MoboReader> Literature > Princess Maritza

   Chapter 10 THE FOLLY OF A SOLDIER

Princess Maritza By Percy James Brebner Characters: 21787

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03


It was not until he had run some distance along the lane that Ellerey stopped to listen, and fully to realize that his companion was not beside him. There were no sounds of hurrying feet in pursuit. He could not have out-distanced his enemies so completely in so short a time; either they had come no farther than the door in the wall, or had turned in the opposite direction, perhaps following his companion.

With his sword still in his hand, held ready for deadly work at a moment's notice, he retraced his steps, his senses sharp set to detect the slightest sound or movement near him. Heavy clouds had engulfed the moon now, the darkness was extreme, and the silence of the night unbroken. He went forward carefully; the darkness might hold a legion of foes, and the silence be a trap to catch him. Ellerey found the door with difficulty, indeed by chance, for it was cunningly hidden. Whatever the danger, he must enter the garden again in search for his comrade. The door was shut, and as he felt along it from top to bottom, touching no latch nor handle, nor keyhole even, he realized that entrance that way was barred. The door only opened from within. He had stepped back to consider how, and at what point, he could best scale the wall, when a slight movement close beside him caused him to stand on the defensive in a moment.

"Is that you, Ellerey?"

"You got out, then? Thank heaven!"

"Yes; I didn't speak because I thought you were one of them, and just now I'm no match for a babe in arms."

He was leaning against the wall a few feet from the gate. Ellerey had supposed him farther off by the faintness of his voice.

"Are you hurt?"

"Nothing serious, I think, but I've had a good deal of blood let out of me. I should have occupied that grave in the garden for a certainty had it not been for the Baron's second, who stood over me when I fell, and, when the blackguards retreated from the door, put me outside. This wasn't the Baron's doing."

"Perhaps not," Ellerey answered. "Can you manage to walk?"

"Yes, if you'll let me hang on to you, and we don't have to go far.

When I was put outside something was said about going to the left."

"We'll go to the left, then; but I haven't an idea where we are."

The wounded man was weaker than he imagined. Before they had gone fifty yards he began to reel, and even as he suggested that Ellerey should go on and get help, he fainted. Ellerey took him in his arms and carried him. His one idea was to get as far away from the scene of the night's adventure as possible, but his progress was slow. His comrade revived presently, but although he tried to walk again, the task was beyond him. So Ellerey carried him, resting at intervals, all through the night. As long as darkness lasted and they were on the outskirts of the city they were unlikely to be stopped and questioned, but with dawn it would be different. Ellerey was without his coat and cloak, there had been no time to seize them as he rushed from the garden, and he carried a grievously hurt man in his arms. The first peasant, trudging to his early toil, who caught sight of them would run and tell the news as he went. Such publicity was to be avoided at all costs, or there would be small chance of his being at the Toison d'Or, in the Bergenstrasse, to keep his appointment. Already a long, thin streak of gray showed low down in the east, and Ellerey pressed forward as quickly as possible to find an asylum. He passed the first scattered dwellings he came to, having no desire to knock up some sleepy peasant and have to combat his inquisitiveness, as well as his annoyance, at being so unceremoniously disturbed. Presently where two cross-roads met he espied a small habitation, from which a thin wreath of smoke was rising into the morning air, and decided to try his fortune here. He had set his burden down by the gate when an old woman came from the house with a pail going to a well in the garden for water.

"Good mother," Ellerey called out, "I would claim your hospitality."

The woman turned to look at him, then set down the pail and came to the gate.

"What is it? Defend us, there's blood on him!" she exclaimed, pointing at the prostrate man. "An attack in the night by some ruffians who would have murdered us, good mother. My comrade is wounded, you see. Will you give him rest here while I go into the city for help?"

"It is ill work assisting strangers," answered the woman.

"Look at me; is there not honesty in my face?"

"Aye, I quarrel not with your face, but there is that on your tongue which does not greatly please me."

"The accent of a foreigner?" asked Ellerey. "Shall I tell you a secret? The time is coming when you shall have little enough of such an accent through the length and breadth of the land."

"For such a prophecy you are welcome," she answered, opening the gate.

"You may come in."

Ellerey carried his companion up the garden path, and with the help of the woman and her grandson, who stared in wonder at their coming, soon had him comfortably placed on a pallet in the little room.

"Send Dr. Goldberg to me," said his companion; "he lives close to the palace, and is a friend and discreet."

The mention of the name caused Ellerey to look closely at the man's face for a moment. He had been a true comrade, and Ellerey had given little thought to his identity; now he wondered, and a smile wrinkled the corners of his mouth.

