MAID OF BURGUNDY
By CHARLES MAJOR
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY
CHARLOTTE WEBER DITZLER
CHAPTER I A CASTLE AMONG THE CRAGS
CHAPTER II KNIGHTS-ERRANT
CHAPTER III YOLANDA THE SORCERESS
CHAPTER IV DOWN THE RHINE TO BURGUNDY
CHAPTER V WHO IS YOLANDA?
CHAPTER VI DUKE CHARLES THE RASH
CHAPTER VII A RACE WITH THE DUKE
CHAPTER VIII ON THE MOAT BRIDGE
CHAPTER IX THE GREAT RIDDLE
CHAPTER X THE HOUSE UNDER THE WALL
CHAPTER XI PERONNE LA PUCELLE
CHAPTER XII A LIVE WREN PIE
CHAPTER XIII A BATTLE IN MID AIR
CHAPTER XIV SIR KARL MEETS THE PRINCESS
CHAPTER XV THE CROSSING OF A "T"
CHAPTER XVI PARTICEPS CRIMINIS
CHAPTER XVII TRIAL BY COMBAT
CHAPTER XVIII YOLANDA OR THE PRINCESS?
CHAPTER XIX MAX GOES TO WAR
CHAPTER XX A TREATY WITH LOUIS XI
MAX AND YOLANDA KARL AND MAX AT HAPSBURG CASTLE MAX THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY MAX AT THE GATE OF THE LISTS
A CASTLE AMONG THE CRAGS
Like the Israelites of old, mankind is prone to worship false gods, and persistently sets up the brazen image of a sham hero, as its idol. I should like to write the history of the world, if for no other reason than to assist several well-established heroes down from their pedestals. Great Charlemagne might come to earth's level, his patriarchal, flowing beard might drop from his face, and we might see him as he really was—a plucked and toothless old savage, with no more Christianity than Jacob, and with all of Jacob's greed. Richard of England, styled by hero-worshippers "The Lion-hearted," might be re-christened "The Wolf-hearted," and the famous Du Guesclin might seem to us a half-brutish vagabond. But Charles of Burgundy, dubbed by this prone world "The Bold" and "The Rash," would take the greatest fall. Of him and his fair daughter I shall speak in this history.
At the time of which I write Louis XI reigned over France, Edward IV ruled in England, and his sister, the beautiful Margaret of York, was the unhappy wife of this Charles the Rash, and stepmother to his gentle daughter Mary. Charles, though only a duke in name, reigned as a most potent and despotic king over the fair rich land of Burgundy. Frederick of Styria was head of the great house of Hapsburg, and Count Maximilian, my young friend and pupil, was his heir.
Of the other rulers of Europe I need not speak, since they will not enter this narrative. They were all bad enough,—and may God have mercy on their souls.
* * * * *
Most of the really tragic parts in the great drama of history have been played by women. This truth I had always dimly known, yet one does not really know a fact until he feels it. I did not realize the extent to which these poor women of history have suffered in the matter of enforced marriages, until the truth was brought home to me in the person of Mary, Princess of Burgundy, to whose castle, Peronne La Pucelle, my pupil, Maximilian of Hapsburg, and I made a journey in the year 1476.
My knowledge of this fair lady began in far-off Styria, and there I shall begin my story.
* * * * *
In times of peace, life in Hapsburg Castle was dull; in times of war it was doleful. War is always grievous, but my good mistress, the Duchess of Styria, was ever in such painful dread lest evil should befall her only child, Maximilian, that the pains of war-time were rendered doubly keen to those who loved Her Grace.
After Maximilian had reached the fighting age there was too little war to suit him. Up to his eighteenth year he had thrice gone out to war, and these expeditions were heart-breaking trials for his mother. Although tied to his mother's apron strings by bonds of mutual love, he burned with the fire and ambition of youth; while I, reaching well toward my threescore years, had almost outlived the lust for strife. Max longed to spread his wings, but the conditions of his birth held him chained to the rocks of Styria, on the pinnacle of his family's empty greatness.
Perched among the mountain crags, our castle was almost impregnable; but that was its only virtue as a dwelling-place. Bare walls, stone floors, sour wine, coarse boar's meat, brown bread, and poor beds constituted our meagre portion.
Duke Frederick was poor because his people were poor. They lived among the rocks and crags, raised their goats, ploughed their tiny patches of thin earth, and gave to the duke and to each man his due. They were simple, bigoted, and honest to the heart's core.
Though of mean fortune, Duke Frederick was the head of the great House of Hapsburg, whose founders lived in the morning mists of European history and dwelt proudly amid the peaks of their mountain home. Our castle in Styria was not the original Castle Hapsburg. That was built centuries before the time of this story, among the hawks' crags of Aargau in Switzerland. It was lost by the House of Hapsburg many years before Max was born. The castle in Styria was its namesake.
To leaven the poor loaf of life in Castle Hapsburg, its inmates enjoyed the companionship of the kindest man and woman that ever graced a high estate—the Duke and Duchess of Styria. Though in their little court, life was rigid with the starch of ceremony, it was softened by the tenderness of love. All that Duke Frederick asked from his subjects was a bare livelihood and a strict observance of ceremonious conventions. Those who approached him and his son did so with uncovered head and bended knee. An act of personal familiarity would have been looked on as high treason. Taxes might remain unpaid, laws might be broken, and there was mercy in the ducal heart; but a flaw in ceremony was unpardonable.
The boar's meat and the brown bread were eaten in state; the sour wine was drunk solemnly; and going to bed each night was an act of national importance. Such had been the life of this house for generations, and good Duke Frederick neither would nor could break away from it.
Of all these painful conditions young Max was a suffering victim. Did he sally forth to stick a wild boar or to kill a bear, the Master of the Hunt rode beside him in a gaudy, faded uniform. Fore-riders preceded him, and after-riders followed. He was almost compelled to hunt by proxy, and he considered himself lucky to be in at the death. The bear, of course, was officially killed by Maximilian, Count of Hapsburg, no matter what hand dealt the blow. Maximilian, being the heir of Hapsburg, must always move with a slow dignity becoming his exalted station. He must, if possible, always act through an officer; I verily believe that Duke Frederick, his father, regretted the humiliating necessity of eating his own dinner.
Poor Max did not really live; he was an automaton.
Once every year Duke Frederick gave a tournament, the cost of which, in entertainments and prizes, consumed fully two-thirds of his annual income. On these occasions punctilious ceremony took the place of rich wine, and a stiff, kindly welcome did service as a feast. These tournaments were rare events for Max; they gave him a day of partial rest from his strait-jacket life at the little court among the crags.
I shall give you here ten lines concerning myself. I am Italian by birth—a younger son of the noble House of Pitti. I left home when but little more than a boy. Journeying to the East, I became Sir Karl de Pitti, Knight of the Holy Order of St. John, and in consequence I am half priest, half soldier. My order and my type are rapidly passing away. I fought and prayed in many lands during twenty years. To be frank, I fought a great deal more than I prayed. Six years out of the twenty I spent in Burgundy, fighting under the banner of Duke Philip the Good, father to Charles the Rash. My mother was a Burgundian—a Walloon—and to her love for things German I owe my name, Karl. During my service under Duke Philip I met my Lord d'Hymbercourt, and won that most valuable of all prizes, a trusted friend.
Fifteen years before the opening of this story I grew tired of fighting. How I drifted, a sort of human flotsam, against the crags of Styria would be a long, uninteresting story. By a curious combination of events I assumed the duties of tutor to the small count, Maximilian of Hapsburg, then a flaxen-haired little beauty of three summers. I taught him all that was needful from books, and grounded him fairly well in church lore, but gave my best efforts to his education in arms.
Aside from my duties as instructor to the young count, I was useful in many ways about the castle. By reason of the half of me that was priestly, I could, upon occasion, hear confession, administer the holy sacrament, and shrive a sinner as effectively as the laziest priest in Christendom. I could also set a broken bone, and could mix as bitter a draught as any Jew out of Judea. So, you will see, I was a useful member of a household wherein ancestry took the place of wealth, and pride was made to stand for ready cash.
The good duke might have filled his coffers by pillaging travellers, as many of his neighbors did; but he scorned to thrive by robbery, and lived in grandiose but honest penury.
Max took readily to the use of arms, and by the time he was eighteen, which was three years before our now famous journey to Burgundy, a strong, time-hardened man might well beware of him. When the boy was fourteen or fifteen, I began to see in him great possibilities. In personal beauty and strength he was beyond compare. His eyes were as blue as an Italian sky, and his hair fell in a mass of tawny curls to his shoulders. His mother likened him to a young lion. Mentally he was slow, but his judgment was clear and accurate. Above all, he was honest, and knew not fear of man, beast, or devil. His life in Styria, hedged about by ceremonious conventions, had given him an undue portion of dignity and reticence, but that could easily be polished down by friction with the rougher side of the world. Except myself and his mother, he had never known a real friend.
To Max the people of the world were of two conditions: a very small class to whom he must kneel, and a very large number who must kneel to him. Even his mother addressed him publicly as "My Lord Count." On rare occasions, in the deep privacy of her closet, mother-love would get the better of her and break through the crust of ceremony. Then she indulged herself and him in the ravishing, though doubtful, luxury of calling him "Little Max." No one but I, and perhaps at rare intervals Duke Frederick, ever witnessed this lapse from dignity on the part of Her Grace, and we, of course, would not expose her weakness to the world.
This love-name clung to Max, and "Little Max," though somewhat incongruous, was pretty when applied to a strapping fellow six feet two and large of limb in proportion.
When the boy approached manhood, I grew troubled lest this strait-jacket existence in Styria should dwarf him mentally and morally. So I began to stir cautiously in the matter of sending him abroad into the world. My first advances met with a rebuff.
"It is not to be thought of," said the duke.
"Send the count out to the rude world to associate with underlings? Never!" cried the duchess, horrified and alarmed.
