IX. THE NIGHT OF NUPTIALS--Charles The Bold And Sapphira Danvelt
When Philip the Good succumbed at Bruges of an apoplexy in the early part of the year 1467, the occasion was represented to the stout folk of Flanders as a favourable one to break the Burgundian yoke under which they laboured. It was so represented by the agents of that astute king, Louis XI, who ever preferred guile to the direct and costly exertion of force.
Charles, surnamed the Bold (le Temeraire), the new Duke of Burgundy, was of all the French King's enemies by far the most formidable and menacing just then; and the wily King, who knew better than to measure himself with a foe that was formidable, conceived a way to embarrass the Duke and cripple his resources at the very outset of his reign. To this end did he send his agents into the Duke's Flemish dominions, there to intrigue with the powerful and to stir up the spirit of sedition that never did more than slumber in the hearts of those turbulent burghers.
It was from the Belfry Tower of the populous, wealthy city of Ghent—then one of the most populous and wealthy cities of Europe—that the call to arms first rang out, summoning the city's forty thousand weavers to quit their looms and take up weapons—the sword, the pike, and that arm so peculiarly Flemish, known as the goedendag. From Ghent the fierce flame of revolt spread rapidly to the valley of the Meuse, and the scarcely less important city of Liege, where the powerful guilds of armourers and leather workers proved as ready for battle as the weavers of Ghent.
They made a brave enough show until Charles the Bold came face to face with them at Saint-Trond, and smashed the mutinous burgher army into shards, leaving them in their slaughtered thousands upon the stricken field.
The Duke was very angry. He felt that the Flemings had sought to take a base advantage of him at a moment when it was supposed he would not be equal to protecting his interests, and he intended to brand it for all time upon their minds that it was not safe to take such liberties with their liege lord. Thus, when a dozen of the most important burghers of Liege came out to him very humbly in their shirts, with halters round their necks, to kneel in the dust at his feet and offer him the keys of the city, he spurned the offer with angry disdain.
"You shall be taught," he told them, "how little I require your keys, and I hope that you will remember the lesson for your own good."
On the morrow his pioneers began to smash a breach, twenty fathoms wide, in one of the walls of the city, rolling the rubble into the ditch to fill it up at the spot. When the operation was complete, Charles rode through the gap, as a conqueror, with vizor lowered and lance on thigh at the head of his Burgundians, into his city of Liege, whose fortifications he commanded should be permanently demolished.
That was the end of the Flemish rising of 1467 against Duke Charles the Bold of Burgundy. The weavers returned to their looms, the armourers to their forges, and the glove-makers and leather workers to their shears. Peace was restored; and to see that it was kept, Charles appointed military governors of his confidence where he deemed them necessary.
One of these was Claudius von Rhynsault, who had followed the Duke's fortunes for some years now, a born leader of men, a fellow of infinite address at arms and resource in battle, and of a bold, reckless courage that nothing could ever daunt. It was perhaps this last quality that rendered him so esteemed of Charles, himself named the Bold, whose view of courage was that it was a virtue so lofty that in the nature of its possessor there could, perforce, be nothing mean.
So now, to mark his esteem of this stalwart German, the Duke made him Governor of the province of Zeeland, and dispatched him thither to stamp out there any lingering sparks of revolt, and to rule it in his name as ducal lieutenant.
Thus, upon a fair May morning, came Claud of Ryhnsault and his hardy riders to the town of Middelburg, the capital of Zeeland, to take up his residence at the Gravenhof in the main square, and thence to dispense justice throughout that land of dykes in his master's princely name. This justice the German captain dispensed with merciless rigour, conceiving that to be the proper way to uproot rebellious tendencies. It was inevitable that he should follow such a course, impelled to it by a remorseless cruelty in his nature, of which the Duke his master had seen no hint, else he might have thought twice before making him Governor of Zeeland, for Charles—despite his rigour when treachery was to be punished—was a just and humane prince.
