How I lusted for his blood!
“And though my honor is doubtful,” went on the woman I loved, “you still would marry me?”
“Your Highness,” said the Prince, with a bow which entailed the sweeping of his hands, “I would marry you were your honor as—”
“Hell!” roared Hillars in English.
But he was a moment too late. My hands were around the throat of Prince Ernst of Wortumborg, and I was shaking him till his teeth chattered on each other like castanets. Surely I would have throttled him but for the intervention of the Count and the cavalrymen. The Count swung his arm around my neck, while the cavalrymen, their sabre points at Hillars’ breast, wrenched loose my hands. I stood glaring at him, panting and furious. He leaned against the table, gasping and coughing. Finally he recovered his composure.
“Count, I was wrong; you were right. These fellows are dangerous.”
“I will fight you on any terms!” I fired back at him.
“I shall send you one of my lackeys,” he replied. “Take them away, and shoot them if they resist.”
“Liberate the gentlemen,” said Gretchen.
The Count gazed at her in amazement.
“Liberate them?” he cried.
“I command it.”
“You?” said the Prince.
“Yes. This is my principality; these are my soldiers; I command here.”
This was a coup indeed.
“But we represent his Majesty!” cried the Count, still holding me by the throat. I was all but strangled myself.
“I care not whom you represent,” said Gretchen. “I am obedient only to the King, not his minions. Release the gentlemen.”
The Count’s arm slowly unwound. Hillars pressed down the sabre points with his hands and shook off the hand of one of the cavalrymen.
“If it be Your Highness’ will,” he said, “we will throw these intruders into the road. Might is right,” waving his hand to the door which led to the barroom.
The innkeeper and three others filed into the room, grimly and silently. They were armed.
For the first time the Prince lost patience.
“This is all very well, Your Highness,” he sneered. “You misunderstand the limits of your power to command.”
“Not in any part,” said Gretchen. “I am sovereign here, notwithstanding the King’s will is paramount to my own. These people are my people; these soldiers are fed of my bounty; this is my country till the King takes it back. You will act further at your peril.”
A bar of sunlight suddenly pervaded the room; red sunlight, lighting in its passing a tableau I shall never forget. Gretchen stood at her full height, her arms held closely to her sides and her hands clenched. On her face there was that half smile called consciousness of triumph. Hillars was gazing at her with his soul swimming in his eyes. And I—I had a wild desire to throw myself at her feet, then and there. Over the hard-set visage of the innkeeper the bar of sunlight traveled; over the scowling countenance of the Prince, over the puzzled brow of the Count, and going, left a golden purple in its wake, which imperceptibly deepened.