'I had expected a message from Lisbeth,' said Frau Farina; 'but thou, good heart! thou wilt help us?'
'All that may be done by me I will do,' replied Margarita; 'but his mother yearns to see him, and I have come to bear her company.'
The old lady clasped her hands and wept.
'Has he found so good a friend, my poor boy! And trust me, dear maiden, he is not unworthy, for better son never lived, and good son, good all! Surely we will go to him, but not as thou art. I will dress thee. Such throngs are in the streets: I heard them clattering in early this morning. Rest, dear heart, till I return.'
Margarita had time to inspect the single sitting-room in which her lover lived. It was planted with bottles, and vases, and pipes, and cylinders, piling on floor, chair, and table. She could not suppress a slight surprise of fear, for this display showed a dealing with hidden things, and a summoning of scattered spirits. It was this that made his brow so pale, and the round of his eye darker than youth should let it be! She dismissed the feeling, and assumed her own bright face as Dame Farina reappeared, bearing on her arm a convent garb, and other apparel. Margarita suffered herself to be invested in the white and black robes of the denial of life.
'There!' said the Frau Farina, 'and to seal assurance, I have engaged a guard to accompany us. He was sorely bruised in a street combat yesterday, and was billeted below, where I nursed and tended him, and he is grateful, as man should be-though I did little, doing my utmost—and with him near us we have nought to fear.'
'Good,' said Margarita, and they kissed and departed. The guard was awaiting them outside.
'Come, my little lady, and with thee the holy sister! 'Tis no step from here, and I gage to bring ye safe, as sure as my name's Schwartz Thier!—Hey? The good sister's dropping. Look, now! I'll carry her.'
Margarita recovered her self-command before he could make good this offer.
'Only let us hasten there,' she gasped.
The Thier strode on, and gave them safe-conduct to the prison where Farina was confined, being near one of the outer forts of the city.
'Thank and dismiss him,' whispered Margarita.
'Nay! he will wait-wilt thou not, friend! We shall not be long, though it is my son I visit here,' said Frau Farina.
'Till to-morrow morning, my little lady! The lion thanked him that plucked the thorn from his foot, and the Thier may be black, but he's not ungrateful, nor a worse beast than the lion.'
They entered the walls and left him.
For the first five minutes Schwartz Thier found employment for his faculties by staring at the shaky, small-paned windows of the neighbourhood. He persevered in this, after all novelty had been exhausted, from an intuitive dread of weariness. There was nothing to see. An old woman once bobbed out of an attic, and doused the flints with water. Harassed by increasing dread of the foul nightmare of nothing-to-do, the Thier endeavoured to establish amorous intelligence with her. She responded with an indignant projection of the underjaw, evanishing rapidly. There was no resource left him but to curse her with extreme heartiness. The Thier stamped his right leg, and then his left, and remembered the old woman as a grievance five minutes longer. When she was clean forgotten, he yawned. Another spouse of the moment was wanted, to be wooed, objurgated, and regretted. The prison-gate was in a secluded street. Few passengers went by, and those who did edged away from the ponderous, wanton-eyed figure of lazy mischief lounging there, as neatly as they well could. The Thier hailed two or three. One took to his legs, another bowed, smirked, gave him a kindly good-day, and affected to hear no more, having urgent business in prospect. The Thier was a faithful dog, but the temptation to betray his trust and pursue them was mighty. He began to experience an equal disposition to cry and roar. He hummed a ballad—
'I swore of her I'd have my will, And with him I'd have my way: I learn'd my cross-bow over the hill: Now what does my lady say?
Give me the good old cross-bow, after all, and none of these lumbering puff-and-bangs that knock you down oftener than your man!
'A cross stands in the forest still, And a cross in the churchyard grey: My curse on him who had his will, And on him who had his way!
Good beginning, bad ending! 'Tisn't so always. "Many a cross has the cross-bow built," they say. I wish I had mine, now, to peg off that old woman, or somebody. I'd swear she's peeping at me over the gable, or behind some cranny. They're curious, the old women, curse 'em! And the young, for that matter. Devil a young one here.
'When I'm in for the sack of a town, What, think ye, I poke after, up and down? Silver and gold I pocket in plenty, But the sweet tit-bit is my lass under twenty.
I should like to be in for the sack of this Cologne. I'd nose out that pretty girl I was cheated of yesterday. Take the gold and silver, and give me the maiden! Her neck's silver, and her hair gold. Ah! and her cheeks roses, and her mouth-say no more! I'm half thinking Werner, the hungry animal, has cast wolf's eyes on her. They say he spoke of her last night. Don't let him thwart me. Thunderblast him! I owe him a grudge. He's beginning to forget my plan o' life.'
A flight of pigeons across the blue top of the street abstracted the Thier from these reflections. He gaped after them in despair, and fell to stretching and shaking himself, rattling his lungs with loud reports. As he threw his eyes round again, they encountered those of a monk opposite fastened on him in penetrating silence. The Thier hated monks as a wild beast shuns fire; but now even a monk was welcome.
'Halloo!' he sung out.
The monk crossed over to him.
'Friend!' said he, 'weariness is teaching thee wantonness. Wilt thou take service for a night's work, where the danger is little, the reward lasting?'
'As for that,' replied the Thier, 'danger comes to me like greenwood to the deer, and good pay never yet was given in promises. But I'm bound for the next hour to womankind within there. They're my masters; as they've been of tough fellows before me.'
'I will seek them, and win their consent,' said the monk, and so left him.
'Quick dealing!' thought the Thier, and grew brisker. 'The Baron won't want me to-night: and what if he does? Let him hang himself—though, if he should, 'twill be a pity I'm not by to help him.'
He paced under the wall to its farthest course. Turning back, he perceived the monk at the gateway.
'A sharp hand!' thought the Thier.
'Intrude no question on me,' the monk began; 'but hold thy peace and follow: the women release thee, and gladly.'
'That's not my plan o' life, now! Money down, and then command me': and Schwartz Thier stood with one foot forward, and hand stretched out.
A curl of scorn darkened the cold features of the monk.
He slid one hand into a side of his frock above the girdle, and tossed a bag of coin.
'Take it, if 'tis in thee to forfeit the greater blessing,' he cried contemptuously.
The Thier peeped into the bag, and appeared satisfied.
'I follow,' said he; 'lead on, good father, and I'll be in the track of holiness for the first time since my mother was quit of me.'
The monk hurried up the street and into the marketplace, oblivious of the postures and reverences of the people, who stopped to stare at him and his gaunt attendant. As they crossed the square, Schwartz Thier spied Henker Rothhals starting from a wine-stall on horseback, and could not forbear hailing him. Before the monk had time to utter a reproach, they were deep together in a double-shot of query and reply.
'Whirr!' cried the Thier, breaking on some communication. 'Got her, have they? and swung her across stream? I'm one with ye for my share, or call me sheep!'
He waved his hand to the monk, and taking hold of the horse's rein, ran off beside his mounted confederate, heavily shod as he was.
The monk frowned after him, and swelled with a hard sigh.
'Gone!' he exclaimed, 'and the accursed gold with him! Well did a voice warn me that such service was never to be bought!'
He did not pause to bewail or repent, but returned toward the prison with rapid footsteps, muttering: 'I with the prison-pass for two; why was I beguiled by that bandit? Saw I not the very youth given into my hands there, he that was with the damsel and the aged woman?'
THE RIDE AND THE RACE
Late in the noon a horseman, in the livery of the Kaiser's body-guard, rode dry and dusty into Cologne, with tidings that the Kaiser was at Hammerstein Castle, and commanding all convocated knights, barons, counts, and princes, to assemble and prepare for his coming, on a certain bare space of ground within two leagues of Cologne, thence to swell the train of his triumphal entry into the ancient city of his empire.
Guy the Goshawk, broad-set on a Flemish mare, and a pack-horse beside him, shortly afterward left the hotel of the Three Holy Kings, and trotted up to Gottlieb's door.
'Tent-pitching is now my trade,' said he, as Gottlieb came down to him. 'My lord is with the Kaiser. I must say farewell for the nonce. Is the young lady visible?'
'Nor young, nor old, good friend,' replied Gottlieb, with a countenance somewhat ruffled. 'I dined alone for lack of your company. Secret missives came, I hear, to each of them, and both are gadding. Now what think you of this, after the scene of yesterday?—Lisbeth too!'
'Preaches from the old text, Master Groschen; "Never reckon on womankind for a wise act." But farewell! and tell Mistress Margarita that I take it ill of her not giving me her maiden hand to salute before parting. My gravest respects to Frau Lisbeth. I shall soon be sitting with you over that prime vintage of yours, or fortune's dead against me.'
So, with a wring of the hand, Guy put the spur to his round-flanked beast, and was quickly out of Cologne on the rough roadway.
He was neither the first nor the last of the men-at-arms hastening to obey the Kaiser's mandate. A string of horse and foot in serpentine knots stretched along the flat land, flashing colours livelier than the spring-meadows bordering their line of passage. Guy, with a nod for all, and a greeting for the best-disposed, pushed on toward the van, till the gathering block compelled him to adopt the snail's pace of the advance party, and gave him work enough to keep his two horses from being jammed with the mass. Now and then he cast a weather-eye on the heavens, and was soon confirmed in an opinion he had repeatedly ejaculated, that 'the first night's camping would be a drencher.' In the West a black bank of cloud was blotting out the sun before his time. Northeast shone bare fields of blue lightly touched with loosefloating strips and flakes of crimson vapour. The furrows were growing purple-dark, and gradually a low moaning obscurity enwrapped the whole line, and mufed the noise of hoof, oath, and waggon-wheel in one sullen murmur.
