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Red Axe by Samuel Rutherford Crockett

Part 4 out of 7

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"Go on!" he cried, impatiently, looking at Jorian and Boris sternly.

They were still silent.

"This officer, Captain Hugo Gottfried," said the Prince, looking at me,
"tells me that the credit of the preservation of the Princess among the
cave folk is due to you two brave men."

"He lies!" said Wendish Jorian, with a face like a blank wall.

"Good!" muttered Boris, approvingly.

"He did it himself!" said Boris, adding, after a pause--"with an axe!"

"Good!" quoth Jorian.

"He cut a calf's head off!" said Jorian, as a complete explanation of how
the preserving of the Princess was effected.

Whereat all laughed, and the Prince more than any. For ever since he
drank his first draught of wine, he had begun to mellow.

"Well, hearty fellows, what reward would you have for your great

They turned their heads simultaneously inward without moving any other
part of their bodies. They nodded to one another.

"Well," cried the Prince, "what reward do you desire?"

"Now for the Field-Marshal's wand!" said the Councillor near to me, under
his breath.

"Twelve dozen Rhenish!" said Jorian.

The Prince looked at Boris.

"And you?" he said.

"Twelve dozen Rhenish!" said Boris, without moving a muscle.

"God Bacchus!" cried the Prince, "you will empty my cellars between
you, and I shall not have a sober archer for a month. But you shall
have it. Go!"

Jorian and Boris saluted with a wink to each other as they wheeled, which
said, as plain as monk's script or plainer, "Good!"



In spite of all drawbacks and difficulties (and I had my share of them) I
loved Plassenburg. And especially I loved the Prince. The son, so they
said, of a miller in the valley of the Almer, he had entered the guard of
the last Prince of Plassenburg, much as I had now entered his own
service. Prince Dietrich had taken a fancy to him, and advanced him so
rapidly that, after the disastrous war with Duke Casimir of the Mark and
the death of the last legitimate Prince, Karl, the miller's son, having
set himself to reorganize the army, succeeded so well that it was not
long before he found himself the source of all authority in Plassenburg.

Thereafter he gave to the decimated and heartless land adequate defences
and complete safety against foreign foes, together with security for life
and property, under equal laws, within its own borders. So, in time, no
man saying him nay, Karl Miller's Son became the Prince of Plassenburg,
and his seat was more secure upon his throne than that of any legitimate
prince for a thousand miles all round about.

After the quarrel with Von Reuss, the Prince, for reasons of his own,
favored me with a great deal of his society. He was often graciously
pleased to talk concerning his early difficulties.

"When I was an understrapper," he was wont to say, "the land was
overswarmed and eaten up by officialdom. I could not see the good meat
wasted upon crawlers. 'Get to work,' said I, 'or ye shall neither eat
nor crawl!'

"'We must eat--to beg we are not ashamed, to steal is the right of our
noble Ritterdom,' the crawlers replied.

"'So,' said I, '_bitte_--as to that we shall see!'

"Then I made me a fine gallows, builded like that outside Paris, which I
had seen once when on an embassy for Prince Dietrich. It was like a
castle, with walls twelve feet thick, and on the beams of it room for a
hundred or more to swing, each with his six feet of clearance, all
comfortable, and no complaints.

"Then came the crawlers and asked me what this fine thing was for.

"'For the sacred Ritterdom of Plassenburg!' answered I, 'if it will not
cease to burn houses and to ravish and carry off honest men's wives and

"'But you must catch us!' quoth Crawlerdom. 'Walls fourteen feet thick!'
said they.

"'Content,' cried I; 'there is the more fun in catching you. Only the end
is the same--that is to say, my new, well-ventilated castle out there on
the heath, fine girdles and neck-pieces and anklets of iron, and six feet
of clearance for each of you to swing in.'

"So they went back to their castles, and robbed and ravished and rieved,
even as did their fathers for a thousand years, thinking no evil. But I
took my soldiers, whom in seven years' service I had taught to obey
orders-two foot of clearance did well enough for the disobedient among
them, not being either ritters or men of mark. And I, Karl the Miller's
brat, as at that time they called me in contempt, borrowed cannon--
great lumbering things--from my friend the Margrave George, down there to
the south. A great work we had dragging them up to Plassenburg by rope
and chain and laboring plough oxen. We shot them off before the
fourteen-feet walls. Then arose various clouds of dust, shriekings,
surrenderings, crying of 'Forgive us, great Prince, we never meant to do
it,' followed, as I had said, by the six-feet clearances. But these in
time I had to reduce to four--so great became the competition for places
in my new Schloss Muellerssohn.

"But 'Once done, well done--done forever!' is my motto. So since that
time the winds have mostly blown through my Schloss untainted, and the
sons of Ritterdom, magnanimous captains and honest bailies of quiet
bailiwicks, are my very good friends and faithful officers."

Prince Karl the Miller's Son was silent a moment.

"But I am still looking out for another man with a head-piece to come
after me. I have no son, and if I had, the chances are ten to one that he
would be either a milksop or a flittermouse painted blue. Milksops I
hate, and send to the monkeries. I can endure flittermice painted blue,
but they must wear petticoats--and pretty petticoats too. Have you
observed those of the Princess?" said he, abruptly changing the subject.

"The Princess's flittermice?" I faltered, not well knowing what I said,
for he had turned roughly and suddenly upon me.

"Aye, marry, you may say it! But I meant the Princess's wilicoats!"

"No," said I, as curtly as I could, for the subject had its obvious

"Ah, they are pretty ones," said Karl, "I assure you. She has at least an
undeniable taste in lace and cambric. They say in other lands--not in
this--though I would not hinder them if they did--that she wears the
under-garments of men and rules the state. But I think not so. The
Princess is a better Queen than wife, a better woman than either."

On this subject also I had nothing to say which I dared venture to the
husband of the Lady Ysolinde.

"She read my horoscope," said I, weakly, searching for something in the
corners of my brain to change the subject.

"How so?" said the Prince, quickly.

"First in a crystal and then in a pool of ink," I replied.

"It was a good horoscope and of a fortunate ending?"

"On the whole--yes!" said I; "though there was much in it that I could
not understand."

"Like enow!" laughed the Prince; "I warrant she could not understand it
herself! It is ever the way of the ink-pool folk."

Then ensued a silence between us.

Prince Karl remained long with his head resting on his hand. He looked
critically at the twisted stem of his wineglass, twirling it between his
thick fingers.

"The Princess loves you!" he said, at last, looking shrewdly at me from
beneath his gray brows.

It was spoken half as a question and half as information.

"Loves me?" stammered I, the blood sucking back to my heart and leaving
my head light and tingling.

The Prince nodded calmly.

"So they say!" said he.

"My Lord, it is a thing impossible!" cried I, earnestly. "I am but a poor
lad--and she has been kind to me. But of love no word has been spoken.

And I stopped.

"Out with it, man!" said the Prince, more like, as it seemed to me, a
comrade inviting a confidence than a great Prince speaking to a newly
made officer.

"Well, I--I love the Little Playmate."

It came out with a rush at last.

"Oh!" said he; "that is bad. I hope that is not a matter arranged, a
thing serious. For if the Princess knows as much, the young woman will
not have her troubles to seek in the Palace of Plassenburg."

I hung my head and said naught, save that Helene declared she loved me
not, but that I thought she was mistaken.

"Ah, then," cried the Prince, like one exceedingly relieved, "it is but
some boy and girl affair. That is better. She may change her mind, as you
will certainly change yours--and that several times--among the ladies of
the court. I was in hopes--"

And the Prince stopped in his turn, not from bashfulness, but rather like
a man who desires more carefully to choose his words.

"I was in hopes," he went on, speaking slowly, "that if the Princess
loved your boy's face and liked my conversation (which I may say without
pride that I think she does) you and I together might have kept her at
home. So over-much wandering is not good for the state. Also it gets her
a name beyond all manner of ill-doing within-doors."

Once more I knew not well what to answer to this speech of the Prince's,
so I remained discreetly silent.

"I have seen the Princess's flittermice about her before, often enough (I
thank thee for the word, Sir Captain.), but this is the first time she
has performed the ink-pool and crystal foolery with any man. There is no
great harm in the Princess. In the things of love she is as inflammable
as the ink, and as soft as the crystal. Fear not, Joseph, Potiphera may
be depended upon not to proceed to extremities. But I was in some hopes
that you and I could have arranged matters between us, being both
men--aye, and honorable men."

I saw that Karl Miller's Son looked sad and troubled.

"Prince, you love the Princess!" said I, thrusting out my hand to him
before I thought. He did not take it, but instead he thrust a flagon of
wine into it, as if I had asked for that--yet the thing was not done by
way of a rebuff. I saw that plainly.

"Pshaw! What does a grizzle-pate with love?" said he, gruffly.
"Nevertheless, I was in hopes."

"Prince Karl," said I, "I give you word of honor, 'tis not as you say or
they say. The Princess has indeed done me the honor to be friendly--"

"To hold your hand!" he murmured, softly, like a chorus.

"Well, to be friendly, and--"

"To caress your cheek?" put in the Prince, gently as before.

"Done me the honor to be friendly--"

"To play with your curls, lad?"

"The Princess--" I began, all in a tremor. For anything more awkward
than this conversation I had never experienced. It bathed me in a drip
of cold sweat.

"To kiss you, perhaps, at the waygoing?" he insinuated.

"No!" thundered I, at last. "Prince, you do your Princess great wrong."

He lifted his hand in a gentle, deprecating way, most unlike the rider
who had ridden so fast and so hotly that night of our coming.

"You mistake me, sir," he said. "On the contrary, I have the greatest
respect for the Princess Ysolinde. I would not wrong her for the world.
But I know her track of old. You are a brave lad, and, after all, I fear
there is something in that calf-love of yours--devil take it!"

