Read CHAPTER XVI - PARTICEPS CRIMINIS of Yolanda: Maid of Burgundy, free online book, by Charles Major, on

That evening after supper Max and I walked over to Castleman’s. The evening was cool, and we were sitting in the great parlor talking with Castleman and Twonette when Yolanda entered. The room was fully fifty feet long, and extended across the entire front of the house. A huge chimney was built at the east end of the room, and on either side of the fireplace was a cushioned bench. A similar bench extended across the entire west end of the room. When Yolanda entered she ran to me and took my hand.

“Come, Sir Karl, I want to speak with you,” she said.

She led me to the west end of the room, sat down on the cushioned bench, and drew in her skirts that I might sit close beside her.

“I want to tell you about the missive, Sir Karl,” she whispered, laughing and shrugging her shoulders in great glee. “Mother returned it to the box, and when I left you I hurried back and haunted the room, fearing that some one might meddle with the parchment. Near the hour of six o’clock father entered. I was sitting on the divan, and he sat down in his great chair, of course taking no notice of me I am too insignificant for so great a person to notice, except when he is compelled to do so. I was joyful in my heart, but I conjured up all my troubles that I might make myself weep. I feared to show any change in myself, so I sobbed aloud now and then, and soon father turned angrily toward me. ‘Are you still there?’ he asked. ‘Yes, father,’ I answered, as if trying to stifle my sobs. ’Are you really going to send that cruel letter to King Louis?’”

“Cruel, indeed,” I interrupted.

“Ah, yes! Well, father made no reply, and I went over to him and began to plead. I should have wanted to cut my tongue out had I succeeded, but I had little fear. Father is not easily touched by another’s suffering, and my tears only hardened his heart. Well, of course, he repulsed me; and soon a page announced Byron the herald and the Bishop of Cambrai. Father took the packet from the iron box, and put his fingers in the pouch, as if he were going to take out the letter. He hesitated, and during that moment of halting I was by turns cold as ice and hot as fire. Finally his resolution took form, and he drew out the missive. I thought I should die then and there, when he began to look it over. But after a careless glance he put it back in the pouch, and threw it on the table in front of the bishop. I could hardly keep from shouting for joy. He had failed to see the alteration, and in case of its discovery, he might now be his own witness against King Louis, should that crafty monarch dare to alter my father’s missive by so much as the crossing of a ‘t’. If father hereafter discovers anything wrong in the letter, he will be able to swear that King Louis was the evil doer, since father himself put the letter in the pouch with his own hands. Father will never suspect that a friend came to me out of far-away Styria to commit this crime.”

“I rejoice that I came,” I said.

“And I,” she answered. “I feared the bishop would read the letter, but he did not. He tied the ribbon, softened the lead wafer over the lamp flame, and placed it on the bow-knot; then he stamped it with father’s small seal. When it was finished I did not want to laugh for joy when one is very happy one wants to weep. That I could safely do, and I did. The bishop handed the letter to Byron, and father spoke commandingly: ’Deliver the missive to the French king before you sleep or eat, unless he has left Paris. If he has gone to Tours, follow him and loiter not.’ ‘And if he is not in Tours, Your Grace?’ asked Byron. ’Follow him till you find him,’ answered father, ‘if you must cross the seas.’ ’Shall I do all this without eating or sleeping?’ asked Byron. Father rose angrily, and Byron said: ’If Your Grace will watch from the donjon battlements, in five minutes you will see me riding on your mission. When Your Grace sees me riding back, it will be, I fear, the ghost of Byron.’

“It was a wearisome task for me to climb the donjon stairs, but I knew father would not be there to watch Byron set out, and I felt that one of the family should give him God-speed; so alone, and frightened almost out of my wits, I climbed those dark steps to the battlements, and gazed after Byron till he was a mere speck on the horizon down toward Paris. I pray God there may be a great plenty of trouble grow out of the crossing of this ‘t’. Father is always saying that women were put on earth to make trouble, so I’ll do what little I can to make true His Lordship’s words.” She threw back her head, laughing softly. “Is it not glorious, Sir Karl?”

“Indeed, Princess ” I began, but she clapped her hand over my mouth and I continued, “Indeed, Yolanda, the plan is so adroit and so effective that it fills me with admiration and awe.”

“I like the name Yolanda,” said she, looking toward Max, who was sitting with Twonette on one of the benches by the chimney.

“And I, too, like it,” I responded. “I cannot think of you as the greatest and richest princess in Europe.”

“Ah, I wish I, too, could forget it, but I can’t,” she answered with a sigh, glancing from under her preposterously long lashes toward Max and Twonette.

“How came you to take the name Yolanda?” I asked.

