I saw the fluttering of the fan falter and stop. A light foot went pattering up the stairway and a door slammed in the tower.
Then I laughed, like the vain, silly boy I was.
“Mistress Helene,” I said to myself, “you will find that poor Hugo, whom you flouted and despised, can yet pay his debts!”
So I put on the fine clothes which I wore on festal days and sallied forth. Now, though the lower orders still hated my father and all that came out of the Red Tower, or indeed, for the matter of that, out of the Wolfsberg, with hardly concealed malice—yet there were many in the city, specially among those of the upper classes, who began to think well of my determination to try another way of life than that to which I had been born. For I made no secret of the matter to Michael Texel and such of his comrades as joined us in our gatherings.
Indeed, now, when I come to think of it, it seems to me that my father was the only person of my acquaintance who did not suspect that I was resolved never to wear either the black robe of Inquisition or the crimson of Final Judgment.
Yet it wore round to within two years, and indeed rather less, of the time for my initiation into the mysteries of the Red Axe, and still I remained at home, an idle boy, playing at single-stick and fence with the men-at-arms, drinking beer in the evening with my bosom cronies, and in the well-grounded opinion of all honest people, likely enough to come to no good.
But I, Hugo Gottfried, had my eyes and my books open, and knew that I was but biding my time.
So it came about that I carried no taint of the dread associations of the Wolfsberg about me as I went down the bustling street to the Weiss Thor to call on that learned and well-reputed lawyer, Master Gerard von Sturm. So great was the fame of Master Gerard that he was often called in to settle the mercantile quarrels of the burghers among themselves, and was even chosen as arbiter between those of other towns. For, though accounted severe, he had universally the name of a just and wise man, who would not rob the litigants of all their valuables and then decide in favor of neither, as was too often the way with the “justice” of the great nobles.
As for Duke Casimir of the Wolfmark, no man or woman went near him on any plea whatsoever, save that of asking mercy or favor. And unless my father chanced to be at hand, mostly they asked in vain. For, as I now knew, he had to keep up the common bruit of himself throughout the country as a cruel, fearless, and implacable tyrant. Besides, his fears were so constant and so great, perhaps also so well-founded, that often he dared not be merciful.
THE LUBBER FIEND
At five of the clock I lifted the great wolf’s-head knocker of shining brass which frowned above the door of Master Gerard von Sturm in the port of the Weiss Thor. Hardly had I let it fall again when a small wicket, apparently about two feet above my head, opened, and a huge round head with enormous ears at either side peeped out. So vast was the head and so small the aperture that one of the lateral wings of the chubby face caught on the sill, and the owner brought it away successfully with a jerk and a perfectly good-humored and audible “flip.”