The Strong Arm
Part 3 out of 6
priest, fulfil your priestly office well; comfort the sick, console the
dying, bury the dead. Tell your flock not to speculate too much on
duty, but to try and accomplish the work in hand."
"But I am not a priest," faltered the other, rising slowly to his feet.
"Then if you are a soldier, strike hard for your King. Kill the man
immediately before you, and if, instead, he kills you, be assured that
the Lord will look after your soul when it departs through the rent
thus made in your body."
"There is a ring of truth in that, but it sounds worldly. How can we
tell that such action is pleasing to God? May it not be better to
depend entirely on the Lord, and let Him strike your blows for you?"
"Never! What does He give you arms for but to protect your own head,
and what does He give you swift limbs for if not to take your body out
of reach when you are threatened with being overmatched? God must
despise such a man as you speak of, and rightly so. I am myself a
commander of soldiers, and if I had a lieutenant who trusted all to me
and refused to strike a sturdy blow on his own behalf I should tear his
badge from him and have him scourged from out the ranks."
"But may we not, by misdirected efforts, thwart the will of God?"
"Oh! the depths of human vanity! Thwart the will of God? What, a puny
worm like you? You amaze me, sir, with your conceit, and I lose the
respect for you which at first your garb engendered in my mind. Do your
work manfully, and flatter not yourself that your most strenuous
efforts are able to cross the design of the Almighty. My own poor
belief is that He has patience with any but a coward and a loiterer."
The elder prisoner staggered into the centre of the room and raised his
hands above his head.
"Oh, Lord, have mercy upon me," he cried. "Thou who hast brought light
to me in this foul dungeon which was refused to me in the radiance of
Thy Cathedral. Have mercy on me, oh, Lord, the meanest of Thy servants
--a craven Emperor."
"The Emperor!" gasped Wilhelm, the more amazed because he had his
Majesty in mind when he spoke so bitterly of neglected duty,
unconsciously blaming his sovereign rather than his own rashness for
the extreme predicament in which he found himself.
Before either could again speak the door suddenly opened wide, and a
deep voice solemnly enunciated the words:
"Wilhelm of Schonburg, pretended Commander of his Majesty's forces, you
are summoned to appear instantly before the court of the Holy Fehm, now
in session and awaiting you."
THE HOLY FEHM
When the spokesman of the Fehmgerichte had finished his ominous
summons, his attendants crowded round Wilhelm swiftly and silently as
if to forestall any attempt at resistance either on his part or on the
part of the Emperor. They hurried their victim immediately out of the
cell and instantly barred the door on the remaining prisoner. First
they crossed the low-roofed, thickly-pillared great hall, passing
through a doorway at which two armed men stood guard, masked, as were
all the others. The Judgment Hall of the dread Fehmgerichte was a room
of about ten times the extent of the cell Wilhelm had just left, but
still hardly of a size that would justify the term large. The walls and
vaulted roof were of rough stone, and on the side opposite the entrance
had been cut deeply the large letters S. S. G. G. A few feet distant
from this lettered wall stood a long table, and between the wall and
the table sat seven men. The Freigraf, as Wilhelm surmised him to be,
occupied in the centre of this line a chair slightly more elevated than
those of the three who sat on either hand. Seven staples had been
driven into the interstices of the stones above the heads of the Court
and from each staple hung a lighted lantern, which with those at the
belts of the guard standing round, illuminated the dismal chamber
fairly well. To the left of the Court was a block draped in black and
beside it stood the executioner with his arms resting on the handle of
his axe. In the ceiling above his head was an iron ring and from this
ring depended a rope, the noose of which dangled at the shoulder of the
headsman, for it was the benevolent custom of the Court to allow its
victim a choice in the manner of his death. It was also a habit of the
judges of this Court to sit until the sentence they had pronounced was
carried out, and thus there could be no chance of mistake or rescue. No
feature of any judge was visible except the eyes through the holes
pierced for the purposes of vision in the long black cloaks which
completely enveloped their persons.
As Wilhelm was brought to a stand before this assemblage, the Freigraf
nodded his head and the guards in silence undid the thongs which
pinioned together wrists and elbows, leaving the prisoner absolutely
unfettered.--This done, the guard retreated backwards to the opposite
wall, and Wilhelm stood alone before the seven sinister doomsmen. He
expected that his examination, if the Court indulged in any such, would
be begun by the Freigraf, but this was not the case. The last man to
the left in the row had a small bundle of documents on the table before
him. He rose to his feet, bowed low to his brother judges, and then
with less deference to the prisoner. He spoke in a voice lacking any
trace of loudness, but distinctly heard in every corner of the room
because of the intense stillness. There was a sweet persuasiveness in
the accents he used, and his sentences resembled those of a lady
anxious not to give offence to the person addressed.
"Am I right in supposing you to be Wilhelm, lately of Schonburg, but
now of Frankfort?"
"You are right."
"May I ask if you are a member of the Fehmgerichte?"
"I am not. I never heard of it until this afternoon."
"Who was then your informant regarding the order?"
"I refuse to answer."
The examiner inclined his head gracefully as if, while regretting the
decision of the witness, he nevertheless bowed to it.
"Do you acknowledge his lordship the Archbishop of Mayence as your over
"Have you ever been guilty of an act of rebellion or insubordination
against his lordship?"
"My over-lord, the Archbishop of Mayence, has never preferred a request
to me which I have refused."
"Pardon me, I fear I have not stated my proposition with sufficient
clearness, and so you may have misunderstood the question. I had in my
mind a specific act, and so will enter into further detail. Is it true
that in the Wahlzimmer you entered the presence of your over-lord with
a drawn sword in your hand, commanding a body of armed men lately
outlaws of the Empire, thus intimidating your over-lord in the just
exercise of his privileges and rights as an Elector?"
"My understanding of the Feudal law," said Wilhelm, "is that the
commands of an over-lord are to be obeyed only in so far as they do not
run counter to orders from a still higher authority."
"Your exposition of the law is admirable, and its interpretation stands
exactly as you have stated it. Are we to understand then that you were
obeying the orders of some person in authority who is empowered to
exercise a jurisdiction over his lordship the Archbishop, similar to
that which the latter in his turn claims over you?"
"That is precisely what I was about to state."
"Whose wishes were you therefore carrying out?
"Those of his Majesty the Emperor."
The examiner bowed with the utmost deference when the august name was
"I have to thank you in the name of the Court," he went on, "for your
prompt and comprehensive replies, which have thus so speedily enabled
us to come to a just and honourable verdict, and it gives me pleasure
to inform you that the defence you have made is one that cannot be
gainsaid, and, therefore, with the exception of one slight formality,
there is nothing more for us to do but to set you at liberty and ask
pardon for the constraint we regret having put upon you, and further to
request that you take oath that neither to wife nor child, father nor
mother, sister nor brother, fire nor wind, will you reveal anything
that has happened to you; that you will conceal it from all that the
sun shines on and from all that the rain wets, and from every being
between heaven and earth. And now before our doors are thus opened I
have to beg that you will favour the Court with the privilege of
examining the commission that his Majesty the Emperor has signed."
"You cannot expect me to carry my commission about on my person, more
especially as I had no idea I should be called upon to undergo
examination upon it."
"Such an expectation would certainly be doomed to disappointment, but
you are doubtless able to tell us where the document lies, and I can
assure you that, wherever it is placed, an emissary of this order will
speedily fetch it, whether, it is concealed in palace or in hut. Allow
me to ask you then, where this commission is?"
"I cannot tell you."
"Do you mean you cannot, or you will not?"
"Take it whichever way you please, it is a matter of indifference to
The examiner folded his arms under his black cloak and stood for some
moments in silence, looking reproachfully at the prisoner. At last he
spoke in a tone which seemed to indicate that he was pained at the
young man's attitude:
"I sincerely trust I am mistaken in supposing that you refuse
absolutely to assist this Court in the securing of a document which not
only stands between you and your liberty, but also between you and your
"Oh, a truce to this childish and feigned regret," cried Wilhelm with
rude impatience. "I pray you end the farce with less of verbiage and of
pretended justice. You have his Majesty here a prisoner. You have,
through my own folly, my neck at the mercy of your axe or your rope.
There stands the executioner eager for his gruesome work. Finish that
which you have already decided upon, and as sure as there is a God in
heaven there will be quick retribution for the crimes committed in this
The examiner deplored the introduction of heat into a discussion that
required the most temperate judgment.
"But be assured," he said, "that the hurling of unfounded accusations
against this honourable body will not in the least prejudice their
members in dealing with your case."
"I know it," said Wilhelm with a sneering laugh.
"We have been informed that no such commission exists, that the
document empowering you to take instant command of the Imperial troops
rests in the hands of the wife of his Majesty the Emperor and is
"If you know that, then why do you ask me so many questions about it?"
"In the sincere hope that by the production of the document itself, you
may be able to repudiate so serious an accusation. You admit then that
you have acted without the shelter of a commission from his Majesty?"
"I admit nothing."
The examiner looked up and down the row of silent figures as much as to
say, "I have done my best; shall any further questions be put?" There
being no response to this the examiner said, still without raising his
"There is a witness in this case, and I ask him to stand forward."
A hooded and cloaked figure approached the table.
"Are you a member of the Fehmgerichte?"
"In good and honourable standing?"
"In good and honourable standing."
"You swear by the order to which you belong that the evidence you give
shall be truth without equivocation and without mental reservation?"
"I swear it."
"Has the prisoner a commission signed by the Emperor empowering him to
command the Imperial troops?"
"He has not, and never has had such a commission. A document was made
out and sent three times to his Majesty for signature; to-day it was
returned for the third time unsigned."
"Prisoner, do you deny that statement?"
"I neither deny nor affirm."
