The TRAVELLER in the FUR CLOAK
Was she Walburga, the half-wit's girl, or was she the Norma whom he sought?
STANLEY J. WEYMAN
BUT five minutes later we stopped again. The postillions—confound them!—would not go farther without lights. Then on afresh, with flagging horses, until suddenly we pulled up with a jerk that flung me against the front of the carriage. I thrust my head out of the window to learn what was wrong, and made out a dark mass lying across the track, just beyond the reach of our lights. Between us and it three or four figures gesticulated, and these as they came forward I saw to belong to two men and two women. The taller of the men came up to the carriage door. “We’ve had an upset and lost a wheel,” he said. “We shall be greatly obliged, mein Herr, if you will take two of us on to Pessin. It is only half a -league and—” he broke off abruptly as our eyes met.
“Of course I will,” I answered. “I will take on the two ladies with pleasure. I’m sorry I can’t take all.”
He was still staring at me. “If you’ll take me and my wife then,” he returned slowly, “that will do. The girl and the lad can ride in on the two horses.”
I was surprised. “But it’s raining,” I objected—indeed it was raining very heavily. “Surely the two ladies had, better come on?”
He did not reply at once, but fell back, and for a moment conferred with his companions. The light shone ' on them—they had come within its compass—and I had now a good view of them; and I was very much mistaken if they were not the people who had left the Russie in front of me that morning, and the same four, therefore, whom I had seen in the Thiergarten the day before. But if this were so, and I was pretty sure of it, it did not explain the man’s odd selection. And I was farther surprised and not at all pleased when, breaking off the discussion, he returned to the window and persisted in it.
“It will be the same to you, mein Herr,” he said, “whom you take. And we’ll do, if you please, as I proposed. My daughter will be safe with her cousin. She is used to riding.”
The woman advanced to support him. “If the gentleman cannot take us all in?” she said smoothly.
TT WAS plain that the gentleman could not, and the suggestion was otiose. But the woman’s movement afforded me a good view of her face, and I was convinced that she was not only the lady of the Thiergarten but the same woman whom I had seen leaving Wittenburg with the girl whom I now knew to be Norma Mackay. Whether the girl present with her now was the same, I could not say, as she kept out of the light.
However I put that thought away for future digestion and in the meantime I had to deal with the man’s request. It was his business, after all, who rode dry and who faced the weather, and still for an instant I hesitated, while in the half light behind the lamp the two and I gazed frowning at one another, like fencers feeling their antagonists’ blades. And I confess I liked very little what I saw. I did not like the woman— my mind was made up a3 to that. And I did not like the man; he was tall, he looked taller in his long straight coat and beaver
hat, and he was pale and lanthorn-jawed with sinister sneering eyes and something odd and unusual about his face—at the moment I could not say what. But least of all did I like the coincidence which had brought us together again. It seemed as if I was never to be quit of these people—of them and of the ambiguous atmosphere which they carried about with them and which I felt and resented at that moment.
However, I could not refuse to take them up, and “No, I am not able to take you all in,” I said drily. “I have room for no more than two as you see. But I fear—•” with a glance at the two who stood forlornly waiting half a dozen ' paces away, the rain soaking their shoulders—“I fear that the young lady will be very wet.”
“Alas, we are all pretty wet for that,” the woman said lightly, and laid her hand on the door. On which I opened it, and she stepped in, a tiny dog in her arms. The bells on its collar tinkled as she sat back beside me, and her companion closing the door, went to get up in front. As he did so, I heard him utter an exclamation.
“Oh, you!” I heard him say. “If I had known that! So you got your lift, eh? How often does your wife die, my joker?” v
The man made some humble response, which was lost in the rumble of the wheels. As we skirted the foundered carriage which had been drawn partly out of the way, our lights travelled across the faces of the two whom we were leaving, and was it my fancy, or some odd effect of light and shade, or did I read in the girl’s white face and strained eyes a silent appeal?
MY FAN CY, or some trick of the light? Though vague suspicions moved in my mind I might have set it down to one or the other, if the woman beside me had kept her mouth shut. But she made the mistake of offering to explain. “Silly girl!” she said in a tone of affection, that seemed to me to ring false. “She was always afraid of the dark from a child.”
“Then,” I said bluntly, “I am surprised, gnädige Frau, that you left her behind.”
“So! But I had to think first of my husband, mein Herr. He has a chest complaint, and with that in mind we had no choice but to avail ourselves of your kindness—as we have.”
She spoke with a silkiness meant to propitiate. But of all makeshifts for refinement affectation is the poorest, and her voice failed to persuade, and her excuse also—for if the latter were true, why had she suffered the man to take the outside seat which was exposed to the weather? However, it was no business of mine to put my finger on the blot, and “Still it was a pity to leave her behind,” I said. “If I had known I might have—”
“Oh, no, indeed,” politely,, “we could not have trespassed on you farther.”
“I might have set down my friend in front,” I concluded drily. “He might have walked.”
She did not understand me, for I think that she had not caught the drift of her husband’s words as he stepped in, nor recognized the importunate of the barrier. So, “Oh, we could not have suffered that,” she replied. “Azor!” to the dog, which was sniffing at me, “Be quiet! And behave, will you?” And then for a time we were, both silent, though I have no doubt that our thoughts were busy with each other.
I have said that I did not like her. I liked nothing in her. A bad kind of woman, I thought, ill-bred and affected. What she thought of me is another matter, though I know now. that she had already identified me with the person who had inquired for the Mackay girl the previous day; which would account if the girl were really Norma Mackay, for the reluctance of the party to let the girl travel in my company. I am not so sure that she had carried her identification farther back—to Grossenhayn and Wittenberg, for the carriage was dark, and she had had as yet but an imperfect view of me. And I was now differently dressed.
Besides, when she had seen me, at those places, I had
not been alone; I had been in company with Ellis. And as I thought of this it was strange how vividly and how powerfully Perceval’s pale face and grave eyes rose before me in the darkness of the carriage! How strong was the feeling of his presence, how poignant the sense of his personality that suddenly and in a moment oppressed me! It was an extraordinary and an uncomfortable sensation;
, and it gave rise to a thought as extraordinary. He had travelled this way, on this very road. He had halted, it might be, at this very place to which we were bound. And he had travelled, he had halted in uneasiness of mind, already under the shadow of the tragic and mysterious fate which awaited him a few stages onward. Could it be that he had travelled in this very carriage, suffered in it, reproached me in it? Could it be that he—that he haunted it now?
It was a wild, it was the wildest idea, and one which in my sober senses I should have been the first to ridicule. But for the moment it possessed me to such a degree that I caught myself now glancing over my shoulder, and now peering fearfully at my companion. She had brought into the carriage a heavy over-powering scent—the Germans know no mean in such things. Could it be tha;? Bu'no. Perceval had used no scent, I could not associate any scent with him. It could not be that which brought his personality, his reproachful eyes and pale face so vividly, so uncomfortably, so hauntingly before me.
The feeling was akin to the gloomy sensation which I had experienced when walking the streets of Berlin the night before and it was a relief to me when my neighbour spoke and broke both the spell and the silence.
“Do you think that we are nearly there?” she asked. She was leaning forward, peering into the darkness.
“I think we must be,” I replied, breathing more freely.
“You know the road perhaps?”
