The Sword Maker by Robert Barr
XVIII. The Sword Maker at Bay
The heir-presumptive to the throne reached Frankfort very quietly in the Archbishop's barge, and was landed after nightfall at the water-steps of the Imperial Palace. The funeral of the Emperor took place almost as if it were a private ceremonial. Grave trouble had been anticipated, and the route of the procession for the short distance between Palace and Cathedral was thickly lined on either side by the troops of the three Archbishops. This precaution proved unnecessary. The dispirited citizens cared nothing for their late nominal ruler, and they manifested their undisguised hatred of the real rulers, the Archbishops, by keeping indoors while their soldiers marched the streets.
The condition of the capital was unique. It suffered from a famine of money rather than a famine of food. Frankfort starved in the midst of plenty. Never had the earth been more fruitful than during this year, and the coming autumn promised a harvest that would fill the granaries to overflowing, yet no one brought in food to Frankfort, for the common people had not the money to buy. The working population depended entirely upon the merchants and manufacturers, and with the collapse of mercantile business thousands were thrown out of employment, and this penniless mob was augmented by the speedy cessation of all manufacturing.
After the futile bread riots earlier in the year, put down so drastically by the Archbishops, the population of the city greatly diminished, and the country round about swarmed with homeless wanderers, who at least were sure of something to eat, but being city-bred, and consequently useless for agricultural employment, they gradually joined into groups and marauding bands, greatly to the menace of the provinces they traversed. Indeed, rumor had it that the robberies from certain castles on the Rhine, and the burning of Furstenberg, were the work of these free companies, consequently a sense of uneasiness permeated the Empire, whose rulers, great and small, began to foresee that a continuance of this state of things meant disaster to the rich as well as misery to the poor. Charity, spasmodic and unorganized, proved wholly unable to cope with the disaster that had befallen the capital city.
When darkness set in on the third night after Roland's return to Frankfort, he made his way out into the unlighted streets, acting with caution until certain he was not followed, then betook himself to the Palace belonging to the Archbishop of Cologne.
The porter at first refused him entrance, and Roland, not wishing to make himself known, declared he had an appointment with his Lordship. Trusting that the underling could not read, he presented his parchment safe-conduct, asking him to give that to his Lordship, with a message that the bearer awaited his pleasure. The suspicious servant, seeing the Grand Seal of the Empire upon the document, at once conducted Roland to a room on the ground floor, then departed with the manuscript to find his master.
The Archbishop returned with him, the Imperial scroll in his hand, and a distinctly perceptible frown on his brow. When the servant withdrew, closing the door, the prelate said:
"Highness, this is a very dangerous procedure on your part."
"Why, my Lord?"
"Because you are certain to have been followed."
"What matter for that?" asked the young man. "I am quite unknown in Frankfort."
"Prince Roland," said the Archbishop gravely, "until your Election is actually accomplished, you would be wise to do nothing that might arouse the suspicion of Mayence. This house is watched night and day, and all who come and go are noted. I dare say that within fifteen minutes Mayence will know you have visited me."
"My dear Archbishop, they cannot note an unknown man. The uneasiness of Frankfort has already taken hold of me, and therefore I saw to it that I was not followed."
"If you were not followed when you came, you will certainly be followed as you return."
"In that case, my Lord, the spies will track me to the innocent home of Herr Goebel, the merchant, in the Fahrgasse."
"They will shadow you when you leave his house."
"Then their industry will be rewarded by an enjoyable terminus; in other words, the drinking cellar of the Rheingold."
"Be assured, your Highness, that ultimately you will be traced to the Royal Palace."
"Again not so, my Lord. They will be led across the bridge into the mechanics' quarter of Sachsenhausen, and if the watch continues, they must make a night of it, for I shall enter my humble room there and go to bed."
"I see you have it all planned out," commented the discomfited Archbishop.
The young man laughed.
"I anticipate an interesting life, my Lord, because it is my habit to think before I act, and I notice that this apparently baffles the Electors. The truth is that you three are so subtle, and so much afraid of one another, so on the alert lest you be taken by surprise, that a straightforward action on my part throws all intrigue out of gear. Now, I'll warrant you cannot guess why I came here to-night."
"Oh, I know the reason very well."
"Do you? That astonishes me. What is the reason?"
"You came to see the Countess von Sayn."
"Ah, is the lady within? Why, of course, she must be. I remember now, she was to accompany you to Frankfort, and it naturally follows she is your guest."
