"I think the conspirators should disperse. I hope, Sir Karl, that I may soon meet you in due form. Meantime, of course, it is best that we do not know each other."
After examining the missive for the twentieth time, Yolanda placed it in its pouch and turned to the duchess.
"Take it, mother, to the iron box, and I will lead Sir Karl back to Uncle Castleman's," she said.
The duchess graciously offered me a goblet of wine, and after I had drunk, Yolanda led me down the stairway to the House under the Wall. While descending Yolanda called my attention to a loose stone in the wall of the staircase.
"The other end of this stone," she said, "penetrates the wall of the room that you and Sir Max occupied the night before you were liberated. The mortar has fallen away, and it was here that I spoke to you and told you not to fear."
Here was another supernatural marvel all too easily explained.
That evening after supper Max and I walked over to Castleman's. The evening was cool, and we were sitting in the great parlor talking with Castleman and Twonette when Yolanda entered. The room was fully fifty feet long, and extended across the entire front of the house. A huge chimney was built at the east end of the room, and on either side of the fireplace was a cushioned bench. A similar bench extended across the entire west end of the room. When Yolanda entered she ran to me and took my hand.
"Come, Sir Karl, I want to speak with you," she said.
She led me to the west end of the room, sat down on the cushioned bench, and drew in her skirts that I might sit close beside her.
"I want to tell you about the missive, Sir Karl," she whispered, laughing and shrugging her shoulders in great glee. "Mother returned it to the box, and when I left you I hurried back and haunted the room, fearing that some one might meddle with the parchment. Near the hour of six o'clock father entered. I was sitting on the divan, and he sat down in his great chair, of course taking no notice of me—I am too insignificant for so great a person to notice, except when he is compelled to do so. I was joyful in my heart, but I conjured up all my troubles that I might make myself weep. I feared to show any change in myself, so I sobbed aloud now and then, and soon father turned angrily toward me. 'Are you still there?' he asked. 'Yes, father,' I answered, as if trying to stifle my sobs. 'Are you really going to send that cruel letter to King Louis?'"
"Cruel, indeed," I interrupted.
"Ah, yes! Well, father made no reply, and I went over to him and began to plead. I should have wanted to cut my tongue out had I succeeded, but I had little fear. Father is not easily touched by another's suffering, and my tears only hardened his heart. Well, of course, he repulsed me; and soon a page announced Byron the herald and the Bishop of Cambrai. Father took the packet from the iron box, and put his fingers in the pouch, as if he were going to take out the letter. He hesitated, and during that moment of halting I was by turns cold as ice and hot as fire. Finally his resolution took form, and he drew out the missive. I thought I should die then and there, when he began to look it over. But after a careless glance he put it back in the pouch, and threw it on the table in front of the bishop. I could hardly keep from shouting for joy. He had failed to see the alteration, and in case of its discovery, he might now be his own witness against King Louis, should that crafty monarch dare to alter my father's missive by so much as the crossing of a 't'. If father hereafter discovers anything wrong in the letter, he will be able to swear that King Louis was the evil doer, since father himself put the letter in the pouch with his own hands. Father will never suspect that a friend came to me out of far-away Styria to commit this crime."
"I rejoice that I came," I said.
"And I," she answered. "I feared the bishop would read the letter, but he did not. He tied the ribbon, softened the lead wafer over the lamp flame, and placed it on the bow-knot; then he stamped it with father's small seal. When it was finished I did not want to laugh for joy—when one is very happy one wants to weep. That I could safely do, and I did. The bishop handed the letter to Byron, and father spoke commandingly: 'Deliver the missive to the French king before you sleep or eat, unless he has left Paris. If he has gone to Tours, follow him and loiter not.' 'And if he is not in Tours, Your Grace?' asked Byron. 'Follow him till you find him,' answered father, 'if you must cross the seas.' 'Shall I do all this without eating or sleeping?' asked Byron. Father rose angrily, and Byron said: 'If Your Grace will watch from the donjon battlements, in five minutes you will see me riding on your mission. When Your Grace sees me riding back, it will be, I fear, the ghost of Byron.'
"It was a wearisome task for me to climb the donjon stairs, but I knew father would not be there to watch Byron set out, and I felt that one of the family should give him God-speed; so alone, and frightened almost out of my wits, I climbed those dark steps to the battlements, and gazed after Byron till he was a mere speck on the horizon down toward Paris. I pray God there may be a great plenty of trouble grow out of the crossing of this 't'. Father is always saying that women were put on earth to make trouble, so I'll do what little I can to make true His Lordship's words." She threw back her head, laughing softly. "Is it not glorious, Sir Karl?"
"Indeed, Princess—" I began, but she clapped her hand over my mouth and I continued, "Indeed, Yolanda, the plan is so adroit and so effective that it fills me with admiration and awe."
"I like the name Yolanda," said she, looking toward Max, who was sitting with Twonette on one of the benches by the chimney.
"And I, too, like it," I responded. "I cannot think of you as the greatest and richest princess in Europe."
"Ah, I wish I, too, could forget it, but I can't," she answered with a sigh, glancing from under her preposterously long lashes toward Max and Twonette.
"How came you to take the name Yolanda?" I asked.
"Grandfather wished to give me the name in baptism," she answered, "but Mary fell to my lot. I like the present arrangement. Mary is the name of the princess—the unhappy, faulty princess. Yolanda is my name. Almost every happy hour I have ever spent has been as Yolanda. You cannot know the wide difference between me and the Princess Mary. It is, Sir Karl, as if we were two persons."
She spoke very earnestly, and I could see that there was no mirth in her heart when she thought of herself as the Princess Mary; she was not jesting.
"I don't know the princess," I said laughingly, "but I know Yolanda."
"Yes; I'll tell you a great secret, Sir Karl. The Princess Mary is not at all an agreeable person. She is morose, revengeful, haughty, cold—" here her voice dropped to a whisper, "and, Sir Karl, she lies—she lies. While Yolanda—well, Yolanda at least is not cold, and I—I think she is a very delightful person. Don't you?"
There was a troubled, eager expression in her eyes that told plainly she was in earnest. To Yolanda the princess was another person.
"Yolanda is very sure of me," I answered.
"Ah, that she is," answered the girl. You see, this was a real case of billing and cooing between December and May.
A short silence followed, during which Yolanda glanced furtively toward Max and Twonette.
"You spoke of your grandfather," said I, "and that reminds me that you promised to tell me the story of the staircase in the wall."
"So I did," answered Yolanda, haltingly. Her attention was at the other end of the room.
"Do you think Twonette a very pretty girl?" she asked.
"Yes," I answered, surprised at the abrupt question. I caught a glimpse of Yolanda's face and saw that I had made a mistake, so I continued hastily: "That is—yes—yes, she is pretty, though not beautiful. Her face, I think, is rather dollish. It is a fine creation in pink and white, but I fear it lacks animation."
"Now for the stairway in the wall," said Yolanda, settling herself with the pretty little movements peculiar to her when she was contented. "As I told you, grandfather built it. Afterward he ceded Peronne to King Louis, and for many years none of our family ever saw the castle. A few years ago King Louis ceded it to my father. Father has never lived here, and has visited Peronne only once in a while, for the purpose of looking after his affairs on the French border. The castle is very strong, and, being here on the border at the meeting of the Somme and the Cologne, it has endured many sieges, but it has never been taken. It is called 'Peronne La Pucelle.'
"Father's infrequent visits to the castle have been brief, and all who have ever known of the stairway are dead or have left Burgundy, save the good people in this house, my mother, my tire-woman, and myself. Three or four years ago, when I was a child, mother and I, unhappy at Ghent and an annoyance to father, came here to live in the castle, and—and—I wonder what Sir Max and Twonette find to talk about—and Twonette and I became friends. I love Twonette dearly, but she is a sly creature, for all she is so demure, and she is bolder than you would think, Sir Karl. These very demure girls are often full of surprises. She has been sitting there in the shadow with Sir Max for half an hour. That, I say, would be bold in any girl. Well, to finish about the staircase: my bedroom, as I told you, was my grandfather's. One day Twonette was visiting me, and we—we—Sir Max, what in the world are you and Twonette talking about? We can't hear a word you say."
"We can't hear what you are saying," retorted Max.
"I wish you were young, Sir Karl," whispered Yolanda, "so that I might make him jealous."
"Shall we come to you?" asked Max.
"No, no, stay where you are," cried Yolanda; then, turning to me, "Where did I stop?"
"Your bedroom—" I suggested.
"Yes—my bedroom was my grandfather's. One day I had Twonette in to play with me, and we rummaged every nook and corner we could reach. By accident we discovered the movable panel. We pushed it aside, and spurring our bravery by daring each other, we descended the dark stairway step by step until we came suddenly against the oak panel at the foot. We grew frightened and cried aloud for help. Fortunately, Tante Castleman was on the opposite side of the panel in the oak room, and—and—"
She had been halting in the latter part of her narrative and I plainly saw what was coming.
"Tante Castleman was—was—It was fortunate she—was in—" She sprang to her feet, exclaiming: "I'm going to tell Twonette what I think of her boldness in sitting there in the dark with Sir Max. Her father is not here to do it." And that was the last I heard of the stairway in the wall.
Yolanda ran across the room to the bench by the fireplace and stamped her foot angrily before Twonette.
"It—it is immodest for a girl to sit here in the deep shadow beside a gentleman for hours together. Shame, Twonette! Your father is not here to correct you."
Castleman had left the room.
Twonette laughed, rose hurriedly, and stood by Yolanda in front of Max. Yolanda, by way of apology, took Twonette's hand, but after a few words she coolly appropriated her place "in the deep shadow beside a gentleman." A princess enjoys many privileges denied to a burgher girl. When a girl happens to be both, the burgher girl is apt to be influenced by the princess, as the princess is apt to be modified by the life of the burgher girl. Presently Yolanda said:—
"Please go, Twonette, and mix a bowl of wine and honey. Yours is delicious. Put in a bit of allspice, Twonette, and pepper, beat it well, Twonette, and don't spare the honey. Now there's a good girl. Go quickly, but don't hurry back. Haste, you know, Twonette, makes waste, and you may spoil the wine."
