Wyndham Martyn.

The Secret of the Silver Car

скачать книгу бесплатно

A quick backward glance a few minutes later on showed the new driver that the count had resumed his broken slumbers. So well indeed did the lord of Castle Radna sleep that he did not know the Panhard had left the main road or that any danger threatened him until he was suddenly hauled from his springy seat to look into the clear, hard eyes of Alfred Anthony.

Then he realized that his revolver was in the cockney's hand and the precious wallet gone from his pocket. Count Mich?l was no coward and he thought quickly with that intriguing, plotting brain of his. A great diamond still sparkled upon his finger and the money in another pocket was untouched.

"I should have been wiser," he commented. "I thought my lord Rosecarrel had become suddenly mad. Now I see that he was saner than I. First Captain the Honourable Oswald Hardcastle, then Sir Piers Edgcomb and now you. May I ask your name and rank? You have been my servant and succeeded so far where they failed?"

Anthony Trent was not expecting this attitude. He had been so used to seeing the count fly into stupendous rages that this calm, collected manner was disturbing. It might be the man's natural attitude in moments of real peril or it might merely mean he knew he was ultimately to be the victor.

It was a curious scene. The Panhard had come to rest in a clearing of the woods and a brilliant moon gave the place almost the clarity of day.

Count Mich?l sat down on a log and lighted a cigarette. Almost he was usurping Trent's r?le under such circumstances.

"This interests me," said Count Mich?l, "let us discuss it."

"I've no time," Trent said smiling. "I am due at Fiume or Trieste or Zara as the case may be at a certain hour and as I haven't the Lion here I must push on."

"Have you thought that I shall certainly pursue you and assuredly capture you?"

"You may pursue later when you are found but by that time I shall be gone."

"You can never escape me," the count said. "I have a long arm and I do not forget. And my vengeance is a bad thing for those against whom it is directed."

"It's not altogether healthy to have me for an enemy," Trent reminded him. "I have my own likes and dislikes."

The count sneered.

"You," he cried, "Who are you? What have you done that men should fear you? For a moment you have a little luck, the little luck that will bring you blindly to greater danger."

"I'm strictly incognito," Trent answered. "Once I was unwise enough to answer such a challenge, but you may believe me that I, too, have a name. Now count, it won't help you a bit to put up a fight. It will save you trouble if you'll back up against that tree and let me tie you up."

"You would put this outrage on me?" the other cried, his calm leaving him, the veins standing out on an empurpled forehead like raised livid ridges.

"Get up!" Anthony Trent snapped.

"It is because you have a pistol," the count said.

"Put that down if you are a man and then see what you can make me do."

"You may believe it or not," Trent retorted, "but it hurts me to have to decline the offer. If I dared take time I would return several little tendernesses of yours. As it is I can't, having a weapon, strike a man who hasn't one. You are luckier than you know. Back up there and do it damned quick."

Trent was certain that Count Temesvar could never unfasten his bonds. And as he was gagged he could not cry for help. Some swineherd or peasant would discover him later. Meanwhile the discipline would be good.

"Good-by," said Trent genially, "Give my love to your guest the prince and all his high born companions."

If Count Mich?l had looked angry before his face now was doubly hideous with rage. His hold over Lord Rosecarrel was gone and he could not doubt but this stranger who had posed as a chauffeur had learned somehow of the presence of the prince. If it were known in the chancelleries of Europe all his carefully matured plans would go for naught. Unless Alfred Anthony were captured Mich?l, Count Temesvar could never again make his pleasant little trips to the great houses of England, France and Italy. There he was known as one who had abandoned all political ambitions to become merely the country magnate interested in cattle and crops. Never again could he gather useful information over friendly dinner tables or hobnob with prime ministers over golf or auction bridge if it were known he was giving sanctuary to one who threatened the world peace.

When Anthony Trent had satisfied himself that the document he had taken was the one Arthur stole from his father, he knew, in order to be absolutely safe, it should be destroyed. Its destruction would give the earl immunity. But Trent hesitated. Once already Lord Rosecarrel had believed it was demolished and had suffered terribly for his trust. Inevitably there would be a seed of suspicion if a comparative stranger, confessedly one who had profited by unlawful operations, should ask him to take as true that the treaty had again been destroyed.

A man in Trent's position was doubly sensitive in a matter of this sort. He had no long and honorable record to back his assertions; and although in the present instance he was actuated by no motives of self-aggrandizement he was not sure others – Daphne alone excepted – would believe him. He thanked God that with her it was different.

