Part 1 out of 7
Produced by Charles Aldarondo, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed
THE RED AXE
By S.R. Crockett
I. DUKE CASIMIR RIDES LATE
II. THE LITTLE PLAYMATE COMES HOME
III. THE RED AXE OF THE WOLFMARK
IV. THE PRINCESS HELENE
V. THE BLOOD-HOUNDS ARE FED
VI. DUKE CASIMIR'S FAMILIAR
VII. I BECOME A TRAITOR
VIII. AT THE BAR OF THE WHITE WOLF
IX. A HERO CARRIES WATER IN THE SUN
X. THE LUBBER FIEND
XI. THE VISION IN THE CRYSTAL
XII. EYES OF EMERALD
XIII. CHRISTIAN'S ELSA
XIV. SIR AMOROUS IS PLEASED WITH HIMSELF
XV. THE LITTLE PLAYMATE SETTLES ACCOUNTS
XVI. TWO WOMEN--AND A MAN
XVII. THE RED AXE IS LEFT ALONE
XVIII. THE PRIME OF THE MORNING
XIX. WENDISH WIT
XX. THE EARTH-DWELLERS OF NO MAN'S LAND
XXI. I STAND SENTRY
XXII. HELENE HATES ME
XXIII. HUGO OF THE BROADAXE
XXIV. THE SORTIE
XXV. MINE HOST RUNS HIS LAST RACE
XXVI. PRINCE JEHU MILLER'S SON
XXVII. ANOTHER MAN'S COAT
XXVIII. THE PRINCE'S COMPACT
XXIX. LOVES ME--LOVES ME NOT
XXX. INSULT AND CHALLENGE
XXXI. I FIND A SECOND
XXXII. THE WOLVES OF THE MARK
XXXIII. THE FLIGHT OF THE LITTLE PLAYMATE
XXXIV. THE GOLDEN NECKLACE
XXXV. THE DECENT SERVITOR
XXXVI. YSOLINDE'S FAREWELL
XXXVII. CAPTAIN KARL MILLER'S SON
XXXVIII. THE BLACK RIDERS
XXXIX. THE FLAG ON THE RED TOWER
XL. THE TRIAL OF THE WITCH
XLI. THE GARRET OF THE RED TOWER
XLII. PRINCESS PLAYMATE
XLIII. THE TRIAL FOR WITCHCRAFT
XLIV. SENTENCE OF DEATH
XLV. THE MESSAGE FROM THE WHITE GATE
XLVI. A WOMAN SCORNED
XLVII. THE RED AXE DIES STANDING UP
XLVIII. HUGO GOTTFRIED, RED AXE OF THE WOLFMARK
XLIX. THE SERPENT'S STRIFE
L. THE DUNGEON OF THE WOLFSBERG
LI. THE NIGHT BEFORE THE MORN
LII. THE HEADSMAN'S RIGHT
LIII. THE LUBBER FIEND'S RETURN
LIV. THE CROWNING OF DUKE OTHO
LV. THE LADY YSOLINDE SAVES HER SOUL
LVI. HELENA, PRINCESS OF PLASSENBURG
THE RED AXE
DUKE CASIMIR RIDES LATE
Well do I, Hugo Gottfried, remember the night of snow and moonlight when
first they brought the Little Playmate home. I had been sleeping--a
sturdy, well-grown fellow I, ten years or so as to my age--in a stomacher
of blanket and a bed-gown my mother had made me before she died at the
beginning of the cold weather. Suddenly something awoke me out of my
sleep. So, all in the sharp chill of the night, I got out of my bed,
sitting on the edge with my legs dangling, and looked curiously at the
bright streams of moonlight which crossed the wooden floor of my garret.
I thought if only I could swim straight up one of them, as the motes did
in the sunshine, I should be sure to come in time to the place where my
mother was--the place where all the pretty white things came from--the
sunshine, the moonshine, the starshine, and the snow.
And there would be children to play with up there--hundreds of children
like myself, and all close at hand. I should not any longer have to sit
up aloft in the Red Tower with none to speak to me--all alone on the top
of a wall--just because I had a crimson patch sewn on my blue-corded
blouse, on my little white shirt, embroidered in red wool on each of my
warm winter wristlets, and staring out from the front of both my
stockings. It was a pretty enough pattern, too. Yet whenever one of the
children I so much longed to play with down on the paved roadway beneath
our tower caught sight of it he rose instantly out of the dust and hurled
oaths and ill-words at me--aye, and oftentimes other missiles that hurt
even worse--at a little lonely boy who was breaking his heart with loving
him up there on the tower.
"Come down and be killed, foul brood of the Red Axe!" the children cried.
And with that they ran as near as they dared, and spat on the wall of our
house, or at least on the little wooden panel which opened inward in the
great trebly spiked iron door of the Duke's court-yard.
But this night of the first home-coming of the Little Playmate I awoke
crying and fearful in the dead vast of the night, when all the other
children who would not speak to me were asleep. Then pulling on my
comfortable shoes of woollen list (for my father gave me all things to
make me warm, thinking me delicate of body), and drawing the many-patched
coverlet of the bed about me, I clambered up the stone stairway to the
very top of the tower in which I slept. The moon was broad, like one of
the shields in the great hall, whither I went often when the great Duke
was not at home, and when old Hanne would be busy cleaning the pavement
and scrubbing viciously at the armor of the iron knights who stood on
pedestals round about.
"One day I shall be a man-at-arms, too," I said once to Hanne, "and ride
a-foraying with Duke Ironteeth."
But old Hanne only shook her head and answered:
"Ill foraying shalt thou make, little shrimp. Such work as thine is not
done on horseback--keep wide from me, _toadchen_, touch me not!"
For even old Hanne flouted me and would not let me approach her too
closely, all because once I had asked her what my father did to witches,
and if she were a witch that she crossed herself and trembled whenever
she passed him in the court-yard.
Now, having little else to do, I loved to look down from the top of the
tower at all times. But never more so than when there was snow on the
ground, for then the City of Thorn lay apparent beneath me, all spread
out like a painted picture, with its white and red roofs and white houses
bright in the moonlight--so near that it seemed as though I could pat
every child lying asleep in its little bed, and scrape away the snow with
my fingers from every red tile off which the house-fires had not already
The town of Thorn was the chief place of arms, and high capital city of
all the Wolfmark. It was a thriving place, too, humming with burghers and
trades and guilds, when our great Duke Casimir would let them alone;
perilous, often also, with pikes and discontents when he swooped from the
tall over-frowning Castle of the Wolfsberg upon their booths and
guilderies--"to scotch the pride of rascaldom," as he told them when they
complained. In these days my father was little at home, his business
keeping him abroad all the day about the castle-yard, at secret
examinations in the Hall of Judgment, or in mysterious vaults in the
deepest parts of the castle, where the walls are eighteen feet thick, and
from which not a groan can penetrate to the outside while the Duke
Casimir's judgment was being done upon the poor bodies and souls of men
and women his prisoners.
In the court-yard, too, the dogs, fierce russet-tan blood-hounds,
ravined for their fearsome food. And in these days there was plenty of
it, too, so that they were yelling and clamoring all day, and most of
the night, for that which it made me sweat to think of. And beneath the
rebellious city cowered and muttered, while the burghers and their
wives shivered in their beds as the howling of Duke Casimir's
blood-hounds came fitfully down the wind, and Duke Casimir's guards
clashed arms under their windows.
So this night I looked down contentedly enough from my perched eyrie on
the top of the Red Tower. It had been snowing a little earlier in the
evening, and the brief blast had swept the sky clean, so that even the
brightest stars seemed sunken and waterlogged in the white floods of
moonlight. Under my hand lay the city. Even the feet of the watch made no
clatter on the pavements. The fresh-fallen snow masked the sound. The
kennels of the blood-hounds were silent, for their dreadful tenants were
abroad that night on the Duke's work.
Yet, sitting up there on the Wolfsberg, it seemed to me that I could
distinguish a muttering as of voices full of hate, like men talking low
on their beds the secret things of evil and treason. I discerned
discontent and rebellion rumbling and brooding over the city that clear,
keen night of early winter.
Then, when after a while I turned from the crowded roofs and looked down
upon the gray, far-spreading plain of the Wolfmark, to the east I saw
that which appeared like winking sparks of light moving among the black
clumps of copse and woodland which fringed the river. These wimpled and
scattered, and presently grew brighter. A long howl, like that of a
lonely wolf on the waste when he calls to his kindred to tell him their
where-abouts, came faintly up to my ears.
A hound gave tongue responsively among the heaped mews and doggeries
beneath the ramparts. Lights shone in windows athwart the city. Red
nightcaps were thrust out of hastily opened casements. The Duke's
standing guard clamored with their spear-butts on the uneven pavements,
crying up and down the streets: "To your kennels, devil's brats, Duke
Casimir comes riding home!"
Then I tell you my small heart beat furiously. For I knew that if I
only kept quiet I should see that which I had never yet seen--the
home-coming of our famous foraying Duke. I had, indeed, seen Duke
Casimir often enough in the castle, or striding across the court-yard
to speak to my father, for whom he had ever a remarkable affection. He
was a tall, swart, black-a-vised man, with a huge hairy mole on his
cheek, and long dog-teeth which showed at the sides of his mouth when
he smiled, almost as pleasantly as those of a she-wolf looking out of
her den at the hunters.
But I had never seen the Duke of all the Wolfmark come riding home ere
daybreak, laden with the plunder of captured castles and the rout of
deforced cities. For at such times my father would carefully lock the
door on me, and confine me to my little sleeping-chamber--from whence I
could see nothing but the square of smooth pavement on which the
children chalked their games, and from which they cried naughtily up at
me, the poor hermit of the Red Tower. But this night my father would be
with the Duke, and I should see all. For high or low there was none in
the empty Red Tower to hinder or forbid.
As I waited, thrilling with expectation, I heard beneath me the
quickening pulse-beat of the town. The watch hurried here and there,
hectoring, threatening, and commanding. But, in spite of all, men
gathered as soon as their backs were turned in the alleys and street
openings. Clusters of heads showed black for a moment in some darksome
entry, cried "U-g-g-hh!" with a hateful sound, and vanished ere the
steel-clad veterans of the Duke's guard could come upon them. It was like
the hide-and-seek which I used to play with Boldo, my blood-hound puppy,
among the dusty waste of the lumber-room over the Hall of Judgment,
before my father took him back to the kennels for biting Christian's
Elsa, a child who lived in the lower Guard opposite to the Red Tower.
