A Modern Mercenary
by Kate Prichard
A MODERN MERCENARY
K. AND HESKETH PRICHARD
[E. AND H. HERON]
New York Doubleday, Page &Co. 1902
Copyright, 1899, by Doubleday &McClure Co.
CHAPTER I. A
CHAPTER II. A
GENTLEMAN OF THE
CHAPTER III. THE
GENTLEMEN OF THE
CHAPTER V. GOOD
LUCK AND A
CHAPTER VI. THE
CLOISTER OF ST.
CHAPTER VII. ONE
CHAPTER VIII. A
QUESTION OF THE
CHAPTER IX. THE
CASTLE OF SAGAN.
CHAPTER X. COUNT
SIMON OF SAGAN.
CHAPTER XI. A
LOVE IN TWO
HALF A PROMISE.
'WITH YOUR LIPS
TO THE HURT.'
THE SWORD OF
CHAPTER XIX. IN
UNDER THE PINES.
CHAPTER XXII. IN
HAD HIS ORDERS.
CHAPTER XXIV. ON
CHAPTER XXV. A
QUESTION OF TWO
THE MAN OF THE
'UPON THE GREAT
FOR A SEASON.
A MODERN MERCENARY
CHAPTER I. A LIEUTENANT OF FRONTIER
During four months of the year the independent State of Maäsau,' we
will call itwhich is not very noticeable even on the largest sized
map of Europeis tormented by a dry and weary north-east wind. And
nowhere is its influence more unpleasantly felt than in the capital,
Révonde, which stands shoulder-on to the hustling gales, its stately
frontages and noble quays stretching out westwards along the shores of
the Kofn almost to where the yellow waters of the river spread fan-wise
into a grey-green sea.
The tsa was blowing strongly on a certain November afternoon,
eddying and whistling about the wide spaces of the Grand Square as John
Rallywood, a tall figure in a military cloak, turned the corner of a
side street and met its full blast. He faced it for some yards along
the empty pavements, then ran up the steps of his club. A few minutes
later he passed through a lofty corridor and entered a door over which
is set a quaint invitation to smokers, which may not be written down
here, for it is the jealously guarded copyright of the club.
It chanced that the room for the moment had but one occupant, who
sat in a roomy armchair by the white stove. This gentleman did not
raise his head, but continued to gaze thoughtfully at his well shaped
though square and comfortable boots.
Rallywood paused almost imperceptibly in his stride.
'Hullo, Major! Glad to see you,' he said, as he dropped into an
Major Counsellor stood up with his back to the stove, thereby giving
a view of a red, challenging face, heavy eyebrows, and a huge white
droop of moustache. He looked down at Rallywood consideringly before he
spoke. 'So you're here. I imagined they kept you pretty closely on the
frontier. The world been kicking you?'
'No, but it would do me good to kick the world,' he answered as he
helped himself from the Major's cigar case. 'Five years, almost six,
spent on the frontier, with nothing to show for it, isn't good enough.
I've come up to send in my papers.'
'Then you'll be a fool,' returned the Major with decision.
Rallywood was busy lighting his cigar; when that was arranged to his
satisfaction he said easily
'Just so. History repeats itself.'
Counsellor stood squarely upright with his hands behind him.
'Any other reasons?' he asked.
'Pity! Are they serious orotherwise?'
Rallywood pulled his moustache.
'Why is it a pity?' he asked slowly.
'Because there is going to be trouble here, and with trouble comes a
Rallywood smoked on in silence. He was a big, shallow-flanked man
with the marks of the world upon him, and that indescribable air which
comes to one who has passed a good portion of his time in laughing at
the arbitrary handicaps arranged by Fate in the race of life.
'Where do you propose to go?' asked Counsellor after an interval.
'Back to Africa, I thinkBuluwayo, Johannesburg, anywhere. South
Africa's still in the bud, you see.'
'Yes, but it is a biggish bud and will take time to blow. You can
afford to wait andit may be worth your while.'
Rallywood threw a swift glance at Counsellor's inscrutable face.
'Seven years ago,' he said in a deliberate manner, 'you told me it
was worth while, but life has not grown more interesting since then.'
'Ah!' Counsellor paused, then went on with a grim smile, 'At your
age, John, there are possibilities. Think over it. After hanging on
here for more than five years why lose your chance now? Look at those
fellows.' He pointed out into the square.
Rallywood rose lazily and gazed out also. The prospect was not
cheering. A few troopers, their cloaks flapping in the wind, were
galloping across the square on the way to relieve guard at the Palace,
and under the statue of the late Grand Duke on horseback three men in
tall hats stood talking together; then they turned and walked towards
'Know them?' asked Counsellor.
Rallywood shook his head.
'The man with the beard is Stokes of the 'Times:' next him is
Bradley; he's on another big daily. Their being here speaks for itself.
Maäsau is going to take up people's attention shortly. The Grand Duke
is in a tight place, and there will be a flare-up sooner or later.'
'And you advise me to stop and see it through?' said Rallywood
meditatively from the window; then he lounged back to his chair. 'How
will it end?'
Counsellor shook the ash from his cigar.
'Selpdorf is the man of the hour,' he said.
On the autumn evening when these two men were talking at the club
the Duchy of Maäsau was, in the opinion of Maäsaun patriots, going as
fast as it could to the devil. With them, it may be added, the devil
was personified and bore the name of a neighbouring nation. The one
person who ignored this fact was the Grand Duke. With an inset,
stubborn pride he believed that his country must remain for ever, as
the long centuries had known her, Maäsau the Free. This being the case,
he felt himself at liberty to spend his time in cursing the fate that
had refused blue seas and skies to wintry Révonde, thus depriving it of
these sources of revenue which depend upon climate, and which are
enjoyed by places far less naturally beautiful than the capital of
The Duke, prematurely aged, by the manner of his life, made it his
chief business to devise schemes for raising money whereby he might
carry on the staling pleasures of his youth. Beyond this the
administration of public affairs was left entirely in the supple hands
of the Chancellor, M. Selpdorf, while the Duke, with those who
surrounded him, plunged into the newest excitement of the hour, for who
knew what a day might bring forth? The Court was like a stage lit by
lurid light, on which the actors laughed and loved, danced and fought
to the music of a wild finale, that whirled and maddened before the
crash of the coming end.
Once upon a time Maäsau was accounted of no particular importance or
value amongst its bigger neighbours; but of late, for various reasons,
its fortunes had become the subject of attention and discussion in at
least three foreign chancelleries, where old maps were being looked up
and new ones bought and painted different colours, according as seemed
most desirable by the bearded men, who sat in council to apportion the
marsh, rock, dune, and forest of which the now absorbingly interesting
pigmy State was composed.
In fact, Maäsau, with its twenty miles or so of seaboard, containing
one excellent port in esse and two others in posse, had
become a Naboth's vineyard to a country almost land-bound and yet
dreaming of the supremacy of the four seas. On this ambition and its
possible consequences the other Great Powers looked, to speak
diplomatically, with coldness.
It was generally understood that the English Foreign Office desired
the maintenance of the status quo; France was supposed to be
ready to clap a young republic on the back and to accord it her
protection, while Russia played her own dumb and blinding game, of
which none could definitely pronounce the issue. The political world
thus stood at gaze, watching every change and prepared to take
advantage of any chance that offered. The honours of the game so far
had lain with M. Selpdorf, who scored each trick with the same bland
smile. Whenever the Treasury of Maäsau was at a low ebb Selpdorf
usually had a thirteenth card to lay upon the table, and as the nations
cautiously proceeded to frustrate each other's purposes royal
remittances from Heaven knows where flowed in abundantly to replenish
the bankrupt exchequer of the State.
When Major Counsellor expressed his emphatic disapproval of the
intended resignation of Rallywood a new development was in the air.
Hitherto the lead had mostly devolved upon Selpdorf; on this occasion
he was known to be hanging back, and the question of who would take the
initiative was the question of the day. The fact that Germany had
lately accredited a new representative, a certain Baron von Elmur, to
the Court of Maäsau,an able man whose reputation rested mainly on the
successful performance of missions of a delicate nature,added to the
tension of the moment.
'So you say they are getting up steam in Maäsau?' said Rallywood
again. 'I have been out in the wilds for the last six months, and don't
know so much about events as I might.'
'Steam?' growled Counsellor. 'Steam enough to wreck Europe! I almost
wish I'd never godfathered you into this blessed little stoke-hole. Why
the deuce didn't you enlist at home instead of coming here?'
'That was out of the question, of course.'
'Why? Isn't our army good enough for you to fight in?'
'If it was only that!I could fight in the ranks, God knows, but I
couldn't parade in them! Besides, the life here suited methen.'
'What's gone wrong with it now? I should have thought you would have
got used to it by this time,' observed Counsellor with the air of the
older man. It was not the first occasion on which he had played the
part of elderly relative towards Rallywood during the course of their
queer, rough-grained friendshipa friendship of a type which exists
only between man and man, and even then is sufficiently rare.
'Precisely, I'm too infernally used to it! It was not half bad as
long as the newness lasted, but I can't stand it any longer! I'm sick
of the monotony. Do you know old Fitzadams's criticism on the service
here? Dust and drill, drill and dust, and fill in the chinks with
'Maäsau only apes its betters. These Continental armies devote
themselves very assiduously to rehearsals, and there is no end of waste
about the process,' remarked Counsellor. 'They rehearse in summer and
get sunstroke; then they rehearse in winter with rheumatisms and lung
troubles growing on every bush. The bill for blank cartridges alone is
enormous! And all because they have no India and no Africa, as we have,
where we can give our fellows a taste of the real thing any day in the
week. We carry on a small war with a regiment, or despatch a youngster
with half a company to teach manners and honesty to twenty thousand
niggers. The peculiarity of our army is that it is always at war. In
this way we escape the dangers of theory, and get practice with
something for our money into the bargain.'
'Our plan has its advantages,' agreed Rallywood lazily. 'I saw in
South Africa what a little active service does for a man. The first
time he is under fire he is persuaded that he is going to be killed,
and that every shot must hit him. But after a trial or two he begins to
think the odds are in his favour and he becomes a much more effective
'Necessarily he does. We don't half realise the value of our
colonies yetas a training ground for our soldiers. The British army
is the smallest in Europe, but it remains to be seen what account it
will give of itself if it is ever brought into contact with these huge,
peace-trained conscript monsters.'
'When the Duke dies' began Rallywood, harking back to the former
topic of conversation.
The door was softly opened, and a waiter advanced into the room,
bearing a letter for Rallywood, who took it and laid it down on the
table beside him, then looked at Counsellor for an answer to his half
spoken question. Counsellor shrugged his shoulders.
'Who can tell?' he replied. 'Meanwhile take the gifts the gods have
sent you to-day,' and he pointed to the long, heavily sealed envelope
that lay at Rallywood's elbow. 'Selpdorf, I see, already has his finger
Rallywood broke the great seals, and, having read, he tossed the
paper into the other's hands.
'He wishes to see me at 9.30. What can he want with me?' he asked.
'Probably he has heard you intend to cut the service. It appears to
me, Rallywood, that your chance has come out to meet you.'
'How could he have heard that I meant to go? And what can it matter
to any one if I do?' went on Rallywood incredulously.
Counsellor shook his head, but made no other reply.
'A lieutenant of the Frontier Cavalry,' resumed Rallywood, 'is
merely a superior make of excise officer!'
'You will be something more or something else before 10, I expect.
As for what he wants with you, that is for you to find outif you
'It is to be hoped he may feel moved to let me have my arrears of
pay,' said Rallywood, relapsing into his usual tone of indifference;
'that is the chief consideration with us on the frontier just now.'
'He probably will if it suits himor rather perhaps if you suit
him. Come over and dine with me presently at the Continental. There's
generally a decent dinner to be had there.'
John Rallywood, one of the old Lincolnshire Rallywoods, had been
born to a fortune, and moreover with an immense capacity for enjoying
it after a wholesome fashion. Queens Fain had fallen to him while still
an infant upon the death of a great-uncle, and with the old place were
connected all those hundred untranslatable ties and associations which
go to make up a boy's dreams. He was a man of suppressed, perhaps half
unconscious, but nevertheless deep-rooted enthusiasms; hence when the
blow fell which deprived him not only of his inheritance, but also cut
short the life of his mother, the unexpected, almost intolerable
anguish he silently endured had left a deep, defacing scar upon his
Up to twenty-two the record of his life, if not striking, had been
clean and manly. He had passed through Sandhurst, and joined a dragoon
regiment for something over a year, when an older branch of the family,
supposed for a quarter of a century to be extinct, suddenly presented
itself very much alive in the person of a middle-aged, middle-class
American. Within three months the man's claim was substantiated, and
estate, fortune, position, and homeas far as John Rallywood was
concernedhad melted into thin air.
During this period of disruption and trouble Counsellor, who
happened to be distantly connected with him, came into his life. They
did not meet very often and spoke little when together, but mutual
knowledge and liking resulted. Friendship is a living thing: it cannot
be made; it grows.
Rallywood, when he turned to seek the means of a livelihood, found
himself, as he said long afterwards, standing in the corridor of life
with all the doors shut and no key to open them.
His tastes and training alike led in the direction of a military
career, and presently he went out to the Cape, where he spent a year or
two in a police force which was in time disbanded, and he returned to
England once more at a loose end.
At this juncture Major Counsellor suggested to him the possibility
of obtaining a commission in the little army of the Duchy of Maäsau.
This hint set him on the right track. The regiments of Maäsau, though
few in number, carried splendid traditions. Their ranks were drawn from
a stolid, silent peasantry, and officered by a wire-strung, high
tempered aristocracy, born of a mixed race, it is true, but none the
less frantically devoted to the freedom and independence of their shred
of a fatherland.
In compliance with a private request on the part of Major Counsellor
the British Minister at Révonde bestirred himself to procure a
commission for Rallywood, who thus became a lieutenant in the Frontier
Cavalry, and for more than five years had taken his share in riding and
keeping the marches of Maäsau gaining much experience in capturing
smugglers and in superintending the digging out of snowed up trains.
But life on the frontier, though crammed with physical activity and
routine work, was in every other respect monotonously empty, and breaks
in the shape of furlough were few and far between. Half liked, wholly
respected, and a little feared amongst his comrades, but always
remaining a lieutenant to whom now, the State owed eighteen months'
arrears of pay, Rallywood, in return, owed to Maäsau only the qualified
service of an unpaid man, but gave it the full devotion of a capable
As to Counsellor, no one could quite account for his presence at
Révonde at the present moment. He was supposed to be attached in some
indefinite way to the Legation, but he described himself as a bird of
passage, whose appearance in the European capital simply meant whim or
pleasure, for he was growing old and lazy and could not be brought to
account for his wanderings, which he assured those who ventured to
enquire were chiefly undertaken in search of health. Nevertheless
wherever he went or came something interesting in a political
senseand more often than not, in favour of British interestswas
almost sure to happen.
In former days he had filled the position of military attaché to two
or three of the more important embassies, and was said to be the best
known man in Europe. He had, moreover, the right to carry upon his
breast the ribbon and decoration of more than one exclusive and
distinguished Order. Of the many rumours associated with him this
saying was certainly true: that one could never enter the smoking-room
of any diplomatic club in any city in Europe without standing a fair
chance of encountering Major Counsellor warming himself beside the
Therefore he had naturally an enormous circle of acquaintance, each
individual knowing very little about him, though he always formed an
interesting subject of conversation, and a political opinion backed by
his name became at once important.
CHAPTER II. A GENTLEMAN OF THE GUARD.
Shortly before 9.30 Rallywood presented himself at the granite
palace, with its four cupolas, which M. Selpdorf occupied in his
capacity of First Minister of State. After some slight delay he was
ushered into a comfortable study, where he found Selpdorf with a
reading-lamp at his elbow, glancing rapidly through a mass of papers
that he threw one after another, with apparent carelessness, on the
floor beside him.
The chancellor of a small State might very well have been pardoned
had he introduced a certain amount of what an old official used to call
'desk dignity' into his dealings with those who approached him, but
Selpdorf habitually affected an easy manner and an easy chair. He was a
middle-sized man, possessed of a very round head, bald at the crown,
but having still a lock of dark hair on the summit of his round
forehead; very round eyes set far back in smooth holes, showing little
lid; a nose blunt and thick over lips that might have been coarse, but
were controlled, and betrayed a lurking humour at the corners, to which
the upstanding moustaches seemed to add point. For all his peculiarity
of aspect, he was a man who left an impression on the memory of
something pleasing and attractive, especially in the minds of women.
He received Rallywood with that air of deep personal interest which
told with such happy effect on those whom he desired to influence.
'Ah, my dear Lieutenant, I understood you were in Révonde, and took
the advantage of your presence to put into effect a little plan which
has been for some time in contemplation. I recollect having had the
pleasure of meeting you not so long ago when you arrived in Maäsau.'
'Nearly six years ago, your Excellency,' replied Rallywood with a
'I can scarcely believe it to be so long. At any rate I remember
perfectly that I had the honour of presenting you to his Highness as
the latest addition to our Frontier Cavalry.'
'Your Excellency might easily have forgotten. From the nature of the
case that could not be possible with me.'
Selpdorf listened with a little astonishment. This Englishman was
not quite such a fool as one might have expected from the fact of his
having been content to remain without preferment and only a proportion
of his pay for over five years on the frontier. He had hoped to find
the fellow adaptable, but this long-limbed, slow-spoken gentleman was
not altogether so transparent an individuality as Selpdorf had led
himself to expect.
'But why have you secluded yourself for so long among those
barbarous marshes and forests?' demanded the Chancellor in a rallying
manner. The young man made no reply, though the obvious one was in his
'By-the-by,' resumed the Chancellor, as if struck by a new thought,
'I have heard that your countryman Major Counsellor has come to pay us
a little visit in Maäsau.'
'He is here. I have just seen him,' replied Rallywood.
Selpdorf's round eyes glanced once more at his companion. The simple
directness of the reply was admirable but baffling.
'Ah, he is invaluable, the good Major, quite invaluable! England may
well be proud of him. He is one of the ablest men in Europe,
besides'here he smiled, showing a row of strong, even teeth'besides
being one of the most honest. For a diplomatistwhat praise!'
Rallywood met his glance imperturbably.
'For a diplomatist, your Excellency?' he repeated.
'But assuredly,' replied the Chancellor warmly: 'figure to yourself,
my friend, the condition of politics if all statesmen were like
himhonest! An invaluable man!'
He paused for a reply, but Rallywood merely bowed. He felt that so
much at least was expected of him on the part of England.
'But now, monsieur, with regard to your own affair. You have been
five years in the service of his Highness. And your command?'
'At present fifty troopers at the block-houses above Kofn Ford and
along the river. In the winter, during the long dark nights, when there
are many attempts to run illicit goods across the frontier, I shall
have, perhaps, a score or so more.'
'And you are not tired of it?' M. Selpdorf raised his hands.
'So tired, your Excellency, that I am half inclined to let a better
man step into my shoes.'
'But come, come, that is impossible!' returned his Excellency
agreeably. 'Are you also tired of our capital, of Révonde?'
'I have had very little opportunity of growing tired of Révonde. I
know nothing of it.'
'But you would prefer Révonde, believe me.'
At this moment an attendant appeared with a card upon a salver.
Selpdorf read the name with the faintest contraction of his brows.
'You will excuse me, M. Rallywood,' he said; 'I must ask you to wait
in the ante-room for a few minutes.'
The ante-room was a long pillared corridor, in which Rallywood found
himself quite alone. He fell at once into speculations as to the
meaning and aim of Selpdorf's late awakened interest in himself. Also
the allusions to Counsellor had probably been made with calculated
Rallywood understood that each of these two men had the same end in
view; each desired to dissemble his own character. And each of them
succeeded with the many, but failed as between themselves. Selpdorf
posed as the suave, sympathetic, good-natured friend of those with whom
he came in contact; Counsellor, as a man of no account, a rugged
soldier, honest, strong, outspoken, a good agent to act under the
direction of more astute brains, but if left to his own resources
somewhat blunt and blundering.
To do Rallywood justice, he was far more occupied with this last
thought than with the things which bore more directly on his own
prospects and future. At this period his life was comparatively
tasteless and void of interest; there was nothing to look forward to,
and the recent past meant extremes of heat and cold, long solitary
rounds ridden by night, and days rendered so far alike by iron-handed
rule and method that one was driven to mark the lapse of time by the
seasons, not by the ordinary divisions of weeks and months.
As he lounged in a chair full of these thoughts a slight rustle,
soft and silken, like the rustle of a woman's dress, caught his ear. He
turned his head quickly. The corridor with its splendid pillars, which
stood at long intervals, was steeped in the clear electric light, and
from where he sat he could see that there was no person visible
throughout its entire length.
Then as his gaze travelled back it rested on something which had
certainly not been lying where he now saw it at the time of his
Not six paces behind him, stretched across the dark carpeting, in
the very centre of the pillared vista, lay a woman's long glove.
A woman's glove possesses a peculiar charm for all men. Perhaps it
suggests some of the sweet mystery of womanhood. The first action of
most young men in Rallywood's place would have been to raise it at once
and to examine it, as though in some impalpable manner it could tell
something of its unknown wearer, who might turn out to be the Hathor,
the one woman in the world.
But the circumstances of Rallywood's life, and perhaps also some
exclusive element in his character, had heretofore set him rather apart
from the influence of women. He had grown to regard them without
curiosity, which is the last stage indifference can reach.
It must be admitted that it was with a feeling akin to repugnance
that he at last lifted the long, soft, pale-hued, faintly-scented
suède from the floor and dangled it at an unnecessary distance from
his eyes, holding it as he did so daintily between finger and thumb.
Its subtle appeal to his senses as a man failed to reach him. It simply
aroused an old feeling of reserve toward the sex it represented. His
face altered slightly and he dropped it suddenly with an odd repulsion,
as he might have dropped a snake, on a couch near by.
Then he resumed his chair and turned his back upon it, till the
reflection that the woman to whom it belonged must have come and gone
while he sat thinking with his back to the corridor sent him wheeling
The glove still lay where he had placed it on the edge of the couch,
palm upwards and with a suggestion of helplessness and pleading. It
annoyed him unreasonably. He frowned and looked at his watch. Half an
hour had passed since Selpdorf dismissed him.
At that moment a guttural voice broke the silence of the house, and
the heavy curtain over the door at the nearer end of the ante-room was
thrust back by a brusque hand, and a tall, high-shouldered, handsome
man, dressed as if he were about to attend some Court function, stood
in the opening. Behind him Rallywood caught sight of a flurried and
'Ah! so I have lost my way after all,' said this personage in a
bland voice. 'A mistake! But I hope you will accord me your
Rallywood sprang to his feet at this most unexpected ending and
Close beside him stood a tall girl wrapped in a long cloak of fur
and amber velvet. She was singularly beautiful, with a pale, clear-hued
beauty. Her black, long-lashed eyes were on him and they were full of
'Enter, then, Baron,' said the girl, glancing across at the
courtier. 'Did you guess you would find me here, or were you seeking
monsieur?' and she waved her bare left hand towards Rallywood.
'I lost my way, nothing more,' returned the Baron, coming forward;
'but perhaps, as in my heart, all roads lead towards' He bowed
deeply once more, this time stooping to kiss the girl's hand with a
certain show of restrained eagerness.
She drew back with a little impatient gesture.
'I should not have been here, but for an accident,' she replied
coldly. 'In fact I was on the point of starting for his Highness's
reception, had not monsieur detained me.' And, to Rallywood's
amazement, she indicated himself.
Before he could speak she pointed to his spurred boot.
'Monsieur has set his heel on my poor glove,' she added.
By his hasty movement in rising he had apparently dislodged the
glove from its position on the edge of the couch. He stooped with a
hurried word of apology and picked it up. On the delicate palm was
stamped the curved stain of his boot-heel.
'Do you always treat a lady's glove so?' she asked gravely, and held
out her hand for it.
Rallywood looked down at her very deliberately, and something that
was neither his will nor his reason decided the next action. He folded
the soft suède reverently together.
'No, mademoiselle,' he answered, as he placed it inside his tunic,
'I have never before treated a lady's gloveso. For the accident, I
offer my deepest apologies.'
She watched him with raised eyebrows and a slight derisive smile.
Then she drew the companion glove from her right hand, and giving it to
the lackey, who still remained in the background, she said
'Throw it away, it is useless, and tell Nanzelle to bring me another
'Monsieur, with whom I have not yet the pleasure of being
acquainted,' interrupted the Baron rather suddenly, 'monsieur is after
all the lucky man. He retains what I dare not even ask for.'
'Shall I call back the servant with its fellow for you?'
mademoiselle asked haughtily. 'It is nothing to me who picks up what I
have thrown away.' With this rebuff to Rallywood she placed her hand
upon the German's, as if to ask him to lead her from the room, and
'You wish for an introduction? Then allow me to present you to each
other. His excellency the Baron von Elmur.' She paused, and her eyes
dwelt for a moment on Rallywood's. 'A gentleman of the Guard.' And
before Rallywood could explain the mistake the curtain had dropped
behind them and he was left standing alone.
In Baron von Elmur he recognized the oblique carriage of the head
and the high-shouldered figure of the third man he had seen with the
newspaper correspondents in the Grand Square that afternoon. Moreover
he knew that the German had entered the ante-room through no mistake,
but with some object in view. As for the girl, who was she and where
had she come from? She was not of Maäsau, since she had introduced him
as belonging to the Guard, for not only was every officer of that
favoured corps individually known, but it was further impossible for a
Maäsaun to make the slightest mistake with regard to any uniform. It
was one of the boasts of the country that even a child could tell at a
glance not only the special regiment, but the rank of the wearer of any
uniform belonging to the Duchy.
Rallywood had no time just then to pursue the subject further, as he
was almost immediately recalled to the Chancellor's presence.
'Now, monsieur,' began Selpdorf, as though no break had occurred in
the conversation, 'you are in truth tired of keeping our dreary
marches; is it not so?'
'There are better placesand worse, your Excellency.'
'Our gay little capital will be one of the better places, I promise
you,' continued the Chancellor. 'A position in the Guard of his
Highness has just become vacant. Am I right in believing that a
nomination to that superb regiment would tempt you to remain with us?'
Rallywood for once was a little taken aback.
'A gentleman of the Guard.' He repeated the girl's words of
introduction mechanically; then, putting aside the thought of her, he
took up the practical view of the situation and answered, 'I am an
Englishman, your Excellency, and though I have taken the soldier's oath
to the Maäsaun standard I have not taken the oath of nationality. I
could not consent to become a naturalised citizen even of the Duchy of
'Ah, so?' Selpdorf stroked his chin, then despatching the objection
with a wave of his hand, he resumed, 'We must overlook that in your
case. You have already served the Duke for five years with as sincere
zeal as the truest Maäsaun amongst us. We must remember that and
overlook a drawback which is far less important than it seems.'
He turned to a memorandum on the table and consulted it.
'You were engaged in the affair at Xanthal, I see?'
'Three years ago, your Excellency,' replied Rallywood in a tone that
implied his powers of usefulness had probably become impaired by lapse
Selpdorf moved his shoulders. Here was a man throwing difficulties
in the way of his own advancement. Yet he could not possibly be so
indifferent to his own interests as he chose to assume.
'To be plain with you,' Selpdorf said with an air of candour, 'the
younger officers of the Guard have little experience. The latest
fashion in neckties or the most charming dancer at the Folie absorbs
their attention, to the exclusion of more important matters. There is,
as you doubtless know, a certain admixture of French blood in the veins
of our most noble families,' he finished abstractedly.
Rallywood had no remark to offer upon this. The officers of the
Guard bore a very distinct reputation. They were said to be a very
pleasant set of fellows socially, unless one ran foul of their
prejudices, but they were credited with a good many prejudices. As for
his personal acquaintance with them, it was limited to acting as second
in a hastily arranged duel fought out in the yard behind a little
country railway station.
'I should like to see a somewhat different spirit introduced, and to
be assured that I could always rely on the presence of at least one
cool-headed officer at the Palace. Your experience on the frontier has
eminently fitted you for the position. To you, therefore, will be
allotted the quarters reserved in the Palace itself for the adjutant of
the Guard. May I have the pleasure of saluting you as such?'
Rallywood hesitated. He foresaw certain difficulties, but they
appeared rather attractive than otherwise at the moment. He threw back
his shoulders, a light of laughter came into his eyes, he raised his
head and looked into Selpdorf's face.
'I thank your Excellency.'
The Chancellor understood more than met the ear. He approached the
'Then you will allow me to congratulate you, Captain Rallywood,' he
said, bending forward to shake hands with his visitor in the English
fashion. 'There may possibly be some trifling difficulties at the
outset. The first step in any undertaking usually costs something, but
you will not, I beg, permit yourself to be drawn into,ahem, any
shallow quarrels. Our friends of the Guard, you will understand, are a
little prone to pick up even a careless word on the sword-point.'
M. Selpdorf paused, and referred once more to the memorandum.
'There has been some small hitch about the pay on the frontier of
late?' he asked innocently.
'A serious hitch for the last eighteen months or so, your
Excellency,' replied Rallywood with a smile that did not reach his
'Indeed? That must be remedied. The paymaster-General shall have a
note upon your affair immediately, Captain Rallywood. Good-night.'
Rallywood stepped out into the windy, frozen night, and also out of
his old life into the new. Above him the stars, written in their vast,
vague characters upon the night-blue vault of sky, shone with a keen
lustre. Below his feet, with scarce a break in the great circle, it
seemed as if they drew together in denser clusters and set themselves
in luminous tiers. These latter were the lights of the city. For the
Hôtel du Chancelier stands high upon one of the twin ridges which form
the ravine of the river, and upon whose converging slopes Révonde is
built. Rallywood stood and looked down upon the dip and rise of the
terraced city with a new interest, for now it held a future for him
individually, a future which must be stirring and might be something
The eyes of the girl whose glove he had trodden upon still
challenged him from the starlit darkness, eyes made of starlit darkness
themselves. He followed the broad black line of the river between its
sweeping curves of lamps, broadening out seawards into hazy dimness.
Then as a great bell across the water boomed out the hour he turned his
gaze to the east, in the direction of the sound, to where the broken
brightness of the crowding streets gave place to a majestic alignment
of light and shadow, showing the position of the Ducal Palace upon the
river bank. Behind and above it shone a blood-red gleam like an angry
eye; this Rallywood knew to be the great stained dome of the historic
mess-room of the Guard.
Then the late lieutenant of the Frontier Cavalry laughed aloud in
the dark, his blood tingled in his veins, for the priceless element of
a vague, unknown danger and excitement had entered into his life.
CHAPTER III. THE GENTLEMEN OF THE
Members of great families frequently regard themselves as submerged
individualities. They wilfully sink all identity of their own in the
traditions handed down to them, and live as mere representatives of a
line which bears in common a noble name. This principle, which has
something to recommend it, was adopted long ago into the system of the
Guard of Maäsau, the officers of which were first gentlemen of the
Guard and afterwards men in the private and ordinary sense of the term.
There were eight of thema colonel-in-chief, whose position became
honorary after his elevation to that rank; a colonel, upon whom
devolved the active command; a second in command, whose title of
over-captain may be translated major; three captains, and as many
subalterns. And every individual was drawn from the noblest blood of
Thus it will be seen that Rallywood was about to enter the best
company in Révonde.
On a lofty cliff above the gorge from which the Kofn issues to curve
round the Palace gardens, and exposed to the four winds of heaven,
stands an imposing square block of grey buildings. These contain the
permanent quarters of the Guard. One whole side of the courtyard within
is taken up by the domed mess-room with its necessary adjuncts and
Here on the day following Rallywood's interview with Selpdorf, three
men lounged over their lunch. Any one of them, had he cared to take the
regimental rolls from their brass-bound coffer in the ante-room, could
have read his own name repeating itself down the columns as generation
after generation lived through its identical life in the same
surroundings, and died, most of them going to the devil with a fine
inherited pride and even gracefully.
Nearly every man who had crossed the page of the Maäsaun annals had
dined in that historic room, and each one of the men who now held the
right to dine there had a hereditary interest, and in many cases a
hereditary characteristic, to maintain. There was old walrus-faced
Wallenloup; thin, dark, reckless Colendorp; Adiron, whose great bulk
behind a cavalry sword was a sight for the gods, and so on; the three
lieutenants following closely in the footsteps of the three lieutenants
who had been before them; men who went to the rendezvous of a duel in
all comfort, affecting to be infinitely more afraid of catching cold
than of being killed; men who kissed the wife and dispatched the
husband with equal skill and as little noise as might be; men who were
feared by a rough, swaggering, raucous soldiery, whom they only knew
through the hard-faced sergeants; men, in fact, who lived out their
debonair, picturesquely evil lives to the satisfaction of themselves
and of few others.
On this occasion Colonel Wallenloup, the commandant, was not
present. Of him it was told that while still a lieutenant he had been
offered, as a reward for services rendered to the Crown, the command of
any Maäsaun regiment he might choose to select, and he had replied that
he would rather be a lieutenant of the Guard than a field-marshal
elsewhere. And so he remained to favour the mess with his somewhat
blood-and-iron jokes. The mess-room was a spacious hall, and though
only three men sat at table the place seemed full of life and colour
from the black polished flooring to the carved and vaulted ceiling,
from which hung in tattered folds the old banners of the regiment. Red
hangings partially draped the dark walls, and over all the light from
the stained dome fell in rich colour; while through the talk of the men
ran the one weird sound that never ceased about those walls, the
whimpering of the wind.
Suddenly the door opened, and a young man, small and thin, with a
faint down upon his upper lip, entered quickly.
'Unziar has won!' he cried.
'Won what?' asked Adiron, the senior man present, as he poured out
another glass of wine.
'Won his second match against Abenfeldt with seven to spare.'
Adiron stretched his legs and leant back; his figure was well
adapted for leaning back.
'My good Adolph, explain yourself.'
'Hadn't you heard of it? Why, they arranged it last night at
'Abenfeldt fancies himself as a shot, but he forgot he had to do
with Unziar,' laughed Captain Adiron.
'Abenfeldt bet that he could shoot more swallows in half an hour
before breakfast than any man in Révonde. That was in September, you
know, and Unziar took him upwith service revolversand shot fifteen,
winning easily. Abenfeldt can't get over it, and challenged him to a
shooting-match again last night. I say,' Adolph broke off, and his face
altered; he thrust out a little foot and surveyed the spurred boot that
covered it critically, 'I've just ridden back from Brale. That new
charger of mine bolted down the hill by the paling. I went to see
Insermann; they had not been able to move him, you know.'
'Well,' urged all three voices at once.
'Insermann's dead. He died last night at dinner time.'
The men's eyes shot for a second at Insermann's empty place, which
he was never to occupy again.
'Ah, I told him that scooping pass of his was a mistake,' commented
Adiron. 'And the worst of it is that his death breaks the line of the
Xanthal Insermanns. Poor old Insermann! he was the last of a good
stock, and I, for one, don't like new blood. What have you to say about
that pass now, Colendorp? If I am not mistaken, you defended it?'
'Insermann was by three inches too tall,' replied the individual
addressed. 'For a short man one would be hard put to it to discover a
The folding doors had been flung open with a crash, and a man of
fifty or thereabouts, dressed in the gorgeous green and gold of the
Guard, strode in tempestuously. He was short and heavily built, with a
weather-red face and a coarse, overhanging moustache, which gave him
rather the expression of an angry walrus. So angry, indeed, was he that
his words came volleying out inarticulately. In his hand he held a
crumpled sheet of parchment.
The men rose as he took his place at the head of the table.
'Insermann's dead, and Selpdorf says' The Colonel's choked
ejaculations broke, his voice failed him, and he sent the paper
fluttering from his hand across the silver and glass till little Adolf
picked it up. In another moment Colonel Wallenloup was more coherent.
'I am afraid I must have walked up the hill rather too quickly,' he
said apologetically, after draining a great goblet of beer. 'However,
it is not to be denied that M. Selpdorf begins to take too much upon
himself. The entire administration of the State is in his hands, and
yet he is not satisfied with that position! No, he aims even higher; he
desires to nominate the officers of his Highness's Guard!'
Every man present had his own peculiarity. The Colonel's reputation
would not have stood so high as it actually did but for his insensate
temper. Perhaps the anecdote told of him that, when discussing the
point of having been ruled out of action during certain army manoeuvres
he became so enraged that he pursued the umpire in question with a
wooden tent hammer, had added more to his popularity than all his
thirty odd years of service and his immense genius for fortification.
Some of the Continental armies are always marking time, and they do
not prize the most the man who marks time best, but the man who can
bring some humour or touch of romance into the dullness of routine, and
they prefer the humour to be led up to by the winding road of
eccentricity. It was never dull with the Guard. They possessed officers
who kept their world on the move.
'Gentlemen,' said Wallenloup at length, when his last remark had
been received with approval, 'I have the honour to inform you that M.
Selpdorf has seen fit to appoint, vice Captain Insermann,
deceased, Lieutenant John Rallywood, of the Frontier Cavalry.'
A silence followed this announcement.
'Upon whose recommendation has M. Selpdorf taken this step?'
inquired Captain Colendorp gravely.
'Reasons of Statemere reasons of State. He had the audacity to
tell me so.'
'I understood, sir, that you had other views?' said Adiron.
'Well, yes, we had virtually agreed upon our choice, I may say,
'Certainly, sir. And you made that clear to the Chancellor?'
'I did soperfectly clear. I told him in the most reasonable manner
that we wanted no condemned rabble in the Maäsaun Guard! I told him
that we had practically decided on Abenfeldt in case of a vacancy
occurring. I even went so far as to remind him that there had been
Abenfeldts among us for four centuries.'
'He couldn't meet that argument!' exclaimed Adiron.
'No, he parried it, gracefully enough, I admit. He reminded me in
turn that there had been Selpdorfs also in the Guard, and swore that
had he a son of his own to nominate he must still at this moment have
given the preference to this Englishman. I left him to reconsider the
matter, however, and rode home, to find that already waiting for
me in my quarters,' and he pointed to the parchment in Adolf's hand.
Adolf looked up with a smile.
'He will not join immediately, sir, this Rallywood?' he said with
his gentle lisp.
'Not for a week.'
'Then it doesn't really matter, you know,' added the young man.
Wallenloup's red-shot eyes gleamed upon him suddenly.
'As your commanding officer, sir,' he said grimly, 'I don't
understand your meaning, but' and an odd smile flickered about the
'As a private gentleman, Colonel' put in Colendorp.
'As a private individual I understand your meaning very well. But if
I were here as your colonel, Lieutenant Adolf, by Heaven, sir, not all
the officers of the Guard, past or present'he rose to his feet as he
spoke, and grasping the hilt of his sword glared round upon
them'should dare to hint at insult to a comrade!' and he drove the
blade home with a clatter into its scabbard and strode out of the room
as he had come, like a thunderstorm.
The men waited in silence until the echo of his footsteps died away,
and in the mind of each rose a vivid memory. It happened, from causes
which might in the case of the Guard of Maäsau be called natural, that
the three present lieutenants, viz. Unziar, Varanheim, and Adolf, had
joined on the same day, and by way of supporting the traditions of
their immediate predecessors each instantly agreed to challenge each of
the others, the result of which would in all probability have been the
speedy occurrence of three fresh vacancies, in the list of officers.
Wallenloup heard of this and sent for the lieutenants, whom he
considered too valuable to be thus easily lost.
'Gentlemen,' he began, 'I am about to enforce an old order that
expressly forbids quarrels amongst the members of our corps. If you
want to fight, fight some one else. There are plenty of men who stand
badly in need of being killed. Turn your attention to them. But if any
trouble should arise between any two of you, come to me. There has been
enough of this kind of scandal about us lately, and therefore for the
future we will do the thing quietly with a pack of cards, or, if you
prefer it, with dice. The man who loses cango. There is the river, or
for choice, his own pistol. You understand me?'
Varanheim looked at Unziar and Unziar looked at Adolf, and they
'I think,' said little Adolf, 'we might find others to brawl
'The river is abominably cold,' added Unziar.
'And the same dish is served for us all,' concluded Varanheim.
'I have laid the alternative before you, gentlemen,' he said, 'the
cards or the dice.'
This was the story that rose in the minds of the men round the mess
table, and a minute later they joined in a simultaneous shout of
laughter. Adiron's big face was flushed as he called for a special
brand of champagne wherein to drink the Colonel's health.
'He's magnificentthe old man!' he said when he could speak. 'Let
him alone. He's equal to any mortal occasion! He reminds me of the day
when his Imperial Majesty over the border complimented him on the
appearance of the Guard, saying he should feel proud to number us
amongst the regiments of the German army. And I can assure your
Majesty that the feeling of admiration is entirely reciprocal, says
the C.O. We should be happy to incorporate your army in ours!'
