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   Chapter 4 No.4

The Heart of Princess Osra By Anthony Hope Characters: 33102

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


The Courtesy of Christian the Highwayman.

"I am am tired of men," cried Princess Osra, "and of suitors, and of princes. I will go to Zenda and ride in the forest all alone."

"You will meet men even there," said the King.

"How do you know that, sire?" she asked with a smile.

"At least I have found it impossible to avoid meeting women anywhere."

"I do not think it is the same thing," observed Osra, smiling again.

The King said no more, but let her go her own way; and to Zenda she went, and rode in the forest all alone, meeting for many days no man at all, though, perhaps, she thought a little of those whom she had met, and (who can tell?) now and then of one whom she should some day meet. For the mind loves to entertain itself with such idle musings, and they are hardly conscious till a sudden smile or a beat of the heart betrays them to the abashed thinker. Just in this manner a flush had chanced to rise to Osra's cheek one day as she rode in a reverie, being above ten miles from the Castle and on the very edge of the kingdom's frontier, which skirts the extremity of the forest on the east. Breaking off her thoughts, half ashamed of them, she looked up and saw a very fine and powerful horse tethered to a tree a few yards away, saddled and bridled. Then she said to herself with a sigh, "Alas, here is a man as my brother said!" And she shook her head very sorrowfully.

The next instant she saw, as she had foreboded, a man approaching her; indeed, the matter was as bad as could be, for he was young and handsome, finely dressed, carrying a good sword by his side and a brace of pistols mounted in silver in his belt. He held a feathered hat in his hand, and, advancing with a deep bow, knelt on one knee by the Princess's horse, saying:

"Madame, if you will, you can do me a great service."

"If it be in my power, sir," she answered-for since fate compelled her to meet a man, she would not show him rudeness-"I am at your service."

"You see my horse there, madame? He is as dear as my life to me; and I fear I shall lose him, unless I have your aid," and he rose and stood looking at the Princess.

"Why, what threatens him?" she asked.

"I will tell you, madame. I come from across the frontier, from a secluded village nearly ten miles from here. There I live with my mother, whom I support. There is a rich fellow there, a farmer, Otho by name, who is, saving your presence, a plaguey boastful fellow. And he is to-day to be betrothed."

"Do you also love the lady?" asked Osra, thinking she had come at the cause of his trouble.

"Not I, madame. But this Otho boasted and vaunted so intolerably of her beauty, and of his own prowess and attraction, that last night I, led away by emulation (nay, I am ashamed to say that I had also drunk a flask of wine) wagered with him my horse against a thousand crowns-though the horse is worth two thousand-that I would bring with me to the feast a girl handsomer than his Lotta. But now it is eleven o'clock, and the feast is at one o'clock, and I have no girl to show, ugly or handsome. And if I lose my horse I must hang myself, for I cannot live without him."

"You cannot live without your horse?" she asked in surprise.

"At least, madame," he answered in some confusion, "his loss would go near to breaking my heart."

"But is this Lotta so handsome that you can find none to surpass her?"

"She is, indeed, wonderfully handsome. In the village they call her the most beautiful girl in the world."

"Then, sir, it seems to me that your wager was most improvident and rash. For you are certain to lose it."

"Alas, yes!" he answered in great distress. "I am certain to lose; for there are, I think, only two ladies in the world who could save me, and one would not."

"Two ladies? Who are they?"

"Madame," said he, "before you came in sight, I sat desolate and despairing on the ground, and what I said to myself was, 'If what men say is true, there is only one lady who could save me. But how shall I, poor Christian Hantz, come at the Princess Osra? And would she put on a country girl's dress and go to the feast with me? Alas, it is impossible! And there is no other lady in the world beautiful enough.' But then--"

"Well, sir, what then?" asked Osra, playing with her whip and smothering a smile.

"Then, madame," said Christian, "I looked up and I saw you, and I cried, 'A fig for the Princess Osra! For here is a lady more beautiful than all they tell of Princess Osra; I will throw myself at her feet and pray her in pity to help me.'"