His companion in safe keeping, Ellerey began actively to consider his own affairs. He knew Dr. Goldberg by reputation, but he had no desire to visit him just now. To invent a tale to satisfy the doctor would be difficult, and might well be left to the wounded man. He took up his companion's cloak-he could hardly go into the city as he was-and then left the room, beckoning the woman to follow him.

"I will send the doctor at once, good mother," he said, "and there is something to help my poor thanks. Can you give me a piece of paper and lend me a pencil?"

The golden coins clinking in her hand would have purchased a far greater service. The pencil and paper were brought, and Ellerey wrote rapidly for a few moments; then tore the paper in half. He folded each portion carefully, placing one in his pocket, the other he kept in his hand.

"If the lad would earn something, send him after me quickly," he said, and then he went up the garden path and took the road to the city.

In a few moments the boy overtook him.

"Do you know the palace, my lad?"

"Yes."

"To the right of it there is a large square."

"I know it," answered the boy; "the foreigners who hate us live there."

"I would curb that young tongue of yours, or you'll be using it squealing for mercy under the whip. Ask there for Dr. Goldberg's house, and give him this paper. Do you understand?"

The lad nodded.

"Run quickly then, and afterward come to me in the Grande Place. You know the statue of King Ferdinand there? I shall be beside it. Away with you. The quicker you do your errand, the greater your reward."

The lad needed no second bidding. He started off at a brisk trot, and Ellerey pursued his way to the city. The gates were open, and there were few abroad in the streets as yet; but the thought of the many hands which had sought to despatch him in the garden last night made Ellerey proceed with greater caution than he had ever exercised. Only a few in the dim light could have seen his face sufficiently to recognize him, but he drew the cloak up to his chin and concealed his face as much as possible. He avoided the larger thoroughfares, being undesirous of meeting any acquaintances; and in the smaller streets which he traversed he might at any moment come face to face with one of that crowd he had so recently escaped from. He went warily, therefore, looking for the slightest glance of recognition in the face of every man he met.

In the neighborhood of the Grande Place he lingered in a side street until he saw the lad approaching the statue, when he went to meet him.

"You delivered the letter?"

"Yes. I was asked who gave it me, and I said a man I did not know."

"That was true enough," Ellerey returned. "Here's for your trouble.

Would you earn more?"

The boy's eyes glistened as his fingers closed on the silver. It was easy to buy faithful service in Sturatzberg so long as no one was near to offer a higher price for unfaithfulness. Ellerey judged that such a messenger as this lad would pass unchallenged and unnoticed.

"Take this to the Western Gate and ask for the lodging of a Captain called Ellerey. He has a servant named Stefan-give him the paper."

"He shall have it."

"There is double payment, then. Run, I shall know if your errand is quickly done, and woe-betide you if you loiter." And having watched the lad disappear, Ellerey went quickly down a side street, and by many turnings and doublings on his track, sought to escape any spy who might chance to be watching him.

At dawn Stefan stretched out his huge limbs upon the settle, and awoke with a heavy grunt. No matter how deep his potations on the previous evening, he always awoke early; not fresh, perhaps, that were too much to expect, but with his wits clear. Sitting up, he glanced round the room for signs of his master's return, and, seeing none, grunted again in wonder. A tankard was on the floor beside him, and he drank the flat remains from last night's measure with a wry face. Then he pushed open the door of his master's room and looked in.

"Empty!" he said, satisfied that his master had not entered without being heard. "Here's another street quarrel, maybe, and more torn clothes to sell to the ragman."

Then Stefan made his morning toilet. It was a simple process. His ablutions were taken at irregular intervals, sometimes at long intervals, and this was not the time for them. He ran his fingers through his hair to take some of the tangle out of it, shook his great frame to force his clothes into comfortable position, tightened his loosened belt, and took off his boots. For a few moments he sat on the settle, his legs stretched out wide apart, then he drew his boots on again, and stamping himself firmly into them, was ready for whatever the day might bring forth.

The street was still silent and deserted as Stefan went to the door and looked to right and left. The neighborhood was one of the last in the city to stir itself. If Stefan felt any anxiety regarding his master, there was no expression in his face to mark it. He was stolid and imperturbable; would have remained so probably had Ellerey been carried up the street dead on a shutter. He grunted now and then, walked half a dozen paces from the door and back to circulate his blood, and then leaned with his shoulders against the wall as though he were a fixture there until desperate necessity moved him.

