XXI
FROM A WINDOW ABOVE

The longest month in Lorry's life was that which followed his romantic flight from the Tower. To his impatient mind the days were irksome weeks. The cold monastery was worse than a prison. He looked from its windows as a convict looks through his bars, always hoping, always disappointed. With each of the infrequent visits of Captain Quinnox, his heart leaped at the prospect of liberty, only to sink deeper in despair upon the receipt of emphatic, though kindly, assurances that the time had not yet come for him to leave the haven of safety into which he had been thrust by loving hands. From his little window he could see the active city below, with the adored castle; to his nostrils came the breath of summer from the coveted valley, filling him with almost insupportable longing and desire. Cold were the winds that swept about his lofty home; ghastly, gruesome the nights, pallid and desolate the days. Out of the world was he, dreary and heartsick, while at his feet stretched life and joy and love in their rarest habiliments. How he endured the suspense, the torture of uncertainty, the craving for the life that others were enjoying, he could not understand. Big, strong and full of vigor, his inactivity was maddening; this virtual captivity grew more and more intolerable with each succeeding day. Would they never take him from the tomb in which he was existing? A hundred times had he, in his desperation, concluded to flee from the monastery, come what might, and to trust himself to the joyous world below, but the ever-present though waning spark of wisdom won out against the fierce, aggressive folly that mutinied within his hungry soul. He knew that she was guarding him with loving, tender care, and that, when the proper time came, the shackles of danger would drop and his way would be cleared.

Still there was the longing, the craving, the loneliness. Day after day, night after night went by and the end seemed no nearer. Awake or asleep, he dreamed of her, his heart and mind always full of that one rich blessing,—her love. At times he was mad with the desire to know what she was doing, what she was thinking and what was being done for her down there in that busy world. Lying on his pallet, sitting in the narrow window, pacing the halls or wandering about the cold courtyards, he thought always of her, hoping and despairing with equal fervor. The one great question that made his imprisonment, his inactivity so irksome was: Was he to possess the treasure he longed so much to call his own? In those tantalizing moments of despair he felt that if he were free and near her he could win the fight against all odds. As it was, he knew not what mischief was working against his chances in the world from which he was barred.

The prior was kind to him; everything that could be done to provide comfort where comfort was a stranger was employed in his behalf.

He lived well—until his appetite deserted him; he had no questions try answer, for no one asked why he was there; he had no danger to fear, for no foe knew where he lived. From the city came the promise of ultimate escape; verbal messages from those who loved him; news of the world,—all at long intervals, however. Quinnox's visits were like sunbeams to him. The dashing captain came only at night and in disguise. He bore verbal messages, a wise precaution against mishap. Not once did he bring a word of love from the Princess, an omission which caused the fugitive deep misery until a ray of intelligence showed him that she could not give to Quinnox the speeches from her heart, proud woman that she was.

Anguish sent words of cheer, with commands to be patient. He never failed to tell him, through Quinnox, that he was doing all in his power to find the real murderer and that he had the secret co-operation of the old police captain. Of course, the hidden man heard of the reward and the frenzied search prosecuted by both principalities. He laughed hysterically over the deception that was being practiced by the blue-eyed, slender woman who held the key to the situation in her keeping.

It was not until the night of the eighteenth of November that Quinnox confirmed his fears by telling him of the conditions imposed by Prince Bolaroz. For some reason the young officer had deceived Lorry in regard to the all-important matter. The American repeatedly had begged for information about the fatal twentieth, but on all previous occasions his visitor doggedly maintained a show of ignorance, vowing that he knew nothing of the circumstances Finally Lorry, completely out of patience and determined to know the true state of affairs, soundly upbraided him and sent word to the Princess that if she did not acquaint him with the inside facts he would leave the monastery and find them out for himself. This authoritative message brought Quinnox back two nights later with the full story of the exciting conference. She implored him to remain where he was, and asked his forgiveness for having kept the ugly truth from him. Quinnox added to his anguish by hastily informing him that there was a possibility of succor from another principality. Prince Gabriel, he said, not knowing that he was cutting his listener to the heart, was daily with the Princess, and it was believed that he was ready to loan Graustark sufficient money to meet the demand of Bolaroz. The mere thought that Gabriel was with her aroused the fiercest resentment in Lorry's breast. He writhed beneath the knowledge that she was compelled to endure his advances, his protestations of love, his presence.

As he paced his narrow room distractedly a horrid thought struck him so violently that he cried aloud and staggered against the wall, his eyes fixed on the face of the startled soldier. Perhaps she might submit to Gabriel, for in submitting she could save not only Graustark, but the man she loved. The sacrifice—but no! he would not believe that such affliction could come to her! Marry Gabriel! The man who had planned to seize her and make her his wanton! He ground his teeth and glared at Quinnox as if he were the object of his hatred, his vicious jealousy. The captain stepped backward in sudden alarm.

“Don't be afraid!” Lorry cried, savagely. “I'm not crazy. It's your news—your news! Does she expect me to stay up here while that state of affairs exists down there? Let me see: this is the eighteenth, and day after to-morrow is the twentieth. There is no time to be lost, Captain Quinnox. I shall accompany you when you leave St. Valentine's to-night.”