Still Osra hid her smile, and so busy was she with this task that she did not perceive that Christian also hid a smile; but she thought that he did not know her, whereas he had seen her several times, and had this day tracked her in the forest, knowing that she was accustomed to ride there.

"But where," she asked, "would the lady who went with you get the dress you speak of?"

"At my mother's cottage, madame, where my mother would wait on her."

"And when could she be back at this spot?"

"By five in the afternoon, madame. I would myself escort her."

"And why, sir, should she rescue you from the straits into which your folly has led you?"

"Alas, madame, for no reason, unless, by a divine miracle, she should prove as kind as she is beautiful."

"You have a rash tongue, sir, in other matters than the making of wagers." And she looked at him. For she was very sorely tempted to do what he prayed of her; and she said:

"Has the Princess Osra ever ridden through your village?"

"Never, madame."

"But some there may know her face, and then they will think nothing of mine."

"It is unlikely that any one there should have seen even a picture of her, for they are quiet folk and do not go abroad."

"Besides, in a peasant's dress-" began Osra meditatively. But she stopped, blushing and laughing. And Christian caught her hand and kissed it, crying:

"For heaven's sake, come, madame!"

He was so earnest, and his earnestness so became his bronzed face and bright eyes, that Osra could not deny him, but she swore him to secrecy, and agreed to ride with him, blaming herself all the while very greatly, and blaming yet more that Fate which would not allow her to be quit of the troublesome race of men even in the recesses of the forest of Zenda.

Turning their horses, therefore, towards the frontier, they set them at a smart canter, for there was little time to lose if they were to come to the feast by one o'clock; and shortly before noon, having struck a bye-path through the trees, they came on a small cottage that stood apart and by itself; and a hill rose from it.

"On the other side of the hill lies the village, madame," said Christian, jumping from his horse. "And this is my cottage. Hallo, there, mother!"

An old woman came out, neatly and cleanly clad. Christian ran up to her, spoke to her briefly, and brought her to Osra. The worthy dame, bewildered by the appearance and stately air of the Princess, did nothing but curtsey and murmur incoherent thanks, but Osra, now caught by the excitement of the enterprise, clapped her hands, crying:

"Quick, quick, or we shall be too late!"

So Christian lifted her down and led away the horses to a shed behind the cottage. But the old woman led Osra in, and took her to the bedroom, where lay a dress such as the peasant girls wore. Osra took up the skirt, and looked at it curiously.

"Must I indeed wear this?" she asked. "And I am somewhat tall, mother!"

The old woman said that nothing would serve save the dress, and Osra sighed. Yet as there was no help for it, she suffered the old woman to help her in getting it on.

So the door was shut, and Christian sat smiling in the sun outside, well pleased at the success of his audacious scheme, and feeling Otho's crowns already in his pocket.

Still less did he doubt of this most desirable result when the door of the cottage again opened and Osra came out, blushing, and yet biting her lips to keep back her laughter. Her hair was plaited in two long plaits; she wore a white bodice, and over it a jacket of black velvet, and a red skirt hung full from her waist to but a very little below her knee; then came hose of red also-for it was a holiday, and the best of all was worn-and stout square-toed shoes. Osra in her heart loved all except the shoes, yet she declared that she loathed all except the shoes. And Christian, with eyes cast most demurely on the ground, prayed her to forgive the sad necessity, yet assured her that Lotta would die of envy that very day.

"Let us go then," said Osra. "For the sooner we go, the sooner will it be done, and I can get rid of these ridiculous clothes. Heaven have mercy on me and grant that I may meet none who know me!"

They were mounting the hill now, the old woman standing at the cottage door and watching. When they reached the top Osra saw a small village nestling in the valley below, and the sound of music struck on her ear. At this a sudden fear seized her, and putting out her hand she caught Christian by the sleeve, saying:

"Will they know me?"

