Part 5 out of 7
another age stranded on the shores of a time made only for men. I am the
woman priests talk against, or perhaps rather the witch-woman Lilith on
the outside of Eden's wall. Or I may be the woman of a time yet to come,
when she who is man's mate shall not be only a gay-decked bird to sit on
his wrist, tethered with a leash and called back to her master with a
These things I had never listened to before, nor, indeed, thought of.
Nevertheless, though I could not answer her, I felt in my heart that
she was wrong, and that a woman has always power over men, being
stronger than all ideals, philosophies, kingdoms--aye, even our holy
"After all," I said, piqued a little at her tone, as men are wont to be
at that which they do not understand, "my Lady Ysolinde, wherefore should
you not tell these things to the Prince, your husband, and not to me,
that am neither your husband nor your lover?"
"And if you had been both?" she interjected, a little breathlessly.
"Then, my lady," I replied, stirred by her persistence, "you would have
obeyed me and served me just as you say. Or else I should have broken
your spirit as a man is broken on the wheel."
It was a prideful saying, and one informed with all ignorance and
conceit. Yet the Lady Ysolinde gave a long sigh.
"Ah, that would have been sweet, too," she said. "You are the one man I
should have delighted to call master, to have done your bidding. That had
been a thing different indeed! But you love me not. You love a chit, a
chitterling--a pretty thing that can but peep and mutter, whose
heart's depths I have sounded with my finger-nail, and whose babyish
vanity I have tickled with a straw."
This was enough and too much.
"Madam," said I, "the clear stars are not fouled by throwing filth at
them, nor yet the Lady Helene--whom I do acknowledge that with all my
heart I love--by the speaking of any ill words. You do but wrong
yourself, most noble lady. For your heart tells you other things, both of
the maid I love and of me that am her true servant, and, if I might, your
The Princess reached out her hand, looking, not with anger, but rather
wistfully at me, like a mother at a son who goes to his death with
blasphemy on his lips.
"Forgive me," she said, gently. "I would not at the last have you go
forth thinking ill of me. Indeed, you think all too well, and make me do
things that are better than mine intent, because I know that you expect
them of me. I have done many ill and cruel things in my poor life, simply
from idleness and the empty, unsatisfied heart. If you had loved me or
taught me or driven me, I might have tried better things. Perhaps in the
end, for great love's sake, I may yet do one worthy deed that shall blot
out all the rest. Farewell!"
And without another spoken word she moved away, and left me in the green
pleasaunces of the garden, with my heart riven this way and that, scarce
knowing what I did or where I stood.
CAPTAIN KARL MILLER'S SON
Black, blank, chill, confining night shut us in as Leopold Dessauer and I
rode out of Plassenburg. Our horses had been made ready for us at the
little water-gate in the lower garden. Fain would I have taken also
Jorian and Boris, but on this occasion the fewer the safer. For to enter
Thorn was to go with lighted matches into a powder-magazine.
The rushes in the river rustled dry and cold along the brink. The leaves
of the linden-trees chuckled overhead, rubbing their palms together
spitefully. There was mockery of our foolhardy enterprise in the soft
whispering sough of the water, as I heard it lapper beneath the
ferry-boat that lay ready to cross to the other side. Old Hans, the
Prince's ferryman, snored in his boat. Above in the women's chambers a
light went to and fro. I judged that it was in the bower of the Lady
Ysolinde. But not a string of my heart moved. For pity is so weak and
love so strong that all my nature was now on the strain forward towards
Helene and the Wolfsberg, like an eager hound that pulls at the
"My love! my love!" I cried in my heart, "I am coming to you, I am going
out to find you! Though I give my life for it, I shall at least see and
touch you ere I die."
For during these last days my love had grown greatly upon me, being of
that kind which gathers within a man, banks up, fills out his crevices,
and he know it not. In the Wolfmark there are oft, in the heart of the
limestone, caverns where the water sleeps deep and cool, while above, on
the thin, rocky crust, the sun beats and the very lizards die for lack
of moisture. It was only now that I had broken up the crust of my nature
and found the caverns under, where love was abiding all undreamed of,
deep, and eternal as the sea. It is a great thing and a beautiful to
meet love for the first time face to face, not to nod to only as to an
acquaintance, and to know how great and masterful he is; to say, "Love,
I am yours. Do with me that which seemeth good to you. I was strong--now
in your hands am I become weak. I was proud--now am I glad to be humble
and kneel, waiting your word. You have made life and death the same
thing to me, for the sake of the Beloved. I am ready to take either from
But enough! We were riding out of the dark pleasaunces of the palace, the
leaves were rustling and the sedges blowing. That was what began it,
carrying away my thoughts.
Dessauer rode behind me, letting his horse follow mine, nose to tail.
For, being used to the visitation of the city outposts, I knew the ground
At every hundred yards we were halted, and I answered. For I had posted
the men myself, making sure that Plassenburg should not again be taken by
surprise. On the other hand, I had determined that the spoiler should now
be made despoiled, and that the foul den of the Wolf should be cleansed
as by fire.
Then, like the breaking up of the Baltic ice in spring, the thought ran
through me--my father and the maid of the Red Tower, what of them?
Why, at the very first (so I told myself), I should set a guard of the
best troops in Plassenburg about the Red Tower, and carry them
all--Helene, my father, and old Hanne--to a safe place till Prince Karl
and I had made an end. With our stark veterans swarming in Thorn, that
would easily be done. And so the plan abode to be altered, broidered, and
recast in the imagination of my heart.
We were soon out on the darksome, unguarded road, and after that I
steered chiefly by the lights of the palace behind me, Dessauer saying no
word, but riding like a man-at-arms close behind me.
We had reached the crown of the green hill over whose slopes the path to
the Wolf markwinds--the path by which, doubtless, Helene had travelled
the night of the duel.
As I came to the summit, mounting the steepest part slowly, I was aware
of a figure dark against the sky, no more apparent than a blacker patch
of night where all was dark. It was in shape as of a horseman sitting his
steed on the crest of the hill.
Instantly I drew my pistol, in which I had become expert.
"Your name and business?" cried I to the shape on the hill-side. For,
indeed, none had any right to be abroad so near the city of Plassenburg,
armed cap-a-pie, at that time of the night. And for a moment the thought
flashed upon me that the tales we had heard might after all be true, and
the armies of the Wolfmark nearer than we dreamed of.
"Hugo--Von Dessauer!" quoth right jovially to my ear a voice well known
and ever dear to me, the voice of my master, the Prince Karl.
"The Prince!" cried I. "My lord, what do you here? This is stark
madness--you, who should be within the walls of the palace, with the
guards watching three deep about you. What would come to the State of
Plassenburg if it wanted you?"
"Oh," said he, lightly, falling in beside us in the most natural
fashion, "you and Von Dessauer in dual control would be a singular
improvement on the present head of the State. You, Hugo, would keep the
soldiers to their work, and Von Dessauer could look nobly after the
"But who would command us and be a gracious and beloved master to us?"
said I. "My Prince, we must instantly return and put you in safety!"
"Indeed, that will you not. By God's truth, if I am not to come all the
way to the city of Thorn with you, I will at least convoy you to the
edges of the Mark. It is so dull, dragging out month by month at ease
within the castle, and not nearly so much fun as it used to be when I was
a poor captain of a free company under the old Prince. Young rattling
blades like Dessauer and yourself make no allowance for the distractions
of an aged and gouty Prince."
Within myself I felt some amusement stir. It was almost exactly what the
Princess, his wife, had alleged as a reason for her wanderings. I could
not help marvelling why these two had not long ere this found out their
great affinity to each other. But now I see that this very likeness of
nature was the first cause of their lack of agreement. Like may, indeed,
draw to like, as the saw hath it. But in the things of love like and like
agree not well together. Fair desires dark, stout and stark desire
slender, slow desires quick, severe desires gay (though this often
secretly). And so the world goes on, and in another generation, sprung
from these desirings, once more dark desireth fair and fair dark.
There I am at it again. Oh, but I, Hugo Gottfried, am the wise man when I
set out on my disquisitions. I could new-make all the saws of the world,
set instances to them, and never breathe myself.
"Nay," said the Prince, "all is safe set within and without, thanks to my
brave commander and wise Chancellor, and these other matters can e'en
bide till I go back to them. Consider that I am but a captain of horse
going a-wooing and needing to talk gayly for good comradeship by the
road. Call me honest Captain Miller's Son."
So Captain Miller's Son rode with Herr Doctor Schmidt and his servant
Johann. And a merry time the three of us had till we arrived at the
borders of the Mark.
Now I have not time nor yet space (though a great deal of inclination) to
tell of the wondrous pranks we played--of the broad-haunched countrywomen
we rallied (or rather whom Captain Miller's Son rallied, and who, truth
to tell, mostly gave as good as they got, or better, to that soldier's
huge delight), the stout yeoman families into whose midst we went, and
their opinion of the Prince. Of the last I have a good tale to tell. "A
good man and a kindly," so the man said; "he has given us safe horse, fat
cow, and a quiet life. But yet the old was good too. The true race to
reign is ever the anointed Prince."
"But then, did not Dietrich, the anointed Prince, harry you? And worse,
let others plunder you? And that is not the fashion of Prince Karl,
usurper though he be!" said the Prince.
"Nay," the honest man would reply, "usurper is he not--a God-sent boon to
Plassenburg rather. We love him, would fight for him, all my six sons and
I. Would we not, chickens?"
And the six sons rolled out a thunderous "Aye, fight--marry, that
we would!" as they sat, plaiting willow-baskets and mending bows
about the fire.
"But, alas! he is cursed with a mad wife, and, after all said and done,
he is not of the ancient stock," said the ancient man, shaking his head.
And the Prince answered him as quickly, tapping his brow significantly
with his forefinger, "Are not all wives a little touched? Or are yon
passing fortunate in your part of the country? Faith, we of the city will
all come courting to the Tannenwald if you prove better off."
"We are even as our neighbors!" cried the yeoman, shrugging his
shoulders. "Maul, my troth, what sayest thou? Here is a brisk lad that
miscalls thy clan."