I thought I could now dimly discern whither the Prince's plans
were tending.

"Your Highness," said I, "I am a young man and of little experience. I
cannot tell why you have chosen to speak so freely to me. But I am your
servant, and, in all that hurts not the essence and matter of my love for
the Little Playmate, I will do even as you say."

Prince Karl grasped my hand.

"Ah, well said!" he cried. "You are running your head into a peck of
troubles, though. And you are likely to have some experience of womenkind
shortly--a thing which does no brisk young fellow any harm, unless he
lets them come between him and his career. Women are harmless enough, so
that you keep them well down to leeward. I am Baltic-bred, and have ever
held to this--that you may sail unscathed through fleets of farthingales,
so being that you keep the wind well on your quarter, and see the
fair-way clear before you."

I did not at the time understand half he said, but I knew we had made
some sort of a bargain. And I thought, with an aching, unsatisfied heart,
that though it might be well enough for an iron-gray and cynical old
Prince, the thing would hardly commend itself to Helene, my Little
Playmate, to whom I had so recently spoken loving words, sweeter than
ever before.

"Devil take all Princes and Princesses!" I said, as I thought, to myself.
But I must have spoken aloud, for the Prince laughed.

"Do not waste good prayers needlessly," he said; "he will!"

And so, with a careless and humorsome wave of his hand to one side, he
went down the staircase, and so out into the quadrangle of the Palace.



Now how this plan of my Lord Prince's worked in the Palace of Plassenburg
I find it difficult to tell without writing myself down a "painted
flittermouse," as the Prince expressed it. I was in high favor with my
master; well liked also by most of the hard-driving, rough-riding young
soldiers whom the miller's son had made out of the sons of dead and
damned Ritterdom. I got my share of honor and good service, too, in going
to different courts and bringing back all that Prince Karl needed. To
exercise myself in the art of war, I hunted the border thieves and gave
them short enough shrift. In a year I had made such an assault as that of
the inn at Erdberg an impossibility all along the marches of our

The crusty old councillor, Leopold Dessauer, who had held office under
the last Prince of the legitimate line, was ever ready to assist me with
the kindest of deeds and the bitterest and saltest of words.

"What did I tell you about being Field-Marshal?" said he one day--"in
Karl's kingdom the shorter the service, the higher the distinction.
If you and the Prince live long enough, I shall see you carry a
musketoon yet, and not one of the latest pattern, either. You will be
promoted down, like a booby who has been raised by chance to the top
of the class!"

"Well," said I, humbly, for I always reverenced age, "then I hope,
High-Chancellor Dessauer, that I shall carry my musketoon as becomes a
brave man!"

"I do not doubt it!" said he. "And that is the most hopeful thing I have
seen about you yet. It is just possible, on the other hand, that you may
yet rule and the Prince carry the piece."

"God forbid!" said I, heartily. For next to my own father, of all men I
loved the Prince.

"The Princess hath a pretty hand," remarked Dessauer casually, as if he
had said, "It will rain to-morrow!"

"I' faith, yes!" said I; "what have you been at to find out that?"

"Weak--weak!" he said, shaking his head. "I fear you will wreck on that
rock. It is your blind peril!"

"My blind peril!" cried I. "What may that be, High Councillor?"

"Ah, lad," he said, smiling with that wise, all-patient smile which the
aged affect when they mean to be impressive, yet know how useless is
their wisdom, "it was never intended by the Almighty that any man should
have eyes all round his head. That is why He fixed two in front, and made
them look straight forward. That is also why He made us a little lower
(generally a good deal lower) than the angels!"

I heard him as if I heard him not.

"You do me the honor to follow me?" he said, looking at me. He was, I
think, conscious that my eyes wandered to the door, for indeed I was
expecting the Little Playmate to come down every minute.

"Ah! yes, you follow indeed," he said, bitterly, "but it is the trip of
feet, the flirt of farthingales down the turret steps. No matter! As I
was saying, every man has his blind peril. He can see the thousand. He
provides laboriously against them. He blocks every avenue of risk, he
locks every dangerous door, and lo! there is the thousand-and-first right
before him, yawning wide open, which he does not see--his Blind Peril!"

"And what, High-Councillor Dessauer, is my blind peril?"

"I will tell you, Hugo," he said; "not that you will believe or alter a
hair. A man may do many things in this world, but one thing he cannot do.
He cannot kiss the fingers of a Princess--dainty fingers, too, separating
finger from finger--and kiss also the Princess's maid of honor on the
mouth. The combination is certainly entertaining, but like the Friar's
powder it is somewhat explosive."

"And how," asked I, "may you know all that ?"

The old man nodded his head sagely.

"Neither by ink-pool nor yet by scrying! All the same, I know. Moreover,
your peril is not a blind peril only, but a blind man's peril. Ye must
choose, and that quickly, little son--fingers or lips."

I heard the rustle of a skirt down the stair. It was the light, springing
tread of the one I loved first and best, last and only.

"By the twelve gods, lips!" cried I, and made for the door.

And I heard the chuckling laughter of High-Chancellor Dessauer behind me
as I followed Helene down the stairs. It sounded like the decanting of
mellow wine, long hidden in darksome cellars, and now, in the flower of
its age, bringing to the light the smiling of ancient vineyards and the
shining of forgotten suns.

I found Helene arrived before me in the rose-garden. She did not turn
round as I came, though she heard me well enough. Instead she walked on,
plucking at a marguerite.

"Loves me--loves me _not_!" she said, bearing upon the last word with
triumphant accent, as she continued to dismantle the poor flower.

And flashing round upon me with the solitary petal in her hand, she
presented it with a low bow, in elfish mockery of the manner of the court

"Ah, true flower!" she said, apostrophizing the bare stalk, "a flower
cannot lie. It has not a glozing tongue. It cannot change back and forth.
The sun shines. It turns towards the sun. The sun leaves the skies. It
shuts itself up and waits his return. Ah,-true flower, dear flower, how
unlike a man you are!"

"Helene," said I, "you have learned conceits from the catch-books. You
quarrel by rote. Were I as eager to answer me, I might say: 'Ah, false
flower, you grow out of the foulness underneath. You give your fragrance
to all without discretion--a common lover, prodigal of favors, fit only
to be torn to shreds by pretty, spiteful fingers, and to die at last with
a lie in your mouth. Again I say--false flower!'"

"You can turn the corners, Sir Juggler, with the cup and ball of words,"
answered Helene. "So much they have already taught you in a court. But
there is one thing that your fine-feathered tutors have not taught
you--to make love to two women in one house and hide it from both of
them. Hot and cold may not come too near each other. They will mix and
make lukewarm of both."

A wise observation, and one that I wished I had made myself.

"May the devil take all princes and princesses!" I began, as I had done
to the Prince himself.

Helene shook her head.

"Hugo," she said, "I was but a simpleton when I came hither, and knew
nothing. Now I am wise, and I know!"

She touched her forehead with her finger, just where the curls were
softest and prettiest.

"Oh, you have learned to be thrice more beautiful than ever you were!" I
said, impetuously.

"So I am often told," answered she, calmly.

"Who dared tell you ?" cried I, quick as fire, laying my hand on my

"The false common flowers by the wayside tell me!" said Helene, pertly.

"Let them beware, or I will take their heads off for rank weeds!"
I answered.

For at that time, in the Court of Plassenburg, we talked in figures and
romance words. We had indeed become so familiar with the mode that we
could use no other, even in times of earnestness. So that a man would go
to be hanged or married with a quipsome conceit on his lips.

"I think, Sir Janus Double-tongue," she said, "that you would not be the
worse of a little medicine of your own concocting."

And with that she swept her skirts daintily about and tripped down in to
the pleasaunce of flowers, to make which the Prince Karl had brought a
skilled gardener all the way from France.

I prowled about the higher terrace, moodily watching the sky and thinking
on the morrow's weather. And by-and-by I saw one come forth from among
the cropped Dutch hedges, and stride across to where Helene walked with
something white in her hand. I could see her again picking a flower to
pieces, and methought I could hear the words. My jealous fancy conjured
up the ending, "Loves me not--loves me! Loves me not!"

She turned even as she had done to me. The newcomer was that sneering
Court fop, the Count von Reuss, Duke Casimir's nephew--still in hiding
from the wrath of his uncle. For at that time hardly any court in Germany
was without one or two of these hangers-on, and a bad, reckless,
ill-contriving breed they were at Plassenburg, as doubtless elsewhere.

Then grew my heart hard and bitter, and yet, in a moment afterwards, was
again only wistful and sad.

"She had been safer," thought I, "in the old Red Tower than playing
flower fancies with such a man!"

For I had seen the very devil look out of his eye--which indeed it did
as often as he cast it on a fair woman. In especial, I longed to
throttle him each time he turned to watch Helene as she went by. And
here she was walking with him, and talking pleasantly too, in the rose
garden of the palace.

"Ah, devil take all princes and princesses!" said I. This one, it is
true, was only a count, and disinherited. But I felt that the thing was
the Prince's doing, and that it was for the sake of the covenant he had
made with me that I was compelled to put up with such a toad as Von Reuss
crawling and besliming the fair garden of my love.

It was an evening without clouds--everything shining clear after rain,
the scent of the flowers rising like incense so full and sweet that you
could almost see it. The unnumbered birds were every one awake,
responsive and emulous. The deep silence of midsummer was broken up. It
was like another spring.

The Princess Ysolinde came out to take the air. She was wrapped in her
gown of sea-green silk, with sparkles of dull copper upon it. The dress
fitted her like a snake's skin, and glittered like it too as she swayed
her lithe body in walking.

"Ha, Hugo," she said, "I thought I should find you here!"

I did not say that if another had been kinder she might have found me
elsewhere and otherwise employed. I had at least the discretion to leave
things as they were. For the time to speak plainly was not yet.

