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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCastle Craneycrow - Chapter 26. "The King Of Evil-Doers"
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Castle Craneycrow - Chapter 26. 'The King Of Evil-Doers' Post by :Slic47 Category :Long Stories Author :George Barr Mccutcheon Date :May 2012 Read :1151

Click below to download : Castle Craneycrow - Chapter 26. "The King Of Evil-Doers" (Format : PDF)

Castle Craneycrow - Chapter 26. "The King Of Evil-Doers"

CHAPTER XXVI. "THE KING OF EVIL-DOERS"

"Turk has been in Brussels," said Quentin to her on the day following her underground adventure. She was walking in the courtyard, and her brain was busy with a new interest. Again had the lonely priest passed along the road far below, and she had made him understand that he was wanted at the castle gates. When he turned off the road and began slowly to climb the steep, she was almost suffocated with nervous excitement. Her experience of the day before had left her unstrung and on the verge of collapse, and she was beginning to enjoy a strange resignation.

She was beginning to feel that there were terrors worse than those of the kindly prison, and that escape might be tenfold more unpleasant than confinement. Then she saw the priest, and her half-hearted attempt to attract his attention to her plight, resulted so differently from what she had expected that her nerves were again leaping with the old desire to outwit her captors. He was coming to the castle, but how was she to acquaint him with the true state of affairs? She would not be permitted to see him, much less to talk with him; of that she was sure. Not knowing what else to do, she went into the courtyard and loitered near the big gates, trying to appear at ease. She prayed for but a few moments' time in which to cry out to him that she was a prisoner and the woman for whom 100,000 francs were offered in Brussels.

But now comes Quentin upon the scene. His voice was hoarse, and it was plain that he had taken a heavy cold in the damp cellar. She deliberately turned her back upon him, not so much in disdain as to hide the telltale confusion in her face. All hope of conversing with the priest was lost if Quentin remained near by.

"I sent him to Brussels, Dorothy, and he has learned something that will be of vital interest to you," Philip went on, idly leaning against the gate as if fate itself had sent him there to frustrate her designs.

"Don't talk to me now, Philip. You must give me time. In an hour, when I have gotten over this dreadful headache, I will listen to you. But now, for heaven's sake, leave me to myself," she said, rapidly, resorting to deception.

"I'm sorry I have disturbed you. In an hour, then, or at any time you may feel like listening. It concerns Prince Ugo."

"Is he--what has happened to him?" she demanded, turning to him with alarm in her eyes.

"It is not what has happened to him, but to one who was his intimate. The woman who warned me to beware of his treachery has been murdered in Brussels. Shall I come to you here in an hour?"

"Yes," she said, slowly, the consciousness of a new dread showing itself in her voice. It was not until he reentered the house that she became fully possessed of a desire to learn more of this startling news. Her mind went back to the strange young woman who came to her with the story of the prince's duplicity, and her blood grew cold with the thought that brutal death had come to her so soon after that visit. She recalled the woman's voice, her unquestioned refinement, her dignity of bearing and the positiveness with which she declared that Ugo would kill her if he knew the nature of her visit to his promised wife. And now she was dead--murdered! By whom? That question burst upon her with the force of a heavy blow. Who killed her?

A pounding on the heavy gate brought her sharply to the project of the moment. She walked as calmly as her nerves would admit to the gate and called in French:

"Who is there?"

"Father Paul," came a subdued voice from the outside. "Am I wrong in believing that I was called here by some one in the castle? Kindly admit me. I am fatigued and athirst."

"I cannot open the gate, good Father, You must aid me to escape from this place," she cried, eagerly, her breast thumping like a hammer. There was no interruption, and she could have shrieked with triumph when, five minutes later, the priest bade her be of good cheer and to have confidence in him. He would come for her on the next night but one, and she should be freed. From her window in the castle she saw the holy man descend the steep with celerity not born of fatigue. When he reached the road below he turned and waved his hand to her and then made his way swiftly into the forest.

After it was all over and relief was promised, her excitement subsided and in its place began to grow a dull contemplation of what her rescue would mean to the people who were holding her captive. It meant exposure, arrest, imprisonment and perhaps death. The appeal she had succeeded in getting to the ears of the passing priest would soon be public property, and another day might see the jubilant minions of the law in front of Castle Craneycrow demanding her release and the surrender of the culprits. There was not the joy in her heart that she had expected; instead there was a sickening fancy that she had done something mean and treacherous. When she rejoined the unsuspecting party downstairs soon afterward, a mighty weakness assailed her, and it was she, instead of they who had boldly stolen her from her home, that felt the pangs of guilt. She went into the courtyard where Savage and Lady Jane were playing handball, while the Saxondales looked on, happily unconscious of a traitor in their midst. For an instant, pale and remorseful, she leaned against the door-post, struggling to suppress the tears of pity and contrition. Before she had fully recovered her strength Lady Jane was drawing her into the contest with Dickey. And so she played cravenly with those whose merry hearts she was to crush, listening to the plaudits of the two smiling onlookers. It was too late to save them, for a priest of God had gone out into the world to herald their guilt and to deal a blow that would shatter everything.