The goodwife came forward, smiling, comely, and large of
"Which?" said she, laconically.
The farmer pointed to the Prince. The matron took a good look at him.
"Well," she said, "he is the one that should know most about us. He has
been married once or twice, and hath gotten certain things burned into
him. As for this one," she went on, indicating Dessauer, "he may be
doctor of all the wisdoms, as ye say, but he has never compassed the
mystery of a woman. And this limber young spark with the quick eyes, he
is a bachelor also, but ardently desires to be otherwise. I wot he has a
pretty lass waiting for him somewhere."
"How knew you that of me, goodwife ?" I cried, greatly astonished.
"Why, by the way you looked up when my daughter came dancing in. You were
in your lost brown-study, and then, seeing a pretty lass that most are
glad to rest their eyes upon, you looked away disappointed or careless."
"And how knew you that I was of the ancient guild of the bachelors?"
"Why, by the way that you looked at the pot on the fire, and sniffed
up the stew, and asked how long the dinner would be! The bachelor of
years is ever uneasy about his meals, having little else to be uneasy
about, and no wife, compact of all contrary whimsies, to teach him how
to be patient."
"And how," cried the Prince, in his turn, "knew you that I had been
"Or twice," said the woman, smiling. "Man, ye cackle it like a hen on the
rafters advertising her egg in the manger below. I knew it by the fashion
ye had of hanging up your hat and eke scraping your feet---not after ye
entered, like these other good, careless gentlemen, but with your knife,
outside the door. I see it by your air of one that has been at once under
authority and yet master of a house."
"Well done, good wife!" cried the Prince. "Were I indeed in authority I
would make you either Prime-Minister or chief of my thief-catchers."
And so after that we went to bed.
THE BLACK RIDERS
The next day we jogged along, and many were our advices and admonitions
to the Prince to return. For we were now on the borders of his kingdom,
and from indications which met us on the journeying we knew that the
Black Riders were abroad. For in one place we came to a burned cottage
and the tracks of driven cattle; in another upon a dead forest guard,
with his green coat all splashed in splotches of dark crimson, a sight
which made the Prince clinch his hands and swear. And this also kept him
pretty silent for the rest of the day.
It was about evening of this second day, and we had come to the top of a
little swell of hills, when suddenly beneath us we heard the crackling of
timbers and saw the pale, almost invisible flames beginning to devour a
thriving farm-house at our feet. There were swarms of men in dark armor
about it, running here and there, clapping straw and brushwood to
hay-ricks and byre doors.
"The Black Riders of Duke Casimir," I cried; "down among the bushes and
let them not see us! We must go back. If they so much as suspected the
Prince they would slay us every one."
But ere we had time to flee half a dozen of their scouts came near us,
and, observing our horses and excellent accoutrement, they raised a cry.
There was nothing for it but the spurs on the heels of our boots. So
across the smooth, well-turfed country we had it, and in spite of our
beasts' weariness we made good running. And while we fled I considered
how best to serve the Prince.
"There is a monastery near by," said I, "and the head thereof is a good
friend of ours. Let us, if possible, gain that shelter, and cast
ourselves on the kindness of the good Abbot Tobias."
"Aye," said the Prince, urging his horse to speed, "but will we ever
Then I called myself all the stupid-heads in the world, because I had not
refused to go a foot with the Prince on such a mad venture, and so put
our future and that of the Princedom of Plassenburg in such peril.
But there at last were the gray walls and high towers of the Abbey of
Wolgast. Our pursuers were not yet in sight, so we rode in at the gate
and cast our bridles to a lay brother of the order, crying imperiously
for instant audience of the Abbot.
As soon as my friend Tobias saw us he threw up his hands in a rapture of
welcome. But I soon had him advertised of our great danger. Whereupon he
went directly to the window of his chamber of reception and looked out on
"Ring the abbey bell for full service," he commanded; "throw open the
outer gates and great doors, and lead these horses to the secret crypt
beneath the mortuary chapel."
For the Abbot Tobias was a man of the readiest resource, and in other
circumstances would have made a good soldier.
He hurried us off to the robing-rooms, and made us put on monastic and
priestly garments over our several apparels. Never, Got wot, had I
expected that I should be transformed into a rope-girt praying clerk. But
so it was. I was given a square black cap and a brown robe, and sent to
join the lay brethren. For my hair grew thick as a mat on top and there
was no time to tonsure it.
Now, Dessauer being bald and quite practicable as to his topknot, they
endued him with the full dress of a monk. But at that time I saw not what
was done with the Prince. For my conductor, a laughing, frolicsome lad,
came for me and carried me off all in good faith, telling me the while
that he hoped we should lodge together. There were, he whispered, certain
very fair and pleasant-spoken maids just over the wall, that which you
could climb easily enough by the branches of the pear-tree that grew
contiguous at the south corner.
As we hurried towards the chapel, the monks were streaming out of
their cells in great consternation, grumbling like soldiers at an
"What hath gotten into our old man?" said one. "Hath he overeaten at
mid-day refection, and so is not able to sleep, that he cannot let honest
men enjoy greater peace than himself?"
"What folly!" cried another; "as if we had not prayers enough, without
cheating the Almighty by knocking him up at uncanonical hours!"
"And the choir summoned, and full choral service, no less! Not even a
respectable saint's day--no true churchman indeed, but some heretic of
a Greek fellow!" quoth a third.
Nevertheless, obediently enough they made their way as the bell clanged,
and the throng filed into their places most reverently. It was a pleasant
sight. I came into rank unobtrusively at the back, among the rustling and
nudging lay brethren. In other circumstances it would have amused me to
see the grave faces they turned towards the altar, and to hear all the
while the confused scuffling as they trod on each other's toes, trying
whose skin was the tenderest or whose sandal soles were the thickest. One
or two even tried conclusions with me, but once only. For the first who
adventured got a stamp from my riding-boot which caused him to squeal out
like a stuck pig, and but for the waking thunder of the organ might have
gotten him a month's penance in addition. So after that my toes were left
severely alone among the lay brethren.
Then came the high procession, at which the monks and all stood up. In
front there were the incense-bearers and acolytes, then officers whose
names, not being convent-bred nor yet greatly given to church-craft, I
did not know. Then after them came two men who walked together, at the
sight of whom the' jaws of all the monks dropped, and they stood so
infinitely astonished that no power was left in them. For, instead of
one, two mitred abbots entered in full canonical attire--golden mitre and
green, golden-headed staff, red embroidered robes lined with green. These
two paced solemnly in abreast, and sat down upon twin thrones.
"The Abbot of St. Omer!" whispered one of the lay brothers, naming one of
the most famous abbeys in Europe, and the word flew round like lightning.
Whether he had been instructed or not what to say I do not know. But at
all events I saw the tidings run round the circle of the choir, overleap
the boundary stall, and even reach the officiating priests, who inclined
an eager ear to catch it, and passed the word one to another in the
intervals of the chanted sentences.
Then the news was drowned in the thunder of the anthem, and the organ
dominating all. Everything was strange to me, but most strange the
practice of the lay brothers, who chanted bravely indeed in tune, but who
(for the words set in the chorals) substituted other sentiments of a kind
not usually found in service-books.
"He looks a stout and be-e-e-fy o-o-old fel-low, this A-a-a-bot of St.
Omer, don't you think? Glory, glo-o-ry. Takes his meals well, likes his
qu-a-a-art of Rhenish or his Burgundy to swell his jolly paunch.
Or, as it might be: "Are you coming--are you coming o-o-out to-night?
There will be-ee, good compan-ee-ee. Dancing and deray--lots of pretty
girls; no proud churls. Ten by the clock, when the doors all lock. As it
was in the beginning, is now, ever shall be, world without end,
These were, of course, only the lay brothers, and I hope the friars were
better behaved. I decided, however, that for the sake of my respect for
religion, I should ask Dessauer. Because I saw even the Abbot Tobias lean
smilingly over to Abbot Prince Karl, and I marvelled what they spoke
about. Not that I had long to wonder, for through the open door of the
chapel there streamed a dismal host of invaders from the Wolfmark--black
Hussars of Death, in dark armor, with white skeletons painted over them,
all charnel-house ribs and bones in hideous and ridiculous array--which
was one of Duke Casimir's devices to frighten children, and no doubt
these scarecrows frightened many of these. Specially when these villanous
companies were recruited from all the wild bandits of the Mark, and never
punished for any atrocity, but, on the contrary, rather encouraged in
evil-doing in order to spread the terror of their name.
Yet, when they came rushing in, even the cavaliers of death were daunted
by the sight which met them. And as the solemn service proceeded, amid
the thunder of the great organ pressing, throbbing against the roof and
reverberating along the floor, hands stole to heads, helmets were lifted,
and half-forgotten fear of Holy Church stirred in many a wicked and
outcast heart. Some of the foremost, with their blades half-drawn,
appeared to waver whether or no they should even yet stay the service
with the bloody sword.
But as the monks calmly chanted, and the solemn responses were given, a
stillness stole over the vociferous babble within the great open doors.
Higher and higher the voices of the choir mounted, breaking a way to
heaven. Awe sat on every fierce face, and when the Abbot Tobias arose to
pronounce the benediction, the other stood up beside him, and the
Hussars of Death knelt awe-stricken before the two mitred dignitaries of
Without a murmur they arose and slunk away without so much as
searching the abbey, and so departed on their errands, leaving us safe
Then, when the three of us were again united in the private rooms of the
Abbot Tobias, that hearty ecclesiastic shook us all by the hand and said,
"Good friends, we are well out of that. Nay, no thanks! My monks are not
a bit the worse of a little additional exercise to keep them humble and
lean. Nor is God the less well pleased that we have sought him in time of
need--as Prince and Abbot, as well as soldier and peasant, require."
These being the only words of genuine piety I had heard within the walls
of the monastery, I thought more of the Abbot Tobias from that moment
that he was not ashamed to speak them in the presence of Prince and
Councillor of State, as well as before a rough soldier like myself.
THE FLAG ON THE BED TOWER
It took us all our powers of persuasion with the Prince to induce him
to depart homeward on the morrow, under escort of a dozen sturdy and
well-armed lanzknechte attached to the monastery. But the thing was
done at last.