"Not they, madame," said he. But as he spoke his eyes fell on a ring that the Princess wore, a gem engraved with the Royal Arms. "Not they, if you conceal that ring;" and for a moment he looked in her face, and he smiled.

Osra uttered a little cry, as she hastily plucked the ring from her finger, and gave it to him, saying:

"Keep it safe, and do not forget to give it me again."

But she would not meet his glance, for she began from now to suspect that he knew who she was.

The sound of music came from a solid square-built house that stood on the outskirts of the village, and coming nearer they saw a long table spread in the shade near the house, and a company of men and women seated at it. The Princess was somewhat comforted to find that the girls' dresses were in all respects like her own, though hers seemed newer and more handsome; therefore she took courage, and put her arm inside Christian's arm, saying:

"Since I have accepted the part, I will play it. Come, sir, let us go and challenge Lotta. Your horse is at stake!"

"He is in no danger," said Christian, "and I am worth a thousand crowns." And his eyes most plainly added the reason which led him to these comfortable conclusions.

Now at this moment Otho, having toasted the company and accepted their good wishes, was standing up before them all, Lotta standing by him, her hand in his; and he vowed (as was but right) all manner of love and devotion to her, and declared that she was the prettiest girl in the world; in truth she was very pretty, being, although low of stature, most admirably formed, having golden hair, the pinkest of cheeks and large blue eyes that followed a man about in a most appealing and distracting manner. So that Otho had good reason to be content, and would have come to no harm, had it not been for that old extravagance of lovers which will not allow this world to hold more than one pretty girl-the truth being, of course, quite otherwise. But, led on by this infatuation, Otho cried:

"I dare any man to find so pretty a girl! As for Master Christian whose wager you heard-why, this evening his fine horse shall feed in my stable!"

"Softly, friend Otho, softly," came to the ears of the feasters from behind the trees. "Mistress Lotta is very pretty, but I have here a girl whom some think handsome. Well, this worthy company shall judge." And Christian came from the shelter of the trees leading Osra by the hand, and he set her opposite to Lotta, where all could see her. And all looked and beheld her with amazement. But none spoke. So they rested for a long while, Christian smiling and Osra's eyes being set on Lotta, while Otho did nothing but gaze at Osra.

Presently a low murmur began to run along the table. "Who is she?" asked some one, but none could answer. "Who is she?" called an old man to Christian, but he answered, "What's that to you? Is she not fairer?" And when the others asked whence she came, he made the same answer. But one young fellow leant from his place and plucked Christian's sleeve, saying, "Is she promised to you?" and at this Christian frowned, answering, "At least she is not for you," while Osra, overhearing, blushed mightily. Then Otho, still saying nothing, suddenly lugged out a great purse of money, and flung it violently into the middle of the table with a curse, and Christian with a mocking lift of his hat, came forward, and, taking it, tossed it up and down in his hand, crying, "Is it fair weight, neighbour Otho?" Otho did not heed him, but turned suddenly to Lotta and put his arm round her waist, saying:

"Aye, it is true. The devil must have sent her, but it is true. Yet you are pretty too, my lass." For Lotta, after looking at all the company and at Osra, had been so sorely wounded in her pride and robbed of her triumph, that, poor child, she had begun to weep, hiding her face in her hands, and Otho was trying to comfort her, though, lover as he was, he could not for the life of him declare that she was more beautiful than the girl whom Christian had brought. And they all moved from their places and came to stand round Osra. But she, after a moment, caught from Christian the bag that he tossed so exultantly, crying to him: "I'll be your debtor for it;" and bursting through the ring, she ran round the table and came to Lotta, and, pulling the girl's hands down from her face, she thrust the bag into her hands, and began to talk to her, whispering low, and looking into her frightened eyes with shining eyes.

