XXI. A Secret Marriage
 

Blessed is he that expects nothing, for he shall not be disappointed. Roland walked with Greusel across the bridge and through the streets to the entrance of the Rheingold, and there stopped.

"I shall not go down with you," he said. "You have given me much to think of, and I am in no mood for a hilarious meeting. Indeed, I fear I should but damp the enthusiasm of the lads. Continue your good work to-morrow, and report to me at my room."

With this Roland bade Greusel good-night and turned away. He walked very slowly as far as the bridge, and there, resting his arms on the parapet, looked down at the dark water. He was astonished to realize how little he cared about giving up the Emperorship, and he recalled, with a glow of delight, his recent talk in the garden with Hildegunde, and her assurance that she lacked all ambition to become the first lady in the land so long as they two spent their lives together.

The bells of Frankfort tolling the hour of ten aroused him from his reverie, and brought down his thoughts from delicious dreams of romance to realms of reality. The precious minutes were passing over his head swiftly as the drops of water beneath his feet. There was little use of feeding Frankfort if it must be given over to fire and slaughter.

With a chill of apprehension he reviewed the cold treachery of Mayence, willing to levy the horrors of civil war upon an already stricken city so long as his own selfish purposes were attained.

"And yet," he said to himself, "there must be good in the man. I wish I knew his history. Perhaps he had to fight for every step he has risen in the world. Perhaps he has been baffled and defeated by deception; overcome by chicanery until his faith died within him. My faith would die within me were it not that when I meet a Mayence I encounter also the virtue of a Cologne, and the bluff honesty of a Count Palatine. How marvelous is this world, where the trickery of a Kurzbold and a Gensbein is canceled by the faithfulness unto death of a Greusel and an Ebearhard! Thus doth good balance evil, and then--and then, how Heaven beams upon earth in the angel glance of a good woman. God guide me aright! God guide me aright!" he repeated fervently, "and suppress in me all anger and uncharitableness."

He walked rapidly across the bridge into Sachsenhausen, past his room at the street corner, and on to the monastery of the Benedictines, whose little chapel stood open night and day for the prayers of those in trouble or in sadness, habited only by one of the elder brothers, who gave, if it were needed, advice, encouragement, or spiritual comfort. Removing his hat, the Prince entered into the silence on tiptoe, and kneeling before the altar, prayed devoutly for direction, asking the Almighty to turn the thoughts of His servant, Mayence, into channels that flowed towards peace and the relief of this unhappy city.

As he rose to his feet a weight lifted from his shoulders, and the buoyancy of youth drove away the depression that temporarily overcame him on hearing of the army threatening Frankfort. His plans were honest, his methods conciliatory, and the path now seemed clear before him. The monk in charge, who had been kneeling in a dark corner near the door, now came forward to intercept him.

"Will your Highness deny me in the chapel as you did upon the bridge?"

Roland stopped. In the gloom he had not recognized the ghostly Father.

"No, Father Ambrose, and I do now what I should have done then. I pray your blessing on the enterprise before me."

"My son, it is willingly given, the more willingly that I may atone in part my forgetting of the Holy Words: 'Judge not, that ye be not judged.' I grievously misjudged you, as I learn from both the Archbishop and my kinswoman. I ask your forgiveness."

"I shall forgive you, Father Ambrose, if you make full, not partial atonement. The consequences of your mistake have proved drastic and far-reaching. The least of these consequences is that it has cost me the Emperorship."

"Oh," moaned the good man, "mea culpa, mea culpa! No penance put upon me can compensate for that disaster."

"You blame yourself overmuch, good Father. The penance I have to impose will leave me deeply in your debt. Now, to come from the least to the greatest of these results, so far as I am concerned, my marriage with your kinswoman, whom I love devotedly, is in jeopardy. Through her conviction that I was a thief, she braved the Archbishop of Mayence, who imprisoned her, and now his Lordship has determined that the Grand Duke Karl of Hesse shall be Emperor. Thus we arrive at the most important outcome of your error. Between the overwhelming forces of Mayence and the insufficient troops of Cologne and Treves there may ensue a conflict causing the streets of Frankfort to flow with blood."

The pious man groaned dismally.

"I have a plan which will prevent this. The day after to-morrow I shall renounce all claim to the throne; but being selfish, like the rest, I refuse to renounce all claim to the woman the Archbishops themselves chose as my wife, neither shall I allow the case to be made further the plaything of circumstance. Your kinswoman, no later ago than this afternoon, confessed her love for me and her complete disregard of any position I may hold in this realm. Now, Father Ambrose, I ask you several questions. Is it in consonance with the rules of the Church that a marriage be solemnized in this chapel?"

