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Samuel Rutherford Crockett
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 328 pages of information about Red Axe.

And I promised it him without wincing.  For by this time lying had no more effect upon me than dram-drinking.

CHAPTER XLIII

THE TRIAL FOR WITCHCRAFT

The Bed of Justice was set by eight of the morning.  For they were ever early astir in the city of Thorn, though, like most early risers, they did little enough afterwards all day.

With a sadly beating heart, I accompanied Dessauer in the same guise as on the previous day.  The crowd was even greater in and about the Hall of Judgment.  And when the Duke had taken his seat and his tools set themselves down on either side, they brought in the Little Playmate.

She was dressed all in white, clean and spotless, in spite of prison usage.  She glanced just once about her, right and left, high and low, as if seeking for a face she could not see, and from thenceforth she looked down on the ground.

The argument as to torture had been concluded on the day before, and it had been held inadmissible—­not because of any kindly thought for the prisoner, but because, according to the laws of the Wolfmark, in the absence of the Hereditary Executioner, there was no one legally capable of inflicting it.

Then came the evidence.

The first witness against the Little Playmate was old Hanne.  She was brought in by a cowled monk of dark and sinister appearance—­in fact, as my heart leaped to observe, I saw that she was accompanied by Friar Laurence—­he who had taught me my learning in the old days, and who even then had watched the Little Playmate with no friendly eyes.

As she passed the judges I saw the deadly fear mount to agony on the face of old Hanne.  The look in her eyes of physical pain suffered and overpassed was the same which I had often seen in the wars after the surgeon has done his horrid work.  That same look I saw now on the face of Hanne.  So I knew that somewhere in the dark recesses under the Hall of Judgment the Extreme Question had been put to her, and to all appearance answered according to the liking of the persecutors, though they dared not torture so notable a public prisoner as Helene.

I saw a look of satisfied vindictiveness pass over the brutal features of Duke Otho.  He changed his position and whispered to his colleagues.

It was Master Gerard von Sturm who rose to put the questions to the witness.  And as he did so, I heard the steady sough of talk among the people rise mutteringly in a low growl of anger and contempt.  The Duke’s lictors struck right and left among the crowd, as men bent forward with fierce hate in their voices, lowing like oxen, as if to clear their lungs of a weight of contempt.

It was not thus in the old days, when there was no people’s arbiter in all the Wolfmark so famous or so popular as Master Gerard of the Weiss Thor.

“What is the reason of that turmoil?” said I to my neighbor.

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