Wyndham Martyn.

The Secret of the Silver Car



скачать книгу бесплатно

But there were tears in her eyes as she said it.

He took both her hands in his.

"What a splendid woman you are!" he said with conviction.

"My dear," she answered, her voice a little uneven, "do not tell that to the woman you love. She would hate me and I want to live a little in your heart without anyone else to share it. Promise me that?"

There was in his mind to tell her Daphne was different. That Daphne would love her too, but he said nothing. Her intuition told her more than his hope could foretell.

"I promise," he answered, "and I promise that I shall never forget."

Hentzi's agitated voice disturbed them.

"Not one moment longer," he whispered. "I dare not."

Chapter Thirteen
DOWN TO THE SEA

When Pauline had gone Trent was immeasurably happier in the hope she had given him. Until her visit his only chance of escape had been centered in the expectation that when once his hands were freed he might file the bars. There was now a scheme in his head worth many of that.

Half an hour after she had left two men entered guided by the now assured Hentzi.

"You have complained of the dirt here," the secretary explained, "and it will be removed."

The tiny spring saw was swept up unobserved. Trent saw it disappear now with a smile where before it would have been black tragedy to him.

He slept well that night and shaved himself next morning in high spirits. It was not easy, shaving with handcuffs on, but it was possible. Then he waited for some message from Pauline.

Hentzi came into the cell at five.

"Count Mich?l will see you at ten tonight. My friend, I warn you to be wise and acknowledge defeat."

"That's not my idea of wisdom," Trent grinned so cheerfully that Hentzi was vaguely disturbed.

"You are more foolish even than the others," Hentzi said, shaking his head. "Brave men, all three. For my part I would be reasonable. I would say, 'I have fought a good fight and the odds were against me. How much can I save from the wreck?' That is the way to talk, my lord."

Suddenly he took a book from his pocket, a book tied with string and sealed but not enveloped in paper. He handed it to the American.

"This is from a friend," he announced. "I bring danger on myself in giving it to you but I can rely on your silence, eh?"

"Certainly," Trent said carelessly and betrayed no interest in the gift. "At ten o'clock tonight? Is that it?"

"It is wise to acknowledge defeat," Hentzi said earnestly.

"We'll see when the time comes," Trent returned. "It's largely a matter of holding trumps my good Hentzi."

Anthony Trent tore the string from the book eagerly. In the middle, placed carefully in a space hollowed among the leaves were the bar keys which might, with luck, open the doors to safety. About them was wrapped a half sheet of scented, green note paper. On it was scrawled very faintly in pencil, "I have put it where you told me to."

"Thank God!" cried Anthony Trent.

Then with some difficulty he managed to put the two thin steel bars in a special pocket long ago prepared for them.

The hours seemed very long until Hentzi, with Sissek and Ferencz, came for him.

The two servants carried their big service revolvers.

The anxious moment was at hand, the moment that was to tell Trent whether he was to be utterly defeated or to stand a chance of escape.

"Take these off," he said holding out his manacled hands.

"No. No." Sissek and Ferencz cried together.

"The count said so," Trent frowned.

"I have had no orders," Hentzi assured him, "and that is one key I have not got."

For one desperate moment Anthony Trent thought of bringing down his iron ringed wrists on Sissek's head and attempting to escape. But he put the thought from him as futile. There was still another trump to play.

They led him, as he hoped, to the great room where the safe was, the room he had searched so carefully.

In a carved oak chair at the head of a table sat Count Mich?l. Pauline was there sitting in a chaise longue smoking a cigarette in a very long amber and gold holder. She did not turn her face from the count to the prisoner until he had stood there silent for a full minute. Then she looked at him coldly, sneeringly, and said something to Count Mich?l which brought a peal of laughter from him.

It seemed to Trent that he had never seen the two on such wholly affectionate terms.

There were two doors to the room. At one stood Peter Sissek, revolver in hand. At the other old Ferencz watched in armed vigilance. On the table before the count was a .38 automatic pistol. Shades were drawn over the long narrow French windows. In a chair before one of them Hentzi sat nervous as ever in the presence of his violent employer. Before the other window was a big bronze statue of the dying Gaul. The stage was set very comfortably for all but the manacled Anthony Trent.

"You said I could have these off," Trent began, "these damned steel bangles that I've worn so long."

"It is for yourself to remove them," the count said suavely. "I am about to give you the opportunity. You see I am generous. Others would blame me for it."