Wilhelm was well aware that his fate was decided upon. Even if he had
appeared before a regularly constituted court of the Empire instead of
at the bar of an underground secret association, the verdict must
inevitably have gone against him, so long as the Emperor's signature
was not appended to the document which would have legalised his
"It would appear then," went on the examiner, "that in the action you
took against your immediate over-lord, the Archbishop of Mayence, you
were unprotected by the mandate of the Emperor. Freigraf and
Freischoffen have heard question and answer. With extreme reluctance I
am compelled to announce to this honourable body, that nothing now
remains except to pronounce the verdict."
With this the examiner sat down, and for a few moments there was
silence, then the Freigraf enunciated in a low voice the single word:
And beginning at the right hand, each member of the Court pronounced
the word "Condemned."
Wilhelm listened eagerly to the word, expecting each moment to hear the
voice of one or other of the Archbishops, but in this he was
disappointed. The low tone universally used by each speaker gave a
certain monotony of sound which made it almost impossible to
distinguish one voice from another. This evident desire for concealment
raised a suspicion in the young man's mind that probably each member of
the Court did not know who his neighbours were. When the examiner at
the extreme left had uttered the word "Condemned" the Freigraf again
"Is there any reason why the sentence just pronounced be not
immediately carried out?"
The examiner again rose to his feet and said quietly, but with great
"My Lord, I ask that this young man be not executed immediately, but on
the contrary, be taken to his cell, there to be held during the
pleasure of the Court."
There seemed to be a murmured dissent to this, but a whispered
explanation passed along the line and the few that had at first
objected, nodded their heads in assent.
"Our rule cannot be set aside," said the Freigraf, "unless with
unanimous consent. Does any member demur?"
No protests being made the Freigraf ordered Wilhelm to be taken to a
cell, which was accordingly done.
The young man left alone in the darkness felt a pleasure in being able
to stretch his arms once more, and he paced up and down the narrow
limits of his cell, wondering what the next move would be in this
mysterious drama. In the Judgment Chamber he had abandoned all hope,
and had determined that when the order was given to seize him he would
pluck the dagger of the order from the inside of his doublet, and
springing over the table, kill one or more of these illegal judges
before he was overpowered. The sudden change in tactics persuaded him
that something else was required of him rather than the death which
seemed so imminent. It was palpable that several members of the Court
at least were unacquainted with the designs of the master mind which
was paramount in his prosecution. They had evinced surprise when the
examiner had demanded postponement of the execution. There was
something behind all this that betrayed the crafty hand of the
Archbishop of Treves. He was not long left in doubt. The door of the
cell opened slowly and the pale rays of a lantern illuminated the
blackness which surrounded him. The young man stopped in his walk and
awaited developments. There entered to him one of the cloak-enveloped
figures, who might, or might not, be a member of the Holy Court.
Wilhelm thought that perhaps his visitor was the examiner, but the
moment the silence was broken, in spite of the fact that the speaker
endeavoured to modulate his tones as the others had done, the young man
knew the incomer was not the person who had questioned him.
"We are somewhat loth," the intruder began, "to cut short the career of
one so young as you are, and one who gives promise of becoming a
"What have you seen of me," inquired Wilhelm, "that leads you to
suppose I have the qualities of a capable officer in me?"
The other did not reply for a moment or two; then he said slowly:
"I do not say that I have seen anything to justify such a conclusion,
but I have heard of your action in the Wahlzimmer, and by the account
given, I judge you to be a young man of resource."
"I am indebted to you for the good opinion you express. It is quite in
your power to set me free, and then the qualities you are kind enough
to commend, may have an opportunity for development."
"Alas!" said the visitor, "it is not in my power to release you; that
lies entirely with yourself."
"You bring comforting news. What is the price?"
"You are asked to become a member of the Fehmgerichte."
"I should suppose that to be easily accomplished, as I am now a
partaker of its hospitality. What else?"
"The remaining proviso is that you take service, with his lordship, the
Archbishop of Treves, and swear entire allegiance to him."
"I am already in the service of the Emperor."
"It has just been proven that you are not."
"How could the Archbishop expect faithful service from me, if I prove
traitor to the one I deem my master?"
"The Archbishop will probably be content to take the risk of that."
"Are you commissioned to speak for the Archbishop?"
"Are you one of the Archbishop's men?"
"My disposition towards him is friendly; I cannot say that I am one of
"Granting, then, that I took service with the Archbishop to save my
life, what would he expect me to do?"
"To obey him in all things."
"Ah, be more explicit, as the examiner said. I am not a man to enter
into a bargain blindly. I must know exactly what is required of me."
"It is probable that your first order would be to march your army from
Frankfort to Treves. Would the men follow you, do you think?"
"Undoubtedly. The men will follow wherever I choose to lead them.
Another question. What becomes of the Emperor in case I make this
"That question it is impossible at the present moment, to answer. The
Court of the Holy Fehm is now awaiting my return, and when I take my
place on the bench the Emperor will be called upon to answer for his
neglect of duty."
"Nevertheless you may hazard a guess regarding his fate."
"I hazard this guess then, that his fate will depend largely upon
himself, just as your fate depends upon yourself."
"I must see clearly where I am going, therefore I request you to be
more explicit. What will the Court demand of the Emperor that he may
save his life?"
"You are questioning me touching the action of others; therefore, all I
can do is merely to surmise. My supposition is that if the Emperor
promises to abdicate he will be permitted to pass unscathed from the
halls of the Fehmgerichte."
"And should he refuse?"
"Sir, I am already at the end of my patience through your numerous
questions," and as the voice rose in something approaching anger,
Wilhelm seemed to recognise its ring. "I came here, not to answer your
questions, but to have you answer mine. What is your decision?"
"My decision is that you are a confessed traitor; die the death of
Wilhelm sprang forward and buried the dagger of the Fehmgerichte into
the heart of the man before him. His action was so unexpected that the
victim could make no motion to defend himself. So truly was the fierce
blow dealt that the doomed man, without a cry or even a groan, sank in
his death collapse at the young man's feet in a heap on the floor.
Wilhelm, who thought little of taking any man's life in a fair fight,
shuddered as he gazed at the helpless bundle at his feet; a moment
before, this uncouth heap stood erect, a man like himself, conversing
with him, then the swift blow and the resulting huddle of clay.
"Oh, God above me, Over-lord of all, I struck for my King, yet I feel
myself an assassin. If I am, indeed, a murderer in Thy sight, wither me
where I stand, and crush me to the ground, companion to this dead
For a few moments Wilhelm stood rigid, his face uplifted, listening to
the pulsations in his own throat and the strident beatings of his own
heart. No bolt from heaven came to answer his supplication. Stooping,
he, with some difficulty, drew the poniard from its resting-place. The
malignant ingenuity of its construction had caused its needle point to
penetrate the chain armour, while its keen double edge cut link after
link of the hard steel as it sunk into the victim's breast. The severed
ends of the links now clutched the blade as if to prevent its removal.
Not a drop of blood followed its exit, although it had passed directly
through the citadel of life itself. Again concealing the weapon within
his doublet, a sudden realisation of the necessity for speed overcame
the assaulter. He saw before him a means of escape. He had but to don
the all-concealing cloak and walk out of this subterranean charnel
house by the way he had entered it, if he could but find the foot of
the stairs, down which they had carried him. Straightening out the body
he pulled the cloak free from it, thus exposing the face to the yellow
light of the lantern. His heart stood still as he saw that the man he
had killed was no other than that exalted Prince of the Church, the
venerable Archbishop of Treves. He drew the body to the pallet of straw
in the corner of the cell, and there, lying on its face, he left it. A
moment later he was costumed as a high priest of the order of the
Fehmgerichte. Taking the lantern in his hand he paused before the
closed door. He could not remember whether or not he had heard the
bolts shot after the Archbishop had entered. Conning rapidly in his
mind the startling change in the situation, he stood there until he had
recovered command of himself, resolved that if possible no mistake on
his part should now mar his chances of escape, and in this there was no
thought of saving his own life, but merely a determination to get once
more into the streets of Frankfort, rally his men, penetrate into these
subterranean regions, and rescue the Emperor alive. He pushed with all
his might against the door, and to his great relief the heavy barrier
swung slowly round on its hinges. Once outside he pushed it shut again,
and was startled by two guards springing to his assistance, one of them
"Shall we thrust in the bolts, my Lord?"
"Yes," answered Wilhelm in the low tone which all, costumed as he was,
had used. He turned away but was dismayed to find before him two
brethren of the order arrayed in like manner to himself, who had
evidently been waiting for him.
"What is the result of the conference? Does he consent?"
Rapidly Wilhelm had to readjust events in his own mind to meet this
"No," he replied slowly, "he does not consent, at least, not just at
the moment. He has some scruples regarding his loyalty to the Emperor."
"Those scruples will be speedily removed then, when we remove his
Majesty. The other members of the Court are but now awaiting us in the
Judgment Chamber. Let us hasten there, and make a quick disposal of the
Wilhelm saw that there was no possibility of retreat. Any attempt at
flight would cause instant alarm and the closing of the exits, then
both the Emperor and himself would be caught like rats in a trap, yet
there was almost equal danger in entering the Council Chamber. He had
not the remotest idea which seat at the table he should occupy, and he
knew that a mistake in placing himself would probably lead to
discovery. He lagged behind, but the others persistently gave him
precedence, which seemed to indicate that they knew the real quality of
the man they supposed him to be. He surmised that his seat was probably
that of the Freigraf in the centre, but on crossing the threshold past
the saluting guards, he saw that the Freigraf occupied the elevated
seat, having at his left three Freischoffen, while the remaining seats
at his right were unoccupied. It was a space of extreme anxiety when
his two companions stopped to allow him to go first. He dared not take
the risk of placing himself wrongly at the board. There was scant time
for consideration, and Wilhelm speedily came to a decision. It was
merely one risk to take where several were presented, and he chose that
which seemed to be the safest. Leaning towards his companions he said
"I beg of you, be seated. I have a few words to address to the Holy
The two inclined their heads in return, and one of them in passing him
murmured the scriptural words, "The first shall be last," which remark
still further assisted in reversing Wilhelm's former opinion and
convinced him that the identity of the Archbishop was known to them.
