DUKE CASIMIR RIDES LATE
Well do I, Hugo Gottfried, remember the night of snow and moonlight when first they brought the Little Playmate home. I had been sleeping—a sturdy, well-grown fellow I, ten years or so as to my age—in a stomacher of blanket and a bed-gown my mother had made me before she died at the beginning of the cold weather. Suddenly something awoke me out of my sleep. So, all in the sharp chill of the night, I got out of my bed, sitting on the edge with my legs dangling, and looked curiously at the bright streams of moonlight which crossed the wooden floor of my garret. I thought if only I could swim straight up one of them, as the motes did in the sunshine, I should be sure to come in time to the place where my mother was—the place where all the pretty white things came from—the sunshine, the moonshine, the starshine, and the snow.
And there would be children to play with up there—hundreds of children like myself, and all close at hand. I should not any longer have to sit up aloft in the Red Tower with none to speak to me—all alone on the top of a wall—just because I had a crimson patch sewn on my blue-corded blouse, on my little white shirt, embroidered in red wool on each of my warm winter wristlets, and staring out from the front of both my stockings. It was a pretty enough pattern, too. Yet whenever one of the children I so much longed to play with down on the paved roadway beneath our tower caught sight of it he rose instantly out of the dust and hurled oaths and ill-words at me—aye, and oftentimes other missiles that hurt even worse—at a little lonely boy who was breaking his heart with loving him up there on the tower.
“Come down and be killed, foul brood of the Red Axe!” the children cried. And with that they ran as near as they dared, and spat on the wall of our house, or at least on the little wooden panel which opened inward in the great trebly spiked iron door of the Duke’s court-yard.
But this night of the first home-coming of the Little Playmate I awoke crying and fearful in the dead vast of the night, when all the other children who would not speak to me were asleep. Then pulling on my comfortable shoes of woollen list (for my father gave me all things to make me warm, thinking me delicate of body), and drawing the many-patched coverlet of the bed about me, I clambered up the stone stairway to the very top of the tower in which I slept. The moon was broad, like one of the shields in the great hall, whither I went often when the great Duke was not at home, and when old Hanne would be busy cleaning the pavement and scrubbing viciously at the armor of the iron knights who stood on pedestals round about.
“One day I shall be a man-at-arms, too,” I said once to Hanne, “and ride a-foraying with Duke Ironteeth.”
But old Hanne only shook her head and answered:
“Ill foraying shalt thou make, little shrimp. Such work as thine is not done on horseback—keep wide from me, toadchen, touch me not!”