Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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THE man with the gray eyes made a covert warning gesture. His companion fell silent, as the waitress approached with the meal they had ordered.
The little tavern, in a side street of war-ravaged Danzig, was blue with tobacco-smoke and buzzing with tongues. Burghers, merchants, soldiers, crowded the place; half the languages of Europe were in the air. When the waitress was gone, the man with the gray eyes relaxed and attacked his soup, with a quiet word in English.
"You were saying, Beauchamp—"
"That the world has turned over, is flying apart," said the other gloomily.
"This upstart dictator has become, before we realized it, the greatest figure on earth. He has either conquered, or subdued into alliance, the whole of Europe. All laws, human and divine, have been abrogated. We're seeing civilization itself perish, Courtney."
"Your words are careless, my dear Beauchamp," said Courtney. "The conqueror does not destroy civilization; he makes use of it. What he does destroy are the ideals and culture of the world. And don't talk too loudly. I think those fellows at the next table are secret police. They're everywhere, these days."
"What does it matter?" Beauchamp spoke wearily, with the air of one who has lost hope. "England is stagnant, in ruins, blockaded, her commerce gone, her influence lost—a little island fighting against the whole world! The dictator is swollen with the loot of Europe. His alliance with Russia has made him supreme. Italy is in his grip; he has literally enslaved entire nations. Freedom of speech and press is wiped out—"
"You forget one thing," said Courtney cheerfully, his gray eyes flickering about the tavern vigilantly, as he spoke. "His boasted invasion of England has failed, and must fail; we hold the seas."
"What good will that do us, in the end?" The gloomy Beauchamp fell upon his soup and gulped ravenously, after the manner of a peasant; he played his part well. "His armies seem inexhaustible. All the powers of hell are behind him. Massacres, shootings, executions, rapine, follow his flag. Universities and centers of learning are demolished, ancient systems of culture have perished. New order, forsooth! He's establishing what he calls a new order for the whole world, and has begun with Europe, his slave."
"Attend to the soup; it may hearten you a bit," said Courtney. "You know, it's getting damned hard to find decent food anywhere! Europe's in for starvation and frightful epidemics this winter and next spring. But, Beauchamp, your entire argument is wrong. Our dictator friend has done quite well for himself, I admit; he's gradually coming face to face, however, with his destiny—with the force he cannot destroy or even face."
"You mean England?" grunted the other.
"I do not mean England, unless you consider England as a mere agent. Time and time again, such waves of destruction have overflowed the world, when everything fine and noble and divine seems to have perished utterly; yet it has survived. Do you know why? I'll tell you. Think a moment; you remember Jeanne d'Arc?"
"Eh?" Beauchamp scowled. He was not good at history. "French girl—yes."
"Well, the secret lies in her story. She revealed it to the whole world, had the world only been able to—" Courtney broke off abruptly. His voice changed. He leaned over the table, stuffing bread and sausages into his pockets. Deadly alarm was in his eyes; but it was quiet, controlled, unpanicked.
"Quick, Beauchamp! I'm done for if that chap sees me. I must run. To business! When will you be back with the reports we need?"
"Soon as I can get to Warsaw and meet the Vienna chap who's to meet me there."
"Warsaw's your territory. Keep it. I've come from London for those reports; must take 'em back. Must stay here in Danzig till I get 'em. The devil! I never dreamed that Steinbach was in this part of Europe... he knows me too well. Can you be back here in five days?"
"Yes." Beauchamp had lost his gloomy aspect. He, too, was on the alert. "Five days, yes. I have good horses. But where to contact you?"
"Here in this tavern, the Rothenstern. Friday night. I'll be here or have word for you. Kill your horses if you must, but make it! Every day's of vital importance. Good luck, and God keep you!"
As he spoke, Courtney rose. His square shoulders slumped, his lean figure drooped. The worn old peasant's coat enveloped him, the hat-brim was pulled over his face. Staggering a little, as a countryman who had drunk too much, he weaved across the tavern floor and was gone.
Beauchamp grunted admiringly, yet scornfully. God! He had ceased to believe in God, though he was himself one of the cleverest British agents in Europe. He was not alone in this. Many people had ceased to believe in anything, these days of horror.
It was the autumn of 1809. The dictator whom they had been discussing was Napoleon, the upstart who had made himself from a peasant into the master of Europe, and who aimed at mastery of the world. This had happened before, and would happen again; but to such minds as that of Beauchamp, it was something new and horrible and meant the end of the world.
To such minds as that of Courtney, however, it meant something very different.
