Part 2 out of 6
and the shaping of their characteristic heads under her dexterous
fingers was watched by Ermentrude like something magical. Indeed,
the young lady entertained the belief that there was no limit to her
attendant's knowledge or capacity.
Truly there was a greater brightness and clearness beginning to dawn
even upon poor little Ermentrude's own dull mind. She took more
interest in everything: songs were not solely lullabies, but she
cared to talk them over; tales to which she would once have been
incapable of paying attention were eagerly sought after; and, above
all, the spiritual vacancy that her mind had hitherto presented was
beginning to be filled up. Christina had brought her own books--a
library of extraordinary extent for a maiden of the fifteenth
century, but which she owed to her uncle's connexion with the arts of
wood-cutting and printing. A Vulgate from Dr. Faustus's own press, a
mass book and breviary, Thomas a Kempis's Imitation and the Nuremburg
Chronicle all in Latin, and the poetry of the gentle Minnesinger and
bird lover, Walther von Vogelweide, in the vernacular: these were
her stock, which Hausfrau Johanna had viewed as a foolish
encumbrance, and Hugh Sorel would never have transported to the
castle unless they had been so well concealed in Christina's kirtles
that he had taken them for parts of her wardrobe.
Most precious were they now, when, out of the reach of all teaching
save her own, she had to infuse into the sinking girl's mind the
great mysteries of life and death, that so she might not leave the
world without more hope or faith than her heathen forefathers. For
that Ermentrude would live Christina had never hoped, since that
fleeting improvement had been cut short by the fever of the wine-cup;
the look, voice, and tone had become so completely the same as those
of Regina Grundt's little sister who had pined and died. She knew
she could not cure, but she could, she felt she could, comfort,
cheer, and soften, and she no longer repined at her enforced sojourn
at Adlerstein. She heartily loved her charge, and could not bear to
think how desolate Ermentrude would be without her. And now the poor
girl had become responsive to her care. She was infinitely softened
in manner, and treated her parents with forms of respect new to them;
she had learnt even to thank old Ursel, dropped her imperious tone,
and struggled with her petulance; and, towards her brother, the
domineering, uncouth adherence was becoming real, tender affection;
while the dependent, reverent love she bestowed upon Christina was
touching and endearing in the extreme.
Freiherr von Adlerstein saw the change, and congratulated himself on
the effect of having a town-bred bower woman; nay, spoke of the
advantage it would be to his daughter, if he could persuade himself
to make the submission to the Kaiser which the late improvements
decided on at the Diet were rendering more and more inevitable. NOW
how happy would be the winner of his gentle Ermentrude!
Freiherrinn von Adlerstein thought the alteration the mere change
from child to woman, and felt insulted by the supposition that any
one might not have been proud to match with a daughter of Adlerstein,
be she what she might. As to submission to the Kaiser, that was mere
folly and weakness--kaisers, kings, dukes, and counts had broken
their teeth against the rock of Adlerstein before now! What had come
over her husband and her son to make them cravens?
For Freiherr Eberhard was more strongly convinced than was his father
of the untenableness of their present position. Hugh Sorel's reports
of what he heard at Ulm had shown that the league that had been
discussed at Regensburg was far more formidable than anything that
had ever previously threatened Schloss Adlerstein, and that if the
Graf von Schlangenwald joined in the coalition, there would be
private malice to direct its efforts against the Adlerstein family.
Feud-letters or challenges had been made unlawful for ten years, and
was not Adlerstein at feud with the world?
Nor did Eberhard look on the submission with the sullen rage and
grief that his father felt in bringing himself to such a declension
from the pride of his ancestors. What the young Baron heard up
stairs was awakening in him a sense of the poorness and narrowness of
his present life. Ermentrude never spared him what interested her;
and, partly from her lips, partly through her appeals to her
attendant, he had learnt that life had better things to offer than
independence on these bare rocks, and that homage might open the way
to higher and worthier exploits than preying upon overturned waggons.
Dietrich of Berne and his two ancestors, whose lengthy legend
Christina could sing in a low, soft recitative, were revelations to
him of what she meant by a true knight--the lion in war, the lamb in
peace; the quaint oft-repeated portraits, and still quainter cities,
of the Chronicle, with her explanations and translations, opened his
mind to aspirations for intercourse with his fellows, for an
honourable name, and for esteem in its degree such as was paid to Sir
Parzival, to Karl the Great, or to Rodolf of Hapsburgh, once a
mountain lord like himself. Nay, as Ermentrude said, stroking his
cheek, and smoothing the flaxen beard, that somehow had become much
less rough and tangled than it used to be, "Some day wilt thou be
another Good Freiherr Eberhard, whom all the country-side loved, and
who gave bread at the castle-gate to all that hungered."
Her brother believed nothing of her slow declension in strength,
ascribing all the change he saw to the bitter cold, and seeing but
little even of that alteration, though he spent many hours in her
room, holding her in his arms, amusing her, or talking to her and to
Christina. All Christina's fear of him was gone. As long as there
was no liquor in the house, and he was his true self, she felt him to
be a kind friend, bound to her by strong sympathy in the love and
care for his sister. She could talk almost as freely before him as
when alone with her young lady; and as Ermentrude's religious
feelings grew stronger, and were freely expressed to him, surely his
attention was not merely kindness and patience with the sufferer.
The girl's soul ripened rapidly under the new influences during her
bodily decay; and, as the days lengthened, and the stern hold of
winter relaxed upon the mountains, Christina looked with strange
admiration upon the expression that had dawned upon the features once
so vacant and dull, and listened with the more depth of reverence to
the sweet words of faith, hope and love, because she felt that a
higher, deeper teaching than she could give must have come to mould
the spirit for the new world to which it was hastening.
"Like an army defeated,
The snow had retreated,"
out of the valley, whose rich green shone smiling round the pool into
which the Debateable Ford spread. The waterfall had burst its icy
bonds, and dashed down with redoubled voice, roaring rather than
babbling. Blue and pink hepaticas--or, as Christina called them,
liver-krauts--had pushed up their starry heads, and had even been
gathered by Sir Eberhard, and laid on his sister's pillow. The dark
peaks of rock came out all glistening with moisture, and the snow
only retained possession of the deep hollows and crevices, into which
however its retreat was far more graceful than when, in the city, it
was trodden by horse and man, and soiled with smoke.
Christina dreaded indeed that the roads should be open, but she could
not love the snow; it spoke to her of dreariness, savagery, and
captivity, and she watched the dwindling stripes with satisfaction,
and hailed the fall of the petty avalanches from one Eagle's Step to
another as her forefathers might have rejoiced in the defeat of the
But Ermentrude had a love for the white sheet that lay covering a
gorge running up from the ravine. She watched its diminution day by
day with a fancy that she was melting away with it; and indeed it was
on the very day that a succession of drifting showers had left the
sheet alone, and separated it from the masses of white above, that it
first fully dawned upon the rest of the family that, for the little
daughter of the house, spring was only bringing languor and sinking
instead of recovery.
Then it was that Sir Eberhard first really listened to her entreaty
that she might not die without a priest, and comforted her by passing
his word to her that, if--he would not say when--the time drew near,
he would bring her one of the priests who had only come from St.
Ruprecht's cloister on great days, by a sort of sufferance, to say
mass at the Blessed Friedmund's hermitage chapel.
The time was slow in coming. Easter had passed with Ermentrude far
too ill for Christina to make the effort she had intended of going to
the church, even if she could get no escort but old Ursel--the sheet
of snow had dwindled to a mere wreath--the ford looked blue in the
sunshine--the cascade tinkled merrily down its rock--mountain
primroses peeped out, when, as Father Norbert came forth from saying
his ill-attended Pentecostal mass, and was parting with the infirm
peasant hermit, a tall figure strode up the pass, and, as the
villagers fell back to make way, stood before the startled priest,
and said, in a voice choked with grief, "Come with me."
"Who needs me?" began the astonished monk.
"Follow him not, father!" whispered the hermit. "It is the young
Freiherr.--Oh have mercy on him, gracious sir; he has done your noble
lordships no wrong."
"I mean him no ill," replied Eberhard, clearing his voice with
difficulty; "I would but have him do his office. Art thou afraid,
"Who needs my office?" demanded Father Norbert. "Show me fit cause,
and what should I dread? Wherefore dost thou seek me?"
"For my sister," replied Eberhard, his voice thickening again. "My
little sister lies at the point of death, and I have sworn to her
that a priest she shall have. Wilt thou come, or shall I drag thee
down the pass?"
"I come, I come with all my heart, sir knight," was the ready
response. "A few moments and I am at your bidding."
He stepped back into the hermit's cave, whence a stair led up to the
chapel. The anchorite followed him, whispering--"Good father,
escape! There will be full time ere he misses you. The north door
leads to the Gemsbock's Pass; it is open now."
"Why should I baulk him? Why should I deny my office to the dying?"
"Alas! holy father, thou art new to this country, and know'st not
these men of blood! It is a snare to make the convent ransom thee,
if not worse. The Freiherrinn is a fiend for malice, and the
Freiherr is excommunicate."
"I know it, my son," said Norbert; "but wherefore should their child
"Art coming, priest?" shouted Eberhard, from his stand at the mouth
of the cave.
And, as Norbert at once appeared with the pyx and other appliances
that he had gone to fetch, the Freiherr held out his hand with an
offer to "carry his gear for him;" and, when the monk refused, with
an inward shudder at entrusting a sacred charge to such unhallowed
hands, replied, "You will have work enow for both hands ere the
castle is reached."
But Father Norbert was by birth a sturdy Switzer, and thought little
of these Swabian Alps; and he climbed after his guide through the
most rugged passages of Eberhard's shortest and most perpendicular
cut without a moment's hesitation, and with agility worthy of a
chamois. The young baron turned for a moment, when the level of the
castle had been gained, perhaps to see whether he were following, but
at the same time came to a sudden, speechless pause.
On the white masses of vapour that floated on the opposite side of
the mountain was traced a gigantic shadowy outline of a hermit, with
head bent eagerly forward, and arm outstretched.
The monk crossed himself. Eberhard stood still for a moment, and
then said, hoarsely,--"The Blessed Friedmund! He is come for her;"
then strode on towards the postern gate, followed by Brother Norbert,
a good deal reassured both as to the genuineness of the young Baron's
message and the probable condition of the object of his journey,
since the patron saint of her race was evidently on the watch to
speed her departing spirit.
Sir Eberhard led the way up the turret stairs to the open door, and
the monk entered the death-chamber. The elder Baron sat near the
fire in the large wooden chair, half turned towards his daughter, as
one who must needs be present, but with his face buried in his hands,
unable to endure the spectacle. Nearer was the tall form of his
wife, standing near the foot of the bed, her stern, harsh features
somewhat softened by the feelings of the moment. Ursel waited at
hand, with tears running down her furrowed cheeks.
For such as these Father Norbert was prepared; but he little expected
to meet so pure and sweet a gaze of reverential welcome as beamed on
him from the soft, dark eyes of the little white-checked maiden who
sat on the bed, holding the sufferer in her arms. Still less had he
anticipated the serene blessedness that sat on the wasted features of
the dying girl, and all the anguish of labouring breath.
She smiled a smile of joy, held up her hand, and thanked her brother.
