Part 6 out of 7
business which deeply concerns you."
"That is not enough for me," said I. "Who sends for me?"
"Let me come in out of the hearing of this moon-faced idiot," said he,
pointing contumeliously to Peter of the Pigs, "and I will tell you. I am
not bidden to proclaim my business in the market sties and city
"You do well, Parchment Knave," cried Peter; "for it is such black
business that if you proclaimed a syllable of it there you would be
torn to pieces of honest folk. Thank God there are still some such in
"Aye, many," quoth the servitor, "and we all know they are to be found in
the dwellings of priestlings!"
I walked with the man to the gate, for I did not care to take him to
where Dessauer was sitting. I feared that it might be some ill news from
the Lubber Fiend, who, though I had seen him clear of the gate, might
very well have returned and told my message to Master Gerard.
"Well," said I, brusquely, for I had no love for the Sir Rusty
Respectable, "out with it--who sends you?"
"It is not my master," answered the man, "but one other."
"What other?" said I.
"The one," he said, cunningly, "with whom on a former occasion you rode
out at the White Gate."
Then I saw that he knew me.
"The Princess--" I began.
"Hush," he said, touching my arm; "that is not a word to be whispered in
the streets of Thorn--the Lady Ysolinde is at her father's house, and
would see you--on a matter of life or death--so she bade me tell you."
"I will go with you," I said, instantly.
"Nay," he said, smirking secretly, "not now, but at nine of the clock,
when the city ways shall be dark, you must come--you know the road.
And then you two can confer together safely, and eke, an it please
you, jocosely, when Master Gerard will be safe in his study, with the
I went back to Dessauer, who during my absence had kept his head in his
hand, as if deeply absorbed in thought.
"The Princess is in Thorn!" said I, as a startling piece of news.
"Ah, the Princess!" he muttered, abstractedly; "truly she is the
Princess, but yet that will not advantage her a whit."
I saw that he was thinking of our little Helene.
"Nay," I said, taking him by the arm to secure his attention, as indeed
about this time I had often to do. "I mean the Lady Ysolinde, the wife of
our good Prince."
"In Thorn?" said Dessauer. "Ah, I am little surprised. Twice when I was
speaking to-day I saw a face I knew well look through a lattice in the
wall at me. But being intent upon my words I did not think of it, nor
indeed recognize it till it had disappeared. Now the picture comes back
to me curiously clear. It was the face of the Princess Ysolinde."
"I am to see her at nine o'clock to-night in the house of the
"Do not go, I pray you!" he said; "it is certainly a trap."
"Go I must, and will," I replied; "for it may be to the good of our
maiden. I will risk all for that!"
"I dare say," said he; "so should I, if I saw any advantage, such as
indeed I hoped for to-day. But if I be not mistaken, our Princess is deep
in this plot."
"And why?" said I. "Helene never harmed her."
"Helene is your betrothed wife, is she not?" he said. He asked as if he
did not know.
"Surely!" said I.
"Well!" he replied, sententiously, and so went out.
A WOMAN SCORNED
At nine I was at the door of the dark, silent house by the Weiss Thor. I
sounded the knocker loudly, and with the end of the reverberations I
heard a foot come through the long passages. The panel behind slid
noiselessly in its grooves, and I was conscious that a pair of eyes
looked out at me.
"You are the servant of the strange Doctor?" said the voice of the
servitor, Sir Respectable.
"That I am, as by this time you may have seen!" answered I, for I was
in no mood of mere politeness. I was venturing my life in the house of
mine enemy, and, at least, it would be no harm if I put a bold face on
He opened the door, and again the same curious perfume was wafted down
the passages--something that I had never felt either in the Wolfsberg nor
yet even in the women's chambers of the Palace of Plassenburg.
At the door of the little room in which she had first received me so long
ago, the Lady Ysolinde was waiting for me.
She did not shut the door till Sir Respectable had betaken him down again
to his own place. Then quite frankly and undisguisedly she took my hand,
like one who had come to the end of make-believe.
"I knew you to-day in your disguise," she said; "it is an excellent one,
and might deceive all save a woman who loves. Ah, you start. It might
deceive the woman you love, but not the woman that loves you. I am not
the Princess to-night; I am Ysolinde, the Woman. I have no restraints, no
conventions, no laws, no religions to-night--save the law of a woman's
need and the religion of a woman's passion."
I stood before her, scarce knowing what to say.
"Sit down," she said; "it is a long story, and yet I will not weary you,
Hugo--so much I promise you."
I made answer to her, still standing up.
"To-night, my lady, after what you know, you will not be surprised that I
can think of only one thing. You know that to-day--"
"I know," she said, cutting me short, as if she did not wish to
listen to that which I might say next; "I know--I was present in the
"Then, being Master Gerard's daughter, you knew also the sentence before
it was pronounced!" I said, bitterly, being certain as that I lived that
the paper from which the Duke Otho read had been penned at this very
house of the Weiss Thor in which I now sat.
Ysolinde reached a slender hand to me, as was often her wont instead
"Be patient to-night," she said; "I am trying hard to do that which is
best--for myself first, as a woman must in a woman's affairs. But, as God
sees me, for others also! You are a man, but I pray you think with
fairness of the fight I, a lonely, unloved woman, have to fight."
"Will they carry out the terrible sentence?" said I, eagerly. For I
judged that she must be in her father's counsels.
"Be patient," she said; "we will come to that presently."
Ysolinde sat silent a while, and when I would have spoken further
she moved her hand a little impatiently aside, in sign that I was
not to interrupt. Yet even this was not done in her old imperious
manner, but rather sadly and with a certain wistful gentleness which
went to my heart.
When she spoke again it was in the same even voice with which she had
formerly told my fortune in that very room.
"That which I have to say to you is a thing strange--as it may seem
unwomanly. But then, I did not ask God to make me a woman, and
certainly he did not make me as other women. I have never had a true
mate, never won the love which God owes to every man and woman He
brings into the world.
"Then I mot you, not by any seeking of mine. Next, equally against my
will, I loved you. Nay, do not start to-night. It is as well to put the
"You did not _love_ me," said I; "you were but kind to me, the unworthy
son of the Executioner of Thorn. Out of your good heart you did it."
I acknowledge that I spoke like a paltering knave, but in truth knew not
what to say.
"I loved you--yes, and I love you!" she said, serenely, as though my
words had been the twittering of a bird on the roof. "And I am not
ashamed. There was indeed no reason for my folly--no beauty, no
desirableness in you. But--I loved you. Pass! Let it be. We will begin
from there. You loved, or thought you loved, a maid--your Little
Playmate. Pshaw, you loved her not! Or not as I count love. I was proud,
accustomed to command, and, besides, a Prince's wife. The last,
doubtless, should have held me apart. Yet my Princessdom was but as straw
bands cast into the fire to bind the flame. As for you, Hugo Gottfried,
you were in love with your success, your future, and, most of all, with
your confident, insolently dullard self."
She smiled bitterly, and, because the thing she spoke was partly true, I
had still nothing to answer her.
"Hugo Gottfried," she said, "try to remember if, when we rode to
Plassenburg in the pleasant weather of that old spring, you loved this
girl whom now you love?"
"Aye," said I, "loved her then, even as I love her now."
"You lie," she answered, calmly, not like one in anger, but as one who
makes a necessary correction, "you loved her not. You were ready to love
me--glad, too, that I should love you. And since you knew not then of my
rank, it was not done for the sake of any advancement in Plassenburg."
I felt again the great disadvantage I was under in speaking to the Lady
Ysolinde. I never had a word to say but she could put three to it. My
best speeches sounded empty, selfish, vain beside hers. And so was it
ever. By deeds alone could I vanquish her, and perhaps by a certain
dogged masculine persistence.
"Princess," I said to her, "you have asked me to meet you here. It is not
of the past, nor yet of likings, imaginings, recriminations that I must
speak. My love, my sister, my playmate, bound to me by a thousand ancient
tendernesses, lies in prison in this city of Thorn, under sentence of a
cruel death. Will you help me to release her? I think that with your
father, and therefore with you, is the power to open her prison doors!"
"And what is there then for me?" cried the Lady Ysolinde, instantly,
bending her head forward, her emerald eyes so great and clear that their
shining seemed to cover all her face as a wave covers a rock at
"What for me?" she repeated, in the silence which followed.
"For you," said I, "the gladness to have saved an innocent life."
"Tush!" she cried, with a gesture of extravagant contempt. "You mistake;
I am no good-deeds monger, to give my bread and butter to the next
beggar-lass. I tell you I am the woman who came first out of the womb of
Mother-earth. I will yield only that which is snatched from me. What is
mine is more mine than another's, because I would suffer, dare, sin, defy
a world of men and women in order to keep it, to possess it, to have it
all alone to myself!"
"But," I answered, "who am I, that so great a lady should love me? What
am I to you, Princess, more than another?"
"_That_ I know not!" she answered, swiftly. "Only God knows that. Perhaps
my curse, my punishment. My husband is a far better, truer, nobler man
than you, Hugo. I know it; but what of that, when I love him not? Love
goes not by the rungs in a ladder, stands not with the most noble on the
highest step, is not bestowed, like the rewards in a child's school, to
the most deserving. I love you, Hugo Gottfried, it is true. But I wish a
thousand times that I did not. Nevertheless--I do! Therefore make your
reckoning with that, and put aside puling shams and whimpering
This set me all on edge, and I asked a question.
"What, then, do you propose? Where, shall this comedy end?"
"End!" she said--"end! Aye, of course, men must ever look to an end.
Women are content with a continuance. That you should love me and keep on
loving me, that is all I want!"
"But," I began, "I love--"
"Ah, do not say it!" she cried, pitifully, clasping her hands with a
certain swift appeal in her voice--"do not say it! For God's sake, for
the sake of innocent blood, do not say that you love me not!"
She paused a moment, and grew more pensive as she looked stilly and
solemnly at me.
