“Open, in the name of the Duke!” cried, clamorously, many fierce voices without. I heard the rush and scuffle of a multitude of feet. The hands that had held me abruptly loosened their grip, and I was free. I raised my bound wrists to my brow and tried to push the bandage back. But it was firmly tied, and it was but dimly that I saw the hall of the White Wolf filled with the armed men of the Duke’s body-guard, boisterously laughing, with their hands on their sides, or kicking over the mock throne covered with white cloth, the coils of rope, the axes of painted wood, and the other properties of this very faint-hearted Fehmgericht.
“But what have we here?” they cried, when they came upon me, bound and helpless, with the bandage only half pushed off my eyes.
“Heave him up on his pins, and let us look at him,” quoth a burly guardsman. “I trust he is no one of any account. I want not to see another such job done on a poor scheming knave like that last, when the Duke Casimir settled accounts with Hans Pulitz!”
“Ha! ha!” laughed his companion; “a rare jest, i’ faith; ’tis the son of our own Red Axe—a prisoner of the White Wolf and ready for the edge. We came not a moment too soon, youngster. What do you here?”
“Why,” said I, “it chanced that I spoke slightingly of their precious nonsense of a White Wolf. But they dared not do me harm. They were all more frightened than a giggling maiden is of the dark, when no man is with her.”
Then I saw my father at the end of the hall. He came towards me, clad in his black Tribunal costume.
“Well,” he said, quaintly, like one that has a jest with himself which he will not tell, “have you had enough of marching hand-in-glove with treason? I wot this mummery of the White Wolf will serve you for some time.”
I was proceeding to tell him all that had passed, but he patted me on the shoulder.
“I heard it all, lad, and you did well enough—save for your windiness about liberty and the Free Cities—which, as I see it, are by far the worst tyrannies. But, after all, you spoke as became a Gottfried, and one day, I doubt not, you shall worthily learn the secrets, bear the burden, and enlarge the honors of the fourteen Red Axes of the Wolfmark.”
A HERO CARRIES WATER IN THE SUN
With all which adventuring and bepraisement back and forth, as those who know nineteen will readily be assured, I went home no little elated. For had I not come without dishonor through a new and remarkable experience, and even defied the Mystery of the White Wolf, at perhaps more risk to myself than at the time I had imagined. For, as I found afterwards, there were those among the company at the Swan that night of sterner mould and more serious make than Michael Texel.
But, at all events, home to the Red Tower I strode, whistling, and in a very cocksure humor.