Her father scarcely lifted his head, her mother made a rigid curtsey,
and with a grim look of sorrow coming over her features, laid her
hand over the old Baron's shoulder. "Come away, Herr Vater," she
said; "he is going to hear her confession, and make her too holy for
the like of us to touch."
The old man rose up, and stepped towards his child. Ermentrude held
out her arms to him, and murmured -
"Father, father, pardon me; I would have been a better daughter if I
had only known--" He gathered her in his arms; he was quite past
speaking; and they only heard his heavy breathing, and one more
whisper from Ermentrude--"And oh! father, one day wilt thou seek to
be absolved?" Whether he answered or not they knew not; he only gave
her repeated kisses, and laid her down on her pillows, then rushed to
the door, and the passionate sobs of the strong man's uncontrolled
nature might be heard upon the stair. The parting with the others
was not necessarily so complete, as they were not, like him, under
censure of the Church; but Kunigunde leant down to kiss her; and, in
return to her repetition of her entreaty for pardon, replied, "Thou
hast it, child, if it will ease thy mind; but it is all along of
these new fancies that ever an Adlerstein thought of pardon. There,
there, I blame thee not, poor maid; it thou wert to die, it may be
even best as it is. Now must I to thy father; he is troubled enough
about this gear."
But when Eberhard moved towards his sister, she turned to the priest,
and said, imploringly, "Not far, not far! Oh! let them," pointing to
Eberhard and Christina, "let them not be quite out of sight!"
"Out of hearing is all that is needed, daughter," replied the priest;
and Ermentrude looked content as Christina moved towards the empty
north turret, where, with the door open, she was in full view, and
Eberhard followed her thither. It was indeed fully out of earshot of
the child's faint, gasping confession. Gravely and sadly both stood
there. Christina looked up the hillside for the snow-wreath. The
May sunshine had dissolved it; the green pass lay sparkling without a
vestige of its white coating. Her eyes full of tears, she pointed
the spot out to Eberhard. He understood; but, leaning towards her,
told, under his breath, of the phantom he had seen. Her eyes
expanded with awe of the supernatural. "It was the Blessed
Friedmund," said Eberhard. "Never hath he so greeted one of our race
since the pious Freiherrinn Hildegarde. Maiden, hast thou brought us
back a blessing?"
"Ah! well may she be blessed--well may the saints stoop to greet
her," murmured Christina, with strangled voice, scarcely able to
control her sobs.
Father Norbert came towards them. The simple confession had been
heard, and he sought the aid of Christina in performing the last
rites of the Church.
"Maiden," he said to her, "thou hast done a great and blessed work,
such as many a priest might envy thee."
Eberhard was not excluded during the final services by which the soul
was to be dismissed from its earthly dwelling-place. True, he
comprehended little of their import, and nothing of the words, but he
gazed meekly, with uncovered head, and a bewildered look of sadness,
while Christina made her responses and took her part with full
intelligence and deep fervour, sorrowing indeed for the companion who
had become so dear to her, but deeply thankful for the spiritual
consolation that had come at last. Ermentrude lay calm, and, as it
were, already rapt into a higher world, lighting up at the German
portions of the service, and not wholly devoid of comprehension of
the spirit even of the Latin, as indeed she had come to the border of
the region where human tongues and languages are no more.
She was all but gone when the rite of extreme unction was completed,
and they could only stand round her, Eberhard, Christina, Ursel, and
the old Baroness, who had returned again, watching the last
flutterings of the breath, the window thrown wide open that nothing
might impede the passage of the soul to the blue vault above.
The priest spoke the beautiful commendation, "Depart, O Christian
soul." There was a faint gesture in the midst for Christina to lift
her in her arms--a sign to bend down and kiss her brow--but her last
look was for her brother, her last murmur, "Come after me; be the
Good Baron Ebbo."
CHAPTER V: THE YOUNG FREIHERR
Ermentrude von Adlerstein slept with her forefathers in the vaults of
the hermitage chapel, and Christina Sorel's work was done.
Surely it was time for her to return home, though she should be more
sorry to leave the mountain castle than she could ever have believed
possible. She entreated her father to take her home, but she
received a sharp answer that she did not know what she was talking
of: the Schlangenwald Reitern were besetting all the roads; and
moreover the Ulm burghers had taken the capture of the Constance wine
in such dudgeon that for a retainer of Adlerstein to show himself in
the streets would be an absolute asking for the wheel.
But was there any hope for her? Could he not take her to some
nunnery midway, and let her write to her uncle to fetch her from
He swore at woman's pertinacity, but allowed at last that if the
plan, talked of by the Barons, of going to make their submission to
the Emperor at Linz, with a view to which all violence at the ford
had ceased, should hold good, it might be possible thus to drop her
on their way.
With this Christina must needs content herself. Poor child, not only
had Ermentrude's death deprived her of the sole object of her
residence at Schloss Adlerstein, but it had infinitely increased the
difficulties of her position. No one interfered with her possession
of the upper room and its turrets; and it was only at meal times that
she was obliged to mingle with the other inhabitants, who, for the
most part, absolutely overlooked the little shrinking pale maiden but
with one exception, and that the most perplexing of all. She had
been on terms with Freiherr Eberhard that were not so easily broken
off as if she had been an old woman of Ursel's age. All through his
sister's decline she had been his comforter, assistant, director,
living in intercourse and sympathy that ought surely to cease when
she was no longer his sister's attendant, yet which must be more than
ever missed in the full freshness of the stroke.
Even on the earliest day of bereavement, a sudden thought of Hausfrau
Johanna flashed upon Christina, and reminded her of the guard she
must keep over herself if she would return to Ulm the same modest
girl whom her aunt could acquit of all indiscretion. Her cheeks
flamed, as she sat alone, with the very thought, and the next time
she heard the well-known tread on the stair, she fled hastily into
her own turret chamber, and shut the door. Her heart beat fast. She
could hear Sir Eberhard moving about the room, and listened to his
heavy sigh as he threw himself into the large chair. Presently he
called her by name, and she felt it needful to open her door and
"What would you, my lord?"
"What would I? A little peace, and heed to her who is gone. To see
my father and mother one would think that a partridge had but flown
away. I have seen my father more sorrowful when his dog had fallen
over the abyss."
"Mayhap there is more sorrow for a brute that cannot live again,"
said Christina. "Our bird has her nest by an Altar that is lovelier
and brighter than even our Dome Kirk will ever be."
"Sit down, Christina," he said, dragging a chair nearer the hearth.
"My heart is sore, and I cannot bear the din below. Tell me where my
bird is flown."
"Ah! sir; pardon me. I must to the kitchen," said Christina,
crossing her hands over her breast, to still her trembling heart, for
she was very sorry for his grief, but moving resolutely.
"Must? And wherefore? Thou hast nought to do there; speak truth!
Why not stay with me?" and his great light eyes opened wide.
"A burgher maid may not sit down with a noble baron."
"The devil! Has my mother been plaguing thee, child?"
"No, my lord," said Christina, "she reeks not of me; but"--steadying
her voice with great difficulty--"it behoves me the more to be
"And you would not have me come here!" he said, with a wistful tone
"I have no power to forbid you; but if you do, I must betake me to
Ursel in the kitchen," said Christina, very low, trembling and half
"Among the rude wenches there!" he cried, starting up. "Nay, nay,
that shall not be! Rather will I go."
"But this is very cruel of thee, maiden," he added, lingering, "when
I give thee my knightly word that all should be as when she whom we
both loved was here," and his voice shook.
"It could not so be, my lord," returned Christina with drooping,
blushing face; "it would not be maidenly in me. Oh, my lord, you are
kind and generous, make it not hard for me to do what other maidens
less lonely have friends to do for them!"
"Kind and generous?" said Eberhard, leaning over the back of the
chair as if trying to begin a fresh score. "This from you, who told
me once I was no true knight!"
"I shall call you a true knight with all my heart," cried Christina,
the tears rushing into her eyes, "if you will respect my weakness and
He stood up again, as if to move away; then paused, and, twisting his
gold chain, said, "And how am I ever to be what the happy one bade
me, if you will not show me how?"
"My error would never show you the right," said Christina, with a
strong effort at firmness, and retreating at once through the door of
the staircase, whence she made her way to the kitchen, and with great
difficulty found an excuse for her presence there.
It had been a hard struggle with her compassion and gratitude, and,
poor little Christina felt with dismay, with something more than
these. Else why was it that, even while principle and better sense
summoned her back to Ulm, she experienced a deadly weariness of the
city-pent air, of the grave, heavy roll of the river, nay, even of
the quiet, well-regulated household? Why did such a marriage as she
had thought her natural destiny, with some worthy, kind-hearted
brother of the guild, become so hateful to her that she could only
aspire to a convent life? This same burgomaster would be an
estimable man, no doubt, and those around her were ruffians, but she
felt utterly contemptuous and impatient of him. And why was the
interchange of greetings, the few words at meals, worth all the rest
of the day besides to her? Her own heart was the traitor, and to her
own sensations the poor little thing had, in spirit at least,
transgressed all Aunt Johanna's precepts against young Barons. She
wept apart, and resolved, and prayed, cruelly ashamed of every start
of joy or pain that the sight of Eberhard cost her. From almost the
first he had sat next her at the single table that accommodated the
whole household at meals, and the custom continued, though on some
days he treated her with sullen silence, which she blamed herself for
not rejoicing in, sometimes he spoke a few friendly words; but he
observed, better than she could have dared to expect, her test of his
true knighthood, and never again forced himself into her apartment,
though now and then he came to the door with flowers, with mountain
strawberries, and once with two young doves. "Take them, Christina,"
he said, "they are very like yourself;" and he always delayed so long
that she was forced to be resolute, and shut the door on him at last.
Once, when there was to be a mass at the chapel, Hugh Sorel, between
a smile and a growl, informed his daughter that he would take her
thereto. She gladly prepared, and, bent on making herself agreeable
to her father, did not once press on him the necessity of her return
to Ulm. To her amazement and pleasure, the young Baron was at
church, and when on the way home, he walked beside her mule, she
could see no need of sending him away.
He had been in no school of the conventionalities of life, and, when
he saw that Hugh Sorel's presence had obtained him this favour, he
wistfully asked, "Christina, if I bring your father with me, will you
not let me in?"
"Entreat me not, my lord," she answered, with fluttering breath.
She felt the more that she was right in this decision, when she
encountered her father's broad grin of surprise and diversion, at
seeing the young Baron help her to dismount. It was a look of
receiving an idea both new, comical, and flattering, but by no means
the look of a father who would resent the indignity of attentions to
his daughter from a man whose rank formed an insuperable barrier to
The effect was a new, urgent, and most piteous entreaty, that he
would find means of sending her home. It brought upon her the
hearing put into words what her own feelings had long shrunk from
confessing to herself.
"Ah! Why, what now? What, is the young Baron after thee? Ha! ha!
petticoats are few enough up here, but he must have been ill off ere
he took to a little ghost like thee! I saw he was moping and
doleful, but I thought it was all for his sister."
"And so it is, father."
"Tell me that, when he watches every turn of that dark eye of thine--
the only good thing thou took'st of mine! Thou art a witch, Stina."
"Hush, oh hush, for pity's sake, father, and let me go home!"
"What, thou likest him not? Thy mind is all for the mincing
goldsmith opposite, as I ever told thee."