"I will tell you the end that I see; only be patient and answer not
before I have done. I have seen a vision--thrice have I seen it. Karl of
Plassenburg, my husband, shall die. I have seen the Black Cloak thrice
envelop him. It is the sign. No man hath ever escaped that omen--aye, and
if I choose, it shall wrap him about speedily. More, I have seen you sit
on the throne of Plassenburg and of the Mark, with a Princess by your
side. It is _not_ only my fancy. Even as in the old time I read your
present fortune, so, for good or ill, this thing also is coming to you."
She never took her eyes from my face.
"Now listen well and be slow to speak. The Princedom and the power shall
both fall to me when my husband dies. There are none other hands capable.
So also is it arranged in his will. Here"--she broke off suddenly, as
with a gesture of infinite surrender she thrust out her white hands
towards me--"here is my kingdom and me. Take us both, for we are
I took her hands gently in mine and kissed them.
"Lady, Lady Ysolinde," I said, "you honor me, you overwhelm me, I know
not what to say. But think! The Prince is well, full of health and the
hope of years. This thought of yours is but a vision, a delusion--how can
we speak of the thing that is not?"
"I wait your answer," she said, leaving her hands still in mine, but now,
as it were, on sufferance. Then, indeed, I was torn between the love that
I had in my heart for my dear and the need of pleasing the Lady
Ysolinde--between the truth and my desire to save Helene. Almost it was
in my heart to declare that I loved the Lady Ysolinde, and to promise
that I should do all she asked. But though, when need hath been, I have
lied back and forth in my time, and thought no shame, something stuck in
my throat now; and I felt that if I denied my love, who lay prison-bound
that night, I should never come within the mercy of God, but be forever
alien and outcast from any commonwealth of honorable men.
"I cannot, Lady Ysolinde," I answered, at last. "The love of the maid
hath so grown into my heart that I cannot root it out at a word. It is
here, and it fills all my life!"
Again she interrupted me.
"See," she said, speaking quickly and eagerly, "they tell me this your
Helene is an angel of mercy to the sick. If she is spared she will be
content to give her life to works of good intent among the poor. This
cannot be life and death to her as it is to me. Her love is not as the
love of a woman like Ysolinde. It is not for any one man to possess in
monopoly. Though you may deceive yourself and think that it will be fixed
and centred on you. But she will never love you as I love you. See, I
would knee to you, pray to you on my knees, make myself a suppliant--I,
Ysolinde that am a princess! With you, Hugo, I have no pride, no shame. I
would take your love by violence, as a strong man surpriseth and taketh
the heart of a maid."
She was now all trembling and distract, her lips red, her eyes bright,
her hands clasped and trembling as they were strained palm to palm.
"Lady Ysolinde, I would that this were not so," I began.
A new quick spasm passed over her face. I think it came across her that
my heart was wavering. "God knows that I, Hugo Gottfried, am not worth
"Nay," she said, with a kind of joy in her voice and in her eyes, "that
matters not. Ysolinde of Plassenburg is as a child that must have its toy
or die. Worthiness has no more to do with love than creeds and dogmas.
Love me--Hugo--love me even a little. Put me not away. I will be so true,
so willing. I will run your errands, wait on you, stand behind you in
battle, in council lead you to fame and great glory. For you, Hugo, I
will watch the faces of others, detect your enemies, unite your
well-wishers, mark the failing favor of your friends. What heart so
strong, what eye so keen as mine--for the greater the love the sharper
the eye to mark, prevent, countermine. And this maid, so cold and icy, so
full of good works and the abounding fame of saintliness, let her live
for the healing of the people, for the love of God and man both, and it
liketh her. She shall be abbess of our greatest convent. She shall indeed
be the Saint Helena of the North. Even now I will save her from death and
give her refuge. I promise it. I have the power in my hands. Only do you,
Hugo Gottfried, give me your love, your life, yourself!"
She was standing before me now, and had her arms about my neck. I felt
them quiver upon my shoulders. Her eyes looked directly up into mine, and
whether they were the eyes of an angel or of a tempting fiend I could not
tell. Very lovely, at any rate, they were, and might have tempted even
Saint Anthony to sin.
"Ysolinde," I said, at last, "it is small wonder that I am strongly
moved; you have offered me great things to-night. I feel my heart very
humble and unworthy. I deserve not your love. I am but a man, a soldier,
dull and slow. Were it not for one man and one woman it should be as you
say. But Karl of Plassenburg is my good master, my loyal friend. Helene
is my true love. I beseech you put this thought from you, dear lady, and
be once more my true Princess, I your liege subject--faithful, full of
reverence and devotion till life shall end!"
As I spoke she drew herself away from me. My hand had unconsciously
rested on her hair, for at first she had leaned her head towards me. When
I had finished she took my hand by the wrist and gripped it as if she
would choke a snake ere she dropped it at arm's-length. I knew that our
interview was at an end.
"Go!" she commanded, pointing to the door. "One day you shall know how
precious is the love you have so lightly cast aside. In a dark, dread
hour, you, Hugo Gottfried, shall sue as a suppliant. And I shall deny
you. There shall come a day when you shall abase yourself--even as you
have seen Ysolinde the Princess abase herself to Hugo, the son of the Red
Axe of the Wolf mark. Go, I tell you! Go--ere I slay you with my knife!"
And she flashed a keen double-edged blade from some recess of her silken
"My lady, hear me," I pleaded. "Out of the depths of my heart I
protest to you--"
"Bah!" she cried, with a sudden uprising of tigerish fierceness in her
eyes, quick and chill as the glitter of her steel. "Go, I tell you, ere I
be tempted to strike! _Your heart!_ Why, man, there is nothing in your
heart but empty words out of monks' copy-books and proverbs dry and
rotten as last year's leaves. Ye have seen me abased. By the lords of
hell, I will abase you, Executioner's son! Aye, and you yourself, Hugo
Gottfried, shall work out in flowing blood and bitter tears the doom of
the pale trembling girl for whom you have rejected and despised Ysolinde,
Princess of Plassenburg!"
THE RED AXE DIES STANDING UP
How I stumbled down the stairs and found myself outside the house in
the Weiss Thor I do not know. Whether the servitor, Sir Respectable,
showed me out or not has quite passed from me. I only remember that I
came upon myself waiting outside the gate of Bishop Peter's palace
ringing at a bell which sounded ghostly enough, tinkling like a cracked
kettle behind the door.
The lattice clicked and a face peeped out.
"Get hence, night-raker!" cried a voice. "Wherefore do you come here so
untimeously, profaning the holy quiet of our minster-close?"
"There was no very holy calm in the kitchen t'other night, Peter
Swinehead!" said I, my wits coming mechanically back to me at the
"Ha, Sir Blackamoor, 'tis you; surely your chafts have grown strangely
white, or else are my eyes serving me foully in the torchlight."
Instinctively I covered as much of my face as I could with my
cloak's cape, for indeed I had washed it ere I went forth to see the
"'Tis that you have slipped too much of the Rhenish down thy gullet, old
comrade," said I, slapping Peter on the back and getting before him so
that he might remark nothing more.
At that, being well pleased with my calling him comrade, he lighted me
cordially to my chamber, and there left me to the sleepless meditation of
The next day was one of great quietness in the city of Thorn. An uneasy,
sultry pause of silence brooded over the lower town. Men's heads showed a
moment at door and window, looked furtively up and down the street, and
then vanished again within. Plots were being hatched and plans laid in
Thorn; yet, while there was the lowering silence in the city, up aloft
the Wolfsberg hummed gayly like a hive. Once I went up that way to see if
I could win any news of my father. But this day the door into the Red
Tower stood closed, nor would any within open for all my knocking. So
perforce I had to return unsatisfied. Several times I went to the Weiss
Thor to spy the horizon round for the troops of Plassenburg. But only the
gray plain of the Mark stretched itself out so far as the eye could
penetrate--hardly a reeking chimney to be seen, or any token of the
pleasant rustic life of man, such as in my youth I remembered to have
looked down upon from the Red Tower. Beneath me the city of Thorn lay
grimly quiescent, like a beast of prey which has eaten all its neighbors,
and must now die of starvation because there are no more to devour.
The day passed on feet that crept like those of a tortoise, as the sullen
minutes dragged by, leaden-clogged and tardy. But the evening came at
last. And with it, knocking at the door of the Bishop's quadrangle and
interrupting my long talk with Dessauer, lo! a messenger, hot-foot from
"To the learned Doctor and his servant, Gottfried Gottfried, being in
death's utmost extremities, sends greeting, and desires greatly to have
speech with them."
Thus ran my father's message in that testing hour where he had seen
so many! Yet I was but little surprised. There was no wonder in the
fact save the wonder that it should all seem so natural. Dessauer
"I will go with you," he said; "it will be safer. For at least I can
keep the door while you speak with your father."
So, without further word, we followed the messenger up the long, narrow,
wooden-gabled street, and heard the folk muttering gloomily in the
darkness within, or talking softly in the dull russet glow of their
hearth-fires. For there were but few lighted candles in Thorn that
night. And I wondered how near or how far from us tho men of Plassenburg
might be encamping, and thrilled to think that at any moment a spy might
ride in to warn Duke Otho of the spy within his city, or the near
approach of his foe.
But so far all was quiet at the Red Tower. The wicket-gate in the angle
of the wall was open, and we passed in without difficulty. As I mounted
the stairs I heard the key turn behind us. Obviously, therefore, we were
expected. The gate of the Red Tower had been left open for our entrance;
and so soon as the birds were in the snare, it was shut, and the silly
Nevertheless we climbed up and up the dark stairs till we came to
the door of my father's garret. I pushed it open without knocking,
"The most learned the Doctor Schmidt," I announced, lest there should be
some stranger in the room. And indeed my precaution was necessary enough.
For, from my father's bed-head, disengaging himself reluctantly, like a
disturbed vulture napping up from the side of a dying steer, Friar
Laurence rose out of the darkness, and, folding his robe about him,
stalked to the door without a word or nod to either of us. I stood
holding the edge of it till I had watched him well down the stairs. Then
Dessauer relieved me at the stair-head as I went to approach my father.
I saw a change in him, very startling, indeed, to see. "In the uttermost
extremity" he was, indeed, as he had written. A ghastly pallor overspread
his face; his eyes were wild, his breathing came both quick and hard.