So he put the paper in an envelope already stamped and addressed and placed it in his pocket. Then he started for a port of safety.

It seemed impossible that he should miss the way in the bright moonlight but he realized a few minutes later that he was only circling around the clearing where the count was tied to a tree. His headlights showed him innumerable roads like those by which he had come but there was no distinctive sign to guide him to the road to the coast. A group of peasants going incredibly early to their work could not understand him. He repeated the word Fiume but even that did not help. Their little life was bounded by the confines of a few square miles; and the troop trains which had taken them to the battle lines of a year or so back had only confused them as to topography.

Among the big oaks and beeches Trent could not easily find one tall enough to bear his weight on branches that would let him see over the tops of the others. When dawn came he was in no better plight.

The position in which Anthony Trent found himself was by far the most serious of his career. Hitherto he had faced imprisonment at most. Now capture meant without doubt – death. He had, without thinking of the folly of his utterance, told Count Mich?l that he knew of the presence of the guests unsuspected by the great powers.

Count Mich?l had probably staged the supposed escape of the prince and supplied a convenient corpse for his interment. Unrest was in every portion of what had once been the dual monarchy. Beggars on horseback were riding to a fall and the Balkan volcano was near eruption. And Anthony Trent, alone of those opposed to Count Mich?l's party, knew where was hidden the man whom the count was coaching for his big r?le. His escape would mean disaster. By this time no doubt passing countrymen had recognized their overlord and released him. But for lack of a compass Anthony Trent should even now have been at a port where he could escape to a friendly vessel.

He remembered what Lord Rosecarrel had told him of Count Mich?l's character and autocratic power. Although theoretically shorn of his former absolutism it was unlikely that peasants who worked on his lands and still felt their dependence upon him should question Count Mich?l's actions. World news which spreads rapidly among the herded workers in factories crept slowly among these land tillers. They had enough to eat and drink and were grateful for that after their years of fighting.

Now that capture was imminent Trent knew that the document must be destroyed. But even in this he delayed hoping his usual luck might cling to him and make the sacrifice unnecessary.

He abandoned the automobile. Its wheels were embedded in black viscid mud and to extricate them the engine would have to run on low speed and announce the car's position to such as might already be seeking him. If he could pass the day uncaptured he might at night be able to free the car of its imprisoning mud and make his escape. He had woodcraft enough to be able to mark down the spot where the Panhard was hidden.

It was high noon when Anthony Trent came in sight of a farm. A big dog came toward him with sharp, staccato inquiring barks. He had a way of making dogs his friends and soon the animal was wagging a welcoming tail. Trent satisfied his hunger and thirst with a meal of early plums and lighted his last Woodbine. The Croatian farmers of the district in which he found himself were horsebreeders to a man. It was an industry which the government had always approved and encouraged. Without a doubt in the distant barns there was some favorite animal which might bear Trent to safety if his car had been discovered. The watch dog, now satisfied that the stranger was one to be adored, would prove no obstacle.

Trent nestled back in some drying hay, well out of sight, he supposed, of observers and dropped into a profound sleep. It was the unusual spectacle of the watch dog sitting by the mound of hay that attracted the notice of the farmer. He supposed that the animal – part hound and part draft dog – had run some animal to earth. When the farmer saw that the stranger slept there for whom he had, under Count Mich?l's direction, scoured the forest since dawn, he wisely brought assistance. Thus it was that Anthony Trent, rudely brought back to an unsympathetic earth, found himself seized, bruised and bound before he had time to recover his senses or put up a fight.

Peter Sissek it was who carried him to the recovered Panhard and threw him violently to the floor. And for every blow that Trent had struck Sissek in fair fight the Croatian returned with interest now that his conqueror was bound and hopeless. One of Peter's assistants sat on the seat brandishing the revolver which had been the count's. He talked incessantly, threatening no doubt and insulting the captive, and punctuating his invective with kicks that bruised the American's ribs sorely.

He was carried past a mob of jeering servants when the castle was reached and put in a room which had been used as a dungeon for five hundred years. As he looked about the stone walled cell with its narrow windows through which his body could scarcely pass even though the heavy bars were sawn through, he knew his professional skill would avail him nothing.

There was one safeguard for gaolers which he sighed to see. Inside the door was a cage of iron where a keeper might stand and be protected from the sudden onslaught of a waiting prisoner. Thus the most usual form of escape was taken from him.