Guy felt very much like a chopped worm, as he wriggled his way onward in the dusk, impelled from the rear, and reduced to grope after the main body. Frequent and deep counsel he took with a trusty flask suspended at his belt. It was no pleasant reflection that the rain would be down before he could build up anything like shelter for horse and man. Still sadder the necessity of selecting his post on strange ground, and in darkness. He kept an anxious look-out for the moon, and was presently rejoiced to behold a broad fire that twinkled branchy beams through an east-hill orchard.
'My lord calls her Goddess,' said Guy, wistfully. 'The title's outlandish, and more the style of these foreigners but she may have it to-night, an she 'll just keep the storm from shrouding her bright eye a matter of two hours.'
She rose with a boding lustre. Drifts of thin pale upper-cloud leaned down ladders, pure as virgin silver, for her to climb to her highest seat on the unrebellious half-circle of heaven.
'My mind's made up!' quoth Guy to the listening part of himself. 'Out of this I'll get.'
By the clearer ray he had discerned a narrow track running a white parallel with the general route. At the expense of dislocating a mile of the cavalcade, he struck into it. A dyke had to be taken, some heavy fallows crossed, and the way was straight before him. He began to sneer at the slow jog-trot and absence of enterprise which made the fellows he had left shine so poorly in comparison with the Goshawk, but a sight of two cavaliers in advance checked his vanity, and now to overtake them he tasked his fat Flemish mare with unwonted pricks of the heel, that made her fling out and show more mettle than speed.
The objects of this fiery chase did not at first awake to a sense of being pursued. Both rode with mantled visages, and appeared profoundly inattentive to the world outside their meditations. But the Goshawk was not to be denied, and by dint of alternately roaring at them and upbraiding his two stumping beasts, he at last roused the younger of the cavaliers, who called to his companion loudly: without effect it seemed, for he had to repeat the warning. Guy was close up with them, when the youth exclaimed:
'Father! holy father! 'Tis Sathanas in person!'
The other rose and pointed trembling to a dark point in the distance as he vociferated:
'Not here! not here; but yonder!'
Guy recognized the voice of the first speaker, and cried:
'Stay! halt a second! Have you forgotten the Goshawk?'
'Never!' came the reply, 'and forget not Farina!'
Spur and fleeter steeds carried them out of hearing ere Guy could throw in another syllable. Farina gazed back on him remorsefully, but the Monk now rated his assistant with indignation.
'Thou weak one! nothing less than fool! to betray thy name on such an adventure as this to soul save the saints!'
Farina tossed back his locks, and held his forehead to the moon. All the Monk's ghostly wrath was foiled by the one little last sweet word of his beloved, which made music in his ears whenever annoyance sounded.
'And herein,' say the old writers, 'are lovers, who love truly, truly recompensed for their toils and pains; in that love, for which they suffer, is ever present to ward away suffering not sprung of love: but the disloyal, who serve not love faithfully, are a race given over to whatso this base world can wreak upon them, without consolation or comfort of their mistress, Love; whom sacrificing not all to, they know not to delight in.'
The soul of a lover lives through every member of him in the joy of a moonlight ride. Sorrow and grief are slow distempers that crouch from the breeze, and nourish their natures far from swift-moving things. A true lover is not one of those melancholy flies that shoot and maze over muddy stagnant pools. He must be up in the great air. He must strike all the strings of life. Swiftness is his rapture. In his wide arms he embraces the whole form of beauty. Eagle-like are his instincts; dove-like his desires. Then the fair moon is the very presence of his betrothed in heaven. So for hours rode Farina in a silver-fleeting glory; while the Monk as a shadow, galloped stern and silent beside him. So, crowning them in the sky, one half was all love and light; one, blackness and fell purpose.
THE COMBAT ON DRACHENFELS
Not to earth was vouchsafed the honour of commencing the great battle of that night. By an expiring blue-shot beam of moonlight, Farina beheld a vast realm of gloom filling the hollow of the West, and the moon was soon extinguished behind sluggish scraps of iron scud detached from the swinging bulk of ruin, as heavily it ground on the atmosphere in the first thunder-launch of motion.
The heart of the youth was strong, but he could not view without quicker fawning throbs this manifestation of immeasurable power, which seemed as if with a stroke it was capable of destroying creation and the works of man. The bare aspect of the tempest lent terrors to the adventure he was engaged in, and of which he knew not the aim, nor might forecast the issue. Now there was nothing to illumine their path but such forked flashes as lightning threw them at intervals, touching here a hill with clustered cottages, striking into day there a May-blossom, a patch of weed, a single tree by the wayside. Suddenly a more vivid and continuous quiver of violet fire met its reflection on the landscape, and Farina saw the Rhine-stream beneath him.
'On such a night,' thought he, 'Siegfried fought and slew the dragon!'
A blast of light, as from the jaws of the defeated dragon in his throes, made known to him the country he traversed. Crimsoned above the water glimmered the monster-haunted rock itself, and mid-channel beyond, flat and black to the stream, stretched the Nuns' Isle in cloistral peace.
'Halt!' cried the Monk, and signalled with a peculiar whistle, to which he seemed breathlessly awaiting an answer. They were immediately surrounded by longrobed veiled figures.
'Not too late?' the Monk hoarsely asked of them.
'Yet an hour!' was the reply, in soft clear tones of a woman's voice.
'Great strength and valour more than human be mine,' exclaimed the Monk, dismounting.
He passed apart from them; and they drew in a circle, while he prayed, kneeling.
Presently he returned, and led Farina to a bank, drawing from some hiding-place a book and a bell, which he gave into the hands of the youth.
'For thy soul, no word!' said the Monk, speaking down his throat as he took in breath. 'Nay! not in answer to me! Be faithful, and more than earthly fortune is thine; for I say unto thee, I shall not fail, having grace to sustain this combat.'
Thereupon he commenced the ascent of Drachenfels.
Farina followed. He had no hint of the Monk's mission, nor of the part himself was to play in it. Such a load of silence gathered on his questioning spirit, that the outcry of the rageing elements alone prevented him from arresting the Monk and demanding the end of his service there. That outcry was enough to freeze speech on the very lips of a mortal. For scarce had they got footing on the winding path of the crags, when the whole vengeance of the storm was hurled against the mountain. Huge boulders were loosened and came bowling from above: trees torn by their roots from the fissures whizzed on the eddies of the wind: torrents of rain foamed down the iron flanks of rock, and flew off in hoar feathers against the short pauses of darkness: the mountain heaved, and quaked, and yawned a succession of hideous chasms.
'There's a devil in this,' thought Farina. He looked back and marked the river imaging lurid abysses of cloud above the mountain-summit—yea! and on the summit a flaming shape was mirrored.
Two nervous hands stayed the cry on his mouth.
'Have I not warned thee?' said the husky voice of the Monk. 'I may well watch, and think for thee as for a dog. Be thou as faithful!'
He handed a flask to the youth, and bade him drink. Farina drank and felt richly invigorated. The Monk then took bell and book.
'But half an hour,' he muttered, 'for this combat that is to ring through centuries.'
Crossing himself, he strode wildly upward. Farina saw him beckon back once, and the next instant he was lost round an incline of the highest peak.
The wind that had just screamed a thousand death-screams, was now awfully dumb, albeit Farina could feel it lifting hood and hair. In the unnatural stillness his ear received tones of a hymn chanted below; now sinking, now swelling; as though the voices faltered between prayer and inspiration. Farina caught on a projection of crag, and fixed his eyes on what was passing on the height.
There was the Monk in his brown hood and wrapper, confronting—if he might trust his balls of sight—the red-hot figure of the Prince of Darkness.
As yet no mortal tussle had taken place between them. They were arguing: angrily, it was true: yet with the first mutual deference of practised logicians. Latin and German was alternately employed by both. It thrilled Farina's fervid love of fatherland to hear the German Satan spoke: but his Latin was good, and his command over that tongue remarkable; for, getting the worst of the argument, as usual, he revenged himself by parodying one of the Church canticles with a point that discomposed his adversary, and caused him to retreat a step, claiming support against such shrewd assault.
'The use of an unexpected weapon in warfare is in itself half a victory. Induce your antagonist to employ it as a match for you, and reckon on completely routing him . . .' says the old military chronicle.
'Come!' said the Demon with easy raillery. 'You know your game—I mine! I really want the good people to be happy; dancing, kissing, propagating, what you will. We quite agree. You can have no objection to me, but a foolish old prejudice—not personal, but class; an antipathy of the cowl, for which I pardon you! What I should find in you to complain of—I have only to mention it, I am sure—is, that perhaps you do speak a little too much through your nose.'
The Monk did not fall into the jocular trap by retorting in the same strain.
'Laugh with the Devil, and you won't laugh longest,' says the proverb.
Keeping to his own arms, the holy man frowned.
'Avaunt, Fiend!' he cried. 'To thy kingdom below! Thou halt raged over earth a month, causing blights, hurricanes, and epidemics of the deadly sins. Parley no more! Begone!'
The Demon smiled: the corners of his mouth ran up to his ears, and his eyes slid down almost into one.
'Still through the nose!' said he reproachfully.
'I give thee Five Minutes!' cried the Monk.