HE reached the doorway of the tavern in security. There, just as the dark safety of the street outside was within reach, disaster almost caught up with him. A French officer, entering, shoved him aside with arrogant hand. He fell back against the wall, his wide-brimmed hat was knocked aside. The officer glimpsed his face and was shocked into a momentary paralysis of recognition. Then Courtney dived into the street and was lost in the darkness.
He cursed his luck as he sped away. Bad enough to find Steinbach, the deadliest secret agent of Napoleon, here; worse, to have been seen and recognized by Villestreux. What horrible chance had brought them to Danzig, to the Rothenstern tavern, this night of all nights? They were the two men in France who knew him, who had best reason to know him. Steinbach, the right arm, and Villestreux, the left arm, of the French secret service, that terrible organization which reached out to the ends of Europe, striking down with pitiless efficiency the enemies of the dictator.
"Now they'll know I'm in Danzig; now there's no safety anywhere," thought Courtney as he strode through the narrow streets of the old city, recently reduced by the French after a bloody siege. "And I can't leave till my work's done."
No, he could not leave. He had come from England for the reports from Vienna, Warsaw and St. Petersburg, from the agents like Beauchamp who risked their lives daily to keep the British service afloat amid these deathly waters.
Courtney was the peer of them all. In Spain, in France itself, he had fought them tooth and nail, until a bullet through the body laid him out for six months; he was, reportedly, dead. With this advantage he was now back in the game, only to be recognized tonight, at the very start. It was cruel luck.
Leave? It was out of the question, until he got Beauchamp's reports on Friday. Even more important was to meet Dawson, who was coming from St. Petersburg. He would be here on Thursday at the latest. London was hanging desperately upon Dawson's report. If Russia could be detached from her alliance with the dictator, then there was great hope for England; otherwise the outlook was gloomy.
Never, indeed, had it been gloomier. The Flanders expedition had been a ghastly failure. There were revolts in India. The Spanish expeditionary force had ended in defeat and embarkation. Scandinavia had been forced into alliance with the dictator, and one of his marshals, Bernadotte, would be Sweden's next king. The two-year blockade had brought starvation close to home. Only at sea had England managed to remain supreme.
And now, midway of the war, the entire cabinet had changed in London—whether for good or ill, no one knew as yet. As a crowning blow, the United States had passed the Non-intercourse Act; and once more England's commerce, which was barely keeping her alive, received a body-blow.
Courtney hurried along. His avenue of retreat was secure; a bluff-bowed fishing lugger, a tiny craft lurking among the islands and sending into Danzig twice a week for word from him.
In one of the waterfront streets, where the French siege guns had wrought havoc, he came to the dimly lit basement shop of a cobbler, and paused. The street was empty; all was clear. The cobbler was at his bench, hammering away. Courtney stooped and entered; as the door swung, a bell jangled in the depths of the house. The cobbler looked up, grunted recognition, and pulled another bell-cord beside his bench; this was to tell those upstairs that all was well and the new arrival was a friend.
"All clear," said the cobbler, an old one-legged man. "But he has a caller, a lady."
"Who is she?" demanded Courtney.
The cobbler shrugged. "How should I know? French, I think. Here he is now."
A rear curtain was brushed aside. Into the shop stepped the old, bent, white-haired man whose establishment here and whose sharp wits made this the focal point of northern Europe for the secret service. Leaning on his stick, his bright eyes peering at Courtney, old Dominie Claverhouse spoke under his breath.
"What's wrong, man? Where's Beauchamp?"
"Skipped," said Courtney. "And I must find other lodgings. Can't risk drawing the hounds on you. Steinbach is here; so is Villestreux. I saw them both. By the devil's luck, Villestreux saw and recognized me."
"Get back to England," said the Dominie curtly.
"Impossible. Beauchamp returns with his reports on Friday night. And Dawson will be here from St. Petersburg not later than Thursday."
"Very well," rejoined the Dominie. "Come upstairs. Peter, draw the shutters and keep watch on the street from above. Come along, Courtney. Elaine de Courland is here—the very person to solve your riddle."
Courtney followed him to a back passage, which opened upon a steep stairway.
"Never heard of her," he said. "If you say so, of course she's safe."
Claverhouse cackled a laugh. "As the dead! The Cossacks have killed most of her family, the French have looted her estates. She has money enough and lives here quietly. She'll take care of you, and I can reach you at any time if you're with her."
Courtney made no response, but trailed him up the stairs. A woman refugee, eh? Young, no doubt beautiful; addlepated and languishing, with hysterics in the offing, and ready to betray anyone if their vanity were injured, these women! The lean, hatchet-faced Englishman with the gray eyes did not like to trust any woman; but women unfortunately seemed to like to trust him. They could, more's the pity.
