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Chapter 25

  • I was passing along the highway, a pipe between my teeth. It was the beginnin_f twilight, that trysting hour of all our reveries, when the old days com_ack with a perfume as sweet and vague as that which hovers over a jar o_piced rose leaves. I was thinking of the year which was gone; how I firs_ame to the inn; of the hour when I first held her in my arms and kissed her, and vowed my love to her; of the parting, when she of her own will had throw_er arms about my neck and confessed. The shadows were thickening on th_round, and the voices of the forests were hushed. I glanced at the wester_ky. It was like a frame of tarnished gold, waiting for night with her diade_f stars to step within. The purple hills were wrapping themselves in robes o_early mists; the flowing river was tinted with dun and vermilion; and one b_ne the brilliant planets burst through the darkening blues of the heavens.
  • The inn loomed up against the sky, gray and lonely. Behind me, far away dow_he river, I could catch occasional glimpses of the lamps of the village.
  • Presently there came a faint yellow glow in the east, and I knew that Dian_as approaching.
  • >   She tosses loose her locks upon the night, >   And, through the dim wood Dian threads her way.
  • A wild sweetness filled the air. I was quite half a mile from the inn, yet _ould smell the odor of her roses, Gretchen's roses. It was a long and wear_ear which had intervened. And now she was there, only a short way from m_rms. But she did not know that I was coming. A million diamonds sprang int_he air whenever I struck the lush grasses with my cane. Everywhere I breathe_he perfume of her roses. They seemed to hide along the hedges, to lurk amon_he bushes, red roses and white. On the hill, across the valley, I saw th_ittle cemetery with its white stones. I arrested my steps and took off m_at. The dust of Hillars lay there. I stood motionless for some time. I ha_oved the man as it is possible for one man to love another. I had not though_f him much of late; but in this life we cannot always stand by the grave o_hose who have gone before. He had loved Gretchen with a love perhaps les_elfish than mine, for he had sacrificed his life uselessly for her that sh_ight—be mine! Mine! I thought. And who was I that she should love me instea_f him? All the years I had known him I had known but little of him. God onl_nows the hearts of these men who rove or drift, who, anchorless an_udderless, beat upon the ragged reels of life till the breath leaves them an_hey pass through the mystic channel into the serene harbor of eternity. _udden wave of dissatisfaction swept over me. What had I done in the world t_erit attention? What had I done that I, and not he, should know the love o_oman? Why should I live to-day and not he? From out the silence there came n_nswer; and I continued on. It was life. It was immutable, and there was n_ey.
  • The lights of the inn cheered me and lifted the gloom. Should I enter b_tealth or boldly? I chose the second method. Gretchen and the innkeeper wer_n the old hall. I entered and threw my traps into a corner. As they turne_nd saw me consternation was written on their faces.
  • "I have found you at last," I said, holding out a hand to each of them. Th_nnkeeper thrust his hands behind his back and sauntered leisurely toward th_indow. Gretchen showed signs of embarrassment, and her eyes were studiousl_ixed on the cracks which yawned here and there in the floor. My hands fel_nnoticed.
  • "You have been looking for us?" she asked in even tones. "Why have you?"
  • Vaguely I gazed at her, at the innkeeper, then at my traps in the corner. I_as apparent that I was an intruder. I struck my forehead in anger an_espair. Triple fool that I was! I was nothing to her. She had told me so, an_ had not believed.
  • "Yes; why?" asked the innkeeper, turning around.
  • "I believe," said I, my voice trembling, "that I am an unwelcome guest. Is i_ot so?"
  • "Oh, as for that," said the innkeeper, observing Gretchen, "this is a publi_nn, on the highway. All wayfarers are of necessity welcome."
  • "Go, then, and prepare me a supper," said I. "I am indeed hungry, havin_ourneyed far." I wanted him out of the room.
  • The innkeeper appeared not to have the slightest intention of leaving the roo_o do my bidding.
  • "Yes, Hermann," said Gretchen, coloring, "go and prepare Herr Winthrop'_upper."
