“He’s not there, at any rate,” said one, who seemed the chief; “he couldn’t have kept as still as that with a shot so near him. He’s made for the open country and the forest, I’ll take my oath.”
Then the trending of many feet trampled their way out from beneath the loggia; their voices and their rapid steps grew fainter and fainter as they hurried away through the night. For a while, at least, he was safe.
For some moments he lay prostrated there; the rushing of the blood on his brain, the beating of his heart, the panting of his breath, the quivering of his limbs after the intense muscular effort he had gone through, mastered him and flung him down there, beaten and powerless. He felt the foam on his lips and he thought with every instant that the surcharged veins would burst; hands of steel seemed to crush in upon his chest, knotted cords to tighten in excruciating pain about his loins; he breathed in short, convulsive gasps; his eyes were blind, and his head swam. A dreaming fancy that this was death vaguely came on him, and he was glad it should be so.
His eyelids closed unconsciously, weighed down as by the weight of lead; he saw the starry skies above him no more, and the distant noise of the pursuit waxed duller and duller on his ear; then he lost all sense and memory—he ceased even to feel the night air on his face. How long he lay there he never knew; when consciousness returned to him all was still; the moon was shining down clear as the day, the west wind was blowing softly among his hair. He staggered to his feet and leaned against the timber of the upper wall; the shelving, impenetrable darkness sloped below; above were the glories of a summer sky at midnight, around him the hills and woods were bathed in the silver light; he looked, and he remembered all.
He had escaped his captors; but for how long? While yet there were some hours of the night left, he must find some surer refuge, or fall into their hands again. Yet it was strange that in this moment his own misery and his own peril were less upon him than a longing to see once more—and for the last time—the woman for whose sake he suffered this. Their love had had the lightness and the languor of their world, and had had but little depth in it; yet, in that hour of his supreme sacrifice to her, he loved her as he had not loved in his life.
Recklessness had always been latent in him, with all his serenity and impassiveness; a reckless resolve entered him now—reckless to madness. Lightly and cautiously, though his sinews still ached, and his nerves still throbbed with the past strain, he let himself fall, hand over hand, as men go down a rope, along the woodwork to the ground. Once touching earth, off he glided, swiftly and noiselessly, keeping in the shadow of the walls all the length of the streets he took, and shunning every place where any sort of tumult could suggest the neighborhood of those who were out and hunting him down. As it chanced, they had taken to the open country; he passed on unquestioned, and wound his way to the Kursaal. He remembered that to-night there was a masked ball, at which all the princely and titled world of Baden were present; to which he would himself have gone after the Russian dinner; by the look of the stars he saw that it must be midnight or past; the ball would be now at its height.