Then began my father to tell the story slowly, with many a pause and interruption, now searching for words, now racked with pain, all of which I need not imitate, and shall leave out. But the substance of his tale was to this effect:
“After you had left us, the Dukedom went from bad to worse—no peace, no rest, no money. Duke Casimir took less and less of my advice, but, on the contrary, began again his old horrors—plundering, killing, living by terror and in terror. He threatened Torgau. He attacked Plassenburg. He stirred up hornets’ nests everywhere. At home he made himself the common mark for every assassin.
“Then suddenly came his nephew back, and almost immediately he grew great in favor with him. Uncle and nephew drank together. They paraded the terraces arm in arm. I was never more sent for save to do my duty. Otho von Reuss rode abroad at the head of the Black Horsemen.
“But, at the same time, to my great joy, arrived the Little Playmate back to me. She was safer with me, she said. So that, having her, I needed naught else. She came with good news of you, making the journey not alone, for two men of the Princess’s retinue brought her to the city gates.”
“The Princess!” I cried; “aye, I thought so. I judged that it was the Princess who sent her back.”
Dessauer motioned with his hand. He saw that it was dangerous to throw my father off the track. And, indeed, this was proven at once, for my unfortunate interruption set my father’s mind to wandering, till finally I had to drop certain drops of the red liquid on his tongue. These, indeed, had a marvellous effect upon him. He sat up instantly, his eyes flashing the old light, and began to speak rapidly and to clear purport, even as he used to do in the old days when Duke Casimir would come striding across the yard at all hours of the night and day to consult his Justicer.
“What was I telling?” he went on. “Yes, I remember, of the home-coming of Helene under honorable escort. And she was beautiful—but all her race were beautiful, all the women of them, at any rate. But that is another matter.
“So things went well enough with us till, as she went across the yard one day to meet me at the door of the hall as I came out, who should see her but the Count Otho von Reuss. And she turned from him like a queen and took hold of my arm, clasping it strongly. Then he gazed fixedly at us both, and his look was the evil-doer’s look. Oh, I know it. Who knows that look, if not I? And so we passed within. But my Helene was quivering and much afraid, nestling to me—aye, to me, old Gottfried Gottfried, like a frightened dove.
“After this she went not out into the court-yard or city any more, save with me by her side, and Otho von Reuss lingered about, watching like a wolf about the sheepfold. For, as I say, he was in high favor with Duke Casimir, and had already equal place with him on the bed of justice.