THE ENTIRE SHORT WORKS OF GEORGE MEREDITH
CONTENTS: Farina Case of General Ople The Tale of Chloe The House on the Beach The Gentleman of Fifty The Sentimentalists Miscellaneous Prose
By George Meredith
THE WHITE ROSE CLUB
In those lusty ages when the Kaisers lifted high the golden goblet of Aachen, and drank, elbow upward, the green-eyed wine of old romance, there lived, a bow-shot from the bones of the Eleven Thousand Virgins and the Three Holy Kings, a prosperous Rhinelander, by name Gottlieb Groschen, or, as it was sometimes ennobled, Gottlieb von Groschen; than whom no wealthier merchant bartered for the glory of his ancient mother-city, nor more honoured burgess swallowed impartially red juice and white under the shadow of his own fig-tree.
Vine-hills, among the hottest sun-bibbers of the Rheingau, glistened in the roll of Gottlieb's possessions; corn-acres below Cologne; basalt-quarries about Linz; mineral-springs in Nassau, a legacy of the Romans to the genius and enterprise of the first of German traders. He could have bought up every hawking crag, owner and all, from Hatto's Tower to Rheineck. Lore-ley, combing her yellow locks against the night-cloud, beheld old Gottlieb's rafts endlessly stealing on the moonlight through the iron pass she peoples above St. Goar. A wailful host were the wives of his raftsmen widowed there by her watery music!
This worthy citizen of Cologne held vasty manuscript letters of the Kaiser addressed to him:
'Dear Well-born son and Subject of mine, Gottlieb!' and he was easy with the proudest princes of the Holy German Realm. For Gottlieb was a money-lender and an honest man in one body. He laid out for the plenteous harvests of usury, not pressing the seasons with too much rigour. 'I sow my seed in winter,' said he, 'and hope to reap good profit in autumn; but if the crop be scanty, better let it lie and fatten the soil.'
'Old earth's the wisest creditor,' he would add; 'she never squeezes the sun, but just takes what he can give her year by year, and so makes sure of good annual interest.'
Therefore when people asked Gottlieb how he had risen to such a pinnacle of fortune, the old merchant screwed his eye into its wisest corner, and answered slyly, 'Because I 've always been a student of the heavenly bodies'; a communication which failed not to make the orbs and systems objects of ardent popular worship in Cologne, where the science was long since considered alchymic, and still may be.
Seldom could the Kaiser go to war on Welschland without first taking earnest counsel of his Well-born son and Subject Gottlieb, and lightening his chests. Indeed the imperial pastime must have ceased, and the Kaiser had languished but for him. Cologne counted its illustrious citizen something more than man. The burghers doffed when he passed; and scampish leather-draggled urchins gazed after him with praeternatural respect on their hanging chins, as if a gold-mine of great girth had walked through the awe-struck game.
But, for the young men of Cologne he had a higher claim to reverence as father of the fair Margarita, the White Rose of Germany; a noble maiden, peerless, and a jewel for princes.
The devotion of these youths should give them a name in chivalry. In her honour, daily and nightly, they earned among themselves black bruises and paraded discoloured countenances, with the humble hope to find it pleasing in her sight. The tender fanatics went in bands up and down Rhineland, challenging wayfarers and the peasantry with staff and beaker to acknowledge the supremacy of their mistress. Whoso of them journeyed into foreign parts, wrote home boasting how many times his head had been broken on behalf of the fair Margarita; and if this happened very often, a spirit of envy was created, which compelled him, when he returned, to verify his prowess on no less than a score of his rivals. Not to possess a beauty-scar, as the wounds received in these endless combats were called, became the sign of inferiority, so that much voluntary maiming was conjectured to be going on; and to obviate this piece of treachery, minutes of fights were taken and attested, setting forth that a certain glorious cut or crack was honourably won in fair field; on what occasion; and from whom; every member of the White Rose Club keeping his particular scroll, and, on days of festival and holiday, wearing it haughtily in his helm. Strangers entering Cologne were astonished at the hideous appearance of the striplings, and thought they never had observed so ugly a race; but they were forced to admit the fine influence of beauty on commerce, seeing that the consumption of beer increased almost hourly. All Bavaria could not equal Cologne for quantity made away with.
The chief members of the White Rose Club were Berthold Schmidt, the rich goldsmith's son; Dietrich Schill, son of the imperial saddler; Heinrich Abt, Franz Endermann, and Ernst Geller, sons of chief burghers, each of whom carried a yard-long scroll in his cap, and was too disfigured in person for men to require an inspection of the document. They were dangerous youths to meet, for the oaths, ceremonies, and recantations they demanded from every wayfarer, under the rank of baron, were what few might satisfactorily perform, if lovers of woman other than the fair Margarita, or loyal husbands; and what none save trained heads and stomachs could withstand, however naturally manful. The captain of the Club was he who could drink most beer without intermediate sighing, and whose face reckoned the proudest number of slices and mixture of colours. The captaincy was most in dispute between Dietrich Schill and Berthold Schmidt, who, in the heat and constancy of contention, were gradually losing likeness to man. 'Good coin,' they gloried to reflect, 'needs no stamp.'
One youth in Cologne held out against the standing tyranny, and chose to do beauty homage in his own fashion, and at his leisure. It was Farina, and oaths were registered against him over empty beer-barrels. An axiom of the White Rose Club laid it down that everybody must be enamoured of Margarita, and the conscience of the Club made them trebly suspicious of those who were not members. They had the consolation of knowing that Farina was poor, but then he was affirmed a student of Black Arts, and from such a one the worst might reasonably be feared. He might bewitch Margarita!
Dietrich Schill was deputed by the Club to sound the White Rose herself on the subject of Farina, and one afternoon in the vintage season, when she sat under the hot vine-poles among maiden friends, eating ripe grapes, up sauntered Dietrich, smirking, cap in hand, with his scroll trailed behind him.
'Wilt thou?' said Margarita, offering him a bunch.
'Unhappy villain that I am!' replied Dietrich, gesticulating fox-like refusal; 'if I but accept a favour, I break faith with the Club.'
'Break it to pleasure me,' said Margarita, smiling wickedly.
Dietrich gasped. He stood on tiptoe to see if any of the Club were by, and half-stretched out his hand. A mocking laugh caused him to draw it back as if stung. The grapes fell. Farina was at Margarita's feet offering them in return.
'Wilt thou?' said Margarita, with softer stress, and slight excess of bloom in her cheeks.
Farina put the purple cluster to his breast, and clutched them hard on his heart, still kneeling.
Margarita's brow and bosom seemed to be reflections of the streaming crimson there. She shook her face to the sky, and affected laughter at the symbol. Her companions clapped hands. Farina's eyes yearned to her once, and then he rose and joined in the pleasantry.
Fury helped Dietrich to forget his awkwardness. He touched Farina on the shoulder with two fingers, and muttered huskily: 'The Club never allow that.'
Farina bowed, as to thank him deeply for the rules of the Club. 'I am not a member, you know,' said he, and strolled to a seat close by Margarita.
Dietrich glared after him. As head of a Club he understood the use of symbols. He had lost a splendid opportunity, and Farina had seized it. Farina had robbed him.
'May I speak with Mistress Margarita?' inquired the White Rose chief, in a ragged voice.
'Surely, Dietrich! do speak,' said Margarita.
'Alone?' he continued.
'Is that allowed by the Club?' said one of the young girls, with a saucy glance.
Dietrich deigned no reply, but awaited Margarita's decision. She hesitated a second; then stood up her full height before him; faced him steadily, and beckoned him some steps up the vine-path. Dietrich bowed, and passing Farina, informed him that the Club would wring satisfaction out of him for the insult.
Farina laughed, but answered, 'Look, you of the Club! beer-swilling has improved your manners as much as fighting has beautified your faces. Go on; drink and fight! but remember that the Kaiser's coming, and fellows with him who will not be bullied.'
'What mean you?' cried Dietrich, lurching round on his enemy.
'Not so loud, friend,' returned Farina. 'Or do you wish to frighten the maidens? I mean this, that the Club had better give as little offence as possible, and keep their eyes as wide as they can, if they want to be of service to Mistress Margarita.'
Dietrich turned off with a grunt.
'Now!' said Margarita.
She was tapping her foot. Dietrich grew unfaithful to the Club, and looked at her longer than his mission warranted. She was bright as the sunset gardens of the Golden Apples. The braids of her yellow hair were bound in wreaths, and on one side of her head a saffron crocus was stuck with the bell downward. Sweetness, song, and wit hung like dews of morning on her grape-stained lips. She wore a scarlet corset with bands of black velvet across her shoulders. The girlish gown was thin blue stuff, and fell short over her firm-set feet, neatly cased in white leather with buckles. There was witness in her limbs and the way she carried her neck of an amiable, but capable, dragon, ready, when aroused, to bristle up and guard the Golden Apples against all save the rightful claimant. Yet her nether lip and little white chin-ball had a dreamy droop; her frank blue eyes went straight into the speaker: the dragon slept. It was a dangerous charm. 'For,' says the minnesinger, 'what ornament more enchants us on a young beauty than the soft slumber of a strength never yet called forth, and that herself knows not of! It sings double things to the heart of knighthood; lures, and warns us; woos, and threatens. 'Tis as nature, shining peace, yet the mother of storm.'
'There is no man,' rapturously exclaims Heinrich von der Jungferweide, 'can resist the desire to win a sweet treasure before which lies a dragon sleeping. The very danger prattles promise.'
But the dragon must really sleep, as with Margarita.
'A sham dragon, shamming sleep, has destroyed more virgins than all the heathen emperors,' says old Hans Aepfelmann of Duesseldorf.
Margarita's foot was tapping quicker.
'Speak, Dietrich!' she said.
Dietrich declared to the Club that at this point he muttered, 'We love you.' Margarita was glad to believe he had not spoken of himself. He then informed her of the fears entertained by the Club, sworn to watch over and protect her, regarding Farina's arts.
'And what fear you?' said Margarita.
'We fear, sweet mistress, he may be in league with Sathanas,' replied Dietrich.
'Truly, then,' said Margarita, 'of all the youths in Cologne he is the least like his confederate.'
Dietrich gulped and winked, like a patient recovering wry-faced from an abhorred potion.
'We have warned you, Fraulein Groschen!' he exclaimed. 'It now becomes our duty to see that you are not snared.'
Margarita reddened, and returned: 'You are kind. But I am a Christian maiden and not a Pagan soldan, and I do not require a body of tawny guards at my heels.'
Thereat she flung back to her companions, and began staining her pretty mouth with grapes anew.
THE TAPESTRY WORD
Fair maids will have their hero in history. Siegfried was Margarita's chosen. She sang of Siegfried all over the house. 'O the old days of Germany, when such a hero walked!' she sang.
