Read CHAPTER VIII - ON THE MOAT BRIDGE of Yolanda: Maid of Burgundy, free online book, by Charles Major, on ReadCentral.com.

Awaiting Castleman’s return, we remained housed up at The Mitre, seldom going farther abroad than Grote’s garden save in the early morning or after dark. But despite our caution trouble befell us, as our burgher friend had predicted.

Within a week Max began to go out after dark without asking me to accompany him. When he came into our room late one evening, I asked carelessly where he had been. I knew where he had been going, and had burned to speak, but the boy was twenty-two. Within the last few months he had grown out of my tutelage, and his native strength of character had taught me to respect him and in a certain way to fear him. From the promptness of his reply I thought that he had wished me to ask concerning his outgoing and incoming.

“I have been to the bridge over the moat, near Castleman’s House under the Wall,” he answered.

“What did you there?” I asked, seeing his willingness to be questioned.

“I stood there I I ” He paused, laughed, and stammered on. “I looked at the castle and at the moat, like a silly fool, and and ”

“Castleman’s house?” I suggested, helping him out.

“Y-e-s,” he answered hesitatingly, “I could not help seeing it. It is close by the bridge not twenty paces distant.”

“Did you see any one else except the house?” I asked.

“No,” he returned promptly. “I did not want to see any one else. If I had I should have entered the house.”

“Why, then, did you go to the bridge?” I queried.

“I cannot answer that question even to myself,” he replied. “I I there is a constant hungering for her, Karl, that I cannot overcome; it seems as if I am compelled to go to the bridge, though I know I should not. It is very foolish in me, I am sure, but ”

“I heartily agree with you,” I answered. “It is not only foolish, it is rash; and it may bring you great trouble.”

I did not deem it necessary to tell him that he was following in the footsteps of his race. I left him to suppose that he was the only fool of the sort that had ever lived. The thought would abate his vanity.

“But I must go to the bridge,” he continued, finishing the sentence I had interrupted, “and I do not see how there can be evil in it.”

“No, Max, it Is not wrong in itself,” I said reprovingly; “but Castleman, evidently for good reasons, asked you to stay away from his house, and counselled us to remain close at the inn. It has also this evil in it for you, aside from the danger: it will make your duty harder to perform. When a man longs for what he may not have, he should not think upon it, much less act on it. Our desires, like covetousness and jealousy, feed upon themselves. We may, if we but knew it, augment or abate them at will.”

“I shall always think on on my love for Yolanda,” he replied. “I would not abate it one jot; I would augment it in my heart. But, Karl you see, Karl, it is not a question of my own strength to resist. I need no strength. There is no more reason for you to warn me against this danger than to admonish a child not to long for a star, fearing he might get it. The longing may be indulged with impunity; the star and the danger are out of reach.”

I had nothing to say; Max was stronger and nobler than ever I had believed.

Max continued to go to the bridge, and I made no effort to prevent him. Meddling mars more frequently than it mends, and when the Fates are leading, a man is a fool to try to direct their course. Whatever was to be would be. Fate held Max by the hand and was leading him. I almost feared to move or to speak in his affairs, lest I should make a mistake and offend these capricious Fates. The right or the wrong of his visits to the moat depended entirely upon the answer to my riddle, “Who is Yolanda?” and I dared not put it to the touch.

On one occasion he returned from the bridge, and without lighting the lamp, sat on the arm of my chair. The moonlight streaming through the window illumined his head as with a halo. He tossed the damp curls from his face, and his eyes were aglow with joy. There was no need to tell me what had happened, but he told me.

“Ah, Karl, I’ve seen the star,” he cried triumphantly. He was but a boy-man, you must remember.

“I was sure you would see her,” I answered. “How did you bring the meeting about?”

“I did not bring it about,” he answered, laughing softly. “The star came to the child.”

“All things come to him that waits at the bridge,” I replied sarcastically. He paid no heed to the sarcasm, but continued:

“She happened to be near the bridge when I got there, and she came to me, Karl, she came to me like a real star falling out of the darkness.”

