The Traveller in the Fur Cloak
STANLEY J. WEYMAN
In that eerie room, his flesh creeping, the girl hissed into Cartwright's ears her amazing story
IT WAS evident that she was telling the truth and I could get no more from her. When I had thanked her and she had retired, the Governor asked: "What are you going to do?"
“Stay here and look about me,” I replied. But I spoke despondently. What could I do or what could I learn that had not been done and learned already?
“At the Golden Crown?”
“No, at the German Coffee House. The only clue that we have seems to lead in that direction. If the traveller who called on you at nine o’clock was my friend, then somewhere between here and that inn—he disappeared.”
“Very good,” he rejoined. “It’s a decent house enough. I will take you there and see that they make you comfortable.”
He took up his hat and cloak and we went out, and turning the corner of the house walked down a narrow street rendered narrower by the horse-blocks and shutterbars that projected from the houses. It was a quiet oldfashioned street and clean, despite the kennel that ran down the middle. A dozen painted signs swinging on ironwork gave it an antique and almost a gay appearance. It ended in the Shoe Market, a bourne unworthy of it, for the market was as sordid as the street was respectable. A tiny draggle-tailed square it seemed, shut in by frowsy houses and not made more sightly by the stalls that encumbered the middle space. However we did not enter it, for the Coffee House was the last house in the street, and we turned in there.
“It is an excellent house,” von Kalisch explained as we passed in, “if it were not next door to the Shoe Market. A little old-fashioned,” as my eye fell on the washing apparatus which was just outside the door of the Coffee Room, “but clean—clean you will find.”
“Oh, perfectly. They must give you rooms at the front.”
That, however, was just what they could not do. The Baron von Graben, his lady and family had the first floor. Two French officers were over them, and a Bremen merchant and his clerk. The host—a very fat man — greatly regretted it, but if the Governor’s friend would put up with the first floor back for a day or two—some-
thing would doubtless fall in! Everything should be done to make the illustrious Herr with the hotel satisfaction
'T''HE Governor was displeased and said so—he was a *■ friendly man; but that did not help, and leaving him in the Coffee Room I went upstairs to see the rooms. I found that the first floor suite was darkened by the wall of a house, separated from the windows by an alley, scarcely six feet wide; and I decided to go up higher. For lack of better I chose a single room on the upper floor, the dormer windows of which overtopped the opposite eaves. Having settled this, and accepted von Kalisch’s invitation to sup with him next evening, I bowed him out and went up again to the room I had chosen.
A stout serving wench was lighting the stove but fled on my entrance, and glad to be alone and free for a time to arrange my thoughts, I threw myself on the bed. I had been so continually on the move since I left Zerbst that to feel that I was now established in settled quarters even for a few days was a relief to me. The room, though bare and sparsely furnished, was spotlessly clean and I felt that for a day or two I could do with it.
I did not mean to sleep, I meant to think; I meant to weigh what I had heard. But as the room grew warm I drowsed off, my last-remembered thought a resolve that in another ten minutes, I would descend and set forth on a thorough exploration of the town. Dinner-time was past, supper-time not yet come, and so no one came near me; and I must have slept nearly three hours, for when I awoke the room was in twilight, though the sky shone clear and cold above the opposite roof.
Ashamed of my waste of time, I sprang to my feet. To learn the hour by my watch I had to go to the window, and once there I stood a while, looking out. Six feet away, a dormer window, similar to that from which I looked, but a little lower, faced mine. It was closed with shutters of rough unpainted deal and so did not lessen my privacy. I paused, gazing at the sky above the gable, and then feeling that the stove had over-heated the room, I opened the window and thrust out my head. The alley below was almost in darkness but I could see that the crazy-looking building opposite—of which the dormer was a part— appeared to be a brewery or the like, for the wall, blind
and bald, was broken halfway down by a doorway surmounted by a hook and pulley. My curiosity satisfied, I drew in my head, and I was debating, still with my eyes on the window opposite, whether I should shut my window or leave it open, when I experienced the oddest thing.
Some one whispered “Cartwright!” in my ear; whispered my name so distinctly, that I started and turned, assured that some one had entered the room. But the room was empty—empty of all but shadows, and I remembered, moreover, that I had turned the key in the door. None, therefore, could have come in. Still the impression that I had heard my name uttered—and uttered by some one close to me—was so vivid that 1 stepped to the door, unlocked it and looked down the passage. The passage was empty—bare and empty. The whole of the upper floor of the house was quiet. I might have heard a mouse move.
1WAS puzzled. I went back into the room, closed the door and again looked round the place. I even, though the idea was ridiculous, looked under the bed, which like most German beds was long enough for a lad of fourteen. I found no one, of course, and nothing; and smiling at my own fatuity, I went back to the window. I took hold of it to close it, for the room had grown cold, and would b* colder when I returned, if I left the window open. “Cartwright!”
This time I whipped round as if a hand had been laid on my shoulder. Not that the voice was loud; it was so low as to be barely audible. But if my name had been shouted aloud, if it had been attended by a trumpet blast it could not have shaken me more—for the voice seemed to be Ellis’s. It certainly sounded like Ellis. I felt a tingling in my scalp, and after one hasty glance round, which showed me nothing, I closed the window, and stepped back into the middle of the room. Thence, turning about, I looked keenly and intently into every corner.
It was fancy, just fancy, I told myself—but I could not refrain from a shudder. The room was assuredly cold now, and perhaps I had caught a chill standing at the window. The bed looked a little odd, too—almost as if some one were lying on it; and while I knew that this was impossible it was nevertheless with an effort that I forced my-
«elf to approach it. Of course what I had seen on it was no «more than my cloak, but as I took it up and hastily threw it about me, I could not tefrain from glancing over my shoulder. The room was darker as well as colder than it had been—and what was that odd-looking thing on the floor?
I laughed aloud. This would never do! And I crossed the floor and dealt the thing a hearty kick. It was an ■extra duvet which I had thrown off the bed when I lay down. So much for that! and with another laugh at my own folly I flung the door open and tramped noisily and with something of a swagger down the stairs. I would not look behind me—I was not a fool to that extent—but all the same I breathed more freely when I reached the hall, and in the street I squared my shoulders and strode along. No doubt I had been thinking so much of po,or Perceval and his last troubled hours that—but I was myself again now, and able to smile at my foolishness.
By the time I reached the Market Place it was night. 'On one side of the great open space, the Cathedral lay long and dark, a crouching beast. On the other a light ■or two twinkled under the Arcade—mainly in an oilman’s window. In the middle a single lamp shed a faint radiance ■on old Roland. I stepped into the Governor’s doorway ■and tried to visualize the scene which the maid had 'described—Ellis, tall and cloaked, approaching me, his face in shadow, behind him the form of the man lurking mear the statue, then the two moving, the one behind the ■other, towards the narrow street up which I had come. I found that I wa able to do this—and I did it a little in 'bravado—without a qualm. No voice spoke in my ear, no ■unseen presence sought to make itself felt.
SATISFIED, and smiling at myself, I crossed the open square at a brisk pace and plunged into the wider street that led to the post office. I had not only my baggage to seek, but Grussbaum and his mission on my mind. He should have learned something by this time, and even if I did not find him awaiting me, I felt certain ’that I should hear news of him.
But the reception that I met with at the Post House was discouraging. I suppose that my arrival that morning had taken the people of the house by surprise, and so 'they had answered my questions. Now they had had time to think, and associating me with the trouble which Ellis’s disappearance had brought upon the house—for I believe that there was not one among them who had not been at one time or another under arrest—they looked •upon me as a person to be kept at arm’s length. The most harmless questions now met only with grunts or sullen answers; and when I asked if the person who had arrived with me was there, or had left a message for me, they ■denied all knowledge of him. It was only, when, baffled by the stupidity of the people in the house, I had pushed my inquiries into the yard that I learned the dismaying truth—if it was the truth. For at first I doubted.
It was an ostler seated on a bucket, cleaning a horse’s legs by the light of a horh-lanthorn who informed me. 'The man as came with you?” he repeated. “He posted on—at two sharp, he did.”
“Posted on?” I exclaimed. “At two? Impossible!”
“Ay, but he did. Smallish man, white-faced, wasn’t he? Soft spoken?”
“Yes. That’s the man, but—”
“Well, he went for Hamburg—with two horses, at two sharp as I told you. Seemed in a mortal hurry to be gone, too!”
“Are you sure?” I cried, with a sinking heart.
“Well, I see him go,” drily. “Didn’t they tell you in the house?”
“No, they didn’t, d—n them!”
“Well, they knew well enough. Well enough, they knew,” doggedly. “See him go as well as me!”
