MoboReader > Young Adult > Princess Maritza

   Chapter 12 GRIGOSIE

Princess Maritza By Percy James Brebner Characters: 19529

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


The Toison d'Or was an ancient inn standing back from the Bergenstrasse and reached by a narrow court. It did not advertise itself, was not easily found, and its frequenters were few. Those who used it seemed to use it often, for the landlord welcomed them like old friends. They were of the poorer sort, and the want of comfort in the place did not disturb them; perhaps the quality of the liquor made amends.

It presented a narrow front to the court, the great walls on either side appeared to have squeezed it. The two little windows above, the signboard flat against the wall, and the single door rather suggested a face; and the door, out of the perpendicular, looked strangely like a mouth awry uttering a cry of pain. The building was deep, however, and there was a long, narrow, low-pitched room at the rear, of which all the frequenters of the place were not aware. This room, even in broad daylight, was dim, and it grew dark there early. It was still light in the wider streets of the city, but in this room a candle was burning on the corner of a table, beside which a man sat. He had pushed back the remains of a meal, and his fingers played reflectively with the tankard which the landlord had replenished a few moments before.

The landlord had asked no questions, had attempted no conversation. When Desmond Ellerey had entered and called for liquor, he had made a sign to the landlord as he had been instructed, and which was perfectly understood. Two men were drinking in the doorway at the time, and when they had gone the landlord led Ellerey to the long room.

"There will be inquiries for me, landlord. Whoever gives the sign bring him in at once, but no one else, mind."

The landlord nodded.

"Let me have food and drink. I care not what so there is plenty of it.

I have not broken fast since yesterday."

Throwing aside one cloak which he carried over his arm, and loosening the one he wore, Ellerey disclosed the fact that he was well armed, and booted and spurred for a journey. Earlier in the day Stefan had met him at a tavern in the city, bringing these clothes with him as directed in the note which the boy had delivered. The remains of the Court uniform which he had worn last night had been hidden away, and there was nothing now in Ellerey's dress to mark him as a King's officer.

He had already waited three hours, or more, and began to grow impatient. The men who had been chosen for this desperate service were already on their way to the place of rendezvous, and men of this description were wont to fret at delay and inactivity. He wanted to be away himself, and until he had the Queen's token safely in his possession he could not put aside his fears that it would not come, that something had happened to prevent her sending it. The King's sudden interruption last night might have forced her to change her plans, might possibly have caused her to sacrifice him to save herself. At the best, delay must be dangerous, and he chafed at his enforced idleness, which made the minutes drag.

At last the door opened and a man entered. It was the same man who had come to summon him to the audience last night. "You are welcome," Ellerey said. "I began to think some circumstance had intervened."

"We have only just escaped such a calamity," was the answer. "By some means Lord Cloverton had received information of our plans. In the presence of the King, immediately after your departure, he accused her Majesty of trafficking with the brigands in the hills, and challenged her to show the bracelet. It was fortunate that the Queen could do so, and indignantly demand apology. The first move is much in our favor, for the accusation made the King extremely angry, and the British Ambassador is in ill favor to-day. His hands are tied for a little while, at any rate."

"That I would believe if I saw the knotted cords about his wrists, but not otherwise," Ellerey answered. "My worthy countryman is not so easily beaten."

"It is true her Majesty bid me warn you, but without the King what can he do?"

"He is capable of anything, and has the English vice, or virtue-it depends on the point of view-of never knowing when he has got the worst of it."

"Her Majesty is fortunate in also having an Englishman for her messenger."

"Thank you, monsieur. I think there is something of the same spirit in me."

"There is the token, Captain Ellerey," and the man handed him a small sealed box. "The streets are yet full, so it would be wise to delay your departure for a while. Her Majesty also bid me give you this, an earnest of what shall fall to the share of her successful messenger."

In Ellerey's palm lay a ring, the jewel in it catching light even from the feeble ray of the candle. For one moment Ellerey was disposed to refuse the gift until he had earned it, the independence of the Englishman rising in him; but a brief hesitation gave the spirit of the adventurer opportunity to rise uppermost. He might fail, and for his life be compelled to leave Sturatzberg. It would be some consolation not to go altogether empty-handed.