'And who wins Margarita,' mused Farina, 'happier than Siegfried, has in his arms Brunhild and Chrimhild together!'
Crowning the young girl's breast was a cameo, and the skill of some cunning artist out of Welschland had wrought on it the story of the Drachenfels. Her bosom heaved the battle up and down.
This cameo was a north star to German manhood, but caused many chaste expressions of abhorrence from Aunt Lisbeth, Gottlieb's unmarried sister, who seemed instinctively to take part with the Dragon. She was a frail-fashioned little lady, with a face betokening the perpetual smack of lemon, and who reigned in her brother's household when the good wife was gone. Margarita's robustness was beginning to alarm and shock Aunt Lisbeth's sealed stock of virtue.
'She must be watched, such a madl as that,' said Aunt Lisbeth. 'Ursula! what limbs she has!'
Margarita was watched; but the spy being neither foe nor friend, nothing was discovered against her. This did not satisfy Aunt Lisbeth, whose own suspicion was her best witness. She allowed that Margarita dissembled well.
'But,' said she to her niece, 'though it is good in a girl not to flaunt these naughtinesses in effrontery, I care for you too much not to say—Be what you seem, my little one!'
'And that am I!' exclaimed Margarita, starting up and towering.
'Right good, my niece,' Lisbeth squealed; 'but now Frau Groschen lies in God's acre, you owe your duty to me, mind! Did you confess last week?'
'From beginning to end,' replied Margarita.
Aunt Lisbeth fixed pious reproach on Margarita's cameo.
'And still you wear that thing?'
'Why not?' said Margarita.
'Girl! who would bid you set it in such a place save Satan? Oh, thou poor lost child! that the eyes of the idle youths may be drawn there! and thou become his snare to others, Margarita! What was that Welsh wandering juggler but the foul fiend himself, mayhap, thou maiden of sin! They say he has been seen in Cologne lately. He was swarthy as Satan and limped of one leg. Good Master in heaven, protect us! it was Satan himself I could swear!'
Aunt Lisbeth crossed brow and breast.
Margarita had commenced fingering the cameo, as if to tear it away; but Aunt Lisbeth's finish made her laugh outright.
'Where I see no harm, aunty, I shall think the good God is,' she answered; 'and where I see there's harm, I shall think Satan lurks.'
A simper of sour despair passed over Aunt Lisbeth. She sighed, and was silent, being one of those very weak reeds who are easily vanquished and never overcome.
'Let us go on with the Tapestry, child,' said she.
Now, Margarita was ambitious of completing a certain Tapestry for presentation to Kaiser Heinrich on his entry into Cologne after his last campaign on the turbaned Danube. The subject was again her beloved Siegfried slaying the Dragon on Drachenfels. Whenever Aunt Lisbeth indulged in any bitter virginity, and was overmatched by Margarita's frank maidenhood, she hung out this tapestry as a flag of truce. They were working it in bits, not having contrivances to do it in a piece. Margarita took Siegfried and Aunt Lisbeth the Dragon. They shared the crag between them. A roguish gleam of the Rhine toward Nonnenwerth could be already made out, Roland's Corner hanging like a sentinel across the chanting island, as one top-heavy with long watch.
Aunt Lisbeth was a great proficient in the art, and had taught Margarita. The little lady learnt it, with many other gruesome matters, in the Palatine of Bohemia's family. She usually talked of the spectres of Hollenbogenblitz Castle in the passing of the threads. Those were dismal spectres in Bohemia, smelling of murder and the charnel-breath of midnight. They uttered noises that wintered the blood, and revealed sights that stiffened hair three feet long; ay, and kept it stiff!
Margarita placed herself on a settle by the low-arched window, and Aunt Lisbeth sat facing her. An evening sun blazoned the buttresses of the Cathedral, and shadowed the workframes of the peaceful couple to a temperate light. Margarita unrolled a sampler sheathed with twists of divers coloured threads, and was soon busy silver-threading Siegfried's helm and horns.
'I told you of the steward, poor Kraut, did I not, child?' inquired Aunt Lisbeth, quietly clearing her throat.
'Many times!' said Margarita, and went on humming over her knee
'Her love was a Baron, A Baron so bold; She loved him for love, He loved her for gold.'
'He must see for himself, and be satisfied,' continued Aunt Lisbeth; 'and Holy Thomas to warn him for an example! Poor Kraut!'
'Poor Kraut!' echoed Margarita.
'The King loved wine, and the Knight loved wine, And they loved the summer weather: They might have loved each other well, But for one they loved together.'
'You may say, poor Kraut, child!' said Aunt Lisbeth. 'Well! his face was before that as red as this dragon's jaw, and ever after he went about as white as a pullet's egg. That was something wonderful!' 'That was it!' chimed Margarita.
'O the King he loved his lawful wife, The Knight a lawless lady: And ten on one-made ringing strife, Beneath the forest shady.'
'Fifty to one, child!' said Aunt Lisbeth: 'You forget the story. They made Kraut sit with them at the jabbering feast, the only mortal there. The walls were full of eye-sockets without eyes, but phosphorus instead, burning blue and damp.'
'Not to-night, aunty dear! It frightens me so,' pleaded Margarita, for she saw the dolor coming.
'Night! when it's broad mid-day, thou timid one! Good heaven take pity on such as thou! The dish was seven feet in length by four broad. Kraut measured it with his eye, and never forgot it. Not he! When the dish-cover was lifted, there he saw himself lying, boiled!
"'I did not feel uncomfortable then," Kraut told us. "It seemed natural."
'His face, as it lay there, he says, was quite calm, only a little wrinkled, and piggish-looking-like. There was the mole on his chin, and the pucker under his left eyelid. Well! the Baron carved. All the guests were greedy for a piece of him. Some cried out for breast; some for toes. It was shuddering cold to sit and hear that! The Baroness said, "Cheek!"'
'Ah!' shrieked Margarita, 'that can I not bear! I will not hear it, aunt; I will not!'
'Cheek!' Aunt Lisbeth reiterated, nodding to the floor.
Margarita put her fingers to her ears.
'Still, Kraut says, even then he felt nothing odd. Of course he was horrified to be sitting with spectres as you and I should be; but the first tremble of it was over. He had plunged into the bath of horrors, and there he was. I 've heard that you must pronounce the names of the Virgin and Trinity, sprinkling water round you all the while for three minutes; and if you do this without interruption, everything shall disappear. So they say. "Oh! dear heaven of mercy!" says Kraut, "what I felt when the Baron laid his long hunting-knife across my left cheek!"'
Here Aunt Lisbeth lifted her eyes to dote upon Margarita's fright. She was very displeased to find her niece, with elbows on the window-sill and hands round her head, quietly gazing into the street.
She said severely, 'Where did you learn that song you were last singing, Margarita? Speak, thou girl!'
'The thrush, and the lark, and the blackbird, They taught me how to sing: And O that the hawk would lend his eye, And the eagle lend his wing.'
'I will not hear these shameless songs,' exclaimed Aunt Lisbeth.
'For I would view the lands they view, And be where they have been: It is not enough to be singing For ever in dells unseen!'
A voice was heard applauding her. 'Good! right good! Carol again, Gretelchen! my birdie!'
Margarita turned, and beheld her father in the doorway. She tripped toward him, and heartily gave him their kiss of meeting. Gottlieb glanced at the helm of Siegfried.
'Guessed the work was going well; you sing so lightsomely to-day, Grete! Very pretty! And that's Drachenfels? Bones of the Virgins! what a bold fellow was Siegfried, and a lucky, to have the neatest lass in Deutschland in love with him. Well, we must marry her to Siegfried after all, I believe! Aha? or somebody as good as Siegfried. So chirrup on, my darling!'
'Aunt Lisbeth does not approve of my songs,' replied Margarita, untwisting some silver threads.
'Do thy father's command, girl!' said Aunt Lisbeth.
'And doing his command, Should I do a thing of ill, I'd rather die to his lovely face, Than wanton at his will.'
'There—there,' said Aunt Lisbeth, straining out her fingers; 'you see, Gottlieb, what over-indulgence brings her to. Not another girl in blessed Rhineland, and Bohemia to boot, dared say such words!—than—I can't repeat them!—don't ask me!—She's becoming a Frankish girl!'
'What ballad's that?' said Gottlieb, smiling.
'The Ballad of Holy Ottilia; and her lover was sold to darkness. And she loved him—loved him——'
'As you love Siegfried, you little one?'
'More, my father; for she saw Winkried, and I never saw Siegfried. Ah! if I had seen Siegfried! Never mind. She loved him; but she loved Virtue more. And Virtue is the child of God, and the good God forgave her for loving Winkried, the Devil's son, because she loved Virtue more, and He rescued her as she was being dragged down—down—down, and was half fainting with the smell of brimstone—rescued her and had her carried into His Glory, head and feet, on the wings of angels, before all men, as a hope to little maidens.
'And when I thought that I was lost I found that I was saved, And I was borne through blessed clouds, Where the banners of bliss were waved.'
'And so you think you, too, may fall in, love with Devils' sons, girl?' was Aunt Lisbeth's comment.
'Do look at Lisbeth's Dragon, little Heart! it's so like!' said Margarita to her father.
Old Gottlieb twitted his hose, and chuckled.
'She's my girl! that may be seen,' said he, patting her, and wheezed up from his chair to waddle across to the Dragon. But Aunt Lisbeth tartly turned the Dragon to the wall.
'It is not yet finished, Gottlieb, and must not be looked at,' she interposed. 'I will call for wood, and see to a fire: these evenings of Spring wax cold': and away whimpered Aunt Lisbeth.
'I with my playmates, In riot and disorder, Were gathering herb and blossom Along the forest border.'
'Thy mother's song, child of my heart!' said Gottlieb; 'but vex not good Lisbeth: she loves thee!'
'And do you think she loves me? And will you say 'tis true? O, and will she have me, When I come up to woo?'
'Thou leaping doe! thou chattering pie!' said Gottlieb.
'She shall have ribbons and trinkets, And shine like a morn of May, When we are off to the little hill-church, Our flowery bridal way.'
'That she shall; and something more!' cried Gottlieb. 'But, hark thee, Gretelchen; the Kaiser will be here in three days. Thou dear one! had I not stored and hoarded all for thee, I should now have my feet on a hearthstone where even he might warm his boot. So get thy best dresses and jewels in order, and look thyself; proud as any in the land. A simple burgher's daughter now, Grete; but so shalt thou not end, my butterfly, or there's neither worth nor wit in Gottlieb Groschen!'
'Three days!' Margarita exclaimed; 'and the helm not finished, and the tapestry-pieces not sewed and joined, and the water not shaded off.—Oh! I must work night and day.'