She took my arm, and we paced up and down.

"Princess--" I began.

"Ysolinde!" corrected she, softly.

It was an old and unsettled contention between us.

"Well then, Ysolinde, to-morrow must I ride to fight the men of mine own
country of the Wolfmark. I like not the duty. But since it must be, for
the sake of the brave Prince, it shall be well done."

"You do not say 'For your sake, Ysolinde'?" she answered, pensively.

"No," I said, bluntly, "'for the Prince's sake.'"

"You would do all things for the Prince's sake--nothing for mine!" said
the Princess, withdrawing her hand.

"On the contrary, Lady Ysolinde," I made answer, "I do all things for
your sake. Save for the sake of your good-will, I should now be

Which was true enough. I should have been in the garden pleasaunce
beneath, and probably with my sword out, arguing the case with Von Reuss.

But she pressed my arm, for she understood that I had delayed a day from
my duty for her sake. So touched at heart was Ysolinde that she slipped
her hand down from my arm and took my hand instead, flirting a corner of
her shawl cleverly over both, to hide the fact from the men-at-arms--as
Helene could not have done to save her life. But every maid of honor who
passed noted and knew, lifting eyebrows at one another, I doubt not, as
soon as we passed, which thing made me feel like a fool and blush hotly.
For I knew that ere they were couched that night every maid of them would
tell Helene, and with pleasure in the telling too.

"Devil take--" I began and stopped.

"What did you say?" asked Ysolinde, almost tenderly.

"That if I come not back again from the Wolfmark it will be the better
for all of us!" I made answer, which was indeed the sense if not the
exact text of my remark.

"Nay," she said, shuddering, "not better for me that am companionless!"

"Why so?" said I, boldly. "You do not love me. Deep at the bottom of
your heart you love your husband, Karl the Prince. You know there is no
man like him. Me you do not love at all."

"You will not let me," she said, softly, almost like a shy country

"Ah, if I had, you would have slain me long ere this," said I, "for I
read you like a child's horn-book that he plays battledore with. 'Have
not--_love_! Have--_hate_.' There you are, all in brief, my Lady

"It is false," laughed she; "but nevertheless I love greatly to hear you
call me Ysolinde."

She netted her fingers in mine beneath the shawl. Well might the High
Councillor say that she had a beautiful hand. Though, God wot, much he
knew about it. For Ysolinde of Plassenburg could speak with her hand,
love with it, be angry with it, hate with it--and kill with it.

"I am an experiment," said I; "one indeed that has lasted you a little
longer than the others, my Lady Ysolinde, only because you have not come
to the end of me so soon."

"Pshaw!" she said, pushing me from her, for we were at the turning of a
path, "you love another. That is the amulet against infection that you
carry. Yet sometimes I think that that other is only your hateful,
plain-favored, vainly conceited self!"

I saw the Prince sit alone, according to his custom, in an arbor behind
us at that very moment--and judge if I blushed or no. But the Princess
saw him not, being eager upon her flouting of me.

"I tell you," she cried, scornfully and disdainfully, "there is nothing
interesting about you but the blueness of your eyes, and that any monk
can make upon parchment, aye, and deeper and bluer, with his
lapis-lazuli. An experiment!--Why should I, Ysolinde of Plassenburg,
experiment with you, the son of the Red Axe of the Wolfsberg ?"

"Nay, that I know not," I answered; "but yet I am indeed no more than
your arrow-butts, your target of practice, your whipping-boy, to be slung
at and arrow-drilled and bullet-pitted at your pleasure!"

"I dare say," she said, bitterly; "and all the time you go scathless--no
more heart-stricken than if summer flies lighted on thee. Away with such
a man; he is the ghost of a man--a simulacrum--no true lover!"

"At your will, Princess. I shall indeed go away. I will to-morrow seek
the spears. But, after all, you will not send me forth in anger?" I said,
with a strong conviction that I knew the answer.

"And why not?" said she.

"Because," I replied, looking at her, "I am, after all, the one man who
believes thoroughly in your heart's deep inward goodness. I believe in
you even when you do not believe in yourself. I can affirm, for I know
better than you know yourself. You cover the beauty of your heart from
others. You flout and jeer. Above all, you experiment dangerously with
words and actions. But, after all, I am necessary to you. You will not
send me away in anger. For you need some one to believe in the soundness
of your heart. And I, Hugo Gottfried, am that man!"

"Hence, flatterer!" cried the lady, smiling, but well pleased. "It is
known to all that I am the Old Serpent--the deceiver--the ill fruit of
the Knowledge of Evil. And now you say of Good also! And what is more and
worse, you expect me to believe you. Wherein you also experiment! I pray
you, do not so. That is to you the forbidden fruit. Good-night. Go, now,
and pray for a more truthful tongue!"

And with that she went in, the copper spangles glancing at her waist red
as the light on ripe wheat, and all her tall figure lissome as the
bending corn.



Now, because there is still so much to tell, and so little time and space
to tell it in, I must go forward rapidly. In these dull times of grouting
peace, when men become like penned pigs, waking up only at feeding-time,
they have no knowledge of how swiftly life went when every day brought a
new living friend or a new dead enemy, when love and hate awakened fresh
and fresh with each morrow's sun--and when I was young.

Perhaps that last is the true reason. But when the Baltic norther snorts
without, and mine ancient thigh-wound twinges down where my hand rests,
naturally I have no better resource than to fall to the goose-quill. And
lo! long ere I am done with the first page, and have the ink no more than
half-way to the roots of my hair, I am again in the midst of the ringing
hoofs of the foray. I hear the merry dinting of steel on steel; the
sullen _chug-chug_ of the wheels of Foul Peg, the Margrave's great
cannon, which more than once he lent our Prince; the oaths of the
men-at-arms shouldering her up, apostrophizing most indecently her fat
haunches, and the next moment getting tossed aside like ninepins by her
unexpected lurches. Ah, the times that were when I was young!

I see these gallants about our later courts--Lord help them, sons of mine
own, too, some of them--year in and year out, crossing their legs and
staring at the gilded points of their shoon. All are grown so tame--none
now to ride a-questing in the Baltic forest for border brigands
--indeed, there be no brigands to quest for.

But I forget. Time was when I looked love, and I too had shoon, aye, with
golden tips to match the armor of honor which the Prince gave me after I
had led my first regiment to victory--even as the Lady Ysolinde had said.
And noble shoes of price they were.

And I could make love, too, when I had the chance. But, nevertheless, not
more than one day in six--spending the rest in the new training of my
men, the perfecting of their equipment, the choosing of their horses, and
the providing for their stores.

God wot--it was a good time. I mind me the year when the Prince fell out
with Duke Casimir, and we played over again the old tricks with him.

Never was I gladder of any quest than that to ride within sight of the
Red Tower, and wave the blue and yellow of my master under the very
ramparts of the Wolfsberg, and almost within hearing of the inhuman
howling of its blood-hounds.

"Singe his beard!" said my master. And with a hundred riders I did it
too. For though the burghers clattered to their gates, I rode to the very
walls of the Wolfsberg, which for bravado I summoned to surrender. And
the best of it was that no man knew me. For I had grown soldierlike and
strong, and was most unlike the lad who had ridden away so meekly and
almost in tears out of the gate of that very Wolfsberg.

Of my father, thank God, I saw nothing--though I doubt not he observed my
troop. For doubtless he would be with his master--aged now, soured, and
prone to cower about behind his guard, fearing the dagger or the poisoned
bowl, seeing an enemy in every shadowy corner, and hearing the whistle of
the assassin's bullet in every wind.

And, save when an honest burgher was slain by the Black Riders, the
beasts of the kennels were fed on diet more ordinary than of old.

So we rode back with our prisoners, and as much plunder as we could screw
out of old Burgomeister Texel and his citizens by threats of sacking the
city--a deed which I was main sorry for afterwards, in the light of that
which happened at a later day. But I knew not the future then, and it was
as well. For the guilders paid nobly for the new-fashioned ordnance which
stood us in such good stead that autumn, when we had sterner work in hand
than singeing the gray beard of Duke Casimir.

Within Schloss Plassenburg things went on much as usual. Perhaps I was
lax in my wooing--I cannot tell; I loved sincerely enough, of a
certainty. Nor, after this, was I backward in telling Helene of it, and
sometimes she would love me well enough, and then again she would not. So
that I could not tell what she would be at.

Looking back upon everything now, I see clearly how that the rankling
secret thorn was the accursed understanding with the Prince, that for his
peace's sake I was to abide friendly with the Princess and let her try
her fool experiments on me. Which she did, God wot, innocently
enough--that is, for all the harm they did me. But, nevertheless, without
knowing it, I kept the Little Playmate with a sore and aching heart for
many and many a day.

But I made nothing of it--thinking, like a careless, ill-deserving
soldier-lover, eager for success and dazzled with ambition, chiefly of my
profession, of how to win battles and take fortresses against the
surrounding princelings, our Karl's enemies, till one day I found Helene
with her cheeks wet and her pretty lips bitten till the blood had come.

"What is't, little one? Tell me!" said I, going to her and putting my
arm about her, as indeed I had some right to do, if no more than the
right of having carried her up into the Red Tower in her white gown
so long ago.

But she wrested herself determinedly out of my hold, saying: "Do not
touch me, sir. 'Tis all your fault!"

"What is my fault, dear lass?" said I. "Tell me, and I will instantly
amend it."

"Oh!" she cried, casting her hands out from her in bitter complaint,
"there is nothing so meanly selfish as a man! He will say tender
things--aye, and do them, too, when it liketh him. He can be, oh, so
devoted and so full of his eternal affections. He is dying all for love!
And then, soon as he passes out of the door he ties his sword-knot and
points his mustache to his liking, and lo! there is no more of him. He
goes and straightway forgets till it shall please his High Mightiness to
call again. Oh! and we--we women, poor things, must stand about with our
mouths open, like mossy carp in a pond, and struggle and push for such
crumbs of comfort as he will deign to throw us from the full larder of
his self-satisfaction!"