When they were seated, the chair at the extreme right was the only one
vacant, and Wilhelm breathed easier, having nothing further to fear
from that source, if he could but come forth scatheless from his
"I have to acquaint the Court of the Holy Fehm," he said, speaking
audibly, but no more, "that my mission to the cell of the prisoner who
has just left us, resulted partly in failure and partly in success. The
young man has some hesitation in placing himself in open opposition to
the Emperor. I therefore suggest that we go on with our deliberations,
leaving the final decision of his case until a later period."
To this the Court unanimously murmured the word: "Agreed," and Wilhelm
took his place at the table.
"Bring in prisoner No. 13," said the Freigraf, and a few moments later
the Emperor of Germany stood before the table.
He regarded the dread tribunal with a glance of haughty scorn while
countenance and demeanour exhibited a dignity which Wilhelm had fancied
was lacking during their interview in the cell.
The examiner rose to his feet and in the same suave tones he had used
in questioning Wilhelm, propounded the usual formal interrogatory
regarding name and quality. When he was asked:
"Are you a member of the Holy Order of the Fehmgerichte?" the Emperor's
reply seemed to cause some consternation among the judges.
"I am not only a member of the Fehmgerichte, but by its constitution, I
am the head of it, and I warn you that any action taken by this Court
without my sanction, is, by the statutes of the order, illegal."
The examiner paused in his questioning apparently taken aback by this
assertion, and looked towards the Freigraf as if awaiting a decision
before proceeding further.
"We acknowledge freely," said the Freigraf, "that you are the figure-
head of the order, and that in all matters pertaining to a change of
constitution your consent would probably be necessary, but stretching
your authority to its utmost limit, it does not reach to the Courts of
the Holy Fehm, which have before now sat in judgment on the highest in
the land. For more than a century the position of the Emperor as head
of the Fehmgerichte has been purely nominal, and I know of no precedent
where the ruler of the land has interfered with the proceedings of the
secret Court. We avow allegiance to the actual head of the order, who
is the Duke of Westphalia."
"Is the Duke of Westphalia here present?"
"That is a question improper for you to ask."
"If the Duke of Westphalia is one of the members of this Court, I
command him by the oath which he took at his installation, to descend
from his place and render his seat to me, the head of this order."
"The nominal head," corrected the Freigraf.
"The actual head," persisted the prisoner. "The position remained
nominal only because the various occupants did not choose to exercise
the authority vested in them. It is my pleasure to resume the function
which has too long remained in abeyance, thus allowing inferior
officers to pretend to a power which is practical usurpation, and
which, according to the constitution of our order, is not to be
tolerated. Disobey at your peril. I ask the Archbishop of Cologne, Duke
of Westphalia, as the one, high vassal of the Empire, as the other, my
subordinate in the Fehmgerichte, to stand forth and salute his chief."
Wilhelm's heart beat rapidly underneath his black cloak as he saw this
spectacle of helpless prisoner defying a power, which, in its sphere of
action, was almost omnipotent. It was manifest that the Emperor's
trenchant sentences had disturbed more than one member of the
convention, and even the Freigraf glanced in perplexity towards the
supposed Archbishop of Treves as if for a hint anent the answer that
should be given. As if in response to the silent appeal, Wilhelm rose
slowly to his feet, while the examiner seated himself.
"It is my privilege," he began, "on behalf of my fellow members, to
inform the prisoner that the Court of the Holy Fehm has ever based its
action on the broad principles of eternal justice."
A sarcastic smile wreathed the lips of the Emperor at this. Wilhelm
went on unheeding.
"A point of law has been raised by the prisoner, which, I think, at
least merits our earnest consideration, having regard for the future
welfare of this organisation, and being anxious not to allow any
precedent to creep in, which may work to the disadvantage of those who
follow us. In order that our deliberations may have that calm
impartiality which has ever distinguished them, I ask unanimous consent
to my suggestion that the prisoner be taken back to his cell until we
come to a decision regarding the matter in dispute."
This proposition being agreed to without a dissenting voice, the
prisoner was removed from the room and the eyes of all the judges were
turned towards Wilhelm. The Freigraf was the first to break the
"Although I have agreed to the removal of the prisoner," he said, "yet
I see not the use of wasting so many words on him. While there is
undoubted wisdom in winning to our side the man who controls the army,
there seems to me little to gain in prolonging discussion with the
Emperor, who is a nonentity at best, and has no following. The path to
the throne must be cleared, and there is but one way of doing it."
"Two, I think," murmured Wilhelm.
"What other than by this prisoner's death?"
"His abdication would suffice."
"But, as you know, he has already refused to abdicate."
"Ah, that was before he saw the executioner standing here. I think he
is now in a condition to reconsider his determination. Thus we will
avoid discussion of the knotty points which he raised, and which I, for
one, would prefer to see remain where they are. The moment he consents
to abdicate, the commander of the forces is willing to swear allegiance
to us. It must not be forgotten that even if we execute these two men
we have still the troops who hold the city of Frankfort to reckon with,
and although their leader may have disappeared, the young man has some
sturdy lieutenants who will give us trouble."
"What do you propose?" asked the Freigraf.
"If the colleague at my left will accompany me, we will visit the
prisoner and may have some proposals to submit to you on our return."
This being acceded to, the two left the Judgment Chamber and proceeded
slowly to the cell of No. 13. On the way thither Wilhelm said to his
"As the prisoner may be on his guard if we enter together, I prefer to
sound him first alone, and at the proper moment, if you stay outside
the door of the cell, I shall summon you to enter."
This meeting the sanction of Wilhelm's companion, the young man entered
the cell alone, carefully closing the door behind him.
"Your Majesty," he whispered, "the situation is extremely critical, and
I entreat you to maintain silence while I make explanation to you. I am
Wilhelm, the loyal commander of the Imperial forces, your Majesty's
most devoted servant."
"Are you then," said the amazed monarch, "also a member of the
Fehmgerichte? I thought you came here as a prisoner, and, like myself,
Wilhelm drew off over his head the cloak which enveloped him, leaving
his limbs free, standing thus in his own proper person before the
"I was, indeed, a prisoner, and was visited in my cell by the
Archbishop of Treves. It was in his robe that I emerged from my cell
undetected, hoping to escape and bring rescue to your Majesty, but
other brethren were awaiting me outside, and I found myself compelled
to sit in the Court before which you made such an able defence."
"It was you, then, who proposed that I should be taken back to my
"Yes, your Majesty. And now a colleague remains outside this door, who
waits, expecting a summons to enter, but first I came to give warning
to your Majesty that you may make no outcry, if you should see what
appears to be two brothers of the order struggling together."
"I shall keep strict silence. Is the Archbishop of Treves then a
prisoner in your cell?"
"He is, I assure you, a fast prisoner."
"You propose that I should don the cloak of the incomer, and that thus
we make our escape together. We must be in haste, then, for if the
Archbishop releases himself from his bonds, he may produce such an
uproar in his cell that suspicion will be aroused."
"The bonds in which I left the Archbishop of Treves will hold him firm
until we are outside this nest of vipers. And now, your Majesty, I beg
you to put on this cloak which I have been wearing, which will leave me
free speedily to overpower our visitor."
The Emperor arrayed himself and stood, as he was fully entitled to do,
a fully costumed member of the Fehmgerichte. Wilhelm opened the door
and said softly:
"Enter, brother, that I may learn if the arrangements just made are
confirmed by your wisdom."
The light within had been placed at the further end of the cell, and
the visitor's own lantern gave but scant illumination. The moment the
door was firmly closed Wilhelm sprang upon him and bore him to the
ground. If the assaulted man attempted to make any sound, it was
muffled by the folds of his own cloak. A moment later, however, Wilhelm
got a firm grip on his bare throat, and holding him thus, pulled away
his disguise from him, revealing the pallid face of the Archbishop of
Mayence. The young man plucked the dagger from the inside of his
doublet and placed it at the breast of the prostrate man.
"If you make the slightest sound," he whispered, "I shall bury this
dagger in your heart. It is the weapon of the Fehmgerichte and you know
it will penetrate chain armour."
It was evident that the stricken Archbishop was much too frightened to
do anything to help himself, and Wilhelm unbuckling his own empty
sword-belt, proceeded to tie his trembling limbs. The Emperor
"The cords which bound me are still here, as well as the gag which
Wilhelm put those instruments of tyranny to immediate use, and shortly
the Archbishop was a helpless silent heap in the further corner of the
room. Wilhelm and the Emperor each with a lantern, and each
indistinguishable from other members of the secret organisation, pushed
open the door and emerged from the cell. Closing the door again,
Wilhelm said to the guard:
"Bolt this portal firmly and allow no one to enter who does not give
you this password."
The young man stooped and whispered into the ear of the guard the word
"Elsa." The two fugitives then walked slowly along the great hall, the
young man peering anxiously to his right for any sign of the stairway
by which he had descended. They passed numerous doors, all closed, and
at last Wilhelm began to wonder if one of these covered the exit which
he sought. Finally they came to the end of the large hall without
seeing trace of any outlet, and Wilhelm became conscious of the fact
that getting free from this labyrinth was like to prove more difficult
than the entering had been. Standing puzzled, not knowing where next to
turn, aware that precious time was being wasted fruitlessly, Wilhelm
saw a man masked and accoutred as a guard approach them.
"Is there anything in which I can pleasure your Lordships?" he asked
"Yes," said Wilhelm, "we desire to have a breath of fresh air; where is
"If your Lordship has the password, you may go out by the entrance in
the city. If you have not the word, then must you use the exit without
the wall, which is a long walk from here."
"That does not matter," replied Wilhelm, "it is the country air we wish
"I cannot leave my post, but I shall get one who will guide you."