'Child! I'll have no working at night! Your rosy cheeks will soon be sucked out by oil-light, and you look no better than poor tallow Court beauties—to say nothing of the danger. This old house saw Charles the Great embracing the chief magistrate of his liege city yonder. Some swear he slept in it. He did not sneeze at smaller chambers than our Kaisers abide. No gold ceilings with cornice carvings, but plain wooden beams.'
'Know that the men of great renown, Were men of simple needs: Bare to the Lord they laid them down, And slept on mighty deeds.'
'God wot, there's no emptying thy store of ballads, Grete: so much shall be said of thee. Yes; times are changeing: We're growing degenerate. Look at the men of Linz now to what they were! Would they have let the lads of Andernach float down cabbage-stalks to them without a shy back? And why? All because they funk that brigand-beast Werner, who gets redemption from Laach, hard by his hold, whenever he commits a crime worth paying for. As for me, my timber and stuffs must come down stream, and are too good for the nixen under Rhine, or think you I would acknowledge him with a toll, the hell-dog? Thunder and lightning! if old scores could be rubbed out on his hide!'
Gottlieb whirled a thong-lashing arm in air, and groaned of law and justice. What were they coming to!
Margarita softened the theme with a verse:
'And tho' to sting his enemy, Is sweetness to the angry bee, The angry bee must busy be, Ere sweet of sweetness hiveth he.
The arch thrill of his daughter's voice tickled Gottlieb. 'That's it, birdie! You and the proverb are right. I don't know which is best,
'Better hive And keep alive Than vengeance wake With that you take.'
A clatter in the cathedral square brought Gottlieb on his legs to the window. It was a company of horsemen sparkling in harness. One trumpeter rode at the side of the troop, and in front a standard-bearer, matted down the chest with ochre beard, displayed aloft to the good citizens of Cologne, three brown hawks, with birds in their beaks, on an azure stardotted field.
'Holy Cross!' exclaimed Gottlieb, low in his throat; 'the arms of Werner! Where got he money to mount his men? Why, this is daring all Cologne in our very teeth! 'Fend that he visit me now! Ruin smokes in that ruffian's track. I 've felt hot and cold by turns all day.'
The horsemen came jingling carelessly along the street in scattered twos and threes, laughing together, and singling out the maidens at the gable-shadowed windows with hawking eyes. The good citizens of Cologne did not look on them favourably. Some showed their backs and gruffly banged their doors: others scowled and pocketed their fists: not a few slunk into the side alleys like well-licked curs, and scurried off with forebent knees. They were in truth ferocious-looking fellows these trusty servants of the robber Baron Werner, of Werner's Eck, behind Andernach. Leather, steel, and dust, clad them from head to foot; big and black as bears; wolf-eyed, fox-nosed. They glistened bravely in the falling beams of the sun, and Margarita thrust her fair braided yellow head a little forward over her father's shoulder to catch the whole length of the grim cavalcade. One of the troop was not long in discerning the young beauty. He pointed her boldly out to a comrade, who approved his appetite, and referred her to a third. The rest followed lead, and Margarita was as one spell-struck when she became aware that all those hungry eyes were preying on hers. Old Gottlieb was too full of his own fears to think for her, and when he drew in his head rather suddenly, it was with a dismal foreboding that Werner's destination in Cologne was direct to the house of Gottlieb Groschen, for purposes only too well to be divined.
'Devil's breeches!' muttered Gottlieb; 'look again, Grete, and see if that hell-troop stop the way outside.'
Margarita's cheeks were overflowing with the offended rose.
'I will not look at them again, father.'
Gottlieb stared, and then patted her.
'I would I were a man, father!'
Gottlieb smiled, and stroked his beard.
'Oh! how I burn!'
And the girl shivered visibly.
'Grete! mind to be as much of a woman as you can, and soon such raff as this you may sweep away, like cobwebs, and no harm done.'
He was startled by a violent thumping at the streetdoor, and as brazen a blast as if the dead were being summoned. Aunt Lisbeth entered, and flitted duskily round the room, crying:
'We are lost: they are upon us! better death with a bodkin! Never shall it be said of me; never! the monsters!'
Then admonishing them to lock, bar, bolt, and block up every room in the house, Aunt Lisbeth perched herself on the edge of a chair, and reversed the habits of the screech-owl, by being silent when stationary.
'There's nothing to fear for you, Lisbeth,' said Gottlieb, with discourteous emphasis.
'Gottlieb! do you remember what happened at the siege of Mainz? and poor Marthe Herbstblum, who had hoped to die as she was; and Dame Altknopfchen, and Frau Kaltblut, and the old baker, Hans Topf's sister, all of them as holy as abbesses, and that did not save them! and nothing will from such godless devourers.'
Gottlieb was gone, having often before heard mention of the calamity experienced by these fated women.
'Comfort thee, good heart, on my breast,' said Margarita, taking Lisbeth to that sweet nest of peace and fortitude.
'Margarita! 'tis your doing! have I not said—lure them not, for they swarm too early upon us! And here they are! and, perhaps, in five minutes all will be over!
Herr Je!—What, you are laughing! Heavens of goodness, the girl is delighted!'
Here a mocking ha-ha! accompanied by a thundering snack at the door, shook the whole house, and again the trumpet burst the ears with fury.
This summons, which seemed to Aunt Lisbeth final, wrought a strange composure in her countenance. She was very pale, but spread her dress decently, as if fear had departed, and clasped her hands on her knees.
'The will of the Lord above must be done,' said she; 'it is impious to complain when we are given into the hand of the Philistines. Others have been martyred, and were yet acceptable.'
To this heroic speech she added, with cold energy: 'Let them come!'
'Aunt,' cried Margarita, 'I hear my father's voice with those men. Aunty! I will not let him be alone. I must go down to him. You will be safe here. I shall come to you if there's cause for alarm.'
And in spite of Aunt Lisbeth's astonished shriek of remonstrance, she hurried off to rejoin Gottlieb.
Ere Margarita had reached the landing of the stairs, she repented her haste and shrank back. Wrapt in a thunder of oaths, she distinguished: ''Tis the little maiden we want; let's salute her and begone! or cap your skull with something thicker than you've on it now, if you want a whole one, happy father!'
'Gottlieb von Groschen I am,' answered her father, 'and the Kaiser——'
''S as fond of a pretty girl as we are! Down with her, and no more drivelling! It's only for a moment, old Measure and Scales!'
'I tell you, rascals, I know your master, and if you're not punished for this, may I die a beggar!' exclaimed Gottlieb, jumping with rage.
'May you die as rich as an abbot! And so you will, if you don't bring her down, for I've sworn to see her; there 's the end of it, man!'
'I'll see, too, if the laws allow this villany!' cried Gottlieb. 'Insulting a peaceful citizen! in his own house! a friend of your emperor! Gottlieb von Groschen!'
'Groschen? We're cousins, then! You wouldn't shut out your nearest kin? Devil's lightning! Don't you know me? Pfennig? Von Pfennig! This here's Heller: that's Zwanziger: all of us Vons, every soul! You're not decided? This'll sharpen you, my jolly King Paunch!'
And Margarita heard the ruffian step as if to get swing for a blow. She hurried into the passage, and slipping in front of her father, said to his assailant:
'You have asked for me! I am here!'
Her face was colourless, and her voice seemed to issue from between a tightened cord. She stood with her left foot a little in advance, and her whole body heaving and quivering: her arms folded and pressed hard below her bosom: her eyes dilated to a strong blue: her mouth ashy white. A strange lustre, as of suppressed internal fire, flickered over her.
'My name 's Schwartz Thier, and so 's my nature!' said the fellow with a grin; 'but may I never smack lips with a pretty girl again, if I harm such a young beauty as this! Friendly dealing's my plan o' life.'
'Clear out of my house, then, fellow, and here's money for you,' said Gottlieb, displaying a wrathfully-trembling handful of coin.
'Pish! money! forty times that wouldn't cover my bet! And if it did? Shouldn't I be disgraced? jeered at for a sheep-heart? No, I'm no ninny, and not to be diddled. I'll talk to the young lady! Silence, out there! all's going proper': this to his comrades through the door. 'So, my beautiful maiden! thus it stands: We saw you at the window, looking like a fresh rose with a gold crown on. Here are we poor fellows come to welcome the Kaiser. I began to glorify you. "Schwartz Thier!" says Henker Rothhals to me, "I'll wager you odds you don't have a kiss of that fine girl within twenty minutes, counting from the hand-smack!" Done! was my word, and we clapped our fists together. Now, you see, that's straightforward! All I want is, not to lose my money and be made a fool of—leaving alone that sugary mouth which makes mine water'; and he drew the back of his hand along his stubbled jaws: 'So, come! don't hesitate! no harm to you, my beauty, but a compliment, and Schwartz Thier's your friend and anything else you like for ever after. Come, time's up, pretty well.'
Margarita leaned to her father a moment as if mortal sickness had seized her. Then cramping her hands and feet, she said in his ear, 'Leave me to my own care; go, get the men to protect thee'; and ordered Schwartz Thier to open the door wide.
Seeing Gottlieb would not leave her, she joined her hands, and begged him. 'The good God will protect me! I will overmatch these men. Look, my father! they dare not strike me in the street: you they would fell without pity. Go! what they dare in a house, they dare not in the street.'
Schwartz Thier had opened the door. At sight of Margarita, the troop gave a shout.
'Now! on the doorstep, full in view, my beauteous one! that they may see what a lucky devil I am—and have no doubts about the handing over.'
Margarita looked behind. Gottlieb was still there, every member of him quaking like a bog under a heavy heel. She ran to him. 'My father! I have a device wilt thou spoil it, and give me to this beast? You can do nothing, nothing! protect yourself and save me!'
'Cologne! broad day!' muttered Gottlieb, as if the enormity had prostrated his belief in facts; and moved slowly back.
Margarita strode to the door-step. Schwartz Thier was awaiting her, his arm circled out, and his leering face ducked to a level with his victim's. This rough show of gallantry proved costly to him. As he was gently closing his iron hold about her, enjoying before hand with grim mouthridges the flatteries of triumph, Margarita shot past him through the door, and was already twenty paces beyond the troop before either of them thought of pursuing her. At the first sound of a hoof, Henker Rothhals seized the rider's bridle-rein, and roared: 'Fair play for a fair bet! leave all to the Thier!' The Thier, when he had recovered from his amazement, sought for old Gottlieb to give him a back-hit, as Margarita foresaw that he would. Not finding him at hand, out lumbered the fellow as swiftly as his harness would allow, and caught a glimpse of Margarita rapidly fleeting up the cathedral square.
'Only five minutes, Schwartz Thier!' some of the troop sung out.
'The devil can do his business in one,' was the retort, and Schwartz Thier swung himself on his broad-backed charger, and gored the fine beast till she rattled out a blast of sparkles from the flint.
