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- Castle Craneycrow - 30/48 -


them. The thought of St. Gudule, of the great gathering, of the impatience, the consternation, the sensation occasioned by the non-arrival of the bride, brought madness to the brains of the hapless trio. Like a vivid panorama they saw everything that was going on in the church. They saw alarm in faces of those closely interested in the wedding, heard the vague rumors and questionings, the order for the search, the report of accident, and then--the police and newspapers!

At last the carriage came to a stop and the footman swung down from the seat, opening the door quickly. That they were far beyond the streets of the city was apparent in the oppressive stillness, broken only by the heavy panting of the horses. "This is the place," came in the coarse voice of the footman. "We have no time to lose."

"Then I must ask you to get down, Monsieur, and the ladies. We are about to enter a house for a short while, the better to complete the details of our little transactions. Remember, no noise means no violence Be quick, please." Thus spoke the man in the seat, who an instant later stepped forth into the darkness. The trembling, sobbing women dragged themselves to the ground, their gorgeous gowns trailing in the dust, unthought of and unprotected. Mr. Van Dykman, old as he was, took courage in the momentary relaxation, and attempted to halloo for help. A heavy hand was clasped over his mouth and strong arms subdued his show of resistance. Swiftly across a short stretch of ground they went, up rickety steps and into the black hallway of a house. There were stifled moans of terror on the lips of the two women, but there was no resistance save the weight their strengthless forms imposed upon the men who had them in charge. There was no light in the house and no sign that it was occupied by others than themselves.

"We remain here for several hours. If all goes well, you will then be at liberty to depart for your home in the city. Here is a chair, Madam. Pray be seated. Pardon our inability to give you a light. You will be patient, I am sure, when it is said on the sacred word of a gentleman that no harm is to come to you. It is only necessary that you remain quiet and await the hour when we are ready to release you. I must ask permission to lock the door of this room. Before dawn your friends will be here to take you away in safety. Everything has been arranged for your personal welfare and comfort. Permit me to say goodnight."

"Where are we?" demanded the old man.

"Why have you brought us here?" asked Mrs. Garrison from the arm chair into which she had limply fallen.

"You will learn everything in good time. We shall be just outside the door, and will respond promptly if you need our help to the extent of shouting for it. In the meantime your horses and carriage are being well cared for. Be of good heart and your night will not be a long one. Believe me, I hope we may meet again under more pleasing conditions."

The door closed a second later and the key clicked. Then came the shooting of a bolt, a short scuffling of feet, and the silence of the dead reigned over the strange house. Overcome with dread, the occupants of the room uttered no word, no sound for what seemed to them an hour. Then Mrs. Garrison, real tenderness in her voice, called softly to her daughter.

"Darling, can you find me in this darkness? Come to me. Let me hold you close in my arms, Dorothy, poor, poor child."

But there was no response to the appeal, nor to a second and a third call. The mother sprang to her feet in sudden terror, her heart fluttering wildly.

"Henry! Are you here? Where is--what nas happened to Dorothy?" she cried. A trembling old man and a frantic woman bumped against each other in the darkness and the search began. There were but two people in the room! Following this alarming discovery one of these persons swooned and the other battered, like a madman, against the heavy, stubborn door.

Far away in the night bowled a carriage drawn by sturdy horses. The clouds broke and the vain fell. Thunder and lightning ran rampant in the skies, but nothing served to lessen the speed of that swift flight over the highways leading into the sleep-ridden country. Inside the cab, not the one in which Dorothy Garrison had begun her journey to the altar, but another and less pretentious, sat the grim desperado and a half-dead woman. Whither they flew no one knew save the man who held the reins over the plunging horses. How long their journey--well, it was to have an end.

True to the promise made by the bandit, a clattering band of horsemen dashed up to the lonely house at the break of dawn. They were led by Prince Ugo Ravorelli, dishevelled, half-crazed. A shivering woman in silks and a cowering old man sobbed with joy when the rescuers burst through the door. Tacked to a panel in the door was an ominous, ghost-like paper on which was printed the following message from the night just gone:

"In time the one who is missing shall be returned to the arms of her mother, absolutely unharmed. She will be well cared for by those who have her in charge. After a reasonable length of time her friends will be informed as to the terms on which she may be restored to them."

