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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBeverly Of Graustark - Chapter 27. The Prince Of Dawsbergen
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Beverly Of Graustark - Chapter 27. The Prince Of Dawsbergen Post by :AmeerSalim Category :Long Stories Author :George Barr Mccutcheon Date :May 2012 Read :1478

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Beverly Of Graustark - Chapter 27. The Prince Of Dawsbergen

CHAPTER XXVII. THE PRINCE OF DAWSBERGEN

Both Yetive and Beverly experienced an amazing sense of relief. They did not stop to consider why or how he had returned to the castle grounds. It was sufficient that he was actually there, sound, well, and apparently satisfied.

"I dare say Count Marlanx will withdraw his infamous charge against our guest," said Lorry, with deadly directness. Marlanx was mopping his damp forehead. His eyes were fastened upon the figure of the guard, and there was something like awe in their steely depths. It seemed to him that the supernatural had been enlisted against him.

"He left the castle last night," he muttered, half to himself.

"There seems to be no doubt of that," agreed Gaspon, the grand treasurer. "Colonel Quinnox reports his strange disappearance." Clearly the case was a puzzling one. Men looked at one another in wonder and uneasiness.

"I think I understand the situation," exclaimed Marlanx, suddenly triumphant. "It bears out all that I have said. Baldos left the castle last night, as I have sworn, but not for the purpose of escaping. He went forth to carry Information to our enemies. Can anyone doubt that he is a spy? Has he not returned to carry out his work? And now, gentlemen, I ask you--would he return unless he felt secure of protection here?"

It was a facer, Yetive and Beverly felt as though a steel trap suddenly had been closed down upon them. Lorry and Anguish were undeniably disconcerted. There was a restless, undecided movement among the ministers.

"Colonel Quinnox, will you fetch Baldos to the verandah at once?" asked Lorry, his quick American perception telling him that immediate action was necessary. "It is cooler out there." He gave Beverly a look of inquiry. She flushed painfully, guiltily, and he was troubled in consequence.

"As a mere subject, I demand the arrest of this man," Marlanx was saying excitedly. "We must go to the bottom of this hellish plot to injure Graustark."

"My dear count," said Anguish, standing over him, "up to this time we have been unable to discern any reasons for or signs of the treachery you preach about. I don't believe we have been betrayed at all."

"But I have absolute proof, sir," grated the count.

"I'd advise you to produce it. We must have something to work on, you know."

"What right have you to give advice, sir? You are not one of us. You are a meddler--an impertinent alien. Your heart is not with Graustark, as mine is. How long must we endure the insolence of these Americans?"

The count was fuming with anger. As might have been expected, the easy-going Yankees laughed unreservedly at his taunt. The princess was pale with indignation.

"Count Marlanx, you will confine your remarks to the man whom you have charged with treachery," she said. "You have asked for his arrest, and you are to be his accuser. At the proper time you will produce the proof. I warn you now that if you do not sustain these charges, the displeasure of the crown will fall heavily upon you."

"I only ask your highness to order his arrest," he said, controlling himself. "He is of the castle guard and can be seized only on your command."

"Baldos is at the castle steps, your highness," said Colonel Quinnox from the doorway. The entire party left the council-chamber and passed out to the great stone porch. It must be confessed that the princess leaned rather heavily upon Lorry's arm. She and Beverly trembled with anxiety as they stood face to face with the tall guard who had come back to them so mysteriously.

Baldos stood at the foot of the stone steps, a guard on each side of him. One of these was the shamefaced Haddan, Dangloss's watchman, whose vigil had been a failure. The gaze of the suspected guard purposely avoided that of Beverly Calhoun. He knew that the slightest communication between them would be misunderstood and magnified by the witnesses.

"Baldos," said Lorry, from the top step, "it has come to our ears that you left the castle surreptitiously last night. Is it true that you were aided by Miss Calhoun?" Baldos looked thankful for this eminently leading question. In a flash it gave him the key to the situation. Secretly he was wondering what emotions possessed the slender accomplice who had said good-bye to him not so many hours before at the castle gate. He knew that she was amazed, puzzled by his sudden return; he wondered if she were glad. His quick wits saw that a crisis had arrived. The air was full of it. The dread of this very moment was the thing which had drawn him into the castle grounds at early dawn. He had watched for his chance to glide in unobserved, and had snatched a few hours' sleep in the shelter of the shrubbery near the park wall.

"It is not true," he said clearly, in answer to Lorry's question. Both Beverly and Marlanx started as the sharp falsehood fell from his lips. "Who made such an accusation?" he demanded.

"Count Marlanx is our informant."

"Then Count Marlanx lies," came coolly from the guard. A snarl of fury burst from the throat of the deposed general. His eyes were red and his tongue was half palsied by rage.

"Dog! Dog!" he shouted, running down the steps. "Infamous dog! I swear by my soul that he--"

"Where is your proof, Count Marlanx?" sternly interrupted Lorry. "You have made a serious accusation against our honored guest. It cannot be overlooked."

Marlanx hesitated a moment, and then threw his bomb at the feet of the conspirators.

