The Strong Arm
Part 2 out of 6
into the frank face of the girl, gloomy distrust reflected from his own
"Were you sent by your uncle to allay my suspicion?
"No, my Lord. I thought that a hint of the truth being given, Nature
would come to the assistance of mutual recognition. Such has been the
case between my lady and her son, but I see that you are still
"For my sins, I know something of the wickedness of this world, a
knowledge from which her purity has protected the Countess. You
believe that Wilhelm is my son?"
"I have never said so, my Lord."
"What you did say was that you had taken an oath. You are too young
and doubtless too innocent to be a party to any plot, but you may have
been the tool of an unscrupulous man, who knew the oath would be broken
when the strain of a strong affection was brought to bear upon it."
"Yet, my Lord, I kept my oath, although I saw my--my--"
The girl hesitated and blushed, but finally spoke up bravely:
"I saw my lover led to his destruction. If Wilhelm is my cousin, then
did his father take a desperate chance in trusting first, to my escape
from the camp, and second to my perjury. You endow him with more than
human foresight, my Lord."
"He builded on your love for Wilhelm, which he had seen growing under
his eye before either you or the lad had suspicion of its existence. I
know the man, and he is a match for Satan, his master."
"But Satan has been discomfited ere now by the angels of light, and
even by holy men, if legend tells truly. I have little knowledge of
the world, as you have said, but the case appears to me one of the
simplest. If my uncle wished the bitterest revenge on you, what could
be more terrible than cause you to be the executioner of your own son?
The vengeance, however, to be complete, depends on his being able to
place before you incontrovertible proof that you were the father of the
victim. Send, therefore, a messenger to him, one from Gudenfels, who
knows nothing of what has happened in this castle of Schonburg, and who
is therefore unable to disclose, even if forced to confess, that
Wilhelm is alive. Let the messenger inform my uncle that his son is no
more, which is true enough, and then await the Outlaw's reply. And
meanwhile let me venture to warn you, my Lord, that it would be well to
conceal your disbelief from Wilhelm, for he is high-spirited, and if he
gets but an inkling that you distrust him, he will depart; for not all
your possessions will hold your son if he once learns that you doubt
him, so you are like to find yourself childless again, if your present
mood masters you much longer."
The Count drew a deep sigh, then roused himself and seemed to shake off
the influence that enchained him.
"Thank you, my girl," he cried, with something of the old ring in his
voice, "I shall do as you advise, and if this embassy results as you
say, you will ever find your staunchest friend in me."
He held out his hand to Elsa, and departed to his other castle of
Gudenfels on the opposite side of the Rhine. From thence he sent a
messenger who had no knowledge of what was happening in Schonburg.
When at last the messenger returned from the Outlaw's camp, he brought
with him a wailing woman and grim tidings that he feared to deliver.
Thrice his lordship demanded his account, the last time with such
sternness that the messenger quailed before him.
"My Lord," he stammered at last, "a frightful thing has taken place--
would that I had died before it was told to me. The young man your
lordship hanged was no other than----'
"Well, why do you pause? You were going to say he was my own son. What
proof does the Outlaw offer that such was indeed the case?"
"Alas! my Lord, the proof seems clear enough. Here with me is young
Lord Wilhelm's nurse, whose first neglect led to his abduction, and who
fled to the forest after him, and was never found. She followed him to
the Outlaw's camp, and was there kept prisoner by him until she was at
last given charge of the lad, under oath that she would teach him to
forget who he was, the fierce Outlaw threatening death to both woman
and child were his orders disobeyed. She has come willingly with me
hoping to suffer death now that one she loved more than son has died
through her first fault."
Then to the amazement of the pallid messenger the Count laughed aloud
and called for Wilhelm, who, when he was brought, clasped the trembling
old woman in his arms, overjoyed to see her again and eager to learn
news of the camp. How was the stout Gottlieb? Had the messenger seen
Captain Heinrich? and so on.
"Indeed, my young Lord," answered the overjoyed woman "there was such
turmoil in the camp that I was glad to be quit of it with unbroken
bones. When the Outlaw proclaimed that you were hanged, there was
instant rebellion among his followers, who thought that your capture
was merely a trick to be speedily amended, being intended to form a
laughing matter to your discomfiture when you returned. They swore
they would have torn down Schonburg with their bare hands rather than
have left you in jeopardy, had they known their retreat imperilled your
"The brave lads!" cried the young man in a glow of enthusiasm, "and
here have I been maligning them for cowards! What was the outcome?"
"That I do not know, my Lord, being glad to escape from the ruffians
with unfractured head."
The result of the embassy was speedily apparent at Schonburg. Two days
later, in the early morning, the custodians at the gate were startled
by the shrill Outlaw yell, which had on so many occasions carried
terror with it into the hearts of Rhine strongholds.
"Come out, Hangman of Schonburg!" they shouted, "come out, murderer of
a defenceless prisoner. Come out, before we drag you forth, for the
rope is waiting for your neck and the gallows tree is waiting for the
Count Herbert was first on the battlements, and curtly he commanded his
men not to launch bolt at the invaders, knowing the outlaws mistakenly
supposed him to be the executioner of their former comrade. A moment
later young Wilhelm himself appeared on the wall above the gate, and,
lifting his arms above his head raised a great shout of joy at seeing
there collected his old companions, calling this one or that by name as
he recognised them among the seething, excited throng. There was an
instant's cessation of the clamour, then the outlaws sent forth a cheer
that echoed from all the hills around. They brandished their weapons
aloft, and cheered again and again, the garrison of the castle, now
bristling along the battlements, joining in the tumult with strident
voices. Gottlieb advanced some distance toward the gate, and holding up
his hand for silence addressed Wilhelm.
"Young master," he cried, "we have deposed von Weithoff, and would have
hanged him, but that he escaped during the night, fled to Mayence and
besought protection of the Archbishop. If you will be our leader we
will sack Mayence and hang the Archbishop from his own cathedral
"That can I hardly do, Gottlieb, as a messenger has been sent to the
Archbishop asking him to come to Schonburg and marry Elsa to me. He
might take our invasion as an unfriendly act and refuse to perform the
Gottlieb scratched his head as one in perplexity, seeing before him a
question of etiquette that he found difficult to solve. At last he
"What need of Archbishop? You and Elsa have been brought up among us,
therefore confer honour on our free company by being married by our own
Monk who has tied many a knot tight enough to hold the most wayward of
our band. The aisles of the mighty oaks are more grand than the
cathedral at Mayence or the great hall of Schonburg."
"Indeed I am agreed, if Elsa is willing. We will be married first in
the forest and then by the Archbishop in the great hall of Schonburg."
"In such case there will be delay, for now that I bethink me, his
Lordship of Mayence has taken himself to Frankfort, where he is to meet
the Archbishops of Treves and Cologne who will presently journey to the
capital We were thinking of falling upon his reverence of Cologne as he
passed up the river, unless he comes with an escort too numerous for
us, which, alas! is most likely, so suspicious has the world grown."
"You will be wise not to meddle with the princes of the Church, be
their escorts large or small."
"Then, Master Wilhelm, be our leader, for we are likely to get into
trouble unless a man of quality is at our head."
Wilhelm breathed a deep sigh and glanced sideways at his father, who
stood some distance off, leaning on his two-handed sword, a silent
spectator of the meeting.
"The free life of the forest is no more for me, Gottlieb. My duty is
here in the castle of my forefathers, much though I grieve to part with
This decision seemed to have a depressing effect on the outlaws within
hearing. Gottlieb retired, and the band consulted together for a time,
then their spokesman again advanced.
"Some while since," he began in dolorous tone, "we appealed to the
Emperor to pardon us, promising in such case to quit our life of
outlawry and take honest service with those nobles who needed stout
blades, but his Majesty sent reply that if we came unarmed to the
capital and tendered submission, he would be graciously pleased to hang
a round dozen of us to be selected by him, scourge the rest through the
streets of Frankfort and so bestow his clemency on such as survived.
This imperial tender we did not accept, as there was some uncertainty
regarding whose neck should feel the rope and whose back the scourge.
While all were willing to admit that more than a dozen of us sorely
needed hanging, yet each man seemed loath to claim precedence over his
neighbour in wickedness, and desired, in some sort, a voice in the
selection of the victims. But if you will accept our following, Master
Wilhelm, we will repair at once to Frankfort and make submission to his
Majesty the Emperor. The remnant being well scourged, will then return
to Schonburg to place themselves under your command."
"Are you willing then to hang for me, Gottlieb?"
"I hanker not after the hanging, but if hang we must, there is no man I
would rather hang for than Wilhelm, formerly of the forest, but now,
alas! of Schonburg. And so say they all without dissent, therefore the
unanimity must needs include the eleven other danglers."
"Then draw nigh, all of you, to the walls and hear my decision."
Gottlieb waving his arms, hailed the outlaws trooping to the walls,
and, his upraised hand bringing silence, Wilhelm spoke:
"Such sacrifice as you propose, I cannot accept, yet I dearly wish to
lead a band of men like you. Elsa and I shall be married by our ancient
woodland father in the forest and then by the Abbot of St. Werner in
the hall of Schonburg. We will make our wedding journey to Frankfort,
and you shall be our escort and our protectors."
There was for some moments such cheering at this that the young man was
compelled to pause in his address, and then as the outcry was again and
again renewed, he looked about for the cause and saw that Elsa and his
mother had taken places on the balcony which overlooked the animated
scene. The beautiful girl had been recognised by the rebels and she
waved her hand in response to their shouting.
"We will part company," resumed Wilhelm, "as near Frankfort as it is
safe for you to go, and my wife and I, accompanied by a score of men
from this castle, will enter the capital. I will beg your complete
pardon from his Majesty and if at first it is refused, I think Elsa
will have better success with the Empress, who may incline her imperial
husband toward clemency. All this I promise, providing I receive the
consent and support of my father, and I am not likely to be refused,
for he already knows the persuasive power of my dear betrothed when she
pleads for mercy."
"My consent and support I most willingly bestow," said the Count, with
a fervour that left no doubt of his sincerity.
The double marriage was duly solemnised, and Wilhelm, with his newly-
made wife, completed their journey to Frankfort, escorted until almost
within sight of the capital by five hundred and twenty men, but they
entered the gates of the city accompanied by only the score of
Schonburg men, the remaining five hundred concealing themselves in the
rough country, as they well knew how to do.
