The sun sometimes shone brightly upon the little round panes of the ancient building, the Golden Cross, on the northern side of the square, which the people of Ratisbon call “on the moor”; sometimes it was veiled by gray clouds. A party of nobles, ecclesiastics, and knights belonging to the Emperor’s train were just coming out. The spring breeze banged behind them the door of the little entrance for pedestrians close beside the large main gateway.
The courtiers and ladies who were in the chapel at the right of the corridor started. “April weather!” growled the corporal of the Imperial Halberdiers to the comrade with whom he was keeping; guard at the foot of the staircase leading to the apartments of Charles V, in the second story of the huge old house.
“St. Peter’s day,” replied the other, a Catalonian. “At my home fresh strawberries are now growing in the open air and roses are blooming in the gardens. Take it all in all, it’s better to be dead in Barcelona than alive in this accursed land of heretics!”
“Come, come,” replied the other, “life is life! ‘A live dog is better than a dead king,’ says a proverb in my country.”
“And it is right, too,” replied the Spaniard. “But ever since we came here our master’s face looks as if imperial life didn’t taste exactly like mulled wine, either.”
The Netherlander lowered his halberd and answered his companion’s words first with a heavy sigh, and then with the remark: “Bad weather upstairs as well as down—the very worst! I’ve been in the service thirteen years, but I never saw him like this, not even after the defeat in Algiers. That means we must keep a good lookout. Present halberds! Some one is coming down.”
Both quickly assumed a more erect attitude, but the Spaniard whispered to his comrade: “It isn’t he. His step hasn’t sounded like that since the gout—”
“Quijada!” whispered the Netherlander, and both he and the man from Barcelona presented halberds with true military bearing; but the staves of their descending weapons soon struck the flags of the pavement again, for a woman’s voice had detained the man whom the soldiers intended to salute, and in his place two slender lads rushed down the steps.