The Sword Maker by Robert Barr
XIV. The Prisoner of Ehrenfels
There is inspiration in the sight of armed men marching steadily together; men well disciplined, keeping step to the measured clank of their armor. Like a great serpent the soldiers of Cologne issued from the forest, coming down two and two, for the path was narrow. They would march four abreast when they reached the river road, and the evolutions which accomplished this doubling of the columns, without changing step or causing confusion, called forth praise from the two southern Archbishops.
A beautiful tableau of amity and brotherly love was presented to the troops as they looked up at the three Archbishops standing together on the balcony in relief against the gray walls of the Castle. The officers, who were on horseback, raised their swords sky-pointing from their helmets, for they recognized their overlord and his two notable confreres. With the motion of one man the three Archbishops acknowledged the salute. The troops cheered and cheered as the anaconda made its sinuous way down the mountain-side, and company after company came abreast the Castle. The Archbishops stood there until the last man disappeared down the river road on his way to Coblentz.
"May I ask you," said Mayence, addressing Treves, "to conduct me to the flat roof of your Castle? Will you accompany us?" he inquired of Cologne.
Cologne and Treves being for once in agreement, the latter led the way, and presently the three stood on the broad stone plateau which afforded a truly striking panorama of the Rhine. The July sun sinking in the west transformed the river into a crimson flood, and at that height the cool evening breeze was delicious. Cologne stood with one hand on the parapet, and gazed entranced at the scene, but the practical Mayence paid no attention whatever to it.
"Your troublesome guest, Treves, has one more request to make, which is that you order his flag hoisted to the top of that pole."
Treves at once departed to give this command, while Cologne, with clouded brow, turned from his appreciation of the view.
"My Lord," he said, "you have requested the raising of a signal."
"Yes," was the reply.
"A signal which calls your men from the Lahn to the landing at Stolzenfels?"
"Yes," repeated Mayence.
"My Lord, I have kept my promise not only to the letter, but in the spirit as well. My troops are marching peaceably away, and will reach their barracks some time to-morrow. Although I exacted no promise from you, you implied there was a truce between us, and that your army, like my company, was not to be called into action of any kind."
"Your understanding of our pact is concisely stated, even though my share in that pact remained unspoken. A truce, did you say? Is it not more than that? I hoped that my seconding of the nomination you proposed proved me in complete accord with your views."
"I am not in effect your prisoner, then?"
"Surely not; so contrary to the fact is such an assumption that I implore you to accept my hospitality. The signal, which I see is now at the mast-head, calls for one barge only, and that contains no soldier, merely a captain and his ten stout rowers, whom you may at this moment, if you turn round, see emerging from the mouth of the Lahn. I present to you, and to the Countess von Sayn, my Schloss of Martinsburg for as long as you may require it. It is well furnished, well provisioned, and attended to by a group of capable servants, who are at your command. I suggest that you cross in my barge, in company with the Countess and her kinsman, the Reverend Father. You agree, I take it, to convoy the lady safely to her temporary restraint in Pfalz. It was her own request, you remember."
"I shall convoy her thither."
"I am trusting to you entirely. The distance is but thirteen leagues, and can be accomplished easily in a day. Once on the other side of the river she may despatch her kinsman, or some more trustworthy messenger, to her own Castle, and thus summon the two waiting-women who will share her seclusion."
"Is it your intention, my Lord, that her imprisonment shall--?"
The Archbishop of Mayence held up his thin hand with a gesture of deprecation.
"I use no word so harsh as 'imprisonment.' The penance, if you wish so to characterize it, is rather in the nature of a retreat, giving her needed opportunity for reflection, and, I hope, for regret."
"Nevertheless, my Lord, your action seems to me unnecessarily severe. How long do you propose to detain her?"
"I am pained to hear you term it severity, for her treatment will be of the mildest description. I thought you would understand that no other course was open to me. So far as I am personally concerned, she might have said what pleased her, with no adverse consequences, but she flouted the highest Court of the realm, and such contempt cannot be overlooked. As for the duration of her discipline, it will continue until the new Emperor is married, after which celebration the Countess is free to go whither she pleases. I shall myself call at Pfalz four days from now, that I may be satisfied the lady enjoys every comfort the Castle affords."
