Read CHAPTER II - KNIGHTS-ERRANT of Yolanda: Maid of Burgundy, free online book, by Charles Major, on

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 hérésies, 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, Karl?”

“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.