XIX. The Betrothal in the Garden
 

Next morning Prince Roland sent a letter to the Archbishop of Mayence informing him that the Empress had taken up her abode in the Palace of her old friend, the Lord of Cologne, giving the reasons for this move and his own desertion of the Imperial Palace, and asking permission to call upon his mother each day. The messenger brought back a prompt reply, which commended the delicacy of his motives in leaving the Royal Palace, but added that, so far as the three Archbishops were concerned, the Saalhof was still at their disposal: of course Prince Roland's movements were quite untrammeled, and again, so far as concerned the three Archbishops, he was at liberty to visit whom he pleased, as often as he liked.

While waiting for the return of his messenger, Roland called upon Herr Goebel, and told him that twenty emissaries had gone forth in every direction from Frankfort to inform the farming community that a market had been opened in the city, and in exchange learned what the merchant had already done towards furthering the necessary organization.

"Oh, by the way, Herr Goebel," he cried, suddenly recollecting, "just write out and sign a document to this effect: 'I promise Herr Roland, sword maker of Sachsenhausen, to supply him with the capital necessary for carrying out his contract with his Lordship the Archbishop of Cologne.'"

Without demur the merchant indited the document, signed it, and gave it to the Prince.

"If any emissary of Mayence pays you a domiciliary visit, Herr Goebel, asking questions about me, carefully conceal my real status, and reply that I am an honest, skillful sword maker, anxious to revive the iron-working industry, and for this reason, being yourself solicitous for the welfare of Frankfort, you are risking some money."

In the afternoon Roland walked to the Palace of Cologne and boldly entered, with no attempt at secrecy, the doorkeeper on this occasion offering no impediment to his progress. He learned that the Empress, much fatigued, had retired to her room and must not be disturbed; that the Archbishop was consulting with the Count Palatine, while the Countess von Sayn was walking in the garden. Roland passed with some haste through the Palace, and emerged into the grounds behind it: grounds delightfully umbrageous, and of an extent surprisingly large, surrounded by a very high wall of stone, so solidly built that it might successfully stand a siege.

Roland found the girl sauntering very slowly along one of the most secluded alleys, whose gravel-path lay deeply in the shade caused by the thick foliage of over-hanging trees, which made a cool, green tunnel of the walk. Her head was slightly bowed in thought, her beautiful face pathetic in its weariness, and the young man realized, with a pang of sympathy, that she was still to all intents and purposes a prisoner, with no companions but venerable people. She could not, and indeed did not attempt to suppress an exclamation of delight at seeing him, stretching out both hands in greeting, and her countenance cleared as if by magic.

"I was thinking of you!" she cried, without a trace of coquetry.

"I judged your thoughts to be rather gloomy," he said, with a laugh, in which she joined.

"Gloomy only because I could see or hear nothing of you."

"Did you know I came yesterday?"

"No. Why did you not ask to see me?"

"I was informed you were entertaining the Count Palatine."

"Ah, yes. He is a delightful old man. I like him better and better as time goes on. My guardian and I were guests of his at Gutenfels just before I occupied the marine prison of Pfalz."

"So your guardian told me."

They were now walking side by side in this secluded, thickly-wooded avenue, just wide enough for two, running in a straight line from wall to wall the whole length of the property, in the part most remote from the house.

"Nothing disastrous has happened to you?" she asked. "I have had miserable forebodings."

"No; I am living a most commonplace life, quite uneventful."

"But why, why does the Archbishop of Mayence delay the Election?"

"I did not know he was doing so."

"Oh, my guardian is very anxious about it. Such postponement, I understand, never happened before. The State is without a head."

"Has your guardian spoken to Mayence about it?"

"Yes; and has been met by the most icy politeness. Mayence wishes this Election to take place with a full conclave of the seven Electors, three of whom have not yet arrived. But my guardian says they never arrive, and take no interest in Imperial matters. He pointed out to Mayence that a quorum of the Court is already in Frankfort, but his Lordship of the Upper Rhine merely protests that they must not force an Election, all of which my guardian thinks is a mere hiding of some design on the part of Mayence."