"And also, perhaps, to be certain she is there immured."
Mayence's thin lips indulged in a wry smile.
"I need no such assurance," he said, "since my Lord of Cologne has pledged his word to see that the order of the Court is carried out."
The conversation was here interrupted by the return of Treves. Already the great barge was half-way across the river. The surging, swift current swept it some distance below Stolzenfels, and the rowers, five a side, were working strenuously to force it into slower waters. Lord, lady, and monk crossed over to the mouth of the Lahn, and the barge returned immediately to convey across horses and escort.
As the valley of the Lahn opened out it presented a picture of quiet sylvan beauty, apparently uninhabited by any living thing. The Archbishop of Cologne rose, and, shading his eyes from the still radiant sun, gazed intently up the little river. No floating craft was anywhere in sight. He turned to the captain.
"Where is the flotilla from Mayence?" he asked.
"Flotilla my Lord?"
"Yes; a hundred barges sailed down from Mayence in the darkness either last night or the night before, taking harbor here in the Lahn."
"My Lord, even one barge, manned as this is, could not have journeyed such a distance in so short a time, and, indeed, for a flotilla to attempt the voyage, except in daylight, would have been impossible. No barges have come down the Rhine for months, and had they ventured the little Lahn is too shallow to harbor them."
"Thank you, captain. I appear to be ignorant both of the history and the geography of this district. If I were to ask you and your stout rowers to take me down through the swiftest part of the river to Coblentz, how soon would we reach that town?"
"Very speedily, my Lord, but I could undertake no such voyage except at the command of my master. He is not one to be disobeyed."
"I quite credit that," said Cologne, sitting down again, the momentary desire to recall his marching troops, that had arisen when he saw the empty Lahn, dying down when he realized how effectually he had been outwitted.
When the horses were brought across, Father Ambrose, at the request of the Countess, rode back to Sayn, and sent forward the two waiting-women whom she required, and so well did he accomplish his task that they arrived at Schloss Martinsburg before ten of the clock that night. At an early hour next morning the little procession began its journey up the Rhine, his Lordship and the Countess in front; the six horsemen bringing up the rear.
The lady was in a mood of deep dejection; the regret which Mayence had anticipated as result of imprisonment already enveloped her. It was only too evident that the Archbishop of Cologne was bitterly disappointed, for he rode silently by her side making no attempt at conversation. They rested for several hours during midday, arriving at Caub before the red sun set, and now the Countess saw her pinnacled prison lying like an anchored ship in midstream.
At Caub they were met by a bearded, truculent-looking ruffian, who introduced himself to the Archbishop as the Pfalzgraf von Stahleck.
"You take us rather by surprise, Prince of Cologne," he said. "It is true that my overlord, the Archbishop of Mayence, called upon me several days ago while descending the Rhine in his ten-oared barge, and said there was a remote chance that a prisoner might shortly be given into my care. This had often happened before, for my Castle covers some gruesome cells that extend under the river,--cells with secret entrances not easily come by should any one search the Castle. It is sometimes convenient that a prisoner of State should be immured in one of them when the Archbishop has no room in his own Schloss Ehrenfels, so I paid little attention, and merely said the prisoner would receive a welcome on arrival. This morning there came one of the Archbishop's men from Stolzenfels, and both my wife and myself were astonished to learn that the prisoner would be here this evening under your escort, my Lord, and that it was a woman we were to harbor. Further, she was to be given the best suite of rooms we had in the Castle, and to be treated with all respect as a person of rank. Now, this apartment is in no state of readiness to receive such a lady, much less to house one of the dignity of your Lordship."
"It does not matter for me," replied the Archbishop. "Being, as I may say, part soldier, the bed and board of an inn is quite acceptable upon occasion."
