A Legend of the Rhine, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XIII.

The Marriage.

The consternation which ensued on the death of the Rowski, speedily sent all his camp-followers, army, &c. to the right-about. They struck their tents at the first news of his discomfiture; and each man laying hold of what he could, the whole of the gallant force which had marched under his banner in the morning had disappeared ere the sun rose.

On that night, as it may be imagined, the gates of the Castle of Cleves were not shut. Everybody was free to come in. Wine-butts were broached in all the courts; the pickled meat prepared in such lots for the siege was distributed among the people, who crowded to congratulate their beloved sovereign on his victory; and the Prince, as was customary with that good man, who never lost an opportunity of giving a dinner-party, had a splendid entertainment made ready for the upper classes, the whole concluding with a tasteful display of fireworks.

In the midst of these entertainments, our old friend the Count of Hombourg arrived at the castle. The stalwart old warrior swore by Saint Bugo that he was grieved the killing of the Rowski had been taken out of his hand. The laughing Cleves vowed by Saint Bendigo, Hombourg could never have finished off his enemy so satisfactorily as the unknown knight had just done.

But who was he? was the question which now agitated the bosom of these two old nobles. How to find him — how to reward the champion and restorer of the honor and happiness of Cleves? They agreed over supper that he should be sought for everywhere. Beadles were sent round the principal cities within fifty miles, and the description of the knight advertised, in the Journal de Francfort and the Allgemeine Zeitung. The hand of the Princess Helen was solemnly offered to him in these advertisements, with the reversion of the Prince of Cleves’s splendid though somewhat dilapidated property.

“But we don’t know him, my dear papa,” faintly ejaculated that young lady. “Some impostor may come in a suit of plain armor, and pretend that he was the champion who overcame the Rowski (a prince who had his faults certainly, but whose attachment for me I can never forget); and how are you to say whether he is the real knight or not? There are so many deceivers in this world,” added the Princess, in tears, “that one can’t be too cautious now.” The fact is, that she was thinking of the desertion of Otto in the morning; by which instance of faithlessness her heart was wellnigh broken.

As for that youth and his comrade Wolfgang, to the astonishment of everybody at their impudence, they came to the archers’ mess that night, as if nothing had happened; got their supper, partaking both of meat and drink most plentifully; fell asleep when their comrades began to describe the events of the day, and the admirable achievements of the unknown warrior; and turning into their hammocks, did not appear on parade in the morning until twenty minutes after the names were called.

When the Prince of Cleves heard of the return of these deserters he was in a towering passion. “Where were you, fellows,” shouted he, “during the time my castle was at its utmost need?”

Otto replied, “We were out on particular business.”

“Does a soldier leave his post on the day of battle, sir?” exclaimed the Prince. “You know the reward of such — Death! and death you merit. But you are a soldier only of yesterday, and yesterday’s victory has made me merciful. Hanged you shall not be, as you merit — only flogged, both of you. Parade the men, Colonel Tickelstern, after breakfast, and give these scoundrels five hundred apiece.”

You should have seen how young Otto bounded, when this information was thus abruptly conveyed to him. “Flog ME!” cried he. “Flog Otto of —”

“Not so, my father,” said the Princess Helen, who had been standing by during the conversation, and who had looked at Otto all the while with the most ineffable scorn. “Not so: although these PERSONS have forgotten their duty” (she laid a particularly sarcastic emphasis on the word persons), “we have had no need of their services, and have luckily found OTHERS more faithful. You promised your daughter a boon, papa; it is the pardon of these two PERSONS. Let them go, and quit a service they have disgraced; a mistress — that is, a master — they have deceived.”

“Drum ’em out of the castle, Ticklestern; strip their uniforms from their backs, and never let me hear of the scoundrels again.” So saying, the old Prince angrily turned on his heel to breakfast, leaving the two young men to the fun and derision of their surrounding comrades.

The noble Count of Hombourg, who was taking his usual airing on the ramparts before breakfast, came up at this juncture, and asked what was the row? Otto blushed when he saw him and turned away rapidly; but the Count, too, catching a glimpse of him, with a hundred exclamations of joyful surprise seized upon the lad, hugged him to his manly breast, kissed him most affectionately, and almost burst into tears as he embraced him. For, in sooth, the good Count had thought his godson long ere this at the bottom of the silver Rhine.

The Prince of Cleves, who had come to the breakfast-parlor window, (to invite his guest to enter, as the tea was made,) beheld this strange scene from the window, as did the lovely tea-maker likewise, with breathless and beautiful agitation. The old Count and the archer strolled up and down the battlements in deep conversation. By the gestures of surprise and delight exhibited by the former, ’twas easy to see the young archer was conveying some very strange and pleasing news to him; though the nature of the conversation was not allowed to transpire.