In the bare, sparsely furnished upstairs room, he bowed to the Dominie's introduction. The candlelight did not reveal but softly cloaked details. Courtney perceived that she was not tall, that she had a sweet, mobile face, that she was enveloped head and shoulders in a woolen peasant shawl.
"Mademoiselle," said the Dominie in French, "permit me to introduce my friend Allan Courtney. He must remain in Danzig until Friday night. Two French secret agents have recognized him tonight. If taken, he will be shot at once. Anyone who shelters him will be shot. He refuses to allow me to run this risk—not that he loves me, but because my work would be jeopardized."
THE little laugh that bubbled from her was delicious to hear, but it held a steely trenchant note that warned Courtney he was dealing with no ordinary woman.
"I see," she rejoined. "So you have in mind to ask that I take the risk, eh? Very well; I agree. Please come at once, M. Courtney, for there is no time to waste. Au revoir, my friend; you know how to reach me."
She extended her hand; the Dominie kissed it gallantly, and Courtney, who had not so far uttered a word, offered her his arm. She accepted. The Dominie brought Courtney's small satchel, containing his few personal effects, and himself let them out by the street door.
"Do you live far from here?" asked Courtney.
"In the next street. As far as heaven is from hell, when the French bombs and shot were falling; they reached here, but not to my street." Her voice quickened. "Careful, at the corner! If there's a patrol, we must get out of sight."
There was no patrol. The streets here were empty. They came to a high, narrow old house that was quite dark. She dropped his arm and hastened up the steps; when he followed, she was holding open a door. All dark inside; he stepped in. The door closed. An inner curtain was drawn aside and an old manservant appeared, holding a silver candlestick.
"A guest, Hans," she said in French, so Courtney might understand. "He will occupy my brother's room; the clothes-closet is at his service. Show him the way. Have you dined, M. Courtney?"
"I've some bread and sausages in my pocket," he rejoined.
She laughed softly. "Good! We dine in half an hour. We're alone in the house with Hans, who has served me for thirty years; you are safe with him."
Courtney bowed and departed up a stairway with the old servant. The candle was the only light in the house, apparently. The flickering gleam struck upon huge portraits, thick carpets, a glow of silver, but Courtney could see almost nothing.
The old servant lighted candles in a room of exquisite appointments, a man's room. The wardrobe was filled with garments of finest texture and cut, linen of the best.
"Where is your master, Hans?" Courtney asked.
"He is not here, monsieur," replied the old servant, and departed. Cautious, eh? Allan Courtney laughed, and hastily stripped off his peasant garments.
He bathed, shaved, dressed. The clothes fitted him fairly; the change was striking. He emerged a different man, gravely handsome, his nervous wariness gone; only the hard glitter behind his gray eyes betrayed that he was no dawdling fop. When he opened his door and blew out his candles, he found the hall lighted, the stairs and the rooms below in a glow of candelabra. Tapestries and portraits and clusters of arms adorned the walls; he was in an atmosphere richly subdued, luxurious in the extreme.
He realized, now, that this was an adventure, a fabulous dream made real. When he bowed to Elaine de Courland, he was certain of it.
She, too, was transformed. Not a girl, but not over thirty, he judged. Her damask gown, her jewels, her high proud head, the regal loveliness of her features, astonished him; she was a woman of superb poise, of perfect control, and her outward loveliness was but the reflection of her real self.
Dinner was served in a dining-room paneled with old black oak; the silver, the china, the linens and viands were not only fine but remarkable. An ancient house filled with ancient treasures, Courtney comprehended. Across the table they spoke of art and music, of books, of travel; not stiffly and formally, but with a delightful intimacy. And as they talked, his wonder at this woman, and his admiration of her, grew each moment. Yet, in their conversation, no personal note intruded. She would not ask questions of a guest.
Dinner over, she led the way into a drawing-room and seated herself at a harpsichord, tinkling away idly, smiling at him.
"You do not use snuff?" she said. "Then smoke, by all means; I smelled tobacco on your clothes as we came."
Courtney obeyed, with a sigh of comfort. He had not eaten such a meal since he left London, and admitted as much.
"May I be permitted a question?" he went on. "I did not recognize the crest on your silver, but then I don't know much about German heraldry."
She ceased to smile. "The house of Courland was broken up and scattered long ago. This it all that remains of it. The estates are gone. The family is gone."
He started. Courland—the Dukes of Courland! Of course; long ago scattered and gone.
"But your brother?" he asked quietly.
"He is dead," she said. A sudden flash came into her face and was lost again.
"He was murdered by French agents; rather, by an Alsatian in the French service."
"Forgive me," he said gently, but she smiled again.
