Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Red Axe by Samuel Rutherford Crockett

Part 2 out of 7

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.7 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

The fan wagged on. It looked distractingly cool within. But then my
father--filial obedience was very distinctly a duty, and, also, Gottfried
Gottfried, though kind, was a man not to be disobeyed--even at nineteen,
and after defying the White Wolf.

It was, as I have said, about three by the sundial on the wall, the arch
of which cast a shadow like jet on the scale, that my father came out
through the narrow door from the Judgment Hall, opening it with his own
key. For he had the right of entrance and outgoing of every door in the
palace, not even excepting the bedchamber of Duke Casimir.

"Hugo," he said, "come hither, lad. I did not mean to keep you so long at
work in the sun. You must have filled all the cisterns in the place by
this time!"

I thanked him sincerely, but did not pursue the subject. For, indeed, I
had not worked quite so hard as in his haste my father had supposed from
my appearance.

"Go within," he said; "don quickly your saint's-day dress, and betake
yourself down to the house of Master Gerard von Sturm, the city
chamberlain, and tell him all that he asks of you--readily and truly."

"But, father," said I, "suppose he asks of me that which might condemn
one who has trusted me, what am I to say?"

"Tut, boy," said my father, impatiently, "you mean young Michael Texel.
Fear not for him. He was the first to inform. He was at Master von
Sturm's by eight this morning, elbowing half a dozen others, all burning
and shining lights of the famous Society of the White Wolf. You are the
hero of the day down there, it seems."

"And lo! here I am flouted by a stripling girl, and set to carry water
by the hour in the broiling sun!" I said within myself. I possessed,
however, though without doubt a manifest hero, far too much of the
unheroic quality of discretion to say this aloud to my father.

"I thank you, sir," I said, respectfully. "I will go at once and put on
my finest coat and my shoes of silk."

My father smiled.

"You need not be particular as to the silk shoes. 'Tis to see Master von
Sturm, not to court pretty Mistress Ysolinde, that I asked you to visit
the lawyer's house by the Weiss Thor."

But I was not sorry to be able to proclaim my destination as loud as I
dared without causing suspicion.

"Hanne," I cried down the turret stairs, "I pray you bring me the silken
shoes with the ribbon bows of silk. I am going down to Master von Sturm's
house; also my gold chain and bonnet of blue velvet with the golden
feather in it which I won at the last arrow-shooting."

I saw the fluttering of the fan falter and stop. A light foot went
pattering up the stairway and a door slammed in the tower.

Then I laughed, like the vain, silly boy I was.

"Mistress Helene," I said to myself, "you will find that poor Hugo, whom
you flouted and despised, can yet pay his debts!"

So I put on the fine clothes which I wore on festal days and sallied
forth. Now, though the lower orders still hated my father and all that
came out of the Red Tower, or indeed, for the matter of that, out of the
Wolfsberg, with hardly concealed malice--yet there were many in the city,
specially among those of the upper classes, who began to think well of my
determination to try another way of life than that to which I had been
born. For I made no secret of the matter to Michael Texel and such of his
comrades as joined us in our gatherings.

Indeed, now, when I come to think of it, it seems to me that my father
was the only person of my acquaintance who did not suspect that I was
resolved never to wear either the black robe of Inquisition or the
crimson of Final Judgment.

Yet it wore round to within two years, and indeed rather less, of the
time for my initiation into the mysteries of the Red Axe, and still I
remained at home, an idle boy, playing at single-stick and fence with
the men-at-arms, drinking beer in the evening with my bosom cronies, and
in the well-grounded opinion of all honest people, likely enough to come
to no good.

But I, Hugo Gottfried, had my eyes and my books open, and knew that I was
but biding my time.

So it came about that I carried no taint of the dread associations of the
Wolfsberg about me as I went down the bustling street to the Weiss Thor
to call on that learned and well-reputed lawyer, Master Gerard von Sturm.
So great was the fame of Master Gerard that he was often called in to
settle the mercantile quarrels of the burghers among themselves, and was
even chosen as arbiter between those of other towns. For, though
accounted severe, he had universally the name of a just and wise man, who
would not rob the litigants of all their valuables and then decide in
favor of neither, as was too often the way with the "justice" of the
great nobles.

As for Duke Casimir of the Wolfmark, no man or woman went near him on any
plea whatsoever, save that of asking mercy or favor. And unless my father
chanced to be at hand, mostly they asked in vain. For, as I now knew, he
had to keep up the common bruit of himself throughout the country as a
cruel, fearless, and implacable tyrant. Besides, his fears were so
constant and so great, perhaps also so well-founded, that often he dared
not be merciful.



At five of the clock I lifted the great wolf's-head knocker of shining
brass which frowned above the door of Master Gerard von Sturm in the port
of the Weiss Thor. Hardly had I let it fall again when a small wicket,
apparently about two feet above my head, opened, and a huge round head
with enormous ears at either side peeped out. So vast was the head and so
small the aperture that one of the lateral wings of the chubby face
caught on the sill, and the owner brought it away successfully with a
jerk and a perfectly good-humored and audible "flip."

"Who are you, and what do you want?" said a wide-gashed mouth, which,
with a squat, flattened-out nose and two merry little twinkling eyes,
completed this wonderful apparition.

The words were in themselves somewhat rude. On paper I observe that they
have an appearance almost truculent. But spoken as the thing framed in
the window-sill said them, they were equal to a song of Brudershaft and
an episcopal benediction rolled in one.

"I am Hugo Gottfried of the Red Tower, come to see Master Gerard," I
replied. "Who may you be that asks so boldly?"

"I'll give you a stalk of rhubarb to suck if you can guess," was the
unexpected answer.

As I had never in my life seen anything in the least like the prodigy, it
was clearly impossible for me to earn the tart succulence of the summer
vegetable on such easy terms.

"I should say," I replied, "if the guess savor not of insolence, that one
might be forgiven for mistaking you for the Fool of the Family!"

The grin expanded till it wellnigh circumnavigated the vast head. It
seemed first of all to make straight for the ears on either side. Then,
quite suddenly, finding these obstacles insurmountable, it dodged
underneath them, and the scared observer could almost imagine its two
ends meeting with a click somewhere in the wilderness at the back of that
unseen hemisphere of hairy thatch.

"Pinked in the white, first time--no trial shot!" cried the object in the
doorway, cheerily. "I am the Fool of the Family. But not the only one!"

At this moment something happened behind--what, I could not make out
for some time. The head abruptly disappeared. There was a noise as of
floor-rugs being vigorously beaten, the door opened, and the most
extraordinary figure was shot out into the street. The head which I had
seen certainly came first, but so lengthy a body followed that it seemed
a vain thing to expect legs in addition. Yet, finally, two appeared, each
of which would have made a decent body of itself, and went whirling
across the street till the whole monstrosity came violently into
collision with the walls of the house opposite, which seemed to rock to
its very foundations under the assault.

A decent serving-man, in a semi-doctorial livery of black cloth, with a
large white collar laid far over his shoulders, and cuffs of the same
upon his wrists, stood in the open doorway and smiled apologetically at
the visitor. He was rather red in the face and panted with his exertions.

"I ask your pardon, young sir," he said. "That fool, Jan Lubber Fiend,
will ever be at his tricks. 'Tis my young mistress that encourages him,
more is the pity! For poor serving-men are held responsible for his
knavish on-goings. Why, I had just set him cross-legged in the yard with
a basket of pease to shell, seeing how he grows as much as a foot in the
night--or near by. But so soon as my back is turned he will be forever
answering the door and peeping out into the street to gather the mongrel
boys about him. 'Tis a most foul Lubber Fiend to keep about an honest
house, plaguing decent folks withal!"

By this time the great oaf had come back to the door of the house, and
now stood alternately rubbing his elbow and rear, with an expression
ludicrously penitent, at once puzzled and kindly.

"Ah, come in with you, will you?" said the man. "Certes, were it not for
Mistress Ysolinde, I would set on the little imps of the street to nip
you to pieces and eat you raw."

The angry serving-man held the door as wide as possible and stood aside,
whereat the Lubber Fiend tucked his head so far down that it seemed to
disappear into the cavity of his chest, and scurried along the passage
bent almost double. As he passed the door he drew all the latter part of
his body together, exactly like a dog that fears a kick in the by-going.
The respectable man-servant stirred not a muscle, but the gesture told a
tale of the discipline of the house by the White Gate at times when
visitors were not being admitted by the main door, and when Mistress
Ysolinde, favorer of the Fool Lubber Fiend, was not so closely at hand.

It was a grand house, too, the finest I had ever seen, with hangings of
arras everywhere, many and parti-colored--red hunters who hunted, green
foresters who shot, puff-cheeked boys blowing on hunting-horns; a house
with mysterious vistas, glimpses into dim-lit rooms, wafts of perfume,
lamps that were not extinguished even in the daytime, burning far
within. All in mighty striking contrast to the bare stark strength of our
Red Tower on the Wolfsberg with its walls fourteen feet thick.

As I followed the serving-man through the halls and stairways my feet
fell without noise on carpets never woven in our bare-floored Germany,
nor yet in England, where they still strew rushes, even (so they say) in
the very dining-rooms of the great--surely a most barbarous and
unwholesome country. Nevertheless, carpets of wondrous hue were here in
the house of Master Gerard, scarlet and blue, and so thick of ply that
the foot sank into them as if reluctant ever to rise again.

As I came to the landing place at the head of the stairway, one passed
hastily before me and above me, with a sough and a rustle like the wind
among tall poplar trees on the canal edges.

I looked up, and lo! a girl, not beautiful, but, as it were, rather
strange and fascinating. She was lithe like a serpent and undulated in
her walk. Her dress was sea-green silk of a rare loom, and clung closely
about her. It had scales upon it of dull gold, which gave back a
lustrous under-gleam of coppery red as she moved. She had a pale, eager
face, lined with precision enough, but filled more with passion than
womanly charm. Her eyes were emerald and beautiful, as the sea is when
you look down upon it from a height and the white sand shines up through
the clear depths.

Such was Ysolinde, daughter of Gerard von Sturm, favorer of Lubber Fiends
and creator of this strange paradise through which she glided like a
spangled Orient serpent.

