Chapter 4

A LITTLE before noon Otto, by a triumph of manoeuvring, effected his escape. He was quit in this way of the ponderous gratitude of Mr. Killian, and of the confidential gratitude of poor Ottilia; but of Fritz he was not quit so readily. That young politician, brimming with mysterious glances, offered to lend his convoy as far as to the high-road; and Otto, in fear of some residuary jealousy and for the girl's sake, had not the courage to gainsay him; but he regarded his companion with uneasy glances, and devoutly wished the business at an end. For some time Fritz walked by the mare in silence; and they had already traversed more than half the proposed distance when, with something of a blush, he looked up and opened fire.

`Are you not,' he asked, `what they call a socialist?'

`Why, no,' returned Otto, `not precisely what they call so. Why do you ask?'

`I will tell you why,' said the young man. `I saw from the first that you were a red progressional, and nothing but the fear of old Killian kept you back. And there, sir, you were right: old men are always cowards. But nowadays, you see, there are so many groups: you can never tell how far the likeliest kind of man may be prepared to go; and I was never sure you were one of the strong thinkers, till you hinted about women and free love.'

`Indeed,' cried Otto, `I never said a word of such a thing.'

`Not you!' cried Fritz. `Never a word to compromise! You was sowing seed: ground-bait, our president calls it. But it's hard to deceive me, for I know all the agitators and their ways, and all the doctrines; and between you and me,' lowering his voice, `I am myself affiliated. O yes, I am a secret society man, and here is my medal.' And drawing out a green ribbon that he wore about his neck, he held up, for Otto's inspection, a pewter medal bearing the imprint of a Phoenix and the legend Libertas. `And so now you see you may trust me,' added Fritz, `I am none of your alehouse talkers; I am a convinced revolutionary.' And he looked meltingly upon Otto.

`I see,' replied the Prince; `that is very gratifying. Well, sir, the great thing for the good of one's country is, first of all, to be a good man. All springs from there. For my part, although you are right in thinking that I have to do with politics, I am unfit by intellect and temper for a leading role. I was intended, I fear, for a subaltern. Yet we have all something to command, Mr. Fritz, if it be only our own temper; and a man about to marry must look closely to himself. The husband's, like the prince's, is a very artificial standing; and it is hard to be kind in either. Do you follow that?'

`O yes, I follow that,' replied the young man, sadly chop-fallen over the nature of the information he had elicited; and then brightening up: `Is it,' he ventured, `is it for an arsenal that you have bought the farm?'

`We'll see about that,' the Prince answered, laughing. `You must not be too zealous. And in the meantime, if I were you, I would say nothing on the subject.'

`O, trust me, sir, for that,' cried Fritz, as he pocketed a crown. `And you've let nothing out; for I suspected -- I might say I knew it -- from the first. And mind you, when a guide is required,' he added, `I know all the forest paths.'

Otto rode away, chuckling. This talk with Fritz had vastly entertained him; nor was he altogether discontented with his bearing at the farm; men, he was able to tell himself, had behaved worse under smaller provocation. And, to harmonise all, the road and the April air were both delightful to his soul.

Up and down, and to and fro, ever mounting through the wooded foothills, the broad white high-road wound onward into Grünewald. On either hand the pines stood coolly rooted -- green moss prospering, springs welling forth between their knuckled spurs; and though some were broad and stalwart, and others spiry and slender, yet all stood firm in the same attitude and with the same expression, like a silent army presenting arms.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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