I had expected this, and I was not daunted. I renewed the attack from different points, and after many onslaughts, I captured the bailey of the parental fortresses; that is, I compelled them to listen to me. My chief point of attack was Max himself. He listened readily enough, but he could not see how the thing was to be done. When I spoke of the luxuries of Italy and Burgundy, and told him of deeds of prowess performed daily throughout the world by men vastly his inferior, his eyes brightened and his cheek flushed. When I talked of wealth to be won and glory to be achieved in those rich lands, and hinted at the barren poverty of Styria, he would sigh and answer:—
"Ah, Karl, it sounds glorious, but I was born to this life, and father and mother would not forgive me if I should seek another destiny. Fate has fixed my lot, and I must endure it."
I did not cease my lay; and especially was the fat land of Burgundy my theme, for I knew it well. Max would listen in enraptured silence. When he was eighteen, I wrote, with deep-seated purpose, several letters to my friend Lord d'Hymbercourt, who was at the time one of the councillors of Charles the Rash, Duke of Burgundy. In those letters I dwelt at length on the virtues, strength, and manly beauty of my pupil.
I knew that Charles often negotiated with other states the marriage of his only child and heiress, Princess Mary. This form of treaty appeared to be almost a mania with the rash Burgundian. I also knew that in no instance had he ever intended to fulfil the treaty. His purpose in each case was probably to create a temporary alliance with that one state while he was in trouble with another. His daughter would inherit a domain richer than that of any king in Europe, and the duke certainly would be contented with nothing less than the hand of an heir to a crown. Suitors for the fair Mary came from every land. All were entertained; but the princess remained unbetrothed.
A few broad hints in my letters to Hymbercourt produced the result I so much desired. One bright day our castle was stirred to its foundation-stones by the arrival of a messenger from Duke Charles of Burgundy, bearing the following missive:—
* * * * *
"To His Grace, Duke Frederick of Styria, Elector of the Holy Roman Empire, and Count of Austria; Charles, Duke of Burgundy and Count of Charolois, sends greeting:—
"The said Duke Charles recommends himself to the most puissant Duke Frederick, and bearing in mind the great antiquity and high nobility of the illustrious House of Hapsburg, begs to express his desire to bind the said noble House to Burgundy by ties of marriage.
"To that end, His Grace of Burgundy, knowing by fame the many virtues of the young and valiant Count of Hapsburg, son to His Grace, Duke Frederick, would, if it pleasures the said illustrious Duke Frederick, suggest the appointment of commissioners by each of the high contracting parties for the purpose of drawing a treaty of marriage between the noble Count of Hapsburg and our daughter, Princess Mary of Burgundy. The said commissioners shall meet within six months after the date of these presents and shall formulate indentures of treaty that shall be submitted to His Grace of Styria and His Grace of Burgundy.
"The lady of Burgundy sends herewith a letter and a jewel which she hopes the noble Count of Hapsburg will accept as tokens of her esteem.
"May God and the Blessed Virgin keep His Grace of Styria in their especial care."
Signed with a flourish. "CHARLES."
* * * * *
This letter did not deceive me. I did not think for a moment that Charles meant to give his daughter to Max. But it answered my purpose by bringing Max to a realization of the nothingness of life in Styria, and opening his eyes to the glorious possibilities that lay in the great world beyond the mountain peaks.
Burgundy's missive produced several effects in the household of Castle Hapsburg, though none were shown on the surface. I was glad, but, of course, I carefully concealed the reasons for my pleasure from His Grace. Duke Frederick was pleased to his toes and got himself very drunk on the strength of it. Otherwise he smothered his delight. He "was not sure"; "was not quite disposed to yield so great a favor to this far-away duke"; "the count is young; no need for haste," and so on. The duke had no intention whatever of sending such messages to Burgundy; he simply wished to strut before his little court. Charles most certainly would receive a pompous and affirmative answer. The poor duchess, torn by contending emotions of mother-love and family pride, was flattered by Burgundy's offer; but she was also grieved.
"We do not know the lady," she said. "Fame speaks well of her, but the report may be false. She may not be sufficiently endued with religious enthusiasm."
"She will absorb that from Your Grace," I answered.
Her Grace thought that she herself was religious and tried to impress that belief on others; but Max was her god. In truth she was jealous of any woman who looked on him twice, and she kept at the castle only the old and harmless of the dangerous sex. She would have refused Burgundy's offer quickly enough if her heart had been permitted to reply.
The effect of the letter on Max was tremendous. He realized its political importance, knowing full well that if he could add the rich domain of Burgundy to the Hapsburg prestige, he might easily achieve the imperial throne. But that was his lesser motive. Hymbercourt's letters to me had extolled Mary's beauty and gentleness. Every page had sung her praises. These letters I had given to Max, and there had sprung up in his untouched heart a chivalric admiration for the lady of Burgundy. He loved an ideal. I suppose most men and every woman will understand his condition. It was truly an ardent love.
Max kept Hymbercourt's letters, and would hide himself on the battlements by the hour reading them, dreaming the dreams of youth and worshipping at the feet of his ideal,—fair Mary of Burgundy, his unknown lady-love.
Before the arrival of the messenger from Duke Charles, Max spoke little of the Burgundian princess; but the message gave her a touch of reality, and he began to open his heart to me—his only confidant.
There seemed to have been a reciprocal idealization going on in the far-off land of Burgundy. My letters to Hymbercourt, in which you may be sure Max's strength and virtues lost nothing, fell into the hands of Madame d'Hymbercourt, and thus came under the eyes of Princess Mary. That fair little lady also built in her heart an altar to an unknown god, if hints in Hymbercourt's letters were to be trusted. Her maidenly emotions were probably far more passive than Max's, though I have been told that a woman's heart will go to great lengths for the sake of an ideal. Many a man, doubtless, would fall short in the estimation of his lady-love were it not for those qualities with which she herself endows him.
Whatever the lady's sentiments may have been, my faith in Hymbercourt's hints concerning them were strengthened by Mary's kindly letter and the diamond ring for Max which came with her father's message to Styria. They were palpable facts, and young Max built an altar in his holy of holies, and laid them tenderly upon it.
Duke Frederick, with my help, composed a letter in reply to Burgundy's message. It required many days of work to bring it to a form sufficient in dignity, yet ample in assent. The missive must answer "yes" so emphatically as to leave no room for doubt in Burgundy's mind, yet it must show no eagerness on the part of Styria. (Duke Frederick always spoke of himself as Styria.) Burgundy must be made to appreciate the honor of this alliance; still, the fact must not be offensively thrust upon him.
The letter was sent, and Charles of Burgundy probably laughed at it. Duke Frederick appointed commissioners and fixed Cannstadt as the place of meeting. Whatever Duke Charles's reasons for making the offer of marriage may have been, they probably ceased to exist soon afterward, for he never even replied to Duke Frederick's acceptance. For months Castle Hapsburg was in a ferment of expectancy. A watch stood from dawn till dusk on the battlements of the keep, that the duke might be informed of the approach of the Burgundian messenger—that never came. After a year of futile waiting the watch was abandoned. Anger, for a time, took the place of expectancy; Duke Frederick each day drowned his ill-humor in a gallon of sour wine, and remained silent on the subject of the Burgundian insult.
Max's attitude was that of a dignified man. He showed neither anger nor disappointment, but he kept the letter and the ring that Mary had sent him and mused upon his love for his ideal—the lady he had never seen.
A letter from Hymbercourt, that reached me nearly two years after this affair, spoke of a tender little maiden in Burgundy, whose heart throbbed with disappointment while it also clung to its ideal, as tender natures are apt to do. This hint in Hymbercourt's letter sank to the tenderest spot in Max's heart.
On Max's twenty-first birthday he was knighted by the emperor. A grand tournament, lasting five days, celebrated the event, and Max proved himself a man among men and a knight worthy of his spurs. I had trained him for months in preparation for this, his first great trial of strength and skill. He was not lacking in either, though they would mature only with his judgment. His strength was beyond compare. A man could hardly span his great arm with both hands.
Soon after Max was knighted, I brought up the subject of his journey into the world. I was again met by parental opposition; but Max was of age and his views had weight. If I could bring him to see the truth, the cause would be won. Unfortunately, it was not his desires I must overcome; it was his scruples. His head and his heart were full of false ideas and distorted motives absorbed from environment, inculcated by parental teaching, and inherited from twenty generations of fantastic forefathers. In-born motives in a conscientious person are stubborn tyrants, and Max was their slave. The time came when his false but honest standards cost him dearly, as you shall learn. But in Max's heart there lived another motive stronger than the will of man; it was love. Upon that string I chose to play.
One day while we were sunning ourselves on the battlements, I touched, as if by chance, on the theme dear to his heart—Mary of Burgundy. After a little time Max asked hesitatingly:—
"Have you written of late to my Lord d'Hymbercourt?"
"No," I answered.
A long pause followed; then Max continued: "I hope you will soon do so. He might write of—of—" He did not finish the sentence. I allowed him to remain in thought while I formulated my reply. After a time I said:—
"If you are still interested in the lady, why don't you go to Burgundy and try to win her?"
"That would be impossible," he answered.
"No, no, Max," I returned, "not impossible—- difficult, perhaps, but certainly not impossible."
"Ah, Karl, you but raise false hopes," he responded dolefully.
"You could at least see her," I returned, ignoring his protest, "and that, I have been told, is much comfort to a lover!"
"Indeed, it would be," said Max, frankly admitting the state of his heart.
"Or it might be that if you saw her, the illusion would be dispelled."
"I have little fear of that," he returned.
"It is true," I continued, "her father's domains are the richest on earth. He is proud and powerful, noble and arrogant; but you are just as proud and just as noble as he. You are penniless, and your estate will be of little value; your father is poor, and his mountain crags are a burden rather than a profit; but all Europe boasts no nobler blood than that of your house. Lift it from its penury. You are worthy of this lady, were her estates multiplied tenfold. Win the estates, Max, and win the lady. Many a man with half your capacity has climbed to the pinnacle of fame and fortune, though starting with none of your prestige. Why do you, born a mountain lion, stay mewed up in this castle like a purring cat in your mother's lap? For shame, Max, to waste your life when love, fortune, and fame beckon you beyond these dreary hills and call to you in tones that should arouse ambition in the dullest breast."
