his

Wogan could have heard no words more distressing to him at this moment.

"Oh, stop, sir. I pray you stop!" he cried out violently, and noting the
instant he had spoken the surprise on Count Otto's face. "There, sir, I
give you at once by my discourtesy an example of how little I merit a
comparison with that courtly nobleman. Let me repair it by telling you,
since you are willing to hear, of my night's adventure." And as he ate
he told his story, omitting the precise object of his journey, the
nature of the letter which he had burned, and any name which might give
a clue to the secret of his enterprise.

The Count Otto listened with his eyes as well as his ears; he hung upon
the words, shuddering at each danger that sprang upon Wogan, exclaiming
in wonder at the shift by which he escaped from it, and at times he
looked over towards his books with a glance of veritable dislike.

"To feel the blood run hot in one's veins, to be bedfellows with peril,
to go gallantly forward hand in hand with endeavour," he mused and broke
off. "See, I own a sword, being a gentleman. But it is a toy, an
ornament; it stands over there in the corner from day to day, and my
servants clean it from rust as they will. Now you, sir, I suppose - "

"My horse and my sword, Count," said Wogan, "when the pinch comes, they
are one's only servants. It would be an ill business if I did not see to
their wants."

The old man was silent for a while. Then he said timidly, "It was for a
woman, no doubt, that you ran this hazard to-night?"

"For a woman, yes."

The Count folded his hands and leaned forward.

"Sir, a woman is a strange inexplicable thing to me. Their words, their
looks, their graceful, delicate shapes, the motives which persuade them,
the thoughts which their eyes conceal, - all these qualities make them
beings of another world to me. I do envy men at times who can stand
beside them, talk with them without fear, be intimate with them, and
understand their intricate thoughts."

"Are there such men?" asked Wogan.

"Men who love, such as Count Königsmarck and yourself."

Wogan held up his hand with a cry.

"Count, such men, we are told, are the blindest of all. Did not
Königsmarck prove it? As for myself, not even in that respect can I be
ranked with Königsmarck. I am a mere man-at-arms, whose love-making is a
clash of steel."

"But to-night - this risk you ran; you told me it was for a woman."

"For a woman, yes. For love of a woman, no, no, no!" he exclaimed with
surprising violence. Then he rose from his chair.

"But I have stayed my time," said he, "you have never had a more
grateful guest. I beg you to believe it."

Count Otto barely heard the words. He was absorbed in the fanciful
dreams born of many long solitary evenings, and like most timid and
uncommunicative men he made his confidence in a momentary enthusiasm to
a stranger.

"Königsmarck spoke for an hour, mentioning no names, so that I who from
my youth have lived apart could not make a guess. He spoke with a deal
of passion; it seemed that one hour his life was paradise and the next a
hell. Even as he spoke he was one instant all faith and the next all
despair. One moment he was filled with his unworthiness and wonder that
so noble a creature as a woman should bend her heart and lips from her
heaven down to his earth. The next he could not conceive any man should
be such a witless ass as to stake his happiness on the steadiness of so
manifest a weathercock as a woman's favour. It was all very strange
talk; it opened to me, just as when a fog lifts and rolls down again, a
momentary vision of a world of colours in which I had no share; and to
tell the truth it left me with a suspicion which has recurred again and
again, that all my solitary years over my books, all the delights which
the delicate turning of a phrase, or the chase and capture of an elusive
idea, can bring to one may not be worth, after all, one single minute of
living passion. Passion, Chevalier! There is a word of which I know the
meaning only by hearsay. But I wonder at times, whatever harm it works,
whether there can be any great thing without it. But you are anxious to
go forward upon your way."

He again took up his lamp, and requesting Wogan to follow him, unlatched
the window. Wogan, however, did not move.

"I am wondering," said he, "whether I might be yet deeper in your debt.
I left behind me a sword."

Count Otto set his lamp down and took a sword from the corner of the

"I called it an ornament, and yet in other hands it might well prove a
serviceable weapon. The blade is of Spanish steel. You will honour me by
wearing it."

Wogan was in two minds with regard to the Count. On the one hand, he was
most grateful; on the other he could not but think that over his books
he had fallen into a sickly way of thought. He was quite ready, however,
to wear his sword; moreover, when he had hooked the hanger to his belt
he looked about the room.

"I had a pistol," he said carelessly, "a very useful thing is a pistol,
more useful at times than a sword."

