XIX
THE SOLDIER

Off went the carriage with a dash, the rumbles of its wheels joining in the grewsome roar of the elements. For some time the two sat speechless, side by side. Outside the thunder rolled, the rain swirled and hissed, the wind howled and all the horrors of nature seemed crowded into the blackness of that thrilling night. Lorry wondered vaguely whither they were going, why he had seen no flashes of lightning, if he should ever see her again. His mind was busy with a thousand thoughts and queries.

“Where are we going?” he asked, after they had traveled half a mile or so.

“To a place of safety,” came the reply from the darkness beside him.

“Thanks,” he said, drily. “By the way, don't you have any lightning in this part of the world? I haven't seen a flash to-night.”

“It is very rare,” came the brief reply.

“Devilish uncommunicative,” thought Lorry.

After a moment he asked: “How far do we travel tonight?”

“A number of miles.”

“Then I'm going to take off this wet coat. It weighs a ton. Won't you remove yours?” He jerked off the big rain coat and threw it across to the opposite seat, with the keys and the lantern. There was a moment's hesitation on the part of his companion, and then a second wet coat followed the first. Their rain helmets were also tossed aside. “Makes a fellow feel more comfortable.”

“This has been too easy to seem like an escape,” went on Lorry, looking back reflectively over the surprises of the night. “Maybe I am dreaming. Pinch me.”

A finger and a thumb came together on the fleshy part of his arm, causing him to start, first in amazement, then in pain. He had not expected his reserved guardian to obey the command literally.

“I am awake, thanks,” he laughed, and the hand dropped from his arm.

After this there was a longer silence than at any time before. The soldier drew himself into the corner of the seat, an action which repelled further discussion, it seemed to Lorry, so he leaned back in the opposite corner and allowed his mind to wander far from the interior of that black, stuffy carriage. Where was he going? When was he to leave Graustark? Was he to see her soon?

Soon the carriage left the smooth streets of Edelweiss and he could tell, by the jolting and careening, that they were in the country, racing over a rough, rocky road. It reminded him of an overland trip he had taken in West Virginia some months before, with the fairest girl in all the world as his companion. Now he was riding in her carriage, but with a surly, untalkative soldier of the guard. The more he allowed his thoughts to revel in the American ride and its delights, the more uncontrollable became his desire to see the one who had whirled with him in “Light-horse Jerry's” coach.

“I wish to know how soon I am to see your mistress,” he exclaimed, impulsively, sitting up and striking his companion's arm byway of emphasis. To his surprise the hand was dashed away, and he distinctly heard the soldier gasp. “I beg your pardon!” he cried, fearing that he had given pain with his eager strength.

“You startled me I was half asleep,” stammered the other, apologetically. “Whom do you mean by my mistress?”

“Her Royal Highness, of course,” said Lorry, impatiently.

“I cannot say when you are to see the Princess,” said his companion after waiting so long that Lorry felt like kicking him.

“Well, see here, my friend, do you know why I agreed to leave that place back there? I said I wouldn't go away from Graustark until I had seen her. If you fellows are spiriting me away—kidnapping me, as it were,—I want to tell you I won't have it that way. I must know, right now, where we are going in this damnable storm.”

“I have orders to tell you nothing,” said the soldier, staunchly.

“Orders, eh! From whom?”

“That is my affair, sir!”

“I guess I'm about as much interested in this affair as anybody, and I insist on knowing our destination. I jumped into this thing blindly, but I'm going to see my way out of it before we go much farther. Where are we going?”

“You—you will learn that soon enough,” insisted the other.

“Am I to see her soon? That's what I want to know.”

“You must not insist,” cried the soldier.

“Why are you so anxious to see her?” he asked, suddenly.

“Don't be so blamed inquisitive,” cried Grenfall, angrily, impatiently. “Tell me where we are going or I'll put a bullet into you!” Drawing his revolver he leaned over, grasped the guard by the shoulder and placed the muzzle against his breast.

“For God's sake, be calm! You would not kill me for obeying orders! I am serving one you love. Are you mad? I shall scream if you keep pressing that horrid thing against my side.” Lorry felt him tremble, and was at once filled with compunction. How could he expect a loyal fellow to disobey orders?

“I beg your pardon a thousand times,” he cried, jamming the pistol into his pocket. “You are a brave gentleman and I am a fool. Take me where you will; I'll go like a lamb. You'll admit, however, that it is exasperating to be going in the dark like this.”