This was a most mighty speech for the Little Playmate, and took me
entirely by surprise. For mostly she was still enough and quiet enough in
her ways and speakings.

"'Tis true, sweetheart, that some men are like that," I replied, gently,
"but not Hugo Gottfried, surely. When did you ever find me unkind,
unthankful, unfaithful? When went I ever away and left you alone?"

"Oh, you did--you did," she cried, the tears starting from her lovely
eyes, "or I should never have been insulted--treated lightly, spoken to
as a staled thing of courts and camps!"

And Helene sank down beside the garden wall in an abandonment of
sorrow--so that my heart grew hot and angry at the cause of her grief, to
me then unknown.

I knelt down beside her and touched her lightly on one rounded,
heaving shoulder.

"Dearest," said I, "I knew nothing of this. Tell me who has insulted you.
As God is in His heaven, I will have my sword in his heart or nightfall,
were it the Prince himself! Tell me, and by the Lord of the Innocents, I
will make him eat cold steel and drink his own blood therewith!"

"Oh, it was my own fault--I know I should not have met him--let him speak
to me in the garden. But you were so cold to me, Hugo. And then I
thought--I thought that the Woman was taking you away from me. Also she
sent me out to be--to be in his path!"

"In whose path, I bid you tell me, and what woman?"

Though the latter I knew well enough.

"The Princess," she answered, "and the Count von Reuss. To-day he spoke
to me of love, and spoke it hatefully, shamefully, when the Princess had
bidden me go and carry her message to him. But it was with me that he
desired to meet. And I--at first many days ago--I walked by his side and
listened, for then he spoke courteously and like a gentleman. For you
were on the high terrace, and I wished you to see. I thought--I hoped--"

And the little one broke off with tears.

"I know, I know!" cried I, contritely; "I am a blind, doting fool. In
this Prince's court I thought no more of such dangers than when I had
you safe and innocent, my Playmate of the Red Tower. But what did or
said Von Reuss?"

"Truly he did naught, but only spoke--things for which I would have
smitten him to death had I possessed a dagger. I bade him begone. And he
swore he would execute his purpose yet in spite of every town's
Executioner in the Empire."

"Ah, will he?" said I, a calm chill of hatred settling about my heart.
"I, Hugo Gottfried, will execute him, if I have to send for my father's
Red Axe to do it with--singed and scented monkey that he is."

"Nay," said Helene, "then I wish I had not told you. Perhaps he will not
meddle with me again, and if you cross him he may slay thee. Remember, I
have no friend here but you, Hugo!"

"Count von Reuss slay me! I could eat him up without salt or savory--a
weak reed, a kerl without backbone save of buckram; why, I will shake him
this day like a rat between my hands!"

So I spoke in my anger, hot with myself that I had let the Little
Playmate suffer these things, and resolved that neither Prince nor
Princess would stand between me and my love a moment longer.

But in all lands it takes more than Say-so to budge the stubborn wheels
of circumstance.



I meant to go directly to the Prince in his chamber and tell him that
from this time forth Helene and I had resolved to battle out our lives
together. But it chanced that I passed through the higher terrace on my
way to the lower--a bosky place of woods, where the Prince loved to
linger in of a summer afternoon, drowsing there to the singing of birds
and the falling of waters. For our Karl had tastes quite beyond sour
black Casimir, with his church-yard glooms and raw-bone terrors.

On the upper terrace I found Von Reuss, lolling against the parapet with
other blue flittermice, his peers--he himself no flittermouse, indeed,
but of the true Casimir vampire breed, horrid of tooth, nocturnal,
desirous of lusts and blood.

At sight of him I went straight at mine enemy, as if I had been
leading a charge.

"Sir," said I, "you are a base rascal. You have insulted the Lady Helene,
maid of honor to the Princess, the adopted child of my father. Her wrongs
are mine. You will do me the honor of crossing weapons with me!"

"I have not learned the art of the axe," said he, turning about,
listlessly. "You expect too much, Sir Executioner!"

I wasted no more words upon him, for I had not sought him to barter
insults, but to force him to meet me where I could have my anger out upon
him, and avenge the tears in the eyes of my Little Playmate.

Von Reuss was drawing a glove of yellow dressed kid through his hand
as he spoke. This I plucked from his fingers ere he was aware, and
struck him soundly on either cheek with it before flinging it crumpled
up in his face.

"Now will you fight, or must I strike you with my open hand?"

Then I saw the look of his uncle stand hell-clear in his eyes. But he was
not frightened, this one, only darkly and unscrupulously vengeful.

"Foul toad's spawn, now I will have your blood!" he cried, tugging at
his sword.

"We cannot fight here," said I, "within sight of the palace windows. But
to-night at sundown, or to-morrow at dawn, I am at your service."

"Let it be to-night, on the common at the back of the Hirschgasse--one
second, and the fighting only between principals."

Very readily I agreed to that, or anything, and then, with a wave of my
hat, I went off, cudgelling my brain whom I should ask to be my second.
Jorian, who was now an officer, I should have liked better than any
other. But, being of the people myself, it was necessary that I should
have some one of weight and standing to meet the nephew of the Duke of
the Wolfmark and his friend.

Moodily pacing down the glade, which led from the second terrace and the
pleasaunce, I almost overran the Prince himself. He was seated under a
tree, a parchment of troubadours' songs lay by him, illuminated (to judge
by the woeful pictures) by no decent monkish or clerkly hand. He had a
bottle of Rhenish at hand, and looked the same hearty, hard-headed,
ironic soldier he ever was, and yet, what is more strange, every inch of
him a Prince.

"Whither away, young Sir Amorous," he cried, pretending great indignation
at my absent-mindedness, "head among the clouds or intent as ever on the
damosels? Conning madrigals for lovers' lutes, mayhap? And all the while
taking no more heed of God's honest princes than if they existed only for
trampling under your feet."

I asked his pardon--but indeed I had not come so nigh him as that.

"I am to fight in a private quarrel," said I, "and, truth to tell, I
sorely want a second, and was pondering whom to ask."

The Prince sighed.

"Ah, lad," he said, "once I had wished no better than to stand up at
your side myself. I was not a Prince then though; and again, these
laws--these too strict laws of mine! But what is the matter of your
duel, and with whom?"

"Well," said I, "I have slapped Count von Reuss's chafts with his own
glove, in the midst of his friends, on the upper terrace."

'Tis possible I may be mistaken, I suppose, but I did think then, and
still do think, that I saw evident tokens of pleasure on the face of
the Prince.

"And the cause--"

I hesitated, blushing temple-high, I dare say, in spite of the growth of
my mustaches.

"A woman, then!" cried the Prince. Then, more low, he added, "Not the--?"

He would have said the Princess, for he paused, in his turn, with a
graver look on his face.

So I hastened with my explanation.

"He insulted the young Lady Helene, maid of honor to the Princess, who is
to me as a sister, having been brought up with me in one house. Her honor
is my honor, both by this tie, and because, as you know, we have long
loved each other. Therefore will I fight Count von Reuss to the death,
and a good cause enough."

The Prince whistled--an unprincely habit, but then all millers' lads
whistle at their work. So Prince Karl whistled as he meditated.

"I see further into this matter than that--if indeed you love this maid.
There be other things to be thought upon than vengeance upon Von Reuss!
Does the Princess know of this?"

"Suspect she may," said I; "know she cannot. It was only half an hour ago
that I knew myself."

"Ha," said he, musingly, with his beard in his hand, "it hath gone no
further than that. Were it not, if possible, better to conceal the cause
yet a while that our compact may go on? It were surely easy enough to
invent an excuse for the quarrel."

"Prince," answered I, earnestly, "this bargain of ours hath gone on over
long already, in that it hath brought a true maid's honor and happiness
in question. And a maid also whom I am bound to love. I will ask you
this, have I been a good soldier and servant to you or not?"

"Aye to that!" quoth the Prince, heartily.

"Have I ever asked fee or reward for aught I have tried to do?"

"Nay," he said; "but you have gotten some of both without asking."

"Will you grant me the first boon I have asked of you since you became
Prince and Master to Hugo Gottfried?"

"I will grant it, if it be not to separate us as friend and friend," said
my master at once.

It was like the noble Prince thus to speak of our relation. I took his
hand in mine to kiss it, but this he would not permit.

"Shake hands like a man," he said, "or else kiss me upon the cheek. My
hand is for young, blue-painted flittermice to kiss, for whose souls'
good it is to put their lips to the hand that has shifted the meal-bags."

And with that Prince Karl embraced me heartily, and kissed me on
both cheeks.

"Now for this request of yours!" said he, looking expectantly at me.

"It is this," I answered him directly: "Give me a district to govern, a
tower to dwell in, and Helene to be my wife."

"Nay, but these are three things, and you stipulated but for one. Choose
one!" he said.

"Then give me Helene to wife!" I cried, instantly.

"Spoken like a lover," said the good Prince. "You shall have her if I
have the giving of her, which I beg leave to doubt. Something tells me
that much water will run under the bridges ere that wedding comes to
pass. But so far as it concerns me the thing is done. Yet remember, I
have never been one wisely to marry, nor yet to give in marriage."

He smiled a dry, humorsome smile--the smile of a shrewd miller casting
up his thirlage upon the mill door when he sees the fields of his parish
ripe to the harvest.

"I wonder why, with her crystals and her ink-pools, the Princess hath not
foreseen this. By the blue robe of Mary, there will be proceedings when
she does know. I think I shall straightway go a-hunting in the mountains
with my friend the Margrave!"

He considered a moment longer, and took a deep draught of Rhenish.

