Among the many legends invented by the early Christian monks to advance their faith, there are few more beautiful than that attached to the Drachenfels, the Dragon's Rock, a rugged and picturesque mass of volcanic porphyry rising above the Rhine on its right bank. Half-way up one of its pointed crags is a dark cavern known as the 'Dragon's Cave,' which was at one time, in that misty past to which all legends belong, the habitation of a hideous monster, half-beast and half-reptile. The peasants of the surrounding district held the creature in superstitious awe, worshipped him, and offered up sacrifices of human beings at the instigation of their pagan priests. Foremost among the worshippers of the dragon were two warrior princes, Rinbod and Horsrik, who frequently made an onslaught on the Christian people dwelling on the opposite bank of the Rhine, carrying off many captives to be offered as sacrifices to the dragon.
On one such occasion, while, according to their custom, they were dividing their prisoners, the pagan princes quarrelled over one of their captives, a Christian maiden, whose beauty and helpless innocence won the hearts of her fierce captors, so that each desired to possess her, and neither was inclined to renounce his claim. The quarrel became so bitter at length that the princes seized their weapons and were about to fight for the fair spoil. But at this juncture their priests intervened.
"It is not meet," said they, "that two noble princes should come to blows over a mere Christian maid. Tomorrow she shall be offered to the dragon, in thanksgiving
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for your victory." And they felt that they had done well, for had they not averted the impending quarrel, and at the same time gained a victim for their cruel rites? But the heart of Rinbod was heavy indeed, for he truly loved the young Christian maid, and would have given his life to save her from the horrible fate that awaited her. However, the decree of the priests was irrevocable, and no pleadings of his could avail. The girl was informed of the cruel destiny that was to befall her on the morrow, and with a calm mind she sought consolation from Heaven to enable her to meet her fate with courage befitting a Christian.
Early on the following morning she was led with much ceremony to a spot before the Dragon's Cave and there bound to an oak, to await the approach of the monster, whose custom it was to sally forth at sunrise in search of prey. The procession of priests, warriors, and peasants who had followed the victim to the place of sacrifice now climbed to the summit of the crag and watched eagerly for the coming of the dragon. Rinbod watched also, but it was with eyes full of anguish and apprehension. The Christian maid seemed to him more like a spirit than a human being, so calmly, so steadfastly did she bear herself.
Suddenly a stifled cry broke from the lips of the watchers--the hideous monster was seen dragging its heavy coils from the cavern, fire issuing from its mouth and nostrils. At its mighty roar even the bravest trembled. But the Christian maid alone showed no sign of fear; she awaited the oncoming of the dreadful creature with a hymn of praise on her lips. Nearer and nearer came the dragon, and at length, with a horrible roar, it sprang at its prey. But even as it did so the maiden held out her crucifix
before her, and the dragon was checked in its onrush. A moment later it turned aside and plunged into the Rhine. The people on the crag were filled with awe at the miraculous power of the strange symbol which had overcome their idol and, descending, hastened to free the young girl from her bonds. When they learned the significance of the cross they begged that she would send them teachers that they might learn about the new religion. In vain their priests endeavoured to dissuade them. They had seen the power of the crucifix, and their renunciation of their pagan creed was complete.
Among the first to adopt the Christian religion was Rinbod; he married the beautiful captive and built a castle for her on the Drachenfels, whose ruins remain to this day.
It seems a pity that such a beautiful legend should have doubts cast upon its authenticity, but it has been conjectured that the word Drachenfels has a geological rather than a romantic significance--being, in fact, derived from Trachyt-fels, meaning 'Trachyte-rock.' This view is supported by the fact that there is another Drachenfels near Mannheim of a similar geological construction, but without the legend. However, it is unlikely that the people of antiquity would bestow a geological name upon any locality.
On a rugged crag overlooking the Rhine above the town of Linz stands the ruined stronghold of Okkenfels. History tells us little or nothing concerning this ancient fortress, but legend covers the deficiency with the tale of the Baron's Rash Oath.
Rheinhard von Renneberg, according to the story,
flourished about the beginning of the eleventh century, when the Schloss Okkenfels was a favourite rendezvous with the rude nobility of the surrounding district. Though they were none of them distinguished for their manners, by far the most rugged and uncouth was the Baron von Renneberg himself. Rough in appearance, abrupt in conversation, and inclined to harshness in all his dealings, he inspired in the breast of his only daughter a feeling more akin to awe than affection.
The gentle Etelina grew up to be a maiden of singular beauty, of delicate form and feature, and under the careful tutelage of the castle chaplain she became as good as she was beautiful. Lovers she had in plenty, for the charms of Etelina and the wealth of her noble father, whose sole heiress she was, formed a combination quite irresistible in the eyes of the young gallants who frequented the castle. But none loved her more sincerely than one of the baron's retainers, a young knight of Linz, Rudolph by name.
On one occasion Rheinhard was obliged to set out with his troop to join the wars in Italy, and ere he departed he confided his daughter to the care of the venerable chaplain, while his castle and lands he left in charge of Sir Rudolph. As may be supposed, the knight and the maiden frequently met, and ere long it became evident that Rudolph's passion was returned. The worthy chaplain, who loved the youth as a son, did not seek to interfere with the course of his wooing, and so in due time the lovers were betrothed.
At the end of a year the alarming news reached them that the baron was returning from the wars, bringing in his train a noble bridegroom for Etelina. In despair the lovers sought the old chaplain and begged his advice.
[paragraph continues] They knew only too well that the baron would not brook resistance to his will; for he had ever dealt ruthlessly with opposition. Yet both were determined that nothing should part them.
"I would rather die with Rudolph than marry another," cried the grief-stricken maiden. And indeed it seemed that one or other of these alternatives would soon fall to her lot.
But the wise old priest was planning a way of escape.
"Ye were meant for one another, my children," he said philosophically; "therefore it is not for man to separate you. I will marry you at once, and I know a place where you may safely hide for a season."
It was nearing midnight on the eve of the day fixed for Rheinhard's return, so there was no time to be lost. The three repaired to the chapel, where the marriage was at once solemnized. Taking a basket of bread, meat, and wine, a lamp, and some other necessaries, the old man conducted the newly married pair through a subterranean passage to a cavern in the rock whereon the castle stood, a place known only to himself. Then, having blessed them, he withdrew.
Early on the following morning came the baron and his train, with the noble knight chosen as a husband for Etelina.
Rheinhard looked in vain for his daughter among the crowd of retainers who waited to welcome him. "Where is my little maid?" he asked.
The chaplain answered evasively. The damsel was ill abed, he replied. When the noble lord had refreshed himself he should see her.
Directly the repast was over he hastened to his daughter's apartment, only to find her flown! Dismayed and angry,
he rushed to the chaplain and demanded an explanation. The good old man, after a vain attempt to soothe his irate patron, revealed all--all, that is, save the place where the fugitives were concealed, and that he firmly refused to divulge. The priest was committed to the lowest dungeon, a vile den to which access could only be got by means of a trap-door and a rope.
With his own hands the baron swung to the massive trap, swearing a deep oath.
"If I forgive my daughter, or any of her accomplices, may I die suddenly where I now stand, and may my soul perish for ever!"
The disappointed bridegroom soon returned to his own land, and the baron, whose increasing moroseness made him cordially hated by his attendants, was left to the bitterness of his thoughts.
Meanwhile Rudolph and his bride had escaped unseen from the castle rock and now dwelt in the forests skirting the Seven Mountains. While the summer lasted all went well with them; they, and the little son who was born to them, were content with the sustenance the forest afforded. But in the winter all was changed. Starvation stared them in the face. More and more pitiful became their condition, till at length Rudolph resolved to seek the baron, and give his life, if need be, to save his wife and child.
That very day Rheinhard was out hunting in the forest. Imagine his surprise when a gaunt figure, clad in a bearskin, stepped from the undergrowth and bade him follow, if he wished to see his daughter alive. The startled old man obeyed the summons, and arrived at length before a spacious cavern, which his guide motioned him to enter. Within, on a pile of damp leaves, lay Etelina and her child, both half-dead with starvation. Rheinhard's anger
speedily melted at the pathetic sight, and he freely forgave his daughter and Rudolph, his hitherto unrecognized guide, and bade them return with him to Okkenfels.
Etelina's first request was for a pardon for the old chaplain, and Rheinhard himself went to raise the heavy trap-door. While peering into the gloom, however, he stumbled and fell headlong into the dungeon below. "A judgment!" he shrieked as he fell, then all was silence.
