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- Beverly of Graustark - 40/51 -
The man reported that Baldos had been seen on the balcony alone, evidently on watch.
Marlanx ground his teeth and his blood stormed his reason. "The job must be done to-night. You have your instructions. Capture him if possible; but if necessary, kill him. You know your fate, if you fail." Marlanx actually grinned at the thought of the punishment he would mete out to them. "Now be off!"
Rashly he made his way to the castle front. A bright moon cast its mellow glow over the mass of stone outlined against the western sky. For an hour he glowered in the shade of the trees, giving but slight heed to the guards who passed from time to time. His eyes never left the enchanted balcony.
At last he saw the man. Baldos came from the floor at the end of the balcony, paced the full length in the moonlight, paused for a moment near Beverly Calhoun's window and then disappeared through the same door that had afforded him egress.
Inside the dark castle the clock at the end of the hall melodiously boomed the hour of two. Dead quiet followed the soft echoes of the gong. A tall figure stealthily opened the door to Yetive's chapel and stepped inside. There was a streak of moonlight through the clear window at the far end of the room. Baldos, his heart beating rapidly, stood still for a moment, awaiting the next move in the game. The ghost-like figure of a woman suddenly stood before him in the path of the moonbeam, a hooded figure in dark robes. He started as if confronted by the supernatural.
"Come," came in an agitated whisper, and he stepped to the side of the phantom. She turned and the moonlight fell upon the face of Beverly Calhoun, "Don't speak. Follow me as quickly as you can."
He grasped her arm, bringing her to a standstill.
"I have changed my mind," he whispered in her ear. "Do you think I will run away and leave you to shoulder the blame for all this? On the balcony near your window an hour ago I--"
"It doesn't make any difference," she argued. "You have to go. I want you to go. If you knew just how I feel toward you you would go without a murmur."
"You mean that you hate me," he groaned.
"I wouldn't be so unkind as to say that," she fluttered. "I don't know who you are. Come; we can't delay a minute. I have a key to the gate at the other end of the passage and I know where the secret panel is located. Hush! It doesn't matter where I got the key. See! See how easy it is?"
He felt her tense little fingers in the darkness searching for his. Their hands were icy cold when the clasp came. Together they stood in a niche of the wall near the chancel rail. It was dark and a cold draft of air blew across their faces. He could not see, but there was proof enough that she had opened the secret panel in the wall, and that the damp, chill air came from the underground passage, which led to a point outside the city walls.
"You go first," she whispered nervously. "I'm afraid. There is a lantern on the steps and I have some matches. We'll light it as soon as--Oh, what was that?"
"Don't be frightened," he said. "I think it was a rat."
"Good gracious!" she gasped. "I wouldn't go in there for the world."
"Do you mean to say that you intended to do so?" he asked eagerly.
"Certainly. Someone has to return the key to the outer gate. Oh, I suppose I'll have to go in. You'll keep them off, won't you?" plaintively. He was smiling in the darkness, thinking what a dear, whimsical thing she was.
"With my life," he said softly.
"They're ten times worse than lions," she announced.
"You must not forget that you return alone," he said triumphantly.
"But I'll have the lantern going full blast," she said, and then allowed him to lead her into the narrow passageway. She closed the panel and then felt about with her foot until it located the lantern. In a minute they had a light. "Now, don't be afraid," she said encouragingly. He laughed in pure delight; she misunderstood his mirth and was conscious of a new and an almost unendurable pang. He was filled with exhilaration over the prospect of escape! Somehow she felt an impulse to throw her arms about him and drag him back into the chapel, in spite of the ghost of the game-warden's daughter.
"What is to prevent me from taking you with me?" he said intensely, a mighty longing in his breast. She laughed but drew back uneasily.
