Arthurian and Grail Plays

The Fortunate Island
By Max Adeler
 

Chapter III. The Rescue

   Professor Baffin politely declined to wear the armor of Sir Dinadan upon the journey. He packed a few things in a satchel, and putting his revolver in his pocket, he bade adieu to his daughter and the members of the Baron's family. Mounting his horse by the side of Sir Bleoberis, who rode in full armor, the two trotted briskly out through the woods to the roadway, which ran not far from the castle.
   "Where shall we go to look for the lady?" asked the Professor, as the Knight started down the road at a rapid pace.
  
"The villain, no doubt, has carried her captive to his castle. We shall seek her there."
   "How are we going to get her out? I have had very little experience, personally, in storming castles."
   "We shall have to devise some plan when we get there," replied the Knight. "The castle, unhappily, is upon an island in the middle of the lake."
   "And I can't swim," said the Professor.
   "Perhaps the King will give us help. It is close to the place where he holds his court."
   The Professor began to think that the case looked exceedingly unpromising. He lapsed into silence, thinking over the probable results of the failure of his mission; and as the Knight appeared to be absorbed in his own reflections, the pair rode forward without engaging in further conversation.
Professor Bafin did not fail to notice the extreme loveliness of the country through which they were passing. It presented all the characteristics of a perfect English landscape; but he observed that it was not fully cultivated, and that the agricultural methods employed were of a very primitive kind.
After an hour's ride, the two horsemen entered a wood. Hardly had they done so before they heard, near to them, the voice of a woman crying loudly for help. Sir Bleoberis at once spurred his horse forward, and the Professor followed close behind him.
   Presently they perceived a Knight in armor endeavoring to hold upon the horse in front of him a young woman of handsome appearance, who screamed loudly as she attempted to release herself from his grasp.
   "Drop her!" exclaimed the Professor in an excited manner, and drawing his revolver, "put her down; let her go at once!"
   The Knight turned, and seeing the intruders he released the maiden, and levelling his lance, made straight for Sir Bleoberis at full gallop.
   The lady, white with terror, flew to the Professor, and reposed her head upon his bosom.
   Professor Baffin was embarrassed. He had no idea what he had better do or say. He could not repulse the poor creature; and as the situation, upon the whole, was not positively disagreeable, he permitted her to remain, sobbing upon his bosom, while he watched the fight, and dried her eyes, in a fatherly way, with his handkerchief.
   The two Knights came together with a terrible shock which made the sparks fly; but neither was unhorsed or injured, and the lances of both glanced aside. They turned, and made at each other again. This time the lance of each pierced the armor of the other, so that neither lance could be withdrawn. It really seemed as if the two knights would have to undress and to walk off, leaving their armor pinioned together. A moment later the strange Knight fell to the ground, and lay perfectly still. The Professor went up to him and taking his lance from his hand, so that Sir Bleoberis could move, unlaced the knight's helmet.
   He was dead.
   The Professor was inexpressibly shocked. "Why," he exclaimed, "the man is dead! Most horrible, isn't it?"
   "Oh, no," said Sir Bleoberis, coolly. "I tried to kill him."
   "You wanted to murder him?"
   "Oh, yes, of course."
   "I am so glad you did," exclaimed the damsel with a sweet smile. "How can I thank you? And you, my dear preserver."
   "Bless my soul, madam," exclaimed the Professor, "I had nothing to do with it. I consider it perfectly horrible."
   Turning to Sir Bleoberis, the maiden said, "It was you who fought, but it was this brave and wise man who brought you here, was it not?"
   "Yes," said Sir Bleoberis, smiling.
   "I knew it," exclaimed the lady, flinging her arms around the Professor's neck. "I can never repay you--never, never, excepting a life of devotion."
   The Professor began to feel warm. Disengaging himself as speedily as possible he said--
   "Of course madam, I am very glad you have been rescued--very. But I deeply regret that the Knight over there was slain. What," asked the Professor of Sir Bleoberis, "will you do with him?"
   "Let him lie. He is of no further use."
   "I never heard of anything so shocking," said Professor Baffin. "And how are we to dispose of this lady?"
   "I will go with you," exclaimed the damsel, looking eagerly at the Professor. "Let me tell you my story. My name is Bragwaine. I am the daughter of the Prince Sagramor. That dead Knight found me, a few hours ago, walking in the park by my father's castle. Sir Lamorak, he was called. Riding up swiftly to me, he seized me, and carried me away. He brought me, despite my screams and struggles, to this place, where you found us both. I should now be a captive in his castle but for you."
   Bragwaine seemed about to fall upon the Professor's neck again, but he pretended to stumble, and retreated to a safe distance.