“I have travelled it. And you too, Madam, perhaps?’1
. “Yes—once.” Was it fancy, or did she shiver as sh« spoke? Then, “You too, mein Herr, are for Hamburg?”
“As good,” I said. “For Altona.”
I was aware of her only as a dark shape seated besidt me, but it seemed to me that at that she turned her face t me. But she only answered,“Ah, Altona.” And thei “From South Germany perhaps?”
I suspected that she was uneàsy about me and woul learn what she could, and I assented. Doubtless m; accent had to that extent betrayed me. A moment later as lights gleamed on the road before us, “I think we ar there,” I said, and I was thankful for it. For I wanted above all things, to be rid of the woman. She weighed oi me and made me uncomfortable. Even her kindness t' the dog—and she petted it and fondled it with affecta tion, calling it her Liebling, her Azor, and the like, di not conciliate me.
WE STOPPED,, amid much confusion, in front of building which I was thankful to see, promise
better than I had expected. A stream of light and nois poured from a large open door-way which suggested t me that the house had once been a farm-stead; an whether it was the invitation that this held out tha moved us, or a natural impulse to seek shelter, or a commo desire to part company as soon as possible, we all melte inwards with speed and a blind eye to one another. N host presented himself to receive us, and the threshol crossed, I found myself standing, valise in hand, in a wid draughty earthen-floored passage, once I fancied cartway, but now cumbered with tables and benches an crowded with brawling, pushing guests. From a larg room on the left came the strains of a fiddle and tl rumble and clatter of men dancing in heavy boots, and had a vision, glancing that way, of roughly clad peasan whirling heavily and clumsily round in a cloud of tobaci smoke—for every other dancer had a long pipe in h mouth. I cursed my luck as I saw that to an unusu influx of guests was added the pandemonium of a rust dance, and shrugging my shoulders I turned to the roo on my right, where I found things scarcely better. Tl room was crowded in every part,crowded with impatier bawling, supping guests, among whom distracted servin wenches, here summoned by raucous voices, the snatched at by clutching hands, staggered to and fi unequal, it was plain, to a tithe of the calls made up> them. At one end, at a great open fire-place—a rare sig in Germany and found only in the rural districts—cooking was going on, and the steam and odour filled the room and hung like a canopy over the company. Everywhere was noise, confusion, the reek of victuals and damp clothes.
I paused, dismayed by the prospect. The man and woman had entered before me, and were standing at a little distance away, equally at a loss. For a separate room or tolerable attention—these things I saw were out of the question; and I was looking uncertainly about for some one, the host or another, to whom I might apply, when I caught the eye of my friend of the barrier—the man to whom I had given the lift. He was the last person to whom I should have looked for aid in such a quandary, but he not only met my eye, he unmistakably, though humbly, beckoned to me. I pushed my way through the press, and I found that somehow, I am sure I don’t know how, he had got hold of the crimson-faced, perspiring host; and not only that, but he had secured his ear also, as the next step proved. On either side of the fire stood a couple of small tables, hauled in to supplement the long tables that filled the room, and at one of these the redfaced man, still with my chance-met friend at his elbow, made room for me by unceremoniously sweeping away a guest who might or might not have finished. At any rate, and however it was effected, here in a trice and to my surprise I found myself seated; and seated in the best position in the room, within the cheering influence of the' fire, and where I could by turning a little to the side, warm my chilled feet among the pots that simmered and bubbled at my feet. '
TT WAS such a piece of luck as I could not have ex' *pected, for in the confusion all distinctions of class were lost; and I appreciated it the more when I saw that my late companions were still at a loss and seeking seats in a very ill humor. I had done already as much for them as could be expected, and I had no mind to resign my luck even in the lady’s favour; so I hung my cloak on the back of my bench and placed my valise under it. Then I looked round, prepared to enter upon the noisy contest for food which raged about me.
Never indeed was a lift more speedily or more handsomely rewarded, and I did not appreciate his aid the less as I saw that the man and woman were still in debate with a couple whose places they were striving to take. A few minutes later I perceived that they had succeeded; and then, as they sat down, I lost sight of them. But when I looked that way again I met their eyes and quickly as they averted them I saw en ough to be sure that the feeling of dislike which I felt for them was shared on their side. The cause was to Seek, but most certainly if I had ever read suspicion and something like fear in any eyes, I read it in theirs then—and something more, a venom that set me thinking. Where had I seen the man before? Where had I encountered -a face that reminded me of his—yet vaguely and doubtfully? I could not remember, I could not fix the occasion or the man. But somewhere, somehow, at some time,
I was sure that we had met.
It was plain that I could not hope for a bed, I saw that at best I must spend the night by the fire—if by luck I could
retain my place; and accordingly I did not hurry over my meal. The shrill squeak of the fiddle, the thunder of the dancers’ feet and now and again a drunken chorus blew into our room and mingled with the clatter of knives and trenchers and the bawling of hungry guests. To spend the evening in such a pandemonium, reeking with the smell of cooking and dim as a witch’s caldron with the steam of damp clothes was no pleasant prospect even to me now
But I had no call to do so. By what magic he obtained it where so many were waiting, I can’t say, but in a twinkling the man of the barrier leaned over my shoulders—but still with a meek and deprecatory air—and plumped down before me a plate of bacon salad, a huge flagon of Cotbus beer and a pancake. He muttered humbly, “Zu Tischebitte, Hofedelgeborener,” and vanished like the good fairy of the legends.
enured to the place, and warm and dry; but I could imagine that in the eyes of those who looked in for the first time the scene was one to raise the gorge. And presently, glancing up by chance, I saw, gazing in from the doorway a small white face and a pair of frightened, dilated eyes that brought this home to me.
VVÑD the sight did more. It went far to assure me that the girl whom I saw trembling on the threshold was Norma Mackay. I no longer felt any but the smallest doubt. As she and the queer mis-shapen creature who ' held her by the arm hung a moment gazing in, I had a clear view of her; and dishevelled, draggled, travelstained, piteous to look on as she was, I swore that I could not be mistaken. If she was not the girl of the portrait, if she was not the Grand Duchess’s governess, then it was the most remarkable case of a “double” that I had ever come upon. And convinced of this I looked with the greater curiosity at her companion; perhaps I might find in him the answer to the riddle ofher presence.
If so, it was a dark riddle and an ugly answer. For I found him as remarkable, he impressed me as deeply, though in a different way, as the girl. In age he was neither man nor boy; in frame he was short, squat, powerful, a dwarf or nearly a dwarf; in face low-browed, heavy-jowled, brutish, with no more soul in his countenance, no more intelligence in his wolfish eyes than one might find in the lowest animal. " He was indeed an animal and no more; nor had I ever seen a countenance which repelled me more strongly. To see him holding that hapless girl by the arm, to see him dragging her forward, ’ even to see him in her company was a shock to the sensibilities. It was to picture with shame the yoking of a Una with a-satyr. ,
How could, how could, I asked myself, the father and mother have left them together? Cousins? No, never! Never! Impossible! But more, they were no father, no mother—I was sure of it. Whatever the mystery, whatever the chain of wickedness or folly, that had made this girl one with them, I was clear on that. The girl1—or every
instinct that spoke in me was false—was Norma Mackay; Norma Mackay who should at this moment be in the Grand Ducal Schloss at -Zerbst! Then, dark and deepwoven indeed must be the web that had snared her and made her the tool and companion of these dubious—ay, and more than dubious persons!
