Part 5 out of 6
very secret he had been sent to unravel had been stumbled upon, the
solving of which he had given up in despair, returning empty-handed to
his grim master, the redoubtable Archbishop Baldwin of Treves.
It was now almost two months since the Archbishop had sent him on the
mission to the Rhine from which he was returning as wise as he went,
well knowing that a void budget would procure him scant welcome from
his imperious ruler. Here, at least, was important matter for the
warlike Elector's stern consideration--an apparently impregnable
fortress secretly built in the very centre of the Archbishop's domain;
and knowing that the Count von Eltz claimed at least partial
jurisdiction over this district, more especially that portion known as
the Eltz-thal, in the middle of which this mysterious citadel had been
erected. Heinrich rightly surmised that its construction had been the
work of this ancient enemy of the Archbishop.
Two months before, or nearly so, Heinrich von Richenbach had been
summoned into the presence of the Lion of Treves at his palace in that
venerable city. When Baldwin had dismissed all within the room save
only Von Richenbach, the august prelate said:
"It is my pleasure that you take horse at once and proceed to my city
of Mayence on the Rhine, where I am governor. You will inspect the
garrison there and report to me."
Heinrich bowed, but said nothing.
"You will then go down the Rhine to Elfield, where my new castle is
built, and I shall be pleased to have an opinion regarding it."
The Archbishop paused, and again his vassal bowed and remained silent.
"It is my wish that you go without escort, attracting as little
attention as possible, and perhaps it may be advisable to return by the
northern side of the Moselle, but some distance back from the river, as
there are barons on the banks who might inquire your business, and
regret their curiosity when they found they questioned a messenger of
mine. We should strive, during our brief sojourn on this inquisitive
earth, to put our fellow creatures to as little discomfort as
Von Richenbach saw that he was being sent on a secret and possibly
dangerous mission, and he had been long enough in the service of the
crafty Archbishop to know that the reasons ostensibly given for his
journey were probably not those which were the cause of it, so he
contented himself with inclining his head for the third time and
holding his peace. The Archbishop regarded him keenly for a few
moments, a derisive smile parting his firm lips; then said, as if his
words were an afterthought:
"Our faithful vassal, the Count von Eltz, is, if I mistake not, a
neighbor of ours at Elfield?"
The sentence took, through its inflection, the nature of a query, and
for the first time Heinrich von Richenbach ventured reply.
"He is, my Lord."
The Archbishop raised his eyes to the vaulted ceiling, and seemed for a
time lost in thought, saying, at last, apparently in soliloquy, rather
than by direct address:
"Count von Eltz has been suspiciously quiet of late for a man so
impetuous by nature. It might be profitable to know what interests him
during this unwonted seclusion. It behooves us to acquaint ourselves
with the motives that actuate a neighbour, so that, opportunity
arising, we may aid him with counsel or encouragement. If, therefore,
it should so chance that, in the intervals of your inspection of
governorship or castle, aught regarding the present occupation of the
noble count comes to your ears, the information thus received may
perhaps remain in your memory until you return to Treves."
The Archbishop withdrew his eyes from the ceiling, the lids lowering
over them, and flashed a keen, rapier-like glance at the man who stood
Heinrich von Richenbach made low obeisance and replied:
"Whatever else fades from my memory, my Lord, news of Count von Eltz
shall remain there."
"See that you carry nothing upon you, save your commission as
inspector, which my secretary will presently give to you. If you are
captured it will be enough to proclaim yourself my emissary and exhibit
your commission in proof of the peaceful nature of your embassy. And
now to horse and away."
Thus Von Richenbach, well mounted, with his commission legibly
engrossed in clerkly hand on parchment, departed on the Roman road for
Mayence, but neither there nor at Elfield could he learn more of Count
von Eltz than was already known at Treves, which was to the effect that
this nobleman, repenting him, it was said, of his stubborn opposition
to the Archbishop, had betaken himself to the Crusades in expiation of
his wrong in shouldering arms against one who was both his temporal and
spiritual over-lord; and this rumour coming to the ears of Baldwin, had
the immediate effect of causing that prince of the Church to despatch
Von Richenbach with the purpose of learning accurately what his old
enemy was actually about; for Baldwin, being an astute man, placed
little faith in sudden conversion.
When Heinrich von Richenbach returned to Treves he was immediately
ushered into the presence of his master.
"You have been long away," said the Archbishop, a frown on his brow. "I
trust the tidings you bring offer some slight compensation for the
delay." Then was Heinrich indeed glad that fate, rather than his own
perspicacity, had led his horse to the heights above Schloss Eltz.
"The tidings I bring, my Lord, are so astounding that I could not
return to Treves without verifying them. This led me far afield, for my
information was of the scantiest; but I am now enabled to vouch for the
truth of my well-nigh incredible intelligence."
"Have the good deeds of the Count then translated him bodily to heaven,
as was the case with Elijah? Unloose your packet, man, and waste not so
much time in the vaunting of your wares."
"The Count von Eltz, my Lord, has built a castle that is part palace,
part fortress, and in its latter office well-nigh impregnable."
"Yes? And where?"
"In the Eltz-thal, my Lord, a league and a quarter from the Moselle."
"Impossible!" cried Baldwin, bringing his clenched fist down on the
table before him. "Impossible! You have been misled, Von Richenbach."
"Indeed, my Lord, I had every reason to believe so until I viewed the
structure with my own eyes."
"This, then, is the fruit of Von Eltz's contrition! To build a castle
without permission within my jurisdiction, and defy me in my own
domain. By the Coat, he shall repent his temerity and wish himself
twice over a captive of the Saracen ere I have done with him. I will
despatch at once an army to the Eltz-thal, and there shall not be left
one stone upon another when it returns."
"My Lord, I beseech you not to move with haste in this matter. If
twenty thousand men marched up to the Eltz-thal they could not take the
castle. No such schloss was ever built before, and none to equal it
will ever be built again, unless, as I suspect to be the case in this
instance, the devil lends his aid."
"Oh, I doubt not that Satan built it, but he took the form and name of
Count von Eltz while doing so," replied the Archbishop, his natural
anger at this bold defiance of his power giving way to his habitual
caution, which, united with his resources and intrepidity, had much to
do with his success. "You hold the castle, then, to be unassailable. Is
its garrison so powerful, or its position so strong?"
"The strength of its garrison, my Lord, is in its weakness; I doubt if
there are a score of men in the castle, but that is all the better, as
there are fewer mouths to feed in case of siege, and the Count has some
four years' supplies in his vaults. The schloss is situated on a lofty,
unscalable rock that stands in the centre of a valley, as if it were a
fortress itself. Then the walls of the building are of unbelievable
height, with none of the round or square towers which castles usually
possess, but having in plenty conical turrets, steep roofs, and the
like, which give it the appearance of a fairy palace in a wide,
enchanted amphitheatre of green wooded hills, making the Schloss Eltz,
all in all, a most miraculous sight, such as a man may not behold in
many years' travel."
"In truth, Von Richenbach," said the Archbishop, with a twinkle in his
eye, "we should have made you one of our scrivening monks rather than a
warrior, so marvellously do you describe the entrancing handiwork of
our beloved vassal, the Count von Eltz. Perhaps you think it pity to
destroy so fascinating a creation."
"Not so, my Lord. I have examined the castle well, and I think were I
entrusted with the commission I could reduce it."
"Ah, now we have modesty indeed! You can take the stronghold where I
"I did not say that you would fail, my Lord. I said that twenty
thousand men marching up the valley would fail, unless they were
content to sit around the castle for four years or more."
"Answered like a courtier, Heinrich. What, then, is your method of
"On the height to the east, which is the nearest elevation to the
castle, a strong fortress might be built, that would in a measure
command the Schloss Eltz, although I fear the distance would be too
great for any catapult to fling stones within its courtyard. Still, we
might thus have complete power over the entrance to the schloss, and no
more provender could be taken in."
"You mean, then, to wear Von Eltz out? That would be as slow a method
"To besiege would require an army, my Lord, and would have this
disadvantage, that, besides withdrawing from other use so many of your
men, rumour would spread abroad that the Count held you in check. The
building of a fortress on the height would merely be doing what the
Count has already done, and it could be well garrisoned by twoscore men
at the most, vigilant night and day to take advantage of any movement
of fancied security to force way into the castle. There need be no
formal declaration of hostilities, but a fortress built in all
amicableness, to which the Count could hardly object, as you would be
but following his own example."
"I understand. We build a house near his for neighbourliness. There is
indeed much in your plan that commends itself to me, but I confess a
liking for the underlying part of a scheme. Remains there anything else
which you have not unfolded to me?"
"Placing in command of the new fortress a stout warrior who was at the
same time a subtle man----"
"In other words, thyself, Heinrich--well, what then?"
"There is every chance that such a general may learn much of the castle
from one or other of its inmates. It might be possible that, through
neglect or inadvertence, the drawbridge would be left down some night
and the portcullis raised. In other words, the castle, impervious to
direct assault, may fall by strategy."
"Excellent, excellent, my worthy warrior! I should dearly love to have
captain of mine pay such an informal visit to his estimable Countship.
We shall build the fortress you suggest, and call it Baldwineltz. You
shall be its commander, and I now bestow upon you Schloss Eltz, the
only proviso being that you are to enter into possession of it by
whatever means you choose to use."
Thus the square, long castle of Baldwineltz came to be builded, and
thus Heinrich von Richenbach, brave, ingenious, and unscrupulous, was
installed captain of it, with twoscore men to keep him company,
together with a plentiful supply of gold to bribe whomsoever he thought
Time went on without much to show for its passing, and Heinrich began
to grow impatient, for his attempt at corrupting the garrison showed
that negotiations were not without their dangers. Stout Baumstein,
captain of the gate, was the man whom Heinrich most desired to
purchase, for Baumstein could lessen the discipline at the portal of
Schloss Eltz without attracting undue attention. But he was an
irascible German, whose strong right arm was readier than his tongue;
and when Heinrich's emissary got speech with him, under a flag of
truce, whispering that much gold might be had for a casual raising of
the portcullis and lowering of the drawbridge, Baumstein at first could
not understand his purport, for he was somewhat thick in the skull; but
when the meaning of the message at last broke in upon him, he wasted no
time in talk, but, raising his ever-ready battle-axe, clove the Envoy
to the midriff. The Count von Eltz himself, coming on the scene at this
moment, was amazed at the deed, and sternly demanded of his gate-
captain why he had violated the terms of a parley. Baumstein's slowness
of speech came near to being the undoing of him, for at first he merely
said that such creatures as the messenger should not be allowed to live
and that an honest soldier was insulted by holding converse with him;
whereupon the Count, having nice notions, picked up in polite
countries, regarding the sacredness of a flag of truce, was about to
hang Baumstein, scant though the garrison was, and even then it was but
by chance that the true state of affairs became known to the Count. He
was on the point of sending back the body of the Envoy to Von
Richenbach with suitable apology for his destruction and offer of
recompense, stating that the assailant would be seen hanging outside
the gate, when Baumstein said that while he had no objection to being
hanged if it so pleased the Count, he begged to suggest that the gold
which the Envoy brought with him to bribe the garrison should be taken
from the body before it was returned, and divided equally among the
guard at the gate. As Baumstein said this, he was taking off his helmet
and unbuckling his corselet, thus freeing his neck for the greater
convenience of the castle hangman. When the Count learned that the
stout stroke of the battle-axe was caused by the proffer of a bribe for
the betraying of the castle, he, to the amazement of all present,
begged the pardon of Baumstein; for such a thing was never before known
under the feudal law that a noble should apologise to a common man, and
Baumstein himself muttered that he wot not what the world was coming to
if a mighty Lord might not hang an underling if it so pleased him,
cause or no cause.
