The quarrel upstairs became louder; the voices resounded over the house and the Amtshauptmann came down stairs into the hall with the Colonel.
The old Herr said, in short, sharp sentences, that he must allow what he could not prevent. The Frenchman must do as he chose, for the power was in his hands.
The Colonel said he knew that. But before he made use of his power he should inquire into things, for there could be no doubt events had happened which there was an attempt to conceal.
He had nothing to conceal, the old Amtshaupt-mann said. If there was anything to be concealed it was on the part of the French. And was a vagabond like the Chasseur really held in such high esteem and regard by them? For his own part, he knew nothing further than that the fellow had come to him like a robber, had behaved like a pig, and that his servants and the watchmaker Droz had told him the Gielow Miller had taken him away in his waggon.
But where did the watchmaker get his French uniform from, the Colonel asked?
That did not concern him, was the old Herr's reply; the man was not in his district. He had, however, heard it said, that the fellow sometimes put the uniform on for his amusement.
The Colonel said those were merely excuses.
At that the old Herr fired up, and drawing himself to his full height, he looked in his dignified way at the Frenchman, and said — "Excuses are the cousins of lies. You forget my age and rank."
The Colonel became more violent, and said: "In short, the whole story is incredible."
"Indeed!" exclaimed the Amtshauptmann, and from under his grey eyebrows there shot a look full of scorn and anger, like a flash of lightning darting from out of a cloud over a peaceful landscape. "You think it is incredible?" — And he half turned his back upon the Colonel. — "Why mayn't a Frenchman wear the French uniform for his pleasure when so many Germans wear it for theirs?" he added, looking over his shoulder at Colonel von Toll.
The Frenchman turned red as fire, then pale as death; he stepped back a couple of paces and clutched at his sword. The ghost of a fearful deed haunted him for a moment and guided his hand; but, overcoming the dark thought, he turned hastily round and went with long strides down the hall, and Hanchen, who saw it all through a chink in the door, said, ever after, that she had never in her life seen anything like it. "He was a handsome man, and had a pleasant face," she would add, "but when he came striding down the hall, I don't know why, but it reminded me of how once, when I was herding geese, on a fine day in the middle of summer, suddenly there came a fierce wind, and in the twinkling of ah eye, all the leaves were blown off from the beautiful oak at the back of the Convent garden and were flying about."
The Colonel turned round again, went up to the Amtshauptmann, and said in a quiet cold voice, that they would discuss the point at a future time; but his duty required that the matter should be probed to the bottom without delay. "Why had the watchmaker slept at the Schloss last night?"
"He did not sleep here," said the old Herr.
"Yes," said the Colonel, "he did sleep here, he slept in that room," and he pointed to Mamsell Westphalen's room.
"Impossible," cried the old Herr, raising his Voice as if to defend Innocence before the whole world, "that's Mamsell Westphalen's room. She has been in my house twenty years, and do you mean to say she would let a man be in her room?"
"Corlin;" said Mamsell Westphalen in the kitchen, "give me a couple of blows in the neck, for I feel as if I were going to faint; and my head swims round."
The Colonel threw open the door, and there stood the watchmaker before them. The adjutant had just been examining him, and he had told the adjutant everything — except the truth.
The old Amtshauptmann was quite aghast when he saw the watchmaker before him. ''This is in- explicable!" he cried.
The Colonel laughed scornfully, and said he hoped it would not long remain inexplicable; then he whispered a few words to the adjutant and asked for the keys of the state prison.
"I cannot give them out for this prisoner," said the Amtshauptmann, "for he has no right to the state prison; he is a citizen and must go to the town gaol."
"So much the better," replied the Colonel, "for there will be less opportunity there for connivance."
So Herr Droi was marched off between a couple of soldiers — for gradually the courtyard had got filled with French — and was transported to the Rathhaus.
The Colonel also went; but, when he reached the door, he turned round and said that, strictly according to duty, he ought to have the Herr Amtshauptmann arrested, but because the Herr was an old man, and more especially because of the hard words he had used, he should be left in peace. The Colonel would keep himself clear from the slightest suspicion of having wished to revenge himself for those bitter words; but if the presence of the Amtshauptmann or Mamsell Westphalen were necessary at the examination, they must come before him. The old Herr coldly acquiesced, and the Colonel went, but ordered a couple of gensdarmes off to the Gielow Mill, and looked sharply at the Amtshauptmann as he gave the order.
When they were gone, the old Herr went towards the kitchen, and Hanchen started back from her chink in the door, for she thought her master was coming in. But all at once he stood still, turned round and said to himself: "What did the fellow say about 'connivance' and 'keeping himself clear of any appearance of revenge.' What a French Colonel can only talk about, the Amtshauptmann Weber can surely do. I too will keep my name clear. There shall be no appearance of connivance on my part." And he went into his room.
Dieses Kapitel ist Teil des Buches IN THE YEAR 13