The Traveller in the Fur Cloak
A thrilling conclusion in which the fate that befell Ellis, the secret of the stolen despatches, and the destiny of Norma Mackay, are disclosed
STANLEY J. WEYMAN
THEN,” I decided, “there is only one explanation. The Waechters must have contrived to convey the secret to someone—on their way to gaol—and the, papers were removed during the night.”
“During the night?” von Kalisch exclaimed, and they both stared at me. “But surely you searched as soon as you—•”
I groaned. “I ought to have,” I said. “But the truth is—I am ashamed to avow it, Governor—I was so shaken last night that I never thought of the dispatches until I awoke this morning.”
“Umph!” Platen muttered. “Well, I don’t wonder. No. But you may be sure of one thing. I can trust my people, and I will answer for this, mein Herr, that the Waechters had no chance of passing out word or sign—last night.”
“Yet the papers are gone this morning,” I retorted, “and the room was occupied last night by a French officer, who moved in, ostensibly, to accommodate me. He may have been the Waechters’ accomplice?”
Platen shook his head.
“Or the agent to whom they hoped to sell the papers? He may have been waiting here to receive them—waiting on the chance that the packet would come to hand?” I turned to the Governor. “Who are these Frenchmen—there are two of them. How long have they been here? What is their business?”
Von Kalisch fingered his light, pointed beard and I could see that neither my manner nor the subject was palatable. Platen looked thoughtful, but did not interpose. “Well,” the Governor said at last, “they are on furlough from Magdeburg, if you must know, sir. One is an invalid, and the other is studying German. I know,” reluctantly, “no more than that.”
“They must be taken,” I cried, “and searched—searched at once!”
Platen laughed. The Governor stared. "Oh, impossible!” he said stiffly. “We have nothing against them. They are quiet, peaceable—”
“Frenchmen!” I cried. “And they have got those dispatches!” I spoke aggressively, for I already saw that I was fighting a losing battle. Already I felt that the atmosphere of the room was changed. Even the attitudes of the two men were no longer the same. They sat on guard, stiff, rigid, watchful lest they should be committed to anything, determined that they would not be tricked or blustered into a false position. I was confronted, I saw it clearly, by that fear of the conqueror which enslaves the conquered, by that fear of France which for three years had held Germany in thrall, and which to every official from Stein and Hardenburg to the meanest towncrier was an abiding and subduing presence.
“We have no evidence of that,” said von Kalisch at last.
“None,” said Platen with a face of wood. “Still”—as one conceding a great point—“we might have them shadowed perhaps.”
“Ay, back to Magdeburg!” I cried scornfully. “Over the border!” And I rose to my feet in a rage. “If that is all you can do, gentlemen, a fig for it!”
They looked at me stonily, keeping their seats. The Governor took off his glasses and rubbed them. “Without evidence, we can do no more,” he said. “To do even what the Lieutenant of Police Platen suggests, might be going, in my judgment, too far. These papers may have been found by some by chance.”
“By chance!” I cried.
“By the chambermaid,” Platen said smoothly. “She may have been led to hunt for the ear-ring and come on the papers.”
“Under the eaves! Outside!” I retorted. “And in that case would she have told the tale of the ear-ring and the search? To me? To you?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “The unlikely happens,” he said woodenly.
I saw that, friendly as he had been, I could no longer look to him for help, but that on the contrary the notion of interfering with the Frenchmen had paralysed them both. And in a passion I reached for my hat. But with my hand upon it I had an inspiration. I remembered the Prince of Eckmuhl’s passport —it enjoined all into whose hands it might come to aid, forward and support me. Fortunately, secreted in a pocket in my shirt, the letter had escaped the Waechters’ search, and I dived for it, while the two watched me. When I had extricated it, I handed it to the Governor. “Enough!” I said with arrogance—but I knew well that with a German arrogance serves. “You’ve seen this once, Herr von Kalisch, but I think you must have forgotten its purport. There is your authority, and I call upon you to act upon it.”
He read it, an angry flush on his cheek-bones, his eyes hard—to take orders from an enemy, there are easier ways than this out of a difficulty! In silence, he handed it to Platen, and Platen read it. The Governor received it again, perused it once more, still in silence and with a pinched, wintry face. And I have no doubt that, as he recalled the trouble that from first to last this wretched affair had given him, and foresaw that which it was likely to give him in the future, he wished all Englishmen at the devil.
“Wejl,” he said at length, his manner of the coldest, "I will consider, sir, what, if anything, can be done. If you will be good enough to call upon me at noon I will inform you of my decision.”
I saw that this was as much as I should get and lucky to get it!—and I thanked him and made my adieux, adding some words of acknowledgment which I hoped might reconcile him to the position. But friendship is more easy to break than to mend, and I was bowed out, from the waist upwards, with more formality than freedom. I had played my last card, and it might be unwisely, for it is a maxim in the Service that a friendly neutrality is of more value than an unwilling alliance. However, it was done, and the card played, for good or ill.
