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   Chapter 11 IN THE BOIS

Princess Maritza By Percy James Brebner Characters: 22576

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03


The Bois lay without the Northern Gate. The work of planting gardens and cutting carriage roads through the nearer stretches of the forest which touched the city on this side was due to Ferdinand I, whose statue stood in the Grande Place, the only useful action of which he had ever been guilty, it was said.

Early in the morning men riding in the Bois had inquired of one another whether the story concerning Baron Petrescu were true. One had heard this, another that. It was whispered that the Baron had been killed in a duel by a member of the British Embassy, who had also been seriously wounded; and again, that he had wounded his adversary and had then been nearly killed by his adversary's partisans. Then one man inquired the name of the woman and another where the duel had been fought, for there was a law against duelling, although it was seldom enforced. The true story did not become public property, but it was presently known that the Baron's wound was a slight affair after all, and that the duel had not been fought with a member of the Embassy. Captain Ward had certainly been injured, but that was the result of an accident; they had Dr. Goldberg's word for it. It was then that the younger wiseacres smiled. Baron Petrescu was an easy lover, and had been punished for some indiscretion. Some townsman, perhaps, with the luck on his side, had got the better of the master of fence. No wonder the Baron wished to keep the matter quiet. Lord Cloverton knew the true story. Captain Ward had sent to him directly Dr. Goldberg had got him home, and the Ambassador shut himself in his room to consider his course of action. After his failure to entrap Queen Elena last night, and the King's anger consequent upon his accusation, his position was an extremely difficult one. The Queen had outwitted him, but the fact remained that Captain Ellerey was not to be found at his lodging this morning. He had ascertained this fact. There was no doubt that Ellerey had some understanding with her Majesty, and might have already left the city on his mission. The token might have been changed at the last moment. He had failed to arouse the King's suspicion through the Queen, but the interests at stake demanded instant action, and another method must be used. So Lord Cloverton went to the King and again apologized for the mistake his zeal had led him into. Her Majesty had, of course, proved how innocent her audience with Captain Ellerey had been, but the fact remained that Ellerey was the moving spirit in a rebellion. The sooner means were taken to obtain possession of his person the better. In this manner the Ambassador quickly made his peace, and messengers galloped hastily through the city from the palace.

The night had been a sleepless one for Frina Mavrodin. From the moment she had seen those figures descending the stairs, her thoughts had been fixed in one channel. She knew the Baron's reputation as a swordsman, and her heart went with the man who had met his insult with so swift a demand for retribution. The cause to which she was attached, for which she was prepared to squander her wealth, to give her life even were that necessary, had compelled her companionship with this adventurous Englishman. She had met him in a spirit of raillery, measuring her woman's wit and beauty against his brusqueness, and his resourcefulness and calm determination had won her admiration. The cause was altogether forgotten sometimes in the mere pleasure she had in being with him. He was not as other men, quick with a compliment, ever ready to please. Not a word of love had he spoken to her, yet his eyes had always sought her first in the throng, whether it were in the Bois or at Court, and, having found her, he looked no further. If she indulged in dreams sometimes, they were shadowy visions, pleasant enough, but taking no distinct shape, demanding no definite consideration.

The awakening had come when Princess Maritza had spoken of him. She had said little, but Frina had read the deeper meaning underneath her words. As a Princess, Maritza had watched the man's career, believing that one day he might prove useful to her cause; but as a woman she had also remembered the circumstances of their meeting, and had treasured them in her heart. Only with this discovery had Frina Mavrodin become fully conscious of all Captain Ellerey's companionship meant to her. The flood-gates were suddenly opened, and the rushing torrent of her emotions threatened to sweep away all thought of the cause she had worked for, and loved, and believed in. Almost had she told him her secret to-night by her eager questions, and the blood mounted to her cheeks as she remembered. How would he have answered her had he not been summoned to audience with the Queen? Leaning at the open window, looking at the heavy clouds which presently obscured the moon, she passed a night of restless anxiety. Somewhere, perhaps very near her, the man she loved had faced death to-night, calmly, fearlessly; even now he might be lying with sightless eyes toward the coming day, the new day which was so long in coming.