"I thank her Majesty," he said. "I shall keep it as a key to win her further favor should I deserve it."

"Then I will leave you, Captain Ellerey. Fortune smile on you and on the cause."

As the door closed upon his visitor, Ellerey secured the sealed box and the ring about his person in such a fashion that the treasure lay close to the skin. While life was in him no one should rob him of it. Then he sat down to possess his soul in patience until the streets should grow dark enough and empty enough for his departure.

It was market day, and he had elected to go by the Southern Gate at the hour when many would be leaving the city on their homeward journey. He had no desire to be recognized, and he hoped to pass unnoticed in the crowd. Stefan had arranged to have his horse waiting for him at a forester's cottage off the Breslen road, a mile from the city. By making the meeting-place in the forest toward Breslen, precaution was taken that should riders be seen going in this direction their real destination would never be suspected. The brigands lay in the mountains near the Drekner pass, in exactly the opposite direction to Breslen, and a wide detour round Sturatzberg would have to be accomplished when the united band set out in earnest upon its expedition. The token was at last in his possession, his comrades awaited him, and Ellerey was anxious to be gone. But he was not the man to fail by being too precipitate. None knew better the value of deliberate caution, and with Lord Cloverton fully alive to the danger, there might be many obstacles to face which had not entered into his calculations. So Ellerey sat there waiting, while the candle burnt lower, casting, as the room darkened, a sharper outline of his figure upon the wall.

"Time, surely, now!" he exclaimed at last, starting to his feet.

"Landlord."

The door opened so suddenly that the handle must have been turned even as Ellerey shouted. But it was not the landlord who entered. Two figures came in swiftly and closed the door.

"Pardon, Captain Ellerey."

"Well, sirs, what would you with me? I have little time to waste. I have already called the landlord to pay my reckoning," and as he spoke Ellerey raised the candle above his head to see what manner of men his visitors were.

"Friends, Captain," said the foremost of the two, making the same sign which had gained admittance for the bearer of the token.

He was a man of set features with a pair of keen eyes deeply sunken. His figure was lithe and sinewy, his movements quick and not ungraceful. His dress was of the better peasant class, a short knife was sheathed in his girdle, and one hand rested lightly on the hilt of it as he stood motionless under the Captain's scrutiny. He might have been a forester. His companion stood silently in the shadows behind him.

"By that sign you should know the business I have in hand, and that

I have no time to waste in words."

"True, Captain. We are from her Majesty, and know that the token has been delivered into your keeping here to-night. You have comrades waiting for you, but too few, such is the Queen's opinion, and she bid us join your company."

"I do not like the arrangement," Ellerey answered. "My comrades are picked men that I know the muscles of. I know nothing of you."

"It's a poor welcome, Captain, but it must serve. I have other news for you which may increase our value."

"You run on too fast, my friend," said Ellerey. "Your coming at this eleventh hour ill fits with my precaution."

"We have horses without the city, Captain; we are not ill conditioned for the enterprise."

"You may pass muster for a man. What is your name?"

"Anton."

"You have muscle enough to strike a good blow on occasion, but I know naught of your courage. And your companion there, what of him? Step into the light and let me look at you. How are you called?"

"Grigosie, if it please you, Captain."

He stepped out of the shadow as he spoke, and with his arms folded across his breast, threw back his head defiantly, as though such inspection were little to his taste. He was a lad in figure and in voice. His face was innocent of even the down of dawning manhood. His limbs were clean cut and supple, but they looked too young for stern endurance. His dress was similar to his companion's save that it was green in color, and he wore a cap of green drawn down to his brows.

"You're a good-looking boy enough," laughed Ellerey, "but Heaven forgive her Majesty. Does she think I am bent on some summer picnic that she sends a child to bear me company?"

"We are wont to go together, Captain. Grigosie is a g

ood scout, and

I warrant is likely to prove useful," said Anton.

"For cooking and bedmaking maybe. We shall have little opportunity for either one or the other," [illustration: "YOU WILL PARDON ME COUNTESS!"] Blank Page "Nor should I do either of them except of my own will," said the lad.

