The House of the Four Winds, by John Buchan

Chapter 8

Splendide Mendax

Jaikie’s captors, whoever they were, meant business. Before the sack was slipped over his head a cloth, sticky and sweet-smelling, was twisted round his mouth. He was vaguely aware of struggling against an immense suffocating eiderdown, and that was his last conscious moment for perhaps ten minutes. These minutes should have been hours if the intentions of his ill-wishers had been fulfilled. But in Jaikie they had struck a being oddly constituted. Just as it was nearly impossible to make him drunk, so he was notably insensitive to other forms of dope. Had he ever had to face a major operation, the anæsthetist would have had a difficult time with him. Moreover, his nose had come into contact with something hard and was bleeding copiously, which may have counteracted the stuff on the bandage. The consequence was that he presently regained his senses, and found himself in a position of intense bodily discomfort. He was being borne swiftly along by persons who treated him with no more respect than as if he were a bundle of faggots.

He was a good deal frightened, but his anger was greater than his fright, and it was directed against himself. For the third time within a week he had stumbled blindly into captivity — first Ashie, then Ivar that very day, and now some enemy unknown. What had become of the caution on which he had prided himself? He had been an easy victim, because he had had no thought for anything but the immediate future, and had not recognised that he had been walking among hidden fires. He reproached himself bitterly. Ashie had trusted him, Prince Odalchini had trusted him, and he had proved himself only a blundering child. What especially rankled was that he must break his pledge to Ivar. That dutiful youth would be looking for him near the boundary of the park, and would set him down as a common liar.

Indignation, especially against one’s self, is a wonderful antidote to fear. It also tends to sharpen the wits. Jaikie, with a horrid crick in his neck and a back aching from rough treatment, began to think hard and fast. Who was responsible for this outrage? Certainly not Prince Odalchini or anyone connected with the House of the Four Winds. Not Juventus. Ivar was the only Greenshirt who knew of his visit to the castle, and Ivar was too much of a gentleman to resort to these brigand tricks. So far his conclusions were clear, but they were only negative. Who would want to capture him? Somebody who knew about his new job? — But the only people in the secret were his friends in the castle. Somebody who had a grudge against Prince Odalchini? — But that could only be Juventus, and he had ruled Juventus out. Somebody who had a grievance against himself? — But he was a humble stranger unknown in Evallonia. Somebody who hated Juventus and the Prince alike and who suspected him as a liaison between them? — Now, who filled that bill? Only the present Republican Government in Evallonia. But all his information was to the effect that that Government was shaking in its shoes, and that its members were making their best speed to the frontier. They could have neither leisure nor inclination to spy thus effectively on a castle at whose gates the myrmidons of Juventus were sitting.

And then suddenly he remembered what Ashie had told him and Prince Odalchini had repeated. Behind the effete Republic was a stronger and darker power. . . . A horrid memory of Mastrovin came to his mind, the face which had glowered on him in the room in the Portaway Hydropathic, the face which he had seen distorted with fury in the library of Castle Gay — the heavy shaven chin, the lowering brows, the small penetrating eyes — the face which Red Davie had described as that of a maker of revolutions. . . . The thought that he might be in Mastrovin’s hands sent a shiver down his aching spine. The man had tried to kidnap Prince John and had been foiled by Alison. He must be desperate with all his plans in confusion, a mad dog ready to tear whatever enemy he could get his fangs into.

Jaikie’s fears must have stopped well short of panic, for he had enough power of reflection left to wonder where he was being taken. He was no longer in the park or the garden, for the feet of his bearers sounded as if they were on some kind of pavement. He had an impression, too, that he was not in the open air, but inside a masoned building. It could not be the castle, for he had heard that evening from Alison of her entry through the cellars and the difficulties of the route; if that approach was so meticulously guarded, it was probable that the same precautions had been taken with all. . . . And then it occurred to him that, since the great building abutted on the town of Tarta, there must be other ways into the streets from the park, through outhouses and curtilages, for once the burgh had been virtually part of the castle. No doubt these were now disused and blocked up, but some knowledge of them might linger in queer places.