Twonette laughed and went to mix the wine and honey. I walked back to the other end of the room, and sat down by a window to watch the night gather without. I was athrill with the delightful thought that, all unknown to the world, unknown even to himself, Max, through my instrumentality, was wooing Mary of Burgundy within fifty feet of where I sat. He was not, of course, actively pressing his suit, but all unconsciously he was taking the best course to win her heart forever and ever. Now, with a propitious trick of fortune, my fantastic dream, conceived in far-off Styria, might yet become a veritable fact. By what rare trick this consummation might be brought about, I did not know, but fortune had been kind so far, and I felt that her capricious ladyship would not abandon us.
Yolanda turned to Max with a soft laugh of satisfaction, settled her skirts about her, as a pleased woman is apt to do, and said contentedly:—
"Fraeulein, you are very kind to me," said Max.
"Yes—yes, I am, Sir Max," she responded, beaming on him. "Now, tell me what you and Twonette have been talking about."
"You," answered Max.
A laugh gurgled in her throat as she asked:—
"I'll tell you if you will tell me what you and Sir Karl were saying," he responded.
"Ah, I see!" she exclaimed, clapping her hands gleefully. "You were jealous."
"I admit it," he answered, so very seriously that one might have thought him in earnest. "And you, Fraeulein?"
"I jealous?" she responded, with lifted eyebrows. "You are a vain man, Sir Max. I was not jealous—only—only a tiny bit—so much—" and she measured the extent of her jealousy on the pink tip of her little finger. "I am told you were falconing with the Duke of Burgundy to-day. If you go in such fine company, I fear we shall see little of you."
"There is no company finer than—than—" Max checked his tongue.
"Say it, Max, say it," she whispered coaxingly, leaning toward him.
"Than you, Fraeulein." The girl leaned back contentedly against the wall, and Max continued: "Yes, his lordship was kind to me, and most gracious. I cannot believe the stories of cruelty I hear of him. I have been told that on different occasions he has used personal violence on his wife and daughter. If that be true, he must be worse than the brutes of the field, but you may be sure, Yolanda, the stories are false."
"Alas! I fear they are too true," responded the girl, sighing in memory of the afternoon.
"He is a pleasing companion when he wishes to be," said Max, "and I hear his daughter, the princess, is much like him."
"Heavens!" exclaimed Yolanda, "I hope she is like him only when he is pleasing."
"That is probably true," said Max.
"There is where I am really jealous, Max—this princess—" she said, leaning forward and looking up into his face with unmistakable earnestness.
"Why?" asked Max, laughing.
"Because men love wealth and high estate. There are scores of men—at least, so I have been told—eager to marry this princess, who do not even know that she is not hideous to look upon and vixenish in temper. They would take her gladly, with any deformity, physical, mental, or moral, for the sake of possessing Burgundy."
"But I am told she is fair and beautiful," said Max.
"Believe it not," said Yolanda, sullenly. "Whoever heard of a rich princess who was not beautiful? Anne and Joan, daughters of King Louis, are always spoken of as paragons of beauty; yet those who know tell me these royal ladies are hideous. King Louis has nicknamed Joan 'The Owlet' because she is little, ill-shapen, and black. Anne is tall, large of bone, fat, and sallow. He should name her 'The Giantess of Beaujeu'; and the little half-witted Dauphin he should dub 'Knight of the Princely Order of House Rats.'"
That she was deeply in earnest there could be no doubt.
"I hope you do not speak so freely to others," said Max. "If His Grace of Burgundy should hear of your words he might—"
"I hope you will not tell him," said Yolanda, laughing. "But this Mary!" she continued, clinging stubbornly to the dangerous topic. "You came to woo her estates, and in the end you will do so."
I am convinced that the girl was intensely jealous of herself. When she feared that Max might seek the Princess Mary, her heart brooded over the thought that he would do so for the sake of her wealth and her domains.
"I have told you once, Fraeulein, what I will do and what I will not. For your own sake and mine I'll tell you no more," said Max.
"If I were a great princess," said Yolanda, pouting and hanging her head, "you would not speak so sharply to me." Evidently she was hurt by Max's words, though they were the expression, not of his displeasure, but of his pain.
"Fraeulein, forgive me; my words were not meant to be sharp. It was my pain that spoke. You torture me and cause me to torture myself," said Max. "To keep a constant curb on one's ardent longing is exhausting. It takes the heart out of a man. At times you seem to forget that my silence is my great grief, not my fault. Ah, Fraeulein! you cannot understand my longing and my struggle."
"I do understand," she answered plaintively, slipping her hand into his, "and unless certain recent happenings have the result I hope for, you, too, will understand, more clearly than you now do, within a very short time."
She covered her face with her hands. Her words mystified Max, and he was on the point of asking her to explain. He loved and pitied her, and would have put his arm around her waist to comfort her, but she sprang to her feet, exclaiming:—
"No, no, Little Max, let us save all that for our farewell. You will not have long to wait."
Wisdom returned to Max, and he knew that she was right in helping him to resist the temptation that he had so valiantly struggled against since leaving Basel.
All that I had really hoped for in Styria, all our fair dreams upon the castle walls of Hapsburg, had come to pass. Max had, beyond doubt, won the heart of Mary of Burgundy, but that would avail nothing unless by some good chance conditions should so change that Mary would be able to choose for herself. In such case, ambition would cut no figure in her choice. The chains of duty to family, state, and ancestry that bound Max's feet so firmly would be but wisps of straw about Yolanda's slender ankles. She would have no hesitancy in making her choice, were she free to do so, and states might go hang for all she would care. Her heart was her state. Would she ever be able to choose? Fortune had been kind to us thus far; would she remain our friend? She is a coquette; but the heart of a coquette, if truly won, is the most steadfast of all.
Twonette brought in the wine and honey; Castleman soon returned and lighted the lamp, and we all sat talking before the small blaze in the fireplace, till the great clock in the middle of the room chimed the hour of ten. Then Yolanda ran from us with a hurried good night, and Max returned with me to the inn.
* * * * *
I cannot describe the joy I took from the recurring thought that I was particeps criminis with the Princess of Burgundy in the commission of a crime. At times I wished the crime had been greater and its extenuation far less. We hear much about what happens when thieves fall out, but my observation teaches me that thieves usually remain good friends. The bonds of friendship had begun to strengthen between Yolanda and me before she sought my help in the perpetration of her great crime. After that black felony, they became like links of Milan chain. I shared her secrets, great and small.
One day while Yolanda and I were sitting in the oak room,—the room from which the panel opened into the stairway in the wall,—I said to her:—
"If your letter 't' causes a break with France, perhaps Max's opportunity may come."
"I do not know—I cannot hope," she responded dolefully. "You see, when father made this treaty with France, he was halting between two men in the choice of a husband for me. One was the Dauphin, son to King Louis, whom father hates with every breath he draws. The other was the Duke of Gelders, whom father really likes. Gelders is a brute, Sir Karl. He kept his father in prison four years, and usurped his domain. He is a drunkard, a murderer, and a profligate. For reasons of state father chose the Dauphin, but if the treaty with France is broken, I suppose it will be Gelders again. If it comes to that, Sir Karl—but I'll not say what I'll do. My head is full of schemes from morning till night, and when I sleep my poor brain is a whirl of visions. Self-destruction, elopement, and I know not what else appeal to me. How far is it to Styria, Sir Karl?" she asked abruptly.
"Two or three hundred leagues, perhaps—it may be more," I answered. "I do not know how far it is, Yolanda, but it is not far enough for your purposes. Even could you reach there, Styria could not protect you."
"I was not thinking of—of what you suppose, Sir Karl," she said plaintively.
"What were you thinking of, Yolanda?" I asked.
"Of nothing—of—of—a wild dream of hiding away from the world in some unknown corner, at times comes to me in my sleep—only in my sleep, Sir Karl—for in my waking hours I know it to be impossible. The only pleasant part of being a princess is that the world envies you; but what a poor bauble it is to buy at the frightful price I pay!"
"I have been on mountain tops," I answered philosophically, "and I find that breathing grows difficult as one ascends."
"Ah, Sir Karl," she answered tearfully, "I believe I'll go upstairs and weep."
I led her to the moving panel and opened it for her. Without turning her face she held back her hand for me to kiss. Then she started up the dark stone steps, and I knew that she was weeping. I closed the panel and sat on the cushioned bench. To say that I would have given my old life to win happiness for her but poorly measures my devotion. A man's happiness depends entirely on the number and quality of those to whom his love goes out. Before meeting Yolanda I drew all my happiness from loving one person—Max. Now my source was doubled, and I wished for the first time that I might live my life again, to lay it at this girl's feet.
TRIAL BY COMBAT
Max had waited until Calli's arm was mended to bring up the subject of the trial by combat; but when he would have taken it before the duke, I dissuaded him by many pretexts, and for a few days it was dropped. But soon it was brought forward in a most unpleasant way. Max and I were in the streets of Peronne one afternoon, and as we approached a group of ragged boys, one of them cried out:—
"There is the fellow that challenged Count Calli, but won't fight him!"
Max turned upon the boy, caught him roughly by the shoulder, and asked him where he got his information. The frightened boy replied that his father was a hostler in the duke's stables, and had heard Count Calli say that the fellow who had challenged him was "all gauntlet but no fight."
We at once sought Hymbercourt, who, on being closely questioned, admitted that the Italians in the castle were boasting that the stranger who seemed so eager to fight when Calli's arm was lame, had lost his courage now that the arm was healed.
Of course I was in a deal of trouble over this combat, and heartily wished the challenge had never been given, though I had all faith in Max's strength and skill. I, who had fought constantly for twenty years, had trained him since his tenth birthday. I had not only trained him; I had introduced him to the lists at eighteen—he being well grown, strong of limb, and active as a wildcat. I waged him against a famous tilt-yard knight, and Max held his own manfully, to his great credit and to my great joy. The battle was a draw. My first great joy in life came a few months afterward, when Max unhorsed this same knight, and received the crown of victory from the queen of the lists.