"Why? One must always learn; the desire to learn betokens interest. There are many things I would like to ask you. I have heard your name. I know that you are one man whom the tyrants hate and fear—" She paused. "And then, monsieur, consider how similar are the names we bear: Courland, Courtney! That is destiny at work, doubtless."
HE forgot that he wore the clothes of a dead man; not that it mattered in the least to him. For, as he discussed his work, his adventures, the world around and the incredible things happening to it, he discovered in this woman a deep and sympathetic comprehension very like his own. She was not baffled by the mad events of today.
And yet they had closed in terribly upon her life. She was a refugee; French and Russians alike hated her whole family, and the dictator's secret police did not disdain to oppress or kill women.
"The future? I have none," she said simply. "If I could reach England, yes; but it is impossible. I have ceased to think about it. I must hide away here, and trust that no one will learn of me, or remember me. Presently, when the French find that this house belongs to me, they will come and loot it, and seize me. That will be the end."
"You shall have a better fate; I shall see to it!" he exclaimed, then relaxed and smiled. "Not that, at the moment, I'm able to change destiny; Steinbach has seen to that."
Her brows lifted. "Who?"
"Steinbach—the devil in person, who serves France. He's here; I saw him tonight, he knows that I'm alive and within his power. By this time, the city is probably being searched for me. That's why I'm in danger."
"Oh! Like all the world; will Europe ever be itself again?"
"Certainly," he rejoined, puffing at his pipe.
She abandoned the harpsichord and looked at him for a long moment.
"You seem quite sure. You have strength and poise and knowledge.... I think you must be a good swordsman?"
"Oh, fair enough." He laughed a little. He was the best rapier in London.
"Quite sure? Of course. All this is nothing new, this destruction of the moral law, of spiritual and intellectual truth, by brute force. Every so often it happens, and the brute force meets the same eternal obstacle, and perishes. Just so will Bonaparte perish, and all his boasted new order."
"What is this eternal obstacle you mention?" she demanded quickly. "Are you one of those silly people who believe Right must conquer Wrong—when we see it denied all around us every day? That God must always conquer Satan—when we feel the devil's whip on our backs?"
"No." His face, his eyes, became gravely earnest. "I was trying to explain it tonight to my friend Beauchamp; rather useless, I fear. It's not merely man's will to survive; it's something more startling, more direct. It's an unseen force which has never permitted, and never will permit, the Beast to conquer and flourish. He may conquer, yes; then it destroys him. He disintegrates, before its unseen power."
Her eyes dilated. "Either you are quite mad, or you have perceived a great truth! What is this force?"
He was silent for a space. "You may understand it; most people would not. You recall the story of Jeanne d'Arc?"
She gestured impatiently, alight with eager interest.
"Of course. What about it?"
"She appeared in times not unlike these, and saved her country. She brought it erect again. At such a crisis, this unseen force works in queer ways, and through queer agents—but always, invariably, it so works! Jeanne was in intimate contact with it. She heard it speak to her, she obeyed it. Remember the 'voice' which she heard? This unseen force, I tell you, is the same eternal verity behind all the worlds: Divinity. Things divine. Man struggles and builds to reach the divine, and ever reaches a little farther. Some Napoleon, some Attila, some Genghis Khan, ravens and destroys him and his works, yet he and they persist, because divine things are at work—"
Awkwardly, he ceased to speak; he could not put the thought further into words. No need. She sat rapt, staring at nothing; she had comprehended, and it made her slim bosom rise and fall, her thin delicate nostrils dilate, her whole face become radiant. At length, with a catch of her breath, she wakened from her reverie and turned to him.
"I see, I see; you are treading upon dangerous ground, my friend! You dare to affirm the existence of a God, when the dictator of the whole of Europe denies the fact?"
"Nonsense! I'm not talking religion at all," exclaimed Courtney half angrily. "I'm talking about natural forces, eternal verities which we cannot understand, whose very existence is revealed only to certain chosen persons.... Say no more of it, I beg you."
"Not so; it is an idea, and ideas are precious things," she rejoined, and with a smile came to her feet. "I know you must be weary; we shall have time enough to talk, these next few days, so good night."
He went to his own room; and yet, oddly, he knew that she had dismissed him abruptly because she wanted to be alone with this idea of his. She grasped it. She knew it true.
And it remained between them, as a bond. They did not speak of it again, for morning brought new outlooks, yet it was there. It was at least a hope, given to a woman who had been empty of hope.
NEWS came with day: news of activity throughout the city, of all exits barricaded, of all boats and ships in the harbor searched. The waterfront was gone over with a fine-toothed comb; once satisfied that the man they wanted was not in this quarter, the French clapped a rigorous blockade on every road and exit, then set about a house-to-house inspection of the city.