But this was a stranger hide-and-seek than mine and Boldo's had been. For
I saw one of the men who cried hatefully to the guard stumble on the
slippery ice; and lo! or ever he had time to cry out or gather himself
up, the men-at-arms were upon him. I saw the glitter of stabbing steel
and heard the sickening sound of blows stricken silently in anger. Then
the soldiers took the man up by head and heels carelessly, jesting as
they went. And I shuddered, for I knew that they were bringing him to the
horrible long sheds by the Red Tower through which the wind whistled. But
in the moonlight the patch which was left on the snow was black, not red.
After this the crooked alleys were kept clearer, and I could see down the
long High Street of Thorn right to the Weiss Thor and the snow-whitened
pinnacles of the Palace, out of which Duke Casimir had for the time being
frightened Bishop Peter. Black stood the Gate Port against the moonlight
and the snow when I first looked at it. A moment after it had opened, and
a hundred lights came crowding through, like sheep through an entry on
their way to the shambles--which doubtless is their Hall of Judgment,
where there waits for them the Red Axe of a lowlier degree.
The lights, I say, came thronging through the gate. For though it was
moonlight, the Duke Casimir loved to come home amid the red flame of
torches, the trail of bituminous reek, and with a dashing train of riders
clattering up to the Wolfsberg behind him, through the streets of Thorn,
lying black and cowed under the shadows of its thousand gables.
So the procession undulated towards me, turbid and tumultuous. First a
reckless pour of riders urging wearied horses, their sides white-flecked
above with blown foam, and dark beneath with rowelled blood. Many of the
horsemen carried marks upon them which showed that all had not been
plunder and pleasuring upon their foray. For there were white napkins,
and napkins that had once been white, tied across many brows. Helmets
swung clanking like iron pipkins from saddle-bows, and men rode wearily
with their arms in slings, drooping haggard faces upon their chests. But
all passed rapidly enough up the steep street, and tumbled with noise and
shouting, helter-skelter into the great court-yard beneath me as I
watched, secure as God in heaven, from my perch on the Red Tower.
Then came the captives, some riding horses bare-backed, or held in place
before black-bearded riders--women mostly these last, with faces
white-set and strange of eye, or all beblubbered with weeping. Then came
a man or two also on horseback, old and reverend. After them a draggled
rabble of lads and half-grown girls, bound together with ropes and kept
at a dog's trot by the pricking spears of the men-at-arms behind, who
thought it a jest to sink a spear point-deep in the flesh of a man's
back--"drawing the claret wine" they called it. For these riders of Duke
Casimir were every one jolly companions, and must have their merry jest.
After the captives had gone past--and sorry I was for them--the
body-guard of Duke Casimir came riding steadily and gallantly, all
gentlemen of the Mark, with their sons and squires, landed men, towered
men, free Junkers, serving the Duke for loyalty and not servitude, though
ever "living by the saddle"--as, indeed, most of the Ritterdom and gentry
of the Mark had done for generations.
Then behind them came Duke Casimir himself. The Eastland blood he had
acquired from his Polish mother showed as he rode gloomily apart,
thoughtful, solitary, behind the squared shoulders of his knights. After
him another squadron of riders in ghastly armor of black-and-white, with
torches in their hand and grinning skulls upon their shields, closed in
the array. The great gate of the Wolfsberg was open now, and, leaving
behind him the hushed and darkened town, the master rode into his castle.
The Wolf was in his lair. But in the streets many a burgher's wife
trembled on her bed, while her goodman peered cautiously over the leads
by the side of a gargoyle, and fancied that already he heard the clamor
of the partisans thundering at his door with the Duke's invitation to
meet him in the Hall of Judgment.
THE LITTLE PLAYMATE COMES HOME
But there was to be no Session in the Hall of Judgment that night. The
great court-yard, roofed with the vault of stars and lit by the moon, was
to see all done that remained to be done. The torches were planted in the
iron hold-fasts round about. The plunder of the captured towns and
castles was piled for distribution on the morrow, and no man dared keep
back so much as a Brandenburg broad-piece or a handful of Bohemian
gulden. For the fear of the Duke and the Duke's dog-kennels was upon
every stout fighting-kerl. They minded the fate of Hans Pulitz, who had
kept back a belt of gold, and had gotten himself flung by the heels with
no more than the stolen belt upon him, into the kennels where the Duke's
blood-hounds howled and clambered with their fore-feet on the
black-spattered barriers. And they say that the belt of gold was all that
was ever seen again of the poor rascal. Hans Pulitz--who had hoped for so
many riotous evenings among the Fat Pigs of Thorn and so many draughts of
the slippery wine of the Rheingan careering down the poor thirsty throat
of him. But, alas for Hans Pulitz! the end of all imagining was no more
than five minutes of snapping, snarling, horrible Pandemonium in the
kennels of the Wolfsberg, and the scored gold chain on the ground was all
that remained to tell his tale. Verily, there were few Achans in Duke
And it is small wonder after this, that scant and sparse were the jests
played on the grim master of the Wolfsberg, or that the bay of a
blood-hound tracking on the downs frightened the most stout-hearted rider
in all that retinue of dare-devils.
Going to the side of the Red Tower, which looked towards the court-yard,
I saw the whole array come in. I watched the prisoners unceremoniously
dismounted and huddled together against the coming of the Duke. There was
but one man among them who stood erect. The torch-light played on his
face, which was sometimes bent down to a little child in his arms, so
that I saw him well. He looked not at all upon the rude men-at-arms who
pushed and bullied about him, but continued tenderly to hush his charge,
as if he had been a nurse in a babe-chamber under the leads, with silence
in all the house below.
It pleased me to see the man, for all my life I had loved children. And
yet at ten years of age I had never so much as touched one--no, nor
spoken even, only looked down on those that hated me and spat on the very
tower wherein I dwelt. But nevertheless I loved them and yearned to tell
them so, even when they mocked me. So I watched this little one in the
Then came the Duke along the line, and behind him, like the Shadow of
Death, paced my father Gottfried Gottfried, habited all in red from neck
to heel, and carrying for his badge of office as Hereditary Justicer to
the Dukes of the Wolfmark that famous red-handled, red-bladed axe, the
gleaming white of whose deadly edge had never been wet save with the
blood of men and women.
The guard pushed the captives rudely into line as the Duke Casimir strode
along the front. The women he passed without a sign or so much as a look.
They were kept for another day. But the men were judged sharp and sudden,
as the Duke in his black armor passed along, and that scarlet Shadow of
Death with the broad axe over his shoulder paced noiselessly behind him.
For as each man looked into the eyes of Casimir of the Wolfsberg he read
his doom. The Duke turned his wrist sharply down, whereupon the attendant
sprites of the Red Shadow seized the man and rent his garment down from
his neck--or the hand pointed up, and then the man set his hand to his
heart and threw his head back in a long sigh of relief.
It came the turn of the man who carried the babe.
Duke Casimir paused before him, scowling gloomily at him.
"Ha, Lord Prince of so great a province, you will not set yourself up any
more haughtily. You will quibble no longer concerning tithes and tolls
with Casimir of the Wolfmark."
And the Duke lifted his hand and smote the man on the cheek with his
Yet the captive only hushed the child that wailed aloud to see her
He looked Duke Casimir steadfastly in the eyes and spoke no word.
"Great God, man, have you nothing to say to me ere you die?" cried Duke
Casimir, choked with hot, sudden anger to be so crossed.
The elder man gazed steadily at his captor.
"God will judge betwixt me, a man about to die, and you, Casimir of the
Wolfmark," he said at last, very slowly--"by the eyes of this little maid
He will judge!"
"Like enough," cried Casimir, sneeringly. "Bishop Peter hath told me as
much. But then God's payments are long deferred, and, so far as I can
see, I can take Him into my own hand. And your little maid--pah! since
one day you took from me the mother, I, in my turn, will take the
daughter and make her a titbit for the teeth of my blood-hounds."
The man answered not again, but only hushed and fondled the little one.
Duke Casimir turned quickly to my father, showing his long teeth like a
"Take the child," he said, "and cast her into the kennels before the
man's eyes, that he may learn before he dies to dread more than God's
Judgment Seat the vengeance of Duke Casimir!"
Then all the men-at-arms turned away, heart-sick at the horror. But the
man with the child never blanched.
High perched on the top tower, I also heard the words and loved the maid.
And they tell me (though I do not remember it) that I cried down from the
leads of the Red Tower: "My father, save the little maid and give her to
me--or else I, Hugo Gottfried, will cast myself down on the stones at
At which all the men looked up and saw me in white, a small, lonely
figure, with my legs hanging over the top of the wall.
"Go back!" my father shouted. "Go back, Hugo! 'Tis my only son--my
successor--the fifteenth of our line, my lord!" he said to the Duke
But I cried all the more: "Save the maid's life, or I will fling myself
headlong. By Jesu-Mary, I swear it!"
For I thought that was the name of one great saint.
Then my father, who ever doted on me, bent his knee before his master:
"A boon!" he cried, "my first and last, Duke Casimir--this maid's life
for my son!"
But the Duke hung on the request a long, doubtful moment.
"Gottfried Gottfried," he said, even reproachfully, "this is not well
done of you, to make me go back on my word."
"Take the man's life," said my father--"take the man's life for the
child's and the fulfilling of your word, and by the sword of St. Peter I
will smite my best!"
"Aye," said the man with the babe, "even so do, as the Red Axe says.
Save the young child, but bid him smite hard at this abased neck. Ye have
taken all, Duke Casimir, take my life. But save the young child alive!"
So, without further word or question, they did so, and the man who had
carried the child kissed her once and separated gently the baby hands
that clung about his neck. Then he handed her to my father.
"Be gracious to Helene," he said; "she was ever a sweet babe."
Now by this time I was down hammering on the door of the Red Tower, which
had been locked on the outside.
Presently some one turned the key, and so soon as I got among the men I
darted between their legs.
"Give me the babe!" I cried; "the babe is mine; the Duke himself
hath said it." And my father gave her to me, crying as if her heart
Nevertheless she clung to me, perhaps because I was nearer her own age.
Then the dismal procession of the condemned passed us, followed by my
father, who strode in front with his axe over his shoulder, and the
laughing and jesting men-at-arms bringing up the rear.
As I stood a little aside for them to pass, the hand of the man fell on
my head and rested there a moment.
"God's blessing on you, little lad!" he said. "Cherish the babe you have
saved, and, as sure as that I am now about to die, one day you shall be
repaid." And he stooped and kissed the little maid before he went on with
the others to the place of slaughter.