"And remember," said our Karl, as he embraced us, "that if ye return not
on the eighth day at eventide, the forces of Plassenburg will e'en be
battering on the gates of Thorn by the hour of dusk. I am not going to
have my farms burned, my peasants disembowelled and cast to the
blood-hounds, my women ravished in their kindly home-steadings. God wot!
the cup of Duke Casimir hath been brimming this many a day, and we will
give him a deep and bitter draught to drink when we set it to his lips."
Thereupon we bade our dear and brave master a respectful adieu. Karl
Miller's Son he might be, but for all that he was every inch a king--a
right royal man, whom I would rather serve than the Kaiser himself.
And after he had gone from us a little way he turned again and waved his
hand, crying: "On the eighth day report you without fail, friends of
mine, unless ye wish me to come asking for you at the gates of Thorn,
with some din and the spilling of much blood."
The worthy Abbot Tobias gave us a paper to the Bishop Peter, now restored
to his bishopric of Thorn, and in some measure dwelling at peace with the
Duke Casimir since that ruler's reconciliation with Holy Church. In this
paper it was set forth that the most learned Doctor of Law, Leonard
Schmidt, with his servant Johann, were on their way to Ratisbon to
dispute concerning the Practice of Law and Reason with another most
learned Doctor of the Empire, and that, desiring to remain a day of two
in Thorn, they were by the Abbot Tobias of Wolgast commended to Bishop
Peter's kind hospitality.
For indeed the inns of Germany, and especially of the North, were not at
that time such as wise and learned men could readily submit to--neither
abide in, to be herded with dull, landward peasants and all the
tankard-swilling gutter-knaves of the town.
Of the remainder of our journey I need not speak, seeing that more than
once I have had to tell of that journey from Thorn to Plassenburg. It is
sufficient that by evening the dark, frowning mass of the Wolfsberg lay
imminent before us, each tower black against the sky. For even the new
portions which Casimir had builded were of intention blackened with
soot--mingled with the plaster and mortar, so that they should be of one
piece of grim terror with the rest of the building.
"After all it is not strange," said I to the Councillor, for when
there was no one in sight or very near us I rode with him instead of
behind him, "that the man who shakes at every breeze among the aspens
should take such pains to create the fiction and shadow of terror
about him, when the substance and reality is dominant all the while in
his own bosom."
Since we had come within the distressed and depopulated territory of the
Wolfmark we had not spoken to any soul. Indeed, except a few poor,
desolate peasant folk, burned black with the sun, scuttling from den to
den at the sight of mounted men, we had not seen any living creatures.
The cruelty which had marked the reign of the Black Duke seemed to have
afflicted the very face of the country with a visible curse.
But the day of deliverance was at hand.
As we came nearer to Thorn, there before us was the Red Tower, at first
dimly apparent, then prominent, then commanding, finally rising higher
than all the buildings of the Wolfsberg. How many days had I not looked
down from those windows! And my father was even now up there in his grim
garret, his heart stirring calm and kindly within him, in spite of all
the atmosphere of blood in which his life had moved, as untouched as
though he had been a gardener working among the flowers of the parterre.
Also the block was there, and against it the Red Axe was leaning.
Then I called to mind the prophecy of the Lady Ysolinde, that I should
return to take up my father's dreadful trade. And I smiled thereat.
For I thought that now I came in other circumstances--aye, even though
riding in at The tail of the learned Doctor Schmidt with my shaven and
chestnut-stained face, my flowing hair cropped to the roots, as in the
manner of the servant tribe! Yet for all that was I not the virtual
military commander of the Plassenburg and the right hand of the
Prince, whose forces would soon be clamoring against the walls of
Thorn and bringing down to destruction the hateful tyranny of the
Black Duke Casimir?
"What is that?" said I, pointing to a standard of immense size which
drooped from the Red Tower. It had been hanging limp and straight about
the staff, and till now we had not observed it. But as we went toiling up
to the Weiss Thor, and the last links of road lengthened themselves
indefinitely out before us in their own familiar manner, suddenly a waft
of hot wind from the sun-beaten plain of the Wolfmark blew out an immense
black flag, which spread itself, fluttered feebly, and died down again
flat against the pole.
"Nay," said the Doctor, "that I cannot tell. Surely you should know the
customs of your own city better than I!"
For the heat had made the High Chancellor a little snappish, as well
perhaps as the length of the way.
"Never in my time have I seen such a thing float above the Red Tower," I
made answer. "Can it be a flag of pestilence?"
It seemed a likely thing enough. Cities were often made desolate in a few
days by the plague--the people running to the hills, a weird devil's
silence all about the gates. These might well betoken the presence of a
foe to which the army of Plassenburg would seem as a friend.
As we rode under the Arch of the White Gate of Thorn we were summarily
halted to be examined. We gave our names, and the Doctor showed his
letters of authorization from a dozen learned universities. The Black
Hussar who examined our credentials was of a taciturn disposition, and
evidently no scholar, for he studied the parchments intently upsidedown,
and appeared to have an idea that their genuineness was best investigated
by smelling the seals.
"Where are you bound?" he asked.
"To the house of the learned and venerable Bishop of Thorn!" said the
So the Hussar, having finally approved of the quality of the
scholastic wax, called a subordinate, and bade him guide us to the
house of Bishop Peter.
In an instant we were in the familiar streets, narrow, sunken, and
indescribably dirty, as they now appeared to me. For I had been
accustomed to the wider, airier spaces, and to the bickering rivulets
which ran down most of the steeper streets of Plassenburg, and which made
it one of the cleanest towns in the world. So that the ancient and
unreformed filth and wretchedness of Thorn appealed to my senses as they
had never done before.
There were evidences too of the terror in which the inhabitants had long
lived. The houses of the rich burghers were sadly dilapidated. No man
thought it worth while to spend a pot of paint on a house which might be
knocked about his ears that very night, if the Duke conceived there was
money or gear to be found within the walls of it.
Here and there the same black banner appeared.
I asked the reason of it from our guide.
"Is it that the plague is in the city?"
"The plague has, indeed, been in the city--yes! But that is not the
reason of the flag."
"And what then is the meaning of the black flag?" said I.
"Ye are strangers indeed!" answered the man. "Did you not know that the
great Duke Casimir is dead, and that the black flag flies for him, and
must fly on the Wolfsberg till his successor be crowned."
"And who is his successor?" said I.
"Who but young Otho, the worst of the Wolfs litter. But perhaps you are
He turned with a keen look, like one who has been accustomed to deliver
himself in company where he is sure of sympathy, and who suddenly has to
consider his words in society the tone of which he is not sure of.
"Nay," said I, "we are travelling strangers and know nothing of your
politics. But this Duke Otho, wherefore has he not been crowned?"
"Because," said the man, "the Duke Casimir, they say, hath been foully
murdered, and that through the witchcraft of a woman. So by our laws,
till the murderer is punished, the young Duke may not be crowned."
By this time we were at the entering in of the long, dull mass of
building, which during most of my boyhood had stood unoccupied, owing to
the quarrel between Bishop Peter and the Duke. Our guide led us
unchallenged into the quadrangle, and then abruptly vanished without
pausing to bid us good-day, or even deigning to accept the modest
gratuity which my master, the learned Doctor, had in his front pouch
ready for him.
As for me, I stood holding the horses and looking about for any of my own
quality who might show me the way to the stables.
Presently a long, lean, lathy youth slouched out of one of the gloomy
entries. He stood amazed at the sight of me. I went to him to ask where I
might bestow the horses, now standing weary-footed, hanging their heads
after the long journey and the toil of the final ascent from the plain.
"Will you fight, outlander?" were the first words of my lathy friend from
the entry. He seemed to have been drawn up recently from a period of
detention in some deep draw-well, and to have the mould of the stones
still upon him.
"Why," said I, "of course I will fight, and that gladly, if you will find
me a man to fight with !"
"I will fight you myself," he said, swelling himself. "For the end of
this candle I will fight half a dozen such Baltic sausages as you be."
"Like enough," said I, "all in good time. But in the mean time show me
the stables, that I may put up my master's horses."
"What know I about you or your master's horses?" cried my Lad of Lath;
"and pray why should I show the way to Bishop Peter's good stables to
every wastrel that comes sneaking in off the street and asks the freedom
of our house. For aught I know you may have come to steal corn. Though,
if that be so, Lord love you, you have come to the wrong place."
"Come, stable-master," said I, placably, "let me see a corner and a wisp
of straw and I will ease the poor beasts. That will not harm the Bishop
Peter, whom my master has gone to visit. He is a friend of his, a man
learned in ecclesiastical affairs, who comes to hold disputations with
"Disputations--what be those? Anything with money at the end of them? If
so, he will be a welcome guest at this house. There is very little money
at the tail of anything in this town."
I thought I would try the effect of a broad silver piece upon him, at the
same time giving the lad the information that disputations were kinds of
fights with the tongues of men instead of with their fists.
The silver sweetened his face like a charm. He seized me by the hand.
"My name," he cried, "is Peter of the Pigs. I am not stable-master, but
feed the grouting piglings. And yet in a way I am indeed stable-master.
For the Bishop hath had no horses since the Duke took them away to mount
his cavalry for the raids into Plassenburg. So Peter of the Pigs looks
after all about the yard, and precious little there is to look
after--except one's own legs getting longer and leaner every day."
"And where is the Bishop this afternoon?" I said.
"Where should he be," cried Peter of the Pigs, "but at the trial of the
witch-woman in the Hall of Justice? It must be a rare sight. They say
she is to be put to the torture, and that they want a new executioner
to do it."
"Why," said I, struck to the heart by his words, "what is the matter with
the old one?"
"Oh," said the lad, "he is mortal sick abed. He happened an accident, or
some one stuck a dagger into him--no great matter if he had stuck it
through him, or cloven him to the chine with his own Red Axe!"
THE TRIAL OF THE WITCH
At this point came my master back, looking exceedingly disconsolate. A
starveling, furtive-eyed monk accompanied him.