"Ah, my dear," said Osra, "see, he still loves you, dear. Ah, why did I come? But I am going away, yes, now, and I shall never come here again. I do harm wherever I go! Yes, but you'll be the prettiest girl in the village always! Otho, Otho, kiss her, Otho! Tell her that you love her, Otho. Don't stand there dumb. Oh, how stupid men are! Don't you see what she wants? Yes, do it again. I never saw anybody so pretty, Otho. Yes, yes, dear, keep the bag. It's from me; you must keep it, and buy pretty clothes and be prettier than ever, for Otho's sake, because he loves you."

By the time the Princess Osra had ended her consolations, behold she was very nearly crying herself! But Lotta put her arms round the Princess's neck and kissed her, because she said that Otho still loved her; and in her gratitude for this, she forgot thanks for the bag of crowns, or even to wonder who this girl was that could give away a thousand crowns. But in this the rest of the company were not like her, and an eager murmuring marked the excitement with which they watched the scene; and they cried to Christian:

"Look after your crowns;" and thought him mad when he shook his head jauntily, answering:

"Let Otho do what he will with them."

Then, their interest growing more and more intense, they crowded round the Princess, scanning her very closely; and she was in great fear that she would be known, and also in some embarrassment from the ardent glances and free comments of the simple countrymen, who were accustomed to say what they thought with more plainness than were the gentlemen of the Court. So that at length, fairly alarmed, she gave Lotta a last hasty kiss, and made her way to Christian, crying: "Take me away."

"Aye, madame," said he, and he put her arm in his and turned away. But all the company followed him, staring and gossiping and crowding, so that Lotta and Otho were left alone at the feast which Otho had provided, with nothing to console them but one another's love and the happily recovered thousand crowns. And the crowd pressed hard on Osra and Christian, being full of eagerness to see where the girl went and what became of her. Thus they reached the top of the hill and came in sight of Christian's cottage. But now Christian suddenly loosed Osra's arm and, turning round, faced the throng of inquisitive folk; with either hand he drew a silver-mounted pistol from his belt; and when he had cocked the pair, he pointed them at his friends and neighbours, saying in a quiet and pleasant voice: "I shall count to twenty. Any one who means to be within range when I come to twenty had best now order his coffin."

"with either hand he drew a silver-mounted pistol."-Page 114.

At this a great grumbling arose among them; yet they knew Christian, and did not wait till he had counted, but one and all turned tail and ran down th

e hill much quicker than they had come up. But one or two fellows, resentful and malicious because of their disappointment, as soon as they found themselves out of range, turned round and shouted:

"Aye, he is ready with his pistol, is Christian. We know him. Highwayman! Whom did you last rob?" And Christian went red as the frock that Osra wore. But she turned questioning eyes on him.

"Yes," said he sullenly. "They say highwayman; it is true. I am a robber. That is why I said, madame, that I could not live without my horse."

"Come," said Osra, "let us go to the cottage."

So they returned together to the cottage, saying nothing. There Osra put on her own clothes again, and having bidden farewell to the old woman who asked no questions of her, mounted her horse. Then Christian said:

"Shall I ride with you, madame?"

She bowed her head in assent.

Till they entered the forest the Princess did not speak. But then she sighed, saying:

"I am sorry that I went with you. For if you had lost your horse maybe you would have ceased from your way of life. It is better to lose a horse than to be hanged."

"Madame," said he, "you speak prudently. Yet I had rather be hanged than lose him."

"I am in your debt a thousand crowns," said she, and, stopping her horse, she wrote for him an order for a thousand crowns, and she signed it with her own name, Osra, and gave it to him. He received it bowing very low.

"You knew me all the time?" she asked.

"Yes, madame," said he. They had now come to where he had first met her.

"Why do you live by robbery?" she asked.

"For the love of the same thing that made you come with me to-day, madame."

"But could you not find what you love in the King's service?"

"I do not like service, madame," said Christian. "I love to be free."

She paused for a moment, and then said in a lower tone:

"Could you not endure my service, sir?"

"In that I shall now live and die, madame," said he, and she felt his eyes upon her.

Again in silence they rode on; it was evening now, and had grown dark, and presently the lantern in the tower of the keep of Zenda became visible. Then Osra drew rein.