"Oh no, your Highness, such a hardship is not to be thought of. The Castle of Gutenfels, standing above us, is comfortable as any on the Rhine. Its owner, the Count Palatine, is fellow-Elector of yours, and a very close friend of my overlord of Mayence, and I am told they vote together whenever my overlord needs his assistance."
"That is true," commented Cologne.
"My overlord sent word that anything I needed for the accommodation of her ladyship, he recognizing that my warning had been short, I should requisition from the Count Palatine, so at midday I went up to call upon him, not saying anything, of course, about State prisoners, male or female. The moment he heard that you, my Lord, were visiting this neighborhood, he begged me to tender to you, and to all your companions or following, the hospitality of his Castle for so long as you might honor him with your presence."
"The Count Palatine is very gracious, and I shall be glad to accept shelter and refreshment."
"He would have been here to greet your Highness, but I was unable to inform him at what hour you would arrive, so I waited for you myself, and will be pleased to guide you to the gates of Gutenfels."
The conversation was interrupted by a great clatter of galloping horses, descending the hill with reckless speed, and at its foot swinging round into the main street of the town.
"Ha!" cried the amateur jailer, "here is the Count Palatine himself;" and thus it is our fate to meet the fourth Elector of the Empire, who, added to the three Archbishops, formed a quorum so potent that it could elect or depose an Emperor at will.
The cavalry of the Count Palatine was composed of fifty fully-armed men, and their gallop through the town roused the echoes of that ancient bailiwick, which, together with the Castle, belonged to the Palatinate. The powerful noble extended a cordial welcome to his fellow-Elector, and together they mounted to the Castle of Gutenfels.
At dinner that night the Count Palatine proved an amiable host. Under his geniality the charming Countess von Sayn gradually recovered her lost good spirits, and forgot she was on her way to prison. After all, she was young, naturally joyous, and loved interesting company, especially that of the two Electors, who were well informed, and had seen much of the world. The Archbishop also shook off some of his somberness; indeed, all of it as the flagons flowed. Being asked his preference in wine, he replied that yesterday he had been regaled with a very excellent sample of Oberweseler.
"That is from this neighborhood," replied the Count. "Oberwesel lies but a very short distance below, on the opposite side of the river, but we contend that our beverage of Caub is at least equal, and sometimes superior. You shall try a good vintage of both. How did you come by Oberweseler so far north as Stolzenfels?"
"Simply because I was so forward, counting on the good nature of my friend of Treves, that I stipulated for Oberweseler."
"Ah! I am anxious to know why."
"For reasons of history, not of the palate. A fair English Princess was guest of Stolzenfels long ago, and this wine was served to her."
"In that case," returned the Count, "I also shall fall back on history, and first order brimming tankards of old Caub. Really, Madam," he said, turning to Hildegunde, "we should have had Royalty here to meet you, instead of two old wine-bibbers like his Highness and myself."
The girl looked startled at this mention of Royalty, bringing to her mind the turbulent events of yesterday. Nevertheless, with great composure, she smiled at her enthusiastic host.
"Still," went on the Count, "if we are not royal ourselves, 'tis a degree we are empowered to confer, and, indeed, may be very shortly called upon to bestow. That is true from what I hear, is it not, your Highness?"
"Yes," replied the Archbishop gravely.
"Well, as I was about to say, this Castle belonged to the Falkensteins, and was sold by them to the Palatinate. Rumor, legend, history, call it what you like, asserts that the most beautiful woman ever born on the Rhine was Countess Beatrice of Falkenstein. But when I drink to the toast I am about to offer I shall, Madam," he smiled at Hildegunde, "assert that the legend no longer holds, a contention I am prepared to maintain by mortal combat. Know then that the Earl of Cornwall, who was elected King of Germany in 1257, met Beatrice of Falkenstein in this Castle. The meeting was brought about by the Electors themselves, who, stupid matchmakers, attempted to coerce each into a marriage with the other. Beatrice refused to marry a foreigner.
