XXIV
OFF TO THE DUNGEON

The tableau lasted but a moment. Gabriel advanced a few steps, his eyes gleaming with jealousy and triumph. Before him stood the petrified lovers, caught red-handed. Through her dazed brain struggled the conviction that he could never escape; through his ran the miserable realization that he had ruined her forever. Gabriel, of all men!

“I arrive inopportunely,” he said, harshly, the veins standing out on his neck and temples. “Do I intrude? I was not aware that you expected two, your highness!” There was no mistaking his meaning. He viciously sought to convey the impression that he was there by appointment, a clandestine visitor in her apartments at midnight.

“What do you mean by coming to my apartment at this hour?” she stammered, trying to rescue dignity from the chaos of emotions. Lorry was standing slightly to the right and several feet behind her. He understood the Prince, and quickly sought to interpose with the hope that he might shield her from the sting.

“She did not expect me, sir,” he said, and a menacing gleam came to his eyes. His pistol was in his hand. Gabriel saw it, but the staring Princess did not. She could not take her eyes from the face of the intruder. “Now, may I ask why you are here?”

Gabriel's wit saved him from death. He saw that he could not pursue the course he had begun, for there was murder in the American's eye. Like a fox he swerved and, with a servile promise of submission in his glance, said:

“I thought you were here, my fine fellow, and I came to satisfy myself. Now, sir, may I ask why you are here?” His fingers twitched and his eyes were glassy with the malevolence he was subduing.

“I am here as a prisoner,” said Lorry, boldly. Gabriel laughed derisively.

“And how often have you come here in this manner as a prisoner? Midnight and alone in the apartments of the Princess! The guard dismissed! A prisoner, eh? Ha, what—a prison!”

“Stop!” cried Lorry, white to the lips.

The Princess was beginning to understand.

Her eyes grew wide with horror, her figure straightened imperiously and the white in her cheeks gave way to the red of insulted virtue.

“I see it all! You have not been outside this castle since you left the prison. A pretty scheme! You could not marry him, could you, eh? He is not a prince! But you could bring him here and hide him where no one would dare to think of looking for him—in your apartments!”

With a snarl of rage Lorry sprang upon him, cutting short the sentence that would have gone through her like the keenest knife-blade.

“Liar! Dog! I'll kill you for that!” he cried, but, before he could clutch the Prince's throat, Yetive had frantically seized his arm.

“Not that!” she shrieked. “Do not kill him! There must be no murder here!”

He reluctantly hurled Gabriel from him, the Prince tottering to his knees in the effort to keep from falling. She had saved her maligner's life, but courage deserted her with the act. Helplessly she looked into the blazing eyes of her lover and faltered:

“I—I do not know what to say or do. My brain is bursting!”

“Courage, courage!” he whispered, gently.

“You shall pay for this,” shrieked Gabriel. “If you are not a prisoner you shall be. There'll be scandal enough in Graustark to-morrow to start a volcano of wrath from the royal tombs where lie her fathers. I'll see that you are a prisoner!” He started for the door, but Lorry's pistol was leveled at his head.

“If you move I'll kill you!”

“The world will understand how and why I fell by your hand and in this room. Shoot!” he cried, triumphantly. Lorry's hand trembled and his eyes filled with the tears of impotent rage. The Prince held the higher card.

A face suddenly appeared at the door, which had been stealthily opened from without. Captain Quinnox glided into the room behind the Prince and gently closed the door, unnoticed by the gloater.

“A prisoner?” sneered Gabriel. “Where is your captor, pray?”

“Here!” answered a voice at his back. The Prince wheeled and found himself looking at the stalwart form of the captain of the guard. “I am surely privileged to speak now, your Highness,” he went on, addressing the Princess significantly.

“How came you here?” gasped Gabriel.

“I brought my prisoner here. Where should I be if not here to guard him?”

“When—when did you enter this room?”

“An hour ago.”

“You were not here when I came!”

“I have been standing on this spot for an hour. You have been very much excited, I'll agree, but it is strange you did not see me,” lied Quinnox.

Gabriel looked about helplessly, nonplussed.

“You were here when I came in?” he asked, wonderingly.

“Ask Her Royal Highness,” commanded the captain, smiling.

“Captain Quinnox brought the prisoner to me an hour ago,” she said, mechanically.

“It is a lie!” cried Gabriel. “He was not here when I entered!”

The captain of the guard laid a heavy hand on the shoulder of the Prince and said, threateningly:

“I was here and I am here. Have a care how you speak. Were I to do right I should shoot you like a dog. You came like a thief, you insult the ruler of my land. I have borne it all because you are a Prince, but have a care—have a care. I may forget myself and tear out your black heart with these hands. One word from Her Royal Highness will be your death warrant.”

He looked inquiringly at the Princess as if anxious to put the dangerous witness where he could tell no tales. She shook her head, but did not speak. Lorry realized that the time had come for him to assert himself. Assuming a distressed air he bowed his head and said, dejectedly:

“My pleading has been in vain, then, your Highness. I have sworn to you that I am innocent of this murder, and you have said I shall have a fair trial. That is all you can offer?”

“That is all,” she said, shrilly, her mind gradually grasping his meaning.

“You will not punish the poor people who secreted me in their house for weeks, for they are convinced of my innocence. Your captain here, who found me in their house to-night, can also speak well of them. I have only this request to make, in return for what little service I may have given you: Forgive the old people who befriended me. I am ready to go to the Tower at once, captain.”

Gabriel heard this speech with a skeptical smile on his face.

“I am no fool,” he said, simply. “Captain,” shrewdly turning to Quinnox, “if he is your prisoner, why do you permit him to retain his revolver?”