"My mind is--is to return to my uncle and aunt the true-hearted
maiden they parted with," said Christina, with clasped hands. "And
oh, father, as you were the son of a true and faithful mother, be a
father to me now! Jeer not your motherless child, but protect her
and help her."
Hugh Sorel was touched by this appeal, and he likewise recollected
how much it was for his own interest that his brother should be
satisfied with the care he took of his daughter. He became convinced
that the sooner she was out of the castle the better, and at length
bethought him that, among the merchants who frequented the Midsummer
Fair at the Blessed Friedmund's Wake, a safe escort might be found to
convey her back to Ulm.
If the truth were known, Hugh Sorel was not devoid of a certain
feeling akin to contempt, both for his young master's taste, and for
his forbearance in not having pushed matters further with a being so
helpless, meek, and timid as Christina, more especially as such
slackness had not been his wont in other cases where his fancy had
But Sorel did not understand that it was not physical beauty that
here had been the attraction, though to some persons, the sweet,
pensive eyes, the delicate, pure skin, the slight, tender form, might
seem to exceed in loveliness the fully developed animal comeliness
chiefly esteemed at Adlerstein. It was rather the strangeness of the
power and purity of this timid, fragile creature, that had struck the
young noble. With all their brutal manners reverence for a lofty
female nature had been in the German character ever since their
Velleda prophesied to them, and this reverence in Eberhard bowed at
the feet of the pure gentle maiden, so strong yet so weak, so wistful
and entreating even in her resolution, refined as a white flower on a
heap of refuse, wise and dexterous beyond his slow and dull
conception, and the first being in whom he had ever seen piety or
goodness; and likewise with a tender, loving spirit of consolation
such as he had both beheld and tasted by his sister's deathbed.
There was almost a fear mingled with his reverence. If he had been
more familiar with the saints, he would thus have regarded the holy
virgin martyrs, nay, even Our Lady herself; and he durst not push her
so hard as to offend her, and excite the anger or the grief that he
alike dreaded. He was wretched and forlorn without the resources he
had found in his sister's room; the new and better cravings of his
higher nature had been excited only to remain unsupplied and
disappointed; and the affectionate heart in the freshness of its
sorrow yearned for the comfort that such conversation had supplied:
but the impression that had been made on him was still such, that he
knew that to use rough means of pressing his wishes would no more
lead to his real gratification than it would to appropriate a snow-
bell by crushing it in his gauntlet.
And it was on feeble little Christina, yielding in heart, though not
in will, that it depended to preserve this reverence, and return
unscathed from this castle, more perilous now than ever.
CHAPTER VI: THE BLESSED FRIEDMUND'S WAKE
Midsummer-Day arrived, and the village of Adlerstein presented a most
unusual spectacle. The wake was the occasion of a grand fair for all
the mountain-side, and it was an understood thing that the Barons,
instead of molesting the pedlars, merchants, and others who attended
it, contented themselves with demanding a toll from every one who
passed the Kohler's hut on the one side, or the Gemsbock's Pass on
the other; and this toll, being the only coin by which they came
honestly in the course of the year, was regarded as a certainty and
highly valued. Moreover, it was the only time that any purchases
could be made, and the flotsam of the ford did not always include all
even of the few requirements of the inmates of the castle; it was the
only holiday, sacred or secular, that ever gladdened the Eagle's
So all the inmates of the castle prepared to enjoy themselves, except
the heads of the house. The Freiherr had never been at one of these
wakes since the first after he was excommunicated, when he had
stalked round to show his indifference to the sentence; and the
Freiherrinn snarled out such sentences of disdain towards the
concourse, that it might be supposed that she hated the sight of her
kind; but Ursel had all the household purchases to make, and the
kitchen underlings were to take turns to go and come, as indeed were
the men-at-arms, who were set to watch the toll-bars.
Christina had packed up a small bundle, for the chance of being
unable to return to the castle without missing her escort, though she
hoped that the fair might last two days, and that she should thus be
enabled to return and bring away the rest of her property. She was
more and more resolved on going, but her heart was less and less
inclined to departure. And bitter had been her weeping through all
the early light hours of the long morning--weeping that she tried to
think was all for Ermentrude; and all, amid prayers she could scarce
trust herself to offer, that the generous, kindly nature might yet
work free of these evil surroundings, and fulfil the sister's dying
wish, she should never see it; but, when she should hear that the
Debateable Ford was the Friendly Ford, then would she know that it
was the doing of the Good Baron Ebbo. Could she venture on telling
him so? Or were it not better that there were no farewell? And she
wept again that he should think her ungrateful. She could not
persuade herself to release the doves, but committed the charge to
Ursel to let them go in case she should not return.
So tear-stained was her face, that, ashamed that it should be seen,
she wrapped it closely in her hood and veil when she came down and
joined her father. The whole scene swam in tears before her eyes
when she saw the whole green slope from the chapel covered with tents
and booths, and swarming with pedlars and mountaineers in their
picturesque dresses. Women and girls were exchanging the yarn of
their winter's spinning for bright handkerchiefs; men drove sheep,
goats, or pigs to barter for knives, spades, or weapons; others were
gazing at simple shows--a dancing bear or ape--or clustering round a
Minnesinger; many even then congregating in booths for the sale of
beer. Further up, on the flat space of sward above the chapel, were
some lay brothers, arranging for the representation of a mystery--a
kind of entertainment which Germany owed to the English who came to
the Council of Constance, and which the monks of St. Ruprecht's hoped
might infuse some religious notions into the wild, ignorant
First however Christina gladly entered the church. Crowded though it
were, it was calmer than the busy scene without. Faded old tapestry
was decking its walls, representing apparently some subject entirely
alien to St. John or the blessed hermit; Christina rather thought it
was Mars and Venus, but that was all the same to every one else. And
there was a terrible figure of St. John, painted life-like, with a
real hair-cloth round his loins, just opposite to her, on the step of
the Altar; also poor Friedmund's bones, dressed up in a new serge
amice and hood; the stone from Nicaea was in a gilded box, ready in
due time to be kissed; and a preaching friar (not one of the monks of
St. Ruprecht's) was in the midst of a sermon, telling how St. John
presided at the Council of Nicaea till the Emperor Maximius cut off
his head at the instance of Herodius--full justice being done to the
dancing--and that the blood was sprinkled on this very stone,
whereupon our Holy Father the Pope decreed that whoever would kiss
the said stone, and repeat the Credo five times afterwards, should be
capable of receiving an indulgence for 500 years: which indulgence
must however be purchased at the rate of six groschen, to be bestowed
in alms at Rome. And this inestimable benefit he, poor Friar Peter,
had come from his brotherhood of St. Francis at Offingen solely to
dispense to the poor mountaineers.
It was disappointing to find this profane mummery going on instead of
the holy services to which Christina had looked forward for strength
and comfort; she was far too well instructed not to be scandalized at
the profane deception which was ripening fast for Luther, only thirty
years later; and, when the stone was held up by the friar in one
hand, the printed briefs of indulgence in the other, she shrunk back.
Her father however said, "Wilt have one, child? Five hundred years
is no bad bargain."
"My uncle has small trust in indulgences," she whispered.
"All lies, of course," quoth Hugh; "yet they've the Pope's seal, and
I have more than half a mind to get one. Five hundred years is no
joke, and I am sure of purgatory, since I bought this medal at the
Holy House of Loretto."
And he went forward, and invested six groschen in one of the papers,
the most religious action poor Christina had ever seen him perform.
Other purchasers came forward--several, of the castle knappen, and a
few peasant women who offered yarn or cheeses as equivalents for
money, but were told with some insolence to go and sell their goods,
and bring the coin.
After a time, the friar, finding his traffic slack, thought fit to
remove, with his two lay assistants, outside the chapel, and try the
effects of an out-of-door sermon. Hugh Sorel, who had been hitherto
rather diverted by the man's gestures and persuasions, now decided on
going out into the fair in quest of an escort for his daughter, but
as she saw Father Norbert and another monk ascending from the stairs
leading to the hermit's cell, she begged to be allowed to remain in
the church, where she was sure to be safe, instead of wandering about
with him in the fair.
He was glad to be unencumbered, though he thought her taste
unnatural; and, promising to return for her when he had found an
escort, he left her.
Father Norbert had come for the very purpose of hearing confessions,
and Christina's next hour was the most comfortable she had spent
since Ermentrude's death.
After this however the priests were called away, and long, long did
Christina first kneel and then sit in the little lonely church,
hearing the various sounds without, and imagining that her father had
forgotten her, and that he and all the rest were drinking, and then
what would become of her? Why had she quitted old Ursel's
Hours of waiting and nameless alarm must have passed, for the sun was
waxing low, when at length she heard steps coming up the hermit's
cell, and a head rose above the pavement which she recognized with a
wild throb of joy, but, repressing her sense of gladness, she only
exclaimed, "Oh, where is my father!"
"I have sent him to the toll at the Gemsbock's Pass," replied Sir
Eberhard, who had by this time come up the stairs, followed by
Brother Peter and the two lay assistants. Then, as Christina turned
on him her startled, terrified eyes in dismay and reproach for such
thoughtlessness, he came towards her, and, bending his head and
opening his hand, he showed on his palm two gold rings. "There,
little one," he said; "now shalt thou never again shut me out."
Her senses grew dizzy. "Sir," she faintly said, "this is no place to
delude a poor maiden."
"I delude thee not. The brother here waits to wed us."
"Impossible! A burgher maid is not for such as you."
"None but a burgher maid will I wed," returned Sir Eberhard, with all
the settled resolution of habits of command. "See, Christina, thou
art sweeter and better than any lady in the land; thou canst make me
what she--the blessed one who lies there--would have me. I love thee
as never knight loved lady. I love thee so that I have not spoken a
word to offend thee when my heart was bursting; and"--as he saw her
irrepressible tears--"I think thou lovest me a little."
"Ah!" she gasped with a sob, "let me go."
"Thou canst not go home; there is none here fit to take charge of
thee. Or if there were, I would slay him rather than let thee go.
No, not so," he said, as he saw how little those words served his
cause; "but without thee I were a mad and desperate man. Christina,
I will not answer for myself if thou dost not leave this place my
"Oh!" implored Christina, "if you would only betroth me, and woo me
like an honourable maiden from my home at Ulm!"
"Betroth thee, ay, and wed thee at once," replied Eberhard, who, all
along, even while his words were most pleading, had worn a look and
manner of determined authority and strength, good-natured indeed, but
resolved. "I am not going to miss my opportunity, or baulk the
The friar, who had meantime been making a few needful arrangements
for the ceremony, advanced towards them. He was a good-humoured,
easy-going man, who came prepared to do any office that came in his
way on such festival days at the villages round; and peasant
marriages at such times were not uncommon. But something now
staggered him, and he said anxiously -
"This maiden looks convent-bred! Herr Reiter, pardon me; but if this
be the breaking of a cloister, I can have none of it."
"No such thing," said Eberhard; "she is town-bred, that is all."
"You would swear to it, on the holy mass yonder, both of you?" said
the friar, still suspiciously.
"Yea," replied Eberhard, "and so dost thou, Christina."