"You are not generous," Trent snapped. "A coward never is."

The count's face lost some of its suavity.

"Who dares call me a coward?" he cried.

"I do," Trent returned promptly. "You are a coward. Here am I, an unarmed man among three with guns. The doors are locked and yet you keep me here handcuffed. Generous! Brave!" All his contempt was poured out as he said it.

"If I take them off will you give me your parole d'honneur to make no effort to escape?"

Anthony Trent turned to Pauline.

"Madame," he said, as though to a stranger, "I cannot congratulate you on the courage of your friend. So afraid is he of one single man that he wishes me to give my word I will not try to escape. He forgets I am unarmed, in a strange and vast house filled with his servants, with death threatening me at any suspicious move. Are all your noblemen of Croatia as cautious as he?"

Pauline did not reply to him. Instead she spoke to the count in German.

"Pay no attention to him," she counselled. "I know that you are brave, my Mich?l. Let him laugh at you for a coward if he wishes. I would not have him hurt you or frighten you for the world."

"Frighten me!" cried the count, "Hurt me!" He flung a little key across the table to Hentzi. "Take them off," he commanded.

Trent examined his reddened wrists with a frown.

"This should never have been done," he declared. Then he turned to Hentzi. "I need a cigarette."

"I did not bring you here to smoke," Count Mich?l said acidly. "I brought you here to interrogate you. Remember that."

"I have been without a decent smoke for nearly two weeks," Trent returned. "And I want one. Unless I have some I shall not answer any one of your interrogations. Think it over, count."

Hentzi looked at the American reproachfully. He had supplied his prisoner with the best of tobacco. That he had done so surreptitiously robbed him of the privilege of recrimination. The two guards not understanding a word of the conversation could not deny Trent's statements.

Count Mich?l Temesvar looked closely at his former chauffeur. He was standing on the rich red rug between the two windows. He was biting his lips; his face twitched and his fingers worked nervously. It was plain that he suffered as drug takers do when deprived of their poisons.

There was a cedar lined silver box of cigarettes on the little table by Pauline's chair. This Hentzi was commanded to place before the prisoner. Anthony Trent's symptoms were admirably assumed. He inhaled and exhaled in silent delight and his face grew more peaceful. But he was still unsettled and nervous. The count, remembering his iron-nerved driver, attributed the change as much to imprisonment and fear as to lack of tobacco. In a sense it was a tribute to his power over the man who had thwarted him. He watched Trent stride up and down by the two windows and ascribed it to a growing sense of the ordeal about to be undergone.

"I've got to keep moving," Trent said, "I've been tied up in a kennel for two weeks."

"If you must I shall permit it," the other answered. "But I warn you that the length of this table must be your limit. Otherwise my faithful men may have to shoot. You understand?"

"Perfectly," Trent said growing more affable. "I even give you my parole d'honneur not to go near the doors. Why rush on certain death?"

"You are growing sensible," Count Mich?l said smiling. "I knew it would come. As you say, why rush on certain death? It is foolish. More, it is unnecessary and to do so wastes one's energy. I have not yet had time to learn your name and rank but I am treating with you as an equal."

"Thank you!" Trent retorted. "If you call locking me up in a verminous, rat-haunted cell treating me as an equal I'm hardly grateful."

"I dare take no risks," the count assured him. "You men who came here for my lord Rosecarrel are different from others. I have not forgotten that Sir Piers Edgcomb killed three of my honest lads before he died. There are others who would have treated you less well than I. Now, where is the paper you stole from me and say you burned?"

"What is the fate of ashes tossed to the four winds?"

"It was never burned," the other snapped. "Somewhere it exists in your pocket where I saw you place it. Remember this before you answer. If by your aid alone I find it you may leave this castle."

"How?" Trent demanded. "To walk into ambush outside?"

"There will be twenty square miles of country where none dare touch you. Do you need more than that, you, who cast aspersions on the courage of others? Is it possible you are afraid?"

"What is the other alternative?"

"To join your friends." The count laughed cordially. The idea seemed to amuse him. "To make the third grave. First the trainer, then the butler and last the chauffeur. I wonder what your chief will send me next."

"He will have no need to send anyone else," Trent said affably. By this time his nervousness had disappeared and he was cool and calm as ever.

"You mean he will give up the attempt?"

"Why should there be another when I have already succeeded?"