"Duke Charles has already insulted us," he replied.
"But his daughter has not," I answered quickly.
"That is true," returned Max, with a sigh, "but the Duke of Burgundy would turn me from his gates."
"Perhaps he would," I replied, "if you should knock and demand surrender to Maximilian, Count of Hapsburg. Take another name; be for a time a soldier of fortune. Bury the Count of Hapsburg for a year or two; be plain Sir Max Anybody. You will, at least, see the world and learn what life really is. Here is naught but dry rot and mould. Taste for once the zest of living; then come back, if you can, to this tomb. Come, come, Max! Let us to Burgundy to win this fair lady who awaits us and doubtless holds us faint of heart because we dare not strike for her. I shall have one more sweet draught of life before I die. You will learn a lesson that will give you strength for all the years to come, and will have, at least, a chance of winning the lady. It may be one chance in a million; but God favors the brave, and you have no chance if you remain perched owl-like upon this wilderness of rock. Max, you know not what awaits you. Rouse yourself from this sloth of a thousand years, and strike fire from the earth that shall illumine your name to the end of time!"
"But we have no money for our travels, and father has none to give me," he answered.
"True," I replied, "but I have a small sum in the hands of a merchant at Vienna that will support us for a time. When it is spent, we must make our bread or starve. That will be the best part of our experience. A struggle for existence sweetens it; and if we starve, we shall deserve the fate."
After three days Max gave me his answer.
"I will go with you, Karl," he said; "you have never led me wrong. If we starve, I shall not be much worse off than I am here in Styria. It hurts me to say that the love of my father and mother is my greatest danger; but it is true. They have lived here so long, feeding on the poor adulation of a poor people, that they do not see life truly. I have had none of the joys and pleasures which, my heart tells me, life holds. I have known nothing but this existence—hard and barren as the rocks that surround me. I must, in time, return to Styria and take up my burden, but, Karl, I will first live."
After this great stand, Max and I attacked first the father fortress and then the mother stronghold. The latter required a long siege; but at last it surrendered unconditionally, and the day was appointed when Max and I should ride out in quest of fortune, and, perhaps, a-bride-hunting. Neither of us mentioned Burgundy. I confess to telling—at least, to acting—a lie. We said that we wished to go to my people in Italy, and to visit Rome, Venice, and other cities. I said that I had a small sum of gold that I should be glad to use; but I did not say how small it was, and no hint was dropped that the heir to Styria might be compelled to soil his hands by earning his daily bread. We easily agreed among ourselves that Max and I, lacking funds to travel in state befitting a prince of the House of Hapsburg, should go incognito. I should keep my own name, it being little known. Max should take the name of his mother's house, and should be known as Sir Maximilian du Guelph.
* * * * *
At last came the momentous day of our departure. The battlements of the gate were crowded with retainers, many of them in tears at losing "My young Lord, the Count." Public opinion in Castle Hapsburg unanimously condemned the expedition, and I was roundly abused for what was held to be my part in the terrible mistake. Such an untoward thing had never before happened in the House of Hapsburg. Its annals nowhere revealed a journey of an heir into the contaminating world. The dignity of the house was impaired beyond remedy, and all by the advice of a foreigner. There was no lack of grumbling; but of course the duke's will was law. If he wished to hang the count, he might do so; therefore the grumbling reached the duke's ears only from a distance.
The good mother had made a bundle for her son that would have brought a smile to my lips had it not brought tears to my eyes. There were her homely balsams to cure Max's ailments; true, he had never been ill, but he might be. There was a pillow of down for his head, and a lawn kerchief to keep the wind from his delicate throat. Last, but by no means least, was the dear old mother's greatest treasure, a tooth of St. Martin, which she firmly believed would keep her son's heart pure and free from sin. Of that amulet Max did not stand in need.
We followed the Save for many leagues, and left its beautiful banks only to journey toward Vienna. At that city I drew my slender stock of gold from the merchant that had been keeping it for me, and bought a beautiful chain coat for Max. He already had a good, though plain, suit of steel plate which his father had given him when he received the accolade. I owned a good plate armor and the most perfect chain coat I have ever seen. I took it from a Saracen lord one day in battle, and gave him his own life in payment. Max and I each bore a long sword, a short sword, and a mace. We carried no lance. That weapon is burdensome, and we could get one at any place along our journey.
I was proud of Max the morning we rode out of Vienna, true knights-errant, with the greatest princess in Europe as our objective prize. Truly, we were in no wise modest; but the God of heaven, the god of Luck, and the god of Love all favor the man that is bold enough to attempt the impossible.
My stock of gold might, with frugality, last us three months, but after that we should surely have to make our own way or starve. We hoped that Max would be successful in filling our purses with prize money and ransoms, should we fall in with a tournament now and then; but, lacking that good fortune, we expected to engage ourselves as escorts to merchant caravans. By this kind of employment we hoped to be housed and fed upon our travels and to receive at each journey's end a good round sum of gold for our services. But we might find neither tournament nor merchant caravan. Then there would be trouble and hardship for us, and perhaps, at times, an aching void under our belts. I had often suffered the like.
Ours, you see, was not to be a flower-strewn journey of tinselled prince to embowered princess. Before our return to Styria, Max would probably receive what he needed to make a man of him—hard knocks and rough blows in the real battle of life. Above all, he would learn to know the people of whom this great world is composed, and would return to Hapsburg Castle full of all sorts of noxious heresies, to the everlasting horror of the duke and the duchess. They probably would never forgive me for making a real live man of their son, but I should have my reward in Max.
To Max, of course, the future was rosy-hued. Caravans were waiting for our protection, and princes were preparing tournaments for our special behoof. We want for food to eat or place to lay our heads? Absurd! Our purses would soon be so heavy they would burden us; we should soon need squires to carry them. If it were not for our desire to remain incognito, we might presently collect a retinue and travel with herald and banner. But at the end of all was sweet Mary of Burgundy waiting to be carried off by Maximilian, Count of Hapsburg.
Just what the boy expected to do in Burgundy, I did not know. For the lady's wealth I believe he did not care a straw—he wanted herself. He hoped that Charles, for his own peace, would not be too uncivil and would not force a desperate person to take extreme measures; but should this rash duke be blind to his own interests—well, let him beware! Some one might carry off his daughter right from under the ducal nose. Then let the Burgundian follow at his peril. Castle Hapsburg would open his eyes. He would learn what an impregnable castle really is. If Duke Charles thought he could bring his soft-footed Walloons, used only to the mud roads of Burgundy, up the stony path to the hawk's crag, why, let him try! Harmless boasting is a boy's vent. Max did not really mean to boast, he was only wishing; and to a flushed, enthusiastic soul, the wish of to-day is apt to look like the fact of to-morrow.
We hoped to find a caravan ready to leave Linz, but we were disappointed, so we journeyed by the Danube to the mouth of the Inn, up which we went to Muhldorf. There we found a small caravan bound for Munich on the Iser. From Munich we travelled with a caravan to Augsburg, and thence to Ulm, where we were overjoyed to meet once more our old friend, the Danube. Max snatched up a handful of water, kissed it, and tossed it back to the river, saying:—"Sweet water, carry my kiss to the river Save; there give it to a nymph that you will find waiting, and tell her to take it to my dear old mother in far-off Styria."
Do not think that we met with no hard fortune in our journeying. My gold was exhausted before we reached Muhldorf, and we often travelled hungry, meeting with many lowly adventures. Max at first resented the familiarity of strangers, but hunger is one of the factors in man-building, and the scales soon began to fall from his eyes. Dignity is a good thing to stand on, but a poor thing to travel with, and Max soon found it the most cumbersome piece of luggage a knight-errant could carry.
Among our misfortunes was the loss of the bundle prepared by the duchess, and with it, alas! St. Martin's tooth. Max was so deeply troubled by the loss of the tooth that I could not help laughing.
"Karl, I am surprised that you laugh at the loss of my mother's sacred relic," said Max, sorrowfully.
I continued to laugh, and said: "We may get another tooth from the first barber we meet. It will answer all the purposes of the one you have lost."
"Truly," I answered. "The tooth was a humbug."
"I have long thought as much," said Max, "but I valued it because my mother loved it."
"A good reason, Max," I replied, and the tooth was never afterward mentioned.
From Ulm we guarded a caravan to Cannstadt. From that city we hoped to go to Strasburg, and thence through Lorraine to Burgundy, but we found no caravan bound in that direction. Our sojourn at Cannstadt exhausted the money we got for our journeys from Augsburg and Ulm, and we were compelled, much against our will, to accept an offer of service with one Master Franz, a silk merchant of Basel, who was about to journey homeward. His caravan would pass through the Black Forest; perhaps the most dangerous country in Europe for travellers.
Knowing the perils ahead of us, I engaged two stout men-at-arms, and late in February we started for Basel as bodyguard to good Master Franz. Think of the heir of Hapsburg marching in the train of a Swiss merchant! Max dared not think of it; he was utterly humiliated!
Our first good fortune at Muhldorf he looked on as the deepest degradation a man might endure, but he could not starve, and he would not beg. Not once did he even think of returning to Styria, and, in truth, he could not have done so had he wished; our bridges were burned behind us; our money was spent.
By the time we had finished half our journey to Basel, Max liked the life we were leading, and learned to love personal liberty, of which he had known so little. Now he could actually do what he wished. He could even slap a man on the back and call him "comrade." Of course, if the process were reversed,—if any one slapped Max on the back,—well, dignity is tender and not to be slapped. On several occasions Max got himself into trouble by resenting familiarities, and his difficulties at times were ludicrous. Once a fist fight occurred. The heir of Hapsburg was actually compelled to fight with his fists. He thrashed the poor fellow most terribly, and I believe would have killed him had not I stayed his hand. Another time a pretty girl at Augsburg became familiar with him, and Max checked her peremptorily. When he grew angry, she laughed, and saucily held up her lips for a kiss. Max looked at me in half-amused wonder.
