A Legend of the Rhine, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER II.

The Godesbergers.

’Tis needless to state that the gallant warrior Ludwig of Hombourg found in the bosom of his friend’s family a cordial welcome. The brother-inarms of the Margrave Karl, he was the esteemed friend of the Margravine, the exalted and beautiful Theodora of Boppum, and (albeit no theologian, and although the first princes of Christendom coveted such an honor,) he was selected to stand as sponsor for the Margrave’s son Otto, the only child of his house.

It was now seventeen years since the Count and Countess had been united: and although heaven had not blessed their couch with more than one child, it may be said of that one that it was a prize, and that surely never lighted on the earth a more delightful vision. When Count Ludwig, hastening to the holy wars, had quitted his beloved godchild, he had left him a boy; he now found him, as the latter rushed into his arms, grown to be one of the finest young men in Germany: tall and excessively graceful in proportion, with the blush of health mantling upon his cheek, that was likewise adorned with the first down of manhood, and with magnificent golden ringlets, such as a Rowland might envy, curling over his brow and his shoulders. His eyes alternately beamed with the fire of daring, or melted with the moist glance of benevolence. Well might a mother be proud of such a boy. Well might the brave Ludwig exclaim, as he clasped the youth to his breast, “By St. Bugo of Katzenellenbogen, Otto, thou art fit to be one of Coeur de Lion’s grenadiers!” and it was the fact: the “Childe” of Godesberg measured six feet three.

He was habited for the evening meal in the costly, though simple attire of the nobleman of the period — and his costume a good deal resembled that of the old knight whose toilet we have just described; with the difference of color, however. The pourpoint worn by young Otto of Godesberg was of blue, handsomely decorated with buttons of carved and embossed gold; his haut-de-chausses, or leggings, were of the stuff of Nanquin, then brought by the Lombard argosies at an immense price from China. The neighboring country of Holland had supplied his wrists and bosom with the most costly laces; and thus attired, with an opera-hat placed on one side of his head, ornamented with a single flower, (that brilliant one, the tulip,) the boy rushed into his godfather’s dressing-room, and warned him that the banquet was ready.

It was indeed: a frown had gathered on the dark brows of the Lady Theodora, and her bosom heaved with an emotion akin to indignation; for she feared lest the soups in the refectory and the splendid fish now smoking there were getting cold: she feared not for herself, but for her lord’s sake. “Godesberg,” whispered she to Count Ludwig, as trembling on his arm they descended from the drawing-room, “Godesberg is sadly changed of late.”

“By St. Bugo!” said the burly knight, starting, “these are the very words the barber spake.”

The lady heaved a sigh, and placed herself before the soup-tureen. For some time the good Knight Ludwig of Hombourg was too much occupied in ladling out the forced-meat balls and rich calves’ head of which the delicious pottage was formed (in ladling them out, did we say? ay, marry, and in eating them, too,) to look at his brother-inarms at the bottom of the table, where he sat with his son on his left hand, and the Baron Gottfried on his right.

The Margrave was INDEED changed. “By St. Bugo,” whispered Ludwig to the Countess, “your husband is as surly as a bear that hath been wounded o’ the head.” Tears falling into her soup-plate were her only reply. The soup, the turbot, the haunch of mutton, Count Ludwig remarked that the Margrave sent all away untasted.

“The boteler will serve ye with wine, Hombourg,” said the Margrave gloomily from the end of the table: not even an invitation to drink! how different was this from the old times!

But when in compliance with this order the boteler proceeded to hand round the mantling vintage of the Cape to the assembled party, and to fill young Otto’s goblet, (which the latter held up with the eagerness of youth,) the Margrave’s rage knew no bounds. He rushed at his son; he dashed the wine-cup over his spotless vest: and giving him three or four heavy blows which would have knocked down a bonassus, but only caused the young Childe to blush: “YOU take wine!” roared out the Margrave; “YOU dare to help yourself! Who time d-v-l gave YOU leave to help yourself?” and the terrible blows were reiterated over the delicate ears of the boy.

“Ludwig! Ludwig!” shrieked the Margravine.

“Hold your prate, madam,” roared the Prince. “By St. Buffo, mayn’t a father beat his own child?”

“HIS OWN CHILD!” repeated the Margrave with a burst, almost a shriek of indescribable agony. “Ah, what did I say?”

Sir Ludwig looked about him in amaze; Sir Gottfried (at the Margrave’s right hand) smiled ghastily; the young Otto was too much agitated by the recent conflict to wear any expression but that of extreme discomfiture; but the poor Margravine turned her head aside and blushed, red almost as the lobster which flanked the turbot before her.

In those rude old times, ’tis known such table quarrels were by no means unusual amongst gallant knights; and Ludwig, who had oft seen the Margrave cast a leg of mutton at an offending servitor, or empty a sauce-boat in the direction of the Margravine, thought this was but one of the usual outbreaks of his worthy though irascible friend, and wisely determined to change the converse.

“How is my friend,” said he, “the good knight, Sir Hildebrandt?”