“A godson of mine,” said the noble Count, when interrogated over his muffins. “I know his family; worthy people; sad scapegrace; ran away; parents longing for him; glad you did not flog him; devil to pay,” and so forth. The Count was a man of few words, and told his tale in this brief, artless manner. But why, at its conclusion, did the gentle Helen leave the room, her eyes filled with tears? She left the room once more to kiss a certain lock of yellow hair she had pilfered. A dazzling, delicious thought, a strange wild hope, arose in her soul!

When she appeared again, she made some side-handed inquiries regarding Otto (with that gentle artifice oft employed by women); but he was gone. He and his companion were gone. The Count of Hombourg had likewise taken his departure, under pretext of particular business. How lonely the vast castle seemed to Helen, now that HE was no longer there. The transactions of the last few days; the beautiful archer-boy; the offer from the Rowski (always an event in a young lady’s life); the siege of the castle; the death of her truculent admirer: all seemed like a fevered dream to her: all was passed away, and had left no trace behind. No trace? — yes! one: a little insignificant lock of golden hair, over which the young creature wept so much that she put it out of curl; passing hours and hours in the summer-house, where the operation had been performed.

On the second day (it is my belief she would have gone into a consumption and died of languor, if the event had been delayed a day longer,) a messenger, with a trumpet, brought a letter in haste to the Prince of Cleves, who was, as usual, taking refreshment. “To the High and Mighty Prince,” &c. the letter ran. “The Champion who had the honor of engaging on Wednesday last with his late Excellency the Rowski of Donnerblitz, presents his compliments to H. S. H. the Prince of Cleves. Through the medium of the public prints the C. has been made acquainted with the flattering proposal of His Serene Highness relative to a union between himself (the Champion) and her Serene Highness the Princess Helen of Cleves. The Champion accepts with pleasure that polite invitation, and will have the honor of waiting upon the Prince and Princess of Cleves about half an hour after the receipt of this letter.”

“Tol lol de rol, girl,” shouted the Prince with heartfelt joy. (Have you not remarked, dear friend, how often in novel-books, and on the stage, joy is announced by the above burst of insensate monosyllables?) “Tol lol de rol. Don thy best kirtle, child; thy husband will be here anon.” And Helen retired to arrange her toilet for this awful event in the life of a young woman. When she returned, attired to welcome her defender, her young cheek was as pale as the white satin slip and orange sprigs she wore.

She was scarce seated on the dais by her father’s side, when a huge flourish of trumpets from without proclaimed the arrival of THE CHAMPION. Helen felt quite sick: a draught of ether was necessary to restore her tranquillity.

The great door was flung open. He entered — the same tall warrior, slim, and beautiful, blazing in shining steel. He approached the Prince’s throne, supported on each side by a friend likewise in armor. He knelt gracefully on one knee.

“I come,” said he in a voice trembling with emotion, “to claim, as per advertisement, the hand of the lovely Lady Helen.” And he held out a copy of the Allgemeine Zeitung as he spoke.

“Art thou noble, Sir Knight?” asked the Prince of Cleves.

“As noble as yourself,” answered the kneeling steel.

“Who answers for thee?”

“I, Karl, Margrave of Godesberg, his father!” said the knight on the right hand, lifting up his visor.

“And I— Ludwig, Count of Hombourg, his godfather!” said the knight on the left, doing likewise.

The kneeling knight lifted up his visor now, and looked on Helen.

“I KNEW IT WAS,” said she, and fainted as she saw Otto the Archer.

But she was soon brought to, gentles, as I have small need to tell ye. In a very few days after, a great marriage took place at Cleves under the patronage of Saint Bugo, Saint Buffo, and Saint Bendigo. After the marriage ceremony, the happiest and handsomest pair in the world drove off in a chaise-and-four, to pass the honeymoon at Kissingen. The Lady Theodora, whom we left locked up in her convent a long while since, was prevailed upon to come back to Godesberg, where she was reconciled to her husband. Jealous of her daughter-inlaw, she idolized her son, and spoiled all her little grandchildren. And so all are happy, and my simple tale is done.

I read it in an old, old book, in a mouldy old circulating library. ’Twas written in the French tongue, by the noble Alexandre Dumas; but ’tis probable that he stole it from some other, and that the other had filched it from a former tale-teller. For nothing is new under the sun. Things die and are reproduced only. And so it is that the forgotten tale of the great Dumas reappears under the signature of

THERESA MACWHIRTER.

WHISTLEBINKIE, N.B., December 1.

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University of Adelaide
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http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/legend/chapter13.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 19:07