THE TRUCE OF GOD
A Tale of the Eleventh Century
By George Henry Miles
With an Introduction By John C. Reville, S.J., Ph.D.
New York Joseph F. Wagner, Inc. London: B. Herder
CHAP. I. II. III. IV. V. VI. VII. VIII. IX. X.
"The Truce of God" by our American novelist and dramatist, George Henry Miles, is not only a romantic and interesting story, it recalls one of the most striking achievements of the Middle Ages.
After the tide of barbarian invasion, Goths and Vandals, Heruli, Burgundians and Franks had swept away the edifice of Roman civilization, had it not been for the regenerating influence of Christianity, another empire as cruel would have risen on the ruins of Rome. No other power would then have ruled but the sword. The sword was king, and received the worship of thousands. Now and then a ruler appeared like Theodoric, Charlemagne, the Lombard Luitprand, who used the sword on the whole for just and beneficent ends. And because these warrior kings, even in the midst of their conquests, brought some of the blessings of peace to their subject peoples, these peoples welcomed their sway. Peace was, then as now, one of the world's needs.
Although the eighth, ninth and succeeding century were not without their brighter sides and were not those totally Dark Ages they have been represented by the enemies of the Church, nevertheless, seeds of evil passions, which in spite of her endeavors the Church had been unable completely to stifle, lingered in the hearts of those strong-limbed, strong-passioned Teutonic races which had succeeded to the tasks and responsibilities of pagan Rome. Those races did not have Rome's organizing power. By force, it is true, in a great measure, but force intelligently applied, but also by patience, by an instinct for justice and for order, Rome had welded her vast empire into a coherent whole. Rome really, and effectively ruled. She had authority, she had prestige, she was respected and feared, until the fatal day when, for her vices and tyranny, she began to be hated. That day her fate was sealed.
The Teutonic races lacked the power of organization. They were strong and comparatively free from the vices of Rome; they had a rude sense of justice. But that very sense and instinct for that one essential of ordered life drove the individual to take the execution of the law and of justice into his own hands and to claim his rights at the point of the sword. The result can be easily imagined. The sword was never for a long time thrust back into the scabbard. Incessant wars, not at the bidding of the ruler, nor sanctioned by the voice of public authority or for the public welfare, but for private ends, for revenge, for greed and booty, were waged throughout the length and breadth of Europe.
The civil government, or the empty simulacrum that went under the name, seemed powerless, for the simple reason that the strong arm of either a Charlemagne or a Charles Martel too seldom appeared to check the culprits, or because the civil government itself only added fuel to the flame, by the encouragement it gave to license and violence by its own evil example.
But society had to protect itself. Conscious of its danger, and that it was doomed to destruction, if some remedy were not found, it evolved in the tenth and the following century, not an absolutely efficacious remedy, but one which enabled it to pass in comparative safety that dangerous period and carried European civilization to the full glories of the age of Dante, St. Louis and the Angel of the Schools. The remedy was feudalism.
That institution has been misunderstood. It was called forth by special needs, and when the conditions which it met in an almost providential manner changed, it quietly passed away. But it rendered an important and never-to-be forgotten service to war-torn Europe. Feudalism can scarcely be called a complete and rounded system. For it was constantly undergoing modification. It was not the same north as south of the Loire. It was one thing on the west, and quite another on the east of the Rhine. In general it was, as Stubbs described it ("Constitutional History." Vol. 1, pp. 255, 256), "a regulated and fairly well graduated method of jurisdiction, based on land tenure, in which every lord, king, duke, earl or baron protected, judged, ruled, taxed the class next below him; ... in which private war, private coinage and private prisons took the place of the imperial institutions of power." Land, "the sacramental tie" then, "of all relations," and not money, was the chief wealth of those ages. For services rendered, therefore, fiefs or landed estates were the reward. Feudalism thus rested on a contract entered into by the nation represented by the king, which let out its lands to individuals who paid the rent not only by doing military service, but by rendering such services to the king as the king's courts might require. The bond was frequently extremely loose, and it was hard then to say which of the two was in reality the stronger, the feudal lord or the technically lower, but sometimes in reality stronger, vassal.
The feudal lord was bound to support his vassal, and in return, had a right to expect his help in the hour of danger. The feudal lord owed his vassals justice, protection, shelter and refuge. If certain privileges, claimed by the feudal lord, were onerous, the vassal was not without some guarantee that he would be shown fair play; for it was evident that unless in some way rights and obligations were fairly well balanced, and there was a fair return for service rendered, the whole system would soon crumble to pieces.
The "system," if it can be called one, was, as we have said, by no means perfect, but it bridged the historic gap which stretches between the fall of the Carolingian power and the full dawn of the Middle Ages. It saved Europe from anarchy. Its blessings cannot be denied. It helped to foster the love of independence, of self-government, of local institutions, of communal and municipal freedom. The vassal that lived under the shadows of the strong towers of a feudal lord did not look much further beyond, to the king in his palace or in his courts of justice, for protection. He found it closer at home. The vassal, moreover, began to think of his own rights and privileges, to value them and to ask that they be enforced. The idea of right and law, one of the most deeply engraved in the Christian conscience in the Middle Ages, grew and developed. The barons were the first to claim these rights; gradually the whole nation imitated them. Even when they claimed them, primarily for themselves, the whole nation participated sooner or later in their blessings. The Barons of Runnymede were fighting the battles of every ploughboy in England when they wrenched Magna Charta from King John.
Although many a feudal lord was a proud and hard-driving master, yet the vassal and the serf knew that there were limits which his lord dared not transgress; that the very spirit of his "caste", for such to a certain extent was the social rank to which the feudal lord belonged, would not tolerate any too flagrant a violation of his privileges. A bond of united interests was found between feudal noble and his vassal. They were found side by side in war; their larger interests were the same in peace. Loyalty, honor, fidelity took deep root in the society which they represented.
As the aristocracy of feudalism was founded, not on wealth or money, but on land tenure, one of the most stable titles to prestige and authority found in history, there was in the underlying concept of society in those days a feeling of stability and permanency, which for a time made feudalism, in spite of its flaws, a bulwark of order. It fostered even a strong family spirit. Baron, count or earl, behind the thick ramparts of his castle, lived a patriarchal life. He was, with his retainers and men-at-arms, his chaplains, to watch over his spiritual needs, his wife and children and vassals, dependent upon him for protection and safety, impelled by every sense of honor, duty and chivalry to make them feel that he was their sword and buckler. They were closely knit to him. There was a patriarchal bond between them. Family spirit grew strong and, under the teaching of the Church, it became pure.
Feudalism had its flaws. It was strictly an aristocratic institution. It fostered the spirit of pride and bore harshly at times upon the serf and the man of low degree. But its harsher features were softened by the teachings of the Church. When it was at its height, voices of Popes like Alexander III and of Doctors like St. Thomas Aquinas, were lifted to proclaim the equality of all men in the sight of God. At the altar, serf and master, count or cottier, knelt side by side. In the monasteries and convents, the poor man's son might wear the Abbot's ring and in the assemblies and councils of the realm, the poor clerk of former days, might speak with all the authority of a Bishop to sway the destinies of both Church and State.
One of the greatest evils of feudalism was that it fostered to excess the warlike spirit. Of its very nature, the system was a complex one. It gave rise to countless misunderstandings between the various grades of its involved hierarchy. The opportunities and plausible pretexts for misunderstandings, quarrels and war were many. A petty quarrel in Burgundy, in Champagne, in the Berry in France, involved not only the duke and count of these territories but almost every vassal or feudal lord in the province. The same might be said of the German nobles in Suabia, Thuringia and Franconia. Private wars were frequent, and though the barbarism of the past ages had almost completely disappeared under the teaching of the Gospel, these contests, as might be expected, were both sanguinary and wasteful.
The Church fought manfully against these private wars. It took every possible means to prevent them entirely. When in the nature of things, it found it impossible to do away with them altogether, it tried to mitigate their horrors, to limit their field of operation, to diminish their savagery. If the kingly authority was flouted, save perhaps when a sturdy ruler like William the Conqueror in England, or Hugh Capet in France, showed that there was a man at the helm, who meant to rule and was not afraid to quell rebellious earls and make them obey, there was one power these mail-clad warriors respected. They respected the Apostles Peter and Paul, they respected My Lord the Pope, and the Bishops of France and Normandy and England who shared in their authority. They flouted a king's edict, but none but hardened criminals among them laughed at an episcopal or a Papal excommunication.
These rude men, and it places their rude age high in the scale of civilization, respected religion. They lowered the sword before the Cross. The Church had for the disobedient and the refractory one terrible weapon, which she was loath to use, but which she occasionally used with swift and tragic effect, the weapon of excommunication. Many a modern historian or philosopher has smiled good-naturedly and in mild contempt at this weapon used by the Church to frighten her children, much as children are frightened by flaunting some horrid tale of ogre or hobgoblin before them. Yet the student of history might profitably study the use which the Church has made of such an instrument, and find in it one of the most effective causes of social regeneration in the Middle Ages.
