"Ah, Karl, I've seen the star," he cried triumphantly. He was but a boy-man, you must remember.
"I was sure you would see her," I answered. "How did you bring the meeting about?"
"I did not bring it about," he answered, laughing softly. "The star came to the child."
"All things come to him that waits at the bridge," I replied sarcastically. He paid no heed to the sarcasm, but continued:—
"She happened to be near the bridge when I got there, and she came to me, Karl,—she came to me like a real star falling out of the darkness."
That little fact solved once more my great riddle—at least, it solved it for a time. Yolanda was not Mary of Burgundy. I had little knowledge of princesses and their ways, but I felt sure they were not in the habit of lurking in dark places or wandering by sluggish moats in the black shadow of a grim castle. A princess would not and could not have been loitering by the bridge near the House under the Wall. Castleman's words concerning Yolanda's residence under his roof came back and convinced me that my absurd theory concerning her identity was the dream of a madman.
"She happened to be near the bridge?" I asked, with significant emphasis.
"Perhaps I should not have used the word 'happened,'" returned Max.
"I thought as much. What did she have to say for herself, Max?"
"If I were not sure of your devotion, Karl, I should not answer a question concerning Yolanda put in such a manner," he replied; "but I'll tell you. When I stepped on the bridge, she came running to me from the shadow of the trees. Her arms were uplifted, and she moved so swiftly and with such grace one could almost think she was flying—"
"Witches fly," I interrupted. My remark checked his flow of enthusiasm. After a long silence I queried, "Well?"
Max began again.
"She gave me her hand and said: 'I knew you would come again, Sir Max. I saw you from the battlements last night and the night before and the night before that. I could not, with certainty, recognize you from so great a distance, but I was sure you would come to the bridge—I do not know why, but I was sure you would come; so to-night I too came. You cannot know the trouble I took or the risk I ran in coming. You have not seen me for many days, yet you remember me and have come five times to the bridge. I was wrong when I said you would forget the burgher girl within a fortnight. Sir Max, you are a marvel of constancy.' At that moment the figures of two men appeared on the castle battlements, silhouetted against the moon; they seemed of enormous stature, magnified in the moonlight. One of them was the Duke of Burgundy. I recognized him by his great beard, of which I have heard you speak. Yolanda caught one glimpse of the men and ran back to the house without so much as giving me a word of farewell."
"What did you say during the brief interview?" I asked.
"Not one word," he replied.
"By my soul, you are an ardent lover," I exclaimed.
"I think she understood me," Max replied, confidently; and doubtless he was right.
Once more the riddle was solved. A few more solutions and there would be a mad Styrian in Burgundy. My reflections were after this fashion: Princesses, after all, do wander by the moat side and loiter by the bridge. Princesses do go on long journeys with no lady-in-waiting to do their bidding and no servants ready at their call. Yolanda was Mary of Burgundy, thought I, and Max had been throwing away God-given opportunities. Had she not seen Max from the battlements, and had she not fled at sight of the duke? These two small facts were but scant evidence of Yolanda's royalty, but they seemed sufficient.
"What would you have me say, Karl?" asked Max. "You would not have me speak more than I have already said and win her love beyond her power to withdraw it. That I sometimes believe I might do, but if my regard for her is true, I should not wish to bring unhappiness to her for the sake of satisfying my selfish vanity. If I am not mistaken, a woman would suffer more than a man from such a misfortune."
Here, truly, was a generous love. It asked only the privilege of giving, and would take nothing in return because it could not give all. If Yolanda were Mary of Burgundy, Max might one day have a reward worthy of his virtue. Yolanda's sweetness and beauty and Mary's rich domain would surely be commensurate with the noblest virtue. I was not willing that Max should cease wooing Yolanda—if I might give that word to his conduct—until I should know certainly that she was not the princess. This, I admit, was cruel indifference to Yolanda's peace of mind or pain of heart, if Max should win her love and desert her.
Because of a faint though dazzling ray of hope, I encouraged Max after this to visit the bridge over the moat, dangerous though it was; and each night I received an account of his doings. Usually the account was brief and pointless. He went, he stood upon the bridge, he saw the House under the Wall, he returned to the inn. But a night came when he had stirring adventures to relate.
At the time of which I am writing every court in Europe had its cluster of genteel vagabonds,—foreigners,—who stood in high favor. These hangers-on, though perhaps of the noblest blood in their own lands, were usually exiles from their native country. Some had been banished for crimes; others had wandered from their homes, prompted by the love of roaming so often linked with unstable principles and reckless dispositions. Burgundy under Charles the Rash was a paradise for these gentry. The duke, who was so parsimonious with the great and wise Philip de Comines that he drove him to the court of Louis XI, was open-handed with these floating villains.
In imitation of King Louis's Scotch guard, Charles had an Italian guard. The wide difference in the wisdom of these princes is nowhere more distinctly shown than in the quality of the men they chose to guard them. Louis employed the simple, honest, brave Scot. Charles chose the most guileful of men. They were true only to self-interest, brave only in the absence of danger. The court of Burgundy swarmed with these Italian mercenaries, many of whom had followed Charles to Peronne. Count Campo-Basso, who afterward betrayed Charles, was their chief. Among his followers was a huge Lombard, a great bully, who bore the name of Count Calli.
On the evening of which I speak Max had hardly stepped on the bridge when Yolanda ran to him.
"I have been waiting for you, Sir Max," she said. "You are late. I feared you would not come. I have waited surely an hour, though I am loath to confess it lest you think me a too willing maiden."
"It would be hard, Fraeulein, for me to think you too willing—you are but gracious and kind, and I thank you," answered Max. "But you have not waited an hour. Darkness has fallen barely a quarter of that time."
"I was watching long before dark on the battlements, and—"
"On the battlements, Fraeulein?" asked Max, in surprise.
"I mean from—from the window battlements in uncle's house. I've been out here under the trees since nightfall, and that seems to have been at least an hour ago. Don't you understand, Sir Max?" she continued, laughing softly and speaking as if in jest; "the longer I know you the more shamefully eager I become; but that is the way with a maid and a man. She grows more eager and he grows less ardent, and I doubt not the time will soon arrive, Sir Max, when you will not come at all, and I shall be left waiting under the trees to weep in loneliness."
Max longed to speak the words that were in his heart and near his lips, but he controlled himself under this dire temptation and remained silent. After a long pause she stepped close to him and asked:—
"Did you not want me to come?"
Max dared not tell her how much he had wanted her to come, so he went to the other extreme—he must say something—and, in an excess of caution, said:—
"I would not have asked you to come, Fraeulein, though I much desired it; but sober judgment would prompt me to wish that—that is, I—ah, Fraeulein, I did not want you to come to the bridge."
She laughed softly and said:—
"Now, Little Max, you do not speak the truth. You did want me to come, else why do you come to the bridge? Why do you come?"
In view of all the facts in the case the question was practically unanswerable unless Max wished to tell the truth, so he evaded by saying:—
"I do not know."
She looked quickly up to his face and stepped back from him:—
"Did you come to see Twonette? I had not thought of her. She is but drained milk and treacle. Do you want to see her, Sir Max? If so, I'll return to the house and send her to you."
"Fraeulein, I need not answer your question," returned Max, convincingly.
"But I love Twonette. I know you do not come to see her, and I should not have spoken as I did," said Yolanda, penitently.
Perhaps her penitential moods were the most bewitching—certainly they were the most dangerous—of all her many phases.
"You know why I come to the bridge, even though I do not," said Max. "Tell me, Fraeulein, why I come."
"That is what you may tell me. I came to hear it," she answered softly, hanging her head.
"I may not speak, Fraeulein," he replied, with a deep, regretful sigh. "What I said to you on the road from Basel will be true as long as I live, but we agreed that it should not again be spoken between us. For your sake more than for mine it is better that I remain silent."
Yolanda hung her head, while her fingers were nervously busy with the points of her bodice. She uttered a low laugh, flashed her eyes upon him for an instant, and again the long lashes shaded them.
"You need not be too considerate for my sake, Sir Max," she whispered; "though—though I confess that I never supposed any man could bring me to this condition of boldness."
Max caught her hands, and, clasping them between his own, drew the girl toward him. The top of her head was below his chin, and the delicious scent from her hair intoxicated his senses. She felt his great frame tremble with emotion, and a thrill of exquisite delight sped through every fibre of her body, warming every drop of blood in her veins. But Max, by a mighty effort, checked himself, and remained true to his self-imposed renunciation in word and act. After a little time she drew her hands from his, saying:—
"You are right, Max, to wish to save yourself and me from pain."
"I wish to save you, Yolanda. I want the pain; I hope it will cling to me all my life. I want to save you from it."
"Perhaps you are beginning too late, Max," said the girl, sighing, "but—but after all you are right. Even as you see our situation it is impossible for us to be more than we are to each other. But if you knew all the truth, you would see how utterly hopeless is the future in which I at one time thought I saw a ray of hope. Our fate is sealed, Max; we are doomed. Before long you shall know. I will soon tell you all."
"Do you wish to tell me now, Fraeulein?" he asked.
"No," she whispered.
"In your own good time, Yolanda. I would not urge you."
Max understood Yolanda's words to imply that her station in life was even lower than it seemed, or that there was some taint upon herself or her family. Wishing to assure her that such a fact could not influence him, he said:—
"You need not fear to tell me all concerning yourself or your family. There can be no stain upon you, and even though your station be less than—"
"Hush, Max, hush," she cried, placing her hand protestingly against his breast. "You do not know what you are saying. There is no stain on me or my family."
Max wondered, but was silent; he had not earned the right to be inquisitive.
The guard appeared at that moment on the castle battlements, and Max and Yolanda sought the shelter of a grove of trees a dozen paces from the bridge on the town side of the moat. They seated themselves on a bench, well within the shadow of the trees, and after a moment's silence Max said:—
"I shall not come to the bridge again, Fraeulein. I'll wait till your uncle returns, when I shall see you at his house. Then I'll say farewell and go back to the hard rocks of my native land—and to a life harder than the rocks."
"You are right in your resolve not to come again to the bridge," said Yolanda, "for so long as you come, I, too, shall come—when I can. That will surely bring us trouble sooner or later. But when Uncle Castleman returns, you must come to his house, and I shall see you there. As to your leaving Peronne, we will talk of that later. It is not to be thought of now."
She spoke with the confidence of one who felt that she might command him to stay or order him to go. She would settle that little point for herself.
