When Jaikie saw who his captor was, his wrath ebbed. Had it been Prince Odalchini it would have been an outrage, but since it was Ashie, it was only an undergraduate “rag” which could easily be repaid in kind. But his demeanour was severe.
“What’s the meaning of these monkey tricks?” he demanded.
“The meaning is,” Ashie had ceased to smile, “that you have deceived me. What about your business with your circus friend? I had you followed — I was bound to take every precaution — and instead of feeding in a pot-house you run in circles like a hunted hare and end up at the Schloss. I had my men inside the park, and when I heard what you were up to I gave orders that you should be brought before me. You went straight from me to the enemy. What have you to say to that?”
Ashie’s words were firm, but there was dubiety in his voice and a hint of uncertainty in his eye; this the other observed, and the sight wholly removed his irritation. Ashie was talking like a book, but he was horribly embarrassed.
“Well, I’m blowed!” said Jaikie. “Who the blazes made you my keeper? Let’s get this straightened out at once. First, what I said was strictly true. I was going to lunch with my friend from the circus. If your tripe-hounds had been worth their keep they would have seen me meet him — a fellow with the name of the circus blazoned on his cap. The choice of a luncheon place was his own and I had nothing to do with it. As a matter of fact, I happened to know the man he took me to, Prince Odalchini — I met him two years ago in Scotland. Have you got that into your fat head?”
“Will you please give me the gist of your conversation with Prince Odalchini?”
“Why on earth should I? What has it got to do with you? But I’ll tell you one thing. He was very hospitable and wanted me to stay a bit with him — same as you. I said no, that I wanted to go home, and I was on my way back when I fell in with your push and got my head in a bag. What do you mean by it? I’m sorry to tell you that you have taken a liberty — and I don’t allow liberties.”
“Prince Odalchini is the enemy, and we are in a state of war.”
“Get off it. He’s not my enemy, and I don’t know anything about your local scraps. I told you I would have nothing to do with them, and I told the Prince the same.”
“So you talked of Evallonian affairs?” said Ashie.
“Certainly. What else was there to talk about? Not that he told me much, except that there was likely to be trouble and that he wanted me to stay on and see the fun. I told him I wasn’t interested in his tin-pot politics and I tell you the same.”
This had the effect which Jaikie intended, and made Ashie angry.
“I do not permit such language,” he said haughtily. “I do not tolerate insults to my country. Understand that you are not in your sleek England, but in a place where gentlemen defend their honour in the old way.”
“Oh, don’t be a melodramatic ass. I thought we had civilised you at Cambridge and given you a sense of humour, but you’ve relapsed into the noble savage. I’ve been in Evallonia less than one day and I know nothing about it. Your politics may be all the world to you, but they’re tin-pot to me. I refuse to be mixed up in them.”
“You’ve mixed yourself up in them by having intercourse with the enemy.”
“Enemy be blowed! I talked for an hour or two to a nice old man who gave me a dashed good luncheon, and now you come butting in with your detective-novel tricks. I demand to be deported at once. Otherwise I’ll raise the hairiest row about the kidnapping of a British subject. If you want international trouble, I promise you you’ll get it. I don’t know where we are, but here’s this car, and you’ve got to deliver me at Kremisch by bedtime. That’s the least you can do to make amends for your cheek.”
Jaikie looked out of the window and observed that they had halted on high ground, and that below them lights twinkled as if from an encampment. For a moment he thought that he had struck the Cirque Doré. And then a bugle sounded, an instrument not generally used in circuses. “Is that your crowd down there?” he asked.
Ashie’s face, even in the dim interior light of the car, showed perplexity. He seemed to be revolving some difficult question in his mind. When he spoke again there was both appeal and apology in his voice. Jaikie had an authority among his friends which was the stronger because he was wholly unconscious of it and in no way sought it. His personality was so clean-cut and his individuality so complete and secure that, while one or two gave him affection, all gave him respect.
“I’ll apologise if you like,” said Ashie. “I daresay what I did was an outrage. But the fact is, Jaikie, I badly want your help. Your advice, anyway. I’m in a difficult position, and I don’t see my road very clearly. You see, I’m an Evallonian, and this is Evallonian business, but I’ve got a little outside the atmosphere of my own country. That’s to the good, perhaps, for this thing is on the biggest scale and wants looking at all round it. That’s why I need your help. Give me one night, and I swear, if you still want me to, I’ll deliver you at Kremisch tomorrow morning and trouble you no more.”