The fire cast nickering lights over his face and on the outlines of his
lank figure under the scarlet mantle which had been cast over him. One
corner of it was cast aside, as if for air or coolness, and I could see a
thing which gave me a cold chill in the marrow of my spine.
My father still wore the dress which he only donned when some poor soul
was about to die and pay the forfeit.
At first Gottfried took no notice of me whatever, but lay looking at the
ceiling, his lips muttering something steadily, though what the words
were I could not hear.
"Father," I said at last, bending over him gently, "I have come to see
He turned to me, as if suddenly and regretfully summoned back from very
far away. It was a movement I had seen in many dying men. He looked at
me, a strange, luminous comprehension growing up gradually in his eyes.
"Hugo," he said, "you have come home at last! The Little Playmate has
come home, too. We three will make a merry party in the old Red Tower. We
have not been all together for so long. Lord Christ, but I have been a
man much alone! Hugo, why did you leave me so long? Ah, well, I do not
blame you, my son. You have been pushing your fortunes, doubtless, and
you have--so they tell me--become a great man in Plassenburg. And the
little maid is a lady of honor, and very fair to see. But now you two
have come to the old garret, like birds homing to the nest."
"Yes, father," I said to him, "we have both come home to you, the Little
Playmate and I. And now you will give us your blessing!"
"The Little Playmate--say rather the Little Princess," he cried,
cheerfully, as, with the air of one who brings good tidings, he sat up in
bed. Then he pointed to a chair on which a pillow had carelessly been
flung. "Little Maid," he said, looking at the cushion as if it had been
Helene, "I am glad you have come back to be wedded to my boy. That was
like you. I ever wished it, indeed. But I never expected to see my
children thus happy. Yet I always knew you and Hugo were made for each
other. You are at your sewing, little maid. Well, 'tis natural. I mind me
when my own love sat making dainties of just such delicate and wreathed
He paused, and then, his countenance suddenly changing, he looked
fearfully and fixedly at the chair.
"But, little maid, my own Helene," he cried, in a loud, gasping, alarmed
tone, "what is this, best beloved? Why, you are sewing at a shroud?
Surely such funeral-trappings become not bridals. A shroud--and there is
blood upon it! Put it down--_put it down,_ I pray you!"
The red flames on the fire crackled suddenly up about the back log and
cast dancing shadows on his face.
"Lie down and rest, dear father," I said softly to him, "the Little
Playmate is not here--I, Hugo, your son, am alone beside you."
"Hugo," he said, instantly appeased, and passing a lean arm about me, "my
good son, my brave boy! You will be kind to the little Princess. She
loves you. There is no man so beloved as you in all the city of Thorn.
Many would have loved her besides Otho. Ah, but I threw him out of the
window there. I threw a Grand Duke out of a window! Ha! ha! it was the
He laughed a little at intervals, as at a tale that will bear infinite
repetition. "I, Gottfried Gottfried, threw a proximate reigning Prince
out of the window! How Casimir laughed! The thing pleased him well. And
the little maid, do you remember her, Hugo? How she would teach me--me,
the Red Axe of Thorn--how to dance that first night, and how totteringly
she carried the Red Axe? The little one took heart that night. She will
have a happy future, I know; so blessed, far away from this dark and
damned place of the Wolfsberg. I am glad she is not here to see me die.
That is a sight for men, not for fair young loving women."
"Hush, my father," I said, touching his dank brow; "you are not going to
die. You will yet live to be strong and well, a man among men."
For one tells these things to dying men. And they smile and pass us by,
amused at our childish ignorance, as you and I shall one day smile upon
those others. And even thus did my father.
"Nay, Hugo, I am sped," he answered. "This night ends all. The door I
have oped for so many is opening from within for me. God's mercy be on a
sinful man! Ere the light of to-morrow's dawn the Duke's Justicer must
face the Tribunal that has no assessor and no court of appeal."
He threw back the cloak which served him as a mantle, and crying, "Give
me your hand, Hugo!" Gottfried Gottfried staggered to his feet.
"I will die standing up," he said, bending his brows and gazing about him
uncertainly. He pointed to the walls of the garret. The fire was
flickering low, but still making the place light enough to see easily.
There beside the bed was the Red Axe, with its shining edge undimmed,
leaning against the block. There across it was the crimson mask which was
never more to bind his eyes as he did the office of final dread.
"Do you see them, son Hugo?" he cried, leaning heavily on my shoulder and
pointing with his finger; "they are gibbering at me, mowing,
processioning by, and pointing mockingly at me. Do you hear them
laughing? That horrid one there with his head under his arm? Laughing as
if there were no God! But I am not afraid. Mercy of Jesu! Hath God
Himself no Justicer, that He should punish me because I have fulfilled my
charge? I have all my life been merciful, ever giving the blow of mercy
first, and the drop of stupefaction before the Extreme Question. Hence,
fiends! Shapes inhuman, torment me not! For in my day I was merciful to
you and never struck twice. I _will_ die standing up. The devil shall not
fright me--no, nor all his angels!
"God Himself shall not fright me! I appeal to His judgment throne! Get
hence, false accusing spirits! I stand at Caesar's judgment-seat. Give me
the axe, boy--I will cut down the evil, I will spare the good. Here is
the Red Axe, my son. Take it! Strike with it strong and well. Strike,
strike, and spare not!"
Totteringly he handed me the axe, and, clasping his hands, he stood
"God! God!" he cried in a great voice. "I see my Judge face to face; I am
not afraid! But I will die standing up!"
And in this manner, even as I tell it, died Gottfried Gottfried, a strong
man, standing up and not afraid. And these arms received him, as, being
dead, he fell headlong.
HUGO GOTTFRIED, RED AXE OF THE WOLFMARK
Then cried Dessauer from the door to me as I stood thus holding my father
in my arms:
"Haste you, lad; there are men coming across the yard with torches. They
are gathering in groups about the door. Now they are on the stairs--many
soldiers--and with weapons in their hands!"
And scarcely had he spoken when the sound of the tramping of men in haste
came to us up the turret, and the door of the garret was thrust violently
open. A turmoil of men-at-arms burst in on us. I stood still, holding
Gottfried Gottfried, his head on my shoulder, though I knew that he was
dead. But as one came forward with a paper in his hand I stooped and laid
my father gently on his bed.
An officer of the Black Hussars, fantastically dressed in their
church-yard array, with skull and cross-bones slashed in silver across
his breast, accosted me.
"Hugo Gottfried, son of Gottfried Gottfried, in the name of the Duke Otho
and the State of the Wolfmark, I arrest you! Also you, Leopold von
Dessauer, Chancellor of the Princedom of Plassenburg. You are accused as
spies and enemies of the commonweal. Yield yourselves therefore to me,
"I am indeed Hugo Gottfried," said I, "but you may see for yourselves the
mission on which I have come hither. And for this hour, at least, you
might have spared your brutal entry. Behold!"
I caught a torch from the nearest soldier, and let its light shine on
the dead face of the fourteenth Hereditary Justicer of the Wolfmark.
The men started back. The terrible countenance of the dead affected them
even more than the grim figure of the Red Axe as they had seen him
stalking from the Hall of Justice to the block.
"Ah," said the officer, not wholly irreverently, "Gottfried Gottfried has
gone now to the dark place to which he hath sent so many. But, after all,
he is dead--and I heard a monkish clerk prate the other day, 'Let the
dead bury their dead.' I have my orders, and the Duke Otho waits.
Therefore I bid you follow me, Hugo Gottfried and Leopold von Dessauer."
So, leaving the body of my father lying on the bed in his garret, we were
constrained to follow our captors down the stairs. Across the court-yard
we were hurried, and through the Hall of Justice into the private
apartments of the Duke.
Otho von Reuss, now Duke of the Wolfmark, was standing erect by the great
chair in which, as my father had so often described him to me, Casimir
had sat so many days with his head sunk on his breast. The new Duke stood
up proudly, gazing at us with frowning brows and lowering, narrowed eyes.
This was mighty fine, but I could not help thinking of the poor
appearance he had made on the hill above the Hirschgasse as he slunk off
when he saw an evil cause going desperately against him.
"So," he said, "gentlemen both, I have caught you spying in my land. You
know what those have to expect who are caught in hostile territory in
I thought it was as well to take the high hand at once, especially since
I saw that humility would avail us nothing at any rate.
"Before now I have seen Otho von Reuss in hostile territory, and a right
cowed traitor he looked!" said I, boldly.
The Duke smiled upon me, like a man that has a complete retort on his
tongue but who is content for the present to reserve it.
"My friend," he said, suavely, "I will reply to you presently. I have a
word to speak to your betters."
He turned him about to Dessauer.
"And what, Lord High Chancellor of Plassenburg, think you of this
masquerading? Dignified, is it not? And your wondrous speech in court
that was to have done such great things. Will you be pleased to abide
with us here in the Wolfsberg? Or must you forsake us to pleasure the
Emperor, who, poor man, cannot sleep of nights in his bed at Ratisbon
till the eloquent Doctor is come to cheer him with the full-flowing river
"Duke Otho," said Dessauer, "my life is indeed in your hands. I hold it
forfeit. A few years less or more are but little to Leopold von Dessauer
now. But there is one who will most bloodily avenge us if a hair of our
heads falls to the ground."
"Who?" said Otho, sneeringly. "Karl Miller's Son, I suppose. Ah, fool
that you are, I hold your poor Karl in the palm of my hand!"
"It is like enough," said Dessauer, with a quick look, the look of a keen
fencer when he sees an advantage. "I have often enough seen the palm of
your hand approach Karl Miller's Son's treasury when I kept the moneys."
I saw the face of Otho twitch angrily. But he had evidently made up his
mind to command his temper, sure of having that up his sleeve which would
sufficiently answer all taunts.
"You mistake me," he said, with more subtlety than I had expected from
the brute. "I had not meant to prove ungrateful. I am but newly come to
my own here in the Wolfmark. I have learned from your host, Bishop
Peter, how precious a thing forgiveness is. And now I am resolved to
practise it. There is a time to love and a time to hate; a time to war
and a time to be at peace. This is the last news I had from the holy
clerk whose revenues I pay. So lay it to heart, as I have done."
