“I dare say,” she said, bitterly; “and all the time you go scathless—no more heart-stricken than if summer flies lighted on thee. Away with such a man; he is the ghost of a man—a simulacrum—no true lover!”
“At your will, Princess. I shall indeed go away. I will to-morrow seek the spears. But, after all, you will not send me forth in anger?” I said, with a strong conviction that I knew the answer.
“And why not?” said she.
“Because,” I replied, looking at her, “I am, after all, the one man who believes thoroughly in your heart’s deep inward goodness. I believe in you even when you do not believe in yourself. I can affirm, for I know better than you know yourself. You cover the beauty of your heart from others. You flout and jeer. Above all, you experiment dangerously with words and actions. But, after all, I am necessary to you. You will not send me away in anger. For you need some one to believe in the soundness of your heart. And I, Hugo Gottfried, am that man!”
“Hence, flatterer!” cried the lady, smiling, but well pleased. “It is known to all that I am the Old Serpent—the deceiver—the ill fruit of the Knowledge of Evil. And now you say of Good also! And what is more and worse, you expect me to believe you. Wherein you also experiment! I pray you, do not so. That is to you the forbidden fruit. Good-night. Go, now, and pray for a more truthful tongue!”
And with that she went in, the copper spangles glancing at her waist red as the light on ripe wheat, and all her tall figure lissome as the bending corn.
INSULT AND CHALLENGE
Now, because there is still so much to tell, and so little time and space to tell it in, I must go forward rapidly. In these dull times of grouting peace, when men become like penned pigs, waking up only at feeding-time, they have no knowledge of how swiftly life went when every day brought a new living friend or a new dead enemy, when love and hate awakened fresh and fresh with each morrow’s sun—and when I was young.
Perhaps that last is the true reason. But when the Baltic norther snorts without, and mine ancient thigh-wound twinges down where my hand rests, naturally I have no better resource than to fall to the goose-quill. And lo! long ere I am done with the first page, and have the ink no more than half-way to the roots of my hair, I am again in the midst of the ringing hoofs of the foray. I hear the merry dinting of steel on steel; the sullen chug-chug of the wheels of Foul Peg, the Margrave’s great cannon, which more than once he lent our Prince; the oaths of the men-at-arms shouldering her up, apostrophizing most indecently her fat haunches, and the next moment getting tossed aside like ninepins by her unexpected lurches. Ah, the times that were when I was young!
I see these gallants about our later courts—Lord help them, sons of mine own, too, some of them—year in and year out, crossing their legs and staring at the gilded points of their shoon. All are grown so tame—none now to ride a-questing in the Baltic forest for border brigands —indeed, there be no brigands to quest for.