A Legend of the Rhine, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER VI.

The Confession.

But we have forgotten, meanwhile, that prostrate individual. Having examined the wounds in his side, legs, head, and throat, the old hermit (a skilful leech) knelt down by the side of the vanquished one and said, “Sir Knight, it is my painful duty to state to you that you are in an exceedingly dangerous condition, and will not probably survive.”

“Say you so, Sir Priest? then ’tis time I make my confession. Hearken you, Priest, and you, Sir Knight, whoever you be.”

Sir Ludwig (who, much affected by the scene, had been tying his horse up to a tree), lifted his visor and said, “Gottfried of Godesberg! I am the friend of thy kinsman, Margrave Karl, whose happiness thou hast ruined; I am the friend of his chaste and virtuous lady, whose fair fame thou hast belied; I am the godfather of young Count Otto, whose heritage thou wouldst have appropriated. Therefore I met thee in deadly fight, and overcame thee, and have wellnigh finished thee. Speak on.”

“I have done all this,” said the dying man, “and here, in my last hour, repent me. The Lady Theodora is a spotless lady; the youthful Otto the true son of his father — Sir Hildebrandt is not his father, but his UNCLE.”

“Gracious Buffo!” “Celestial Bugo!” here said the hermit and the Knight of Hombourg simultaneously, clasping their hands.

“Yes, his uncle; but with the BAR-SINISTER in his scutcheon. Hence he could never be acknowledged by the family; hence, too, the Lady Theodora’s spotless purity (though the young people had been brought up together) could never be brought to own the relationship.”

“May I repeat your confession?” asked the hermit.

“With the greatest pleasure in life: carry my confession to the Margrave, and pray him give me pardon. Were there — a notary-public present,” slowly gasped the knight, the film of dissolution glazing over his eyes, “I would ask — you — two — gentlemen to witness it. I would gladly — sign the deposition — that is, if I could wr-wr-wr-wr-ite!” A faint shuddering smile — a quiver, a gasp, a gurgle — the blood gushed from his mouth in black volumes . . . .

“He will never sin more,” said the hermit, solemnly.

“May heaven assoilzie him!” said Sir Ludwig. “Hermit, he was a gallant knight. He died with harness on his back and with truth on his lips: Ludwig of Hombourg would ask no other death. . . . .”

An hour afterwards the principal servants at the Castle of Godesberg were rather surprised to see the noble Lord Louis trot into the court-yard of the castle, with a companion on the crupper of his saddle. ’Twas the venerable hermit of Rolandseck, who, for the sake of greater celerity, had adopted this undignified conveyance, and whose appearance and little dumpy legs might well create hilarity among the “pampered menials” who are always found lounging about the houses of the great. He skipped off the saddle with considerable lightness however; and Sir Ludwig, taking the reverend man by the arm and frowning the jeering servitors into awe, bade one of them lead him to the presence of his Highness the Margrave.

“What has chanced?” said the inquisitive servitor. “The riderless horse of Sir Gottfried was seen to gallop by the outer wall anon. The Margrave’s Grace has never quitted your lordship’s chamber, and sits as one distraught.”

“Hold thy prate, knave, and lead us on!” And so saying, the Knight and his Reverence moved into the well-known apartment, where, according to the servitor’s description, the wretched Margrave sat like a stone.

Ludwig took one of the kind broken-hearted man’s hands, the hermit seized the other, and began (but on account of his great age, with a prolixity which we shall not endeavor to imitate) to narrate the events which we have already described. Let the dear reader fancy, while his Reverence speaks, the glazed eyes of the Margrave gradually lighting up with attention; the flush of joy which mantles in his countenance — the start — the throb — the almost delirious outburst of hysteric exultation with which, when the whole truth was made known, he clasped the two messengers of glad tidings to his breast, with an energy that almost choked the aged recluse! “Ride, ride this instant to the Margravine — say I have wronged her, that it is all right, that she may come back — that I forgive her — that I apologize if you will”— and a secretary forthwith despatched a note to that effect, which was carried off by a fleet messenger.

“Now write to the Superior of the monastery at Cologne, and bid him send me back my boy, my darling, my Otto — my Otto of roses!” said the fond father, making the first play upon words he had ever attempted in his life. But what will not paternal love effect? The secretary (smiling at the joke) wrote another letter, and another fleet messenger was despatched on another horse.

“And now,” said Sir Ludwig, playfully, “let us to lunch. Holy hermit, are you for a snack?”

The hermit could not say nay on an occasion so festive, and the three gentles seated themselves to a plenteous repast; for which the remains of the feast of yesterday offered, it need not be said, ample means.

“They will be home by dinner-time,” said the exulting father. “Ludwig! reverend hermit! we will carry on till then.” And the cup passed gayly round, and the laugh and jest circulated, while the three happy friends sat confidentially awaiting the return of the Margravine and her son.

But alas! said we not rightly at the commencement of a former chapter, that betwixt the lip and the raised wine-cup there is often many a spill? that our hopes are high, and often, too often, vain? About three hours after the departure of the first messenger, he returned, and with an exceedingly long face knelt down and presented to the Margrave a billet to the following effect:—

“CONVENT OF NONNENWERTH, Friday Afternoon.

“SIR— I have submitted too long to your ill-usage, and am disposed to bear it no more. I will no longer be made the butt of your ribald satire, and the object of your coarse abuse. Last week you threatened me with your cane! On Tuesday last you threw a wine-decanter at me, which hit the butler, it is true, but the intention was evident. This morning, in the presence of all the servants, you called me by the most vile, abominable name, which heaven forbid I should repeat! You dismissed me from your house under a false accusation. You sent me to this odious convent to be immured for life. Be it so! I will not come back, because, forsooth; you relent. Anything is better than a residence with a wicked, coarse, violent, intoxicated, brutal monster like yourself. I remain here for ever and blush to be obliged to sign myself

“THEODORA VON GODESBERG.

“P.S. — I hope you do not intend to keep all my best gowns, jewels, and wearing-apparel; and make no doubt you dismissed me from your house in order to make way for some vile hussy, whose eyes I would like to tear out. T. V. G.”

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