As I made my way humbly enough across to Master Gerard's room his
daughter did not speak to me, only followed me boldly, and yet, as it
seemed to me, somewhat wistfully too, with her sea-green eyes. And as the
door was closing upon me I saw her beckon the serving-man.

But I, on the inner side of the door, and with Master Gerard von Sturm
before me, had enough to do to tell my tale and answer his questions
without troubling my head about green-eyed girls.

Master Gerard was as remarkable looking to the full as his daughter, with
the same luminously green eyes. But the orbs which in the maid shone as
steadily clear as the depths of the sea, in the father glittered
opalescent where he sat in the dusk, like the eyes of Grimalkin cornered
by dogs in some gloomy angle of the Wolfsberg wall.

As soon as I had set eyes on him I knew that I had to do with a man--not
with a walking show like my Lord Duke Casimir. It struck me that for good
or evil Master Gerard could carry through his intent to the bitter end,
and that in council he would smile when he saw my father change his black
vesture of trial for the red of beheading.

The Doctor Gerard was little seen in the streets of Thorn. Many citizens
had never so much as set eyes on him. Nevertheless his hand was in
everything. Some said he was a Jew, chiefly because none knew rightly
what he was or whence he had come. Thirty years had gone by since he had
suddenly appeared one day in the noble old house by the Weiss Thor, from
which Graetz the wizard and his wife had been burned out by the fury of
the populace. Twenty years of artistic labor had made this place what it
now was. And the little impish maid who used to break unexpectedly upon
the workmen of Thorn from behind doors, or who clapped hands upon their
shoulders in dusky recesses, scaring them out of their wits with
suggestions of witch-masters long dead and damned, had grown into this
maid of the sea-green eyes and silken draperies.

"A good-day to you, Hugo Gottfried!" said Master Gerard, quietly, looking
at me keenly across the table. He wore a skull-cap on his closely cropped
head. One or two betraying locks of gray appeared under it in front, but
did not conceal a flat forehead, which ran back at such an angle that,
with the luminous eyes beneath it, it gave him the look of a serpent
rearing his yellow head a little back in act to strike. This was a look
his daughter had also. But in her the gesture was tempered by the
free-playing curves of a beautiful throat and the forward thrust of a
rounded chin--advantages not possessed by the angular anatomy and bony
jaw of the famous doctor of law.

Master Gerard, clad in a long robe of black velvet from head to heel, sat
bending his fingers gracefully together and looking at me. His head was
thrown back, I have said, and the lights of the colored windows striking
on his gray hair and black skull-cap, caused him to look much more like
some lean ascetic ecclesiastic and prince of the church than the chief
lawyer of the ancient capital of the Wolfmark.

"You were present at this child's play yester-eve in the hostel of the
White Swan?" he asked, boring into me with his uncomfortable,
triangular eyes.

"Aye, truly," said I, "and much they made of me!"

For since my father said that I was accounted a hero in this house, I had
determined not to hide away my deeds in my leathern scrip. I had had
enough practice in playing at modesty in the Tower of the Red Axe.

Master Gerard shook his shoulders as though he would have made me believe
that he laughed.

"You were over many for thorn, I hear great silly fellows--children
playing with fire yet afraid to burn themselves. Why, since ten this
morning I have had them all here--stout burgomeister's sons, slim scions
of the Burghershaft, moist-eyed corporation children, each more anxious
than another to prove that he had nothing to do with any treason. He had
but called in at the White Swan for a draught of Frederika's famous stone
ale, and so--well, he found himself somehow in the rear, and, all
against his will, was dragged into the Lair of the White Wolf!"

He looked at me quietly, without speaking, for a while.

"And you, Master Hugo, did you go thither to distinguish yourself by
breaking up their child's folly, or, like the others, to taste the
stone ale?"

It was a question I had not expected. But it was best to be very plain
with Master Gerard.

"I went," I replied, "along with Michael Texel, because he asked me. I
knew not in the least what I was to see, but I was ready for anything."

"And you acquitted yourself on the whole extremely well," he nodded; "so
at least they are all very ready to say, hoping, I doubt not, for your
good offices with the Duke when it comes to their turn. You flouted them
right manfully and defied their mystery, they told me."

At this moment I became conscious that a door opposite me was open and
the curtain drawn a little way back. There, in the half-light, I saw
Mistress Ysolinde listening. She leaned her head aside as though it had
been heavy with its weight of locks of burned gold. She pillowed her
cheek against the door-post, and let her dreamy sea-green eyes rest upon
me. And the look that was in them gave me a sense of pleasure strange and
acute, as well as a restless uneasiness and vague desire to escape out
under the blue sky, and mingle with the throng of every-day men on the
streets of the city.




Master Gerard, however, did not seem to be aware of her presence, for he
continued his catechism steadily.

"You mocked at their terrors, did you not, and told them that you, who
had seen the teeth of the Duke's hounds, had nothing to fear from the
bare gums of the White Wolf?"

"I knew that they but played," I answered, "and that I had little to

For with Ysolinde von Sturm watching me with her eyes I could not for
very shame's sake make myself great.

"You told them more than that," the girl cried, suddenly flashing on me a
look keen as the light on a sword when it comes home from the cutler.
"You told them that you too desired a freer commonwealth!"

"I did," said I, flushing quickly, for I had thought to keep my
thumb on that.

Nevertheless I was not going back on my spoken word, even in the presence
of Duke Casimir's inquisitor. Besides which I judged that my father had
influence enough to bring me out scathless.

"That is well and bravely said!" he replied, smiling with thin lips which
in all their constant writhings showed no vestige of teeth within; "but
the sentiment itself is somewhat strange in the son of the Red Axe and
the future Executioner of Justice in the Wolfmark."

Then for the first time I permitted my eyes to rest on the lithe figure
of the girl in the doorway. Methought she inclined her head a little
forward to catch my answer as if it had been a matter of interest to her.

"I am indeed son of the Red Axe," said I, "but my own head would underlie
it rather than that I should ever be Hereditary Justicer of the Mark."

A smile that was meant for me passed over the girl's face and momently
sweetened her lips. She straightened her body and set a hand more easily
to her waist. A certain kindness dwelt in her emerald eyes.

"Never be Duke's Justicer!" cried Master Gerard, looking up with his hand
on a skull. "This is unheard of! Are not you the only son of Gottfried
Gottfried, right hand of Duke Casimir, highest in favor with his Grace?
And within two years, according to the law of the headsman, must you not
also don the Red and the Black and stand at the Duke's left hand, as your
father at his right, when he sits in judgment?"

I bowed my head for answer.

"Even so," said I; "but long before that time I shall be either in a far
country waging the wars of another lord, or in a country yet
farther--that to which the men of my race have directed so many

"Have you at all thought of the land or the lord to whom you would
transfer your allegiance?" said Gerard von Sturm, carelessly rapping with
his fingers on the bare white of the skull before him.

"I have not," I replied as easily.

He looked down a moment, and drew his black robe thoughtfully over his
knee as if turning the matter over in his mind. "What think you of
Plassenburg and the service of Prince Karl?" he said at last.

"The place is too near and the man a usurper," I replied, brusquely.

"I am not so sure," Master Gerard mused, slowly, "that it might not be
advantageous to bide near home. Duke Casimir is mortal, after all--long
and prosperously may he live!" (Here he inclined his head piously, while
naming his master.) "But who knows how long he may be spared to reign
over a loving people. And after that, why, there may be more usurpers.
For by the name 'usurper' the ignorant mostly mean men of the strong
heart and sure brain, who can hold that which they have with one hand and
reach out for more with the other."

While he spoke thus he looked at me with his green eyes half closed.

"But," said I, calmly enough, though my heart beat fast, "I am but a lad
untried. I may never rise beyond a private soldier. I may be killed at
the first assault of my virgin campaign."

Master Gerard looked up quickly. He beckoned to his daughter. For though
by no faintest gesture had he betrayed his knowledge of her presence, he
had yet clearly known it all the time.

"Ysolinde," he said, "bring hither thy crystal!"

The maid disappeared and presently returned with a ball in her hand of
some substance which looked like misty glass.

"I have been looking in it already," she said, "ever since Hugo Gottfried
came out of the Red Tower."

Her voice was soft and even, with the same sough in it as of the wind
among poplar-trees which I had heard in the rustle of her silken dress as
she came up the stair.

"And what," asked her father, "have you seen in the crystal, child of
my heart?"

He looked up at me with some little shamefacedness, or so I imagined.

"I am a dry old man of the law," he went on, "dusty of heart as these
black books up yonder--books not of magic but of fact, of crime and pain
and penalty. But this my daughter Ysolinde, wise from a child, solaces
herself with the white, innocent magic, such as helps man and brings him
nearer that which is unseen."

The maid knelt by her father's knee, and held the crystal ball in the
hollow of her hands against the sable of his velvet robe. She passed one
hand swiftly twice or thrice over her brow, as though to clear away some
cobwebs, gossamer thin, that had folded themselves across her vision.
Then, in the same wistful, wind-soft voice, she began to speak. And as
she spoke all that I had loved and known began to pass from before me. I
forgot my father. I forgot the Red Tower. I forgot (God forgive me, yet
help it I could not!) the little Princess Playmate and her sweetest eyes.
I forgot all else save this lithe, serpentine maiden with the massive
crown of burned and tawny gold upon her head.

"I see," she began, "a long street and many men struggling on it--the
Wolf of the Wolfmark, the Eagle of Plassenburg are face to face. I see
Red Karl the Prince. The young Wolf has the better of it. He bites his
lip and drives hard. The Prince is down. He is wounded. He is like to
die. The Wolf will drive all to destruction.

"But see--" she sighed, and paused the while as if that which she saw
next touched her--"from the swelter in the rear comes a young soldier. He
has lost his helmet. I see his head. It is a fair head with crisp curls.
He has a sword in his hand and he lays well about him. He cuts a way to
the Prince--he bestrides his body.

"Give way there, scullions, that I may see more!" she cried, impetuously,
and waved her hand before her eyes, which were fixed expressionless on
the crystal. "I see him again. Well done, young soldier! Valiantly laid
on. It is great sword-play. Bravo! The Wolf is down. The Eagle of
Plassenburg is up--I can see no more!"