"The Chronicles are a little vague about the most interesting part of the negotiations, but minutely plain about the outcome. In some manner the Earl and Beatrice met, and he became instantly enamored of her. This is the portion so deplorably slurred by these old monkish writers. I need hardly tell you that the Earl himself succeeded where the seven Electors failed. Beatrice became Cornwall's wife and Queen of Germany, and they lived happily ever afterwards.
"I give you the toast!" cried the chivalrous Count Palatine, rising. "To the cherished memory of the Royal lovers of Gutenfels!"
The Archbishop's eyes twinkled as he looked across the table at Hildegunde.
"This seems to be a time of Royal betrothals," he said, raising his flagon.
"'Seems' is the right word, Guardian," replied the Countess.
Then she sipped the ancient wine of Caub.
Next morning Hildegunde was early afoot. Notwithstanding her trouble of mind, she had slept well, and awakened with the birds, so great is the influence of youth and health. During her last conscious moments the night before, as she lay in the stately bed of the most noble room the Castle contained, she bitterly accused herself for the disastrous failure of the previous day. The Archbishop of Cologne had given her good counsel that was not followed, and his disappointment with the result, generously as he endeavored to conceal it, was doubtless the deeper because undiscussed. Thinking of coming captivity, a dream of grim Pfalz was expected, but instead the girl's spirit wandered through the sweet seclusion of Nonnenwerth, living again that happy, earlier time, free from politics and the tramp of armed men.
In the morning the porter, at her behest, withdrew bolt, bar, and chain, allowing exit into the fresh, cool air, and skirting the Castle, she arrived at a broad terrace which fronted it. A fleecy mist extending from shore to shore concealed the waters of the Rhine, and partially obliterated the little village of Caub at the foot of the hill. Where she stood the air was crystal clear, and she seemed to be looking out on a broad snow-field of purest white. Beyond Caub its surface was pierced by the dozen sharp pinnacles of her future prison, looking like a bed of spikes, upon which one might imagine a giant martyr impaled by the verdict of a cruel Archbishop.
Gazing upon this nightmare Castle, whose tusks alone were revealed, the girl formulated the resolution but faintly suggested the night before. On her release should ensue an abandonment of the world, and the adoption of a nun's veil in the convent opposite Drachenfels, an island exchanged for an island; turmoil for peace.
At breakfast she met again the jovial Count Palatine, and her more sober guardian, who both complimented her on the results of her beauty rest, the one with great gallantry, the other with more reserve, as befitted a Churchman. The Archbishop seemed old and haggard in the morning light, and it was not difficult to guess that no beauty sleep had soothed his pillow. It wrung the girl's heart to look at him, and again she accused herself for lack of all tact and discretion, wishing that her guardian took his disappointment more vengefully, setting her to some detested task that she might willingly perform.
The hospitable Count, eager that they should stop at least another night under his roof, pressed his invitation upon them, and the Archbishop gave a tacit consent.
"If the Countess is not too tired," said Cologne, "I propose that she accompany me on a little journey I have in view farther up the river. We will return here in the evening."
"I should be delighted," cried Hildegunde, "for all sense of fatigue has been swept away by a most restful night."
The good-natured Count left them to their own devices, and shortly afterwards guardian and ward rode together down the steep declivity to the river. The mist was already driven away, except a wisp here and there clinging to the gray surface of the water, trailing along as if drawn by the current, for the air was motionless, and there was promise of a sultry day. They proceeded in silence until a bend in the Rhine shut Caub and its sinister water-prison out of sight, and then it was the girl who spoke.
"Guardian," she said, "have I offended you beyond forgiveness?"
A gentle smile came to his lips as he gazed upon her with affection.
"You have not offended me at all, my dear," he said, "but I am grieved at thwarting circumstance."
"I have been thinking over circumstances too, and hold myself solely to blame for their baffling opposition. I will submit without demur to whatever length of imprisonment may please, and, if possible, soften the Archbishop of Mayence. After my release I shall ask your consent that I may forthwith join the Sisterhood at Nonnenwerth. I wish to divide my wealth equally between yourself and the convent."
The Archbishop shook his head.
"I could not accept such donation."
"Why not? The former Archbishop of Cologne accepted Linz from my ancestress Matilda."