His guess was confirmed, for presently it was plain that his bearers were in a low and narrow passage. There seemed to be at least three of them, and they went now in Indian file — crouching as he could tell from their movements, and now and then pushing him before them. He felt his legs grating on rough stone. Once his foot caught in a crevice, and his ankle was nearly twisted when it was dragged out of it. The place was a sort of drain, and it seemed to him miles long; the air was warm and foul, and he was inert not from policy, but from necessity, for he could hardly breathe inside the sack. Once or twice his bearers seemed to be at fault, for they stopped and consulted in muffled voices. These halts were the worst of all, for there loomed before Jaikie the vision of the death of a sewer rat.

Then the passage manifestly widened, the air grew fresher, and there came the sound of flowing water. He remembered that he had seen runnels of water in the Tarta streets, effluents from the Rave, and he realised that he had been right — they were now underneath the town. After that he was only dimly conscious of his whereabouts. He believed that the party were ascending — not stairs, but an inclined tunnel. There came a point in which they moved with extreme caution, as if people were near, people who must not hear or see them. There followed the grating of an opening door, then another and another, and even through the folds of the sack Jaikie recognised that they were in some kind of dwelling. There was the feel in the air of contiguity to human uses. . . .

The end came when he was suddenly dumped on a wooden floor, and one of the party struck a light. The sack was taken from his head, and he was laid on a truckle-bed where were some rough blankets and an unbleached pillow. He had already decided upon his course, so he kept his eyes shut and breathed heavily as if he were still under the opiate. The three men left the room, taking the candle with them, and locking the door behind them, so that all he saw was their retreating backs and these told him nothing. They looked big fellows in nondescript clothes, indoor or outdoor servants.

Jaikie’s first feeling was of intense relief. Whatever happened to him, at any rate he was not going to be stifled in a drain. He lay for a little breathing free air and gasping like a fish on the shingle. His second feeling was that all his bones were broken, but that he was too tired to care. There were various other feelings, but they all blended into a profound fatigue. In about three minutes Jaikie was asleep.

He must have slept a round of the clock, and he awoke in a state of comparative bodily ease, for Rugby football had inured him to rough handling. The room was a small one, evidently little used, for it had no furniture but a bed; it looked like an attic in an unprosperous inn. Its one dormer window looked over a jumble of roofs to a large blank wall. But since it faced east, it caught the morning sunlight, and the dawn of the wholesome day had its effect on Jaikie’s spirits. The ugly little fluttering at his heart had gone. He had only himself to thank for his troubles, he decided, and whatever was in store for him he must keep his head, and not be the blind fool of the past week. He had awakened with one thought in his mind. Prince John was the trump card. It was Prince John that Mastrovin was looking for — if indeed Mastrovin was his captor — and it was for him, Jaikie, to be very wary at this point. Was there any way in which he could turn his present predicament to the advantage of his mission? He had a shadow of a notion that there might be.

The door was unlocked and breakfast was brought him, not by one of his bearers of the night before, but by an ancient woman with a not unpleasing face. She gave him “Grüss Gott” in a friendly voice. Since she spoke German like all the Tarta people, and since the breakfast of coffee and fresh rolls looked good, he was encouraged to ask for some means of washing. She nodded, and fetched a tin basin of water, soap, a towel, a cracked mirror and a broken comb, doubtless part of her own toilet equipment. Jaikie washed the blood from his face, scrubbed from his hands some of the grime of last night’s cellars, dusted his clothes, and tidied up his unruly hair. Then he made a hearty meal, lit a pipe and lay down on the bed to think.

He was not left long to his reflections. The door opened and two men entered, who may or may not have been his captors. They were clearly not countrymen, for they had the pallor of indoor workers, and the stoop which comes from bending many hours in the day. They had solemn flat faces with a touch of the Mongol in them, and one of them very civilly restored to Jaikie a knife which had dropped out of his pocket. They beckoned to him to follow them, and when he obeyed readily they forbore to take his arm, but one went before and one behind him. He was escorted down a narrow wooden staircase, and along a passage to a room at the door of which they knocked ceremonially. Jaikie found himself thrust into a place bright with the morning sun, where two men sat smoking at a table.