The Church, in order to fight the military and armed excesses of feudalism, employed many means. It is to her that we owe what is known as the "Truce of God," or the enforced temporary suspension of hostilities usually, from the sunset of each Wednesday to Monday morning. Under pain of excommunication, during that interval, which at several times was further extended so as to comprise the seasons of Advent and Lent, and some of the major feasts, the sword might not be drawn in private quarrel. From a decree of the Council of Elne, in the South of France, we find that the "Truce of God," the "Treuga Dei" as it was technically called, was in full honor and had reached the height of its beneficent power in 1207. But long before, in the days when Gregory VII was Pope, and William of Normandy had just won his English crown, and Henry III ruled in Germany and Henry I in France, in the days when feudalism was making its first attempts to bring order out of chaos, several councils of the Church in France and in Normandy had traced out the plan and the outlines of the "Truce of God." Earlier even, at the Councils of Charroux (989), Narbonne (990), Le Puy and Anse (990), severe penalties were pronounced against those who wantonly in time of war destroyed the poor man's cattle or harried his fields, or carried off his beasts of burden. "Leagues of Peace" were formed to diminish the horrors of war, to protect the helpless, to enforce order. The Council of Poitiers, where there is one of the earliest mentions of these "Leagues of Peace," was held 1223 years ago. The Council of Bourges in 1031 created a species of national militia to police the rural districts and prevent war. Our ancestors believed in leagues with "teeth in them." From France where the movement had its origin and culminated at Elne (1207) in the full organization of the "Truce of God," it spread eastward into Germany and Thuringia. The German duchies and the Austrian marches submitted soon after to its humanitarian and Christian code. In 1030, the Pope, the French and German princes united their efforts for the development of the forerunners of the "Truce of God," the conventions known as the "Peace of God." The Peace, the earlier institution of the two, exempted from the evils of war, churches, monasteries, clerics, children, pilgrims, husbandmen; the cattle, the fields, the vineyards of the toiler; his instruments of labor, his barns, his bakehouse, his milch cows, his goats and his fowl. The Truce forbade war at certain "closed seasons." It gave angry passions time to subside, and endeavored to discredit war by making peace more desirable and its blessings more prolonged. It is probable that the Council of Charroux already mentioned laid the germs of the Truce. At the Council of Elne we see it fully organized. In 1139 the Tenth General Council, the Second Lateran, gave in its eleventh Canon its official approbation to what must be considered one of the most beautiful institutions of the Middle Ages.
Under the guidance of our American author, George Henry Miles, we are led back to the days of the eleventh century. He is an accurate and picturesque chronicler of that iron, yet chivalrous age. If on the one hand, we see the sinister figure of Henry IV of Germany, on the other we find the austere but noble monk Hildebrand, who became Pope St. Gregory VII. We hear the clash of swords drawn in private brawl and vendetta, but see them put back into the scabbard at the sound of the church bells that announce the beginning of the "Truce of God." The tale opens beneath the arches of a Suabian forest, with Gilbert de Hers and Henry de Stramen facing each other's swords as mortal foes; it closes with Gilbert and Henry, now reconciled, kneeling at the tomb of the fair and lovely Lady Margaret, their hates forgotten before the grave of innocence and maidenly devotion, and learning from the hallowed memory of the dead, the lesson of that forgiveness that makes us divine.
The American novelist, like the Italian Manzoni, teaches the lesson inculcated in "The Betrothed" ("I Promessi Sposi"). It is a lesson of forgiveness. It is noblest to forgive. Forgiveness is divine. Forgive seventy times seventy times, again and again. In Manzoni's story, the saintly Frederick Borromeo preaches and acts that sublime lesson in his scene with the Innominato with compelling eloquence. In "The Truce of God," the Lady Margaret, the monk Omehr, the very woes of the Houses of Hers and Stramen, the tragic madness of the unfortunate Bertha, the blood shed in a senseless and passionate quarrel, the bells of the sanctuary bidding the warring factions sheathe the sword, incessantly proclaim the same duty. In writing his story, George Henry Miles was not only painting for us a picture aglow with the life of olden times, but pointing out in a masterly way, the historic role of the Church in molding the manners of an entire generation.
The reader of "The Truce of God," in spite of the fact that the romance seems to be sketched only in its broadest outlines, gets a distinct knowledge of its chief actors. They live before his eyes. De Hers and Stramen are not mere abstractions. They have the rugged, clear-cut character, the sudden passions, the quick and at times dangerous and savage impulses of the men of the eleventh century. In them the barbarian has not yet been completely tamed. But neither has he been given full rein. Somewhere in these hearts, there lurks a sentiment of honor, of knighthood, which the Church of Christ has ennobled, and to which the helpless and the innocent do not appeal in vain.
The American has caught this sentiment and plays upon it skillfully. His setting is in keeping with his story. The wandering minstrel, the turreted castle, the festive board, the high-vaulted hall with its oaken rafters, the chase, the wide reaches of the forests of Franconia, the beetling ramparts of old feudal castles by the Rhine or the lovely shores of the Lake of Constance, the vineyards on the slopes of sunny hills, the bannered squadrons, the din of battle, the crash of helm and spear, are brought before us with dramatic power. Historic figures appear on the scene. Close to the principal actors in the story, we see the gallant Rodolph of Arles, Godefroi de Bouillon, Berchtold of Carinthia, Hohenstaufen and Welf, acting their life drama at the council board or on the field of battle. We see a woman and an old man, Mathilda of Tuscany and Pope St. Gregory VII, slowly but surely building on the foundations of a half-molded civilization the ramparts of the City of God. "The Truce of God" is true to the requirements of the historical romance. It summons before us a forgotten past, and makes it live. We forget in the vitality and artistic grouping of the picture, in the nobility of the author's purpose and the lasting moral effect of the story, the occasional stiffness of the style. It is the style of the refined scholar, perhaps also of the bookman and the too conscious critic. Occasionally it lacks spontaneity, directness and naturalness. It might unbend more and forget ceremony. But it is picturesque, forcible, clear, and bears us along with its swing and dramatic movement.
American Catholics must not forget the excellent work done by George Henry Miles for the cause of Catholic literature, the more so as his name is not infrequently omitted from many popular histories of American literature. Yet the author of "The Truce of God" had mastered the story teller's and the dramatist's art. "If there was ever a born litterateur," writes Eugene L. Didier, in The Catholic World for May, 1881, "that man was George Henry Miles. His taste was pure, exquisite and refined, his imagination was rich, vivid, and almost oriental in its warmth." Moreover, he consecrated his life and his talents to the cause of Catholic education, identifying himself for many years with Mount St. Mary's College, Emmitsburg, Maryland, with whose annals so much of the early history of the Catholic Church in the United States, is closely linked.
The author of "The Truce of God" was born in Baltimore, July 31, 1824; he died at Emmitsburg, July 23, 1872. In his twelfth year the lad entered Mount St. Mary's College. Here he became a Catholic and had afterwards the happiness of seeing his family follow him into the Church. The studies at the "Mountain" in those days were still under the magic and salutary spell of the venerable founder, Bishop Dubois, and his followers. They were old fashioned, but they were solid, with the classics of Greece and Rome, mathematics, philosophy and religion as their foundation. They were eminently calculated to mold thinkers, scholars and cultured Catholic gentlemen. They left a deep impression on the young Marylander. After his graduation at the end of the scholastic year, 1843, the law for a short while lured him away, to its digests, its quiddits and quillets, abstracts and briefs. But it was putting Pegasus in pound. Miles at a lawyer's task was as much out of place as Edgar Allan Poe was when mounting guard as a cadet at West Point, or Charles Lamb with a quill behind his ear balancing his ledger in India House. The Mountain and the Muses lured him back to Emmitsburg, where a short distance from the college gate, in the quiet retreat of Thornbrook, he settled to his books and a professor's tasks at the Mount. Close by were the lovely haunts of La Salette, Hillside, Loretto, Tanglewood, Andorra, Mt. Carmel, every little cottage and garden, eloquent, it has been said, of the faith and piety of the builders of the Mount, who breathed the spirit that thus baptized them ("The Story of the Mountain. Mount St. Mary's College and Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland." By the Rev. E. McSweeny. Vol. II, p. 102). For its historic associations, its panorama of hills, wooded slopes and fields, the spot could scarcely be matched within the wide amphitheater of the hills of Maryland.
To Emmitsburg, to his "boys", the young professor of English literature gave his enthusiasm, his idealism, his love of all that was fair in art and the world of books. His enthusiasm inspired them with a love of artistic excellence, which, neither in his own work, nor in that of his pupils would tolerate anything commonplace. Before coming to Thornbrook, he had written "The Truce of God," first published as a serial in the United States Catholic Magazine, established by John Murphy of Baltimore, and which under the editorship of Bishop Martin John Spalding and the Rev. Charles I. White achieved a national reputation. Two other tales, "Loretto," and the "Governess," had also been published and were extremely popular. Like "The Truce of God," they were of the purest moral tone, elegant in diction, the work of a thorough literary craftsman. In 1850, the American actor, Edwin Forrest, offered a prize of $1,000.00 for the best drama written by an American. Miles easily carried off the reward with his play "Mohammed." Rich with all the colors of the East, glowing with the warmth and poetry of Arabian romance and story, "Mohammed" was rather the work of a thinker and a poet than of a master dramatist. It was never acted, Forrest himself judging that it had not that ebb and flow of passion, nor that strong presentation of character which of all things are so necessary for the stage. Yet in other plays, notably in "Senor Valiente" and especially in "De Soto," and "Mary's Birthday," Miles showed that in him the dramatic note was not lacking, and in both he scored remarkable successes.
From Baltimore, after he had left the pursuit of the law, and from Thornbrook, close to the academic halls in which from 1859 he passed his entire life, Miles seldom emerged into public notice. Twice he visited Europe, his impressions of the second journey (1864) being recorded in "Glimpses of Tuscany." In 1851 President Fillmore sent him on a confidential mission to Madrid. That same year, John Howard Payne, the loved singer of "Home, Sweet Home," was reinstated in his consulship of Tunis. Like Miles, that wandering bard was a convert to the Catholic Faith. But unlike Miles, he did not enter the Church until the very end of his life, practically on his death bed. Catholics will be glad to know that the song, "Home, Sweet Home," whose underlying melody Payne caught from the lips of an Italian peasant girl, was written by one who, after many strange wanderings, found "Home" at last in that Church which is the mistress and inspirer of art. Like Payne, Miles captured the fancy of his countrymen with one song, "Said the Rose," which at one time was the most popular song in the United States. It has not the depth and the melting tenderness of "Home, Sweet Home," but its quaint fancy and melodious verse struck a responsive chord. In his "Inkerman," a stirring ballad, which every American boy of a former age knew by heart, there was an echo of the "Lays of Ancient Rome," of the "Lays" of Scott and Aytoun, while in the more ambitious "Christine" (1866), there was the accent of the genuine poet, something that recalled the "Christabel" of Coleridge. Miles had projected a series of studies on the characters and plays of Shakespeare. Judging from two remaining fragments, "Hamlet" and "Macbeth," the latter a mere outline, we regret that the writer was not able to finish the task. To beauty of language his study of "Hamlet" adds keen analytical powers and original views. ("An American Catholic Poet," The Catholic World. Vol. XXXIII, p. 145 ff.)