So Courtney learned on Monday evening, having seen his hostess only briefly, at meal hours. She went out on Tuesday morning, muffled in the peasant clothes and shawl that she invariably wore on the street, carrying a market-basket. Courtney, who had discovered a small, gloomy but well-stocked library adjoining the drawing-room, was busy there when the servant Hans appeared in great agitation.
"Monsieur!" he exclaimed, for he also spoke French fluently. "They are here; they are in the street! The soldiers!"
"Where is your mistress?" asked Courtney, not turning around. "Has she come back?"
"No, she is at market—"
"Admit the soldiers when they come," he rejoined, and lifted his head from the pile of books on the table before him. A thunderous banging came from the door. "Quickly! Admit them, I say! I am your master, tell them!"
Hans fled. Courtney tumbled open some more volumes, seized quill and inkstand and paper, and fell to work.
He heard them coming, pounding on the stairs, clattering on the polished floors. Two officers strode in and halted at sight of him. One extended a paper.
"A search-warrant, monsieur. We are seeking a notorious criminal."
Courtney looked up, with an air of irritation. Spectacles were on his nose; his hair was disordered and well grayed with powder; a gray mustache clung to his lip; his face was yellowed and darkened and streaked with lines of age.
"What is it, what is it?" he said in German. "I do not understand."
The officer explained in German. Courtney waved his quill.
"Search, then! It is nothing to me. The house is at your disposal. Do not bother me."
The two officers grinned at each other and departed. Presently the house was cleared. Barely were the soldiers out, when Elaine de Courland came hurrying in, and with a quick word to Hans, rushed to the library. She stopped short in the doorway, at sight of the transformed Courtney, and an exclamation of relief broke from her.
"You! It is a miracle—"
"Careful," he broke in. "Get to the kitchen, quickly! They'll be back. It's an old trick; search a house, depart, and then come back again in a few moments. Hurry!"
She was off on the instant. Sure enough, ten minutes later one of the two officers came striding in without ceremony and came straight to the library. He tossed down a paper before Courtney.
"Mein Herr, I forgot to give you this certificate. It shows that your house has been searched, in case others come."
"Yes, yes; why do you disturb my work?" growled Courtney, and the officer departed.
TUESDAY passed. Wednesday dragged out its slow hours. Hans went to the cobbler's shop and came back with word that all was safe there; the Dominie had survived the search-ordeal. On this night, Elaine showed herself charming, radiant, filled with life and gayety. What a woman she would be, thought Courtney, once away from this world of terror and constant fear!
ON Thursday morning came a caller, from the Dominie. It was the bluff, hard-jawed Hamburg man who captained the lugger that hung among the islands; he had come into the city by boat.
"I'm hoping to leave tomorrow night," said Courtney. Elaine was with them; he made no secret of the matter before her. In his heart he had determined not to go alone. "If not, then the next night."
"The harbor is closed an hour after sunset," said the shipman, worried.
"An excellent time to get away," Courtney declared. "I'll be waiting at the first boat-stairs this side the customs-house, the same place you set me ashore. If not tomorrow night, then Saturday night. I think, however, it will be tomorrow."
"The boat will come," said the shipman, and took his departure.
This day, Thursday, Courtney noted an abrupt change in his hostess. Finding that he played chess, she produced a board and they whiled away the hours at the game; yet she was not herself. She seemed on a nervous tension. She was distraught, regarded him queerly. He wondered whether the risk was getting on her nerves.
At dinner, she spoke of her brother. He had been the idol of her life, it appeared; she had loved him devotedly, passionately. It was only six months since his execution; he had been working against France, serving the German revolutionary party. They had shot him.
"I would do anything on this earth, anything," she said with deliberate emphasis, "to avenge his death, to strike down his murderer!"
Courtney thought for a moment that she was talking at him, seeking to enlist him. This was very far from her intent, as he later knew, but the notion irked him.
"It is the risk we all run, mademoiselle," he said. "We are lucky if we get shot, indeed—that is, if we're caught or betrayed."
Her gaze chilled upon him. "So? You English have no heart."
"On the contrary, we have so much that we fear to let it appear on the surface." He smiled. "You catch my meaning, I trust, even if the figure of speech is faulty."
She changed the subject, as though offended, and that evening he saw nothing of her. But Dawson came; Dawson, from St. Petersburg—at sunset the Dominie brought him, so well disguised that Courtney scarcely knew him.
His reports were definitely a blow. At the moment there was no chance whatever to entice Russia away from alliance with the dictator of Europe; every means had been tried and had failed. For London, it would be sad news. To Courtney, it was only another setback in a world filled with setbacks. He took the dispatches that Dawson entrusted to him, shook hands, and was left alone again.