And suddenly she dropped the ball, which would have rolled off her
father's knee had he not caught it as it fell.

Ysolinde kept her head on Master Gerard's lap for a long minute, as if,
after the vision of the crystal, she could not bear the common light nor
speak of meaner things. Then, without once looking at me, she rose,
gathered her skirts in her hand, and glided out of the doorway in which
she had stood.

When she was quite gone her father reached a bony hand across to me.

"That is a great fate which she has read for you--never have I seen her
so moved, nor yet her vision so clear and unmistakable. Surely the sooner
you seek the service of the Prince of Plassenburg the better."

"But," said I, "how do I know that he will accept me? He may not wish to
retain in his service the son of the Red Axe of the Wolf mark."

Master von Sturm smiled subtly at me.

"I cannot tell," he said, "why it is that I have an interest in you. But
I desire to see you other than that which you are. I have, strange as it
may seem in one of such humble degree here in the city of Thorn, whom all
may consult without fee or reward, a certain influence and place in the
councils of the reigning Prince of Plassenburg. If, therefore, you will
take service with him, I can give you such an introduction as will
guarantee you a place, not as man-at-arms, but as officer, so that your
way may lie before you clear from the first. Also in this promotion you
shall have a good sufficient reason to give those who may accuse you of
changing your service."

I could not answer him for gladness. The hope seemed so unbelievable--the
fortune too grateful to be true. I was overcome, and, as I guess, showed
it in my face. For twice I essayed to speak and could not.

So that Master Gerard rose and glided over to me, patting me kindly
enough on the shoulders and bidding me take courage, saying that he loved
to see modesty in this untoward generation, in which there was little
virtue and no gratitude at all.

So I grasped him by the hand and kissed his thin, bony fingers.

"Bide ye, bide ye," he said; "one day I may kiss yours an you be active.
The wide spaces of Destiny lie before you, though I shall not live to see
it. But you must bestir you, for I am an old man, and have not far to
travel now to the place from which one leaps off into the dark."

He conducted me to the door of his chamber and gave me his hand again
with the same inscrutable smile on his thin face, and his skull-cap
pushed farther back than ever over the flat, ophidian brow.

"When you have all things ready," he said, "come to me for the letter of
introduction, and also for that which may obtain you a worthy outfit for
your journeying to Plassenburg. Or, if you are already Sir Proud-Heart,
you can repay me one day, with usury if you will. I care not to stand on
observances with you, nor desire that you should feel any obligation to a
feeble old man."

"I am not proud," I said, "and my sense of obligation is already greater
than ever I can hope to discharge."

"I thank you, my lad," he said. "Often have I wished for a
son of the flesh like you as you passed the window with your
companions--but go, go!"

And with his hand he pushed me out upon the stair-head and shut the door.

For a space I knew not where I stood. For what with the turmoil of my
thoughts and the myriad of impressions, hopes, fears, visions, regrets to
leave the Red Tower, the city of Thorn, the hope of seeing again that
high-poised head of burned gold of the Lady Ysolinde, I paused
stock-still, moidered and dazed, till a light hand touched me on the
shoulder and the soft, even voice spoke in my ear.

"Master Hugo," said the Lady Ysolinde, bending kindly to me, "I am glad,
very glad--aye, though you have made my head ache" (here she nodded
blamefully and laid her hand upon her heart as if that ached too)--"it is
the best of fortunes, and sure to come true. Because have I seen it at
six o'clock of a Thursday in the time of full moon."

"Come hither," she said, beckoning me; "we shall try another way of it
yet, in spite of the headache. It may be that there is more that concerns
you for me to see in the ink-pool."

With this she took my hand and almost pulled me down the stairs by force.
As we went I saw the wild head and staring eyeballs of Jan the Lubber
Fiend peering at us. He was lying on the back staircase, prone on his
stomach, apparently extending from top to bottom down the swirl of it,
and with his chin poised on the topmost step. But as we came down the
stair the head seemed to be wholly detached from any body. The red ears
actually flapped with mirthful pleasure and anticipation at the sight of
the Lady Ysolinde, and no man could see both the beginning and end of
that smile.

"Lubber Jan," said she, "go and sit in the yard. The servants will be
complaining of thee again, that they cannot come up the staircase, even
as they did before."

"Then, if I do," mumbled the monster, "will you look out of window at
least once in each hour, between every stroke of the clock. Else will Jan
not stop in the yard, but come within to feast his eyes on thee."

"Yes, Jan," she said, smiling with a gentle complaisance which made me
like her somewhat better than before, "I will look out at least once in
the hour."

And turning a little she smiled again at me, still holding me by the
hand. The Lubber Fiend pulled his forelock, and reaching downward his
head, as if he had the power of stretching out his neck like an arm, he
kissed the cold pavement where her foot had rested a moment before. Then
he rather retracted himself, serpentwise, then betook him in Christian
fashion down the stair, and we heard him move out amid a babel of
servatorial recriminations into the outer yard.

"A poor innocent," said the Lady Ysolinde; "one that worships me, as you
see. He is so great of stature and so uncouth that the children persecute
him, and some day he may do one of them an injury. Years ago I rescued
him from an evil pack of them and brought him hither. So that is the
reason why he cleaves to me."

"An excellent reason, my lady," said I, "for any to cleave to you."

"Ah," she said, wistfully, "only fools think of Ysolinde in the city of
Thorn. Some are afraid and pass by, and the rest are as the dogs that
lick the garbage in the streets. Here I have no friends, save my father
only, and here or elsewhere I have never had any that truly loved me."

"But you are young--you are fair," I answered. "Many must come seeking
your favor." Thus did I begin lumpishly enough to comfort her. But at
my first words she snatched her fingers away angrily, and then in a
moment relented.

"You mean well," she said, giving her hand back to me again, "but it is
not pity Ysolinde needs nor yet desires. But that is no matter. Come in
hither and see what may abide for you in the depths of the black pool."

At the curtained doorway she turned and looked me in the eyes.

"If you were as other young men it would be easy for you to misjudge
me. This is mine own work-chamber, and I bid you come into it, having
seen you but an hour ago. Yet never a man save my father only hath set
his foot in it before. Inquire carefully of your companions in the city
of Thorn, and if any make pretension to acquaintance with the Lady
Ysolinde of the White Gate strike him in the face and call him liar,
for the sake of the favor I have shown you and the vision I saw
concerning you in the crystal."

I stooped and kissed her hand, which was burning hot--a thin little hand,
with long, supple fingers which bent in one's grasp.

"The man who would pretend to such a thing is dead even as he speaks,"
said I; and I meant it fully.

"I thank you--it is well," she answered, leading me in. "I only desired
that you should not misjudge me."

"That could I never do if I would," I made her answer. "Here my every
thought is reverence as in the oratory of a saint."

She smiled a strange smile.

"Mayhap that is rather more than I desire," she said. "Say rather in the
maiden bower of a woman who knows well whom she may trust."

Again I kissed her hand for the correction. And, as I remembered
afterwards, it was at that hour that the little Princess Playmate was
used to look within my chamber to see that all was ready for me.

And, had I known it, even that night she stooped over and kissed the
pillow where my head was to lie.

"Dear love!" she was used to say.

Alas that I heard it not then!



It was a strange little room into which the Lady Ysolinde brought me,
full of quaint, changeful scents, and all ablaze with colors the like of
which I had never seen. For not only were rugs and mats of outlandish
Eastern design scattered over the floor, but there was vividly colored
glass in the small, deeply set windows. Yet that which affected me most
powerfully was a curious, clinging, evanescent odor, which came and went
like a breeze through an open window. I liked it at first, but after a
little it went to my head like a perfumed wine of Greece, such as the men
of Venice sometimes send to our northern lands with their embassies of

Altogether, it was a strange enough apartment for the daughter of a
lawyer in the city of Thorn, within a mile of the bare feudal strengths
of the Red Tower and the Wolfsberg.

All this while Ysolinde had kept my hand, a thing which at once thrilled
and shamed me. For though I had never been what is called "in love" with
the Little Playmate, nor till that day had spoken a word to her my father
might not have heard, yet hitherto she had always been first and sole in
my heart whenever I thought on the things which were to be.

The Lady Ysolinde having brought me to her chamber, bade me sit upon
an oaken folding-stool beside a table on which lay weapons of curious
design--crooked knives and poisoned arrows. Then she went to an
ivory cupboard of the Orient (or, as they are called in Holy Writ,
"an ivory palace"), and opening the beautifully fitting door, she
took from it a small square bottle of red glass which she held
between her and the light.

"It is well," she said, looking long and carefully at it; "it will flow."

And coming to the table and pouring some of a shining black liquid into
the palm of her left hand, she sat down beside me on the stool and gazed
steadily into the little pool of ink.

It was strange to me to sit thus motionless beside a beautiful woman
(for such I then thought her)--so near that I could feel the warmth of
her body strike like sunshine through the silken fineness of her
sea-green gown. I glanced up at her eyes. They were fixed, and, as it
seemed, glazed also. But the emerald in them, usually dark as the
sea-depths, had opal lights in it, and her lips moved like those of a
devotee kneeling in church.

Presently she began to speak.

"Hugo--Hugo Gottfried, son of the Red Axe," she said, in the same hushed
voice as before, most like running water heard murmuring in a deep runnel
underground, "you will live to be a man fortunate, well-beloved. You will
know love--yes, more than one shall love you. But you will love one only.
I see the woman on whom your fate depends, yet not clearly--it may be,
because my desire is so great to see her face. But she is tall and moves
like a queen. She goes clad in white like a bride and her arms are held
out to you.

"But another shall love you, and between them two there is darkness and
hate, from which come bursting clouds of fire, bringing forth lightnings
and angers and deadly jealousies!

"Again I see you, great, honored, and sitting on a high seat. The
woman whose face I cannot distinguish is beside you, clothed in a
robe of purple. And, yes, she wears a crown on her head like the
coronet of a queen."

Ysolinde withdrew her eyes gradually from the ink-pool, as if it were a
pain to look yet a greater to look away. Then with a quick jerk she threw
up her head, and tears were standing in her eyes ready to overflow. But
the wetness made them beautiful, like a pebble of bright colors with the
dew upon it and shone on by the sunshine of the morning.