But this combat would be a battle of death. Two men would enter the lists; one would die in the course.
Max could, with propriety, announce his title and refuse to fight one so far beneath him as Calli; but even my love for the boy and my fear of the outcome, could not induce me to advise this. The advice would have been little heeded had I given it. Max was not one in whose heart hatred could thrive, but every man should have a just sense of injury received, and no one should leave all vengeance to God. In Max's heart this sense was almost judicial. The court of his conscience had convicted Calli of an unforgivable crime, and he felt that it was his God-appointed duty to carry out the sentence.
While I had all faith in Max's strength and skill, I also knew Calli to be a strong, time-hardened man, well used to arms. What his skill was, I could not say, but fame proclaimed it great. It would need to be great to kill Max, boy though he was, but accidents are apt to happen in the lists, and Calli was treacherous. I was deep in trouble, but I saw no way out but for Max to fight. So, on the morning after our conversation with Hymbercourt, Max and I sought admission to the duke's audience. Charles had been privately told of our purpose and of course was delighted at the prospect of a battle to the death.
A tournament with, mayhap, a few broken heads furnished him great enjoyment; but a real battle between two men, each seeking the other's life, was such keen pleasure to his savage, blood-loving nature, that its importance could hardly be measured. Charles would have postponed his war against the Swiss, I verily believe, rather than miss this combat between Max and Calli.
The duke hurried through the business of the morning, and then turned toward Max, signifying that his time had come. Max stepped before the ducal throne, made his obeisance, and said:—
"May it please Your Highness to recall a wage of battle given by me some weeks ago, in this hall and in this august presence, to one who calls himself Count Calli? The cause of my complaint against the said Calli I need not here rehearse. I have waited to repeat my defiance until such time as Count Calli's arm should mend. I am told that he is now strong; and, most gracious Lord Charles, Duke of Burgundy, I again offer my wage of battle against this said knight and demand the trial by combat."
Thereupon he drew an iron gauntlet from his girdle and threw it clanking on the stone floor. The gauntlet lay untouched for the space of a minute or two; and the duke turned toward Calli and Campo-Basso, who stood surrounded by their Italian friends at the right of the throne. After a long pause Charles said:—
"Will Count Calli lift the gage, or shall we appoint a court of heraldry to determine whether or no the combat shall take place?"
There was a whispered conversation among the Italians, after which Campo-Basso addressed the duke.
"My most gracious lord," said he, "the noble Count Calli is loath to lift the gage of an unknown man, and would make bold to say that he will not do so until he is satisfied that he who so boastingly offers it is worthy in blood, station, and knighthood to stand before him."
"For all that I will stand surety," said Hymbercourt, turning to the duke and to Campo-Basso.
"The Lord d'Hymbercourt's honor is beyond reproach," replied the Italian, "but Count Calli must have other proof."
Hymbercourt was about to make an angry reply, but he was silenced by the duke's uplifted hand.
"We will ourself be surety for this knight," said Charles.
"We cannot gainsay Your Lordship's surety, most gracious duke," returned Campo-Basso; "but with all meekness and humility we would suggest, with Your Grace's permission, that when a man jeopards his life against another he feels it his right to know at least his foe's name."
"Count Calli must content himself with knowing that the knight's name is Sir Maximilian du Guelph. If Count Calli is right and his cause just, God will give him victory, and the whole world shall know of his deed. If he is in the wrong and his cause unjust, may God have mercy on his soul."
A long pause ensued during which Max stood before the duke, a noble figure of manly beauty worthy the chisel of a Greek sculptor. The shutter in the ladies' gallery was ajar and I caught a glimpse of Yolanda's pale, tear-stained face as she looked down upon the man she loved, who was to put his life in peril to avenge her wrong.
"We are wasting time, Count Calli," spoke the duke. "Take up the gage or demand a court. The charge made by Sir Max will certainly justify a court of chivalry in ordering the combat. The truth or falsity of that charge you and Sir Max must prove on each other's bodies. His desire to remain unknown the court will respect; he has ample precedent. If you are convinced by the word of our Lord d'Hymbercourt and myself that he is of birth and station worthy to engage with you in knightly and mortal combat, you can ask no more. Few courts of chivalry, I take it, would hold the evidence inconclusive. Take up or leave the gage, Sir Count, and do one or the other at once."
Calli walked over to the gauntlet and, taking it from the floor, held it in his right hand while he bent his knee before the duke. He did not look toward Max, but turned in the direction of his friends and tucked the gauntlet in his girdle as he strode away.
"We appoint this day twelve days, on a Sunday afternoon, for the combat," said Charles. "Then these men shall do their endeavor, each upon the other; and may God give victory to the right!"
* * * * *
That evening, as usual, Max and I were at Castleman's. Yolanda did not come down till late, but when she came she clung silently to Max, and there was a deep pathos in her every word and glance. As we left, I went back and whispered hurriedly to her:—
"Have no fear, dear one. Our Max will take no harm."
My words were bolder than my heart, but I thought to comfort her.
"I have no fear, Sir Karl," she said, in a trembling voice. "There is no man so strong and brave as Max. He is in the right, and God is just. The Blessed Virgin, too, will help him. It would be sacrilege to doubt her. I do not doubt. I do not fear, Sir Karl, but, oh, my friend—" Here she buried her face on my breast and wept convulsively. Her words, too, had been bolder than her heart—far bolder.
The brooding instinct in me—the faint remnant of mother love, that kind Providence has left in every, good man's heart—longed to comfort her and bear her pains. But I was powerless to help her, and, after all, her suffering was wholesome. In a moment she continued, sobbing while she spoke:—
"But—oh! if by any mischance Max should fall; if by treachery or accident—oh, Sir Karl, my heart is breaking. Do not let Max fight." These words were from her woman's heart. "His station will excuse him, but if the affair has gone too far for him to withdraw, tell him to—to leave Burgundy, to run away, to—"
"Yolanda, what are you saying?" I asked. "Would you not rather see him dead than a coward?"
"No, no, Sir Karl," she cried, wrought almost to a frenzy by her grief and fear. "No, no, anything but dead."
"Listen to reason, Yolanda," I answered. "I, who love Max more than I love the blood of my heart, would kill him with my own hand rather than have cause to call him coward and speak the truth."
"No, no," she cried desperately, grasping my hand. "Do not let him fight. Ah, Sir Karl, if you bear me any love, if my grief and unhappy lot have touched your heart, even on the smallest spot, I pray you, do this thing for me. Do not let Max fight with this Count Calli. If Max falls—"
"But Max will not fall," I answered boldly. "He has overthrown better men than Calli."
"Has he? Ah, tell me, has he? He is little more than a boy. I seem older than he at times, and it is hard to believe what you say, though I know he is strong, and that fear has no place in his heart. Tell me, whom has he overthrown?"
"Another time, Yolanda," I responded soothingly, "but this I say now to comfort you. Calli is no match for our Max. In the combat that is to come, Max can kill him if he chooses, barring accidents and treachery. Over and above his prowess, his cause, you know, is just, and for that reason God will be with him."
"Yes, yes," sobbed Yolanda, "and the Virgin, too."
The Virgin was a woman in whom she could find a woman's sympathy. She trusted God and stood in reverent awe of Him; but one could easily see that the Virgin held her heart and was her refuge in time of trouble. When I turned to leave she called me back, saying:—
"I have a mind to tell Max the truth—to tell him who I am."
"I would not do so now," I answered, fearing, perhaps with good reason, the effect of the disclosure on Max. "After the combat, if you wish to tell him—"
"But if he should fall?" said the girl, beginning to weep again and clinging desperately to my arm. "If he should fall, not knowing who I am?"
"Max will not fall, Yolanda. Dismiss that fear from your heart."
My bold words served a double purpose. They at least partially satisfied Yolanda, and they strengthened me.
Of course Max and I at once began to prepare for the combat. The charger we had captured from the robbers on the Rhine now came to our hand as if sent by Providence. He was a large, active horse, with limbs like steel. He was an intelligent animal, too, and a good brain is almost as valuable in a horse as in a man. He had evidently borne arms all his life, for when we tried him in the tilt-yard we found him trained at every point.
There was no heavy plate at the Peronne armorer's large enough for Max, so Hymbercourt dropped a hint to Duke Charles, and His Grace sent two beautiful suits to our inn. One was of Barcelona make, the other an old suit which we judged had come from Damascus. I tried the latter with my sword, and spoiled a good blade. Although the Damascus armor was too heavy by a stone, we chose it, and employed an armorer to tighten a few nuts, and to adjust new straps to the shoulder plates and arm pieces.
We caused lists to be built outside the walls, and Max worked eight hours a day to harden himself. He ran against me, against our squires, who were lusty big fellows, and now and then against Hymbercourt, who was a most accomplished knight.
Yolanda was prone to coax Max not to fight, and her fear showed itself in every look and gesture. Her words, of course, could not have turned him, but her fears might have undermined his self-confidence. So I pointed out to her the help he would get from encouragement, and the possible hurt he would take were her fears to infect him. After my admonition, her efforts to be cheerful and confident almost brought tears to my eyes. She would sing, but her song was joyless. She would banter Max and would run imaginary courses with him, taking the part of Calli, and always falling dead at Max's feet; but the moment of relaxation brought a haunting, terrified expression to her eyes. The corners of her sweet mouth would droop, effacing the cluster of dimples that played about her lips, and the fair, childish face, usually so joyful, wore the mask of grief. For the first time in her life real happiness had come, not within her grasp, but within sight; and this combat might snatch it from her.
Once when I was helping Max to buckle on his armor for a bout at practice, he said:—
"Yolanda seems to treat this battle as a jest. She laughs and banters me as if it were to be a justing bout. I wonder if she really has a heart?"
"Max, I am surprised at your dulness," I said. "Do you not see her manner is assumed, though her fear is small because of her great faith in your prowess?"
