“These things will keep him a few days,” he thought, as he looked at his hunting-watch, and the priceless pearl in each of his wristband-studs. He would have pawned every atom he had about him to have had the King with him a week longer.
The night fell, the stars came out, the storm-rack of a coming tempest drifted over the sky, the train rushed onward through the thickening darkness, through the spectral country—it was like his life, rushing headlong down into impenetrable gloom. The best, the uttermost, that he could look for was a soldier’s grave, far away under some foreign soil.
A few evenings later the Countess Guenevere stood alone in her own boudoir in her Baden suite; she was going to dine with an Archduchess of Russia, and the splendid jewels of her House glittered through the black shower of her laces, and crowned her beautiful glossy hair, her delicate imperial head. In her hands was a letter—oddly written in pencil on a leaf torn out of a betting book, but without a tremor or a change in the writing itself. And as she stood a shiver shook her frame; in the solitude of her lighted and luxurious chamber her cheek grew pale, her eyes grew dim.
“To refute the charge,” ran the last words of what was at best but a fragment, “I must have broken my promise to you, and have compromised your name. Keeping silence myself, but letting the trial take place, law-inquiries so execrable and so minute, would soon have traced through others that I was with you that evening. To clear myself I must have attainted your name with public slander, and drawn the horrible ordeal on you before the world. Let me be thought guilty. It matters little. Henceforth I shall be dead to all who know me, and my ruin would have exiled me without this. Do not let an hour of grief for me mar your peace, my dearest; think of me with no pain, Beatrice; only with some memory of our past love. I have not strength yet to say—forget me; and yet,—if it be for your happiness,—blot out from your remembrance all thought of what we have been to one another; all thought of me and of my life, save to remember now and then that I was dear to you.”
The words grew indistinct before her sight, they touched the heart of the world-worn coquette, of the victorious sovereign, to the core; she trembled greatly as she read them. For—in her hands was his fate. Though no hint of this was breathed in his farewell letter, she knew that with a word she could clear him, free him, and call him back from exile and shame, give him once more honor and guiltlessness in the sight of the world. With a word she could do this; his life was in the balance that she held as utterly as though it were now hers to sign, or to destroy, his death-warrant. It rested with her to speak and to say he had no guilt.