Prince Roland meditated on this for a few moments, then, as if shaking off his doubts, he said:

"It never occurs to one Archbishop that either of the others may be speaking the truth. There is so much mistrust among them that they nullify all united action, which accounts for the prostrate state of this city, the capital of one of the most prosperous countries under the sun. So far as I can see, taken individually, they are upright, trustworthy men. Now, to give you an instance. Your guardian last night was simply panic-stricken at my audacity in visiting him. He said I must not come again, refusing me permission to see you; he told you nothing of my conference with him: he felt certain I was being tracked by spies, and could not be made to understand that my presence here was of no consequence one way or another."

"Then why are you here now?"

"I am just coming to that. I asked your guardian to invite my mother as his guest. Have you met her yet?"

"No; they told me the Empress was too tired to receive any one. I am to be introduced at dinner to-night."

"Well, this morning I wrote to the Archbishop of Mayence, telling him of my interview with your guardian, the reason for it, and the results. His reply came promptly by return." Roland produced the document. "Just read that, and see whether you detect anything sinister in it."

She read the letter thoughtfully.

"That is honest enough on the surface."

"On the surface, yes; but why not below the surface as well? That is a frank assent to a frank request. I think that if the Archbishops would treat each other with open candor they would save themselves a good deal of anxiety."

"Perhaps," said the girl, very quietly.

"You are not convinced?"

"I don't know what to think." Then she looked up at him quickly. "Were you followed last night?"

"Ah!" ejaculated Roland, laughing a little "apparently not, so far as I could see, but the night was very dark." Then he related to her the incidents succeeding the return to his room, while she listened with breathless eagerness. "The Lieutenant," he concluded, "did not deny that he was in the service of Mayence when I hinted as much, but, on the other hand, he did not admit it. Of course, I knew by his uniform to whom he belonged. He conducted my examination with military abruptness, but skillfully and with increasing courtesy, although I proclaimed myself a mechanic."

"You a mechanic!" she said incredulously. "Do you think he believed it?"

"I see you doubt my histrionic ability, but when next he waits upon me I shall produce documentary evidence of my status, and, what is more, I'll take to my workshop." "Do you possess a workshop?" cried the girl in amazement.

"Do I? Why, I am partner with a man named Greusel, and we own a workshop together. A gruff, clumsy individual, as you would think, but who, nevertheless, with his delicate hammer, would beat you out in metal a brooch finer than that you are wearing."

"Do you mean Joseph?"

"Yes," replied Roland, astonished. "What do you know of him?"

"Have you forgotten so soon? It was his stalwart shoulders that burst in my door at Pfalz, and you yourself told me his name was Joseph Greusel. Were all those marauders you commanded honest mechanics?"

"Every man of them."

"Then you must be the villain of the piece who led those worthy ironworkers astray?"

Roland laughed heartily.

"That is quite true," he said. "Have I fallen in your estimation?"

"No; to me you appeared as a rescuer. Besides, I come of a race of ruffians, and doubtless on that account take a more lenient view of your villainy than may be the case with others."

The young man stopped in his walk, and seized her hands again, which she allowed him to possess unresisting.

"Hilda," he said solemnly, "your guardian thought the Archbishop of Mayence had relented, and would withdraw his opposition to our marriage. Has Mayence said anything to corroborate that estimate?"

"Nothing."

"Has your guardian broached the subject to him?" "Yes; but the attitude of my Lord of Mayence was quite inscrutable. Personally I think my guardian wrong in his surmise. The Archbishop of Treves murmured that Mayence never forgives. I am certain I offended him too deeply for pardon. He wishes the future Empress to be a pliable creature who will influence her husband according to his Lordship's desires, but, as I have boasted several times, I belong to the House of Sayn."

"Hilda, will you marry me in spite of the Archbishops?"

"Roland, will you forego kingship for my sake?"

"Yes; a thousand times yes!"

"You said 'For the Empress; not for the Empire,' but if I am no Empress, you will as cheerfully wed me?"

"Yes."

"Then I say yes!"

He caught her in his arms, and they floated into the heaven of their first kiss, an ecstatic melting together. Suddenly she drew away from him.

"There is some one coming," she whispered.

"Nothing matters now," said Roland breathlessly. "There is no one in the world to-day but you and me."

Hildegunde drew her hands down her cheeks, as if to brush away their tell-tale color and their warmth.

"'Tis like," said Roland, "that you marry a poor man."

"Nothing matters now," she repeated, laughing tremulously. "I am said to be the richest woman in Germany. I shall build you a forge and enlist myself your apprentice. We will paint over the door 'Herr Roland and wife; sword makers.'"

