The Dove in the Eagle's Nest
Charlotte M. Yonge
Part 1 out of 6
This etext was produced from the 1890 Macmillan and Co. edition by
David Price, email firstname.lastname@example.org
THE DOVE IN THE EAGLE'S NEST
by Charlotte M. Yonge
In sending forth this little book, I am inclined to add a few
explanatory words as to the use I have made of historical personages.
The origin of the whole story was probably Freytag's first series of
pictures of German Life: probably, I say, for its first commencement
was a dream, dreamt some weeks after reading that most interesting
collection of sketches. The return of the squire with the tidings of
the death of the two knights was vividly depicted in sleep; and,
though without local habitation or name, the scene was most likely to
have been a reflection from the wild scenes so lately read of.
In fact, waking thoughts decided that such a catastrophe could hardly
have happened anywhere but in Germany, or in Scotland; and the
contrast between the cultivation in the free cities and the savagery
of the independent barons made the former the more suitable region
for the adventures. The time could only be before the taming and
bringing into order of the empire, when the Imperial cities were in
their greatest splendour, the last free nobles in course of being
reduced from their lawless liberty, and the House of Austria
beginning to acquire its preponderance over the other princely
M. Freytag's books, and Hegewisch's History of Maximilian, will, I
think, be found fully to bear out the picture I have tried to give of
the state of things in the reign of the Emperor Friedrich III., when,
for want of any other law, Faust recht, or fist right, ruled; i.e. an
offended nobleman, having once sent a Fehde-brief to his adversary,
was thenceforth at liberty to revenge himself by a private war, in
which, for the wrong inflicted, no justice was exacted.
Hegewisch remarks that the only benefit of this custom was, that the
honour of subscribing a feud-brief was so highly esteemed that it
induced the nobles to learn to write! The League of St. George and
the Swabian League were the means of gradually putting down this
authorized condition of deadly feud.
This was in the days of Maximilian's youth. He is a prince who seems
to have been almost as inferior in his foreign to what he was in his
domestic policy as was Queen Elizabeth. He is chiefly familiar to us
as failing to keep up his authority in Flanders after the death of
Mary of Burgundy, as lingering to fulfil his engagement with Anne of
Brittany till he lost her and her duchy, as incurring ridicule by his
ill-managed schemes in Italy, and the vast projects that he was
always forming without either means or steadiness to carry them out,
by his perpetual impecuniosity and slippery dealing; and in his old
age he has become rather the laughing-stock of historians.
But there is much that is melancholy in the sight of a man endowed
with genius, unbalanced by the force of character that secures
success, and with an ardent nature whose intention overleapt
obstacles that in practice he found insuperable. At home Maximilian
raised the Imperial power from a mere cipher to considerable weight.
We judge him as if he had been born in the purple and succeeded to a
defined power like his descendants. We forget that the head of the
Holy Roman Empire had been, ever since the extinction of the Swabian
line, a mere mark for ambitious princes to shoot at, with everything
expected from him, and no means to do anything. Maximilian's own
father was an avaricious, undignified old man, not until near his
death Archduke of even all Austria, and with anarchy prevailing
everywhere under his nominal rule. It was in the time of Maximilian
that the Empire became as compact and united a body as could be hoped
of anything so unwieldy, that law was at least acknowledged, Faust
recht for ever abolished, and the Emperor became once more a real
The man under whom all this was effected could have been no fool;
yet, as he said himself, he reigned over a nation of kings, who each
chose to rule for himself; and the uncertainty of supplies of men or
money to be gained from them made him so often fail necessarily in
his engagements, that he acquired a shiftiness and callousness to
breaches of promise, which became the worst flaw in his character.
But of the fascination of his manner there can be no doubt. Even
Henry VIII.'s English ambassadors, when forced to own how little they
could depend on him, and how dangerous it was to let subsidies pass
through his fingers, still show themselves under a sort of
enchantment of devotion to his person, and this in his old age, and
when his conduct was most inexcusable and provoking.
His variety of powers was wonderful. He was learned in many
languages--in all those of his empire or hereditary states, and in
many besides; and he had an ardent love of books, both classical and
modern. He delighted in music, painting, architecture, and many arts
of a more mechanical description; wrote treatises on all these, and
on other subjects, especially gardening and gunnery. He was the
inventor of an improved lock to the arquebus, and first divined how
to adapt the disposition of his troops to the use of the newly-
discovered fire-arms. And in all these things his versatile head and
ready hand were personally employed, not by deputy; while coupled
with so much artistic taste was a violent passion for hunting, which
carried him through many hairbreadth 'scapes. "It was plain," he
used to say, "that God Almighty ruled the world, or how could things
go on with a rogue like Alexander VI. at the head of the Church, and
a mere huntsman like himself at the head of the Empire." His bon-
mots are numerous, all thoroughly characteristic, and showing that
brilliancy in conversation must have been one of his greatest charms.
It seems as if only self-control and resolution were wanting to have
made him a Charles, or an Alfred, the Great.
The romance of his marriage with the heiress of Burgundy is one of
the best known parts of his life. He was scarcely two-and-twenty
when he lost her, who perhaps would have given him the stability he
wanted; but his tender hove for her endured through life. It is not
improbable that it was this still abiding attachment that made him
slack in overcoming difficulties in the way of other contracts, and
that he may have hoped that his engagement to Bianca Sforza would
come to nothing, like so many others.
The most curious record of him is, however, in two books, the
materials for which he furnished, and whose composition and
illustration he superintended, Der Weise King, and Theurdank, of both
of which he is well known to be the hero. The White, or the Wise
King, it is uncertain which, is a history of his education and
exploits, in prose. Every alternate page has its engraving, showing
how the Young White King obtains instruction in painting,
architecture, language, and all arts and sciences, the latter
including magic--which he learns of an old woman with a long-tailed
demon sitting, like Mother Hubbard's cat, on her shoulder--and
astrology. In the illustration of this study an extraordinary figure
of a cross within a circle appears in the sky, which probably has
some connection with his scheme of nativity, for it also appears on
the breast of Ehrenhold, his constant companion in the metrical
history of his career, under the name of Theurdank.
The poetry of Theurdank was composed by Maximilian's old writing-
master, Melchior Pfinznig; but the adventures were the Kaisar's own,
communicated by himself, and he superintended the wood-cuts. The
name is explained to mean "craving glory,"--Gloriaememor. The
Germans laugh to scorn a French translator, who rendered it
"Chermerci." It was annotated very soon after its publication, and
each exploit explained and accounted for. It is remarkable and
touching in a man who married at eighteen, and was a widower at
twenty-two, that, in both books, the happy union with his lady love
is placed at the end--not at the beginning of the book; and in
Theurdank, at least, the eternal reunion is clearly meant.
In this curious book, Konig Romreich, by whom every contemporary
understood poor Charles of Burgundy--thus posthumously made King of
Rome by Maximilian, as the only honour in his power, betroths his
daughter Ehrenreich (rich in honour) to the Ritter Theurdank. Soon
after, by a most mild version of Duke Charles's frightful end, Konig
Romreich is seen on his back dying in a garden, and Ehrenreich (as
Mary really did) despatches a ring to summon her betrothed.
But here Theurdank returns for answer that he means first to win
honour by his exploits, and sets out with his comrade, Ehrenhold, in
search thereof. Ehrenhold never appears of the smallest use to him
in any of the dire adventures into which he falls, but only stands
complacently by, and in effect may represent Fame, or perhaps that
literary sage whom Don Quixote always supposed to be at hand to
record his deeds of prowess.
Next we are presented with the German impersonation of Satan as a
wise old magician, only with claws instead of feet, commissioning his
three captains (hauptleutern), Furwitz, Umfallo, and Neidelhard, to
beset and ruin Theurdank. They are interpreted as the dangers of
youth, middle life, and old age--Rashness, Disaster, and Distress (or
Envy). One at a time they encounter him,--not once, but again and
again; and he has ranged under each head, in entire contempt of real
order of time, the perils he thinks owing to each foe. Furwitz most
justly gets the credit of Maximilian's perils on the steeple of Ulm,
though, unfortunately, the artist has represented the daring climber
as standing not much above the shoulders of Furwitz and Ehrenhold;
and although the annotation tells us that his "hinder half foot"
overhung the scaffold, the danger in the print is not appalling.
Furwitz likewise inveigles him into putting the point (schnabel) of
his shoe into the wheel of a mill for turning stone balls, where he
certainly hardly deserved to lose nothing but the beak of his shoe.
This enemy also brings him into numerous unpleasant predicaments on
precipices, where he hangs by one hand; while the chamois stand
delighted on every available peak, Furwitz grins malevolently, and
Ehrenhold stands pointing at him over his shoulder. Time and place
are given in the notes for all these escapes. After some twenty
adventures Furwitz is beaten off, and Umfallo tries his powers. Here
the misadventures do not involve so much folly on the hero's part--
though, to be sure, he ventures into a lion's den unarmed, and has to
beat off the inmates with a shovel. But the other adventures are
more rational. He catches a jester--of admirably foolish expression-
-putting a match to a powder-magazine; he is wonderfully preserved in
mountain avalanches and hurricanes; reins up his horse on the verge
of an abyss; falls through ice in Holland and shows nothing but his
head above it; cures himself of a fever by draughts of water, to the
great disgust of his physicians, and escapes a fire bursting out of a
Neidelhard brings his real battles and perils. From this last he is
in danger of shipwreck, of assassination, of poison, in single
combat, or in battle; tumults of the people beset him; he is
imprisoned as at Ghent. But finally Neidelhard is beaten back; and
the hero is presented to Ehrenreich. Ehrenhold recounts his
triumphs, and accuses the three captains. One is hung, another
beheaded, the third thrown headlong from a tower, and a guardian
angel then summons Theurdank to his union with his Queen. No doubt
this reunion was the life-dream of the harassed, busy, inconsistent
man, who flashed through the turmoils of the early sixteenth century.
The adventures of Maximilian which have been adverted to in the story
are all to be found in Theurdank, and in his early life he was
probably the brilliant eager person we have tried in some degree to
describe. In his latter years it is well known that he was much
struck by Luther's arguments; and, indeed, he had long been conscious
of need of Church reform, though his plans took the grotesque form of
getting himself made Pope, and taking all into his own hands.
Perhaps it was unwise to have ever so faintly sketched Ebbo's career
through the ensuing troubles; but the history of the star and of the
spark in the stubble seemed to need completion; and the working out
of the character of the survivor was unfinished till his course had
been thought over from the dawn of the Wittenberg teaching, which
must have seemed no novelty to an heir of the doctrine of Tauler, and
of the veritably Catholic divines of old times. The idea is of the
supposed course of a thoughtful, refined, conscientious man through
the earlier times of the Reformation, glad of the hope of cleansing
the Church, but hoping to cleanse, not to break away from her--a hope
that Luther himself long cherished, and which was not entirely
frustrated till the re-assembly at Trent in the next generation.
Justice has never been done to the men who feared to loose their hold
on the Church Catholic as the one body to which the promises were
made. Their loyalty has been treated as blindness, timidity, or
superstition; but that there were many such persons, and those among
the very highest minds of their time, no one can have any doubt after
reading such lives as those of Friedrich the Wise of Saxony, of
Erasmus, of Vittoria Colonna, or of Cardinal Giustiniani.
April 9, 1836.
