The Lad and the Lion

Chapter Nine

Edgar Rice Burroughs

COUNT MAXIMILIAN LOMSK was in exile. He had been in exile for a year, ever since the night that King Otto had found him and Ferdinand and Hilda and the cobbler’s pretty daughter in the hunting lodge. At present he was in Switzerland and without a great deal of money, for the count’s father was rich only in blue blood and the amount of his debts. He was stopping at a cheap little hotel from which he had written many letters to Ferdinand begging him to intercede with his royal father to the end that Count Lomsk might return home; but Ferdinand never got the letters—Otto saw to that. Max guessed as much; so he had always written carefully to Ferdinand and spoken highly of the King, his father. His letters were really written quite as much for Otto as they were for Ferdinand; and because nothing came of them, Max’s hatred of the King waxed.

At the same hotel was an elderly gentleman who looked like a college professor. He had arrived a week or so after Max. Max had paid no attention to him at first because he was elderly and because when the servants addressed him they called him only monsieur and not monsieur le conte or excellency or even doctor.

Therefore Max assumed that he was a commoner and a nobody. In which, in a way, he was correct. But presently Max noticed that the elderly gentleman, seemingly accidentally and quite unostentatiously, revealed the fact that he possessed a rather large sum of money. After that Max became more interested in him. He even went so far as to say “Good morning” to him one day. That afternoon, as Max entered the bar, he saw the elderly gentleman sitting alone at a table. As Max approached, they both bowed; and as he was about to pass the table the elderly gentleman spoke to him.

“Will you do me the honor of sharing a bottle of wine with me?” he asked. “You seem to be as much alone and as lonely as I.”

Max admitted that he would be delighted; and so he sat down and they shared several bottles of wine, the elderly gentleman doing the sharing and Max the drinking. They became very friendly; and as the wine loosened Max’s tongue, he gave vent to the pent feelings to which he had not been able to unburden himself even in his letters to Ferdinand. The things that he said about King Otto that evening would make somebody’s right ear burn.

They saw a great deal of each other every day after that; but Max was a little more careful what he said about King Otto after he learned that the elderly gentleman, who said his name was Kolchav, was a fellow countryman, until he discovered that Kolchav did not like Otto any better than he did. Kolchav was an excellent companion. He seemed to have plenty of money, and would not let Max pay for anything. He even loaned Max small amounts from time to time, and told him that he needn’t mind about paying them back until it was perfectly convenient. Then, one evening, he said he was going back home the next day.

“Is there anything I can do for you back there?” he asked.

Max said he couldn’t think of anything.

“Wouldn’t you like to have me take a letter to Ferdinand?” asked Kolchav.

“Do you think you could get it to him?” asked Max.

“I am quite sure I could; and you may say anything you wish, for even if I were to read it, which I shall not, I should not divulge the contents. You might even put something in it for me.”

“What is that?” asked Max.

“I should like to have a talk with Ferdinand,” said Kolchav. “Perhaps if I were to talk with Ferdinand, we might find a way to get you back. You would be pretty well fixed, would you not, if you were back there and Ferdinand were king?”

“I should say I would,” admitted Max. “I should have Sarnya’s post if Ferdinand were king. He has promised it to me. I should be chief of staff, head of the army and the secret police.”

“If Ferdinand were to promise that he would give the people such a constitution as they have demanded, an accident might befall the King. In that event, Ferdinand would succeed without opposition and with every guarantee that he would enjoy safety. It may not be easy to rid ourselves of Sarnya. He is very strongly entrenched; but eventually it can be done; and when it is, it shall be stipulated that you are to be chief of staff. All that you have to do is to give me a letter to Ferdinand, telling him that I am your good friend and his; and that he may trust me implicitly.” Kolchav stopped and waited.

Max was suddenly a little frightened. “Who are you, Kolchav?” he demanded. “How do I know that you are not one of Sarnya’s spies?”

“You don’t know,” Kolchav assured him, with a smile. “But I am not. I am only a simple old man who loves his country. However, if I were one of Sarnya’s pies, you have already said enough to hang you several times over; so you might as well trust me. You will find me a good friend to have. I shall even arrange to have money sent to you regularly while you are in exile.”

.     .     .     .     .

The cobbler’s pretty daughter had married a bookkeeper who belonged to the revolutionary party of which Meyer was the patron saint, and who was so terrified at the thought of it that sometimes he could not sleep at night. He really was not at all the type that makes a successful revolutionist, and would have far better graced the Young Men’s Christian Association or the Campfire Girls. He had other things to terrify him besides being a revolutionary. One was that Hilda de Groot and Crown Prince Ferdinand met at his home clandestinely; another was that his revolutionary friends might find it out; another was that the king might find it out. Altogether, William Wesl was a most unhappy benedict. He was about to be made more unhappy.