In a towering rage and with a very unpleasant suspicion in my mind, I returned to the house. I caught master and maid conferring in the passage and I fell upon them. “If you don’t tell me the truth,” I swore, “I’ll have the Governor here in ten minutes, and I’ll see if he can make you speak!”
That brought Master Postmaster to his senses. He lowered his tone. He remembered now. To be sure. Of course he remembered. The gentleman’s friend had gone on at two—for Hamburg.
“Then he must have left a message,” I stormed. “Or a letter? Out with it, rascal! Or if I have to go to the Governor—”
But the Postmaster, cringing now, asseverated by all his gods that nothing had been left for me, no letter, no message, nothing! The traveller had appeared to be in a great hurry to be gone, and had wasted no words on any one. He had ordered the horses within five minutes of my departure, and had started to the minute at two.
OW I had given Grussbaum the clearest order that if he found that the Waechters had passed through the town, he was not to follow them without informing me. But I had also, that he might not be without money, given him a hundred and fifty thalers in advance. And with this in my mind and the fact that he had driven off
the moment my back was turned, what was I to think? What could I think?
Well, only one thing, and I ground out a savage oath as I recognized it. The man had duped me. He had taken my money and the moment he had pouched it, he had absconded, laughing at my folly. Ay, and by now he was a couple of stages on his way—to his sick wife, if he had a sick wife, and if the whole story which had gained him a free ride and a full purse was not a flam.
I saw it all and saw, too, what a fool I had been to trust him—with his crafty white face and his secretive ways! Why his very manner should have warned me! Had it not roused my suspicions a dozen times? Yet with all that to reason from, I had handed him a sum large enough to tempt an honest man, and of course he had treated me as I deserved to be treated! He had not thought it necessary even to go into the town, or to make a pretence of inquiry, but had made sure of his plunder the moment my back was turned..
“Oh, d—n!” I cried, and on a sudden suspicion I inquired for my valise. Had the rogue taken that too?
Well, he had not—for a wonder! Perhaps he had feared that I might trace him by it. I gave the order for it to be taken to the Coffee House, and recalling with a pang—a pang of remorse and pity that my plan for keeping the Waechters in view was now at an end, I inquired, but with little hope, if they had passed through. So far as I could learn they had not; no party resembling theirs had come or gone. But I felt that I could now trust no one; even my one honest informant, the ostler, might have been bribed. And it was with a painful sense of defeat that I left the yard and slowly and heavily made my way back into the town.
The honours were with them! The wretches had won and might laugh at me and my abortive threats. And the girl? Whatever her fate, and I shuddered to dwell on it, she would think that I had abandoned her. In the depths of her misery, in her despair and fear, she would know that I had failed her; and ignorant of that other guest that weighed so heavily on me, she would believe that I had done so in sheer wantonness, caring nothing! The thought was torture to me!
I WANDERED, seeing little, across the dark Market Place and along the street which left it at the corner of the Rathhaus. I cast a cold eye at the other inn, the Golden Crown, and turning at right angles when I came to the end of the street made my way back to my inn through a narrow and not over clean lane that came out in the Shoe Market at the Coffee House corner. Near the end of the lane I passed the brewery—if brewery it was, for it seemed to be unoccupied—as well as the mouth of the alley on which my window looked.
In passing I glanced at the one and into the other, but idly and without interest. I had not valued Grussbaum’s company, much less had it occurred to me that I leant on him. But his desertion and the manner of it left me with an extraordinary feeling of loneliness. I had come to Perleberg to succeed, were it possible, where others had failed: to read a riddle that had defied experience, and baffled old hands. And never had I felt myself so unfit, so inefficient, so unequal to the task as at this moment.
I carried my mind back to the time when I had left London for Vienna, confident in myself and proud of my mission; when holding myself on a par with Gentz and Haugwitz and their like I had fondly looked forward to crossing swords with them; when, gaily, with all the threads in my hands, I had sneered at the old school of diplomats, and thought nothing above my powers. Ay, and thence I carried my mind forward to the moment when Perceval’s arrival had dashed the cup from my lips and I had sworn that but for this I had in another week or another month scored such a success as would have saved Austria and changed the face of Europe.
Vain imaginings, but never had they seemed as vain as now, when I felt that the smallest, the youngest of third class clerks might smile at me. A diplomat? Why, I had not the wits of a mouse. A reader of men? Why, a common cheat of the road had fleeced me! A pair of vulgar intriguers had baffled me! I had sunk from the Ball-Platz to the common policeoffice, from Vienna to Perleberg—and Perleberg gave me
a fool’s mate. Ah, I muttered, how men flatter themselves when for a moment fortune has smiled on them!
MY HEART was not quite so low next morning, but it was with little courage and less hope, and simply as a matter of duty, that I turned to my inquiry. I had come to the conclusion that the police had focused their attention on the Post House and the Black Cow. They had ransacked the buildings adjoining, they had dug up the gardens, they had searched the stream, they had turned every stone and arrested every person in both houses on whom suspicion could lie. And in doing this they had rendered sullen or mute all those whom they had not arrested. To look for further evidence in that quarter seemed to me to be hopeless.
But either because they had not believed the story of the nine o’clock call, or because the respectability of the German Coffee House had discouraged them, they did not appear to have followed the trail into the town with the same vigour. Here therefore I judged that I must make my discoveries, if I was destined to make any.
Had Ellis really gone to the Coffee House that night? Had he been seen in it? Had he been seen by any one in the street leading to it? These were the questions to which I wanted answers, and my first attack was made on my landlord, the fat, beaming tun of a man who had received me. I got him up into my room, and was surprised as well as pleased when I found him as willing to talk as I was to listen. Suspicion had not touched him, and I soon saw that he was one of those who savour a mystery. But when it came to what he knew himself, he could tell me nothing. The nobility ball had filled his house on that fatal evening, there had been many strangers, and much coming and going, much confusion, to which the noise of a band had contributed. He had questioned all his servants long ago, and traced the man who had admitted the Holstein merchant to see the Governor. But no one could be found who retained any memory of a second foreigner. In fine, the man could not carry the trail a yard farther. At the corner of the Market Place, at the moment when the two dark figures melted into the twilight—it stopped.
We finished our talk on the landing outside my door, and as I turned to re-enter after dismissing my host, I caught the eye of a chamber-maid who was scrubbing the floor. “Was it about the Nobility Ball the gentleman was asking?” she said, looking up from her work. “Well, there was an odd thing happened next morning—in his room too if he would like to hear it.”
I encouraged her. “Come in and tell me,” I said. “What was that?”
“Well, mein Herr, it was not much,” she said. “Still it was odd. A gracious, good-tothe-eye-seeming young lady had this room and an older lady who was with her had the next. Well, when they were leaving—that was early in the morning after the ball, or indeed late in the morning, for most of us had been up all night—”
“Had they been to the ball?” I interposed. “The two ladies?”
“Oh, no, they were just travellers like mein Herr, who had come in late the evening before. Well, when they were leaving the Frau had lost something—an ear-drop that was not in all the world to be matched to listen to her—and lost it in the Fraulein’s room, she thought. Such a rumpus as there was then! Nothing would do but every corner must be searched and all the young lady’s baggage that had been strapped must be opened and even the flounces of the frock the Fraulein was wearing must be tried, lest it might be caught in them, and what not and what not! There was no end to it, seeking and searching!”
“Did she suppose then,” I asked idly, “that the young lady had—”
“Had taken it? Not according to her.” The chambermaid smiled. “Oh, no, the Frau, to begin, was all milk and sugar—if she might search! But it wasn’t hard to see what she thought.”
“And the young lady?”
“Scared out of her wits, I promise you, mein Herr. And seeing her all of a tremble and the colour of a bleached napkin, I said I’d call up my mistress; and at that my lady that had been getting sharper and sharper, lowered
her tone, I can tell you! And they went downstairs, and I thought them gone. But in a moment up comes my lady again, and gives me a whole thaler, and to it again, looking behind the drawers, and turning over the bed and raking out the ashes in the stove, and even feeling the quilt. If a flea to be found there was, she’d have had it! But nothing came of it, at any rate I saw her find nothing: and when she gave it up and went down her face was black as thunder, and I was glad to think that the young lady was going no farther with her.”
“They parted then?”
“Yes, mein Herr. They had shared a landschute, *1 heard, but I fancy that the young lady did not like her company. She was going to Altona to see her sick father so she told me.”
“What?” I cried, and I sprang to my feet, for hitherto I had been listening but idly. “Say that again.”
Surprised by my manner, the woman repeated the statement. “Why?” she added. “Did the Herr know her?’ “I’ve met her,” I said. “Had the elder woman—who searched—a small dog with her?”
“So! To be sure she had. Your honour is right. A dog with bells.”
