“How knew you that of me, goodwife ?” I cried, greatly astonished.
“Why, by the way you looked up when my daughter came dancing in. You were in your lost brown-study, and then, seeing a pretty lass that most are glad to rest their eyes upon, you looked away disappointed or careless.”
“And how knew you that I was of the ancient guild of the bachelors?” asked Dessauer.
“Why, by the way that you looked at the pot on the fire, and sniffed up the stew, and asked how long the dinner would be! The bachelor of years is ever uneasy about his meals, having little else to be uneasy about, and no wife, compact of all contrary whimsies, to teach him how to be patient.”
“And how,” cried the Prince, in his turn, “knew you that I had been wedded once?”
“Or twice,” said the woman, smiling. “Man, ye cackle it like a hen on the rafters advertising her egg in the manger below. I knew it by the fashion ye had of hanging up your hat and eke scraping your feet—–not after ye entered, like these other good, careless gentlemen, but with your knife, outside the door. I see it by your air of one that has been at once under authority and yet master of a house.”
“Well done, good wife!” cried the Prince. “Were I indeed in authority I would make you either Prime-Minister or chief of my thief-catchers.”
And so after that we went to bed.
THE BLACK RIDERS
The next day we jogged along, and many were our advices and admonitions to the Prince to return. For we were now on the borders of his kingdom, and from indications which met us on the journeying we knew that the Black Riders were abroad. For in one place we came to a burned cottage and the tracks of driven cattle; in another upon a dead forest guard, with his green coat all splashed in splotches of dark crimson, a sight which made the Prince clinch his hands and swear. And this also kept him pretty silent for the rest of the day.
It was about evening of this second day, and we had come to the top of a little swell of hills, when suddenly beneath us we heard the crackling of timbers and saw the pale, almost invisible flames beginning to devour a thriving farm-house at our feet. There were swarms of men in dark armor about it, running here and there, clapping straw and brushwood to hay-ricks and byre doors.
“The Black Riders of Duke Casimir,” I cried; “down among the bushes and let them not see us! We must go back. If they so much as suspected the Prince they would slay us every one.”
But ere we had time to flee half a dozen of their scouts came near us, and, observing our horses and excellent accoutrement, they raised a cry. There was nothing for it but the spurs on the heels of our boots. So across the smooth, well-turfed country we had it, and in spite of our beasts’ weariness we made good running. And while we fled I considered how best to serve the Prince.