The Count commanded the body to be searched, and finding thereon some
five bags of gold, distributed the coin among his men, as a good
commander should, sending back the body to Von Richenbach, with a most
polite message to the effect that as the Archbishop evidently intended
the money to be given to the garrison, the Count had endeavoured to
carry out his Lordship's wishes, as was the duty of an obedient vassal.
But Heinrich, instead of being pleased with the courtesy of the
message, broke into violent oaths, and spread abroad in the land the
false saying that Count von Eltz had violated a flag of truce.
But there was one man in the castle who did not enjoy a share of the
gold, because he was not a warrior, but a servant of the Countess. This
was a Spaniard named Rego, marvellously skilled in the concocting of
various dishes of pastry and other niceties such as high-born ladies
have a fondness for. Rego was disliked by the Count, and, in fact, by
all the stout Germans who formed the garrison, not only because it is
the fashion for men of one country justly to abhor those of another,
foreigners being in all lands regarded as benighted creatures whom we
marvel that the Lord allows to live when he might so easily have
peopled the whole world with men like unto ourselves; but, aside from
this, Rego had a cat-like tread, and a furtive eye that never met
another honestly as an eye should. The count, however, endured the
presence of this Spaniard, because the Countess admired his skill in
confections, then unknown in Germany, and thus Rego remained under her
The Spaniard's eye glittered when he saw the yellow lustre of the gold,
and his heart was bitter that he did not have a share of it. He soon
learned where it came from, and rightly surmised that there was more in
the same treasury, ready to be bestowed for similar service to that
which the unready Baumstein had so emphatically rejected; so Rego,
watching his opportunity, stole away secretly to Von Richenbach and
offered his aid in the capture of the castle, should suitable
compensation be tendered him. Heinrich questioned him closely regarding
the interior arrangements of the castle, and asked him if he could find
any means of letting down the drawbridge and raising the portcullis in
the night. This, Rego said quite truly, was impossible, as the guard at
the gate, vigilant enough before, had become much more so since the
attempted bribery of the Captain. There was, however, one way by which
the castle might be entered, and that entailed a most perilous
adventure. There was a platform between two of the lofty, steep roofs,
so elevated that it gave a view over all the valley. On this platform a
sentinel was stationed night and day, whose duty was that of outlook,
like a man on the cross-trees of a ship. From this platform a stair,
narrow at the top, but widening as it descended to the lower stories,
gave access to the whole castle. If, then, a besieger constructed a
ladder of enormous length, it might be placed at night on the narrow
ledge of rock far below this platform, standing almost perpendicular,
and by this means man after man would be enabled to reach the roof of
the castle, and, under the guidance of Rego, gain admittance to the
lower rooms unsuspected.
"But the sentinel?" objected Von Richenbach.
"The sentinel I will myself slay. I will steal up behind him in the
night when you make your assault, and running my knife into his neck,
fling him over the castle wall; then I shall be ready to guide you down
into the courtyard."
Von Richenbach, remembering the sheer precipice of rock at the foot of
the castle walls and the dizzy height of the castle roof above the
rock, could scarcely forbear a shudder at the thought of climbing so
high on a shaky ladder, even if such a ladder could be made, of which
he had some doubts. The scheme did not seem so feasible as the Spaniard
appeared to imagine.
"Could you not let down a rope ladder from the platform when you had
slain the sentinel, and thus allow us to climb by that?"
"It would be impossible for me to construct and conceal a contrivance
strong enough to carry more than one man at a time, even if I had the
materials," said the wily Spaniard, whose thoughtfulness and ingenuity
Heinrich could not but admire, while despising him as an oily
foreigner. "If you made the rope ladder there would be no method of
getting it into Schloss Eltz; besides, it would need to be double the
length of a wooden ladder, for you can place your ladder at the foot of
the ledge, then climb to the top of the rock, and, standing there, pull
the ladder up, letting the higher end scrape against the castle wall
until the lower end stands firm on the ledge of rock. Your whole troop
could then climb, one following another, so that there would be no
Thus it was arranged, and then began and was completed the construction
of the longest and most wonderful ladder ever made in Germany or
anywhere else, so far as history records. It was composed of numerous
small ladders, spliced and hooped with iron bands by the castle
armourer. At a second visit, which Rego paid to Baldwineltz when the
ladder was completed, all arrangements were made and the necessary
signals agreed upon.
It was the pious custom of those in the fortress of Baldwineltz to ring
the great bell on Saints' days and other festivals that called for
special observance, because Von Richenbach conducted war on the
strictest principles, as a man knowing his duty both spiritual and
temporal. It was agreed that on the night of the assault, when it was
necessary that Rego should assassinate the sentinel, the great bell of
the fortress should be rung, whereupon the Spaniard was to hie himself
up the stair and send the watchman into another sphere of duty by means
of his dagger. The bell-ringing seems a perfectly justifiable device,
and one that will be approved by all conspirators, for the sounding of
the bell, plainly heard in Schloss Eltz, would cause no alarm, as it
was wont to sound at uncertain intervals, night and day, and was known
to give tongue only during moments allotted by the Church to devout
thoughts. But the good monk Ambrose, in setting down on parchment the
chronicles of this time, gives it as his opinion that no prosperity
could have been expected in thus suddenly changing the functions of the
bell from sacred duty to the furtherance of a secular object. Still,
Ambrose was known to be a sympathiser with the house of Eltz, and,
aside from this, a monk in his cell cannot be expected to take the same
view of military necessity that would commend itself to a warrior on a
bastion; therefore, much as we may admire Ambrose as an historian, we
are not compelled to accept his opinions on military ethics.
On the important night, which was of great darkness, made the more
intense by the black environment of densely-wooded hills which
surrounded Schloss Eltz, the swarthy Spaniard became almost pale with
anxiety as he listened for the solemn peal that was to be his signal.
At last it tolled forth, and he, with knife to hand in his girdle,
crept softly along the narrow halls to his fatal task. The interior of
Schloss Eltz is full of intricate passages, unexpected turnings, here a
few steps up, there a few steps down, for all the world like a maze, in
which even one knowing the castle might well go astray. At one of the
turnings Rego came suddenly upon the Countess, who screamed at sight of
him, and then recognising him said, half laughing, half crying, being a
"Ah, Rego, thank heaven it is you! I am so distraught with the doleful
ringing of that bell that I am frightened at the sound of my own
footsteps. Why rings it so, Rego?"
"'Tis some Church festival, my Lady, which they, fighting for the
Archbishop, are more familiar with than I," answered the trembling
Spaniard, as frightened as the lady herself at the unexpected meeting.
But the Countess was a most religious woman, well skilled in the
observances of her Church, and she replied:
"No, Rego. There is no cause for its dolorous music, and to-night there
seems to me something ominous and menacing in its tone, as if disaster
"It may be the birthday of the Archbishop, my Lady, or of the Pope
"Our Holy Father was born in May, and the Archbishop in November. Ah, I
would that this horrid strife were done with! But our safety lies in
Heaven, and if our duty be accomplished here on earth, we should have
naught to fear; yet I tremble as if great danger lay before me. Come,
Rego, to the chapel, and light the candles at the altar."
The Countess passed him, and for one fateful moment Rego's hand hovered
over his dagger, thinking to strike the lady dead at his feet; but the
risk was too great, for there might at any time pass along the corridor
one of the servants, who would instantly raise the alarm and bring
disaster upon him. He dare not disobey. So grinding his teeth in
impotent rage and fear, he followed his mistress to the chapel, and, as
quickly as he could, lit one candle after another, until the usual
number burned before the sacred image. The Countess was upon her knees
as he tried to steal softly from the room. "Nay, Rego," she said,
raising her bended head, "light them all to-night. Hearken! That raven
bell has ceased even as you lighted the last candle."
The Countess, as has been said was a devout lady, and there stood an
unusual number of candles before the altar, several of which burned
constantly, but only on notable occasions were all the candles lighted.
As Rego hesitated, not knowing what to do in this crisis, the lady
repeated: "Light _all_ the candles to-night, Rego."
"You said yourself, my Lady," murmured the agonised man, cold sweat
breaking out on his forehead, "that this was not a Saint's day."
"Nevertheless, Rego," persisted the Countess, surprised that even a
favourite servant should thus attempt to thwart her will, "I ask you to
light each candle. Do so at once."
She bowed her head as one who had spoken the final word, and again her
fate trembled in the balance; but Rego heard the footsteps of the Count
entering the gallery above him, that ran across the end of the chapel,
and he at once resumed the lighting of the candles, making less speed
in his eagerness than if he had gone about his task with more care.
The monk Ambrose draws a moral from this episode, which is sufficiently
obvious when after-events have confirmed it, but which we need not here
pause to consider, when an episode of the most thrilling nature is
going forward on the lofty platform on the roof of Eltz Castle.
The sentinel paced back and forward within his narrow limit, listening
to the depressing and monotonous tolling of the bell and cursing it,
for the platform was a lonely place and the night of inky darkness. At
last the bell ceased, and he stood resting on his long pike, enjoying
the stillness, and peering into the blackness surrounding him, when
suddenly he became aware of a grating, rasping sound below, as if some
one were attempting to climb the precipitous beetling cliff of castle
wall and slipping against the stones. His heart stood still with fear,
for he knew it could be nothing human. An instant later something
appeared over the parapet that could be seen only because it was
blacker than the distant dark sky against which it was outlined. It
rose and rose until the sentinel saw it was the top of a ladder, which
was even more amazing than if the fiend himself had scrambled over the
stone coping, for we know the devil can go anywhere, while a ladder
cannot. But the soldier was a common-sense man, and, dark as was the
night, he knew that, tall as such a ladder must be, there seemed a
likelihood that human power was pushing it upward. He touched it with
his hands and convinced himself that there was nothing supernatural
about it. The ladder rose inch by inch, slowly, for it must have been
no easy task for even twoscore men to raise it thus with ropes or other
devices, especially when the bottom of it neared the top of the ledge.