Quentin came down a little later, and she was conscious that he watched the game with eyes in which pleasure and trouble fought for supremacy. Tired at last of the violent exercise, the trio threw themselves upon the bench in the shade of the wall, and, with glowing faces and thumping breasts, two of them laughed over the antics they had cut. Dorothy's lawless lover stood afar off, lonely and with the resignation of the despised. Presently he drew near and asked if he might join them in the shade.

"What a dreadful cold you have taken, Phil," cried Lady Saxondale, anxiously.

"Commonest sort of a cold, I assure you. Damp cellars don't agree with me," he said.

"I did not want your coat, but you would give it to me," said Dorothy, as if called upon to defend herself for some crime.

"It was you or I for the cold, you know," he said, simply, "and I was your protector."

"Right and good," agreed Dickey. "Couldn't do anything else. Lady needed a coat, had to have it, and she got it. Duty called and found him prepared. That's why he always wears a coat in the presence of ladies."

"I've had your friend, the skeleton, buried," said Lord Bob. "Poor chap, he seemed all broken up over leaving the place."

"Yes--went all to pieces," added Dickey.

"Dickey Savage, do you think you are funny?" demanded Lady Jane, loftily. "I would not jest about the dead."

"The last I saw of him he was grinning like the--"

"Oh, you wretch!" cried the girl, and Dorothy put her fingers to her ears.

"Shut up, Dickey," exclaimed Quentin. "Do you care to hear about that woman in Brussels, Dorothy?"

"It is of no great consequence to me, but I'll listen if you like," she said, slowly.

Thereupon he related to the party the story of the finding of the dead woman in a house near the Garrison home in the Avenue Louise. She had been dead for two days and her throat was cut. The house in which she was found was the one into which Turk had seen Courant disappear on the night of the veranda incident at the Garrison's. Turk had been sent to Brussels by Quentin on a mission of considerable importance, arriving there soon after the body was discovered. He saw the woman's face at the morgue and recognized her as the one who had approached Quentin in the train for Paris. Turk learned that the police, to all appearances had found a clew, but had suddenly dropped the whole matter and the woman was classified with the "unknown dead." An attendant at the morgue carelessly remarked in his hearing that she was the mistress of a great man, who had sent them word to "throw her in the river." Secretly Turk assured himself that there was no mistake as to the house in which she had been found, and by putting two and two together, it was not unnatural to agree with the morgue officer and to supply for his own benefit the name of the royal lover. The newspapers which Turk brought from Brussels to Castle Craneycrow contained accounts of the murder of the beautiful woman, speculated wildly as to her idenity and termed the transaction a mystery as unsolvable as the great abduction. The same papers had the report, on good authority, that Miss Garrison had been murdered by her captors in a small town in Spain, the authorities being so hot on the trail that she was put out of the way for safety's sake.

But the papers did not know that a bearded man named Turk had slipped a sealed envelope under a door at the Garrison home, and that a distressed mother had assurance from the brigand chief that her daughter was alive and well, but where she could not be found. To prove that the letter was no imposition, it was accompanied by a lock of hair from Dorothy's head, two or three bits of jewelry and a lace handkerchief that could not have belonged to another. Dorothy did not know how or when Baker secured these bits of evidence, When Quentin told her the chief object of Turk's perilous visit to Brussels, her eyes filled with tears, and for the first time she felt grateful to him.

"I have a confession to make," she said, after the story was finished and the others had deliberately charged Ugo with the crime. "That poor woman came to me in Brussels and implored me to give up the prince. She told me, Phil, that she loved him and warned me to beware of him. And she said that he would kill her if he knew that she had come to me."

"That settles it!" exclaimed he, excitedly, the fever of joy in his eyes. "He killed her when he found that she had been to you. Perhaps, goaded to desperation, she confessed to him. Imagine the devilish delight he took in sniffing out her life after that! We have him now! Dorothy, you know as well as I that he and he alone had an object in killing her. You have only to tell the story of her visit to you and we'll hang the miserable coward." He was standing before her, eager-eyed and intense.

"You forget that I am not and do not for some time expect to be in a position to expose him. I am inclined to believe that the law will first require me to testify against you, Philip Quentin," she said, looking fairly into his eyes, the old resentment returning like a flash. Afterward she knew that the look of pain in his face touched her heart, but she did not know it then. She saw the beaten joy go out of his eyes, and she rejoiced in the victory.

"True," he said, softly. "I have saved the woman I love, while he has merely killed one who loved him." It angered her unreasonably when, as he turned to enter the house, Lady Saxondale put her arm through his and whispered something in his ear. A moment or two later Lady Jane, as if unable to master the emotion which impelled, hurried into the castle after them. Dickey strolled away, and she was left with Lord Bob. It would have been a relief had he expressed the slightest sign of surprise or regret, but he was as imperturbable as the wall against which he leaned. His mild blue eyes gazed carelessly at the coils of smoke that blew from his lips.

"Oh," she wailed to herself, in the impotence of anger, "they all love him, they all hate me! Why does he not mistreat me, insult me, taunt me--anything that will cost him their respect, their devotion! How bitterly they feel toward me for that remark! It will kill me to stay here and see them turn to him as if he were some god and I the defiler!"