“By Saint Buffo, this is too much!” screamed the Margrave, and actually rushed from time room.

“By Saint Bugo,” said his friend, “gallant knights, gentle sirs, what ails my good Lord Margave?”

“Perhaps his nose bleeds,” said Gottfried, with a sneer.

“Ah, my kind friend,” said the Margravine with uncontrollable emotion, “I fear some of you have passed from the frying-pan into the fire.” And making the signal of departure to the ladies, they rose and retired to coffee in the drawing-room.

The Margrave presently came back again, somewhat more collected than he had been. “Otto,” he said sternly, “go join the ladies: it becomes not a young boy to remain in the company of gallant knights after dinner.” The noble Childe with manifest unwillingness quitted the room, and the Margrave, taking his lady’s place at the head of the table, whispered to Sir Ludwig, “Hildebrandt will be here to-night to an evening-party, given in honor of your return from Palestine. My good friend — my true friend — my old companion in arms, Sir Gottfried! you had best see that the fiddlers be not drunk, and that the crumpets be gotten ready.” Sir Gottfried, obsequiously taking his patron’s hint, bowed and left the room.

“You shall know all soon, dear Ludwig,” said the Margrave, with a heart-rending look. “You marked Gottfried, who left the room anon?”

“I did.”

“You look incredulous concerning his worth; but I tell thee, Ludwig, that yonder Gottfried is a good fellow, and my fast friend. Why should he not be! He is my near relation, heir to my property: should I” (here the Margrave’s countenance assumed its former expression of excruciating agony) — “SHOULD I HAVE NO SON.”

“But I never saw the boy in better health,” replied Sir Ludwig.

“Nevertheless — ha! ha! — it may chance that I shall soon have no son.”

The Margrave had crushed many a cup of wine during dinner, and Sir Ludwig thought naturally that his gallant friend had drunken rather deeply. He proceeded in this respect to imitate him; for the stern soldier of those days neither shrunk before the Paynim nor the punch-bowl: and many a rousing night had our crusader enjoyed in Syria with lion-hearted Richard; with his coadjutor, Godfrey of Bouillon; nay, with the dauntless Saladin himself.

“You knew Gottfried in Palestine?” asked the Margrave.

“I did.”

“Why did ye not greet him then, as ancient comrades should, with the warm grasp of friendship? It is not because Sir Gottfried is poor? You know well that he is of race as noble as thine own, my early friend!”

“I care not for his race nor for his poverty,” replied the blunt crusader. “What says the Minnesinger? ‘Marry, that the rank is but the stamp of the guinea; the man is the gold.’ And I tell thee, Karl of Godesberg, that yonder Gottfried is base metal.”

“By Saint Buffo, thou beliest him, dear Ludwig.”

“By Saint Bugo, dear Karl, I say sooth. The fellow was known i’ the camp of the crusaders — disreputably known. Ere he joined us in Palestine, he had sojourned in Constantinople, and learned the arts of the Greek. He is a cogger of dice, I tell thee — a chanter of horseflesh. He won five thousand marks from bluff Richard of England the night before the storming of Ascalon, and I caught him with false trumps in his pocket. He warranted a bay mare to Conrad of Mont Serrat, and the rogue had fired her.”

“Ha! mean ye that Sir Gottfried is a LEG?” cried Sir Karl, knitting his brows. “Now, by my blessed patron, Saint Buffo of Bonn, had any other but Ludwig of Hombourg so said, I would have cloven him from skull to chine.”

“By Saint Bugo of Katzenellenbogen, I will prove my words on Sir Gottfried’s body — not on thine, old brother-inarms. And to do the knave justice, he is a good lance. Holy Bugo! but he did good service at Acre! But his character was such that, spite of his bravery, he was dismissed the army; nor even allowed to sell his captain’s commission.”

“I have heard of it,” said the Margrave; “Gottfried hath told me of it. ’Twas about some silly quarrel over the wine-cup — a mere silly jape, believe me. Hugo de Brodenel would have no black bottle on the board. Gottfried was wroth, and to say sooth, flung the black bottle at the county’s head. Hence his dismission and abrupt return. But you know not,” continued the Margrave, with a heavy sigh, “of what use that worthy Gottfried has been to me. He has uncloaked a traitor to me.”

“Not YET,” answered Hombourg, satirically.

“By Saint Buffo! a deep-dyed dastard! a dangerous, damnable traitor! — a nest of traitors. Hildebranndt is a traitor — Otto is a traitor — and Theodora (O heaven!) she — she is ANOTHER.” The old Prince burst into tears at the word, and was almost choked with emotion.

“What means this passion, dear friend?” cried Sir Ludwig, seriously alarmed.

“Mark, Ludwig! mark Hildebrandt and Theodora together: mark Hildebrandt and OTTO together. Like, like I tell thee as two peas. O holy saints, that I should be born to suffer this! — to have all my affections wrenched out of my bosom, and to be left alone in my old age! But, hark! the guests are arriving. An ye will not empty another flask of claret, let us join the ladyes i’ the withdrawing chamber. When there, mark HILDEBRANDT AND OTTO!”

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