The boy, who turned quickly into the street, and then came along slowly, looking to this side and that, hardly appeared the kind of visitor necessary to move the soldier. Stefan looked at him because there was no one else in the street to look at; but he was little interested. As the lad came nearer, however, the soldier became aware that the sleepy street was beginning to rouse itself. The blind in a window of the house opposite was drawn aside for a moment, and a face looked out. The aspect of the morning seemed speedily to satisfy, for the blind quickly fell back into its place again. Without actually looking up, Stefan had seen those peering eyes, and curiously enough they had him interested in the lad, who suddenly stopped in front of him.

"Can you tell me where a Captain Ellerey lodges?"

"Were you told to go into a street and bawl for information like that until you found him?" asked the soldier gruffly.

"I spoke no louder than I always do," answered the boy.

"Then it's a hale pair of lungs you've got concealed in that body of yours. I'm nigh deaf with your shouting. Come within the doorway, my lad, and whisper. Perhaps I'll catch the meaning of your question when it does not drum through me like the cry of a drunken crowd of rioters."

Somewhat abashed, the boy did as he was told, and repeated his question in a lower tone.

"By a strange chance he lives in this selfsame house, but he's not abroad yet," said Stefan. "We do sometimes sleep, and our day doesn't begin at cock-crow."

"I don't want him," said the lad, "I want his servant, Stefan."

"By another strange chance he lives here, too. What do you want with him?"

"Is he abroad yet?"

"Aye, he never sleeps at all."

"I live too nigh the city for fairy-tales," said the boy. "Will you bring me to this same Stefan? I have a message for him."

"Don't bawl it, lad, whisper. He's of a delicate constitution, this

Stefan-I know, for I am he."

The boy looked doubtful for a moment.

"Is that truth?"

"I like your caution," Stefan returned. "You'll succeed, whether you deal with men or women, though the women will bring out all your mettle, I warrant. Yes, truth, I am Stefan."

"I was to give this paper to you."

The soldier opened it and read it, not without some difficulty, it seemed.

"Who gave you this?"

"A man, I know no more of him."

"Good. Which way lies your home?"

"On the road toward Breslen."

"Good again. Get you home quickly, and look you, my lad, should any ask what errand you have been on this morning, be a fool and forget. If your memory's too good, it's like enough some friend of mine will be spoiling those fine lungs of yours. Hast ever heard a man try to shout with a sword thrust through him?"

"No, sir."

"I have," Stefan answered. "It's a fearsome sound, like a whisper bubbling up through water. I'd be sorry to hear it from you. Off with you."

Stefan watched the boy out of the street, then he went in, and striking a match, burnt the paper, scattering the charred fragments on the hearth.

"Here's news that's an excuse for wine," he said, pouring out a liberal draught into the tankard. "A man gets rusty as an old lock with waiting. This will grease the action somewhat."

"It's early hours for such refreshment," said a voice at the door.

Stefan winked one eye over the rim of the tankard at the intruder, but did not pause in his drinking until three parts of the liquid was gone. Then he drew the back of his hand across his beard and mustache and sighed with satisfaction. "Never too early to drink thanks for good tidings, Monsieur Francois."

The Frenchman, with a quick glance round the room, stepped in, a smile upon his lips. He had told his master more than once that this servant of Captain Ellerey's was a drunkard and a fool, and that little was to be got out of him because nothing was ever trusted to him.

"And what are the good tidings," he asked.

"You'll be laughing at me, because you don't understand my disease,

Monsieur Francois. I hate women."

"Hate them! Ma foi! Then is your disease very lamentable."

"Well, there it is-I hate them," said Stefan, "but there was one woman who would not hate me, do what I would. She was a bonny wench, so far as I am a judge, of bigger girth than most you meet, and with an arm of muscle to appeal to a soldier like me. At the street corner she'd wait awhile to see me pass, and she'd remark on the cut of my features and the stalwart looks of these legs of mine. I took no notice, but her love was proof against a trifle of that kind. She'd 'make a husband of me some day,' she said, and those that heard her told me the saying. There's a vein of superstition in my composition, and for months past I've been expecting her to keep her word. When a woman's set upon a matter, where's the hole a man may find safety in? Tell me that, Monsieur Francois."

The Frenchman shrugged his shoulders, thinking what a fool his companion was.

"This morning there comes a lad looking up and down the street to find me, and he says to me, 'Where lives Stefan, he who is servant to that Captain Ellerey we hear so much about?' And I answers cunningly, knowing the value of caution in such times as these. At last I admit that I am, and he says, 'There's a fat woman'-that's what he called her, Monsieur Francois-'There's a fat woman you're afraid of because she's going to marry you.' I sweated from every hole in my skin, thinking the time had come. Then says he: 'You needn't be afraid any more. She was married yesterday to a timber-cutter from Breslen way, and he'll tame her fast enough like you might a hungry sparrow in winter time.' Good tidings, Monsieur Francois, believe me, though I doubt the taming and pity the woodcutter. Why, the muscles in her arm wouldn't blush to be seen by the side of mine, and a woodcutter would have to cut deep into the forest before muscles stood out like these." And with a great laugh Stefan bared his brawny arms for the Frenchman's inspection.