Jaikie was the most placable of mortals, he had a strong liking for Ashie, and he was a little moved by the anxious sincerity of his voice. He had half expected this proposal.
“All right,” he said, “I’ll give you one night. Have your fellows pinched my kit?”
Ashie pointed to a knapsack on the floor of the car, which he promptly shouldered. “Let’s get out of this,” he said. He spoke a word to the driver, who skipped round and opened the door, standing stiffly at the salute. Then he led the way down the little slope into the meadow of the twinkling lights. Presently he had to give a pass-word, and three times had to halt for that purpose before they reached his tent. The gathering was far larger than that which Jaikie had seen at the Tarta bridge, and he noticed a considerable number of picketed horses.
“What are these chaps after?” he asked.
“We are riding the marches,” was the answer. “What at Cambridge they call beating the bounds. It is not desirable that for the present we should operate too near the capital.”
There were two tents side by side and separated by a considerable space from the rest, as if to ensure the commander’s privacy. A sentry stood on guard whom Ashie dismissed with an order. He led Jaikie into the bigger of the tents. It was furnished with a camp mattress, two folding chairs, and a folding table littered with maps. “You will sleep next door. You may have a companion for the night, but of that I speak later. Meantime, let us dine. I can only offer you soldiers’ fare.”
The fare proved excellent. A mushroom omelet was brought in by one of the green-shirts, and cups of strong coffee. There was a dish of assorted cold meats, and a pleasantly mild cheese. They drank white wine, and Ashie insisted on Jaikie tasting the native liqueur. “It is made from the lees of wine,” he told him. “Like the French marc, but not so vehement.”
When the meal was cleared away Jaikie lit his pipe and Ashie a thin black cigar. “Now for my story,” the latter said. “There is one fact beyond question. The rotten Republican Government is doomed, and hangs now by a single hair which a breath of wind can destroy. But when the hair has gone, what then?”
He told much the same tale that Jaikie had heard that day from Prince Odalchini, but with a far greater wealth of detail. Especially he expounded the origin and nature of Juventus, with which he had been connected from the start. “Most of this is common knowledge,” he said, “but not all — yet. We are not a secret society, but we have our arcana imperii.” He described its beginnings. Ricci had designed it as a counter-move against the Monarchists, but it had soon turned into something very different, a power detached indeed from the Monarchists but altogether hostile to the Republic, and Ricci, the used instead of the user, had been flung aside. “It was no less than a resurgence of the spirit of the Evallonian nation,” he said solemnly.
He explained how it had run through the youth of the country like a flame in stubble. “We are a poor people,” he said, “though not so poor as some, for we are closer to the soil, and less dependent upon others. But we have been stripped of some of our richest parts where industry flourished, and many of us are in great poverty. Especially it is hard for the young, who see no livelihood for them in their fathers’ professions, and can find none elsewhere. Evallonia, thanks to the jealous Powers, has been reduced to too great an economic simplicity, and has not that variety of interests which a civilised society requires. Also there is another matter. We have always made a hobby of our education, as in your own Scotland. Parents will starve themselves to send their sons to Melina to the university, and often a commune itself will pay for a clever boy. What is the consequence? We have an educated youth, but no work for it. We have created an academic proletariat and it is distressed and bitter.”
Ashie told his story well, but his language was not quite his native wood-notes. Jaikie wondered whose reflections he was repeating. He wondered still more when he launched into an analysis of the exact feelings of Evallonian youth. There was a subtlety in it and an acumen which belonged to a far maturer and more sophisticated mind.
“So that is that,” he concluded. “If our youth is to be satisfied and our country is to prosper, it is altogether necessary that the Government should be taken to pieces and put together again on a better plan. What that plan is our youth must decide, and whatever it is it must provide them with a horizon of opportunity. We summon our people to a new national discipline under which everyone shall have both rights and duties.”
Where had Ashie got these phrases, Jaikie asked himself —“arcana imperii,” “academic proletariat,” “horizon of opportunity”? There must be some philosopher in the background. “That sounds reasonable enough,” was all he said.
“It is reasonable — but difficult. Some things we will not have. Communism, for one — of that folly Europe contains too many awful warnings. We have had enough talk of republics, which are the dullest species of oligarchy. Evallonia, having history in her bones, is a natural monarchy. Her happiest destiny would be to be like England.”
