Our road had parted from the river at one of its great bends, and for an hour we had been slowly climbing a long hill. When we reached the top, we unsaddled for dinner in the shade of a tree by the wayside. A hundred yards from the road was a dense copse of undergrowth and bushes on the edge of the forest. Off to the east flowed the majestic Rhine, a league distant, and to the north ran the road like a white ribbon, stretching downhill to the valley and up again to the top of another hill, distant perhaps a half-league.
While we were eating dinner, a cloud of dust arose from the hilltop north of us, and immediately began descending in our direction. At intervals, in the midst of the dust-cloud, we caught glimpses of men on horseback riding at full gallop. This unwelcome sight brought our dinner to an end. I at once ordered the sumpter mules taken to the copse on the forest’s edge, and directed every man to look to his arms and armor. I asked Twonette and Yolanda to go with the mules, and Yolanda became angry.
“I go with the mules? Sir Karl, you forget yourself,” cried the young lady, drawing herself up with the dignity of a princess royal. Twonette ran as rapidly as her feet could take her to seek refuge with the mules, but Yolanda, with flashing eyes, declared:
“I will remain here.”
I felt that an apology was due to this burgher girl.
“I will gladly apologize later, Fraeulein, but now I have only time to beg that you will conceal yourself. These men probably are robbers. If they see you, we shall be compelled to fight them, however great their numbers. If we find their force too large for us, we may easily ransom the mules and their packs, but we could make no terms for you. If they are Black Riders, they will prefer a little gold to a great deal of silk, but they will prefer you and Fraeulein Twonette to a great deal of gold.”
“I would not pay them one piece of gold,” cried Yolanda, defiantly. “Give me an arquebuse. I will help you fight.”
The brave little heroine astonished me.
“Would you prefer that Max or your good uncle and perhaps some of our poor mule-leaders should be killed by these pigstickers,” I asked, “or would you compound with them in some reasonable way? Shall we fight them?”
“No, no,” she answered, “wise bravery is better. I suppose I shall learn the lesson some day.”
While the troop of horsemen were under the crest of the hill, Yolanda ran across the open to a place of concealment beside Twonette. Hardly was she hidden when the dust-cloud rose from the brink of the hill, and five men, well though roughly armed, galloped up to us and drew their horses back upon their haunches.
“What have we here?” demanded the captain, a huge German. Their grimy armor and bearded faces besmeared with black marked them as Black Riders. I was overjoyed to see that they numbered but five.