"I will go, Fraeulein," said Max, "soon after your uncle's return."
"Perhaps it will be best, but we will determine that when we must—when the time comes that we can put it off no longer. Now, I wish you to grant me three promises, Sir Max. First, ask me no questions concerning myself. Of course, you will ask them of no one else; I need not demand that promise of you."
"I gladly promise," he answered. "What I already know of you is all-sufficient."
"Second, do not fail to come to my uncle's house when he invites you. His home is worthy to receive the grandest prince in the world. My—my lord, Duke Philip the Good, was Uncle Castleman's dear friend. The old duke, when in Peronne, dined once a week with my uncle. Although uncle is a burgher, he could have been noble. He refused a lordship and declined the Order of the Golden Fleece, preferring the freedom of his own caste. I have always thought he acted wisely."
"Indeed he was wise," returned Max. "You that have never known the restraints of one born to high estate cannot fully understand how wise he was."
Yolanda glanced up to Max with amusement in her eyes:—
"Ah, yes! For example, there is poor Mary of Burgundy, who is to marry the French Dauphin. I pity her. For all we know, she may be longing for another man as I—I longed for my mastiff, Caesar, when I was away. By the way, Sir Max, are you still wearing the ring?" She took his hand and felt for the ring on his finger. "Ah, you have left it off," she cried reproachfully, answering her own question.
"Yes," answered Max. "There have been so many changes within the last few weeks that I have taken it off, and—and I shall cease to wear it."
"Then give it to me, Sir Max," she cried excitedly.
"I may not do that, Fraeulein," answered Max. "It was given to me by one I respect."
"I know who the lady is," answered Yolanda, tossing her head saucily and speaking with a dash of irritation in her voice.
"Ah, you do?" asked Max. "Tell me now, my little witch, who is the lady? If you know so much tell me."
Yolanda lifted her eyes solemnly toward heaven, invoking the help of her never failing familiar spirit.
"I see an unhappy lady," she said, speaking in a low whisper, "whose father is one of the richest and greatest princes in all the world. A few evenings ago while we were standing on the moat bridge talking, I saw the lady's father on the battlements of yonder terrible castle. His form seemed magnified against the sky till it was of unearthly size and terrible to look on—doubly terrible to those who know him. If she should disobey her father, he would kill her with his battle-axe, I verily believe, readily as he would crush a rebellious soldier. Yet she fears him not, because she is of his own dauntless blood and fears not death itself. She is to marry the Dauphin of France, and her wishes are of so small concern, I am told that she has not yet been notified. This terrible man will sell his daughter as he would barter a horse. She is powerless to move in her own behalf, being bound hand and foot by the remorseless shackles of her birth. She will become an unhappy queen, and, if she survives her cruel father, she will, in time, take to her husband this fat land of Burgundy, for the sake of which he wishes to marry her. She is Mary of Burgundy, and even I, poor and mean of station, pity her. She—gave—you—the—ring."
"How did you learn all this, Fraeulein? You are not guessing, as you would have had me believe, and you would not lie to me. What you have just said is a part with what you said at Basel and at Strasburg. How did you learn it, Fraeulein?"
"Twonette," answered Yolanda.
That simple explanation was sufficient for Max. Yolanda might very likely know the private affairs of the Princess Mary through Twonette, who was a friend of Her Highness.
"But you have not promised to visit Uncle Castleman's house when he invites you," said Yolanda, drawing Max again to the bench beside her.
"I gladly promise," said Max.
"That brings me to the third promise I desire," said Yolanda. "I want you to give me your word that you will not leave Burgundy within one month from this day, unless I give you permission."
"I cannot grant you that promise, Fraeulein," answered Max.
"Ah, but you must, you shall," cried Yolanda, desperately clutching his huge arms with her small hands and clinging to him. "I will scream, I will waken the town. I will not leave you, and you shall not shake me off till I have your promise. I may not give you my reasons, but trust me, Max, trust me. Give me your unquestioning faith for once. I am not a fool, Max, nor would I lie to you for all the world, in telling you that it is best for you to give me the promise. Believe me, while there may be risk to me in what I ask, it is best that you grant it, and that you remain in Peronne for a month—perhaps for two months, unless I sooner tell you to go."
"I may not give you the promise you ask, Fraeulein," answered Max, desperately. "You must know how gladly I would remain here forever."
"I believe truly you want to stay," she answered demurely, "else I surely would not ask this promise of you. Your unspoken words have been more eloquent than any vows your lips could coin, and I know what is in your heart, else my boldness would have been beyond excusing. What I wish is that your desire should be great enough to keep you when I ask you to remain."
"I may not think of myself or my own desires, Fraeulein," he answered. "Like the lady of Burgundy, I was shackled at my birth."
"The lady of Burgundy is ever in your mind," Yolanda retorted sullenly. "You would give this promise quickly enough were she asking it—she with her vast estate."
There was an angry gleam in the girl's eyes, and a dark cloud of unmistakable jealousy on her face. She stepped back from Max and hung her head. After a moment of silence she said:—
"You may answer me to-morrow night at this bridge, Sir Max. If you do not see fit to give me the promise, then I shall weary you no further with importunity, and you may go your way."
There was a touch of coldness in her voice as she turned and walked slowly toward the bridge. Max called softly:—
She did not answer, but continued with slow steps and drooping head. As her form was fading into the black shadow of the castle wall he ran across the bridge to her, and took her hand:—
"Fraeulein, I will be at the bridge to-morrow night, and I will try to give the promise you ask of me."
THE GREAT RIDDLE
Max was cautious in the matter of making promises, as every honest man should be, since he had no thought of breaking them once they were given. Therefore, he wished to know that he could keep his word before pledging it. His lifelong habit of asking my advice may also have influenced him in refusing the promise that he so much wished to give; or perhaps he may have wanted time to consider. He did not want to give the promise on the spur of an impulse.
When he had finished telling me his troubles, I asked:—
"What will you do to-morrow night?"
My riddle was again solved; Yolanda was the princess. Her words were convincing. All doubt had been swept from my mind. There would be no more battledore and shuttlecock with my poor brain on that subject. So when Max said, "I do not know what I shall do," I offered my opinion; "You surprise me, Max. You lack enterprise; there is no warmth in your blood. The girl cannot harm you. Give her the promise. Are your veins filled with water and caution?"
"What do you mean, Karl?" cried Max, stepping toward me with surprise and delight in his face. "Are you advising me wrongly for the first time in my life?" Then there was a touch of anger in his voice as he continued: "Have I blood in my veins? Aye, Karl, burning, seething blood, and every drop cries wildly for this girl—this child. I would give the half of it to make her my wife and to make her happy. But I would not abate one jot of my wretchedness at her expense. As I treat her I pray God to deal with me. I cannot make her my wife, and if I am half a man, I would not win her everlasting love and throw it to the dogs. She all but asked me last night to tell her of my love for her, and almost pressed hers upon me, but I did not even kiss her hand. Ah, Karl, I wish I were dead!"
The poor boy threw himself on the bed and buried his face in his hands. I went to him and, seating myself on the bed, ran my fingers through his curls.
"My dear Max, I have never advised you wrongly. Perhaps luck has been with me. Perhaps my good advice has been owing to my great caution and my deep love for you. I am sure that I do not advise you wrongly now. Go to the bridge to-morrow night, and give Yolanda the promise she asks. If she wants it, give her the ring. Keep restraint upon your words and acts, but do not fear for one single moment that my advice is wrong. Max, I know whereof I speak."
Max rose from the bed and looked at me in surprise; but my advice jumped so entirely with the longing deep buried in his heart that he took it as a dying man accepts life.
The next evening Max met Yolanda under the trees near the bridge.
"I may remain but a moment," she said hurriedly and somewhat coldly. "Do you bring me the promise?"
"Yes," answered Max. "I have also brought you the ring, Fraeulein, but you may not wear it, and no one may ever see it."
"Ah, Max, it is well that you have brought me the promise, for had you not you would never have seen me again. I thank you for the promise and for the ring. No one shall see it. Of that you may be doubly sure. If by any chance some meddlesome body should see it and tell this arrogant lady of the castle that I have the keepsake she sent you, there would be trouble, Max, there would be trouble. She is a jealous, vindictive little wretch and you shall not think on her. No doubt she would have me torn limb from limb if she knew I possessed the jewel. When I touch it, I feel that I almost hate this princess, whose vast estates have a power of attraction greater than any woman may exert."
There was real anger in her tone. In truth, dislike and aversion were manifest in every word she spoke of the princess, save when the tender little heart pitied her.
"Now I must say good night and adieu, Sir Max, until uncle returns," said Yolanda. She gave Max her hands and he, in bringing them to his lips, drew her close to him. At that moment they were startled by a boisterous laugh close beside them, and the fellow calling himself Count Calli slapped Max on the back, saying in French:—
"Nicely done, my boy, nicely done. But you are far too considerate. Why kiss a lady's hand when her lips are so near? I will show you, Fraeulein Castleman, exactly how so delicate a transaction is conducted by an enterprising gentleman."
He insultingly took hold of Yolanda, and, with evident intent to kiss her, tried to lift the veil with which she had hastily covered her face. Max struck the fellow a blow that felled him to the ground, but Calli rose and, drawing his dagger, rushed upon Max. Yolanda stood almost paralyzed with terror. Max was unarmed, but he seized Calli's wrist and twisted it till a small bone cracked, and the dagger fell from his hand to the ground. Calli's arm hung limp at his side, and he was powerless to do further injury. Max did not take advantage of his helplessness, but said:—
"Go, or I will twist your neck as I have broken your wrist."
Max had gone out that evening without arms or armor. He had not even a dagger.
When Calli had passed out of sight, Yolanda stooped, picked up his dagger, and offered it to Max, saying:—
"He will gather his friends at once. Take this dagger and hasten back to the inn, or you will never reach it alive. No, come with me to Uncle Castleman's house. There you may lie concealed."
"I may not go to your uncle's house, Fraeulein," answered Max. "I can go safely to the inn. Do not fear for me."
Yolanda protested frantically, but Max refused.
"Go quickly, then," she said, "and be on your guard at all times. This man who came upon us is Count Calli, the greatest villain in Burgundy. He is a friend of Campo-Basso. Now hasten to the inn, if you will not come with me to uncle's house, and beware, for this man and his friends will seek vengeance; of that you must never allow yourself to doubt. Adieu, till uncle comes."
