These things I had never listened to before, nor, indeed, thought of. Nevertheless, though I could not answer her, I felt in my heart that she was wrong, and that a woman has always power over men, being stronger than all ideals, philosophies, kingdoms—aye, even our holy religion itself.
“After all,” I said, piqued a little at her tone, as men are wont to be at that which they do not understand, “my Lady Ysolinde, wherefore should you not tell these things to the Prince, your husband, and not to me, that am neither your husband nor your lover?”
“And if you had been both?” she interjected, a little breathlessly.
“Then, my lady,” I replied, stirred by her persistence, “you would have obeyed me and served me just as you say. Or else I should have broken your spirit as a man is broken on the wheel.”
It was a prideful saying, and one informed with all ignorance and conceit. Yet the Lady Ysolinde gave a long sigh.
“Ah, that would have been sweet, too,” she said. “You are the one man I should have delighted to call master, to have done your bidding. That had been a thing different indeed! But you love me not. You love a chit, a chitterling—a pretty thing that can but peep and mutter, whose heart’s depths I have sounded with my finger-nail, and whose babyish vanity I have tickled with a straw.”
This was enough and too much.
“Madam,” said I, “the clear stars are not fouled by throwing filth at them, nor yet the Lady Helene—whom I do acknowledge that with all my heart I love—by the speaking of any ill words. You do but wrong yourself, most noble lady. For your heart tells you other things, both of the maid I love and of me that am her true servant, and, if I might, your true friend.”
The Princess reached out her hand, looking, not with anger, but rather wistfully at me, like a mother at a son who goes to his death with blasphemy on his lips.
“Forgive me,” she said, gently. “I would not at the last have you go forth thinking ill of me. Indeed, you think all too well, and make me do things that are better than mine intent, because I know that you expect them of me. I have done many ill and cruel things in my poor life, simply from idleness and the empty, unsatisfied heart. If you had loved me or taught me or driven me, I might have tried better things. Perhaps in the end, for great love’s sake, I may yet do one worthy deed that shall blot out all the rest. Farewell!”
And without another spoken word she moved away, and left me in the green pleasaunces of the garden, with my heart riven this way and that, scarce knowing what I did or where I stood.
CAPTAIN KARL MILLER’S SON
Black, blank, chill, confining night shut us in as Leopold Dessauer and I rode out of Plassenburg. Our horses had been made ready for us at the little water-gate in the lower garden. Fain would I have taken also Jorian and Boris, but on this occasion the fewer the safer. For to enter Thorn was to go with lighted matches into a powder-magazine.