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Title: Red Petals
Author: Fred M White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1200361.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: January 2012
Date most recently updated: January 2012

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: Red Petals
Author: Fred M White

*

Published in The Windsor Magazine, December, 1903 to May 1904 edition.

*


I.


THEY said in Verolstein that the young Queen was sorely afflicted with
distemper; gossips had it that she could do no more than paint red
roses, that she lived in a bower of red roses, and that she spoke and
thought of nothing else. All of which was bad, for Verolstein was
disturbed over the outbreaks on the frontier, whence the rebel Count
Arnheim, the Queen's cousin and a strong pretender to the throne, was
making much headway. Verolstein appeared to be loyal enough, and there
was a strong disposition to give the sweet young Queen her chance. But
then, Verolstein had ever been fickle as a courtesan, and the thoughtful
growled under their breath for want of a king.

And for once rumour spoke the truth. Perhaps there was some method in
the young Queen's madness, for this was the eve of St. Agnes--Queen
Agnes's patron saint--and all good and true Verolsteiners and Arturians
generally would don the red rose of royalty to-morrow. Up amongst the
hills yonder were white roses by the hundred, where Arnheim's followers
lay; for to-morrow, strange to say, was Arnheim's birthday, and every
follower of his would don the white rose as a matter of course. The same
thing had happened a year ago, and the streets had run red with the
blood of those who carried the white rose. It is a slippery throne that
rests on a foundation like this.

There would be no white roses to-morrow--at least, so far as the
province of Verolstein was concerned. And it would go hard with anyone
who was seen without a red one. Therefore, towards afternoon, the giddy
and heedless were scouring the gardens far and wide for the wine-dark
blossoms. Before nightfall there was no such thing to be found in the
whole fair province. Even the Queen's roses were exhausted. She crossed
the studio where she was painting the typical red flower, and looked out
into the wide, wild, beautiful jungle of rocks and gorges and ferns that
formed the castle garden. She was very slight and very pale and very
fair, with the most wonderful red-gold hair in Europe, and her blue
eyes, if filled with trouble, had no glitter of madness in them. It was
hard to be young and enthusiastic and tender for one's people, and yet
to be thwarted at every turn by traitors thinly veneered as friends.

A slight, handsome little fellow crept into the studio with something of
the timidity of a brown mouse. He picked his way daintily between the
artistic confusion of bronze and silver and statuary, his absurd little
moustaches were faintly cocked.

"Ambrose!" the Queen cried, "you have been successful?"

The other bowed till his rapier started from the scabbard.

"Even I, your Majesty," he replied. "Your poor troubadour has
accomplished this thing. I am going to show my sweet mistress yet that I
am capable of more than a rondel or a neat couplet in praise of a set of
drooping lashes."

"We must not quite lose our fascinating minstrel, Count."

"Ah! that you never shall, madam. But as to the Duchess. De Mignon was
pleased to be flattered by my attentions. She is fifty, and the language
of love is my mother tongue. Therefore when I pressed a note into her
hand imploring an assignation, she consented. At lovers' perjuries they
say Jove laughs. That is well for my future state. She came, that
painted spy of Arnheim's, that creature of D'Arolles the infamous. We
rambled hand in hand over the heath, in the rocky ways, and behold!
love's dalliance was cruelly wrecked by a fall on the part of the
Duchess. By my dear saint! one of those slim ankles of hers is now as
the knee-pan of a kitchen-maid. De Mignon is like to keep her couch for
three days to come."

[RedPetals01.jpg] "'THEN AT LAST WE CAN ACT.'"

The Queen came hastily forward, knocking her easel over on the way. The
crimson smear on the canvas lay there unheeded.

"Then at last we can act," she said. "We are free at length to move
without being observed. De Mignon is an ally of Arnheim's and
D'Arolles'. See here."

From the bosom of her dress Queen Agnes produced a roll of paper. From
it fell a few withered petals of white rose.

