Part 3 out of 7
"I have left," said she, "the only home I ever knew, and the only man
that ever truly loved me, to accompany a young man that cares not for
me, and a woman whom I have seen but once, to a far land and an
"It is not fair," I said, "to say that I love you not. For, as God sees
me, I have ever loved you--loved you best and loved you only, little
Helenchen! And though you are angered with me now, I know not why--still
till now you have never doubted it."
"I doubt it sorely enough now, I know," she said, bitterly; "yet, indeed,
I care not whether you or any love me at all."
And this saying I was greatly sorry for. It seemed a sad wayfaring from
our old Red Tower and out of my native city of Thorn.
"Helene, little one," said I, "believe me, I love none in the whole world
but my father and you. Trust me, for I am to keep you safe with my life
in the far land to which we go. Do not let us quarrel, littlest. There
are only the two of us here that remember the old man my father and the
little room to which you came as a babe, all in white."
So presently she was somewhat pacified, and reached me a hand from the
back of her beast, on pretence of leaning over to avoid a swinging sign
in one of the narrow streets near by the White Gate, where we were to
meet the Lady Ysolinde.
"And yet more, Little Playmate," said I, keeping her hand when I had it;
"do not begin by distrusting the noble lady with whom we are to travel.
For she means well to us both, and in the strange country to which we go
we may be wholly in her power."
"You are sure that you do not love that woman, then?" said Helene,
without looking at me. For, indeed, in many things she was but a child,
and ever spoke more freely than other maids--perhaps with being brought
up in the Red Tower in the company of my father, who on all occasions
spoke his mind just as it came to him.
"Nay," said I, "believe me, little love, I do not love her at all."
And now on horseback Helene looked all charming, and what with the
exercise, the unknown adventure, and my reassurance, she had a glow of
rose color in her cheeks. She had never before been so far away from the
precincts of the Wolfsberg. I had even taught her to ride in the
court-yard of a summer evening, on a horse borrowed from one of the
We found the Lady Ysolinde waiting for us at her house, Master Gerard
talking to her in the doorway, earnestly and apart. Both of them had a
look of much solemnity, as though the matter of their discourse were some
very weighty one.
Presently her father kissed her and she came down the steps. I leaped
from my horse to help her to the saddle, but the respectable serving-man
was before me. So that instead I went about and looked to the buckles and
girths, which were all in order, and patted the arching neck of the
beautiful milk-white palfrey whereon she rode. Then Master Gerard waved a
hand and went within.
And as we fared forth out of the Weiss Thor into the keener air of the
country, I thought what a charge I had--to squire two ladies so
surpassingly fair, each in her own several graces, as our Helene and the
No sooner, however, were we past the outer barriers, at which the
soldiers of the Duke Casimir kept guard, than a vast, ungainly wight
started up from the road-side.
"Jan Lubber Fiend!" cried the Lady Ysolinde; "what do you here?"
The oaf grinned his awful, writhed smile and wriggled his great body
after the manner of a puppy desirous of the milk-platter.
"Think you, my lady," said he, cunningly, "that your poor Jan would abide
within the precincts of the city house with that funeral ape bidding me
do this and do that, sit here and sit there, come in and go out at his
pleasure? A thing of dough that I could twist into knots as easily as I
can crack my joints."
And of this latter accomplishment he proceeded to give us certain
examples which sounded like cannon-shots delivered at close quarters.
"Get home with you!" cried Ysolinde; "I cannot have thee following
us. There are two men presently to meet us, to guard us to
Plassenburg, and we do not need you, Jan Lubber Fiend. Get back and
take care of my father."
"Oh, as for him," said the monster, sitting down squat upon the plain
road in the dust, "he is a tough old cock, and will come to no harm. We
can e'en leave him with a good cook, a prime cellar, and an easy mind.
But this young man is not to trust to with so many pretty maids. Jan will
come and look after him."
And with that he nodded his hay-stack of a head three times at me, and
going to the hedge-root he laid hold of the top of a young poplar and
turned him about, keeping the stem of it over his shoulder. Then he set
himself to pull like a horse that starts a load, and presently, without
apparently distressing himself in the least, he walked away with the
young tree, roots and all.
Having shaken off the earth roughly, he pulled out a sheath-knife and
trimmed the branches till he had made him a kind of club, with which he
threatened me, saying, "If I catch that young man at any tricks, with
this club will Jan Lubber Fiend break every bone in his skin, like the
shells of so many broken eggs."
Then laughing a little, and seeing that nothing could be made of the
fellow, the Lady Ysolinde rode on and we followed her. We thought that
surely there would be no difficulty in shaking him off long ere we
reached our lodging-place of the evening, and that he would find his way
back to the city of Thorn.
But even though we set our horses to their speed, it seemed to make no
difference to the unwieldy giant. He merely stretched his legs a little
farther, and caused his great gaskined feet to pass each other as fast as
if they had been shod with seven-league boots. So he not only kept up
with us easily, but oftentimes made a detour through the fields and over
the wild country on either side, as a questing dog does, ever returning
to us with some quaint vagrant fancy or quip of childish simplicity.
But what pleased me better than the appearance of the Lubber Fiend was
that ere we had gone quite two miles out of the city we found two
well-armed and stanch-looking soldiers waiting for us at a kind of
cross-road. They were armed with the curious powder-guns which were
coming into fashion from France. These went off with a noble report, and
killed sometimes at as much as fifteen or twenty paces when the aim was
good. The fellows had swords also, and little polished shields on their
left arms--altogether worthy and notable body-guards.
"These two are soldiers of the Guard from Plassenburg," said the Lady
Ysolinde, "though now they are travelling as members of a Free Company
desiring to enter upon new engagements. But they will make the way easier
and pleasanter for us, as well as infinitely safer, being veterans well
accustomed to the work of quartering and foraging."
As indeed we were to find ere the day ended.
So we rode on in the brilliant light, and the long, long day seemed all
too brief to us who were young, and scarce delivered from the
prison-house of Thorn. And to my shame I admit that my heart rose with
every mile that I put between me and the Red Tower.
Indeed, I hardly had a thought to spend on my father. The hot quadrangle
of the Wolfsberg, ever smelling of horses and the swelter of shed blood,
the howling, fox-colored demons in the kennels, the black Duke Casimir
--right gladly I forgot them all. Aye, I forgot even my father, and
everything save that I was riding with two fair women through a world
where all was love and spring, and where it was ever the prime of a
The Lady Ysolinde could not make enough of our Little Playmate. She
laughed back at her over her shoulder when she let her horse out for a
canter. She marvelled loudly at Helene's good riding, and at the
unbound beauty of the crisp ringlets which clustered round her head
like a boy's. And our Helene smiled, well pleased, and ceased to watch
my eyes or to grow silent if I checked my horse too long by the side of
the Lady Ysolinde.
Mostly we three rode abreast over the pleasant country. So long as we
were crossing the plain of the Wolfmark we saw few tilled fields, and
the farm-houses were fewer still. But wherever these were to be seen
they were fortified and defended like castles, and had gates, great and
high, with iron plates upon them and knobs like the points of spears
The Lady Ysolinde, who had often ridden that way, told us that these were
all in the Duke Casimir's country, and were mostly possessed by the kin
of his chief captains--feudal tenants, who for the right of possession
were compelled to furnish so many riders to the Duke's Companies.
"But wait," she said, "till you come to the dominions of the Prince of
Plassenburg. You will find that he is indeed a ruler that can make the
broom-bush keep the cow."
So we rode on, and passed pleasant and exciting things, more than I had
ever seen in all my life before.
Once we saw half a dozen men driving cattle across our path, and it was
curious to mark how readily they drew their swords and couched their
lances at us, turning themselves about this way and that like a quintain
till we were quite gone by, which made us laugh. For it seemed a strange
thing that men so well armed should fear a company of no more than their
own numbers, and two of them maids upon palfreys.
But Ysolinde said: "It is not, after all, so strange, for over yonder
blue hills dwells Joan of the Swordhand, who can lead a foray as well as
any man, and once worsted Duke Casimir himself when he beset her castle."
So the day went past swiftly, with good company and the converse of folk
well liking one another. And ever I wondered how we were to spend the
night, and what sort of cheer we should find at our inn.
The gray plain of the Wolfmark, which we had been traversing ever since
we descended out of the steep Weiss Thor of the city of Thorn, had now
begun to break into ridges and mounded hills of stiff red clay. And I,
who had often kept my watch on the highest pinnacle of the Red Tower,
looked with astonishment back upon the city I had left behind. Seen from
the plain, Thorn had an aspect almost imperial.
It rose above the colorless flat of gray suddenly, unexpectedly, almost
insolently. The city, with its numberless gables, spires of churches,
turreted gate-houses, occupied a ridge of gradually swelling ground which
rose like a huge whale-back from the misty plain. Its walls were grim,
high, and far-stretching. But as we travelled farther into the Wolfmark
the city seemed to sink deeper into the plain and the dark castle of Duke
Casimir to shoot ever higher into the skies. So that presently, as we
looked back, we could only see the Wolfsberg itself, the abode of cruelty
and wrong, standing black against the white sky of noon.
Its flanking towers stood up above the battlemented wall, their turrets
climbing higher and higher towards heaven, till the topmost Red
Tower--that in which my father's garrot was, and in which I had spent my
entire life until this day--soared straight upward above them all, like a
threatening index-finger pointing, not into the clear sky of a summer's
noon, but into clouds and thick darkness.
I was glad when at last we lost sight of it. Then, indeed, I felt that I
had left my old life behind me. And, in spite of the Lady Ysolinde's
ink-pool prophecy and my love for my father (such as it was), I did not
mean ever to trust myself within that baleful circle of gray and weary
plain upon which the Red Tower looked down.
Seeing that the maids were inclined to talk the one with the other, or
rather that the Lady Ysolinde spoke confidentially with Helene, and that
Helene now answered her without embarrassment and with frank, equal
glances, I dropped gradually behind and rode with the two stout
men-at-arms. These I found to be honest lads enough, but of a strangely
reserved and taciturn nature, each ever waiting for the other to
answer--being, like most Wendish men, much averse to questioning and
still more stiff as to replying.
