Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 15

  • I was wandering aimlessly through the rose gardens, when the far-off sound o_alloping hoofs came on the breeze. Nearer and nearer it drew. I ran out int_he highway. I saw a horse come wildly dashing along. It was riderless, and a_t came closer I saw the foam of sweat dripping from its flanks and shoulders.
  • As the animal plunged toward me, I made a spring and caught the bridle, hanging on till the brute came to a standstill. It was quivering from fright.
  • There was a gash on its neck, and it was bleeding and turning the white flake_f sweat into a murky crimson.
  • "Good Lord!" I ejaculated. "It's one of the cavalry horses. Hillars or th_nnkeeper has been hurt."
  • I was of the mind to mount the animal and go in search of them, whe_tahlberg, who had come to my assistance, said that I had best wait. A quarte_f an hour passed. Then we could see another horse, perhaps half a mile away, coming toward the inn at a canter. From what I could see in the pale light, the horse carried a double burden. A sheet of ice seemed to fall on my heart.
  • What had happened? Had Dan and the Prince come to blows? Alas, I could hav_ried out in anguish at the sight which finally met my gaze. The innkeepe_eld the reins, and, propped up in front of him, was Hillars, to al_ppearances dead.
  • "Gott!" cried the innkeeper, discovering me, "but I am glad to see you, Herr.
  • Your friend has been hurt, badly, badly."
  • "My God!" I cried. The hand and wrist of the innkeeper which encircled Hillar_ere drenched in blood.
  • "Yes. A bullet somewhere in his chest. Help me down with him. He is not dea_et. I'll tell you the story when we have made it comfortable for him."
  • Tenderly we carried the inanimate form of poor Hillars into the inn and lai_t on the sofa. I tore back his blood-wet shirt. The wound was slightly belo_he right lung. The bullet had severed an artery, for I could see that th_lood gushed. We worked over him for a few moments, and then he opened hi_yes. He saw me and smiled.
  • "There wasn't any regiment, old man, but this will suffice. My hand trembled.
  • But he'll never use his right arm again, curse him!"
  • "Dan, Dan!" I cried, "what made you do it?"
  • "When I am a man's friend, it is in life and death. He was in the way. He ma_hank liquor that he lives." The lids of his eyes contracted. "Hurts a little, but it will not be for long, my son. I am bleeding to death inside. Jack, th_oman loves you, and in God's eyes, Princess or not, she belongs to you. Yo_nd I cannot understand these things which make it impossible for a man and _oman who love each other to wed. Let me hold your hand. I feel like an ol_oman. Give me a mouthful of brandy. Ah, that's better! Innkeeper, you_ourage is not to be doubted, but your judgment of liquor is. Any way, Jack, _uppose you will not forget me in a week or so, eh?"
  • "Dan!" was all I could say, bending over his hand to hide my tears.
  • "Jack, you are not sorry?"
  • "Dan, you are more to me than any woman in the world."
  • "Oh, say! You wouldn't—hold me up a bit higher; that's it—you wouldn't have m_ang on now, would you? I haven't anything to live for, no matter how you pu_t. Home? I never had one. The only regret I have in leaving is that th_rince will not keep me company. Put an obol in my hand, and Charon will se_e over the Styx.
  • >   "And when, like her, O Saki, you shall pass >   Among the guests star-scattered on the grass, >   And in your joyous errand, reach the spot >   Where I made one—turn down an empty glass!
  • "Well, hang me, Jack, if you aren't crying! Then you thought more of me than _elieved; a man's tears mean more than a woman's… . A man must die, and wha_s a year or two? How much better to fold the tent when living become_asteless and the cup is full of lees! … The Prince was a trifle cruel; bu_erhaps his hand trembled, too. Innkeeper, you're a good fellow."
  • "Herr is a man of heart," said the grizzled veteran, sadly.
  • "Tell Jack how it happened," said Dan; "it hurts me."
  • On leaving me, Hillars and the innkeeper, after having taken a pair o_istols, had mounted the cavalry horses despite the protests of the owners, and had galloped away in pursuit of the Prince and Count von Walden. The_aught sight of them a mile or so ahead. They were loping along at a fai_peed. It took half an hour to bring the two parties within speaking distance.
  • Although the Prince and von Walden heard them, they never turned around, bu_ept on straight ahead. This made Hillars' choler rise, and he spurre_orward.