Max reached the inn unmolested. We donned our mail shirts, expecting trouble, and took turn and turn watching and sleeping. Next day we hired two stalwart Irish squires and armed them cap-a-pie. We meant to give our Italian friends a hot welcome if they attacked us, though we had, in truth, little fear of an open assault. We dreaded more a dagger thrust in the back, or trouble from court through the machinations of Campo-Basso.
The next morning Max sent one of our Irishmen to Castleman's house with a verbal message to Fraeulein Castleman. When the messenger returned, he replied to my question:—
"I was shown into a little room where three ladies sat. 'What have you to say?' asked the little black-haired one in the corner—she with the great eyes and the face pale as a chalk-cliff. I said, 'I am instructed, mesdames, to deliver this simple message: Sir Max is quite well.' 'That will do. Thank you.' said the big eyes and the pale face. Then she gave me two gold florins. The money almost took my breath, and when I looked up to thank her, blest if the white face wasn't rosy as a June dawn. When I left, she was dancing about the room singing and laughing, and kissing everybody but me—worse luck! By Saint Patrick, I never saw so simple a message create so great a commotion. 'Sir Max is quite well.' I'm blest if he doesn't look it. Was he ever ill?"
After five or six days we allowed ourselves to fall into a state of unwatchfulness. One warm evening we dismissed our squires for an hour's recreation. The Cologne River flows by the north side of the inn garden, and, the spot being secluded, Max and I, after dark, cooled ourselves by a plunge in the water. We had come from the water and finished dressing, save for our doublets, which lay upon the sod, when two men approached whom we thought to be our squires. When first we saw them, they were in the deep shadow of the trees that grew near the water's edge, and we did not notice their halberds until they were upon us. When the men had approached within four yards, we heard a noise back of us and turning saw four soldiers, each bearing an arquebuse pointed in our direction. At the same moment another man stepped from behind the two we had first seen and came quickly to me. He was Count Calli. In his left hand he held a parchment. Max and I were surrounded and unarmed.
"I arrest you on the order of His Grace, the duke," said Calli, in low tones, speaking French with an Italian accent.
"Your authority?" I demanded.
"This," he said, offering me the parchment, "and this," touching his sword. I took the parchment but could not read it in the dark.
"I'll go to the inn to read your warrant," I said, stooping to take up my doublet.
"You will do nothing of the sort," he answered. "One word more from you, and there will be no need to arrest you. I shall be only too glad to dispense with that duty."
I felt sure he wished us to resist that he might have a pretext for murdering us. I could see that slow-going Max was making ready for a fight, even at the odds of seven to two, and to avert trouble I spoke softly in German:—
"These men are eager to kill us. Our only hope lies in submission."
While I was speaking the men gathered closely about us, and almost before my words were uttered, our wrists were manacled behind us and we were blindfolded. Our captors at once led us away. A man on either side of me held my arms, and by way of warning I received now and then a merciless prod between my shoulder-blades from a halberd in the hands of an enthusiastic soul that walked behind me. Max, I supposed, was receiving like treatment.
After a hundred paces or more we waded the river, and then I knew nothing of our whereabouts. Within a half-hour we crossed a bridge which I supposed was the one over the moat at the Postern. There we halted, and the password was given in a whisper. Then came the clanking of chains and creaking of hinges, and I knew the gates were opening and the portcullis rising. After the gates were opened I was again urged forward by the men on either side of me and the enterprising soul in the rear.
I noticed that I was walking on smooth flags in place of cobble-stones, and I was sure we were in the bailey yard of the castle. Soon I was stopped again, a door opened, squeaking on its rusty hinges, and we began the descent of a narrow stairway. Twenty or thirty paces from the foot of the stairway we stopped while another door was opened. This, I felt sure, was the entrance to an underground cell, out of which God only knew if I should ever come alive. While I was being thrust through the door, I could not resist calling out, "Max—Max, for the love of God answer me if you hear!" I got no answer. Then I appealed to my guard:—
"Let me have one moment's speech with him, only one moment. I will pay you a thousand crowns the day I am liberated if you grant me this favor."
"No one is with you," the man replied. "I would willingly earn the thousand crowns, but if they are to be paid when you are liberated, I fear I should starve waiting for them."
With these comforting words they thrust me into the cell, manacled and blindfolded. I heard the door clang to; the rusty lock screeched venomously, and then I was alone in gravelike silence. I hardly, dared to take a step, for I knew these underground cells were honeycombed with death-traps. I could not grope about me with my hands, for they were tied, and I knew not what pitfall my feet might find.
How long I stood without moving I did not know; it might have been an hour or a day for all I could tell. I was almost stupefied by this misfortune into which I had led Max. I do not remember having thought at all of my own predicament. I cannot say that I suffered; I was benumbed. I remember wondering about Max and speculating vaguely on his fate, but for a time the thought did not move me. I also remember sinking to the floor, only half conscious of what I was doing, and then I must have swooned or slept.
When I recovered consciousness I rose to my feet. A step or two brought me against a damp stone wall. Three short paces in another direction, and once more I was against the wall. Then I stopped, turned my back to the reeking stone, and cursed the brutes that had treated me with such wanton cruelty. It was not brutal; it was human. No brute could feel it; only in the heart of man could it live.
By chafing the back of my head against the wall I succeeded in removing the bandage from my eyes. Though I was more comfortable, I was little better off, since I could see nothing in the pitiless black of my cell. I stretched my eyes, as one will in the dark, till they ached, but I could not see even an outline of the walls.
A burning thirst usually follows excitement, and after a time it came to me and grew while I thought upon it. My parched throat was almost closed, and I wondered if I were to be left to choke to death. I knew that in Spain and Italy such refinement of cruelty was oftened practised, but I felt sure that the Duke of Burgundy would not permit the infliction of so cruel a fate, did he know of it. But our captors were not Burgundians, and I doubted if the duke even knew of our imprisonment. I suffered intensely, though I believe I could have endured it with fortitude had I not known that Max was suffering a like fate.
I believed I had been several days in my cell when I heard a key turn in the lock. The door opened, and a man bearing a basket and a lantern entered. He placed the basket on the ground and, with the lantern hung over his arm, unfastened the manacles of my wrists. In the basket were a boule of black bread and a stone jar of water. I eagerly grasped the jar, and never in my life has anything passed my lips that tasted so sweet as that draught.
"Don't drink too much at one time," said the guard, not unkindly. "It might drive you mad. A man went mad in this cell less than a month ago from drinking too much water."
"How long had he been without it?" I asked of this cheering personage.
"Three days," he responded.
"I did not know that men of the north could be so cruel as to keep a prisoner three days without water," I said.
"It happened because the guard was drunk," answered the fellow, laughing.
"I hope you will remain sober," said I, not at all intending to be humorous, though the guard laughed.
"I was the guard," he replied. "I did not intend to leave the prisoner without water, but, you see, I was dead drunk and did not know it."
"Perhaps you have been drunk for the last three or four days since I have been here?" I asked.
He laughed boisterously.
"You here three or four days! Why, you are mad already! You have been here only over night."
Well! I thought surely I was mad!
Suddenly the guard left me and closed the cell door. I called frantically to him, but I might as well have cried from the bottom of the sea.
After what seemed fully another week of waiting, the guard again came with bread and water. By that time my mind had cleared. I asked the guard to deliver a message to my Lord d'Hymbercourt and offered a large reward for the service. I begged him to say to Hymbercourt that his friends of The Mitre had been arrested and were now in prison. The guard willingly promised to deliver my message, but he did not keep his word, though I repeated my request many times and promised him any reward he might name when I should regain my liberty. With each visit he repeated his promise, but one day he laughed and said I was wasting words; that he would never see the reward and that in all probability I should never again see the light of day. His ominous words almost prostrated me, though again I say I suffered chiefly for Max's sake. Could I have gained his liberty at the cost of my life, nay, even my soul, I should have been glad to do it.
But I will not further describe the tortures of my imprisonment. The greatest of them all was my ignorance of Max's fate. It was a frightful ordeal, and I wonder that my reason survived it.
THE HOUSE UNDER THE WALL
To leave Max and myself in our underground dungeon, imprisoned for an unknown, uncommitted crime, while I narrate occurrences outside our prison walls looks like a romancer's trick, but how else I am to go about telling this history I do not know. Yolanda is quite as important a personage in this narrative as Max and myself, and I must tell of her troubles as I learned of them long afterwards.
Castleman reached home ten days or a fortnight after our arrest, bringing with him his precious silks, velvets, and laces to the last ell. As he had predicted, they were quadrupled in value, and their increase made the good burgher a very rich man.
Soon after Castleman reached the House under the Wall, Yolanda came dancing into the room where he was sitting with good Frau Katherine, drinking a bottle of rich Burgundy wine well mixed with pepper and honey.
"Ah, uncle," she cried joyously, "at last you are at home, and I have a fine kiss for you."
"Thank you, my dear," said Castleman, "you have spoiled my wine. The honey will now taste vinegarish."
"You are a flatterer, uncle—isn't he, tante?" laughed Yolanda, turning to Aunt Castleman.
"I am afraid he is," said the good frau, in mock distress. "Every one tries to spoil him."
"You more than any one, tante," cried Yolanda.
"Tut, tut, child," cried Frau Katherine, "I abate his vanity with frowns."
Yolanda laughed, and the burgher, pinching his wife's red cheek, protested:—
"You frown? You couldn't frown if you tried. A clear sky may rain as easily. Get the peering glass, Yolanda, and find, if you can, a wrinkle on her face."
Yolanda, who was always laughing, threw herself upon the frau's lap and pretended to hunt for wrinkles. Soon she reported:—
"No wrinkles, uncle—there, you dear old tante, I'll kiss you to keep you from growing jealous of uncle on my account."
"If any one about this house has been spoiled, it's you, Yolanda," said Frau Kate, affectionately.
"When you speak after that fashion, tante, you almost make me weep," said Yolanda. "Surely you and uncle and Twonette are the only friends I have, and give me all the joy I know. But, uncle, now that you are at home, I want you to drink your wine quickly and give me a great deal of joy—oh, a great deal."
"Indeed I will, my dear. Tell me where to begin," answered Castleman, draining his goblet.
Yolanda flushed rosily and hesitated. At that moment Twonette, who had already greeted her father, entered the room.
"Twonette will tell you," said Yolanda, laughing nervously.
