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- Graustark - 50/57 -


pursue the course he had begun, for there was murder in the American's eye. Like a fox he swerved and, with a servile promise of submission in his glance, said:

"I thought you were here, my fine fellow, and I came to satisfy myself. Now, sir, may I ask why you are here?" His fingers twitched and his eyes were glassy with the malevolence he was subduing.

"I am here as a prisoner," said Lorry, boldly. Gabriel laughed derisively.

"And how often have you come here in this manner as a prisoner? Midnight and alone in the apartments of the Princess! The guard dismissed! A prisoner, eh? Ha, what--a prison!"

"Stop!" cried Lorry, white to the lips.

The Princess was beginning to understand.

Her eyes grew wide with horror, her figure straightened imperiously and the white in her cheeks gave way to the red of insulted virtue.

"I see it all! You have not been outside this castle since you left the prison. A pretty scheme! You could not marry him, could you, eh? He is not a prince! But you could bring him here and hide him where no one would dare to think of looking for him --in your apartments!"

With a snarl of rage Lorry sprang upon him, cutting short the sentence that would have gone through her like the keenest knife-blade.

"Liar! Dog! I'll kill you for that!" he cried, but, before he could clutch the Prince's throat, Yetive had frantically seized his arm.

"Not that!" she shrieked. "Do not kill him! There must be no murder here!"

He reluctantly hurled Gabriel from him, the Prince tottering to his knees in the effort to keep from falling. She had saved her maligner's life, but courage deserted her with the act. Helplessly she looked into the blazing eyes of her lover and faltered:

"I--I do not know what to say or do. My brain is bursting!"

"Courage, courage!" he whispered, gently.

You shall pay for this," shrieked Gabriel. "If you are not a prisoner you shall be. There'll be scandal enough in Graustark to-morrow to start a volcano of wrath from the royal tombs where lie her fathers. I'll see that you are a prisoner!" He started for the door, but Lorry's pistol was leveled at his head.

"If you move I'll kill you!"

"The world will understand how and why I fell by your hand and in this room. Shoot!" he cried, triumphantly. Lorry's hand trembled and his eyes filled with the tears of impotent rage. The Prince held the higher card.

A face suddenly appeared at the door, which had been stealthily opened from without. Captain Quinnox glided into the room behind the Prince and gently closed the door, unnoticed by the gloater.

"A prisoner?" sneered Gabriel. "Where is your captor, pray?"

"Here!" answered a voice at his back. The Prince wheeled and found himself looking at the stalwart form of the captain of the guard. "I am surely privileged to speak now, your Highness," he went on, addressing the Princess significantly.

"How came you here?" gasped Gabriel.

"I brought my prisoner here. Where should I be if not here to guard him?"

"When--when did you enter this room?"

"An hour ago."

"You were not here when I came!"

"I have been standing on this spot for an hour. You have been very much excited, I'll agree, but it is strange you did not see me," lied Quinnox.

Gabriel looked about helplessly, nonplussed.

"You were here when I came in?" he asked, wonderingly.

"Ask Her Royal Highness," commanded the captain, smiling.

"Captain Quinnox brought the prisoner to me an hour ago," she said, mechanically.

"It is a lie!" cried Gabriel. "He was not here when I entered!"

The captain of the guard laid a heavy hand on the shoulder of the Prince and said, threateningly:

"I was here and I am here. Have a care how you speak. Were I to do right I should shoot you like a dog. You came like a thief, you insult the ruler of my land. I have borne it all because you are a Prince, but have a care--have a care. I may forget myself and tear out your black heart with these hands. One word from Her Royal Highness will be your death warrant."

He looked inquiringly at the Princess as if anxious to put the dangerous witness where he could tell no tales. She shook her head, but did not speak. Lorry realized that the time had come for him to assert himself. Assuming a distressed air he bowed his head and said, dejectedly:

"My pleading has been in vain, then, your Highness. I have sworn to you that I am innocent of this murder, and you have said I shall have a fair trial. That is all you can offer?"

"That is all," she said, shrilly, her mind gradually grasping his meaning.

"You will not punish the poor people who secreted me in their house for weeks, for they are convinced of my innocence. Your captain here, who found me in their house to-night, can also speak well of them. I have only this request to make, in return for what little service I may have given you: Forgive the old people who befriended me. I am ready to go to the Tower at once, captain."

Gabriel heard this speech with a skeptical smile on his face.

"I am no fool," he said, simply. "Captain," shrewdly turning to Quinnox, "if he is your prisoner, why do you permit him to retain his revolver?"

The conspirators were taken by surprise, but Lorry had found his wits.

"It is folly, your Highness, to allow this gentleman and conquering Prince to cross-examine you. I am a prisoner, and that is the end of it. What odds is it to the Prince of Dawsbergen how and where I was caught or why your officer brought me to you?"

"You were ordered from my house once today, yet you come again like a conqueror. I should not spare you. You deserve to lose your life for the actions of tonight. Captain Quinnox, will you kill him if I ask you to end his wretched life?" Yetive's eyes were blazing with wrath, beneath which gleamed a hope that he could be frightened into silence.

"Willingly--willingly!" cried Quinnox. "Now, your Highness? 'Twere better in the hall!"

"For God's sake, do not murder me! Let me go!" cringed the Prince.

"I do not mean that you should kill him now, Quinnox, but I instruct you to do so if he puts foot inside these walls again. Do you understand?"

"Yes, your Highness."

"Then you will place this prisoner in the castle dungeon until to-morrow morning, when he is to be taken to the Tower. Prince Gabriel may accompany you to the dungeon cell, if he likes, after which you will escort him to the gates. If he enters them again you are to kill him. Take them both away!"

"Your Highness, I must ask you to write a pardon for the good people in whose house the prisoner was found," suggested Quinnox, shrewdly seeing a chance for communication unsuspected by the Prince.

"A moment, your Highness," said the Prince, who had recovered himself cleverly. "I appreciate your position. I have made a serious charge, and I now have a fair proposition to suggest to you. If this man is not produced to-morrow morning I take it for granted that I am at liberty to tell all that has happened in this room to-night. If he is produced, I shall kneel and beg your pardon."

The Princess turned paler than ever and knew not how she kept from falling to the floor. There was a long silence following Gabriel's unexpected but fair suggestion.

"That is very fair, your Highness," said Lorry. "There is no reason why I should not be a prisoner to-morrow. I don't see how I can hope to escape the inevitable. Your dungeon is strong and I have given my word of honor to the captain that I shall make no further effort to evade the law."

"I agree," murmured the Princess, ready to faint under the strain.

"I must see him delivered to Prince Bolaroz," added Gabriel mercilessly.


Graustark - 50/57

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