AND then for the first time I saw a little light falling into a dark place. It broke on me that it was on the strength of some false charge such as this, some hold such as the story suggested, that the woman had taken possession of the lonely, terrified girl, and had enslaved her body and soul. By heaven, it looked like it! It looked like it! “And she seemed to be frightened, did she?” I continued eagerly, “the young Fraulein?’’
“That morning? I believe you,” the wench replied. “Frightened in the highest degree she was, and her face like paper though she’d come in the evening before as easy as you please. But with the other it was pretty much a word and a blow! For her, I’d judge her,” with a scornful toss of the head, “to be like the eardrop she said she had lost—for she showed me the fellow to it—more gaudy than good.”
“But did not the young lady defend herself?”
“No, she was that terrified that she just sat with her hands before her and looked as if she was going to swoon. Not a bit of spirit in her! If it had been me—but then you see, the other did not right down accuse her. She was too clever for that. And for my part I never believed the young lady took a pin. Her only fault was that she was too good for her company. Oh, I know. Do you imagine,” with a toss of her head, “that I’ve made beds for the gentry for seven years and don’t know black from white?” Some one called her at that moment, and she went out, and you may be sure that she left me to thoughts that in a trice carried me back to a day before all these troubles had fallen upon me; to the day of that ever to be regretted departure from Wittenberg, when stepping out into the early freshness of the August morning I had seen a landschute standing before the inn, and in it these two women. Well might I call that morning, which had opened so brightly, unfortunate, for it had led poor Perceval to his death, to me it had brought lasting remorse, and tothis girl who seemed to have nothing in common with us, God only knew what pain and humiliation.
BUT was I right? The woman and the girl had parted here, according to the chambermaid ; and the girl I knew, from what I had learned at Zerbst, had gone on to Altona, had stayed there many weeks, had nursed her father back to health, had started on her return journey. Her arrival had been expected on the day before my own flight from Zerbst.
Here then was a long interval, and the question pressed on me—how had the young lady and Frau Waechter come again into contact? Why, after parting in these circumstances, had they come together again? The Fraulein was gentle, timid, easily swayed, perhaps; but she was not unversed in the world, she had mixed in society, she had enjoyed at Zerbst a privileged position. What had induced her, then, to let this woman, violent, vulgar, common, an adventuress, take possession of her anew, browbeat, terrify, annex her?
What, indeed? There lay the riddle, and a ridcjle for me without an answer. And in my mind it gave rise to another. A thousand thalers was, in a poverty-stricken Germany, a large sum. It was for small people, for people living by their wits, a fortune. Why had the Waechters refused such a bribe? A big bribe? Why had it failed to persuade them to release their hold over the girl?
That seemed more remarkable the longer I dwelt on it. The man had been tempted. He had wavered. But the woman had seen farther. She had valued their possession of the girl at more than a thousand thalers. Why? On what basis, I asked myself.
I feared to think. And, alas, of what use was thought at this time of day? They were gone! Gone beyond seeking, gone, through Grussbaum’s treachery, beyond help! I could only— and it was a poor alternative— resolve to tell the Governor the whole story when I supped with him that evening. He had the air of a humane man and he might be able to do something; though the odds were that the party were by this time across the Danish border.
All day I had this and the poor girl’s fate at the back of my mind while apparently I was busied heart and soul in the other matter. In the hope of alighting on some one able to testify to Ellis’s passage through the street, I devoted the morning and a part of the afternoon to visiting every house between the Market Place and the German Coffee House. The landlord of the latter offered to accompany me, and I could not have done my work under more favourable auspices. Mouths, that the presence of the Governor or the police would have closed, were opened in the sunshine of his vast and beaming countenance; neighbour passed me on to neighbour, householders interrogated their children, in every dwelling the story was told and canvassed; even the fact that it was market day and the town pretty full, was not allowed to stand in my way. But little came of it and nothing that was definite. Strangers had been seen that evening, alone or in company; I had plenty of evidence of that. But then it was the night of the Nobility Ball, and the presence of strangers was to be expected. Whether of these strangers Ellis had been one—no one could say.
BY HALF past two I was as well known up and down the quaint quiet street as my host himself. Smiles met me on every side, I was a centre of interest, I was exhibited to country people. And for my part there was hardly a house-block and hardly a sign—from the huge pair of spectacles that bridged the way before the watch-maker’s to the gigantic coffee-pot that impended before Speiser the grocer’s—with which I was not familiar. The children ran to me with messages, the dogs thrust their noses into my hand, even the sun shone with a warmth beyond that of November. As I looked up and down the narrow vista, I could not believe that Ellis had come to harm either here or hereabouts. Tragedy seemed so far, so very far off. I could not associate this gay, friendly, smiling street with it.
It was hard upon three when we gave up the inquiry, and I do not know which was the more disappointed, my good host or I. “But it is this way, mein Herr," he said. “Take to-day. It is market day. Many people come into my house. Do you think you could get evidence of them all? No! And that reminds me—you had your cloak on when we started?”
“I left it in the hall after dinner,” I explained. “I found it too hot.”
“Now there! And suppose some one took it from the hall—do you think that we could bring it home to him? Doubtful, very doubtful. Let us hope, therefore, it is safe. A thing as valuable as that!” He shook his head reproachfully over it. “It should not have been left, mein Herr.”
However we found it safe enough, hanging where I had left it—and on this point we had no need of evidence. But I could quite understand that had any one taken it, he could have done so unperceived in the market crowd; and I took care to put on the cloak when I went out towards evening. I thought that I would make some inquiries in the other street, in which the Golden Crown stood; and for more than an hour I strolled about, now questioning stolid tradesmen at their doors, now surveying from all points the grassgrown market place, which even on this, the market day, looked all too large. Standing first in one place and then in another I tried to call up the scene; tried to imagine how and by what lane or alley Perceval might on that ill-fated night have been lured out of the better parts of the town. But again the peace and quietness about me were too much for me. Though the Governor had shaken his head and said that there were vauriens enough in Perleberg, I could find no room in this dull German town for so stark and so grisly a thing as murder.
“It must have been the French after all,” I concluded at last. “With everything to the contrary it still must have been the French who did it.” And I stood staring at the great dark couchant lion of a cathedral that flanked the Market Place and was the only object in the town that even approached it in size. Old, very old, I judged; almost as old as the crumbling statue of Roland that I had the curiosity to approach and to touch.
I killed a few moments in that way, and then dark coming on, “I’m simply wasting my time,” I muttered despondently. “I’m doing no good here! Not a bit!”
BUT beyond what I had done, what could I do?
That was the question, and it meant, what should I do—next day? I was debating it with my hand still resting on the Rolands-Saule, when a little girl leaping over the shafts of a cart—one of a long line, laden and unladen, standing in the Place—ran up to me, thrust a scrap of paper into my hand and with a merry laugh dived under the next cart and was gone!
Had I been prepared for her, I could hardly have detained her, and as it was I was left gazing and staring at the paper that she had placed in my hand. It was a mere scrap, of coarse make, twisted into the form of a chapeau a cornes, but without address. Though night
was beginning to darken the narrow streets, there was still light enough in the middle of the open Place to enable me to read, and the roughly-scrawled message was short.
“If you still wish,” it ran, “to make the bargain you offered two days ago, follow the man in the brown cloak who is standing at the corner of the Rathaus. Do not communicate with any one or the deal is off. You are watched.”
“So!” I exclaimed. “So! They have thought better of it then!” And I slapped my hand on the cold stone beside me, though the action was but a poor token of the relief—relief amounting to triumph that I felt. For all day I had had the girl on my mind. All day, going out and coming in, visiting one house after another,
I had been haunted by her woe-begone face, her sad eyes. And now, now I could save her! The bribe had worked, the offer was to be accepted, the thalers had done their duty after all.
With the note in my hand I looked across the open space in search of the brown man. I could not distinguish him, but the distance was considerable and below the Rathhaus, in the jaws of the narrow street that flanked it, the dusk was thick. An early light twinkled at the barber’s, the oilshop was lighting up; but as I passed from the open I seemed to pass in a moment from the clear sky of evening to the dusk of night.
I DON’T know whether it was this change, or the sight of the muffled figure awaiting me at the corner that made me drop a hand into the pocket of my cloak, to make sure that I had my pistols with me. They were there, safe enough, and reassured by the feel of their roughened handles, I followed the short ungainly figure that at my nearer approach detached itself from the Rathhaus and without look or sign moved sluggishly down the street. Disguised as my guide was, in a cloak and flapped hat, I had little doubt that he was Karl, the half witted lad. I detested the dwarf, for I found something unnatural in him, in his brutishness and his animal nature; and for a moment it crossed my mind to raise an alarm and seize him. But to do it might expose the girl to instant vengeance, and after all I had nothing to fear, I had my pistols. If treachery were intended, I had little doubt that so armed I could deal with it.
