His eye never left the Baron. Suddenly a shriek of steel rang. All fell aside, and the combatants stood opposed on clear ground. Farina, took Margarita’s left hand, and placed her against the wall between the Thier and himself. Werner’s men were well content to let their master fight it out. The words spoken by Henker Rothhals, that the Devil had forsaken him, seemed in their minds confirmed by the weird song which every one present could swear he heard with his ears. ’Let him take his chance, and try his own luck,’ they said, and shrugged. The battle was between Guy, as Margarita’s champion, and Werner.
In Schwartz Thier’s judgement, the two were well matched, and he estimated their diverse qualities from sharp experience. ’For short work the Baron, and my new mate for tough standing to ‘t!’ Farina’s summary in favour of the Goshawk was, ’A stouter heart, harder sinews, and a good cause. The combat was generally regarded with a professional eye, and few prayers. Margarita solely there asked aid from above, and knelt to the Virgin; but her, too, the clash of arms and dire earnest of mortal fight aroused to eager eyes. She had not dallied with heroes in her dreams. She was as ready to second Siegfried on the crimson field as tend him in the silken chamber.
It was well that a woman’s heart was there to mark the grace and glory of manhood in upright foot-to-foot encounter. For the others, it was a mere calculation of lucky hits. Even Farina, in his anxiety for her, saw but the brightening and darkening of the prospect of escape in every attitude and hard-ringing blow. Margarita was possessed with a painful exaltation. In her eyes the bestial Baron now took a nobler form and countenance; but the Goshawk assumed the sovereign aspect of old heroes, who, whether persecuted or favoured of heaven, still maintained their stand, remembering of what stuff they were, and who made them.
‘Never,’ say the old writers, with a fervour honourable to their knowledge of the elements that compose our being, ’never may this bright privilege of fair fight depart from us, nor advantage of it fail to be taken! Man against man, or beast, singly keeping his ground, is as fine rapture to the breast as Beauty in her softest hour affordeth. For if woman taketh loveliness to her when she languisheth, so surely doth man in these fierce moods, when steel and iron sparkle opposed, and their breath is fire, and their lips white with the lock of resolution; all their faculties knotted to a point, and their energies alive as the daylight to prove themselves superior, according to the laws and under the blessing of chivalry.’
‘For all,’ they go on to improve the comparison, ’may admire and delight in fair blossoming dales under the blue dome of peace; but ’tis the rare lofty heart alone comprehendeth, and is heightened by, terrific splendours of tempest, when cloud meets cloud in skies black as the sepulchre, and Glory sits like a flame on the helm of Ruin’