   "Is there much of this kind of thing going on,--this business of galloping off with a marriageable girl?" asked the Professor.
   "Oh yes," said Sir Bleoberis.
   "I thought so," said the Professor; "this is the second case I have encountered to-day. We shall most likely have quite a collection of rescued damsels on our hands by the time we get back home. It is interesting, but embarrassing."
   "I know Prince Sagramor," said Sir Bleoberis to Bragwaine. "We are going to the court, and will take you to your father."
   "
You will take me, Sir--Sir--"
   "Sir Baffin," explained Sir Bleoberis.
   "Sir Baffin, will you not?"
   "You can have my horse. I will walk."
   "I will ride upon your horse with you, and you shall hold me on," said Bragwaine.
   "That is the custom," said Bleoberis.
   "But," exclaimed the Professor with an air of distress, "I am not used to riding double. I doubt if I can manage the horse and hold you on at the same time."
   "You need not hold me," said Bragwaine laughingly; "I will hold fast to you. I shall not fall."
   "But, then--"
   "I will go with you," said Bragwaine almost tearfully. "You won me from the hands of that villain, Lamorak, and I am not so ungrateful as to leave you to cling to another person."
   "Well, I declare!" exclaimed the Professor, "this certainly is a very curious situation for a man like me to find himself
in. However, I will do the best I can."
   Professor Baffin mounted his steed, and then Sir Bleoberis swung the fair Bragwaine up to a place on the saddle in front of the Professor. Bragwaine clutched his coat-sleeve tightly; and although the Professor felt there was no real necessity that she should attempt to preserve her equipoise by pressing his shoulder strongly with her head, he regarded the arrangement without very intense indignation.
   He found that he could ride very comfortably with two in the saddle, but he felt that his attention could be given more effectively to the management of the horse if Bragwaine would stop turning her eyes up to his in that distracting manner so frequently.
   They rode in silence for awhile. Suddenly Bragwaine said:
   "Sir Baffin?"
   "Well; what?"
   "Are you married?"
   Professor Bafin hardly knew what answer he had better give. After hesitating for a moment, he said:
"I have been."
   "Then your wife is dead?"
   The Professor could not lie. He had to say "Yes!"
   "I am so glad," murmured Bragwaine. "Not that she is dead, but that you are free."
   Professor Baffin was afraid to ask why. He felt that matters were becoming serious.
   "And the reason is," continued Bragwaine, "that I have learned to love you better that I love any other one on earth!"
   She said this calmly, very modestly, and quite as if were a matter of course.
   The Professor in astonishment looked at Sir Bleoberis, who had heard Bragwaine's words. The Knight nodded to him pleasantly, and said, "I expected this."
   Evidently it was not an unusual thing for ladies so to express their feelings.
   The somewhat bewildered Sir Baffin then said, "Well, my dear child, it is very kind indeed for you to regard me in that manner. I have done nothing to deserve it."
   "You are my rescuer, my benefactor, my heart's idol!"
   "Persons at my time of life," said the Professor, blushing, "have to be extremely careful. I will be a father to you, of course! Oh, certainly, you may count upon me being a father to you, right along."
   "I do not mean that I love you as a daughter. You must marry me; you dear Sir Baffin." Then she actually patted his cheek.
   Professor Baffin could feel the cold perspiration trickling down his back.
   "I think," he said to Sir Bleoberis, "that this is, everything considered, altogether
the most stupendous combination of circumstances that ever came within the range of my observation. It is positively distressing."
   "You will break my heart if you will not love me," said Bragwaine, as if she were going to cry.
   "Well, well," replied the bewildered Professor, "we can consider the subject at some other time. Your father, you know, might have other views, and,--"
   "The Prince, my father, will overwhelm you with gratitude for saving me. I know he will approve of our marriage. I will persuade him to have you knighted, and to secure for you some high place at court."
  
"That," said the Professor, "would probably make me acutely miserable for life."
   Within an hour or two after the fight with Sir Lamorak, the Professor and his companions drew near to Callion, the town in which King Brandegore held his court.
   Just before entering it they encountered Prince Sagramor coming out with a retinue of knights in pursuit of Sir Lamorak and his daughter. Naturally he was filled with joy at finding that she had been rescued and brought back to him.
   After embracing her, he greeted Sir Bleoberis and the Professor warmly, thanking them for the service they had done to him. Bragwaine insisted upon the Professor's especial title to gratitude, and when she had told with eloquence of his wisdom and his valor, and she added to her story Sir Bleoberis' explanation of the Professor's adventures, the Prince saluted the latter, and said:
   "There is only one way in which I can honor you, Sir Baffin. I perceive that already you have won the heart of this damsel. I intended her for another. But she is fairly yours. Take her, gallant sir, and with her a loving father's blessing!"