The men had heard the story often before, but it was greeted with
all the relish of novelty, a quality which lives eternally in any
anecdote that tells on one's own side.
Before the laughter had subsided another man entered the room. He
was, perhaps, nearer thirty than twenty, and the face under his dull,
colourless hair was singularly pale, but there was promise of great
strength in the long angular body.
'My congratulations, Unziar.' Colendorp turned to the new-comer.
'Thanks. By the way, have you heard of Insermann? Gone out, they
'Yes. And have you heard of the new appointment?'
'No. But it's Abenfeldt, of course. The Colonel as good as promised
him last year.'
'Ever heard of Lieutenant Rallywood of the frontier?' demanded
Colendorp in his slow way.
'Yes, I do happen to know him.' Unziar looked round in some
surprise. 'He was the frontier fellow who undertook to be my second at
the station when I fought De Balsas because he insisted that our trains
were inferior to those in Germany. Rallywoodyou don't mean to say?' a
slow comprehension dawning upon him. 'But it's impossible! The fellow's
an Englishman. How could such a thing be possible? On the frontier,
yes, but not in the Guard!'
Colendorp was a silent, reserved man, disliked by persons who met
him casually in society, but to those who inhabited with him the
quarters at the Palace he stood as the impersonation of the grim spirit
of the Guard. He drew away from the table and crossed his legs.
'The idea has at length occurred to one man,' he with his glance on
Unziar's pale face, 'to M. Selpdorf, in fact.'
Unziar looked back at his interlocutor, his eyes hardening.
'Of course,' he said, bringing out each word distinctly, 'Rallywood
must be got rid of.'
'It will offend M. Selpdorf if his nominee be interfered with,' went
'I have already undertaken that little matter,' put in Adolf
There was an undercurrent of meaning in all this of which each man
present was fully aware. Unziar was presumed to have very strong
private reasons to propitiate rather than to offend the powerful
Minister. But this happened to be a typical instance in which the
interests of the corps over-rode those of the individual. Moreover the
custom of the Guard required the individual most concerned to prove his
loyalty at such times.
Colendorp continued to gaze at Unziar.
'We are much obliged to you, Adolf,' he said courteously; 'but in
compliment to his comrades I feel sure that Unziar will hardly wish to
allow any other to undertake this special matter.'
Adolf would have spoken again, but Unziar stopped him.
'As a personal favour, Adolf, leave it to me,' he said.
Adiron, who had thus far taken no part in the discussion, now struck
'But remember, Unziar, that you must act with caution. For obvious
reasons there must be no apparent design. The dispute, whatever it may
turn upon, must appear to come about naturally. Above all, it must not
take place here.'
'Precautions from Adiron!' remarked Colendorp with a thin smile.
'The affair becomes serious indeed!'
'We cannot afford to offend England while Elmur is at work in this
country. She is at this moment our very good friend,' Adiron observed
apologetically. 'There will be many public occasionsat the Palace
ball, for example.'
'You may trust me to keep up appearances,' said Unziar. 'Then it is
understood that I arrange the affair of Captain Rallywood at the Palace
ball if possible. The matter may safely be left in my hands.'
Once more the folding doors were thrown back, and between the
crimson portieres appeared the face of Colonel Wallenloup, charged with
a strange expression. He advanced a step or two into the room, then
turned to introduce a man behind him.
'Captain Rallywood, gentlemen,' he said.
CHAPTER IV. DANGER SIGNALS.
A week later Rallywood returned from the frontier to take up his
appointment in the Guard. Advised by a note from Wallenloup that his
quarters were not yet in readiness for him at the Palace, he drove
direct to the Continental on his arrival in Révonde.
Here presently Counsellor dropped in upon him. Rallywood was in his
dressing-room, transforming himself as rapidly as possible into the
likeness of an English gamekeeper; for a magnificent festivity in the
shape of a masked ball was about to take place at the Palace. All the
world had been invited, and as many of the world as could go were
going, each with his or her own dream or purpose, as the case might be.
Major Counsellor sat and surveyed his friend, occasionally offering
suggestions and remarks.
'Are you aware that the Guard of Maäsau never condescends to show
itself in Révonde in any costume but its own blazing uniform? I see you
have your edition of it lying on the chair over there. Why are you not
conforming with their amiable peculiarities?'
Rallywood had his back to Counsellor at the moment.
'So I have heard, but I do not join until to-morrow,' he replied in
an expressionless voice.
'And your quarters in the Palace? How about them?'
'I shall also have the rooms to-morrow.' Then he wheeled round and
his eyes lit on his companion. 'Hullo! I didn't notice you before. Is
that your notion of the gentle art of masquerade? What are you meant to
bea sort of Tommy Atkins?'
'I believed myself to be disguised as an officer and a gentleman,'
returned Counsellor, rising to give Rallywood the full effect of his
sturdy figure, clad in the uncompromising scarlet so dear to his
country's heart. 'This is the uniform of the 30th Dragoons as worn in
or about the year of grace 1730.'
'Your old regiment?'
Counsellor nodded. 'And my grandfather's,' adding, 'What's the
matter with the dress?'
'Nothing,' said Rallywood, laughing. 'Perhaps I imagined on an
occasion of this kind you might possibly stoop to something more
misleading than this blatantly British get-up.'
'What were you expectinga troubadour? I am satisfied to appear in
my own character. Only a proportion of the people wear masks at this
ball; it's an annual affair. Besides, life with a purpose is too
wearing; one must always be on the alert and have the purpose in view,
like the actor in a sixpenny theatre, who plays up to the gallery and
keeps his eye open for the rotten egg of his enemy. The egg may not be
thrown, but he must be ready to dodge it all the same. AndI have
never excelled in dodging.'
'Ahjust what the Chancellor thinks. He says he has an immense
admiration for you as the most honest diplomatist in Europe.'
'He put himself to the trouble of mentioning that fact to you, did
he? Then I shall take the precaution of insuring my life. Anything
might happen to a man of whom he has so villainous an opinion.'
Rallywood was arranging his gaiters.
'Why? You don't suppose Selpdorf is going to throw the egg? He spoke
of you with absolute affection.'
'My good John, he has already thrown it! Now I must harass myself to
find out the reason,' said Counsellor. 'You have spoilt my evening out.
Before I had no purpose; now you have thrust one upon me. You should
have kept your news until to-morrow.'
Rallywood was getting himself into his velveteen coat with a good
deal of unnecessary violence.
'I don't believe the Chancellor is so dangerous,' he said
carelessly. 'He is a consummate actor, but one knows it.'
'Yes,' assented the Major thoughtfully; 'yet the moment to watch him
is the moment when he acts that he is acting. With the others of us
acting is troublesome; with him it is habitual and a pleasure. However,
he has given you your company; the rank is substantial, as far as it
goes, and at least the accompanying pay is not altogether visionary.'
'Yes, he's done all that.' Rallywood was flinging some of his
belongings back into his portmanteau.
'The next thing will be to find you a mission.'
'He has done that also.' Rallywood raised an expressive face. 'I am
to reform the Guard!'
Counsellor burst into a great laugh, but as suddenly grew grave.
'They will take it kindly! Their welcome to you is likely to be ...
'So I expected. But I went down to the mess last week and was
introduced by old Wallenloup. They were very civil.'
'Ah! and since you left they have been very silent. They are
overdoing ittoo civil and too silent. Looks bad, you know.'
'Oh, that's all right; Selpdorf told me not to be drawn into any
shallow quarrels,' Rallywood answered with a smile.
But the Major did not take up the smile. The two vertical lines
above his fleshy nose deepened.
'It strikes me, my boy, that you've got the devil by the tail this
time,' he said gruffly, as his eyes rested for a moment on Rallywood;
'but you know how to take care of yourself. Ready? We can drive to the
Palace together. I have a carriage waiting.'
The couple proceeded downstairs, bought cigarettes of the waiter,
and started. The wind was howling in its usual twanging cadences down
the broad streets, increasing in force as they gained the open, lighted
embankment of the river, along which they passed for some distance
before reaching the courtyard of the Palace.
The great entrance hall was still full of arrivals, while up the
wide central staircase trooped masks and dominos in a changing
kaleidoscope of form and colour. Eager heads thrust this way and that,
picturesque figures grouping and greeting, cavaliers of all periods,
maidens of all nations, monks, barbarians, cardinals, queens, and
clownssometimes the wisest heads under the most foolish capswhile
here and there a few favoured paper-folk made desultory notes and
The painted ceiling stretching overhead is one of the triumphs of
Renaissance art. The identity of the master hand who achieved that
marvellous work has been a mooted point in art circles for a couple of
centuries or thereabouts, and quite a library on the subject exists.
The Maäsauns are very proud of their ceiling, prouder still of the
controversy which has raged and still continues to rage around it.
M. Selpdorf, as representing his master, stood at the head of the
staircase, and received the guests with a good deal more politeness and
discrimination than the Duke himself might have shown, for that
personage was said to have an awkward habit of turning his back upon
those whom he happened to dislike.
Major Counsellor was greeted with effusion; Rallywood with raised
eyebrows and a slight reserve.
'I had hoped to welcome the new captain of the Guard this evening,'
Selpdorf said in a low voice and with a significant glance at
'I have not yet joined, your Excellency. To-morrow I hope to have
that honour,' returned Rallywood and passed on into the gallery beyond.
This gallery, opening from the head of the staircase, ran round the
great saloon, which served the purpose of a ballroom, and many of the
guests were amusing themselves by looking down over the silk-hung
balustrade on the dancers below.
In the gallery Counsellor paused to say a word here and there to
several persons, who, like Rallywood and himself, were without masks,
but he seemed to have curiously little facility in penetrating
disguises. Presently a burly old man in the glittering green and gold
of the Guard disengaged himself from the curtains at the back of the
gallery, and nodding a supercilious acknowledgment of Rallywood's
salute, brought his hand down with a rough heartiness on Counsellor's
'Back again in Maäsau, Major Counsellor. I'm glad to see you!' he
said with the laugh in his small eyes marred by a wrinkle of suspicious
cunning, an expression which seemed startling on what was at first
sight a big, bluff, sensual face. 'What good wind has blown you back
'Thanks, my lord;' Counsellor turned with ready response. 'I am glad
to find that some of my old friends, especially Count Sagan, have not
forgotten me,' he said simply.
'We believed you had forgotten Maäsau.'
'Maäsau will not allow herself to be forgotten!' laughed Counsellor.
'She is a coquette, and demands consideration from all the world.'
Sagan's face changed.
'Yes, a coquette, who trifles with many admirers but who knows how
to hold her own against them,' he replied significantly. 'Who is that?'
he added, staring after Rallywood. 'I think I recognise him as an
English lieutenant in the Frontier Cavalry.'
'He is the same to-day,' said Counsellor.
'What?' exclaimed Sagan. 'Why to-day? Has he, then, come in for one
of your colossal fortunes?'
'Who can say?' returned Counsellor. 'A fortune ora colossal
misfortune. Ah! there is Madame Aspard. Au revoir, Count.
Counsellor passed on, perfectly well aware of the heavy meaning
attached to the wilful ignoring of Rallywood's appointment to the Guard
by its colonel-in-chief. There was certainly danger ahead.
CHAPTER V. GOOD LUCK AND A FIREFLY.
Meanwhile Rallywood had come to an anchor beside one of the high
embossed doors of gold and white which led from the gallery into
various luxurious withdrawing rooms. As he leant against the lintel a
voice suddenly said in his ear, as it seemed
'My dear lady, why have such scruples? They are the most detestable
things in life and the least profitable. They poison pleasure even when
they do not altogether deprive us of it. And what does one gain by
them? Absolutely nothing, not so much as the good opinion of our
friends, who can never be brought to believe we possess them,' said a
man in a mocking tone.
A distinctly uncomfortable sensation pervaded Rallywood's mind for
the second which preceded the reply. The voice was Baron von Elmur's,
and there was a note of admiration in it that he had reason to be
A woman laughed, a light, provoking laugh, Rallywood, who was still
held by the crush against the door, knew it well, but he breathed
freely, for it was not the laugh he had feared to hear.
'Nevertheless, Baron, I like scruples; they are always respectable,
and therefore of usesometimes,' the lady answered in a high, sweet
'Your husband, my Lord Sagan, has not found them indispensable in
'But he is not a woman!' with a sigh.
'A beautiful woman can dispense with everything excepther beauty!
That makes fools of us all! Besides'
The rest of the sentence was lost, as Rallywood managed at length to
force his way through the crowd, which was thickening rapidly.
Then he came upon a group of men he knew, men from the frontier,
from the marshes about Kofn Ford and the crags of Pulesco, men with
tanned skins like his own, and the mark of the collar rim of their high
military tunics round their throats. They were masked, and represented
various original characters, and were enjoying themselves hugely. More
than all were they astonished at being recognised so readily by
Rallywood. Rallywood drew his finger round his throat by way of
explanation. There was a general laugh, and the men scattered each to
seek his own particular pleasure. Rallywood remained looking down on
the dancers. There was in the back of his mind some desire to identify
the lady whose glove was still in his possession. He fixed now on one
tall domino, now on another, but without satisfaction. He was
discontentedly coming to the point of knowing that he had made a fresh
mistake, when he turned his head abruptly, with a vague sense of being
looked at, and saw a black domino standing for an instant alone at the
further end of the gallery. Even under the muffling silken folds he
fancied he recognised the attitude of the girl he had met at the
He at once began to make his way through the crowd in her direction,
but when next he looked she was gone. He descended to the salon, where
he danced with more than one masked lady. His six feet of stature
marked him out from the shorter Maäsauns, and the tall athletic figure
of the gamekeeper, who moved with so much of unexpected ease and grace,
excited some attention.
After an interval, as he stood back against the wall to allow a
couple who had been following him to pass, they drew up in front of
'I obey you, Mademoiselle,' said the man.
His companion, who wore a black domino, made a gesture of dismissal;
then she turned to Rallywood. 'You have been looking for me?' she said,
as her late partner moved away.
'But naturally, Mademoiselle,' replied Rallywood.
'You know who I am?'
'Not in the least. I cannot even make a guess, though I have been
waiting to know since this day last week.'
'It would have been easy to ask the questionof anyone,' she said
with an odd intonation.
'By no means. There are questions which cannot be askedof anyone,
because the answer touches too closely.' Rallywood pulled himself up
with a sudden sense of being ridiculously in earnest.
And then they were dancing.
'Yet you are not a stranger in Révonde. Madame de Sagan could have
answered your questionhad you cared to ask it,' the girl said.
'It did not strike me to ask her. I trusted to the fact that,
belonging to the Guard, I must some day have the good fortune to find
'You are patient!'
'No,' returned Rallywood, 'I am not patient. But I know that all
things come to him who waits. I wait.'
'So I see, excellently!'
'Have I not waited long enough to hear your name first from your own
'Stop for a moment;' then standing beside him, she continued, 'Ask
'If I am alive I will!' he laughed.
He felt her hand move with a quick tremor on his arm.
'I knew it! Which of them has challenged you? Unziar?' The swift
question, echoing his own thought, took him completely by surprise.
He passed his arm round her, for the waltz was nearing its end.
'Shall we go on? No; no one has done me the honour of sending me a
'Let us have an end of this absurd mystery!' said the girl
impatiently. 'I am Valerie Selpdorf, and you are'
'John Rallywood of the Guard of Maäsau!' he interposed. 'I had my
commission from you in the ante-room of the Hôtel du Chancelier. But
for that I should have been more than half inclined to refuse it.'
'I wish you had refused it! It may cost youmore than a man cares
to pay. I thought my father held the power to give any commission he
pleased, but one can never reckon with the Guard. They mean to kill
you, Captain Rallywood! I wanted to warn you, but I think you know
more, perhaps, than I can tell you or than you will tell me. What is
going to happen? I want to help youyou must let me help you!'
Rallywood laughed, but perhaps his arm drew her a little closer as
they moved more slowly during the concluding bars of the waltz.
'My dear Mademoiselle, I assure you that your fears are quite
groundless. I am proud to belong to the Guard of Maäsau, and they have
so far shown no intention of rejecting me. As for duels, if there
happened to be oneare not affairs common in Maäsau? And afterwards,
fewer funerals take place than one would suppose likely! Besides, M.
Selpdorf's wishes cannot be lightly disregarded in Révonde.'
'You will be drawn into a quarrel before the night is over.'
Mademoiselle Selpdorf stated her conviction very plainly, without
noticing his disclaimers.
The music ceased. Rallywood spoke once more. 'To prove to you how
little I anticipate anything of the sort, will you allow me to have the
last dance on the programme?'
'That is nothing! What can I do for you?' she exclaimed.
'Expect me! If you would promise to expect me, I don't yet know the
man who could stop my coming to you.'
The words were lightly spoken, but Valerie Selpdorf, looking up into
Rallywood's eyes, understood that he was likely to be able to make any
words of his good. They were handsome eyes, rather long in shape, frank
and steady, the iris of a dense grey bordering on hazel as became the
sunburnt yellow of his hair and moustache, and at that moment they
contained an expression which remained in Valerie's memory as the
distinctive expression of his face. Whenever in the future she recalled
Rallywood, she thought of him as he looked then.
'I will expect you,' promised Valerie.
They both knew that for the moment they stood together at one of
those cross-roads where life and death meet, where moreover a look and
a word convey a mutual revelation of character such as years of
ordinary intercourse often fail to supply.
Rallywood did not dance again; he contented himself with following
the movements of the black domino. After a time she joined a little
group of people with whom she stood talking. One of the group presently
detached himself and glanced round as if searching for some one. It was
Unziar of the Guard. He quickly perceived Rallywood and at once came
'Allow me to recall myself to your memory, Captain Rallywood; I am
Unziar of the Guard,' he said bowing, both voice and bow touching that
extreme of punctiliousness which in itself constitutes an insolence.
'The Guard are said to have long memories. I hope in that
particular, at least, if in no other, to support their traditions,'
replied Rallywood, with an air of cool and serene indifference said to
be impossible to any but men of his race.
'That issomething,' rejoined Unziar with a smile that belied its
name. 'We are somewhat exigeant in the Guard. We ask for more than a
long memorya long pedigree, for example, and a long sword.'
'I have heard that also.'
Unziar glanced sharply at him out of his pale keen eyes. The fellow
was too non-committal to please his taste. To hound a coward out of the
corps promised infinitely less difficulty and enjoyment than he had
hoped for when he pledged himself to rid the Guard of the Englishman.
For perhaps the only time in his life he wished he wore any uniform but
the tell-tale green and gold, for he knew of the Guard that it was
often their 'great name that conquered.'
Spurred by this thought he looked Rallywood very straightly in the
face, and the gleam of his eyes reminded the Englishman of glacier ice.
'Knowing so many of our peculiarities, perhaps Captain Rallywood may
no longer care to join us?' said the Guardsman.
Rallywood laughed with absolute good-humour.
'I both care anddare!' he said pleasantly.
Unziar's face cleared.
'I am forgetting my errand,' he said with a slight change of tone.
'I have been sent by a lady to bring you to her. Will you follow me?'
As they approached the group, the shorter of the two black dominoes
'You need not trouble to introduce Captain Rallywood, Anthony. We
are already friends; are we not, Monsieur?'
The sweet high voice and the inconsequent childish laugh came upon
Rallywood with a slight shock.
'I could hardly have dared to claim so much,' he said; 'but I cannot
forget that Madame de Sagan'
She laid her hand with a suspicion of caressing familiarity on his
'Hush, then! Do you not know that it is inadmissible to mention the
name of a masked lady until the clock strikes midnight? Captain
Rallywood has been stationed near the Castle at Kofn Ford; we have
therefore metoccasionally,' continued the lady, addressing herself to
'Captain Rallywood is luckier than most of us,' interposed another
voice. 'He seems to have an enviable facility for appearing where we
others in vain wish to be. Only last week'
A tall Mephistopheles in scarlet silk, whose high shoulders lent him
added height, had joined them. His peaked cap and feather sparkled with
lurid points of fire. Countess Sagan turned upon him.
'But, Baron, where is then your domino? It is not yet midnight,' she
exclaimed, her hand still remaining on Rallywood's arm.
'Listen!' von Elmur raised his hand. 'The happy moment arrives when
the beautiful faces we long to see' He gave the rest of the
sentence to the ear of Mademoiselle Selpdorf, who stood silently
looking on at the little scene.
At this instant the music broke off with a sudden clang; the dancers
paused where they stood, as the great bell of the palace tower sent its
strong, mellow boom of midnight out over the frost-bound city.
Rallywood, on looking round an instant later, saw that masks and
dominoes had disappeared. Opposite to him stood Valerie Selpdorf in a
dress of some deep velvety shade, which bore, wrought upon its texture
here and there, tiny horseshoes embossed in iridescent jewels. A diadem
of the same shape crowned her dark hair. Yet all the richness and
delicacy of the blended colourings struck Rallywood with only one odd
remembrancehis own boot-heel outlined in Révonde mud upon a long
suède glove. The same association apparently occurred to Baron von
Elmur. His glance fled from Valerie to Rallywood, and he smiled with
'What have we here, Mademoiselle? The stamp of some idealised
cavalry charger?' he asked. 'I should be eternally grateful if only I
wereof the cavalry!'
A sudden intense expression, like a spasm of hope or happiness,
crossed Unziar's pale face in a flash. A word sprang almost
involuntarily from his lips.
'The Guard' But the girl cut him remorselessly short.
'I do not idealise either the Guard'she paused, then went on
without taking her eyes from Elmur's face'or the cavalry. One has
illusions, doubtless, but none so entirely absurd! I have idealised my
own desire merely. I want good luck. I am Good Luck!' She spoke the
last two words in English, smiling back at Elmur.
The Baron bowed. He was not beaten yet.
'That is well,' he exclaimed; 'since the cavalry and Guard are
disowned, it means that the good luck is for the poor diplomat!'
'Provisionally, yes,' said the girl.
'Mademoiselle Selpdorf has already given this waltz to me,' said
Unziar, stepping forward.
But Mademoiselle Selpdorf placed her hand within the Baron's ready
'Later, Anthony,' she answered. 'His Excellency deserves a
consolation prize, since my reading of Good Luck is not in the German
She turned away, and with her the group parted and scattered.
'You are very much interested; is it not so?'
Rallywood started. The Countess spoke petulantly.
'Do you not know,' she added, 'that the custom in Révonde holds you
to the partner with whom you find yourself when midnight rings? Valerie
Selpdorf is embarrassed with partnersmy cousin Anthony Unziar, who
desires perhaps herself, but most certainly her fortune, and our
delightful German Minister, who uses all means that come to hand to win
Maäsau for his master! But I should not say these foolish things to
you, who are of the other party.'
They were dancing by this time, her head near his shoulder, her
voice soft in his bending ear.
'Of the other party?' he repeated. 'I flattered myself that you said
something else just now.'
'Yes, a friend; but I made a mistakeI have noneno, not one true
friend!' the voice said passionately in his ear, 'and my husband'
Rallywood almost lifted her clear of some crowding couples, and then
gently released her. In a vague way he felt the force of her appealing
beauty as he had felt it intermittently for some months past. It
touched him for the moment, but he was apt to forget both it and the
very existence of the woman herself directly he parted from her.
'Count Sagan is colonel-in-chief of the Guard?' he asked, and the
question seemed to fit in with her train of thought.
She made no immediate response, but with a light touch on his arm
led him to a flower-banked apartment, about which a few couples were
scattered in various convenient nooks. She sank upon a sequestered
settee, and made room for him beside her.
'Yes, he is colonel-in-chief of the Guard because they think him too
old to act any longer as its real commandant. He was the first soldier
in Maäsau and the most unequalled sportsman. He was all these things,
and I am proud of them! But look at me!'
She rose languidly and stood before him. Rallywood saw a slight
woman, tall and exquisitely fair, who carried her small head with its
gleaming coronet royally. Her skin and her soft flushed cheeks had the
pure, evanescent quality of a child's complexion. Moreover, her chief
charm was perhaps her air of child-like innocence. Isolde of Sagan had
seldom looked more lovely; she was honestly touched by self-pity, and
was posing as the proud yet disillusioned wife of a man hopelessly
older than herself, and for the time being she believed earnestly in
that view of her lot.
'All these things have been,' she added softly, her eyes filling
with tears, 'but I am! Can I ever be satisfied with what only
was?' Rallywood's face altered. Like any other man in such a position
he felt immensely sorry for her. She saw the advantage she had gained,
and at once the coquette awoke in her.
'Captain Rallywood,' she sank down beside him again, 'I need a
friend in whom I can trust, who will ask nothing of me, but who will
give me all the things I most want.'
The interpretation of this enigmatical speech was left to the ear,
for the young Countess was gazing at her big black fan, where luminous
fireflies hung tangled amongst the dusky feathers. Quickly with some
dissatisfaction she became aware that Rallywood was not looking at
heras he should have been doingbut staring in front of him with a
grave expression. Well, she knew she could make him look at her as she
desiredyet. It was but a matter of time.
'I think you may count upon me,' said Rallywood at last. He believed
in her, which was good; moreover, he meant what he said; yet the speech
was wholly lacking in the flavour which to the Countess Sagan was the
flavour of life.
'After all, it is little to promise, and I may not need your
friendship for very long,' she replied, plucking a glittering firefly
from her fan and laying it on his sleeve with her sweet light laugh.
'Like a firefly I shall dance out my short night, and die quickly
before life grows stale!'
Rallywood took out his cigarette case of Alfaun leather-work, and
dropped the firefly with its sparkle of diamond-dust into it.
'I don't like to hear you say that,' he said in his quiet way, which
the listener decided might mean so much or so little. 'We must all go
out some time, I suppose, but one always wants the beautiful things to
live for ever.... Meanwhile, can you spare me another dance?'
CHAPTER VI. THE CLOISTER OF ST.
The night was drawing to a close. The long supper room was almost
deserted. Amongst the lingerers were a few officers in the uniform of
the Guard, who stood talking together in one corner.
'The fellow has given you no chance,' Adolf was saying gloomily.
'Have him in here! Kick him in here, if necessary!' said Colendorp.
'I don't think you will find him reluctant, drawled Unziar. 'I have
spoken with him already this evening, and Iahrather liked what he
'Then why haven't you arranged it? To-morrow he joinsand he must
never be permitted to join the Guard! We might have asked Abenfeldt to
remove him, but the Guard has up to the present day been able to set
its own house in order,' added Colendorp with a sour glance at Unziar.
'Has his Excellency the Chancellor thrown out too powerful a hint about
the fellow?I saw Mademoiselle dancing with him this eveningI mean a
hint too powerful to be disregarded by those who wish to retain the
good opinion of M. Selpdorf!'
'I permit no onenot one of my own regimentto insult me,' he
rejoined with a white blaze of anger on his pale face, and the wine in
his hand trembled.
Adolf suddenly stretched across to take up a decanter, and catching
the glass with the edge of his heavy epaulet, knocked it from Unziar's
'We are losing sight of the main question,' he said. 'May I suggest,
sir,' to Colendorp, who happened to be the captain of his own squadron,
'that it is unusual to be obliged to act so carefully as we have been
advised to do in this case?'
Colendorp's dark face grew darker, but the honour of the Guard
over-rode all personal considerations.
'I have been hasty, Unziar,' he said in a stifled voice after a
Unziar bowed and continued as if the interlude with its covert
allusions had not taken place.
'It has been difficult to get at Rallywood this evening. Yet let us
see how he shoots before we conclude that he has any rooted objection
to handling a pistol. I agree with Captain Colendorp, that the affair
should be brought off to-night. I will go and find the Englishman.'
He had already walked towards the broad arched doorway, when among
the palms and the hangings which shrouded it two men appeared. One was
Counsellor, in his blazing red uniform, beside him Rallywood's tall
figure, clad in soft brown tones of velveteen, looked almost black.
Behind them again appeared other faces.
Rallywood took in the meaning of the situation at a glance. Without
any perceptible pause he held out his hand to Counsellor.
'Well, good-bye, Major, since you are going. I will turn up
to-morrow as early as I can,' he said.
Counsellor understood also. In his position it was impossible to do
anything for Rallywood. As an agent secretly accredited by the Court of
St. James's, he must hold aloof and neutral in all personal quarrels.
He appreciated the tact with which Rallywood dismissed him from a scene
which promised to be distinctly awkward, but his hand itched to shoot
down the flower of the Guard of Maäsau for the insolence that dared to
doubt the worthiness of an Englishman of birth to hold a place among
'Good-bye, Rallywood,' he said gruffly, and turned on his heel to
find himself face to face with Baron von Elmur and one or two officers
of the Frontier Cavalry.
'There is about to be a storm, Major, observed Elmur, passing
Counsellor with a cool nod.
'So it seems. A storm in a teacup!' retorted the Major derisively.
Meanwhile Rallywood, with the men of the Cavalry, his old
brother-officers, behind him, advanced to meet Unziar.
'We of the Guard are hoping to break glasses with you gentlemen of
the Cavalry before the night is over,' began Unziar, alluding to a
fashion amongst the military contingent in Maäsau of taking wine
together and breaking the glasses afterwards as a sign of unalterable
good feeling and mutual loyalty. Unziar included Rallywood with the two
officers beside him in this invitation, by a slight inclination of the
The three men accepted, but there was a little stiffening in the
attitude of each, for Rallywood had friends here who were resolved, if
only for the honour of the Frontier Corps, to see their late comrade
through the coming trouble.
Before the wine filled the glasses, Adolf was already deep in the
story of Unziar's shooting-match with Abenfeldt.
'Allow me the honour of drinking with you, Monsieur,' said Colendorp
to Rallywood. 'It was in truth a notable performance; we have never had
even in the Guard a surer shot than Unziar,' he added, alluding to the
Rallywood had just time to make up his mind and determine upon his
course of action.
The glasses clinked together, and then clashed upon the floor, where
the men set their heels upon them. Then Rallywood turned to Unziar:
'I compliment you, Lieutenant Unziar,' he said. 'I already knew that
you were a swordsman not easily to be matched; since, in fact, the
little affair at Alfau, when I had the pleasure of acting as your
second. But the pistol is, I venture to say, another matter.'
Unziar set his shoulders back with an indescribable suggestion of
'May I ask you to state precisely what you mean, Monsieur?' he
'I mean that although a man may shoot any number of swallows of a
morning before breakfast, it does not follow that he can hit a man at,
say, twenty paces.' Rallywood spoke deliberately.
The whole group of men listened in silence. Then Unziar leant
towards Rallywood with a smile.
'We can but try, Captain Rallywood,' he said gently.
Although everyone in their immediate neighbourhood was listening,
from the other side of the hall they looked, no doubt, like a group of
tall men engaged in the ordinary conversation and common amenities of
society, the only noticeable difference being that Unziar was a little
more deprecating and low-voiced than usual. Elmur, standing near by,
filled his glass and drank, with a silent nod at Unziar.
'I shall be delighted to assist you in settling the question,'
returned Rallywood; then, consulting his card, he added, I find I have
an engagement for the last dance, some twenty minutes hence. May I
recommend the interval to your consideration?'
The two frontier men stepped forward simultaneously to offer their
services to Rallywood. He thanked them, and was about to accept, when
Captain Adiron interposed.
'If either of these gentlemen will resign in my favour I shall feel
it an obligation, as I can then offer myself to Captain Rallywood as
one of his seconds.'
Courtesy demanded that Rallywood and his friends should fall in with
this proposal, and Rallywood, replying to Adiron, added:
'You have heard exactly what passed between Lieutenant Unziar and
myself, and I am sure I cannot do better than leave the matter in your
hands in conjunction with my friend, Colonel Jenard.'
Colendorp and Adolf, as representing Unziar, accompanied Rallywood's
seconds to make the necessary arrangements. Meanwhile, Rallywood
strolled back to the gallery above the ballroom, and looked down at the
dancers. He could not see Valerie, but he remembered Selpdorf and his
injunctions to avoid a quarrel, and smiled as he thought over the
words, since the Chancellor must have been perfectly aware that he had
pushed an unwelcome foreigner into a position that could only be held
by force of arms, even in the case of a Maäsaun candidate of noble
blood. At that moment he saw his own position clearly. He knew himself
to be an unconsidered unit in the big game of diplomacy that was being
played over his head, and he remembered that the day of human
sacrifices is not yet, as many suppose, quite a thing of the past. The
gods are changed, or called by other names, and the high priest no
longer dips his hands in the actual blood of the victim; but the whole
deadly drama goes on repeating itself as it always must while the
generations of men have their being under various modifications of the
primeval system of the strong hand. That his life might be deliberately
requisitioned by Selpdorf to forward some secret policy of his own was
by no means an impossible supposition. Rallywood glanced at the clock.
In another quarter of an hour he must either be dancing with Valerie
Selpdorf or lying dead in the famous Cloister of St. Anthony, which
overlooked the river, and where many another man had died under much
the same circumstances.
Rallywood laughed again and turned on his heel. At that period it
did not seem to matter greatly which way it ended, but he was going to
carry the undertaking through with what credit his wits afforded him.
In the meantime the Cloister of St. Anthony had been lit up from end
to end with a brilliant light, and while the other two seconds went to
fetch their respective principals to the spot, Adiron and Adolf
exchanged a word or two as they waited.
'The Englishman took it very well,' remarked Adiron.
'Devilish well,' lisped little Adolf; 'he made rather a favour, of
it just to satisfy Unziar, you know! He's too sure of himself, this
Rallywood. If he kills Unziar, which is unlikely, I shall have to
finish the affair myself!' with a frowning importance that sent Adiron
into one of his ready roars of laughter.
The Cloister was still echoing with the sound when Rallywood,
accompanied by Jenard, arrived from the other side of the palace, where
the state rooms were situated. On the way Jenard explained to Rallywood
that the procedure decided upon as being best suited to the
requirements of the case was simply alternate shots at twenty paces.
Rallywood and Unziar being placed, one of the men sent a coin
spinning up into the air. Then followed a long minute of silence.
St. Anthony's Cloister looks inward towards a quadrangle; the outer
side bordering the river has been glazed in, but in the interval of
waiting Rallywood could hear the water plashing and sobbing against the
foundations of the old walls, and the wild sound of the tsa,
sweeping down from the snowy frontier above Kofn Ford, as it wailed and
howled drearily along the dark waters. He almost started when Adiron,
approaching him, said:
'You have won the first shot, Captain Rallywood.'
'Then I am afraid I must beg of you to do me the great favour of
rearranging the affair,' replied Rallywood; 'for if I should be
unfortunate enough to kill Lieutenant Unziar, or even to disable him,
the question at issue between us must remain undecided for at the best
an indefinite time, and possibly for ever. If you recollect, the matter
over which he was pleased to differ with me was my expressed opinion
that though a good shot may bring down swallows to perfection, he might
miss a man at a moderate distance.'
'You have won the toss,' remonstrated Adiron.
'Yes, unluckily. But I feel sure that Lieutenant Unziar will be kind
enough not to hold me to that, since it is evident that the first shot
should be his.'
Adiron grinned. It was his way of showing many mixed emotions.
'I like your way of conducting a dispute, Captain Rallywood,' he
said; 'but as your second I must warn you that it is the worst luck in
the world to refuse luck. You have won the toss. In declining to profit
by it you are paying court to death.'
Rallywood shrugged his shoulders.
'I may prove my point,' he retorted, smiling.
'As for that, it might be decided on a different basis later on,'
For the second time that night Rallywood looked at his watch.
'I have an engagement in seven minutes,' he said. 'I shall be glad
if you will convey my meaning to Lieutenant Unziar.'
'As you like,' said Adiron; 'but in case of accident I should like
to take the opportunity of saying to you now, that in the whole range
of my experience I have never derived more pleasure from the attitude
of a principal than I have on this occasion from yours.'
Adiron concluded with a bow and recrossed to the other second. Since
the Englishman was determined to go to his grave in so excellent and
gallant a fashion, by heaven, it was Victor St. Just Adiron who would
escort him to its brink with all the honours of a fine and hereditary
courtesy! He was a man quite capable of losing himself in a cause;
therefore, as he approached the other seconds, he came as a partisan of
Rallywood's, resolved that his man should have his will in spite of all
or any opposition.
'My principal,' he began, 'has just pointed out that this meeting is
rather in the nature of the justification of an opinion than a quarrel
in the ordinary sense;' then, repeating Rallywood's contention, he
added, 'You will see that it remains for Lieutenant Unziar to prove
himself in the right.'
Colendorp threw out a bitter oath, Adolf objected softly, and Jenard
stood silent and in dismay. What could Rallywood mean by throwing away
his life? But Adiron backed up Rallywood; he was going to bring this
thing to pass! Rallywood should have a last satisfaction in this life,
because he was worthy of it.
'If Lieutenant Unziar chooses to withdraw his opinion,' he said, 'of
course Captain Rallywood will not go any further into the matter. For
the rest, he has an appointment in less than seven minutes. On his
behalf I can but insist that his suggestion affords the only possible
way out of the difficulty.'
Reluctantly the other men yielded. Rallywood had gained a moral
advantage. If he were destined to die, he would die in a manner that
would go down into the history of the Guard. Hastily and in accordance
with the request of Rallywood, the change of procedure was explained to
The two opponents stood absolutely still, Rallywood's face wearing
the expression of one who is politely interested in something that is
happening to somebody else.
At the signal Unziar raised his pistol and fired.
Rallywood stood in his place for some thirty seconds, while there
was a sound of splintering glass as the bullet rushed out into the
darkness above the river; then he advanced smiling.
'It seems,' he said,'that I was right.'
Unziar stared at him.
Rallywood handed his pistol to Jenard, and bowing to the assembled
men ceremoniously, he went on:
'I hope we may consider the affair concluded, and as I am engaged
for the dance that is about to begin, I trust you will excuse me.'
And with another bow he was gone. No one spoke for a little while,
then Unziar walked towards the others with no very pleasant face. That
Rallywood had done a thing above reproach, and in a manner above
reproach, made it none the easier for his pride to accept the result.
But he was above all considerations and before all considerations true
to himselfto Anthony Unziar.
'Captain Rallywood has made his point and a reputation,' he said at
last. 'I think, Colendorp, you will agree with me that as men of honour
we must consider the matter ended.'
'And in Captain Rallywood's favour?' asked Colendorp suddenly.
'Certainly. What do you say, gentlemen?' Adiron spoke with warmth.
'I suppose we must concede that it was neatly done, and that Captain
Rallywood deserves his success,' agreed Adolf with some constraint.
Unziar's generosity rose to the occasion.
'Our gain in the Guard is your loss in the Cavalry, Colonel Jenard,'
he said handsomely.
Jenard acknowledged the implied compliment, and went off leaving the
three Guardsmen together.
'We shall have to swallow the Englishman after all,' said Colendorp
blackly. 'How came you to miss him, Unziar?'
Unziar raised his eyebrows.
'Who can tell? Luck, I suppose,' replied he. 'But I, for one, am not
sorry. The man's worth keeping.'
'He shapes well,' commented Adolf. 'But how will the chief take it?'
'I am going to find the Colonel and tell him what has happened,'
said Unziar. 'I don't know how you fellows feel about it, but I say for
myself that the Guard might have done a good deal worse.'
Colonel Wallenloup was at that moment engaged in promenading the
ballroom with Valerie Selpdorf on his arm. She belonged to that
sufficiently rare type of girl whose society is sought and enjoyed by
those older men who, as a rule, are content to stand by and watch the
current of younger life sweep by them, men who are in no sense
gallants, but who find a strong attraction in talking to a young and
clever woman on all kinds of subjects that too often lie outside the
domain of the thoughts of youth. Youth, engrossed in the problem of
self, persistently ignores those far more varied and profound problems
to be found hidden in more experienced hearts and lives.
Wallenloup, who distrusted all women and was accordingly disliked by
not a few, always claimed a waltz with Valerie whenever he had the good
fortune to meet her. To him she was a woman worth talking to first, and
a pretty girl afterwards.
Their dance having concluded, Wallenloup walked down the room with
his partner, continuing his monologue. Valerie had been very silent,
but the Colonel had more to say than usual, and his subject happened to
be a very scathing condemnation of outside interference with the
affairs of the Guard. Valerie listened without words. Perhaps her heart
beat more quickly, and there may have been more anxiety in her mind as
to the final upshot of the case in point than her companion could have
guessed. But she showed a flattering amount of interest in his opinion,
although she was well aware that the question was probably being
settled once for all, as far as Rallywood was concerned, in St.
Anthony's Cloister, without the help of Colonel Wallenloup.