Neither Wilhelm nor Elsa had ever seen a large city before, and silence
fell upon them as they approached the western gate, for they were
coming upon a world strange to them, and Wilhelm felt an unaccustomed
elation stir within his breast, as if he were on the edge of some
adventure that might have an important bearing on his future. Instead
of passing peaceably through the gate as he had expected, the cavalcade
was halted after the two had ridden under the gloomy stone archway, and
the portcullis was dropped with a sudden clang, shutting out the twenty
riders who followed. One of several officers who sat on a stone bench
that fronted the guard-house within the walls, rose and came forward.
"What is your name and quality?" he demanded, gruffly.
"I am Wilhelm, son of Count von Schonberg."
"What is your business here in Frankfort?"
"My business relates to the emperor, and is not to be delivered to the
first underling who has the impudence to make inquiry," replied Wilhelm
in a haughty tone, which could scarcely be regarded, in the
circumstances, as diplomatic.
Nevertheless, the answer did not seem to be resented, but rather
appeared to have a subduing effect on the questioner, who turned, as if
for further instruction, to another officer, evidently his superior in
rank. The latter now rose, came forward, doffing his cap, and said:
"I understand your answer better than he to whom it was given, my
"I am glad there is one man of sense at a gate of the capital," said
Wilhelm, with no relaxation of his dignity, but nevertheless bewildered
at the turn the talk had taken, seeing there was something underneath
all this which he did not comprehend, yet resolved to carry matters
with a high hand until greater clearness came to the situation.
"Will you order the portcullis raised and permit my men to follow me?"
"They are but temporarily detained until we decide where to quarter
them, my Lord. You know," he added, lowering his voice, "the necessity
for caution. Are you for the Archbishop of Treves, of Cologne, or of
"I am from the district of Mayence, of course."
"And are you for the archbishop?"
"For the archbishop certainly. He would have honoured me by performing
our marriage ceremony had he not been called by important affairs of
state to the capital, as you may easily learn by asking him, now that
he is within these walls."
The officer bowed low with great obsequiousness and said:
"Your reply is more than sufficient, my Lord, and I trust you will
pardon the delay we have caused you. The men of Mayence are quartered
in the Leinwandhaus, where room will doubtless be made for your
"It is not necessary for me to draw upon the hospitality of the good
Archbishop, as I lodge in my father's town house near the palace, and
there is room within for the small escort I bring."
Again the officer bowed to the ground, and the portcullis being by this
time raised, the twenty horsemen came clattering under the archway, and
thus, without further molestation, they arrived at the house of the
Count von Schonburg.
"Elsa," said Wilhelm, when they were alone in their room, "there is
something wrong in this city. Men look with fear one upon another, and
pass on hurriedly, as if to avoid question. Others stand in groups at
the street corners and speak in whispers, glancing furtively over their
"Perhaps that is the custom in cities," replied Elsa.
"I doubt it. I have heard that townsmen are eager for traffic, inviting
all comers to buy, but here most of the shops are barred, and no
customers are solicited. They seem to me like people under a cloud of
fear. What can it be?"
"We are more used to the forest path than to city streets, Wilhelm.
They will all become familiar to us in a day or two, yet I feel as if I
could not get a full breath in these narrow streets and I long for the
trees already, but perhaps content will come with waiting."
"'Tis deeper than that. There is something ominous in the air. Noted
you not the questioning at the gate and its purport? They asked me if I
favoured Treves, or Cologne, or Mayence, but none inquired if I stood
loyal to the Emperor, yet I was entering his capital city of
"Perhaps you will learn all from the Emperor when you see him,"
"Perhaps," said Wilhelm.
The chamberlain of the von Schonburg household, who had supervised the
arrangements for the reception of the young couple, waited upon his
master in the evening and informed him that the Emperor would not be
visible for some days to come.
"He has gone into retreat, in the cloisters attached to the cathedral,
and it is the imperial will that none disturb him on worldly affairs.
Each day at the hour when the court assembles at the palace, the
Emperor hears exhortation from the pious fathers in the Wahlkapelle of
the cathedral; the chapel in which emperors are elected; these
exhortations pertaining to the ruling of the land, which his majesty
desires to govern justly and well.
"An excellent intention," commented the young man, with suspicion of
impatience in his tone, "but meanwhile, how are the temporal affairs of
the country conducted?"
"The Empress Brunhilda is for the moment the actual head of the state.
Whatever act of the ministers receives her approval, is sent by a monk
to the Emperor, who signs any document so submitted to him."
"Were her majesty an ambitious woman, such transference of power might
"She is an ambitious woman, but devoted to her husband, who, it perhaps
may be whispered, is more monk than king," replied the chamberlain
under his breath. "Her majesty has heard of your lordship's romantic
adventures and has been graciously pleased to command that you and her
ladyship, your wife, be presented to her to-morrow in presence of the
"This is a command which it will be a delight to obey. But tell me,
what is wrong in this great town? There is a sinister feeling in the
air; uneasiness is abroad, or I am no judge of my fellow-creatures."
"Indeed, my Lord, you have most accurately described the situation. No
man knows what is about to happen. The gathering of the Electors is
regarded with the gravest apprehension. The Archbishop of Mayence, who
but a short time since crowned the Emperor at the great altar of the
cathedral, is herewith a thousand men at his back. The Count Palatine
of the Rhine is also within these walls with a lesser entourage. It is
rumoured that his haughty lordship, the Archbishop of Treves, will
reach Frankfort to-morrow, to be speedily followed by that eminent
Prince of the Church, the Archbishop of Cologne. Thus there will be
gathered in the capital four Electors, a majority of the college, a
conjunction that has not occurred for centuries, except on the death of
an emperor, necessitating the nomination and election of his
"But as the Emperor lives and there is no need of choosing another,
wherein lies the danger?
"The danger lies in the fact that the college has the power to depose
as well as to elect."
"Ah! And do the Electors threaten to depose?"
"No. Treves is much too crafty for any straight-forward statement of
policy. He is the brains of the combination, and has put forward
Mayence and the Count Palatine as the moving spirits, although it is
well known that the former is but his tool and the latter is moved by
ambition to have his imbecile son selected emperor."
"Even if the worst befall, it seems but the substitution of a weak-
minded man for one who neglects the affairs of state, although I should
think the princes of the Church would prefer a monarch who is so much
under the influence of the monks."
"The trouble is deeper than my imperfect sketch of the situation would
lead you to suppose, my Lord. The Emperor periodically emerges from his
retirement, promulgates some startling decree, unheeding the counsel of
any adviser, then disappears again, no man knowing what is coming next.
Of such a nature was his recent edict prohibiting the harrying of
merchants going down the Rhine and the Moselle, which, however just in
theory, is impracticable, for how are the nobles to reap revenue if
such practices are made unlawful? This edict has offended all the
magnates of both rivers, and the archbishops, with the Count Palatine,
claim that their prerogatives have been infringed, so they come to
Frankfort ostensibly to protest, while the Emperor in his cloister
refuses to meet them. The other three Electors hold aloof, as the edict
touches them not, but they form a minority which is powerless, even if
friendly to the Emperor. Meanwhile his majesty cannot be aroused to an
appreciation of the crisis, but says calmly that if it is the Lord's
will he remain emperor, emperor he will remain."
"Then at its limit, chamberlain, all we have to expect is a peaceful
deposition and election?"
"Not so, my lord. The merchants of Frankfort are fervently loyal, to
the Emperor, who, they say, is the first monarch to give forth a just
law for their protection. At present the subtlety of Treves has
nullified all combined action on their part, for he has given out that
he comes merely to petition his over-lord, which privilege is well
within his right, and many citizens actually believe him, but others
see that a majority of the college will be within these walls before
many days are past, and that the present Emperor may be legally deposed
and another legally chosen. Then if the citizens object, they are
rebels, while at this moment if they fight for the Emperor they are
patriots, so you see the position is not without its perplexities, for
the citizens well know that if they were to man the walls and keep out
Treves and Cologne, the Emperor himself would most likely disclaim
their interference, trusting as he does so entirely in Providence that
a short time since he actually disbanded the imperial troops, much to
the delight of the archbishops, who warmly commended his action. And
now, my Lord, if I may venture to tender advice unasked, I would
strongly counsel you to quit Frankfort as soon as your business here is
concluded, for I am certain that a change of government is intended.
All will be done promptly, and the transaction will be consummated
before the people are aware that such a step is about to be taken. The
Electors will meet in the Wahlzimmer or election room of the Romer and
depose the Emperor, then they will instantly select his successor,
adjourn to the Wahlkapelle and elect him. The Palatine's son is here
with his father, and will be crowned at the high altar by the
Archbishop of Mayence. The new Emperor will dine with the Electors in
the Kaisersaal and immediately after show himself on the balcony to the
people assembled in the Romerberg below. Proclamation of his election
will then be made, and all this need not occupy more than two hours.
The Archbishop of Mayence already controls the city gates, which since
the disbanding of the imperial troops have been unguarded, and none can
get in or out of the city without that potentate's permission. The men
of Mayence are quartered in the centre of the town, the Count
Palatine's troops are near the gate. Treves and Cologne will doubtless
command other positions, and thus between them they will control the
city. Numerous as the merchants and their dependents are, they will
have no chance against the disciplined force of the Electors, and the
streets of Frankfort are like to run with blood, for the nobles are but
too eager to see a sharp check given to the rising pretensions of the
mercantile classes, who having heretofore led peaceful lives, will come
out badly in combat, despite their numbers; therefore I beg of you, my
Lord, to withdraw with her Ladyship before this hell's caldron is
"Your advice is good, chamberlain, in so far as it concerns my wife,
and I will beg of her to retire to Schonburg, although I doubt if she
will obey, but, by the bones of Saint Werner which floated against the
current of the Rhine in this direction, if there must be a fray, I will
be in the thick of it."
"Remember, my Lord, that your house has always stood by the Archbishop
"It has stood by the Emperor as well, chamberlain."