He recognised them both. One was a tall man with a scraggy neck and a red, pointed beard, a creature of whipcord muscles and large lean bones, who seemed to be strung on wires, for his fingers kept tapping the table, and his eyelids were always twitching. Jaikie remembered his name — it was Dedekind, who had been left with the Jew Rosenbaum to keep guard in the Castle Gay library when the others searched the house. The second was beyond doubt Mastrovin, a little older, a little balder, but formidable as ever. It was not the library scene that filled Jaikie’s mind as he looked at them, but that earlier episode, in the upper room of the Portaway Hydropathic, when they had cross-examined an alcoholic little journalist. That scene stuck in his memory, for it had been for him one of gross humiliation. They had bullied him, and he had had to submit to be bullied, and that he could not forget. Hate was a passion in which he rarely indulged, but he realised that he cordially hated Mastrovin.

Could they recognise him? Impossible, he thought, for there could be no link between that cringing little rat and the part he now meant to play. He also was two years older, and in youth one changes fast. So he confronted the two men with a face of cold wrath, but there was a tremor beneath his coolness, for Mastrovin’s horrid little eyes were very keen.

“Your name?” Mastrovin barked. “You are English?”

“I should like to know first of all who you are and what you mean by your insolence?” Jaikie spoke in the precise accent of a Cambridge don, very unlike the speech of the former reporter of the Craw Press.

Mastrovin bent his heavy brows. “You will be wise to be civil — and obedient. You are in our power. You have been found at suspicious work. We are not men to be trifled with. You will speak, or you will be made to speak, and if you lie you will suffer for it. A second time, your name?”

For some obscure reason the man’s tone made Jaikie feel more cheerful. This was common vulgar bullying, bluffing on a poor hand. He thought fast. Who did they think he was? He had noticed that at the first sight of him the faces of both men had fallen. Had he been arrested because they believed that he was Prince John?

“I am English,” he said. “An English traveller. Is this the way that Evallonia welcomes visitors?”

“You are English, no doubt, and therefore you are suspect. It is known that the English are closely allied with those who are plotting against our Government.”

“Oh, I see.” Jaikie shrugged his shoulders and grinned. “You think I’m taking a hand in your politics. Well, I’m not. I don’t know the first thing about them, and I care less. But if you’re acting on behalf of the Government, then I daresay you’re right to question me. I’ll tell you everything about myself, for I’ve nothing to conceal. My name is John Galt. I’ve been an undergraduate at Cambridge and I have just finished with the University. I’ve been taking a holiday walking across Europe, and I came into Evallonia exactly four days ago. I’ll give you every detail about what I’ve been doing since.”

While smoking his after-breakfast pipe, he had made up his mind on his course. He would tell the literal truth, which he hoped to season with one final and enormous lie.

“You have proof of what you say?” Mastrovin asked.

Jaikie took from his breast pocket the whole of its contents, which were not compromising. There was a lean pocket-book with very little money in it, his passport, the stump of a cheque book, and one or two Cambridge bills. Fortunately, Alison’s letters from Unnutz were in his rucksack.

“There’s every paper I’ve got,” he said and laid them on the table.

Mastrovin studied the bundle and passed it to Dedekind.

“Now you will recount all your doings since you came to Tarta. Be careful. Your story can be checked.”

Jaikie obliged with a minute recital. He described his meeting with his Cambridge friend, Count Paul Jovian. He explained that he knew Prince Odalchini slightly and had letters to him, and that he had called on him at the castle and stayed to lunch. He described his ambush by Ashie, and his life in the Juventus camp. On this Mastrovin asked him many questions, to which he replied with a great air of unintelligent honesty. “They were always drilling and having powwows,” he said, “but I couldn’t make out what they were after. All I did was to play football. I’m rather good at that, for I play for Scotland.”