"Take it, Max; there is no harm in it," I suggested.
Max found it so, and immediately wanted more, but the girl said too many would not be good for him. She promised others later on, if he were very, very good. Thus Max was conquered by a kiss at the wayside.
The girl was very pretty, Max was very good, and she helped me wonderfully in reducing his superfluous dignity. Her name was Gertrude, and we spoke of her afterward as "Gertrude the Conqueror." She was a most enticing little individual, and Max learned that persons of low degree really may be interesting. That was his first great lesson. I had some trouble after leaving Augsburg to keep him from taking too many lessons of the same sort.
Our contract with Franz provided that we should receive no compensation until after his merchandise had safely reached Basel, but then our remuneration was to be large. Max had no doubt as to the safe arrival of the caravan at Basel, and he rejoiced at the prospect. I tried to reduce the rosy hue of his dreams, but failed. I suggested that we might have fighting ahead of us harder than any we had known, though we had given and taken some rough knocks on two of our expeditions. Max laughed and longed for the fray; he was beginning to live. The fray came quickly enough after we reached the Black Forest, and the fight was sufficiently warm to suit even enthusiastic Max. He and I were wounded; one of our men-at-arms was killed, and Franz's life was saved only by an heroic feat of arms on Max's part. The robbers were driven off; we spent a fortnight in a near-by monastery, that our wounds might heal, and again started for Basel.
During the last week in March we approached Basel. Max had saved the merchant's life; we had protected the caravan from robbery; and good Franz was grateful. Notwithstanding our sure reward, Max was gloomy. The future had lost its rosiness; his wound did not readily heal; Basel was half a hundred leagues off our road to Burgundy. Why did we ever come to Switzerland? Everything was wrong. But no man knows what good fortune may lurk in an evil chance.
At the close of a stormy day we sighted Basel from the top of a hill, and soon the lights, one by one, began to twinkle cosily through the gloaming. All day long drizzling rain and spitting snow had blown in our faces like lance points, driven down the wind straight from the icy Alps. We were chilled to the bone; in all my life I have never beheld a sight so comforting as the home lights of the quaint old Swiss city.
Franz soon found a wherry and, after crossing the Rhine, we marched slowly down the river street, ducking our heads to the blast. Within half an hour we passed under a stone archway and found ourselves snug in the haven of our merchant's courtyard. Even the sumpter mules rejoiced, and gave forth a chorus of brays that did one's heart good. Every tone of their voices spoke of the warm stalls, the double feed of oats, and the great manger of sweet hay that awaited them. Before going into the house Max gave to each mule a stroke of his hand in token of affection. Surely this proud automaton of Hapsburg was growing lowly in his tastes. In other words, nature had captured his heart and was driving out the inherited conventions of twenty generations. Five months of contact with the world had wrought a greater cure than I had hoped five years would work. I was making a man out of the flesh and blood of a Hapsburg. God only knows when the like had happened before.
Max and I were conducted by a demure little Swiss maid to a large room on the third floor of the house, overlooking the Rhine. There was no luxury, but there was every comfort. There were two beds, each with a soft feather mattress, pillows of down, and warm, stuffed coverlets of silk. These were not known even in the duke's apartments at Hapsburg Castle. There we had tarnished gold cloth and ancient tapestries in abundance, but we lacked the little comforts that make life worth living. Here Max learned another lesson concerning the people of this world. The lowly Swiss merchant's unknown guest slept more comfortably than did the Duke of Styria.
When we went down to supper, I could see the effort it cost Max to sit at table with these good people. But the struggle was not very great; five months before it would have been impossible. At Hapsburg he sat at table with his father and mother only; even I had never sat with him in the castle. At Basel he was sitting with a burgher and a burgher's frau. In Styria he ate boar's meat from battered silver plate and drank sour wine from superannuated golden goblets; in Switzerland he ate tender, juicy meats and toothsome pastries from stone dishes and drank rich Cannstadt beer from leathern mugs. His palate and his stomach jointly attacked his brain, and the horrors of life in Hapsburg appeared in their true colors.
On the morning of our second day at Basel, Franz invited us to be his guests during our sojourn in the city. His house was large, having been built to entertain customers who came from great distances to buy his silks.
Max and I had expected to leave Basel when our wounds were entirely healed, but we changed our minds after I had talked with Franz. The conversation that brought about this change occurred one morning while the merchant and I were sitting in his shop. He handed me a purse filled with gold, saying:—
"Here is twice the sum I agreed to pay. I beg that you accept it since I shall still be in your debt."
I knew by the weight of the gold that it was a larger sum than I had ever before possessed. I did not like to accept it, but I could not bring myself to refuse a thing so important to Max.
"We should not accept this from you, good Franz, but—but—"
"The boy saved my life and my fortune," he interrupted, "and I am really ashamed to offer you so small a sum. You should have half of all my goods."
I protested and thanked him heartily, not only for his gift, but also for his manner of giving. Then I told him of our intended journey to Burgundy—of course not mentioning the princess—and asked if he knew of any merchant who would soon be travelling that way.
"There are many going down the river from Basel to Strasburg," he answered, "and you may easily fall in with one any day. But there will soon be an opportunity for you to travel all the way to Burgundy. I know the very man for your purpose. He is Master George Castleman of Peronne. He comes every spring, if there is peace along the road, to buy silks. We now have peace, though I fear it will be of short duration, and I am expecting Castleman early this season. He will probably be here before the first of May. He is a rich merchant, and was one of the councillors of Duke Philip the Good, father to the present Duke of Burgundy. Years ago Duke Philip built a house for him abutting the walls of Peronne Castle. It is called 'The House under the Wall,' and Castleman still lives in it. He refused a title of nobility offered him by Duke Philip. He is not out of favor with the present duke, but he loves peace too dearly to be of use to the hot-headed, tempestuous Charles. Duke Charles, as you know, is really King of Burgundy—the richest land on earth. His domain is the envy of every king, but he will bring all his grandeur tumbling about his head if he perseveres in his present course of violence and greed."
At that moment Max joined us.
"I hear this Duke Charles has no son to inherit his rich domain?" I observed interrogatively.
"No," answered Franz. "He has a daughter, the Princess Mary, who will inherit Burgundy. She is said to be as gentle as her father is violent. Castleman tells me that she is gracious and kind to those beneath her, and, in my opinion, that is the true stamp of greatness."
Those were healthful words for Max.
"The really great and good have no need to assert their qualities," I answered.
"Castleman often speaks of the princess," said Franz. "He tells me that his daughter Antoinette and the Princess Mary have been friends since childhood—that is, of course, so far as persons so widely separated by birth and station can be friends."
I briefly told Max what Franz had said concerning Castleman, and the young fellow was delighted at the prospect of an early start for Peronne.
In Max's awakening, the radiance of his ideal may have been dimmed, but if so, the words of Franz restored its lustre. If the boy's fancy had wandered, it quickly returned to the lady of Burgundy.
I asked Franz if Duke Charles lived at Peronne.
"No, he lives at Ghent," he answered; "but on rare occasions he visits Peronne, which is on the French border. Duke Philip once lived there, but Charles keeps Peronne only as his watch-tower to overlook his old enemy, France. The enmity, I hope, will cease, now that the Princess Mary is to marry the Dauphin."
This confirmation of a rumor which I had already heard was anything but welcome. However, it sensitized the feeling Max entertained for his unknown lady-love, and strengthened his resolution to pursue his journey to Burgundy at whatever cost.
I led Franz to speak of Burgundian affairs and he continued:—
"The princess and her stepmother, the Duchess Margaret, live at Peronne. They doubtless found life at Ghent with the duke too violent. It is said that the duchess is unhappily wedded to the fierce duke, and that the unfortunate princess finds little favor in her father's eyes because he cannot forgive her the grievous fault of being a girl."
While Franz was talking I was dreaming. A kind providence had led us a half-hundred leagues out of our road, through wounds and hardships, to Basel; but that quiet city might after all prove to be the open doorway to Max's fortune. My air-castle was of this architecture: Max would win old Castleman's favor—an easy task. We would journey to Peronne, seek Castleman's house, pay court to Antoinette—I prayed she might not be too pretty—and—you can easily find your way over the rest of my castle.
Within a fortnight Max and I had recovered entirely from our wounds, and were abroad each day in the growing warmth of the sunshine. We did not often speak of Castleman, but we waited, each day wishing for his speedy advent.
At last, one beautiful evening early in May, he arrived. Max and I were sitting at our window watching the river, when the little company rode up to the door of the merchant's shop. With Castleman were two young women hardly more than girls. One of them was a pink and white young beauty, rather tall and somewhat stout. Her face, complexion, and hair were exquisite, but there was little animation in her expression. The other girl had features less regular, perhaps, but she was infinitely more attractive. She was small, but beautiful in form; and she sprang from her horse with the grace of a kitten. Her face was not so white as her companion's, but its color was entrancing. Her expression was animated, and her great brown eyes danced like twinkling stars on a clear, moonless night.
The young women entered the house, and we saw nothing more of them for several days.
When we met Castleman, he gladly engaged our services to Peronne, having heard from Franz of our adventures in the Black Forest. We left the terms to him, and he suggested a compensation far greater than we should have asked. The sum we received from Franz, together with that which we should get from Castleman, would place us beyond want for a year to come. Surely luck was with us.
After Castleman's arrival our meals were served in our room, and we saw little of him or of Franz for a week or more. Twice I saw Castleman ride out with the young women, and after that I haunted the front door of the house. One bright afternoon I met them as they were about to dismount. Castleman was an old man and quite stout, so I helped him from his horse. He then turned to the fair girl of pink and white, saying:—
"Antoinette, daughter, this is Sir Karl de Pitti, who will accompany us to Peronne."
I made my bow and assisted Fraeulein Antoinette to the ground. The other young lady sprang nimbly from her saddle without assistance and waited, as I thought, to be presented. Castleman did not offer to present her, and she ran to the house, followed by serene Antoinette. I concluded that the smaller girl was Fraeulein Castleman's maid. I knew that great familiarity between mistress and servant was usual among the burgher class.