In the quiet churchyard on the slope of his beloved Mountain, in a simple grave, over which the green hills of Maryland keep guard, not far from the class-rooms and the chapel he loved, rest the mortal remains of the author of "The Truce of God." It is not necessary to describe him. Those who read this simple but romantic and stirring tale of the eleventh century which he wrote three-quarters of a century ago, cannot fail to catch the main features of the man. They will conclude that in George Henry Miles, religion and art, the purest ideals of the Catholic faith and the highest standards of culture and letters, are blended in rare proportion.
JOHN C. REVILLE, S.J., Editor-in-chief.
THE TRUCE OF GOD
Of ancient deeds so long forgot; Of feuds whose memory was not; Of forests now laid waste and bare; Of towers which harbor now the hare; Of manners long since changed and gone; Of chiefs who under their gray stone So long had slept, that fickle fame Hath blotted from her rolls their name.
Reader! if your mind, harassed with the cares of a utilitarian age, require an hour of recreation; if a legend of a far different and far distant day have aught that can claim your sympathy or awaken your attention; if the "Dark Ages" be to you Ages of Faith, or even lit with the gray morning-light of civilization, come wander back with me beyond the experimental revolution of the sixteenth century, to the time when the Gothic temples of the living God were new.
It was the eleventh century: the sun shone as brightly then as now; ay, and virtue too, though sympathy for a lustful tyrant has stamped the age with infamy. Through an extensive forest in Suabia, as the old chronicle from which I copy relates, a gallant youth was urging on, with voice and rein, a steed that seemed as bold and fiery as his rider. The youth's flashing eye, and the spear in his hand, told clearly enough that the boar was before him. On he went, as if the forest were his element, now bending low beneath the knotted bough, now swerving aside from the stern old trunk which sturdily opposed his progress, and seemed to mock him as he passed. On he went, as if danger were behind and safety before him; as if he galloped to save his own life, not to risk it in taking a boar's. An angry bark and a fearful howl rang in the distance, and the hunter's bugle sounded a merry blast. On he went, faster than before, and now as if he sought his mortal foe. The boar was at bay; monarch of the wood, he had turned to defend his realm, and his white tusks were soon red with the blood of the noble hounds who fearlessly disputed his right. The youth leaped from his horse with the speed of thought. Bred to the chase, the well-trained animal stood firm while his master cautiously, but with the calmness of the victor of a hundred frays, advanced against the bristling monster. Quitting the dogs for this new assailant, the boar came madly on; the huntsman sank upon one knee, and so true was his eye, and so firm his hand, that the heart of the savage was cloven by the spear. The youth rose to his feet, dizzy from the shock, and, springing nimbly upon the grim body of his prostrate victim, his fine form swelling with the rapture of his recent triumph, brought his horn to his lips, and again its notes went ringing merrily through the woods.
Echoes, like fading memories, growing fainter and fainter as they receded, gave the only response.
"Where can they be?" said the youth, "their steeds were fleet. Out of sight and out of hearing! How completely I have beaten them."
He laughed triumphantly as he said this, and, sitting down upon the long grass, began to caress an enormous hound that panted at his feet, as unconcernedly as though the forest now contained nothing more formidable than doves or lambs. His horse, thoroughly domesticated, strayed a little from the dead boar, feeding as it went.
The youth took off his plumed bonnet, and, flinging back his long black hair, fell into one of those light, smiling day-dreams which belong only to the young and innocent. He built fifteen air-castles in as many minutes. But at last he grew impatient; he sounded blast after blast; still no answer came. The trees kept up their sleepy sigh, and the sapless branches creaked, but no human voice, no human foot save his own, broke the silence.
"Thou hast given me a goodly chase," exclaimed the youth, springing up and addressing the boar, "and I shall wear this in remembrance of thee."
He drew his hunting-knife, and soon uprooted one of the monster's tusks. Depositing the precious relic in a hunting pouch he wore at his side, he mounted his horse, rather puzzled where to go.
"It is easier to get in this oaken field than to get out of it," said our hunter, "but if the forest have an end, I'll find it. Now, my dear loitering friends, we hunt each other."
Giving his horse the spur, and allowing the creature to choose its course, he called on the lagging hounds, and dashed away as rapidly as he had come. The wood was light as ever, and here and there sunbeam lay, like a golden spear, along the ground yet the rich lustre of the sky, wherever it was visible the hum of numberless insects, the fresh flight of the awakened bird, and the freer and cooler breeze, warned the youth that sunset was near. On went the noble steed, with steady step and trembling nostril while his finely veined ears spoke so rapidly that the rider could scarcely understand their language. They passed through long lines of trees that opened into other lines, from one limited horizon to another, yet all was green before and behind, to the right and to the left, one interminable emerald. The light turned from a rich gold to a golden red, and yet it played only on whispering leaves and on the long grass at their feet. Still the youth felt no fear, but hummed some old ballad, or drew a lively peal from his horn. He dismounted to refresh himself at a spring that had nestled among some rocks, and was murmuring there like a spoiled child. Having cared for the gallant animal which had borne him so well, he stretched himself a moment upon the green bank.
"Ha! what is that!" he exclaimed, bending forward to listen; "a horseman? Let him come; friend or foe, I shall be glad to see him."
He was on his horse in a moment. As he turned to look behind, he saw a gentleman, richly dressed, and admirably mounted, coming at full speed from another quarter of the wood. The stranger was quite young, perhaps a year or two older than our hunter, but certainly not over twenty-three. The youth knit his brows as the horseman approached, and eyed him keenly and sternly. When within a few yards of the spring, the stranger dismounted and drew his sword. The youth did the same. His handsome features were now distorted with anger and disdain, and it was difficult to recognize in the fierce figure, that seemed the guardian dragon of the fountain, the laughing boy who sat there so quietly a moment before. The stranger appeared to return the bitter hatred.
"I have found you, Gilbert de Hers," he muttered; "your bugle has rung your knell."
Gilbert replied but by a laugh of scorn, and the next instant their swords gleamed in the air. But just as the two blades met with a sharp clang, there came stealing through the wood the mellow sound of a distant bell. It was like the voice of an angel forbidding strife. Those soft, lingering notes seemed to have won a sweetness from the skies to pour out upon the world, and, filling the space between field and cloud, connected for a moment heaven and earth—for they wake in the heart of man the same emotions more perfectly felt in paradise.
For many centuries after the destruction of the Roman Empire, when all human institutions were swept away by the resistless torrent that poured from the North, and the Church of God alone stood safe and firm, with the rainbow of heaven around her, the stern warriors of Germany asserted their rights, or redressed their wrongs with the sword, and scorned to bow before the impotent decrees of a civil tribunal. A regular system of private warfare gradually sprang up, which falsely led every man of honor to revenge any real or fancied offence offered to any of his kindred. The most deadly enmity frequently existed between neighboring chiefs, and the bitter feeling was transmitted unimpaired from father to son. The most dreadful consequences inevitably resulted from this fatal installation of might in the outraged temple of justice. Until lately a blind prejudice and a perverted history have charged this unfortunate state of things to the pernicious influence of the Church of Rome. But the wiser Protestants of the present day, considering it rather a poor compliment to their faith to assign its birth to the sixteenth century, are beginning to be awake to the powerful instrumentality of the Christian Church in the regeneration of mankind, and the production of modern civilization. Few, indeed, even with the light of history, can form an adequate idea of the immensity of the task assigned to Christianity in shedding light over the chaos that followed the overthrow of Rome, in reducing it to order, and preparing the nicely fitted elements of modern Europe.
The Catholic Church beheld, and bitterly deplored, the evils of private warfare. Council after council fulminated its decrees against the pernicious system; men were exhorted by the sacred relics of the Saints to extinguish their animosities, and abstain from violence. But the custom had taken deep root; for, in the language of a well-known Protestant historian, "it flattered the pride of the nobles, and gratified their favorite passions." But in the eleventh century the Church had gained a partial victory over the dearest appetites of the fiery Frank and the warlike Saxon. It was enacted, under pain of excommunication, that private warfare should cease from the sunset of Wednesday to the morning of Monday, and few were hardy enough to expose themselves to the penalty. The respite from hostilities which followed was called the "Truce of God."
It was not the musical voice of the bell that made Gilbert de Hers pause on the very threshold of the struggle, and bite his lip until it grew white; but the sweet-toned bell announced the sunset of Wednesday. The young men stood gazing at each other, as though some spell had transformed them into stone. But the messenger of peace had stayed the uplifted sword, and, sheathing their unstained weapons, they knelt upon the green carpet beneath them, and put forth the same prayer to the same God.
It is a sight that may well command the eyes of Angels, when, though deaf to earthly laws and considerations, the angry heart, in the first heat of its wild career, still stops obedient to the voice of religion. Amid the dross of human frailty, the pure metal shines with the lustre that surrounds the sinner in the morning of his conversion.
They rose almost together, and their faces, so lately flushed with anger, were now calm and subdued.
"Farewell! Henry de Stramen," said Gilbert, as he leaped into the saddle.
"Farewell!" replied his antagonist, and, almost side by side, they proceeded in the direction of the bell.