"I was in the chapel when she opened the secret panel for him."

Not a word was uttered for a full minute. It was Beverly Calhoun who spoke first. She was as calm as a spring morning.

"If all this be true, Count Marlanx, may I ask why you, the head of Graustark's army, did not intercept the spy when you had the chance?"

Marlanx flushed guiltily. The question had caught him unprepared. He dared not acknowledge his presence there with the hired assassins.

"I--I was not in a position to restrain him," he fumbled.

"You preferred to wait until he was safely gone before making the effort to protect Graustark from his evil designs. Is that it? What was your object in going to the chapel? To pray? Besides, what right had you to enter the castle in the night?" she asked ironically.

"Your highness, may I be heard?" asked Baldos easily. He was smiling up at Yetive from the bottom of the steps. She nodded her head a trifle uneasily. "It is quite true that I left the castle by means of your secret passage last night."

"There!" shrieked Marlanx. "He admits that he--"

"But I wish to add that Count Marlanx is in error when he says that Miss Calhoun was my accomplice. His eyes were not keen in the darkness of the sanctuary. Perhaps he is not accustomed to the light one finds in a chapel at the hour of two. Will your highness kindly look in the direction of the southern gate? Your august gaze may fall upon the reclining figure of a boy asleep, there in the shadow of the friendly cedar. If Count Marlanx had looked closely enough last night he might have seen that it was a boy who went with me and not--"

"Fool! Don't you suppose I know a woman's skirts?" cried the Iron Count.

"Better than most men, I fancy," calmly responded Baldos. "My young friend wore the garments of a woman, let me add."

Lorry came down and grasped Baldos by the arm. His eyes were stern and accusing. Above, Yetive and Beverly had clasped hands and were looking on dumbly. What did Baldos mean?

"Then, you did go through the passage? And you were accompanied by this boy, a stranger? How comes this, sir?" demanded Lorry. Every eye was accusing the guard at this juncture. The men were descending the steps as if to surround him.

"It is not the first time that I have gone through the passage, sir," said Baldos, amused by the looks of consternation. "I'd advise you to close it. Its secret is known to more than one person. It is known, by the way, to Prince Gabriel of Dawsbergen. It is known to every member of the band with which Miss Calhoun found me when she was a princess. Count Marlanx is quite right when he says that I have gone in and out of the castle grounds from time to time. He is right when he says that I have communicated with men inside and outside of these grounds. But he is wrong when he accuses Miss Calhoun of being responsible for or even aware of my reprehensible conduct. She knew nothing of all this, as you may judge by taking a look at her face at this instant."

Beverly's face was a study in emotions. She was looking at him with dilated eyes. Pain and disappointment were concentrated in their expressive gray depths; indignation was struggling to master the love and pity that had lurked in her face all along. It required but a single glance to convince the most skeptical that she was ignorant of these astounding movements on the part of her protege. Again every eye was turned upon the bold, smiling guardsman.

"I have been bitterly deceived in you," said Lorry, genuine pain in his voice. "We trusted you implicitly. I didn't think it of you, Baldos. After all, it is honorable of you to expose so thoroughly your own infamy in order to acquit an innocent person who believed in you. You did not have to come back to the castle. You might have escaped punishment by using Miss Calhoun as a shield from her highness's wrath. But none the less you compel me to give countenance to all that Count Marlanx has said."

"I insist that it was Miss Calhoun who went through the panel with him," said Marlanx eagerly.

"If it was this boy who accompanied you, what was his excuse in returning to the castle after you had fled?"

"He came back to watch over Miss Calhoun while she slept. It was my sworn duty to guard her from the man who had accused her. This boy is a member of the band to which I belong and he watched while I went forth on a pretty business of my own. It will be useless to ask what that business was. I will not tell. Nor will the boy. You may kill us, but our secrets die with us. This much I will say: we have done nothing disloyal to Graustark. You may believe me or not. It has been necessary for me to communicate with my friends, and I found the means soon after my arrival here. All the foxes that live in the hills have not four legs," he concluded significantly.

"You are a marvel!" exclaimed Lorry, and there was real admiration in his voice. "I'm sorry you were fool enough to come back and get caught like this. Don't look surprised, gentlemen, for I believe that in your hearts you admire him quite as much as I do." The faint smile that went the rounds was confirmation enough. Nearly every man there had been trained in English-speaking lands and not a word of the conversation had been missed.

"I expected to be arrested, Mr. Lorry," said Baldos calmly. "I knew that the warrant awaited me. I knew that my flight of last night was no secret. I came back willingly, gladly, your highness, and now I am ready to face my accuser. There is nothing for me to fear."

"And after you have confessed to all these actions? By George, I like your nerve," exclaimed Lorry.

"I have been amply vindicated," cried Marlanx. "Put him in irons--and that boy, too."

"We'll interview the boy," said Lorry, remembering the lad beneath the tree.

"See; he's sleeping so sweetly," said Baldos gently. "Poor lad, he has not known sleep for many hour. I suppose he'll have to be awakened, poor little beggar."