"What shall I tell him?" asked Twonette.
"You will tell him what I want him to do quickly, at once, immediately," pleaded Yolanda. "You know what I have waited for this long, weary time."
"Tell him yourself what you want quickly, at once, immediately," answered Twonette. "I, too, have wants."
"What do you want, daughter?" asked Castleman, beaming upon Twonette.
"I want thirty ells of blue velvet for a gown, and I want you to ask permission of the duke for me to wear it."
"Many noble ladies would not dare to ask so much of the duke," suggested Castleman.
"It is true, George," said Frau Kate, "that only noble ladies of high degree are permitted to wear velvet of blue; but it is also true that only your stubbornness has deprived our daughter of that privilege. She might now be noble had you not been stubborn."
"I also want—" began Twonette.
"You shall wear the duke's own color, purple, if you will hold your tongue about worthless matters and tell your father what I want," cried Yolanda, impetuously thrusting Twonette toward Castleman.
"You tell him your own wants," answered Twonette, pouting. "Then perhaps his own daughter may have his ear for a moment or two."
Yolanda laughed at Twonette's display of ill-temper.
"Well, uncle, since I must tell my own tale, I will begin," said Yolanda, blushing. "I want you to go to The Mitre and ask a friend—two friends—of yours here to supper this evening. I have waited a weary time for you to give this invitation, and I will not wait another hour, nay, not another minute. We have a fat peacock that longs to be killed; it is so fat that it is tired of life. We have three pheasants that will die of grief if they are not baked at once. I myself have been feeding them this fortnight past in anticipation of this feast. We have a dozen wrens for a live pie, so tame they will light on our heads when you cut the crust. We shall have a famous feast, uncle. There will be present only tante, you, Twonette, our two guests, and myself. Now, uncle, the wine is consumed. Hurry to the inn."
"My dear child," said Castleman, seriously, "you know that I am almost powerless to refuse any request you make, but in this case I must do so."
"Ah, uncle, please tell me why," coaxed Yolanda, with trouble in her eyes and grief at the corners of her mouth.
"Because you must see no more of this very pleasing young man," answered Castleman. "I yielded to your wishes at Basel and brought him with us; I was compelled to send him with you from Metz; but now that our journey is over, I shall thank him and pay him an additional sum, since my goods are safe home, and say farewell to him. I believe he is a worthy and honorable young man, but we do not know who he is, and if we did—"
"Ah, but I know who he is," interrupted Yolanda, tossing her head. "We may not know, but I know, and that is sufficient."
"Do you know?" asked Castleman. "Pray tell me of him. The information was refused me; at least, it was not given. He is probably of noble birth, but we have nobles here in Peronne whom we would not ask to our house. We know nothing of this wandering young Max, save that he is honest and brave and good to look upon."
"In God's name, uncle, what more would you ask in a man?" cried Yolanda, stamping her foot. "'Noble, honest, brave, and good to look upon!' Will not those qualities fit a man for any one's regard and delight any woman's heart? I tell you I will have my way in this. I tell you I know his degree. I know who he is and what he is and all about him, though I don't intend to tell you anything, and would inform you now that it's no business of yours."
"Did you coax all this information out of him, you little witch?" asked Castleman, smiling against his will.
"I did not," retorted Yolanda, leaning forward and lifting her chin defiantly. "I learned it soon after we reached Basel. I discovered it by—by magic—by sorcery. He will tell you as much."
"By the magic of your eyes and smiles. That's the way you wheedled it out of him, and that's the way you coax every one to your will," said Castleman, laughing while Yolanda pouted.
"I never saw a girl make such eyes at a man as you made at this Sir Max," said Twonette, who was waiting for her blue velvet gown.
"Twonette, you are prettier with your mouth shut. Silence becomes you," retorted Yolanda, favoring Twonette with a view of her back. "Now, uncle," continued Yolanda, "all is ready: peacock, pheasants, wrens; and I command you to procure the guests."
Castleman laughed at her imperious ways and said:—
"I will obey your commands in all else, Yolanda, but not in this."
The girl, who was more excited than she appeared to be, stood for a moment by her uncle's side, and, drawing her kerchief from its pouch, placed it to her eyes.
"Every one tries to make me unhappy," she sobbed. "There is no one to whom I may turn for kindness. If you will not do this for me, uncle, if you will not bring him—them—to me, I give you my sacred word I will go to them at the inn. If you force me to do an act so unmaidenly, I'll leave you and will not return to your house. I shall know that you do not love me!"
Castleman was not ready to yield, though he was sure that in the end he would do so. He also knew that her threat to go to the inn was by no means an idle word.
Yolanda was not given to tears, but she used them when she found she could accomplish her ends by no other means. A long pause ensued, broken by Yolanda's sobs.
"Good-by, uncle. Good-by, tante. Good-by, Twonette. I mean what I say, uncle. I am going, and I shall not come back if you will not do this thing for me. I am going to the inn."
She kissed them all and started toward the door. The loving old tante could not hold out. She, too, was weeping, and she added her supplications to Yolanda's.
"Do what she asks, father—only this once," said Frau Kate.
"Only this once," pleaded Yolanda, turning her tear-moistened eyes upon the helpless burgher.
"I suppose I must surrender," exclaimed Castleman, rising from his chair. "I have been surrendering to you, your aunt, and Twonette all my life. First Kate, then Twonette, and of late years they have been reenforced by you, Yolanda, and my day is lost. I do a little useless fighting when I know I am in the right, but it is always followed by a cowardly surrender."
"But think of your victories in surrender, uncle. Think of your rewards," cried Yolanda, running to his side and kissing him. "Many a man would fight a score of dragons for that kiss."
"Dragons!" cried Castleman, protestingly. "I would rather fight a hundred dragons than do this thing for you, Yolanda. I know little concerning the ways of a girl's heart, but, ignorant as I am, I could see—Mother, I never saw a girl so infatuated with a man as our Yolanda is with this Sir Max—this stranger."
"There, tante," cried Yolanda, turning triumphantly to Frau Kate, "you hear what uncle says. Now you see the great reason for having him here—this Sir Max and his friend. But, uncle, if you think I mean to make a fool of myself about this man, put the notion out of your head. I know only too well the barrier between us, but, uncle mine," she continued pleadingly, all her wonted joyousness driven from her face, "I am so wretched, so unhappy. If I may have a moment of joy now, for the love of the Blessed Virgin don't deny me. I sometimes think you love me chiefly because I so truly deserve your pity. As for this young man, he is gentle, strong, and good, and, as you say, he certainly is good to look upon. Twonette knows that, don't you, Twonette? He is wise, too, and brave, even against the impulse of his own great heart. He thinks only of my good and his own duties. I am in no danger from him, uncle. He can do me only good. I shall be happier and better all my life long for having known him. Now, uncle?"
"I will fetch him," exclaimed Castleman, seeking his hat. "You may be right or you may be wrong, but for persuasiveness I never saw your like. I declare, Yolanda, you have almost made me feel like a villain for refusing you."
"I wish the world were filled with such villains, uncle. Don't you, tante?" said Yolanda, beaming upon the burgher.
"No," answered the frau, "I should want them all for my husbands."
"God forbid!" cried Yolanda, lifting her hands as she turned toward the door, laughing once more. "Tell them to be here by six o'clock, uncle. No! we will say five. Tell them to come on the stroke of five. No! four o'clock is better; then we will sup at six, and have an hour or two before we eat. That's it, uncle; have them here by four. Tell them to fail not by so much as a minute, upon their allegiance. Tell them to be here promptly on the stroke of four."
She ran from the room singing, and Castleman started toward the front door.
"The girl makes a fool of me whenever she wishes," he observed, pausing and turning toward his wife. "She coaxed me to take her to Basel, and life was a burden till I got her home again. Now she winds me around her finger and says, 'Uncle Castleman, obey me,' and I obey. Truly, there never was in all the world such another coaxing, persuasive little witch as our Yolanda."
"Poor child," said Frau Kate, as her husband passed out of the door.
Castleman reached The Mitre near the hour of one, and of course did not find us. At half-past four, Yolanda entered the great oak room where Twonette and Frau Kate were stitching tapestry.
"Where suppose you Sir Max is—and Sir Karl?" asked Yolanda, with a touch of anger in her voice. "Why has he not come? I have been watching but have not seen him—them. He places little value on our invitation to slight it by half an hour. I am of half a mind not to see him when he comes."
"Your uncle is downstairs under the arbor, Yolanda," said Frau Castleman, gently. "He will tell you, sweet one, why Sir Max is not here."
Frau Katherine and Twonette put aside their tapestry, and went with Yolanda to question Castleman in the arbor.
"Well, uncle, where are our guests?" asked Yolanda.
"They are not at the inn, and have not been there since nearly a fortnight ago," answered Castleman.
"Gone!" cried Yolanda, aflame with sudden anger. "He gave me his word he would not go. I'm glad he's gone, and I hope I may never see his face again. I deemed his word inviolate, and now he has broken it."
"Do not judge Sir Max too harshly," said Castleman; "you may wrong him. I do not at all understand the absence of our friends. Grote tells me they went to the river one night to bathe and did not return. Their horses and arms are at the inn. Their squires, who had left them two hours before, have not been seen since. Grote has heard nothing of our friends that will throw light on their whereabouts. Fearing to get himself into trouble, he has stupidly held his tongue. He was not inclined to speak plainly even to me."
"Blessed Mother, forgive me!" cried Yolanda, sinking back upon a settle. After a long silence she continued: "Two weeks ago! That was a few days after the trouble at the bridge."
"What trouble?" asked Castleman.
"I'll tell you, uncle, and you, tante. Twonette already knows of it," answered Yolanda. "Less than three weeks ago I was with Sir Max near the moat bridge. It was dark—after night—"
"Yolanda!" exclaimed Castleman, reproachfully.
"Yes, uncle, I know I ought not to have been there, but I was," said Yolanda.
"Alone with Sir Max after dark?" asked the astonished burgher.
"Yes, alone with him, after it was very dark," answered Yolanda. "I had met him several times before."
Castleman tried to speak, but Yolanda interrupted him:—
"Uncle, I know and admit the truth of all you would say, so don't say it. While I was standing very near to Sir Max, uncle, very near, Count Calli came upon us and offered me gross insult. Sir Max, being unarmed, knocked the fellow down, and in the struggle that ensued Count Calli's arm was broken. I heard the bone snap, then Calli, swearing vengeance, left us. Why Sir Max went out unarmed that night I do not know. Had he been armed he might have killed Calli; that would have prevented this trouble."
