The Hosts of the Air by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter X. The Fair Captive
The woman gathered up the remains of the food, crossed herself again before the shrine, and she and her sons prepared to resume the descent of the mountain.
"I thank you for your good wishes," said John. "They may go far."
"And so may yours," she said. "Farewell!"
He watched them, walking down the slope, until a turn in the road hid them, and then he resumed his own ascent, slow now, because he had been climbing all day, and he wished to conserve his strength. The night was coming fast, and, if it had not been for the smooth-paved road over which he was walking, he might have fancied himself in a primeval wilderness. The sun was sinking in a sea of red light and peaks and ridges were outlined against it, clear and sharp. Old and thickly inhabited Europe melted away, and the young crusader stood alone and solitary among the mountains.
The road led around a cliff, and far across a valley on the other side he saw Zillenstein, that nest from which the Auerspergs had first ruled and raided. The red light of the setting sun fell upon it, magnifying every battlement and tower, and making them all glow with color. Vast as it was, it seemed even vaster in the red light and in the fire of John's own imagination.
His mind was filled with history and old romance, and it made him think of Valhalla. Here certainly was the dusk of the gods. Auersperg was one of the last representatives of the old order that troubled Europe so much in its going, for to John, a keen and intense lover of freedom and of the career open to all the talents, the present war was in its main feature a death struggle between autocracy and democracy.
He stared at the gigantic ramparts of Zillenstein, as long as the sun endured. He would have given much then to have had a powerful pair of glasses, but no horse-buying peasant could carry such equipment without arousing suspicion.
The day sank into the night and the last tower of Zillenstein was hid by the dusk. Just before going, and, when all the red light had faded, the castle showed huge, black and sinister. But John's soul was not cast down by it. Uncommon situations bred uncommon feelings and impulses. His imaginative mind still retained the impression that all the signs and omens were in his favor, and that the prayers of the righteous availed.
He came out of his dreams, and began to think of his night's lodging. The air was turning cold on the mountain and an unpleasant wind was trying to strike through his clothing, but he still carried his pair of blankets, and he had become hardened to all kinds of weather. He had a good supply, too, of the inevitable bread and sausage, and there was water for the taking.
He turned from the road and walked through a wood higher up the side of the mountain, having caught a gleam of white through the trees and being anxious to ascertain its nature. He found the remains of a small and ancient marble temple--temple he took it to be--and he was sure that it had been erected there perhaps fifteen centuries ago by the Romans. He knew from his reading that they had marched and fought and settled throughout all this region and in almost all of Austria. Marcus Aurelius might have been here, he might even have built the temple itself, and other Roman emperors might have stood in the shadow of its shattered columns.
It was a round temple, like those to Ceres that he had seen in Italy, and while some of the columns had fallen others stood, and a portion of the roof was there. He saw for himself a place under this fragment of a roof and against a pillar.
But he devoted his attention first to supper. A small cold stream flowed from under a rock fifty feet away, and drinking from it now and then he ate his bread and sausage in comfort, and even with a sense of luxury. He was a crusader and he was upborne more strongly than ever by his faith. Alone on the mountain in the darkness everything else had melted away. America was an immeasurable distance from him and the figures of his uncle, Mr. Anson and his young friends of the army became thin shadows.
The moon, full and dominant, came out after a while and silvered the skies. Stars in myriads trooped forth and danced. John felt that they were friendly, that they were watching over him, and once more he saw happy omens. Despite his long walk he was not tired and he enjoyed the deep peace on the mountains. He might have been awed at another time, but now he was not afraid.
Zillenstein, too, came out, bathed in silver, an immense threatening mass set solidly in the shoulder of the opposite mountain, more sinister even in the moonlight than in the sunlight. He wondered how many hundreds of innocent human beings had perished in its dungeons. He had not the slightest doubt that Julie was there, but she at least was safe from everything, save a long imprisonment and a powerful pressure that might compel her to become the morganatic wife of Auersperg. It might be the old story of the drop of water wearing away the stone.