Now, amongst those arrested and flung into Middelburg gaol as a result of Rhynsault's ruthless perquisitions and inquisitions was a wealthy young burgher named Philip Danvelt. His arrest was occasioned by a letter signed "Philip Danvelt" found in the house of a marked rebel who had been first tortured and then hanged. The letter, of a date immediately preceding the late rising, promised assistance in the shape of arms and money.
Brought before Rhynsault for examination, in a cheerless hall of the Gravenhof, Danvelt's defence was a denial upon oath that he had ever taken or offered to take any part in the rebellion. Told of the letter found, and of the date it bore, he laughed. That letter made everything very simple and clear. At the date it bore he had been away at Flushing marrying a wife, whom he had since brought thence to Middelburg. It was ludicrous, he urged, to suppose that in such a season—of all seasons in a man's life—he should have been concerned with rebellion or correspondence with rebels, and, urging this, he laughed again.
Now, the German captain did not like burghers who laughed in his presence. It argued a lack of proper awe for the dignity of his office and the importance of his person. From his high seat at the Judgment-board, flanked by clerks and hedged about by men-at-arms, he scowled upon the flaxen-haired, fresh-complexioned young burgher who bore himself so very easily. He was a big, handsome man, this Rhynsault, of perhaps some thirty years of age. His thick hair was of a reddish brown, and his beardless face was cast in bold lines and tanned by exposure to the colour of mahogany, save where the pale line of a scar crossed his left cheek.
"Yet, I tell you, the letter bears your signature," he grumbled sourly.
"My name, perhaps," smiled the amiable Danvelt, "but assuredly not my signature."
"Herrgott!" swore the German captain. "Is this a riddle? What is the difference?"
Feeling himself secure, that very foolish burgher ventured to be mildly insolent.
"It is a riddle that the meanest of your clerks there can read for you," said he.
The Governor's blue eyes gleamed like steel as they, fastened upon Danvelt, his heavy jaw seemed to thrust itself forward, and a dull flush crept into his cheeks. Then he swore.
"Beim blute Gottes!" quoth he, "do you whet your trader's wit upon me, scum?"
And to the waiting men-at-arms:
"Take him back to his dungeon," he commanded, "that in its quiet he may study a proper carriage before he is next brought before us."
Danvelt was haled away to gaol again, to repent him of his pertness and to reflect that, under the governorship of Claudius von Rhynsault, it was not only the guilty who had need to go warily.
The Governor sat back in his chair with a grunt. His secretary, on his immediate right, leaned towards him.
"It were easy to test the truth of the man's assertion," said he. "Let his servants and his wife attend and be questioned as to when he was in Flushing and when married."
"Aye," growled von Rhynsault. "Let it be done. I don't doubt we shall discover that the dog was lying."
But no such discovery was made when, on the morrow, Danvelt's household and his wife stood before the Governor to answer his questions. Their replies most fully bore out the tale Danvelt had told, and appeared in other ways to place it beyond all doubt that he had taken no part, in deed or even in thought, in the rebellion against the Duke of Burgundy. His wife protested it solemnly and piteously.
"To this I can swear, my lord," she concluded. "I am sure no evidence can be brought against him, who was ever loyal and ever concerned with his affairs and with me at the time in question. My lord"—she held out her hands towards the grim German, and her lovely eyes gleamed with unshed tears of supplication—"I implore you to believe me, and in default of witnesses against him to restore my husband to me."
Rhynsault's blue eyes kindled now as they considered her, and his full red lips slowly parted in the faintest and most inscrutable of smiles. She was very fair to look upon—of middle height and most exquisite shape. Her gown, of palest saffron, edged with fur, high-waisted according to the mode, and fitted closely to the gently swelling bust, was cut low to display the white perfection of her neck. Her softly rounded face looked absurdly childlike under the tall-crowned hennin, from which a wispy veil floated behind her as she moved.
In silence, then, for a spell, the German mercenary pondered her with those slowly kindling eyes, that slowly spreading, indefinite smile. Then he stirred, and to his secretary he muttered shortly:
"The woman lies. In private I may snare the truth from her."
