One man won past me, indeed, darting under the stroke of my axe, but he was little advantaged thereby. For I fetched a blow at the back of his head with the handle which brought him to his knees. He stumbled and fell at the threshold of the maids’ chamber. And, by my sooth, the Lady Ysolinde stooped and poignarded him as featly as though it had been a work of broidering with a bodkin. Too late, Helene wept and besought her to hold her hand. He was, she said, some one’s son or lover. It was deucedly unpractical. But, ’twas my Little Playmate. And after all, I suppose, the crack he got from me in the way of business would have done the job neatly enough without my lady’s dagger.
I tell you, the work was hot enough about those three doors during the next few moments. I never again want to see warmer on this side of Peter’s gates—especially not since I got this wound in my thigh, with its trick of reopening at the most inconvenient seasons. But the broadaxe was a blessed thought of the little Helene’s, and helped to keep the castle right valiantly.
Yet I can testify that I was glad with more than mere joy when I heard the “Trot, trot!” of the Prince’s archers coming at the wolf’s lope, all in each other’s footsteps, along the narrow ledge of the village street.
“Hurrah, lads!” I shouted; “quick and help us!”
And then at the sound of them the turmoil emptied itself as quickly as it had come. The rabble of ill-doers melted through the wide outer door, where the archers received and attended to them there. Some precipitated themselves over the cliff. Others were straightway knocked down, stunned, and bound. Some died suddenly. And a few were saved to stretch the judicial ropes of the Bailiwick. For it was always thought a good thing by such as were in authority to have a good show on the “Thieves’ Architrave,” or general gallows of the vicinity, as a thing at once creditable to the zeal of the worthy dispensers of local justice, and pleasing to the Kaiser’s officer if he chanced to come spying that way.
MINE HOST RUNS HIS LAST RACE
Hearty were the greetings when the soldiers found us all safe and sound. They shook us again and again by the hand. They clapped us on the back. They examined professionally the dead who lay strewn about.
“A good stroke! Well smitten!” they cried, as they turned them over, like spectators who applaud at a game they can all understand. Specially did they compliment me on my axe-work. Never had anything like it been seen in Plassenburg. The head of the yearling calf was duly exhibited, when the neatness of the blow and the exactness of the aim at the weakest jointing were prodigiously admired.
The good fellows, mellow with the Burgomeister’s sinall-ale, were growing friendly beyond all telling, when, in the light of the offertory taper, now growing beguttered and burning low, there appeared the Lady Ysolinde.