"Yes."

"Are you entitled to perform the ceremony?"

"Yes."

"Is it possible this ceremony can be performed to-morrow?"

"Yes."

"Will you therefore attend to the necessary preliminaries, of which I am vastly ignorant, and say at what hour the Countess and I may present ourselves in this chapel?"

"The Archbishop of Cologne is guardian to her ladyship. Will you bring me his sanction?"

"Ah, Father Ambrose, there is just the point. So far as concerns himself I doubt not that the Archbishop is the most unambitious of men, but to the marriage of his ward with a sword maker I fear he would refuse consent which he would gladly give to a marriage with an Emperor."

The monk hung his head, and pondered on the proposition. At last he said:

"Why not ask my Lord the Archbishop?"

"I dare not venture. Too much is at stake. She might be carried away to any castle in Germany. Remember that Cologne has already acquiesced in her imprisonment, and but that the iron chain of the Pfalzgraf brought me to her prison door--The iron chain, do I say? 'Twas the hand of God that directed me to her, and now, with the help of Him who guided me, not all the Archbishops in Christendom shall prevent our marriage. No, Father Ambrose, pile on yourself all the futile penances you can adopt. They are useless, for they do not remedy the wrong you have committed. And now, good-night to your Reverence!"

The young man strode towards the door.

"My son," said the quiet voice of the priest, "when you were on your knees just now did you pray for remission from anger?"

Roland whirled round.

"Mea culpa, as you said just now. Father Ambrose, I ask your pardon. I made an unfair use of your mistake to coerce you. You were quite right in relating what your own eyes saw here in Frankfort, and although the inference drawn was wrong, you were not to blame for that. I recognize your scruples, but nevertheless protest that already I possess the sanction of the Archbishop, which has never been withdrawn."

"Prince Roland, if you bring hither the Countess von Sayn to-morrow afternoon, when the bells strike three, I will marry you, and gladly accept whatever penances ensue. I fear the monk's robe has not crushed out all the impulses of the Sayn blood. In my case, perhaps, it has only covered them. And now, good-night, and God's blessing fall upon you and her you are to marry."

Roland went directly from the chapel to his own room, where he slept the sleep of one who has made up his mind. Nevertheless, it was not a dreamless sleep, for throughout the night he seemed to hear the tramp of armed men marching upon unconscious Frankfort, and this sound was so persistent, that at last he woke, yet still it continued. Springing up in alarm, and flinging wide the wooden shutters of his window, he was amazed to see that the sun was already high, while the sound that disturbed him was caused by a procession of heavy-footed horses, dragging over the cobble-stones carts well-laden with farm produce.

Having dressed and finished breakfast, he wrote a letter to the Archbishop of Mayence:

"My LORD ARCHBISHOP,--There are some important proposals which I wish to make to the Electors, and as it is an unwritten rule that I should not communicate with them separately, I beg of you to convene a meeting to-morrow, in the Wahlzimmer, at the hour of midday. Perhaps it is permissible to add, for your own information, that while my major proposition has to do with the relief of Frankfort, the minor suggestions I shall make will have the effect of clearing away obstacles that at present obstruct your path, and I venture to think that what I say will meet with your warmest approval."

It was so necessary that this communication should reach the Archbishop as soon as possible that Roland became his own messenger, and himself delivered the document at the Archbishop's Palace. As he turned away he was startled by a hand being placed on his shoulder with a weight suggesting an action of arrest rather than a greeting of friendship. He turned quickly, and saw the Lieutenant who had so discourteously used him in the square. There was, however, no menace in the officer's countenance.

"Still thrusting your sword at people?"

"Yes, Lieutenant, and very harmlessly. 'Tis a bloodless combat I wage with the sword. I praise its construction, and leave to superiors like yourself, sir, the proving of its quality."

"You are an energetic young man, and we of Mayence admire competence whether shown by mechanic or noble. Was the letter you handed in just now addressed to his Lordship?"

"Yes, Lieutenant."

"'Twill be quite without effect."

"It grieves me to hear you say so, sir."

"Take my advice, and make no effort to see the Archbishop until after the Election. I judge you to be a sane young fellow, for whom I confess a liking. You are the only man in Frankfort who has unhesitatingly told me the exact truth, and I have not yet recovered from my amazement. Now, when you return to your frugal room in Sachsenhausen you do not attempt to reach it by mounting the stairs with one step?"

"Naturally not, Lieutenant."