The bruised remains of the proud baron were interred in the parish church of Linz, and henceforth Etelina and her husband lived happily at Okkenfels. But both they and the old chaplain offered many a pious prayer for the soul of the unhappy Baron Rheinhard.
In the middle of the Rhine, a little above Coblentz, lies the island of Oberwörth, where at one time stood a famous nunnery. Included in the traditional lore of the neighbourhood is a tragic tale of the beautiful Ida, daughter of the Freiherr von Metternich, who died within its walls in the fourteenth century.
Von Metternich, who dwelt at Coblentz, was a wealthy and powerful noble, exceedingly proud of his fair daughter, and firmly convinced that none but the highest in the land was fit mate for her. But Ida had other views, and had already bestowed her heart on a young squire in her father's train. It is true that Gerbert was a high-born youth, of stainless life, pleasing appearance, and gentle manners, and, moreover, one who was likely at no distant date to win his spurs. Nevertheless the lovers instinctively concealed their mutual affection from von Metternich, and plighted their troth in secret.
But so ardent an affection could not long remain hidden.
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[paragraph continues] The time came when the nobleman discovered how matters stood between his daughter and Gerbert, and with angry frowns and muttered oaths he resolved to exercise his paternal authority. "My daughter shall go to a nunnery," he said to himself. "And as for that jackanapes, he must be got rid of at once." He pondered how he might conveniently rid himself of the audacious squire.
That night he dispatched Gerbert on a mission to the grand prior of the Knights-Templars, who had his abode at the neighbouring castle of Lahneck. The unsuspecting squire took the sealed missive and set out, thinking as he rode along how rich he was in possessing so sweet a love as Ida, and dreaming of the time when his valour and prowess should have made their marriage possible. But his dreams would have been rudely disturbed had he seen what was passing at Coblentz. For his betrothed, in spite of her tears and pleadings, was being secretly conveyed to the nunnery of Oberwörth, there to remain until she should have forgotten her lover--as though the stone walls of a convent could shut out the imaginings of a maid! However, Gerbert knew nothing of this, and he rode along in leisurely fashion, until at length he came to the Schloss Lahneck, where he was at once conducted into the presence of the grand prior of the Knights-Templars.
The grand prior was a man of middle age, with an expression of settled melancholy on his swarthy features. Gerbert approached him with becoming reverence, bent his knee, and presented the missive.
The prior turned his gaze so earnestly on the young man's face that Gerbert dropped his eyes in confusion. A moment later the prior broke the seal and hastily scanned the letter.
"Who mayest thou be, youth?" he asked abruptly.
"Gerbert von Isenburg, sir."
"And thy mother?"
"Guba von Isenburg," was the astonished Gerbert's reply.
The prior seemed to be struggling with deep emotion.
"Knowest thou the purport of this missive?" he said at last.
"It concerns me not," answered Gerbert simply.
"Nay, my son," said the prior, "it doth concern thee, and deeply, too. Know that it is thy death-warrant, boy! The Freiherr has requested me to send thee to the wars in Palestine, and so to place thee that death will be a certainty. This he asks in the name of our ancient friendship and for the sake of our order, to which he has ever shown himself well disposed."
Seeing the dismay and incredulity which were depicted in his listener's face, the prior hastened to read aloud a passage describing von Metternich's discovery of his daughter's love for the humble squire, and Gerbert could no longer doubt that his fate was sealed.
The prior looked at him kindly.
"Gerbert," he said, "I am not going to put the cruel order into execution. Though I lose friendship, the honour of our order, life itself, the son of Guba von Isenburg shall not suffer at my hands. I sympathize with thy passion for the fair Ida. I myself loved thy mother." The impetuous Gerbert started to his feet, hand on sword, at the mention of his mother, whose good name he set before all else; but with a dignified gesture the prior motioned him to his seat.
Then in terse, passionate phrases the elder man told how he had loved the gentle Guba for years, always hesitating
to declare his passion lest the lady should scorn him. At length he could bear it no longer, and made up his mind to reveal his love to her. With this intent he rode toward her home, only to learn from a passing page that Guba, his mistress, was to be married that very day to von Isenburg. He gave to the page a ring, bidding him carry it to his mistress with the message that it was from one who loved her greatly, and who for her sake renounced the world.
"The ring," he concluded, "is on thy finger, and in thy face and voice are thy mother's likeness. Canst thou wonder that I would spare thy life?"
Gerbert listened in respectful silence. His love for Ida enabled him to sympathize with the pathetic tale unfolded by the prior. Tears fell unchecked from the eyes of both. "And now," said the prior at last, "we must look to thy safety."
"I would not bring misfortune on thee," said Gerbert. "May I not go to Palestine and win my way through with my sword?"
"It is impossible," said the elder man. "Von Metternich would see to it that thou wert slain. Thou must go to Swabia, where a prior of our order will look after thy safety in the meantime."
The same day Gerbert was conveyed to Swabia, where, for a time at least, he was safe from persecution.
In the nunnery of Oberwörth, on a pallet in a humble cell, Ida lay dying. A year had gone past since she had been separated from her lover, and every day had seen her grow weaker and more despondent. Forget Gerbert? That would she never while life remained to her. Wearily she tossed on her pallet, her only companion a sister of
the convent. Willingly now would the Freiherr give his dearest possessions to save his daughter, but already she was beyond assistance, her only hope the peace of the grave.
"I am dying, sister," she said to her attendant. "Nevermore shall I see my dear Gerbert--ah! nevermore."
"Hush," murmured the nun gently, "stranger things have happened. All may yet be well." And to divert the dying maid's attention from her grief she recited tales of lovers who had been reunited after many difficulties.
But Ida refused to be pacified.
"Alas!" she said, "I am betrothed, yet I must die unwed."
"Heaven forbid!" cried the pious nun in alarm. "For then must thou join in the dance of death."
It was a popular belief in that district that a betrothed maiden who died before her wedding was celebrated must, after her death, dance on a spot in the centre of the island whereon no grass or herb ever grew--that is, unless in the interval she took the veil. Every night at twelve o'clock a band of such hapless maidens may be seen dancing in the moonlight, doomed to continue their nocturnal revels till they meet with a lover. And woe betide the knight who ventures within their reach! They dance round and round him and with him till he falls dead, whereupon the youngest maid claims him for her lover. Henceforth she rests quietly in her grave and joins no more in the ghostly frolic.
This weird tradition Ida now heard from the lips of the nun, who herself claimed to have witnessed the scenes she described.
"I beseech thee," said the sister, "do but join our convent, and all will yet be well."
"I die," murmured Ida, heeding not the words of her companion. "Gerbert--we shall meet again!"
Gerbert, her lover, heard the sad news in his dwelling-place on the shores of Lake Constance, and returned to Oberwörth with all speed. A week had elapsed ere he arrived, and Ida's body was already interred in the vaults of the convent.
It was a night of storm and darkness. No boatman would venture on the Rhine, but Gerbert, anxious to pay the last respects to the body of his beloved, was not to be deterred. With his own hands he unmoored a vessel and sailed across to Oberwörth. Having landed at that part of the island furthest from the convent, he was obliged to pass the haunted spot on his way thither. The circular patch of barren earth was said to be a spot accursed, by reason of sacrilege and suicide committed there. But such things were far from the thoughts of the distraught knight.
Suddenly he heard a strange sound, like the whisper of a familiar voice--a sound which, despite its quietness, seemed to make itself heard above the fury of the storm. Looking up, he beheld a band of white-robed maidens dancing in the charmed circle. One of them, a little apart from the others, seemed to him to be his lost Ida. The familiar figure, the grace of mien, the very gesture with which she beckoned him, were hers, and he rushed forward to clasp her to his heart. Adroitly she eluded his grasp and mingled with the throng. Gerbert followed with bursting heart, seized her in his arms, and found that the other phantoms had surrounded them. Something in the unearthly music fascinated him; he felt impelled to dance round and round, till his head reeled. And still he danced with his phantom bride, and still the maidens whirled about them. On the stroke of one the dancers vanished and the knight sank to the ground, all but dead with fatigue. In the morning he was found by the kindly nuns, who
tended him carefully. But all their skill and attention were in vain; for Gerbert lived only long enough to tell of his adventure to the sisterhood. This done, he expired with the name of his beloved spirit-bride upon his lips.