   Bragwaine wept for happiness.
   "But, your highness, if I might be permitted to explain--" stammered the Professor.
   "I know!" replied the Prince. "You will perhaps say you are poor. It is nothing. I will make you rich. It is enough for me that she loves you, and that you return it."
   "I cannot sufficiently thank you for your kindness," said the Professor, "but really there is a--"
   "If you are not noble, the King will cure that. He wants such brave men as you are in his service," said the Prince.
   "I am a free-born American citizen, and the equal of any man on earth," said the Professor proudly, "but to tell you the honest truth, I--"
   "You are not already married?" inquired the Prince, somewhat suspiciously.
   "I have been married; my wife is dead, and--"
   "Then, of course you can marry Bragwaine. Sir Colgrevance," said the Prince to one of his attendants, "ride over and tell the abbot that Bragwaine will wish to be married to-morrow!"
   "To-morrow!" shrieked the Professor. "I really must protest; you are much to sudden. I have an important mission to fulfil, and I must attend to that first, and at once."
   Sir Bleoberis explained to the Prince the nature of their errand, and told him the Professor's daughter was held as a hostage until he should bring Ysolt back to Baron Bors.
   "We will delay the wedding, then," said the Prince. "And now, let us ride homeward."
   If it had not been for the heart-rending manner in which everybody regarded him as the future husband of Bragwaine, and for the extreme tenderness of that lady's behavior toward him, the Professor would have enjoyed hugely his sojourn at the court. King Brandegore regarded him from the first with high favor, and the sovereign's conduct of course sufficed to recommend the Professor to everybody else. The Professor found the King to be a man of rather large mind, and it was a continual source of pleasure to the learned man to unfold to the King, who listened with amazement and admiration, the wonders of modern invention, science, and discovery.
   With what instruments the Professor's ingenuity could construct from the rude materials at hand; he showed a number of experiments, chiefly electrical, which so affected the King that he ordered the regular court magician to be executed as a perfectly hopeless humbug; but Professor Baffin's energetic protest saved the unhappy conjurer from so sad a fate.
   An extemporized telegraph line, a few hundred yards in length, impressed the King more strongly than any other thing, and not only did he make to Sir Bleoberis and the Professor exclusive concessions of the right to build lines within his dominions, but he promised to organize, at an early day, a raid upon a neighboring sovereign, for the purpose of obtaining plunder enough to give to the enterprise a handsome subsidy.
   Sir Dagonet did not come to court during the Professor's stay. But there, in full view of the palace, a mile away in the lake, was his castle, and in that castle was the lovely Ysolt.
   The Professor examined the building frequently through his field-glasses, which, by the way, the King regarded with unspeakable admiration; and more than once he thought he could distinguish Ysolt sitting by the window of one of the towers overlooking the lake.
   The King several times sent to Sir Dagonet messages commanding Sir Dagonet to bring the damsel to him, but as Sir Dagonet invariably responded by trying to brain the messenger or to sink his boat, the King was forced to give it up as a hopeless case. Storming the castle was out of the question. None of the available boats were large enough to carry more than half a dozen men, and Sir Dagonet had many boats of great size which he could man, so as to assail any hostile fleet before it came beneath the castle wall.
   But the Professor had a plan of his own, which he was working out in secret, while he waited. Sir Bleoberis had procured several skilful armorers, and under the directions of the Professor they undertook to construct, in rather a crude fashion, a small steam engine. This, when the parts were completed, was fitted into a boat with a propeller screw, and when the craft was launched upon the lake, the Professor was delighted to find that it worked very nicely. The trial-trip was made at night so that the secret of the existence of such a vessel might be kept from any of the friends of Sir Dagonet who might be loitering about.
   It devolved upon Sir Bleoberis, by bribing a servant of Sir Dagonet's who came ashore, to send a message to Ysolt. She was ordered to watch at a given hour upon a certain night for a signal which should be given from a boat, beneath her window, and then to leap fearlessly into the water.
   The night chosen was to be the eve of the Professor's wedding-day. The more Prince Sagramor saw of Professor Baffin and his feats, the more strongly did he admire him; and in order to make provision against any accident which should deprive his daughter of marriage with so remarkable a man, the Prince commanded the wedding-day to be fixed positively, despite the remonstrances which the Professor offered somewhat timidly, in view of the extreme delicacy of the matter.
   Upon the night in question, the Professor, at the request of the King, who was very curious to have an opportunity to learn from practical experience the nature of the thing which the Professor called "a lecture," undertook to deliver in the dining-room of the palace the lecture upon Sociology, which he had prepared for his course in England.
