“Is that the only answer you can give?”
“It is the only answer I will give.”
There was something in Gretchen’s face which awed me. It was power and resolution, two things man seldom sees in a woman’s face.
“Supposing, Gretchen, that I should take you in my arms and kiss you?” I was growing reckless because I felt awed, which seems rather a remarkable statement. “I know you only as a barmaid; why, not?”
She never moved to go away. There was no alarm in her eyes, though they narrowed.
“You would never forgive yourself, would you?”
I thought for a moment. “No, Gretchen, I should never forgive myself. But I know that if I ask you to let me kiss your hand before I go, you will grant so small a favor.”
“There,” and her hand stretched toward me. “And what will your kiss mean?”
“That I love you, but also respect you, and that I shall go.”
“I am sorry.”
It was dismal packing. I swore a good deal, softly. Gretchen was not in the dining-room when I came down to supper. It was just as well. I wanted to be cool and collected when I made my final adieu. After supper I lit my pipe (I shall be buried with it!) and went for a jaunt up the road. There was a train at six the next morning. I would leave on that. Why hadn’t I taken Gretchen in my arms and kissed her? It would have been something to remember in the days to come. I was a man, and stronger; she would have been powerless. Perhaps it was the color of her eyes.
I had not gone up the highway more than 100 yards when I saw the lonely figure of a man tramping indirectly toward me and directly toward the inn. Even in the dusk of twilight there was something familiar about that stride. Presently the man lifted up his voice in song. The “second lead,” as they say back of the scenes, was about to appear before the audience.
Evidently Hillars had found “Jericho” distasteful and had returned to protest.
“Hello, there!” he hailed, seeing but not recognizing me; “have you seen any cavalry pass this way?”
“No, I have not,” I answered in English.
“Eh? What’s that?” not quite believing it was English he had heard.
“I said that no cavalry has passed this way since this afternoon. Are they looking for you, you jail-bird in perspective?”
He was near enough now. “Well, I be dam’!” he cried. “What the devil are you doing here, of all places?”
“I was looking for you,” said I, locking my arm in his.
“Everybody has been making that their occupation since I left Austria,” cursing lowly. “I never saw such people.”
“What have you been doing this time?”
“Nothing; but I want to do something right away. They have been hounding me all over the kingdom. What have I done? Nothing, absolutely nothing. It makes me hot under the collar. These German blockheads! Do they think to find the Princess Hildegarde by following me around? I’d give as much as they to find her.”