The Lady Elsa was amazed by the magnificence of the Emperor's court,
when, accompanied by her husband, she walked the length of the great
room to make obeisance before the throne. At first entrance she shrank
timidly, closer to the side of Wilhelm, trembling at the ordeal of
passing, simply costumed as she now felt herself to be, between two
assemblages of haughty knights and high-born dames, resplendent in
dress, with the proud bearing that pertained to their position in the
Empire. Her breath came and went quickly, and she feared that all
courage would desert her before she traversed the seemingly endless
lane, flanked by the nobility of Germany, which led to the royal
presence. Wilhelm, unabashed, holding himself the equal of any there,
was not to be cowed by patronising glance, or scornful gaze. The
thought flashed through his mind:
"How can the throne fall, surrounded as it is by so many supporters?"
But when the approaching two saw the Empress, all remembrance of others
faded from their minds. Brunhilda was a woman of superb stature. She
stood alone upon the dais which supported the vacant throne, one hand
resting upon its carven arm. A cloak of imperial ermine fell gracefully
from her shapely shoulders and her slightly-elevated position on the
platform added height to her goddess-like tallness, giving her the
appearance of towering above every other person in the room, man or
woman. The excessive pallor of her complexion was emphasised by the
raven blackness of her wealth of hair, and the sombre midnight of her
eyes; eyes with slumbering fire in them, qualified by a haunted look
which veiled their burning intensity. Her brow was too broad and her
chin too firm for a painter's ideal of beauty; her commanding presence
giving the effect of majesty rather than of loveliness. Deep lines of
care marred the marble of her forehead, and Wilhelm said to himself:
"Here is a woman going to her doom; knowing it; yet determined to show
no sign of fear and utter no cry for mercy."
Every other woman there had eyes of varying shades of blue and gray,
and hair ranging from brown to golden yellow; thus the Empress stood
before them like a creature from another world.
Elsa was about to sink in lowly courtesy before the queenly woman when
the Empress came forward impetuously and kissed the girl on either
cheek, taking her by the hand.
"Oh, wild bird of the forest," she cried, "why have you left the pure
air of the woods, to beat your innocent wings in this atmosphere of
deceit! And you, my young Lord, what brings you to Frankfort in these
troublous times? Have you an insufficiency of lands or of honours that
you come to ask augmentation of either?"
"I come to ask nothing for myself, your Majesty."
"But to ask, nevertheless," said Brunhilda, with a frown.
"Yes, your Majesty."
"I hope I may live to see one man, like a knight of old, approach the
foot of the throne without a request on his lips. I thought you might
prove an exception, but as it is not so, propound your question?"
"I came to ask if my sword, supplemented by the weapons of five hundred
followers, can be of service to your Majesty."
The Empress seemed taken aback by the young man's unexpected reply, and
for some moments she gazed at him searchingly in silence.
At last she said:
"Your followers are the men of Schonburg and Gudenfels, doubtless?"
"No, your Majesty. Those you mention, acknowledge my father as their
leader. My men were known as the Outlaws of the Hundsrueck, who have
deposed von Weithoff, chosen me as their chief, and now desire to lead
The dark eyes of the Empress blazed again.
"I see, my Lord, that you have quickly learned the courtier's language.
Under proffer of service you are really demanding pardon for a band of
Wilhelm met unflinchingly the angry look of this imperious woman, and
was so little a courtier that he allowed a frown to add sternness to
"Your Majesty puts it harshly," he said, "I merely petition for a
stroke of the pen which will add half a thousand loyal men to the ranks
of the Emperor's supporters."
Brunhilda pondered on this, then suddenly seemed to arrive at a
decision. Calling one of the ministers of state to her side, she said,
"Prepare a pardon for the Outlaws of the Hundsrueck. Send the document
at once to the Emperor for signature, and then bring it to me in the
The minister replied with some hesitation:
"I should have each man's name to inscribe on the roll, otherwise every
scoundrel in the Empire will claim protection under the edict."
"I can give you every man's name," put in Wilhelm, eagerly.
"It is not necessary," said the Empress.
"Your Majesty perhaps forgets," persisted the minister, "that pardon
has already been proffered by the Emperor under certain conditions that
commended themselves to his imperial wisdom, and that the clemency so
graciously tendered was contemptuously refused."
At this veiled opposition all the suspicion in Brunhilda's nature
turned from Wilhelm to the high official, and she spoke to him in the
tones of one accustomed to prompt obedience.
"Prepare an unconditional pardon, and send it immediately to the
Emperor without further comment, either to him or to me."
The minister bowed low and retired. The Empress dismissed the court,
detaining Elsa, and said to Wilhelm:
"Seek us half an hour later in the Red Room. Your wife I shall take
with me, that I may learn from her own lips the adventures which led to
your recognition as the heir of Schonburg, something of which I have
already heard. And as for your outlaws, send them word if you think
they are impatient to lead virtuous lives, which I take leave to doubt,
that before another day passes they need fear no penalty for past
misdeed, providing their future conduct escapes censure."
"They are one and all eager to retrieve themselves in your Majesty's
"Promise not too much, my young Lord, for they may be called upon to
perform sooner than they expect," said Brunhilda, with a significant
glance at Wilhelm.
The young man left the imperial presence, overjoyed to know that his
mission had been successful.
THE PERIL OF THE EMPEROR
Wilhelm awaited with impatience the passing of the half hour the
Empress had fixed as the period of his probation, for he was anxious to
have the signed pardon for the outlaws actually in his hand, fearing
the intrigues of the court might at the last moment bring about its
When the time had elapsed he presented himself at the door of the Red
Room and was admitted by the guard. He found the Empress alone, and she
advanced toward him with a smile on her face, which banished the former
hardness of expression.
"Forgive me," she said, "my seeming discourtesy in the Great Hall. I am
surrounded by spies, and doubtless Mayence already knows that your
outlaws have been pardoned, but that will merely make him more easy
about the safety of his cathedral town, especially as he holds Baron
von Weithoff their former leader. I was anxious that it should also be
reported to him that I had received you somewhat ungraciously. Your
wife is to take up her abode in the palace, as she refuses to leave
Frankfort if you remain here. She tells me the outlaws are brave men."
"The bravest in the world, your Majesty."
"And that they will follow you unquestioningly."
"They would follow me to the gates of--" He paused, and added as if in
afterthought--"to the gates of Heaven."
The lady smiled again.
"From what I have heard of them," she said, "I feared their route lay
in another direction, but I have need of reckless men, and although I
hand you their pardon freely, it is not without a hope that they will
see fit to earn it."
"Strong bodies and loyal souls, we belong to your Majesty. Command and
we will obey, while life is left us."
"Do you know the present situation of the Imperial Crown, my Lord?"
"I understand it is in jeopardy through the act of the Electors, who,
it is thought, will depose the Emperor and elect a tool of their own. I
am also aware that the Imperial troops have been disbanded, and that
there will be four thousand armed and trained men belonging to the
Electors within the walls of Frankfort before many days are past."
"Yes. What can five hundred do against four thousand?"
"We could capture the gates and prevent the entry of Treves and
"I doubt that, for there are already two thousand troops obeying
Mayence and the Count Palatine now in Frankfort. I fear we must meet
strength by craft. The first step is to get your five hundred secretly
into this city. The empty barracks stand against the city wall; if you
quartered your score of Schonburg men there, they could easily assist
your five hundred to scale the wall at night, and thus your force would
be at hand concealed in the barracks without knowledge of the
archbishops. Treves and his men will be here to-morrow, before it would
be possible for you to capture the gates, even if such a design were
practicable. I am anxious above all things to avoid bloodshed, and any
plan you have to propose must be drafted with that end in view."
"I will ride to the place where my outlaws are encamped on the Rhine,
having first quartered the Schonburg men in the barracks with
instructions regarding our reception. If the tales which the spies tell
the Archbishop of Mayence concerning my arrival and reception at court
lead his lordship to distrust me, he will command the guards at the
gate not to re-admit me. By to-morrow morning, or the morning after at
latest, I expect to occupy the barracks with five hundred and twenty
men, making arrangement meanwhile for the quiet provisioning of the
place. When I have consulted Gottlieb, who is as crafty as Satan
himself, I shall have a plan to lay before your Majesty."
Wilhelm took leave of the Empress, gave the necessary directions to the
men he left behind him, and rode through the western gate unmolested
and unquestioned. The outlaws hailed him that evening with acclamations
that re-echoed from the hills which surrounded them, and their cheers
redoubled when Wilhelm presented them with the parchment which made
them once more free citizens of the Empire. That night they marched in,
five companies, each containing a hundred men, and the cat's task of
climbing the walls of Frankfort in the darkness before the dawn, merely
gave a pleasant fillip to the long tramp. Daylight, found them sound
asleep, sprawling on the floors of the huge barracks.
When Wilhelm explained the situation to Gottlieb the latter made light
of the difficulty, as his master expected he would.
"'Tis the easiest thing in the world," he said.
"There are the Mayence men quartered in the Leinwandhaus. The men of
Treves are here, let us say, and the men of Cologne there. Very well,
we divide our company into four parties, as there is also the Count
Palatine to reckon with. We tie ropes round the houses containing these
sleeping men, set fire to the buildings all at the same time, and,
pouf! burn the vermin where they lie. The hanging of the four Electors
after, will be merely a job for a dozen of our men, and need not occupy
longer than while one counts five score."
"Your plan has the merit of simplicity, Gottlieb, but it does not fall
in with the scheme of the Empress, who is anxious that everything be
accomplished legally and without bloodshed. But if we can burn them, we
can capture them, imprisonment being probably more to the taste of the
vermin, as you call them, than cremation, and equally satisfactory to
us. Frankfort prison is empty, the Emperor having recently liberated
all within it. The place will amply accommodate four thousand men.
Treves has arrived to-day with much pomp, and Cologne will be here to-
morrow. To-morrow night the Electors hold their first meeting in the
election chamber of the Romer. While they are deliberating, do you
think you and your five hundred could lay four thousand men by the
heels and leave each bound and gagged in the city prison with good
strong bolts shot in on them?"
"Look on it as already done, my Lord. It is a task that requires speed,
stealth and silence, rather than strength. The main point is to see
that no alarm is prematurely given, and that no fugitive from one
company escape to give warning to the others. We fall upon sleeping
men, and if some haste is used, all are tied and gagged before they are
"Very well. Make what preparations are necessary, as this venture may
be wrecked through lack of a cord or a gag, so see that you have
everything at hand, for we cannot afford to lose a single trick. The
stake, if we fail, is our heads."
