“Gott!” he cried. He wiped his eyes and looked again. “Is it a dream or is it you?”
“Flesh and blood!” I cried. “Flesh and blood!”
I closed the door and bolted it. He followed my movements with a mixture of astonishment and curiosity in his eyes.
“Now,” I began, “what have you done with the proofs which you took from your wife—the proofs of the existence of a twin sister of the Princess Hildegarde of Hohenphalia?”
The suddenness of this demand overwhelmed him, and he fell back into the chair, his eyes bulging and his mouth agape.
“Do you hear me?” I cried. “The proofs!” going up to him with clenched fists. “What have you done with those proofs? If you have destroyed them I’ll kill you.”
Then, as a bulldog shakes himself loose, the old fellow got up and squared his shoulders and faced me, his lips compressed and his jaws knotted. I could see by his eyes that I must fight for it.
“Herr Winthrop has gone mad,” said he. “The Princess Hildegarde never had a sister.”
“You lie!” My hands were at his throat.
“I am an old man,” he said.
I let my hands drop and stepped back.
“That is better,” he said, with a grim smile. “Who told you this impossible tale, and what has brought you here?”
“It is not impossible. The sister has been found.”
“Found!” I had him this time. “Found!” he repeated. “Oh, this is not credible!”
“It is true. And to-morrow at noon the woman you profess to love will become the wife of the man she abhors. Why? Because you, you refuse to save her!”
“I? How in God’s name can I save her?” the perspiration beginning to stand out on his brow.
“How? I will tell you how. Prince Ernst marries Gretchen for her dowry alone. If the woman I believe to be her sister can be proved so, the Prince will withdraw his claims to Gretchen’s hand. Do you understand? He will not marry for half the revenues of Hohenphalia. It is all or nothing. Now, will you produce those proofs? Will you help me?” The minute hand of the clock was moving around with deadly precision.
“Are you lying to me?” he asked, breathing hard.
“You fool! can’t you see that it means everything to Gretchen if you have those proofs? She will be free, free! Will you get those proofs, or shall your god-child live to curse you?”
This was the most powerful weapon I had yet used.
“Live to curse me?” he said, not speaking to me, but to the thought. He sat down again and covered his face with his hands. The minute which passed seemed very long. He flung away his hands from his eyes with a movement which expressed despair and resignation. “Yes, I will get them. It is years and years ago,” he mused absently; “so long ago that I had thought it gone and forgotten. But it was not to be. I will get the proofs,” turning to me as he left the chair. “Wait here.” He unbolted the door and passed forth. . . . It was a full confession of the deception, written by the mother herself, and witnessed by her physician, the innkeeper and his wife. Not even the King could contest its genuineness.