One evening, when he returned home from work, a mysterious stranger stepped up to him at his own door and thrust a message into his hand and disappeared around a corner into an alley. When William got inside the house he was afraid to open the letter. After he opened it behind a locked door in the inviolable seclusion of the toilet, he was frankly terrified, for even before he read the message he saw the signature at the bottom—a rough drawing of a dagger, the lower end of the blade of which had been significantly decorated with red ink. This was the symbol of the feared inner circle of the Revolutionary Party, grandiloquently known as The Terrorists. The message was short and to the point. It directed him to go to a certain corner at ten o’clock that night and follow a man whom he would find waiting there. William Wesl was not very good company for the cobbler’s pretty daughter that evening at dinner or afterward. He seemed preoccupied, and when he announced that he would have to return to the office that evening, the cobbler’s daughter became suspicious. She imagined several things, but principally blondes and brunettes; so there was a scene, and finally William had to tell her the truth; and then she was terrified, for she had known nothing of his connection with the revolutionists. Because of her relationship with Ferdinand and Maximilian, she was a staunch royalist; and as such she was terrified at the thought that her husband was a revolutionist. The full extent of the complications that might result were beyond her limited reasoning faculties, but she apprehended the worst.

At ten o’clock William found his guide at the appointed place and followed him through the dimly lighted streets of a poorer section of the city to a small inn, where he was conducted to a small back room and told to wait; then his guide departed. During the next few minutes Wesl lived a lifetime of agonizing apprehension. He could think of but one reason why The Terrorists wished to see him—they wanted him to assassinate some one. He was glad that no one knew that Ferdinand came to his home. It was fortunate that Ferdinand had been so very circumspect in the matter of his assignations. He had assured William that it was not possible for anyone to know that he visited the Wesl ménage. Perhaps they wanted him to assassinate the King! William shuddered, and he was still shuddering when an elderly gentleman entered the room and called him by name. This man did not look at all like a Terrorist—he looked more like a college professor.

“I have sent for you, Wesl,” said Andresy, “because you or your wife sees Prince Ferdinand often.” William gulped and turned white. “It is nothing,” he hastened to explain. “We cannot help it if he comes to our house. We do not want him to come.”

“I understand,” said Andresy. “I know all about it. He comes to meet the daughter of Martin de Groot, who was once chief gardener at the palace. Now what I want you to do is to get this letter to Ferdinand and bring me his reply. Do not give it to him yourself. Give it to your wife and have her give it to Hilda de Groot to give to Ferdinand. Neither woman must tell from whom she received the letter. Let each say that a stranger handed it to her on the street. Thus it will be impossible to trace it to me or to you if anything goes wrong. Let each woman understand that death will be the portion of the one who fails to observe these instructions. Ferdinand’s reply must be handled similarly. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir,” said William, taking the letter.

.     .     .     .     .

Crown Prince Ferdinand sat on the edge of General Count Sarnya’s desk tapping his boot with a riding crop. He was visibly ill at ease. He hated Sarnya and had reason to suspect that Sarnya fully reciprocated his sentiments; so it was embarrassing to have to ask a favor of him. It was just another point to add to the score against Sarnya, the score that would be more than wiped out when Ferdinand became king.

“You recall the case of Lieutenant Carlyn, Count?” asked Ferdinand. “He was cashiered several years ago on account of some irregularity in the matter of a gambling debt, I think it was.”

“I seem to recall it rather vaguely,” replied Sarnya. “What about it?”

“Some of his fellow officers feel that an injustice was done him, and they have been importuning me to have him reinstated in the army. I have investigated the matter thoroughly, and I shall consider it a personal favor if you will see that he is returned to duty without loss of grades.”

Now, Carlyn meant nothing to Sarnya; but he was glad of an opportunity to grant Ferdinand a favor, something that rarely occurred.

“I shall issue the necessary orders at once,” he said.

.     .     .     .     .

“Well,” asked Carlyn as he entered the little back room where Andresy was enjoying a bottle of wine, “it has been some time since I saw you. Have you had any luck with the bad little boy of the palace?”

“Yes, I have seen him twice. He is absolutely ours. He has agreed to everything. I even believe that the dirty little louse would kill Otto himself to become king, if there was no other way. I saw him again last night after he had talked with Sarnya. The orders for your reinstatement without loss of grades has already been issued. That, of course, will take time. We must not arouse suspicion. Now, you must watch your step, Carlyn; no more marked cards or anything like that. You must be a model officer.”

“You accuse me of cheating at cards?” demanded Carlyn angrily, springing to his feet.

“Sit down!” snapped Andresy. “Let us be honest with one another. You can’t fool me; I know all about you, Carlyn. I think none the less of you because you are a card sharp and a trickster. It is well for the cause that I do know these things, otherwise I might trust you too far and not keep the careful watch on you that I do.”

Carlyn sank back into his chair with a shrug. “Oh, well, what of it? I am not a cheat by choice. My mother bequeathed me extravagant tastes and my father left me no money.”

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