Suddenly she leant a little more heavily on his arm.
'My dear Mademoiselle, what is the matter?' exclaimed the Colonel.
'You are pale. What is it?'
'I am tired, and the saloon has become so hot, butthanks, I see my
next partner coming,' she answered as Rallywood came towards them.
Wallenloup looked down at her with some reproach.
'This fellow?' he said.
'But why not?' she replied with a little smile. 'Is he not one of
the Guard? Can I aspire to anything higher?'
'Captain Rallywood is not yet of the Guard!' said the old soldier;
then he bowed coldly and turned on his heel, without giving any symptom
of having recognized Rallywood beyond his scornful words.
'I have come, Mademoiselle,' said Rallywood.
The girl's pale cheeks were now touched with a delicate carmine,
such as shines between the fingers of a hand held up against a light.
The flush seemed to heighten and enhance her beauty, or rather it lent
her a novel kindling charm that struck home upon Rallywood's mood.
'What have you been doing?' she asked with interest.
'Breaking glasses with the Guard,' he replied.
'That ceremony occasionally includes the use of a sword or a
'I have used neither,' he replied.
'Are you then also a diplomatist?' she asked with quick scorn.
Rallywood pulled his moustache. He did not pretend to understand
women, but that Mademoiselle Selpdorf should now despise him for
escaping a danger she had half an hour ago trembled over and prayed to
avert, seemed at best rather inconsistent.
'I have attempted to be diplomatic now and then, perhaps,' he said,
'but not always with conspicuous success.'
'Diplomacy was never meant,' she said, looking frowningly at him
through her black lashes, 'never meant to be a private virtue. Its only
excuse lies in a national necessity.'
'M. Selpdorf instructed me to avoid a quarrel,' rejoined Rallywood.
'What do you suppose he meant,' she asked bitterly, 'knowing you had
to deal with the Guard?'
'Ah!' and a slow smile dawned in his eyes; 'now I wonder what he
meant knowing I had to deal with the Guard?'
Valerie frowned again; her words were not particularly expedient
under the circumstances, but she disliked having them flung back at
'I beg your pardon. Of course I know nothing ofof these things.
The matter concerns you only. But I thought, and I am sorry for the
mistake, that you looked like a man!'
There was a jingle of spurs behind her as she was about to turn
away, and Colonel Wallenloup strode up hurriedly.
'Captain Rallywood, why are you not wearing the uniform of your
regimentof the Guard?' he asked in a loud tone.
There was a stir amongst the people about them; many stopped and
drew nearer to hear the end of this unprecedented conversation.
'Because I intend to resign my commission to-morrow, sir,' replied
'On the part of the Guard, I beg of you to reconsider that
decision,' urged Wallenloup.
He shook hands gravely with the young man, then detaching a star of
gun-metal from his breast, he awkwardly attempted to fasten it to the
lapel of Rallywood's coat. 'I see you have not the star of the Guard.
May I give you mine? Unziar, see to this; I cannot attach it.'
'No, Colonel Wallenloup; that should rather be my duty,' said the
Countess Sagan, who happened to be standing by.
'As the wife of our colonel-in-chief, madame, I feel sure your
kindness will be appreciated,' he said grimly.
Madame de Sagan's blue eyes glanced up into Rallywood's face as her
fingers touched his breast.
'No, as your friend,' she said softly.
Then all at once Rallywood discovered how numerous were his friends
and well-wishers in Maäsau. He was overwhelmed with congratulations and
introductions, but the memory of that night which lingered longest with
him was the tall figure of Valerie Selpdorf standing aside and looking
coldly on. She expressed no pleasure at the turn events had taken, she
offered no congratulations, but she met Unziar with what was only too
plainly a mocking comment on the little scene, and the next moment was
floating down the long room in the young Maäsaun's arms to the music of
the last waltz.
CHAPTER VII. ONE WOMAN'S DIPLOMACY.
There are men who though conspicuously in the world are never of it.
Counsellor was one of these. He gave the impression of being a
spectator; one who looked on at the play of common ambitions and
intrigues with an amused and impersonal interest. He was drawn into no
quarrels. Those who hated him most continued to shake hands with him,
and none could accuse him of being a partisan. Yet he was rather
truculent than meek, entirely ready to give his opinion, often with a
surprising frankness, but maintaining throughout the complex relations
of his life a superb reserve that formed a defence behind which neither
favour nor enmity could penetrate.
He stayed on at Révonde, though the tsa continued to blow
relentlessly. Affairs were yet in a chaotic condition and he lingered
grumblingly at the club, declaring it was too cold to travel, and
apparently finding his chief relaxation in privately deriding Rallywood
for the favours which Révonde society was thrusting so lavishly upon
In the untiring whirl and tangle of court life and gaiety Rallywood
lived and moved with a growing enjoyment that half surprised himself,
and for which he accounted on the score of change from the dull
drudgery of the frontier. His acceptance by the Guard had been
thorough; even the colonel-in-chief, Count Sagan, whose strongest point
was not courtesy, had given him a pronounced recognition. The pretty
Countess demanded a good deal of his attention and attendance, and this
fact brought down upon him some of Counsellor's most scathing jeers.
'Gallantries are in vogue, my boy, and you are qualifying for a high
place amongst the Maäsauns,' he said. 'She is a deuced pretty woman. I
offer you my compliments.'
'She is pretty,' replied Rallywood, 'but there are a good many
people in Maäsau who think her handsomer than I do.'
'Yet you tell me that you are again on your way to her house this
evening. Can't you get through the day without a glimpse of her?'
'Does it seem so bad as all that?' asked Rallywood reflectively.
'Yes, I suppose I like going there; yet as I have said before, there
are a good many people who appreciate her more than I do.'
'Then what in the world takes you there?'
An odd expression grew slowly into the young man's face.
'Because of the other people, I suppose,' he repeated dreamily.
'As for instance?'
Rallywood woke up from his thoughts and shook himself.
'Unziar,' he returned with a grin.
Counsellor opened the stove and threw in the remnant of his cigar.
'Ah!' he commented significantly; 'and I presume Unziar goes there
to meet you. I begin to see.'
'I'm hanged if I do! By the way, the Countess wants of all things to
make a friend of you. She says the English are so reliable. But you are
such an old bear the women can't get at you.'
'So much the better for me,' was the grim reply. 'Also I am sorry
that I can't reciprocate the Countess's opinion of me. There are very
few reliable women. If I had ever found one I might have married her.'
'That is a hard saying, Major. You've been unlucky. That's where it
hurts with you!'
'No, I've no personal feeling in the matter. I share the opinion in
common with many wise men. Let me refer you to Solomon, the census of
whose harem warrants us in believing that what he didn't know about
women wasn't worth knowing. Yet he records as his experience, One man
among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all these have I not
'I bet he didn't! You can't sample a delicate quality in the bulk,'
retorted Rallywood, and was already at the door when an idea stopped
him. 'Look here, Major; come with me and revise your verdict.'
To his surprise Counsellor stood up and asked one more question.
'Countess Isolde invited me?'
'Any number of times, as you know.'
'The more fool she,' growled Counsellor; 'I'll go.'
The cotillon, danced with its hundred absurdities, was as
fashionable at Révonde as elsewhere. Counsellor, like a courtly bear,
was induced to join in its whimsical vagaries.
The details of the cotillon obtaining at that period do not concern
us here. It is sufficient to say that, as a result of some evolution,
by chance or by choice Counsellor found himself with the Countess on a
raised daïs at one end of the room, while Mademoiselle Selpdorf and
Rallywood formed the corresponding couple at the other end. Between
them the dance proceeded, thus leaving the respective couples virtually
isolated for a few minutes.
'It was delightful of you to come to our little party to-night,' the
Countess was saying to her companion. 'Now that you have come to see me
here, can I not induce you to come also to Sagan next week? We are
going out there for a few days. Do think of it.'
'You are too kind, my dear madame, but an old man like myself may be
out of place.'
The Countess sighed a little.
'Of course you are not at all old,' she said, shaking her head at
him, 'though you are fond of playing the part. But if you want to be
old you can be old in good company at the Castle, for the Duke will be
thereyou know he is a cousin of ours.'
Counsellor looked back into the smiling blue eyes. Most men would
have succumbed to their innocent flattery. To the Major they only
suggested an infinite capacity for foolishness.
'Don't you think we could exchange our Duke for another, a more
interesting one?' she added, misled perhaps by his look. 'Duke Gustave
is so wrapped up in his stupid gambling, and altogether there are many
things' her speech tailed off inconsequently into a confused
'Wanting? Certainly! For example, we have no Duchess,' said
Counsellor gallantly. 'We need a pretty Duchess. But is it not possible
that Maäsau may yet boast the most adorable Duchess in Europe?'
Countess Isolde started and flushed like a pleased child, and her
eyes lit up as she laid her fan on Counsellor's stout knee with a
confidential impulsive gesture.
'But England does not like the idea of pretty Duchesses?' she
ventured reproachfully. 'And you are only a flatterer after all!'
The Major raised his bushy white eyebrows.
'Have I that reputation?'
'No, they say you are terribly frank;' then a design to sound this
difficult and usually unapproachable diplomat came into her irrational
head. Older men than he had been vanquished by her beauty ere now.
'England has not yet recognized my husband's claim as next heir,' she
whispered. 'Major Counsellor, do you think your nation could ever be
brought to recognize me as Duchess?'
'If the occasion arose,' answered the wily old soldier softly, 'I do
not seespeaking as a manhow any request of yours could be refused.
But I cannot answer for my nation. Still, if the occasion arose' he
hesitated as if searching for words, but in reality, waiting for his
companion to take up the unfinished sentence.
The Countess trembled with excitement. This was indeed a triumph.
She, 'silly Isolde,' as old Sagan was ever ready to call her, had
gained a little bit of information they would give their ears to
possess, but she would keep it and use it at her leisure. Meanwhile she
must strike while the iron of old Counsellor's nature was yet hot.
'But the occasion will arise, believe me! Perhaps soon, at Sagan!'
As she spoke she started violently, and her face turned white as Count
Sagan stood before them.
'Do you feel inclined for a hand of whist, Counsellor?' he said
abruptly, with a wrathful, questioning glance at his wife. 'Has my wife
been boring you with her chatter?'
'On the contrary, Major Counsellor has promised to join us at the
Castle next week,' exclaimed his wife.
Sagan's bloodshot eyes darkened. He had the guile of a plotter, but
lacked something of the self-control. Counsellor, who appeared to be
watching the dancers, turned upon this and added:
'And I have been thanking Madame de Sagan for the invitation.'
'Ah, I knew you wouldn't come! Well, you will lose nothing. We shall
have a houseful of fools,' interrupted the Count roughly.
'I have already accepted, and will with your permission, Count, be
one of the fools,' replied Counsellor genially.
The Countess understood she had in some way put her foot in it, but
as the two men walked away together she nodded complacently to herself,
with the words, 'I know what I know!'
The tide of dancers still swept backwards and forwards as Madame de
Sagan idly observed them, until her glance chanced to fall upon the
opposite couple at the further end of the saloon. Something in
Valerie's air fixed her wandering attention at once with a little
shock. What was Rallywood saying to her? And where was Anthony Unziar?
The Countess Isolde had to the full the all-devouring vanity of her
type, but now, for once in her life, she felt desirous of forwarding a
love affair that was not her own.
'You are going to Sagan, of course?' Valerie had said to her partner
as they stood together.
'I think not,' Rallywood replied.
'I thought you would be sure to be in attendance'she glanced
carelessly towards the daïs where the Countess was at the moment laying
her fan on Counsellor's knee'as usual.'
'No, Unziar is the lucky man,' Rallywood answered without
significance in his tone.
'Nonsense! Anthony is her cousin!' said the girl impatiently.
Rallywood's grey eyes were on her face.
'Whose cousin? What do you mean?' he asked innocently.
Valerie bit her lip. She hated this Englishman. Of all her
acquaintances he alone, in his blundering way, was able to put her
somehow at a disadvantage.
'When the Duke goes to Sagan,' she said, without noticing his
question, 'the Count has the privilege as colonel-in-chief of the
Guard, of inviting any two officers he pleases to act with the escort.
So we shall see.'
'I wonder,' said Rallywood after a pause, 'where you get your
impressions from, Mademoiselle?'
'I seelike other people. We all form our judgments on what we see
'What do you know, for instance?'
'I heard of you when you were at Kofn Ford, near the Castle of
Sagan,' she answered.
Rallywood was only human, and however moderately he may have
returned Madame de Sagan's preference, he was fully aware of its
existence. In those days on the frontier he had, rather from
fastidiousness than principle perhaps, avoided her and her invitations
whenever possible. But that was one thing; it was another to hear the
matter coolly alluded to by the girl beside him. Involuntarily he drew
a little away from her. His notions were founded less on actual
knowledge and experience of womenfor of that he had littlethan
gathered from that idealized version of the sex with which the
right-minded male animal is usually furnished by his own mental and
emotional processes. So far his intercourse with Isolde of Sagan had
been limited to certain sentimental passages; the initiative lay with
the lady, but Rallywood had once or twice been distinctly wrought upon
by the appeals to his sympathy and pity. Now, however, looked at from a
fresh standpoint, the one in fact from which Valerie viewed it, the
subject became suddenly repellent, and he slid away from the discussion
with another question.
'What has Unziar been saying of me? You have treated me differently
There appeared to be no need to particularize the night.
Mademoiselle Selpdorf understood both the first involuntary movement
and the change of subject, and resented them equally.
'Anthony is generous, so generous!' she said with some warmth. 'I
suppose it is an English trait to take everything and to give nothing
in return. Anthony told me of all that took place in the Cloister of
St. Anthony. Your action seemed to him so fine, poor fellow!but not
to me. You believed in your luck, of course, and took the hazard and
won, leaving him hopelessly at a disadvantage. I should not have
accepted the position as he didI should have forced you to fight it
out sooner or later! I had rather a hundred times have died by your
bullet than lived to endure your triumph!'
Rallywood pondered this view of the matter before he spoke.
'I dare say you are right,' he said at last; 'at least, no woman
could have been so generous to another woman as he was to me.'
'You are complimentary, Captain Rallywood!'
'I beg your pardon. I only meant that women are not generous as
between themselves. Looked at from your point of view, I see that I was
wrong about that affair with Unziar. But more than all, it proves he is
a splendid fellow.'
Now Unziar's praise from Rallywood's lips displeased Mademoiselle
Selpdorf almost more than all which had gone before.
'It is easy to say these things, but'she rose eagerly'at last
that figure is ended. What a stupid interval it has been!' she added
with a little smile.
'I am sorry. I always have the misfortune to bore you,' Rallywood
said, accepting his snub meekly.
'Never mind! You can't help it!' she responded with a pleasant nod
as she left him.
Rallywood remained standing where he was.
'A very nasty one indeed for me. I shouldn't wonder, though, if she
forgave me for the sake of that last back-handed blow!' he reflected
with some amusement.
Which proves that Révonde was teaching Rallywood something that has
its own value at one period or another of a man's life. He was too poor
to dream of marrying anyone, much less the daughter of the Chancellor
of Maäsau, a woman whose training and tastes had not been guided on the
lines of simplicity or economy. That Valerie Selpdorf attracted him was
a truth to which his eyes began to be opened at the moment when
Counsellor asked him why he haunted Madame de Sagan's entertainments.
Then it had struck him that the almost certain chance of meeting
Valerie was his chief motive, yet he believed it was safe to divulge to
himself, since the girl bitterly disliked him, and he, in the strength
of the insular and Puritan side of his nature, disapproved of her. It
was the pleasure of the hour, no one looked beyond that in Révonde, and
Rallywood had fallen into the universal habit of drifting.
'You are thoughtful. What can you have been talking about?' asked
the Countess, coming up.
'Mademoiselle Selpdorf has been giving her opinion of me. It is not
flattering, and I am depressed,' returned Rallywood, hoping the
Countess meant to talk of Valerie.
'Has she? She is often absurd in her ideas. But we need not talk of
her. To turn to something pleasanter, do you know that I have just
persuaded Major Counsellor to come to us at Sagan?'
Rallywood instantly perceived that the three or four days at the old
frontier castle might prove to be a singularly interesting period, and
regretted that he was not to be a guest also.
'And you are coming too, are you not?' went on Madame de Sagan, with
a note in her voice that Rallywood was learning to dread.
'I fancy not. Unziar and Adiron have been mentioned.'
'Yes, Anthony Unziar, because he is my cousin, and for the sake of
Valerie. Also Captain Colendorp. I do not like him, he is always black
and sneering, but the Count chose him yesterday, and then I suggested
yourself. They were rather doubtful about you, but Baron von Elmur
consented. And I was so gladJack!'
The friendship had been progressing, it will be perceived, during
the last three weeks. But Rallywood made no immediate response, being
absorbed in digesting the information she had given him. That the
German minister should be permitted to dictate the guests for the three
days' festivities at the Castle was in itself a pregnant fact. But
further, the Germans had never before possessed old Sagan's confidence;
his dislike of the encroaching mammoth, whom the whole little nation
feared, was notorious. This new departure was therefore ominous.
'I had no notion that Baron von Elmur liked me any better than my
countrymen,' said Rallywood aloud.
'Ah, no, perhaps not; but now, you will understand, he wishes to
please me!' Countess Isolde answered with an air of mysterious
'He is not alone in wishing to do that,' returned Rallywood, ashamed
even as he uttered it, of the meaningless compliment.
'Jack,' she said, with a proud raising of her blonde head, 'you are
my friend, and of course you wish to please me. But everyone will want
to stand well with me some daywhen I have powerand then you shall
see what I will do for those whom I wish to please!'
Every word she spoke added to the certainty that some new plot was
afoot, and Rallywood glanced round for Counsellor's stout figure.
'You are glad to come to Sagan?' persisted his companion; 'say you
'I've never been more glad of anything in my life!' Rallywood
replied with truth, and then, his good angel rather than his mother's
wit coming to his rescue, he got away from the dancing-salon, and found
Counsellor at the entrance preparing to leave.
'I'll walk round with you, Major,' he proposed.
'I'm not going your way,' replied Counsellor. 'Besides, I wish to
drive. Hullo, you have got hold of my gloves!' and snatching at the
gloveswhich happened to be Rallywood'she thrust his own into the
young man's hand, saying in a low voice as he did so, 'Be on the
Cloister Bridge in half an hour. Good-night!'
At the appointed time, Rallywood, having replaced his military
greatcoat by one less remarkable, was waiting on the bridge, when he
was accosted by a hunchbacked fellow in a shabby Maäsaun sheepskin, who
dropped a rough English 'Good-night,' as he passed. Presently Rallywood
followed him until they came out into an open country road where the
biting tsa met them full face.
'This tsa is deadly! Quick! what is it you have to tell me?'
said Counsellor's voice.
Rallywood answered in a few rapid sentences.
'Yes, I fancied something of the kind was due. What an inestimable
blessing it is that such women as the Countess Sagan existto satisfy
diplomatic curiosity! We must find out the precise limits of the German
game at the Castle of Sagan. It is lucky for you, John, my son, that
your duty as a Maäsaun soldier to the Maäsaun nation and as an
Englishman to your own, run in this instance on the same lines.'
'They always will.'
'Don't be too sure of that! There may come a day when your public
and your private honour will stand face to face, hopelessly
irreconcilable. What then?'
'When anything so extremely awkward comes to pass, I suppose I shall
have to make up my mind on the subject,' replied Rallywood with a lazy
yawn, 'in the meantime it is to much trouble. Just at present my part
is simple, and I look for the game to turn in our favor.'
Counsellor stood still, as if in consideration, for a minute.
'The stake may seem to be a small onejust this useless scrap of
country,' he said at length, 'but the issues are far-reaching, and
therefore all Europe is taking a hand in the game. How will it end? I
don't know! The Fates shuffle and men handle the cards, but God cuts!
Thirty years' experience has taught me that. I didn't believe it
onceI do now.'
CHAPTER VIII. A QUESTION OF THE
The really great strategist is not the man who loves an intricate
plot. His method is simple, he eliminates.
On a certain cold morning, when the sun shone pinkly through a
sea-haze over the glittering roofs of Révonde, a review of the Guard,
and of a few regiments that happened to be stationed within a short
distance of the capital, was to be held, in honour of the Duke's
birthday, on the spacious parade ground of the Guard, which occupied
the whole of a small plateau lying high between the beetling hills
behind the barracks.
Baron von Elmur paid an early visit to the Chancellor on his way to
the review, and found M. Selpdorf, though brisk and urbane as ever, a
'We do not progress, Monsieur,' Elmur was saying.
'What would you, my dear Baron? we have so many obstacles in our
path,' answered the other, shrugging his shoulders good-humoredly.
Elmur leaned his elbow on the table.
'I know that delay can conduce to no good end,' he said. 'You have
agreed that a certain course is desirable no less for your country than
'Have I agreed to that proposition? Not altogether! Remember, I
cannot be expected to see with German eyes.'
'Even to the most patriotic Maäsaun it must be evident that sooner
or later the State must fall to us; it is merely a question of time.'
'The time has already been long,' said the Chancellor softly.
'For an excellent reason: because we have not always been as now, a
huge bulk. The bulk of the new Empire must by force of gravitation
attract all the smaller bodies round to itself. It is by a miracle only
that Maäsau has stood alone so long.'
'And by another miracle she might go on standing alone a little
'This is not the age of miracles, my friend!'
'I remember also something which your Excellency forgets,' said
Selpdorf, with a touch of sadness in his voice, 'that there have been
Selpdorfs helping in this miracle of the independence of Maäsau for
Elmur altered his attitude with an open impatience.
'You are a far-sighted patriot, Monsieur. It is needless to repeat
that if Maäsau joins the confederation of the Empire by her own act she
will do so on very different terms to any which could possibly be
conceded to a state that had forced upon us the unpleasant necessity of
coercion. Remember Frankfurt! She paid for her obstinacy. Whereas we
are prepared to deal generously towards those who cast in their lot
with ours. Besides,' he added significantly, 'I am urging you to
consult not only the interests of Maäsau, but your own also.'
'They are the same, and it is difficult to know where our true
interest lies,' said Selpdorf, thoughtfully. 'Do you go to the Castle
of Sagan next week?'
The abrupt change of subject seemed to have its effect upon Elmur.
He turned away from the table, crossed his legs, and lit a cigarette in
a leisurely manner before he answered.
'Yes; and you, Monsieur?'
'I have no inclination for these gaieties; but my daughter goes.'
Von Elmur shot a glance at his companion.
'To repeat my own wordswe do not progress, my dear Selpdorf.'
'So? Women finesse in these affairs. Valerie follows the custom of
her sex, and perhaps she has become a little spoilt by overmuch
admiration. Were she aware of your wishes, it would solve many of the
'It takes two to make that especial kind of bargain,' said Elmur,
with a curious smile, 'one to ask, the other to grant. I am prepared to
ask when I am assured that my request will be favourably received. An
ambassador is esteemed in just the same degree as the country he
represents. If his country triumph he triumphs also.'
'In this case I might point out that your personal success,' the
Chancellor said airily, 'would be the best, shall I say the only
possible, preliminary to the success of the mission with which his
Imperial Majesty has charged you.'
Elmur drew in his lips slightly. Valerie, as the Baroness von Elmur,
was to be her father's guarantee for the future! Although Elmur's
desires lay in the same direction, Selpdorf's insistence was most
unpalatable to the German minister.
'I am ready to lay myself at Mademoiselle's feet,' he said aloud,
'but there is always the picturesque young captain of the Guard.'
'Unziar? I can positively reassure your Excellency on that point.'
'Unziar? No! The EnglishmanRallywood.'
'Rallywood?' said the Chancellor in very real surprise, 'what of
'Nothing beyond the fact that he has an aptitude for challenging
fate. Such men dazzle the eyes, and are consequently apt to be
dangerous. Why has he been placed in the Guard?'
'I placed him there to serve our mutual convenience,' replied
Selpdorf. 'He is an Englishman, with his full share of English
intolerance and courage. On the other hand, the Guard resent the
intrusion of foreigners, neither are theymild-mannered.'
'The chances were in favour of trouble certainly. Had there been
trouble Rallywood might have disposed of some of our chief difficulties
for us,' he remarked, with a cynical smile.
'He might also have been disposed of himself,' said Selpdorf, 'and
he is the one human being for whom the good Counsellor has the
slightest regard. In politics it is necessary to consider the personal
equation. To touch Counsellor in his weakest point would have been to
alienate England at the convenient moment.'
'All that might have been true'Elmur shrugged his shoulders;
'unluckily we must face things as they actually are.'
'Even now Rallywood has his uses. The Guard is composed of the
flower of our nobilitythey are not to be tempted. At least that is my
opinion, although I believe Count Sagan holds differently. But this
Rallywood is a soldier of fortune, a mercenary. You perceive?'
Elmur stroked his chin dubiously.
'I am very much afraid he belongs to the wrong breed. However, I
would wish to point out that it will be essential to carry through this
matter quickly. If the Duke could be persuaded to accept the scheme of
reversion, the whole arrangement would be completed before the world
was the wiser.'
'It is the simplest plan, and therefore the best. But what will
England say? Counsellor is here, that in itself speaks.'
'Neither England nor the good Counsellor can touch an accomplished
fact. As they say in their own idiom, Possession is nine parts of the
law. It remains with us to make the fact.'
'Your Excellency will excuse me. It is time to start for the palace.
To-day his Highness the Duke holds a review of the Guard. I will if
possible sound him on the subject which interests us both. Should that
fail, we must consider the alternative scheme.'
Half-an-hour later the two men met again as they dismounted in the
courtyard of the palace. They approached each other courteously.
'There stands the real obstacle to our success,' said Elmur in a low
Selpdorf followed the German Minister's glance. Standing there, in
the fire-light of the guard-room, was the tall figure of Anthony
Unziar, waiting with haughty stiffness for the appearance of the Duke.
'His Highness's gentlemen, the Maäsaun Guard,' went on Elmur with a
bitter sneer, 'the impersonation of an arrogant militarism!'
'Sevento be counted with,' corrected Selpdorf gently. 'The other,
'Has the initial fault of nationality. However, he goes to Sagan.'
The mist cleared as the sun rose higher until, by noon, the sky was
of a pale radiant blue laced with a delicate broidery of white
wind-scattered clouds. Looking westward the dark river wound away to
the sea, ringed here and there by the highly decorated bridges of
light-toned granite peculiar to Maäsau. Révonde, in the sunshine, shone
in the colours of a moss-grown stone, gray and green, the twin ridges
on which it stood fretted and embossed to their summits with the
palaces and pinnacles, the spires and towers, and gardens of the
spreading city. The Grand Duke, as they rounded the mounting road to
the parade ground, looked back upon Révonde with a lingering glance.
Selpdorf who was seated opposite to him, had been replying to his
grumbling questions as to the condition of the royal exchequer with a
depressing account of the hopelessness of the situation.
'Révonde is a jewel after all!' said the Duke suddenly; 'a jewel can
always be mortgaged, Selpdorf.'
Selpdorf admitted that this was true, and also hinted that the jewel
had been used in one way or another pretty freely to raise the revenues
for a good many years, without giving much in the way of a quid pro
quo, beyond the vague hopes and airy promises which pledged the
Maäsaun government to little or nothing. But now, he explained, the
Powers were growing weary of so unprofitable a speculation, and were
inclined to expect some definite return for their assistance.
The Duke listened moodily, lying back on his cushions, a
thin-legged, paunchy figure, whose features had lost their shapely
mould under the touch of dissipation. The nose hung long and fleshy
between the pouched skin of his cheekbones, the eyes showed a tell-tale
slackness in the under eyelid, where it merged into the loose wrinkles
below. The lower part of the face was covered by a long but sparse
moustache, through which at times could be discerned that terrible
protrusion of the upper lip that seems the herald of senility. Yet
Gustave, Grand Duke of Maäsau, was only that day celebrating the
completion of his fifty-seventh year.
Where the carriage attained the level of the plateau, the main road
curved away inland to the right, while upon the left hand, under the
wall of encircling brown cliffs, a small brigade of all arms was
assembled to do honour to their ruler. Through a cut in the hills far
away, but seemingly nearer on that windy morning, could be seen a blue
open bay, blown into the 'innumerable laughter of the sea.' The air,
the whole scene, was inspiriting, but the Duke looked heavily on as the
troops deployed and turned, their arms glittering in the sunlight.
First in order came a couple of squadrons of the Frontier Cavalry,
with their black sheepskins hanging behind them; then infantry,
followed by two batteries of artillery divided by some more cavalry,
and, after a distinct interval, the Guard.
The little army was perfect in equipment and finish, and their
uniforms were brilliant and picturesque; but the Duke stared out of the
amphitheatre of the parade ground with dissatisfaction and ennui. Money, he wanted money, and the less the Chancellor could encourage
him to hope for it the more he desired to have it by hook or by crook.
The Grand Marshal of Maäsau having been dismissed from the side of
the royal carriage with a few curt words, the Duke spoke again, in a
low tone to Selpdorf.
'Then you wish me to understand that there is no more to be got out
of anybody. I know better than that. England, Germany, and Russia, are
waiting to outbid each other.'
'That is true, sire; but they will not deal on the old terms.'
The Guard, with scattered pennons flying, were drawn up at the lower
end of the parade ground. The chief effect of the day was about to take
placethe charge of the Guard.
'I am now of an age,' remarked the Duke peevishly, 'when my
birthdays have ceased to be a cause for congratulation. This review is
an anachronism. In my father's time I rode at the head of the Guard,
and led a charge on the day I was eighteen. Pish! I have grown wiser,
and know how to enjoy life after a more rational fashion. To return to
our other subjectWhat do they want?'
Selpdorf smiled, and passed his fingers upwards over the erect
corners of his moustache.
'For example, there is a power that might pay a heavy annual sum if
your Highness would consent to disband your Guard!' he said, with a
The slack fallen lines of the Duke's visage grew suddenly tense. His
eyes brightened as the tossing mass in green and gold swept down
towards them in a thunder of hoofs, and the long-drawn shout of
'Maäsau,' with which the Guard have charged home on so many a
As the splendid ranks of horsemen crashed past under a flashing play
of saluting swords, the Duke pulled himself erect in his carriage and
raised his gloved hand in acknowledgment with a strong fling of
enthusiasm that recalled to men present other and better days.
Selpdorf's brow lost its round smoothness for a short moment, but
cleared again before the Duke dropped back with a groan into his seat.
'Disband the Guard? What traitor suggested that? May the Guard shoot
me first! I'd rather rot of starvation than consent to it! For with the
Guard is bound up the freedom of Maäsau!'
Presently he turned upon the Chancellor with a glooming and
'Has Sagan been tampering with you?' he asked, with a sneer, 'if he
tempted you now it would only be to betray you later! He hankers after
Maäsau, but remember my cousin in England. He has claims which cannot
Selpdorf remained respectfully silent for a short time, revolving
the extremely important admission with regard to the second claimant to
the heritage of the Duchy, which the Duke in his excitement had made.
The first and simpler plan of persuading the Duke to enter into an
understanding with Germany, to the effect that she should enjoy the
reversion of Maäsau in exchange for the payment of a secured annuity,
was plainly hopeless. It now remained to put in motion the second
scheme, which contained elements of infinitely greater danger.
Human nature is a complex thing, yet each man's attitude of mind
towards himself, is often only an extension of his attitude of mind
towards his neighbour.
What the Chancellor said to himself to whitewash his conduct in his
own eyes, who can tell? The Duke, old vice-sodden reprobate as he was,
had that one remnant of manhood left, a determination to face the last
and most absolute contingency of life rather than sell his country.
Perhaps Selpdorf used that most guilty of all excusesIf I do not
put my hand to this thing someone else will. Maäsau must fall sooner or
later to some larger power. May not I profit by it as well as another?
Did he set his house of excuse upon the sand of a certain bitter
writing? 'I will persuade them,' said Satan'I will make them two
idols, which they shall call Honour and Fidelity, and a law which shall
be called passive obedience. And they shall worship these idols!' If
Honour, Fidelity, and Obedience be idols, where then, are the true
CHAPTER IX. THE CASTLE OF SAGAN.
The broadly flowing Kofn forms part of the north-eastern boundary of
the State of Maäsau. Its dark waters rush tumultuously from the gorge
below the Castle of Sagan, and fling a vast enclosing arm about the
bleak plains and marshes of which the wastes of the frontier consist.
It is a land where even summer dwells coldly.
To the north a chain of hills rises black against the sky, and
there, set upon a boldly jutting spur, the Castle of Sagan dominates
the inhospitable landscape like a frown upon a sinister face.
The whole spur and the hill behind it are rough with ragged
pine-woods, and, below, the banks shelve to the river with a broken
scattering of deciduous trees, that leave on the eye the chill
impression of leafless branches tangled against a background of grey
and stony slopes.
Some two or three miles south of the Castle the river breaks across
a step-like outcrop of rock, and thus forms that famous ford, across
which the Counts of Sagan used in the old days to lead their foraging
expeditions over the border.
Simon of Sagan, the present Count, inherited in an unmodified degree
the more predatory and uncivilized instincts of his forefathers.
Illiterate, brutal, and cunning, the thin veneer laid by the nineteenth
century upon his coarse-grained nature was apt to rub off on the very
slightest friction, bringing the original savage to the surface.
He was at once the terror and the pride of the stolid, silent
peasantry that lived under his rule. A fierce and fearless sportsman,
his dependents delighted in boasting of the prowess of a master whose
capricious cruelties they never dreamed of resenting. With Sagan,
throughout life, to desire was to have, and in his pursuit of the
wished-for object, he was hampered by no new-fangled sentiments of
honour, truth, or loyalty. Like other savages he quickly tired of his
fancies when once gratified. Not four years ago he had been possessed
by a frantic passion for the beautiful young wife whom he had now come
to regard with something dangerously near hate.
In dealing with such a temperament as this both Elmur and Selpdorf
were well aware that they were handling an explosive that might at any
moment wreck their most carefully laid plans. They would very much have
preferred to have made a tool of the reigning Duke, but Selpdorf, who
had been plying him for more than a month with a ceaseless and
exhaustive course of innuendo, discouragement, and veiled temptation,
was at length convinced, by the Duke's reply on the day of the review,
that nothing further was to be hoped for in that direction.
For this reason the German party was obliged to fall back on Count
Sagan. That he was untrammelled by principle, and was, moreover,
prepared to meet them half-way, rendered their schemes no whit safer.
The only hope of security lay in clinching the matter as quickly as it
was possible to do so. Once the German grasp had been fairly laid upon
the State, the nominal sovereign might struggle as he liked, he could
hurt no one but himself.
M. Selpdorf's chief contribution towards the new plotwhich was to
be carried out at the Count's own fortress, the Castle of
Saganconsisted in sending an urgent letter after his daughter,
begging her to fall in with von Elmur's wishes.
Valerie received the letter in Madame de Sagan's apartments. The
Countess lay on a couch, reading a French novel and yawning.
'What a devoted papa!' she exclaimed, glancing up.
Valerie did not immediately reply. She was standing at the deep
embayed window that looked out towards the river and the apparently
endless desolation beyond. She only moved very slightly, thereby
turning her back even more completely upon her companion. The girl had
not lived so long in an atmosphere of diplomacy without learning the
wisdom of keeping her own counsel.
She had for some time been aware of Baron von Elmur's admiration,
but only of late had he seemed anxious to make his aspirations manifest
to the publica much more significant fact. For the German was in one
way a universal admirer, he made qualified love to most of the
good-looking ladies about the Court, and also, perhaps, more pointedly,
to some who were not so good-looking, thus gaining much profit and some
pleasure. His high-shouldered, portly, personable figure, his handsome
face with its close-set narrow eyes, rose before Valerie's mental eye.
Her future husband? How absurd, how impossible! And she suddenly
laughed a soft, throaty ripple of laughter.
Isolde moved noiselessly, and coming behind Valerie, caught her by
the shoulders and swung her half round.
'What are you laughing at?' she asked over the girl's shoulder.
Valerie moved away gently from under the slender hands.
'Can you imagine yourself in love with Baron von Elmur?' she asked.
'Were you laughing at that?' inquired the other incredulously.
'Yes,' with another little laugh.
'Ah! the devoted papa has been writing of Baron von Elmur?' said the
Countess, with an arch smile.
'But, I can understand being in love with von Elmur! He
isdifficult. Men no longer in their first youth are much the more
interesting. The love of a young man is simple, he says what he means;
but when he grows older it is not so. By that time he has gathered
memories, enlightenment, experiences; and he begins by thinking he
knows one through and through. And why?because he knows other
womenand them how imperfectly! As if we were not as various as the
colours in the old Sagan diadem! Each woman is made differently, and
each reflects her own colour. To teach a manold enough to appreciate
itthis little fact about ourselves is, I assure you, never a dull
Valerie paused before she spoke.
'Now I know why you are married, Isolde!'
'Ah, yes; but I was too young to realize that Sagan is a bear who
cannot be taught to dance. I had just left school. I could not choose.
But you, Valerie, you have a future before you! Poor Anthony, like all
other young men, is desperately in earnest, he gives one the blues. I
know he already bores you; but von ElmurAh, that is altogether
Madame de Sagan sank down beside a little buhl-table, and tapped on
it impatiently with her slight fingers. Against the light of the
afternoon glow she watched the outline of Valerie's cheek. For Mdlle.
Selpdorf had returned to her contemplation of the landscape. A curl of
blue smoke from among the trees on the nearer bank of the Kofn held her
gaze and suggested thoughts, which she was taking up one by one, as it
were, and examining soberly enough.
Rallywood had been stationed at Kofn Ford when first Isolde made his
acquaintance. The girl recalled a description she had heard of the tall
young Englishman galloping along the flat road to the rescue of the
pretty, terrified Countess, whose Arab had been merely cantering along,
capering now and again from sheer light-heartedness and without
malicious intent, until its timid rider chose to scream, when it reared
and started with flying hoofs towards the marshes. Valerie went on to
picture Rallywood holding the trembling woman on her saddle till her
escort and grooms overtook them, and at the picture the girl's lip
curled and quivered with angry scornof a sudden she hated and
despised them both, but especially she despised Rallywood for having
succumbed to Isolde's shallow beauty! Thus it will be seen that Mdlle.
Selpdorf was inclined to under-rate Madame de Sagan's points. Isolde
was not only wonderfully pretty, but she was endowed with a superficial
cleverness, and kindliness and tact, all of which rendered her
irresistible to nine men out of ten. A moral chameleon, Isolde almost
always believed in herself and her own moods, therefore it was little
wonder that the men whose phases of humour she reflected believed in
her also, and moreover thought her as adorable and as full of delicious
changes as Cleopatra.
Isolde had told the story of her adventure to Valerie, dwelling on
the facts that the hero detestedabsolutely detestedall other women,
also that in physique he followed the most approved English pattern,
and was an exceptionally good specimen at that. Altogether Valerie had
found the description sufficiently attractive to induce her to pay
Rallywood that coquettish little visit in the ante-room of the Hôtel du
While these things passed through her thoughts her eyes were still
fixed upon the blue plume of smoke that rose and melted over Kofn Ford,
for its position indicated the whereabouts of the block-house used by
the Frontier Patrol, and there Rallywood had lived during the early
part of his acquaintance with Isolde.
'What are you thinking of?' inquired Madame de Sagan suddenly; then,
as Valerie made no immediate answer, she added, 'Shall I tell you,
The other turned, with the pink of sunset lighting up her pale face.
'I don't imagine you can guess,' she said, with a faint smile.
Madame de Sagan's little trill of laughter was not quite so childish
and irresponsible as usual.
'But I can. You were thinking of Rallywood. You think rather often
of Rallywood, my dear girl.'
The guess, so near the truth, startled Valerie, although she gave no
sign. What could have suggested such an idea to Isolde? Instantly
Valerie was on the defensive. Her delicate nostrils quivered slightly,
and her handa larger and more capable hand than Isolde'sclosed more
firmly upon her father's letter, as she replied, with that firm
directness which was so surprising a trait in her father's daughter:
'Yes, I was thinking of himand you. The block-house where he lived
is down there, I can see the smoke. That reminded me of it all. By the
way, Isolde, it seems that some young men have a shade of interest
'This one is rather unlike all the others,' returned Madame de
Sagan, with gravity. 'He saved my life, and, well, he is different to
anybody else. He assumes nothing.'
It is a fact worthy of consideration that while a man rarely
establishes a claim on a woman by rendering her a service, a woman
always establishes a claim on a man by being rendered a service.
Perhaps this is as it should be.