“Now we will have your doings of yesterday,” said Mastrovin grimly.

Jaikie replied with expansive details. “I was getting tired of the camp. You see, I was a sort of prisoner, though Heaven knows why. I suppose it had something to do with your soda-water politics. Anyway, I was fed up and wanted a change — besides, I had promised to see Prince Odalchini again. So I slipped out of the camp and had a pretty difficult time getting into the castle grounds. The Juventus people were patrolling everywhere, and I had a bit of a scrap with one of them. Then I had a still more difficult time getting inside the castle. I had to climb in like a cat-burglar.” Jaikie enlarged with gusto on the sensational nature of that climb, for he believed that Mastrovin’s people had been somewhere on the terrace and must have seen him. It looked as if the guess was correct, for Mastrovin seemed to accept his story.

“Within the castle you saw — whom?” he barked. He had a most unpleasant intimidating voice.

“I saw the Prince, and dined with him. There were one or two other people there, but I didn’t catch their names. One was an English Member of Parliament, I think.”

“So!” Mastrovin nodded to Dedekind. “And when you had dined you left? Where were you going?”

“I was going back to the camp. I hadn’t given my parole or anything of the kind, but I felt that I was behaving badly to my friend. Though he had made me prisoner he treated me well, and I am very fond of him. I proposed to go back and tell him what I had done.”

“He knew of your visit to the castle?”

“Not he. I took French leave. But I didn’t like to leave Evallonia without having an explanation with him. Besides, I doubt if I could have managed it with his scouts everywhere. When your ruffians laid hands on me, I was going back the way I had come in the morning.”

Mastrovin talked for a little with Dedekind in a tongue unknown to Jaikie. Then he turned upon him again his hanging countenance.

“You may be speaking the truth. You say you have no interest in the affairs of Evallonia. If that be so, you can have no objection to doing the Government of the Republic a service. It is threatened by many enemies, with some of whom you have been consorting. You must have heard talk — much talk — in the camp of your friend Jovian and in the castle of Prince Odalchini. You will tell me all that you heard. It will be to your interest, Mr Galt, to be frank, and it will be very much to your disadvantage to be stubborn.”

Jaikie put up a very creditable piece of acting. He managed to produce some sort of flush on his pale face, and he put all the righteous indignation he could muster into his eyes. It was not all acting, for once again this man was threatening him, and he felt that little shiver along the forehead which was a sign of the coming of one of his cold furies.

“What the devil do you mean? Do you think that I spy on my friends? I know that Juventus is opposed to your Government, and being a stranger I take no sides. There was much talk in the camp, and I didn’t understand what it was all about. But if I had I would see you and your Government in Tophet before I repeated it.”

Dedekind looked ugly and whispered something to Mastrovin, which was no doubt a suggestion that means might be found for making Jaikie speak. Mastrovin whispered back what may have been an assurance that such means would come later. Jaikie could not tell, for he knew no Evallonian. But he was a little nervous lest he should have gone too far. He did not want to put a premature end to these interrogations.

Mastrovin’s next words reassured him. He actually forced his heavy face into a show of friendliness.

“I respect your scruples,” he said. “We have no desire to outrage your sense of honour. Besides, there is not much that Juventus does of which we are not fully informed. They are our declared enemies and against them we use the methods of war. But your friend Prince Odalchini is surely in a different case. He has lived peacefully under republican rule, though he has no doubt a preference for a monarchy. We bear him no ill-will, but we are anxious that he should not compromise himself by an alliance with Juventus. It was for that reason that you were brought here, that we might probe what relation there was between the two, for we were aware that you had come from the Juventus camp. You can have no objection to telling us what is Prince Odalchini’s frame of mind and what things were spoken of in the castle.”

Jaikie smiled pleasantly. “That’s another pair of shoes. . . . The Prince is sick of politics. He is angry with Juventus, and asked me pretty much the same questions as you. But he is an old man and a tired one, and all he wants is to be left alone. He doesn’t like these patrols sitting round his park and letting nobody in that they don’t approve of. When I met him in England he was a strong Monarchist, but I don’t think there is much royalism left in him now.”