This was the time if ever to struggle against her destiny. The friar
would probably have listened to her if she had made any vehement
opposition to a forced marriage, and if not, a few shrieks would have
brought perhaps Father Norbert, and certainly the whole population;
but the horror and shame of being found in such a situation, even
more than the probability that she might meet with vengeance rather
than protection, withheld her. Even the friar could hardly have
removed her, and this was her only chance of safety from the
Baroness's fury. Had she hated and loathed Sir Eberhard, perhaps she
had striven harder, but his whole demeanour constrained and quelled
her, and the chief effort she made against yielding was the reply, "I
am no cloister maid, holy father, but--"
The "but" was lost in the friar's jovial speech. "Oh, then, all is
well! Take thy place, pretty one, there, by the door, thou know'st
it should be in the porch, but--ach, I understand!" as Eberhard
quietly drew the bolt within. "No, no, little one, I have no time
for bride scruples and coyness; I have to train three dull-headed
louts to be Shem, Ham, and Japhet before dark. Hast confessed of
"This morning, but--" said Christina, and "This morning," to her
great joy, said Eberhard, and, in her satisfaction thereat, her
second "but" was not followed up.
The friar asked their names, and both gave the Christian name alone;
then the brief and simple rite was solemnized in its shortest form.
Christina had, by very force of surprise and dismay, gone through all
without signs of agitation, except the quivering of her whole frame,
and the icy coldness of the hand, where Eberhard had to place the
ring on each finger in turn.
But each mutual vow was a strange relief to her long-tossed and
divided mind, and it was rest indeed to let her affection have its
will, and own him indeed as a protector to be loved instead of
shunned. When all was over, and he gathered the two little cold
hands into his large one, his arm supporting her trembling form, she
felt for the moment, poor little thing, as if she could never be
Parish registers were not, even had this been a parish church, but
Brother Peter asked, when he had concluded, "Well, my son, which of
his flock am I to report to your Pfarrer as linked together?"
"The less your tongue wags on that matter till I call on you, the
better," was the stern reply. "Look you, no ill shall befall you if
you are wise, but remember, against the day I call you to bear
witness, that you have this day wedded Baron Eberhard von Adlerstein
the younger, to Christina, the daughter of Hugh Sorel, the Esquire of
"Thou hast played me a trick, Sir Baron!" said the friar, somewhat
dismayed, but more amused, looking up at Eberhard, who, as Christina
now saw, had divested himself of his gilt spurs, gold chain, silvered
belt and horn, and eagle's plume, so as to have passed for a simple
lanzknecht. "I would have had no such gear as this!"
"So I supposed," said Eberhard coolly.
"Young folks! young folks!" laughed the friar, changing his tone, and
holding up his finger slyly; "the little bird so cunningly nestled in
the church to fly out my Lady Baroness! Well, so thou hast a pretty,
timid lambkin there, Sir Baron. Take care you use her mildly."
Eberhard looked into Christina's face with a smile, that to her, at
least, was answer enough; and he held out half a dozen links of his
gold chain to the friar, and tossed a coin to each of the lay
"Not for the poor friar himself," explained Brother Peter, on
receiving this marriage fee; "it all goes to the weal of the
"As you please," said Eberhard. "Silence, that is all! And thy
"The poor house of St. Francis at Offingen for the present, noble
sir," said the priest. "There will you hear of me, if you find me
not. And now, fare thee well, my gracious lady. I hope one day thou
wilt have more words to thank the poor brother who has made thee a
"Ah, good father, pardon my fright and confusion," Christina tried to
murmur, but at that moment a sudden glow and glare of light broke out
on the eastern rock, illuminating the fast darkening little church
with a flickering glare, that made her start in terror as if the
fires of heaven were threatening this stolen marriage; but the friar
and Eberhard both exclaimed, "The Needfire alight already!" And she
recollected how often she had seen these bonfires on Midsummer night
shining red on every hill around Ulm. Loud shouts were greeting the
uprising flame, and the people gathering thicker and thicker on the
slope. The friar undid the door to hasten out into the throng, and
Eberhard said he had left his spurs and belt in the hermit's cell,
and must return thither, after which he would walk home with his
bride, moving at the same time towards the stair, and thereby causing
a sudden scuffle and fall. "So, master hermit," quoth Eberhard, as
the old man picked himself up, looking horribly frightened; "that's
your hermit's abstraction, is it? No whining, old man, I am not
going to hurt thee, so thou canst hold thy tongue. Otherwise I will
smoke thee out of thy hole like a wild cat! What, thou aiding me
with my belt, my lovely one? Thanks; the snap goes too hard for thy
little hands. Now, then, the fire will light us gaily down the
But it soon appeared that to depart was impossible, unless by forcing
a way through the busy throng in the full red glare of the firelight,
and they were forced to pause at the opening of the hermit's cave,
Christina leaning on her husband's arm, and a fold of his mantle
drawn round her to guard her from the night-breeze of the mountain,
as they waited for a quiet space in which to depart unnoticed. It
was a strange, wild scene! The fire was on a bare, flat rock, which
probably had been yearly so employed ever since the Kelts had brought
from the East the rite that they had handed on to the Swabians--the
Beltane fire, whose like was blazing everywhere in the Alps, in the
Hartz, nay, even in England, Scotland, and on the granite points of
Ireland. Heaped up for many previous days with faggots from the
forest, then apparently inexhaustible, the fire roared and crackled,
and rose high, red and smoky, into the air, paling the moon, and
obscuring the stars. Round it, completely hiding the bonfire itself,
were hosts of dark figures swarming to approach it--all with a
purpose. All held old shoes or superannuated garments in their hands
to feed the flame; for it was esteemed needful that every villager
should contribute something from his house--once, no doubt, as an
offering to Bel, but now as a mere unmeaning observance. And shrieks
of merriment followed the contribution of each too well-known article
of rubbish that had been in reserve for the Needfire! Girls and boys
had nuts to throw in, in pairs, to judge by their bounces of future
chances of matrimony. Then came a shouting, tittering, and falling
back, as an old boor came forward like a priest with something heavy
and ghastly in his arms, which was thrown on with a tremendous shout,
darkened the glow for a moment, then hissed, cracked, and emitted a
It was a horse's head, the right owner of which had been carefully
kept for the occasion, though long past work. Christina shuddered,
and felt as if she had fallen upon a Pagan ceremony; as indeed was
true enough, only that the Adlersteiners attached no meaning to the
performance, except a vague notion of securing good luck.
With the same idea the faggots were pulled down, and arranged so as
to form a sort of lane of fire. Young men rushed along it, and then
bounded over the diminished pile, amid loud shouts of laughter and
either admiration or derision; and, in the meantime, a variety of
odd, recusant noises, grunts, squeaks, and lowings proceeding from
the darkness were explained to the startled little bride by her
husband to come from all the cattle of the mountain farms around, who
were to have their weal secured by being driven through the Needfire.
It may well be imagined that the animals were less convinced of the
necessity of this performance than their masters. Wonderful was the
clatter and confusion, horrible the uproar raised behind to make the
poor things proceed at all, desperate the shout when some half-
frantic creature kicked or attempted a charge wild the glee when a
persecuted goat or sheep took heart of grace, and flashed for one
moment between the crackling, flaring, smoking walls. When one cow
or sheep off a farm went, all the others were pretty sure to follow
it, and the owner had then only to be on the watch at the other end
to turn them back, with their flame-dazzled eyes, from going unawares
down the precipice, a fate from which the passing through the fire
was evidently not supposed to ensure them. The swine, those special
German delights, were of course the most refractory of all. Some, by
dint of being pulled away from the lane of fire, were induced to rush
through it; but about half-way they generally made a bolt, either
sidelong through the flaming fence or backwards among the legs of
their persecutors, who were upset amid loud imprecations. One huge,
old, lean, high-backed sow, with a large family, truly feminine in
her want of presence of mind, actually charged into the midst of the
bonfire itself, scattering it to the right and left with her snout,
and emitting so horrible a smell of singed bacon, that it might
almost be feared that some of her progeny were anticipating the
invention of Chinese roasting-pigs. However, their proprietor,
Jobst, counted them out all safe on the other side, and there only
resulted some sighs and lamentations among the seniors, such as Hatto
and Ursel, that it boded ill to have the Needfire trodden out by an
All the castle live-stock were undergoing the same ceremony.
Eberhard concerned himself little about the vagaries of the sheep and
pigs, and only laughed a little as the great black goat, who had seen
several Midsummer nights, and stood on his guard, made a sudden short
run and butted down old Hatto, then skipped off like a chamois into
the darkness, unheeding, the old rogue, the whispers that connected
his unlucky hue with the doings of the Walpurgisnacht. But when it
came to the horses, Eberhard could not well endure the sight of the
endeavours to force them, snorting, rearing, and struggling, through
anything so abhorrent to them as the hedge of fire.
The Schneiderlein, with all the force of his powerful arm, had hold
of Eberhard's own young white mare, who, with ears turned back,
nostrils dilated, and wild eyes, her fore-feet firmly planted wide
apart, was using her whole strength for resistance; and, when a heavy
blow fell on her, only plunged backwards, and kicked without
advancing. It was more than Eberhard could endure, and Christina's
impulse was to murmur, "O do not let him do it;" but this he scarcely
heard, as he exclaimed, "Wait for me here!" and, as he stepped
forward, sent his voice before him, forbidding all blows to the mare.
The creature's extreme terror ceased at once upon hearing his voice,
and there was an instant relaxation of all violence of resistance as
he came up to her, took her halter from the Schneiderlein, patted her
glossy neck, and spoke to her. But the tumult of warning voices
around him assured him that it would be a fatal thing to spare the
steed the passage through the fire, and he strove by encouragements
and caresses with voice and hand to get her forward, leading her
himself; but the poor beast trembled so violently, and, though making
a few steps forward, stopped again in such exceeding horror of the
flame, that Eberhard had not the heart to compel her, turned her head
away, and assured her that she should not be further tormented.
"The gracious lordship is wrong," said public opinion, by the voice
of old Bauer Ulrich, the sacrificer of the horse's head. "Heaven
forfend that evil befall him and that mare in the course of the
And the buzz of voices concurred in telling of the recusant pigs who
had never developed into sausages, the sheep who had only escaped to
be eaten by wolves, the mule whose bones had been found at the bottom
of an abyss.
Old Ursel was seriously concerned, and would have laid hold on her
young master to remonstrate, but a fresh notion had arisen--Would the
gracious Freiherr set a-rolling the wheel, which was already being
lighted in the fire, and was to conclude the festivities by being
propelled down the hill--figuring, only that no one present knew it,
the sun's declension from his solstitial height? Eberhard made no
objection; and Christina, in her shelter by the cave, felt no little
dismay at being left alone there, and moreover had a strange, weird
feeling at the wild, uncanny ceremony he was engaged in, not knowing
indeed that it was sun-worship, but afraid that it could be no other
than unholy sorcery.
