'Is it possible, madam, that you have not heard the news?' he asked.
'What news?' she cried.
'News of the first order,' returned Sir John: 'a revolution in the State, a Republic declared, the palace burned to the ground, the Princess in flight, Gondremark wounded - '
'Heinrich wounded?' she screamed.
'Wounded and suffering acutely,' said Sir John. 'His groans - '
There fell from the lady's lips an oath so potent that, in smoother hours, it would have made her hearers jump. She ran to her horse, scrambled to the saddle, and, yet half seated, dashed down the road at full gallop. The groom, after a pause of wonder, followed her. The rush of her impetuous passage almost scared the carriage horses over the verge of the steep hill; and still she clattered further, and the crags echoed to her flight, and still the groom flogged vainly in pursuit of her. At the fourth corner, a woman trailing slowly up leaped back with a cry and escaped death by a hand's- breadth. But the Countess wasted neither glance nor thought upon the incident. Out and in, about the bluffs of the mountain wall, she fled, loose-reined, and still the groom toiled in her pursuit.
'A most impulsive lady!' said Sir John. 'Who would have thought she cared for him?' And before the words were uttered, he was struggling in the Prince's grasp.
'My wife! the Princess? What of her?'
'She is down the road,' he gasped. 'I left her twenty minutes back.'
And next moment, the choked author stood alone, and the Prince on foot was racing down the hill behind the Countess.
CHAPTER IV - BABES IN THE WOOD
WHILE the feet of the Prince continued to run swiftly, his heart, which had at first by far outstripped his running, soon began to linger and hang back. Not that he ceased to pity the misfortune or to yearn for the sight of Seraphina; but the memory of her obdurate coldness awoke within him, and woke in turn his own habitual diffidence of self. Had Sir John been given time to tell him all, had he even known that she was speeding to the Felsenburg, he would have gone to her with ardour. As it was, he began to see himself once more intruding, profiting, perhaps, by her misfortune, and now that she was fallen, proffering unloved caresses to the wife who had spurned him in prosperity. The sore spots upon his vanity began to burn; once more, his anger assumed the carriage of a hostile generosity; he would utterly forgive indeed; he would help, save, and comfort his unloving wife; but all with distant self-denial, imposing silence on his heart, respecting Seraphina's disaffection as he would the innocence of a child. So, when at length he turned a corner and beheld the Princess, it was his first thought to reassure her of the purity of his respect, and he at once ceased running and stood still. She, upon her part, began to run to him with a little cry; then, seeing him pause, she paused also, smitten with remorse; and at length, with the most guilty timidity, walked nearly up to where he stood.
'Otto,' she said, 'I have ruined all!'
'Seraphina!' he cried with a sob, but did not move, partly withheld by his resolutions, partly struck stupid at the sight of her weariness and disorder. Had she stood silent, they had soon been locked in an embrace. But she too had prepared herself against the interview, and must spoil the golden hour with protestations.
'All!' she went on, 'I have ruined all! But, Otto, in kindness you must hear me - not justify, but own, my faults. I have been taught so cruelly; I have had such time for thought, and see the world so changed. I have been blind, stone-blind; I have let all true good go by me, and lived on shadows. But when this dream fell, and I had betrayed you, and thought I had killed - ' She paused. 'I thought I had killed Gondremark,' she said with a deep flush, 'and I found myself alone, as you said.'
The mention of the name of Gondremark pricked the Princes generosity like a spur. 'Well,' he cried, 'and whose fault was it but mine? It was my duty to be beside you, loved or not.