"The Bishop," he said, "is gone forth of his house. He is in attendance
at the trial of a woman for witchcraft, one whom some of the common city
folk hold to be a saint. But the young Duke and others swear that she is
a witch, and hath murdered the Duke Casimir. Haste thee with the horses,
sirrah, and attend me to the Hall of Justice. I have sent a messenger
forward with my credentials to the Bishop Peter."
So to the corner of the yard I went and rubbed down the horses with a
wisp of straw which Peter of the Pigs brought me, and which smelled of
his charges too. Then, with another piece of money in his hand, I sent
him out to the nearest corn-chandler's to buy some corn for our beasts,
the which I gave them, and stood by them till I saw them eat it too. For
in such a poverty-stricken place, and with a gentleman of the capacity of
Master Peter of the Pigs, one that is in any way fond of his horses
cannot be too careful.
This done, I announced myself to my master as ready to accompany him.
Then, through the streets of Thorn, all strangely empty, we took our
way. Women were leaning out of windows; every head turned castleward up
They hardly deigned a glance at my master or at myself, but continued to
gaze. And as each passenger came down the street from the direction of
the Wolfsberg they cried questions at him, so that he ran the gantlet of
a dropping fire of shrill queries.
"What are they doing to the sweet saint up yonder?"
"Hath she been put to the Question?"
"Who could be executioner in such a case? A man would be sent to
hell-fire for daring to lay hand on her."
The popular sympathies ran clearly with the accused, which is not, as our
old Hanne had reason to remember, the rule in trials for witchcraft.
Soon we were passing the gate of the Red Tower. It was barred and closed.
The windows of my father's house looked barrenly down, like the eye-holes
of skulls. I saw the window from which I used to gaze wistfully down upon
the children, who would not play with me, but spat upon the tower when
they saw me looking at their play and pipings upon the streets.
There above was the window of my father's garret, with the edge of the
black flag blowing out above it.
The streetward door of the Judgment Hall was open, and a great crowd of
people stood about, silent, anxious, respectful. Some of them talked in
low tones, and whenever there was a word passed out of the door, within
which men looked ten deep, it scattered all about like a wave which comes
into a sea-cave by a narrow entrance, and then widens out till it breaks
gently in the wide inner hall.
"She is not to be tortured; only the Hereditary Executioner may do that.
They have threatened the old woman. She has confessed all!"
So ran the words about the crowd, and ever and anon, one would detach
himself from the press, elbowing his way out, and then speed down the
long street, crying the latest tidings of the trial.
It was manifestly impossible for us to obtain entrance by this door. So
we looked about for another.
Then I minded me of the private passage which led from the inner
court-yard which I knew so well. We skirted the crowd, with our attendant
following, till we came to the side door, which led directly into the
Hall of Judgment behind the judges' high seats.
It was the way by which many a time I had seen my father enter, either in
his dress of black or in that of red. And I was always glad when I saw
him put on the scarlet, because I knew that then the worst was over for
some poor tortured soul.
But when my master proposed that the attendant of the Bishop should carry
a letter into the hall to his master to inform him that we waited
without, the man trembled in every limb, and the hair of his head shocked
itself up in sheer terror.
"I cannot--I dare not," he cried; "it is the place of torture--of the
engines--the strappado--the water-drop, the leg-crushers!"
And at this point the vision of what was contained within the fatal door
became so appalling to him that he picked up his skirts and fled, looking
over his shoulder all the while to make sure that the Red Axe was not
after him full tilt.
So Dessauer and I were left standing. And if the matter had been less
serious, it would have been comical to see us thus deserted upon mine own
middenstead, as it were.
"Bishop Peter of Thorn seems a prelate somewhat difficult of
approach," said the Chancellor. "I wonder if we shall ever lay any
salt on his tail?"
"Let us risk it and go in," said I. "We are putting all our cards on the
table, at any rate. And at least we can see all that is to be sees. If
there is any risk of Von Reuss penetrating our disguises, it is as well
to gulp and get it over at once, rather than suck gingerly at it till
the fear of death chills our marrow."
"Go on, then," he said, somewhat crossly; "there is indeed naught to be
gained by standing here as a butt for the eyes of evil-doers."
So I opened the door carefully, and with a trembling heart. The hum of a
great assembly breathed turbidly upon us in a hushed chaos of sound. The
warm, stifling atmosphere, heavy with a thousand respirations, the sound
of a voice speaking loud and clear, the thunder of continuous heels on
the paved floor, the voices of the ushers crying, "Silentium!" at
intervals--these all came suddenly upon us as we shut out the air and
sunshine and went into the Hall of Judgment.
We could not see the full assembly at first. We stood, as I had supposed,
directly behind the judges' rostrum. Only the corners of the vast crowd
which covered the floor and filled the galleries could be seen--a blur of
white faces all bent towards one point. But at the corner, not far from
us, a tall, spare, gray-headed ecclesiastic was speaking.
We stood still, in order that we might not interrupt by entering till he
What was our surprise when we heard his words.
"My Lord Duke," he was saying, "it is fortunate for the elucidation of
this great mystery that I have this moment received word concerning a
most learned and notable jurisconsult, a Doctor of the Law, wise in
controversy and specially skilled in such cases, who has even now arrived
in the city of Thorn, on his way to the Emperor at Ratisbon, before whom
he is to dispute for the honor of truth and our holy religion.
"His name is the Learned, Venerable, and Reverend Doctor Schmidt, and I
trust that we of the city and faculty of the Wolfmark shall have the
honor of welcoming him as so distinguished a man deserves."
The pattern of the Bishop's speech is one that does not vary while the
"Lord, they have made me a Doctor of Theology as well!" whispered the
Chancellor to me. I gave him a little push.
"Now is your time," said I, "the hour and the Doctor!"
I lifted the skirt of his long black robe. He took hold of his marvellous
beard, a triumph of the disguiser's art, and we stepped forward. I could
hardly conceal a smile.
We had come in the very nick of time.
Then after this I have a vague remembrance of my master bowing this way
and that. I seem to see the wise men of the law, the judges, the priests,
and lictors rising and bowing in acknowledgment. I heard the hush of a
thousand people all craning their necks to look round the heads of their
neighbors, and the hum of whispered comment reach farther and farther
back, till it lapped against the walls and ebbed out into the street from
the great open door of the Hall of Judgment. It was a surprising sight,
this great trial--the gloomy hall, black with age and deeds of darkness,
lit by the rays of sunlight falling through windows of red glass, the
faces of men flecked as with blood where the evening sunlight streamed
luridly upon them.
In the midst there was a clear four-square space. A lictor, with a bundle
of rods, stood at each corner. I looked, and there, alone in the centre,
attired in white, the cynosure of eyes, I beheld--Helene.
THE GARRET OF THE RED TOWER
I felt my temples, my ears, my neck tingling with cold. I seemed to have
fallen into a sea of ice. I think I would have fallen and fainted but
that at that moment my master sat down beside the Bishop, and I was left
free to retire into a darksome corner, where I staggered against a beam,
slimy with black sweat, and hung over it with my hand clasping my brow,
trying to think what had happened.
I do not know how long I remained in this position, nor yet when I came
to myself. All was a dream to me, a nightmare of horrid whirlings and
infinite oppressions. The faces of the folk that watched, the garmentry
of the Bishop and his priests, the red robes of the young Duke and his
assessors, spun round me in a hideous phantasmagoria.
At last I was conscious that a trumpet had blown. Whereupon all rose up.
The secretaries stacked their papers unconcernedly with the feathers of
their pens in their mouths. And then in the solemn silence which ensued
the Duke and his judges filed out of the door, while the power of the
Church, represented by Bishop Peter and his priests, went forth by
another. Before I could realize the situation, Helene had vanished, as it
seemed, down a trap-door in the floor.
My master accompanied Bishop Peter. As for me, I hardly knew what I did.
I did not even stand up, till our conductor, he who had gone forward to
announce us at the first, ran across to me, and, plucking me by the arm
from the beam on which I leaned, whispered, hurriedly: "Art dead or
drunk, man, that thou riskest thine ears and thy neck? Stand up while the
Judges and the new Duke go by!"
So, dazed and numb, I hent me up, and lo! coming arm in arm towards me
were Otho von Reuss and his newly appointed Chief Justice and
assessor--who but mine old friend Michael Texel! The Duke bent a
searching look on me as I bowed low before him, but he saw only the tan
of my skin and the close bristle of my hair. And so all passed on.
"Ho, blackamoor, thy master waits thee! Run, if thou wouldst avoid the
whipping-post!" cried another of the rout of servitors, with a small
So, putting out a hand to stay myself, I staggered weakly after my
master. I found him at the door, in talk with the confessor of the
"And so," he was saying, "this girl was reared in the executioner's
house. And she went away to a far country in order to learn the secrets
of necromancy, it is not known where. I would see this Duke's Justicer.
Does he dwell near by? What! In that very tower? It is of good omen. Let
us go in thither."
But the confessor excused himself, being in no wise desirous to visit the
Red Axe, even in his time of sickness.
"I have business of the soul with Bishop Peter. I will speak with thee
again at refection," he said, twitching his head up at the Red Tower with
suspicious glances, as if he feared unseen ears might be listening, and
that some of its fearful magic might even descend upon a man so notably
holy as a Bishop's confessor.
Presently Dessauer and I were across the court-yard at the well-known
door. I knocked, and listened, whereupon ensued silence. Again and yet
again I made the quaint death's-head knocker thunder, and then, when the
echoes ceased, there was once more a great silence in the tower.
I heard the blood-hounds of Duke Casimir howl. The indigo shadow of the
pinnacled Hall of Justice stretched across and touched the Red Tower with
an ominous finger.
"Let us go in," said I. And, pushing the unresisting door, I began to
climb the stone stairs. Each smoothed hollow and chipped edge was
familiar to me as my name. Indeed, much more so, for I was now passing
under a false one. So I climbed, in a dazed way, up and up. There on my
left was the sitting-room. It had been searched high and low, escritoires
rudely tossed down, aumries rifled, household stuff, grain, white linen,
empty bottles, all cast about and huddled together even as the searchers
had left them.