  • "One moment, gentlemen," he cried. "I have a word with you."
  • They galloped on unheeding. When Hillars got in front of them they merel_eered to either side.
  • "Ah!" said Hillars, choking with rage. With a quick movement he bent an_aught the bridle of the Prince's horse. The Count, seeing that the Prince wa_ompelled to rein in, did likewise. The Prince looked disdainful.
  • "Well, what is it?" asked Von Walden. "Speak quickly. Has your scribblin_riend run away with Her Highness?"
  • "My remarks, most noble and puissant Count," said Hillars, bowing, satirically, to the neck of his horse, "I shall confine to the still mor_oble and puissant Prince of Wortumborg."
  • "This is an unappreciated honor," sneered the Prince.
  • "So it is," replied Hillars, lightly. "When an honest man speaks to you he i_onferring an honor upon you which you, as you say, cannot appreciate. I_ppears to me that Your Highness has what we in America call malaria. _ropose to put a hole through you and let out this bad substance. Lead, properly used, is a great curative. Sir, your presence on this beautiful worl_s an eyesore to me."
  • "One excuse is as good as another," said the Prince. "Did Her Highnes_elegate you to put me out of the way?"
  • "Oh, no; but since you have brought her name into it, I confess that it is o_er account. Well, sir, no man has ever insulted a woman in my presence an_one unscathed. In English speaking lands we knock him down. This being Rome _hall do as the Romans do. I believe I called you a liar; I will do so again.
  • Is the object of my errand plain?"
  • "As I said to your friend," smiled the Prince, "I will send a lackey down her_o take care of you. Count, we shall hardly get to the station in time t_atch the train. Young man, stand aside; you annoy me, I have no time t_iscuss the Princess or her lovers. Release my horse!"
  • "What a damned cur you are!" cried Hillars, losing his airy tone. "By God, yo_ill fight me, if I have to knock you down and spit upon you!" Then with ful_orce he flung his hat into the face of the Prince.
  • "You have written finis to your tale," said the Prince, dismounting.
  • "Your Highness!" exclaimed the Count, springing to the ground, "this must no_e. You shall not risk your life at the hands of this damned adventurer."
  • "Patience, Count," said the Prince, shaking off the hand which the Count ha_laced upon his shoulder. "Decidedly, this fellow is worth consideration.
  • Since we have no swords, sir, and they seem to be woman's weapons these days, we will use pistols. Of course, you have come prepared. It is a fine time fo_hooting. This first light of twilight gives us equal advantage. Will it be a_en or twenty paces? I dare say, if we stand at twenty, in the centre of th_oad, we shall have a good look at each other before we separat_ndefinitely."
  • "Your Highness insists?" murmured the Count.
  • "I not only insist, I command." The Prince took off his coat and waistcoat an_eposited them on the grass at the side of the road. Hillars did likewise.
  • There was a pleased expression on his face. "I do believe, Count," laughed th_rince, "this fellow expects to kill me. Now, the pistols."
  • "If you will permit me," said the innkeeper, taking an oblong box from unde_is coat. "These are excellent weapons."
  • The Prince laughed. "I suppose, innkeeper, if the result is disastrous to me, it will please you?"
  • The innkeeper was not lacking in courtesy. "It would be a pleasure, I assur_ou. There are certain reasons why I cannot fight you myself."
  • "To be sure."
  • "It would be too much like murder," continued the innkeeper. "Your hand woul_remble so that you would miss me at point-blank. There goes the last of th_un. We must hurry."
  • With a grimace the Count accepted the box and took out the pistols.
  • "They are old-fashioned," he said.
  • "A deal like the innkeeper's morals," supplemented the Prince.
  • "But effective," said the innkeeper.
  • The Count scowled at the old fellow, who met the look with phlegm. As a_nnkeeper he might be an inferior, but as a second at a duel he was an equal.
  • It was altogether a different matter.
  • The Count carefully loaded the weapons, the innkeeper watching hi_ttentively. In his turn he examined them.
  • "Very good," he said.
  • The paces were then measured out. During this labor the Prince gaze_ndifferently toward the west. The aftermath of the sun glowed on the horizon.
  • The Prince shaded his eyes for a spell.
  • "Gentlemen," he said, "I believe the Princess is approaching. At any rate her_omes the coach. Let us suspend hostilities till she has passed."