I do not think that I am emotional, for in acquiring the savoir faire we lose in my line the coeur sensible. But I
own that it was with something approaching horror that I viewed the scene that ensued, though the company—for the Germans who make a religion of sentiment keep it like other religions for Sunday and tjhe closet—and appeared to see only the risible side of it.
The lout—I remembered that I had heard the woman call him Karl—had not advanced more than a pace into the room before he caught sight of the fire. He was cold and I suppose that for him with an animal love of warmth it presented an irresistible attraction, for in a trice he headed for it, recklessly elbowing and jostling all who came in his way, and dragging the unfortunate girl after him. The movement promised to land him cheek by jowl with me; but others as well as I discerned this, and before he had butted a road half way down the room the man Waechter rose and intercepted him, seized him roughly by the arm, argued angrily with him—not I fancied without a warning glance in my direction.
DUT Master Karl was no more to be turned from his U object than a thirsty ox making for water. He gibbered something, shaking his head like an enraged bull, flung off the detaining hand, and heedless of the jeers and laughter that attended his progress, broke away, still dragging the girl after him by the wrist.
He reached the hearth, and now no more than a yard or two from me thrust himself almost into the blaze. Extending first one hand to the heat and then the other, he kept up a hoarse inarticulate murmur which I suppose expressed his content. But I noticed that he still kept a hand on the girl, who was thus forced to stand by, exposed to the gibes and reproaches which his queer aspect and his blind rush had provoked.
His first craving satisfied, he thrust himself by force on to the end of the bench opposite me—the table held but four. This left the girl still on her feet; and more in pity than in mischief, though I. knew very well that it would annoy my late companions, I rose and signed to her to take my place. The clown had sense enough to gather what I meant, and growling reluctantly he released her
arm. The poor child, without raising her eyes, slid into the seat, while I moved with my plate to an upturned log that stood within the hood of the chimney. I was still within two feet of her.
was going to thank me—but the dwarf snarled “Stille! Stille!” and with a savage glare reduced her to silence. Then without a moment’s pause and regardless of his company he began to hammer the table and bawl for food.
I longed to take the savage by the shoulders and throw him out; nor was I alone in this. The man whom he had crowded up the bench was a weakling unable to resent it, but the next on the seat, who had been nearly pushed from it, and who was of a stouter build, 'reached out behind, grasped the lad by the collar and shook him. “Silence, you dirty dog!” he said, “or I’ll teach you manners! Have done and wait your turn. And push no more, stupid, or I’ll pitch you into the fire!”
Karl glared at him, but cowed by his address, ceased to beat the table. I caught the eye óf a crimson-faced old crone who was superintending the cooking, and I passed a quarter-thaler to her. “Give the girl something,” I muttered. “She is famishing.”
The woman nodded, took a wooden trencher from a pile, filled it and set it before the girl. Instantly the lad seized it, and took it to himself. But the old cook was equal to the occasion. She brought her great leaden spoon down on his head with a crack that was heard half a dozen yards away.
“Have done, and wait your turn, ogre!” she cried, and returned the platter to the girl. “Or I’ll hit you harder next time! They never paid a penny for your manners!”
said, “or we shall have no peace, Frau.” “I’d like to give him the spoon down his throat!” she said. But she did as I suggested, and he fell to, wolfing the food like the wild beast he was. Germans are at all times queer feeders, but such an eater as this I had never seen.
I SEIZED the opportunity and as unobtrusively as I could, I scrutinized the girl. She was in piteous case. She was wet and mud-stained to the waist by her walk, her hat was awry, her hair hung in wisps on cheeks blanched to the hue of paper. Her teeth chattered and her hands shook so that she could with difficulty raise the food to her mouth. For all this, fatigue and exposure might account. But not for the hopeless expression, the frozen look of despair, that pinched and distorted her features and for the time so robbed them of beauty that once again my mind veered about, and I doubted. Was she, after all, Norma Maekay? Could the girl of the portrait have fallen to this? Or was I, haunted by a face, permitting a chance likeness to deceive me?
I could not say—at the moment. I could not be sure, now that I looked closely at her.
But at any rate, and whoever she was, it was a most unhappy girl that I saw before me, of that I was convinced; a girl whose lot, were it only in being the thrall and the companion of this half-witted savage, appealed to every chivalrous, nay, every manly instinct. Whatever her sin or her folly, whatever the circumstances which had brought her to this pass, it was impossible to view her without pity, as it was impossible to look on the degraded creature opposite without desiring to rescue her from him. I judged that in her misery she was almost unconscious of the present, or of the scene about her; she kept her eyes on her plate, and once only I fancied that she shot a terrified glance in my direction—but so swiftly that I was not sure of it. And once when her trembling hand allowed her knife to fall to the ground, and I silently replaced it, her bloodless lips moved, but without sound.
I was hot -with indignation, yet I did not lose sight of prudence, and I reflected. What could I do? Could I do anything? Were I once convinced that the girl was the missing Mackay-, I might interfere, stranger and foreigner as I was. Gratitude, indeed, to the Duchess enjoined it. But what if she were not? What if those two, louche and suspect as they were, were in truth her father and mother? Then to interfere would not only be useless, but would expose me to most unwelcome ridicule. After all, I might be letting my sympathy run away with me.
I was still thinking—and it may be that the girl was thinking also;for on a sudden she rose and as if anxious to warm herself she turned to the fife and held out her hands. She did not look at me, though I was now abreast of her, but her lips moved. “Oh, help me!” she whispered. “Oh, I am frightened! I am frightened!”
The words were so low that I barely heard them, and for certain no one else could hear them. But the lad’s suspicions were aroused by her movement, and he stretched out a huge hairy hand, gripped her delicate shoulder and pushed her back into her seat. As .he did this, I noticed that not only was his hand abnormally large, but his arm was of unusual length “Eat!” he growled. “Eat! That is your business!” he snarled. -“Oh, I am frightened! I am frightened!” The words, low as she had breathed them, vibrated in my ears. I felt that after this I had no choice. I must help her, Maekay or no Maekay, if I got the opportunity. I must help her even at the risk of ridicule, and even though the effort diverted me from my Jegitimate task! But how? How could I help her?
One thing only was plain. I must know more. I must know all. I must learn the circumstances that had brought her to this pass, and to do that I must gain speech with her. Meantime I shot a wary glance at the Waechters, man and woman, and I was not surprised to see that they were watching me. I surmised that my proximity to the girl was the cause of this, and it was no more than I expected when a moment later the two rose from their seats and came towards u^.
'IpHEY aimed for the farther side of the small table, at my elbow, and though I was sure that there was no one in the room of whose presence they were more sensible than of mine, they were careful to avert their eyes from me. The man laid his hand on Karl’s shoulder, and shook him to attract his attention—shook him, I could see, in ill-suppressed irritation. “Come, you’ve eaten enough,” he said roughly. “Come! Do you hear, lad? We make arrangements for the night.”
But Karl only acknowledged his grasp by twitching his shoulder free, and when the man repeated his words, “ Nein! Nein!" he replied, and went on guzzling, his face almost in his platter.
“Then do you come, Walburga,” the woman said.