“It is a very good thing that it is dark,” said the soldier, quickly. “The darkness is very kind to us. No one can see us and we can see no one.”

“I should say not. I haven't the faintest idea what you look like. Have I seen you at the castle?”

“Yes, frequently.”

“Will you tell me your name?”

“You would not know me by name.”

“Are you an officer?”

“No; I am new to the service.”

“Then I'll see that you are promoted. I like your staunchness. How old are you?”

“I am—er—twenty-two.”

“Of the nobility?”

“My father was of noble birth.”

“Then you must be so, too. I hope you'll forgive my rudeness. I'm a bit nervous, you know.”

“I forgive you gladly.”

“Devilish rough road, this.”

“Devilish. It is a mountain road.”

“That's where we were, too.”

“Where who were?”

“Oh, a young lady and I, some time ago. I just happened to think of it.”

“It could not have been pleasant.”

“You never made a bigger mistake in your life.”

“Oh, she must have been pretty, then.”

“You are right this time. She is glorious.”

“Pardon me! They usually are in such adventures.”

“By Jove, you're a clever one!”

“Does she live in America?”

“That's none of your affair.”

“Oh!” and then there was silence between them.

“Inquisitive fool!” muttered Gren to him= self.

For some time they bumped along over the rough road, jostling against each other frequently, both enduring stoically and silently. The rain was still falling, but the thunder storm had lost its fury. The crashing in the sky had abated, the winds were not so fierce, the night was being shorn of its terrors. Still the intense, almost suffocating darkness prevailed. But for the occasional touch neither could have told that there was another person on the seat. Suddenly Lorry remembered the lantern. It was still lit with the slide closed when he threw it on the seat. Perhaps it still burned and could relieve the oppressive darkness if but for a short time. He might, at least, satisfy his curiosity and look upon the face of his companion. Leaning forward he fumbled among the traps on the opposite seat.

“I think I'll see if the lantern is lighted. Let's have it a little more cheerful in here,” he said. There was a sharp exclamation, and two vigorous hands grasped him by the shoulder, jerking him back unceremoniously.

“No! No! You will ruin all! There must be no light,” cried the soldier, his voice high and shrill.

“But we are out of the city.”

“I know! I know! But I will not permit you to have a light. Against orders. We have not passed the outpost,” expostulated the other, nervously.

“What's the matter with your voice,” demanded Lorry, struck by the change in it.

“My voice?” asked the other, the tones natural again. “It's changing. Didn't it embarrass you when your voice broke like that?” went on the questioner, breathlessly. Lorry was now leaning back in the seat, quite a little mystified.

“I don't believe mine ever broke like that,” he said, speculatively. There was no response, and he sat silent for some time, regretting more and more that it was so dark.

Gradually he became conscious of a strange, unaccountable presence in that dark cab. He could feel a change coming over him; he could not tell why, but he was sure that some one else was beside him, some one who was not the soldier. Something soft and delicate and sweet came into existence, permeating the darkness with its undeniable presence. A queer power seemed drawing him toward the other end of the seat. The most delightful sensations took possession of him; his heart fluttered oddly; his head began to reel under the spell.

“Who are you?” he cried, in a sort of ecstacy. There was no answer. He remembered his matchsafe, and with trembling, eager fingers drew it from the pocket of the coat he was wearing. The next instant he was scratching a match, but as it flared the body of his companion was hurled against his and a ruthless mouth blew out the feeble blaze.

“Oh, why do you persist?” was cried in his ears.

“I am determined to see your face,” he answered, sharply, and with a little cry of dismay the other occupant of the carriage fell back in the corner. The next match drove away the darkness and the mystery. With blinking eyes he saw the timid soldier huddling in the corner, one arm covering his face, the other hand vainly striving to pull the skirt of a military coat over a pair of red trouser-legs. Below the arm that hid the eyes and nose he saw parted lips and a beardless, dainty chin; above, long, dark tresses strayed in condemning confusion. The breast beneath the blue coat heaved convulsively.

The match dropped from his fingers, and, as darkness fell again, it hid the soldier in the strong arms of the fugitive—not a soldier bold, but a gasping, blushing, unresisting coward. The lithe form quivered and then became motionless in the fierce, straining embrace; the head dropped upon his shoulder, his hot lips caressing the burning face and pouring wild, incoherent words into the little ears.

“You! You!” he cried, mad with joy. “Oh, this is Heaven itself! My brave darling! Mine forever—mine forever! You shall never leave me now! Drive on! Drive on!” he shouted to the men outside, drunk with happiness. “We'll make this journey endless. I know you love me now—I know it! God, I shall die with joy!”

