First published as A Legend of the Rhine, by M. A. Titmarsh in Cruikshank’s Table-Book (7 nos.), June — Dec., 1845. Reprinted in Miscellanies, vol. III, 1856.
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It was in the good old days of chivalry, when every mountain that bathes its shadow in the Rhine had its castle: not inhabited, as now, by a few rats and owls, nor covered with moss and wallflowers, and funguses, and creeping ivy. No, no! where the ivy now clusters there grew strong portcullis and bars of steel; where the wallflower now quivers in the rampart there were silken banners embroidered with wonderful heraldry; men-at-arms marched where now you shall only see a bank of moss or a hideous black champignon; and in place of the rats and owlets, I warrant me there were ladies and knights to revel in the great halls, and to feast, and to dance, and to make love there. They are passed away:— those old knights and ladies: their golden hair first changed to silver, and then the silver dropped off and disappeared for ever; their elegant legs, so slim and active in the dance, became swollen and gouty, and then, from being swollen and gouty, dwindled down to bare bone-shanks; the roses left their cheeks, and then their cheeks disappeared, and left their skulls, and then their skulls powdered into dust, and all sign of them was gone. And as it was with them, so shall it be with us. Ho, seneschal! fill me a cup of liquor! put sugar in it, good fellow — yea, and a little hot water; a very little, for my soul is sad, as I think of those days and knights of old.
They, too, have revelled and feasted, and where are they? — gone? — nay, not altogether gone; for doth not the eye catch glimpses of them as they walk yonder in the gray limbo of romance, shining faintly in their coats of steel, wandering by the side of long-haired ladies, with long-tailed gowns that little pages carry? Yes! one sees them: the poet sees them still in the far-off Cloudland, and hears the ring of their clarions as they hasten to battle or tourney — and the dim echoes of their lutes chanting of love and fair ladies! Gracious privilege of poesy! It is as the Dervish’s collyrium to the eyes, and causes them to see treasures that to the sight of donkeys are invisible. Blessed treasures of fancy! I would not change ye — no, not for many donkey-loads of gold. . . . Fill again, jolly seneschal, thou brave wag; chalk me up the produce on the hostel door — surely the spirits of old are mixed up in the wondrous liquor, and gentle visions of bygone princes and princesses look blandly down on us from the cloudy perfume of the pipe. Do you know in what year the fairies left the Rhine? — long before Murray’s “Guide-Book” was wrote — long before squat steamboats, with snorting funnels, came paddling down the stream. Do you not know that once upon a time the appearance of eleven thousand British virgins was considered at Cologne as a wonder? Now there come twenty thousand such annually, accompanied by their ladies’-maids. But of them we will say no more — let us back to those who went before them.
Many, many hundred thousand years ago, and at the exact period when chivalry was in full bloom, there occurred a little history upon the banks of the Rhine, which has been already written in a book, and hence must be positively true. ’Tis a story of knights and ladies — of love and battle, and virtue rewarded; a story of princes and noble lords, moreover: the best of company. Gentles, an ye will, ye shall hear it. Fair dames and damsels, may your loves be as happy as those of the heroine of this romaunt.
On the cold and rainy evening of Thursday, the 26th of October, in the year previously indicated, such travellers as might have chanced to be abroad in that bitter night, might have remarked a fellow-wayfarer journeying on the road from Oberwinter to Godesberg. He was a man not tall in stature, but of the most athletic proportions, and Time, which had browned and furrowed his cheek and sprinkled his locks with gray, declared pretty clearly that He must have been acquainted with the warrior for some fifty good years. He was armed in mail, and rode a powerful and active battle-horse, which (though the way the pair had come that day was long and weary indeed,) yet supported the warrior, his armor and luggage, with seeming ease. As it was in a friend’s country, the knight did not think fit to wear his heavy destrier, or helmet, which hung at his saddlebow over his portmanteau. Both were marked with the coronet of a count; and from the crown which surmounted the helmet, rose the crest of his knightly race, an arm proper lifting a naked sword.
At his right hand, and convenient to the warrior’s grasp, hung his mangonel or mace — a terrific weapon which had shattered the brains of many a turbaned soldan; while over his broad and ample chest there fell the triangular shield of the period, whereon were emblazoned his arms — argent, a gules wavy, on a saltire reversed of the second: the latter device was awarded for a daring exploit before Ascalon, by the Emperor Maximilian, and a reference to the German Peerage of that day, or a knowledge of high families which every gentleman then possessed, would have sufficed to show at once that the rider we have described was of the noble house of Hombourg. It was, in fact, the gallant knight Sir Ludwig of Hombourg: his rank as a count, and chamberlain of the Emperor of Austria, was marked by the cap of maintenance with the peacock’s feather which he wore (when not armed for battle), and his princely blood was denoted by the oiled silk umbrella which he carried (a very meet protection against the pitiless storm), and which, as it is known, in the middle ages, none but princes were justified in using. A bag, fastened with a brazen padlock, and made of the costly produce of the Persian looms (then extremely rare in Europe), told that he had travelled in Eastern climes. This, too, was evident from the inscription writ on card or parchment, and sewed on the bag. It first ran “Count Ludwig de Hombourg, Jerusalem;” but the name of the Holy City had been dashed out with the pen, and that of “Godesberg” substituted. So far indeed had the cavalier travelled! — and it is needless to state that the bag in question contained such remaining articles of the toilet as the high-born noble deemed unnecessary to place in his valise.
“By Saint Bugo of Katzenellenbogen!” said the good knight, shivering, “’tis colder here than at Damascus! Marry, I am so hungry I could eat one of Saladin’s camels. Shall I be at Godesberg in time for dinner?” And taking out his horologe (which hung in a small side-pocket of his embroidered surcoat), the crusader consoled himself by finding that it was but seven of the night, and that he would reach Godesberg ere the warder had sounded the second gong.
His opinion was borne out by the result. His good steed, which could trot at a pinch fourteen leagues in the hour, brought him to this famous castle, just as the warder was giving the first welcome signal which told that the princely family of Count Karl, Margrave of Godesberg, were about to prepare for their usual repast at eight o’clock. Crowds of pages and horse-keepers were in the court, when, the portcullis being raised, and amidst the respectful salutes of the sentinels, the most ancient friend of the house of Godesberg entered into its castle-yard. The under-butler stepped forward to take his bridle-rein. “Welcome, Sir Count, from the Holy Land!” exclaimed the faithful old man. “Welcome, Sir Count, from the Holy Land!” cried the rest of the servants in the hall. A stable was speedily found for the Count’s horse, Streithengst, and it was not before the gallant soldier had seen that true animal well cared for, that he entered the castle itself, and was conducted to his chamber. Wax-candles burning bright on the mantel, flowers in china vases, every variety of soap, and a flask of the precious essence manufactured at the neighboring city of Cologne, were displayed on his toilet-table; a cheering fire “crackled on the hearth,” and showed that the good knight’s coming had been looked and cared for. The serving-maidens, bringing him hot water for his ablutions, smiling asked, “Would he have his couch warmed at eve?” One might have been sure from their blushes that the tough old soldier made an arch reply. The family tonsor came to know whether the noble Count had need of his skill. “By Saint Bugo,” said the knight, as seated in an easy settle by the fire, the tonsor rid his chin of its stubby growth, and lightly passed the tongs and pomatum through “the sable silver” of his hair — “By Saint Bugo, this is better than my dungeon at Grand Cairo. How is my godson Otto, master barber; and the lady countess, his mother; and the noble Count Karl, my dear brother-inarms?”
“They are well,” said the tonsor, with a sigh.
“By Saint Bugo, I’m glad on’t; but why that sigh?”
“Things are not as they have been with my good lord,” answered the hairdresser, “ever since Count Gottfried’s arrival.”
“He here!” roared Sir Ludwig. “Good never came where Gottfried was!” and the while he donned a pair of silken hose, that showed admirably the proportions of his lower limbs, and exchanged his coat of mail for the spotless vest and black surcoat collared with velvet of Genoa, which was the fitting costume for “knight in ladye’s bower,” the knight entered into a conversation with the barber, who explained to him, with the usual garrulousness of his tribe, what was the present position of the noble family of Godesberg.
This will be narrated in the next chapter.
’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?”
“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.
“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!”
The festival was indeed begun. Coming on horseback, or in their caroches, knights and ladies of the highest rank were assembled in the grand saloon of Godesberg, which was splendidly illuminated to receive them. Servitors, in rich liveries, (they were attired in doublets of the sky-blue broadcloth of Ypres, and hose of the richest yellow sammit — the colors of the house of Godesberg,) bore about various refreshments on trays of silver — cakes, baked in the oven, and swimming in melted butter; manchets of bread, smeared with the same delicious condiment, and carved so thin that you might have expected them to take wing and fly to the ceiling; coffee, introduced by Peter the Hermit, after his excursion into Arabia, and tea such as only Bohemia could produce, circulated amidst the festive throng, and were eagerly devoured by the guests. The Margrave’s gloom was unheeded by them — how little indeed is the smiling crowd aware of the pangs that are lurking in the breasts of those who bid them to the feast! The Margravine was pale; but woman knows how to deceive; she was more than ordinarily courteous to her friends, and laughed, though the laugh was hollow, and talked, though the talk was loathsome to her.
“The two are together,” said the Margrave, clutching his friend’s shoulder. “NOW LOOK!”
Sir Ludwig turned towards a quadrille, and there, sure enough, were Sir Hildebrandt and young Otto standing side by side in the dance. Two eggs were not more like! The reason of the Margrave’s horrid suspicion at once flashed across his friend’s mind.
“’Tis clear as the staff of a pike,” said the poor Margrave, mournfully. “Come, brother, away from the scene; let us go play a game at cribbage!” and retiring to the Margravine’s boudoir, the two warriors sat down to the game.
But though ’tis an interesting one, and though the Margrave won, yet he could not keep his attention on the cards: so agitated was his mind by the dreadful secret which weighed upon it. In the midst of their play, the obsequious Gottfried came to whisper a word in his patron’s ear, which threw the latter into such a fury, that apoplexy was apprehended by the two lookers-on. But the Margrave mastered his emotion. “AT WHAT TIME, did you say?” said he to Gottfried.
“At daybreak, at the outer gate.”
“I will be there.”
“AND SO WILL I TOO,” thought Count Ludwig, the good Knight of Hombourg.
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.
The Hombourger led his horse down the winding path which conducts from the hill and castle of Godesberg into the beautiful green plain below. Who has not seen that lovely plain, and who that has seen it has not loved it? A thousand sunny vineyards and cornfields stretch around in peaceful luxuriance; the mighty Rhine floats by it in silver magnificence, and on the opposite bank rise the seven mountains robed in majestic purple, the monarchs of the royal scene.
A pleasing poet, Lord Byron, in describing this very scene, has mentioned that “peasant girls, with dark blue eyes, and hands that offer cake and wine,” are perpetually crowding round the traveller in this delicious district, and proffering to him their rustic presents. This was no doubt the case in former days, when the noble bard wrote his elegant poems — in the happy ancient days! when maidens were as yet generous, and men kindly! Now the degenerate peasantry of the district are much more inclined to ask than to give, and their blue eyes seem to have disappeared with their generosity.
But as it was a long time ago that the events of our story occurred, ’tis probable that the good Knight Ludwig of Hombourg was greeted upon his path by this fascinating peasantry; though we know not how he accepted their welcome. He continued his ride across the flat green country until he came to Rolandseck, whence he could command the Island of Nonnenwerth (that lies in the Rhine opposite that place), and all who went to it or passed from it.
Over the entrance of a little cavern in one of the rocks hanging above the Rhine-stream at Rolandseck, and covered with odoriferous cactuses and silvery magnolias, the traveller of the present day may perceive a rude broken image of a saint: that image represented the venerable Saint Buffo of Bonn, the patron of the Margrave; and Sir Ludwig, kneeling on the greensward, and reciting a censer, an ave, and a couple of acolytes before it, felt encouraged to think that the deed he meditated was about to be performed under the very eyes of his friend’s sanctified patron. His devotion done (and the knight of those days was as pious as he was brave), Sir Ludwig, the gallant Hombourger, exclaimed with a loud voice:—
“Ho! hermit! holy hermit, art thou in thy cell?”
“Who calls the poor servant of heaven and Saint Buffo?” exclaimed a voice from the cavern; and presently, from beneath the wreaths of geranium and magnolia, appeared an intensely venerable, ancient, and majestic head —’twas that, we need not say, of Saint Buffo’s solitary. A silver beard hanging to his knees gave his person an appearance of great respectability; his body was robed in simple brown serge, and girt with a knotted cord: his ancient feet were only defended from the prickles and stones by the rudest sandals, and his bald and polished head was bare.
“Holy hermit,” said the knight, in a grave voice, “make ready thy ministry, for there is some one about to die.”
“Is he here, now?”
“Perhaps,” said the stout warrior, crossing himself; “but not so if right prevail.” At this moment he caught sight of a ferry-boat putting off from Nonnenwerth, with a knight on board. Ludwig knew at once, by the sinople reversed and the truncated gules on his surcoat, that it was Sir Gottfried of Godesberg.
“Be ready, father,” said the good knight, pointing towards the advancing boat; and waving his hand by way of respect to the reverend hermit, without a further word, he vaulted into his saddle, and rode back for a few score of paces; when he wheeled round, and remained steady. His great lance and pennon rose in the air. His armor glistened in the sun; the chest and head of his battle-horse were similarly covered with steel. As Sir Gottfried, likewise armed and mounted (for his horse had been left at the ferry hard by), advanced up the road, he almost started at the figure before him — a glistening tower of steel.
“Are you the lord of this pass, Sir Knight?” said Sir Gottfried, haughtily, “or do you hold it against all comers, in honor of your lady-love?”
“I am not the lord of this pass. I do not hold it against all comers. I hold it but against one, and he is a liar and a traitor.”
“As the matter concerns me not, I pray you let me pass,” said Gottfried.
“The matter DOES concern thee, Gottfried of Godesberg. Liar and traitor! art thou coward, too?”
“Holy Saint Buffo! ’tis a fight!” exclaimed the old hermit (who, too, had been a gallant warrior in his day); and like the old war-horse that hears the trumpet’s sound, and spite of his clerical profession, he prepared to look on at the combat with no ordinary eagerness, and sat down on the overhanging ledge of the rock, lighting his pipe, and affecting unconcern, but in reality most deeply interested in the event which was about to ensue.
As soon as the word “coward” had been pronounced by Sir Ludwig, his opponent, uttering a curse far too horrible to be inscribed here, had wheeled back his powerful piebald, and brought his lance to the rest.
“Ha! Beauseant!” cried he. “Allah humdillah!” ’Twas the battle-cry in Palestine of the irresistible Knights Hospitallers. “Look to thyself, Sir Knight, and for mercy from heaven! I will give thee none.”
“A Bugo for Katzenellenbogen!” exclaimed Sir Ludwig, piously: that, too, was the well-known war-cry of his princely race.
“I will give the signal,” said the old hermit, waving his pipe. “Knights, are you ready? One, two, three. LOS!” (let go.)
At the signal, the two steeds tore up the ground like whirlwinds; the two knights, two flashing perpendicular masses of steel, rapidly converged; the two lances met upon the two shields of either, and shivered, splintered, shattered into ten hundred thousand pieces, which whirled through the air here and there, among the rocks, or in the trees, or in the river. The two horses fell back trembling on their haunches, where they remained for half a minute or so.
“Holy Buffo! a brave stroke!” said the old hermit. “Marry, but a splinter wellnigh took off my nose!” The honest hermit waved his pipe in delight, not perceiving that one of the splinters had carried off the head of it, and rendered his favorite amusement impossible. “Ha! they are to it again! O my! how they go to with their great swords! Well stricken, gray! Well parried, piebald! Ha, that was a slicer! Go it, piebald! go it, gray! — go it, gray! go it, pie — Peccavi! peccavi!” said the old man, here suddenly closing his eyes, and falling down on his knees. “I forgot I was a man of peace.” And the next moment, muttering a hasty matin, he sprung down the ledge of rock, and was by the side of the combatants.
The battle was over. Good knight as Sir Gottfried was, his strength and skill had not been able to overcome Sir Ludwig the Hombourger, with RIGHT on his side. He was bleeding at every point of his armor: he had been run through the body several times, and a cut in tierce, delivered with tremendous dexterity, had cloven the crown of his helmet of Damascus steel, and passing through the cerebellum and sensorium, had split his nose almost in twain.
His mouth foaming — his face almost green — his eyes full of blood — his brains spattered over his forehead, and several of his teeth knocked out — the discomfited warrior presented a ghastly spectacle, as, reeling under the effects of the last tremendous blow which the Knight of Hombourg dealt, Sir Gottfried fell heavily from the saddle of his piebald charger; the frightened animal whisked his tail wildly with a shriek and a snort, plunged out his hind legs, trampling for one moment upon the feet of the prostrate Gottfried, thereby causing him to shriek with agony, and then galloped away riderless.
Away! ay, away! — away amid the green vineyards and golden cornfields; away up the steep mountains, where he frightened the eagles in their eyries; away down the clattering ravines, where the flashing cataracts tumble; away through the dark pine-forests, where the hungry wolves are howling away over the dreary wolds, where the wild wind walks alone; away through the plashing quagmires, where the will-o’-the-wisp slunk frightened among the reeds; away through light and darkness, storm and sunshine; away by tower and town, high-road and hamlet. Once a turnpike-man would have detained him; but, ha! ha! he charged the pike, and cleared it at a bound. Once the Cologne Diligence stopped the way: he charged the Diligence, he knocked off the cap of the conductor on the roof, and yet galloped wildly, madly, furiously, irresistibly on! Brave horse! gallant steed! snorting child of Araby! On went the horse, over mountains, rivers, turnpikes, apple-women; and never stopped until he reached a livery-stable in Cologne where his master was accustomed to put him up.
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.”
This singular document, illustrative of the passions of women at all times, and particularly of the manners of the early ages, struck dismay into the heart of the Margrave.
“Are her ladyship’s insinuations correct?” asked the hermit, in a severe tone. “To correct a wife with a cane is a venial, I may say a justifiable practice; but to fling a bottle at her is ruin both to the liquor and to her.”
“But she sent a carving-knife at me first,” said the heartbroken husband. “O jealousy, cursed jealousy, why, why did I ever listen to thy green and yellow tongue?”
“They quarrelled; but they loved each other sincerely,” whispered Sir Ludwig to the hermit: who began to deliver forthwith a lecture upon family discord and marital authority, which would have sent his two hearers to sleep, but for the arrival of the second messenger, whom the Margrave had despatched to Cologne for his son. This herald wore a still longer face than that of his comrade who preceded him.
“Where is my darling?” roared the agonized parent. “Have ye brought him with ye?”
“N— no,” said the man, hesitating.
“I will flog the knave soundly when he comes,” cried the father, vainly endeavoring, under an appearance of sternness, to hide his inward emotion and tenderness.
“Please, your Highness,” said the messenger, making a desperate effort, “Count Otto is not at the convent.”
“Know ye, knave, where he is?”
The swain solemnly said, “I do. He is THERE.” He pointed as he spake to the broad Rhine, that was seen from the casement, lighted up by the magnificent hues of sunset.
“THERE! How mean ye THERE?” gasped the Margrave, wrought to a pitch of nervous fury.
“Alas! my good lord, when he was in the boat which was to conduct him to the convent, he — he jumped suddenly from it, and is dr — dr — owned.”
“Carry that knave out and hang him!” said the Margrave, with a calmness more dreadful than any outburst of rage. “Let every man of the boat’s crew be blown from the mouth of the cannon on the tower — except the coxswain, and let him be —”
What was to be done with the coxswain, no one knows; for at that moment, and overcome by his emotion, the Margrave sank down lifeless on the floor.
It must be clear to the dullest intellect (if amongst our readers we dare venture to presume that a dull intellect should be found) that the cause of the Margrave’s fainting-fit, described in the last chapter, was a groundless apprehension on the part of that too solicitous and credulous nobleman regarding the fate of his beloved child. No, young Otto was NOT drowned. Was ever hero of romantic story done to death so early in the tale? Young Otto was NOT drowned. Had such been the case, the Lord Margrave would infallibly have died at the close of the last chapter; and a few gloomy sentences at its close would have denoted how the lovely Lady Theodora became insane in the convent, and how Sir Ludwig determined, upon the demise of the old hermit (consequent upon the shock of hearing the news), to retire to the vacant hermitage, and assume the robe, the beard, the mortifications of the late venerable and solitary ecclesiastic. Otto was NOT drowned, and all those personages of our history are consequently alive and well.
The boat containing the amazed young Count — for he knew not the cause of his father’s anger, and hence rebelled against the unjust sentence which the Margrave had uttered — had not rowed many miles, when the gallant boy rallied from his temporary surprise and despondency, and determined not to be a slave in any convent of any order: determined to make a desperate effort for escape. At a moment when the men were pulling hard against the tide, and Kuno, the coxswain, was looking carefully to steer the barge between some dangerous rocks and quicksands which are frequently met with in the majestic though dangerous river, Otto gave a sudden spring from the boat, and with one single flounce was in the boiling, frothing, swirling eddy of the stream.
Fancy the agony of the crew at the disappearance of their young lord! All loved him; all would have given their lives for him; but as they did not know how to swim, of course they declined to make any useless plunges in search of him, and stood on their oars in mute wonder and grief. ONCE, his fair head and golden ringlets were seen to arise from the water; TWICE, puffing and panting, it appeared for an instant again; THRICE, it rose but for one single moment: it was the last chance, and it sunk, sunk, sunk. Knowing the reception they would meet with from their liege lord, the men naturally did not go home to Godesberg, but putting in at the first creek on the opposite bank, fled into the Duke of Nassau’s territory; where, as they have little to do with our tale, we will leave them.
But they little knew how expert a swimmer was young Otto. He had disappeared, it is true; but why? because he HAD DIVED. He calculated that his conductors would consider him drowned, and the desire of liberty lending him wings, (or we had rather say FINS, in this instance,) the gallant boy swam on beneath the water, never lifting his head for a single moment between Godesberg and Cologne — the distance being twenty-five or thirty miles.
Escaping from observation, he landed on the Deutz side of the river, repaired to a comfortable and quiet hostel there, saying he had had an accident from a boat, and thus accounting for the moisture of his habiliments, and while these were drying before a fire in his chamber, went snugly to bed, where he mused, not without amaze, on the strange events of the day. “This morning,” thought he, “a noble, and heir to a princely estate — this evening an outcast, with but a few bank-notes which my mamma luckily gave me on my birthday. What a strange entry into life is this for a young man of my family! Well, I have courage and resolution: my first attempt in life has been a gallant and successful one; other dangers will be conquered by similar bravery.” And recommending himself, his unhappy mother, and his mistaken father to the care of their patron saint, Saint Buffo, the gallant-hearted boy fell presently into such a sleep as only the young, the healthy, the innocent, and the extremely fatigued can enjoy.
The fatigues of the day (and very few men but would be fatigued after swimming wellnigh thirty miles under water) caused young Otto to sleep so profoundly, that he did not remark how, after Friday’s sunset, as a natural consequence, Saturday’s Phoebus illumined the world, ay, and sunk at his appointed hour. The serving-maidens of the hostel, peeping in, marked him sleeping, and blessing him for a pretty youth, tripped lightly from the chamber; the boots tried haply twice or thrice to call him (as boots will fain), but the lovely boy, giving another snore, turned on his side, and was quite unconscious of the interruption. In a word, the youth slept for six-and-thirty hours at an elongation; and the Sunday sun was shining and the bells of the hundred churches of Cologne were clinking and tolling in pious festivity, and the burghers and burgheresses of the town were trooping to vespers and morning service when Otto awoke.
As he donned his clothes of the richest Genoa velvet, the astonished boy could not at first account for his difficulty in putting them on. “Marry,” said he, “these breeches that my blessed mother” (tears filled his fine eyes as he thought of her)—“that my blessed mother had made long on purpose, are now ten inches too short for me. Whir-r-r! my coat cracks i’ the back, as in vain I try to buckle it round me; and the sleeves reach no farther than my elbows! What is this mystery? Am I grown fat and tall in a single night? Ah! ah! ah! ah! I have it.”
The young and good-humored Childe laughed merrily. He bethought him of the reason of his mistake: his garments had shrunk from being five-and-twenty miles under water.
But one remedy presented itself to his mind; and that we need not say was to purchase new ones. Inquiring the way to the most genteel ready-made-clothes’ establishment in the city of Cologne, and finding it was kept in the Minoriten Strasse, by an ancestor of the celebrated Moses of London, the noble Childe hied him towards the emporium; but you may be sure did not neglect to perform his religious duties by the way. Entering the cathedral, he made straight for the shrine of Saint Buffo, and hiding himself behind a pillar there (fearing he might be recognized by the archbishop, or any of his father’s numerous friends in Cologne), he proceeded with his devotions, as was the practice of the young nobles of the age.
But though exceedingly intent upon the service, yet his eye could not refrain from wandering a LITTLE round about him, and he remarked with surprise that the whole church was filled with archers; and he remembered, too, that he had seen in the streets numerous other bands of men similarly attired in green. On asking at the cathedral porch the cause of this assemblage, one of the green ones said (in a jape), “Marry, youngster, YOU must be GREEN, not to know that we are all bound to the castle of his Grace Duke Adolf of Cleves, who gives an archery meeting once a year, and prizes for which we toxophilites muster strong.”
Otto, whose course hitherto had been undetermined, now immediately settled what to do. He straightway repaired to the ready-made emporium of Herr Moses, and bidding that gentleman furnish him with an archer’s complete dress, Moses speedily selected a suit from his vast stock, which fitted the youth to a T, and we need not say was sold at an exceedingly moderate price. So attired (and bidding Herr Moses a cordial farewell), young Otto was a gorgeous, a noble, a soul-inspiring boy to gaze on. A coat and breeches of the most brilliant pea-green, ornamented with a profusion of brass buttons, and fitting him with exquisite tightness, showed off a figure unrivalled for slim symmetry. His feet were covered with peaked buskins of buff leather, and a belt round his slender waist, of the same material, held his knife, his tobacco-pipe and pouch, and his long shining dirk; which, though the adventurous youth had as yet only employed it to fashion wicket-bails, or to cut bread-and-cheese, he was now quite ready to use against the enemy. His personal attractions were enhanced by a neat white hat, flung carelessly and fearlessly on one side of his open smiling countenance; and his lovely hair, curling in ten thousand yellow ringlets, fell over his shoulder like golden epaulettes, and down his back as far as the waist-buttons of his coat. I warrant me, many a lovely Colnerinn looked after the handsome Childe with anxiety, and dreamed that night of Cupid under the guise of “a bonny boy in green.”
So accoutred, the youth’s next thought was, that he must supply himself with a bow. This he speedily purchased at the most fashionable bowyer’s, and of the best material and make. It was of ivory, trimmed with pink ribbon, and the cord of silk. An elegant quiver, beautifully painted and embroidered, was slung across his back, with a dozen of the finest arrows, tipped with steel of Damascus, formed of the branches of the famous Upas-tree of Java, and feathered with the wings of the ortolan. These purchases being completed (together with that of a knapsack, dressing-case, change, &c.), our young adventurer asked where was the hostel at which the archers were wont to assemble? and being informed that it was at the sign of the “Golden Stag,” hied him to that house of entertainment, where, by calling for quantities of liquor and beer, he speedily made the acquaintance and acquired the good will of a company of his future comrades, who happened to be sitting in the coffee-room.
After they had eaten and drunken for all, Otto said, addressing them, “When go ye forth, gentles? I am a stranger here, bound as you to the archery meeting of Duke Adolf. An ye will admit a youth into your company ’twill gladden me upon my lonely way?”
The archers replied, “You seem so young and jolly, and you spend your gold so very like a gentleman, that we’ll receive you in our band with pleasure. Be ready, for we start at half-past two!” At that hour accordingly the whole joyous company prepared to move, and Otto not a little increased his popularity among them by stepping out and having a conference with the landlord, which caused the latter to come into the room where the archers were assembled previous to departure, and to say, “Gentlemen, the bill is settled!”— words never ungrateful to an archer yet: no, marry, nor to a man of any other calling that I wot of.
They marched joyously for several leagues, singing and joking, and telling of a thousand feats of love and chase and war. While thus engaged, some one remarked to Otto, that he was not dressed in the regular uniform, having no feathers in his hat.
“I dare say I will find a feather,” said the lad, smiling.
Then another gibed because his bow was new.
“See that you can use your old one as well, Master Wolfgang,” said the undisturbed youth. His answers, his bearing, his generosity, his beauty, and his wit, inspired all his new toxophilite friends with interest and curiosity, and they longed to see whether his skill with the bow corresponded with their secret sympathies for him.
An occasion for manifesting this skill did not fail to present itself soon — as indeed it seldom does to such a hero of romance as young Otto was. Fate seems to watch over such: events occur to them just in the nick of time; they rescue virgins just as ogres are on the point of devouring them; they manage to be present at court and interesting ceremonies, and to see the most interesting people at the most interesting moment; directly an adventure is necessary for them, that adventure occurs: and I, for my part, have often wondered with delight (and never could penetrate the mystery of the subject) at the way in which that humblest of romance heroes, Signor Clown, when he wants anything in the Pantomime, straightway finds it to his hand. How is it that — suppose he wishes to dress himself up like a woman for instance, that minute a coalheaver walks in with a shovel-hat that answers for a bonnet; at the very next instant a butcher’s lad passing with a string of sausages and a bundle of bladders unconsciously helps Master Clown to a necklace and a tournure, and so on through the whole toilet? Depend upon it there is something we do not wot of in that mysterious overcoming of circumstances by great individuals: that apt and wondrous conjuncture of THE HOUR AND THE MAN; and so, for my part, when I heard the above remark of one of the archers, that Otto had never a feather in his bonnet, I felt sure that a heron would spring up in the next sentence to supply him with an aigrette.
And such indeed was the fact: rising out of a morass by which the archers were passing, a gallant heron, arching his neck, swelling his crest, placing his legs behind him, and his beak and red eyes against the wind, rose slowly, and offered the fairest mark in the world.
“Shoot, Otto,” said one of the archers. “You would not shoot just now at a crow because it was a foul bird, nor at a hawk because it was a noble bird; bring us down yon heron: it flies slowly.”
But Otto was busy that moment tying his shoestring, and Rudolf, the third best of the archers, shot at the bird and missed it.
“Shoot, Otto,” said Wolfgang, a youth who had taken a liking to the young archer: “the bird is getting further and further.”
But Otto was busy that moment whittling a willow-twig he had just cut. Max, the second best archer, shot and missed.
“Then,” said Wolfgang, “I must try myself: a plague on you, young springald, you have lost a noble chance!”
Wolfgang prepared himself with all his care, and shot at the bird. “It is out of distance,” said he, “and a murrain on the bird!”
Otto, who by this time had done whittling his willow-stick (having carved a capital caricature of Wolfgang upon it), flung the twig down and said carelessly, “Out of distance! Pshaw! We have two minutes yet,” and fell to asking riddles and cutting jokes; to the which none of the archers listened, as they were all engaged, their noses in air, watching the retreating bird.
“Where shall I hit him?” said Otto.
“Go to,” said Rudolf, “thou canst see no limb of him: he is no bigger than a flea.”
“Here goes for his right eye!” said Otto; and stepping forward in the English manner (which his godfather having learnt in Palestine, had taught him), he brought his bowstring to his ear, took a good aim, allowing for the wind and calculating the parabola to a nicety. Whiz! his arrow went off.
He took up the willow-twig again and began carving a head of Rudolf at the other end, chatting and laughing, and singing a ballad the while.
The archers, after standing a long time looking skywards with their noses in the air, at last brought them down from the perpendicular to the horizontal position, and said, “Pooh, this lad is a humbug! The arrow’s lost; let’s go!”
“HEADS!” cried Otto, laughing. A speck was seen rapidly descending from the heavens; it grew to be as big as a crown-piece, then as a partridge, then as a tea-kettle, and flop! down fell a magnificent heron to the ground, flooring poor Max in its fall.
“Take the arrow out of his eye, Wolfgang,” said Otto, without looking at the bird: “wipe it and put it back into my quiver.”
The arrow indeed was there, having penetrated right through the pupil.
“Are you in league with Der Freischutz?” said Rudolf, quite amazed.
Otto laughingly whistled the “Huntsman’s Chorus,” and said, “No, my friend. It was a lucky shot: only a lucky shot. I was taught shooting, look you, in the fashion of merry England, where the archers are archers indeed.”
And so he cut off the heron’s wing for a plume for his hat; and the archers walked on, much amazed, and saying, “What a wonderful country that merry England must be!”
Far from feeling any envy at their comrade’s success, the jolly archers recognized his superiority with pleasure; and Wolfgang and Rudolf especially held out their hands to the younker, and besought the honor of his friendship. They continued their walk all day, and when night fell made choice of a good hostel you may be sure, where over beer, punch, champagne, and every luxury, they drank to the health of the Duke of Cleves, and indeed each other’s healths all round. Next day they resumed their march, and continued it without interruption, except to take in a supply of victuals here and there (and it was found on these occasions that Otto, young as he was, could eat four times as much as the oldest archer present, and drink to correspond); and these continued refreshments having given them more than ordinary strength, they determined on making rather a long march of it, and did not halt till after nightfall at the gates of the little town of Windeck.
What was to be done? the town-gates were shut. “Is there no hostel, no castle where we can sleep?” asked Otto of the sentinel at the gate. “I am so hungry that in lack of better food I think I could eat my grandmamma.”
The sentinel laughed at this hyperbolical expression of hunger, and said, “You had best go sleep at the Castle of Windeck yonder;” adding with a peculiarly knowing look, “Nobody will disturb you there.”
At that moment the moon broke out from a cloud, and showed on a hill hard by a castle indeed — but the skeleton of a castle. The roof was gone, the windows were dismantled, the towers were tumbling, and the cold moonlight pierced it through and through. One end of the building was, however, still covered in, and stood looking still more frowning, vast, and gloomy, even than the other part of the edifice.
“There is a lodging, certainly,” said Otto to the sentinel, who pointed towards the castle with his bartizan; “but tell me, good fellow, what are we to do for a supper?”
“Oh, the castellan of Windeck will entertain you,” said the man-at-arms with a grin, and marched up the embrasure; the while the archers, taking counsel among themselves, debated whether or not they should take up their quarters in the gloomy and deserted edifice.
“We shall get nothing but an owl for supper there,” said young Otto. “Marry, lads, let us storm the town; we are thirty gallant fellows, and I have heard the garrison is not more than three hundred.” But the rest of the party thought such a way of getting supper was not a very cheap one, and, grovelling knaves, preferred rather to sleep ignobly and without victuals, than dare the assault with Otto, and die, or conquer something comfortable.
One and all then made their way towards the castle. They entered its vast and silent halls, frightening the owls and bats that fled before them with hideous hootings and flappings of wings, and passing by a multiplicity of mouldy stairs, dank reeking roofs, and rickety corridors, at last came to an apartment which, dismal and dismantled as it was, appeared to be in rather better condition than the neighboring chambers, and they therefore selected it as their place of rest for the night. They then tossed up which should mount guard. The first two hours of watch fell to Otto, who was to be succeeded by his young though humble friend Wolfgang; and, accordingly, the Childe of Godesberg, drawing his dirk, began to pace upon his weary round; while his comrades, by various gradations of snoring, told how profoundly they slept, spite of their lack of supper.
’Tis needless to say what were the thoughts of the noble Childe as he performed his two hours’ watch; what gushing memories poured into his full soul; what “sweet and bitter” recollections of home inspired his throbbing heart; and what manly aspirations after fame buoyed him up. “Youth is ever confident,” says the bard. Happy, happy season! The moonlit hours passed by on silver wings, the twinkling stars looked friendly down upon him. Confiding in their youthful sentinel, sound slept the valorous toxophilites, as up and down, and there and back again, marched on the noble Childe. At length his repeater told him, much to his satisfaction, that it was half-past eleven, the hour when his watch was to cease; and so, giving a playful kick to the slumbering Wolfgang, that good-humored fellow sprung up from his lair, and, drawing his sword, proceeded to relieve Otto.
The latter laid him down for warmth’s sake on the very spot which his comrade had left, and for some time could not sleep. Realities and visions then began to mingle in his mind, till he scarce knew which was which. He dozed for a minute; then he woke with a start; then he went off again; then woke up again. In one of these half-sleeping moments he thought he saw a figure, as of a woman in white, gliding into the room, and beckoning Wolfgang from it. He looked again. Wolfgang was gone. At that moment twelve o’clock clanged from the town, and Otto started up.
As the bell with iron tongue called midnight, Wolfgang the Archer, pacing on his watch, beheld before him a pale female figure. He did not know whence she came: but there suddenly she stood close to him. Her blue, clear, glassy eyes were fixed upon him. Her form was of faultless beauty; her face pale as the marble of the fairy statue, ere yet the sculptor’s love had given it life. A smile played upon her features, but it was no warmer than the reflection of a moonbeam on a lake; and yet it was wondrous beautiful. A fascination stole over the senses of young Wolfgang. He stared at the lovely apparition with fixed eyes and distended jaws. She looked at him with ineffable archness. She lifted one beautifully rounded alabaster arm, and made a sign as if to beckon him towards her. Did Wolfgang — the young and lusty Wolfgang — follow? Ask the iron whether it follows the magnet? — ask the pointer whether it pursues the partridge through the stubble? — ask the youth whether the lollipop-shop does not attract him? Wolfgang DID follow. An antique door opened, as if by magic. There was no light, and yet they saw quite plain; they passed through the innumerable ancient chambers, and yet they did not wake any of the owls and bats roosting there. We know not through how many apartments the young couple passed; but at last they came to one where a feast was prepared: and on an antique table, covered with massive silver, covers were laid for two. The lady took her place at one end of the table, and with her sweetest nod beckoned Wolfgang to the other seat. He took it. The table was small, and their knees met. He felt as cold in his legs as if he were kneeling against an ice-well.
“Gallant archer,” said she, “you must be hungry after your day’s march. What supper will you have? Shall it be a delicate lobster-salad? or a dish of elegant tripe and onions? or a slice of boar’s-head and truffles? or a Welsh rabbit a la cave au cidre? or a beefsteak and shallot? or a couple of rognons a la brochette? Speak, brave bowyer: you have but to order.”
As there was nothing on the table but a covered silver dish, Wolfgang thought that the lady who proposed such a multiplicity of delicacies to him was only laughing at him; so he determined to try her with something extremely rare.
“Fair princess,” he said, “I should like very much a pork-chop and some mashed potatoes.”
She lifted the cover: there was such a pork-chop as Simpson never served, with a dish of mashed potatoes that would have formed at least six portions in our degenerate days in Rupert Street.
When he had helped himself to these delicacies, the lady put the cover on the dish again, and watched him eating with interest. He was for some time too much occupied with his own food to remark that his companion did not eat a morsel; but big as it was, his chop was soon gone; the shining silver of his plate was scraped quite clean with his knife, and, heaving a great sigh, he confessed a humble desire for something to drink.
“Call for what you like, sweet sir,” said the lady, lifting up a silver filigree bottle, with an india-rubber cork, ornamented with gold.
“Then,” said Master Wolfgang — for the fellow’s tastes were, in sooth, very humble —“I call for half-and-half.” According to his wish, a pint of that delicious beverage was poured from the bottle, foaming, into his beaker.
Having emptied this at a draught, and declared that on his conscience it was the best tap he ever knew in his life, the young man felt his appetite renewed; and it is impossible to say how many different dishes he called for. Only enchantment, he was afterwards heard to declare (though none of his friends believed him), could have given him the appetite he possessed on that extraordinary night. He called for another pork-chop and potatoes, then for pickled salmon; then he thought he would try a devilled turkey-wing. “I adore the devil,” said he.
“So do I,” said the pale lady, with unwonted animation; and the dish was served straightway. It was succeeded by black-puddings, tripe, toasted cheese, and — what was most remarkable — every one of the dishes which he desired came from under the same silver cover: which circumstance, when he had partaken of about fourteen different articles, he began to find rather mysterious.
“Oh,” said the pale lady, with a smile, “the mystery is easily accounted for: the servants hear you, and the kitchen is BELOW.” But this did not account for the manner in which more half-and-half, bitter ale, punch (both gin and rum), and even oil and vinegar, which he took with cucumber to his salmon, came out of the self-same bottle from which the lady had first poured out his pint of half-and-half.
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Voracio,” said his arch entertainer, when he put this question to her, “than are dreamt of in your philosophy:” and, sooth to say, the archer was by this time in such a state, that he did not find anything wonderful more.
“Are you happy, dear youth?” said the lady, as, after his collation, he sank back in his chair.
“Oh, miss, ain’t I?” was his interrogative and yet affirmative reply.
“Should you like such a supper every night, Wolfgang?” continued the pale one.
“Why, no,” said he; “no, not exactly; not EVERY night: SOME nights I should like oysters.”
“Dear youth,” said she, “be but mine, and you may have them all the year round!” The unhappy boy was too far gone to suspect anything, otherwise this extraordinary speech would have told him that he was in suspicious company. A person who can offer oysters all the year round can live to no good purpose.
“Shall I sing you a song, dear archer?” said the lady.
“Sweet love!” said he, now much excited, “strike up, and I will join the chorus.”
She took down her mandolin, and commenced a ditty. ’Twas a sweet and wild one. It told how a lady of high lineage cast her eyes on a peasant page; it told how nought could her love assuage, her suitor’s wealth and her father’s rage: it told how the youth did his foes engage; and at length they went off in the Gretna stage, the high-born dame and the peasant page. Wolfgang beat time, waggled his head, sung wofully out of tune as the song proceeded; and if he had not been too intoxicated with love and other excitement, he would have remarked how the pictures on the wall, as the lady sung, began to waggle their heads too, and nod and grin to the music. The song ended. “I am the lady of high lineage: Archer, will you be the peasant page?”
“I’ll follow you to the devil!” said Wolfgang.
“Come,” replied the lady, glaring wildly on him, “come to the chapel; we’ll be married this minute!”
She held out her hand — Wolfgang took it. It was cold, damp — deadly cold; and on they went to the chapel.
As they passed out, the two pictures over the wall, of a gentleman and lady, tripped lightly out of their frames, skipped noiselessly down to the ground, and making the retreating couple a profound curtsy and bow, took the places which they had left at the table.
Meanwhile the young couple passed on towards the chapel, threading innumerable passages, and passing through chambers of great extent. As they came along, all the portraits on the wall stepped out of their frames to follow them. One ancestor, of whom there was only a bust, frowned in the greatest rage, because, having no legs, his pedestal would not move; and several sticking-plaster profiles of the former Lords of Windeck looked quite black at being, for similar reasons, compelled to keep their places. However, there was a goodly procession formed behind Wolfgang and his bride; and by the time they reached the church, they had near a hundred followers.
The church was splendidly illuminated; the old banners of the old knights glittered as they do at Drury Lane. The organ set up of itself to play the “Bridesmaid’s Chorus.” The choir-chairs were filled with people in black.
“Come, love,” said the pale lady.
“I don’t see the parson,” exclaimed Wolfgang, spite of himself rather alarmed.
“Oh, the parson! that’s the easiest thing in the world! I say, bishop!” said the lady, stooping down.
Stooping down — and to what? Why, upon my word and honor, to a great brass plate on the floor, over which they were passing, and on which was engraven the figure of a bishop — and a very ugly bishop, too — with crosier and mitre, and lifted finger, on which sparkled the episcopal ring. “Do, my dear lord, come and marry us,” said the lady, with a levity which shocked the feelings of her bridegroom.
The bishop got up; and directly he rose, a dean, who was sleeping under a large slate near him, came bowing and cringing up to him; while a canon of the cathedral (whose name was Schidnischmidt) began grinning and making fun at the pair. The ceremony was begun, and . . . .
As the clock struck twelve, young Otto bounded up, and remarked the absence of his companion Wolfgang. The idea he had had, that his friend disappeared in company with a white-robed female, struck him more and more. “I will follow them,” said he; and, calling to the next on the watch (old Snozo, who was right unwilling to forego his sleep), he rushed away by the door through which he had seen Wolfgang and his temptress take their way.
That he did not find them was not his fault. The castle was vast, the chamber dark. There were a thousand doors, and what wonder that, after he had once lost sight of them, the intrepid Childe should not be able to follow in their steps? As might be expected, he took the wrong door, and wandered for at least three hours about the dark enormous solitary castle, calling out Wolfgang’s name to the careless and indifferent echoes, knocking his young shins against the ruins scattered in the darkness, but still with a spirit entirely undaunted, and a firm resolution to aid his absent comrade. Brave Otto! thy exertions were rewarded at last!
For he lighted at length upon the very apartment where Wolfgang had partaken of supper, and where the old couple who had been in the picture-frames, and turned out to be the lady’s father and mother, were now sitting at the table.
“Well, Bertha has got a husband at last,” said the lady.
“After waiting four hundred and fifty-three years for one, it was quite time,” said the gentleman. (He was dressed in powder and a pigtail, quite in the old fashion.)
“The husband is no great things,” continued the lady, taking snuff. “A low fellow, my dear; a butcher’s son, I believe. Did you see how the wretch ate at supper? To think my daughter should have to marry an archer!”
“There are archers and archers,” said the old man. “Some archers are snobs, as your ladyship states; some, on the contrary, are gentlemen by birth, at least, though not by breeding. Witness young Otto, the Landgrave of Godesberg’s son, who is listening at the door like a lackey, and whom I intend to run through the —”
“Law, Baron!” said the lady.
“I will, though,” replied the Baron, drawing an immense sword, and glaring round at Otto: but though at the sight of that sword and that scowl a less valorous youth would have taken to his heels, the undaunted Childe advanced at once into the apartment. He wore round his neck a relic of St. Buffo (the tip of the saint’s ear, which had been cut off at Constantinople). “Fiends! I command you to retreat!” said he, holding up this sacred charm, which his mamma had fastened on him; and at the sight of it, with an unearthly yell the ghosts of the Baron and the Baroness sprung back into their picture-frames, as clowns go through a clock in a pantomime.
He rushed through the open door by which the unlucky Wolfgang had passed with his demoniacal bride, and went on and on through the vast gloomy chambers lighted by the ghastly moonshine: the noise of the organ in the chapel, the lights in the kaleidoscopic windows, directed him towards that edifice. He rushed to the door: ’twas barred! He knocked: the beadles were deaf. He applied his inestimable relic to the lock, and — whiz! crash! clang! bang! whang! — the gate flew open! the organ went off in a fugue — the lights quivered over the tapers, and then went off towards the ceiling — the ghosts assembled rushed away with a skurry and a scream — the bride howled, and vanished — the fat bishop waddled back under his brass plate — the dean flounced down into his family vault — and the canon Schidnischmidt, who was making a joke, as usual, on the bishop, was obliged to stop at the very point of his epigram, and to disappear into the void whence he came.
Otto fell fainting at the porch, while Wolfgang tumbled lifeless down at the altar-steps; and in this situation the archers, when they arrived, found the two youths. They were resuscitated, as we scarce need say; but when, in incoherent accents, they came to tell their wondrous tale, some sceptics among the archers said —“Pooh! they were intoxicated!” while others, nodding their older heads, exclaimed —“THEY HAVE SEEN THE LADY OF WINDECK!” and recalled the stories of many other young men, who, inveigled by her devilish arts, had not been so lucky as Wolfgang, and had disappeared — for ever!
This adventure bound Wolfgang heart and soul to his gallant preserver; and the archers — it being now morning, and the cocks crowing lustily round about — pursued their way without further delay to the castle of the noble patron of toxophilites, the gallant Duke of Cleves.
Although there lay an immense number of castles and abbeys between Windeck and Cleves, for every one of which the guide-books have a legend and a ghost, who might, with the commonest stretch of ingenuity, be made to waylay our adventurers on the road; yet, as the journey would be thus almost interminable, let us cut it short by saying that the travellers reached Cleves without any further accident, and found the place thronged with visitors for the meeting next day.
And here it would be easy to describe the company which arrived, and make display of antiquarian lore. Now we would represent a cavalcade of knights arriving, with their pages carrying their shining helms of gold, and the stout esquires, bearers of lance and banner. Anon would arrive a fat abbot on his ambling pad, surrounded by the white-robed companions of his convent. Here should come the gleemen and jonglers, the minstrels, the mountebanks, the party-colored gipsies, the dark-eyed, nut-brown Zigeunerinnen; then a troop of peasants chanting Rhine-songs, and leading in their ox-drawn carts the peach-cheeked girls from the vine-lands. Next we would depict the litters blazoned with armorial bearings, from between the broidered curtains of which peeped out the swan-like necks and the haughty faces of the blond ladies of the castles. But for these descriptions we have not space; and the reader is referred to the account of the tournament in the ingenious novel of “Ivanhoe,” where the above phenomena are described at length. Suffice it to say, that Otto and his companions arrived at the town of Cleves, and, hastening to a hostel, reposed themselves after the day’s march, and prepared them for the encounter of the morrow.
That morrow came: and as the sports were to begin early, Otto and his comrades hastened to the field, armed with their best bows and arrows, you may be sure, and eager to distinguish themselves; as were the multitude of other archers assembled. They were from all neighboring countries — crowds of English, as you may fancy, armed with Murray’s guide-books, troops of chattering Frenchmen, Frankfort Jews with roulette-tables, and Tyrolese, with gloves and trinkets — all hied towards the field where the butts were set up, and the archery practice was to be held. The Childe and his brother archers were, it need not be said, early on the ground.
But what words of mine can describe the young gentleman’s emotion when, preceded by a band of trumpets, bagpipes, ophicleides, and other wind instruments, the Prince of Cleves appeared with the Princess Helen, his daughter? And ah! what expressions of my humble pen can do justice to the beauty of that young lady? Fancy every charm which decorates the person, every virtue which ornaments the mind, every accomplishment which renders charming mind and charming person doubly charming, and then you will have but a faint and feeble idea of the beauties of her Highness the Princess Helen. Fancy a complexion such as they say (I know not with what justice) Rowland’s Kalydor imparts to the users of that cosmetic; fancy teeth to which orient pearls are like Wallsend coals; eyes, which were so blue, tender, and bright, that while they run you through with their lustre, they healed you with their kindness; a neck and waist, so ravishingly slender and graceful, that the least that is said about them the better; a foot which fell upon the flowers no heavier than a dew-drop — and this charming person set off by the most elegant toilet that ever milliner devised! The lovely Helen’s hair (which was as black as the finest varnish for boots) was so long, that it was borne on a cushion several yards behind her by the maidens of her train; and a hat, set off with moss-roses, sunflowers, bugles, birds-of-paradise, gold lace, and pink ribbon, gave her a distingue air, which would have set the editor of the Morning Post mad with love.
It had exactly the same effect upon the noble Childe of Godesberg, as leaning on his ivory bow, with his legs crossed, he stood and gazed on her, as Cupid gazed on Psyche. Their eyes met: it was all over with both of them. A blush came at one and the same minute budding to the cheek of either. A simultaneous throb beat in those young hearts! They loved each other for ever from that instant. Otto still stood, cross-legged, enraptured, leaning on his ivory bow; but Helen, calling to a maiden for her pocket-handkerchief, blew her beautiful Grecian nose in order to hide her agitation. Bless ye, bless ye, pretty ones! I am old now; but not so old but that I kindle at the tale of love. Theresa MacWhirter too has lived and loved. Heigho!
Who is yon chief that stands behind the truck whereon are seated the Princess and the stout old lord, her father? Who is he whose hair is of the carroty hue? whose eyes, across a snubby bunch of a nose, are perpetually scowling at each other; who has a hump-back and a hideous mouth, surrounded with bristles, and crammed full of jutting yellow odious teeth. Although he wears a sky-blue doublet laced with silver, it only serves to render his vulgar punchy figure doubly ridiculous; although his nether garment is of salmon-colored velvet, it only draws the more attention to his legs, which are disgustingly crooked and bandy. A rose-colored hat, with towering pea-green ostrich-plumes, looks absurd on his bull-head; and though it is time of peace, the wretch is armed with a multiplicity of daggers, knives, yataghans, dirks, sabres, and scimitars, which testify his truculent and bloody disposition. ’Tis the terrible Rowski de Donnerblitz, Margrave of Eulenschreckenstein. Report says he is a suitor for the hand of the lovely Helen. He addresses various speeches of gallantry to her, and grins hideously as he thrusts his disgusting head over her lily shoulder. But she turns away from him! turns and shudders — ay, as she would at a black dose!
Otto stands gazing still, and leaning on his bow. “What is the prize?” asks one archer of another. There are two prizes — a velvet cap, embroidered by the hand of the Princess, and a chain of massive gold, of enormous value. Both lie on cushions before her.
“I know which I shall choose, when I win the first prize,” says a swarthy, savage, and bandy-legged archer, who bears the owl gules on a black shield, the cognizance of the Lord Rowski de Donnerblitz.
“Which, fellow?” says Otto, turning fiercely upon him.
“The chain, to be sure!” says the leering archer. “You do not suppose I am such a flat as to choose that velvet gimcrack there?” Otto laughed in scorn, and began to prepare his bow. The trumpets sounding proclaimed that the sports were about to commence.
Is it necessary to describe them? No: that has already been done in the novel of “Ivanhoe” before mentioned. Fancy the archers clad in Lincoln green, all coming forward in turn, and firing at the targets. Some hit, some missed; those that missed were fain to retire amidst the jeers of the multitudinous spectators. Those that hit began new trials of skill; but it was easy to see, from the first, that the battle lay between Squintoff (the Rowski archer) and the young hero with the golden hair and the ivory bow. Squintoff’s fame as a marksman was known throughout Europe; but who was his young competitor? Ah? there was ONE heart in the assembly that beat most anxiously to know. ’Twas Helen’s.
The crowning trial arrived. The bull’s eye of the target, set up at three-quarters of a mile distance from the archers, was so small, that it required a very clever man indeed to see, much more to hit it; and as Squintoff was selecting his arrow for the final trial, the Rowski flung a purse of gold towards his archer, saying —“Squintoff, an ye win the prize, the purse is thine.” “I may as well pocket it at once, your honor,” said the bowman with a sneer at Otto. “This young chick, who has been lucky as yet, will hardly hit such a mark as that.” And, taking his aim, Squintoff discharged his arrow right into the very middle of the bull’s-eye.
“Can you mend that, young springald?” said he, as a shout rent the air at his success, as Helen turned pale to think that the champion of her secret heart was likely to be overcome, and as Squintoff, pocketing the Rowski’s money, turned to the noble boy of Godesberg.
“Has anybody got a pea?” asked the lad. Everybody laughed at his droll request; and an old woman, who was selling porridge in the crowd, handed him the vegetable which he demanded. It was a dry and yellow pea. Otto, stepping up to the target, caused Squintoff to extract his arrow from the bull’s-eye, and placed in the orifice made by the steel point of the shaft, the pea which he had received from the old woman. He then came back to his place. As he prepared to shoot, Helen was so overcome by emotion, that ’twas thought she would have fainted. Never, never had she seen a being so beautiful as the young hero now before her.
He looked almost divine. He flung back his long clusters of hair from his bright eyes and tall forehead; the blush of health mantled on his cheek, from which the barber’s weapon had never shorn the down. He took his bow, and one of his most elegant arrows, and poising himself lightly on his right leg, he flung himself forward, raising his left leg on a level with his ear. He looked like Apollo, as he stood balancing himself there. He discharged his dart from the thrumming bowstring: it clove the blue air — whiz!
“HE HAS SPLIT THE PEA!” said the Princess, and fainted. The Rowski, with one eye, hurled an indignant look at the boy, while with the other he levelled (if aught so crooked can be said to level anything) a furious glance at his archer.
The archer swore a sulky oath. “He is the better man!” said he. “I suppose, young chap, you take the gold chain?”
“The gold chain?” said Otto. “Prefer a gold chain to a cap worked by that august hand? Never!” And advancing to the balcony where the Princess, who now came to herself, was sitting, he kneeled down before her, and received the velvet cap; which, blushing as scarlet as the cap itself, the Princess Helen placed on his golden ringlets. Once more their eyes met — their hearts thrilled. They had never spoken, but they knew they loved each other for ever.
“Wilt thou take service with the Rowski of Donnerblitz?” said that individual to the youth. “Thou shalt be captain of my archers in place of yon blundering nincompoop, whom thou hast overcome.”
“Yon blundering nincompoop is a skilful and gallant archer,” replied Otto, haughtily; “and I will NOT take service with the Rowski of Donnerblitz.”
“Wilt thou enter the household of the Prince of Cleves?” said the father of Helen, laughing, and not a little amused at the haughtiness of the humble archer.
“I would die for the Duke of Cleves and HIS FAMILY,” said Otto, bowing low. He laid a particular and a tender emphasis on the word family. Helen knew what he meant. SHE was the family. In fact her mother was no more, and her papa had no other offspring.
“What is thy name, good fellow,” said the Prince, “that my steward may enroll thee?”
“Sir,” said Otto, again blushing, “I am OTTO THE ARCHER.”
The archers who had travelled in company with young Otto gave a handsome dinner in compliment to the success of our hero; at which his friend distinguished himself as usual in the eating and drinking department. Squintoff, the Rowski bowman, declined to attend; so great was the envy of the brute at the youthful hero’s superiority. As for Otto himself, he sat on the right hand of the chairman; but it was remarked that he could not eat. Gentle reader of my page! thou knowest why full well. He was too much in love to have any appetite; for though I myself when laboring under that passion, never found my consumption of victuals diminish, yet remember our Otto was a hero of romance, and they NEVER are hungry when they’re in love.
The next day, the young gentleman proceeded to enroll himself in the corps of Archers of the Prince of Cleves, and with him came his attached squire, who vowed he never would leave him. As Otto threw aside his own elegant dress, and donned the livery of the House of Cleves, the noble Childe sighed not a little. ’Twas a splendid uniform ’tis true, but still it WAS a livery, and one of his proud spirit ill bears another’s cognizances. “They are the colors of the Princess, however,” said he, consoling himself; “and what suffering would I not undergo for HER?” As for Wolfgang, the squire, it may well be supposed that the good-natured, low-born fellow had no such scruples; but he was glad enough to exchange for the pink hose, the yellow jacket, the pea-green cloak, and orange-tawny hat, with which the Duke’s steward supplied him, the homely patched doublet of green which he had worn for years past.
“Look at you two archers,” said the Prince of Cleves to his guest, the Rowski of Donnerblitz, as they were strolling on the battlements after dinner, smoking their cigars as usual. His Highness pointed to our two young friends, who were mounting guard for the first time. “See yon two bowmen — mark their bearing! One is the youth who beat thy Squintoff, and t’other, an I mistake not, won the third prize at the butts. Both wear the same uniform — the colors of my house — yet wouldst not swear that the one was but a churl, and the other a noble gentleman?”
“Which looks like the nobleman?” said the Rowski, as black as thunder.
“WHICH? why, young Otto, to be sure,” said the Princess Helen, eagerly. The young lady was following the pair; but under pretence of disliking the odor of the cigar, she had refused the Rowski’s proffered arm, and was loitering behind with her parasol.
Her interposition in favor of her young protege only made the black and jealous Rowski more ill-humored. “How long is it, Sir Prince of Cleves,” said he, “that the churls who wear your livery permit themselves to wear the ornaments of noble knights? Who but a noble dare wear ringlets such as yon springald’s? Ho, archer!” roared he, “come, hither, fellow.” And Otto stood before him. As he came, and presenting arms stood respectfully before the Prince and his savage guest, he looked for one moment at the lovely Helen — their eyes met, their hearts beat simultaneously: and, quick, two little blushes appeared in the cheek of either. I have seen one ship at sea answering another’s signal so.
While they are so regarding each other, let us just remind our readers of the great estimation in which the hair was held in the North. Only nobles were permitted to wear it long. When a man disgraced himself, a shaving was sure to follow. Penalties were inflicted upon villains or vassals who sported ringlets. See the works of Aurelius Tonsor; Hirsutus de Nobilitate Capillari; Rolandus de Oleo Macassari; Schnurrbart; Fresirische Alterthumskunde, &c.
“We must have those ringlets of thine cut, good fellow,” said the Duke of Cleves good-naturedly, but wishing to spare the feelings of his gallant recruit. “’Tis against the regulation cut of my archer guard.”
“Cut off my hair!” cried Otto, agonized.
“Ay, and thine ears with it, yokel,” roared Donnerblitz.
“Peace, noble Eulenschreckenstein,” said the Duke with dignity: “let the Duke of Cleves deal as he will with his own men-at-arms. And you, young sir, unloose the grip of thy dagger.”
Otto, indeed, had convulsively grasped his snickersnee, with intent to plunge it into the heart of the Rowski; but his politer feelings overcame him. “The count need not fear, my lord,” said he: “a lady is present.” And he took off his orange-tawny cap and bowed low. Ah! what a pang shot through the heart of Helen, as she thought that those lovely ringlets must be shorn from that beautiful head!
Otto’s mind was, too, in commotion. His feelings as a gentleman — let us add, his pride as a man — for who is not, let us ask, proud of a good head of hair? — waged war within his soul. He expostulated with the Prince. “It was never in my contemplation,” he said, “on taking service, to undergo the operation of hair-cutting.”
“Thou art free to go or stay, Sir Archer,” said the Prince pettishly. “I will have no churls imitating noblemen in my service: I will bandy no conditions with archers of my guard.”
“My resolve is taken,” said Otto, irritated too in his turn. “I will . . . . ”
“What?” cried Helen, breathless with intense agitation.
“I will STAY,” answered Otto. The poor girl almost fainted with joy. The Rowski frowned with demoniac fury, and grinding his teeth and cursing in the horrible German jargon, stalked away. “So be it,” said the Prince of Cleves, taking his daughter’s arm —“and here comes Snipwitz, my barber, who shall do the business for you.” With this the Prince too moved on, feeling in his heart not a little compassion for the lad; for Adolf of Cleves had been handsome in his youth, and distinguished for the ornament of which he was now depriving his archer.
Snipwitz led the poor lad into a side-room, and there — in a word — operated upon him. The golden curls — fair curls that his mother had so often played with! — fell under the shears and round the lad’s knees, until he looked as if he was sitting in a bath of sunbeams.
When the frightful act had been performed, Otto, who entered the little chamber in the tower ringleted like Apollo, issued from it as cropped as a charity-boy.
See how melancholy he looks, now that the operation is over! — And no wonder. He was thinking what would be Helen’s opinion of him, now that one of his chief personal ornaments was gone. “Will she know me?” thought he; “will she love me after this hideous mutilation?”
Yielding to these gloomy thoughts, and, indeed, rather unwilling to be seen by his comrades, now that he was so disfigured, the young gentleman had hidden himself behind one of the buttresses of the wall, a prey to natural despondency; when he saw something which instantly restored him to good spirits. He saw the lovely Helen coming towards the chamber where the odious barber had performed upon him — coming forward timidly, looking round her anxiously, blushing with delightful agitation — and presently seeing, as she thought, the coast clear, she entered the apartment. She stooped down, and ah! what was Otto’s joy when he saw her pick up a beautiful golden lock of his hair, press it to her lips, and then hide it in her bosom! No carnation ever blushed so redly as Helen did when she came out after performing this feat. Then she hurried straightway to her own apartments in the castle, and Otto, whose first impulse was to come out from his hiding-place, and, falling at her feet, call heaven and earth to witness to his passion, with difficulty restrained his feelings and let her pass: but the love-stricken young hero was so delighted with this evident proof of reciprocated attachment, that all regret at losing his ringlets at once left him, and he vowed he would sacrifice not only his hair, but his head, if need were, to do her service.
That very afternoon, no small bustle and conversation took place in the castle, on account of the sudden departure of the Rowski of Eulenschreckenstein, with all his train and equipage. He went away in the greatest wrath, it was said, after a long and loud conversation with the Prince. As that potentate conducted his guest to the gate, walking rather demurely and shamefacedly by his side, as he gathered his attendants in the court, and there mounted his charger, the Rowski ordered his trumpets to sound, and scornfully flung a largesse of gold among the servitors and men-at-arms of the House of Cleves, who were marshalled in the court. “Farewell, Sir Prince,” said he to his host: “I quit you now suddenly; but remember, it is not my last visit to the Castle of Cleves.” And ordering his band to play “See the Conquering Hero comes,” he clattered away through the drawbridge. The Princess Helen was not present at his departure; and the venerable Prince of Cleves looked rather moody and chap-fallen when his guest left him. He visited all the castle defences pretty accurately that night, and inquired of his officers the state of the ammunition, provisions, &c. He said nothing; but the Princess Helen’s maid did: and everybody knew that the Rowski had made his proposals, had been rejected, and, getting up in a violent fury, had called for his people, and sworn by his great gods that he would not enter the castle again until he rode over the breach, lance in hand, the conqueror of Cleves and all belonging to it.
No little consternation was spread through the garrison at the news: for everybody knew the Rowski to be one of the most intrepid and powerful soldiers in all Germany — one of the most skilful generals. Generous to extravagance to his own followers, he was ruthless to the enemy: a hundred stories were told of the dreadful barbarities exercised by him in several towns and castles which he had captured and sacked. And poor Helen had the pain of thinking, that in consequence of her refusal she was dooming all the men, women, and children of the principality to indiscriminate and horrible slaughter.
The dreadful surmises regarding a war received in a few days dreadful confirmation. It was noon, and the worthy Prince of Cleves was taking his dinner (though the honest warrior had had little appetite for that meal for some time past), when trumpets were heard at the gate; and presently the herald of the Rowski of Donnerblitz, clad in a tabard on which the arms of the Count were blazoned, entered the dining-hall. A page bore a steel gauntlet on a cushion; Bleu Sanglier had his hat on his head. The Prince of Cleves put on his own, as the herald came up to the chair of state where the sovereign sat.
“Silence for Bleu Sanglier,” cried the Prince, gravely. “Say your say, Sir Herald.”
“In the name of the high and mighty Rowski, Prince of Donnerblitz, Margrave of Eulenschreckenstein, Count of Krotenwald, Schnauzestadt, and Galgenhugel, Hereditary Grand Corkscrew of the Holy Roman Empire — to you, Adolf the Twenty-third, Prince of Cleves, I, Bleu Sanglier, bring war and defiance. Alone, and lance to lance, or twenty to twenty in field or in fort, on plain or on mountain, the noble Rowski defies you. Here, or wherever he shall meet you, he proclaims war to the death between you and him. In token whereof, here is his glove.” And taking the steel glove from the page, Bleu Boar flung it clanging on the marble floor.
The Princess Helen turned deadly pale: but the Prince, with a good assurance, flung down his own glove, calling upon some one to raise the Rowski’s; which Otto accordingly took up and presented to him, on his knee.
“Boteler, fill my goblet,” said the Prince to that functionary, who, clothed in tight black hose, with a white kerchief, and a napkin on his dexter arm, stood obsequiously by his master’s chair. The goblet was filled with Malvoisie: it held about three quarts; a precious golden hanap carved by the cunning artificer, Benvenuto the Florentine.
“Drink, Bleu Sanglier,” said the Prince, “and put the goblet in thy bosom. Wear this chain, furthermore, for my sake.” And so saying, Prince Adolf flung a precious chain of emeralds round the herald’s neck. “An invitation to battle was ever a welcome call to Adolf of Cleves.” So saying, and bidding his people take good care of Bleu Sanglier’s retinue, the Prince left the hall with his daughter. All were marvelling at his dignity, courage, and generosity.
But, though affecting unconcern, the mind of Prince Adolf was far from tranquil. He was no longer the stalwart knight who, in the reign of Stanislaus Augustus, had, with his naked fist, beaten a lion to death in three minutes; and alone had kept the postern of Peterwaradin for two hours against seven hundred Turkish janissaries, who were assailing it. Those deeds which had made the heir of Cleves famous were done thirty years syne. A free liver since he had come into his principality, and of a lazy turn, he had neglected the athletic exercises which had made him in youth so famous a champion, and indolence had borne its usual fruits. He tried his old battle-sword — that famous blade with which, in Palestine, he had cut an elephant-driver in two pieces, and split asunder the skull of the elephant which he rode. Adolf of Cleves could scarcely now lift the weapon over his head. He tried his armor. It was too tight for him. And the old soldier burst into tears, when he found he could not buckle it. Such a man was not fit to encounter the terrible Rowski in single combat.
Nor could he hope to make head against him for any time in the field. The Prince’s territories were small; his vassals proverbially lazy and peaceable; his treasury empty. The dismallest prospects were before him: and he passed a sleepless night writing to his friends for succor, and calculating with his secretary the small amount of the resources which he could bring to aid him against his advancing and powerful enemy.
Helen’s pillow that evening was also unvisited by slumber. She lay awake thinking of Otto — thinking of the danger and the ruin her refusal to marry had brought upon her dear papa. Otto, too, slept not: but HIS waking thoughts were brilliant and heroic: the noble Childe thought how he should defend the Princess, and win LOS and honor in the ensuing combat.
And now the noble Cleves began in good earnest to prepare his castle for the threatened siege. He gathered in all the available cattle round the property, and the pigs round many miles; and a dreadful slaughter of horned and snouted animals took place — the whole castle resounding with the lowing of the oxen and the squeaks of the gruntlings, destined to provide food for the garrison. These, when slain, (her gentle spirit, of course, would not allow of her witnessing that disagreeable operation,) the lovely Helen, with the assistance of her maidens, carefully salted and pickled. Corn was brought in in great quantities, the Prince paying for the same when he had money, giving bills when he could get credit, or occasionally, marry, sending out a few stout men-at-arms to forage, who brought in wheat without money or credit either. The charming Princess, amidst the intervals of her labors, went about encouraging the garrison, who vowed to a man they would die for a single sweet smile of hers; and in order to make their inevitable sufferings as easy as possible to the gallant fellows, she and the apothecaries got ready a plenty of efficacious simples, and scraped a vast quantity of lint to bind their warriors’ wounds withal. All the fortifications were strengthened; the fosses carefully filled with spikes and water; large stones placed over the gates, convenient to tumble on the heads of the assaulting parties; and caldrons prepared, with furnaces to melt up pitch, brimstone, boiling oil, &c., wherewith hospitably to receive them. Having the keenest eye in the whole garrison, young Otto was placed on the topmost tower, to watch for the expected coming of the beleaguering host.
They were seen only too soon. Long ranks of shining spears were seen glittering in the distance, and the army of the Rowski soon made its appearance in battle’s magnificently stern array. The tents of the renowned chief and his numerous warriors were pitched out of arrow-shot of the castle, but in fearful proximity; and when his army had taken up its position, an officer with a flag of truce and a trumpet was seen advancing to the castle gate. It was the same herald who had previously borne his master’s defiance to the Prince of Cleves. He came once more to the castle gate, and there proclaimed that the noble Count of Eulenschreckenstein was in arms without, ready to do battle with the Prince of Cleves, or his champion; that he would remain in arms for three days, ready for combat. If no man met him at the end of that period, he would deliver an assault, and would give quarter to no single soul in the garrison. So saying, the herald nailed his lord’s gauntlet on the castle gate. As before, the Prince flung him over another glove from the wall; though how he was to defend himself from such a warrior, or get a champion, or resist the pitiless assault that must follow, the troubled old nobleman knew not in the least.
The Princess Helen passed the night in the chapel, vowing tons of wax-candles to all the patron saints of the House of Cleves, if they would raise her up a defender.
But how did the noble girl’s heart sink — how were her notions of the purity of man shaken within her gentle bosom, by the dread intelligence which reached her the next morning, after the defiance of the Rowski! At roll-call it was discovered that he on whom she principally relied — he whom her fond heart had singled out as her champion, had proved faithless! Otto, the degenerate Otto, had fled! His comrade, Wolfgang, had gone with him. A rope was found dangling from the casement of their chamber, and they must have swum the moat and passed over to the enemy in the darkness of the previous night. “A pretty lad was this fair-spoken archer of thine!” said the Prince her father to her; “and a pretty kettle of fish hast thou cooked for the fondest of fathers.” She retired weeping to her apartment. Never before had that young heart felt so wretched.
That morning, at nine o’clock, as they were going to breakfast, the Rowski’s trumpets sounded. Clad in complete armor, and mounted on his enormous piebald charger, he came out of his pavilion, and rode slowly up and down in front of the castle. He was ready there to meet a champion.
Three times each day did the odious trumpet sound the same notes of defiance. Thrice daily did the steel-clad Rowski come forth challenging the combat. The first day passed, and there was no answer to his summons. The second day came and went, but no champion had risen to defend. The taunt of his shrill clarion remained without answer; and the sun went down upon the wretchedest father and daughter in all the land of Christendom.
The trumpets sounded an hour after sunrise, an hour after noon, and an hour before sunset. The third day came, but with it brought no hope. The first and second summons met no response. At five o’clock the old Prince called his daughter and blessed her. “I go to meet this Rowski,” said he. “It may be we shall meet no more, my Helen — my child — the innocent cause of all this grief. If I shall fall to-night the Rowski’s victim, ’twill be that life is nothing without honor.” And so saying, he put into her hands a dagger, and bade her sheathe it in her own breast so soon as the terrible champion had carried the castle by storm.
This Helen most faithfully promised to do; and her aged father retired to his armory, and donned his ancient war-worn corselet. It had borne the shock of a thousand lances ere this, but it was now so tight as almost to choke the knightly wearer.
The last trumpet sounded — tantara! tantara! — its shrill call rang over the wide plains, and the wide plains gave back no answer. Again! — but when its notes died away, there was only a mournful, an awful silence. “Farewell, my child,” said the Prince, bulkily lifting himself into his battle-saddle. “Remember the dagger. Hark! the trumpet sounds for the third time. Open, warders! Sound, trumpeters! and good St. Bendigo guard the right.”
But Puffendorff, the trumpeter, had not leisure to lift the trumpet to his lips: when, hark! from without there came another note of another clarion! — a distant note at first, then swelling fuller. Presently, in brilliant variations, the full rich notes of the “Huntsman’s Chorus” came clearly over the breeze; and a thousand voices of the crowd gazing over the gate exclaimed, “A champion! a champion!”
And, indeed, a champion HAD come. Issuing from the forest came a knight and squire: the knight gracefully cantering an elegant cream-colored Arabian of prodigious power — the squire mounted on an unpretending gray cob; which, nevertheless, was an animal of considerable strength and sinew. It was the squire who blew the trumpet, through the bars of his helmet; the knight’s visor was completely down. A small prince’s coronet of gold, from which rose three pink ostrich-feathers, marked the warrior’s rank: his blank shield bore no cognizance. As gracefully poising his lance he rode into the green space where the Rowski’s tents were pitched, the hearts of all present beat with anxiety, and the poor Prince of Cleves, especially, had considerable doubts about his new champion. “So slim a figure as that can never compete with Donnerblitz,” said he, moodily, to his daughter; “but whoever he be, the fellow puts a good face on it, and rides like a man. See, he has touched the Rowski’s shield with the point of his lance! By St. Bendigo, a perilous venture!”
The unknown knight had indeed defied the Rowski to the death, as the Prince of Cleves remarked from the battlement where he and his daughter stood to witness the combat; and so, having defied his enemy, the Incognito galloped round under the castle wall, bowing elegantly to the lovely Princess there, and then took his ground and waited for the foe. His armor blazed in the sunshine as he sat there, motionless, on his cream-colored steed. He looked like one of those fairy knights one has read of — one of those celestial champions who decided so many victories before the invention of gun powder.
The Rowski’s horse was speedily brought to the door of his pavilion; and that redoubted warrior, blazing in a suit of magnificent brass armor, clattered into his saddle. Long waves of blood-red feathers bristled over his helmet, which was farther ornamented by two huge horns of the aurochs. His lance was painted white and red, and he whirled the prodigious beam in the air and caught it with savage glee. He laughed when he saw the slim form of his antagonist; and his soul rejoiced to meet the coming battle. He dug his spurs into the enormous horse he rode: the enormous horse snorted, and squealed, too, with fierce pleasure. He jerked and curveted him with a brutal playfulness, and after a few minutes’ turning and wheeling, during which everybody had leisure to admire the perfection of his equitation, he cantered round to a point exactly opposite his enemy, and pulled up his impatient charger.
The old Prince on the battlement was so eager for the combat, that he seemed quite to forget the danger which menaced himself, should his slim champion be discomfited by the tremendous Knight of Donnerblitz. “Go it!” said he, flinging his truncheon into the ditch; and at the word, the two warriors rushed with whirling rapidity at each other.
And now ensued a combat so terrible, that a weak female hand, like that of her who pens this tale of chivalry, can never hope to do justice to the terrific theme. You have seen two engines on the Great Western line rush past each other with a pealing scream? So rapidly did the two warriors gallop towards one another; the feathers of either streamed yards behind their backs as they converged. Their shock as they met was as that of two cannon-balls; the mighty horses trembled and reeled with the concussion; the lance aimed at the Rowski’s helmet bore off the coronet, the horns, the helmet itself, and hurled them to an incredible distance: a piece of the Rowski’s left ear was carried off on the point of the nameless warrior’s weapon. How had he fared? His adversary’s weapon had glanced harmless along the blank surface of his polished buckler; and the victory so far was with him.
The expression of the Rowski’s face, as, bareheaded, he glared on his enemy with fierce bloodshot eyeballs, was one worthy of a demon. The imprecatory expressions which he made use of can never be copied by a feminine pen.
His opponent magnanimously declined to take advantage of the opportunity thus offered him of finishing the combat by splitting his opponent’s skull with his curtal-axe, and, riding back to his starting-place, bent his lance’s point to the ground, in token that he would wait until the Count of Eulenschreckenstein was helmeted afresh.
“Blessed Bendigo!” cried the Prince, “thou art a gallant lance: but why didst not rap the Schelm’s brain out?”
“Bring me a fresh helmet!” yelled the Rowski. Another casque was brought to him by his trembling squire.
As soon as he had braced it, he drew his great flashing sword from his side, and rushed at his enemy, roaring hoarsely his cry of battle. The unknown knight’s sword was unsheathed in a moment, and at the next the two blades were clanking together the dreadful music of the combat!
The Donnerblitz wielded his with his usual savageness and activity. It whirled round his adversary’s head with frightful rapidity. Now it carried away a feather of his plume; now it shore off a leaf of his coronet. The flail of the thrasher does not fall more swiftly upon the corn. For many minutes it was the Unknown’s only task to defend himself from the tremendous activity of the enemy.
But even the Rowski’s strength would slacken after exertion. The blows began to fall less thick anon, and the point of the unknown knight began to make dreadful play. It found and penetrated every joint of the Donnerblitz’s armor. Now it nicked him in the shoulder where the vambrace was buckled to the corselet; now it bored a shrewd hole under the light brissart, and blood followed; now, with fatal dexterity, it darted through the visor, and came back to the recover deeply tinged with blood. A scream of rage followed the last thrust; and no wonder:— it had penetrated the Rowski’s left eye.
His blood was trickling through a dozen orifices; he was almost choking in his helmet with loss of breath, and loss of blood, and rage. Gasping with fury, he drew back his horse, flung his great sword at his opponent’s head, and once more plunged at him, wielding his curtal-axe.
Then you should have seen the unknown knight employing the same dreadful weapon! Hitherto he had been on his defence; now he began the attack; and the gleaming axe whirred in his hand like a reed, but descended like a thunderbolt! “Yield! yield! Sir Rowski,” shouted he, in a calm, clear voice.
A blow dealt madly at his head was the reply. ’Twas the last blow that the Count of Eulenschreckenstein ever struck in battle! The curse was on his lips as the crushing steel descended into his brain, and split it in two. He rolled like a log from his horse: his enemy’s knee was in a moment on his chest, and the dagger of mercy at his throat, as the knight once more called upon him to yield.
But there was no answer from within the helmet. When it was withdrawn, the teeth were crunched together; the mouth that should have spoken, grinned a ghastly silence: one eye still glared with hate and fury, but it was glazed with the film of death!
The red orb of the sun was just then dipping into the Rhine. The unknown knight, vaulting once more into his saddle, made a graceful obeisance to the Prince of Cleves and his daughter, without a word, and galloped back into the forest, whence he had issued an hour before sunset.
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
WHISTLEBINKIE, N.B., December 1.
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The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
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