'I had hoped for a longer colloquy,' sighed the Demon, jogging his left leg and trifling with his tail.
'One Minute!' exclaimed the Monk.
'Truly so!' said the Demon. 'I know old Time and his habits better than you really can. We meet every Saturday night, and communicate our best jokes. I keep a book of them Down There!'
And as if he had reason to remember the pavement of his Halls, he stood tiptoe and whipped up his legs.
The Demon waved perfect acquiescence, and continued:
'We understand each other, he and I. All Old Ones do. As long as he lasts, I shall. The thing that surprises me is, that you and I cannot agree, similar as we are in temperament, and playing for the long odds, both of us. My failure is, perhaps, too great a passion for sport, aha! Well, 'tis a pity you won't try and live on the benevolent principle. I am indeed kind to them who commiserate my condition. I give them all they want, aha! Hem! Try and not believe in me now, aha! Ho! . . . Can't you? What are eyes? Persuade yourself you're dreaming. You can do anything with a mind like yours, Father Gregory! And consider the luxury of getting me out of the way so easily, as many do. It is my finest suggestion, aha! Generally I myself nudge their ribs with the capital idea—You're above bribes? I was going to observe—'
'Observe, that if you care for worldly honours, I can smother you with that kind of thing. Several of your first-rate people made a bargain with me when they were in the fog, and owe me a trifle. Patronage they call it. I hook the high and the low. Too-little and too-much serve me better than Beelzebub. A weak stomach is certainly more carnally virtuous than a full one. Consequently my kingdom is becoming too respectable. They've all got titles, and object to being asked to poke the fire without—Honourable-and-with-Exceeding-Brightness-Beaming Baroness This! Admirably-Benignant-Down-looking Highness That! Interrupts business, especially when you have to ask them to fry themselves, according to the rules . . . Would you like Mainz and the Rheingau? . . . You don't care for Beauty—Puella, Puellae? I have plenty of them, too, below. The Historical Beauties warmed up at a moment's notice. Modern ones made famous between morning and night—Fame is the sauce of Beauty. Or, no—eh?'
'Not quite so fast, if you please. You want me gone. Now, where's your charity? Do you ask me to be always raking up those poor devils underneath? While I'm here, they've a respite. They cannot think you kind, Father Gregory! As for the harm, you see, I'm not the more agreeable by being face to face with you—though some fair dames do take to my person monstrously. The secret is, the quantity of small talk I can command: that makes them forget my smell, which is, I confess, abominable, displeasing to myself, and my worst curse. Your sort, Father Gregory, are somewhat unpleasant in that particular—if I may judge by their Legate here. Well, try small talk. They would fall desperately in love with polecats and skunks if endowed with small talk. Why, they have become enamoured of monks before now! If skunks, why not monks? And again—'
Having solemnly bellowed this tremendous number, the holy man lifted his arms to begin the combat.
Farina felt his nerves prick with admiration of the ghostly warrior daring the Second Power of Creation on that lonely mountain-top. He expected, and shuddered at thought of the most awful fight ever yet chronicled of those that have taken place between heroes and the hounds of evil: but his astonishment was great to hear the Demon, while Bell was in air and Book aloft, retreat, shouting, 'Hold!'
'I surrender,' said he sullenly. 'What terms?'
'Instantaneous riddance of thee from face of earth.'
'Good!—Now,' said the Demon, 'did you suppose I was to be trapped into a fight? No doubt you wish to become a saint, and have everybody talking of my last defeat . . . . Pictures, poems, processions, with the Devil downmost! No. You're more than a match for me.'
'Silence, Darkness!' thundered the Monk, 'and think not to vanquish thy victor by flatteries. Begone!'
And again he towered in his wrath.
The Demon drew his tail between his legs, and threw the forked, fleshy, quivering end over his shoulder. He then nodded cheerfully, pointed his feet, and finicked a few steps away, saying: 'I hope we shall meet again.'
Upon that he shot out his wings, that were like the fins of the wyver-fish, sharpened in venomous points.
'Commands for your people below?' he inquired, leering with chin awry. 'Desperate ruffians some of those cowls. You are right not to acknowledge them.'
Farina beheld the holy man in no mood to let the Enemy tamper with him longer.
The Demon was influenced by a like reflection; for, saying, 'Cologne is the city your Holiness inhabits, I think?' he shot up rocket-like over Rhineland, striking the entire length of the stream, and its rough-bearded castle-crests, slate-ledges, bramble-clefts, vine-slopes, and haunted valleys, with one brimstone flash. Frankfort and the far Main saw him and reddened. Ancient Trier and Mosel; Heidelberg and Neckar; Limberg and Lahn, ran guilty of him. And the swift artery of these shining veins, Rhine, from his snow cradle to his salt decease, glimmered Stygian horrors as the Infernal Comet, sprung over Bonn, sparkled a fiery minute along the face of the stream, and vanished, leaving a seam of ragged flame trailed on the midnight heavens.
Farina breathed hard through his teeth.
'The last of him was awful,' said he, coming forward to where the Monk knelt and grasped his breviary, 'but he was vanquished easily.'
'Easily?' exclaimed the holy man, gasping satisfaction: 'thou weakling! is it for thee to measure difficulties, or estimate powers? Easily? thou worldling! and so are great deeds judged when the danger's past! And what am I but the humble instrument that brought about this wondrous conquest! the poor tool of this astounding triumph! Shall the sword say, This is the battle I won! Yonder the enemy I overthrow! Bow to me, ye lords of earth, and worshippers of mighty acts? Not so! Nay, but the sword is honoured in the hero's grasp, and if it break not, it is accounted trusty. This, then, this little I may claim, that I was trusty! Trusty in a heroic encounter! Trusty in a battle with earth's terror! Oh! but this must not be said. This is to think too much! This is to be more than aught yet achieved by man!'
The holy warrior crossed his arms, and gently bowed his head.
'Take me to the Sisters,' he said. 'The spirit has gone out of me! I am faint, and as a child!'
Farina asked, and had, his blessing.
'And with it my thanks!' said the Monk. 'Thou hast witnessed how he can be overcome! Thou hast looked upon a scene that will be the glory of Christendom! Thou hast beheld the discomfiture of Darkness before the voice of Light! Yet think not much of me: account me little in this matter! I am but an instrument! but an instrument!—and again, but an instrument!'
Farina drew the arms of the holy combatant across his shoulders and descended Drachenfels.
The tempest was as a forgotten anguish. Bright with maiden splendour shone the moon; and the old rocks, cherished in her beams, put up their horns to blue heaven once more. All the leafage of the land shook as to shake off a wicked dream, and shuddered from time to time, whispering of old fears quieted, and present peace. The heart of the river fondled with the image of the moon in its depths.
'This is much to have won for earth,' murmured the Monk. 'And what is life, or who would not risk all, to snatch such loveliness from the talons of the Fiend, the Arch-foe? Yet, not I! not I! say not, 'twas I did this!'
Soft praises of melody ascended to them on the moist fragrance of air. It was the hymn of the Sisters.
'How sweet!' murmured the Monk. 'Put it from me! away with it!'
Rising on Farina's back, and stirruping his feet on the thighs of the youth, he cried aloud: 'I charge ye, whoso ye be, sing not this deed before the emperor! By the breath of your nostrils; pause! ere ye whisper aught of the combat of Saint Gregory with Satan, and his victory, and the marvel of it, while he liveth; for he would die the humble monk he is.'
He resumed his seat, and Farina brought him into the circle of the Sisters. Those pure women took him, and smoothed him, lamenting, and filling the night with triumphing tones.
Farina stood apart.
'The breeze tells of dawn,' said the Monk; 'we must be in Cologne before broad day.'
They mounted horse, and the Sisters grouped and reverenced under the blessings of the Monk.
'No word of it!' said the Monk warningly. 'We are silent, Father!' they answered. 'Cologne-ward!' was then his cry, and away he and Farina, flew.
THE GOSHAWK LEADS
Morning was among the grey eastern clouds as they rode upon the camp hastily formed to meet the Kaiser. All there was in a wallow of confusion. Fierce struggles for precedence still went on in the neighbourhood of the imperial tent ground, where, under the standard of Germany, lounged some veterans of the Kaiser's guard, calmly watching the scramble. Up to the edge of the cultivated land nothing was to be seen but brawling clumps of warriors asserting the superior claims of their respective lords. Variously and hotly disputed were these claims, as many red coxcombs testified. Across that point where the green field flourished, not a foot was set, for the Kaiser's care of the farmer, and affection for good harvests, made itself respected even in the heat of those jealous rivalries. It was said of him, that he would have camped in a bog, or taken quarters in a cathedral, rather than trample down a green blade of wheat, or turn over one vine-pole in the empire. Hence the presence of Kaiser Heinrich was never hailed as Egypt's plague by the peasantry, but welcome as the May month wherever he went.
Father Gregory and Farina found themselves in the centre of a group ere they drew rein, and a cry rose, 'The good father shall decide, and all's fair,' followed by, 'Agreed! Hail and tempest! he's dropped down o' purpose.'
'Father,' said one, 'here it is! I say I saw the Devil himself fly off Drachenfels, and flop into Cologne. Fritz here, and Frankenbauch, saw him too. They'll swear to him: so 'll I. Hell's thunder! will we. Yonder fellows will have it 'twas a flash o' lightning, as if I didn't see him, horns, tail, and claws, and a mighty sight 'twas, as I'm a sinner.'
A clash of voices, for the Devil and against him, burst on this accurate description of the Evil spirit. The Monk sank his neck into his chest.