Hentzi was his first visitor, poor rotund, posing Hentzi who had liked Alfred Anthony largely because he supposed it was a semi-educated London cockney who listened to his worldly wisdom. When he had learned from his master that this pretended chauffeur was the third of the Rosecarrel adherents who had made desperate attempts he supposed him to be of high degree. With amusement Anthony Trent saw the change in his manner. Although disgraced and in prison Hentzi paid the respect that he invariably accorded to birth. He told himself that it was because he noted the instincts of blue blood that he had found pleasure in talking with Alfred Anthony. Trent's careless manner which had sometimes seemed overbold in a chauffeur was now explained.

"I grieve very much to see the marks of violence inflicted upon you by a clod like Peter Sissek," he began.

"I knocked the same clod out when he wasn't looking," Trent returned, "so he had a kick coming. You didn't come to be merely polite Hentzi, what is it? Torture? Boiling oil?"

"It will not be boiling oil," Hentzi answered seriously.

Anthony Trent looked at him searchingly. Of course Hentzi had his purpose in coming here; and that he did not deny the possibility of a Croatian third degree convinced the American that the danger he anticipated was real and near. So far as Count Mich?l's power went in his own castle of Radna his prisoner might be in medieval times. Trent was a danger to be nullified and a single life was hardly worthy of consideration in the game the count was playing.

To lose his life was bitter enough; but to lose it after failing and so be denied another chance to make good was agonizing. Hentzi gathered nothing from his scrutiny of the other man's battered face. He saw that the forced and rather vacuous grin which Anthony Trent had worn when he lived another part was gone. Only the powerful, brooding, hawklike look which he had occasionally seen for a flash now remained. He did not doubt but that this was the true character of the man a great English noble had chosen for a dangerous mission.

"You will remain here until the count returns," Hentzi announced.

"How long?" Trent snapped.

"A week certainly; more likely two."

"What will happen then?"

Hentzi sighed. His master's violence often frightened him. He came of a peaceloving family.

"That I cannot say."

"I can't go without a daily shave," Trent said yawning. "And I need cigarettes and the London papers. You can get them for me?"

"The razor I dare not," Hentzi said. "The rest you shall have."

"Afraid I shall commit suicide? You ought to be glad if I did. It would save Count Mich?l a lot of trouble. That cage there prevents my slitting the throat of a keeper. A child with a gun could poke the barrel through the bars and put me out of business. Come Hentzi, be human. I will not live with whiskers. I swear to do myself no damage or anyone else either."

"You give me the word of a man of noble birth?" Hentzi inquired anxiously. "You cannot conceal your origin from me. You may not wish it known but I know."

Anthony Trent kept a straight face. Hentzi had always amused him.

"Hentzi," he said seriously, "I must preserve my incognito at all costs. That you appreciate, but if it will make you more comfortable I will tell you that in my own country there is not a man who has the right to call himself my superior or go in to dinner before me."

Hentzi's bow was most profound. He had known it all along. This was assuredly the venturesome holder of an ancient title, a man of high birth and born to great honor. Hentzi's own Sheffield blades were at his disposal.

Chapter Twelve

Count Mich?l returned to his castle after Trent had been for fifteen days a prisoner.

The prince and his suite were now safely hidden in a far Carpathian retreat and there was no evidence in Castle Radna of their occupancy. It had been a dreadful moment when Count Temesvar found himself tied to a tree and his plans in danger of disclosure to his enemies. He had no opportunity of knowing as yet to what use Alfred Anthony had put his knowledge.

The London papers told him only that Lord Rosecarrel was the new Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and was already making friends with the Balkans and cementing an ancient alliance with Greece. That was bad enough in all conscience. But if it were known that he had hidden a prince whose only use to him would be the furtherance of his political ambitions he would be denounced by the government under which he lived.

The easy going, pleasure loving and almost amiable side of Count Mich?l's nature was for the moment put aside. The man who took pride in his swift travelling Lion and his occasional long drive at golf was banished by the need of the moment for possessing certain and wholly accurate knowledge of what Alfred Anthony was and what he had done.

Anthony Trent when he was brought before the count saw this at a glance. He was Francis the First in his arbitrary moods, the mood that made that versatile monarch sweep friends to destruction and visit wrath on them who had offended.

He was led, manacled, between Peter Sissek and old Ferencz and brought to the big room in which the Chubbwood safe was placed. Hentzi hovered nervously in the background.

"I have sent for you," Count Mich?l said, "so that you may have the opportunity of making a confession."

"It is thoughtful of you," Trent told him, "but I have no confession to make. I have some complaints however. I dislike my present quarters. They are verminous and draughty."

"Is it possible," the count said slowly, "that you fail to understand your position?"

"What is my position?" Anthony Trent countered.