The girl prepared to obey, but Karl, without raising his head, stretched out his hand, gripped her arm, and held her down. “ Nein! Nein!" hé growled. “Let be! We are warm here! Warm!”
“But she must come,” the woman persisted. “Now, Walburga, come!” And more sharply, “Do you hear, child? We are waiting for you.” She tried to speak calmly, but her voice was hard.
Again the girl would have obeyed and risen. But the lad dragged her down. “She’s not to go,” he snarled. “She’s mine, mine! She’s not to go.” He shot an upward glance at them, his teeth bared. He was like an illtempered dog about to bite.
I suspect that the two could have willingly struck him for his ill-timed perverseness, but unable to reason with him in the presence of others, they were helpless. They tried another line. “They are dancing in the other room,” said the woman. “Bring Walburga and she will dance with you.”
This time he rose to the bait. “Ho, dance?” he chuckled. “Ay, we’ll dance! We’ll dance, when I have eaten. And ■ then we’ll come back to the fire. The good, warm fire!”
“Well, you had better be quick,” the woman rejoined. “Or the fiddlers will be gone, and you’ll lose your fun, Karl.”
I was sure that their aim was to remove the girl and avert the risk of my speaking to her. But for a while it seemed as if they were not to succeed. The boor continued to gorge himself, eating more like an animal than ever. But the idea of dancing had found an entry to his mind, and at last and as abruptly as he did everything, he dropped his spoon, mumbled “We’ll dance! Ho! Ho! We’ll dance!” and struggled to his feet. He jerked the girl roughly to hers, but uncouth in this as in all things he lost his balance as he'turned, and he came near to falling over the bench. He saved himself, but the sprawl with which he did so, carried. him. and his unfortunate companion halfway across the hearth, Thence, regardless of the remonstrances of those whom he jostled and elbowed, he ploughed a blind way to the door, dragging the girl behind him and followed by the curses of some and the laughter of others. It was an exhibition which I was sure that the man and woman would have been glad to avoid, but they had at least succeeded in breaking up the party, and affecting to see only the comic side, they joined in the laugh and presently followed the couple at their leisure.
So did I—'after a brief delay. An idea had occurred to me and though I abhorred the publicity it must entail— for I have no more liking than another for cutting an absurd figure—I made my way to the threshold of the room in which the peasants were jigging. A crowd of some size was already gathered about the door and their jeers and laughter prepared me for the kind of farce that was going forward in the room, which was lit by smoky pine-knots fixed in rings on the wall. -
\ FARCE, indeed, - for those who looked only at the leading actor; but something very different for such as had eyes for the second performer. The wild antics of the mis-shapen half-witted lad, his extravagant leaps and clumsy gestures as he whirled his partner up and down the floor, from which the other dancers had withdrawn,
■ were warrant enough for the laughter of the herd. But a glance at the girl’s white face, to which not even this humiliation brought a blush, the sight of her hopeless eyes and her passive acquiescence killed in me even the inclination to smile. The peasants might cling to one another in their coarse glee, the fiddlers might bend themselves double, and the better sort turn from the door with a sneer, but under the comic mask I read a tragedy; and when the lout, exhausted by his exertions,
' at length flung himself breathless against the wall and amid a last uproarious gust of applause mopped his crimson face, I thrust my way through the crowd and crossed the floor towards him.
There was not one person there for whose opinion I cared a penny piece. And yet so little do we like to incur the ridicule even of those whom we despise, that I have seldom done a harder thing. I bowed gravely before the deformed lad.
“If your partner will condescend to honour me with a turn,” I said, “while you are resting?”
He scowled at me, taken by surprise, and suspicious. “What is it?” he muttered.
“Perhaps your partner will dance a turn with me now?”
I repeated, seeing out of the corner of my eye that the man and woman, fore .tailed by my action,were still out of hearing. “While you are resting?”
But “ Nein! Nein!" he replied, glaring at me, more monster-like than ever. “She will not.”
“Still,” I said politely, striving to ingratiate myself, “we shared a table, mein Herr, and having supped together—” .
For answer he snarled at me in his mongrel-like fashion, and seizing the girl by waist and shoulders, whirled her roughly away. A burst of jeers and applause greeted this fresh grotesquerie, and baffled and defeated, liking little my conspicuous position in the middle of the floor, I fell back and effaced myself once more amid the group by the door.
Here I found myself, as it chanced, elbow to elbow with the Waechters. But for the moment they took no heed of me, nor I of them. I did not despair and I waited. Something might yet fall out to favour me.
It did. The creature brought his dance—if a dance it could be called—to a close by a bound which landed him all arms and legs amid those about me, whom he scattered
every way. Before he had regained his balance, I attacked him anew. “Now, perhaps,” I said, “if the young lady is not tired she will honour me with a turn?”
He squinted at me, panting, and for the moment unable to speak; in the end he would no doubt have refused. But the choice was not left to him. The woman had foreseen my action, and touching me on the shoulder to compel my attention, she spoke for him. “What is it, mein Herr?" she asked.
“I thought that perhaps your daughter would—”
“Dance with you?”
“Precisely, Frau Waechter,” I said with a bow, “if she will so honour me.”
‘ Walburga is German,” she retorted harshly. “She does not dance with Englishmen.”
The reply was so offensive, that it was as good as a slap in the face, and before I could recover from my surprise, the woman had turned her shoulder to me, drawn Karl and the girl through the doorway, and the four were moving back to the common room.
I did not follow: partly because I had no mind to involve myself further—I had done all that I could; and partly because the woman’s words had cast light, whether she intended it or not, into a dark place. These people knew me then; they knew more of me than she had disclosed in the carriage and more than I could explain. That was clear, and perplexed as well as angry, I stared after them. And well it was that I did so, for as I stared I saw something.
A little thing, a morsel of white stuff that for a moment rolled across the dirty .floor of the passage, dragged by the hem of a skirt, and then, released, lay abandoned on the threshold of the opposite room. If either of the four had looked back it must have been seen, but they did not, and I stepped after them and picked the thing up. It was a tiny square of fine linen, not over fresh, crumpled and damp—a woman’s handkerchief.
If it belonged to the girl, had she let it fall on purpose, pinning a faint despairing hope to this frail, ay frailest of messengers? I could not say, but hiding it in my hand I stepped back into the dancing room. I sought a corner not open to observation from the passage, and there turning my back on the room I examined my trouvaille.
It did convey a message, whether chance or purpose had abandoned it! For embroidered in whitenn one of the corners appeared the initials N.M.
So the girl was Norma Maekay! That point was settled for me, settled once and for all. The girl was Norma Maekay, and not improbably she wished me to know it. It might be that from the depths of her unhappiness, from the deep waters of heaven knew what intolerable fate, she had released this fragile buoy, she had sent up this dumb, this pathetic appeal for aid and for rescue. It might be that, aware that I was the person who had asked for her at the hotel on the day before, she had let this go; in the hope, however forlorn, however desperate, that it might fall into my hands and inform me who she was.
And God knows her appeal could not have taken a more moving form. That morsel of linen still damp with her tears and warm from her palm, and so fine and so flimsy that I could hide it in my hand, spoke to my heart with such eloquence, it moved me to a passion of pity so hot that it was all that I could do to withhold myself from rash and instant action! It was all that I could do to refrain from following the sinister trio into the next room and challenging them there and then with the facts.
