Prince Karl grasped my hand.
“Ah, well said!” he cried. “You are running your head into a peck of troubles, though. And you are likely to have some experience of womenkind shortly—a thing which does no brisk young fellow any harm, unless he lets them come between him and his career. Women are harmless enough, so that you keep them well down to leeward. I am Baltic-bred, and have ever held to this—that you may sail unscathed through fleets of farthingales, so being that you keep the wind well on your quarter, and see the fair-way clear before you.”
I did not at the time understand half he said, but I knew we had made some sort of a bargain. And I thought, with an aching, unsatisfied heart, that though it might be well enough for an iron-gray and cynical old Prince, the thing would hardly commend itself to Helene, my Little Playmate, to whom I had so recently spoken loving words, sweeter than ever before.
“Devil take all Princes and Princesses!” I said, as I thought, to myself. But I must have spoken aloud, for the Prince laughed.
“Do not waste good prayers needlessly,” he said; “he will!”
And so, with a careless and humorsome wave of his hand to one side, he went down the staircase, and so out into the quadrangle of the Palace.
LOVES ME—LOVES ME NOT
Now how this plan of my Lord Prince’s worked in the Palace of Plassenburg I find it difficult to tell without writing myself down a “painted flittermouse,” as the Prince expressed it. I was in high favor with my master; well liked also by most of the hard-driving, rough-riding young soldiers whom the miller’s son had made out of the sons of dead and damned Ritterdom. I got my share of honor and good service, too, in going to different courts and bringing back all that Prince Karl needed. To exercise myself in the art of war, I hunted the border thieves and gave them short enough shrift. In a year I had made such an assault as that of the inn at Erdberg an impossibility all along the marches of our provinces.
The crusty old councillor, Leopold Dessauer, who had held office under the last Prince of the legitimate line, was ever ready to assist me with the kindest of deeds and the bitterest and saltest of words.
“What did I tell you about being Field-Marshal?” said he one day—“in Karl’s kingdom the shorter the service, the higher the distinction. If you and the Prince live long enough, I shall see you carry a musketoon yet, and not one of the latest pattern, either. You will be promoted down, like a booby who has been raised by chance to the top of the class!”
“Well,” said I, humbly, for I always reverenced age, “then I hope, High-Chancellor Dessauer, that I shall carry my musketoon as becomes a brave man!”
“I do not doubt it!” said he. “And that is the most hopeful thing I have seen about you yet. It is just possible, on the other hand, that you may yet rule and the Prince carry the piece.”