He rose—a tall, massively imposing figure in a low-girdled tunic of deep purple velvet, open at the breast, and gold-laced across a white silken undervest.
"There is some evidence," he informed her gruffly. "Come with me, and you shall see it for yourself."
He led the way from that cheerless hall by a dark corridor to a small snug room, richly hung and carpeted, where a servant waited. He dismissed the fellow, and in the same breath bade her enter, watching her the while from under lowered brows. One of her women had followed; but admittance was denied her. Danvelt's wife must enter his room alone.
Whilst she waited there, with scared eyes and fluttering bosom, he went to take from an oaken coffer the letter signed "Philip Danvelt." He folded the sheet so that the name only was to be read, and came to thrust it under her eyes.
"What name is that?" he asked her gruffly.
Her answer was very prompt.
"It is my husband's, but not the writing—it is another hand; some other Philip Danvelt; there will be others in Zeeland."
He laughed softly, looking at her ever with that odd intentness, and under his gaze she shrank and cowered in terror; it spoke to her of some nameless evil; the tepid air of the luxurious room was stifling her.
"If I believed you, your husband would be delivered from his prison—from all danger; and he stands, I swear to you, in mortal peril."
"Ah, but you must believe me. There are others who can bear witness."
"I care naught for others," he broke in, with harsh and arrogant contempt. Then he softened his voice to a lover's key. "But I might accept your word that this is not your husband's hand, even though I did not believe you."
She did not understand, and so she could only stare at him with those round, brown eyes of hers dilating, her lovely cheeks blanching with horrid fear.
"Why, see," he said at length, with an easy, gruff good-humour, "I place the life of Philip Danvelt in those fair hands to do with as you please. Surely, sweeting, you will not be so unkind as to destroy it."
And as he spoke his face bent nearer to her own, his flaming eyes devoured her, and his arm slipped softly, snake-like round her to draw her to him. But before it had closed its grip she had started away, springing back in horror, an outcry already on her pale lips.
"One word," he admonished her sharply, "and it speaks your husband's doom!"
"Oh, let me go, let me go!" she cried in anguish.
"And leave your husband in the hangman's hands?" he asked.
"Let me go! Let me go!" was all that she could answer him, expressing the only thought of which in that dread moment her mind was capable.
That and the loathing on her face wounded his vanity for this beast was vain. His manner changed, and the abysmal brute in him was revealed in the anger he displayed. With foul imprecations he drove her out.
Next day a messenger from the Governor waited upon her at her house with a brief note to inform her that her husband would be hanged upon the morrow. Incredulity was succeeded by a numb, stony, dry-eyed grief, in which she sat alone for hours—a woman entranced. At last, towards dusk, she summoned a couple of her grooms to attend and light her, and made her way, ever in that odd somnambulistic state, to the gaol of Middelburg. She announced herself to the head gaoler as the wife of Philip Danvelt, lying under sentence of death, and that she was come to take her last leave of him. It was not a thing to be denied, nor had the gaoler any orders to deny it.
So she was ushered into the dank cell where Philip waited for his doom, and by the yellow wheel of light of the lantern that hung from the shallow vaulted ceiling she beheld the ghastly change that the news of impending death had wrought in him. No longer was he the self-assured young burgher who, conscious of his innocence and worldly importance, had used a certain careless insolence with the Governor of Zeeland. Here she beheld a man of livid and distorted face, wild-eyed, his hair and garments in disarray, suggesting the physical convulsions to which he had yielded in his despair and rage.
"Sapphira!" he cried at sight of her. A sigh of anguish and he flung himself, shuddering and sobbing, upon her breast. She put her arms about him, soothed him gently, and drew him back to the wooden chair from which he had leapt to greet her.
He took his head in his hands and poured out the fierce anguish of his soul. To die innocent as he was, to be the victim of an arbitrary, unjust power! And to perish at his age!