Wilhelm sought the Empress to let her know that he had got his men
safely housed in Frankfort, and also to lay before her his plan for
depositing the Electors' followers in prison.
Brunhilda listened to his enthusiastic recital in silence, then shook
her head slowly.
"How can five hundred men hope to pinion four thousand?" she asked. "It
needs but one to make an outcry from an upper window, and, such is the
state of tension in Frankfort at the present moment that the whole city
will be about your ears instantly, thus bringing forth with the rest
the comrades of those you seek to imprison."
"My outlaws are tigers, your Majesty. The Electors' men will welcome
prison, once the Hundsrueckers are let loose on them."
"Your outlaws may understand the ways of the forest, but not those of a
"Well, your Majesty, they have sacked Coblentz, if that is any
recommendation for them."
The reply of the Empress seemed irrelevant.
"Have you ever seen the hall in which the Emperors are nominated--or
deposed?" she asked.
"No, your Majesty."
"Then follow me."
The lady led him along a passage that seemed interminable, then down a
narrow winding stair, through a vaulted tunnel, the dank air of which
struck so cold and damp that the young man felt sure it was
subterranean; lastly up a second winding stair, at the top of which,
pushing aside some hanging tapestry, they stood within the noble
chamber known as the Wahlzimmer. The red walls were concealed by
hanging tapestry, the rich tunnel groining of the roof was dim in its
lofty obscurity. A long table occupied the centre of the room, with
three heavily-carved chairs on either side, and one, as ponderous as a
throne, at the head.
"There," said the Empress, waving her hand, "sit the seven Electors
when a monarch of this realm is to be chosen. There, to-morrow night
will sit a majority of the Electoral College. In honour of this
assemblage I have caused these embroidered webs to be hung round the
walls, so you see, I, too, have a plan. Through this secret door which
the Electors know nothing of, I propose to admit a hundred of your men
to be concealed behind the tapestry. My plan differs from yours in that
I determine to imprison four men, while you would attempt to capture
four thousand; I consider therefore that my chances of success,
compared with yours, are as a thousand to one. I strike at the head;
you strike at the body. If I paralyse the head, the body is powerless."
Wilhelm knit his brows, looked around the room, but made no reply.
"Well," cried the Empress, impatiently, "I have criticised your plan;
criticise mine if you find a flaw in it."
"Is it your Majesty's intention to have the men take their places
behind the hangings before the archbishops assemble?"
"Then you will precipitate a conflict before all the Electors are here,
for it is certain that the first prince to arrive will have the place
thoroughly searched for spies. So momentous a meeting will never be
held until all fear of eavesdroppers is allayed."
"That is true, Wilhelm," said the Empress with a sigh, "then there is
nothing left but your project; which I fear will result in a melee and
"I propose, your Majesty, that we combine the two plans. We will
imprison as many as may be of the archbishops' followers and then by
means of the secret stairway surround their lordships."
"But they will, in the silence of the room, instantly detect the
incoming of your men."
"Not so, if the panel which conceals the stair, work smoothly. My men
are like cats, and their entrance and placement will not cause the most
timid mouse to cease nibbling."
"The panel is silent enough, and it may be that your men will reach
their places without betraying their presence to the archbishops, but
it would be well to instruct your leaders that in case of discovery
they are to rush forward, without waiting for your arrival or mine,
hold the door of the Wahlzimmer at all hazards, and see that no Elector
escapes. I am firm in my belief that once the persons of the
archbishops are secured, this veiled rebellion ends, whether you
imprison your four thousand or not, for I swear by my faith that if
their followers raise a hand against me, I will have the archbishops
slain before their eyes, even though I go down in disaster the moment
The stern determination of the Empress would have inspired a less
devoted enthusiast than Wilhelm. He placed his hand on the hilt of his
"There will be no disaster to the Empress," he said, fervently.
They retired into the palace by the way they came, carefully closing
the concealed panel behind them.
As Wilhelm passed through the front gates of the Palace to seek
Gottlieb at the barracks, he pondered over the situation and could not
conceal from himself the fact that the task he had undertaken was
almost impossible of accomplishment. It was an unheard of thing that
five hundred men should overcome eight times their number and that
without raising a disturbance in so closely packed a city as Frankfort,
where, as the Empress had said, the state of tension was already
extreme. But although he found that the pessimism of the Empress
regarding his project was affecting his own belief in it, he set his
teeth resolutely and swore that if it failed it would not be through
lack of taking any precaution that occurred to him.
At the barracks he found Gottlieb in high feather. The sight of his
cheerful, confident face revived the drooping spirits of the young man.
"Well, master," he cried, the freedom of outlawry still in the
abruptness of his speech, "I have returned from a close inspection of
"A dangerous excursion" said Wilhelm. "I trust no one else left the
"Not another man, much as they dislike being housed, but it was
necessary some one should know where our enemies are placed. The
Archbishop of Treves, with an assurance that might have been expected
of him, has stalled his men in the cathedral, no less, but a most
excellent place for our purposes. A guard at each door, and there you
"Ah, he has selected the cathedral not because of his assurance, but to
intercept any communication with the Emperor, who is in the cloisters
attached to it, and doubtless his lordship purposes to crown the new
emperor before daybreak at the high altar. The design of the archbishop
is deeper than appears on the surface, Gottlieb. His men in the
cathedral gives him possession of the Wahlkapelle where emperors are
elected, after having been nominated in the Wahlzimmer. His lordship
has a taste for doing things legally. Where are the men of Cologne?"
"In a church also; the church of St. Leonhard on the banks of the Main.
That is as easily surrounded and is as conveniently situated as if I
had selected it myself. The Count Palatine's men are in a house near
the northern gate, a house which has no back exit, and therefore calls
but for the closing of a street. Nothing could be better."
"But the Drapers' Hall which holds the Mayence troops, almost adjoins
the cathedral. Is there not a danger in this circumstance that a
turmoil in the one may be heard in the other?"
"No, because we have most able allies."
"What? the townsmen? You have surely taken none into your confidence,
"Oh, no, my Lord. Our good copartners are none other than the
archbishops themselves. It is evident they expect trouble to-morrow,
but none to-night. Orders have been given that all their followers are
to get a good night's rest, each man to be housed and asleep by sunset.
The men of both Treves and Cologne are tired with their long and
hurried march and will sleep like the dead. We will first attack the
men of Mayence surrounding the Leinwandhaus, and I warrant you that no
matter what noise there is, the Treves people will not hear. Then being
on the spot, we will, when the Mayence soldiers are well bound, tie up
those in the cathedral. I purpose if your lordship agrees to leave our
bound captives where they are, guarded by a sufficient number of
outlaws, in case one attempts to help the other, until we have pinioned
those of Cologne and the Count Palatine. When this is off our minds we
can transport all our prisoners to the fortress at our leisure."
Thus it was arranged, and when night fell on the meeting of the
Electors, so well did Gottlieb and his men apply themselves to the task
that before an hour had passed the minions of the Electors lay packed
in heaps in the aisles and the rooms where they lodged, to be
transported to the prison at the convenience of their captors.
Many conditions favoured the success of the seemingly impossible feat.
Since the arrival of the soldiery there had been so many night brawls
in the streets that one more or less attracted little attention, either
from the military or from the civilians. The very boldness and
magnitude of the scheme was an assistance to it. Then the stern cry of
"_In the name of the Emperor!_" with which the assaulters once
inside cathedral, church or house, fell upon their victims, deadened
opposition, for the common soldiers, whether enlisted by Treves,
Cologne, or Mayence, knew that the Emperor was over all, and they had
no inkling of the designs of their immediate masters. Then, as Gottlieb
had surmised, the extreme fatigue of the followers of Treves and
Cologne, after their toilsome march from their respective cities, so
overcame them that many went to sleep when being conveyed from church
and cathedral to prison. There was some resistance on the part of
officers, speedily quelled by the victorious woodlanders, but aside
from this there were few heads broken, and the wish of the Empress for
a bloodless conquest was amply fulfilled.
Two hours after darkness set in, Gottlieb, somewhat breathless, saluted
his master at the steps of the palace and announced that the followers
of the archbishops and the Count Palatine were behind bars in the
Frankfort prison, with a strong guard over them to discourage any
attempt at jailbreaking. When Wilhelm led his victorious soldiery
silently up the narrow secret stair, pushed back, with much
circumspection and caution, the sliding panel, listened for a moment to
the low murmur of their lordships' voices, waited until each of his men
had gone stealthily behind the tapestry, listened again and still heard
the drone of speech, he returned as he came, and accompanied by a guard
of two score, escorted the Empress to the broad public stairway that
led up one flight to the door of the Wahlzimmer. The two sentinels at
the foot of the stairs crossed their pikes to bar the entrance of
Brunhilda, but they were overpowered and gagged so quickly and silently
that their two comrades at the top had no suspicion of what was going
forward until they had met a similar fate. The guards at the closed
door, more alert, ran forward, only to be carried away with their
fellow-sentinels. Wilhelm, his sword drawn, pushed open the door and
cried, in a loud voice:
"My Lords, I am commanded to announce to you that her Majesty the
Empress honours you with her presence."
It would have been difficult at that moment to find four men in all
Germany more astonished than were the Electors. They saw the young man
who held open the door, bow low, then the stately lady so sonorously
announced come slowly up the hall and stand silently before them.
Wilhelm closed the door and set his back against it, his naked sword
still in his right hand. Three of the Electors were about to rise to
their feet, but a motion of the hand by the old man of Treves, who sat
the head of the table, checked them.
"I have come," said the Empress in a low voice, but distinctly heard in
the stillness of the room, "to learn why you are gathered here in
Frankfort and in the Wahlzimmer, where no meeting has taken place for
three hundred years, except on the death of an emperor."
"Madame," said the Elector of Treves, leaning back in his chair and
placing the tips of his fingers together before him, "all present have
the right to assemble in this hall unquestioned, with the exception of
yourself and the young man who erroneously styled you Empress, with
such unnecessary flourish, as you entered. You are the wife of our
present Emperor, but under the Salic law no woman can occupy the German
throne. If flatterers have misled you by bestowing a title to which you
have no claim, and if the awe inspired by that spurious appellation has
won your admission past ignorant guards who should have prevented your
approach, I ask that you will now withdraw, and permit us to resume
deliberations that should not have been interrupted."
"What is the nature of those deliberations, my Lord?"