Clouds began to trail slowly up the valley, and Zillenstein faded away again. The long columns of mist and vapor seemed so near that John felt as if he could reach out his hand and touch them.
His day's exertions began to tell now, and the chill of the night deepened. He sought his chosen shelter within the old temple, and lying down on the stone floor wrapped in his blankets, sank fast into sleep. Morning dawned, sharp and clear, and the red sun came out of Asia, turning the huge pile of Zillenstein once more into a scarlet glow, a vast blood-red splotch in the side of the mountain.
He drank at the little stream, then bathed his face, ate breakfast, and, knapsack on back, returned to the road that led down the far side of the mountain. His courage was still high. The crusader of the day before was none the less the crusader this morning, and he whistled soft and happy airs as he descended. He knew that it was a trick that he had caught from General Vaugirard and he wondered where that fat old hero might be now.
But as he walked along he formed his plan. Every general who intends to attack an enemy must choose a method of approach, and the crusader's plan to assail Zillenstein was now quite clear in his mind. His decision brought him the usual relief, following the solution of a doubt, and he intended that his journey that day through the great valley should resemble somewhat a stroll of pleasure.
He whistled at times and at times he sang. He remembered the story, of the faithful troubadour, Blondel, who sought his master, Richard of the Lion Heart, imprisoned somewhere in a castle in Austria, and who, finding him, sang under his window to let him know one loyal friend was there. But Richard, under the light of history, had become merely a barbarous king, cruel to his enemies and unjust to his friends. John felt that his own quest was higher and better.
Toward noon he was in the middle of a valley down which a swift little river flowed. Old men, women and children were at work in the fields preparing for the new crop, and again John's frank eyes and hearty voice won him a welcome. He was a man of Lorraine who had been on the far western front and they welcomed Ulysses on his travels. They said that he was going to Zillenstein at a fortunate time, as the prince had just returned for a space and the great castle was full of people. When so much of the youth of the land was gone away a handy man with horses might obtain work there. The prince used automobiles chiefly, but many horses were employed also.
Once John was compelled to show the German passport. It was of no use in Austria, except as a proof of identity, and good faith, and as such it served him well.
In the afternoon he began to ascend the slope that confined the southern side of the valley, and toward night he drew near to Zillenstein. The view of the castle here was less clear than from the other side of the valley. Patches of pine on the slopes beneath hid many of the towers and battlements, but he saw lights shining from lofty windows, and about the castle were many small houses. He surmised that Zillenstein and its surroundings had not changed much since the Middle Ages. Here was the castle, and below it were the cottages and huts of the peasants and retainers who might be as loyal as ever to the prince whose lineage was more ancient than that of either Hohenzollern or Hapsburg.
Two young hussars riding down the road, their horses' hoofs ringing on the stones, brought back the modern world. They were gay young fellows, smoking cigarettes, their Austrian caps tipped back to let the cool breeze blow upon their foreheads, and they called cheerfully to the strong young peasant who walked slowly up the road. John lifted his cap and answered in a tone that was respectful but not servile.
"You look like one who has traveled far," said the younger of the two, a mere boy.
"From Lorraine," answered John. "My name is Jean Castel, which is French, but I, its owner, am not. My family became German before I was born, and has been so ever since."
"Ah, I see, made German by strength of arms."
"And growing more German every day by will and liking."
"You speak well for a peasant."
"I was a dealer in horses, which took me much over the land and everyone who travels learns. See, here is my passport."
"Why should I look at your passport?"
"Everyone else does. Then why not you?"
"No, I don't want to see it. I take your word for it You couldn't have come so deep into Germany, unless you were one of us. What do you seek at the castle?"
"My trade is gone and I want work with the horses. There must surely be a place on the estate of so great a prince."
"There is, but he wants good men, the very best."
"Let him try me."
"I'll try you now."
The hussar leaped from his horse and asked John to get into the saddle. John had noticed that it was a big brute with a red eye, and every other indication of a wicked temper, but in his earlier youth he had spent a year on a great ranch belonging to his uncle in Montana, and the cowboys had taught him everything. He was quite aware that a dramatic effect would be useful to him now, and he decided to temporize a little in order that the culmination might be greater.