So saying, the man left them for several anxious minutes, going into a
room that apparently was used as guard-house, and reappearing with a
man who rubbed his eyes sleepily, as if newly awakened. Then the first
guard drew bolts from a stout door and pulled it open, revealing a dark
chasm like the entrance to a cell. Both Wilhelm and the Emperor viewed
this black enigma with deep suspicion, but their guide with his lantern
plunged into it and they followed, after which the door was closed and
barred behind them.
It was, indeed, as the first man had said, a long walk, as Wilhelm knew
it must be if it extended under the western gate and out into the
country. The passage was so narrow that two could not walk abreast, and
frequently the arched ceiling was so low that the guide ahead warned
them to stoop as they came on. At last he reached the foot of a
stairway, and was about to mount when Wilhelm said to him:
"Stand here till we return. Allow no one to pass who does not give you
this word," and again he whispered the word "Elsa" in the man's ear.
To the dismay of Wilhelm, the Emperor addressed the guard:
"Are there many prisoners within?"
"There are two only," replied the man, "numbers 13 and 14. I helped to
carry No. 14 down the stair, and am glad his sword broke beneath him as
he fell, for, indeed, we had trouble enough with him as it was."
Here Wilhelm took the liberty of touching the Emperor on the arm as if
to warn him that such discourse was untimely and dangerous. With
beating heart the young man led the way up the stairs, and at the top
of the second flight, came into what seemed to be the vestibule of a
house, in which, on benches round the wall, there sat four men
seemingly on guard, who immediately sprang to their feet when they saw
the ghostly apparitions before them.
"Unbar the door," said Wilhelm, quietly, in the tone of one whose
authority is not to be disputed. "Close it after us and allow none to
enter or emerge who does not give you the word 'Elsa.'"
This command was so promptly obeyed that Wilhelm could scarcely believe
they had won so easily to the outer air. The house stood alone on the
bank of the river at the end of a long garden which extended to the
road. Facing the thoroughfare and partly concealing the house from any
chance straggler was a low building which Wilhelm remembered was used
as a wayside drinking-place, in which wine, mostly of a poor quality,
was served to thirsty travellers. The gate to the street appeared
deserted, but as the two approached by the walk leading from the house,
a guard stood out from the shadow of the wall, scrutinised for a moment
their appearance, then saluting, held the gate open for them.
Once on the road, the two turned towards the city, whose black wall
barred their way some distance ahead, and whose towers and spires stood
out dimly against the starlit sky. A great silence, broken only by the
soothing murmur of the river, lay on the landscape. Wilhelm cast a
glance aloft at the star-sprinkled dome of heaven, and said:
"I judge it to be about an hour after midnight."
"It may be so," answered the Emperor, "I have lost all count of time.
"Has your Majesty been long in prison?"
"That I do not know. I may have lain there two days or a dozen. I had
no means of measuring the length of my imprisonment."
"May I ask your Majesty in what manner you were lured into the halls of
"It was no lure. While I lay asleep at night in the cloisters by the
Cathedral I was bound and gagged, carried through the dark streets
helpless on a litter and finally flung into the cell in which you found
"May I further inquire what your Majesty's intentions are regarding the
fulfilment of the duties imposed upon you by your high office?"
There was a long pause before the Emperor replied, then he said:
"Why do you ask?"
"Because, your Majesty, I have on several occasions imperilled my life
for an Emperor who does not rule, who has refused even to sign my
commission as officer of his troops."
"Your commission was never sent to me."
"I beg your Majesty's pardon, but it was sent three times to you in the
cloisters of the Cathedral, and returned three times unsigned."
"Then it is as I suspected," returned the Emperor, "the monks must have
connived at my capture. I have pleasure in confirming your appointment.
I am sure that the command could not be in more capable hands. And in
further reply to your question, if God permits me to see the light of
day, I shall be an emperor who rules."
"It delights my heart to hear you say so. And now I ask, as a favour,
that you allow me to deal untrammelled with the Fehmgerichte."
"I grant that most willingly."
By this time they were almost under the shadow of the great wall of the
city, and Wilhelm, stopping, said to the Emperor:
"I think it well that we now divest ourselves of these disguises."
They had scarcely thrown their cloaks behind the bushes at the side of
the road when they were accosted by the guard at the top of the wall.
"Halt! Who approaches the gate?"
Wilhelm strode forward.
"Is Gottlieb at the guard-house or at the barracks?" he asked.
"He is at the guard-house," replied the sentinel, recognising the
"Then arouse him immediately, and open the gates."
"Gottlieb," said Wilhelm, when once within the walls, "take a score of
men with you and surround the first house on the margin of the river up
this street. I shall accompany you so that there may be no mistake.
Send another score under a trusty leader to the house which stands
alone outside of the gates also on the margin of the stream. Give
orders that the men are to seize any person who attempts to enter or to
come out; kill if necessary, but let none escape you. Let a dozen men
escort me to the Palace."
Having seen the Emperor safely housed in the Palace, Wilhelm returned
quickly to the place where Gottlieb and his score held guard over the
town entrance of the cellars he had quitted.
"Gottlieb, are you fully awake?" asked Wilhelm.
"Oh, yes, master; awake and ready for any emergency."
"Then send for some of your most stalwart sappers with tools to break
through a stone wall, and tell them to bring a piece of timber to
batter in this door."
When the men arrived three blows from the oaken log sent the door
shattering from its hinges. Wilhelm sprang at once over the prostrate
portal, but not in time to prevent the flight of the guard down the
stairway. Calling the sappers to the first landing, and pointing to the
stone wall on the right:
"Break through that for me," he cried.
"Master," expostulated Gottlieb, "if you break through that wall I warn
you that the river will flow in."
"Such is my intention, Gottlieb, and a gold piece to each man who works
as he has never wrought before."
For a few moments there was nothing heard but the steady ring of iron
on stone as one by one the squares were extracted, the water beginning
to ooze in as the energetic sappers reached the outer course. At last
the remaining stones gave way, carried in with a rush by the torrent.
"Save yourselves!" cried Wilhelm, standing knee deep in the flood and
not stepping out until each man had passed him. There was a straining
crash of rending timber, and Gottlieb, dashing down, seized his master
by the arm, crying:
"My Lord, my Lord, the house is about to fall!"
With slight loss of time commander and lieutenant stood together in the
street and found that the latter's panic was unwarranted, for the
house, although it trembled dangerously and leaned perceptibly toward
the river, was stoutly built of hewn stone. Grey daylight now began to
spread over the city, but still Wilhelm stood there listening to the
inrush of the water.
"By the great wine tub of Hundsrueck!" exclaimed Gottlieb in amazement,
"that cellar is a large one. It seems to thirst for the whole flood of
"Send a messenger," cried Wilhelm, "to the house you are guarding
outside the gates and discover for me whether your men have captured
It was broad daylight when the messenger returned, and the torrent down
the stair had become a rippling surface of water at the level of the
river, showing that all the cavern beneath was flooded.
"Well, messenger, what is your report?" demanded his commander.
"My Lord, the officer in charge says that a short time ago the door of
the house was blown open as if by a strong wind; four men rushed out
and another was captured in the garden; all were pinioned and gagged,
as you commanded."
"Are the prisoners men of quality or common soldiers?"
"Common soldiers, my Lord."
"Very well; let them be taken to the prison. I will visit them later in
As Wilhelm, thoroughly fatigued after a night so exciting, walked the
streets of Frankfort toward his home the bells of the city suddenly
began to ring a merry peal, and, as if Frankfort had become awakened by
the musical clangor, windows were raised and doors opened, while
citizens inquired of each other the meaning of the clangor, a question
which no one seemed prepared to answer.
Reaching his own house, Wilhelm found Elsa awaiting him with less of
anxiety on her face than he had expected.
"Oh, Wilhelm!" she cried, "what a fright you gave me, and not until I
knew where you were, did any peace come to my heart."
"You knew where I was?" said Wilhelm in amazement. "Where was I, then?"
"You were with the Emperor, of course. That is why the bells are
ringing; the Emperor has returned, as you know, and is resolved to take
his proper place at the head of the state, much to the delight of the
Empress, I can assure you. But what an anxious time we spent until
shortly after midnight, when the Emperor arrived and told us you had
been with him."
"How came you to be at the Palace?"
"It happened in this way. You had hardly left the court last night when
his lordship the Archbishop of Cologne came and seemed anxious about
the welfare of the Emperor."
"The Archbishop of Cologne! Is he still there or did he go elsewhere?"
"He is still there, and was there when the Emperor came in. Why do you
ask so eagerly? Is there anything wrong?"
"Not so far as the Archbishop is concerned, apparently. He has kept his
word and so there is one less high office vacant. Well, what did the
"He wished to see you, and so the Empress sent for you, but search as
we would, you were nowhere to be found. On hearing this I became
alarmed and went at once to the Palace. The Archbishop seemed in deep
trouble, but he refused to tell the Empress the cause of it, and so
increased our anxiety. However, all was right when the Emperor came,
and now they are ringing the bells, for he is to appear before the
people on the balcony of the Romer, as if he were newly crowned. We
must make haste if we are to see him."
Wilhelm escorted his wife to the square before the Romer, but so dense
was the cheering crowd that it was impossible for him to force a way
through. They were in time to see the Emperor appear on the balcony,
and Wilhelm, raising his sword aloft, shouted louder than any in that
throng, Elsa herself waving a scarf above her head in the enthusiasm of
THE COUNT'S APOLOGY
The fifteen nobles, who formed the Council of State for the Moselle
Valley, stood in little groups in the Rittersaal of Winneburg's Castle,
situated on a hill-top in the Ender Valley, a league or so from the
waters of the Moselle. The nobles spoke in low tones together, for a
greater than they were present, no other than their over-lord, the
Archbishop of Treves, who, in his stately robes of office, paced up and
down the long room, glancing now and then through the narrow windows
which gave a view down the Ender Valley.
