“What do you mean, Karl?” cried Max, stepping toward me with surprise and delight in his face. “Are you advising me wrongly for the first time in my life?” Then there was a touch of anger in his voice as he continued: “Have I blood in my veins? Aye, Karl, burning, seething blood, and every drop cries wildly for this girl—this child. I would give the half of it to make her my wife and to make her happy. But I would not abate one jot of my wretchedness at her expense. As I treat her I pray God to deal with me. I cannot make her my wife, and if I am half a man, I would not win her everlasting love and throw it to the dogs. She all but asked me last night to tell her of my love for her, and almost pressed hers upon me, but I did not even kiss her hand. Ah, Karl, I wish I were dead!”
The poor boy threw himself on the bed and buried his face in his hands. I went to him and, seating myself on the bed, ran my fingers through his curls.
“My dear Max, I have never advised you wrongly. Perhaps luck has been with me. Perhaps my good advice has been owing to my great caution and my deep love for you. I am sure that I do not advise you wrongly now. Go to the bridge to-morrow night, and give Yolanda the promise she asks. If she wants it, give her the ring. Keep restraint upon your words and acts, but do not fear for one single moment that my advice is wrong. Max, I know whereof I speak.”
Max rose from the bed and looked at me in surprise; but my advice jumped so entirely with the longing deep buried in his heart that he took it as a dying man accepts life.
The next evening Max met Yolanda under the trees near the bridge.
“I may remain but a moment,” she said hurriedly and somewhat coldly. “Do you bring me the promise?”
“Yes,” answered Max. “I have also brought you the ring, Fraeulein, but you may not wear it, and no one may ever see it.”
“Ah, Max, it is well that you have brought me the promise, for had you not you would never have seen me again. I thank you for the promise and for the ring. No one shall see it. Of that you may be doubly sure. If by any chance some meddlesome body should see it and tell this arrogant lady of the castle that I have the keepsake she sent you, there would be trouble, Max, there would be trouble. She is a jealous, vindictive little wretch and you shall not think on her. No doubt she would have me torn limb from limb if she knew I possessed the jewel. When I touch it, I feel that I almost hate this princess, whose vast estates have a power of attraction greater than any woman may exert.”
There was real anger in her tone. In truth, dislike and aversion were manifest in every word she spoke of the princess, save when the tender little heart pitied her.
“Now I must say good night and adieu, Sir Max, until uncle returns,” said Yolanda. She gave Max her hands and he, in bringing them to his lips, drew her close to him. At that moment they were startled by a boisterous laugh close beside them, and the fellow calling himself Count Calli slapped Max on the back, saying in French:—