"Very well. When the Emperor is proclaimed, come you to me. I'll introduce you to my superior, and he, if impressed with your weapon, will take you a step higher, and thus you will mount until you come to an officer who may give you an astonishing order."

"I thank you, Lieutenant, and hope later to avail myself of your kindness."

The Lieutenant slapped him on the shoulder, and wished him good-luck. As Roland pushed his way through the crowd, he said to himself, with a sigh:

"I regret not being Emperor, if only for the sake of young fellows like that."

Frankfort was transformed as if a magician had waved his wand over it. The streets swarmed with people. Farmers' vehicles of every description added to the confusion, and Roland frowned as he noticed how badly organized had been the preparations for coping with this sudden influx of food, but he also saw that the men of Mayence had taken a hand in the matter, and were rapidly bringing method out of chaos. The uniforms of Cologne or Treves were seldom seen, while the quiet but firm soldiers of Mayence were everywhere ordering to their homes those already served, and clearing the way for the empty-handed.

At last Roland reached the Palace of Cologne, through a square thronged with people. Within he found his mother and the Countess, seated in a room whose windows overlooked the square, watching the stirring scene presented to them. Having saluted his mother, he greeted the girl with a quiet pressure of the hand.

"What is the cause of all this commotion?" asked the Empress.

Roland tapped his breast.

"I am the cause, mother," and he related the history of the relief committee, and if appreciation carries with it gratification, his was the advantage of knowing that the two women agreed he was the most wonderful of men.

"But indeed, mother," continued Roland, "I selfishly rob you of the credit. The beginning of all this was really your gift to me of five hundred thalers, that time I came to crave your assistance in procuring me this document I still carry, and without your thalers and the parchment, this never could have happened. So you see they have increased like the loaves and fishes of Holy Writ, and thus feed the multitude."

Her Majesty arose, smiling.

"Ah, Roland," she said, kissing him, "you always gave your mother more credit than she deserved. It wrung my heart at the time that I was so scant of money." Then, pleading fatigue, the Empress left the room.

"Hilda!" cried the young man, "when you and I discuss things, those things become true. Yesterday we agreed that the Imperial throne was not so enviable a seat as a chair by the domestic hearth. To-day I propose to secure the chair at the hearth, and to-morrow I shall freely give up the Imperial throne."

The girl uttered an exclamation that seemed partly concurrence and partly dismay, but she spoke no word, gazing at him intently as he strode up and down the room, and listening with eagerness. Walking backwards and forwards, looking like an enthusiastic boy, he very graphically detailed the situation as he had learned it from Greusel.

"Now you see, my dear, any opposition to the Archbishop of Mayence means a conflict, and supposing in that conflict our friends were to win, the victory would be scarcely less disastrous than defeat. I at once made up my mind, fortified by my knowledge of your opinion on the subject, that for all the kingships in the world I could not be the cause of civil dissension."

"That is a just and noble decision," she said, speaking for the first time.

Then, standing before her, the young man in more moderate tone related what had happened and what had been said in the chapel of the Benedictine Fathers. She looked up at him, earnest face aglow, during the first part of his recital, and now and then the sunshine of a smile flickered at the corners of her mouth as she recognized her kinsman in her lover's repetition of his words, but when it came to the question of a marriage, her eyes sank to the floor, and remained there.

"Well, Hilda," he said at last, "have you the courage to go with me, all unadvised, all unchaperoned, to the chapel this afternoon at three o'clock?"

She rose slowly, still without looking at him, placed her hands on his shoulders, then slipped them round his neck, laying her cheek beside his.

"It requires no courage, Roland," she whispered, "to go anywhere if you are with me. I need to call up my courage only when I think with a shudder of our being separated."

Some minutes elapsed before conversation was resumed.

"Where is the Archbishop?" asked Roland, in belated manner remembering his host.

"He and the Count Palatine went out together about an hour since. I think they were somewhat disturbed at the unusual commotion, and desired to know what it meant. Do you want to consult my guardian after all?"

"Not unless you desire me to do so?"

"I wish only what you wish, Roland."

"I am glad his Lordship is absent. Let us to the garden, Hilda, and discover a quiet exit if we can."

A stout door was found in the wall to the rear, almost concealed with shrubbery. The bolts were strong, and rusted in, but the prowess of Roland overcame them, and he drew the door partially open. It looked out upon a narrow alley with another high wall opposite. Roland looked up and down the lane, and saw it was completely deserted.

"This will do excellently," he said, shoving the door shut again, but without thrusting the bolts into position. He took her two hands in his.