"You hurt me," she murmured reproachfully, looking at me more like a
child than ever I had seen her. She was very near to me.

"_I_ make you suffer!" cried I, greatly astonished. "How can Hugo
Gottfried have done this thing?"

For it seemed impossible that a poor lad, and one alien by his birth from
the hearts of ordinary folk, should yet have the power to make a great
lady suffer. For a great lady I knew Ysolinde to be even then, when her
father seemed to be no more in the city of Thorn than Master Gerard, the
fount and treasure-house of law and composer-general of quarrels.

But I might have known that he was no true lawyer to be so eager about
that last. For upon the continuance and fostering of differences the
law-men of all nations thrive and eat their bread with honey thereto.

As my father often said, "Better the stroke of the Red Axe than that of
the scrivener's goose-quill. My solution is kindlier, sooner over, hurts
less, and is all the same in the end!"

Ysolinde thought a little before she answered me.

"No man ever made me suffer thus before," she said, "though I have seen
and known many men. I am older than you, Hugo, and have travelled in many
countries, the lands from which these things came. But true love, the
pain and the pleasure of it, have I never known."

She leaned her head on her hand and her elbow on the table, turning thus
to look long and intently at me. I felt oafish and awkward, as Jan Lubber
Fiend might have done before the King. Many things I might have wished to
say and do with that slender figure and lissome waist so near me. But I
knew not how to begin. Yet I think the desire came not so much from love
or passion, but rather from a natural longing to explore those mysteries
concerning which I had read so much after Friar Laurence had done me the
service of teaching me French. But it was well that stupidity was my
friend. For rebounding like a vain, upstart young monkey from my mood of
self-depreciation, I must needs hold it for certain that all was within
my grasp, and that the Lady Ysolinde expected as much of me, which thing
would have wrought my downfall.

"Yon ride soon to Plassenburg, I hear," she said, after she had looked at
me a long time steadily with the emerald eyes shining upon me. Then it
was that I saw clearly that they were not the right emerald in hue so
much as of the shade of the stone aqua-marine, which is one not so rare,
but a better color when it comes to the matter of maiden's eyes.

"It is indeed true, my lady," I replied, disappointed at her words, and
yet somehow infinitely relieved, "that I ride soon to Plassenburg by the
favoring of your father, who has been gracious enough to promise me his
interest with the Prince."

I saw her lip curl a little with scorn--the least tilt of a rose leaf to
which the sun has been unkind.

She seemed about to speak, but presently thinking better of it,
smiled instead.

"It is like my father," she said, after a little; "but since I also go
thither, you shall be of my escort. A sufficient guard accompanies me all
the way to the city, and I dare say the arrangement may serve your
convenience as well as add to the pleasure and safety of my journeying."

"But how will your father do without your company, Lady Ysolinde?" I
asked. For it seemed strange that father and daughter should thus part
without reason in these disturbed times.

She laughed more heartily than I had heard her.

"My father has been used to missing me for months at a time, and,
moreover, is well resigned also. But you do not say that you are rejoiced
to be of a lady's escort in so long a travel."

"Indeed, I am much honored and glad to have so great a favor done to me.
I am but a mannerless, landward youth, to have been bred in the outer
courts of a palace. But that which I do not know you will teach me, and
my faults I shall be eager to amend."

"Pshaw!--psutt!" said Ysolinde, making a little face, "be not so
mock-modest. You do very well. But tell me if you have any sweetheart in
the city to leave behind you."

Now this bold question at once reddened my face and heightened my

"Nay, lady," I stammered, conscious that I was blushing furiously, "I am
over-young to have thought much of the things of love. I know no woman in
the city save our old house-keeper Hanne, and the Little Playmate."

The Lady Ysolinde looked up quickly.

"Ah, the Little Playmate!" she said, in a low voice, curiously distinct
from that which she used when she had interpreted her visions to me. "The
Little Playmate! That sounds as though it might be interesting. Who is
the Little Playmate?"

"She is a maid whose folks were slain long ago by the Duke in a foray,
and the little one being left, my father begged her life. And she has
been brought up with me in the Red Tower."

"How old is she now?" The Lady Ysolinde's next question leaped out like
the flash of a dagger from its sheath.

"That," answered I, meditatively, "I know not exactly, because none could
tell how old she was when she came to us."

"Tut," she said, impatiently tossing her head, "do not twist your answers
to me--only wise men and courtiers have the skill to do that and hide it.
As yet you are neither. Is she ten, or is she twenty, or is she mid-way
betwixt the two?"

"I think she may be a matter of seventeen years of age."

"Is she pretty?" was the next question.

"No," said I, not knowing well what to say.

Her face cleared as she heard that, and then, in a little, her eyes being
still bent steadily on me, reading my very heart, it clouded over again.

"You think her not merely pretty, then, but beautiful?" she asked.

I nodded.

"More beautiful than I?"

'Fore God I denied not my love, though I own I have many a time been less
tempted, and yet have lied back and forth like a Frankfort Jew.

"Yes," said I, "I think so."

"You love her, then?" said the Lady Ysolinde, rising quickly to her feet;
"and you told me that you loved none in this city."

"I love her, indeed," I said. "She is my little sister. As you mean love,
I do not love her. But I love her notwithstanding. All my life I have
never thought of doing anything else. And that she is beautiful, all who
have eyes in their head may see."

This appeased her somewhat. I think it must have been looking for my
fortune in the crystal and the ink-pool that made her so eager to know
all that concerned me--which none had ever been so importunate to find
out before.

"I must come and see this Little Playmate of yours," she said. "It is an
ill-done thing that so fair a maid should be shut up in the tower of such
a pagan castle--the Wolfsberg; it is indeed well named. Word has reached
me to-day that the Princess of Plassenburg has need of a bower maiden.
Now the Princess can make her choice from many noble families. But if the
Little Playmate be as beautiful as you say, 'tis high time that she
should not be left immured in the Red Tower of the Wolfsberg. True, the
Duke, like a careful man, neither makes nor mells with womankind. 'Tis
his only virtue. But any questing Ritterling or roaring free companion
might bear her off."

"I think not," said I, smiling, "so long as the Red Axe of the Mark has a
polished edge and Gottfried Gottfried can send it sheer through an ox's
neck as he stands chewing the cud."

I hardly think that I ever boasted of my father's prowess before.
And, indeed, I had some skill in the axe-play myself, but only in the
way of sport.

"All one," said Ysolinde. "Your father, like great Caesar and Duke
Casimir, is but mortal, and may stumble across the wooden stump some day
himself and find his neck-bone in twain! None so wise that he can tell
when the Silent Rider shall meet him in the wood, leading by the bridle
the pale horse whose name is Death, and beckoning him to mount and ride."

The Lady Ysolinde paused a while, touching her lips thoughtfully with
her fingers.

"Let your Playmate come," she said. "There is room, I warrant, for her
and you both at Plassenburg. You shall keep each other company when
you have the homesickness, and on the journey she can ride with us
side by side."

Then going to the curtain she summoned the servitor who had first opened
the door for me. He bowed before the girl with infinite respect. She bade
him conduct me upon my way. I will not deny that I had hoped for a
tenderer leave-taking. But all at once she seemed to have slipped back
into the great lady again, and to be desirous of setting me in my own
sphere and station ere I went, lest perchance I should presume overmuch
upon her favors.

Yet not altogether so. For, relenting a little as I turned to leave her,
she stood holding the curtain aside for me to pass, and, as it had been
by accident, in dropping it her fingers rested a moment against my
cheek. Then the heavy curtain of blue fell into its place, and I found
myself following the eminently respectable domestic of Master Gerard
down the stairs.

At the outer door, but before he opened it, the man put a sealed packet
in my hand.

"From Doctor Gerard von Sturm," he said, bowing respectfully, yet with a
certain sense of being a party in a favor conferred.

I thrust the letter into my inner pocket and went out into the street.
The sun was still shining, yet somehow I felt that it must be another
day, another world. The houses seemed hard and dry, the details of the
architecture insufferably mean and insultingly familiar. I longed with
all my heart to get away from Thorn into the new world which had opened
to me--a world of perfumes and flowers and flower-like scents and
Oriental marvels, of low voices, too, and the touching of soft hands
upon cheeks.

In all the world of young men there was no greener or more simple Simon
than I, Hugo Gottfried, as, playing a tune on the pipe of my own conceit,
I marched up the High Street of Thorn to the entrance gate of the

The Little Playmate was standing at the door as I approached, sweet as a
June rose. When she saw me she went into the sitting-room to show that
she had not yet forgiven me. Though I think by this time, as was often
the way with Helene, she had forgotten almost what was the original
matter of my offending.

But I pretended to be careless and heart-free. And so--God forgive
me!--I went whistling up the steps of the Red Tower to my room without
so much as looking within the chamber where my Little Playmate had
withdrawn herself.

Which thing I suffered grievously for or all was done. And an excellent
dispensation of Providence it had been if I had lost my right hand, all
for making that little heart sore, or so much as one tear drop from those
deep gray eyes.



It was about this time, and after we had made our quarrel up, that Helene
began to call me "Great Brother." After all, there is manifest virtue in
a name, and the Little Playmate seemed to find great comfort in thus
addressing me.

And after that I had called her "Little Sister" once or twice she was
greatly assured and treated me quite differently, having ascertained that
between young men and women there is the utmost safety in such a

And as all ways were alike to me, I was willing enough. For indeed I
loved her and none other, and so did all the days of my life. Though I
know that my actions and conceits were not always conformable to the true
love that was in my heart, neither wholly worthy of my dear maid.

But, then, what would you? Nineteen and the follies of one's youth! The
mercy of God rather than any virtue in me kept these from being not only
infinitely more numerous, but infinitely worse. Yet I had better confess
them, such as they are, in this place. For it was some such nothings as
those which follow that first brought Helene and me into one way of
thinking, though by paths very devious indeed.