The wheel, flaring or reddening in all its spokes, was raised from
the bonfire, and was driven down the smoothest piece of green sward,
which formed an inclined plane towards the stream. If its course was
smooth, and it only became extinguished by leaping into the water,
the village would flourish; and prosperity above all was expected if
it should spring over the narrow channel, and attempt to run up the
other side. Such things had happened in the days of the good
Freiherren Ebbo and Friedel, though the wheel had never gone right
since the present baron had been excommunicated; but his heir having
been twice seen at mass in this last month great hopes were founded
There was a shout to clear the slope. Eberhard, in great earnest and
some anxiety, accepted the gauntlet that he was offered to protect
his hand, steadied the wheel therewith, and, with a vigorous impulse
from hand and foot, sent it bounding down the slope, among loud cries
and a general scattering of the idlers who had crowded full into the
very path of the fiery circle, which flamed up brilliantly for the
moment as it met the current of air. But either there was an
obstacle in the way, or the young Baron's push had not been quite
straight: the wheel suddenly swerved aside, its course swerved to
the right, maugre all the objurgations addressed to it as if it had
been a living thing, and the next moment it had disappeared, all but
a smoky, smouldering spot of red, that told where it lay, charring
and smoking on its side, without having fulfilled a quarter of its
People drew off gravely and silently, and Eberhard himself was
strangely discomfited when he came back to the hermitage, and,
wrapping Christina in his cloak, prepared to return, so soon as the
glare of the fire should have faded from his eyesight enough to make
it safe to tread so precipitous a path. He had indeed this day made
a dangerous venture, and both he and Christina could not but feel
disheartened by the issue of all the omens of the year, the more
because she had a vague sense of wrong in consulting or trusting
them. It seemed to her all one frightened, uncomprehended dream ever
since her father had left her in the chapel; and, though conscious of
her inability to have prevented her marriage, yet she blamed herself,
felt despairing as she thought of the future, and, above all, dreaded
the Baron and the Baroness and their anger. Eberhard, after his
first few words, was silent, and seemed solely absorbed in leading
her safely along the rocky path, sometimes lifting her when he
thought her in danger of stumbling. It was one of the lightest,
shortest nights of the year, and a young moon added to the brightness
in open places, while in others it made the rocks and stones cast
strange elvish shadows. The distance was not entirely lost; other
Beltane fires could be seen, like beacons, on every hill, and the few
lights in the castle shone out like red fiery eyes in its heavy dark
pile of building.
Before entering, Eberhard paused, pulled off his own wedding-ring,
and put it into his bosom, and taking his bride's hand in his, did
the same for her, and bade her keep the ring till they could wear
"Alas! then," said Christina, "you would have this secret?"
"Unless I would have to seek thee down the oubliette, my little one,"
said Eberhard "or, what might even be worse, see thee burnt on the
hillside for bewitching me with thine arts! No, indeed, my darling.
Were it only my father, I could make him love thee; but my mother--I
could not trust her where she thought the honour of our house
concerned. It shall not be for long. Thou know'st we are to make
peace with the Kaiser, and then will I get me employment among
Kurfurst Albrecht's companies of troops, and then shalt thou prank it
as my Lady Freiherrinn, and teach me the ways of cities."
"Alas! I fear me it has been a great sin!" sighed the poor little
"For thee--thou couldst not help it," said Eberhard; "for me--who
knows how many deadly ones it may hinder? Cheer up, little one; no
one can harm thee while the secret is kept."
Poor Christina had no choice but submission; but it was a sorry
bridal evening, to enter her husband's home in shrinking terror; with
the threat of the oubliette before her, and with a sense of shame and
deception hanging upon her, making the wonted scowl of the old
baroness cut her both with remorse and dread.
She did indeed sit beside her bridegroom at the supper, but how
little like a bride! even though he pushed the salt-cellar, as if by
accident, below her place. She thought of her myrtle, tended in vain
at home by Barbara Schmidt; she thought of Ulm courtships, and how
all ought to have been; the solemn embassage to her uncle, the
stately negotiations; the troth plight before the circle of
ceremonious kindred and merry maidens, of whom she had often been
one--the subsequent attentions of the betrothed on all festival days,
the piles of linen and all plenishings accumulated since babyhood,
and all reviewed and laid out for general admiration (Ah! poor Aunt
Johanna still spinning away to add to the many webs in her walnut
presses!)--then the grand procession to fetch home the bride, the
splendid festival with the musicians, dishes, and guest-tables to the
utmost limit that was allowed by the city laws, and the bride's hair
so joyously covered by her matron's curch amid the merriment of her
Poor child! After she had crept away to her own room, glad that her
father was not yet returned, she wept bitterly over the wrong that
she felt she had done to the kind uncle and aunt, who must now look
in vain for their little Christina, and would think her lost to them,
and to all else that was good. At least she had had the Church's
blessing--but that, strange to say, was regarded, in burgher life
before the Reformation, as rather the ornament of a noble marriage
than as essential to the civil contract; and a marriage by a priest
was regarded by the citizens rather as a means of eluding the need of
obtaining the parent's consent, than as a more regular and devout
manner of wedding. However, Christina felt this the one drop of
peace. The blessings and prayers were warm at her heart, and gave
her hope. And as to drops of joy, of them there was no lack, for had
not she now a right to love Eberhard with all her heart and
conscience, and was not it a wonderful love on his part that had made
him stoop to the little white-faced burgher maid, despised even by
her own father? O better far to wear the maiden's uncovered head for
him than the myrtle wreath for any one else!
CHAPTER VII: THE SCHNEIDERLEIN'S RETURN
The poor little unowned bride had more to undergo than her
imagination had conceived at the first moment.
When she heard that the marriage was to be a secret, she had not
understood that Eberhard was by no means disposed to observe much
more caution than mere silence. A rough, though kindly man, he did
not thoroughly comprehend the shame and confusion that he was
bringing upon her by departing from his former demeanour. He knew
that, so enormous was the distance then supposed to exist between the
noble and the burgher, there was no chance of any one dreaming of the
true state of the case, and that as long as Christina was not taken
for his wife, there was no personal danger for her from his mother,
who--so lax were the morals of the German nobility with regard to all
of inferior rank--would tolerate her with complacency as his
favourite toy; and he was taken by surprise at the agony of grief and
shame with which she slowly comprehended his assurance that she had
nothing to fear.
There was no help for it. The oubliette would probably be the
portion of the low-born girl who had interfered with the sixteen
quarterings of the Adlerstein shield, and poor Christina never
stepped across its trap-door without a shudder lest it should open
beneath her. And her father would probably have been hung from the
highest tower, in spite of his shrewd care to be aware of nothing.
Christina consoled herself with the hope that he knew all the time
why he had been sent out of the way, for, with a broad grin that had
made her blush painfully, he had said he knew she would be well taken
care of, and that he hoped she was not breaking her heart for want of
an escort. She tried to extort Eberhard's permission to let him at
least know how it was; but Eberhard laughed, saying he believed the
old fox knew just as much as he chose; and, in effect, Sorel, though
now and then gratifying his daughter's scruples, by serving as a
shield to her meetings with the young Baron, never allowed himself to
hear a hint of the true state of affairs.
Eberhard's love and reverence were undiminished, and the time spent
with him would have been perfectly happy could she ever have divested
herself of anxiety and alarm; but the periods of his absence from the
castle were very terrible to her, for the other women of the
household, quick to perceive that she no longer repelled him, had
lost that awe that had hitherto kept them at a distance from her, and
treated her with a familiarity, sometimes coarse, sometimes spiteful,
always hateful and degrading. Even old Ursel had become half-
pitying, half-patronizing; and the old Baroness, though not molesting
her, took not the slightest notice of her.
This state of things lasted much longer than there had been reason to
expect at the time of the marriage. The two Freiherren then intended
to set out in a very short time to make their long talked-of
submission to the Emperor at Ratisbon; but, partly from their German
tardiness of movement, partly from the obstinate delays interposed by
the proud old Freiherrinn, who was as averse as ever to the measure,
partly from reports that the Court was not yet arrived at Ratisbon,
the expedition was again and again deferred, and did not actually
take place till September was far advanced.
Poor Christina would have given worlds to go with them, and even
entreated to be sent to Ulm with an avowal of her marriage to her
uncle and aunt, but of this Eberhard would not hear. He said the
Ulmers would thus gain an hostage, and hamper his movements; and, if
her wedding was not to be confessed--poor child!--she could better
bear to remain where she was than to face Hausfrau Johanna. Eberhard
was fully determined to enrol himself in some troop, either Imperial,
or, if not, among the Free Companies, among whom men of rank were
often found, and he would then fetch or send for his wife and avow
her openly, so soon as she should be out of his mother's reach. He
longed to leave her father at home, to be some protection to her, but
Hugh Sorel was so much the most intelligent and skilful of the
retainers as to be absolutely indispensable to the party--he was
their only scribe; and moreover his new suit of buff rendered him a
creditable member of a troop that had been very hard to equip. It
numbered about ten men-at-arms, only three being left at home to
garrison the castle--namely, Hatto, who was too old to take; Hans,
who had been hopelessly lame and deformed since the old Baron had
knocked him off a cliff in a passion; and Squinting Matz, a runaway
servant, who had murdered his master, the mayor of Strasburg, and
might be caught and put to death if any one recognized him. If
needful the villagers could always be called in to defend the castle:
but of this there was little or no danger--the Eagle's Steps were
defence enough in themselves, and the party were not likely to be
absent more than a week or ten days--a grievous length of time, poor
Christina thought, as she stood straining her eyes on the top of the
watch-tower, to watch them as far as possible along the plain. Her
heart was very sad, and the omen of the burning wheel so continually
haunted her that even in her sleep that night she saw its brief
course repeated, beheld its rapid fall and extinction, and then
tracked the course of the sparks that darted from it, one rising and
gleaming high in air till it shone like a star, another pursuing a
fitful and irregular, but still bright course amid the dry grass on
the hillside, just as she had indeed watched some of the sparks on
that night, minding her of the words of the Allhallow-tide legend:
"Fulgebunt justi et tanquam scintillae in arundinete discurrent"--a
sentence which remained with her when awake, and led her to seek it
out in her Latin Bible in the morning.
Reluctantly had she gone down to the noontide meal, feeling, though
her husband and father were far less of guardians than they should
have been, yet that there was absolute rest, peace, and protection in
their presence compared with what it was to be alone with Freiherrinn
Kunigunde and her rude women without them. A few sneers on her
daintiness and uselessness had led her to make an offer of assisting
in the grand chopping of sausage meat and preparation of winter
stores, and she had been answered with contempt that my young lord
would not have her soil her delicate hands, when one of the maids who
had been sent to fetch beer from the cellar came back with startled
looks, and the exclamation, "There is the Schneiderlein riding up the
Eagle's Ladder upon Freiherr Ebbo's white mare!"
All the women sprang up together, and rushed to the window, whence
they could indeed recognize both man and horse; and presently it
became plain that both were stained with blood, weary, and spent;
indeed, nothing but extreme exhaustion would have induced the man-at-
arms to trust the tired, stumbling horse up such a perilous path.
Loud were the exclamations, "Ah! no good could come of not leading
that mare through the Johannisfeuer."
"This shameful expedition! Only harm could befall. This is thy
doing, thou mincing city-girl."
"All was certain to go wrong when a pale mist widow came into the
The angry and dismayed cries all blended themselves in confusion in
the ears of the only silent woman present; the only one that sounded
distinctly on her brain was that of the last speaker, "A pale, mist
widow," as, holding herself a little in the rear of the struggling,
jostling little mob of women, who hardly made way even for their
acknowledged lady, she followed with failing limbs the universal rush
to the entrance as soon as man and horse had mounted the slope and
were lost sight of.
A few moments more, and the throng of expectants was at the foot of
the hall steps, just as the lanzknecht reached the arched entrance.