"She is my guest, your Highness, and one reason why you cannot see her is because at this moment the lady converses with the Count Palatine, who has just arrived from Gutenfels. As the Countess and myself enjoyed his hospitality not long ago in that stronghold, I have invited him to be my guest until the coronation ceremonies are completed."
"My Lord, I regret that your hospitality halts when it reaches your future Emperor. Why may I not be introduced to the Count Palatine?"
"Such introduction must not take place except in the presence of the other Electors. I am very anxious, as you may perceive, that nothing shall be done to jeopardize your own prospects. We have arrived, your Highness, at a critical moment. History relates that more than one candidate has come to the very steps of the throne, only to be rejected at the last moment. I am too sincere a friend to risk such an outcome in your own case."
"Then you think it injudicious of me to see the Countess until after the Election?"
"I not only think it injudicious, your Highness, but I intend to prevent a meeting."
Again the young man laughed.
"'Tis blessed then that I came for no such purpose; otherwise I might be deeply disappointed."
"For what purpose did you come, Highness?"
"The Imperial Palace, my Lord, belongs no more to my mother. If she or I continue there to reside, we seem to be taking for granted that I shall be elected Emperor; an assumption unfair to the seven Electors, whose choice should be untrammeled by even a hint of influence. I beg of you, therefore, my Lord, to extend your hospitality to my mother. I have spoken to her on this subject, and she will gladly be your guest, happy, I am sure, to forsake that gloomy abode."
"I am honored, your Highness, by the opportunity you give me. I shall wait upon the Empress to-morrow at whatever hour it is convenient for her Majesty to receive me."
"You are most kind. I suggested that she should name an hour, and midday was chosen."
The Archbishop bowed profoundly. The young man rose, and held out his hand, which the Archbishop took with cordiality. The Prince looked very straight-forwardly at his host, and the latter thought he detected a twinkle in his eye, as he said with decision:
"To-morrow I shall formally notify my Lord of Mayence that the Empress has chosen your Palace as her place of residence until after the coronation, and I shall request his Lordship to crave your permission that I may call here every day to see my mother."
Again Cologne bowed, and made no further protest, although Roland seemingly expected one, but as it did not come, the Prince continued:
"Here is my address in Sachsenhausen, should you wish a communication to reach me in haste; and kindly command your porter not to parley when I again demand speech with your Lordship. Good-night. I thank you, my Lord, for your courtesy," and the energetic youth disappeared before the slow-thinking Archbishop could call up words with which to reply.
Cologne did not immediately rejoin his guests, but stood a very figure of perplexity, muttering to himself:
"If our friend Mayence thinks that youngster is to be molded like soft clay, he is very much mistaken. I hope Roland will not cause him to feel the iron hand too soon. I wonder why Mayence is delaying the Election? Can it be that already he distrusts his choice, or is it the question of a wife?"
Meanwhile the front door of the Archbishop's Palace had clanged shut, and Roland strode across the square careless or unconscious of spies, looking neither to the right nor to the left. He made his way speedily to the Fahrgasse, walking down that thoroughfare until he came to Herr Goebel's door, where he knocked, and was admitted. Ushered into the room where he had parted from the merchant, he found Herr Goebel seated at his table as if he had never left it. The merchant, with a cry of delight, greeted the young man.
"Well, Herr Goebel, you see I have been a successful trafficker. Your bales of goods are all in Castle Pfalz, and I trust the barge returned safely to you with the money."
"It did indeed, your Highness."
"Has the coin been counted?"
"Yes; and it totals an enormous, almost unbelievable, sum, which I have set down here to the last stiver."
"That is brave news. Have any demands been made on you for its partition?"
"No, your Highness."
"Now, Herr Goebel, I have determined that all that money, which is in effect stolen property, shall go to the feeding of Frankfort's poor. Buying provender shrewdly, how long would this treasure keep hunger away from the gates of Frankfort?"
"That requires some calculation, your Highness."
"Two months, perhaps?"
"'Tis likely; but I deal in cloth, not in food, and therefore cannot speak definitely without computation and the advice of those expert in the matter."
"Very well, Herr Goebel; get your computations made as soon as possible. Call together your merchants' guild, and ask its members--By the way," said Roland, suddenly checking himself, "give to me in writing the amount of gold I have sent you."
The unsuspecting merchant did so, and Roland's eyes opened with astonishment when he glanced at the total. He then placed the paper in the wallet he carried.
