I lowered the glasses. I discerned them to be cavalrymen, petty officers. They were mounted on spirited horses.
“Gretchen,” said I, “they are cavalrymen. They do not wear the Hohenphalian uniform; so, perhaps, it would be just as well for you to go to your room and remain there till they are gone. Ah,” said I, elevating the glasses again; “they wear his Majesty’s colors. You had best retire.”
“I refuse. They may be thirsty.”
“I’ll see to that,” I laughed.
“But—” she began.
“Oh, Gretchen wishes to see new faces,” said I, with chagrin.
“If it pleases you, sir,” mischievously.
“What if they are looking for—for—”
“That is the very reason why I wish to see them.”
“You are determined?”
“Very well,” said I; “you had best eat an onion.”
“And for what purpose?”
“As a preventive to offensive tactics,” looking slyly at her.
Her laugh rang out mockingly.
“Do you not know that aside from dueling, the German lives only for his barmaid, his beer and his knoblauch? Nevertheless, since you wish it I will eat one—for your sake.”
“For my sake?” I cried in dismay. “Heaven forfend!”
“Jack,” said I.
“Does Herr Jack think,” her eyes narrowing till naught but a line of their beautiful blue-green could be seen, “that one of those would dare take a liberty with me?”
“I hope he will not. I should have the unpleasant duty of punching his head.” If I could not kiss Gretchen nobody else should.
“You are very strong.”
“Yes; and there are some things which add threefold to a man’s strength.”
“Such as ——” She looked at me daringly.
“Yes, such as ——” Her eyes fell before my glance, A delicate veil of rose covered her face for a moment. I wondered if she knew that it was only because I clinched my fists till the nails cut, that I did not do the very thing I feared the stragglers coming down the road might do. “Come,” said I, peremptorily; “there is no need of your welcoming them here.”
So we entered the inn; and she began furbishing up the utensils, just to tease me more than anything else.
Outside there was a clatter of hoofs, the chink of the spur, intermingled with a few oaths; and then the two representatives of the King came in noisily. They gazed admiringly at Gretchen as she poured out their beer. She saw the rage in my eyes. She was aggravating with her promiscuous smiles. The elder officer noticed my bulldog pipe.
“English?” he inquired, indifferently. The German cannot disassociate an Englishman and a briarwood bulldog pipe.
“English,” I answered discourteously. It mattered nothing to me whether he took me for an Englishman or a Zulu; either answered the purpose.