I left the house with little hope and in low spirits. To have come so near to success, to have had it within the
grasp of my hand, and to have let it slip through my own neglect—no wonder that I walked with my head low, and ignored, thankless and ungrateful as I was, the great mercy which had within the last twelve hours preserved me from a dreadful fate. For, alas, it is the way of the world to let the bitter drop at the bottom of the cup poison the good wine that sparkles and mantles above it!
With no knowledge of how I had come there, I found myself again at the door of the inn and I entered and paused wondering what I should do next. What indeed remained to do? And then with a lift of the heart, with a lightening of the spirits, which surprised me as much as it changed me, I thought of the girl— ay, there still remained that. A servant was crossing the hall. I sent her upstairs to inquire how the Fraulein had slept. “I should wish to see the young lady,” I added, “if she is well enough to receive me. Inquire, will you?” And I turned away, with an air of indifference assumed as much to deceive myself as the maid.
I waited; deep to all appearance in the study of an Eilwagen time-table that hung on the wall beside the washing tap and the roller towel. Ah! She had slept well, had she? And would be glad to— I went up the stairs, the lower ones two at a time; the upper ones more slowly, for I was seized with an unaccountable fit of shyness. It occurred to me that I did not know what I was going to say to her.' I felt a lack of words and ideas that was new to me. And outside the door which a chambermaid held open, I would have paused to collect myself if the woman had not been there, broadly smiling.
“She goes on well?” I muttered. I was out of breath—the stairs no doubt.
“ überaus!” the woman replied and smiled more broadly.
I went in. Beside the stove at the foot of the bed I saw a forlorn little figure sunk low and almost hidden in the depths of a great chair—a little figure, all eyes. Then my sight cleared, I perceived details; a pink and white wrapper, borrowed doubtless from some one in the inn, and rising from it a delicate, flowerlike head, overweighted by coils of dark shining hair, and turned towards me a pale face, the eyes so dark and large and troubled that for a moment I imagined the girl as I had always seen her—the scared, pitiful, terror-stricken victim of a tragic situation. As I crossed the floor, muttering something inadequate, and she rose shakily to her .feet, her solemn eyes fixed on me, the illusion persisted.
BUT as our hands met, there came a change. The flower bloomed, the blood mantled in the delicate face, crimsoned the slender neck, the little ears, mounted painfully to the tendrils of the hair. And though she still held her head erect, though she faced me bravely, denying as it were her own confusion, her eyes wavered and fell—and I had the most delicious sensation of my life. For a moment she was the portrait of my memory, the portrait that had so long and so persistently haunted me; but the portrait transfigured, made flesh and blood, made a hundred times more lovely by emotion.
“How can I ever thank you?” she whispered. “Enough?”
“Or I, you?” I replied.
And then I found that I was still holding her hand, and coloring in my turn, I let it go. For what had passed
between us that could warrant me in regaining it? And yet—and yet now that I halt;d let it go, I reflected that things had passed between us that might stand warrant for much—things that transcended time and overleapt punctilio— danger, self-sacrifice, life, death, things strong as steel to bind us together. And now that it was too late, I regretted that I had let her hand go—the little, trembling, passive hand, that yet had been strong enough to save life, to save my life.
The more as I could find no words to say to her, no words that as between ui would not sound silly and futile, would not sink to the depths of bathos. She had dropped back into her chair, and I remained standing before her—for there was no second chair. I repeated something banal about sleep—hoped that she had slept well—had not been troubled by dreams, had not—
“Dreams,” she repeated, yet with an irrepressible shiver. “No, I thank you, I slept well.” She spoke, I was surprised to see, with ease. For her, it seemed, the bad moment had passed and she was again mistress of herself, and so much mistress, that something like a smile trembled on her lips. “The doctor gave me a sleeping draught,” she continued. “And you, too, I hope, Mr. Cartwright? I am sure that you must have needed it.”
“Yes,” I assented stupidly. And that —shade of Canning!—was all that I— I who had bearded the Ball-Platz and bandied arguments with statesmen!— could find to say. I stared at the stove; she must think me an idiot! Not that things to say, many things, were not welling up in my mind, but I did not know how to say them. They seemed to be such—such impossible things to say when nothing had gone before to lead to them. And after all a man must break ground.
Well, I could do that. But how? Ay, how?
“It was a terrible, terrible time!” she murmured. “I do not know, I cannot think how I lived through it. Or how I can ever, ever thank you enough, Mr. Cartwright. But for you—but for you—” She faltered, and suddenly broke down, overcome by remembrance, unable to finish her sentence.