"I keep one in my bedroom," said the Count, setting the lamp down, "if
you can wait the few moments it will take me to fetch it."

Mr. Wogan was quite able to wait. He was indeed sufficiently generous to
tell Count Otto that he need not hurry. The Count fetched the pistol and
took up the lamp again.

"Will you now follow me?"

Wogan looked straight before him into the air and spoke to no one in

"A pistol is, to be sure, more useful than a sword; but there is just
one thing more useful on an occasion than a pistol, and that is a
hunting knife."

Count Otto shook his head.

"There, Chevalier, I doubt if I can serve you."

"But upon my word," said Wogan, picking up a carving-knife from the
tray, "here is the very thing."

"It has no sheath."

Wogan was almost indignant at the suggestion that he would go so far as
to ask even his dearest friend for a sheath. Besides, he had a sheath,
and he fitted the knife into it.

"Now," said he, pleasantly, "all that I need is a sound, swift,
thoroughbred horse about six or seven years old."

Count Otto for the fourth time took up his lamp.

"Will you follow me?" he said for the fourth time.

Wogan followed the old man across the lawn and round a corner of the
house until he came to a long, low building surmounted by a cupola. The
building was the stable, and the Count Otto roused one of his grooms.

"Saddle me Flavia," said he. "Flavia is a mare who, I fancy, fulfils
your requirements."

Wogan had no complaint to make of her. She had the manners of a
courtier. It seemed, too, that she had no complaint to make of Mr.
Wogan. Count Otto laid his hand upon the bridle and led the mare with
her rider along a lane through a thicket of trees and to a small gate.

"Here, then, we part, Chevalier," said he. "No doubt to-morrow I shall
sit down at my table, knowing that I talked a deal of folly ill
befitting an old man. No doubt I shall be aware that my books are the
true happiness after all. But to-night - well, to-night I would fain be
twenty years of age, that I might fling my books over the hedge and ride
out with you, my sword at my side, my courage in my hand, into the
world's highway. I will beg you to keep the mare as a token and a memory
of our meeting. There is no better beast, I believe, in Christendom."

Wogan was touched by the old gentleman's warmth.

"Count," said Wogan, "I will gladly keep your mare in remembrance of
your great goodwill to a stranger. But there is one better beast in

"Indeed? And which is that?"

"Why, sir, the black horse which the lady I shall marry will ride into
my city of dreams." And so he rode off upon his way. The morning was
just beginning to gleam pale in the east. Here was a night passed which
he had not thought to live through, and he was still alive to help the
chosen woman imprisoned in the hollow of the hills at Innspruck. Wogan
had reason to be grateful to that old man who stood straining his eyes
after him. There was something pathetical in his discontent with his
secluded life which touched Wogan to the heart. Wogan was not sure that
in the morning the old man would know that the part he had chosen was,
after all, the best. Besides, Wogan had between his knees the most
friendly and intelligent beast which he had ridden since that morning
when he met Lady Featherstone on the road to Bologna. But he had soon
other matters to distract his thoughts. However easily Flavia cantered
or trotted she could not but sharply remind him of his wounds. He had
forty miles to travel before he could reach Schlestadt; and in the
villages on the road there was gossip that day of a man with a tormented
face who rode rocking in his saddle as though the furies were at his


The little town of Schlestadt went to bed betimes. By ten o'clock its
burghers were in their night-caps. A belated visitor going home at that
hour found his footsteps ring upon the pavement with surprising echoes,
and traversed dark street after dark street, seeing in each window,
perhaps, a mimic moon, but no other light unless his path chanced to lie
through Herzogstrasse. In that street a couple of windows on the first
floor showed bright and unabashed, and the curious passer-by could
detect upon the blind the shadows of men growing to monstrous giants and
dwindling to pigmies according as they approached or retired from the
lamp in the room.

There were three men in that room booted as for a journey. Their dress
might have misled one into the belief that they were merchants, but
their manner of wearing it proclaimed them soldiers. Of the three, one,
a short, spare man, sat at the table with his head bent over a slip of
paper. His peruke was pushed back from his forehead and showed that the
hair about his temples was grey. He had a square face of some strength,
and thoughtful eyes.

The second of the three stood by the window. He was, perhaps, a few
years younger, thirty-six an observer might have guessed to the other's

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Online LibraryA.E. W. MasonClementina → online text (page 6 of 20)