The smaller girl was certainly attractive, but I did not care for her acquaintance. Antoinette was the one in whose eyes I hoped to find favor, first for myself and then for Max. By her help I hoped Max might be brought to meet the Princess of Burgundy when we should reach Peronne. I had little doubt of Max's success in pleasing Antoinette; I was not at all anxious that he should please the smaller maid. There was a saucy glance in her dark eyes, and a tremulous little smile constantly playing about her red, bedimpled mouth, that boded trouble to a susceptible masculine heart. Max, with all his simplicity, though not susceptible, had about him an impetuosity when his interest was aroused of which I had learned to stand in wholesome dread. I was jealous of any woman who might disturb his dreams of Mary of Burgundy, and this little maid was surely attractive enough to turn any man's head her way if she so desired.
Later in the afternoon I saw Fraeulein Antoinette in the shop looking at silks and laces. Hoping to improve the opportunity, I approached her, and was received with a serene and gracious smile. Near Antoinette were the saucy brown eyes and the bedimpled mouth. Truly they were exquisitely beautiful in combination, and, old as I was, I could not keep my eyes from them. The eyes and dimples came quickly to Antoinette, who presented me to her "Cousin Fraeulein Yolanda Castleman." Fraeulein Yolanda bowed with a grace one would not expect to find in a burgher girl, and said with the condescension of a princess:—
"Sir Karl, you pleasure me."
I was not prepared for her manner. She probably was not Antoinette's maid. A pause followed my presentation which might have been meant by the brown-eyed maid as permission to withdraw. But I was for having further words with Antoinette. She, however, stepped back from her cousin, and, if I was to remain, I must speak to my lady Fraeulein Yolanda Castleman or remain silent, so I asked,—
"Do you reside in Basel, Fraeulein?"
"No, no," she replied, with no touch of bourgeois confusion, "I am a Burgundian. Uncle Castleman, after promising Twonette" (I spell the name as she pronounced it) "and me for years, has brought us on this long journey into the world. I am enjoying it more than any one can know, but poor uncle lives in dread of the journey home. He upbraids himself for having brought us and declares that if he but had us home again, nothing could induce him to start out with such a cargo of merchandise."
"Well he may be fearful," I answered. "Where one's greatest treasure is, there is his greatest fear, but peace reigns on the road to Burgundy, and I hope your good uncle's fears are without ground save in his love."
"I hear you are to accompany us, and of course we shall be safe," she said, the shadow of a smile playing suspiciously about her mouth and dancing in her eyes.
"Yes, I am to have that great honor," I replied, bowing very low. I, too, could be sarcastic.
"Does the—will the—the gentleman who is with you accompany us?" asked Fraeulein Yolanda. So! These maidens of Burgundy had already seen my handsome Max! This one would surely be tempting him with her eyes and her irresistible little smile.
"Yolanda!" exclaimed serene Twonette. Yolanda gave no heed.
"Yes, Fraeulein," I responded. "He goes with us. Do you live in Peronne?"
"Y-e-s," she replied hesitatingly. "Where is your home and your friend's?"
"Yolanda!" again came in tones of mild remonstrance from Fraeulein Antoinette. The dimples again ignored the warning and waited for my answer.
"We have no home at present save the broad earth, Fraeulein," I responded.
"You cannot occupy it all," she retorted, looking roguishly up to me.
"No," I responded, "we are occupying this part of the earth at present, but we hope soon to occupy Burgundy."
"Please leave a small patch of that fair land for Twonette and me," she answered, in mock entreaty. After a short pause she continued:—
"It seems easier for you to ask questions than to answer them."
"Fraeulein," I responded, "your question is not easily answered. I was born in Italy. I lived for many years in the East, and—"
"I did not ask for your biography," she said, interrupting me. I did not notice the interruption, but continued:—
"I spent six years in your fair land of Burgundy. My mother was a Walloon. I dearly love her people, and hope that my home may soon be among them."
The girl's face had been slightly clouded, but when I spoke lovingly of the Walloons, the dimples again played around her mouth and a smile brightened her eyes.
"I also am a Walloon," she answered; "and your friend? He surely is not Italian: he is too fair."
"The Lombards are fair," I answered, "and the Guelphs, you know, are of Lombardy. You may have heard of the Houses of Guelph and of Pitti."
"I have often heard of them," she answered; then, after a short silence,—"I fear I have asked too many questions." A gentle, apologetic smile lighted her face and won me instantly. I liked her as much as I admired her. I knew that she wanted me to speak of Max, so to please her I continued, even against my inclination:—
"My young friend, Sir Maximilian du Guelph, wanted to see the world. We are very poor, Fraeulein, and if we would travel, we must make our way as we go. We have just come from Ulm and Cannstadt, passing through the Black Forest. Sir Max saved the life of our host, and in so doing was grievously wounded. Good Master Franz rewarded us far beyond our deserts, and for the time being we think we are rich."
"The name Maximilian is not Italian," observed Yolanda. "It has an Austrian sound."
"That is true," I responded. "My name, Karl, is German. Few names nowadays keep to their own country. Your name, Yolanda, for example, is Italian."
"Is that true?" she answered inquiringly, taking up a piece of lace. I saw that the interview was closing. After a moment's hesitation Yolanda turned quickly to me and said:—
"You and your friend may sup with us this evening in the dining room of our hostess. We take supper at five."
The invitation was given with all the condescension of a noble lady. Twonette ventured:—
"What will father say, Yolanda?"
"I can guess what uncle will say, but we will give him his say and take our own way. Nonsense, Twonette, if we are to journey to Peronne with these gentlemen, our acquaintance with them cannot begin too soon. Come, Sir Karl, and—and bring your young friend, Sir Maximilian."
It was clear to my mind that, without my young friend, Sir Maximilian, I should not have had the invitation. Yolanda then turned to Franz and his silks, and I, who had always thought myself of some importance, was dismissed by a burgher girl. I soothed my vanity with the thought that beauty has its own prerogatives.
Without being little, Yolanda was small; without nobility, she had the haute mien. But over and above all she had a sweet charm of manner, a saucy gentleness, and a kindly grace that made her irresistible. When she smiled, one felt like thanking God for the benediction.
That evening at five o'clock Max and I supped with Frau Franz. The good frau and her husband sat at either end of the table, Castleman, his daughter, and Yolanda occupied one side, while I sat by Max opposite them. If Castleman had offered objection to the arrangement, he had been silenced.
I was especially anxious that Max should devote himself to Twonette, but, as I had expected, Yolanda's attractions were far too great to be resisted. There was a slight Walloon accent in her French and German (we all spoke both languages) that gave to her voice an exquisite cadence. I spoke to her in Walloonish, and she was so pleased that she seemed to nestle toward me. In the midst of an animated conversation she suddenly became silent, and I saw her watching Max's hand. I thought she was looking at his ring. It was the one that Mary of Burgundy had given him.
YOLANDA THE SORCERESS
Several days passed, during which we saw the Castlemans frequently. One evening after supper, when we were all sitting in the parlor, Yolanda enticed Max to an adjoining room, on the excuse of showing him an ancient piece of tapestry. When it had been examined, she seated herself on a window bench and indicated a chair for Max near by. Among much that was said I quote the following from memory, as Max told me afterward:—
"So you are from Italy, Sir Max?" queried Yolanda, stealing a glance at his ring.
"Yes," returned Max.
"From what part, may I ask?" continued the girl, with a slight inclination of her head to one side and a flash from beneath the preposterously long lashes toward his hand.
"From—from Rome," stammered Max, halting at even so small a lie.
"Ah, Sir Karl said you were from Lombardy," answered the girl.
"Well—that is—originally, perhaps, I was," he returned.
"Perhaps your family lives in both places?" she asked very seriously.
"Yes, that is the way of it," he responded.
"Were you born in both places?" asked Yolanda, without the shadow of a smile. Max was thinking of the little lie he was telling and did not analyze her question.
"No," he answered, in simple honesty, "you see I could not be born in two places. That would be impossible."
"Perhaps it would be," replied Yolanda, with perfect gravity. Max was five years her senior, but he was a boy, while she had the self-command of a quick-witted woman, though she still retained the saucy impertinence of childhood. Slow-going, guileless Max began to suspect a lurking intention on Yolanda's part to quiz him.
"Did not Sir Karl say something about your having been born in Styria?" asked the girl, glancing slyly at the ring.
"No, he did not," answered Max, emphatically. "I suppose I was born in Rome—no, I mean Lombardy—but it cannot matter much to you, Fraeulein, where I was born if I do not wish to tell."
The direct course was as natural to Max as breathing. The girl was startled by his abruptness. After a pause she continued:—
"I am sure you are not ashamed of your birthplace, and—"
He interrupted her sharply:—
"I also am sure I am not ashamed of it."
"If you had permitted me to finish," she said quietly, "you would have had no need to speak so sharply. I spoke seriously. I wanted to say that I am sure you have no reason to feel ashamed of your birthplace, and that perhaps I ought not to have asked a question that you evidently do not want to answer. Uncle says if my curiosity were taken from me, there would be nothing left but my toes."
Her contrition melted Max at once, and he said:—
I will gladly tell you, Fraeulein, if you want to know. I was born—"
"No, no," she interrupted, "you shall not tell me. I will leave you at once and see you no more if you do. Besides, there is no need to tell me; I already know. I am a sorceress, a witch. I regret to make the confession, but it is true; I am a witch."
"I believe you are," answered Max, looking at her admiringly and seating himself beside her on the window bench. He had learned from Gertrude of Augsburg and many other burgher girls that certain pleasantries were more objectionable to them in theory than in practice; but this burgher girl rose to her feet at his approach and seemed to grow a head taller in an instant. He quietly took his old place and she took hers. She continued as if unconscious of what had happened:—
"Yes, I am a sorceress." Then she drew her face close to Max, and, gazing fixedly into his eyes, said solemnly:—
"I can look into a person's eyes and know if they are telling me the truth. I can tell their fortunes—past, present, and future. I can tell them where they were born. I can tell them the history of anything of value they have. Their jewellery, their—"
"Tell me any one of those things concerning myself," interrupted Max, suddenly alive with interest.