There was a trace of impatience in his Lordship's bearing, and well
there might be, for here was the Council of State in assemblage, yet
their chairman was absent, and the nobles stood there helplessly, like
a flock of sheep whose shepherd is missing. The chairman was the Count
of Winneburg, in whose castle they were now collected, and his lack of
punctuality was thus a double discourtesy, for he was host as well as
Each in turn had tried to soothe the anger of the Archbishop, for all
liked the Count of Winneburg, a bluff and generous-hearted giant, who
would stand by his friends against all comers, was the quarrel his own
or no. In truth little cared the stalwart Count of Winneburg whose
quarrel it was so long as his arm got opportunity of wielding a blow in
it. His Lordship of Treves had not taken this championship of the
absent man with good grace, and now strode apart from the group,
holding himself haughtily; muttering, perhaps prayers, perhaps
When one by one the nobles had arrived at Winneburg's Castle, they were
informed that its master had gone hunting that morning, saying he would
return in time for the mid-day meal, but nothing had been heard of him
since, although mounted messengers had been sent forth, and the great
bell in the southern tower had been set ringing when the Archbishop
arrived. It was the general opinion that Count Winneburg, becoming
interested in the chase, had forgotten all about the Council, for it
was well known that the Count's body was better suited for athletic
sports or warfare than was his mind for the consideration of questions
of State, and the nobles, themselves of similar calibre, probably liked
him none the less on that account.
Presently the Archbishop stopped in his walk and faced the assemblage.
"My Lords," he said, "we have already waited longer than the utmost
stretch of courtesy demands. The esteem in which Count Winneburg holds
our deliberations is indicated by his inexcusable neglect of a duty
conferred upon him by you, and voluntarily accepted by him. I shall
therefore take my place in his chair, and I call upon you to seat
yourselves at the Council table."
Saying which the Archbishop strode to the vacant chair, and seated
himself in it at the head of the board. The nobles looked one at the
other with some dismay, for it was never their intention that the
Archbishop should preside over their meeting, the object of which was
rather to curb that high prelate's ambition, than to confirm still
further the power he already held over them.
When, a year before, these Councils of State had been inaugurated, the
Archbishop had opposed them, but, finding that the Emperor was inclined
to defer to the wishes of his nobles, the Lord of Treves had insisted
upon his right to be present during the deliberations, and this right
the Emperor had conceded. He further proposed that the meeting should
be held at his own castle of Cochem, as being conveniently situated
midway between Coblentz and Treves, but to this the nobles had, with
fervent unanimity, objected. Cochem Castle, they remembered, possessed
strong walls and deep dungeons, and they had no desire to trust
themselves within the lion's jaws, having little faith in his
Lordship's benevolent intentions towards them.
The Emperor seemed favourable to the selection of Cochem as a
convenient place of meeting, and the nobles were nonplussed, because
they could not give their real reason for wishing to avoid it, and the
Archbishop continued to press the claims of Cochem as being of equal
advantage to all.
"It is not as though I asked them to come to Treves," said the
Archbishop, "for that would entail a long journey upon those living
near the Rhine, and in going to Cochem I shall myself be called upon to
travel as far as those who come from Coblentz."
The Emperor said:
"It seems a most reasonable selection, and, unless some strong
objection be urged, I shall confirm the choice of Cochem."
The nobles were all struck with apprehension at these words, and knew
not what to say, when suddenly, to their great delight, up spoke the
stalwart Count of Winneburg.
"Your Majesty," he said, "my Castle stands but a short league from
Cochem, and has a Rittersaal as large as that in the pinnacled palace
owned by the Archbishop. It is equally convenient for all concerned,
and every gentleman is right welcome to its hospitality. My cellars are
well filled with good wine, and my larders are stocked with an
abundance of food. All that can be urged in favour of Cochem applies
with equal truth to the Schloss Winneburg. If, therefore, the members
of the Council will accept of my roof, it is theirs."
The nobles with universal enthusiasm cried:
"Yes, yes; Winneburg is the spot."
The Emperor smiled, for he well knew that his Lordship of Treves was
somewhat miserly in the dispensing of his hospitality. He preferred to
see his guests drink the wine of a poor vintage rather than tap the
cask which contained the yield of a good year. His Majesty smiled,
because he imagined his nobles thought of the replenishing of their
stomachs, whereas they were concerned for the safety of their necks;
but seeing them unanimous in their choice, he nominated Schloss
Winneburg as the place of meeting, and so it remained.
When, therefore, the Archbishop of Treves set himself down in the ample
chair, to which those present had, without a dissenting vote, elected
Count Winneburg, distrust at once took hold of them, for they were ever
jealous of the encroachments of their over-lord. The Archbishop glared
angrily around him, but no man moved from where he stood.
"I ask you to be seated. The Council is called to order."
Baron Beilstein cleared his throat and spoke, seemingly with some
hesitation, but nevertheless with a touch of obstinacy in his voice:
"May we beg a little more time for Count Winneburg? He has doubtless
gone farther afield than he intended when he set out. I myself know
something of the fascination of the chase, and can easily understand
that it wipes out all remembrance of lesser things."
"Call you this Council a lesser thing?" demanded the Archbishop. "We
have waited an hour already, and I shall not give the laggard a moment
"Indeed, my Lord, then I am sorry to hear it. I would not willingly be
the man who sits in Winneburg's chair, should he come suddenly upon
"Is that a threat?" asked the Archbishop, frowning.
"It is not a threat, but rather a warning. I am a neighbour of the
Count, and know him well, and whatever his virtues may be, calm
patience is not one of them. If time hangs heavily, may I venture to
suggest that your Lordship remove the prohibition you proclaimed when
the Count's servants offered us wine, and allow me to act temporarily
as host, ordering the flagons to be filled, which I think will please
Winneburg better when he comes, than finding another in his chair."
"This is no drunken revel, but a Council of State," said the Archbishop
sternly; "and I drink no wine when the host is not here to proffer it.
"Indeed, my Lord," said Beilstein, with a shrug of the shoulders, "some
of us are so thirsty that we care not who makes the offer, so long as
the wine be sound."
What reply the Archbishop would have made can only be conjectured, for
at that moment the door burst open and in came Count Winneburg, a head
and shoulders above any man in that room, and huge in proportion.
"My Lords, my Lords," he cried, his loud voice booming to the rafters,
"how can I ask you to excuse such a breach of hospitality. What! Not a
single flagon of wine in the room? This makes my deep regret almost
unbearable. Surely, Beilstein, you might have amended that, if only for
the sake of an old and constant comrade. Truth, gentlemen, until I
heard the bell of the castle toll, I had no thought that this was the
day of our meeting, and then, to my despair, I found myself an hour
away, and have ridden hard to be among you."
Then, noticing there was something ominous in the air, and an
unaccustomed silence to greet his words, he looked from one to the
other, and his eye, travelling up the table, finally rested upon the
Archbishop in his chair. Count Winneburg drew himself up, his ruddy
face colouring like fire. Then, before any person could reach out hand
to check him, or move lip in counsel, the Count, with a fierce oath,
strode to the usurper, grasped him by the shoulders, whirled his heels
high above his head, and flung him like a sack of corn to the smooth
floor, where the unfortunate Archbishop, huddled in a helpless heap,
slid along the polished surface as if he were on ice. The fifteen
nobles stood stock-still, appalled at this unexpected outrage upon
their over-lord. Winneburg seated himself in the chair with an emphasis
that made even the solid table rattle, and bringing down his huge fist
crashing on the board before him, shouted:
"Let no man occupy my chair, unless he has weight enough to remain
Baron Beilstein, and one or two others, hurried to the prostrate
Archbishop and assisted him to his feet.
"Count Winneburg," said Beilstein, "you can expect no sympathy from us
for such an act of violence in your own hall."
"I want none of your sympathy," roared the angry Count. "Bestow it on
the man now in your hands who needs it. If you want the Archbishop of
Treves to act as your chairman, elect him to that position and welcome.
I shall have no usurpation in my Castle. While I am president I sit in
the chair, and none other."
There was a murmur of approval at this, for one and all were deeply
suspicious of the Archbishop's continued encroachments.
His Lordship of Treves once more on his feet, his lips pallid, and his
face colourless, looked with undisguised hatred at his assailant.
"Winneburg," he said slowly, "you shall apologise abjectly for this
insult, and that in presence of the nobles of this Empire, or I will
see to it that not one stone of this castle remains upon another."
"Indeed," said the Count nonchalantly, "I shall apologise to you, my
Lord, when you have apologised to me for taking my place. As to the
castle, it is said that the devil assisted in the building of it, and
it is quite likely that through friendship for you, he may preside over
The Archbishop made no reply, but, bowing haughtily to the rest of the
company, who looked glum enough, well knowing that the episode they had
witnessed meant, in all probability, red war let loose down the smiling
valley of the Moselle, left the Rittersaal.
"Now that the Council is duly convened in regular order," said Count
Winneburg, when the others had seated themselves round his table, "what
questions of state come up for discussion?"
For a moment there was no answer to this query, the delegates looking
at one another speechless. But at last Baron Beilstein shrugging his
shoulder, said drily:
"Indeed, my Lord Count, I think the time for talk is past, and I
suggest that we all look closely to the strengthening of our walls,
which are likely to be tested before long by the Lion of Treves. It was
perhaps unwise, Winneburg, to have used the Archbishop so roughly, he
being unaccustomed to athletic exercise; but, let the consequences be
what they may, I, for one, will stand by you."
"And I; and I; and I; and I," cried the others, with the exception of
the Knight of Ehrenburg, who, living as he did near the town of
Coblentz, was learned in the law, and not so ready as some of his
comrades to speak first and think afterwards.
"My good friends," cried their presiding officer, deeply moved by this
token of their fealty, "what I have done I have done, be it wise or the
reverse, and the results must fall on my head alone. No words of mine
can remove the dust of the floor from the Archbishop's cloak, so if he
comes, let him come. I will give him as hearty a welcome as it is in my
power to render. All I ask is fair play, and those who stand aside
shall see a good fight. It is not right that a hasty act of mine should
embroil the peaceful country side, so if Treves comes on I shall meet
him alone here in my castle. But, nevertheless, I thank you all for
your offers of help; that is all, except the Knight of Ehrenburg, whose
tender of assistance, if made, has escaped my ear."