Then I hurried within, so that I might not hear the dull thud of the Red
Axe, on the block nor the inhuman howlings of the dogs in the kennels
When my father came home an hour later, before even he took off his
costume of red, he came up to our chamber and looked long at the little
maid as she lay asleep. Then he gazed at me, who watched him from under
my lids and from behind the shadows of the bedclothes.
But his quick eye caught the gleam of light in mine.
"You are awake, boy!" he said, somewhat sternly.
I nodded up to him without speaking.
"What would you with the little maid?" he said. "Do you know that you and
she together came very near losing me my favor with the Duke, and it
might be my life also, both at one time to-night?"
I put my hand on the maiden's head where it lay on the pillow by me.
"She is my little wife!" I said. "The Duke gave her to me out in the
And this is the whole tale of how the Little Playmate came to dwell with
us in the Red Tower.
THE RED AXE OF THE WOLFMARK
Just as clearly do I remember the next morning. The Little Playmate lay
by me on my bed, wrapped in one of my childish night-gowns--which old
Hanne had sought out for her the night before. It was a brisk, chill,
nippy daybreak, and I had piled most of the bedclothes upon her. I lay at
the nether side clipped tight in my single brown blanket. It was
perishing cold. Out of the heaped coverings I saw presently a pair of
eyes, great and dark, regarding me.
Then a little voice spoke, sweetly and clearly, but yet strangely
sounding to me who had never before heard a babe speak.
"I want my father--tell him to send Grete, my maid, to attend on me, and
then to come himself to sit by the bed and amuse me!"
Alas! her father--well I knew what had come to him--that which in the
mercy of the Duke Casimir and in the crowning mercy of the Red Axe, I had
seen come to so many. The dogs did not howl at all that morning. They,
too, were tired with the hunting and sated with the quarry.
All the same, I tried to answer my companion.
"Little Maid!" said I, "let me be your maid and your father. I will
gladly get you all you want. But your good father has gone on a weary
journey, and it will be long ere he can hope to return."
"Well," she said, "send lazy Grete, then. I will scold her soundly for
not bringing the sop of hot milk-and-bread, which, indeed, is not food
for a lady of my age. But my father insists upon it. He is dreadfully
Now there was no one but our old deaf Hanne in the kitchen of the Red
Tower. She stayed only for cooking and keeping the house clean. My father
never paid her wages, and she never asked any. She did her work and took
that which she needed out of the household purse without check or
question. It was long before I guessed that Hanne also owed her life to
my father's care. I had noticed, indeed, when he had upon him the red
headman's dress, which fitted him like a flame climbing up a tall back
log on the winter's fire, that old Hanne trembled from head to foot and
shrank away into her den under the stairs. Many a time have I seen her
peeping round the corner of the kitchen-door and tottering back when she
heard him come down the stair from the garret. And I guessed so well the
reason of her fear that I used to cry to her:
"Come out, good Hanne; the Red Axe is gone."
Then would she run, pattering like a scared rabbit over the uneven floor,
to the window, and watch my father stalking, grim and tall, across the
open spaces of the yard towards the Judgment Hall of Duke Casimir, the
men-at-arms avoiding him with deft reverence. For though they hated him
almost as much as did the fat burghers, they feared him, too. And that
because Gottfried Gottfried was deep in the confidence of the Duke; and,
besides, was no man to stand in the ill-graces of when one lived within
the walls of the Wolfsberg.
So this morning it was to the ancient Hanne that I ran down and told her
how, as quickly as she might, she must bring milk and bread to the
"But," said she, "there is none save that which is to be sodden for your
father's breakfast and your own."
"Do as you are bid, bad Hanne!" cried I, being, like all solitary
children, quickly made angry, "or I will tell my father to drive you
before him when next he goes forth clad in red to the Hall of Justice."
At which the poor old woman gave vent to a sharp, screechy cry and caught
at her skinny throat with twitching, bony fingers.
"Oh, but you know not what you say, cruel boy!" she gasped. "For the love
of God, speak not such words in the house of the Red Axe!"
But, like an ill-governed child, I was cruel because I knew my power, and
so made sure that Hanne would do what I asked.
"Well, then, bring the sop quickly," said I, "or by Peter-and-Paul I will
speak to my father. He and I can well be doing with beaten cakes made
crisp on the iron girdle. In these you have great skill."
This last I said to cheer her, for she loved compliments on her cooking.
Though, strange to tell, I never saw her eat anything herself all the
years she remained in our house.
When I was gone up-stairs again I looked about for the Little Playmate.
She was not to be seen anywhere. There was only a tiny cosey-hole down
among the blankets, which was yet warm when I thrust my hand within it.
But it was empty and the top a little fallen in, as if the occupant had
set her knee on it when she crawled out. A baby stocking lay outside it
on the floor.
"Little maid!" I cried, "where are you?"
But I heard nothing except a hissing up on the roof, and then a great
slithering rumble down below, which boomed like the distant cannons the
Margraf sent to besiege us. I listened and shuddered; but it was only the
snow from the tall roof of the Red Tower which had slipped off and fallen
to the ground. Then I had a vision of a slender little figure clambering
on the leads and the treacherous snow striking her out into the air, and
then--the cruel stones of the pavement.
"Little maid, little maid!" I cried out again, beginning to weep myself
for pity at my thought, "where are you? Speak to me. You are my
Then I ran to the roof, and, though the stones chilled me to the bone and
the frost-bitten iron hasps of the fastenings burned me like fire, I
opened the trap-door and looked out. There above me was the crow-stepped
gable of the Red Tower, with the axe set on the pinnacle rustily bright
in the coming light of the morning--all swept clean of snow. But no
I ran to the verge and peered down. I saw a great heap of frozen snow
fallen on its edge and partly canted over, half covering a deep red stain
which was turning black and horrid in the daylight. But no little maid.
Then I ran all over the house calling to her, but could not find her
anywhere. I was just beginning to bethink me that she might be a fairy
child, one that came at night and vanished like the dream gold which is
forever turning to withered leaves in the morning. At last I bethought me
of my father's room, where even I, his son, had never been at night, and
indeed but seldom in the day. For it was the Hereditary Justicer's fancy
to lodge himself in the high garret which ran right across the top of the
Red Tower, and was entered only by a little ladder from the first turning
of the same staircase by which I had run out upon the leads.
I went to the bottom of the garret turnpike. The little barred door stood
open, and I heard--I was sure that I heard--light, irregularly pattering
footsteps moving about above.
It gave me strange shakings of my heart only to listen. For, though I was
noways afraid of my father myself, yet since I had never seen any man,
woman, or child (save the Duke only) who did not quail at his approach,
it was a curious feeling to think of the lonely little child skipping
about up there, where abode the axe and the block--the axe which had
done, I knew so well what, to her father only the night before.
So I mustered all my courage--not from any fear of Gottfried Gottfried,
but rather from the uncertainty of what I should see, and quickly mounted
I shall never forget what I saw as I stood with my feet on the rickety
hand-rail of the ladder. The long dim garret was already half-lighted by
the coming day. Red cloaks swung and flapped like vast, deadly, winged
bats from the rafters, and reached almost to the ground. There was no
glass in any of the windows of the garret, for my father minded neither
heat nor cold. He was a man of iron. Summer's heat nor winter's cold
neither vexed nor pleasured him. So it was no marvel that at the
chamber's upper end, and quite near to my father's bed, lay a wreath of
snow, with a fine, clean-cut, untrampled edge, just as it had blown in at
the gable window when the storm burst from the east.
My father lay stretched out on his bed, his head thrown back, his neck
bare--almost as if he had done justice on himself, or at least as if he
waited the stroke of another Red Axe through the eastern skylight which
the morning was already crimsoning. His scarlet sheathings of garmentry
lay upon a black oaken stool, trailing across the floor lank and hideous,
one of the cuffs which had been but recently dyed a darker hue making a
wet sop upon the boards.
All this I had seen many a time before. But that which made me tremble
from head to foot with more and worse than cold, was the little white
figure that danced about his bed--for all the world like a crisped leaf
in late autumn which whirls and turns, skipping this way and spinning
that in the wanton breezes. It was the Little Playmate. But I could not
form a word wherewith to call her. My tongue seemed dried to the roots.
She had taken the red eye-mask which came across my father's face when he
did his greater duties and tied it about her head. Her great, innocent,
childish eyes looked elfishly through the black socket holes, sparkling
with a fairy merriment, and her tangled floss of sunny hair escaped from
the string at the back and fell tumultuously upon her shoulders.
And even as I looked, standing silent and trembling, with a little
balancing step she danced up to the Red Axe itself where it stood angled
against the block, and seizing it by the handle high up near the head she
staggered towards the bed with it.
Then came my words back to my mouth with a rush.
"For the Holy Virgin's sake, little maid, put the Red Axe down!" I cried,
whisperingly. "You know not what you do!"
Then even as I spoke I saw that my father had drawn himself up in bed,
and that he too was staring at the strange, elfish figure. Gottfried
Gottfried, as I remember him in these days, was a tall, dark, heavily
browed man, with a shock of bushy blue-black hair, of late silvering at
the temples--grave, sombre, quiet in all his actions.
But what was my surprise as the little maid came nearer to the bed
with her pretty dancing movement, carrying the axe much as if it had
been an over-heavy babe, to see the Duke's Justicer suddenly skip over
the far side of the bedstead and stand with his red cloak about him,
THE PRINCESS HELENE
"What devil's work is this?" he said, frowning at her severely.
And I confess that I trembled, but not so the little maid.
"Do not be afraid, mannie," she said, laying down the axe on the stock of
the couch, against which its broad red blade and glass-clear cutting edge
made an irregular patch of light. "Come and sit down beside me on your
bed. I shall not hurt you indeed, mannie, and I want to talk to you.
There is nothing but a little boy down-stairs. And I like best to talk
"I declare it is the dead man's brat I saved last night for Hugo's sake!"
I heard my father mutter, "the maid with the girdle of golden letters."
Presently a smile of amusement struggled about his mouth at her bairnly
imperiousness, but he came obediently enough and sat down. Nevertheless
he took away the heavy axe from her and said, "Put this down, then, or
give it to me. It is not a pretty plaything for little girls!"
The small figure in white put up a tiny fat hand, and solemnly withdrew
the red patch of mask from before the wide-open baby eyes.
"I am not a little _girl_, remember, mannie," she said, "I am a Princess
and a great lady."
My father bowed without rising.
"I shall not forget," he said.