“Impossible!” exclaimed Quinnox. “I cannot allow that, sir. My instructions are to—”

“Hang your instructions! All the instructions on earth can't compel me to sit up here and see this sacrifice made. I am determined to see her and put a stop to the whole affair. It is what I feared would come to pass. She is willing to sacrifice herself or half her kingdom, one or the other, in order that I may escape. It's not right, captain, it's not right, and I'm going to stop it. How soon can we leave this place?” He was pacing the floor, happy in the decision he had reached, notwithstanding the danger it promised.

“You are mad, sir, to talk like this,” protested the other, despairingly. “Edelweiss swarms with Axphain soldiers; our own men are on the alert to win the great reward. You cannot go to the city. When a safe time comes, you will be taken from this place, into the mountains instead of through the city, and given escort to Dassas, one hundred miles east. That step will not be taken until the way is, perfectly clear. I tell you, sir, you cannot hope to escape if you leave the monastery now. The mountains are full of soldiers every night.”

“I didn't say anything about an escape, did I? On the contrary, I want to give myself up to her. Then she can have Gabriel thrown over the castle wall and say to Bolaroz, 'Here is your man; I've gained the ten years of grace.' That's the point, Quinnox; can't you see it? And I want to say to you now, I'm going whether you consent or refuse. I'd just as soon be in jail down there as up here, anyhow. The only favor I have to ask of you is that you do the best you can to get me safely to her. I must talk with her before I go back to the Tower.”

“God help me, sir, I cannot take you to her,” groaned Quinnox, trying to control his nervous apprehension. “I have sworn to her that I will keep you from all harm, and it would be to break faith with her if I led you into that mob down there.”

“I respect your oath, my friend, but I am going, just the same. I'll see her, too, if I have to shoot every man who attempts to prevent me. I'm desperate, man, desperate! She's everything in the world to me, and I'll die before I'll see her suffer.”

Quinnox calmly placed his hands on the other's shoulders, and, looking him in the eye, said quietly:

“Her suffering now is as nothing compared to what it will be if you go back to the Tower. You forget how much pain she is enduring to avoid that very suffering. If you care for my mistress, sir, add no weight to the burden she already carries. Remain here, as she desires. You can be of no service down there. I implore you to be considerate.”

It was an eloquent appeal, and it struck home. Lorry wavered, but his resolution would not weaken. He argued, first with Quinnox, then with himself, finally returning to the reckless determination to brave all and save her from herself. The soldier begged him to listen to reason, implored him to reconsider, at last turning in anger upon the stubborn American with a torrent of maledictions. Lorry heard him through and quietly, unswervingly announced that he was ready to leave the monastery at any time his guide cared to depart. Quinnox gave up in despair at this, gazing hopelessly at the man he had sworn to protect, who insisted on placing his head in the lion's jaw. He sat down at the window and murmured dejectedly:

“What will she say to me—what will she say to me?”

“I shall exonerate you, captain. She can have no fault to find with your action after I have told her how loyal you are and how—how—well, how unreasonable I am,” said Lorry, kindly.

“You may never live to tell her this, sir. Then what is to become of me? I could not look her in the face again. I could only die!”

“Don't be so faint-hearted, Quinnox!” cried Lorry, stimulated by the desire to be with her, recognizing no obstacle that might thwart him in the effort. “We'll get through, safe and sound, and we'll untangle a few complications before we reach the end of the book. Brace up, for God's sake, for mine, for hers, for your own. I must get to her before everything is lost. My God, the fear that she may marry Gabriel will drive me mad if I am left here another night. Come! Let us prepare to start. We must notify the Abbot that I am to go. I can be ready in five minutes. Ye Gods, think of what she may be sacrificing for me!”

The distracted captain gloomily watched the nervous preparations for departure, seeing his own disgrace ahead as plainly as if it had already come upon him. Lorry soon was attired in the guard's uniform he had worn from the Tower a month before. His pistol was in his pocket, and the bunch of violets she had sent to him that very night was pinned defiantly above his heart. Quinnox smiled when he observed this bit of sentiment, and grimly informed him that he was committing an act prohibited in Dangloss's disciplinary rules. Officers on duty were not to wear nosegays.

“Dangloss will not see my violets. By the way, the moon shines brightly, doesn't it?”

“It is almost as light as day. Our trip is made extremely hazardous for that reason. I am sorely afraid, rash sir, that we cannot reach the castle unseen.”

“We must go about it boldly, that's all.”

“Has it occurred to you, sir, that you are placing me in a terrible position? What excuse can I have, a captain of the guard, for slinking about at night with a man whom I am supposed to be tracking to earth? Discovery will brand me as a traitor. I cannot deny the charge without exposing Her Royal Highness.”

Lorry turned cold. He had not thought of this alarming possibility. But his ready wit came again to his relief, and with bright, confident eyes he swept away the obstacle.

“If discovered, you are at once to proclaim me a prisoner, take the credit for having caught me, and claim the reward.”

“In that case, you will not go to the castle, but to the Tower.”