"You are men of Plassenburg?" I said to the nearest, simply and
innocently enough, for the purpose of improving the cordiality of our
Whereupon he turned his head slowly about to his neighbor, as it were to
consult him. The glance said as clearly as monk's script: "What shall we
answer to this troublesome, inquisitive fellow?"
At first I thought that perhaps they spoke not the common dialect, and
that as we were travelling towards regions roughly Wendish and but lately
heathen, they might have some uncouth speech of their own. So, as is ever
the custom with folk that are not accustomed to the speaking of foreign
tongues, I repeated the question in mine own language in a louder tone,
supposing that that would do as well.
"You are men of the country of Plassenburg?" cried I, as loud as I
"We are not deaf--we have all our faculties, praise the saints!" said the
more distant of the two, looking not at me but at his companion. He, on
his part, nodded back at his comrade's reply, as if it had been
delicately calculated at once to answer my question and at the same time
not to commit them to any dangerous opinions.
I tried again.
"Your prince, I hear, is a true man, brave, and well-versed in war?"
The shorter and stouter man, who rode beside me, glanced once at my face,
and slowly screwed round his head to his companion in a long, questioning
gaze. Then as slowly he turned his head back again.
"Umph!" he said, judicially, with a movement of his head, which seemed a
successful compromise between a nod and a shake, just as his remark
might very well have resulted from an attempt to say "Yes" and "No" at
the same time.
This was not encouraging to one who, like myself, was in high spirits and
much inclined for conversation. But I was not to be so easily beaten off.
"The Prince of Plassenburg has a Princess," I said, "who is often upon
It was an innocent remark, and, so far as I could see, not one in itself
highly humorous. But it broke up the gravity of these red-haired northern
bears as if it had been the latest gay sally of the court-fool.
"Ha! ha!" laughed the more distant, lanky man, rocking himself in his
saddle till the pennon on his lance shook and the point dipped towards
his horse's ear.
"Ho! ho!" chorused his companion, slapping his thigh jovially. "Jorian,
did you hear that? 'The Prince of Plassenburg hath a Princess, and she is
often upon her travels.' Ha! ha! ha! Ho! ho! ho!"
"He hath said it! Ho! ho! He hath said it! He is a wise fellow, after
all, this beardless Jack-pudding of Thorn!" cried the other, tee-heeing
with laughter till he nearly wept upon his own saddle-bow.
I began to get very angry. For we men of Thorn were not accustomed to be
so flouted by any strangers, keeping mostly our own customs, and reining
in the few strangers who ventured to visit Duke Casimir's dominions
pretty tightly. Least of all could I brook insolence from these Wendish
boors from the outskirts of half-pagan Borrussia.
"The Prince of Plassenburg hath churls among his retinue," said I, hotly,
"if they be all like you two Jacks, that cannot answer a simple question
without singing out like donkeys upon a common where there are no
thistles to keep them quiet."
Sir Thicksides, the fat jolter-head nearest me set his thumb out to
stick it into the side armor of Longlegs, his companion, who rode cheek
by jowl with him.
"Oo-oo-ahoo!" cried he, crowing with mirth, as if I had said a yet more
facetious thing. "'Tis a simple question--'Hath the Prince of Plassenburg
a Princess, and is she not oft--ahoo!' Boris, prod me with thy
lance-shaft hard, to keep me from doing myself an ill turn with this
"Hold up, Jorian !" answered the long man, promptly pounding him on the
back with the butt of his spear. "Hold up, fat Jorian! Let not thy love
of mirth do thee any injury. For thou art a good comrade, and fools were
ever apt to divert thee too much. I have seen thee at this before--that
time we went to Wilna, and the fellow in motley gave thee griping spasms
with his tomfoolery."
Then was I mainly angry, as indeed I had sufficient occasion.
"You are but churls," I said, "and the next thing to knaves. And I will
e'en inform the Prince when we arrive what like are the men whom he sets
to escort ladies to his castle."
But though they were silenter after this, it was not from any alarm at my
words, but simply because they had laughed themselves out of ply. For as
I rode on in high dudgeon, half-way between the women and the
men-at-arms, I could see them with the corner of an eye still nudging
each other with their thumbs and throwing back their heads, and the
breeze blew me scraps of their limited conversation.
"Ho! ho! Good, was it not? 'The Prince hath a Princess, and she--' Ho!
The ridges of clay of which I have already spoken continued and increased
in size as we went on. It was a dried-up, speckled, unwholesome-looking
land. And people upon it there were none that we could see. The large
fortified farms had ceased altogether. A certain frightful monotony
reigned everywhere. Ravines, like cracks which the sun makes in mud, but
a thousand times greater, began to split the hills perpendicularly to
their very roots. The path wound perilously this way and that among them.
And presently Jorian and Boris rode past me to take the lead, for
Ysolinde and Helene were inclined to mistake the way as often as they
came to the crossing and interweaving of the intricate paths.
And as these two jolly jackasses rode past at my right side I could see
the thumb of long Boris curving towards the ribs of his companion, and
the shoulders of both shaking as they chuckled.
"A rare simpleton's question, i' faith, yes. Ho! ho! Good!" they
chorussed. "'The Prince hath a Princess'--the cock hath a hen, and she--
Ha! ha! Good!"
At that moment I could with pleasure have slain Jorian and Boris for
open-mouthed, unshaven, slab-sided Wendish pigs, as indeed they were.
Yet, had I done so, we had fared but ill without them. For had they been
a thousand times jackasses and rotten pudding-heads (as they were), at
least they knew the way and something of the unchristian people among
whom we were going.
And so in a little while, as we wound our way along the face of these
perilons rifts in the baked clay, with the mottled, inefficient river
feeling its way gingerly at the bottom of the buff--colored ravine, what
was my astonishment to see Jorian and Boris turn sharply at right angles
and ride single file up one of the dry lateral cracks which opened, as it
were, directly into the hill-side!
They did this without ever looking at the landmarks, like men who are
anyways uncertain of their road. But, on the contrary, they wheeled
confidently and rode jauntily on, and we three meekly followed, having
by this time lost the Lubber Fiend, the devil doubtless knew where.
For we must have followed Boris and Jorian unquestioningly had they
led us into the bowels of the earth, as indeed, at first sight, they
seemed to be doing.
THE EARTH-DWELLERS OF NO MAN'S LAND
Then presently we came to a strange place, the like of which I have never
seen, save here on the borders of the Mark and the northern Wendish
lands. An amalgam of lime, or binding stuff of some sort, had glued the
clay of the ravines together, and set it stiff and fast like dried
plaster. So, as we went up the narrow, perilous path, our horses had to
tread very warily lest, going too near the edge, they should chip off
enough of the foothold to send themselves and their riders whirling
neck-over-toes to the bottom.
All at once the Little Playmate, who was riding immediately before me,
screamed out sharp and shrill, and I hastened up to her, thinking she had
fallen upon a misfortune. I found her palfrey with ears pricked and
distended nostril, gazing at a head in a red nightcap which was set out
of a hole in the red clay.
"The country of gnomes! Of a surety, yes! And hitherto I had thought it
had been but the nonsense of folk-tales!" said I to myself.
Which is what we shall say one day of more things than
But the Little Playmate uttered scream after scream, for the head
continued coolly to stare at her, as if fixed alive over the gateway by
the craft of some cave-dwelling imp of the Red Axe.
I noticed, however, that the head chewed a straw and spat, which I
deemed a gnome would not do--though wherefore straws and spitting are
not free to gnomes I do not know and could not have told. Yet, at all
events, such was my belief. And a serviceable one enough it was, since
it took the fear out of me and gave me back my speech. And when a man
can speak he can fight. Contrariwise, it is when a woman will not fight
that she can talk best, as one may see in any congress of two angry
vixens. So long as they rail there is but threatening and safe
recriminations, but when one waxes silent, then 'ware nails and teeth!
And I am _not_ in my dotage to use such illustrations--as not
unnaturally sayeth the first to read my history.
"Good man," cried I, to Sir Red Cap in the wall, "I know not why you
stick your ugly head out of the mud, but retract it, I pray you! For do
you not see that it alarms the lady and affrights her beast?"
The man nodded intelligently, but went on coolly chewing his straw.
Then I went up to him, and, as civilly as I could, took him by the chin
and thrust his head back into the hole. And as I did so I saw for the
first time that the wall of the clay cliff, tough and gritty with its
alloy of lime, had been cut and hewn into houses and huts having doors of
wood of exactly the same color, and in some cases even windows with
bars--very marvellous to see, and such as I have never witnessed
elsewhere. Presently, at the trampling of the feet of so many horses,
people began to throng to their doors, and children peered out at windows
and cried to each other shrilly: "See the Christians!"
For so, being but lately pagans themselves, if not partly so to this
day, these outlandish men of the border No Man's Land denominated us of
Presently we came to an open space sloping away from the sheer cliff,
where was a wall and a door greater than the others.
Jorian rode directly up to the gate, which was of the same dull
brick-red as the rest of the curious town. He took the butt of his lance
and thumped and banged lustily upon it. For a time there was no reply,
but the number of heads thrust out at neighboring windows and the swarms
of townsfolk on the pathways before and behind us enormously increased.
Jorian thundered again, kicking with his foot and swearing explosively in
mingled Wendish and German. Then he took the point of his spear, and,
setting it to a hole in the wall above his head, he hooked out an entire
wooden window-frame, as one is taught to pull out a shrimp with a pin on
the shore of the Baltic Sea.
Whereupon a sudden outcry arose within the house, and a head popped
angrily out of the aperture so suddenly created. But as instantly it
returned within. For Jorian tossed the lattice to the ground by the door
and thrust his spear-head into the cravat of red which the man had about
his throat, shouting to him all the while in the name of the Prince, of
the Duke, of the Emperor, of the Archbishop, of all potentates, lay and
secular, to come down and open the gates. The man in the red cravat was
threatened with the strappado, with the water-torture, with the
brodequins, and finally with the devil's cannon--which, according to our
man-at-arms, was to be planted on the opposite bank of the ravine, and
which would infallibly bring the whole of their wretched town tumbling
down into the gulf like swallows' nests from under the eaves.
And this last threat seemed to have more weight than all the rest,
probably because the Prince of Plassenburg had already done something of
the kind to some other similar town, and the earth-burrowers of Erdborg
had good reason to fear the thunder of his artillery.