"I'll try to deserve her faith," answered Max.
* * * * *
When at last the day arrived, Max was in prime condition. At the inn we carefully adjusted the armor and fitted it on him. One of our squires led the charger, carefully trapped, to the lists, which had been built in an open field outside the town, west of the castle.
Max and I, accompanied by Hymbercourt and two other friends, rode down to Castleman's, and Max entered the house for a few minutes. Yolanda had told him that she would not be at the lists, and Max felt that it were better so.
Twonette and her father had gone to the lists when we reached the House under the Wall, but Yolanda and Frau Kate were awaiting us. There was a brief greeting and a hurried parting—tearful on Yolanda's part. Then we rode around to the Postern and entered the courtyard of the castle. Crossing the courtyard, we passed out through the great gate at the keep, and soon stood demanding admission to the lists.
The course was laid off north and south, the sun being in the southwest. The hour of battle was fixed at four o'clock, and the combat was to continue till sundown, if neither champion fell before that time. The pavilion for the duke and the other spectators was built at the west side of the false lists—a strip of ground ten feet wide, extending entirely around the true lists, but separated from it by a barrier or railing three feet high.
It was an hour after we left Castleman's house before Max and I entered the false lists. As I expected, the princess was sitting in the pavilion with her father and Duchess Margaret. A veil partly concealed her features, and when Max rode down the false lists to make his obeisance before the duke and the duchess, he could not know that the white face of Yolanda looked down upon him. I was sorry to see the princess in the pavilion, because I knew that if an untoward fate should befall Max, a demonstration would surely follow in the ducal gallery.
At the gate of the true lists, Max was met by a priest, who heard his oath, and by a herald, who read the laws and the agreement relating to the combat. A court of heraldry had decided that three lances should be broken, after which the champions, if both alive, should dismount and continue the fight with battle-axes of whatever weight they might choose. If either knight should be disabled, it was the other's right to kill him.
After Max had entered the true lists the gates were closed, and Hymbercourt, myself, and our squires stood outside the barrier at the north end of the false lists,—the north being Max's station on the course.
Max sat his charger, lance in rest; Calli waited in the south, and these two faced each other with death between them.
When all was ready the heralds raised their banners, and the duke gave the word of battle. There was a moment of deep silence, broken by the thunder of tramping hoofs, as horses and men rushed upon each other. Calli and Max met in mid-course, and the din of their contact was like the report of a cannon. Each horse fell back upon its haunches; each rider bent back upon his horse. Two tough yule lances burst into a hundred splinters. Then silence ensued, broken after a moment by a storm of applause from the pavilion.
The second course was like the first, save that Max nearly unhorsed Calli by a marvellous helmet stroke. The stroke loosened Calli's helmet by breaking a throat-strap, but neither he nor his friends seemed to notice the mishap, and the third course was begun without remedying it. When the champions were within ten yards of each other, a report like the discharge of an arquebuse was heard, coming apparently from beneath the pavilion. I could not say whence the report came—I was too intent upon the scene in the lists to be thoroughly conscious of happenings elsewhere—but come it did from somewhere, and Max's fine charger plunged forward on the lists, dead. Max fell over his horse's head and lay half-stunned upon the ground.
Above the din rose a cry, a frantic scream, that fairly pierced my heart. Well I knew the voice that uttered it. The people in the pavilion rose to their feet, and cries of "Treachery! treachery!" came from all directions. Calli was evidently expecting the shot, for just before it came he reined in his horse, and when Max fell the Italian instantly brought his charger to a standstill and began to dismount with all the speed his heavy armor would permit. When safely down, he unclasped his battle-axe from the chain that held it to his girdle and started toward Max, who was lying prone upon the ground. Cries of "Shame! shame!" came from the pavilion, but no one, not even the duke, dared to interfere; it was Calli's right to kill Max if he could.
I had covered my eyes with my hand, thinking that surely the boy's hour had come. I removed my hand when I heard the scream, and I have thanked God ever since for prompting me to do that little act, for I saw the most beautiful sight that my eyes have ever beheld. Calli had reached his prostrate foe and was standing over him with battle-axe uplifted to deal the blow of death. At that same moment Yolanda sprang from the duke's side, cleared the low railing in front of the ducal box, and jumped to the false lists six or eight feet below. Her gown of scarlet and gold shone with dazzling radiance in the sunlight.
Calli was facing the pavilion, and Yolanda's leap probably attracted his attention. However that may have been—perhaps it was because of Calli's haste, perhaps it was the will of God—the blow fell short, and Calli's battle-axe, glancing from Max's helmet, buried itself in the hard ground. While Calli was struggling to release his axe, Yolanda cleared the low barrier of the true lists, sped across the intervening space like a flash of red avenging flame, and reached Max not one second too soon, for Calli's axe was again uplifted. She fell upon Max, and had the axe descended she would have received the blow. Calli stepped back in surprise, his heel caught on the toe of Max's iron boot, he fell prone upon his back, and the weight of his armor prevented him from rising quickly. The glancing blow on Max's helmet had roused him, and when he moved Yolanda rose to her knees beside him.
"Let me help you," she cried, lifting Max's mailed hand to her shoulder; Max did so, and by help of the frail girl he drew himself to his knees and then to his feet. Meantime, Calli was attempting to rise. I can still see the terrible picture. Calli's panting horse stood near by with drooping head. Max's charger lay quivering in the convulsions of death. Calli, whose helmet had dropped from his head when he fell, lay resting on his elbow, half risen and bareheaded. Max stood deliberately taking his battle-axe from his girdle chain, while Yolanda still knelt at his feet. Battle-axe in hand, Max stepped toward Calli, who had risen to his knees. The expression on the Italian's face I shall never forget. With bared head and upturned face he awaited the death that he knew he deserved. Max lifted his battle-axe to give the blow. I wondered if he would give it. He lowered the axe, and a shout went up from the pavilion:—
"Kill him! Kill him!"
He lifted the axe again, and a silence like the hush of death fell upon the shouting audience. Again Max hesitated, and I distinctly heard Yolanda, who was still upon her knees, whisper:—
"Kill him! Kill him!"
Then came the shouts of a thousand voices, thrilling me to the marrow:—
"Kill him! Kill him!" and I knew that if I were standing in Max's shoes, Calli would die within a moment. I also remember wondering in a flash of thought if Max were great enough to spare him. Again the battle-axe came slowly down, and the din in the pavilion was deafening:—
"Kill him! Kill him!"
Again the battle-axe rose; but after a pause, Max let it fall to the ground behind him; and, turning toward the girl, lifted her with his mailed hands to her feet. When she had risen Max looked into her face, and, falling back a step, exclaimed in a voice hushed by wonder:—
His words coming to the girl's ears, like a far-away sound, from the cavernous recesses of his helmet, frightened her.
"No, no, my name is not Yolanda. You are mistaken. You do not know me. I—I am the princess. You do not know me."
Her words were prompted by two motives: she wished to remain unknown to Max, and she feared lest her father should come to know that a great part of her life was spent as a burgher girl. Her hands were clasped at her breast; her face was as pale as a gray dawn; her breath came in feeble gusts, and her words fell haltingly from her lips. She took two steps forward, her eyes closed, and she began to fall. Max caught her and lifted her in his strong arms. On great occasions persons often do trivial acts. With Yolanda held tightly in the embrace of his left arm, Max stooped to the ground and picked up his battle-axe with his right hand. Then he strode to the north end of the lists and placed the girl in my arms.
"Yolanda," he said, intending to tell me of his fair burden.
"No, Max," I whispered, as he unfastened his helmet. "Not Yolanda, but the princess. The two resemble each other greatly."
"Yolanda," returned Max, doggedly. "I know her as a mother knows her first-born."
Not one hundred seconds had elapsed between the report of the arquebuse and the placing of Yolanda in my arms; but hardly had Max finished speaking when a dozen ladies crowded about us and took possession of the unconscious princess.
After the duke had set on foot a search for the man who had fired the arquebuse, he came down to the false lists and stood with Hymbercourt and me, discussing the event. Campo-Basso said that his heart was "sore with grief," and the Italians jabbered like monkeys. One of them wanted to kiss Max for sparing his kinsman's life, but Max thrust him off with a fierce oath. The young fellow was in an ugly mood, and if I had been his enemy, I would sooner have crossed the path of a wounded lion than his. He was slow to anger, but the treachery he had encountered had raised all of Satan that was in him. Had he stood before Calli thirty seconds longer that treacherous heart would have ceased to beat.
While we were standing in the false lists, speaking with the duke, an Italian approached Max, bowed low, and said:—
"The noble Count Calli approaches to thank you for your mercy and to extol your bravery."
Max turned his head toward the centre of the course, and saw Calli surrounded by a crowd of jabbering friends who were leading him toward us. A black cloud—a very mist from hell—came over Max's face. He stooped and took his battle-axe from the ground. I placed my hand on the boy's arm and warningly spoke his name:—
"Max!" After a pause I continued, "Leave murder to the Italians."
Max uttered a snort of disdain, but, as usual, he took my advice. He turned to Campo-Basso, still grasping his battle-axe:—
"Keep that fellow away from me," he said, pointing toward Calli. "My merciful mood was brief. By the good God who gave me the villain's life, I will kill him if he comes within reach of my axe."
An Italian ran to the men who had Calli in charge, and they turned at once and hurried toward the south gate of the lists. All this action was very rapid, consuming only a minute or two, and transpired in much less time than it requires to tell of it.
While our squires were removing Max's armor, I heard the duke say:—
"Arrest Calli. We will hold him until the shot is explained. If he was privy to it, he shall hang or boil." Then the duke, placing his hand on Max's shoulder, continued: "You are the best knight in Christendom, the bravest, the most generous, and the greatest fool. Think you Calli would have spared you, boy?"
"I am not Calli, my lord," said Max.
"You certainly are not," returned the duke.