However, prudence prevailed, and fortunately, for I began to see that I had become an object of interest to the clowns about me. The woman’s taunt, the word “Englishman” had been overheard and as I turned I met on all sides dark looks, I caught threatening whispers. I saw that in any contest in this milieu I should have public feeling and the odds against me. To act in haste therefore would be both to court defeat and to put the enemy on their guard; and though I lost no time in leaving the dancing room and mingling with the more respectable crowd in the other apartment, I had no longer a mind co act rashly.
The less as I was in time to surprise, amid the movement of the company now settling down to repose, a thing which gave me something of a shock.. Karl and the girl were noc to be seen, but at the farther end of the room, and near a second door, I espied the Waechters. They were talking to my friend of the barrier, and meantime were keeping, I could see, a sharp look-out for me, for I no sooner perceived them than the conference broke up. The Waechters melted away through the door behind
them, while my humble friend made his way towards me, rubbing his hands and putting on a great show of anxious devotion.
“I have kept your place, honoured sir,” he said, “1 have kept it,” and he bowed me fussily towards it. “Youi cloak too—all is safe Au! So! I had my eye on them And at what hour will it please the Wohlgeborener Hen to have the horses?”
I checked him. “Who are those people?” I asked. Anc
then, seeing that he hesitated and apparently was aboul to prevaricate, “Whom you were just talking to, my friend?” “Those? Whom the Hofedelgeborener took up on the oad?” He shrugged his shoulders and spread out his ands. “Their name is Waechter, the postboy tells me. ierr and Frau Waechter of Hamburg. Persons,” eondentially, “of no consequence, Excellency. Little eople.”
“The lad is half-witted,” I said.
“Der Zwerg! Der Kobold! The WóMgeboréner is right. íe should not be about. He is—unspeakable! But the tin has ceased and at what hour may I have the honour : ordering the horses for his Excellency?”
“At eight,” I said coldly.
“I will see that they are ready. Nothing shall be forDtten. It shall be done as said, mein Herr. To the minute, our place, honoured sir, is here.” ,
I had my suspicions, but the man was useful—he had spt my place and it was about the best place in the >om—and I contented myself for the present with dis-, lissing him in a manner intended to show him that he as out, of favour. This done I made myself as comfortable i I could, with my back against the wall, and my feet pon a log within a iew inches of the embers. The cook id her attendants had withdrawn, and the company ere beginning to settle down. Most of the lights had îen extinguished, the fire had been banked up, and ider the tables and agamst the walls par ies were litterg down in little bivouacs of their own, some content with rug and the bare floor, others ensconced behind im•ovised screens formed of their baggage. In a distant irner one table still bore lights, and at this three or four ficers, the last party to arrive, were at supper, their ble, in contrast with the obscurity about them, wearing mething of the aspect of a scene on a stage. I fancied at they were French, but though an occasiona1 laugh, the clink of a glass, reached me, they made little noise, id I got more annoyance from the heavy snoring of those 10 lay about me and who slept as raucously as they Iked while awake.
It was an odd scene, this camp of belated travellers.
stayed by the waters and forced to shifts that had seemed more in place in a Turkish caravanserai. But I knew that it was no uncommon sight on the worst road in Prussia and my thoughts soon passed from observance of it to consideration of the m.atters thac pressed upon my attention; and in particular to reflection upon that one which had just now, and so deeply engaged my interest. The girl—the poor girl, whose moving message had reached me, she must be rescued! She must be rescued! On that I ’was fixed, and it seemed to me that I knew enough now to render the task easy. She could not be lawfully in the custody of the vulgar pair who accompanied her—that was plain. She could not be at once their daughter, Walburga, and Norma Mackay, the child of a colonel in the Danis*h service. She could not belong to them or their class, and be at the same time the Grand Duchess’s governess. And this point settled by the initials on the handkerchief, my course seemed clear. I had only to go to the police and place the matter in their hands, and this I wasdetermined to do before I left in the morning. The police would intervene, and once in their hands, and assured of protection, the girl would speak and the mystery which involved her and which it passed my* ingenuity to solve, would be unriddled by a word.
T TNDOUBTEDLY that was the obvious course, and I resolved that at seven in fhe morning I would go to the town-office and dispatch the affair. It need not detain me long—I might still be on the road by eight. And even if it did detain me, even if I arrived a day late at Kyritz, I should still have time to push there and at Perleberg, the inquiry which was my first business and which I had set out to make. Whereas if I abandoned this girl,. English by blood as she was, and the victim of some dark intrigue—if I left her, knowing what I now knew, in the hands of the loathsome gang who surrounded her, I felt that I should never, I could never, forgive myself. For she lived; she lived and suffered, while poor Perceval was gone. He was past help. And though I had much where-
with to reproach myself on his account, though my honour and my career depended on my success in detectting his assassins and recovering, were it possible, the missing dispatches—though I dared not indeed waste one hour or remit one effort which might serve tothat end, still the memory of the hapless girl’s face warred with my scruples, challenged my manhood, haunted to the last my waking moments.
A Don Quixote? No, no Don Quixote. But English, as she was English, and master of events. For had I not an all-powerful instrument, had I not Davout’s warrant in my pocket? How, thus armed, could I leave her? Howr could I abandon her defenceless to her fate, ay, defenceless and with no possible aid if I failed Her? No, surely I was warranted, fully warranted in giving a day, were a day necessary, to her rescue.
I slept at last, and slept well, though my posture was not of the easiest. Yet I was warm, I had that advantage over many, though even for that I had to pay the price. For at some unknown hour of the night, I was roused, suddenly and rudely aroused, by a man falling over my feet; and instinctively, though but half awake, I seized him. “What is it? What the devil are you doing?” I cried angrily.
“Putting wood on the fire, stupid,” he retorted. “Do you want us all to freeze?”
“Well, get off my cloak,” I grumbled peevishly, for the man was standing on one skirt of it, and my hasty movement had dragged it half way off my shoulders. “Lift your foot, do you hear?”
He muttered something, but complied, flung a couple 'of billets on the fire, and retreated. It was too dark to see more than the outline of his figure, and after listening awhile' to the heavy breathing that filled the room, I drew my cloak about me and five minutes later was again asleep.
I had done much in the last three days, and no doubt I was weary, for I slept not only well but long. The movements of those who were first on foot did not rouse me, ahd when I at last opened my eyes I found that the fire was ablaze, the cook and her maids were at work, knives and spoons were going briskly, and half the tables were filled. The grey light of morning was stealing in at the windows, and beginning to contest it with the smoky rays of the tallow dips; and, alarmed, I started up. I looked at my watch and uttered an execration. It was half past seven!
Continued on page 47
Continued from page 27
WELL, I had still time, though not too much time. I asked one of the servants if the road was open, learned that it was, and seizing my hat I went out to the front of the house. Here all the world was agog, running to and fro, carrying out bags and trunks and packing calashes; some bribing, some threatening,, and all in haste to be gone and claiming the first horses, or contending for places in the Eilwagen. I found my barrier friend, who seemed to be far from the hindmost in the fray, and I was about to tell him that he might postpone our start for an hour when the sight of a carriage which was leaving the door startled me. “Hallo!” I exclaimed. “Those people—the Waechters? They are not away yet?”
“They?” he replied. “Yes, honoured sir, this half hour past.”