  • "Thank you," said I, with a dismal effort to be ironical.
  • The innkeeper, a puzzling smile on his lips, passed out.
  • "Gretchen," I burst forth, "in heaven's name what does this mean? I hav_unted for you day after day, week after week, month after month. I hav_raveled the four ends of the continent. I have lived—Oh, I do not know how _ave lived! And when I do find you, it is for this!" My voice broke, and I wa_ositively on the verge of tears.
  • "And was all this fair to her?" asked Gretchen, coldly.
  • "To her? I do not understand."
  • "I mean, was all this fair to my sister?"
  • "Gretchen," a light piercing the darkness, "has she not written to you?"
  • "A long time ago. She wanted to see me on an important matter, but I could no_hange my plans at the time. I shall see her at the palace next week. Ough_ou not to be with her instead of here?"
  • "Why should I be with her?"
  • Gretchen laughed, but the key was false.
  • "Are you not going to marry her? Surely, it is easy after the King has give_is permission. Have you already fallen out of love with her, after all you_fforts to make her a Princess? Truly, man is as unstable as sand and water!
  • Ah, but you fooled us all to the top of our bent. You knew from the first tha_he was a Princess; but you could not find the proofs. Hermann and I were th_eans to the end. But who shall blame you? Not I! I am very grateful to yo_or having given to me a sister. And if you fooled me, I returned measure fo_easure. It is game and quit. Time hung heavy on my hands, and the victory, however short, was amusing."
  • "I never loved her!" I cried. Where were the words I needed?
  • "So much the worse for you," disdainfully. "But here comes Hermann to announc_our supper."
  • "I shall not break the bread of inhospitality," said I, in the bitterness o_y despair. I gathered up my traps—and then I let them tumble back. The neede_ords came with a rush to my lips. I went close to her. "Why did you humiliat_ourself in begging my life of the Prince? Why, if my life was nothing to you?
  • Answer. Why did you stoop to your knees to that man if I was worthless to you?
  • Why?"
  • Her cheeks grew red, then white; her lips formed words which she could no_peak.
  • "Herr Winthrop's supper is ready," announced the innkeeper.
  • "Go and eat it!" I said childishly.
  • "Your appetite is gone then?" imperturbably.
  • "Yes, and get you gone with it!"
  • The innkeeper surveyed me for a space. "Will you kindly tell me from whom yo_eceived the information that Her Highness was at the inn?"
  • I produced the unsigned letter. He read it carefully, while Gretchen looked o_ervously.
  • "Ach!" said the innkeeper, "that Stahlberg! He shall be dismissed."
  • Unhappily for him, that individual was just passing along the corridor. Th_nnkeeper signaled him to approach.
  • "How dared you?" began the innkeeper, thrusting the letter under Stahlberg'_ose.
  • "Dare?—I?—Herr," said the big fellow, "I do not understand. What is it yo_ccuse me of?"
  • "This," cried the innkeeper: "You have written to Herr Winthrop and told hi_hat Her Highness was at the inn. And you were expressly forbidden to do so."
  • Stahlberg looked around blankly. "I swear to heaven, Herr—"
  • "Do not prevaricate!" the innkeeper interrupted. "You know that you wrot_his."
  • "Stahlberg," I cried excitedly; "tell me why you wrote this note to me an_'ll see that you are taken care of the rest of your days."
  • "I forbid him!" commanded Gretchen in alarm.
  • "As God hears me, Herr," said Stahlberg stoutly. "I wrote not a line to you o_o any one."
  • "Oh!" cried the innkeeper, stamping. "And you deny that you have written her_hat you saw Her Highness in the garden three nights ago?"
  • Gretchen was beginning to grow terrified for some reason. I myself was fille_ith wonder, knowing well enough that nothing about a garden had been writte_n the note I had received.
  • "Do you dare deny," went on the implacable old man, "that you have writte_ere that you saw Her Highness in the garden, and that she was weeping an_urmuring this man's name?"
  • "Oh!" cried Gretchen, gazing wildly at the door.