Alchemy was a common pursuit in the Middle Ages. The poor followed it eagerly in the vain desire for gold; the rich spent their wealth in useless experiments, or showered it on worthless charlatans.
Thus it came about that Archbishop Werner of Falkenstein, owner of the grim fortress of Stolzenfels and a wealthy and powerful Churchman, was an amateur of the hermetic art, while his Treasurer, who was by no means rich, was also by way of being an alchemist. To indulge his passion for the bizarre science the latter had extracted many a golden piece from the coffers of his reverend master, always meaning, of course, to pay them back when the weary experiments should have crystallized into the coveted philosopher's stone. He had in his daughter Elizabeth a treasure which might well have outweighed the whole of the Archbishop's coffers, but the lust for gold had blinded the covetous Treasurer to all else.
One night--a wild, stormy night, when the wind tore shrieking round the battlements of Stolzenfels--there came to the gate a pilgrim, sombre of feature as of garb, with wicked, glinting eyes. The Archbishop was not at that time resident in the castle, but his Treasurer, hearing that the new-comer was learned in alchemical mysteries, bade him enter without delay. A room was made ready in one of the highest towers, and there the Treasurer and his pilgrim friend spent many days and nights. Elizabeth saw with dismay that a change was coming over her
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father. He was no longer gentle and kind, but morose and reserved, and he passed less time in her company than he was wont.
At length a courier arrived with tidings of the approach of the Archbishop, who was bringing some noble guests to the castle. To the dismay of his daughter, the Treasurer suddenly turned pale and, brushing aside her solicitous inquiries, fled to the mysterious chamber. Elizabeth followed, convinced that something had occurred to upset her father seriously. She was too late--the door was locked ere she reached it; but she could hear angry voices within, the voices of her father and the pilgrim. The Treasurer seemed to be uttering bitter reproaches, while ever and anon the deep, level voice of his companion could be heard.
"Bring hither a virgin," he said. "The heart's blood of a virgin is necessary to our schemes, as I have told thee many times. How can I give thee gold, and thou wilt not obey my instructions?"
"Villain!" cried the Treasurer, beside himself. "Thou hast taken my gold, thou hast made me take the gold of my master also for thy schemes. Wouldst thou have me shed innocent blood?"
"I tell thee again, without it our experiments are vain."
At that moment the door was flung open and the Treasurer emerged, too immersed in his anxious thoughts to perceive the shrinking form of Elizabeth. She, when he had gone from sight, entered the chamber where stood the pilgrim.
"I have heard thy conversation," she said, "and I am ready to give my life for my father's welfare. Tell me what I must do and I will slay me with mine own hand."
With covetous glance the pilgrim advanced and strove to take her hand, but she shrank back in loathing.
"Touch me not," she said, shuddering.
A look of malice overspread the pilgrim's averted face.
"Come hither at midnight, and at sunrise thy father will be rich and honoured," he said.
"Wilt thou swear it on the cross?"
"I swear it," he returned, drawing a little crucifix from his bosom, and speaking in solemn tones.
"Very well, I promise." And with that she withdrew.
When she had gone the alchemist pressed a spring in the crucifix, when a dagger fell out.
"Thou hast served me well," he said, chuckling. Then, replacing the crucifix in his breast, he entered the adjoining room, prised up a stone from the floor, and drew forth a leathern bag full of gold. This, then, was the crucible into which the Archbishop's pieces had gone. "I have found the secret of making gold," pursued the pilgrim. "To-morrow my wealth and I will be far away in safety. The fools, to seek gold in a crucible!"
Meanwhile preparations were afoot for the reception of the Archbishop. Elizabeth, full of grief and determination, supervised the work of the serving-maids, while her father anxiously wondered how he should account to his master for the stolen pieces of gold.
The Archbishop was loudly hailed on his arrival. He greeted his Treasurer kindly and asked after the pretty Elizabeth. When her father presented her he in turn introduced her to his guests, and many a glance of admiration was directed at the gentle maid. One young knight, in particular, was so smitten with her charms that he was dumb the whole evening.
When Elizabeth retired to her chamber her father bade her good-night. Hope had again arisen in his breast.
"To-morrow," he said, "my troubles will be over." Elizabeth sighed.
At length the hour of midnight arrived. Taking a lamp, the girl crossed the courtyard to where the alchemist awaited her coming. She was not unseen, however; the young knight had been watching her window, and he observed her pass through the courtyard with surprise. Fearing he knew not what harm to the maid he loved, he followed her to the pilgrim's apartment, and there watched her through a crack in the door.
The alchemist was bending over a crucible when Elizabeth entered.
"Ah, thou hast come," he said. "I hope thou art prepared to do as I bid thee? If that is so, I will restore the gold to thy father--his own gold and his master's. If thou art willing to sacrifice thine honour, thy father's honour shall be restored; if thy life, he shall have the money he needs."
"Away, wretch!" cried Elizabeth indignantly. "I will give my life for my father, but I will not suffer insult." With a shrug of his shoulders the alchemist turned to his crucible.
"As thou wilt," he said. "Prepare for the sacrifice."
Suddenly the kneeling maid caught up the alchemist's dagger and would have plunged it into her heart; but ere she could carry out her purpose the knight burst open the door, rushed into the room, and seized the weapon. Elizabeth, overcome with the relief which his opportune arrival afforded her, fainted in his arms.
While the young man frantically sought means to restore her the pilgrim seized the opportunity to escape, and
when the maid came to herself it was to find the wretch gone and herself supported by a handsome young knight, who was pouring impassioned speeches into her ear. His love and tenderness awakened an answering emotion in her heart, and that very night they were betrothed.
When the maiden's father was apprised of her recent peril he, too, was grateful to her deliverer, and yet more grateful when his future son-in-law pressed him to make use of his ample fortune.
The pilgrim was found drowned in the Rhine, and the bag of gold, which he had carried away in his belt, was handed over to the Archbishop, to whom the Treasurer confessed all.
And the good Archbishop, by way of confirming his forgiveness, gave a handsome present to Elizabeth on her marriage with the knight.
Maidens had curious ways of revenging themselves on unfaithful lovers in medieval times, as the following legend of Boppard would show.
Toward the end of the twelfth century there dwelt in Boppard a knight named Sir Conrad Bayer, brave, generous, and a good comrade, but not without his faults, as will be seen hereafter.
At that time many brave knights and nobles were fighting in the Third Crusade under Frederick the First and Richard Cœur-de-Lion; but Sir Conrad still remained at Boppard. He gave out that the reason for his remaining at home was to protect his stronghold against a horde of robbers who infested the neighbourhood. But there were those who ascribed his reluctance to depart to another cause. In a neighbouring fortress there lived a beautiful maiden,
[paragraph continues] Maria by name, who received a great deal of attention from Sir Conrad. So frequent were his visits to her home that rumour had it that the fair lady had won his heart. This indeed was the case, and she in return had given her love unreservedly into his keeping. But as her passion grew stronger his seemed to cool, and at length he began to make preparations to join the wars in Palestine, leaving the lady to lament his changed demeanour. In vain she pleaded, in vain she sent letters to him. At last he intimated plainly that he loved her no longer. He did not intend to marry, he said, adding cruelly that if he did she should not be the bride of his choice. The lady was completely crushed by the blow. Her affection for Sir Conrad perished, and in its place arose a desire to be revenged on the unfaithful knight. The fickle lover had completed his arrangements for his journey to the Holy Land, and all was ready for his departure. As he rode gaily down from his castle to where his men-at-arms waited on the shores of the Rhine, he was suddenly confronted by an armed knight, who reined in his steed and bade Sir Conrad halt.
"Hold, Sir Conrad Bayer," he cried. "Thou goest not hence till thou hast answered for thy misdeeds--thou false knight--thou traitor!"
Sir Conrad listened in astonishment. A moment later his attendants had surrounded the bold youth, and would have slain him had not Sir Conrad interfered.
"Back!" he said. "Let me face this braggart myself. Who art thou?" he added, addressing the young knight who had thus boldly challenged him.
"One who would have thy life!" was the fierce reply.
"Why should I slay thee, bold youth?" said Conrad, amused.
"I am the brother of Maria, whom thou hast betrayed," was the response. "I have come hither from Palestine to seek thy life. Have at thee, traitor!"
Conrad, somewhat sobered, and unwilling to do battle with such a boy, asked for further proof of his identity. The young knight thereupon displayed, blazoned on his shield, the arms of his house--a golden lion on an azure field.