I swore—who would not have? To be so jockeyed, and through my own remissness. “What, all four?” I cried.
“Yes, all four, honoured sir. For Kyritz, where they intend to breakfast.” "Then why the devil didn’t you wake me?” I thundered—unreasonably enough, but I was vexed, and there was no one else I could blame.
He stared. “I did not know that the Wohlgeborner Herr—”
“Well, get the horses out,” I ordered, cutting him short. “Get them harnessed as quickly as you can. I am in haste. A cup of coffee and I shall be with you.”
I went in fuming, got from the goodnatured cook some coffee and a hunch of ryebread—the white had all been eaten— and in less than the five minutes I was out agáin, valise in hand. The man had done his part and the horses were being put to. I flung in my valise, turned back to the inn and paid the reckoning, not forgetting the cook, then returned to the carriage. Three or four men had gathered about it, and I_was running my eye over them, my hand in my pocket, deciding whom I must :fee, when they all wheeled and closed round me.
“Mein Herr,” the foremost announced stolidly, “I am from the Town Office, and I must ask you to come with me.” “The devil!” I exclaimed, staring.
‘ Why? Who are you?”
. “Police,” he replied bluntly. “Information has been laid that you are an alien, mein Herr, and the Town Offizier desires to see your papers.”
“I’ll soon settle that,” I retorted |angrily. And I thrust my hand into my pocket in search of the card which Justus Grüner had signed for me.
, Put the man raised his hand. “Not ieï?’ • sa^ stolidly. “I have no authority. You must see the Chief.” He was a typical German, fat, with a bristling
flaxen moustache, his neck rippling even his coat collar.
I was about to remonstrate but remembered myself. It would do no good, and after all this could only mean ten minutes delay. “Very well,” I said. “The sooner the better. How far is it?”
“Three minutes walk. This way, mein Herr.” He beckoned to one of the others to follow us, and I was moving off with him when I remembered that I had better leave Grussbaum—such I had learned was the barrier man’s name—in charge of the carriage. But I could not see him. He had vanished, and “If you are looking for your servant,” said the policeman, “he has been taken to the Office.”
“Oh!” I said, no little annoyed. “Then will you be good enough to leave a man to look after my carriage?
“We have taken charge,” he replied impassively. “This way.”
THE summons was irritating, the delay a nuisance. But apart from this the affair caused me no uneasiness, for a dozen words and the production of my credentials should settle the matter, and I went with the man without farther demur. The little town lay along the road beyond the inn, and between it and the river; and to enter it we had to pass through one of those gate-houses of weathered brick, with a pair of pyramidal towers atop and a stone statue niched in the facade, which are common in the Ukermark. A hundred yards of a narrow. cobbled street, brought us to a tiny market place, scarcely larger than a big room, on the farther side of which, and raised on brick arches, stood a Townhouse of a size to match the square.
My conductor led me to a low-browed door under one of the arches, before and about which a knot of curious townsfolk had already mustered. He pushed me in before him—for the nearer we draw to the great man the less ceremony I noticed was used, and I mounted a narrow turning staircase lit only by a narrow slit. At the head of this I blundered down a step into a small low-browed vaulted room, and there found myself in the presence of five or six men. The principal, whom I took to be the Chief of Police, sat behind a table, a pen in his hand—a meagre biliouslooking man with small angry eyes. Beside him, perched on another table and swinging their feet, lounged a couple of French officers—two of those unless I was mistaken whom I had seen at supper the night before. The party was completed by Grussbaum, who seemed to be in custody, and a couple of policemen, who stood one on each side of him. The man behind the table and the two Frenchmen eyed me closely as I entered, but beyond that vouchsafed me no greeting.
Apparently they had begun to interrogate Grussbaum, for the Chief’s shrewish eyes quickly left me for him, and his voice, astonishing in volume considering his size, was making the roof ring. “You are the Englishman’s servant,” he stated, stabbing at the tíulprit with his pen. “It is useless to deny it! You are the Englishman’s servant.”
“ Nein! Nein! It is not so,” Gruss-
baum asseverated passionately. “Far from it, Herr Offizier, asking a thousand pardons. Far from it! I do not know him. The way of it was this.” And he began to explain the manner of his connection with me, the fix he had been in, his dying wife, his lack of money. But before he had stammered through half his tale:
“Don’t lie to me!” the Chief roared, cutting him short with revolting truculence. “You are his servant! I say it is so! Where did he hire you?”
The poor fellow appeared to be frightened out of his wits, and out of pity for him, I interposed. “One moment, Herr Offizier," I said politely. “Allow me to explain. I can set all this right in a—” “Silence! Silence!” the bully shouted, and slapped the table to enforce his order. “Stop that man’s mouth if he speaks. Your turn will come presently, my man, and soon enough for you! Now do you,” to Grussbaum, “out with it! And the truth! Where did he hire you? What is he doing here? What is his business— though Gott in Himmel, that is pretty clear! Make a clean breast, you dog, and at once! Or I shall know how to open your mouth!”
SIMMERING with indignation, I tried again to interpose. “But, mein Herr," I said, “the man is not my servant. He is a stranger to me. I know no more than his name. If you will permit me to explain or will listen to his story—”
“Stop his mouth! Choke him!” the Jack-in-office shouted, while the Frenchmen grinned and swung their feet in appreciation of the scene. “I’ll deal with you by and by! Your turn will come and soon enough for you. Now, you!” fixing the trembling Grussbaum with his angry ferrety eyes. “Speak, rogue, or I’ll scourge it out of you.”
The poor fellow squirmed before him, as helpless as a rabbit in the clutches of a stoat. “Oh, indeed, indeed, honourable Sir,” he pleaded, “I am innocent. I am innocent as a babe unborn. It was this' way. I had no money and my wife was dying at Hamburg—.”
“To hell with your wife!” the man retorted. I think he was at pains to exalt his office in the Frenchmen’s presence and knew no way but the way of brutality. “Once more, and mark you this is your last chance. You are the Englishman’s servant. Where did he hire you?”
“Nowhere! Nowhere!” the frightened man protested, passionately clasping his hands and holding them out before him in appeal. “Far be it from me! I am a stranger! I do not know him! I did not know that he was an Englander! I am a poor honest man. My wife is at Hamburg—” “Enough! If you won’t say one way,” the bully thundered, “you shall another. The stick! The stick! That’ll loosen your tongue I’ll warrant. Take him through! Take him through, and give him a dozen well laid on! And then bring him back and I’ll warrant he’ll tell another tale. Or he will have another dose. Out with him! Out with him!”
In a, trice, the two policemen seized the unhappy man and were already thrusting him out through a low-browed door behind the Offizier’s table, when unable to bear this, I thrust myself forward. If I had simmered before, I was boiling now. “You’ll do it at your peril!” I cried. “If you lay a hand on that man before you have heard me, you will repent it!”
But “Silence! Silence!” the bully shouted, amazed at my audacity. “Another word and I—pinch that man’s throat! Choke him if he speaks again, before he is spoken to! And take that knave out and lay on six more for his 'spy of a master’s sake! Out with him, out with him, and don’t spare his hide, or your own shall smart! Gott in Himmel, am I to be bearded by this scum of an islander with his neck in a halter?”