To begin with the earliest. There was a maid who dwelt in the Tower of
the Wolfsberg opposite, called the Tower of the Captain of the Guard. And
the maid's name was Elsa, or, as she was ordinarily called, "Christian's
Elsa." She was a comely maid enough, and greatly taken notice of. And
when I went to my window to con over my task for Friar Laurence, there at
the opposite window would be--strange that it should always he
so--Christian's Elsa. She was a little girl, short and plump, but with
merry eyes and so bright a stain upon either cheek that it seemed as if
she had been eating raspberry conserve, and had wiped her fingers upon
the smiling plumpness there.

At any rate, as sure as ever I betook me to the window, there would be
Christian's Elsa, busy with her needles.

And to tell truth I misliked it not greatly. Why, indeed, should I? For
there is surely no harm in looking across twenty yards of space at a
maid, and as little in the maid looking at you--that is, if neither of
you come any nearer. Besides, it is much pleasanter to look at a pretty
lass than at a vacant wall and twenty yards of uneven cobble-stones.

Now the girl was harmless enough--a red and white maid, plump as a
partridge in the end of harvest. She was forever humming at songs,
singing little choruses, and inventing of new melodies, all tunefully and
prettily enough. And she would bring her dulcimer to the window and play
them over, nodding her head to the instrument as she sang.

It was pleasant to watch her. For sometimes when the music refused to run
aright, she would frown at the dulcimer, as if the discord had been
entirely its fault and it was old enough to know better. Then sometimes
she would look across abstractedly to the Red Tower, trying to recall a
strain she had forgotten, with her finger all the while making the most
bewitching dimple on her plump cheek. It was most sweet and innocent to
see. And withal so entirely unconscious that any one could possibly be
observing her.

I confess that I sat often and conned my book by the window, long after
I knew my portion by heart, in order to watch her deft fingers upon the
dulcimer sticks and the play of her dimples. But on my part also this was
in all innocence and wholly thoughtless of guile.

Then would I be taken with a spasm of desire to play upon the recorders
or the Bavarian single flute, and would pester my father to let me learn.

Now I never had any more ear for music than a deal board that has
knot-holes in it. I had ears indeed. But the clatter of the mill-wheel
and the lapper of water on the stones of the shore were ever better music
to me than singing or playing upon instruments. Nevertheless, at this
time, for some reason or other, I was in a great fret to learn.

And, curiously enough, my desire made the Little Playmate call me "Great
Brother" more assiduously than ever. Though again I knew not why.

But Christian's Elsa she could not abide either sight or mention of.
Which was passing strange in so sweet and charitable a maid as our
Helene. Also the girl at the guard-house was a good daughter, besides
being particular of her company, and in that garrison place untouched by
any breath of scandal.

But no; Helene would have none of her.

"_Feech_!" she would say, making a little grimace of disgust which she
had brought with her from her northern home; "that noisy, mewling cat,
purring and stroking her face, in the window, I cannot abide her. I know
not what some folks can see in her. There are surely more kinds of
blindness than of those that wait about kirk doors with a board hung
round their necks, saying, 'Good people, for the love of God, put a
copper in this wooden platter.'"

"Why, Little Playmate, what ails thee at the maid? She is a good maid
enough, and, I am sure, a pretty one."

So would I say to try her. Whereat the lass, being slender herself, and
with a head that sat easily on her shoulders, would walk off like the
haughty little Princess she was, and thrust her chin so far forward that
even the pretty round of it bespoke a pointed scorn. And the poutlets
would come and go on her red lips so quickly that I would come from the
window, leaving my book and Christian's Elsa, and a thousand Elsas, just
to watch them.

"So, Great Brother," Helene would say, "you think she is pretty, do you?
'Tis interesting, for sure. As for me, I see not anything pretty about
her. Now, there is Katrin Texel, she is pretty, if you like. What say
you to her?"

And this was because the minx knew well that I never could abide Katrin
Texel, a girl all running to seed like a shot stalk of rhubarb, who would
end up in the neighborhood of six foot in height, and just that "fine
figure of a woman" which I never could abide.

"_Feech_!" I would say, copying her Wendish expression. "I would as soon
set my feather bolster on end, paint it black and white, and make love to
it as to Katrin Texel."

"You do worse every day of your life," retorted Helene, with pretty
spite, tapping the floor with the point of one delicate foot.

"And, pray, what do I that is worse?" I said, knowing full well what.

The Little Playmate was silent a minute, only continuing to tap the flags
with a kind of naughtiness that became her.

"Katrin Texel would not look at you, charming as you think yourself," she
said, at last.

"Did she tell you so, Little Sister?" said I, drawing a bow at a
great venture.

The arrow struck, and I was content.

"Well," she answered, somewhat breathlessly, "what if she did? Surely
even your vanity can take nothing out of a girl saying that she cannot
abide you."

But I answered nothing to this, only stroked the mustache which was
beginning to thrive admirably on my upper lip.

"Of all the--" began Helene, looking at me fixedly. Then she stopped.

"Well," said I, pausing in the caressing of my chin, "what do I worse
every day than make love to Katrin Texel?"

Her eyes fairly sparkled fire at me. They were "sweetest eyes" no more,
but rarely worth looking into all the same.

"You go ogling and staring at that little she-cat in the window over
there, that screeches and becks and pats herself, all for showing off!
And you, Hugo Gottfried, like a great oaf, thinking all the time how
innocent and sweet and--oh, I have no patience with you!--to neglect and
think nothing of--of Katrin Texel, and--and then to go gazing and gaping
after a thing like that!"

And I declare there were tears in the Little Playmate's eyes.

"Dear Little Sister, why are you so mindful about Katrin Texel?" said I.
"Faith, my lass, wait till she comes again, and I will court her to your
heart's content. There--there--I will be a very Valentine's true lover to
your Katrin."

For all that she was not greatly cheered, but edged away, still strangely
disconsolate when I came near and tried to pet her. Mysterious and hidden
are the ways of women! For once, when I would have put my hand about her
pretty slender waist, she promptly took me by the wrist, and holding it
at arm's-length, she dropped it from her with a disgustful curl of her
lip, as if it had been an intruding spider she had perforce to put forth
out of her chamber into the garden.

Yet formerly, upon occasion when, as it might be, she was reading or
looking out of the window, if I but came behind her and called her
"Little Sister," I might even put my hand upon her shoulder, and so stand
for five minutes at a time and she never seem to notice it.



For, as I say, women have curious ways, and there are a good many of them
recorded in this book. And yet more I have observed which I cannot find
room for in a chronicle of so many sad and bad and warlike happenings.
But none of them all is more notable than this--that women, or at least
(for it is no use saying "women," every one being different in temper,
though like as pease in some things) many women, will permit that which
it suits them to be oblivious of, when if you ask them for permission or
make a favor of the matter, they will promptly flame sky-high with
indignation. So my advice to the young man who honestly goes a-courting
is to keep talking earnestly, to occupy his mistress's attention withal,
and progress in her favors during the abstractions of high discourse.

Of course in this, as in all other similar enterprises, Sir Amorous
must have a certain trading-stock of favor to start with. But if he
have this much, 'tis not difficult to increase it by honest endeavor,
and, as it were, the sweat of his brain. So at least I am told by
those who have proved it. Nevertheless, for myself, I have used no
such nice refinements, but rather taken with thankfulness such things
as came in my way.

And now when I look back over my paper--lord! what a pother of writing
about it and about! But my excuse is that many young lads and gay
bachelors will read this tale, so I desire to import what of instruction
I can into it. And not having the learning of the clerks, I must e'en
put in what wisdom I have gotten for myself in my passage through the
world. For I never could plough with another man's heifer--least of all
with that of a college-bred Mess John. Not but what Mess John knoweth
somewhat of the lear of love also among the well-favored dames of the
city. Or else, by my faith, Mess John is sorely belied.

But where was I in my tale? And if this present errant discourse be
forgiven, surely I will not transgress again, but drive my team straight
to the furrow's end and then back again, like an honest ploughman that
has his eye ever upon the guide-poles on the windy ridge.

Well, the Little Playmate lifted a toad from her waist--I mean my
hand--and dropped it as far from her as her arm would reach.

And then after that she ran up-stairs, slammed the door of her own
chamber, and came not down to our nooning, so that old Hanne had to call
her three times.

And once, when I had occasion to cross the court-yard to the guard-house,
I saw her standing pensively by the window. But so soon as she saw me she
vanished within and was seen no more.

Yet, indeed and indeed, as all may see, there was no cause for all this
fret. For I cared no more about Christian's Elsa than about Christian
himself--less, indeed, for Christian was a good soldier and
master-at-arms, and taught me how to handle the match-lock, the pistolet,
and the other new weapons that had begun to come in from France. And
often upon Saturdays and wet days he would let me spend long mornings in
the armory with him, oiling and cleaning the ordnance. Which it certainly
was a great pleasure to do.

And what if the little dumpling Elsa, with her red cheeks and her babyish
eyes, did run in and out. Her father was ever with us, and even had I
been willing there was no opportunity for more than a word or a touch of
her fingers--well, save once, when her father went himself to seek the
bottle of oil she had been sent to fetch, and was some time in finding
it. But even that was a mere nothing, and might have happened to any one.

But when I came home again that night, you would have thought that the
whole happening had been printed legibly on my face. The Little Playmate
would not let me come within a hundred miles of her. And it was "Keep
your distance, sirrah!" Not perhaps said in words, but expressed as
clearly by the warlike angle of an arm, the contumelious hitch of a
shoulder, or the scornful sweep of an adverse skirt.

And all about nothing! Mighty Hector! I never saw such things as women.

And yet in her good moments she would call me "Great Brother," and tell
me that she thought only of my future welfare, desiring that I should not
compromise myself in any entanglement with such as were not worthy of me.
Oh, a most wise and prudent counsellor was the Playmate in these days.

And I used ever to say: "Helene, when I am truly in love I will e'en
bring her here to you, and, by my faith, if you approve not--why, there
is an end of the matter. Back she goes to her mother like a parcel of
returned goods--aye, if she were the Kaiser's daughter herself!"

Whereat she pouted and was not ill-pleased.

"Ah, my man," she would reply, "after a girl hath said you nay a time or
two, it will bring you down from these high notions, and be much for your
soul's final good!"

