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   Chapter 28 THE DIPLOMACY OF LORD CLOVERTON

Princess Maritza By Percy James Brebner Characters: 14148

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03


Desmond Ellerey recovered consciousness slowly and gradually. After the sensations of movement and galloping horses, there was utter oblivion for a time, followed by sharp pain which seemed to be caused by someone bending over him-a shadowy figure whose attack upon him he was powerless to resist. Then he heard voices, and more than one shadow flitted vaguely across his vision. Presently he realized that he was stretched out at full length, and that he was in a room which had an intricate pattern on the ceiling, the lines and curves of which his eyes were trying to follow.

"Well, Doctor?"

"Nothing serious," was the answer. "A bullet has torn the fleshy part of the arm, but it would hardly account for his collapse. The man is thoroughly played out, and has had no sleep for some nights probably, and has been at high tension for a long time."

"But will he be able to travel?"

"He would be better for twenty-four hours' sleep first."

"That is out of the question," was the answer.

"Is it a long journey?" asked the doctor.

"Yes; but he will be well cared for, and will have nothing to do."

"It will pull him down a bit, but he will stand it all right," the doctor returned. "His is the sort of constitution which stands anything." At first Ellerey had only been conscious of voices, now he partly understood what was said, and half raised himself.

"Where am I?" he asked faintly.

"Ah, that's better," said the doctor; "drink this, it will start you toward recovery. No, leave that arm alone, it will be all right presently."

"It hurts a bit," Ellerey answered. "I remember; De Froilette did it. I think I struck him down; I forget what happened after that," and he drank from the glass handed him.

"Well, Goldberg, he looks better already," said the other man, coming forward and standing by the couch. "Do you know me, Ellerey?"

"Lord Cloverton!"

"I told you I would pluck you from under the wheels of Juggernaut's car if I could, and so far I have succeeded."

"I don't know how you have done it, but I thank you."

"I will leave you for a little while," said Dr. Goldberg. "How long before he starts? Delay it as long as you can."

"A couple of hours," said Cloverton.

"Very well. I will come in and see him comfortably packed up."

"I cannot go," said Ellerey as the door closed upon the doctor.

"Listen to me," said the Ambassador, sitting down on the end of the couch. "I am not going to criticize your actions, and that you are here in the Embassy proves that I still feel some interest in you. I hardly expected to save you, but Captain Ward was fortunate in choosing the right spot to rescue you, and he managed to get you here without anyone knowing. You are still being eagerly sought for."

"I should like to thank Captain Ward," said Ellerey.

"You shall before you go."

"I cannot leave Sturatzberg," said Ellerey.

"You can understand that under the circumstances I have run some risk in having you brought to the Embassy," Lord Cloverton went on. "It is quite impossible for you to remain here, and to go into the streets of the city would be to go to your death."

"Still, I must go, Lord Cloverton. You do not understand."

"Perhaps not; but I have myself to think of as well as you. For both of us it is necessary that you cross the frontier as soon as possible. In two hours we start. I am going as far as Breslen on my own affairs, and, in case of accident, an escort is to accompany my carriage, which will be closed. I have made the most of the dangers to myself, and have demanded that my person shall be well guarded. You will go with me, and for your journey from Breslen I have made further arrangements. You are unlikely to be stopped."

"But, my Lord-"

"You owe no further allegiance to the cause you have striven for. You can depart in all honor. The cause is annihilated."

"I know, my Lord, I know; still, I cannot leave Sturatzberg."

"Somehow I expected to find you difficult to persuade," said Lord Cloverton, rising. "I have no time to argue with you; I will send someone else to do that. I hope to find you more tractable when I return."

He went out of the room, closing the door gently behind him. Ellerey raised himself on the couch, wincing with the pain his arm gave him, but determined to balk the Ambassador while he had the opportunity. It was evident that if he remained there Lord Cloverton would force him to this journey, and he was too weak to offer any real resistance, but once in the streets he could hide and wait, and seek Maritza in every corner of the city until-

The door opened again, and closed. Ellerey's back was toward it, and he did not turn. It was only a servant, probably, who would go away presently.

"Desmond!"