Visions of trouble with France growing out of Yolanda's "t," and of a subsequent union between Max and the princess, floated before my mind, even amidst the din that surrounded me. Taking the situation by and large, I was in an ecstasy of joy. Max's victory was a thousand triumphs in one. It was a triumph over his enemy, a triumph over his friends, but, above all, a triumph over himself. He had proved himself brave and merciful, and I knew that in him the world had a man who would leave it better and happier than he found it.
Calli was arrested and brought to the duke's presence. Of course he denied all knowledge of the shot that had killed Max's horse. Others were questioned, including three Italian friars wearing cassocks and cowls, who bore a most wondrous testimony.
"Your Grace," said one of the friars, "we three men of God can explain this matter that so nearly touches the honor of our fair countryman, the noble Count Calli."
"In God's name, do so," exclaimed the duke.
"This is the explanation, most gracious lord. When the third course was preparing, we three men of God prayed in concert to God the Father,"—all the friars crossed themselves,—"God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, to save our countryman, and lo! our prayers were most graciously answered; for, noble lord, at the moment when this most valiant knight was about to kill our friend, we each heard a report marvellously like to the discharge of an arquebuse. At the same instant a fiery shaft descended from the palm of a mighty hand in the heavens, and the horse of this valiant and most generous knight, Sir Max, fell dead, stricken by the hand of God."
I had no doubt that this absurd explanation would be received with scorn and derision; but the friar knew his audience, and I did not. His statement was not really accepted as true, but it was not cast aside as utterly absurd. I saw that it might easily be believed.
"Why did not others see your wondrous shaft from the hand of God?" I asked.
"Because, noble lord," answered the friar, "our eyes were looking upward in prayer. All others were fixed on this worldly combat."
The explanation actually seemed to explain.
Just then the men who had been sent out to seek evidence concerning the shot returned, and reported that no arquebuse was to be found. The lists were surrounded by an open field, and a man endeavoring to escape would have been seen.
"Did you search all places of possible concealment for an arquebuse?" asked the duke.
"All, my lord," answered the men, who were Burgundians and to be trusted.
Faith in the friars absurd story was rapidly gaining ground, and several of the Italian courtiers, emboldened by encouragement, affirmed upon their hope of salvation and their knightly honor that they, too, had witnessed the descent of the shaft from heaven. Touch a man on his superstitions, and he will believe anything you tell him. If you assure him that an honest friend has told you so and so, he may doubt you, but tell him that God tells you, and he will swallow your hook. If you would have your lie believed, tell a great one.
Charles, more credulous and gullible than I should have believed, turned to Hymbercourt. He spoke reverentially, being, you understand, in the presence of a miracle:—
"This is a wondrous happening, my lord," said the duke.
"If it happened, Your Grace," returned Hymbercourt, "it certainly was marvellous."
"Don't you think it did happen? Do not you believe that this bolt came from the hand that was seen by these worthy friars?" asked the duke.
"The shaft surely did not come from a just God, my lord," returned Hymbercourt.
"Whence, then, did it come?" asked the duke. "No arquebuse has been found, and a careful scrutiny has been made."
"Aye!" echoed the friars. "Whence else did it come? Whence, my Lord d'Hymbercourt, whence?"
I had noticed our Irish servant Michael standing near one of the friars. At this point in the conversation the Irishman plucked me by the sleeve, pointed to a friar, and whispered a word in my ear. Like a stone from a catapult I sprang on the friar indicated, threw him to the ground, and drew from under his black cassock an arquebuse.
"Here is the shaft from God!" I exclaimed, holding the arquebuse up to view. Then I kneeled on the prostrate wretch and clutched his throat. Anger gathered in my brain as lightning clusters about a mountain top. I threw aside the arquebuse and proceeded to kill the canting mendicant. I do not know that I killed him; I hope I did. I cannot speak with certainty on that point, for I was quickly thrown away from him by the avenging mob that rushed upon us and tore the fellow limb from limb. The other friars were set upon by the populace that had witnessed the combat from without the lists, and were beaten so unmercifully that one of them died. Of the other's fate I know nothing, but I have my secret desires.
"Kill the Italians! Murder the assassins! Down with the mercenaries," cried the populace, who hated the duke's guard. The barriers were broken down, and an interesting battle ensued. Surely the people got their full satisfaction of blood and excitement that day. The Italians drew their swords, but, being separated, they were at a disadvantage, though their assailants carried only staves. I expected the duke to stop the fight, but he withdrew to a little distance and watched it with evident interest. My interest was more than evident; it was uproarious. I have never spent so enjoyable a day. The fight raged after Max and I left, and there was many a sore head and broken bone that night among the Italian mercenaries of the Duke of Burgundy.
When Max and I returned to Peronne, we went to the noble church of St. Jean and offered our humble gratitude. Max, having thrown off his anger, proposed to buy a mass for the dead friar; but I was for leaving him in purgatory where he belonged, and Max, as usual, took my advice.
On reaching the inn, Max cried loudly for supper. His calmness would have done credit to a hardened warrior. There was at least one hardened warrior that was not calm. I was wrought almost to a pitch of frenzy and could not eat, though the supper prepared by Grote was a marvel in its way. The old man, usually grave and crusty, after the manner of German hosts, actually bent his knee to Max and said:—
"My poor house has entertained kings and princes; but never has it had so great an honor as that which it now has in sheltering you."
That night the duke came with Hymbercourt to honor us at the inn. Each spoke excitedly and warmly. Max seemed to be the only calm man in Peronne.
YOLANDA OR THE PRINCESS?
After these adventures we could no longer conceal Max's identity, and it soon became noised about that he was Count of Hapsburg. But Styria was so far away, and so little known, even to courtiers of considerable rank, that the fact made no great stir in Peronne. To Frau Kate and Twonette the disclosure came with almost paralyzing effect.
The duke remained with us until late in the night, so Max and I did not go over to the House under the Wall. When we were alone in our room, Max said:
"The Princess Mary has treated me as if I were a boy."
"She saved your life," I returned. "Calli would certainly have killed you had she not acted quickly."
"I surely owe her my life," said Max, "though I have little knowledge of what happened after I fell from my horse until I rose to my feet by her help. I complain of her conduct in deceiving me by pretending to be a burgher maiden. It was easily done, Karl, but ungraciously."
"You are now speaking of Yolanda," I said, not knowing what the wishes of the princess might be in regard to enlightening him. He looked at me and answered:—
"Karl, if a woman's face is burned on a man's heart, he knows it when he sees it."
"You know Yolanda's face, certainly, and I doubt if Yolanda will thank you for mistaking another's for it."
"I have made no mistake, Karl," he answered.
"I am not so sure," I replied. "The girl you placed in my arms seemed taller by half a head than Yolanda. I noticed her while she was standing. She seemed rounder and much heavier in form; but I, too, thought she was Yolanda, and, after all, you may be right."
"I caught but a glimpse of her face, and that poorly," said Max. "It is difficult to see anything looking downward out of a helmet; one must look straight ahead. But the glimpse I had of her face satisfied me."
"Do not be too sure, Max. I once took another man for myself." Max laughed. "I am sure no one could have told us apart. He was the Pope, and I his cousin. Yolanda herself once told me—I believe she has also told you—that she has the honor to resemble the princess."
I did not wish to lie to Max, and you will note that I did not say the princess was not Yolanda. Still, I wished him to remain ignorant upon the important question until Yolanda should see fit to enlighten him. I was not sure of her motive in maintaining the alias, though I was certain it was more than a mere whim. How great it was I could not know. Should she persist in it I would help her up to the point of telling Max a downright falsehood. There I would stop.
We spent two evenings at Castleman's, but did not see Yolanda. On the first evening, after an hour of listlessness, Max hesitatingly asked:—
"Where is Yo—that is, the princess has not been here this evening."
"The princess!" exclaimed Frau Kate. "No, she has not been here this evening—nor the duke, nor the king of France. No titled person, Sir Count, save yourself, has honored us to-day. Our poor roof shelters few such."
"I mean Yolanda," said Max. Good-natured Frau Kate laughed softly, and Twonette said, with smiling serenity:—
"Yolanda's head will surely be turned, Sir Count, when she hears you have called her the princess. So much greatness thrust upon her will make it impossible for us to live with her."
"She rules us all as it is, sweet soul," said Castleman.
"Yolanda is ill upstairs, Sir Count," said Frau Kate. "She wanted to come down this evening, but I commanded otherwise. Twonette, go to her. She will be lonely."
Twonette rose, courtesied, and departed. This splendid bit of acting almost made me doubt that Yolanda was the princess, and it shook Max's conviction to its very foundation.
I wish to warn you that the deception practised upon Max by Yolanda will seem almost impossible, except on the hypothesis that Max was a very simple fellow. But the elaborate scheme designed and executed by this girl, with the help of the Castlemans and myself,—all of whom Max had no reason to distrust,—would have deceived any man. Max, though simple and confiding where he trusted,—judging others' good faith by his own,—was shrewd for his years, and this plan of Yolanda's had to be faultless, as it really was, to mislead him.
On the morning of the fourth day after the trial by combat, Yolanda made her appearance at Castleman's, looking pale and large-eyed. Max and I had walked down to the House under the Wall before going to dine with the duke. Soon after we were seated Twonette left, and within five minutes Yolanda came suddenly upon us in the long parlor. She ran to Max, grasping both his hands. For a moment she could only say, "Max, Max," and he remained silent.
When she recovered control of her voice she said:—
"How proud we are of you, Sir Max! Uncle and aunt have told me how brave and merciful you were at the combat."
"Your Highness surely knows all that can be told on the subject, since you were there and took so active a part in the adventure," answered Max. "It is I who should be grateful, and I am. I owe my life to Your Highness."
"You honor me too much, Sir Max," said Yolanda, looking up with surprise and bowing low before him. "Let my elevation be gradual that I may grow accustomed to my rank. Make of me first a great lady, and then, say, a countess. Afterward, if I prove worthy, call me princess."
"We will call you a princess now, Your Highness," answered Max, not to be driven from his position.