'No,' repeated Valerie, thoughtfully, 'he certainly
'What do you mean by that, Valerie?' exclaimed Isolde irritably.
'You are in one of your incomprehensible moods to-day. What do you
think of Rallywood?'
'I hardly know what to think yet. Very likely I shall never come to
any conclusion about him. He is not my affair, and what can be more
uninteresting than a man who has saved some other woman's life?' She
laughed. 'You have recommended von Elmur to my noticeI shall
certainly spend my time to more profit in studying him.'
A servant entered.
'His Excellency Baron von Elmur wishes to wait upon your ladyship.'
Elmur advanced bowing. After greeting his hostess, he turned to
Valerie with a manner that was new in their intercourse. He dropped
from the courtier to the man pure and simple.
Kissing the girl's hand he said earnestly:
'I feared you were not to arrive until to-morrow.'
Madame de Sagan, who had raised her eyebrows and made a little
grimace at Valerie behind the Minister's back, here interposed:
'I persuaded her to travel here with me. I hope, Baron, you feel how
greatly I have befriended you!'
'You will find me grateful, Madame. In the meantime, I have been
sent to warn you that his Highness has already arrived at the foot of
the hill, and to beg you to descend to the great hall, where the Count
is waiting to receive him.'
'Come, Valerie,' said the Countess, with a little catch in her
breath, and an added fleck of colour in her soft cheeks.
The great hall was half-filled with servants and retainers, ranged
according to the fashion, which has obtained at Sagan during the memory
of man, for the ceremonious reception of the reigning Duke. Half a
dozen huntsmen held in leash as many couples of huge boarhounds at one
side of the hall; on the other, servants, carrying gold trays of
refreshments, stood in line. Above these, again, clustered the numerous
guests who had already arrived.
As the Countess, looking very young and fair and slender, walked
down the centre, Sagan, who had been draining a goblet of wine, thrust
the cup back upon the tray, and catching his wife's hand roughly, said,
with an audible oath:
She shrank back, suppressing a cry, from his angry grasp; but few
had time to notice the incident, for the outer door clanged back upon
its hinges to admit the Duke, who, shivering in his furs, entered upon
the arm of Colendorp.
Sagan advanced to meet him, but the Duke, glancing round the hall
with a shudder, cut his formal greetings short.
'Sagan wears a more gloomy and cut-throat air than ever, Cousin,' he
Sagan's response was covered by the entrance of the suite, the whole
party being brought up by Rallywood and a couple of troopers of the
Guard. Then Sagan, with a scowling face, offered the Duke the customary
cup of wine, and, comparative silence being restored, the ducal answer
came peevishly to all ears:
'No, my good Simon, your wine is like yourself, rather too strong
and a trifle rough for my taste. Let Briot be called. I have brought my
So saying, he waved the attendants aside, and, approaching Isolde,
he raised her as she curtsied deeply.
'There is one point, Madame, in which I can never hope to rival my
cousin of Sagan. My wine may be more palatable; but I could never find
a wife more beautiful ormore wise than his!' he said, with malicious
Then bending forward he kissed the Countess with empressment on both
cheeks. She trembled under the caress, though she was hardly aware of
it, for her eyes were on her husband, whose daily increasing dislike of
herself she could not understand, and was only newly beginning to
dread. Valerie, standing immediately behind the Countess, overheard and
resented the details of the scene. It was unbearable to see Isolde
helplessly baited by Sagan and the Dukeeach man gratifying the spleen
of the moment at the expense of a woman, who was obliged to submit to
their discourtesy. Of all the guests Mdlle. Selpdorf alone stood erect,
forgetting, in her indignation, to join in the general obeisance. The
Grand Duke, looking up, found her flushed and flashing, and
superlatively handsome. His flabby cheeks twitched, and his bleared
'Mademoiselle Selpdorf, since you will not salute me, I can at least
claim the right as your Duke to salute you,' he said, stepping towards
Instantly Valerie sank into an exaggerated curtsy, thus adroitly
avoiding the Duke's outstretched hand and ready lips. His feeble legs
failed, he stumbled forward and pitched into the arms of Elmur, who set
him upright with a gentle skilfulness that almost cheated the eyes of
The Duke, slightly shaken, and exceedingly annoyed, turned upon the
'Mademoiselle grows proud!'
'Forgive me, sire; I did not dream that you would stoop so low!'
rejoined the girl, with apparent humility.
'If you will not accept the salute of your Duke, Mademoiselle, may I
ask to what you aspire?' he added contemptuously.
Valerie was not of a meek spirit, and she saw a way in which she
might revenge Isolde, little comprehending the far-reaching
consequences of her thoughtless words.
'I aspire to be maid of honour to the Grand Duchess of Maäsau!' she
answered, with a glance towards the Countess.
The Duke glared around him into the circle of half-curious,
half-terrified faces, for this was a piercing home-thrust, his eye
dwelt for a moment on Sagan, towering tall and rugged and strong as one
of his own native rocks, and he recognised that his cousin, although
ten years his senior as age is counted, was infinitely younger in his
unimpaired energies and rude health. Also, Duke Gustave of Maäsau was
superstitious, and it struck him as an ill omen that the representative
of Selpdorf should have failed him at the critical moment, and thus
flung him headlong into the arms of Germany!
Out of all these crowding thoughts arose not only vivid fear, but a
resolution, of which none at that time believed him to be capable. He
grew white about the mouth, his protruding lip twitched ominously.
'It is not always lucky for even so young and beautiful a woman as
you are to count on dead men's shoes,' he said, in a low, penetrating
A happy inspiration came to Madame de Sagan. She took Valerie's hand
in hers, and addressed the Duke with a quivering smile that somehow
vouched for her earnestness at the moment.
'You mistake Valerie, sire; she and I both desire the same
honourto attend your Highness's Consort, if it would please you to
'It might please me, Madame; but I doubt it would please your
husband little,' retorted the Duke.
'I hoped your Highness knew me better!' protested Sagan sulkily.
'I do, my good Simon, I know you much better!' said the Duke
laughing. 'Now, pray lead me to my apartments. The journey to Sagan
fatigues in this weatherand, after all, it would look better if I
died at homein the palace at Révonde.'
At a glance from Elmur, Sagan motioned his wife forward.
'I will lead you to your apartments, sire,' she said, offering the
Duke her slender hand. 'I am sure that the air of Sagan is as loyal as
ourselves, and will do for you all that we should wish it to do.'
For answer the Duke shook his head feebly; and, calling Colendorp to
his side, passed up the long hall through a rustling silence.
CHAPTER X. COUNT SIMON OF SAGAN.
Although secretly dismayed at the effect produced by her rash
championship of Madame de Sagan, Valerie kept up a semblance of
self-possession. Her clear colouring faded to extreme pallor, but her
proud eyes showed no sign of shrinking from the curious glances cast
upon her. She caught a trenchant aside from Sagan to Elmur:
'These cursed women will ruin us!'
And in answer to this even Elmur's flattery was mute. But Valerie
stood haughty and erect, watching the Duke's suite file up the hall,
Rallywood, as before, bringing up in the rear.
As he came in line with her he turned his head, and their glances
That look, which she always recalled as distinctively his, was wiped
from the young man's gray eyes; they fell upon her stern, alienated,
almost inimical. The change struck her like a blow. But before she
could fling back her silent defiance at him, he was gone, without a
second glance, or seeking in any manner to soften the insolent rebuke
he had dared to convey.
She resolved to go to her own rooms and make instant arrangements
for a return to Révonde. Her heart was hot in her, as, looking round,
she found herself standing alone. Elmur, apparently forgetful of the
deep personal devotion he had so lately manifested, was conversing with
a group of Maäsaun nobles, his back turned conveniently towards her.
Sagan had disappeared, and not one of those whom she knew so well, and
who, ten minutes ago, would have felt honoured by seeking her, but now
seemed too deeply engaged to notice that she stood alone.
A moment later Counsellor approached her. She had known him slightly
for a long time, but she now for the first time fully met the shrewd,
kindly eyes under their shaggy brows. Instantly she liked him, and to
her own surprise found herself talking of the indiscretion of which she
had been guilty, and of her wish to return to Révonde in consequence.
'Mademoiselle, are you a loyal Maäsaun?' asked Counsellor gravely.
Valerie's soft dark eyes gazed steadily back into his.
'I am loyal,' she replied, in an earnest under-breath.
'Then stay in Sagan. If your words carried so long a tag of meaning
to others, you can see that Maäsau may have need of all her loyal
'Whom can we trust?' she asked suddenly, almost in a whisper, for
Elmur, seeing her in conversation with Counsellor, now approached with
a ceremonious air.
Counsellor smiled as he stood squarely beside her.
'Choose!' he said, briefly.
'Choose what?' asked Elmur in his most deferential manner.
'Madamoiselle's choice in the most trivial matters is of importance.'
Valerie smiled. Not a trace of disturbance was perceptible in her
manner, and Elmur, noting it, came to the final conclusion that this
girl was not only extraordinarily handsome, but also exceptionally
capable. Having made so grievous a mistake, and taken the punishment of
it, she was still mistress of herself. It was a gallant spirit, and
well worth capturing.
'Major Counsellor has asked me to choose flowers for the ball
to-night. I choose roses. I think it is very nice of me, Major
Counsellor, for is not the rose the emblem of England?' said the girl,
with a coquettish smile at the older man.
Elmur's face clouded. This interfering old fellow had the power of
making friends, which means the power of being a dangerous enemy.
'I had hoped,' he said aloud, 'to have the pleasure of begging
Mademoiselle to accept my flowers.'
'You are too late, Baron; but perhaps you will escort me to the west
tower, where I daresay Madame de Sagan is already waiting for me.'
Counsellor looked after the tall graceful figure of the girl as she
ascended the staircase with Elmur at her side. He could see she was
still laughing and talking to her companion, but her ready parry of the
German's question, including a clear reply to his own, showed him that
the Chancellor's daughter was much more than a mere wilful girl.
'John Rallywood,' he grunted, as he turned away, 'is after all not
so great an ass as he thinks himself.'
An attendant intercepted the German before he regained the hall,
after leaving Valerie with Madame de Sagan.
'My lord desires to speak with your Excellency,' he said.
Elmur frowned. He wished to allow Count Simon time to cool before
meeting him, but this summons was imperative, and, besides, he knew the
danger of failing to provide a safety-valve in the shape of a listener,
before the Count could blow off the first ebullitions of rage over
Mdlle. Selpdorf's untoward speech. If pent up within his own breast,
there was no knowing in how disastrous a manner Sagan's ill-humour
might explode. Defeat meant much to Elmur, his reputation was at stake.
Other men had undertaken this same missionto bring about the
annexation to the Fatherland of this troublesome little state; they had
failed, therefore Elmur had pledged himself to succeed.
Elmur stood with his back against a massive carved bookshelf, and
looked at Sagan, who, with a cigar-butt buried in his ragged beard, was
walking, with long, uncertain steps, up and down the floor. The tiger
in the old man was awake.
'Act I., Scene I.,' said Elmur at last, and with a smile.
Sagan stopped short and turned a bloodshot sidelong glare upon him,
his dark old fingers working convulsively.
'By heaven! It is going to be a tragedy!' he shouted, and burst into
a whirlwind of hideous curses, coupled with the names of Valerie and
The German picked out a comfortable chair and seated himself,
crossing his legs with a manifest intention of patience. There was a
horrible energy in the old man's attitudes. His long smouldering
ambition, nursed and fed of late, had now flamed into a regnant
passion, and the cooler, more wary, unscrupulousness of the younger man
looked with repugnance upon the blind fury of the Duke that was to be.
In no great space of time the sight of that impassive,
high-shouldered figure, sitting calmly by, imposed a growing sense of
restraint upon the Count.
'What do you think of our chances now that Gustave's suspicions have
been set on the alert?' he asked at last, coming to a stop in front of
Elmur. 'That fool of a wife of mine has blabbed to Selpdorf's daughter,
and she in her turn blabs before all the world.'
Elmur sat still and dumb. His face enraged Sagan once more.
'But I am master in Sagan. The girl must be got rid of! There are a
hundred dangers in our mountains and marshes. Do you not understand?'
Baron von Elmur stood up. He bore his most dignified air, and there
was something in his whole aspect that made the Count pause.
'In the first place, her death under the circumstances would look
strange. In the second, we have nothing to gain from it,' he said.
Sagan's red eyes twinkled cunningly.
'Hear my plan. I am not so squeamish as you thin-blooded moderns, or
at least as you pretend to be!' He placed his finger on the Minister's
breast, and drew back a little, the better to enjoy the approbation he
expected to read in the other's face. 'We will say that the girl fell
ill, and I, in my anxiety, sent Madame Saganmy own wife, mark youto
accompany her to Révonde. If both should happen to be killed by an
accident we should be well rid of themand what could the world say?'
Elmur drew away from the insistive finger with an unmistakable
movement. He bowed stiffly and moved towards the door.
'I do not know what the world might do or say but I can answer for
Ludwig von Elmur. My master does not deal in murder, my lord, and so I
beg your leave to withdraw.'
'What?' sneered the other, 'he does not deal in murder? Rather, you
would say, he prefers to deal in murder wholesale! What of your wars
and annexations? What of the Germans in West Africa? Take care, Elmur,
that you are not acting over hastily. For my part I don't believe that
a life or so would weigh too heavy in the balance as against a
province, even in your master's judgment. I take my world as I find it,
my good Baron!'
'Pardon me, my lord, you take the world as your ancestors found it!
You may be all your fathers were, but however time goes at Sagan, the
rest of the world has not stood still since the middle ages. And the
world is on my side to-day. Besides,' he added more suavely, 'we should
gain nothing. We should alienate Selpdorf, who is useful, and who knows
too much. As for the Duke, after such an affair he could never be eased
of his suspicions.'
'I don't ask to ease him, I mean to cure him,' retorted Sagan,
'I am certain Madame de Sagan has been silent. The speech of Mdlle.
Selpdorf was the indignant outburst of a girl who thought her friend
'Discourteously treated? Isolde rudely treated? By whom?'
'Forgive me once more, my lord; but, in the first place, by
Sagan laughed aloud; his ill-temper vanishing before the humour of
the notion that anyone could take exception to a man's rudeness towards
his own wife.
'Pooh! the girl is a bigger idiot than I thought her. Let us hope
she'll never meet with worse at the hands of her own husband.'
'I join in the hope, my lord, since I am to be that most fortunate
man!' It was not the most felicitous moment, but Elmur was aware that
in no other way could he assure Valerie's safety against the treachery
of his colleague.
Sagan fell back a step.
'Sothe wind blows from that quarter? Take heed, Baron, Selpdorf is
a slippery fish.'
'But by this arrangement we land him finally.'
'It may be so.' Sagan tugged broodingly at his beard, after a pause
adding, 'Well, well, the girl is safe enough for me, if you can answer
for her. Come back and sit down. We must act while Gustave is here.
Once we secure the Guard, we can force him to doas we please. First a
compromise, then abdication, then' he brought his hand down heavily
upon the table and sat staring before him at a vision of a dream
fulfilleda vision of Duke Simon of Maäsau.
Elmur's lip curled as he watched the man, who, for the time being,
was oblivious of all but the realisation of his own ambition. Duke
Simon! a name, but never a living poweronly a German puppet, pulled
hither and thither at will by the controlling hand.
'What are your plans, my lord?' he asked aloud.
The Count started, and raised his head.
'We have three of the Guard hereUnziar, Rallywood, Colendorp. You
know that as soon as we have made sure of their officers the men will
follow of themselves. Now Unziar is no saint.'
'But he fights the better because he is a sinner.'
'He is not to be tempted, then. But he is in love with Mdlle.
Selpdorfwith your future wife, and she must blind him. A man in love
is easily blinded.'
'And Rallywood?' asked Elmur.
'We don'twant Rallywood,' rejoined Sagan, with an odd glance at
Elmur. 'I can manage him, if you will leave him to me.'
'I conclude Rallywood is capable of taking care of himself.'
The Count grinned.
'Exactly what I believed you would think. There remains only
Colendorp. But Colendorp is the man we must haveall will depend on
'Do you suppose he will bend?'
'If not he must break! But, no; I know him well! I have chosen him
because he touches no woman! Men who don't love women, love money, and
men who do'
'Love both,' said Elmur quietly.
'To-morrow night Colendorp shall be here with me. You also will be
present. Colendorp is a poor manas men go in the Guardand we must
approach him softly and by degrees,' said Sagan.
Elmur concealed a smile. A course of softness and caution seemed
impossible in connection with the headstrong old man who counselled it.
Sagan, left alone, stood engrossed in thought. The wild beast
instinct in him gave him intuition of danger. Elmur was playing
Germany's game, but since his aim was the Count's own, it was
impossible at this stage to disentangle the precise cause of suspicion.
CHAPTER XI. A COUNSEL OF EXPEDIENCY.
The foundation of the family and Castle of Sagan was said to belong
to the period of the Frankish incursions. Some one had once remarked
that Count Simon himself was the most perfect relic of the barbaric
period to be found in Europe, which, coming round in due time to Count
Simon, the joker paid with his life for his poor attempt at wit.
However true this tradition of Sagan might be, the Castle itself was
mediæval, and, though it had been added to and restored, dark and
tortuous passages still existed in the older portion of its huge bulk,
and could by no means be improved away. Treacherous steps waylaid and
betrayed the unwary foot; undreamed-of doors gave upon their dimmest
corners, and not all the efforts of the nervous châtelaine ever
accomplished the adequate lighting of their recesses.
The spirit of fear seemed to be abroad in the Castle that night, and
the guests moved with a causeless but irresistible hurry when coming or
going from the upper apartments or through the winding corridors.
Valerie was conscious of it, as, wrapped in a long cloak, she opened
her door and started back on finding a tall high-shouldered figure
'Take my arm, Mademoiselle, I beg of you,' von Elmur bent his head,
speaking urgently: 'I am aware that his August Impertinence well
deserved your rebuke! But many heard it, and by some a sinister
construction has been put upon it. For your father's sake, will you
condescend to listen to me?'
Valerie withdrew her hand from his arm with a swift movement, but he
caught and replaced it almost roughly.
'Forgive me, Mademoiselle, you must listen to me! I am not urging my
suit upon youI will not urge it until you consult your father; but,
in the meantime, the exigencies of the case, difficulties which have
arisen as the result of your own words, make it essential for you to
follow my advice. You are aware, you must be aware, of my feelings
towards you, and may I remind you that your father's wishes coincide
with mine? Will you allow me to announce our betrothal to the Count? I
will never presume upon this favour in the futureyou may rely upon
me. Valerie, you see I am using no lover's persuasiveness, I do not
tell you that I adore youthough you are well aware of that! I only
declare that your falling in with my request may mean the difference
between life and death to some of us!'
'Is my father in danger through my fault?'
His hand held hers close, and she could see that he was moved out of
the common by some emotion, the cool stillness of his manner was
replaced by a passion of which she had not believed him capable. Her
beauty and the thought of losing her had a good deal to do with this
disturbance, but the chief cause was the fear, that, after all, his
mission might fail, and fail badly.
'I cannot explain; but I implore you to act on my advice.'
Valerie hesitated. Elmur was very much in earnest, yet it might be
an attempt to trick her into a position from which she would find it
almost impossible to withdraw.
'Do you wish to make this public?' she asked.
'No, no. Thatpardon me once morewould be equally fatal after the
impression you unluckily conveyed to the Duke. No; I only ask you to
allow Count Sagan to believe that you have consented to become my wife.
I beg you to do thisfor M. Selpdorf's sake, and, indeed,
Mademoiselle, for your own!'
As they entered the circle of brilliant light falling from the great
lamp above Madame de Sagan's door Baron von Elmur resumed something of
his usual manner.
'Then I may conduct you no further?' he said, turning in front of
her to screen her agitated face from two persons who were coming along
'Thank you for your protection, Baron,' the girl replied in an
audible tone, 'the Castle is haunted on nights like these, when the
tsa cries around it.'
The door swung open noiselessly beside them, and Count Sagan stood
on the threshold. By some instinct, without looking at him, she seemed
to see his angry, questioning gaze.
'Au revoir,' she added to Elmur, with a coquettish ring in her
'Ah, Mademoiselle, I live for that onlyto see you again,' began
Sagan cut him short.
'Tut, tut, Baron, too many eyes are looking on to permit of such
endearments as these! Ardour in a betrothed lover is natural, yet'
Valerie looked up and smiled miserably.
'Au revoir,' she repeated faintly.
With that the door closed behind her as Sagan led her away to his
wife, and Elmur, affecting not to see the two men who were passing,
strolled on singing a love-song under his breath. Unziar paused, then
drew Rallywood with him into the centre of the wide lighted passage,
where they could speak with more freedom. 'That settles more questions
than one!' he said mockingly. 'For example, it settles a question which
most concerns you and me, Rallywood.'
'Concerns me?' Rallywood flung back the words.
'Would you deny it? You are as deep in that as I,' nodding towards
the door behind them.
Rallywood's answer came slowly.
'I do not deny it. Why should I wish to? Though regard for her has
led me to attempt to hide myfolly. I see I have not been altogether
as successful as I hoped. But, had I anything to offer her beside my
sword, I'm hanged if I would let that infernal German have her!'
'In these affairs, my friend, the ladies equally make choice,'
Unziar replied with a sneer. 'Besides, it is only a part of theplot,'
the last word was scarcely audible.
Rallywood turned on him a long, keen look.
'And you think that she, Mademoiselle, is in it?' he asked at last.
'I wish to God I could say not! But in the teeth of this conspiracy,
for the sake of Maäsau, we of the Guard cannot lie to each other.'
Rallywood, being on duty during the evening, stood, according to
usage, at some little distance behind the Duke's chair. From among the
coming and going, from chance words and prepared speeches he gathered a
thread of suspicion which had its use in the perplexing future that was
rapidly advancing upon them.
Valerie, with a flush upon her face, was looking unusually brilliant
as she talked for a while with Unziar, who, judging from the sourness
of his smile, may have been offering her his congratulations.
Counsellor came up to Rallywood, and as they stood well away from
the crowd, spoke openly.
'You have heard the news I see, John, and you are not nearly such a
fool as you think yourself. She is a girl in ten thousand, and may, not
improbably, make the exceptional woman I once before spoke to you
about. I knew this connection was under consideration by Elmur, but the
engagement did not exist a few hours ago, and the present moment is
precisely the most inopportune which could be chosen for its
announcement, hence it follows that someone has forced Elmur's hand, or
that he is forcing the hand of someone, it may be Mdlle. Selpdorf's.'
'Will it be announcedpublicly? The Duke, for example.'
'It is known already to half-a-dozen; what can they do? I had it
from Blivinski, the little Russian attaché, as a secret. Russia
is, like nature herself, the vast reservoir of all secrets; and not one
is allowed to escape, except for a purpose. Yet I wonder how it will
end. Look at her! How brilliant she is. But rouge on the cheek of a
woman who habitually uses none means, in all casestrouble,' said
Counsellor, as he moved off.
CHAPTER XII. ANTHONY UNZIAR.
No one could have gathered, from the quiet aspect of Rallywood's
tall, soldierly figure, that a whirl of emotion was passing through his
brain. Yet above all rose one dominant sensationa vast relief.
Counsellor shared his own opinion with regard to Valerie. Her daring
words to the Duke had no serious meaning; they were only the natural
echo of a girl's preference for a young and beautiful woman to preside
over the Court, rather than the bloated rake who now lolled uneasily in
the chair before him. He recalled the forlorn little smile with which
she had accepted von Elmur's lover-like protestations at Madame de
Sagan's doorway. Its forlornness had been lost upon Unziar, who had
drawn but one merciless conclusion from the little scene. Close on the
heels of these reflections a vivid recollection rose before Rallywood's
mind of the first night he had met her. The lights and music of the
grand salon of Sagan died away, and he was standing again on the ridge
below the Hôtel du Chancelier, looking out over the glimmering lamps of
Révonde, dominated, as always, by the regnant red eye of the Guards'
Dome, and he felt once more that strange new warmth and thrill in his
veins which, at the time, he had believed to be born of an opening
career beset with danger and difficulty. To-night, however, he judged
more clearly; he knew that his dull life had been rekindled, and his
ambitions had taken fresh fire from the dark starlit eyes Valerie
Selpdorf had raised to his in the Counsellor's ante-room two months
Rallywood started. The Duke made him a sign to approach. Then,
rising from his chair, he took the young man's arm, and leaning heavily
upon it, moved towards the card-room, meeting Unziar with Mdlle.
Selpdorf on the way.
'Hey, Mademoiselle Valerie,' he stopped abruptly, 'would you teach
my Guards treason?'
'To teach your Highness's Guards treason is impossible!' replied
Valerie, with a slight lifting of her proud head.
'The influence of a beautiful woman has no limit,' retorted the
Valerie's red lips trembled.
'Generations have already proved the fidelity of the Selpdorfs has
also no limit. But I beg you to accept an apology for my foolish
'But such words from a Selpdorf!'
'We have always been loyal, sire.'
The Duke shook his head sadly.
'But the world changeswhat has been is not. And the first reason
now-a-days why a thing should no longer be, is the fact that once it
Valerie was almost as tall as the Duke himself, and she looked level
into his weary eyes.
'Have we changed with the world, sire?'
'Notyet,' replied the Duke bitterly; then, struck, as it seemed,
by the intrinsic spirit of the young imperial face gazing into his own,
he added, 'Though you tempt a man to believe in you, Mademoiselle!'
'I say this before your Highness and these gentlemen of your Guard,'
Valerie said, her eyes flashing. 'May the Selpdorf, who ceases to be
true to your Highness and to Maäsau, die!'
In after time events brought back the vehement words to the minds of
the three who heard them.
'And I say, Amen!' The Duke took her hand and added, 'Which
proves, Valerie, that you have conquered your old friend, Gustave of
Maäsau. Come, Captain Rallywood, half-an-hour's play, and then to bed.'
Valerie looked up at Unziar as she walked beside him.
'And yet you would not believe me?'
'Come!' was Unziar's reply.
She laid her hand within his arm and passed silently through the
reception rooms beside him.
She felt that the time had come when Unziar could no more be put off
by the little wiles and evasions a woman employs who has nothing to
give to the man who loves her but a definite answer. Two luxurious
chairs stood ready for occupants in the nook to which he led her, but
he had no thought to give to conventionalities. He stood before her
keen and white, and desperate with doubt.
'Valerie, what does all this mean?'
Though only a girl in years, Valerie was a woman in experience.
Experience, not gained altogether at first hand, be it understood, but
such as a clever woman easily gathers from the lives of those about
her. As the motherless daughter of M. Selpdorf, she had had exceptional
opportunities. Thrown into the midst of a brilliant but vicious
society, her eyes had seen more of the bare under-texture of life than
was perhaps desirable; she had looked upon the shift and drift of
things political with an ever-present knowledge that there danger
lurked and waited; she had learned the uses of reserve, and something
of the art of resource; and, above all, her womanly perceptions had
taken on a strange edge of sensitive power, due to her father's quaint
methods of pointing out to her the difference between the seeming and
the true. By reason of this premature insight into the motives and
stress of human existence she gained in safety and strength as her
father desired; but on the other hand, she had lost the sense of happy
irresponsibility that goes so far towards making up one of the sweetest
essentials of youth. Luckily there is one thing which can never be
quite destroyed at secondhandthe romance and illusions that beguile
boyhood and girlhood, and the liability to be so beguiled still lived
in Valerie's strong and vivid nature.
'Shall I swear that every word I spoke to the Duke just now is
true?' she asked coldly. 'Although, of course, even that would not
'No, I suppose not,' he said drearily. 'You spoke openly of your
hope to be maid of honour to Madame de Sagan when she became Duchess of
Maäsauwhich can only mean one thing. Rallywood heard and told me
'You discussed me with Captain Rallywood?' she flashed out.
Unziar's glance darkened again with a new suspicion.
'Should you object?' he asked.
'As it happens, I should, particularly.'
He bit savagely at his moustache.
'What is wrong with Rallywood?'
'He is an Englishman. Besides, I do not care to be discussed amongst
the men of the Guard!'
'How like a woman you put me off! I did not discuss you with
Rallywood, of course, as you very well know. I asked him the single
question as to what had actually been said. I knew he would not lie to
'The Guard keep their falsehoods for outsiders, I suppose?'
Unziar liked this harping upon Rallywood less and less. He moved
'But that is not all. You have admitted that you are going to marry
Elmur. That also signifiessomething.'
'Whatever it signifies, it does not signify that I am disloyal to
'You have seen for yourself that there is a change here at Sagan,'
argued Unziar. 'No German has ever been welcome here before. We can but
guess at treason.'
'Hush! it cannot be that, since my father has knowledge of it.'
This was an entirely unexpected development of the difficulty.
Unziar felt the check, and even in his turbulence he changed his venue.
'It may be solet that rest; but nothing can alter me in the belief
that Elmur is the natural enemy of the State. Valerie, he can give you
many things that I cannot offer you. But my loveNo, hear me for once.
You must hear me, Valerie! You know that I have loved you always, I
don't remember when it beganI was a boy. But Elmur at the best must
have loved others before you. Whereas II have thought of no one else
all my life!'
'Why, I have heard differently, Anthony,' she interposed, with a
smile that was a vain effort to temper the intensity of his mood.
He stamped with his spurred heel upon a fallen flower.
'I don't pretend to be a saint; I am what other men are. You see I
do not deceive you even now. But give me the chance and I will prove to
you that the Unziars can be faithful. Valerie, give me your love! For
God's sake don't say you cannot! Give me your love!'
It almost shocked her to see Unziarcold and cynical
Unziarpleading as a man pleads for escape from death, with a terrible
'Wait! Tell me this. Did you choose von Elmur?'
'Myweit has nothing to do with that kind of thing.'
'I thought not! Then you will sacrifice yourself for an idea? You
'Anthony, you are very good to meyou have always been. I know that
if I felt for you as you wish me to feel, then you could help me. But I
don't! As long as I can remember you have been my playfellow, my
brother; but not morenever this! Anthony, I love you, but notbut
notYou have been so honest with me that whatever it costs I must be
honest with you. I can never do as you wish!'
Unziar listened rather to some far-off tide of thought, as it
seemed, than to her wordsthoughts that flowed in upon him and
'You do not love me; Elmur is beside the markbeside the question
of lovealtogether. Then, Valerie, whom do you love?'
She gave him a frightened glance, and drew in her breath as one who
parries a blow.
'There is no one'; then, added more firmly, 'You are mistakenthere
is no one.'
'If that be so,' responded the young man sullenly, 'then my chance
is as good as another's. I shall not give up hope! Remember that. But I
have thought that Rallywood'
Valerie recalled the coldness of the averted grey eyes, and the
memory stung her.
'He hates me,' she replied with a haughty smile, 'as I hate him!'
'Rallywood hates you?' he repeated in angry astonishment.
'Yes; but whatever he may feel for me I return in full!'
'Valerie, then you love no one? Say it again.'
The jingle of spur and scabbard came through the flower-hung spaces,
and Rallywood passed within a few feet of them. He was whistling softly
as he walked along with an easy swing of his strong shoulders.
'I love' Valerie began, and stopped short, for Rallywood turned
in his stride as if he felt their eyes upon him.
'His Highness has sent for you, Unziar,' he said.
CHAPTER XIII. LOVE IN TWO SHADES.
All the next morning the snow fell persistently, and Sagan might
have been, as far as appearances went, a castle built in the air.
Above, below, around, the snow eddied like a fairy torrent, beating
against the solid walls and curling in curious ringed swirls about its
buttresses as water beats about a rock in midstream.
But the dominant grey of the outside world cast no appreciable
reflection on the spirits of Madame de Sagan's guests, with whom gaiety
and wild devices for killing time were necessary and familiar things.
But to Valerie the same suggestion of fear and unrest that had
oppressed her on the previous evening still held its silent sway over
the place. She stood at the broad window of the main staircase watching
the swift atoms of snow drift past, each one by itself a mere melting
point, but, in their millions, mighty. She shivered and looked round
with an odd sense of apprehension, as if the vague blind storm outside
had its counterpart in a vague blind danger within.
A tall man came leaping up the staircase. He stopped beside her. She
looked up at him, her deep eyes were full of some disturbing thought.
'Captain Rallywood, will you tell Major Counsellor from me,' she
began at once, in a low, hurried voice, 'that, in spite of what he has
heard of me, he must still believe Maäsau is the dearest thing on earth
to me. Tell him that, if needful, I am ready to prove it with my life!
He may make quite sure I meant all I said to him yesterday.'
Rallywood stood silent. The passion of her voice and speech echoed
in her own ears and suddenly seemed all excessive and uncalled for; a
blushhalf anger, half shamerushed over her face, bringing tears to
her eyes. Why was it decreed that she should always, in some small
foolish way, appear to disadvantage before this wretched Englishman.
'I will tell him,' said Rallywood at last, 'though I cannot
'No, you cannot understand! You are so cold, so self-centred that
the feelings and tumults which trouble most of us appear as weaknesses
to you. Since you cannot understand us, you should not judge us, we
others, who, in our own spasmodic way, love our country as you serve
yourssteadily and with a whole heart.'
Now, John Rallywood was perplexed. He longed to set himself right
with her. Her very accusations, her readiness to find fault, which
might have made matters clear to some men, only disheartened him with a
renewed sense of her dislike.
'You hate my nation,' he said, after a pause of consideration,
'therefore you condemn me, not because of anything I have done, but on
general grounds, putting the worst construction onon everything. I
wonder why you judge me so hardly?'
Valerie laughed, her red lip finely edged with scorn.
'On the contrary, you judge us! Who made you a judge over us? You
regard usyou Englishwith that straight steady look. I suppose you
feel what futile creatures we others are, with our shifting moods and
passions, our little furies and desperations! Do you remember the night
you joined the Guardthe night in the Cloister of St. Anthony? How I
trembled and feared for you, I'she laughed again'I even wanted to
help you! How absurd it all seemed to you, didn't it? I remember you
were very cool and quiet, and I suppose you thought it very
foolishone of those unnecessary, extravagant emotions in which we
inferior races are apt to indulge!'
'Stop!' Rallywood cut her short with a peremptory word, 'I will not
allow you to say such things of yourself norof me!'
Valerie threw back her head with the slight haughty lift he knew so
'You are rather too certain of your own power,' she said.
'You say you remember that night?not so well as I do? You think I
am very sure of myself. And yet I have been mistaken on points that
touch me close. I thought that night when I knew I might never see the
morningI dared to fancy that weyou and Iunderstood each othera
little.' He waited, but Valerie had turned away; her profile looked
exquisite, but cold, against the dark shutter as she watched the
driving snow. 'So I was the fool after all, you see!' he ended lamely.
According to the immemorial fashion of love, they understood and
misunderstood each other alternately playing high and low at every
other moment upon the wide gamut of feeling, touching faint sweet notes
that would echo for ever.
Rallywood's self-control was giving way a little, and she
instinctively felt her power and used it.
'I wonder what you really think of us behind that quiet alertness of
yours,' she said lightly, 'I believe I did imagine Iunderstood you a
little that night; but I imagine it no longer! Perhaps I misjudge you
now, but it cannot matter; you told me once you knew how to wait, and
of course you are certain that all unfair opinions of you must come
right in the end.'
But Rallywood passed over her many sentences to seize the central
idea that appealed to him.
'Yes, I have learned to wait. I told you that everything comes to
him who waits. Unfortunately a proverb is true often, not always. One
thing can never come to me however long I wait. For me there is no
'I don't know what you hope for,' replied the girl, slowly, as if
she were choosing her words; but she hardly knew what she said, she was
lost in a multitude of dreams, and her words but filled in the rare
crevices between them. 'I thought that every man carried his own fate
in his own hand.'
'A man can fight the tangible, but no man can struggle against the
ordinary laws of social life. We may laugh at conventional methods, but
even in Révonde there are some which must be yielded to.'
'I don't think,' said Valerie, 'we yield to many in Révonde.'
Rallywood saw a group of people advancing towards them. Valerie,
with her changes of mood and manner, distracted him, and drove him on
to say what he had resolved never to be tempted into saying.
'I am a soldieronly a soldier; I gain a livelihood, but no more. I
have no luck and no genius. To make a fortune or a name is beyond me.
And without fortune many desirable things are impossible.'
Valerie turned upon him a bewildering smile.
'I shall know for the future, Captain Rallywood, what you are
thinking of. You will be thinking, for all those grave eyes of yours,
of the fortune you cannot make!'
'Not quite that, Mademoiselle,' he answered, 'I shall be thinking of
the girl I cannot win.'
Valerie found herself drawn away from him by the passing group. She
was aware of a warm throb at her heart, she was trembling a little, and
the fear of the morning had temporarily vanished. For no definite
reason which she could afterwards discover, she felt suddenly happy.
By evening the tsa had blown away the snow-clouds for the
time, and a thin moon gleamed fitfully over the wide expanses of white.
Remote, muffled in leagues of snow, and alive with hungry passions and
unscrupulous strength, the Castle of Sagan did not, on that wild
January night, offer desirable housing to the Grand Duke of Maäsau. He
had yet some thirty hours to spend as his cousin's guest before he
could return to his capital without showing suspicion or giving
offence. A hundred times he wished himself back in his great palace by
the river bank where the squadrons of the Guard lay within call. But he
bore himself well notwithstanding, and although, on the plea of chill
and fatigue, he kept to his rooms more than usual, his short
appearances in public left in one sense nothing to be desired. He did
not carry himself as a man in mortal anxiety, but was as dissatisfied,
as discourteous, and as disagreeable as it was his custom to be.
Late in the afternoon Madame de Sagan retired to take some rest
before dinner. Wrapped in lace and silk, she was standing in front of
her mirror with her women about her, when the Count entered. At his
first imperious word the attendants vanished.
Isolde continued to stare into the glass like one fascinated, for in
it she not only saw the reflection of her own slender white-clad
figure, but over her shoulder the fierce face she dreaded.
For a long minute husband and wife remained reading each other's
faces in the looking-glass.
She had seen aversion and menace in the Count's lowering face many a
time before, and was at length beginning to believe the almost
impossible fact to be true, that a man lived who hated her, over whom
her beauty had no power.
The young Countess shivered in mortal terror.
'Simon,' she wailed suddenly, 'you are changed,you do not love me
A broad smile flitted across the savage old face.
'You are a fool, but a very pretty fool, Isolde, and for that a man
might forgive you many things. Now listen to me. After you retire to
your rooms for the night, keep close to them, no matter what you hear.
There may be a disturbance, and you had better have Selpdorf's daughter
to keep you company.' His expression changed as he spoke of Valerie.
'There is danger,' she gasped, 'danger. What is it, oh, tell me what
it is!' Her first fear leaping towards Rallywood.
He stared into her shrinking eyes.
'If you ever hope to be Duchess of Maäsau,' he answered
significantly, 'leave Valerie's lovers, Unziar and the Englishman, to
take care of themselves. Keep your tongue silent! Remember!' He caught
her slender wrist roughly as he spoke and pressed it to enforce the
The Countess made no reply, but her fingers closed in upon her
'Come, give me a kiss, and promise me to do so much towards making
yourself a Grand Duchess.' He brushed her lips carelessly with his
The caress brought no response; but as he bent over her she
whispered, 'Have mercy on me Simon!' (it was a prayer born rather of
some vague instinct of danger than any defined fear); 'don't kill me!'
He put his thick arm round her and shook her impatiently.
'Kill you, Isolde? Are you mad? You are far more useful to me living
than dead. Get rid of your silly fears, and remembersilence!'
Then putting her back on the couch with more gentleness than might
have been expected of him, he walked out of the room. For a little
while she sat listening, then opened her eyes and glanced about her.
Yes, he was gone. But it was characteristic of her that at such a time
her chief and overpowering thought was Valerie as a rival! 'Valerie's
lovers, Unziar and the Englishman!' A score of trifles rushed back upon
her memory; but no it could not be. It was one of the Count's amiable
ways to suggest causes of jealousy to his wife. He meant nothing, for
what could he know? The soothing conviction grew upon her that the
taunt was thrown at her for what it was worth. Oh, how she hated
Saganhated his bloodshot, beast's eyes, his mocking laugh, his cruel
hands, his crueller gibes!
She pushed back the lace from her wrist and saw the thin parallels
of bruised flesh his fingers had leftentirely unaware, it must be
ownedupon her whiteness. Ah, she would show these to Rallywoodas a
proof that she was in danger, that she actually needed his protection,
and so win him from his post, which to-night would become the post of
All her little vain soul thrilled within her at the possibility of
triumphof defeating the honour of such a manof winning him from his
watch for love's sakeof overcoming the scruples that had for so long
a time stood out against her wiles.
