“Well, are you going to take off these ropes?”
“No. You would break every bone in my body.”
“Damn it, man!” I groaned, in exasperation.
“You will soon be out of breath.”
Oh! could I have but loosened those cords!
“Stahlberg, who left the service a year ago, will act in the capacity of second.” Stahlberg was at the head of the vineyard. “I shall watch the affair from the window here; the scene of action will take place in the clearing beyond. It will be an affair worth witnessing.”
“And where is Gretchen?”
“Where she should be; at the bar, a dutiful bar-maid.” Then I heard nothing but the deep cachinations of the innkeeper. There was something in the affair which appealed to his humor. I could not see it. For ten minutes my vocabulary was strictly unprintable.
“Will you kindly tell me what the meaning of all this is?”
“Herr Winthrop, the idyl has come to an end; the epic now begins.”
The golden summer moon was far up now, and the yellow light of it came into the window and illumined the grim face of the innkeeper, throwing a grotesque shadow of him onto the floor. The leaves rustled and purred against the eaves. As the branches moved so did the light and darkness move over the innkeeper’s visage. He was silent and meditative.
“An epic?” I said.
“Innkeeper,” said I, “if I give you my word of honor not to molest you or leave this room, will you let me be a witness?”
He passed into the gloom, then back into the light.
“This is no trick?” suspiciously. “I have a deal of regard for my bones, old as they are.”
“On my honor.”
“Well, I’ll do it. It is in the blood of us all. But a false move on your part, and I promise you that this knife shall find a resting place in you.”
He cut the ropes and I was free. But my arms ached.
The two of us took our stand by the window and waited for the principals in the drama about to be enacted in the clearing. I confess that my conscience was ill at ease; why, I knew not. I was dreading something, I knew not what. The inn-keeper’s hand trembled on my arm.
“Sh! they come,” he whispered.
As I looked beyond his finger I saw four figures advance over the sward. One of them, a slight boyish form, was new to me. The fellow walked briskly along at the side of Stahlberg, who was built on the plan of a Hercules. When they came to the clearing they stopped. The seconds went through the usual formalities of testing the temper of the swords. Somehow, I could not keep my eyes off the youngster, who was going to do battle with the veteran; and I could not help wondering where in the world he had come from, and why in the world he had chosen this place to settle his dispute in. There were plenty of convenient places in the village, in and around the barracks. He took his position, back to me, so I could not tell what he was like. The moon shone squarely in the lieutenant’s face, upon which was an expression of contempt mingled with confidence. My heart thumped, for I had never seen a duel before.