'Gladly would I hold silence on this, my sons,' said he, in a supplicating voice.
'Speak, Father,' cried the first spokesman, gathering courage from the looks of the Monk.
Father Gregory appeared to commune with himself deeply. At last, lifting his head, and murmuring, 'It must be,' he said aloud:
''Twas verily Satan, O my sons! Him this night in mortal combat I encountered and overcame on the summit of Drachenfels, before the eyes of this youth; and from Satan I this night deliver ye! an instrument herein as in all other.'
Shouts, and a far-spreading buzz resounded in the camp. Hundreds had now seen Satan flying off the Drachenstein. Father Gregory could no longer hope to escape from the importunate crowds that beset him for particulars. The much-contested point now was, as to the exact position of Satan's tail during his airy circuit, before descending into Cologne. It lashed like a lion's. 'Twas cocked, for certain! He sneaked it between his legs like a lurcher! He made it stumpy as a brown bear's! He carried it upright as a pike!
'O my sons! have I sown dissension? Have I not given ye peace?' exclaimed the Monk.
But they continued to discuss it with increasing frenzy.
Farina cast a glance over the tumult, and beheld his friend Guy beckoning earnestly. He had no difficulty in getting away to him, as the fetters of all eyes were on the Monk alone.
The Goshawk was stamping with excitement.
'Not a moment to be lost, my lad,' said Guy, catching his arm. 'Here, I've had half-a-dozen fights already for this bit of ground. Do you know that fellow squatting there?'
Farina beheld the Thier at the entrance of a tumbledown tent. He was ruefully rubbing a broken head.
'Now,' continued Guy, 'to mount him is the thing; and then after the wolves of Werner as fast as horse-flesh can carry us. No questions! Bound, are you? And what am I? But this is life and death, lad! Hark!'
The Goshawk whispered something that sucked the blood out of Farina's cheek.
'Look you—what's your lockjaw name? Keep good faith with me, and you shall have your revenge, and the shiners I promise, besides my lord's interest for a better master: but, sharp! we won't mount till we're out of sight o' the hell-scum you horde with.'
The Thier stood up and staggered after them through the camp. There was no difficulty in mounting him horses were loose, and scampering about the country, not yet delivered from their terrors of the last night's tempest.
'Here be we, three good men!' exclaimed Guy, when they were started, and Farina had hurriedly given him the heads of his adventure with the Monk. 'Three good men! One has helped to kick the devil: one has served an apprenticeship to his limb: and one is ready to meet him foot to foot any day, which last should be myself. Not a man more do we want, though it were to fish up that treasure you talk of being under the Rhine there, and guarded by I don't know how many tricksy little villains. Horses can be ferried across at Linz, you say?'
'Ay, thereabout,' grunted the Thier.
'We 're on the right road, then!' said Guy. 'Thanks to you both, I've had no sleep for two nights—not a wink, and must snatch it going—not the first time.'
The Goshawk bent his body, and spoke no more. Farina could not get a word further from him. By the mastery he still had over his rein, the Goshawk alone proved that he was of the world of the living. Schwartz Thier, rendered either sullen or stunned by the latest cracked crown he had received, held his jaws close as if they had been nailed.
At Linz the horses were well breathed. The Goshawk, who had been snoring an instant before, examined them keenly, and shook his calculating head.
'Punch that beast of yours in the ribs,' said he to Farina. 'Ah! not a yard of wind in him. And there's the coming back, when we shall have more to carry. Well: this is my lord's money; but i' faith, it's going in a good cause, and Master Groschen will make it all right, no doubt; not a doubt of it.'
The Goshawk had seen some excellent beasts in the stables of the Kaiser's Krone; but the landlord would make no exchange without an advance of silver. This done, the arrangement was prompt.
'Schwartz Thier!—I've got your name now,' said Guy, as they were ferrying across, 'you're stiff certain they left Cologne with the maiden yesternoon, now?'
'Ah, did they! and she's at the Eck safe enow by this time.'
'And away from the Eck this night she shall come, trust me!'
'Or there will I die with her!' cried Farina.
'Fifteen men at most, he has, you said,' continued Guy.
'Two not sound, five true as steel, and the rest shillyshally. 'Slife, one lock loose serves us; but two saves us: five we're a match for, throwing in bluff Baron; the remainder go with victory.'
'Can we trust this fellow?' whispered Farina.
'Trust him!' roared Guy. 'Why, I've thumped him, lad; pegged and pardoned him. Trust him? trust me! If Werner catches a sight of that snout of his within half-a-mile of his hold, he'll roast him alive.'
He lowered his voice: 'Trust him? We can do nothing without him. I knocked the devil out of him early this morning. No chance for his Highness anywhere now. This Eck of Werner's would stand a siege from the Kaiser in person, I hear. We must into it like weasels; and out as we can.'
Dismissing the ferry-barge with stern injunctions to be in waiting from noon to noon, the three leapt on their fresh nags.
'Stop at the first village,' said Guy; 'we must lay in provision. As Master Groschen says, "Nothing's to be done, Turpin, without provender."'
'Goshawk!' cried Farina; 'you have time; tell me how this business was done.'
The only reply was a soft but decided snore, that spoke, like a voluptuous trumpet, of dreamland and its visions.
At Sinzig, the Thier laid his hand on Guy's bridle, with the words, 'Feed here,' a brief, but effective, form of signal, which aroused the Goshawk completely. The sign of the Trauben received them. Here, wurst reeking with garlic, eggs, black bread, and sour wine, was all they could procure. Farina refused to eat, and maintained his resolution, in spite of Guy's sarcastic chiding.
'Rub down the beasts, then, and water them,' said the latter. 'Made a vow, I suppose,' muttered Guy.
'That's the way of those fellows. No upright manly take-the-thing-as-it-comes; but fly-sky-high whenever there's a dash on their heaven. What has his belly done to offend him? It will be crying out just when we want all quiet. I wouldn't pay Werner such a compliment as go without a breakfast for him. Not I! Would you, Schwartz Thier?'
'Henker! not I!' growled the Thier. 'He'll lose one sooner.'
'First snatch his prey, or he'll be making, God save us! a meal for a Kaiser, the brute.'
Guy called in the landlady, clapped down the score, and abused the wine.
'Sir,' said the landlady, 'ours is but a poor inn, and we do our best.'
'So you do,' replied the Goshawk, softened; 'and I say that a civil tongue and rosy smiles sweeten even sour wine.'
The landlady, a summer widow, blushed, and as he was stepping from the room, called him aside.
'I thought you were one of that dreadful Werner's band, and I hate him.'
Guy undeceived her.
'He took my sister,' she went on, 'and his cruelty killed her. He persecuted me even in the lifetime of my good man. Last night he came here in the middle of the storm with a young creature bright as an angel, and sorrowful—'
'He's gone, you're sure?' broke in Guy.
'Gone! Oh, yes! Soon as the storm abated he dragged her on. Oh! the way that young thing looked at me, and I able to do nothing for her.'
'Now, the Lord bless you for a rosy Christian!' cried Guy, and, in his admiration, he flung his arm round her and sealed a ringing kiss on each cheek.
'No good man defrauded by that! and let me see the fellow that thinks evil of it. If I ever told a woman a secret, I 'd tell you one now, trust me. But I never do, so farewell! Not another?'
Hasty times keep the feelings in a ferment, and the landlady was extremely angry with Guy and heartily forgave him, all within a minute.
'No more,' said she, laughing: 'but wait; I have something for you.'
The Goshawk lingered on a fretting heel. She was quickly under his elbow again with two flasks leaning from her bosom to her arms.
'There! I seldom meet a man like you; and, when I do, I like to be remembered. This is a true good wine, real Liebfrauenmilch, which I only give to choice customers.'
'Welcome it is!' sang Guy to her arch looks; 'but I must pay for it.'
'Not a pfennig!' said the landlady.
'Not one!' she repeated, with a stamp of the foot.
'In other coin, then,' quoth Guy; and folding her waist, which did not this time back away, the favoured Goshawk registered rosy payment on a very fresh red mouth, receiving in return such lively discount, that he felt himself bound in conscience to make up the full sum a second time.
'What a man!' sighed the landlady, as she watched the Goshawk lead off along the banks; 'courtly as a knight, open as a squire, and gentle as a page!'
A league behind Andernach, and more in the wintry circle of the sun than Laach, its convenient monastic neighbour, stood the castle of Werner, the Robber Baron. Far into the South, hazy with afternoon light, a yellow succession of sandhills stretched away, spouting fire against the blue sky of an elder world, but now dead and barren of herbage. Around is a dusty plain, where the green blades of spring no sooner peep than they become grimed with sand and take an aged look, in accordance with the ungenerous harvests they promise. The aridity of the prospect is relieved on one side by the lofty woods of Laach, through which the sun setting burns golden-red, and on the other by the silver sparkle of a narrow winding stream, bordered with poplars, and seen but a glistening mile of its length by all the thirsty hills. The Eck, or Corner, itself, is thick-set with wood, but of a stunted growth, and lying like a dark patch on the landscape. It served, however, entirely to conceal the castle, and mask every movement of the wary and terrible master. A trained eye advancing on the copse would hardly mark the glimmer of the turrets over the topmost leaves, but to every loophole of the walls lies bare the circuit of the land. Werner could rule with a glance the Rhine's course down from the broad rock over Coblentz to the white tower of Andernach. He claimed that march as his right; but the Mosel was no hard ride's distance, and he gratified his thirst for rapine chiefly on that river, delighting in it, consequently, as much as his robber nature boiled over the bound of his feudal privileges.