CHAPTER I: MASTER GOTTFRIED'S WORKSHOP
The upper lattices of a tall, narrow window were open, and admitted
the view, of first some richly-tinted vine leaves and purpling
grapes, then, in dazzling freshness of new white stone, the lacework
fabric of a half-built minster spire, with a mason's crane on the
summit, bending as though craving for a further supply of materials;
and beyond, peeping through every crevice of the exquisite open
fretwork, was the intensely blue sky of early autumn.
The lower longer panes of the window were closed, and the glass,
divided into circles and quarrels, made the scene less distinct; but
still the huge stone tower was traceable, and, farther off, the slope
of a gently-rising hill, clothed with vineyards blushing into autumn
richness. Below, the view was closed by the gray wall of a court-
yard, laden with fruit-trees in full bearing, and inclosing paved
paths that radiated from a central fountain, and left spaces between,
where a few summer flowers still lingered, and the remains of others
showed what their past glory had been.
The interior of the room was wainscoted, the floor paved with bright
red and cream-coloured tiles, and the tall stove in one corner
decorated with the same. The eastern end of the apartment was
adorned with an exquisite small group carved in oak, representing the
carpenter's shop at Nazareth, with the Holy Child instructed by
Joseph in the use of tools, and the Mother sitting with her book,
"pondering these things in her heart." All around were blocks of
wood and carvings in varying states of progress--some scarcely shaped
out, and others in perfect completion. And the subjects were equally
various. Here was an adoring angel with folded wings, clasped hands,
and rapt face; here a majestic head of an apostle or prophet; here a
lovely virgin saint, seeming to play smilingly with the instrument of
her martyrdom; here a grotesque miserere group, illustrating a fairy
tale, or caricaturing a popular fable here a beauteous festoon of
flowers and fruit, emulating nature in all save colour; and on the
work-table itself, growing under the master's hand, was a long
wreath, entirely composed of leaves and seed-vessels in their quaint
and beauteous forms--the heart-shaped shepherd's purse, the mask-like
skull-cap, and the crowned urn of the henbane. The starred cap of
the poppy was actually being shaped under the tool, copied from a
green capsule, surmounted with purple velvety rays, which, together
with its rough and wavy leaf, was held in the hand of a young maiden
who knelt by the table, watching the work with eager interest.
She was not a beautiful girl--not one of those whose "bright eyes
rain influence, and judge the prize." She was too small, too slight,
too retiring for such a position. If there was something lily-like
in her drooping grace, it was not the queen-lily of the garden that
she resembled, but the retiring lily of the valley--so purely,
transparently white was her skin, scarcely tinted by a roseate blush
on the cheek, so tender and modest the whole effect of her slender
figure, and the soft, downcast, pensive brown eyes, utterly
dissimilar in hue from those of all her friends and kindred, except
perhaps the bright, quick ones of her uncle, the master-carver.
Otherwise, his portly form, open visage, and good-natured
stateliness, as well as his furred cap and gold chain, were
thoroughly those of the German burgomaster of the fifteenth century;
but those glittering black eyes had not ceased to betray their
French, or rather Walloon, origin, though for several generations
back the family had been settled at Ulm. Perhaps, too, it was
Walloon quickness and readiness of wit that had made them, so soon as
they became affiliated, so prominent in all the councils of the good
free city, and so noted for excellence in art and learning. Indeed
the present head of the family, Master Gottfried Sorel, was so much
esteemed for his learning that he had once had serious thoughts of
terming himself Magister Gothofredus Oxalicus, and might have carried
it out but for the very decided objections of his wife, Dame Johanna,
and his little niece, Christina, to being dubbed by any such surname.
Master Gottfried had had a scapegrace younger brother named Hugh, who
had scorned both books and tools, had been the plague of the
workshop, and, instead of coming back from his wandering year of
improvement, had joined a band of roving Lanzknechts. No more had
been heard of him for a dozen or fifteen years, when he suddenly
arrived at the paternal mansion at Ulm, half dead with intermittent
fever, and with a young, broken-hearted, and nearly expiring wife,
his spoil in his Italian campaigns. His rude affection had utterly
failed to console her for her desolated home and slaughtered kindred,
and it had so soon turned to brutality that, when brought to
comparative peace and rest in his brother's home, there was nothing
left for the poor Italian but to lie down and die, commending her
babe in broken German to Hausfrau Johanna, and blessing Master
Gottfried for his flowing Latin assurances that the child should be
to them even as the little maiden who was lying in the God's acre
upon the hillside
And verily the little Christina had been a precious gift to the
bereaved couple. Her father had no sooner recovered than he returned
to his roving life, and, except for a report that he had been seen
among the retainers of one of the robber barons of the Swabian Alps,
nothing had been heard of him; and Master Gottfried only hoped to be
spared the actual pain and scandal of knowing when his eyes were
blinded and his head swept off at a blow, or when he was tumbled
headlong into a moat, suspended from a tree, or broken on the wheel:
a choice of fates that was sure sooner or later to befall him.
Meantime, both the burgomeister and burgomeisterinn did their utmost
to forget that the gentle little girl was not their own; they set all
their hopes and joys on her, and, making her supply the place at once
of son and daughter, they bred her up in all the refinements and
accomplishments in which the free citizens of Germany took the lead
in the middle and latter part of the fifteenth century. To aid her
aunt in all house-wifely arts, to prepare dainty food and varied
liquors, and to spin, weave, and broider, was only a part of
Christina's training; her uncle likewise set great store by her sweet
Italian voice, and caused her to be carefully taught to sing and play
on the lute, and he likewise delighted in hearing her read aloud to
him from the hereditary store of MSS. and from the dark volumes that
began to proceed from the press. Nay, Master Gottfried had made
experiments in printing and wood-engraving on his own account, and
had found no head so intelligent, no hand so desirous to aid him, as
his little Christina's, who, in all that needed taste and skill
rather than strength, was worth all his prentices and journeymen
together. Some fine bold wood-cuts had been produced by their joint
efforts; but these less important occupations had of late been set
aside by the engrossing interest of the interior fittings of the
great "Dome Kirk," which for nearly a century had been rising by the
united exertions of the burghers, without any assistance from
without. The foundation had been laid in 1377; and at length, in the
year of grace 1472, the crown of the apse had been closed in, and
matters were so forward that Master Gottfried's stall work was
already in requisition for the choir.
"Three cubits more," he reckoned. "Child, hast thou found me fruits
enough for the completing of this border?"
"O yes, mine uncle. I have the wild rosehip, and the flat shield of
the moonwort, and a pea-pod, and more whose names I know not. But
should they all be seed and fruit?"
"Yea, truly, my Stina, for this wreath shall speak of the goodly
fruits of a completed life."
"Even as that which you carved in spring told of the blossom and fair
promise of youth," returned the maiden. "Methinks the one is the
most beautiful, as it ought to be;" then, after a little pause, and
some reckoning, "I have scarce seed-pods enough in store, uncle;
might we not seek some rarer shapes in the herb-garden of Master
Gerhard, the physician? He, too, might tell me the names of some of
"True, child; or we might ride into the country beyond the walls, and
seek them. What, little one, wouldst thou not?"
"So we go not far," faltered Christina, colouring.
"Ha, thou hast not forgotten the fright thy companions had from the
Schlangenwald reitern when gathering Maydew? Fear not, little
coward; if we go beyond the suburbs we will take Hans and Peter with
their halberts. But I believe thy silly little heart can scarce be
free for enjoyment if it can fancy a Reiter within a dozen leagues of
"At your side I would not fear. That is, I would not vex thee by my
folly, and I might forget it," replied Christina, looking down.
"My gentle child!" the old man said approvingly. "Moreover, if our
good Raiser has his way, we shall soon be free of the reitern of
Schlangenwald, and Adlerstein, and all the rest of the mouse-trap
barons. He is hoping to form a league of us free imperial cities
with all the more reasonable and honest nobles, to preserve the peace
of the country. Even now a letter from him was read in the Town Hall
to that effect; and, when all are united against them, my lords-
mousers must needs become pledged to the league, or go down before
"Ah! that will be well," cried Christina. "Then will our wagons be
no longer set upon at the Debateable Ford by Schlangenwald or
Adlerstein; and our wares will come safely, and there will be wealth
enough to raise our spire! O uncle, what a day of joy will that be
when Our Lady's great statue will be set on the summit!"
"A day that I shall scarce see, and it will be well if thou dost,"
returned her uncle, "unless the hearts of the burghers of Ulm return
to the liberality of their fathers, who devised that spire! But what
trampling do I hear?"
There was indeed a sudden confusion in the house, and, before the
uncle and niece could rise, the door was opened by a prosperous
apple-faced dame, exclaiming in a hasty whisper, "Housefather, O
Housefather, there are a troop of reitern at the door, dismounting
already;" and, as the master came forward, brushing from his furred
vest the shavings and dust of his work, she added in a more furtive,
startled accent, "and, if I mistake not, one is thy brother!"
"He is welcome," replied Master Gottfried, in his cheery fearless
voice; "he brought us a choice gift last time he came; and it may be
he is ready to seek peace among us after his wanderings. Come
hither, Christina, my little one; it is well to be abashed, but thou
art not a child who need fear to meet a father."
Christina's extreme timidity, however, made her pale and crimson by
turns, perhaps by the infection of anxiety from her aunt, who could
not conceal a certain dissatisfaction and alarm, as the maiden, led
on either side by her adopted parents, thus advanced from the little
studio into a handsomely-carved wooden gallery, projecting into a
great wainscoated room, with a broad carved stair leading down into
it. Down this stair the three proceeded, and reached the stone hall
that lay beyond it, just as there entered from the trellised porch,
that covered the steps into the street, a thin wiry man, in a worn
and greasy buff suit, guarded on the breast and arms with rusty
steel, and a battered helmet with the vizor up, disclosing a weather-
beaten bronzed face, with somewhat wild dark eyes, and a huge
grizzled moustache forming a straight line over his lips. Altogether
he was a complete model of the lawless Reiter or Lanzknecht, the
terror of Swabia, and the bugbear of Christina's imagination. The
poor child's heart died within her as she perceived the mutual
recognition between her uncle and the new comer; and, while Master
Gottfried held out his hands with a cordial greeting of "Welcome,
home, brother Hugh," she trembled from head to foot, as she sank on
her knees, and murmured, "Your blessing, honoured father."
"Ha? What, this is my girl? What says she? My blessing, eh? There
then, thou hast it, child, such as I have to give, though they'll
tell thee at Adlerstein that I am more wont to give the other sort of
blessing! Now, give me a kiss, girl, and let me see thee! How now!"
as he folded her in his rough arms; "thou art a mere feather, as
slight as our sick Jungfrau herself." And then, regarding her, as
she stood drooping, "Thou art not half the woman thy mother was--she
was stately and straight as a column, and tall withal."
"True!" replied Hausfrau Johanna, in a marked tone; "but both she and
her poor babe had been so harassed and wasted with long journeys and
hardships, that with all our care of our Christina, she has never
been strong or well-grown. The marvel is that she lived at all."
"Our Christina is not beautiful, we know," added her uncle,
reassuringly taking her hand; "but she is a good and meek maiden."
"Well, well," returned the Lanzknecht, "she will answer the purpose
well enough, or better than if she were fair enough to set all our
fellows together by the ears for her. Camilla, I say--no, what's her
name, Christina?--put up thy gear and be ready to start with me to-
morrow morning for Adlerstein."
"For Adlerstein?" re-echoed the housemother, in a tone of horrified
dismay; and Christina would have dropped on the floor but for her
uncle's sustaining hand, and the cheering glance with which he met
her imploring look.
"Let us come up to the gallery, and understand what you desire,
brother," said Master Gottfried, gravely. "Fill the cup of greeting,
Hans. Your followers shall be entertained in the hall," he added.