Then above was the little room where Helene used to sleep. Here the wrack
was indescribable--every hidingplace rifled, her pretty worked bedquilt
lying across the doorway trampled and soiled, her dainty white clothing,
some she had worn at Plassenburg, and even the tiny dresses of her
childhood, all torn and confused together. And in the midst, what
affected me more than everything else, a tiny puppet of wood my father
had hewn her with his knife, and which she had dressed as a queen with
red ribbons and crown of tinsel--ah, so long ago--and in such happy days.
"Father!" I called, loudly. "Father!"
But in this I forgot myself. There might have been enemies lurking
anywhere in the house of pain and disaster.
My own room came next, and the way out upon the roof; but we tried not
these. There remained only the garret of my father. I climbed up, with
Dessauer behind me, and pushed the door open.
Then I stood in the entering-in, looking for the first time for years on
the face of my father.
He lay on his conch, his head bound about with a napkin. The dark wisp of
hair which rose like a cock's comb, sticking through the stained cloth
which swathed his brow, was no longer blue-black, but of an iron-gray,
splashed and brindled with pure white. His eyes were open, and shone,
cavernous and solemn, above his fallen-in cheeks. It was like looking
into the secrets of another world. That which he had so often caused
other eyes to see, the Red Axe of Thorn was now to see for himself. The
hand which lay--mere skin, muscle, and bone--on the counterpane had
guided many to the door of the mysteries. Now at its own entrance it was
to push the arras aside, for the Death-Justicer of the Mark was to go
before the Judge of all the earth.
My father lay gazing at me with deep, mournful eyes. So sad they seemed
that it was as if nothing in heaven or earth, neither joy nor sorrow,
life nor death, could have power to change their expression of
I entered, and my companion followed.
"You are alone? There is none with you here?" I said to my father, going
to the bedside.
He started at the voice, and looked up even eagerly. But his eyes dulled
and deadened again as he fell back.
"I did but dream!" he muttered, sadly.
"You have no one with you here, Gottfried Gottfried?" said I again, for
in a matter of life and death it was as well to make sure even at risk of
disturbing a dying man.
He set his hand to his brow as if trying to think.
"Who should be with me--except all these?" he answered, very solemnly.
And swept his hand about the room as if he saw strange shapes standing in
rows round the walls. "I wish," he went on, almost querulously, "whoever
you may be, you would tell these people to keep their hands down. They
point at me, and thrust their dripping heads forward, holding them like
lanterns in their palms."
He turned away to the back of the bed, and then, as if he saw something
there worse than all the rest, faced about again quickly, saying, with
some pathetic intonation of his lost childhood, "There is no need for
them to point so at me, is there? I did but my duty."
"Father!" said I, gently touching his cheek with my hand as I used to do.
"Ah, what is that?" he said, quickly. "Did some one call me father? Let
me go! I tell you, sirs, let me go! She needs me. They are torturing her.
I must go to her!"
"Father," I said again, putting him gently back, "it is I--your own son
Hugo--come back to speak with you, to help if it may be--to die for the
Little Playmate if need be."
"Hugo--Hugo!" he said. "Yes, yes--of course, I know--my little lad, my
He pushed me back to look at me, eagerly, wistfully--and then thrust me
"Bah!" he said; "you lie! What need to lie to a dying man? My Hugo had
yellow hair and a skin like lilies. Yours is dark--"
"Father," said I, "I am here disguised. Help is coming, sure and
strong, if we can only wait a little and delay the trial. But tell me
all. Speak to me freely, if you love your daughter Helene--your
daughter and my love."
He sat up now, and motioned me to come nearer. There was a dark, fierce,
unworldly light in his eyes. I set a pillow to his back, and went and
kneeled by the bed as I used to do at good-night time when I said my
Then for the first time he knew me.
"Say your prayers, child!" he commanded, in his old voice.
So, though with the stress of wars and other things I had mostly
forgotten, yet I said not only that, but the little Prayer of Childhood
he had taught me. And then I kissed him as I used to do when I bade him
"Yes," he said, softly, "it is true, after all. You are mine own
only son. Hugo--I am glad you have come so far to see your father
before he dies."
I told him how I had come, and brought Dessauer forward, introducing him
as one great in the kingdom where I was, and to whom I was much
beholden. He shook him by the hand with grave, intent courtesy, and
again looked at me.
"Now, father," said I, "we have no long time to bide with you, lest the
new Duke come upon us. We must hie us back to our lodging with the Bishop
Peter, lest we be missed."
My father smiled.
"Ye will live but sparely there!" said he, with a flicker of his
"Tell us how you came to this," said I, "and, if you can, why Helene, our
little Helene, stands so terribly accused."
My father paused a long time before he began to answer.
"It is not easy for me to tell you all," he said. "I know and I have the
words, but, somehow, when I try to fit the words to the thing, they run
asunder and will not mix, like water and oil. But see, Hugo, here is an
elixir of rare value. Drop a drop or two on my tongue if ye see me
wander. It will bring me back for a time."
Then began my father to tell the story slowly, with many a pause and
interruption, now searching for words, now racked with pain, all of which
I need not imitate, and shall leave out. But the substance of his tale
was to this effect:
"After you had left us, the Dukedom went from bad to worse--no peace, no
rest, no money. Duke Casimir took less and less of my advice, but, on the
contrary, began again his old horrors--plundering, killing, living by
terror and in terror. He threatened Torgau. He attacked Plassenburg. He
stirred up hornets' nests everywhere. At home he made himself the common
mark for every assassin.
"Then suddenly came his nephew back, and almost immediately he grew great
in favor with him. Uncle and nephew drank together. They paraded the
terraces arm in arm. I was never more sent for save to do my duty. Otho
von Reuss rode abroad at the head of the Black Horsemen.
"But, at the same time, to my great joy, arrived the Little Playmate
back to me. She was safer with me, she said. So that, having her, I
needed naught else. She came with good news of you, making the journey
not alone, for two men of the Princess's retinue brought her to the
"The Princess!" I cried; "aye, I thought so. I judged that it was the
Princess who sent her back."
Dessauer motioned with his hand. He saw that it was dangerous to throw
my father off the track. And, indeed, this was proven at once, for my
unfortunate interruption set my father's mind to wandering, till finally
I had to drop certain drops of the red liquid on his tongue. These,
indeed, had a marvellous effect upon him. He sat up instantly, his eyes
flashing the old light, and began to speak rapidly and to clear purport,
even as he used to do in the old days when Duke Casimir would come
striding across the yard at all hours of the night and day to consult
"What was I telling?" he went on. "Yes, I remember, of the home-coming
of Helene under honorable escort. And she was beautiful--but all her
race were beautiful, all the women of them, at any rate. But that is
"So things went well enough with us till, as she went across the yard one
day to meet me at the door of the hall as I came out, who should see her
but the Count Otho von Reuss. And she turned from him like a queen and
took hold of my arm, clasping it strongly. Then he gazed fixedly at us
both, and his look was the evil-doer's look. Oh, I know it. Who knows
that look, if not I? And so we passed within. But my Helene was quivering
and much afraid, nestling to me--aye, to me, old Gottfried Gottfried,
like a frightened dove.
"After this she went not out into the court-yard or city any more, save
with me by her side, and Otho von Reuss lingered about, watching like a
wolf about the sheepfold. For, as I say, he was in high favor with Duke
Casimir, and had already equal place with him on the bed of justice.
"Then there came a night, lightning peeping and blazing, alternate blue
and ghastly white--God's face and the devil's time about staring in at
the lattice. I lay alone in my chamber. But I was not asleep. As you
know, I do not often sleep. But I lay awake and thought and thought. The
lightning showed me faces I had not seen for thirty years, and forms I
remembered, black against eternity. But all at once, in a certain
after-clap of silence that followed the roaring thunder, I heard a voice
call to me.
"'My father--my father" it cried.
"It was like a soul in danger calling on God.
"I rose and went, clad as I was in the red of mine office (for that day I
had done the final grace more than once); even so, I ran down the stairs
to the room of my little Helene.
"The lightning showed me my lamb crouched in the corner, her lips open,
white, squared with horror, her arms extended, as though to push some
monstrous thing away. A black shape, whose, I could not tell, I saw
bending over her. Then came blackness of darkness again. And again my
Helene's voice. Ah, God, I can hear it now, calling pitifully, like a
woman hanging over hell and losing hold: 'Father--my father!'
"'I am here!' I cried, loudly, even as on the scaffold I cry the doom for
which the malefactors die.
"And the room lit up with a flame, white as the face of God as He passed
by on Mount Sinai, flash on continuous flash. And there before me, with a
countenance like a demon's, stood Otho von Reuss."
I uttered a hoarse cry, but Dessauer again checked me. My father went on:
"Otho von Reuss it was--he saw me in my red apparel, and cried aloud with
mighty fear. If God had given me mine axe in my hand--well, Duke or no
Duke, he had cried no more. But even as he turned and fled from the room
I seized him about the waist, and, opening the window with my other hand,
I cast him forth. And as he went down backward, clutching at nothing, God
looked again out of the skylights of heaven, and showed me the face of
the devil, even as Michael saw it when he hurled him shrieking into the
"Then I went back and took in my arms my one ewe lamb.
"Many days (so they brought me word) Otho lay at the point of death, and
Duke Casimir came not near me nor yet sent for me. But by that very
circumstance I knew Otho had not revealed how his accident had befallen.
Yet he but bided his time. And as he grew well, Duke Casimir grew ill. He
waxed more and more like an armored ghost, and one day he came here and
sat on the bed as in old times.
"'I know my friends now,' he said, 'good Red Axe of mine, friend of many
years. I have had mine eyes blinded, but this morning there has come a
mighty clearness, and from this day forth you and I shall stand face to
face and see eye to eye again, as in the days of old!'
"Then being athirst, he asked for something to drink. Which, when our
sweet Helene had brought, he patted her cheek. 'A maid too good for a
court--one among a thousand, a fair one !' he said; and passed away down
the stairs, walking with his old steady tread.
"But even at the steps of the Hall of Justice he stumbled and fell. They
carried him in, and there in the robing chamber he lay unconscious for a
week, and then died without speech.