That little fact solved once more my great riddle at least, it solved it for a time. Yolanda was not Mary of Burgundy. I had little knowledge of princesses and their ways, but I felt sure they were not in the habit of lurking in dark places or wandering by sluggish moats in the black shadow of a grim castle. A princess would not and could not have been loitering by the bridge near the House under the Wall. Castleman’s words concerning Yolanda’s residence under his roof came back and convinced me that my absurd theory concerning her identity was the dream of a madman.

“She happened to be near the bridge?” I asked, with significant emphasis.

“Perhaps I should not have used the word ‘happened,’” returned Max.

“I thought as much. What did she have to say for herself, Max?”

“If I were not sure of your devotion, Karl, I should not answer a question concerning Yolanda put in such a manner,” he replied; “but I’ll tell you. When I stepped on the bridge, she came running to me from the shadow of the trees. Her arms were uplifted, and she moved so swiftly and with such grace one could almost think she was flying ”

“Witches fly,” I interrupted. My remark checked his flow of enthusiasm. After a long silence I queried, “Well?”

Max began again.

“She gave me her hand and said: ’I knew you would come again, Sir Max. I saw you from the battlements last night and the night before and the night before that. I could not, with certainty, recognize you from so great a distance, but I was sure you would come to the bridge I do not know why, but I was sure you would come; so to-night I too came. You cannot know the trouble I took or the risk I ran in coming. You have not seen me for many days, yet you remember me and have come five times to the bridge. I was wrong when I said you would forget the burgher girl within a fortnight. Sir Max, you are a marvel of constancy.’ At that moment the figures of two men appeared on the castle battlements, silhouetted against the moon; they seemed of enormous stature, magnified in the moonlight. One of them was the Duke of Burgundy. I recognized him by his great beard, of which I have heard you speak. Yolanda caught one glimpse of the men and ran back to the house without so much as giving me a word of farewell.”

“What did you say during the brief interview?” I asked.

“Not one word,” he replied.

“By my soul, you are an ardent lover,” I exclaimed.

“I think she understood me,” Max replied, confidently; and doubtless he was right.

Once more the riddle was solved. A few more solutions and there would be a mad Styrian in Burgundy. My reflections were after this fashion: Princesses, after all, do wander by the moat side and loiter by the bridge. Princesses do go on long journeys with no lady-in-waiting to do their bidding and no servants ready at their call. Yolanda was Mary of Burgundy, thought I, and Max had been throwing away God-given opportunities. Had she not seen Max from the battlements, and had she not fled at sight of the duke? These two small facts were but scant evidence of Yolanda’s royalty, but they seemed sufficient.

“What would you have me say, Karl?” asked Max. “You would not have me speak more than I have already said and win her love beyond her power to withdraw it. That I sometimes believe I might do, but if my regard for her is true, I should not wish to bring unhappiness to her for the sake of satisfying my selfish vanity. If I am not mistaken, a woman would suffer more than a man from such a misfortune.”

Here, truly, was a generous love. It asked only the privilege of giving, and would take nothing in return because it could not give all. If Yolanda were Mary of Burgundy, Max might one day have a reward worthy of his virtue. Yolanda’s sweetness and beauty and Mary’s rich domain would surely be commensurate with the noblest virtue. I was not willing that Max should cease wooing Yolanda if I might give that word to his conduct until I should know certainly that she was not the princess. This, I admit, was cruel indifference to Yolanda’s peace of mind or pain of heart, if Max should win her love and desert her.

Because of a faint though dazzling ray of hope, I encouraged Max after this to visit the bridge over the moat, dangerous though it was; and each night I received an account of his doings. Usually the account was brief and pointless. He went, he stood upon the bridge, he saw the House under the Wall, he returned to the inn. But a night came when he had stirring adventures to relate.