"That was intended to be but a temporary loan."
"Well; call my benefaction temporary if you like, to be kept until I call for it, but meanwhile to be used at your discretion."
"It is quite impossible," said the Archbishop firmly.
"Does that mean you will not allow me to adopt the religious life?"
"It means, my child, that I should not feel justified in permitting this renunciation of the world until you knew more of what you were giving up."
"I know enough already."
"You think so, but your experience of it is too recent for us to expect unbiased judgment this morning. I should insist on a year, at least, and preferably two years, part of that time to be spent in Frankfort and in Cologne. I anticipate a great improvement in Frankfort when the new Emperor comes to the throne. If at the end of two years you are still of the same mind, I shall offer no further opposition."
"I shall never change my intention."
"Perhaps not. I am told that the determination of a woman is irrevocable, so a little delay does not much matter. Meanwhile, another problem passes my comprehension. I have thought and thought about it, and am convinced there is a misunderstanding somewhere, which possibly will be cleared away too late. I am quite certain that Father Ambrose did not meet Prince Roland in Frankfort."
"Do you, then, dispute the word of Father Ambrose?" asked the girl, quickly checking the accent of indignation that arose in her voice, for humility was to be her role ever after.
"Father Ambrose is at once both the gentlest and most truthful of men. He has undoubtedly seen somebody rob a merchant in Frankfort. He has undoubtedly been imprisoned among wine-casks; but that this thief and this jailer was Roland is incredible to me who know the young man, and physically impossible, for Prince Roland at that time was himself a prisoner, as, indeed, he is to-day. Prince Roland cannot be liberated from Ehrenfels without an order signed by Mayence, Treves, and myself. I alone have not the power to encompass his freedom, and Mayence is equally powerless although he is owner of the Castle. Some scoundrel is walking the streets of Frankfort pretending to be Roland."
"In that case, my Lord, he would not deny his identity when accosted on the bridge."
"A very clever point, my dear, but it does not overcome my difficulty. There might be a dozen reasons why the rascal would not incriminate himself to any stranger who thus took him by surprise. However, it is useless to argue the question, for I persuade you as little as you persuade me. The practical thing is to fathom the misunderstanding, and remove it. Will you assist me in this?"
"Willingly, if I can, Guardian."
"Very well. I must first inform you that your imprisonment is likely to be very short. You are to know that the harmony supposed to exist in Stolzenfels is largely mythical: I left behind me the seeds of discord. I proposed that the glum niece of Treves, whom you met at our historic lunch, should be the future Empress. This nomination was seconded by Mayence himself, and received with unconcealed joy by my brother of Treves."
"Then for once the Court was unanimous? I think your choice an admirable one."
"The Archbishop of Mayence does not agree with you, my dear."
"Then why did he second your nomination?"
"Because he is so much more clever than Treves, who a few minutes later would have been the seconder."
"Why should his Lordship of Mayence think one thing and act another?"
"Why is he always doing it? No one can guess what Mayence really thinks, if he is judged by what he says. Were Treves' niece to become Empress, her uncle would speedily realize his power, and Mayence would lose his leadership. Could Mayence to-day secretly promote you to the position of Empress, he would gladly do so."
"But won't he at once look for some one else?"
"Certainly. That choice is now occupying his mind. His seconding of the nomination was merely a ruse to gain time, but if he proposes any one else he will find both Treves and myself against him. His only hope of circumventing the ambition of Treves is that something may happen, causing you to change your mind concerning Prince Roland."
"You forget, Guardian," protested the girl, "that his Lordship of Mayence said he would not permit me to marry Prince Roland after the way I had spoken and acted."
"He said that, my dear, under the influence of great resentment against you, but Mayence never allows resentment or any other feeling to stand in the way of his own interests. If you wrote him a contrite letter regretting your defiance of him, and expressing your willingness to bow to his wishes, I am very sure he would welcome the communication as a happy solution of the quandary in which he finds himself."
"You wish me to do this, Guardian?" she asked wistfully.