At all events, the great door opened, and a man of the same brick-red as
all the other inhabitants of the town appeared at the portal. He bowed
profoundly, and Jorian addressed him in some outlandishly compounded
speech, of which I could only understand certain oft-recurring words, as
"lodging," "victualling," and "order of the Prince."
So, presently, after a long, and on the side of our escort a stormy,
conference, we were permitted to enter. Our horses were secured at the
great mangers, which extended all along one side; while, opposite to the
horses, but similar to their accommodation in every respect, were stalls
wherein various families seemed to be encamped for the night.
With all the air of a special favor conferred, we were informed that we
must take up our quarters in the middle of the room and make the best of
the hardened floor there. This information, conveyed with a polite wave
of the hand and a shrug of the shoulders by our landlord, seemed not
unnaturally to put Jorian and Boris into a furious passion, for they drew
their swords, and with a unanimous sweep of the hand cleared the capes of
their leathern jacks for fighting. So, not to be outdone, I drew my
weapon also, and stood by to protect Helene and the Lady Ysolinde.
These two stood close together behind us, but continued to talk
indifferently, chiefly of dress and jewels--which surprised me, both in
the strange circumstances, and because I knew that Helene had seen no
more of them than the valueless trinkets that had belonged to my mother,
and which abode in a green-lined box in the Red Tower. Yet to speak of
such things seems to come naturally to all women.
As if they had mutually arranged it "from all eternity," as the clerks
say, Jorian and Boris took, without hesitation, each a door on the
opposite wall, and, setting their shoulders to them, they pushed them
open, and went within sword in hand, leaving me alone to protect the
ladies and to provide for the safety of the horses.
Presently out from the doors by which our conductors had entered there
came tumbling a crowd of men and women, some carrying straw bolsters and
wisps of hay, others bearing cooking utensils, and all in various
_dishabille._ Then ensued a great buzzing and stirring, much angry
growling on the part of the disturbed men, and shrill calling of women
for their errant children.
Our little Helene looked sufficiently pitiful and disturbed as these
preparations were being made. But the Lady Ysolinde scarcely noticed
them, taking apparently all the riot and delay as so much testimony to
the important quality of such great ones of the earth as could afford to
travel under the escort of two valiant men-at-arms.
Presently came Jorian and Boris out at a third door, having met somewhere
in the back parts of the warren.
They came up to the Lady Ysolinde and bowed humbly.
"Will your ladyship deign to choose her chamber? They are all empty.
Thereafter we shall see that proper furniture, such as the place affords,
is provided for your Highness."
I could not but wonder at so much dignity expended upon the daughter of
Master Gerard, the lawyer of Thorn. But Ysolinde took their reverence as
a matter of course. She did not even speak, but only lifted her right
hand with a little casual flirt of the fingers, which said, "Lead on!"
Then Jorian marshalled us within, Boris standing at the door to let us
pass, and bringing his sword-blade with a little click of salute to the
perpendicular as each of us passed. But I chanced to meet his eye as I
went within, whereat the rogue deliberately winked, and I could plainly
see his shoulders heave. I knew that he was still chewing the cud of his
stale and ancient jest: "The Prince hath a Princess, and she--"
I could have disembowelled the villain. But, after all, he was
certainly doing us some service, though in a most provocative and
I STAND SENTRY
There are (say some) but two things worth the trouble of making in the
world--war and love. So once upon a time I believed. But since--being
laid up during the unkindly monotony of our Baltic spring by an ancient
wound--I fell to the writing of this history, I would add to these two
worthy adventures--the making of books. Which, till I tried my hand at
the task myself, I would in no wise have allowed. But now, when the days
are easterly of wind and the lashing water beats on the leaded lozenges
of our window lattice, I am fain to stretch myself, take up a new pen,
and be at it again all day.
But I must e'en think of them that are to read me, and of their pain if I
overstretch my privilege. Besides, if I prove over-long in the wind they
may not read me at all, which, I own it, would somewhat mar my purpose.
I was speaking, therefore, of being in the watch and ward of two women,
each of whom (in my self-conceit I thus imagined it) certainly regarded
me without dislike. God forgive me for thinking so much when they had
never plainly told me! Nevertheless I took the thing for granted, as it
were. And, as I said before, it has been my experience that, if it be
done with a careful and delicate hand, more is gained with women by
taking things for granted than by the smoothest tongue and longest
Jacob-and-Rachael service. The man who succeeds with good women is the
man who takes things for granted. Only he must know exactly what things,
otherwise I am mortally sorry for him--he will have a rough road to
travel. But to my tale.
Jorian ushered Ysolinde and Helene into the rooms from which he had so
unceremoniously ousted the former tenants. How these chambers were
lighted in the daytime I could not at first make out, but by going to the
end of the long earth-hewn passage and leaning out of a window the
mystery was made plain. The ravine took an abrupt turn at this point, so
that we were in a house built round an angle, and so had the benefit of
light from both sides.
"And where are our rooms to be?" I asked of the stout soldier when
Jorian pointed to the plain, hard earth of the passage.
"That is poor lodging for tired bones!" I said; "have they no other rooms
to let anywhere in this hostelry?"
He laughed again; indeed, he seemed to be able to do little else whenever
he spoke to me.
"Tired bones will lie the stiller!" said he, at last, sententiously.
"There is some wheaten straw out there which you can bring in for a
bolster, if you will. But I think it likely that we shall get no more
sleep than the mouse in the cat's dining-room this night. These border
rascals are apt to be restless in the dark hours, and their knives prick
most consumedly sharp!"
With that he went out, leaving the doors into the passages all open, and
presently I could hear him raging and rummaging athwart the house,
ordering this one to find him "Graubunden fleisch," the next to get him
some good bread, and not to attempt to palm off "cow-cake" upon honest
soldiers on pain of getting his stomach cut open--together with other
amenities which occur easily to a seasoned man-at-arms foraging in an
Then, having returned successful from this quest, what was my admiration
to see Jorian (whom I had so lately called, and I began to be sorry for
it, a Wendish pig) strip his fine soldier's coat and hang it upon a peg
by the door, roll up his sleeves, and set to at the cooking in the great
open fireplace with swinging black crooks against the front wall, while
Boris stood on guard with a long pistolet ready in the hollow of his arm,
and his slow-match alight, by the doorway of the ladies' apartment.
I went and stood by the long man for company. And after a little he
became much more friendly.
"Why do you stand with your match alight?" I asked of him after we had
been a while silent.
"Why, to keep a border knife out of Jorian's back, of course, while he is
turning the fry in the pan," said he, as simply as if he had said that
'twas a fine night without, or that the moon was full.
"I wish I could help," I sighed, a little wistfully, for I wished him to
think well of me.
"What!" he exclaimed--"with the frying-pan? Well, there is the basting
ladle!" he retorted, and laughed in his old manner.
I own that, being yet little more than a lad, the tears stood in my eyes
to be so flouted and made nothing of.
"I will show you perhaps sooner than you think that I am neither a coward
nor a babe!" I said, in high dudgeon.
And so went and stood by myself over against the farther door of the
three, which led from the outer hall to the apartments in which I could
hear the murmur of women's voices. And it was lucky that I did so. For
even as I reached the door a sharp cry of terror came from within, and
there at the inner portal I caught sight of a narrow, foxy, peering
visage, and a lean, writhing figure, prone like a worm on its belly. The
rascal had been crawling towards Helene's room, for what purpose I know
not. Nor did I stop to inquire, for, being stung by the taunt of the
man-at-arms, I was on Foxface in a moment, stamping upon him with my
iron-shod feet, and then lifting him unceremoniously up by the slackness
of his back covertures, I turned him over and over like a wheel, tumbling
him out of the doorway into the outer hall with an astonishing clatter,
shedding knives and daggers as he went.
It was certainly a pity for the fellow that Boris had taunted me so
lately. But the abusing of him gave me great comfort. And as he whirled
past the group at the fire, Jorian caught him handily in the round of his
back with a convenient spit, also without asking any questions, whereat
the fellow went out at the wide front door by which we had first entered,
revolving in a cloud of dust. And where he went after that I have no
idea. To the devil, for all I care!
But Boris, standing quietly by his own door, was evidently somewhat
impressed by my good luck. For soon after this he came over to me. I
thought he might be about to apologize for his rudeness. And so perhaps
he did, but it was in his own way.
"Did you spoil your dagger on him?" he said, anxiously, for the first
time speaking to me as a man speaks to his equal.
"No," said I, "but I stubbed my toe most confoundedly, jarring it upon
the rascal's backbone as he went through the door."
"Ah!" he replied, thoughtfully, nodding his head, "that was more fitting
for such as he. But you may get a chance at him with the dagger yet or
the night be over."
And with that he went back to his door, blowing up his slow-match
as he went.
Presently the supper was pronounced cooked, and, after washing his hands,
Jorian resumed his coat, amid the universal attention of the motley crew
in the great hall, and began to dish up the fragrant stew. Ho had been
collecting for it all day upon the march, now knocking over a rabbit with
a bolt from his gun, now picking some leaves of lettuce and watercress
when he chanced upon a running stream or a neglected garden--of which
last (thanks to Duke Casimir and his raiders) there were numbers along
the route we had traversed.
Then, when he had made all ready, our sturdy cook dished the stew into a
great wooden platter--rabbits, partridges, scraps of dried flesh, bits of
bacon for flavoring, fresh eggs, vegetables in handfuls, all covered with
a dainty-smelling sauce, deftly compounded of milk, gravy, and red wine.
Then Jorian and Boris, one taking the heap of wooden platters and the
other the smoking bowl of stew, marched solemnly within. But before he
went, Boris handed me his pistolet without a word, and the slow-match
with it. Which, as I admit, made me feel monstrously unsafe. However, I
took the engine across my arm and stood at attention as I had seen him
do, with the match thrust through my waistband.
Then I felt as if I had suddenly grown at least a foot taller, and my joy
was changed to ecstasy when the Lady Ysolinde, coming out quickly, I knew
not at first for what purpose, found me thus standing sentinel and
blowing importantly upon my slow-match.
"Hugo," she said, kindly, looking at me with the aqua-marine eyes that
had the opal glints in them, "come thy ways in and sit with us."
I made her a salute with my piece and thanked her for her good thought.