"I, too, wonder that Sir Max went out unarmed," said Castleman musingly. "Why do you suppose he was so incautious?"
"Perhaps that is the custom in Styria. There may be less danger, less treachery, there than in Burgundy," suggested Yolanda.
"In Styria!" exclaimed Castleman. "Sir Karl said that he was from Italy. He did not tell me of Sir Max's home, but I supposed he also was from Italy, or perhaps from Wuertemberg—there are many Guelphs in that country."
"Yes, I will tell you of that later, uncle," said Yolanda. "When Calli left us, Sir Max returned safely to the inn, having promised me not to leave Peronne within a month. This trouble has come from Calli and Campo-Basso."
"But you say this young man is from Styria?" asked Castleman, anxiously.
"Yes," replied Yolanda, drooping her head, "he is Maximilian, Count of Hapsburg."
"Great God!" exclaimed Castleman, starting to his feet excitedly. "If I have brought these men here to be murdered, I shall die of grief; all Europe will turn upon Burgundy."
Yolanda buried her face in Mother Kate's breast; Castleman walked to and fro, and sympathetic Twonette wept gently. It was not in Twonette's nature to do anything violently. Yolanda, on the contrary, was intense in all her joys and griefs.
"Did Sir Max tell you who he is?" asked Castleman, stopping in front of Yolanda.
"No," she replied, "I will tell you some day how I guessed it. He does not know that I know, and I would not have you tell him."
"Tell me, Yolanda," demanded Castleman, "what has passed between you and this Sir Max?"
"Nothing, uncle, save that I know—ah, uncle, there is nothing. God pity me, there can be nothing. Whatever his great, true heart feels may be known to me as surely as if he had spoken a thousand vows, but he would not of his own accord so much as touch my hand or speak his love. He knows that one in his station may not mate with a burgher girl. He treats me as a true knight should treat a woman, and if he feels pain because of the gulf between us, he would not bring a like pain to me. He is a strong, noble man, Uncle Castleman, and we must save him."
"If I knew where to begin, I would try at once," said Castleman, "but I do not know, and I cannot think of—"
"I have a plan," interrupted Yolanda, "that will set the matter going. Consult my Lord d'Hymbercourt; he is a friend of Sir Karl's; he may help us. Tell him of the trouble at the bridge, but say that Twonette, not I, was there. If Lord d'Hymbercourt cannot help us, I'll try another way if I die for it."
Castleman found Hymbercourt and told him the whole story, substituting Twonette for Yolanda.
"It is the work of that accursed Basso," said Hymbercourt, stroking his beard. "No villany is too black for him and his minions to do."
"But what have they done?" asked Castleman. "They surely would not murder these men because of the quarrel at the bridge."
"They would do murder for half that cause," replied Hymbercourt. "A brave man hates an assassin, and I am always wondering why the duke, who is so bold and courageous, keeps this band of Italian cut-throats at his court."
"What can we do to rescue our friends if they still live, or to avenge them if dead?" asked Castleman.
"I do not know," answered Hymbercourt. "Let me think it all over, and I will see you at your house to-night. Of this I am certain: you must not move in the matter. If you are known to be interested, certain facts may leak out that would ruin you and perhaps bring trouble to one who already bears a burden too heavy for young shoulders. We know but one useful fact: Calli and Campo-Basso are at the bottom of this evil. The duke suspects that the states adjacent to Switzerland, including Styria, will give aid to the Swiss in this war with Burgundy, and it may be that Duke Charles has reasons for the arrest of our friends. He may have learned that Sir Max is the Count of Hapsburg. I hope his finger is not in the affair. I will learn what I can, and will see you to-night. Till then, adieu."
True to his promise, Hymbercourt went to Castleman's that evening, but he had learned nothing and had thought out no plan of action. Two days passed and there was another consultation. Still the mystery was as far from solution as on the day of its birth. Yolanda was in tribulation, and declared that she would take the matter into her own hands. Her uncle dissuaded her, however, and she reluctantly agreed to remain silent for a day or two longer, but she vowed that she would give tongue to her thoughts and arouse all Burgundy in behalf of Max and myself if we were not soon discovered.
PERONNE LA PUCELLE
The next morning Duke Charles went down to the great hall of the castle to hear reports from his officers relating to the war that he was about to wage against the Swiss. When the duke ascended the three steps of the dais to the ducal throne, he spoke to Campo-Basso who stood upon the first step at the duke's right.
"What news, my Lord Count?" asked Charles. "I'm told there is a messenger from Ghent."
"Ill news, my lord," answered Campo-Basso.
"Out with it!" cried the duke. "One should always swallow a bitter draught quickly."
"We hear the Swiss are gathering their cantons in great numbers," said Campo-Basso.
"Let the sheep gather," said Charles, waving his hands. "The more they gather to the fold, the more we'll shear." He laughed as if pleased with the prospect, and continued, "Proceed, my Lord Count."
"The Duke of Lorraine is again trying to muster his subjects against Your Grace, and sends a polite message asking and offering terms of agreement. Shall I read the missive, my lord?"
"No!" cried the duke, "Curse his soft words. There is no bad news yet. Proceed."
"It is rumored, Your Grace," continued the count, "that Frederick, Duke of Styria, is preparing to aid the Swiss against Your Grace."
"With his advice?" asked the duke. "The old pauper has nothing else to give, unless it be the bones of his ancestors."
"It is said, Your Highness, that Wuertemberg will also aid the Swiss, and that Duke Albert will try to bring about a coalition of the German states for the purpose of assisting the Swiss, aiding Lorraine, and overthrowing Burgundy. This purpose, our informant tells us, has been fostered by this same Duke Frederick of Styria."
"This news, I suppose, is intended for our ears by the Duke of Styria. He probably wishes us to know that he is against us," said Charles. "He wanted our daughter for his clown of a son, and our contempt for his claims rankles in his heart. He cannot inflame Wuertemberg, and Wuertemberg cannot influence the other German princes."
The duke paused, and Campo-Basso proceeded:—
"The citizens of Ghent, my lord, petition Your Grace for the restoration of certain communal rights, and beg for the abolition of the hearth tax and the salt levy. They also desire the right to elect their own burgomaster and—"
"Give me the petition," demanded the duke. Campo-Basso handed the parchment to Charles, and he tore it to shreds.
"Send these to the dogs of Ghent, and tell them that for every scrap of parchment I'll take a score of heads when I return from Switzerland."
"We hear also, my lord," said the Italian, "that King Edward of England is marshalling an army, presumably for the invasion of France and, because of the close union that is soon to be between King Louis and Burgundy, I have thought proper to lay the news before Your Grace."
"Edward wants more of King Louis' gold," answered Charles. "We'll let him get it. We care not how much he has from this crafty miser of the Seine. Louis will buy the English ministers, and the army will suddenly vanish. When King Edward grows scarce of gold, he musters an army, or pretends to do so, and Louis fills the English coffers. The French king would buy an apostle, or the devil, and would sell his soul to either to serve a purpose. Have you more in your budget, Sir Count?"
"I have delivered all, I believe, my lord," answered Campo-Basso.
"It might have been worse," said the duke, rising to quit his throne.
"One moment, my lord! There is another matter to which I wish to call Your Grace's attention before you rise," said the count. "I have for your signature the warrants for the execution of the Swiss spies, who, Your Highness may remember, were entrapped and arrested by the watchfulness of Your Grace's faithful servant, the noble Count Calli."
"Give me the warrant," said the duke, "and let the execution take place at once."
Hymbercourt had been standing in the back part of the room, paying little attention to the proceedings, but the mention of Calli's name in connection with the Swiss spies quickly roused him, and he hurriedly elbowed his way to the ducal throne. A page was handing Charles a quill and an ink-well when Hymbercourt spoke:—
"My Lord Duke, I beg you not to sign the warrant until I have asked a few questions of my Lord Campo-Basso concerning these alleged spies."
"Why do you say 'alleged spies,' my Lord d'Hymbercourt?" asked the duke. "Do you know anything of them? Are they friends of yours?"
"If they are friends of mine, Your Grace may be sure they are not spies," answered Hymbercourt. "I am not sure that I know these men, but I fear a mistake has been made."
A soft cry, a mere exclamation, was heard behind the chancel in the ladies' gallery, which was above the throne, a little to the right. But it caused no comment other than a momentary turning of heads in that direction.
"On what ground do you base your suspicion, my lord?" asked Charles.
"Little ground, Your Grace," answered Hymbercourt. "I may be entirely wrong; but I beg the privilege of asking the noble Count Calli two or three questions before Your Grace signs the death warrant. We may avert a grave mistake and prevent a horrible crime."
"It is a waste of valuable time," answered Charles, "but if you will be brief, you may proceed. Count Calli, come into presence."
Calli stepped forward and saluted the duke on bended knee.
"Your questions, Hymbercourt, and quickly," said Charles, testily. "We are in haste. Time between the arrest and the hanging of a spy is wasted."
"I thank you, my lord," said Hymbercourt. He then turned to Calli, and asked, "When were these men arrested?"
"More than a fortnight ago," answered Calli.
"How came you to discover they were spies?" asked Hymbercourt.
"I watched them, and their actions were suspicious," replied the Italian.
"In what respect were they suspicious?"
"They went abroad only at night, and one of them was seen near the castle several evenings after dark," responded Calli.
"Is that your only evidence against them?" demanded Hymbercourt.
"It is surely enough," replied Calli, "but if more is wanted, they were overheard to avow their guilt."
"What were they heard to say and where did they say it?" asked Hymbercourt.
"I lay concealed, with six men-at-arms, near the river in the garden of The Mitre Inn, where the spies had been bathing. We heard them speak many words of treason against our gracious Lord Duke, but I did not move in their arrest until the younger man said to his companion: 'I will to-morrow gain entrance to the castle as a pedler and will stab this Duke Charles to death. You remain near the Postern with the horses, and I will try to escape to you. If the gate should be closed, ride away without me and carry the news to the cantons. I would gladly give my life to save the fatherland.'"
"Hang them," cried the duke. "We are wasting time."