WITH a hand gripping either arm and another on my throat, I could no more than choke with rage as they ran out the poor man, vainly protesting and screaming for mercy. The door closed on the struggling group and, “Now it’s your turn,” the tyrant said, slapping the table and fixing his sharp cruel eyes on me. “We’ll see if you’ll be so quick to speak now. I doubt it, but never fear, we’ll get the truth out of you! Oh, yes, we’ll get the truth out of you, Master Englishman, or you’ll go the same way. Who are you, do you hear? Or, who do you say you are? Out with it, or, mind you, a rope cravat is bad hut the stick is the sharper. Who are you?”
“You had better see my papers,” I said, raging. And I plunged my hand into the pocket of my cloak. I might yet be in time to save the poor fellow.
“Ay! Your papers!” with a sneer, but in a tone a little more reasonable, for my coolness, I think—and I was very cool indeed now, having passed into the cold stage of fury—checked him. “Let’s see them for what they are worth.” He held out his hand for them. “Forged, I’ll be bound, if you have any.”
But the card was not in the pocket in which I had placed it, and I had to feel for it in a second pocket—and a third. It was in none, and I dare say that my face betrayed my surprise for the blusterer’s tone rose again. “Well, the papers? Your papers?” he repeated, malice in his eye. “Let’s see them, Mister Englishman. They must be something worth seeing, I am sure.”
The card was gone! I felt and felt again while the officer and the Frenchmen gloated over every movement. I felt in all my pockets. No, it was in none, the card was gone! And no doubt my face fell. “It has been taken from me,” I said. “I had it last night. I’ve been robbed.”
“Robbed?” the man answered in spiteful glee. “Robbed, eh? That flea won’t stick in the wall! The truth is, Master Spy, you have no papers! You have no papers! But you have the impudence of the devil, and we’ll see if we can’t lower that a peg! Search him! Search him!” truculently. “Strip him to the skin, the rogue, and—” he broke off, turning his head. “What is it?” harshly. “Has he spoken?”
One of the men who had hustled Grussbaum out had returned. He stooped and spoke a few words in the great man’s ear, “See me alone?” the latter burst forth. “And he’ll tell me all? Thousand devils, does he think that I am at his beck and call? No! Lay on, man, lay on! And then I’ll see him—when you have brought him to his senses.”
But this appeared to be too much for the Frenchmen’s stomachs, or it may be that they thought it wiser to take the servant’s evidence, before the master was - heard. At any rate one of them dropped from the table on which they were perched and stepping to the Offizier said something to him, which I could not catch. The man snorted and seemed for a time inclined to stand by his order, but after a rapid interchange of words he yielded. “Very well,” he said sulkily, “I’ll hear the rogue first. I’ll hear him. And then,” with a malevolent glance at me, “we shall know better, Herr Englander, how to deal with you.”
HE ROSE with an air and swaggered out, followed by the man who had brought the message, and to avoid the indignity of a search, which I saw was otherwise inevitable, I unbuttoned my coat and vest, and with some wriggling drew from a pocket within my shirt, where I had secreted it, Davout’s passport. I had not resorted to it at once, in part because I had determined to use it only in the last extremity, but a little also because I could only get at it by undressing myself, and I had been unwilling to do this under the Frenchmen’s eyes. However here it was—it at least had not been stolen from me, and thankful indeed I was in this emergency that I possessed it.
I had just succeeded in extracting it, a good deal to the amusement of the lookers on, and I was anticipating with some zest the effect which it would produce, when the Oberst Offizier returned. But I saw’ with surprise that he did not return the same man he had gone out. A change, an inexplicable change had in the short time that he had been absent, come over him. Something or some one had cut his comb during his absence, and never did dunghill cock look more small or more sullen than he, as he resumed his seat and took uo his pen. That he was still bursting with spite I had no doubt; but it was equally plain that he now knew his spite to be impotent. And he looked scared. He barely raised his eyes to me, and his hand shook as he waved away the paper that I offered him.
“You can go,” he said sulkily. “To the devil for all I care!” And to the Frenchmen towards whom a portion of his illhumor seemed now to lie directed, “A mare’s nest,” he growled. “A cursed mare's nest from beginning to end! I wash my hands of it.”
But naturally they were not prepared to accept this without explanation. The shift, was as amazing to them as to me, and the one who had spoken before spoke up now and protested. “Bat Herr Oberst,” he said, “if you let this man go in this way—”
“I am going to let him go.”
“Then I shall report the matter,” haughtily. “He is an Englishman and whatever his business here—”
“I know his business.” And the-officer slapped his table with something of his old arrogance. “And that is enough. That is enough. After all, I am in charge here.” “But—”
“I am in charge here, and I have said,” curtly, “all that I am going to say. If you are not satisfied, sir, you had better look at that,” contemptuously. And he flipped his fingers towards the paper that I still held in my hand. “It has naught to dto with me. It is not directed to me and I don’t want to see it. I am satisfied.” “Well, I am not satisfied,” the Frenchman replied firmly. “And I do want to see it.” And he held out his hand for it.
BUT I plunged the precious paper deep into my cloak-pocket. “No,” I said with equal bluntness. “That is just what you will not do. It is not directed to you, monsieur, and I do not intend to produce it to you. The police, whose conduct.” with a withering glance at my enemy, “I shall report on the proper quarter are satisfied. I have to do with no one else, and I acknowledge no other authority. I will trouble you,” I continued, addressing myself to the Oberst, “to release my companion at once. If he has suffered—”
“He has not been touched,” the Oberst muttered sullenly.
“That is a good thing for you, sir,” I retorted. “Then let him be released if you please. And at once.”
“He has gone.”
“Very good. Then I take it I am free to go also.”
“To the devil if you please,” he retorted.
I took no notice of ,his rudeness, but buttoning up my cloak looked hardily round, with a special glare for the Frenchmen, who, completely nonplused, did not know how to return the look. “Good morning, then, gentlemen,” I said. “The matter will be reported in the proper quarter,” and, turning my back on them, I plunged into the narrow ground staircase, groped down the step and pushed my way through the inquisitive crowd about the door. I crossed the tiny Market Place and strode down the narrow street. I felt some exaltation. I was free. I had triumphed.
But why? Why free? I asked myself. How had it come about? That puzzled me ' and forthe time monopolized mythoughts. Whence this sudden, this unlooked for, deliverance? Had I shown Davout’s safeconduct, as in another moment I should have shown it, this would have accounted for all. Triumph and freedom would no doubt have followed. But I had not shown it. I had done nothing except protest, and I could not understand the result. Apparently—and this was all I could say—Grussbaum had spoken and this had followed. But Grussbaum was a stranger to me, he knew nothing, and for that reason he could have divulged nothing. For certain he knew nothing of Davout’s passport, for it had never left the pocket next my skin in which I had placed it; and, the Marshal excepted, no one knew of it save the Baron and Grüner. Ah, Grüner! I stood arrested under the old pyramidal gateway. I saw light! It must be Grussbaum—Grussbaum and no other, who had stolen the card, which Grüner had counter-signed for me—had stolen it, and under the stress of the stick had produced it to the Oberst, owning at the same time how he had come by it. That, to be sure, would account for all.
It was, too, the only reasonable explanation, and I walked on at a slower pace, considering what I should do. To travel forward with such a man was not to oe contemplated—I had suffered enough from Klatzes and their like! So, by the I stood again within sight of the inn,
I had made, up my mind to dispense with my gentleman’s company.