But yet, when I could keep her in good-humor, it was exceedingly sweet to
bide quietly in the house with the Little Playmate--far better than to
gad about with Texels and meandering fools, which indeed I did
oftentimes just because it made my little lass so full of moods and
tenses--like one of Friar Laurence's irregular verbs in his cursed
Humanities. For there is nothing so variously delightful as a woman when
she is half in love and half out of it--more interesting (say some)
though less delightful than when she is all and whole in love.
Nevertheless, there are exceptions, and one woman at least I know more
various, and more delicious also, since love's ocean hath gone over her
head, than ever she was when, like a timid bather, she shivered on the
brink or made little fearful plunges, as it were knee-deep, and so ran
out again.

But I am not come to that in the story yet.

Well, on the afternoon of the next day, who should come to the house in
the Red Tower but our Helene's gossip, for this week at least her bosom
friend, Katrin Texel. She was even more impressive in manner than ever,
and also a little pleasanter to behold. For her angles were clothing
themselves into curves, and she was learning, perhaps from the Little
Playmate, to leave off bouncing into a room like a cow at the trot, and
to walk in sedately instead. By-and-by I knew she would come sailing down
the street like a towered galleon from the isles of Ind. For all that,
she looked not ill--an academic study for Juno, one might say. But to
make love to--why, as Helene was wont to remark, _Feech!_

And the curious thing about Katrin Texel was that though her corporeal
part might be a direct inheritance from her Burgomeister father and his
substantial brewery, her spirit had been designed for an artful fairy of
half her size, in order that it might go pirouetting into airy realms of
the imagination. For she was gay enough and lightsome enough in her
demeanor. She came in with a skip which would have been entrancing in
some elfish mignonne who could dance light-foot on spring flowers without
crushing them. But when this our solid Burgomagisterial Katrin tripped
in, it nearly drove me wild with mirth. For it was as if some bland
maternal cow out of the pasture had skipped with a hop and a circle of
flying skirts into a ballroom or a butterfly of two hundred pounds'
weight had taken to flitting from flower to flower.

And this Katrin talked in a quick, light voice, with ups and downs and
skips and quivers in it, as spring-heeled as a chamois goat on the
mountains of the south.

"Ah, Tiny-chen," she would cry, as she came undulating and cooing in to
our Helene, "is it you, dearest? 'Tis as sweet to see you as for birds to
kiss on bough! I have danced all day in the sunshine just to think that I
should come to see you! And tell me why you have not been to visit me.
Ah, bad one--cruelest--as cruel as she is pretty" (appealing to me), "is
she not? And there, our Michael, great oaf, sits at home desolated that
he does not hear her foot on the stairs. The foolish fellow tells me that
he listens for four little pit-a-pats every time that I come up from the
court-yard, and is disappointed when there come back only my poor two."

And Katrin becked and nodded and set her head to the side--like to the
divine Io-Cow playing at being little Jenny Wren.

And as for me, I kept my gravity--or, rather, how could I lose it,
hearing such nonsense about that great stupid beer-vat, Michael Texel.

Michael Texel, indeed! I should admire to hear of Michael Texel so much
as raising his eyes to the Little Playmate. Why, I would stave him on
the open street like a puncheon of eight, and think nothing of the
doing of it.

Michael Texel, indeed!

But I am forgetting. My business at this time was to make love to Katrin,
so that I might banish the ill impression which Helene had formed
concerning that pleasant, harmless little Christian's Elsa over there. I
never heard anything so foolish in my life. But, then, what women will
think and say passes the imagination of man.

Michael Texel indeed!

The thought of that young man of beef and beer recurred so persistently
and forcibly to me that for a time I could scarce command myself to speak
civilly to his sister. Though, of course, she was quite different, being
a woman, and informed with such a quick and dainty spirit that at times
it seemed as it had been imprisoned in her too massive frame and held "in
subjection to the flesh," as the clerics say. God wot, I never knew I had
so much religion and morality about me till I came to write. If I do not
have a care this tale of mine will turn out almost as painful as a book
of devotion which they set children to read on saints' days to keep them
from being over-happy.

But I subdued my feelings and drew up somewhat nearer to Katrin.

"My Little Sister--" so I began, cunningly, as I thought--"my sister
Helene is, indeed, fortunate to have so fair a friend, and one so

"As my brother Michael, yes," she twittered, with her most ponderous,
cage-bird manner; "yes, indeed, he _is_ devoted to her."

"No," said I, hastily (confound the great hulking camel!), "I mean such a
faithful friend as yourself. I, alas, have no friend. I am cut off from
all society of my kind. Often and often have I felt the weight of
loneliness press heavy upon me in this darksome tower."

I saw Helene rise, go to the window, and glance across with such a
peculiar smile that I knew as well as if I had seen her that Christian's
Elsa was at her window with her music, looking across for me between each
bar. I cannot describe the smile which hovered on the face of the Little
Playmate. But perhaps all the male beings who read my book may have seen
something like it. All that I can say is, that the smile conveyed an
almost superhuman understanding of men and their little ways, and,
curiously enough, something of contempt too.

But I was not going to be discouraged by any smile, acid or sweet.
Besides, I had something still to pay back.

Michael Texel, indeed!--faith, by St. Blaise, I will Texel him tightly an
he comes sneaking to our gate!

So again I drew yet nearer to his sister. Katrin dimpled and showed her
teeth, with a smile like the sun going about the world, till I had almost
put my hand behind her shoulders to catch the ends of it when it got
round. This illumination almost finished me, for it was not the kind of
smile I had been accustomed to from--well, that was not the business I
was on at present.



But I admit that the smile discouraged me. Nevertheless I proceeded

"Ah, Jungfrau Texel," said I, "you cannot know how your presence
brightens our lives here in the Red Tower. Wherefore will you not come
oftener to our grim abode?"

I thought that, on the whole, pretty well; but, looking up at Helene, I
saw that her smile (so different from that of the Io-Cow Katrin) had
become a whole volume of scathing satire. God wot, it is not easy to make
love to a lass when your "Little Sister" is listening--especially to a
woman-mountain set on watch-springs like Katrin Texel.

But, after all, Katrin was no ways averse to love-making of any kind,
which, after all, is the main thing. And as for the Little Playmate, I
did not mind her a bonnet-tag. She had brought it upon herself.

Michael Texel indeed!

So I went on. It was excellent sport--such a jest as may not be played
every day. I would show Mistress Helene (so I said to myself) whether she
would like it any better if I made love to Katrin than if I went over on
an occasional wet day to clean pistolets and oil French musketoons in
Christian's guard-house.

So I began to tell Katrin how that woman was the sacredest influence on
the life of men, with other things as I could recollect them out of a
book of chivalry which I had been reading, the fine sentiments of which
it was a pity to waste. For our Helene would have stamped her foot and
boxed my ears for coming nigh her with such nonsense (that is, at this
time she would, doubtless--not, however, always). And as for the lass
over the way--Christian's Elsa--she knew no more of letters than her
father knew of the mathematics. Plain kissing was more in her way--as I
have been told.

So I aired my book of chivalry to Katrin Texel.

"Fair maid," said I, "have you heard the refrain of the song that I love
so well? It is like sweet music to me to hear it. I love sweet music.
This is the latest catch:

"'My true love hath my heart and I have his.'

"How goes it, Helene?" I asked, turning to her as she stood smiling
bitterly by the window. For I knew that it would annoy her to be referred
to. "Goes it not something like this?"

And I hummed fairly enough:

"'My true love hath my heart and I have his.'"
"And if it goes like that," said she, quickly, "it goeth like a tomcat
mollrowing on the tiles in the middle of the night."

Now this being manifestly only spiteful, I took no notice of her work.
"Helene does not love good music," said I; "'tis her only fault. But I
trust that you, dear Katrin, have a greater taste for angelic song?"

"And I trust you love to scratch upon the twangling zither as cats
sharpen their claws upon the bark of trees? You love such music, _dear_
Katrin, do you not?" cried Helene over her shoulder from the window.

But Katrin, the divine cow, knew not what to make of us. I think she was
of the opinion that Helene and I, with much study upon books, had
suddenly gone mad.

"I do indeed love music," she said at last, uncertainly, "but, Master
Hugo, not the kind of which my gossip, Helene, speaks. I love best of all
a ballad of love, sung sweetly and with a melting expression, as from a
lover by the wall to his mistress aloft in the balcony, like that of him
of Italy, who sings:

"'O words that fall like summer dew on me.'

"How goes it?

"'O breath more sweet than is the growing--the growing--'"

She paused, and waved her hand as if to summon the words from the
empty air.

"'_The growing garlic,'_ if it be a lover of Italy," cried Helene, still
more spitefully. "This is enough and to spare of chivalry, besides which
Hugo hath his lessons to learn for Friar Laurence, or else he will repent
it on the morrow. Come, sweetheart, let us be going. I will e'en convoy
thee home."

So she spoke, making great ostentation of her own superiority and
emancipation from learning, treating me as a lad that must learn his
horn-book at school.

But I was even with her for all that.

"And so farewell, then, dear Mistress Katrin," said I. "The delicate
pleasure of your presence shall be followed by the still more tender
remembrance which, when you are gone, my heart shall continue to
cherish of you."

That was indeed well-minded. A whole sentence out of my romance-book
without a single slip. Katrin bowed, with the airy grace of the Grand
Duke's monument out in the square. But the little Helene swept
majestically off, muttering to herself, but so that I could hear her: "'O
wondrous, most wondrous,' quoth our cat Mall, when she saw her Tom
betwixt her and the moon."

The application of which wise saw is indeed to seek.

So the two maids went away, and I betook me to the window to see if I
could catch a glimpse of Christian's Elsa.

But I only saw Katrin and Helene going gossiping down the street with
their heads very close together.

At first I smiled, well pleased to think how excellently I had played my
cards and how daintily I had worked in those gallant speeches out of the
book of chivalry. But by-and-by it struck me that the Little Playmate was
absent a most unconscionable time. Could it be--Michael Texel? No, that
at least was plainly impossible.

I got up and walked about. Then for a change I paused by the window.

I had stood a good while thus moodily looking out at the casement, when I
became aware of two that walked slowly up the street and halted together
before the great iron-studded door which led to the Red Tower.

By the thirty thousand virgins--Helene and Michael Texel!