“That is all right then,” said Jaikie. “You have Prince John.”
Ashie’s face clouded.
“Alas! that is not possible. For myself I have nothing against the Prince. He represents our ancient line of kings, and he is young, and he is well spoken of, though I have never met him. But he is fatally compromised. His supporters, who are about to restore him, are indeed better men than our present mis-governors, but they are relics — fossils. They would resurrect an old world with all its stupidities. They are as alien to us as Mastrovin and Rosenbaum, though less hateful. If Prince John is set upon the throne, it is very certain that our first duty will be regretfully to remove him — regretfully, for it is not the Prince that we oppose, but his following.”
“I see,” said Jaikie. “It IS rather a muddle. Are the Monarchists only a collection of stick-inthe-muds?”
“You can judge for yourself. You have seen Prince Odalchini, who is one of the best. He worships dead things — he speaks the language of a vanished world.”
Once again Jaikie wondered how Ashie, whose talk had hitherto been chiefly of horses, had managed to acquire this novel jargon.
“You want a king, but you won’t — or can’t — have the Prince. Then you’ve got to find somebody else. What’s your fancy? Have you a possible in your own rank?”
Ashie knit his brows. “I do not think so. We have admirable regimental officers and good brigadiers, but no general-inchief. Juventus was a spontaneous movement of many people, and not the creation of one man.”
“But you must have leaders.”
“Leaders — but no leader. The men who presided at its birth have gone. There was Ricci, who was a trickster and a coward. He has washed himself out. There was my father, who is now dead. I do not think that he would have led, for he was not sure of himself. He had great abilities, but he was too clever for the common run of people, and he was not trusted. He was ambitious, and since his merits were not recognised, he was always unhappy, and therefore he was ineffective. I have inherited the prestige of his name, but the Almighty has given me a more comfortable nature.”
“Why not yourself?” Jaikie asked. “You seem to fill the bill. Young and bold and not yet compromised. Ashie the First — or would it be Paul the Nineteenth? I’ll come and grovel at your coronation.”
Jaikie’s tone of badinage gave offence.
“There is nothing comic in the notion,” was the haughty answer. “Four hundred years ago my ancestors held the gates of Europe against the Turk. Two centuries before that they rode in the Crusades. The house of Jovian descends straight from the Emperors of Rome. I am of an older and prouder race than Prince John.”
“I’m sure you are,” said Jaikie apologetically. “Well, why not have a shot at it? I would like to have a pal a reigning monarch.”
“Because I cannot,” said Ashie firmly. “I am more confident than my father, God rest his soul, but in such a thing I do not trust myself. Your wretched England has spoiled me. I do not want pomp and glory. I should yawn my head off in a palace, and I should laugh during the most solemn ceremonials, and I should certainly beat my Ministers. I desire to remain a private gentleman and some day to win your Grand National.”
“We have certainly spoiled you for this game. What’s to be done about it?”
“I do not know,” was the doleful answer. “For I cannot draw back. There have been times when I wanted to slip away and hide myself in England. But I am now too deep in the business, and I have led too many people to trust me, and I have to consider the honour of my house.”
“Honour?” Jaikie queried.
“Yes, honour,” said Ashie severely. “Have you anything to say against it?”
“N-o-o. But it’s an awkward word and apt to obscure reason.”
“It is a very real thing, which you English do not understand.”
“We understand it well enough, but we are shy of talking about it. Remember the inscription in the Abbey of Thelème —‘Fais ce que voudrais, for the desires of decent men will always be governed by honour.’”
Ashie smiled, for Rabelais, as Jaikie remembered, had been one of the few authors whom he affected.
“That doesn’t get one very far,” he said. “I can’t leave my friends in the lurch any more than you could. I have been forced in spite of myself into a position out of which I cannot see my way, and any moment I may have to act against my will and against my judgment. That’s why I want your advice.”
“There are people behind you prodding you on? Probably one in particular? Who is it?”
“I cannot say.”
“Well, I can. It’s a woman.”
Ashie’s face darkened, and this time he was really angry. “What the devil do you mean? What have you heard? I insist that you explain.”
“Sorry, Ashie. That was a silly remark, and I had no right to make it.”
“You must mean something. Someone has been talking to you. Who? What? Quick, I have a right to know.”
Ashie had mounted a very high horse and had become unmistakably the outraged foreign grandee.