"No, it is too great a strain upon me," answered the girl, with amusing gravity.
"I entreat you," said Max, laughing, though deeply interested. "I believe you can do what you say. I beg you to show me your skill in only one instance."
The girl gently refused, begging Max not to tempt her.
"No, no, I cannot," she said, "good Father Brantome has told me it is sinful. I must not."
Half in jest but all in earnest, Max begged her to try; and, after a great deal of coaxing, she reluctantly consented to give a very small exhibition of her powers. Covering her face with her hands, she remained for the space of a minute as if in deep thought. Then, making a series of graceful and fantastic passes in the air with her hands, as if invoking a familiar spirit, she said in low, solemn tones:—
"You may now sit by me, Sir Max. My words must not be heard by any ears save yours."
Max seated himself beside the girl.
"Give me your word that you will tell no one what I am about to do and say," she said.
"I so promise," answered Max, beginning to feel that the situation was almost uncanny.
"Now, place in my hand some jewel or valued article of which I may speak," she said.
Excepting his sword and dagger, Max owned but one article of value—the ring Mary of Burgundy had given him. He hesitatingly drew it from his finger and placed it in the girl's hand. She examined it carefully, and said:—
"Now, give me your hand, Sir Max." Her hand was not much larger than a big snowflake in early spring, Max thought, and it was completely lost to sight when his great fingers closed over it. The velvety softness of the little hand sent a thrill through his veins, and the firm, unyielding strength of his clasp was a new, delicious sensation to the girl. Startled by it, she made a feeble effort to withdraw her hand; but Max clasped it firmly, and she surrendered. After a short silence she placed the ring to her forehead, closed her eyes, and drew her face so near to Max that he felt her warm breath on his cheek. Max was learning a new lesson in life—the greatest of all. She spoke in soft whispers, slowly dropping her words one by one in sepulchral tones:—
"What—do—I see—surely I am wrong. No—I see clearly—a lady—a great lady—a princess. She smiles upon a man. He is tall and young. His face is fair; his hair falls in long, bright curls like yours. She gives him this ring; she asks him to be her husband—no—surely a modest maiden would not do that." She stopped suddenly, snatched her hand from Max, returned the ring and cried, "No more, no more!"
She tossed her hands in the air, as if to drive off the spirits, and without another word ran to the parlor laughing, and threw herself on Uncle Castleman's knee. Max slowly made the sign of the cross and followed the little enchantress. She had most effectually imposed on him. He was inclined to believe that she had seen the ring or had heard of it in Burgundy before the princess sent it; but Yolanda could have been little more than a child at that time—three years before. Perhaps she was hardly past fourteen, and one of her class would certainly not be apt to know of the ring that had been sent by the princess. She might have received her information from Twonette, who, Franz said, was acquainted with Mary of Burgundy; but even had Yolanda heard of the ring, the fact would not have helped her to know it.
After our first evening with the Castlemans we got on famously together. True, Max and I felt that we were making great concessions, and I do not doubt that we showed it in many unconscious words and acts. This certainly was true of Max; but Yolanda's unfailing laughter, though at times it was provoking, soon brought him to see that too great a sense of dignity was at times ridiculous. He could not, however, always forget that he was a Hapsburg while she was a burgher girl, and his good memory got him many a keen little thrust from her saucy tongue. If Max resented her sauciness, she ran away from him with the full knowledge that he would miss her. She was much surer that she pleased and delighted him than he was that he pleased her, though of the latter fact she left, in truth, little room for doubt.
Max was very happy. He had never before known a playmate. But here in Basel the good Franz and his frau, Yolanda, Twonette, fat old Castleman, and myself were all boys and girls together, snatching the joys of life fresh from the soil of mother earth, close to which we lived in rustic simplicity.
Since we had left Styria, our life, with all its hardships, had been a delight to Max, but it was also a series of constantly repeated shocks. If the shocks came too rapidly and too hard, he solaced his bruised dignity with the thought that those who were unduly familiar with him did not know that he was the heir of the House of Hapsburg. So day by day he grew to enjoy the nestling comfort of a near-by friend. This, I grieve to say, was too plainly seen in his relations with Yolanda, for she unquestionably nestled toward him. She made no effort to conceal her delight in his companionship, though she most adroitly kept him at a proper distance. If she observed a growing confidence in Max, she quickly nipped it by showing him that she enjoyed my companionship or that of old Franz just as much. On such occasions Max's dignity and vanity required balm.
"Oh, Karl," he said to me one evening while we were preparing for bed, "it seems to me I have just wakened to life, or have just got out of prison. No man can be happy on a pinnacle above the intimate friendships of his fellow-man and—and woman."
"Yes, 'and woman.' Well put, Max," said I.
Max did not notice my insinuation, but continued:—
"I have lived longer since knowing these lowly friends than in all the years of my life in Styria. Karl, you have spoiled a good, stiff-jointed Hapsburg, but you have made a man. If nothing more comes of this journey into the world than I have already had, I am your debtor for life. What would my dear old father and mother say if they should see me and know the life I am leading? In their eyes I should be disgraced—covered with shame."
"When you go back to Hapsburg," I said, "you can again take up your old, petrified existence and eat your husks of daily adulation. You will soon again find satisfaction in the bended knee, and will insist that those who approach you bow deferentially to your ancestors."
"I shall, of course, return to Hapsburg," he said. "It is my fate, and no man can change the destiny to which he was born. I must also endure the bowing and the adulation. Men shall honor my ancestors and respect in me their descendant, but I shall never again be without friends if it be in my power to possess them. As I have said, that is difficult for one placed above his fellow-man."
"There is the trouble with men of your degree," I answered. "Friends are not like castles, cities, and courtly servitors. Those, indeed, one may really own; but we possess our friends only as they possess us. Like a mirror, a friend gives us only what we ourselves give. No king is great enough to produce his own image unless he stands before the glass."
"Teach me, Karl, to stand before the glass," said Max, plaintively.
"You are before it now, my dear boy," I answered. "These new friends are giving you only what you give them. With me, you have always been before the glass."
"That has been true," said Max, "ever since the first day you entered Hapsburg. Do you remember? I climbed on your knee and said, 'You have a big, ugly nose!' Mother admonished me, and I quickly made amends by saying, 'But I like you.'"
"I well remember, Max," I responded. "That day was one of mutual conquest. That is the prime condition of friendship: mutual conquest and mutual surrender. But you must have other friends than me. You see I am not jealous. You must have friends of your own age."
"I now realize why I have hungered all my life," said Max, "though I have never before known: I longed for friends. Is it not strange that I should find them among these low-born people? It surely cannot be wrong for me to live as I do, though father and mother would doubtless deem it criminal."
"These good burgher folk are making you better and broader and stronger," I answered. "But there is one thing I want to suggest: you are devoting too much of your time to the brown-eyed little maid. You must seek favor with Twonette. She is harmless, and through her you may, by some freak of fortune, reach the goal of your desires. With the prestige of your family and the riches of Burgundy, you may become the most powerful man in the world, save the Pope."
"Perhaps Fraeulein Yolanda is also acquainted with the Princess Mary," responded Max, half reluctantly speaking Mary's name.
"No," I answered, "she is not." I asked her if she were. She laughed at the suggestion, and said: 'Oh, no, no, the princess is a very proud person and very exclusive. She knows but one burgher girl in Peronne, I am told. That one is Twonette, and I believe she treats her most ungraciously at times. I would not endure her snubs and haughty ways as Twonette does. I seek the friendship of no princess. Girls of my own class are good enough for me. "Twonette, fetch me a cup of wine." "Twonette, thread my needle." "Twonette, you are fat and lazy and sleep too much." "Twonette, stand up." "Twonette, sit down." Faugh! I tell you I want none of these princesses, no, not one of them. I hate princesses, and I tell you I doubly hate this—this—' She did not say whom she doubly hated. She is a forward little witch, Max. She laughed merrily at my questions concerning the princess, and asked me if we were going to Burgundy to storm Mary's heart. 'Who is to win her?' she asked. 'You, Sir Karl, or Sir Max? It must be you. Sir Max is too slow and dignified even to think of scaling the walls of a maiden fortress. It must be you, Sir Karl.' The saucy little elf rose from her chair, bowed low before me and said, 'I do liege homage to the future Duke of Burgundy.' Then she danced across the room, laughing at my discomfiture. She is charming, Max, but remember Gertrude the Conqueror! Such trifling affairs are well enough to teach a man the a-b-c of life but one with your destiny ahead of him must not remain too long in his alphabet. Such affairs are for boys, Max, for boys."
"Do not fear for me, Karl," answered Max, laughingly. "We are not apt to take hurt from dangers we see."
"Do you clearly see the danger?" I suggested.
"I clearly see," he responded. "I admire Fraeulein Yolanda as I have never admired any other woman. I respect her as if she were a princess; but one of the penalties of my birth is that I may not think of her nor of one of her class. She is not for me; she is a burgher maiden—out of my reach. For that reason I feel that I should respect her."
The attitude of Max toward Yolanda was a real triumph of skill and adroitness over inherited convictions and false education. She had brought him from condescension to deference solely by the magic of her art. Or am I wrong? Was it her artlessness? Perhaps it was her artful artlessness, since every girl-baby is born with a modicum of that dangerous quality.
"Perhaps you are right, Karl," added Max. "I may underrate the power of this girl. As you have said, she is a little witch. But beneath her laughter there is a rare show of tenderness and strength, which at times seems pathetic and almost elfin. You are right, Karl. I will devote myself to Twonette hereafter. She is like a feather-bed in that she cannot be injured by a blow, neither can she give one; but Yolanda—ah, Karl, she is like a priceless jewel that may be shattered by a blow and may blind one by its radiance."
