Late in the noon a horseman, in the livery of the Kaiser’s body-guard, rode dry and dusty into Cologne, with tidings that the Kaiser was at Hammerstein Castle, and commanding all convocated knights, barons, counts, and princes, to assemble and prepare for his coming, on a certain bare space of ground within two leagues of Cologne, thence to swell the train of his triumphal entry into the ancient city of his empire.
Guy the Goshawk, broad-set on a Flemish mare, and a pack-horse beside him, shortly afterward left the hotel of the Three Holy Kings, and trotted up to Gottlieb’s door.
‘Tent-pitching is now my trade,’ said he, as Gottlieb came down to him. ’My lord is with the Kaiser. I must say farewell for the nonce. Is the young lady visible?’
‘Nor young, nor old, good friend,’ replied Gottlieb, with a countenance somewhat ruffled. ’I dined alone for lack of your company. Secret missives came, I hear, to each of them, and both are gadding. Now what think you of this, after the scene of yesterday?—Lisbeth too!’
’Preaches from the old text, Master Groschen; “Never reckon on womankind for a wise act.” But farewell! and tell Mistress Margarita that I take it ill of her not giving me her maiden hand to salute before parting. My gravest respects to Frau Lisbeth. I shall soon be sitting with you over that prime vintage of yours, or fortune’s dead against me.’
So, with a wring of the hand, Guy put the spur to his round-flanked beast, and was quickly out of Cologne on the rough roadway.
He was neither the first nor the last of the men-at-arms hastening to obey the Kaiser’s mandate. A string of horse and foot in serpentine knots stretched along the flat land, flashing colours livelier than the spring-meadows bordering their line of passage. Guy, with a nod for all, and a greeting for the best-disposed, pushed on toward the van, till the gathering block compelled him to adopt the snail’s pace of the advance party, and gave him work enough to keep his two horses from being jammed with the mass. Now and then he cast a weather-eye on the heavens, and was soon confirmed in an opinion he had repeatedly ejaculated, that ’the first night’s camping would be a drencher.’ In the West a black bank of cloud was blotting out the sun before his time. Northeast shone bare fields of blue lightly touched with loosefloating strips and flakes of crimson vapour. The furrows were growing purple-dark, and gradually a low moaning obscurity enwrapped the whole line, and mufed the noise of hoof, oath, and waggon-wheel in one sullen murmur.
Guy felt very much like a chopped worm, as he wriggled his way onward in the dusk, impelled from the rear, and reduced to grope after the main body. Frequent and deep counsel he took with a trusty flask suspended at his belt. It was no pleasant reflection that the rain would be down before he could build up anything like shelter for horse and man. Still sadder the necessity of selecting his post on strange ground, and in darkness. He kept an anxious look-out for the moon, and was presently rejoiced to behold a broad fire that twinkled branchy beams through an east-hill orchard.