"You were perhaps about to suggest that a committee be appointed," ventured the merchant.
"Yes; a small but capable committee, of which you shall be chairman and treasurer. But first you will ask the merchants to subscribe, out of their known wealth, a sum equaling the gold I filched from the Barons."
The merchant's face fell, and took on a doleful expression.
"The times, your Highness, have long been very bad, none of us making money--"
The Prince held up his hand, and the merchant ceased his plaint.
"If I can strip a Baron of his wealth," he said, "I will not waste words over the fleecing of merchants. This contribution is to be given in the name of the three Archbishops, whose heavy hands came down on you after the late insurrection. The Archbishops have now nine thousand troops in Frankfort. If given leave, they will collect the sum three times over within a very few hours; so you, as chairman of the committee, may decide whether the fund shall be a voluntary contribution or an impost gathered by soldiery: it matters nothing to me. Have it proclaimed throughout the city that owing to the graciousness of the three Archbishops starvation is now at an end in Frankfort."
"Highness, with your permission, and all due deference, it seems rather unjust that we should contribute the cash and lose the credit."
"Yes, Herr Goebel; this is a very unjust world, as doubtless many of the starving people thought when they recollected that a few hundred of you possessed vast wealth while they were penniless. Nevertheless, there are good times ahead for all of us. Let me suggest that this money which I sent to you may prove sufficient and so the subscriptions of the merchants can be returned to them; that is, if the relief fund is honestly administered. So set to work early to-morrow with energy. You merchants have had a long vacation. I think the Rhine will be open before many weeks are past, and then you can turn to your money-making, but our first duty is to feed the hungry. Good-night, Herr Goebel."
He left the merchant as dazed as was the Archbishop. Once again outside he made directly for the wine cellar of the Rheingold. On reaching the steps he heard a roar of talk, lightened now and then by the sound of laughter. He paused a moment before descending. It was evident that the company was enjoying itself, and Roland soliloquized somewhat sadly:
"I am the disturbing element in that group. They seem to agree famously when by themselves. Ah, well, no matter. They will soon be rid of me!"
When Roland descended the stair, the proprietor greeted him with joy.
"I have missed you, Herr Roland," he said, "so you may imagine how much the guild has regretted your absence."
"Yes; I hear them bemoaning their fate."
The inn-keeper laughed.
"How many are here to-night?"
"There is a full house, Sir Roland."
"Really? Are Kurzbold and Gensbein within?"
"Oh, yes; and there is no scarcity of money, thanks to you, I understand."
"Rather, our thanks are for ever due to you, Herr Host, for sustaining us so long when we were penniless. We shall never forget that," and so with a semi-military salute to the gratified cellar-man, Roland pushed open the door and entered the banqueting room of the iron-workers' guild. An instant silence fell on the group.
"Good evening to you, gentlemen," said the Prince, taking off his hat, and with a twist of his shoulders flinging the cloak from them.
Instantly arose a great cheer, and Greusel, who occupied the chair at the head of the table, strode forward, took Roland's hat and cloak, and hung them up. After that he attempted to lead their Captain to the seat of honor.
"No, no, my dear lieutenant," said Roland, placing his hand affectionately on the other's shoulder, "a better man than I occupies the chair, and shall never be displaced by me."
The others, now on their feet, with the exception of Kurzbold and Gensbein, vociferously demanded that Roland take the chair. Smilingly he shook his head, and holding up his hand for silence, addressed them.
"Take your seats, comrades; and, Greusel, if you force me to give a command, I order you into that chair without further protest."
Greusel, with evident reluctance, obeyed.
"Truth to tell, brothers, I have but a few moments to stop. I merely dropped in to enjoy a sip of wine with you, and to offer a proposal that, within five minutes, will make me the most unpopular man in this room, therefore you see my wisdom in refusing a chair from which I should be very promptly ejected."
One of the members poured a tankard full of wine from a flagon, and handed it to Roland, who, saluting the company, drank.
"You did not divide the money, Greusel?"
"No, Roland. We gave each man five hundred thalers, to keep as best he might. We then concealed the rest of the gold between the bottom of the boat and its inner planking. Ebearhard and I construed your orders somewhat liberally, conceiving it was your desire to get our treasure and ourselves safely into Frankfort."
"Quite right," corroborated Roland.