Sir Conrad had no longer excuse for refusing to do battle with the youth, so with a muttered "Thy blood be upon thy head!" he laid his lance in rest and drew back a few paces. The stranger did likewise; then they rushed toward each other, and such was the force of their impact that both were unhorsed. Drawing their swords--for neither was injured--the knights resumed the conflict on foot. Conrad felt disgraced at having been unhorsed by a mere youth, and he was now further incensed by receiving a deep wound in his arm. Henceforth he fought in good earnest, showering blows on his antagonist, who fell at last, mortally wounded.
In obedience to the rules of chivalry, Sir Conrad hastened to assist his vanquished foe. What was his surprise, his horror, when, on raising the head and unlacing the helm of the knight, he found that his adversary was none other than Maria!
"Conrad," she said in failing tones, "I also am to blame. Without thy love life was nothing to me, and I resolved to die by thy hand. Forget my folly, remember only that I loved thee. Farewell!" And with these words she expired. Conrad flung himself down by her side, convulsed with grief and remorse. From that hour a change came over him. Ere he set out to the Holy Land he caused the body of Maria to be interred on the summit of the Kreuzberg,
and bestowed the greater part of his estates on a pious brotherhood, enjoining them to raise a nunnery over the tomb. Thus was the convent of Marienberg founded, and in time it came to be one of the richest and most celebrated on the Rhine.
Arrived in Palestine, Conrad became a Knight-Templar, fighting bravely and utterly oblivious to all danger. It was not until Acre had been won, however, that death met him. An arrow dispatched by an unknown hand found its quarry as he was walking the ramparts at night meditating on the lady he had slain and whose death had restored her to a place in his affections.
Near the famous monastery of Bornhofen, and not far from the town of Camp, supposed to be an ancient Roman site, are the celebrated castles of Liebenstein and Sterrenberg, called 'the Brothers,' perhaps because of their contiguity to each other rather than through the legend connected with the name. History is practically silent concerning these towers, which occupy two steep crags united by a small isthmus which has partially been cut through. Sterrenberg lies nearest the north, Liebenstein to the south. A wooden bridge leads from one to the other, but a high wall called the Schildmauer was in the old days reared between them, obviously with the intention of cutting off communication. The legend has undoubtedly become sophisticated by literary influences, and was so altered by one Joseph Kugelgen as to change its purport entirely. It is the modern version of the legend we give here, in contradistinction to that given in the chapter on the Folklore and Literature of the Rhine (see pp. 84 et seq.).
Heinrich and Conrad were the sons of Kurt, a brave knight who had retired from the wars, and now dwelt in his ancestral castle Liebenstein. The brothers were alike in all matters pertaining to arms and chivalry. But otherwise they differed, for Heinrich, the elder, was quiet and more given to the arts of peace; whereas Conrad was gay, and inclined to like fighting for fighting's sake.
Brought up along with them was Hildegarde, a relative and an orphan, whom the brothers believed to be their sister. On reaching manhood, however, their father told them the truth concerning her, expressing the wish that one of them should marry the maiden.
Nothing loath, both brothers wooed Hildegarde, but Conrad's ardent, impulsive nature triumphed over Heinrich's reserved and more steadfast affection. In due course preparations were made for the marriage festival, and a new castle, Sterrenberg, was raised for the young couple adjacent to Liebenstein. Heinrich found it hard to be a constant witness of his brother's happiness, so he set out for the Holy Land. Soon after his departure the old knight became ill, and died on the day that the new castle was completed. This delayed the marriage for a year, and as the months passed Conrad became associated with loose companions, and his love for Hildegarde weakened.
Meantime news came that Heinrich had performed marvellous deeds in the Holy Land, and the tidings inflamed Conrad's zeal. He, too, determined to join the Crusades, and was soon on the way to Palestine.
However, he did not, like his brother, gain renown--for
he had not the same incentive to reckless bravery--and he soon returned. He was again to prove himself more successful in love than in war, for at Constantinople, having fallen passionately in love with a beautiful Greek lady, he married her.
One day Hildegarde was sitting sorrowful in her chamber, when she beheld travellers with baggage moving into the empty Sterrenberg. Greatly astonished, she sent her waiting-maid to make inquiries, and learned to her sorrow that it was the returning Conrad, who came bringing with him a Greek wife. Conrad avoided Liebenstein, and Sterrenberg became gay with feasting and music.
Late one evening a knight demanded lodging at Liebenstein and was admitted. The stranger was Heinrich, who, hearing about his brother's shameful marriage, had returned to the grief-stricken Hildegarde.
After he had rested Heinrich sent a message to his brother reproaching him with unknightly behaviour, and challenging him to mortal combat. The challenge was accepted and the combatants met on the passage separating the two castles. But as they faced each other, sword in hand, a veiled female figure stepped between them and bade them desist.
It was Hildegarde, who had recognized Heinrich and learned his intention. In impassioned tones she urged the young men not to be guilty of the folly of shedding each other's blood in such a cause, and declared that it was her firm intention to spend her remaining days in a convent. The brothers submitted themselves to her persuasion and became reconciled. Some time afterward Conrad's wife proved her unworthiness by eloping with a young knight, thus killing her husband's love for her, and at the same time opening his eyes to his own base conduct. Bitterly
now did he reproach himself for his unfaithfulness to Hildegarde, who, alas! was now lost to him for ever.
Hildegarde remained faithful to her vows, and Heinrich and Conrad lived together till at last death separated them.
Near the town of St. Goar, at the foot of the Rheinfels, there stands a little cell, once the habitation of a pious hermit known as St. Goar, and many are the local traditions which tell of the miracles wrought by this good man, and the marvellous virtues retained by his shrine after his death. He settled on Rhenish shores, we are told, about the middle of the sixth century, and thenceforward devoted his life to the service of the rude people among whom his lot was cast. His first care was to instruct them in the Christian faith, but he was also mindful of their welfare in temporal matters, and gave his services freely to the sick and sorrowful, so that ere long he came to be regarded as a saint. When he was not employed in prayer and ministrations he watched the currents of the Rhine, and was ever willing to lend his aid to distressed mariners who had been caught by the Sand Gewirr, a dangerous eddy which was too often the death of unwary boatmen in these parts.
Thus he spent an active and cheerful life, far from the envy and strife of the world, for which he had no taste whatever. Nevertheless the fame of his good deeds had reached the high places of the earth. Sigebert, who at that time held his court at Andernach, heard of the piety and noble life of the hermit, and invited him to his palace. St. Goar accepted the invitation--or, rather, obeyed the command--and made his way to Andernach. He was
well received by the monarch, whom his genuine holiness and single-mindedness greatly impressed. But pure as he was, the worthy Goar was not destined to escape calumny. There were at the court of Sigebert other ecclesiastics of a less exalted type, and these were filled with envy and indignation when they beheld the favours bestowed upon the erstwhile recluse. Foremost among his persecutors was the Archbishop of Treves, and with him Sigebert dealt in summary fashion, depriving him of his archbishopric and offering the see to St. Goar. The latter, however, was sick of the perpetual intrigues and squabblings of the court, and longed to return to the shelter of his mossy cell and the sincere friendship of the poor fishermen among whom his mission lay. So he refused the proffered dignity and informed the monarch of his desire to return home. As he stood in the hall of the palace preparing to take his leave, he threw his cloak over a sunbeam, and, strange to say, the garment was suspended as though the shaft of light were solid. This, we are told, was not a mere piece of bravado, but was done to show that the saint's action in refusing the see was prompted by divine inspiration.
When St. Goar died Sigebert caused a chapel to be erected over his grave, choosing from among his disciples two worthy monks to officiate. Other hermits took up their abode near the spot, and all were subsequently gathered together in a monastery. The grave of the solitary became a favourite shrine, to which pilgrims travelled from all quarters, and St. Goar became the patron saint of hospitality, not so much personally as through the monastery of which he was the patron, and one of whose rules was that no stranger should be denied hospitality for a certain period.
A goodly number of stories are told of his somewhat drastic treatment of those who passed by his shrine without bringing an offering--stories which may be traced to the monks who dwelt there, and who reaped the benefit of these offerings.
Here is one of those tales concerning the great Karl. On one occasion while he was travelling from Ingelheim to Aix-la-Chapelle, by way of Coblentz, he passed the shrine of St. Goar without so much as a single thought. Nor did those who accompanied him give the saint more attention. It was the height of summer, everything was bright and beautiful, and as the Emperor's flotilla drifted lazily down the Rhine the sound of laughter and light jesting could be heard.