"Very well," cried Yolanda, with a laugh and a sweeping courtesy. "If you will have me a princess, a princess I'll be. But I will not be the Princess of Burgundy. She saved your life, and I am jealous of her—I hate her."
She stamped her foot, and the angry gleam in her eyes was genuine. There could be no doubt that she was jealous of the princess. I could not account for her unique attitude toward herself save on one hypothesis: she was, even to herself, two distinct persons. Yolanda was a happy burgher girl; Mary was a wretched princess. The two widely differing conditions under which she lived were so distinct, and were separated by a gulf so broad, that to her the princess and the burgher girl were in no way related.
With change of condition there was always a change of person. The unhappy princess would come down the stairway in the wall; God would kindly touch her, and lo! she was transformed into a happy Yolanda. Yolanda's light feet would climb the dark stone steps, and God was once more a frowning father. There must also be added Max's share in her emotions. Perhaps she feared the princess as she would have dreaded a rival; since she longed with all her passionate, tender heart to win Max for herself only. It would have been an easy task, as princess, to win him or any man; but if she could win him as Yolanda, the burgher girl, the prize would be the greatest that could fall to a woman.
The true situation dawned upon me as I stood before Max and watched Yolanda. I thought of her adroit plan to make trouble with France, and I wanted to shout for joy. The impossible might yet happen. God's hand surely had been in our journeying to Burgundy. Max might yet win this peerless princess, this priceless girl; or, reverse it if you choose, Mary of Burgundy might win this peerless man, and might at the same time attain the unutterable joy of knowing that she had won him for her own sake.
Perhaps her yearning had led her to hope that he might in the end be willing to fling behind him his high estate for the sake of a burgher girl. Then, when she had brought him to that resolution, what a joy it would be to turn upon him and say: "I am not a burgher girl. I am Princess Mary of Burgundy, and all these things which you are willing to forego for my sake you may keep, and you may add to them the fair land of Burgundy!" Her high estate and rich domains, now the tokens of her thralldom, would then be her joy, since she could give them to Max.
While these bright hopes were filling my mind, Yolanda was playing well her part. She, too, evidently meant to tell no lies, though she might be forced to act many. Her fiery outburst against the Princess of Burgundy astonished Max and almost startled me. Still, the conviction was strong with him that Yolanda was Mary.
"If—if you are the princess, Yo—Yolanda," said Max, evidently wavering, "it were ungracious to deceive me."
"But I am the princess," cried Yolanda, lifting her head and walking majestically to and fro. "Address me not by that low, plebeian name, Yolanda."
She stepped upon a chair and thence to the top of the great oak table that stood in the middle of the room. Drawing the chair up after her she placed it on the table, and, seating herself on this improvised throne, lifted one knee over the other, after the manner of her father. She looked serenely about her in a most amusing imitation of the duke, and spoke with a deep voice:—
No one responded. So she filled the office of herald herself and cried out:—
"Oyez! Oyez! The princess now gives audience!" Resuming the ducal voice, she continued, "Are there complaints, my Lord Seneschal?" A pause. "Ah, our guards have stolen Grion's cow, have they? The devil take Grion and his cow, too! Hang Grion for complaining." A pause ensues while the duke awaits the next report. "The Swiss have stolen a sheepskin? Ah, we'll skin the Swiss. My Lord Seneschal, find me fifty thousand men who are ready to die for a sheepskin. Body of me! A sheepskin! I do love it well."
Yolanda's audience was roaring with laughter by this time, but her face was stern and calm.
"Silence, you fools," she cried hoarsely, but no one was silent, and Max laughed till the tears came to his eyes. Yolanda on her throne was so irresistibly bewitching that he ran to her side, grasped her about the waist, and unceremoniously lifted her to the floor. When she was on her feet, he raised her hand to his lips and kissed it, saying:—
"Yolanda or Mary—it's all one to me. There is not another like you in all the world."
She drew herself up haughtily: "Sir, this indignity shall cost you dear," and turning her back on him she moved away three or four paces. Then she stopped and glanced over her shoulder. His face had lost its smile, and she knew the joke had gone far enough; so the dimples began to cluster about the quivering corners of her mouth, the long black lashes fell for a moment, a soft radiance came to her eyes, and she asked:—
"Which shall it be, Sir Max, Yolanda or the princess?"
"Yolanda," cried Max, huskily, while he held out his hands to her. Quick as the movement of a kitten, she sprang to him and allowed his arms to close about her for one brief moment. While one might count ten she rested her head on his breast, but all too quickly she turned her face to his and whispered:—
"Are you sure? Is it Yolanda?"
"Yes, yes, Yolanda. Thank God! it is Yolanda," he replied, placing his hand before his eyes. She slipped from his arms, and Max, too deeply moved to speak, walked over to the window and looked out upon the frowning walls of Peronne the Impregnable. There was irony for you!
Probably Max was not sure that Yolanda was Yolanda; but, if he was, conviction had come through his emotions, and it might be temporary. He was, however, soon to be convinced by evidence so cunningly constructed that he was compelled to abandon the testimony of his own eyes and accept that of seemingly incontestable facts.
"We are to dine privately with the duke at twelve o'clock," I said, while Max was standing at the window.
"Indeed?" asked Yolanda, arching her eyebrows; surprise and displeasure evident in her voice. She glanced at the great clock, then looked toward Max, and said:—
"It lacks but thirty minutes of that time now, and I suppose I shall soon lose you."
Max turned from the window, saying:—"Yes, we must go, or we shall be late."
"Does the princess dine with you?" asked Yolanda.
"I do not know, Fraeulein," answered Max. Thereupon Yolanda left the room pouting, and we took our departure, having promised to return to Castleman's after dinner.
We went at once to the castle; and thirty minutes after leaving Castleman's we were in the small parlor or talking room of Duchess Margaret, where the famous letter to the king of France had been signed by Duke Charles. When we entered we saw the duchess and the princess sitting upon the divan. The duke was in his great oak chair, and Hymbercourt and two other gentlemen were standing near by. I made obeisance to Charles on bended knee. He rose to receive Max, and, after a slight hesitation, offered his hand, saying:—
"You are welcome, my Lord Count."
A year had passed since I had heard Max addressed as "my lord," and the words sounded strange to my ears. I turned quickly toward the princess, expecting to see a sparkle of mirth in her eyes, but Yolanda's ever present smile was wholly lacking. The countenance of the princess was calm, immovable, and expressionless as a mirror. I could hardly believe that it was the radiant, bedimpled, pouting face I had just seen at Castleman's, and for the first time in all my experience I realized that I was face to face with a dual personality. The transformation was so complete that I might easily have been duped had I not known beyond peradventure the identity of Yolanda and Mary.
After the duke had kindly saluted Max, His Grace presented us to the ladies. When the princess rose to receive us, she seemed at least half a head taller than Yolanda. Her hair was hidden, and her face seemed fuller. These changes were probably wrought by her head-dress, which towered in two great curved horns twelve inches high. She wore a long, flowing gown that trailed two yards behind her, and this added to her apparent height. Max had seen Yolanda only in the short skirts of a burgher girl's costume.
When Max rose, after kneeling before the princess, he gazed into her eyes, but the glance he received in return was calm and cold. Yolanda was rich, red wine, hot and strong; the princess was cold, clear water. The one was exhilarating, at times intoxicating; the other was chilling. The face of the princess, though beautiful, was touched with disdain. Every attitude was one of dignity and hauteur. Her words, though not lacking intelligence, were commonplace, and her voice was that of her father's daughter. Yolanda was a girl; the princess was a woman. The metamorphosis was complete, and Max's hallucination, I felt sure, would be cured. The princess's face was not burned on his heart, whatever might be true of Yolanda's. I can give no stronger testimony to the marvellous quality of the change this girl had wrought in herself than to tell you that even I began to doubt, and wonder if Yolanda had tricked me. The effect on Max was instantaneous. After looking into the princess's face, he said:—
"I wish to thank Your Highness for saving my life. I surely had been killed but for your timely help."
The situation bordered on the ridiculous.
"Do not thank me, my Lord Count," responded the princess, in cold and measured words. "I should have done the same for any man in your hard case. I once saved a yokel in like manner. Two common men were fighting with staves. One would have beaten the other to death had I not entered the lists and parted them. Father feared a similar exhibition on my part and did not wish me to attend your combat. He says now that I shall go to no more. I certainly made myself ridiculous. I enjoy a fair fight, whatever the outcome may be, but I despise murder. My act was entirely impersonal, Sir Count."
"On the lists I addressed Your Highness as 'Yolanda,'" said Max. "Your resemblance to one whom I know well was so great as to deceive me."
I was eager to take Max away from the dangerous situation, but I could not. The duke, the courtiers, and myself had moved several paces from Max and the princess. I, however, kept my eyes and ears open to what occurred between them.
"Yes," returned the princess, haughtily, "I remember you so addressed me. I have heard of the person to whom you refer. She is, I believe, a niece of one Castleman, a burgher of Peronne. I know Castleman's daughter—a simple creature, with no pretence of being else. It has been said that—what do they call her? Yolanda, I believe—resembles me in some respects and is quite proud of the distinction. I am sure I thank no one for the compliment, since she is a low creature, but I accept your apology, my Lord Count."
"I do not apologize, Your Highness," answered Max, in tones of equal hauteur. "You probably do not know the lady of whom you speak."
The princess seemed to increase by an inch or two in stature as she drew herself up, and answered:—
"Of course we do not know her."
"If you knew her, Your Highness would apologize," retorted Max.
Seeing the angry color mounting to his face, I stepped to his side and joined in the conversation. Presently dinner was announced, and I rejoiced when we parted from the princess. Turning our faces toward the ladies, we moved backward from the room, and went with the duke to the dinner hall.
Compared with Castleman's daily fare, the duke's dinner was almost unpalatable. We had coarse beef, coarse boar's meat, coarse bread,—not black, but brown. Frau Kate's bread was like snow. The sour wine on the duke's table set our teeth on edge, though it was served in huge golden goblets studded with rare gems. At each guest's plate was a jewelled dagger. The tablecloth was of rich silk, soiled by numberless stains. Leeks and garlic were the only vegetables served.