"Natalie brought me this just now," she went on; "she found it in the
pocket of one of the Duchess's dresses. Ah! if she only knew how
regularly her rooms were searched! There is the conspiracy for eyes to
read. Do you know what is going to happen, Ambrose? To-morrow my dear
old friend and tutor, Cardinal Marmaison, holds a service in the
Cathedral at Rems in honour of my fete-day. All my ministers and friends
will be bidden to attend. As the State Convocation will be sitting at
Rems, nearly everybody devoted to my cause will be there. Rems is my
great stronghold. And yet every one of my followers will wear a white
rose."

Ambrose stared at his mistress with respectful amazement. For once his
eyes expressed more than he intended to convey.

"No, no," the Queen cried, "I am not mad! Nobody should know better than
yourself why I have assumed this malevolent distemper. What I say is
true. To-morrow D'Arolles gives a dinner to my ministers and others
devoted to my service. Afterwards he will present them with the rose,
which is my badge, and then they will proceed to the Cathedral.
D'Arolles will feign illness and go out. Then every red rose will become
a white one, and all these good men and true will be slain as they stand
by my infuriated burghers of Rems."

"But, madam," Ambrose stammered, "if those red roses----"

"Will really be white ones. The matter is foreshadowed in this letter.
To-morrow the Duchess is to lure me out into a distant part of the
grounds. From thence I am to be spirited away. In the anarchy following
my disappearance and the death of my faithful ones, Arnheim will sweep
down from the hills and make a bid for power."

"Yes, madam; but those changing roses," Ambrose persisted.

"Man of little wit!" the Queen cried. "Is not D'Arolles one of the most
subtle chemists in Europe? Did he not come near to the stake at Vamprey
for his witchcraft?"

"I have always been sorry for that escape," Ambrose said regretfully.

"Those roses will be chemically treated. A certain exposure to the air.
and the red will fade and the white come through. A whisper will go
forth in the streets of Rems that my ministers are bearing Arnheim's
colours on their breasts. Even if they destroy them and appear without
badge at all, it will make no difference. They must be saved."

Ambrose flushed. The pretty spoilt darling of the Court, the squire of
dames, the butt and sport of ruffled gallants, he saw his chances now.

"I am ready to die for you," he said proudly.

"Do better than that," the Queen exclaimed. "Live for me. Ambrose, I
have every confidence in your courage. And you are quick and smart, some
of my devoted fellows are not. You will have to ride far and fast in
time to spare the tragedy. You will be barely able to reach Rems
Cathedral before three of the clock to-morrow."

"I pledge my word on it, madam."

"Then go. Two of my guard shall accompany you. Choose for yourself."

"Then I will have Ulric and Eric Sarnstein," Ambrose replied. "Right
swordsmen both, and distant kinsmen of mine. They know that my rapier is
gilded goose-quill. Ah! here will be something to sing of by winter
firesides."

He stooped, caught the Queen's hand to his lips, and swaggered away,
looking a little more like an audacious brown mouse than usual. To the
peril of the way and the danger of the journey he gave no single
thought.




II.


Out from the jaws of the western gate of the castle three cavaliers rode
away with the jaunty air of men on pleasure bent. On Ambrose Valery's
saddle-bow was a small packet which he secured with careful attention--a
small box of wet moss in which the Queen had packed the blood-red roses
for her followers to wear on the morrow. There would be none to be got
in Rems, and without them there would be short shrift for the three
anywhere within a league of that city.

"Safe from all prying eyes!" Ambrose cried. "The cat has pinched her
foot, and the cream is safe on the shelf. It is a fete, not a fight,
that lies before us."

"Cats have nine lives," said Ulric. "And we have not done with the
Duchess yet."

"It is D'Arolles we have to deal with," Eric observed more quietly.
"Until his twig is limed for good and all, our lives are in jeopardy. I
fancy there may be a fight to-morrow. I pray by my patron that I may be
near D'Arolles when the steel is stripped, and that my arm may be as
ready as my heart. Scotch that black snake, and our sweet Queen is safe
for many a long day hence."