No sooner had the Emperor and his courtiers passed St. Goar, however, than the smiling sky became overcast, heavy clouds gathered, and the distant sound of thunder was heard. A moment more and they were in the midst of a raging storm; water surged and boiled all around, and darkness fell so thickly that scarce could one see another's face. Panic reigned supreme where all had been gaiety and merriment.
In vain the sailors strove to reach the shore; in vain the ladies shrieked and the Emperor and his nobles lent their aid to the seamen. All the exertions of the sailors would not suffice to move the vessels one foot nearer the shore. At length an old boatman who had spent the greater part of a lifetime on the Rhine approached the Emperor and addressed him thus:
"Sire, our labours are useless. We have offended God and St. Goar."
The words were repeated by the Emperor's panic-stricken train, who now saw that the storm was of miraculous origin. "Let us go ashore," said Charlemagne in an awed voice. "In the name of God and St. Goar, let us go ashore. We will pray at the shrine of the saint that he may help us make peace with Heaven."
Scarcely had he uttered the words ere the sky began to clear, the boiling water subsided to its former glassy smoothness, and the storm was over. The illustrious company landed and sought the shrine of the holy man, where they spent the rest of the day in prayer.
Ere they departed on the following morning Charlemagne and his court presented rich offerings at the shrine, and the Emperor afterward endowed the monastery with lands of great extent, by which means it is to be hoped that he succeeded in propitiating the jealous saint.
One more tale of St. Goar may be added, dealing this time with Charlemagne's sons, Pepin and Karloman. These two, brave knights both, had had a serious quarrel over the sovereignty of their father's vast Empire. Gradually the breach widened to a deadly feud, and the brothers, once the best of friends, became the bitterest enemies.
In 806 Charlemagne held an Imperial Diet at Thionville, and thither he summoned his three sons, Karloman, Pepin, and Ludwig, intending to divide the Empire, by testament, among them. Karloman was at that time in Germany, and Pepin in Italy, where, with the aid of his sword, he had won for himself broad lands. In order to reach Thionville both were obliged to take the same path--that is, the Rhine, the broad waterway of their father's dominions. Pepin was the first to come,
and as he sailed up the river with his train he caught sight of the shrine of St. Goar, and bethought him that there he and his brother had last met as friends. As he pondered on the strange fate that had made enemies of them, once so full of kindness toward each other, he felt curiously moved, and decided to put ashore and kneel by the shrine of the saint.
Ere long Karloman and his train moved up the Rhine, and this prince also, when he beheld the shrine of St. Goar, was touched with a feeling of tenderness for his absent brother. Recollections of the time when Pepin and he had been inseparable surged over him, and he too stepped ashore and made his way through the wood to the sacred spot.
Meanwhile Pepin still knelt before the shrine, and great indeed was Karloman's astonishment when he beheld his brother. But when he heard Pepin pray aloud that they might be reconciled his joy and surprise knew no bounds. All armed as he was, he strode up to his kneeling brother and embraced him with tears, entreating his forgiveness for past harshnesses. When Pepin raised the prince's visor and beheld the beloved features of Karloman, his happiness was complete. Together the brothers made for their ships; not, however, till they had left valuable gifts at the shrine of the saint whose good offices had brought about their reconciliation. Together they proceeded to the court of Charlemagne, who partitioned his Empire between his three sons, making each a regent of his portion during his father's lifetime.
From that time onward the brothers were fast friends. Karloman and Pepin, however, had not long to live, for the former died in 810 and the latter in the following year.
A very charming story, and one entirely lacking in the element of gloom and tragedy which is so marked a feature of most Rhenish tales, is that which tradition assigns to the castle of Gutenfels. Its ancient name of Caub, or Chaube, still clings to the town above which it towers majestically.
In the thirteenth century Caub was the habitation of Sir Philip of Falkenstein and his sister Guta, the latter justly acclaimed as the most beautiful woman in Germany. She was reputed as proud as she was beautiful, and of the many suitors who flocked to Caub to seek her hand in marriage none could win from her a word of encouragement or even a tender glance.
On one occasion she and her brother were present at a great tourney held at Cologne, where the flower of knightly chivalry and maidenly beauty were gathered in a brilliant assembly. Many an ardent glance was directed to the fair maid of Caub, but she, accustomed to such homage, was not moved thereby from her wonted composure.
At length a commotion passed through the assembly. A knight had entered the lists whose name was not announced by the herald. It was whispered that his identity was known only to the Archbishop, whose guest he was. Of fine stature and handsome features, clad in splendid armour and mounted on a richly caparisoned steed, he attracted not a little attention, especially from the feminine portion of the assemblage. But for none of the high-born ladies had he eyes, save for Guta, to whom his glance was ever and anon directed, as though he looked to her to bring him victory. The blushing looks of Guta showed that she was not indifferent to the gallantry of the noble
stranger, and, truly, in her heart she wished him well. With clasped hands she watched the combatants couch their lances and charge. Ah! victory had fallen to the unknown knight. Soon it became evident that the mysterious stranger was to carry off the prize of the tourney, for there was none to match him in skill and prowess. As he rode past the place where Guta sat he lowered his lance, and she, in her pleasure and confusion at this mark of especial courtesy, dropped her glove, which the knight instantly picked up, desiring to be allowed to keep it as a guerdon.
At the grand ball which followed the tourney the victor remained all the evening at Guta's side, and would dance with no other maiden. Young Falkenstein, pleased with the homage paid to his sister by the distinguished stranger, invited him to visit them at Caub, an invitation which the gentle Guta seconded, and which the mysterious knight accepted with alacrity.
True to his promise, ere a week had elapsed he arrived at Caub, accompanied by two attendants. His visit covered three days, during which time his host and hostess did all in their power to make his stay a pleasant one. Ere he took his departure he sought out Guta and made known his love. The lady acknowledged that his affection was returned.
"Dearest Guta," said the knight, "I may not yet reveal to thee my name, but if thou wilt await my coming, in three months I shall return to claim my bride, and thou shalt know all."
"I will be true to thee," exclaimed Guta passionately. "Though a king should woo me, I will be true to thee."
And with that assurance from his betrothed the knight rode away.
Three months came and went, and still Guta heard
nothing of her absent lover. She grew paler and sadder as time advanced, not because she doubted the honour of her knight, but because she feared he had been slain in battle. It was indeed a time of wars and dissensions. On the death of Conrad IV several claimants to the imperial throne of Germany made their appearance, of whom the principal were Adolph, Duke of Holland, Richard, Earl of Cornwall, brother to the English king Henry III, and Alfonso X, King of Castile. Of these three the most popular was Richard of Cornwall, who was finally chosen by the Electors, more on account of his knightly qualities than because of his fabulous wealth. Among his most ardent followers was Philip of Falkenstein, who was naturally much elated at his master's success. Now, however, the conflict was over, and Philip had returned to Caub.
One morning, about six months after the departure of Guta's lover, a gay cavalcade appeared at the gates of Caub, and a herald demanded admission for Richard, Emperor of Germany. Philip himself, scarcely concealing his joy and pride at the honour done him by his sovereign, ran out to greet him, and the castle was full of stir and bustle. The Emperor praised Philip heartily for his part in the recent wars, yet he seemed absent and uneasy.
"Sir Philip," he said at length, "I have come hither to beg the hand of thy fair sister; why is she not with us?"
Falkenstein was filled with amazement.
"Sire," he stammered, "I fear me thou wilt find my sister an unwilling bride. She has refused many nobles of high estate, and I doubt whether even a crown will tempt her. However, I will plead with her for thy sake."
He left the room to seek Guta's bower, but soon returned with dejected mien.
"It is as I thought, sire," he said. "She will not be moved. Methinks some heedless knight hath stolen her heart, for she hath grown pale and drooping as a gathered blossom."
Richard raised his visor.
"Knowest thou me, sir knight?" he said.
"Thou art--the knight of the tourney," cried Philip in amaze.
"The same," answered Richard, smiling. "And I am the knight who has won thy fair sister's heart. We plighted our troth after the tourney of Cologne. State affairs of the gravest import have kept me from her side, where I would fain have been these six months past. Take this token"--drawing from his breast the glove Guta had given him--"and tell her that a poor knight in Richard's train sends her this."
In a little while Philip returned with his sister. The maiden looked pale and agitated, but when she beheld Richard she rushed to him and was clasped in his arms.