"And live unhappily ever afterward?" said she. "Oh, dear me! Isn't this a funny proceeding? Just think of me, Beverly Calhoun, being mixed up in schemes and plots and intrigues and all that. It seems like a great big dream. And that reminds me: you will find a raincoat at the foot of the steps. I couldn't get other clothes for you, so you'll have to wear the uniform. There's a stiff hat of Mr. Lorry's also. You've no idea how difficult it is for a girl to collect clothes for a man. There doesn't seem to be any real excuse for it, you know. Goodness, it looks black ahead there, doesn't it? I hate underground things. They're so damp and all that. How far is it, do you suppose, to the door in the wall?" She was chattering on, simply to keep up her courage and to make her fairest show of composure.
"It's a little more than three hundred yards," he replied. They were advancing through the low, narrow stone-lined passage. She steadfastly ignored the hand he held back for support. It was not a pleasant place, this underground way to the outside world. The walls were damp and mouldy; the odor of the rank earth assailed the nostrils; the air was chill and deathlike.
"How do you know?" she demanded quickly.
"I have traversed the passage before. Miss Calhoun," he replied. She stopped like one paralyzed, her eyes wide and incredulous. "Franz was my guide from the outer gate into the chapel. It is easy enough to get outside the walls, but extremely difficult to return," he went on easily.
"You mean to say that you have been in and out by way of this passage? Then, what was your object, sir?" she demanded sternly.
"My desire to communicate with friends who could not enter the city. Will it interest you if I say that the particular object of my concern was a young woman?"
She gasped and was stubbornly silent for a long time. Bitter resentment filled her soul, bitter disappointment in this young man. "A young woman!" he had said, oh, so insolently. There could be but one inference, one conclusion. The realization of it settled one point in her mind forever.
"It wouldn't interest me in the least. I don't even care who she was. Permit me to wish you much joy with her. Why don't you go on?" irritably, forgetting that it was she who delayed progress. His smile was invisible in the blackness above the lantern. There were no words spoken until after they had reached the little door in the wall.
Here the passage was wider. There were casks and chests on the floor, evidently containing articles that required instant removal from Edelweiss in case of an emergency.
"Who was that woman?" she asked at last. The key to the door was in the nervous little hand.
"One very near and dear to me. Miss Calhoun. That's all I can say at this time."
"Well, this is the only time you will have the chance," she cried loftily. "Here we part. Hush!" she whispered, involuntarily grasping his arm. "I think I heard a step. Can anyone be following us?" They stopped and listened. It was as still as a tomb.
"It must be the same old rat," he answered jokingly. She was too nervous for any pleasantries, and releasing her hold on his arm, said timidly, a "Good-bye!"
"Am I to go in this manner? Have you no kind word for me? I love you better than my soul. It is of small consequence to you, I know, but I crave one forgiving word. It may be the last." He clasped her hand and she did not withdraw it. Her lips were trembling, but her eyes were brave and obstinate. Suddenly she sat down upon one of the chests. If he had not told her of the other woman!
"Forgive me instead, for all that I have brought you to," she murmured. "It was all my fault. I shall never forget you or forgive myself. I--I am going back to Washin'ton immediately. I can't bear to stay here now. Good-bye, and God bless you. Do--do you think we shall ever see each other again?" Unconsciously she was clinging to his hand. There were tears in the gray eyes that looked pathetically up into his. She was very dear and enchanting, down there in the grewsome passageway with the fitful rays of the lantern lighting her face. Only the strictest self-control kept him from seizing her in his arms, for something told him that she would have surrendered.
"This is the end, I fear," he said, with grim persistence. She caught her breath in half a sob. Then she arose resolutely, although her knees trembled shamelessly.
"Well, then, good-bye," she said very steadily. "You are free to go where and to whom you like. Think of me once in awhile, Baldos. Here's the key. Hurry! I--I can't stand it much longer!" She was ready to break down and he saw it, but he made no sign.
Turning the key in the rusty lock, he cautiously opened the door. The moonlit world lay beyond. A warm, intoxicating breath of fresh air came in upon them. He suddenly stooped and kissed her hand.
"Forgive me for having annoyed you with my poor love," he said, as he stood in the door, looking into the night beyond.
"All--all right," she choked out as she started to close the door after him.
"Halt! You are our prisoner!"
The words rang out sharply in the silence of the night. Instinctively,
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