The three men looked one to the other swiftly. The bolder Eric had
merely voiced the thoughts that ran rampant in the minds of the others.
Of all the unscrupulous scoundrels in that fair province, none could
compare with D'Arolles. No son of the sword or brother of the rapier was
he, but a cunning diplomat ever playing for his own hand and purse, and
possessing a fatal faculty for clearing foes from his path. Man or
woman, it was all the same to him. He quarrelled not with them, he
smiled fairly in their eyes, and then they died of plagues of fever,
suddenly and awfully sometimes. Heaven alone knew the secrets of that
sealed laboratory of D'Arolles.

"We shall have him unawares!" Ambrose cried. "He little guesses our
errand. So he is going to feign illness and creep from the Cathedral
unseen. Ha, ha!"

He laughed gaily as he whipped up his sorrel pony. Ulric and Eric
stretched along at a hand-gallop, as fine a pair of reckless soldiers as
a maid's eye could fain to see.

"He will go out feet first," said Eric. "A vengeance--a vengeance, swift
and unexpected and terrible as the death of one of his own foes."

[RedPetals02.jpg] "A FIGURE IN RUSTY LEATHER SUIT ROSE FROM THE BRACKEN
AND WHISTLED SOFTLY."

As they swept down the road in a cloud of dust, a figure in rusty
leather suit rose from the bracken and whistled softly. The next moment
the bushes parted, and a fine, up-standing black horse came out. With an
approving pat of the glossy neck, the shabby wayfarer flung himself into
the saddle and dashed headlong down a bridle-path so that he emerged
presently on the high road some miles or so ahead of the Court rufflers
pressing in his rear.

They road on gaily through the mountain paths, clamouring as they went.
There was no fear before their eyes, they were on the Queen's business,
and it would have gone hard with any man who said them nay. Not that
they had any fear--nor, indeed, hope of this, seeing that their mission
was secret even from D'Arolles' ally, De Mignon, now happily held from
mischief by reason of her afflicted ankle. Ambrose told the tale in his
own inimitable manner until the others creaked in their saddles with
laughter.

On, on they rode, sparing not their horses till the curtain of night
fell from the silent, everlasting hills. They were up on the crest of
the ridge now, and far away across the plain they could see the brown
haze where Rems lay. They had forty miles to travel, yet they would be
there in time.

"A plague on it!" Ulric cried. "My mare has gone lame!"

"And mine," said Eric, "sobs like a maiden for a faithless lover. Do I
dream, or is there good entertainment for man and beast hereabouts?"

They came to an inn presently, a long, low, beetling building, where
lights were flashing in every window, and the din of voices and the
crashing of flagons smote on the uneasy air. A crowd of rufflers and
helpers hung about the doorway, the long taproom was crowded with the
low, swaggering type only seen where trouble and strife are in the air.
A fat, greasy man in a leather cap and blue apron accosted the
travellers with surly impudence.

"A bed!" he chuckled in an oily wheeze. "Not for our gracious Queen
herself."

Eric rattled the handle of his rapier significantly.

"Our mistress would indeed be sore pressed before she came here," he
said, with a contemptuous glance for the company and the reeking walls
of the low room, where some two-score adventurers were carousing. "Clear
a table yonder, sirrah, and get us supper at once! We shall want a
change of horses, too."

Boniface protested more civilly that a horse could not be procured for
love or money. There had been a great call for them lately; besides,
Arnheim's followers had been raiding the hills in search of likely
cattle. Their Excellencies might make inquiries, of course, but no
horses would be found. The man was lying fluently, with his tongue in
his cheek all the time. Even Ambrose grew grave.

"Someone has been before us," Eric muttered, as he pushed his way none
too civilly to their table. "No horses in the hills! Did ever man hear
the like?"

"The horses will be found," Ambrose smiled. "We can travel no further on
our own. Do you stay here and keep your ears open whilst I see to our
steeds' comfort. Mayhap I may see something likely in the stables
yonder."

Ambrose returned presently with the air of a man whose exertions have
not been in vain. He came with the intelligence that the horses were
utterly foundered, and that if Rems was to be reached in time to avert
the calamity, they must needs be unfettered by anything nice in the way
of scruples.