Often had the Baron held his own against sieges and restrictions, bans and impositions of all kinds. He boasted that there was never a knight within twenty miles of him that he had not beaten, nor monk of the same limit not in his pay. This braggadocio received some warrant from his yearly increase of licence; and his craft and his castle combined, made him a notable pest of the region, a scandal to the abbey whose countenance he had, and a frightful infliction on the poorer farmers and peasantry.
The sun was beginning to slope over Laach, and threw the shadows of the abbey towers half-way across the blue lake-waters, as two men in the garb of husbandmen emerged from the wood. Their feet plunged heavily and their heads hung down, as they strode beside a wain mounted with straw, whistling an air of stupid unconcern; but a close listener might have heard that the lumbering vehicle carried a human voice giving them directions as to the road they were to take, and what sort of behaviour to observe under certain events. The land was solitary. A boor passing asked whether toll or tribute they were conveying to Werner. Tribute, they were advised to reply, which caused him to shrug and curse as he jogged on. Hearing him, the voice in the wain chuckled grimly. Their next speech was with a trooper, who overtook them, and wanted to know what they had in the wain for Werner. Tribute, they replied, and won the title of 'brave pigs' for their trouble.
'But what's the dish made of?' said the trooper, stirring the straw with his sword-point.
'Tribute,' came the answer.
'Ha! You've not been to Werner's school,' and the trooper swung a sword-stroke at the taller of the two, sending a tremendous shudder throughout his frame; but he held his head to the ground, and only seemed to betray animal consciousness in leaning his ear closer to the wain.
'Blood and storm! Will ye speak?' cried the trooper.
'Never talk much; but an ye say nothing to the Baron,'—thrusting his hand into the straw—'here's what's better than speaking.'
'Well said!—Eh? Liebfrauenmilch? Ho, ho! a rare bleed!'
Striking the neck of the flask on a wheel, the trooper applied it to his mouth, and ceased not deeply ingurgitating till his face was broad to the sky and the bottle reversed. He then dashed it down, sighed, and shook himself.
'Rare news! the Kaiser's come: he'll be in Cologne by night; but first he must see the Baron, and I'm post with the order. That's to show you how high he stands in the Kaiser's grace. Don't be thinking of upsetting Werner yet, any of you; mind, now!'
'That's Blass-Gesell,' said the voice in the wain, as the trooper trotted on: adding, ''gainst us.'
'Makes six,' responded the driver.
Within sight of the Eck, they descried another trooper coming toward them. This time the driver was first to speak.
'Tribute! Provender! Bread and wine for the high Baron Werner from his vassals over Tonnistein.'
'And I'm out of it! fasting like a winter wolf,' howled the fellow.
He was in the act of addressing himself to an inspection of the wain's contents, when a second flask lifted in air, gave a sop to his curiosity. This flask suffered the fate of the former.
'A Swabian blockhead, aren't you?'
'Ay, that country,' said the driver. 'May be, Henker Rothhals happens to be with the Baron?'
'To hell with him! I wish he had my job, and I his, of watching the yellow-bird in her new cage, till she's taken out to-night, and then a jolly bumper to the Baron all round.'
The driver wished him a fortunate journey, strongly recommending him to skirt the abbey westward, and go by the Ahr valley, as there was something stirring that way, and mumbling, 'Makes five again,' as he put the wheels in motion.
'Goshawk!' said his visible companion; 'what do you say now?'
'I say, bless that widow!'
'Oh! bring me face to face with this accursed Werner quickly, my God!' gasped the youth.
'Tusk! 'tis not Werner we want—there's the Thier speaking. No, no, Schwartz Thier! I trust you, no doubt; but the badger smells at a hole, before he goes inside it. We're strangers, and are allowed to miss our way.'
Leaving the wain in Farina's charge, he pushed through a dense growth of shrub and underwood, and came crouching on a precipitous edge of shrouded crag, which commanded a view of the stronghold, extending round it, as if scooped clean by some natural action, about a stone'sthrow distant, and nearly level with the look-out tower. Sheer from a deep circular basin clothed with wood, and bottomed with grass and bubbling water, rose a naked moss-stained rock, on whose peak the castle firmly perched, like a spying hawk. The only means of access was by a narrow natural bridge of rock flung from this insulated pinnacle across to the mainland. One man, well disposed, might have held it against forty.
'Our way's the best,' thought Guy, as he meditated every mode of gaining admission. 'A hundred men an hour might be lost cutting steps up that steep slate; and once at the top we should only have to be shoved down again.'
While thus engaged, he heard a summons sounded from the castle, and scrambled back to Farina.
'The Thier leads now,' said he, 'and who leads is captain. It seems easier to get out of that than in. There's a square tower, and a round. I guess the maiden to be in the round. Now, lad, no crying out—You don't come in with us; but back you go for the horses, and have them ready and fresh in yon watered meadow under the castle. The path down winds easy.'
'Man!' cried Farina, 'what do you take me for?—go you for the horses.'
'Not for a fool,' Guy rejoined, tightening his lip; 'but now is your time to prove yourself one.'
'With you, or without you, I enter that castle!'
'Oh! if you want to be served up hot for the Baron's supper-mess, by all means.'
'Thunder!' growled Schwartz Thier, 'aren't ye moving?'
The Goshawk beckoned Farina aside.
'Act as I tell you, or I'm for Cologne.'
'Traitor!' muttered the youth.
'Swearing this, that if we fail, the Baron shall need a leech sooner than a bride.'
'That stroke must be mine!'
The Goshawk griped the muscle of Farina's arm till the youth was compelled to slacken it with pain.
'Could you drive a knife through a six-inch wood-wall? I doubt this wild boar wants a harder hit than many a best man could give. 'Sblood! obey, sirrah. How shall we keep yon fellow true, if he sees we're at points?'
'I yield,' exclaimed Farina with a fall of the chest; 'but hear I nothing of you by midnight—Oh! then think not I shall leave another minute to chance. Farewell! haste! Heaven prosper you! You will see her, and die under her eyes. That may be denied to me. What have I done to be refused that last boon?'
'Gone without breakfast and dinner,' said Guy in abhorrent tones.
A whistle from the wain, following a noise of the castlegates being flung open, called the Goshawk away, and he slouched his shoulders and strode to do his part, without another word. Farina gazed after him, and dropped into the covert.
'Bird of lovers! Voice of the passion of love! Sweet, deep, disaster-toning nightingale!' sings the old minnesinger; 'who that has not loved, hearing thee is touched with the wand of love's mysteries, and yearneth to he knoweth not whom, humbled by overfulness of heart; but who, listening, already loveth, heareth the language he would speak, yet faileth in; feeleth the great tongueless sea of his infinite desires stirred beyond his narrow bosom; is as one stript of wings whom the angels beckon to their silver homes: and he leaneth forward to ascend to them, and is mocked by his effort: then is he of the fallen, and of the fallen would he remain, but that tears lighten him, and through the tears stream jewelled shafts dropt down to him from the sky, precious ladders inlaid with amethyst, sapphire, blended jasper, beryl, rose-ruby, ether of heaven flushed with softened bloom of the insufferable Presences: and lo, the ladders dance, and quiver, and waylay his eyelids, and a second time he is mocked, aspiring: and after the third swoon standeth Hope before him with folded arms, and eyes dry of the delusions of tears, saying, Thou hast seen! thou hast felt! thy strength hath reached in thee so far! now shall I never die in thee!'
'For surely,' says the minstrel, 'Hope is not born of earth, or it were perishable. Rather know her the offspring of that embrace strong love straineth the heavens with. This owe we to thy music, bridal nightingale! And the difference of this celestial spirit from the smirking phantasy of whom all stand soon or late forsaken, is the difference between painted day with its poor ambitious snares, and night lifting its myriad tapers round the throne of the eternal, the prophet stars of everlasting time! And the one dieth, and the other liveth; and the one is unregretted, and the other walketh in thought-spun raiment of divine melancholy; her ears crowded with the pale surges that wrap this shifting shore; in her eyes a shape of beauty floating dimly, that she will not attain this side the water, but broodeth on evermore.
'Therefore, hold on thy cherished four long notes, which are as the very edge where exultation and anguish melt, meet, and are sharpened to one ecstasy, death-dividing bird! Fill the woods with passionate chuckle and sob, sweet chaplain of the marriage service of a soul with heaven! Pour out thy holy wine of song upon the soft-footed darkness, till, like a priest of the inmost temple, 'tis drunken with fair intelligences!'
Thus the old minstrels and minnesingers.
Strong and full sang the nightingales that night Farina held watch by the guilty castle that entombed his living beloved. The castle looked itself a denser shade among the moonthrown shadows of rock and tree. The meadow spread like a green courtyard at the castle's foot. It was of lush deep emerald grass, softly mixed with grey in the moon's light, and showing like jasper. Where the shadows fell thickest, there was yet a mist of colour. All about ran a brook, and babbled to itself. The spring crocus lifted its head in moist midgrasses of the meadow, rejoiced with freshness. The rugged heights seemed to clasp this one innocent spot as their only garden-treasure; and a bank of hazels hid it from the castle with a lover's arm.
'The moon will tell me,' mused Farina; 'the moon will signal me the hour! When the moon hangs over the round tower, I shall know 'tis time to strike.'