A hand stole gently into his hand, and her lips found his in a long, passionate kiss.

“I did not want you to know! Ach, I am so sorry! Why, why did I come to-night? I was so strong, so firm, I thought, but see how weak I am. You dominate,—you own me, body and soul, in spite of everything,—against my will. I Love you—I love you—I love you!”

“I have won against the princes and the potentates! I was losing hope, my Queen, losing hope. You were so far away, so unattainable. I would brave a thousand deaths rather than lose this single minute of my life. It makes me the richest man in all the world. How brave you are! This night you have given up everything for my sake. You are fleeing with me, away from all that has been dear to you.”

“No, no. You must not be deluded. It is only for tonight, only till you are safe from pursuit. I shall go back. You must not hope for more than this hour of weakness, sweet as it is to me,” she cried.

“You are going back and not with me?” he cried, his heart chilling.

“You know I cannot. That is why I hoped you would never know how much I care for you. Alas, you have found me out! My love was made rash by fear. You could never have escaped the vengeance of Axphain. I could not have shielded you. This was the only course and I dared not hesitate. I should have died with terror had you gone to trial, knowing what I knew. You will not think me unwomanly for coming with you as I am. It was necessary—really it was! No one else could have—” But he smothered the wail in kisses.

“Unwomanly!” he exclaimed. “It was by divine inspiration. But you will come with me, away from Graustark, away from every one. Say that you will!”

“I cannot bear to hear you plead, and it breaks my heart to go back there. But I cannot leave Graustark—I cannot! It would be Heaven to go with you to the end of the world, but I have others besides myself to consider. You are my god, my idol. I can worship you from my unhappy throne, from my chamber, from the cell into which my heart is to retreat. But I cannot, I will not desert Graustark. Not even for you!”

He was silent, impressed by her nobility, her loyalty. Although the joy ebbed from his craving heart, he saw the justice of her self-sacrifice.

“I would give my soul to see your face now, Yetive. Your soul is in your eyes; I can feel it. Why did you not let me stay in prison, meet death and so end all? It would have been better for both of us. I cannot live without you.”

“We can live for each other, die for each other,—apart. Distance will not lessen my love. You know that it exists; it has been betrayed to you. Can you not be satisfied—just a little bit—with that knowledge?” she pleaded.

“But I want you in reality, not in my dreams, my imagination.”

“Ach, we must not talk like this! There is no alternative. You are to go, I am to stay. The future is before us; God knows what it may bring to us. Perhaps it may be good enough to give us happiness—who knows? Do not plead with me. I cannot endure it. Let me be strong again! You will not be so cruel as to battle against me, now that I am weak; it would only mean my destruction. You do not seek that!”

His soul, his honor, the greatest reverence he had ever known were in the kiss that touched her brow.

“I shall love you as you command—without hope,” he said, sadly.

“Without hope for either,” she sobbed.

“My poor little soldier,” he whispered, lovingly, as her body writhed under the storm of tears.

“I—I wish—I were a—soldier!” she wailed. He comforted her as best he could and soon she was quiet—oh, so very quiet. Her head was on his shoulder, her hands in his.

“How far do we drive?” he asked, at last.

“To the monastery. We are nearly there.” she answered, in tones far away.

“The monastery? Why do we go there?” he cried.

“You are to stay there.”

“What do you mean? I thought I was to leave Graustark.”

“You are to leave—later on. Until the excitement is over the abbey is to be your hiding place. I have arranged everything, and it is the only safe place on earth for you at this time. No one will think of looking for you up there.”

“I would to God I could stay there forever, living above you,” he said, drearily.

“Your window looks down upon the castle; mine looks up to yours. The lights that burn in those two windows will send out beams of love and life for one of us, at least.”

“For both of us, my sweetheart,” he corrected, fondly. “You say I will be safe there. Can you trust these men who are aiding you?”

“With my life! Quinnox carried a message to the Abbot yesterday, and he grants you a temporary home there, secure and as secret as the tomb. He promises me this, and he is my best friend. Now, let me tell you why I am with you, masquerading so shamefully—”

“Adorably!” he protested.

“It is because the Abbot insisted that I bring you to him personally. He will not receive you except from my hands. There was nothing else for me to do, then, was there, Lorry? I was compelled to come and I could not come as the Princess—as a woman. Discovery would have meant degradation from which I could not have hoped to recover. The military garments were my only safeguard.”