"Ay, ay," quoth Hugh, "I will show you reason over a goblet of the
old Rosenburg. Is it all gone yet, brother Goetz? No? I reckon
there would not be the scouring of a glass left of it in a week if it
were at Adlerstein."
So saying, the trooper crossed the lower room, which contained a huge
tiled baking oven, various brilliantly-burnished cooking utensils,
and a great carved cupboard like a wooden bedstead, and, passing the
door of the bathroom, clanked up the oaken stairs to the gallery, the
reception-room of the house. It had tapestry hangings to the wall,
and cushions both to the carved chairs and deep windows, which looked
out into the street, the whole storey projecting into close proximity
with the corresponding apartment of the Syndic Moritz, the goldsmith
on the opposite side. An oaken table stood in the centre, and the
gallery was adorned with a dresser, displaying not only bright
pewter, but goblets and drinking cups of beautifully-shaped and
coloured glass, and saltcellars, tankards, &c. of gold and silver.
"Just as it was in the old man's time," said the soldier, throwing
himself into the housefather's chair. "A handful of Lanzknechts
would make short work with your pots and pans, good sister Johanna."
"Heaven forbid!" said poor Johanna under her breath. "Much good they
do you, up in a row there, making you a slave to furbishing them.
There's more sense in a chair like this--that does rest a man's
bones. Here, Camilla, girl, unlace my helmet! What, know'st not
how? What is a woman made for but to let a soldier free of his
trappings? Thou hast done it! There! Now my boots," stretching out
"Hans shall draw off your boots, fair brother," began the dame; but
poor Christina, the more anxious to propitiate him in little things,
because of the horror and dread with which his main purpose inspired
her, was already on her knees, pulling with her small quivering hands
at the long steel-guarded boot--a task to which she would have been
utterly inadequate, but for some lazy assistance from her father's
other foot. She further brought a pair of her uncle's furred
slippers, while Reiter Hugh proceeded to dangle one of the boots in
the air, expatiating on its frail condition, and expressing his
intention of getting a new pair from Master Matthias, the sutor, ere
he should leave Ulm on the morrow. Then, again, came the dreaded
subject; his daughter must go with him.
"What would you with Christina, brother?" gravely asked Master
Gottfried, seating himself on the opposite side of the stove, while
out of sight the frightened girl herself knelt on the floor, her head
on her aunt's knees, trying to derive comfort from Dame Johanna's
clasping hands, and vehement murmurs that they would not let their
child be taken from them. Alas! these assurances were little in
accordance with Hugh's rough reply, "And what is it to you what I do
with mine own?"
"Only this, that, having bred her up as my child and intended
heiress, I might have some voice."
"Oh! in choosing her mate! Some mincing artificer, I trow, fiddling
away with wood and wire to make gauds for the fair-day! Hast got him
here? If I like him, and she likes him, I'll bring her back when her
work is done."
"There is no such person as yet in the case," said Gottfried.
"Christina is not yet seventeen, and I would take my time to find an
honest, pious burgher, who will value this precious jewel of mine."
"And let her polish his flagons to the end of her days," laughed Hugh
grimly, but manifestly somewhat influenced by the notion of his
brother's wealth. "What, hast no child of thine own?" he added.
"None, save in Paradise," answered Gottfried, crossing himself. "And
thus, if Christina should remain with me, and be such as I would have
her, then, brother, my wealth, after myself and my good housewife,
shall be hers, with due provision for thee, if thou shouldst weary of
thy wild life. Otherwise," he added, looking down, and speaking in
an under tone, "my poor savings should go to the completion of the
"And who told thee, Goetz, that I would do ought with the girl that
should hinder her from being the very same fat, sourkrout-cooking,
pewter-scrubbing housewife of thy mind's eye?"
"I have heard nothing of thy designs as yet, brother Hugh, save that
thou wouldst take her to Adlerstein, which men greatly belie if it be
not a nest of robbers."
"Aha! thou hast heard of Adlerstein! We have made the backs of your
jolly merchants tingle as well as they could through their well-lined
doublets! Ulm knows of Adlerstein, and the Debateable Ford!"
"It knows little to its credit," said Gottfried, gravely; "and it
knows also that the Emperor is about to make a combination against
all the Swabian robber-holds, and that such as join not in it will
fare the worse."
"Let Kaiser Fritz catch his bear ere he sells its hide! He has never
tried to mount the Eagle's Ladder! Why, man, Adlerstein might be
held against five hundred men by sister Johanna with her rock and
spindle! 'Tis a free barony, Master Gottfried, I tell thee--has
never sworn allegiance to Kaiser or Duke of Swabia either! Freiherr
Eberhard is as much a king on his own rock as Kaiser Fritz ever was
of the Romans, and more too, for I never could find out that they
thought much of our king at Rome; and, as to gainsaying our old
Freiherr, one might as well leap over the abyss at once."
"Yes, those old free barons are pitiless tyrants," said Gottfried,
"and I scarce think I can understand thee aright when I hear thee say
thou wouldst carry thy daughter to such an abode."
"It is the Freiherr's command," returned Hugh. "Look you, they have
had wondrous ill-luck with their children; the Freiherrinn Kunigunde
has had a dozen at least, and only two are alive, my young Freiherr
and my young Lady Ermentrude; and no wonder, you would say, if you
could see the gracious Freiherrinn, for surely Dame Holda made a
blunder when she fished her out of the fountain woman instead of man.
She is Adlerstein herself by birth, married her cousin, and is
prouder and more dour than our old Freiherr himself--fitter far to
handle shield than swaddled babe. And now our Jungfrau has fallen
into a pining waste, that 'tis a pity to see how her cheeks have
fallen away, and how she mopes and fades. Now, the old Freiherr and
her brother, they both dote on her, and would do anything for her.
They thought she was bewitched, so we took old Mother Ilsebill and
tried her with the ordeal of water; but, look you, she sank as
innocent as a puppy dog, and Ursel was at fault to fix on any one
else. Then one day, when I looked into the chamber, I saw the poor
maiden sitting, with her head hanging down, as if 'twas too heavy for
her, on a high-backed chair, no rest for her feet, and the wind
blowing keen all round her, and nothing to taste but scorched beef,
or black bread and sour wine, and her mother rating her for foolish
fancies that gave trouble. And, when my young Freiherr was bemoaning
himself that we could not hear of a Jew physician passing our way to
catch and bring up to cure her, I said to him at last that no doctor
could do for her what gentle tendance and nursing would, for what the
poor maiden needed was to be cosseted and laid down softly, and fed
with broths and possets, and all that women know how to do with one
another. A proper scowl and hard words I got from my gracious Lady,
for wanting to put burgher softness into an Adlerstein; but my old
lord and his son opened on the scent at once. 'Thou hast a
daughter?' quoth the Freiherr. 'So please your gracious lordship,'
quoth I; 'that is, if she still lives, for I left her a puny infant.'
'Well,' said my lord, 'if thou wilt bring her here, and her care
restores my daughter to health and strength, then will I make thee my
body squire, with a right to a fourth part of all the spoil, and feed
for two horses in my stable.' And young Freiherr Eberhard gave his
word upon it."
Gottfried suggested that a sick nurse was the person required rather
than a child like Christina; but, as Hugh truly observed, no nurse
would voluntarily go to Adlerstein, and it was no use to wait for the
hopes of capturing one by raid or foray. His daughter was at his own
disposal, and her services would be repaid by personal advantages to
himself which he was not disposed to forego; in effect these were the
only means that the baron had of requiting any attendance upon his
The citizens of old Germany had the strongest and most stringent
ideas of parental authority, and regarded daughters as absolute
chattels of their father; and Master Gottfried Sorel, though he alone
had done the part of a parent to his niece, felt entirely unable to
withstand the nearer claim, except by representations; and these fell
utterly disregarded, as in truth every counsel had hitherto done,
upon the ears of Reiter Hugh, ever since he had emerged from his
swaddling clothes. The plentiful supper, full cup of wine, the
confections, the soft chair, together perhaps with his brother's
grave speech, soon, however, had the effect of sending him into a
doze, whence he started to accept civilly the proposal of being
installed in the stranger's room, where he was speedily snoring
between two feather beds.
Then there could be freedom of speech in the gallery, where the uncle
and aunt held anxious counsel over the poor little dark-tressed head
that still lay upon good Johanna's knees. The dame was indignant and
resolute: "Take the child back with him into a very nest of
robbers!--her own innocent dove whom they had shielded from all evil
like a very nun in a cloister! She should as soon think of yielding
her up to be borne off by the great Satan himself with his horns and
"Hugh is her father, housewife," said the master-carver.
"The right of parents is with those that have done the duty of
parents," returned Johanna. "What said the kid in the fable to the
goat that claimed her from the sheep that bred her up? I am ashamed
of you, housefather, for not better loving your own niece."
"Heaven knows how I love her," said Gottfried, as the sweet face was
raised up to him with a look acquitting him of the charge, and he
bent to smooth back the silken hair, and kiss the ivory brow; "but
Heaven also knows that I see no means of withholding her from one
whose claim is closer than my own--none save one; and to that even
thou, housemother, wouldst not have me resort."
"What is it?" asked the dame, sharply, yet with some fear.
"To denounce him to the burgomasters as one of the Adlerstein
retainers who robbed Philipp der Schmidt, and have him fast laid by
Christina shuddered, and Dame Johanna herself recoiled; but presently
exclaimed, "Nay, you could not do that, good man, but wherefore not
threaten him therewith? Stand at his bedside in early dawn, and tell
him that, if he be not off ere daylight with both his cut-throats,
the halberdiers will be upon him."
"Threaten what I neither could nor would perform, mother? That were
a shrewish resource."
"Yet would it save the child," muttered Johanna. But, in the
meantime, Christina was rising from the floor, and stood before them
with loose hair, tearful eyes, and wet, flushed cheeks. "It must be
thus," she said, in a low, but not unsteady voice. "I can bear it
better since I have heard of the poor young lady, sick and with none
to care for her. I will go with my father; it is my duty. I will do
my best; but oh! uncle, so work with him that he may bring me back
"This from thee, Stina!" exclaimed her aunt; "from thee who art sick
for fear of a lanzknecht!"
"The saints will be with me, and you will pray for me," said
Christina, still trembling.
"I tell thee, child, thou knowst not what these vile dens are.
Heaven forfend thou shouldst!" exclaimed her aunt. "Go only to
Father Balthazar, housefather, and see if he doth not call it a
sending of a lamb among wolves."
"Mind'st thou the carving I did for Father Balthazar's own oratory?"
replied Master Gottfried.
"I talk not of carving! I talk of our child!" said the dame,
"Ut agnus inter lupos," softly said Gottfried, looking tenderly,
though sadly, at his niece, who not only understood the quotation,
but well remembered the carving of the cross-marked lamb going forth
from its fold among the howling wolves.
"Alas! I am not an apostle," said she.
"Nay, but, in the path of duty, 'tis the same hand that sends thee
forth," answered her uncle, "and the same will guard thee."
"Duty, indeed!" exclaimed Johanna. "As if any duty could lead that
silly helpless child among that herd of evil men, and women yet
worse, with a good-for-nothing father, who would sell her for a good
horse to the first dissolute Junker who fell in his way."
"I will take care that he knows it is worth his while to restore her
safe to us. Nor do I think so ill of Hugh as thou dost, mother.
And, for the rest, Heaven and the saints and her own discretion must
be her guard till she shall return to us."