AND to this day I don’t know why I * did not, and can attribute my failure only to weakness. But the truth was he was useful; and when I joined him he proved himself so plausible and so full of -™uses that I doubted my own reasoning.
" hen I approached the" door and found
the carriage waiting, and Grussbaum in attendance, obsequiously meeting me with this and that, and in one breath assuring me that he was none the worse and regretting the inconvenience I had suffered, and in the next informing me that all was packed and ready, I put off the moment.
I could drop the man at any stage; I could rid myself of him when I stopped to eat. In a word, I got in, overcome by his fussiness and in part to save time, and he • got in, and the postboys cracked their whips and we rolled away. The devil was in it if I knew what to do, the man was so useful and so plausible. But I would think. I should have plenty of time to turn the matter over.
Plenty of time? But that'was, jus; what I had not. And as my thoughts reverted to the poor girl and to the wretches who held her in their power and who had given me the slip so cleverly, I saw this!
I looked at my watch. They had got a two hours’ start; it was half-past nine. I thrust out my head. ' We had trundled through the narrow streets of the town and passed the still swollen ford, and were now climbing the farther bank, a pack of men who had done nothing to help us running alongside and clamouring for alms. “Whip up!” I cried to the postboys, as I flung down some coppers. “Whip up and a double fee for this stage!”
They complied, or did their best to comply, for the road was infamous. And now, with the girl on my mind, I was in a fever to get on; in a fever and full of sus.-, picion. The delay that hadjso favoured the • Waechters’ escape—had it been -their work? I had. seen Grussbaum speaking to them. Was it at their instance that he had picked my pocket of my credentials? And had they then, satisfied that I was disarmed, betrayed my nationality to the Frenchmen and left me, tied by the heels?
It looked like it; so like it that with every mile, my suspicions and with them my anger increased. When we came to the end of the stage I bounced out, summoned Master Grussbaum aside and in a voice that he had not heard from me before, I bade him make a clean breast of it.
“Ay, a clean breast'of it, you rascal!” I repeated, anger getting the better of me, and I threatened him with my cane. “Confess, or I’ll beat in your face, you rogue!” And as he recoiled, in amazement before my sudden attack, “Who told you to steal that card from my pocket last night? Who? Who, you rogue? Speak out!”
He gaped at me. “Der liebe Gott,’’ he stammered. “As I live, I don’t understand. I have done nothing!” And if he was not innocent he played the innocent well. “The card, your Excellency? I steal a card? Your Honour’s card? As Heaven sees me I don’t know what the Wohlgeborener Herr is speaking of. What card?”
“You "took my card—last night!” I retorted. “Don’t deny it! Don’t deny it, for I know you did. You pretended to be putting a log on the fire, you rogue!” ‘
“As heaven sees me,” he pleaded, holding out his hands. “I took no card! Did your Honour lose a card?”
“I did, and you know it. A card that was my passport!” But I spoke less violently than before for I began to doubt. The man’s surprise seemed to be genuine. “If you did not, who did?” I continued. “Who did, knave? But I know it was you. How else did you escape the stick just now? And bring that brute of a policeman to his senses! How did you work that miracle if you had not my card?”
_ “Ah!” In a moment his face and indeed his whole demeanour underwent a change. He looked up at me, humble still, but with a sly smile. “I see. I see why his Honour suspects me. But I can explain that. I can explain that, and then he will see that I. am innocent, quite innocent. The Oberst was of Hamburg also, and though he did not know me, I knew him, and knew, mein Herr, a little thing' of him; a little thing, see you, but a thing which he would not wish to bejknown here.
I said a word in his ear and hocus pocus— it was over. As you see!” Then to himself and with a secret kind of grin, “It was d—d lucky that I did know,” he added, “— that little thing. Or my back would have suffered!”
I COULD not tell whether to believe him or not, and “Oh,” I said, “so that is your story, is it?”
“That is what happened, mein Herr,” simply. “But for your card, as I live, I know nothing about it.”
“Yet some one took it. Some one took it from my cloak last night! If it was not you, it must have been that man— Waechter.”
“Waechter? That man?” He looked at me in a puzzled fashion.
“Yes,” sternly, “Waechter. And gave information to the police in order that I might not overtake him.”
He looked more at sea than ever. “The Wohlgeborener Herr wishes to overtake him?” he said.
“I do,” I replied. “And I am going to overtake him.”
He fingered his small chin—it had an odd perpendicular cleft in it—in an uncertain wavering way. Then, glancing up at me with a shrewder look than I had seen on his face before, “Why, honoured Sir, if I may presume to ask? Why follow him? He is—of no consequence.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Nothing.”
“That is my business,” I answered. “It is enough that I do. And now take warning, my man,” I continued. “I have treated you handsomely—and all the same I doubt you. I doubt you, I am not sure even now that you have not played me false with these Waechters. But understand, at the first sign of it, I drop you in the road. And if I have the chance I will break every bone in your body besides. Now, you understand?”
He looked down and in his abject way scraping his foot to and fro, he protested that he was innocent, innocent as the babe unborn. “And for this man, Waechter, I know nothing of him. Your Honour knows him?” I caught another upward look—a sharp look.
“I know him for a d—d villain,” I said.
“And wish to ovërtake him?” That seemed to stick in his gizzard—to puzzle him.
“I have said so,” I retorted. “But there, the horses are in. And now it will be your business to keep the lads moving. See you do, my man, and honestly! Honestly, for if there is any break-down I shall know whom to blame for it.”
With that I bundled him in, and we took the road again—I for my part still in doubt. But I must do the man this justice—he did keep the carriage moving and the postboys awake, and we made
good progress. We drove into Kyritz an hour before noon, but found that the quarry had left a full hour before, after breaking their fast—not at the Black Eagle, but at another inn.
And here I had to come to a decision. I had to choose which of two things I would do. My inquiry into Perceval’s disappearance was due to start here. I had a hundred questions that I wished to put to the people at the Black Eagle. The post-boys, the hostlers, the serving maid, I had meant to put them all through a fine mesh. For here at Kyritz the trail began; here poor Ellis had embarked on his last and fatal stage. Here he had taken the French postillion who had so completely vanished. Here he had betrayed the first, or at any rate, the first -plain symptoms of that alarm, that consciousness that his life was in danger which had been so teribly justified a few hours later at Perleberg.
But these inquiries would take up some time and if I stayed, if I halted here to make them, I lost the chance, all chance, of overtaking the Waechters. I abandoned the victim whom they held in their hands. Í deserted the hapless girl who in her despair had made to me the only appeal that lay in her power. And I had not the heart to do this. I could not bear to do it, though to follow her was to stray from my purpose and perhaps from my duty. I could return to Kyritz—-the loss of time would not be very great—it should at least not be fatal. But if I once let the Waechters’ scent grow cold, if I allowed their party to gain some hours on me, it was unlikely that I should ever see or ever hear of their victim again.
No, I could not bear to do it, I could not bear to desert her. For the moment I put out of my mind even the dispatches, on the recovery of which so much hung— for myself and for others. I could not abandon the girl. I snatched a hasty dinner at the Black Eagle, and pushed on for Perleberg.
Is Ellis dead? Must the girl be deserted? The following instalments will disclose these and other interesting facts as this serial rapidly draws to a conclusion. Don't miss a single instalment.