"My own Guta," he whispered fondly. "And wouldst thou refuse an emperor to marry me?"
"Yea, truly," answered the maid, "a hundred emperors. I feared thou hadst forsaken me altogether," she added naively.
"Would I be a worthy Emperor an I did not keep my troth with such as thou?" he asked.
"The Emperor--thou?" cried Guta, starting back.
"Yea, the Emperor, and none other," said her brother reverently. And once more Guta hid her face on Richard's breast.
Within a week they were married, and Guta accompanied her husband to the court as Empress of Germany.
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She rushed to him and was clasped in his arms 182
To the castle where his bride had passed her maidenhood Richard gave the name of Gutenfels--'Rock of Guta'--which name it has retained to this day.
The castle of Schönburg, not far from the town of Bacharach, is now in ruins, but was once a place of extraordinary fame, for here dwelt at one time seven sisters of transcendent beauty, who were courted the more assiduously because their father, the Graf von Schönburg, was reputed a man of great wealth. This wealth was no myth, but an actuality, and in truth it had been mainly acquired in predatory forays; but the nobles of Rhineland recked little of this, and scores of them flitted around and pressed their suit on the young ladies. None of these, however, felt inclined toward marriage just yet, each vowing its yoke too galling; and so the gallants came in vain to the castle, their respective addresses being invariably dallied with and then dismissed. Suitor after suitor retired in despair, pondering on the strange ways of womankind; but one evening a large party of noblemen chanced to be assembled at the schloss, and putting their heads together, they decided to press matters to a conclusion. They agreed that all of them, in gorgeous raiment, should gather in the banqueting-hall of the castle; the seven sisters should be summoned and called upon in peremptory fashion to have done with silken dalliance and to end matters by selecting seven husbands from among them. The young ladies received the summons with some amusement, all of them being blessed with the saving grace of humour, and they bade the knight who had brought the message return to his fellows and tell them that the suggested interview would be held. "Only give us time,"
said the sisters, "for the donning of our most becoming dresses."
So now the band of suitors mustered, and a brave display they made, each of them thinking himself more handsome and gorgeous than his neighbours and boasting that he would be among the chosen seven. But as time sped on and the ladies still tarried, the young men began to grow anxious; many of them spoke aloud of female vanity, and made derisive comments on the coiffing and the like, which they imagined was the cause of the delay; eventually one of their number, tired of strutting before a mirror, happened to go to look out of the window toward the Rhine. Suddenly he uttered a loud imprecation, and his companions, thronging to the window, were all fiercely incensed at the sight which greeted their eyes. For the famous seven sisters were perpetrating something of a practical joke; they were leaving the castle in a boat, and on perceiving the men's faces at the windows they gave vent to a loud laugh of disdain. Hardly had the angry suitors realized that they were the butt of the ladies' ridicule when they were seized with consternation. For one of the sisters, in the attempt to shake her fist at the men she affected to despise, tried to stand up on one of the thwarts of the boat, which, being a light craft, was upset at once. The girls' taunts were now changed to loud cries for help, none being able to swim; but ere another boat could be launched the Rhine had claimed its prey, and the perfidious damsels were drowned in the swift tide.
But their memory was not destined to be erased from the traditions of the locality. Near the place where the tragedy occurred there are seven rocks, visible only on rare occasions when the river is very low, and till lately
it was a popular superstition that these rocks were placed there by Providence, anxious to impart a moral to young women addicted to coquetry and practical jests. To this day many boatmen on the Rhine regard these rocks with awe, and it is told that now and then seven wraiths are to be seen there; it is even asserted that sometimes these apparitions sing in strains as delectable as those of the Lorelei herself.
Musing on the legendary lore of the Rhine, we cannot but be struck by the sadness pervading these stories, and we are inclined to believe that every one of them culminates in tragedy. But there are a few exceptions to this rule, and among them is a tale associated with the island of Pfalz, near Bacharach, which concludes in fairly happy fashion, if in the main concerned with suffering.
This island of Pfalz still contains the ruins of a castle, known as Pfalzgrafenstein. It belonged in medieval days to the Palatine Princes, and at the time our story opens one of these, named Hermann, having suspected his wife, the Princess Guba, of infidelity, had lately caused her to be incarcerated within it. Its governor, Count von Roth, was charged to watch the prisoner's movements carefully; but, being sure she was innocent, his measures with her were generally lenient, while his countess soon formed a deep friendship for the Princess. Thus it seemed to Guba that her captivity was not destined to be so terrible as she had anticipated, but she was soon disillusioned, as will appear presently. It should be explained that as yet the Princess had borne no children to her husband, whose heir-apparent was consequently his brother Ludwig; and this person naturally tried to prevent a reconciliation
between the Palatine Prince and his wife, for should they be united again, Ludwig's hope to succeed his brother might be frustrated. So he was a frequent visitor to the Pfalzgrafenstein, constantly telling von Roth that he allowed the Princess too much liberty. Worse still, Ludwig sometimes remained at the island castle for a long time, and at these periods the prisoner underwent constant ill-treatment, which the Governor was powerless to alleviate.
The people of the neighbourhood felt kindly toward Guba, but their sympathy was of little avail; and at length during one of Ludwig's visits to Pfalzgrafenstein it seemed as though he was about to triumph and effect a final separation between the Princess and Hermann. For it transpired one evening that Guba was not within the castle. A hue and cry was instantly raised, and the island was searched by Ludwig and von Roth. "I wager," said Ludwig, "that at this very moment Guba is with her paramour. Let my brother the Prince hear of this, and your life will answer for it. Often have I urged you to be stricter; you see now the result of your leniency."
Von Roth protested that the Princess was taking the air alone; but while they argued the pair espied Guba, and it was as Ludwig had said--she was attended by a man.
"The bird is snared," shouted Ludwig; and as he and von Roth ran toward the offending couple they separated instantly, the man making for a boat moored hard by. But ere he could reach it he was caught by his pursuers, and recognized for a certain young gallant of the district. He was dragged to the castle, where after a brief trial he was condemned to be hanged. He blanched on hearing the sentence, but faced his fate manfully, and when the rope was about his neck he declared loudly that Guba
had always discouraged his addresses and was innocent of the sin wherewith she was charged.
Guba's movements thenceforth were watched more strictly for a while, yet she seemed to grow more cheerful, while one day she even asserted that she would soon be reconciled to her husband, from whom she had now been estranged for six months. In short, she announced that she was soon to be a mother; while she was confident that the child would resemble the Palatine Prince, and that the latter's delight on finding himself a father would result in the ending of all her troubles. The Governor and his lady were both doubtful as to the parentage of the child, remembering the recent circumstances which had seemed to cast some shadow upon the Princess herself; yet they held their peace, awaiting until in due course the Princess was delivered of a boy. But, alack! the child bore no resemblance to Hermann; and so von Roth and his wife, meaning to be kind, enjoined silence and sent the child away--all of which was the more easily accomplished as the spiteful Ludwig chanced to be far distant at the time.
At first the mother was broken-hearted, but the Governor and his wife comforted her by saying that the child was no farther off than a castle on the opposite banks of the Rhine. Here, they assured her, he would be well nurtured; moreover, they had arranged that, so long as her son was alive and thriving, the fact was to be signified to her by the display of a small white flag on the battlements of his lodging. And so, day after day, the anxious mother paced her island prison, looking constantly toward the signal which meant so much to her.
Many years went by in this fashion, and in course of time Hermann was gathered to his fathers, and Ludwig ascended the Palatine throne. But scarcely was his rule begun ere it
was noised abroad that he was a usurper, for a young man appeared who claimed to be the son of Hermann, and therefore the rightful heir. Now, most of the people detested Ludwig, and when they marked the claimant's resemblance to the deceased Prince a number of them banded themselves together to set him upon the throne.
A fierce civil war ensued, many of the nobles forsaking Ludwig for his rival, who, like the late Prince, bore the name of Hermann; and though at first it seemed doubtful which party was to triumph, eventually Ludwig was worsted, and was hanged for his perfidy. The tidings spread throughout the Rhineland, and one day a body of men-at-arms came to Pfalzgrafenstein and informed von Roth that his prisoner was to be freed at once and was to repair to the Palatine court, there to take up her rightful position as Queen-Dowager. Guba was amazed on hearing this news, for she had long since ceased to hope that her present mode of life would be altered, and asking to be presented to the chief messenger that she might question him, she suddenly experienced a yet greater surprise. . . . Yes! her son had come in person to liberate her; and von Roth and his wife, as they witnessed the glad union, were convinced at last of Guba's innocence, for the young man who clasped her to his bosom had changed wondrously since his childhood, and was now indeed the living image of his father. For some minutes the mother wept with joy, but when her son bade her make ready for instant departure she replied that she had lost all desire for the stately life of a court. Pfalzgrafenstein, she declared, had become truly a part of her life, so here she would end her days. She had not long to live, she added, and what greater pleasure could she have than the knowledge that her son was alive and well, and was ruling his people wisely?
