The saddest heart in all that great assemblage was in Conrad’s breast.
The gladdest was in his father’s. For, unknown to his daughter “Conrad,” the old Baron Klugenstein was come, and was among the crowd of nobles, triumphant in the swelling fortunes of his house.
After the heralds had made due proclamation and the other preliminaries had followed, the venerable Lord Chief justice said:
“Prisoner, stand forth!”
The unhappy princess rose and stood unveiled before the vast multitude. The Lord Chief Justice continued:
“Most noble lady, before the great judges of this realm it hath been charged and proven that out of holy wedlock your Grace hath given birth unto a child; and by our ancient law the penalty is death, excepting in one sole contingency, whereof his Grace the acting Duke, our good Lord Conrad, will advertise you in his solemn sentence now; wherefore, give heed.”
Conrad stretched forth the reluctant sceptre, and in the self-same moment the womanly heart beneath his robe yearned pityingly toward the doomed prisoner, and the tears came into his eyes. He opened his lips to speak, but the Lord Chief Justice said quickly:
“Not there, your Grace, not there! It is not lawful to pronounce judgment upon any of the ducal line save from the ducal throne!”
A shudder went to the heart of poor Conrad, and a tremor shook the iron frame of his old father likewise. Conrad had not been crowned—dared he profane the throne? He hesitated and turned pale with fear. But it must be done. Wondering eyes were already upon him. They would be suspicious eyes if he hesitated longer. He ascended the throne. Presently he stretched forth the sceptre again, and said:
“Prisoner, in the name of our sovereign lord, Ulrich, Duke of Brandenburgh, I proceed to the solemn duty that hath devolved upon me. Give heed to my words. By the ancient law of the land, except you produce the partner of your guilt and deliver him up to the executioner, you must surely die. Embrace this opportunity—save yourself while yet you may. Name the father of your child!”
A solemn hush fell upon the great court—a silence so profound that men could hear their own hearts beat. Then the princess slowly turned, with eyes gleaming with hate, and pointing her finger straight at Conrad, said:
“Thou art the man!”
An appalling conviction of his helpless, hopeless peril struck a chill to Conrad’s heart like the chill of death itself. What power on earth could save him! To disprove the charge, he must reveal that he was a woman; and for an uncrowned woman to sit in the ducal chair was death! At one and the same moment, he and his grim old father swooned and fell to, the ground.
[The remainder of this thrilling and eventful story will not be found in this or any other publication, either now or at any future time.]