"When he was dead, and ere he had been embalmed, there arose a clamor,
first among the followers of Otho von Reuss, and after that among those
of the Wolfsberg who expected that they would be favored by the new Duke.
It was first whispered, and then cried aloud, that the death of Duke
Casimir had been compassed by witchcraft and potions.
"Cunningly and with subtlety was spread the report how my daughter and I
had worked upon Duke Casimir. How he had gone to our house, drunken a
draught, and then died ere he could come to his own chamber. But as for
me, I went on my way and heeded them not. For just then the plague, which
had stricken the Duke first, stalked athwart the city unchecked, and all
through it this Helene of ours was as the angel of God, coming and going
by night and day among the streets and lanes of the town. And the common
folk almost worshipped her. And so do unto this day.
"Now perhaps I did not heed this babble as I ought to have done. But
there came one night--how long ago I have forgotten--and with it a clamor
in the court-yard. The Black Riders, the worst of them, fiends incarnate
that Otho had of late gathered about him, thundered upon us without, and
presently burst in the door.
"I met them with mine axe at the stair-head, and for the better part of
an hour I kept them at a distance. And some died and some were
dismembered. For at that business I am not a man to make mistakes. Then
came Otho limping from his fall and shot me with a bolt from behind his
men. And so over my body as I lay at the stair-head they took my love and
left me here to die. And the new Duke will not kill me, for he desires
that I shall see her agony ere my own life is taken. For that alone the
fiend keeps me in life!
"And that," said my father, feebly, "is all."
But just as he seemed to ebb away a wild fear startled him.
"No," he cried, "there is yet something more. Hugo, Hugo, keep me here a
little! Hold me that my mind may not wander away among the racking-wheels
and the faces mopping and mowing. I have something yet to tell."
I held him up while Dessauer poured a drop or two of the potent liquid
into his mouth. As before, it instantly revived him. The color came back
to his cheeks.
"Quick, Hugo, lad!" he cried; "give me that black box which sits behind
the block." I brought it, and from this he extracted a small key, which
he gave me.
"Unlock the panel you see there in the wall," he said.
I looked, but could find none.
"The oaken knob!" he cried, sharply, as to a clumsy servitor.
I could only see a rough knob in the wood-work, a little worm-eaten, and
in the centre one hole a little larger than the rest.
"Put in the key!" commanded my father, making as if he would come out of
bed and hasten me himself.
I thrust in the key, indeed, but with no more faith than if I had been
bidden to put it into a mouse-hole.
Nevertheless, it turned easy as thinking, and a little door swung open,
cunningly fitted. Here were dresses, books, parchments huddled together.
"Bring all these to me," he said.
And I brought them carefully in my arms and laid them on the bed.
The eye of old Dessauer fell on something among them and was instantly
fascinated. It was a woman's waist-belt of thick bars of gold laid three
and three, with crests and letters all over it.
The Chancellor put his hand forward for it, and my father allowed him to
take it, following him, however, with a questioning eye.
Then Dessauer put his hand into his bosom and drew out a chain of
gold--the necklace of the woodman, in-deed--and laid the two side by
side. He uttered a shrill cry as he did so.
"The belt of the lost Princess!" he cried; "the little Princess of
And, laying them one above the other, each group of six bars read thus:
o o o H o o o H o o o H o o o
| | |
o o o E o o o E o o o E o o o The Necklace
| | |
o o o L o o o L o o o L o o o
o o o E o o o E o o o E o o o
| | |
o o o N o o o N o o o N o o o The Belt
| | |
o o o E o o o E o o o E o o o]
With delight on his face, like that of a mathematician when his
calculations work out truly, Dessauer reached over his hand for the
papers also, but my father stayed him.
"Who may you be that has a chain to match mine?" he asked, with his
mighty hand on Dessauer's wrist.
"I am the State's Chancellor of Plassenburg, and it needed but this to
show me our true Princess."
"Here, then," said my father, "is more and better."
And he handed him the papers.
"It meets! It meets!" cried Dessauer, enthusiastically, as he glanced
them over. "It is complete. It would stand probation in the Dict of
"But yet all that will not prevent Helene Gottfried dying at the stake!"
cried my father, sadly, and fell back unconscious on his bed.
* * * * *
We spent this heaviest of nights at the palace of Bishop Peter--Dessauer
with the prelate--I, praise to the holy pyx, in the kitchen with the
serving men and maids. Peter of the Pigs was there, but no more eager to
fight. The lay brother who had gone with the letter, and the conductor
who had run away from the dread door of the Hall of Justice, had
returned, and had spread a favorable report of our courage.
Certainly the house of Peter the Bishop might be a poor one and scantily
provendered, but there was little sign of it that night. For if the
master went fasting and his guests lived on pulse (as they said in
Thorn), certainly not so Bishop Peter's servants.
For there were pasties of larks, with sauce of butter and herbs, most
excellent and toothsome. There were rabbits from the sand-hills, and
pigeons from the towers of the minster. The clear chill Rhenish vied with
the more generous wine of Burgundy and the red juice of Assmanhauser. For
me, as was natural, I ate little. I spoke not at all. But I looked so
dangerous with my swarthy face and desperate eye, I dare say, also I was
so well armed, that the roysterers left me severely alone.
But I drank--Lord, what did I not drink that night! I poured down my
gullet all and sundry that was given me. And to render these Bishop's
thralls their dues, there was no lack and no inhospitality. But the
strange thing of it was that, though I am a man more than ordinarily
temperate, that night I poured the Rhenish into me like water down a
cistern-pipe and felt it not. God forgive me, I wanted to make me drunken
and forgetful, and lo! the dog's swill would not bite.
So I cursed their drink, and asked if they had no Lyons
Water-of-Life, stark and mordant, or social Hollands, or indeed
anything that was not mere compound of whey and dirty water. Whereat
they wondered, and held me thereafter in great respect as a good
companion and approven worthy drinker.
Then they brought me of the strong spirit of Dantzig, with curious
little flakes of gold dancing in it. It was raw and strong, and at first
I had good hopes of it. But I drank the Dautzig like spring-water, all
there was of it, and though it had a taste singularly displeasing to
me, it took no more effect than so much warm barley-brew for the palates
of babes. Upon this I had great glory. For the card-players and the
dicers actually left their games and gazed open-jawed to see me drink.
And I sat there and expounded the Levitical law and the wheels of the
Prophet Ezekiel, the law of succession to the empire, and also the
apostolic succession--all with surprising clearness and cogency of
reasoning. So that before I had finished they required of me whether it
was I or my master who was sent for to dispute before His Sovereign
mightiness the Emperor.
Then I told them that the things I knew (that is, which the Hollands had
put into my head) were but the commonest chamber-sweepings of my master's
learning, which I had picked up as I rode at his elbow. And this bred a
mighty wondering what manner of man he might be who was so wise. And I
think, if I had gone on, Dessauer and I might both have found ourselves
in the Bishop's prison, on suspicion of being the devil and one of his
But suddenly, as with a kind of recoil or back stroke, all that I had
drunken must have come upon me. The clearness of vision went from me like
a candle that is blown out. I know not what happened after, save that I
found myself upon my truckle-bed, with my leathern money-pouch clasped in
my hand with surprising tightness, as if I had been mortally afraid that
some one would mistake my poor satchel for his own pocket.
So in time the morrow came, and by all rules I ought to have had a
racking headache. For I saw many of those that had been with me the night
before pale of countenance and eating handfuls of baker's salt. So I
judged that their anxiety and the turmoil of their hearts had not burned
their liquor up, as had been the case with me.
Now it is small wonder that all my soul cried out for oblivion till I
should be able to do something for the Beloved--break her prison, hasten
the troops from Plassenburg, or in some way save my love.
Hardly had I looked out of the main door that morning, desiring no more
than to pass away the time till the trial should begin again, before I
saw the Lubber Fiend, smirking and becking across the way. He had
squatted himself down on the side of the street opposite, looking over at
the Bishop's palace.
He pointed at me with his finger.
"Your complexion runs down," he said. "I know you. But go to the spring
there by the stable, wash your face, and I shall know you better."
This was fair perdition and nothing less. For one may stay the tongue of
a scoundrel with money, or the expectation of it, until opportunity
arrive to stop it with steel or prison masonry. But who shall curb or
halter the tongue of a fool?
Then, swift as one that sees his face in a glass, I bethought me
of a plan.
"See," I said, "do you desire gold, Sir Lubber Fiend?"
He wagged his great head and shook his cabbage-leaf ears till they made
currents in the heavy air, to signify that he loved the touch of the
"See then, Lubber," said I, "you shall have ten of these now, and ten
more afterwards, if you will carry a letter to the Prince at Plassenburg,
or meet him on the way."
"Not possible," said he, shaking his head sadly; "my little Missie has
come to Thorn."
"But," said I, "little Missie would desire it; take letter to the Prince,
good Jan, then Missie will be happy."
"Would she let poor Jan Lubberchen kiss her hand, think you?" he asked,
looking up at me.
"Aye," said I; "kiss her cheek maybe!"
He danced excitedly from side to side.
"Jan will run--Jan will run all the way!" he cried.
So I pulled out a scrap of parchment and wrote a hasty message to the
Prince, asking him, for the love of God and us, to set every soldier in
Plassenburg on the march for Thorn, and to come on ahead himself with
such a flying column as he could gather. No more I added, because I knew
that my good master would need no more.
Then I went down with my messenger to the Weiss Thor, and with great fear
and pulsation of the midriff I saw the idiot pass the house of Master
Gerard. Then, at the outer gate, I gave him his ten golden coins, and
watched him trot away briskly on the green winding road to Plassenburg.
"Mind," he called back to me, "Jan is to kiss her cheek if Jan takes
letter to the Prince!"
And I promised it him without wincing. For by this time lying had no more
effect upon me than dram-drinking.
THE TRIAL FOR WITCHCRAFT
The Bed of Justice was set by eight of the morning. For they were ever
early astir in the city of Thorn, though, like most early risers, they
did little enough afterwards all day.