"It has been my business," he said, "to try and sell horses, not to ride them."
Both officers laughed derisively.
"Prince Karl of Auersperg likes bold men around him," said the one who had dismounted, "and he would not care for a hostler who was afraid of his own horses."
John, despite the fact that he had invited it, was stung somewhat by the taunt.
"While I said it was not my business to ride horses I didn't say I couldn't ride them," he replied.
"Then up with you and prove it."
John seized the bridle, and as the great black horse, feeling the touch of an unfamiliar hand, pulled away from him, he made one leap and was in the saddle. He felt in an instant from the fierce quiver running through the mighty frame that he had a demon beneath him. The Austrians, who doubtless had not expected him to accept the challenge, were alarmed and the younger, whose name John afterward learned to be Pappenheim, shouted:
"Jump off! He'll kill you!"
John had no notion of leaving the saddle, either willingly or unwillingly. He believed that after his training by the cowboys he could ride anything, and when he felt the great frame draw itself together he was ready. He saw too that he could make capital. He would impress these volatile Austrians and at the same time he would recommend himself as an expert horsemen to Prince Karl of Auersperg.
The black horse made a series of mighty jumps, any one of which would have sent a novice flying, but the trained rider on his back knew instinctively which way he was going to leap, and swayed easily every time. Then panting, and mad with anger and fury, the horse rushed down the road. John pulled hard on the bridle to keep him from stumbling. He heard the two Austrians behind him shouting, and the one on horseback pursuing, but he did not look back.
When the horse had gone three or four hundred yards he pulled harder on the bit, and gradually turned him about in the road. Then he raced him back up the hill, a most exhausting proceeding for any animal however strong. Then the horse began to jump and kick again, but he could not shake off his incubus. A side glance by John showed that young Pappenheim was standing among the trees by the roadside well out of the way and that the mounted officer had also drawn back among the trees.
He felt that now was the time for his stroke. He knew that the horse was conquered, overcome chiefly by his own struggles, and letting him breathe a little he urged him straight forward in the road toward the castle, which was only a few hundred yards away.
As he emerged from the woods he saw that the road led through the remains of an ancient wall, and across a bridge over a moat which was partly filled up. In the cleared space in front of the wall several soldiers were standing and near them were two hussars. The hussars rode forward, as if they would prevent the flight of the horse, but John urged on his waning spirit and he dashed over the moat and through the wall into the inner precincts of the castle yard, where the animal stopped dead beat and covered with foam.
He slipped from the horse, as a man, who had been sitting in a camp chair in the shadow of a great pine, rose in surprise, and stood looking at him. It was Prince Karl of Auersperg himself, in a uniform of gray and silver, his great brown beard forked and spreading out magnificently. John took off his cap, saluted and despite the fierce beating of his heart stood calmly before him.
"What does this mean?" demanded the prince.
John was saved a reply by young Pappenheim, who came up running.
"It was my fault, Your Highness," he said. "We met him in the road coming to the castle, where he said he wished to be employed as a hostler. I told him to prove his skill by riding my horse, which hitherto has tolerated no one but myself on his back. He rode him like a Cossack, and here he is! The fault, sir, was mine, and I crave the pardon of Your Highness, but this man has proved himself a horseman."
The prince combed his great forked beard with his fingers, and looked at the young peasant with a contemplative eye. John surmised that Pappenheim stood well with him, and would be forgiven.
"The test was, perhaps, severe," he said, "but the young man seems to have endured it well. I might say that in his own little world he has achieved a triumph. Send him to the stables, and tell Walther, the head groom, to give him work."
After the one examining glance he no longer looked at John who had now disappeared from his own world. John had no fear of detection. He had let his semblance of a young beard grow again, and Prince Karl of Auersperg would not dream of his presence there in the mountains of Austria.