"You should stand up and bow when I tell you that," said she. "I declare
you have no more manners than the little boy in the brown blanket
"Princess," said my father, gravely, "during my life I have met a great
many distinguished people of your rank; and, do you know, not one of them
has ever complained of my manners before."
"Ah," cried the little maid, "then you have never met my father, the
Prince. He is terribly particular. You must go _so_" (she imitated the
mincing walk of a court chamberlain), "you must hold your tails thus"
(wagging her white nightrail and twisting about her head to watch the
effect), "and you must retire--so!" With that she came bowing backward
towards the well of the staircase, so far that I was almost afraid she
would fall plump into my arms. But she checked herself in time, and
without looking round or seeing me she tripped back to my father's
bedside and sat down quite confidingly beside him.
"Now you see," cried she, "what you would have had to put up with if you
had met my father. Be thankful then that it is only the little Princess
Helene that is sitting here."
"I think I had the honor to meet your father," said Gottfried Gottfried,
gravely, again removing the restless baby fingers from the Red Axe and
laying it on the far side of the couch beyond him.
"Then, if you met him, did he not make you bow and bend and walk
backward?" asked the Playmate, looking up very sharply.
"Well, you see, Princess," explained my father, "it was for such a very
short time that I had the honor of converse with him."
"Ah, that does not matter," cried the maid; "often he would be most
difficult when you came running in just for a moment. Why, he would
straighten you up and make you do your bows if you were only racing
after a kitten, or, what was worse, he would call the Court Chamberlain
to show you how to do it. But when I am grown up--ah, then!--I mean to
make the Chamberlain bow and walk backward; for you know he is only
taking care of my princedom for me. Oh, and I shall have you well taught
by that time, long man. It is cold--cold. Let me get into your bed and I
will give you your first lesson now."
So with that she skipped into my father's place and drew the great red
cloak about her.
"Now then, first position," she commanded, clapping her hands like a
Sultana, "your feet together. Draw back your left--so. Very well! Bend
the knee--stupid, not that one. Now your head. If I have to come to you,
sir--there, that is better. Well done! Oh, I shall have a peck of trouble
with you, I can see that. But you will do me credit before I have done
In a little while she tired of the lesson.
"Come and sit down now"--she waved her hand graciously--"here on the bed
by me. Though I am a Princess really, I am not proud, and, as I said, I
may make something of you yet."
My father came forward gravely, wrapped himself in another of his red
cloaks, and sat down. I shivered in my blanket on the stair-head, but I
could not bear to move nor yet reveal myself. This was better than any
play I had ever watched from the sparred gallery of the palace, to which
Gottfried Gottfried took me sometimes when the mummers came from
Brandenburg to divert Duke Casimir.
"My father, the great Prince, took me for a long ride last night. There
was much noise and many bonfires behind us as we rode away, and some of
the men spoke roughly, for which my father will rate them soundly to-day.
Oh, they will be sick and sorry this morning when the Prince takes them
to task. I hope you will never make him angry," she said, laying her hand
warningly on my father's; "but if ever you do, come to me and I will
speak to the Prince for you. You need not be bashful, for I do not mind a
bit speaking to him, or indeed to any one. You will remember and not be
bashful when you have something to ask?"
"I will assuredly not be bashful," said my father, very solemnly. "I will
come and tell you at once, little lady, if I ever have the misfortune to
offend the most noble Prince."
Then he bent his head and raised her hand to his lips. She bowed in
return with exquisite reserve and hauteur; and, as it seemed to me, more
with her long eyelashes than with anything else.
"Do you know, Black Man," she said--"for, you know, you are black, though
you wear red clothes--I am glad you are not afraid of me. At home every
one was afraid of me. Why, the little children stood with their mouths
open and their eyes like this whenever they saw me."
And she illustrated the extremely vacant surprise into which her
appearance paralyzed the infantry of her native city.
"I am glad my father left me here till he should come back. Do you know,
I like your house. There are so many interesting things about it. That
funny axe over there is nice. It looks as if it could cut things. Has it
ever cut anything? It is so nicely polished. How do you keep it so, and
can I help you?"
"I had just finished polishing and oiling it before I fell asleep,"
answered Gottfried Gottfried. "You see, little Princess, I had very many
things to cut with it last night."
"What a pity the Prince had not time to wait and see you! He is so very
fond of going out into the forest with the woodman. Once he took me to
see the tallest tree in all our woods cut down with just such an axe as
that--only it was not red. Have you ever seen a high tree cut down?"
"I have cut down some pretty tall ones myself!" said the Duke's Justicer,
smiling quietly at her.
"Ah, but not as tall as my father! It is beautiful to see him strip
his doublet and lay to. They say there is not a woodman like him in
all our land."
Helene looked at my father, whose arms were folded in his great cloak.
"But you have fine strong arms too," she said. "You look as if you could
cut things. Did my father ever see you cut down tall trees?"
"Yes," said Gottfried Gottfried, slowly, "once!"
"And did he say that you cut well?" the little maid went on, with a
strange, wilful persistence in her idea.
"He neither said that I did well nor yet that I did ill," replied
"Ah!" said Helene, "that was just like the Prince. He was afraid of
flattering you and making you unfit for your work. But if he said
nothing, depend upon it he was pleased."
"Thank you, Princess," said my father. "I think he was well enough
Just then there came a noise that I knew--a sound which chilled every
bone in my body.
It was the clear ring of a steady footstep upon the pavement without. It
came heavily and slowly across the yard. The outer hasp of our door
clicked. The door opened, and the footstep began to ascend the stair.
There was but one man in the world who dared make so free with the
Red Tower and its occupant. Our visitor was without doubt the Duke
For the first time I saw my father manifestly disconcerted. The little
maid's life might be worth no more than a torn ballad if Duke Casimir
happened to be in evil humor or had repented him of his mercy of the
past night. I saw the Red Axe look aimlessly about for a hiding-place.
There was a niche round which certain cloaks and coverlets were hung.
"Come in here," he said, abruptly.
"Why should I hide, whoever comes?" asked the Little Playmate,
"It is the Duke Casimir," whispered my father, hurriedly, stirred as I
had never seen him. "Come hither quickly!"
But the little maid struck an attitude, and tapped the floor with her
"I will not," she said. "What is the Duke Casimir to me that am a
Princess? If he is good, I will give him my hand to kiss!"
But at this point I rushed from the ladder-head, and, taking her in my
arms, I sped up the turret stairs with her out upon the leads, my hand
over her mouth all the time.
And as I ran I could hear the Duke trampling upward not twenty steps in
the rear. I opened the trap-door and went out into the clear morning
sunshine. And only the turn of the stair prevented Casimir from seeing me
go up the narrow turret corkscrew with my little white burden.
Then I heard voices beneath, and I knew, as if I had seen it, that my
father stood up straight at the salute. Presently the voices lowered, and
I knew also that the Duke Casimir was unbending as he did to none else in
his realm save to the Hereditary Justicer of the Wolfmark.
But I had my hands full with the little Princess. I dared not go down
the stairs. I dared not for a moment take my palm off her mouth. For as
like as not she would call out for the Duke Casimir to come and deliver
her from my cruelty. So I stuck to my post, even though I knew that I
The morning was warm for a winter's day in Thorn, and I pulled open my
brown blanket and wrapped her coseyly within it, chilling myself to the
bone as I did so.
It seemed ages before the Duke strode down the stair again, and took his
way across the yard, with my father, in black, after him. For so he was
used to dress when he went to the Hall of Judgment, to be present and
assist at the discovery of crime by means of the Minor and Extreme
Then, so soon as they were fairly gone, I took my hand from the mouth of
the Little Playmate, and carried her down-stairs; which as soon as I had
done, she slapped my face soundly.
"I will never, never speak to you any more so long as I live, rude
boy--common street brat!" she said, biting her under-lip in ineffectual,
petulant anger. "Listen, never as long as I live! So do not think it!
Upstart, so to treat a lady and a Princess!"
And with that she burst into tears.
THE BLOOD-HOUNDS ARE FED
But the Princess-Playmate spoke to me again. I was even permitted to call
her Helene. Me she addressed uniformly as "Hugo Gottfried." But neither
her name nor mine interfered with our plays, which were wholly happy and
undisturbed by quarrelling--at least, so long as I did exactly what she
wished me to do.
On these terms life was made easy for me from that day forth. No longer
did I wistfully watch the children of the street from the lonely window
of the Red Tower. They might spit all day on the harled masonry at the
foot of the wall for aught I cared. I no longer desired their society.
Had I not that of a real Princess, and if my companion was inclined to be
a little wayward and domineering--why, was not that the very birthright
of all Princesses?
Helene and I had great choice of plays within the walls of the solemn
castle. So long as we kept to the outer yard and did not intrude upon the
Duke's side of the enclosure, we were free to come and go at our
pleasure. For even Casimir himself was soon well accustomed to see us run
about like puppies, slapping and tumbling, and minded us no more than the
sparrows that pecked in the litter of the stable-yard. Indeed, I think he
had forgotten all about the strange home-coming of the Little Playmate.
The kennels of the blood-hounds especially were full of fascination for
us. That fatal deep-mouthed clamoring at morn and even drew us like a
magnet. Helene, in particular, never tired of gazing between the chinks
of the fence of cloven pine-wood at the great russet-colored beasts with
their flashing white teeth, over which the heavy dewlaps fell. And when
my father, with his red livery upon him and a loaded whip in his hand,
once a day opened the tall, narrow door and went within, we thought him
brave as a god. Then the way the fierce beasts shrank cowering from him,
the fashion in which they crouched on their bellies and heaved their
shoulders up without taking their hind quarters off the ground, equally
delighted and surprised us.
"Your father is almost as great a man as _my_ father," said the Princess
Helene, who, however, was rapidly forgetting her dignity. Indeed,
already it had become little more than a fairy-tale to her. And that was
perhaps as well.
One day, when I was about thirteen, or a little older, my father came out
with a new short mantle in his hand, red like his own.
"Come hither, Hugo Gottfried!" he said, for he had learned the trick of
the name from Helene.
I went to him tardy-foot, greatly wondering.
"Here, chick," he said, in his kindly fashion, "it is time you were
beginning to learn your duties. Come with me to-day into the kennels of
But I hung back, shifting the new mantle uneasily on my shoulders, yet
not daring to throw it off.
