A Legend of the Rhine, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER IV.

The Flight.

How often does man, proud man, make calculations for the future, and think he can bend stern fate to his will! Alas, we are but creatures in its hands! How many a slip between the lip and the lifted wine-cup! How often, though seemingly with a choice of couches to repose upon, do we find ourselves dashed to earth; and then we are fain to say the grapes are sour, because we cannot attain them; or worse, to yield to anger in consequence of our own fault. Sir Ludwig, the Hombourger, was NOT AT THE OUTER GATE at daybreak.

He slept until ten of the clock. The previous night’s potations had been heavy, the day’s journey had been long and rough. The knight slept as a soldier would, to whom a featherbed is a rarity, and who wakes not till he hears the blast of the reveille.

He looked up as he woke. At his bedside sat the Margrave. He had been there for hours watching his slumbering comrade. Watching? — no, not watching, but awake by his side, brooding over thoughts unutterably bitter — over feelings inexpressibly wretched.

“What’s o’clock?” was the first natural exclamation of the Hombourger.

“I believe it is five o’clock,” said his friend. It was ten. It might have been twelve, two, half-past four, twenty minutes to six, the Margrave would still have said, “I BELIEVE IT IS FIVE O’CLOCK.” The wretched take no count of time: it flies with unequal pinions, indeed, for THEM.

“Is breakfast over?” inquired the crusader.

“Ask the butler,” said the Margrave, nodding his head wildly, rolling his eyes wildly, smiling wildly.

“Gracious Bugo!” said the Knight of Hombourg, “what has ailed thee, my friend? It is ten o’clock by my horologe. Your regular hour is nine. You are not — no, by heavens! you are not shaved! You wear the tights and silken hose of last evening’s banquet. Your collar is all rumpled —’tis that of yesterday. YOU HAVE NOT BEEN TO BED! What has chanced, brother of mine: what has chanced?”

“A common chance, Louis of Hombourg,” said the Margrave: “one that chances every day. A false woman, a false friend, a broken heart. THIS has chanced. I have not been to bed.”

“What mean ye?” cried Count Ludwig, deeply affected. “A false friend? I am not a false friend. A false woman? Surely the lovely Theodora, your wife —”

“I have no wife, Louis, now; I have no wife and no son.”

***

In accents broken by grief, the Margrave explained what had occurred. Gottfried’s information was but too correct. There was a CAUSE for the likeness between Otto and Sir Hildebrandt: a fatal cause! Hildebrandt and Theodora had met at dawn at the outer gate. The Margrave had seen them. They walked long together; they embraced. Ah! how the husband’s, the father’s, feelings were harrowed at that embrace! They parted; and then the Margrave, coming forward, coldly signified to his lady that she was to retire to a convent for life, and gave orders that the boy should be sent too, to take the vows at a monastery.

Both sentences had been executed. Otto, in a boat, and guarded by a company of his father’s men-at-arms, was on the river going towards Cologne, to the monastery of Saint Buffo there. The Lady Theodora, under the guard of Sir Gottfried and an attendant, were on their way to the convent of Nonnenwerth, which many of our readers have seen — the beautiful Green Island Convent, laved by the bright waters of the Rhine!

“What road did Gottfried take?” asked the Knight of Hombourg, grinding his teeth.

“You cannot overtake him,” said the Margrave. “My good Gottfried, he is my only comfort now: he is my kinsman, and shall be my heir. He will be back anon.”

“Will he so?” thought Sir Ludwig. “I will ask him a few questions ere he return.” And springing from his couch, he began forthwith to put on his usual morning dress of complete armor; and, after a hasty ablution, donned, not his cap of maintenance, but his helmet of battle. He rang the bell violently.

“A cup of coffee, straight,” said he, to the servitor who answered the summons; “bid the cook pack me a sausage and bread in paper, and the groom saddle Streithengst; we have far to ride.”

The various orders were obeyed. The horse was brought; the refreshments disposed of; the clattering steps of the departing steed were heard in the court-yard; but the Margrave took no notice of his friend, and sat, plunged in silent grief, quite motionless by the empty bedside.

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