The soldier knew he should at once give the alarm: but he was the
second traitor in the stronghold, corrupted by the sight of the
glittering gold he had shared, and only prevented from selling himself
because the rigours of military rule did not give him opportunity of
going to Baldwineltz as the less exacting civilian duties had allowed
the Spaniard to do and thus market his ware. So the sentry made no
outcry, but silently prepared a method by which he could negotiate with
advantage to himself when the first head appeared above the parapet. He
fixed the point of his lance against a round of the ladder, and when
the leading warrior, who was none other than Heinrich von Richenbach,
himself came slowly and cautiously to the top of the wall, the
sentinel, exerting all his strength, pushed the lance outward, and the
top of the ladder with it, until it stood nearly perpendicular some two
yards back from the wall.
"In God's name, what are you about? Is that you, Rego?"
The soldier replied, calmly:
"Order your men not to move, and do not move yourself, until I have
some converse with you. Have no fear if you are prepared to accept my
terms; otherwise you will have ample time to say your prayers before
you reach the ground, for the distance is great."
Von Richenbach, who now leaned over the top round, suspended thus
between heaven and earth, grasped the lance with both hands, so that
the ladder might not be thrust beyond the perpendicular. In quivering
voice he passed down the word that no man was to shift foot or hand
until he had made bargain with the sentinel who held them in such
"What terms do you propose to me, soldier?" he asked, breathlessly.
"I will conduct you down to the courtyard, and when you have surprised
and taken the castle you will grant me safe conduct and give me five
bags of gold equal in weight to those offered to our captain."
"All that will I do and double the treasure. Faithfully and truly do I
"You pledge me your knightly word, and swear also by the holy coat of
"I pledge and swear. And pray you be careful; incline the ladder yet a
little more toward the wall."
"I trust to your honour," said the traitor, for traitors love to prate
of honour, "and will now admit you to the castle; but until we are in
the courtyard there must be silence."
"Incline the ladder gently, for it is so weighted that if it come
suddenly against the wall, it may break in the middle."
At this supreme moment, as the sentinel was preparing to bring them
cautiously to the wall, when all was deep silence, there crept swiftly
and noiselessly through the trap-door the belated Spaniard. His catlike
eyes beheld the shadowy form of the sentinel bending apparently over
the parapet, but they showed him nothing beyond. With the speed and
precipitation of a springing panther, the Spaniard leaped forward and
drove his dagger deep into the neck of his comrade, who, with a
gurgling cry, plunged headlong forward, and down the precipice,
thrusting his lance as he fell. The Spaniard's dagger went with the
doomed sentinel, sticking fast in his throat, and its presence there
passed a fatal noose around the neck of Rego later, for they wrongly
thought the false sentinel had saved the castle and that the Spaniard
had murdered a faithful watchman.
Rego leaned panting over the stone coping, listening for the thud of
the body. Then was he frozen with horror when the still night air was
split with the most appalling shriek of combined human voice in an
agony of fear that ever tortured the ear of man. The shriek ended in a
terrorising crash far below, and silence again filled the valley.
"GENTLEMEN: THE KING!"
The room was large, but with a low ceiling, and at one end of the
lengthy, broad apartment stood a gigantic fireplace, in which was
heaped a pile of blazing logs, whose light, rather than that of several
lanterns hanging from nails along the timbered walls, illuminated the
faces of the twenty men who sat within. Heavy timbers, blackened with
age and smoke, formed the ceiling. The long, low, diamond-paned window
in the middle of the wall opposite the door, had been shuttered as
completely as possible, but less care than usual was taken to prevent
the light from penetrating into the darkness beyond, for the night was
a stormy and tempestuous one, the rain lashing wildly against the
hunting chalet, which, in its time, had seen many a merry hunting party
gathered under its ample roof.
Every now and then a blast of wind shook the wooden edifice from garret
to foundation, causing a puff of smoke to come down the chimney, and
the white ashes to scatter in little whirlwinds over the hearth. On the
opposite side from the shuttered window was the door, heavily barred. A
long, oaken table occupied the centre of the room, and round this in
groups, seated and standing, were a score of men, all with swords at
their sides; bearing, many of them, that air of careless hauteur which
is supposed to be a characteristic of noble birth.
Flagons were scattered upon the table, and a barrel of wine stood in a
corner of the room farthest from the fireplace, but it was evident that
this was no ordinary drinking party, and that the assemblage was
brought about by some high purport, of a nature so serious that it
stamped anxiety on every brow. No servants were present, and each man
who wished a fresh flagon of wine had to take his measure to the barrel
in the corner and fill for himself.
The hunting chalet stood in a wilderness, near the confines of the
kingdom of Alluria, twelve leagues from the capital, and was the
property of Count Staumn, whose tall, gaunt form stood erect at the
head of the table as he silently listened to the discussion which every
moment was becoming more and more heated, the principal speaking parts
being taken by the obstinate, rough-spoken Baron Brunfels, on the one
hand, and the crafty, fox-like ex-Chancellor Steinmetz on the other.
"I tell you," thundered Baron Brunfels, bringing his fist down on the
table, "I will not have the King killed. Such a proposal goes beyond
what was intended when we banded ourselves together. The King is a
fool, so let him escape like a fool. I am a conspirator, but not an
"It is justice rather than assassination," said the ex-Chancellor
suavely, as if his tones were oil and the Baron's boisterous talk were
"Justice!" cried the Baron, with great contempt. "You have learned that
cant word in the Cabinet of the King himself, before he thrust you out.
He eternally prates of justice, yet, much as I loathe him, I have no
wish to compass his death, either directly or through gabbling of
"Will you permit me to point out the reason that induces me to believe
his continued exemption, and State policy, will not run together?"
replied the advocate of the King's death. "If Rudolph escape, he will
take up his abode in a neighbouring territory, and there will
inevitably follow plots and counter-plots for his restoration--thus
Alluria will be kept in a state of constant turmoil. There will
doubtless grow up within the kingdom itself a party sworn to his
restoration. We shall thus be involved in difficulties at home and
abroad, and all for what? Merely to save the life of a man who is an
enemy to each of us. We place thousands of lives in jeopardy, render
our own positions insecure, bring continual disquiet upon the State,
when all might be avoided by the slitting of one throat, even though
that throat belong to the King."
It was evident that the lawyer's persuasive tone brought many to his
side, and the conspirators seemed about evenly divided upon the
question of life or death to the King. The Baron was about to break out
again with some strenuousness in favour of his own view of the matter,
when Count Staumn made a proposition that was eagerly accepted by all
save Brunfels himself.
"Argument," said Count Staumn, "is ever the enemy of good comradeship.
Let us settle the point at once and finally, with the dice-box. Baron
Brunfels, you are too seasoned a gambler to object to such a mode of
terminating a discussion. Steinmetz, the law, of which you are so
distinguished a representative, is often compared to a lottery, so you
cannot look with disfavour upon a method that is conclusive, and as
reasonably fair as the average decision of a judge. Let us throw,
therefore, for the life of the King. I, as chairman of this meeting,
will be umpire. Single throws, and the highest number wins. Baron
Brunfels, you will act for the King, and, if you win, may bestow upon
the monarch his life. Chancellor Steinmetz stands for the State. If he
wins, then is the King's life forfeit. Gentlemen, are you agreed?"
"Agreed, agreed," cried the conspirators, with practically unanimous
Baron Brunfels grumbled somewhat, but when the dice-horn was brought,
and he heard the rattle of the bones within the leathern cylinder, the
light of a gambler's love shone in his eyes, and he made no further
The ex-Chancellor took the dice-box in his hand, and was about to
shake, when there came suddenly upon them three stout raps against the
door, given apparently with the hilt of a sword. Many not already
standing, started to their feet, and nearly all looked one upon another
with deep dismay in their glances. The full company of conspirators was
present; exactly a score of men knew of the rendezvous, and now the
twenty-first man outside was beating the oaken panels. The knocking was
repeated, but now accompanied by the words:
"Open, I beg of you."
Count Staumn left the table and, stealthily as a cat, approached the
"Who is there?" he asked.
"A wayfarer, weary and wet, who seeks shelter from the storm."
"My house is already filled," spoke up the Count. "I have no room for
"Open the door peacefully," cried the outlander, "and do not put me to
the necessity of forcing it."
There was a ring of decision in the voice which sent quick pallor to
more than one cheek. Ex-Chancellor Steinmetz rose to his feet with
chattering teeth, and terror in his eyes; he seemed to recognise the
tones of the invisible speaker. Count Staumn looked over his shoulder
at the assemblage with an expression that plainly said: "What am I to
"In the fiend's name," hissed Baron Brunfels, taking the precaution,
however, to speak scarce above his breath, "if you are so frightened
when it comes to a knock at the door, what will it be when the real
knocks are upon you. Open, Count, and let the insistent stranger in.
Whether he leave the place alive or no, there are twenty men here to
The Count undid the fastenings and threw back the door. There entered a
tall man completely enveloped in a dark cloak that was dripping wet.
Drawn over his eyes was a hunter's hat of felt, with a drooping
bedraggled feather on it.
The door was immediately closed and barred behind him, and the
stranger, pausing a moment when confronted by so many inquiring eyes,
flung off his cloak, throwing it over the back of a chair; then he
removed his hat with a sweep, sending the raindrops flying. The
intriguants gazed at him, speechless, with varying emotions. They saw
before them His Majesty, Rudolph, King of Alluria.
If the King had any suspicion of his danger, he gave no token of it. On
his smooth, lofty forehead there was no trace of frown, and no sign of
fear. His was a manly figure, rather over, than under, six feet in
height; not slim and gaunt, like Count Staumn, nor yet stout to excess,
like Baron Brunfels. The finger of Time had touched with frost the hair
at his temples, and there were threads of white in his pointed beard,
but his sweeping moustache was still as black as the night from which
His frank, clear, honest eyes swept the company, resting momentarily on
each, then he said in a firm voice, without the suspicion of a tremor
in it: "Gentlemen, I give you good evening, and although the
hospitality of Count Staumn has needed spurring, I lay that not up
against him, because I am well aware his apparent reluctance arose
through the unexpectedness of my visit; and, if the Count will act as
cup-bearer, we will drown all remembrance of a barred door in a flagon
of wine, for, to tell truth, gentlemen, I have ridden hard in order to
have the pleasure of drinking with you."
