“There,” she said, pointing to the great collection of black-bound books and papers about the walls; “see, the secret is there—the secret for the lack of which you shall strike your beloved to the death to save her from the unnamable shame. I know it; my father has revealed it to me. I have seen the parchment in these hands. But—you shall never hear it, she never profit by it, and my vengeance shall be sweet—so sweet!”
And she laughed, with a strange crackling laugh that it was a pain to hear.
“God forgive you, Lady Ysolinde,” said I, “if this be so. For if there be a God, you must burn in Great Hell for this deed you are about to do. Having had no mercy on the innocent, how shall you ask God to have mercy on you?”
“I will not ask Him!” she cried. “Instead of puling for mercy I will have had my revenge. And after that, come earth, heaven, or hell—I shall not care. All will then be the same to Ysolinde!”
I thought I would try her yet once more.
“The Little Playmate,” I said, “the maid whom I have ever loved, though I am not worthy to touch her, is no chance child, no daughter of the Red Axe of Thorn. Leopold von Dessauer hath found and sent to Karl the Prince the full proofs that Helene is the daughter of the last and rightful Prince, and therefore in her own right Princess of Plassenburg.”
“You lie, fool!” she cried—“you lie! You think to frighten me. And even if it were true—thrice, four times fool to tell me! For shall not I, the Princess of Plassenburg, the wife of the reigning Prince, stand for my own name and dignity. I would not help you now though a thousand fair heads, well-beloved, the desire of men, the envy of women, were to be rolled in the dust.”
“Then farewell, Princess,” I cried; “you are wronging to the death of deaths two that never did you wrong, who loved each other with the love of man and woman before ever you crossed their paths, and who since then have only sought your good. You wrong God also, and you lose your soul, divorcing it from the mercy of the Saviour of men. For be very sure that with that measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”
She did not answer, but stood with her hand still against the door-post, her head raised, and her lips curling scornfully, looking after me as I retired with a smiling and malicious pleasure.
So, without further speech, I went out from the presence of the Lady Ysolinde. And thus she had the first part of her revenge.
THE DUNGEON OF THE WOLFSBERG
And now I must see the Little Playmate. Judge ye whether or no my heart was torn in twain as I went up the long High Street of Thorn, back to the Wolfsberg, alone. For I had compelled Dessauer to return to Bishop Peter’s, in order to avert popular suspicion, since our real names and errands were not yet known there.