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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCastle Craneycrow - Chapter 28. The Game Of The Priest
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Castle Craneycrow - Chapter 28. The Game Of The Priest Post by :Slic47 Category :Long Stories Author :George Barr Mccutcheon Date :May 2012 Read :3394

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Castle Craneycrow - Chapter 28. The Game Of The Priest

CHAPTER XXVIII. THE GAME OF THE PRIEST

When Turk pitched over the crouching form of the priest and into the dark chasm beyond Dorothy for the first time began to appreciate the character of her cowled rescuer. Panting and terrified, she looked into his hideously exultant face as he rose and peered over the ledge after the luckless pursuer. It was not the face of a holy man of God, but that of a creature who could laugh in the taking of a human life.

"Come on!" he cried, grasping her by the wrist with no gentle regard. "He's out of the way, but we have no time to lose. The others may miss you at any moment, and we must be in the wood if we hope to fool them."

"I have changed my mind--" she began, holding back as he dragged her after him down the slope.

"It is too late," he said, harshly. "You will soon be with your friends, my child. Do not lose heart, but trust to me."

"Who are you? You are not a priest. Why have you disguised yourself--"

"Not so loud, my child, not so loud! They may have guards even here. If I am not a priest, then may heaven shut its gates on me forever. Because I am a man and have undone one of your enemies, you should not question my calling. It is no time for prayer. When we are safe from pursuit, you will regret the doubt you have just expressed. Trust to me, my child. But run, for God's sake, run! Don't hang back when all depends on our speed in the next half-hour."

"Where are you taking me? Answer, or I shall refuse to go another step with you!" she exclaimed, now thoroughly aroused and determined.

"My wagon is hitched in the wood over there. In it we will go to a town up the valley, where I have the promise of help. I could have brought a big force of men with me, but don't you see what a mistake it would have been? Rather than surrender you to a force they would have killed you and secreted your body in the passages under the castle. It is commonly known that the cellars are paved with skeletons." Here Dorothy shuddered in recollection. "Strategy was the only means of getting you out safely."

"They would not have killed me," she cried, breathlessly. They were moving rapidly along the level roadway now, and his grip on her wrist was like a clasp of iron.

"To save themselves? Of course, they would--as they would a dog!" he said.

"They are my friends, and they are the best, the truest in the world," she gasped, eager to keep the promise of protection made in the farewell note.

"You think they are, madam, but how could they treat you as they have if they are friends?" He had turned into the wood, and it was necessary to proceed more cautiously on account of the darkness. She realized that she had erred in saying they were friends, and turned cold with apprehension.

"I mean, they treated me well--for criminals," she managed to say.

"Criminals!" he snarled. "Bah! Of course they are criminals of the worst kind, but they will never be punished."

"I'm afraid they are so clever that no one will ever find out who they really are."

He stopped with a lurch, and she could feel that he was looking at her in amazement.

"I know who they are, and you know them, too," he said, slowly. "Perhaps nobody else knows, but we know that my Lord and Lady Saxondale and the two Americans were your abductors. The man I dumped into the ravine was that little villain Turk."

Her heart almost stopped beating with the shock of knowing that nothing could now shield her captors from exposure.

"But--but it will be very hard to prove," she said, hoarsely, almost defiantly.

"You have only to take oath," he said, meaningly.

"I don't know the name or face of a person in that castle," she said, deliberately. He was silent for a full minute.

"You intend to shield them?" he demanded. There was no answer to the question. Now she was positive that the man was no priest, but some one who knew the world and who had made it his business to trace her and her captors to the very gates of the castle. If he knew, then others must also be in possession of the secret.

"Who are you?" she demanded, as he drew her deeper into the wood. There was now the wild desire to escape from her rescuer and to fly back to the kindly jailers on the hill.

"A poor priest, by the grace of God," he said, and she heard him chuckle.

"Take me back to the road, sir!" she commanded.

"I will take you to your mother," he said, "and to no one else."

"But I am afraid of you," she exclaimed, her courage going. "I don't know you--I don't know where you are taking me."

"We will not go far to-night. I know a place where you can hide until I secure help from the city."