“And how many people know of your—deception?”

“Three—besides yourself. Dagmar, Quinnox and Captain Dangloss. The Abbot will know later on, and I shiver as I think of it. The driver and the man who went to your cell, Ogbot, know of the escape, but do not know I am here. Allode—you remember him—is our driver.”

“Allode? He's the fellow who saw me—er—who was in the throne room.”

“He is the man who saw nothing, sir.”

“I remember his obedience,” he said, laughing in spite of his unhappiness. “Am I to have no freedom up here—no liberty, at all?”

“You are to act as the Abbot or the prior instructs. And, I must not forget, Quinnox will visit you occasionally. He will conduct you from the monastery and to the border line at the proper time.”

“Alas! He will be my murderer, I fear. Yetive, you do not believe I killed Lorenz. I know that most of them do, but, I swear to you, I am no more the perpetrator of that cowardly crime than you. God bears testimony to my innocence. I want to hear you say that you do not believe I killed him.”

“I feared so at first,—no, do not be angry—I feared you had killed him for my sake. But now I am sure that you are innocent.”

The carriage stopped too soon and Quinnox opened the door. It was still as dark as pitch, but the downpour had ceased except for a disagreeable, misty drizzle, cold and penetrating.

“We have reached the stopping place,” he said.

“And we are to walk from here to the gate,” said the Princess, resuming her hoarse, manly tones. While they were busy donning their rain coats, she whispered in Lorry's ear: “I beg of you, do not let him know that you have discovered who I am.”

He promised, and lightly snatched a kiss, an act of indiscretion that almost brought fatal results. Forgetful of the darkness, she gave vent to a little protesting shriek, fearing that the eyes of the captain had witnessed the pretty transgression. Lorry laughed as he sprang to the road and turned to assist her in alighting. She promptly and thoughtfully averted the danger his gallantry presented by ignoring the outstretched hands, discernible as slender shadows protruding from an object a shade darker than the night, and leaped boldly to the ground. The driver was instructed to turn the carriage about and to await their return.

With Lorry in the center the trio walked rapidly off in the darkness, the fugitive with the sense of fear that belongs only to a blind man. A little light far ahead told the position of the gate, and for this they bent their steps, Lorry and Quinnox conversing in low tones, the Princess striding along silently beside the former, her hand in his—a fact of which the real soldier was totally unaware. Reaching the gate, the captain pounded vigorously, and a sleepy monk soon peered from the little window through which shone the light.

“On important business with the Abbot, from Her Royal Highness, the Princess Yetive,” said Quinnox, in response to a sharp query, spoken in the Graustark tongue. A little gate beside the big one opened and the monk, lantern in hand, bade them enter.

“Await me here, captain,” commanded the slim, straight soldier, with face turned from the light. A moment later the gate closed and Lorry was behind the walls of St. Valentine's, a prisoner again. The monk preceded them across the dark court toward the great black mass, his lantern creating ghastly shadows against the broken mist. His followers dropped some little distance behind, the tall one's arm stealing about the other's waist, his head bending to a level with hers.

“Is it to be good-by, dearest?” he asked. “Good-by forever?”

“I cannot say that. It would be like wishing you dead. Yet there is no hope. No, no! We will not say good-by,—forever,” she said, despairingly.

“Won't you bid me hope?”

“Impossible! You will stay here until Quinnox comes to take you away. Then you must not stop until you are in your own land. We may meet again.”

“Yes, by my soul, we shall meet again! I'll do as you bid and all that, but I'll come back when I can stay away no longer. Go to your castle and look forward to the day that will find me at your feet again. It is bound to come. But how are you to return to the castle tonight and enter without creating suspicion? Have you thought of that?”

“Am I a child? Inside of three hours I shall be safely in my bed and but one person in the castle will be the wiser for my absence. Here are the portals.” They passed inside the massive doors and halted. “You must remain here until I have seen the prior,” she said, laughing nervously and glancing down at the boots which showed beneath the long coat. Then she hastily followed the monk, disappearing down the corridor. In ten minutes—ten hours to Lorry—she returned with her guide.

“He will take you to your room,” she said breathlessly, displaying unmistakable signs of embarrassment. “The prior was shocked. Good-by, and God be with you always. Remember, I love you!”

The monk's back was turned, so the new recluse snatched the slight figure to his heart.

“Some day?” he whispered.

She would not speak, but he held leer until she nodded her head.

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