With a sadly beating heart, I accompanied Dessauer in the same guise as
on the previous day. The crowd was even greater in and about the Hall of
Judgment. And when the Duke had taken his seat and his tools set
themselves down on either side, they brought in the Little Playmate.
She was dressed all in white, clean and spotless, in spite of prison
usage. She glanced just once about her, right and left, high and low, as
if seeking for a face she could not see, and from thenceforth she looked
down on the ground.
The argument as to torture had been concluded on the day before, and it
had been held inadmissible--not because of any kindly thought for the
prisoner, but because, according to the laws of the Wolfmark, in the
absence of the Hereditary Executioner, there was no one legally capable
of inflicting it.
Then came the evidence.
The first witness against the Little Playmate was old Hanne. She was
brought in by a cowled monk of dark and sinister appearance--in fact, as
my heart leaped to observe, I saw that she was accompanied by Friar
Laurence--he who had taught me my learning in the old days, and who
even then had watched the Little Playmate with no friendly eyes.
As she passed the judges I saw the deadly fear mount to agony on the face
of old Hanne. The look in her eyes of physical pain suffered and
overpassed was the same which I had often seen in the wars after the
surgeon has done his horrid work. That same look I saw now on the face of
Hanne. So I knew that somewhere in the dark recesses under the Hall of
Judgment the Extreme Question had been put to her, and to all appearance
answered according to the liking of the persecutors, though they dared
not torture so notable a public prisoner as Helene.
I saw a look of satisfied vindictiveness pass over the brutal features of
Duke Otho. He changed his position and whispered to his colleagues.
It was Master Gerard von Sturm who rose to put the questions to the
witness. And as he did so, I heard the steady sough of talk among the
people rise mutteringly in a low growl of anger and contempt. The Duke's
lictors struck right and left among the crowd, as men bent forward with
fierce hate in their voices, lowing like oxen, as if to clear their lungs
of a weight of contempt.
It was not thus in the old days, when there was no people's arbiter
in all the Wolfmark so famous or so popular as Master Gerard of the
"What is the reason of that turmoil?" said I to my neighbor.
"This is the man who was her first accuser. Why, he dares not go outside
his house without a guard of the Duke's riders," said the man, picking at
his finger-nail with his teeth, as if it were a bone and he did not think
much of its savoriness.
"You have already confessed," said the advocate to old Hanne, when they
had propped up the poor wreck of skin and bone, "and you do now confess
that this maid and yourself have ofttimes had converse with the Enemy
A spasm passed across the face of the witness, and a low sound proceeded
from her mouth, which might have been an affirmative answer, but which
sounded to me much more like a moan of pain.
"And you confess that she consulted you concerning the best means of
killing the Duke Casimir--by means of a draught to be administered to him
when he should, as was his custom, visit his Hereditary Justicer?"
"There was indeed a draught spoken of between us, noble sir," stammered
the old woman, "but it was not for the Duke Casimir, nor yet for--for any
I saw the Friar Laurence incline his head a little forward and whisper in
Hanne's ear from his place behind her.
At the words she clasped her hands and fell on the floor, grovelling: "I
will say aught that you bid me, kind sir. I cannot bear it again. I
cannot go back to that place. I am too old to be tormented. I will bear
what testimony your excellencies desire."
"We wish only that you should tell the truth as you have already done of
your own free will in your pre-examination," said Master Gerard, "the
notes of which are before me. Was it not to kill the Duke Casimir that
this draught was compounded?"
The old woman hesitated. Friar Laurence stooped again.
"Yes!" she cried; "God forgive me--yes!"
An evil look of triumph sat on the face of Otho von Reuss. I think he
felt sure of his victim now.
"That is enough," said Master Gerard. "Take the old woman back to
"Oh no, great Lord!" she cried, "not there! You promised that if I said
it I was to be let go free. Kill me, but do not send me back!"
The Duke moved his hand, and the old woman was led shrieking below.
Then came Friar Laurence, who testified that he had often seen old Hanne
instructing the young woman who was now a prisoner in the art of drugs,
in the preparation of images carven in dough--and it might be also in
clay--things well known in the art of witchery.
Further, he had been with the Duke Casimir at the last, and the Duke had
declared that he had partaken of a draught in the house of Gottfried
Gottfried, and immediately thereafter had been taken ill.
There was not much else of matter in the Friar's evidence, but the most
deep and vindictive malice against the prisoner was evident in every word
Then Master Gerard rose to address the judges. His venerable appearance
was enhanced by the sternly severe look on his face. He looked an
accusing angel from the pit, swart of skin and with eyes of flame. He was
tall and bent of figure, with the serpent-browed head set deep between
hunched shoulders like those of a moulting vulture. He grasped his bundle
of papers and rose to make his final speech.
The judges settled themselves to closer attention. The hush of
listening folk broadened to the utmost limits of the great hall. At a
whisper or a cough a hundred threatening faces were turned in the
direction of the sound, so strained was the attention of the people and
such the fear of the eloquence of this most famous pleader in all
Germany. In these days when learning has reached so great a pitch, and
is so general that in a largish city there may be as many as a thousand
people who can read and write, of course there are many eloquent men.
But in those days it was not so, and Grerard von Sturm was counted the
one Golden Mouth of the Wolfmark.
And this in brief was the matter of his speech. The manner and the
persuasive grace I cannot attempt to give:
"It has at all times been a received opinion of the wise that witchcraft
is a thing truly practised--by which such women as the Witch of Endor in
Holy Writ were able to call dead men out of their deep graves grown with
grass; or, as in that famous case of Demarchaus, who, having by the
advice of such a woman tasted the flesh of a sacrificed child, was
immediately turned into a wolf.
"Further, the testimony-of Scripture is clear: 'Thou shalt not suffer a
witch to live'; and, again, as sayeth the Wise Man, 'Thou hast hated
them, 0 God, because with enchantments they did horrible works.'
"Now, men may by conspicuous bravery guard their lives against assault by
the sword of the enemy, against the spear of the invader that cometh over
the wall, even against the knife of the assassin. But who shall be able
to keep out witchcraft? It moveth in the motes of the mid-day sun. It
comes stealing into the room on the pale beams of the moon. Witchcraft
rides in the hurtling blast, and shrieks in the gust which shakes the
roof and blows awry the candle in the hall.
"Enchantment can summon Azazeli, the Lord of Flesh and Blood, called in
another place the Lord of the Desert, by whose spiriting of the elements
even the pure water of the spring or the juice of the purple grape may
become noxious as the brew of the serpent's poison-bag.
"Of such a sort was the ill-doing of this woman. For her own hellish
purposes she desired and compassed the death of the most noble Duke
Casimir. There may be those who try to discover a motive for such an act.
But in this they do foolishly. For to those who have studied of this
matter, as I have done, it is well known that enchanters and witches ever
attack those who are the greatest, the noblest, and the most envied--not
hoping for any good to result to themselves, but out of pure malice and
envy, being prompted by the devil in order that the great and noble
should be destroyed out of the land. Well was it spoken then, 'Ye shall
not suffer a witch to live!'
"And if any plead hereafter of this evil-doer's youth, of her beauty, I
call you to witness that the Evil One ever makes his best implement of
the fairest metal. As the aged crone, her teacher and accomplice, hath
confessed, this Helene was for long a plotter of dark deeds. By the trust
of Duke Casimir in her maiden's innocence he was betrayed to death. That
one so fair and evil should be turned loose on the world to begin anew
her enchantments, and, like a pestilence, to creep into good men's
houses, is a thing not to be thought of. Is she to go forth breathing
death upon the faces of the young children, to sit squat, like hideous
toad, sucking the blood of the new-born infant, or distilling
poison-drops to put into the draughts of strong men which shall run like
molten iron through their veins till they go mad?
"Hear me, judges, I bid you again remember the word: 'Ye shall not suffer
a witch to live.' And in the name of the great unbroken law of the
Wolfmark, which I hold in my hand, I conclude by claiming the pains of
death to pass upon the witch-woman who by her deed sent forth untimely
the spirit of the most noble Duke Casimir, Lord of the city of Thorn and
Duke of the Wolfmark."
The pleader sat down, calmly as he had risen, and the judges conferred
together as though they were on the point of delivering their verdict.
There had been no sound of applause as Master Gerard had spoken--a hushed
attention only, and then the muffled thunder of the great audience
relaxing its attention and of men turning to whispered discussion among
"Prisoner," said Duke Otho, "have you any to speak for you? Or do
you desire to make any answer to the things which have been urged
Then, thrilling me to my soul, arose the voice of Helene. Clear and sweet
and girlish, without hurry or fear, yet with an innocence which might
have touched the hardest heart, the maiden upon trial for her life said a
simple word or two in her defence.
"I have no one to speak for me. I have nothing to say, save that which I
have said so often, that before God, who knows all things, I am innocent
of thought, word, or deed against any man, and most of all against Duke
Casimir of the Wolfsberg."
And as she spoke the multitude was stirred, and voices broke out here
"No witch!" "She is innocent!" "The guilty are among the judges!" "Saint
Helena!" "If she die we will avenge her!"
And though the lictors struck furiously every way, they could not settle
the tumult, and ever the mass of folk swayed more wildly to and fro. Nor
do I know what might have happened at that moment but for a cry that
arose in front of the throng.
"The Stranger! The Great Doctor! The Wise Man! Hear him! He is going to
speak for her!"
SENTENCE OF DEATH
And there, standing by the place of pleading, with his foot on the first
step, I saw Dessauer, in his black doctorial gown, leaning reverently
upon a long staff.
He made a courteous salutation to Duke Otho upon the high seat.
"I am a stranger, most noble Duke," he began, "and as such have no
standing in this your High Court of Justice. But there is a certain
courtesy extended to doctors of the law--the right of speech in great
trials--in many of the lands to which I have adventured in the search of
wisdom. I am encouraged by my friend, the most venerable prelate, Bishop
Peter, to ask your forbearance while I say a word on behalf of the
prisoner, in reply to that learned and most celebrated jurisconsult,
Master Gerard von Sturm, who, in support of his cause, has spoken things
so apt and eloquent. This is my desire ere judgment be passed. For in a
multitude of councils there is wisdom."