“It was only a vulgar guess,” said Jaikie soothingly. “You see, I know you pretty well, Ashie. It isn’t easy to shift you against your will. I couldn’t do it, and I don’t believe any of your friends could do it. You’ve become a sensible chap since we took you in hand, and look at things in a reasonable way. You’re not the kind of fellow to run your head against a stone wall. Here you are with all the materials of a revolution in your hands and you haven’t a notion what to do with them. It’s no good talking about honour and about loyalty to your crowd when if you go on you are only going to land them in the soup. And yet you seem determined to go on. Somebody has been talking big to you and you’re impressed. From what I know of you I say that it cannot be a man, so it must be a woman.”
Ashie’s face did not relax.
“So you think I’m that kind of fool! The slave of a sentimental woman? . . . The damnable thing is that you’re right. The power behind Juventus is a girl. Quite young — just about my own age. A kinswoman of mine, too, sort of second cousin twice removed. I’ll tell you her name. The Countess Araminta Troyos.”
Jaikie’s blank face witnessed that he had never heard of the lady.
“I’ve known her all my life,” Ashie went on, “and we have been more or less friends, though I never professed to understand her. Beautiful? Oh yes, amazingly, if you admire the sable and amber type. And brains! She could run round Muresco and his lot, and even Mastrovin has a healthy respect for her. And ambition enough for half a dozen Mussolinis. And her power of — what do you call the damned thing? — mass-persuasion? — is simply unholy. She is the soul of Juventus. There’s not one of them that doesn’t carry a picture postcard of her next his heart.”
“What does she want? To be Queen?”
“Not she, though she would make a dashed good one. She’s old-fashioned in some ways, and doesn’t believe much in her own sex. Good sane anti-feminist. She wants a man on the throne of Evallonia, but she’s going to make jolly well sure that it’s she who puts him there.”
“I see.” Jaikie whistled gently through his teeth, which was a habit of his. “Are you in love with her?”
“Ye gods, no! She’s not my kind. I’d as soon marry a were-wolf as Cousin Mintha.”
“Is she in love with you?”
“No. I’m positive no. She could never be in love with anybody in the ordinary way. She runs for higher stakes. But she mesmerises me, and that’s the solemn truth. When she orates to me I feel all the pith going out of my bones. I simply can’t stand up to her. I’m terrified of her. Jaikie, I’m in danger of making a blazing, blasted fool of myself. That’s why I want you.”
Ashie’s cheerful face had suddenly become serious and pathetic, like a puzzled child’s, and at the sight of it Jaikie’s heart melted. He was not much interested in Evallonia, but he was fond of Ashie, now in the toils of an amber and sable Cleopatra. He could not see an old friend dragged into trouble by a crazy girl without doing something to prevent it. A certain esprit de sexe was added to the obligations of friendship.
“But what can I do?” he asked. “I don’t know the first thing about women — I’ve hardly met any in my life — I’m no match for your cousin.”
“You can help me to keep my head cool,” was the answer. “You stand for the world of common sense which will always win in the long run. When I’m inclined to run amok you’ll remind me of England. You’ll lower the temperature.”
“You want me to hold your hand?”
“Just so. To hold my hand.”
“Well,” said Jaikie after a pause. “I don’t mind trying it out for a fortnight. You’ll have to give me free board and lodging, or I won’t have the money to take me home.”
Ashie’s face cleared so miraculously that for one uncomfortable moment Jaikie thought that he was about to be embraced. Instead he shook hands with a grip like iron.
“You’re a true friend,” he said. “Come what may, I’ll never forget this. . . . There’s another thing. Unless we’re to have civil war there must be some arrangement. Somebody must keep in touch with the Monarchists, or in a week there will be bloody battles. Juventus has cut off all communication with the enemy and burned its boats, but it cannot be allowed to go forward blindly, and crash head-on into the other side. I want a trait d’union, and you’re the man for it. I can’t do it, for I’m too conspicuous — I should be found out at once, and suspected of treachery. But you know Prince Odalchini. You’ve got to be my go-between. How do you fancy the job?”
Jaikie fancied it a good deal. It promised amusement and a field for his special talents.
“It won’t be too easy,” Ashie went on. “You see, you’re by way of being my prisoner. All my fellows by this time know about your visit to the Prince and my having you kidnapped. We’ve tightened up the screws in Juventus, and I daren’t let you go now.”
“Then if I hadn’t decided to stay, you’d have kept me by force?” Jaikie demanded.
