“And if any plead hereafter of this evil-doer’s youth, of her beauty, I call you to witness that the Evil One ever makes his best implement of the fairest metal. As the aged crone, her teacher and accomplice, hath confessed, this Helene was for long a plotter of dark deeds. By the trust of Duke Casimir in her maiden’s innocence he was betrayed to death. That one so fair and evil should be turned loose on the world to begin anew her enchantments, and, like a pestilence, to creep into good men’s houses, is a thing not to be thought of. Is she to go forth breathing death upon the faces of the young children, to sit squat, like hideous toad, sucking the blood of the new-born infant, or distilling poison-drops to put into the draughts of strong men which shall run like molten iron through their veins till they go mad?
“Hear me, judges, I bid you again remember the word: ’Ye shall not suffer a witch to live.’ And in the name of the great unbroken law of the Wolfmark, which I hold in my hand, I conclude by claiming the pains of death to pass upon the witch-woman who by her deed sent forth untimely the spirit of the most noble Duke Casimir, Lord of the city of Thorn and Duke of the Wolfmark.”
The pleader sat down, calmly as he had risen, and the judges conferred together as though they were on the point of delivering their verdict. There had been no sound of applause as Master Gerard had spoken—a hushed attention only, and then the muffled thunder of the great audience relaxing its attention and of men turning to whispered discussion among themselves.
“Prisoner,” said Duke Otho, “have you any to speak for you? Or do you desire to make any answer to the things which have been urged against you?”
Then, thrilling me to my soul, arose the voice of Helene. Clear and sweet and girlish, without hurry or fear, yet with an innocence which might have touched the hardest heart, the maiden upon trial for her life said a simple word or two in her defence.
“I have no one to speak for me. I have nothing to say, save that which I have said so often, that before God, who knows all things, I am innocent of thought, word, or deed against any man, and most of all against Duke Casimir of the Wolfsberg.”
And as she spoke the multitude was stirred, and voices broke out here and there:
“No witch!” “She is innocent!” “The guilty are among the judges!” “Saint Helena!” “If she die we will avenge her!”
And though the lictors struck furiously every way, they could not settle the tumult, and ever the mass of folk swayed more wildly to and fro. Nor do I know what might have happened at that moment but for a cry that arose in front of the throng.
“The Stranger! The Great Doctor! The Wise Man! Hear him! He is going to speak for her!”
SENTENCE OF DEATH
And there, standing by the place of pleading, with his foot on the first step, I saw Dessauer, in his black doctorial gown, leaning reverently upon a long staff.