He was silent, and looked at the Duke and his tool, Michael Texel.
They conferred together in whispers, and at first seemed on the point of
refusing. But the folk began to sway so dangerously, and the voice of
their muttering sank till it became a growl, as of a caged wild beast
which has broken all bars save the last, and which only waits an
opportunity to put forth its strength in order to shiver that also.
"You are heartily welcome, most learned doctor," said Duke Otho,
sullenly. "We would desire to hear you briefly concerning this matter."
"I shall assuredly be brief, my noble lord--most brief," said Dessauer.
"I am a stranger, and must therefore speak by the great principles of
equity which underlie all law and all evidence, rather than according to
the statutes of the province over which you are the distinguished ruler.
"The crime of witchcraft is indeed a heinous one, if so be that it can be
proven--not by the compelled confession of crazed and tortured crones,
but by the clear light of reason. Now there is no evidence that I have
heard against this young girl which might not be urged with equal justice
against every cup-bearer in the Castle of the Wolfsberg.
"The Duke Casimir died indeed after having partaken of the wine. But so
may a man at any time by the visitation of God, by the stroke which, from
the void air, falleth suddenly upon the heart of man. No poison has been
found on or about the girl. No evil has been alleged against her, save
that which has been compelled (as all must have seen) by torture, and the
fear of torture, from the palsied and reluctant lips of a frantic hag."
"Hear him! Great is the Stranger!" cried the folk in the hall. And the
shouting of the guards commanding silence could scarce be heard for the
roar of the populace. It was some time before the speech of Dessauer was
Ho was beginning to speak again, but Duke Otho, without rising, called
out rudely and angrily:
"Speak to the reason of the judges and not to the passions of the mob!"
"I do indeed speak from the reason to the reason," said Dessauer, calmly;
"for in this matter there is no true averment, even of witchcraft, but
only of the administration of poison--which ought to be proven by the
ordinary means of producing some portion of the drug, both in the
possession of the criminal and from the body of the murdered man. This
has not been done. There has been no evidence, save, as I have shown,
such as may be easily compelled or suborned. If this maid be condemned,
there is no one of you with a wife, a daughter, a sweetheart, who may not
have her burned or beheaded on just as little evidence--if she have a
single enemy in all the city seeking for the sake of malice or thwarted
lust to compass her destruction.
"Moreover, it indeed matters little for the argument that this damsel is
fair to the eye. Save in so far as she is more the object of desire, and
that when the greed of the lustful eye is balked" (here he paused and
looked fixedly between his knees), "disappointment oft in such a heart
turns to deadly poison. And so that which was desired is the more
bitterly hated, and revenge awakes to destroy.
"But if beauty matters little, character matters greatly. And what, by
common consent, has been known in the city concerning this maid?
"I ask not you, Duke Otho, who have lived apart in your castle or in far
lands, a stranger to the city like myself. But I ask the people among
whom, during all these; past months of the plague, she has dwelt. Is she
not known among them as Saint Helena?"
"Aye," cried the people, "Saint Helena, indeed--our savior when there was
none to help! God save Saint Helena!"
Dessauer waved his hand for silence.
"Did she not go among you from house to house, carrying, not the
poison-cup, but the healing draught? Was not her hand soft on the brow of
the dying, comfortable about the neck of the bereaved? Day and night,
whose fingers reverently wrapped up the poor dead bodies of your
beloved? Who quieted your babes in her arms, fed thorn, nursed them,
healed them, buried them--wore herself to a shadow for your sakes ?"
"Saint Helena!" they cried; "Saint Helena, the angel of the Red Tower!"
"Aye," said Dessauer, in tones like thunder, "hear their voices! There
are a thousand witnesses in this house untortured, unsuborned. I tell
you, the guilt of innocent blood will lie on you, great Duke--on you
counsellors of evil things, if you condemn this maid. Your throne,
Duke Otho, shall totter and fall, and your life's sun shall set in a
sea of blood!"
He sat down calm and fearless as the Duke raged to Michael Texel, as I
think, desiring that the fearless pleader could be seized on the instant,
and punished for his insolence. But as the folk shouted in the hall, and
the thunder of cheering came in through the open windows from the great
concourse without, Michael Texel calmed his master, urging upon him that
the temper of the people was for the present too dangerous. And also,
doubtless, that they could easily compass their ends by other means.
I saw Texel despatch a messenger to the lictors who stood on either side
of Helene. The body-guard of the Duke stood closer about her as the Duke
Otho himself stood up to read the sentence.
I saw that the form of it had been written out upon a paper. Doubtless,
therefore, all had been prearranged, so that neither evidence nor
eloquence could possibly have had any effect upon it.
"We, the Court of the Wolfmark, find the prisoner, Helene, called
Gottfried, guilty of witchcraft, and especially of compassing and
causing the death of our predecessor, the most noble Duke Casimir, and
we do hereby adjudge that, on the morning of Sunday presently
following, Helene Gottfried shall be executed upon the common scaffold
by the axe of the executioner. Of our clemency is this sentence
delivered, instead of the torture and the burning alive at the stake
which it was within our power to command. This is done in consideration
of the youth of the criminal, and as the first exercise of our ducal
prerogative of high mercy."
With an angry roar the people closed in.
"Take her!" they cried; "rescue her out of their hands!"
And there was a fierce rush, in which the outer barriers were snapped
like straw. But the lictors had pulled down the trap-door on the instant,
and the people surged fiercely over the spot where a moment before Helene
had stood. Before them were the levelled pikes and burning matches of the
"Have at them!" was still the cry. "Kill the wolves! Tear them to
But the mob was undisciplined, and the steady advance of the soldiers
soon cleared the hall. Nevertheless the streets without continued angry
and throbbing with incipient rebellion. Duke Otho could scarce win
scathless across the court-yard to his own apartments. Tiles from the
nearest roofs were cast upon the heads of his escort. The streets were
impassable with angry men shaking their fists at every courier and
soldier of the Duke. Women hung sobbing out of the windows, and all the
city of Thorn lamented with uncomforted tears because of the cruel
condemnation of their Saint of the plague, Helena, the maiden of the
THE MESSAGE FROM THE WHITE GATE
I rushed out into the street, distract and insensate with grief and
madness. I found the city seething with sullen unrest--not yet openly
hostile to the powers that abode in the Castle of the Wolfsberg--too long
cowed and down-trodden for that, but angry with the anger which one day
would of a certainty break out and be pitiless.
The Black Horsemen of the Duke pricked a way with their lances here and
there through the people, driving them into the narrow lanes, in jets and
spurts of fleeing humanity, only once more to reunite as soon as the
Hussars of Death had passed. Pikemen cried "Make way!" and the regular
guard of the city paraded in strong companies.
A soldier wantonly thrust me in the back with his spear, and I sprang
towards him fiercely, glad to strike home at something. But as quickly a
man of the crowd pulled me back.
"Be wise!" he said; "not for your own sake alone, but for the sake of all
these women and children. The Black Riders seek only an excuse to sweep
the city from end to end with the besom of fire and blood."
Then came my master out of the Hall of Judgment, his head hanging
dejectedly down. As soon as he was observed the people crowded about,
shaking him by the hand, thanking him for that which he had done for
their maid, their holy Saint Helena of the plague.
"We will not suffer her to be put to death, not even if they of the
Wolfsberg raze our city to the ground!"
"Make way there!" cried the Black Horsemen--"way, in the name of
"Who is Duke Otho?" cried a voice. "We do not know Duke Otho."
"He is not crowned yet! Why should he take so much upon him?"
"We are free burgesses of Thorn, and no man's bond-slaves!" said a third.
Such were the shouts that hurtled through the streets and were bandied
fiercely from man to man, betraying in tone more than in word the
intensity of the hatred which existed between the ducal towers of the
Wolfsberg and the city which lay beneath them.
In my boyish days I had laughed at the assemblies of the Swan--the White
Wolves and Free Companies. But, perhaps, those who had thus played at
revolt were wiser than I. For of a surety these associations were
yielding their fruits now in a harvest of hate against the gloomy pile
that had so long dominated the town, choked its liberties, and shut it
off from the new, free, thriving world of the northern seaboard
commonwealths to which of right it belonged.
So soon as Dessauer and I were alone in my master's room at Bishop
Peter's I tried to stammer some sort of thanks, but I could do no more
than hold out a hand to him. The old man clasped it.
"It was wholly useless from the first," he said; "they had their purpose
fixed and their course laid out, so that there was no turning of them.
All was a mockery, so clear that even the ignorant men of the streets
were not deceived. Accusation, evidence, pleadings, condemnation,
sentence--all were ready before the maid was taken; aye, and, I think,
before Duke Casimir was dead.
"Also there is no court in the Wolfmark higher than the mockery we have
seen to-day. The arms of the soldiers of Plassenburg are our only court
"It is two days before they can come," I answered. "I fear me all will be
over before then."
"Be not so sure," said Dessauer. "There is at present no Justicer in the
Mark capable of carrying out the sentence, so long as your father lies on
his bed of mortal weakness."
"Duke Otho will not let that stand in his way--or I am the more
deceived," said I, with a heavy heart.
At this moment there came an interruption. I heard a loud argument
outside in the court-yard.
"Tell me what you want with the servant of the most learned Doctor!"
cried a voice.
"That is his business, and mine--not yours, rusty son of a
stable-sweeper!" was the answer.
I went out immediately, and there, facing each other in a position of
mutual defiance, I saw Peter of the Pigs and the decent legal domestic of
Master Gerard von Sturm.
"Get out of my wind, old Muck-to-the-Eyes!" said the servitor,
offensively; "you poison the good, wholesome air that is needed for
"Go back to your murderer of the saints," responded Peter of the Pigs,
valiantly. "Your master and you will swing in effigy to-night in every
street in Thorn. Some day before long you will both swing in the body--if
a hair of this angel's head be harmed."
"I must see this learned Doctor's servant!" persisted the man of law,
avoiding the personal question.
"Here he is," said I; "and now what would you with him?"
"I am sent to invite you to come to the Weiss Thor immediately, on