Hearing him rave, she shivered out of an agony of compassion and also of some terror for herself. She would that he found it less hard to die. And thinking this she thought further, and uttered some of her thought aloud.
"I could have saved you, my poor Philip."
He started up, and showed her again that livid, distorted face of his.
"What do you mean?" he asked hoarsely. "You could have saved me, do you say? Then—then why—"
"Ah, but the price, my dear," she sobbed.
"Price?" quoth he in sudden, fierce contempt. "What price is too great to pay for life? Does this Rhynsault want all our wealth, then yield it to him yield it so that I may live—"
"Should I have hesitated had it been but that?" she interrupted.
And then she told him, whilst he sat there hunched and shuddering.
"The dog! The foul German dog!" he muttered through clenched teeth.
"So that you see, my dear," she pursued brokenly, "it was too great a price. Yourself, you could not have condoned it, or done aught else but loathe me afterwards."
But he was not as stout-mettled as she deemed him, or else the all-consuming thirst of life, youth's stark horror of death, made him a temporizing craven in that hour.
"Who knows?" he answered. "Certes, I do not. But a thing so done, a thing in which the will and mind have no part, resolves itself perhaps into a sacrifice—"
He broke off there, perhaps from very shame. After all he was a man, and there are limits to what manhood will permit of one.
But those words of his sank deeply into her soul. They rang again and again in her ears as she took her anguished way home after the agony of their farewells, and in the end they drove her out again that very night to seek the Governor of Zeeland.
Rhynsault was at supper when she came, and without quitting the table bade them usher her into his presence. He found her very white, but singularly calm and purposeful in her bearing.
"May I speak to you alone?"
Her voice was as steady as her glance.
He waved away the attendants, drank a deep draught from the cup at his elbow, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and sat back in his tall chair to hear her.
"Yesterday," she said, "you made, or seemed to make, me a proposal."
He looked up at first in surprise, then with a faint smile on his coarse, red mouth. His glance had read her meaning clearly.
"Look you, mistress, here I am lord of life and death. Yet in the case of your husband I yield up that power to you. Say but the word and I sign the order for his gaol delivery at dawn."
"I have come to say that word," she informed him.
A moment he looked up at her, his smile broadening, a flush mounting to his cheek-bones. Then he rose and sent his chair crashing behind him to the ground.
"Herrgott!" he grunted; and he gathered her slim, trembling body to his massive gold-laced breast.
Soon after sunrise on the morrow she was beating at the gates of Middelburg gaol, a paper clutched convulsively in her left hand.
She was admitted, and to the head gaoler she showed the paper that she carried.
"An order from the Governor of Zeeland for the gaol delivery of Philip Danvelt!" she announced almost hysterically.
The gaoler scanned the paper, then her face. His lips tightened.
"Come this way," he said; and led her down a gloomy corridor to the cell where yesterday she had seen her husband.
He threw wide the door, and Sapphira sprang in.
"Philip!" she cried, and checked as suddenly.
He lay supine and still upon the miserable pallet, his hands folded upon his breast, his face waxen, his eyes staring glassily through half-closed lids.
She sped to his side in a sudden chill of terror. She fell on her knees and touched him.
"Dead!" she screamed, and, kneeling, span round questioning to face the gaoler in the doorway. "Dead!"
"He was hanged at daybreak, mistress," said the gaoler gently.
She rocked a moment, moaning, then fell suddenly forward across her husband's body in a swoon.
That evening she was again at the Gravenhof to see Rhynsault, and again she was admitted—a haggard faced woman now, in whom there was no trace of beauty left. She came to stand before the Governor, considered him in silence a moment with a loathing unutterable in her glance, then launched into fierce recriminations of his broken faith.
He heard her out, then shrugged and smiled indulgently.
"I performed no less than I promised," said he. "I pledged my word to Danvelt's gaol delivery, and was not my gaol delivery effective? You could hardly suppose that I should allow it to be of such a fashion as to interfere with our future happy meetings."
Before his leering glance she fled in terror, followed by the sound of his bestial laugh.