"Thanks, Your Highness," he said, again bowing respectfully. A groom took the horse and Pappenheim went with him to the stables, where he recommended him specially to Walther, a stalwart Tyrolean, who was evidently glad to have him, as he was short of help.
"Treat him well. Walther, because he will be of use," said Pappenheim. "He has ridden my own horse and no one but myself has ever done that before."
The Tyrolean's eyes gleamed with wonder and approval.
"Then you must know horses," he said, and put him to work at once in the stables. John toiled with a will. All things still moved as he could wish them to go. The blessings upon his errand that he had received were not without effect. It was true that he was but a stable boy, but he was within the precincts of the castle of Auersperg, and Julie was but a few hundred yards away. He recalled an old line or two, from Walter Scott, he thought;
And he bowed his pride To ride a horse-boy in his train.
As he remembered it, the service had a motive somewhat similar to his own, and he was glad to "bow his pride," because he believed that he would have ample chance to raise it up again. As he went about his work singing and whistling softly to himself, he cast many a glance up at the huge castle.
Truly Zillenstein had been a great fortress. In the old days it must have been impregnable. Much of it was still standing in its ancient strength. John saw that the walls were many feet thick, and that in the older parts the windows were mere slits through which a human body could not pass.
A much more modern addition to the right wing had been built, and John surmised that Prince Karl and his suite lived there. Auersperg might have medieval notions of caste, but he was certain to have modern ideas of luxury.
He worked hard through all the rest of the day. What a lucky thing it was that he had always liked horses, and had spent that year on the western ranch of his uncle! Horses were the same everywhere, and as far as he could see they responded as readily to kind treatment in Europe as in America. The same friendly disposition that won him the favor of people was now winning him the favor of animals, and Walther, who had spent fifty years in the stables, complimented him on his soothing touch. John saw that he had made a new friend, and he meant to use him as a source of information.
He soon learned that Prince Karl would not stay long at Zillenstein. He had come there, partly, to meet several great officers of Austria and confer with them. His position as a Prussian general and a prince of both empires made him the most suitable person for the duty, and Zillenstein, in the heart of Austria, was the best place for the meeting.
Walther, a taciturn man, volunteered so much, but he went no farther, and John, despite his great anxiety, did not ask any questions. He knew that he was a too recent arrival at Zillenstein to be making inquiries without arousing suspicion, and it was better anyhow to go slowly. Late in the afternoon, Walther directed him to saddle and bridle a fine young horse and lead him to the front of the castle.
"One of the young noblemen who was wounded in a great battle in the west has been recovering from his wound at Zillenstein," he said, "and he has been riding every day toward evening. You will hold the horse until he comes, but he is always prompt."
John led the horse, a fine young bay, along a curving road, until he stood before the entrance of the castle. There he waited in silence, but he was using his eyes all the time. He admired the great size and strength of Zillenstein, even in its decayed state, and he was confirmed in his belief that the prince and his suite inhabited the extension of the right wing. Doubtless Julie and Suzanne should be sought there.
While he stood holding the horse one or two soldiers passing gave him scrutinizing looks, and a couple of trim Austrian maids did likewise, smiling at the same time, because John was very good looking, despite his fuzzy young beard. He smiled back at them, as became one of his lowly station who had met with approval, and whispering to each other they passed on. Now, he had two more new friends, and it occurred to him that these maids also might be of use to him in his great quest. He had formed his plan and like a good general he was marshaling every possible force for its success.
While he was thinking about it, the convalescent came, a young officer, trim, slender, in a fine uniform of blue and silver. It was none other than that same lad, Leopold Kratzek, whom he had saved in the fight at the trench. In his surprise John came very near to greeting him by name, but luckily he controlled himself in time.
He noticed that Kratzek was almost entirely recovered. The color in his face was fresh, his walk was firm and elastic, and John was glad of it. He liked the lad whose life he had saved. He recalled, too, that his presence there was not strange. Kratzek was the relative of Auersperg, and it was natural that he should be sent to Zillenstein to recover.
The young Austrian glanced at the new groom, but there was no sign of recognition on his face.
