If I let him into the secret, the Prince would be most likely to stride straight into the Princess’s rooms with the brusque words: “Gottfried has seen a letter come to you from your father—what were its contents?”
And that would not suit us at all.
So, rightly or wrongly, I kept the matter from my master, speaking of it only to Dessauer. And if aught befel from my reticence, it was at least I myself who bore the burden, and, in the final event, paid the penalty.
The next morning early, as I went about making my dispositions, and putting men of trust in positions fit for them—for the Prince has given me the command of all the soldiers within the city—the Lady Ysolinde came to me upon the terrace.
“Walk with me a while,” she said, “in the lower garden. It is a quiet place, and I would speak with you.”
It was a command that I dared not refuse to obey, yet my greatest enemy would not accuse me that I went lightly or willingly to such a tryst.
The Lady Ysolinde passed on daintily and proudly before me, and I followed, more like a condemned criminal lamping heavily to the scaffold than a lad of mettle accompanying a fair lady to a rendezvous of her own asking under the greenwood-tree.
But I need not have feared. The Princess’s mood was mild, and I saw her in a humor in which I had never seen her before.
She moved before me over the grass, with her head a little turned up to the skies, as though appealing out of her innocence to the Beings who sat behind and sorted out the hearts of men and women.
At a great weeping-elm, under which was a seat, she turned. It formed a wide canopy of shade, grateful and cool. For the breezes stirred under the leaves, and the river moved beneath with a pleasant, meditative hush of sound.
“Hugo Gottfried, once you were my friend,” she began; “what have I done that you should be my friend no more? Tell me plainly. I liked you when as a lad, the son of the Red Axe, you had come to my father’s house about some boyish freak. I have not done ill by you since that day. And now that you are a leader of men and of rank and honor here in my husband’s country of Plassenburg, I would be your well-wisher still. I am conscious of no reason for my having forfeited your liking. But that I would know for certain—and now.”
As she threw back her head and let her clear emerald eyes rest upon me, I never saw woman born of woman look more innocent. Indeed, in these days of mistrust, it is innocence under suspicion which usually looks most guilty, knowing what is expected of it.
“Lady Ysolinde,” I made answer, “you try me hard and sore. You put me by force in the wrong. You do me indeed great honor, as you have ever done all these years. In reverence and high respect I shall ever hold you for all that you have done—for your kindness to me and to Helene, the orphan girl who came from our father’s roof with me. I know no reason why there should be any break in our friendship—nor shall there be, if you will pardon my folly and—”