AND on that I saw her once more as - the lonely, pathetic kttle figure, the panic stricken, white-faced, despairing girl whom I had watched in the crowd at the inn by the water, in the sinister house beside the forest, in that accursed brewery last evening! She was once more the lonely child whose woes had pierced to my heart, who had cried to me for succor, who had challenged the small remains of chivalry that the world and the world’s ways had left to me. And seo.ng her so, on a sudden I found words —and courage.
“And but for you,” I rejoined, leaning forward, “but for you where should I be? And for thanks,” I continued, and I stepped forward until I stood over her, looked down on her, dominated her, “I can tell you how you can thank me. But to thank me in the way that I wish will be a long task, a life's task, Fraulein. Still, I can tell you, and I will tell you. And perhaps some other day, when you know me better, on some later day, if not now, you will answer me. But— what is it?” reluctantly I broke off, foi
Continued on page 66
Continued from page 30
she had risen in confusion. “What is it? You are surely not afraid of me?”
“Oh, no, no,” she stammered. “But,” in a disorder that I found delightful, “but I had forgotten something. Something that I ought to have told you—” “Told me?” I rejoined. “It will keep. Never mind that now.”
“No, no—something,” her breath coming short and quick, “that I ought to have given you—at once, Mr. Cartwright. The chambermaid got it for me before I slept. I could not rest until— until I knew that it was safe.” |#
And, still averting her eyes from mine, standing so that her chair, a confounded big chair, was between us, she gave me a packet.
1TOOK it mechanically and I gazed at it—as soon as I could switch my thoughts on to it—as one stunned. My G—d, the dispatches! The dispatches! The worn and abraded leather case, strapped and sealed with Ellis’s seal, which I had seen in his hands a dozen times! Which had cost him his -life, which had come near to costing me both life and honor!
Conscious as she was, she could not refrain from a little fluttering laugh, as she viewed my astonishment. “It is all right—I hope?” she said.
“Right?” I cried. “Right? It is indeed rightl You have saved my honor as well as my life!” And precipitately, without another word, and very greatly, I must suppose, to her amazement, I turned and flew from the room. I bounded down the stairs. And not a moment too soon! As I leapt from stair to stair I heard Platen’s voice and the Governor’s in the hall below. Heavens, if they had already— but, no, they had not had time, and even as I framed the fear, I stood before them, panting and speechless—but holding out the packet.
“Fraulein Mackay!” I gasped. “She secured them through the Kammerjungfrau—before she slept!”
“Ah!” said the Governor in his turn, and his eyes gleamed sardonically behind his spectacles. “You had better add her to the Service, I think.”
But by this time I had got myself in hand. “Not quite,” I rejoined. “I owe you, Herr Governor, my humble apologies. And to you also, and even more to my friend, Herr Lieutenant Platen, the expression of my sincere and for-theduration-of-my-life-lasting gratitude. I trust that you will honor me by shaking hands with me.”
They did so a little stiffly. But then, seeing, I think that my eyes were not dry, for I was deeply moved, they gave way and they kissed me coram publico on both cheeks. “Not,” said Platen, tapping me lightly on the breast above the place where I had deposited the precious packet, “that I am not tempted to rob you, even I! I wonder,” and there came a gleam of excitement, a glimmer of greed into the little man’s eyes, “what is in them. Those wonderful, those fateful, those fraught-with-all-manner of mischief dispatches!”
“Ah, I wonder,” I rejoined, laughing foolishly, my heart lighter than it had been for weeks. “But you will both, I beg, sup with me to-night. I request the honor, Governor, I press it, and will take no denial. And our host shall give us of his best and of the oldest bin that he has in his cellar.”
“To be sure,” Platen smiled. “You owe us that for the thousand thalers we recovered for you. And we will toast the Fraulein Mackay.”
‘‘Yes,” I said, turning towards the stairs, my foot as light as a feather. “We will toast her. I had forgotten that,
I must go to her now and thank her.”
“A good journey!” Platen cried after me. The little man’s eye was keen.
r RAPPED at her door—at any rate 1 1 ought to have done so, and I hope I did. But it mattered little, for I was sure that she expected me, perhaps even that she already knew my footstep. When 1 burst in upon her, she was standing in the middle of the floor awaiting me, yes awaiting me, red as a rose and looking a little as if she would cry. And the big chair was no longer before her, or I took no heed of it. What was between
us, what passed between us, how I broke that ground, how I said that which had seemed so difficult, so out of the question, so impossible a few minutes before—shall I tell it?
No, a hundred times, no! There are blossoms so tender they fall at a touch, things so sacred that to tell is to tarnish.