"You are a nameless prisoner absolutely in my power. There is none in the outer world to help you. Those other two who came told me as much. They were sworn not to ask mercy of me or help of my lord Rosecarrel."

"The cases are not parallel," Trent returned equably, "They asked no mercy of you. I don't either. They did not expect help of – what was the name you mentioned?"

"The man for whom you risk death is the Earl of Rosecarrel. He cannot aid you."

Trent shook his head.

"Never heard of him. I wonder what put it into your brain that I had any definite plans in coming here except to get a position which you forced on me."

"Why did you take a certain document from my pocket and leave much money? No, no. It is idle to fence. I have learnt from London that you were only in the Lion factory a few days and that previously nothing was known of you. You are not a mechanic; that is plain. You came for a certain political document worth in money – nothing. You took it. Now, sir, where is it?"

There was no doubting the count's eagerness or Anthony Trent's astonishment. The count had not recovered the treaty. So far as Trent remembered the envelope was in his coat pocket, the same coat he had taken off among the hay and made a pillow for his head. He assumed, naturally, that when he was roughly dragged from slumber his clothes were searched. A light of triumph came into his eyes at the thought that it did not repose behind those inviolate doors of steel. But it was amazing that the heap of hay had not been disturbed. He supposed it was because of the week of almost continuous rain.

"Where is it?" Count Mich?l repeated.

"When I saw it was of no value," Trent said, sticking to his chauffeur r?le, "I burned it."

"For the moment we will assume that you speak the truth. Now, how is it you made the mistake of supposing that I had here certain guests of high degree?"

"Just a guess," Trent said calmly, "Wasn't I right? Remember I had to bring them up from Fiume. I saw coronets on dressing cases and from the way Hentzi bowed and scraped I imagined they were at least royalties in disguise."

"You said," Count Mich?l insisted, "'Give my love to the prince.' You could only have meant one particular personage. You did not speak in generalities you particularized. You said 'The prince.' I warn you you do not help yourself by denials. I am not a patient man. The world knows that. Here in my castle of Radna I am supreme. I have not chosen my servants idly. They are committed to me and my cause absolutely. Old Ferencz there would die for me or mine. It is the tradition of loyalty born in him. So with the others. You are surrounded here with those who regard you as my enemy. How can I chide them if, knowing their lord is in peril, they seek to remove it?"

"First and second murderers," Trent commented.

"Executioners," the count corrected.

"It makes no difference what you call them," Trent exclaimed.

"I am glad you look at it in that light," Count Mich?l said, "It does not make any difference as you will see. I shall convince you of that by relating the sad accident which befell your friend Captain the Honourable Oswald Hardcastle, formerly of the Royal Dragoons."

"My friend?" Trent exclaimed.

"Certainly," the count returned, "Lord Rosecarrel's military attach? at Constantinople. Your innocence amuses me. You no doubt know that I owned that great horse Daliborka a winner of the Grand Prix. I was dissatisfied with my trainer and asked friends at the Jockey Club in Paris to recommend me someone. Captain Hardcastle disguised himself much as you have done. He was no longer an aristocrat, an officer of a great regiment, but a trainer who was an ex-jockey. He was a good trainer and a great horseman. Daliborka's time trials were marvelous. I entered him for the great races in England. My new trainer was so jealous of his horse he would have no strangers near and none was allowed to follow him in his rides through the grass meadows." Count Mich?l laughed softly, "Yes, I was deceived, made a fool of, as you have it but I can confess it as I do in your case with the satisfaction that the last laugh, the last trick will be mine. It was my laugh at the last with Captain Hardcastle. You are interested?"

"I was in Paris when Daliborka won," Trent said. "I made money on him. Most certainly I'm interested."

"Captain Hardcastle wished for the document which you say you have destroyed. He obtained it. He did not seek to escape as you have done down the main roads. No. No. He had studied the country profoundly with all the topographical knowledge gained at the Staff College. He had such complete charge of my large stables that none questioned his right to do as he chose and I was too busy at the time even to see him. He planned his route carefully. He found out a path to the sea where there would wait him a yacht. It was, oddly enough, the same steam yacht in which my lord Rosecarrel makes his cruises. At intervals he placed my horses, horses he had trained for steeple chases. But the first stretch of the journey, ten miles of velvet turf he had planned to ride Daliborka. It is sufficient to tell you that we knew his plans in time. He was to start at midnight. It happened that I passed his quarters at half past eleven and detained him in talk, talk that gave him no uneasiness."

скачать книгу бесплатно

страницы: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19