A few hurried steps, the quick rustle of a dress, and then a figure was kneeling by the couch, and a head was pillowed on his breast.

"Desmond!"

For a moment he did not speak; he could not. His confusion returned, and seemed to overwhelm him. Surely he was still dreaming?

"Maritza! You? Is it really you? How wonderful it is, this waking! Is it you, Maritza?"

"Yes, dear. Thank God for bringing you to me again."

"It is wonderful," Ellerey murmured. "Red blood is before my eyes still, and in my ears shouting and groaning. We have lived through it all, you and I-"

"And so many are dead, Desmond, have died for me. My heart is heavy and full of tears, only-only there is you, and you are here, and, God forgive me, there is joy in my soul because of this."

It was a strange, new thing for him to see Maritza weep.

"And Frina. Frina gave her life for mine, Desmond," she whispered.

He did not speak, but his fingers closed over hers, and they were both silent.

"They are looking for us in every corner of the city," she said presently.

"How did you escape?" he asked.

"I hardly know. Stefan caught me up and ran with me. I strove to free myself in vain. I pleaded, I threatened, but it was of no use. I was a child in those great arms of his. He brought me here. Lord Cloverton was very kind."

"Where is Stefan now?"

"Here still. He is going with us. Lord Cloverton says that you will not go; but you will, Desmond, won't you? I want you to take me away, anywhere, Desmond-anywhere away from Sturatzberg."

"I would not go, my darling, because you were not with me. When you came in I was making up my mind to drop from the window that I might look for you; but now-"

"My poor love, you are weak; how could you?"

"My sword arm is whole still, though it is tired-very tired."

"It shall rest now," she said, taking it and pressing it to her breast.

"Desmond."

"Yes, dearest."

"Only once have you said to me: 'I love you.' Never yet have I been in your arms. Put this one-this strong one-round me now. Say 'I love you.' Tell me. Oh, how often have I longed to hear those words from your lips."

"I love you, Maritza, my Princess," he whispered, and he kissed her lips as a little contented sigh escaped them.

"How beautiful you are!"

he went on, after a moment's pause. "It is strange, Maritza, but since that morning on the downs I have never seen you dressed as a woman."

"Once, Desmond."

"Ah, then you wore a mask."

"And looked through it with eyes of love, Desmond."

"Even then?"

"Yes, even then. These are borrowed clothes. Lord Cloverton persuaded someone to lend them. He was nervous until I became a woman. Grigosie is dead, Desmond."

"Is there no regret in your heart?"

"None," she answered.

"You lose a kingdom, Maritza."

"It is well lost for love, Desmond. I have found my king."

She was kneeling beside the couch when Lord Cloverton entered.

"Well, Captain Ellerey, are you ready to go?"

"How can I thank you, my Lord?"

"By going," the Ambassador answered, with a smile. "Sight of the Princess is evidently good medicine for you. You have both given me many anxious hours."

"You must forgive us," said Maritza.

"Princess, I am an old man; I envy my countryman his youth. But for all that, I shall find my work in Sturatzberg easier when I know you two rebels are safely over the frontier."

Dr. Goldberg came in, and with him Captain Ward.

"I owe you much," said Ellerey, grasping the latter's hand. "Thank you."

"It is but repaying the debt I incurred on the night of the duel,

Captain Ellerey."

"The carriage is waiting," said Lord Cloverton. "It is in the inner courtyard. We must be silent, for the escort, which waits without, has no knowledge that I am accompanied. Now, Doctor, wrap up your patient, and help him out. Here is a cloak for you, Princess. You travel with light luggage, but that, I am afraid, cannot be helped."

"And Stefan?" asked Ellerey.

"Goes with us. He is waiting. Come!"

The travelling carriage was large and roomy, and they entered it in silence in the inner courtyard. Stefan was waiting, and saluted Ellerey, but neither of them spoke then. The windows were drawn up, the blinds closed, and then they moved out. There was a sharp word of command as they passed into the street, and so, escorted by the King's troops, the man and woman who were being searched for in every corner of the city passed out by the Northern Gate and through the Bois, and were presently driving along the Breslen road.