"I do not want to go, father," said I, edging away in the direction of
"What, lad!" he cried, slapping me on the shoulder; "they will not hurt
thee with that cloak on. They know their masters better--as their fathers
and mothers knew our fathers. Have we, the Gottfrieds, been the
Hereditary Justicers of the Wolfmark for six hundred years to be afraid
now of the blood-hounds that are kept to hunt the Duke's enemies and to
feed on the Duke's carrion?"
"It is not that I am afraid of the dogs, father," I made answer to him.
"I would quickly enough go among them, if only you would let me go
without this scarlet cloak."
My father laughed heartily and loudly--that is, for him. A quick ear
might have heard him quite three feet away.
"Silly one!" he exclaimed, "do you not know that even the Duke Casimir
dares not set foot in the kennels--no, nor I myself, save in the garb
they know and fear--as indeed do all men in this state."
Still I hung my head down and scraped the gravel with my foot.
"Haste thee," said my father, roughly. "Once it is permitted to a man to
be afraid; to fear twice, and fear the same thing, is to be a coward. And
no Gottfried ever yet was a coward. Let not my Hugo be the first."
Then I took courage and spoke to him.
"I do not wish to be executioner," I said; "I would rather ride
a-soldiering far away, and be in the drive of battle and the front of
danger. Let me be a soldier and a man-at-arms, my father. I am sure I
could become a war-captain and a great man!"
Gottfried Gottfried stared blankly at me, and his blue-black hair rose in
a crest--not with anger, of which he never showed any to me, but in sheer
astonishment. He continued to rub it with his hand, as if in this manner
he might possibly reach an explanation of the mystery.
"Not wish to be Hereditary Executioner? Why, are you not a Gottfried, the
only son of a Gottfried, the only son of his father, who also was a
Gottfried and Hereditary Red Axe of the Wolfmark? Why, lad, before there
was a Duke at all in the Wolfsberg, before he and his folk came out of
the land of the Poles to fight with the Ritterdom of the North, we, the
Gottfrieds of Thorn, wore the sign of the Red Axe and dwelt apart from
all the men of the Mark. For fourteen generations have we worn it!"
"But," said I, sadly, "the very children on the street hate me and spit
on me as I pass; the maids will not so much as speak to me. They scyrry
in-doors and slam the wicket in my face. Think you that is pleasant? And
when as a lad of older years I set out to woo, whither shall I betake me?
For what door is open to a Gottfried, to him who carries the sign of
the Red Axe?"
"Ah, lad," said my father, patiently, "life comes and life goes. It is
nigh on to forty years since even thus my father held out the curt mantle
for me. And even so said I. Time eats up all things but the hearts of
men. And they abide ever the same--yearning for that which they cannot
have, but nevertheless accepting with a sharp relish the things which are
decreed to them; even as do the Duke's carrion-eaters yonder, which,
by-the-way, are waiting most impatiently for their meal while we thus
He was about to move away when his eye fell on Helene. At sight of her he
seemed to remember my last words, about going a-wooing.
He considered a moment and then said: "You are young yet to think of
courting, Hugo, but have no fear either for the love-making or the
wedding. Sweet maids a many shall surely come hither. Why, there is one
growing up yonder that will prove as fair as any. I tell you the
Gottfrieds have married great ladies in their time--dames and dainty
damsels. They have had princesses to be their sweethearts ere now. Come,
then, lad--no more words, but follow me."
And for that time I went after him obediently enough, but all the same my
heart was rebellious within me. And I determined that if I had to ran to
the ends of the earth, I should never be Hereditary Executioner nor yet
handle the broadaxe on the bared necks of my fellow-men.
We went in among the dogs--great, lank, cowering, tooth-slavering brutes.
I followed my father till we came to the feeding-troughs. Then he bade me
to stand where I was till he should set their meat in order. So he
vanished behind, the barriers. Then, when he had prepared the beasts'
horrid victual, though I saw not what, he opened the narrow gate, and the
howling, clambering throng broke helter-skelter for the troughs, cracking
and crunching the thigh-bones, tearing at the flesh, and growling at one
another till the air rang with the ear-piercing din.
And outside the little Helene flung herself frantically at the split
pines of the enclosure, crying, bitterly, "Take off that hateful mantle,
Hugo Gottfried! I hate it--I hate it! Take it off!"
My father stood behind the dogs, whose arched and bristling backs I could
just manage to see over the fence of wooden spars, and dealt the whip
judicially among them--at once as a warning to encroachers and a
punishment for greed.
Then all unharmed we went out, and as soon as my father had gone up to
his garret-room in the tower, I tore the red cloak off and trampled it in
the dirt of the yard. Then I went and hid it in a little blind window of
the tower opposite the foot of the ladder which led to my father's room.
For, because of my father's anger, I dared not destroy the badge of shame
altogether, as both Helene and I wished to do.
Day by day the Little Playmate (for so I was now allowed to call her--the
Princesshood being mostly forgotten) grew great and tall, her fair,
almost lint-white hair darkening swiftly to coppery gold with the glint
of ripe wheat upon it.
Old Hanne followed her about with eyes at once wistful and doubtful.
Sometimes she shook her head sadly. And I wondered if ever the poor old
stumbling crone, wizened like a two-year-old winter apple, had been as
light and gay a thing as our dainty rose-leaf girl.
One day I was laboring at the art of learning to write, along with Friar
Laurence--a scrawny, ill-favored monk, who, for good deeds or misdeeds, I
know not which, was warded in a cell opening out of the lower or garden
court of the Wolfsberg, when I heard Helene dance down the stairs to the
kitchen of the Red Tower.
"Hannchen!" she cried, merrily, "come and teach me that trick of the
broidering needle. I never can do it but I prick myself. Nevertheless,
I can fashion the Red Axe almost as clearly as the pattern, and far
finer to see."
Friar Laurence raised his great, softly solid face, blue about the jowls
and padded beneath the eyes with craft.
"That little maid is over much with old Hanne," he said, as if he
meditated to himself; "she will teach her other prickings than the
needle-play. The witch-pricking at the images of wax was what brought her
here. Aye, and had it not been for your father wanting a house-keeper,
the Holy Office would have burned the hag, and sent her to hell, flaming
like a torch of pine knots."
Now this was the first I had heard with exactness of the matter of old
Hanne's having been a witch. And now that I knew it for certain I began
to imagine all sorts of unholy things about the poor wretch, and grew
greatly jealous of Helene being so often in the kitchen. Whereas before I
had thought nothing at all about the matter, save that Hannchen was a
dull, pleasant, muttering, shuffling-footed old woman, who could make
rare good cream-cakes when you got her in the humor.
And that was not often.
DUKE CASIMIR'S FAMILIAR
I mind it was some tale of years later that I got my first glimpse below
the surface of things in the town of Thorn, and especially in the castle
of the Wolfsberg.
Duke Casimir continued to move, as of yore, in cavalcade through
his subject city. The burghers bowed as obsequiously as ever when
they could not avoid meeting him. There were the old lordly
perquisitions--thunderings at iron-studded doors, battering-rams set
between posts, and the clouds of dust flying from the driven lintels, the
screams of maids, the crying of women, a stray corpse or two flung on to
the street, and then the procession as before, arms and legs, with a
mercenary soldier between each pair, fore and aft. All this was repeated
and repeated, till the dull monotony of tyranny began to wear through the
long Teutonic patience to the under-quick of Wendish madness.
It chanced that one night I could not sleep. It was no matter of maids
that kept me awake, though by this time I was sixteen or seventeen and
greatly grown--running, it is true, mostly to knees and elbows, but
nevertheless long of limb and stark of bone, needing only the muscle laid
on in lumps to be as strong as any.
I had begun to steal out at nights too--not on any ill errand, but that I
might have the company of those about my own age--'prentice lads and the
wilder sons of burghers, who had no objection to my parentage, and
thought it rather a fine thing to be hand-in-glove with the son of the
Red Axe of Thorn. And there we played single-stick, smite-jacket,
skittles, bowls--aye, and drank deep of the city ale--the very thinnest
brew that was ever passed by a bribed and muzzy ale-taster. All this was
mightily pleasant to me. For so soon as they knew that I had determined
to be a soldier, and not the Red Axe of the Wolfmark, they complimented
me greatly on my spirit.
Well, as I lay awake and waited for the chance to slip down a rope from
my bedroom window, whose foot should I hear on the turret stairs but that
of my Lord Duke Casimir! My very heart quailed within me. For the fear of
him sat heavy on every man and woman in the land. And as for the
children--why, as far as the Baltic shore and the land of the last
Ritters, mothers frightened their bairns with the Black Duke of the
Wolfsberg and his Red Axe.
So now the Duke and the Red Axe were to be in conference--as indeed had
happened nearly every day and night since I could remember. So that
people called my father the Duke's Private Devil, his Familiar Spirit,
his Evil Genius. But I knew other of it--and this night, of all nights in
the year, I was to know better still.
It was a summer midnight--not like the one I told of when the story
began, white with snow and glittering with the keen polish of frost. But
a soft, still night, drowsy yet sleepless, with an itch of thunder
tingling in the air--and, indeed, already the pulsing, uncertain glow of
sheet-lightning coming and going at long intervals along the south.
I crouched and nestled in the hole in the wall where I had long ago
hidden the hated red cloak, pulling my knees up uncomfortably to my chin.
And great lumps of bone they were, knotted as if a smith had made them in
the rough with a welding hammer and had forgotten to reduce them with the
file afterwards. At that time I was thoroughly ashamed of my knees.
But no matter for them now. Duke Casimir passed in and shut the door.
"Gottfried," I heard him say, "I am a dead man!"
These words from the great Duke Casimir startled me, and though I knew
well enough that Michael Texel, the Burgomeister's son, was waiting for
me by the corner of the Jew's Port, I decided that, as I might never hear
Duke Casimir declare his secretest soul again, I should even bide where I
was; and that was in the crevice of the wall among the old clothes, which
gave off such a faint, musty, sleepy smell I could scarcely keep awake.
But the Duke's next words effectually roused me.
"A dead man!" repeated Casimir. "I have not a friend in all the realm of
the Mark besides yourself. And there is none of all that take my bounty
or eat my bread that is sorry for me. See here," he said, querulously,
"twice have I been stricken at to-day--once a tile fell from a roof and
dinted the crown of my helmet, and the second time a young man struck at
my breast with a dagger."
"Did he wound you, Duke Casimir?" asked my father, speaking for the first
time, but in a strangely easy and equal voice, not with the distance and
deference which he showed to his lord in public.
"Nay, Gottfried," replied Duke Casimir; "but he bruised my shirt of mail
into my breast."
And I heard plainly enough the clinking of the rings of chain-armor as
the Duke showed his hurt to my father. Presently I heard his voice again.