And so Guba remained at the island, a prison no longer; and daily she paced by the swirling stream, often gazing toward the castle where her son had been nurtured, and meditating on the time when she was wont to look there for the white flag which meant so much to her anxious heart.
High above the Rhine tower the ruins of Fürstenberg, and more than one legend clings to the ancient pile, linking it with stirring medieval times.
Perhaps the most popular of these traditions is that which tells of the Phantom Mother of Fürstenberg, a tale full of pathos and tragedy.
In the thirteenth century there dwelt in the castle a nobleman, Franz von Fürst by name, who, after a wild and licentious youth, settled down to a more sober and serious manhood. His friends, surprised at the change which had taken place in him, and anxious that this new mode of life should be maintained, urged him to take a virtuous maiden to wife. Such a bride as they desired for him was found in Kunigunda von Flörsheim, a maiden who was as beautiful as she was high-born.
For a time after their marriage all went well, and Franz and his young wife seemed quite happy. Moreover, in time a son was born to them, of whom his father seemed to be very proud. The Baron's reformation, said his friends, was complete.
One evening there came to Kunigunda a young lady friend. The girl, whose name was Amina, was the daughter of a robber-baron who dwelt in a neighbouring castle. But his predatory acts had at last forced him to flee for his life, and no one knew whither he had gone. His household
was broken up, and Amina, finding herself without a home, had now repaired to Fürstenberg to seek refuge. Kunigunda, ever willing to aid those in distress, extended a hearty welcome to the damsel, and Amina was henceforth an inmate of the schloss.
Now, though Amina was fully as lovely in face and form as her young hostess, she yet lacked the moral beauty of Kunigunda. Of a subtle and crafty disposition, she showed the gratitude of the serpent by stinging the hand extended to help her; in a word, she set herself to win the unlawful affections of the Lord of Fürstenberg. He, weak creature as he was, allowed the latent baseness of his nature to be stirred by her youth and beauty. He listened when she whispered that Kunigunda had grown cold toward him; at her suggestion he interpreted his wife's modest demeanour as indifference, and already he began to feel the yoke of matrimony heavy upon him.
Poor Kunigunda was in despair when she realized that her husband had transferred his affections; but what was worse, she learned that the pair were plotting against her life. At length their cruel scheming succeeded, and one morning Kunigunda was found dead in her bed. Franz made it known that she had been stifled by a fit of coughing, and her remains were hastily conveyed to the family vault. Within a week the false Amina was the bride of the Baron von Fürstenberg.
Little Hugo, the son of Kunigunda, was to suffer much at the hands of his stepmother and her dependents. The new mistress of the Schloss Fürstenberg hated the child as she had hated his mother, and Hugo was given into the charge of an ill-natured old nurse, who frequently beat him in the night because he awakened her with his cries.
One night the old hag was roused from her sleep by a
strange sound, the sound of a cradle being rocked. She imagined herself dreaming. Who would come to this distant tower to rock the little Hugo? Not Amina, of that she was sure! Again the sound was heard, unmistakably the creaking of the cradle. Drawing aside her bed-curtains, the crone beheld a strange sight. Over the cradle a woman was bending, clad in long, white garments, and singing a low lullaby, and as she raised her pale face, behold! it was that of the dead Kunigunda. The nurse could neither shriek nor faint; as though fascinated, she watched the wraith nursing her child, until at cockcrow Kunigunda vanished.
In trembling tones the nurse related what she had seen to Franz and Amina. The Baron was scornful, and ridiculed the whole affair as a dream. But the cunning Amina, though she did not believe that a ghost had visited the child, thought that perhaps her rival was not really dead, and her old hatred and jealousy were reawakened. So she told her husband that she intended to see for herself whether there was any truth in the fantastic story, and would sleep that night in the nurse's bed. She did not mention her suspicions, nor the fact that she carried a sharp dagger. She was roused in the night, as the old woman had been, by the sound of a cradle being rocked. Stealthily drawing the curtains, she saw the white-robed form of the dead, the black mould clinging to her hair, the hue of death in her face. With a wild cry Amina flung herself upon Kunigunda, only to find that she was stabbing at a thing of air, an impalpable apparition which vanished at a touch. Overcome with rage and fear, she sank to the ground. The wraith moved to the door, turning with a warning gesture ere she vanished from sight, and Amina lost consciousness.
In the morning the Baron sought his wife in vain. He found instead a missive telling of her ghastly experience, intimating her intention of retiring to a nunnery, and closing with an earnest appeal to her husband to repent of his crimes.
The Baron, moved with remorse and terror, followed Amina's example; he sought in the mountain solitudes a hermitage where he might end his days in peace, and having found such a cell, he confided his little son to the care of the pastor of Wedenschied, and retired from the world in which he had played so sorry a part.
Another legend connected with the ruined stronghold of Fürstenberg is the following. Long ago, in the days when bitter feuds and rivalries existed between the owners of neighbouring fortresses, there dwelt in Fürstenberg a good old knight, Sir Oswald by name, well versed in the arts of war, and particularly proficient in archery. He had one son, Edwin, a handsome young man who bade fair to equal his father in skill and renown.
Sir Oswald had a sworn foe in a neighbouring baron, Wilm von Sooneck, a rich, unscrupulous nobleman who sought by every possible means to get the knight into his power. At length his cunning schemes met with success; an ambush was laid for the unsuspecting Oswald as he rode past Sooneck Castle, attended only by a groom, and both he and his servant were flung into a tower, there to await the pleasure of their captor.
And what that nobleman's pleasure was soon became evident. Ere many days had elapsed Oswald was informed that his eyes were to be put out, and soon the cruel decree was carried into execution.
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Schloss Sooneck 192
Meanwhile Edwin awaited the coming of his father; and when he came not it was at first concluded that he had been captured or slain by robbers. But there were no evidences forthcoming to show that Sir Oswald had met with such a fate, and his son began to suspect that his father had fallen into the hands of Baron Wilm, for he knew of the bitter hatred which he bore toward the knight of Fürstenberg and of his cunning and malice. He therefore cast about for a means of verifying his suspicions, and eventually disguised himself as a wandering minstrel, took his harp--for he had great skill as a musician--and set off in the direction of Sooneck. There he seated himself under a tree and played and sang sweetly, directing his gaze the while toward a strong tower which seemed to him a likely place for the incarceration of prisoners. The plaintive charm of the melody attracted the attention of a passing peasant, who drew near to listen; when the last note of the song had died away, he seated himself beside the minstrel and entered into conversation with him.
"Methinks thou hast an interest in yonder tower," he said.
"In truth it interests me," responded Edwin, nevertheless veiling his concern as much as possible by a seeming indifference. "Is it a prison, think you?"
"Ay, that it is," replied the peasant with a laugh. "’Tis the cage where my lord of Sooneck keeps the birds whose feathers he has plucked."
Edwin, still with a show of indifference, questioned him further, and elicited the fact that the peasant had witnessed the capture and incarceration in the tower of a knight and his servant on the very day when Sir Oswald and his groom had disappeared. Nothing more could
[paragraph continues] Edwin glean, save that a few days hence Baron Wilm was to give a grand banquet, when many nobles and knights were to be present.
The young man, his suspicions thus fully confirmed, felt that his next move must be to gain entrance to the castle, and he decided to take advantage of the excitement and bustle attendant on the banquet to achieve this end. Accordingly, on the day fixed for the feast he again donned his minstrel's garb, and repaired to the Schloss Sooneck. Here, as he had anticipated, all was excitement and gaiety. Wine flowed freely, tongues were loosened, and the minstrel was welcomed uproariously and bidden to sing his best songs in return for a beaker of Rhenish. Soon the greater part of the company were tipsy, and Edwin moved among them, noting their conversation, coming at length to the seat of the host.
"It is said," remarked a knight, "that you have captured Sir Oswald of Fürstenberg."