"Then the matter of a second," continued the Prince; "he is to fight,
of course?"

"No," said I; "principals only."

"I wonder," said the Prince, meditatively, "if there be anything in that.
It is not our Plassenburg custom between two young men, well surrounded
with brisk lads. Three seconds, and three to meet them point to point,
was more our ancient way."

"It was specially arranged at the request of the Count you Reuss," I
told the Prince.

"If there is to be no fighting of seconds, what do you say to old
Dessauer? He was a pretty blade in my time, and has all the etiquette and
chivalry of the business at his finger-ends. Also he likes you."

"At any rate, he is ever railing upon me with that sharp tongue of
his!" said I.

"But did you ever hear him rail upon any of these young men that lean
on rails and roll their eyes under ladies' windows?" said the Prince.
"Old Leopold Dessauer is even now no weakling. I warrant he could draw
a good sword yet upon occasion. Anything more lovely than his riposte I
never saw."

The Prince got upon his feet with the difficulty of a man naturally heavy
of body, who takes all his exercise upon horseback.

"Page!" he cried. "My compliments to High State's Councillor
Dessauer, and ask him to come to me here. You will find him, I think,
in the library."

So to the palace sped the boy; and presently, walking stiffly, but with
great dignity, came the old man down to us.

"How about the ancestors, the noble men my predecessors?" cried the
Prince, when he saw him; "have you found aught to link the miller of
Chemnitz with the Princes of Plassenburg?"

The Councillor smiled, and shook his head gravely.

"Nothing beyond that bit of metal which hangs by your side, Prince Karl,"
said Dessauer, pointing to his Highness's sword.

The Prince looked down at the strong, unadorned hilt thoughtfully
and sighed.

"I would I had another to transmit this sword to, as well as the power to
wield it, when I take my place as usurper in the histories of the Princes
of Plassenburg."

"I trust your Highness may long be spared to us," replied Dessauer,
gravely; "but, Prince Karl, in default of an heir to your body (of which
there is yet no reason to despair), wherefore may not your Highness
devise the realm back to the ancient line?"

"The line of Dietrich is extinct," said the Prince, booking up sharply.

"So says Duke Casimir, hoping to succeed to your shoes, when he could
not to your helmet and your sword. But I have my suspicions and my
beliefs. There is more in the parchments of yonder library than has yet
seen the light."

Suddenly the Prince recollected me, standing patiently by.

"But we waste time, Dessauer; we can speak of ancestors and successors
anon. I and Hugo Gottfried want you to take up your ancient role. Do you
mind how you snicked Axelstein, and clipped Duke Casimir of his little
finger at the back of the barn, when we were all lads at the Kaiser's
first diet at Augsburg?"

Old Dessauer smiled, well pleased enough at the excellence of the
Prince's memory.

"I have seen worse cuts," he said; "Casimir has never rightly liked me
since. And had the Black Riders caught me, over to his dogs I should have
gone without so much as a belt upon me. He would have kept them without
food for a week on purpose to make a clean job of my poor scarecrow

"And now this young spark," said the Prince, "for the sake of a lady's
eyes, desires to do your Augsburg deed over again with Duke Casimir's
nephew. So we must give him a man with quarterings on his shield to go
along with him."

"I am too old and stiff," said Dessauer, shaking his head mournfully, yet
with obvious desire in the itching fingers of his sword-hand; "let him
seek out one of the brisk young kerls that are drumming at the
blade-play all the time down there in the square by the guard-rooms."

"Nay, it is to be principals only; there is to be no fighting of seconds.
The Count has specially desired that there shall be none," said the
Prince; "therefore, go with the lad, Dessauer."

"No fighting of seconds!" cried the Councillor, in astonishment, holding
up his hands. And I think the old swordsman seemed a little disappointed.
"Well, I will go and see the lad well through, and warrant that he gets
fair-play among these wolves of the Mark."

"Faith, when it comes to that, he is as rough-pelted a wolf of the Mark
as any of them!" laughed the Prince.



The Hirschgasse is a little inn across the river, well known to the
wilder blades of Plassenburg. There they go to be outside the authority
of the city magistrates, to make rendezvous with maids more complaisant
than maidenly, to fight their duels, and generally to do those things
without remark which otherwise bring them under the eye of the Miller's
Son, as they one and all call (behind his back) the reigning Prince of

It was on the stroke of seven, and as fine an evening as ever failed to
touch the soul of sinful man with a sense of its beauty, that I set out
to fight the nephew of Duke Casimir. I had indeed ridden far and fast,
and withal kept my head since I left the Red Tower a poor homeless
wanderer, otherwise I had scarce found myself going out with High
Councillor Leopold von Dessauer as my second to fight my late master's
heir, the proximate Duke of the Wolfmark.

What was my surprise to find the old man attired in the appropriate
costume for such an occasion, a close-fitting suit of dark gray, of
ancient cut indeed, and without the fashionable slashes and scallops, but
both correct and practicable, either for the sword-play or the proper
ordering of it in others.

Von Dessauer laughed a little dry laugh when I congratulated him on the
youthfulness of his appearance. Indeed, he seemed little grateful for my
felicitations. And if it had not been for the rheumatism which he had
inherited from his father's campaigns on the tented field, and the
weakness which came from his own in other fields, he would yet have
proved as fit for the play of fence as any youngster of them all. So, at
least, he averred. And to-night the wind was southerly, and his old hurts
irked him not. Faith he was almost minded to try a ruffle with the cocks
of the Mark on his own account.

"Mind you," he said, "guard low. The attack of the Mark ever comes from
the right leg, half-way to the knee. But I forgot--what use is it to
tell you, that are born of the Mark, and have learned sword-cunning in
their schools?"

As we left the castle I looked about and secretly kissed a hand to that
high window, where was the chamber of my Little Playmate, whose cause I
was going out so gladly to champion.

Dessauer and I went quickly down through the lanes which led to the river
edge where the ferry was, and more than once with the comer of my eye I
seemed to see a man in a cloak and sword stealing after us. But as the
sight of a man so attired going secretly in the direction of the
Hirschgasse was no uncommon one, I did not pay any particular attention.

We crossed over in the large flat-boat which plied constantly between the
banks before our fine new bridge was built. We found our enemies on the
ground before us, and they seemed more than a little surprised when they
perceived who my second was. For as we came up the bank I saw them go
close and whisper together like men who hastily alter their plans at the
last moment.

I presented my second in form.

"The High Councillor Leopold von Dessauer, Knight of the Empire!" said I,
proudly enough.

Then the Count presented his, as the custom then was among us of
the North:

"His Excellency Friedrich, Count of Cannstadt, Hereditary Cup-bearer of
the Wolfmark."

Count Cannstadt was an impecunious old-young man, who, chiefly owing to
accumulated gaming-debts and a disagreement with Duke Casimir concerning
the payment of certain rents and duties, had sought the shelter of the
Castle of Plassenburg--a refuge which the generous Prince Karl extended
to all exiles who were not proven criminals.

The seconds bowed first to each other, and then to their opposing
principals. In those days, duels were mostly fought with the combatants'
own swords. And now Von Dessauer took my blade, and, going forward
courteously, handed the hilt to Count Cannstadt, receiving that of Von
Reuss in return. The seconds then compared the lengths, and found almost
half an inch in favor of my opponent. Which being declared, and I
offering no objection, the discrepancy was allowed and the swords
returned us to fall to.

And this without further parley we did.

I was no ways afraid of my opponent. For though a pretty enough, tricky
fighter, he had little practical experience. Also he had quite failed to
strengthen himself by daily custom, and especially by practice at
outrauce, with an enemy keen to run you through in front of you, and the
necessity of keeping a wary eye on half a dozen other conflicts on either
hand, as has constantly to be done in war.

The place where we fought was on a level green platform a little way
above the roofs of the inn of the Hirschgasse, where many a similar
conflict has been fought, and on which many a good fellow has lain,
panting like a grassed trout, with the gasps growing slower and deadlier,
while his opponent wiped his blade on the trampled herbage, and the
seconds looked on with folded arms. There were many bushes and rocks
about, and the place was very secluded to be so near a great city.

At first I did not trouble myself much, nor attempt to force the
fighting. I was content to hold Von Reuss in play, and defend myself till
the hunger edge of his attack was dulled. For I saw on his face a look of
vicious confidence that surprised me, considering his inexperience, and
he lunged with a venom and resolution which, to my mind, betokened a
determination to kill at all hazards.

I knew, however, that presently he must overreach himself, so of set
purpose I kept my blade short, and let him approach nearer. Immediately
he began to press, thinking that he had me at his mercy. We had fought
our way round to a spot on the upper side of the plateau, where for a
moment Von Reuss had a momentary benefit from the nature of the ground.
Here I felt that he gathered himself together, and, presently, as I had
supposed he would, he centred his energy in a determined thrust at my
left breast. This was well enough timed, for my guard had been short and
a little high on purpose to lead him on, and now it took me all my time
to turn his point aside. I saw the steel shoot past, grazing my left arm.
Then with so long a recovery, and the loss of balance from lunging
downhill, he was at my mercy.

As I did not wish to kill him I chose my spot almost at my leisure, and
pinked him two inches below the spring of the neck and close to the
collar-bone, which was running the thing as fine as I could allow myself.

What was my surprise to see my sword-blade arch itself as if it had
stricken a stone wall, and to hear the unmistakable ring of steel
meeting steel.

"Treachery!" cried Von Dessauer and I together; "you are villains both.
He is wearing a shirt of mail!"

And the old man rushed forward with his sword bare in his hand and all
a-tremble with indignation.