"But you said you had a wagon."

"The horse must have strayed away, worse luck!" said he, with a raucous laugh.

She broke from his grasp suddenly, and like a frightened deer was off through the darkness knowing not whither she went or what moment she might crash against a tree. The flight was a short one. She heard him curse savagely as he leaped upon her from behind after a chase of a few rods, and then she swooned dead away.

When she regained consciousness a faint glow of light met her eyes as the lids feebly lifted themselves from their torpor. Gradually there came to her nostrils a dank, musty odor and then the smell of tobacco smoke. She was lying on her back, and her eyes at last began to take in broad rafters and cobwebby timbers not far above her head. The light was so dim that shadows and not real objects seemed to constitute the surroundings. Then there grew the certainty that she was not alone in this dismal place. Turning her head slightly, she was able, with some effort, to distinguish the figure of a man seated on the opposite side of the low, square room, his back against the wall, his legs outstretched. At his elbow, on a box, burned a candle, flickering and feeble in its worthlessness. He was smoking a pipe, and there was about him an air of contentment and security.

Slowly past events crowded themselves into the path of memory, and her brain took them up as if they were parts of a dream. For many minutes she was perfectly quiet, dumbly contemplating the stranger who sat guard over her in that wretched place. In her mind there was quickly developed, as one brings the picture from the film of a negative the truth of the situation. She had escaped from one set of captors only to give herself into the clutches of others a thousand times more detestable, infinitely more evil-hearted.

"You've come back to life, have you?"

She started violently and shivered as with a mighty chill at the sound of these words. They came from the slouching smoker.

"Where am I?" she cried, sitting up, a dizzy whirling in her head Her bed was no more than a heavy piece of old carpet.

"In the house of your friends," laconically responded the voice, now quite familiar. Her eyes swept the room in search of the priest. His robes lay in a heap across her feet. "Where is Father Paul?" she demanded. "He is no more," said the man, in sombre tones. "I was he until an hour ago."

"And you are no priest? Ah, God help me, what have I done? What have I come to in my miserable folly?" she cried, covering her face with her hands.

"Look here, Miss Garrison," said the man, quietly. "I am no priest, but you have nothing to fear because of that fact. The truth is, I am a detective. For a month I was in the employ of Prince Ravorelli, and it was no honest business, I can tell you. What I have done to-night is straight and honest. I mean you no harm, and you have but to follow my instructions in order to find yourself safe in Brussels once more. I have been interested in a number of queer transactions but let me say this in my own defence: I was never employed in any game so detestable, so low, as the one your noble prince was playing when you were snatched away from him. The only regret I have in taking you back to your mother comes from the fear that you may go ahead and marry that knave."

Dorothy was listening, with wide eyes and bated breath, to the words of the lounging smoker.

"I will never, never marry him," she cried, vehemently.

"Stick to that resolve, my child," said Courant, with mock benevolence. "He is a scoundrel, and I cut loose from him to do this little job down here on my own responsibility."

"Tell me, if you know, did he plan to kill Mr. Quentin? I must have the truth," she cried, eagerly.

"He did worse than that. He made the attempt, or rather his agents did. You see, Quentin was a dangerous rival because he knew too much."

"I don't understand."

"Well, he knew all about the prince when he was with the opera company in Brazil. I can't tell you much about it, but there was a murder committed over there and your prince was believed to be guilty. A woman was killed, I believe. Quentin knew all about it, it seems."

"And never told me?" she cried.

"He was not positive, I suppose. There was the danger of being mistaken, and this American friend of yours seems honest. He only told you what he knew to be a fact, I conclude."

"Yesterday I heard that a woman had been murdered in Brussels, a woman who came to warn me against the prince. Do you know who killed her?"

"Good God! Has she been killed? Ah, I knew it would come; he was obliged to get rid of her. I did not know of her death, but I leave you to guess who was responsible for it. God, he is a devil! You owe a great deal, Mademoiselle, to the clever men who stole you from him."

"Alas, I am beginning to know it, now that it is too late. And he was ill when I stole away to-night. I implore you, take me back to the castle!" she pleaded, her heart wrung by the anguish in her soul.