His comrade Hans took his bridle, and almost lifted him from his
horse; he reeled and stumbled as, pale, battered, and bleeding, he
tried to advance to Freiherinn Kunigunde, and, in answer to her hasty
interrogation, faltered out, "Ill news, gracious lady. We have been
set upon by the accursed Schlangenwaldern, and I am the only living
Christina scarce heard even these last words; senses and powers alike
failed her, and she sank back on the stone steps in a deathlike
When she came to herself she was lying on her bed, Ursel and Else,
another of the women, busy over her, and Ursel's voice was saying,
"Ah, she is coming round. Look up, sweet lady, and fear not. You
are our gracious Lady Baroness."
"Is he here? O, has he said so? O, let me see him--Sir Eberhard,"
faintly cried Christina with sobbing breath.
"Ah, no, no," said the old woman; "but see here," and she lifted up
Christina's powerless, bloodless hand, and showed her the ring on the
finger. Her bosom had been evidently searched when her dress was
loosened in her swoon, and her ring found and put in its place.
"There, you can hold up your head with the best of them; he took care
of that--my dear young Freiherr, the boy that I nursed," and the old
woman's burst of tears brought back the truth to Christina's s
"Oh, tell me," she said, trying to raise herself, "was it indeed so?
O say it was not as he said!"
"Ah, woe's me, woe's me, that it was even so," lamented Ursel; "but
oh, be still, look not so wild, dear lady. The dear, true-hearted
young lord, he spent his last breath in owning you for his true lady,
and in bidding us cherish you and our young baron that is to be. And
the gracious lady below--she owns you; there is no fear of her now;
so vex not yourself, dearest, most gracious lady."
Christina did not break out into the wailing and weeping that the old
nurse expected; she was still far too much stunned and overwhelmed,
and she entreated to be told all, lying still, but gazing at Ursel
with piteous bewildered eyes. Ursel and Else helping one another
out, tried to tell her, but they were much confused; all they knew
was that the party had been surprised at night in a village hostel by
the Schlangenwaldern, and all slain, though the young Baron had lived
long enough to charge the Schneiderlein with his commendation of his
wife to his mother; but all particulars had been lost in the general
"Oh, let me see the Schneiderlein," implored Christina, by this time
able to rise and cross the room to the large carved chair; and Ursel
immediately turned to her underling, saying, "Tell the Schneiderlein
that the gracious Lady Baroness desires his presence."
Else's wooden shoes clattered down stairs, but the next moment she
returned. "He cannot come; he is quite spent, and he will let no one
touch his arm till Ursel can come, not even to get off his doublet."
"I will go to him," said Christina, and, revived by the sense of
being wanted, she moved at once to the turret, where she kept some
rag and some ointment, which she had found needful in the latter
stages of Ermentrude's illness--indeed, household surgery was a part
of regular female education, and Christina had had plenty of practice
in helping her charitable aunt, so that the superiority of her skill
to that of Ursel had long been avowed in the castle. Ursel made no
objection further than to look for something that could be at once
converted into a widow's veil--being in the midst of her grief quite
alive to the need that no matronly badge should be omitted--but
nothing came to hand in time, and Christina was descending the
stairs, on her way to the kitchen, where she found the fugitive man-
at-arms seated on a rough settle, his head and wounded arm resting on
the table, while groans of pain, weariness, and impatience were
interspersed with imprecations on the stupid awkward girls who
Pity and the instinct of affording relief must needs take the
precedence even of the desire to hear of her husband's fate; and, as
the girls hastily whispered, "Here she is," and the lanzknecht
hastily tried to gather himself up, and rise with tokens of respect;
she bade him remain still, and let her see what she could do for him.
In fact, she at once perceived that he was in no condition to give a
coherent account of anything, he was so completely worn out, and in
so much suffering. She bade at once that some water should be
heated, and some of the broth of the dinner set on the fire; then
with the shears at her girdle, and her soft, light fingers, she
removed the torn strip of cloth that had been wound round the arm,
and cut away the sleeve, showing the arm not broken, but gashed at
the shoulder, and thence the whole length grazed and wounded by the
descent of the sword down to the wrist. So tender was her touch,
that he scarcely winced or moaned under her hand; and, when she
proceeded, with Ursel's help, to bathe the wound with the warm water,
the relief was such that the wearied man absolutely slumbered during
the process, which Christina protracted on that very account. She
then dressed and bandaged the arm, and proceeded to skim--as no one
else in the castle would do--the basin of soup, with which she then
fed her patient as he leant back in the corner of the settle, at
first in the same somnolent, half-conscious state in which he had
been ever since the relief from the severe pain; but after a few
spoonfuls the light and life came back to his eye, and he broke out,
"Thanks, thanks, gracious lady! This is the Lady Baroness for me!
My young lord was the only wise man! Thanks, lady; now am I my own
man again. It had been long ere the old Freiherrinn had done so much
for me! I am your man, lady, for life or death!" And, before she
knew what he was about, the gigantic Schneiderlein had slid down on
his knees, seized her hand, and kissed it--the first act of homage to
her rank, but most startling and distressing to her. "Nay," she
faltered, "prithee do not; thou must rest. Only if--if thou canst
only tell me if he, my own dear lord, sent me any greeting, I would
wait to hear the rest till thou hast slept."
"Ah! the dog of Schlangenwald!" was the first answer; then, as he
continued, "You see, lady, we had ridden merrily as far as Jacob
Muller's hostel, the traitor," it became plain that he meant to begin
at the beginning. She allowed Ursel to seat her on the bench
opposite to his settle, and, leaning forward, heard his narrative
like one in a dream. There, the Schneiderlein proceeded to say, they
put up for the night, entirely unsuspicious of evil; Jacob Muller,
who was known to himself, as well as to Sorel and to the others,
assuring them that the way was clear to Ratisbon, and that he heard
the Emperor was most favourably disposed to any noble who would
tender his allegiance. Jacob's liquors were brought out, and were
still in course of being enjoyed, when the house was suddenly
surrounded by an overpowering number of the retainers of
Schlangenwald, with their Count himself at their head. He had been
evidently resolved to prevent the timely submission of the enemies of
his race, and suddenly presenting himself before the elder Baron, had
challenged him to instantaneous battle, claiming credit to himself
for not having surprised them when asleep. The disadvantage had been
scarcely less than if this had been the case, for the Adlersteinern
were all half-intoxicated, and far inferior in numbers--at least, on
the showing of the Schneiderlein--and a desperate fight had ended by
his being flung aside in a corner, bound fast by the ankles and
wrists, the only living prisoner, except his young lord, who, having
several terrible wounds, the worst in his chest, was left unbound.
Both lay helpless, untended, and silent, while the revel that had
been so fatal to them was renewed by their captors, who finally all
sunk into a heavy sleep. The torches were not all spent, and the
moonlight shone into the room, when the Schneiderlein, desperate from
the agony caused by the ligature round his wounded arm, sat up and
looked about him. A knife thrown aside by one of the drunkards lay
near enough to be grasped by his bound hands, and he had just reached
it when Sir Eberhard made a sign to him to put it into his hand, and
therewith contrived to cut the rope round both hands and feet--then
pointed to the door.
There was nothing to hinder an escape; the men slept the sleep of the
drunken; but the Schneiderlein, with the rough fidelity of a
retainer, would have lingered with a hope of saving his master. But
Eberhard shook his head, and signed again to escape; then, making him
bend down close to him, he used all his remaining power to whisper,
as he pressed his sword into the retainer's hand, -
"Go home; tell my mother--all the world--that Christina Sorel is my
wife, wedded on the Friedmund Wake by Friar Peter of Offingen, and if
she should bear a child, he is my true and lawful heir. My sword for
him--my love to her. And if my mother would not be haunted by me,
let her take care of her."
These words were spoken with extreme difficulty, for the nature of
the wound made utterance nearly impossible, and each broken sentence
cost a terrible effusion of blood. The final words brought on so
choking and fatal a gush that, said the Schneiderlein, "he fell back
as I tried to hold him up, and I saw that it was all at an end, and a
kind and friendly master and lord gone from me. I laid him down, and
put his cross on his breast that I had seen him kissing many a time
that evening; and I crossed his hands, and wiped the blood from them
and his face. And, lady, he had put on his ring; I trust the robber
caitiff's may have left it to him in his grave. And so I came forth,
walking soft, and opening the door in no small dread, not of the
snoring swine, but of the dogs without. But happily they were still,
and even by the door I saw all our poor fellows stark and stiff."
"My father?" asked Christina.
"Ay! with his head cleft open by the Graf himself. He died like a
true soldier, lady, and we have lost the best head among us in him.
Well, the knave that should have watched the horses was as drunken as
the rest of them, and I made a shift to put the bridle on the white
mare and ride off."
Such was the narrative of the Schneiderlein, and all that was left to
Christina was the picture of her husband's dying effort to guard her,
and the haunting fancy of those long hours of speechless agony on the
floor of the hostel, and how direful must have been his fears for
her. Sad and overcome, yet not sinking entirely while any work of
comfort remained, her heart yearned over her companion in misfortune,
the mother who had lost both husband and son; and all her fears of
the dread Freiherrinn could not prevent her from bending her steps,
trembling and palpitating as she was, towards the hall, to try
whether the daughter-in-law's right might be vouchsafed to her, of
weeping with the elder sufferer.
The Freiherrinn sat by the chimney, rocking herself to and fro, and
holding consultation with Hatto. She started as she saw Christina
approaching, and made a gesture of repulsion; but, with the feeling
of being past all terror in this desolate moment, Christina stepped
nearer, knelt, and, clasping her hands, said, "Your pardon, lady."
"Pardon!" returned the harsh voice, even harsher for very grief,
"thou hast naught to fear, girl. As things stand, thou canst not
have thy deserts. Dost hear?"
"Ah, lady, it was not such pardon that I meant. If you would let me
be a daughter to you."
"A daughter! A wood-carver's girl to be a daughter of Adlerstein!"
half laughed the grim Baroness. "Come here, wench," and Christina
underwent a series of sharp searching questions on the evidences of
"So," ended the old lady, "since better may not be, we must own thee
for the nonce. Hark ye all, this is the Frau Freiherrinn, Freiherr
Eberhard's widow, to be honoured as such," she added, raising her
voice. "There, girl, thou hast what thou didst strive for. Is not
"Alas! lady," said Christina, her eyes swimming in tears, "I would
fain have striven to be a comforter, or to weep together."
"What! to bewitch me as thou didst my poor son and daughter, and
well-nigh my lord himself! Girl! Girl! Thou know'st I cannot burn
thee now; but away with thee; try not my patience too far."
And, more desolate than ever, the crushed and broken-hearted
Christina, a widow before she had been owned a wife, returned to the
room that was now so full of memories as to be even more home than
Master Gottfried's gallery at Ulm.
CHAPTER VIII: PASSING THE OUBLIETTE
Who can describe the dreariness of being snowed-up all the winter
with such a mother-in-law as Freiherrinn Kunigunde?