"But," said I, "Lady Ysolinde, pray remember that this is a place of
danger, and that it is more fitting that we who have the honor to be your
guards should dine together without your chamber doors."
"Nay," she said, impetuously, "I insist. It is not right that you, who
are to be an officer, should mess with the common soldiers."
"My lady," said I, "I thank you deeply. And it shall be so, I promise
you, when we are in safety. But let me have my way here and now."
She smiled upon me--liking me, as I think, none the worse for my
stiffness. And so went away, and I was right glad to see her go. For I
would not have lost what I had gained in the good opinion of these two
men-at-arms--no, not for twenty maidens' favors.
But in that respect also I changed as the years went on. For of all
things a boy loves not to be flouted and babyfied when he thinks himself
already grown up and the equal of his elders in love and war.
So in a little while came out Jorian and Boris, and, having carried in
the bread and wine, we three sat down to the remains of the stew.
Indeed, I saw but little difference as to quantity from the time that
Jorian had taken it in. For maids' appetites when they are anyways in
love are precarious, but, after they are assured of their love's return,
then the back hunger comes upon them and the larder is made to pay for
Not that I mean to assert that either of these ladies was in love
with me--far otherwise indeed. For this it would argue the conceit
of a jack-a-dandy to imagine, much more to write such a thing.
But, nevertheless, certain is it that this night they were both of
HELENE HATES ME
However, when the provision came to the outer port, we three sat down
about it, and then, by my troth, there was little to marvel at in the
tardiness of our eating. For the rabbits seemed to come alive and
positively leaped down our throats, the partridges almost flew at us out
of the pot, the pigeons fairly rejoiced to be eaten. The broth and the
gravy ebbed lower and lower in the pan and left all dry. But as soon as
we had picked the bones roughly, for there was no time for fine work lest
the others should get all the best, we threw the bones out to the hungry
crew that watched us sitting round the stalls, their very jowls pendulous
So after a while we came to the end, and then I went to the entrance of
the chamber where were bestowed the Little Playmate and the Lady
Ysolinde. For I began to be anxious how Helene would be able to comport
herself in the company of one so dainty and full of devices and
convenances as the lady of the Weiss Thor.
But, by my faith, I need not have troubled about our little lass. For if
there were any embarrassed, that one was certainly not Helene. And if any
of us lacked reposefulness of manners, that one was certainly a staring
jackanapes, who did not know which foot to stand upon, nor yet how to sit
down on the oaken settle when a seat was offered him, nor, last of all,
when nor how to take his departure when he had once sat down. And as to
the identity of that jackass, there needs no further particularity.
Nevertheless, I talked pleasantly enough with both of them, and I might
have been an acquaintance of the day for all the notice that the Little
Playmate took of me, oven when the Lady Ysolinde told her, evidently not
for the first time, of my standing sentry by the door and blowing upon
the match at my girdle.
From without we heard presently the clapping of hands and loud deray of
merrymaking, so I went to find out what it might be that was causing such
There I found Jorian and Boris giving a kind of exhibition of their skill
in military exercises. It might be, also, that they desired to teach a
lesson for the benefit of the wild robber border folk and the yet more
ruffianly kempers who foregathered in this strange inn of Erdberg on the
borders of the Mark.
I summoned the maids that they might look on. For I wot the scene was a
curious and pleasing one, and I could see that the eyes of the Lady
Ysolinde glittered. But our little maid, being used to all these things
from her youth, cared nothing for it, though the thing was indeed
marvellous in itself.
When I went out our two men-at-arms had each of them in hand his straight
Wendish Tolleknife, made heavy at the end of the Swedish blade, but light
as to the handle, and hafted with cork from Spain.
Ten yards apart, shoulder to shoulder they stood, and, first of all, each
of them poising the knife in the hollow of his hand with a peculiar
dancing movement, set it writhing across the room at a marked circle on a
board. The two knives sped simultaneously with a vicious whir, and stood
quivering, with their blades touching each other, in the centre of the
white. At the next trial, so exactly had they been aimed that the point
of the one hit upon the haft of the other and stripped the cork almost
to the blade. But Jorian, to whom the knife belonged, mended it with a
piece of string, telling the company philosophically that it was no bad
thing to have a string hanging loose to a Tolleknife, for when it went
into any one the string would always hang down from the wound in order to
pull it out by.
Then they got their knives again and played a more dangerous game. Jorian
stood on guard with his knife, waving the blade slowly before him in the
shape of a long-bodied letter S. Boris poised his weapon in the hollow of
his hand, and sent it whirring straight at Jorian's heart. As it came
buzzing like an angry bee, almost too quick for the eye to follow, Jorian
flicked it deftly up into the air at exactly the right moment, and,
without even taking his eye off it, he caught the knife by the handle as
it fell. Thereafter he bowed and gave it back to the thrower
ceremoniously. Then Boris guarded, and Jorian in his turn threw, with a
like result, though, perhaps, a little less featly done on Boris's part.
All the while there was a clamant and manifold astonishment in the
kitchen of the inn, together with prodigal and much-whispering wonder.
Then ensued other plays. Boris stood with his elbow crooked and his left
hand on his hip, with his back also turned to Jorian. _Buzz!_ went the
knife! It flashed like level lightning under the arch of Jorian's armpit,
and lo! it was caught in his right hand, which dropped upon it like a
hawk upon a rabbit, as it sped through his elbow port.
Then came shooting with the cross-bow, and I regretted much that I had
only learned the six-foot yew, and that there was not one in the company,
nor indeed room to display it if there had been. For I longed to do
something to show that I also was no milksop.
Now it chanced that there was in one corner a yearling calf that had
been killed that day, and hung up with a bar between its thighs. I saw an
axe leaning in the corner--an axe with a broad, cutting edge--and I
bethought me that perhaps, after all, I knew something which even Jorian
and Boris were ignorant of. So, mindful of my father's teaching, I took
the axe, and, before any one was aware of my intent, I swept the
long-handled axe round my head, and, getting the poise and distance for
the slow drawing cut which does not stop for bone nor muscle, I divided
the neck through at one blow so that the head dropped on the ground.
Then there was much applause and wonder. Men ran to lift the calf's head,
and the owner of the axe came up to examine the edge of his weapon. I
looked about. The eyes of the Lady Ysolinde were aflame with pleasure,
but, on the other hand, the Little Playmate was crimson with shame. Tears
stood in her beautiful eyes.
She marched straight up to meet me, and, clinching her hands, she said;
"Oh, I hate you !"
And so went within to her chamber, and I saw her no more that night. Now
I take all to witness what strange things are the mind and temper of even
the best of women. And why Helene thus spoke to me I know not--nay, even
to this day I can hazard no right guess. But as I have often said, God
never made anything straight that He made beautiful, except only the line
where the sea meets the sky.
And of all the pretty, crooked, tangled things that He has made, women
are the prettiest, the crookedest--and the most distractingly tangled.
Which is perhaps why they are so everlastingly interesting, and why we
blundering, ram-stam, homely favored men love them so.
But the best entertainment must at long and last come to an end. And the
one in the inn of Erdberg lasted not so long as the telling of it--for
the matter, being more comfortable than that which came after, I have,
perhaps, not hurried so much as I might.
When at last both supper and entertainment were finished, and the
earthenware platters huddled away into the hall without, there arose a
mighty clamor, so that Jorian went to the door and cried out to the
landlord to know what was the matter. The old brick-dusty knave came
hulking forward, and, with greatly increased respect, he addressed the
"What is your will, noble sirs?"
"I asked," said Jorian, "what was the reason of this so ill-favored
noise. If your guests cannot be quiet, I will come among them with
something that will settle the quarrels of certain of them in
So with sulky recurrent murmurs the fray finally settled itself, and for
that time at least there was no more trouble. I went to the door of the
Lady Ysolinde and the Little Playmate and cried in to them a courteous
good-night. For I had been sorry to have Helene's "I hate you!" for her
last word. And the Lady Ysolinde came to the door in a light robe of silk
and gave me her hand to kiss. But though I said: "A sweet sleep and a
pleasant, Helene!" no voice replied. Which I took very ill, seeing that I
had done naught amiss that I knew of.
Then Jorian, Boris, and I made us comfortable for the night, and, being
instructed by Boris, I set my straw, with the foot of my bundle to the
door, which opened inward upon us. Then, putting my sword by my side and
my other weapons convenient to my hand, I laid me down and braced my feet
firmly against the door, thus locking it safely.
Jorian and Boris did the same at the other entrances, and before the
former went to sleep he arranged a tall candle that had been placed
unlighted before a little shrine of the Virgin (for, in name at least,
the folk were not wholly pagan) and lighted it, so that it shed a faint
illumination down the long passage in which we were bestowed, and on the
inner door of the ladies' apartment.
And though I was far from being in love, yet the thought of the wandering
damsels, both so fair and so far from home, moved me deeply. And I was in
act to waft a kiss towards the door when Jorian caught me.
"What now?" he said; "art at thy prayers, lad ?"
"Aye, that am I," said I, "towards the shrine of the Saints' Rest."
Now this was irreverent, and mayhap afterwards we were all soundly
punished for it. But at least it was on the level of their soldiers'
wit--though I own, at the most, no great matter to cackle of.
"Ho! ho! Good!" chuckled Boris, under his breath. "One of them is
doubtless a saint. But as to the other--well, let us ask the Prince. 'He
hath a Princess, and she is oft upon her travels?' Ho! ho! ho!"
And the lout shook among his straw to such an extent that I bade him for
God's dear sake to bide still, otherwise we might as lief lie in a barn
among questing rattons.
"And the saints of your Saints' Rest defend us from lying among any
worse!" said he, and betook him to sleep.
HUGO OF THE BROADAXE
But as for me, sleep I could not. And indeed that is small wonder. For it
was the first night I had ever slept out of the Red Tower in my life. I
seemed to lack some necessary accompaniment to the act of going to sleep.
It was a long while before I could find out what it could be that was
disturbing me. At last I discovered that it was the howling of the
kennelled blood-hounds which I missed. For at night they even raged, and
leaped on the barriers with their forefeet, hearing mayhap the moving to
and fro of men come sleeplessly up from the streets of the city beneath.