"There are those about here who are used to finer quarters," he said.
"There are four black beasts in yonder stables that might belong to a
prince, and their harness to a coxcomb of neighbour Louis' court. What
are they doing here? And what is his business?"

By the door sat the man in shabby leather, the man with the black horse
who had preceded our three cavaliers a league or so on the journey. With
a big leather 'jack' before him, and a long Dutch pipe between his lips,
he seemed to be heedless of everybody.

"Do you know him?" Ulric asked, carelessly stretching his legs.

"Aye, marry I do. The rascal is one of D'Arolles' familiars. An
evil-looking fellow, who can be mighty agreeable amongst the kitchen
louts when he has the mood. Sings a good song and has a fine ear for a
keyhole. And there is Wandering Will, too. Hi, Will!"

The new-comer took no heed. He was dressed fantastically in a cast-off
Court suit, which was reduced to a neutral tint by exposure, and torn to
rags by reason of the owner's wanderings in the bypaths of the hills.
His long, matted hair hung on his shoulder's, behind him was a kind of
rude minstrel's harp. A rollicking rattle of ironical applause greeted
his entrance, to which he bowed with profound gravity.

"Have a care for the Queen, have a lip for the cup,

Keep your rapier polished wherever you go,

And take care for your horses, yet other men's steeds----"


He flashed over a bright, meaning eye at Ambrose as he flung himself
into one of the benches. Also with a gesture he indicated the man behind
him in the rusty leather suit. The look and the gesture were not lost on
Ambrose. And Wandering Will was a mine of information ever. Tossing off
a brimming cup of somebody's, Will began to sing.

His fine bass voice rolled round the room and rang in the smoking
rafters. A roar of applause followed the singing of the song.

"A mere nothing," Will muttered. "There is one here who is my master.
Come, Excellency, will not you put up with us for once and let us hear
what singing is?"

"I believe the varlet is speaking to you, Ambrose," Eric growled. "Give
him the flat of your rapier for his insolence."

Ambrose shook his head. Assuredly there was some deep scheme behind
Will's audacity.

"He speaks between lines," he said. "There is mischief afoot. Did you
hear what he said about the horses? I'm going to sing, I tell you. When
I start, do you step out and get saddles on to those three black horses.
There is only one dolt of a helper in the stables. Wait for me outside.
I'll join you as soon as possible."

With some assumption of hauteur, Ambrose hummed a song. Presently his
fine tenor voice broke out fresh and clear as a lark. Keen and convivial
as the company were, they had never heard anything like this before,
this simple little love song like a gem on a dust-heap. In the
breathless silence, Ambrose could hear the jingle of bit and bridle
outside. As he finished, and the last pure note died away, there was a
yell for another.

"One at a time, my friends," Ambrose laughed. "I see one by the door
whom I have heard trill a jocund ditty before now. Come, Leather-jacket,
it is my call. Give 'em the song of the Five Horsemen."

"I will see you all on the rack first," the leather-jerkined man
growled.

Something like a threatening growl followed. The last speaker put down
his pipe and slid towards the door. Wandering Will stood before it, his
arms outstretched. A dozen dirty hands were laid on the fellow, and he
was hoisted on the table.

"Sing, sing!" they roared. "Sing, or we'll tickle the notes out of you
with our blades!"

Leather-jacket started hastily to comply in a rolling voice that filled
the room. It was a long song that Ambrose had purposely chosen. He
slipped out in the uproar, glad when the fresh, pure air smote on his
lungs again. Eric and Ulric were already mounted, a third horse stood
pawing the ground close by.

"That was neatly done!" Ambrose cried. "We shall not be missed for a
good ten minutes yet. I set my fellow a task, and Will will see that he
does not move too soon. And you?"

"Our task was easy," Ulric explained. "There were the horses, and no
more than the oaf of a stableman to say us nay. He protested that the
cattle belonged to men of position, and, in faith! he was not far wrong.
See the crest?"

In the shimmer of light Ambrose could just make out the design on the
harness. Then he felt hastily in his own saddle-bag. The precious packet
of wet moss was safe.

"Arnheim!" he cried. "Arnheim in that very house yonder! It seems to me,
gentlemen, that we have had a narrow escape."

