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- Castle Craneycrow - 20/48 -


"Then shoot low," said the millionaire.

"Your second, Monsieur?" said the Austrian duke, coming to Savage's side.

"Mr. Quentin will act, Monsieur le Due. We may need a surgeon."

"Dr. Gassbeck is here."

It was hurriedly agreed that the men should stand at opposite ends of the room, nearly twenty feet apart, back to back. At the word given by Prince Ugo, they were to turn and fire.

Sallaconi came in with the pistol case and the seconds examined the weapons carefully. A moment later the room was cleared except for the adversaries, the seconds, and Prince Ugo.

There was the stillness of death. On the face of the Russian there was an easy smile, for was not he a noted shot? Had he ever missed an adversary in a duel? Dickey was pale, but he did not tremble as he took the pistol in his hand.

"Good-bye, Phil," was all he said. Poor Quentin turned his face away as he clasped his hand, and he could only murmur:

"If he hits you, I'll kill him."

A moment later the word "fire" came and the two men whirled into position. Dickey's arm went up like a flash, the other's more cruelly deliberate. Two loud reports followed in quick succession, the slim American's nervous finger pressed the trigger first. He had not taken aim. He had located his man's position before turning away, and the whole force of his will was bent on driving the bullet directly toward the spot he had in mind. Kapolski's bullet struck the wall above Dickey's head, his deadly aim spoiled by the quick, reckless shot from the other end of the room.

He lunged forward. Dickey's bullet had blown away part of the big Russian's chin and jaw, burying itself in the wall beyond.

XV

APPROACH OF THE CRISIS

Prince Ugo's face was livid, and his black eyes bulged with horrified amazement. The unscrupulous, daring, infallible duelist whom he had induced to try conclusions with Quentin in a regular and effective way, had been overthrown at the outset by a most peculiar transaction of fate. He had assured the Russian that Quentin was no match for him with the weapons common to dueling, and he had led him to believe that he was in little danger of injury, much less death. Kapolski, reckless, a despiser of all things American, eagerly consented to the plan, and Ugo saw a way to rid himself of a dangerous rival without the taint of suspicion besmirching his cloak. Sallaconi was an accomplished swordsman, but it would have been unwise to send him against Quentin. Ugo himself was a splendid shot and an expert with the blade, and it was not cowardice that kept him from taking the affair in his own hands. It was wisdom, cunning wisdom, that urged him to stand aloof and to go up to his wedding day with no scandal at his back. But the unexpected, the miraculous had happened. His friend, his brother prince, his unwitting tool, had gone down like a log, his vaunted skill surpassed by the marksmanship and courage of an accursed American.

To his credit be it said that he did all in his power to preserve the life of Prince Kapolski. More than that, he did all that was possible to keep the story of the encounter from reaching the world. So powerful, so successful was his influence that the world at large knew nothing of the fight, the police were bribed, and the newspapers were thrown completely off the scent.

Ugo's first thought after the fall of Kapolski was to prevent his opponent from leaving the room alive, but common sense came to his relief a second later, and he saw the folly of taking a stand against the victor. He rushed to Kapolski's side and helped to support the moaning man's body. The surgeon was there an instant later, and Dickey, as white as a ghost, started mechanically toward the fallen foe. Ouentin stood like a man of stone, stunned by relief and surprise. One glance at the bloody, lacerated face and the rolling eyes caused Savage to flee as if pursued by devils.

For hours Quentin and Turk sought to comfort and to quiet him; the millionaire, who refused to desert them, sat up all night to manage the information bureau, as he called it. He personally inquired at Ugo's rooms, and always brought back reassuring news, which Quentin doubted and Dickey utterly disbelieved At four o'clock Prince Ugo himself, with Duke Laselli, came to Quentin's rooms with the word that Kapolski was to be taken to a hospital, and that Dr. Gassbeck pronounced his chance for recovery excellent. The prince assured Mr. Savage that secrecy would be preserved, but advised him to leave Brussels at the earliest possible moment. Kapolski's death, if it came, would command an investigation, and it would be better if he were where the law could not find him.