A deadly feud was raging between the families of Hers and Stramen. It had continued for more than twenty years, and now burned with unabated fury. It originated in some dispute between Gilbert's father and the Lord Robert de Stramen, Henry's uncle, which resulted in the death of the latter. The Baron of Hers was charged with the murder, and, though he persisted in declaring his innocence, Henry's impetuous father, the Lord Sandrit de Stramen, swore over the dead body of his brother to take a bitter revenge on the Baron of Hers and all his line. Henry de Stramen had been nursed in the bitterest hostility to all who bore the name of Hers, and the unrelenting persecution of the Lord Sandrit had made Gilbert detest most cordially the house of Stramen. It was with mutual hatred, then, that the two young men had met at the spring. They knew each other well, for they had often fought hand to hand, with their kinsmen and serfs around them. Now they were alone, and what a triumph would be the victor's! but the bell, the Tell of peace, the silver-tongued herald of the truce of God, had sheathed their weapons.
It could not have been without a severe struggle that the two mortal foes rode quietly in the same direction, with but a few yards between them. They were not half an hour in the saddle when they discovered the spire of the church they were both in search of, rising gracefully above the trees. As they emerged from the forest, they could see stretching before them a broad expanse of hill and dale, wood and field. Scattered here and there were the humble dwellings of the forester and husbandman, and, from their midst, towering above them, like Jupiter among the demigods, stately and stern rose the old castle of the house of Stramen. The western sky was still bathed in light, and shared its glories with the earth; airy clouds, ever changing their hues, sported, like chameleons, on the horizon; the stream that wound around the castle seemed sheeted with polished silver: the herds and flocks were all still, and the voice of the birds was the only sound; and, amid this beauty and repose, how lovely and majestic was that finely moulded Gothic church!
Henry de Stramen tied his horse to a tree, and was soon lost in the elegantly carved doorway. Gilbert paused a moment, and gazed upon the open country before him with very mingled emotions. He had been there before at the head of his clan to disturb the serenity which, in spite of himself, was now softening his heart. He did not linger long, but led his horse a little within the woods, and entered the church. The gray-headed priest at the altar was solemnly chanting, from the beautiful liturgy of the Church, as he knelt down on the hard aisle, and the branching ceiling seemed to catch and repeat the notes. Through the stained window, where was pictured in unfading colors many a scene suggesting the goodness and mercy of God, and the blessed tidings of salvation, came the fading light of day, softened and beautiful. It was not merely the superior genius of the age that made the chapels and cathedrals of the Ages of Faith so immensely superior to the creations of the present day, but its piety too; that generous and pure devotion which induced our ancestors to employ their best faculties and richest treasures in preparing an abode as worthy as earth could make it of the presence of the Son of God. Then the house of the minister was not more splendid than his church, his sideboard not more valuable than the altar.
Gilbert saw around him the hard, sunburnt features, the stalwart forms he had marked in the desperate fray; he could touch the hands, now clasped in prayer, that had been so often raised against him in anger. Beside him knelt the maiden, with her brow all smooth and unfurrowed by care, and the matron who, numbering more than double her years, had felt more than treble her sorrows. The youth was deeply moved, as he gazed, and thought he might have robbed that mother of her son, that wife of her husband, that sister of a brother. Those gentle, melancholy beings had never harmed him, and, perhaps, in a moment of passion, he had deprived their existence of half its sweetness, and turned their smiles to tears. It was with an aching, an humbled heart that he bowed his head until it touched the cold floor, when the Lamb without spot was elevated for the adoration of the faithful.
A hymn, befitting the occasion, had been intoned, and the priest had left the altar, but those fervent men and women did not hurry from the church as if grateful for permission to retire, but lingered to meditate and pray.
Gilbert remained until all had gone save Henry de Stramen and a lady who knelt beside him. They rose at length, and, passing so close to Gilbert that he could distinctly see their faces, left him alone. He was in the act of rising when the priest appeared, and beckoned him into the sacristy.
"Remain here," the old man said, taking the youth by the hand.
"I must hurry home, Father," replied Gilbert; "my father will have no peace, thinking the boar has killed me."
"Let him fret awhile; it is better he should lament you alive, than dead by the serfs of Stramen."
"They dare not attack me!" exclaimed the youth; "they fear the Church and my own arm too much for that!"
"Nay, peace!" rejoined the priest; "it is better not to expose them to the temptation, or you to the danger."
The practicability of spending the night in security in the very teeth of Stramen Castle had not occurred to Gilbert; he hesitated a second or two, and then, as if all his plans and ideas had undergone a thorough revolution, gracefully promised obedience.
"You are right, Father," he said; "and to speak truth, I am weary enough. If you promise me protection to-night, I will gladly rest my head wherever you place the pillow."
"Those who sleep with me," whispered his venerable adviser, "must content themselves without a pillow. But I will promise you a safe couch, though it is a hard one; the softest beds are not always the freest from danger. In the mean time, tarry here until I have said some prayers."
"But my horse," interposed Gilbert.
His companion rang a small bell. A benevolent-looking man, somewhat past the prime of life, plainly dressed in a black cassock, answered the call. The priest conversed awhile with him, in an undertone, and then, ascertaining from Gilbert where his horse was, dismissed the attendant, remarking that the animal should not suffer.
Motioning Gilbert to a chair, the priest entered the sanctuary. Instead of sitting down, the young noble leaned against a lancet window which commanded a view of the neighboring castle. He stood there looking idly upon the darkening prospect, until the appearance of two persons riding rapidly along the main road to the castle, aroused his attention. He followed them eagerly with his eyes until they were completely lost in the twilight. One of the riders was evidently a woman; but it would be inquiring too minutely into Gilbert's thoughts to determine whether that circumstance, or the proneness of youth to become interested in trifles, excited his curiosity.
Night was fast approaching, and a light from the altar made itself felt throughout the church. Still the priest knelt before the sacred tabernacle, and Gilbert longed for his appearance. He grew impatient of being alone, when a companion was so near at hand; the place was strange, and there were no well-known objects to stand in the place of friends, supplying by the thousand associations they conjure up, and their mute appeals to memory, the absence of language.
The minutes wore heavily on; but at length the priest entered the sacristy. Gilbert followed him out of the church to a very small house a few paces off, within the shadow of the wood. The house, which was but one story high, was divided into two rooms by a stone partition. In the back room slept the pastor of the church, Father Omehr. The front room contained a table and a bench. Father Omehr, for this was the name of Gilbert's companion, struck a light and made the young man sit down upon the bench, while he spread out upon the table some fruit and bread and wine.
"Eat, my son," said the old man; "the wine is good and the bread is quite fresh. These grapes are better than any in Hers."
Gilbert seemed inclined to dispute the last assertion; but the length and vigor of his repast strongly confirmed the opinion expressed by his host. The latter remained standing with his arms folded on his breast, and regarded the youth with a smile, as he indulged the keen appetite sharpened by the severe exercise of the day. The meal was eaten in silence, save an occasional entreaty from Gilbert to his entertainer to partake of his own cheer, and the refusal. The little lamp between them shone upon two noble faces: in spite of the great disparity between their ages, they were alike; not so much in feature as in the character of the head.
The priest must have been near seventy. The top of his head was entirely bald; yet the little hair left him, which grew behind in a semicircle, from ear to ear, was only sprinkled with gray. He was tall and admirably formed for strength and agility; and though his cheek was pale and sunken, and his high broad forehead ploughed by many a heavy line, still in his eye and lips and nose were visible the relics of a splendid creation. There was an expression of great energy about his mouth; his whole face indicated intelligence and benevolence; and it was the actual possession of this energy, intellect, and virtue that made Father Omehr a worthy descendant of the noble emissaries of Adrian, who, ever in the rear of Charlemagne's armies, healed by the Cross the wounds inflicted by the sword, and drove forever from the forests of Germany the gloomy and accursed rites of Hesus and Taranis.
Gilbert de Hers was more than a fearless hunter and skilful soldier. He had been carefully instructed by his confessor in the writings of the Fathers—in logic, philosophy, and the classics; he had read the death of Patroclus, and the episode of Nisus and Euryalus; he knew by heart many of those beautiful hymns whose authors, in the spirit of Catholic humility, had concealed their names. He was much beloved by all who knew him and were permitted to love him. His charities were numerous and unostentatious. Though scarcely twenty-one, his bearing, was bold and manly; there was no disguise about his large black eyes; they spoke out all his thoughts before his tongue could tell them. Apart from the great beauty of his features, high thoughts had printed a language on his face much more fascinating than mere regularity of feature. His very elegant form did not promise extraordinary strength, yet he was as formidable to his foes as welcome to his friends.
Gilbert rose at the conclusion of his rather protracted meal, and declared he would remain seated no longer while his companion stood. The priest carefully removed the remnants, after which he sat down upon the bench, and obliged the youth to sit beside him.
"Now, my son," he said, "tell me what in the world has brought you here alone?"
"No inclination of mine, my dear Father," replied Gilbert.
"Who has sent you then?"
"I am sent by chance," answered Gilbert, laughing. "Early this morning I set out, with some twenty companions, in pursuit of a boar. I was better mounted than they, and so was the boar, for he distanced them. When the chase was at an end I found myself entirely alone, and could hear nothing of my men. I did not know where I was; so I permitted my horse to choose his own course, and by some accident he has brought me here."
Father Omehr listened attentively, and added, after a pause:
"It is well you came not yesterday. Did you meet any one in the wood?"
Gilbert felt the searching eye of his companion upon him, and related with much embarrassment all that had happened at the spring.
"I knew he was in search of something to prey upon when he left me so suddenly. That Henry de Stramen should thus pursue a boy!—fie! It is a stain upon his manhood!"
Gilbert looked up in the speaker's face to ascertain if he were in earnest.
"And but for that little bell, where should you be at this moment?"
"Here, Father, most likely!"
This was said so calmly and maliciously, that Father Omehr could not repress a smile. But it quickly vanished, and left behind an expression of deep sorrow.
