“Ho! ho! Good, was it not? ‘The Prince hath a Princess, and she—’ Ho! ho! Good!”
The ridges of clay of which I have already spoken continued and increased in size as we went on. It was a dried-up, speckled, unwholesome-looking land. And people upon it there were none that we could see. The large fortified farms had ceased altogether. A certain frightful monotony reigned everywhere. Ravines, like cracks which the sun makes in mud, but a thousand times greater, began to split the hills perpendicularly to their very roots. The path wound perilously this way and that among them. And presently Jorian and Boris rode past me to take the lead, for Ysolinde and Helene were inclined to mistake the way as often as they came to the crossing and interweaving of the intricate paths.
And as these two jolly jackasses rode past at my right side I could see the thumb of long Boris curving towards the ribs of his companion, and the shoulders of both shaking as they chuckled.
“A rare simpleton’s question, i’ faith, yes. Ho! ho! Good!” they chorussed. “’The Prince hath a Princess’—the cock hath a hen, and she— Ha! ha! Good!”
At that moment I could with pleasure have slain Jorian and Boris for open-mouthed, unshaven, slab-sided Wendish pigs, as indeed they were.
Yet, had I done so, we had fared but ill without them. For had they been a thousand times jackasses and rotten pudding-heads (as they were), at least they knew the way and something of the unchristian people among whom we were going.
And so in a little while, as we wound our way along the face of these perilons rifts in the baked clay, with the mottled, inefficient river feeling its way gingerly at the bottom of the buff—colored ravine, what was my astonishment to see Jorian and Boris turn sharply at right angles and ride single file up one of the dry lateral cracks which opened, as it were, directly into the hill-side!
They did this without ever looking at the landmarks, like men who are anyways uncertain of their road. But, on the contrary, they wheeled confidently and rode jauntily on, and we three meekly followed, having by this time lost the Lubber Fiend, the devil doubtless knew where. For we must have followed Boris and Jorian unquestioningly had they led us into the bowels of the earth, as indeed, at first sight, they seemed to be doing.
THE EARTH-DWELLERS OF NO MAN’S LAND
Then presently we came to a strange place, the like of which I have never seen, save here on the borders of the Mark and the northern Wendish lands. An amalgam of lime, or binding stuff of some sort, had glued the clay of the ravines together, and set it stiff and fast like dried plaster. So, as we went up the narrow, perilous path, our horses had to tread very warily lest, going too near the edge, they should chip off enough of the foothold to send themselves and their riders whirling neck-over-toes to the bottom.