So we were allowed to proceed. But in the bare room which received us I was soon left alone, for, with another question as briefly asked and answered, the click of swords crossed and uncrossed before and behind him, and the screechy grind of bolts, Michael passed out of sight within. While as for me, I was left to twirl my thumbs, and wish that I had stayed at home to watch the nimble fingers of the Playmate busy at her sewing, and the rounded slenderness of her sweet body set against the light of evening, which would at that hour be shining through the windows of the Red Tower.
Nevertheless, it was no use repining or repenting. Here was I, Hugo Gottfried, the son of the Red Axe, at the inner port of a treasonable society. It was certainly a curious position; but even thus early I had begun to consider myself a sort of amateur of strange situations, and I admit that I found a certain stimulus in the thought that in an hour I might have ceased to be heir to the office of Hereditary Justicer of the ducal province of the Wolfmark.
Presently through the door there came one clothed in the long white garments of a Brother of Pity, the eye-holes dark and cavernous, and the eyes shining through the mask with a look as if the wearer were much more frightened than those who looked upon him.
“Child of the White Wolf,” he said, in a shaking voice, “would you dare all and become one of the companions of the mysteries?”
But the accent of his voice struck me, the son of Gottfried Gottfried, the dweller in the enclosure of the Red Tower, as painfully hollow and pretentious. I had looked upon real terror, even plumbed some of the grimmer mysteries of existence, and I had no fears. On the contrary, my spirits rose, and I declared my readiness to follow this paltering, knock-kneed Brother of Pity.
We stopped and went through another narrow passage, in the midst of which we were stayed by thin bars, which were shot before and behind us, and by a cold point of iron laid lightly against my brow. In this constrained position my eyes were bandaged by unseen fingers.
The starveling Brother of the Wolf took me by the hand and led me on. Then in another moment came the sense of lights and wider spaces, the rustle of many people settling down to attention; and I knew that I was in the presence of the famous secret tribunal of the White Wolf, which had been set up in defiance of the authority of the Duke and against the laws of the Mark.
AT THE BAR OF THE WHITE WOLF
“Who waits at the bar with you, brother?” said a voice which, though disguised, carried with it a suggestion of Michael Texel.
The announcement was made by the officer who brought me in.
“’Tis one Hugo Gottfried, son of Gottfried Gottfried, hereditary executioner to the tyrant.”
I could hear the thrill of interest which pervaded the assembly at the announcement. And for the first time I thought almost well of the honorable office to which I had been born.