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  • 1900
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“But perhaps I want one. Do you not see that I am unarmed? And at this season, at this hour, there are frightful, unearthly beasts about.”

Just then, as though to confirm the awful words of the stranger, a thing swung itself down from one of the nearest trees, covered with hoar-frost,–no one could say if it were a snake or a lizard,–it curled and twisted itself, and appeared about to slide down upon the knight or his companion. Sintram levelled his spear, and pierced the creature through. But, with the most hideous contortions, it fixed itself firmly on the spear-head; and in vain did the knight endeavour to rub it off against the rocks or the trees. Then he let his spear rest upon his right shoulder, with the point behind him, so that the horrible beast no longer met his sight; and he said, with good courage, to the stranger, “It does seem, indeed, that I could help you, and I am not forbidden to have an unknown stranger in my company; so let us push on bravely into the valley!”

“Help!” so resounded the solemn answer; “not help. I perhaps may help thee. But God have mercy upon thee if the time should ever come when I could no longer help thee. Then thou wouldst be lost, and I should become very frightful to thee. But we will go through the valley–I have thy knightly word for it. Come!”

They rode forward; Sintram’s horse still showing signs of fear, the faithful dog still whining; but both obedient to their master’s will. The knight was calm and steadfast. The snow had slipped down from the smooth rocks, and by the light of the rising moon could be seen various strange twisted shapes on their sides, some looking like snakes, and some like human faces; but they were only formed by the veins in the rock and the half-bare roots of trees, which had planted themselves in that desert place with capricious firmness. High above, and at a great distance, the castle of Drontheim, as if to take leave, appeared again through an opening in the rocks. The knight then looked keenly at his companion, and he almost felt as if Weigand the Slender were riding beside him.

“In God’s name,” cried he, “art thou not the shade of that departed knight who suffered and died for Verena?”

“I have not suffered, I have not died; but ye suffer, and ye die, poor mortals!” murmured the stranger. “I am not Weigand. I am that other, who was so like him, and whom thou hast also met before now in the wood.”

Sintram strove to free himself from the terror which came over him at these words. He looked at his horse; it appeared to him entirely altered. The dry, many-coloured oak-leaves on its head were waving like the flames around a sacrifice, in the uncertain moonlight. He looked down again, to see after his faithful Skovmark. Fear had likewise most wondrously changed him. On the ground in the middle of the road were lying dead men’s bones, and hideous lizards were crawling about; and, in defiance of the wintry season, poisonous mushrooms were growing up all around.

“Can this be still my horse on which I am riding?” said the knight to himself, in a low voice; “and can that trembling beast which runs at my side be my dog?”

Then some one called after him, in a yelling voice, “Stop! stop! Take me also with you!”

Looking round, Sintram perceived a small, frightful figure with horns, and a face partly like a wild boar and partly like a bear, walking along on its hind-legs, which were those of a horse; and in its hand was a strange, hideous weapon, shaped like a hook or a sickle. It was the being who had been wont to trouble him in his dreams; and, alas! it was also the wretched little Master himself, who, laughing wildly, stretched out a long claw towards the knight.

The bewildered Sintram murmured, “I must have fallen asleep; and now my dreams are coming over me!”

“Thou art awake,” replied the rider of the little horse, “but thou knowest me also in thy dreams. For, behold! I am Death.” And his garments fell from him, and there appeared a mouldering skeleton, its ghastly head crowned with serpents; that which he had kept hidden under his mantle was an hour-glass with the sand almost run out. Death held it towards the knight in his fleshless hand. The bell at the neck of the little horse gave forth a solemn sound. It was a passing bell.

“Lord, into Thy hands I commend my spirit!” prayed Sintram; and full of earnest devotion he rode after Death, who beckoned him on.

“He has thee not yet! He has thee not yet!” screamed the fearful fiend. “Give thyself up to me rather. In one instant,–for swift are thy thoughts, swift is my might,–in one instant thou shalt be in Normandy. Helen yet blooms in beauty as when she departed hence, and this very night she would be thine.” And once again he began his unholy praises of Gabrielle’s loveliness, and Sintram’s heart glowed like wild-fire in his weak breast.