The Knight of Ehrenburg had, up to that moment, been studying the
texture of the oaken table on which his flagon sat. Now he looked up
and spoke slowly.
"I made no proffer of help," he said, "because none will be needed, I
believe, so far as the Archbishop of Treves is concerned. The Count a
moment ago said that all he wanted was fair play, but that is just what
he has no right to expect from his present antagonist. The Archbishop
will make no attempt on this castle; he will act much more subtly than
that. The Archbishop will lay the redress of his quarrel upon the
shoulders of the Emperor, and it is the oncoming of the Imperial troops
you have to fear, and not an invasion from Treves. Against the forces
of the Emperor we are powerless, united or divided. Indeed, his Majesty
may call upon us to invest this castle, whereupon, if we refuse, we are
rebels who have broken our oaths."
"What then is there left for me to do?" asked the Count, dismayed at
the coil in which he had involved himself.
"Nothing," advised the Knight of Ehrenburg, "except to apologise
abjectly to the Archbishop, and that not too soon, for his Lordship may
refuse to accept it. But when he formally demands it, I should render
it to him on his own terms, and think myself well out of an awkward
The Count of Winneburg rose from his seat, and lifting his clinched
fist high above his head, shook it at the timbers of the roof.
"That," he cried, "will I never do, while one stone of Winneburg stands
At this, those present, always with the exception of the Knight of
Ehrenburg, sprang to their feet, shouting:
"Imperial troops or no, we stand by the Count of Winneburg!"
Some one flashed forth a sword, and instantly a glitter of blades was
in the air, while cheer after cheer rang to the rafters. When the
uproar had somewhat subsided, the Knight of Ehrenburg said calmly:
"My castle stands nearest to the capital, and will be the first to
fall, but, nevertheless, hoping to do my shouting when the war is
ended, I join my forces with those of the rest of you."
And amidst this unanimity, and much emptying of flagons, the assemblage
dissolved, each man with his escort taking his way to his own
stronghold, perhaps to con more soberly, next day, the problem that
confronted him. They were fighters all, and would not flinch when the
pinch came, whatever the outcome.
Day followed day with no sign from Treves. Winneburg employed the time
in setting his house in order to be ready for whatever chanced, and
just as the Count was beginning to congratulate himself that his deed
was to be without consequences, there rode up to his castle gates a
horseman, accompanied by two lancers, and on the newcomer's breast were
emblazoned the Imperial arms. Giving voice to his horn, the gates were
at once thrown open to him, and, entering, he demanded instant speech
with the Count.
"My Lord, Count Winneburg," he said, when that giant had presented
himself, "His Majesty the Emperor commands me to summon you to the
court at Frankfort."
"Do you take me as prisoner, then?" asked the Count.
"Nothing was said to me of arrest. I was merely commissioned to deliver
to you the message of the Emperor."
"What are your orders if I refuse to go?"
A hundred armed men stood behind the Count, a thousand more were within
call of the castle bell; two lances only were at the back of the
messenger; but the strength of the broadcast empire was betokened by
the symbol on his breast.
"My orders are to take back your answer to his Imperial Majesty,"
replied the messenger calmly.
The Count, though hot-headed, was no fool, and he stood for a moment
pondering on the words which the Knight of Ehrenburg had spoken on
taking his leave:
"Let not the crafty Archbishop embroil you with the Emperor."
This warning had been the cautious warrior's parting advice to him.
"If you will honour my humble roof," said the Count slowly, "by taking
refreshment beneath it, I shall be glad of your company afterwards to
Frankfort, in obedience to his Majesty's commands."
The messenger bowed low, accepted the hospitality, and together they
made way across the Moselle, and along the Roman road to the capital.
Within the walls of Frankfort the Count was lodged in rooms near the
palace, to which his conductor guided him, and, although it was still
held that he was not a prisoner, an armed man paced to and fro before
his door all night. The day following his arrival, Count Winneburg was
summoned to the Court, and in a large ante-room found himself one of a
numerous throng, conspicuous among them all by reason of his great
height and bulk.
The huge hall was hung with tapestry, and at the further end were heavy
curtains, at each edge of which stood half-a-dozen armoured men, the
detachments being under command of two gaily-uniformed officers.
Occasionally the curtains were parted by menials who stood there to
perform that duty, and high nobles entered, or came out, singly and in
groups. Down the sides of the hall were packed some hundreds of people,
chattering together for the most part, and gazing at those who passed
up and down the open space in the centre.
The Count surmised that the Emperor held his Court in whatever
apartment was behind the crimson curtains. He felt the eyes of the
multitude upon him, and shifted uneasily from one foot to another,
cursing his ungainliness, ashamed of the tingling of the blood in his
cheeks. He was out of plaice in this laughing, talking crowd,
experiencing the sensations of an uncouth rustic suddenly thrust into
the turmoil of a metropolis, resenting bitterly the supposed sneers
that were flung at him. He suspected that the whispering and the
giggling were directed towards himself, and burned to draw his sword
and let these popinjays know for once what a man could do. As a matter
of fact it was a buzz of admiration at his stature which went up when
he entered, but the Count had so little of self-conceit in his soul
that he never even guessed the truth.
Two nobles passing near him, he heard one of them say distinctly:
"That is the fellow who threw the Archbishop over his head," while the
other, glancing at him, said:
"By the Coat, he seems capable of upsetting the three of them, and I,
for one, wish more power to his muscle should he attempt it."
The Count shrank against the tapestried walls, hot with anger, wishing
himself a dwarf that he might escape the gaze of so many inquiring
eyes. Just as the scrutiny was becoming unbearable, his companion
touched him on the elbow, and said in a low voice:
"Count Winneburg, follow me."
He held aside the tapestry at the back of the Count, and that noble,
nothing loth, disappeared from view behind it.
Entering a narrow passage-way, they traversed it until they came to a
closed door, at each lintel of which stood a pikeman, fronted with a
shining breastplate of metal. The Count's conductor knocked gently at
the closed door, then opened it, holding it so that the Count could
pass in, and when he had done so, the door closed softly behind him. To
his amazement, Winneburg saw before him, standing at the further end of
the small room, the Emperor Rudolph, entirely alone. The Count was
about to kneel awkwardly, when his liege strode forward and prevented
"Count Winneburg," he said, "from what I hear of you, your elbow-joints
are more supple than those of your knees, therefore let us be thankful
that on this occasion there is no need to use either. I see you are
under the mistaken impression that the Emperor is present. Put that
thought from your mind, and regard me simply as Lord Rudolph--one
gentleman wishing to have some little conversation with another."
"Your Majesty--" stammered the Count.
"I have but this moment suggested that you forget that title, my Lord.
But, leaving aside all question of salutation, let us get to the heart
of the matter, for I think we are both direct men. You are summoned to
Frankfort because that high and mighty Prince of the Church, the
Archbishop of Treves, has made complaint to the Emperor against you
alleging what seems to be an unpardonable indignity suffered by him at
"Your Majesty--my Lord, I mean," faltered the Count. "The indignity was
of his own seeking; he sat down in my chair, where he had no right to
place himself, and I--I--persuaded him to relinquish his position."
"So I am informed--that is to say, so his Majesty has been informed,"
replied Rudolph, a slight smile hovering round his finely chiselled
lips. "We are not here to comment upon any of the Archbishop's
delinquencies, but, granting, for the sake of argument, that he had
encroached upon your rights, nevertheless, he was under your roof, and
honestly, I fail to see that you were justified in cracking his heels
against the same."
"Well, your Majesty--again I beg your Majesty's pardon--"
"Oh, no matter," said the Emperor, "call me what you like; names
"If then the Emperor," continued the Count, "found an intruder sitting
on his throne, would he like it, think you?"
"His feeling, perhaps, would be one of astonishment, my Lord Count, but
speaking for the Emperor, I am certain that he would never lay hands on
the usurper, or treat him like a sack of corn in a yeoman's barn."
The Count laughed heartily at this, and was relieved to find that this
quitted him of the tension which the great presence had at first
"Truth to tell, your Majesty, I am sorry I touched him. I should have
requested him to withdraw, but my arm has always been more prompt in
action than my tongue, as you can readily see since I came into this
"Indeed, Count, your tongue does you very good service," continued the
Emperor, "and I am glad to have from you an expression of regret. I
hope, therefore, that you will have no hesitation in repeating that
declaration to the Archbishop of Treves."
"Does your Majesty mean that I am to apologise to him?"
"Yes," answered the Emperor.
There was a moment's pause, then the Count said slowly:
"I will surrender to your Majesty my person, my sword, my castle, and
my lands. I will, at your word, prostrate myself at your feet, and
humbly beg pardon for any offence I have committed against you, but to
tell the Archbishop I am sorry when I am not, and to cringe before him
and supplicate his grace, well, your Majesty, as between man and man,
I'll see him damned first."
Again the Emperor had some difficulty in preserving that rigidity of
expression which he had evidently resolved to maintain.
"Have you ever met a ghost, my Lord Count?" he asked.
Winneburg crossed himself devoutly, a sudden pallor sweeping over his
"Indeed, your Majesty, I have seen strange things, and things for which
there was no accounting; but it has been usually after a contest with
the wine flagon, and at the time my head was none of the clearest, so I
could not venture to say whether they were ghosts or no."
"Imagine, then, that in one of the corridors of your castle at midnight
you met a white-robed transparent figure, through whose form your sword
passed scathlessly. What would you do, my Lord?"
"Indeed, your Majesty, I would take to my heels, and bestow myself
elsewhere as speedily as possible."
"Most wisely spoken and you, who are no coward, who fear not to face
willingly in combat anything natural, would, in certain circumstances,
trust to swift flight for your protection. Very well, my Lord, you are
now confronted with something against which your stout arm is as
unavailing as it would be if an apparition stood in your path. There is
before you the spectre of subtlety. Use arm instead of brain, and you
are a lost man.
