Though the latter I knew well enough.
“The Princess,” she answered, “and the Count von Reuss. To-day he spoke to me of love, and spoke it hatefully, shamefully, when the Princess had bidden me go and carry her message to him. But it was with me that he desired to meet. And I—at first many days ago—I walked by his side and listened, for then he spoke courteously and like a gentleman. For you were on the high terrace, and I wished you to see. I thought—I hoped—”
And the little one broke off with tears.
“I know, I know!” cried I, contritely; “I am a blind, doting fool. In this Prince’s court I thought no more of such dangers than when I had you safe and innocent, my Playmate of the Red Tower. But what did or said Von Reuss?”
“Truly he did naught, but only spoke—things for which I would have smitten him to death had I possessed a dagger. I bade him begone. And he swore he would execute his purpose yet in spite of every town’s Executioner in the Empire.”
“Ah, will he?” said I, a calm chill of hatred settling about my heart. “I, Hugo Gottfried, will execute him, if I have to send for my father’s Red Axe to do it with—singed and scented monkey that he is.”
“Nay,” said Helene, “then I wish I had not told you. Perhaps he will not meddle with me again, and if you cross him he may slay thee. Remember, I have no friend here but you, Hugo!”
“Count von Reuss slay me! I could eat him up without salt or savory—a weak reed, a kerl without backbone save of buckram; why, I will shake him this day like a rat between my hands!”
So I spoke in my anger, hot with myself that I had let the Little Playmate suffer these things, and resolved that neither Prince nor Princess would stand between me and my love a moment longer.
But in all lands it takes more than Say-so to budge the stubborn wheels of circumstance.
I FIND A SECOND
I meant to go directly to the Prince in his chamber and tell him that from this time forth Helene and I had resolved to battle out our lives together. But it chanced that I passed through the higher terrace on my way to the lower—a bosky place of woods, where the Prince loved to linger in of a summer afternoon, drowsing there to the singing of birds and the falling of waters. For our Karl had tastes quite beyond sour black Casimir, with his church-yard glooms and raw-bone terrors.
On the upper terrace I found Von Reuss, lolling against the parapet with other blue flittermice, his peers—he himself no flittermouse, indeed, but of the true Casimir vampire breed, horrid of tooth, nocturnal, desirous of lusts and blood.
At sight of him I went straight at mine enemy, as if I had been leading a charge.
“Sir,” said I, “you are a base rascal. You have insulted the Lady Helene, maid of honor to the Princess, the adopted child of my father. Her wrongs are mine. You will do me the honor of crossing weapons with me!”