And yet in her poor way she loved himloved him as she would
probably never love another. Some women are made in that way, they take
pride in the loftiness of the height from which they drag men down.
Then he must be saved, she told herself, at all costs saved! He would
live to thank her yet. A thought of him lying dead in his blood by the
dark embrasure that masked the entrance to the royal apartments flashed
across her mind. She stretched out her arms with a soft call like a
'Oh, love, love, I will save you!'
CHAPTER XIV. HALF A PROMISE.
Ten minutes later a big emblazoned footman brought Rallywood a
summons from the Countess, as he stood talking to Counsellor and the
As he moved away Blivinski placed a bony impressive finger on
'If he were not English, you could not trust him,' he said
Counsellor raised his bushy eyebrows, with a humorous glance. 'We
have had our day.'
'Ah, my friend, you know most things. Also I know a very few,'
Blivinski said significantly, 'but with your nation patriotism is not a
virtue, it is a part of your physical system. You sacrifice all for
your country, not because it is right to do so, but simply because you
cannot help it; the good God made you so. Therefore this young man, in
face of the supreme temptation of youth, may be trusted. I speak of
these things now because you will remember, in good time, that those
who are against you will not dare to injure'he removed the finger to
his own breast'us also!'
And the little silent swarthy man slipped away almost before
Counsellor realised that Russia, the mighty, had given him a pledge
which might prove of immense value in the uncertain future.
Rallywood found the young Countess crouching and shivering near a
wood fire. She was magnificently dressed in rich tones of royal purple,
that accentuated her delicate fairness and beauty, and a small diadem
of amethysts shone in the pale gold of her hair.
She took no notice of his entrance, though she was acutely conscious
that his eyes were on her. She was hungry of his gaze, and she believed
in the power of her own loveliness.
'Jack,' she said at last, 'come here. I wonder now why I sent for
you, but I am miserable.'
She looked up at him heavy-lidded.
There was concern in his voice as he answered her.
'If I told you all,' she went on, 'you would not believe me. I am
nowto-nightin great danger.'
'In danger? Here? where you are surrounded by friends,' replied
Rallywood, beginning to wish himself well out of it. Had there been no
Valerie Selpdorf, or even had he not uttered those impulsive words
which, to his mind, changed his position from the indefinite to the
definite, the history of his life might have been turned into another
channel that evening. As it was, though Valerie remained free as the
wind, he felt himself to be in some vague manner bound to her.
'Nonsense! You know how useless all these friends would be if things
went wrong with me. They flatter the Countess of Sagan, but not one of
them would make the smallest sacrifice for Isolde, the woman. I do not
know if you, even you, are my friend. We talked about itlong ago. But
I have not put you to the test, and II often wonder if our friendship
still remains alive.'
'I am as I always was,' he parried.
'I wonder if that is true?' She raised her drooping face again. 'I
don't know how to believe you. Why will you keep up this pretence
ofof reserve between us? You never tell me your troubles, and I
suppose you have them, like the rest of us. We should be quite old
friends now, and yet you are always so'she hesitated for a
word'courteous. Are you ever angry, for example?'
'But not with me, and I have given you cause many a time. If you
would be angry with me even once, Jack, causelessly angry, then I
should know I had a friend to whom I could go if I were in troublein
such trouble as I am to-night!'
'If there is anything I can do for you'
The quiet tone annoyed her. She rose quickly.
'Ififif! Any man could help me whocared.'
'I do care.'
'I wonder,' she said wistfully, 'how much you mean of what you say.
I have no standard to judge you by, because you are not quite like
other men. But I owe you my life, and I sometimes think it gives me a
claim on you.'
'I can never pretend you owe me anything: you were quite safe; no
accident could have happened. You are far too good a horsewoman, though
you were nervous for the moment.' He spoke with a careless
affectionateness, for the young Countess in her helpless beauty
appealed to him.
'Look at me!' she said tragically. 'Do I seem hateful?'
'You are a young queen,' he paused, and added, 'a young queenseen
in a dream! You are too ethereal to be of common earth.'
'I am of common earth like any other woman,' she answered with a
forlorn little smile; 'I can be afraid andI can love!'
'Afraid? In your own Castle, among your own people?'
'Yes, Jack. Don't think I am silly! It is quite true. You say you
have not changed, that you are still my friend. You are my only one
then! I must look to you for protection; I have no one else in the
whole world.' She was very near him, her little cold hand had caught
his in her vehemence; she looked apprehensively behind her, and then
spoke low in his ear. 'I am afraid of my husband. He wishes to be rid
of meI have seen it in his eyes. Sagan will kill me! Do you remember
the night of the ball, when I gave you the firefly? Have you kept it, I
wonder? I said mine would be a short life. It is true. Sagan is tired
of me, and IJack, Iloathe him!'
'But' Rallywood began.
'You don't believe me? See this!' she pushed back a band of black
velvet from her arm, and held it out to him. This touched him more than
all; the slender blue-veined wrist with the marks of those cruel
fingers clasped about it moved him far more than the temptations of her
delicate beauty. With an almost involuntary desire to comfort her as
one might comfort and please a child, he bent above her hand and kissed
Isolde clung to him with a quick sob of relief.
'Promise me, Jack, that you will save me! When danger threatens me I
will send for you. You will come? You promise?'
But Rallywood was not in the least in love with Madame de Sagan for
all his pity. He was again master of himself, and an odd suspicion
flashed across him.
'I feel certain you are mistaken,' he repeated; 'but you have
another friend who can be of more service than I just now, Mademoiselle
The Countess sank back into her chair.
'What do you know of Valerie?' she asked coldly.
'Very little, but'
'Thanks! I know her better than you do. I don't choose that she
should amuse herself at my expense.
As it is, she has brought most of this trouble upon me.'
Rallywood may have been sagacious enough on some points, but on this
particular one he was a fool. He was not at all aware that Madame de
Sagan with her innocent eyes and small brain was sifting him.
'But she meant to defend you!' he exclaimed.
She laughed softly, and if a woman could have compassed the ruin of
a man by means of love and temptation, Rallywood was lost from that
hour, for the rivalry of Valerie Selpdorf added the one incentive of
bitter resolve that drives such slight-brained jealous souls to the
last limit of reckless endeavour.
'When I find myself in danger I will remind you of the firefly, and
you will come then, Jack!' she said, 'you promise?'
'When you want me, I will comeas soon as I may.'
'But that is only half a promise.'
'Yes,' he replied, 'but you know the other half is pledged already.'
She sprang up with clenched hands.
'What? To Valerie? Already?'
'No, Madame, to the Duke.'
'Ah, the Duke is well served!' she said sadly as he bowed at the
door, but she laughed to herself when it closed behind him, 'Yet you
will come when I send for you, Jack!'
CHAPTER XV. COLENDORP.
As the night deepened the wind again rose, its many voices howled
about the Castle and compelled the ear to listen. It volleyed yelling
through the ravines, it roared among the lean pine-trees like the surf
on an open coast, it swept round the Castle walls in long-drawn
infuriated screaming that seemed charged with echoes of wild pain and
remoteness and fear. The narrow moon had long since sunk behind the
rack of storm-driven clouds, and left the mountains steeped in a
tumultuous milk-coloured darkness of snow and wind.
Within the massive walls the reception rooms were closed and empty
at last; the guests had separated and night had taken possession, but
Valerie, alone in her room and oppressed by the vague infection of
wakefulness and fear, moved from window to window listening to the wild
noises that were abroad, and trying to reason herself out of the
conviction of coming danger, which held her from sleep.
She had thrown back the curtains from the windows. Her room occupied
an exposed corner of the Castle tower, which stood on the edge of the
gorge through which the Kofn chafed its way to the plains below the
Ford. A narrow strip of ground scarcely six feet in width alone
separated the wall of the tower from the precipice that fell sheer away
to the foaming water far below.
She tried to read but could not fix her attention. Her heart seemed
in her ears and answered to every sound.
And all the while in the scattered rooms and shadowy passages the
drama which involved her life was being slowly played out. Below on the
ground floor of the tower Elmur and Sagan sat together.
'By the way, my dear Count, have you ever thought of the possibility
of Captain Colendorp's refusal to see things in our light?' Elmur was
asking, after an interval filled in by the noises of wind and water
which could not be shut out of the Castle on such a night.
The Count looked up and scowled.
'Leave the management of the affair to me,' he said. 'Unless I were
sure of my man, I should not be such a fool as to bring him here to
listen to what I shall say to him to-night;' then he added as an
afterthought, 'When once we have begun, Baron von Elmur, there can be
no going back. Remember that! The game must now be played to the end,
whatever that end is.'
Elmur pondered. Sagan was a bad tool, at once stubborn and
secretive, cunning enough to recognise and to resent handling,
thickheaded and vain enough to blunder ruinously. And Elmur found at
the last and most important moment that for some unexplained reason he
had lost the whip-hand of Count Simon.
Up to this interview, by alternate effrontery and flattery, he had
kept his place in the Count's confidence, and exerted a guiding and
restraining influence over him. Now Sagan held him at arm's length, and
was plainly determined to act according to his own judgment without
consulting the German. The mischief had, of course, been done by the
news of Elmur's engagement to Selpdorf's daughter, for Sagan, like
others of his limited mental development, was sensitively suspicious.
Hence the bond between the two men was weak, inasmuch as neither liked
nor trusted the other, but it was strong, since both were tenacious and
both had staked all the future on the chance of forcing a new régime
upon Maäsau the Free. At this crisis, however, Elmur would gladly have
hedged or masked his position, for he knew himself to be overmuch at
the mercy of the equivocal tact and discretion of his ungovernable
'I cannot help thinking that my presence at the outset will make
Captain Colendorp shy at any proposition whatever,' said Elmur again.
'Do you want to draw back? You don't wish to appear in the
matteris that it? By St. Anthony, von Elmur, you showed me the road
that has brought me to this pass and you will have to stand by me now!
Also you are wrong about Colendorp. When he sees for himself that I
have Germany behind me, it will decide his doubtsif he has any, which
I don't expect. I have read the man. He is soured and ill-conditioned,
the readiest stuff to make a rebel and a traitor of!'
What more Elmur might have urged was cut short by the entrance of
Colendorp. He had left his sword outside.
He saluted Sagan in his stiff punctilious way, his dark and sallow
'I am glad to see you, Captain Colendorp,' said Sagan with some
constraint. Even he felt the check of the man's iron impassiveness.
'You sent for me, my lord,' returned Colendorp, as one who hints
that time is short and he would be through with business.
'Take a cigar,' said the Count, pushing a box across the table, and
also pouring out a generous glass of the liqueur, for the manufacture
of which Maäsau is famousthe golden glittering poison known as
Colendorp accepted both in silence, but took a seat with a certain
slow unwillingness that was suggestive. Colendorp was at the best
unpliable. His manner put an edge on Sagan's temper. He plunged into
'Yes, I sent for you, Captain Colendorp, because I believe you to be
a faithful Maäsaun. You are not one of those blind optimists who say
because Maäsau has been swinging so long between ruin and extravagance
that she must swing on so for ever. It is not possible!'
'I am sorry to hear that, my lord.'
'No, I say it is not possible. Changes must be made. In these days
of big armaments and growing kingdoms, Maäsau can no longer stand
alone. She must secure an ally, a friend powerful enough to back her up
against all comersa great nation who will make the cause of Maäsau's
freedom her own, and help us to preserve the traditions of our
Elmur half expected the soldier to point this speech for himself by
a glance towards the representative of Germany, but Colendorp sat
unresponsive and black-browed, and gave no sign.
'There is a party among us who advise us to wait until we are forced
into a corner, and then to make choice of such an ally. But reasonable
men know that a bargain one is driven to make must inevitably be a bad
bargain. The only hope for Maäsau is to move at once and to move boldly
before it is too late, and while we are still in a position to choose
for ourselves under the conditions which suit us best and will best
conduce to the preservation of our freedom.'
Colendorp listened without any change of expression.
'What is your opinion, Captain Colendorp?' asked Sagan at last.
'The only difficulty would be to find a nation sufficiently
disinterested for our purpose, my lord,' replied Colendorp
'I have found one.' Sagan indicated Elmur, but the Guardsman still
kept his gaze on the Count. 'Only one small obstacle stands in the way
of carrying out our plansthe plans, recollect, of the wisest and most
patriotic of our countrymen. I need not name it.'
Colendorp apparently thought for a moment.
'M. Selpdorf?' he said.
'But not at all! Selpdorf is one of the foremost of my advisers.'
Colendorp shook his head as if no other name occurred to him; Sagan
bent across the table, the knotted hand on which he leaned twitching
'You do not speak, but you know the truth. And you know thethe
Colendorp's silence was telling on Sagan's self-control.
'Yes, the Duke!' he reiterated. 'He has never given a thought to the
welfare of Maäsau. Its revenues are his necessity, that is all! If the
ruler will not take the interests of the country into consideration,
his people must supply his place. Do not misunderstand my words!' for
at length a blacker frown passed over the iron face of the listener.
'My meaning is not to hurt the Duke at all; our one wish is to urge
upon him the only course left for the safety of the country. To that
end we must all combine. So long as his Highness believes he can depend
on his Guard to back him, he will hold out against even the most
reasonable demands. Therefore the Guard must be with us.'
'I am not the colonel of the Guard,' said Colendorp quietly. Sagan
took this in some form as an agreement with his views, some surrender
on the part of the Guardsman, and he broke out into a flood of speech.
'No, but Wallenloup! A pig-headed old fool, who would never be
brought to see an inch either side of his oath of allegiance, but would
rush blindly on before the Duke to his death, and to the destruction of
Maäsauto anywhere! Colendorp, Ulm being away, you are the senior
officer, failing Wallenloup. It is not outside the possibilities of the
game that you would find yourself in command of the Guard when all was
said and done. The highest ambition of a Maäsaun is yours if you will
promise us your help in this struggle! A struggle, mind you, not of
selfish motives nor for self-aggrandisement, but for Maäsau the Free!'
He stuttered in his eagerness and then stood waiting for the reply.
'And if the Duke does not consent toanychanges?' asked Colendorp
At this juncture Elmur interposed.
'The Count will ex'
But Sagan was rushing his fences now like a vicious horse. Having
once given voice to his ambitions he had no longer the power to rein in
'By your leave, Baron von Elmur, I will speak! Colendorp, you are a
man to whom the world may yet give much. Your one chance is being
offered to youhereto-night. The men will follow you if you give the
word, and Wallenloup, well, Wallenloup must upon that occasion absent
himself. Use your influence with the other officers. They are not to be
bribed, of course, but in the cause of the country each man would find
his services well rewarded. Think before you answer me, man! Duke
Gustave is sunk in pleasure and has sold the country over and over
again to the highest bidder, and only got out of his share of the
bargain by Selpdorf's infernal cleverness. This time we will play an
open game. With Germany to stand by us, we have nothing to fear!'
'And if His Highness will not consent to these changes?' again
'Then'Elmur laid a hand on the old man's shoulder, but Sagan shook
it off'then, Captain Colendorp, he must goto make room for another
who can better fill his place! Just as Wallenloup must go to give room
to another and less obstructive chief.'
Colendorp's dark eyes glared straight in front of him. Had it been
AdironAdiron, as true a man, would have feigned agreement and blown
the plot afterwards. But never Colendorp! He was narrow-minded, poor,
embittered, scenting insult in every careless word, proud, loyal,
desperate. Mentally his vision was limited; he could see but one thing
at a time, but he saw it very large.
Sagan's treachery passed by him in that moment of mad feeling. He
felt and felt only the deadly affront offered to him of all the
officers of the Guardthe coarse bribe of the colonelcy dangled before
his starving nose, for he alone of all the Guard had been deemed
corruptible! The thought held more than the bitterness of death.
He looked from wall to wall, and knew himself an unarmed man, so he
made ready to die as a soldier and a gentleman. But first he must clear
his tarnished honourtarnished with the foul proposal made to him by
Count Simon of Sagan. He had passed through life a cold and, in his own
sense of the word, an honourable man, disliked, feared and avoided
outside his own most intimate circle. He had been driven by the
irresistible destiny of character to live a lonely man, and now the
strength of a lonely man was histhe strength that can make an unknown
death a glory for the sake of honour, not honours. So he spoke.
'You were very good, Count Sagan, to make choice of me before all
the Guard forthis!' he said in his cold voice; 'may I ask why you so
'Because I can read a man.'
'And you read me so? Then hear me. I take the place you have given
me. I take my place as the least staunch of all the Guard. You have
told me so much, unmasked so clearly what you intend to do, that,
unless I fall in with your wishes, I can never hope to leave this room
except feet foremost. I say this. Now see me act as the least staunch
of the Guard!'
Without warning he leaped upon Sagan, hurling him backwards with the
force of the sudden impact, and buried his fingers in the grey
bristling beard. He had but his bare hands with which to slay the enemy
of the Duke, and used them with the strength of envenomed pride. Sagan,
under the iron throttling fingers snatched at his hunting-knife and
stabbed fiercely upwards between the bent arms at the Guardsman's
Inside the room the heavy breathing and struggling of the men on the
floor seemed to Elmur loud enough to alarm the whole Castle, in spite
of the furious screaming of the gale. He sprang to the writhing heap
and tried to pinion Colendorp, but as he touched him the wounded man
fell back. In a moment Sagan was on his feet calling on Elmur to bring
the lamp. He seized Colendorp under the arm and shoved him roughly
towards the wall, where throwing back a curtain he opened a door and
thrust the tottering figure before him down a short flight of steps.
Then another door was opened and the tsa swept in with a wild
yell, for a moment holding upright the failing man who staggered out on
to the snowy terrace, making a tragic centre to the flickering path of
light cast by the lamp in Elmur's hand.
For an instant Colendorp stood swaying on the yielding snow by the
edge of the precipice, and as he swayed his voice climbed through his
'Maäsau the Free! Long live the Duke! The Duke's man ... I ...
Colendorp of ...'
The wind had lulled for a second. Again the mad blast caught and
wrenched Colendorp's figure, the snow gave between his feet, and he
plunged forward heavily into the gorge of the Kofn river. The broken
snow, whirled up in a great cloud by the eddying gusts, shone in the
lamplight for a second like a wild toss of spray, then settled again
upon the narrow terrace, obliterating all marks there. A window
overhead was pushed open, but already the band of light upon the snow
was gone, and nothing remained for Valerie's eyes but a chaos of gloom.
Yet she had seen something. Dimly through the double glass she had
discerned the green and gold of the Guard on the swaying figure before
it dropped away for ever into the night.
CHAPTER XVI. 'WITH YOUR LIPS TO THE
A few minutes later a knocking came to Madame de Sagan's door. It
was low and urgent. She ran to open it, her heart in her throat. A hand
pushed her aside with the rough careless force of full control. She
recoiled with an exclamation, for a glance showed her that the Count
was in one of his most deadly moods.
'What have you donewhere is Selpdorf's daughter?' he snarled.
As Madame de Sagan shrank from the menacing hand the door opened a
second time, and Valerie herself stumbled in with a bloodless face.
At the sight of the Count, she drew herself together like one who
faces an unexpected peril.
'I apologise for coming, but I am frightened. The storm is dreadful.
So I came to you, Isolde.'
Isolde put out her arms with a sobbing cry.
'I am frightened, too,' she said with a swift resentful glance at
her husband; 'I was coming for you. Stay with me, Valerie; I will not
be left alone!'
Sagan looked from one to the other of the two beautiful faces, and a
sensation of surprised dismay, to which he was a stranger, arose in his
mind. Hitherto women had been to him possessions, not problems. Now a
very ancient truth burst in upon him with all the force of a
revelation. To own a woman is not always to understand her. The
unexpected defiance on his wife's face confounded him.
'Isolde!' he began, stepping towards her.
But the young Countess clung to Valerie.
'Stay with me, Valerie!' she implored. 'I am far more frightened
than you, for I know what there is to fear.'
With a loud curse of bewilderment he strode out, banging the door
behind him. Isolde sprang to it, slipping the bolts with trembling
fingers. Then she threw herself upon a couch and broke into pitiful
Valerie stood looking down at her in an agony of suspense, yet
remembering that self-control is the chief rule of every game.
Presently she put her hand on Isolde's shoulder. The young Countess
started up with a suppressed scream. 'I had forgotten you were there.
Valerie, he will murder me! He hates me! Oh, I have no one to save me!'
Valerie looked round. After the scene she had just witnessed, this
suggestion did not sound so wild as it would have done at another time.
'You are nervous, Isolde; one could fancy anything on such a night,'
she said soothingly.
'Have you lived so long in Maäsau without knowing that here at Sagan
everything is possible? He threatens me, and oh, my God, what shall I
Valerie sat down beside her and put a steady hand upon her arm. She
had her own object in this visit, but it must be approached with
'I am here. I will help you!' she said reassuringly.
Isolde sat up and put her arm round her companion's shoulders.
'I must trust youthoughValerie, there is one person who might
be able to help me to-night,' she whispered close to the girl's ear.
'He might save me. But he must come to meherenow! I dare not leave
this room. Simon' she shivered.
'Who is it?' A new coldness crept into Valerie's voice as she
'Can you not guess? It is Captain Rallywood.'
Valerie had braced herself to meet this, and it only added proof to
her own fears for his safety. Come what might, she would undertake any
message from Isolde to get the opportunity of warning the Duke's guard
of the coming danger, and to tell the fate of that gallant figure
tossing to and fro in the battering rush of the Kofn. She drew herself
away from Isolde's embrace with a shudder.
'What is the matter with you?' Isolde peered up at her with a quick
scrutiny. 'You are shaking all over. Valerie, is it because of him?'
'I am very cold,' returned the girl with a smile. 'I am quite
willing to bringCaptain Rallywood. But where is he?'
'He is on guard in the Duke's ante-room.' She turned her head away.
'Then, Isolde, you know it is impossible! He cannot come!'
'Even if it costs my life?' said the Countess bitterly. 'Oh, how
cheap you hold other people's lives, Valerie! You are a true Maäsaun!'
Valerie thought a moment. The request of Madame de Sagan fell in
with her own plan. It would enable her to solve the doubt that was
agonising her; yet if she found him safe, how could she lend herself to
tempt him to his own dishonour? A cruel question rose within her.
Should she put him to the supreme test of life and lovewould she not
rather know him dead in the cold river, than living and false to her
dim ideal of him?
'There is no time to spare.' Isolde's voice broke in upon her. 'If
you could make him know the danger I stand in, he must come! Remind him
of his promise to me.'
'But if he will not come?' Valerie forced the words.
'Then ask him to give you the cigarette case of Maäsaun
leather-work. That will remind him of many things. But he will come,'
she ended more confidently.
'I am ready. I know the passages are watched. I saw no one, yet I
felt the shadows were full of eyes. Lend me your sable cloak, Isolde;
everyone will recognize that, and with this lace about my head, I shall
be free to go where I please as the Countess Sagan.'
'Valerie'Madame de Sagan held the girl back'listen to me, you
must make him come! I must tell you all. Rallywood is in danger,
nothing can save him unless you separate him from the Duke' she
stopped, panting, then bared her arm. 'Remind him how he promised
mewith his lips upon the hurt! Now go!'
The next second Valerie Selpdorf found herself alone in the dim
corridor, in which the lights burned low. She stood quite still, the
shock of the last sentence 'with his lips upon the hurt' still ringing
in her ears. Rallywood! Rallywood with the clear grey eyes and that
look in them which remained persistently in her memory. Her father had
taught her to suspect the whole world. But she had chosen to think
differently of this man, even when she told herself she hated him.
Different from othersexempt from the universal stain of
hypocrisyone to be trusted, if it were possible to trust any. Then
she turned upon herself. After all had he deceived her, had she not
rather deceived herself? He had spoken openly to her of his despairing
secret, of the woman he could never hope to win. And she had concluded
what? Nothing definite, but there had been a dim thought. Oh, it was
unbearable! But why did she linger to think of this, while Maäsau
itself was in danger?
She hurried along the passages, moving with a soft swiftness of
silken garments, and as she passed the hidden eyes of the watchers
looked out after the muffled figure. Madame de Sagan was free to come
From the head of the great staircase a narrow corridor branched away
to the Duke's quarters. A very dim light shone from the embrasure at
the end as she hurried along and, before she could stop herself, she
ran right into the arms of a tall man who was coming out towards her.
He put her gently back against the wall and looked at her, but the
lace was drawn close about her face.
'I must pass,' she said.
The man's back was to the light, but she knew the shape of the head
'No one can pass, Madame.'
The relief of knowing Rallywood was safe jarred in her mind with the
hideous suspicion that Isolde's allurements had after all conquered his
allegiance to the Duke. He clearly recognised the cloak and believed
her to be the Countess. She would have been more than woman not to take
advantage of the mistake. She bent forward a little.
'Come with me,' she whispered.
'Do you forget your promise?'
'Under the circumstances'he glanced back at the Duke's door'you
know I could make none.'
'But I am in dangerand you promised, surely you promised, with
your lips there!'
Rallywood stared at the shapely hand and firm white wrist thrust out
from the dark sables, with a great leap at his heart. The sight took
'Valerie!' he exclaimed.
CHAPTER XVII. IRIS.
From its beetling crags the Castle of Sagan looked out that night
with many luminous eyes over the crowding black pine woods and away
across the frost-bound, melancholy marshes of the frontier. The renewed
violence of the storm had not abated, and the wind moaned about the old
There was one in Sagan that night to whom the wind had an old yet
new story to tell. The Duke had heard it in his cradle even in the
summer palace where he was born; during later years his dulled senses
paid little heed to that wild singing, and, in truth, passing most of
his life as he now preferred to do in the low-lying sheltered palace at
Révonde, where the state apartments were well within the towering mass
of masonry, and protected on the river side by the Cloister of St.
Anthony, he seldom heard its voice. So that to-night, while the tsa
whimpered and clamoured about the exposed buttresses and towers of
Sagan, it sounded to his ears like the calling of some long-dead
friend, a wraith belonging to his lost youth. Sleeping memories awoke
and troubled him; he fancied he had read a vague menace in Count
Simon's bloodshot eyes, and every little incident that had taken place
since his arrival now assumed strange and malign meanings.
He looked around the great vaulted chamber oppressed by a
presentiment of danger, and tried to still his jangled nerves. For with
the instinct of failing mastership he resolved to think out some scheme
of defence and a spontaneous policy, by which he might not only defeat
his enemies, but outwit and overwhelm his rebellious servants.
Selpdorfwas he also false and self-seeking? For more years than he
cared to remember the Duke had forced this man to enact the part of
virtual ruler of the State, always believing in his loyaltyif not to
Gustave of Maäsau, at least to Maäsau the Free. Any dimmest doubt of
Selpdorf's patriotism had never during all that period entered into the
soddened brain of his master. But to-night, as the Duke recalled the
half-jesting proposal to disband the Guard, made by the Chancellor on
the day of the review, and added to that hint the pregnant significance
of Valerie's speech, he realised that evil days were overtaking him,
that his most trusted minister had been bid for and bought by his foes,
and that it now behoved him to strike out a personal policy, whereby he
should secure strong friends and supporters to aid him in the coming
struggle against these traitors.
He had retired to his room at an early hour under the plea of
weariness. He was, as a matter of fact, worn out by the flood of fears
and anxieties that Valerie's one reckless sentence had let loose upon
him. So long was it since he had placed these weightier matters of
diplomacy and government in other hands, that the renewed sense of
responsibility and the imminent need for action seemed to be crushing
in his brain. But the instinct of self-preservation, backed by the one
kingly attribute left himlove of his countrystrengthened him to
attempt a final effort to combat the overpowering odds which he felt
rather than knew to be against him.
Tossed and harried by a hundred terrifying thoughts, the
self-enfeebled creature broke at length into that dreadful crying, the
scanty painful tears, the aching sobs, which is the weeping of age or
of an exhausted constitution.
When the paroxysm was over he lay back in his bed, absolutely
drained of strength and of all power to think longer. Whether he dozed
or not he scarcely knew, but after an interval he seemed to awake as if
from sleep with his thoughts once more under control.
Oh, that he had his Guard about him! The Guard, always reliable and
full of the old grim dash and power which had been the firm foundation
of the ducal throne from the beginning. Amongst their ranks was no
slackening of discipline, of devotion, or of that splendid recklessness
which had made them what they werethe premier Garde du Corps of
Europe! In spirit he yearned once more to see their plumes and gleaming
equipment come dancing down the sunny wind, and to hear the grand
thunder of their charge, which but the other day he had been
half-inclined to call stale and unprofitable. In this solitary hour,
when the night-lamps flickered on the massive walls and the sense of
loneliness grew upon him till he sickened at the unceasing cry of the
pitiless wind, he realised that the Guard was the sole bulwark now as
always of Maäsau. He shivered down among the soft coverings and
Unziar and Rallywood with two troopers watched in the guard-room,
through which lay the only approach to his sleeping chamber. Unziar,
could Unziar be trusted? He had heard something of Unziar and that
handsome vixen of Selpdorf's. Then Colendorpah, there was no doubt
there! Dark and resentful, his poverty and his pride were the bye-words
of the barracks; he, whatever the temptation, would never fall from
There remained Rallywood. He, too, was to be depended upon, the Duke
decided quickly, though for no special reason but that he had taken
some vague fancy to the Englishman's bronzed face and swinging stride.
Yet Simon was powerful and unscrupulous; how could this handful of men
He sprang up in his bed as the door opened and a man stood on the
'Sire, there is treason! Colendorp has been murdered.'
'Is it you, Unziar?' The Duke's voice came strangely from his
pillows. 'Send for the whole escort of the Guard from their quarters.'
'Impossible, sire! The corridors are held by Count Sagan's men.
Mademoiselle Selpdorf has brought the news.'
'What! You told me not two hours ago she was engaged to von Elmur.
She is the price of Selpdorf's treason.'
Unziar stepped nearer.
'Mademoiselle Selpdorf has already risked her life to warn us that
we are in danger. I'd stake my soul she is loyal.'
'Good indeed, Anthony! I'd sooner have your honour than your soul.
But go, in the name of the Virgin, and since the corridors are closed
to the men of my Guard, send the girl for Major Counsellor. She can but
Unziar saluted and hurried back to the ante-room where Valerie and
Rallywood were waiting. In spite of his personal horror at the thought
of her danger, he was well aware that only by Valerie's aid could they
hope to reach Counsellor.
Valerie listened to the Duke's order, then wrapping the lace as
before about her head turned to Rallywood. He accompanied her through
the guard-room and some little way along the passage. It seemed as if
he could not let her go forth on this perilous enterprise.
'For God's sake, take care of yourself!' he said. 'If anything were
to happen to you.'
The prolonged excitement of events, the sense of responsibility and
danger, the exaltation of such a moment must have reacted on Valerie.
Whether prompted by some instinct of coquetry, or betrayed into a touch
of real feeling, or perhaps moved by the knowledge that death stood
close beside them both, she drew her hand from his arm and raising her
face asked in her soft voice:
'Do you remember what you said to me onceon the night of the
He saw the deep eyes upraised to his, though their meaning in that
dim place he could not be sure of, but a rush of quick memories came
She gave a little excited laugh.
'Then expect me!' she said. And she was gone.
When Valerie returned to Madame de Sagan half an hour later she was
still white and breathless. Isolde, in a fever of impatient terror,
caught her by the arm.
'Where is he? When is he coming! Valerie'
Valerie made a supreme effort to control herself.
'He is on guard.'
'Yes, I know. I know! But he is coming!'
'It was impossible! He could not leave His Highness. Isolde, you
would not wish it!'
'What does anything matter unless it's found out?' cried Isolde,
giving in her adherence to a common creed. 'Did you give him all my
message? Did you make him understand? Then, when all else failed, you
asked him for the cigarette case? That would remind him' Madame de
Sagan spoke in growing agitation.
Valerie looked into her wild eyes.
'I forgot that,' she admitted.
Isolde shook the arm she held.
'You have killed him! Valerie, you have been jealous of me, and by
your jealousy you have killed him! Had you spoken as I told you he
would be here nowand safe! As it is he is lost!' she flung herself
down among the cushions.
Her slender hands were clenched, her turquoise eyes stared wide and
blind from her white face. She seemed to hold her breath as if waiting
for the inevitable blow to fall. Valerie, greatly moved, knelt down
'What does it matter if we die to-night or a month hence?' Isolde
spoke in a low voice; her heart had unconsciously been gathering up
bitterness against Valerie, and she had no longer the strength to
conceal it under this unbearable strain. 'Valerie, you have stooped to
meannessyou who have so scorned meanness in others. You knew long ago
whatRallywood's love was to me. You have known my life, and much that
I have to bear. Amongst all who pretend to love me there is not one
like him, not one! He would be always kind and true. I think these are
English qualities, for in another way there is Major Counsellor'
the weary voice broke off as if too tired for more.
It was well Counsellor never heard that little expression of opinion
concerning himself; it might have proved the thorn in a somewhat
callous diplomatic memory.
'You have betrayed me! You!' she repeated with a bitter laugh; then,
springing up, she ran towards the spot where her sables lay heaped upon
the floor just as Valerie had dropped them from her shoulders.
'It may be too late, but I will go myself. I will save him if I
Valerie wrapped the cloak around her.
'Isolde, I will go with you.'
'You!' Isolde turned with a startling look of dislike and suspicion.
'No, I hate you, and I choose to go alone!'
Valerie drew back and Madame de Sagan passed her by and flung wide
the door. As she did so a confused noise could be heard, and the two
women stood listening while a distant hubbub of voices rose louder,
then a pistol shot followed by others echoed down the passages.
'He is dead! By your fault!'
Isolde turned upon Valerie with a wild gesture, as if she would have
Valerie drew back.
'If you really loved him, Isolde, you would rather he
wastherewith his honourthanherewithout it,' she said.
CHAPTER XVIII. THE SWORD OF UNZIAR.
The Castle of Sagan may be roughly divided into three irregular
parts. The massive old keep dominates all, standing high and black
against the skyline; then the varied cluster of buildings immediately
around its foot contain the principal reception and living rooms, and
lowest of all the courtyards, kitchens, stables and offices. To the
right of the keep a wing, curved like the fluke of an anchor, slopes
down to a lower level. This portion is fairly modern and arranged for
the housing of guests. The Countess's own apartments were situated at
the junction of this wing with the main building, while the quarters
assigned by ancient custom to the use of the reigning Duke during his
visits to Sagan occupies the whole upper floor of an old and bulky
annex that juts out from the base of the keep.
The passage leading to this annex branched from the head of the
grand staircase. Upon the landing rows of heavily armed men were
As Elmur and Sagan stood together waiting at the mouth of the Duke's
corridor, the Count turned to his companion.
'Have you proposals ready to lay before his Highness?' he demanded.
'In form,' returned Elmur, touching his pocket.
'That is well, for you are about to present them. The Duke lies
practically in my power at this moment,' Count Simon continued grimly.
'Gustave is a coward. The way to his presence lies open, and I think
you will agree with me that his Highness of Maäsau will consent to most
things rather than look the fear of death in the eyes!'
'There must be no violence,' Elmur began.
'That shall be exactly as I choose,' Sagan swore with an oath. 'By
the good God we can't afford scruples to-night!'
After a short interval he went on.
'Once we have Gustave's word, we are safe. He is too proud to own
that he gave it unwillingly. Besides, so long as we win what matter the
means we use? Is your conscience so ticklish, Baron?'
'Politics have their exigencies and are inevitably rigorous, my
lord,' answered Elmur slowly. 'To be successful means absolution. In
the political courts where our actions will be judged they make no
provision for failure. Success is recognised and mercifully considered,
while failure, my lord, not being in any sense public, falls to the
level of ordinary crime, and is judged by the standard applied to
ordinary crime. Thus you will see that I risk as much in my place as
you risk in yours.' Perhaps this was as near an approach to a threat as
had ever been uttered in the ears of the fierce old Count. With a
violent movement, he stepped forward.
'There is no hindrance in our path that cannot be cut through with a
sword, and, by my soul, if we find one I will cut it!' Then, looking
round, he gave the word to advance, and entered the darkness of the
A turn brought them in sight of Unziar's tall figure, standing sword
in hand on the lowest step of the flight that led up to the embrasure
covering the door leading to the royal apartments.
Count Simon pushed Elmur ahead of him while he fell back to whisper
a few words to the man immediately behind; then he took precedence once
'I request an audience of His Highness, Lieutenant Unziar,' he said.
'Certainly, my lord, if you will give me the password of the night,'
Sagan's answer was the countersign he had given to his own following
in the Castle.
Unziar shook his head.
'You cannot pass, my lord.'
'Whatnot see my guest and cousin in my own house?'
'His Highness gave orders that none should be allowed to enter
without giving the countersign chosen by himself.'
Sagan considered a second or two.
'True, I had forgotten. Come here, Unziar; your trooper there has
long ears; I must speak with you. Stand back, men!' he said roughly.
'Baron von Elmur, pray remain, and you, Hern,' addressing the man
behind. Unziar still stood upon the step.
'Come here! I tell you, man, I must see the Duke to-nightat once,'
continued Sagan approaching Unziar. 'What the devil are you afraid of?'
Unziar stepped down as the Count pulled him confidentially nearer to
himself and towards the narrow entry. But while the Count whispered, a
hand suddenly darted over his shoulder and seized Unziar by the throat,
at the same moment when a well-directed kick from Sagan, delivered
cunningly behind the knees, brought the young man to the ground. He
lunged at Sagan as he fell with his sword, then it was knocked from his
hand as his assailants swarmed over him, but not before he had fired
his revolver into Hern's body. The man fell across him, but Unziar
again swinging clear rose on his elbow and sent a second shot into the
face nearest him. Meantime the trooper at the door was making a gallant
fight, but the odds were too great. The struggle was soon over, the
trooper's dead body flung aside, and Unziar, frantic and helpless, was
tied hand and foot and left upon the bloody flooring of the outer
passage while the Count's people forced the door.
This was a matter of some difficulty, but it was presently
accomplished. The besieging party pushed through into the guard-room,
which seemed brilliantly lit in comparison with the gloom outside.
Most of the furniture and the screen had been utilised by Rallywood
to make a barricade in front of the Duke's ante-room. A single trooper
with his musket levelled knelt behind it.
Sagan, who held a handkerchief to his cheek, spoke loudly.
'Do you see who I am? Clear the way!'
At this Rallywood stepped into view from behind the screen.
'The man acts under orders from his Highness, my lord,' he said.
Sagan stared at Rallywood with haughty scorn.
'It is of the utmost importance that I should see his Highness at
once. Inform his Highness that I urgently beg to be granted an
'With pleasure, my lord,' returned Rallywood formally, 'if you will
be good enough to give me the password, without which it is quite
impossible for anyone to have an audience to-night. Our orders were
very distinct on that point.'
'His Highness could not foresee that I'the Count dwelt upon the
pronoun imperiously'should desire one. Stand back, Captain Rallywood!
I must pass and am willing to take the responsibility.'
'It is quite impossible, my lord,' repeated Rallywood without
'You force me to extreme measures,' cried Sagan. 'Remove this man,'
he ordered, 'as quietly as may be. We must not alarm his Highness.'
There was a clatter of arms as Sagan's followers advanced. The
foremost of them ran in upon Rallywood, the swords met, Rallywood's
sleeve was ripped from wrist to elbow, but his sword blade passed
through his opponent's shoulder. The man sank down in a sitting
posture, coughing oddly; his head dropped forward.
'Shoot them down!' shouted Sagan, but the words were still on his
lips when the door behind John Rallywood slowly opened and a figure
stood beside him.
Its appearance checked the rising struggle, for the figure was the
figure of the Grand Duke of Maäsau. He was wrapped in his hooded robe
of green velvet, and the five points of the golden star of Maäsau
blazed upon his breast.
'Cousin, I would speak with you, but these fools stopped me,'
The Duke turned his shadowed face and spoke to Rallywood in a low
'His Highness begs you, my lord, to withdraw your men,' said
Sagan, scowling, ordered his men to the further end of the long
room. Meantime Rallywood, with evident unwillingness, pulled away a
portion of the barricade. Through this the Duke advanced with a stately
deliberation, and walked slowly up to the Count.
With a sudden hoarse shout of triumph Sagan flung his great arms
about the Duke's body.
'By St. Anthony, Gustave, no one shall stop our conversation now!'
The Duke made no attempt to release himself from the rough hug that
held him prisoner. He merely raised his hood with one hand, so that
Sagan, his coarse mouth still wide in laughter, could stare into the
countenance not four inches from his own.