"When morning came upon us, we soon discovered that the whole country was aroused, because of the destruction of Furstenberg and the looting of Sonneck. No one knew where the next raid would strike, and therefore the whole country-side was in a turmoil. Now, the only fact known to the despoiled was that a long black barge had appeared in front of the Castle while the attack was made from behind. We realized that it would be impossible for us to go up the river except in darkness, so in case of a search we concealed the treasure where it was not likely to be come at, and each day lay quiet at an unfrequented part of the river, rowing all night. Not until we reached the Main did we venture on a daylight voyage. It was agreed among us unanimously that the money should be placed in Herr Goebel's keeping until you returned."
"That was all excellently done," commented Roland. "I have just been to see Herr Goebel, and was surprised to learn how much we had actually taken. And now I ask you to make a great sacrifice. This city is starving. If we give that gold to its relief, the merchants of Frankfort will contribute an equal amount. I do not know how long such a total will keep the wolves from the doors of Frankfort; probably for six months. I shall learn definitely to-morrow." Here Roland outlined his plan of relief, which was received in silence.
Kurzbold spoke up.
"I should like to know how much the total is?"
"That is a matter with which you have nothing to do," growled Greusel; then, turning to Roland, who had not yet taken a seat, he said: "So far as my share is concerned, I agree."
"I agree," added Ebearhard; and so it went down along each side of the table until eighteen had spoken.
Kurzbold rose with a smile on his face.
"I don't know how it is, ex-Captain, that the moment you come among us there seems to arise a spirit of disputation."
"Curiously enough, Herr Kurzbold, that same thought arose in my mind as I listened to your hilarity before I entered. I beg to add, for your satisfaction, that this is my last visit to the guild, and never again shall I disturb its harmony."
"There is no lack of harmony," cried Ebearhard, laughing, as he rose. "The agreement has been practically unanimous--quite unanimous in fact, among those entitled to share in the great treasure. I believe Herr Kurzbold has a claim, if it has not been forfeited, to the loot of Rheinstein."
"Now, even the genial Ebearhard," continued Kurzbold, "although his words are blameless, speaks with a certain tone of acerbity, while my friend Greusel has become gruff as a bear."
"You need not labor that point, Herr Kurzbold," said Roland. "I have resigned."
"I just wished to remark," Kurzbold went on, "that I rose for the purpose of stating I had some slight share in something; stolen property; honor among thieves, you know. Are my rights to this share disputed?"
"No," said the chairman shortly.
"Very well," concluded Kurzbold, "as I am graciously permitted to speak in the august presence of our ex-Captain, I desire to say that whatever my share happens to be, I bestow it gladly, nay, exultantly, upon the poor of Frankfort."
With that Kurzbold sat down, and there was first a roar of laughter, followed by a clapping of hands. Gensbein rose, and said briefly:
"I do as Kurzbold does."
"Now," said Roland, "I want a number of volunteers to start out into the country early to-morrow morning, Greusel, you, as chairman, will designate the routes. Each man is to penetrate as far as he can along the main roads, asking the farmers to bring everything in the shape of food they have to sell. Tell them a vast sum has been collected, and that their cartloads will be bought entire the moment they enter the city. There will be no waiting for their money. Prompt payment, and everything eatable purchased immediately. Greusel, I put on you the hardest task. Penetrate into the forest south of the Main, and tell the charcoal-burners and woodmen to bring in material for kitchen fires. How many will volunteer?"
Every man rose. Roland thanked them. "I shall now divulge a secret, and you will see that when it was told to me I remembered your interests. It has been my privilege to meet, since I saw you, more than one man who is a ruler in this Empire."
"Did they tell you who is to be the new Emperor?" cried one.
"That is known only to the Electors. But what I was about to say is this. There are to be established by the Government ironworks on a scale hitherto unknown in any land. I believe, and did my best to inculcate that belief in others, that we are on the verge of an age of iron, and, knowing your skill, I am privileged to offer each of you the superintendency of a department, with compensation never before given so lavishly in Germany. I am also induced to believe that the new Emperor will bestow a title on each of you who desire such honor, so that there can be no question of your right to wear a sword. Greusel, you must receive reports from each of our food scouts, and I shall be glad to know the outcome, if you take the trouble to call upon me any hour after nine o'clock at night, at my old room in Sachsenhausen. And now, good-night, and good-luck to you all."
Roland went over the bridge, and so reached his room on the other side. He glanced around several times to satisfy himself he was not spied upon, and laughed at the apprehension of the Archbishop. Entering his room, he lit a lamp, took off his cloak and flung it on the bed, then unbuckled his sword-belt and hung it and the weapon on a peg, placing his cloak above them. He was startled by a loud knock at the door, and stood for a moment astonished, until it was repeated with the stern warning:
"Open in the name of the Archbishop!"