"And must this fatal feud last forever?" was his passionate exclamation; "are ye ever to revel in carnage, like the lion of the desert—and shall the example of the Son of God inspire nothing but contempt for those who imitate Him?"
The missionary buried his face in his hands, and Gilbert, abashed by the solemn rebuke, kept a respectful silence.
"O Gilbert! Gilbert!" resumed the priest, lifting his tearful eyes from the ground, "if your God submitted to insult and stripes and death to save you, can you not patiently endure for His sake a few slight injuries?"
"Our injuries are not slight," replied the youth, "nor is the vengeance of the house of Stramen an idle threat. They have burned the houses of our serfs, desolated our fields, butchered our kinsmen and dependants; shall we not protect ourselves, even though our resistance makes their blood run freely? They have accused my father of a crime of which he is innocent, and have sought to visit upon him real chastisement for the imaginary murder. Shall I stand still and tamely see them wreak their most unrighteous wrath upon my guiltless parent's head?"
"I should be glad, my son, if you confined yourselves to mere resistance; but how often have you inflicted, within sight of this very door, the injuries of which you complain? Could you see what I see—the orphan's piteous face, the widowed mother's tear of agony—blighted hopes and unavailing regrets—you might pause in your fearful retaliation!"
"They have brought it on themselves," said Gilbert, musing, "they are the aggressors."
"Alas! be not the means by which their sins are aggravated."
"You must address yourself to them!" returned the other.
"And have I not? Day and night I have reasoned, implored, prayed; I have represented the folly, injustice, and impiety of their violence; I have held out to them the anger of God and the maledictions of man; I have employed art, eloquence, and reproof: but all in vain. Oh, what years of misery has your quarrel cost me! Could I only live to see it healed; to see you once more living like Christian men, employed in atoning for your own sins, not in arrogantly chastising each other's faults; to see the sword of discord broken, and peace and love and safety proclaiming the Divine efficacy of our holy religion! We all have enough to do to vanquish ourselves, and have little time to spare in subduing others, unless we aid them in conquering their passions, and then we promote our salvation: but your conquests only peril your eternal welfare."
Gilbert understood from this last remark that his companion had read what was passing in his mind, and he contented himself by saying:
"Believe me, Father, I regret their obstinacy."
"You are young now," pursued his monitor; "but, trust me, when your old limbs fail you, and your sight waxes dim, your angry deeds will rise like spectres around you and haunt you to the tomb."
Gilbert attempted no reply, but listened with the air of one who approved the advice, but despaired of ever profiting by it. After an interval of meditation, Father Omehr arose and spread some soft fleeces in the corner of the room.
"May you sleep soundly, my son," he said, "and beg of God grace to moderate your angry passions. Your bed is not very soft, but it is in your power to sanctify it, and then it will be better than the down which muffles those who disdain or neglect to invoke the Divine protection."
Gilbert knelt down and received the old man's blessing, who, wishing him a good night, withdrew into his own apartment and closed the door.
The golden sceptre which thou didst reject, Is now an angry rod to bruise and break Thy disobedience.
Gilbert de Hers, as the good priest withdrew into his own apartment, resumed his seat upon the bench, and soon became absorbed in meditation. His varying face betrayed the character of each thought as it filed before his mind in rapid review. For more than an hour he remained in that statue-like state, when we, in a measure, assume a triple being, as the past and the present unite to form a future.
But as all reveries, like life itself, must end, Gilbert at length seemed to be aware of the reality of the unpretending bed in the corner. Having repeated the prayers which his piety suggested, he extinguished the almost exhausted taper, and threw himself upon the bed. He could not sleep, however; for, great as the fatigue of the day had been, the excitement was greater. His mind was perpetually recurring to the events at the spring, from which they wandered to his father's lonely and anxious chamber: now he remembered the earnest appeal of Father Omehr, and now pondered the injuries he had received from the house of Stramen. Through a narrow opening in the wall he could see the noble church sleeping in the moonlight. Its walls of variegated marble had been built principally at the expense of the Barons of Stramen, for in those days it was not unfrequent for private families to erect magnificent churches from their own resources; and as his eye rested upon the misty window, perhaps he felt that though utterly opposed in all else, there was one thing in common between his own haughty race and the founders of that church—religion.
The night wore on, and was far advanced; but Gilbert still kept piling thought upon thought, unable and even scarcely desiring to exchange them for the deep repose or more confused images of slumber. It must have been after midnight when, as he lay awake, he could distinctly hear the sound of blows. Gilbert was not a moment in conjecturing the cause; he knew at once that the venerable priest was subjecting himself to corporal chastisement. He did not live in an age when voluntary mortification was ridiculed, when a sacred ambition to imitate a crucified God insured contempt from man. Then, those self-denying religious were not taunted with "the hope of gaining heaven by making earth a hell." And perhaps Gilbert knew that the spiritual peace and delight derived from such chastisements, were infinitely sweeter, even here below, than the impure pleasures of worldlings. Feeling thus, he could not but contrast the mortified life of that holy man with his own indulged and pampered existence. He had never known the sting of adversity, and rarely been thwarted in a single desire; yet how much greater his sins than those of Father Omehr! Amid such reflections he felt—and it is a salutary feeling—the truth of a hereafter.
But we will no longer pursue the reflections of the youth. Some time after the sounds had ceased he fell asleep, and was only roused by the sun streaming into his apartment, and the solemn tones of the church bell.
The morning was beautiful. The sun was everywhere; kindling the hoary tops of the Suabian Alps, sparkling on the broad Danube as it rolled majestically on from the southwest to the northeast, lighting up hamlet, hill, vale, rivulet, forest, and making the church glitter like a stupendous diamond. But Gilbert was ill-prepared to enjoy this blaze of beauty. In a melancholy mood he leaned against the window, watching the sturdy serf in the centre of his family, as he came to share the blessings of the Mass. He was rather startled when the outer door opened and admitted the lady he had seen in the church the night before with Henry de Stramen. She came unattended, save by an old female servant, who carried with some difficulty a basket filled with fruits, delicacies, and medicines of various kinds, designed for Father Omehr to apply to any purpose his piety might point out.
Though in the year 1076 chivalry was not the regular and well-defined institution it became during and after the Crusades, yet the same amount of valor and devotion to woman was expected from the knight. The spirit of Christianity, operating upon Teutonic virtue, which has raised the woman from the drudge of man to be the ornament of society, created a chivalric courtesy long before the cry of "Deus vult!" rang from Italy to England. Gilbert de Hers, born and bred in the courtly circle of Suabia, though his spurs were not yet won, was still familiar with the duties of knighthood. As the lady paused, surprised at his presence, he made a profound and respectful reverence, and he would have done the same had she been less noble, or had he known, as he then surmised, that the fair visitor was the daughter of his father's deadliest foe.
Their embarrassment was relieved by the appearance of Father Omehr, who extended to both his blessing, gratefully received the basket from the attendant, and, after Margaret de Stramen had retired, accompanied Gilbert to the church. As they emerged into the morning air, Gilbert caught a glimpse of the graceful figure of the young lady entering the church. But his attention was soon arrested by a strange, wild-looking being upon the church steps. She was apparently not over forty, tall, slightly built, and evidently the victim of insanity. Her long black hair hung in thick masses over her pale face and deathly-white neck; her arms swung to and fro with a restless motion, and she sang at intervals snatches from the ballads for which Suabia is so renowned. As Gilbert passed her, she bent her large wild eyes upon him with an expression of such fearful meaning, that brave as was the youth in battle, he recoiled from their ferocious glare. The next instant she was abstracted as before, and crossed her hands upon her breast in an attitude of devotion. Gilbert looked to his companion with an inquiring eye, but the priest was silent.
The next instant they were treading the marble aisle. Gilbert knelt down upon a tombstone, and endeavored to compose himself for the Mass. He perceived from the glances thrown upon him from time to time by some of the peasantry, that he was recognized as an enemy, yet respected as one under the aegis of religion. These glances became more frequent when Father Omehr, in his brief discourse, eloquently adverted to the example of Jesus in the forgiveness of injuries, and enforced the sacred duty of a Christian to imitate that Divine model. In powerful terms the gray-haired priest portrayed the miseries of discord, and the blessings of mutual forbearance; and Gilbert felt that a change was creeping over him.
He left the church when the Holy Sacrifice had been completed, meditating upon the pastor's powerful exhortation. But the train of his thoughts was broken upon the steps by that wild face almost touching his. As the maniac stared fixedly at him, she muttered in a hoarse whisper:
They laid him 'neath a noisy tree, And his glossy head was bare; They piled the cold earth on his breast, Then left him helpless there.
While the youth listened in amazement, and almost in terror, the frantic woman drew from her bosom a long knife, and inflicted a deep wound upon him before he could wrench it from her determined grasp. The knife had penetrated to the rib, but not farther, having glanced off to the side. As the blood spread rapidly over his hunting-shirt, the maniac gave a wild laugh, and repeated in the same low, dismal tone:
'T is red, 't is red, as red as his; Man's blood is ever red; 'T was thus his side was crimsoned o'er When they told me he was dead.
With the last words, she laughed again, more wildly than before, and, darting into the wood, was soon lost among the gigantic trees.
Some serfs were standing around, but offered no assistance. They seemed rooted to the ground in terror at the rash act, and crossed themselves in mute astonishment. At this juncture, while Gilbert was examining the extent of the wound, and vainly endeavoring to stanch the blood, the Lady Margaret and the priest appeared at the doorway, having been attracted by the loud laugh of Gilbert's assailant.
Comprehending in an instant that Gilbert had been wounded, Father Omehr hastened to support him.
"It is but a trifle, Father," said the youth, anxious to relieve the evident uneasiness of the old man.