Slouching through the dusk about ten paces before me, the lad passed the Golden Crown, keeping, I noticed, on the farther side of the way and as far as possible from the lamp which a servant was suspending at the door. Presently he reached the end of the street, and I was not one whit surprised when he turned into the lane that I had followed the evening before, the lane that led I knew to the Shoe Market. I do not know in the least why I expected this, but it seemed to me as if I had anticipated it from the beginning.
There were few passers here, the byway was dark, solitary, winding, a place of dead walls and blank houses; and had I not been armed I would not have followed the dwarf a yard. Even as it was I moved warily, took the outer side of every curve, gave darkcorners a wide berth, and where, as happened in one or two places, trees hung over the walls, I kept a sharp lookout. I was not sorry when from the bottom of this black trough, I caught sight of a star or two, shining serenely in the evening sky—stars that I dare say were not yet visible in the open.
I had made up my mind—again I do not know why— that we were bound for the deserted brewery, and so it turned out. My guide stopped at a low door in the wall of the building and drew a key from his pocket. In this narrow slit at the bottom of which we stood, it was too dark—though the lights of the Shoe Market were hardly twenty paces from us—to see what the door was like; but I pictured it mouldering, begrimed and cobwebbed—the door of a long unused building. However the key turned silently enough, and the door opened. I hesitated—at the last moment, I own, I hesitated before I entered. Then I asked myself why I had come if I was not prepared to go through with the matter, and ashamed to betray fear I stepped across the threshold. As I did so, “You are to see the Fraulein first,” the lad grumbled. Then, “Wait till I get a light.”
I was only too ready to do so, for the passage in which I stood was dark as the pit, and the sound made by the dwarf locking the door behind us did not tend to hearten me. I pressed my back against the wall and waited, a hand on a pistol, all my senses on guard. However, my caution was uncalled for. The lad blundered by me, and opened a second door, which, being opened, disclosed a lighted lanthorn, standing forlornly on the bottom step of a worm-eaten staircase; a narrow staircase which showed here and there grains of rye and barley trodden into the cracks between the shrunken boards. It turned on itself, and was such a stairway as we see in English stables, leading from saddle-room to loft.
The dwarf took up the and signed to to ascend. But 1 did not like the look of things. If fail
play was intended why such a rendezvous as this? I declined with a shrug, and drily bade him go first. He sneered, but taking the lead began to climb and I followed, and having twice turned round the newel we emerged on the first floor. Here I had an impression of a vast bare chamber more like the empty hold of a big ship than anything else, stretching to infinity and broken only by rows of thick props. Our light was in it but as a taper in a church, held by one who peered in from the porch; and all of particularity that I carried away in addition to its size and its emptiness was the fact that a gap yawned in the floor about midway across it. I guessed that this was a hatchway, used no doubt for lowering grain when the building was tenanted.
I saw no more before the lad climbed on and I followed ; but the higher we mounted and the farther we penetrated into the bowels of this gloomy building, the more suspicious I grew, and the more closely I gripped my weapons. Indeed I would gladly have stood—or gone back. But having come so far, I had not the courage to withdraw—nor indeed the heart when I thought of the girl! And two more turns round the newel post which generations o' hands had so rubbed that it shone like marble in the lanthorn-light, brought us to the second floor. “This way,” growled the lad, “and look to your feet, mein Herr,” and without a glance at me he plunged away across the loose heaving floor, the lanthorn swaying in his hand and now casting its light on the dusty boards that leapt under our tread, now revealing the beams and struts of the vast wagonroof that sloped above us.
Half heartedly I trailed behind him and soon discerned that he was making for a corner whence there jutted out a room, counting-house or what not, that at some time or other had been boarded off from the great chamber.
Holding his lanthorn up to the crazy-looking door, he turned the key in the lock. The door appeared to stick a little, but he dragged it open and stood aside. “She’s here,” he growled,
“Mind your head. In the inner place.”
My eyes, peering in, passed through a second, an open doorway at some paces in front of me, and on a lower level.
Framed in this doorway I saw a small bare table, on the table a tallow candle standing in the neck of a bottle, and in the circle of light which this cast—the girl! Nay, not the girl, but a head cast forward, the face invisible and buried in the arms, that lay outstretched on the table.
So much I saw, made visible by the feeble light of the candle, and framed in darkness —so much, and I stepped forward eagerly, cautious Karl, the loneliness of the place all forgotten. I stepped, or rather I plunged forward—for the two steps that should have descended to the lower floor were not there, and it was much that in my fall I did not break my leg.
As I staggered, striving with a cry of pain to keep my feet,
I heard a hoot of triumph. The door was slammed to the post with a force that shook the wooden partition, and behind me I heard the key grate in the lock.
’’THE moment that I recovered from the shock of my abrupt descent I turned about, and a spate of rage flung me like a leaf against the closed door. I beat on it with my hands, I shouted threats, and curses. I was not sure that the halfwitted lout had hastened my descent by thrusting the door against me, but that was my impression and it added hugely to my passion. I felt no fear, for I was well armed; but in my anger at the trick played upon me I thought only of
vengeance and forgot for a space not only the girl's presence and the scene that I had viewed through the open door—but all except that this mis-shapen oaf had dared to trick me and strike me!
“Open the door!” I stormed. “Open the door, do you hear? Or I will shoot the lock off!”
The only answer was a crow of triumph, that, more than once repeated, grew fainter in the distance. I heard the lad’s clumsy feet execute a dance on the hollow boards as he retreated across the floor.
“Come back!” I cried in a frenzy of anger. “Do you hear? Come back! Or I will—”
But on that word even the sound of footsteps died away. The dwarf had reached the stairs. And then — I suppose that all this had taken but half a minute though it seemed to me an age—then at last, panting with anger, and a little with my exertions, I desisted, and turned myself about.
And, facing now as I had faced when I entered, I became again aware of the open doorway and the inner room—of the room, and the table and the candle burning starkly in the bottle-neck—and the girl! Only there was now this change in the group. The girl had risen; with her hands resting on the table she was leaning towards me, not as it seemed to me in hope or expectation, or even in wonder; but motionless, silent, staring, as if nothing had any longer the power to surprise or appal her.
She did not, she told me afterwards, recognize me on the instant. The candle was between us. I stood
beyond the scope of its rays, in the gloom of the outer room. And though I discerned no sign of it at the time, she confessed later that my sudden entrance and fierce outburst did make more instant and poignant that fear of death which tortured her every hour, and almost her every breath.
But if she did not know me, I knew her, and in a trice the whole color of my mind was altered. Anger died in me and passion, and in place of them I felt not so much pity—strange to say —as an immense, a burning curiosity. She was here—she was here at last, and in my power, this mysterious, fugitive evanescent girl, whom I had traced, whom I had followed, who had so long and so completely filled my thoughts! She was here, I held her! And the time would come no doubt when I should pity her. But first, first I must hear her story, I must understand! I must learn above all things the answer to that riddle, that enigma which had so long and so entirely baffled me.
T WENT forward into the light, and as this fell upon me I saw recognition leap into her eyes—but with it, not the thankfulness, not the relief that I anticipated. On the contrary the girl raised her hands in a gesture of despair, raised them as if she would fain wave me back. She sank weakly into the seat from which she had risen, and “They have taken you too!” she cried. “You too!” “No!” I answered, anxious only, and as quickly as possible, to reassure her, for I saw how terribly overwrought she was. “No! They have not taken me! Have no fear, Fraulein! I am here to rescue you. I am here to remove you.”
“But how?” she whispered. “How? How do you come here?” She stared at me as at a spectre. “The lad brought me.”
“To—to see me?”
“Yes, to see you. They have offered to release you, Fraulein —for a bribe, the wretches! I have brought them what is necessary, and in a minute or two they will be here to meet me and complete the matter. And you will be free.”
I looked to see her face brighten at last, and relief leap into her eyes. But no, she only glanced fearfully over her shoulder. “No!” she whispered, and a shudder shook her from head to foot, “they will never let me go! Never! Never! Nor you, sir, when we have only talked together. They dare not. They cannot. They will take your money, but they will not let us go. They will never let us go. I know—” lowering her voice and with another swift look behind her —“I know too much! Too much, for them ever to let me go. They will never let me go —alive!”
And so tragic was her tone, so infectious her terror, that 1 caught something of it, and for a moment felt my heart sink. What if she were right? What if—but again curiosity won the upper hand and with one sentence I aimed for the heart of the mystery. “You are Fraulein Mackay?” I said. “Of the Grand Duke’s household at Zerbst?”