The song of the nightingales was a full unceasing throb.
It went like the outcry of one heart from branch to branch. The four long notes, and the short fifth which leads off to that hurried gush of music, gurgling rich with passion, came thick and constant from under the tremulous leaves.
At first Farina had been deaf to them. His heart was in the dungeon with Margarita, or with the Goshawk in his dangers, forming a thousand desperate plans, among the red-hot ploughshares of desperate action. Finally, without a sense of being wooed, it was won. The tenderness of his love then mastered him.
'God will not suffer that fair head to come to harm!' he thought, and with the thought a load fell off his breast.
He paced the meadows, and patted the three pasturing steeds. Involuntarily his sight grew on the moon. She went so slowly. She seemed not to move at all. A little wing of vapour flew toward her; it whitened, passed, and the moon was slower than before. Oh! were the heavens delaying their march to look on this iniquity? Again and again he cried, 'Patience, it is not time!' He flung himself on the grass. The next moment he climbed the heights, and was peering at the mass of gloom that fronted the sky. It reared such a mailed head of menace, that his heart was seized with a quivering, as though it had been struck. Behind lay scattered some small faint-winkling stars on sapphire fields, and a stain of yellow light was in a breach of one wall.
He descended. What was the Goshawk doing? Was he betrayed? It was surely now time? No; the moon had not yet smitten the face of the castle. He made his way through the hazel-bank among flitting nightmoths, and glanced up to measure the moon's distance. As he did so, a first touch of silver fell on the hoary flint.
'Oh, young bird of heaven in that Devil's clutch!'
Sounds like the baying of boar-hounds alarmed him. They whined into silence.
He fell back. The meadow breathed peace, and more and more the nightingales volumed their notes. As in a charmed circle of palpitating song, he succumbed to languor. The brook rolled beside him fresh as an infant, toying with the moonlight. He leaned over it, and thrice waywardly dipped his hand in the clear translucence.
Was it his own face imaged there?
Farina bent close above an eddy of the water. It whirled with a strange tumult, breaking into lines and lights a face not his own, nor the moon's; nor was it a reflection. The agitation increased. Now a wreath of bubbles crowned the pool, and a pure water-lily, but larger, ascended wavering.
He started aside; and under him a bright head, garlanded with gemmed roses, appeared. No fairer figure of woman had Farina seen. Her visage had the lustrous white of moonlight, and all her shape undulated in a dress of flashing silver-white, wonderful to see. The Lady of the Water smiled on him, and ran over with ripples and dimples of limpid beauty. Then, as he retreated on the meadow grass, she swam toward him, and taking his hand, pressed it to her. After her touch the youth no longer feared. She curved her finger, and beckoned him on. All that she did was done flowingly. The youth was a shadow in her silver track as she passed like a harmless wave over the closed crocuses; but the crocuses shivered and swelled their throats of streaked purple and argent as at delicious rare sips of a wine. Breath of violet, and ladysmock, and valley-lily, mingled and fluttered about her. Farina was as a man working the day's intent in a dream. He could see the heart in her translucent, hanging like a cold dingy ruby. By the purity of his nature he felt that such a presence must have come but to help. It might be Margarita's guardian fairy!
They passed the hazel-bank, and rounded the castlecrag, washed by the brook and, beneath the advancing moon, standing in a ring of brawling silver. The youth with his fervid eyes marked the old weather-stains and scars of long defiance coming into colour. That mystery of wickedness which the towers had worn in the dusk, was dissolved, and he endured no more the almost abashed sensation of competing littleness that made him think there was nought to do, save die, combating single-handed such massive power. The moon shone calmly superior, like the prowess of maiden knights; and now the harsh frown of the walls struck resolution to his spirit, and nerved him with hate and the contempt true courage feels when matched against fraud and villany.
On a fallen block of slate, cushioned with rich brown moss and rusted weather-stains, the Water-Lady sat, and pointed to Farina the path of the moon toward the round tower. She did not speak, and if his lips parted, put her cold finger across them. Then she began to hum a soft sweet monotony of song, vague and careless, very witching to hear. Farina caught no words, nor whether the song was of days in dust or in flower, but his mind bloomed with legends and sad splendours of story, while she sang on the slate-block under sprinkled shadows by the water.
He had listened long in trance, when the Water-Lady hushed, and stretched forth a slender forefinger to the moon. It stood like a dot over the round tower. Farina rose in haste. She did not leave him to ask her aid, but took his hand and led him up the steep ascent. Halfway to the castle, she rested. There, concealed by bramble-tufts, she disclosed the low portal of a secret passage, and pushed it open without effort. She paused at the entrance, and he could see her trembling, seeming to wax taller, till she was like a fountain glittering in the cold light. Then she dropped, as drops a dying bet, and cowered into the passage.
Darkness, thick with earth-dews, oppressed his senses. He felt the clammy walls scraping close on him. Not the dimmest lamp, or guiding sound, was near; but the lady went on as one who knew her way. Passing a low-vaulted dungeon-room, they wound up stairs hewn in the rock, and came to a door, obedient to her touch, which displayed a chamber faintly misted by a solitary bar of moonlight. Farina perceived they were above the foundation of the castle. The walls gleamed pale with knightly harness, habergeons gaping for heads, breastplates of blue steel, halbert, and hand-axe, greaves, glaives, boar-spears, and polished spur-fixed heel-pieces. He seized a falchion hanging apart, but the lady stayed his arm, and led to another flight of stone ending in a kind of corridor. Noises of laughter and high feasting beset him at this point. The Lady of the Water sidled her head, as to note a familiar voice; and then drew him to a looped aperture.
Farina beheld a scene that first dazzled, but, as it grew into shape, sank him with dismay. Below, and level with the chamber he had left, a rude banqueting-hall glowed, under the light of a dozen flambeaux, with smoking boar's flesh, deer's flesh, stone-flagons, and horn-beakers. At the head of this board sat Werner, scarlet with furious feasting, and on his right hand, Margarita, bloodless as a beautiful martyr bound to the fire. Retainers of Werner occupied the length of the hall, chorusing the Baron's speeches, and drinking their own healths when there was no call for another. Farina saw his beloved alone. She was dressed as when he parted with her last. The dear cameo lay on her bosom, but not heaving proudly as of old. Her shoulders were drooped forward, and contracted her bosom in its heaving. She would have had a humbled look, but for the marble sternness of her eyes. They were fixed as eyes that see the way of death through all earthly objects.
'Now, dogs!' cried the Baron, 'the health of the night! and swell your lungs, for I'll have no cat's cry when Werner's bride is the toast. Monk or no monk's leave, she's mine. Ay, my pretty one! it shall be made right in the morning, if I lead all the Laach rats here by the nose. Thunder! no disrespect to Werner's bride from Pope or abbot. Now, sing out!—or wait! these fellows shall drink it first.'
He stretched and threw a beaker of wine right and left behind him, and Farina's despair stiffened his limbs as he recognized the Goshawk and Schwartz Thier strapped to the floor. Their beards were already moist with previous libations similarly bestowed, and they received this in sullen stillness; but Farina thought he observed a rapid glance of encouragement dart from beneath the Goshawk's bent brows, as Margarita momentarily turned her head half-way on him.
'Lick your chaps, ye beasts, and don't say Werner stints vermin good cheer his nuptial-night. Now,' continued the Baron, growing huskier as he talked louder: 'Short and ringing, my devil's pups:—Werner and his Bride! and may she soon give you a young baron to keep you in better order than I can, as, if she does her duty, she will.'
The Baron stood up, and lifted his huge arm to lead the toast.
'Werner and his Bride!'
Not a voice followed him. There was a sudden intimation of the call being echoed; but it snapped, and ended in shuffling tones, as if the hall-door had closed on the response.
'What 's this?' roared the Baron, in that caged wild beast voice Margarita remembered she had heard in the Cathedral Square.
No one replied.
'Speak! or I'll rot you a fathom in the rock, curs!'
'Herr Baron!' said Henker Rothhals impressively; 'the matter is, that there's something unholy among us.'
The Baron's goblet flew at his head before the words were uttered.
'I'll make an unholy thing of him that says it,' and Werner lowered at them one by one.
'Then I say it, Herr Baron!' pursued Henker Rothhals, wiping his frontispiece: 'The Devil has turned against you at last. Look up there—Ah, it's gone now; but where's the man sitting this side saw it not?'
The Baron made one spring, and stood on the board.
'Now! will any rascal here please to say so?'
Something in the cruel hang of his threatening hatchet jaw silenced many in the act of confirming the assertion.
'Stand out, Henker Rotthals!'
Rotthals slid a hunting-knife up his wrist, and stepped back from the board.
'Beast!' roared the Baron, 'I said I wouldn't shed blood to-night. I spared a traitor, and an enemy——'
'Look again!' said Rothhals; 'will any fellow say he saw nothing there.'
While all heads, including Werner's, were directed to the aperture which surveyed them, Rothhals tossed his knife to the Goshawk unperceived.
This time answers came to his challenge, but not in confirmation. The Baron spoke with a gasping gentleness.
'So you trifle with me? I'm dangerous for that game. Mind you of Blass-Gesell? I made a better beast of him by sending him three-quarters of the road to hell for trial.' Bellowing, 'Take that!' he discharged a broad blade, hitherto concealed in his right hand, straight at Rothhals. It fixed in his cheek and jaw, wringing an awful breath of pain from him as he fell against the wall.
