The Lad and the Lion

Chapter Fifteen

Edgar Rice Burroughs

FERDINAND and Maria had gone on no honeymoon. Europe was jittery; and no country had extended any invitation, either enthusiastic or otherwise, for the newlyweds to visit it, notwithstanding the fact that several of them had been given ample opportunity—Crown Princes and Crown Princesses offered too tempting a target for assassins; so Ferdinand and Maria had had to be content with the hunting lodge, and even that had been very heavily guarded.

Neither of them had had a very pleasant time. Ferdinand was always thinking of Hilda, and Maria was always thinking of her horse face and buckteeth, to say nothing of her bones and her age. Ferdinand didn’t help matters any, for he didn’t even attempt to be decent to her. He spent his days playing golf or tennis with someone else, and his evenings playing poker with his aides and cronies until long after Maria had gone to sleep.

When they returned to the capital, they went to live at the palace; for Otto could not afford as many palaces as the kings in novels and motion pictures; then they settled down to the humdrum of small-time courtlife and hating one another.

.     .     .     .     .

Sarnya and King Otto were discussing problems of State. These related mostly to the purchase of new bombers and other contrivances wherewith to discourage overpopulation of potential enemy countries, and other ways and means of disbursing the generous loan which the unhappy Maria had made possible. While they were talking, Ferdinand came in. They both looked up at him questioningly, their countenances unwreathed in welcoming smiles. Whenever Ferdinand honored them with a visit they were perfectly sure that he was going to ask something of them that they would not want to grant—usually more money.

“Good morning,” said Ferdinand.

“Good morning,” replied Otto. Sarnya said nothing.

“Isn’t it about time that Count Lomsk be permitted to return from exile?” asked Ferdinand. “It seems to me that he has been punished enough. Anyway, he never did anything very bad; and I should like to have him back.”

“Why?” asked the King.

“Because he plays a good game of tennis and will help me to forget Maria,” explained Ferdinand.

“You are a nasty little cad to speak that way of your wife,” said Otto, reprovingly.

“I didn’t choose her,” Ferdinand reminded; “it was you; and you ought to do something to make it easier for me, if anything ever can.”

“Well,” said the King, secretly relieved that Ferdinand had not tasked for more money, “I see no objection to permitting him to return.”

“I do,” said Sarnya.

The others looked at him questioningly. “You would,” growled Ferdinand.

“What are your reasons, Sarnya?” asked the King.

“He talks too much, he keeps bad company, and he is receiving money from some secret source,” explained Sarnya. “We are trying to find out what that source is. We should, therefore, leave him there at least until we have discovered who is financing him and why.”

So that was that.

.     .     .     .     .

One morning Andresy received a message. It was quite short and cryptic. “Tomorrow at midnight,” it read; but Andresy read a great deal more in it than those three words, and he immediately got busy.

An hour later William Wesl received a message. It, too, was short; but it was quite understandable to William. It said, “Tonight at the—same place,” and it was signed with a dagger that had red ink on the blade. William wondered what the other clerks would think if they knew he had just received a summons from The Terrorists. It made him feel very important; but it also nearly scared the pants off him, as the French so quaintly put it. He spent the rest of the day wondering what they wanted of him this time, and was quite certain that at last he was going to be asked to assassinate someone. Now, William didn’t want to assassinate anyone. If he could have confined his revolutionary activities to scowling, he would have been perfectly content. The effect upon him of the note was such that the manager had to reprimand him twice and finally threaten him with discharge if he didn’t pay more and better attention to his work. But at last the hideous day was over, and William was at home. When he told the cobbler’s daughter about the note she nearly had hysterics. She was not a revolutionary and she didn’t want William to be. As a matter of fact, William didn’t want to be; but, as he explained to the cobbler’s daughter, once a revolutionist, always a revolutionist or—a corpse. She said she thought she would go and tell the police; but when she saw how near William came to throwing a fit, she decided that she would not. William finally convinced her that not only his life but hers was at stake—if she reported the matter to the police they would probably shoot him and The Terrorists would kill her. It was the latter argument that prevailed.

When William had been guided to his destination that night, he found himself in the presence of but one man. Andresy showed him a map. It was a map of the palace grounds.

