ITTLE Otto was lying upon the hard couch in his cell, tossing in restless and feverish sleep; suddenly a heavy hand was laid upon him and a voice whispered in his ear, "Baron, Baron Otto, waken, rouse yourself; I am come to help you. I am One-eyed Hans."
Otto was awake in an instant and raised himself upon his elbow in the darkness. "One-eyed Hans," he breathed, "One-eyed Hans; who is One-eyed Hans?"
"True," said the other, "thou dost not know me. I am thy father's trusted servant, and am the only one excepting his own blood and kin who has clung to him in this hour of trouble. Yes, all are gone but me alone, and so I have come to help thee away from this vile place."
"Oh, dear, good Hans! if only thou canst!" cried Otto; "if only thou canst take me away from this wicked place. Alas, dear Hans! I am weary and sick to death." And poor little Otto began to weep silently in the darkness.
"Aye, aye," said Hans, gruffly, "it is no place for a little child to be. Canst thou climb, my little master? canst thou climb a knotted rope?"
"Nay," said Otto, "I can never climb again! See, Hans;" and he flung back the covers from off him.
"I cannot see," said Hans, "it is too dark."
"Then feel, dear Hans," said Otto.
Hans bent over the poor little white figure glimmering palely in the darkness. Suddenly he drew back with a snarl like an angry wolf. "Oh! the black, bloody wretches!" he cried, hoarsely; "and have they done that to thee, a little child?"
"Yes," said Otto, "the Baron Henry did it." And then again he began to cry.
"There, there," said Hans, roughly, "weep no more. Thou shalt get away from here even if thou canst not climb; I myself will help thee. Thy father is already waiting below the window here, and thou shalt soon be with him. There, there, cry no more."
While he was speaking Hans had stripped off his peddler's leathern jacket, and there, around his body, was wrapped coil after coil of stout hempen rope tied in knots at short distances. He began unwinding the rope, and when he had done he was as thin as ever he had been before. Next he drew from the pouch that hung at his side a ball of fine cord and a leaden weight pierced by a hole, both of which he had brought with him for the use to which he now put them. He tied the lead to the end of the cord, then whirling the weight above his head, he flung it up toward the window high above. Twice the piece of lead fell back again into the room; the third time it flew out between the iron bars carrying the cord with it. Hans held the ball in his hand and paid out the string as the weight carried it downward toward the ground beneath. Suddenly the cord stopped running. Hans jerked it and shook it, but it moved no farther. "Pray heaven, little child," said he, "that it hath reached the ground, for if it hath not we are certainly lost."
"I do pray," said Otto, and he bowed his head.
Then, as though in answer to his prayer, there came a twitch upon the cord.
"See," said Hans, "they have heard thee up above in heaven; it was thy father who did that." Quickly and deftly he tied the cord to the end of the knotted rope; then he gave an answering jerk upon the string. The next moment the rope was drawn up to the window and down the outside by those below. Otto lay watching the rope as it crawled up to the window and out into the night like a great snake, while One-eyed Hans held the other end lest it should be drawn too far. At last it stopped. "Good," muttered Hans, as though to himself. "The rope is long enough."
He waited for a few minutes and then, drawing upon the rope and finding that it was held from below, he spat upon his hands and began slowly climbing up to the window above. Winding his arm around the iron bars of the grating that guarded it, he thrust his hand into the pouch that hung by his side, and drawing forth a file, fell to work cutting through all that now lay between Otto and liberty.
It was slow, slow work, and it seemed to Otto as though Hans would never finish his task, as lying upon his hard couch he watched that figure, black against the sky, bending over its work. Now and then the file screeched against the hard iron, and then Hans would cease for a moment, but only to begin again as industriously as ever. Three or four times he tried the effects of his work, but still the iron held. At last he set his shoulder against it, and as Otto looked he saw the iron bend. Suddenly there was a sharp crack, and a piece of the grating went flying out into the night.
Hans tied the rope securely about the stump of the stout iron bar that yet remained, and then slid down again into the room below.
"My little lord," said he, "dost thou think that if I carry thee, thou wilt be able and strong enough to cling to my neck?"
"Aye," said Otto, "methinks I will be able to do that."
The next moment they were hanging in mid-air.
"Then come," said Hans.
He stooped as he spoke, and gently lifting Otto from his rude and rugged bed he drew his broad leathern belt around them both, buckling it firmly and securely. "It does not hurt thee?" said he.
"Not much," whispered Otto faintly.
Then Hans spat upon his hands, and began slowly climbing the rope.
They reached the edge of the window and there they rested for a moment, and Otto renewed his hold around the neck of the faithful Hans.
"And now art thou ready?" said Hans.
"Aye," said Otto.
"Then courage," said Hans, and he turned and swung his leg over the abyss below.
The next moment they were hanging in mid-air.
Otto looked down and gave a gasp. "The mother of heaven bless us," he whispered, and then closed his eyes, faint and dizzy at the sight of that sheer depth beneath. Hans said nothing, but shutting his teeth and wrapping his legs around the rope, he began slowly descending, hand under hand. Down, down, down he went, until to Otto, with his eyes shut and his head leaning upon Hans' shoulder, it seemed as though it could never end. Down, down, down. Suddenly he felt Hans draw a deep breath; there was a slight jar, and Otto opened his eyes; Hans was standing upon the ground.
A figure wrapped in a dark cloak arose from the shadow of the wall, and took Otto in its arms. It was Baron Conrad.
"My son—my little child!" he cried, in a choked, trembling voice, and that was all. And Otto pressed his cheek against his father's and began crying.
Suddenly the Baron gave a sharp, fierce cry. "Dear Heaven!" he cried; "what have they done to thee?" But poor little Otto could not answer.
"Oh!" gasped the Baron, in a strangled voice, "my little child! my little child!" And therewith he broke down, and his whole body shook with fierce, dry sobs; for men in those days did not seek to hide their grief as they do now, but were fierce and strong in the expression of that as of all else.
"Never mind, dear father," whispered Otto; "it did not hurt me so very much," and he pressed his lips against his father's cheek.
Little Otto had but one hand.