'There's a lesson for you not to cross me, children!' said Werner, striding his stumpy legs up and down the crashing board, and puffing his monstrous girth of chest and midriff. 'Let him stop there awhile, to show what comes of thwarting Werner!—Fire-devils! before the baroness, too!—Something unholy is there? Something unholy in his jaw, I think!—Leave it sticking! He's against meat last, is he? I'll teach you who he's for!—Who speaks?'
All hung silent. These men were animals dominated by a mightier brute.
He clasped his throat, and shook the board with a jump, as he squeaked, rather than called, a second time 'Who spoke?'
He had not again to ask. In this pause, as the Baron glared for his victim, a song, so softly sung that it sounded remote, but of which every syllable was clearly rounded, swelled into his ears, and froze him in his angry posture.
'The blood of the barons shall turn to ice, And their castle fall to wreck, When a true lover dips in the water thrice, That runs round Werner's Eck.
'Round Werner's Eck the water runs; The hazels shiver and shake: The walls that have blotted such happy suns, Are seized with the ruin-quake.
'And quake with the ruin, and quake with rue, Thou last of Werner's race! The hearts of the barons were cold that knew The Water-Dame's embrace.
'For a sin was done, and a shame was wrought, That water went to hide: And those who thought to make it nought, They did but spread it wide.
'Hold ready, hold ready to pay the price, And keep thy bridal cheer: A hand has dipped in the water thrice, And the Water-Dame is here.'
The Goshawk was on his feet. 'Now, lass,' said he to Margarita, 'now is the time!' He took her hand, and led her to the door. Schwartz Thier closed up behind her. Not a man in the hall interposed. Werner's head moved round after them, like a dog on the watch; but he was dumb. The door opened, and Farina entered. He bore a sheaf of weapons under his arm. The familiar sight relieved Werner's senses from the charm. He shouted to bar the prisoners' passage. His men were ranged like statues in the hall. There was a start among them, as if that terrible noise communicated an instinct of obedience, but no more. They glanced at each other, and remained quiet.
The Goshawk had his eye on Werner. 'Stand back, lass!' he said to Margarita. She took a sword from Farina, and answered, with white lips and flashing eyes, 'I can fight, Goshawk!'
'And shall, if need be; but leave it to me now, returned Guy.
His eye never left the Baron. Suddenly a shriek of steel rang. All fell aside, and the combatants stood opposed on clear ground. Farina, took Margarita's left hand, and placed her against the wall between the Thier and himself. Werner's men were well content to let their master fight it out. The words spoken by Henker Rothhals, that the Devil had forsaken him, seemed in their minds confirmed by the weird song which every one present could swear he heard with his ears. 'Let him take his chance, and try his own luck,' they said, and shrugged. The battle was between Guy, as Margarita's champion, and Werner.
In Schwartz Thier's judgement, the two were well matched, and he estimated their diverse qualities from sharp experience. 'For short work the Baron, and my new mate for tough standing to 't!' Farina's summary in favour of the Goshawk was, 'A stouter heart, harder sinews, and a good cause. The combat was generally regarded with a professional eye, and few prayers. Margarita solely there asked aid from above, and knelt to the Virgin; but her, too, the clash of arms and dire earnest of mortal fight aroused to eager eyes. She had not dallied with heroes in her dreams. She was as ready to second Siegfried on the crimson field as tend him in the silken chamber.
It was well that a woman's heart was there to mark the grace and glory of manhood in upright foot-to-foot encounter. For the others, it was a mere calculation of lucky hits. Even Farina, in his anxiety for her, saw but the brightening and darkening of the prospect of escape in every attitude and hard-ringing blow. Margarita was possessed with a painful exaltation. In her eyes the bestial Baron now took a nobler form and countenance; but the Goshawk assumed the sovereign aspect of old heroes, who, whether persecuted or favoured of heaven, still maintained their stand, remembering of what stuff they were, and who made them.
'Never,' say the old writers, with a fervour honourable to their knowledge of the elements that compose our being, 'never may this bright privilege of fair fight depart from us, nor advantage of it fail to be taken! Man against man, or beast, singly keeping his ground, is as fine rapture to the breast as Beauty in her softest hour affordeth. For if woman taketh loveliness to her when she languisheth, so surely doth man in these fierce moods, when steel and iron sparkle opposed, and their breath is fire, and their lips white with the lock of resolution; all their faculties knotted to a point, and their energies alive as the daylight to prove themselves superior, according to the laws and under the blessing of chivalry.'
'For all,' they go on to improve the comparison, 'may admire and delight in fair blossoming dales under the blue dome of peace; but 'tis the rare lofty heart alone comprehendeth, and is heightened by, terrific splendours of tempest, when cloud meets cloud in skies black as the sepulchre, and Glory sits like a flame on the helm of Ruin'
For a while the combatants aired their dexterity, contenting themselves with cunning cuts and flicks of the sword-edge, in which Werner first drew blood by a keen sweep along the forehead of the Goshawk. Guy had allowed him to keep his position on the board, and still fought at his face and neck. He now jerked back his body from the hip, and swung a round stroke at Werner's knee, sending him in retreat with a snort of pain. Before the Baron could make good his ground, Guy was level with him on the board.
Werner turned an upbraiding howl at his men. They were not disposed to second him yet. They one and all approved his personal battle with Fate, and never more admired him and felt his power; but the affair was exciting, and they were not the pillars to prop a falling house.
Werner clenched his two hands to his ponderous glaive, and fell upon Guy with heavier fury. He was becoming not unworth the little womanly appreciation Margarita was brought to bestow on him. The voice of the Water-Lady whispered at her heart that the Baron warred on his destiny, and that ennobles all living souls.
Bare-headed the combatants engaged, and the headpiece was the chief point of attack. No swerving from blows was possible for either: ward, or take; a false step would have ensured defeat. This also induced caution. Many a double stamp of the foot was heard, as each had to retire in turn.
'Not at his head so much, he'll bear battering there all night long,' said Henker Rothhals in a breathing interval. Knocks had been pretty equally exchanged, but the Baron's head certainly looked the least vulnerable, whereas Guy exhibited several dints that streamed freely. Yet he looked, eye and bearing, as fresh as when they began, and the calm, regular heave of his chest contrasted with Werner's quick gasps. His smile, too, renewed each time the Baron paused for breath, gave Margarita heart. It was not a taunting smile, but one of entire confidence, and told all the more on his adversary. As Werner led off again, and the choice was always left him, every expression of the Goshawk's face passed to full light in his broad eyes.
The Baron's play was a reckless fury. There was nothing to study in it. Guy became the chief object of speculation. He was evidently trying to wind his man.
He struck wildly, some thought. Others judged that he was a random hitter, and had no mortal point in aim. Schwartz Thier's opinion was frequently vented. 'Too round a stroke—down on him! Chop-not slice!'
Guy persevered in his own fashion. According to Schwartz Thier, he brought down by his wilfulness the blow that took him on the left shoulder, and nigh broke him. It was a weighty blow, followed by a thump of sound. The sword-edge swerved on his shoulder-blade, or he must have been disabled. But Werner's crow was short, and he had no time to push success. One of the Goshawk's swooping under-hits half severed his right wrist, and the blood spirted across the board. He gasped and seemed to succumb, but held to it still, though with slackened force. Guy now attacked. Holding to his round strokes, he accustomed Werner to guard the body, and stood to it so briskly right and left, that Werner grew bewildered, lost his caution, and gave ground. Suddenly the Goshawk's glaive flashed in air, and chopped sheer down on Werner's head. So shrewd a blow it was against a half-formed defence, that the Baron dropped without a word right on the edge of the board, and there hung, feebly grasping with his fingers.
'Who bars the way now?' sang out Guy.
No one accepted the challenge. Success clothed him with terrors, and gave him giant size.
'Then fare you well, my merry men all,' said Guy. 'Bear me no ill-will for this. A little doctoring will right the bold Baron.'
He strode jauntily to the verge of the board, and held his finger for Margarita to follow. She stepped forward. The men put their beards together, muttering. She could not advance. Farina doubled his elbow, and presented sword-point. Three of the ruffians now disputed the way with bare steel. Margarita looked at the Goshawk. He was smiling calmly curious as he leaned over his sword, and gave her an encouraging nod. She made another step in defiance. One fellow stretched his hand to arrest her. All her maidenly pride stood up at once. 'What a glorious girl!' murmured the Goshawk, as he saw her face suddenly flash, and she retreated a pace and swung a sharp cut across the knuckles of her assailant, daring him, or one of them, with hard, bright eyes, beautifully vindictive, to lay hand on a pure maiden.
'You have it, Barenleib!' cried the others, and then to Margarita: 'Look, young mistress! we are poor fellows, and ask a trifle of ransom, and then part friends.'
'Not an ace!' the Goshawk pronounced from his post.
'Two to one, remember.'
'The odds are ours,' replied the Goshawk confidently.
They ranged themselves in front of the hall-door. Instead of accepting this challenge, Guy stepped to Werner, and laid his moaning foe length-wise in an easier posture. He then lifted Margarita on the board, and summoned them with cry of 'Free passage!' They answered by a sullen shrug and taunt.
'Schwartz Thier! Rothhals! Farina! buckle up, and make ready then,' sang Guy.
He measured the length, of his sword, and raised it. The Goshawk had not underrated his enemies. He was tempted to despise them when he marked their gradually lengthening chaps and eyeballs.
Not one of them moved. All gazed at him as if their marrows were freezing with horror.