“No. I would have delivered you at Kremisch according to my promise, but it would have been an uncommon delicate job, and I should have had to do the devil of a lot of explaining. I’ve given out that you are an English friend, who is not hostile but knows too much to be safe. So you’ll have to be guarded, and your visits to the House of the Four Winds will have to be nicely camouflaged. Lucky I’m in charge of Juventus on this side of the country.”
“You’ve begun by handicapping me pretty heavily,” said Jaikie. “But I’ll keep my word and have a try.”
An orderly appeared at the tent door with a message. Ashie looked at his watch.
“Your stable-companion for the night has arrived,” he said. “I think you’d better clear out while I’m talking to him. He’s an English journalist, and rather a swell, I believe, who has been ferreting round for some weeks in Evallonia. It won’t do to antagonise the foreign press just yet — especially the English, so I promised to see him tonight and give him some dope. But I’ll see that he’s beyond the frontier tomorrow morning. We don’t want any Paul Prys in this country at present.”
“What’s his name?” Jaikie asked with a sudden premonition.
Ashie consulted a paper. “Crombie — Dougal Crombie. Do you know him?”
“I’ve heard of him. He’s second in command on the Craw Press, isn’t he?”
“He is. And he’ll probably be a sentimental royalist, like the old fool who owns it.”
Long ago in the Glasgow closes there had been a signal used among the Gorbals Die-hards, if one member did not desire to be recognised when suddenly confronted by another. So when Mr Crombie was ushered into the tent and observed beside the Juventus commander a slight shabby figure, which pinched its chin with the left hand and shut its left eye, he controlled his natural surprise and treated Ashie as if he were alone.
“May I go to bed, sir?” Jaikie asked. “I’m blind with sleep, and I won’t be wakened by my fellow-guest.”
Ashie assented, and Jaikie gave the Juventus salute and withdrew, keeping his eyes strictly averted from the said fellow-guest.
He did not at once undress, but sat on the sleeping valise and thought. His mind was not on the House of the Four Winds and the difficulties of keeping in touch with Prince Odalchini; it was filled with the picture of an amber and sable young woman. That he believed to be the real snag, and he felt himself unequal to coping with it. In the end, on note-paper which Ashie had given him, he wrote two letters. The first was to Miss Alison Westwater and the second to Prince Odalchini; then he got into pyjamas, curled himself inside the valise, and was almost at once asleep.
He was wakened by being poked in the ribs, and found beside him the rugged face of Dougal illumined by a candle.
“How on earth did you get here, Jaikie?” came the hoarse whisper.
“By accident,” was the sleepy answer. “Ran into Ashie — that’s Count Paul — knew him at Cambridge. I’m a sort of prisoner, but I’ll be all right. Don’t ask me about Evallonia, for you know far more than me.”
“I daresay I do,” said Dougal. “Man, Jaikie, this is a fearsome mess. Mr Craw will be out of his mind with vexation. Here’s everything ripe for a nice law-abiding revolution, and this dam-fool Juventus chips in and wrecks everything. I like your Count Paul, and he has some rudiments of sense, but he cannot see that what he is after is sheer lunacy. The Powers are in an easy temper, and there would be no trouble about an orderly restoration of the old royal house. But if these daft lads start running some new dictator fellow that nobody ever heard of, Europe will shut down like a clam. Diplomatic relations suspended — economic boycott — the whole bag of tricks. It’s maddening that the people who most want to kick out the present Government should be working to give it a fresh lease of life, simply because they insist on playing a lone hand.”
“I know all that,” said Jaikie. “Go away, Dougal, and let me sleep.”
“I tell you what”— Dougal’s voice was rising, and he lowered it at Jaikie’s request —“we need a first-class business mind on this job. There’s just one man alive that I’d listen to, and that’s Mr McCunn. He’s at Rosensee, and that’s not a thousand miles off, and he’s quite recovered now and will likely be as restless as a hen. I’m off there tomorrow morning to lay the case before him.”
“Good,” Jaikie answered. “Now get to bed, will you?”
“I must put him in touch with Count Casimir and Prince Odalchini — the big Schloss at Tarta is the place — that’s the Monarchist centre. And what about yourself? How can I find you?”
“If I’m not hanged,” said Jaikie drowsily, “it will be at the same address. I’ll turn up there some time or other. I wish you’d put these two letters in your pocket, and post them tomorrow when you’re over the frontier. And now for pity’s sake let me sleep.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:05