"How can Heaven be expected to protect her when you are flying in its
face by not taking counsel with Father Balthazar?"
"That shalt thou do," replied Gottfried, readily, secure that Father
Balthazar would see the matter in the same light as himself, and
tranquillize the good woman. It was not yet so late but that a
servant could be despatched with a request that Father Balthazar, who
lived not many houses off in the same street, would favour the
Burgomeisterinn Sorel by coming to speak with her. In a few minutes
he appeared,--an aged man, with a sensible face, of the fresh pure
bloom preserved by a temperate life. He was a secular parish-priest,
and, as well as his friend Master Gottfried, held greatly by the
views left by the famous Strasburg preacher, Master John Tauler.
After the good housemother had, in strong terms, laid the case before
him, she expected a trenchant decision on her own side, but, to her
surprise and disappointment, he declared that Master Gottfried was
right, and that, unless Hugh Sorel demanded anything absolutely
sinful of his daughter, it was needful that she should submit. He
repeated, in stronger terms, the assurance that she would be
protected in the endeavour to do right, and the Divine promises which
he quoted from the Latin Scriptures gave some comfort to the niece,
who understood them, while they impressed the aunt, who did not.
There was always the hope that, whether the young lady died or
recovered, the conclusion of her illness would be the term of
Christina's stay at Adlerstein, and with this trust Johanna must
content herself. The priest took leave, after appointing with
Christina to meet her in the confessional early in the morning before
mass; and half the night was spent by the aunt and niece in preparing
Christina's wardrobe for her sudden journey.
Many a tear was shed over the tokens of the little services she was
wont to render, her half-done works, and pleasant studies so suddenly
broken off, and all the time Hausfrau Johanna was running on with a
lecture on the diligent preservation of her maiden discretion, with
plentiful warnings against swaggering men-at-arms, drunken
lanzknechts, and, above all, against young barons, who most assuredly
could mean no good by any burgher maiden. The good aunt blessed the
saints that her Stina was likely only to be lovely in affectionate
home eyes; but, for that matter, idle men, shut up in a castle, with
nothing but mischief to think of, would be dangerous to Little Three
Eyes herself, and Christina had best never stir a yard from her
lady's chair, when forced to meet them. All this was interspersed
with motherly advice how to treat the sick lady, and receipts for
cordials and possets; for Johanna began to regard the case as a sort
of second-hand one of her own. Nay, she even turned it over in her
mind whether she should not offer herself as the Lady Ermentrude's
sick-nurse, as being a less dangerous commodity than her little
niece: but fears for the well-being of the master-carver, and his
Wirthschaft, and still more the notion of gossip Gertrude Grundt
hearing that she had ridden off with a wild lanzknecht, made her at
once reject the plan, without even mentioning it to her husband or
By the time Hugh Sorel rolled out from between his feather beds, and
was about to don his greasy buff, a handsome new suit, finished point
device, and a pair of huge boots to correspond, had been laid by his
"Ho, ho! Master Goetz," said he, as he stumbled into the Stube, "I
see thy game. Thou wouldst make it worth my while to visit the
father-house at Ulm?"
"It shall be worth thy while, indeed, if thou bringest me back my
white dove," was Gottfried's answer.
"And how if I bring her back with a strapping reiter son-in-law?"
laughed Hugh. "What welcome should the fellow receive?"
"That would depend on what he might be," replied Gottfried; and Hugh,
his love of tormenting a little allayed by satisfaction in his buff
suit, and by an eye to a heavy purse that lay by his brother's hand
on the table, added, "Little fear of that. Our fellows would look
for lustier brides than yon little pale face. 'Tis whiter than ever
this morning,--but no tears. That is my brave girl."
"Yes, father, I am ready to do your bidding," replied Christina,
"That is well, child. Mark me, no tears. Thy mother wept day and
night, and, when she had wept out her tears, she was sullen, when I
would have been friendly towards her. It was the worse for her.
But, so long as thou art good daughter to me, thou shalt find me good
father to thee;" and for a moment there was a kindliness in his eye
which made it sufficiently like that of his brother to give some
consolation to the shrinking heart that he was rending from all it
loved; and she steadied her voice for another gentle profession of
obedience, for which she felt strengthened by the morning's orisons.
"Well said, child. Now canst sit on old Nibelung's croup? His back-
bone is somewhat sharper than if he had battened in a citizen's
stall; but, if thine aunt can find thee some sort of pillion, I'll
promise thee the best ride thou hast had since we came from
Innspruck, ere thou canst remember."
"Christina has her own mule," replied her uncle, "without troubling
Nibelung to carry double."
"Ho! her own! An overfed burgomaster sort of a beast, that will turn
restive at the first sight of the Eagle's Ladder! However, he may
carry her so far, and, if we cannot get him up the mountain, I shall
know what to do with him," he muttered to himself.
But Hugh, like many a gentleman after him, was recusant at the sight
of his daughter's luggage; and yet it only loaded one sumpter mule,
besides forming a few bundles which could be easily bestowed upon the
saddles of his two knappen, while her lute hung by a silken string on
her arm. Both she and her aunt thought she had been extremely
moderate; but his cry was, What could she want with so much? Her
mother had never been allowed more than would go into a pair of
saddle-bags; and his own Jungfrau--she had never seen so much gear
together in her life; he would be laughed to scorn for his
presumption in bringing such a fine lady into the castle; it would be
well if Freiherr Eberhard's bride brought half as much.
Still he had a certain pride in it--he was, after all, by birth and
breeding a burgher--and there had been evidently a softening and
civilizing influence in the night spent beneath his paternal roof,
and old habits, and perhaps likewise in the submission he had met
with from his daughter. The attendants, too, who had been pleased
with their quarters, readily undertook to carry their share of the
burthen, and, though he growled and muttered a little, he at length
was won over to consent, chiefly, as it seemed, by Christina's
obliging readiness to leave behind the bundle that contained her
He had been spared all needless irritation. Before his waking,
Christina had been at the priest's cell, and had received his last
blessings and counsels, and she had, on the way back, exchanged her
farewells and tears with her two dearest friends, Barbara Schmidt,
and Regina Grundt, confiding to the former her cage of doves, and to
the latter the myrtle, which, like every German maiden, she cherished
in her window, to supply her future bridal wreath. Now pale as
death, but so resolutely composed as to be almost disappointing to
her demonstrative aunt, she quietly went through her home partings;
while Hausfrau Johanna adjured her father by all that was sacred to
be a true guardian and protector of the child, and he could not
forbear from a few tormenting auguries about the lanzknecht son-in-
law. Their effect was to make the good dame more passionate in her
embraces and admonitions to Christina to take care of herself. She
would have a mass said every day that Heaven might have a care of
Master Gottfried was going to ride as far as the confines of the free
city's territory, and his round, sleek, cream-coloured palfrey, used
to ambling in civic processions, was as great a contrast to raw-
boned, wild-eyed Nibelung, all dappled with misty grey, as was the
stately, substantial burgher to his lean, hungry-looking brother, or
Dame Johanna's dignified, curled, white poodle, which was forcibly
withheld from following Christina, to the coarse-bristled, wolfish-
looking hound who glared at the household pet with angry and
contemptuous eyes, and made poor Christina's heart throb with terror
whenever it bounded near her.
Close to her uncle she kept, as beneath the trellised porches that
came down from the projecting gables of the burghers' houses many a
well-known face gazed and nodded, as they took their way through the
crooked streets, many a beggar or poor widow waved her a blessing.
Out into the market-place, with its clear fountain adorned with
arches and statues, past the rising Dome Kirk, where the swarms of
workmen unbonneted to the master-carver, and the reiter paused with
an irreverent sneer at the small progress made since he could first
remember the building. How poor little Christina's soul clung to
every cusp of the lacework spire, every arch of the window, each of
which she had hailed as an achievement! The tears had well-nigh
blinded her in a gush of feeling that came on her unawares, and her
mule had his own way as he carried her under the arch of the tall and
beautifully-sculptured bridge tower, and over the noble bridge across
Her uncle spoke much, low and earnestly, to his brother. She knew it
was in commendation of her to his care, and an endeavour to impress
him with a sense of the kind of protection she would require, and she
kept out of earshot. It was enough for her to see her uncle still,
and feel that his tenderness was with her, and around her. But at
last he drew his rein. "And now, my little one, the daughter of my
heart, I must bid thee farewell," he said.
Christina could not be restrained from springing from her mule, and
kneeling on the grass to receive his blessing, her face hidden in her
hands, that her father might not see her tears.
"The good God bless thee, my child," said Gottfried, who seldom
invoked the saints; "bless thee, and bring thee back in His own good
time. Thou hast been a good child to us; be so to thine own father.
Do thy work, and come back to us again."
The tears rained down his cheeks, as Christina's head lay on his
bosom, and then with a last kiss he lifted her again on her mule,
mounted his horse, and turned back to the city, with his servant.
Hugh was merciful enough to let his daughter gaze long after the
retreating figure ere he summoned her on. All day they rode, at
first through meadow lands and then through more broken, open ground,
where at mid-day they halted, and dined upon the plentiful fare with
which the housemother had provided them, over which Hugh smacked his
lips, and owned that they did live well in the old town! Could
Christina make such sausages?
"Not as well as my aunt."
"Well, do thy best, and thou wilt win favour with the baron."
The evening began to advance, and Christina was very weary, as the
purple mountains that she had long watched with a mixture of fear and
hope began to look more distinct, and the ground was often in abrupt
ascents. Her father, without giving space for complaints, hurried
her on. He must reach the Debateable Ford ere dark. It was,
however, twilight when they came to an open space, where, at the foot
of thickly forest-clad rising ground, lay an expanse of turf and rich
grass, through which a stream made its way, standing in a wide
tranquil pool as if to rest after its rough course from the
mountains. Above rose, like a dark wall, crag upon crag, peak on
peak, in purple masses, blending with the sky; and Hugh, pointing
upwards to a turreted point, apparently close above their heads,
where a star of light was burning, told her that there was
Adlerstein, and this was the Debateable Ford.
In fact, as he explained, while splashing through the shallow
expanse, the stream had changed its course. It was the boundary
between the lands of Schlangenwald and Adlerstein, but it had within
the last sixty years burst forth in a flood, and had then declined to
return to its own bed, but had flowed in a fresh channel to the right
of the former one. The Freiherren von Adlerstein claimed the ground
to the old channel, the Graffen von Schlangenwald held that the river
was the landmark; and the dispute had a greater importance than
seemed explained from the worth of the rushy space of ground in
question, for this was the passage of the Italian merchants on their
way from Constance, and every load that was overthrown in the river
was regarded as the lawful prey of the noble on whose banks the
Any freight of goods was anxiously watched by both nobles, and it was
not their fault if no disaster befell the travellers. Hugh talked of
the Schlangenwald marauders with the bitterness of a deadly feud, but
manifestly did not breathe freely till his whole convoy were safe
across both the wet and the dry channel.
Christina supposed they should now ascend to the castle; but her
father laughed, saying that the castle was not such a step off as she
fancied, and that they must have daylight for the Eagle's Stairs. He
led the way through the trees, up ground that she thought mountain
already, and finally arrived at a miserable little hut, which served
the purpose of an inn.