"May God will that it be so!" replied the priest, eagerly removing the hunting-shirt, and examining the path of the knife. After which, having carefully replaced the garment, he turned to the serfs who yet lingered there, inquiring, in a voice of deep indignation:
"Who has dared to do this? Who has been impious enough to draw blood during the truce of God, upon the threshold of God's sacred temple?"
One of them hastened to reply:
"It was Alber of the Thorn's widow, crazy Bertha. God preserve us from such a deed, at such a time, and in such a place!"
"But could you not have prevented it?" continued the priest, eyeing the man until he quailed.
"They are not to blame, Father," he said; "I did not expect the attack myself, and none else could have prevented the blow."
"It bleeds much," pursued the priest, again examining the wound.
Gilbert made a step forward, but Father Omehr detained him, and reluctantly the youth allowed himself to be supported by two of the serfs of Stramen to the bed he had occupied during the night.
Margaret de Stramen, in the spirit of the age, had gone to the cell, after discovering the nature of the young man's injury, and taken from the basket she had brought some salves and stringents with which she stood ready at the door. She washed the wound and dressed it with the tenderness peculiar to woman, and received Gilbert's thanks with a slight inclination of the head. Having completed her task, she drew the priest aside, and, looking up into his face with evident emotion, said:
"Could there have been poison on the knife?"
Though spoken in a whisper, the youth must have heard it, for he smiled at first, and the next moment became pale as death. Father Omehr noticed the change upon his features, and replied loud enough to be overheard:
"No, no! it cannot be. Some momentary paroxysm prompted the deed; there could have been no preparation, no predetermination."
"It is not for his sake," continued Margaret, in a still lower tone, and withdrawing farther from the bed; "not for his sake I fear an unfortunate result; but for our own. I know that it is Gilbert de Hers who lies there, and I have drunk too deeply in the prejudices of our family to repine at any calamity that may befall him. But this impious outrage can insure nothing but the Divine vengeance upon our heads. If he were borne down in battle, I perhaps should rejoice at heart at the triumph of my father; but I would rather die than see him perish from a noble confidence in the house of Stramen."
"You are not responsible, my child," rejoined her companion, "for the blind violence of a crazy woman. I am confident that the wound is not dangerous. Perhaps the accident, apparently so untoward, may in the end be productive of good. We are too apt to receive as good what should be avoided as evil, and to deem that a curse which should be considered a blessing."
The young lady made no reply, but advanced to Gilbert's bedside.
"Believe me, sir," she began with dignity but in some confusion, "that I sincerely regret the accident which has confined you here, and that I desire and will pray for your speedy recovery. You cannot suspect the house of Stramen of conniving at such a cowardly assault; they are too powerful in the field to resort to such a pitiful stratagem. Our effort shall now be to secure you from further violence."
The blood returned to Gilbert's cheek as she spoke. Feeble with pain and the loss of blood, he with difficulty replied:
"I little expected ever to receive such kindness as you have shown me from the daughter of my father's foes; but come what may, kind lady, I shall never forget your services. I feel assured that the kinsmen of her whom I address, could never be guilty of so ignoble an action."
It was not without pleasure that the noble maiden heard an answer so flattering to her pride, and so earnestly pronounced. Her cheek became brighter than Gilbert's as she bowed and left the apartment, attended by the old woman servant.
We will leave Gilbert, for the present, in the care of Father Omehr, to follow the footsteps of the fair lady of Stramen.
Margaret led the way rapidly to the border of the forest, where she had left a groom with horses. She sprang lightly upon her spirited palfrey, and exchanging a few words with the old woman, dismissed both domestics to the castle, and galloped off alone in an opposite direction. As she rode along, she was greeted with smiles and blessings by all who met her; yet she seemed to heed but little the frequent reverence and heartfelt salutation.
After proceeding about three miles, she struck into a deep, dark ravine, through which there rushed a slender stream, whose waters, seldom gladdened by a sunbeam, seemed to groan and murmur like an angry captive. The way, thickly strewn with moss-bound stones and the mouldering skeletons of trees, required all the maiden's horsemanship. But she struggled on, until she reached something midway between a grotto and a hut, projecting from the side of the gully, and looking as though by some fantastic freak of nature it had grown there, so admirably was it in keeping with the character of the place.
From the time she had mounted her horse, the maiden's face expressed great anxiety, which increased as she alighted and entered the singular excrescence we have mentioned. A blazing pine-knot driven in the ground, shed a fierce, and flickering light over the interior of this gloomy abode, for it was an abode—and more, a home—the home of Bertha! The maniac was sitting upon a rude bench, close to the firebrand which gave a fearful lustre to her haggard features, while with a species of exultation she gazed upon the knife stained with Gilbert's blood, still clenched in her hand.
The husband of this unfortunate woman had, about a year before, been mortally wounded in a chance affray between the partisans of the lords of Hers and Stramen. He was brought home only to die in the arms of his wife. The shock had reduced her to this miserable extremity. She could not be prevailed upon to remain in the cottage she had occupied in the hour of her joy; and though repeatedly offered a home by Father Omehr and the Baron of Stramen, she had built for herself this wild nest, and obstinately refused to leave it except to wander to the church or to the grave-yard. She was maintained by the Lady Margaret principally, and by the charities of the peasantry. Up to the present time, she had been perfectly harmless, and was rather loved than feared by the children of the country. She had always manifested an extreme affection for the Lady Margaret, to whom she would sing her sweetest songs, and whose hand she would almost devour with kisses.
Margaret, though somewhat appalled at Bertha's frightful appearance, yet confiding in the power she had over her, advanced and silently sat down upon the bench. For some minutes Bertha seemed unconscious of the presence of her visitor, but suddenly removing her eyes from the knife, she bent them upon Margaret. In an instant a smile of strange sweetness stole over the poor creature's wasted face: every trace of anger disappeared as she fell upon her knees and raised the hem of the maiden's garment to her lips. Without rising she sang one of those simple ballads which even insanity could not make her forget. The lady of Stramen patiently permitted her to proceed without interruption. But the moment her strange companion was silent, she minted to the knife, exclaiming:
"Is this blood, Bertha?"
Still kneeling, the woman began:
The chieftain swore on bended knee, That blood for blood should flow— Then leaped upon his coal-black steed, And spurred against the foe.
"Has anyone hurt you?" continued Margaret.
But Bertha only replied:
Sir Arthur swung his falchion keen— The serf implored in vain;— The knight is galloping away— The serf lies on the plain!
"Bertha! Bertha! this is wrong: I hope you have committed no violence?"
But the answer, as before, was given in rude, indefinite verse.
It may be unnecessary to say that the object of the lady's visit was to discover if the knife had been poisoned. Finding that all question would be useless, she had recourse to an artifice to effect her purpose, suggested by the discovery of a splinter buried in Bertha's thumb.
"Let me remove this—it must give you pain," she said, examining the hand she had taken in hers, and reaching after the knife. Bertha passively resigned the weapon, but rapidly withdrew her hand, just as her mistress feigned to prepare for the incision. Margaret shuddered, for she naturally saw in that quick gesture a confirmation of her worst fears. For some moments they gazed at each other in mute anxiety. Bertha was the first to break the silence, and her words revived a gleam of hope in the bosom of her companion.
"No! no!" she exclaimed, slowly and sternly, "his blood must not mix with mine!"
"Is there poison here?" pursued the lady, in a low searching tone.
She received in reply:
There was no poison on the steel That robbed Sir James of breath; There was no poison on the blade That well avenged his death.
Greatly relieved, but still unsatisfied, the high-born damsel sprang to her feet.
"It is the blood of Hers!" she cried, exultingly.
The maniac's face assumed a look of savage triumph.
"Then will I keep this blood-stained instrument as a precious jewel. Farewell, Bertha; you shall hear from me soon."
She passed rapidly through the narrow aperture by which she had entered, leaving Bertha in blank amazement, utterly unable to comprehend what had passed.
Emerging from the dark ravine, the Lady Margaret rode straight toward the old castle of Stramen, whose gray towers retained their sombre majesty, which the merry sun could not entirely dispel. It was not long before she passed the drawbridge, sped through the massive gate, and reined in her palfrey upon the ample terrace; when, having thrown her bridle to an attendant, she proceeded at once to her chamber, and summoned Linda, the old domestic, to her side.
"You are skilled in such matters, Linda," she said, producing the knife, before the faithful neif had finished her salutation; "is there poison on this blade?"
Linda took the knife, and having examined it attentively, returned it to her mistress; after which she left the room, making a signal that she would soon return. After the lapse of a few minutes, she reappeared with a vessel of boiling water, which she placed upon a marble slab. Then taking from her pocket a piece of polished silver, and at the same time receiving the knife, she plunged them both into the hissing liquid. As the lady of Stramen, eagerly watching the experiment, stood bending over the water with her back to the door, she was not aware of her father's presence. He had entered unperceived, and was contemplating in some surprise the mysterious operation going on before him. He could scarce repress a laugh, for there was something ludicrous in Linda's very wise and consequential manner, as she knelt over the kettle, while his daughter, equally absorbed, her hat yet untied, continued in an attitude of profound attention beside her.
When the water had cooled, the old woman with a trembling hand drew out the silver—it was bright as ever!
"It is venomless as the bill of the turtle-dove," she exclaimed, with the importance of an oracle, looking up at her mistress.
"May I ask the meaning of all this, without being referred to the prince of magic for an answer?" said the Baron of Stramen, stepping forward; and he added, addressing Linda, who in her surprise had nearly overturned the vessel: "Do you wish to be hung for a witch?"
The old woman slunk terrified into a corner, but Margaret hastily replied:
"You are already informed, sir, of the violation of the truce of God, which occurred this morning. Our magic consisted only in the discovery that there was no poison upon the knife which inflicted the wound."
"I cannot but think," rejoined her father, "that you have displayed an unnecessary interest about the result. That young stripling has cost me more lives than he numbers years; and though I could not connive at Bertha's attempt to assassinate, I certainly do not see much reason to rejoice at his escape."
