“Humph!” said the old man in a growl. “I thought as much.” He whispered to his companions. “Herr Carmichael, I shall have the honor of escorting you back to Dreiberg.”
“But will it be as easy to go in as it was to come out?”
“Trust you for that. The American consul’s word will be sufficient for our needs.”
“And if I refuse to give that word?”
“In that case, you will have to use your legs,” curtly.
“I prefer to ride.”
“Thanks. I shall sit with the driver.”
“That also will please me.”
“And you ask no further questions?”
“Why should I? I know all I wish to know, which is more than you would care to have me.”
The mountaineer swore.
“If we talk any longer I shall be late for breakfast.”
On the way, it all came back to Carmichael with the vividness of a forgotten photograph, come upon suddenly: Bonn, the Rhine, swift and turbulent, a tow-headed young fellow who could not swim well, his own plunge, his fingers in the flaxen hair, and the hard fight to the landing; all this was a tale twice told.
Vintner? Not much!
It was dawn when they began to pull up the road to Dreiberg. The return had been leisurely despite Carmichael’s impatience. In the military field the troops were breaking camp for their departure to the various posts throughout the duchy. Only the officers, who were to attend the court ball that evening, and the resident troops would remain. The maneuvers were over; the pomp of miniature war was done. Carmichael peered through the window. What a play yonder scene was to what he had been through! To break camp before dawn, before breakfast, rain and hail and snow smothering one; when the frost-bound iron of the musket caught one’s fingers and tore the skin; the shriek of shot overhead, the boom of cannon and the gulp of impact; cold, hungry, footsore, sleepy; here and there a comrade crumpling up strangely and lying still and white; the muddy ruts in the road; the whole world a dead gray like the face of death! What did those yonder know of war?
The carriage stopped.
“I shall not intrude, I trust?” said the old man, opening the door and getting in.
“Not now,” replied Carmichael. “What is all this about?”
“A trifle; I might say a damn-fool trifle. But what did you mean when you said you knew all you wanted to know?” The mountaineer showed some anxiety.
“Exactly what I said. The only thing that confuses me is the motive.”
The old man thought for a while. “Suppose you had a son who was making a fool of himself?”
“Or a nephew?”
“Well, or a nephew?”
“Making a fool of himself over what?”
“Nothing unusual in that. But what kind of a woman?”