He was received there with much obsequiousness, and was plainly a
great authority there. Christina, weary and frightened, descended
from her mule, and was put under the protection of a wild, rough-
looking peasant woman, who stared at her like something from another
world, but at length showed her a nook behind a mud partition, where
she could spread her mantle, and at least lie down, and tell her
beads unseen, if she could not sleep in the stifling, smoky
atmosphere, amid the sounds of carousal among her father and his
The great hound came up and smelt to her. His outline was so-
wolfish, that she had nearly screamed: but, more in terror at the
men who might have helped her than even at the beast, she tried to
smooth him with her trembling hand, whispered his name of "Festhold,"
and found him licking her hand, and wagging his long rough tail. And
he finally lay down at her feet, as though to protect her.
"Is it a sign that good angels will not let me be hurt?" she thought,
and, wearied out, she slept.
CHAPTER II: THE EYRIE
Christina Sorel awoke to a scene most unlike that which had been wont
to meet her eyes in her own little wainscoted chamber high in the
gabled front of her uncle's house. It was a time when the imperial
free towns of Germany had advanced nearly as far as those of Italy in
civilization, and had reached a point whence they retrograded
grievously during the Thirty Years' War, even to an extent that they
have never entirely recovered. The country immediately around them
shared the benefits of their civilization, and the free peasant-
proprietors lived in great ease and prosperity, in beautiful and
picturesque farmsteads, enjoying a careless abundance, and keeping
numerous rural or religious feasts, where old Teutonic mythological
observances had received a Christian colouring and adaptation.
In the mountains, or around the castles, it was usually very
different. The elective constitution of the empire, the frequent
change of dynasty, the many disputed successions, had combined to
render the sovereign authority uncertain and feeble, and it was
seldom really felt save in the hereditary dominions of the Kaiser for
the time being. Thus, while the cities advanced in the power of
self-government, and the education it conveyed, the nobles,
especially those whose abodes were not easily accessible, were often
practically under no government at all, and felt themselves
accountable to no man. The old wild freedom of the Suevi, and other
Teutonic tribes, still technically, and in many cases practically,
existed. The Heretogen, Heerzogen, or, as we call them, Dukes, had
indeed accepted employment from the Kaiser as his generals, and had
received rewards from him; the Gerefen, or Graffen, of all kinds were
his judges, the titles of both being proofs of their holding
commissions from, and being thus dependent on, the court. But the
Freiherren, a word very inadequately represented by our French term
of baron, were absolutely free, "never in bondage to any man,"
holding their own, and owing no duty, no office; poorer, because
unendowed by the royal authority, but holding themselves infinitely
higher, than the pensioners of the court. Left behind, however, by
their neighbours, who did their part by society, and advanced with
it, the Freiherren had been for the most part obliged to give up
their independence and fall into the system, but so far in the rear,
that they ranked, like the barons of France and England, as the last
order of nobility.
Still, however, in the wilder and more mountainous parts of the
country, some of the old families of unreduced, truly free Freiherren
lingered, their hand against every man, every man's hand against
them, and ever becoming more savage, both positively and still more
proportionately, as their isolation and the general progress around
them became greater. The House of Austria, by gradually absorbing
hereditary states into its own possessions, was, however, in the
fifteenth century, acquiring a preponderance that rendered its
possession of the imperial throne almost a matter of inheritance, and
moreover rendered the supreme power far more effective than it had
ever previously been. Freidrich III. a man still in full vigour, and
with an able and enterprising son already elected to the succession,
was making his rule felt, and it was fast becoming apparent that the
days of the independent baronies were numbered, and that the only
choice that would soon be left them would be between making terms and
being forcibly reduced. Von Adlerstein was one of the oldest of
these free families. If the lords of the Eagle's Stone had ever
followed the great Konrads and Freidrichs of Swabia in their imperial
days, their descendants had taken care to forget the weakness, and
believed themselves absolutely free from all allegiance.
And the wildness of their territory was what might be expected from
their hostility to all outward influences. The hostel, if it
deserved the name, was little more than a charcoal-burner's hut,
hidden in the woods at the foot of the mountain, serving as a
halting-place for the Freiherren's retainers ere they attempted the
ascent. The inhabitants were allowed to ply their trade of charring
wood in the forest on condition of supplying the castle with
charcoal, and of affording a lodging to the followers on occasions
like the present.
Grimy, half-clad, and brawny, with the whites of his eyes gleaming
out of his black face, Jobst the Kohler startled Christina terribly
when she came into the outer room, and met him returning from his
night's work, with his long stoking-pole in his hand. Her father
shouted with laughter at her alarm.
"Thou thinkest thyself in the land of the kobolds and dwarfs, my
girl! Never mind, thou wilt see worse than honest Jobst before thou
hast done. Now, eat a morsel and be ready--mountain air will make
thee hungry ere thou art at the castle. And, hark thee, Jobst, thou
must give stable-room to yon sumpter-mule for the present, and let
some of my daughter's gear lie in the shed."
"O father!" exclaimed Christina, in dismay.
"We'll bring it up, child, by piecemeal," he said in a low voice, "as
we can; but if such a freight came to the castle at once, my lady
would have her claws on it, and little more wouldst thou ever see
thereof. Moreover, I shall have enough to do to look after thee up
the ascent, without another of these city-bred beasts."
"I hope the poor mule will be well cared for. I can pay for--" began
Christina; but her father squeezed her arm, and drowned her soft
voice in his loud tones.
"Jobst will take care of the beast, as belonging to me. Woe betide
him, if I find it the worse!"--and his added imprecations seemed
unnecessary, so earnest were the asseverations of both the man and
his wife that the animal should be well cared for.
"Look you, Christina," said Hugh Sorel, as soon as he had placed her
on her mule, and led her out of hearing, "if thou hast any gold about
thee, let it be the last thing thou ownest to any living creature up
there." Then, as she was about to speak--"Do not even tell me. I
WILL not know." The caution did not add much to Christina's comfort;
but she presently asked, "Where is thy steed, father?"
"I sent him up to the castle with the Schneiderlein and Yellow
Lorentz," answered the father. "I shall have ado enough on foot with
thee before we are up the Ladder."
The father and daughter were meantime proceeding along a dark path
through oak and birch woods, constantly ascending, until the oak grew
stunted and disappeared, and the opening glades showed steep, stony,
torrent-furrowed ramparts of hillside above them, looking to
Christina's eyes as if she were set to climb up the cathedral side
like a snail or a fly. She quite gasped for breath at the very
sight, and was told in return to wait and see what she would yet say
to the Adlerstreppe, or Eagle's Ladder. Poor child! she had no
raptures for romantic scenery; she knew that jagged peaks made very
pretty backgrounds in illuminations, but she had much rather have
been in the smooth meadows of the environs of Ulm. The Danube looked
much more agreeable to her, silver-winding between its green banks,
than did the same waters leaping down with noisy voices in their
stony, worn beds to feed the river that she only knew in his grave
breadth and majesty. Yet, alarmed as she was, there was something in
the exhilaration and elasticity of the mountain air that gave her an
entirely new sensation of enjoyment and life, and seemed to brace her
limbs and spirits for whatever might be before her; and, willing to
show herself ready to be gratified, she observed on the freshness and
sweetness of the air.
"Thou find'st it out, child? Ay, 'tis worth all the feather-beds and
pouncet-boxes in Ulm; is it not? That accursed Italian fever never
left me till I came up here. A man can scarce draw breath in your
foggy meadows below there. Now then, here is the view open. What
think you of the Eagle's Nest?"
For, having passed beyond the region of wood they had come forth upon
the mountain-side. A not immoderately steep slope of boggy, mossy-
looking ground covered with bilberries, cranberries, &c. and with
bare rocks here and there rising, went away above out of her ken; but
the path she was upon turned round the shoulder of the mountain, and
to the left, on a ledge of rock cut off apparently on their side by a
deep ravine, and with a sheer precipice above and below it, stood a
red stone pile, with one turret far above the rest.
"And this is Schloss Adlerstein?" she exclaimed.
"That is Schloss Adlerstein; and there shalt thou be in two hours'
time, unless the devil be more than usually busy, or thou mak'st a
fool of thyself. If so, not Satan himself could save thee."
It was well that Christina had resolution to prevent her making a
fool of herself on the spot, for the thought of the pathway turned
her so dizzy that she could only shut her eyes, trusting that her
father did not see her terror. Soon the turn round to the side of
the mountain was made, and the road became a mere track worn out on
the turf on the hillside, with an abyss beneath, close to the edge of
which the mule, of course, walked.
When she ventured to look again, she perceived that the ravine was
like an enormous crack open on the mountain-side, and that the stream
that formed the Debateable Ford flowed down the bottom of it. The
ravine itself went probably all the way up the mountain, growing
shallower as it ascended higher; but here, where Christina beheld it,
it was extremely deep, and savagely desolate and bare. She now saw
that the Eagle's Ladder was a succession of bare gigantic terraces of
rock, of which the opposite side of the ravine was composed, and on
one of which stood the castle. It was no small mystery to her how it
had ever been built, or how she was ever to get there. She saw in
the opening of the ravine the green meadows and woods far below; and,
when her father pointed out to her the Debateable Ford, apparently
much nearer to the castle than they themselves were at present, she
asked why they had so far overpassed the castle, and come by this
"Because," said Hugh, "we are not eagles outright. Seest thou not,
just beyond the castle court, this whole crag of ours breaks off
short, falls like the town wall straight down into the plain? Even
this cleft that we are crossing by, the only road a horse can pass,
breaks off short and sudden too, so that the river is obliged to take
leaps which nought else but a chamois could compass. A footpath
there is, and Freiherr Eberhard takes it at all times, being born to
it; but even I am too stiff for the like. Ha! ha! Thy uncle may
talk of the Kaiser and his League, but he would change his note if we
had him here."
"Yet castles have been taken by hunger," said Christina.
"What, knowest thou so much?--True! But look you," pointing to a
white foamy thread that descended the opposite steeps, "yonder beck
dashes through the castle court, and it never dries; and see you the
ledge the castle stands on? It winds on out of your sight, and forms
a path which leads to the village of Adlerstein, out on the other
slope of the mountains; and ill were it for the serfs if they
victualled not the castle well."
The fearful steepness of the ground absorbed all Christina's
attention. The road, or rather stairs, came down to the stream at
the bottom of the fissure, and then went again on the other side up
still more tremendous steeps, which Hugh climbed with a staff,
sometimes with his hand on the bridle, but more often only keeping a
watchful eye on the sure-footed mule, and an arm to steady his
daughter in the saddle when she grew absolutely faint with giddiness
at the abyss around her. She was too much in awe of him to utter cry
or complaint, and, when he saw her effort to subdue her mortal
terror, he was far from unkind, and let her feel his protecting
Presently a voice was heard above--"What, Sorel, hast brought her!
Trudchen is wearying for her."
The words were in the most boorish dialect and pronunciation, the
stranger to Christina's ears, because intercourse with foreign
merchants, and a growing affectation of Latinism, had much refined
the city language to which she was accustomed; and she was surprised
to perceive by her father's gesture and address that the speaker must
be one of the lords of the castle. She looked up, and saw on the
pathway above her a tall, large-framed young man, his skin dyed red
with sun and wind, in odd contrast with his pale shaggy hair,
moustache, and beard, as though the weather had tanned the one and
bleached the other. His dress was a still shabbier buff suit than
her father had worn, but with a richly-embroidered belt sustaining a
hunting-horn with finely-chased ornaments of tarnished silver, and an
eagle's plume was fastened into his cap with a large gold Italian
coin. He stared hard at the maiden, but vouchsafed her no token of
greeting--only distressed her considerably by distracting her
father's attention from her mule by his questions about the journey,
all in the same rude, coarse tone and phraseology. Some amount of
illusion was dispelled. Christina was quite prepared to find the
mountain lords dangerous ruffians, but she had expected the graces of
courtesy and high birth; but, though there was certainly an air of
command and freedom of bearing about the present specimen, his
manners and speech were more uncouth than those of any newly-caught
apprentice of her uncle, and she could not help thinking that her
good aunt Johanna need not have troubled herself about the danger of
her taking a liking to any such young Freiherr as she here beheld.
