Part II.
Volume 5.
Chapter IV.
 

During the days which succeeded the mass for the dead the Ortlieb mansion was very silent. The Burgrave von Zollern, who still gladly concealed in his castle the brave companion in arms to whom he had entrusted the imperial standard on the Marchfield, when his own strong arm needed rest, had permitted Herr Ernst, as the young man's future father-in-law, to visit him. Both were now in constant communication, as Els hoped, for the advantage of the Eysvogel business.

Biberli did not cease acting as messenger between her and her future bridegroom; nay, he could now devote the lion's share of his days to it; his master, for the first time since he had entered his service, had left him.

The Emperor had been informed of the great shock experienced by the young knight, but it was unnecessary; an eye far less keen would not have failed to note the change in Heinz Schorlin.

The noble man who, even as a sovereign, retained the warmth of heart which had characterised him in his youth as a count, sincerely loved his blithe, loyal, brave young countryman, whose father he had valued, whose mother he highly esteemed, and who had been the dearest friend of the son whom death had so early snatched from him.

He knew him thoroughly, and had watched his development with increasing warmth of sympathy, the more so as many a trait of character which he recognised in Heinz reminded him of his own nature and aspirations at his age.

At the court of Frederick II he too had not always walked in the paths of virtue but, like Heinz, he had never let this merge into licentiousness, and had maintained the chivalrous dignity of his station even more strictly than the former.

Neither had he at any time deviated from the sincere piety which he had brought from his home to the imperial court, and this was far more difficult in the train of the bold and intellectual Hohenstaufen, who was prone to blaspheme even the holiest things, than for Heinz. Finally he, too, had lapsed into the mood which threatened to lead the light-hearted Schorlin into a monastery.

The mighty impulse which, at that time, owing to the example and teachings of St. Francis in Italy, had taken possession of so many minds, also left its impress on his young soul, already agitated by sympathy with many an extravagant idea, many an opinion condemned by the Church. But ere he had taken even the first decisive step he was summoned home. His father had resolved to obtain on the sacred soil of Palestine the mercy of Heaven which was denied to the excommunicated Emperor, and desired his oldest son, Rudolph, to represent him at home.

Before his departure he confided to his noble son his aspirations for the grandeur and enlargement of his house, and the youth of twenty-one did not venture to tell the dignified, far-sighted man, whom his subjects rightly surnamed "the Wise," his ardent desire to live henceforth solely for the salvation of his endangered soul.

The sense of duty inherited from father and mother, which both had imprinted deeply upon his soul, and also the ambition that had been sedulously fostered at the court of the Emperor Frederick, had given him courage to repress forever the wish with which he had left the Hohenstaufen court. The sacrifice was hard, but he made it willingly as soon as it became apparent to his reflective mind that not only his earthly but his heavenly Father had appointed the task of devoting the full wealth of his talents and the power of his will to the elevation of the house of Hapsburg.

The very next year he stood in the place of his father who fell at Ascalon, deeply lamented.

The arduous labour imposed by the management of his own great possessions, and the ceaseless endeavour to enlarge them, in accordance with the dead man's wishes, gave him no time to cherish the longing for the peace of the cloister.

After his election as King of Germany, which had long been neglected under the government of sham emperors, increased the burden of his duties the more seriously he took them, and the more difficult the Bohemian king Ottocar, especially, rendered it for him to maintain the crown he had won, the more eagerly he strove, particularly after the victory of Marchfield had secured his sovereignty, to increase the power of his house.

A binding duty, a difficult task, must also withhold Heinz Schorlin from the wish for whose fulfilment his fiery young soul now fervently longed, and which he knew was receiving powerful sustenance from a worthy and eloquent Minorite.

Rudolph's own brother had died in peace as canon of Basel and Strasbourg; his sister was happy in her convent as a modest Dominican; but the young knight over whose welfare he had promised his mother to watch, and whom he loved, was not fitted for the monastic life.

However earnest might be his intention--after the miracle which seemed to have been wrought specially for him--of renouncing the world, sooner or later the time must come when Heinz would long to return to it and the profession of arms, for which he was born and reared. But if he could not be deterred from entering the modest order of the mendicant monks, who proudly called poverty their beloved bride, and should become the head of a bishopric while young, he would inevitably be one of those fighting prelates who seemed to the Emperor--who disliked halfway measures--neither knight nor priest, and with whom he had had many a quarrel.

Opposition would merely have sharpened the young knight's desire; therefore his imperial patron had treated him as if he were ignorant of what was passing in his mind. Without circumlocution, he commanded him, at the head of several bodies of Frank, Swabian, and Swiss troopers, whom he placed at his orders, to attack the brothers Siebenburg and their allies, and destroy their castle. If possible, he was to bring them alive before the imperial judgment seat, and recover for the Eysvogels the merchandise of which they had been robbed.