"The question is one improper for you to ask. To answer it would be to
surrender our rights as Electors of the Empire. It is enough for you to
be assured, madame, that we are lawfully assembled, and that our
purposes are strictly legal."
"You rest strongly on the law, my Lord, so strongly indeed that were I
a suspicious person I might surmise that your acts deserved strict
scrutiny. I will appeal to you, then, in the name of the law. Is it the
law of this realm that he who directly or indirectly conspires against
the peace and comfort of his emperor is adjudged a traitor, his act
being punishable by death?"
"The law stands substantially as you have cited it, madame, but its
bearing upon your presence in this room is, I confess, hidden from me."
"I shall endeavour to enlighten you, my Lord. Are you convened here to
further the peace and comfort of his Majesty the Emperor?"
"We devoutly trust so, madame. His Majesty is so eminently fitted for a
cloister, rather than for domestic bliss or the cares of state, that we
hope to pleasure him by removing all barriers in his way to a
"Then until his Majesty is deposed you are, by your own confession,
"Pardon me, madame, but the law regarding traitors which you quoted
with quite womanly inaccuracy, and therefore pardonable, does not apply
to eight persons within this Empire, namely, the seven Electors and the
"I have been unable to detect the omission you state, my Lord. There
are no exceptions, as I read the law."
"The exceptions are implied, madame, if not expressly set down, for it
would be absurd to clothe Electors with a power in the exercise of
which they would constitute themselves traitors. But this discussion is
as painful as it is futile, and therefore it must cease. In the name of
the Electoral College here in session assembled, I ask you to withdraw,
"Before obeying your command, my Lord Archbishop, there is another
point which I wish to submit to your honourable body, so learned in the
law. I see three vacant chairs before me, and I am advised that it is
illegal to depose an emperor unless all the members of the college are
present and unanimous."
"Again you have been misinformed. A majority of the college elects; a
majority can depose, and in retiring to private life, madame, you have
the consolation of knowing that your intervention prolonged your
husband's term of office by several minutes. For the third time I
request you to leave this room, and if you again refuse I shall be
reluctantly compelled to place you under arrest. Young man, open the
door and allow this woman to pass through."
"I would have you know, my Lord," said Wilhelm, "that I am appointed
commander of the imperial forces, and that I obey none but his Majesty
"I understood that the Emperor depended upon the Heavenly Hosts," said
the Archbishop, with the suspicion of a smile on his grim lips.
"It does not become a prince of the Church to sneer at Heaven or its
power," said the Empress, severely.
"Nothing was further from my intention, madame, but you must excuse me
if I did not expect to see the Heavenly Hosts commanded by a young man
so palpably German. Still all this is aside from the point. Will you
retire, or must I reluctantly use force?"
"I advise your lordship not to appeal to force."
The old man of Treves rose slowly to his feet, an ominous glitter in
his eyes. He stood for some minutes regarding angrily the woman before
him, as if to give her time to reconsider her stubborn resolve to hold
her ground. Then raising his voice the Elector cried:
"Men of Treves! enter!"
While one might count ten, dense silence followed this outcry, the
seated Electors for the first time glancing at their leader with looks
"Treves! Treves! Treves!"
That potent name reverberated from the lips of its master, who had
never known its magic to fail in calling round him stout defenders, and
who could not yet believe that its power should desert him at this
juncture. Again there was no response.
"As did the prophet of old, ye call on false gods."
The low vibrant voice of the Empress swelled like the tones of a rich
organ as the firm command she had held over herself seemed about to
"Lord Wilhelm, give them a name, that carries authority in its sound."
Wilhelm strode forward from the door, raised his glittering sword high
above his head and shouted:
"THE EMPEROR! Cheer, ye woodland wolves!"
With a downward sweep of his sword, he cut the two silken cords which,
tied to a ring near the door, held up the tapestry. The hangings fell
instantly like the drop curtain of a theatre, its rustle overwhelmed in
the vociferous yell that rang to the echoing roof.
"Forward! Close up your ranks!"
With simultaneous movement the men stepped over the folds on the floor
and stood shoulder to shoulder, an endless oval line of living
warriors, surrounding the startled group in the centre of the great
Four men, with ropes wound round their bodies, detached themselves from
the circle, and darting to the four corners of the room, climbed like
squirrels until they reached the tunnelled roofing, where, making their
way to the centre with a dexterity that was marvellous, they threw
their ropes over the timbers and came spinning down to the floor, like
gigantic spiders, each suspended on his own line. The four men, looped
nooses in hand, took up positions behind the four Electors, all of whom
were now on their feet. Wilhelm saluted the Empress, bringing the hilt
of his sword to his forehead, and stepped back.
The lady spoke:
"My Lords, learned in the law, you will perhaps claim with truth that
there is no precedent for hanging an Electoral College, but neither is
there precedent for deposing an Emperor. It is an interesting legal
point on which we shall have definite opinion pronounced in the inquiry
which will follow the death of men so distinguished as yourselves, and
if it should be held that I have exceeded my righteous authority in
thus pronouncing sentence upon you as traitors, I shall be nothing
loath to make ample apology to the state."
"Such reparation will be small consolation to us, your Majesty," said
the Archbishop of Cologne, speaking for the first time. "My preference
is for an ante-mortem rather than a post-mortem adjustment of the law.
My colleague of Treves, in the interests of a better understanding, I
ask you to destroy the document of deposition, which you hold in your
hand, and which I beg to assure her Majesty, is still unsigned."
The trembling fingers of the Archbishop of Treves proved powerless to
tear the tough parchment, so he held it for a moment until it was
consumed in the flame of a taper which stood on the table.
"And now, your Majesty, speaking entirely for myself, I give you my
word as a prince of the Church and a gentlemen of the Empire, that my
vote as an Elector will always be against the deposition of the
Emperor, for I am convinced that imperial power is held in firm and
The great prelate of Cologne spoke as one making graceful concession to
a lady, entirely uninfluenced by the situation in which he so
unexpectedly found himself. A smile lit up the face of the Empress as
she returned his deferential bow.
"I accept your word with pleasure, my Lord, fully assured that, once
given, it will never be tarnished by any mental reservation."
"I most cordially associate myself with my brother of Cologne and take
the same pledge," spoke up his Lordship of Mayence.
The Count Palatine of the Rhine moistened his dry lips and said:
"I was misled by ambition, your Majesty, and thus in addition to giving
you my word, I crave your imperial pardon as well."
The Archbishop of Treves sat in his chair like a man collapsed. He had
made no movement since the burning of the parchment. All eyes were
turned upon him in the painful stillness. With visible effort he
enunciated in deep voice the two words: "And I."
The face of the Empress took on a radiance that had long been absent
"It seems, my Lords, that there has been merely a slight
misunderstanding, which a few quiet words and some legal instruction
has entirely dissipated. To seal our compact, I ask you all to dine
with me to-morrow night, when I am sure it will afford intense
gratification to prelates so pious as yourselves to send a message to
his Majesty the Emperor, informing him that his trust in Providence has
not been misplaced."
THE NEEDLE DAGGER
Wilhelm Von Schonburg, Commander of the Imperial Forces at Frankfort,
applied himself to the task of building up an army round his nucleus of
five hundred with all the energy and enthusiasm of youth. He first put
parties of trusty men at the various city gates so that he might
control, at least in a measure, the human intake and output of the
city. The power which possession of the gates gave him he knew to be
more apparent than real, for Frankfort was a commercial city, owing its
prosperity to traffic, and any material interference with the ebb or
flow of travel had a depressing influence on trade. If the Archbishops
meant to keep their words given to the Empress, all would be well, but
of their good faith Wilhelm had the gravest doubts. It would be
impossible to keep secret the defeat of their Lordships, when several
thousands of their men lay immured in the city prison. The whole world
would thus learn sooner or later that the great Princes of the Church
had come to shear and had departed shorn; and this blow to their pride
was one not easily forgiven by men so haughty and so powerful as the
prelates of Treves, Mayence and Cologne. Young as he was, Wilhelm's
free life in the forest, among those little accustomed to control the
raw passions of humanity, had made him somewhat a judge of character,
and he had formed the belief that the Archbishop of Cologne, was a
gentleman, and would keep his word, that the Archbishop of Treves would
have no scruple in breaking his, while the Archbishop of Mayence would
follow the lead of Treves. This suspicion he imparted to the Empress
Brunhilda, but she did not agree with him, believing that all three,
with the Count Palatine, would hereafter save their heads by attending
strictly to their ecclesiastical business, leaving the rule of the
Empire in the hands which now held it.
"Cologne will not break the pledge he has given me," she said; "of that
I am sure. Mayence is too great an opportunist to follow an
unsuccessful leader; and the Count Palatine is too great a coward to
enter upon such a dangerous business as the deposing of an emperor who
is _my_ husband. Besides, I have given the Count Palatine a post
at Court which requires his constant presence in Frankfort, and so I
have him in some measure a prisoner. The Electors are powerless if even
one of their number is a defaulter, so what can Treves do, no matter
how deeply his pride is injured, or how bitterly he thirsts for
revenge? His only resource is boldly to raise the flag of rebellion and
march his troops on Frankfort. He is too crafty a man to take such risk
or to do anything so open. For this purpose he must set about the
collection of an army secretly, while we may augment the Imperial
troops in the light of day. So, unless he strikes speedily, we will
have a force that will forever keep him in awe."
This seemed a reasonable view, but it only partly allayed the
apprehensions of Wilhelm. He had caught more than one fierce look of
hatred directed toward him by the Archbishop of Treves, since the
meeting in the Wahlzimmer, and the regard of his Lordship of Mayence
had been anything but benign. These two dignitaries had left Frankfort
together, their way lying for some distance in the same direction.
Wilhelm liberated their officers, and thus the two potentates had scant
escort to their respective cities. Their men he refused to release,
which refusal both Treves and Mayence accepted with bad grace, saying
the withholding cast an aspersion on their honour. This example was not
followed by the suave Archbishop of Cologne, who departed some days
after his colleagues. He laughed when Wilhelm informed him that his
troops would remain in Frankfort, and said he would be at the less
expense in his journey down the Rhine, as his men were gross feeders.