“Now listen very attentively to what I have to say,” directed Andresy, “and then repeat it. Fix this map in your mind. Here is a postern gate in the garden wall. You will present yourself there at exactly midnight tomorrow. Be sure to wear gloves. Do not look at the person who admits you. Walk straight ahead to the fountain; then turn squarely to your left and walk toward the palace. When you are about twenty feet from the building, stop. Here is a letter. Put it in your pocket. When a man comes up to you and says, ‘Give me the letter’ give it to him; then you will be through. You may go out the postern gate and go home.”

“Is that all?” asked William.

“That is all,” replied Andresy.

“I don’t have to shoot anybody?” “No; what put that in your head?” “I don’t know; I—I just thought maybe —” Andresy laughed. “No, you won’t have to shoot anybody; and be very sure that you don’t carry any weapon of any kind.” William breathed a sigh of relief. “Of course,” he said, “I wouldn’t mind killing someone for the cause, only I’m a very poor shot.” “Now go back home,” said Andresy, “and keep your mouth shut. Don’t tell anyone what you are going to do, especially your wife. Do you understand?” “Yes, sir,” said William.

.     .     .     .     .

The Italian ambassador waited on the King in the morning. He expressed the felicitations of Il Duce himself, and incidentally of Victor Emmanuel III; then came the ambassador from Germany; and after him, those of France and Great Britain. There was the smell of armaments in the air—armaments and orders. Otto had not felt so important for years. He could almost have kissed Maria—almost, but not quite. He sent for the Officer of the Guard. When he came, the King looked surprised. He did not recognize the man, and he thought that he knew every officer of The Guards.

“Who are you?” he demanded.

“I am Captain Carlyn, sir, Officer of the Guard. I was told to report to you.”

“Oh, yes,” said Otto; “I seem to recall the name. Let’s see; you’re a friend of the Crown Prince, are you not?”

“His Royal Highness has been so gracious as to befriend me, sir,” replied Carlyn.

“Yes, yes,” said Otto. “I wish to inspect the 10th Regiment of Cavalry today. You will make the necessary arrangements. I shall be there at three o’clock this afternoon.”

.     .     .     .     .

“I have to go out tonight,” said William, after dinner, “but you must not ask me where I am going. It is very important business for the cause. I am becoming a most important person in the inner circles. After the revolution, there is no telling what I may be—a cabinet minister, perhaps. We shall have a car of our own, then; and maybe we shall live in a palace. When the people get what belongs to them, we shall all live in palaces.”

“There are not enough palaces,” said the cobbler’s daughter, “and anyway I should not care to take care of a palace. I have enough work to do taking care of three rooms now.”

“Don’t be silly,” said William. “You will have many servants.”

“How can I have servants if everyone is going to live in a palace? Do you suppose people would leave their palaces to come and work for us?”

William scratched his head. “That is the trouble with you women,” he said; “you never understand anything. These are matters for men.”

.     .     .     .     .

It was just midnight as William approached the postern gate. He was quite nervous, but he did just as he had been instructed to do. When the gate opened, he walked in without looking to right or left and went straight to the fountain; then he turned to the left and walked to within about twenty feet of the palace. Most of the windows in that wing of the palace were dark, and there were only a few dim lights in the grounds outside. It was quite dark where William stood because the King’s bedchamber was on that side of the palace, on the second floor, just above William; and the King did not like to have lights shining into his room.

William put his hand in his pocket to make sure that he still had the letter he was supposed to deliver to some mysterious person. He crumpled it a little in searching for it, because of the gloves he wore. He wondered why it had been necessary for him to wear gloves. Those Terrorists were certainly peculiar people. Everything they did seemed most unusual to William, but then it was just as well to do what they said to do and ask no questions. He thought he had gotten off very well indeed in having been asked merely to deliver a letter instead of having to assassinate someone and get himself shot or hanged. He felt quite important, but he also felt a little nervous. Suppose someone should come and ask him what he was doing in the palace gardens. Andresy had told him what to say in such an eventuality, but William could visualize far-reaching repercussions of such a reply. He had been told to say that he had an assignation with a scullery maid who was employed in the palace. He was even given the maid’s name. That would be a very difficult thing to explain to the cobbler’s pretty daughter. William heard the clock strike half past twelve then one. He wished that the mysterious stranger would come and get his letter. William was getting sleepy.

As the clock struck half past one, William heard two shots. They came from the interior of the palace, directly I above him; then something struck the ground close to him. He did not see what it was.

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