  • The innkeeper suddenly took the bewildered giant by the shoulders and pushe_im from the room, following him swiftly; and the door closed noisily behin_hem.
  • My heart was in flames. I understood all now, though I dare say Gretche_idn't. All at once, her head fell on the back of the chair from which she ha_ut lately risen. She was weeping silently and deeply. I did not move, bu_tood watching her, drinking in with exultation the loveliness of a woman i_ears. She was mine, mine, mine! The innkeeper had not really known her hear_ill the night in the garden to which he so adroitly referred; then he ha_ade up his mind that things were not as they should be, and had sent me tha_nonymous note. Mine at last, I thought. Somehow, for the first time in m_ife I felt what is called masterful; that is to say, not all heaven and eart_hould take her away from me now. Softly I passed over to her side and knel_t her feet. I lifted the hem of her gown and pressed it to my lips.
  • "My Princess!" I murmured, "all mine." I kissed her unresisting hand. Then _ose and put my arms around her. She trembled but made no effort to withdraw.
  • "I swear to you, Gretchen, that I will never leave you again, not if the Kin_hould send an army against me, which he will never do, since he has commande_hat I marry you. Beware! It is a dangerous thing to trifle with a King'_ill. And then, even if the King should change his mind, I should not. You ar_ine. I should like to know if I haven't won you! Oh, they do well to call yo_rincess Caprice. Oh, Gretchen," falling back to humble tones, "what a wear_ear has been wasted. You know that I love you; you have never really doubte_t; you know that you have not. Had you gone to your sister when she wrote t_ou, she would have told you that it was for you alone that I made her _rincess; that all my efforts were to make you free to wed. Gretchen, you wil_ot send me away this time, will you? You will be kind and bid me to stay?"
  • "She loves you," whispered Gretchen.
  • This admitted no reply. I simply pressed my lips to her hair. The sobs wer_rowing audibly less.
  • "I read it in her eyes," persisted Gretchen.
  • "Gretchen, answer me: do you love me?"
  • "Yes."
  • I placed my hands against her temples, and turned her head around so tha_hose blue-green eyes, humid and tearful, looked into mine.
  • "Oh, I cannot deny it. If I wrong her in accepting your love, it is because _annot help it. I love you better than all the world; so well do I love yo_hat—" Her head sank on my heart, and her sobs began afresh.
  • "That what, Gretchen?" I asked.
  • "Nothing." By and by she said; "Keep faith with me, and I promise to love a_ew women can."
  • Then I kissed her lips. "Gretchen?"
  • "What is it?"
  • "I have an idea that we shall be very happy. Now let us go and make terms o_eace with the innkeeper."
  • We found him alone in the barroom.
  • "Gretchen," said I, "read this note."
  • As her eyes ran over those six words, she blushed.
  • "Hermann," she said, "you have betrayed me."
  • "And when will Your Highness order me out to be shot?" asked he, smiling.
  • "At sunrise; but I shall blindfold the soldiers and take the charges fro_heir guns. I forgive you."
  • "Now, Hermann," said I, "fill me up a stein." I held it high above my head. "_ealth! Long live the King! Long live Her Serene Highness the Princess—"
  • "Elizabeth," said Gretchen, gently. "I fear she has lost something which i_ever to be found again."
  • I drained the stein, and as I set it down I thought: Phyllis is so far awa_nd Gretchen is so near!
  • "Let us go into the garden," said I.
  • For a long time we wandered here and there, saying nothing. I was thinkin_hat I had found a castle at last which neither tides nor winds nor sudde_wakenings could tumble down.
  • "Gretchen, you must never take up the sword again."
  • "Only in my lord's defence." From the movement of her arm, which clung t_ine, I knew that she was laughing.
  • The moon had risen, the round and mellow moon of summer. The silver mists o_ight wavered and sailed through the aisles of the forests, and from the rive_ame the cool fresh perfume of the river rush.
  • "And so you really love me?" I asked.
  • "I do."
  • "Why do you love me?"
  • "Because," said Gretchen.