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- The Lion of the North - 50/57 -
and scouts of both sides.
After much deliberation, therefore, he determined upon the bold course of frankly informing Wallenstein who he was and what he had heard, and to beg of him to furnish him with an escort to pass through the lines in order that he might make his way with all speed to Oxenstiern in order to assure him of the good faith of the duke and of the importance of his frankly and speedily accepting his proposals. It was possible, of course, that he might fall a victim to Wallenstein's first anger when he found out that he had been duped, and the plot in which he was engaged discovered; but he resolved to run the risk, believing that the duke would see the advantage to be gained by complying with his proposal.
It was necessary, however, to prepare Thekla for the worst.
"Thekla," he said in the morning, "an end has come to our stay here. Circumstances have occurred which will either enable us to continue our journey at once and in safety or which may place me in a prison."
Thekla gave a cry of surprise and terror. "I do not think, my dear girl," Malcolm went on, "that there is much fear of the second alternative, but we must be prepared for it. You must obey my instructions implicitly. Should I not return by nightfall you will know that for a time at least I have been detained. You will tell the woman of the house, who is aware that I am employed by Wallenstein, that I have been sent by him to examine and set in order the clocks in his palace in Vienna in readiness for his return there, but that as you were too unwell to travel I have bade you remain here until I return to fetch you.
"You have an ample supply of money even without the purse of gold which the duke presented to me yesterday. You must remain here quietly until the spring, when the tide of war is sure to roll away to some other quarter, and I trust that, long ere that, even should I be detained, I shall be free to come to you again; but if not, do you then despatch this letter which I have written for you to Jans Boerhoff. In this I tell him where you are, in order that, if your mother comes to him asking for you, or your parents are able to write to him to inquire for you, he may inform them of your hiding place. I have also written you a letter to the commander of any Swedish force which may enter this town, telling him who you are, and praying him to forward you under an escort to Nuremberg."
"But what shall I do without you?" Thekla sobbed.
"I trust, my dear, that you will not have to do without me, and feel convinced that tomorrow we shall be upon our way to the Swedish outposts. I only give you instructions in case of the worst. It troubles me terribly that I am forced to do anything which may possibly deprive you of my protection, but my duty to the country I serve compels me to take this step, which is one of supreme importance to our cause."
It was long before Thekla was pacified, and Malcolm himself was deeply troubled at the thought that the girl might be left alone and unprotected in a strange place. Still there appeared every probability that she would be able to remain there in safety until an opportunity should occur for her to make her way to Nuremberg. It was with a heavy heart, caused far more by the thought of Thekla's position than of danger to himself, that he took his way to the castle; but he felt that his duty was imperative, and was at heart convinced that Wallenstein would eagerly embrace his offer.
It was not until midday that he was able to see the duke. Wallenstein had been greatly angered as well as alarmed at the resistance which his scheme had met with on the previous evening. He had believed that his favours and liberality had so thoroughly attached his generals to his person that they would have followed him willingly and without hesitation, even in a war against the emperor, and the discovery that, although willing to support him against deprivation from his command, they shrunk alarmed at the idea of disloyalty to the emperor, showed that his position was dangerous in the extreme.
He found that the signatures to the document had for the most part been scrawled so illegibly that the writers would be able to repudiate them if necessary, and that deceit was evidently intended. In the morning he called together the whole of the generals, and personally received them. After pouring out the bitterest reproaches and abuse against the court, he reminded them of their opposition to the proposition set before them on the previous evening, and declared that this circumstance had induced him to retract his own promise, and that he should at once resign his command.
The generals, in confusion and dismay, withdrew to the antechamber, and after a short consultation returned to offer their apologies for their conduct on the previous evening and to offer to sign anew the engagement which bound them to him. This was done, and it now remained only for Wallenstein to obtain the adhesion of Gallas, Altringer, and Coloredo, which, as they held important separate commands, was necessary for the success of his plan. Messengers were accordingly sent out at once to request them to come instantly to Pilsen.
After this business was despatched and Wallenstein was disengaged he was informed that Malcolm desired earnestly to speak to him on particular business. Greatly surprised at the request, he ordered that he should be shown in to him.