It may have been that Margaret quailed a little beneath her father's rigid scrutiny, but without embarrassment she returned:
"If I had been born and bred to arms, if my breast were accustomed to the coat of mail, if my hand could wield the battle-axe, I might anxiously crave, or coldly behold the murder of a foe confiding in our generosity and in our plighted faith to the Church; but I have never worn the gauntlet, or drawn the sword; my heart has never exulted at the gladsome sight of an enemy's blood, and I scorn to ascribe the interest I may have shown, to a wish of having the sweet assurance that a scion of Hers would perish like a dog, when in reality I hoped to find the weapon venomless."
"Spoken like a woman, as you are," muttered the knight. "I would have you feel otherwise, but God has given you your sex; I cannot change its nature."
The Baron of Stramen was a tall, powerful man, whose vigor fifty years had not impaired. His face was stern, though not repulsive, and free from any approach to vulgarity. A man of strong passions, yet the strongest of all was an unvarying love for his daughter, on whom seemed to have centered all the tenderness of which he was capable. On the present occasion, he put an end to further controversy by drawing Margaret to his side, and giving her an exquisitely wrought head of Gregory VII.
"Treasure it, my child," he said, "it is the faithful likeness of a wonderful man—a man who may one day, with a few stout hearts to second his energy, chastise the impious tyranny of the house of Franconia!" He spoke with deep feeling, and, after pacing the room, with his arms folded upon his broad breast, abruptly stalked through the door, apparently absorbed in some momentous question.
No sooner had he gone, than Margaret turned to Linda, who still occupied the corner, and dismissed her with a message to Father Omehr. When alone, she knelt down before an ivory image of the Blessed Virgin and prayed—not to the polished ivory—but to the Mother of purity whose intercession it suggested, with a fervency and constancy which only they venture to ridicule who cannot record the virtues of Mary without a sneer.
Though not apprehensive, Father Omehr was pleased to learn from Linda that the knife had not been poisoned. Gilbert's eye brightened at the intelligence, though he had not given utterance to his fears—fears they were—for even the young and brave recoil in terror from death, when it assumes a form and hovers near in a detested shape. Having informed the youth that a messenger had been despatched to his father, the priest left Gilbert in charge of the sacristan, and proceeded on his daily errand of mercy through the neighborhood. By men like him, fervent, fearless, faithful, the rude Northern hordes were induced to abandon their idolatry, and embrace the faith of the Church of Rome. These noble missionaries slowly but surely prepared the canvas on which were afterward laid, in colors of enduring brightness, the features of Christian civilization.
When Father Omehr returned, Gilbert was asleep. The sacristan put in his hands a letter from a distinguished prelate, informing him of the nomination of Henry, canon of Verdun, by Henry IV.
"O God, protect Thy holy Church!" exclaimed the missionary, crushing the paper in his excitement. "If the ministers of God become the creatures of the king, despotism and irreligion must inevitably ensue. How long will virtue be accounted a crime? Shall every faithful shepherd be supplanted, to make room for the wolf of lay investiture, the instrument of a lustful tyrant, raised by simony, and upheld by royal favor?"
Gilbert's light slumber had been broken by the voice of his benefactor. As soon as Father Omehr saw the youth awake, he approached him, and inquired, with great kindness of manner, whether he felt better.
The youth replied in the affirmative.
"I have discovered," continued the other, "that you have richly deserved this wound. You killed with your own hand the husband of the woman who stabbed you, and though the chance thrust of an affray, it was noted, and communicated to Bertha by an eye-witness, one of the combatants. This is her revenge—but how inadequate to her suffering!"
"It is, indeed," said Gilbert, replying to the last remark, which had been particularly emphasized. His companion could not conceal the satisfaction with which he hailed this reply, as an omen of regret, and of a right apprehension of his former violence. But the youth was drowsy, and prudence forbade a longer conversation. At the close of the evening service, the lady of Stramen was seen to exchange a few words with her venerable pastor, but she did not enter the cell.
The gorgeous sun of ancient Suabia was beneath the horizon—but Gilbert slept upon his couch; the moon had lit her feebler torch, and walked silently beneath the stars—yet not until midnight did Gilbert awake. All was profoundly still. The dim light of the taper at his bedside revealed only the motionless figure of the sacristan, and the outline of a crucifix hanging against the wall. His eyes involuntarily closed, and in a moment he stood before his father, in the oaken halls of Hers—his retainers were around him—the horses pranced merrily—the bugle sounded—"On to the chase!" was the cry. He opened his eyes—the crucifix became more distinct.
He knelt before a prince, and arose a knight—a broidered kerchief streamed from his polished casque—the herald, in trumpet tones, proclaimed his prowess—the troubador embalmed his deeds in immortal verse—the smiles of high-born damsels were lavished upon him—the page clasped his sword at the mention of his name. He opened his eyes—the crucifix, and the sacristan!
A form of beauty was before him—at first, haughty and disdainful, but gradually assuming a look of interest and pity—it bent over him, and poured a balm into his wound, with a prayer for its efficacy—but the figure lifted its finger with a menacing air, and pointed to a snake, hissing from its hair—a mist settled around him, and the apparition was gone. He opened his eyes—the taper burned brighter—the crucifix became more distinct.
Gilbert was now fully awake. His wound was more painful than it had yet been, and in vain he endeavored to win back the repose so lately enjoyed. Nor was corporal uneasiness his only annoyance. Father Omehr's revelation of the motives by which Bertha was actuated, had left a more painful impression upon his mind than his monitor perhaps desired. Though the priest had not directly attributed the woman's insanity to her husband's death, Gilbert too clearly understood that such was the fact. His was too generous a heart, not to deplore bitterly so terrible a calamity, of which he was—however unintentionally—the cause. He felt no resentment for his misguided assailant—he would willingly have exposed himself to a second attack, could he have thus restored her reason. The memento of the crucifixion—that Catholic alphabet, the crucifix—held up unto his soul the wondrous truth that God had voluntarily suffered, for the sake of man, all that humanity can endure; and the youth interiorly acknowledged that the errors of his life were but imperfectly balanced by the inconvenience he then experienced.
It is not in the pride of health and youth, surrounded by pleasure, and strangers to care, that a heart, wedded to the world, is apt to prostrate itself in humility before the Author of life; but in danger and affliction, we learn to mistrust our self-sufficiency, and feel our complete dependence upon an invisible and almighty power. We are much more disposed to appeal to heaven for protection, than to return thanks for repeated favors. It is not to be wondered at, then, that Gilbert sought relief in prayer; there is nothing more natural to one who prefers the consolations of religion to the staff of philosophy. He was far indeed from that exalted perfection of loving God for Himself alone; but who can predict what may spring from the mustard-seed?
By the first gray light of the morning Father Omehr was bending over his youthful charge: Gilbert was fast asleep.
Fit to govern! No, not to live. O nation miserable, With an untitled tyrant, bloody-sceptred, When shalt thou see thy wholesome days again?
The third Friday after Gilbert had been wounded, he mounted his horse, and, accompanied by Father Omehr, set out for the Castle of Hers, which lay some four leagues distant to the south.
"You are sad, Father," said the youth, who felt all the exhilaration of returning strength, heightened by the freshness of the morning.
"It is true, my son; for though in all the trials of this pilgrimage I endeavor to turn to God the cheerful face He loves to see in affliction, I am sometimes weak enough to tremble at the gloomy period before us. We are upon the eve of a tremendous struggle. You may not be aware of it, for you are unaccustomed to watch events which govern the future for good or evil; but the firmness of our Holy Father, and the increasing recklessness and impiety of the emperor, must create an earthquake sooner or later."
"My father," replied Gilbert, "has imputed to His Holiness a want of firmness."
"Alas, with how little reason! He who, when seized by Cencius and his armed assassins at the altar of St. Mary Major—bruised, and dragged by the hair to the castle of his assailant—yet remained calm and unmoved, with the face of an Angel, neither imploring mercy nor attempting an ineffectual resistance—cannot be accused of a want of firmness. The matchless benevolence—the heart which melts at the first symptom of repentance—the clemency which led him, while his wounds were yet fresh, to pardon Cencius, prostrate at his feet—have also induced him to hearken to the promises of King Henry and accept his contrition."
"But is it not almost folly to trust the royal hypocrite to whom Suabia pays so heavy a tribute? I wish that when his infant majesty fell in the Rhine, there had been no Count Ecbert nigh to rescue him!"
"Is it not rather an exalted charity, of which you have no conception, and a Christian forgiveness which puts to shame your last ungenerous wish?"
"I can have no sympathy or pity for him who has loaded with insult a princess alike distinguished for beauty and virtue."
"You mean the queen, his wife. But tell me, when he endeavored to procure a divorce from Bertha, who prevented the criminal separation? Was it the boasted chivalry of Suabia? No! Peter Damian, the Pope's legate, alone opposed the angry monarch, and told him, in the presence of all his courtiers, that 'his designs were disgraceful to a king—still more disgraceful to a Christian; that he should blush to commit a crime he would punish in another; and that, unless he renounced his iniquitous project, he would incur the denunciation of the Church and the severity of the holy canons.' The result was the reconcilement of Henry with Bertha, in Saxony. And though Alexander was Pope, Peter received his instructions from Hildebrand. But there is a wide difference between your hostility to Henry of Austria and the resistance of Gregory VII to his encroachments: your motives all flow from human considerations, and seek a human revenge; his, on the contrary, proceed from the knowledge of his duty, to God, and breathe forgiveness: you seek the king's destruction and your own aggrandizement—Gregory, the king's welfare, and the independence and prosperity of the Christian Church."