"And that our mission is understood," Eric smiled.

"Also that Wandering Will's ready wit saved us," said Ambrose. "Hark! We
had better press on before yonder brawl gets worse."

There was a roar as of angry bees inside the inn, stamps and yells, and
the sound of blows, as the three cavaliers dashed into the darkness.




III.


It was long past noon when the three drew rein before the 'King's Arms,'
in Rems high-street. As they came into the city they did not fail to
notice the strange feverishness that seemed to possess the town like a
plague. The streets were thronged with people moving to and fro in twos
and threes, partly as if for protection, and partly as if furtively
suspicious of everybody else.

They were troubled times, and strange rumours were in the air. The
Queen's malady and the story of the painted red roses was on every lip.
Arnheim was coming down from the hills, like one of his wolves, with
twenty thousand swords behind him. The Court and ministers had turned
against Queen Agnes, and were only awaiting the signal to declare
themselves. D'Arolles' agents were everywhere, and they had circulated
their poisonous reports cunningly.

More than once during the century the cobble-stones of Rems had run red
with blood. The citizens were getting sick of intrigue and slaughter.
They had only lately seen a young girl succeed to the throne, and they
had hoped for peace and tranquillity to develop their prosperous trades.

They were all for the Queen, but they did not know her well enough, as
yet, to carry their loyalty to the sword's point. If D'Arolles came down
from the hills sufficiently strong to carry the city, the city would
submit. Not that they loved Arnheim, but anything was better than that
hideous slaughter.

All the same, every man, woman, and child sported the red rose.
D'Arolles, ruling the city as a blight, and cursed by every citizen
under his breath, had ordered it so. If only they could be rid of the
dark, little, sardonic man and his constant intrigues! All bowed down to
him, all feared him, as he was trusted by none. All the same, those
armed rufflers in the narrow streets were his agents, and it was they
who stated covertly that the Court and ministry were going to throw off
the yoke to-day and appear at the grand Cathedral service wearing the
white rose of Arnheim. And if they did, those assumed friends of the
Queen swore to massacre the lot, including his Eminence Cardinal
Marmaison, on the very altar-steps. No wonder that Rems was uneasy and
restless; no wonder that they would have heard of D'Arolles' dissolution
with complacent satisfaction. The trap might be set for them, after all.

A score of armed ruffians were swaggering before the 'King's Arms' as
the three dismounted. More than one of them glanced curiously at the
black barbs. But the three sported the crimson roses on their breasts,
and no questions were asked, nothing more than insolent stares on the
part of the ruffish crew.

"D'Arolles' lambs to a man," Ambrose muttered. "There will be stiff work
for us presently. It would be well to be at the Cathedral early."

"It would be better to line the inner man first," Eric muttered. "It is
but sorry work fighting on an empty stomach. Fellow! take these horses
and see to them."

Eric swaggered into the hostel, followed by the rest. Here all was quiet
enough, for they had the great dining-hall to themselves, and in the
mullioned window fared royally on a haunch and a flagon of red wine
each, after which they smoked a pipe of Virginia each at leisure.

Meanwhile the crowd outside was increasing. Red roses could be seen on
every side. Presently a small cavalcade rode down the centre of the
street, the populace making way respectfully and yet with no signs of
heartiness or warm greeting.

"Who's the devil's disciple in the centre?" asked Ulric. "The little man
with the eye of a hawk and the skin of dirty parchment? By the rood! I
should be loth to trust him far."

"D'Arolles himself!" Ambrose said quietly. "Evidently the banquet to
ministers is a thing of the past, and he is on the way to the Cathedral.
And there goes the Cardinal. Our Lady keep him! He little knows how near
he is to death."

"Or D'Arolles, for that matter," Ulric growled, as he touched his
rapier.

"Messieurs, the game commences in earnest. If we are going to get a good
seat at the play, it seems to me that we had better be up and doing."

"The man in the corner sees most of the game," Ambrose observed. "Our
place will be a lowly one, near the north porch."

"And what shall we do there, my cheerful bard?"