The young man strode forward, drew back the bolt, and flung open the door. An officer, with two soldiers behind him, came across the threshold, and at the side-motion of the officer's head a soldier closed and bolted the door. Roland experienced a momentary thrill of indignation at this rude intrusion, then he remembered he was a mechanic, and that his line must be the humble and deferential.
"You came to-night from the Imperial Palace. What were you doing there?"
"I was trying to gain admission, sir."
"For what purpose?"
"I wished," said Roland, rapidly outlining his defense in his own mind, "I wished to see some high officer; some one of your own position, sir, but was not so fortunate as to succeed. I could not pass the sentries without a permit, which I did not then possess, but hope to acquire to-morrow."
"Again I ask, for what purpose?"
"For a purpose which causes me delight in meeting your excellency."
"I am no excellency. Come to the point! For what purpose?"
"To show the officer a sword of such superior quality that a man armed with it, and given a certain amount of skill, stands impregnable."
"Do you mean to tell me you went to the Royal Palace for the purpose of selling a second-hand sword?"
"Oh, no, my lord."
"Do not be so free with your titles. Call me Lieutenant."
"Well, Lieutenant, sir; I hope to get orders for a hundred, or perhaps a thousand of these weapons."
"Where did you go after leaving the Palace?"
"I went to the residence of that great Prince of the Church, the Archbishop of Cologne."
"Ah! You did not succeed in seeing his Lordship, I suppose?"
"Pardon me, Lieutenant, but I did. His Lordship is keenly interested in both weapons and armor."
"Did he give you an order for swords?"
"No, Lieutenant; he seems to be a very cautious man. He asked me to visit him in Cologne, or if I could not do that, to see his general, now in Frankfort. You understand, Lieutenant, the presence of the three Archbishops with their armies offers me a great opportunity, by which I hope to profit."
The officer looked at him with a puzzled expression on his face.
"Where next did you go?"
"I went to the house of a merchant in the Fahrgasse."
"Ah, that tale doesn't hold! Merchants are not allowed to wear swords."
"No, Lieutenant, but a merchant on occasion can supply capital that will enable a skilled workman to accept a large contract. If I should see the general of his Lordship to-morrow, and he gave me an order for, say, two thousand swords, I have not enough money to buy the metal, and I could not ask for payment until I delivered the weapons."
"Did the merchant agree to capitalize you?"
"He, too, was a cautious man, Lieutenant. He wished first to see the contract, and know who stood responsible for payment."
"Wise man," commented the officer; "and so, disheartened, I suppose, you returned here?"
"No, Lieutenant; the day has been warm, and I have traveled a good deal. I went from the merchant's house to the Rheingold tavern, there to drink a tankard of wine with my comrades, a score of men who have formed what they call the ironworkers' guild. I drank a tankard with them, and then came direct here, where I arrived but a few moments ago."
The officer was more and more puzzled. Despite this young man's deferential manner, his language was scarcely that of a mechanic, yet this certainly was his own room, and he had told the absolute truth about his wanderings, as one who has nothing to fear.
The Lieutenant stood for a space of time with eyes to the floor, as silent as the soldiers behind him. Suddenly he looked up.
"Show me the sword. I'll tell you where it's made!"
If he expected hesitation he was mistaken. Roland gave a joyful cry, swept aside the cloak, whisked forth the sword, flung it up, and caught it by the blade, then with a low bow handed it to the officer, who flashed it through the air, bent the blade between finger and thumb, then took it near the lamp and scrutinized it with the eye of an expert.
"A good weapon, my friend. Where was it made? I have never seen one like it."
"It was made by my own hands here in Frankfort. Of course I go first to those who know least about the matter, but if I can get an introduction to his Lordship of Mayence, his officers will know a sword when they see it; and I hope to-night fortune, in leading you to my door, has brought me an officer of Mayence."
The Lieutenant looked at him, and for the first time smiled. He handed back the weapon, signed to his men to unbolt the door, which they did, stepping out; then he said:
"I bid you good-night. Your answers have been satisfactory, but I set you down not as a mechanic, but a very excellent merchant of swords."
"Lieutenant," said Roland, "you do not flatter me." He raised his weapon in military salute. "I am no merchant, but a sword maker."