But Max's devotion to Twonette was a failure. She was certainly willing, but Yolanda would have none of it, and with no equivocation gave every one to understand as much. Still, she held Max at a respectful distance. In fact, this Yolanda handled us all as a juggler tosses his balls. Max must not be too attentive to her, and he must not be at all attentive to Twonette. In this arrangement Twonette acquiesced. She would not dare to lift her eyes to one upon whom Yolanda was looking!
Here was illustrated the complete supremacy of mind over matter. Castleman, Twonette, Franz and his frau, Max and I, all danced when the tiny white hand of Yolanda pulled the strings. A kiss or a saucy nod for Castleman or Twonette, a smile or a frown for Max and me, were the instruments wherewith she worked. Deftly she turned each situation as she desired. Max made frequent efforts to obtain a private moment with her, that he might ask a few questions concerning her wonderful knowledge of his ring—they had been burning him since the night of her sorcery—but, though she knew quite well his desire to question her, she gave him no opportunity.
During the time that Castleman was buying his silks, the members of our little party grew rapidly in friendship. In culture, education, and refinement, the Castlemans were far above any burghers I had ever known. Franz and his wife, though good, simple people, were not at all in Castleman's class. They felt their inferiority, and did not go abroad with us, though we supped daily with them. Each evening supper was a little fete followed by a romp of amusement, songs, and childish games in the frau's great parlor.
The Castlemans, Max, and I made several excursions into the mountains. Yolanda and Twonette were in ecstasy at the mountain views, which were so vividly in contrast with the lowlands of Burgundy.
"These mountains are beautiful," said patriotic Yolanda, "but our lowlands raise bread to feed the hungry."
On one occasion we rode to the Falls of Schaffhausen, and often we were out upon the river. During these expeditions Yolanda adroitly kept our little party together, and Max could have no private word with her.
I had never been so happy as I was during the fortnight at Basel while Castleman was buying silk. I was almost a child again; my fifty odd years seemed to fall from me as an eagle sheds his plumes in spring. We were all happy and merry as a May-day, and our joyousness was woven from the warp and woof of Yolanda's gentle, laughing nature. Without her, our life would have been comfortable but commonplace.
During all this time Max pondered in vain upon the remarkable manner in which Yolanda had divined the secret of his ring. He longed to question her, but she would not be questioned until she was ready to answer.
On a certain morning near the close of our sojourn in Basel, Max, after many elephantine manoeuvres, obtained Yolanda's promise to walk out with him to a near-by hill in the afternoon. It was a Sabbath day, and every burgher maiden in Basel that boasted a sweetheart would be abroad with him in the sunshine. Max could not help feeling that it was most condescending in him, a prince, to walk out with Yolanda, a burgher maiden. Should any one from Styria meet him, he would certainly sink into the ground, though in a certain way the girl's reluctance seemed to place the condescension with her.
After dinner, which we all took together that day, she put him off with excuses until drowsy Uncle Castleman had taken himself off for a nap. Then Yolanda quickly said:—
"Fetch me my hood, Twonette. I shall not need a cloak. I am going to walk out with Sir Max."
Twonette instantly obeyed, as if she were a tire-woman to a princess, and soon returned wearing her own hood and carrying Yolanda's.
"Ah, but you are not to come with us," said Yolanda. She was ready to give Max the opportunity he desired, and would give it generously.
"But—but what will father say?" asked Twonette, uneasily.
"We shall learn what he says when we return. No need to worry about that now," answered Yolanda. Twonette took off her hood.
Max and Yolanda climbed the hill, and, after a little demurring on the girl's part, sat down on a shelving rock at a point where the river view was beautiful. As usual, Yolanda managed the conversation to suit herself, but after a short time she permitted Max to introduce the subject on which he wished to talk.
"Will you tell me, Fraeulein," he asked, "how you were enabled to know the history of my ring? I cannot believe you are what you said—a sorceress—a witch."
"No, no," she answered laughingly, "I am not a sorceress."
"You almost made me believe you were," said Max, "but I am slow of wit, as you have doubtless observed. I told Sir Karl you said you were a sorceress, and he said—"
"You gave me your word you would not tell!" exclaimed Yolanda.
"Neither did I tell aught save that you said you were a sorceress. He laughed and said—"
"Yes, yes, what did he say?" eagerly queried the girl.
"He said—I am sure you will not take amiss what he said?" responded Max.
"No, no, indeed no! Tell me," she demanded eagerly.
"He said you were a witch, if brown eyes, dimpling smiles, and girlish beauty could make one," answered Max.
"Ah, did he say that of me?" asked the girl, musingly. After a pause she continued, "That was kind in Sir Karl and—and evidently sincere." After another pause devoted to revery she said: "Perhaps I shall be his friend sometime in a manner he little expects. Even the friendship of a helpless burgher girl is not to be despised. But he is wrong. I am not beautiful," she poutingly continued. "Now let us examine my face." She laughed, and settled herself contentedly upon the stone, as if to take up a serious discussion. "I often do so in the mirror. Vain? Of course I am!"
"I am only too willing to examine it," said Max, laughingly.
"My mouth," she said, pursing her lips and lifting her face temptingly for his inspection, "my mouth is—"
"Perfect," interrupted Max.
She looked surprised and said, "Ah, that was nicely spoken, Little Max, and quickly, for you."
"'Little Max'!" exclaimed the young man. "Where heard you that name? No one save my mother has ever used it; no one but Karl and my father has ever heard her speak the words. Did Karl tell you of it?"
"Karl did not tell me," she responded, "and I never heard any one speak the name. The name fits you so well—by contraries—that it came to me, perhaps, by inspiration."
"That hardly seems possible," returned Max, "and your knowledge of how I received the ring is more than remarkable."
"Let us talk about my face," said the girl, full of the spirit of mischief, and wishing to put off the discussion of the ring. "Now, my eyes, of which Sir Karl spoke so kindly, are—"
"The most wonderful in the world," interrupted Max. "They are brilliant as priceless jewels, fathomless as deep water, gentle and tender as—"
"There, there, Little Max," she cried, checking with a gesture his flow of unexpected eloquence. "I declare! you are not so slow as you seem. I will tell you just how much of a sorceress I am. I thought to flatter you by saying a great lady had given you the ring, and lo, I was right unless you are adroitly leading me to believe in my own sorcery. Is she a great lady? Come, tell me the story."
She unconsciously moved nearer to him with an air of pleasant anticipation.
"Yes, it was a great lady, a very great lady who gave me the ring," he said most seriously.
"And was I right in my other divination?" she asked, looking down and flushing slightly. "Did—did she wish to marry you? But you need not answer that question."
"I will gladly answer it," returned Max, leaning forward, resting his elbow on his knees and looking at the ground between his feet. "I hoped she did. I—I longed for it."
"Perhaps she possessed vast estates?" asked the girl, a slight frown gathering on her brow.
"Yes, she possessed vast estates," said Max, "but I would gladly have taken her penniless save for the fact that I am very poor, and that she would suffer for the lack of luxuries she has always known."
"But how could the lady have felt sure you were not seeking her for the sake of her estates?" asked Yolanda.
"She could not know," answered Max. "But I sought her for her own sake and for no other reason."
"What manner of person was she?" asked Yolanda. "Was she dark or light, short or tall, plain of feature or beautiful, amiable of temper or vixenish? Was she like any one you have ever seen?"
She spoke in deep earnest and looked eagerly up to his face.
"She was beautiful of feature," answered Max. "Her eyes and her hair were dark as yours are. She was short of stature, I have been told."
Yolanda laughed merrily: "I declare, Sir Max, you were in love with a lady you had never seen. It was her estate you loved."
"No, no," said Max, earnestly. "I ardently desired—"
"Perhaps if you were to see her, your enthusiasm would vanish," said Yolanda, interrupting him almost sharply. "My magic tells me she is a squat little creature, with a wizened face; her eyes are sharp and black, and her nose is a-peak, not unlike mine. That, she is sour and peevish of temper, as I am, there can be no doubt. And, although she be great and rich as the Princess of Burgundy, I warrant you she is not one whit handsomer nor kinder in disposition than I."
Max started on hearing Mary of Burgundy's name, but quickly recovering himself said:—
"I would not wish her better than you in any respect. You wrong both yourself and the lady to speak as you do. Those who know her say the lady has not her like in all the world."
A soft light came to Yolanda's face as he spoke, and she answered slowly:—
"Doubtless the lady had like news of you, and is curious to know what manner of man you are. She too may have dreamed of an ideal."
"How do you know she has never seen me?" asked Max, who had not fully caught her reply when she spoke of the fact that he had never seen the lady of the ring. "I shall surely come to believe you are a sorceress."
"No, I am not," she answered emphatically. "You shall carry that jest no further. A moment since you said those who know her say so and so, and you believed she was short of stature. Had you ever seen the lady, you would know if she were tall or short. You would not be in doubt upon so important a matter as the stature of your lady-love."
The reasoning and the reasoner were so irresistible that Max was easily satisfied.
"But you have spoken of the lady as in the past. I hope she is not dead?" asked Yolanda.
"No," answered Max, gravely, "our fathers did not agree. That is, her father was not satisfied, and it all came to nothing save a—a heartache for me."
It was well that Max was looking at the ground when she turned the soft radiance of her eyes upon him, else he might have learned too much. His modesty and honesty in admitting frankly that the lady's father was not satisfied with the match pleased her and she sat in silence, smiling contentedly. After a time she turned almost fiercely upon him:—
"Do you know what I should do, Sir Max, were I in your place?"
"What would you do, Fraeulein?" queried Max.
"I would show the lady that I was worthy of her by winning her, even though she were on a throne, guarded by a thousand dragons. I am a woman, Sir Max, and I know a woman's heart. The heart of a princess is first the heart of a woman. Be sure the lady will thank you and will reward you if you fight your way to her and carry her off against all the world."
"But how is that to be done, Fraeulein?" asked Max, carelessly. In truth, Mary of Burgundy was not uppermost in his heart at that moment.