'What's this?' cried Guy.
They knew as little as he, but a force was behind them irresistible against their efforts. The groaning oak slipped open, pushing them forward, and an apparition glided past, soft as the pallid silver of the moon. She slid to the Baron, and put her arms about him, and sang to him. Had the Water-Lady laid an iron hand on all those ruffians, she could not have held them faster bound than did the fear of her presence. The Goshawk drew his fair charge through them, followed by Farina, the Thier, and Rothhals. A last glimpse of the hall showed them still as old cathedral sculpture staring at white light on a fluted pillar of the wall.
THE PASSAGE OF THE RHINE
Low among the swarthy sandhills behind the Abbey of Laach dropped the round red moon. Soft lengths of misty yellow stole through the glens of Rhineland. The nightingales still sang. Closer and closer the moon came into the hushed valleys.
There is a dell behind Hammerstein Castle, a ring of basking sward, girdled by a silver slate-brook, and guarded by four high-peaked hills that slope down four long wooded corners to the grassy base. Here, it is said, the elves and earthmen play, dancing in circles with laughing feet that fatten the mushroom. They would have been fulfilling the tradition now, but that the place was occupied by a sturdy group of mortals, armed with staves. The intruders were sleepy, and lay about on the inclines. Now and then two got up, and there rang hard echoes of oak. Again all were calm as cud-chewing cattle, and the white water ran pleased with quiet.
It may be that the elves brewed mischief among them; for the oaken blows were becoming more frequent. One complained of a kick: another demanded satisfaction for a pinch. 'Go to,' drawled the accused drowsily in both cases, 'too much beer last night!' Within three minutes, the company counted a pair of broken heads. The East was winning on the West in heaven, and the dusk was thinning. They began to mark, each, whom he had cudgelled. A noise of something swiftly in motion made them alert. A roebuck rushed down one of the hills, and scampered across the sward. The fine beast went stretching so rapidly away as to be hardly distinct.
'Sathanas once more!' they murmured, and drew together.
The name passed through them like a watchword.
'Not he this time,' cried the two new-comers, emerging from the foliage. 'He's safe under Cologne—the worse for all good men who live there! But come! follow to the Rhine! there 's work for us on the yonder side, and sharp work.'
'Why,' answered several, 'we 've our challenge with the lads of Leutesdorf and Wied to-day.'
'D' ye see this?' said the foremost of the others, pointing to a carved ivory white rose in his cap.
'Brothers!' he swelled his voice, 'follow with a will, for the White Rose is in danger!'
Immediately they ranked, and followed zealously through the buds of young bushes, and over heaps of damp dead leaves, a half-hour's scramble, when they defiled under Hammerstein, and stood before the Rhine. Their leader led up the river, and after a hasty walk, stopped, loosened his hood, and stripped.
'Now,' said he, strapping the bundle to his back, 'let me know the hound that refuses to follow his leader when the White Rose is in danger.'
'Long live Dietrich!' they shouted. He dropped from the bank, and waded in. He was soon supported by the remainder of the striplings, and all struck out boldly into mid-stream.
Never heard history of a nobler Passage of the Rhine than this made between Andernach and Hammerstein by members of the White Rose Club, bundle on back, to relieve the White Rose of Germany from thrall and shame!
They were taken far down by the rapid current, and arrived panting to land. The dressing done, they marched up the pass of Tonnistein, and took a deep draught at the spring of pleasant waters there open to wayfarers. Arrived at the skirts of Laach, they beheld two farmer peasants lashed back to back against a hazel. They released them, but could gain no word of information, as the fellows, after a yawn and a wink, started off, all heels, to make sure of liberty. On the shores of the lake the brotherhood descried a body of youths, whom they hailed, and were welcomed to companionship.
'Where's Berthold?' asked Dietrich.
He was not present.
'The more glory for us, then,' Dietrich said.
It was here seriously put to the captain, whether they should not halt at the abbey, and reflect, seeing that great work was in prospect.
'Truly,' quoth Dietrich, 'dying on an empty stomach is heathenish, and cold blood makes a green wound gape. Kaiser Conrad should be hospitable, and the monks honour numbers. Here be we, thirty and nine; let us go!'
The West was dark blue with fallen light. The lakewaters were growing grey with twilight. The abbey stood muffled in shadows. Already the youths had commenced battering at the convent doors, when they were summoned by the voice of the Goshawk on horseback. To their confusion they beheld the White Rose herself on his right hand. Chapfallen Dietrich bowed to his sweet mistress.
'We were coming to the rescue,' he stammered.
A laugh broke from the Goshawk. 'You thought the lady was locked up in the ghostly larder; eh!'
Dietrich seized his sword, and tightened his belt.
'The Club allows no jesting with the White Rose, Sir Stranger.'
Margarita made peace. 'I thank you all, good friends. But quarrel not, I pray you, with them that save me at the risk of their lives.'
'Our service is equal,' said the Goshawk, flourishing, 'Only we happen to be beforehand with the Club, for which Farina and myself heartily beg pardon of the entire brotherhood.'
'Farina!' exclaimed Dietrich. 'Then we make a prisoner instead of uncaging a captive.'
'What 's this?' said Guy.
'So much,' responded Dietrich. 'Yonder's a runaway from two masters: the law of Cologne, and the conqueror of Satan; and all good citizens are empowered to bring him back, dead or alive.'
'Dietrich! Dietrich! dare you talk thus of the man who saved me?' cried Margarita.
Dietrich sullenly persisted.
'Then, look!' said the White Rose, reddening under the pale dawn; 'he shall not, he shall not go with you.'
One of the Club was here on the point of speaking to the White Rose,—a breach of the captain's privilege. Dietrich felled him unresisting to earth, and resumed:
'It must be done, Beauty of Cologne! the monk, Father Gregory, is now enduring shame and scorn for lack of this truant witness.'
'Enough! I go!' said Farina.
'You leave me?' Margarita looked tender reproach. Weariness and fierce excitement had given a liquid flame to her eyes and an endearing darkness round their circles that matched strangely with her plump youth. Her features had a soft white flush. She was less radiant, but never looked so bewitching. An aspect of sweet human languor caught at the heart of love, and raised tumults.
'It is a duty,' said Farina.
'Then go,' she beckoned, and held her hand for him to kiss. He raised it to his lips. This was seen of all the Club.
As they were departing with Farina, and Guy prepared to demand admittance into the convent, Dietrich chanced to ask how fared Dame Lisbeth. Schwartz Thier was by, and answered, with a laugh, that he had quite forgotten the little lady.
'We took her in mistake for you, mistress! She was a one to scream! The moment she was kissed—mum as a cloister. We kissed her, all of us, for the fun of it. No harm—no harm! We should have dropped her when we found we had the old bird 'stead of the young one, but reckoned ransom, ye see. She's at the Eck, rattling, I's wager, like last year's nut in the shell!'
'Lisbeth! Lisbeth! poor Lisbeth; we will return to her. Instantly,' cried Margarita.
'Not you,' said Guy.
'No!' said Guy.
'Gallant Goshawk! best of birds, let me go!'
'Without me or Farina, never! I see I shall have no chance with my lord now. Come, then, come, fair Irresistible! come, lads. Farina can journey back alone. You shall have the renown of rescuing Dame Lisbeth.'
'Farina! forget not to comfort my father,' said Margarita.
Between Margarita's society and Farina's, there was little dispute in the captain's mind which choice to make. Farina was allowed to travel single to Cologne; and Dietrich, petted by Margarita, and gently jeered by Guy, headed the Club from Laach waters to the castle of the Robber Baron.
THE BACK-BLOWS OF SATHANAS
Monk Gregory was pacing the high road between the Imperial camp and suffering Cologne. The sun had risen through interminable distances of cloud that held him remote in a succession of receding mounds and thinner veils, realm beyond realm, till he showed fireless, like a phantom king in a phantom land. The lark was in the breast of morning. The field-mouse ran along the furrows. Dews hung red and grey on the weedy banks and wayside trees. At times the nostril of the good father was lifted, and he beat his breast, relapsing into sorrowful contemplation. Passed-any citizen of Cologne, the ghostly head sunk into its cowl. 'There's a black raven!' said many. Monk Gregory heard them, and murmured, 'Thou hast me, Evil one! thou hast me!'
It was noon when Farina came clattering down from the camp.
'Father,' said he, 'I have sought thee.'
'My son!' exclaimed Monk Gregory with silencing hand, 'thou didst not well to leave me contending against the tongues of doubt. Answer me not. The maiden! and what weighed she in such a scale?—No more! I am punished. Well speaks the ancient proverb:
"Beware the back-blows of Sathanas!"
I, that thought to have vanquished him! Vanity has wrecked me, in this world and the next. I am the victim of self-incense. I hear the demons shouting their chorus—"Here comes Monk Gregory, who called himself Conqueror of Darkness!" In the camp I am discredited and a scoff; in the city I am spat upon, abhorred. Satan, my son, fights not with his fore-claws. 'Tis with his tail he fights, O Farina!—Listen, my son! he entered to his kingdom below through Cologne, even under the stones of the Cathedral Square, and the stench of him abominably remaineth, challenging the nostrils of holy and unholy alike. The Kaiser cannot approach for him; the citizens are outraged. Oh! had I held my peace in humbleness, I had truly conquered him. But he gave me easy victory, to inflate me. I shall not last. Now this only is left, my son; that thou bear living testimony to the truth of my statement, as I bear it to the folly!'