I let her pass, and as she turned the bend of the road I stole out to the footbridge and across it in pursuit. I knew now that the two wayfarers had not been phantoms of my dreaming; that she was following, tracking them, and that I must track and follow her. Beyond the bend the road twisted over a low-lying spur of the mountain between outcrops of reddish-coloured rock, and then ran straight for almost three hundred yards, with olive orchards on either hand; so that presently I could follow and hold her in sight, myself keeping well within the trees’ line of shadow.
Twice she turned to look behind her, but rapidly and as if in no great apprehension of pursuit; or perhaps her own quest had made her reckless. At the end of this straight and almost level stretch the road rose steeply to wind over another foot-hill, and here she broke into a run. I pressed after her up the ascent, and from the knap of it, with a shock, found myself looking down at close hand upon a small dim bay of the sea with a white edge of foam curving away into a loom of shore above which a solitary light twinkled. The road, following the curve of the shore a few paces above the waves, lay bare in the moonlight, without cover to right or left, until, a mile away perhaps, it melted into the grey of night. Along that distance my eyes sought and sought in vain for the figure that had been running scarcely two hundred yards ahead of me. The Princess had disappeared.
For a short while I stood at fault; but searching the bushes on my left, I was aware of a parting between them, overgrown indeed, yet plainly indicating a track; along which I had pushed but two-score of paces—perhaps less—before a light glimmered between the greenery and I stepped into an open clearing in full view of a cottage, the light of which fell obliquely across the turf through a warped or cracked window-shutter.
“Camillo!”—it was the Princess’s voice, half imperious, half pleading; and from beyond the angle of the cottage wall came the noise of a latch shaken. “Open to me, Camillo, or by the Mother of Christ I will blow the door in! I have a gun, Camillo, and I swear to you!”
The challenge was not answered. Crouching almost on all fours I sprang across the ray of light and gained the wall’s shadow. There, as I drew breath, I heard the latch shaken again, more impatiently.
The bolt was drawn. Peering around the angle of the wall, I saw the light fall full on her face as the door opened and she stepped into the cottage.
ORDEAL AND CHOOSING.
“Thou coward! Yet
Art living? canst not, wilt not find the road
To the great palace of magnificent death?—
Though thousand ways lead to his thousand doors
Which day and night are still unbarr’d for all.”