At the time of which I am writing every court in Europe had its cluster of genteel vagabonds, foreigners, who stood in high favor. These hangers-on, though perhaps of the noblest blood in their own lands, were usually exiles from their native country. Some had been banished for crimes; others had wandered from their homes, prompted by the love of roaming so often linked with unstable principles and reckless dispositions. Burgundy under Charles the Rash was a paradise for these gentry. The duke, who was so parsimonious with the great and wise Philip de Comines that he drove him to the court of Louis XI, was open-handed with these floating villains.

In imitation of King Louis’s Scotch guard, Charles had an Italian guard. The wide difference in the wisdom of these princes is nowhere more distinctly shown than in the quality of the men they chose to guard them. Louis employed the simple, honest, brave Scot. Charles chose the most guileful of men. They were true only to self-interest, brave only in the absence of danger. The court of Burgundy swarmed with these Italian mercenaries, many of whom had followed Charles to Peronne. Count Campo-Basso, who afterward betrayed Charles, was their chief. Among his followers was a huge Lombard, a great bully, who bore the name of Count Calli.

On the evening of which I speak Max had hardly stepped on the bridge when Yolanda ran to him.

“I have been waiting for you, Sir Max,” she said. “You are late. I feared you would not come. I have waited surely an hour, though I am loath to confess it lest you think me a too willing maiden.”

“It would be hard, Fraeulein, for me to think you too willing you are but gracious and kind, and I thank you,” answered Max. “But you have not waited an hour. Darkness has fallen barely a quarter of that time.”

“I was watching long before dark on the battlements, and ”

“On the battlements, Fraeulein?” asked Max, in surprise.

“I mean from from the window battlements in uncle’s house. I’ve been out here under the trees since nightfall, and that seems to have been at least an hour ago. Don’t you understand, Sir Max?” she continued, laughing softly and speaking as if in jest; “the longer I know you the more shamefully eager I become; but that is the way with a maid and a man. She grows more eager and he grows less ardent, and I doubt not the time will soon arrive, Sir Max, when you will not come at all, and I shall be left waiting under the trees to weep in loneliness.”

Max longed to speak the words that were in his heart and near his lips, but he controlled himself under this dire temptation and remained silent. After a long pause she stepped close to him and asked:

“Did you not want me to come?”

Max dared not tell her how much he had wanted her to come, so he went to the other extreme he must say something and, in an excess of caution, said:

“I would not have asked you to come, Fraeulein, though I much desired it; but sober judgment would prompt me to wish that that is, I ah, Fraeulein, I did not want you to come to the bridge.”

She laughed softly and said:

“Now, Little Max, you do not speak the truth. You did want me to come, else why do you come to the bridge? Why do you come?”

In view of all the facts in the case the question was practically unanswerable unless Max wished to tell the truth, so he evaded by saying:

“I do not know.”

She looked quickly up to his face and stepped back from him:

“Did you come to see Twonette? I had not thought of her. She is but drained milk and treacle. Do you want to see her, Sir Max? If so, I’ll return to the house and send her to you.”

“Fraeulein, I need not answer your question,” returned Max, convincingly.

“But I love Twonette. I know you do not come to see her, and I should not have spoken as I did,” said Yolanda, penitently.

Perhaps her penitential moods were the most bewitching certainly they were the most dangerous of all her many phases.

“You know why I come to the bridge, even though I do not,” said Max. “Tell me, Fraeulein, why I come.”

“That is what you may tell me. I came to hear it,” she answered softly, hanging her head.

“I may not speak, Fraeulein,” he replied, with a deep, regretful sigh. “What I said to you on the road from Basel will be true as long as I live, but we agreed that it should not again be spoken between us. For your sake more than for mine it is better that I remain silent.”

Yolanda hung her head, while her fingers were nervously busy with the points of her bodice. She uttered a low laugh, flashed her eyes upon him for an instant, and again the long lashes shaded them.

“You need not be too considerate for my sake, Sir Max,” she whispered; “though though I confess that I never supposed any man could bring me to this condition of boldness.”