Consternation and fury swept over the Count's features. From under
the hood a red challenging face, a big white moustache, and
shaggy-browed humorous eyes met his gaze. The sight held him gaping.
But only for a second. Then he whipped out his pistol.
'An English plot, by Heaven!'
But Rallywood was quicker still. A sharp knock on the Count's wrist
sent the bullet into the ceiling.
'Have a care, my lord,' Counsellor said authoritatively. 'You cannot
do as you will even in this lonely and remote room in your lonely
Castle of Sagan, since England and' with a bow towards
Elmur'Germany are looking on.'
Sagan still threatened Counsellor with the revolver.
'Can you see any reason why I should not kill you as a traitor to my
country at this moment, Major Counsellor?' he shouted.
'Only one, my lord. Russia also, in the person of M. Blivinski,
knows where I am, and is awaiting my return to arrange for our journey
to Révondewhich we propose to make in each other's company,' replied
Sagan burst into his habitual storm of curses.
'Your nation have well been called perfidious, Major Counsellor. A
stab in the back'
'Why no, my lord,' said Counsellor; 'our greatest vice is admittedly
that we are always well in front!'
'Come, Baron, have you nothing to say to this?' Sagan asked, ready
to spring at his friends in his torment of baffled rage.
'Nothing, my lord. You will remember I am here to-night entirely at
Sagan's laugh was not altogether a pleasant one.
'Put it how you like, Monsieur, I should not have been here either
but for you!'
Elmur stood with folded arms. To stoop to recriminations before the
common enemy! The cause was lost for the moment, but there was the
future, and in that future the fool who figured as his ally should
become his slave! Germany had, after all, gained something in gaining
the knowledge of British designs afoot.
'Then his Highness refuses to see me, although he can give audience
toyou?' the Count at length broke the silence.
'On the contrary, my lord, he looks forward to the pleasure of
meeting you to-morrow. That is the message with which I am charged.
Captain Rallywood, his Highness wishes Lieutenant Unziar to attend
Count Simon made a sign to his men, and a moment later Unziar
stalked into the room, maddened by the outrage put upon him.
'My sword, Count Sagan,' he said huskily.
'Your sword! Is it lost?' returned the Count with an angry sneer.
'In my day it was not the custom of the guard to lose their swords!'
'When I saw it last it was sticking in your cheek, my lord,' said
the young man with a studied insolence, pointing to a bleeding cut on
the Count's face.
One of the men, coming forward, laid the sword upon the top of the
barricade. Unziar grasped it and thrust it back into the scabbard.
'It was lost by treachery!' he flung out. 'And I leave it to these
gentlemen to say where the shame lies!'
With that he leaped the barricade and passed into the Duke's room.
CHAPTER XIX. IN DIPLOMATIC
It was late on the following morning before the Castle was awake. It
almost seemed as if the guests had waited for the appearance of the
reassuring daylight before they ventured from their rooms. Four huge
fires roared in the four great chimneys round the vast hall where the
breakfast was in progress.
Sagan, in his weather-stained hunting suit and leggings, stood at
the upper window overlooking the courtyard where the huntsmen and gaunt
dogs, the famous Sagan boarhounds, were already collected, in
anticipation of the boar-hunt arranged to take place on that day. The
sky had cleared, but the tsa raged and howled after its perennial
custom about the Castle.
Madame de Sagan, entering later, cast a nervous glance at the grim
red face and bull-neck, and then fell into a laughing conversation with
the people round her, although her heart felt cold. She was far from
being a brave woman, although she joined so gaily in the merry talk
passing from side to side; but her marvellous self-control was no more
than the self-control common to women of her social standing. It is
secondary strength, not innate but acquired, of which the finest
instance is a matter of history, and was witnessed within the walls of
the Conciergerie during the Reign of Terror, where men and women
unflinchingly carried on a hollow semblance of the joyous comedy of
life till they mounted laughing into the tumbrils.
Although nothing was known about the events of the previous night
except by those who took part in them, a sense of excitement pervaded
the party. The strained relations existing between the Duke and his
possible successor gave rise to an amount of vague expectation and
conjecture. Anything might happen with such dangerous elements present
in the atmosphere.
Therefore when Rallywood, booted and spurred, passed up the hall,
his entrance attracted every eye. He walked straight up to the Count at
his distant window and saluting, spoke for perhaps a minute in a low
At the first sentence Sagan swung round, his lowering face growing
darker as he listened. Then, advancing to the head of the table
prepared for the entertainment of the Duke, he called the attention of
all present by striking it loudly with the riding-whip he carried.
An instant hush settled upon the room. Sagan glared round with
waiting eyes, and in the pause the tsa broke in a crash upon the Castle
front with the pebble-shifting sound of a breaker.
'I have to beg the favour of your attention for a moment,' the
Count's words rang out. 'Captain Rallywood reports that an officer of
his Highness's Guard is missingCaptain Colendorp. Inquiries have been
made but he cannot be found. It seems that he was last seen leaving the
billiard-room. If anyone in the hall can give us further information,
will they be good enough to do so?'
Valerie raised her eyes to Rallywood, who stood behind the Count. As
he met them the young man's stern face softened suddenly.
M. Blivinski, who happened to be sitting beside her, caught the
exchange of looks, and for a moment was puzzled. Selpdorf's daughter?
Well, well, the English are a wonderful people, he said to himself.
Neither subtle nor gifted, but lucky. Lucky enough to give the devil
odds and beat him! Here was Selpdorf laying his plans deeply and with
consummate skill, while this pretty clever daughter of his was ready to
give him away because a heavy dragoon of the favoured race smiled at
her across a breakfast table. Pah! The ways of Providence are
inscrutable; it remains for mortal men to do what they may to turn them
into more convenient channels.
Then there was Counsellor, whose political importance could not be
denied. Yet he did the bluff thing bluffly and said the obvious thing
obviously, and blundered on from one great city to another, but
blundered triumphantly! Still there were compensations. The good God
had given the Russian craft and a silent tongue, and a facility for
telling a lie seasonably.
Elmur was by a fraction of a second too late to see what the Russian
had seen. Valerie was very white, but she was talking indifferently to
M. Blivinski with her eyes fixed upon her plate. It was some time
before she seemed to grow conscious of Elmur's gaze; a slight fleck of
colour showed and paled in her cheeks, and then at length her long
lashes fluttered up and the German perceived in the darkness of her
eyes a trace of unshed tears.
'Mademoiselle, you are tired,' he said with solicitude.
'Yes,' she answered smiling. 'But we are going back to Révonde in a
day or two, and then I will wipe out the remembrance of everything that
has happened at Sagan from my mind forever!'
Elmur was about to reply when Sagan spoke again.
'No one appears to have heard or seen anything of Captain Colendorp.
We will have the dogs out, Captain Rallywood. Pray tell his Highness
that in the course of an hour or two we hope to be able to tell him
where our man has got to. His absence is doubtless due to some trifling
As Rallywood retired Sagan cast a comprehensive glance around the
tables, and noted Counsellor's absence with a sinister satisfaction.
All the morning he had been speculating upon the course Counsellor
would pursue after the rencontre of the previous night. Most likely
disappear from the Castle. He would not dare to brazen it out. Sagan
argued that the British envoy could not be very sure of his position
yet. What had he proposed to the Duke? And how had the Duke answered
him? What was to be the result of the visit, or would there be any?
Selpdorf held the Duke's confidence. He must checkmate England and
openly throw his influence into the German scale. No half courses could
any longer avail in Maäsau.
Here his reflections were interrupted, for Counsellor's big burly
figure was bending over Madame de Sagan's chair, before he accepted the
seat at her side with the assured manner of a favored guest.
Even the Russian attaché blinked. Ah, these islanders! What next?
As an immediate result Count Sagan was forced to accept the
situation thrust upon him.
'Have you slept well, Major?' he inquired sardonically. 'No bad
'I dream seldomand I make it a point in the morning to forget bad
dreams if I have had any,' replied Counsellor, with a good-humored
raising of his big eyebrows.
'That is wise,' said Sagan, 'for dreams and schemes of the night
rarely have solid foundations.'
'So they say, my lord, but I do not trouble myself about these
things. A man of my age is forced to consecrate his best energies to
The Duke had decided upon returning to Révonde during the forenoon,
but most of the guests were to remain for the projected boar-hunt. The
hunting-party had already started when Blivinski and Counsellor drove
out of the Castle courtyard on their way to the nearest railway
station, which lay under the mountains some miles away.
The tsa had blown the snow into heavy drifts, leaving the
roads and other exposed places bare and almost clean-swept. Near the
station they passed a squadron of the Guard sent by Wallenloup to
escort the Duke back to the capital.
The pair in the carriage talked little, but when the jingling of
accoutrements had died away Blivinski said in an emotionless tone:
'You met with Count Sagan last night thenin your dreams?'
'Yes, or Duke Gustave would have been over the border by this
'And history goes to prove that reigning sovereigns are fragile
warethey cannot be borrowed without danger.'
'You allude to Bulgaria?' Blivinski asked promptly, with an air of
'Why, for the sake of argument, Alexander can stand as a case in
'IfI say ifwe borrowed him, we also returned him.'
Counsellor's reply was characteristic, and justified his companion's
opinion of his race.
'Damagedso they say.'
Blivinski considered the dreary landscape.
'We must not believe all we hear. In diplomatic relations, my
friend, ethics cease to exist. Diplomacy is after all a simple
gameeven elementarya magnificent beggar-my-neighbour which we
continue to play into eternity.'
'But there are rules ... even in beggar-my-neighbour,' said the
Blivinski kicked the rug softly from his feet as the carriage drew
'One rule, only one,' he remarked; 'Britain loves to feign the
Pharisee. We smilewe othersbecause we understand that her rule and
ours is after all the sameself-interest.'
'If that be the case we come back to the law of the Beast,' said the
The Russian put his gloved hand upon the open door and looked back
over his shoulder at Counsellor.
'Always, my dear friend, by very many turningsbut always.'
CHAPTER XX. UNDER THE PINES.
It was a day that would be dark an hour before its time. Rallywood
rode out under the gate of the Castle of Sagan as the last trooper
clattered down the rocky roadway in the rear of the Duke's carriage,
for upon the arrival of the squadron from Révonde he had received
orders to remain behind, the search for Colendorp having so far proved
Rallywood rode slowly down the shoulder of the mountain spur. Under
the gray light of the afternoon the limitless swamps stretching to the
skyline looked cold and naked under their drifted snow. From the sky
big with storm overhead, to the scanty grass that showed by the wayside
blackened by the rigours of the winter, the whole aspect of the
frontier was ominous and forbidding. Before he plunged into the lower
ravines Rallywood turned to look back at the angry towers of Sagan. He
was thinking of Colendorp. Under their shadow that lonely and reckless
life had come to its close. Why or by whose hand might never be made
clear, but Rallywood's mind had worked down to the conviction that the
Count might be able to tell the story.
Well, it was good to know that Colendorp had not died in vain;
indirectly but none the less surely his death had brought about the
defeat of Sagan's plot.
Then he rode away into the heart of the winter woods, where the
branches groaned and thrashed under the driving wind. Through gloomy
and pine-choked gorges he wound his way to the riverside, for he had
decided that if Colendorp had met his death in the river, his body
would in time be beached near Kofn Ford.
The sodden dreary paths beside the river, familiar as they were to
Rallywood, now looked strange to him. He seemed to be revisiting them
after a long absence. Had they worn the same menace in the past? How
had he endured to ride for those six heavy years under the hills and up
and down through the marshes by the black river, one day like the last,
without a purpose or an interest beyond the action of the hour? He
lifted his head to the gathering storm, thanking Heaven that phase of
life, or rather that long stagnation, could never come again!
The horrible emptiness of the place appalled him. Only a few
block-houses dotted the miles of waste. In summer, when the pools
yellowed over with flowering plants, rare wood-pigeons eked out a
scanty subsistence in the thickets, and there was little else the
seasons round. Only the patrols, and the trains and the smugglers, with
a boar or two in the forests beside the Kofn, and the ragged wolf-packs
that go howling by the guard-houses at the first powdering of snow.
From the past his mind naturally ran on to thoughts of
Valeriethoughts that were hopeless and happy at the same time. He
could never win her, yet those few dim moments in the corridor were his
own, and whatever the future brought to her, would she ever quite
Presently as he rode along he came in sight of the block-house by
the Ford from which he had gone out to Révonde to meet hergone
unknowingly! It lay in the dip about a mile ahead. If he were to return
to-morrow to the narrow quarters he had occupied for so many months,
the very memory of her would glorify the wooden walls, and even the old
barren monotony of life with the frontier patrol be chequered and
cheered by the knowledge that somewhere under the same skies Valerie
Selpdorf lived and smiled.
The beggars of lovesuch as Rallywoodare apt to believe that in
the mere fact of owning remembrance, they own wealth which can never be
expended. But the day comes soon when we know ourselves poor
indeedwhen we find the comfort of memory wearing thin, when the soul
aches for a presence beyond reach of the hands, for a voice grown too
dear to forget, that must for ever escape our ears. Eheu! the bitter
lesson of vain desire.
Between Rallywood and the Ford the Kofn widened out into a big
bay-like reach, upon the further shore of which the trees gathered
thickly, their bare branches overhanging the water. On the nearer side
ragged-headed pines stood in sparse groups, and amongst their lofty
upright stems Rallywood presently became aware that a strange scene was
A small party of people were moving about the low-lying ground where
the snow still rested. On that bleak site at the foot of an outstanding
pine two or three men with picks and shovels were hurriedly digging in
the frost-bound earth. Close beside them what looked like a long
military cloak flung at full length lay upon the ground.
The meaning of the incident was manifest. The clouding sky, the
river, the broken pine trees were looking on at a lonely funeral,
darkened by a suggestive furtiveness and haste.
Rallywood put spurs to his horse and galloped down towards the
burial party. Another rider coming at speed across the open sheered off
to intercept him. It was easy to recognise Sagan by his bulk and the
imperious gesture of the hand with which he signed to the younger man
to stop. But Rallywood rode the harder. There was a shout from Sagan,
and the men ran towards the black object on the snow, and by the time
Rallywood reached them the dead body was already laid in its grave.
At the same moment Sagan on the other side of the grave pulled up
his big horse on its haunches. The foresters stood rigid, waiting on
the Count's wishes. He looked over their heads at Rallywood.
'Colendorp has been found,' he said with his most surly bearing.
Rallywood glanced down into the shallow grave; a lump of frosty
earth slipped from the rugged heap above and settled into a crevice of
the cloak that covered Colendorp.
'My men are burying him.'
'By your orders, my lord?'
'By my orders. Can you suggest a better use to make of a dead man?'
'No, my lord, but a better manner of burial.'
'Dismount and see for yourself.'
Rallywood swung off the saddle, and giving his horse to one of the
foresters stooped and threw back the covering from the dead man's face
and breast. His dead fierce eyes stared upward, his wet hair was
already frozen to his brow, and a black wound gaped open at his throat.
Rallywood gazed at the harsh features, which, but for their livid
colour, were little altered by death. The tsa moaned across the
river and a few large flakes of snow came floating down.
'Are you satisfied now?'
Rallywood stood up and faced the Count.
'How did he die?'
'You can see that. Suicide as plain as a knife can write it.'
'I do not think so,' said Rallywood slowly.
The Count's horse plunged under the punishing spurs.
'Captain Rallywood, may I ask what you hope to gain by making a
scandal in the Guard?' he asked.
'Justice, perhaps. Colendorp had no reason to take his life, my
'You will not find many to agree with you. The man was always
ill-conditioned. He had debts and the pride of the devil. His affairs
came to an impossible pass, I conclude. In any case a man has a right
to his own secrets.'
'Yes, his affairs came to an impossible pass, perhaps. For the rest,
this seems to me less like Colendorp's secret than the secret of some
other man.' Rallywood met the red eye full of smouldering wrath.
'Pardon me, my lord, but in the name of the Guard, I protest against
burial of Captain Colendorp in this place.'
'I have given my orders,' answered Sagan. 'The Guard must consider
their reputation. We have had too many scandals already, and no one
will thank you for dragging a fresh one into Révonde for public
Sagan was amazed at his own moderation in arguing the question at
all. He looked to see it have its due effect upon the Englishman. But
Rallywood stood unmoved and stubborn beside the grave.
'We have murder here!' The words fell like an accusation.
Rallywood's eyes were alight now. It took little penetration to
picture how Colendorp had met his death. Round the grave, Sagan's horse
with its heavy smoking quarters trampled and fretted under the
remorseless hand upon the curb. The Count could bear no more
opposition. His fury overcame him. Roaring an oath he slashed at
Rallywood with his riding whip.
'By St. Anthony, sir, you forget there is room in that grave for
two,' he shouted. 'You try me too faryour infernal officiousnessgo!
It is useless to oppose my wishes here.' Which was obvious. The
foresters, lithe and strong as panthers, waited only the orders of
their master. They needed but a word, and would as lief have buried two
dead men as one in the grave under the torn pines. You may find the
same type in the mountains of Austria, where a poaching affray means a
vendetta, and the game laws are framed on corresponding principles.
'I see I can do nothing now,' said Rallywood, remounting in his
leisurely way. 'The Guard must deal with the affair.'
But Sagan had another word to say to him.
'And I also, Captain Rallywood, shall know how to deal with you. Do
not forget that! Your conduct cannot be overlooked. You will find that
in Maäsau we are still able to get rid of those who cater for a cheap
notoriety. We shall know how to deal with you! I am the colonel of the
Guard. Are you aware that it is in my power to break you? Aye, like
that!' he smashed his riding-whip across his knee as he spoke, and
flinging away the pieces, he added, 'And by the powers above us, I
Rallywood saluted and rode away. At once the foresters fell to work
feverishly to fill in the earth over Colendorp's body.
Once more through the falling snow Rallywood looked back. Sagan's
great horse stood across the low mound of the finished grave.
CHAPTER XXI. LOVE'S BEGGAR.
A threat from Count Simon of Sagan was not to be lightly regarded at
any time, but within the boundaries of his own estates it appreciably
discounted the chances of life. Therefore Rallywood, instead of
returning to the Castle, headed for the block-house by the Ford. The
incident which had just taken place probably meant the closing of his
career in the army of Maäsau. Personal power survived in its full
plenitude in the little state, which had never made any pretence of
setting up a representative government; the Maäsaun people were as mute
as they had been in the dark ages and appeared content to remain so.
The future which lay before Rallywood on that winter evening was not
enlivening. Less than three months ago he would have been half amused
at such a conclusion to his military life as offering an answer to a
perplexed question. But since then much had happened. That ill-luck
should overtake him when hope was at its keenest, and when his
relations both with the Guard and the Duke had reached a promising
point, struck him hard. If he left the Guard he must also leave Maäsau.
He had told himself a hundred times that the daughter of the Chancellor
was far beyond his winning, yet the certainty of losing her, which this
last development of events involved, was the worst blow of all. To
stare an empty future in the face is like looking into expressionless
eyes where no soul can ever come.
He little guessed how close upon him were the critical moments of
life, or how much of emotion and difficulty and strenuous decision were
to be crowded into the next few days. A whirlpool of events was drawing
him to its raging centre. The death and the burial of Colendorp,
Sagan's resentment and his ruthless scheming were all eddies of
circumstance circling inward and carrying him with them to a definite
As he rode on the weather grew rapidly worse, and it soon became
impossible to see more than a few yards ahead. The night was settling
down thick with falling snow, so that Rallywood could only pull up and
listen when a faint noise, that might have been a woman's scream, came
to him through the storm. He shouted in return but there was no answer.
Then out of the gray curtain a sleigh with two maddened horses dashed
across his path and was as suddenly lost to sight. Rallywood had only
time to see a woman clinging to the driver's empty seat and clutching
desperately at the dangling reins.
They passed like a vision, noiseless, swift, and dim, and although
Rallywood followed quickly, he could not find them. The gloom and the
snow had obliterated all trace of the sleigh, and at last Rallywood
himself, well as he knew the country, became bewildered; but luckily
the horse he rode was a charger he had had with him on the Frontier. He
left it to choose its own direction, yet it was long before a blur of
light which he knew to be the open doorway of the block-house grew out
on the shifting darkness.
Within, the men of the patrol were standing in a group talking
eagerly. Flinging himself from his horse, Rallywood entered the house
just as a young cavalry officer came out from the inner room, and,
recognising Rallywood, advanced hurriedly to meet him.
'I say, who do you think we have in there?' he said excitedly.
'Tell me afterwards,' interrupted Rallywood; 'I met a runaway
'They were the horses from the Castle,' interrupted the young man
with a nervous laugh. 'Mademoiselle Selpdorf managed to get hold of the
reins after a bit, otherwise' he snapped his fingers significantly.
'Then shethe lady is safe?'
'Two of them, my dear friend! One is the handsomest girl in Maäsau,
and the other is Madame de Sagan herself! And, by Jove! she's an
infernally pretty woman too. We're in luck, Rallywood! Have you come to
look for them?'
Rallywood hesitated before he replied.
'No, thanks. I must get back to Révonde by the first train, so I
will ride on with the next patrol to the station. Are they hurt?' he
nodded towards the inner room.
'No, but how they escaped the deuce only knows! Madame de Sagan was
insensible when we found them.' He dropped his voice. 'By the way, she
has been saying some queer things! She declares the driver lashed up
the horses and purposely threw himself off the sleigh when they were on
the slope of the pine wood just above the Ingern precipice. She swears
he meant to kill them!'
'She was frightened. That's all.'
'It was about a certainty they'd be dashed to pieces. And look
here' the young fellow looked oddly at Rallywood, 'she hinted that
'Nonsense!' Rallywood forced a laugh. 'She was badly frightened, I
'I'll take my oath there's something in it though! She refuses to
let us take her back to the Castle to-night.'
'What have you given themtea or anything?'
'Faith, no! I made them each take a nip of bizuttefar
better, too. But we'll have some tea made now if you think they would
'Of course. It will give them something to do. By the way, you might
as well ask them if they would see me.'
On second thought and in view of the Countess's refusal to go back
to Sagan, he felt he must offer his assistance.
'Yes, ask them if they will see me now,' he continued, looking at
his watch; 'I have not much time to spare.'
The next moment Isolde's high sweet voice could be heard distinctly
through the open door.
'Captain Rallywood! Pray tell him we should like to see him.'
Madame de Sagan was lying on a narrow camp bed supported by wraps
and pillows, a brilliant red spot on each cheek, and her eyes darker
than ordinary under the influence of the alternate fright and
stimulation of the last two hours. She waited till the door was shut,
then she put out both hands to Rallywood.
'Thank Heaven, we are safe and together again, Jack! Come here! I
want to know that you are alive and this is not all a dream,' she began
impulsively, yet behind the impulse lay a calculated design. She owed
her life to Valerie's courage, but that weighed as nothing in
comparison with the knowledge that in some indefinite manner the girl
stood between Rallywood and herself, that Rallywood for some reason
held Valerie in special regard.
Rallywood bowed, still standing by the door.
'Thank Heaven you are safe, Madame,' he said. 'I saw you somewhere
this side of the pine woods, but lost you in the mist.'
'Oh, I did not see you! I saw nothing after that murderer leaped
off. I had a horrible instant during which I imagined myself swinging
between the gorge and the skyafter that I knew no more!' exclaimed
Isolde, a sort of complacency mixing with her agitation. 'They tell me
that Valerie was very brave and that she saved our lives, but for me
these heroisms are impossible!'
She glanced at Rallywood, secure in his approval, but he had turned
to Valerie, who was sitting in a low wooden chair by the stove with her
back to the room.
'It was magnificent, Mademoiselle!' he exclaimed.
'There was nothing at all magnificent about it,' she said coldly.
'Self-preservation drives one to do what one can; it is only by chance
that one happens to do the right thing.'
Isolde shrugged her shoulders and made a little grimace at
'Do not heed her, Jack. People are always very pleased with
themselves for doing what other people call magnificent. Valerie is
cross. Take this chair by me; I have a very serious quarrel with you.'
All the terror and peril of that dreadful drive had passed from
Madame de Sagan's facile mind. The little rivalries and coquetries of
everyday life occupied her as fully as if her lot contained no
troublous outlook. In this conjunction vanity will often do for a woman
what work does for a man. As for Isolde, the small promptings of a
wounded vanity at once absorbed her.
Very unwillingly Rallywood obeyed. Between those narrow walls one
was within hand-reach of everything in the room, so that although he
was beside the Countess he was not a yard from Mademoiselle Selpdorf.
'So you would not come to me last night?' began Isolde abruptly.
'You cannot be made to understand that we Maäsauns hold human life of
very little account. It is stupid of you, Jack, but you will be forced
to believe it now. Do you know that the driver of the sleigh'
The attempt at assassination was horrible enough in itself, but from
her lips wearing their strange innocent smile he felt he could not
endure the story.
'I have heard of it,' he interposed hastily; 'the Lieutenant told
Isolde leant upon her elbow to look into his face.
'What! You don't believe even now that Simon is trying to rid
himself of me? Valerie, speak! You too refused to believe me last
night. What do you say now?'
'It may have been an accident,' replied Valerie with a tired
'Absurd! But whatever you choose to say, I will not go back to the
Castle! Révonde is perhaps safe'
'My father is there, and you will be safe,' said Valerie in a tone
of quiet certainty.
Isolde laughed scornfully. 'I don't know that; for after all Sagan
is the most powerful man in the state!' she cried, with that perverse
pride in her husband that his daring personality seemed to develop in
all his dependents.
As Valerie made no reply, she harked back to her former subject. 'I
was in danger last night, Jack, yet you would not come to my help. What
excuse can a man offer for such a thing?' her voice and lips had grown
tender in addressing him.
'The Duke, Madame.'
'That for the old Duke!' with a charming gesture of emptying both
her little hands. 'What is he in comparison with me? Jack, you are but
a poor lover after all!'
Rallywood began to see that some motive underlay Isolde's wild talk.
The kind eyes with which he had been watching her changed.
'It is very true,' he said.
'Jack, Jack, how am I to forgive you?' she swept on. 'Yet you
remember when I was a firefly at the palace ball, I told you that like
a firefly my life would be short and merry. My prophecy is coming
An almost imperceptible alteration in the pose of the quiet figure
by the open stove was not lost upon Madame de Sagan.
The sweet treble voice resumed:
'You took a firefly from my fan and told me that one always wanted
the beautiful things to live for ever. Jack, you promised to be my
friend that night. You have not forgotten?'
'I have not forgotten.'
'And the firefly? Have you kept that as carelessly as you have kept
your promise? Where is your cigarette-case? Ah!' a pause, then a cry of
pleasure. 'Valerie, come here! He dropped it into his cigarette-case
and it is here still! If you had only reminded him of that'
Valerie stood up cold and proud, and exceedingly pale.
'It does not matter now,' Isolde replied, taking the glittering atom
from its hiding-place and holding it up on her slender finger to catch
the light, 'since we have met after all. You meant to fail, Valerie!
Were you not ashamed to deceive me last nighteven last night when you
saw I was desperate, and oh, so horribly afraid?'
Rallywood, absorbed in other thoughts, gathered very little of what
was being said. After avoiding Isolde of Sagan with more or less
success on the Frontier, he had, since his stay in Révonde, yielded in
an odd reserved way to her infatuation for him, partly out of a desire
to secure meetings with Mademoiselle Selpdorf, partly from a man's
stupid helplessness under such circumstances. The more chivalrous the
man the more helpless very often. But all this was entirely and for
ever unexplainable to Mademoiselle Selpdorf. He drew a deep breath.
There was nothing for it but to accept the situation.
'We both owe a debt to Mademoiselle Selpdorf for carrying the
message,' he said.
'You are mistaken,' said Valerie, and he winced under the contempt
of her voice. 'I should never have stooped to carry it had I not had a
far different object in view.'
Isolde laughed to a shrill echo. Valerie Selpdorf's haughty spirit
was about to be humbled. She dimly felt why Rallywood held the girl to
be far above the level of ordinary womanhooda cold and unattainable
star. But she should be dragged down from the heights before his eyes.
'I was not so blind as you supposed,' Isolde said aloud, pointing an
accusing finger at Valerie. 'I knew why you went. Shall I tell you,
Rallywood looked up quickly. Colendorp naturally recurred to his
'You could not have known,' Valerie answered.
'But I did, though!' Isolde went on. 'Listen to me, Jack. Do you
know why she undertook my message, and why she forgot its most
important point? My life has come to-night to a crisis; I will not
spare those who have been cruel to me!' Isolde was trembling with
excitement as she leant forward, one hand holding by the table that
stood between her and Valerie, the other clenched in the soft fur of
the rug on her knees. 'Why? Oh, men are so simple! They believe a woman
to be pure and true if she but knows how to temper her coquetries with
a pretence of reserve. Jack, Valerie has been false to me and to you
because she is jealous of me, andbecause she herself loves you!'
Rallywood rose slowly. 'Hush, Madame!'
Valerie stood for one instant scarlet from neck to brow, then the
blood ebbed and left her of a curious deadly pallor like one who has a
mortal wound, but she still faced them.
'Wait, Jack. You shall hear the end now that we have gone so far.'
Isolde laughed again. She was so sure of her lover. 'It is well for the
truth to come out sometimes, you know. Yes, Valerie Selpdorf, the
proud, unapproachable Valerie, loves a captain of the Guard, who'
Rallywood strode across in front of her. After such words of
outrage, his very nearness to Mademoiselle Selpdorf seemed in itself an
insult. With his back to the door he stopped and took up the last
'You have made a strange mistake, Madame,' he said in a low voice
but very clearly. 'On the contrary, it is the captain of the Guard who
has loved Mademoiselle Selpdorf, and even dared to tell her so,
although she had shown him that she regarded him with scorn and
dislike. I hope I may be forgiven for acknowledging this now,
Mademoiselle. And let me say one thing more, that though I have no
hope, though I am one of Love's beggars, the greatest honour of my life
will be that I have loved such a woman!'
The door closed behind him. Isolde sat stupified at the result of
her stratagem, the stratagem by which she had intended to humble
Valerie in the most cruel way a woman can be humbled.
Valerie, sinking down into her chair, burst into an uncontrollable
flood of tears. The secret of her heart, which she had denied to
herself, sprang up at Isolde's words and confronted her, filling her
'Well,' said Isolde after a long pause, 'We love but while we may.
I wish you joy of his constancy. He loved me yesterday.'
Valerie raised her head with the old haughty gesture.
'As for him, Isolde, you compelled him to say it! But he does
notlove me!' Her voice gathered strength. 'As for me, you shall know
the whole truth; you are rightI love him, for he is a most noble
CHAPTER XXII. IN LOVE WITH HONOUR.
Révonde was drenched in a sudden and depressing thaw. From her
crowned ridges down to the swollen river rushing at her feet, she stood
shivering in a robe of clinging mist; yet the day was warm with the raw
deceptive closeness that chills to the bone and awakens the latent
germs of death.
From the Hôtel du Chancelier the winter view over the bright,
beautiful city, glittering only yesterday in its winter bedizenment of
frost and snow, was changed. Streams of dirty water poured from the
roofs, and in the streets the miry snow sluiced slowly downhill or
stuck on passing boot-heels in treacherous pads.
A thaw is demoralising; its penetrative power strikes deeper than
physical malaise. With the average man or woman it damps the
spirits, unstrings the will, and slackens the mental and moral fibre
until resistance of any kind becomes an effort. M. Selpdorf was in the
habit of saying that the rope by which the world swings is made up of
the strands of the days rather than of the fathoms of the years. He
held that no detail was too insignificant to be used as a factor in the
conduct of affairs; thus he habitually took everyday trifles into
account, since small items are apt to add up handsomely in the final
figure of any calculation. A man who says 'No' to-day may be won to
consent to-morrow under altered conditions of weather and diet.
Therefore the Chancellor, who had avoided his daughter since her
return, made choice of a dismal morning to bring his influence to bear
upon her. He relied a good deal upon Valerie's affection for himself,
which was strong and single-hearted. Moreover, he had trained her to
the masculine habit of taking a broad view, a bird's-eye view, of the
whole of a given subject, instead of turning the microscope of her
emotions on any one point, after the manner of women.
Baron von Elmur was no longer young, but he was a personage and a
figure in the political world. By marrying him Valerie would place
herself in a position where her cleverness, her tact, and her beauty
would be offered a wide and splendid field of activity. Besides, so
Selpdorf imagined, she had no more favoured suitor.
Valerie was sweet and proud and sensitive; her father gave her
credit for the two first qualities, but it probably would not have
struck him to use that last term in describing her. He forgot that, in
spite of any amount of masculine training, a woman remains always a
woman at heart. Had Valerie not met Rallywood, she might never have
known as much about herself as she discovered during her visit to
Sagan; as matters stood, however, the weak point in M. Selpdorf's
theory was already under strain. The Chancellor usually breakfasted
alone with his daughter. She was at once spirited and
adaptableadaptable enough to fall in with a man's moods, and spirited
enough to hold independent opinions, an ideal combination in a comrade.
Servants were rigorously excluded from the room during the meal, that
father and daughter might talk freely together.
'I have hardly seen you since you came back, Valerie. I have missed
you,' Selpdorf said as he turned away from the table and lit a
cigarette. 'I am hurried to-day, yet I must speak to you on a subject
that cannot be put off. One incident of your stay at the Castle has
been constantly in my mind.'
The unconcern of her voice struck Selpdorf. Things were either about
to go unexpectedly well or else very badly.
'Baron von Elmur tells me you yielded to my advice and his wishes.
In fact, you consented to an engagement.'
'Oh, yes, for the time being.'
'My dear girl,' he returned gravely, 'it has been publicly
announced. It was announced the same evening, I understand.'
Valerie looked at him with a vague alarm in her eyes.
'Only by an unlucky accident,' she replied. 'It was never intended
to be announced. Baron von Elmur assured me of that.'
'I am sure von Elmur's intentions were most generous, but the fact
remains that it was made public. Valerie, you must be aware of his
feelings towards you?'
Valerie came round the table and sat down beside her father,
slipping her hand caressingly through his arm.
Selpdorf smiled down at her.
'Valerie, I must ask you to consider not only your own share in this
question, but von Elmur's. It compromises Elmur no less than it
'I cannot carry out the engagement,' said the girl quietly.
M. Selpdorf threw a great deal of surprise and disappointment into
'I did not know you were so greatly prejudiced against him. But,
Valerie, we are honourable people, you and I, and we cannot allow Baron
von Elmur to suffer because we unluckily misunderstood one another.'
Valerie grew very still, her fingers pressed upon her father's arm.
'Nothing succeeds like success, and up to the present time von Elmur
has succeeded,' he went on. 'But a failure in a love affair places a
man in an absurd position, and to be laughed at means loss of prestige.
Wherever he is known the story will follow him. He has a brilliant
future before him, a future that it might be the pride of any woman to
share. I think, therefore, you will hesitate before you injure him by
giving way to a girlish and perhaps passing dislike.'
'Father, I cannot!'
Valerie's voice was always low pitched and had the mellow sweetness
peculiar to a contralto. But Selpdorf recognised a note in it now which
showed him that his wishes were very far from fulfilment. She was loyal
and steadfast, qualities that up to the present the Chancellor had
found very admirable in his daughter. It is a rare pleasure for men of
his type to be able to trust their womankind. In the case of his
motherless girl, the Chancellor had enjoyed this pleasure to the full.
To-day for the first time he found himself face to face with the less
convenient side of the girl's character. She was an eminently
reasonable person, and though she could stick to her point she never
did so without cause. Therefore Elmur's affair promised to be awkward.
'What are your reasons?' he asked, after a pause.
'I do notlike Baron von Elmur.'
'That is unfortunate, but your dislike may be overcome when you know
'Is it possible to explain a dislike?' asked Valerie rather
'No, perhaps notfor a woman,' said Selpdorf reflectively, 'but
since there is no other' he waited, then putting his forefinger
under his chin, he raised her face and looked into it. 'Unless indeed
you prefer someone'
Her eyes, which met his with the clear direct glance they had not
inherited from himself, and her pale gravity dismayed him.
'Speak, my dear child. This is a matter very near my heart,' he said
A tremulous smile came to Valerie's lips.
'And near mineor I should not oppose you, father.'
Selpdorf pushed her away from him with a gentle hand.
'You don't know what you are doing,' he said shortly, and gazed out
with undisguised chagrin into the mists that overhung Révonde.
Presently he stood up.
'Well, well; it only goes to prove that the human element is a
variable quantity,' he remarked.
'Am I only a human element in your plans? Am I no more than that to
you?' She put her hands upon his shoulder.
M. Selpdorf drew her nearer and kissed her forehead.
'You know what you are to me, Valerie. I had hoped to join our
interests in all things, but' he turned to the door.
'Father!' the girl cried, 'don't leave me like this. You don't
understand. I only knew by chance. He is too noble to'
'Ah!' Selpdorf recollected Elmur's phrase, 'There is always the
picturesque captain of the Guard.' He paused before speaking. 'Then
this noble individual does not propose to take my daughter from me
altogetheronly to entangle her in a sentimental embarrassment?'
'He made no claim upon me. He was compelled toto speakfor my
'I will not ask for further confidences to-day, Valerie. But think
over the whole of our conversation. I can trust you to be just, even to
Baron von Elmur.'
M. Selpdorf knew that the longer an idea is brooded over, the harder
it becomes to part company with it. Therefore the forenoon was yet
young when von Elmur drove up to the Hôtel du Chancelier in reply to a
summons. The German plot was not yet at an end. By judicious
manipulation, Selpdorf had gleaned a dim knowledge of Counsellor's
errand from the Duke, who was as wax in his supple hands. Counsellor's
return had already become one day overdue, and Selpdorf took advantage
of the delay to infuse doubts and troubled surmises into the Duke's
He had recovered in some measure the royal confidence, and felt
almost certain that if the English proposals could be sufficiently
delayed as to seem to hang fire, he might still be able to persuade his
master to enter into some provisional arrangement with Germany.
'You have not any definite news for me, after all,' Elmur remarked
at the end of ten minutes. 'I begin to believe the Count's declaration
that his Highness can only be driven into a reasonable treaty with us
by' he stopped and sketched rapidly on the paper before him,
'byin factthe flat of the sword, shall we say?'
Selpdorf turned a look on his companion.
'Could you trust Count Simon to put any man, and most of all the one
upon whose property he has a reversionary claim, in fear of death? And
further trust him not to put the threat into execution if provoked by
Elmur shrugged his shoulders.
'We should have Duke Simon to deal with in that case, instead of
M. Selpdorf's round forehead wrinkled slightly. He was apprehensive
of this new temper in Elmur. The Chancellor was too clever to be quite
honest, and too honest to be quite unflinching. A man, in fact, a
little weaker and a little stronger than his fellows. 'Then the Count's
methods still commend themselves to you, the miscarriage of the plan of
Sagan notwithstanding?' he asked with an invidious smile.
'If his Highness can be brought into a complacent frame of mind as
regards our project to-day, and before the English proposals are laid
before him, I think we shall not need the methods of the Count,' Elmur
answered. 'Count Simon has undertaken to help us on the Frontier. Major
Counsellor will be detained under some pretext at Kofn Ford
block-house, and later you, Monsieur, who have so consummate a skill in
covering the mistakes of other people, will set this mistake right by a
graceful apology. The fat Major will arrive in Révonde behind
timethat is all. In the meanwhile, his despatches will be forwarded
to you if you will select a safe person to meet the Count's messenger
beyond the river. Later you can return them to Major Counsellor and
score a point by the act.'
Selpdorf made no comment, but changed the subject. 'I have had a
little talk with my daughter.'
Elmur laid down his pen and his impassive air became more marked
'Am I then to have the pleasure of an interview with Mademoiselle
to-day?' he inquired. 'I hope she exonerates me from any blame in
connection with the announcement made at Sagan?'
'Entirely. But she is inclined to insist that her consent was
'I only desire the opportunity of assuring her of my entire
devotion,' said Elmur.
'I do not fancy that she wrongs you, my dear Baron, by doubting
'There is then a difficulty on the part of Mademoiselle? It is
'It can be overcome. She is still very young, and her imagination
has been touched. The Englishman, Captain Rallywood, has, as you once
remarked the knack of making himself picturesque, which appeals in fact
to the imagination. I am myself sensible of something of the kind when
dealing with him. Valerie imagines him to be quixotic.'
'Has Mademoiselle said this?' Elmur was stiffening at every
sentence. Circumstances and not liking had put these two men on the
same side, and Selpdorf repaid Elmur's sneers at the helplessness of
Maäsau with sympathy for Elmur's position as a lover. No man likes to
be pitied in his love affairs.