  • A few minutes later the coach came rumbling along in a whirlwind of dust. Th_toical cavalrymen kept on without so much as a glance at the quartet standin_t the side of the road. Hillars looked after the vehicle till it was obscure_rom view. Then he shook himself out of the dream into which he had fallen. H_as pale now, and his eyebrows were drawn together as the Count held out th_istol.
  • "Ah, yes!" he said, as though he had forgotten. "There goes the woman who wil_ever become your wife."
  • "That shall be decided at once," was the retort of the Prince.
  • "She will marry the gentleman back at the inn."
  • "A fine husband he will make, truly!" replied the Prince. "He not only desert_er but forsakes her champion. But, that is neither here nor there. We shal_ot go through any polite formalities," his eyes snapping viciously.
  • The two combatants took their places in the centre of the road. The pistol ar_f each hung at the side of the body.
  • "Are you ready, gentlemen?" asked the Count, the barest tremor in his voice.
  • "Yes," said the Prince.
  • Hillars simply nodded.
  • "When I have counted three you will be at liberty to fire. One!"
  • The arms raised slowly till the pistols were on the level of the eyes.
  • "Two!"
  • The innkeeper saw Hillars move his lips. That was the only sign.
  • "Three!"
  • The pistols exploded simultaneously. The right arm of the Prince swung bac_iolently, the smoking pistol flying from his hand. Suddenly one of the horse_ave a snort of pain and terror, and bolted down the road. No attention wa_iven to the horse. The others were watching Hillars. He stood perfectl_otionless. All at once the pistol fell from his hand; then both hands fle_nstinctively to his breast. There was an expression of surprise on his face.
  • His eyes closed, his knees bent forward, and he sank into the road a huddle_eap. The Prince shrugged, a sigh of relief fell from the Count's half-parte_ips, while the innkeeper ran toward the fallen man.
  • "Are you hurt, Prince?" asked the Count.
  • "The damned fool has blown off my elbow!" was the answer. "Bind it up wit_our handkerchief, and help me on with my coat. There is nothing more to do; if he is not dead he soon will be, so it's all the same."
  • When the Prince's arm was sufficiently bandaged so as to stop the flow o_lood, the Count assisted him to mount, jumped on his own horse, and the tw_antered off, leaving the innkeeper, Hillars' head propped up on his knee, staring after them with a dull rage in his faded blue eyes. The remainin_orse was grazing a short distance away. Now and then he lifted his head an_azed inquiringly at the two figures in the road.
  • "Is it bad, Herr?" the innkeeper asked.
  • "Very. Get back to the inn. I don't want to peter out here." Then he fainted.
  • It required some time and all the innkeeper's strength to put Hillars on th_orse. When this was accomplished he turned the horse's head toward the inn.
  • And that was all.
  • "Dan?" said I.
  • The lids of his eyes rolled wearily back.
  • "Is there anything I can do for you?"
  • "Bury me."
  • It was very sad. "Where?" I asked.
  • "Did you see the little cemetery on the hill, across the valley? Put me there.
  • It is a wild, forgotten place. 'Tis only my body. Who cares what becomes o_hat? As for the other, the soul, who can say? I have never been a good man; still, I believe in God. I am tired, tired and cold. What fancies a man has i_eath! A moment back I saw my father. There was a wan, sweet-faced woma_tanding close beside him; perhaps my mother. I never saw her before. Ah, me!
  • these chimeras we set our hearts upon, these worldly hopes! Well, Jack, it'_urtain and no encore. But I am not afraid to die. I have wronged no man o_oman; I have been my own enemy. What shall I say, Jack? Ah, yes! God hav_ercy on my soul. And this sudden coldness, this sudden ease from pain—i_eath!"
  • There was a flutter of the eyelids, a sigh, and this poor flotsam, this drift- wood which had never known a harbor in all its years, this friend of mine, this inseparable comrade—passed out. He knew all about it now.
  • There were hot tears in my eyes as I stood up and gazed down at this myster_alled death. And while I did so, a hand, horny and hard, closed over mine.
  • The innkeeper, with blinking eyes, stood at my side.
  • "Ah, Herr," he said, "who would not die like that?"
  • And we buried him on the hillside, just as the sun swept aside the ros_urtain of dawn. The wind, laden with fresh morning perfumes, blew up joyousl_rom the river. From where I stood I could see the drab walls of the barracks.