As the King spoke these ominous words, he cast a glance of piercing
intensity upon the company, and more than one quailed under it. He
strode to the fireplace, spurs jingling as he went, and stood with his
back to the fire, spreading out his hands to the blaze. Count Staumn
left the bolted door, took an empty flagon from the shelf, filled it at
the barrel in the corner, and, with a low bow, presented the brimming
measure to the King.
Rudolph held aloft his beaker of Burgundy, and, as he did so, spoke in
a loud voice that rang to the beams of the ceiling:
"Gentlemen, I give you a suitable toast. May none here gathered
encounter a more pitiless storm than that which is raging without!"
With this he drank off the wine, and, inclining his head slightly to
the Count, returned the flagon. No one, save the King, had spoken since
he entered. Every word he had uttered seemed charged with double
meaning and brought to the suspicious minds of his hearers visions of a
trysting place surrounded by troops, and the King standing there,
playing with them, as a tiger plays with its victims. His easy
confidence appalled them.
When first he came in, several who were seated remained so, but one by
one they rose to their feet, with the exception of Baron Brunfels,
although he, when the King gave the toast, also stood. It was clear
enough their glances of fear were not directed towards the King, but
towards Baron Brunfels. Several pairs of eyes beseeched him in silent
supplication, but the Baron met none of these glances, for his gaze was
fixed upon the King.
Every man present knew the Baron to be reckless of consequences;
frankly outspoken, thoroughly a man of the sword, and a despiser of
diplomacy. They feared that at any moment he might blurt out the
purport of the meeting, and more than one was thankful for the crafty
ex-Chancellor's planning, who throughout had insisted there should be
no documentary evidence of their designs, either in their houses or on
their persons. Some startling rumour must have reached the King's ear
to bring him thus unexpectedly upon them.
The anxiety of all was that some one should persuade the King they were
merely a storm-besieged hunting party. They trembled in anticipation of
Brunfels' open candor, and dreaded the revealing of the real cause of
their conference. There was now no chance to warn the Baron; a man who
spoke his mind; who never looked an inch beyond his nose, even though
his head should roll off in consequence, and if a man does not value
his own head, how can he be expected to care for the heads of his
"I ask you to be seated," said the King, with a wave of the hand.
Now, what should that stubborn fool of a Baron do but remain standing,
when all but Rudolph and himself had seated themselves, thus drawing
His Majesty's attention directly towards him, and making a colloquy
between them well-nigh inevitable. Those next the ex-Chancellor were
nudging him, in God's name, to stand also, and open whatever discussion
there must ensue between themselves and His Majesty, so that it might
be smoothly carried on, but the Chancellor was ashen grey with fear,
and his hand trembled on the table.
"My Lord of Brunfels," said the King, a smile hovering about his lips,
"I see that I have interrupted you at your old pleasure of dicing;
while requesting you to continue your game as though I had not joined
you, may I venture to hope the stakes you play for are not high?"
Every one held his breath, awaiting with deepest concern the reply of
the frowning Baron, and when it came growling forth, there was little
in it to ease their disquiet.
"Your Majesty," said Baron Brunfels, "the stakes are the highest that a
gambler may play for."
"You tempt me, Baron, to guess that the hazard is a man's soul, but I
see that your adversary is my worthy ex-Chancellor, and as I should
hesitate to impute to him the character of the devil, I am led,
therefore, to the conclusion that you play for a human life. Whose life
is in the cast, my Lord of Brunfels?"
Before the Baron could reply, ex-Chancellor Steinmetz arose, with some
indecision, to his feet. He began in a trembling voice:
"I beg your gracious permission to explain the reason of our gathering
"Herr Steinmetz," cried the King sternly, "when I desire your
interference I shall call for it; and remember this, Herr Steinmetz;
the man who begins a game must play it to the end, even though he finds
luck running against him."
The ex-Chancellor sat down again, and drew his hand across his damp
"Your Majesty," spoke up the Baron, a ring of defiance in his voice, "I
speak not for my comrades, but for myself. I begin no game that I fear
to finish. We were about dice in order to discover whether Your Majesty
should live or die."
A simultaneous moan seemed to rise from the assembled traitors. The
smile returned to the King's lips.
"Baron," he said, "I have ever chided myself for loving you, for you
were always a bad example to weak and impressionable natures. Even when
your overbearing, obstinate intolerance compelled me to dismiss you
from the command of my army, I could not but admire your sturdy
honesty. Had I been able to graft your love of truth upon some of my
councillors, what a valuable group of advisers might I have gathered
round me. But we have had enough of comedy and now tragedy sets in.
Those who are traitors to their ruler must not be surprised if a double
traitor is one of their number. Why am I here? Why do two hundred
mounted and armed men surround this doomed chalet? Miserable wretches,
what have you to say that judgment be not instantly passed upon you?"
"I have this to say," roared Baron Brunfels, drawing his sword, "that
whatever may befall this assemblage, you, at least, shall not live to
boast of it."
The King stood unmoved as Baron Brunfels was about to rush upon him,
but Count Staumn and others threw themselves between the Baron and his
victim, seeing in the King's words some intimation of mercy to be held
out to them, could but actual assault upon his person be prevented.
"My Lord of Brunfels," said the King, calmly, "sheath your sword. Your
ancestors have often drawn it, but always for, and never against the
occupant of the Throne. Now, gentlemen, hear my decision, and abide
faithfully by it. Seat yourselves at the table, ten on each side, the
dice-box between you. You shall not be disappointed, but shall play out
the game of life and death. Each dices with his opposite. He who throws
the higher number escapes. He who throws the lower places his weapons
on the empty chair, and stands against yonder wall to be executed for
the traitor that he is. Thus half of your company shall live, and the
other half seek death with such courage as may be granted them. Do you
agree, or shall I give the signal?"
With unanimous voice they agreed, all excepting Baron Brunfels, who
"Come, Baron, you and my devoted ex-Chancellor were about to play when
I came in. Begin the game."
"Very well," replied the Baron nonchalantly. "Steinmetz, the dice-box
is near your hand: throw."
Some one placed the cubes in the leathern cup and handed it to the ex-
Chancellor, whose shivering fingers relieved him of the necessity of
shaking the box. The dice rolled out on the table; a three, a four, and
a one. Those nearest reported the total.
"Eight!" cried the King. "Now, Baron."
Baron Brunfels carelessly threw the dice into their receptacle, and a
moment after the spotted bones clattered on the table.
"Three sixes!" cried the Baron. "Lord, if I only had such luck when I
played for money!"
The ex-Chancellor's eyes were starting from his head, wild with fear.
"We have three throws," he screamed.
"Not so," said the King.
"I swear I understood that we were to have three chances," shrieked
Steinmetz, springing from his chair. "But it is all illegal, and not to
be borne. I will not have my life diced away to please either King or
He drew his sword and placed himself in an attitude of defence.
"Seize him; disarm him, and bind him," commanded the King. "There are
enough gentlemen in this company to see that the rules of the game are
Steinmetz, struggling and pleading for mercy, was speedily overpowered
and bound; then his captors placed him against the wall, and resumed
their seats at the table. The next man to be doomed was Count Staumn.
The Count arose from his chair, bowed first to the King and then to the
assembled company; drew forth his sword, broke it over his knee, and
walked to the wall of the condemned.
The remainder of the fearful contest was carried on in silence, but
with great celerity, and before a quarter of an hour was past, ten men
had their backs to the wall, while the remaining ten were seated at the
table, some on one side, and some on the other.
The men ranged against the wall were downcast, for however bravely a
soldier may meet death in hostile encounter, it is a different matter
to face it bound and helpless at the hands of an executioner.
A shade of sadness seemed to overspread the countenance of the King,
who still occupied the position he had taken at the first, with his
back towards the fire.
Baron Brunfels shifted uneasily in his seat, and glanced now and then
with compassion at his sentenced comrades. He was first to break the
"Your Majesty," he said, "I am always loath to see a coward die. The
whimpering of your former Chancellor annoys me; therefore, will I
gladly take his place, and give to him the life and liberty you perhaps
design for me, if, in exchange, I have the privilege of speaking my
mind regarding you and your precious Kingship."
"Unbind the valiant Steinmetz," said the King. "Speak your mind freely,
The Baron rose, drew sword from scabbard, and placed it on the table.
"Your Majesty, backed by brute force," he began, "has condemned to
death ten of your subjects. You have branded us as traitors, and such
we are, and so find no fault with your sentence; merely recognising
that you represent, for the time being, the upper hand. You have
reminded me that my ancestors fought for yours, and that they never
turned their swords against their sovereign. Why, then, have our blades
been pointed towards your breast? Because, King Rudolph, you are
yourself a traitor. You belong to the ruling class and have turned your
back upon your order. You, a King, have made yourself a brother to the
demagogue at the street corner; yearning for the cheap applause of the
serf. You have shorn nobility of its privileges, and for what?"
"And for what?" echoed the King with rising voice. "For this; that the
ploughman on the plain may reap what he has sown; that the shepherd on
the hillside may enjoy the increase which comes to his flock; that
taxation may be light; that my nobles shall deal honestly with the
people, and not use their position for thievery and depredation; that
those whom the State honours by appointing to positions of trust shall
content themselves with the recompense lawfully given, and refrain from
peculation; that peace and security shall rest on the land; and that
bloodthirsty swashbucklers shall not go up and down inciting the people
to carnage and rapine under the name of patriotism. This is the task I
set myself when I came to the Throne. What fault have you to find with
the programme, my Lord Baron?"
"The simple fault that it is the programme of a fool," replied the
Baron calmly. "In following it you have gained the resentment of your
nobles, and have not even received the thanks of those pitiable hinds,
the ploughman in the valley or the shepherd on the hills. You have
impoverished us so that the clowns may have a few more coins with which
to muddle in drink their already stupid brains. You are hated in cot
and castle alike. You would not stand in your place for a moment, were
not an army behind you. Being a fool, you think the common people love
honesty, whereas, they only curse that they have not a share in the
"The people," said the King soberly, "have been misled. Their ear has
been abused by calumny and falsehood. Had it been possible for me
personally to explain to them the good that must ultimately accrue to a
land where honesty rules, I am confident I would have had their
undivided support, even though my nobles deserted me."