Being thus quit of the three Archbishops, the question was what to do
with their three thousand men. It was finally resolved to release them
by detachments, drafting into the Imperial army such as were willing so
to serve and take a special oath of allegiance to the Emperor, allowing
those who declined to enlist to depart from the city in whatever
direction pleased them, so that they went away in small parties. It was
found, however, that the men cared little for whom they fought,
providing the pay was good and reasonably well assured. Thus the
Imperial army received many recruits and the country round Frankfort
The departed Archbishops made no sign, the Count Palatine seemed
engrossed with his duties about the Court, the army increased daily and
life went on so smoothly that Wilhelm began to cease all questioning of
the future, coming at last to believe that the Empress was right in her
estimate of the situation. He was in this pleasing state of mind when
an incident occurred which would have caused him greater anxiety than
it did had he been better acquainted with the governing forces of his
country. On arising one morning he found on the table of his room a
parchment, held in place by a long thin dagger of peculiar
construction. His first attention was given to the weapon and not to
the scroll. The blade was extremely thin and sharp at the point, and
seemed at first sight to be so exceedingly frail as to be of little
service in actual combat, but a closer examination proved that it was
practically unbreakable, and of a temper so fine that nothing made an
impression on its keen edge. Held at certain angles, the thin blade
seemed to disappear altogether and leave the empty hilt in the hand.
The hilt had been treated as if it were a crucifix, and in slightly
raised relief there was a figure of Christ, His outstretched arms
extending along the transverse guard. On the opposite side of the
handle were the sunken letters "S. S. G. G."
Wilhelm fingered this dainty piece of mechanism curiously, wondering
where it was made. He guessed Milan as the place of its origin, knowing
enough of cutlery to admire the skill and knowledge of metallurgy that
had gone to its construction, and convinced as he laid it down that it
was foreign. He was well aware that no smith in Germany could fashion a
lancet so exquisitely tempered. He then turned his attention to the
document which had been fastened to the table by this needle-like
stiletto. At the top of the parchment were the same letters that had
been cut in the handle of the dagger.
_S. S. G. G._
_First warning. Wear this dagger thrust into your doublet over the
heart, and allow him who accosts you, fearing nothing if your heart be
true and loyal. In strict silence safety lies_.
"It is some lover's nonsense of Elsa's," he said to himself. "'If your
heart be true and loyal,' that is a woman's phrase and nothing else."
Calling his wife, he held out the weapon to her and said:
"Where did you get this, Elsa? I would be glad to know who your
armourer is, for I should dearly love to provide my men with weapons of
Elsa looked alternately at the dagger and at her husband, bewildered.
"I never saw it before, nor anything like it," she replied. "Where did
you find it? It is so frail it must be for ornament merely."
"Its frailness is deceptive. It is a most wonderful instrument, and I
should like to know where it comes from. I thought you had bought it
from some armourer and intended me to wear it as a badge of my office.
Perhaps it was sent by the Empress. The word 'loyalty' seems to
indicate that, though how it got into this room and on this table
unknown to me is a mystery."
Elsa shook her head as she studied the weapon and the message
"Her Majesty is more direct than this would indicate. If she had aught
to say to you she would say it without ambiguity. Do you intend to wear
the dagger as the scroll commands?"
"If I thought it came from the Empress I should, not otherwise."
"You may be assured some one else has sent it. Perhaps it is intended
for me," and saying this Elsa thrust the blade of the dagger through
the thick coil of her hair and turned coquettishly so that her husband
might judge of the effect.
"Are you ambitious to set a new fashion to the Court, Elsa?" asked
"No; I shall not wear it in public, but I will keep the dagger if I
Thus the incident passed, and Wilhelm gave no more thought to the
mysterious warning. His duties left him little time for meditation
during the day, but as he returned at night from the barracks his mind
reverted once more to the dagger, and he wondered how it came without
his knowledge into his private room. His latent suspicion of the
Archbishops became aroused again, and he pondered on the possibility of
an emissary of theirs placing the document on his table. He had given
strict instructions that if any one supposed to be an agent of their
lordships presented himself at the gates he was to be permitted to
enter the city without hindrance, but instant knowledge of such advent
was to be sent to the Commander, which reminded him that he had not
seen Gottlieb that day, this able lieutenant having general charge of
all the ports. So he resolved to return to the barracks and question
his underling regarding the recent admittances. Acting instantly on
this determination, he turned quickly and saw before him a man whom he
thought he recognised by his outline in the darkness as von Brent, one
of the officers of Treves whom he had released, and who had accompanied
the Archbishop on his return to that city. The figure, however, gave
him no time for a closer inspection, and, although evidently taken by
surprise, reversed his direction, making off with speed down the
street. Wilhelm, plucking sword from scabbard, pursued no less fleetly.
The scanty lighting of the city thoroughfares gave advantage to the
fugitive, but Wilhelm's knowledge of the town was now astonishingly
intimate, considering the short time he had been a resident, and his
woodlore, applied to the maze of tortuous narrow alleys made him a
hunter not easily baffled. He saw the flutter of a cloak as its wearer
turned down a narrow lane, and a rapid mental picture of the labyrinth
illuminating his mind, Wilhelm took a dozen long strides to a corner
and there stood waiting. A few moments later a panting man with cloak
streaming behind him came near to transfixing himself on the point of
the Commander's sword. The runner pulled himself up with a gasp and
stood breathless and speechless.
"I tender you good-evening, sir," said Wilhelm, civilly, "and were I
not sure of your friendliness, I should take it that you were trying to
avoid giving me salutation."
"I did not recognise you, my Lord, in the darkness."
The man breathed heavily, which might have been accounted for by his
"'Tis strange, then, that I should have recognised you, turning
unexpectedly as I did, while you seemingly had me in your eye for some
"Indeed, my Lord, and that I had not. I but just emerged from this
crooked lane, and seeing you turn so suddenly, feared molestation, and
so took to my heels, which a warrior should be shamed to confess, but I
had no wish to be embroiled in a street brawl."
"Your caution does you credit, and should commend you to so peacefully-
minded a master as his Lordship of Treves, who, I sincerely trust,
arrived safely in his ancient city."
"He did, my Lord."
"I am deeply gratified to hear it, and putting my knowledge of his
lordship's methods in conjunction with your evident desire for secrecy,
I should be loath to inquire into the nature of the mission that brings
you to the capital so soon after your departure from it."
"Well, my Lord," said von Brent, with an attempt at a laugh, "I must
admit that it was my purpose to visit Frankfort with as little
publicity as possible. You are mistaken, however, in surmising that I
am entrusted with any commands from my lord, the Archbishop, who, at
this moment, is devoting himself with energy to his ecclesiastical
duties and therefore has small need for a soldier. This being the case,
I sought and obtained leave of absence, and came to Frankfort on
private affairs of my own. To speak truth, as between one young man and
another, not to be further gossiped about, while, stationed here some
days ago, I became acquainted with a girl whom I dearly wish to meet
again, and this traffic, as you know, yearns not for either bray of
trumpet or rattle of drum."
"The gentle power of love," said Wilhelm in his most affable tone, "is
a force few of us can resist. Indeed, I am myself not unacquainted with
its strength, and I must further congratulate you on your celerity of
conquest, for you came to Frankfort in the morning, and were my guest
in the fortress in the evening, so you certainly made good use of the
brief interval. By what gate did you enter Frankfort?"
"By the western gate, my Lord."
"No, my Lord. I entered but a short time since, just before the gates
were closed for the night."
"Ah! that accounts for my hearing no report of your arrival, for it is
my wish, when distinguished visitors honour us with their presence,
that I may be able to offer them every courtesy."
Von Brent laughed, this time with a more genuine ring to his mirth.
"Seeing that your previous hospitality included lodging in the city
prison, my Lord, as you, a moment ago, reminded me, you can scarcely be
surprised that I had no desire to invite a repetition of such courtesy,
if you will pardon the frank speaking of a soldier."
"Most assuredly. And to meet frankness with its like, I may add that
the city prison still stands intact. But I must no longer delay an
impatient lover, and so, as I began, I give you a very good evening,
Von Brent returned the salutation, bowing low, and Wilhelm watched him
retrace his steps and disappear in the darkness. The Commander,
returning his blade to its scabbard, sought Gottlieb at the barracks.
"Do you remember von Brent, of Treves' staff?"
"That hangdog-looking officer? Yes, master. I had the pleasure of
knocking him down in the Cathedral before pinioning him."
"He is in Frankfort to-night, and said he entered by the western gate
just before it was closed."
"Then he is a liar," commented Gottlieb, with his usual bluntness.
"Such I strongly suspect him to be. Nevertheless, here he is, and the
question I wish answered is, how did he get in?"
"He must have come over the wall, which can hardly be prevented if an
incomer has a friend who will throw him a rope."
"It may be prevented if the walls are efficiently patrolled. See
instantly to that, Gottlieb, and set none but our own woodlanders on
Several days passed, and Wilhelm kept a sharp lookout for von Brent, or
any other of the Archbishop's men, but he saw none such, nor could he
learn that the lieutenant had left the city. He came almost to believe
that the officer had spoken the truth, when distrust again assailed him
on finding in the barracks a second document almost identical with the
first, except that it contained the words, "Second warning," and the
dirk had been driven half its length into the lid of the desk. At first
he thought it was the same parchment and dagger, but the different
wording showed him that at least the former was not the same. He called
Gottlieb, and demanded to know who had been allowed to pass the guards
and enter that room. The honest warrior was dismayed to find such a
thing could have happened, and although he was unable to read the
lettering, he turned the missive over and over in his hand as if he
expected close scrutiny to unravel the skein. He then departed and
questioned the guards closely, but was assured that no one had entered
except the Commander.
"I cannot fathom it," he said on returning to his master, "and, to tell
truth, I wish we were well back in the forest again, for I like not
this mysterious city and its ways. We have kept this town as close
sealed as a wine butt, yet I dare swear that I have caught glimpses of
the Archbishop's men, flitting here and there like bats as soon as
darkness gathers. I have tried to catch one or two of them to make
sure, but I seem to have lost all speed of foot on these slippery
stones, and those I follow disappear as if the earth swallowed them."
"Have you seen von Brent since I spoke to you about him?"
"I thought so, Master Wilhelm, but I am like a man dazed in the mazes
of an evil dream, who can be certain of nothing. I am afraid of no man
who will stand boldly up to me, sword in hand, with a fair light on
both of us, but this chasing of shadows with nothing for a pike to
pierce makes a coward of me."