Nothing of importance occurred at the table, but after dinner the duke abruptly offered Max a large sum of gold to accompany him to Switzerland. Max thanked His Grace and said he would give him an answer soon. The duke urged an early reply, and Max said:—
"With Your Grace's permission we will attend to-morrow's morning audience, and will make our answer after Your Lordship has risen."
Charles acquiesced, and we soon left the castle. The duke, as I have already told you, was very rich. Hymbercourt once told me that he had two hundred and fifty thousand gold crowns in his coffers at Luxembourg. That was probably more than the combined treasuries of any two kings in Europe could show. Max and I were short of money, and the sum that the duke offered seemed enormous. Neither Max nor his father, Duke Frederick, had ever possessed as much money at one time.
While we were leisurely walking across the courtyard toward the Postern, three ladies and two gentlemen, accompanied by outriders and pages carrying falcons, rode by us and passed out through the Postern. We followed, and overtook them at the town end of the drawbridge, where they had halted. When we came up to them, we recognized the duchess and the princess. The duchess bowed smilingly, but the princess did not speak, though she looked in our direction.
The cavalcade turned to the left, and went up a narrow street toward Cambrai Gate, evidently bound for the marshes. Max and I walked straight ahead toward the Cologne bridge, intending, as we had promised, to go back to Castleman's. Two hundred yards up the street I glanced back, and saw a lady riding through the Postern, back to the castle. I knew at once that the princess had returned, and I was sure of meeting Yolanda,—sweet, smiling, tender Yolanda,—at the dear old House under the Wall. I did not like the princess; she was cold, haughty, supercilious, and perhaps tinged with her father's cruelty. I longed ardently for Yolanda to come out of her skin, and my heart leaped with joy at the early prospect.
I was right in my surmise. Yolanda's sweet face, radiant with smiles and soft with dimples, was pressed against the window-pane watching for us when we crossed the moat bridge at Castleman's door.
"To see her face again is like coming back to heaven; isn't it, Karl?" said Max.
Yolanda ran to the door and opened it.
"I am glad you did not stay with her," she said, giving a hand to Max and to me, and walking into the room between us. She was like a child holding our hands.
I had seen the world and its people in all its phases, and I prided myself on my shrewdness, but without my knowledge of the stairway in the wall, I would have sworn that Yolanda had played a trick on me by leading me to believe that she was the Princess Mary. Even with full knowledge of all the facts, I found myself doubting. It is small cause for wonder, therefore, that Max was deceived.
"Uncle is at the shop," said Yolanda. "Tante is at a neighbor's, and Twonette, of course, is asleep. We three will sit here on this bench with no one to disturb us, and I shall have you both all to myself. No! There! I'll sit between you. Now, this is delightful."
She sat between us, crossed her knees—an unpardonable crime, Frau Kate would have thought—and giving a hand to Max and to me, said contentedly:—
"Now, tell me all about it."
I was actually on the point of beginning a narrative of our adventures, just as if she did not already know them,—so great was the spell she had thrown over me,—when Max spoke:—
"We had a poor dinner, but a kind host, therefore a fine feast. The duke has asked us to go to Switzerland with him. Judging by the enormous sum he offers for our poor services, he must believe that he will need no other help to conquer the Swiss."
"Yes—yes, that is interesting," said Yolanda, hastily, "but the princess—tell me of her."
"She is a very beautiful princess," answered Max.
"Yes—I suppose she is," answered Yolanda. "I have it dinned into my ears till I ought to believe it; but tell me of her manner, her conversation, her temper. What of them?"
"She is a most beautiful princess," answered Max, evidently intending to utter no word against Her Highness, though as a matter of fact he did not like her at all. "I am sure she deserves all the good that fame speaks of her."
Yolanda flung our hands from her, sprang to her feet, and faced us angrily.
"That's the way with all men. A rich princess, even though she be a cold devil, is beautiful and good and gentle and wise and true and quick of wit. Men care not what she is if her house be great and rich and powerful. If her domains are fat and broad, she deserves 'all the good that fame speaks of her.' She can win no man for herself. She cannot touch a man's heart; she can only satisfy his greed. You went to the castle, Sir Max, to see this princess. You want Burgundy. That is why you are in Peronne!"
The girl's passionate outburst was sincere, and showed me her true motive for deceiving Max. Her plan was not the outgrowth of a whim; it was the result of a tremendous motive conceived in the depths of her soul. She had found the man she loved, and was taking her own way to win him, if she could, for herself. She judged all men by the standard that she had just announced. She would never believe in the love of a man who should woo her as Princess Mary of Burgundy.
Her words came near accomplishing more than she desired. When she stopped speaking, Max leaned forward and gently took her hand.
"Yolanda, this princess is nothing to me, and I swear to you that I will never ask her to marry—"
A frightened gleam came to the girl's eyes when she understood the oath that Max was about to take, and she quickly placed her hand over his mouth. Max was swearing too much.
"You shall not make that oath, Little Max," she said. "You shall not say that you will never marry her, nor shall you say that you will never marry any one else. You must remain free to choose the right wife when the right time comes. You must tread the path that God has marked out for you. Perhaps it leads to this princess; no one can tell. If so, you must accept your fate, Sir Max." She sighed at the mere thought of so untoward a fate for Max.
"I need make no oath not to marry the princess," answered Max. "She is beyond my reach, even though I were dying for love of her."
"And you are not dying for love of her, are you?" asked Yolanda, again taking the seat between Max and me.
"No," he responded.
"Nor for love of any woman?" she asked, looking toward Max.
"I'll not say that," he replied, laughing softly, and taking her hands between his.
"No, no," she mused, looking in revery out the window. "No, we will not say that."
I have always been as unsentimental as a man well can be, but I believe, had I been in Max's place, I should have thrown away my crown for the sake of Yolanda, the burgher girl. I remember wondering if Max would be strong enough finally to reach the same conclusion. If he should be, my faith in Yolanda's powers led me to believe that she would contrive a plan to make him her husband, despite her father, or the devil and all his imps.
There is a power of finesse in the feminine mind that no man may fully compass, and Yolanda, in that respect, was the flower of her sex. That she had been able to maintain her humble personality with Max, despite the fact that she had been compelled to meet him twice as princess, proved her ability. Of course, she had the help of good old Castleman and his sweet Frau Kate, serene Twonette, and myself; but with all this help she probably would have failed without the stairway in the wall.
When we left Castleman's, I did not bring up the subject of Mary and Yolanda. Max walked silently beside me until we had nearly reached the inn, when he said:—
"I am almost glad I was wrong, Karl. I would not have Yolanda other than she is. At times, wild thoughts suggest themselves to me; but I am not so weak as to give way to them. I drive them off and clench my teeth, determined to take the misery God doles out to me. I am glad we are soon to leave Burgundy. The duke marches in three days, and it is none too soon for me."
"Shall not we return to Burgundy?" I asked. "I want you to see Paris and Brussels, and, if possible, London before we return to Styria. Don't you think it best that we come back to Peronne after this war?"
"You are right, Karl; we must come back," he answered. "I do not fear Yolanda. I am not weak."
"I sometimes wonder if we know our strength from our weakness," I suggested. "There is doubtless much energy wasted by conscientious men striving in the wrong direction, who fancy they are doing their duty."
"You would not have me marry Yolanda?" asked Max, a gleam of light coming to his eyes.
"I do not know, Max," I responded. "A rare thing has happened to you. You have won a marvellous love from a marvellous woman. She takes no pains to conceal it. She could not hide it if she would. What you feel, only you and God know."
"Only God," cried Max, huskily. "Only God. I cannot measure it."
"My dear boy," said I, taking his arm, "you are at a point where you must decide for yourself."
"I have decided," returned Max. "If my father and mother were not living, I might—I might—bah! there is but one life for me. I am doomed. I make myself wretched by resistance."
"When we return to Peronne, you will know your mind," I answered soothingly.
"I know my mind now," he answered. "I know that I would give half the years of my life to possess Yolanda; but I also know the fate that God has marked out for me."
"Then you know more than many a wise man thrice your age can boast," said I.
* * * * *
The duke's armies had been gathering throughout Burgundy. Men had come in great numbers to camp near Peronne, and the town was noisy with martial preparations. Contrary to Hymbercourt's advice, the duke was leaving Peronne Castle guarded by only a small garrison. Charles had great faith in the strength of Peronne the Impregnable, and, although it was near the French border, he trusted in its strength and in his treaty with King Louis. He knew from experience that a treaty with Louis would bind that crafty monarch only so long as it was to his interest to remain bound; but Louis' interest in maintaining the treaty seemed greater than Burgundy's, and Charles rested on that fact. Peronne was to be left captained by the duchess and Mary, and garrisoned by five score men-at-arms, who were either too old or too young to go to war.
Without discussing the duke's offer, Max and I decided to accept it, though for different reasons. Max needed the gold; he also sniffed battle, and wanted the excitement and the enterprise of war. I had all his reasons, and still another; I wanted to give Yolanda time to execute her plans.
The war with Switzerland would probably be short. Max would be with the duke, and would, I hoped, augment the favor with which Charles already honored him. Should Yolanda's letter make trouble with France, Duke Charles might be induced, through his personal feelings, to listen to Max's suit. If Charles returned from Switzerland victorious—and no other outcome seemed possible—he would no longer have reason to carry out the marriage treaty with France. It had been made largely for the purpose of keeping Louis quiet while Charles was absent. Anything might happen; everything might happen, while Max was with Charles in Switzerland and Yolanda at home making trouble with France.
The next day, by appointment, we waited on the duke at the morning audience. When we entered the great hall, the urgent business had been transacted, and half a score of lords and gentlemen stood near the dais, discussing some topic with the duke and with one another. We moved near the throne, and I heard Charles say to Campo-Basso and Hymbercourt:—
"Almost three weeks have passed since our message to France, and we have had no answer. What think you, gentlemen, of the delay?"