   The room was packed, and the interest and curiosity at first manifested were intense; but the Professor spoke for an hour and three-quarters, losing his place several times because of the wretched character of the lights, and when he had concluded, he was surprised to discover that his entire audience was sound asleep.
   At first he felt rather annoyed, but in an instant he perceived that chance had arranged matters in an extremely favorable manner.
   It was within precisely half an hour of the time when he was to be in the boat under the window of Ysolt.
   Stepping softly from the platform, he went upon tiptoe from the room. Not a sleeper awoke. Hurrying from the palace to the shore, he found Sir Bleoberis sitting in the boat, and awaiting him with impatience.
   The Professor entered the craft, and applying a lighted match to the wood beneath the boiler, he pushed the boat away from the shore, and waited until he could get steam enough to move with.
   A few moments sufficed for this, and then, opening the throttle-valve gently, the tiny steamer sailed swiftly over the bosom of the lake, through the intense darkness, until the wall of the castle, dark and gloomy, loomed up directly ahead.
   A light was faintly burning in Ysolt's chamber in the tower, and the casement was open.
   As the prow of the boat lightly touched the stones of the wall and rested, Sir Bleoberis softly whistled.
   "I have always been uncertain," said the Professor to himself, "if the ancients knew how to whistle. This seems to indicate that they know how. It is extremely interesting. I must remember to tell Tilly to note it in her journal."
   In response to the signal, a head appeared at the casement, and a soft, sweet voice said:
   "Is that you, darling?"
   "Yes, yes, it is I," replied Sir Bleoberis. "Oh, my love! my Ysolt!" he exclaimed, in an ecstasy.
   "Is Sir Baffin there, too?"
   "Yes. We are both here; and we have a swift boat. Come to me at once, dear love, that we may fly with you homeward."
   "I am not quite ready, love," replied Ysolt. "Will you not wait for a moment?"
   "It is important," said the Professor, "that we should act quickly."
   "But I
must fix up my hair," returned Ysolt. "I will hurry as much as I can."
   "Women," said the Professor to his companion, "are all alike. She would rather remain in prison for life than come out with her hair mussed."
   The occupants of the boat waited very impatiently for fifteen or twenty minutes. Then Ysolt, coming again to the window, said:
   "Are you there, dearest?"
   "Yes," replied Sir Bleoberis, eagerly. "We are all ready."
   "And there's no time to lose," added Professor Baffin.
   "Is your hair fixed?" asked the knight.
   "Oh, yes," said Ysolt.
   "Then come right down."
   "Would ten minutes more make any difference?" asked Ysolt.
  
"It might ruin us," replied the Professor.
   "We can wait no longer, darling," said Sir Bleoberis, firmly.
   "Then you will have to go without me," said Ysolt, with a twinge of bitterness. "It is simply impossible for me to come till I get my bundle packed."
   "We will wait, then," returned Sir Bleoberis, gloomily. Then he said to the Professor: "She had no bundle with her when she was captured."
   The Professor, in silent desperation, banked his fires, threw open the furnace-door, and began to wonder what kind of chance he would have in the event of a boiler explosion. Blowing off steam, under the existing circumstances, was simply out of the question.
   After a delay of considerable duration, Ysolt's voice was heard again:
   "Dearest!"
   "What, love?" asked Sir Bleoberis.
   "I am all ready now," said Ysolt.
   "So are we."
   "How must I get down?"
   "Climb through the window and jump. You will fall into the water, but I shall catch you and place you in the boat."
   "But I shall get horridly wet!"
   "Of course; but darling, that can make no great difference, so that you escape."
   "And spoil my clothes, too!"
   "Yes, Ysolt, I know; but--"
   "I cannot do it; I am afraid." And Ysolt began to cry.
   Wild despair filled the heart of Sir Bleoberis.
   "I have a rope here," said the Professor; "but how are we to get it up to her?"
   "Ysolt," said Bleoberis, "if I throw you the end of rope, do you think you can catch it?"
   "I will try."
   Sir Bleoberis threw it. He threw it again. He threw it thirteen times, and then Ysolt contrived to catch it.
   "What shall I do with it now? she asked.
   "Tie it to something; to the bed, or anything," replied the Knight.
   "Now what shall I do?" asked the maiden, when she had made the rope secure.
   "Slide right down into the boat," said the Professor.
   "It would ruin my hands," said Ysolt, mournfully.
   "Make the attempt, and hold on tightly," said Sir Bleoberis.
   "We shall be caught if we stay here much longer," observed the Professor, with anxious thoughts of the boiler.