Death said nothing more, but raised the hour-glass in his right hand yet higher and higher; and as the sand now ran out more quickly, a soft light streamed from the glass over Sintram’s countenance, and then it seemed to him as if eternity in all its calm majesty were rising before him, and a world of confusion dragging him back with a deadly grasp.

“I command thee, wild form that followest me,” cried he, “I command thee, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to cease from thy seducing words, and to call thyself by that name by which thou art recorded in Holy Writ!”

A name, more fearful than a thunderclap, burst despairingly from the lips of the Tempter, and he disappeared.

“He will return no more,” said Death, in a kindly tone.

“And now I am become wholly thine, my stern companion?”

“Not yet, my Sintram. I shall not come to thee till many, many years are past. But thou must not forget me the while.”

“I will keep the thought of thee steadily before my soul, thou fearful yet wholesome monitor, thou awful yet loving guide!”

“Oh! I can truly appear very gentle.”

And so it proved indeed. His form became more softly defined in the increasing gleam of light which shone from the hour-glass; the features, which had been awful in their sternness, wore a gentle smile; the crown of serpents became a bright palm-wreath; instead of the horse appeared a white misty cloud in the moonlight; and the bell gave forth sounds as of sweet lullabies. Sintram thought he could hear these words amidst them:

“The world and Satan are o’ercome, Before thee gleams eternal light, Warrior, who hast won the strife: Save from darkest shades of night Him before whose aged eyes
All my terrors soon shall rise.”

The knight well knew that his father was meant; and he urged on his noble steed, which now obeyed his master willingly and gladly, and the faithful dog also again ran beside him fearlessly. Death had disappeared; but in front of Sintram there floated a bright morning cloud, which continued visible after the sun had risen clear and warm in the bright winter sky.

CHAPTER 28

“He is dead! the horrors of that fearful stormy night have killed him!” Thus said, about this time, some of Biorn’s retainers, who had not been able to bring him back to his senses since the morning of the day before: they had made a couch of wolf and bear skins for him in the great hall, in the midst of the armour which still lay scattered around. One of the esquires said with a low sigh: “The Lord have mercy on his poor wild soul!”

Just then the warder blew his horn from his tower, and a trooper came into the room with a look of surprise. “A knight is coming hither,” said he; “a wonderful knight. I could have taken him for our Lord Sintram–but a bright, bright morning cloud floats so close before him, and throws over him such a clear light, that one could fancy red flowers were showered down upon him. Besides, his horse has a wreath of red leaves on his head, which was never a custom of the son of our dead lord.”

“Just such a one,” replied another, “I wove for him yesterday. He was not pleased with it at first, but afterwards he let it remain.”

“But why didst thou that?”

“It seemed to me as if I heard a voice singing again and again in my ear: ‘Victory! victory! the noblest victory! The knight rides forth to victory!’ And then I saw a branch of our oldest oak-tree stretched towards me, which had kept on almost all its red and yellow leaves in spite of the snow. So I did according to what I had heard sung; and I plucked some of the leaves, and wove a triumphal wreath for the noble war-horse. At the same time Skovmark,–you know that the faithful beast had always a great dislike to Biorn, and therefore had gone to the stable with the horse,–Skovmark jumped upon me, fawning, and seemed pleased, as if he wanted to thank me for my work; and such noble animals understand well about good prognostics.”

They heard the sound of Sintram’s spurs on the stone steps, and Skovmark’s joyous bark. At that instant the supposed corpse of old Biorn sat up, looked around with rolling, staring eyes, and asked of the terrified retainers in a hollow voice, “Who comes there, ye people? who comes there? I know it is my son. But who comes with him? The answer to that bears the sword of decision in its mouth. For see, good people, Gotthard and Rudlieb have prayed much for me; yet if the little Master come with him, I am lost in spite of them.”

“Thou art not lost, my beloved father!” Sintram’s kind voice was heard to say, as he softly opened the door, and the bright red morning cloud floated in with him.

Biorn joined his hands, cast a look of thankfulness up to heaven, and said, smiling, “Yes, praised be God! it is the right companion! It is sweet gentle death!” And then he made a sign to his son to approach, saying, “Come here, my deliverer; come, blessed of the Lord, that I may relate to thee all that has passed within me.”