"Well, the next shadow that follows me will get my blade in its vitals,
for I think my foot is lighter than yours, Gottlieb. There is no shadow
in this town that is not cast by a substance, and that substance will
feel a sword thrust if one can but get within striking distance. Keep
strict watch and we will make a discovery before long, never fear. Do
you think the men we have enlisted from the Archbishop's company are
trying to play tricks with us? Are they to be trusted?"
"Oh, they are stout rascals with not enough brains among them all to
plan this dagger and parchment business, giving little thought to
anything beyond eating and drinking, and having no skill of lettering."
"Then we must look elsewhere for the explanation. It may be that your
elusive shadows will furnish a clue."
On reaching his own house Wilhelm said carelessly to his wife, whom he
did not wish to alarm unnecessarily:
"Have you still in your possession that dagger which I found on my
"Yes, it is here. Have you found an owner for it or learned how it came
"No. I merely wished to look at it again."
She gave it to him, and he saw at once that it was a duplicate of the
one he had hidden under his doublet. The mystery was as far from
solution as ever, and the closest examination of the weapon gave no
hint pertaining to the purport of the message. Yet it is probable that
Wilhelm was the only noble in the German Empire who was ignorant of the
significance of the four letters, and doubtless the senders were amazed
at his temerity in nonchalantly ignoring the repeated warnings, which
would have brought pallor to the cheeks of the highest in the land.
Wilhelm had been always so dependent on the advice of Gottlieb that it
never occurred to him to seek explanation from any one else, yet in
this instance Gottlieb, from the same cause of woodland training, was
as ignorant as his master.
It is possible that the two warnings might have made a greater
impression on the mind of the young man were it not that he was
troubled about his own status in the Empire. There had been much envy
in the Court at the elevation of a young man practically unknown, to
the position of commander-in-chief of the German army, and high
officials had gone so far as to protest against what they said was
regarded as a piece of unaccountable favouritism. The Empress, however,
was firm, and for a time comment seemed to cease, but it was well known
that Wilhelm had no real standing, unless his appointment was confirmed
by the Emperor, and his commission made legal by the royal signature.
It became known, or, at least, was rumoured that twice the Empress had
sent this document to her husband and twice it had been returned
unsigned. The Emperor went so far as to refuse to see his wife,
declining to have any discussion about the matter, and Wilhelm well
knew that every step he took in the fulfilment of his office was an
illegal step, and if a hint of this got to the ears of the Archbishops
they would be more than justified in calling him to account, for every
act he performed relating to the army after he knew that his monarch
had refused to sanction his nomination was an act of rebellion and
usurpation punishable by death. The Empress was well aware of the
jeopardy in which her _attache_ stood, but she implored him not to
give up the position, although helpless to make his appointment
regular. She hoped her husband's religious fervour would abate and that
he would deign to bestow some attention upon earthly things, allowing
himself to be persuaded of the necessity of keeping up a standing army,
commanded by one entirely faithful to him. Wilhelm himself often
doubted the wisdom of his interference, which had allowed the throne to
be held by a man who so neglected all its duties that intrigues and
unrest were honeycombing the whole fabric of society, beginning at the
top and working its way down until now even the merchants were in a
state of uncertainty, losing faith in the stability of the government.
The determined attitude of Wilhelm, the general knowledge that he came
from a family of fighters, and the wholesome fear of the wild outlaws,
under his command, did more than anything else to keep down open
rebellion in Court and to make the position of the Empress possible. It
was believed that Wilhelm would have little hesitation in obliterating
half the nobility of the Court, or the whole of it for that matter, if
but reasonable excuse were given him for doing so, and every one was
certain that his cut-throats, as they were called, would obey any
command he liked to give, and would delight in whatever slaughter
ensued. The Commander held aloof from the Court, although, because of
his position, he had a room in the palace which no one but the monarch
and the chief officer of the army might enter, yet he rarely occupied
this apartment, using, instead, the suite at the barracks.
Some days after the second episode of the dagger he received a summons
from the Empress commanding his instant presence at the palace. On
arriving at the Court, he found Brunhilda attended by a group of
nobles, who fell back as the young commander approached. The Empress
smiled as he bent his knee and kissed her hand, but Wilhelm saw by the
anxiety in her eye that something untoward had happened, guessing that
his commission was returned for the third time unsigned from the
Emperor, and being correct in his surmise.
"Await me in the Administration Room of the Army," said the Empress. "I
will see you presently. You have somewhat neglected that room of late,
"I found I could more adequately fulfil your Majesty's command and keep
in closer touch with the army by occupying my apartments at the
"I trust, then, that you will have a good report to present to me
regarding the progress of my soldiers," replied the Empress, dismissing
him with a slight inclination of her head.
Wilhelm left the audience chamber and proceeded along the corridor with
which his room was connected. The soldier at the entrance saluted him,
and Wilhelm entered the Administration Chamber. It was a large room and
in the centre of it stood a large table. After closing the door Wilhelm
paused in his advance, for there in the centre of the table, buried to
its very hilt through the planks, was a duplicate of the dagger he had
concealed inside his doublet. It required some exertion of Wilhelm's
great strength before he dislodged the weapon from the timber into
which it had been so fiercely driven. The scroll it affixed differed
from each of the other two. It began with the words, "Final warning,"
and ended with "To Wilhelm of Schonburg, so-called Commander of the
Imperial forces," as if from a desire on the part of the writer that
there should be no mistake regarding the destination of the missive.
The young man placed the knife on the parchment and stood looking at
them both until the Empress was announced. He strode forward to meet
her and conducted her to a chair, where she seated herself, he
remaining on his feet.
"I am in deep trouble," she began, "the commission authorising you to
command the Imperial troops has been returned for the third time
unsigned; not only that, but the act authorising the reconstruction of
the army, comes back also without the Emperor's signature."
Wilhelm remained silent, for he well knew that the weakness of their
position was the conduct of the Emperor, and this was an evil which he
did not know how to remedy.
"When he returned both documents the first time," continued the
Empress, "I sent to him a request for an interview that I might explain
the urgency and necessity of the matter. This request was refused, and
although I know of course that my husband might perhaps be called
eccentric, still he had never before forbade my presence. This aroused
"Suspicion of what, your Majesty?" inquired Wilhelm.
"My suspicion that the messages I sent him have been intercepted."
"Who would dare do such a thing, your Majesty?" cried Wilhelm in
"Where large stakes are played for, large risks must be taken," went on
the lady. "I said nothing at the time, but yesterday I sent to him two
acts which he himself had previously sanctioned, but never carried out;
these were returned to me to-day unsigned, and now I fear one of three
things. The Emperor is ill, is a prisoner, or is dead."
"If it is your Majesty's wish," said Wilhelm, "I will put myself at the
head of a body of men, surround the cathedral, search the cloisters,
and speedily ascertain whether the Emperor is there or no."
"I have thought of such action," declared the Empress, "but I dislike
to take it. It would bring me in conflict with the Church, and then
there is always the chance that the Emperor is indeed within the
cloisters, and that, of his own free will, he refuses to sign the
documents I have sent to him. In such case what excuse could we give
for our interference? It might precipitate the very crisis we are so
anxious to avoid."
The Empress had been sitting by the table with her arm resting upon it,
her fingers toying unconsciously with the knife while she spoke, and
now as her remarks reached their conclusion her eyes fell upon its hilt
and slender blade. With an exclamation almost resembling a scream the
Empress sprang to her feet and allowed the dagger to fall clattering on
"Where did that come from?" she cried. "Is it intended for me?" and she
shook her trembling hands as if they had touched a poisonous scorpion.
"Where it comes from I do not know, but it is not intended for your
Majesty, as this scroll will inform you."
Brunhilda took the parchment he offered and held it at arm's length
from her, reading its few words with dilated eyes, and Wilhelm was
amazed to see in them the fear which they failed to show when she faced
the three powerful Archbishops. Finally the scroll fluttered from her
nerveless fingers to the floor and the Empress sank back in her chair.
"You have received two other warnings then?" she said in a low voice.
"Yes, your Majesty. What is their meaning?"
"They are the death warrants of the Fehmgerichte, a dread and secret
tribunal before which even emperors quail. If you obey this mandate you
will never be seen on earth again; if you disobey you will be secretly
assassinated by one of these daggers, for after ignoring the third
warning a hundred thousand such blades are lying in wait for your
heart, and ultimately one of them will reach it, no matter in what
quarter of Germany you hide yourself."
"And who are the members of this mysterious association, your Majesty?
"That, you can tell as well as I, better perhaps, for you may be a
member while I cannot be. Perhaps the soldier outside this door belongs
to the Fehmgerichte, or your own Chamberlain, or perhaps your most
devoted lieutenant, the lusty Gottlieb."
"That, your Majesty, I'll swear he is not, for he was as amazed as I
when he saw the dagger at the barracks."
Brunhilda shook her head.
"You cannot judge from pretended ignorance," she said, "because a
member is sworn to keep all secrets of the holy Fehm from wife and
child, father and mother, sister and brother, fire and wind; from all
that the sun shines on and the rain wets, and from every being between
heaven and earth. Those are the words of the oath."
Wilhelm found himself wondering how his informant knew so much about
the secret court if all those rules were strictly kept, but he
naturally shrank from any inquiry regarding the source of her
knowledge. Nevertheless her next reply gave him an inkling of the
"Who is the head of this tribunal?" he asked.
"The Emperor is the nominal head, but my husband never approved of the
Fehmgerichte; originally organised to redress the wrongs of tyranny, it
has become a gigantic instrument of oppression. The Archbishop of
Cologne is the actual president of the order, not in his capacity as an
elector, nor as archbishop, but because he is Duke of Westphalia, where
this tragic court had its origin."
"Your Majesty imagines then, that this summons comes from the
Archbishop of Cologne?"
"Oh, no. I doubt if he has any knowledge of it. Each district has a
freigraf, or presiding judge, assisted by seven assessors, or
freischoffen, who sit in so called judgment with him, but literally
they merely record the sentence, for condemnation is a foregone
"Is the sentence always death?"
"Always, at this secret tribunal; a sentence of death immediately
carried out. In the open Fehmic court, banishment, prison, or other
penalty may be inflicted, but you are summoned to appear before the
"Does your Majesty know the meaning of these cabalistic letters on the
dagger's hilt and on the parchment?"