When Heinz, after the Emperor Rudolph had mentioned the latter name, earnestly entreated him to prevent Wolff's persecution, the sovereign promised to fulfil the wish as soon as the proper time came. He himself desired to be gracious to the brave champion of Marchfield, who under great irritation had drawn his sword. But when Heinz also asked the Emperor to send his friend Count Gleichen with him, the request was refused. He must have the entire responsibility of the expedition which he commanded; for nothing except an important duty that no one would help him bear, gave promise of making him forget everything that usually engrossed his attention, and thus his new object of longing. Besides, if he returned victorious his fame and reward would be undivided.

The Hapsburg wished to try upon his young favourite the means which had availed to keep his own footsteps in the path which he desired to see Heinz follow: constant occupation associated with heavy responsibility, the success which brings with it the hope of future achievement and thereby rouses ambition.

The wisdom and kindness of heart of the Emperor Rudolph, whom the grey-haired ruler's friends called "Wisdom," had certainly chosen the right course for Heinz. But he who had always regarded every opportunity of drawing his sword for his master as a rare piece of good fortune, shrank in dismay from this, the most important and honourable charge that had ever been bestowed upon him. It drew him away from the new path in which he did not yet feel at home, because the love he could not abjure constantly thrust him into the world, into the midst of the life and tumult from which Heaven itself commanded him to turn aside.

The Minorite had scarcely been right in the assertion that only the first rounds of the ladder which leads to heavenly bliss were hard to climb.

How quickly he had set his foot on the first step; but each upward stride was followed by one that dragged him down-nay, it had seemed advisable wholly to renounce the effort to ascend them, when the monk expected him to sever the bond which united him to the Emperor, and to tell the sovereign that he had entered the service of a greater Master, who commanded him to fight with other weapons than the sword and lance.

Heinz had regarded this demand as a summons to turn traitor. It did not seem to be the call of the devout, experienced director of souls to the disciples, but the Guelph to the Ghibelline, for Ghibelline he meant to remain. Gratitude was a Christian virtue, too, and to refuse his service to the Emperor, who had been a father to him, to whom he had sworn fealty, and who had loaded him with benefits, could not be pleasing in the sight of any God. He could never become a Guelph, he told his venerable friend. The Emperor Rudolph was his beloved master, from whom he had received nothing but kindness. He might as well be required to refuse obedience to his own father.

"What Guelph? What Ghibelline?" cried the Minorite in a tone of grave rebuke. "The question is submission to the Most High, or to the world and its claims. And why should not Heaven require, as you term it, that you should obey the Lord more willingly than your earthly father--you, whom the mercy of God summoned amidst thunder and lightning in the presence of thousands? When Francis, our beloved model, the son of Pier Bernardone, was threatened with his father's curse if he did not turn back from the path which led to the highest goal, Francis restored all that he had received from him, except his last garment, and with the exclamation, 'Our Father who art in heaven, not Pier Bernardone,' he made the choice between his earthly and his heavenly Father. From the former he would have received in abundance everything that the heart of a child of the world desires-wealth, paternal love, and the blessing which is said to build houses on earth. But Francis preferred poverty and contempt, nay, even his father's curse and the reproach of ingratitude, receiving in exchange possessions of a nobler nature and more lasting character. You have heard their names. To obtain them, means to share the bliss of heaven. And you"--he continued loudly, adopting for the first time a tone of authoritative severity--"if you really yearned for the greatest possessions, go to the fortress this very hour, and with the cry in your heart, though not on your lips, 'Our Father who art in heaven, not my gracious master and benefactor Rudolph,' inform the Emperor what higher Lord you have vowed to serve."

This kindled a fierce conflict in Heinz Schorlin's soul, which perhaps might have ended in favour of a new career and St. Francis, had not Biberli, ere he reached a conclusion, rushed into the room shouting: "Seitz Siebenburg, the Mustache, has joined his brothers, and the Knight of Absbach, with several others--von Hirsdorf, von Streitberg, and whatever their names may be--have made common cause with them! It is said that they also expected reinforcements from the Main, in order that the right to the road----"

"Gossip, or positive news?" interrupted Heinz, drawing himself up to his full height with the cool composure which he attained most easily when any serious danger threatened him.

"As positive," replied his follower eagerly, "as that Siebenburg is the greatest rascal in Germany. You will be robbed of your joust with him, for he'll mount the block instead of the steed, just as you predicted. The ladies will drive him from the lists with pins and rods, to say nothing of the scourging by which knight and squire will silence him. Oh, my lord, if you only knew!"

"Well?" asked the knight anxiously.

Then Biberli, paying no further heed to his master's orders never to mention the Ortlieb sisters again in his presence, burst forth indignantly: "It might move a stone to pity to know the wrong the monster has done Jungfrau Eva and her pure and virtuous sister, the loyal betrothed bride of a brave man--and the abominable names bestowed on the young ladies, whom formerly young and old, hat in hand, called the beautiful Es."

Heinz stamped his foot on the floor and, half frantic, impetuously exclaimed, his blood boiling with honest indignation: "May the air he breathes destroy the slandering scoundrel! May I be flayed on the rack if----"

Here he was interrupted by a low exclamation of warning from the Minorite, who perceived in the knight's fierce oaths a lamentable relapse. Heinz himself felt ashamed of the ungodly imprecations; yet he could by no means succeed in regaining his former composure as, drawing a long breath, he continued: "And those city hypocrites, who call themselves Christians, and build costly cathedrals for the good of their souls, are not ashamed--yes, holy Father, it is true--basely to deny our Lord and Saviour, who is Love itself, and deemed even the Magdalen worthy of His mercy, and rub their hands in fiendish malignity when unpunished they can sully the white robe of innocence, and drag pious, lovely simplicity to the pillory."

"That is the very reason, my son," the monk interrupted soothingly, "that we disciples of the Saint of Assisi go forth to show the deluded what the Lord requires of them. Therefore leave behind you the dust of the world, which defiles both body and soul, join us, who did so before you, and help, as one of our order, to make those who are perishing in sin and dishonouring the name of Christ better and purer, genuine Christians. In this hour of stress lay the sword out of your hand, and leave the steed----"

"I shall ride forth, rely upon it, holy Father," Heinz burst forth afresh. "With the sky-blue of the gracious Virgin, whom I love, on my shield and helmet, I will dash like the angel Michael amongst the Siebenburgs and their followers. And let me tell you, holy Father--you who were once a knight also--if the Mustache, weltering in his blood at my feet, prays for mercy, I'll teach him----"

"Son! son!" interrupted the monk again, this time raising his hands imploringly; but Heinz, paying no heed, exclaimed hoarsely:

"Where did you get this news?"

"From our Berne countryman at the fortress," replied the servant eagerly; "Brandenstein, Schweppermann, and Heidenab brought the tidings. The Emperor received them at the gate of the citadel, where he was keeping watch ere he mounted his steed. He heard him call to the messengers, 'So our Heinz Schorlin will have a hard nut to crack.'"

"Which he will crush after his own heart!" cried Heinz, with flashing eyes.

Then, forcing himself to be calm, he exclaimed in broken sentences, whilst Biberli was helping him put on his armour: "Your wish, reverend Father, is also mine. The world--the sooner I can rid myself of it the better; yet what you describe in the most alluring terms is the peace in your midst, I--I--Never, never will my heart be calm until----"

Here he paused suddenly, struck his breast swiftly and repeatedly with his fists, and continued eagerly: "Here, Father Benedictus, here are old and strong demands, which you, too, must once have known ere you offered the other cheek to the foe. I know not what to call them, but until they are satisfied I shall never be yours. They must be fulfilled; then, if in battle and bloodshed I can also forget the love which ever rises again when I think I have given it the deathblow, if Heaven still desires poor, heartsick Heinz Schorlin, it shall have him."

The Minorite received the promise with a silent bend of the head. He felt that he might seriously endanger the fulfilment of his ardent wish to gain this soul for heaven if he urged Heinz further now. Patiently awaiting a more fitting season, he therefore contented himself with questioning him carelessly about the foe and his castles.

The day was hot, and as Biberli laced the gambeson--the thick, quilted undergarment over which was worn the heavy leather coat covered with scales and rings--the monk exclaimed: "When the duty which you believe you owe to the world has been fulfilled, you will gratefully learn, as one of our order, how pleasant it is to walk with liberated soul in our light-brown cowl."

But he ought to have repressed the remark, for Heinz cast a glance at him which expressed his astonishment at being so misunderstood, and answered with unyielding resolution: "If I long for anything in your order, reverend Father, it is not for easy tasks, but for the most difficult burden of all. Your summons to take our Redeemer's cross upon me pleases me better."

"And I, my son, believe that your words will be inscribed amongst those which are sure of reward," the monk answered; then with bowed head added "At that moment you were nearer the kingdom of heaven than the aged companion of St. Francis."

But perceiving how impatiently Heinz shrugged his shoulders, and convinced that it would be advisable to leave him to himself for a time, the old man blessed him with paternal affection and went his way. When the fiery youth had performed the task which now claimed all his powers, he hoped to find him more inclined to allow himself to be led farther along the path which he had entered.