As Sintram now sat close by his father’s couch, all who were in the room perceived a remarkable and striking change. For old Biorn, whose whole countenance, and not his eyes alone, had been wont to have a fiery aspect, was now quite pale, almost like white marble; while, on the other hand, the cheeks of the once deadly pale Sintram glowed with a bright bloom like that of early youth. It was caused by the morning cloud which still shone upon him, whose presence in the room was rather felt than seen; but it produced a gentle thrill in every heart.

“See, my son,” began the old man, softly and mildly, “I have lain for a long time in a death-like sleep, and have known nothing of what was going on around me; but within,–ah! within, I have known but too much! I thought that my soul would be destroyed by the eternal anguish; and yet again I felt, with much greater horror, that my soul was eternal like that anguish. Beloved son, thy cheeks that glowed so brightly are beginning to grow pale at my words. I refrain from more. But let me relate to you something more cheering. Far, far away, I could see a bright lofty church, where Gotthard and Rudlieb Lenz were kneeling and praying for me. Gotthard had grown very old, and looked almost like one of our mountains covered with snow, on which the sun, in the lovely evening hours, is shining; and Rudlieb was also an elderly man, but very vigorous and very strong; and they both, with all their strength and vigour, were calling upon God to aid me, their enemy. Then I heard a voice like that of an angel, saying, ‘His son does the most for him! He must this night wrestle with death and with the fallen one! His victory will be victory, and his defeat will be defeat, for the old man and himself.’ Thereupon I awoke; and I knew that all depended upon whom thou wouldst bring with thee. Thou hast conquered. Next to God, the praise be to thee!”

“Gotthard and Rudlieb have helped much,” replied Sintram; “and, beloved father, so have the fervent prayers of the chaplain of Drontheim. I felt, when struggling with temptation and deadly fear, how the heavenly breath of holy men floated round me and aided me.”

“I am most willing to believe that, my noble son, and everything thou sayest to me,” answered the old man; and at the same moment the chaplain also coming in, Biorn stretched out his hand towards him with a smile of peace and joy. And now all seemed to be surrounded with a bright circle of unity and blessedness. “But see,” said old Biorn, “how the faithful Skovmark jumps upon me now, and tries to caress me. It is not long since he used always to howl with terror when he saw me.”

“My dear lord,” said the chaplain, “there is a spirit dwelling in good beasts, though dreamy and unconscious.”

As the day wore on, the stillness in the hall increased. The last hour of the aged knight was drawing near, but he met it calmly and fearlessly. The chaplain and Sintram prayed beside his couch. The retainers knelt devoutly around. At length the dying man said: “Is that the prayer-bell in Verena’s cloister?” Sintram’s looks said yea; while warm tears fell on the colourless cheeks of his father. A gleam shone in the old man’s eyes, the morning cloud stood close over him, and then the gleam, the morning cloud, and life with them, departed from him.

CHAPTER 29

A few days afterwards Sintram stood in the parlour of the convent, and waited with a beating heart for his mother to appear. He had seen her for the last time when, a slumbering child, he had been awakened by her warm farewell kisses, and then had fallen asleep again, to wonder in his dreams what his mother had wanted with him, and to seek her in vain the next morning in the castle and in the garden. The chaplain was now at his side, rejoicing in the chastened rapture of the knight, whose fierce spirit had been softened, on whose cheeks a light reflection of that solemn morning cloud yet lingered.

The inner doors opened. In her white veil, stately and noble, the Lady Verena came forward, and with a heavenly smile she beckoned her son to approach the grating. There could be no thought here of any passionate outbreak, whether of sorrow or of joy.

“In whose sweet presence sorrow dares not lower Nor expectation rise
Too high for earth.”–Christian Year (Footnote in 1901 text.)

The holy peace which had its abode within these walls would have found its way to a heart less tried and less purified than that which beat in Sintram’s bosom. Shedding some placid tears, the son knelt before his mother, kissed her flowing garments through the grating, and felt as if in paradise, where every wish and every care is hushed. “Beloved mother,” said he, “let me become a holy man, as thou art a holy woman. Then I will betake myself to the cloister yonder; and perhaps I might one day be deemed worthy to be thy confessor, if illness or the weakness of old age should keep the good chaplain within the castle of Drontheim.”