She looked at me with eyes too large for her wan face. “I was,” she muttered, plucking at the fringe of her bodice. “I was!” And I noticed that she would not or dared not speak above a whisper, while her eyes, very nervous of fear, never ceased to rove the room. “I was,” she repeated shuddering, “in another life. What I am now, God only knows. God only knows! And even that,” an ugly spasm distorting her features, “I shall not be long! Oh, not long! Not many hours! To-night—to-night mayend it. Or,” plucking again at her bodice, “to-morrow night! To-morrow night!”
Never, never had I imagined
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The Traveller in the Fur Cloak
Continued from page 27
terror so poignant as that which I read at that moment in her face, a terror that for a time robbed that face of all beauty. She was indeed, apart from this, a piteous sight. Her hair which when I had first seen her had been piled in graceful waving curls on the crown of her head, hung down her neck in draggled wisps, dusky and dull. Her dress, travelstained and torn in places, sat on her awry and neglected; while dark shadows —under eyes that did not seem to have known sleep for a week—marred her features and rendered them almost ugly. I could see that if I had indeed come in time to save her, I had come but just in time; another night, another day, and her mind, if not her body must have failed.
RUT why? Why? More insistently than ever the question pressed upon my mind. Why? What was the hold, the deadly hold, that these wretches had gained upon the girl.
However, the first thing, the urgent thing, was to reassure her, and “Neither to-night, ^nor to-morrow night,” I said stoutly, “will any harm come to you, Fraulein, now that I am with you. Take courage! Understand, be sure that you are saved. You are no longer alone, no lorger unprotected. I am here, and be sure I shall not leave you, until you are in safety. Yet first, first let me know my ground. Try, Fraulein, to tell me why you are here, why you are with thefe wretches. These Waechters?”
' Ted you?” she whispered. “If I tell you again her eyes flitted round the room, with a movement that I am sure had become habitual—“I doom you too. You, too! To know what I know—is to die! To die!”
But all that is past, past for I urged earnestly—for I really ,r mind. “We are togethi Waechters themselves have brou together. And whether you tell
no, they will assume that you have told me. Besides, when they come, it will be only to release you. Willing or unwilling, they will be forced to do so. I am not defenceless. I am more than a match for them. See, I am armed. I am well armed. I am surely a match for them. You have nothing to fear now! Nothing!” But cheerfully, confidently as I spoke, no spark of hope awoke in her eyes. She shook her head. “They are too cunning,” she muttered. “Oh, too cunning, too cunning! They have the cunning of the devil! They are listening to us now.” Fear, it is often said, is infectious, and I am free to own that for a moment her words and the tone in which she uttered them shook me. And then I knew so little of the place, there were so many shadowy corners, the light of the miserable candle spread to so short a distance, the darkness of the empty far-stretching chamber outside so weighed on the mind! But for her sake I maintained my air of confidence, and I continued to urge her and re-assure her; and seeing presently that there was food on the table, and beside it a cup of milk, I induced her to swallow something, though every mouthful seemed to choke her. And by and by, though the color did not return to her face, nor hope to her eyes, she began to draw some courage, if not some hope, from my words and my presence. And, continually urged to explain, she began at last, but with painful effort to tell her story; thoughnot until I had again and again at her prayer tried the door and had made as sure as I could by listening, that there was no one within hearing.
EVEN so she could not, and would not speak above a whisper; so that it was a strange and an eerie experience— one of the strangest of my life—to listen in the silence of that vast building and by the light of that solitary candle, to the hissing whisper that poured into my
ear her amazing story. Twice she was forced to pause, overcome by her feelings, and twice she had to drink before she could go on. Once, too, half way through the tale, she rose with starting, terrified eyes and pointed to the door; but I persuaded her, though my own flesh was creeping, that the alarm was baseless. And so, three quarters of an hour after she had begun to speak—in a silence that might be felt, she whispered the last syllable in my ear.
“It was at Wittenberg it began to close about me,” thus with a shudder she opened, her eyes on the door, her hand clutching my wrist. “I halted a night there—I was on my way to my sick father at Altona. I wanted a partner to share the expense of a landschute, and fate gave me—God knows in what a dark hour—that woman. I did not like her. I saw that she was not of the—the kind that I had been used to. But she made herself civil to me, she seemed for some reason to value my company. And when we reached Berlin, and should have parted, she proposed that we should go on together, after resting a day. It suited my purse; a companion whom I had expected had failed to appear, and— and in a miserable hour I consented and went on with her.
“And she still flattered me, but—but things began to go wrong._ As far as Berlin we had travelled quickly, easily, now we lingered, Little things, accidents, delayed us, and presently I began to—to fancy that she was on the look-out for some one who—was travelling behind us, you understand. She was always looking back, looking out, and once I hinted at this. Then her temper flashed out, she was rough and terrified me and if I had been wise I should have parted from her then. Ah, God that I had! That I had! But she smoothed it over, she fawned on me; and though I distrusted her, now I thought it foolish to quarrel with her when we had so short a distance to go. I know now, she has told me, with scorn, that she used me for a mask; that up to that point all she had in her mind was the value of a—of a respectable companion, of one whose presence might cover her manoeuvres and render her less notable where she stayed.
‘ But we travelled so slowly that when we should have arrived at Perleberg we were only at Kyritz, where the inn was crowded with people, many of them rough and noisy. We had to eat among them in the common room, and I was not comfortable. But my companion— little, ah, little did I know what it meant at the time—contrived to get seats for us at a small table with two travellers— of the better sort. One was tall and foreign-looking, and seemed to be ill, for he supped in his cloak, which was enough to mark him out from those about us. However, he proved only a misery to me, for the woman put herself forward to gain his notice, and I felt this the more as he gave her back only short answers; however, it lasted but a short time, for before the meal was over, upset by something which arose between him and his companion—some note that was delivered to him—he left the table. I saw him at the door next morning—he left a little before us; and, ah, God! sir, I was to see him but once more, yet never, never shall I forget him, never will his face be wiped from my memory!”
SHE paused in irrepressible agitation, but presently she • resumed. “We arrived at this place, Perleberg, an hour before sunset. I should have gone to the Golden Crown, I had been recommended to it, but the woman overbore me. She insisted on going to the—the German Coffee House I think it was called, and I was hardly across the threshold before I regretted my weakness. For here again, the house was crowded; there was a ball going on.”
I nodded. “Yes,” 1 said, my heart beating more weakly. “I know.” I began dimly to foresee things.
“Yes,” dully, “a ball, and a band playing, so that the house was full of noise and the passages of dancers, and of all manner of people, servants and townsfolk. It was with difficulty that they found us two rooms on the second floor, and I was glad to take refuge in mine, for I was frightened by the confusion. My companion said that she had friends to see, and I was glad of it. Relieved by her absence I asked the chambermaid to bring me supper in my room, and when I had eaten I locked my
door—it was not yet nine—and I went to bed.
T was tired and I fancied that I had but to lie down to sleep. But it was not so. The strains of the band came up to my room and pulsed in my head, the evening was hot, and after tossing and turning for a time I rose in despair and groped my way to the window. I drew aside the curtain, and opened the casement. The night air soothed me and— God knows what miserable fate was upon me—I remained for a time at the window, now looking at the stars which were beginning to shine, and how at the gable of a building which faced me. How long I stood there I do not know, but presently a light shone out on a sudden, outlining a window in the gable, and through the window I saw a man with a lanthorn in his hand and his back towards me, closing the door of the room. I watched the man—he seemed to be striving, hurriedly, to secure the door; but on a sudden he gave up the attempt, came quickly to the window and dashed it open. He looked down, then, as if he heard something, he glanced back into the room. I heard him utter an exclamation, he looked below again, then raising his eyes he saw me—no doubt the light he held fell on me. In a moment he thrust his hand into his breast, drew something from it, and flung the objects through my window.
“ ‘Take it—Danish Embassy—Berlin!’ he cried. ‘You will be rewarded.’
“The thing fell on the floor behind me, and at another time my surprise would have been great. I do not know what I should have said and done. But that happened the next moment which”— she paused, struggling vainly with her emotion—“which I would to God, that which I would give the world to forget, which comes back to me in my dreams. The door of the room opposite was burst open, as he spoke, two men rushed in upon the man, I saw him draw a pistol— but too late! The men flung themselves upon him, I saw a raised hand, a knife, I saw the blood spurt from his breast! I saw him stagger back, his arms lifted— stagger out of sight! Then I shrieked! again and again, and I turned blindly and tried to reach the door. I tried to give the alarm. But the band below was playing, the room shook with the dancing, and my cries were unheard. And before I reached the door I tripped over something, and I fell and swooned. Oh, poor creature that I was!” she cried, wringing her hands, “for that was my only chance!”