"Not until you are satisfied that Prince Roland is innocent of the charges you make against him."
"How can I receive such assurance?"
"Ah, now you come to the object of this apparently purposeless journey. I have had much experience in the world you are so anxious to renounce, and although I have seen the wicked prosper for a time, yet my faith has never been shaken in an overruling Providence, and what happened last night set me thinking so deeply that daylight stole in upon my meditations."
"Oh, my poor Guardian, I knew you had not slept, and all because of a worthless creature like myself, and a wicked creature, too, for I did not see the hand of Providence so visible to you."
"Surely, my dear, a moment's thought would reveal it to you. Remember how we came almost to the door of the prison, when a temporary reprieve was handed to us by that coarse reprobate, the Pfalzgraf. Your suite of rooms was not yet ready, and thus we found bestowed upon us another free day; a day of untrammeled liberty, quite unlooked for. Now, much may be done in a day. An Empire has been lost and won within a few hours. With this gift came a revelation. That wine-blotched Pfalzgraf would have shown no consideration for you: to him a prisoner is a prisoner, to be cast anywhere, lock the door, and have done, but a wholesome fear had been instilled into him by his overlord. The Archbishop of Mayence had taken thought for your comfort, ordering that the best rooms in the Castle should be placed at your disposal. Hence, after all that had passed, his Lordship felt no malignancy against you, and I dare say would have been glad to rescind the order for your imprisonment, were it not that he would never admit defeat."
"Oh, Guardian, what an imagination is yours! I am sure his Lordship of Mayence will never forgive me."
"His Lordship of Mayence, my dear, is in a dilemma from which no one except yourself can extricate him."
"His own cleverness will extricate him."
"Perhaps. Still, I'm not troubling about him. My thoughts are much too selfish for that. I wish you to lift me from my uncertainty."
"You mean about Prince Roland? I shall do whatever you ask of me."
"I place no command, but I proffer a suggestion."
"It shall be a command, nevertheless."
"We have left your own prison far behind, and are approaching that of Prince Roland. To the door of that detaining Castle I propose to lead you. I am forbidden by my compact with the other Electors to see Prince Roland or to hold any communication with him. The custodian of the Castle, who knows me well, will not refuse any request I make, even if I ask to see the young man himself. He will therefore not hesitate to admit you when I require him to do so. To take away any taint of surreptitiousness about my action, interfering, as one might say, with another man's house, I shall this evening write to the Archbishop of Mayence, tell him exactly what I have done, and why."
"Do you intend, then, that I should see Prince Roland and talk with him?"
"My dear Guardian!" cried the girl, her face flushing red, "what on earth can I say to him? How am I to excuse my intrusion?"
"A prisoner, I fancy, does not resent intrusion, especially if the intruder is--" The old man smiled as he looked at the girl, whose blush grew deeper and deeper; then, seeing her confusion, he added: "There are many things to say. Introduce yourself as the ward of his Lordship of Cologne; reveal that your guardian has confided to you that Prince Roland is to be the future Emperor; ask for some assurance from him that the property descending to you from your ancestors shall not be molested; or perhaps, better still, with the same introduction, tell him the story of Father Ambrose. Add that this has disquieted you: demand the truth, hearken to what the youth says for himself, thank him, and withdraw. It needs no long conversation, though I am prepared to hear that he wished to lengthen your stay. I am certain that five minutes face to face with him will completely overturn all Father Ambrose has said to his disparagement, and a few simple words from him will probably dispel the whole mystery. If someone is personating him in Frankfort it is more than likely he knows who it is."
They traveled a generous furlong together in silence, the girl's head bowed and her brow troubled. At last, as if with an effort, she cleared doubt away, and raised her head.
"I will do it," she said decisively.
The Archbishop heaved a deep sigh of relief. He knew now he was out of the wood.
"Is this Assmannshausen we are coming to?" she asked, as if to hint that the subject on which they had talked so earnestly was finally done with.
"No; this is Lorch, and that is the Castle of Nollich standing above it."