The more as it fell to my lot that day to do that which must be told. For late in the afternoon I heard that the Lieutenant of Police was inquiring for me in the hall, and going down I found him waiting. I fancied that he looked a little unlike himself, and he was tossing off a glass of Schnapps. “You’d better have i one, too,” he said, and without consulting me he gave the order. “The young lady’s evidence,” he continued, dropping his voice as he drew me aside, “is confirmed—to the letter. Our men have been digging in the cellar—over there, and we want you to identify.”
I felt my color fade, and with a hand that shook a little I raised the Schnapps to my lips and drank it. “It is necessary?” I asked, shrinking inwardly. “But no— I will come, of course. I owe him that.”
“He had been stabbed in the breast just as she said,” he explained in a low voice, as we went out and turning the corner of the Shoe Market, entered that detested lane. “Twice, but the surgeon says that the first blow was fatal. No doubt we could prove the identity without your assistance, Excellency, but the shorter way is the better.”
I did not speak, I could notI had a horror of the ordeal before me, which was not lessened by the surroundings, which awaited us in that abandoned building, gloomy even at noontide. The way to the cellar was by a ladder, down which wre groped, assisted by the yellow smoky beams that shone upward from the lanthorns of the group that waited, silent or now and again conferring in awed whispers, round a gruesome opening In the earth.
I staggered a little as I reached the foot of the ladder, but Platen took me by the arm and led me forward. The men drew aside to make way for me, and two of them at a sign from the Lieutenant held up their lanthorns so as to throw a light on that which lay there—so pitiful, so pitiful a sight, framed as it was by the rough heaps of soil and rubble which the diggers had cast up out of the grave.
He was not greatly changed—not as much as I had feared. I forced myself, though my flesh quailed, to take one long look. “I identify him,” I said, my words breaking the hush of expectation that surrounded me. “Murdered—foully murdered,” I added. And overcome by emotion, weakened by what had gone before, I turned away, unable to control my feelings. That face which I had last seen in the room at Wittenberg, from which I had parted in querulous anger, that face of one, who, if we had not always agreed, had been long my companion and ever and always an upright, honest English gentleman—the face of one who in direst peril had given his last thought to his duty—no wonder that as I turned from it, pallid and earth-encrusted and sadly changed as it was, I bowed my head against the cellar wall and wept. That all his hopes, his promise, his aims, his success should have led only to this! Should have ended here! And it might be, it might well be, I thought with bitter remorse, through me!
AH, THAT I had had more patience, - more tolerance, a clearer prevision! For a moment Platen let me be while he gave some low-voiced directions, and it was not until we stood outside those abhorrent walls, in the free air and blessed light of day that he spoke, “Well, the worse for them,” he said, his face set in so grim a mould that I hardly knew the man. “The earth will be rid of them. The Judge shall take the young lady’s evidence to-morrow and we shall then be able to release her for the present.”
The Governor had joined us, and partly to prove that 1 had regained my composure, partly because the point was not clear to me, “How did they lure him —into that place?” I asked.
“Simply enough,” Platen replied. “Waechter — he, of course, was the postillion.”
“Oh, but,” I cried, my attention caught. “That is not so. Waechter was not the postillion. I should have known the postillion in a moment! He had very thick black—
“Eyebrows,” Platen said drily. “Just so. He had. But he was Waechter all the same. Did you not notice that Waechter shaved his eyebrows? I knew him for a jail-bird by that—the moment I saw him.”
I had not noticed it. I had only remarked a something sinister and unnatural in his face, but I had not traced it to its cause.
“No doubt when your friend left the Governor’s house at nine o’clock he undertook to guide him to the Coffee House. Probably he told him that he could take him in by a quieter way—the ball was in progress, the hall crowded. He brought him round the corner and opened the brewery door—perhaps at the last moment he hustled him in. The other two had been watching their movements and were there to meet them. Inside, your friend took the alarm, I expect, saw that his retreat was cut off, and seizing a light which they had placed at hand, he must have run up ahead of them hoping to barricade himself in some room! He reached the little room at the top, opposite the gable of the inn, but he could not secure the door.”
“But suppose—he had not gone to the Coffee House?” I suggested.
“If he stayed the night in Perleberg— and they had made up their minds that he should—he must have gone to one or other of the two inns. Next the other inn, the Golden Crown, there was at this time an empty locked-up shop, and the Governor tells me that it was broken open that night—complaint was made to him next morning, but of course he did not connect it with the Envoy’s disappearance. So it is pretty certain that they had their trap set for him beside each inn.”
“Well, I hope to heaven,” I cried, “that they will pay for it.”
Platen smiled—a crooked smile. “Justus Grüner will see to that,” he said. “You may trust him.”
In the hall I parted from them, and I went upstairs with an aching heart. Poor Perceval! Poor old Perceval! And in part, in part, alas, through my fault! I groaned.
But as I paused at the head of the first flight I caught sight of a plaintive little face watching for me in the dusk of a passage, and I was comforted.
¡ The End _