That night there was a battle between the desire to escape and the reluctance she felt in exposing her captors to danger. In the end she admitted to herself that she would not have Philip Quentin seized by the officers: she would give them all an equal chance to escape, he with the others. Her heart softened when she saw him, in her imagination, alone and beaten, in the hands of the police, led away to ignominy and death, the others perhaps safe through his loyalty. She would refuse absolutely, irrevocably, to divulge the names of her captors and would go so far as to perjure herself to save them if need be. With that charitable resolution in her heart she went to sleep.

When she arose the next morning, Baker told her that Mr. Quentin was ill. His cold had settled on his lungs and he had a fever. Lady Saxondale seemed worried over the rather lugubrious report from Dickey Savage, who came downstairs early with Phil's apologies for not presenting himself at the breakfast table.

While Quentin cheerfully declared that he would be himself before night, Dickey was in a doleful state of mind and ventured the opinion that he was "in for a rough spell of sickness." What distresed the Saxondales most was the dismal certainty that a doctor could not be called to the castle. If Quentin were to become seriously ill, the situation would develop into something extremely embarrassing.

He insisted on coming downstairs about noon, and laughed at the remonstrances of Lord Bob and Dickey, who urged him to remain in bed for a day or two, at least. His cough was a cruel one, and his eyes were bright with the fever that raced through his system. The medicine chest offered its quinine and its plasters for his benefit, and there was in the air the tense anxiety that is felt when a child is ill and the outcome is in doubt. The friends of this strong, stubborn and all-important sick man could not conceal the fact that they were nervous and that they dreaded the probability of disaster in the shape of serious illness. His croaking laugh, his tearing cough and that flushed face caused Dorothy more pain than she was willing to admit, even to herself.

As night drew near she quivered with excitement. Was she to leave the castle? Would the priest come for her? Above all, would he be accompanied by a force of officers large enough to storm the castle and overpower its inmates? What would the night bring forth? And what would be the stand, the course, taken by this defiant sick man, this man with two fevers in his blood?

She had not seen or spoken to him during the day, but she had frequently passed by the door of the library in which he sat and talked with the other men. An irresistible longing to speak to him, to tell him how much she regretted his illness, came over her. There was in her heart a strange tenderness, a hungry desire to comfort him just the least bit before she took the flight that was to destroy the hope his daring and skillfully executed scheme had inspired.

Three times she hesitated in front of the library door, but her courage was not as strong as her desire. Were he alone she could have gone in and told him frankly that she would not expose him to the law in the event that she ever had the opportunity. But the other men were with him. Besides, his cough was so distressing that natural pity for one suffering physical pain would have made it impossible to talk to him with the essential show of indifference.

At last, in despair, she left Lady Saxondale and her companion in the courtyard and started up the stairs, resolved to be as far as possible from the sound of that cough. Quentin met her at the foot of the steps.

"I'm going to lie down awhile," he said, wearily. "They seem to be worried about this confounded cold, and I'll satisfy them by packing myself away in bed."

"You should be very careful, Phil," she said, a suffocating feeling in her throat. "Your cough is frightful, and they say you have a fever. Do be reasonable."

"Dorothy," he said, pausing before her at the steps, his voice full of entreaty, "tell me you don't despise me. Oh! I long to have you say one tender word to me, to have one gentle look from your eyes."

"I am very sorry you are suffering, Philip," she said, steeling her heart against the weakness that threatened.

"Won't you believe I have done all this because I love you and----" he was saying, passionately, but she interposed.

"Don't! Don't, Phil! I was forgetting a little--yes, I was forgetting a little, but you bring back all the ugly thoughts. I cannot forget and I will not forgive. You love me, I know, and you have been a kind jailer, but you must not expect to regain my respect and love--yes, it was love up to the morning I saw you in the dining-room of this castle."

"I'll create a new love in your heart, Dorothy," he cried. "The old love may be dead, but a new one shall grow up in its place. You do not feel toward me to-day as you did a week ago. I have made some headway against the force of your hatred. It will take time to win completely; I would not have you succumb too soon. But, just as sure as there is a God, you will love me some day for the love that made me a criminal in the eyes of the world. I love you, Dorothy; I love you!"

"It is too late. You have destroyed the power to love. Phil, I cannot forgive you. Could I love you unless full forgiveness paved the way?"

"There is nothing to forgive, as you will some day confess. You will thank and forgive me for what I have done." A fit of coughing caused him to lean against the stair rail, a paroxysm of pain crossing his face as he sought to temper the violence of the spell.

"You should have a doctor," she cried, in alarm. He smiled cheerlessly.

"Send for the court physician," he said, derisively, "The king of evil-doers has the chills and fever, they say. Is my face hot Dorothy?"

She hesitated for a moment, then impulsively placed her cool hand against his flushed forehead. Despite her will, there was a caress in the simple act, and his bright eyes gleamed with gladness. His hand met hers as it was lowered from the hot brow, and his lips touched the fingers softly.

"Ah, the fever, the fever!" he exclaimed, passionately.

"You should have a doctor," she muttered, as if powerless to frame other words.

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