I heard the shrill "purl" of a silver call, and, turning me about, there
was the gambler Cannstadt with a whistle at his lips. I dared not turn my
head, for I had still to guard myself against the traitor Von Reuss's
attack, but with the tail of my eye I could see two or three men rise
from behind bushes and rocks, and come running as fast as they could
towards us. Then I knew that Dessauer and I were doomed men unless
something turned up that we wotted not of. For with an old man, and one
so stiff as the High Councillor, for my only ally, it was impossible for
me to hold my own against more than double our numbers.

Nevertheless, Von Dessauer attacked Cannstadt with surprising fury and
determination, anger glittering in his eye, and resolution to punish
treachery lending vigor to his thrust. I had not time to observe his
method save unconsciously, for I had to change my position momentarily
that I might take the points of the two men who came down the hill at
speed, sword in hand.

But all this foul play among high-born folk gave me a kind of mortal
sickness. To die in battle is one thing, but over against the very roofs
of your home to find yourself brought to death's door by murderous
treachery is quite another.

At this moment there came news of a diversion. From below was heard the
crying of a stormy voice.

"Halt! I command you! Halt!"

And wheeling sufficiently to see, I observed through the twilight the
figure of a stout man, who came leaping heavily up the hill towards us,
waving a sword as he came. Well, thought I, the more there are of them
the quicker it will be over, and the more credit for us in keeping up our
end so long. Better die in a good fight than live with a bad conscience.

With which admirable reflection I sent my sword through Von Reuss's
sword-arm, in the fleshy part, severing the muscle and causing him to
drop his blade. I had him then at my mercy, and experienced a great
desire to push my blade down his throat, for a treacherous cowardly
hound as he had proved himself to me. But instead of this I had to turn
towards the other two who came at the charge down the hill and were now
close upon us.

I had just time to leap aside from the first and let him overrun himself
when he shot almost upon the sword of the thick-set man, who came up the
hill shouting to us to stop. The second man I engaged, and a stanch blade
I found him, though fighting for as dirty a cause as ever man crossed
swords in.

"Halt!" came the voice of command again--the voice I knew so well--"in
the name of the State I bid you cease!"

It was the voice of Karl, Prince of Plassenburg.

"We must take the rough with the smooth now. We must kill them, every
one, like stanch men of the Mark!" cried Von Reuss. "There is no safety
for any of us else." And in a moment we were at it, the Prince furiously
assaulting the second of the bravoes who came down the hill. More coolly
than I had given him credit for, Von Reuss stuffed a silken kerchief into
the hole in his shoulder, and repossessed himself of his weapon in his
other hand.

It was the briskest kind of a bicker that ensued for a little while there
on the bosky, broomy hill-side in the evening light. Ah, Dessauer was
down at last and Cannstadt at his throat! I went about with a whirl,
leaving my own man for the moment, and rushed upon the Count's false
second. He turned to receive me, but not quite quick enough, for I got
him two inches below where I had pinked his principal's ring-mail, and
that made all the difference. Cannstadt did not immediately drop his
sword. But his limbs weakened, and he fell forward without a sound.

Then as I looked about, there was the Prince manfully crossing swords
with two, and the cowardly Von Reuss creeping up with his sword shortened
in his left hand with intent to slay him from behind.

Whereat I gave a furious cry of anguish, that I should have been the
means of bringing my noble master into such peril. The Prince Karl had at
the same moment some intuition of the treacherous foe behind him, for he
leaped aside with more agility than I had ever seen him display before on
foot, and Von Reuss was too sorely wounded to follow.

Presently I was at my first bravo again, and the Prince being left with
but one, Von Reuss took the opportunity to slip away over the hill.

The rest of the conflict was not long a-settling. There were loud voices
from the stream beneath. The combat had been observed, and half a score
of the Prince's guard were already swimming, wading, and leaping into
small boats in their haste to be first to our assistance.

But we did not need their aid. I passed my blade through and through my
assailant, almost at the same moment that the Prince spiked his man so
directly in the throat, so that the red point stood out in the hollow of
his neck behind.

Both went down simultaneously, and there was Von Reuss on horseback, just
disappearing over the ridge. Prince Karl wiped his brow.

"What devil's traitors!" he cried. "Poor Dessauer, I wonder what he has
gotten? Let us go to him."

We went across the plateau together, and knelt by the side of the old
man. At first I could not find the wound, though there was blood enough
upon his face and fencing-habit. But presently I discovered that his
scalp had been cut from above the eye backwards to the crown of his
head--a shallow, ploughing scratch, no more, though it had effectually
stunned the old man.

Even as I held him in my arms, he came to and looked about him.

"Are they all dead?" he said, feeling about for his sword.

"You were nearly dead, dearest of friends," said my master. "But be
content. You have done very well for so young a fighter. An you behave
yourself, and keep from such brawling in the future, I declare I will
give you a company!"

Dessauer smiled.

"All dead?" he asked, trying still to look about him.

"Your man is dead, or the next thing to it, two other rascals grievously
wounded, and the scoundrel Von Reuss fled, as well he might. But my
archers are already on his track."

Up the hill came Jorian and Boris leading the rout.

"Is the Prince safe?" cried Jorian.

"The Prince is safe," said Karl, answering for himself.

"Good!" chorussed Jorian, Boris, and all the archers together.

"Catch me that man on horseback there!" cried the Prince. "Take him or
kill him, but if you can help it do not let him escape. He is the Count
von Reuss, and a double traitor."

"Good!" cried the pair, and set off after him, all dripping as they were
from their abrupt passage of the river.



We carried Dessauer back to the boat with the utmost tenderness, the
Prince walking by his side, and oft-times taking his hand. I followed
behind them, more than a little sad to think that my troubles should have
caused so good and true a man so dangerous a wound. For though in a young
man the scalp-wound would have healed in a week, in a man of the High
Councillor's age and delicacy of constitution it might have the most
serious effects.

But Dessauer himself made light of it.

"I needed a leech to bleed me," he said. "I was coward enough to put off
the kindly surgery, and here our young friend has provided me one
without cost. His last operation, too, and so no fee to pay. I am a
fortunate man."

We came to the gate of the Palace of Plassenburg.

My Lady Princess met us, pale and obviously anxious, with lips compressed
and a strange cold glitter in her emerald eyes.

"So strange a thing has happened!" she began.

"No stranger than hath happened to us," cried the Prince.

"Why, what hath happened to you?" she demanded, quickly.

"Your fine Von Reuss has proved himself a traitor. He fought a duel with
Hugo here all tricked in chain-armor, and when found out he whistled his
rascals from the covert to slay us. But we bested him, and he is over the
hill, with Jorian and Boris hot after his heel."

"And he hath not gone alone!" said the Princess, and her eyes were
brilliant with excitement.

"Not gone alone?" said the Prince. "What do you know about this
black work?"

"Because Helene, my maid of honor, hath fled to join him," she
said, looking anxiously at us, like one who perils much upon a
throw of the dice.

I laughed aloud. So certain was I of the utter impossibility of the
thing, that I laughed a laugh of scorn. And I saw the sound of my voice
jar the Lady Ysolinde like a blow on the face.

"You do not believe!" she said, standing straight before me.

"I do not believe--I know!" answered I, curtly enough.

"Nevertheless the thing is true," she said, with a curious, pleading
expression, as if she had been charged with wrong-doing and were clearing
herself, though none had accused her by word or look.

"It is most true," the Princess went on. "She fled from the palace an
hour before sundown. She was seen mounting a horse belonging to Von
Reuss at the Wolfmark gate, with two of his men in attendance upon her.
She is known to have received a note by the hand of an unknown messenger
an hour before."

I did not wait for the permission of the Princess, but tore up the
women's staircase to Helene's room, where I found nothing out of
place--not so much as a fold of lace. After a hurried look round I was
about to leave the room when a crumpled scrap of paper, half hidden by a
curtain, caught my eye.

I stooped and picked it up. It was written in an unknown and probably
disguised hand--a hand cumbersome and unclerkly:

"Come to me. Meet me at the Red Tower. I need you."

There was no more; the signature was torn away, and if the letter were
genuine it was more than enough. But no thought of its truth nor of the
falseness of Helene so much as crossed my mind.

To tell the truth, it struck me from the first that the Lady Ysolinde
might have placed the letter there herself. So I said nothing about it
when I descended.

The Prince met me half-way up the stairs.

"Well?" he questioned, bending his thick brows upon me.

"She is gone, certainly," said I; "where or how I do not yet know. But
with your permission I will pursue and find out."

"Or, I presume, without my permission?" said the Prince.

I nodded, for it was vain to pretend otherwise--foolish, too, with
such a master.

"Go, then, and God be with you!" he said. "It is a fine thing to
believe in love."

And in ten minutes I was riding towards the Wolfsberg.

As I went past the great four-square gibbet which had made an end of
Ritterdom in Plassenburg, I noted that there was a gathering of the
hooded folk--the carrion crows. And lo! there before me, already
comfortably a-swing, were our late foes, the two bravoes, and in the
middle the dead Cannstadt tucked up beside them, for all his five hundred
years of ancestry--stamped traitor and coward by the Miller's Son, who
minded none of these things, but understood a true man when he met him.

I pounded along my way, and for the first ten miles did well, but there
my horse stumbled and broke a leg in a wretched mole-run widened by the
winter rains. In mercy I had to kill the poor beast, and there I was left
without other means of conveyance than my own feet.

It was a long night as I pushed onward through the mire. For presently
it had come on to rain--a thick, dank rain, which wetted through all
covering, yet fell soft as caressing on the skin.

I took shelter at last in a farm-house with honest folk, who right
willingly sat up all night about the fire, snoring on chairs and hard
settles that I might have their single sleeping-chamber, where, under
strings of onions and odorous dried herbs, I rested well enough. For I
was dead tired with the excitement and anxiety of the day--and at such
times one often sleeps best.

On the morrow I got another horse, but the brute, heavy-footed from the
plough, was so slow that, save for the look of the thing, I might just as
well have been afoot.

