“I do not know,” said the duke, hesitatingly. “I do not say you are. I do not think you are, but—”
“I am glad Your Grace does not think we are spies, and am pleased to believe that you would not put so great an insult upon us,” answered Max, “else we should ask permission to leave Burgundy at once. I am sure my lord knows we are not spies. If Your Lordship had a son, would you send him forth as a spy for the sake of Burgundy? Much less would you do it for another land. Your Grace is misinformed. My father is not a friend to the Swiss; neither does he hate them, though perhaps he has better cause to do so than has Your Grace. Your quarrel with the Swiss is over a few cart-loads of sheepskins. These same Swiss took from my father our ancient homestead, the old Castle of Hapsburg, and the surrounding territory of Aargau.”
“I have heard of the spoliation, and have often wondered at your father’s meek submission,” said the duke, with an almost imperceptible sneer. Like Richard the Lion-hearted, of England, butchery was this duke’s trade, and he despised a man who did not practise it on all possible occasions. A pretext for a quarrel is balm to the soul of a hero.
“The mountains of Switzerland, my lord, are the graveyard of foreign soldiers,” Max replied. “Old Hapsburg Castle is a mere hawks’ crag, as its name implies, and the half-score of mountain peaks my father lost with it are not worth the life of his humblest subject. He loves his people, and would not shed their blood to soothe his wounded pride. The man who makes war should fight in the front rank.”
“There is where I fight, young sir,” returned Charles.
“The world knows that fact, my lord,” responded Max. “My father cannot fight at the head of his army, therefore, he makes war only in defence of his people’s hearths. It is possible that after consulting with my friend, Sir Karl, I may ask the honor of serving with Your Grace against these Swiss who despoiled my house. Is Your Grace now satisfied that we are not Swiss spies? And are we welcome to sojourn for a time in Peronne? Or shall we leave Burgundy and return to my father in Styria, to tell him that you turned a guest and a friend from your door?”
“You are very welcome, Sir Count, and you, Sir Karl,” answered the duke, giving his right hand to Max and familiarly offering me his left. This hard duke had been beaten into a gracious mood by Max’s adroit mixture of flattery and boldness.
A soft answer may turn away wrath, but it may also involve the disagreeable necessity of turning the other cheek. If it be not tempered by spirit, it is apt to arouse contempt. The duke remained silent for the space of a minute or two. He was evidently struggling to suppress a good impulse. Then he turned to me and said, laughingly:—
“By my soul, Sir Karl, you have brought us a Roland and a Demosthenes in one. Where learned you your oratory, Sir Count?”