In a minute he drew up in front of Margarita.
'So! you prefer settling this business in the square.
Good! my choice sweetheart!' and he sprang to her side.
The act of flight had touched the young girl's heart with the spirit of flight. She crouched like a winded hare under the nose of the hound, and covered her face with her two hands. Margarita was no wisp in weight, but Schwartz Thier had her aloft in his arm as easily as if he had tossed up a kerchief.
'Look all, and witness!' he shouted, lifting the other arm.
Henker Rothhals and the rest of the troop looked, as they came trotting to the scene, with the coolness of umpires: but they witnessed something other than what Schwartz Thier proposed. This was the sight of a formidable staff, whirling an unfriendly halo over the head of the Thier, and descending on it with such honest intent to confound and overthrow him, that the Thier succumbed to its force without argument, and the square echoed blow and fall simultaneously. At the same time the wielder of this sound piece of logic seized Margarita, and raised a shout in the square for all true men to stand by him in rescuing a maiden from the clutch of brigands and ravishers. A crowd was collecting, but seemed to consider the circle now formed by the horsemen as in a manner charmed, for only one, a fair slender youth, came forward and ranged himself beside the stranger.
'Take thou the maiden: I'll keep to the staff,' said this latter, stumbling over his speech as if he was in a foreign land among old roots and wolfpits which had already shaken out a few of his teeth, and made him cautious about the remainder.
'Can it be Margarita!' exclaimed the youth, bending to her, and calling to her: 'Margarita! Fraulein Groschen!'
She opened her eyes, shuddered, and said: 'I was not afraid! Am I safe?'
'Safe while I have life, and this good friend.'
'Where is my father?'
'I have not seen him.'
'And you—who are you? Do I owe this to you?'
'Oh! no! no! Me you owe nothing.'
Margarita gazed hurriedly round, and at her feet there lay the Thier with his steel-cap shining in dints, and three rivulets of blood coursing down his mottled forehead. She looked again at the youth, and a blush of recognition gave life to her cheeks.
'I did not know you. Pardon me. Farina! what thanks can reward such courage! Tell me! shall we go?'
'The youth eyed her an instant, but recovering himself, took a rapid survey, and called to the stranger to follow and help give the young maiden safe conduct home.
'Just then Henker Rothhals bellowed, 'Time's up!' He was answered by a chorus of agreement from the troop. They had hitherto patiently acted their parts as spectators, immovable on their horses. The assault on the Thier was all in the play, and a visible interference of fortune in favour of Henker Rothhals. Now general commotion shuttled them, and the stranger's keen hazel eyes read their intentions rightly when he lifted his redoubtable staff in preparation for another mighty swoop, this time defensive. Rothhals, and half a dozen others, with a war-cry of curses, spurred their steeds at once to ride him down. They had not reckoned the length and good-will of their antagonist's weapon. Scarce were they in motion, when round it whizzed, grazing the nostrils of their horses with a precision that argued practice in the feat, and unhorsing two, Rothhals among the number. He dropped heavily on his head, and showed signs of being as incapable of combat as the Thier. A cheer burst from the crowd, but fell short.
The foremost of their number was struck flat to the earth by a fellow of the troop.
Calling on St. George, his patron saint, the stranger began systematically to make a clear ring in his path forward. Several of the horsemen essayed a cut at his arm with their long double-handed swords, but the horses could not be brought a second time to the edge of the magic circle; and the blood of these warriors being thoroughly up, they now came at him on foot. In their rage they would have made short work with the three, in spite of the magistracy of Cologne, had they not been arrested by cries of 'Werner! Werner!'
At the South-west end of the square, looking Rhinewards, rode the marauder Baron, in full armour, helm and hauberk, with a single retainer in his rear. He had apparently caught sight of the brawl, and, either because he distinguished his own men, or was seeking his natural element, hastened up for his share in it, which was usually that of the king of beasts. His first call was for Schwartz Thier. The men made way, and he beheld his man in no condition to make military responses. He shouted for Henker Rothhals, and again the men opened their ranks mutely, exhibiting the two stretched out in diverse directions, with their feet slanting to a common point. The Baron glared; then caught off his mailed glove, and thrust it between his teeth. A rasping gurgle of oaths was all they heard, and presently surged up,
'Who was it?'
Margarita's eyes were shut. She opened them fascinated with horror. There was an unearthly awful and comic mixture of sounds in Werner's querulous fury, that was like the noise of a complaining bear, rolling up from hollow-chested menace to yawning lament. Never in her life had Margarita such a shock of fear. The half gasp of a laugh broke on her trembling lips. She stared at Werner, and was falling; but Farina's arm clung instantly round her waist. The stranger caught up her laugh, loud and hearty.
'As for who did it, Sir Baron,' he cried, is a cheery tone, 'I am the man! As you may like to know why—and that's due to you and me both of us—all I can say is, the Black Muzzle yonder lying got his settler for merry-making with this peaceful maiden here, without her consent—an offence in my green island they reckon a crack o' the sconce light basting for, I warrant all company present,' and he nodded sharply about. 'As for the other there, who looks as if a rope had been round his neck once and shirked its duty, he counts his wages for helping the devil in his business, as will any other lad here who likes to come on and try.'
Werner himself, probably, would have given him the work he wanted; but his eye had sidled a moment over Margarita, and the hardly-suppressed applause of the crowd at the stranger's speech failed to bring his ire into action this solitary time.
'Who is the maiden?' he asked aloud.
'Fraulein von Groschen,' replied Farina.
'Von Groschen! Von Groschen! the daughter of Gottlieb Groschen?—Rascals!' roared the Baron, turning on his men, and out poured a mud-spring of filthy oaths and threats, which caused Henker Rothhals, who had opened his eyes, to close them again, as if he had already gone to the place of heat.
'Only lend me thy staff, friend,' cried Werner.
'Not I! thwack 'em with your own wood,' replied the stranger, and fell back a leg.
Werner knotted his stringy brows, and seemed torn to pieces with the different pulling tides of his wrath. He grasped the mane of his horse and flung abroad handfuls, till the splendid animal reared in agony.
'You shall none of you live over this night, villains! I 'll hang you, every hag's son! My last orders were,—Keep quiet in the city, ye devil's brood. Take that! and that!' laying at them with his bare sword. 'Off with you, and carry these two pigs out of sight quickly, or I'll have their heads, and make sure o' them.'
The latter injunction sprang from policy, for at the head of the chief street there was a glitter of the city guard, marching with shouldered spears.
'Maiden,' said Werner, with a bull's bow, 'let me conduct thee to thy father.'
Margarita did not reply; but gave her hand to Farina, and took a step closer to the stranger.
Werner's brows grew black.
'Enough to have saved you, fair maid,' he muttered hoarsely. 'Gratitude never was a woman's gift. Say to your father that I shall make excuses to him for the conduct of my men.'
Whereupon, casting a look of leisurely scorn toward the guard coming up in the last beams of day, the Baron shrugged his huge shoulders to an altitude expressing the various contemptuous shades of feudal coxcombry, stuck one leather-ruffled arm in his side, and jolted off at an easy pace.
'Amen!' ejaculated the stranger, leaning on his staff. 'There are Barons in my old land; but never a brute beast in harness.'
Margarita stood before him, and took his two hands.
'You will come with me to my father! He will thank you. I cannot. You will come?'
Tears and a sob of relief started from her.
The city guard, on seeing Werner's redoubtable back turned, had adopted double time, and now came panting up, while the stranger bent smiling under a fresh overflow of innocent caresses. Margarita was caught to her father's breast.
'You shall have vengeance for this, sweet chuck,' cried old Gottlieb in the intervals of his hugs.
'Fear not, my father; they are punished': and Margarita related the story of the stranger's prowess, elevating him into a second Siegfried. The guard huzzaed him, but did not pursue the Baron.
Old Gottlieb, without hesitation, saluted the astonished champion with a kiss on either cheek.
'My best friend! You have saved my daughter from indignity! Come with us home, if you can believe that a home where the wolves come daring us, dragging our dear ones from our very doorsteps. Come, that we may thank you under a roof at least. My little daughter! Is she not a brave lass?'
'She's nothing less than the white rose of Germany,' said the stranger, with a good bend of the shoulders to Margarita.
'So she's called,' exclaimed Gottlieb; 'she 's worthy to be a man!'
'Men would be the losers, then, more than they could afford,' replied the stranger, with a ringing laugh.
'Come, good friend,' said Gottlieb; 'you must need refreshment. Prove you are a true hero by your appetite. As Charles the Great said to Archbishop Turpin, "I conquered the world because Nature gave me a gizzard; for everywhere the badge of subjection is a poor stomach." Come, all! A day well ended, notwithstanding!'
THE SILVER ARROW
At the threshold of Gottlieb's house a number of the chief burgesses of Cologne had corporated spontaneously to condole with him. As he came near, they raised a hubbub of gratulation. Strong were the expressions of abhorrence and disgust of Werner's troop in which these excellent citizens clothed their outraged feelings; for the insult to Gottlieb was the insult of all. The Rhinestream taxes were provoking enough to endure; but that the licence of these free-booting bands should extend to the homes of free and peaceful men, loyal subjects of the Emperor, was a sign that the evil had reached from pricks to pokes, as the saying went, and must now be met as became burgesses of ancient Cologne, and by joint action destroyed.
'In! in, all of you!' said Gottlieb, broadening his smile to suit the many. 'We 'll talk about that in-doors. Meantime, I've got a hero to introduce to you: flesh and blood! no old woman's coin and young girl's dream-o'day: the honest thing, and a rarity, my masters. All that over some good Rhine-juice from above Bacharach. In, and welcome, friends!'
Gottlieb drew the stranger along with him under the carved old oak-wood portals, and the rest paired, and reverentially entered in his wake. Margarita, to make up for this want of courtesy, formed herself the last of the procession. She may have had another motive, for she took occasion there to whisper something to Farina, bringing sun and cloud over his countenance in rapid flushes. He seemed to remonstrate in dumb show; but she, with an attitude of silence, signified her wish to seal the conversation, and he drooped again. On the door step she paused a moment, and hung her head pensively, as if moved by a reminiscence. The youth had hurried away some strides. Margarita looked after him. His arms were straightened to his flanks, his hands clenched, and straining out from the wrist. He had the aspect of one tugging against the restraint of a chain that suddenly let out link by link to his whole force.
'Farina!' she called; and wound him back with a run. 'Farina! You do not think me ungrateful? I could not tell my father in the crowd what you did for me. He shall know. He will thank you. He does not understand you now, Farina. He will. Look not so sorrowful. So much I would say to you.'
So much was rushing on her mind, that her maidenly heart became unruly, and warned her to beware.