The conspirators were taken by surprise, but Lorry had found his wits.

“It is folly, your Highness, to allow this gentleman and conquering Prince to cross-examine you. I am a prisoner, and that is the end of it. What odds is it to the Prince of Dawsbergen how and where I was caught or why your officer brought me to you?”

“You were ordered from my house once today, yet you come again like a conqueror. I should not spare you. You deserve to lose your life for the actions of tonight. Captain Quinnox, will you kill him if I ask you to end his wretched life?” Yetive's eyes were blazing with wrath, beneath which gleamed a hope that he could be frightened into silence.

“Willingly—willingly!” cried Quinnox. “Now, your Highness? 'Twere better in the hall!”

“For God's sake, do not murder me! Let me go!” cringed the Prince.

“I do not mean that you should kill him now, Quinnox, but I instruct you to do so if he puts foot inside these walls again. Do you understand?”

“Yes, your Highness.”

“Then you will place this prisoner in the castle dungeon until to-morrow morning, when he is to be taken to the Tower. Prince Gabriel may accompany you to the dungeon cell, if he likes, after which you will escort him to the gates. If he enters them again you are to kill him. Take them both away!”

“Your Highness, I must ask you to write a pardon for the good people in whose house the prisoner was found,” suggested Quinnox, shrewdly seeing a chance for communication unsuspected by the Prince.

“A moment, your Highness,” said the Prince, who had recovered himself cleverly. “I appreciate your position. I have made a serious charge, and I now have a fair proposition to suggest to you. If this man is not produced to-morrow morning I take it for granted that I am at liberty to tell all that has happened in this room to-night. If he is produced, I shall kneel and beg your pardon.”

The Princess turned paler than ever and knew not how she kept from falling to the floor. There was a long silence following Gabriel's unexpected but fair suggestion.

“That is very fair, your Highness,” said Lorry. “There is no reason why I should not be a prisoner to-morrow. I don't see how I can hope to escape the inevitable. Your dungeon is strong and I have given my word of honor to the captain that I shall make no further effort to evade the law.”

“I agree,” murmured the Princess, ready to faint under the strain.

“I must see him delivered to Prince Bolaroz,” added Gabriel mercilessly.

“To Bolaroz,” she repeated.

“Your Highness, the pardon for the poor old people,” reminded Quinnox. She glided to the desk, stunned, bewildered. It seemed as though death were upon her. Quinnox followed and bent near her ear. “Do not be alarmed,” he whispered. “No one knows of Mr. Lorry's presence here save the Prince, and if he dares to accuse you before Bolaroz our people will tear him to pieces. No one will believe him.”

“You—you can save him, then?” she gasped, joyously.

“If he will permit me to do so. Write to him what you will, your Highness, and he shall have the message. Be brave and all will go well. Write quickly! This is supposed to be the pardon.”

She wrote feverishly, a thousand thoughts arising for every one that she was able to transfer to the paper. When she had finished the hope-inspired scrawl she arose and, with a gracious smile, handed to the waiting captain the pardon for those who had secreted the fugitive.

“I grant forgiveness to them gladly,” she said.

“I thank you,” said Lorry, bowing low.

“Mr. Lorry, I regret the difficulty in which you find yourself. It was on my account, too, I am told. Be you guilty or innocent, you are my friend, my protector. May God be good to you.” She gave him her hand calmly, steadily, as if she were bestowing favor upon a subject. He kissed the hand gravely.

“Forgive me for trespassing on your good nature tonight, your Highness.

“The five thousand gavvos shall be yours tomorrow, Captain Quinnox,” she said, graciously. “You have done your duty well.” The faithful captain bowed deep and low and a weight was lifted from his conscience.

“Gentlemen, the door,” he said, and without a word the trio left the room. She closed the door and stood like a statue until their footsteps died away in the distance. As one in a daze she sat at the desk till the dawn, Grenfall Lorry's revolver lying before her.

Through the halls, down the stairs and into the clammy dungeon strode the silent trio.

But before Lorry stepped inside the cell Gabriel asked a question that had been troubling him for many minutes.

“I am afraid I have—ah—misjudged her,” muttered Gabriel, now convinced that he had committed himself irretrievably.

“You will find she has not misjudged you,” said the prisoner, grimly. “Can't I have a candle in here, captain?”

“You may keep this lantern,” said Quinnox, stepping inside the narrow cell. As he placed the lantern on the floor he whispered: “I will return in an hour. Read this!” Lorry's hand closed over the bit of perfumed paper.

The Prince was now inside the cell, peering about curiously, even timorously. “By the way, your Highness, how would you enjoy living in a hole like this all your life?”

“Horrible!” said Gabriel, shuddering like a leaf.

“Then take my advice: don't commit any murders. Hire some one else.”

The two men eyed each other steadily for a moment or two. Then the Prince looked out of the cell, a mad desire to fly from some dreadful, unseen horror coming over him.

Quinnox locked the door, and, striking a match, bade His Highness precede him up the stone steps.

In the cell the prisoner read and reread the incoherent message from Yetive:

“It is the only way. Quinnox will assist you to escape to-night. Go, I implore you; as you love me, go. Your life is more than all to me. Gabriel's story will not be entertained and he can have no proof. He will be torn to pieces, Quinnox says. I do not know how I can live until I am certain you are safe. This will be the longest night a woman ever spent. If I could only be sure that you will do as I ask, as I beg and implore! Do not think of me, but save yourself. I would lose everything to save you.”

He smiled sadly as he burned the “pardon.” The concluding sentences swept away the last thought he might have had of leaving her to bear the consequences. “Do not think of me, but save yourself. I would lose everything to save you.” He leaned against the stone wall and shook his head slowly, the smile still on his lips.

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