We could not venture from our hiding-place till the duke was out of sight, and by the delay we lost a good half-league in our race. I asked Yolanda if she knew how far it was to the next point of contact, She did not know, but I learned from a peasant that the river made a great bend, and that our road gained nearly a league over the other before each again touched the river. This was our great chance.
We put our horses to their best; and when we again reached the river, Max, who was riding in advance, announced that the other cavalcade was not in sight. If it had passed, our race was lost; if it had not, we felt that we could easily ride into Peronne ahead of Duke Charles. At that point the roads followed the river within a stone’s throw of each other for a great distance. If the duke had not reached this point, our need for haste was greater than ever before. We must be beyond the open stretch before the other cavalcade should come up to it.
Our poor blown horses were loath to run, but we urged them to it. When we had covered half this open road, we took to the sod at the roadside to avoid raising a telltale cloud of dust. After a hard gallop we reached a forest where the road again left the river. Here we halted to breathe our horses and to watch the road on the right bank. After ten minutes we became uneasy and began to fear that the duke’s cavalcade had passed us, but Max insisted that our fears were groundless.
“Their dust could not have settled so quickly,” he declared. “We should see at least traces of it. They cannot have passed.”
“One cannot help believing,” said Yolanda, musingly, “that there are men who command the elements. One would almost say they make the rain to fall or to cease, the wind to rise or to drop, to suit their purposes, and the dust to lie quietly beneath their horses’ feet. I pray God we may soon know, else I shall surely die of suspense.”
“There are also some persons, Fraeulein, whom God answers quickly,” said Max, looking under his hand down the road. “Do you see yonder dust-cloud? It is a good two miles back of us.”
“It may not be the duke,” said Yolanda, doubtingly.
“Let us trust it is,” said Max, “and lose no more time here.”
We watered our horses at a small brook and entered the forest, feeling that our race was won. The exultation of victory was upon Yolanda, and her buoyant spirits mounted to the skies. All fear and gloom had left her. She laughed and sang, and the sunshine of her humor filled all our hearts with delight. Since leaving Metz we had travelled so rapidly, and a cloud of uncertainty and fear was so constantly over us, that Yolanda had spoken little to Max or to any one; but now that victory was in her grasp, she intended to waste not one moment more in troubled thoughts and painful fears.
“Ride beside me, Sir Max,” she cried, beckoning him as if she were a great princess and he her page. Max spurred his horse to her side, and after a moment Twonette fell back with me. I overheard all that was said between Max and Yolanda, and though I do not pretend to quote accurately, I will give you the substance of their conversation.