It came at last, and with her eyes bathed to remove all traces of the night's vigil, she went as usual to breakfast with the Princess, who was always an early riser. Since the night they had spoken of Captain Ellerey there had arisen a subtle difference in their relations toward each other. It hardly amounted to restraint, but the Countess was more reserved, and the Princess talked little of her hopes and plans. She made more show of taking her companion into her confidence, but told her less. For this difference, perhaps, Frina was chiefly responsible. Maritza felt that she had grown lukewarm, not to her personally, but toward the cause which took so few and such trifling steps toward its end. She did not wonder at it. No day passed in which she herself had not a period of despair, a passionate longing to drive things to a speedy conclusion, though the end brought failure. To her, her cause was paramount, and she would not allow herself to think of Desmond Ellerey apart from it; yet when Frina had in a manner claimed him, she remembered that morning on the downs, every hue of land and sky, every sound that had sung in her ears, every perfume the air held, and the centre of all was this man, who seemed then to be her possession. He had come to her country, not at her bidding, perhaps, but at her suggestion surely, and she had a right to his allegiance. It was a woman's argument, and a weak one, yet her heart seemed to excuse her.

They were still at breakfast when Dumitru was ushered in.

"Pardon, Princess, but I have news-important news. It could not wait."

"You are welcome, good Dumitru. Does the news mean action? Such is the only news I long for now."

"Yes," was the answer. "This English Captain is about to move. Whether he has the token or not I do not know, but Baron Petrescu believes he has. Last night he picked a quarrel with him, and they fought, and-" "Fool that he is!" exclaimed the Princess, starting from her seat. "Does not the Baron know that I had work for this Englishman? and now he has killed or maimed him in a useless quarrel."

"But it was not so, Princess; it was the Baron who fell."

Frina Mavrodin had also risen from the table, her hands clasped firmly together in her excitement, and a little sigh of relief echoed Dumitru's words.

"A new experience for Baron Petrescu," she said calmly.

"Ah, Countess, this Englishman is a devil," the man went on rapidly. "I had it from one who watched the fight. There was little moon, and the light was dancing and treacherous. The Baron used all the art which before has brought death when he willed, but this English Captain cared not. He knew all the Baron's art, and besides something which the Baron knew not. The Baron would have been killed had not those who were watching saved him."

"They interfered?" said the Princess.

"Yes, to save the Baron."

"They did not stop at that?" said the Countess eagerly. "Tell me what happened."

"Have I not said he is a devil?" answered Dumitru. "They rushed upon him and he fought them all. A sword thrust here, a blow with his fist there, a savage breaking through them, and he escaped-unhurt."

"Splendid!" exclaimed Frina, her face aglow.

"Splendid, Frina? Is not the Baron our friend?" Yet there was a glow in

Maritza's eyes, too.

"And is not Captain Ellerey the man you have work for? You should rejoice."

The Princess looked at her for a moment, and then she smiled. "Yes, it was splendid, as you say. What more, Dumitru?"

"The friend of the Englishman was killed, I think. He was of the

Embassy. There will be much questioning over the affair."

"The Baron's folly is likely to ruin us," said the Princess.

"There is still Captain Ellerey," said Frina.

Dumitru looked at the Princess, the slightest flicker in his eyes attracting her attention.

"I am not sure the other man is dead," he said. "Might I suggest that the Countess should drive as usual, and hear what is said in the Bois? Then to-night we can plan and arrange. The time has surely come."

"Will you, Frina?"

"I will, and you may rest assured that I will have the whole story by to-night."

When she had left the room Princess Maritza turned hastily.

"What more, Dumitru?"

"Much more, Princess; but it is only for your ears."

Frina Mavrodin had sped along the corridor so swiftly that she did not hear the door locked after her to prevent her sudden return or the intrusion of others. For a while she had no thought but a half-barbaric satisfaction that Baron Petrescu had justly suffered for his unprovoked insult; but this was succeeded by fears for Ellerey's safety. He had escaped last night, but he had other enemies besides those who had attempted to assassinate him in the garden-more dangerous enemies, perhaps. She determined to know nothing, to school her face to indifference, while she eagerly learned all she could.

She lunched with a friend, the wife of a member of the Austrian Embassy who had often quite unconsciously given her valuable information, but she could add nothing to her knowledge to-day. She knew Baron Petrescu had fought a duel and had been wounded, but she did not know who his opponent was. Later, in the Bois, Frina heard many versions of the story, but not in one of them was Captain Ellerey's name mentioned. She did not understand it. There was some undercurrent of intrigue going on of which she was ignorant. Her carriage was drawn up to the side of the road, where she was holding a small court of pedestrians, when she caught sight of Lord Cloverton. It was seldom that he walked in the Bois, but that he should be there in confidential colloquy with Monsieur De Froilette was nothing short of marvellous.

Lord Cloverton saw the Countess, and stopped a little distance away. He wanted to speak to her, but had no desire that De Froilette should be a third at the interview.

"I am exceedingly obliged to you, monsieur," he said to his companion. "Any information respecting Captain Ellerey's whereabouts just now will be of immense advantage to me-that is, to the country. He is one of those reckless young men who, while wi

nning our admiration, do not blind us to the fact that they are dangerous."