But here, within a long day's march of Thorn, I had come at once into a
new world. Slowly the night dragged on. The candle guttered. A draught of
air blew fitfully through the corridor in which we lay. It carried the
flame of the candle in the opposite direction. I wondered whence it could
come, for the air had been still and thick before. Yet I was glad of the
stir, for it cooled my temples, and I think that but for one thing I
might have slept. And had I fallen on sleep then no one of us might have
waked so easily. What I heard was no more than this--once or twice the
flame of the candle gave a smart little "spit," as if a moth or a fat
blue-bottle had forwandered into it and fallen spinning to the ground
with burned wings. Yet there were no moths in the chambers, or we should
have seen them circling about the lights at the time of supper.
Nevertheless, ere long I heard again the quick, light "_plap_!" And
presently I saw a pellet fall to the ground, rolling away from the wall
almost to the edge of the straw on which I lay.
I reached out a hand for it, and in a trice had it in my fingers. It was
soft, like mason's putty. "Plop!" came another. I was sure now. Some one
was shooting at the flame of the candle with intent to leave us in the
dark. Jorian and Boris snored loudly, sleeping like true men-at-arms. I
need say no more.
I lay with my head in the shadow, but by moving little by little, with
sleepy grunts of dissatisfaction, I brought my face far enough round to
see through the straw the window at the far end of the passage, which, as
I had discovered upon our first coming, opened out upon a ravine running
at right angles to the street by which we had come.
Presently I could see the lattice move noiselessly, and a white face
appeared with a boy's blow-gun of pierced bore-tree at its lips.
"Alas!" said I to myself, "that I had had these soldiers' skill of the
knife throwing. I would have marked that gentleman." But I had not even a
bow--only my sword and dagger. I resolved to begin to learn the practice
of pistol and cross-bow on the morrow.
"_Plap! Scat!_" The aim was good this time. We were in darkness. I
listened the barest fragment of a moment. Some one was stealthily
entering at the window end.
"Rise, Jorian and Boris!" I cried. "An enemy!"
And leaping up I ran to relight the candle. By good luck the wick was a
sound, honest, thick one, a good housewife's wick--not such as are made
to sell and put in ordinary candles of offertory.
The wick was still red, and smoked as I put my hands behind it and blew.
"_Twang! Twang! Zist! Zist!_" went the arrows and bolts thickly about me,
bringing down the clay dust in handfuls thickly from the walls.
"Down on your stomachs--they are shooting crosswise along the passage !"
cried Jorian, who had instantly awakened. I longed to follow the advice,
for I felt something sharp catch the back of my undersuit of soft
leather, in which, for comfort, I had laid me down to sleep. But I _must_
get the candle alight. Hurrah! the flame flickered and caught at last.
"_Twang! Twang!"_ went the bows, harder at it than ever. Something
hurtled hotly through my hair--the iron bolt of an arbalest, as I knew by
the song of the steel bow in a man's hand at the end of the passage.
"Get into a doorway, man!" cried Boris, as the light revealed me.
And like a startled rabbit I ran for the nearest--that within which
Helene and the Lady Ysolinde were lying asleep. The candle, as I have
said, was set deep in a niche, which proved a great mercy for us. For our
foes, who had thought to come on us by fraud, could not now shoot it out.
Also, in relighting it, in my eagerness to save myself from the hissing
arrows behind me, I had pushed it to the very back of the shrine. I had
no weapon now but my dagger, for, in rising to relight the candle, I had
carelessly and blamefully left my sword in the straw. And I felt very
useless and foolish as I stood there to bide the assault with only a bit
of guardless knife in my hand.
Suddenly, however, there came a diversion.
"Crash !" went a gun in my very ear. Flame, smoke--much of both--and the
stifling smell of sulphur. Jorian had fired at the face of the pop-gun
knave. That putty-white countenance had a crimson plash on it ere it
vanished. Then came back to us a scream of dreadful agony and the sound
of a heavy fall outside.
"End of act the first! The Wicked Angels--hum, hum--go to hell! All in
the day's work!" cried Jorian, cheerily, recharging his pistolet and
driving home the wadding as he spoke.
It may well be imagined that during our encounter with the assailants of
the candle, whose transverse fire had so nearly finished me, the company
out in the great kitchen had not been content to lie snoring on their
backs. We could hear them creeping and whispering out there beyond the
doors; but till after the shot from the soldier's pistolet they had not
dared to show us any overt act of hostility.
Suddenly Jorian, once more facing the door, now that the passage was
clear, perceived by the rustling of the straw that it began to open
gradually. He waited till in another moment it would have been wide
enough to let in a man.
"Back there, dog, or I fire!" he bellowed. And the door was
promptly shut to.
After that there came another period of waiting very difficult to get
over. I wished with all my heart for a cross-bow or any shooting weapon.
Much did I reproach myself that I had not learned the art before, as I
might easily have done from the men-at-arms about the Wolfsberg, who, for
my father's sake (or Helene's), would gladly have taught me.
The women folk in the room behind my back were now up and dressed.
Indeed, the Lady Ysolinde would have come out and watched with us, but I
besought her to abide where she was. Presently, however, Helene put her
head without, and seeing me stand by the door with my sword, she asked if
I wanted anything. She appeared to have forgotten her unkind good-night,
and I was not the man to remind her of it.
"Only another weapon, Sweetheart, besides this prick-point small-sword!"
said I, looking at the thing in my hand I doubt not a trifle scornfully.
Helene shut to the door, and for a space I heard no more. Presently,
however, she opened it again, and thrust an axe with a long handle
through to me. It was the very fellow of the weapon I had used on the
pendent calf in the kitchen. I understood at once that it was her apology
and her justification as well. For the Little Playmate was ever a
straight lass. She ever did so much more than she promised, and ever said
less than her heart meant. Which perhaps is less common than the other
way about--especially among women.
"I found it on my incoming and hid it under the bed!" she said.
Then judge ye if I sheathed not my small-sword right swiftly, and made
the broadaxe blade, to the skill of which I had been born, whistle
through the air. For a mightily strange thing it is that, though I had
ever a rooted horror at the thought of my father's office itself, and
from my childhood never for a moment intended to exercise it,
nevertheless I had always the most notable facility in cutting things.
Never to this day have I a stick in hand, when I walk abroad among the
ragweed waving yellow on the grassy pastures below the Wolfsberg, but I
must need make wagers with myself to cut to an inch at the heads of the
tallest and never miss. And this I can do the day by the length, and
never grow weary. Then again, for pleasaunce, my father used to put me
to the cutting of light wood with an axe, not always laying it upon a
block or hag-clog, but sometimes setting the billet upright and making
me cut the top off with a horizontal swing of the axe. And in this I
became exceedingly expert. And how difficult it is no one knows till he
So it is small wonder that as soon as I gripped the noble broadaxe which
Helene passed me I felt my own man again.
Then we were silent and listened--and ever again listened and held our
breaths. Now I tell you when an enemy is whispering unseen without,
rustling like rats in straw, and you wonder at what point they will break
in next, thinking all the while of the woman you love (or do not yet
love, but may) in the chamber behind--I tell you a castle is something
less difficult to hold at such a time than just one's own breath.
Suddenly I heard a sound in the outer chamber which I knew the meaning
of. It was the shifting of horses' feet as they turn in narrow space to
leave their stalls. Our good friends were making free with our steeds.
And, if we were not quick about it, we should soon see the last of them,
and be compelled to traverse the rest of the road to Plassenburg upon our
own proper feet.
"Jorian," cried I, "do you hear? They are slipping our horses out of the
stalls! Shall you and I make a sortie against them, while Boris with that
pistol of his keeps the passage from the wicks of the middle door?"
"Good!" answered Jorian. "Give the word when you are ready."
With axe in my right hand, the handle of the door in my left, I gave
"When I say 'Three!' Jorian!"
"Good!" said Jorian.
Clatter went the horses' hoofs as they were being led towards the door.
"One! Two! Three!" I counted, softly but clearly.
The door was open, and the next I mind was my axe whirling about my head
and Jorian rushing out of the other door a step ahead of me, with his
broadsword in his hand. I cannot tell much about the fight. I never could
all my days. And I wot well that those who can relate such long
particulars of tales of fighting are the folk who stood at a distance and
labored manfully at the looking on--not of them that were close in and
felt the hot breaths and saw the death-gleam in fierce, desperate eyes,
near to their own as the eyes of lovers when they embrace. Ah, Brothers
of the Sword, these things cannot be told! Yet, of a surety, there is a
heady delight in the fray itself. And so I found. For I struck and warded
not, that being scarce necessary. Because an axe is an uncanny weapon to
wield, but still harder to stand against when well used. And I drove the
rabble before me--the men of them, I mean. I felt my terrible weapon
stopped now and then--now softly, now suddenly, according to that which I
struck against. And all the while the kitchen of the inn resounded with
yells and threatenings, with oaths and cursings.
But Jorian and I drove them steadily back, though they came at us again
and again, with spits, iron hooks, and all manner of curious weapons.
Also from out of the corners we saw the gleaming, watchful eyes of a dark
huddle of women and children. Presently the clamorous rabble turned tail
suddenly and poured through the door out upon the pathway, quicker than
water through a tide-race in the fulness of the ebb.
And lo! in a moment the room was sucked empty, save only for the huddled
women in the corners, who cried and suckled their children to keep them
still. And some of the wounded with the axe and the sword crawled to them
to have their ghastly wounds bound. For an axe makes ugly work at the
best of times, and still worse on the edges of such a pagan fight as we
three had just fought.
So we went back victorious to our inner doors.
Then Jorian looked at me and nodded across at Boris.
"Good!" was all that he said. But the single word made me happier than
In spite of all, however, we were no nearer than before to getting away
that I could see. For there was still all that long, desperate traverse
of the defile before we could guide our horses to firm ground again. But
while I was thinking bitterly of my first night's sleep (save the mark!)
away from the Red Tower, I heard something I knew not the meaning of--the
beginning of a new attack, as I judged.
It sounded like a scraping and a crumbling somewhere above.
"God help us now, Jorian!" I cried, in a sudden, quick panic; "they are
coming upon us everyway. I can hear them stripping off the roof-tile
overhead--if such rabbit-warrens as this have Christian roofs!"
Boris sat down calmly with his back against the earthen wall and
trained his pistol upward, ready to shoot whatever should appear.