“Grandfather wished to give me the name in baptism,” she answered, “but Mary fell to my lot. I like the present arrangement. Mary is the name of the princess the unhappy, faulty princess. Yolanda is my name. Almost every happy hour I have ever spent has been as Yolanda. You cannot know the wide difference between me and the Princess Mary. It is, Sir Karl, as if we were two persons.”

She spoke very earnestly, and I could see that there was no mirth in her heart when she thought of herself as the Princess Mary; she was not jesting.

“I don’t know the princess,” I said laughingly, “but I know Yolanda.”

“Yes; I’ll tell you a great secret, Sir Karl. The Princess Mary is not at all an agreeable person. She is morose, revengeful, haughty, cold ” here her voice dropped to a whisper, “and, Sir Karl, she lies she lies. While Yolanda well, Yolanda at least is not cold, and I I think she is a very delightful person. Don’t you?”

There was a troubled, eager expression in her eyes that told plainly she was in earnest. To Yolanda the princess was another person.

“Yolanda is very sure of me,” I answered.

“Ah, that she is,” answered the girl. You see, this was a real case of billing and cooing between December and May.

A short silence followed, during which Yolanda glanced furtively toward Max and Twonette.

“You spoke of your grandfather,” said I, “and that reminds me that you promised to tell me the story of the staircase in the wall.”

“So I did,” answered Yolanda, haltingly. Her attention was at the other end of the room.

“Do you think Twonette a very pretty girl?” she asked.

“Yes,” I answered, surprised at the abrupt question. I caught a glimpse of Yolanda’s face and saw that I had made a mistake, so I continued hastily: “That is yes yes, she is pretty, though not beautiful. Her face, I think, is rather dollish. It is a fine creation in pink and white, but I fear it lacks animation.”

“Now for the stairway in the wall,” said Yolanda, settling herself with the pretty little movements peculiar to her when she was contented. “As I told you, grandfather built it. Afterward he ceded Peronne to King Louis, and for many years none of our family ever saw the castle. A few years ago King Louis ceded it to my father. Father has never lived here, and has visited Peronne only once in a while, for the purpose of looking after his affairs on the French border. The castle is very strong, and, being here on the border at the meeting of the Somme and the Cologne, it has endured many sieges, but it has never been taken. It is called ‘Peronne La Pucelle.’

“Father’s infrequent visits to the castle have been brief, and all who have ever known of the stairway are dead or have left Burgundy, save the good people in this house, my mother, my tire-woman, and myself. Three or four years ago, when I was a child, mother and I, unhappy at Ghent and an annoyance to father, came here to live in the castle, and and I wonder what Sir Max and Twonette find to talk about and Twonette and I became friends. I love Twonette dearly, but she is a sly creature, for all she is so demure, and she is bolder than you would think, Sir Karl. These very demure girls are often full of surprises. She has been sitting there in the shadow with Sir Max for half an hour. That, I say, would be bold in any girl. Well, to finish about the staircase: my bedroom, as I told you, was my grandfather’s. One day Twonette was visiting me, and we we Sir Max, what in the world are you and Twonette talking about? We can’t hear a word you say.”

“We can’t hear what you are saying,” retorted Max.

“I wish you were young, Sir Karl,” whispered Yolanda, “so that I might make him jealous.”

“Shall we come to you?” asked Max.

“No, no, stay where you are,” cried Yolanda; then, turning to me, “Where did I stop?”

“Your bedroom ” I suggested.

“Yes my bedroom was my grandfather’s. One day I had Twonette in to play with me, and we rummaged every nook and corner we could reach. By accident we discovered the movable panel. We pushed it aside, and spurring our bravery by daring each other, we descended the dark stairway step by step until we came suddenly against the oak panel at the foot. We grew frightened and cried aloud for help. Fortunately, Tante Castleman was on the opposite side of the panel in the oak room, and and ”

She had been halting in the latter part of her narrative and I plainly saw what was coming.

“Tante Castleman was was It was fortunate she was in ” She sprang to her feet, exclaiming: “I’m going to tell Twonette what I think of her boldness in sitting there in the dark with Sir Max. Her father is not here to do it.” And that was the last I heard of the stairway in the wall.

Yolanda ran across the room to the bench by the fireplace and stamped her foot angrily before Twonette.

“It it is immodest for a girl to sit here in the deep shadow beside a gentleman for hours together. Shame, Twonette! Your father is not here to correct you.”

Castleman had left the room.