"Why, intercept D'Arolles' escape, of course. Stay where we can watch
the infernal juggling from start to finish. We will want to see the
roses turn from red to white, want to see D'Arolles rush out with
simulated horror to tell his armed assassins outside what has happened,
so that they may rush in and murder everybody there in the name of Queen
Agnes and the sacred call of loyalty. Wait there, my brothers, and stop
that part of the tragedy, and--turn the roses from white to red again."

Ambrose's head was flung back, his whole aspect changed. He was no
longer the sprightly Court dandy, the squire of dames, the pet of a
circle. He spake in ringing tones; his eyes flashed with a strange, grim
purpose.

"There is a plan in that clever head," cried Ulric, not without
admiration. "Glad am I that you came along, Ambrose."

"What would you have done without me?" Ambrose laughed.

"I' faith!" Ulric confessed frankly, "I do not know. Died with the
Queen's name upon our lips----"

"And left D'Arolles to his triumph! We shall see something presently
that Time will write in red, large letters in the history of Europe.
Allons!"

They swaggered out into the street as if they had no care in the world.
Yet their red roses were displayed conspicuously on their doublets, and
the rapiers were ready. All Rems seemed to be out of doors
to-day--anxious-looking citizens, eager students pushing the mob this
way and that, wolfish-eyed men with the brown stains of the hills on
their faces, men who seemed ready for anything.

"D'Arolles' parasites, these," Ambrose whispered, "and followers of
Arnheim to a man. Their hands will be red presently, or so they think.
My faith! it is a poor sort of greeting that waits for her Majesty's
ministers to-day."

Through the jostling, pushing crowd a statesman thrust his way. The
ministers were greeted with a faint murmur and hostile looks. Small
wonder, when the good people of Rems had been told that ere long one and
all would be traitors to their Queen. The poison had been poured
steadily into willing ears.

The Cathedral was reached at length. In the large open square a dense
mass of people had gathered. The lean-flanked men from the hills were
well to the fore. Only those invited had entered the Cathedral. Ambrose
and Eric and Ulric swaggered past the guard with the easy assumption of
invited guests.

There were not more than two hundred guests altogether, but a glance on
the part of the adventurers disclose the fact that they constituted the
cream of Queen Agnes's following. Without them, she had been a
rudderless ship on a stormy ocean; without them, Arnheim might push his
way to the throne unaided. And they were doomed every one of them by a
plot as infamous as any ever conceived by the Borgia.

The doors closed presently; the organ boomed in the fretted roof, the
service commenced. Outside came a rocking, uneasy din, as an angry sea
on a rocky coast. Ever and anon could be heard a sound as of the
clashing of arms. In the gloomy niche of a high tomb near the great
north porch, the adventurers watched and waited. Higher and higher grew
the din outside, so that the good old Cardinal paused in his sermon with
a gesture of pitiful patience. Ambrose could see the expression in that
grand, broad face, he could see the heaving of the shoulders and the
fall of the breast. Then he saw more; he saw the red rose over
Marmaison's heart change from crimson to drab, to white.

Others had seen it, too, for there was a cry of astonishment. The
Cardinal paused and looked down in amazement. He could see white roses
everywhere. For a moment hands sought rapiers, for every man fed upon a
deep distrust of his neighbour. Each man had been tricked he knew not
how, but each deemed the rest to be traitors.

From the great stone pulpit Cardinal Marmaison looked down helplessly.
At the same time a slight figure with pale face and gleaming black eyes
was hastening to the door--the only man save our adventurers who wore a
real red rose on his breast. He reached a hand for the lock, but Ulric
had him in a grip of steel.

"Not yet, traitor and murderer!" he hissed. "This is your doing. Your
hired assassins wait outside for the signal that the red roses have
grown white. And so you would destroy all those who are on the side of
our gracious Queen."

"I am D'Arolles," the other said hoarsely. "Out of my way!"

"If you were ten times D'Arolles, and ten times the abandoned scoundrel
that you are, no!" Ambrose said. "If you would save your skin, go back."

The Cardinal looked down uneasily from the pulpit.