"The Archbishop expects no apology. He looks for a stalwart, stubborn
man, defying himself and the Empire combined. You think, perhaps, that
the Imperial troops will surround your castle, and that you may stand a
siege. Now the Emperor would rather have you fight with him than
against him, but in truth there will be no contest. Hold to your
refusal, and you will be arrested before you leave the precincts of
this palace. You will be thrown into a dungeon, your castle and your
lands sequestered; and I call your attention to the fact that your
estate adjoins the possessions of the Archbishop at Cochem, and Heaven
fend me for hinting that his Lordship casts covetous eyes over his
boundary; yet, nevertheless, he will probably not refuse to accept your
possessions in reparation for the insult bestowed upon him. Put it this
way if you like. Would you rather pleasure me or pleasure the
Archbishop of Treves?"
"There is no question as to that," answered the Count.
"Then it will please me well if you promise to apologise to his
Lordship the Archbishop of Treves. That his Lordship will be equally
pleased, I very much doubt."
"Will your Majesty command me in open Court to apologise?"
"I shall request you to do so. I must uphold the Feudal law."
"Then I beseech your Majesty to command me, for I am a loyal subject,
and will obey."
"God give me many such," said the Emperor fervently, "and bestow upon
me the wisdom to deserve them!"
He extended his hand to the Count, then touched a bell on the table
beside him. The officer who had conducted Winneburg entered silently,
and acted as his guide back to the thronged apartment they had left.
The Count saw that the great crimson curtains were now looped up,
giving a view of the noble interior of the room beyond, thronged with
the notables of the Empire. The hall leading to it was almost deserted,
and the Count, under convoy of two lancemen, himself nearly as tall as
their weapons, passed in to the Throne Room, and found all eyes turned
He was brought to a stand before an elevated dais, the centre of which
was occupied by a lofty throne, which, at the moment, was empty. Near
it, on the elevation, stood the three Archbishops of Treves, Cologne,
and Mayence, on the other side the Count Palatine of the Rhine with the
remaining three Electors. The nobles of the realm occupied places
according to their degree.
As the stalwart Count came in, a buzz of conversation swept over the
hall like a breeze among the leaves of a forest. A malignant scowl
darkened the countenance of the Archbishop of Treves, but the faces of
Cologne and Mayence expressed a certain Christian resignation regarding
the contumely which had been endured by their colleague. The Count
stood stolidly where he was placed, and gazed at the vacant throne,
turning his eyes neither to the right nor the left.
Suddenly there was a fanfare of trumpets, and instant silence smote the
assembly. First came officers of the Imperial Guard in shining armour,
then the immediate advisers and councillors of his Majesty, and last of
all, the Emperor himself, a robe of great richness clasped at his
throat, and trailing behind him; the crown of the Empire upon his head.
His face was pale and stern, and he looked what he was, a monarch, and
a man. The Count rubbed his eyes, and could scarcely believe that he
stood now in the presence of one who had chatted amiably with him but a
few moments before.
The Emperor sat on his throne and one of his councillors whispered for
some moments to him; then the Emperor said, in a low, clear voice, that
penetrated to the farthest corner of the vast apartment:
"Is the Count of Winneburg here?"
"Yes, your Majesty."
"Let him stand forward."
The Count strode two long steps to the front, and stood there, red-
faced and abashed. The officer at his side whispered:
"Kneel, you fool, kneel."
And the Count got himself somewhat clumsily down upon his knees, like
an elephant preparing to receive his burden. The face of the Emperor
remained impassive, and he said harshly:
The Count, once more upon his feet, breathed a deep sigh of
satisfaction at finding himself again in an upright posture.
"Count of Winneburg," said the Emperor slowly, "it is alleged that upon
the occasion of the last meeting of the Council of State for the
Moselle valley, you, in presence of the nobles there assembled, cast a
slight upon your over-lord, the Archbishop of Treves. Do you question
The Count cleared his throat several times, which in the stillness of
that vaulted room sounded like the distant booming of cannon.
"If to cast the Archbishop half the distance of this room is to cast a
slight upon him, I did so, your Majesty."
There was a simultaneous ripple of laughter at this, instantly
suppressed when the searching eye of the Emperor swept the room.
"Sir Count," said the Emperor severely, "the particulars of your
outrage are not required of you; only your admission thereof. Hear,
then, my commands. Betake yourself to your castle of Winneburg, and
hold yourself there in readiness to proceed to Treves on a day
appointed by his Lordship the Archbishop, an Elector of this Empire,
there to humble yourself before him, and crave his pardon for the
offence you have committed. Disobey at your peril."
Once or twice the Count moistened his dry lips, then he said:
"Your Majesty, I will obey any command you place upon me."
"In that case," continued the Emperor, his severity visibly relaxing,
"I can promise that your over-lord will not hold this incident against
you. Such, I understand, is your intention, my Lord Archbishop?" and
the Emperor turned toward the Prince of Treves.
The Archbishop bowed low, and thus veiled the malignant hatred in his
eyes. "Yes, your Majesty," he replied, "providing the apology is given
as publicly as was the insult, in presence of those who were witnesses
of the Count's foolishness."
"That is but a just condition," said the Emperor. "It is my pleasure
that the Council be summoned to Treves to hear the Count's apology. And
now, Count of Winneburg, you are at liberty to withdraw."
The Count drew his mammoth hand across his brow, and scattered to the
floor the moisture that had collected there. He tried to speak, but
apparently could not, then turned and walked resolutely towards the
door. There was instant outcry at this, the Chamberlain of the Court
standing in stupefied amazement at a breach of etiquette which
exhibited any man's back to the Emperor; but a smile relaxed the
Emperor's lips, and he held up his hand.
"Do not molest him," he said, as the Count disappeared. "He is unused
to the artificial manners of a Court. In truth, I take it as a friendly
act, for I am sure the valiant Count never turned his back upon a foe,"
which Imperial witticism was well received, for the sayings of an
Emperor rarely lack applause.
The Count, wending his long way home by the route he had come, spent
the first half of the journey in cursing the Archbishop, and the latter
half in thinking over the situation. By the time he had reached his
castle he had formulated a plan, and this plan he proceeded to put into
execution on receiving the summons of the Archbishop to come to Treves
on the first day of the following month and make his apology, the
Archbishop, with characteristic penuriousness, leaving the inviting of
the fifteen nobles, who formed the Council, to Winneburg, and thus his
Lordship of Treves was saved the expense of sending special messengers
to each. In case Winneburg neglected to summon the whole Council, the
Archbishop added to his message, the statement that he would refuse to
receive the apology if any of the nobles were absent.
Winneburg sent messengers, first to Beilstein, asking him to attend at
Treves on the second day of the month, and bring with him an escort of
at least a thousand men. Another he asked for the third, another for
the fourth, another for the fifth, and so on, resolved that before a
complete quorum was present, half of the month would be gone, and with
it most of the Archbishop's provender, for his Lordship, according to
the laws of hospitality, was bound to entertain free of all charge to
themselves the various nobles and their followings.
On the first day of the month Winneburg entered the northern gate of
Treves, accompanied by two hundred horsemen and eight hundred foot
soldiers. At first, the officers of the Archbishop thought that an
invasion was contemplated, but Winneburg suavely explained that if a
thing was worth doing at all, it was worth doing well, and he was not
going to make any hole-and-corner affair of his apology. Next day
Beilstein came along accompanied by five hundred cavalry, and five
hundred foot soldiers.
The Chamberlain of the Archbishop was in despair at having to find
quarters for so many, but he did the best he could, while the
Archbishop was enraged to observe that the nobles did not assemble in
greater haste, but each as he came had a plausible excuse for his
delay. Some had to build bridges, sickness had broken out in another
camp, while a third expedition had lost its way and wandered in the
The streets of Treves each night resounded with songs of revelry,
varied by the clash of swords, when a party of the newcomers fell foul
of a squad of the town soldiers, and the officers on either side had
much ado to keep the peace among their men. The Archbishop's wine cups
were running dry, and the price of provisions had risen, the whole
surrounding country being placed under contribution for provender and
drink. When a week had elapsed the Archbishop relaxed his dignity and
sent for Count Winneburg.
"We will not wait for the others," he said. "I have no desire to
humiliate you unnecessarily. Those who are here shall bear witness that
you have apologised, and so I shall not insist on the presence of the
laggards, but will receive your apology to-morrow at high noon in the
great council chamber."
"Ah, there speaks a noble heart, ever thinking generously of those who
despitefully use you, my Lord Archbishop," said Count Winneburg. "But
no, no, I cannot accept such a sacrifice. The Emperor showed me plainly
the enormity of my offence. In the presence of all I insulted you,
wretch that I am, and in the presence of all shall I abase myself."
"But I do not seek your abasement," protested the Archbishop, frowning.
"The more honour, then, to your benevolent nature," answered the Count,
"and the more shameful would it be of me to take advantage of it. As I
stood a short time since on the walls, I saw coming up the river the
banners of the Knight of Ehrenburg. His castle is the furthest removed
from Treves, and so the others cannot surely delay long. We will wait,
my Lord Archbishop, until all are here. But I thank you just as much
for your generosity as if I were craven enough to shield myself behind
The Knight of Ehrenburg in due time arrived, and behind him his
thousand men, many of whom were compelled to sleep in the public
buildings, for all the rooms in Treves were occupied. Next day the
Archbishop summoned the assembled nobles and said he would hear the
apology in their presence. If the others missed it, it was their own
fault--they should have been in time.
"I cannot apologise;" said the Count, "until all are here. It was the
Emperor's order, and who am I to disobey my Emperor? We must await
their coming with patience, and, indeed, Treves is a goodly town, in
which all of us find ourselves fully satisfied."
"Then, my blessing on you all," said the Archbishop in a sour tone most
unsuited to the benediction he was bestowing. "Return, I beg of you,
instantly, to your castles. I forego the apology."