By this time a last effort of the mule had climbed to the level of
the castle. As her father had shown her, there was precipice on two
sides of the building; on the third, a sheer wall of rock going up to
a huge height before it reached another of the Eagle's Steps; and on
the fourth, where the gateway was, the little beck had been made to
flow in a deep channel that had been hollowed out to serve as a moat,
before it bounded down to swell the larger water-course in the
ravine. A temporary bridge had been laid across; the drawbridge was
out of order, and part of Hugh's business had been to procure
materials for mending its apparatus. Christina was told to dismount
and cross on foot. The unrailed board, so close to the abyss, and
with the wild water foaming above and below, was dreadful to her;
and, though she durst not speak, she hung back with an involuntary
shudder, as her father, occupied with the mule, did not think of
giving her a hand. The young baron burst out into an unrestrained
laugh--a still greater shock to her feelings; but at the same time he
roughly took her hand, and almost dragged her across, saying, "City
bred--ho, ho!" "Thanks, sir," she strove to say, but she was very
near weeping with the terror and strangeness of all around.
The low-browed gateway, barely high enough to admit a man on
horseback, opened before her, almost to her feelings like the gate of
the grave, and she could not help crossing herself, with a silent
prayer for protection, as she stepped under it, and came into the
castle court--not such a court as gave its name to fair courtesy,
but, if truth must be told, far more resembling an ill-kept, ill-
savoured stable-yard, with the piggeries opening into it. In
unpleasantly close quarters, the Schneiderlein, or little tailor,
i.e. the biggest and fiercest of all the knappen, was grooming
Nibelung; three long-backed, long-legged, frightful swine were
grubbing in a heap of refuse; four or five gaunt ferocious-looking
dogs came bounding up to greet their comrade Festhold; and a great
old long-bearded goat stood on the top of the mixen, looking much
disposed to butt at any newcomer. The Sorel family had brought
cleanliness from Flanders, and Hausfrau Johanna was scrupulously
dainty in all her appointments. Christina scarcely knew how she
conveyed herself and her blue kirtle across the bemired stones to the
next and still darker portal, under which a wide but rough ill-hewn
stair ascended. The stables, in fact, occupied the lower floor of
the main building, and not till these stairs had ascended above them
did they lead out into the castle hall. Here were voices--voices
rude and harsh, like those Christina had shrunk from in passing
drinking booths. There was a long table, with rough men-at-arms
lounging about, and staring rudely at her; and at the upper end, by a
great open chimney, sat, half-dozing, an elderly man, more rugged in
feature than his son; and yet, when he roused himself and spoke to
Hugh, there was a shade more of breeding, and less of clownishness in
his voice and deportment, as if he had been less entirely devoid of
training. A tall darkly-robed woman stood beside him--it was her
harsh tone of reproof and command that had so startled Christina as
she entered--and her huge towering cap made her look gigantic in the
dim light of the smoky hall. Her features had been handsome, but had
become hardened into a grim wooden aspect; and with sinking spirits
Christina paused at the step of the dais, and made her reverence,
wishing she could sink beneath the stones of the pavement out of
sight of these terrible personages.
"So that's the wench you have taken all this trouble for," was
Freiherrinn Kunigunde's greeting. "She looks like another sick baby
to nurse; but I'll have no trouble about her;--that is all. Take her
up to Ermentrude; and thou, girl, have a care thou dost her will, and
puttest none of thy city fancies into her head."
"And hark thee, girl," added the old Freiherr, sitting up. "So thou
canst nurse her well, thou shalt have a new gown and a stout
"That way," pointed the lady towards one of the four corner towers;
and Christina moved doubtfully towards it, reluctant to quit her
father, her only protector, and afraid to introduce herself. The
younger Freiherr, however, stepped before her, went striding two or
three steps at a time up the turret stair, and, before Christina had
wound her way up, she heard a thin, impatient voice say, "Thou saidst
she was come, Ebbo."
"Yes, even so," she heard Freiherr Eberhard return; "but she is slow
and town-bred. She was afraid of crossing the moat." And then both
laughed, so that Christina's cheeks tingled as she emerged from the
turret into another vaulted room. "Here she is," quoth the brother;
"now will she make thee quite well."
It was a very bare and desolate room, with no hangings to the rough
stone walls, and scarcely any furniture, except a great carved
bedstead, one wooden chair, a table, and some stools. On the bare
floor, in front of the fire, her arm under her head, and a profusion
of long hair falling round her like flax from a distaff, lay wearily
a little figure, beside whom Sir Eberhard was kneeling on one knee.
"Here is my sisterling," said he, looking up to the newcomer. "They
say you burgher women have ways of healing the sick. Look at her.
Think you you can heal her?"
In an excess of dumb shyness Ermentrude half rose, and effectually
hindered any observations on her looks by hiding her face away upon
her brother's knee. It was the gesture of a child of five years old,
but Ermentrude's length of limb forbade Christina to suppose her less
than fourteen or fifteen. "What, wilt not look at her?" he said,
trying to raise her head; and then, holding out one of her wasted,
feverish hands to Christina, he again asked, with a wistfulness that
had a strange effect from the large, tall man, almost ten years her
elder, "Canst thou cure her, maiden?"
"I am no doctor, sir," replied Christina; "but I could, at least,
make her more comfortable. The stone is too hard for her."
"I will not go away; I want the fire," murmured the sick girl,
holding out her hands towards it, and shivering.
Christina quickly took off her own thick cloth mantle, well lined
with dressed lambskins, laid it on the floor, rolled the collar of it
over a small log of wood--the only substitute she could see for a
pillow--and showed an inviting couch in an instant. Ermentrude let
her brother lay her down, and then was covered with the ample fold.
She smiled as she turned up her thin, wasted face, faded into the
same whitey-brown tint as her hair. "That is good," she said, but
without thanks; and, feeling the soft lambswool: "Is that what you
burgher-women wear? Father is to give me a furred mantle, if only
some court dame would pass the Debateable Ford. But the
Schlangenwaldern got the last before ever we could get down. Jobst
was so stupid. He did not give us warning in time; but he is to be
hanged next time if he does not."
Christina's blood curdled as she heard this speech in a weak little
complaining tone, that otherwise put her sadly in mind of Barbara
Schmidt's little sister, who had pined and wasted to death. "Never
mind, Trudchen," answered the brother kindly; "meantime I have kept
all the wild catskins for thee, and may be this--this--SHE could sew
them up into a mantle for thee."
"O let me see," cried the young lady eagerly; and Sir Eberhard,
walking off, presently returned with an armful of the beautiful
brindled furs of the mountain cat, reminding Christina of her aunt's
gentle domestic favourite. Ermentrude sat up, and regarded the
placing out of them with great interest; and thus her brother left
her employed, and so much delighted that she had not flagged, when a
great bell proclaimed that it was the time for the noontide meal, for
which Christina, in spite of all her fears of the company below
stairs, had been constrained by mountain air to look forward with
Ermentrude, she found, meant to go down, but with no notion of the
personal arrangements that Christina had been wont to think a needful
preliminary. With all her hair streaming, down she went, and was so
gladly welcomed by her father that it was plain that her presence was
regarded as an unusual advance towards recovery, and Christina feared
lest he might already be looking out for the stout husband. She had
much to tell him about the catskin cloak, and then she was seized
with eager curiosity at the sight of Christina's bundles, and
especially at her lute, which she must hear at once.
"Not now," said her mother, "there will be jangling and jingling
enough by and by--meat now."
The whole establishment were taking their places--or rather tumbling
into them. A battered, shapeless metal vessel seemed to represent
the salt-cellar, and next to it Hugh Sorel seated himself, and kept a
place for her beside him. Otherwise she would hardly have had seat
or food.' She was now able to survey the inmates of the castle.
Besides the family themselves, there were about a dozen men, all
ruffianly-looking, and of much lower grade than her father, and three
women. One, old Ursel, the wife of Hatto the forester, was a bent,
worn, but not ill-looking woman, with a motherly face; the younger
ones were hard, bold creatures, from whom Christina felt a shrinking
recoil. The meal was dressed by Ursel and her kitchen boy. From a
great cauldron, goat's flesh and broth together were ladled out into
wooden bowls. That every one provided their own spoon and knife--no
fork--was only what Christina was used to in the most refined
society, and she had the implements in a pouch hanging to her girdle;
but she was not prepared for the unwashed condition of the bowls, nor
for being obliged to share that of her father--far less for the
absence of all blessing on the meal, and the coarse boisterousness of
manners prevailing thereat. Hungry as she was, she did not find it
easy to take food under these circumstances, and she was relieved
when Ermentrude, overcome by the turmoil, grew giddy, and was carried
upstairs by her father, who laid her down upon her great bed, and
left her to the attendance of Christina. Ursel had followed, but was
petulantly repulsed by her young lady in favour of the newcomer, and
went away grumbling.
Nestled on her bed, Ermentrude insisted on hearing the lute, and
Christina had to creep down to fetch it, with some other of her
goods, in trembling haste, and redoubled disgust at the aspect of the
meal, which looked even more repulsive in this later stage, and to
one who was no longer partaking of it.
Low and softly, with a voice whence she could scarcely banish tears,
and in dread of attracting attention, Christina sung to the sick
girl, who listened with a sort of rude wonder, and finally was lulled
to sleep. Christina ventured to lay down her instrument and move
towards the window, heavily mullioned with stone, barred with iron,
and glazed with thick glass; being in fact the only glazed window in
the castle. To her great satisfaction it did not look out over the
loathsome court, but over the opening of the ravine. The apartment
occupied the whole floor of the keep; it was stone-paved, but the
roof was boarded, and there was a round turret at each angle. One
contained the staircase, and was that which ran up above the keep,
served as a watch-tower, and supported the Eagle banner. The other
three were empty, and one of these, which had a strong door, and a
long loophole window looking out over the open country, Christina
hoped that she might appropriate. The turret was immediately over
the perpendicular cliff that descended into the plain. A stone
thrown from the window would have gone straight down, she knew not
where. Close to her ears rushed the descending waterfall in its leap
over the rock side, and her eyes could rest themselves on the green
meadow land below, and the smooth water of the Debateable Ford; nay--
far, far away beyond retreating ridges of wood and field--she thought
she could track a silver line and, guided by it, a something that
might be a city. Her heart leapt towards it, but she was recalled by
Ermentrude's fretfully imperious voice.
"I was only looking forth from the window, lady," she said,
"Ah! thou saw'st no travellers at the Ford?" cried Ermentrude,
starting up with lively interest.
"No, lady; I was gazing at the far distance. Know you if it be
indeed Ulm that we see from these windows?"
"Ulm? That is where thou comest from?" said Ermentrude languidly.
"My happy home, with my dear uncle and aunt! O, if I can but see it
hence, it will be joy!"
"I do not know. Let me see," said Ermentrude, rising; but at the
window her pale blue eyes gazed vacantly as if she did not know what
she was looking at or for.
"Ah! if the steeple of the Dome Kirk were but finished, I could not
mistake it," said Christina. "How beauteous the white spire will
look from hence!"
"Dome Kirk?" repeated Ermentrude; "what is that?"