Yet it was well that the snow came early, for it was the best defence
of the lonely castle from any attack on the part of the
Schlangenwaldern, the Swabian League, or the next heir, Freiherr
Kasimir von Adlerstein Wildschloss. The elder Baroness had, at
least, the merit of a stout heart, and, even with her sadly-reduced
garrison, feared none of them. She had been brought up in the faith
that Adlerstein was impregnable, and so she still believed; and, if
the disaster that had cut off her husband and son was to happen at
all, she was glad that it had befallen before the homage had been
paid. Probably the Schlangenwald Count knew how tough a morsel the
castle was like to prove, and Wildschloss was serving at a distance,
for nothing was heard of either during the short interval while the
roads were still open. During this time an attempt had been made
through Father Norbert to ascertain what had become of the corpses of
the two Barons and their followers, and it had appeared that the
Count had carried them all off from the inn, no doubt to adorn his
castle with their limbs, or to present them to the Emperor in
evidence of his zeal for order. The old Baron could not indeed have
been buried in consecrated ground, nor have masses said for him; but
for the weal of her son's soul Dame Kunigunde gave some of her few
ornaments, and Christina added her gold earrings, and all her scanty
purse, that both her husband and father might be joined in the
prayers of the Church--trying with all her might to put confidence in
Hugh Sorel's Loretto relic, and the Indulgence he had bought, and
trusting with more consolatory thoughts to the ever stronger dawnings
of good she had watched in her own Eberhard.
She had some consoling intercourse with the priest while all this was
pending; but throughout the winter she was entirely cut off from
every creature save the inmates of the castle, where, as far as the
old lady was concerned, she only existed on sufferance, and all her
meekness and gentleness could not win for her more than the barest
That Eberhard had for a few hours survived his father, and that thus
the Freiherrinn Christina was as much the Dowager Baroness as
Kunigunde herself, was often insisted on in the kitchen by Ursel,
Hatto, and the Schneiderlein, whom Christina had unconsciously
rendered her most devoted servant, not only by her daily care of his
wound, but by her kind courteous words, and by her giving him his
proper name of Heinz, dropping the absurd nom de guerre of the
Schneiderlein, or little tailor, which had been originally conferred
on him in allusion to the valiant Tailorling who boasted of having
killed seven flies at a blow, and had been carried on chiefly because
of the contradiction between such a title and his huge brawny
strength and fierce courage. Poor Eberhard, with his undaunted
bravery and free reckless good-nature, a ruffian far more by
education than by nature, had been much loved by his followers. His
widow would have reaped the benefit of that affection even if her
exceeding sweetness had not gained it on her own account; and this
giant was completely gained over to her, when, amid all her sorrow
and feebleness, she never failed to minister to his sufferings to the
utmost, while her questions about his original home, and revival of
the name of his childhood, softened him, and awoke in him better
feelings. He would have died to serve her, and she might have headed
an opposition party in the castle, had she not been quite indifferent
to all save her grief; and, except by sitting above the salt at the
empty table, she laid no claim to any honours or authority, and was
more seldom than ever seen beyond what was now called her own room.
At last, when for the second time she was seeing the snow wreaths
dwindle, and the drops shine forth in moisture again, while the
mountain paths were set free by the might of the springtide sun, she
spoke almost for the first time with authority, as she desired Heinz
to saddle her mule, and escort her to join in the Easter mass at the
Blessed Friedmund's Chapel. Ursel heaped up objections; but so
urgent was Christina for confession and for mass, that the old woman
had not the heart to stop her by a warning to the elder Baroness, and
took the alternative of accompanying her. It was a glorious
sparkling Easter Day, lovely blue sky above, herbage and flowers
glistening below, snow dazzling in the hollows, peasants assembling
in holiday garb, and all rejoicing. Even the lonely widow, in her
heavy veil and black mufflings, took hope back to her heart, and
smiled when at the church door a little child came timidly up to her
with a madder-tinted Easter egg--a gift once again like the happy
home customs of Ulm. She gave the child a kiss--she had nothing else
to give, but the sweet face sent it away strangely glad.
The festival mass in all its exultation was not fully over, when
anxious faces began to be seen at the door, and whisperings went
round and many passed out. Nobody at Adlerstein was particular about
silence in church, and, when the service was not in progress, voices
were not even lowered, and, after many attempts on the part of the
Schneiderlein to attract the attention of his mistress, his voice
immediately succeeded the Ite missa est, "Gracious lady, we must
begone. Your mule is ready. There is a party at the Debateable
Ford, whether Schlangenwald or Wildschloss we know not yet, but
either way you must be the first thing placed in safety."
Christina turned deadly pale. She had long been ready to welcome
death as a peaceful friend; but, sheltered as her girlhood had been
in the quiet city, she had never been brought in contact with
warfare, and her nervous, timid temperament made the thought most
appalling and frightful to her, certain as she was that the old
Baroness would resist to the uttermost. Father Norbert saw her
extreme terror, and, with the thought that he might comfort and
support her, perhaps mediate between the contending parties, plead
that it was holy-tide, and proclaim the peace of the church, or at
the worst protect the lady herself, he offered his company; but,
though she thanked him, it was as if she scarcely understood his
kindness, and a shudder passed over her whenever the serfs, hastily
summoned to augment the garrison, came hurrying down the path, or
turned aside into the more rugged and shorter descents. It was
strange, the good father thought, that so timorous and fragile a
being should have her lot cast amid these rugged places and scenes of
violence, with no one to give her the care and cherishing she so much
Even when she crept up the castle stairs, she was met with an angry
rebuke, not so much for the peril she had incurred as for having
taken away the Schneiderlein, by far the most availing among the
scanty remnant of the retainers of Adlerstein. Attempting no answer,
and not even daring to ask from what quarter came the alarm,
Christina made her way out of the turmoil to that chamber of her own,
the scene of so much fear and sorrow, and yet of some share of peace
and happiness. But from the window, near the fast subsiding waters
of the Debateable Ford, could plainly be seen the small troop of
warriors, of whom Jobst the Kohler had brought immediate
intelligence. The sun glistened on their armour, and a banner
floated gaily on the wind; but they were a fearful sight to the
inmates of the lonely castle.
A stout heart was however Kunigunde's best endowment; and, with the
steadiness and precision of a general, her commands rang out, as she
arranged and armed her garrison, perfectly resolved against any
submission, and confident in the strength of her castle; nay, not
without a hope of revenge either against Schlangenwald or
Wildschloss, whom, as a degenerate Adlerstein, she hated only less
than the slayer of her husband and son.
The afternoon of Easter Day however passed away without any movement
on the part of the enemy, and it was not till the following day that
they could be seen struggling through the ford, and preparing to
ascend the mountain. Attacks had sometimes been disconcerted by
posting men in the most dangerous passes; but, in the lack of
numbers, and of trustworthy commanders, the Freiherrinn had judged it
wiser to trust entirely to her walls, and keep her whole force within
The new comers could hardly have had any hostile intentions, for,
though well armed and accoutred, their numbers did not exceed twenty-
five. The banner borne at their head was an azure one, with a white
eagle, and their leader could be observed looking with amazement at
the top of the watch-tower, where the same eagle had that morning
been hoisted for the first time since the fall of the two Freiherren.
So soon as the ascent had been made, the leader wound his horn, and,
before the echoes had died away among the hills, Hatto, acting as
seneschal, was demanding his purpose.
"I am Kasimir von Adlerstein Wildschloss," was the reply. "I have
hitherto been hindered by stress of weather from coming to take
possession of my inheritance. Admit me, that I may arrange with the
widowed Frau Freiherrinn as to her dower and residence."
"The widowed Frau Freiherrinn, born of Adlerstein," returned Hatto,
"thanks the Freiherr von Adlerstein Wildschloss; but she holds the
castle as guardian to the present head of the family, the Freiherr
"It is false, old man," exclaimed the Wildschloss; "the Freiherr had
no other son."
"No," said Hatto, "but Freiherr Eberhard hath left us twin heirs, our
young lords, for whom we hold this castle."
"This trifling will not serve!" sternly spoke the knight. "Eberhard
von Adlerstein died unmarried."
"Not so," returned Hatto, "our gracious Frau Freiherrinn, the
younger, was wedded to him at the last Friedmund Wake, by the special
blessing of our good patron, who would not see our house extinct."
"I must see thy lady, old man," said Sir Kasimir, impatiently, not in
the least crediting the story, and believing his cousin Kunigunde
quite capable of any measure that could preserve to her the rule in
Schloss Adlerstein, even to erecting some passing love affair of her
son's into a marriage. And he hardly did her injustice, for she had
never made any inquiry beyond the castle into the validity of
Christina's espousals, nor sought after the friar who had performed
the ceremony. She consented to an interview with the claimant of the
inheritance, and descended to the gateway for the purpose. The court
was at its cleanest, the thawing snow having newly washed away its
impurities, and her proud figure, under her black hood and veil, made
an imposing appearance as she stood tall and defiant in the archway.
Sir Kasimir was a handsome man of about thirty, of partly Polish
descent, and endowed with Slavonic grace and courtesy, and he had
likewise been employed in negotiations with Burgundy, and had
acquired much polish and knowledge of the world.
"Lady," he said, "I regret to disturb and intrude on a mourning
family, but I am much amazed at the tidings I have heard; and I must
pray of you to confirm them."
"I thought they would confound you," composedly replied Kunigunde.
"And pardon me, lady, but the Diet is very nice in requiring full
proofs. I would be glad to learn what lady was chosen by my deceased
"The lady is Christina, daughter of his esquire, Hugh Sorel, of an
honourable family at Ulm."
"Ha! I know who and what Sorel was!" exclaimed Wildschloss. "Lady
cousin, thou wouldst not stain the shield of Adlerstein with owning
aught that cannot bear the examination of the Diet!"
"Sir Kasimir," said Kunigunde proudly, "had I known the truth ere my
son's death, I had strangled the girl with mine own hands! But I
learnt it only by his dying confession; and, had she been a beggar's
child, she was his wedded wife, and her babes are his lawful heirs."
"Knowest thou time--place--witnesses?" inquired Sir Kasimir.
"The time, the Friedmund Wake; the place, the Friedmund Chapel,"
replied the Baroness. "Come hither, Schneiderlein. Tell the knight
thy young lord's confession."
He bore emphatic testimony to poor Eberhard's last words; but as to
the point of who had performed the ceremony, he knew not,--his mind
had not retained the name.
"I must see the Frau herself," said Wildschloss, feeling certain that
such a being as he expected in a daughter of the dissolute lanzknecht
Sorel would soon, by dexterous questioning, be made to expose the
futility of her pretensions so flagrantly that even Kunigunde could
not attempt to maintain them.
For one moment Kunigunde hesitated, but suddenly a look of malignant
satisfaction crossed her face. She spoke a few words to Squinting
Matz, and then replied that Sir Kasimir should be allowed to satisfy
himself, but that she could admit no one else into the castle; hers
was a widow's household, the twins were only a few hours old, and she
could not open her gates to admit any person besides himself.
So resolved on judging for himself was Adlerstein Wildschloss that
all this did not stagger him; for, even if he had believed more than
he did of the old lady's story, there would have been no sense of
intrusion or impropriety in such a visit to the mother. Indeed, had
Christina been living in the civilized world, her chamber would have
been hung with black cloth, black velvet would have enveloped her up
to the eyes, and the blackest of cradles would have stood ready for
her fatherless babe; two steps, in honour of her baronial rank, would
have led to her bed, and a beaufet with the due baronial amount of
gold and silver plate would have held the comfits and caudle to be
dispensed to all visitors. As it was, the two steps built into the
floor of the room, and the black hood that Ursel tied over her young
mistress's head, were the only traces that such etiquette had ever
been heard of.