"Not so, Your Majesty; they would listen to you and cheer you, but when
the next orator came among them, promising to divide the moon, and give
a share to each, they would gather round his banner and hoot you from
the kingdom. What care they for rectitude of government? They see no
farther than the shining florin that glitters on their palm. When your
nobles were rich, they came to their castles among the people, and
scattered their gold with a lavish hand. Little recked the peasants how
it was got, so long as they shared it. 'There,' they said, 'the coin
comes to us that we have not worked for.'
"But now, with castles deserted, and retainers dismissed, the people
have to sweat to wring from traders the reluctant silver, and they cry:
'Thus it was not in times of old, and this King is the cause of it,'
and so they spit upon your name, and shrug their shoulders, when your
honesty is mentioned. And now, Rudolph of Alluria, I have done, and I
go the more jauntily to my death that I have had fair speech with you
before the end."
The King looked at the company, his eyes veiled with moisture. "I
thought," he said slowly, "until to-night, that I had possessed some
qualities at least of a ruler of men. I came here alone among you, and
although there are brave men in this assembly, yet I had the ordering
of events as I chose to order them, notwithstanding that odds stood a
score to one against me. I still venture to think that whatever
failures have attended my eight years' rule in Alluria arose from
faults of my own, and not through imperfections in the plan, or want of
appreciation in the people.
"I have now to inform you that if it is disastrous for a King to act
without the co-operation of his nobles, it is equally disastrous for
them to plot against their leader. I beg to acquaint you with the fact
that the insurrection so carefully prepared has broken out prematurely.
My capital is in possession of the factions, who are industriously
cutting each other's throats to settle which one of two smooth-tongued
rascals shall be their President. While you were dicing to settle the
fate of an already deposed King, and I was sentencing you to a mythical
death, we were all alike being involved in common ruin.
"I have seen to-night more property in flames than all my savings
during the last eight years would pay for. I have no horsemen at my
back, and have stumbled here blindly, a much bedraggled fugitive,
having lost my way in every sense of the phrase. And so I beg of the
hospitality of Count Staumn another flagon of wine, and either a place
of shelter for my patient horse, who has been left too long in the
storm without, or else direction towards the frontier, whereupon my
horse and I will set out to find it."
"Not towards the frontier!" cried Baron Brunfels, grasping again his
sword and holding it aloft, "but towards the capital. We will surround
you, and hew for you a way through that fickle mob back to the throne
of your ancestors."
Each man sprang to his weapon and brandished it above his head, while a
ringing cheer echoed to the timbered ceiling.
"The King! The King!" they cried.
Rudolph smiled and shook his head.
"Not so," he said. "I leave a thankless throne with a joy I find it
impossible to express. As I sat on horseback, half-way up the hill
above the burning city, and heard the clash of arms, I was filled with
amazement to think that men would actually fight for the position of
ruler of the people. Whether the insurrection has brought freedom to
themselves or not, the future alone can tell, but it has at least
brought freedom to me. I now belong to myself. No man may question
either my motives or my acts. Gentlemen, drink with me to the new
President of Alluria, whoever he may be."
But the King drank alone, none other raising flagon to lip. Then Baron
Brunfels cried aloud:
"_Gentlemen: the King!_"
And never in the history of Alluria was a toast so heartily honoured.
Bertram Eastford had intended to pass the shop of his old friend, the
curiosity dealer, into whose pockets so much of his money had gone for
trinkets gathered from all quarters of the globe. He knew it was
weakness on his part, to select that street when he might have taken
another, but he thought it would do no harm to treat himself to one
glance at the seductive window of the old curiosity shop, where the
dealer was in the habit of displaying his latest acquisitions. The
window was never quite the same, and it had a continued fascination for
Bertram Eastford; but this time, he said to himself resolutely, he
would not enter, having, as he assured himself, the strength of mind to
forego this temptation. However, he reckoned without his window, for in
it there was an old object newly displayed which caught his attention
as effectually as a half-driven nail arrests the hem of a cloak. On the
central shelf of the window stood an hour-glass, its framework of some
wood as black as ebony. He stood gazing at it for a moment, then turned
to the door and went inside, greeting the ancient shopman, whom he knew
"I want to look at the hour-glass you have in the window," he said.
"Ah, yes," replied the curiosity dealer; "the cheap watch has driven
the hour-glass out of the commercial market, and we rarely pick up a
thing like that nowadays." He took the hour-glass from the shelf in the
window, reversed it, and placed it on a table. The ruddy sand began to
pour through into the lower receptacle in a thin, constant stream, as
if it were blood that had been dried and powdered. Eastford watched the
ever-increasing heap at the bottom, rising conically, changing its
shape every moment, as little avalanches of the sand fell away from its
"There is no need for you to extol its antiquity," said Eastford, with
a smile. "I knew the moment I looked at it that such glasses are rare,
and you are not going to find me a cheapening customer."
"So far from over-praising it," protested the shopman, "I was about to
call your attention to a defect. It is useless as a measurer of time."
"It doesn't record the exact hour, then?" asked Eastford.
"Well, I suppose the truth is, they were not very particular in the old
days, and time was not money, as it is now. It measures the hour with
great accuracy," the curio dealer went on--"that is, if you watch it;
but, strangely enough, after it has run for half an hour, or
thereabouts, it stops, because of some defect in the neck of the glass,
or in the pulverising of the sand, and will not go again until the
glass is shaken."
The hour-glass at that moment verified what the old man said. The tiny
stream of sand suddenly ceased, but resumed its flow the moment its
owner jarred the frame, and continued pouring without further
"That is very singular," said Eastford. "How do you account for it?"
"I imagine it is caused by some inequality in the grains of sand;
probably a few atoms larger than the others come together at the neck,
and so stop the percolation. It always does this, and, of course, I
cannot remedy the matter because the glass is hermetically sealed."
"Well, I don't want it as a timekeeper, so we will not allow that
defect to interfere with the sale. How much do you ask for it?"
The dealer named his price, and Eastford paid the amount.
"I shall send it to you this afternoon."
"Thank you," said the customer, taking his leave.
That night in his room Bertram Eastford wrote busily until a late hour.
When his work was concluded, he pushed away his manuscript with a sigh
of that deep contentment which comes to a man who has not wasted his
day. He replenished the open fire, drew his most comfortable arm-chair
in front of it, took the green shade from his lamp, thus filling the
luxurious apartment with a light that was reflected from armour and
from ancient weapons standing in corners and hung along the walls. He
lifted the paper-covered package, cut the string that bound it, and
placed the ancient hour-glass on his table, watching the thin stream of
sand which his action had set running. The constant, unceasing, steady
downfall seemed to hypnotise him. Its descent was as silent as the
footsteps of time itself. Suddenly it stopped, as it had done in the
shop, and its abrupt ceasing jarred on his tingling nerves like an
unexpected break in the stillness. He could almost imagine an unseen
hand clasping the thin cylinder of the glass and throttling it. He
shook the bygone time-measurer and breathed again more steadily when
the sand resumed its motion. Presently he took the glass from the table
and examined it with some attention.
He thought at first its frame was ebony, but further inspection
convinced him it was oak, blackened with age. On one round end was
carved rudely two hearts overlapping, and twined about them a pair of
"Now, I wonder what that's for?" murmured Eastford to himself. "An
attempt at a coat of arms, perhaps."
There was no clue to the meaning of the hieroglyphics, and Eastford,
with the glass balanced on his knee, watched the sand still running,
the crimson thread sparkling in the lamplight. He fancied he saw
distorted reflections of faces in the convex glass, although his reason
told him they were but caricatures of his own. The great bell in the
tower near by, with slow solemnity, tolled twelve. He counted its
measured strokes one by one, and then was startled by a decisive knock
at his door. One section of his brain considered this visit untimely,
another looked on it as perfectly usual, and while the two were arguing
the matter out, he heard his own voice cry: "Come in."
The door opened, and the discussion between the government and the
opposition in his mind ceased to consider the untimeliness of the
visit, for here, in the visitor himself, stood another problem. He was
a young man in military costume, his uniform being that of an officer.
Eastford remembered seeing something like it on the stage, and knowing
little of military affairs, thought perhaps the costume of the visitor
before him indicated an officer in the Napoleonic war.
"Good evening!" said the incomer. "May I introduce myself? I am
Lieutenant Sentore, of the regular army."
"You are very welcome," returned his host. "Will you be seated?"
"Thank you, no. I have but a few moments to stay. I have come for my
hour-glass, if you will be good enough to let me have it."
"_Your_ hour-glass?" ejaculated Eastford, in surprise. "I think
you labour under a misapprehension. The glass belongs to me; I bought
it to-day at the old curiosity shop in Finchmore Street."
"Rightful possession of the glass would appear to rest with you,
technically; but taking you to be a gentleman, I venture to believe
that a mere statement of my priority of claim will appeal to you, even
though it might have no effect on the minds of a jury of our
"You mean to say that the glass has been stolen from you and has been
"It has been sold undoubtedly over and over again, but never stolen, so
far as I have been able to trace its history."
"If, then, the glass has been honestly purchased by its different
owners, I fail to see how you can possibly establish any claim to it."
"I have already admitted that my claim is moral rather than legal,"
continued the visitor. "It is a long story; have I your permission to
"I shall be delighted to listen," replied Eastford, "but before doing
so I beg to renew my invitation, and ask you to occupy this easy-chair
before the fire."
The officer bowed in silence, crossed the room behind Eastford, and sat
down in the arm-chair, placing his sword across his knees. The stranger
spread his hands before the fire, and seemed to enjoy the comforting
warmth. He remained for a few moments buried in deep reflection, quite
ignoring the presence of his host, who, glancing upon the hour-glass in
dispute upon his knees, seeing that the sands had all run out silently
reversed it and set them flowing again. This action caught the corner
of the stranger's eye, and brought him to a realisation of why he was
there. Drawing a heavy sigh, he began his story.
* * * * *
"In the year 1706 I held the post of lieutenant in that part of the
British Army commanded by General Trelawny, the supreme command, of
course, being in the hands of the great Marlborough."
Eastford listened to this announcement with a feeling that there was
something wrong about the statement. The man sitting there was calmly
talking of a time one hundred and ninety-two years past, and yet he
himself could not be a day more than twenty-five years old. Somewhere
entangled in this were the elements of absurdity. Eastford found
himself unable to unravel them, but the more he thought of the matter,
the more reasonable it began to appear, and so, hoping his visitor had
not noted the look of surprise on his face, he said, quietly, casting
his mind back over the history of England, and remembering what he had
learned at school:--
"That was during the war of the Spanish Succession?"