“Not if you obey orders. The offer of reward says that I must be delivered to the undersigned. You will take me to her and not to the Tower.”

Quinnox smiled and threw up his hands as if unable to combat the quick logic of his companion. Together they made their way to the prior's cell, afterward to the Abbot's apartment. It was barely eleven o'clock and he had not retired. He questioned Quinnox closely, bade Lorry farewell and blessed him, sent his benediction to the Princess and ordered them conducted to the gates.

Ten minutes later they stood outside the wall, the great gates having been closed sharply behind them. Above them hung the silvery moon, full and bright, throwing its refulgent splendor over the mountain top with all the brilliancy of day. Never had Lorry seen the moon so accursedly bright.

“Gad, it is like day,” he exclaimed.

“As I told you, sir,” agreed the other, reproof in his voice.

“We must wait until the moon goes down. It won't do to risk it now. Can we not go somewhere to keep warm for an hour or so?”

“There is a cave farther down the mountain. Shall we take the chance of reaching it?”

“By all means. I can't endure the cold after being cooped up for so long.”

They followed the winding road for some distance down the mountain, coming at last to a point where a small path branched off. It was the path leading down the side of the steep overlooking the city, and upon that side no wagon-road could be built. Seven thousand feet below stretched the sleeping, moon-lit city. Standing out on the brow of the mountain they seemed to be the only living objects in the world. There was no sign of life above, below or beside them.

“How long should we be in making the descent?” asked Lorry, a sort of terror possessing him as he looked from the dizzy height into the ghost-like dimness below.

“Three hours, if you are strong.”

“And how are we to get into the castle? I hadn't thought of that.”

“There is a secret entrance,” said Quinnox, maliciously enjoying the insistent one's acknowledgment of weakness. “If we reach it safely I can take you underground to the old dungeons beneath the castle. It may be some time before you can enter the halls above, for the secret of that passage is guarded jealously. There are but five people who know of its existence.”

“Great confidence is placed in you, I see, and worthily, I am sure. How is it that you are trusted so implicitly?”

“I inherit the confidence. The captain of the guard is born to his position. My ancestors held the place before me, and not one betrayed the trust. The first-born in the last ten generations has been the captain of the guard in the royal palace, possessing all its secrets. I shall be the first to betray the trust—and for a man who is nothing to me.”

“I suppose you consider me selfish and vile for placing you in this position,” said Lorry, somewhat contritely.

“No; I have begun the task and I will complete it, come what may,” answered the captain, firmly. “You are the only being in the world for whom I would sacrifice my honor voluntarily,—save one.”

“I have wondered why you were never tempted to turn traitor to the Princess and claim the fortune that is represented in the reward.”

“Not for five million gavvos, sir!”

“By George, you are a faithful lot! Dangloss, Allode and Ogbot and yourself, four honest men to whom she trusts her life, her honor. You belong to a rare species, and I am proud to know you.”

The stealthy couple found the cave and spent an hour or more within its walls, sallying forth after the tardy darkness had crept down over the mountain and into the peaceful valley. Then began the tortuous descent. Quinnox in the lead, they walked, crawled and ran down the narrow path, bruised, scratched and aching by the time they reached the topmost of the summer houses along the face of the mountain. After this walking was easier, but stealthiness made their progress slow. Frequently, as they neared the base, they were obliged to dodge behind houses or to drop into the ditches by the roadside in, order to avoid patroling police guards or Axphain sleuth-hounds. Lorry marveled at the vigil the soldiers were keeping, and was somewhat surprised to learn from the young captain that prevailing opinion located him in or near the city. For this reason, while other men were scouring Vienna, Paris and even London, hordes of vengeful men searched day and night for a clew in the city of Edelweiss.

The fugitive began to realize how determined was the effort to capture him and how small the chance of acquittal if he were taken. To his fevered imagination the enmity of the whole world was shaping itself against him. The air was charged with hatred, the ground with vengeance, the trees and rocks with denouncing shadows, while from the darkness behind merciless hands seemed to be stretching forth to clutch him. One simple, loyal love stood alone antagonistic to the universal desire to crush and kill. A fragile woman was shielding him sturdily, unwaveringly against all these mighty forces. His heart thrilled with devotion; his arm tingled with the joy of clasping her once more to his breast; his wistful eyes hung upon the flickering light far off in the west. Quinnox had pointed it out to him, saying that it burned in the bedchamber of the Princes Yetive. Since the memorable night that took him to the cell in St. Valentine's, this light had burned from dusk to daylight. Lovingly, faithfully it had shone for him through all those dreary nights, a lonely signal from one heart to another.

At last, stiff and sore, they stole into the narrow streets of Edelweiss. Lorry glanced back and shivered, although the air was warm and balmy. He had truly been out of the world. Not until this instant did he fully appreciate the dread that possesses a man who is being hunted down by tireless foes; never did man's heart go out in gratitude and trustfulness as did his toward the strong defender whose sinewy arm he clasped as if in terror.

“You understand what this means to me,” said Quinnox gravely, as they paused to rest. “She will call me your murderer and curse me for my miserable treason. I am the first to dishonor the name of Quirinox.”

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