On the floor of the breakfast room he had just quitted Mrs. Abner J. Bass and two servants kneeled over the prostrate form of the wounded man. Hemmington Main stood where he had when he had fired the shot, and now Gwendolyn Bass crossed the room and took her place at his side, laying a trembling hand upon his arm.
“O, Hemmy,” she whispered, “what will they do to you? It is awful!”
“I don’t care what they do to me,” he replied miserably. “They’ll probably hang me eventually; but it’s worth it to have saved you from such a fate,” and he motioned toward the man upon the floor, a grimace of disgust accompanying the gesture.
Mrs. Bass turned toward them. “He lives,” she said; “it may not be a fatal wound, after all. Heaven grant that it is not.”
As she spoke two men entered the neglected doorway of the royal hunting lodge, saw the group in the breakfast room, and entered. One was a low browed, evil looking fellow; the other a red faced, well fed priest. The former was the first to speak and announce their presence to the tense, pre-occupied actors in the little tragedy upon which they had burst.
“Wot’s here?” he demanded, crossing to the side of the wounded bandit.
“Prince Boris has been shot,” said Mrs. Bass. “It was accidental. Some one must go for a physician at once.”
The man looked quickly about at the others in the room as he heard The Rider described as Prince Boris. No one contradicted or corrected Mrs. Bass. Then one of the servants spoke up.
“The priest who was here has, I think, gone for help,” he said. “He mounted and rode away in the direction of Sovgrad immediately after the-ah-accident. Doubtless he will inform the palace officials,” and he looked meaningly at the low browed new comer.
“How bad is he hurt?” asked the fellow.
Mrs. Bass shook her head. “I do not know—he is still unconscious.
The man thought for a moment; then he turned to the priest who had accompanied him. “We’ve got to get him away from here,” he said.
The priest nodded. The servants seemed relieved. The Americans could not but wonder at the heartless apathy of the royal retainers. No word of regret at the shooting of their prince had passed the lips of any of them, nor a single menace for the man who had shot him.
At the command of the priest’s companion two of the servants lifted the unconscious man and carried him from the lodge where they placed him in the arms of the low browed one, who had preceded them and mounted his horse in readiness to receive the prince. The priest meanwhile clambered laboriously into his own saddle, and presently the trio were lost to sight in the darkness.
The Americans, who had come to the verandah to watch the departure of the silent, mysterious company, now returned to the interior of the building, the royal servants following them. Mrs. Bass turned toward Hemmington Main.
“Hemmington,” she said; “we are in a frightful predicament. At any moment they come from Sovgrad. What are we to do? You have blasted what was, a few moments ago, my dearest ambition. I should feel resentment and anger; but I do not. Something, perhaps the shock of this unexpected tragedy, seems to have awakened me to a realization of the foolishness, yes, and the wickedness of the thing I was attempting to force Gwendolyn into. It has taught me how great your love for my daughter must be, that you would willingly face the consequences of an attack upon a prince in his own country to protect her from him and from me and save her from an unholy union in which it is impossible that there could have been love upon either side.
“I realize that the fault is all mine, Hemmington; but the thing is done now and cannot be undone. All we can do is to work together to save you from the consequences of my foolishness. There is a motor car outside, and the Margothian border lies but a few miles to the east.”
Hemmington Main could not have been more surprised if the king of Karlova had ridden up and decorated him for shooting the crown prince. But though he felt his astonishment there was no time now to waste in useless expressions of surprise or thankfulness. He turned toward the servants—would they attempt to detain him? Unquestionably they would. As far as he could discover none of them was armed. Hemmington Main placed himself between the women and the servants; then he drew his revolver and covered the latter.
“Go out to the car,” he said to Mrs. Bass and her daughter, and then to the servants: “If you give an alarm or attempt to prevent our escape you’ll get precisely what your royal master got.”
The oldest of the servants, a venerable looking butler with the mien and dignity of a Roman emperor, permitted his face to relax into as near the semblance of a smile as his atrophied muscles would permit.
“You need have no fear, monsieur,” he said, “that we shall attempt to detain you. Nothing would suit us better than to have you safely across the into Margoth should it happen that the crazy priest has really gone to the palace with the story of what transpired here tonight. Then, surely, we shall have enough to explain without having to explain you and these two ladies.”
The American evidently revealed his incredulity of the man’s sincerity in the expression of his face following the butler’s words, for the latter hastened to reassure him.
“There is much in this matter which you do not understand, and which I may not divulge; but I give you my word, monsieur, that His Royal Highness, Prince Boris of Karlova, will reward me well if I succeed in getting you out of Karlova before you fall into the hands of the officers of the king, his father.”
“No,” said Hemmington Main, “I don’t understand; but I’m willing to take your word for it so long as you’ll all remain indoors until we are well upon our way.
“Certainly, monsieur,” replied the servant. “Good night, monsieur, and good luck!”
“Good night,” said Hemmington Main, and waving the two women toward the doorway he backed out of the room and passed forever from the royal hunting lodge of the crown prince of Karlova.
The limousine stood in the driveway, the royal chauffeur was at the wheel. Main helped Mrs. Bass and her daughter into the tonneau, and then took the seat beside the driver.
“To Demia,” he said, “and let her out.”