The Secret of the Silver Car
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"Yes," Trent said, conscious that his look of triumph had puzzled Hentzi. "I do not like Mrs. Sissek's cooking."
In reality he was delighted. Here he was to be taken into the Castle without having to make an effort. It was the first step. It would be strange if one as skilled and silent as he could not soon have every detail of the house at his command. He knew the servants drank their native spirits, brandies, made of cherries, apricots and plums. This assured sound sleep and unlimited opportunities. The count was a great drinker, too, and his guests feasted well.
As if in conspiracy against him the major domo, chief of the indoor servants, put him in the least desirable of rooms, a rat-ridden chamber away from the sleeping apartments of the rest of the help. In the heat of summer it would be unbearable. There was fortunately a great bolt which barred the door from intruders. The one long, deep window opened inwards. An old square copper pipe used to drain the roof far above passed his window. He took hold of it and found it immovable. It would easily support his weight. The ground lay twenty feet below. It was the windows that this copper pipe passed which most interested Trent. If they had catches similar to his own he could open them with a hair pin. He was eager for night to fall. And because he was now assured of action he became much more docile. He allowed Hentzi to lecture him severely on his brutal behaviour.
During the next week he was worked so hard that he had little opportunity, apart from his long journeys to Fiume, to do aught else than make a mental plan of the windows on his side of the castle. There were four apertures similar to that which gave light and air to his room. The heavy copper pipe passed by them all. To a gymnast with a clear head they were all within reach. The climb was probably less difficult than it would seem to an observer looking up from the ground. There was risk, of course, but Anthony Trent was always ready to take it.
In the daily life of the servants' hall he noticed that the place had an enormous number of retainers, young and old, many more than seemed necessary. They were with a few exceptions sons and daughters of the Temesvar family, servants proud of their caste and the man they served. The major domo spoke German and French. He was a pompous person who ruled absolutely below stairs. He did not like the stranger but he had been commanded not to allow any brawls and he saw to it the chauffeur was let alone. There was much to eat and to drink. Count Mich?l owned herds of swine which grazed in the miles of oak and beech forests surrounding Castle Radna and the heady drinks that abounded were made from his own fruits by his own people.
As a rule the lower servants went early to bed. Those who remained up later were the major domo and such of his men as waited upon the count's table. There came a dark cloudy night when Anthony Trent wearing black sneakers and a dark suit free from white collar or cuffs crawled out of his dungeon-like window and up the twelve feet of piping that intervened between his own and the next window above.He found himself looking down into what he supposed was the great entrance hall of the castle. Just below him was a great seat raised above the hall level on a platform of stone at the base of the fine sweep of stairway.
It was the official seat of the major domo. He could see the portly servant in a sort of antique evening dress, white gloves on podgy hands and a gilt chain of office about his thick neck. Below were three or four footmen in the maroon and canary of the Temesvars. They were yawning as though weary of inactivity. Plainly Trent could not emerge a few feet above the major domo's head and in full view of the footmen.
A climb to the next embrasure revealed what at first seemed a checkmate to observation. He found on investigation that some great article of furniture was backed against the window. It was immovable. Another climb and he was able to step through the easily opened window to a dark corridor. Anthony Trent in a great silent house where danger and disgrace would attend his discovery was in his element. He moved silently, surely, and seemed possessed of a seventh sense. He had never before professionally worked in such a vast rambling place as Castle Radna. It was not easy even for one trained as he to keep the plan of the place in mind. He found himself on a floor of bedrooms few of which were occupied.
He bent over one slumberer whose breath was strong with plum brandy and found he had discovered Hentzi's bedroom. He, did not need to be very quiet here. Underneath him was the floor where the main bedrooms would be and he had an idea the count might keep his valuables there. It was necessary that he should be able to enter from the outside since the stairway leading down was brilliantly lighted from the main hall and stone stairway where the men servants seemed permanently stationed.
Trent had the ability to snatch sleep when he desired it. It was now only eleven o'clock. He crawled under Hentzi's bed and slumbered until one. There was no danger of discovery. He did not snore and the man in the upper berth would not wake till morning. Anthony Trent had made a profound study of the value of snores in the determination of the tenacity with which the snorer clung to sleep.
