“No, Gretchen,” said I, “he does not doubt it, but he wishes me to do so. I believe in your innocence as I believe in your love.”
“It is sad, is it not,” said she, “that we must go through our days loving each other and all the world standing between? I have never loved a man before; I did not want to love you. I did not know that I loved you till I saw that your life was in danger. Yet I am glad that I have lived for a brief second, for till a woman loves she does not live. I am brave; do you be likewise. I shall go back to the world, and who shall know of the heart of fire beneath the ice! Not even the man I love. Kiss me; it is the last kiss I shall take from the lips of any man.”
And it seemed to me that our souls met in that last kiss, melted and became one. Her hands dropped to her side, and swiftly she sped from the room.
She had entered the coach. The cavalrymen were perched upon the box. There was a crack of the lash, and the coach rolled away. I watched it, standing in the road. A cloud of yellow dust partially obscured it from view. Half a mile beyond rose a small hill. This the coach mounted, and the red gold of the smoldering sun engulfed it. Was it a face I saw at the window? Perhaps. Then over the hill all disappeared, and with it the whole world, and I stood in emptiness, alone.
Gretchen had gone.
I was wandering aimlessly through the rose gardens, when the far-off sound of galloping hoofs came on the breeze. Nearer and nearer it drew. I ran out into the highway. I saw a horse come wildly dashing along. It was riderless, and as it came closer I saw the foam of sweat dripping from its flanks and shoulders. As the animal plunged toward me, I made a spring and caught the bridle, hanging on till the brute came to a standstill. It was quivering from fright. There was a gash on its neck, and it was bleeding and turning the white flakes of sweat into a murky crimson.
“Good Lord!” I ejaculated. “It’s one of the cavalry horses. Hillars or the innkeeper has been hurt.”
I was of the mind to mount the animal and go in search of them, when Stahlberg, who had come to my assistance, said that I had best wait. A quarter of an hour passed. Then we could see another horse, perhaps half a mile away, coming toward the inn at a canter. From what I could see in the pale light, the horse carried a double burden. A sheet of ice seemed to fall on my heart. What had happened? Had Dan and the Prince come to blows? Alas, I could have cried out in anguish at the sight which finally met my gaze. The innkeeper held the reins, and, propped up in front of him, was Hillars, to all appearances dead.