Mastrovin was interested. “No? And why?”

“Because he thinks the Monarchists so feeble. He was very strong on that point with the English Member of Parliament — what was his name? Sir Archibald Something-or-other.” Jaikie was now talking like a man wholly at his ease.

“He thinks them feeble, does he? What are his reasons?”

“Well, one of them is that they have mislaid their trump card — their Prince John. I must say that sounds fairly incompetent.”

“So he said that?” Mastrovin’s interest had quickened.

“Yes. But it wasn’t only losing Prince John that he blamed them for, but for their failure to discover who had got him. It seems that they believe he has been kidnapped by your people, or rather by the left wing of your people. Prince Odalchini mentioned a name — something like Merovingian — it began with an M, anyway. But that appears to have been a completely false scent.”

“Prince Odalchini thinks it a false scent?” Mastrovin’s voice was suddenly quiet and gentle.

“Yes, because they now know where he is.” Jaikie had ceased to be a witness in the box, and was talking easily as if to a club acquaintance. He launched his mendacious bomb-shell in the most casual tone, as if it were only a matter of academic interest. “It’s Juventus that have Prince John. Not the lot here, but the division a hundred miles south that is holding the oil-fields. There’s a woman in command. I remember her name, because it was so fantastic — the Countess Araminta Troyos.”

There was dead silence for a second or two. Mastrovin’s eyes were on the table, and Dedekind’s fingers ceased to beat their endless tattoo.

“So you see,” Jaikie concluded lightly, “Prince Odalchini is naturally sick of the whole business. I would like to see him out of the country altogether, for Evallonia at present seems to me no place for an old gentleman who only asks for a quiet life.”

Mastrovin spoke at last. If Jaikie’s news was a shock to him he did not show it. He was smiling like a large, sleepy cat.

“What you tell us is very interesting,” he said. “But we have much more to learn from you, Mr Galt.”

“I can’t tell you anything more.”

“I think you can. At any rate, we will endeavour to help your memory.”

Jaikie, who had been rather pleased with himself, found his heart sink. There was a horrid menace behind that purring voice. Only the little shiver across his forehead kept him cool.

“I demand to be released at once,” he said. “As an Englishman you dare not interfere with me, since you have nothing against me.”

“You propose?”

“To go back to the Juventus camp, and then to go home to England.”

“The first cannot be permitted. The second — well, the second depends on many things. Whether you will ever see England again rests with yourself. In the meantime you will remain in our charge — and at our orders.”

He rasped out the last words in a voice from which every trace of urbanity had departed. His face, too, was as Jaikie remembered it in the Canonry, a mask of ruthlessness.

And then, like an echo of his stridency, came a grinding at the door. It was locked and someone without was aware of that fact and disliked it. There was a sound of a heavy body applied to it, and, since the thing was flimsy, the lock gave and it flew open. Jaikie’s astonished eyes saw a young Greenshirt officer, and behind him a quartet of hefty Juventus privates.

He learned afterwards the explanation of this opportune appearance. A considerable addition had been made to Ashie’s wing, and it was proposed to billet the newcomers in the town. Accordingly a billeting party had been despatched to arrange for quarters, and it had begun with the principal inns. At this particular inn, which stood in a retired alley, the landlord had not been forthcoming, so the party had explored on their own account the capacities of the building. They had found their way obstructed by sundry odd-looking persons, and, since Juventus did not stand on ceremony, had summarily removed them from their path. A locked door to people in their mood seemed an insult, and they had not hesitated to break it open.

With one eye Jaikie saw that Mastrovin and Dedekind had their fingers on pistol triggers. With the other he saw that the Greenshirt had no inkling who the two were. His first thought was to denounce them, but it was at once discarded. That would mean shooting, and he considered it likely that he himself would stop a bullet. Besides, he had at the back of his head a notion that Mastrovin might malgré lui prove useful. By a fortunate chance he knew the officer, who had been the hooker of the forwards against whom he had played football, and to whom he had afterwards been introduced. He saw, too, that he was recognised. So he gave the Juventus salute and held out his hand.