"But I insist on tendering it," cried the Count, his mournful voice
giving some indication of the sorrow he felt at his offence if it went
unrequited. "It is my duty, not only to you, my Lord Archbishop, but
also to his Majesty the Emperor."
"Then, in Heaven's name get on with it and depart. I am willing to
accept it on your own terms, as I have said before."
"No, not on my own terms, but on yours. What matters the delay of a
week or two? The hunting season does not begin for a fortnight, and we
are all as well at Treves as at home. Besides, how could I ever face my
Emperor again, knowing I had disobeyed his commands?"
"I will make it right with the Emperor," said the Archbishop.
The Knight of Ehrenburg now spoke up, calmly, as was his custom:
"'Tis a serious matter," he said, "for a man to take another's word
touching action of his Majesty the Emperor. You have clerks here with
you; perhaps then you will bid them indite a document to be signed by
yourself absolving my friend, the Count of Winneburg, from all
necessity of apologising, so that should the Emperor take offence at
his disobedience, the parchment may hold him scathless."
"I will do anything to be quit of you," muttered the Archbishop more to
himself than to the others.
And so the document was written and signed. With this parchment in his
saddle-bags the Count and his comrades quitted the town, drinking in
half flagons the health of the Archbishop, because there was not left
in Treves enough wine to fill the measures to the brim.
In the ample stone-paved courtyard of the Schloss Grunewald, with its
mysterious bubbling spring in the centre, stood the Black Baron beside
his restive horse, both equally eager to be away. Round the Baron were
grouped his sixteen knights and their saddled chargers, all waiting the
word to mount. The warder was slowly opening the huge gates that hung
between the two round entrance towers of the castle, for it was the
Baron's custom never to ride out at the head of his men until the great
leaves of the strong gate fell full apart, and showed the green
landscape beyond. The Baron did not propose to ride unthinkingly out,
and straightway fall into an ambush.
He and his sixteen knights were the terror of the country-side, and
many there were who would have been glad to venture a bow shot at him
had they dared. There seemed to be some delay about the opening of the
gates, and a great chattering of underlings at the entrance, as if
something unusual had occurred, whereupon the rough voice of the Baron
roared out to know the cause that kept him waiting, and every one
scattered, each to his own affair, leaving only the warder, who
approached his master with fear in his face.
"My Lord," he began, when the Baron had shouted what the devil ailed
him, "there has been nailed against the outer gate; sometime in the
night, a parchment with characters written thereon."
"Then tear it down and bring it to me," cried the Baron. "What's all
this to-do about a bit of parchment?"
The warder had been loath to meddle with it, in terror of that
witchcraft which he knew pertained to all written characters; but he
feared the Black Baron's frown even more than the fiends who had
undoubtedly nailed the documents on the gate, for he knew no man in all
that well-cowed district would have the daring to approach the castle
even in the night, much less meddle with the gate or any other
belonging of the Baron von Grunewald; so, breathing a request to his
patron saint (his neglect of whom he now remembered with remorse) for
protection, he tore the document from its fastening and brought it,
trembling, to the Baron. The knights crowded round as von Grunewald
held the parchment in his hand, bending his dark brows upon it, for it
conveyed no meaning to him. Neither the Baron nor his knights could
"What foolery, think you, is this?" he said, turning to the knight
nearest him. "A Defiance?"
The knight shook his head. "I am no clerk," he answered.
For a moment the Baron was puzzled; then he quickly bethought himself
of the one person in the castle who could read.
"Bring hither old Father Gottlieb," he commanded, and two of those
waiting ran in haste towards the scullery of the place, from which they
presently emerged dragging after them an old man partly in the habit of
a monk and partly in that of a scullion, who wiped his hands on the
coarse apron, that was tied around his waist, as he was hurried
"Here, good father, excellent cook and humble servitor, I trust your
residence with us has not led you to forget the learning you put to
such poor advantage in the Monastery of Monnonstein. Canst thou
construe this for us? Is it in good honest German or bastard Latin?"
"It is in Latin," said the captive monk, on glancing at the document in
the other's hand.
"Then translate it for us, and quickly."
Father Gottlieb took the parchment handed him by the Baron, and as his
eyes scanned it more closely, he bowed his head and made the sign of
the cross upon his breast.
"Cease that mummery," roared the Baron, "and read without more waiting
or the rod's upon thy back again. Who sends us this?"
"It is from our Holy Father the Pope," said the monk, forgetting his
menial position for the moment, and becoming once more the scholar of
the monastery. The sense of his captivity faded from him as he realised
that the long arm of the Church had extended within the impregnable
walls of that tyrannical castle.
"Good. And what has our Holy Father the Pope to say to us? Demands he
the release of our excellent scullion, Father Gottlieb?"
The bent shoulders of the old monk straightened, his dim eye
brightened, and his voice rang clear within the echoing walls of the
"It is a ban of excommunication against thee, Lord Baron von Grunewald,
and against all within these walls, excepting only those unlawfully
withheld from freedom," "Which means thyself, worthy Father. Read on,
good clerk, and let us hear it to the end."
As the monk read out the awful words of the message, piling curse on
curse with sonorous voice, the Baron saw his trembling servitors turn
pale, and even his sixteen knights, companions in robbery and rapine,
fall away from him. Dark red anger mounted to his temples; he raised
his mailed hand and smote the reading monk flat across the mouth,
felling the old man prone upon the stones of the court.
"That is my answer to our Holy Father the Pope, and when thou swearest
to deliver it to him as I have given it to thee, the gates are open and
the way clear for thy pilgrimage to Rome."
But the monk lay where he fell and made no reply.
"Take him away," commanded the Baron impatiently, whereupon several of
the menials laid hands on the fallen monk and dragged him into the
scullery he had left.
Turning to his men-at-arms, the Baron roared: "Well, my gentle wolves,
have a few words in Latin on a bit of sheep-skin turned you all to
"I have always said," spoke up the knight Segfried, "that no good came
of captured monks, or meddling with the Church. Besides, we are noble
all, and do not hold with the raising of a mailed hand against an
There was a low murmur of approval among the knights at Segfried's
"Close the gates," shouted the maddened Baron. Every one flew at the
word of command, and the great oaken hinges studded with iron, slowly
came together, shutting out the bit of landscape their opening had
discovered. The Baron flung the reins on his charger's neck, and smote
the animal on the flank, causing it to trot at once to its stable.
"There will be no riding to-day," he said, his voice ominously
lowering. The stablemen of the castle came forward and led away the
horses. The sixteen knights stood in a group together with Segfried at
their head, waiting with some anxiety on their brows for the next move
in the game. The Baron, his sword drawn in his hand, strode up and down
before them, his brow bent on the ground, evidently struggling to get
the master hand over his own anger. If it came to blows the odds were
against him and he was too shrewd a man to engage himself single-handed
in such a contest.
At length the Baron stopped in his walk and looked at the group. He
said, after a pause, in a quiet tone of voice: "Segfried, if you doubt
my courage because I strike to the ground a rascally monk, step forth,
draw thine own good sword, our comrades will see that all is fair
betwixt us, and in this manner you may learn that I fear neither mailed
nor unmailed hand."
But the knight made no motion to lay his hand upon his sword, nor did
he move from his place. "No one doubts your courage, my Lord," he said,
"neither is it any reflection on mine that in answer to your challenge
my sword remains in its scabbard. You are our overlord and it is not
meet that our weapons should be raised against you."
"I am glad that point is firmly fixed in your minds. I thought a moment
since that I would be compelled to uphold the feudal law at the peril
of my own body. But if that comes not in question, no more need be
said. Touching the unarmed, Segfried, if I remember aright you showed
no such squeamishness at our sacking of the Convent of St. Agnes."
"A woman is a different matter, my Lord," said Segfried uneasily.
The Baron laughed and so did some of the knights, openly relieved to
find the tension of the situation relaxing.
"Comrades!" cried the Baron, his face aglow with enthusiasm, all traces
of his former temper vanishing from his brow. "You are excellent in a
melee, but useless at the council board. You see no further ahead of
you than your good right arms can strike. Look round you at these stout
walls; no engine that man has yet devised can batter a breach in them.
In our vaults are ten years' supply of stolen grain. Our cellars are
full of rich red wine, not of our vintage, but for our drinking. Here
in our court bubbles forever this good spring, excellent to drink when
wine gives out, and medicinal in the morning when too much wine has
been taken in." He waved his hand towards the overflowing well, charged
with carbonic acid gas, one of the many that have since made this
region of the Rhine famous. "Now I ask you, can this Castle of
Grunewald ever be taken--excommunication or no excommunication?"
A simultaneous shout of "No! Never!" arose from the knights.
The Baron stood looking grimly at them for several moments. Then he
said in a quiet voice, "Yes, the Castle of Grunewald _can_ be
taken. Not from without but from within. If any crafty enemy sows
dissension among us; turns the sword of comrade against comrade; then
falls the Castle of Grunewald! To-day we have seen how nearly that has
been done. We have against us in the monastery of Monnonstein no fat-
headed Abbot, but one who was a warrior before he turned a monk. 'Tis
but a few years since, that the Abbot Ambrose stood at the right hand
of the Emperor as Baron von Stern, and it is known that the Abbot's
robes are but a thin veneer over the iron knight within. His hand,
grasping the cross, still itches for the sword. The fighting Archbishop
of Treves has sent him to Monnonstein for no other purpose than to
leave behind him the ruins of Grunewald, and his first bolt was shot
straight into our courtyard, and for a moment I stood alone, without a
single man-at-arms to second me."
The knights looked at one another in silence, then cast their eyes to
the stone-paved court, all too shamed-faced to attempt reply to what
all knew was the truth. The Baron, a deep frown on his brow, gazed
sternly at the chap-fallen group.... "Such was the effect of the first
shaft shot by good Abbot Ambrose, what will be the result of the
"There will be no second," said Segfried stepping forward. "We must
sack the Monastery, and hang the Abbot and his craven monks in their
Back to Full Books