Presently fragments of earth and hardened clay began to drop on the
pounded floor of the corridor. I heard the soft hiss of the man-at-arms
blowing up his match, and I waited for the crash and the little heap of
flame from the touch.
Suddenly a foot, larger than that of mortal, plumped through our ceiling
of brick-dust and a huge scatterment of earth tumbled down. A great bare
leg, with attachment of tattered hose hanging here and there, followed.
Before the pistol could go off, Boris meanwhile waiting shrewdly for the
appearance of a more vital part, a voice cried, "Stop!"
I looked about me, and there was the Lady Ysolinde come out of her
chamber, with a dagger in her hand. She was looking upward at the hole in
"For God's sake, do not fire!" she cried; "tis only my poor Lubber Fiend.
Shame on me, that I had quite forgotten him all this time!"
At which, without turning away the muzzle, Boris put it a little aside,
and waited for the disturber of brick-dust ceilings to reveal himself.
Which, when presently he did, a huge, grinning face appeared, pushing
forward at first slowly and with difficulty, then, as soon as the ears
had crossed the narrows of the pass, the whole head to the neck was
glaring down and grinning to us.
"Lubber Jan," said Ysolinde, "what do you up there?"
The head only grinned and waggled pleasantly, as it had been through a
horse-collar at Dantzig fair.
"Speak!" said she, and stamped her little foot; "I will shake thee with
terrors else, monster!"
"Poor Jan came down from above. It is quite easy!" he said. "But not for
horses. Oh no! but now I will go and bring the Burgomeister. Do you keep
the castle while I go. He bides below the town in a great house of stone,
and entertains our Prince Miller's Son's archers. I will bring all that
are sober of them."
"God help us then!" quoth Jorian; "it is past eleven o' the clock, and
as I know them man by man, there will not be so much as one left able to
prop up another by this time!"
"Aha!" cried the head above; "you say that because you know the archers.
But I say I shall bring full twenty of them--because I know the strength
of the Burgomeister's ale. Hold the place for half an hour and twenty
right sober men shall ye have."
And with that the Lubber Fiend disappeared in a final avalanche of
brick-dust and clay clods.
He was gone, and half an hour was a long time to wait. Yet in such a
case there was nothing for it but to stand it out. So I besought the
maids to retire again to their inner chamber, into which, at least,
neither bullets nor arrows could penetrate. This, after some little
persuasion, they did.
We waited. I have since that night fought many easier battles, and
bloody battles, too. Now and then a face would look in momentarily from
the great outer door and vanish before any one could put a shot into it.
Next, ere one was aware, an arrow would whistle with a "_Hisst_!" past
one's breast-bone and stand quivering, head-covered in the clay. Vicious
things they were, too, steel-pointed and shafted with iron for half
But all waitings come to an end, even that of him who waits on a fair
woman's arraying of herself. Erdberg evidently did not know of the little
party down at the Burgomeister's below the pass of the ravine, or,
knowing, did not care. For, just as our half-hour was crawling to an
end, with a unanimous yell a crowd of wild men with weapons in their
hands poured in through the great door and ran shouting at our position.
At the same time the window at the end of the passage opened and a man
leaped through. Him I sharply attended to with the axe, and stood waiting
for the next. He also came, but not through the window. He ran at me,
head first, through the door, and, being stricken down, completely
blocked it up. Good service! And a usefully bulky man he was. But how he
bled!--Saint Christopher! that is the worst of bulky men, they can do
nothing featly--not even die!
One man won past me, indeed, darting under the stroke of my axe, but he
was little advantaged thereby. For I fetched a blow at the back of his
head with the handle which brought him to his knees. He stumbled and fell
at the threshold of the maids' chamber. And, by my sooth, the Lady
Ysolinde stooped and poignarded him as featly as though it had been a
work of broidering with a bodkin. Too late, Helene wept and besought her
to hold her hand. He was, she said, some one's son or lover. It was
deucedly unpractical. But, 'twas my Little Playmate. And after all, I
suppose, the crack he got from me in the way of business would have done
the job neatly enough without my lady's dagger.
I tell you, the work was hot enough about those three doors during the
next few moments. I never again want to see warmer on this side of
Peter's gates--especially not since I got this wound in my thigh, with
its trick of reopening at the most inconvenient seasons. But the broadaxe
was a blessed thought of the little Helene's, and helped to keep the
castle right valiantly.
Yet I can testify that I was glad with more than mere joy when I heard
the "Trot, trot!" of the Prince's archers coming at the wolf's lope, all
in each other's footsteps, along the narrow ledge of the village street.
"Hurrah, lads!" I shouted; "quick and help us!"
And then at the sound of them the turmoil emptied itself as quickly as it
had come. The rabble of ill-doers melted through the wide outer door,
where the archers received and attended to them there. Some precipitated
themselves over the cliff. Others were straightway knocked down, stunned,
and bound. Some died suddenly. And a few were saved to stretch the
judicial ropes of the Bailiwick. For it was always thought a good thing
by such as were in authority to have a good show on the "Thieves'
Architrave," or general gallows of the vicinity, as a thing at once
creditable to the zeal of the worthy dispensers of local justice, and
pleasing to the Kaiser's officer if he chanced to come spying that way.
MINE HOST RUNS HIS LAST RACE
Hearty were the greetings when the soldiers found us all safe and sound.
They shook us again and again by the hand. They clapped us on the back.
They examined professionally the dead who lay strewn about.
"A good stroke! Well smitten!" they cried, as they turned them over, like
spectators who applaud at a game they can all understand. Specially did
they compliment me on my axe-work. Never had anything like it been seen
in Plassenburg. The head of the yearling calf was duly exhibited, when
the neatness of the blow and the exactness of the aim at the weakest
jointing were prodigiously admired.
The good fellows, mellow with the Burgomeister's sinall-ale, were growing
friendly beyond all telling, when, in the light of the offertory taper,
now growing beguttered and burning low, there appeared the Lady Ysolinde.
You never saw so quick a change in any men. The heartiest reveller
forthwith became silent and slunk behind his neighbor. Knees shook
beneath stalwart frames, and there seemed a very general tendency to get
down upon marrow-bones.
The Lady Ysolinde stood before them, strangely different from the
slim, willowy maiden I had seen her. She looked almost imperial in
"You shall be rewarded for your ready obedience," she said; "the Prince
will not forget your service. Take away that offal!"
She pointed to the dead rascals on the floor.
And the men, muttering something that sounded to me like "Yes, your
Highness !" hastened to obey.
"Did you say 'Yes, your Highness' ?" I asked one of them, who seemed, by
his air of command, to be the superior among the archers.
"Aye," answered he, dryly, "it is a term usually applied to the Lady
Ysolinde, Princess of Plassenburg."
I was never more smitten dazed and dumb in my life. Ysolinde, the
daughter of Master Gerard, the maid who had read my fate in the ink-pool,
whom I had "made suffer," according to her own telling--she the Princess
of Plassenburg '.
Ah, I had it now. Here at last was the explanation of the threadbare and
inexplicable jest of Jorian and Boris, "The Prince hath a Princess, and
she is oft upon her travels !"
But, after all, what a Wendish barking about so small an egg. I have
heard an emperor proclaimed with less cackle.
Ysolinde, Princess of Plassenburg--yes, that made a difference. And I
had taken her hand--I, the son of the Red Axe--I, the Hereditary
Justicer of the Wolfmark. Well, after all, she had sought me, not I
her. And then, the little Helene--what would she make of it? I longed
greatly to find an opportunity to tell her. It might teach her in what
manner to cut her cloth.
The archers of the Prince camped with us the rest of the night in the
place of the outcast crew. They behaved well (though their forbearance
was perhaps as much owing to the near presence of the Princess as to any
inherent virtue in the good men of the bow) to the women and children who
remained huddled in the corners.
Then came the dawn, swift-foot from the east. A fair dawn it was, the
sun rising, not through barred clouds, with the lightest at the
horizon (which is the foul-weather dawn), but through streamers and
bannerets that fluttered upward and fired to ever fleecier crimson and
gold as he rose.
We rode among a subdued people, and ere we went the Princess called for
the Burgomeister and bade him send to Plassenburg the landlord, so soon
as he should be found, and also the heads of the half-dozen houses on
either side of the inn.
Then, indeed, there was a turmoil and a wailing to speak about. Women
folk crowded out of the huts and kissed the white feet of the palfrey
that bore the Lady Ysolinde.
"Have mercy!" they wailed; "show kindness, great Princess! Here are our
men, unwounded and unhurt, that have lain by our sides all the night.
They are innocent of all intent of evil--of every dark deed. Ah, lady,
send them not to your prisons. We shall never see them more, and they
are all we have or our children. 'Tis they bring in the bread to this
"Produce me your husbands, then!" said the Lady Ysolinde.
Whereat the women ran and brought a number of frowsy and bleared men, all
unwounded, save one that had a broken head.
Then Ysolinde called to the Burgomeister. "Come hither, chief of a
thievish municipality, tell me if these be indeed these women's
The Burgomeister, a pallid, pouch-mouthed man, tremulous, and
brick-dusty, like everything else in the village of Erdberg, came forward
and peeringly examined the men.
"Every man to his woman!" he ordered, brusquely, and the women went and
stood each by her own property--the men shamefaced and hand-dog, the
women anxious and pale. Some of the last threw a, protecting arm about
their husbands, which they for the most part appeared to resent. In
every case the woman looked the more capable and intelligent, the men
being apparently mere boors.
"They are all their true husbands, at least so far as one can know!"
answered the Burgomeister, cautiously.
"Then," said the lady, "bid them catch the innkeeper and send him to
Plassenburg, and these others can abide where they are. But if they find
him not, they must all come instead of him."
The men started at her words, their faces brightening wonderfully, and
they were out of the door before one could count ten. We mounted our
horses, and under the very humble guidance of the Burgomeister, who led
the Princess's palfrey, we were soon again upon the high table-land. Here
we enjoyed to the full the breezes which swept with morning freshness
across the scrubby undergrowths of oak and broom, and above all the sight
of misty wisps of cloud scudding and whisking about the distant
peaks-behind which lay the city of Plassenburg.
We had not properly won clear of the ravines when we heard a great
shouting and turmoil behind us--so that I hastened to look to my weapons.
For I saw the archers instinctively draw their quarrels and bolt-pouches
off their backs, to be in readiness upon their left hips.