"Your excellency," Malcolm began when they were alone, "what I am about to say may anger you, but as I trust that much advantage may arise from my communication, I implore you to restrain your anger until you hear me to the end, after which it will be for you to do with me as you will."
Still more surprised at this commencement, Wallenstein signed to him to continue.
"I am, sir," Malcolm went on, "no clockmaker, although, indeed, having worked for some time in the shop of Master Jans Boerhoff at the time of the siege of Nuremberg, I am able to set clocks and watches in repair, as I have done to those which have been placed in my hands here. In reality, sir, I am a Scottish officer, a captain in the service of Sweden."
Wallenstein gave a short exclamation of angry surprise. "You must not think, sir, that I have come hither in disguise to be a spy upon the movements of your army. I came here unwillingly, being captured by your troops, and forced to accompany them.
"I left the Swedish camp on a private mission, having received there a missive from the Countess of Mansfeld, who, with her husband, was a kind friend of mine, telling me that they were prisoners of the emperor at Prague, and begging me to come to their assistance. Bethinking me of the occupation which had amused my leisure hours during the weary months when we were shut up by you in Nuremberg, I obtained leave of absence, attired myself as a craftsman, and made my way to Prague. There I found the count confined to his couch by a wound and unable to move. The countess had no thought of quitting him. Her anxiety was wholly for her daughter, a girl of fifteen, whom the emperor purposed to shut up in a convent and force to change her religion, and then to bestow her hand upon one of his favourites, with her father's confiscated estates as her dowry.
"I succeeded in effecting her escape, disguised as a boy; I myself travelling in the disguise of a peasant with a wagon. We were making our way towards the Swedish lines when we came across your army, which had, unknown to me, suddenly moved hither. I and my cart were requisitioned for the service of the army. On the night of my arrival here I resumed my disguise as a craftsman, left my wagon, and with my young companion took up my lodging here, intending to remain quietly working at the craft I assumed until an opportunity offered for continuing our journey. Accident obtained me employment here, and as rumour said that overtures for peace were passing between yourself and the Swedish chancellor, I may frankly say that I determined to use the position in which I accidentally found myself for the benefit of the country I served, by ascertaining, if I could, how far your excellency was in earnest as to the offers you were making. In pursuance of that plan I yesterday concealed myself and overheard all that passed in the council chamber with the officers, and at the banquet subsequently."
Wallenstein leapt to his feet with an angry exclamation.
"Your excellency will please to remember," Malcolm went on quietly, "that I could have kept all this to myself and used it to the benefit or detriment of your excellency, but it seemed to me that I should benefit at once your designs and the cause I serve by frankly acquainting you with what I have discovered. It would be a work of time for me to make my way with my companion through the lines of your army and to gain those of the Swedes. I might be slain in so doing and the important information I have acquired lost.
"It is of all things important to you that the Swedish chancellor, whose nature is cautious and suspicious, should be thoroughly convinced that it is your intention to make common cause with him and to join him heart and soul in forcing the emperor to accept the conditions which you and he united may impose upon him. This the information I have acquired will assuredly suffice to do, and he will, without doubt, at once set his army in motion to act in concert with yours."
Wallenstein paced the room for a minute or two in silence.
"The stars truly said that you are a brave man and that your destiny is connected with mine," he said at length, "for assuredly none but a brave man would venture to tell me that he had spied into my councils. I see, however, that what you say is reasonable and cogent, and that the news you have to tell may well induce Oxenstiern to lay aside the doubts which have so long kept us asunder and at once to embrace my offer. What, then, do you propose?"
"I would ask, sir," Malcolm replied, "that you would at once order a squadron of horse to escort me and my companion through the debatable land between your army and that of the Swedes, with orders for us to pass freely on as soon as we are beyond your outposts and in the neighbourhood of those of the Swedes."
"It shall be done," Wallenstein said. "In half an hour a squadron of horse shall be drawn up in the courtyard here, and a horse and pillion in readiness for yourself and the maiden. In the meantime I will myself prepare a letter for you to present to the Swedish chancellor with fresh proposals for common action."
CHAPTER XXIII THE MURDER OF WALLENSTEIN
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