"Yes: the war had then been in progress four years, and many brilliant
victories had been won, the greatest of which was probably the Battle
"Quite so," murmured Eastford.
"It was the English," Casper cried,
"That put the French to rout;
"But what they killed each other for,
"I never could make out."
The officer looked up in astonishment.
"I never heard anything like that said about the war. The reason for it
was perfectly plain. We had to fight or acknowledge France to be the
dictator of Europe. Still, politics have nothing to do with my story.
General Trelawny and his forces were in Brabant, and were under orders
to join the Duke of Marlborough's army. We were to go through the
country as speedily as possible, for a great battle was expected.
Trelawny's instructions were to capture certain towns and cities that
lay in our way, to dismantle the fortresses, and to parole their
garrisons. We could not encumber ourselves with prisoners, and so
marched the garrisons out, paroled them, destroyed their arms, and bade
them disperse. But, great as was our hurry, strict orders had been
given to leave no strongholds in our rear untaken.
"Everything went well until we came to the town of Elsengore, which we
captured without the loss of a man. The capture of the town, however,
was of little avail, for in the centre of it stood a strong citadel,
which we tried to take by assault, but could not. General Trelawny, a
very irascible, hotheaded man, but, on the whole, a just and capable
officer, impatient at this unexpected delay, offered the garrison
almost any terms they desired to evacuate the castle. But, having had
warning of our coming, they had provisioned the place, were well
supplied with ammunition, and their commander refused to make terms
with General Trelawny.
"'If you want the place,' said the Frenchman, 'come and take it.'
"General Trelawny, angered at this contemptuous treatment, flung his
men again and again at the citadel, but without making the slightest
impression on it.
"We were in no wise prepared for a long siege, nor had we expected
stubborn resistance. Marching quickly, as was our custom heretofore, we
possessed no heavy artillery, and so were at a disadvantage when
attacking a fortress as strong as that of Elsengore. Meanwhile, General
Trelawny sent mounted messengers by different roads to his chief giving
an account of what had happened, explaining his delay in joining the
main army, and asking for definite instructions. He expected that one
or two, at least, of the mounted messengers sent away would reach his
chief and be enabled to return. And that is exactly what happened, for
one day a dusty horseman came to General Trelawny's headquarters with a
brief note from Marlborough. The Commander-in-Chief said:--
"'I think the Frenchman's advice is good. We want the place; therefore,
"But he sent no heavy artillery to aid us in this task, for he could
not spare his big guns, expecting, as he did, an important battle.
General Trelawny having his work thus cut out for him, settled down to
accomplish it as best he might. He quartered officers and men in
various parts of the town, the more thoroughly to keep watch on the
citizens, of whose good intentions, if the siege were prolonged, we
were by no means sure.
"It fell to my lot to be lodged in the house of Burgomaster Seidelmier,
of whose conduct I have no reason to complain, for he treated me well.
I was given two rooms, one a large, low apartment on the first floor,
and communicating directly with the outside, by means of a hall and a
separate stairway. The room was lighted by a long, many-paned window,
leaded and filled with diamond-shaped glass. Beyond this large drawing-
room was my bedroom. I must say that I enjoyed my stay in Burgomaster
Seidelmier's house none the less because he had an only daughter, a
most charming girl. Our acquaintance ripened into deep friendship, and
afterwards into----but that has nothing to do with what I have to tell
you. My story is of war, and not of love. Gretlich Seidelmier presented
me with the hour-glass you have in your hand, and on it I carved the
joined hearts entwined with our similar initials."
"So they are initials, are they?" said Eastford, glancing down at what
he had mistaken for twining serpents.
"Yes," said the officer; "I was more accustomed to a sword than to an
etching tool, and the letters are but rudely drawn. One evening, after
dark, Gretlich and I were whispering together in the hall, when we
heard the heavy tread of the general coming up the stair. The girl fled
precipitately, and I, holding open the door, waited the approach of my
chief. He entered and curtly asked me to close the door.
"'Lieutenant,' he said, 'it is my intention to capture the citadel to-
night. Get together twenty-five of your men, and have them ready under
the shadow of this house, but give no one a hint of what you intend to
do with them. In one hour's time leave this place with your men as
quietly as possible, and make an attack on the western entrance of the
citadel. Your attack is to be but a feint and to draw off their forces
to that point. Still, if any of your men succeed in gaining entrance to
the fort they shall not lack reward and promotion. Have you a watch?'
"'Not one that will go, general; but I have an hourglass here.'
"'Very well, set it running. Collect your men, and exactly at the hour
lead them to the west front; it is but five minutes' quick march from
here. An hour and five minutes from this moment I expect you to begin
the attack, and the instant you are before the western gate make as
much noise as your twenty-five men are capable of, so as to lead the
enemy to believe that the attack is a serious one.'
"Saying this, the general turned and made his way, heavy-footed,
through the hall and down the stairway.
"I set the hour-glass running, and went at once to call my men,
stationing them where I had been ordered to place them. I returned to
have a word with Gretlich before I departed on what I knew was a
dangerous mission. Glancing at the hour-glass, I saw that not more than
a quarter of the sand had run down during my absence. I remained in the
doorway, where I could keep an eye on the hour-glass, while the girl
stood leaning her arm against the angle of the dark passageway,
supporting her fair cheek on her open palm; and, standing thus in the
darkness, she talked to me in whispers. We talked and talked, engaged
in that sweet, endless conversation that murmurs in subdued tone round
the world, being duplicated that moment at who knows how many places.
Absorbed as I was in listening, at last there crept into my
consciousness the fact that the sand in the upper bulb was not
diminishing as fast as it should. This knowledge was fully in my mind
for some time before I realised its fearful significance. Suddenly the
dim knowledge took on actuality. I sprang from the door-lintel,
"'Good heavens, the sand in the hour-glass has stopped running!'
"I remained there motionless, all action struck from my rigid limbs,
gazing at the hour-glass on the table.
"Gretlich, peering in at the doorway, looking at the hour-glass and not
at me, having no suspicion of the ruin involved in the stoppage of that
miniature sandstorm, said, presently:--
"'Oh, yes, I forgot to tell you it does that now and then, and so you
must shake the glass.'
"She bent forward as if to do this when the leaden windows shuddered,
and the house itself trembled with the sharp crash of our light cannon,
followed almost immediately by the deeper detonation of the heavier
guns from the citadel. The red sand in the glass began to fall again,
and its liberation seemed to unfetter my paralysed limbs. Bareheaded as
I was, I rushed like one frantic along the passage and down the stairs.
The air was resonant with the quick-following reports of the cannon,
and the long, narrow street was fitfully lit up as if by sudden flashes
of summer lightning. My men were still standing where I had placed
them. Giving a sharp word of command, I marched them down the street
and out into the square, where I met General Trelawny coming back from
his futile assault. Like myself, he was bareheaded. His military
countenance was begrimed with powder-smoke, but he spoke to me with no
trace of anger in his voice.
"'Lieutenant Sentore,' he said, 'disperse your men.'
"I gave the word to disband my men, and then stood at attention before
"'Lieutenant Sentore,' he said, in the same level voice, 'return to
your quarters and consider yourself under arrest. Await my coming
"I turned and obeyed his orders. It seemed incredible that the sand
should still be running in the hour-glass, for ages appeared to have
passed over my head since last I was in that room. I paced up and down,
awaiting the coming of my chief, feeling neither fear nor regret, but
rather dumb despair. In a few minutes his heavy tread was on the stair,
followed by the measured tramp of a file of men. He came into the room,
and with him were a sergeant and four soldiers, fully armed. The
general was trembling with rage, but held strong control over himself,
as was his habit on serious occasions.
"'Lieutenant Sentore,' he said, 'why were you not at your post?"
"'The running sand in the hour-glass' (I hardly recognised my own voice
on hearing it) 'stopped when but half exhausted. I did not notice its
interruption until it was too late.'
"The general glanced grimly at the hour-glass. The last sands were
falling through to the lower bulb. I saw that he did not believe my
"'It seems now to be in perfect working order,' he said, at last.
"He strode up to it and reversed it, watching the sand pour for a few
moments, then he spoke abruptly:--
"'Lieutenant Sentore, your sword.'
"I handed my weapon to him without a word. Turning to the sergeant, he
said: 'Lieutenant Sentore is sentenced to death. He has an hour for
whatever preparations he cares to make. Allow him to dispose of that
hour as he chooses, so long as he remains within this room and holds
converse with no one whatever. When the last sands of this hour-glass
are run, Lieutenant Sentore will stand at the other end of this room
and meet the death merited by traitors, laggards, or cowards. Do you
understand your duty, sergeant?'
"General Trelawny abruptly left the room, and we heard his heavy steps
echoing throughout the silent house, and later, more faintly on the
cobble-stones of the street. When they had died away a deep stillness
set in, I standing alone at one end of the room, my eyes fixed on the
hour-glass, and the sergeant with his four men, like statues at the
other, also gazing at the same sinister object. The sergeant was the
first to break the silence.
"'Lieutenant,' he said, 'do you wish to write anything----?'
"He stopped short, being an unready man, rarely venturing far beyond
'Yes' and 'No.'
"'I should like to communicate with one in this household,' I said,
'but the general has forbidden it, so all I ask is that you shall have
my body conveyed from this room as speedily as possible after the
"'Very good, lieutenant,' answered the sergeant.
"After that, for a long time no word was spoken. I watched my life run
redly through the wasp waist of the transparent glass, then suddenly
the sand ceased to flow, half in the upper bulb, half in the lower.
"'It has stopped,' said the sergeant; 'I must shake the glass.'
"'Stand where you are!' I commanded, sharply. 'Your orders do not run
"The habit of obedience rooted the sergeant to the spot.
"'Send one of your men to General Trelawny,' I said, as if I had still
the right to be obeyed. 'Tell him what has happened, and ask for
instructions. Let your man tread lightly as he leaves the room.'
"The sergeant did not hesitate a moment, but gave the order I required
of him. The soldier nearest the door tip-toed out of the house. As we
all stood there the silence seeming the deeper because of the stopping
of the sand, we heard the hour toll in the nearest steeple. The
sergeant was visibly perturbed, and finally he said:--
"'Lieutenant, I must obey the general's orders. An hour has passed
since he left here, for that clock struck as he was going down the
stair. Soldiers, make ready. _Present_.'
"The men, like impassive machines levelled their muskets at my breast.
I held up my hand.
"'Sergeant,' I said as calmly as I could, 'you are now about to exceed
your instructions. Give another command at your peril. The exact words
of the general were, 'When the last sands of this hour-glass are run.'