SOBS choked her, shook her, and for a time she could not continue. Nor at the moment did I urge her to continue. My ow» thoughts lay too heavy on me— my own horror. At last “He wore a cloak?” I said—hoarsely. “A fur cloak, didn’t he? The man whom they murdered? He was the same whom you had seen—at Kyritz?”
She nodded, still unable to speak. But by and by regaining some control of herself, and the worst told, “Yes, at Kyritz,” she whispered. “Yes, I think so. I am sure of it. But at the time I could think of nothing, nothing but— but the blood! The blood! Oh,” covering her face and trembling convulsively, “it was horrible! Horrible! Horrible!”
In pity I let her be—and in truth I was so shaken myself that I could not speak. That the man whose murder she had witnessed was Perceval—Perceval, my friend, I could not doubt; nor that in this very building, under this very roof, the ill-omened roof under which we sat, he had been thus foully, thus miserably done to death. But mingled with the horror that I felt, was another feeling scarcely less strong, and that was wonder—the wonder to which the great coincidences of life give rise. For I knew that pity had deflected me from the straight course of my duty. Pity had led me away from the scent I should have pursued, and that I had set myself to follow. And, lo, the divergence had but guided me under Providence and by a shorter route, to the end of the chase.
“Did you see the men’s faces?” I asked, as soon as she had a little recovered herself.
She shook her head.
It rose to my mind to ask her the fate of the dispatches, for I had not a doubt that the parcel which poor Ellis, faithful to the last, had flung through her window, contained them. But I refrained. For the dispatches seemed at this moment,
a small thing, a mere detail in happenings so tragic. I left her to tell the story, and by and by in a lower whisper and with many pauses she went on:
“The fall stunned me. When I came to myself I was on the floor, chilled to the bone, and the first light was stealing into the room. I raised myself and drank some water and crept back to bed; and for a few moments I fancied that the whole was a nightmare, and that I had fallen out of bed in the effort to escape ■from my dream. But I could not sleep, and when it grew lighter, my eyes fell on a packet lying on the floor, and I was seized with sickness, for I knew then that it was no dream! And I might, I ought to, have roused the house even then and told the story. But the thing had so terrified me, I had become such a coward that I fancied that the men who had done it were at my elbow, were watching me. I feared even to open the door, and especially I shrank from keeping the packet—in sight or about me. I looked round for a hiding place and at length—I do not know what made me think of it—I went to the open window, and peered out. I saw that the window opposite was shuttered, I could see no one watching me; the eaves were within reach of my hand, and trembling I thrust the packet under them, between the wall and the roof, and I rushed back to my bed.”
“And the packet is there now?” I exclaimed, unable to control my voice.
"Yes,” she answered dully, “I suppose so.”
“Then you never—”
“Removed it?” with a shudder. “Oh, I dared not! I dared not! And I had no chance, for more happened. I was dressing, feeling very sick and ill, but still intending to tell some one when the —the woman came in, half dressed, and she had not been with me a minute— not a minute—before I knew that she was—was one of them. She said that she had dropped an ear-ring and she would search my room. But I knew, I guessed in a moment, that she was searching for the packet, and I believed that if I betrayed myself she would kill me. I do not know how I had the strength to play my part, but I pretended anger and alarm, affected to believe that she suspected me, and for the time I deceived her. I even had the courage to make my vexation a reason for parting from her, and she made no difficulty. But she took good care not to let me out of her sight for one moment; she followed me everywhere while I remained, and God forgive me for my cowardice—I had not the courage to speak.
INSTEAD I resumed my journey, but reproaching myself bitterly with every league. But arrived at Altona I found my father very ill and in danger and in my anxiety I put the horror out of my mind. Still I did not mean”—her voice broken with sobs—“indeed, indeed, I did not mean to be silent. I intended to call at the Embassy on my return and tell all. And I travelled to Berlin with that in my mind. But at Spandau when I got out of the chaise they -they met me.”
“What?” I cried, amazed. “Do you mean that they dared—”
. _ “The three! Yes,” dully. “The three! They met me. They were there waiting for me. I was alone, it was dusk when I stepped out, and they surrounded me, pretended to be my friends, silenced me, hustled me away with them, and before 1 could resist they pushed me into a chaise which was in waiting and drove me on to Berlin. There they took me, terrified and vainly protesting, to a house in the suburbs. I know now that they had searched and searched at Perleberg and made certain at last that I had the packet. It is possible that my manner had deceived the woman only for the moment. At any rate they kept me three days in the house at Berlin, starving _ me, questioning me, above all threatening me,” with a shudder, “with Karl. They would make him put his hands round my throat, and then while he half strangled me, gloating over my pain and my terror, they would cry ‘Tell! Tell! Where is the packet? 1 ell, or—’ ”
‘The. devils!” I cried, leaping to my feet, m irrepressible rage. “Oh, the devils! But they shall pay me for that; let me only get my hand on them! Let me—
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Continued, from page 49
But—but why, Fraulein, did you not
“He trusted me,” she said, shaking from head to foot. “But it was not that. If it had been that, only that, I should have told—I am a coward. But I dared not. I dared not. Don’t you see? I knew that the moment they held the secret they would kill me. They would strangle me at once. They dared not let me go, for I knew all—they had boasted before _ me that they had killed him. So to give up my secret was to die—to die—do you see? But at last, seeing them grow desperate, and to win a day or two of life, I owned that I had hidden the packet—at Perleberg; and if they would take me there I would find it for them. It was a respite; it meant three or four days of life and I thought that something might happen on the road, some means of escape offer, some chance of appealing to strangers. And at first I had hope. They took me for the night to a hotel in Berlin that they might make an early start; and there I —I all but”—she wrung her hands at the remembrance, “I all but got away from them. They left Karl to guard me, and he dozed. But when I had crept to the door and was all but outside he awoke, and he missed me, and caught me on the threshold—oh, it was a bitter moment. A most bitter moment!”
“My God!” I cried. “If I had known! If I had only known! I saw your shadow, and if you had spoken, if had cried out—.” “He would have strangled me,” she whispered. “Oh yes, he would, he would! After that, each night—I suppose they wished to break me down—each night they made me think that they were going to kill me—that their patience was at an end. That they would wait no longer. Each night! They would talk before me, devising ways in which they might do it, and gloating over my terror. Once they told me that they would drop molten lead in my ear while I slept, and I think that they bought lead. I think they bought it. Another night they threatened to suffocate me with smoke and burn down the room! They debated it before me—and the chances. And always, to silence me there were Karl’s horrible hands! They were never a yard from my throat, and they told me that nothing could be done to him—he was not responsible, he was half-witted. Oh, it was horrible! Horrible!”
“Oh, d—n them, d—n them!” I whispered, shaking with rage. “If I get my hands on them!”
But she paid no attention to me. “Then at last,” she said, twisting and untwisting her fingers, “we came here. They knew that you were following them then, and for the first time I think that they were afraid. They alighted at a village a league from the town and off the road, and we walked in after dark with my wrist tied to Karl’s. They brought me here and last night I felt sure that I should die, for I knew that if I did not now show them where the packet was they would torture me; and if I told they would kill me—kill me, and bury me in the cellar—where he is buried. But I suppose that they were still afraid of you, for nothing happened last night. But I knew that the end would come to-night, and then—”
“And then?” I said—for she had paused.
‘You came in.” She looked at the door.
/\Y, I came in,” I rejoined grimly1 *■ “And now we will go out.” And i rose to my feet. The anger and indignation that I felt on her account overshadowed for the time the horrors that she had related. “We will go out! And woe to them if they try to stop us! Come!
Be of good courage, Fraulein—it is over. But first—let me see if I cannot force this loor without wasting a shot. If I cannot, can still—”
She held up her hand. At the same moment the flame of the candle wavered 38 d blown aside, and the girl’s shadow on the wall swayed and hovered, as my in the hollow depths ot the empty building a faint creak. She pipped my arm—she had already risen to her feet. “WaiU Wait!” she breathed.
Listen! And with fear-stricken eyes, she strove to probe the shadows of the outer closet.
But her fear, that fear on which those
cowardly wretches had so foully and so brutally played, only brought my rage to a white heat. Under the polish of civil life, and even, thank God, under the veneer of the Service, the natural man still lives, and for the moment it was uppermost in me. I longed for nothing so much as to come to blows with the murderers. “Coming, are they?” I rejoined. “So much the better, Fraulein! Let them come! And they shall receive something more than they expect!” For since I had heard the girl’s story I had nothing less in my mind than to pay them the thousand crowns that I had offered—or one crown! No, let them come, and Heaven help me if I did not turn the tables on them, and, if they withstood me, shoot them down like the dogs they were! “Let them come,” I repeated, to reassure the girl. “And do you have no fear, Fraulein. The game is in my hands. I am armed, and well armed, and they have no woman to deal with now!”