Max caught her hands, and, clasping them between his own, drew the girl toward him. The top of her head was below his chin, and the delicious scent from her hair intoxicated his senses. She felt his great frame tremble with emotion, and a thrill of exquisite delight sped through every fibre of her body, warming every drop of blood in her veins. But Max, by a mighty effort, checked himself, and remained true to his self-imposed renunciation in word and act. After a little time she drew her hands from his, saying:

“You are right, Max, to wish to save yourself and me from pain.”

“I wish to save you, Yolanda. I want the pain; I hope it will cling to me all my life. I want to save you from it.”

“Perhaps you are beginning too late, Max,” said the girl, sighing, “but but after all you are right. Even as you see our situation it is impossible for us to be more than we are to each other. But if you knew all the truth, you would see how utterly hopeless is the future in which I at one time thought I saw a ray of hope. Our fate is sealed, Max; we are doomed. Before long you shall know. I will soon tell you all.”

“Do you wish to tell me now, Fraeulein?” he asked.

“No,” she whispered.

“In your own good time, Yolanda. I would not urge you.”

Max understood Yolanda’s words to imply that her station in life was even lower than it seemed, or that there was some taint upon herself or her family. Wishing to assure her that such a fact could not influence him, he said:

“You need not fear to tell me all concerning yourself or your family. There can be no stain upon you, and even though your station be less than ”

“Hush, Max, hush,” she cried, placing her hand protestingly against his breast. “You do not know what you are saying. There is no stain on me or my family.”

Max wondered, but was silent; he had not earned the right to be inquisitive.

The guard appeared at that moment on the castle battlements, and Max and Yolanda sought the shelter of a grove of trees a dozen paces from the bridge on the town side of the moat. They seated themselves on a bench, well within the shadow of the trees, and after a moment’s silence Max said:

“I shall not come to the bridge again, Fraeulein. I’ll wait till your uncle returns, when I shall see you at his house. Then I’ll say farewell and go back to the hard rocks of my native land and to a life harder than the rocks.”

“You are right in your resolve not to come again to the bridge,” said Yolanda, “for so long as you come, I, too, shall come when I can. That will surely bring us trouble sooner or later. But when Uncle Castleman returns, you must come to his house, and I shall see you there. As to your leaving Peronne, we will talk of that later. It is not to be thought of now.”

She spoke with the confidence of one who felt that she might command him to stay or order him to go. She would settle that little point for herself.

“I will go, Fraeulein,” said Max, “soon after your uncle’s return.”

“Perhaps it will be best, but we will determine that when we must when the time comes that we can put it off no longer. Now, I wish you to grant me three promises, Sir Max. First, ask me no questions concerning myself. Of course, you will ask them of no one else; I need not demand that promise of you.”

“I gladly promise,” he answered. “What I already know of you is all-sufficient.”

“Second, do not fail to come to my uncle’s house when he invites you. His home is worthy to receive the grandest prince in the world. My my lord, Duke Philip the Good, was Uncle Castleman’s dear friend. The old duke, when in Peronne, dined once a week with my uncle. Although uncle is a burgher, he could have been noble. He refused a lordship and declined the Order of the Golden Fleece, preferring the freedom of his own caste. I have always thought he acted wisely.”

“Indeed he was wise,” returned Max. “You that have never known the restraints of one born to high estate cannot fully understand how wise he was.”

Yolanda glanced up to Max with amusement in her eyes:

“Ah, yes! For example, there is poor Mary of Burgundy, who is to marry the French Dauphin. I pity her. For all we know, she may be longing for another man as I I longed for my mastiff, Cæsar, when I was away. By the way, Sir Max, are you still wearing the ring?” She took his hand and felt for the ring on his finger. “Ah, you have left it off,” she cried reproachfully, answering her own question.

“Yes,” answered Max. “There have been so many changes within the last few weeks that I have taken it off, and and I shall cease to wear it.”

“Then give it to me, Sir Max,” she cried excitedly.

“I may not do that, Fraeulein,” answered Max. “It was given to me by one I respect.”