"I have not seen you before," he said.
"No, sir," replied John, "I've just come today. I've been wandering eastward from Lorraine, where I was born, and the Herr Walther has been kind enough to give me work."
"You're the man of whom I heard Pappenheim speak so well. He has been telling us all how a wandering peasant rode that black devil of his."
"I am fortunate in understanding horses."
"Well, you've made a friend in Pappenheim."
John gave him the reins and Kratzek, drawing himself a little stiffly into the saddle, cantered away. John, although not recognized, felt as if he had met a friend again, and Zillenstein seemed less lonely to him.
He watched Kratzek riding down the mountain until the firs and pines hid him, and then, as he turned to go back to the stables, he found the two maids near him, a little forward, and yet a little shy, but wholly curious about the handsome young stranger.
Bearing in mind that the news of the household, even of a huge castle, filtered most often through women, he smiled back at them and said pleasantly in his new German:
"Good morning. May I ask your names?"
One was blond and the other brunette, and the brunette answered:
"We're Ilse and Olga, maids of the household of His Highness, Prince Karl of Auersperg."
"And very pretty maids, too," said John gallantly, as he took off his cap and bowed. "When I look at Ilse I think she is the more beautiful, when I look at Olga I think she is the more beautiful, but when I see them together I think they are equally beautiful."
They giggled and nudged each other.
"You are the man who rode the young count's horse," said Ilse, who took the lead in talk as brunettes usually do, "and I hope you will pardon our forwardness in wishing to look at so wonderful a person."
There was a wicked little glint in her eye, but John only smiled again.
"I was lucky," he said.
"We saw you," said Olga. "We were standing on the edge of the lower terrace when you sprang into the saddle. We were sure you would be killed."
"But we were glad you were not," said Ilse. "We were pleased when we saw you riding the great black horse directly back to the castle. Do you mean to stay here all the time?"
"Where there is so much beauty and wit I should like to remain," replied John with increasing gallantry, still holding his cap in his hands, "but who can tell where he will be a week hence in times like these?"
Again they laughed and nudged each other. Ilse had a shrewd and observant mind.
"Your German has a French accent," she said.
"I was born in a land that was once French--Lorraine--so my blood is French by descent, although I am wholly German in loyalty and in feeling. But I'm not the first person of French blood that you ever saw, am I?"
He asked the question in a careless tone, but he awaited the answer with anxiety.
"Oh, no," replied Ilse. "Many people come to the great castle of Zillenstein. Two Frenchwomen are here now, spies, terrible spies they say, but I can scarce believe it, at least of the young one, Mademoiselle Julie, who is so beautiful, and who speaks to us so gently."
"But it may be true of the other of low degree, the surly Suzanne," said blond Olga.
"At least, they're where they can't get back to France as long as this war lasts," said John, looking up at the formidable castle. "It seems a sad thing to me that women should be spies. It isn't right."
He spoke in his most engaging manner. Again his frank look and attractive smile were winning him friends where he needed friends most. He saw, too, that he was on a subject that interested the maids. Once more fortune was favoring him who wooed her so boldly.
"But," said the blond and substantial Olga, "I think the beautiful Mademoiselle Lannes is in no danger. The prince himself loves her and would marry her. We can see it, can we not Ilse?"
"At least we think it."
"We know it. And His Highness might search Europe and not find a woman more beautiful. She has the most wonderful hair, pure gold, with little touches of copper, when the firelight or the sunlight is deep upon it, and when loosed it falls to her knees. I have seen it."
"And marvelous blue eyes," said Ilse. "A dark blue like the waters of our mountain lakes. Oh, no, the Prince of Auersperg can never punish her!"
"This French spy seems more dangerous as a captive than free," he said.
"That is so," said Ilse, seriously. "If Prince Karl of Auersperg, powerful as he is, were disposed to punish her, the others would not let him."
"The young Count Kratzek, the relative of the prince. He loves her, too, and he scarcely seeks to hide it. And Count Pappenheim, who is of kin to the emperor, worships her beauty."