Wilm, to whom the remark was addressed, smiled knowingly and did not deny the charge.
"I have even heard," pursued his companion, "that you have had his eyes put out."
The Baron laughed outright, as at an excellent jest.
"Then you have heard truly," he said.
At this point another knight broke into the conversation. "It is a pity," said he. "There are but few archers to match Oswald of Fürstenberg."
"I wager he can still hit a mark if it be set up," said he who had first spoken.
"Done!" cried Sooneck, and when the terms of the wager had been fixed the Baron directed that Oswald should be brought from the tower.
Edwin had overheard the conversation with a breaking
heart, and grief and shame almost overwhelmed him when he saw his father, pitifully quiet and dignified, led into the banquet-hall to provide sport for a company of drunken revellers. Oswald was informed of the wager, and bow and arrows were placed in his hands.
"Baron von Sooneck," he cried, "where is the mark?"
"This cup I place upon the table," came the reply.
The arrow was fitted to the bow, released, and lo! it was not the cup which was hit, but the Lord of Sooneck, who fell forward heavily, struck to the heart and mortally wounded.
In a moment a loud outcry was raised, but ere action could be taken the minstrel had sprung in front of Oswald, and boldly faced the assembly.
"This knight," he cried, "shamefully maltreated by yonder villain, is my father. Whoso thinks he has acted wrongly in forfeiting the life of his torturer shall answer to me. With my sword I shall teach him better judgment."
The astonished knights, completely sobered by the tragic occurrence, could not but admire the courage of the lad who thus boldly championed his father, and with one voice they declared that Sir Oswald was a true knight and had done justly.
So the blind knight, once more free, returned to his castle of Fürstenberg, compensated in part for the loss of his sight by the loving devotion of his son.
Centuries ago the castles of Rheinstein and Reichenstein frowned at each other from neighbouring eminences. But far from being hostile, they were the residences of two lovers. Kuno of Reichenstein loved the fair Gerda of Rheinstein with a consuming passion, and, as is so
common with lovers in all ages, doubted whether his love were returned. In his devotion for the maiden he showered on her many gifts, and although his purse was light and he was master of only a single tower, he did not spare his gold if only he could make her happy and gain from her one look of approval.
On one occasion he presented to her a beauteous horse of the Limousin strain, bred under the shadow of his own castle. Deep-chested, with arched neck and eye of fire, the noble steed aroused the liveliest interest in the breast of Gerda, and she was eloquent in her thanks to the giver until, observing his ardent glances, her cheeks suffused with blushes. Taking her soft hand between his sunburnt palms, Kuno poured into her ear the story of his love.
"Gerda," he whispered, "I am a poor man. I have nothing but my sword, my ruined tower yonder, and honour. But they are yours. Will you take them with my heart?"
She lifted her blue eyes to his, full of truth and trust. "I will be yours," she murmured; "yours and none other's till death."
Young Kuno left Rheinstein that afternoon, his heart beating high with hope and happiness. The blood coursing through his veins at a gallop made him spur his charger to a like pace. But though he rode fast his brain was as busy as his hand and his heart. He must, in conformity with Rhenish custom, send as an embassy to Gerda's father one of his most distinguished relations. To whom was he to turn? There was no one but old Kurt, his wealthy uncle, whom he could send as an emissary, and although the old man had an unsavoury reputation, he decided to confide the mission to him. Kurt undertook the task in no kindly spirit, for he
disliked Kuno because of his virtuous life and the circumstance that he was his heir, whom he felt was waiting to step into his shoes. However, he waited next day upon Gerda's father, the Lord of Rheinstein, and was received with all the dignity suitable to his rank and age. But when his glance rested upon the fair and innocent Gerda, such a fierce desire to make her his arose in his withered breast that when she had withdrawn he demanded her hand for himself. To her father he drew an alluring picture of his rank, his possessions, his castles, his gold, until the old man, with whom avarice was a passion, gave a hearty consent to his suit, and dismissed him with the assurance that Gerda would be his within the week.
The clatter of hoofs had hardly died away when the Lord of Rheinstein sought his daughter's bower, where she sat dreaming of Kuno. In honeyed words the old man described the enviable position she would occupy as the spouse of a wealthy man, and then conveyed to her the information that Kurt had asked him for her hand. Gerda, insulted at the mere thought of becoming the bride of such a man, refused to listen to the proposal, even from the lips of her father, and she acquainted him with her love for Kuno, whom, she declared, she had fully resolved to marry. At this avowal her father worked himself into a furious passion, and assured her that she should never be the bride of such a penniless adventurer. After further insulting the absent Kuno, and alluding in a most offensive manner to his daughter's lack of discernment and good taste, he quitted her bower, assuring her as he went that she should become the bride of Kurt on the morrow.
Gerda spent a miserable night sitting by the dying fire in her chamber, planning how she might escape from the detested Kurt, until at last her wearied brain refused to
work and she fell into a troubled slumber. In the morning she was awakened by her handmaiden, who, greatly concerned for her mistress, had spent the night in prayer. But Gerda's tears had fled with the morning, and she resolved, come what might, to refuse to the last to wed with the hateful Kurt. She learned that Kuno had attempted to assault the castle during the night with the object of carrying her off, but that he had been repulsed with some loss to his small force. This made her only the more determined to persist in her resistance to his uncle.
Meantime the vassals and retainers of the house of Rheinstein had been summoned to the castle to attend the approaching ceremony, and their gay apparel now shone and glittered in the sunshine. The sound of pipe, tabour, and psaltery in melodious combination arose from the valley, and all hearts, save one, were happy. The gates were thrown open, and the bridal procession formed up to proceed to the ancient church where the unhappy Gerda was to be sacrificed to Kurt. First came a crowd of serfs, men, women, and children, all shouting in joyful anticipation of the wedding feast. Then followed the vassals and retainers of the Lord of Rheinstein, according to their several degrees, and, last, the principal actors in the shameful ceremony, Kurt, surrounded by his retainers, and the Lord of Rheinstein with the luckless Gerda. The mellow tones of the bell of St. Clement mingled sweetly with the sound of the flute and the pipe and the merry voices of the wedding throng. Gerda, mounted upon her spirited Limousin steed, the gift of Kuno, shuddered as she felt Kurt's eyes resting upon her, and she cast a despairing glance at the tower of Kuno's castle, where, disconsolate and heavy of heart, he watched the bridal procession from the highest turret.
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LOUIS WEIRTER, R.B.A.
Facing page 198.
The procession halted at the portal of the church, and all dismounted save Gerda. She was approached by the bridegroom, who with an air of leering gallantry offered her his assistance in alighting. At this moment swarms of gadflies rested on the flanks of the Limousin steed, and the spirited beast, stung to madness by the flies, reared, plunged, and broke away in a gallop, scattering the spectators to right and left, and flying like the wind along the river-bank.
"To horse, to horse!" cried Kurt and the Lord of Rheinstein, and speedily as many mounted, the bridegroom, for all his age, was first in the saddle.
With the clattering of a hundred hoofs the wedding party galloped madly along Rhineside, Kurt leading on a fleet and powerful charger.
"Halt!" he cried. "Draw rein--draw rein!" But notwithstanding their shouts, cries, and entreaties, Gerda spurred on the already maddened Limousin, which thundered along the familiar road to Kuno's castle of Reichenstein. The noble steed's direction was quickly espied by Kuno, who hastened to the principal entrance of his stronghold.
"Throw open the gates," he shouted. "Down with the drawbridge. Bravo, gallant steed!"
But Kurt was close behind. Gerda could feel the breath of his charger on the hands which held her rein. Close he rode by her, but might never snatch her from the saddle. Like the wind they sped. Now she was a pace in front, now they careered onward neck and neck.
Suddenly he leaned over to seize her rein, but at that instant his horse stumbled, fell, and threw the ancient gallant heavily. Down he came on a great boulder and lay motionless.
Another moment, and the hoof-beat of the breathless steed sounded on the drawbridge of Reichenstein. The vassals of Kuno hastened to the gate to resist the expected attack, but there was none. For the wretched Kurt lay dead, killed by the fall, and his vassals were now eager to acclaim Kuno as their lord, while the Lord of Rheinstein, shrewdly observing the direction of affairs, took advantage of the tumultuous moment to make his peace with Kuno. The lovers were wedded next day amid the acclamations of their friends and retainers, and Kuno and Gerda dwelt in Rheinstein for many a year, loving and beloved.