“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.