"That is for a man to say and for a man to do," she responded. "A woman knows only how to wait and to long for one who, alas! may never come. She will wait for you, Sir Max, and when you come to her, she will place her hand in yours and go with you wherever you wish to take her. Of this, at least, my powers of sorcery are sufficient to assure you. Do not fear! do not fear!"
She spoke earnestly, as if from the depths of a personal experience. Her eyes glowed with the light of excitement and her face was radiant. Max turned to her and saw all this beauty. Then he gently took her hand and said huskily:—
"If I thought she were like you, Fraeulein, I would gladly go to the end of the world to win from her even one smile."
"No, no, Sir Max," said Yolanda, withdrawing her hand, "we must have no more such speeches from you. They are wrong coming from one of your degree to a burgher girl of Peronne, if she be an honest girl. Our stations are too far apart."
"That is true, Fraeulein," answered Max, sorrowfully, "but I mean no disrespect. I honor you as if you were a princess"—here his tones took energy and emphasis—"but I meant what I said, Fraeulein, I meant what I said, and though I shall never say it again, I know that I shall mean it all the days of my life."
The expression in her eyes as she looked up at him was one of mingled pleasure and amusement. It seemed to say, "Do not be too sure that you will never say it again," but she said nothing. After a moment she suggested:—
"Shall we return, Sir Max?" They rose, and as they started back to Basel he remarked:—
"The words 'Little Max' on your lips sounded sweet to me, Fraeulein. They bring home to me the voice of my mother, and though I should not care to hear another speak them, still, the words are very pretty on your lips, and I like them."
Yolanda glanced quickly up to him with radiant eyes. He caught the glance, and the last vestige of his ideal, Mary of Burgundy, left his heart, driven out by the very real little enchantress that walked by his side.
DOWN THE RHINE TO BURGUNDY
Notwithstanding the idle, happy life we were leading, I was anxious to begin our journey to Burgundy. Just what would—or could—happen when we should reach that land of promise—perhaps I should say of no promise—I did not know. I hoped that by some happy turn of fortune—perhaps through Twonette's help—Max might be brought to meet Mary of Burgundy. I had all faith in his ability to please her, or any woman, but what advantage he could gain by winning her regard I could not guess. The lady's personal preference would cut no figure in the choosing of a husband. Her father would do that for her, and she would be powerless against the will of a man whose chief impulses were those of a mad bull. This arrogant duke, without so much as a formal withdrawal, had ignored Duke Frederick's acceptance and had contracted his daughter's hand to the Dauphin of France, who was a puny, weak-minded boy of fourteen.
Should Max and I go to Burgundy and say to Charles, "This is Maximilian of Styria, to whom you offered your daughter in marriage," his answer might be a sword thrust. Should the duke learn of our unbidden presence in his domain, his love for making enemies would probably bring us into trouble. Therefore, though I ardently wished to begin the journey, I had no real cause to hope for good results, though there were many reasons to fear the outcome of our adventures.
One may well ask why I continued in a course so dangerous. My answer is: A man travels the road of his destiny. The Fates sometimes hunt out a man for their purposes and snatch him from his hiding-place in the by-ways, but they usually choose from the scenes of great events their victims or their favorites. The man who fears to be their victim is seldom chosen for their favorite. I should rather be their victim than be overlooked; and what I should have chosen for myself I desired for Max. I had no future save in him; I had been overlooked in the by-ways.
At the time of our journeying all Europe turned on a Burgundian pivot, and the Fates were busy in that land. It was the stage of the world, on which the strong, the great, and the enterprising of mankind were playing; and I hoped that Max, who was strong and enterprising, would find his part in this Burgundian drama. I was willing to risk sacrificing him, though he was dearer to me than the blood of my heart, if I might stand even a small chance to make him great.
At strange variance with my philosophy, I had faith in Max's luck. It was more than faith; it was a fixed, intuitive conviction that he would win. For these reasons, all growing out of what I felt rather than what I reasoned, we continued our dangerous and apparently useless journey. When a man feels himself led by an unseen hand, he should gladly follow. There is an intuition that is better than reason.
* * * * *
One bright morning in May we began our journey down the Rhine. My fears had no place in Max's heart, and his self-confidence was to me a harbinger of good fortune. A man may do anything that he knows he can do; failure never disappoints him who expects it.
We left Basel by the west gate and took the road for Strasburg, leading down the west bank of the Rhine. That was not the most direct route to Peronne, but it was the safest because of the numerous river towns wherein we might lie safely by night. The robber barons whom we had to fear along the river were at least not pilfering vagabonds, such as we should meet across country. Against the open attack of a brave foe we felt that we could make a good defence. Our fighting force consisted of Max, myself, and two lusty squires. We had also a half-score of men who led the sumpter mules.
Castleman had purchased two beautiful chargers in Basel, pretending that he wished to take them to Peronne for sale. He asked Max to ride one and offered the other for my use. I was sure that his only reason for buying the horses was his desire to present them to us, which he afterward did. Max named his charger "Night," because of its spotless coat of black. Yolanda rode a beautiful white mare which we re-christened "Day." Castleman bestrode an ambling Flemish bay, almost as fat as its master and quite as good-natured, which, because of its slowness, Yolanda dubbed "Last Week."
We travelled slowly down the Rhine, enjoying the scenery and filling our hearts with the sunshine of the soft spring days. Our cautious merchant so arranged our lodging-places that we were never on the road after dark. His system caused much delay, as we often rested a half-day in a town that we might be able to lodge there over night. In this deliberate manner of proceeding, life was a sweet, lazy holiday, and our journey was like a May outing. We were all very happy—almost ominously so.
After the explanation between Max and Yolanda on the hill at Basel she made no effort to avoid him, and he certainly did not avoid her. They both evidently rested on his remark that he would never again speak upon a certain subject. They fully understood each other's position.
Max knew that between him and the burgher maiden there could be no thought of marriage. She, it seemed, was equally aware of that fact. All that he had been taught to value in life—father, mother, family and position, his father's subjects, who would one day be his, his father's throne, on which he would one day sit—stood between him and Yolanda. They stood between him and the achievement of any desire purely personal to himself and not conducive to the welfare of his state. He felt that he did not belong to himself; that his own happiness was never to be considered. He belonged to his house, his people, and his ancestors.
Max had not only been brought up with that idea as the chief element in his education, but he had also inherited it from two score generations of men and women that had learned, believed, and taught the same lesson. We may by effort efface the marks of our environment, but those we inherit are bred in the bone. Yolanda was not for Max. He could not control his heart; it took its inheritance of unbidden passion from a thousand scores of generations which had lived and died and learned their lesson centuries before the House of Hapsburg began; but he could control his lips and his acts.
With Max's growing love for Yolanda came a knightly reverence which was the very breath of the chivalry that he had sworn to uphold. This spirit of reverence the girl was quick to observe, and he lost nothing by it in her esteem. At times I could see that this reverential attitude of Max almost sobered her spirits; to do so completely would have been as impossible as to dam the current of a mountain stream.
On the evening of our first day out of Basel we were merrily eating our suppers in a village where we had halted for the night, when I remarked that I had met a man, while strolling near the river, who had said that war was imminent between Burgundy and Switzerland. My remark immediately caught Yolanda's sharp attention.
"Yes," said I, "we left Switzerland none too soon. This man tells me, on what authority I know not, that a herald will soon be sent by Duke Charles carrying defiance to the Swiss. What of value the duke expects to obtain from barren Switzerland outside of Basel, I do not know. Fighting for fighting's sake is poor sport."
"Forbear your wise saws, Sir Karl, and tell me what the man said," demanded Yolanda.
"He told me," I replied, "that he had heard the news at Metz, and that it was supposed Duke Rene would muster his forces in Lorraine and turn them against Burgundy in case of war with Switzerland."
"I predicted evil when Burgundy took Nancy from Lorraine," cried Yolanda, excitedly. "The hollow conventions made with Lorraine after the capture of that city were but the promises of a man under duress. The only ties that will bind a narrow man are those of immediate self-interest. There can be no lasting treaty between France and Burgundy so long as King Louis covets Flanders and is able to bribe our neighbors. These conventions between Burgundy, Lorraine, Bourbon, and St. Pol will hold only so long as Burgundy does not need them."
"That is surely true, Fraeulein," I said.
"Yes," she continued, "and should Burgundy suffer any great misfortune or be crippled for an hour, those small states would be upon his back like a pack of wolves, and he would be ruined. Lorraine, Bourbon, and St. Pol do not see that Burgundy alone stands between them and the greedy maw of France. Should King Louis survive my—my Lord of Burgundy five years, these dukes and counts will lose their feudal rights and become servile vassals of France, not in name, as now they are, but in sorry fact."
I was so astonished at this tempestuous outburst from an unexpected quarter, and was so surprised at discovering an intimate knowledge of great affairs in a simple burgher maid, that I dropped the piece of meat I held in my fingers and stared in wonder across the table at Yolanda. I had known from the first hour of meeting her that the girl's mind was marvellously keen; but that a maid of seventeen or eighteen, in her position, should have so firm a grasp of international affairs and should possess so clear a conception of the troublous situation in western Europe, astounded me.
In eastern Europe, where we were not blinded by neighborly hatred and local jealousies, the truth of Yolanda's statement had long been apparent. We carried our prophecy further and predicted that the headlong passions of Charles the Rash would soon result in his death or overthrow.
My point in dragging in this heavy load of political lore is this: In case of the death of Charles of Burgundy, the future of western Europe would depend on the brains and the bravery of the man who should marry the Princess Mary. I felt that Max was chosen of God for that destiny. Should he succeed in defending Burgundy against France, he would become the most powerful man in Europe. No event save death could keep him from achieving the imperial crown.
If the existing treaty of marriage between Mary and the Dauphin of France were carried out, and if the Dauphin as king should possess one-half the wisdom of his father, Louis, all western Europe would soon be France. If this treaty were to fail and the Princess Mary espouse a man capable of defending her territory, Burgundy would still remain a wall of protection to the smaller states of the Rhine.