We will no longer continue a conversation which, to be intelligible to all, would require a more intimate acquaintance with the history of the times than can be obtained from the books in free circulation among us. Though Gregory VII has been reproached by all Protestants, and by some Catholics, with an undue assumption of temporal power, and an unnecessary severity against Henry IV of Austria, it is certain that, in his own day, he was charged by many of his own friends, particularly, in Saxony and Suabia, with too tender a regard for a monarch who violated his most solemn engagements the moment he fancied he could do so with impunity, and whose court, already openly profligate, threatened to present the appearance of an Eastern seraglio. A hasty glance at the prominent facts of the dispute will leave us in doubt whether to admire most the dignified and Christian forbearance of the Pope while a hope of saving his adversary remained, or the unwavering resolution he displayed, even to death in exile, when convinced that mercy to the king would be injustice to God.
No sooner had Gregory assumed the tiara, than he addressed letters to different persons, in which he assured them of his earnest desire to unite with Henry in upholding the honor of the Church and the imperial dignity; to accomplish which he would embrace the first opportunity of sending legates to Henry, to acquaint the king with his views. But, while proferring his love, he declared that, if Henry should venture to offer God insult instead of honor, he would not fail in his duty to the Divine Head of the Church through fear of offending man. So, in a letter to Rodolph, Duke of Suabia, who at that time was known to be secretly hostile to the king, Gregory declared that he entertained no ill feeling whatever for Henry, but simply desired to do his duty.
There were two evils which Gregory was resolved to extirpate: lay investitures, and the incontinence of the clergy. When the power of appointing to benefices was usurped by the civil power, the emperor was sure to fill the highest places in his gift with creatures of his own. The inevitable result of this was to create two classes of prelates—one of lay, the other of ecclesial investiture. Its ultimate effect was to render the Church completely depend upon the State, and to change and corrupt its very source with the varying vices of libertine despots. It was found (and how could it be otherwise?) that the proteges of the emperor studied only how to please him; and that, in serving the State and the prince, they became indifferent to the Church. Selected to serve a particular purpose, or chosen in consideration of a valuable donation, the lay nominee had been sure to fulfil the object for which he was elevated, or to indulge the avarice or ambition which had craved the appointment. It was in attempting to remedy this fatal innovation that Gregory found himself repeatedly thwarted by Henry; and yet he had been censured by those who lament the worldliness of a portion of the medieval clergy, for striking at the root of the evil.
After repeated provocation, the arm of the Pope is uplifted to strike; but Henry, awed by his menaces, and by an insurrection in Saxony, hastens to avert the blow by an unreserved submission and the fairest promises. He confesses, not only to have meddled in ecclesiastical matters, but to have unjustly stripped churches of their pastors—to have sold them to unworthy subjects guilty of simony, whose very ordination was questionable—and implores the Pope to begin the reform with the Cathedral of Milan, which is in schism by his fault.
Gregory pardons him; and, in 1074, holds his first council at Rome against simony and the incontinence of the clergy. It was in this year that Henry, already pressed by the Saxons and Thuringians, found himself threatened by Salomon, King of Hungary. In this emergency, he has recourse to Gregory, who, by an eloquent letter, calms the indignant Hungarian.
With the year following, the campaign against Saxony begins. This brave but turbulent people had risen against the towns in possession of Henry, and burned the magnificent Cathedral at Hartzburg. Here again the Pope secured to the king the powerful assistance of Rodolph, Duke of Suabia, in conjunction with whom the royal army obtains a decisive victory at Hohenburg. But once in security and crowned with success, the graceless monarch forgets his submission, and exclaims, "It does not befit a hero, who has vanquished a warlike people, struggling in defence of what they hold most sacred, to bow humbly down before a priest, whose only weapon is his tongue!" Faithless to his recorded vow in the hour of danger, he nominates Henry, canon of Verdun, to fill the see vacated by the Bishop of Liege; and, soon after, calls to the see of Milan, Theobald, his own chaplain, in place of the murdered Herlembaud. Thus repeatedly deceived, Gregory must strike at last, or sacrifice the independence of the Church of God to human weakness.
It was in the pause between these new indignities and the consecration of Hidolphe in the archbishopric of Cologne, that Father Omehr and Gilbert rode slowly on toward the Castle of Hers.
The conversation naturally turned from the consideration of impending evils, to the miserable feud actually existing between the two houses of Hers and Stramen.
"I sincerely wish it were ended," said Gilbert, in reply to a vehement denunciation just pronounced by his companion. "I could willingly forgive all the injuries I have received at their hands, when I remember the kindness of the Lady Margaret."
The priest looked quickly up in the young man's face, but Gilbert was gazing with an abstracted air upon the blue outline of the beautiful Lake of Constance, which just began to appear to the south.
"It were far better," he said, commanding the youth's attention by taking his hand—"it were far better to forgive them when you remember the prayer of your dying Jesus for His persecutors, than out of gratitude to the ordinary courtesy of a pitying damsel."
Gilbert made no direct reply, nor did he return the glance of his friend, which he well knew was upon him.
"I could wish," he began, after a considerable pause, "before leaving your hospitable roof, to have expressed to the Lady Margaret my deep sense of the interest she deigned to display in my regard, and which I fear has done more to soften my feelings toward her father, than the nobler and holier motive you have mentioned."
There was a humility in this that pleased the good missionary; but he saw with pain and uneasiness the direction which the ardent mind of the youth was evidently taking, and instantly rejoined:
"Did you know the Lady Margaret better, you would spare yourself that regret. In her charitable attention to your wants, she overcame a natural repugnance to yourself. She would rather miss than receive any return you can make, and is always more inclined to set a proper value upon the solid and eternal recompense of God, than attach any importance to the empty and interested gratitude of man."
Gilbert's eyes were bent again upon the Lake of Constance. They were now at the foot of a long, high hill, which they began to ascend in silence. Gilbert pressed his horse rather swiftly up the gradual ascent, and they soon gained the summit.
"What is the Danube to that splendid lake!" cried the mercurial stripling; "and what is there in all the lordship of Stramen to vie with this!"
The view now opened might excuse his excitement, even in a less interested person. The Castle of Hers, though built for strength, presented a very different appearance from that of Stramen: its outline was light and graceful, and it seemed rather to lift up than cumber the tall hill that it so elegantly crowned. It was situated upon the border of the lake, which, by trouvere and troubadour, in song and in verse, in every age and in every clime, has been so justly celebrated. A few miles to the southwest the mighty Rhine came tumbling in; who, as the German poets say, scorns to mingle his mountain stream with the quiet waters of the lake. We will attempt no further description, for fear of spoiling a finer picture, which must already exist in the eye of the reader, created by more skilful hands.
As the horsemen neared the castle, they saw a knight, followed by a few men, dashing down the hill. Gilbert knew his father, and hastened to meet him. Their meeting was manly and cordial. The baron stopped but to embrace his son, and hastened to welcome Father Omehr. He dismounted, and imprinted a kiss upon the old man's still vigorous hand.
"I should be childless now," he said, "but for your kindness; and you know that words would but mock my feelings."
The tears in the baron's eyes expressed more than a long oration.
Father Omehr only replied, with a laugh, "You must blame your son's indiscretion, and not applaud me!" Thus saved from a formal and unsatisfactory conversation, the knight remounted his horse and led the way to the castle.
Upon the slope of the hill, half-way between the castle and the lake, was a chapel built of white stone, which had stood there, according to tradition, from the ninth century. It was said to have been erected by Charlemagne, on his second expedition against the Saxons. The Baron of Hers had ornamented and repaired it with much taste and at great expense, until it was celebrated throughout the circle of Suabia for its richness and elegance. It had been dedicated to Mary the Morning Star, as appeared from a statue of the Blessed Virgin surmounted with a star, and was called the Pilgrim's Chapel. It was in charge of Herman, a priest, who had studied at Monte Cassino under the Benedictines, with Father Omehr, whom he loved as a brother. They had spent their period of training and had been ordained together; and, for forty years they had labored in the same vineyard, side by side, yet seldom meeting. When they did meet, however, it was with the joy and chastened affection which only the pure-minded and truly religious can know; and they would recall with tears of happiness the scenes of other days—the splendid convent, whose church shone like a grotto of jewels and precious stones—the learned and devout monk, and the theological difficulties over which they had triumphed hand in hand.
After taking some slight refreshment (for the baron could ill brook a refusal of his cheer), Father Omehr left the father and son to each other, and began to descend the path to the chapel. Herman had gone to administer the last Sacraments to a distant parishioner. Father Omehr knelt down in the chapel and awaited his return. It did not seem long before his brother missionary entered through the sacristy and knelt beside him. The little chapel was very beautiful, with its branching pillars, supporting clusters of Angels carved in stone. The images of the Saints served to awaken many fine emotions—and the principal statue of Our Lady, which the artist had designed to represent the immaculate purity of the Mother of God—gave an indescribable sweetness to that consecrated spot: but more beautiful still, and more acceptable to God, were the two holy men who, bent with age and grown gray in the service of a heavenly Master, bowed down together before the altar of the Most High, and for a time forgot each other in the contemplation of the majesty and infinite goodness of Him they served.
At length they rose; and when in the open air gave way to the impulse of human love, which until then had yielded to a loftier feeling.
There was a room in the Castle of Hers in which Herman spent the hours not required for the active duties of his ministry, and to this the two friends retired. There for more than an hour, they discussed topics of mutual interest—compared the condition of their flocks—and wandered back to Naples and Monte Cassino. The introduction of this last subject seemed to remind Herman of something he had forgotten; for he started up and went to a shelf, which was filled with extracts he had been permitted to make from the celebrated library of the convent, and taking down a small piece of parchment, gave it to his companion. It was an illuminated manuscript of the Salve Regina.
"It was sent me yesterday across the lake by a Benedictine monk," he said, when Father Omehr had finished reading and raised his eyes in wonder and delight.
"And who has written it?"
"A namesake of mine—a Benedictine. It was not seen until after his death, when the manuscript was discovered in his cell. What is more remarkable is that the monk was distinguished for nothing but his piety, and had never made any pretension to learning or accomplishment."