"Ah, I have admired him and seen the danger for a long time," De Froilette answered. "The commercial interests I have in this country force me to keep pace with its politics. I am not an expert, and it is sometimes very difficult."

"I can quite believe it," said the Ambassador, looking, however, wonderfully incredulous. "I do not fancy I have ever heard in which direction your commercial interests lie."

"Timber, my lord."

"A profitable business."

"I hope so in the future. At present there is too much unrest. With the Princess Maritza in Sturatzberg-"

"In that I think you are mistaken, monsieur."

"No, my lord. Mine was trusted information. Through the same channel

I shall learn where Captain Ellerey is."

"A spy, monsieur?"

"He would be hurt to hear himself called so. He is a servant of mine, interested in my business, and a valuable fellow. He has known Captain Ellerey's movements for months past, and even now, I warrant, is at his heels. You shall hear from me, my lord, the moment he returns."

"A thousand thanks, monsieur; you will place me under an obligation.

And the value of the news will depend on the state of the timber trade,"

he added to himself as he turned away. "Something has frightened

Monsieur De Froilette; I wonder what it is."

Joining the little crowd round the Countess Mavrodin, he entered into the conversation with the heartiness of a man who hasn't a care in the world; and one by one the others withdrew, it was so evident that the Ambassador intended to remain. Frina Mavrodin desired nothing better. Lord Cloverton could doubtless tell her the truth, and although she did not for one moment expect him to do so, she thought she could probably draw it from him with the help of the knowledge she already possessed.

"My horses are getting rather restive, they have been standing so long.

Will you drive with me, Lord Cloverton?"

He thanked her and got in beside her.

"One seldom sees you in the Bois," she said.

"No. I will be honest. I sometimes sleep in the afternoon, Countess."

"And to-day?" she queried, with a laugh. "To-day business brought me.

I hoped to see you."

"Surely you flatter me. Since when have you considered me capable of being business-like?"

"I am all seriousness, Countess. Politics in Sturatzberg are as dried wood stacked ready for burning, and a torch is already in the midst of it. Until now the torch has been moved hither and thither, giving the wood no time to catch; but now I fear the flame is held steadily. I seem to hear the first sounds of the crackling."

"I seem to have heard the beginning often," she answered, "but a swift hand has always saved the situation."

"The danger has never been so imminent as it is now, Countess."

"Are you not still in Sturatzberg to cope with the danger?" she asked, turning to him with a radiant smile. "I stand alone, Countess; what can one man do? I wonder whether you can credit me with disinterestedness, whether you can believe that I have the welfare of this country at heart while carrying out the policy of my own?"

"Is not that the position of every Ambassador?"

"Nominally, perhaps. I was asking you to believe something more definite in my case," he returned. "Do I ask too much? In a measure, you and I are drawn together in this crisis. We should be allies."

"Are my poor wits of service either way?"

"A woman is always a valuable ally, and the Countess Mavrodin knows her power. No, I am beyond turning pretty speeches to-day," he went on quickly; "the times are too serious for them. You know, Countess, what occurred last night?"

"I left the palace somewhat early," she said; "but there was an air of constraint about. What caused it, Lord Cloverton?"

"I was referring to Baron Petrescu's affair. No one has talked of anything else to-day."

"And you can tell me the truth of it," she exclaimed. "I am glad. I have heard many stories since I entered the Bois."

"I was expecting to hear the real truth from you," said the Ambassador, fixing his eyes upon her.

"From me! Am I the wife of some bourgeois in the city to inflame the Baron's susceptibilities into indiscretion? It is some such tale I have heard."

"But which you knew to be untrue, Countess."

"I have thought more highly of Baron Petrescu than that, I admit."

"Naturally, seeing that Captain Ellerey is not a bourgeois of the city, and has no wife as far as I know. My young countryman is no boaster beyond his worth, it would seem. The Baron has found his match."

"Is that the truth of it?" she asked innocently.

"I congratulate you upon your champion," returned the Ambassador. "You look surprised, Countess; but in the inner circle of such a Court as we have here in Sturatzberg such secrets will find a tongue."

"You have changed your serious mood, my lord, it appears, and I am at a loss to understand the pleasantry."

"Believe me, Countess, I was never more serious. Something of the Baron's political leanings are known to his Majesty, and the affair has assumed a political significance in his eyes. The law has lain dormant, it is true, but duelling is an offence against the crown, and the King has seen fit to set the law in motion. Captain Ellerey is sought for in Sturatzberg. I would do my countryman, and you, a service if I could."

"How am I concerned? I may thank you for your courtesy if you will tell me that."

"Is it not true that you were the cause of this quarrel?"

"It is absolutely false."