But when Baron Kasimir had clanked up the turret stairs, each step
bringing to her many a memory of him who should have been there, and
when he had been led to the bedside, he was completely taken by
Instead of the great, flat-faced, coarse comeliness of a German
wench, treated as a lady in order to deceive him, he saw a delicate,
lily-like face, white as ivory, and the soft, sweet brown eyes under
their drooping lashes, so full of innocence and sad though thankful
content, that he felt as if the inquiries he came to make were almost
He had seen enough of the world to know that no agent in a clumsy
imposition would look like this pure white creature, with her arm
encircling the two little swaddled babes, whose red faces and bald
heads alone were allowed to appear above their mummy-like wrappings;
and he could only make an obeisance lower and infinitely more
respectful than that with which he had favoured the Baroness nee von
Adlerstein, with a few words of inquiry and apology.
But Christina had her sons' rights to defend now, and she had far
more spirit to do so than ever she had had in securing her own
position, and a delicate rose tint came into her cheek as she said in
her soft voice, "The Baroness tells me, that you, noble sir, would
learn who wedded me to my dear and blessed lord, Sir Eberhard. It
was Friar Peter of the Franciscan brotherhood of Offingen, an agent
for selling indulgences. Two of his lay brethren were present. My
dear lord gave his own name and mine in full after the holy rite; the
friar promising his testimony if it were needed. He is to be found,
or at least heard of, at his own cloister; and the hermit at the
chapel likewise beheld a part of the ceremony."
"Enough, enough, lady," replied Sir Kasimir; "forgive me for having
forced the question upon you."
"Nay," replied Christina, with her blush deepening, "it is but just
and due to us all;" and her soft eyes had a gleam of exultation, as
she looked at the two little mummies that made up the US--"I would
have all inquiries made in full."
"They shall be made, lady, as will be needful for the establishment
of your son's right as a free Baron of the empire, but not with any
doubt on my part, or desire to controvert that right. I am fully
convinced, and only wish to serve you and my little cousins. Which
of them is the head of our family?" he added, looking at the two
absolutely undistinguishable little chrysalises, so exactly alike
that Christina herself was obliged to look for the black ribbon, on
which a medal had been hung, round the neck of the elder. Sir
Kasimir put one knee to the ground as he kissed the red cheek of the
infant and the white hand of the mother.
"Lady cousin," he said to Kunigunde, who had stood by all this time
with an anxious, uneasy, scowling expression on her face, "I am
satisfied. I own this babe as the true Freiherr von Adlerstein, and
far be it from me to trouble his heritage. Rather point out the way
in which I may serve you and him. Shall I represent all to the
Emperor, and obtain his wardship, so as to be able to protect you
from any attacks by the enemies of the house?"
"Thanks, sir," returned the elder lady, severely, seeing Christina's
gratified, imploring face. "The right line of Adlerstein can take
care of itself without greedy guardians appointed by usurpers. Our
submission has never been made, and the Emperor cannot dispose of our
And Kunigunde looked defiant, regarding herself and her grandson as
quite as good as the Emperor, and ready to blast her daughter-in-law
with her eyes for murmuring gratefully and wistfully, "Thanks, noble
"Let me at least win a friendly right in my young cousins," said Sir
Kasimir, the more drawn by pitying admiration towards their mother,
as he perceived more of the grandmother's haughty repulsiveness and
want of comprehension of the dangers of her position. "They are not
baptized? Let me become their godfather."
Christina's face was all joy and gratitude, and even the grandmother
made no objection; in fact, it was the babes' only chance of a noble
sponsor; and Father Norbert, who had already been making ready for
the baptism, was sent for from the hall. Kunigunde, meantime, moved
about restlessly, went half-way down the stairs, and held council
with some one there; Ursel likewise, bustled about, and Sir Kasimir
remained seated on the chair that had been placed for him near
She was able again to thank him, and add, "It may be that you will
have more cause than the lady grandmother thinks to remember your
offer of protection to my poor orphans. Their father and grandfather
were, in very deed, on their way to make submission."
"That is well known to me," said Sir Kasimir. "Lady, I will do all
in my power for you. The Emperor shall hear the state of things;
and, while no violence is offered to travellers," he added, lowering
his tone, "I doubt not he will wait for full submission till this
young Baron be of age to tender it."
"We are scarce in force to offer violence," said Christina sighing.
"I have no power to withstand the Lady Baroness. I am like a
stranger here; but, oh! sir, if the Emperor and Diet will be patient
and forbearing with this desolate house, my babes, if they live,
shall strive to requite their mercy by loyalty. And the blessing of
the widow and fatherless will fall on you, most generous knight," she
added, fervently, holding out her hand.
"I would I could do more for you," said the knight. "Ask, and all I
can do is at your service."
"Ah, sir," cried Christina, her eyes brightening, "there is one most
inestimable service you could render me--to let my uncle, Master
Gottfried, the wood-carver of Ulm, know where I am, and of my state,
and of my children."
Sir Kasimir repeated the name.
"Yes," she said. "There was my home, there was I brought up by my
dear uncle and aunt, till my father bore me away to attend on the
young lady here. It is eighteen months since they had any tidings
from her who was as a daughter to them."
"I will see them myself," said Kasimir; "I know the name. Carved not
Master Gottfried the stall-work at Augsburg?"
"Yes, indeed! In chestnut leaves! And the Misereres all with fairy
tales!" exclaimed Christina. "Oh, sir, thanks indeed! Bear to the
dear, dear uncle and aunt their child's duteous greetings, and tell
them she loves them with all her heart, and prays them to forgive
her, and to pray for her and her little ones! And," she added, "my
uncle may not have learnt how his brother, my father, died by his
lord's side. Oh! pray him, if ever he loved his little Christina, to
have masses sung for my father and my own dear lord."
As she promised, Ursel came to make the babes ready for their
baptism, and Sir Kasimir moved away towards the window. Ursel was
looking uneasy and dismayed, and, as she bent over her mistress, she
whispered, "Lady, the Schneiderlein sends you word that Matz has
called him to help in removing the props of the door you wot of when
HE yonder steps across it. He would know if it be your will?"
"The oubliette!" This was Frau Kunigunde's usage of the relative who
was doing his best for the welfare of her grandsons! Christina's
whole countenance looked so frozen with horror, that Ursel felt as if
she had killed her on the spot; but the next moment a flash of relief
came over the pale features, and the trembling lip commanded itself
to say, "My best thanks to good Heinz. Say to him that I forbid it.
If he loves the life of his master's children, he will abstain! Tell
him so. My blessings on him if this knight leave the castle safe,
Ursel." And her terrified earnest eyes impelled Ursel to hasten to do
her bidding; but whether it had been executed, there was no knowing,
for almost immediately the Freiherrinn and Father Norbert entered,
and Ursel returned with them. Nay, the message given, who could tell
if Heinz would be able to act upon it? In the ordinary condition of
the castle, he was indeed its most efficient inmate; Matz did not
approach him in strength, Hans was a cripple, Hatto would be on the
right side; but Jobst the Kohler, and the other serfs who had been
called in for the defence, were more likely to hold with the elder
than the younger lady. And Frau Kunigunde herself, knowing well that
the five-and-twenty men outside would be incompetent to avenge their
master, confident in her narrow-minded, ignorant pride that no one
could take Schloss Adlerstein, and incapable of understanding the
changes in society that were rendering her isolated condition
untenable, was certain to scout any representation of the dire
consequences that the crime would entail. Kasimir had no near
kindred, and private revenge was the only justice the Baroness
believed in; she only saw in her crime the satisfaction of an old
feud, and the union of the Wildschloss property with the parent stem.
Seldom could such a christening have taken place as that of which
Christina's bed-room was the scene--the mother scarcely able even to
think of the holy sacrament for the horror of knowing that the one
sponsor was already exulting in the speedy destruction of the other;
and, poor little feeble thing, rallying the last remnants of her
severely-tried powers to prevent the crime at the most terrible of
The elder babe received from his grandmother the hereditary name of
Eberhard, but Sir Kasimir looked at the mother inquiringly, ere he
gave the other to the priest. Christina had well-nigh said,
"Oubliette," but, recalling herself in time, she feebly uttered the
name she had longed after from the moment she had known that two sons
had been her Easter gift, "Gottfried," after her beloved uncle. But
Kunigunde caught the sound, and exclaimed, "No son of Adlerstein
shall bear abase craftsman's name. Call him Racher (the avenger);"
and in the word there already rang a note of victory and revenge that
made Christina's blood run cold. Sir Kasimir marked her trouble.
"The lady mother loves not the sound," he said, kindly. "Lady, have
you any other wish? Then will I call him Friedmund."
Christina had almost smiled. To her the omen was of the best. Baron
Friedmund had been the last common ancestor of the two branches of
the family, the patron saint was so called, his wake was her wedding-
day, the sound of the word imported peace, and the good Barons Ebbo
and Friedel had ever been linked together lovingly by popular memory.
And so the second little Baron received the name of Friedmund, and
then the knight of Wildschloss, perceiving, with consideration rare
in a warrior, that the mother looked worn out and feverish, at once
prepared to kiss her hand and take leave.
"One more favour, Sir Knight," she said, lifting up her head, while a
burning spot rose on either cheek. "I beg of you to take my two
babes down--yes, both, both, in your own arms, and show them to your
men, owning them as your kinsmen and godsons."
Sir Kasimir looked exceedingly amazed, as if he thought the lady's
senses taking leave of her, and Dame Kunigunde broke out into
declarations that it was absurd, and she did not know what she was
talking of; but she repeated almost with passion, "Take them, take
them, you know not how much depends on it." Ursel, with unusual
readiness of wit, signed and whispered that the young mother must be
humoured, for fear of consequences; till the knight, in a good-
natured, confused way, submitted to receive the two little bundles in
his arms, while he gave place to Kunigunde, who hastily stepped
before him in a manner that made Christina trust that her precaution
would be effectual.
The room was reeling round with her. The agony of those few minutes
was beyond all things unspeakable. What had seemed just before like
a certain way of saving the guest without real danger to her
children, now appeared instead the most certain destruction to all,
and herself the unnatural mother who had doomed her new-born babes
for a stranger's sake. She could not even pray; she would have
shrieked to have them brought back, but her voice was dead within
her, her tongue clave to the roof of her mouth, ringings in her ears
hindered her even from listening to the descending steps. She lay as
one dead, when ten minutes afterwards the cry of one of her babes
struck on her ear, and the next moment Ursel stood beside her, laying
them down close to her, and saying exultingly, "Safe! safe out at the
gate, and down the hillside, and my old lady ready to gnaw off her
hands for spite!"
CHAPTER IX: THE EAGLETS
Christina's mental and bodily constitution had much similarity--
apparently most delicate, tender, and timid, yet capable of a vigour,
health, and endurance that withstood shocks that might have been
fatal to many apparently stronger persons. The events of that
frightful Easter Monday morning did indeed almost kill her; but the
effects, though severe, were not lasting; and by the time the last of
Ermentrude's snow-wreath had vanished, she was sunning her babes at
the window, happier than she had ever thought to be--above all, in
the possession of both the children. A nurse had been captured for
the little Baron from the village on the hillside; but the woman had
fretted, the child had pined, and had been given back to his mother
to save his life; and ever since both had thriven perfectly under her
sole care, so that there was very nearly joy in that room.
Outside it, there was more bitterness than ever. The grandmother had