"Glad am I," said Dessauer, courteously, as if he had been turning a
phrase on the terrace at Plassenburg--"glad am I that in your hour you
are to be mindful of old friends, for they are like old wine, which grows
better and mellower with the years."
"It is indeed well," said Otho von Reuss, ironically. "I have known the
Chancellor Dessauer many years, and he grows more honorable and more wise
with each decade.
"But now 'tis with this young man that I would speak," he said, changing
his tone. "He at least is mine own servant, and so I have other words for
him. Hugo Gottfried, you remember that you insulted me, striking me on
the face with a glove, because I offered certain civilities to a maid of
honor to the Princess of Plassenburg. You wounded me in the arm. Your
father, of whose death I have heard but now, cast me forth like a cur-dog
from a chamber window. Between you ye have shamed me, and would shame me
worse--for the sake of the murderess of mine uncle, Duke Casimir."
"Well do you know that the Lady Helene is innocent of that crime, or any
other," said I; "she is purer than your eyes can look upon or your heart
conceive. Yet, solely because she knows you for the foul thing you are,
Helene lies condemned in your dungeons to-night. I ask you to grant me
but one boon--that I may die with her!"
"Nay, my friend, gentlest squire of dames, defender of the oppressed, I
have better things in store for you and your maid than that!"
He paused and looked a long while at me, as it seemed, chewing the cud
of revenge upon that which he had to say to me.
At last he came a step nearer, that he might look into my eyes.
"Hugo Gottfried," he said, slowly, "son of Gottfried Gottfried, you are
my servant now. I said that I would forgive you all for the sake of old
times in exile together. And now you and I are both again in our own
land. They that kept us out of our offices are dead, and we standing in
their places. There is a maid down there in the Wolfsberg dungeons who
to-morrow must meet her fate."
He paused a moment and laid his hand on my shoulder impressively.
"And you, Hugo Gottfried, Hereditary Justicer of the Dukedom, Red Axe of
the Wolfmark, art the man who must carry out that doom!"
Again he paused--and the world seemed instantly to dissolve into
whirling vapor at his words. I had never once thought of such a
conclusion. Yet I was indubitably, by my father's death, Hereditary
Executioner of the Wolfmark. Red Axe of Thorn I was, and by a terrible
chance I had returned in time to be installed in mine office, even as
the Lady Ysolinde had foretold.
But a strong thought swelled triumphant in my heart.
"Well," said I, looking the sneering tormentor in the face, "if so be
that I am your Hereditary Justicer, it will be long ere a sentence so
monstrous shall be carried out by me. I will not slay the innocent, nor
pour out the blood of a virgin saint, for a million deaths. You can
torture me with all your hellish engines, and you will find that a
Gottfried has learned how to suffer, as well as, how to make others
suffer, in fourteen generations. As God strengthens me, I will never
carry out your sentence--do with me what you will."
"Nobly said, Justicer of the Mark!" said Otho. "I had thought of that!
But in case you should refuse to do your lawful office, it may be well
for you to remember that I have other instruments that mayhap will please
He threw open a door suddenly, and we looked into an underground hall,
where a dozen men were carousing--Duke Casimir's Hussars of Death,
black-browed, evil-faced, slack-jowled villains every man of them, cruel
and sensual. A blast of ribald oaths came sulphurously up, as if the
mouth of hell had been opened.
"Listen!" said Otho, with his hand on my shoulder.
And a jest struck to our ears concerning the prisoner, the Little
Playmate--a jest which sticks in my memory to this day. And even yet I
hope to cleave the jester through the brain, meet him when I may.
The Duke shut the door, and turned to me again. His eyes narrowed to a
thin line which glittered with hate and triumph.
"If you, Hugo Gottfried, Hereditary Executioner of the Mark, refuse to do
your duty at the time appointed upon the prisoner condemned, I, Duke
Otho, solemnly declare that I will cast your fair and tender lamb into
that den of wolves down there to work their wills upon. Hark to them!
They will have no misgivings--no qualms, no noble renunciations."
Then he turned to me airily and confidently.
"Well, my good Justicer, will you carry out the just and merciful
sentence of the law, and baptize your Red Axe with the blood of her for
whose sake you chose to insult and wound a Duke of the Mark?"
I turned away, sick at heart.
"Give me time. God's mercy--give me time!" I cried. "At least let me see
Helene. I will give you my answer to-night. But, first of all, let me see
"I am forgiving and most merciful," he said, smiling till his teeth
showed. "Observe, I do not even cast you into prison to make sure of you.
Go your ways" (he sat down and wrote rapidly); "here is a pass which will
enable you to visit the prisoner. At midnight I shall expect you to tell
me that to-morrow you will fulfil your office."
He handed me the paper and motioned us away.
"We are free to go?" said I, wonderingly.
"Surely," he replied, smiling. "Are you not both my friends, and can Otho
von Reuss be forgetful of old times? Come and go at your pleasure. Be
sure to be here to give me your answer at midnight to-night--or--"
He pointed with his hand to the door he had again opened, and with the
fingers of his other hand beat time to the blasphemous chorus which came
belching up from below.
THE SERPENT'S STRIFE
Dazed and death-stricken by the horror of the choice which lay before me,
I hastened down the street, hardly waiting for Dessauer, who toiled
vainly after me. I knew not what to do nor where to turn. I could neither
think nor speak. But it chanced that my steps brought me to the house of
the Weiss Thor. Almost without any will of mine own I found myself
raising the knocker of the house of Master Gerard von Sturm. Sir
Respectable instantly appeared. I asked of him if the Lady Ysolinde would
see me--giving my name plainly. For since Duke Otho knew me, there was no
need of concealment any more.
The Lady Ysolinde would receive me.
I followed my conductor, but not this time to the room in which I had
seen her on the occasion of my last visit.
It was in her father's chamber that I met the Princess. The room was as I
had first seen it. Only there was no ascetic old man with keen, deep-set
eyes and receding forehead to rear his head back from the table as though
he would presently strike across it like a serpent from its coil.
For the moment the room was empty, but, ere I had time to look around,
the curtains moved and the Lady Ysolinde appeared. Without entering, she
set a hand on the door-post, and stood poised against the heavy curtain,
waiting for me to speak.
Her face was pale, her thin nostrils dilated. Anger and scorn sat white
and deadly on every feature.
"So," she said, intensely, as I did not speak, "you have come back
already, most noble Hereditary Justicer of the Mark! Even as I told
you--so it is. You come to ask mercy from the woman you despised, from
the woman whose love you refused. You would beg her to spare her enemy.
Ere you go I shall see you on your knees; ah, that will be sweet. I have
been on my knees--can I believe it? Nay, I shall not forget it. I,
Ysolinde of Plassenburg, have pled in vain to you--to you!"
And the accent of chill hatred and malice turned me to stone.
"My lady," said I, "well do you know that I would never ask aught for my
own life, though the Red Axe itself were at my neck. But it is for the
maid I love, for the little child I carried home out of the arms of the
man condemned. I ask for her life, who never wronged you or any in all
this world. You have heard that task which the Duke hath laid on me,
because it is my misfortune to be my father's son--I must take away my
love's sweet life, or, if I do not--" I could proceed no further for the
horror which rose in my heart.
"I know it," she said, calmly; "my father hath told me all."
"Then," cried I, "if the power lie with you, as you hope for mercy to
your own soul, be merciful! Save the maiden Helene from the death of
shame, and me from becoming her murderer!"
"Ah," she answered, with delicatest meditative inflection, "this is
indeed sweet. The mighty is fallen indeed. The proud one is suppliant
now. The knee is bent that would not bend. Hearken, you and your puling
babe, to the Princess Ysolinde! Were your lives in that glass, to save or
to destroy--her life and your suffering--to make or to break, I would
fling them to destruction, even as I cast this cup into the darkness!"
And as she spoke the wreathed beaker of Venice glass sped out of the
window and crashed on the pavement without.
"Thus would I end your lives," she said, "for the shame that you two put
upon me in the day of my weakness."
"Lady," I cried, eagerly, "you do yourself a wrong! Your heart is better
than your word. Do this deed of mercy, I beseech you, if so be you can.
And my life is yours forever!"
"Your life is mine, you say," cried she; "aye, and that means what?
The wind that cries about the house. Your life is _mine_--it is
a lie. Your life and love both are that chit's for whom you have
And I grant that at that moment she looked noble enough in her anger as
she stood discharging her words at me with hissing directness, like bolts
shot twanging from the steel cross-bow.
"And, lest you should think that I have not the power to save you, I will
tell you this--when you shall see the neck bared for the blade of the Red
Axe, the fine tresses you love, that your eyes look upon with desire, all
ruthlessly cut away by the shears of your assistants--ah, I know you will
remember then that I, Ysolinde, whom you refused and slighted, had the
power in her hand to deliver you both with a word, according to the
immaculate laws of the Wolfmark. Aye, and more--power to raise you both
to a pinnacle of bliss such as you can hardly conceive. In that hour,
when you see me look down upon your anguish, you will know that I can
speak the word. You will watch my lips till the axe falls, and under your
hand the young life ebbs red. But the lips of Ysolinde will be silent!"
"Such knowledge is an easy boast, Lady Ysolinde!" I answered, thinking
to taunt her, that she might reveal whether indeed she had the power
"There," she said, pointing to the great collection of black-bound books
and papers about the walls; "see, the secret is there--the secret for the
lack of which you shall strike your beloved to the death to save her from
the unnamable shame. I know it; my father has revealed it to me. I have
seen the parchment in these hands. But--you shall never hear it, she
never profit by it, and my vengeance shall be sweet--so sweet!"
And she laughed, with a strange crackling laugh that it was a pain to
"God forgive you, Lady Ysolinde," said I, "if this be so. For if there
be a God, you must burn in Great Hell for this deed you are about to
do. Having had no mercy on the innocent, how shall you ask God to have
mercy on you?"