'No, no, my good friend, no name was mentioned. It may be more
convenient that I should never know it.'
'Then you think she may be persuaded to alter her decision with
regard to me?'
'I am certain of it.'
'And what do you suggest shall be done with myrival?' asked the
German with a sinister inflection of the voice.
'We must break him.'
'Will it not be possible to work in this small affair with
Counsellor's detention? Send Captain Rallywood to Kofn Ford to
undertake the custody of Major Counsellor. Of course, it will not be
necessary for you to mention the name of the person about whom your
stupid Frontier officials are to make so convenient a mistake. When
Rallywood discovers the identity of his prisoner, I fancy his honour
will find the weight of temptation put upon it too great. He also is in
the English plot, remember, and he will co-operate with his countryman.
He will allow Counsellor to escape. But by that time the Duke must have
closed with another ally.'
Selpdorf comprehended that the German was playing his own game in a
double sense. He was, in fact, serving his own private interests and
also hustling Selpdorf along towards the German goal.
'Then we shall have a court-martial,' said the Chancellor. 'Disgrace
will be more effectual than death itself in this case.'
'Disgrace? ah, yes! But I know what would happen to Captain
Rallywood in my country.' Elmur's eyes had a gleam in them.
'I am not so well informed. Our State is more elastic in its laws
than yours. I cannot foresee what will happen to him in mine!' replied
'There is but one thing that could happen to him under military law
in any country. He will be shot!' said Elmur pleasantly, then added
with a sudden uncontrolled irritation, 'And that too is picturesque.'
The Chancellor spread out his hands.
'What will you, my dear Baron? It is also conclusive. Besides, we
shall have gained our point. The fellow's breach of faith is our point.
Valerie will be disillusioned; for recollect, I pray you, that Valerie
is in love with honour.'
CHAPTER XXIII. HOW RALLYWOOD HAD HIS
Unziar had already departed to the Frontier on a secret errand when
Rallywood started for the Chancellerie through the slush and fog. It
was yet early in the afternoon, and an hour when the Duke sometimes
drove out. As Rallywood trotted along the embankment by the river, he
saw the outriders of the Duke's carriage coming towards him.
Gustave of Maäsau happened to be alone, and, to indulge the humour
of the moment, he beckoned the young man to the side of the carriage
and spoke a few words to him. He took a pleasure in the Englishman's
'I have to thank you for your energy in the matter of Colendorp,' he
began. 'We have, however, decided to leave the whole affair in abeyance
for the present. So M. Selpdorf has sent for you. What for?' he added
with the curiosity of an idle man.
'I do not know, sire.'
'Now I remember, he did mention something aboutwell, well, we have
worse enemies in the State than the Chancellor,' he wandered on, for he
had had an interview during the morning with Selpdorf, and was more
than half persuaded to place himself once more unreservedly under that
able direction. For Selpdorf had almost succeeded in lulling his
suspicions, and in luring him back to the old comfortable habit of
believing in a false peace. He half regretted the doubts he had lately
entertained of his Prime Minister, and was weakly willing to disabuse
the Englishman's mind of prejudice. He did not know that Rallywood was
quite unaware of Selpdorf's connection with the Sagan plot. 'The
excellent Selpdorf is unsparing of his agents,' went on the Duke in
vague connection, 'but he is also unsparing of himself. Therefore see
that you obey him loyally. For me, he does what he wills with me.' He
laughed and raised his hand by way of dismissal.
Rallywood went on wondering what the Duke meant to convey by this
praise of his great Minister and in fact set many constructions on the
Selpdorf received him with an air of gravity, almost of restraint,
entirely unlike the debonnair interest he had shown in him on the
occasion of their last interview.
'I have sent for you, Captain Rallywood,' he said after a moment's
consideration, 'to entrust to you a very delicate mission.'
He ceased and waited for some response. He was standing opposite to
Rallywood on a white fur rug. The upstanding corners of his moustache,
his upright carriage, and the ineffaceable mark left upon him by his
short term of military servicefor conscription obtains in Maäsauhad
their effect upon Rallywood. He picked out the soldier from the
chancellor and saluted in silence.
Selpdorf smiled. Yet he wished the man had spoken! so much may be
deduced from a tone of voice. Did he guess how much Selpdorf knew of
his relations with Valerie? But there was nothing to be gathered from
that rigid front.
'Before I give you any information, I must ask you first to say
whether you will serve his Highness or not?'
'I have taken the oath, your excellency.'
'Yes,' the Chancellor said dubiously, 'and an oath goes a long way
but sometimes not all the way. Has not some writer said that it is the
man that makes the oath believed, not the oath the man?'
'I have taken the soldier's oath,' repeated Rallywood.
But he had no protestation of fidelity to offer. It rested with
Selpdorf to choose the right man for his mission.
If personal inclination had had any part in the Chancellor's plan of
life, it is certain he would have liked Rallywood. As it was, in
trusting he distrusted him. Rallywood could be relied on to follow a
straight path, he knew, but if it swerved from honourwhat then?
'Also I must remind you that a soldier should see no farther than
the point of his sword, and hear no more than his orders. In short,
under many circumstances he has no use for an independent judgment. He
must leave that to those whom he is pledged to obey and with whom rests
the ultimate responsibility. A soldier's single duty is blind
Rallywood bowed and continued to await his orders in silence.
'That is well. I am about to send you to Kofn Ford, where you will
meet the midnight mail from the Frontier. At the foot of the mountain
incline, about half-way between the stations, the train will be stopped
and a person placed in your custody. You will take this person back
with you to the Ford block-house and keep him there until you receive
orders to bring him into Révonde. I especially charge you that no
violence is to be used, but he is not to be permitted to escape. The
importance of the duty which is entrusted to you cannot be too highly
This then was what the Duke meant. Rallywood was to place himself
unreservedly at the disposal of M. Selpdorf. Yet the preamble troubled
him. It seemed to be assumed that he might be tempted to evade his
'I am to start at once, your Excellency?'
'In half an hour.' Selpdorf's face cleared, something of his former
geniality returned to him. 'To-night, Captain Rallywood, the Duke has
need of a man. There are others I might have sent whose claims are
greater than yours, but you are my nominee to the ranks of the Guard,
and I would justify my choice. His Highness also is inclined to favour
Selpdorf contemplated Rallywood kindly, as if prepared to be
interested in his answer. He was trying to draw something from the man,
but Rallywood only stood straighter and hugged his wooden silence
closer. Any reply he could make would give the advantage to Selpdorf.
For the present he himself held it. It is often so. The man who speaks
ten words has an advantage over the man who speaks a hundred.
'I thank your Excellency,' he replied.
'There is,' Selpdorf began again meditatively, as if permitting
himself the luxury of a little frankness before a trusted adherent, 'an
end to everything and a beginning. The line drawn between the new and
the old is never defined; the two overlap. We may regret the old, but
since the new is irresistible, the wise make the best of it.' He looked
up with an alert interest. 'In your own case, Captain Rallywood, you
were not long ago at the dividing line yourself; how has the new life
'Well!' said Rallywood as if flinging back a challenge.
The Chancellor's round eyes met his.
'Ah, I thought it would be so! You were half inclined that night to
let fortune go by you. You must mount her, man, not lead her by the
Then Rallywood broke silence.
'I doubt, your Excellency, if she will carry me where I want to go,
in spite of hard riding,' he said.
'That will depend upon yourself, I imagine. Good-day, Captain.'
CHAPTER XXIV. ON THE FRONTIER.
The evening train was almost due.
Upon the rise of a bare and windy ridge Rallywood sat on horseback
waiting. Man and horse seemed to be the only living things between the
horizons. From his point of vantage he looked out over the dim,
limitless marshes, north, south and west, and although the growing
darkness rendered the few features of the landscape even less
distinguishable than usual, his practiced eye passed from point to
point readily, for the flat map before him had been etched in upon his
memory by the slow-graving stylus of use.
The night promised to be clear and starlit, for the tsa had risen to
a gale, and a sudden frost succeeding the thaw had already thrust its
iron fingers deep into the land. The cold was intense, and a raw wind,
that had blown across a continent and a sea, came down obliquely upon
Rallywood through a dip in the mountains. On one side the lines of the
railway track ran up a curving incline into the Kofn Hills, where, five
miles away at the bleak Frontier station, officials, imposingly
uniformed, parade the platforms, examine the baggage, and demand
passports in a manner calculated to impress the traveller with an idea
of the immense resources of the State of Maäsau. That is one part of
their duties. The other is slavish obedience. 'Do what you are ordered,
and the result will look after itself.' Such is the creed. The first
lesson taught them is that they must not hesitate, and they learn it
thoroughly. Westwards the line slipped away into the sweep of low
ground towards Alfau, the first stoppage on the way to Révonde.
Rallywood drew his riding-cloak around him and settled down squarely
into the saddle. The desolate plains with the crying wind held the
loneliness of the damned. Occasionally a wolf howled in the distance,
or a wandering snipe cried as it lost itself among the stiffening reeds
about the swampy levels, and through all he could hear the hoarse roar
of the Kofn in flood, as it rushed down from its rocky bed, swollen
with the melted snows of yesterday. Another interval passed while the
gray outlook changed to black. Then a red light appeared as it were
over the edge of the world. Its coming afforded a certain break in the
naked whimpering solitude of the plain.
Slowly it crept down the incline, for the engines of Maäsau, like
Belgian pistols, are not made for rough usage. Rallywood rode forward
to meet it, the tufts of grass crackling under his horse's feet. But
instead of slackening pace the chain of lighted carriages swept past
him, and, gathering speed, wound away into the desolate night.
Rallywood looked after it with a sense of blankness. The
Chancellor's exordium and the Duke's remarks had rather primed him to a
state of expectation, and he felt as if he had been balked of he knew
not what. The green light contracted and died away into the gloom; then
discontent mastered him. In his restless mood he had grasped at the
situation, which had promised a stirring of the blood, but the train
passed and thrust him back with a hand that seemed almost palpable in
the staleness of ordinary life. When he left the Frontier he had left
behind him the old content, the humorous adaptability to circumstances
which had once been a main element of his character.
Turning his horse's head due west he rode slowly beside the track,
where the metals had begun to gleam under the stars, and the wind drove
behind him as if driving him out into the waste. He rode on for five
minutes. Then he pulled up and listened. Through the whistling of the
tsa and the dull roar of the river, he fancied he had detected some
Puzzled, he turned and rode back at a hand-gallop in the teeth of
the wind. As he rode, the noise became more distinct, and presently out
of the night something black and bulky came jolting painfully and
slowly down the slope of the railway track.
As Rallywood drew rein alongside, he saw it was a single carriage,
unlighted and solitary, rolling aimlessly on towards the level ground
through the gloom.
Gradually the pace slackened, and at last with a rheumatic jerk
backwards and forwards it came to a standstill. By this time also
Rallywood had perceived that it occupied the further set of rails, on
which the outgoing trains from Révonde travelled. And already the night
mail could not be far away.
He dropped from his saddle and in a second was feeling for his
matches, while the horse fell to sniffing half-heartedly at the meagre
Rallywood mounted the steps of the carriage, for the platforms in
Maäsau are very high, and turned the handle. Then, bending forward, he
peered into the interior, but through the dusk the seats seemed empty.
Rallywood stepped inside and lit a match. It sputtered in the frosty
air and flickered for a second from the route-maps under the musty
racks to the cushioned seats, and so downwards to a figure heaped on
the floor-rug by the opposite door.
This wandering carriage had then one occupant. Also he gave signs of
life, for he grunted feebly in the dark as the match went out.
Rallywood felt for the lamp above his head, for in Maäsau the trains
are lighted by oil lanterns let in over the doors. Finding it, he broke
the glass with the butt of his revolver and lit the wick; then he
turned for a closer examination of the man who had come to him in so
strange a manner. But the manner pointed to the fact that this must be
the prisoner he was told to hold at Kofn Ford until to-morrow. Politics
are apt to work out to curious issues in continental railways. Such
things have happened many times, though they are not often noised
abroad. The man lay with one arm thrown across the seat and his face
buried in it. He was a big man, and a fringe of white hair showed under
the back of his travelling cap above a crease of fleshy neck.
For an instant Rallywood turned sick and his head felt light. He
remembered feeling the same sensation years before, when a heavy
opponent sat abruptly down on his chest in a football scrimmage. His
hands shook as he lifted the inert figure on to the cushions and
scanned the face, sticky and disfigured with blood. After forcing some
brandy from his flask down Counsellor's throat and unloosing his
collar, Rallywood opened the window wide to let the cold air blow in
upon him, and fired two shots from his revolver in rapid succession out
into the night. They must have help, for the down mail was already at
By this time, Counsellor, grunting and swearing, had got himself up
on his elbow and stared at the young man with vacant eyes.
'Where the deuce have I got to? Is that you, John? By heaven, I
remember!' His fingers went groping weakly to his breast, then with a
groan he struggled to his feet. 'The ruffians have robbed me!'
But the effort exhausted him; he sank back putting his hands to his
'I don't understand this. What has happened? John, where am I?'
Rallywood explained hurriedly.
'We're on the up line, Major. Have another pull at my flask, and see
if you can get to the Ford block-house. The night mail will be on us
directly. Ah, there are the men,' as a stolid sergeant thrust his
weather-beaten face in at the door.
Rallywood gave the necessary orders rapidly, then turned to the
'Are you badly hurt? Do you think you can ride?' said he.
'Ride! of course I can ride. How far is it to Révonde?'
Rallywood put his arm round him, and helped him very tenderly from
Counsellor stood up in the howling wind and looked about him into
the wild night.
'I've had a nasty knock on the head, and I suppose they look to the
night mail to finish the business. Make haste, John! where's your
horse? Treachery's afoot to-night. I've lost my despatchesthey robbed
me of them! But I'll beat them all yet! Give me your flask. How far is
it to Révonde?'
The troopers had dispersed, some to warn the coming train, others to
arrange for the removal of the carriage from the track.
Counsellor had his foot in the stirrup, and with difficulty
Rallywood got him up into the saddle.
'Thirty miles, but you cannot ride there to-night,' answered
'With your help I'll beat them yet, John! Thirty miles? I'll be
there before daylight! I can go by the stars once I find the road.'
He stuck his heels into the horse's side, but Rallywood still held
A wild gust tore round them, and in the succeeding lull Rallywood
laid his hand on the other man's knee.
'Major Counsellor, you are my prisoner,' he said.
'How's this, John?' the question came thin, pitiful and weak. A new
doubt, the old affection, and a strange helplessness mingled in the
words, and they cut deep into Rallywood's ears.
'That was a bad knock on the head,' muttered the Major
apologetically, and sank forward on the horse's neck again unconscious.
CHAPTER XXV. A QUESTION OF TWO
The road towards the block-house ran along the river bank past the
Kofn Ford. They went slowly on together through the starry windy night,
Rallywood with his hand on the bridle and the wounded man holding
limply to the saddle.
The tsa raved and rocked in the pine trees, through the
pauses of the storm a wolf barked, and the black, tumbled water was
still swelling and gulping under the low stars. But the tumult of
noises only served to accentuate the hideous loneliness which is the
salient characteristic of the Frontier.
Counsellor, with an unaccustomed warfare in his heartrage and the
pity of it working togetherstared into space across the leaping
As the two men drew near the ford, they saw the dim figure of a
horseman riding down the bank on the opposite side, with the evident
intention of crossing. The approaches to the ford were flooded, for the
angry water fretted out its banks at such times and deepened into
dangerous swirls over the crossing-place.
Rallywood checked the horse to shout and signal to the man that the
ford was impassable, but his voice was drowned by the harsh throated
noises of the night. Weak as was the starlight, something of the loose
reckless swing in the saddle told Rallywood that the rider was Anthony
Unziar. Unziar galloped down the stones of the incline and plunged into
the torrent. It was clear from where he took the water that he intended
to make for the little beach below the block-house. His course was
marked by a whitish rise in the water; now and then the watchers on the
bank lost sight of the struggling figure as a tree-trunk whirled past
and hid him, or he seemed to sink in some tormented eddy, but he came
into view again and always nearer. At the last moment, whether horse
and man were exhausted or whether a furious tangle of cross-currents
caught them, they were swung round and away from the landing-point.
It was now evident that Unziar saw Rallywood, for in answer to the
latter's signs that he must make for the shallows lower down, Unziar
waved some object over his head as if to call attention to it. The suck
of the current was fast drawing him away, but with another strong
effort he got the horse's head round; they heard his faint shout upon
the wind then the words came more clearly:
'Carry them onSelpdorf!' He flung something forwards; the gale
caught and hurled it on to the rocks at Rallywood's feet.
When they looked again Unziar had disappeared.
Hurrying up to the block-house, Rallywood sent off some troopers to
Unziar's assistance; then with some difficulty got his prisoner, who
was stiff and dizzy, on his feet and supported him to the room where
Madame de Sagan and Valerie had rested on the night of the snow-storm.
Rallywood did all that could be done for Counsellor, then he sat
down at the narrow table to face his position. The tsa battered
at the little window, and the camp-bed creaked under Counsellor's
weight as he turned and groaned upon it, while Rallywood sat with soul
and body absorbed in the consciousness that at last the time of which
Counsellor had warned him was come, the time when he should find his
enemies dressed in red. Under almost any other circumstances it would
have been possible to retire from the position with honour. Had war
been declared between England and Maäsau, he could have resigned his
commission. But to-night he found himself without any such means of
escape, fast in the jaws of the cleverly-contrived trap set for him by
But he scarcely yet knew the worst. Presently Counsellor spoke.
'This thing has gone beyond a joke,' he said, 'What does it mean?'
The glance from under the overhanging gray brows had regained its fire.
'My orders are simple enough. I am to keep you here until to-morrow
afternoon at three o'clock.'
'By doing so you will ruin Maäsau as a free State and bring a most
serious defeat upon the British policy.' Counsellor's voice was
rasping. 'Are you prepared for that?'
Both men were strenuous, and bred deep into the bone of each were
the same dominant qualities.
'I am prepared to carry out my orders,' answered Rallywood; 'I had
them practically from the Duke himself.'
'The Duke is of the same mind in which I found him at the Castle,
though he may be forced to dissemble,' asserted Counsellor; then with a
twist he sat up as his glance fell upon the square dark object lying on
the table between them. 'John Rallywood, do you know what that is?'
'The despatches thrown to me by Unziar.'
'That case is mine; it contains my private instructions; you can
guess something of their importance from the fact that I have been
robbed of them. You must give them back to me! As an Englishman and an
honest man, I call upon you to give them back to me.'
Rallywood's long nervous fingers closed over the packet.
'It is impossible!' he said. 'As an Englishman, yes, but as an
honest man, well, itit is hard to say.'
'Are you mad?' cried Counsellor.
'I have not had long to think it out, and it is a tangled question,'
replied Rallywood wearily.
'A tangled question? I take it you are first of all an Englishman?'
'In my private capacity, and that deals with my private honour; but
I have undertaken another responsibility from which I cannot withdraw
at pleasure. I am a sworn soldier of Maäsau, and as such my public
honour has first claim.'
It was a simple rendering of a tremendous problem, but it served for
'Then' said Counsellor.
There was a rush and a scuffle, but Rallywood was young and strong
and more active than the Major.
'Confound you!' Counsellor fell back a step or two, breathing hard.
There are some situations which by their elemental force destroy all
other emotions. The situation at Kofn guard-house was one of these. The
point at issue between these two men pierced to the bed-rock of
national loyalty. Perhaps Blivinski was right. Love of country was part
of their physical equipment, yet by the irony of circumstances they
were pitted against each other.
'Will you give me your parole?' asked Rallywood with his back to the
Counsellor drew out a big watch.
'For fifteen minutes,' he said. 'It is now half-past nine; at
forty-five minutes past I shall hold myself once more free to do what I
can. You understand? In the meantime we will talk.'
Rallywood motioned Counsellor back to the camp bed while he himself
sat down on the table.
'I fancy, John, we are both rather in the dark about all this,'
began Counsellor. 'Tell me your story, and I'll tell you mine.'
'My orders were clear enough,' Rallywood said. 'I was to take charge
of a prisoner, to be brought to me by the incoming mail at the spot
where I met you. You arrived queerly, I admit, rolling along the down
line, but you are undoubtedly the person of whom I was instructed to
'AhI begin to see. There may be many men in Maäsau who would rob
me, but there is only one man who could do it so clumsily.'
'Naturally. But to return, I left you at the Castle looking for
Colendorp; whether you found him or not does not come into this affair.
Perhaps he was in Sagan's way and he removed him'
'With a knife.'
'That is quite in the Count's manner. Well, I got safely to England,
where my business took a day and a half longer than I expected. I
received my despatches, and five hundred miles from here I took the
precaution of removing them from my despatch-box. After we left the
Frontier station I noticed that our train had lost half its length, and
that I was in the last carriage. I didn't like it. It is never healthy
for a despatch-box to travel in an end compartment. That is tempting of
Counsellor stopped as if to collect his thoughts again.
'After a little the pace slackened and I felt a sharp jolt. They
were switching me on to the down line, an improvement upon the original
plan so like the Count's manner that it almost proves he must have been
on the spot superintending operations. Next it was a face at the
window. I used my revolver, but they stunned me and robbed me and left
it to the night mail to close my mouth for good. Now you know where you
are, John Rallywood; you are abetting a crime, and a crime against your
own country, against England!'
Rallywood laughed, but a laugh against oneself has a bad sound with
'It seems the day has come when I find my enemies dressed in red!'
'Why, yes, if you choose to put it so. If you either carry these
despatches on for Unziar or remain to keep me prisoner, you play
Germany's game for her.'
'Perhaps not,' suggested Rallywood. 'The Chancellor sent me here.'
Counsellor's short angry grunt of derision surprised him.
'Mademoiselle Valerie may be loyal, but Selpdorf is at the bottom of
the whole plot. Does he guess there is any bond of liking or interest
between you and his daughter? If so, he sent you here to break you! He
knew that between the conflicting claims of a man's public and private
honour lie shame and often death. Do you not see that amongst them they
are bent on ruining you? Just now, when I hoped all might be yours that
a man can ask for! Your Chicago cousin at Queen's Fain is dying and you
are his heir. Yet you are to be ruinedruined by the hate of Elmur and
Sagan, and what are you to Selpdorf but a fly to be crushed whose
presence annoys him?'
'Are you sure of this? His sending me to be witness of your
assassination fits in badly with the theory of his collusion.'
'Perfectly; Sagan stultified the scheme, that was all. Selpdorf
forgot that Sagan is a wild beast who can only be fed with blood!'
Counsellor paused. 'The highway robbery with violence to which I have
been subjected is Sagan's bull-headed translation of Selpdorf's hint to
detain me. Thus, according to their calculations, before I can get to
Révonde the Duke will have been induced to lend himself to some other
course. It is not hard to read their tactics. They run on old lines. So
you see there is only one way out of ityou must help me, John.'
What advice he might have offered to Rallywood as simple man to man
occupied no place in Counsellor's intentions. He was England's envoy as
opposed to her antagonists, and into the scale in her favour he meant
to throw the whole of his personal influence with Rallywood.
Rallywood made a sign of dissent.
'But surely you will not side with Sagan's party as against the
Duke?' urged Counsellor.
'The Duke has been known to change his mind before now.'
Counsellor bit savagely at his moustache. The minutes were flying.
'I wonder if old Gustave has allowed himself to be humbugged yet
once more!' he said to himself. 'John, on which side do you suppose
Valerie Selpdorf would wish to see you?'
'We need not mention her,' answered Rallywood stiffly.
'What? Have you not spoken? Does she not know?'
'She knowsyes, and others know too that I love her. But it is
ended. There is nothing more; there never can be now.'
Counsellor put his hand to his head.
'Will you help me? That after all is the question.'
Rallywood looked down at him, and Counsellor fancied there was a
shadow of reproach in the glance.
'For you that is the question, but for me there is another,'
Rallywood said deliberately. 'Until I can resign my oath to Maäsau,
honour holds me her sworn soldier.'
'Of all things in the world what is so arbitrary as honour?' cried
Counsellor. 'Honour is a wild flower; God plants it, but man prunes it,
and the devil only can be responsible for the sports one sometimes
meets with. Well, go your own and the devil's way!' The Major turned
irritably round. 'In my creed a man's first duty is to his country.'
'I wish I could see it so,' said Rallywood sadly. Then the hush of
the mighty battle fell upon the little room. The air was stifling to
both, for Counsellor knew what was in his companion's heart and even
felt a far-off pity for him, but no relenting. Rallywood's handsome
brown face had grown suddenly sharp and aged, and his gray eyes
contracted to dark points under their frowning lids. The man was
looking on the wreck of his life, and slowly coming to the conclusion
that he must choose that course which would add the defeat of the land
he loved to his own ruin. He would have died for England, happy in the
sacrifice, but to lose all in her despite was a bitter thing.
'Time's up,' said the Major. 'You have one minute to give me your
'A soldier should see no further than the point of his sword,'
replied Rallywood. 'An oath stands between me and my desires. These
despatches may be yours, but you know how they have come into my
charge. As long as I am a soldier of Maäsau, my duty to her comes first
of all. I cannot let you go nor can I give up these despatches! Curse
you!' a strong flash of emotion breaking in upon the restraint of his
speech, 'why have you no sword? If you had killed me'
Counsellor put his watch back into his pocket.
'A man's country should be his conscience,' said the old
diplomatist, as one who pronounces a definite and unassailable truth.
Then he waited.
Rallywood stood up.
'I cannot argue,' he said, 'but Major, you will believe me when I
say that I see my duty plainly. I refuse!'
'I have had a great regard for you,' replied Counsellor slowly, 'but
if you were my own son, by Heaven, I'd blow your brains out to-night!
Give me those despatches.'
There was a rapid movement and the gleam of a pistol barrel in his
'Thank God!' It was not more than the faintest whisper from
Rallywood as he sprang at his companion.
But there was no report, only an ominous click as Counsellor flung
the unloaded revolver in Rallywood's face with a bitter word.
'It was not loaded.'
Hardly had they closed when the door was opened and a couple of men
supported Unziar into the room. The water ran in streams from his
clothes to the floor, while he stood and stared at the two combatants
who had fallen apart.
'I suppose they sent you to meet me, Rallywood,' he said in English;
'it is lucky, for I'm done! You must carry those despatches on without
delay, for they must reach the Chancellor at the earliest possible
moment. Go; there is no time to lose!'
Rallywood pointed to Counsellor.
'This gentleman is my prisoner. You will keep him here until further
orders. Meantime I will ride on with these to Révonde.'
Counsellor and Unziar remained together, but no word passed between
them till out in the windy night they heard the beat of hoofs as
Rallywood rode away on his mission.
CHAPTER XXVI. LOVE'S HANDICAP.
As Rallywood galloped steadily through the night under the shrinking
moon, with the tsa behind him and the pearl-grey road withering
away into the level distance ahead, it happened that the two women of
whom he must have had some thoughts during that lonely ride met and
'Valerie, I called for you to go with me to the Abenfeldt's
reception, because I have a question to ask you,' began Isolde at once
when the door of the carriage was closed.
The passing lamps shone varyingly upon their faces as they passed
through the lighted streets, and Madame de Sagan looked at her
'Where is Captain Rallywood?' she added abruptly.
His name had not passed between them since the interview at the
'I cannot tell you. I don't know,' said Valerie coldly.
'Oh, my dear child, all is fair in love and war! Why be so
dreadfully cross with me still?'
'Is it necessary to recur to the subject at all?'
'Will you never forgive me, I wonder?'
Valerie looked steadily back into the lovely face, where the
underlying spirit of mockery was transmuted into an innocent
playfulness like a child's.
'On the contrary, I thank you.'
'Whyfor humbling him? Valerie, you are'
'Happy!' Valerie could not forego the very womanly triumph, 'very
happy! And you made me so.'
'But,' said Isolde with some perplexity, 'you would have it that he
did not mean what he said.'
In her heart she thought Valerie a great goose for making any such
disclaimer. Vanity has knowledge of no tongue whereby to interpret
'No, but it showed me what he was.'
'I wonder how Baron von Elmur would like to hear that his future
wife was not ashamed to declare her love for another man!' retorted
'I mean to tell him.'
'No, no, Valerie, don't!' exclaimed Madame de Sagan, whose weakness
exuded very often in a sort of kind-heartedness, 'I should not tell
him. Such a confidence is apt to turn sour in a husband's memory. You
may trust meI will keep your secret.' Valerie smiled scornfully.
'But I can keep a secret! For instance, I want to hear where Captain
Rallywood is, because I know the Count hates him, and also,' she nodded
her head slowly, 'and also our dear friend Baron von Elmur.'
Valerie was startled.
'Baron von Elmur?' she repeated.
'Oh, you quite mistake the matter. The ill-feeling has nothing to do
whatever with you or with me. The Count and von Elmur hate him on very
different grounds. Everything appears to interest men now-a-days but
ourselves!' she ended sadly.
'Because he is English, perhaps?'
'Well, yes, it has something to do with it. You remember that last
night at the Castle? I conclude it was Jack who spoiled their plans
when Simon and the Baron went to the Duke's apartments.'
'The Count and Baron von Elmur together? What did they go for?'
The question dried up the little stream of babble.
'How should I know? But there was a fightI'd back Jack against
most people! That is one reason Iliked him. We heard the shots, and
though I was horribly frightened I told you none of the particulars,
yet I knew all. Speak to me, Valerie! What are you thinking of?'
Valerie had been rapidly going over in her mind the incidents Isolde
had alluded to. For the first time she understood. There had been a
German plot which she had helped to defeat, a plot to place Count Sagan
at the head of the State, and the price he was to pay was the freedom
of Maäsau. She must see her father before she slept and warn him of the
conspiracy, which although it had failed temporarily at the Castle of
Sagan was still in existence. She felt certain that her father knew
nothing of the German plot, nor of Sagan's bitter enmity against
himself, as proved by the attempt on her own life. Fears for her
father, for Rallywood, and for Maäsau crowded upon her, though she kept
up an appearance of composure that Isolde might not guess the
importance of the information she had given.
'I was thinking of Captain Rallywood,' answered the girl at last,
offering the excuse Isolde would be most likely to accept as true. 'I
did not know he had so many enemies. But is he not in Révonde?'
'No, he has not been at the barracks since yesterday afternoon. I
sent him an invitation. You never give me credit for sincerity, but I
am steady in my friendships. I do not mean to drop him because he
talked all that nonsense at Kofn Ford. You boasted about M. Selpdorf's
powermake him use it now to save Rallywood. I begin to believe that
you are really as cold as you pretend to be, Valerie, you care so
little! Whereas I, in spite of all that has happened, would serve him
if I could.'
'I shall see my father when I return to-night, I promise you.'
Isolde buttoned her glove thoughtfully.
'You must be careful not to let him suspect that you have any
especial interest in Jack,' she said, 'for that would be merely an
additional reason for letting Rallywoodgo.'
Valerie could not misunderstand the euphemism.
'Isolde, my father is not a savage!' she exclaimed.
'Perhaps not,' said Madame de Sagan simply. 'He is, I know, a very
charming man in society, but my experience goes to show that every man
is a savageau fond.'
Words which embody the opinion of more women than one cares to
It was three o'clock when an officer of the Guard, leaving the
wind-swept darkness of the country behind him, rode through the north
gate of Révonde into the vivid black and white perspectives of the
city, where close outside the brilliant line of electric lights night
herself seemed to stand incarnate, a jealous intensity of blackness.
Rallywood had picked up Unziar's relays of horses at certain points,
and on the whole had made good time of the ride. Now he crossed the
bridge that lies opposite to the gate of the Palace, and mounted the
curving streets towards the Chancellerie.
He swung from his horse at the foot of the broad flight of granite
steps under its overhanging portico as a carriage dashed up on the
other side. The high doors above were flung open and a roll of red
cloth dropped from step to step down to the pavement, a couple of
footmen placing it with the quick deftness of use until it reached the
As she alighted Mademoiselle Selpdorf recognised the tall figure in
the travel-stained riding cloak.
'Captain Rallywood, where have you come from?' she asked almost
'From the frontier, Mademoiselle.'
'Will you give me your arm? What has happened? Has Major Counsellor
come back?' she whispered as they went up the steps.
'He is at the Ford. He has met with an accident.'
Valerie said no more, but as she entered the hall she read
'Has his Excellency returned?' she asked of an attendant. 'Then
place refreshments in the small library. Captain Rallywood, I will join
you in a few moments. M. Selpdorf will be home very soon. He is anxious
to see you.'
It was a little necessary make believe before the numerous servants.
How far it deceived them may be faintly guessed when one considers
anyone's secrets in relation to anyone's servants.
'Man designs his own game,' thought Rallywood as he followed the
servant into whose charge he was given, 'or he is forced to stand out
and circumstances play it for him. In the years all is one.'
Whichever way the issue of this night's work turned, Maäsau and
Valerie must both pass from his life forever. The one supreme obstacle
which lurks always beside the mercenary's path had arisen to bar his
advance at last.
Valerie opened the door softly. She was trembling and afraid, but
she would not be outdone in generosity by Rallywood. She had determined
to thank him for the words spoken at Kofn Ford, and to show him how
entirely she comprehended their chivalrous intention. But when her eyes
fell upon him all thought of self faded. He was standing midway between
the gleaming wine and glass of the side-table and the flickering glow
of the open stove, upright and stately as he ever appeared to her, but
in his new attitude her sharpened senses perceived a suggestion of
disheartenment and solitude.
Swept away by the feeling of the moment, she crossed the room to his
side and laid her hand upon his arm.
'What is it? Something has happened,' she said.
Rallywood looked down at her. The beautiful eyes like starlit
darkness, her clear-hued loveliness, the soft dusky curls about her
brow, her girlish reserves and petulances, all her sweet unapproachable
personality enhanced to pain the knowledge that he was looking his last
'Nothing to distress you, Mademoiselle, because M. Selpdorf knows
all about it.'
'Then tell me; I know so much already.'
'I wish I could. But I think his Excellency might prefer to tell you
'Is it good news, then? Major Counsellor has succeeded? Then why are
you so sad?'
'Sad, Mademoiselle?' he answered with a smile. 'Men often look sad
when they are only hungry and dog-tired.'
'Then eat,' she said. 'Let me give you some wine.'
She drew him to the table and poured out a glass of wine.
'To the success of Maäsau and of England,' she said. Then touching
it with her lips in the graceful fashion of Maäsau, she handed it to
'Hark! I think I hear my father arriving, and there is something I
must say to you before he comes.'
She clasped her hands nervously, the bare shapely hands with their
gleaming rings, and Rallywood watched her and felt as if he were
'Captain Rallywood, I want to thank you. I can never thank you
enough for that night at Kofn Ford. I understoodpray believe I
understood itand I think you are the noblest gentleman alive!'
Rallywood did not hesitate. There was one thing Valerie should know
and be certain of in the uncertain future.
'Give me a moment, Mademoiselle,' he exclaimed, detaining her. 'I
see you do not quite understand. I could not expect you to understand.
But nownow that I am leaving Maäsau, I must tell you the truth.
Perhaps you will believe it some day. I am proud'
'I know it, and yet youoh, say no more! For my sake you stooped to
say it. It was not true! But I knew that.'
He took her hands between his own in a firm strong clasp.
'Listen, Mademoiselle. It was true! Since first I saw you it has
always been true!'
'I remember!' she said breathlessly. She could not help saying it.
'Do you?' he answered; the temptation to wander a little was too
sweet. 'You wore this cloak,' he touched it softly with his fingers,
then laid his hand over hers deliberately, in the quiet confident way
in which he did everything and which she had grown to love, 'and ever
since I have carried the glove you despised. And though this is my
good-bye, I will carry italways.'
'Oh, I don't ask you to believe me now,' he said bitterly. 'I am not
noble, Mademoiselle. I was only too proud to say I loved you that
night, as,' with another smile, 'I was only too proud not to say it
Valerie raised her face and her eyes were full of light.
'Then it was truethank God!'
But Rallywood, though he saw the purpose of her speech, would not
understand its significance. He led her towards the door by which she
'You must go, Mademoiselle. Idare not keep you with me longer.
Good-bye, and may God go with you, Valerie!'
She stopped suddenly and kissed the hand that held hers.
'I too am proud,' she whispered, and the door closed upon her.
CHAPTER XXVII. THE MAN OF THE HOUR.
'Selpdorf is the man of the hour,' Counsellor once said to
Rallywood, and the Major's sayings had a trick of lingering in the
memory. With the Chancellor then still remained the key to the
situation. He was implicated in the conspiracy, but he had less to gain
and far more to lose than the others. A dangerous condition and one
possible of development.
All this passed in a flash through Rallywood's mind as the opposite
door opened to admit M. Selpdorf, who replied stiffly to Rallywood's
'I was not prepared to see you this evening,' began Selpdorf.
'I have brought the despatches, your Excellency,' replied Rallywood,
taking the packet from his pocket but continuing to hold it in his
Selpdorf eyed him.
The affair was falling out in an unexpected manner. Selpdorf was a
student of human nature as all of his craft must be, and Rallywood
offered for his observation a character out of the common and hard for
a Maäsaun to read. How had he escaped from the dilemma in which he had
been so carefully placed? The Chancellor was curious to hear. The man
was an artist in the human passions.
'From Lieutenant Unziar?' Selpdorf repeated tentatively. 'And your
prisoner? The man whom I ordered you to keep at the block-house?'
The Chancellor half expected to hear that Counsellor was also in
Révonde, and that Rallywood with an unassuming but unspeakable
effrontery had called to explain his own view of the matter.
'Unziar is with himwith Major Counsellor at Kofn Ford. Unziar was
unable to ride on at once after crossing the river, which is in flood.
Therefore I have come.'
Was it possible Rallywood had merely shirked facing the difficulty
in this way? thought Selpdorf.
'Ah, Major Counsellor? And these are the despatches?'
'These are Major Counsellor's private despatches, which were stolen
from him within the frontier of Maäsau!' said Rallywood.
Selpdorf's round eyes showed their lids in an odd flicker. The
attack was sudden. He brushed his moustache upwards with a thoughtful
movement of the finger and thumb, regarding Rallywood as he did so.
'Then why have you brought them to me?' he said at last.
'Because a soldier should see no further than the point of his
sword, your Excellency,' replied Rallywood slowly.
'Good! And how do you come to know what the packet contains?'
'The persons who robbed Major Counsellor did not even take the
precaution of placing it under another cover. He recognised it at the
'It seems to me then that you had a decision to make at the
'Yes,' said Rallywood simply.
But it was not a subject to bear discussion.
'As a soldier of Maäsau you decided rightly.' Selpdorf misjudged
Rallywood for the moment; it crossed his mind that this was a mercenary
after all and to be bought.
'But as a man I now wish to resign my commission.'
Selpdorf raised his brows.
'But why? At the very moment when you have proved your faithfulness
and your zeal? When we owe you recognition of these high qualities?'
'I want nothing, your Excellency, but to go out from this house a
free man,' returned Rallywood coldly.
'Reconsider your words, Captain Rallywood.'
'Even if other difficulties had not arisen,' went on Rallywood, 'I
may remind your Excellency that a soldier's oath does not cover robbery
Selpdorf was, and looked, astonished.
'I don't understand you,' he said gravely. 'Pray tell me what you
'I found Major Counsellor alone and unconscious in a single carriage
that had been sent rolling down the incline on the line where the
outgoing mail train could not fail to collide with it. The inference is
clear. Some one wished to make an end of himin a railway accident.
But the plan was a curiously stupid one, for nothing could
satisfactorily explain Major Counsellor's presence there, since it was
well known to the British Legation in Révonde that he was entering, not
Selpdorf stood silent. Here was another ill-devised amendment born
of Count Sagan's blundering brain.
'It is a very strange story,' he said at length. 'Had the train come
in collision with the carriage which you assert was on the down
'The troops from Kofn and the railway people at Alfau can prove
'The mail might have been derailed, with no one can tell what loss
'Count Simon holds life cheap,' said Rallywood. 'No life that stands
in his way can be safe. Not even the life of Mademoiselle Selpdorf!'
The Chancellor was moved for once.
'You are out of your senses!' he said sternly.
'It is true!'
Both men looked around. Valerie had entered.
'Father, you must hear me before youbefore you'
She glanced at Rallywood and stopped.
'Go, Valerie; you have nothing to do with these things.'
Selpdorf met her as she came towards him.
'You must hear me to-night, father. You are mistaken; I have had a
great deal to do with them. I know all that Captain Rallywood has said
to youyes, I had a right to know. For it was I who brought Major
Counsellor to the Duke's apartments at the Castle, because I knew there
was a plot against his Highness. But I did not know it was a German
plot in which Baron von Elmur was using Count Sagan. Oh, you must be on
your guard against them!'