"The letters 'S. S. G. G.' stand for Strick, Stein, Gras, Gruen: Strick
meaning, it is said, the rope which hangs you; Stein, the stone at the
head of your grave, and Gras, Gruen, the green grass covering it."
"Well, your Majesty," said Wilhelm, picking up the parchment from the
floor and tearing it in small pieces, "if I have to choose between the
rope and the dagger, I freely give my preference to the latter. I shall
not attend this secret conclave, and if any of its members think to
strike a dagger through my heart, he will have to come within the
radius of my sword to do so."
"God watch over you," said the Empress fervently, "for this is a case
in which the protection of an earthly throne is of little avail. And
remember, Lord Wilhelm, trust not even your most intimate friend within
arm's length of you. The only persons who may not become members of
this dread order are a Jew, an outlaw, an infidel, a woman, a servant,
a priest, or a person excommunicated."
Wilhelm escorted the Empress to the door of the red room, and there
took leave of her; he being unable to suggest anything that might
assuage her anxiety regarding her husband, she being unable to protect
him from the new danger that threatened. Wilhelm was as brave as any
man need be, and in a fair fight was content to take whatever odds
came, but now he was confronted by a subtle invisible peril, against
which ordinary courage was futile. An unaccustomed shiver chilled him
as the palace sentinel, in the gathering gloom of the corridor, raised
his hand swiftly to his helmet in salute. He passed slowly down the
steps of the palace into the almost deserted square in front of it, for
the citizens of Frankfort found it expedient to get early indoors when
darkness fell. The young man found himself glancing furtively from
right to left, starting at every shadow and scrutinising every passerby
who was innocently hurrying to his own home. The name "Fehmgerichte"
kept repeating itself in his brain like an incantation. He took the
middle of the square and hesitated when he came to the narrow street
down which his way lay. At the street corner he paused, laid his hand
on the hilt of his sword and drew a deep breath.
"Is it possible," he muttered to himself, "that I am afraid? Am I at
heart a coward? By the cross which is my protection," he cried, "if
they wish to try their poniarding, they shall have an opportunity!"
And drawing his sword he plunged into the dark and narrow street, his
footsteps ringing defiantly in the silence on the stone beneath him as
he strode resolutely along. He passed rapidly through the city until he
came to the northern gate. Here accosting his warders and being assured
that all was well, he took the street which, bending like a bow,
followed the wall until it came to the river. Once or twice he stopped,
thinking himself followed, but the darkness was now so impenetrable
that even if a pursuer had been behind him he was safe from detection
if he kept step with his victim and paused when he did. The street
widened as it approached the river, and Wilhelm became convinced that
some one was treading in his footsteps. Clasping his sword hilt more
firmly in his hand he wheeled about with unexpectedness that evidently
took his follower by surprise, for he dashed across the street and sped
fleetly towards the river. The glimpse Wilhelm got of him in the open
space between the houses made him sure that he was once more on the
track of von Brent, the emissary of Treves. The tables were now turned,
the pursuer being the pursued, and Wilhelm set his teeth, resolved to
put a sudden end to this continued espionage. Von Brent evidently
remembered his former interception, and now kept a straight course.
Trusting to the swiftness of his heels, he uttered no cry, but directed
all his energies toward flight, and Wilhelm, equally silent, followed
Coming to the river, von Brent turned to the east, keeping in the
middle of the thoroughfare. On the left hand side was a row of houses,
on the right flowed the rapid Main. Some hundreds of yards further up
there were houses on both sides of the street, and as the water of the
river flowed against the walls of the houses to the right, Wilhelm knew
there could be no escape that way. Surmising that his victim kept the
middle of the street in order to baffle the man at his heels, puzzling
him as to which direction the fugitive intended to bolt, Wilhelm, not
to be deluded by such a device, ran close to the houses on the left,
knowing that if von Brent turned to the right he would be speedily
stopped by the Main. The race promised to reach a sudden conclusion,
for Wilhelm was perceptibly gaining on his adversary, when coming to
the first house by the river the latter swerved suddenly, jumped to a
door, pushed it open and was inside in the twinkling of an eye, but
only barely in time to miss the sword thrust that followed him. Quick
as thought Wilhelm placed his foot in such a position that the door
could not be closed. Then setting his shoulder to the panels, he forced
it open in spite of the resistance behind it. Opposition thus overborne
by superior strength, Wilhelm heard the clatter of von Brent's
footsteps down the dark passage, and next instant the door was closed
with a bang, and it seemed to the young man that the house had
collapsed upon him. He heard his sword snap and felt it break beneath
him, and he was gagged and bound before he could raise a hand to help
himself. Then when it was too late, he realised that he had allowed the
heat and fervour of pursuit to overwhelm his judgment, and had jumped
straight into the trap prepared for him. Von Brent returned with a
lantern in his hand and a smile on his face, breathing quickly after
his exertions. Wilhelm, huddled in a corner, saw a dozen stalwart
ruffians grouped around him, most of them masked, but two or three with
faces bare, their coverings having come off in the struggle. These
slipped quickly out of sight, behind the others, as if not wishing to
give clue for future recognition.
"Well, my Lord," said von Brent, smiling, "you see that gagging and
binding is a game that two may play at."
There was no reply to this, first, because Wilhelm was temporarily in a
speechless condition, and, second, because the proposition was not one
to be contradicted.
"Take him to the Commitment Room," commanded von Brent.
Four of the onlookers lifted Wilhelm and carried him down a long
stairway, across a landing and to the foot of a second flight of steps,
where he was thrown into a dark cell, the dimensions of which he could
not estimate. When the door was closed the prisoner lay with his head
leaning against it, and for a time the silence was intense. By and by
he found that by turning his head so that his ear was placed against
the panel of the door, he heard distinctly the footfalls outside, and
even a shuffling sound near him, which seemed to indicate that a man
was on guard at the other side of the oak. Presently some one
approached, and in spite of the low tones used, Wilhelm not only heard
what was being said, but recognised the voice of von Brent, who
evidently was his jailer.
"You have him safely then?"
"Gagged and bound, my Lord."
"Is he disarmed?"
"His sword was broken under him, my Lord, when we fell upon him."
"Very well. Remove the gag and place him with No. 13. Bar them in and
listen to their conversation. I think they have never met, but I want
to be sure of it."
"Is there not a chance that No. 13 may make himself known, my Lord?"
"No matter if he does. In fact, it is my object to have No. 13 and No.
14 known to each other, and yet be not aware that we have suspicion of
When the door of the cell was opened four guards came in. It was
manifest they were not going to allow Wilhelm any chance to escape, and
were prepared to overpower him should he attempt flight or resistance.
The gag was taken from his mouth and the thongs which bound his legs
were untied, and thus he was permitted to stand on his feet. Once
outside his cell he saw that the subterranean region in which he found
himself was of vast extent, resembling the crypt of a cathedral, the
low roof being supported by pillars of tremendous circumference. From
the direction in which he had been carried from the foot of the stairs
he surmised, and quite accurately, that this cavern was under the bed
of the river. Those who escorted him and those whom he met were masked.
No torches illuminated the gloom of this sepulchral hall, but each
individual carried, attached in some way to his belt, a small horn
lantern, which gave for a little space around a dim uncertain light,
casting weird shadows against the pillars of the cavern. Once or twice
they met a man clothed in an apparently seamless cloak of black cloth,
that covered the head and extended to the feet. Two holes in front of
the face allowed a momentary glimpse of a pair of flashing eyes as the
yellow light from the lanterns smote them. These grim figures were
presumably persons of importance, for the guards stopped, and saluted,
as each one approached, not going forward until he had silently passed
them. When finally the door of the cell they sought was reached, the
guards drew back the bolts, threw it open, and pushed Wilhelm into the
apartment that had been designated for him. Before closing the door,
however, one of the guards placed a lantern on the floor so that the
fellow-prisoners might have a chance of seeing each other. Wilhelm
beheld, seated on a pallet of straw, a man well past middle-age, his
face smooth-shaven and of serious cast, yet having, nevertheless, a
trace of irresolution in his weak chin. His costume was that of a
mendicant monk, and his face seemed indicative of the severity of
monastic rule. There was, however, a serenity of courage in his eye
which seemed to betoken that he was a man ready to die for his
opinions, if once his wavering chin allowed him to form them. Wilhelm
remembering that priests were not allowed to join the order of the
Fehmgerichte reflected that here was a man who probably, from his
fearless denunciations of the order, had brought down upon himself the
hatred of the secret tribunal, whose only penalty was that of death.
The older man was the first to speak.
"So you also are a victim of the Fehmgerichte?"
"I have for some minutes suspected as much," replied von Schonburg.
"Were you arrested and brought here, or did you come here willingly?"
"Oh, I came here willingly enough. I ran half a league in my eagerness
to reach this spot and fairly jumped into it," replied Wilhelm, with a
"You were in such haste to reach this spot?" said the old man,
sombrely, "what is your crime?"
"That I do not know, but I shall probably soon learn when I come before
"Are you a member of the order, then?"
"No, I am not."
"In that case, it will require the oaths of twenty-one members to clear
you, therefore, if you have not that many friends in the order I look
upon you as doomed."
"Thank you. That is as God wills."
"Assuredly, assuredly. We are all in His hands," and the good man
devoutedly crossed himself.
"I have answered your questions," said Wilhelm, "answer you some of
mine. Who are you?"
"I am a seeker after light."
"Well, there it is," said Wilhelm, touching the lantern with his foot
as he paced up and down the limits of the cell.
"Earthly light is but dim at best, it is the light of Heaven I search
"Well, I hope you may be successful in finding it. I know of no place
where it is needed so much as here."
"You speak like a scoffer. I thought from what you said of God's will,
that you were a religious man."
"I am a religious man, I hope, and I regret if my words seem lightly
"What action of man, think you then, is most pleasing to God?"
"That is a question which you, to judge by your garb, are more able to
answer than I."
"Nay, nay, I want your opinion."
"Then in my opinion, the man most pleasing to God is he who does his
duty here on earth."
"Ah! right, quite right," cried the older man, eagerly. "But there lies
the core of the whole problem. What _is_ duty; that is what I have
spent my life trying to learn."
"Then at a venture I should say your life has been a useless one. Duty
is as plain as the lighted lantern there before us. If you are a
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