"I will not ask Him!" she cried. "Instead of puling for mercy I will have
had my revenge. And after that, come earth, heaven, or hell--I shall not
care. All will then be the same to Ysolinde!"
I thought I would try her yet once more.
"The Little Playmate," I said, "the maid whom I have ever loved, though I
am not worthy to touch her, is no chance child, no daughter of the Red
Axe of Thorn. Leopold von Dessauer hath found and sent to Karl the Prince
the full proofs that Helene is the daughter of the last and rightful
Prince, and therefore in her own right Princess of Plassenburg."
"You lie, fool!" she cried--"you lie! You think to frighten me. And even
if it were true--thrice, four times fool to tell me! For shall not I, the
Princess of Plassenburg, the wife of the reigning Prince, stand for my
own name and dignity. I would not help you now though a thousand fair
heads, well-beloved, the desire of men, the envy of women, were to be
rolled in the dust."
"Then farewell, Princess," I cried; "you are wronging to the death of
deaths two that never did you wrong, who loved each other with the love
of man and woman before ever you crossed their paths, and who since then
have only sought your good. You wrong God also, and you lose your soul,
divorcing it from the mercy of the Saviour of men. For be very sure that
with that measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again."
She did not answer, but stood with her hand still against the door-post,
her head raised, and her lips curling scornfully, looking after me as I
retired with a smiling and malicious pleasure.
So, without further speech, I went out from the presence of the Lady
Ysolinde. And thus she had the first part of her revenge.
THE DUNGEON OF THE WOLFSBERG
And now I must see the Little Playmate. Judge ye whether or no my heart
was torn in twain as I went up the long High Street of Thorn, back to the
Wolfsberg, alone. For I had compelled Dessauer to return to Bishop
Peter's, in order to avert popular suspicion, since our real names and
errands were not yet known there.
And when I parted from him the old man was so worn out that I looked
momently for him to drop on the rough causeway stones of the street.
Many pictures of my youth passed before me as I mounted towards the
castle that night. I remembered the ride of the wild horsemen returning
from the raid such long years agone, the old man who carried the babe,
and the Red Axe himself, who now lay dead in the Tower--my father,
Casimir's Justicer, clad now as then in crimson from head to heel.
Ere long I arrived at the Wolfsberg, and as I came near the Red Tower I
saw that the gate was open. A little crowd of men with swords and
partisans was issuing tumultuously from it. Then came six carrying a
coffin. I stood aside to let them pass. And not till the last one brushed
me did I ask what was their business abroad with a dead man at such a
time of the night.
"'Tis one that had wrought much fear in his time," answered the soldier,
for I had lighted on a sententious fellow--"one that made many swift
ends, and now has come to one himself."
"You mean Gottfried Gottfried, the Duke's Justicer?" said I, speaking
like one in a dream.
"Aye," he replied. "The Duke Otho is mightily afraid of the plague, and
will not have a dead body over-night in his castle. Since they condemned
the Saint Helena, God wot, the Duke is a fear-stricken man. He sleeps
with half a dozen black riders at the back of his door, as though that
made him any safer if a handful of minted gold were dealt out among the
rascals. But when was a Prince ever wise?"
"My father's funeral," thought I. "Well, to-night it is, indeed, 'let the
dead bury their dead'; Helene is yet alive!"
Surely I am not wanting in feeling, yet my heart was strangely chill and
cold. Nevertheless, I turned and followed the procession a little way
towards the walls. But even as I went, lo! the bell of the Wolfsberg
slowly and brazenly clanged ten. I stopped. I had but two hours in which
to visit the Little Playmate and tell her all.
"Good-bye, father," said I, standing with my hat off; "so you would wish
me to do--you who met your God standing up--you who did an ill business
greatly, because it was yours and you were born to it. Teach me, my
father, to be worthy of you in this strait, to the like of which surely
never was man brought before!"
The men-at-arms clattered roughly down the street, shifting their
burden as if it had been so much kindling-wood, and quarrelling as to
their turns. I heard their jests coming clear up the narrow street
from far away.
I stood still as they approached a corner which they must turn.
I waved my hand to the coffin.
"Fare you well, true father; to-night and to-morrow may God help me also,
like you, to meet my fate standing up!"
And the curve of the long street hid the ribald procession. My father
was gone. I had made choice. The dead was burying his dead.
I went on towards the prison of the Wolfsberg; so it was nominated by a
sort of grim superiority in that place which was all a prison--the castle
which had lorded it so long over the red clustered roofs and stepped
gables of Thorn, solely because it meant prisonment and death to the
rebel or the refuser of the Duke's exactions.
Often had I seen the straggling procession of prisoners rise, head
following head, up from that weary staircase, my father standing by, as
they came up from the cells, counting his victims silently, like a
shepherd who tells his flock as they pass through a gap in the sheepfold.
For me, alas! there was but one in that dread fold to-night. And she my
one ewe lamb who ought to have lain in my bosom.
I clamored long at the gate ere I could make the drowsy jailer hear. As
the minutes slipped away I grew more and more wild with fear and anger.
At midnight I must face the Duke, and it was after ten--how long I knew
not, but I feared every moment that I might hear the brazen clang as the
hammer struck eleven.
For time seemed to make no impression on me at all that night.
At last the man came, shuffling, grumbling, and cursing, from his
"What twice-condemned drunken roysterer may you be, that hath mistaken
the prison of Duke Otho for a trull-house?
"An order from the Duke--to see a prisoner! Come to-morrow then, and,
meanwhile, depart to Gehenna. Must a man be forever at the beck and call
of every sleepless sot? 'Urgent'--is the Duke's mandate. Shove it through
the lattice then, that a lantern may flash upon it."
I pushed under the door a broad piece of gold, which proved more to the
purpose than much speech.
The door was opened and I showed my pass. That and the gold together
The jailer rattled his keys, donned a hood and woollen wrapper which he
took down from a nail, and went coughing before me down the chill,
draughty passages. I could hear the prisoners leaping from their couches
within as the light of his cresset filtered beneath their doors. What
hopes and fears stirred them! A summons, it might be, for some one in
that dread warren to come up for a last look at the stars, a walk to the
heading-place through the soft, velvet-dark night--then the block, the
lightning flash of bright steel, a drench of something sweet and strong
like wine upon the lips, and--silence, rest, oblivion.
But we passed the prison doors one by one, and the jailer of the
Wolfsberg went coughing and rasping by to another part of the prison.
"'Tis an ill place for chills," he grumbled. "I have never been free of
them since first I came to this place, no--nor my wife neither. She has
been dead these ten years, praises to the pyx! Ah, would you?" (The torch
threatened to go out, so he held it downward in his hand till the pitch
melted and caught again, and meanwhile we stood blinded in the smoke and
glare which the strong draught forced in our faces.)
At last came the door, a low, iron-spiked grating, like any other of the
hundred we had passed.
"Key-metal is not often weared on this cell," the man chuckled. "Those
stay not long above ground that bide here."
The door swung back on its creaking hinges. I slipped the fellow another
"I must come in with you," he said; "you might do the wench an ill turn
which would cheat the Duke of his show and me of my head to-morrow."
I slipped him another piece of gold, and then three together.
"Risk it, man," I said. "Have I not the Duke's own pass? I will do
her no harm."
"Well," he said, "pray remember I am a man with five poor motherless
children. My wife died of falling down a flight of steps ten years
agone--praise the Lord for His mercies. For He is ever mindful of us, the
sinful children of men."
The sound of his voice died away as the door closed. I turned, and was
alone with the Beloved. The jailer had stuck the cresset in its niche
behind the door, and its glow filled the little cell.
At first I could not see the Little Playmate--only a rough pallet bed and
something white at the head of it. But as the cresset burned up more
clearly, and my eyes became accustomed to the bleared and streaky light,
I saw Helene, my love, kneeling at her bed's head.
I stood still and waited. Was she asleep? Was she--was she dead? I
almost hoped that she might be. Then the Duke's vengeance would be
"Helene!" I said, softly, as one speaks to the dying--"Helene, dear,
Slowly she looked up. Her face dawned on me as one day the face of the
blessed angel will shine when he calls me out of purgatory.
"My love--my love!" she said, sweetly, like the first note of a hymn when
the choir breathes the sweet music rather than sings it.
Ah, Lord of Innocence, that pure loving face, the purple deepness in the
eyes, the flush on the cheek as on that of a little child asleep, the
soft curled hair which crisped in the hollow of the neck--the throat
itself--Eternal God, that I should be alive to think of the horror!
But time was passing swiftly. The minutes were slipping by like men
running for their lives.
I raised Helene from her knees, and she nestled her head on my shoulder.
"You have come to me! I knew you would come. I saw you on the day--the
day when they condemned me to die."
I broke into an angry, desperate, protesting cry, so that I heard my own
voice ring strangely through that dumb, horrible place. And it was I who
sobbed in her arms with my head on her shoulder.
"Hush, dear love," she said, clasping her arms caressingly about my head;
"do not fear for me. God will keep your little one. God has told me that
He will bring me bravely through. Hush thee, then; do not so, Hugo, great
playmate! This I cannot bear. Help me to be good. It will not be long nor
painful. Do not weep for your little girl! I think, somehow, it is for
our love that I suffer, and that will make it sweet!"
But still I sobbed like a child. For how--how could I tell her?
Presently the power returned slowly to me, seeing her smiling so bravely
up at me, and rising on tiptoe to kiss my wet face.
Then I told her all--in what words I hardly remember now.
"Love of mine," I said, "I have but an hour or less to speak with
you--and ah! such terrible things, such inconceivable things, to say; a
horror to reveal such as never lover had to tell his love before."
She drew one of my hands down and softly patted her breast with it.
"Fear not," she said; "tell it Helene. If it be true that love conquers
all, your little lass can bear it!"
"I came," said I, "with purpose to see you, and by treachery (it skills
not to ask whose) I was taken at my dead father's bedside."
"Our father dead?" she cried, going a step away to look at me, but
coming back again immediately; "then there are but you and me in the
"Aye," said I, "but how can I tell you the rest? My father died like a
man, and then they took me, still holding the dead in my arms. I was
confronted with a fiend of hell in the likeness of Duke Otho."