Twonette laughed, rose hurriedly, and stood by Yolanda in front of Max. Yolanda, by way of apology, took Twonette’s hand, but after a few words she coolly appropriated her place “in the deep shadow beside a gentleman.” A princess enjoys many privileges denied to a burgher girl. When a girl happens to be both, the burgher girl is apt to be influenced by the princess, as the princess is apt to be modified by the life of the burgher girl. Presently Yolanda said:

“Please go, Twonette, and mix a bowl of wine and honey. Yours is delicious. Put in a bit of allspice, Twonette, and pepper, beat it well, Twonette, and don’t spare the honey. Now there’s a good girl. Go quickly, but don’t hurry back. Haste, you know, Twonette, makes waste, and you may spoil the wine.”

Twonette laughed and went to mix the wine and honey. I walked back to the other end of the room, and sat down by a window to watch the night gather without. I was athrill with the delightful thought that, all unknown to the world, unknown even to himself, Max, through my instrumentality, was wooing Mary of Burgundy within fifty feet of where I sat. He was not, of course, actively pressing his suit, but all unconsciously he was taking the best course to win her heart forever and ever. Now, with a propitious trick of fortune, my fantastic dream, conceived in far-off Styria, might yet become a veritable fact. By what rare trick this consummation might be brought about, I did not know, but fortune had been kind so far, and I felt that her capricious ladyship would not abandon us.

Yolanda turned to Max with a soft laugh of satisfaction, settled her skirts about her, as a pleased woman is apt to do, and said contentedly:

“There, now!”

“Fraeulein, you are very kind to me,” said Max.

“Yes yes, I am, Sir Max,” she responded, beaming on him. “Now, tell me what you and Twonette have been talking about.”

“You,” answered Max.

A laugh gurgled in her throat as she asked:

“What else?”

“I’ll tell you if you will tell me what you and Sir Karl were saying,” he responded.

“Ah, I see!” she exclaimed, clapping her hands gleefully. “You were jealous.”

“I admit it,” he answered, so very seriously that one might have thought him in earnest. “And you, Fraeulein?”

“I jealous?” she responded, with lifted eyebrows. “You are a vain man, Sir Max. I was not jealous only only a tiny bit so much ” and she measured the extent of her jealousy on the pink tip of her little finger. “I am told you were falconing with the Duke of Burgundy to-day. If you go in such fine company, I fear we shall see little of you.”

“There is no company finer than than ” Max checked his tongue.

“Say it, Max, say it,” she whispered coaxingly, leaning toward him.

“Than you, Fraeulein.” The girl leaned back contentedly against the wall, and Max continued: “Yes, his lordship was kind to me, and most gracious. I cannot believe the stories of cruelty I hear of him. I have been told that on different occasions he has used personal violence on his wife and daughter. If that be true, he must be worse than the brutes of the field, but you may be sure, Yolanda, the stories are false.”

“Alas! I fear they are too true,” responded the girl, sighing in memory of the afternoon.

“He is a pleasing companion when he wishes to be,” said Max, “and I hear his daughter, the princess, is much like him.”

“Heavens!” exclaimed Yolanda, “I hope she is like him only when he is pleasing.”

“That is probably true,” said Max.

“There is where I am really jealous, Max this princess ” she said, leaning forward and looking up into his face with unmistakable earnestness.

“Why?” asked Max, laughing.

“Because men love wealth and high estate. There are scores of men at least, so I have been told eager to marry this princess, who do not even know that she is not hideous to look upon and vixenish in temper. They would take her gladly, with any deformity, physical, mental, or moral, for the sake of possessing Burgundy.”

“But I am told she is fair and beautiful,” said Max.

“Believe it not,” said Yolanda, sullenly. “Whoever heard of a rich princess who was not beautiful? Anne and Joan, daughters of King Louis, are always spoken of as paragons of beauty; yet those who know tell me these royal ladies are hideous. King Louis has nicknamed Joan ’The Owlet’ because she is little, ill-shapen, and black. Anne is tall, large of bone, fat, and sallow. He should name her ‘The Giantess of Beaujeu’; and the little half-witted Dauphin he should dub ’Knight of the Princely Order of House Rats.’”

That she was deeply in earnest there could be no doubt.

“I hope you do not speak so freely to others,” said Max. “If His Grace of Burgundy should hear of your words he might ”

“I hope you will not tell him,” said Yolanda, laughing. “But this Mary!” she continued, clinging stubbornly to the dangerous topic. “You came to woo her estates, and in the end you will do so.”

I am convinced that the girl was intensely jealous of herself. When she feared that Max might seek the Princess Mary, her heart brooded over the thought that he would do so for the sake of her wealth and her domains.

“I have told you once, Fraeulein, what I will do and what I will not. For your own sake and mine I’ll tell you no more,” said Max.

“If I were a great princess,” said Yolanda, pouting and hanging her head, “you would not speak so sharply to me.” Evidently she was hurt by Max’s words, though they were the expression, not of his displeasure, but of his pain.

