“Yes.” I took out my own pipe now. “But what’s the use. She is a Princess. Why, I thought her at first a barmaid—a barmaid! Then I thought her to be in some way a lawbreaker, a socialist conspirator. It would be droll if it were not sad. The Princess Hildegarde!” I laughed dismally. “Dan, old man, let’s dig out at once, and close the page. We’ll talk it over when we are older.”
“No, we will face it out. She loves you. Why not? So do I.” He got off the bed and came over to me and rested his hands on my shoulders. “Jack, my son, next to her I love you better than anything in the world. We have worked together, starved together, smoked and laughed together. There is a bond between us that no human force can separate. The Princess, if she cannot marry you, shall not marry the Prince. I have a vague idea that it is written. ’The moving finger writes; and, having writ, moves on.’ We cannot cancel a line of it.”
“Dan, you will do nothing rash or reckless?”
“Sit down, my son; sit down. Premeditation is neither rashness nor recklessness. Jack, life has begun with you; with me it has come to an end. When there is nothing more to live for, it is time to die. But how? That is the question. A war would be a God-send; but these so-called war lords are a lazy lot, or cowardly, or both. Had I a regiment, what a death! Jack, do you not know what it is to fight the invisible death? Imagine yourself on the line, with the enemy thundering toward you, sabres flashing in the sunlight, and lead singing about your ears. It is the only place in the world to die—on a battlefield. Fear passes away as a cloud from the face of the sun. The enemy is bringing you glory—or death. Yes, I would give a good deal for a regiment, and a bad moment for our side. But the regiment non est; still, there is left—”
“Dan, what are you talking about?” I cried.
“Death; grim, gaunt and gray death, whose footstep is as noiseless as the fall of snow; death, the silent one, as the Indian calls him.”
He knocked the ash from his pipe and stuffed the briar into his pocket.
“Jack, I am weary of it all. If I cannot die artistically, I wish to die a sudden and awful death. What! Do I look like a man to die in bed, in the inebriates’ ward? For surely I shall land there soon! I am going to pieces like a sand house in a wind storm. I suppose I’m talking nonsense. After all, I haven’t as much to say as I thought I had. Suppose we turn in? I’m tired. You see, those fellows moved me around to-day.”
Hillars and I stood in the middle of the road. He held the binoculars.
“How many can you make out?” I asked.
“Four; all on horseback. There’s a coach of some sort following on behind. But everything is blurred and my hand trembles; the whiskey here is terrible. Here, look for yourself,” handing the glasses to me. “Tell me what you see.”