"And the Bishop has touched me in a new place," he said. "He declares
that he will lay his interdict upon me and my people--ill enough to hold
in hand as they are even now. When that is done they will rise in
rebellion. My very men-at-arms and knights I cannot depend upon--only
upon you and the Black Riders."
"In the matter of the Bishop's interdict, or in other matters, do you
mean that you can trust my counsel, Duke Casimir?" asked my father.
"'Tis in the burial of the dead that the shoe will pinch first with these
burghers of Thorn and among our soldiers at the Wolfsberg. For mass,
indeed, they care not a dove's dropping--but that the corpse should be
carried to a dog's grave, that they cannot away with. Red Axe, I tell you
we shall have the State of the Mark about our ears in the slipping of a
hound's leash--and as for me, I know not what I shall do."
"Listen, and I will counsel you, Duke Casimir! Care you not though the
east wind brought Bishop Peters whirling over the Mark, as many as the
January snowflakes that come to us from Muscovy. I, Gottfried Gottfried,
tell you what to do. In every parish of the Mark there is a parson. Every
clerk of them hath a Presbytery, in which he dwells with those that are
abiding with him. Bid you the soldiers that are obedient to you to carry
all the corpses of the dead to the Presbytery, and leave them there under
guard. Then let us see whether or no the parsons will give them burial.
What think you of the counsel, Duke Casimir?"
I could hear the Duke rise and pace across the floor to where my
father sat on his bed. And by the silence I knew that the two men were
"Red Axe," said the Duke, much moved, "of a truth you are a great
man--none like you in the Dukedom. These beard-wagging, chain-jingling
gentry I have small notion of. And would you but accept it, I would give
you to-morrow the collar of gold which befits the Chancellor of the Mark.
None deserves to wear it so well as thou."
My father laughed a low scornful laugh.
"Because I bid you teach the parsons their own religion, am I to be made
Chancellor of the Mark? A great gray wolf out of the forest were as
suitable a Chancellor of the Mark as Gottfried Gottfried, the fourteenth
hereditary Red Axe of Thorn!"
Then I heard him reach over his bed for something. I stole out of the
hole in the wall and crouched down till my eyes rested at the great
latchet hole through which the tang of leather to lift the bolt
ordinarily goes. I could see my father sitting on his bed and the Red
Axe lying across his knees. He took it in hand, dangling it like an
infant. He caressed it as he spoke, and ran his thumb lovingly along the
"Ah," he said, "my beauty, 'tis you and not your master they should make
High Chancellor of this realm. 'Tis you that have held the power of life
and death, and laid the spirit of rebellion any time these twenty years.
And well indeed wouldst thou look with a red robe about thee" (here he
reached for a cloak that swung from the rafters contiguous to his hand);
"a noble presence wouldst thou be in a tun-bellied robe and a collar of
shining gold! Bravely, great State's Chancellor of the Wolfmark, wouldst
thou then lead the processions and preside at the diets of justice--as
indeed thou dost mostly as it is."
And he made the Red Axe bow like a puppet in his hands as he swept the
cloak of red out behind the handle.
I could see Duke Casimir now. He had drawn up a stool and sat opposite my
father, with his elbows on his knees. One hand was stroking the side of
his head, and his haughtiness had all fallen from him like a forgotten
overmantle. He looked another man from the cruel, relentless Prince who
had ridden so sternly at the head of his men-at-arms and looked so
callously on at the death of men and the yet more bitter agony of women.
He stared at the floor, absorbed in his own gloomy thoughts, while my
father regarded him with his eyes as though he had been a lad in his
'prenticing who needed encouragement to persevere.
"Duke," he said, steadily, "you have borne the rule many years, and I
have stood behind you. Have I ever advised you wrong? Make peace with the
young man, your nephew; he is now only the Count von Reuss, but one day
he will be Duke Otho. And if he be rightly guided he may be a brave ruler
yet. But if not, and he gather in his hand the various seditions and
confused turbulences in the Dukedom, why, a worse thing may befall."
"You advise me," said the Duke, lifting his head and looking at his
Justicer, "to recall my nephew and risk all that threatened us ere he
fled to the Prince of Plassenburg--Karl, the Miller's Son."
Gottfried Gottfried continued to run his thumb to and fro along the edge
of the Red Axe.
"Even so," he replied, without raising his head; "give him the command of
the Black Riders of the Guard, who, as it is, adore him. Let him try his
'prentice hand on Bamberg and Reichenan. And if he offend, why, then it
will be time to apply for further advice to this chancellor in the Red
Robe, whose face so shines with wisdom."
The Duke rose.
"Well, on your head be it!" he said.
"Nay," said my father, "I but advise, it is for you to decide, my Lord.
If Duke Casimir sees a better way of it, why, then the words of his
servant are but as the tunes that the east wind whistles through the
And at the mention of key-holes I imagined that I saw my father's eyes
rest on the latchet crevice. So I bethought me that it was time for me to
be retiring to bed. To my room, therefore, I went straightway, tiptoeing
on the points of my hose. And with ears cocked I heard my father attend
the Duke to the door, and on across the yard, lest any night-wandering
traitor should take a fancy to make a hole in the back of Duke Casimir of
Presently came my father in again, and I heard his foot climb steadily
up to my room. The door opened, and never was I in so deep a sleep. He
turned down the coverlet to see that I was undressed--but that I had seen
to. Whereat he departed fully satisfied.
Nevertheless this interview left me with a great feeling of insecurity.
If the Duke Casimir were thus full of fears, doubts, misgivings, whence
came the fierce and cruel courage with which he dominated his liege
burghers and harassed the country round about for a hundred leagues? The
cunning of a weak man? Say, rather, the contrivance of a strong servant
to hide the frailty of a weak master.
Then first it was that I saw that my father Gottfried Gottfried was the
true ruler of the Wolfmark, and that the man who had carried me on his
shoulders and played with the little Helene was--at least, so long as
Duke Casimir lived--the greatest man in all the Dukedom and first
Councillor of State, whether the matter were one of peasant or Kaiser.
I BECOME A TRAITOR
Much was I flattered, and very naturally so, when Michael Texel made so
manifest a work about pleasing me and having me for his comrade. For
though I was now nineteen, he was five years my senior, and his father,
being both Burgomeister and Chief Brewer, was of the first consideration
in the town of Thorn.
"Hugo," said Michael Texel, "there be many lads in the city that are
well, and well enough, but none of them please me like you. It may be
that your keeping so greatly to yourself has made you passing thoughtful
for your age. And whereas these street-corner scraps of rascaldom care
for nothing but the pleasing of pothouse Gretchens, we that are men think
of the concerns of the State, and make us ready for the great things that
shall one day come to pass in Thorn and the Wolfmark."
I nodded my head as if I knew all about it. But, indeed, in my heart, I
too preferred the way of the other lads--as the favor of maids, and other
lighter matters. But since one so great and distinguished as Michael
Texel declared that such things were but useless gauds, unworthy of
thought, I considered that I had better keep my tongue tight-reined as to
my own desires.
I shall now tell the manner of my introduction to the famous society of
the White Wolf.
From the very first time that ever I saw him, Michael Texel had much to
say about a certain wondrous league of the young men of Thorn and the
Wolfmark. He told me how that every man with a heart in him was
enrolled among them: the sons of the rich and great, like himself; the
sons of the folk of no account (like myself, doubtless); the soldiers of
the Duke--nay, it was whispered very low in my ear, that even the young
Count Otho von Reuss, the Duke's nephew and heir, had taken high rank in
I asked Michael what were the declared objects of the association.
"See," he cried, grandly, with a wave of his hand, "this city of Thorn.
It lies there under the Wolfsberg. With a few cannon like Paul Grete, the
Margrave's treasure, Duke Casimir could lay our houses in ruins.
Therefore, in the meantime, let us not break out against Duke Casimir.
But one day there will come an end to the tyrant Duke. Tiles will not
always break harmless on helmets, nor the point of steel always be turned
aside by links of chain-armor. As I say, an hour will come for Casimir as
for other malefactors. And then--why, there is the young Otho. And he has
sworn the vows of the White Wolf to make of Thorn a free city with a
Stadtholder--one with power and justice, chosen freely by the people, as
in other Baltic cities. Is there a man of us that has not been
plundered?--a maid that does not go in fear of her honor while Casimir
reigns? Shall this thing be? Not surely forever. The White Wolf shall see
to it. She has many children, and they are all dear to her. Let the Duke
Casimir take his count with that!"
So, as was natural, I became after that more than ever eager to join this
most notable league of the White Wolf.
One night I had sat late talking to the Little Playmate, who was now
growing a great maid and a beautiful--none like her, so far as I could
see, in all the city of Thorn--a circumstance which made me more ready to
be of Michael Texel's opinion with regard to any flighty and
irresponsible courting of the maids of the town. For had I not the
fairest and the best of them all at home close by me? On this night of
which I speak it was almost bedtime when I heard a knocking at the outer
port, and went to open the wicket.
And lo! there was Michael Texel come all the way to the Red Tower for me,
though it was by his own trysting that we had agreed to meet at the inn
of the White Swan. Nevertheless there he was. So there was nothing for it
but to bring him in. I presented him in form to the Little Playmate, who
had quite forgotten her Princess-ship by this time in the sweetness of
being our house-angel of the Red Tower.
I saw in a moment that Michael Texel was astonished at Helene's beauty,
as indeed well he might be. But she, on her part, hardly so much as
glanced at him, though he was a tall and well-grown youth enough, with
nothing remarkable about him save pale hair of much the same color as his
complexion, and a cut on one side of his upper lip which in certain
lights gave him a sneering expression.
But to Helene he spoke very carefully and courteously, asking her whether
she ever went to any of the Guild entertainments for which Thorn was
famous. And upon her saying no--that my father did not think it fitting,
Michael said, "I was sure of it; none could forget if once they had seen.
For never in the history of Thorn has so fair a face graced Burgher dance
or Guild festival, nor yet has a foot so light been shaken on the green
in any of our summer outgoings."
Now this was well enough said in its way, but only what I myself had
often thought. Not that the Playmate took any notice of his words or was
in any degree elated, but kept her head bent demurely on her work all the
time Michael Texel was with us.
Presently there entered to us, thus sitting, Gottfried Gottfried, who
had come striding gloomily across the yard in his black suit from the
Hall of Judgment, and at his entrance Michael instantly became awkward,
nervous, and constrained.