"This is bravado," the count cried. It was his turn to be nervous now. The importance he attached to the possession of the paper seemed out of all proportion to its value. Trent knew little of the great eternal European game of politics. For a few moments in Paris the New World had its glance at the complicated working but forgot it when booming trade held sway and salesmen took the place of diplomats. The elimination of the new Foreign Secretary meant a great deal to Count Mich?l. The other knowledge which Trent stored in his mind was equally dangerous but there were others who could attend to that. No matter what part Anthony Trent played the count had assigned him the r?le of the defeated.

"It happens to be the truth," Trent returned.

He could see that Pauline was now listening intently. Her pose of antagonism to the stranger was swept away by her anxiety for his safety. Her heart thrilled to see him standing there, debonair, smiling, dominating. It seemed madness to her, this avowal of success.

"You are learning wisdom," Count Mich?l commented.

"We may define the term differently," Trent smiled. "I did not burn the paper."

"Ah!" the count breathed excitedly. "Now we have it."

"I preferred to keep it so that I could assure the Right Honourable the Earl of Rosecarrel, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, that I had indeed succeeded. You will understand my feelings. Perhaps it was bravado but none seems to believe that such papers ever do get burned. You, count, seemed to doubt it."

"Where is it?" the count snapped. "Your life depends on your truth."

"I have put it in a safe place," Trent said, resuming his pacing of the room.

The count's excitement banished the air of toleration he had with difficulty affected toward one he hated.

"Where is it?" he bellowed.

Anthony Trent was smiling and his eyes were bright. It was one of his moments.

"I am going to fetch it," he said urbanely.

Long ago he had made a careful survey of the possibilities of the room in which he stood. He had thoroughly scrutinized windows and doors as likely aids to future needs.

Every pair of eyes in that great room was turned on him. Sissek and Ferencz understanding no word only saw that he was unmoved, unruffled, almost joyous in the presence of the great Count Mich?l. They could not understand it at all. They only hated him the more.

Hentzi was rather thrilled with the spectacle. Here was a young and handsome man of a type he had longed to be, no doubt the bearer of an historic title, who in the presence of great peril dared to laugh at the head of all the Temesvars.

Count Mich?l felt the constricting collar that now almost choked him. These other two who had preceded Alfred Anthony met death bravely but they acknowledged failure. But this man was different. It was almost as though he thought himself the victor. What else would have nerved him to bandy words with his gaoler?

But of them all it was Pauline who watched him most eagerly, and most feared for his safety. He seemed incredibly rash to antagonize the count still further. Few guessed the cruelties to which he could sink when his amour propre was wounded. She had made up her mind that the man she loved so wholly should not suffer. So far the count had no reason to suspect her interest in the stranger. His first jealousy had passed when she protested how needless it was. He trusted women with few of his political secrets but she knew Trent was a marked man because he had stumbled on the identity of the princely guest. Therefore he would suffer unless her woman's wit could aid him. Knowing the count's vanity so well she perceived that every moment of this unperturbed attitude added to the severity of the punishment his prisoner would receive.

"You are going to fetch it!" Count Mich?l said thickly. "Is it permitted to ask how and when?"

"By all means," Trent said graciously. "I am going to fetch it now and thus."

He made a lightning quick leap toward the window where Hentzi was sitting in a low chair and then a dive over the secretary's shoulder. Through the small panes of glass he went like a hurled rock. The shade torn from its roller wrapped itself about his head and shielded him from flying glass and piercing splinters.

Two shots rang out and he heard Hentzi's voice raised in a shriek of agony. There were other sounds which drowned even this. The count's voice bellowed forth instructions. He could hear Peter Sissek and Ferencz shouting and then, as another shot followed him into the courtyard Pauline's cry rang high above all other sounds.

Trent landed on his shoulder, bruised but not seriously hurt. When he pulled the enveloping window shade from his face he was amazed to see that the room from which he had come was now in darkness. He could hear the men thrashing about it in a fury of rage at being unable to find the way of pursuit. Whether failure of the current was the cause or someone had pressed the button, the delay was of incalculable value.

Trent raced across the paved courtyard and pried open the door of what had been the prince's apartment. It was unoccupied as was that of the adjoining room where the military aide had slept.

At the bedroom door leading to the corridor he listened carefully but heard no sound. He opened it quietly to come upon a servant passing by. It was an unmannerly fellow who had often jeered at him when they used the common table, a tall, awkward, stooping creature with a malicious face. His eyes opened wide when he saw it was the detested English chauffeur. Visions of reward darted across his brain and he made a movement as to apprehend the foreigner.