Such an entire blank as the poor child's mind seemed to be was
inconceivable to the maiden, who had been bred up in the busy hum of
men, where the constant resort of strange merchants, the daily
interests of a self-governing municipality, and the numerous
festivals, both secular and religious, were an unconscious education,
even without that which had been bestowed upon her by teachers, as
well as by her companionship with her uncle, and participation in his
studies, taste and arts.
Ermentrude von Adlerstein had, on the contrary, not only never gone
beyond the Kohler's hut on the one side, and the mountain village on
the other, but she never seen more of life than the festival at the
wake the hermitage chapel there on Midsummer-day. The only strangers
who ever came to the castle were disbanded lanzknechts who took
service with her father, or now and then a captive whom he put to
ransom. She knew absolutely nothing of the world, except for a
general belief that Freiherren lived there to do what they chose with
other people, and that the House of Adlerstein was the freest and
noblest in existence. Also there was a very positive hatred to the
house of Schlangenwald, and no less to that of Adlerstein
Wildschloss, for no reason that Christina could discover save that,
being a younger branch of the family, they had submitted to the
Emperor. To destroy either the Graf von Schlangenwald, or her
Wildschloss cousin, was evidently the highest gratification
Ermentrude could conceive; and, for the rest, that her father and
brother should make successful captures at the Debateable Ford was
the more abiding, because more practicable hope. She had no further
ideas, except perhaps to elude her mother's severity, and to desire
her brother's success in chamois-hunting. The only mental culture
she had ever received was that old Ursel had taught her the Credo,
Pater Noster, and Ave, as correctly as might be expected from a long
course of traditionary repetitions of an incomprehensible language.
And she knew besides a few German rhymes and jingles, half Christian,
half heathen, with a legend or two which, if the names were
Christian, ran grossly wild from all Christian meaning or morality.
As to the amenities, nay, almost the proprieties, of life, they were
less known in that baronial castle than in any artisan's house at
Ulm. So little had the sick girl figured them to herself, that she
did not even desire any greater means of ease than she possessed.
She moaned and fretted indeed, with aching limbs and blank weariness,
but without the slightest formed desire for anything to remove her
discomfort, except the few ameliorations she knew, such as sitting on
her brother's knee, with her head on his shoulder, or tasting the
mountain berries that he gathered for her. Any other desire she
exerted herself to frame was for finery to be gained from the spoils
And this was Christina's charge, whom she must look upon as the least
alien spirit in this dreadful castle of banishment! The young and
old lords seemed to her savage bandits, who frightened her only less
than did the proud sinister expression of the old lady, for she had
not even the merit of showing any tenderness towards the sickly girl,
of whom she was ashamed, and evidently regarded the town-bred
attendant as a contemptible interloper.
Long, long did the maiden weep and pray that night after Ermentrude
had sunk to sleep. She strained her eyes with home-sick longings to
detect lights where she thought Ulm might be; and, as she thought of
her uncle and aunt, the poodle and the cat round the stove, the maids
spinning and the prentices knitting as her uncle read aloud some
grave good book, most probably the legend of the saint of the day,
and contrasted it with the rude gruff sounds of revelry that found
their way up the turret stairs, she could hardly restrain her sobs
from awakening the young lady whose bed she was to share. She
thought almost with envy of her own patroness, who was cast into the
lake of Bolsena with a millstone about her neck--a better fate,
thought she, than to live on in such an abode of loathsomeness and
But then had not St. Christina floated up alive, bearing up her
millstone with her? And had not she been put into a dungeon full of
venomous reptiles who, when they approached her, had all been changed
to harmless doves? Christina had once asked Father Balthazar how
this could be; and had he not replied that the Church did not teach
these miracles as matters of faith, but that she might there discern
in figure how meek Christian holiness rose above all crushing
burthens, and transformed the rudest natures. This poor maiden-
dying, perhaps; and oh! how unfit to live or die!--might it be her
part to do some good work by her, and infuse some Christian hope,
some godly fear? Could it be for this that the saints had led her
CHAPTER III: THE FLOTSAM AND JETSAM OF THE DEBATEABLE FORD
Life in Schloss Adlerstein was little less intolerable than
Christina's imagination had depicted it. It was entirely devoid of
all the graces of chivalry, and its squalor and coarseness, magnified
into absurdity by haughtiness and violence, were almost
inconceivable. Fortunately for her, the inmates of the castle
resided almost wholly below stairs in the hall and kitchen, and in
some dismal dens in the thickness of their walls. The height of the
keep was intended for dignity and defence, rather than for
habitation; and the upper chamber, with its great state-bed, where
everybody of the house of Adlerstein was born and died, was not
otherwise used, except when Ermentrude, unable to bear the oppressive
confusion below stairs, had escaped thither for quietness' sake. No
one else wished to inhabit it. The chamber above was filled with the
various appliances for the defence of the castle; and no one would
have ever gone up the turret stairs had not a warder been usually
kept on the roof to watch the roads leading to the Ford. Otherwise
the Adlersteiners had all the savage instinct of herding together in
as small a space as possible.
Freiherrin Kunigunde hardly ever mounted to her daughter's chamber.
All her affection was centred on the strong and manly son, of whom
she was proud, while the sickly pining girl, who would hardly find a
mate of her own rank, and who had not even dowry enough for a
convent, was such a shame and burthen to her as to be almost a
distasteful object. But perversely, as it seemed to her, the only
daughter was the darling of both father and brother, who were ready
to do anything to gratify the girl's sick fancies, and hailed with
delight her pleasure in her new attendant. Old Ursel was at first
rather envious and contemptuous of the childish, fragile stranger,
but her gentleness disarmed the old woman; and, when it was plain
that the young lady's sufferings were greatly lessened by tender
care, dislike gave way to attachment, and there was little more
murmuring at the menial services that were needed by the two maidens,
even when Ermentrude's feeble fancies, or Christina's views of dainty
propriety, rendered them more onerous than before. She was even
heard to rejoice that some Christian care and tenderness had at last
reached her poor neglected child.
It was well for Christina that she had such an ally. The poor child
never crept down stairs to the dinner or supper, to fetch food for
Ermentrude, or water for herself, without a trembling and shrinking
of heart and nerves. Her father's authority guarded her from rude
actions, but from rough tongues he neither could nor would guard her,
nor understand that what to some would have been a compliment seemed
to her an alarming insult; and her chief safeguard lay in her own
insignificance and want of attraction, and still more in the modesty
that concealed her terror at rude jests sufficiently to prevent
frightening her from becoming an entertainment.
Her father, whom she looked on as a cultivated person in comparison
with the rest of the world, did his best for her after his own views,
and gradually brought her all the properties she had left at the
Kohler's hut. Therewith she made a great difference in the aspect of
the chamber, under the full sanction of the lords of the castle.
Wolf, deer, and sheep skins abounded; and with these, assisted by her
father and old Hatto, she tapestried the lower part of the bare grim
walls, a great bear's hide covered the neighbourhood of the hearth,
and cushions were made of these skins, and stuffed from Ursel's
stores of feathers. All these embellishments were watched with great
delight by Ermentrude, who had never been made of so much importance,
and was as much surprised as relieved by such attentions. She was
too young and too delicate to reject civilization, and she let
Christina braid her hair, bathe her, and arrange her dress, with
sensations of comfort that were almost like health. To train her
into occupying herself was however, as Christina soon found, in her
present state, impossible. She could spin and sew a little, but
hated both; and her clumsy, listless fingers only soiled and wasted
Christina's needles, silk, and lute strings, and such damage was not
so easily remedied as in the streets of Ulm. She was best provided
for when looking on at her attendant's busy hands, and asking to be
sung to, or to hear tales of the active, busy scenes of the city
life--the dresses, fairs, festivals, and guild processions.
The gentle nursing and the new interests made her improve in health,
so that her father was delighted, and Christina began to hope for a
return home. Sometimes the two girls would take the air, either, on
still days, upon the battlements, where Ermentrude watched the
Debateable Ford, and Christina gazed at the Danube and at Ulm; or
they would find their way to a grassy nook on the mountain-side,
where Christina gathered gentians and saxifrage, trying to teach her
young lady that they were worth looking at, and sighing at the
thought of Master Gottfried's wreath when she met with the asphodel
seed-vessels. Once the quiet mule was brought into requisition; and,
with her brother walking by her, and Sorel and his daughter in
attendance, Ermentrude rode towards the village of Adlerstein. It
was a collection of miserable huts, on a sheltered slope towards the
south, where there was earth enough to grow some wretched rye and
buckwheat, subject to severe toll from the lord of the soil. Perched
on a hollow rock above the slope was a rude little church, over a
cave where a hermit had once lived and died in such odour of sanctity
that, his day happening to coincide with that of St. John the
Baptist, the Blessed Freidmund had acquired the credit of the lion's
share both of the saint's honours and of the old solstitial feast of
Midsummer. This wake was the one gaiety of the year, and attracted a
fair which was the sole occasion of coming honestly by anything from
the outer world; nor had his cell ever lacked a professional
The Freiherr of his day had been a devout man, who had gone a
pilgrimage with Kaiser Friedrich of the Red Beard, and had brought
home a bit of stone from the council chamber of Nicaea, which he had
presented to the little church that he had built over the cavern. He
had named his son Friedmund; and there were dim memories of his days
as of a golden age, before the Wildschlossen had carried off the best
of the property, and when all went well.
This was Christina's first sight of a church since her arrival,
except that in the chapel, which was a dismal neglected vault, where
a ruinous altar and mouldering crucifix testified to its sacred
purpose. The old baron had been excommunicated for twenty years,
ever since he had harried the wains of the Bishop of Augsburg on his
way to the Diet; and, though his household and family were not under
the same sentence, "Sunday didna come abune the pass." Christina's
entreaty obtained permission to enter the little building, but she
had knelt there only a few moments before her father came to hurry
her away, and her supplications that he would some day take her to
mass there were whistled down the wind; and indeed the hermit was a
layman, and the church was only served on great festivals by a monk
from the convent of St. Ruprecht, on the distant side of the
mountain, which was further supposed to be in the Schlangenwald
interest. Her best chance lay in infusing the desire into
Ermentrude, who by watching her prayers and asking a few questions
had begun to acquire a few clearer ideas. And what Ermentrude wished
had always hitherto been acquiesced in by the two lords.
The elder baron came little into Christina's way. He meant to be
kind to her, but she was dreadfully afraid of him, and, when he came
to visit his daughter, shrank out of his notice as much as possible,
shuddering most of all at his attempts at civilities. His son she
viewed as one of the thickwitted giants meant to be food for the
heroism of good knights of romance. Except that he was fairly
conversant with the use of weapons, and had occasionally ridden
beyond the shadow of his own mountain, his range was quite as limited
as his sister's; and he had an equal scorn for all beyond it. His
unfailing kindness to his sister was however in his favour, and he
always eagerly followed up any suggestion Christina made for her
Much of his time was spent on the child, whose chief nurse and
playmate he had been throughout her malady; and when she showed him
the stranger's arrangements, or repeated to him, in a wondering,
blundering way, with constant appeals to her attendant, the new tales
she had heard, he used to listen with a pleased awkward amazement at
his little Ermentrude's astonishing cleverness, joined sometimes with
real interest, which was evinced by his inquiries of Christina. He
certainly did not admire the little, slight, pale bower-maiden, but
he seemed to look upon her like some strange, almost uncanny, wise
spirit out of some other sphere, and his manner towards her had none
of the offensive freedom apparent in even the old man's patronage.
It was, as Ermentrude once said, laughing, almost as if he feared
that she might do something to him.