Lord Cloverton's arrangements had been very carefully and completely made. In Breslen the carriage drove into an inn yard, the escort remaining without, and in the yard another carriage was waiting. The driver was in possession of the papers necessary for the journey, and, unless something unforeseen should happen, nothing could prevent the fugitives reaching the frontier in safety.

"Wait until I have gone," said Lord Cloverton, "and then start. Bon voyage," he whispered, as he raised Maritza's hand to his lips. "I hope we shall meet again under happier circumstances-in England, it may be. Your marriage will render a very charming Princess powerless to disturb the peace of Europe."

"Thank you a thousand times," said Ellerey. "You have given me more than life-happiness."

When the Ambassador had gone, Ellerey turned to Stefan.

"What can I say to you, old comrade?"

"Better say nothing, Captain. I'm nearer to tears just now than I ever was in my life."

"I had forgotten," said Ellerey; "you are leaving Sturatzberg."

"Oh, they're not tears of that kind," said Stefan. "I think they're happy ones, but having shed so few I'm a poor judge. I only know, Captain, it's good to be beside you again. I know it's good to have served you, and-and Grigosie, the name will slip out-and if you want to say anything, just promise that you won't send me packing as soon as we get free. I can turn my hand to other things beside soldiering."

"You shall stay with us, Stefan," said Maritza.

"I don't think I could have known any real woman before," the soldier muttered.

Ten minutes later they had passed out of the inn yard, and were galloping toward the frontier.

And in the midst of his escort, Lord Cloverton was riding back to Sturatzberg. So far he had succeeded, but he knew how often some little thing destroyed the best-laid scheme. He drove direct to the palace, and was admitted to the King. Queen Elena was with him.

"Do you bring us news of this countryman of yours, my Lord?" said the

King, and he spoke somewhat curtly.

"Or of Princess Maritza?" said the Queen. "It is very strange that neither of them can be found."

"So they have not been found yet?" said the Ambassador.

"No, my Lord; but they will be. I have it on good authority, only a moment ago, that they are even now between Breslen and the frontier. It was cleverly conceived, Lord Cloverton, but it is not too late to stop them," and the King's hand was raised to strike a gong to summon a messenger.

"One moment, your Majesty."

"Why delay?" exclaimed the Queen impatiently. "Every moment is of value. Five minutes have slipped away already since this news was brought to you. Telegraph to the frontier at once. I shall not rest until Maritza is taken."

"And De Froilette, your Majesty?" said the Ambassador quietly.

"He is dead."

"I know," was the answer. "Had he been alive, he too would have been hurrying toward the frontier. Your Majesty should rejoice in his death. He was not a man to be trusted."

"My Lord, you tell us only what we know," said the Queen.

"A little more, I think, your Majesty," was the quiet answer. "A servant of mine saw Monsieur De Froilette struck down by Captain Ellerey, and, knowing the man, searched him. He carried much that was incriminating upon him." And then, turning to the King, he added: "Would it not be well to let Captain Ellerey and the Princess go?"

"What do you mean?" asked the King angrily.

"Lord Cloverton only seeks to delay that message," said the Queen. "Send it. Some of your enemies are dead, but these two escape."

"And must be allowed to escape," said the Ambassador.

"Do you threaten, my Lord?" said the King.

"I ask the Queen to support me with regard to these fugitives."

"And I refuse," she answered. "Send the message."

"Will your Majesty show the King the bracelet of medallions?" said Lord

Cloverton.

The King rose angrily.

"Once before, my Lord-" and then he stopped.

"Send the message," cried the Queen.

"And then look to your own safety," said Lord Cloverton, turning sharply to the King. "Russia has plotted against you; her troops lie still on the frontier, and treachery has been beside you. By a strange chance the plot miscarried, but it was near to success. This was found in Jules de Froilette's possession," and he held up the bracelet.

The King looked at it. The Queen drew in her breath sharply, and bit her lip until the blood came. "What is the meaning of this?" said the King, turning to her after a pause.

"At a fitting time I will answer," she said.

The King sat down heavily in his chair.

"I will send no message," he said.

Lord Cloverton bowed, and placing the bracelet carefully on the table, silently left the apartment.

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