And then, indeed, what a coil was I in; how blackly deceitful I called
her! How keenly I watched for any token of understanding and kindness
more than ordinary that might chance to pass between them. But I could
see none, for though the great soft lout of a ruddy beer-vat tried often
to look under the brim of her hat, yet she kept her eyes down--only once,
that I could observe, raising them, and that was more towards the Red
Tower than in the direction of Michael Texel.

I think she wished to see whether I was watching. And when she had noted
me it I wot well that she became much more animated, and laughed and
spoke quickly, with color in her cheeks and a flash of defiance on her
countenance, which were manifestly wasted on such a boastful, callow
blubber-tun as Michael Texel.

Then it was: "Adieu to you, Master Texel!" "Farewell to you, fair maid!"

And Helene dipped a courtesy to him, dainty and sweet enough to conquer
an angel, while the great jelly-bag shook himself almost to pieces in
his eagerness to achieve a masterly bow. All this made me angry, not
that I cared though Helene had coquetted with a dozen lads, an it had
liked her. It was only the poverty of taste shown in being seen in the
open High Street of Thorn along with such an oaf as Michael Texel. He
had first been my friend, it is true, but then at that time I had not
found him out.

By-and-by Helene came up the stairs, tripping light as a feather that the
wind blows. Perhaps, though, she had turned in the doorway, where I could
not see her, to throw the lout a kiss--so I thought within me, jealously.

"You have convoyed your gossip Katrin home in safety, I trust," said I,
sweetly, as she came in.

"Yes," said she; "but I fear she has left her heart behind her. So
wondrously rapid a courtship never did I see!"

"Save on the street," answered I; "and with a pale, soft jack-pudding
like Michael Texel! That was a sight, indeed."

At which Helene laughed a merry little laugh--well-pleased, too, the
minx, as I could see.

"What are courtships on the street to you, Sir Hugo," she returned,
"with your 'Twinkle-Twankle' singing-women over the way, and--Lord,
how went it?

"'My true love hath my heart and I have his.'

"Ha! ha! Sir Gallant, what need you with more? Would you have as many
loves as the Grand Turk, and invent new love-makings for each of them?
Shall we maidens petition Duke Casimir to banish the other lads of the
town and leave only Hugo Gottfried for all of us?"

And then she went on to other such silly talk that I think it not worth

Whereupon I was about to leave the room in a transport of just
indignation, and that without speaking, when Helene called to me.

"Hugo!" she said, very softly, as she alone could speak, and that only
when it liked her to make friends.

I turned me about with some dignity, but knowing in my heart that it was
all over with me.

"Well, what may be your will, madam?" said I.

Helene came towards me with uplifted, petitionary eyes.

"You are not going to be angry with me, Hugo!" she said. And she lifted
her eyes again upon me--irresistible, compelling, solvent of dignities,
and able to break down all pride.

O all ye men who have never seen my Helene look up thus at you--but only
common other eyes, go and hang yourselves on high trees for very envy.
Well, as I say, Helene looked up at me. She kept on looking up at me.

And I--well, I hung a moment on my pride, and then--clasped her in my

"Dear minx, thrice wicked one!" I exclaimed, "wherefore do you torment
me--break my heart?"

"Because," said she, escaping as soon as she had gained her pretty,
rascal way, "you think yourself so clever, Hugo, such an irresistible
person, that you must be forever returning to this window and getting
this book of chivalry by heart. Now you are going to be cross again. Oh,
shame, and with your little sister--

"'That never did you any harm,
But killed the mice in your father's barn.'"

With such babyish words she talked the frowns off my face, or, when they
would not go fast enough, hastened them by reaching up and smoothing them
away with her finger.

"Now," she said, setting her head to the side, "what a nice sweet Great
Brother! Let him sit down here on the great chair."

So I sat down, well pleased enough, not knowing what mischief the
pranksome maid had now in her head, but judging that the matter might
turn out well for me.

Then Helene stole round to the back of the chair, and, taking me by the
ears, she gave first one and then the other of them a pull.

"That," she said, pulling the right, "is for listening to the little cat
over the way that squalls on the tiles! And _that_" (giving the other a
sound tug) "is for being a dandiprat when my gossip Katrin was here!"

She paused a moment as if to summon courage, and then she stooped quickly
and kissed me on the neck.

"And _that_ for Michael Texel!" she cried, and ran out of the room before
I could get clear of the wide arms of the chair, and so run after and
catch her.

She turned in the doorway and wafted me a kiss from her finger-tips,
airily and a little mockingly.

"That for Hugo Gottfried!" she said, and was off to her own chamber with
the _frou-frou_ of a light skirt, the slam of a door, and the shooting
of a bolt.

And after all this, it was heart's pity that ever anything should have
come between us again, even for a moment.

Though, indeed, it was but for a moment.



It was the forenoon of a Sunday, a dull, sleepy time in all countries,
and one difficult to get overpast. I was as usual busy with my
accoutrement, recently bought with the loan of Master Gerard. The Little
Playmate was just returned from the cathedral, and had indeed scarcely
laid her finery aside, when there came a loud knocking at the outer gate
of the Red Tower. Then one of the guard tramped stolidly from the wicket
to the door of our dwelling.

"A lady waits you at the postern," said he, and so tramped his way
unceremoniously back to his post.

I knew without any need of telling that it was the Lady Ysolinde. So I
rose, and hastily setting my fingers through my hair, went to the gate.
There, attended by the respectable servitor, was, as I had expected, the
Lady Ysolinde.

"Good-morrow," she said very courteously to me, and I duly returned her
greeting with a low obeisance of respect and welcome.

She wore a large garment, fashioned like a man's cloak, over her festal
attire--which, with a hood for the head, wholly enveloped her figure and
descended to her feet.

"I have come, as I promised, to see the Little Playmate." These were her
first words as we paced together across the wide upper court under the
wondering eyes of the men of the Duke's body-guard.

"Pray remember, Lady Ysolinde," said I, with much eagerness, "that I
have as yet said nothing of the matter to Helene, and that my father only
knows that I am to ride to Plassenburg in order to exercise myself in the
practice of arms, before becoming his assistant here in the Red Tower and
in the Hall of Judgment across the way."

My visitor nodded a little impatiently. She who knew so many things, of a
surety might be trusted to understand so much without being told.

In the inner doorway Helene met us. And never had it been my fortune to
see the meeting of two such women. The Little Playmate had in her hands
the broidered handkerchiefs, the long Flemish gloves, and the little
illuminated Book of the Hours which I had given her. She had been about
to lay them away together, as is the fashion of women. And when she met
the Lady Ysolinde I declare that she looked almost as tall. Helene was
perhaps an inch or two less in stature than her visitor, but what she
lacked in height she more than made up in the supple erectness of her
carriage and the vivid and extraordinary alertness of all her movements.

"Lady Ysolinde," said I, as they met with the mutually level eyeshot of
women who measure one another, "this is Helene--whom, for love and
kindliness, we of the Wolfsberg call the 'Little Playmate.'"

The daughter of Master Gerard impetuously threw back the gray monk's hood
which shrouded the masses of her tawny hair. She put out both hands to
Helene, held her a moment at arm's-length to look into her eyes, even as
she had done with me, but in a different way. Then, drawing her nearer,
she leaned forward and kissed her on the brow and on both cheeks.

Now I am not ordinarily a close observer, and many things, specially
things that pertain to the acts of women, pass by me unnoticed. But I saw
in a moment that there was not, and never could be, more than the
semblance of cordial amity between these two women.

I noted the Little Playmate instinctively quiver like a taken bird
when she was thus embraced. It was, I think, the undying antipathy of
Eve for Lilith, a hatred which is mostly on the side of Eve, the
Mother-Woman--its place being taken by sharper and more dangerous envy
in the breast of Lilith-without-the wall.

There, face to face, stood the two women who were to make my life, ruling
it between them, as it were, striking it out between the impact of their
natures, as underneath the blows of two smiths upon the ringing anvil the
iron, hissing hot, becomes a sword or a ploughshare.

It was impossible to avoid contrasting them.

Helene, of a bodily beauty infinitely more full of temptation, bloomful
with radiant health, the blush of youth and conscious loveliness upon her
lips and looking out under the crisp entanglement of her hair, all simple
purity and straightness of soul in the fearless innocency of her eyes;
the Lady Ysolinde, deeper taught in the mysteries of existence, more
conscious of power, not so beautiful, but oftentimes giving the
impression of beauty more strongly than her fairer rival, compact of
swift delicate graces, half feline, half feminine (if these two be not
the same). All these passed like clouds over the unquiet sea of her
nature, reflecting the changing skies of circumstance, and were fitted to
produce a fascination ever on the verge of repulsion even when it was
strongest. Ysolinde was the more ready of speech, but her words were
touched constantly with dainty malice and clawed with subtlest spite. She
catspawed with men and things, often setting the hidden spur under the
velvet foot deeply into the very cheek which she seemed to caress. Such
as I read them then, and largely as even now I understand them, were the
two women who moulded between them my life's history.

I suppose it is because I am of this Baltic North that I must need think
things round and round, and prose of reasons and explanations--even when
I write concerning beautiful maids--forever dreaming and dividing,
instead of going straight, sword in hand, for their hearts, as is the way
of the folk from the English land over-seas, or, more simply still, lying
about their favors, which, I hear, is mostly the Frenchman's way.

But enough of intolerable theory.

Instinctively the Lady Ysolinde spoke to our maid of the Red Tower in a
manner and tone very different from that which I had ever before heard
her employ, at once more equal and more guarded.

"I was told by Master Hugo Gottfried here (whose acquaintance I made at
my father's house on the day after his foolish boy's prank of the White
Swan) that in the Red Tower of the Wolfsberg dwelt one of mine own age,
like myself a maid solitary among men. So to-day I have come to solicit
her acquaintance, and to ask her to be kind to me, who have ever been in
this city and country as a stranger in a strange land."

It was prettily enough said, and our Helene, easily touched, and perhaps
a little ashamed of her first stiffness, put out a hand which the other
quickly and securely clasped. Then those two sat down together. Ysolinde
von Sturm kept her eyes fixed on the Playmate, but our shy and slender
Helene looked steadily past her out over the tumbled red roofs and peaked
gables of the city of Thorn to the gray Wolfmark plains which lay spread
beneath our windows like a picture in a book.