Quentin with difficulty restrained from openly accusing the prince of duplicity. Afterthought told him how impotent his accusation would have been, for how could he prove that the Russian was acting as an agent?

Just before daylight Turk saw them take Prince Kapolski from the hotel in an ambulance, and, considering it his duty, promptly followed in a cab. The destination of the ambulance was the side street entrance to one of the big hospitals in the upper part of the town, and the men who accompanied the prince were strangers to the little observer. Prince Ugo was not of the party, nor were Laselli and Sallaconi. On his return to the Bellevue he had a fresh task on his hands. He was obliged to carry a man from Quentin's apartments and put him to bed in the millionaire's room, farther down the hall. The millionaire--for it was he--slept all day and had a headache until the thirtieth of the month. Turk put him to bed on the twenty-seventh.

During the forenoon Prince Ugo and Count Sallaconi called at Quentin's rooms. They found that gentleman and Mr. Savage dressed and ready for the street.

"Good morning," said Dickey, pleasantly, for the two Americans had determined to suppress, for diplomatic reasons, any show of hostility toward the Italians. The visitors may not have exposed their true feelings, but they were very much astounded and not a little shocked to find the dcelist and his friend in the best of spirits.

"And how did you sleep?" asked Ugo, after he had expressed his sorrow over the little unpleasantry of the night before, deploring the tragic ending to the night of pleasure.

"Like a top," lied Dickey, cheerfully.

"I was afraid the excitement might have caused you great uneasiness and--ah--dread," said the prince. The count was industriously engaged in piercing with his glittering eyes the tapestry in a far corner of the room. Mr. Savage possessed the manner of a man who shoots someone every morning before breakfast.

"Not in the least; did it, Quentin?"

"He slept like a baby."

"By the way, before I forget it, Prince Ugo, how is the gentleman I shot last night--ah, what was his name?" asked Dickey, slapping his leg carelessly with his walking stick

"Prince Kapolski is in the hospital, and I fear he cannot recover," said the prince. "I came to tell you this that you may act accordingly and with all the haste possible."

"O, I don't know why I should run away. Everybody there will testify that the fight was forced upon me. You will swear to that, yourself, Prince Ugo, and so will the count. I had to fight, you know."

"It seems to me, Mr. Savage, that you were rather eager to fight. I cannot vouch for your safety if the prince dies," said Ugo, coolly.

"But he isn't going to die. I did not shoot to kill and the ball hit him just where I intended it should--on the chin. He'll be well in a couple of weeks. True, he may not feel like eating tough beefsteak with that jaw for some time, but I knew a fellow once who was able to eat very comfortably after six weeks. That was as good a shot as I ever made, Phil," said Dickey, reflectively.

"I think Buckner's nose was a cleaner shot. It wasn't nearly so disgusting," said Phil.

"Do you mean to say you are able to hit a man just where you please?" demanded the count.

"Provided he does not hit me first," said Mr. Savage. "Gentlemen, let me order up a quiet little drink. I am afraid the unfortunate affair of last night has twisted your nerves a bit. It was rather ghastly, wasn't it?"

When the four parted company in front of the hotel, a quarter of an hour later, the two Italians sat down to reflect. They wondered whether Mr. Savage usually carried a pistol in his pocket, and they agreed that if he did have one of his own he would be much more accurate with it than with a strange one, such as he had used the night before. The two Americans were not jubilant as they strolled up the street. They had put on a very bold front but they were saying to themselves that Kapolski's death would be a very disastrous calamity. Cold perspiration stood on Dickey's brow and he devoutly prayed that his victim would recover.

"I'd feel like a butcher to the last day of my life," he groaned.

"The big brute got what he deserved, Dickey, but that isn't going to relieve us if he should die. Prince Ugo would use it as an excuse to drive you out of Europe and, of course, I would not desert you. It was my affair and you were unlucky enough to get into it. There is one thing that puzzles me. I directly insulted Ravorelli last night.


Castle Craneycrow - 20/48

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