"His Majesty is not in Paris, or delays answering," said Hymbercourt.
"By the Host, if I could think that King Louis were holding Byron and delaying an answer, I would change my plans and march on Paris rather than on Switzerland."
"I fear, my lord," said Campo-Basso, with a sympathetic desire to make trouble, if possible, "that His Majesty delays an answer while he frames one that shall be elusive, yet conciliatory. King Louis, Your Grace knows, thinks many times before each word he speaks or writes."
"If he has intentionally delayed this answer, I'll give him cause to think many times after his words," said Charles.
Conversations of like nature had occurred on several occasions since the sending of the missive to Louis, and they offered the stormy duke opportunity to vent his boastfulness and spleen. While Charles was pouring out his wrath against his brother-in-law, Byron, the herald, appeared at the door of the great hall. He announced himself, and, when ordered to approach, ran to the dais, kneeled on the second step, and placed a small sealed packet in the duke's hand.
"Did you find King Louis at Paris?" asked the duke, addressing Byron.
"I did, my lord."
"Paris is but thirty leagues distant, and you certainly have had sufficient time since leaving us to journey across Europe and back. Did not I command you to make haste?"
"You did, my lord," answered the herald. "King Louis put me off from day to day, always promising me an answer, but giving it only yesterday afternoon when the sun was half below the horizon."
Charles nervously broke the seals of the package, and attempted to read the letter. He failed, and handed it to Campo-Basso, saying:—
"Read the missive. I already know its contents, but read, my lord, read."
Campo-Basso read the letter.
"To Our Most Illustrious Brother Charles Duke of Burgundy, and Count of Charolois:—
"We recommend us and send Your Grace greeting. We are anxious to pleasure our noble brother of Burgundy in all things, and heartily desire the marriage between our son and the illustrious Princess of Burgundy, but we shall not move toward it until our said noble brother shall return from Switzerland, nor will we do aught to distract his attention from the perilous business he now has on hand. We pray that the saints may favor his design, and would especially recommend that our noble brother propitiate with prayers and offerings the holy Saint Hubert. We, ourselves, have importuned this holy saint, and he has proved marvellously helpful on parlous occasions.
The duke's anger was terrible and disgusting to behold. When his transports of rage allowed him to speak, he broke forth with oaths too blasphemous to write on a white page.
"The fawning hypocrite!" he cried. "He thinks to cozen us with his cheap words. The biting insult in his missive is that he takes it for granted that we are so great a fool as to believe him. Even his recommendation of a saint is a lie. The world knows his favorite saint is Saint Andrew. King Louis spends half his time grovelling on his marrow bones before that saint and the Blessed Virgin. He recommends to us Saint Hubert, believing that his holy saintship will be of no avail."
Charles was right. Sir Philip de Comines, seneschal to King Louis, afterward told me that His Majesty, in writing this letter to the Duke of Burgundy, actually took counsel and devoted much time and thought to the choice of a baneful or impotent saint to recommend to his "noble brother of Burgundy." Disaster to Louis had once followed supplication to Saint Hubert, and the king hoped that the worthy saint might prove equally unpropitious for Charles. Yolanda's wonderful "t" was certainly the most stupendous single letter ever quilled. Here were the first-fruits of it.
"Were it not that these self-sufficient Swiss need to be blooded, I would turn my army against France to-morrow," said the duke.
"And have Bourbon and Lorraine upon Your Lordship's back from the east, Ghent rebelling in the north, and the Swiss pouring in from the south," interrupted Hymbercourt.
"You are certainly right, my Lord d'Hymbercourt," replied Charles, sullenly. "They surround us like a pack of starved wolves, ready to spring upon us the moment we are crippled. Burgundy stands alone against all Europe."
"A vast treasure, my lord, attracts thieves," said Hymbercourt. "Burgundy is the richest land on earth."
"It is, indeed it is," replied the duke, angrily, "and I have no son to keep it after me. But France shall not have it; that I swear upon my knighthood. Write to France, my Lord Bishop of Cambrai, and tell King Louis that my daughter shall not marry his son. Waste no words, my Lord Bishop, in what you call courtesy. We need no double meaning in our missives."
Those who heard the duke's words knew that he was committing a costly error, but no one dared to suggest as much. One might, with equal success, have flung soft words at a mad bull. Truly that "t"—but I will speak of it no more, though I have a thrill of joy and mirth even now when I think of it.
After many explosions, the duke's pent-up wrath found vent, and began to subside. Espying Max and me he called us to the throne.
"Have you concluded to join us in our little holiday excursion against these mountain swine?" asked His Grace, addressing us.
"We have, my lord. We shall be proud to serve under the banner of so brave a prince," I answered.
"'We have' would have been sufficient, Sir Karl," answered the duke, still surly from the dregs of his wrath. "We hear so many soft words from France that we despise them in the mouths of honest men."
The duke then turned to his seneschal, De Vergy, and spoke in tones that were heard all over the room:—
"My lord, Maximilian, Count of Hapsburg, and Sir Karl de Pitti have consented to join our banners. Enroll them in places of honor, my Lord Seneschal. See that they are supplied with horses, accoutrements, and tents for themselves and their squires, and direct my Lord Treasurer to pay to them upon demand a sum of money of which he shall be duly notified."
When the duke stopped speaking, a murmur of approval ran through the audience—though the Italians had no part in it. The murmur grew clamorous and soon a mighty shout filled the vaulted roof:—
"Long life to the noble Count of Hapsburg! Burgundy and Styria forever!"
To me, the words seemed delightfully prophetic. Soon afterward the audience was dismissed, and Max and I had the great honor of being asked to join the duke's council. A council to the Duke of Burgundy was indeed a veritable fifth wheel. He made his own plans and, right or wrong, clung to them. He would, on rare occasions, listen to Hymbercourt,—a man of few words, who gave advice as if he were lending a crown,—but the suggestions of others antagonized him.
The question before the council this morning was: Should the duke's army carry provisions, or should it take them from the countries through which it was to pass? Charles favored the latter course, and it was agreed upon. The people of non-belligerent states should be paid for the provisions that were taken; that is, theoretically they should be paid. The Swiss should furnish provision, gratis, and that doubtless would be terribly practical.
On each of the three evenings intervening between the day of this council and the departure of the army, we saw Yolanda at Castleman's. She was always waiting when we arrived. She had changed in many respects, but especially in her attitude regarding Max. She was kind and gentle, but shy. Having dropped her familiar manner, she did not go near him, but sat at a distance, holding Twonette's hand, and silently but constantly watching him, as if she were awaiting something. Her eyes, at times, seemed to be half-indignant interrogation points. At other times I could see in them doubt, waiting, and hope—hope almost tired with yearning.
It was no small love that she wanted from Max. She had hoped—perhaps I should say she had longed with little hope—that he would, for the sake of the burgher girl, Yolanda, be willing to turn his back on his family and his land. But now he was leaving, and her dream was about to close, since Max would probably never come back to her.
Not the least painful of Yolanda's emotions was the knowledge that she could insure Max's return by telling him that she was the Princess of Burgundy. But she did not want this man whom she loved so dearly, and who, she knew, loved her, if she must win him as princess. She was strangely impelled to reject a reprieve from a life of wretchedness, unless it came through the high court of love.
Max, in speaking to me about his return, had wavered many times. One day he would return; the next, he would swallow the bitter draught fate had in store for him. He was a great, honest soul, and to such the call of duty is compelling.
On the evening before our departure we went to sup with Castleman. On our way down to the House under the Wall, Max said:—
"Karl, my duty is clear. I must not return to Peronne. If I do, I fear I shall never leave it."
I did not answer; but I had resolved that he should return, and I intended that my resolution should become a fact. Yolanda was not present at supper, but she appeared soon after we had risen. We sat under the dim light of a lamp in the long room. Yolanda was on the cushioned bench in the shadow of the great chimney, silently clasping Twonette's hand. Twonette, of course, was silent and serene. Castleman and I talked disjointedly, and Max sat motionless, gazing through the window into the night. After greeting us, Yolanda spoke not a word; but ever in the deep shadow I could see the glow of her eyes looking toward Max. That his heart was filled with a great struggle, I knew, and I believed that Yolanda also knew.
We had many preparations to make before our departure next morning at dawn, so after an hour Max and I rose to leave. Twonette, leaving Yolanda, came to us, and the Castlemans all gave us a hearty God-speed. Yolanda sat wordless in the shadow. I went to her and gave her my hand.
"Farewell, Fraeulein," I said.
Max followed me closely, and I stepped aside to make way for him. The girl rose and stood irresolute before him. I went to the Castlemans, who were standing at a distance.
"Fraeulein—" said Max. But she interrupted him, extending her hands, which he clasped.
"Have you no word for me, Sir Max?" she asked pathetically, tears springing to her eyes. "Are you coming back to me? Have you the right to come into my life as you have done, and to leave me? Does God impose but one duty on you—that of your birth?"
"Ah, Fraeulein," answered Max, huskily, "you know—you know what I suffer."
"I surely do know," she responded, "else I would not speak so plainly. But answer me, Sir Max. Answer my question. It is my right to know upon what I may depend. Will you come back to me?"
The imperious will of the princess had come to the rescue of Yolanda, the burgher girl.
Max paused before speaking, then grasped her hands fiercely and answered:—
"Before God, Fraeulein, I will come back to you, if I live."
Yolanda sank upon the cushioned bench, covered her face with her hands, and the pent-up storm of sobs and tears broke forth as Max and I passed out the door.
Yolanda had won.
MAX GOES TO WAR
The next morning at dawn our army marched. Although Duke Charles would not encumber himself with provisions for his men, he carried a vast train of carts filled with plate, silk tents, rich rugs, and precious jewels; for, with all his bravery, this duke's ruling passion was the love of display in the presence of foreigners.
I shall not give the story of this disastrous war in detail; that lies in the province of history, and my story relates only to Max and Yolanda, and to the manner in which they were affected by the results of the war.