"Ruffling in the house of God!" he cried. "Shame on you, whoever you
are! Surely the fiend has been at work enough here already."

"Help! help!" D'Arolles cried. "There are traitors here! Traitors!
traitors!"

Immediately there came a thundering on the doors, the clash of steel,
the shrill yells and cries of the hillmen. Ambrose strode up the aisle.

"There is no time to waste!" he screamed. "D'Arolles is the traitor--the
arch-traitor, and the most cunning chemist in Europe! It was he who gave
you all the red roses so deftly treated that the crimson turned to white
on exposure to the air. You are all for the Queen, but the people here
have been told that you would dare to come here to-day wearing the white
rose of the House of Arnheim. A pack of Arnheim's wolves wait outside to
destroy you all; they will point to the white roses on your breasts as
their justification, and the people of Rems will hang you in chains.
Bah! cannot you see that if this thing is done, Arnheim's path to the
throne is clear?"

As Ambrose spoke, his own rose seemed to go out to a pale drab. The
other two noted the change in their own badge.

"At the inn last night," Ambrose whispered. "The man in the leathern
suit. He must have tampered with my saddle-bag."

A cry from within the Cathedral rose noisy and rampant as the din
outside. The big oaken doors were giving under repeated blows.

"No murder here, I beg of you!" the Cardinal cried. "Consider,
consider----"

He came down amongst them, his flowing robes rustling. He might as well
have addressed a pack of hungry wolves with the quarry in sight.

"D'Arolles!" they cried. "The blood of D'Arolles!"

"I will have no murder here!" Marmaison thundered.

"Then we are all to be murdered here," a voice cried. "D'Arolles, or all
of us! He dies!"

A hundred voices took up the echoing cry. From outside came answering
yells, half a yard of rapier came through the splintering door.
D'Arolles fled hastily, made to fling his body across the altar. He
would be safe there. But a nimble-footed gallant headed him off, so
that, perforce, he was compelled to fly for the chapel of St. Mark's,
with the faint hope of reaching the cloisters beyond.

"Put your poor, faded roses in your pockets, comrades," Ambrose said
between his teeth. "I will show you a good use for them presently. We
will defend this door. Meanwhile, unless ill befalls us, D'Arolles is
doomed. Then we shall know how to act."

A panel in the door burst like a pistol-shot, and three figures
staggered in. Two of them were instantly transfixed, the third rolled
upon the floor. He scrambled to his feet and turned with flashing,
dazzling blade. A cry of delight burst from Ambrose.

"Arnheim!" he yelled. "The white wolf himself! Engage!"

[RedPetals03.jpg] "THRUST THE DEAD BODY FORTH."

He fell on the man with incredible dash and fury. Beaten back and taken
absolutely by surprise, Arnheim fought but feebly. There was a slip--a
stagger--and he went crashing to the ground; Ambrose's weapon passed
clean through his heart.

He raised the slim, wiry figure with a grunt of triumph. As another
panel of the door gave way, he thrust the dead body forth.

"There is your leader!" he cried. "We have scant use for traitors here.
We are all for the Queen, as we shall prove to Rems presently."

A strange lull in the outside tumult followed. The whole thing had been
so terrible and so unexpected. The townspeople had fallen back when the
news had reached them, hardly knowing what to think. They had been
innocent of the fact that Arnheim had been amongst them. Did it not
point to the collusion between the dead rebel and D'Arolles? And how
could those folk in the Cathedral yonder be traitors when they had
struck such a blow for the Queen? And yet they had been told that they
should see the white roses for themselves.

Clearly, it was, after all, no concern of theirs. They fell back uneasy
and ashamed, leaving Arnheim's followers to fight for the Cathedral.
Meanwhile, D'Arolles had reached the cloisters; he turned and kissed his
hand to his foes. He was free. Then a fleet shadow seemed to rise from
the brown walls, there was a flash and a cry, and D'Arolles lay back
with his heart's blood pouring out into a hollow cup in the flag-stones
worn by countless feet down the dim avenue of past generations.

"Fate well deserved!" Marmaison murmured. "Praise God he died not in the
Cathedral itself! And what are we to do now, gentlemen?"