  • The windows sparkled and flashed as the gray mists sailed heavenward an_anished. The hill with its long grasses resembled a green sea. The thic_orests across the river, almost black at the water's edge, turned a fainte_nd more delicate hue as they receded, till, far away, they looked lik_ottled glass. Only yesterday he had laughed with me, talked and smoked wit_e, and now he was dead. A rage pervaded me. We are puny things, we, who stru_he highways of the world, parading a so-called wisdom. There is only on_hilosophy; it is to learn to die.
  • "Come," said I to the innkeeper; and we went down the hill.
  • "When does the Herr leave?"
  • "At once. There will be no questions?" I asked, pointing to the village.
  • "None. Who knows?"
  • "Then, remember that Herr Hillars was taken suddenly ill and died, and that h_esired to be buried here. I dare say the Prince will find some excuse for hi_rm, knowing the King's will in regard to dueling. Do you understand me?"
  • "Yes."
  • I did not speak to him again, and he strode along at my heels with an air o_reoccupation. We reached the inn in silence.
  • "What do you know about her Serene Highness the Princess Hildegarde?" I aske_bruptly.
  • "What does Herr wish to know?" shifting his eyes from my gaze.
  • "All you can tell me."
  • "I was formerly in her father's service. My wife——" He hesitated, and th_xpression on his face was a sour one.
  • "Go on."
  • "Ah, but it is unpleasant, Herr. You see, my wife and I were not on the bes_f terms. She was handsome … a cousin of the late Prince… . She left me mor_han twenty years ago. I have never seen her since, and I trust that she i_ead. She was her late Highness's hair-dresser."
  • "And the Princess Hildegarde?"
  • "She is a woman for whom I would gladly lay down my life."
  • "Yes, yes!" I said impatiently. "Who made her the woman she is? Who taught he_o shoot and fence?"
  • "It was I."
  • "You?"
  • "Yes. From childhood she has been under my care. Her mother did so desire. Sh_s all I have in the world to love. And she loves me, Herr; for in all he_rials I have been her only friend. But why do you ask these questions?" _udden suspicion lighting his eyes.
  • "I love her."
  • He took me by the shoulders and squared me in front of him.
  • "How do you love her?" a glint of anger mingling with the suspicion.
  • "I love her as a man who wishes to make her his wife."
  • His hands trailed down my sleeves till they met and joined mine.
  • "I will tell you all there is to be told. Herr, there was once a happy famil_n the palace of the Hohenphalians. The Prince was rather wild, but he love_is wife. One day his cousin came to visit him. He was a fascinating man i_hose days, and few women were there who would not give an ear to hi_latteries. He was often with the Princess, but she hated him. One day a_bominable thing happened. This cousin loved the Princess. She scorned him. A_he Prince was entering the boudoir this cousin, making out that he wa_nconscious of the husband's approach, took the Princess in his arms an_issed her. The Prince was too far away to see the horror in his wife's face.
  • He believed her to be acquiescent. That night he accused her. Her denials wer_n vain. He confronted her with his cousin, who swore before the immortal Go_imself that the Princess had lain willing in his arms. From that time on th_rince changed. He became reckless; he fell in with evil company; he grew t_e a shameless ruffian, a man who brought his women into his wife's presence, and struck her while they were there. And in his passions he called he_errible names. He made a vow that when children came he would make the_hings of scorn. In her great trouble, the Princess came to my inn, where th_rincess Hildegarde was born. The Prince refused to believe that the child wa_is. My mistress finally sickened and died—broken-hearted. The Prince died i_ gambling den. The King became the guardian of the lonely child. He knows bu_ittle, or he would not ask Her Highness—" He stopped.
  • "He would not ask her what?"
  • "To wed the man who caused all this trouble."
  • "What! Prince Ernst?"
  • "Yes. I prayed to God, Herr, that your friend's bullet would carry death. Bu_t was not to be."
  • "I am going back to London," said I. "When I have settled up my affairs ther_ shall return."
  • "And then?"
  • "Perhaps I shall complete what my friend began."
  • I climbed into the ramshackle conveyance and was driven away. Once I looke_ack. The innkeeper could be seen on the porch, then he became lost to vie_ehind the trees. Far away to my left the stones in the little cemetery on th_illside shone with brilliant whiteness.