For a week thereafter she kept her house and brooded. Then one day she sallied forth all dressed in deepest mourning and attended by a train of servants, and, embarking upon a flat-bottomed barge, was borne up the river Scheldt towards Antwerp. Bruges was her ultimate destination, of which she left no word behind her, and took the longest way round to reach it. From Antwerp her barge voyaged on to Ghent, and thence by canal, drawn by four stout Flemish horses, at last to the magnificent city where the Dukes of Burgundy kept their Court.
Under the June sunshine the opulent city of Bruges hummed with activity like the great human hive it was. For Bruges at this date was the market of the world, the very centre of the world's commerce, the cosmopolis of the age. Within its walls were established the agencies of a score of foreign great trading companies, and the ambassadors of no less a number of foreign Powers. Here on a day you might hear every language of civilization spoken in the broad thoroughfares under the shadow of such imposing buildings as you would not have found together in another city of Europe. To the harbour came the richly laden argosies from Venice and Genoa, from Germany and the Baltic, from Constantinople and from England, and in her thronged markets Lombard and Venetian, Levantine, Teuton, and Saxon stood jostling one another to buy and sell.
It was past noon, and the great belfry above the Gothic Cloth Hall in the Grande Place was casting a lengthening shadow athwart the crowded square. Above the Babel of voices sounded on a sudden the note of a horn, and there was a cry of "The Duke! The Duke!" followed by a general scuttle of the multitude to leave a clear way down the middle of the great square.
A gorgeous cavalcade some twoscore strong came into sight, advancing at an amble, a ducal hunting party returning to the palace. A hush fell upon the burgher crowd as it pressed back respectfully to gaze; and to the din of human voices succeeded now the clatter of hoofs upon the kidney-stones of the square, the jangle of hawkbells, the baying of hounds, and the occasional note of the horn that had first brought warning of the Duke's approach.
It was a splendid iridescent company, flaunting in its apparel every colour of the prism. There were great lords in silks and velvets of every hue, their legs encased in the finest skins of Spain; there were great ladies, in tall, pointed hennins or bicorne headdresses and floating veils, with embroidered gowns that swept down below the bellies of their richly harnessed palfreys. And along the flanks of this cavalcade ran grooms and huntsmen in green and leather, their jagged liripipes flung about their necks, leading the leashed hounds.
The burghers craned their necks, and Levantine merchant argued with Lombard trader upon an estimate of the wealth paraded thus before them. And then at last came the young Duke himself, in black, as if to detach himself from the surrounding splendour. He was of middle stature, of a strong and supple build, with a lean, swarthy face and lively eyes. Beside him, on a white horse, rode a dazzling youth dressed from head to foot in flame-coloured silk, a peaked bonnet of black velvet set upon his lovely golden head, a hooded falcon perched upon his left wrist, a tiny lute slung behind him by a black ribbon. He laughed as he rode, looking the very incarnation of youth and gaiety.
The cavalcade passed slowly towards the Prinssenhof, the ducal residence. It had all but crossed the square when suddenly a voice—a woman's voice, high and tense—rang out.
"Justice, my Lord Duke of Burgundy! Justice, Lord Duke, for a woman's wrongs!"
It startled the courtly riders, and for a moment chilled their gaiety. The scarlet youth at the Duke's side swung round in his saddle to obtain a view of her who called so piteously, and he beheld Sapphira Danvelt.
She was all in black, and black was the veil that hung from her steeple head-dress, throwing into greater relief her pallid loveliness which the youth's glance was quick to appraise. He saw, too, from her air and from the grooms attending her, that she was a woman of some quality, and the tragic appeal of her smote home in his gay, poetic soul. He put forth a hand and clutched the Duke's arm, and, as if yielding to this, the Duke reined up.
"What is it that you seek?" Charles asked her not unkindly, his lively dark eyes playing over her.
"Justice!" was all she answered him very piteously, and yet with a certain fierceness of insistence.
"None asks it of me in vain, I hope," he answered gravely. "But I do not dispense it from the saddle in the public street. Follow us."