“I’m very glad to see you,” he said. “I was just coming to look for you. I surrender myself to you. It’s your business to arrest me and take me back to camp. The fact is, I broke bounds yesterday and went on the spree. No, there was no parole. I meant to return last night, but I was detained. I shall have to have it out with the Praefectus. I deserve to be put in irons, but I don’t think he’ll be very angry, for I have a good many important things to tell him.” Jaikie had managed to sidle towards the door, so that he was close to the Greenshirts.

The officer was puzzled. He recognised Jaikie as a friend of the Praefectus and one for whose football capacities he had acquired a profound respect. Moreover, the frankness of his confession of irregular conduct disarmed him.

“Why should I arrest you?” he stammered in his indifferent English.

“Because I am an escaped prisoner. Discipline’s discipline, you know, though a breach of it now and then may be good business.”

The young officer glanced at the morose figures at the table. Happily he did not see the pistols which they fingered. “Who are these?” he asked.

“Two people staying in this inn. Bagmen — of no consequence. . . . By the way, I wonder what fool locked that door?”

The young man laughed. “It is a queer place this, and I do not like it. Few of the rooms are furnished, and the landlord has vanished, leaving only boorish servants. But I have to find billets for three companies before evening, and in these times one cannot be fastidious.” He paused. “You are not — how do you say it? — pulling my foot?”

“Lord, no. I’m deadly serious, and the sooner I see the Praefectus the better.”

“Then I will detail two men to escort you back to camp. We will leave this place, which is as bare as a rabbit-warren. I apologise, sirs, for my intrusion.” He bowed to the two men at the table, and, to Jaikie’s amusement, they stood up and solemnly bowed in return.

Jaikie spent a somnolent afternoon in the tent of the Praefectus, outside of which, at his own request, an armed sentry stood on guard.

“Don’t curse me, Ashie,” he said when its owner returned. “I know I’ve broken all the rules, so you’ve got to pretend to treat me rough. Better say you’re deporting me to headquarters for punishment. I want some solid hours of your undivided attention this evening, for I’ve the deuce of a lot to tell you. After dinner will be all right. Meantime, I want a large-scale map of Evallonia — one with the Juventus positions marked on it would be best. Any word of the Countess Araminta?”

“Yes, confound her! She has started to move. Moving on Krovolin, which is the Monarchists’ headquarters. Devil take her for an abandoned hussy. Any moment she may land us in bloody war.”

“All the more reason why you and I should get busy,” said Jaikie.

“You have blood on your forehead,” Ashie told him that evening, when at last the Praefectus was free from his duties. “Have you been in a scrap?”

“That comes of having a rotten mirror. I thought I had washed it all off. No, I had no scrap, but I got my nose bled. By Mastrovin — or rather by one of his minions.”

Ashie’s eyes opened. “You seem to have been seeing life. Get on with your story, Jaikie. We’re by ourselves, and if you tantalise me any longer I’ll put you in irons.”

Jaikie told the last part first — a sober narrative of kidnapping, an unpleasant journey, a night’s lodging, a strictly truthful talk with two dangerous men, and the opportune coming of the Greenshirt patrol. Ashie whistled.

“You were in a worse danger than you knew. I almost wish it had come to shooting, for there were enough Greenshirts in Tarta this morning to pull that inn down stone by stone. I should love to see Mastrovin in his grave. But I daresay he would have taken you with him, and that would never do. . . . Well, I’ve got the end of your tale. Now get back to the beginning. How did you get into the park?”

“Easily enough, but your people made it a slow business. By the way, I wish you would have up a lad called Ivar and explain to him that I was unavoidably prevented from keeping my engagement with him. He’s a pleasant chap, and I shouldn’t like him to think me a crook. The park was easy, but the castle was a tougher proposition. I had to do rather a fine bit of roof-climbing, and it was then that Mastrovin’s fellows saw me, when I was spidering about the battlements. However, in the end I found an open window and got inside and met a pleasant little party. English all of them, except Prince Odalchini.”