"I hope," said the girl, with a sigh of weariness, "that no English Princess about to marry an Emperor lodged there, or no Englishman who was to become an Emperor--"
The Archbishop interrupted the plaint with a hearty laugh, the first he had enjoyed for several days.
"The English seem an interfering race," she went on. "I wish they would attend to their own affairs."
"Nollich is uncontaminated," said the Archbishop, "though in olden days a reckless knight on horseback rode up to secure his lady-love, and I believe rode down again with her, and his route is still called the Devil's Ladder."
"Did the marriage turn out so badly?"
"No; I believe they lived happily ever after; but the ascent was so cliff-like that mountain sprites are supposed to have given their assistance."
"How much farther is Assmannshausen?"
"Less than two leagues. We will stop there and refresh ourselves. Are you tired?"
"Oh no; not in the least. I merely wish the ordeal was past."
"You are a brave girl, Hildegunde."
"I am anything but that, Guardian. Still, do not fear I shall flinch."
After partaking of the midday meal at Assmannshausen, the Countess proposed that they should leave their horses in the stable, and walk the short third of a league to Ehrenfels, and to this her guardian agreed.
He found more difficulty with the custodian than had been expected. The man objected, trembling. Without a written order from his master he dare not allow any one to visit the prisoner. He would be delighted to oblige his Lordship of Cologne, but he was merely a poor wretch who had no option in the matter.
"Very well," said Cologne. "I have just come from your master, who is stopping with my brother Treves at Stolzenfels. If you persist I must then request lodgings from you until such time as a speedy messenger can bring your master hither. This journey may cause him great inconvenience, and should such be the case, I fear you will fare ill with him."
"That may be, my Lord, but I must do my duty."
"Are you sure you have already done it on all occasions?" asked the Archbishop severely.
The man's face became ghastly in its pallor.
"I don't know what you mean, my Lord."
"Then I will quickly tell you what I mean. It is rumored that Prince Roland has been seen on the streets of Frankfort."
"How--how could that be, my Lord?"
"That is exactly what I wish to know. I believe the Prince is not in your custody."
"I assure you, my Lord," said the now thoroughly frightened man, "that his Highness is in his room."
"Very well; then conduct this lady thither. Although she does not know the Prince, a relative of hers who does asserts that he met his Highness in Frankfort. I said this was impossible if you had done that duty you prate so much about. The lady merely wishes to ask him for some explanation of this affair, so make your choice. Shall she go up with you now, or must I send for the other two Archbishops?"
There was but one comforting phrase in this remark, namely, that the lady did not know the Prince. Still, it was a dreadful risk, yet the custodian hesitated no longer. He took down a bunch of keys, and asked the Countess to follow him. Ascending the stair, he unlocked the door, and stood aside for the Countess to pass through.
Some one with wildly tousled hair sat sprawling in a chair; arms on the table, and head sunk forward down upon them. A full tankard of wine within his reach, and a flagon had been overset, sluicing the table with its contents, which still fell drip, drip, drip, to the floor.
The young man raised his head, aroused by the harsh unlocking of the door, and with the crash it made as his father flung it hard against the stone wall for the purpose of giving him warning, but the youth was in no condition to profit by this thoughtfulness, nor to understand the signals his father made from behind the frightened girl. He clutched wildly at the overturned flagon, and with an oath cried:
"Bring me more wine, you old--"
Staggering to his feet, he threw the flagon wide, then slipped on the spilled wine and fell heavily to the floor, roaring defiance at the world.
The panic-stricken girl shrank back, crying to the jailer:
"Let me out! Close the door quickly, and lock it!" an order obeyed with alacrity.
When Hildegunde emerged to the court her guardian asked no question. The horror in her face told all.
"I am sorry, my Lord," said the cringing custodian, "but his Highness is drunk."
"Does this--does this happen often?"
"Alas! yes, my Lord."
"Poor lad, poor lad! The sins of the fathers shall be visited on the children to the third and fourth generation. Hildegunde, forgive me. Let us away and forget it all."
The next morning the Countess began her imprisonment in Pfalz.