He was instantly gripped with a hold, which agonized him as he sought to break it, and forced into the bedroom from which Trent had just come. Then the door was locked and he was a prisoner. When, a minute later his master and the others came bursting through he supposed them to be other than they were and hid under a bed where the redoubtable Sissek pursued him and beat him soundly until his identity was established.

Leaving him in the room Trent made his way carefully to the armoire, that rock of refuge in a weary land, and entered it noiselessly.

It was established that no stranger could have left the castle by any of its exits. Such as were not barred had servants near them. It was clear that Alfred Anthony was concealed somewhere in the vast building. His capture was only the matter of time, the result of careful searching.

This search was gone about systematically Count Mich?l directing his men personally. It was the count's theory that one of his bullets, the first shot at which Hentzi had screamed because of its nearness to his head, had wounded the fleeing man, and that he would sooner or later be traced by a trail of blood.

Hardly had plans been made for the disposition of the searchers than an agitated footman reported Peter Sissek's wife with dire news. She was brought before her employer trembling with excitement.

"Excellency," she cried, "He has escaped in the English car."

Pauline at the count's side clutched his arm.

"Thank God!" she breathed.

"They shall suffer who let him pass," the count roared, "Swine, children of swine, spawn of the devil."

"Let me go after him Excellency," Peter Sissek pleaded. "I will bring him back to you dead or alive as you command."

"Fool," the count shouted, "Who are you to do this, you who have not his skill nor so fast a car! Get you to Agram. I will telegraph to Fiume and Zara and Trieste and have him stopped for a thief."

"But," Pauline protested, "how dare you let it be known that it is the paper he has stolen? Dare you invite notice of it?"

The count looked at her very oddly. Never had he looked so coldly.

"Is it also his car?" he asked. "Have I no right to that?"

Weeks before Anthony Trent had hidden a spare key to the garage in a secret place. From the moment of closing the door of the armoire behind him, climbing down the copper pipe and starting his engine, Anthony Trent had not consumed more than four minutes. As he drove it out of the yard he saw Mrs. Sissek running toward him. Soon they would be on his track again. He did not care. He knew there was never a driver in all Europe who could hope to catch him between Castle Radna and Fiume.

A quick glance had assured him all was well with his Lion. Two extra wheels were carried which could be put on in three minutes. There was gasoline in his tanks and the purring hum of the motor was like a Beethoven symphony to his ears. And he knew that somewhere in the toolbox was concealed the little scrap of paper which had cost two lives already and might take his own as toll were he not careful. He prayed that the gods of chance might give him no less than an even break.

Down the mountain side he went singing. At night there was little or no traffic. The peasants were early abed and the way would be deserted until he struck the Marie Louise road.

Anthony Trent knew that not a car in the garage would pursue him with any chance of success. They would probably send a telegram from Agram but that contingency did not worry him very much. It had taken no more than a minute of his time to do damage that would take a hundred times as long to remedy. He smiled to think of the savage Sissek trying to start his Panhard. Then they would attempt to get the Fiat going and finally, the old and tricky Mercedes. And they would all balk because that skilled mechanic Alfred Anthony had had his finger in the pie.

At the roar of his engines, magnified in the night silences, peasants turned over and went to sleep again. It was their lord or one of his exalted guests who passed. Sometimes one of them would hear, floating out for a moment, the sound of his singing.

It was a night of triumph and hope for Anthony Trent. He had succeeded where others had failed. The hours brought him nearer to a sight of the woman he loved and he could not put away from him the hope that somewhere happiness and content might wait for them.

There was not an untoward incident in his journey until he reached the high land overlooking the harbor of Fiume. Day would break in less than an hour. Stopping his motor he took the rain stained document from its shelter. Pauline had not failed him. She showed her thoughtfulness by placing sandwiches and a flask of wine in the tool box. He thought of her with a flood of gratitude. Until this reminder he had forgotten her very existence in the thought of the other woman.

Trent had not come idly to Fiume with the bare hope of being able to make his escape. He knew that there were in port several British destroyers that lay off a certain breakwater which he had observed on many occasions. Tied up at this stone pier were a number of rowboats. It would be an easy task to pull off to a destroyer and climb aboard. No commander would deny him the privilege he sought and there was not a gun in Fiume which dare be trained on a British or American vessel.



скачать книгу бесплатно

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