After the captives had gone past—and sorry I was for them—the body-guard of Duke Casimir came riding steadily and gallantly, all gentlemen of the Mark, with their sons and squires, landed men, towered men, free Junkers, serving the Duke for loyalty and not servitude, though ever “living by the saddle”—as, indeed, most of the Ritterdom and gentry of the Mark had done for generations.
Then behind them came Duke Casimir himself. The Eastland blood he had acquired from his Polish mother showed as he rode gloomily apart, thoughtful, solitary, behind the squared shoulders of his knights. After him another squadron of riders in ghastly armor of black-and-white, with torches in their hand and grinning skulls upon their shields, closed in the array. The great gate of the Wolfsberg was open now, and, leaving behind him the hushed and darkened town, the master rode into his castle. The Wolf was in his lair. But in the streets many a burgher’s wife trembled on her bed, while her goodman peered cautiously over the leads by the side of a gargoyle, and fancied that already he heard the clamor of the partisans thundering at his door with the Duke’s invitation to meet him in the Hall of Judgment.
THE LITTLE PLAYMATE COMES HOME
But there was to be no Session in the Hall of Judgment that night. The great court-yard, roofed with the vault of stars and lit by the moon, was to see all done that remained to be done. The torches were planted in the iron hold-fasts round about. The plunder of the captured towns and castles was piled for distribution on the morrow, and no man dared keep back so much as a Brandenburg broad-piece or a handful of Bohemian gulden. For the fear of the Duke and the Duke’s dog-kennels was upon every stout fighting-kerl. They minded the fate of Hans Pulitz, who had kept back a belt of gold, and had gotten himself flung by the heels with no more than the stolen belt upon him, into the kennels where the Duke’s blood-hounds howled and clambered with their fore-feet on the black-spattered barriers. And they say that the belt of gold was all that was ever seen again of the poor rascal. Hans Pulitz—who had hoped for so many riotous evenings among the Fat Pigs of Thorn and so many draughts of the slippery wine of the Rheingan careering down the poor thirsty throat of him. But, alas for Hans Pulitz! the end of all imagining was no more than five minutes of snapping, snarling, horrible Pandemonium in the kennels of the Wolfsberg, and the scored gold chain on the ground was all that remained to tell his tale. Verily, there were few Achans in Duke Casimir’s camp.
And it is small wonder after this, that scant and sparse were the jests played on the grim master of the Wolfsberg, or that the bay of a blood-hound tracking on the downs frightened the most stout-hearted rider in all that retinue of dare-devils.