“Oh, but I am frightened! I am frightened!” she wailed, striving with all her little strength to detain me. “They are cunning! They are cunning as death! It was not without a purpose that they have let us meet, that they have let us talk! I am sure, oh, I am sure of that.”
“Pooh!” I said. “It was to gain a thousand crowns, Fraulein. I know them. I know them, believe me. But they have overshot the mark. In a few minutes you will be free, and they none the richer!”
T SUPPOSE that it was the opening of 1 some very distant door that had caused the flame of the candle to flicker, for it was not until this moment that we heard the tramp of foot-steps crossing the loosely laid floor of the great room. With_ the sound there came a murmur of voices and a laugh, a low, cruel laugh. And if anything could have hardened me in my purpose, it was that laugh. As the footsteps halted at the door, and I heard the key grate in the clumsy lock,
I thrust the girl behind me, and at the same time set up between myself and the light a broken corn-measure that chance had left on the table. This placed me in shadow, and when the door opened and the three came in, the two men jumping down while the woman remained poised on the threshold, I was ready for them, a pistol balanced in my hand. And thank heaven, some skill with the pistol was in those days a part of a gentleman’s education.
“Halt there!” I cried. “Stand! If you come a foot nearer, you devils—” “What will you do?” the man jeered, and seemed not a whit surprised.
“Shoot you down like dogs!” I retorted. “And murdering dogs you are!”
“Ho! Ho! You will, will you?” he cried.
“You’ve come for money, but you’ll get lead!” I said, casting all concealment aside. And as the man took a step forward I covered him. “Steady, if you prize your life, or—”
“You’ll shoot us, eh? Shoot us like dogs, will you?”
“Yes, I will,” I said, “and with pleasure—all the pleasure in life!”
“You fool!” he snarled, swiftly changing his bantering tone. “Fool! I drew the charges of those pistols two hours back—in the hall at the inn where you left them! Booby! Idiot!” with savage scorn. “They are harmless! As harmless as you, silly rabbit, with your neck in a noose! We’ve trapped you, dummer Englander, trapped you. And your thousand crowns as well. Ay, fire away!” as in a rage I pulled the trigger and the flint fell futilely. “In ten minutes if the stubborn little slut there does not speak, you will join your friend in the cellar! And moulder—moulder and rot there with him—both of you!”
Quick as light, but with despair in my heart, I flashed the second pistol at him— with the same result. I have since thought that I had done better then had I dashed out the light and taken my chance in the dark. But I had no time to think, and thought apart, what else was there for me to do, in that bitter moment of defeat, except what I did? I hurled the pistol at the man, and clubbing the other flung myself upon him.
My aim was true, the weapon, short and heavy, struck him on his grinning mouth, and he went down as if I had hit him with a club. But my very success was fatal to me. Carried on by the impulse of my rush I fell over him, and in
i a second the long powerful arms of the dwarf closed about me, his weight held me down, his horrible grasp sought ray throat, clutched it, dug into it. In vain, i his hot breath on my neck, his wild-beast I growling in my ears, I strove with all my , strength to rise, strove desperately to i cast him off. In vain, in vain. The pres! sure of his twining fingers, vice-like, strangling, grew tighter and tighter. My breast heaved, sparks shone and burst before my eyes, I was suffocating, suffocating! A last struggle, a blaze of light, and I lost consciousness.
WHEN I came to myself, drawing deep and painful breaths, with tingling limbs and a bursting head—I did not for a while take in where I was, or even at the first know if I lived. _ I seemed to be in a vast cavern, stretching on every side to a dark horizon beyond the reach of dim eyes. I fancied myself alone, set solitary in the midst of this gloomy cavern—which might, to my still reeling senses, have been Hades itself. And for a space, holding but weakly to reality, I recalled no part of the things that had gone before, nor the circumstances which had brought me to this. I only knew that I was in great pain; but this very pain it was that by and by had the effect of sharpening my perceptions. I began to notice things— that my stock was gone, my coat and shirt were wet, my face and hair dripping. My throat, too, hurt me vilely, and my wrists and ankles burned. I tried to move and could not; and by slow degrees enlightenment bitter as death penetrated to my mind. I was a prisoner. I remembered the struggle and its issue. I recognized that I was still alive, but bound hand and foot and helpless; set, my back against something that I could not see, in the middle of the floor of the great chamber of the brewery. A yellow light, as of a lanthorn burning behind me, disclosed so much of the place as I could see.
I had barely tasted the bitterness of this knowledge, I had no more than tried the strength of the bonds that held me, my senses were still giddy with the shock of the discovery, when a sound broke the silence. I heard footsteps coming across the loose floor towards me. I heard sentences exchanged, but as the speakers were behind me and my neck was so sore that I could not turn my head, I could not see the speakers. It was only when the Waechters appeared before me, and stood looking down at me, the man with cruel malignity as he gloated over my helplessness, the woman with sombre eyes—it was only then that I appreciated the hoplessness of my case, and recognized that I was in the hands of those from whom I could expect no mercy.
Though their eyes rested on me, they continued to talk as if I had not been there. The woman said something about a light. A better light.
“Oh, there’s light enough,” the man answered in a muffled tone; and I saw that his jaw was bound up. “I want only enough to see the bolt, and if it takes more than one stroke to find it—he’ll have the longer time to think where he’s going! That’s all! Do you see this?” He spurned me brutally with his foot, and pointed to his bandaged face. “You did it, you devil! And you are going to pay for it.” Then, to his companion, “Where’s the girl?” impatiently. “Why doesn’t he bring her along?”
“Oh, he’ll bring her,” the woman answered, her eyes fixed on me—and they had the same brooding look which had struck me so forcibly two nights before when I had watched her leaning over the sleeping girl. “He’s bringing her now. But he’ll want to do the work.” “Well, he won’t!” the man snarled. “That’s my job, and I mean to do it.”
“It might be saferto let him do it.” “D —n safety!” he retorted. “If you’d lost your teeth and a piece of your jaw,” with another ugly look at me, “your hands would itch for the bar as much as mine do. Besides, we’re too deep in now to talk of safety.” Then abruptly, “Will she speak?”
“I think so.” The woman seemed to measure her words as she answered. “If anything will make her, I think this will.” “It was your idea,” he rejoined. “And you’re a woman and may know. But one way or the other is no matter. He’ll go anyway, and no loss and a thousand thalers gained. And if she hasn’t spoken, well, we can try my way with her. We’ll
see if the lead won’t persuade her. Make it hot enough, and I’ll go bail she’ll
“She may die first,” the woman answered with, I fancied, a shudder, quickly repressed. “But that’s your affair. Only Î warn you, have a care that she does not follow him—and cheat you that way. Hold her fast, do you hear.”
“Karl will see to that,” he replied. “He’ll hold her, and fast enough, I’ll be bound, if I tell him. Oh—he’s bringing her. Then let’s get this part over. But,” with a devilish glance at me, “not too quickly either. No, my Englishman, not too quickly either. For each of these teeth I’ll have a price.”
Not a syllable of their talk had escaped me, and to this day and this hour I can recall not only the slightest word that passed between them, but—so far as they were visible to me—their looks and their bearing as they spoke. For though there was much said, and some said that I did not understand, though the more sinister points baffled me, I knew that it was the last, or a part of the last conversation that I should ever hear. The man’s evil face, the woman’s sombre eyes, her shudder rather suspected than seen, all were enough to convince me of this. And in truth hope was already dead in me—hope and all save the instinct to die with dignity—when the dwarf appeared, dragging the half-fainting girl by the waist.
Then for one moment, seeing her at their mercy, seeing her doomed to God knew what of shame and torment, seeing her frail slender form in the grasp of that unnatural brute—I lost my head. I struggled furiously, though I knew it to be useless—struggled with my bonds, striving desperately to rise. I spat curses at them, I foamed at the mouth, and only—only when strength failed me, when the ropes cut to the quick and I fell over helplessly on my side, only when I read the evil triumph on the man’s face and understood that I was but contributing to his enjoyment, only then did I recover the will to desist.
“That’s better,” he chuckled. “That’s better. It’s home to him now! That’s what I like to see. That’s worth all. You would knock out my teeth, would you?” setting me up roughly, and at the same time kicking me savagely in the ribs. “And it will help us too. It will help us with her, and it’s well she is here. Bring her on, lad, bring her on! No—not too near. That will do. Stand there, and hold her. And now, slut, you listen to me! Listen, do you hear? Do you know where your fine gentleman, so nicely trussed up, is sitting? Do you know? Do you know?”