As I mentioned the Duke's name I could feel her shudder on my neck.
"And--But I cannot tell you what he has bidden me do, under penalties too
fearful to conceive or speak of."
She put her hands up, and gently, timidly, lovingly stroked my cheek.
"Dear love, tell me! Tell the Little Playmate!" she said, as simply and
sweetly as if she had been coaxing me to whisper to her some lightest
childish secret of our plays together in the old Red Tower.
I was silent for a space, and then, spurred by the thought of the swiftly
passing time, the words were wrenched out of me.
"He says that I, even I, Hugo Gottfried, my father's son, being now
hereditary Red Axe of the Wolfmark, must strike off the head of the one I
love. And if I will not, then to the vilest of devils for vilest ends he
will deliver her. Ah, God, and he would do it too! I saw the very flame
of hell's fire in his eyes."
Then I that write saw a strange appearance on the face that looked up in
mine. As on a dark April day, with a lowering sky, you have seen the wind
suddenly stir high in the heavens, and the sun look through on the
dripping green of the young trees and the gay bourgeoning of the flowers,
so, looking on my love's face as she took in my words, there awakened a
kind of springtime joy. Nay, wherefore need I say a kind of joy only. It
was more. It was great, overleaping, sudden-springing gladness. Her eyes
swam in lustrous beauty. She smiled up at me as I had never seen her
"Oh, I am glad, Hugo--so glad! I love you, Hugo! It will be hard for you,
my love. And yet you will be brave and help me. I had far rather die at
your hand than live to be the bride of the greatest man in all the world.
Do that which will save me from, shame; do it gladly, Hugo. I fear it. I
saw it in the eyes of that man Otho von Reuss. But _only_ to die will be
easy, with you near by. For I love you, Hugo. And I could just say a
prayer, and then--well, and then--Do not cry, Hugo--why, then you would
put me to sleep, even as of old you did in the Red Tower!
"Nay, nay, dear love! You must not do so. This is not like my Hugo. See,
_I_ do not cry. Do you remember when you took me up and laid me on your
bed, and our father came and looked? You said I was your little wife. So
I was, even though I denied it, and now I can trust you, my husband. I
have never been aught else but your little wife, you see--not in my
heart, not in my heart of hearts!
"I have been proud with you, Hugo--spoken unkind things. For love, you
know, is like that. It hurts that which it would die for. But now you
will know, once for all, that I love you. For death tests all. And you
_will_ help me. You will not cry then, Hugo--not then, when we walk, you
and I, by the shores of the great sea. You will only send me a little
voyage by myself, as you used to make me go to the well in the
court-yard, to teach me not to be frightened!
"And then you will be with me when I go. You will watch me; soon, soon
you will come after me. Yes, I am glad, Hugo--so glad. For--bend down
your ear, Hugo--I will confess. Your little girl is such a coward. She
is afraid of the dark. But it will not be dark--and it will not be long,
and it will be sure. If my love stand by, I shall not fear. And, after
all, it is but a little thing to do for my love, when I love him so."
What I said, or what I did, I know not. But when I came a little to
myself, I found my head on my knees, and Helene soothing and petting me,
as if I had been a child that had fallen down and hurt itself.
"I would have been a good wife to you, Hugo; I had thought it all out. At
first I would have been such an ignorant little house-keeper, and you
would have needed--oh, such great patience with me! But so willing, so
ready, Hugo! And how I should have listened for your foot! Do you know, I
used to know it as it came across the court-yard at Plassenburg. But I
could not run and meet you then. I could only slip behind the
window-lattice and throw you a kiss. But when I was indeed your wife, how
I should have flown to meet you!"
I think I cried out here for very agony.
"Hush, Hugo!" she said. "Hush, lad, and listen. There are stairs up
aloft--I saw them in a dream. I saw the angels and the redeemed ascending
and descending as I prayed, even when you came in to call me back. I
shall ask God to let me wait at the stair-head a little while for
you--till it should be time for you to come, my dear, my dear. You would
not be very long, and I could wait. I would listen for your feet upon the
stair, dear love. And when at last you came, I should know your footfall;
yes, I should know it ever so far away. You would not be thinking of me
just then. And when you came to the top of the golden stairs,
there--there, all so suddenly, would be your little lass, with her arms
ready to welcome you!"
The door of the cell creaked open.
The jailer appeared. "It is time!" he said, curtly, and stood waiting. We
stood up, and I looked in her eyes. She was smiling, dry-eyed, but
I--the water was running down my face.
"You will be brave, Hugo, for my sake. Next to life with you--to die by
your dear hand, knowing that you love me, is the best gift they could
have given me. They thought to hurt, but instead they have made me so
happy. Till we meet again, dear love--till we meet soon again!"
And she accompanied me to the door, and kissed me as I went out, standing
smilingly on tiptoe to do it, even as of old she was wont to do in the
And the last thing I saw of her, as the door closed upon the darkness of
the cell, was my love standing smiling up at me, her eyes filled with the
splendors of the love that casteth out fear.
THE NIGHT BEFORE THE MORN
Even as the dwarf on the ledge of the castle clocktower creaked his wires
and clicked back his hammer to strike the midnight over the city, even as
the first solemn toll of the hour reverberated over the Wolfsberg, I was
at the door of the Duke's room waiting for admission.
The Chamberlain in attendance looked within, and seeing his master
writing at a table, he was going out again without speech.
"Has Hugo Gottfried returned?" said the Duke, without looking up.
"Hugo Gottfried is here!" I replied, stepping unannounced into the room.
He looked up without smiling, a keen inquiring glance glittering from
between eyelids so close together that only the faintest line of the
pupil showed black under the lashes.
"Well?" he questioned.
"I will do the thing you have asked," answered I.
And said no more.
The Duke instantly became restless, and getting up, he began to pace
about the floor like a caged beast.
"You have seen her?" he inquired, stopping in front of me,
wide-nostrilled, like a dog that points the game.
"I _have_ seen her," I replied, as simply.
"Well?" he queried again, with a keen, eager note of anxiety in
"I am ready to do that which you have asked."
He seemed to be on the point of saying something else. But, changing his
mind, he touched a little silver bell.
The usher appeared.
"Show the Hereditary Justicer of the Mark to the Red Tower. Give him all
that is necessary to eat and drink. Bid a man-at-arms attend him, and set
a sufficient guard at the door!"
So I went out from the presence, and the Duke and the Duke's new Justicer
bowed to each other gravely as I stood a moment on the threshold.
"Till we meet again, Red Axe of the Wolfmark!" said Duke Otho.
"Till we meet again!" said I, countering him like blade meeting blade.
In little more than ten minutes after I had entered them, I stood outside
the Duke's apartments, and with my escort I strode across to the empty
Red Tower, the home of so many memories. My head was reeling, and with
the overpress of excitement I could not sleep. So, bribing the soldier,
my companion--who had been charged by the Duke not to lose sight of
me--to accompany me, I went up to my father's garret.
There I found all things as they had been when my father died.
I set the windows wide, cast the tumbled bedclothes out upon the
dust-heap beneath, and bared the whole to the clean, large, wholesome
breezes of the night. I saw the fateful Red Axe lean as usual against the
block, and, taking it up, I found it keen as a razor. It was spotless,
and the edge gave back the long low room and our one glimmering candle
like a mirror. It must have been my father's last work in this world to
Then I went down to my own room and cast myself down upon the bed in
which, on that night of the first home-coming of the Playmate, I had laid
my little wife.
The soldier couched across the door, rolled in his cloak and some chance
wrapping he found about the house.
God keep me from ever spending such a night again! I thought it would
never come to an end. Out in the square in front of the Wolfsberg I could
hear a knocking--dull, continuous, reverberant. At first I thought it
must be within my own head. So I asked the soldier, after a little, if he
heard it also. I had some faint idea that it might be Prince Karl of
Plassenburg with his army thundering at the gates of Thorn.
"'Tis but the scaffold going up in the Grand Place without!" said the
soldier, carelessly; "I heard that the Duke had bidden them work all
night by torch-light."
I tried to sleep, but the knocking continued, aching across my brows
till I thought I must go mad. After a while I rose and went to the
window from which I had so often looked down wistfully upon the play of
the city children.
Opposite me, in the middle of the open space, loomed a dark mass--a
platform, it seemed, raised a dozen feet above the road--the black
silhouette of a ladder set anglewise against it, and that was all. Lower,
plainer, somehow deadlier than a gibbet with its flamboyant beam, which
one never sees empty without imagining the malefactor aswing upon it; the
heading-block did not frown, it grinned--yes, grinned like the eye-holes
of a skeleton with a candle behind them, while the torches glinted
through the interstices of the framework as it was being nailed together.
All night the dull _dunt-dunting_ went on without. And I sat awake by the
window and awaited the dawning.
The city seethed unslaked beneath. When first I looked from my chamber
window the square was free to all who chose to enter it. But as the
knocking went on the news spread through the town of Thorn.
"They are making the scaffold for our Saint Helena!" So the word ran.
And within an hour the courts and alleys of Thorn belched forth thousands
of angry men. Pikes were carried like staves, the steel head hidden up
the long white burgess sleeve. Working-men of the trades, 'prentices,
and market porters drew their swords and came forth with the bare blades
in their hands, leaving the scabbards at home to take care of themselves,
as was their custom.
Wives cried from escalier windows to their men to come in by and lie
decently down, to be ready for their work in the morning. And the men so
addressed paid not the least heed, as the manner of men is. These things
and many others I saw, scarce knowing what I saw.
And so, with the hum of gathering crowds, the hours passed slowly over.
But the temper of the people in the square grew more and more difficult,
and soon the guard had to be brought down from the castle. The great
gates beneath me were open, and the Wolfsberg vomited the black
men-at-arms to keep the Duke's peace.
But this brought only the quicker strife. Yells received them as soon as
their steel partisans showed up in the square.
"Oppressors of the people, ye come to your reward!" cried many voices.
"We will give you your last breakfast--of cold, tempered steel!" cried
another, from the bowels of the crowd.