I call your attention to the fact that the conditions are not
fulfilled. Half of the sand remains in the upper bulb.'
"The sergeant scratched his head in perplexity, but he had no desire to
kill me, and was only actuated by a soldier's wish to adhere strictly
to the letter of his instructions, be the victim friend or foe. After a
few moments he muttered, 'It is true,' then gave a command that put his
men into their former position.
"Probably more than half an hour passed, during which time no man
moved; the sergeant and his three remaining soldiers seemed afraid to
breathe; then we heard the step of the general himself on the stair. I
feared that this would give the needed impetus to the sand in the
glass, but, when Trelawny entered, the _status quo_ remained. The
general stood looking at the suspended sand, without speaking.
"' That is what happened before, general, and that is why I was not at
my place. I have committed the crime of neglect, and have thus
deservedly earned my death; but I shall die the happier if my general
believes I am neither a traitor nor a coward.'
"The general, still without a word, advanced to the table, slightly
shook the hour-glass, and the sand began to pour again. Then he picked
the glass up in his hand, examining it minutely, as if it were some
strange kind of toy, turning it over and over. He glanced up at me and
said, quite in his usual tone, as if nothing in particular had come
"'Remarkable thing that, Sentore, isn't it?'
"'Very,' I answered, grimly.
"He put the glass down.
"'Sergeant, take your men to quarters. Lieutenant Sentore, I return to
you your sword; you can perhaps make better use of it alive than dead;
I am not a man to be disobeyed, reason or no reason. Remember that, and
now go to bed.'
"He left me without further word, and buckling on my sword, I proceeded
straightway to disobey again.
"I had a great liking for General Trelawny. Knowing how he fumed and
raged at being thus held helpless by an apparently impregnable fortress
in the unimportant town of Elsengore, I had myself studied the citadel
from all points, and had come to the conclusion that it might be
successfully attempted, not by the great gates that opened on the
square of the town, nor by the inferior west gates, but by scaling the
seemingly unclimbable cliffs at the north side. The wall at the top of
this precipice was low, and owing to the height of the beetling cliff,
was inefficiently watched by one lone sentinel, who paced the
battlements from corner tower to corner tower. I had made my plans,
intending to ask the general's permission to risk this venture, but now
I resolved to try it without his knowledge or consent, and thus
retrieve, if I could, my failure of the foregoing part of the night.
"Taking with me a long, thin rope which I had in my room, anticipating
such a trial for it, I roused five of my picked men, and silently we
made our way to the foot of the northern cliff. Here, with the rope
around my waist, I worked my way diagonally up along a cleft in the
rock, which, like others parallel to it, marked the face of the
precipice. A slip would be fatal. The loosening of a stone would give
warning to the sentinel, whose slow steps I heard on the wall above me,
but at last I reached a narrow ledge without accident, and standing up
in the darkness, my chin was level with the top of the wall on which
the sentry paced. The shelf between the bottom of the wall and the top
of the cliff was perhaps three feet in width, and gave ample room for a
man careful of his footing. Aided by the rope, the others, less expert
climbers than myself, made their way to my side one by one, and the six
of us stood on the ledge under the low wall. We were all in our
stockinged feet, some of the men, in fact, not even having stockings
on. As the sentinel passed, we crouching in the darkness under the
wall, the most agile of our party sprang up behind him. The soldier had
taken off his jacket, and tip-toeing behind the sentinel, he threw the
garment over his head, tightening it with a twist that almost strangled
the man. Then seizing his gun so that it would not clatter on the
stones, held him thus helpless while we five climbed up beside him.
Feeling under the jacket, I put my right hand firmly on the sentinel's
throat, and nearly choking the breath out of him, said:--
"'Your life depends on your actions now. Will you utter a sound if I
let go your throat?'
"The man shook his head vehemently, and I released my clutch.
"'Now,' I said to him, 'where is the powder stored? Answer in a
whisper, and speak truly.'
"'The bulk of the powder,' he answered, 'is in the vault below the
"'Where is the rest of it?' I whispered.
"'In the lower room of the round tower by the gate.'
"'Nonsense,' I said: 'they would never store it in a place so liable to
"'There was nowhere else to put it,' replied the sentinel, 'unless they
left it in the open courtyard, which would be quite as unsafe.'
"'Is the door to the lower room in the tower bolted?'
"'There is no door,' replied the sentry, 'but a low archway. This
archway has not been closed, because no cannon-balls ever come from the
"'How much powder is there in this room?'
"'I do not know; nine or ten barrels, I think.'
"It was evident to me that the fellow, in his fear, spoke the truth.
Now, the question was, how to get down from the wall into the courtyard
and across that to the archway at the southern side? Cautioning the
sentinel again, that if he made the slightest attempt to escape or give
the alarm, instant death would be meted to him, I told him to guide us
to the archway, which he did, down the stone steps that led from the
northern wall into the courtyard. They seemed to keep loose watch
inside, the only sentinels in the place being those on the upper walls.
But the man we had captured not appearing at his corner in time, his
comrade on the western side became alarmed, spoke to him, and obtaining
no answer, shouted for him, then discharged his gun. Instantly the
place was in an uproar. Lights flashed, and from different guard-rooms
soldiers poured out. I saw across the courtyard the archway the
sentinel had spoken of, and calling my men made a dash for it. The
besieged garrison, not expecting an enemy within, had been rushing up
the stone steps at each side to the outer wall to man the cannon they
had so recently quitted, and it was some minutes before a knowledge of
the real state of things came to them. These few minutes were all we
needed, but I saw there was no chance for a slow match, while if we
fired the mine we probably would die under the tottering tower.
"By the time we reached the archway and discovered the powder barrels,
the besieged, finding everything silent outside, came to a realisation
of the true condition of affairs. We faced them with bayonets fixed,
while Sept, the man who had captured the sentinel, took the hatchet he
had brought with him at his girdle, flung over one of the barrels on
its side, knocked in the head of it, allowing the dull black powder to
pour on the cobblestones. Then filling his hat with the explosive, he
came out towards us, leaving a thick trail behind him. By this time we
were sorely beset, and one of our men had gone down under the fire of
the enemy, who shot wildly, being baffled by the darkness, otherwise
all of us had been slaughtered. I seized a musket from a comrade and
shouted to the rest:--
"'Save yourselves', and to the garrison, in French, I gave the same
warning; then I fired the musket into the train of powder, and the next
instant found myself half stunned and bleeding at the farther end of
the courtyard. The roar of the explosion and the crash of the falling
tower were deafening. All Elsengore was groused by the earthquake
shock, I called to my men when I could find my voice, and Sept answered
from one side, and two more from another. Together we tottered across
the _debris_-strewn courtyard. Some woodwork inside the citadel
had taken fire and was burning fiercely, and this lit up the ruins and
made visible the great gap in the wall at the fallen gate. Into the
square below we saw the whole town pouring, soldiers and civilians
alike coming from the narrow streets into the open quadrangle. I made
my way, leaning on Sept, over the broken gate and down the causeway
into the square, and there, foremost of all, met my general, with a
cloak thrown round him, to make up for his want of coat.
"'There, general,' I gasped, 'there is your citadel, and through this
gap can we march to meet Marlborough.'
"'Pray, sir, who the deuce are you?' cried the general, for my face was
like that of a blackamoor.
"'I am the lieutenant who has once more disobeyed your orders, general,
in the hope of retrieving a former mistake.'
"'Sentore!' he cried, rapping out an oath. 'I shall have you court-
"'I think, general,' I said, 'that I am court-martialled already,' for
I thought then that the hand of death was upon me, which shows the
effect of imagination, for my wounds were not serious, yet I sank down
unconscious at the general's feet. He raised me in his arms as if I had
been his own son, and thus carried me to my rooms. Seven years later,
when the war ended, I got leave of absence and came back to Elsengore
for Gretlich Seidelmier and the hour-glass."
As the lieutenant ceased speaking, Eastford thought he heard again the
explosion under the tower, and started to his feet in nervous alarm,
then looked at the lieutenant and laughed, while he said:--
"Lieutenant, I was startled by that noise just now, and imagined for
the moment that I was in Brabant. You have made good your claim to the
hour-glass, and you are welcome to it."
But as Eastford spoke, he turned his eyes towards the chair in which
the lieutenant had been seated, and found it vacant. Gazing round the
room, in half somnolent dismay, he saw that he was indeed alone. At his
feet was the shattered hour-glass, which had fallen from his knee, its
blood-red sand mingling with the colours on the carpet. Eastford said,
with an air of surprise:--
THE WARRIOR MAID OF SAN CARLOS
The young naval officer came into this world with two eyes and two
arms; he left it with but one of each--nevertheless the remaining eye
was ever quick to see, and the remaining arm ever strong to seize. Even
his blind eye became useful on one historic occasion. But the loss of
eye or arm was as nothing to the continual loss of his heart, which
often led him far afield in the finding of it. Vanquished when he met
the women; invincible when he met the men; in truth, a most human hero,
and so we all love Jack--the we, in this instant, as the old joke has
it, embracing the women.
In the year 1780 Britain ordered Colonel Polson to invade Nicaragua.
The task imposed on the gallant Colonel was not an onerous one, for the
Nicaraguans never cared to secure for themselves the military
reputation of Sparta. In fact, some years after this, a single
American, Walker, with a few Californian rifles under his command,
conquered the whole nation and made himself President of it, and
perhaps would have been Dictator of Nicaragua to-day if his own country
had not laid him by the heels. It is no violation of history to state
that the entire British fleet was not engaged in subduing Nicaragua,
and that Colonel Polson felt himself amply provided for the necessities
of the crisis by sailing into the harbour of San Juan del Norte with
one small ship. There were numerous fortifications at the mouth of the
river, and in about an hour after landing, the Colonel was in
possession of them all.
The flight of time, brief as it was, could not be compared in celerity
with the flight of the Nicaraguans, who betook themselves to the
backwoods with an impetuosity seldom seen outside of a race-course.
There was no loss of life so far as the British were concerned, and the
only casualties resulting to the Nicaraguans were colds caught through
the overheating of themselves in their feverish desire to explore
immediately the interior of their beloved country. "He who bolts and
runs away will live to bolt another day," was the motto of the
Nicaraguans. So far, so good, or so bad, as the case may be.