Mrs. Garrison, more dead than alive, was conveyed to her home in the Avenue Louise, there to recover her strength with astonishing quickness. This vastly purposeful, indomitable woman, before many hours had passed, was calmly listening to plans for the capture of her daring abductors and the release of her daughter. Friends, overcome with the horror of the hour, flocked to her aid and comfort; the government offered its assistance and the police went to work as one massive sleuth-hound. Newspapers all over the world fairly staggered under the burden of news they carried to their readers, and people everywhere stood aghast at the most audacious outrage in the annals of latter-day crime.

As completely lost as if the earth had swallowed them were the diamond robbers--for all the world accepted them as the perpetrators--and their fair prize. No one saw the carriage after it turned off the Avenue Louise on the night of the abduction; no one saw the party leave the lonely house in the country. A placard found on the steps of a prominent citizen's home at an early hour in the morning told the frenzied searchers where to look for the mother and the uncle of the missing girl.

A reward of 100,000 francs for the arrest of the abductors or the return of Miss Garrison was offered at once by the stony-faced woman in the Avenue Louise, and detectives flew about like bees. Every city in the land was warned to be on the lookout, every village was watched, every train and station was guarded. Nine in every ten detectives maintained that she was still in Brussels, and house after house, mansion after mansion was searched.

Three days after the abduction word came from London that four men and a young woman, apparently insane, all roughly attired, had come to that city from Ostend, and had disappeared before the officials were fully cognizant of their arrival. The woman, according to the statements of men who saw her on the train, was beautiful and pale as with the sickness that promised death.

XXI

THE HOME OF THE BRIGANDS

It was past midnight, after a wild ride through the storm, when an old gentleman and his wife, with their sick daughter, boarded a fast eastbound train at Namur. Had the officers of the law known of the abduction at that hour it would have been an easy matter to discover that the loose-flowing gown which enveloped the almost unconscious, partially veiled daughter, hid a garment of silk so fine that the whole world had read columns concerning its beauty. The gray beard of the rather distinguished old man could have been removed: at a single grasp, while the wife, also veiled, wore the clothing of a man underneath the skirts. The father and mother were all attention to their unfortunate child, who looked into their faces with wide, hopeless eyes and uttered no word of complaint, no sound of pain.

At a small station some miles from the border line of the grand duchy of Luxemburg, the party left the coach and were met by a carriage in which they whirled away in the darkness that comes just before dawn. The horses flew swiftly toward the line that separates Belgium from the grand duchy, and the sun was barely above the bank of trees on the highlands in the east when the carriage of the impetuous travelers drew up in front of a picturesque roadside inn just across the boundary. The sweat-flecked horses were quickly stabled and the occupants of the vehicle were comfortably and safely quartered in a darkened room overlooking the highway.

So ill was the daughter, explained the father, that she was not to be disturbed on any account or pretext. Fatigued by the long ride from their home in the north, she was unable to continue the journey to Luxemburg until she had had a day of rest. At the big city she was to be placed in the care of the most noted of surgeons. Full of compassion, the keeper of the inn and his good wife did all in their power to carry out the wishes of the distressed father, particularly as he was free with his purse. It did not strike them as peculiar that the coachman remained at the stable closely, and that early in the day his horses were attached to the mud-covered carriage, as if ready for a start on the notice of a moment. The good man and his wife and the few peasants who were told of the suffering guest, in order that they might talk in lowered voices and refrain from disturbing noises, did not know that the "mother" of the girl sat behind the curtains of an upstairs window watching the road in both directions, a revolver on the sill.

The fact that the strange party decided to depart for Luxemburg just before nightfall did not create surprise in their simple breasts, for had not the anxious father said they would start as soon as his daughter felt equal to the journey? So eager were they to deliver her over to the great doctor who alone could save her life. With a crack of the whip and a gruff shout of farewell to the gaping stableboy who had been his companion for a day, the driver of the early morning coach whirled into the road and off toward the city of precipices. No one about the inn knew who the brief sojourners were, nor did they know whence they came. The stableboy noted the letter S


Castle Craneycrow - 30/48

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