"For my sake," said she, "rob no more."

"What you command, madame, is my law. And here is your ring."

"Keep the ring," she said. "But when I can serve you, you shall send it back to me, and ask what you will in return for it."

"There is nothing," said he, very low, and looking away from her, "that I would take in exchange for it."

"A foolish man or only a foolish speech?" she asked as lightly as she could, with one fleeting glance at his face.

"A foolish man, madame, it may be, but a true speech," and he bent bareheaded in his saddle and raised her hand to his lips. And, still bareheaded, he turned away and rode back at a canter into the forest. But the Princess Osra rode on to the Castle, wondering greatly at what she had done that day.

Yet she could not be very sorry that she had saved his horse for him, and she trusted that Otho and Lotta would be happy, and she thought that one man was, after all, as good flesh and blood as another, and then that she was a Princess and he a robber, and that his eyes had been over bold. Yet there was deference in them also.

"It is a great pity that he should be a robber," sighed the Princess, as she reached the Castle.

* * *

The Princess Osra's carriage was within two miles of Strelsau when she put her head out of the window and asked the officer who rode by the wheel why such a throng of people hastened to the city.

"she asked the officer why a throng of people hastened to the city."-Page 118.

"It is nothing, madame," answered he, saluting. "It is only that two rogues are to be hanged to-day."

"What pleasure is there in seeing men hanged?" asked Osra scornfully. "I wish I had not come to-day." And she drew her head back in disgust. Then she called: "Go slowly, and do not let me get into the middle of the wild beasts who go to gloat over men being hanged."

So the horses were checked to a walk, and thus the carriage proceeded slowly towards Strelsau. But presently the Princess put her head out of the window again and asked:

"Who are to be hanged to-day, sir?"

"The noted highwayman, Sigismund Kohl, madame," said the officer. "He robbed the Archbishop's coach in the forest of Zenda; but they pursued him over the frontier and tracked him to the cottage of the other rogue, who had a part in many previous robberies, though not in this. The second fellow hid Kohl, and tried to put off the officers, but they caught them both, and both are to be hanged."

"It seems hard," said Osra, "to hang the one who only sheltered his friend. He could do no less."

"Nay, madame, he richly deserves it. Besides his previous robberies, he is gravely suspected of a most foul murder. For a few weeks ago he was in company with a girl, and she seemed to have money and to spare, and was mighty pretty too, they say. Now he can give no account of what has become of her; but they have found all the clothes she wore hidden away in his house, and he says his mother bought the clothes. But they are a girl's clothes, not an old woman's. It looks black; but luckily the other matter is enough to hang him on. His mother's clothes, in faith! Would an old woman, who died three weeks ago, have bought a new red frock and smart red stockings for herself?"

"A red frock? Red stockings? And the mother is dead? Dead of what?"

"Of a chill, madame, such as carries old people off suddenly. Yes, it looks black, and so the people think, for when the pair were brought into the city, though the rascals cheered Kohl who had only robbed the Archbishop, they pelted and came near to killing Christian Hantz."

The Princess's face went pale, and she sank back, murmuring "Christian Hantz!" But in another moment she cried:

"At what hour is the hanging?"

"At noon, madame; that is, half an hour from now."

Then the Princess cried in a loud urgent tone:

"Faster, faster! Drive at top speed!" The officers looked at her in wonder; but she cried: "A hundred crowns to the coachman if he brings me to the place before noon! Quick, quick!" For she was all on fire at the thought that Christian Hantz was to be hanged, not for any new robbery but because he had sheltered his friend. And she knew how the red skirt and the red stockings came in his house; her breath caught in her throat, as she thought how he had suffered stoning and execration rather than betray her secret. And she cried out to herself as she was carried along, "But the ring! Why did he not send the ring?"