Two men appeared at the end of the alley, and stood still; the one with a frown on his brow, the other with a smile on his lips.

"Oh!" whispered the Countess, panic striking from her face the color that her palms had failed to remove, "the Archbishop and the Count Palatine!"

His Lordship strode forward, followed more leisurely by the smiling Count.

"Prince Roland," said Cologne, "I had not expected this after our conference of last night."

"I fail to understand why, my Lord, when my parting words were 'Tell your porter to let me in without parley.' That surely indicated an intention on my part to visit the Palace."

"Your Highness knows that so far as I am concerned you are very welcome, and always shall be so, but at this juncture there are others to consider."

Roland interrupted.

"Read this letter, my Lord, and you will learn that I am here with the full concurrence of that generous Prince of the Church, Mayence."

Cologne, with knitted brow, scrutinized the communication.

"Your Highness is most courageous, but, if I may be permitted, just a trifle too clever."

"My Highness is not clever at all, but merely meets a situation as it arises."

"Prince Roland," said the Countess, her head raised proudly, "may I introduce to you my friend, and almost my neighbor, the Count Palatine of the Rhine?"

"Ah, pardon me," murmured the Archbishop, covered with confusion, but the jovial Count swept away all embarrassment by his hearty greeting.

"Prince Roland, I am delighted with the honor her ladyship accords me."

"And I, my Lord, am exceedingly gratified to meet the Count Palatine again."

"Again?" cried the Count in astonishment, "If ever we had encountered one another, your Highness, I certainly should not have been the one to forget the privilege."

The Prince laughed.

"It is true, nevertheless. My Lord Count, there is a namesake of mine in the precincts of your strong Castle of Gutenfels; a namesake who does more honor to the title than I do myself."

The Count Palatine threw back his head, and the forest garden echoed with boisterous laughter.

"You mean my black charger, Prince Roland!" he shouted. "A noble horse indeed. How knew you of him? If your Highness cares for horses allow me to present him to you."

"Never, my Lord Count. You are too fond of him yourself, and I have always had an affectionate feeling towards you for your love of that animal, which, indeed, hardly exceeds my own. I grasped his bridle-rein, and held the stirrup while you mounted."

"How is that possible?" asked the astonished Count.

"I cared for Prince Roland nearly a month, receiving generous wages, and, what I valued more, your own commendation, for you saw I was as fond of horses as you were."

"Good heavens! Were you that youth who came so mysteriously, and disappeared without warning?"

"Yes," laughed the Prince. "I know Gutenfels nearly as well as you do. I was a spy, studying the art of war and methods of fortification. I stopped in various capacities at nearly all the famous Castles of the Rhine, and this knowledge recently came in--"

"Your Highness, your Highness!" pleaded the Archbishop. "I implore you to remember that the Count Palatine is an Elector of the Empire, and, as I told last night, we are facing a crisis. Until that crisis is passed you will add to my already great anxiety by any lack of reticence on your part."

"By the Three Kings!" cried the Count, "this youth, if I may venture to call him so, has bound me to him with bands stronger than chain armor. I shall vote for him whoever falters."

"His Highness," said the Archbishop, with a propitiatory smile, "has been listening to the Eastern tales which our ancestors brought from the Crusades, and I fear has filled his head with fancies."

"Really, Archbishop, you misjudge me," said the young man; "I am the most practical person in the Empire. You interrupted my boasting to her ladyship of my handiwork. I would have you know I am a capable mechanic and a sword maker. What think you of that, my Lord?" he asked, drawing forth his weapon, and handing it to Cologne.

"An excellent blade indeed," said the latter, balancing it in his hand.

"Very well, my Lord, I made it and tempered it unassisted. I beg you to re-enter your palace, and write me out an order for a thousand of these weapons."

"If your Highness really wishes me to do this, and there is no concealed humorism in your request which I am too dull to fathom, you must accompany me to my study and dictate the document I am to indite. I shall wait till you bid farewell to the Countess."

A glance of mutual understanding flashed between the girl and himself, then Roland raised her hand to his lips, and although the onlookers saw the gallant salutation, they knew nothing of the gentle pressure with which the fingers exchanged their confidences.

"Madam," said the Prince, "it will be my pleasure and duty to wait upon my mother to-morrow. May I look forward to the happiness of presenting you to her?"

"I thank you," said the Countess simply, with a glance of appeal at her guardian. That good man sighed, then led the way into the house.