“I am forgiving and most merciful,” he said, smiling till his teeth showed. “Observe, I do not even cast you into prison to make sure of you. Go your ways” (he sat down and wrote rapidly); “here is a pass which will enable you to visit the prisoner. At midnight I shall expect you to tell me that to-morrow you will fulfil your office.”
He handed me the paper and motioned us away.
“We are free to go?” said I, wonderingly.
“Surely,” he replied, smiling. “Are you not both my friends, and can Otho von Reuss be forgetful of old times? Come and go at your pleasure. Be sure to be here to give me your answer at midnight to-night—or—”
He pointed with his hand to the door he had again opened, and with the fingers of his other hand beat time to the blasphemous chorus which came belching up from below.
THE SERPENT’S STRIFE
Dazed and death-stricken by the horror of the choice which lay before me, I hastened down the street, hardly waiting for Dessauer, who toiled vainly after me. I knew not what to do nor where to turn. I could neither think nor speak. But it chanced that my steps brought me to the house of the Weiss Thor. Almost without any will of mine own I found myself raising the knocker of the house of Master Gerard von Sturm. Sir Respectable instantly appeared. I asked of him if the Lady Ysolinde would see me—giving my name plainly. For since Duke Otho knew me, there was no need of concealment any more.
The Lady Ysolinde would receive me.
I followed my conductor, but not this time to the room in which I had seen her on the occasion of my last visit.
It was in her father’s chamber that I met the Princess. The room was as I had first seen it. Only there was no ascetic old man with keen, deep-set eyes and receding forehead to rear his head back from the table as though he would presently strike across it like a serpent from its coil.
For the moment the room was empty, but, ere I had time to look around, the curtains moved and the Lady Ysolinde appeared. Without entering, she set a hand on the door-post, and stood poised against the heavy curtain, waiting for me to speak.
Her face was pale, her thin nostrils dilated. Anger and scorn sat white and deadly on every feature.
“So,” she said, intensely, as I did not speak, “you have come back already, most noble Hereditary Justicer of the Mark! Even as I told you—so it is. You come to ask mercy from the woman you despised, from the woman whose love you refused. You would beg her to spare her enemy. Ere you go I shall see you on your knees; ah, that will be sweet. I have been on my knees—can I believe it? Nay, I shall not forget it. I, Ysolinde of Plassenburg, have pled in vain to you—to you!”
And the accent of chill hatred and malice turned me to stone.