"I pray your patience, my Lord Duke," said Hymbercourt, holding up his hand protestingly. "I know these men whom Count Calli has falsely accused. They are not spies; they are not Swiss; neither are they enemies of Burgundy. Were they so, I, my lord, would demand their death were they a thousand-fold my friends. I stake my life upon their honesty. I offer my person and my estates as hostages for them, and make myself their champion. Count Calli lies."
Hymbercourt's words caused a great commotion in the hall. Swords and daggers sprang from the scabbards of the Italians, and cries of indignation were uttered by the mercenaries, who saw their crime exposed, and by the Burgundians, who hated the Italians and their dastardly methods. Charles commanded silence, and Campo-Basso received permission to speak.
"Since when did my Lord d'Hymbercourt turn traitor?" said he. "His fealty has always been as loud-mouthed as the baying of a wolf."
"I am a Burgundian, my lord," said Hymbercourt, ignoring the Italian and addressing Charles. "I receive no pay for my fealty. I am not a foreign mercenary, and I need not defend my loyalty to one who knows me as he knows his own heart."
"My Lord d'Hymbercourt's honor needs no defence," said Charles. "I trust his honesty and loyalty as I trust myself. He may be mistaken; he may be right. Bring in these spies."
"Surely Your Grace will not contaminate your presence with these wretches," pleaded Campo-Basso. "Consider the danger to yourself, my dear lord. They are desperate men, who would gladly give their lives to take yours and save their country. I beg you out of the love I bear Your Grace, pause before you bring these traitorous spies into your sacred presence."
"Bring them before me!" cried the duke. "We will determine this matter for ourselves. We have a score of brave, well-paid Italians who may be able to protect our person from the onslaught of two manacled men."
* * * * *
On this same morning the guard had been to my cell with bread and water, and had departed. I did not know, of course, whether it was morning, noon, or night, but I had learned to measure with some degree of accuracy the lapse of time between the visits of the guard, and was surprised to hear the rusty lock turn long before the time for his reappearance. When the man entered my cell, bearing his lantern, he said:—
"Come with me."
The words were both welcome and terrible. I could not know their meaning—whether it was liberty or death. I stepped from the cell and, while I waited for the guard to relock the door, I saw the light of a lantern at the other end of a passageway. Two men with Max between them came out of the darkness and stopped in front of me. Our wrists were manacled behind us, and we could not touch hands. I could have wept for joy and grief at seeing Max.
"Forgive me, Max, for bringing you to this," I cried.
"Forgive me, Karl. It is I who have brought you to these straits," said Max. "Which is it to be, think you, Karl, liberty or death?"
"God only knows," I answered.
"For your sake, Karl, I hope He cares more than I. I would prefer death to the black cell I have just left."
We went through many dark passageways and winding stairs to the audience hall.
When we entered the hall, the courtiers fell back, leaving an aisle from the great double doors to the ducal throne. When we approached the duke, I bent my knee, but Max simply bowed.
"Kneel!" cried Campo-Basso, addressing Max.
"If my Lord of Burgundy demands that I kneel, I will do so, but it is more meet that he should kneel to me for the outrage that has been put upon me at his court," said Max, gazing unfalteringly into the duke's face.
"Who are you?" demanded the duke, speaking to me.
"I am Sir Karl de Pitti," I replied. "Your Grace may know my family; we are of Italy. It was once my good fortune to serve under your father and yourself. My young friend is known as Sir Maximilian du Guelph."
"He is known as Guelph, but who is he?" demanded Charles.
"That question I may not answer, my lord," said I, speaking in the Walloon tongue.
"You shall answer or die," returned the duke, angrily.
"I hope my Lord of Burgundy will not be so harsh with us," interrupted Max, lifting his head and speaking boldly. "We have committed no crime, and do not know why we have been arrested. We beg that we may be told the charge against us, and we would also know who makes the charge."
"Count Calli," said the duke, beckoning that worthy knight, "come forward and speak."
Calli came forward, knelt to the duke, and said:
"I, my lord, charge these unknown men as being Swiss spies and assassins, who seek to murder Your Grace and to betray Burgundy."
"You lie, you dog," cried Max, looking like an angry young god. "You lie in your teeth and in your heart. My Lord of Burgundy, I demand the combat against this man who seeks my life by treachery and falsehood. I waive my rank for the sweet privilege of killing this liar."
"My Lord Duke," I exclaimed, interrupting Max, "if my Lord d'Hymbercourt is in presence, I beg that I may have speech with him."
Hymbercourt stepped to my side, and the duke signified permission to speak.
"My Lord d'Hymbercourt," said I, turning to my friend, "I beg you to tell His Grace that we are not spies. I may not, for reasons well known to you, give you permission to inform His Grace who my young companion is, and I hope my Lord of Burgundy will be satisfied with your assurance that we are honest knights who wish only good to this land and its puissant ruler."
"Indeed, my Lord Duke, I was right," answered Hymbercourt. "Again I offer my person and my estates as hostages for these men. They are not spies. They are not of Switzerland, nor are they friends to the Swiss; neither are they enemies of Burgundy. I doubt not they will gladly join Your Lordship in this war against the cantons. These knights have been arrested to gratify revenge for personal injury received and deserved by this traitorous Count Calli."
"It is false," cried Campo-Basso.
"It is true—pitifully true, my lord," returned Hymbercourt. "This young knight was at the moat bridge near Castleman's House under the Wall talking with a burgher maid, Fraeulein Castleman. Count Calli stole upon them without warning and insulted the maiden. My young friend knocked down the ruffian, and, in the conflict that ensued, broke Calli's arm. Your Grace may have seen him carrying it in a sling until within the last forty-eight hours.
"For this deserved chastisement Count Calli seeks the young man's life by bearing false witness against him; and with it that of my old friend, Sir Karl de Pitti. It is Burgundy's shame, my lord, that these treacherous mercenaries should be allowed to murder strangers and to outrage Your Grace's loyal subjects in the name of Your Lordship's justice. Sir Maximilian du Guelph has demanded the combat against this Count Calli. Sir Maximilian is a spurred and belted knight, and under the laws of chivalry even Your Grace may not gainsay him."
"My lord, I do not fight assassins and spies," said Calli, addressing the duke.
"I do," cried Max, "when they put injuries upon me as this false coward has done. I will prove upon his body, my Lord Duke, who is the assassin and the spy. My Lord d'Hymbercourt will vouch that my rank entitles me to fight in knightly combat with any man in this presence. My wrists are manacled, my lord, and I have no gage to throw before this false knight; but, my Lord of Burgundy, I again demand the combat. One brave as Your Grace is must also be just. We shall leave Count Calli no excuse to avoid this combat, even if I must tell Your Grace my true rank and station."
"This knight," said Hymbercourt, addressing Charles and extending his hand toward Max, "is of birth entitling him to meet in the lists any knight in Burgundy, and I will gladly stand his sponsor."
"My Lord d'Hymbercourt's sponsorship proves any man," said the duke, who well knew that Campo-Basso and his friends would commit any crime to avenge an injury, fancied or real.
"My Lord Duke, I pray your patience," said Campo-Basso, obsequiously. "No man may impugn my Lord d'Hymbercourt's honesty, but may he not be mistaken? In the face of the evidence against this man, may he not be mistaken? The six men who were with Count Calli will testify to the treasonable words spoken by this young spy."
"Does any other man in presence know these men?" asked the duke. No one responded.
After a little time Hymbercourt broke silence.
"I am grieved and deeply hurt, my lord, that you should want other evidence than mine against the witnesses who make this charge. I am a Burgundian. These witnesses are Italians who love Your Grace for the sake of the gold they get. I had hoped that my poor services had earned for me the right to be believed, but if I may have a little time, I will procure another man whose word shall be to you as the word of your father."
"Bring him into our presence," answered the duke. "We will see him to-morrow at this hour."
"May I not crave Your Grace's indulgence for a half-hour?" pleaded Hymbercourt. "I will have this man here within that time."
"Not another minute," replied the duke. "Heralds, cry the rising."
"Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! His Grace, the Duke of Burgundy, is about to rise. His Grace has risen," cried the herald.
The duke left the hall by a small door near the dais.
Hymbercourt was standing beside us when the captain of the guard approached to lead us back to our cells.
"May we not have comfortable quarters, and may we not be placed in one cell?" I asked, appealing to Hymbercourt. "I have been confined in a reeking, rayless dungeon unfit for swine, and doubtless Sir Max has been similarly outraged."
Hymbercourt put his hand into his pouch and drew forth two gold pieces. These he stealthily placed in the captain's hand, and that worthy official said:—
"I shall be glad to oblige, my lord."
Hymbercourt left us, and Campo-Basso, beckoning the captain to one side, spoke to him in low tones. The captain, I was glad to see, was a Burgundian.
After we left the hall we were taken to our old quarters. The captain followed me into the cell, leaving his men in the passageway.
"My Lord Count ordered me to bring you here," he said; "but I will, if I can, soon return with other men who are not Italians and will remove you to a place of safety."
"Am I not safe here? Is my friend in danger?" I asked.
The man smiled as though amused at my simplicity:—
"If you remain here to-night, there will be no need to hang you in the morning. Our Italian friends have methods of their own that are simple and sure. But I will try to find a way to remove you before—before the Italians have time to do their work. I will see my Lord d'Hymbercourt, and if the duke has not gone a-hunting, we will induce His Grace to order your removal to a place of safety."
"But if the duke is gone, cannot you get the order when he returns?" I asked.
"That will be too late, I fear," he answered, laughing, and with these comforting remarks he left me.
After two or three hours—the time seemed days—I heard a key enter the lock of my cell door. If the hand inserting the key was that of an Italian, I might look for death. To my great joy the man was my Burgundian captain.
"The duke had gone a-hunting," he said, "and I could not find my Lord d'Hymbercourt; but Her Highness, the princess, asked me to remove you, and I am willing to risk my neck for her sweet sake. I am to place you in one of the tower rooms, out of the reach of our Italian cut-throats."
"Will my young friend be with me?" I asked eagerly.
"Yes," responded the captain.
Again I met Max with a man-at-arms in the passageway outside my cell door, and we all went up the steps together. We were hurried through dark passages to a spiral stairway, which we climbed till my knees ached. But we were going up instead of down, and I was overjoyed to have the aching leave my heart for my knees.