"To the Wolfsberg--ho! Break in the doors! We will have our Saint Helena
forth of their cursed prisons!"
It was no sooner said than done. Like a wave the people rushed in a black
irregular mass at the front rank of the guard. The soldiers of the Duke
were swept away like chaff; I could see one here and another there
struggling in the vortices of the angry multitude.
"On to the Wolfsberg!" cried the crowd.
But when the first of them reached the castle gates, lo! they stood open,
and there behind them stood file on file of matchlock men with their
matches burning in their hands and their pieces trained upon their rests.
"Give them the fire!" cried a voice, that of Duke Otho, as the crowd
halted a moment irresolute.
The bright red flame started out here and there from muzzle and
touchhole, and then ran along the line in an irregular volley.
A terrible cry of fear went up from the folk. For though they had heard
of the new ordnance, and even seen one or two, they had never realized
the effect of a fusillade. And when a man on either side sank down with a
hollow sound like a beast in shamble-thills, and the man in front fell
over on his face without a sound, the multitude turned, broke into
groups, fled, and disappeared in a moment like a whirl of snow which the
wind canters down the street in a veering flurry.
Then the gates shut to, and the deep lines of matchlock men were hidden
from view. After this the city thrilled and murmured worse than ever,
humming like an angry hive. But the Wolfsberg kept its counsel. Not yet
had deliverance arrived for the captives within its cells.
And the dread morning was coming fast.
At last, wearied out with crowding emotions, I went and cast me down on
my bed, and, instantly falling asleep, I slept like a log till one
touched me on the shoulder. Looking up, I saw the Duke Otho. He had come
to make sure of his vengeance--the vengeance which I knew well was not
his, but that of Ysolinde, Princess of Plassenburg.
THE HEADSMAN'S RIGHT
"Rise, Justicer of the Wolfmark!" said Otho, smiling mockingly upon me
like a fiend.
I started up and gazed about bewildered as the coming terrors of the
morning broke upon me.
"'Tis scarcely an hour to sunrise," he continued, "and I warrant the
noble Red Axe will desire to feel the edge of his tool and see that his
assistants are in their places."
The Duke paused as he went out of the door, and looked at me.
"I can promise you a distinguished company at the first public
performance of your honorable office," he said, with a polite gesture.
So soon as he was gone I rose to my feet. Across the broad, black
oaken stool, whereon from boyhood it had been my habit to place my
clothes neatly folded up, I found a suit of new red cloth, plain and
rich, with an inscription upon a strip of vellum laid across the
breast, bearing that these were a gift from the most Illustrious Duke
Otho of the Wolfmark.
Since, after all, my fate was my fate, there was little use in straining
at the gnat. So I set to and did upon me the garmentry of shame. They
were made after the fashion of my father's, cap and hosen and shoon all
of red, with a cloak of red to cover all.
Then I went to the Playmate's room, and before the niche where her little
Prie-Dieu had stood, I kneeled me down and said such a prayer as at the
moment I could compass. But little was needed. For I think God in heaven
Himself was praying for us both that day.
When I went forth into the square, few there were who knew or remembered
me, but all knew my attire. Then indeed it did my heart good to hear the
great unanimous roar of execration which went up from the multitude as I
came out. The soldiers had their work cut out to push a way for me to
"Butcher him--tear him to pieces--wolf's cub that he is--he that was her
foster-brother to slay our Saint Helena!"
It made me proud to hear them. And as they rushed furiously against the
escort, intent to kill me, we swayed from side to side.
"Down with the Red Axe!" they shouted. "Down with the bloody house of
Gottfried and all that belong to it!"
And I felt inclined to cry "Amen!"
Then, when I had mounted the few steps which led to the platform on which
stood the black headsman's block, I gazed about me in wonder, holding the
Red Axe in my hand. And to my disordered vision I saw the crowd swell and
whirl about me on earth and in the air, bubbling and tossing like a pot
boiling furiously. Then I bethought me of the work I had to do, and
prayed that I might be given strength to do it swiftly and featly, that
the suffering of my love might not be long. Also I thought of the
lecherous evil demons of the Black Riders, and thereat was somewhat
comforted. At the worst I could give my love a better end than that.
Then appeared my Lord Duke Otho. An enclosure had been formed for him by
the palace wall, covered with a red hanging, as though my sweetheart's
death were a gala sight. And when he had come to the front and arranged
his folk, lo! there by his side stood Ysolinde, Princess of
Plassenburg, with her father, Master Gerard. They had a place close by
the Duke, and Otho ofttimes bent over to confer graciously with his
councillor. But Ysolinde looked neither to right nor left, nor yet spoke
to any, keeping her eyes fixed, as it seemed, on the shining blade of
the Red Axe in my hand.
Then, as these fine folk stood waiting and gloating among the festoons
of their balcony, the devil or God (I know which, but I will not say,
lest I be thought a blasphemer) put an intent into my heart. I walked to
the edge of the scaffold, and I looked at the barrier of the enclosure.
They were of the same height, and the distance between them little more
than six feet.
I examined them again, and yet more intently. I saw the steely smile
on Duke Otho's face. Already he was tasting the double sweetness of
"Wait," I said, within my heart, as I also smiled a little, "only wait a
little, Otho, Duke of the Wolfmark. Wait till this bright edge be sullied
with my sweet love's blood. And then--then will I leap upon you, and the
Red Axe shall crash deep into the brain that hatched and fostered this
hellish intent. And by the gentle heart of her who is about to die, so
also will I serve Gerard the lawyer, and Ysolinde, his daughter, for
their treachery against the innocent. Then, amid the flash of steel and
the heady whirl of battle, shall Hugo Gottfried be very content to die!"
It would take more than one stroke to dull that which my father had
sharpened. And I lifted up the Red Axe and felt the edge with my thumb.
It was razor keen.
But the action was observed, and taken as a proof of callousness. And
then what a yell of hate surged up around me! I could have taken those
burghers of Thorn to my heart. And I thought if only our Karl would come.
Alas! it was a full day too soon; for I felt sure that these burghers
would proclaim him at the gates, and that the house of Otho and Casimir,
the brood of the Wolf, would, like the shadow of the raven as it flits by
in the sunshine, pass away. For by that time there would be no Otho. They
would find him low enough, with an axe cleft in his head.
So soon as the sun's light tipped the eastern clouds with rose, the Black
Hussars came riding forth. The guards and matchlock men lined the way
from the castle gates. They blew up their matches to be ready. Suddenly
in the midst of the armed throng there appeared a radiant figure coming
down the steps of the castle from the Hall of Judgment.
At the sight the people threw themselves wildly in that direction. The
dark lines of the guard reeled and wavered. There was the sharp click as
the pikes engaged. The shouts of the captains of the matchlock men were
heard. But the trained bands stood fast, and the rush was stayed. Then
came our Helene down towards me, walking delicately, yet proudly erect as
a young tree. She was clad all in white and wore her hair plaited high
upon her head, so that the shape of her neck was clearly seen.
And I who stood there with the axe in my hand seemed to have a thousand
years to think all these things, and even to mark the lace upon her
dress. I saw her come nearer and nearer to me. Yet feeling was dead
within me. I seemed to sleep and wake and sleep again. And when at last I
awoke, there came a strange feeling to me. It was my wedding-day, and my
bride was coming to me, lily pure, clad in whiteness.
Then at the foot of the scaffold there came one forth from the ranks,
a captain of the Duke's guard, and with honor and respect offered
Helene his arm.
She declined it with a proud smile, and all that were near could hear her
clear voice say, "I thank you, sir, but I need no help. I am strong
enough to walk thus far."
And she mounted the steps of the scaffold as though they had been those
of the grand staircase at Plassenburg.
But when she saw me, standing in my habit of red from head to heel, she
seemed a little taken aback. Quickly, however, she came forward and
took me by the hand, looking up at me with the love-light making her
"Hugo," she said, "I am glad you are here--glad that I am to die by no
less loving hand. That will be sweeter than to live with any other. And,
indeed, I deserve so much, for I have not known much joy in my life, save
in the old days when I was your Little Playmate."
Then there came a stern voice from the enclosure:
_"Executioner of the Mark, do your duty!"_
It was the voice of Master Gerard.
And then I looked over and saw Gerard von Sturm standing a little in
front, with his daughter's wrist held tightly in his hand as though he
would drag her back. With that a loathing came over me, for I said within
me, "Is the woman so anxious for the blood of the innocent whom she has
hounded to death that she would intrude on the scaffold itself?"
Then I remembered the duty of the Justicers, ere the sentence was carried
out, to recite the crimes of the condemned.
So I cried aloud, even as I had heard my father do.
"The crimes of Helene, Princess of Plassenburg, sole daughter of
Dietrich, lately Prince thereof--guilty of no evil, save that she has
been the savior of this people of Thorn and their deliverer in time of
The people hushed themselves with astonishment at my words. And then a
cry went up.
"The Red Axe speaks true--she is innocent--innocent!"
But the voice of Gerard von Sturm came again, stern as that of the
"_Executioner of the Wolfmark, do your duty_!"
Scarce knowing what I did, I went on with my formal accusation.
"Helene, Princess of Plassenburg, who is about to die, is also guilty of
loving me, Hugo Gottfried, son of Gottfried Gottfried, and of none other
crime. For this the Duke has decreed that she should die. It is her own
will that she should die by my hand."
Helene came forward and put her hand in mine in token that I spoke
truly, and there fell a great silence across the people. I saw the Lady
Ysolinde straining at her father's hand, like a dog in a leash when the
Then my love kissed me once, just as though she had been saying
good-night in the Red Tower, simply and sweetly, like a child, and laid
her head down on the block as on the white pillow of her own bed.
"_God do so and more also to them on whose heads is the innocent blood of
my love and my wife_!"
The words burst from me rather than were uttered.
I raised the blade.
But ere the Red Axe could fall there arose a wild scream from the Duke's
enclosure. Some one cried, "Let me go! He has said it! He has said it! I
will not be silent any longer!" It was the Lady Ysolinde, who had broken
away from her father's hand.
