Rain had not fallen for many weeks, and as a result the road was reasonably hard, but the deep chuck holes retarded the speed of the car to such an extent that it traveled but little faster than a man might walk.
Peter had dispatched one of his dependents to fetch the priest The Rider had demanded, and was waiting for the man’s return when the door of his barroom opened to admit two strangers. The first to enter was quite evidently a foreigner—a young man in riding togs and with a face which betokened a super-abundance of initiative and determination. At his heels followed a dark robed priest. Peter eyed the two questioningly.
“Good evening!” said the young man. “Have I the honor of addressing the proprietor of this charming hostelry?”
“Then your name is Peter?” asked the stranger.
Again Peter signified an affirmative, and the other drew a folded note from his pocket, extending it to the inn-keeper. “For you, my friend,” he said.
Peter took the note, slowly unfolded it, and, with evident labor, spelled out the message it contained:
—Furnish the bearer with a guide who will conduct him and the priest to the spot where The Wolf lairs. Ask no questions.
That was all. Peter turned the paper over; but it was blank upon the opposite side. He looked from it to the young man and then on to the priest. How the devil had this young fellow come to be here so soon with a priest, and what had become of the messenger whom Peter had sent to fetch a priest? But the note said plainly that he must ask no questions. Peter scratched his head. The whole thing was a puzzle to him. Well, it was none of his business anyway, and here was a priest, and here was a written command from The Rider himself—there was naught to do but obey. He stepped close to the young man and whispered in his ear. The latter looked relieved, for Peter had just told him that his new friend had passed the Inn but a short time since and that he had come in an automobile which had remained in the darkness of the trees beside the road.
And so it happened that Hemmington Main and the priest he had brought from Sovgrad started off with their guide upon the road toward the royal hunting lodge before the automobile containing the false prince and his two victims had covered more than half the distance from the inn to their destination.
All during the journey Gwendolyn Bass’ brain was a-whirl with mad schemes for escape from the fate which the ambitions of her mother had ordained for her; but nowhere, through the impenetrable darkness of the forest road, could she find an opportunity to put to the test of action a single one of them, and at last the machine turned into the royal preserves onto a fairly good road where the speed of the machine made escape without injury impossible.
The few servants at the hunting lodge had received their instructions from Prince Boris at the time when he had exchanged identities with The Rider, and now they welcomed the returning bandit as though he had indeed been the son of King Constans of Karlova, though once out of his presence their sneers of contempt were unrestrained.
At The Rider’s command the two women were shown to apartments on the second floor, and while they removed the dust of the road from their garments and faces a lunch was served in a small breakfast room on the main floor of the lodge.
The three had scarcely seated themselves at the table before a servant appeared to announce the arrival of a young man accompanied by a priest.
“Ah!” exclaimed The Rider; “they arrived sooner than I had hoped. Show the good man in, and take care of his guide in the servants’ quarters.”
But when the priest was ushered into the breakfast room, his ‘guide’ followed close at his heels though a servant in the royal livery did his best to prevent him. Gwendolyn Bass was the first to see the face of the young man behind the priest and at sight of it she half rose from her chair with a little exclamation of relief and surprise.
“Hemmy!” she cried, and at the name Mrs. Bass turned and saw Mr. Hemmington Main standing directly behind her. Main was looking at them with a puzzled expression upon his face. Nowhere could he see aught of his new found friend, but as his eyes fell upon the face of the man seated at the table with Mrs. Bass and Gwendolyn they went wide in consternation, for he recognized at once the features of the crown prince of Karlova whom he had seen pass his hotel that morning in Demia.
“What are you doing here, Mr. Main?” demanded Mrs. Bass.
“I have come to marry Gwendolyn,” replied the young man. “You see I have brought a priest with me. Awfully sorry, Mrs. Bass; but I’m bound to have her. I wouldn’t have been a party to this thing if it hadn’t seemed the only way to save Gwen from a worse fate; but what I can’t understand is what his highness is doing here and where my friend The Rider is. Anyway, it’s all right; you won’t be detained or bothered as soon as Gwen and I are married—I’ll see to all that.”
“I do not know what you are talking about, Mr. Main,” snapped Mrs. Bass; “but unless you are quite mad you will go away at once. His Royal Highness, Prince Boris of Karlova, has honored Gwendolyn with a proposal of marriage; and that is why he sent for this holy man. How you happened to accompany him I can not understand—do you know this person, Prince Boris?”
“Never saw him before,” replied The Rider, and then, turning to Main: “You’d better get out of here and get out quick.”
Gwendolyn Bass had risen from the table, and now she crossed to Hemmington Main’s side.
“Oh, Hemmy,” she cried, “don’t let them marry me to this awful man.”
“You bet your life, I won’t,” replied Main, and as he spoke he put an arm about her which imparted to Gwendolyn Bass the first sensation of hope and safety which she had experienced in many a long day.
The Rider rose from his chair. His ugly countenance was drawn into a savage scowl. In the breast of his military tunic was the revolver that he could not be persuaded to part with even for an instant. As he advanced upon Hemmington Main he drew the weapons from its hiding place, At sight of it the servants scampered for safety, the priest hopped nimbly out of range, and Mrs. Bass screamed in terror.
Main shoved Gwendolyn quickly to one side lest she be injured should the man fire, and at the same instant drew his own weapon. The two shots blended into a single sharp report as the men pressed the triggers of their weapons simultaneously. The Rider clutched his side and stumbled forward, falling to the floor upon his face. Hemmington Main stood there, white and rigid, looking down upon the fallen man. Gwendolyn Bass cowered, wide-eyed, against the wall, while her mother ran forward to the side of the wounded bandit.
“God help us, Hemmington Main!” cried the older woman, “you have killed the crown prince of Karlova!”