"The lady must be Psyche herself," said John.
But not knowing who Psyche was, they shook their heads.
"And that is not all," continued Ilse. "A Prussian prince was here, a fine and gallant man, tall and young. He, too, is at the feet of the lovely Mademoiselle Julie. I heard him say that he had seen her before she was brought to Zillenstein."
John's pulses suddenly beat hard. He knew instinctively the identity of the Prussian prince, but he asked quietly:
"What was the man from Prussia called?"
"Prince Wilhelm von Arnheim. I was present when he first saw here the beautiful Mademoiselle Julie. He bent before her and kissed her hand, as if she were a princess herself. The look that he gave her was full of love, and it was also most respectful. I, Ilse Brandt, know."
"I've no doubt of it, because you've received many such looks yourself, beautiful Ilse," said John.
"There she is now! At the window!" exclaimed Olga.
John looked at once, and his heart leaped within him. Julie stood framed in a window, high up in the new part of the castle. The light seemed to fall upon her, as one turns it in a flood upon a picture, and her figure was in the center of a glow that brought out the coppery touches in the wonderful golden hair, that was the marvel of everybody. She seemed to be gazing wistfully over the misty mountains, and John's heart was full of yearning.
"I can't believe," said Ilse, "that she is a spy or has ever been a spy. She has not the look, nor the manner. When the Prince von Arnheim was here they gave a great dinner, and Prince Karl bade her come to it. I took her a beautiful dress of his niece, who is away in Vienna. I thought she would refuse, but she said that she would come as Prince Karl requested. I was her maid, I dressed her and she was very beautiful. She went to the dinner, and the aged Lady Ursula, the cousin and dependent of the prince, sat with her."
"What happened?" asked John in a low voice.
"I think it was their intention at first to remind her that she was a prisoner. Prince Karl is a hard and stern man, and he would bend her to his will, but the Prince Wilhelm frowned upon them all, and the Count Kratzek was also most respectful."
"They had brought her to complete their triumph and instead the triumph was hers," John could not keep from saying.
"It is so," admitted Ilse. "They were abashed before her, and at the last when they drank a toast to the glorious victory of our German race, she withheld her glass, and then, taking a sip of the wine, she said she wished with all her heart, as long as it should beat in her body, for the triumph of France. That, too, I saw, and while I do not wish for the triumph of France it was thrilling to see but one and a girl defying so many strong men."
"I wish I had been there to see," murmured John.
"What did you say?" asked Olga.
"That only a very brave woman could have done such a thing."
"She is brave. She does not fear any of them, and the woman Suzanne with her has a tiger's temper."
"But she loves the young mademoiselle. One can see that," said Ilse, "and she will guard her."
John wished to know what had become of Antoine, but he did not dare ask pointed questions. Julie left the window presently and the light went with her. The sunlight was dying now on the eastern mountains, but a great happiness came to him. He had found her. The footsteps of the crusader had been guided aright. His star had led him on through many dangers, and his spirit was high with hope.
It was, perhaps, well that the growing twilight kept Ilse and Olga from seeing the glow in his eyes, but it was time for the two to go, and, laughing and supporting each other in what they considered a mild flirtation, they disappeared within the castle. John sent a smile after them. They were good girls and he knew that he had made two valuable friends who would tell him all that was happening to Julie in Zillenstein.
He went back to the stables and plunged anew into his work with a zeal and skill that aroused the admiration of Walther. His knowledge of horses was most useful to him now, and, as he had also learned much about automobiles in his campaigning, he volunteered to help with them too. He saw the great limousine in which the prince himself had traveled, and he helped two of the hostlers to clean it. Walther growled as he looked on.
"When I was a lad," he said, "the magnificent, living horse was king at Zillenstein. Now it's a machine that can't either think or feel."
"We can't fight the times, Herr Walther," said John, cheerfully. "The automobile like the railway has come to stay."
"I suppose so, but the noble Count Kratzek returns. Take his horse."