"The girl is his wife," she went on. "He has claimed her--according to
the laws of the Wolfmark, that cannot be broken, he has called her his
wife. It is the Executioner's right. One woman he can claim as his
during his term of office--one only, and for his wife. Duke Otho, I call
upon you to allow it! Chancellor Texel, I call upon you to read the law!
I have it here in my hand. Head! Read! _I will save my soul! I will save
And ere any one could stop her, the Lady Ysolinde, sobbing and laughing
both at once, had overleaped the light barrier, and was thrusting a
parchment with a seal into the hands of the Chancellor Michael Texel.
"She is mad. Let the justice of the realm be done!" cried again the voice
of Master Gerard.
And I think the Duke would have ordered it to be so. But there arose not
only a roar from the people, but, what Otho minded far more, an ominous
murmur among the nobles and gentlemen and from the ranks of men-at-arms.
"The law! The law! Read us the law!"
And even Otho dare not trifle with the will of the free companions of the
Mark. For in all the realm they were now his only supporters. Helene had
risen to her feet, and stood, pale of face but erect, resting, as was her
wont, one hand on my shoulder.
Then Michael Texel read the scroll aloud.
"It is the immemorial privilege of the Hereditary Executioner of the
Mark, being of the family of Gottfried, a privilege not to be abrogated
or alienated, that during the term of office of each, he may claim--not
as a boon, but as a right--the life of one man for a bond-servant, or the
life of one woman for a wife. Thus, by order of the States' Council, to
be the privilege of the Gottfrieds forever, it has been proclaimed!"
As Michael Texel went on, I saw the countenance of the Duke and the
lawyer change. I knew that salvation had come to us like lightning from a
clear sky, and I hastened to demand the right which was mine own.
So soon as he had finished I shouted with all my power:
"I CLAIM HELENE TO BE MY WIFE!"
Then went up such an acclaim from the people as never had been heard in
the ancient city. Even the gentlemen within the enclosure threw their
hats in the air. The soldiers put their helmets on the points of their
spears, and the captains waved their colors as at a victory. The thunder
of the cheering roused the very rooks and jackdaws from the towers of
Thorn and the bastions of the Wolfsberg till they went drifting in a
black cloud clamorously over the city.
Then Helene put her arms about my neck, and, upon the scaffold of death,
before all the people, we plighted our troth.
"The Bishop--the Bishop Peter!" cried the people.
And, leaping upon an officer's horse, a messenger rode post-haste to the
palace, the crowd making way for him. Duke Otho disappeared through a
private door, for the thing was over-strong even for him. He knew his
weakness too well to war with the immemorial privileges of the Wolfmark.
Rulers stronger than he had been broken in doing battle against ancient
rights and amenities. Besides, the nobility were afraid of their own
perquisites if one of so ancient a charter as that of the Hereditary
Justicer were refused.
Then from the palace came the Bishop, with due and decorous attendance of
crosier and solemn procession. And there, amid a turmoil of joy and the
ringing of every bell in the city, we, that had gone out to be together
in death, were joined in the bonds of youth and life.
But the Lady Ysolinde saw not--heard not. For they had carried her out
white and still from the place where she had fallen fainting at the foot
of the scaffold.
THE LUBBER FIEND'S RETURN
Al these things had overpast so quickly that when Helene and I found
ourselves alone in the Red Tower it seemed to both of us that we dreamed.
We sat in a kind of buzzing hush, on the low window-seat of the old room,
hand in hand. The shouts of the people came up to us from the square
beneath. We heard the tramp of the soldiers, who cheered us as they
passed to and fro. Being at last alone, we looked into each other's eyes,
and we could not believe in our own happiness.
"My wife!" I said, but in another fashion than I had said it on
"My husband!" answered Helene, looking up at me.
But I think, for all that we realized of the truth, we might as well have
called each other King and Queen of Sheba.
We had been conducted with honor to the Red Tower. For since it was in
virtue of my hereditary office that I had obtained the great
deliverance, I dared for the present seek no other dwelling-place. For
Helene's sake, indeed, I should have felt safer elsewhere. Besides,
desperate and full of baffled hatred as I knew Duke Otho to be, I did
not believe that he would dare to molest us--for some time at least. The
rage of the people, their unbounded jubilation at the deliverance of
their Saint Helena from the jaws of death on the very scaffold, were too
recent to be trifled with by a prince sitting so insecure in his ducal
seat as Otho of the Wolfmark.
So here in the ancient Red Tower, I thought, we might at least be safe
enough till my good fellows of Plassenburg, with the Prince at their
head, should swarm hammering at the gates of Thorn.
To us, sitting thus hand in hand, there entered the Bishop Peter.
"Hail!" he said, blandly, and in his grandest manner, as we knelt for his
benediction; "hail, bride and bridegroom! God has been good to you this
day. Bishop Peter, the least of His servants, greets you very well. May
you have long life and prosperity unfailing."
I thanked him for his gracious words.
"The folk of the city are full of joy," he said. "I think they would
almost proclaim you Duke to-day."
"I desire no such perilous honor," I replied, smiling; "it were indeed an
ill-omen to have a Duke habited all in red."
"It is your marriage-dress, Hugo," said Helene; "I will not have you
speak against it."
Ever since the strain of the scaffold she had not once broke down--no,
nor wept--but only desired to sit very close beside me, touching me
sometimes, as if to make sure that I was real. Deliverance had been too
great and sudden, and those things which had come so near to us
both--Death and the Beyond--had left a salt and bitter spray on our lips.
"And what of the Lady Ysolinde?" I asked of the Bishop.
Now the Bishop Peter was a good man, but, like many of his brethren, a
lover of great, swelling words.
"The Lady Ysolinde," he said, oratorically, "by the immediate assistance
of the city guard, was placed in a litter and deported, all unconscious
as she was, to her father's house in the Weiss Thor, where she still
remains. But her most seasonable extract from the laws of the Wolfmark,
which so opportunely saved the life of your fair wife, and led to this
present happy consummation, I have here by me, even in my hand."
And with that the Bishop drew the rolled parchment from his pocket and
handed it to me, with all the original seals depending from it. Now I
have small gift for the deciphering of such ancient documents, being only
skilled in the common script of the day, and not over-well in that. So
that I had to depend upon the offices of Bishop Peter for the
"I think," said the Bishop, after he had finished reading it over, "that
this document had best remain in my own possession. It may be safer
under the seal and protection of the Church--even as, to speak truth,
you and your wife would also be. I am a plain man," the Bishop
continued, after a pause, "but remember that there is ever a place of
refuge at the palace--and one which even Duke Otho is not likely to
violate, remembering the experiences of his predecessor, Duke Casimir,
when he crossed his sword against the crosier of this unworthy servant
of Holy Church."
"I thank you," said I. "I would that it were possible to avail myself of
your all too generous offer. But it will be necessary to abide at least
this one night in the Red Tower."
"Ah," he said, "why this night?"
"Great things may happen this night, my Lord Bishop!" said I, and glanced
significantly in the direction of Plassenburg.
"Ah," said the Bishop again, "so then the power of Holy Church may not be
the only restraint upon Duke Otho by to-morrow at this time!"
And, calling his attendants, the suave and far-seeing prelate made his
way with gravity and reverend ceremony down the streets of Thorn towards
So, bit by bit, the long day passed away, and I thought it would never
end. For Helene and I sat and waited for that which might happen, with
beating and anxious hearts. Ofttimes I ran to the top of the Red Tower,
and sometimes it seemed that I could see a moving cloud of dust, and
sometimes a flurry of startled cattle afar on the horizon. But till dusk
there came to our aching eyes no better evidence that the lads of
Plassenburg were coming to our rescue and to the deliverance of the
down-trodden city of Thorn.
The soldiers of the garrison were still encamped in the great square.
There was also a constant swarming and mustering of men upon the ramparts
of the Wolfsberg. Duke Otho had certainly enough men to make a creditable
resistance. True, they were Free Companions, and without other loyalty
than that which they owed to their paymaster.
And beneath this warlike show lay the city, rebellious and turbulent to
the core, the merchants longing for unhampered rights of trade and
security in the enjoyment of the fruits of their labors, the craftsmen
claiming freedom to work in their guilds without a payment of labor-bond
tithes to the Duke, and especially without the fear of being snatched
away at any moment from their benches and looms to join in his forays and
Towards the gloaming I had come down from the roof of the tower, and was
standing, gloomy, and little like a bridegroom, at the little window
whence I had so often looked down upon the playing children of Thorn.
Suddenly a great hand was reached up from the pavement, a folded paper
was thrust in at the lattice, and I saw the face of the Lubber Fiend
looking up at me from the street below.
"Come up hither, good Jan," I cried to him. "I will run and open
But the Lubber Fiend only shook his head till his ears flapped like
burdocks in the wind by the wood edges.
"Jan will come none within that gate to tell where he has been," he said.
"Jan may be a fool, but he knows better than that."
"And where have you been?" I asked, eagerly.
Jan the Lubber Fiend stood on his tiptoes and whispered up to me with his
elbows on the sill.
"You are sure the Duke is not behind you?"
"There is none here--except my wife," I said, smiling. And I liked
speaking the word.
"I have seen the great Prince," said Jan, nodding backward, and smiling
mysteriously, "and he is coming, but not by himself. There are such a
peck of mad fellows out there. There will not be much to eat in Thorn
when they all come in. Better make a good dinner to-day, that is my
advice to you. And I was bid to tell you that when all was ready for
their coming a fire is to be lighted on a high place, and then the Prince
will come to the gates."
I longed much to hear more of his adventures, but neither love nor money
would induce the thrice cautious Jan to set a foot within the precincts
of the Red Tower.
"I will light a bonfire when it is dark at the White Gate," he said, as
he retracted himself into the dusk. "I know what will make a rare blaze.
And the Prince cannot come too soon."
So indeed I thought also, as I looked out and saw the swarms of Duke
Otho's men in the court-yard and about the square, and reflected on our
helplessness here in the Red Tower within the defenced precincts of the
THE CROWNING OF DUKE OTHO
But at long and last the most tardy-footed day comes to an end. And so,
just as fast as on any common day, the sun at last dropped to the edge