   "Good-bye then! I am lost. Go without me! Save yourselves! Oh, this is terrible!" Ysolt began again to cry.
   "I will help her," said Sir Bleoberis, seizing the rope and clambering up the wall until he reached the window.
   Day began to dawn as he disappeared in the room. The Professor started his fire afresh and shut the furnace-door. Sir Bleoberis, he knew, would bring down Ysolt without delay.
   A moment later, the Knight seated himself upon the stone sill of the window and caught the rope with his feet and one of his hands. Then he placed his arm about Ysolt, lifted her out and began to descend.
   Professor Baffin, even in his condition of intense anxiety, could not fail to admire the splendid physical strength of the Knight. When the pair were about half-way down, the rope broke, and Ysolt and Sir Bleoberis were plunged into the lake.
   The Professor, excited as he was by the accident, remembered the boiler, and determined that he would have to blow off steam and take the consequences; so he threw open the valve, and instantly the castle walls sent the fierce sound out over the waters.
   Sir Bleoberis, with Ysolt upon his arm, managed to swim to the side of the boat, and the Professor after a severe effort lifted her in. Then he gave his hand to the Knight, and as Sir Bleoberis's foot touched the side the Professor shut off steam, opened his throttle-valve, backed the boat away from the wall, and started for the shore.
   It was now daylight. As the boat turned the corner of the wall, it almost came into collision with a boat in which, with ten oarsmen, sat Sir Dagonet. The inmates of the castle had been alarmed by the performances of the Professor's escape-pipe; and Sir Dagonet had come out to ascertain the cause of the extraordinary noise.
   The Professor's presence of mind was perfect. Turning his boat quickly to the right, he gave the engine a full head of steam and shot away before Sir Dagonet's boat could stop its headway.
   Sir Dagonet had perceived Ysolt, and recognized Sir Bleoberis. With rage he screamed to them to stop, and he hurled at them terrible threats of vengeance if he should overtake them. As no heed was given to him he urged his rowers to put forth their mightiest efforts, and soon his boat was in hot pursuit of that in which the maiden, the Knight, and the Professor fled away from him.
   By some means the people of the town of Callion had had their attention drawn to the proceedings at the castle, and now the shore was lined with spectators who watched with eager interest the race between Sir Dagonet's boat and the wonderful craft which had neither oars nor sails, and which sent a long streamer of smoke from out its chimney.
   Professor Baffin, positively determined not to wed the daughter of Prince Sagramor, had prepared a stratagem. He had sent three horses to the side of the lake opposite to the town, and three or four miles distant from it, with the intention of landing there, and hurrying with Ysolt and Sir Bleoberis to the home of Baron Bors, without the knowledge of the Prince.
   The daylight interfered, to some extent, with the promise of the plan, but Professor Baffin resolved to carry it out at any rate, taking what he considered to be tolerably good chances of success. He turned the prow of his boat directly toward the town, making as if he would go thither. The pursuers followed fast, and as the Professor perceived that he could easily outstrip them, he slowed his engine somewhat, permitting Sir Dagonet to gain upon him.
   When he was within a few hundred yards of the shore, close enough indeed, for him to perceive that the King, Prince Sagramor, Bragwaine, and all the attendants of the court were among those who watched the race with excited interest, the Professor suddenly turned his boat half around, and putting the engine at its highest speed, ploughed swiftly toward the opposite shore.
   A mighty shout went up from the onlookers. Manifestly the fugitives had the sympathy of the crowd.
   The oarsmen of Sir Dagonet worked right valiantly to win the chase, but the steamer gained constantly upon them; and when her keel grated upon the sand, close by where the horses stood, the pursuers were at least of a third mile behind.
   Sir Bleoberis sprang from the boat, and helped Ysolt to alight. The Professor stopped to make the fire in the furnace more brisk, and to tie down the safety valve; then hurrying after Sir Bleoberis and Ysolt, the three mounted their horses and galloped away.
   In a few moments they reached the top of a hill which commanded a view of the lake. They stopped and looked back. Sir Dagonet had just touched the shore, but, as he had no horse, further pursuit was useless. So, shaking his fist at the distant party, he turned away with an affectation of contempt, and entered the Professor's boat to satisfy his curiosity respecting it.
   "Let him be careful how he meddles with that," said the Professor.
   As he spoke, the boat was torn to fragments. Sir Dagonet, and two of his men were seen to fall, and a second afterwards the dull, heavy detonation of an explosion reached the ears of the Professor and his friends.
   "It is dreadful," said the Professor with a sigh, "but self-preservation is the first law of nature, and then he had no right to run away with Ysolt, at any rate."