'Who has been frightening you with all this nonsense?' asked
Selpdorf with cold suspicion.
'You don't understand me! Father, I know how Captain Colendorp died.
I saw itthe struggle and his fall over the cliff. Then I guessed his
Highness was in danger, and I went to warn him. Captain Rallywood, tell
my father of Count Sagan's visit to the Duke's rooms in the middle of
the night with Baron von Elmur. Iwe, Isolde and Iheard the shots.
You do not know it, but there is a plot. Your life is not safe! Captain
Rallywood is right; no life that stands in Count Sagan's way is safe!
And you on whom the State dependsyou who alone can uphold her
libertyyou are the first they will try to destroy! He hates you, else
why should he try to kill me?'
She was clinging to his arm.
'To kill you? If I thought that was trueif I could believe he
meant to injure you'
It added very much to Selpdorf's difficulties that he had a
conscience and a heart. Perhaps Valerie had kept both awake. He, who
acted a part to all the world, had been sedulous to maintain a high
rôle before his daughter. Perhaps he valued her absolute faith in
him even more than her love, which is a commoner attitude of mind than
He felt himself at fault. Although he had heard no details to enable
him to judge for himself, yet he knew he could rely upon Valerie's
statement that an attempt had been made upon her life. Count Simon's
unscrupulousness was an old tale, but this crime was not only
cold-blooded but also extraordinarily stupid, since the faintest
suspicion of foul play would finally estrange the one person in all
Maäsau whose help was necessary to the success of his plans and hopes.
It is to be doubted whether the Count's ineptitude did not disgust the
Chancellor more thoroughly than his treachery towards Valerie.
Selpdorf was at no time a man who made up his mind irrevocably.
Astuteness sometimes keeps step with uncertainty. To a clever man so
many sides of a question are visible. On all counts he was now prepared
to yield to Valerie's wishes; perhaps looking ahead even in that
moment, he saw a fresh combination before him, which, while quite
equally safe and useful to himself, omitted Count Sagan.
The Chancellor raised his eyes. At this momentdiplomaticallyhe
was superb. He had an air of sagacious decision, an air of holding a
master-stroke in reserve, whereas he was in reality merely retiring to
a negative position to wait upon events.
'Tell me the story,' he said.
'There is nothing further to tell,' replied Rallywood. 'Mademoiselle
has given you the main facts. But for her Maäsau would to-day be a
province of Germany, in fact if not in name.
'I have been misinformed and deceived in an incomprehensible
manner,' the Chancellor said emphatically. There was still the matter
of Counsellor's despatches. Nothing was now to be gained by keeping
them, whereas by giving them back to the old diplomatist, Maäsau was
sure to profit for the time at least. The difficulty was to get rid of
the packet without loss of prestige to himself. 'Now as to Major
Counsellor's despatches,' he added doubtfully.
'You will send them back to him,' said Valerie eagerly.
'You cannot see the difficulty of my position.' The Chancellor laid
his hand upon her shoulder. 'To be frank with you, and in confidence,
Captain Rallywood, I have not been ignorant that an understanding
existed between Count Sagan and the Baron von Elmur. I have even been
obliged to countenance it to a certain extent. As you know, they are
aware that these despatches have been sent to me. If I use them as my
daughter suggests, I need scarcely point out that trouble must ensue,
since I, more or less, represent Maäsau. Now we cannot afford to offend
Germany. She only awaits a pretext to hurl down her army of occupation
upon us. Had I never had those despatches the way might have been
His glance at Rallywood held a large reproach.
'But, father, in honesty and justice'
'It is a case of private justice as opposed to national necessity.
If Captain Rallywood had sacrificed his public to his private honour,
if he had chosen to prefer his country's cause to his oath of
'No one knows I am here,' he said.
'No one need ever know where the despatches have been. In four hours
they shall be with Major Counsellor at the British Legation.'
'If you, Captain Rallywood, will bear the whole responsibility that
would simplify the matter. Otherwise it is war.' Selpdorf looked
meaningly at Rallywood as he spoke.
But Valerie was not deceived.
'Not that! not that!' she cried.
'It must be that or nothing.' Selpdorf did not look at her and he
spoke almost brusquely.
'I know what it means. They will say he was false to his oath! Oh,
father, is there no other way? I cannot let him go!'
Rallywood's face changed. Fate was crushing her two strange gifts
into his hands, love and death at the same moment! He crossed to
Valerie's side, and drawing her to him his gray eyes looked their
courage and their happiness into hers.
'My darling, this makes it easy, whatever comes!'
'It may be death! It will be death!' He winced at the low agonised
She turned to her father.
'Father, you have the power to do anything you please in Maäsau. You
will save him for me! You can save him! Promise me that or I cannot let
Selpdorf was touched. He liked Rallywood. There was much in the
single-hearted soldier that appealed to his sympathies. But
'I will not deceive you, Valerie, at such a time as this,' he
answered gently; 'I cannot foresee what may happen. I may not be able
to prevent the worst. Captain Rallywood holds the despatches. He offers
to sacrifice himself for the State, and the decision rests with you.'
Valerie buried her face in her hands. The clock moved noiselessly on
and on, and the very air seemed to throb in the silence. Then the girl
raised her head and looked steadily at Rallywood.
'It would not be love if I said otherwise. You would not love me if
I said otherwise. You must go, John!'
CHAPTER XXVIII. THE ARREST.
By the following evening tongues were busy in Révonde. Rumour and
mystery and an absence of any definite information added zest to the
town talk. The broken reports were curious.
Major Counsellor had fallen down the staircase at the British
Legation and injured his head, his brow being much contused. His return
to Révonde was explained on the ground that Germany and England had
joined forces in compelling Selpdorf to lessen the heavy taxation with
which Maäsau was burdened. Count Sagan had been seen in the city with a
lowering faceah, yes! it was well known he had a most patriotic
distrust of German interference. Madame de Sagan had quarreled with her
husband because she had insisted on helping Mademoiselle Selpdorf, who
was about to be married to Baron von Elmur, in the choice of her
trousseau. Some excitement was being caused in the Guards' barracks by
the case of Captain Rallywood, whom Count Sagan accused of using his
influence unduly with his brother-officers to forward the projects of
Germany. Some even went so far as to say that he was in arrest, and
others were found who shook their heads and laughed, professing to be
aware of a yet deeper reason for the colonel-in-chief's animosity
against the English captain.
Out of all this chaff the one grain of truth was that Counsellor,
released by Unziar on the authority of a telegram from Rallywood, had
arrived by the first train in the morning and had at once proceeded to
the British Legation. There he found Rallywood waiting for him. 'You
have seen the Chancellor?' asked Counsellor, looking hard at Rallywood,
whose brown face wore a look he had never seen upon it before. 'Why was
I released? Am I already too late?'
'No, you are not too late. You must see the Duke at once. Here are
your despatches. Good-bye, Major, I'll meet you presently.'
'I shall not in all probability see Duke Gustave again. My part is
over and done with. The world, my dear John, never sees a national
policy until it begins to fly. There is no credit for hatching the egg.
One would almost think it hatched of itself. Occasionally the egg is
found to be addled, and then the old birds make away with it in
private. But don't go yet. How have you managed to keep these? What
does it mean?'
'It means principally that you must forget you have been robbed,
that Elmur's game is up, and that you were mistaken in your opinion of
Counsellor looked hurriedly through the papers contained in the
packet, 'John,' he said suddenly, as he folded up a small sheet of
cypher notes, 'you are an infernal liar.'
Rallywood laughed and his spurs jingled as he left the room, glad to
have escaped so cheaply from Counsellor's keen observation. The old
Major went to the window and watched him ride away in the sunshine, a
gallant figure in his glittering uniform, sitting squarely on his big
bay charger. No suspicion crossed his thoughts that Rallywood was
probably taking his last ride through the sunny streets, that at every
stride of his high-stepping horse he drew nearer to the final scene of
all. He had gathered from Rallywood's bearing that the difficulties in
his path had somehow been surmounted. Rallywood was capable. He had won
the day by energy or pluck or both, but the old diplomatist had no time
at the moment to trouble his head as to the exact means.
Before the forenoon was over Counsellor, acting through the proper
channels, secured Maäsau's acceptance of the British proposals, and a
satisfactory undertaking which excluded all rivals from the field, at
any rate during the Duke's lifetime. Counsellor did not appear in the
negotiations. He remained shut up at the Legation, but when at length
they came to public knowledge the German party were not under any
delusion; they recognised to whose direct offices they owed defeat.
Baron von Elmur said nothing, as a matter of fact he did nothing,
but he used his influence with an effect that was yet to bear fruit. He
was inclined to suspect Selpdorf, but the Chancellor proved that he had
only carried out the German's own suggestion in sending Rallywood to
the Frontier. Ill-luck, he argued, combined with Sagan's blundering,
had done the rest. He deplored it. It was clear that Rallywood, taking
advantage of his position, and under pretence of carrying the
despatches to the Chancellor had simply gone to Révonde and wired to
Unziar a false order of release for Major Counsellor. The sole
delinquent was Rallywood, and the Count in a torrent of curses promised
himself a time of reckoning.
The day, which had begun in a brief burst of sunshine, closed in
clouds. Evening climbed sullenly up out of the bleak river.
Traffic died in the streets, and the cloaked troopers passing hither
and thither against the rising tsa became the chief objects to be seen
as night gathered.
Rallywood stood at the side window of his quarters looking out over
the twinkling city. He seemed to have had as yet no time for regret or
gloomy anticipation. He had dwelt absorbed on the single fact that
Valerie loved him. He was ready to sacrifice himself and his hopes with
a smile. Later on, in sorrow and heaviness of heart, he accused himself
bitterly of spoiling Valerie's young life. But he had not reached that
stage yet; he was lingering in the first transient period when men and
women see visions and dream dreams, when the present is lost in the
recent past, while love's first spell is laid upon them, and the light
that never was on land or sea blinds them to the chances and changes of
common life. As long as the glory of it lasts a man is caught up into
the seventh heaven, and the things of earth have no power over him.
But the breaking of the vision came to Rallywood sufficiently
quickly. His view of the lamp-lit city grew suddenly blurred and he saw
instead his own reflection in the polished glass, as the lights were
turned on in the room behind him. In that same instant too the vague
sweet outlook faded from his mind.
Then a hand was laid upon his shoulder and he saw another figure
mirrored beside his own against the dark background of the night. There
was a suggestion of reluctance in Unziar's movements.
'I regret, Captain Rallywood, that I have been ordered to place you
CHAPTER XXIX. THE COURT-MARTIAL.
It has been the privilege of one or two famous Gardes du Corps to be
a law unto themselves. The Guard of Maäsau shares that privilege. The
inquiry or rather trial was to be held within closed doors, and by the
express order of the colonel-in-chief all the officers, including those
junior to the prisoner, were to be present. And every officer present
on such occasions had the right to vote. The procedure was simple. When
the witnesses had been examined the accused was invited to speak in his
own defence, then the senior officer summed up and lastly the officers
recorded their votes.
Rallywood's offence had outraged the fundamental principle of the
Guard, the blind self-sacrificing obedience which in trivial as in
vital matters demanded the merging of the private individual with hopes
and conscience of his own into the body corporate of the Guard. With
the single exception of Unziar, no man present was acquainted with the
details of Rallywood's crime. They knew only that he had grossly
disobeyed orders, and not only that, but had disobeyed them for the
furtherance of private ambition. So the charge against him intimated.
It was understood that the accusation had been lodged by Count Sagan in
consequence of information received by him, and the court-martial at
once assembled to deal with the matter.
The original prejudice against Rallywood as a foreigner and an
interloper was revived, with all the more bitterness because the men
had in the interval come to respect if not to like him. They resented
the deception they believed to have been practised upon them with the
rancour of those who find they have not only been played upon but made
tools of. Rallywood had gained his position among them by false
pretences to serve his own endsgained it to betray them.
But more than this, he had dishonoured the Guard, brought the first
blot of treachery upon its long and unblemished traditions. Hereditary
instincts inbred and powerful were arrayed against him in the hearts of
six of his judges; in the seventh, Count Sagan, he had to encounter the
ill-blood of a profoundly vindictive nature whose purposes he had
crossed and baffled, and who harboured towards him a savage personal
It must be understood that so far no hint of the arrangement with
England had been allowed to transpire. The engagement to be given by
Maäsau in return for the promised British loan and moral support was in
train for completion, but the final signature was not to take place
till that afternoon. Meantime the Chancellor kept a still tongue in his
head and waited upon events, knowing that when all transpired the
responsibility could be shifted on to the shoulders of the Duke. It was
a risky game, but M. Selpdorf had played many anotherand won them
all. At the same time he had no intention of putting out his hand to
save Rallywood, whose disappearance from the scheme of earthly affairs
would remove an awkward cause of disagreement from the range of his own
family circle. Yet it must be admitted that M. Selpdorf really
regretted that the necessities of the case required the sacrifice of
the Englishman, for whom his former abstract liking remained entirely
The doors of the great mess-room were closed, for within them the
court-martial was in progress. At the central table seven men with the
marks of power upon them were gathered. Above them the torn banners of
the regiment hung in the red gloom of the dome, but about the men
themselves the gray-white light of a winter day fell from the riverward
windows. It seemed to dull even the red glow of the hangings, that cold
light, which lent to the faces of those assembled a strange effect of
It is a common experience that silence in a place associated in the
mind with voices and the movement and sounds of life has a weird and
impressive effect. Enter an empty church and you are chilled; hear a
will read in the room which you connect with laughter and the genial
routine of everyday events, and the uncanny quiet, falling away from
the single voice, benumbs you. Thus in the mess-room, where music and
laughter and the hubbub of men's talking usually resounded, the
unwonted stillness, broken only by the piercing wail of the tsa,
struck coldly and heavily upon the senses.
Count Sagan, his big chest covered with gold-lace and orders, loomed
at the head of the table, Wallenloup and Ulm to his right and left,
Adiron, Unziar, Adolf and Varanheim seated according to their rank. At
the foot of the table in the uniform of the Guard but without a sword
stood the prisoner.
One man present was a complete stranger to RallywoodMajor Ulm, who
had just returned from leave, and whose keen eyes set in a thin shaven
face scrutinised him coldly. Behind Ulm's bald forehead dwelt most of
the sagacity and discretion of the Guard. Strongly as his prejudices
were excited he could not avoid being struck by the bearing of the
There was a cold fierceness about the men of the Guard, but
Rallywood stood unmoved under the many hostile eyes.
A court-martial, where the prisoner is condemned, is perhaps the
most awful scene of justice upon earth. This is so because it contains
within itself elements that edge its painfulness. The judges wield not
only the power of death, but the power of putting a man to utter shame.
The prisoners who stand at such a tribunal may be credited with the
capability, given to them by training if not by nature, of feeling
shame. And the capability of suffering shame is as distinct a quality
as the sense of honour.
Count Sagan glared round the table, and the aspect of his colleagues
pleased him; they felt under his rough imagination like a sword whose
temper the fighter is sure of. There was a horrible energy, a furious
relentlessness about his very attitude and ringing in his voice that
drove every word of his accusation into and through his hearers. As
president he put questions to the prisoner, who answered them unmoved.
Rallywood fronted them calm and soldierlike, the picture of a
gallant despair. He felt as though he stood clear of his life. It was
lived and the end in sight. His position was hard, but he seemed to be
ready to say Amen to whatever the fates might send. He had no thought
of struggling for life and love. He was far otherwise. He was one whose
love is hopeless, whose loved one is lost as though in death, and who
lives through the present dream according to an ideal, the ideal of
being worthy of the vanished past.
Unziar alone looked stonily blank, but the other grim faces round
the table regarded Rallywood with a sort of satisfaction. He had sinned
against them, but they were about to make him pay the highest human
penalty for his sin. Yet to Ulm his demeanour was suggestive. There was
something eloquent of singleness of heart and nobleness that seemed to
buoy up this man with his broken honour. There was no parade of
outraged innocence, nothing but a fearless reserve.
Rallywood hardly heard the grave voices that discussed his fate,
stirring as they did so the clogging quiet which hung with such solemn
effect over the historic room.
Those lofty walls had never before echoed to a similar charge or a
like disgrace. The accusation was set forth in general terms. It spoke
only of a certain prisoner and certain despatches. Rallywood acting
under valid orders, had taken over the despatches from Unziar, and next
by a false telegram to Unziar had ordered the release of a certain
prisoner. Also he had used the despatches to forward aims of his own,
to the loss and detriment of the Free State of Maäsau. Anthony Unziar
gave his evidence briefly and with caution, but it was conclusive.
After the charge had been completed and proved, a few minutes
silence ensued. Then Count Sagan addressed the prisoner.
'Captain Rallywood, have you anything to say in your own defence?'
A sudden jarring sense of amusement struck upon Rallywood. They were
playing a farce; Count Simon, with his mortal enmity, was but acting
his part. The whole procedure was hollow yet he Rallywood would have to
give his life to prove that all this seeming was deadly earnestthat
the blustering traitor opposite was not a defeated schemer but a loyal
son of Maäsau!
Rallywood could not repress a quick smile.
Count Simon flung his fist upon the table.
'Do you hear me?' he shouted; 'what have you to say in your
Rallywood looked him in the eyes.
'Nothing,' he said.
There was a hush. Sagan picked up the glances of the officers round
him. Rallywood's words had come as a shock. Most of the men expected
some attempt if not at a defence at least at a justification of his
Sagan's harsh voice was raised again.
Unziar sprang up hurriedly.
'It is in the ante-room,' he said; 'I will bring it.'
Sagan rose from his place as Unziar returned with a naked sword in
his hand. The Count took it and laid it on the table before him.
Then standing he addressed the court.
'Gentlemen of the Guard,I must thank you in the first place for
the admirable patience with which you have listened to the details of
the abominable crime with which the prisoner, John Rallywood, is
charged. His guilt has been proved up to the hilt by Lieutenant
Unziar's evidence, but in addition to that the accused was not ashamed
to convict himself out of his own mouth. The sentence upon a traitor as
upon a mutinous soldier is unalterable. It is death! No doubt,
gentlemen, we are unanimously agreed upon that, and the formality of
the ballot is all that is left.'
The ballot-box stood upon a side-table at the upper end of the room,
and beside it a basket with a number of ivory balls, some black, some
white. The officers went up in rotation and each with his back to the
company placed a ball of the colour he chose in the ballot-box.
The haggard daylight was fading slowly as the men left their chairs
and returned to them in silence.
Rallywood waited, not in suspense indeed, but with the full sense
that his fate was being legally recorded by a jury of his fellows. It
is at such a moment as this that a man goes back to his belief in God.
If there is no God, to what end anything? Those who say there is no God
say the world is a sad and very evil place. If their creed were
universally accepted, the last state of humanity would be worse than
the first, and earth degenerate into a hopeless and helpless hell.
'Six black balls, one white,' announced Major Ulm.
The prisoner's gray frank eyes flashed out at Unziar, but the
Maäsaun's rigid face gave no sign.
Then Count Sagan, secure of his enemy, let himself go. He lifted the
sword from the table, and casting one more glance at the prisoner, he
placed the gleaming point upon the floor, bending the delicate blade,
and stamping upon it midway with his booted heel. There was a shallow
ring as the steel broke, then a clash of metal as the Count flung the
hilt upon the point, as if the touch contaminated him.
'John Rallywood, this court has found you guilty and condemned you
to die! And I, Count Simon of Sagan, colonel-in-chief of the Guard of
Maäsau, now pronounce upon you the sentence of death. Trusted by the
Guard, you chose to betray them! Where is the oath of fealty by which
you swore to obey? We are polluted by your treason, we are tainted by
your shame! Are you afraid to speak? Is your voice frozen in your
throat? The greater part of your punishment should be in its shame. But
you cannot feel it! You and shame are strangersthe last infamy of the
base! You are loathsome, a mercenary false to his salt, a hound who
sold himself for money first and for disgraceful gain afterwards! How
can I touch you? Where can I prod you? On what nerve, since the nerve
of shame is dead? Like the groom, one could only punish you with a
whip. I shall lay the matter before the Duke. I will urge it upon my
colleagues,' he swept his arm round the table; 'a hundred with the whip
or to run the gauntlet of the Guard. That would touch you more than
words, or shame, or death! Ha, that reaches you!' he cried, and then
there was a fierce exultation in the raucous volleying words, 'You have
disgraced the Guard but we cannot for reasons of state publicly
disgrace you. But you shall be shotshot like a dog! You shall not
meet death face to face as many a brave man has met it, but you shall
be shot, cringing with your back to the gun-muzzleslike the cur you
Rallywood's pale features had flushed for a second. There was a
brutality about Sagan's denunciations which shocked the men around him.
Rallywood deserved something, but not this, not that! Unziar's eyes
burned, Wallenloup was frowning. But Sagan swept on. He was a man who
trampled horribly upon a fallen foe.
At last Wallenloup could bear it no longer. He rose to his feet and
saluting the Count led the way from the room, the line closing with
Rallywood between Adolf and Unziar as guard.
Left alone in the great dim vaulted chamber, Sagan stood upright and
watched the door through which they had filed out, and there came upon
him in the dying daylight a terrible moment, such as all uncontrolled
natures must at times know. A sense of the futility of all things, a
knowledge that life has lost its taste, the hideousness of finally
He hurled out his heavy arms with a wild gesture.
'Where have they gone? Where are they, the strong lusts and hates
and triumphsthe satisfactions of the old days? The world has grown
puny. It is empty, empty, empty!'
CHAPTER XXX. 'UPON THE GREAT WORLD'S
It is a commonplace that selfish natures, balked of gratification,
seek relief in making the unhappiness of others, preferably of those
who are helpless to resist or to resent. Therefore Count Sagan employed
the interval before going to the Palace to procure the signature of the
Duke to Rallywood's death-warrant in paying a flying visit to his wife,
whom he had not seen since the morning of the boar-hunt at the Castle.
He found several other people calling upon Madame de Sagan, who was
not fond of solitude. Numbers gave the pretty Countess courage. She
took no notice of her husband's entrance, although the soft colour left
her face instantly as a candle-flame is blown out. But Count Simon had
only five minutes to spare and something to say in them. Isolde's
feeble rebellion escaped him; he strode to her side, and with a single
glance dispersed the little coterie of guests about her, the only one
who kept his position being Baron von Elmur.
Sagan stood before his wife, an evil smile on his coarse bearded
mouth. He nodded at Elmur.
'I have news of interest for both of you.'
'Ah! it is over then?' Elmur asked at once. He discerned the Count's
intention and would have averted its fulfilment if possible. The
thought that he was about to make a woman unhappy never deterred Elmur
from any course of action whatsoever, but he preferred not to see them
so. He delighted in pretty women, and Isolde of Sagan was exceptionally
pretty; therefore, for the sake of the next half hour of her society he
would have spared her the tidings her husband's malice designed to
thrust upon her in public. Afterwards the deluge might come, but what
matter? Have we not all our deluges in private that submerge our world
in tears? 'Madame has kindly promised to assist in the tableaux
vivants next week,' he added hastily.
The Count grinned his contempt.
'You should reproduce the death of a traitor. Come to see Rallywood
shot in the morning by way of an object lesson.'
Madame de Sagan's hand flew to her throat with a quick gasp of
horror; for a second the room seemed to swing round, then slowly settle
'Why, what has he done?' she asked; her lips were dry but she spoke
'Nothing new, only he happened to be found out this time. Well, au
Elmur stood up and followed him.
'The signature of his Highness?' he asked in a low voice.
'I go to get it and other things also. I have arranged the interview
Elmur bowed and returned to his place by the side of the Countess.
Isolde's blue eyes, dewy as a child's with unshed tears, appealed to
'It is not true?'
Elmur reflected that he had never before seen her look so pretty.
Most women with tears in their eyes repelled his fastidiousness, but
this one was delicious. He bent towards her and said as much with a
fervour that surprised her. She smiled tremulously. She had always
considered the wary German worth capturing, but he was an elusive bird.
Admiration had never before got the better of his self-possession; now
for the first time he appeared to be carried away by it. The keenness
of conquest thrilled her. Jack?ah, yes, poor Jack! But he was
practically lost to her for ever. She sighed a little; she had been
fond of Jack, but the love that can stand against the inevitable was
not hers. She reminded herself that Jack had preferred Valeriebut,
why, so had Elmur! A temptation came to her; she glanced again at
Elmur. He was personable though advancing to middle age, and handsome
as men go, though his eyes were close-set and cunning. He was not like
poor Jackno, she would never find anyone perhaps quite so good to
look upon as Jack, with his broad shoulders and corn-coloured hair, and
those dear frank eyes! No, but
'Madame, what are you thinking of? I wish I dared flatter myself
that I could ever draw tears to those exquisite eyes,' Elmur said again
with warmth. He wanted excitement and Isolde was yielding. There are
women who will sacrifice the most sacred things, God's word itself, on
the altar of their vanity. Isolde withdrew her slight hand from his
touch, but it was the withdrawal that invites advance. She hesitated no
'There are other eyes whose tears will be bitterer than mine; are
you not jealous of them? I am sorry for Captain Rallywood, of course,
but poor Valeriewhat am I saying?'
'Whatever you say interests me,' he urged, his eyes following hers.
She pouted coquettishly.
'Yes, because I speak of Valerie!'
'No, it is because you speak!' he declared amorously. 'Tell me of
Mademoiselle Valerie if you will,' this as a concession, 'though you
could tell me something more interesting.'
'Not more interesting to you than this,' she exclaimed, nodding her
golden head at him with her little air of foolish wisdom. 'It is lucky
that Captain Rallywood isis about to furnish an object-lesson,
for' she raised her slender finger and laid it on her lips, smiling
He looked round. They were alone in a smaller drawing-room; it was
not possible for the guests in the other saloon to see them. He drew
the finger from her lips and pressed it to his own. He would woo the
truth from this beautiful fool. His words meant one thing, his looks
'And Valerie?' he questioned, seeming to count her fingers on his
'Valerie loves himshe told me so,' whispered Isolde, since there
was no longer need to speak louder.
'And you, my dear lady?' And it may be the speech was the more
impassioned because in his heart he was damning the picturesqueness of
the captain of the Guard.
* * * * *
And Rallywood? Rallywood sat in his quarters thinking thoughts that,
like music, lead sometimes on to exaltation. His earthly life was done,
and he looked out into the dim beyond fearlessly. His eyes were set and
sad, for he should see her face and hear Valerie's voice no more, but
he would be waiting in that somewhere for her. A man in the supremer
hours often turns again to the faiths of his childhood; so now
Rallywood, at the summit of his life, found himself given back all
those lost dreams.
He did not know how she came there. He heard no footstep enter. And
when he knew, neither spoke.
There was nothing to say; it was all understood so well. She stood
beside him, her hands in his in a strange lull of mutual knowledge.
'How did you come?' he asked her at last.
'Anthony,' she answered, 'he knowsall.'
'How like him! But,' with a man's ready thought for the woman he
loves, 'you must not be found here. Say good-bye to me, Valerie.'
'John,' she clung to him, 'how can I let you go? You are dying for
Maäsaufor my fatherfor meyes, yes, I can guess all!'
'Valerie, do you know what your love is to me? I need nothing more.
I have not thought of what there is beyond, but when you want me you
will find me waiting.'
In the long silence life itself might have been suspended.
'When?' said Valerie, in a sudden recollection of anguish.
'To-morrow,' he answered, understanding the broken question.
Valerie raised her wet eyes.
'In my life there can be no to-morrow. God may not let me die, but
my life will always be one long remembrance of to-day. I shall live in
to-day always. To-morrows are for happier women, John. And yet I am
wicked to say that. I would not change my lot with any other. For have
I not my memories? And I will learn to have my hopes. And whenever that
blessed day of release may come to me, I will bring my heart to you as
it is to-day, my king!'
Rallywood looked into the beautiful tear-dimmed eyes. He was too
wise to say that he had spoilt her life, that had it been possible to
set the wrong right by any sacrifice he would have done so. Of this he
said nothing. He only kissed her.
'Next to living to be with you, darling, I am in love with dying for
The silence grew again between them, the best and saddest silence
upon earththe silence of all's said.
'And yet, John, I have one thing left to live for. I will live to
see your name stand where it should. For men like you are only
understood and honouredafterwards,' she said presently.
Another man might have disclaimed all praise. Rallywood, who
believed he deserved none, kept silence. He knew that to deny would be
to wound. And he was fain to say to her a thing which was hard to say
and hard to hear. But he was looking out into the troubled future, and
his anxiety for her grew bitter upon him. So he nerved himself to the
greatest sacrifice of all. And Valerie's next words gave him the
opening he desired.
'Your sword' she began.
'No, no! Anthony brought another to Count Sagan, not yours. Yours
was not the sword of a traitor! That also I will keep.'
'UnziarI thank him. And Valerie, listen! When they condemned me
there was one vote in my favour. You can guess whose.'
'Yes, Valerie, and he loves you, and I will not blameI wishI
Valerie's glance met his. She understood.
'No,' she said; 'I will thank him, and like him dearly and pray for
him, but not thatno, not ever that!'
A quiet knock on the door.
'And now it is good-bye.'
CHAPTER XXXI. DUKE GUSTAVE.
Whatever may be said to the contrary, the fact remains that a little
independent success acts on a morally weak man as a glass of wine upon
a physically weak one. For a time it exalts and quickens him.
Duke Gustave of Maäsau was in a condition of mental exhilaration,
and experiencing to the full the false sensation of strength thus
created when Sagan was announced. Selpdorf, who had been listening for
some minutes to his master's self-gratulations on the newly ratified
British contract rose as if to take his departure.
'Wait, Selpdorf!' the Duke said.
'My lord has asked for a private interview, your Highness,' Selpdorf
'Yes, but I have no private affairs to discuss with my cousin.
Anything that need be said between us is better said before a witness,'
replied the Duke. 'How do you suppose he will take the news of our
agreement with England?'
Selpdorf's answer was slow in coming, and before he spoke Count
Sagan strode into the room. He carried a sheaf of papers; his imperious
temper was wont to rush every business through to which he put his
'I begged for a few moments in private with your Highness,' he said,
with a glance at the Minister.
'Our good Selpdorf is too discreet to be considered a third,'
answered the Duke blandly. 'He knows our secrets without being told
them. Pray proceed, my lord; is there anything I can do for you?'
'Yes, sire; I wish to lay before you the matter I was forced to
postpone at the Castle. I also made use of the opportunity to bring one
or two papers relating to the Guard for signature.'
The Duke took the papers. He was seated at a writing-table, and he
glanced carelessly over them as Sagan went on.
'Under your approval those papers include Lieutenant Unziar's
appointment as captain, vice Colendorp'
'Deceased,' put in the Duke with a sharp significance.
Sagan frowned. Gustave had a curious alertness about him to-night.
'Yes, poor fellow! We can ill spare him,' he said. 'Also we have
agreed to propose Abenfeldt as junior subaltern.'
'I have no objection,' the Duke said.
'As for the other subject upon which I have for some time wished to
speak to you, sire, I am authorised to lay before your Highness certain
'Stop, my lord,' again interrupted the Duke, 'if those proposals
have any reference to von Elmur and his projects for the good of the
State, I absolutely decline to hear them. What's this?' he had laid
aside the upper papers after signature, and was scanning the one below
with an expression of countenance which showed that he liked what he
read very little.
Sagan watched him with a deepening frown, the more subtle Selpdorf
with curiosity. At other times it had been the Duke's custom to add his
signature to papers without a glance at their contents. The destiny of
one man is thus often decided by the passing mood of another.
'What's this about Rallywood?'
'A bad business, but your Highness's signature makes many a wrong
right,' said Sagan, with a clumsy attempt at pleasantry; 'it needs only
that. You have the pen and ink, sire.'
'But, by Heaven, not the will!' cried the Duke. 'I will not sign it!
And if I will not, hey?'
'M. Selpdorf will assure you that it is necessary in the case of
discipline,' urged Sagan with a lowering look.
'And I will assure M. Selpdorf that I am accustomed to make up my
own mind! You know it already, Selpdorf!'
'I have always known it, sire,' said the supple Chancellor.
'You will hear my reasons?' asked Sagan angrily.
The Duke nodded.
'Captain Rallywood was guilty of gross disobedience of orders. His
case has been laid before a court-martial of his brother officers, and
he has been condemned to be shot. The trial has been conducted with
'What were Captain Rallywood's orders, then?'
'He was ordered to carry certain dispatches to the Chancellor, but
he carried them elsewhere for his own purposes.'
The Duke nodded slowly and half closed his eyes. He remembered a
certain damp morning by the river, when Rallywood had ridden to take
orders from Selpdorf.
'So you are in this also, Selpdorf?' he said. 'What despatches were
these? Pray tell me frankly. I believe I know something already.'
'Despatches sent to me from the Frontier, sire.'
'Which he failed to bring to you. Where then did he take them?'
The delay and the persistent unexpected questioning of the Duke
irritated Sagan almost beyond endurance. He struck in.
'Sire, does it matter what he did with them, as we have proof that
he disobeyed orders? That is the pointwhat need to ask further?'
Then, as the Duke still shook his head, he burst out, 'Well, then, he
carried them to the British Legationto his own countrymen, mind you.
He was false to his oath as a soldier! He must be shot!'
Gustave of Maäsau was a man who lied much and often, as those of
poor moral calibre will. He lied now with zest.
'So? Although Captain Rallywood acted under my personal
instructions, Simon?' he said quietly.
Sagan sprang to his feet.
'Yes,' resumed the Duke, warming to his rôle. 'Yes, he acted
under my orders, for the despatches were connected with the agreement I
have within the last hour signed with England, and about which the
first proposals were laid before me at midnight by the British Envoy
during my visit to your Castle!'
'What?' shouted Sagan, as his house of cards fell about him. 'You
lie, Gustave! And Germany? Selpdorf, we hold your promises! It is
impossible to think this to be true?'
'It is true,' said the Chancellor. 'I beg you will recollect that
his Highness is present, my lord. This excitement'
Sagan stood gasping and staring. His passion seemed to choke him as
he stood, but the Duke, still exalted by the sense of triumph and
power, mistook the silence for speechless humiliation. His temper rose
as the other's seemed to sink.
'You can deceive me no more, my lord Sagan!' he cried in a high
excited voice. 'You took Colendorp from me, you would now take
Rallywood, one by one all my faithful Guard! But I am sovereign still!
You shall not tamper any longer with my loyal State; you shall never
bring your traitorous German schemes to an issue!'
But there were things impossible for Count Simon of Sagan to endure.
Never before had he been twitted with impotence and failure. He could
not survive so utter a defeat. A man to bear these things must be less
thorough than the Count. He was too fierce, too imperious, to bear so
great a reverse. If he must be put to shame before the world, if even a
paltry captain of the Guard were to be permitted to negative his will,
why then life had best be over!
He seemed to struggle for speech; at last, without warning, his
passion leaped into flame. Like a wild beast he sprang across the table
at the Dukethe poor snivelling coward who had dared to flay him with
his tongue! The old hate fired the new fury as he clutched Gustave.
The Duke gave a shrill feeble cry, not such a cry as one would have
expected from a man of his age, and then Selpdorf was between them
shouting for the Guard.
'You false hound!' Sagan gnashed his teeth in Selpdorf's face as the
Chancellor threw himself upon him.
Shouts and shots, and the wild turmoil of a deadly struggle. Then
the Guard had secured Sagan. The Duke stood trembling and incoherent,
leaning upon the table, and between them, face downwards on the floor,
the Chancellor with a bullet in his groin and for once playing a
rôle he had not prepared.
Sagacious, supple, self-seeking, yet not utterly seared, in the last
resort he offered up his life for the master he had almost betrayed.
CHAPTER XXXII. FOR A SEASON.
Queens Fain lies upon the inner edge of Lincolnshire, in an
undulating countryside amongst great old trees, where of an evening the
sun throws bars of light across the levels of turf, where homing rooks
fly in scattered lines against a gleaming sky, the air breathes
coolness and peace, and the scene lays that ineffable spell upon the
heart of which only the exile can ever know the full pathetic power.
Round the house tall fences of yew and holly fend off the colder
winds. On an evening in early spring Rallywood and Counsellor strolled
under the shelter of a massive black wall of yew. The daffodils were
blowing about the border of the lake below them, and along the distant
hedges furry catkins were already nodding and floating on the crisp
'I have found it necessary once or twice before to say that you were
a fool, John,' said Counsellor, looking up at a corner of the great
stone-built mansion, its cold aspect yellowed and mellowed by the
'Always or on occasion?' Rallywood laughed easily.
'Mostly. You will not leave the Guard. If I were you I should go
to-morrow. Marry the girl as soon as she will let you, and bring her
here. Then sit down and shoot partridges. She will like it. It is
better than Maäsau.'
'It is altogether good to own the old place again,' Rallywood said,
'and we'll do our duty by the partridges, Major, you and I, I hope,
by-and-by, but to do that and nothing elsenot yet!'
'You've stalked bigger game and that has spoilt you,' grumbled the
Major. 'After Count Sagan, partridges pall. Yet it is a pity.'
'I shall bring Valerie here sometimes, of course. I think she'll
like the old place almost as much as I do.'
'More, since it is the birthplace and home of one John Rallywood,'
said Counsellor with a twist of his big moustache. 'You lucky,
undeserving beggar! So Selpdorf's gone. A queer compound.'
'His death redeemedmuch,' said Rallywood, shortly.
'Yes,' Counsellor puffed out a great cloud of smoke, 'yes, but we
have no reason to forget the fact that he was very ready to secure
himself at a heavy cost to you.'
'For the sake of Maäsau,' interposed Rallywood.
'Humfor the sake of Maäsau! And you were an inconvenient
personality also. Well, well, let it pass. But it was touch and go with
you, John, for no one could have foreseen that shaky old Gustave would
rise to the occasion as he did. And what has he done for you after
'He saved my life first, and gave me the Gold Star of Maäsau
afterwards,' said Rallywood, 'an honour which I share with some
monarchsand Major Counsellor.'
'Dirt cheap, too!' grunted Counsellor. 'I hear that Madame de Sagan
sent you a very neat congratulation.
A genoux sur la terre
Nous rendons grâces à Dieu
Et nous lui faisons voeux
D'une double prière.
You can take your own meaning out of it,' ended the Major.
'And the people being chiefly malicious will take the wrong one.'
'That is as it may be. But for you I hope a fine morning will follow
the stormy evening. You will grow fat and selfish, John, like many a
Rallywood smiled. He was thinking of a certain elderly diplomat who,
rumour said, had been moved out of his usual composure on one occasion
only. It was at the moment when he heard that Captain Rallywood of the
Maäsaun Guard was sentenced to be shot.
'By the way,' resumed Counsellor, 'did I tell you that I saw von
Elmur yesterday at Charing Cross? He said he was starting for
Constantinople. I bade him good-bye, but he corrected me, Au revoir,
my dear Major, and kissed the tips of his fingers to me as the train
passed. So perhaps the end is not yet.'
'God bless the present!' said Rallywood.
And while they walk and talk over the past and the future in the
pleasant places of England, the surf is beating round an island off the
Maäsaun coast, upon which a storm-stricken fortification has been
adapted to the use of a certain political prisoner, Count Simon of
Sagan. There he frets, and schemes, and longs through the endless
afternoons. He does not accept his destiny as final, his hopes are
unimpaired, his resolves as strong as in the old keen days at Sagan. He
clings to a blind conviction that Time and the Man must inevitably meet
together, and he lives for that meeting.
There, too, Anthony Unziar serves his country and his sovereign,
relentlessly watchful through the dead monotony of the days. At his own
urgent request he was given charge of the lonely prison, its solitude
appearing to him the one bearable condition of life. He has his work to
do and he does it well, and always between Count Sagan and his dreams
stands the irrevocable figure of the young Maäsaun.
Sometimes Sagan taunts him with his hopeless love, but he only
answers by a look. And each knows that wherever he may turn, he will
find the other standing up against himthe fierce imbruted prisoner
with his royal fearlessness, and his intense and frigid guard.
They are waiting. They have each his dream. Sagan's of empire and
revenge, for he is after all a splendid ruffian, untamable, gallant, a
man who could never be compelled to cry 'Enough' to evil fortune.
Sometimes deep in the night, while the two enemies play their long
games together, Sagan flings down the cards and laughs and speaks of
another game which will find its conclusion in the dim paths of the
future. But Unziar only smiles. If that day should ever come it will
find him ready. But to-day is not to-morrow, and 'God bless the
present!' as Rallywood said.