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Chapter 20

  • When I whispered these words I expected a gentle pressure from Gretchen'_ingers, which rested lightly on my arm. But there was no sign, and I gre_roubled. The blue-green eyes sparkled, and the white teeth shone between th_ed lips. Yet something was lacking.
  • "Let us go into the conservatory," she said. "It was merely a ruse of mine. _ant no supper. I have much to say to you."
  • Altogether, I had dreamed of a different reception. When I entered th_oorway, and she first saw me, it was Gretchen; but now it was distinctly _rincess, a woman of the world, full of those devices which humble and confus_s men.
  • Somehow we selected, by mutual accord, a seat among the roses. There was _mall fountain, and the waters sang in a murmurous music. It seemed too earl_or words, so we drew our thoughts from the marble and the water. As for me, _ooked at, but did not see, the fountain. It was another scene. There was _arden, in which the roses grew in beautiful disorder. The sunbeams straggle_hrough the chestnuts. Near by a wide river moved slowly, and with a certai_ajesty. There was a man and a woman in the garden. She was culling roses, while the man looked on with admiring eyes.
  • "Yes," said the Princess, "all that was a pretty dream. Gretchen was a fairy; and now she has gone from your life and mine—forever. My dear friend, it is _rosaic age we live in. Sometimes we forget and dream; but dreams are unreal.
  • Perhaps a flash of it comes back in after days, that is all; and we remembe_hat it was a dream, and nothing more. It is true that God designs us, but th_orld molds us and fate puts on the finishing touches." She was smiling int_y wonder-struck face. "We all have duties to perform while passing. Some o_s are born with destinies mapped out by human hands; some of us are free t_ake life what we will. I am of the first order, and you are of the second. I_s as impossible to join the one with the other as it is to make diamonds ou_f charcoal and water. Between Gretchen and the Princess Hildegarde o_ohenphalia there is as much difference as there is between—what simile shal_ use?—the possible and the impossible?"
  • "Gretchen—" I began.
  • "Gretchen?" The Princess laughed amusedly. "She is flown. I beg you not t_aste a thought on her memory."
  • Things were going badly for me. I did not understand the mood. It brought t_ind the woman poor Hillars had described to me in his rooms that night i_ondon. I saw that I was losing something, so I made what I thought a bol_troke. I took from my pocket a withered rose. I turned it from one hand t_he other.
  • "It appears that when Gretchen gave me this it was as an emblem of her love.
  • Still, I gave her all my heart."
  • "If that be the emblem of her love, Herr, throw it away; it is not worth th_eeping."
  • "And Gretchen sent me a letter once," I went on.
  • "Ah, what indiscretion!"
  • "It began with 'I love you,' and ended with that sentence. I have worn th_riting away with my kisses."
  • "How some men waste their energies!"
  • "Your Highness," said I, putting the rose back into my pocket, "did Gretche_ver tell you how she fought a duel for me because her life was less to he_han mine?"
  • The Princess Hildegarde's smile stiffened and her eyes closed for the briefes_nstant.
  • "Ah, shall I ever forget that night!" said I. "I held her to my heart an_issed her on the lips. I was supremely happy. Your Highness has never know_hat a thing of joy it is to kiss the one you love. It is one of those thing_hich are denied to people who have their destinies mapped out by huma_ands."
  • The Princess opened her fan and hid her lips.
  • "And do you know," I continued, "when Gretchen went away I had a wonderfu_ream?"
  • "A dream? What was it?" The fan was waving to and fro.
  • "I dreamed that a Princess came in Gretchen's place, and she threw her arm_round my neck and kissed me of her own free will."
  • "And what did she say, Herr?" Certainly the voice was growing more lik_retchen's.
  • I hesitated. To tell her what the dream Princess had said would undo all I ha_hus far accomplished, which was too little.
  • "It will not interest Your Highness," said I.
  • "Tell me what she said; I command it!" And now I was sure that there was _alter in her voice.
  • "She said—she said that she loved me."
  • "Continue."
  • "And that, as she was a Princess and—and honor bound, it could never be." _ad to say it.
  • "That is it; that is it. It could never be. Gretchen is no more. The Princes_ho, you say, came to you in a dream was then but a woman—"
  • "Aye, and such a woman!" I interrupted. "As God hears me, I would give te_ears of my life to hold her again in my arms, to kiss her lips, to hear he_ay that she loved me. But, pardon me, what were you going to say?"
  • "Your dream Princess was but a woman—ah, well; this is Tuesday; Thursday a_oon she will wed the Prince. It is written."
  • "The devil!" I let slip. I was at the start again.
  • "Sir, you do him injustice."
  • "Who?—the Prince?" savagely.
  • "No; the—the devil!" She had fully recovered, and I had no weapon left.
  • "Gretchen, did you really ever love me?"
  • There was no answer.
  • "No; I do not believe you did. If you had loved me, what to you would hav_een a King, a Prince, a principality? If you broke that promise who would b_ronged? Not the King, not the Prince."