Nevertheless I pushed towards the town of Thorn, hearing and seeing
naught of my dear Playmate, though, as you may well imagine, I asked at
every wayside place.

It was at the entering in of the strange country of the brick-dust that I
met Jorian and Boris. They were riding excellent horses, unblown, and in
good condition--the which, when I asked how they came by such noble
steeds, they said that a man gave them to them.

"Jorian," said I, sharply, "where have you been?"

"To the city of Thorn," said he, more briskly than was his wont, so that
I knew he had tidings to communicate.

"Saw you the Lady Helene?" I asked, eagerly, of them.

He shook his head, yet pleasantly.

"Nay," said he, "I saw her not. The Red Tower is not a healthy place for
men of Plassenburg, nor yet the White Gate and the house of Master Gerard
von Sturm. But Mistress Helene is in safety, so much Boris and I are
assured of."

"Not with Von Reuss?" cried I, fear thrilling sudden in my voice that he
had stolen her and now held her in captivity.

Boris held up his hand as a signal that I must not hurry his companion,
who was clearly doing his best.

"She is with Gottfried Gottfried, the old man, your father, and is

"Did she go to them of her own free will, or did my father send for her?"
I went on, for much depended upon that question.

"Nay," answered Jorian, "that I know not. But certainly she is with him,
and safe. The Count, too, is with his uncle, and they say also
safe--under lock and key."

"Good!" quoth Boris.

"Let us all three go back to Plassenburg forthwith!" cried I.

"Good!" chorussed both of them together, unanimously slapping their
thighs. "Choose one of our horses. He was a good man who gave us them. We
wish we had known. We should have asked him for another when we were
about it."

Nevertheless, I rode back to Plassenburg on the farmer's beast, sadly
enough, yet somewhat contented. For Helene was with my father, and far
safer, as I judged, than in the palace chambers of Plassenburg, and
within striking distance of the Lady Ysolinde. And in that I judged not
wrong, though the future seemed for a while to belie my confidence.



The Chancellor Leopold von Dessauer, High Councillor of the Prince, with
his head still bound up, was pacing the sparred gallery outside the
private apartments of his master. It was in the heats of the late summer,
before the ripening of the orchard fruits had had time to culminate, or
the russet to come out slowly upon the apples, like a blush upon a
woman's soft, dusky cheek.

The High Councillor was in a bad humor. For he had been kept waiting, and
that by a man of no account. At last a forester in a uniform of dark
green, with the Prince's bugle and sparrow-hawk in silver everywhere
about him, made his appearance at the foot of the gallery, and stood
waiting Dessauer's summons with his plumed hat of soft cloth in his hand.

"Hither, man!" cried the High Councillor, sharply. "What has kept you?
Why were you not here half an hour ago? If this be the way you keep the
Prince's forests, no wonder there are many deer taken by reiving rascals
and the forest laws daily broken."

"High Mightiness," said the man, humbly, looking down, "it was my
daughter--she would not give up the necklace. She hath had it for her own
since she was a child, and she would not deliver it, though I threatened
her with your well-born anger."

"And have you got it with you? Surely you and she have not dared to keep
it!" began the Chancellor, with gathering fury on his eyebrow.

"Yea, truly, truly, an you will have patience, my Lord, I have it
here,"-said the man, drawing a necklace of golden bars curiously arranged
from his leathern wallet; and, kneeling on his knee, he presented it to
the Chancellor.

"How did you prevail with the maid?" he asked, as soon as he had it in
hand--"you used no constraint or force, I hope?"

"Nay, sir," said the man, "for my wife being dead and my daughter
marriageable, she keeps house for me; and having a sweetheart betrothed a
year ago she hath been laying aside plenishing gear and women's dainty
gewgaws. So these I took one by one, beginning with a mirror of polished
brass, and made as if I would dash them in pieces if she discovered not
where the chain of gold was hid."

"And she revealed it?" said Dessauer.

"Aye," said the man, "but none so willingly, as you might suppose. I had
Saint Peter's own trouble to get it from her. Indeed, I prayed to the
Holy Apostle to aid me."

"What had Saint Peter to do with it?" said the Councillor, pausing and
looking humorsomely at the man, like an ascetic sparrow with his head
at one side.

"Because our Holy Saint Peter is the only saint who understands the
trouble men have with the contrariness of women."

"Why so?" cried the Chancellor, rubbing his hand with a curious pleasure
at the colloquy.

"Because he only among the Apostles was a married man and had experience
of a mother-in-law."

"Art a wise forester. Where got you that wisdom?"

"Why," said the man, modestly, "partly by nature, partly because I also
have been married, and so have graduated in the wars."

"It is the same thing," said the Chancellor, "according to your
own telling."

"Aye, sir," quoth the man, "but yet the young fellows will take no
warning. 'It is better to marry than to burn,' said the other Apostle.
But methinks he knew nothing about it, being no better than a
bachelor, or he would have amended it, 'It is better to burn than to
marry _and_ burn.'"

"Ha! art also a theologe, Sir Woodman?" cried Dessauer. "But enough; this
touches on the Inquisition and the Holy Office. Let us despatch."

All this time the High Councillor had been gazing by fits and starts at
the links of the necklace, turning it about and viewing it from
every-angle. It was composed of short bars of gold laid horizontally
three and three together, and bound together with short chains of gold.
And on each of the bars there was engraven a crest. Letters also were on
the bars, cut in plain deep script.

"Now tell your tale and tell it briefly--that is, if brevity be in you,
which I doubt," said Dessauer.

"As I said before," quoth the forester, "I was in the wars; I mean not
only in the wars with womenkind, but also with mankind. And among other
things I remember the night of the Duke Casimir's famous ride, when he
took Plassenburg, because there was scarce a sober man within the walls."

"And his Highness the Prince Karl away on Baltic side with his men, else
had Casimir never set foot within the city!" cried the High Chancellor.

"Ah, like enow," said the woodman, "I ken naught of that. But this I do
know, Plassenburg was taken with much slaughter and grievous loss of
goodly gear. They captivated many noble prisoners also, and, because I
slept in the stables, they took me to help lead the horses. Yet I was not
ill-treated, save that I had to keep pace with the horsemen upon my feet.
But I saw the Prince--"

"Which Prince? Speak plainly," said the High Councillor, gruffly.

"Why, the Prince Dietrich Hohenfriedberg of Plassenburg," said the man.
"He, as your well-born Wisdom remembers, was then the only Prince in
these parts--a good man, and born of the noblest, though not of the
capacity of his present Highness the Prince Karl."

"Proceed somewhat faster. Yon move as slowly as one of your own
forest oxen at the wood-hauling," cried the well-born Councillor in a
testy tone.

"We were long in riding over to Thorn--two days and nights upon the way.
It was a terrible time, and all the while those condemned beasts of the
Wolfmark, Casimir's Black Riders, driving us with their spears like
prick-goads, till our backs were all bleeding, gentle and simple alike.
So at midnight of the third day we came to the city of Thorn, and up
through the streets to the Wolfsberg. There was no gladness in the town,
such as there would have been in our city had there been news of a
victory, or even of some hundreds of the enemy's horses well driven. For
then as now the town hated its Duke. And so they were all silent.

"Then in the darkness we came to the castle, and the word was: 'Dismount,
and to the shambles!' Me and my like they meddled not with, but only the
great ones. And it was then, as I told you, that I saw Prince Dietrich
with the little maid in his arms. I had carried her part of the way for
him, and faithfully delivered her up again, feeding her with the choicest
meats I could obtain when she could eat. But she was tired, mostly, and
would not look at food. So for this he gave me her necklace from about
her pretty neck. But the rest of her noble golden gear, the belt and the
clasps, were upon the maid when the headsman of Thorn delivered her to
one that stood near by. So, being almost asleep with weariness and
exhausted with terror, they carried her away, and I saw the maid no more.

"But the Prince Dietrich Hohenfriedberg was beheaded within the hour,
and, as is their hellish custom, his body was thrown to the Duke's
blood-hounds that were clamoring all the time behind their fence.

"God help us--such a disaster that night was for Plassenburg! Will the
Prince never set about wiping away the disgrace?"

"Aye, that he will!" cried the High Chancellor, suddenly bursting into a
fury, strangely unlike him. "He will wash it away in the blood of Duke
Casimir and all his evil brood--the Wolves of the Mark truly are they
named. And the Wolfsberg shall go up in flaming fire to heaven, so that
the ashes of it shall be cast abroad to make the Mark yet grayer and more
desolate--like the fell of the beasts that dwelt within it."

"Amen! Let it come quick, say I--that I may see it before I die!" cried
the forester, bowing low before the Chancellor.



"This grows past all bearing," cried the Prince one morning, when he had
summoned into his hall the Chancellor Dessauer and myself. For, though
the Prince was still wont to command in person in any important action,
and in the general policy of his realm took counsel with none, yet it had
somehow come about that we, the old man and the young, had been
constituted an informal council of two which was liable to be summoned at
any moment, whenever the Prince was weary or troubled.

He struck one clinched hand into the palm of the other before he
spoke again.

"Duke Casimir is either in his dotage, or his riders have gotten out of
hand since Hugo and you drove the young wolf over to help the old. Both
are likely enough, with a people praying for deliverance and yearning for
their Duke's death. A bare board and an empty treasury may render a new
course of plunder necessary abroad, in order to keep his Dukedom from
toppling about his ears at home. After all, 'tis natural enough. But I
had thought that he would have had enough of sense to let the borders of
Plassenburg alone so long as its Prince lived."

"And what, my lord, has befallen?" asked the High Councillor.

"Why," cried the Prince, "the Black Riders of the Wolfmark are out again,
and have left their ancient trail behind them in slain men and frantic
women--and on our borders, too, among our kindly husbandmen, our honest,
sunburnt peasants. Bitterly shall Casimir Ironteeth rue the day that he
meddled with Karl Miller's Son."