At intervals, as it came near the hour of their mid-day meal, the
blood-hounds howled in the kennels, and by their tone I knew that my
father had left the Hall of Judgment where he had been detained all the
morning. Also I knew very well that the Lady Ysolinde wished me to find
an errand elsewhere, in order that she might talk alone with her
companion. But I saw also the appeal in the eyes of the Playmate, and I
was resolved not to give her the chance.

"Are you never weary in this dull tower?" asked the lawyer's daughter,
still holding the Playmate's hand.

"It is not dull," replied Helene. "I have my work. There are two men as
shiftless and helpless as babes to attend to, and none to help me but
old Hanne."

"Let men attend to themselves," cried Ysolinde; "that is ever my motto.
They ought to be our servants, not we theirs."

It was said smilingly, yet there was bitterness under the words as well.

"But," said Helene, smiling back at her with a fresh directness all her
own, "one of the men saved my life and brought me up as his own daughter,
and the other is--is Hugo, here."

And as she spoke of my father and of me I saw the eyes of the Lady
Ysolinde fixed upon her, as it had been to read her inner soul.

"And, by-the-way," she said, at last, after a long pause, "you have heard
how this same Master Hugo proposes to himself to escape from the
prison-house of this city, for a season to exercise himself in arms, and
so in roving adventure fulfil that which is not granted to a maid, his
'wandering years.' He goes (so my father tells me) to the Court of the
Prince of Plassenburg, with the promise of a company to command. And I am
glad, for I shall ride thither under his escort. Indeed, and in truth, my
home is far more there than here in Thorn. But I would fain have a
companion of my own sex. So I have come to beg of you, Mistress Helene,
that you will accompany me. The Princess, I know, has great need of a
maid of honor near her person, and will gladly welcome a friend of mine
for the post."

The Little Playmate looked up astonished, as well she might, at this
direct assault, which was moreover spoken with a pretty shamefacedness
and the air of asking almost too great a favor. And, indeed, if there was
any patronage in the thing offered, it was at least carefully kept out of
the manner of asking.

"Lady Ysolinde, I cannot accept your too overpowering favor," said
Helene, after a pause, "but your kindness in thinking at all of me will
always warm my heart."

At this critical moment came my father in, looking more than grave and
severe, so that I judged at once that he had been talking to the Duke
Casimir and had found his post of chief adviser both thankless and
difficult. I knew it could be no matter of his office which worried him,
for that day he wore his holiday attire of white Friesland cloth, and the
broad bonnet in which I loved best to see him. There was no mark of his
calling about him anywhere, save a little Red Axe sewed upon his left
breast like a war veteran's decoration.



Gottfried Gottfried bowed to the guest of his house with the noble manner
which comes to every serious-minded man who deals habitually in the high
matters of life and death. I made his introductions to the Lady Ysolinde,
and as readily and gracefully he returned his acknowledgments. For the
rest I allowed Master Gerard's daughter to develop her own projects to
him, which, indeed, she was no long time in doing.

As she proceeded I saw my father change color and become as to his face
almost as white as the Friesland cloth in which he was dressed.
Presently, however, as if struck with the sound of a well-known name, he
looked up quickly.

"Plassenburg, said you, my lady?" he inquired.

The Lady Ysolinde nodded.

"Yes, to Plassenburg, where the Princess has great need of a maid
of honor."

"Her Highness is often upon her travels, I hear it reported," said my
father, "while the Prince keeps himself much at home."

"He esteems his armies more than all the marvels of strange countries,"
replied Ysolinde, "and thus he holds the land and folk in great quiet."

"And your father, Master Gerard, would have my son engage with this
Prince Karl for a space. Well, I think it may be good for the lad. For I
know well that the shadow of the Red Tower stalks after him through this
city of Thorn, and there is no need that he should lie down under it too
soon. But this of my little maid is a matter apart, and means a longer
and a sorer parting."

"Fear not, my father," cried the Playmate, eagerly, "I would not leave
you alone, even to be the Princess of Plassenburg herself."

My father took another strange look from one to the other of the two
women, the import of which I understood not then.

"I know not," said he; "I think this thing also might be for the best. As
I see it, there are strange times coming upon us in Thorn. And the town
of Plassenburg under Karl the Prince is a defenced city, set in a strong
province, content and united. It might be wisest that you also should go,
little one."

"I cannot go," said Helene, "and leave you alone."

Gottfried Gottfried smiled a sad smile, wistfully pleasant.

"Already I am wellnigh an old man, and it is the nature of my profession
that I should be alone. I work among the issues of life and death. Every
man must be lonely when he dies, and I, who have lived most with dying
men, am perforce already lonely while I live. It is well--a clearer air
for the young bird! But yet it will be lonesome to miss you when I come
in--the empty pot wanting the flower; the case without the jewel; silence
above and below; your voice and Hugo's, that have changed the sombre Red
Tower with your young folks' pleasantries, heard no more. Ah, God wot, I
had thought--I had dreamed far other things."

He stopped and looked from one to the other of us, and I saw that
Ysolinde of the White Gate read his thought. Whereat right suddenly the
Little Playmate blushed, and as for me I kept watching the dull gold
flash on the spangles of our guest's waist-belt, which was in form like
a live serpent, with changeful scales and eyes of ruby red.

My father went over to where Helene sat. She rose to meet him and cast
her arms about his neck. He laid his right hand on her head--that
terrible hand that was yet not dreadful to us-who loved him.

"Little flower," he said, in his simple way, "God be good to you in the
transplanting! It is not fair to your young life that my red stain should
lie upon your lot. I have given you a quiet hermitage while you needed
it. But now it is right that my house should again be left unto me
desolate. It is already late summer with Gottfried Gottfried, and high
time that the young brood should fly away."

He turned to me.

"With you, Hugo, it is a thing different; you were born to that to which
you are born. And to that, as I read your horoscope, you must one day
return. But in the mean time care well for the maid. I lend her to you. I
give her into your hand. Cherish her as your chiefest treasure. Let her
enemies be yours, and if harm come to her through your neglect, slay
yourself ere you come again before me. For, by the Lord God of all
Righteous Judgment, I will have no mercy!"

I saw the eyes of the Lady Ysolinde glitter like those of the snake in
her belt as thus my father delivered Helene over to me.

But my father had yet more to say.

"And if any," he went on, in a deep, still voice, keeping his hand upon
the downcast head of the Little Playmate--"if any, great or small,
prince or pauper, harm so much as a hair of this fair head, by the great
God who wields His Axe over the universe and sits in the highest Halls of
Judgment, whose servant I am--I, Gottfried Gottfried, swear that he shall
taste the vengeance of the Red Axe and drink to the dregs the cup of
agony in his own blood!"

So saying, he kissed Helene and stalked out without turning his head or
making any further obeisance or farewell.

We sat mazed and confounded after his departure.

The Lady Ysolinde it was who first recovered herself. She put out a
kindly hand to Helene, who stood wet-eyed and drooping by the window,
looking out upon the roofs of Thorn, though well I wot she saw nothing of
spire, roof, or pinnacle.

"God do so to me and more also," she said, in a low, solemn voice, "if I
too keep not this charge."

And I think for the moment she meant it. The trouble was that the Lady
Ysolinde could not mean one thing for very long at a time. As, indeed,
shall afterwards appear.

So it was arranged that within the week Helene and I should say our
farewells to the Red Tower which had sheltered us so long, as well as to
Gottfried Gottfried, who had ever been my kind father, and to the little
Helene more than any father.

But in spite of all we wearied day by day to be gone. For, indeed,
Gottfried Gottfried said right. The shadow of the Red Tower, the stain of
the Red Axe, was over us both so long as we abode on the Wolfsberg. Yet
what it cost us to depart--at least till we were out of the gates of the
city--I cannot write down, for to both of us the first waygoing seemed
bitter as death.

I remember it well. My father had been busy all the morning with his grim
work on the day when we were to ride away. A gang of malefactors who had
wasted a whole country-side with their cruelty had been brought in. And,
as it was suspected that other more important villains were yet to be
caught, there had been the repeated pain of the Extreme Question, and now
there remained but the falling of the Red Axe to settle all accounts. So
that when he came to bid us farewell he had but brief time to spare. And
of necessity he wore the fearful crimson, which fitted his tall, spare
figure like a glove.

"Fare thee well, little one!" he said, first to Helene. "Not thus, had
the choice lain with me, would I have bidden thee farewell. But when it
shall be that I meet you again I will surely wear the white of the festa
day. I commit you to Him whose mistakes are better than our good deeds,
whose judgments are kinder than our tenderest mercies."

So he kissed her, and reached a hand over her shoulder to me.

"Son Hugo," he said, "go in peace. You must return to succeed me. I see
it like a picture--on the day when I lie dead you shall stand with the
Red Axe in your hand waiting to do judgment. It is well. Keep this maid
more sacred than your life--and, meantime, fare you well!"

So saying he left us abruptly.

Our horses were saddled in the court-yard, and as I rode last through the
rarely opened gateway, I saw Duke Casimir looking out from his window
upon the lower enclosure, as was his pleasure upon the days of execution.
I heard the dull thud, which was the meeting of the Red Axe and the
redder block as that which had been between fell apart. And for the last
time I heard the blood-hounds leap and the pattering of their eager feet
upon the barriers as they leaped up scenting the Duke's carrion.

Thus the latest I heard of the place of my nativity was fitting and
dreadful. I was mortally glad to ride away into the clear air and the
invigorating silence. But on my heart there still lay heavy the
twice-repeated prediction of my father and of the Lady Ysolinde, that I
should yet return and hold the Red Axe in his place.

But I resolved rather to die in the honest front of battle.
Nevertheless, had I known the future, I would have seen that they and not
I were right.

I was indeed fated to return and stand ready to execute doom, with the
Red Axe in my hand and my father lying dead near by.



Now so strange a thing is woman that, so soon as we were started down the
High Street of the city of Thorn, the Little Playmate dried her eyes,
turned towards me in her saddle, and straightway began to take me to task
as though I had been to blame.

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest