LEGENDS OF THE RHINE
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS FROM PAINTINGS BY CELEBRATED ARTISTS
KOeLN AM RHEIN VERLAG VON HOURSCH & BECHSTEDT
"O, the pride of the German heart is this noble river! And right it is; for of all the rivers of this beautiful earth there is none so beautiful as this."
Last year I made the journey between Mainz and Bonn on one of our splendid Rhine steamers. Our vessel glided along like a great water-bird. On the shore rose mountains, castles, and ruins, and over all the sun shined brightly from a blue August sky. It was twelve years since I had visited the scenes of my youth, and every Rhinelander will understand with what pleasure I saw again those smiling landscapes arrayed in their summer beauty. Wandering back to my deck-chair, I soon became absorbed in the ever-changing panorama.
Then the sound of a melodious female voice speaking English fell on my ears. I looked around. A girl was bending over a book, and entertaining her father and mother by reading something of special interest and beauty. I listened and recognised some of my own sentences rendered into the speech of Shakespeare. These three were learning to feel the charms of the Lorelei legend as I had felt it. I confess my pulse beat quicker as I heard my poor endeavours highly praised, and I could not refrain from advancing and thanking the young reader for her kindly appreciation of my endeavours. She seemed delighted when she discovered that I was the author, and rose to greet me in the most amiable manner. I complimented the travellers that during the past century the Rhine had become the home of romance for the English speaking nations, the same as Italy for the Germans. The girl smiled, and remarked that I must pay that compliment to her mother in particular, as she was by birth an Englishwoman. But the head of the family hastened to add that among Americans, whom he might speak for, the enthusiasm for the beauties of the Rhine was not less than among their Anglo-Saxon cousins. These two nations which are bound by so many ties to each other, and also to ourselves, were thus represented before me. The English-speaking people undoubtedly form by far the largest contingent of our Rhine travellers, and it was pleasant indeed to receive so fine a testimonial to the beauties of my birth place.
We had a most interesting conversation, and I was not a little moved, as I observed that these foreigners who had travelled over half the world, and had seen the grandeur of Switzerland and the charms of Italy, should have such an unaffected admiration for our grand old river. I am rather sorry for those who neglect the Rhine. "Aren't Lohengrin and Siegfried, immortalised by the great Master of Bayreuth, also heroic figures in your Rhine legends?" remarked the young Anglo-American enthusiastically. It was the first time I had seriously thought of this. I was indeed touched, and my thoughts travelled back to the days of "long, long ago" when as a little chap in my native Bonn, I had first listened with interest to the charming voices of the golden-haired daughters of old Albion who came in large numbers to reside in the famous Beethoven-town.
As I separated from my friends at the foot of the Drachenfels I gave them a small present to keep as a memento of the Rhine and one of its poets.
Muenchen, Mai 1906. Dr. Wilhelm Ruland.
St. Gotthard. The Petrified Alp 7
Thusis on the Hinter Rhine. The Last Hohenraetier 10
Bodensee. The Island of Mainau 13
Basle. One Hour in Advance 18
Castle Niedeck. The Toy of the young Giantess 20
Strassburg. The Cathedral Clock 22
The little Man at the Angel's Pillar 25
Worms. The Nibelungen Lied 27
Speyer. The Bells of Speyer 31
Frankfort. The Knave of Bergen 33
Mayence. Heinrich Frauenlob 36
Bishop Willigis 38
Ingelheim. Eginhard and Emma 45
Ruedesheim. The Broemserburg 53
Bingen. The Mouse-Tower 58
Valley of the Nahe. Kreuznach. A mighty draught 62
The Foundation of Castle Sponheim 65
Assmannshausen. St. Clement's Chapel 69
Castle Rheinstein. The Wooing 72
Castle Sooneck. The Blind Archer 76
The Ruins of Fuerstenberg. The Mother's Ghost 79
Bacharach. Burg Stahleck 83
Kaub. Castle Gutenfels 88
Oberwesel. The Seven Maidens 93
St. Goar. Lorelei 97
Rheinfels. St. George's Linden 103
Sterrenberg and Liebenstein. The Brothers 109
Rhense. The Emperor Wenzel 117
Castle Lahneck. The Templars of Lahneck 120
Coblenz. Riza 123
Valley of the Moselle. The Doctor's wine of Bernkastel 125
Andernach. Genovefa 128
Hammerstein. The old Knight and his Daughters 138
Valley of the Ahr. The Last Knight of Altenahr 142
The Minstrel of Neuenahr 145
Eifel. The Arrow at Pruem 152
Aachen. The Building of the Minster 154
The Ring of Fastrada 162
Rolandseck. Knight Roland 167
Siebengebirge. The Drachenfels 177
The Monk of Heisterbach 182
The Origin of the Seven Mountains 188
The Nightingale Valley at Honnef 190
Godesberg. The High Cross at Godesberg 192
Bonn. Lord Erich's Pledge 200
The Roman Ghosts 203
Cologne. Richmodis of Aducht 208
The Goblins 212
Jan and Griet 216
The Cathedral-Builder of Cologne 220
Xanten. Siegfried 231
Cleve. Lohengrin 237
Zuydersea. Stavoren 244
The Petrified Alp
In the region where the Rhine has its source there towered in ancient times a green Alp. This Alp belonged to an honest peasant, and along with a neat little house in the valley below formed his only possession.
The man died suddenly and was deeply mourned by his wife and child. Some days after an unexpected visitor was announced to the widow. He was a man who had much pastureland up in that region, but for a long time his one desire had been to possess the Alp of his neighbour now deceased, as by it his property would be rounded off to his satisfaction.
Quickly making his resolution he declared to the dismayed woman that the Alp belonged to him: her husband had secretly pledged it to him in return for a loan, after the bad harvest of the previous year. When the widow angrily accused him of being a liar the man produced a promissory note, spread it out, and with a hard laugh showed her his statement was confirmed in black and white. The distressed woman burst into tears and declared it was impossible that her late husband should have made a secret transaction of such a nature. The Alp was the sole inheritance of their son, and never would she willingly surrender it.
"I will pay you compensation for the renunciation of your claim, although nothing obliges me to do so," declared the visitor with apparent compassion, in the meantime producing his purse.
The weeping woman motioned to him to put back his gold and told him to go, which he did.
Three days later the widow was summoned before the judge. There the neighbour produced his document and repeated his demand for the possession of the disputed Alp.
The judge, who had been shamefully bribed, declared the document valid and awarded the Alp to the pursuer. The broken-hearted widow staggered home.
The new possessor of the Alp on the other hand hastened up to the mountains at full gallop. The man could no longer master his impatience to see for the first time as his legally recognised property the pastureland he had acquired by deceit.
There, for three days a storm had raged uninterruptedly. As quickly as the soaked ways would permit he ascended to the high country.
Having arrived he stared around with horrified eyes, and fell in a swoon to the earth, overcome with consternation.
Upon the soft green Alp an unseen hand had rolled a mountain of ice. Of the possession which the unjust judge had assigned to him nothing was now to be seen. His own pastures too which adjoined were covered with snow and ice, whilst the meadows of the other Alpsmen below, lay spread out in the morning light like a velvet carpet.
Towards noon a broken man rode home into the valley cursing himself and the wicked magistrate who had consented to such an evil transaction.
The people there however said to each other: "The Fronfasten Muetterli (the little mother of the Emberweeks) Frau Saelga passed over our valley last night with her train of maidens. Over the house of that greedy rich man the ghostly company stopped, and by that it is fixed which one must die in the course of the year."
And so it happened. Up there where the youthful Rhine rushes down through deep rocky chasms the petrified Alp stands to this day, a silent warning from by-gone days.
THUSIS ON THE HINTER RHINE
The Last Hohenraetier
The Domleschg valley was formerly the scene of bitter feuds, and is mentioned in the struggle for freedom by the Swiss peasants of the ancient Bund, some five hundred years ago. There stood the castle of the Hohenraetier.
The last descendant of the degenerate race on the high Realt was rightly feared in the whole district. He was the terror of the peaceful inhabitants of the district, and harried not only them but also merchants and pilgrims who passed along the highway below.
The wrath against this unchivalrous wickedness increased mightily. One day this man perpetrated a daring deed of violence.
Whilst on an excursion into the valley he had discovered a charming maid who sought berries in a lonely wood. In his wicked eagerness he dragged the maiden on to his horse and fled. Amusing himself with her lamentations, he carried his booty up the steep castle hill.
A poacher had observed the occurrence and alarmed the inhabitants of the village. They carried the intelligence without delay into the Domleschg.
The oppressed people around then rose and joining together approached the castle that very night. Having felled giant trees they threw a bridge over the moat, cast firebrands into the interior, and stormed into the castle-yard through gaps in the gates and walls.
Then the baron appeared mounted on his war-horse, driven out of his abode by tongues of flame.
Before him he held the captured maiden, and in the light of the conflagration his naked sword glittered in his right hand.
Dealing mighty blows on both sides he forced his horse forward (the eyes of which had been bound), intending to make a way down the hill. But the living wall of peasants was impenetrable.
Quickly making his resolution the knight rushed to the side where the wall of rock fell some seven hundred feet sheer into the youthful Rhine.
The foaming steed stood trembling in front of the yawning abyss. The shout of the multitude echoed into the night. Thousands of arms were instantly stretched towards the river and one of them at the last moment succeeded in snatching his prey from the robber, just as the steed tortured and bleeding from sword and spur hurled itself with a mighty spring into the depths below. So ended the last of the Hohenraetiers.
In the dawn only the smoking ruins of the proud castle remained, and the morning bells announced to the peasants that their long desired freedom had been won.
These ruins are situated on the Hinter Rhine above Thusis, and it is said that the last Hohenraetier, like many others of the former tyrants of the Raetigau, yearly on St. John's Eve (when this event occurred) may be seen riding round the fallen walls of his castle, clad in black armour which emits glowing sparks.
The Island of Mainau
For many hundreds of years the names of the Masters of Bodmann have been very closely connected with the island in the lake of Boden. At first the island was in the possession of this noble race, but later on, in the thirteenth century, it passed into the hands of an order of German Knights. A legend relates the story to us of how this change came to pass.
About this time the whole of this magnificent property was held in possession by a youthful maiden, who had inherited this beautiful island with all its many charms. As may be supposed, the wooers for the lovely maiden's hand and inheritance became very numerous. She, however, had made her own choice, and it had fallen upon a nobleman from Langenstein.
Every evening when the sun was sinking down into the golden waters, this maiden walked along the strand watching and listening for some longed-for sound. Then the measured splash of an oar would be heard approaching in the twilight, and a little boat would be drawn up on the shore, a youthful boatman would spring joyfully forth, and lovingly greet the maiden. There this pair of lovers wove dreams about the time from which only a short period now separated them, when they should belong openly to each other before the world.
The nobleman landed one evening as usual, but this time his heart was depressed and sorrowful; he informed his betrothed mournfully that his father, who was then suffering agony from gout, had once taken a vow to God and to the emperor that he would go on a crusade to the Holy Land, but being unable to fulfil his oath, he laid it to his son's charge to carry it out as he meant to have done.
The maiden wept bitterly on hearing these unexpected tidings.
"Trust me and the Powers on high, I shall not make this great sacrifice in vain," said her lover consolingly. "I shall return, that I feel confident of."
Thus with bright hopes in his heart the youthful crusader bade his weeping betrothed good-bye.
* * * * *
And every evening when the sun was sinking into the golden waters the maiden walked along the strand, looking with longing eyes out into the misty distance. Spring came and disappeared, summer followed, and the swallows fled from the lake to warmer climes, the maiden sending many a warm greeting with them. Wintry storms blew over the waters, whistling round the lonely island, and the maiden had become as pale as the flakes of snow which fell against the window-panes.
News one day reached the castle that the crusaders had returned from the East, but that the nobleman from Langenstein was languishing in a Turkish prison in a remote castle belonging to the Sultan. The maiden was heart-broken by these tidings and now spent her days in prayers and tears.
* * * * *
Within the mighty walls of a gloomy castle in the far-off East, a young hero was sitting pining over his bitter fate. He prayed and groaned aloud in his grief thinking of his betrothed from whom he had been so cruelly separated. The Sultan had offered the fair-haired youth his favourite daughter, a seductive eastern beauty, but the prisoner had turned scornfully away, her dark glancing eyes having no charm for him.
That night the youth had a strange dream. An angel was soaring over his couch and came down to his side, and a voice whispered, "Promise yourself to me, and you will see your native land again."
The knight started up and said reverently, "That was the voice of God!" Confused thoughts rushed through his soul, he must renounce his love, but at least he would see her again. Throwing himself on his knees, he promised with a fervent oath that he would dedicate himself to the Lord, if he might only see the beloved maiden once more.
An earthquake shook the castle to its very foundations, unfastening the prison doors, thus setting the prisoner at liberty in a marvellous way. He succeeded in reaching the coast without being caught by the guards of the Sultan, and a vessel sailing to Venice took him on board. But as he approached his native land the struggle in his soul between love and duty was very great; at one moment it seemed to overcome him, and he felt he could no longer keep his vow. But God again admonished him. Reaching the lake he steered his boat towards the island, but a sudden storm arose, threatening him with a watery grave. He prayed fervently to Heaven, again swearing his oath.
The storm subsided, and the little boat having missed its course landed on the other side of the lake, where the Grand Master of an Order of German Knights had his seat.
The tired way-farer approached, begging to be received, a boon kindly granted to him. Then starting off again with his boat the youth reached the island. He there imprinted a sorrowful kiss on his beloved's pure white forehead, bidding her and the world good-bye for ever.
The young girl resigned herself at first silently to her fate; but she soon resolved on another plan: this place which had once been such a happy home had no longer any charms to offer her, and she therefore presented the island of Mainau to the German Order of Knights on one condition, that the nobleman from Langenstein should be the successor of the Grand Master. This request was willingly granted, the noble maiden gave up all her rich possession and left the island in the Bodensee. It is said that she retired to a convent, but no one ever knew where.
The chronicle informs us that Hugh of Langenstein became one of the most capable Grand Masters of this Order of Knights of Mainau. He is also known as a great poet, and his poem on the martyr Martina still exists in old manuscripts.
One Hour in Advance
Basle was once surrounded by enemies, and very hard pressed on all sides. A troop of discontented citizens made a shameful compact with the besiegers to help them to conquer the town. It was arranged one dark night that exactly as the clock was striking twelve the attack was to be made from within and without. The traitors were all ready, waiting for midnight in great excitement, having no evil presentiments of what was about to happen.
The expected hour approached. Accidentally the watchman of the tower heard of the proposed attack, and no time being left to warn the commander of the garrison or the guard, he quickly and with great presence of mind determined upon a safe expedient; he put forward the hand of the great clock one hour, so that instead of striking midnight, the clock struck one.
The traitors in the town looked at each other aghast, believing the enemies outside had neglected or perhaps betrayed them. General doubt and misunderstanding reigned in both camps. While they were debating what plan they must now adopt, the sharp-witted watchman had time to communicate with the magistrate and with the governor of the town. The alarm was raised, the citizens warned, and the treacherous plan completely wrecked. The enemy at last, tired of the useless siege, retired discouraged.
The magistrate in remembrance of this remarkable deed ordered that the town-clock should remain in advance as the courageous watchman had set it that eventful night. This singular regulation continued till the year 1798, and although the honest inhabitants of Basle were, as talkative tongues asserted, a century behind-hand in everything else, yet with regard to time they were always one hour in advance.
The Toy of the young Giantess
In olden times a race of giants is said to have lived in Alsace. Castle Niedeck in the valley of the Breusch was their residence, but even the ruins of this fortress have long since disappeared. The legend however remains to tell us that they were a peaceable people, well disposed to mankind.
The daughter of the master of the castle was one day leisurely walking through the adjoining wood. On approaching the fields and meadows of the valley, she perceived a peasant ploughing. The young giantess looked in great astonishment at the tiny man who seemed to be so busily engaged trudging along after his little team, and turning up the ground with his small iron instrument. She had never before seen anything so wonderful and was very much amused at the sight.
It seemed to her a nice little toy, and she clapped her hands in childish glee, so that the echo sounded among the mountains; then picking up man, horse, and plough, she placed them in her apron and hurried back gaily to the castle. There she showed her father the nice little toy, greatly pleased at what she had found.
The giant however shook his enormous head gravely, and said in a displeased tone, "Don't you know, child, who this trembling little creature with his struggling tiny animal is, that you have chosen for a plaything? Of all the dwarfs down in the valley below, he is the most useful; he works hard and indefatigably in scorching heat as well as in windy cold weather, so that the fields may produce fruit for us. He who scoffs at or maltreats him will be punished by Heaven. Take the little labourer therefore back to the place he came from."
The young giantess, greatly ashamed and deeply blushing with embarrassment, put the amusing little toy back into her apron, and carried it obediently down to the valley.
The Cathedral Clock
The Cathedral was finished, and the city magistrates resolved to place an ingenious clock on the upper tower. For a long time they searched in vain, but at last a master was found who offered to create a work of art such as had never been seen in any land. The members of the council were highly satisfied with this proposal, and the master began his work.
Weeks and months passed, and when at last it was finished there was general astonishment; the clock was indeed so wonderful that nothing to match it could be found in the whole country. It marked not only the hours but the days and months as well; a globe was attached to it which also marked out the rising and the setting of the sun, and the eclipses of that body and the moon could be seen at the same time as they took place in nature. Every change was pointed out by Mercury's wand, and every constellation appeared at the right time. Shortly before the stroke of the clock a figure representing Death emerged from the centre and sounded the full hour, while at the quarter and half hours the statue of Christ came forth, repelling the destroyer of all life. Added to all these wonders was a beautiful chime that played melodious hymns.
Such was the marvellous clock in the cathedral of Strassburg. The magistrates however proved themselves unworthy of their new possession; pride and presumption got the better of them, making them commit a most unjust and ungrateful action.
They desired their town to be the only one in the land which possessed such a work of art, and in order to prevent the maker from making another like it, they did not shrink from the vilest of crimes.
Taking advantage of the rumour that such a wonderful work could only have been made by the aid of witchcraft, they accused the clock-maker of being united with the devil, threw him into prison, and cruelly condemned him to be blinded. The unhappy artist resigned himself to his bitter fate without a murmur. The only favour he asked was that he might be allowed to examine the clock once again before the judgment was carried out. He said he wanted to arrange something in the works which no one else could understand.
The crafty magistrates, being anxious to have the clock perfect, granted him this request.
The artist filed, sawed, regulated here and there, and then was led away, and in the same hour deprived of his sight.
The cruel deed was hardly accomplished, when it was found that the clock had stopped. The artist had destroyed his work with his own hands; his righteous determination that the chimes would never ring again, had become a melancholy truth. Up to the present no one has been able again to set the dead works going. An equally splendid clock now adorns the cathedral, but the remains of the first one have been preserved ever since.
The little Man at the Angel's Pillar
Close to the famous clock in the Cathedral of Strassburg, there is a little man in stone gazing up at the angel's pillar which supports the south wing of the cathedral. Long ago the little man who is now sculptured in stone, stood there in flesh and blood. He used to stare up at the pillar with a criticising eye from top to bottom and again from bottom to top. Then he would shake his head doubtfully each time.
It happened once that a sculptor passed the cathedral and saw the little man looking up, evidently comparing the proportions of the pillar.
"It seems to me you are finding fault with the pillar, my good fellow," the stone-cutter remarked, and the little man nodded with a self-satisfied look.
"Well, what do you think of it? Speak out my man," said the master, tapping the fellow's shoulder encouragingly.
"The pillar is certainly splendid," began the latter slowly, "the Apostles, the angels, and the Saviour are most beautiful too. But there is one thing troubling me. That slender pillar cannot support that heavy vault much longer; it will soon totter and fall down, and all will go to pieces."
The sculptor looked alternately at the work of art and at its strange fault-finder. A contemptuous smile passed over his features.
"You are quite convinced of the truth of your statement, aren't you?" asked he enquiringly.
The bold critic repeated his doubts with an important air.
"Well," cried the stone-cutter, with comical earnestness, "then you will remain there always, gazing at the pillar until it sinks down, crushed by the vault."
He went straight off into his workshop, seized hammer and chisel, and formed the little man into stone just as he was, looking upwards with a knowing face and an important air.
This little figure is still there at the present day with both hands leaning on the balustrade of St. Nicholas' chapel, awaiting the expected fall of the pillar, and most likely he will remain there for many a century to come.
The Nibelungen Lied
To-day we are deeply touched, as our forefathers must have been, at the recital of the boundless suffering and the overwhelming concatenation of sin and expiation in the lives of the Recken and Frauen of the Nibelungen Legend. That naive singer has remained nameless and unknown, who about the end of the 12th century wrote down this legend in poetic form, thus preserving forever our most precious relic of Germanic Folksepic. A powerful story it is of sin and suffering: corresponding to the world itself and just as the primitive mind of a people loves to represent it. The story begins as a lovely idyll but ends in gloomy tragedy.
The ancient Rhenish town of Worms was during the great migrations the seat of authority of the Burgundian invaders, an east Germanic stock. During the glorious reign of King Gunther there appears, attracted by the beauty of Chriemhild the king's sister, a young hero, Siegfried, by name. He is himself a king's son, his father Siegmund reigning in Xanten "nieden by dem Rine." King Gunther receives the fair Recken into his service as a vassal.
Siegfried, exhibiting the fairest loyalty to his overlord, and rendered invisible by magic, conquers for him the redoubtable Brunhild, the proud queen of the island kingdom of Isenland (Iceland) and compels her to wed King Gunther. As a reward Siegfried receives the hand of Chriemhild. In the fulness of his heart the hero presents to Chriemhild as a marriage gift, the Nibelungen Hoard, which he had gained in his early years from the sons of the king of the Nibelungen and from Dwarf Alberich the guardian of the treasure.
Joy reigns in the king's court at Worms, but it was not shared by all. Besides Chriemhild there was another secretly drawn towards the hero, and in Brunhild's heart the bridal happiness of Chriemhild awakens such envy that soon no friendly word passes between the women. They become estranged and one day her bad feeling leads Brunhild to harsh words. Then alas, Chriemhild gave unbridled licence to her tongue. In her rash insolence she represents to Brunhild that it was not Gunther but Siegfried who formerly overcame her. As proof of this she produces the ring and girdle which Siegfried had taken on that night from the powerful Brunhild, and which he had presented to Chriemhild. With fierce haughtiness Chriemhild taunts her opponent with a hateful name no woman could endure, and forbids her to enter the cathedral.
Brunhild, weeping, informs King Gunther of the contumely heaped upon her. The king is filled with wrath, and his vassal, the gloomy Hagen, considers how he may destroy Siegfried avowedly to avenge the Queen, but secretly for the possession of the Nibelungen Hoard. During a hunt in the Odenwald Siegfried was treacherously stabbed by Hagen whilst stopping to drink from a well. The intention was to spread the report that Siegfried had been slain by robbers whilst hunting alone. So, on the following day they crossed the Rhine back to Worms.
In the night Hagen caused the dead body of Siegfried to be laid in front of Chriemhild's chamber. In the early morning as Chriemhild accompanied by her attendants was preparing to go to mass in the cathedral she noticed the corpse of her hero. A wail of sorrow arose. Chriemhild threw herself weeping on the body of her murdered husband. "Alas!" she cried "thy shield is not hewn by swords: thou hast been foully murdered. Did I but know who has done this, I would avenge thy death." Chriemhild ordered a magnificent bier for her royal hero, and demanded that an ordeal should be held over the corpse. "For it is a marvellous thing, and to this day it happens, that when the bloodstained murderer approaches wounds bleed anew."
So all the princes and nobles of Burgundy walked past the dead body, above which was the figure of the crucified Redeemer of the world, and lo! when the grim Hagen came forward the wounds of the dead man began to flow. In the presence of the astounded men and horrified women Chriemhild accused Hagen of the assassination of her husband.
Much treachery and woe accompanied the expiation of this great crime. The Nibelungen Hoard, the cause of the shameful deed, was sunk in the middle of the Rhine in order to prevent future strife arising from human greed. But Chriemhild's undying sorrow was not mitigated, nor her unconquerable thirst for revenge appeased.
After the burial of his son King Siegmund begged in vain that Chriemhild should come to the royal city of Xanten; she remained at Worms for thirteen years constantly near her beloved dead.
Then the sorrowing woman removed to the Abbey of Lorch which her mother, Frau Ute, had founded. Thither also, she transferred Siegfried's body.
When Etzel (Attila) the ruler of the Huns wooed her, Chriemhild urged not by love but by very different feelings gave him her hand and accompanied her heathen lord to the Ungarland. Then she treacherously invited Siegfried's murderers to visit her husband, and prepared for them a destruction which fills the mind with horror. The Burgundian king and his followers, who, since the Hoard had come into their possession, were called the Nibelungen, fell slaughtered in the Etzelburg under the swords of the Huns and their allies, thus atoning for their faithlessness to the hero Siegfried. And with this awful holocaust ends the Lied of the Nibelungen Not, the most renowned heroic legend in the German tongue.
The Bells of Speyer
The German Emperor, Henry IV., had much trouble to bear under his purple mantle. Through his own and through stranger's faults the crown which he wore was set with thorns, and even into the bosom of his family this unhappy spirit of dissension had crept. The excommunication of the Pope, his powerful enemy, was followed by the revolt of the princes, and lastly by the conspiracy of his own sons. His eldest son, Conrad, openly rebelled against him, and treated his father most scornfully. When this prince died suddenly, the second son, Henry, attempted the deposition of his father and made intrigues against him. Thus forced to abdicate his throne the broken-down emperor fled to Liege, accompanied by one faithful servant, Kurt, and there lay down to his last rest.
His body was left for five years in unconsecrated ground in a foreign country. Kurt remained faithful, and prayed incessantly at the burial-place of his royal master.
At last the Pope at Henry's request consented to recall the ban. Henry ordered his father's remains to be brought to Speyer and solemnly interred with the royal family. Kurt was allowed to follow the procession to Speyer, but wearied out by this long watching the old man died a few days afterwards. Just at the moment of his death the bells in the cathedral at Speyer tolled without any human hand putting them in motion, as they always did when an imperial death took place.
The German emperor Henry V. lay dying on his luxurious couch at Speyer. His bodily sufferings were intense, but the agony of his mind was even greater; he had obtained the crown which now pressed so heavily on his head, by shameful treacherous means. The apparition of his father dying in misery appeared to him, and no words of the flatterers at his bed-side could still the voice of his conscience. At last death freed him from all his torments, and at the same hour the bells which were always rung when a poor sinner was led to execution, tolled, set in motion by no human hand.
Thus were the bells the instrument of that Hand which wisely and warningly wrote ... "Honour thy father and thy mother...."
The Knave of Bergen
The emperor was to be crowned at Frankfort, and great festivities were to be given in the town in his honour, among them a masquerade, at which knights and noble ladies rivalled each other in splendour. Joy was depicted on every face at this great assembly, only one knight among the many guests being noticeable for his gravity and restraint. He wore black armour, and the feather waving above his visor was black too. No one knew him or could guess who he was. He approached the empress with a noble grace, bent his knee, and asked her to dance with him, which she graciously consented to do. He glided gracefully through the splendid halls with the queen of the festival, and soon every eye was turned on them, and everyone was eager to know who he was.
The empress was charmed with her excellent partner, and the grace of his refined conversation pleased her so much that she granted him a second and a third dance.
Everyone became more and more curious to know who this masked knight was. Meanwhile the hour struck when every mask had to be raised, and every masked guest must make himself known. More than all the others the empress was anxious to know who her partner was. But he hesitated and even refused to take off his mask until she ordered him peremptorily to do so. The knight obeyed, but none of the high ladies or noble knights recognised him. Suddenly two stewards pressed through the crowd, crying out with indignation and horror;
"It is the headsman from Bergen!"
Then the emperor in great wrath ordered the shameful offender who had thus degraded the empress and insulted his sovereign to be led to execution.
But the culprit, throwing himself at the emperor's feet, said boldly, "I have transgressed, my lord, and offended you and your noble guests, but most heavily have I sinned against my queen. No punishment, not even blood, will be able to wash out the disgrace you have suffered through me. Therefore, oh King! allow me to propose a remedy to efface the shame. Draw your sword and knight me, and I will throw down my gauntlet to any one who dares to speak disrespectfully of my sovereign."
The emperor was taken by surprise at this bold proposal. However it appeared the wisest plan to adopt.
"You are a knave," he replied after a moment's consideration, "but your advice is good and displays prudence, just as your offence shows adventurous courage. Well then,"—laying his sword on the man's neck—"rise Sir Knight. You have acted like a knave, and the Knave of Bergen you shall be called henceforth."
A joyful shout of approbation pealed through the halls, and the new knight again glided gracefully through the crowd with the queen of the festival.
The priest or as some say, canon, in the old town of Mayence was a very worthy man, and at the same time a heaven-gifted singer. Besides devoting himself to science, he composed numerous pious verses which he dedicated to the Holy Virgin. He also played the harp, and wrote many beautiful songs in honour of the female sex.
In contrast to many contemporary poets, he considered "woman" a higher title than "wife," which only signifies a married woman. So on account of the chivalry displayed in his numberless poems and songs, posterity gave him the name of "Frauenlob," under which title he is better known than under his own name of Heinrich of Meissen.
The love and veneration which thankful women paid him was very great, not only during his life-time, but even more so after his death. Their grief was intense when it became known that the poet's voice would never more be heard in this world. It was agreed to honour him with such a burial as no poet had ever before received. The funeral procession moved slowly and sorrowfully along the streets, the greater part of the cortege being women in deep mourning who prayed for the repose of the poet's soul. Eight of the most beautiful among them carried the coffin, which was covered with sweet-scented flowers.
At the grave songs of lamentation were heard from women's gentle voices. Precious Rhine-wine which had been the poet's favourite drink, and which so often had inspired his poetry, was poured by hands of his admirers over his grave, so profusely, the legend relates, that the entrance of the church was flooded by the libation. But still more precious than all these gifts were the tears, which on this memorable day were shed by many a gentle lady.
The wanderer can still see the monument erected to this great benefactor in the cathedral at Mayence, which represents the figure of a beautiful woman in pure-white marble placing a wreath on the coffin of the great singer, who had honoured women in the most chivalrous of songs.
In the year 1000 there was a very pious priest in Mayence called Bishop Willigis. He was only the son of a poor wheelwright, but by his perseverance and his own merit he had attained to the dignity of first priest of the kingdom. The honest citizens of Mayence loved and honoured the worthy divine, although they did not altogether like having to bow down to one who had been brought up in a simple cottage like themselves.
The bishop once reproved them in gentle tones for thinking too much of mere descent. This vexed the supercilious citizens, and one night they determined to play Willigis a trick. They took some chalk and drew enormous wheels on all the doors of his house.
Early next morning as the bishop was going to mass, he noticed the scoffers' malicious work. He stood silently looking at the wheels, the chaplain by his side expecting every moment that the reverend prelate would burst forth in a terrible rage. But a gay smile spread over the bishop's features and, ordering a painter to be sent to him, he told him to paint white wheels on a scarlet back-ground, visible to every eye, just where the chalk wheels had been drawn, and underneath to paint the words, "Willigis! Willigis! just think what you have risen from." But he did not stop there. He ordered the wheelwright to make him a plough-wheel, and caused it to be placed over his couch in memory of his extraction.
Thereafter the scoffers were put to silence, and the people of Mayence began to honour and esteem their worthy bishop, who, though he had been so exalted, possessed such honest common-sense.
White wheels on a red ground have been the arms of the Bishops of Mayence ever since.
Wherever the German tongue is heard, and even further still, the king of all Rhine wines, "Johannisberger" is known and sought after. Every friend of the grape which grows on the banks of this river is well acquainted with it, but few perhaps know of its princely origin. It is princely, not because princes' hands once kept the key to Johannisberg, but rather because princely hands planted the vine in the Rhine country, and this royal giver was no other than Charlemagne, the all-powerful ruler of the kingdom of the Franks.
Once in early spring Charles the Great was standing on the balcony of his castle at Ingelheim, his eyes straying over the beautiful stretch of country at his feet. Snow had fallen during the night, and the hills of Ruedesheim were clothed in white. As the imperial ruler was looking thoughtfully over the landscape, he noticed that the snow on one side of Johannisberg melted quicker in the sun's rays than on any other part. Charles, who was a great and deep thinker, began to reflect that on a spot where the rays of the sun shone so genially, something better than grass would thrive.
Sending for Kunrat, his faithful servant, he bade him saddle his horse the next day at dawn and ride to Orleans, a town famous for its good wine. He was to inform the citizens that the emperor had not forgotten the excellent wine they had given him there, and that he would like to grow the same vines on the Rhine. He desired the citizens of Orleans therefore to send him plants from their country.
The messenger set off to do the king's bidding and ere the moon had again gone round her course, was back in the castle at Ingelheim. Great satisfaction prevailed at court. Charles, mighty ruler as he was, even went so far as to cross to Ruedesheim, where he planted with his royal hand the French vine in German soil.
This was no mere passing whim on the part of the emperor. He sent messengers constantly to bring word how the vines were thriving in Ruedesheim and on the flanks of Johannisberg, and when the third autumn had come round, the Emperor Charlemagne set out from his favourite resort, Aix-la-Chapelle, for the Rhine country, and great rejoicing prevailed among the vine-reapers from Ruedesheim to Johannisberg.
The first cup of wine was solemnly offered to the emperor, a golden wine in a golden goblet, a wine worthy of a king.
Charles took a long deep draught, and with brightened eyes praised the delicious drink. It became his favourite wine, this fiery "Johannisberger," making him young again in his old age. What Charlemagne then felt when he drank this wine, every one who raises the sparkling grapejuice to his lips is keenly sensible of also. Wherever the German tongue is heard, and even further still, the king of all Rhine wines is known and sought after, Johannisberger wine.
* * * * *
The legend weaves another wonderful tale about the great emperor blessing his grapes.
A poet's pen has fashioned it into a song, which is still often heard among the grapegatherers.
Every spring when the vines are blossoming on the hills and in the valleys along the river, and their fragrance scents the air, a tall shadow wanders about the vineyards at night, a purple mantle hanging from his stately shoulders, and a crown on his head. It is Charlemagne, the great Emperor, who planted the grapes long years before. The luscious scent of the blossoms wakens him up from his tomb in Aix-la-Chapelle, and he comes to bless the grapes.
When the full moon gently casts her bright beams on the water, lighting up the emperor's nightly path, he may be seen crossing the golden bridge formed by her rays and then wandering further along the hills, blessing the vines on the other side of the river.
At the first crow of the cock he returns to his grave in Aix-la-Chapelle, and sleeps till the scent of the grapes wakens him next spring, when he again wanders through the countries along the Rhine, blessing the vineyards.
* * * * *
Let us now relate another little story which is told of the monks who lived at Johannisberg.
Once the high Abbot of Fulda came unexpectedly to visit the cloister at Johannisberg just about the time when the grapes were ripe. The worthy Abbot made many inquiries about his people, showed himself highly pleased with the works of the industrious monks, and as a mark of his continued favour, invited all the inmates of the cloister to a drinking-bout.
"Wine maketh the heart glad," thus quoting King David's significant words, the holy man began his speech: "God's loving hand will be gracious in future years to your vines. Let us profit by his grace, brothers, and drink what he has provided for us in moderation and reverence. But before we refresh ourselves with God's good gifts, take your breviaries and let us begin with a short prayer."
"Breviaries!" was whispered along the rows, and the eyes of the fat genial faces blinked in helpless embarrassment.
"Yes, your breviaries," and the white-haired Abbot looked silently but sternly at the brothers.
They searched and searched.
Gradually the frown disappeared from the Abbot's face, and a smile gradually spread over his withered features.
"Well, never mind, let us drink," said he. Then feeling his pockets, he said with a gleam in his eye, "That's too bad! I ought to have brought a corkscrew with me when I came to the Rhine."
"A corkscrew!" Every one dives his hand into his pocket, and as many corkscrews were produced before the worthy Abbot as there were brothers present.
Then a gleam of merriment beamed in the Abbot's eyes.
"Bravo, ye pious monks! what a plentiful supply of corkscrews! Do not all look so embarrassed, we shall not be annoyed about it to-day but—to-morrow! Now we shall sing with King David, 'Wine maketh the heart glad,'" and the uncorked bottle went the rounds.
Eginhard and Emma
The story which we have now to relate is a very touching one, and it becomes even more interesting when we know that it is based on real fact.
In the little town of Ingelheim there was a beautiful marble castle, the favourite residence of Charlemagne. He often retired to this lonely, peaceful spot accompanied only by a few of his faithful vassals and the members of his own family. Eginhard, the emperor's private secretary, was never missing from this little circle. Charlemagne thought highly of this man, then in the prime of youth, on account of his profound knowledge and extraordinary talents.
The young scholar, so different from the wise councillors not only in his learning but in his cultivated manners, was a great favourite among the ladies of the court.
Eginhard who was a constant companion of the emperor, had also become an intimate member of the family circle, and Charlemagne entrusted him with the education of his favourite child Emma, daughter of his wife Gismonda. This dark-eyed maiden was considered the most beautiful of her age, and the young scholar could not long remain cold and indifferent to her charms. The undisturbed hours which should have been spent in learning, led to a mutual understanding. Eginhard struggled to remind himself of his duty towards his sovereign, but love overcame him, and soon an oath of eternal fidelity united these young hearts.
The great emperor ought to have known what would be the consequence of allowing the young scholar to enjoy the society of his dark-eyed, passionate daughter. In the still hours of the night when all the inmates of the castle lay wrapped in sleep, Eginhard sought the chamber of his beloved. She listened enchanted to the glowing words of his burning heart, but their love was chaste and pure, no gusts of passion troubling them.
But fate was against these lovers. One night they were sitting in Emma's chamber talking confidentially together. The great palace was veiled in darkness, no ray of light, no star was to be seen in the heavens. As Eginhard was about to leave the chamber, he perceived that the courtyard below was covered with snow. It would have been impossible to pass across it without leaving a trace behind him, but at all risks he must reach his room.
What was to be done? Love is ingenious. After considering for some time together, they both concluded that there was but one way to prevent their being betrayed. The slender maiden took her lover on her back and carried him across the courtyard, thus leaving behind only her two small foot-prints.
It happened that Charles the Great had not yet sought the repose he needed so much, as care banished sleep from his eyes. He sat at his window and looked out into the silent night. In the courtyard below he perceived a shadow crossing the pavement and, looking carefully, he recognised his favourite daughter Emma carrying a man on her back.—Yes! and this man was Eginhard, his great favourite. Pain and anger struggled in his heart. He wanted to rush down and kill him—an emperor's daughter and a mere secretary—but with a great effort he restrained himself, mastered the violent agitation which this unexpected sight caused him, and went back to his chamber to wait wearily for dawn.
The next day Charles assembled his councillors. They were all horrified to see his ghastly look; his brow was dark, and sorrow was depicted on every feature. Eginhard looked at his master apprehending coming evil. Charlemagne stood up and spake:—
"What does a royal princess deserve, who receives the visit of a man at night?" The councillors looked at each other speechless. Eginhard's countenance became white as death. The councillors soon guessed the name of the royal princess, and they consulted together for some time not knowing what to say, but at last one councillor answered:—
"Your Majesty, we think that a weak woman must not be punished for anything done out of love."
"And what does a favourite of the emperor deserve who creeps into a royal princess' chamber at night?"
Charlemagne cast a dark look at his secretary, who trembled and became even paler. "Alas! all is lost," murmured he to himself. Then, raising his voice, he said, "Death, my Master and Emperor!"
Charles looked at the young man full of astonishment. The wrath in his soul melted at this self-accusation and fervent repentance. Deep silence followed this answer, and in a few minutes the emperor dismissed his councillors, making a sign at the same time to Eginhard to follow him.
Without a word Charles led him into his private chamber, where in answer to his summons, Emma appeared.
Her heart misgave her as she saw the dark look on her father's face and the troubled features of her beloved. She understood all at once, and with a convulsive cry of pain threw herself at her father's feet.
"Mercy! mercy! my father, we love each other so dearly!" murmured she, raising her large eyes imploringly. "Mercy!" murmured Eginhard too, bending his knees.
The emperor remained silent. After a time he began to speak earnestly and coldly at first, but his voice changed to a milder tone on hearing the sobs of his favourite child.
"I shall not separate you who are bound to each other by love. A priest shall unite you, and at dawn to-morrow you must both be gone from the castle, never to return."
He left them, shutting the door behind him.
The beautiful maiden sank down on her knees, only half conscious in her grief of what her father had said. But Eginhard's soft voice soon whispered in her ear.
"Do not weep, Emma. By thrusting you from him, your father, my master, has only bound us together for ever. Come," he continued in a trembling voice, alarmed at her passionate tears, "we must go, but love will be ever with us."
The next day two pilgrims left the castle of Ingelheim, and took the road in the direction of Mayence.
Time wore on.
Charles the Great had made war on Saxony, had set the Roman crown upon his own head, and had become famous throughout the whole world. But all his fame had not prevented his hair from becoming grey, nor his heart from being sad. A mournful picture had imprinted itself on his mind, despite all his efforts to forget the past. In the evening when the setting sun glittered on the marble pillars of the royal palace, casting its golden rays into the chamber of the great emperor, it would find him sitting motionless in his carved oak-chair, his grey head buried in his hands, mournful dreams troubling his peace. He was thinking of the days which were past, of the young man whose gentle ways made him so different from the rough warriors of the court, how he used to recite poetry and sing the songs of the old bards so passionately, and the old legends which the emperor prized so much, how he used to read to him from the old gray parchment which he, Eginhard, had written so carefully, how his own favourite dark-eyed daughter had so often been present, sitting at his feet listening intently to the reader—all this came back to his memory, saddening his heart, and filling his eyes with tears.
Bugle-horns sounded through the forest, Charles and his followers were at the chase. The old emperor, seeking to forget his grief, had seized his spear and had gone out to hunt.
In his eagerness to follow a magnificent stag he had become separated from his escort. The sun was already low in the west; the animal, now seeing no way of escape, as his pursuer was close behind him, dashed into a river and swam to the other side. The emperor, in hot pursuit and much exhausted, arrived at the water's edge, and for the first time noticed that he was alone, and in a part of the country quite unknown to him.
The river lay before him and the forest behind, but the latter seemed to be quite impenetrable. It was already night, and Charles sought in vain to find some path or track.
As he was looking round him, he perceived a light in the distance. Greatly pleased he started off in that direction, and found a little hut close to the river, but on looking through the window Charlemagne saw the room was a very poor one.
"Perhaps this is the hermitage of some pious man," thought he, and knocked at the door, whereupon a fair-haired man appeared on the threshold.
Without mentioning his name, the emperor informed him of what had happened, and begged shelter for the night.
At the sound of this loved voice, the man trembled, but controlling himself, he invited the emperor to enter. A young woman was sitting on a stool rocking a baby in her arms. She started, became very pale at the sight of the emperor, and then hurried into the next room to hide her emotion; Charles sat down, and refusing refreshment from his host leaned his head wearily on his hands.
Minutes passed, and still he sat there lost in thought, dreaming of those happy by-gone days.
At last the sweet prattle of a child roused him, and looking up he saw a little girl about five years old at his side, stretching out her arms to him, bidding him good-night. Charles looked closely at the little angel-like creature, his heart throbbing within him. "What is your name, little one?" asked he. "Emma," answered the child.
"Emma," repeated Charles with tears in his eyes, and drawing the child closer to him he pressed a kiss on its forehead.
In a moment the man and his young wife were at the emperor's feet imploring pardon. "Emma! Eginhard!" cried he with great emotion, embracing them both. "Blessed be the place where I have found you again!"
Emma and Eginhard returned in great pomp to the emperor's court. The latter gave them his beautiful palace at Ingelheim, and only felt himself happy when he was with them.
He caused a cloister to be built on the spot where he had found them again, which to the present day is called "Seligenstadt," "town of the happy."
In the church belonging to this little town the tomb of Eginhard and Emma is still shown, for according to their wishes, their bones were interred in the same coffin.
In the lofty cathedral of Spires stood a great assemblage of knights, and on the throne near the altar sat Conrad der Staufe with his hands resting on the hilt of his sword. All were listening intently to the burning words of Bernard of Clairvaux who was describing the ruthless manner in which the holy places of Palestine had been laid waste. As the saintly preacher ended with a thrilling appeal to the religious feelings of his audience, a great shout, "On, to Jerusalem!" rang through the sacred edifice. Most of the knights offered to bring as many followers as possible to aid their pious Emperor. Among those present was Hans Broemser, the lord of the Niederburg at Ruedesheim. This noble knight, the last of his race, was not detained at home by family cares. His wife had early been taken from him by death, and Mechtildis, the only offspring of their marriage, was left under the protection of the neighbouring Falkenstein family.
So the pious warriors marched by devious and dangerous routes to that land where Our Lord lived and suffered. In fierce battle with the Saracens many a noble knight closed his eyes forever. Many met a harder fate—a living death in the noisome prisons of the unbelievers. After a lost battle Sir Broemser fell into the hands of the Turks, and in a dungeon had to suffer shameful imprisonment. Sometimes they would force their knightly foe to turn a millstone, while the crowd jeered. Then, in the hour of deepest misery the knight made a vow to God. "Give me my freedom again, and I vow that my child Mechtildis shall devote her life to the Church." And he repeated the solemn words again, and yet a third time.
Then happened what none of his companions-in-arms had ever hoped for. The brave crusaders stormed this Turkish stronghold in the Syrian desert, and liberated their fellow-crusaders from captivity. Full of gratitude to God, Hans Broemser again fought valiantly in the holy cause.
Meanwhile at home in the hospitable keep above the Rhine a maiden awaited with anxiety the return of her father. Often in the silent hours, with sweetness and sunshine around her, without and within, she stood on the castle-wall and she saw in reverie that blue Eastern land, whilst she listened to the wild throbbing of her young heart in which the blossoms of first love were bursting.
Then one night her father returned to the Rhineland.
In the moss-covered courtyard of the castle Mechtildis embraced her father long and silently. Beside the maiden, now in her seventeenth year, stood the young lord of Falkenstein. The youth bowed deeply to the lord of the Broemserburg, and greeted him kindly with the words, "Welcome home, father!" Then the vow made in the Syrian prison rose like a spectre to pall the joy of the crusader's return.
In the banqueting-hall of the castle a large company had assembled to celebrate the happy return of Hans Broemser and his faithful companions. The praise of the crusaders resounded and many stories were told of the dangers the heroes had encountered. With stirring words the knight related to his listening guests how he himself had fought in the sacred cause, and how he had suffered imprisonment among the heathen. Then in a lower tone, and with solemn words, he told his friends of the vow he had made in his hour of deep despair in the Syrian dungeon.
The painful silence which followed was broken by a stifled cry, and the knight's daughter, pale as the covering on the festive board, sank unconscious to the floor. With burning cheek and flashing eye the young lord of Falkenstein rose, and with a firm voice exclaimed, "Mechtildis belongs to me; she has solemnly given herself to me forever." The murmur soon subsided before the stern countenance of the lord of the castle. "Mechtildis has been dedicated to heaven, not to you, boy. The last of the Broemser race has sworn it, and abides by it." The knight said this with suppressed fury, and soon his guests departed in silence.
Mechtildis lay in her chamber in wild grief. The flickering lamp beside the crucifix threw an unsteady light on the extended form of the maiden who was measuring the tedious night hours in the love-anguish of her young heart. To the distracted maid her chamber seemed to be transformed to an oppressive dungeon. Seizing the lamp with a trembling hand she hurried up the narrow winding stair on to the roof of the castle, and there committed her great grief to the listening ear of night. Leaning on the wall, she looked away towards the castle where lived the noble young lord to whom she had dedicated her life. "I am thine, my beloved," she sobbed. No star was visible in the sky. A wild autumn wind shrieked and swirled round the keep in accompaniment to the storm in the maiden's breast. A short piercing cry echoed in the darkness. Was it the bride of the winds or a human cry? The night swallowed it. From the parapet of the Broemserburg a female form had been hurled down into the dark floods of the Rhine below.
A bright harvest morning followed a stormy night. In the Broemserburg they were searching everywhere in vain for their lord's daughter. Soon however a mournful procession approached bearing the mortal remains of Mechtildis. In the early dawn a young woman had rescued the body from the waters of the river. Now the walls of the Broemserburg echoed with sounds of woe over the early death of this last fair young flower of the Broemser race. Hans Broemser threw himself on the body and buried his stern features in the snowy linen. Not a tear bedewed his eyelids.
As a propitiatory offering for the rest of the soul of the maiden who had thus avoided the monastic life, the knight in his deep sorrow vowed to build a chapel on the hill opposite his castle. Then Hans Broemser shut himself up in his chamber, and passed the following days in silent grief, while the grave closed over his wretched child.
Many months passed, but still not a stone of the promised chapel had been set up. In the bitterness of his sorrow the grief-stricken father had separated himself more and more from the world, and now brooded in gloomy isolation. One day a servant came before him with a likeness of the Mother of God which an ox had scraped up while ploughing a field on the hill opposite the castle, and three times the servant declared he had heard the "Not Gottes" (Suffering of God) called out. Then Hans Broemser remembered his vow, and the chapel for the peace of the soul of Mechtildis was erected. "Not Gottes" it is called to this day.
Below Bingen in the middle of the Rhine there is a lonely island on which a stronghold is to be seen. This tower is called "the Mouse-Tower." For many centuries a very gloomy tale has been told about it in connection with Hatto, Archbishop of Mayence, whose evil deeds were well-known throughout the country.
Hatto is said to have been ambitious, heartless, and perfidious, as well as cruel towards the poor. He extorted taxes from his people, tolls were imposed, and new burdens invented only to gratify his haughty pride and his love of display. On a little island between Bingen and Ruedesheim he caused a tower to be built, so that all passing ships could be stopped in the narrow passage, where they were obliged to pay toll.
Soon after the building of this custom-house there was a very bad harvest in the country round Mayence. Drought had parched the fields, and the little seed remaining had been destroyed by hail. The scarcity was felt all the more, because the bishop had bought up all the stores of corn that were left from the year before, and had stored them up safely in his granaries.
A terrible famine now threatened the land, spreading misery among the poor. The unhappy people implored the cruel bishop to lower the price of the corn in his store-house, which he wished to sell at such exorbitant prices that his subjects could not buy it. All their petitions were in vain. His advisers besought him to have pity on the deplorable condition of the poor, but Hatto remained unmoved. When cries of distress and the murmuring voices of the exasperated folk were raised against their hard-hearted master, the bishop gave free vent to the wicked thoughts of his soul.
One day a troop of hungry beggars came crowding to the episcopal palace crying for food. Hatto and his guests were just sitting down to a luxurious banquet. The bishop had been talking to his companions of these wretched people, and had expressed his opinion that it would be a good thing to do away with them altogether in some drastic way.
As the ragged mob of men, women and children, with hollow cheeks and pale faces threw themselves at his feet crying for bread, a still more fiendish plan suggested itself. Beckoning to them with hypocritical kindness he promised them corn, and caused them to be led outside the town to a barn, where each one was to receive as much corn as he wished. The unhappy folk hurried forth, their hearts full of gratitude; but when they were all in the barn, Hatto ordered the doors to be locked and the barn to be set on fire.
The screams of the poor wretches were heart-rending, and could be heard even in the bishop's palace.
But cruel Hatto called out scornfully to his advisers, "Listen! how the mice are squeaking among the corn. This eternal begging is at an end at last. May the mice bite me if it is not true!"
But the punishment which Heaven sent him was terrible. Thousands of mice came out of the burning barn, made their way to the palace, filled every chamber and corner, and at last attacked the bishop himself. His servants killed them by hundreds, but their numbers seemed only to increase, as did their ferocity also. The bishop was seized with horror and, anticipating God's punishment, he fled from the town and went on board a boat hoping to defend himself from his terrible pursuers. But the innumerable horde swam in legions after him, and when he reached his tower on the island thinking at least he would be safe there, the mice followed him, gnawing the tower and tearing for themselves an entrance with their sharp teeth, till at last they reached him whom they sought. The cruel man was devoured by the mice, which attacked him by scores. In his despair he offered his soul to the Evil One, if he would release his body from such awful agony. The Evil Spirit came, freed his body, but took his soul away for himself.
Thus runs the legend. History however speaks less severely of Hatto, the imperious prelate.
* * * * *
His great ambition was his desire of power. He was the founder of the temporal power which the seat of Mayence obtained, and which later on made it the first bishopric of the kingdom, but he was always hated by the citizens, who suffered much owing to his proud, despotic character.
It is true that he was the founder of the toll which ships in olden times were obliged to pay on the Rhine, so that this fact and many other cruel exactions of his, have helped to evolve the terrible legend of the Mouse-Tower.
THE VALLEY OF THE NAHE
A mighty draught
Once upon a time in the high castle called Rheingrafenstein near Kreuznach, the flower of the knights belonging to the Rhine country were assembled.
They were powerful warriors, these nobles of ancient rank, but the most prominent among them was the host himself, the proud Rhine Count. Many a cup had he already emptied to the health of his distinguished guests, and rising up once more from his richly carved chair he cast a look over the brilliant assembly and said in a boastful tone:
"I have got a knight's high boot here, my noble lords. A courier left it behind him once. Now I promise on the honour of my house that whoever will drink it empty at one draught, to him I will give the village of Hueffelsheim yonder."
The count, smiling at the novelty of the challenge, took the boot from his attendant's hand, caused it to be filled to the brim, and held up this novel cup to his guests. "Tis a fair challenge! Come on whoever will dare!" said he.
Among the illustrious company present there was one, John of Sponheim, a knight well-known in the country for his enormous drinking powers; but he remained unmoved at these defiant words, only looking inquiringly at his neighbour, Knight Weinhart of Dhaun, who in great perplexity, was striving to hide his head behind a large goblet. Old Floersheimer, another knight whose thirst usually seemed unquenchable, stroked his gray beard doubtfully, while Kunz of Stromberg, a tall thin man, shook his head at the thought of the after-effects which such a draught would bring. Even the chaplain of the castle, who attributed his effective intoning of high-mass to the virtues of the Rhenish wine which he indulged in so freely, looked longingly at the boot, but had not the courage to attempt such a rash act.
Suddenly a knight, Boos of Waldeck by name rose. He was a muscular man with the strength of a bear. In a voice of thunder he banged his mighty fist upon the table and said scornfully, "Bring me that little boot!"
The distinguished company stared at him in great astonishment, but Boos of Waldeck, taking the boot in his sturdy fist, cried out. "Your health, my lords!"
Then flourishing it in the air, he emptied the boot at one draught.
When this act was accomplished, Boos threw himself heavily into his chair, and addressing the master of the ceremonies, said with a humorous twinkle in his eye:
"Did the courier not leave the other boot too? I might possibly win a second bet, and thus acquire the village of Roxheim into the bargain."
The count looked much abashed, but the noble guests only laughed heartily at the joke.
Thus stout Boos of Waldeck became lord of the village of Hueffelsheim.
The Foundation of Castle Sponheim
The following legend tells us about the origin of Castle Sponheim in the valley of the Nahe. Once a Knight of Ravensberg was eagerly wooing the beautiful young Countess of Heimburg, but there was a serious obstacle in his path to success. Some years before a Ravensberg had killed a Heimburg in a quarrel, and since that time a bitter feud had divided the two houses. The brave knight felt this bitterly, but in spite of it he did not leave off his wooing. The young countess was much touched by his constancy, and one day she spoke thus to her impetuous suitor:
"My lord, if you will dare to go to the Holy Land there to expiate the sins of your fathers, and bring me back a relic from the sepulchre of our Redeemer, in that same hour your suit will be heard."
The knight in great joy kissed the maiden's slender hand and departed, carrying the memory of her sweet smile away in his heart.
Just at this time the call of the Emperor Barbarossa, now an old man, sounded throughout the land, and the Knight of Ravensberg did not neglect the opportunity, but hastened forth to join the imperial army.
The expedition was a long and terrible one, and the troops wearily made their way across the desert plains of Palestine.
The knight, though a brave man, had no special love for warlike adventures, and during these exhausting marches he thought sorrowfully of his quiet castle on the Nahe; of how he used to lie down there in peace and safety at night without being in fear of the Saracens who, under cover of darkness would break in waving their scimitars in air, an event which was a nightly occurrence on this expedition.
Ravensberg however fought bravely in many a battle, and after the deaths of Barbarossa and his son, he joined the army of Richard the Lion-hearted.
Through all this anxious time he never forgot his dear one at home, and his longing for her became stronger every day, till it seemed to get beyond endurance.
King Richard was called back to England on some urgent state-affairs, and the Knight of Ravensberg was among the few companions-in-arms who embarked with him. The brave knight was very happy, and while the king's ship was sailing along the coast of Greece and up the blue Adriatic Sea, he would often stand on deck and weave bright dreams of the future; sometimes when no one was near, he would pull out a little black ebony box set with precious stones, on which a woman's name was written in golden letters; the interior was beautifully lined with costly silk; and a small splinter of wood lay within which the knight would kiss most reverently. He had paid a large sum of money for it in the Holy Land, where he had bought it from a Jewish merchant. This man had sworn to him that this fragment was from the cross to which the Son of God had been nailed.
The knight was very happy during this long homeward journey, but a great misfortune awaited him. Just as the crusaders came in sight of Italy their vessel was wrecked. The King of England, the Knight of Ravensberg, and a few others were saved with great difficulty, and brought to land. But our poor knight was inconsolable; he had held the precious little box high above him in the water, but a mighty wave had torn it from him, and on opening his eyes he found himself on shore. The holy relic had saved him, but he had lost his treasure, and now all hope of his promised happiness was gone.
* * * * *
One day a weary and dispirited crusader returned to the castle of Heimburg. He announced his arrival to the young countess most humbly, but she, her lovely face lighted up by a bright smile, hurried to meet the knight whose sunburnt countenance betokened great hardships.
She listened silently to his mournful story, then raising her beautiful head she asked: "Was not the little box set with precious stones and was not my name in golden letters on it?"
"Yes, noble lady," said the knight, the bitterness of his disappointment newly awakened, "And now it lies at the bottom of the sea in spite of my fervent prayers to St. George to save the precious fragment of our Saviour's cross."
The countess beckoned to a page, and after a few minutes the boy brought her on a velvet cushion a little black ebony box set with precious stones with a woman's name written on it. The knight uttered a cry of joyful surprise, for he recognised the jewel at once.
"Entreat the Holy Patron of Knighthood to pardon you," said the countess with a smile. "A strange knight brought this to the steward a few days ago, and before I had time to send for him, he had disappeared."
"It was St. George himself!" whispered the knight, crossing himself piously, "which proves that the fragment really belonged to the Holy Cross."
Then he bent his knee before his charming mistress who, with a deep blush on her cheeks, gave the man she had long but secretly loved love's first kiss.
* * * * *
A happy marriage was speedily celebrated in Heimburg. The Knight of Ravensberg then called his castle Spanheim (Span being the German word for chip) in memory of the precious little relic. This name was later on corrupted into Sponheim.
St. Clement's Chapel
There is a very melancholy legend connected with the foundation of St. Clement's church, which was built on the banks of the Rhine and which, not long since, was rebuilt and renovated by the generosity of the present great lady of Rheinstein Castle.
Rudolphus of Habsburg, elected emperor after the terrible anarchy which had reigned in Germany when the land was left without a ruler, determined by firm and vigorous government, to put an end to the evil-doings of the robber-knights who held sway along the Rhine.
He had already threatened these much-dreaded nobles who disturbed the peace of the country and the government of its ruler, and now hearing that they still continued their ravages, the emperor appeared himself in the Rhine countries, resolved to annihilate them and to destroy their strongholds.
On his way through the land, Rudolphus set fire to all the strongholds on the upper Rhine. The burning of the castles of Reichenstein, Sooneck, Heimburg and others, was an awful sight to the inhabitants of the valley below. Numerous members of these ancient noble races met the death of felons, and their bodies were hung up on trees as a warning to others.
Through the gates of Mainz many a robber baron was led as a prisoner by the soldiers of the emperor. Every time that one of these barons and his companions-in-arms were led along with bound hands, towards the Imperial tribunal, young and old, rich and poor poured forth from the streets and alleys, and accompanied the highborn malefactors with curses. The windows of the houses around were filled with eager onlookers, admiring the conduct of their emperor.
Moaning and wailing were then heard throughout the land, mothers, wives, and daughters weeping for their dead. On the other hand the merchants who had endured hardships and sufferings during these years, were now delighted with the stern justice dealt out by the emperor.
Under cover of darkness stealthy forms could be seen creeping to the place of execution, and silently and mournfully taking away the bodies of their relatives to preserve them from ignominious destruction. They then buried the wretched remains in consecrated ground, hoping thus to satisfy the fears which haunted them of future punishment, for many of their dear ones had stained their swords with the blood of their neighbours.
In order to atone for these sins, and in accordance with the wise counsel of a priest, the trees on which the bodies had been hanged were cut down, and the wood used to build a chapel of expiation. Stones were also taken from the smoking ruins of the burning castles and employed for the same purpose. The little church was built on the lonely place of execution on the Rhine near Assmannshausen.
The day arrived—a day of great sorrow and weeping—when all was ready, and the priest was to read prayers from the altar for the first time. Many funeral barges were to be seen on the river, bringing the dead who were buried in the aisle of the church.
The Archbishop of Mayence absolved the bodies from their sins, and afterwards they were all interred together near the little church for the second time.
This occurred towards the end of the thirteenth century. For long years afterwards prayers were offered up in this church in Assmannshausen for the souls of the dead.
The once proud and mighty races gradually died out, and their strongholds fell into ruins. And time which had demolished the castles on the heights above, began her work of destruction on the little church below; its roof decayed and its walls crumbled.
The ancient little church of St. Clement has since that time been raised again from its ruins, and now the voice of God's priest is heard chanting in it again, as it was heard six hundred years ago.
In Castle Rheinstein once lived a knight called Diethelm, who devoted himself without restraint to all the excesses of the robber barons. From one of his pillaging expeditions he brought back a charming maiden called Jutta. As the delicate ivy twines itself round the rough oak and clothes its knotty stem with shimmering velvet; so in time the gentle conduct of this maiden changed the coarse baron to a noble knight who eschewed pillaging and carousing, and ultimately made the fair Jutta the honoured wife of her captor.
The first fruit of their love cost the tender mother her life. Gerda however, who much resembled her mother, grew to such a noble beauty that soon wooers from far and near came to sue for the hand of the beautiful daughter of the aged Diethelm. But the aged knight made a most careful selection, and many gay wooers had to depart in sorrow. One young man was however regarded favourably by the maid, and not unkindly looked upon by the old man. He was the oldest son of the owner of the Sternburg. This young man had contrived to win the maiden's heart, and one day, while Gerda presided as queen of love and beauty at a tournament held in the courtyard of Castle Rheinstein, Helmbrecht made an avowal of his love.
Some days thereafter the young lord according to courtly fashion appointed his uncle Gunzelin of Reichenstein to woo his chosen bride for him. But Gunzelin though an old man was full of knavery and falsehood, and so instead of wooing for his nephew he ingratiated himself with Gerda's father. Moreover, as the old knight was descended from an ancient family and possessed of much wealth Diethelm was easily induced to promise him the hand of the fair Gerda. To the astonishment of this worthy pair Gerda would not listen to the suit of her rich wooer. Her heart belonged to the nephew, not to the uncle. Now Count Diethelm was aroused, and with the blind fury of his earlier years swore to his rich companion that Gerda belonged to him, and should never wed the young cock-sparrow of the Sternburg.
In her quiet chamber the unhappy maid wept out her heart's grief, but burning tears did not thaw the ice-cold heart of the father. In vain the young lover tried to gain the old knight's favour, but Diethelm merely referred to his knightly word solemnly pledged to the lord of Reichenstein.
Soon the day approached on which Gunzelin, with the smiling self-satisfaction of an old roue, and decked out to give himself all the appearance of young manhood, was to lead the fairest maiden in the Rhineland to his stately castle. Gerda who possessed the mild disposition of her deceased mother had submitted to the inevitable. On a bright summer morning the bridal procession started from the courtyard of Castle Rheinstein, and moved towards the Clement's Chapel situated in the neighbourhood. Horns blew and trumpets sounded. On a milkwhite palfrey, sat the fair young bride, deadly pale. She was thinking of her absent lover who in this hour must be enduring the greatest anguish on her account. Then all at once a swarm of buzzing gadflies came out of the bush and fastened fiercely on the palfrey which bore the fair Gerda. The animal reared and broke from the bridal procession. Boldly the bridegroom on his grandly caparisoned steed dashed forward to check the frightened animal, but his war-horse missing its footing on the narrow bridle path fell over a precipice carrying its master with it. The dying knight was carried by the wedding-guests back to Castle Rheinstein. The aged Diethelm was also unfortunate in his attempt to stop the runaway steed. The maddened animal had struck him on the shinbone, and wounded him. The servants were thus obliged to carry the moaning greybeard back to his castle as speedily and carefully as possible. The surgeon had a sad time of it during the next week as he attended to the enraged old knight's wounds and bruises.
When the runaway horse had disappeared round a bend of the path a man threw himself upon it, and bringing the trembling animal to a standstill clasped the unconscious bride in his arms. Helmbrecht, concealed in the brushwood, had been watching the bridal procession, and now came to the rescue of his true love. When the old lord heard of this he came to his senses and gave the lovers his blessing. Some weeks later a bridal procession advanced from the Clement's Chapel up to the festively decorated Castle Rheinstein. Trumpets were blown and horns resounded. Much more joyfully than on the previous occasion the musicians marched in front. Upon a milkwhite palfrey, as formerly, sat a noble maiden in bridal state, clothed in undulating robes bordered with fur. Her head was bent in maiden modesty as she listened to the endearments which the youthful knight whispered in her ear. Behind rode the father of the bride sunk in thought, and along with him was his pious sister Notburge, the canoness of Nonnenwerth.
A life of unalloyed married bliss followed this union, and God granted to the noble pair a long and happy life. They rest together in front of the altar in the Clement's Chapel which is situated across the Rhine from Assmannshausen. Castle Rheinstein stands in renewed youthful beauty on the edge of its precipitous cliff overlooking our noble stream.
The Blind Archer
In his stronghold at Sooneck, Siebold, one of the most rapacious of the robber barons presided over a godless revel. Wanton women with showy apparel and painted cheeks lolled in the arms of tipsy cavaliers. The music blared, and to complete their carousal wine flowed freely. The lord of Sooneck flushed with drinking, and leering on the assembly with evil-looking eyes spoke as follows:
"Noble ladies (drunken applause from his worthy associates) and much-married nobles (loudly giggled the shameless females), after food and drink, I, as your host will be pleased to entertain you by bringing before you a ferocious animal which I keep confined here."
While the ladies pretended to take shelter timidly behind their lords, and the men stared at their host expecting some further explanation, the doors of the room opened, and led by two servants a man in coarse garments, and with unkempt hair and beard stood before them. A suppressed whisper passed round the festive board and all eyes were fixed on the haggard countenance of the prisoner. When for a moment the weary eyelids were raised, two ghastly cavities were visible. Again, with the same tone of levity, the lord of the castle spoke, "Lovely ladies, and knightly companions, the best marksman on the Rhine was Hans Veit of Fuersteneck. Like ourselves he was dreaded far and near. He and I entered on a feud of life and death. He went down."
"With broken brand and battered shield, bleeding from numerous wounds I lay prostrate before you awaiting manfully the death-thrust," murmured the prisoner, and his voice sounded as if from the grave. "It pained me to finish him off," said Siebold flippantly, "I got his two eyes taken out, and thus added to my collection of rarities, the best archer on the Rhine."
"My murdered eyes behold your scorn," said the prisoner harshly. "But surely chivalry still flourishes on Sooneck," said the lord of the castle. "Understand then that my servants have informed me, that even blind, you can, guided only by sounds, hit a given mark with a bolt. If you come out of this ordeal successful, freedom shall be the reward." Stormy applause greeted these words.
"Death were dearer to me than life," murmured the blind archer. As he seized the crossbow however, a gleam of joy went over his countenance like a ray of sunshine over a sombre landscape. Crowded together in a corner of the room the guests watched the proceedings. The lord of Sooneck seized a goblet and ordered the prisoner to draw upon it, after hearing the sound. In the next moment the silver clang resounded, as the goblet fell on the floor.
"Shoot now," said Siebold of Sooneck, and immediately an arrow pierced his mouth. With a grunt like a slaughtered ox, Siebold sank among the rushes. Silent and motionless with the two eye-cavities gaping, stood the blind man. Then his shaggy head sank on his heaving breast. Like a flock of frightened crows the knights and their paramours fled, and only a few terrified squires and servants muttered prayers over the body of the lord of Sooneck.
THE RUINS OF FUeRSTENBERG
The Mother's Ghost
Lambert of Fuerstenberg was a hearty jovial knight, and had married Wiltrud, a daughter of the Florsheim family. He was attached to his gentle wife, who had just presented him with a son and heir. But an evil genius entered the castle in the person of a noble maiden called Luckharde. This maiden who had suddenly been left an orphan, belonged to a family long befriended by the house of Fuerstenberg. She was only eighteen, but possessed a lascivious beauty, very dangerous to men.
The lady of the castle, who had been in delicate health since the birth of her child, gave Luckharde a warm-hearted welcome into the bosom of her family, trusting that the young woman would be of great service to her in the management of her little realm, and would repay her kindness by sisterly love and sympathy. Luckharde however was of a vain and frivolous disposition, and had little love for household affairs, or womanly duties.
As the months passed, Luckharde's ripening and dangerous beauty gained gradually and almost imperceptibly more and more influence over the susceptible heart of the lord of the castle, and soon the day came when he yielded himself entirely to the charms of this beautiful woman. Wiltrud's eyes were by no means blind to the shameful ingratitude of the adulteress, and the godless conduct of her husband. Her weakness however, prevented her from calling down the judgment of heaven on the sinners. Luckharde, led on by her unbridled passion, now formed a devilish design which would enable her to take the place of the lawful wife of Lambert. One night she slipped into the chamber of the lady of the castle, approached the bed of the sleeping woman with a cat-like step, and smothered her with the pillows, the poor invalid offering but a feeble and ineffective resistance.