"Your Highness," I said, "this is indeed madness. We have but to collect
our forces, choose a time, and, lo! we are within the town of Thorn! Once
there, we would be welcomed by man, woman, and child. We could then
besiege the Wolfsberg, and in three days make an end."

"Aye, that is it," said the Prince, grimly; "you have hit it, Hugo. We
_will_ make an end."

"Also, my Prince," I went on, boldly, "so ye give me leave and approve of
my design, I will go alone to the town of Thorn, and bring you back word
of their power and dispositions. Save the Count von Reuss, there is none
who could now recognize me within the city walls."

"What think ye, Dessauer?" said the Prince, looking over at the High

"I think well," said he, a little doubtfully; "but would it not be
better that two should go than that one should adventure alone into the
wolf's den ?"

"Surely it were better to keep the matter between our three selves," the
Prince made answer; "not even the Princess must know of our attempt. Keep
a candle flame within the hollow of your palm, and though the wind blow
the sparks will not fly far."

"I will go with the lad, Prince Karl," said the Chancellor, firmly. "In
my youth I had some practice as a leech. I am acquainted with the art of
healing. I could travel either as a doctor of healing, as a travelling
philosopher seeking disputation with the scholars of each country, or,
perhaps best of all, in mine own quality of a doctor of law. And in any
case this young man might with all safety be my pupil or servant,
whichever best liketh him."

"Servant, then," said I, "for the art of disputation I have hitherto
chiefly undertaken with my fists and side-irons. And as to surgery, I am
more practised in the giving of wounds than in the healing of them."

The Prince leaned his head upon his hand. He thought carefully over our
proposal, taking up point after point, resolving difficulty after
difficulty in his mind, as was his wont.

"How long would you be away?" he asked, looking up at us.

"Ten days, Prince," said I. "Give us but ten days and we will return."

"I will give you eight, and if ye are not home again on the eve of the
last, as sure as I am Karl Miller's Son, the army of Plassenburg will be
thundering on the walls of Thorn seeking for a wandering Chancellor and a
lost Hugo Gottfried!"

And so it was arranged. We of the Prince's staff were indeed in great
need of such a mission, for we had heard nothing from Thorn or the
Wolfmark during many months; no tidings, at all events, that could be
relied upon. For the cutting up of our frontiers by new raids, and the
severance of all relations between us and the dwellers in the Wolfmark,
through fear of reprisals, caused us to hear little news but such as was
manifest lies.

As thus: Duke Casimir was collecting a great army, magnificent with
cannon and munitions of war. He was shut up tight in the Wolfsberg, not
daring to show his face to his own citizens. He would appear some fine
day before the Palace of Plassenburg and slay every man of us. He was in
a madman's cell, and Otho von Reuss was Duke of the Mark in his place.

These were only a few of the stories which were brought to regale us
daily. And since there was no certainty anywhere, we were all in the dark
concerning the military matters which it behooved us greatly to be
acquainted with. Therefore I was honestly eager for my master's sake to
undertake the perilous journey. But to tell the whole truth, the fact
that I had not had a word from the Little Playmate, not so much as a line
of script nor a verbal message since her disappearance, made me more
eager to go than the high politics of a dozen provinces.

Since the duel, and the final declaring of my love for Helene, I had seen
but little of the Princess. Indeed, I kept out of her way, so far at
least as I could. And the Lady Ysolinde remained mostly in her own
domains--to which, of late, I had been less and less invited.
Nevertheless, when we met, she was more than kind to me--gentle,
forbearing, pathetic almost in bearing and demeanor, like as a woman
wronged, slighted, misconstrued.

Also there was sent to my quarters a new banner for my following,
broidered and blazoned in yellow and blue, a saddle-cloth of silk for my
horse, fine as a woman's robe, with a crowned Y faint and small in the
corner, lettered in straw-colored gold. No man could help being touched
by such kindly thought, which, after all, is more than mere liberality.

Yet I saw a sight upon her stairs one night which awoke me with a sudden
start to the fact that we had one to reckon with in our journeying to the
city of Thorn whom we had not as yet taken into consideration.

For it chanced that I was passing up to the Prince's apartments by the
quicker way, through corridors and by stairs to which he had given me
private access. And there, upon the steps leading to the Lady Ysolinde's
rooms, I saw the decent servitor of Master Gerard stand waiting. He
stared as hard at me as I did at him. But whereas his smooth, silent,
secret face remained with me, and I knew him at a glance, it was, I
judged, clean impossible that he could know the beardless stripling in
the mustached leader of soldiers, walking well-accustomed and unafraid
through palaces.

The man had a letter in his hand, and I saw him deliver it to a maid who
came to the dividing curtain to take it.

So there was later news from the city of Thorn within the Palace of
Plassenburg than we of the Prince's council of three possessed. Should I
tell our Karl of this encounter? I thought it might be safer not. Because
the Prince was the last man to attempt to obtain aught from his wife by
compulsion, and any question, direct or indirect, might only put her upon
her guard.

If I let him into the secret, the Prince would be most likely to stride
straight into the Princess's rooms with the brusque words: "Gottfried has
seen a letter come to you from your father--what were its contents?"

And that would not suit us at all.

So, rightly or wrongly, I kept the matter from my master, speaking of it
only to Dessauer. And if aught befel from my reticence, it was at least I
myself who bore the burden, and, in the final event, paid the penalty.



The next morning early, as I went about making my dispositions, and
putting men of trust in positions fit for them--for the Prince has given
me the command of all the soldiers within the city--the Lady Ysolinde
came to me upon the terrace.

"Walk with me a while," she said, "in the lower garden. It is a quiet
place, and I would speak with you."

It was a command that I dared not refuse to obey, yet my greatest enemy
would not accuse me that I went lightly or willingly to such a tryst.

The Lady Ysolinde passed on daintily and proudly before me, and I
followed, more like a condemned criminal lamping heavily to the scaffold
than a lad of mettle accompanying a fair lady to a rendezvous of her own
asking under the greenwood-tree.

But I need not have feared. The Princess's mood was mild, and I saw her
in a humor in which I had never seen her before.

She moved before me over the grass, with her head a little turned up to
the skies, as though appealing out of her innocence to the Beings who sat
behind and sorted out the hearts of men and women.

At a great weeping-elm, under which was a seat, she turned. It formed a
wide canopy of shade, grateful and cool. For the breezes stirred under
the leaves, and the river moved beneath with a pleasant, meditative
hush of sound.

"Hugo Gottfried, once you were my friend," she began; "what have I done
that you should be my friend no more? Tell me plainly. I liked you when
as a lad, the son of the Red Axe, you had come to my father's house about
some boyish freak. I have not done ill by you since that day. And now
that you are a leader of men and of rank and honor here in my husband's
country of Plassenburg, I would be your well-wisher still. I am conscious
of no reason for my having forfeited your liking. But that I would know
for certain--and now."

As she threw back her head and let her clear emerald eyes rest upon me, I
never saw woman born of woman look more innocent. Indeed, in these days
of mistrust, it is innocence under suspicion which usually looks most
guilty, knowing what is expected of it.

"Lady Ysolinde," I made answer, "you try me hard and sore. You put me by
force in the wrong. You do me indeed great honor, as you have ever done
all these years. In reverence and high respect I shall ever hold you for
all that you have done--for your kindness to me and to Helene, the orphan
girl who came from our father's roof with me. I know no reason why there
should be any break in our friendship--nor shall there be, if you will
pardon my folly and--"

"Tush!" she said, impetuously; "you speak things empty, vain, the
rattling of knuckle-bones in a bladder--not live words at all. Think you
I have never listened to true men? Do not I, Ysolinde of Plassenburg,
know the sound of words that have the heart behind them? I have heard you
speak such yourself. Do not insult me then with platitudes, nor try to
divert me with the piping of children in the market-place. I will not
dance to them, nor yet, like a foolish kitchen-wench, smile at the
jingling of your trinketry."

"Your Highness--" I began again.

She waved her hand as if putting a light thing away.

"I was a woman to you before you knew that I was a Princess," she said;
"you need not forget that I am a woman still, cursed with the plate-mail
of rank added to the weariness and inaction of a woman's breaking heart."

I grew acutely conscious that I was not distinguishing myself in this
interview. So I dashed again at the wall, and this time, for a moment at
least, overbore interruption.

"Ysolinde, my dear lady," I said to her, "you are the Prince's and my
good master's wife. And if I have stood aloof, it is that I wished that
he should have the companionship which one day I desire to find for
myself--and also that I might always have the right to look straight into
my master's eyes."

"Now you talk like a silly prating priestling," she said. "You are both
mighty careful of your honesty, your virtue, your companionship--your
precious master and you. But you do not think what it is to starve a
woman's heart, to bid her find her level among broiderers of bannerets
and stitchers in tapestry. Ah! if the particular God who happened to be
at the digging of us out of the happier pit of oblivion had only made me
a man, I, at least, should neither have been a straitlaced Jackanapes nor
yet a prating, callow-bearded wiseacre."

"And am I either?" said I, weakly enough.

"You are in danger of becoming both," she said, promptly. "Once I saw
better things in you. I thought I had won me a friend, and that for once
I might put my anchor down. My husband neglects me, so much cannot have
escaped your eagle eye. He is twice my age, and he thinks more of you,
more of Councillor Von Dessauer, more of his horse than of me, Ysolinde
of Plassenburg. And I was made to be loved and to love. How much of
either, think you, have I ever known? The true lot of a woman shut to me,
the sweet love of man and woman wiled from me, even the communion of the
spirit forbidden. I might as lief carry a wizened nut-kernel within my
brain-pan as a thinking soul, for all that any one cares. I am a woman of

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