But it was only the rabble of men and women who had been threatened, the
dwellers in those twelve houses next the inn, who came dragging our
brick-faced knave of a host, with that hard-polished countenance of his
slack and clammy--slate-gray in color too, all the red tan clean gone
out of it.
"Mercy--mercy, great lady!" he cried; "I pray you, do execution on me
here and now. Carry me not to the extreme tortures. Death clears all.
And I own that for my crimes I well deserve to die. But save me from
the strappado, from the torment of the rack. I am an old man and could
The Lady Ysolinde looked at him, and her emerald eyes held a steely
glitter in their depths.
"I am neither judge nor"--I think she was going to say "executioner," but
she remembered in time and for my sake was silent, which I thought was
both gracious and charming of her. She resumed in a softer tone: "What
sentence, then, would you desire, thus confessing your guilt?"
"That I might end myself over the cliff there!" said the innkeeper,
pointing to the wall of rock along the edge of which we were riding.
"See, then, that he is well ended!" said the Princess, briefly, to
"Good!" said Jorian, saluting.
And very coolly betook himself to the edge of the cliff, where he primed
his piece anew, and blew up his match.
"Loose the man and stand back!" cried the Princess.
A moment the innkeeper stood nerving himself. A moment he hung on the
thin edge of his resolve. The slack gray face worked convulsively, the
white lips moved, the hands were gripped close to his sides as though
to run a race. His whole body seemed suddenly to shrink and fall in
"The torture! The terrible torture!" he shrieked aloud, and ran swiftly
from the clutches of the men who had held him. Between the path and the
verge of the cliff from which he was suffered to cast himself there
stretched some thirty or forty yards of fine green turf. The old man ran
as though at a village fair for some wager of slippery pig's tail, but
all the time the face of him was like Death and Hell following after.
At the cliff's edge he leaped high into the air, and went headlong down,
to our watching eyes as slowly as if he had sunk through water. None of
us who were on the path saw more of him. But Jorian craned over,
regarding the man's end calmly and even critically. And when he had
satisfied himself that that which was done was properly done, as coolly
as before he stowed away his match in his cover-fire, mounted his horse,
and rode towards us.
He nodded to the Princess. "Good, my Lady!" quoth he, for all comment.
"I saved a charge that time!" said he to his companion.
"Good!" quoth Boris, in his turn.
We had now a safe and noble escort, and the way to Plassenburg was easy.
The face of the country gradually changed. No more was it the gray,
wistful plain of the Wolfmark, upon which our Red Tower looked down. No
more did we ride through the marly, dusty, parched lands, in which were
the ravines with their uncanny cavern villages, of which this Erdberg was
the chief. But green, well-watered valleys and mountains wooded to the
top lay all about us--a pleasant land, a fertile province, and, as the
Princess had said, a land in which the strong hand of Karl the Prince had
long made "the broom-bush keep the cow."
I had all along been possessed with great desire to meet the Prince of so
noble and well-cared-for a land, and perhaps also to see what manner of
man could be the husband of so extraordinary a Princess.
PRINCE JEHU MILLER'S SON
Yet now, when she was in her own country, and as good as any queen
thereof, I found the Lady Ysolinde in no wise different from, what she
had been in the city of Thorn and in her father's house. She called me
often to ride beside her, Helene being on my other side, while the Lubber
Fiend, who had saved all our lives, gambolled about and came to her to be
petted like a lapdog of some monstrous sort. He licked his lips and
twisted his eyes upward at her in ludicrous ecstasy till only the whites
were visible whenever the Princess laid her hand on his head. So that it
was as much as the archers of the guard could do to hide their laughter
in their beards. But hide it they did, having a wholesome awe of the
emerald eyes of their mistress, or perhaps of the steely light which
sometimes came into them.
It was growing twilight upon the third day (for there were no adventures
worth dwelling upon after that among the cavern dwellings of Erdberg)
when for the first time we saw the towers of Plassenburg crowning a hill,
with its clear brown river winding slow beneath. We were yet a good many
miles from it when down the dusty road towards us came a horseman, and
fifty yards or so behind him another.
"The Prince--none rides like our Karl!" said Jorian, familiarly, under
his breath, but proudly withal.
"He comes alone!" said I, wonderingly. For indeed Duke Casimir of the
Wolfsberg never went ten lances' length from his castle without a small
army at his tail.
"Even so!" replied Jorian; "it is ever his custom. The officer who
follows behind him has his work cut out--and basted. Not for nothing is
our Karl called Prince Jehu Miller's Son, for indeed he rides most
Before there was time for more words between us a tall, grim-faced,
pleasant-eyed man of fifty rode up at a furious gallop. The first thing I
noticed about him was that his hair was exactly the same color as his
horse--an iron-gray, rusty a little, as if it had been rubbed with iron
that has been years in the wet.
He took off his hat courteously to the Princess.
"I bid you welcome, my noble lady," said he, smiling; "the cages are
ready for the new importations."
The Lady Ysolinde reached a hand for her husband to kiss, which he did
with singular gentleness. But, so far as I could see, she neither looked
at him even once nor yet so much as spoke a word to him. Presently he
questioned her directly: "And who may this fair young damsel be, who has
done me the honor to journey to my country?"
"She is Helene, called Helene Gottfried of Thorn, and has come with me to
be one of my maids of honor," answered the Lady Ysolinde, looking
straight before her into the gathering mist, which began to collect in
white ponds and streaks here and there athwart the valley.
The Prince gave the Little Playmate a kindly ironic look out of his
gray eyes, which, as I interpreted it, had for meaning, "Then, if that
be so, God help thee, little one--'tis well thou knowest not what is
"And this young man?" said the Prince, nodding across to me.
But I answered for myself.
"I am the son of the Hereditary Justicer of the Wolfmark," said I. "I
had no stomach for such work. Therefore, as I was shortly to be made my
father's assistant, I have brought letters of introduction to your
Highness, in the hopes that you will permit me the exercise of arms in
your army in another and more honorable fashion."
"I have promised him a regiment," said the Princess, speaking quickly.
"What--of leaden soldiers?" answered the Prince, looking at her
"Your Highness is pleased to be brutal," answered the Lady Ysolinde,
coldly. "It is your ordinary idea of humor!"
A kind of quaint humility sat on the face of the Prince.
"I but thought that your Highness could have nothing else in her
mind--seeing that our rough Plassenburg regiments will only accept men of
some years and experience to lead them. But the little soldiers of metal
are not so queasy of stomach."
"May it please your Highness," said I, earnestly, "I will be content to
begin with carrying a pike, so that I be permitted in any fashion to
fight against your enemies."
Jorian and Boris came up and saluted at this point, like twin mechanisms.
Then they stood silent and waiting.
The Prince nodded in token that they had permission to speak.
"With the sword the lad fights well," said Boris. "Is it not so, Jorian?"
"Good!" said Jorian.
"But with the broadaxe he slashes about him like an angel from
heaven--not so, Boris?" said Jorian.
"Good!" said Boris.
"Can you ride?" said the Prince, turning abruptly from them.
"Aye, sire!" said I. For indeed I could, and had no shame to say it.
"That horse of his is blown; give him your fresh one!" said he to the
officer who had accompanied him. "And do you show these good folk to
Hardly was I mounted before the Prince set spurs to his beast, and,
with no more than a casual wave of his hand to the Princess and her
train, he was off.
"Ride!" he cried to me. And was presently almost out of sight, stretching
his horse's gray belly to the earth, like a coursing dog after a hare.
Well was it for me that I had learned to ride in a hard school--that is,
upon the unbroken colts which were brought in for the mounting of the
Duke Casimir's soldiery. For the horse that I had been given took the
bit between his teeth and pursued so fiercely after his stable companion
that I could scarce restrain him from passing the Prince. But our way
lay homeward, so that, though I was in no way able to guide nor yet
control my charger, nevertheless presently the Prince and I were
clattering through the town of Plassenburg like two fiends riding
headlong to the pit.
Within the town the lamps were being lit in the booths, the folks busy
marketing, and the watchmen already perambulating the city and crying the
hours at the street corners.
But as the Prince and I drove furiously through, like pursuer and
pursued, the busy streets cleared themselves in a twinkling; and we rode
through lanes of faces yellow in the lamplight, or in the darker places
like blurs of scrabbled whiteness. So I leaned forward and let the beast
take his chance of uneven causeway and open sewer. I expected nothing
less than a broken neck, and for at least half a mile, as we flew upward
to the castle, I think that the certainty of naught worse than a broken
arm would positively have pleasured me. At least, I would very willingly
have compounded my chances for that.
Presently, without ever drawing rein, we flew beneath the dark outer port
of the castle, clattered through a court paved with slippery blocks of
stone, thundered over a noble drawbridge, plunged into a long and gloomy
archway, and finally came out in a bright inner palace court with lamps
lit all about it.
I was at the Prince's bridle ere he could dismount.
"You can ride, Captain Hugo Gottfried!" he said. "I think I will make you
my orderly officer."
And so he went within, without a word more of praise or welcome.
There came past just at that moment an ancient councillor clad in a long
robe of black velvet, with broad facings and rosettes of scarlet. He was
carrying a roll of papers in his hand.
"What said the Prince to yon, young sir, if I may ask without offence?"
said he, looking at me with a curiously sly, upward glance out of the
corner of his eye, as if he suspected me of a fixed intention to tell him
a lie in any case.
"If it be any satisfaction to you to know," answered I, rather piqued at
his tone, "the Prince informed me that I could ride, and that he intended
to make me his orderly officer. And he called me not 'young sir,' but
Captain Hugo Gottfried."
"How long has he known you?" said the Chief Councillor of State. For so
by his habit I knew him to be.
"Half an hour, or thereby," answered I.
"God help this kingdom!" cried the old man, tripping off, flirting his
hand hopelessly in the air--"if he had known you only ten minutes you
would have been either Prime-Minister or Commander-in-Chief of the army."
It was in this strange fashion that I entered the army of the Prince of
Plassenburg, a service which I shall ever look back upon with gratitude,
and count as having brought me all the honors and most of the pleasures
of my life.
Half an hour or so afterwards the blowing of trumpets and the thunder of
the new leathern cannon announced that the Princess and her train were
entering the palace. The Prince came down to greet them on the threshold
in a new and magnificent dress.
