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:—