Friday came, a chill, cloudy day pregnant with rain or with snow—for winter was close at hand in these northern regions.
Courtney passed the morning in the library, reading, forcing his mind to calmness. His reward came toward noon, when Hans said that a Polish fish-peddler was asking for him. It was Beauchamp, gloomier than ever and highly nervous.
"With Steinbach and Villestreux both here, Danzig is the devil's own pitch-pot!" he said, refusing even to sit down. "Here are the messages from Prague and from Vienna, and my own reports to boot. Suppose anything happens to you?"
"Then you're out of luck too," said Courtney lightly. "What news?"
"The worst. The Austrian alliance with Bonaparte has been confirmed; huge slices of territory are being handed over, huge monetary payments made. There's some talk that he's to marry Marie Louise, the emperor's daughter. From Warsaw, I've only the same bad news. He's creating an entirely new Polish state; at least, that's what I've picked up. From Prague—well, this report will speak for itself. Kendricks was betrayed and was shot for espionage; we'll have to appoint a new man there. Poor chap! He was at Harrow with me."
Courtney made his dispatches into a compact bundle. Too bad about Kendricks; this hit him hard, for Kendricks had been an old friend and comrade. He looked up, at a step, to see Elaine de Courland. She was going out; to his astonishment, she had eschewed the peasant garb and was really lovely with her furs and a glint of jewels.
"Are you leaving tonight?" she asked.
"Yes. All finished. But you—"
"I'm tired of smelly clothes and of hiding," she cut in, checking him. He had been on the point of telling her that she, too, was leaving this night. Her cold manner stopped the impulse. "I'll be back in time for dinner. An early dinner, since you'll be leaving as soon as darkness falls. Here! I wish you to wear this, if you please. It belonged to my brother. I'd like to know that you're wearing it."
She handed him a sheathed sword, a beautiful blade with jeweled handle, and then left him. Courtney was perplexed by her air, by her words; but when he looked at the naked blade, he was delighted. It was a rapier in a thousand, of finest steel, and a most princely gift.
"Queer!" he thought. "What the devil's in her mind, I wonder?"
THE afternoon dragged. He made ready, picking out a heavy fur- lined coat of the dead man's, and giving his old peasant costume to Hans for burning.
"And," he told the old servant, "get your things ready, and the pick of what your mistress will want—of jewels and money, no more than can be carried lightly. I may take you both with me to England tonight, but I'm not sure. I haven't asked her yet. I'm leaving that until the last moment."
Hans, confused and overjoyed, bustled off.
Sunset approached, but there was no sun to set this night. A thin drizzle of rain was beginning to fall, to the great delight of Courtney. Darkness would come early. In fact, the gloomy house grew dark long ahead of its usual time, and Hans lit candles in the drawing-room where Courtney sat pondering moves on the chessboard, to kill time. The sword lay on the table beside him; he had no intention of cumbering his movements with the weapon before he left the house.
A rattle at the front door. It opened and closed again with a slam. She was back, then! Suddenly Courtney, hand extended to one of the pieces on the board, froze. He heard voices from the entry hall, her voice—and another's. A man's voice—a voice he knew, and it sent an incredulous, gasping chill through him.
He looked up, his face white and shocked, as Steinbach came striding into the room. Behind him was Elaine, closing the door and standing against it.
"So!" On the word, Steinbach halted. "A trap, baited upon a pretty hook! So this is the gentle love-nest she promised me! I might have known it!"
He was as though carved of ivory—a pallid man with cold eyes and expressionless but striking features. He was garbed in the height of fashion, a fine gentleman; but he was no gentleman.
"Quick!" From the woman burst a wild gasp. "The sword—this is the reason I gave it to you! This is the man who murdered my brother! Kill him, kill him! I have brought him here—"
"Yes, she brought me here." Steinbach was smiling. A laugh, a rare thing with him, came to his lips. "Good evening, M. Courtney. We meet once more."
All this brief while, Courtney had not moved. His hand was still extended to the chessman. Now of a sudden, his palsied brain calmed. He saw the whole thing, and could have groaned aloud. In her blind and furious desire for vengeance, a wholly natural but frightfully dangerous desire, Elaine had lured Steinbach here to his death—or so she fondly expected.
The Frenchman toppled forward. The candles were blown out. The voice of Hans, the voice of Elaine, pierced the darkness.
But Steinbach was laughing with grim, confident amusement.
"What, my honest Englishman, no move to kill me?" he said lightly, tauntingly. "You seem astonished. Is it possible you did not send her, after all, to bring me?"
