Still he did not speak, still he averted his head. But God knew that his heart was on the rack.
The princess, remaining in the background, not daring to interfere, felt the smart of tears in her eyes. Ah, the poor tender little goose-girl! The pity of it! This king was a scoundrel.
“Leo, look at me! You are laughing! Why, did we not work together in the vineyards, and did we not plan for the future? Ah, yes! You are a king only to me. I see. But it is a cruel jest, Leopold. Smile at me! Say something!” Gretchen was hanging to the bars now; her body, held in the vise of growing terror, was almost a dead weight.
“Gretchen, forgive me!” despairingly.
“He asks me to forgive him!” dully. “For what?”
“For being a villain! Yes,” his voice keen with agony. “I am the king of Jugendheit. But am I less a man for that? Ah, God help me, I have a right to love like other men! Do not doubt me, Gretchen; do not think that I played with you. I love you better than my crown, better than my honor!”
“Take care, nephew!” came Prince Ludwig’s warning. “Some one else is near.”
“I care not! Before all the world I would gladly proclaim it. I love her. I swear that I shall never marry, that my heart is breaking! Gretchen, Gretchen! My God, she is falling! Help her!” wildly; and he shook the bars with supernatural strength till his hands were bleeding.
But Gretchen did not answer.
Carmichael tramped about his room, restless, uneasy, starting at sounds. Half a dozen times his cigar had gone out, and burned matches lay scattered on the floor. He was waiting for Grumbach and his confreres. Now he looked out of a window, now he spun the leaves of a book, now he sat down, got up, and tramped again. Anything but this suspense. A full day! The duel in the Biergarten; the king of Jugendheit and the prince regent in the Stein-schloss; the flight of the ambassador to the palace, more like a madman than one noted for his calm and circumspection; Gretchen carried into the palace in a dead faint, and her highness weeping; the duke in a rage and brought over only after the hardest struggle Carmichael had ever experienced. And deeper, firmer, became his belief and conviction that Grumbach’s affair vitally concerned her highness. What blunder had been made? He would soon know. He welcomed the knock on his door. Grumbach came in, carrying under his arm a small bundle. He was pale but serene, like a man who had put his worldly affairs in order.
“Well, Captain, what did his Highness say?”
“Where are your companions?”
“They are waiting outside.”
“The duke agrees. He will give us an audience at eight-thirty. I had a time of it!”
“Did you mention my name
“No. I went roundabout. I also obtained his promise to say nothing to Herbeck till the interview was over. Again he demurred, but his curiosity saved the day. Now, Hans, the full story.”