  • "No, I should not have wronged them, but," said the Princess rising, "I shoul_ave wronged my people whom I have sworn to protect; I should have wronged m_wn sense of honor; I should have broken those ties which I have sworn to hol_ear and precious as my life; I should have forsaken a sacred duty fo_omething I was not sure of—a man's love!"
  • "Gretchen!"
  • "Am I cruel? Look!" Phyllis stood at the other end of the conservatory. "Doe_ot there recur to you some other woman you have loved? You start. Come; wa_ot your love for Gretchen pique? Who is she who thus mirrors my own likeness?
  • Whoever she is, she loves you! Let us return; I shall be missed." It was no_he woman but the Princess who spoke.
  • "You are breaking two hearts!" I cried, my voice full of disappointment, passion and anger.
  • "Two? Perhaps; but yours will not be counted."
  • "You are—"
  • "Pray, do not lose your temper," icily; and she swept toward the entrance.
  • I had lost.
  • As the Princess drew near to Phyllis the brown eyes of the one met the blue- green eyes of the other. There was almost an exclamation on Phyllis's lips; there was almost a question on Gretchen's; both paled. Phyllis understood, bu_retchen did not, why the impulse to speak came. Then the brown eyes o_hyllis turned their penetrating gaze to my own eyes, which I was compelled t_hift. I bowed, and the Princess and I passed on.
  • By the grand staircase we ran into the Prince. His face wore a dissatisfie_ir.
  • "I was looking for Your Highness," he said to Gretchen. "Your carriage is a_he curb. Permit me to assist you. Ah, yes," in English, "it is Herr Winthrop.
  • I regret that the interview of to-morrow will have to be postponed til_onday."
  • "Any time," said I, watching Gretchen whose eyes widened, "will be agreeabl_o me."
  • Gretchen made as though to speak, but the Prince anticipated her.
  • "It is merely a little discussion, Your Highness," he said, "which Her_inthrop and I left unfinished earlier in the evening. Good night."
  • On the way to the cloak room it kept running through my mind that I had lost.
  • Thursday?—she said Thursday was the day of her wedding? It would be an evi_ay for me.
  • Pembroke was in the cloak room.
  • "Going?" he asked.
  • "Yes."
  • "Well, let us go together. Where shall it be—Egypt or the steppes of Siberia?"
  • "Home first," said I; "then we shall decide."
  • When we got into the carriage we lit cigars. For some reason Pembroke was les_alkative than usual. Suddenly he pulled down the window, and a gust of sno_lew in. Then up went the window again, but the cigar was gone.
  • "Has anything gone wrong?" I asked.
  • "'One more unfortunate… . Make no deep scrutiny!'" he quoted. "Jack, sh_ouldn't think of it, not for a moment. Perhaps I was a trifle too soon. Yes, she is a Princess, indeed. As for me, I shall go back to elephants and tigers; it's safer."
  • "'The Bridge of Sighs,'" said I. "Let us cross it for good and all."
  • "And let it now read 'Sighs Abridged.'"
  • He asked me no questions, and I silently thanked him. Once in our rooms, h_rank a little more brandy than I thought good for one "who may or may no_ive the year out." I told him so. He laughed. And then I laughed. Both of u_id it theatrically; it was laughter, but it was not mirth.
  • "Cousin," said I, "that's the idea; let us laugh. Love may sit on th_indowsill and shiver to death."
  • "That fellow Anacreon was a fool," said Pembroke. "If the child of Venus ha_een left then and there, what a lot of trouble might have been averted! Wha_o you say to this proposition; the north, the bears and the wolves? I've _riend who owns a shooting box a few miles across the border. There's bear_nd gray wolves galore. Eh?"
  • "I must get back to work," said I, but half-heartedly.
  • "To the devil with your work! Throw it over. You've got money; your book i_aining you fame. What's a hundred dollars a week to you, and jumping from on_nd of the continent to the other with only an hour's notice?"
  • "I'll sleep on it."
  • "Good. I'll go to bed now, and you can have the hearth and the tobacco t_ourself."
  • "Good night," said I.
  • Yes, I wanted to be alone. But I did not smoke. I sat and stared into th_lickering flames in the grate. I had lost Gretchen… . To hold a woman in you_rms, the woman you love, to kiss her lips, and then to lose her! Oh, I kne_hat she loved me, but she was a Princess, and her word was given, and i_ould not be. The wind sang mournfully over the sills of the window; thic_now whitened the panes; there was a humming in the chimneys… . She wa_ealous of Phyllis; that was why I knew that she loved me… . And the subtl_hange in Phyllis's demeanor towards me; what did it signify? … Gretchen wa_o be married Thursday because there were no proofs that Phyllis was he_ister… . What if Gretchen had been Phyllis, and Phyllis had been Gretchen… .
  • Heigho! I threw some more coals on the fire. The candle sank in the socket.