"No, upon my word," faltered Courtney. The young woman stared at him in wild and incredulous horror. Steinbach turned, still laughing, and surveyed her.
"Your brother? What's all this talk? You lied to me about your name?"
"Yes, you devil!" She flashed into abrupt movement. A little brass pistol came into her hand. "I'm Elaine de Courland.... Ah, you know me now, do you!"
Steinbach looked startled. "So that is it!"
"Yes, that's it," she cried, her voice shrill. "I shall kill you myself. What are you laughing about, monster?"
Courtney, not rising, not moving, spoke up with sharp vehemence.
"Elaine! Put down that pistol—down with it!"
As he very well knew, Steinbach could have wrested it from her with little danger; she held it far out from her body, at arm's- length. But Steinbach was smiling, keenly amused.
"Our friend gives you good advice," he said. "What am I laughing at, pretty one? Why, I've treated with lovely ladies long before now, let me tell you. And if you kill me, it'll do you no good. My comrade Villestreux followed us. He's out in the street now, with a dozen men, waiting to hear my whistle. Yes, put down the pistol."
Her eyes distended, her arm slowly, slowly fell. She stared at Steinbach, then darted a frightful look at Courtney.
"A lie!" rang out her voice. "A trick, a lie—"
"Not in the least," spoke up Courtney with calm assurance. "If you had broached your plan to me, I would have told you it was useless; you cannot catch Steinbach with so simple a lure."
Steinbach bowed his head slightly. "Thank you, M. Courtney. Will you have the goodness to surrender quietly? I don't like your motionless attitude, upon my word."
"There's reason enough," said Courtney, relaxing a little in his chair. "I've a badly twisted ankle, thanks to a fall down the steps this afternoon, and can't stand on my left foot at all. Otherwise, I assure you, it would have given me great pleasure to kill you. I'm afraid the game's up. You've got me where I can't run. Would you do me one favor?"
"Possibly," said Steinbach, eying him narrowly.
"Then let's not have any scene. I've no concealed weapons, upon my honor; not so much as a pistol. I didn't expect this call, you see. However, I have a good deal of information in regard to certain large sums of money. So call in Villestreux by himself, leaving his men outside, and we may do a bit of bargaining. I'm done for, but this young lady should not be molested. And you can't find the money unless I tell where it is."
Desperate—a desperate gamble, his voice and face under desperate control. He had no choice now. She had brought about this horrible crisis, and he had to get out of it if he could; it was a long chance. Still, he knew how venal Steinbach was, how the man was avid after gold; it was the ruling passion of his life.
"Hand over the pistol, mademoiselle," he went on quietly. Now, at every cost, he must make the man believe in him. "Perhaps, Steinbach, you'd prefer that she call Villestreux?"
Steinbach relaxed a little.
"Yes. If you think I'm fool enough to take my eyes off you.... Ah, thank you!" He took the pistol that she extended. "Yes. Call M. Villestreux. I'll speak to him when he comes to the front door. A little talk will harm no one."
Elaine de Courland was stricken to the very soul; Courtney almost pitied her in this moment. She had all but collapsed. Her flaring, flaming spirit had been struck down. Courtney's words had horrified her; realization of her folly, of Steinbach's cunning, had absolutely demolished her. As she turned to the door, she staggered, then recovered.
"Sit down, Steinbach. Sorry I can't do the honors, but my whole leg is in spasms of pain." Courtney picked up his pipe and stuffed it. His air was casual. "Bad luck, eh? Otherwise, I'd have got away. Well, I can offer you a bit of gold if it'll do me any good: a thousand guineas in English gold. Securely hidden, too."
He leaned over, grimaced with imaginary pain, and lit his pipe at the nearest candle. Through the smoke, his gray eyes leaped and drove. The pistol that Steinbach held loosely.... Alas, the silly woman! One might have known. The priming was all fallen out. It was at cock, and he could see the empty pan. He could see the glint in Steinbach's eyes, too, at his mention of the guineas. Gold was rare in Europe these days.
"That, plus the reward for your capture, will not be bad," said Steinbach.
From the hall, they could hear Elaine calling. Her voice was choked with emotion as she called the name of Villestreux. After a moment they heard his response, and Steinbach let out a bellow.
"Pierre! Come in, come in. Leave the men outside. Come in! A surprise for you!"
Through his pipe-smoke, Courtney's eyes were flickering about. He was planning every word now, every movement. His life depended on how well he timed what must be done; he could not afford to miss by an inch. Even so, he might possibly be killed—but that was always the risk. How lucky, now, that he had laid the naked sword on the table, unsheathed! This was the only break of luck in the whole affair.