The room in which the Burgundian left us was large and clean. There were two beds of sweet straw upon the floor, and to my unspeakable joy there was a bar on the door whereby it could be locked from within. There were also two tubs of water for a bath. On a rude bench was a complete change of clothing which had been brought by some kind hand from the inn. On an oak table were two bottles of wine, a bowl of honey, a cellar of pepper, white bread, cold meat, and pastry. A soul reaching heaven out of purgatory must feel as we felt then. We were too excited to eat, so we bathed, dressed, and lay down on the straw beds.
Before leaving us our captain had said:—
"Do not unbolt your door except to the password 'Burgundy.'"
We slept till late in the afternoon. When we wakened the sun was well down in the west, and we could see only its reflected glare in the eastern sky. There was but one opening in the room through which the light could enter—a narrow window, less than a foot wide. The light in the room was dim even at noon, but the long darkness had so affected our eyes that the light from the window was sufficient to illumine the apartment and to make all objects plainly discernible. There was little to be seen. The arched roof was of solid masonry; the walls were without a break save the narrow window and the door. Through the window we could see only a patch of sky in the east, reddened by the reflection of the sinking sun; but the sight was so beautiful that Max and I were loath to leave it even for supper.
"We must eat before the light dies," said Max, whose young stomach was more imperious than mine, "or we shall have to eat in the dark. I have had more than enough of that."
"Fall to," I said, as we drew the stools to the table. With the first mouthful of clean, delicious food my appetite returned, and I ate ravenously. Had the repast been larger I believe we should have killed ourselves. Fortunately it was consumed before we were exhausted, and we came off alive and victorious. After supper darkness fell, and Max sat beside me on the bench. He was very happy, for he felt that our troubles would end with the night. I put my arm over his neck and begged him to forgive me for bringing this evil upon him.
"You shall not blame yourself, Karl," he protested. "There is no fault in you. No one is to blame save myself; I should not have gone to the bridge. I wonder what poor Yolanda is doing. Perhaps she is suffering in fear and is ignorant of our misfortune. Perhaps she thinks I have broken my promise and left Peronne. I can see her stamp her little foot, and I see her great eyes flashing in anger. Each new humor in her seems more beautiful than the last, Karl. Knowing her, I seem to have known all mankind—at least, all womankind. She has wakened me to life. Her touch has unsealed my eyes, and the pain that I take from my love for her is like a foretaste of heaven. I believe that a man comes to his full strength, mental and moral, only through the elixir of pain."
"We surely have had our share of late," I said dolefully.
"All will soon be well with us, Karl; do not fear. We shall be free to-morrow, and I will kill this Calli. Then I'll go back to Styria a better, wiser, stronger man than I could ever have been had I remained at home. This last terrible experience has been the keystone of my regeneration. It has taught me to be merciful even to the guilty, and gentle with the accused. No man shall ever suffer at my command until he has been proved guilty. Doubtless thousands of innocent men as free from crime and evil intent as we, are wasting their lives away in dungeons as loathsome as those that imprisoned us."
"Calli will not fight you," I said.
"If he refuses, I will kill him at the steps of the throne of Burgundy, let the result be what it may. God will protect me in my just vengeance. I will then go home; and I'll not return to Burgundy till I do so at the head of an army, to compel Duke Charles to behead Campo-Basso."
"What will you do about Yolanda, Max?" I asked.
The interference of the princess in our behalf had thrown more light on my important riddle, and once again I was convinced that she was Yolanda.
"I'll keep her in my heart till I die, Karl," he responded, "and I pray God to give her a happier life than mine can be. That is all I can do."
"Will you see her before you go?" I asked, fully intending that there should be no doubt on the question.
"Yes, and then—" He paused; and, after a little time, I asked:—
"And what then, Max?"
"God only knows what, Karl. I'm sure I don't," he answered.
We talked till late into the night, lay down on our soft, clean beds of straw, and were soon asleep.
I did not know how long I had been sleeping when I was wakened by a voice that seemed to fill the room, low, soft, and musical as the tones of an Aeolian harp. I groped my way noiselessly in the dark to Max's bed and aroused him. Placing my hand over his mouth to insure silence, I whispered:—
He rested on his elbow, and we waited. After a few seconds the voice again resounded through the room, soft as a murmured ave, distinct as the notes of a bird. Max clutched my hand. Soon the voice came again, and we heard the words:—
"Little Max, do you hear? Answer softly."
"I hear," responded Max.
There was an uncanny note in the music of the voice. It seemed almost celestial. We could not tell whence it came. Every stone in the walls and ceiling, every slab in the floor seemed resonant with silvery tones. After Max had answered there was a pause lasting two or three minutes, and the voice spoke again:—
"I love you, Little Max. I tell you because I wish to comfort you. Do not fear. You shall be free to-morrow. Do not answer. Adieu."
"Yolanda! Yolanda!" cried Max, pleadingly; but he received no answer. He put his hand on my shoulder and said:—
"It was Yolanda, Karl—ah, God must hate a child that He brings into the world a prince."
For the rest of the night we did not sleep, neither did we speak. The morrow was to be a day of frightful import to us, and we awaited it in great anxiety.
When the morning broke and the sun shot his rays through the narrow window, we carefully examined the floor and walls of our room, but we found no opening through which the voice could have penetrated. In the side of the room formed by the wall of the tower, the mortar had fallen from between two stones, leaving one of them somewhat loose, but the castle wall at that point was fully sixteen feet thick, and it was impossible that the voice should have come through the layers of stone.
From my first acquaintance with Yolanda there had seemed to be a supernatural element in her nature, an elfin quality in her face and manner that could not be described. Max had often told me that she impressed him in like manner. The voice in our stone-girt chamber, coming as it did from nowhere, and resounding as it did everywhere, intensified that feeling till it was almost a conviction, though I am slow to accept supernatural explanations—a natural one usually exists. Of course, there are rare instances of supernatural power vested in men and women, and Yolanda's great, burning eyes caused me at times, almost to believe that she was favored with it.
The voice that we had heard was unquestionably Yolanda's, but by what strange power it was enabled to penetrate our rock-ribbed prison and give tongues to the cold stones I could not guess, though I could not stop trying. Here was another riddle set by this marvellous girl for my solving. This riddle, however, helped to solve the first, and confirmed my belief that Yolanda was Mary of Burgundy.
After breakfast Max and I were taken to the great hall, where we found Castleman standing before the ducal throne, speaking to Charles. The burgher turned toward us, and as we approached I heard him say:—
"My lord, these men are not spies."
"Who are they?" demanded the duke.
Castleman gave our names and told the story of our meeting at Basel, after we had escorted Merchant Franz from Cannstadt. Then he narrated Max's adventure at the moat bridge, closing with:—
"Count Calli grossly insulted Fraeulein Castleman, for which Sir Max chastised him; and no doubt, my lord, this arrest has been made for revenge."
"Has the younger man name or title other than you have given?" asked Charles.
The burgher hesitated before he answered:—
"He has, my lord, though I may not disclose it to Your Grace without his permission, unless you order me so to do upon my fealty. That I humbly beg Your Grace not to do."
"I beg Your Grace not to ask me to disclose my identity at this time," said Max. "I am willing, should you insist upon knowing who I am, to tell it privately in Your Grace's ear; but I am travelling incognito with my friend, Sir Karl de Pitti, and I beg that I may remain so. My estate is neither very great nor very small, but what it is I desire for many reasons not to divulge. These reasons in no way touch Burgundy, and I am sure Your Grace will not wish to intrude upon them. Within a month, perhaps within a few days, I will enlighten you. If you will permit me to remain in Peronne, I will communicate my reasons to you personally; if I leave, I will write to Your Grace. I give my parole that I will, within a month, surrender myself to Your Lordship, if you are not satisfied, upon hearing my explanations, that my word is that of an honorable knight, and my station one worthy of Your Grace's respect. I hope my Lord d'Hymbercourt and my good friend Castleman will stand as hostages for me in making this pledge."
Both men eagerly offered their persons and their estates as hostages, and the duke, turning to the captain of the guard, said:—
"Remove the manacles from these knights."
The chains were removed, and the duke, coming down to the last step of the dais, looked into Max's face.
Max calmly returned the fierce gaze without so much as the faltering of an eyelid.
"All step back save this young man," ordered the duke, extending his open palm toward the courtiers.
We all fell away, but the duke said:—
"Farther back, farther back, I say! Don't crowd in like a pack of yokels at a street fight!"
Charles was acting under great excitement. I was not sure that it was not anger since his mien looked much like it. I did not know what was going to happen, and was in an agony of suspense. Anything was possible with this brutish duke when his brain was crazed with passion.
All who had been near the ducal throne moved back, till no one was within ten yards of Charles save Max. The duke wore a dagger and a shirt of mail; Max wore neither arms nor armor. After the courtiers stepped back from the throne a deep, expectant hush fell upon the room. No one could guess the intentions of this fierce, cruel duke, and I was terribly apprehensive for Max's safety. Had Max been armed, I should have had no fear for him at the hands of the duke or any other man.
Charles stepped from the dais to the floor beside Max, still gazing fixedly into his face. The men were within four feet of each other. The silence in the room was broken only by the heavy breathing of excited courtiers. The duke's voice sounded loud and harsh when he spoke to Max, and his breath came in hoarse gusts:—
"You are accused, Sir Knight, by credible witnesses of intent to murder me. For such a crime it is my privilege to kill you here and now with my own hand. What have you to say?"
Charles paused for a reply, drawing his dagger from its sheath. When Max saw the naked weapon, I noticed that he gave a start, though it was almost imperceptible. He at once recovered himself, and straightening to his full height, stepped to within two feet of the duke.
"If I plotted or intended to kill you, my lord," said Max, less moved than any other man in the room, "it is your right to kill me; but even were I guilty I doubt if my Lord of Burgundy, who is noted the world over for his bravery, would strike an unarmed man. If Your Grace wished to attack me, you would give me arms equal to your own. If you should kill me, unarmed as I am, you would be more pitiable than any other man in Burgundy. You would despise yourself, and all mankind would spurn you."
"Do you not fear me?" asked the duke, still clutching the hilt of his unsheathed dagger.
"I do not believe you have the least intent to kill me," answered Max, "but if you have, you may easily do so, and I shall be less to be pitied than you. No, I do not fear you! Do I look it, my lord?"
"No, by God, you don't look it. Neither have you cause to fear me," said Charles. "There is not another man in Christendom could have stood this ordeal without flinching."