“I know who the lady is,” answered Yolanda, tossing her head saucily and speaking with a dash of irritation in her voice.

“Ah, you do?” asked Max. “Tell me now, my little witch, who is the lady? If you know so much tell me.”

Yolanda lifted her eyes solemnly toward heaven, invoking the help of her never failing familiar spirit.

“I see an unhappy lady,” she said, speaking in a low whisper, “whose father is one of the richest and greatest princes in all the world. A few evenings ago while we were standing on the moat bridge talking, I saw the lady’s father on the battlements of yonder terrible castle. His form seemed magnified against the sky till it was of unearthly size and terrible to look on doubly terrible to those who know him. If she should disobey her father, he would kill her with his battle-axe, I verily believe, readily as he would crush a rebellious soldier. Yet she fears him not, because she is of his own dauntless blood and fears not death itself. She is to marry the Dauphin of France, and her wishes are of so small concern, I am told that she has not yet been notified. This terrible man will sell his daughter as he would barter a horse. She is powerless to move in her own behalf, being bound hand and foot by the remorseless shackles of her birth. She will become an unhappy queen, and, if she survives her cruel father, she will, in time, take to her husband this fat land of Burgundy, for the sake of which he wishes to marry her. She is Mary of Burgundy, and even I, poor and mean of station, pity her. She gave you the ring.”

“How did you learn all this, Fraeulein? You are not guessing, as you would have had me believe, and you would not lie to me. What you have just said is a part with what you said at Basel and at Strasburg. How did you learn it, Fraeulein?”

“Twonette,” answered Yolanda.

That simple explanation was sufficient for Max. Yolanda might very likely know the private affairs of the Princess Mary through Twonette, who was a friend of Her Highness.

“But you have not promised to visit Uncle Castleman’s house when he invites you,” said Yolanda, drawing Max again to the bench beside her.

“I gladly promise,” said Max.

“That brings me to the third promise I desire,” said Yolanda. “I want you to give me your word that you will not leave Burgundy within one month from this day, unless I give you permission.”

“I cannot grant you that promise, Fraeulein,” answered Max.

“Ah, but you must, you shall,” cried Yolanda, desperately clutching his huge arms with her small hands and clinging to him. “I will scream, I will waken the town. I will not leave you, and you shall not shake me off till I have your promise. I may not give you my reasons, but trust me, Max, trust me. Give me your unquestioning faith for once. I am not a fool, Max, nor would I lie to you for all the world, in telling you that it is best for you to give me the promise. Believe me, while there may be risk to me in what I ask, it is best that you grant it, and that you remain in Peronne for a month perhaps for two months, unless I sooner tell you to go.”

“I may not give you the promise you ask, Fraeulein,” answered Max, desperately. “You must know how gladly I would remain here forever.”

“I believe truly you want to stay,” she answered demurely, “else I surely would not ask this promise of you. Your unspoken words have been more eloquent than any vows your lips could coin, and I know what is in your heart, else my boldness would have been beyond excusing. What I wish is that your desire should be great enough to keep you when I ask you to remain.”

“I may not think of myself or my own desires, Fraeulein,” he answered. “Like the lady of Burgundy, I was shackled at my birth.”

“The lady of Burgundy is ever in your mind,” Yolanda retorted sullenly. “You would give this promise quickly enough were she asking it she with her vast estate.”

There was an angry gleam in the girl’s eyes, and a dark cloud of unmistakable jealousy on her face. She stepped back from Max and hung her head. After a moment of silence she said:

“You may answer me to-morrow night at this bridge, Sir Max. If you do not see fit to give me the promise, then I shall weary you no further with importunity, and you may go your way.”

There was a touch of coldness in her voice as she turned and walked slowly toward the bridge. Max called softly:

“Yolanda!”

She did not answer, but continued with slow steps and drooping head. As her form was fading into the black shadow of the castle wall he ran across the bridge to her, and took her hand:

“Fraeulein, I will be at the bridge to-morrow night, and I will try to give the promise you ask of me.”