The youth stood as if listening to a nightingale of the old woods, after the first sweet stress of her voice was in his ear. When she ceased, he gazed into her eyes. They were no longer deep and calm like forest lakes; the tender-glowing blue quivered, as with a spark of the young girl's soul, in the beams of the moon then rising.
'Oh, Margarita!' said the youth, in tones that sank to sighs: 'what am I to win your thanks, though it were my life for such a boon!'
He took her hand, and she did not withdraw it. Twice his lips dwelt upon those pure fingers.
'Margarita: you forgive me: I have been so long without hope. I have kissed your hand, dearest of God's angels!'
She gently restrained the full white hand in his pressure.
'Margarita! I have thought never before death to have had this sacred bliss. I am guerdoned in advance for every grief coming before death.'
She dropped on him one look of a confiding softness that was to the youth like the opened gate of the innocent garden of her heart.
'You pardon me, Margarita? I may call you my beloved? strive, wait, pray, hope, for you, my star of life?'
Her face was so sweet a charity!
'Dear love! one word!—or say nothing, but remain, and move not. So beautiful you are! Oh, might I kneel to you here; dote on you; worship this white hand for ever.'
The colour had passed out of her cheeks like a blissful western red leaving rich paleness in the sky; and with her clear brows levelled at him, her bosom lifting more and more rapidly, she struggled against the charm that was on her, and at last released her hand.
'I must go. I cannot stay. Pardon you? Who might not be proud of your love!—Farewell!'
She turned to move away, but lingered a step from him, hastily touching her bosom and either hand, as if to feel for a brooch or a ring. Then she blushed, drew the silver arrow from the gathered gold-shot braids above her neck, held it out to him, and was gone.
Farina clutched the treasure, and reeled into the street. Half a dozen neighbours were grouped by the door.
'What 's the matter in Master Groschen's house now?' one asked, as he plunged into the midst of them.
'Matter?' quoth the joy-drunken youth, catching at the word, and mused off into raptures; 'There never was such happiness! 'Tis paradise within, exile without. But what exile! A star ever in the heavens to lighten the road and cheer the path of the banished one'; and he loosened his vest and hugged the cold shaft on his breast.
'What are you talking and capering at, fellow?' exclaimed another: 'Can't you answer about those shrieks, like a Christian, you that have just come out of the house? Why, there's shrieking now! It 's a woman. Thousand thunders! it sounds like the Frau Lisbeth's voice. What can be happening to her?'
'Perhaps she's on fire,' was coolly suggested between two or three.
'Pity to see the old house burnt,' remarked one.
'House! The woman, man! the woman!'
'Ah!' replied the other, an ancient inhabitant of Cologne, shaking his head, 'the house is oldest!'
Farina, now recovering his senses, heard shrieks that he recognized as possible in the case of Aunt Lisbeth dreading the wickedness of an opposing sex, and alarmed by the inrush of old Gottlieb's numerous guests. To confirm him, she soon appeared, and hung herself halfway out of one of the upper windows, calling desperately to St. Ursula for aid. He thanked the old lady in his heart for giving him a pretext to enter Paradise again; but before even love could speed him, Frau Lisbeth was seized and dragged remorselessly out of sight, and he and the rosy room darkened together.
Farina twice strode off to the Rhine-stream; as many times he returned. It was hard to be away from her. It was harder to be near and not close. His heart flamed into jealousy of the stranger. Everything threatened to overturn his slight but lofty structure of bliss so suddenly shot into the heavens. He had but to remember that his hand was on the silver arrow, and a radiance broke upon his countenance, and a calm fell upon his breast. 'It was a plight of her troth to me,' mused the youth. 'She loves me! She would not trust her frank heart to speak. Oh, generous young girl! what am I to dare hope for such a prize? for I never can be worthy. And she is one who, giving her heart, gives it all. Do I not know her? How lovely she looked thanking the stranger! The blue of her eyes, the warm-lighted blue, seemed to grow full on the closing lids, like heaven's gratitude. Her beauty is wonderful. What wonder, then, if he loves her? I should think him a squire in his degree. There are squires of high birth and low.'
So mused Farina with his arms folded and his legs crossed in the shadow of Margarita's chamber. Gradually he fell into a kind of hazy doze. The houses became branded with silver arrows. All up the Cathedral stone was a glitter, and dance, and quiver of them. In the sky mazed confusion of arrowy flights and falls. Farina beheld himself in the service of the Emperor watching these signs, and expecting on the morrow to win glory and a name for Margarita. Glory and the name now won, old Gottlieb was just on the point of paternally blessing them, when a rude pat aroused him from the delicious moon-dream.
'Hero by day! house-guard by night! That tells a tale,' said a cheerful voice.
The moon was shining down the Cathedral square and street, and Farina saw the stranger standing solid and ruddy before him. He was at first prompted to resent such familiar handling, but the stranger's face was of that bland honest nature which, like the sun, wins everywhere back a reflection of its own kindliness.
'You are right,' replied Farina; 'so it is!'
'Pretty wines inside there, and a rare young maiden. She has a throat like a nightingale, and more ballads at command than a piper's wallet. Now, if I hadn't a wife at home.'
'You're married?' cried Farina, seizing the stranger's hand.
'Surely; and my lass can say something for herself on the score of brave looks, as well as the best of your German maids here, trust me.'
Farina repressed an inclination to perform a few of those antics which violent joy excites, and after rushing away and back, determined to give his secret to the stranger.
'Look,' said he in a whisper, that opens the private doors of a confidence.
But the stranger repeated the same word still more earnestly, and brought Farina's eyes on a couple of dark figures moving under the Cathedral.
'Some lamb's at stake when the wolves are prowling,' he added: ''Tis now two hours to the midnight. I doubt if our day's work be over till we hear the chime, friend.'
'What interest do you take in the people of this house that you watch over them thus?' asked Farina.
The stranger muffled a laugh in his beard.
'An odd question, good sooth. Why, in the first place, we like well whatso we have done good work for. That goes for something. In the second, I've broken bread in this house. Put down that in the reckoning. In the third; well! in the third, add up all together, and the sum total's at your service, young sir.'
Farina marked him closely. There was not a spot on his face for guile to lurk in, or suspicion to fasten on. He caught the stranger's hand.
'You called me friend just now. Make me your friend. Look, I was going to say: I love this maiden! I would die for her. I have loved her long. This night she has given me a witness that my love is not vain. I am poor. She is rich. I am poor, I said, and feel richer than the Kaiser with this she has given me! Look, it is what our German girls slide in their back-hair, this silver arrow!'
'A very pretty piece of heathenish wear!' exclaimed the stranger.
'Then, I was going to say—tell me, friend, of a way to win honour and wealth quickly; I care not at how rare a risk. Only to wealth, or high baronry, will her father give her!'
The stranger buzzed on his moustache in a pause of cool pity, such as elders assume when young men talk of conquering the world for their mistresses: and in truth it is a calm of mind well won!
'Things look so brisk at home here in the matter of the maiden, that I should say, wait a while and watch your chance. But you're a boy of pluck: I serve in the Kaiser's army, under my lord: the Kaiser will be here in three days. If you 're of that mind then, I doubt little you may get posted well: but, look again! there's a ripe brew yonder. Marry, you may win your spurs this night even; who knows?—'S life! there's a tall fellow joining those two lurkers.'
'Can you see into the murk shadow, Sir Squire?'
'Ay! thanks to your Styrian dungeons, where I passed a year's apprenticeship:
"I learnt to watch the rats and mice At play, with never a candle-end. They play'd so well; they sang so nice; They dubb'd me comrade; called me friend!"
So says the ballad of our red-beard king's captivity. All evil has a good:
"When our toes and chins are up, Poison plants make sweetest cup"
as the old wives mumble to us when we're sick. Heigho! would I were in the little island well home again, though that were just their song of welcome to me, as I am a Christian.'
'Tell me your name, friend,' said Farina.
'Guy's my name, young man: Goshawk's my title. Guy the Goshawk! so they called me in my merry land. The cap sticks when it no longer fits. Then I drove the arrow, and was down on my enemy ere he could ruffle a feather. Now, what would be my nickname?
"A change so sad, and a change so bad, Might set both Christian and heathen a sighing: Change is a curse, for it's all for the worse: Age creeps up, and youth is flying!"
and so on, with the old song. But here am I, and yonder's a game that wants harrying; so we'll just begin to nose about them a bit.'
He crossed to the other side of the street, and Farina followed out of the moonlight. The two figures and the taller one were evidently observing them; for they also changed their position and passed behind an angle of the Cathedral.
'Tell me how the streets cross all round the Cathedral you know the city,' said the stranger, holding out his hand.
Farina traced with his finger a rough map of the streets on the stranger's hand.
'Good! that's how my lord always marks the battlefield, and makes me show him the enemy's posts. Forward, this way!'
He turned from the Cathedral, and both slid along close under the eaves and front hangings of the houses. Neither spoke. Farina felt that he was in the hands of a skilful captain, and only regretted the want of a weapon to make harvest of the intended surprise; for he judged clearly that those were fellows of Werner's band on the look-out. They wound down numberless intersections of narrow streets with irregular-built houses standing or leaning wry-faced in row, here a quaint-beamed cottage, there almost a mansion with gilt arms, brackets, and devices. Oil-lamps unlit hung at intervals by the corners, near a pale Christ on crucifix. Across the passages they hung alight. The passages and alleys were too dusky and close for the moon in her brightest ardour to penetrate; down the streets a slender lane of white beams could steal: 'In all conscience,' as the good citizens of Cologne declared, 'enough for those heathen hounds and sons of the sinful who are abroad when God's own blessed lamp is out.' So, when there was a moon, the expense of oil was saved to the Cologne treasury, thereby satisfying the virtuous.
After incessant doubling here and there, listening to footfalls, and themselves eluding a chase which their suspicious movements aroused, they came upon the Rhine. A full flood of moonlight burnished the knightly river in glittering scales, and plates, and rings, as headlong it rolled seaward on from under crag and banner of old chivalry and rapine. Both greeted the scene with a burst of pleasure. The grey mist of flats on the south side glimmered delightful to their sight, coming from that drowsy crowd and press of habitations; but the solemn glory of the river, delaying not, heedless, impassioned-pouring on in some sublime conference between it and heaven to the great marriage of waters, deeply shook Farina's enamoured heart. The youth could not restrain his tears, as if a magic wand had touched him. He trembled with love; and that delicate bliss which maiden hope first showers upon us like a silver rain when she has taken the shape of some young beauty and plighted us her fair fleeting hand, tenderly embraced him.
As they were emerging into the spaces of the moon, a cheer from the stranger arrested Farina.
'Seest thou? on the wharf there! that is the very one, the tallest of the three. Lakin! but we shall have him.'
Wrapt in a long cloak, with low pointed cap and feather, stood the person indicated. He appeared to be meditating on the flow of the water, unaware of hostile presences, or quite regardless of them. There was a majesty in his height and air, which made the advance of the two upon him more wary and respectful than their first impulse had counselled. They could not read his features, which were mantled behind voluminous folds: all save a pair of very strange eyes, that, even as they gazed directly downward, seemed charged with restless fiery liquid.
The two were close behind him: Guy the Goshawk prepared for one of those fatal pounces on the foe that had won him his title. He consulted Farina mutely, who Nodded readiness; but the instant after, a cry of anguish escaped from the youth:
'Lost! gone! lost! Where is it? where! the arrow! The Silver Arrow! My Margarita!'
Ere the echoes of his voice had ceased lamenting into the distance, they found themselves alone on the wharf.
THE LILIES OF THE VALLEY
'He opened like a bat!' said the stranger.
'His shadow was red!' said Farina.
'He was off like an arrow!' said the stranger.
'Oh! pledge of my young love, how could I lose thee!' exclaimed the youth, and his eyes were misted with tears.
Guy the Goshawk shook his brown locks gravely.
'Bring me a man, and I 'll stand up against him, whoever he be, like a man; but this fellow has an ill scent and foreign ways about him, that he has! His eye boils all down my backbone and tingles at my finger-tips. Jesu, save us!'
'Save us!' repeated Farina, with the echo of a deadened soul.
They made the sign of the Cross, and purified the place with holy ejaculations.
'I 've seen him at last; grant it be for the last time! That's my prayer, in the name of the Virgin and Trinity,' said Guy. 'And now let's retrace our steps: perchance we shall hunt up that bauble of yours, but I'm not fit for mortal work this night longer.'
Burdened by their black encounter, the two passed again behind the Cathedral. Farina's hungry glances devoured each footmark of their track. Where the moon held no lantern for him, he went on his knees, and groped for his lost treasure with a miser's eager patience of agony, drawing his hand slowly over the stony kerb and between the interstices of the thick-sown flints, like an acute-feeling worm. Despair grew heavy in his breast. At every turning he invoked some good new saint to aid him, and ran over all the propitiations his fancy could suggest and his religious lore inspire. By-and-by they reached the head of the street where Margarita dwelt. The moon was dipping down, and paler, as if touched with a warning of dawn. Chill sighs from the open land passed through the spaces of the city. On certain coloured gables and wood-crossed fronts, the white light lingered; but mostly the houses were veiled in dusk, and Gottlieb's house was confused in the twilight with those of his neighbours, notwithstanding its greater stateliness and the old grandeur of its timbered bulk. They determined to take up their position there again, and paced on, Farina with his head below his shoulders, and Guy nostril in air, as if uneasy in his sense of smell.
On the window-ledge of a fair-fitted domicile stood a flower-pot, a rude earthen construction in the form of a river-barge, wherein grew some valley lilies that drooped their white bells over the sides.
The Goshawk eyed them wistfully.
'I must smell those blessed flowers if I wish to be saved!' and he stamped resolve with his staff.
Moved by this exclamation, Farina gazed up at them.
'How like a company of maidens they look floating in the vessel of life!' he said.
Guy curiously inspected Farina and the flower-pot, shrugged, and with his comrade's aid, mounted to a level with it, seized the prize and redescended.
'There,' he cried, between long luxurious sniffs, 'that chases him out of the nostril sooner than aught else, the breath of a fresh lass-like flower! I was tormented till now by the reek of the damned rising from under me. This is heaven's own incense, I think!'
And Guy inhaled the flowers and spake prettily to them.
'They have a melancholy sweetness, friend,' said Farina. 'I think of whispering Fays, and Elf, and Erl, when their odour steals through me. Do not you?'
'Nay, nor hope to till my wits are clean gone,' was the Goshawk's reply. 'To my mind, 'tis an honest flower, and could I do good service by the young maiden who there set it, I should be rendering back good service done; for if that flower has not battled the devil in my nose this night, and beaten him, my head's a medlar!'
'I scarce know whether as a devout Christian I should listen to that, friend,' Farina mildly remonstrated. 'Lilies are indeed emblems of the saints; but then they are not poor flowers of earth, being transfigured, lustrous unfadingly. Oh, Cross and Passion! with what silver serenity thy glory enwraps me, gazing on these fair bells! I look on the white sea of the saints. I am enamoured of fleshly anguish and martyrdom. All beauty is that worn by wan-smiling faces wherein Hope sits as a crown on Sorrow, and the pale ebb of mortal life is the twilight of joy everlasting. Colourless peace! Oh, my beloved! So walkest thou for my soul on the white sea ever at night, clad in the straight fall of thy spotless virgin linen; bearing in thy hand the lily, and leaning thy cheek to it, where the human rose is softened to a milky bloom of red, the espousals of heaven with earth; over thee, moving with thee, a wreath of sapphire stars, and the solitude of purity around!'
'Ah!' sighed the Goshawk, dandling his flower-pot; 'the moon gives strokes as well's the sun. I' faith, moon-struck and maid-struck in one! He'll be asking for his head soon. This dash of the monk and the minstrel is a sure sign. That 's their way of loving in this land: they all go mad, straight off. I never heard such talk.'
Guy accompanied these remarks with a pitiful glance at his companion.
'Come, Sir Lover! lend me a help to give back what we've borrowed to its rightful owner. 'S blood! but I feel an appetite. This night-air takes me in the wind like a battering ram. I thought I had laid in a stout four-and-twenty hours' stock of Westphalian Wurst at Master Groschen's supper-table. Good stuff, washed down with superior Rhine wine; say your Liebfrauenmilch for my taste; though, when I first tried it, I grimaced like a Merry-Andrew, and remembered roast beef and Glo'ster ale in my prayers.'
The Goshawk was in the act of replacing the pot of lilies, when a blow from a short truncheon, skilfully flung, struck him on the neck and brought him to the ground. With him fell the lilies. He glared to the right and left, and grasped the broken flower-pot for a return missile; but no enemy was in view to test his accuracy of aim.
The deep-arched doorways showed their empty recesses the windows slept.
'Has that youth played me false?' thought the discomfited squire, as he leaned quietly on his arm. Farina was nowhere near.
Guy was quickly reassured.
'By my fay, now! that's a fine thing! and a fine fellow! and a fleet foot! That lad 'll rise! He'll be a squire some day. Look at him. Bowels of a'Becket! 'tis a sight! I'd rather see that, now, than old Groschen 's supper-table groaning with Wurst again, and running a river of Rudesheimer! Tussle on! I'll lend a hand if there's occasion; but you shall have the honour, boy, an you can win it.'
This crying on of the hound was called forth by a chase up the street, in which the Goshawk beheld Farina pursue and capture a stalwart runaway, who refused with all his might to be brought back, striving every two and three of his tiptoe steps to turn against the impulse Farina had got on his neck and nether garments.
'Who 'd have thought the lad was so wiry and mettlesome, with his soft face, blue eyes, and lank locks? but a green mead has more in it than many a black mountain. Hail, and well done! if I could dub you knight, I would: trust me!' and he shook Farina by the hand.
Farina modestly stood aside, and allowed the Goshawk to confront his prisoner.
'So, Sir Shy-i'the-dark! gallant Stick-i'the-back! Squire Truncheon, and Knight of the noble order of Quicksilver Legs! just take your stand at the distance you were off me when you discharged this instrument at my head. By 'r lady! I smart a scratch to pay you in coin, and it's lucky for you the coin is small, or you might reckon on it the same, trust me. Now, back!'
The Goshawk lunged out with the truncheon, but the prisoner displayed no hesitation in complying, and fell back about a space of fifteen yards.
'I suppose he guesses I've never done the stupid trick before,' mused Guy, 'or he would not be so sharp.' Observing that Farina had also fallen back in a line as guard, Guy motioned him to edge off to the right more, bawling, 'Never mind why!'
'Now,' thought Guy, 'if I were sure of notching him, I'd do the speech part first; but as I'm not—throwing truncheons being no honourable profession anywhere—I'll reserve that. The rascal don't quail. We'll see how long he stands firm.'
The Goshawk cleared his wrist, fixed his eye, and swung the truncheon meditatively to and fro by one end. He then launched off the shoulder a mighty down-fling, calmly, watching it strike the prisoner to earth, like an ox under the hammer.
'A hit!' said he, and smoothed his wrist.
Farina knelt by the body, and lifted the head on his breast. 'Berthold! Berthold!' he cried; 'no further harm shall hap to you, man! Speak!'
'You ken the scapegrace?' said Guy, sauntering up.
''Tis Berthold Schmidt, son of old Schmidt, the great goldsmith of Cologne.'
'St. Dunstan was not at his elbow this time!'
'A rival of mine,' whispered Farina.
'Oho!' and the Goshawk wound a low hiss at his tongue's tip. 'Well! as I should have spoken if his ears had been open: Justice struck the blow; and a gentle one. This comes of taking a flying shot, and not standing up fair. And that seems all that can be said. Where lives he?'
Farina pointed to the house of the Lilies.
'Beshrew me! the dog has some right on his side. Whew! yonder he lives? He took us for some night-prowlers. Why not come up fairly, and ask my business?
Smelling a flower is not worth a broken neck, nor defending your premises quite deserving a hole in the pate. Now, my lad, you see what comes of dealing with cut and run blows; and let this be a warning to you.'
They took the body by head and feet, and laid him at the door of his father's house. Here the colour came to his cheek, and they wiped off the streaks of blood that stained him. Guy proved he could be tender with a fallen foe, and Farina with an ill-fated rival. It was who could suggest the soundest remedies, or easiest postures. One lent a kerchief and nursed him; another ran to the city fountain and fetched him water. Meantime the moon had dropped, and morning, grey and beamless, looked on the house-peaks and along the streets with steadier eye. They now both discerned a body of men, far down, fronting Gottlieb's house, and drawn up in some degree of order. All their charity forsook them at once.
'Possess thyself of the truncheon,' said Guy: 'You see it can damage. More work before breakfast, and a fine account I must give of myself to my hostess of the Three Holy Kings!'
Farina recovered the destructive little instrument.
'I am ready,' said he. 'But hark! there's little work for us there, I fancy. Those be lads of Cologne, no grunters of the wild. 'Tis the White Rose Club. Always too late for service.'
Voices singing a hunting glee, popular in that age, swelled up the clear morning air; and gradually the words became distinct.
The Kaiser went a-hunting, A-hunting, tra-ra: With his bugle-horn at springing morn, The Kaiser trampled bud and thorn: Tra-ra!
And the dew shakes green as the horsemen rear, And a thousand feathers they flutter with fear; And a pang drives quick to the heart of the deer; For the Kaiser's out a-hunting, Tra-ra! Ta, ta, ta, ta, Tra-ra, tra-ra, Ta-ta, tra-ra, tra-ra!
the owner of the truncheon awoke to these reviving tones, and uttered a faint responsive 'Tra-ra!'
'Hark again!' said Farina, in reply to the commendation of the Goshawk, whose face was dimpled over with the harmony.
The wild boar lay a-grunting, A-grunting, tra-ra! And, boom! comes the Kaiser to hunt up me? Or, queak! the small birdie that hops on the tree? Tra-ra! O birdie, and boar, and deer, lie tame! For a maiden in bloom, or a full-blown dame, Are the daintiest prey, and the windingest game, When Kaisers go a-hunting, Tra-ra! Ha, ha, ha, ha, Tra-ra, tra-ra, Ha-ha, tra-ra, tra-ra!
The voices held long on the last note, and let it die in a forest cadence.
''Fore Gad! well done. Hurrah! Tra-ra, ha-ha, tra-ra! That's a trick we're not half alive to at home,' said Guy. 'I feel friendly with these German lads.'
The Goshawk's disposition toward German lads was that moment harshly tested by a smart rap on the shoulder from an end of German oak, and a proclamation that he was prisoner of the hand that gave the greeting, in the name of the White Rose Club. Following that, his staff was wrested from him by a dozen stout young fellows, who gave him no time to get his famous distance for defence against numbers; and he and Farina were marched forthwith to the chorusing body in front of Gottlieb Groschen's house.
Of all the inmates, Gottlieb had slept most with the day on his eyelids, for Werner hung like a nightmare over him. Margarita lay and dreamed in rose-colour, and if she thrilled on her pillowed silken couch like a tense-strung harp, and fretted drowsily in little leaps and starts, it was that a bird lay in her bosom, panting and singing through the night, and that he was not to be stilled, but would musically utter the sweetest secret thoughts of a love-bewitched maiden. Farina's devotion she knew his tenderness she divined: his courage she had that day witnessed. The young girl no sooner felt that she could love worthily, than she loved with her whole strength. Muffed and remote came the hunting-song under her pillow, and awoke dreamy delicate curves in her fair face, as it thinned but did not banish her dream. Aunt Lisbeth also heard the song, and burst out of her bed to see that the door and window were secured against the wanton Kaiser. Despite her trials, she had taken her spell of sleep; but being possessed of some mystic maiden belief that in cases of apprehended peril from man, bed was a rock of refuge and fortified defence, she crept back there, and allowed the sun to rise without her. Gottlieb's voice could not awaken her to the household duties she loved to perform with such a doleful visage. She heard him open his window, and parley in angry tones with the musicians below.
'Decoys!' muttered Aunt Lisbeth; 'be thou alive to them, Gottlieb!'
He went downstairs and opened the street door, whereupon the scolding and railing commenced anew.
'Thou hast given them vantage, Gottlieb, brother mine,' she complained; 'and the good heavens only can say what may result from such indiscreetness.'
A silence, combustible with shuffling of feet in the passage and on the stairs, dinned horrors into Aunt Lisbeth's head.
'It was just that sound in the left wing of Hollenbogenblitz,' she said: 'only then it was night and not morning. Ursula preserve me!'
'Why, Lisbeth! Lisbeth!' cried Gottlieb from below. 'Come down! 'tis full five o' the morning. Here's company; and what are we to do without the woman?'
'Ah, Gottlieb! that is like men! They do not consider how different it is for us!' which mysterious sentence being uttered to herself alone, enjoyed a meaning it would elsewhere have been denied.
Aunt Lisbeth dressed, and met Margarita descending. They exchanged the good-morning of young maiden and old.
'Go thou first,' said Aunt Lisbeth.
Margarita gaily tripped ahead.
'Girl!' cried Aunt Lisbeth, 'what's that thing in thy back hair?'
'I have borrowed Lieschen's arrow, aunt. Mine has had an accident.'
'Lieschen's arrow! An accident! Now I will see to that after breakfast, Margarita.'
'Tra-ra, ta-ta, tra-ra, tra-ra,' sang Margarita.
'The wild boar lay a-grunting, A-grunting, tra-ra.'
'A maiden's true and proper ornament! Look at mine, child! I have worn it fifty years. May I deserve to wear it till I am called! O Margarita! trifle not with that symbol.'
'"O birdie, and boar, and deer, lie tame!"
I am so happy, aunty.'
'Nice times to be happy in, Margarita.'
"Be happy in Spring, sweet maidens all, For Autumn's chill will early fall."
So sings the Minnesinger, aunty; and
'"A maiden in the wintry leaf Will spread her own disease of grief."
I love the Minnesingers! Dear, sweet-mannered men they are! Such lovers! And men of deeds as well as song: sword on one side and harp on the other. They fight till set of sun, and then slacken their armour to waft a ballad to their beloved by moonlight, covered with stains of battle as they are, and weary!'
'What a girl! Minnesingers! Yes; I know stories of those Minnesingers. They came to the castle—Margarita, a bead of thy cross is broken. I will attend to it. Wear the pearl one till I mend this. May'st thou never fall in the way of Minnesingers. They are not like Werner's troop. They do not batter at doors: they slide into the house like snakes.'
'Lisbeth! Lisbeth!' they heard Gottlieb calling impatiently.
'We come, Gottlieb!' and in a low murmur Margarita heard her say: 'May this day pass without trouble and shame to the pious and the chaste.'
Margarita knew the voice of the stranger before she had opened the door, and on presenting herself, the hero gave her a guardian-like salute.
'One may see,' he said, 'that it requires better men than those of Werner to drive away the rose from that cheek.'
Gottlieb pressed the rosy cheek to his shoulder and patted her.
'What do you think, Grete? You have now forty of the best lads in Cologne enrolled to protect you, and keep guard over the house night and day. There! What more could a Pfalzgrafin ask, now? And voluntary service; all to be paid with a smile, which I daresay my lady won't refuse them. Lisbeth, you know our friend. Fear him not, good Lisbeth, and give us breakfast. Well, sweet chuck, you're to have royal honours paid you. I warrant they've begun good work already in locking up that idle moony vagabond, Farina—'
'Him? What for, my father? How dared they! What has he done?'
'O, start not, my fairy maid! A small matter of breakage, pet! He tried to enter Cunigonde Schmidt's chamber, and knocked down her pot of lilies: for which Berthold Schmidt knocked him down, and our friend here, out of good fellowship, knocked down Berthold. However, the chief offender is marched off to prison by your trusty guard, and there let him cool himself. Berthold shall tell you the tale himself: he'll be here to breakfast, and receive your orders, mistress commander-in-chief.'
The Goshawk had his eye on Margarita. Her teeth were tight down on her nether lip, and her whole figure had a strange look of awkwardness, she was so divided with anger.
'As witness of the affair, I think I shall make a clearer statement, fair maiden,' he interposed. 'In the first place, I am the offender. We passed under the window of the Fraulein Schmidt, and 'twas I mounted to greet the lilies. One shoot of them is in my helm, and here let me present them to a worthier holder.'
He offered the flowers with a smile, and Margarita took them, radiant with gratitude.
'Our friend Berthold,' he continued, 'thought proper to aim a blow at me behind my back, and then ran for his comrades. He was caught, and by my gallant young hero, Farina; concerning whose character I regret that your respected father and I differ: for, on the faith of a soldier and true man, he's the finest among the fine fellows I've yet met in Germany, trust me. So, to cut the story short, execution was done upon Berthold by my hand, for an act of treachery. He appears to be a sort of captain of one of the troops, and not affectionately disposed to Farina; for the version of the affair you have heard from your father is a little invention of Master Berthold's own. To do him justice, he seemed equally willing to get me under the cold stone; but a word from your good father changed the current; and as I thought I could serve our friend better free than behind bars, I accepted liberty. Pshaw! I should have accepted it any way, to tell the truth, for your German dungeons are mortal shivering ratty places. So rank me no hero, fair Mistress Margarita, though the temptation to seem one in such sweet eyes was beginning to lead me astray. And now, as to our business in the streets at this hour, believe the best of us.'
'I will! I do!' said Margarita.
'Lisbeth! Lisbeth!' called Gottlieb. 'Breakfast, little sister! our champion is starving. He asks for wurst, milk-loaves, wine, and all thy rarest conserves. Haste, then, for the honour of Cologne is at stake.'
Aunt Lisbeth jingled her keys in and out, and soon that harmony drew a number of domestics with platters of swine flesh, rolls of white wheaten bread, the perpetual worst, milk, wine, barley-bread, and household stores of dainties in profusion, all sparkling on silver, relieved by spotless white cloth. Gottlieb beheld such a sunny twinkle across the Goshawk's face at this hospitable array, that he gave the word of onset without waiting for Berthold, and his guest immediately fell to, and did not relax in his exertions for a full half-hour by the Cathedral clock, eschewing the beer with a wry look made up of scorn and ruefulness, and drinking a well-brimmed health in Rhine wine all round. Margarita was pensive: Aunt Lisbeth on her guard. Gottlieb remembered Charles the Great's counsel to Archbishop Turpin, and did his best to remain on earth one of its lords dominant.
'Poor Berthold!' said he. ''Tis a good lad, and deserves his seat at my table oftener. I suppose the flower-pot business has detained him. We'll drink to him: eh, Grete?'
'Drink to him, dear father!—but here he is to thank you in person.'
Margarita felt a twinge of pity as Berthold entered. The livid stains of his bruise deepened about his eyes, and gave them a wicked light whenever they were fixed intently; but they looked earnest; and spoke of a combat in which he could say that he proved no coward and was used with some cruelty. She turned on the Goshawk a mute reproach; yet smiled and loved him well when she beheld him stretch a hand of welcome and proffer a brotherly glass to Berthold. The rich goldsmith's son was occupied in studying the horoscope of his fortunes in Margarita's eyes; but when Margarita directed his attention to Guy, he turned to him with a glance of astonishment that yielded to cordial greeting.
'Well done, Berthold, my brave boy! All are friends who sit at table,' said Gottlieb. 'In any case, at my table:
"'Tis a worthy foe Forgives the blow Was dealt him full and fairly,"
says the song; and the proverb takes it up with, "A generous enemy is a friend on the wrong side"; and no one's to blame for that, save old Dame Fortune. So now a bumper to this jovial make-up between you. Lisbeth! you must drink it.'
The little woman bowed melancholy obedience.
'Why did you fling and run?' whispered Guy to Berthold.
'Because you were two against one.'
'Two against one, man! Why, have you no such thing as fair play in this land of yours? Did you think I should have taken advantage of that?'
'How could I tell who you were, or what you would do?' muttered Berthold, somewhat sullenly.
'Truly no, friend! So you ran to make yourself twenty to two? But don't be down on the subject. I was going to say, that though I treated you in a manner upright, 'twas perhaps a trifle severe, considering your youth: but an example's everything; and I must let you know in confidence, that no rascal truncheon had I flung in my life before; so, you see, I gave you all the chances.'
Berthold moved his lips in reply; but thinking of the figure of defeat he was exhibiting before Margarita, caused him to estimate unfavourably what chances had stood in his favour.
The health was drunk. Aunt Lisbeth touched the smoky yellow glass with a mincing lip, and beckoned Margarita to withdraw.
'The tapestry, child!' she said. 'Dangerous things are uttered after the third glass, I know, Margarita.'
'Do you call my champion handsome, aunt?'
'I was going to speak to you about him, Margarita. If I remember, he has rough, good looks, as far as they go. Yes: but thou, maiden, art thou thinking of him? I have thrice watched him wink; and that, as we know, is a habit of them that have sold themselves. And what is frail womankind to expect from such a brawny animal?'
'And oh! to lace his armour up, And speed him to the field; To pledge him in a kissing-cup, The knight that will not yield!
I am sure he is tender, aunt. Notice how gentle he looks now and then.'
'Thou girl! Yes, I believe she is madly in love with him. Tender, and gentle! So is the bear when you're outside his den; but enter it, maiden, and try! Thou good Ursula, preserve me from such a fate.'
'Fear not, dear aunt! Have not a fear of it! Besides, it is not always the men that are bad. You must not forget Dalilah, and Lot's wife, and Pfalzgrafin Jutta, and the Baroness who asked for a piece of poor Kraut. But, let us work, let us work!'
Margarita sat down before Siegfried, and contemplated the hero. For the first time, she marked a resemblance in his features to Farina: the same long yellow hair scattered over his shoulders as that flowing from under Siegfried's helm; the blue eyes, square brows, and regular outlines. 'This is a marvel,' thought Margarita. 'And Farina! it was to watch over me that he roamed the street last night, my best one! Is he not beautiful?' and she looked closer at Siegfried.
Aunt Lisbeth had begun upon the dragon with her usual method, and was soon wandering through skeleton halls of the old palatial castle in Bohemia. The woolly tongue of the monster suggested fresh horrors to her, and if Margarita had listened, she might have had fair excuses to forget her lover's condition; but her voice only did service like a piece of clock-work, and her mind was in the prison with Farina. She was long debating how to win his release; and meditated so deeply, and exclaimed in so many bursts of impatience, that Aunt Lisbeth found her heart melting to the maiden. 'Now,' said she, 'that is a well-known story about the Electress Dowager of Bavaria, when she came on a visit to the castle; and, my dear child, be it a warning. Terrible, too!' and the little woman shivered pleasantly. 'She had—I may tell you this, Margarita—yes, she had been false to her wedded husband.—You understand, maiden; or, no! you do not understand: I understand it only partly, mind. False, I say——'
'False—not true: go on, dear aunty,' said Margarita, catching the word.
'I believe she knows as much as I do!' ejaculated Aunt Lisbeth; 'such are girls nowadays. When I was young-oh! for a maiden to know anything then—oh! it was general reprobation. No one thought of confessing it. We blushed and held down our eyes at the very idea. Well, the Electress! she was—you must guess. So she called for her caudle at eleven o'clock at night. What do you think that was? Well, there was spirit in it: not to say nutmeg, and lemon, and peach kernels. She wanted me to sit with her, but I begged my mistress to keep me from the naughty woman: and no friend of Hilda of Bayern was Bertha of Bohmen, you may be sure. Oh! the things she talked while she was drinking her caudle.
Isentrude sat with her,'and said it was fearful!—beyond blasphemy! and that she looked like a Bible witch, sitting up drinking and swearing and glaring in her nightclothes and nightcap. She was on a journey into Hungary, and claimed the hospitality of the castle on her way there. Both were widows. Well, it was a quarter to twelve. The Electress dropped back on her pillow, as she always did when she had finished the candle. Isentrude covered her over, heaped up logs on the fire, wrapped her dressing-gown about her, and prepared to sleep. It was Winter, and the wind howled at the doors, and rattled the windows, and shook the arras—Lord help us! Outside was all snow, and nothing but forest; as you saw when you came to me there, Gretelchen. Twelve struck. Isentrude was dozing; but she says that after the last stroke she woke with cold. A foggy chill hung in the room. She looked at the Electress, who had not moved. The fire burned feebly, and seemed weighed upon: Herr Je!—she thought she heard a noise. No. Quite quiet! As heaven preserve her, says slip, the smell in that room grew like an open grave, clammily putrid. Holy Virgin! This time she was certain she heard a noise; but it seemed on both sides of her. There was the great door leading to the first landing and state-room; and opposite exactly there was the panel of the secret passage. The noises seemed to advance as if step by step, and grew louder in each ear as she stood horrified on the marble of the hearth. She looked at the Electress again, and her eyes were wide open; but for all Isentrude's calling, she would not wake. Only think! Now the noise increased, and was a regular tramp-grate, tramp-screw sound-coming nearer and nearer: Saints of mercy! The apartment was choking with vapours. Isentrude made a dart, and robed herself behind a curtain of the bed just as the two doors opened. She could see through a slit in the woven work, and winked her eyes which she had shut close on hearing the scream of the door-hinges—winked her eyes to catch a sight for moment—we are such sinful, curious creatures!—What she saw then, she says she shall never forget; nor I! As she was a living woman, there she saw the two dead princes, the Prince Palatine of Bohemia and the Elector of Bavaria, standing front to front at the foot of the bed, all in white armour, with drawn swords, and attendants holding pine-torches. Neither of them spoke. Their vizors were down; but she knew them by their arms and bearing: both tall, stately presences, good knights in their day, and had fought against the Infidel! So one of them pointed to the bed, and then a torch was lowered, and the fight commenced. Isentrude saw the sparks fly, and the steel struck till it was shattered; but they fought on, not caring for wounds, and snorting with fury as they grew hotter. They fought a whole hour. The poor girl was so eaten up with looking on, that she let go the curtain and stood quite exposed among them. So, to steady herself, she rested her hand on the bed-side; and—think what she felt—a hand as cold as ice locked hers, and get from it she could not! That instant one of the princes fell. It was Bohmen. Bayern sheathed his sword, and waved his hand, and the attendants took up the slaughtered ghost, feet and shoulders, and bore him to the door of the secret passage, while Bayern strode after—'
'Shameful!' exclaimed Margarita. 'I will speak to Berthold as he descends. I hear him coming. He shall do what I wish.'
'Call it dreadful, Grete! Dreadful it was. If Berthold would like to sit and hear—Ah! she is gone. A good girl! and of a levity only on the surface.'
Aunt Lisbeth heard Margarita's voice rapidly addressing Berthold. His reply was low and brief. 'Refuses to listen to anything of the sort,' Aunt Lisbeth interpreted it. Then he seemed to be pleading, and Margarita uttering short answers. 'I trust 'tis nothing a maiden should not hear,' the little lady exclaimed with a sigh.
The door opened, and Lieschen stood at the entrance.
'For Fraulein Margarita,' she said, holding a letter halfway out.
'Give it,' Aunt Lisbeth commanded.
The woman hesitated—''Tis for the Fraulein.'
'Give it, I tell thee!' and Aunt Lisbeth eagerly seized the missive, and subjected it to the ordeal of touch. It was heavy, and contained something hard. Long pensive pressures revealed its shape on the paper. It was an arrow. 'Go!' said she to the woman, and, once alone, began, bee-like, to buzz all over it, and finally entered. It contained Margarita's Silver Arrow. 'The art of that girl!' And the writing said:
'By this arrow of our betrothal, I conjure thee to meet me in all haste without the western gate, where, burning to reveal to thee most urgent tidings that may not be confided to paper, now waits, petitioning the saints, thy
Aunt Lisbeth placed letter and arrow in a drawer; locked it; and 'always thought so.' She ascended the stairs to consult with Gottlieb. Roars of laughter greeted her just as she lifted the latch, and she retreated abashed.
There was no time to lose. Farina must be caught in the act of waiting for Margarita, and by Gottlieb, or herself. Gottlieb was revelling. 'May this be a warning to thee, Gottlieb,' murmured Lisbeth, as she hooded her little body in Margarita's fur-cloak, and determined that she would be the one to confound Farina.
Five minutes later Margarita returned. Aunt Lisbeth was gone. The dragon still lacked a tip to his forked tongue, and a stream of fiery threads dangled from the jaws of the monster. Another letter was brought into the room by Lieschen.
'For Aunt Lisbeth,' said Margarita, reading the address. 'Who can it be from?'
'She does not stand pressing about your letters,' said the woman; and informed Margarita of the foregoing missive.
'You say she drew an arrow from it?' said Margarita, with burning face. 'Who brought this? tell me!' and just waiting to hear it was Farina's mother, she tore the letter open, and read:
'Thy old friend writes to thee; she that has scarce left eyes to see the words she writes. Thou knowest we are a fallen house, through the displeasure of the Emperor on my dead husband. My son, Farina, is my only stay, and well returns to me the blessings I bestow upon him. Some call him idle: some think him too wise. I swear to thee, Lisbeth, he is only good. His hours are devoted to the extraction of essences—to no black magic. Now he is in trouble-in prison. The shadow that destroyed his dead father threatens him. Now, by our old friendship, beloved Lisbeth! intercede with Gottlieb, that he may plead for my son before the Emperor when he comes—'
Margarita read no more. She went to the window, and saw her guard marshalled outside. She threw a kerchief over her head, and left the house by the garden gate.
By this time the sun stood high over Cologne. The market-places were crowded with buyers and sellers, mixed with a loitering swarm of soldiery, for whose thirsty natures winestalls had been tumbled up. Barons and knights of the empire, bravely mounted and thickly followed, poured hourly into Cologne from South Germany and North. Here, staring Suabians, and round-featured warriors of the East Kingdom, swaggered up and down, patting what horses came across them, for lack of occupation for their hands. Yonder, huge Pomeranians, with bosks of beard stiffened out square from the chin, hurtled mountainous among the peaceable inhabitants. Troopers dismounted went straddling, in tight hose and loose, prepared to drink good-will to whomsoever would furnish the best quality liquor for that solemn pledge, and equally ready to pick a quarrel with them that would not. It was a scene of flaring feathers, wide-flapped bonnets, flaunting hose, blue and battered steel plates, slashed woollen haunch-bags, leather-leggings, ensigns, and imperious boots and shoulders. Margarita was too hurried in her mind to be conscious of an imprudence; but her limbs trembled, and she instinctively quickened her steps. When she stood under the sign of the Three Holy Kings, where dwelt Farina's mother, she put up a fervent prayer of thanks, and breathed freely.