"A stroke or two of the whip would make you tell a different tale," said Ellerey; "and you may thank your lucky fortune that I will not take you, for the whip would certainly follow."

"I have heard of Captain Ellerey," said the boy, "but never that he was a bully."

Ellerey looked at him quizzically.

"Well, lad, I did not mean to hurt your feelings. You do not lack courage, and you'll grow into a stout man for rough work some day. In this expedition I cannot use you."

"I can use a sword and am a master of fence, and the sword is not the only weapon which victory hangs upon."

"Peace, Grigosie; I will give the Captain an excellent reason for taking you."

"Peace, yourself, Anton. Am I to be taken out of charity? Set me to prove my worth, Captain."

"I have no time, lad," said Ellerey, picking up his cloak. "Anton may come since we are few, but--"

"There is a fly on the wall, Captain."

"Well, what of it? You are a strange lad."

"It is gone, I warrant; but in case I have missed-darkness."

Two revolver shots cracked in quick succession as he spoke, and the room was in darkness. Then the landlord rushed in.

"The candle is out; light it again, landlord," said the boy, and then when it had burnt up he pointed with the revolver to the spot where the fly had been and where now there was a hole. "I do not think I missed."

"Leave us, landlord," said Ellerey. "It was the deciding of a foolish boast."

The lad slipped the revolver into his pocket again and refolded his arms.

"That was a foolish jest, youngster," Ellerey said. "Do you think such boastfulness fits you for such work as ours?"

"There are few who could have done it," was the answer.

"True."

"Such precision might serve you were your enemies three to one."

"True again."

"Then ask me to go with you," was the prompt reply.

"May I not even take you out of charity?"

The lad shook his head with a smile, and there was something very winning in his smile.

"Very well. Will you come with me?" asked Ellerey.

"To the death."

"Your hand on that bargain."

"I'll earn the grip of comradeship before I take it, Captain. Until then it is for you to order, be it to cooking or to bedmaking."

"You'll serve for sport and as a relief to monotony, if for nothing else," said Ellerey. "Orders, then. We must be starting."

"You have not heard my further news," said Anton. "It is not time to start yet."

Ellerey turned upon him angrily. Was his authority so soon to be questioned?

"Every gate is closed against Captain Ellerey by the King's orders," said Anton. "It has been so since noon to-day."

"Is the scent so hot already?"

"We shall leave the city, but not yet. The lad here will show us the way," Anton answered. "You see I am to be of some service quickly, Captain," said Grigosie. "Trust me. My way is clear enough, and no King's order has power to bar it. We must wait a little. I have some money in my pouch; may I pay for liquor?"

"You're doing me good, youngster," laughed Ellerey. "Order your drinks, and tell me who they were who fathered and mothered you that you have such wit. You are not fashioned after the usual breed in Wallaria."

"I am of the pure breed which is being forgotten in the bastard race. I am of the old stock reared without the city walls. Anton can answer for me."

"That I can."

The drinks were brought, but the lad drank sparingly. Ellerey liked him none the worse for that. If wine were found upon the journey, one sober comrade, though he were a lad, might be more profitable than half a dozen boasters. The boy talked brightly, and his air of boastfulness fell from him. There was a tone of deference to the Captain in his manner which sat gracefully on his young shoulders.

"Were it not that they brought your favor, I should regret the fly and the candle," he said presently. "I crave your pardon."

"Say no more of it. We'll give you better marks before long, maybe."

"You carry two cloaks, Captain. How is that?"

"One my own, one I borrowed this morning. I am going to leave it with the landlord to be returned."

"Wear it until we are free of the city. It may conceal you from some prying eyes. I warrant you are well looked for to-night."

"Have we far to travel to this exit of yours?"

"Some distance, and by narrow ways. If there should be prying eyes we must close them quickly. We want no shouts to raise a rabble. Is it not time, Anton?"

"Yes, the gates have been closed for half an hour."

"Come, then," said the lad. "Must we go through the court?"

"There is no other way," Anton answered.