"The Prince's officer-in-waiting to attend upon his Highness!" cried a
herald in fine raiment of blue and yellow.
I looked about for the man who was to be my superior in my new
office--that is, if Prince Karl should prove to have spoken in earnest.
"The Prince's orderly to attend upon him!" again proclaimed the herald,
I saw every eye turn upon me, and I began to feel a gentle heat come over
me. Presently I was blushing furiously. For I was still in my
riding-clothes, and even they had not been changed after the adventure of
the Brick-dust Town. So that they were in no wise fitting to attend upon
a mighty dignitary.
The Prince of Plassenburg looked round.
"Ha!" he said; "this is not well--I had forgotten. My orderly ought to
have been duly arrayed by this time."
"Pardon, my Prince," said I, "but all the apparel I have is upon my
sumpter horse, which comes in the train of the Princess."
My master looked right and left in his quickly imperious and yet
"Here, Count von Reuss," he said to a tall, handsome, heavily jowled
young man, "I pray you strip off thy fine coat for an hour, and lend it
to my new officer-in-waiting. The ladies will admire thee more than
ever in thy fine flowered waistcoat, with silk sleeves and frilled
purfles of lace!"
The young man, Von Reuss, looked as if he desired much to tell the Prince
to go and be hanged. But there was something in the bearing of Karl of
Plassenburg, usurper as they called him, the like of which for command I
have never seen in the countenance and manner of any lawfully begotten
prince in the world.
So, beckoning me into an antechamber, and swearing evilly under his
breath all the time, the young man stripped off his fine coat, and
offered it to me with one hand, without so much as looking at me. He gave
it indeed churlishly, as one might give a dole to a loathsome beggar to
be rid of his importunity.
"I thank you, sir," said I, "but more for your obedience to the Prince
than for the fashion of your courtesy to me."
Yet for all that he answered me never a syllable, but turned his head and
played with his mustache till his man-servant brought him another coat.
ANOTHER MAN'S COAT
I followed the Prince without another word, and when he received the
Princess I had the happiness of taking the Little Playmate by the hand
and conducting her as gallantly as I could into the palace. And I was
glad, for it helped to allay a kind of reproachful feeling in my heart,
which would keep tugging and gnawing there whenever I was not thinking of
anything else. I feared lest, in the throng and press of new experiences,
I might a little have neglected or been in danger of forgetting the love
of the many years and all the sweetness of our solitary companionship.
Nevertheless, I knew well that I loved those sweetest eyes of hers more
than all the words of men and women and priests.
And even as I helped her to dismount, I went over and told her so.
It was just when I held her in my arms for a moment as she dismounted.
She clung to me, and methought I heard a little sob.
"Do not ever be unkind, Hugo," she said. "I am very lonely. I wish, with
all my heart, I were back again in the old Red Tower."
"Unkind--never while I live, little one," I whispered in her ear. "Cheer
your heart, and to-morrow your sorrows will wear off, and you and I both
shall find friendship in the strange land."
"I hate the Princess! And I shall never like her as long as I live!" she
said, with that certain concentrated dislike which only good women feel
towards those a degree less innocent, specially when the latter are well
to look upon.
There was no time to reply immediately as I conducted her up the steps.
For I had to keep my eyes open to observe how the Prince conducted
himself, and in the easy ceremonial of Plassenburg it chanced that I
happened upon nothing extravagant.
"But, Helene, you said a while ago that you hated _me_!" I said, after a
little pause, smiling down at her.
"Did I?" she answered. "Surely nay!"
"Ah, but 'tis true as your eyes," I persisted. "Do you not remember when
I had cut the calf's head off with the axe? You did not love the thought
of the Red Tower so much then!"
"Oh, _that_!" she said, as if the discrepancy had been fully explained by
the inflexion of her voice upon the word.
But she pressed my hand, so I cared not a jot for logic.
"You do not love her, you are sure?" she said, looking up at me when we
came to the darker turn of the stairs, for the corkscrews were narrower
in the ancient castle than in the new palace below.
"Not a bit!" said I, heartily, without any more pretence that I did not
understand what she meant.
She pressed my hand again, momentarily slipping her own down off my
arm to do it.
"It is not that I love you, Hugo, or that I want you to love me," she
said, like one who explains that which is plain already, "except, of
course, as your Little Playmate. But I could not bear that you should
care about that--that woman."
It was evident that there were to be stirring times in the Castle of
Plassenburg, and that I, Hugo Gottfried, was to have my share of them.
As soon as we had arrived at the banqueting-hall, the Prince beckoned me
and presented me formally to the Lady Ysolinde.
"Your Highness, this is Captain Hugo Gottfried, my new
The Princess bowed gravely and held out her hand. Her aqua-marine eyes
were bent upon me, suffused with a certain quick and evident pleasure
which became them well.
"Your Highness has chosen excellently. I can bear witness that the
Captain Gottfried is a brave--a very brave man," she said.
And at that moment I was most grateful to her for the testimony. For
behind us stood the young Von Reuss, pulling at his mustache and looking
very superciliously over at me.
Then the Lady Ysolinde withdrew to her own apartments, and that day I got
no more words with her nor yet with Helene.
The Prince also went to his room, and I remained where I was, deeming
that for the present my duty was done.
The servant of the man whose coat I wore stood with another servitor
close at hand--indeed, many of all ranks stood about.
"That is the fellow," I heard one say, tauntingly, meaning me to
hear--"peacocking it there in my master's coat!"
His companion laughed contumeliously, at which the passion within me
suddenly stirred. I gave one of them the palm of my hand, and as the
other fell hastily back my foot took him.
"What ho, there! No quarrelling among the lackeys!" cried Von Reuss,
insolently, from the other side of the room.
"Were you, by any chance, speaking to me?" said I, politely, looking
over at him.
"Why, yes, fellow!" he said. "If you squabble with the waiting-men
concerning cast-off clothes, you had better do it in the stables, where,
as you say, your own wardrobe is kept."
"Sir," said I, "the coat I wear, I wear by the command of your Prince. It
shall be immediately returned to you when the Prince permits me to go off
duty. In the mean time, pray take notice that I am Captain Hugo
Gottfried, officer-in-waiting to the Prince Karl of Plassenburg, and that
my sword is wholly at your service."
"You are," retorted Von Reuss, "the son of my uncle Casimir's
Hereditary Executioner, and one day you may be mine. Let that be
sufficient honor for you."
"That I may be yours is the only part of my father's hereditary office I
covet!" said I, pointedly.
And certainly I had him there, for immediately he turned on his heel and
would have walked away.
But this I could not permit. So I strode sharply after him, and seizing
him by his embroidered shoulder-strap, I wheeled him about.
"But, sir," said I, "you have insulted an officer of the Prince. Will you
answer for that with your sword, or must I strike you on the face each
time I meet you to quicken your sense of honor?"
Before he had time to answer the Prince came in.
"What, quarrelling already, young Spitfire!" he cried. "I made you my
orderly--not my disorderly."
Von Reuss and I stood blankly enough, looking away from one another.
"What was the quarrel?" asked the Prince, when he had seated
himself at table.
I looked to Von Reuss to explain. For indeed I was somewhat awed to think
that thus early in my new career I had embroiled myself with the nephew
of Duke Casimir, even though, like myself, he was in exile and dependent
upon, the liberality of Prince Karl.
But, since he did not speak, I made bold to say: "Sire, the Count von
Reuss taunted me with wearing a borrowed coat, and called me a servitor,
because by birth I am the son of the Hereditary Executioner of the
Wolfmark. So I told him I was an officer of your household, and that my
sword was much at his service."
"So you are," cried the Prince--"so you are--a servitor! So is he--young
fools both! And as for being son of the Hereditary Executioner, it is
throughout all our German land an honorable office. Once I was assistant
executioner myself, and wished with all my heart that I had been
principal, and so pocketed the guilders. No more of this folly, Von
Reuss. I am ashamed of you, and to a new-comer! Hear ye, sir, I will not
have it! I will e'en resume my old trade and do a little justicing on my
own account. Shake hands this instant, you young bantams!"
And the Prince sat back in his chair and looked grimly at us. I went a
step forward. But Von Reuss held aloof.
"Provost Marshal!" cried the Prince, in a voice which made every one in
the room jump and all the glasses ring on the table--"bring a guard!"
The Provost Marshal advanced, bowed, and was departing, when Von Reuss
came forward and held his hand out, at first sulkily, but afterwards
Then we shook hands solemnly and stiffly, of course loving each other not
one whit better.
"Ah," said the Prince, "I thought you would! For if you had not, your
uncle, Duke Casimir, might have been a Duke without either an heir to his
Dukedom or a successor to his Hereditary Justicer."
"Now sit down, lads, sit down and agree!" he said, after a pause. "The
ladies come not to table to-night. So now begin and tell me all the
affair of the Earthhouses. I must ride and see the place. I declare I
grow rotten and thewless in this dull Plassenburg, where they dare not
stick so much as a knife in one another, all for fear of Karl Miller's
Son! Since I cannot adventure forth on my own account, I am become a man
that wearies for news. Tell me every part of the affair, concealing
nothing. But if you can, relate even your own share in it as faithfully
as becomes a modest youth."
So I told him at length all that hath already been told, giving as far as
I could the credit to Jorian and Boris, as indeed was only their desert.
Whereupon the tale being finished, the Prince said: "Have the two
And while the pursuivant had gone for them, the old Councillor leaned
across the table and whispered: "Enter Field-Marshal Jorian and
But when the archers came in and stood like a pair of kitchen pokers, the
Prince ordered them to tell the story.
Jorian turned his head to Boris, and Boris turned his head to Jorian.
They both made a little impatient gesture, which said: "Tell it you!"
But neither appeared to be able to speak first.
"Wind them up with a cup of wine apiece!" cried the hearty Prince;
"surely that will set one of them off."
Two great flagons of wine were handed to Jorian and Boris, and they drank
as if one machine had been propelling their internal workings, throwing
off the liquor with beautiful unanimity and then bringing their cups to
the position of salute as if they had been musketoons at the new French
drill. After which each of them, having finished, gave the little cough
of content and appreciation, which among the archers means manners.
But nevertheless the Prince's information with regard to the affair of
Erdberg was not increased.