When he shut Hentzi's door and stepped out into the corridor he saw that the lights had been extinguished below and he was free now to make his way to the floor beneath. He tried no doors but went at once to the aperture covered by the article of furniture. It was a huge ebony armoire inlaid with panels of tortoise-shell and ornamented by intricate designs of brass and ormolu. It was probably put in this spot for the purposes of decoration and he picked the lock to prove himself right. It was empty and there was space enough to stand upright in.
He felt it vandalism to break the back panel and feared once the loud cracking of wood might arouse the house. But there were few in Castle Radna who went without a nightcap. It took him almost two hours to hack an aperture that would admit him easily.
Then he slid down the pipe and went to bed. It was not easy to sleep. He had done very well so far. He was free of the house. With luck he could come and go at will during the still night hours. But the first step was easy. Next to find where the count kept Lord Rosecarrel's treaty and then to take it. And finally to get away with his treasure. He was not so much inclined to belittle the abilities of those other two who had planned and failed as he had been when he talked to the earl. He had taken due notice of Hentzi's reference to the death of an Englishman a few years ago who had met his fate at the base of the steep cliff-side. He felt almost certain that this was one of the men the earl had spoken of.
Lord Rosecarrel had said they set a trap for him into which none but a clever man would fall. He wished now he had asked particulars of it. So far Anthony Trent had escaped snares and the nets of hunters because he had outguessed his opponents. Sometimes he told himself that in the end the deadly law of averages would make him its victim. The pitcher would go once too often to the well. These reflections while they made him more than ever cautious did not lessen his zeal. Plainly it would be easier to work a remote castle in Croatia than a New York mansion protected by burglar alarms, night watchmen and detectives. Yet he had always succeeded so far in the face of these obstacles. But the address and nerve which had carried him through many a tight pinch in New York would not avail him here.
More than once, clad in evening dress, he had joined excited groups of guests and tried to capture himself. He had calmly taken his hat and cane from a footman and been bowed out of a house he had pillaged and once Inspector McWalsh had carried to the door some priceless antiques he had taken from the very collection the Inspector and his men were guarding.
Reflection showed him that Count Mich?l Temesvar was far too shrewd to trust the document that meant so much to him to insecure shelter. Despite the fact that the castle seemed filled with idle, drinking, overfed lackeys and he himself was unwatched, there must be some precaution taken which would defeat him unless he trod warily.
It was his experience that rich men knew little of the vulnerability of the safes to which they entrusted their valuables. Again and again he had been able to open such with ludicrous ease. Count Mich?l probably had an antique which would send a "peteman" into ecstacies of mirth. Trent's job was to locate it.
Next day he was commanded to accompany Pauline and the count to the golf links. Pauline hardly looked at him but Count Mich?l watched him continually. He was relieved at the girl's attitude. She was beaten by her opponent and angry at it. The count was not a sportsman. He putted over the easy bunkers and more than once he lifted his ball to a better lie. The victory made him good humoured. His heavy bearded face was wreathed with smiles. Trent had the opportunity to observe him more closely than ever before. It was a bad, crafty face but it was not merely the face of a pleasure loving fool. If rumor spoke rightly he was, more than any other man, the prime mover in activities aimed against the English speaking peoples. From this same Castle of Radna had issued many plots and subtle schemes all directed by this man who moved a golf ball with his foot when he thought none was looking.
Hentzi had told him that every European and American newspaper of note was to be found in the count's library. It was odd that such a man would not make some great city his home. He mentioned this once to Hentzi who made the astonishing answer that the count dreaded assassination by political enemies. Fearing perhaps he had said too much the secretary added that Count Mich?l had long ago abandoned politics for the life of a great landowner and that such a fear was without foundation.
"It wouldn't be easy for a stranger to get in here, would it?" Trent demanded carelessly.
The question seemed a most provoking one.
"Let such a one try," he returned smiling, "and he will see how we welcome him here in Radna. You who are of another world would not understand."
"I suppose not," Trent said and talked of other things. But he was not reassured. He set himself to master the roads that led to safety. There might be the need to know them. He had not yet been down to Fiume alone. He wanted to find several places in the big port. There might be a time when he would have to send an order to the Lion works for spare parts. His code was elaborate and framed to meet all contingencies.
When he asked Hentzi why so few people stayed at the castle the secretary's reply amazed him. Hentzi rather liked to impress this amiable cockney. He was not without a sense of the melodramatic.
"My friend," he said with condescension, "there are more who take their dinner in the big dining hall than you know. If it were your lot to be an indoor servant you would know what I mean. Castle Radna is at one time a prison, a sanctuary and the abode of hospitality."
"I never understand what you're driving at Mr. Hentzi," Trent told him. "I don't get your meaning half the time."
"I do not intend that you shall," Hentzi remarked. "And I do not advise you to seem curious. As it is you have displeased your master."
"Sissek started it," Trent reminded him.
"Sissek is a clod, a peasant, a man of no importance. I am not thinking of Peter Sissek. I am thinking of Madame Pauline."
"That blond woman," Trent said with assumed carelessness. "What about her?"
"She has praised your face and figure before one who, when he is jealous, kills."
"Me?" cried Trent with an air of astonishment, "why I only told her she was a rotten golfer."
He groaned in spirit. His stay at Castle Radna was going to be very difficult. Hentzi watching him closely only saw a face which expressed little interest. He was used now to sudden questioning by this volatile cockney.
"What do you mean by the castle being a prison?"
"I should have said that it has held many prisoners in bygone years, and sheltered many of the great. This is not like your English castles where the lord has no power. Look you, not a year ago we stayed, the count and I, at such a place. The owner struck a careless servant and was obliged to pay a fine before a judge. Think of it! An English lord haled into court by his own footman and fined. There is nothing like that here so when you are struck again do not think of an English policeman and a fine. I wish you to stay. When Sissek drives down the mountain I am always alarmed. You go twice as fast and I have no fear. Count Mich?l desires you to stay."
"I haven't said anything about going have I?" Trent retorted. He supposed Hentzi was trying to warn him not to look covetously at the handsome Pauline. The warning troubled him. He was of a physical type to which blonds of the Pauline type were invariably attracted.
"Many have died for her," Hentzi went on, "the young officers who flocked to see her skate. There were scandals. She was sent away from Berlin. She was in America, in England and Petrograd. She is cruel. I am afraid of her."
"I'm only a blooming chauffeur," Trent said carelessly, "and I wish I had never carried clubs at the Royal Surrey."
"You are also good looking," Hentzi said, "and of a superior type. Furthermore you are young and she has seen you play better than any man she has met and she has seen you fight. I warn you."
"I've got a girl of my own in London," Trent said confidentially, "who is a fair knock out. My girl has the real gold on her sweet little head and the roses on her cheeks owe nothing to a bottle and her eyes are sometimes violet and sometimes dark blue and she is slim and has those long white hands one wants to kiss."
"Love has made you a poet," Hentzi said affably. It was well that he did not notice that the cockney accent was for the moment abandoned. Hentzi was not a very close observer. He had only two profound emotions. The one a fear of his employer, the other admiration for himself. He considered Trent to be much impressed by his superior knowledge and, here a little and there a little, imparted much valuable information as to the castle, its inhabitants and their method of life. He considerately pointed out the count's library, the room into which no strangers had ever been bidden.
Anthony Trent, therefore, at one-thirty a. m. the next morning was better equipped for exploration than on his previous venture. Hentzi had told him that so long as the count remained up a servant waited to attend on him, old Ferencz by name. Trent remembered him at the servants' table as a surly old man who was silent and reserved and unpopular even among his fellows. He was liable to meet this man at any time. Trent was glad the Temesvar men servants had not the same silent ways of the Rosecarrel men. The men at Castle Radna walked heavily, lacking the thin shoes of the earl's servants, and talked loudly. There was little of the perfect discipline and service of the great English houses. It was due no doubt to the fact that the men were almost feudal retainers and not highly trained servants going from country estate to town house with the seasons.
Almost the moment he stepped from his tall ebony armoire Trent heard steps coming toward him. He was at the moment passing a door. His pass key opened it instantly and he stepped into darkness and shut the door carefully. But he knew he was not alone. There was a heavy unrhythmic snoring of a man far gone in sleep. As his eyes grew accustomed to the darkness Trent saw the outlines of a big bed.
He passed the foot of it on hands and knees. The professional always takes this precaution. A man waked from sleep by hearing a stranger at the foot of his bed invariably aims at a man supposed to be standing up. Although the sounds Trent detected were genuine sleep induced snores he could not be sure that another watchful occupant of the bed was not listening breathlessly and even now reaching for a weapon.
When he assured himself everything was quiet he looked about the room with the light of his electric torch. The sleeping man was a stranger to him. He was a red faced man of middle age and on a chair nearby was the undress uniform of an officer of high rank, a light blue uniform with silver facings. Accustomed as he was to khaki uniform alone Trent had no idea to what European service the sleeper belonged. He remembered Hentzi's remark that there were more people at the dinner table than one might suppose. Trent was certain he had never seen this officer about the castle grounds and had never driven him.
From the bedroom a door led evidently to a room en suite. This was unlocked and Trent entered noiselessly. It was a room twice the size of the adjoining apartment and furnished magnificently. So vast and splendid was the chamber he thought it must be that of Count Mich?l, the room where perchance the treaty lay concealed for which he had risked so much. But it was not Count Mich?l who lay stertorously slumbering. It was instead a prince of a great and lately reigning family who had strangely disappeared from the world a few months earlier and had been, so report ran, drowned in escaping from exile.
Anthony Trent was looking at one, worthless in character and devoid of ability but nevertheless a man who might by reason of his name rally about him an army which could start again the dreadful struggle whose scars were yet fresh. A great ceremony had been made of the funeral and a society of his former officers had been organized to perpetuate his memory by embarrassing his opponents. Trent remembered, dimly, reading an article in a London paper which spoke of the prince as being as dangerous dead as when leading his dissolute life.
Anthony Trent looked at the weak, passion-lined face of the man who had sought Count Mich?l's shelter and smiled. He had long ago been intrigued by the idea of mixing himself in high politics. Here, possibly, was an excellent beginning. But the prince could wait a little while. The time was not yet ripe for his resurrection.
Looking across the room Trent saw two long French windows lighting it. One was open. Instead of the balcony upon which the intruder assumed these windows opened, they led into a large courtyard some eighty feet long and forty feet wide. He did not understand how it was this great open space should have its being in the middle of the castle. There seemed no reason why it existed in a building of this sort. He was to find later that its origin was accidental. What was now a paved and open courtyard had been the magazine of the castle during the Turkish occupation of Croatia. The castle itself had never given in to the Ottoman conqueror. It had been shelled in the Reformation uprising in 1607 and a ball shot had exploded the ammunition. The chamber had never been rebuilt but a century later was turned into a pleasant garden.
Trent stepped through the open window and down three steps into the courtyard. It was plainly much used. There were lounges and chairs and tables. Pausing at one of them he saw London and New York papers which he had brought up from Fiume earlier in the week. There were French novels and bon-bons and a feather fan. Evidently the prince was not without his feminine companionship. In one of these big chairs Trent sat down and looked about him. The room from which he had come faced due east. To the north and south were plain solid walls without windows. Only to the West at the other end of the space could he see that the walls were pierced with French windows. As he looked these were suddenly illuminated. He made no motion. He felt reasonably certain that he was in such a position as to be unobserved.
But he grew less calm when the count's unmistakable figure passed up and down before the two windows and finally opening one stepped out into the courtyard. Behind him came Hentzi who should have been in bed long ago. The two passed so close he could have touched them. They were speaking rapidly and in what he supposed must be the Croatian tongue. Twice he heard his name mentioned. The count always called him by the assumed name of Alfred pronouncing it "Arlfrit."
It was not pleasant hearing. They might be, for all he knew, discussing his already discovered absence from his room. It was true he had bolted the door but someone from the outside might have detected the dark-clad climber making his unlawful ascent. Already a search might be in progress which would eventually claim him as the third failure. Count Mich?l was often so excited about trivial things that the listener was not able to guess whether his present mood was the outcome of some small irritation or of something far more sinister. There recurred frequently the name of Pauline and once or twice the count pointed to the windows where slept the man whom his people had mourned as dead.
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