"Then Captain, will you permit that Anton and I go first?" said Grigosie. "Follow close upon our heels; but should we stop, do not you; overtake us and push us roughly aside, and we will overtake you again in a moment. Your pardon that I seem to lead in this matter, but I know the road we must take."

Ellerey returned a gruff assent to the arrangement. He had looked into the boy's eyes and seen honesty there, but he was not going to walk carelessly, for all that.

The inn was empty, so was the court, and there were few people abroad in the Bergenstrasse. Grigosie and Anton, leading the way by scarce a dozen paces, turned almost directly from the main thoroughfare into a side street, and had soon turned to left and right so often that Ellerey would hardly have found his way back to the Toison d'Or. Not once did they stop, and if they looked back to see that their companion was following them, Ellerey was not aware of the fact. He kept close upon their heels, ready to stand on the defensive at the first sign of treachery, but he took little notice of where they led him.

Suddenly a street corner struck him as familiar, and the next moment the truth flashed upon him. It was the street he had traversed last night. At the bottom there they had met Baron Petrescu. Even now the light was dimly burning in the upper window as it had been then. Grigosie and Anton stopped, but when Ellerey reached them he did not push them aside; he stopped, too. "And now which way?" he asked.

"Toward the light yonder," Grigosie answered.

"My lad, there is a point beyond which I trust no one," said Ellerey.

"I know that light."

"It marks our point of safety."

"Yours, perhaps; not mine."

"I do not understand, Captain."

"If you are innocent, how should you? If you are false, why should you? Last night I had an appointment beneath that dim lamp. With difficulty I escaped with my life."

"But you did escape; you know how. To-night there will be no duel. We shall go direct to that door in the wall."

Who was this youngster that he knew so much?

"It seems to me a desperate chance even if you are honest in advising it," said Ellerey. "Look you, lad, I give you warning. My life I am prepared to give, but if by treachery it is taken, I'll see that you bear me company on that journey, even as you have sworn to follow me to the death on the other."

"I am content," was the short answer. "Muffle your cloak about your face and leave me to speak."

They went together toward the light, and Grigosie knocked at the door as Baron Petrescu had done. There was the same delay, the self-same shaggy head was thrust out to the intruders. Silence reigned again until the stentorian voice had shouted, and then the clattering and the voices started instantly.

The man led them aside into the same room.

"Pass us out through the garden and ask no questions," said Grigosie.

"Who have we here?" asked the man, pointing to Ellerey. "Neither ask questions nor answer any," Grigosie returned.

"That's too pert a tongue to satisfy me," growled the man. "Signs and passwords are easily stolen. I'd sooner let some one bear witness with me after last night."

In an instant the lad was beside him. What he said was in so low a tone that Ellerey could not catch a word, but the effect was magical. The surly brute became alert and obsequious. He led them quickly down the passage, and opened the door leading into the garden. Perhaps Grigosie did not altogether trust him, for he caught him by the arm, saying that he should see them safely through the garden, and Ellerey noticed that Anton was particular to keep close to the man.

At the door in the wall the boy stopped.

"Your cloak, monsieur," he said, turning to Ellerey "You wish it returned, do you not?"

Ellerey gave it to him and nodded, but did not speak

Grigosie gave the cloak to the man.

"Theodor, see that this is returned to Captain Ward at the British Embassy. Send it by a trusted messenger, and let him say that he had it from Captain Desmond Ellerey to-night, an hour before midnight-mark the time-when he met him in the Konigplatz. Good-night."

The man bowed low as he opened the door for them. When it had closed upon them Grigosie turned to Ellerey.

"Are you satisfied, Captain?"

The boy's knowledge astonished Ellerey.

"You have reproved me twice to-night, youngster; first for being a bully, now for doubting you."

"My anger is forgotten," laughed the lad. "The cloak was a good thought.

They will know that you were in the city to-night, and they will search

Sturatzberg for you all day to-morrow. So we gain time. Our horses

await us on the Breslen road; and yours, Captain?"

"Also on the Breslen road."

"Then, Captain, will you order the march? My brief command is over."

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