By now they were at the gates of the city, and now within them. The officer and the two men who were with him rode forward to clear the road for the Princess. Thus they made their way on, until they came to the street which leads from the West Gate to the Cathedral, and could see the gibbet that had been raised before the prison, between the Cathedral and the Palace. But here the whole street was blocked with people, and the officer could not get the carriage through, for the folk were thick as swarming bees all across the roadway, and even if they would have moved, they could not; so the carriage came to a dead stand, while the officer said to Princess Osra:

"Madame, it is useless, we cannot get through them." Osra sprang from the carriage, and she said:

"You have two men with you, sir. For God's sake, gentlemen, bring me through to the foot of the scaffold. I care not if it costs me my life."

"Nor we, madame, though it costs us ours, since it is your pleasure," they said, as every man in the city would have said for the Princess Osra. And the two men went ahead, while Osra followed with the officer; and pushing and struggling, and dodging in and out, aye, and when need was, hitting, and buffeting, and kicking, the three took her through into the square of the Cathedral. And the clock in the great tower struck noon.

As the bell boomed a cry went up from the thronged square; the body of a man shot from the scaffold to the top of the gibbet and hung there. The people cried aloud, some cheering, some also groaning and weeping.

"Who is it, who is it?" asked the Princess.

"It is Sigismund Kohl, madame," said the officer.

"Then on, on, on!" she commanded, and again they struggled forward. Now a louder and fiercer cry rang out as a man was brought forward on the scaffold, in his shirt and breeches. A priest was with him, holding a crucifix before his eyes. King Rudolf, who sat at a window of his palace, asked why they delayed to string the rascal up; and one of his gentlemen answered:

"Sire, the priest begged a few minutes' delay. For the obstinate rogue will not confess to the murder of the girl, and therefore cannot receive absolution, and the priest is loth to have him hanged without it."

"He shall be hanged without it, unless his conscience act quickly," said the King. But a moment later, he asked:

"What is the tumult in the corner of the square? There is a fight there. Let it be seen to."

Indeed there was a fight; for the three with Osra were bent on getting through, and the crowd would not let them through; and they struck at the crowd, and the crowd at them. But suddenly some one, peering past the Guards, exclaimed: "The Princess Osra, the Princess!" Then the blows ceased, and the crowd began slowly to give back, making way for Osra. And she walked between walls of people, yet did not seem to see or to take heed of any of them; her eyes were glued to the man on the scaffold. For even now the priest, who had held the crucifix, turned sorrowfully away, and signed with his hand to the hangman.

Again the people shouted fiercely for Christian's death; and he, stepping forward, gave himself into the executioner's hands. Those who were near him saw that there was a smile on his lips, and, as the hangman took hold of him, he kissed a little packet which he held in his right hand. But the people shrieked loudly: "Murderer, murderer! Where is the girl?" At this, stung beyond endurance, Christian cried, so loudly that his voice rose above the clamour:

"I am no murderer, I did not touch a hair of her head."

"Then where is she, where is she?" they shouted.

"I do not know," said he; and he added in a low tone, kissing his little packet again: "Wherever she is, God in his graciousness send her joy." And he turned to the executioner, saying, "Get on, man." But then he looked as it were for the last time on the living sea of faces round him, and suddenly, out of all of them, he saw one.

What Christian saw the King saw also, and he rose from his chair with an oath and a laugh.

"This sister of mine is a wonderful wench," said he. "Come, let us see why she will not have this rascal hanged. Run, some one, and tell them not to string him up till I give the word."

The King walked out of the palace and came into the square, the Guard parting the people before him; and Osra, seeing him coming, stood now quite still, blushing and smiling, although she was very ashamed and panted sorely.

Then the King came and faced her, saying nothing, but lifting his eyebrows and smiling whimsically; but at last he whispered:

"What, was there a man in the forest, Osra?"

And she answered: "Do not ask me that, sire, but ask Christian Hantz what is in the packet which he kissed as the hangman took hold of him."

"He is not only a robber, but a murderer also, though he will not own to it."

"No, he is no murderer," said she. "Look in the packet."