John went forward and held the bridle after the young Austrian had dismounted. Kratzek had a fine color from his ride, and he seemed to John to be completely well of his wound. He handed the young peasant who was holding his horse half a krone, and then walked briskly into the castle.
John put the little silver piece in his pocket, after having touched his cap, and led the horse into the stable. He did not feel humiliated. He found something humorous in receiving a tip of ten cents from the man whose life he had saved. He unsaddled the horse, put him in his stall, rubbed him down, and came forth to receive the unqualified praise of Walther.
"You, Castel," he said, "you're a fiend for work. I can see that. Most of my men look upon work as an enemy. They run from it and hide from it. Now, come you to the kitchen and you shall eat well in reward."
The great kitchen for the servants and retainers, who were many, was in the basement of the castle and John, his appetite sharp from the day's work, ate bountifully. The obvious fact that he had already won the regard of Walther, a man of importance, inspired respect for him, and once the brunette Ilse, flitting through the kitchen, gave him a glance of approval.
He slept that night in a little room above the horses, but first he saw the moon rise over Zillenstein, the valley and the mountain, a vast panorama, white and cold. He did not know what his next step was to be. He did not know how he was to communicate with Julie, but he had an implicit confidence in the Providence that had guided him so far and so well.
Three days went by and he did not yet find the way, but he saw Julie once more at the window and yet another time walking on the terrace in front of the castle accompanied by Suzanne. He was walking Pappenheim's restive horse back and forth and he was not a hundred feet from her, but he knew no sign to make. The air was cold then, and she was wrapped in the long, dark red cloak that he knew. A hood also of dark red covered her head, but tiny curls of the marvelous golden hair escaped from it, their glowing color deepening by contrast the pallor of her lovely face. Again John's heart, overflowing with pity and love, yearned for her.
The crusader worships that which he seeks. John had come to the end of his search, but apparently the way of rescue was as hard as ever. He saw her, but he could not speak to her, and there was no way to let her know that he was near. Suzanne, dark, grim and powerful, walked a step or two behind her, watching over her with a love that was ready for any sacrifice. John felt a deep respect for this faithful and taciturn woman of Normandy, and he was devoutly glad that she was there to be a comfort and support to Julie in these trying days.
As John walked the horse up and down, the maid, Ilse, passing on an errand, stopped and spoke to him.
"It's the French spy and her maid," she said. "They allow her to take the air twice a day upon the terrace. I can't think that she is merely a spy. It must be something political, too high for such as you and me to understand. Perhaps she is a great French lady who is held as a hostage. Do they do such things in war now, Jean Castel?"
"I think so."
"Prince Karl sends her flowers this morning. See, Olga comes with them, but she does not speak French, nor do I. She will not know from whom they come."
Often the great opportunity appears when it is least expected. A trifle may open the way and John, quick as lightning, saw and seized his chance. Throwing the reins of the now quiet horse over a pillar he said:
"I know French, as I come from Lorraine. Let me take them."
Without waiting for her assent he took the flowers from the hand of the willing Olga and walked boldly across the terrace to Julie, who was looking over the valley. Bending the knee he offered the flowers, saying:
"Prince Karl sends you these, Mademoiselle Lannes."
She started a little at the sound of his voice and he continued in a lower tone:
"Julie, I've come across Germany for you. Make no sign. I'm here to save you. I'm a groom in the prince's stables!"
He saw the delicate color like the first flush of dawn overspread her face, and a light that had never shone for any other spring into her eyes. All the hardships that he had endured, all the dangers that he had run were as nothing now.
"John," she exclaimed, in a voice tremulous with fear for him, not for herself, "you must leave Zillenstein at once! Your life is not safe here for a moment!"
"When I go you go with me," he said.
They had spoken rapidly in whispers and not even Suzanne had noticed. Accustomed now to the servants in the castle she had merely seen a young peasant bringing flowers from the prince to her mistress. They had been brought before and there was nothing unusual about it.
"Tell the prince that I thank him," said Julie, aloud, but in indifferent tones.
John bowed and walked back toward the horse, his heart beating hard with triumph and joy.