And he rode on.
She followed to the Prinssenhof with her grooms and her woman Catherine. There she was made to wait in a great hall, thronged with grooms and men-at-arms and huntsmen, who were draining the measure sent them by the Duke. She stood apart, wrapped in her tragic sorrow, and none molested her. At last a chamberlain came to summon her to the Duke's presence.
In a spacious, sparsely furnished room she found the Duke awaiting her, wearing now a gown of black and gold that was trimmed with rich fur. He sat in a tall chair of oak and leather, and leaning on the back of it lounged gracefully the lovely scarlet youth who had ridden at his side.
Standing before him, with drooping eyes and folded hands, she told her shameful story. Darker and darker grew his brow as she proceeded with it. But it was the gloom of doubt rather than of anger.
"Rhynsault?" he cried when she had done. "Rhynsault did this?"
There was incredulity in his voice and nothing else.
The youth behind him laughed softly, and shifted his attitude.
"You are surprised. Yet what else was to be looked for in that Teuton swine? Me he never could deceive, for all his—"
"Be silent, Arnault," said the Duke sharply. And to the woman: "It is a grave, grave charge," he said, "against a man I trusted and have esteemed, else I should not have placed him where he is. What proof have you?"
She proffered him a strip of parchment—the signed order for the gaol delivery of Philip Danvelt.
"The gaoler of Middelburg will tell Your Grace that he was hanged already when I presented this. My woman Catherine, whom I have with me, can testify to part. And there are some other servants who can bear witness to my husband's innocence. Captain von Rhynsault had ceased to doubt it."
He studied the parchment, and fell very grave and thoughtful.
"Where are you lodged?" he asked.
She told him.
"Wait there until I send for you again," he bade her. "Leave this order with me, and depend upon it, justice shall be done."
That evening, a messenger rode out to Middelburg to summon von Rhynsault to Bruges, and the arrogant German came promptly and confidently, knowing nothing of the reason, but conceiving naturally that fresh honours were to be conferred upon him by a master who loved stout-hearted servants. And that Rhynsault was stout-hearted he showed most of all when the Duke taxed him without warning with the villainy he had wrought.
If he was surprised, he was not startled. What was the life of a Flemish burgher more or less? What the honour of a Flemish wife? These were not considerations to daunt a soldier, a valiant man of war. And because such was his dull mood—for he was dull, this Rhynsault, as dull as he was brutish—he considered his sin too venial to be denied. And the Duke, who could be crafty, perceiving that mood of his, and simulating almost an approval of it, drew the German captain into self-betrayal.
"And so this Philip Danvelt may have been innocent?"
"He must have been, for we have since taken the guilty man of the same name," said the German easily. "It was unfortunate, but—"
"Unfortunate!" The Duke's manner changed from silk to steel. He heaved himself out of his chair, and his dark eyes flamed. "Unfortunate! Is that all, you dog?"
"I conceived him guilty when I ordered him to be hanged," spluttered the captain, greatly taken aback.
"Then, why this? Answer me—why this?"
And under his nose the Duke thrust the order of gaol delivery Rhynsault had signed.
The captain blenched, and fear entered his glance. The thing was becoming serious, it seemed.
"Is this the sort of justice you were sent to Middelburg to administer in my name? Is this how you dishonour me? If you conceived him guilty, why did you sign this and upon what terms? Bah, I know the terms. And having made such foul terms, why did you not keep your part of the bargain, evil as it was?"
Rhynsault had nothing to say. He was afraid, and he was angry too. Here was a most unreasonable bother all about nothing, it seemed to him.
"I—I sought to compromise between justice and—and—"
"And your own vile ends," the Duke concluded for him. "By Heaven, you German dog, I think I'll have you shortened by a head!"
"My lord!" It was a cry of protest.
"There is the woman you have so foully wronged, and so foully swindled," said the Duke, watching him. "What reparation will you make to her? What reparation can you make? I can toss your filthy head into her lap. But will that repair the wrong?"