“Good Lord, what were they doing there?”

“Justifying Mastrovin’s suspicion that England is mixed up with the Evallonian Monarchists. I think they are going to be rather useful people, for they are precisely of your own way of thinking. So is Prince Odalchini, and he believes he can persuade Count Casimir and the rest of his crowd. At any rate, he is going to have a dashed good try.”

“But I don’t understand,” said the puzzled Ashie. “Persuade him about what?”

“Listen very carefully and you’ll hear, and prepare for shocks.” Jaikie proceeded to recount the conversation at the castle, and when he mentioned the Archduke Hadrian, Ashie sat up. “He’s my godfather,” he said; “but I never saw him. No one has. I thought he was dead.”

“Well, he isn’t. He’s alive but bedridden, and it’s only his name we want. Ashie, my dear, within a week the Monarchists are going to put the Archduke Hadrian on the throne. Only it won’t be the Archduke, but another, so to speak, of the same name. One of the visitors at the castle is sufficiently like him to pass for him — except with his intimates, of whom there aren’t any here. Then in another week Juventus butts in in all the majesty of its youth, ejects the dotard, and sets up Prince John, and everybody lives happy ever after.”

Ashie’s reactions to this startling disclosure were many. Bewilderment, doubt, incredulity, even a scandalised annoyance chased each other across his ingenuous face. But the final residuum was relief.

“Jaikie,” he asked hoarsely, “was that notion yours?”

“No. My line is tactics, not grand strategy. The notion came from the man who is going to play the part of the Archduke. He’s an old Scotsman, and his name is McCunn, and he’s the best friend I ever had in my life. Ashie, I want to ask a special favour of you. Mr McCunn is playing a bold game, and I’ll back him to see it through. I don’t know how much you’ll come into it yourself, but if you do I want you to do your best for him. There may be a rough-house or two before he escapes over the frontier, and if you have a chance, do him a good turn. Promise.”

“I promise,” said Ashie solemnly. “But for heaven’s sake tell me more.”

“YOU tell me something. Would the rank-and-file of Juventus stand for Prince John?”

“They would. Ninety-nine per cent. of them.” But his face was doubtful, so that Jaikie asked where the snag was.

“It’s Cousin Mintha. I don’t know how she’ll take it.”

“That’s my job. I’m off tomorrow at break of day. You’ll have to let me go, and find me a motor-bicycle.”

“You’re going to Mintha?”

“I must. Every man to his job, and that’s the one I’ve been allotted. I can’t say I fancy it. I’d sooner have had any other, but there it is, and I must make the best of it. You must give me all the tips you can think of.”

“You’d better get hold of Doctor Jagon first. He is Mintha’s chief counsellor.”

“Good. I know him — met him in Scotland. A loquacious old dog, but honest.”

“How are you going to get Prince John out of the Monarchist crowd into Mintha’s arms?”

“He isn’t with the Monarchists. He’s lost.”

“Lost! That spikes our guns.”

“Officially lost. He disappeared a few days ago from the place in the Tirol where Count Casimir had him hidden. The Count thought that Mastrovin had pinched him, and Mastrovin — well, I don’t know what Mastrovin thought, but he’s raking heaven and earth to find him. Nobody knows where he is except the little party that dined last night in the castle. That’s why Casimir will be friendly to the idea of the Archduke, for he has mislaid his Prince.”

“Where is he?” Ashie demanded.

“I had better not tell you. It would be wiser for you not to know — at present. But I promise you I can lay my finger on him whenever we want him. What you’ve got to do is to put it about that he’s with Juventus. That will prepare people’s minds and maybe force your cousin’s hand. I did a useful bit of work this morning, for I told Mastrovin that Prince John was with the Countess Araminta. That means, I hope, that he will go there after him and annoy your cousin into becoming a partisan.”

Ashie looked at his friend with admiration slightly tempered by awe.

“Mintha is a little devil,” he said slowly; “but she’s a turtle-dove compared to you.”

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32