“Fraeulein, forgive me; my words were not meant to be sharp. It was my pain that spoke. You torture me and cause me to torture myself,” said Max. “To keep a constant curb on one’s ardent longing is exhausting. It takes the heart out of a man. At times you seem to forget that my silence is my great grief, not my fault. Ah, Fraeulein! you cannot understand my longing and my struggle.”

“I do understand,” she answered plaintively, slipping her hand into his, “and unless certain recent happenings have the result I hope for, you, too, will understand, more clearly than you now do, within a very short time.”

She covered her face with her hands. Her words mystified Max, and he was on the point of asking her to explain. He loved and pitied her, and would have put his arm around her waist to comfort her, but she sprang to her feet, exclaiming:

“No, no, Little Max, let us save all that for our farewell. You will not have long to wait.”

Wisdom returned to Max, and he knew that she was right in helping him to resist the temptation that he had so valiantly struggled against since leaving Basel.

All that I had really hoped for in Styria, all our fair dreams upon the castle walls of Hapsburg, had come to pass. Max had, beyond doubt, won the heart of Mary of Burgundy, but that would avail nothing unless by some good chance conditions should so change that Mary would be able to choose for herself. In such case, ambition would cut no figure in her choice. The chains of duty to family, state, and ancestry that bound Max’s feet so firmly would be but wisps of straw about Yolanda’s slender ankles. She would have no hesitancy in making her choice, were she free to do so, and states might go hang for all she would care. Her heart was her state. Would she ever be able to choose? Fortune had been kind to us thus far; would she remain our friend? She is a coquette; but the heart of a coquette, if truly won, is the most steadfast of all.

Twonette brought in the wine and honey; Castleman soon returned and lighted the lamp, and we all sat talking before the small blaze in the fireplace, till the great clock in the middle of the room chimed the hour of ten. Then Yolanda ran from us with a hurried good night, and Max returned with me to the inn.

I cannot describe the joy I took from the recurring thought that I was particeps criminis with the Princess of Burgundy in the commission of a crime. At times I wished the crime had been greater and its extenuation far less. We hear much about what happens when thieves fall out, but my observation teaches me that thieves usually remain good friends. The bonds of friendship had begun to strengthen between Yolanda and me before she sought my help in the perpetration of her great crime. After that black felony, they became like links of Milan chain. I shared her secrets, great and small.

One day while Yolanda and I were sitting in the oak room, the room from which the panel opened into the stairway in the wall, I said to her:

“If your letter ‘t’ causes a break with France, perhaps Max’s opportunity may come.”

“I do not know I cannot hope,” she responded dolefully. “You see, when father made this treaty with France, he was halting between two men in the choice of a husband for me. One was the Dauphin, son to King Louis, whom father hates with every breath he draws. The other was the Duke of Gelders, whom father really likes. Gelders is a brute, Sir Karl. He kept his father in prison four years, and usurped his domain. He is a drunkard, a murderer, and a profligate. For reasons of state father chose the Dauphin, but if the treaty with France is broken, I suppose it will be Gelders again. If it comes to that, Sir Karl but I’ll not say what I’ll do. My head is full of schemes from morning till night, and when I sleep my poor brain is a whirl of visions. Self-destruction, elopement, and I know not what else appeal to me. How far is it to Styria, Sir Karl?” she asked abruptly.

“Two or three hundred leagues, perhaps it may be more,” I answered. “I do not know how far it is, Yolanda, but it is not far enough for your purposes. Even could you reach there, Styria could not protect you.”

“I was not thinking of of what you suppose, Sir Karl,” she said plaintively.

“What were you thinking of, Yolanda?” I asked.

“Of nothing of of a wild dream of hiding away from the world in some unknown corner, at times comes to me in my sleep only in my sleep, Sir Karl for in my waking hours I know it to be impossible. The only pleasant part of being a princess is that the world envies you; but what a poor bauble it is to buy at the frightful price I pay!”

“I have been on mountain tops,” I answered philosophically, “and I find that breathing grows difficult as one ascends.”

“Ah, Sir Karl,” she answered tearfully, “I believe I’ll go upstairs and weep.”

I led her to the moving panel and opened it for her. Without turning her face she held back her hand for me to kiss. Then she started up the dark stone steps, and I knew that she was weeping. I closed the panel and sat on the cushioned bench. To say that I would have given my old life to win happiness for her but poorly measures my devotion. A man’s happiness depends entirely on the number and quality of those to whom his love goes out. Before meeting Yolanda I drew all my happiness from loving one person Max. Now my source was doubled, and I wished for the first time that I might live my life again, to lay it at this girl’s feet.