"Stay, Countess, it may be that you are unaware of the fact, but I have the best reason for knowing that such is the case."

"Captain Ellerey had no cause to draw sword on my behalf, Lord

Cloverton; neither of his own wish, nor at my bidding, did he do it."

"Strange," mused the Ambassador. "It is evident that he thought of only one person last night. He left instructions with his second that you were to be immediately informed if any harm befell him. He left no other message or remembrance to anyone."

She was not sufficient mistress of herself to prevent the Ambassador noting that the information was pleasant to her.

"It may have been presumption on his part," he went on slowly; "still such thought can hardly be without some interest for you. No doubt you would render him a service if you could."

"My friendship would prompt me to do so."

"Then urge him, Countess, to withdraw from Sturatzberg. The torch now put to the dried wood is in his hand. What is he to me? Nothing; but I would save him if I could. What he is to you, I do not know. I am not skilled with women; but for your country's sake urge his departure. It must be done promptly, for I warn you the fire has already caught hold, and not all, even now, shall escape the burning."

"Your appeal to my patriotism might stir me, Lord Cloverton, did I know where to find Captain Ellerey."

"In that, Countess, I cannot help you. I had hoped you would know. Have I your permission to stop the carriage?" She inclined her head. They had returned close to the spot from which they had started. There were fewer carriages in the Bois, and hardly any pedestrians now. Lord Cloverton had, however, seen a man standing close to the roadway, and he beckoned him to the carriage.

"What news?" he asked sharply.

"Every gate is closely watched, my lord. By the King's orders Captain

Ellerey is to be stopped if he attempts to leave the city."

"I fear we are too late to render any service," said the Ambassador, turning to the Countess. "It is a pity. The hand that holds the torch can hardly escape."

"It is not thought that the Captain has already left, but all efforts to find him have failed," said the man, and then at a sign from Lord Cloverton he withdrew.

"I believe we are allies at heart, Countess; it is a pity we have no power to act."

"Perhaps you exaggerate the danger."

"I fear not," he answered, as he stepped from the carriage. "I foresee evil days for Sturatzberg. Good-day, Countess; if I can save the situation, it must be by the sacrifice of my countryman, I fear. It is a pity."

He stood bareheaded until the carriage had driven away, and then went quickly toward the Embassy. If Frina Mavrodin knew where Captain Ellerey was, as Lord Cloverton was convinced she did, she would warn him. Whatever interests Ellerey had at heart, he would not chance disaster by attempting to leave the city until the watch upon the gates was relaxed to some extent. There must, therefore, be delay in whatever plot was in hand, and a few days now were of priceless value.

Politics had little place in Frina Mavrodin's thoughts as she drove homeward through the city. She had denied that Desmond Ellerey had drawn sword in her cause, and yet might he not have done so after all? What she had seen might only have been the end of a quarrel. Baron Petrescu may have spoken some light word concerning her which Ellerey had resented. If Lord Cloverton had spoken the truth, Ellerey's last thought had been of her. She was quite content that her fair fame should rest in his keeping. Now he was in danger. Whatever Lord Cloverton's aims might be, one thing was certain-the city gates were closed against Ellerey's departure. Without warning he would almost certainly be taken. How could she help him?

There was confusion at her door when the carriage stopped. Servants were in the hall expectantly awaiting her.

"What is it?" she asked.

"In your absence, Countess, we were powerless," answered her major-domo, pale even now with indignation. "The order was imperative."

"What order?"

"The order to search the house."

The Countess started, but was self-possessed again in a moment. Not all her servants knew of the identity of the Princess.

"For whom were they looking?"

"For an English Captain named Ellerey," was the answer. "I said that no such person visited here at any time, but they would not believe me, and searched the whole house."

"And found-"

"No one, Countess."

The man was wise; he said no more before the other servants.

"I will complain to his Majesty," Frina answered, and then she went quickly to the apartments occupied by the Princess Maritza. Hannah met her on the threshold. "Has she not returned, my lady?"

"Where is she? How did she have warning?" asked Frina.

"She had gone long before. She went without a word to me. When they came asking for some Englishman, I had just wit enough to answer that I was your ladyship's servant, and knew no Englishman; but it was hard work not to ask them what had become of my Princess."

"And Dumitru?"

"Gone, gone. I always took him for a cut-throat with that naked knife hidden in his shirt. I believe he has made away with her."

"Peace, woman. Say nothing. A word may ruin her. You can go."

"But, my lady-"

"You can go, I say."

There was a tone in the command that brooked no disobedience. The woman left the room hastily, leaving the Countess alone.

Alone. A wild rush of thoughts overwhelmed her. The hope and joy that had budded in her heart were suddenly blighted. The world seemed to slip away from her, leaving her alone indeed.

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