And he knew he dared waste no time on Villestreux. There was a man who would not be tricked; he was all for action, impetuous and determined. Luckily, Villestreux was no mere police agent but a soldier. He did not depend upon whistles, as Steinbach did. God, what luck where most needed!
And here came Villestreux into the room, a smallish, agile man in uniform. He halted at sight of Courtney. He was thunderstruck.... And this was the instant on which Courtney must gamble.
Steinbach was laughing a little for sheer enjoyment of his comrade's stupefaction, as Courtney rose. He stepped on his left foot, winced sharply, staggered, threw out his hands—then, swift as light itself, he had the rapier and was whirling about. And even as he swung around, he was lunging, with every movement calculated.
Steinbach came half out of his chair. The pistol flashed in the pan. The point of the rapier drove through his throat; even his rise had been anticipated. But Courtney had overlooked one thing; the high wooden chair-back. The rapier-point, driven through and through Steinbach's throat, plunged into the wood and stuck.
True, Courtney freed it almost at once, but this brief instant had given Villestreux time to act. A shout burst from him; his sword slithered free, was thrusting forward. Barely did Courtney catch it on his own steel and parry the thrust.
A raving, furious passion seized Villestreux. He hurled himself at Courtney, cutting and slashing. Evading, stepping backward, parrying, Courtney almost went down under that mad rush. Yet his voice came with insistent energy.
"Elaine! The door—bar the front door! Call Hans. Out the back way!"
Villestreux had him cornered. He slipped away, caught a slash across his left arm, but the steel did not cut through the cloth by luck. Stay here fencing all night? Devil take it, no! Courtney backed to a chair, hooked his left arm about it, and sent it scurrying at the Frenchman. It caught Villestreux about the knees and staggered him. As he came to balance again, Courtney was in and at him, thrust and lunge, rapier driving and slithering past his steel.
Villestreux was struck, was struck again. A desperate cry broke from him as the blood spurted; that was his last effort, for the rapier crossed his guard and plunged into his chest, and Courtney sprang backward.
"You—you devil!" gasped out the Frenchman. His sword fell; he clutched at his breast and toppled forward.
The candles were blown out. The voice of Hans, the voice of Elaine, pierced the darkness. Courtney, sheathing the rapier and fastening the belt, was guided to them; Hans held the fur coat for him.
"Out the back way," he panted. "Lead. Chance it.... If they're not there, we can make the boat-stairs. You're going to England, Elaine, you and Hans.... No talk! Lead."
Her hand found his, and led him.
Luckily—luck again, he thought—there was a back way; not every house had one.
They came out into a silent street, muffled by the slight rain, Hans bearing the burden of what he had packed. Courtney felt Elaine's hand slide through his arm. Bewildered, swept away by her emotion, she scarce knew what she said. He silenced her abruptly.
"Never mind, never mind. Calm down. I don't blame you a bit; it came out right enough after all. Now forget it."
She calmed; the chill rain, the night air, aided. To distract her thoughts, Courtney spoke of the news brought by Dawson and by Beauchamp—none of it was good news.
She made an effort to discuss these things, about which she cared so little. Then they were at the dark stretch of wharves. Here Courtney knew his way, and presently came to the deserted boat-stairs by the customs-house. All three of them descended to the landing at the edge of the dark water.
"All right," said Courtney with assurance. "We're safe. The boat will come; after that the lugger and England. Feeling all right now, Elaine?"
"I don't know. Everything's gone—" She paused. "So there's nothing but bad news! I'm sorry. The world has turned upside down for us, for everyone."
"It'll come right, never fear," Courtney rejoined.
Her fingers tightened on his arm.
"Do you still believe in your theory?" she breathed. "You have seen how hopeless everything is; no help anywhere, only the worst of news from all quarters! Your England has no statesmen, no soldiers, no generals of any fame. The dictator has the finest on earth. Oh, it is so hopeless, so dark!"
Courtney sighed. "True, I suppose; yet my conviction endures. The men who attempt to obliterate all divine things are, eventually, destroyed by those same unseen forces. They work slowly, through agents who gradually come to the front. We had hoped that Sir John Moore was such a person; he was our best soldier. But now he is dead, his army in Spain has been destroyed and driven out."
"Then England has given up fighting the dictator in Spain?"
"No," he rejoined. "No. They've sent another man, I hear, one who has gained some success already. He's not too well known. I'm afraid he can do nothing there."
"Who is he?"
"Oh, a chap who had most of his fighting experience in India. His name is Wellington.... Ah!" He broke off suddenly, leaning forward, searching the dark water. "There's the boat! All's safe, my dear!"
A chap named Wellington.... All was indeed safe; the world was safer than Courtney could know or dream.
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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