The captain suddenly saw light, and quite a pleasant light it was, for he had found Sapphira most delectable.
"Why," he said slowly, and with all a fool's audacity, "having made her a widow, I can make her a wife again. I never thought to wive, myself. But if Your Grace thinks such reparation adequate, I will afford it her."
The Duke checked in the very act of replying. Again the expression of his countenance changed. He strode away, his head bowed in thought; then slowly he returned.
"Be it so," he said. "It is not much, but it is all that you can do, and after a fashion it will mend the honour you have torn. See that you wed her within the week. Should she not consent, it will be the worse for you."
She would not have consented—she would have preferred death, indeed—but for the insistence that the Duke used in private with her. And so, half convinced that it would in some sort repair her honour, the poor woman suffered herself to be led, more dead than living, to the altar in the Duke's private chapel, and there, scarcely knowing what she did, she became the wife of Captain Claudius von Rhynsault, the man she had most cause to loathe and hate in all the world.
Rhynsault had ordered a great banquet to celebrate his nuptials, for on the whole he was well satisfied with the issue of this affair. But as he left the altar, his half-swooning bride upon his arm, the Duke in person tapped his shoulder.
"All is not yet done," he said. "You are to come with me."
The bridal pair were conducted to the great hall of the Prinssenhof, where there was a great gathering of the Court—to do honour to his nuptials, thought the German captain. At the broad table sat two clerkly fellows with quills and parchments, and by this table the Duke took his stand, Arnault beside him—in peacock-blue to-day—and called for silence.
"Captain von Rhynsault," he said gravely and quietly, "what you have done is well done; but it does not suffice. In the circumstances of this marriage, and after the revelation we have had of your ways of thought and of honour, it is necessary to make provision against the future. It shall not be yours, save at grave cost, to repudiate the wife you have now taken."
"There is no such intent—" began Rhynsault, who misliked this homily.
The Duke waved him into silence.
"You are interrupting me," he said sharply. "You are a wealthy man, Rhynsault, thanks to the favours I have heaped upon you ever since the day when I picked you from your German kennel to set you where you stand. Here you will find a deed prepared. It is in the form of a will, whereby you bequeath everything of which you are to-day possessed—and it is all set down—to your wife on your death, or on the day on which you put her from you. Your signature is required to that."
The captain hesitated a moment. This deed would fetter all his future. The Duke was unreasonable. But under the steady, compelling eyes of Charles he moved forward to the table, and accepted the quill the clerk was proffering. There was no alternative, he realized. He was trapped. Well, well! He must make the best of it. He stooped from his great height, and signed in his great sprawling, clumsy, soldier's hand.
The clerk dusted the document with pounce, and handed it to the Duke. Charles cast an eye upon the signature, then taking the quill himself, signed under it, then bore the document to the half-swooning bride.
"Keep this secure," he bade her. "It is your marriage-gift from me."
Rhynsault's eyes gleamed. If his wife were to keep the deed, the thing was none so desperate after all. But the next moment he had other things to think of.
"Give me your sword," the Duke requested.
Wondering, the German unsheathed the weapon, and proffered the hilt to his master. Charles took it, and a stern smile played about his beardless mouth. He grasped it, hilt in one hand and point in the other. Suddenly he bent his right knee, and, bearing sharply downward with the flat of the weapon upon his thigh, snapped in into two.
"So much for that dishonourable blade," he said, and cast the pieces from him. Then he flung out an arm to point to Rhynsault. "Take him out," he commanded; "let him have a priest, and half an hour in which to make his soul, then set his head on a spear above the Cloth Hall, that men may know the justice of Charles of Burgundy."
With the roar of a 'goaded bull the German attempted to fling forward. But men-at-arms, in steel and leather, who had come up quietly behind him, seized him now. Impotent in their coiling arms, he was borne away to his doom, that thereby he might complete the reparation of his hideous offence, and deliver Sapphira from the bondage of a wedlock which Charles of Burgundy had never intended her to endure.