In the weakest there is, I suppose, a residuum of strength upon which extremity can draw. The girl had been half carried, half dragged to the spot, and when I had first caught sight of her she had seemed to be swooning, to be barely conscious of her plight. Terror had, in appearance at least, robbed her of three parts of her senses, and of all her self-control. And my foolish, futile outbreak, which in her eyes must have seemed the effect of sheer cowardice— though indeed it was not—this, one would have thought, should have been of all things the least likely to revive her courage.
Yet it seemed, on the surface, at least, to have that result. For challenged by the brute who had kicked me, she stiffened herself, she lifted her head. Her features, though still colorless as snow, took on a firmer cast, and though no sound passed her parched lips, she shook her head.
“You don’t?” the man repeated with gusto. “You don’t know where he is sitting, eh? Your fine gentleman who thought to buy you? Who followed us and threatened us? And knocked out my teeth—for which he is going to pay, and pay high? You don’t know, don’t you?”
Again she shook her head. And now I saw that she stood alone, for Karl in his enjoyment of the scene, had released her, and she stood erect, her pinched face hard to ugliness, her eyes watchful as a
“You don’t?” the brute repeated. “Well, I’ll tell you,” with relish. “I’m going to tell you!” He stamped his foot on the floor beside me, and I felt the planks leap strangely under me. “Hollow, eh? Sounds hollow, does it? I’ll tell you why. He’s on the trap, d’you hear, wench? He’s on the trap-door that they let fall when they lower the sacks. In the floor
below there’s another trap—under this— and it’s open. And below that is another —to the cellar. To the cellar! You know what is in the cellar, wench? So if your fine gentleman falls through this”—and again he stamped upon it, his eyes glittering—“if he falls through this he falls plumb—to the cellar! Where he’ll join his friend, and there’ll be no labor wasted in carrying him down, do you see? He’s on the trap, my girl, and d’you see this?” He kicked an iron bolt, that fixed in the trapdoor and passing through a staple in the floor held up the platform on which I rested. “Do you know what that is? -That’s the bolt that holds up the trap! I knock it through with this”— and he picked up an iron bar that lay beside him—“I knock it through with this, d’you see, and in five seconds your fine'gentleman will be in Kingdom Come, with every bone in his body broken! And in half an hour more he’ll be rotting with his friend—you^know where! See!” he added. “See!” And he swung the bar to and fro within an inch of the bolt.
The cold sweat broke out on my brow and upper lip. “You/ievil! You devil!” I cried, seeing all now.
“Ay, you’d knock out my teeth would you?” he retorted. “You’d knock out my teeth! It’s my turn now. But you’ve a chance, you’ve a chance yet. See you,” to the girl, “it’s your affair. It’s for you to say. We give you five minutes, wench. Tell us where the papers are, and we let him go, and you too. But if within five minutes from now,” and he stepped behind me and coming back with the lanthorn in his hand drew my watch from his fob and held up its face to the light, “if within five minutes from now, you slut, you don’t speak, I knock out this bolt—I knock out this bolt, do you see? And down goes your man to heiland you after him!”
“Don’t!” I cried hoarsely. “Don’t tell him!” And heaven knows it was not courage, nor duty that spoke. It was despair. For I read the man, only too well I read his black mind. It needed not his cruel, crafty face, it needed not the sinister scraps of talk that I had heard, to assure me that whatever she told and whatever she did, I was doomed; that the girl had been right, fatally right, when she had said that her story once told, we should not go out alive! “Don’t tell him!” I repeated desperately, even while my flesh crept as I pictured the depth below me and in fancy saw my body falling, dropping, whirling through space.
“D—n you, keep quiet, will you?” the man cried, and he struck me so heavy a blow with the iron bar that he knocked the breath out of me. “Shut your cursed mouth! It’s not for you to choose, it’s for the girl! You hear?” turning to her. “It’s for you! Do you want to see him go? Do you want to hear his bones crack? And then to follow him? If not, out with it! Give it mouth! There’s a minute and a half gone already.”
She stood, mute, staring, her soul in her eyes. She stared at the bar, her face gleaming ashen through the gloom and once I thought that her lips moved, that she tried to speak. But no sound came.
He waited. Then, “There’s another minute gone,” he said. And he tapped the bolt lightly, playfully; and I felt— with an instinctive gathering together of all my body—the trap jar under me. “In three minutes it will be too late. Too late, my girl!”
Two minutos and a half! I had that long to live, and then a hurtling through space, a crash, nothingness! But in the worst strait—as I now learned—the mind will still hope, will still seek a way of escape! And for one of those minutes mine wrought furiously, desperately, thrusting every way for some scheme, some trick, some anything, by which at this last moment I might baffle my fate or postpone it. Was the man playing with me? Alas, I knew that he was not; nor in the woman’s dark brooding face, nor on the dwarf’s grim features, set with eager inhuman interest on what was to follow, was there one gleam of hope, or spark of mercy. No, I read as little hope, as little mercy in their faces as in the gloomy cavern about us, that barred with light or dark, according as the horn or the metal of the lanthorn fell on beam or plank, was to be the last scene on which my eyes rested.
A minute—vainly spent, wasted in ir ^ou2hts> And then, thank God, f J0™ the strength to give the next to thought of another, to thought for this
poor child, innocent, hopeless, timid, whom the same dreadful fate awaited, whom tragedy had swept with me into this web of death, who, frozen by terror, j looked on, already bereft of sense and almost of life!
“Stay!” I gasped, for I had hardly recovered my breath. “Stay, man! I know where the papers are! And I will tell you!”
Waechter shot round. “So?” he exclaimed. “You?”
“Yes, I. If you will let her go.”
“Then out with it.” His eyes sparkled with greed. “Where are they? Where are they, man?”
“No,” I replied. “Not so. I know you. You would only murder me first and the girl afterwards. But let the woman take her to the Coffee House and bring back a note from the landlord to say that she is safe, and I swear that I will tell you.”
It was a vain attempt; even while I made it, I knew that it was a vain attempt. I knew that they dared not let her go. And even as I expected, he answered. “Ay, and have the police on us in five minutes,” he sneered. “Fool! Dolt! Do you think that we are as stupid as you? No! Speak, speak, jade, or in another minute—” He waved the bar.
“Stay!” I cried—against hope. “She will swear, the girl will swear to be silent.
In six hours you can reach the frontier, you can be gone! And you will have all that you want! For God’s sake,” I turned to the woman, “don’t lay this crime, this useless crime, on your soul! For God’s sake, spare her. She will swear to be silent.”
But it was useless. Of course it was useless. The woman indeed seemed to me to waver, her face moved for a second by some ripple of fear, or of feeling. But the man’s brute sense met the appeal only with scorn. “And be hunted from one end of Germany to the other!” he replied savagely. “Have Justus Grüner on our heels? And von Kalisch? Be chased with a price on our heads from Hamburg to Memel, and from Bremen to Warsaw? No! No! We’ll make an end! Of you firsthand then we’ll try—we’ll try another way with her!”
He raised the bar and I thought one anguished wordless prayer, and closed my eyes—and then the girl shrieked. “Oh, I will tell! I will tell!” she babbled. “Oh, let him go! Let him go! I will tell!”
I opened the eyes I had involuntarily closed. The child had fallen on her knees, her hands outstretched, and the hardest breasts, one would have thought, must have relented before that appeal, before that frail sinldng form, that white face wrung with agony, those eyes wide with the fear of that which she dared not look upon. “Oh, I will tell!” she continued to cry, “I will tell!”
“Then tell! Tell!” the man commanded. “Speak!” said the woman, interposing more gently—for the girl was sinking forward, on the point of collapsing.
“In the eaves—over the window!” she panted. “Over my window! Oh, spare him! Let him go!” And then, and I thank God for it, she fell forward insensible, swooning, dead to us all.
But, “Good!” was the man’s only answer. “Good! Good! Then by G—d, here’s one witness out of the way!” And he swung the bar in the air.
But even while—in a fury of rage, for the girl’s fall had altered my mood—I cursed him, the woman sprang forward.
She seized his arm. “It is you that are the fool now!” she hissed. “It may not be true. Man, it may not be true! And you throw away the tool that has served us! Wait! Wait! Waechter, till I see if they are there.”
He lowered the bar unwillingly. “See?” he growled. “How will you see?”
“By looking,” she answered coolly. “How else? I will go now. In ten minutes I shall be back, and once I have them— you may do as you please.”
He swung the bar idly, his eyes glinting, then he yielded to her, and threw it down. “Well, be quick,” he said, “or by G—d, you’ll find the work done. I want it done, woman. We’re not safe till it is done, and they are under the soil—both of them. But there, it is fine talking, but how will you get into the room?”
“Trust me for that,” she answered confidently. “Only—do you wait till I come back and don’t be a fool. And see Karl plays no tricks, do you hear? If the papers are there—if they are there, I’ll have them within tenjminutes, you may be sure of it.”
To be Concluded I