"So he is in the castle, eh? Just as I thought. I'd like to take you to him, especially as he is ill, but I must take care of number one. When I dropped out of one villain's employment I went into business for myself. You see, there is about 100,000 francs reward for you, and there is the same for the bodies of the abductors. If I turn you over to your mother or her agents--not the prince, by the way--I earn the reward. If I can procure the arrest of your abductors I get double the amount. You see how unbusiness-like it would be if I were to let my sympathies get the better of me."

"But I will give you 100,000 francs if you will take me back to the castle," she cried, standing before him.

"Have you the money with you?"

"Of course I have not, but it shall be yours as soon as I can--"

"Pardon. You are worth nothing to me in that castle, and you will bring a fortune in Brussels."

In vain she pleaded with the stubborn detective, finally threatening him with dire punishment if he refused to accede to her demands. Then he arose in sudden wrath, cursing her roundly and vowing she should not leave the room alive if she persisted in such threats. He told her that she was in a cave beneath the ruins of an old church, long the haunt of robbers, now the home of snakes and bats. Indeed, as he spoke a flittermouse scurried through the air within a foot of her ear.

"We rest here until to-morrow night, and then we start out to walk. You cannot be seen in that dress, either. I have clothing here in this box for you to wear. My dear young lady, you must make believe that you are my younger brother for a day or two, at least."

A look of horror came into her face, succeeded by the deep red of insulted modesty, and then the white of indignation.

"I will die first, you wretch!" she exclaimed. In that moment she believed she could have killed the smiling rogue with her own hands.

"We shall see," he said, roughly. "Look at them; they are respectable in cut and they are clean." He drew the garments from the box, piece by piece, and held them before her flaming face. "I'm going out to take a look about the valley. You are quite safe here. No one knows where you are, and the robbers have been dead for twenty years. One of them still has his skeleton in the room just off this one, but he is a harmless old fellow. In an hour I will return, and we will eat. It is now three o'clock, and the sun will soon be rising. To-night we venture forth as brothers, remember."

He pulled his cap down over his eyes, buttoned his coat about his throat, changed a revolver from one pocket to another, and deliberately stalked across the room to the narrow door. An instant later she heard the key rasp in the lock and she was alone.

"Oh, heaven, if Philip Quentin could see me now! If he could but hear my sobs and see my tears! How he would rejoice, how he would laugh, how he would pity me. This is your triumph, Philip Quentin, but you are not here to claim the wretched victory. Fool! Fool! Fool!"

She had thrown herself face downward on the patch of carpet and was writhing in the agony of fear and regret. Suddenly there came to her ears the distant report of a firearm, the rush of feet and then something heavy crashed against the little door. She was on her feet in an instant, cowering in the far corner of the room, her face among the cobwebs. Panic seized her, and she screamed aloud in her terror. Outside the door there were sounds of a savage struggle, but they rapidly became indistinct, and finally passed beyond hearing altogether. She ran to the door and pounded on it with hands that knew not the bruises they were acquiring, and she moaned in the fear that the rescuers, for such they surely must be, were leaving her behind.

"Phil! Phil!" she cried again and again. But there suddenly came to her a terrifying thought, and she fell back, cold and voiceless. Ugo! What if he had at last run the treacherous Courant to earth? What if the rescuer were he?

She slunk away from the door, the dampness of dread sending a chill to her heart. And when again the rush of footsteps brought a heavy body against the door, she had not the voice to cry out, so sure was she that Ugo Ravorelli was coming to her in that dismal hole.

Then the door gave way, and Philip Quentin came plunging into the room, hatless, coatless, his shirt in shreds. The mighty draft of air from the open door killed the sickly candle-flame, but not before they had seen each other. For the second time that night she lost consciousness.

At the bottom of a deep ravine lay the body of Courant. He had fled from before the two adversaries after a vain attempt to reenter the room below the church and had blindly dashed over the cliff. Turk, with more charity than Courant had shown not many hours before, climbed down the dangerous steep, and, in horror, touched his quivering hand. Then came the last gasp.

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