  • There are some things we men cannot understand; the sea, the heavens an_oman… . Suddenly I brought both hands down on my knees. The innkeeper! Th_nnkeeper! He knew! In a moment I was rummaging through the stack of tim_ables. The next south-bound train left at 3:20. I looked at the clock; 2:20.
  • My dress suit began to fly around on various chairs. Yes; how simple it was!
  • The innkeeper knew; he had known it all these years. I threw my white crava_nto the table and picked up the most convenient tie. In ten minutes from th_ime the idea came to me I was completely dressed in traveling garments. I ha_ day and a half. It would take twenty hours to fetch the innkeeper. I refuse_o entertain the possibility of not finding him at the inn. I swore to heave_hat the nuptials of the Princess Hildegarde of Hohenphalia and the Princ_rnst of Wortumborg should not be celebrated at noon, Thursday. I went int_he bedroom.
  • "Pembroke?"
  • "What is it?" came drowsily.
  • "I am going on a journey."
  • "One of those cursed orders you get every other day?" he asked.
  • "No. It's one on my own account this time. I shall be back in twenty-fou_ours. Goodby!" And I left him there, blinking in the dim light of the candle.
  • I rushed into the street and looked up and down it. Not a vehicle in sight. _ust run for it. The railway station was a long way off. A fine snow pelted m_ace. I stopped at the first lamp and pulled out my watch. It was twent_inutes to three. What if the time-tables had been changed? A prayer rose t_y lips; there was so much in the balance. Down this street I ran, roundin_his corner and that. I knocked down a drunken student, who cursed me as h_olled into the gutter. I never turned, but kept on. One of the mounted polic_aw me rushing along. He shaded his eyes for a moment, then called to me t_top. I swore under my breath.
  • "Where are you going at such a pace and at this time of morning?" he demanded.
  • "To the station. I beg of you not to delay me. I am in a great hurry to catc_he 3:20 south-bound train. If you doubt me, come to the station with me." A_nspiration came to me. "Please see," I added impressively, "that no on_inders me. I am on the King's business."
  • "His Majesty's business? Ach! since when has His Majesty chosen an Englishma_o dispatch his affairs? I will proceed with you to the station."
  • And he kept his word. When he saw the gateman examine my ticket and passport_nd smile pleasantly, he turned on his heel, convinced that there was nothin_angerous about me. He climbed on his horse and galloped away. He might hav_aused me no end of delay, and time meant everything in a case like mine.
  • Scarcely had I secured a compartment in a first-class carriage than the wheel_roaned and the train rolled out of the station. My brow was damp; my hand_rembled like an excited woman's. Should I win? I had a broken cigar in m_ocket. I lit the preserved end at the top of the feeble carriage lamp. I ha_he compartment alone. Sleep! Not I. Who could sleep when the car wheels an_he rattling windows kept saying, "The innkeeper knows! The innkeeper knows!"
  • Every stop was a heartache. Ah, those eight hours were eight separat_enturies to me. I looked careworn and haggard enough the next morning when _tepped on the station platform. I wanted nothing to eat; not even a cup o_offee to drink.
  • To find conveyance to the inn was not an easy task. No one wanted to take th_rive. Finally I secured a horse. There was no haggling over the price. An_oon I was loping through the snowdrifts in the direction of the old inn. Th_now whirled and eddied over the stubble fields; the winds sang past my ears; the trees creaked and the river flowed on, black and sluggish. It was a drear_cene. It was bitter cold, but I had no mind for that. On, on I went. Tw_iles were left in the rear. The horse was beginning to breathe hard.
  • Sometimes the snow was up to his knees. What if the old man was not there? Th_lood sank upon my heart. Once the horse struck a slippery place and nearl_ell, but I caught him in time. I could now see the inn, perhaps a mile away, through the leafless trees. It looked dismal enough. The vines hung dead abou_t, the hedges were wild and scrawny, the roses I knew to be no more, and th_quirrel had left his summer home for a warmer nest in the forest. A wave o_oy swept over me as I saw a thin stream of smoke winding above the chimney.
  • Some one was there. On, on; presently I flew up the roadway. A man stood o_he porch. It was Stahlberg. When I pushed down my collar his jaw dropped. _lung the reins to him.
  • "Where is the innkeeper?" I cried with my first breath.
  • "In the hall, Herr. But—"
  • I was past him and going through the rooms. Yes, thank God, there he was, sitting before the huge fireplace, where the logs crackled and seethed, hi_rizzled head sunk between his shoulders, lost in some dream. I tramped i_oisily. He started out of his dream and looked around.
  • "Gott!" he cried. He wiped his eyes and looked again. "Is it a dream or is i_ou?"
  • "Flesh and blood!" I cried. "Flesh and blood!"
  • I closed the door and bolted it. He followed my movements with a mixture o_stonishment and curiosity in his eyes.
  • "Now," I began, "what have you done with the proofs which you took from you_ife—the proofs of the existence of a twin sister of the Princess Hildegard_f Hohenphalia?"