There was no time to lose. Farina must be caught in the act of waiting for Margarita, and by Gottlieb, or herself. Gottlieb was revelling. ‘May this be a warning to thee, Gottlieb,’ murmured Lisbeth, as she hooded her little body in Margarita’s fur-cloak, and determined that she would be the one to confound Farina.
Five minutes later Margarita returned. Aunt Lisbeth was gone. The dragon still lacked a tip to his forked tongue, and a stream of fiery threads dangled from the jaws of the monster. Another letter was brought into the room by Lieschen.
‘For Aunt Lisbeth,’ said Margarita, reading the address. ’Who can it be from?’
‘She does not stand pressing about your letters,’ said the woman; and informed Margarita of the foregoing missive.
‘You say she drew an arrow from it?’ said Margarita, with burning face. ‘Who brought this? tell me!’ and just waiting to hear it was Farina’s mother, she tore the letter open, and read:
’Thy old friend writes to thee; she that has scarce left eyes to see the words she writes. Thou knowest we are a fallen house, through the displeasure of the Emperor on my dead husband. My son, Farina, is my only stay, and well returns to me the blessings I bestow upon him. Some call him idle: some think him too wise. I swear to thee, Lisbeth, he is only good. His hours are devoted to the extraction of essences—to no black magic. Now he is in trouble-in prison. The shadow that destroyed his dead father threatens him. Now, by our old friendship, beloved Lisbeth! intercede with Gottlieb, that he may plead for my son before the Emperor when he comes—’
Margarita read no more. She went to the window, and saw her guard marshalled outside. She threw a kerchief over her head, and left the house by the garden gate.
By this time the sun stood high over Cologne. The market-places were crowded with buyers and sellers, mixed with a loitering swarm of soldiery, for whose thirsty natures winestalls had been tumbled up. Barons and knights of the empire, bravely mounted and thickly followed, poured hourly into Cologne from South Germany and North. Here, staring Suabians, and round-featured warriors of the East Kingdom, swaggered up and down, patting what horses came across them, for lack of occupation for their hands. Yonder, huge Pomeranians, with bosks of beard stiffened out square from the chin, hurtled mountainous among the peaceable inhabitants. Troopers dismounted went straddling, in tight hose and loose, prepared to drink good-will to whomsoever would furnish the best quality liquor for that solemn pledge, and equally ready to pick a quarrel with them that would not. It was a scene of flaring feathers, wide-flapped bonnets, flaunting hose, blue and battered steel plates, slashed woollen haunch-bags, leather-leggings, ensigns, and imperious boots and shoulders. Margarita was too hurried in her mind to be conscious of an imprudence; but her limbs trembled, and she instinctively quickened her steps. When she stood under the sign of the Three Holy Kings, where dwelt Farina’s mother, she put up a fervent prayer of thanks, and breathed freely.