To a brave man, bravery is above all the cardinal virtue. Charles turned toward his courtiers and continued:—
"There is one man who does not fear me—man, say I? He is little more than a boy. Men of Burgundy, take a lesson from this youth, and bear it in mind when we go to war."
The duke began to unbuckle his shirt of mail, speaking as he did so:—
"I'll soon learn who has lied. I'll show this boy that I am as brave as he."
Charles turned to Calli.
"Sir Count, did you not say this knight wished to kill me, even at the cost of his own life?"
"I so said, my lord, and so maintain upon my honor as a knight and upon my hope of salvation as a Christian. I so heard him avow," answered Calli.
"I will quickly prove or disprove your words, Sir Count," said the duke, removing his mail shirt and throwing it to the floor. Then he turned to Max and offered him the hilt of his dagger: "If you would purchase my death at the cost of your life, here is my dagger, and you may easily make the barter. I am unarmed. One blow from that great arm of yours will end all prospects of war with your Switzerland."
Max hesitatingly took the dagger and looked with a puzzled expression from it to the duke's face. Campo-Basso and his Italian friends moved toward their lord as if to protect him, but Charles waved them back with a protesting palm.
"Switzerland is not my native land, Your Grace, nor do I seek your life. Take your dagger," said Max.
"I offer you better terms," said Charles. "If you wish to kill me, I now give you safe conduct beyond the borders of Burgundy."
"My lord, you are mistaken," said Max, impatiently, tossing the dagger to the floor and stepping back from the duke. A soft ripple of laughter was heard in the ladies' gallery.
"No, it is not I that am mistaken," said Charles. "It is Campo-Basso and his friends. Count Calli, prepare to give the combat to this knight, whoever he may be, and God have mercy on your soul, for the day of your death is at hand."
Another ripple of soft laughter came from the ladies' gallery.
"I cannot fight him," wailed Calli. "I am suffering from a broken arm. My horse fell with me three weeks ago, as Your Grace well knows."
"When your arm mends, you must fight and prove your cause, or by the soul of God, you hang! We'll make a fete of this combat, and another of your funeral. There shall be a thousand candles, and masses sufficient to save the soul of Satan himself. My Lord Campo-Basso, let not the like of this happen again. Vengeance in Burgundy is mine, not my Italians'. Heralds, dismiss the company. These men are free."
All departed save Castleman, Hymbercourt, Max, and myself, who remained at the duke's request.
"If you will remain at the castle, you are most welcome," said Charles, addressing Max and me.
I would have jumped at the offer, but Max thanked the duke and declined.
"We will, with Your Grace's permission, remain at Grote's inn for a short time and then ask leave to depart from Burgundy."
The duke answered:—
"As you will. I do not press you. If you change your mind, come to the castle, and you will be very welcome."
He turned and, with brief adieu, left the great-hall by the small door near the dais. Castleman, Hymbercourt, and Max passed out through the great doors, and I was about to follow them when I was startled by the voice I had heard in the night:—
"Little Max, Little Max," came softly from the ladies' gallery.
I paused to hear more, but all was silent in the great hall. The words could have come from no other lips than Yolanda's—Mary's. True, I reasoned, Yolanda might be one of the ladies of the court, perhaps a near relative of the duke. Once the horrifying thought that he was her lover came to my mind, but it fled instantly. There was no evil in Yolanda.
Max did not hear the voice. I intended to tell him of it when we should reach the inn, and I thought to tell him also that I believed Yolanda was the Princess Mary. I changed my mind, however, and again had reason to be thankful for my silence.
A LIVE WREN PIE
The next day came the invitation to sup at Castleman's, and we were on hand promptly at the appointed time—four o'clock. Before leaving the inn I had determined to ask Castleman to satisfy my curiosity concerning Yolanda. With good reason I felt that it was my duty and my right to know certainly who she was. She might not be Mary of Burgundy, but she surely was not a burgher girl, and in some manner she was connected with the court of Duke Charles.
Max and I were sitting in the long room (it was on the ground floor and extended across the entire front of the house) with Castleman when Frau Kate entered followed by Yolanda and Twonette. The frau courtesied, and gave us welcome. Twonette courtesied and stepped to her father's side. Yolanda gave Max her hand and lifted it to be kissed. The girl laughed joyously, and, giving him her other hand, stood looking up into his face. Her laughter soon became nervous, and that change in a womanly woman is apt to be the forerunner of tears. They soon came to moisten Yolanda's eyes, but she kept herself well in hand and said:—
"It has been a very long time, Sir Max, since last I saw you."
"A hard, cruel time for me, Fraeulein. Your hot-headed duke gives strange license to his murderous courtiers," answered Max.
"It has been a hard time for others, too," she responded. "Hard for uncle, hard for tante, hard for Twonette—very hard for Twonette." She spoke jestingly, but one might easily see her emotion.
"And you, Fraeulein?" he asked smilingly.
"I—I dare not say how hard it has been for me, Little Max. Do you not see? I fear—I fear I shall—weep—if I try to tell you. I am almost weeping now. I fear I have grown gray because of it," she answered, closing with a nervous laugh. Max, too, could hardly speak. She smiled up into his face, and bending before him stood on tiptoe to bring the top of her head under his inspection.
"You may see the white hairs if you look carefully," she said.
Max laughed and stooped to examine the great bush of fluffy dark hair.
"I see not one white hair," he said.
"Look closely," she insisted.
He looked closely, and startled us all, including Yolanda, by putting his lips to the fragrant, silky mass.
"Ah!" exclaimed Yolanda, stepping back from him and placing her hand to the top of her head on the spot that he had kissed. She looked up to him with a fluttering little laugh:—
"I—I did not know you were going to do that."
"Neither did I," said Max.
Castleman and his wife looked displeased and Twonette's face wore an expression of amused surprise.
After a constrained pause Frau Katherine said:—
"Our guests are not in the habit of kissing us."
"No one has kissed you, tante," retorted Yolanda, "nor do they intend to do so. Do not fear. I—I brought it on myself, and if I do not complain, you may bear up under it."
"It certainly is unusual to—" began the frau.
"Tante," cried Yolanda, flushing angrily and stamping her foot. Tante was silent.
"Your words night before last brought marvellous comfort to us, Fraeulein," said Max. "Where were you, and how—"
"My words? Night before last?" asked Yolanda, in open-eyed wonder, "I have not seen you since three weeks ago."
"You called to me in my prison in the tower," said Max. "You called to me by the name you sometimes use."
"Ah, that is wonderful," exclaimed Yolanda. "I wakened myself night before last calling your name, and telling you not to fear. I was dreaming that you were in danger, but I also dreamed that you would soon be free. Can it be possible that the voice of a dreamer can travel to a distance and penetrate stone walls? You almost make me fear myself by telling me that you heard my call."
Like most persons, Max loved the mysterious, so he at once became greatly interested. He would have discussed the subject further had not Yolanda turned to me, saying:—
"Ah, I have not greeted Sir Karl."
She gave me her hand, and I would have knelt had she not prevented me by a surprised arching of her eyebrows. My attempt to salute her on my knee was involuntary, but when I saw the warning expression in her eyes, I quickly recovered myself. I bowed and she withdrew her hand.
"Let us go to the garden," she suggested.
The others left the room, but Yolanda held back and detained me by a gesture.
"You would have knelt to me," she said almost angrily.
"Yes, mademoiselle," I replied, "the movement was involuntary."
"I once warned you, Sir Karl, not to try to learn anything concerning me. I told you that useless knowledge was dangerous. You have been guessing, and probably are very far wrong in your conclusion. But whatever your surmises are, don't let me know them. Above all, say nothing to Sir Max; I warn you! Unless you would see no more of me, bear this warning in mind. Yolanda is a burgher girl. Treat her accordingly, and impress the fact on Sir Max. Were I as great as the ill-tempered Princess of Burgundy, whose estates you came to woo, I should still despise adulation. Bah! I hate it all," she continued, stamping her foot. "I hate princes and princesses, and do not understand how they can endure to have men kneel and grovel before them. This fine Princess of Burgundy, I am told, looks—" She paused and then went on: "I sometimes hate her most of all. I am a burgher girl, I tell you, and I am proud of it. I warn you not to make me other."
"Your warning, my lady, is—"
"Fraeulein!" interrupted Yolanda, angrily stamping her foot, "or Yolanda—call me either. If I give you the privilege, you should value it sufficiently to use it."
"Yolanda, I will sin no more," I responded. Her face broke into a smile, and she took my arm, laughing contentedly.
I walked out to the garden—Yolanda danced out—and we sat with the others under the shade of the arbor vines. Castleman and Max drank sparingly of wine and honey, while I sipped orange water with Yolanda, Twonette, and Frau Kate.
"What do you think of Burgundy, Sir Max?" asked the burgher.
"I like Grote's inn well," answered Max. "I like the castle dungeon ill. I have seen little else of Burgundy save in our journey down the Somme. Then I saw nothing but the road on the opposite bank. Had I tried to see the country I should have failed; the dust-cloud we carried with us was impenetrable." He turned to Yolanda, "That was a hard journey for you, Fraeulein."
"No, no," she cried, "it was glorious. The excitement was worth a lifetime of monotony; it was delightful. I could feel my heart beat all the time, and no woman is sure she lives until she feels the beating of her heart."
I suspected a double meaning in her words, but no trace of self-consciousness was visible in her face.
"I have often wondered, Fraeulein, if the papers reached the castle before the duke arrived?" asked Max.
"What papers?" queried Yolanda.
"Why, the papers we made the mad race to deliver," answered Max.
"Oh, y-e-s," responded the girl, "they arrived just in time."
"And were delivered at the gate?" I suggested.
A quick, angry glance of surprise shot from Yolanda's eyes, and rising from her chair she entered the house. Twonette followed her, and the two did not return for an hour. I was accumulating evidence on the subject of my puzzling riddle, but I feared my last batch might prove expensive. I saw the mistake my tongue had led me into. Many a man has wrecked his fortune by airing his wit.
When Yolanda returned, she sat at a little distance from us, pouting beautifully. The cause of her unmistakable ill-humor, of course, was known only to me, and was a source of wonder to Max. At the end of five minutes, during which there had been little conversation, Max, who was amused at Yolanda's pouting, turned to her, and said:—
"The Fates owe me a few smiles as compensation for their frowns during the last three weeks. Won't you help them to pay me, Fraeulein?"
Her face had been averted, but when Max spoke she turned slowly and gave him the smile he desired as if to say, "I am not pouting at you."