Why, for twopence I would hunt him with the dogs!'

'Mayhap, he's gone home,' said Kuno, but without conviction.

'Home!' sneered the other. 'I give him twelve days to get home. No, it's begun again; it's as it was three years ago, before he married; a disgrace! Hereditary prince, hereditary fool! There goes the government over the borders on a grey mare. What's that? No, nothing - no, I tell you, on my word, I set more store by a good gelding or an English dog. That for your Otto!'

'He's not my Otto,' growled Kuno.

'Then I don't know whose he is,' was the retort.

'You would put your hand in the fire for him to-morrow,' said Kuno, facing round.

'Me!' cried the huntsman. 'I would see him hanged! I'm a Grunewald patriot - enrolled, and have my medal, too; and I would help a prince! I'm for liberty and Gondremark.'

'Well, it's all one,' said Kuno. 'If anybody said what you said, you would have his blood, and you know it.'

'You have him on the brain,' retorted his companion. 'There he goes!' he cried, the next moment.

And sure enough, about a mile down the mountain, a rider on a white horse was seen to flit rapidly across a heathy open and vanish among the trees on the farther side.

'In ten minutes he'll be over the border into Gerolstein,' said Kuno. 'It's past cure.'

'Well, if he founders that mare, I'll never forgive him,' added the other, gathering his reins.

And as they turned down from the knoll to rejoin their comrades, the sun dipped and disappeared, and the woods fell instantly into the gravity and greyness of the early night.

CHAPTER II - IN WHICH THE PRINCE PLAYS HAROUN-AL-RASCHID

THE night fell upon the Prince while he was threading green tracks in the lower valleys of the wood; and though the stars came out overhead and displayed the interminable order of the pine-tree pyramids, regular and dark like cypresses, their light was of small service to a traveller in such lonely paths, and from thenceforth he rode at random. The austere face of nature, the uncertain issue of his course, the open sky and the free air, delighted him like wine; and the hoarse chafing of a river on his left sounded in his ears agreeably.

It was past eight at night before his toil was rewarded and he issued at last out of the forest on the firm white high-road. It lay downhill before him, with a sweeping eastward trend, faintly bright between the thickets; and Otto paused and gazed upon it. So it ran, league after league, still joining others, to the farthest ends of Europe, there skirting the sea-surge, here gleaming in the lights of cities; and the innumerable army of tramps and travellers moved upon it in all lands as by a common impulse, and were now in all places drawing near to the inn door and the night's rest. The pictures swarmed and vanished in his brain; a surge of temptation, a beat of all his blood, went over him, to set spur to the mare and to go on into the unknown for ever. And then it passed away; hunger and fatigue, and that habit of middling actions which we call common sense, resumed their empire; and in that changed mood his eye lighted upon two bright windows on his left hand, between the road and river.

He turned off by a by-road, and in a few minutes he was knocking with his whip on the door of a large farmhouse, and a chorus of dogs from the farmyard were making angry answer. A very tall, old, white-headed man came, shading a candle, at the summons. He had been of great strength in his time, and of a handsome countenance; but now he was fallen away, his teeth were quite gone, and his voice when he spoke was broken and falsetto.

'You will pardon me,' said Otto. 'I am a traveller and have entirely lost my way.'

'Sir,' said the old man, in a very stately, shaky manner, 'you are at the River Farm, and I am Killian Gottesheim, at your disposal. We are here, sir, at about an equal distance from Mittwalden in Grunewald and Brandenau in Gerolstein: six leagues to either, and the road excellent; but there is not a wine bush, not a carter's alehouse, anywhere between.

Prince Otto a Romance Page 04

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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