Colonel Quinnox and Haddan crossed the grounds to the big cedar. The boy sprang to his feet at their call and looked wildly about. Two big hands clasped his arms, and a moment later the slight figure came pathetically across the intervening space between the stalwart guards.

"Why has he remained here, certain of arrest?" demanded Lorry in surprise.

"He was safer with me than anywhere else, Mr. Lorry. You may shoot me a thousand times, but I implore you to deal gently with my unhappy friend. He has done no wrong. The clothes you see upon that trembling figure are torturing the poor heart more than you can know. The burning flush upon that cheek is the red of modesty. Your highness and gentlemen, I ask you to have pity on this gentle friend of mine." He threw his arm about the shoulder of the slight figure as it drooped against him. "Count Marlanx was right. It was a woman he saw with me in the chapel last night."

The sensation created by this simple statement was staggering. The flushed face was unmistakably that of a young girl, a tender, modest thing that shrank before the eyes of a grim audience. Womanly instinct impelled Yetive to shield the timid masquerader. Her strange association with Baldos was not of enough consequence in the eyes of this tender ruler to check the impulse of gentleness that swept over her. That the girl was guiltless of any wrong-doing was plain to be seen. Her eyes, her face, her trembling figure furnished proof conclusive. The dark looks of the men were softened when the arm of the princess went about the stranger and drew her close.

"Bah! Some wanton or other!" sneered Marlanx. "But a pretty one, by the gods. Baldos has always shown his good taste,"

Baldos glared at him like a tiger restrained. "Before God, you will have those words to unsay," he hissed.

Yetive felt the slight body of the girl quiver and then grow tense.

The eyes of Baldos now were fixed on the white, drawn face of Beverly Calhoun, who stood quite alone at the top of the steps. She began to sway dizzily and he saw that she was about to fall. Springing away from the guards, he dashed up the steps to her side. His arm caught her as she swayed, and its touch restored strength to her--the strength of resentment and defiance.

"Don't!" she whispered hoarsely.

"Have courage," he murmured softly. "It will all be well. There is no danger."

"So this is the woman!" she cried bitterly.

"Yes. You alone are dearer to me than she," he uttered hurriedly.

"I can't believe a word you say."

"You will, Beverly. I love you. That is why I came back. I could not leave you to meet it alone. Was I not right? Let them put me into irons--let them kill me--"

"Come!" cried Colonel Quinnox, reaching his side at this instant. "The girl will be cared for. You are a prisoner."

"Wait!" implored Beverly, light suddenly breaking in upon her. "Please wait, Colonel Quinnox." He hesitated, his broad shoulders between her and the gaping crowd below. She saw with grateful heart that Yetive and Lorry were holding the steps as if against a warlike foe. "Is she--is she your wife?"

"Good heavens, no!" gasped Baldos.

"Your sweetheart?" piteously.

"She is the sister of the man I serve so poorly," he whispered. Quinnox allowed them to walk a few paces down the flagging, away from the curious gaze of the persons below.

"Oh, Baldos!" she cried, her heart suddenly melting. "Is she Prince Dantan's sister?" Her hand clasped his convulsively, as he nodded assent. "Now I _do love you."

"Thank God!" he whispered joyously. "I knew it, but I was afraid you never would speak the words. I am happy--I am wild with joy."

"But they may shoot you," she shuddered. "You have condemned yourself. Oh, I cannot talk to you as I want to--out here before all these people. Don't move, Colonel Quinnox--they can't see through you. Please stand still."

"They will not shoot me, Beverly, dear. I am not a spy," said Baldos, looking down into the eyes of the slender boyish figure who stood beside the princess. "It is better that I should die, however," he went on bitterly. "Life will not be worth living without you. You would not give yourself to the lowly, humble hunter, so I--"

"I will marry you, Paul. I love you. Can't anything be done to--"

"It is bound to come out all right in the end," he cried, throwing up his head to drink in the new joy of living. "They will find that I have done nothing to injure Graustark. Wait, dearest, until the day gives up its news. It will not be long in coming. Ah, this promise of yours gives me new life, new joy. I could shout it from the housetops!"

"But don't!" she cried nervously. "How does she happen to be here with you? Tell me, Paul. Oh, isn't she a dear?"

"You shall know everything in time. Watch over her, dearest. I have lied today for you, but it was a lie I loved. Care for her if you love me. When I am free and in favor again you will--Ah!" he broke off suddenly with an exclamation. His eyes were bent eagerly on the circle of trees just beyond the parade-ground. Then his hand clasped hers in one spasmodic grip of relief. An instant later he was towering, with head bare, at the top of the steps, his hand pointed dramatically toward the trees.

Ravone, still in his ragged uniform, haggard but eager, was standing like a gaunt spectre in the sunlight that flooded the terrace. The vagabond, with the eyes of all upon him, raised and lowered his arms thrice, and the face of Baldos became radiant.

"Your highness," he cried to Yetive, waving his hand toward the stranger, "I have the honor to announce the Prince of Dawsbergen."

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