"Very beautiful," said Francois.

"I believe you. Too good to waste in fondling a woman. Ugh! What brings you so early to the Western Gate?"

"I have a message for the Captain."

"Ah, from Monsieur De Froilette?"

"I only carry messages for my master."

"I'll deliver it. Tell me quickly, and you shall taste a drop of real

Burgundy, to keep the morning air out of your return journey."

"I was to tell it to the Captain personally."

"What!" thundered Stefan, "am I not to be trusted, then?"

"You know the value of caution in these times," said Francois, "you spoke of it just now. Monsieur De Froilette is over-cautious, Stefan; that is the truth."

"It is a weakness of all masters," the soldier replied, "and so they overreach themselves. Give me a little confidence, and I am content, but distrust me, and my ears are ever on the stretch to catch news which I may use to my advantage. But I have no quarrel with you. The Captain is out, you must await his return, and while you wait you shall taste his Burgundy."

"Out! So early!"

"Oh, he's in love, I think, for he walks under the stars often, and on his return sighs like a gathering storm. I hear things, Monsieur Francois. I know."

The wily Frenchman nodded sympathetically.

"Perhaps I might find a market for what you know."

"That's been in my mind these many days," Stefan answered. "It's the first word that sticks in my throat. I've never let out secrets before, maybe because no man has told me any. Come, the wine may loosen my tongue."

He took two tankards and a key from the shelf, and led the way along a passage. The Frenchman followed eagerly, laughing at his companion's simplicity. It would be strange if Stefan could not tell him some news which would be useful to Monsieur De Froilette.

"You have your wine in safe keeping," he said, as Stefan went down into a cellar, bidding Francois to wait until he had struck a light.

"Would you have us keep it in the doorway for every thirsty throat in Sturatzberg? Come down now. Sit you on that empty barrel there. Here's wine should make you dream to your heart's content. The Captain will think that it has leaked somewhat. Scurvy treatment, Monsieur Francois, to have such wine in hiding and never ask a soldier comrade to pass an opinion. So we help ourselves."

"To his wine and to his secrets, eh?"

Stefan drowned his loud laughter in a copious draught, while Francois sipped with the air of a connoisseur.

"Fit for a king's palate," he murmured.

"Say rather for the gods. Nectar, monsieur, nectar! My secrets bubble to my tongue as the wine bubbles to the surface."

"Turn them into good money, Stefan. After all, what is this English

Captain to you?"

The soldier set down his tankard and lowered his voice into a confidential whisper.

"There are some who take me for a fool," he said, coming nearer to his companion. "The Captain did not return last night, and there have been watchers in the street."

"Watchers? Go on, Stefan, what else?" said the Frenchman, eagerly.

"Aye, I saw one draw back a blind in the house opposite not an hour ago. What do you make of that, Monsieur Francois?"

The answer was a smothered gurgle, for a cloth had been suddenly tied across the Frenchman's mouth. It was in vain that he tried to free himself. He was no match against the muscles Stefan had shown him a little while ago; and before he had fully realized what had happened, he was bound, gagged, and lying on his back on the floor.

"You'll have ample time to find out how much of a fool I am, Monsieur Francois," said Stefan, "for unless a miracle should happen you'll be sharp set for a meal before you leave here. Never look so solemn, man; you won't die. I'll send and release you as soon as it is safe to do so; and if it will save your character I'll let your master in the Altstrasse know that you did your best to carry out his instructions and make a fool of me. Should you be able to drag yourself about presently you have my full permission to hold your mouth under any tap there in the cellar, and we'll never ask for payment of the score." And drinking the wine which remained in his own tankard and also in the Frenchman's he left the cellar, locking the door after him.

A few minutes later he walked down the street with a self-satisfied smile, a strapped-up bundle under his arm, and was soon lost to view in the lower purlieus of the city.

That night seven horsemen left Sturatzberg, riding singly, and not all by the same gate. But, by whichever gate they left, they halted when they had ridden out of sight, and turned aside to reach the Breslen road. The last to go was Stefan. He went by the Southern Gate, and once free of the city, urged his horse forward toward the forest which lies between Breslen and Sturatzberg.

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares