Meantime the enemies of Rome were coming nearer and nearer, and Alaric, the great chief of the Goths, led his forces into Italy, and threatened the city itself. Honorius, the Emperor, was a cowardly, almost idiotical, boy; but his brave general, Stilicho, assembled his forces, met the Goths at Pollentia (about twenty-five miles from where Turin now stands), and gave them a complete defeat on the Easter Day of the year 403. He pursued them into the mountains, and for that time saved Rome. In the joy of the victory the Roman senate invited the conqueror and his ward Honorius to enter the city in triumph, at the opening of the new year, with the white steeds, purple robes, and vermilion cheeks with which, of old, victorious generals were welcomed at Rome. The churches were visited instead of the Temple of Jupiter, and there was no murder of the captives; but Roman bloodthirstiness was not yet allayed, and, after all the procession had been completed, the Coliseum shows commenced, innocently at first, with races on foot, on horseback, and in chariots; then followed a grand hunting of beasts turned loose in the arena; and next a sword dance. But after the sword dance came the arraying of swordsmen, with no blunted weapons, but with sharp spears and swords—a gladiator combat in full earnest. The people, enchanted, applauded with shouts of ecstasy this gratification of their savage tastes. Suddenly, however, there was an interruption. A rude, roughly robed man, bareheaded and barefooted, had sprung into the arena, and, signing back the gladiators, began to call aloud upon the people to cease from the shedding of innocent blood, and not to requite God's mercy in turning away the sword of the enemy by encouraging murder. Shouts, howls, cries, broke in upon his words; this was no place for preachings—the old customs of Rome should be observed 'Back, old man!' 'On, gladiators!' The gladiators thrust aside the meddler, and rushed to the attack. He still stood between, holding them apart, striving in vain to be heard. 'Sedition! Sedition!' 'Down with him!' was the cry; and the man in authority, Alypius, the prefect, himself added his voice. The gladiators, enraged at interference with their vocation, cut him down. Stones, or whatever came to hand, rained down upon him from the furious people, and he perished in the midst of the arena! He lay dead, and then came the feeling of what had been done.
His dress showed that he was one of the hermits who vowed themselves to a holy life of prayer and self-denial, and who were greatly reverenced, even by the most thoughtless. The few who had previously seen him, told that he had come from the wilds of Asia on pilgrimage, to visit the shrines and keep his Christmas at Rome—they knew he was a holy man—no more, and it is not even certain whether his name was Alymachus or Telemachus. His spirit had been stirred by the sight of thousands flocking to see men slaughter one another, and in his simple-hearted zeal he had resolved to stop the cruelty or die. He had died, but not in vain. His work was done. The shock of such a death before their eyes turned the hearts of the people; they saw the wickedness and cruelty to which they had blindly surrendered themselves; and from the day when the hermit died in the Coliseum there was never another fight of the Gladiators. Not merely at Rome, but in every province of the Empire, the custom was utterly abolished; and one habitual crime at least was wiped from the earth by the self-devotion of one humble, obscure, almost nameless man.
THE SHEPHERD GIRL OF NANTERRE
Four hundred years of the Roman dominion had entirely tamed the once wild and independent Gauls. Everywhere, except in the moorlands of Brittany, they had become as much like Romans themselves as they could accomplish; they had Latin names, spoke the Latin tongue, all their personages of higher rank were enrolled as Roman citizens, their chief cities were colonies where the laws were administered by magistrates in the Roman fashion, and the houses, dress, and amusements were the same as those of Italy. The greater part of the towns had been converted to Christianity, though some Paganism still lurked in the more remote villages and mountainous districts.
It was upon these civilized Gauls that the terrible attacks came from the wild nations who poured out of the centre and east of Europe. The Franks came over the Rhine and its dependent rivers, and made furious attacks upon the peaceful plains, where the Gauls had long lived in security, and reports were everywhere heard of villages harried by wild horsemen, with short double-headed battleaxes, and a horrible short pike, covered with iron and with several large hooks, like a gigantic artificial minnow, and like it fastened to a long rope, so that the prey which it had grappled might be pulled up to the owner. Walled cities usually stopped them, but every farm or villa outside was stripped of its valuables, set on fire, the cattle driven off, and the more healthy inhabitants seized for slaves.
It was during this state of things that a girl was born to a wealthy peasant at the village now called Nanterre, about two miles from Lutetia, which was already a prosperous city, though not as yet so entirely the capital as it was destined to become under the name of Paris. She was christened by an old Gallic name, probably Gwenfrewi, or White Stream, in Latin Genovefa, but she is best known by the late French form of Genevieve. When she was about seven years old, two celebrated bishops passed through the village, Germanus, of Auxerre, and Lupus, of Troyes, who had been invited to Britain to dispute the false doctrine of Pelagius. All the inhabitants flocked into the church to see them, pray with them, and receive their blessing; and here the sweet childish devotion of Genevieve so struck Germanus, that he called her to him, talked to her, made her sit beside him at the feast, gave her his special blessing, and presented her with a copper medal with a cross engraven upon it. From that time the little maiden always deemed herself especially consecrated to the service of Heaven, but she still remained at home, daily keeping her father's sheep, and spinning their wool as she sat under the trees watching them, but always with a heart full of prayer.
After this St. Germanus proceeded to Britain, and there encouraged his converts to meet the heathen Picts at Maes Garmon, in Flintshire, where the exulting shout of the white-robed catechumens turned to flight the wild superstitious savages of the north,—and the Hallelujah victory was gained without a drop of bloodshed. He never lost sight of Genevieve, the little maid whom he had so early distinguished for her piety.
After she lost her parents she went to live with her godmother, and continued the same simple habits, leading a life of sincere devotion and strict self-denial, constant prayer, and much charity to her poorer neighbors.
In the year 451 the whole of Gaul was in the most dreadful state of terror at the advance of Attila, the savage chief of the Huns, who came from the banks of the Danube with a host of savages of hideous features, scarred and disfigured to render them more frightful. The old enemies, the Goths and the Franks, seemed like friends compared with these formidable beings whose cruelties were said to be intolerable, and of whom every exaggerated story was told that could add to the horrors of the miserable people who lay in their path. Tidings came that this 'Scourge of God', as Attila called himself, had passed the Rhine, destroyed Tongres and Metz, and was in full march for Paris. The whole country was in the utmost terror. Everyone seized their most valuable possessions, and would have fled; but Genevieve placed herself on the only bridge across the Seine, and argued with them, assuring them in a strain that was afterwards thought of as prophetic, that, if they would pray, repent, and defend instead of abandoning their homes, God would protect them. They were at first almost ready to stone her for thus withstanding their panic, but just then a priest arrived from Auxerre, with a present for Genevieve from St. Germanus, and they were thus reminded of the high estimation in which he held her; they became ashamed of their violence, and she held them back to pray and to arm themselves. In a few days they heard that Attila had paused to besiege Orleans, and that Aetius, the Roman general, hurrying from Italy, had united his troops with those of the Goths and Franks, and given Attila so terrible a defeat at Chalons that the Huns were fairly driven out of Gaul. And here it must be mentioned that when the next year, 452, Attila with his murderous host came down into Italy, and after horrible devastation of all the northern provinces, came to the gates of Rome, no one dared to meet him but one venerable Bishop, Leo, the Pope, who, when his flock were in transports of despair, went forth only accompanied by one magistrate to meet the invader, and endeavor to turn his wrath side. The savage Huns were struck with awe by the fearless majesty of the unarmed old man. They conducted him safely to Attila, who listened to him with respect, and promised not to lead his people into Rome, provided a tribute should be paid to him. He then retreated, and, to the joy of all Europe, died on his way back to his native dominions.
But with the Huns the danger and suffering of Europe did not end. The happy state described in the Prophets as 'dwelling safely, with none to make them afraid', was utterly unknown in Europe throughout the long break-up of the Roman Empire; and in a few more years the Franks were overrunning the banks of the Seine, and actually venturing to lay siege to the Roman walls of Paris itself. The fortifications were strong enough, but hunger began to do the work of the besiegers, and the garrison, unwarlike and untrained, began to despair. But Genevieve's courage and trust never failed; and finding no warriors willing to run the risk of going beyond the walls to obtain food for the women and children who were perishing around them, this brave shepherdess embarked alone in a little boat, and guiding it down the stream, landed beyond the Frankish camp, and repairing to the different Gallic cities, she implored them to send succor to the famished brethren. She obtained complete success. Probably the Franks had no means of obstructing the passage of the river, so that a convoy of boats could easily penetrate into the town, and at any rate they looked upon Genevieve as something sacred and inspired whom they durst not touch; probably as one of the battle maids in whom their own myths taught them to believe. One account indeed says that, instead of going alone to obtain help, Genevieve placed herself at the head of a forage party, and that the mere sight of her inspired bearing caused them to be allowed to enter and return in safety; but the boat version seems the more probable, since a single boat on a broad river would more easily elude the enemy than a troop of Gauls pass through their army.
But a city where all the valor resided in one woman could not long hold out, and in another inroad, when Genevieve was absent, Paris was actually seized by the Franks. Their leader, Hilperik, was absolutely afraid of what the mysteriously brave maiden might do to him, and commanded the gates of the city to be carefully guarded lest she should enter; but Geneviere learnt that some of the chief citizens were imprisoned, and that Hilperik intended their death, and nothing could withhold her from making an effort in their behalf. The Franks had made up their minds to settle, and not to destroy. They were not burning and slaying indiscriminately, but while despising the Romans, as they called the Gauls, for their cowardice, they were in awe of the superior civilization and the knowledge of arts. The country people had free access to the city, and Genevieve in her homely gown and veil passed by Hilperik's guards without being suspected of being more than an ordinary Gaulish village maid; and thus she fearlessly made her way, even to the old Roman halls, where the long-haired Hilperik was holding his wild carousal. Would that we knew more of that interview—one of the most striking that ever took place! We can only picture to ourselves the Roman tessellated pavement bestrewn with wine, bones, and fragments of the barbarous revelry. There were untamed Franks, their sun-burnt hair tied up in a knot at the top of their heads, and falling down like a horse's tail, their faces close shaven, except two moustaches, and dressed in tight leather garments, with swords at their wide belts. Some slept, some feasted, some greased their long locks, some shouted out their favorite war songs around the table which was covered with the spoils of churches, and at their heads sat the wild, long-haired chieftain, who was a few years later driven away by his own followers for his excesses, the whole scene was all that was abhorrent to a pure, devout, and faithful nature, most full of terror to a woman. Yet, there, in her strength, stood the peasant maiden, her heart full of trust and pity, her looks full of the power that is given by fearlessness of them that can kill the body. What she said we do not know—we only know that the barbarous Hilperik was overawed; he trembled before the expostulations of the brave woman, and granted all she asked—the safety of his prisoners, and mercy to the terrified inhabitants. No wonder that the people of Paris have ever since looked back to Genevieve as their protectress, and that in after ages she has grown to be the patron saint of the city.
She lived to see the son of Hilperik, Chlodweh, or, as he was more commonly called, Clovis, marry a Christian wife, Clotilda, and after a time became a Christian. She saw the foundation of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, and of the two famous churches of St. Denys and of St. Martin of Tours, and gave her full share to the first efforts for bringing the rude and bloodthirsty conquerors to some knowledge of Christian faith, mercy, and purity. After a life of constant prayer and charity she died, three months after King Clovis, in the year 512, the eighty-ninth of her age. [Footnote: Perhaps the exploits of the Maid of Orleans were the most like those of Genevieve, but they are not here added to our collection of 'Golden Deeds,' because the Maid's belief that she was directly inspired removes them from the ordinary class. Alas! the English did not treat her as Hilperik treated Genevieve.
LEO THE SLAVE
The Franks had fully gained possession of all the north of Gaul, except Brittany. Chlodweh had made them Christians in name, but they still remained horribly savage—and the life of the Gauls under them was wretched. The Burgundians and Visigoths who had peopled the southern and eastern provinces were far from being equally violent. They had entered on their settlements on friendly terms, and even showed considerable respect for the Roman-Gallic senators, magistrates, and higher clergy, who all remained unmolested in their dignities and riches. Thus it was that Gregory, Bishop of Langres, was a man of high rank and consideration in the Burgundian kingdom, whence the Christian Queen Clotilda had come; and even after the Burgundians had been subdued by the four sons of Chlodweh, he continued a rich and prosperous man.
After one of the many quarrels and reconciliations between these fierce brethren, there was an exchange of hostages for the observance of the terms of the treaty. These were not taken from among the Franks, who were too proud to submit to captivity, but from among the Gaulish nobles, a much more convenient arrangement to the Frankish kings, who cared for the life of a 'Roman' infinitely less than even for the life of a Frank. Thus many young men of senatorial families were exchanged between the domains of Theodrik to the south, and of Hildebert to the northward, and quartered among Frankish chiefs, with whom at first they had nothing more to endure than the discomfort of living as guests with such rude and coarse barbarians. But ere long fresh quarrels broke out between Theodrik and Hildebert, and the unfortunate hostages were at once turned into slaves. Some of them ran away if they were near the frontier, but Bishop Gregory was in the utmost anxiety about his young nephew Attalus, who had been last heard of as being placed under the charge of a Frank who lived between Treves and Metz. The Bishop sent emissaries to make secret enquiries, and they brought word that the unfortunate youth had indeed been reduced to slavery, and was made to keep his master's herds of horses. Upon this the uncle again sent off his messengers with presents for the ransom of Attalus, but the Frank rejected them, saying, 'One of such high race can only be redeemed for ten pounds' weight of gold.'
This was beyond the Bishop's means, and while he was considering how to raise the sum, the slaves were all lamenting for their young lord, to whom they were much attached, till one of them, named Leo, the cook to the household, came to the Bishop, saying to him, 'If thou wilt give me leave to go, I will deliver him from captivity.' The Bishop replied that he gave free permission, and the slave set off for Treves, and there watched anxiously for an opportunity of gaining access to Attalus; but though the poor young man—no longer daintily dressed, bathed, and perfumed, but ragged and squalid—might be seen following his herds of horses, he was too well watched for any communication to be held with him. Then Leo went to a person, probably of Gallic birth, and said, 'Come with me to this barbarian's house, and there sell me for a slave. Thou shalt have the money, I only ask thee to help me thus far.'
Both repaired to the Frank's abode, the chief among a confused collection of clay and timber huts intended for shelter during eating and sleeping. The Frank looked at the slave, and asked him what he could do.
'I can dress whatever is eaten at lordly tables,' replied Leo. 'I am afraid of no rival; I only tell thee the truth when I say that if thou wouldst give a feast to the king, I would send it up in the neatest manner.'
'Ha!' said the barbarian, 'the Sun's day is coming—I shall invite my kinsmen and friends. Cook me such a dinner as may amaze them, and make then say, 'We saw nothing better in the king's house.' 'Let me have plenty of poultry, and I will do according to my master's bidding,' returned Leo.
Accordingly, he was purchased for twelve gold pieces, and on the Sunday (as Bishop Gregory of Tours, who tells the story, explains that the barbarians called the Lord's day) he produced a banquet after the most approved Roman fashion, much to the surprise and delight of the Franks, who had never tasted such delicacies before, and complimented their host upon them all the evening. Leo gradually became a great favorite, and was placed in authority over the other slaves, to whom he gave out their daily portions of broth and meat; but from the first he had not shown any recognition of Attalus, and had signed to him that they must be strangers to one another. A whole year had passed away in this manner, when one day Leo wandered, as if for pastime, into the plain where Attalus was watching the horses, and sitting down on the ground at some paces off, and with his back towards his young master, so that they might not be seen together, he said, 'This is the time for thoughts of home! When thou hast led the horses to the stable to-night, sleep not. Be ready at the first call!'
That day the Frank lord was entertaining a large number of guests, among them his daughter's husband, a jovial young man, given to jesting. On going to rest he fancied he should be thirsty at night and called Leo to set a pitcher of hydromel by his bedside. As the slave was setting it down, the Frank looked slyly from under his eyelids, and said in joke, 'Tell me, my father-in-law's trusty man, wilt not thou some night take one of those horses, and run away to thine own home?'
'Please God, it is what I mean to do this very night,' answered the Gaul, so undauntedly that the Frank took it as a jest, and answered, 'I shall look out that thou dost not carry off anything of mine,' and then Leo left him, both laughing.
All were soon asleep, and the cook crept out to the stable, where Attalus usually slept among the horses. He was broad awake now, and ready to saddle the two swiftest; but he had no weapon except a small lance, so Leo boldly went back to his master's sleeping hut, and took down his sword and shield, but not without awaking him enough to ask who was moving. 'It is I—Leo,' was the answer, 'I have been to call Attalus to take out the horses early. He sleeps as hard as a drunkard.' The Frank went to sleep again, quite satisfied, and Leo, carrying out the weapons, soon made Attalus feel like a free man and a noble once more. They passed unseen out of the enclosure, mounted their horses, and rode along the great Roman road from Treves as far as the Meuse, but they found the bridge guarded, and were obliged to wait till night, when they cast their horses loose and swam the river, supporting themselves on boards that they found on the bank. They had as yet had no food since the supper at their master's, and were thankful to find a plum tree in the wood, with fruit, to refresh them in some degree, before they lay down for the night. The next morning they went on in the direction of Rheims, carefully listening whether there were any sounds behind, until, on the broad hard-paved causeway, they actually heard the trampling of horses. Happily a bush was near, behind which they crept, with their naked swords before them, and here the riders actually halted for a few moments to arrange their harness. Men and horses were both those they feared, and they trembled at hearing one say, 'Woe is me that those rogues have made off, and have not been caught! On my salvation, if I catch them, I will have one hung and the other chopped into bits!' It was no small comfort to hear the trot of the horses resumed, and soon dying away in the distance. That same night the two faint, hungry, weary travelers, footsore and exhausted, came stumbling into Rheims, looking about for some person still awake to tell them the way to the house of the Priest Paul, a friend of Attalus' uncle. They found it just as the church bell was ringing for matins, a sound that must have seemed very like home to these members of an episcopal household. They knocked, and in the morning twilight met the Priest going to his earliest Sunday morning service.
Leo told his young master's name, and how they had escaped, and the Priest's first exclamation was a strange one: 'My dream is true. This very night I saw two doves, one white and one black, who came and perched on my hand.'
The good man was overjoyed, but he scrupled to give them any food, as it was contrary to the Church's rules for the fast to be broken before mass; but the travelers were half dead with hunger, and could only say, 'The good Lord pardon us, for, saving the respect due to His day, we must eat something, since this is the forth day since we have touched bread or meat.' The Priest upon this gave them some bread and wine, and after hiding them carefully, went to church, hoping to avert suspicion; but their master was already at Rheims, making strict search for them, and learning that Paul the Priest was a friend of the Bishop of Langres, he went to church, and there questioned him closely. But the Priest succeeded in guarding his secret, and though he incurred much danger, as the Salic law was very severe against concealers of runaway slaves, he kept Attalus and Leo for two days till the search was blown over, and their strength was restored, so that they could proceed to Langres. There they were welcomed like men risen from the dead; the Bishop wept on the neck of Attalus, and was ready to receive Leo as a slave no more, but a friend and deliverer.
A few days after Leo was solemnly led to the church. Every door was set open as a sign that he might henceforth go whithersoever he would. Bishop Gregorus took him by the hand, and, standing before the Archdeacon, declared that for the sake of the good services rendered by his slave, Leo, he set him free, and created him a Roman citizen.
Then the Archdeacon read a writing of manumission. 'Whatever is done according to the Roman law is irrevocable. According to the constitution of the Emperor Constantine, of happy memory, and the edict that declares that whosoever is manumitted in church, in the presence of the bishops, priests, and deacons, shall become a Roman citizen under the protection of the Church: from this day Leo becomes a member of the city, free to go and come where he will as if he had been born of free parents. From this day forward, he is exempt from all subjection of servitude, of all duty of a freed-man, all bond of client-ship. He is and shall be free, with full and entire freedom, and shall never cease to belong to the body of Roman citizens.'
At the same time Leo was endowed with lands, which raised him to the rank of what the Franks called a Roman proprietor—the highest reward in the Bishop's power for the faithful devotion that had incurred such dangers in order to rescue the young Attalus from his miserable bondage.
Somewhat of the same kind of faithfulness was shown early in the nineteenth century by Ivan Simonoff, a soldier servant belonging to Major Kascambo, an officer in the Russian army, who was made prisoner by one of the wild tribes of the Caucasus. But though the soldier's attachment to his master was quite as brave and disinterested as that of the Gallic slave, yet he was far from being equally blameless in the means he employed, and if his were a golden deed at all, it was mixed with much of iron.
Major Kascambo, with a guard of fifty Cossacks, was going to take the command of the Russian outpost of Lars, one of the forts by which the Russian Czars have slowly been carrying on the aggressive warfare that has nearly absorbed into their vast dominions all the mountains between the Caspian and Black seas. On his way he was set upon by seven hundred horsemen of the savage and independent tribe of Tchetchenges. There was a sharp fight, more than half his men were killed, and he with the rest made a rampart of the carcasses of their horses, over which they were about to fire their last shots, when the Tchetchenges made a Russian deserter call out to the Cossacks that they would let them all escape provided they would give up their officer. Kascambo on this came forward and delivered himself into their hands; while the remainder of the troops galloped off. His servant, Ivan, with a mule carrying his baggage, had been hidden in a ravine, and now, instead of retreating with the Cossacks, came to join his master. All the baggage was, however, instantly seized and divided among the Tchetchenges; nothing was left but a guitar, which they threw scornfully to the Major. He would have let it lie, but Ivan picked it up, and insisted on keeping it. 'Why be dispirited?' he said; 'the God of the Russians is great, it is the interest of the robbers to save you, they will do you no harm.'
Scouts brought word that the Russian outposts were alarmed, and that troops were assembling to rescue the officer. Upon this the seven hundred broke up into small parties, leaving only ten men on foot to conduct the prisoners, whom they forced to take off their iron-shod boots and walk barefoot over stones and thorns, till the Major was so exhausted that they were obliged to drag him by cords fastened to his belt.
After a terrible journey, the prisoners were placed in a remote village, where the Major had heavy chains fastened to his hands and feet, and another to his neck, with a huge block of oak as a clog at the other end; they half-starved him, and made him sleep on the bare ground of the hut in which he lodged. The hut belonged to a huge, fierce old man of sixty named Ibrahim, whose son had been killed in a skirmish with the Russians. This man, together with his son's widow, were continually trying to revenge themselves on their captive. The only person who showed him any kindness was his little grandson, a child of seven years old, called Mamet, who often caressed him, and brought him food by stealth. Ivan was also in the same hut, but less heavily ironed than his master, and able to attempt a few alleviations for his wretched condition. An interpreter brought the Major a sheet of paper and a reed pen, and commanded him to write to his friends that he might be ransomed for 10,000 roubles, but that, if the whole sum were not paid, he would be put to death. He obeyed, but he knew that his friends could not possibly raise such a sum, and his only hope was in the government, which had once ransomed a colonel who had fallen into the hands of the same tribe.
These Tchetchenges professed to be Mahometans, but their religion sat very loose upon them, and they were utter barbarians. One piece of respect they paid the Major's superior education was curious—they made him judge in all the disputes that arose. The houses in the village were hollowed out underground, and the walls only raised three or four feet, and then covered by a flat roof, formed of beaten clay, where the inhabitants spent much of their time. Kascambo was every now and then brought, in all his chains, to the roof of the hut, which served as a tribunal whence he was expected to dispense justice. For instance, a man had commissioned his neighbour to pay five roubles to a person in another valley, but the messenger's horse having died by the way, a claim was set up to the roubles to make up for it. Both parties collected all their friends, and a bloody quarrel was about to take place, when they agreed to refer the question to the prisoner, who was accordingly set upon his judgment seat.
'Pray,' said he, 'if, instead of giving you five roubles, your comrade had desired you to carry his greetings to his creditor, would not your horse have died all the same?'
'Then what should you have done with the greetings? Should you have kept them in compensation? My sentence is that you should give back the roubles, and that your comrade gives you a greeting.'
The whole assembly approved the decision, and the man only grumbled out, as he gave back the money, 'I knew I should lose it, if that dog of a Christian meddled with it.'
All this respect, however, did not avail to procure any better usage for the unfortunate judge, whose health was suffering severely under his privations. Ivan, however, had recommended himself in the same way as Leo, by his perfections as a cook, and moreover he was a capital buffoon. His fetters were sometimes taken off that he might divert the villagers by his dances and strange antics while his master played the guitar. Sometimes they sang Russian songs together to the instrument, and on these occasions the Major's hands were released that he might play on it; but one day he was unfortunately heard playing in his chains for his own amusement, and from that time he was never released from his fetters.
In the course of a year, three urgent letters had been sent; but no notice was taken of them, and Ivan began to despair of aid from home, and set himself to work. His first step was to profess himself a Mahometan. He durst not tell his master till the deed was done, and then Kascambo was infinitely shocked; but the act did not procure Ivan so much freedom as he had hoped. He was, indeed, no longer in chains, but he was evidently distrusted, and was so closely watched, that the only way in which he could communicate with his master was when they were set to sing together, when they chanted out question and answer in Russ, unsuspected, to the tune of their national airs. He was taken on an expedition against the Russians, and very nearly killed by the suspicious Tchetchenges on one side, and by the Cossacks on the other, as a deserter. He saved a young man of the tribe from drowning; but though he thus earned the friendship of the family, the rest of the villagers hated and dreaded him all the more, since he had not been able to help proving himself a man of courage, instead of the feeble buffoon he had tried to appear.
Three months after this expedition, another took place; but Ivan was not allowed even to know of it. He saw preparations making, but nothing was said to him; only one morning he found the village entirely deserted by all the young men, and as he wandered round it, the aged ones would not speak to him. A child told him that his father had meant to kill him, and on the roof of her house stood the sister of the man he had saved, making signals of great terror, and pointing towards Russia. Home he went and found that, besides old Ibrahim, his master was watched by a warrior, who had been prevented by an intermitting fever from joining the expedition. He was convinced that if the tribe returned unsuccessful, the murder of both himself and his master was certain; but he resolved not to fly alone, and as he busied himself in preparing the meal, he sung the burden of a Russian ballad, intermingled with words of encouragement for his master:
The time is come; Hai Luli! The time is come, Hai Luli! Our woe is at an end, Hai Luli! Or we die at once! Hai Luli! To-morrow, to-morrow, Hai Luli! We are off for a town, Hai Luli! For a fine, fine town, Hai Luli! But I name no names, Hai Luli! Courage, courage, master dear, Hai Luli! Never, never, despair, Hai Luli! For the God of the Russians is great, Hai Luli!
Poor Kascambo, broken down, sick, and despairing, only muttered, 'Do as you please, only hold your peace!'
Ivan's cookery incited the additional guard to eat so much supper, that he brought on a severe attack of his fever, and was obliged to go home; but old Ibrahim, instead of going to bed, sat down on a log of wood opposite the prisoner, and seemed resolved to watch him all night. The woman and child went to bed in the inner room, and Ivan signed to his master to take the guitar, and began to dance. The old man's axe was in an open cupboard at the other end of the room, and after many gambols and contortions, during which the Major could hardly control his fingers to touch the strings, Ivan succeeded in laying his hands upon it, just when the old man was bending over the fire to mend it. Then, as Ibrahim desired that the music should cease, he cut him down with a single blow, on his own hearth. And the daughter-in-law coming out to see what had happened, he slew her with the same weapon. And then, alas! in spite of the commands, entreaties, and cries of his master, he dashed into the inner room, and killed the sleeping child, lest it should give the alarm. Kascambo, utterly helpless to save, fell almost fainting upon the bloody floor, and did not cease to reproach Ivan, who was searching the old man's pockets for the key of the fetters, but it was not there, nor anywhere else in the hut, and the irons were so heavy that escape was impossible in them. Ivan at last knocked off the clog and the chains on the wrist with the axe, but he could not break the chains round the legs, and could only fasten them as close as he could to hinder them clanking. Then securing all the provisions he could carry, and putting his master into his military cloak, obtaining also a pistol and dagger, they crept out, but not on the direct road. It was February, and the ground was covered with snow. All night they walked easily, but at noon the sun so softened it that they sank in at every step, and the Major's chains rendered each motion terrible labour. It was only on the second night that Ivan, with his axe, succeeded in breaking through the fastenings, and by that time the Major's legs were so swollen and stiffened that he could not move without extreme pain. However, he was dragged on through the wild mountain paths, and then over the plains for several days more, till they were on the confines of another tribe of Tchetchenges, who were overawed by Russia, and in a sort of unwilling alliance. Here, however, a sharp storm, and a fall into the water, completely finished Kascambo's strength, and he sank down on the snow, telling Ivan to go home and explain his fate, and give his last message to his mother.
'If you perish here,' said Ivan, 'trust me, neither your mother nor mine will ever see me again.'
He covered his master with his cloak, gave him the pistol, and walked on to a hut, where he found a Tchetchenge man, and told him that here was a means of obtaining two hundred roubles. He had only to shelter the major as a guest for three days, whilst Ivan himself went on to Mosdok, to procure the money, and bring back help for his master. The man was full of suspicion, but Ivan prevailed, and Kascambo was carried into the village nearly dying, and was very ill all the time of his servant's absence. Ivan set off for the nearest Russian station, where he found some of the Cossacks who had been present when the major was taken. All eagerly subscribed to raise the two hundred roubles, but the Colonel would not let Ivan go back alone, as he had engaged to do, and sent a guard of Cossacks. This had nearly been fatal to the Major, for as soon as his host saw the lances, he suspected treachery, and dragging his poor sick guest to the roof of the house, he tied him up to a stake, and stood over him with a pistol, shouting to Ivan, 'If you come nearer, I shall blow his brains out, and I have fifty cartridges more for my enemies, and the traitor who leads them.'
'No traitor!' cried Ivan. 'Here are the roubles. I have kept my word!'
'Let the Cossacks go back, or I shall fire.'
Kascambo himself begged the officer to retire, and Ivan went back with the detachment, and returned alone. Even then the suspicious host made him count out the roubles at a hundred paces from the house, and at once ordered him out of sight; but then went up to the roof, and asked the Major's pardon for all this rough usage.
'I shall only recollect that you were my host, and kept your word,' said Kascambo.
In a few hours more, Kascambo was in safety among his brother officers. Ivan was made a non-commissioned officer, and some months after was seen by the traveler who told the story, whistling the air of Hai Luli at his former master's wedding feast. He was even then scarcely twenty years old, and peculiarly quiet and soft in manners.
THE BATTLE OF THE BLACKWATER
In the evil days of King Ethelred the Unready, when the teaching of good King Alfred was fast fading away from the minds of his descendants, and self-indulgence was ruining the bold and hardy habits of the English, the fleet was allowed to fall into decay, and Danish ships again ventured to appear on the English coasts.
The first Northmen who had ravaged England came eager for blood and plunder, and hating the sight of a Christian church as an insult to their gods, Thor and Odin; but the lapse of a hundred years had in some degree changed the temper of the North; and though almost every young man thought it due to his fame to have sailed forth as a sea rover, yet the attacks of these marauders might be bought off, and provided they had treasure to show for their voyage, they were willing to spare the lives and lands of the people of the coasts they visited.
King Ethelred and his cowardly, selfish Court were well satisfied with this expedient, and the tax called Danegeld was laid upon the people, in order to raise a fund for buying off the enemy. But there were still in England men of bolder and truer hearts, who held that bribery was false policy, merely inviting the enemy to come again and again, and that the only wise course would be in driving them back by English valor, and keeping the fleet in a condition to repel the 'Long Serpent' ships before the foe could set foot upon the coast.
Among those who held this opinion was Brythnoth, Earl of Essex. He was of partly Danish descent himself, but had become a thorough Englishman, and had long and faithfully served the King and his father. He was a friend to the clergy, a founder of churches and convents, and his manor house of Hadleigh was a home of hospitality and charity. It would probably be a sort of huge farmyard, full of great barn-like buildings and sheds, all one story high; some of them serving for storehouses, and others for living-rooms and places of entertainment for his numerous servants and retainers, and for the guests of all degrees who gathered round him as the chief dispenser of justice in his East-Saxon earldom. When he heard the advice given and accepted that the Danes should be bribed, instead of being fought with, he made up his mind that he, at least, would try to raise up a nobler spirit, and, at the sacrifice of his own life, would show the effect of making a manful stand against them.
He made his will, and placed it in the hands of the Archbishop of Canterbury; and then, retiring to Hadleigh, he provided horses and arms, and caused all the young men in his earldom to be trained in warlike exercises, according to the good old English law, that every man should be provided with weapons and know the use of them.
The Danes sailed forth, in the year 991, with ninety-three vessels, the terrible 'Long Serpents', carved with snakes' heads at the prow, and the stern finished as the gilded tail of the reptile; and many a lesser ship, meant for carrying plunder. The Sea King, Olaf (or Anlaff), was the leader; and as tidings came that their sails had been seen upon the North Sea, more earnest than ever rang out the petition in the Litany, 'From the fury of the Northmen, good Lord, deliver us'.
Sandwich and Ipswich made no defense, and were plundered; and the fleet then sailed into the mouth of the River Blackwater, as far as Maldon, where the ravagers landed, and began to collect spoil. When, however, they came back to their ships, they found that the tide would not yet serve them to re-embark; and upon the farther bank of the river bristled the spears of a body of warriors, drawn up in battle array, but in numbers far inferior to their own.
Anlaff sent a messenger, over the wooden bridge that crossed the river, to the Earl, who, he understood, commanded this small army. The brave old man, his grey hair hanging down beneath his helmet, stood, sword in hand, at the head of his warriors.
'Lord Earl,' said the messenger, 'I come to bid thee to yield to us thy treasure, for thy safety. Buy off the fight, and we will ratify a peace with gold.'
'Hear, O thou sailor!' was Brythnoth's answer, 'the reply of this people. Instead of Danegeld, thou shalt have from them the edge of the sword, and the point of the spear. Here stands an English Earl, who will defend his earldom and the lands of his King. Point and edge shall judge between us.'
Back went the Dane with his message to Anlaff, and the fight began around the bridge, where the Danes long strove to force their way across, but were always driven back by the gallant East-Saxons. The tide had risen, and for some time the two armies only shot at one another with bows and arrows; but when it ebbed, leaving the salt-marches dry, the stout old Earl's love of fair play overpowered his prudence, and he sent to offer the enemy a free passage, and an open field in which to measure their strength.
The numbers were too unequal; but the battle was long and bloody before the English could be overpowered. Brythnoth slew one of the chief Danish leaders with his own hand, but not without receiving a wound. He was still able to fight on, though with ebbing strength and failing numbers. His hand was pierced by a dart; but a young boy at his side instantly withdrew it, and, launching it back again, slew the foe who had aimed it. Another Dane, seeing the Earl faint and sinking, advanced to plunder him of his ring and jeweled weapons; but he still had strength to lay the spoiler low with his battleaxe. This was his last blow; he gathered his strength for one last cheer to his brave men, and then, sinking on the ground, he looked up to heaven, exclaiming: 'I thank thee, Lord of nations, for all the joys I have known on earth. Now, O mild Creator! have I the utmost need that Thou shouldst grant grace unto my soul, that my spirit may speed to Thee with peace, O King of angels! to pass into thy keeping. I sue to Thee that Thou suffer not the rebel spirits of hell to vex my parting soul!'
With these words he died; but an aged follower, of like spirit, stood over his corpse, and exhorted his fellows. 'Our spirit shall be the hardier, and our soul the greater, the fewer our numbers become!' he cried. 'Here lies our chief, the brave, the good, the much-loved lord, who has blessed us with many a gift. Old as I am, I will not yield, but avenge his death, or lay me at his side. Shame befall him that thinks to fly from such a field as this!'
Nor did the English warriors fly. Night came down, at last, upon the battlefield, and saved the lives of the few survivors; but they were forced to leave the body of their lord, and the Danes bore away with them his head as a trophy, and with it, alas! ten thousand pounds of silver from the King, who, in his sluggishness and weakness had left Brythnoth to fight and die unaided for the cause of the whole nation. One of the retainers, a minstrel in the happy old days of Hadleigh, who had done his part manfully in the battle, had heard these last goodly sayings of his master, and, living on to peaceful days, loved to rehearse them to the sound of his harp, and dwell on the glories of one who could die, but not be defeated.
Ere those better days had come, another faithful-hearted Englishman had given his life for his people. In the year 1012, a huge army, called from their leader, 'Thorkill's Host', were overrunning Kent, and besieging Canterbury. The Archbishop Aelfeg was earnestly entreated to leave the city while yet there was time to escape; but he replied, 'None but a hireling would leave his flock in time of danger;' and he supported the resolution of the inhabitants, so that they held out the city for twenty days; and as the wild Danes had very little chance against a well-walled town, they would probably have saved it, had not the gates been secretly opened to them by the traitorous Abbot Aelfman, whom Aelfeg had once himself saved, when accused of treason before the King.
The Danes slaughtered all whom they found in the streets, and the Archbishop's friends tried to keep him in the church, lest he should run upon his fate; but he broke from them, and, confronting the enemy, cried: 'Spare the guiltless! Is there glory in shedding such blood? Turn your wrath on me! It is I who have denounced your cruelty, have ransomed and re-clad your captive.' The Danes seized upon him, and, after he had seen his cathedral burnt and his clergy slain, they threw him into a dungeon, whence he was told he could only come forth upon the payment of a heavy ransom.
His flock loved him, and would have striven to raise the sum; but, miserably used as they were by the enemy, and stripped by the exactions of the Danes, he would not consent that they should be asked for a further contribution on his account. After seven months' patience in his captivity, the Danish chiefs, who were then at Greenwich desired him to be brought into their camp, where they had just been holding a great feast. It was Easter Eve, and the quiet of that day of calm waiting was disturbed with their songs, and shouts of drunken revelry, as the chained Archbishop was led to the open space where the warriors sat and lay amid the remains of their rude repast. The leader then told him that they had agreed to let him off for his own share with a much smaller payment than had been demanded, provided he would obtain a largesse for them from the King, his master.
'I am not the man,' he answered, 'to provide Christian flesh for Pagan wolves;' and when again they repeated the demand, 'Gold I have none to offer you, save the true wisdom of the knowledge of the living God.' And he began, as he stood in the midst, to 'reason to them of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come.'
They were mad with rage and drink. The old man's voice was drowned with shouts of 'Gold, Bishop—give us gold!' The bones and cups that lay around were hurled at him, and he fell to the ground, with the cry, 'O Chief Shepherd, guard Thine own children!' As he partly raised himself, axes were thrown at him; and, at last, a Dane, who had begun to love and listen to him in his captivity, deemed it mercy to give him a deathblow with an axe. The English maintained that Aelfeg had died to save his flock from cruel extortion, and held him as a saint and martyr, keeping his death day (the 19th of April) as a holiday; and when the Italian Archbishop of Canterbury (Lanfranc) disputed his right to be so esteemed, there was strong opposition and discontent. Indeed, our own Prayer Book still retains his name, under the altered form of St. Alphege; and surely no one better merits to be remembered, for having loved his people far better than himself.
GUZMAN EL BUENO
In the early times of Spanish history, before the Moors had been expelled from the peninsula, or the blight of Western gold had enervated the nation, the old honor and loyalty of the Gothic race were high and pure, fostered by constant combats with a generous enemy. The Spanish Arabs were indeed the flower of the Mahometan races, endowed with the vigor and honor of the desert tribes, yet capable of culture and civilization, excelling all other nations of their time in science and art, and almost the equals of their Christian foes in the attributes of chivalry. Wars with them were a constant crusade, consecrated in the minds of the Spaniards as being in the cause of religion, and yet in some degree freed from savagery and cruelty by the respect exacted by the honorable character of the enemy, and by the fact that the civilization and learning of the Christian kingdoms were far more derived from the Moors than from the kindred nations of Europe.
By the close of the thirteenth century, the Christian kingdoms of Castille and Aragon were descending from their mountain fastnesses, and spreading over the lovely plains of the south, even to the Mediterranean coast, as one beautiful Moorish city after another yielded to the persevering advances of the children of the Goths; and in 1291 the nephew of our own beloved Eleanor of Castille, Sancho V. called El Bravo, ventured to invest the city of Tarifa.
This was the western buttress of the gate of the Mediterranean, the base of the northern Pillar of Hercules, and esteemed one of the gates of Spain. By it five hundred years previously had the Moorish enemy first entered Spain at the summons of Count Julian, under their leader Tarif- abu-Zearah, whose name was bestowed upon it in remembrance of his landing there. The form of the ground is said to be like a broken punch bowl, with the broken part towards the sea. The Moors had fortified the city with a surrounding wall and twenty-six towers, and had built a castle with a lighthouse on a small adjacent island, called Isla Verde, which they had connected with the city by a causeway. Their fortifications, always admirable, have existed ever since, and in 1811, another five hundred years after, were successfully defended against the French by a small force of British troops under the command of Colonel Hugh Gough, better known in his old age as the victor of Aliwal. The walls were then unable to support the weight of artillery, for which of course they had never been built, but were perfectly effective against escalade.
For six months King Sancho besieged Tarifa by land and sea, his fleet, hired from the Genoese, lying in the waters where the battle of Trafalgar was to be fought. The city at length yielded under stress of famine, but the King feared that he had no resources to enable him to keep it, and intended to dismantle and forsake it, when the Grand Master of the military order of Calatrava offered to undertake the defense with his knights for one year, hoping that some other noble would come forward at the end of that time and take the charge upon himself.
He was not mistaken. The noble who made himself responsible for this post of danger was a Leonese knight of high distinction, by name Alonso Perez de Guzman, already called El Bueno, or 'The Good', from the high qualities he had manifested in the service of the late King, Don Alonso VI, by whom he had always stood when the present King, Don Sancho, was in rebellion. The offer was readily accepted, and the whole Guzman family removed to Tarifa, with the exception of the eldest son, who was in the train of the Infant Don Juan, the second son of the late King, who had always taken part with his father against his brother, and on Sancho's accession, continued his enmity, and fled to Portugal.
The King of Portugal, however, being requested by Sancho not to permit him to remain there, he proceeded to offer his services to the King of Morocco, Yusuf-ben-Yacoub, for whom he undertook to recover Tarifa, if 5,000 horse were granted to him for the purpose. The force would have been most disproportionate for the attack of such a city as Tarifa, but Don Juan reckoned on means that he had already found efficacious; when he had obtained the surrender of Zamora to his father by threatening to put to death a child of the lady in command of the fortress.
Therefore, after summoning Tarifa at the head of his 5,000 Moors, he led forth before the gates the boy who had been confided to his care, and declared that unless the city were yielded instantly, Guzman should behold the death of his own son at his hand! Before, he had had to deal with a weak woman on a question of divided allegiance. It was otherwise here. The point was whether the city should be made over to the enemies of the faith and country, whether the plighted word of a loyal knight should be broken. The boy was held in the grasp of the cruel prince, stretching out his hands and weeping as he saw his father upon the walls. Don Alonso's eyes, we are told, filled with tears as he cast one long, last look at his first-born, whom he might not save except at the expense of his truth and honor.
The struggle was bitter, but he broke forth at last in these words: 'I did not beget a son to be made use of against my country, but that he should serve her against her foes. Should Don Juan put him to death, he will but confer honor on me, true life on my son, and on himself eternal shame in this world and everlasting wrath after death. So far am I from yielding this place or betraying my trust, that in case he should want a weapon for his cruel purpose, there goes my knife!'
He cast the knife in his belt over the walls, and returned to the Castle where, commanding his countenance, he sat down to table with his wife. Loud shouts of horror and dismay almost instantly called him forth again. He was told that Don Juan had been seen to cut the boy's throat in a transport of blind rage. 'I thought the enemy had broken in,' he calmly said, and went back again.
The Moors themselves were horrorstruck at the atrocity of their ally, and as the siege was hopeless they gave it up; and Don Juan, afraid and ashamed to return to Morocco, wandered to the Court of Granada.
King Sancho was lying sick at Alcala de Henares when the tidings of the price of Guzman's fidelity reached him. Touched to the depths of his heart he wrote a letter to his faithful subject, comparing his sacrifice to that of Abraham, confirming to him the surname of Good, lamenting his own inability to come and offer his thanks and regrets, but entreating Guzman's presence at Alcala.
All the way thither, the people thronged to see the man true to his word at such a fearful cost. The Court was sent out to meet him, and the King, after embracing him, exclaimed, 'Here learn, ye knights, what are exploits of virtue. Behold your model.'
Lands and honors were heaped upon Alonso de Guzman, and they were not a mockery of his loss, for he had other sons to inherit them. He was the staunch friend of Sancho's widow and son in a long and perilous minority, and died full of years and honors. The lands granted to him were those of Medina Sidonia which lie between the Rivers Guadiana and Guadalquivir, and they have ever since been held by his descendants, who still bear the honored name of Guzman, witnessing that the man who gave the life of his first-born rather than break his faith to the King has left a posterity as noble and enduring as any family in Europe.
FAITHFUL TILL DEATH
One of the ladies most admired by the ancient Romans was Arria, the wife of Caecina Paetus, a Roman who was condemned by the Emperor Claudius to become his own executioner. Seeing him waver, his wife, who was resolved to be with him in death as in life, took the dagger from his hand, plunged it into her own breast, and with her last strength held it out to him, gasping out, 'It is not painful, my Paetus.'
Such was heathen faithfulness even to death; and where the teaching of Christianity had not forbidden the taking away of life by one's own hand, perhaps wifely love could not go higher. Yet Christian women have endured a yet more fearful ordeal to their tender affection, watching, supporting, and finding unfailing fortitude to uphold the sufferer in agonies that must have rent their hearts.
Natalia was the fair young wife of Adrian, an officer at Nicomedia, in the guards of the Emperor Galerius Maximianus, and only about twenty- eight years old. Natalia was a Christian, but her husband remained a pagan, until, when he was charged with the execution of some martyrs, their constancy, coupled with the testimony of his own wife's virtues, triumphed over his unbelief, and he confessed himself likewise a Christian. He was thrown into prison, and sentenced to death, but he prevailed on his gaoler to permit him to leave the dungeon for a time, that he might see his wife. The report came to Natalia that he was no longer in prison, and she threw herself on the ground, lamenting aloud: 'Now will men point at me, and say, 'Behold the wife of the coward and apostate, who, for fear of death, hath denied his God.'
'Oh, thou noble and strong-hearted woman,' said Adrian's voice at the door, 'I bless God that I am not unworthy of thee. Open the door that I may bid thee farewell.'
But this was not the last farewell, though he duly went back to the prison; for when, the next day, he had been cruelly scourged and tortured before the tribunal, Natalia, with her hair cut short, and wearing the disguise of a youth, was there to tend and comfort him. She took him in her arms saying, 'Oh, light of mine eyes, and husband of mine heart, blessed art thou, who art chosen to suffer for Christ's sake.'
On the following day, the tyrant ordered that Adrian's limbs should be one by one struck off on a blacksmith's anvil, and lastly his head. And still it was his wife who held him and sustained him through all and, ere the last stroke of the executioner, had received his last breath. She took up one of the severed hands, kissed it, and placed it in her bosom, and escaping to Byzantium, there spent her life in widowhood.
Nor among these devoted wives should we pass by Gertrude, the wife of Rudolf, Baron von der Wart, a Swabian nobleman, who was so ill-advised as to join in a conspiracy of Johann of Hapsburg, in 1308, against the Emperor, Albrecht I, the son of the great and good Rudolf of Hapsburg.
This Johann was the son of the Emperor's brother Rudolf, a brave knight who had died young, and Johann had been brought up by a Baron called Walther von Eschenbach, until, at nineteen years old, he went to his uncle to demand his father's inheritance. Albrecht was a rude and uncouth man, and refused disdainfully the demand, whereupon the noblemen of the disputed territory stirred up the young prince to form a plot against him, all having evidently different views of the lengths to which they would proceed. This was just at the time that the Swiss, angry at the overweening and oppressive behaviour of Albrecht's governors, were first taking up arms to maintain that they owed no duty to him as Duke of Austria, but merely as Emperor of Germany. He set out on his way to chastise them as rebels, taking with him a considerable train, of whom his nephew Johann was one. At Baden, Johann, as a last experiment, again applied for his inheritance, but by way of answer, Albrecht held out a wreath of flowers, telling him they better became his years than did the cares of government. He burst into tears, threw the wreath upon the ground, and fed his mind upon the savage purpose of letting his uncle find out what he was fit for.
By and by, the party came to the banks of the Reuss, where there was no bridge, and only one single boat to carry the whole across. The first to cross were the Emperor with one attendant, besides his nephew and four of the secret partisans of Johann. Albrecht's son Leopold was left to follow with the rest of the suite, and the Emperor rode on towards the hills of his home, towards the Castle of Hapsburg, where his father's noble qualities had earned the reputation which was the cause of all the greatness of the line. Suddenly his nephew rode up to him, and while one of the conspirators seized the bridle of his horse, exclaimed, 'Will you now restore my inheritance?' and wounded him in the neck. The attendant fled; Der Wart, who had never thought murder was to be a part of the scheme, stood aghast, but the other two fell on the unhappy Albrecht, and each gave him a mortal wound, and then all five fled in different directions. The whole horrible affair took place full in view of Leopold and the army on the other side of the river, and when it became possible for any of them to cross, they found that the Emperor had just expired, with his head in the lap of a poor woman.
The murderers escaped into the Swiss mountains, expecting shelter there; but the stout, honest men of the cantons were resolved not to have any connection with assassins, and refused to protect them. Johann himself, after long and miserable wanderings in disguise, bitterly repented, owned his crime to the Pope, and was received into a convent; Eschenbach escaped, and lived fifteen years as a cowherd. The others all fell into the hands of the sons and daughters of Albrecht, and woeful was the revenge that was taken upon them, and upon their innocent families and retainers.
That Leopold, who had seen his father slain before his eyes, should have been deeply incensed, was not wonderful, and his elder brother Frederick, as Duke of Austria, was charged with the execution of justice; but both brothers were horribly savage and violent in their proceedings, and their sister Agnes surpassed them in her atrocious thirst for vengeance. She was the wife of the King of Hungary, very clever and discerning, and also supposed to be very religious, but all better thoughts were swept away by her furious passion. She had nearly strangled Eschenbach's infant son with her own bare hands, when he was rescued from her by her own soldiers, and when she was watching the beheading of sixty-three vassals of another of the murderers, she repeatedly exclaimed, 'Now I bathe in May dew.' Once, indeed, she met with a stern rebuke. A hermit, for whom she had offered to build a convent, answered her, 'Woman, God is not served by shedding innocent blood and by building convents out of the plunder of families, but by compassion and forgiveness of injuries.'
Rudolf von der Wart received the horrible sentence of being broken on the wheel. On his trial the Emperor's attendant declared that Der Wart had attacked Albert with his dagger, and the cry, 'How long will ye suffer this carrion to sit on horseback?' but he persisted to the last that he had been taken by surprise by the murder. However, there was no mercy for him; and, by the express command of Queen Agnes, after he had been bound upon one wheel, and his limbs broken by heavy blows from the executioner, he was fastened to another wheel, which was set upon a pole, where he was to linger out the remaining hours of his life. His young wife, Gertrude, who had clung to him through all the trial, was torn away and carried off to the Castle of Kyburg; but she made her escape at dusk, and found her way, as night came on, to the spot where her husband hung still living upon the wheel. That night of agony was described in a letter ascribed to Gertrude herself. The guard left to watch fled at her approach, and she prayed beneath the scaffold, and then, heaping some heavy logs of wood together, was able to climb up near enough to embrace him and stroke back the hair from his face, whilst he entreated her to leave him, lest she should be found there, and fall under the cruel revenge of the Queen, telling her that thus it would be possible to increase his suffering.
'I will die with you,' she said, 'tis for that I came, and no power shall force me from you;' and she prayed for the one mercy she hoped for, speedy death for her husband.
In Mrs. Hemans' beautiful words—
'And bid me not depart,' she cried, 'My Rudolf, say not so; This is no time to quit thy side, Peace, peace, I cannot go! Hath the world aught for me to fear When death is on thy brow? The world! what means it? Mine is here! I will not leave thee now. 'I have been with thee in thine hour Of glory and of bliss; Doubt not its memory's living power To strengthen me through this. And thou, mine honor'd love and true, Bear on, bear nobly on; We have the blessed heaven in view, Whose rest shall soon be won.'
When day began to break, the guard returned, and Gertrude took down her stage of wood and continued kneeling at the foot of the pole. Crowds of people came to look, among them the wife of one of the officials, whom Gertrude implored to intercede that her husband's sufferings might be ended; but though this might not be, some pitied her, and tried to give her wine and confections, which she could not touch. The priest came and exhorted Rudolf to confess the crime, but with a great effort he repeated his former statement of innocence.
A band of horsemen rode by. Among them was the young Prince Leopold and his sister Agnes herself, clad as a knight. They were very angry at the compassion shown by the crowd, and after frightfully harsh language commanded that Gertrude should be dragged away; but one of the nobles interceded for her, and when she had been carried away to a little distance her entreaties were heard, and she was allowed to break away and come back to her husband. The priest blessed Gertrude, gave her his hand and said, 'Be faithful unto death, and God will give you the crown of life,' and she was no further molested.
Night came on, and with it a stormy wind, whose howling mingled with the voice of her prayers, and whistled in the hair of the sufferer. One of the guard brought her a cloak. She climbed on the wheel, and spread the covering over her husband's limbs; then fetched some water in her shoe, and moistened his lips with it, sustaining him above all with her prayers, and exhortations to look to the joys beyond. He had ceased to try to send her away, and thanked her for the comfort she gave him. And still she watched when morning came again, and noon passed over her, and it was verging to evening, when for the last time he moved his head; and she raised herself so as to be close to him. With a smile, he murmured, 'Gertrude, this is faithfulness till death,' and died. She knelt down to thank God for having enabled her to remain for that last breath—
'While even as o'er a martyr's grave She knelt on that sad spot, And, weeping, blessed the God who gave Strength to forsake it not!'
She found shelter in a convent at Basle, where she spent the rest of her life in a quiet round of prayer and good works; till the time came when her widowed heart should find its true rest for ever.
WHAT IS BETTER THAN SLAYING A DRAGON
The next story we have to tell is so strange and wild, that it would seem better to befit the cloudy times when history had not yet been disentangled from fable, than the comparatively clear light of the fourteenth century.
It took place in the island of Rhodes. This Greek isle had become the home of the Knights of St. John, or Hospitaliers, an order of sworn brethren who had arisen at the time of the Crusades. At first they had been merely monks, who kept open house for the reception of the poor penniless pilgrims who arrived at Jerusalem in need of shelter, and often of nursing and healing. The good monks not only fed and housed them, but did their best to cure the many diseases that they would catch in the toilsome journey in that feverish climate; and thus it has come to pass that the word hospitium, which in Latin only means an inn, has, in modern languages, given birth, on the one hand, to hotel, or lodging house, on the other, to hospital, or house of healing. The Hospital at Jerusalem was called after St. John the Almoner, a charitable Bishop of old, and the brethren were Hospitaliers. By and by, when the first Crusade was over, and there was a great need of warriors to maintain the Christian cause in Jerusalem, the Hospitaliers thought it a pity that so many strong arms should be prevented from exerting themselves, by the laws that forbade the clergy to do battle, and they obtained permission from the Pope to become warriors as well as monks. They were thus all in one—knights, priests, and nurses; their monasteries were both castles and hospitals; and the sick pilgrim or wounded Crusader was sure of all the best tendance and medical care that the times could afford, as well as of all the ghostly comfort and counsel that he might need, and, if he recovered, he was escorted safely down to the seashore by a party strong enough to protect him from the hordes of robber Arabs. All this was for charity's sake, and without reward. Surely the constitution of the Order was as golden as its badge—the eight-pointed cross—which the brethren wore round their neck. They wore it also in white over their shoulder upon a black mantle. And the knights who had been admitted to the full honors of the Order had a scarlet surcoat, likewise with the white cross, over their armor. The whole brotherhood was under the command of a Grand Master, who was elected in a chapter of all the knights, and to whom all vowed to render implicit obedience.
Good service in all their three capacities had been done by the Order as long as the Crusaders were able to keep a footing in the Holy Land; but they were driven back step by step, and at last, in 1291, their last stronghold at Acre was taken, after much desperate fighting, and the remnant of the Hospitaliers sailed away to the isle of Cyprus, where, after a few years, they recruited their forces, and, in 1307, captured the island of Rhodes, which had been a nest of Greek and Mahometan pirates. Here they remained, hoping for a fresh Crusade to recover the Holy Sepulcher, and in the meantime fulfilling their old mission as the protectors and nurses of the weak. All the Mediterranean Sea was infested by corsairs from the African coast and the Greek isles, and these brave knights, becoming sailors as well as all they had been before, placed their red flag with its white cross at the masthead of many a gallant vessel that guarded the peaceful traveler, hunted down the cruel pirate, and brought home his Christian slave, rescued from laboring at the oar, to the Hospital for rest and tendance. Or their treasures were used in redeeming the captives in the pirate cities. No knight of St. John might offer any ransom for himself save his sword and scarf; but for the redemption of their poor fellow Christians their wealth was ready, and many a captive was released from toiling in Algiers or Tripoli, or still worse, from rowing the pirate vessels, chained to the oar, between the decks, and was restored to health and returned to his friends, blessing the day he had been brought into the curving harbour of Rhodes, with the fine fortified town of churches and monasteries.
Some eighteen years after the conquest of Rhodes, the whole island was filled with dismay by the ravages of an enormous creature, living in a morass at the foot of Mount St. Stephen, about two miles from the city of Rhodes. Tradition calls it a dragon, and whether it were a crocodile or a serpent is uncertain. There is reason to think that the monsters of early creation were slow in becoming extinct, or it is not impossible that either a crocodile or a python might have been brought over by storms or currents from Africa, and have grown to a more formidable size than usual in solitude among the marshes, while the island was changing owners. The reptile, whatever it might be, was the object of extreme dread; it devoured sheep and cattle, when they came down to the water, and even young shepherd boys were missing. And the pilgrimage to the Chapel of St. Stephen, on the hill above its lair, was especially a service of danger, for pilgrims were believed to be snapped up by the dragon before they could mount the hill.
Several knights had gone out to attempt the destruction of the creature, but not one had returned, and at last the Grand Master, Helion de Villeneuve, forbade any further attacks to be made. The dragon is said to have been covered with scales that were perfectly impenetrable either to arrows or any cutting weapon; and the severe loss that encounters with him had cost the Order, convinced the Grand Master that he must be let alone.
However, a young knight, named Dieudonne de Gozon, was by no means willing to acquiesce in the decree; perhaps all the less because it came after he had once gone out in quest of the monster, but had returned, by his own confession, without striking a blow. He requested leave of absence, and went home for a time to his father's castle of Gozon, in Languedoc; and there he caused a model of the monster to be made. He had observed that the scales did not protect the animal's belly, though it was almost impossible to get a blow at it, owing to its tremendous teeth, and the furious strokes of its length of tail. He therefore caused this part of his model to be made hollow, and filled with food, and obtaining two fierce young mastiffs, he trained them to fly at the under side of the monster, while he mounted his warhorse, and endeavored to accustom it likewise to attack the strange shape without swerving.
When he thought the education of horse and dogs complete, he returned to Rhodes; but fearing to be prevented from carrying out his design, he did not land at the city, but on a remote part of the coast, whence he made his way to the chapel of St. Stephen. There, after having recommended himself to God, he left his two French squires, desiring them to return home if he were slain, but to watch and come to him if he killed the dragon, or were only hurt by it. He then rode down the hillside, and towards the haunt of the dragon. It roused itself at his advance, and at first he charged it with his lance, which was perfectly useless against the scales. His horse was quick to perceive the difference between the true and the false monster, and started back, so that he was forced to leap to the ground; but the two dogs were more staunch, and sprang at the animal, whilst their master struck at it with his sword, but still without reaching a vulnerable part, and a blow from the tail had thrown him down, and the dragon was turning upon him, when the movement left the undefended belly exposed. Both mastiffs fastened on it at once, and the knight, regaining his feet, thrust his sword into it. There was a death grapple, and finally the servants, coming down the hill, found their knight lying apparently dead under the carcass of the dragon. When they had extricated him, taken off his helmet, and sprinkled him with water, he recovered, and presently was led into the city amid the ecstatic shouts of the whole populace, who conducted him in triumph to the palace of the Grand Master.
We have seen how Titus Manlius was requited by his father for his breach of discipline. It was somewhat in the same manner that Helion de Villeneuve received Dieudonne. We borrow Schiller's beautiful version of the conversation that took place, as the young knight, pale, with his black mantle rent, his shining armor dinted, his scarlet surcoat stained with blood, came into the Knights' Great Hall.
'Severe and grave was the Master's brow, Quoth he, 'A hero bold art thou, By valor 't is that knights are known; A valiant spirit hast thou shown; But the first duty of a knight, Now tell, who vows for CHRIST to fight And bears the Cross on his coat of mail.' The listeners all with fear grew pale, While, bending lowly, spake the knight, His cheeks with blushes burning, 'He who the Cross would bear aright Obedience must be learning.'
Even after hearing the account of the conflict, the Grand Master did not abate his displeasure.
'My son, the spoiler of the land Lies slain by thy victorious hand Thou art the people's god, but so Thou art become thine Order's foe; A deadlier foe thine heart has bred Than this which by thy hand is dead, That serpent still the heart defiling To ruin and to strife beguiling, It is that spirit rash and bold, That scorns the bands of order; Rages against them uncontrolled Till earth is in disorder.
'Courage by Saracens is shown, Submission is the Christian's own; And where our Saviour, high and holy, Wandered a pilgrim poor and lowly Upon that ground with mystery fraught, The fathers of our Order taught The duty hardest to fulfil Is to give up your own self-will Thou art elate with glory vain. Away then from my sight! Who can his Saviour's yoke disdain Bears not his Cross aright.'
'An angry cry burst from the crowd, The hall rang with their tumult loud; Each knightly brother prayed for grace. The victor downward bent his face, Aside his cloak in silence laid, Kissed the Grand Master's hand, nor stayed. The Master watched him from the hall, Then summoned him with loving call, 'Come to embrace me, noble son, Thine is the conquest of the soul; Take up the Cross, now truly won, By meekness and by self-control.'
The probation of Dieudonne is said to have been somewhat longer than the poem represents, but after the claims of discipline had been established, he became a great favorite with stern old Villeneuve, and the dragon's head was set up over the gate of the city, where Thvenot professed to have seen it in the seventeenth century, and said that it was larger than that of a horse, with a huge mouth and teeth and very large eyes. The name of Rhodes is said to come from a Phoenician word, meaning a serpent, and the Greeks called this isle of serpents, which is all in favor of the truth of the story. But, on the other hand, such traditions often are prompted by the sight of the fossil skeletons of the dragons of the elder world, and are generally to be met with where such minerals prevail as are found in the northern part of Rhodes. The tale is disbelieved by many, but it is hard to suppose it an entire invention, though the description of the monster may have been exaggerated.
Dieudonne de Gozon was elected to the Grand Mastership after the death of Villeneuve, and is said to have voted for himself. If so, it seems as if he might have had, in his earlier days, an overweening opinion of his own abilities. However, he was an excellent Grand Master, a great soldier, and much beloved by all the poor peasants of the island, to whom he was exceedingly kind. He died in 1353, and his tomb is said to have been the only inscribed with these words, 'Here lies the Dragon Slayer.'
THE KEYS OF CALAIS
Nowhere does the continent of Europe approach Great Britain so closely as at the straits of Dover, and when our sovereigns were full of the vain hope of obtaining the crown of France, or at least of regaining the great possessions that their forefathers has owned as French nobles, there was no spot so coveted by them as the fortress of Calais, the possession of which gave an entrance into France.
Thus it was that when, in 1346, Edward III. had beaten Philippe VI. at the battle of Crecy, the first use he made of his victory was to march upon Calais, and lay siege to it. The walls were exceedingly strong and solid, mighty defenses of masonry, of huge thickness and like rocks for solidity, guarded it, and the king knew that it would be useless to attempt a direct assault. Indeed, during all the Middle Ages, the modes of protecting fortifications were far more efficient than the modes of attacking them. The walls could be made enormously massive, the towers raised to a great height, and the defenders so completely sheltered by battlements that they could not easily be injured and could take aim from the top of their turrets, or from their loophole windows. The gates had absolute little castles of their own, a moat flowed round the walls full of water, and only capable of being crossed by a drawbridge, behind which the portcullis, a grating armed beneath with spikes, was always ready to drop from the archway of the gate and close up the entrance. The only chance of taking a fortress by direct attack was to fill up the moat with earth and faggots, and then raise ladders against the walls; or else to drive engines against the defenses, battering-rams which struck them with heavy beams, mangonels which launched stones, sows whose arched wooden backs protected troops of workmen who tried to undermine the wall, and moving towers consisting of a succession of stages or shelves, filled with soldiers, and with a bridge with iron hooks, capable of being launched from the highest story to the top of the battlements. The besieged could generally disconcert the battering- ram by hanging beds or mattresses over the walls to receive the brunt of the blow, the sows could be crushed with heavy stones, the towers burnt by well-directed flaming missiles, the ladders overthrown, and in general the besiegers suffered a great deal more damage than they could inflict. Cannon had indeed just been brought into use at the battle of Crecy, but they only consisted of iron bars fastened together with hoops, and were as yet of little use, and thus there seemed to be little danger to a well-guarded city from any enemy outside the walls.
King Edward arrived before the place with all his victorious army early in August, his good knights and squires arrayed in glittering steel armor, covered with surcoats richly embroidered with their heraldic bearings; his stout men-at-arms, each of whom was attended by three bold followers; and his archers, with their crossbows to shoot bolts, and longbows to shoot arrows of a yard long, so that it used to be said that each went into battle with three men's lives under his girdle, namely, the three arrows he kept there ready to his hand. With the King was his son, Edward, Prince of Wales, who had just won the golden spurs of knighthood so gallantly at Crecy, when only in his seventeenth year, and likewise the famous Hainault knight, Sir Walter Mauny, and all that was noblest and bravest in England.
This whole glittering army, at their head the King's great royal standard bearing the golden lilies of France quartered with the lions of England, and each troop guided by the square banner, swallow-tailed pennon or pointed pennoncel of their leader, came marching to the gates of Calais, above which floated the blue standard of France with its golden flowers, and with it the banner of the governor, Sir Jean de Vienne. A herald, in a rich long robe embroidered with the arms of England, rode up to the gate, a trumpet sounding before him, and called upon Sir Jean de Vienne to give up the place to Edward, King of England, and of France, as he claimed to be. Sir Jean made answer that he held the town for Philippe, King of France, and that he would defend it to the last; the herald rode back again and the English began the siege of the city.
At first they only encamped, and the people of Calais must have seen the whole plain covered with the white canvas tents, marshalled round the ensigns of the leaders, and here and there a more gorgeous one displaying the colours of the owner. Still there was no attack upon the walls. The warriors were to be seen walking about in the leathern suits they wore under their armor; or if a party was to be seen with their coats of mail on, helmet on head, and lance in hand, it was not against Calais that they came; they rode out into the country, and by and by might be seen driving back before them herds of cattle and flocks of sheep or pigs that they had seized and taken away from the poor peasants; and at night the sky would show red lights where farms and homesteads had been set on fire. After a time, in front of the tents, the English were to be seen hard at work with beams and boards, setting up huts for themselves, and thatching them over with straw or broom. These wooden houses were all ranged in regular streets, and there was a marketplace in the midst, whither every Saturday came farmers and butchers to sell corn and meat, and hay for the horses; and the English merchants and Flemish weavers would come by sea and by land to bring cloth, bread, weapons, and everything that could be needed to be sold in this warlike market.
The Governor, Sir Jean de Vienne, began to perceive that the King did not mean to waste his men by making vain attacks on the strong walls of Calais, but to shut up the entrance by land, and watch the coast by sea so as to prevent any provisions from being taken in, and so to starve him into surrendering. Sir Jean de Vienne, however, hoped that before he should be entirely reduced by famine, the King of France would be able to get together another army and come to his relief, and at any rate he was determined to do his duty, and hold out for his master to the last. But as food was already beginning to grow scarce, he was obliged to turn out such persons as could not fight and had no stores of their own, and so one Wednesday morning he caused all the poor to be brought together, men, women, and children, and sent them all out of the town, to the number of 1,700. It was probably the truest mercy, for he had no food to give them, and they could only have starved miserably within the town, or have hindered him from saving it for his sovereign; but to them it was dreadful to be driven out of house and home, straight down upon the enemy, and they went along weeping and wailing, till the English soldiers met them and asked why they had come out. They answered that they had been put out because they had nothing to eat, and their sorrowful, famished looks gained pity for them. King Edward sent orders that not only should they go safely through his camp, but that they should all rest, and have the first hearty dinner that they had eaten for many a day, and he sent every one a small sum of money before they left the camp, so that many of them went on their way praying aloud for the enemy who had been so kind to them.
A great deal happened whilst King Edward kept watch in his wooden town and the citizens of Calais guarded their walls. England was invaded by King David II. of Scotland, with a great army, and the good Queen Philippa, who was left to govern at home in the name of her little son Lionel, assembled all the forces that were left at home, and crossed the Straits of Dover, and a messenger brought King Edward letters from his Queen to say that the Scots army had been entirely defeated at Nevil's Cross, near Durham, and that their King was a prisoner, but that he had been taken by a squire named John Copeland, who would not give him up to her.
King Edward sent letters to John Copeland to come to him at Calais, and when the squire had made his journey, the King took him by the hand saying, 'Ha! welcome, my squire, who by his valor has captured our adversary the King of Scotland.'
Copeland, falling on one knee, replied, 'If God, out of His great kindness, has given me the King of Scotland, no one ought to be jealous of it, for God can, when He pleases, send His grace to a poor squire as well as to a great Lord. Sir, do not take it amiss if I did not surrender him to the orders of my lady the Queen, for I hold my lands of you, and my oath is to you, not to her.'