"Then come and look with me," said the King, and taking her hand he led her up on to the scaffold in the sight of all the people, who wondered and laughed; for they always laughed at the ways of the Princess Osra. But she flew straight across to Christian, who fell on one knee with the rope round his neck.

"Give me the packet," she cried, and she tore it open. And in it she found her order for a thousand crowns and the gem engraved with the Royal Arms. For an instant she looked at Christian, and then she said:

"You have not got money for the order? Yet my name is good for a thousand crowns."

"To me, madame, it was better than fifty thousand."

"But," she broke out eagerly; "you should have sent the ring. I could have saved you."

"But you would have kept it in return for the service, madame."

"Aye, sir, that was the bargain," said Osra, with a little low laugh.

"I knew it. And I preferred to die with it rather than live without it."

"Another foolish speech!"

"Yes, for the man is foolish, madame."

"And they cry to you, 'Where is the girl?' And you do not answer, but die under a foul charge!"

To this Christian Hantz made no answer at all, unless it were one to murmur mournfully:

"And, madame, they have taken from me the red skirt and--"

The Princess Osra suddenly turned from him, and went to the King, who had stood regarding her; and she knelt down before him, saying:

"Sire and dear brother, pardon this man. He did but shelter his friend, and he will rob no more."

"I might forgive him his robberies, if he would take service in my army."

"Yes, in my regiment of Guards!" she cried.

"But how shall I forgive that foul murder, of which he is certainly guilty? For where, sister, is the pretty girl, of whom no traces can be found saving her dress, her red skirt, and--?"

"Sire, these things-I pray you, sire, let your gentlemen stand back a little."

"Stand back, then, gentlemen," said the King.

"These things, sire, were, by a strange chance, in the little parcel that the poor man kissed. Though why he kissed it, I do not know."

The King took Osra's order for a thousand crowns, and also the gem engraved with the Royal Arms; he looked at them and at his sister.

"Therefore, sire," said she, "I ask life and pardon for the most courteous gentleman in your dominions. For he prized my ring above his life and my secret above his honour. Sire, such men should live and not die."

The King turned to his officers, and said:

"Gentlemen, the Princess knows that the girl is alive and well and has no complaint against this man. For he might not in honour tell who or where she was. And, for the rest, he did but shelter his friend, and my sister is surety that he will rob no more. May he live?"

When they heard this, they all declared that Christian should live, and they went into the crowd and told the people that the girl was found. Then the people suddenly veered round and began to cheer Christian, and some cried, "Who is the girl?" and laughed merrily, conceiving that it was a love affair on which Christian had been engaged; and because he preferred to die under an imputation of murder rather than endanger his love's reputation, he became a hero with them; and when they heard he was not to die, they dispersed in the utmost good temper, cheering him and the King, and above all the Princess Osra, whom they loved.

But she went again to Christian, and bade the hangman take the rope off his neck.

"Will you serve in my regiment of Guards, sir?" she asked. "Or is service still irksome to you?"

"I will serve you, madame," said Christian.

"And since you will need equipment, get money for this order," and she gave him again the order.

"I must needs obey you, madame, though reluctantly."

"It is well, sir. I trust you will serve me faithfully. I bid you farewell, sir," and she bowed slightly, and turned as if to leave him. And he said nothing, but stood looking at her, so that presently she blushed, saying:

"They will let you have those things now, sir."

Christian bowed very low, and, raising himself again, looked at her ring.

"Nay, I cannot do that," said Princess Osra. "But you will see it now and then, and, now and then, maybe, you can touch it." And she put the ring on her finger and held out her hand to him. He knelt and kissed the ring and then her hand; but he looked very glum. And the Princess laughed openly at him, her eyes dancing in delight and amusement. But he still looked more as though he were going to be hanged than he had any time before in the day. So that the King, pointing at him, said to Osra:

"An ungrateful dog! Upon my soul he looks as though he were sorry not to be hanged! Do you call that courtesy?"

But the Princess laughed softly and rubbed the ring on her finger, as she answered:

"Aye, sire, I call that the best of courtesy."

* * *

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