"I must be going," he said; "the Burgomeister bade me be early within
"Is the noble Burgomeister lodging at the White Swan?" asked my father,
with his usual simple directness, as he went hither and thither ordering
his utensils without heeding the visitor.
"No," said Michael, startled out of his equanimity; "he bides in his own
house by the Rath-house--the sign is that of the Three Golden Tuns."
The Red Axe nodded.
"I had forgotten," he said, indifferently, and stood by the great
polished platter-frame over the sideboard, dropping oil on the screws of
a certain cunning instrument which he was wont to use in the elucidation
of the Greater Question.
I could see Michael turning yellow and green, but whether with anger or
fear I could not tell. Helene, who loved not the tools of my father, had,
upon his entrance, promptly gathered up her white cobwebs and lace, and
had betaken herself to her own room.
"I must be bidding you a fortunate evening and wishing you an untroubled
sleep," said Michael, with studious politeness, rising to his feet. Yet
he did not immediately move away, but stood awkwardly fingering his hat,
as if he wished to ask a question and dared not.
"It is indeed a fine place for a sound sleep," said my father, nodding
his head grimly, "this same upper courtyard of the Wolfsberg. There are
few that have once slept here, my noble young sir, who have ever again
complained of wakefulness."
At this moment the hounds in the kennels raised their fierce clamor. And,
without waiting for another word, Michael Texel took himself off down
the stairs of the Red Tower. Nor did he regain his composure till I had
opened the wicket and ushered him out upon the street.
Then, as the postern clicked and the familiar noises of the city fell on
his ear--the slapping flat-footed lasses crying "Fried Fish," the sellers
of "Hot Oyster Soup," the yelling venders of crout and salad--Michael
gradually picked up his courage, and we proceeded down the High Street of
Thorn to the retired hostel of the White Swan.
"Frederika," he cried, as he entered, "are the lads here yet?"
"Aye, sir, aye--a full muster," answered the old mild-faced hostess, who
was busily employed knitting a stocking of pale blue in the porch,
looking for all the world like the sainted mother of a family of saints.
Michael Texel walked straight through a passage and down a narrow
alley, the beautiful apple-cheeked old woman following us with her eyes
as we went.
Our feet rang suddenly on hollow pavement as we stooped to enter a low
door in the side wall, almost concealed from observation by an
overgrowth of ivy.
"Halt!" cried a voice from the dusk ahead of us, and instantly there was
a naked sword at each of our breasts. We heard also the click of swords
meeting behind us. I turned my head, and lo! there at my very shoulder I
saw the gleam of crossed steel. My heart beat a little faster; but, after
all, I had been brought up with sights and sounds more terrible than
these, and, more than that, I had within the hour seen Michael Texel, the
high-priest of these mysteries, turn all manner of rainbow colors at the
howling of our blood-hounds and a simple question from my father. So I
judged that these mighty terrifications could portend no great ill to one
who was the son of the formidable Red Axe of the Wolfsberg.
Sometimes it is a mighty comfortable thing to have a father like mine.
I did not hear the question which was asked of my guide, but I heard
"First in charge," said Michael Texel, "and with him one of the
So we were allowed to proceed. But in the bare room which received us I
was soon left alone, for, with another question as briefly asked and
answered, the click of swords crossed and uncrossed before and behind
him, and the screechy grind of bolts, Michael passed out of sight within.
While as for me, I was left to twirl my thumbs, and wish that I had
stayed at home to watch the nimble fingers of the Playmate busy at her
sewing, and the rounded slenderness of her sweet body set against the
light of evening, which would at that hour be shining through the windows
of the Red Tower.
Nevertheless, it was no use repining or repenting. Here was I, Hugo
Gottfried, the son of the Red Axe, at the inner port of a treasonable
society. It was certainly a curious position; but even thus early I had
begun to consider myself a sort of amateur of strange situations, and I
admit that I found a certain stimulus in the thought that in an hour I
might have ceased to be heir to the office of Hereditary Justicer of the
ducal province of the Wolfmark.
Presently through the door there came one clothed in the long white
garments of a Brother of Pity, the eye-holes dark and cavernous, and the
eyes shining through the mask with a look as if the wearer were much more
frightened than those who looked upon him.
"Child of the White Wolf," he said, in a shaking voice, "would you dare
all and become one of the companions of the mysteries?"
But the accent of his voice struck me, the son of Gottfried Gottfried,
the dweller in the enclosure of the Red Tower, as painfully hollow and
pretentious. I had looked upon real terror, even plumbed some of the
grimmer mysteries of existence, and I had no fears. On the contrary, my
spirits rose, and I declared my readiness to follow this paltering,
knock-kneed Brother of Pity.
We stopped and went through another narrow passage, in the midst of which
we were stayed by thin bars, which were shot before and behind us, and by
a cold point of iron laid lightly against my brow. In this constrained
position my eyes were bandaged by unseen fingers.
The starveling Brother of the Wolf took me by the hand and led me on.
Then in another moment came the sense of lights and wider spaces, the
rustle of many people settling down to attention; and I knew that I was
in the presence of the famous secret tribunal of the White Wolf, which
had been set up in defiance of the authority of the Duke and against the
laws of the Mark.
AT THE BAR OF THE WHITE WOLF
"Who waits at the bar with you, brother?" said a voice which, though
disguised, carried with it a suggestion of Michael Texel.
The announcement was made by the officer who brought me in.
"'Tis one Hugo Gottfried, son of Gottfried Gottfried, hereditary
executioner to the tyrant."
I could hear the thrill of interest which pervaded the assembly at the
announcement. And for the first time I thought almost well of the
honorable office to which I had been born.
"And what do you here, son of the Red Axe, in the place of the Sacred
Fehme of the White Wolf?"
The question was the first addressed directly to me.
"I came," said I, as straightforwardly and simply as I could, "with
Michael Texel, because he asked me to come. And also because I heard that
there was good ale to be had for the drinking at the White Swan of Thorn,
where we are now met."
A low moan of horror went about the assembly at the frivolity of my
answer, which plainly was not what had been expected.
"Daring mocker!" cried a stern voice, "you speak as one unacquainted with
the dread power of the White Wolf, which has within her grasp the keys of
life and death--and has suckled great empires at her dugs. Beware, tempt
not the All-powerful to exercise her right of axe and cord!"
"I do not tempt any," answered I, boldly enough--yet with no credit to
myself, for I could have laughed aloud at all this hollow pretence,
having been brought up within the range of that which was no mockery. "I
am willing to become a loyal member of the Society of the White Wolf for
the furtherance of any honest purpose. All things, I admit, are not well
within the body politic. Let us, in the city of Thorn, strive after the
same rights as are possessed by the Free Cities of the North. If that be
your object, the son of the Red Axe is with you--with you to the death,
if need be. But for God's sake let us take off these masks and set
ourselves down to the tankard and the good brown bread with less
mummery--a sham of which others have the reality."
"Peace, vain, ignorant fly!" cried the same speaker, one with a young
voice, which he was trying, as I thought, to make grave and old; "terror
must first strike your heart, or you cannot sit down with the Society of
the White Wolf. You stand convicted of blasphemy against this our ancient
and honorable institution--blasphemy which must be suddenly and terribly
punished. Hugo Gottfried, I command you--make your head ready for the
striker. Bare the neck and bow the knee!"
But I stood as erect as I could, though I felt hands laid upon my
shoulders and the breathing of many close about me.
"Knights and gentlemen," said I, "I am not afraid to die, if need be. But
ere you do your will upon me, I would fain tell you a tale and give you a
warning. Here I am one among many. I am also of your opinion, if your
opinion be against tyranny. But for God's sake seek it as wise men and
not as posturing knaves. As for Michael Texel--"
"Name not the mortal names of men in this place of the White Wolf!" said
the same grave voice.
At which I laughed a little.
"If you will tell me what to say instead in the language of the
immortals, I will call my friend by that name. Till then Michael
Texel, I say--"
I was pulled by force down upon my knees.
"Your pleasure, gentlemen," said I, as coolly as I might; "you may do
with me as you will, but give me at least leave to speak. Your meetings
here at the White Swan are known to the Red Axe, my father, and therefore
to the Duke Casimir."
A low groan filled the wide hall. I could feel that my words touched them
on the raw.
"Also this very night I saw one of your noblest members tremble with
alarm--for the Society, not for himself, I warrant--when Gottfried
Gottfried spake lightly of your meetings here as of a thing well known.
I am not afraid of my life. In the sight of my father I went forth from
the Red Tower in the company of Michael Texel. He knew of your place of
meeting. And well I wot that if I am not within the precincts of the
Red Tower by midnight, the officers of Duke Casimir and his Judgment
Hall will come knocking at these doors of yours. I ask you, are you
ready to open?"
"Rash mortal!" said the voice again to me, "you mistake the White Wolf if
you think that she or her children are afraid of any tyrant or of his
officers. You yourself shall die, as has been appointed. For none may
speak lightly of the White Wolf and live to tell the tale!"
"So be it," I replied, calmly; "but first let me recount to you the story
of Hans Pulitz. Not for the hiding of a belt of gold, as men say, was he
condemned. But because he had plotted against the life of the Duke and of
his minister of justice, the Red Axe. Would you know what happened? I
will tell you briefly:
"Ten men, accounted strong, held Hans Pulitz. Ten men could scarce lead
him through the court-yard to the chair on which sat Duke Casimir. I saw
him judged. Was he not of the White Wolf? Did the White Wolf save him?
Have her teeth ravened for those that condemned him? Or have you that are
of that noble society kept close in your halls and played out your puppet
shows, while poor Hans, who was faithful to you to the end,
A sough of angry whispering filled the room, rising presently into a roar
"Traitor! Murderer! Spy!" they cried.
"Nay," said I, "'fore God, Hugo Gottfried was more sorry for the poor
deceived slave than any here. For, in the presence of the Duke, I cried
out against the horror. But being no more than a boy, I was stricken to
silence by the hand of a man-at-arms. Then I saw Hans Pulitz cast loose.
I saw him seized by one man--even by the Red Axe--raised high in the air,
and flung over the barriers among the ravening and leaping blood-hounds.
I heard the hideous noises that followed--the yells of a man fighting for
his life in a place of fiends. I shut my ears with my hands, yet could I
not shut out that clangor of hell. I shut my eyes, closer than you have
shut them for me now. I fled, I knew not where, terror pursuing me. And
yet I saw, and do now see, the Duke sitting with crossed hands as if at
prayers, and the Red Axe standing motionless before the men-at-arms,
pointing with one hand to the Duke's vengeance! Shall I tell you now why
I am not afraid?"