Christina had expected to see a ruffian, and had found a boor; but
she was to be convinced that the ruffian existed in him. Notice came
up to the castle of a convoy of waggons, and all was excitement.
Men-at-arms were mustered, horses led down the Eagle's Ladder, and an
ambush prepared in the woods. The autumn rains were already swelling
the floods, and the passage of the ford would be difficult enough to
afford the assailants an easy prey.
The Freiherrinn Kunigunde herself, and all the women of the castle,
hurried into Ermentrude's room to enjoy the view from her window.
The young lady herself was full of eager expectation, but she knew
enough of her maiden to expect no sympathy from her, and loved her
well enough not to bring down on her her mother's attention; so
Christina crept into her turret, unable to withdraw her eyes from the
sight, trembling, weeping, praying, longing for power to give a
warning signal. Could they be her own townsmen stopped on the way to
She could see the waggons in mid-stream, the warriors on the bank;
she heard the triumphant outcries of the mother and daughter in the
outer room. She saw the overthrow, the struggle, the flight of a few
scattered dark figures on the farther side, the drawing out of the
goods on the nearer. Oh! were those leaping waves bearing down any
good men's corpses to the Danube, slain, foully slain by her own
father and this gang of robbers?
She was glad that Ermentrude went down with her mother to watch the
return of the victors. She crouched on the floor, sobbing,
shuddering with grief and indignation, and telling her beads alike
for murdered and murderers, till, after the sounds of welcome and
exultation, she heard Sir Eberhard's heavy tread, as he carried his
sister up stairs. Ermentrude went up at once to Christina.
"After all there was little for us!" she said. "It was only a wain
of wine barrels; and now will the drunkards down stairs make good
cheer. But Ebbo could only win for me this gold chain and medal
which was round the old merchant's neck."
"Was he slain?" Christina asked with pale lips.
"I only know I did not kill him," returned the baron; "I had him down
and got the prize, and that was enough for me. What the rest of the
fellows may have done, I cannot say."
"But he has brought thee something, Stina," continued Ermentrude.
"Show it to her, brother."
"My father sends you this for your care of my sister," said Eberhard,
holding out a brooch that had doubtless fastened the band of the
unfortunate wine-merchant's bonnet.
"Thanks, sir; but, indeed, I may not take it," said Christina,
turning crimson, and drawing back.
"So!" he exclaimed, in amaze; then bethinking himself,--"They are no
townsfolk of yours, but Constance cowards."
"Take it, take it, Stina, or you will anger my father," added
"No, lady, I thank the barons both, but it were sin in me," said
Christina, with trembling voice.
"Look you," said Eberhard; "we have the full right--'tis a seignorial
right--to all the goods of every wayfarer that may be overthrown in
our river--as I am a true knight!" he added earnestly.
"A true knight!" repeated Christina, pushed hard, and very indignant
in all her terror. "The true knight's part is to aid, not rob, the
weak." And the dark eyes flashed a vivid light.
"Christina!" exclaimed Ermentrude in the extremity of her amazement,
"know you what you have said?--that Eberhard is no true knight!"
He meanwhile stood silent, utterly taken by surprise, and letting his
little sister fight his battles.
"I cannot help it, Lady Ermentrude," said Christina, with trembling
lips, and eyes filling with tears. "You may drive me from the
castle--I only long to be away from it; but I cannot stain my soul by
saying that spoil and rapine are the deeds of a true knight."
"My mother will beat you," cried Ermentrude, passionately, ready to
fly to the head of the stairs; but her brother laid his hand upon
"Tush, Trudchen; keep thy tongue still, child! What does it hurt
And he turned on his heels and went down stairs. Christina crept
into her turret, weeping bitterly and with many a wild thought.
Would they visit her offence on her father? Would they turn them
both out together? If so, would not her father hurl her down the
rocks rather than return her to Ulm? Could she escape? Climb down
the dizzy rocks, it might be, succour the merchant lying half dead on
the meadows, protect and be protected, be once more among God-fearing
Christians? And as she felt her helplessness, the selfish thoughts
passed into a gush of tears for the murdered man, lying suffering
there, and for his possible wife and children watching for him.
Presently Ermentrude peeped in.
"Stina, Stina, don't cry; I will not tell my mother! Come out, and
finish my kerchief! Come out! No one shall beat you."
"That is not what I wept for, lady," said Christina. "I do not think
you would bring harm on me. But oh! I would I were at home! I
grieve for the bloodshed that I must see and may not hinder, and for
that poor merchant."
"Oh," said Ermentrude, "you need not fear for him! I saw his own
folk return and lift him up. But what is he to thee or to us?"
"I am a burgher maid, lady," said Christina, recovering herself, and
aware that it was of little use to bear testimony to such an auditor
as poor little Ermentrude against the deeds of her own father and
brother, which had in reality the sort of sanction Sir Eberhard had
mentioned, much akin to those coast rights that were the temptation
Still she could not but tremble at the thought of her speech, and
went down to supper in greater trepidation than usual, dreading that
she should be expected to thank the Freiherr for his gift. But,
fortunately, manners were too rare at Adlerstein for any such
omission to be remarkable, and the whole establishment was in a state
of noisy triumph and merriment over the excellence of the French wine
they had captured, so that she slipped into her seat unobserved.
Every available drinking-horn and cup was full. Ermentrude was
eagerly presented with draughts by both father and brother, and
presently Sir Eberhard exclaimed, turning towards the shrinking
Christina with a rough laugh, "Maiden, I trow thou wilt not taste?"
Christina shook her head, and framed a negative with her lips.
"What's this?" asked her father, close to whom she sat. "Is't a
There was a pause. Many were present who regarded a fast-day much
more than the lives or goods of their neighbours. Christina again
shook her head.
"No matter," said good-natured Sir Eberhard, evidently wishing to
avert any ill consequence from her. "'Tis only her loss."
The mirth went on rough and loud, and Christina felt this the worst
of all the miserable meals she had partaken of in fear and trembling
at this place of her captivity. Ermentrude, too, was soon in such a
state of excitement, that not only was Christina's womanhood bitterly
ashamed and grieved for her, but there was serious danger that she
might at any moment break out with some allusion to her maiden's
recusancy in her reply to Sir Eberhard.
Presently however Ermentrude laid down her head and began to cry--
violent headache had come on--and her brother took her in his arms to
carry her up the stairs; but his potations had begun before hers, and
his step was far from steady; he stumbled more than once on the
steps, shook and frightened his sister, and set her down weeping
petulantly. And then came a more terrible moment; his awe of
Christina had passed away; he swore that she was a lovely maiden,
with only too free a tongue, and that a kiss must be the seal of her
A house full of intoxicated men, no living creature who would care to
protect her, scarce even her father! But extremity of terror gave
her strength. She spoke resolutely--"Sir Eberhard, your sister is
ill--you are in no state to be here. Go down at once, nor insult a
Probably the low-toned softness of the voice, so utterly different
from the shrill wrangling notes of all the other women he had known,
took him by surprise. He was still sober enough to be subdued,
almost cowed, by resistance of a description unlike all he had ever
seen; his alarm at Christina's superior power returned in full force,
he staggered to the stairs, Christina rushed after him, closed the
heavy door with all her force, fastened it inside, and would have
sunk down to weep but for Ermentrude's peevish wail of distress.
Happily Ermentrude was still a child, and, neglected as she had been,
she still had had no one to make her precocious in matters of this
kind. She was quite willing to take Christina's view of the case,
and not resent the exclusion of her brother; indeed, she was unwell
enough to dread the loudness of his voice and rudeness of his
So the door remained shut, and Christina's resolve was taken that she
would so keep it while the wine lasted. And, indeed, Ermentrude had
so much fever all that night and the next day that no going down
could be thought of. Nobody came near the maidens but Ursel, and she
described one continued orgie that made Christina shudder again with
fear and disgust. Those below revelled without interval, except for
sleep; and they took their sleep just where they happened to sink
down, then returned again to the liquor. The old baroness repaired
to the kitchen when the revelry went beyond even her bearing; but all
the time the wine held out, the swine in the court were, as Ursel
averred, better company than the men in the hall. Yet there might
have been worse even than this; for old Ursel whispered that at the
bottom of the stairs there was a trap-door. Did the maiden know what
it covered? It was an oubliette. There was once a Strasburg
armourer who had refused ransom, and talked of appealing to the
Kaiser. He trod on that door and--Ursel pointed downwards. "But
since that time," she said, "my young lord has never brought home a
No wonder that all this time Christina cowered at the discordant
sounds below, trembled, and prayed while she waited on her poor young
charge, who tossed and moaned in fever and suffering. She was still
far from recovered when the materials of the debauch failed, and the
household began to return to its usual state. She was soon
restlessly pining for her brother; and when her father came up to see
her, received him with scant welcome, and entreaties for Ebbo. She
knew she should be better if she might only sit on his knee, and lay
her head on his shoulder. The old Freiherr offered to accommodate
her; but she rejected him petulantly, and still called for Ebbo, till
he went down, promising that her brother should come.
With a fluttering heart Christina awaited the noble whom she had
perhaps insulted, and whose advances had more certainly insulted her.
Would he visit her with his anger, or return to that more offensive
familiarity? She longed to flee out of sight, when, after a long
interval, his heavy tread was heard; but she could not even take
refuge in her turret, for Ermentrude was leaning against her.
Somehow, the step was less assured than usual; he absolutely knocked
at the door; and, when he came in, he acknowledged her by a slight
inclination of the head. If she only had known it, this was the
first time that head had ever been bent to any being, human or
Divine; but all she did perceive was that Sir Eberhard was in neither
of the moods she dreaded, only desperately shy and sheepish, and
extremely ashamed, not indeed of his excess, which would have been,
even to a much tamer German baron, only a happy accident, but of what
had passed between himself and her.
He was much grieved to perceive how much ground Ermentrude had lost,
and gave himself up to fondling and comforting her; and in a few days
more, in their common cares for the sister, Christina lost her newly-
acquired horror of the brother, and could not but be grateful for his
forbearance; while she was almost entertained by the increased awe of
herself shown by this huge robber baron.
CHAPTER IV: SNOW-WREATHS WHEN 'TIS THAW
Ermentrude had by no means recovered the ground she had lost, before
the winter set in; and blinding snow came drifting down day and
night, rendering the whole view, above and below, one expanse of
white, only broken by the peaks of rock which were too steep to
sustain the snow. The waterfall lengthened its icicles daily, and
the whole court was heaped with snow, up even to the top of the high
steps to the hall; and thus, Christina was told, would it continue
all the winter. What had previously seemed to her a strangely door-
like window above the porch now became the only mode of egress, when
the barons went out bear or wolf-hunting, or the younger took his
crossbow and hound to provide the wild-fowl, which, under Christina's
skilful hands, would tempt the feeble appetite of Ermentrude when she
was utterly unable to touch the salted meats and sausages of the
In spite of all endeavours to guard the windows and keep up the fire,
the cold withered the poor child like a fading leaf, and she needed
more and more of tenderness and amusement to distract her attention
from her ailments. Christina's resources were unfailing. Out of the
softer pine and birch woods provided for the fire, she carved a set
of draughtsmen, and made a board by ruling squares on the end of a
settle, and painting the alternate ones with a compound of oil and
charcoal. Even the old Baron was delighted with this contrivance,
and the pleasure it gave his daughter. He remembered playing at
draughts in that portion of his youth which had been a shade more
polished, and he felt as if the game were making Ermentrude more hike
a lady. Christina was encouraged to proceed with a set of chessmen,
Back to Full Books