Ambrose stepped forward. He had come swiftly along at the cry that
D'Arolles was no more. He took from his doublet his faded rose.

"They said outside we were not for the Queen," he cried. "They said that
they should see the white roses of Arnheim's on our hearts. But the
traitor has died so that we can drive the lie back to their lips. My
lords, behold the red rose of Queen Agnes!"

He stooped, dipped the pallid flower in the blood of the traitor, shook
it, and held it aloft. The thick, crimson fluid dyed it to the deepest
crimson. A rocking, thundering murmur of applause followed. Five minutes
later, and the red roses glistened in every breast. Then the doors of
the Cathedral were flung open, and five-score of gallant gentlemen, with
the badge of the Queen over their hearts, emerged.

One instant, and then Rems burst into a mighty cheer. Taken utterly by
surprise, leaderless, their cause hopelessly lost, the wolves turned and
fled and were seen no more. It was a day of fierce excitement and wild
enthusiasm, but the good people of Rems slept that night with a
tranquillity they had not known for years.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Duchess de Mignon avowed herself to be better. Positively she felt
able to stand the strain of a walk from her own closet to the studio of
the Queen. Her elderly cheeks were painted, her wig reflected every
possible credit upon her perruquier, the smile on her red lips was good
to see.

The Queen was painting her flowers, her everlasting red roses.

The Duchess chattered gaily. She stopped presently, as hoofs clattered
into the court-yard, and after a pause Ambrose and Ulric and Eric
entered unannounced. The Duchess was outraged.

"This is an insult!" she said. "And--and when it comes from you,
Ambrose----"

"We are from Rems, madam," said Ambrose. "It was as you said. The plot
has failed."

"The plot!" the Duchess gasped. "What plot is that?"

"Your Grace's plot with D'Arolles," Ambrose said coolly. "We found the
letter in your pocket; we have found other letters on the dead body of
D'Arolles."

"The dead--dead body. Oh! I do not understand."

"D'Arolles is dead. The scheme of the juggled roses failed," said
Ambrose. "Every man who emerged from Rems Cathedral had a red rose over
his heart. Ah! your Grace turns pale. I will tell you presently how that
was done. So sure of his position was Arnheim that he dared to lead the
attack upon the Cathedral in person. I slew him with my own hand, and I
glory in the deed."

The Duchess could say no more. She lay back half swooning in her chair,
regarding the three travel-stained cavaliers between her half-closed
eyes. The Queen had risen to her feet, pale and trembling, yet with a
great resolution shining in her eyes. The easel had fallen to the floor,
her foot had torn through the canvas, but she heeded it not.

"You have all fresh red roses," she said. "Show me how it was done."

"With pleasure, your Majesty. The first part you knew; the Duchess knows
also. If I have your Majesty's permission to order a bowl of warm
water----"

The Queen rang the bell with her own hands.

"I could deny you nothing," she cried. "You have saved my happiness and
my throne, and may God bless you for it! Rene, a bowl of warm water
here."

The water came, and Ambrose solemnly soaked his rose in the clear fluid.
As deliberately and solemnly the others proceeded to treat their flowers
in similar fashion; and when the flowers were shaken, they came out a
streaky, faded white.

"Will you explain the enigma?" the Queen asked, with a smile.

"I will, madam," Ambrose went on. "All the roses in the Cathedral were
white. The wolves were ready for us. Rems had believed the slanders. We
caught D'Arolles as he was about to leave the Cathedral. We exposed his
scheme; and in the cloisters someone killed that arch-fiend.. .. . When
we left the Cathedral, we all wore red roses."

"Still I don't quite see," said the Queen.

"Madam," Ambrose said solemnly, "they were red, and white, and red
again, and the last red was the crimson, treacherous blood of a
traitor."

He laid the rose at the Queen's feet; so did Ulric and Eric. Her face
was pale and agitated; she spoke no word for some time. Then she held
out her two hands.

"My friends," she said brokenly. "My friends, if ever I could----"

"Madam," Ambrose said shortly----"madam, the Duchess de Mignon has
swooned."


THE END



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