After hearing these words it was small wonder that they cried yet more
"Death to the traitor--bloody death--like that which he has rejoiced in!"
"Nay, my friends," said I, "it was because of the death of Hans Pulitz
and that of others that I would strengthen the hands of liberty and make
an end of tyranny. But not, an' it please you, with child's plays and the
cast-off garmentry of tyrants. What can you do to me in the Inn of the
Swan that can equal the end of poor Hans Pulitz--of whom they found
neither bone nor hair, took up no fragment of skin or nail, save the
golden chain only, tooth-scarred and beslavered, which he wore about his
waist. And the belt you may see for yourselves any day if you give me
your company within the Red Tower."
Now, as may well be understood, if the Society of the White Wolf was
angry before, it was both angry and frightened now, which is a thing
infinitely more dangerous.
"Let him die straightway! Let the taunting blasphemer die!" they cried.
And again, for the third time, the hollow voice pronounced my doom.
"It is well," I shouted amid the din. "It is thrice well. But look ye to
it. By the morrow's morn there shall not be one of you in your
beds--aye, and those whose heads are rolled in the dust shall count
yourselves the fortunate ones. For they at least will escape the fate of
poor Hans Pulitz."
Now sorely do I wonder, at this distance of time, that they did not slay
me in good earnest. But I have learned from that night in the Inn of the
Swan that when defiance has to be made, it is ever best to deal in no
half-measures. And, besides, coming from the Red Tower of the Wolfsberg,
their precious Society of the White Wolf, with its mummery and flummery,
filled me with a hot contempt.
"Kneel down!" cried the judge; "lay your head on the block! It has often
been wet with the blood of traitors, never with that of a blacker traitor
than Hugo Gottfried!"
So with that those about me thrust me forward and forced my head down. I
was obliged to clasp the block with both my hands. As I did so I felt it
well all over. Then I laughed aloud, with a laugh that must have appeared
strange and mad to them.
For this their mock tribunal could not deceive one who had been brought
up within the hum of judges of life and death, and with a father who as
his daily business propounded the Greater and Lesser Questions. And their
precious block, as smooth as sawn and polished timber, with never a notch
from side to side, could not take in Hugo Gottfried, who had made a
playmate and a printed book of the worn blocks of a hundred
executions--to whom each separate chip made by the Red Axe had been a
text for Gottfried Gottfried to expatiate upon concerning his own prowess
and that of his fathers.
Nevertheless, it certainly gave me a strange turn when ice-cold steel was
laid across my neck-bone. It burned like fire, turning my very marrow to
water, and for the first time I wished myself well out of it. But only
for a moment.
For there came a loud rattling of arms without, a thunderous and
insistent knocking at the door, which disturbed the assembly.
"Open, in the name of the Duke!" cried, clamorously, many fierce voices
without. I heard the rush and scuffle of a multitude of feet. The hands
that had held me abruptly loosened their grip, and I was free. I raised
my bound wrists to my brow and tried to push the bandage back. But it was
firmly tied, and it was but dimly that I saw the hall of the White Wolf
filled with the armed men of the Duke's body-guard, boisterously
laughing, with their hands on their sides, or kicking over the mock
throne covered with white cloth, the coils of rope, the axes of painted
wood, and the other properties of this very faint-hearted Fehmgericht.
"But what have we here?" they cried, when they came upon me, bound and
helpless, with the bandage only half pushed off my eyes.
"Heave him up on his pins, and let us look at him," quoth a burly
guardsman. "I trust he is no one of any account. I want not to see
another such job done on a poor scheming knave like that last, when the
Duke Casimir settled accounts with Hans Pulitz!"
"Ha! ha!" laughed his companion; "a rare jest, i' faith; 'tis the son of
our own Red Axe--a prisoner of the White Wolf and ready for the edge. We
came not a moment too soon, youngster. What do you here?"
"Why," said I, "it chanced that I spoke slightingly of their precious
nonsense of a White Wolf. But they dared not do me harm. They were all
more frightened than a giggling maiden is of the dark, when no man is
Then I saw my father at the end of the hall. He came towards me, clad in
his black Tribunal costume.
"Well," he said, quaintly, like one that has a jest with himself
which he will not tell, "have you had enough of marching
hand-in-glove with treason? I wot this mummery of the White Wolf will
serve you for some time."
I was proceeding to tell him all that had passed, but he patted me on
"I heard it all, lad, and you did well enough--save for your windiness
about liberty and the Free Cities--which, as I see it, are by far the
worst tyrannies. But, after all, you spoke as became a Gottfried, and one
day, I doubt not, you shall worthily learn the secrets, bear the burden,
and enlarge the honors of the fourteen Red Axes of the Wolfmark."
A HERO CARRIES WATER IN THE SUN
With all which adventuring and bepraisement back and forth, as those who
know nineteen will readily be assured, I went home no little elated. For
had I not come without dishonor through a new and remarkable experience,
and even defied the Mystery of the White Wolf, at perhaps more risk to
myself than at the time I had imagined. For, as I found afterwards, there
were those among the company at the Swan that night of sterner mould and
more serious make than Michael Texel.
But, at all events, home to the Red Tower I strode, whistling, and in a
very cocksure humor.
The little Helene was going about her house duties silently and distantly
when I came down from my turret room on the forenoon of the morrow. She
did not come forward to be kissed, as had been her wont every morning
ever since I carried her, a little forlorn maid, up to mine own bed that
chill winter's night.
"A good-morrow, Little Playmate!" I bade her, gayly. For my heart was
singing a good tune, well pleased with itself and willing to be at amity
with every one else--counting indeed, as is the wont of brisk hearts, a
gloomy face little less than a personal insult.
But the maid did not answer, neither indeed did she seem to have heard
"I bade you fair good-morning, Helene," said I, again, stopping in my
walk across to my breakfast platter.
But still she was silent, casting sand upon the tiled floor and sweeping
it up with great vigor, all her fair body swaying and yielding to the
grace, of movement at every stroke. Strange, it seemed she was now just
about the age when I developed those nodosities of knee and elbow which
troubled me so sore, but yet there was nothing of the kind about her,
only delicate slimness and featly rounded grace.
I went over to her, and would have set my palm affectionately on her
shoulder. But she escaped, just as a bird does when you try to put your
hand upon it. It does not seem to fly off. It simply is not there when
your hand reaches the place.
"Let be," she said, looking upon me haughtily. "By what right do you seek
to touch me, sir?"
"Sweetheart," said I, following her, and much astonished, "because I have
always done it and you never objected before."
"When I was a child, and when you loved me as a child, it was well. But
now, when I am neither a child nor yet do you love me, I would have you
cease to treat me as you have done."
"You are indeed no longer a child, but the fairest of sweet maids," I
made answer. "I will do nothing you do not wish me to do. For, hearken to
me, Helene, my heart is bound up in you, as indeed you know. But as to
the second word of accusation--that I do not love you anymore--"
"You do not--you cannot!" she interrupted, "or you would not go out with
Michael Texel all night to drinking-places, and worse, keeping your
father and those that _do_ love awake, hurting their hearts here" (she
put her hand on her side), "and all for what--that you may drink and
revel and run into danger with your true friends?"
"Sweetheart," I began--penitently.
The Little Playmate made a gesture of infinite impatience.
"Do not call me that," she said; "you have no right. I am not your
sweetheart. You have no heart at all to love any one with, or you would
not behave as you have done lately. You are naught but a silly, selfish
boy, that cares for nothing but his own applause and thinks that he has
nothing to do but to come home when his high mightiness is ready and find
us all on our knees before him, saying: 'Put your foot, great sir, on our
necks--so shall we be happy and honored.'"
Now this was so perilously near the truth that I was mightily incensed,
and I felt that I did well to be angry.
"Girl," I said, grandly, "you do not know what you say. I have been
abroad all night on the service of the State, and I have discovered a
most dangerous conspiracy at the peril of my life!"
For I thought it was as well to put the best face on the matter; and,
besides, I have never been able, all the days of me, to hide my light
under a bushel, as the clerks prate about.
But I was not yet done with my adventuring of this eventful day. And in
spite of my father setting me, like a misbehaving bairn, to the drudgery
of the water-carrying, there was more in life for me that day than merely
hauling upon a handle. For that is a thing which galls an aspiring youth
worse than any other labor, being so terribly monotonous.
As for me, I did not take kindly to it at all--not even though I could
see mine own image deep in the pails of water as they came up brimming
and cool out of the fern-grown dripping darkness of the well. Aye, and
though the image given back to me was (I say it only of that time) a
likely enough picture of a lad with short, crisped locks that curled
whenever they were wet, cheeks like apples, and skin that hath always
been a trouble to me. For I thought it unmanly and like a girl's. And
that same skin of mine is, perhaps, the reason why all my days I never
could abide your buttermilk-and-roses girls, having a supply about me
enough to serve a dozen, and therefore thinking but little of their
Now in the Wolfmark this is the common kind of beauty--not that beauty of
any kind is over-common. For our maids--especially those of the
country--look too much as if they had been made out of wooden pillows
such as laborers use to lay their heads on of nights--one large bolster
set on the top of two other little ones, and all three well wadded with
ticking and feathers. But I hope no one will go back to the Wolfmark and
tell the maids that Hugo Gottfried said this of them, or of a surety my
left ear will tingle with the running of their tongues if there be any
truth in the old saw.
It was three of the clock and the sun was very fierce on the dusty,
unslaked yard of the Wolfsberg, glaring down upon us like the mouth of a
wide smelter's oven. Fat Fritz, the porter, in his arm-chair of a cell,
had well-nigh dissolved into lard and running out at his own door. The
Playmate's window was open, and I caught the waft of a fan to and fro. I
judged therefore that my lady knew well that I was working out there in
the heat, and was glad of it--being a spiteful pretty minx.
Then I began to wonder who had given her that fan, for it was not like my
father to do it, and she knew no other. "Ah!" I said to myself, as a
thought struck me, "could it possibly be Michael Texel? He is rich, and
Helene may have known him before. The cunning, dark-eyed little
vagabond--to take my introduction yester-even as if she had never set
eyes on the fellow before, while here it is as clear as daylight that he
had all the time been giving her presents--fans and such like."
So I raved within me, half because I believed it, and half because she
seemed so comfortable up there, with her feet on a stool and a cool jug
of curds at her elbow, while I sweated and labored in the sun.
Very decidedly it must be Texel; devil fly up with him and scratch him
among the gargoyles of the minster!