The victorious Colonel now got together a flotilla of some half a score
of boats, and the flotilla was placed under the command of the young
naval officer, the hero of this story. The expedition proceeded
cautiously up the river San Juan, which runs for eighty miles, or
thereabouts, from Lake Nicaragua to the salt water. The voyage was a
sort of marine picnic. Luxurious vegetation on either side, and no
opposition to speak of, even from the current of the river; for Lake
Nicaragua itself is but a hundred and twenty feet above the sea level,
and a hundred and twenty feet gives little rapidity to a river eighty
As the flotilla approached the entrance to the lake caution increased,
for it was not known how strong Fort San Carlos might prove. This fort,
perhaps the only one in the country strongly built, stood at once on
the shore of the lake and bank of the stream. There was one chance in a
thousand that the speedy retreat of the Nicaraguans had been merely a
device to lure the British into the centre of the country, where the
little expedition of two hundred sailors and marines might be
annihilated. In these circumstances Colonel Poison thought it well,
before coming in sight of the fort, to draw up his boats along the
northern bank of the San Juan River, sending out scouts to bring in
necessary information regarding the stronghold.
The young naval officer all through his life was noted for his
energetic and reckless courage, so it was not to be wondered at that
the age of twenty-two found him impatient with the delay, loth to lie
inactive in his boat until the scouts returned; so he resolved upon an
action that would have justly brought a court-martial upon his head had
a knowledge of it come to his superior officer. He plunged alone into
the tropical thicket, armed only with two pistols and a cutlass,
determined to force his way through the rank vegetation along the bank
of the river, and reconnoitre Fort San Carlos for himself. If he had
given any thought to the matter, which it is more than likely he did
not, he must have known that he ran every risk of capture and death,
for the native of South America, then as now, has rarely shown any
hesitation about shooting prisoners of war. Our young friend,
therefore, had slight chance for his life if cut off from his comrades,
and, in the circumstances, even a civilised nation would have been
perfectly within its right in executing him as a spy.
After leaving the lake the river San Juan bends south, and then north
again. The scouts had taken the direct route to the fort across the
land, but the young officer's theory was that, if the Nicaraguans meant
to fight, they would place an ambush in the dense jungle along the
river, and from this place of concealment harass the flotilla before it
got within gunshot of the fort. This ambuscade could easily fall back
upon the fort if directly attacked and defeated. This, the young man
argued was what he himself would have done had he been in command of
the Nicaraguan forces, so it naturally occurred to him to discover
whether the same idea had suggested itself to the commandant at San
Expecting every moment to come upon this ambuscade, the boy proceeded,
pistol in hand, with the utmost care, crouching under the luxuriant
tropical foliage, tunnelling his way, as one might say, along the dark
alleys of vegetation, roofed in by the broad leaves overhead. Through
cross-alleys he caught glimpses now and then of the broad river, of
which he was desirous to keep within touch. Stealthily crossing one of
these riverward alleys the young fellow came upon his ambuscade, and
was struck motionless with amazement at the form it took. Silhouetted
against the shining water beyond was a young girl. She knelt at the
very verge of the low, crumbling cliff above the water; her left hand,
outspread, was on the ground, her right rested against the rough trunk
of a palm-tree, and counter-balanced the weight of her body, which
leaned far forward over the brink. Her face was turned sideways towards
him, and her lustrous eyes peered intently down the river at the
British flotilla stranded along the river's bank. So intent was her
gaze, so confident was she that she was alone, that the leopard-like
approach of her enemy gave her no hint of attack. Her perfect profile
being towards him, he saw her cherry-red lips move silently as if she
were counting the boats and impressing their number upon her memory.
A woman in appearance, she was at this date but sixteen years old, and
the breathless young man who stood like a statue regarding her thought
he had never seen a vision of such entrancing beauty, and, as I have
before intimated, he was a judge of feminine loveliness. Pulling
himself together, and drawing a deep but silent breath, he went forward
with soft tread, and the next instant there was a grip of steel on the
wrist of the young girl that rested on the earth. With a cry of dismay
she sprang to her feet and confronted her assailant, nearly toppling
over the brink as she did so; but he grasped her firmly, and drew her a
step or two up the arcade. As he held her left wrist there was in the
air the flash of a stiletto, and the naval officer's distinguished
career would have ended on that spot had he not been a little quicker
than his fair opponent. His disengaged hand gripped the descending
wrist and held her powerless.
"Ruffian!" she hissed, in Spanish.
The young man had a workable knowledge of the language, and he thanked
his stars now that it was so. He smiled at her futile struggles to free
herself, then said:--
"When they gave me my commission, I had no hope that I should meet so
charming an enemy. Drop the knife, senorita, and I will release your
The girl did not comply at first. She tried to wrench herself free,
pulling this way and that with more strength than might have been
expected from one so slight. But finding herself helpless in those
rigid bonds, she slowly relaxed the fingers of her right hand, and let
the dagger drop point downward into the loose soil, where it stood and
"Now let me go," she said, panting. "You promised."
The young man relinquished his hold, and the girl, with the quick
movement of a humming-bird, dived into the foliage, and would have
disappeared, had he not with equal celerity intercepted her, again
imprisoning her wrist.
"You liar!" she cried, her magnificent eyes ablaze with anger.
"Faithless minion of a faithless race, you promised to let me go."
"And I kept my promise," said the young man, still with a smile. "I
said I would release your hand, and I did so; but as for yourself, that
is a different matter. You see, senorita, to speak plainly, you are a
spy. I have caught you almost within our lines, counting our boats,
and, perhaps, our men. There is war between our countries, and I arrest
you as a spy."
"A brave country, yours," she cried, "to war upon women!"
"Well," said the young man, with a laugh, "what are we to do? The men
won't stay and fight us."
She gave him a dark, indignant glance at this, which but heightened her
"And what are you," she said, "but a spy?"
"Not yet," he replied. "If you had found me peering at the fort, then,
perhaps, I should be compelled to plead guilty. But as it is, you are
the only spy here at present, senorita. Do you know what the fate of a
The girl stood there for a few moments, her face downcast, the living
gyves still encircling her wrists. When she looked up it was with a
smile so radiant that the young man gasped for breath, and his heart
beat faster than ever it had done in warfare.
"But you will not give me up?" she murmured, softly.
"Then would I be in truth a faithless minion," cried the young man,
fervently; "not, indeed, to my country, but to your fascinating sex,
which I never adored so much as now."
"You mean that you would be faithless to your country, but not to me?"
"Well," said the young man, with some natural hesitation, "I shouldn't
care to have to choose between my allegiance to one or the other.
England can survive without warring upon women, as you have said; so I
hope that if we talk the matter amicably over, we may find that my duty
need not clash with my inclination."
"I am afraid that is impossible," she answered, quickly. "I hate your
"But not the individual members of it, I hope."
"I know nothing of its individual members, nor do I wish to, as you
shall soon see, if you will but let go my wrist."
"Ah, senorita," exclaimed the young man, "you are using an argument now
that will make me hold you forever."
"In that case," said the girl, "I shall change my argument, and give
instead a promise. If you release me I shall not endeavour to escape--I
may even be so bold as to expect your escort to the fort, where, if I
understand you aright, you were but just now going."
"I accept your promise, and shall be delighted if you will accept my
escort. Meanwhile, in the interest of our better acquaintance, can I
persuade you to sit down, and allow me to cast myself at your feet?"
The girl, with a clear, mellow laugh, sat down, and the young man
reclined in the position he had indicated, gazing up at her with
intense admiration in his eyes.
"If this be war," he said to himself, "long may I remain a soldier."
Infatuated as he certainly was, his natural alertness could not but
notice that her glance wandered to the stiletto, the perpendicular
shining blade of which looked like the crest of a glittering, dangerous
serpent, whose body was hidden in the leaves. She had seated herself as
close to the weapon as possible, and now, on one pretext or another,
edged nearer and nearer to it. At last the young man laughed aloud,
and, sweeping his foot round, knocked down the weapon, then indolently
stretching out his arm, he took it.
"Senorita," he said, examining its keen edge, "will you give me this
dagger as a memento of our meeting?"
"It is unlucky," she murmured, "to make presents of stilettos."
"I think," said the young man, glancing up at her with a smile on his
lips, "it will be more lucky for me if I place it here in my belt than
if I allow it to reach the possession of another."
"Do you intend to steal it, senor?"
"Oh, no. If you refuse to let me have it, I will give it back to you
when our interview ends; but I should be glad to possess it, if you
allow me to keep it."
"It is unlucky, as I have said; to make a present of it, but I will
exchange. If you will give me one of your loaded pistols, you may have
"A fair exchange," he laughed, but he made no motion to fulfil his part
to the barter. "May I have the happiness of knowing your name,
senorita?" he asked.
"I am called Donna Rafaela Mora," answered the girl, simply. "I am
daughter of the Commandant of Fort San Carlos. I am no Nicaraguan, but
a Spaniard And, senor, what is your name?"
"Horatio Nelson, an humble captain in His Majesty's naval forces, to be
heard from later, I hope, unless Donna Rafaela cuts short my thread of
life with her stiletto."
"And does a captain in His Majesty's forces condescend to play the part
of a spy?" asked the girl, proudly.
"He is delighted to do so when it brings him the acquaintance of
another spy so charming as Donna Rafaela. My spying, and I imagine
yours also, is but amateurish, and will probably be of little value to
our respective forces. Our real spies are now gathered round your fort,
and will bring to us all the information we need. Thus, I can recline
at your feet, Donna Rafaela, with an easy conscience, well aware that
my failure as a spy will in no way retard our expedition."
"How many men do you command, Senor Captain?" asked the girl, with ill-
"Oh, sometimes twenty-five, sometimes fifty, or a hundred or two
hundred, or more, as the case may be," answered the young man,
"But how many are there in your expedition now?"
"Didn't you count them, Donna? To answer truly, I must not, to answer
falsely, I will not, Donna."
"Why?" asked the girl, impetuously. "There is no such secrecy about our
forces; we do not care who knows the number in our garrison."
"No? Then how many are there, Donna?"
"Three hundred and forty," answered the girl.
"Men, or young ladies like yourself, Donna? Be careful how you answer,
for if the latter, I warn you that nothing will keep the British out of
Fort San Carlos. We shall be with you, even if we have to go as
prisoners. In saying this, I feel that I am speaking for our entire
The girl tossed her head scornfully.
"There are three hundred and forty men," she said, "as you shall find
to your cost, if you dare attack the fort."
"In that case," replied Nelson, "you are nearly two to one, and I
venture to think that we have not come up the river for nothing."
"What braggarts you English are!"
"Is it bragging to welcome a stirring fight? Are you well provided with
"You will learn that for yourself when you come within sight of the
fort. Have you any more questions to ask, Senor Sailor?"
"Yes; one. The number in the fort, which you give, corresponds with
what I have already heard. I have heard also that you were well