“That would be a sweet, quietly happy life, my good child,” replied the Lady Verena; “but such is not thy vocation. Thou must remain a bold, powerful knight, and thou must spend the long life, which is almost always granted to us children of the North, in succouring the weak, in keeping down the lawless, and in yet another more bright and honourable employment which I hitherto rather honour than know.”

“God’s will be done!” said the knight, and he rose up full of self- devotion and firmness.

“That is my good son,” said the Lady Verena. “Ah! how many sweet calm joys spring up for us! See, already is our longing desire of meeting again satisfied, and thou wilt never more be so entirely estranged from me. Every week on this day thou wilt come back to me, and thou wilt relate what glorious deeds thou hast done, and take back with thee my advice and my blessing.”

“Am I not once more a good and happy child!” cried Sintram joyously; “only that the merciful God has given me in addition the strength of a man in body and spirit. Oh, how blessed is that son to whom it is allowed to gladden his mother’s heart with the blossoms and the fruit of his life!”

Thus he left the quiet cloister’s shade, joyful in spirit and richly laden with blessings, to enter on his noble career. He was not content with going about wherever there might be a rightful cause to defend or evil to avert; the gates of the now hospitable castle stood always open also to receive and shelter every stranger; and old Rolf, who was almost grown young again at the sight of his lord’s excellence, was established as seneschal. The winter of Sintram’s life set in bright and glorious, and it was only at times that he would sigh within himself and say,

“Ah, Montfaucon! ah, Gabrielle! if I could dare to hope that you have quite forgiven me!”

CHAPTER 30

The spring had come in its brightness to the northern lands, when one morning Sintram turned his horse homewards, after a successful encounter with one of the most formidable disturbers of the peace of his neighbourhood. His horsemen rode after him, singing as they went. As they drew near the castle, they heard the sound of joyous notes wound on the horn. “Some welcome visitor must have arrived,” said the knight; and he spurred his horse to a quicker pace over the dewy meadow. While still at some distance, they descried old Rolf, busily engaged in preparing a table for the morning meal, under the trees in front of the castle-gates. From all the turrets and battlements floated banners and flags in the fresh morning breeze: esquires were running to and fro in their gayest apparel. As soon as the good Rolf saw his master, he clapped his hands joyfully over his grey head, and hastened into the castle. Immediately the wide gates were thrown open; and Sintram, as he entered, was met by Rolf, whose eyes were filled with tears of joy while he pointed towards three noble forms that were following him.

Two men of high stature–one in extreme old age, the other grey- headed, and both remarkably alike–were leading between them a fair young boy, in a page’s dress of blue velvet, richly embroidered with gold. The two old men wore the dark velvet dress of German burghers, and had massive gold chains and large shining medals hanging round their necks.

Sintram had never before seen his honoured guests, and yet he felt as if they were well known and valued friends. The very aged man reminded him of his dying father’s words about the snow-covered mountains lighted up by the evening sun; and then he remembered, he could scarcely tell how, that he had heard Folko say that one of the highest mountains of that sort in his southern land was called the St. Gotthard. And at the same time, he knew that the old but yet vigorous man on the other side was named Rudlieb. But the boy who stood between them ah! Sintram’s humility dared scarcely form a hope as to who he might be, however much his features, so noble and soft, called up two highly honoured images before his mind.

Then the aged Gotthard Lenz, the king of old men, advanced with a solemn step, and said–“This is the noble boy Engeltram of Montfaucon, the only son of the great baron; and his father and mother send him to you, Sir Sintram, knowing well your holy and glorious knightly career, that you may bring him up to all the honourable and valiant deeds of this northern land, and may make of him a Christian knight, like yourself.”

Sintram threw himself from his horse. Engeltram of Montfaucon held the stirrup gracefully for him, checking the retainers, who pressed forward, with these words: “I am the noblest born esquire of this knight, and the service nearest to his person belongs to me.”

Sintram knelt in silent prayer on the turf; then lifting up in his arms, towards the rising sun, the image of Folko and Gabrielle, he cried, “With the help of God, my Engeltram, thou wilt become glorious as that sun, and thy course will be like his!”

And old Rolf exclaimed, as he wept for joy, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.”

Gotthard Lenz and Rudlieb were pressed to Sintram’s heart; the chaplain of Drontheim, who just then came from Verena’s cloister to bring a joyful greeting to her brave son, stretched out his hands to bless them all.