"Dearest, noblest, sweetest of girls! I must now leave you. Await me here at half-past one. I go out by this door, for it is necessary I should know exactly where the alley joins a main street. It would be rather embarrassing if you were standing here, and Father Ambrose looking for us in the chapel, while I was frantically searching for and not finding the lane."

Some time in advance of the hour set, the impatient young man kept the appointment he had made, and when the Countess appeared exactly on the minute, he held open the door for her, then, drawing it shut behind him, they were both out in the city of Frankfort together. Roland's high spirits were such that he could scarcely refrain from dancing along at her side.

"I'd like to take your hand," he said, "and swing it, and show you the sights of the city, as if we were two young people in from the country."

"I am a country girl, please to remember," said the Countess. "I know nothing of Frankfort, or, indeed, of any other large town."

"I am glad of that, for there is much to see in Frankfort. We will make for the Cathedral, that beautiful red building, splendid and grand, where we should have been married with great and useless ceremony if I had been crowned Emperor. But I am sure the simple chapel in the working town of Sachsenhausen better suits a sword maker and his bride."

Now they came out into the busy street, which seemed more thronged than ever. In making their way to the Cathedral, the mob became so dense that progression was difficult. The current seemed setting in one direction, and it carried them along with it. Hildegunde took the young man's arm, and clung close to him.

"They are driving us, whether we will or no, towards our old enemy, the Archbishop of Mayence. That is his Palace facing the square. There is some sort of demonstration going on," cried Roland, as cheer after cheer ascended to the heavens. "How grim and silent the Palace appears, all shuttered as if it were a house of the dead! Somehow it reminds me of Mayence himself. I had pictured him occupying a house of gloom like that."

"Do you think we are in any danger?" asked the girl. "The people seem very boisterous."

"Oh, no danger at all. This mob is in the greatest good-humor. Listen to their heart-stirring cheers! The people have been fed; that is the reason of it."

"Is that why they cheer? It sounds to me like an ovation to the Archbishop! Listen to them: 'Long live Mayence! God bless the Archbishop!' There is no terror in those shouts."

Nevertheless his Lordship of Mayence had taken every precaution. The shutters of his Palace were tightly closed, and along the whole front of the edifice a double line of soldiers was ranged under the silent command of their officers. They stood still and stiffly as stone-graven statues in front of a Cathedral. The cheers rang unceasingly. Then, suddenly, as if the sinister Palace opened one eye, shutters were turned away from a great window giving upon the portico above the door. The window itself was then thrown wide. Cheering ceased, and in the new silence, from out the darkness there stepped with great dignity an old man, gorgeous in his long robes of office, and surmounting that splendid intellectual head rested the mitered hat of an Archbishop. After the momentary silence the cheers seemed to storm the very door of the sky itself, but the old man moved no muscle, and no color tinged his wan face.

"By the Kings," whispered Roland, during a temporary lull, "what a man! There stands power embodied, and yet I venture 'tis his first taste of popularity. I am glad we have seen this sight, both mob and master. How quick are the people to understand who is the real ruler of Germany! I wish he were my friend!"

Slowly the Archbishop raised his open hands, holding them for a moment in benediction over the vast assemblage. Once more the cheers died away, and every head was bowed, then the Archbishop was in his place no longer. Unseen hands closed the windows, and a moment later the shutters blinded it. The multitude began to dissolve, and the two wanderers found their way become clearer and clearer.

Together they entered the empty, red Cathedral, and together knelt down in a secluded corner. After some minutes passed thus Roland remembered that the hour of two had struck while they were gazing at the Archbishop. Gently he touched the hand of his companion. They rose, and walked slowly through the great church.

"There," he whispered, "is where the Emperor is crowned. The Archbishop of Mayence always performs that ceremony, so, after all, there is some justification for his self-assumed leadership."

Again out into the sunshine they walked to the Fahrgasse, and then to the bridge, where the Countess paused with an expression of delight at the beauty of the waterside city, glorified by the westering sun. Crossing the river, and going down the Bruckenstrasse of Sachsenhausen, Roland said:

"Referring to people who are not Emperors, that is my room at the corner, where I lived when supposed to be in prison."

"Is that where you made your swords?" she asked.

"No; Greusel's workshop and mine is farther along that side street. It is a grimy shop of no importance, but here, on the other side, we have an edifice that counts. That low building is the Benedictine monastery, and this is its little chapel."

The Countess made no comment, but stood looking at it for a few moments until her thoughts were interrupted by the solemn tones of a bell striking three. Roland went up the steps, and held open the door while she passed in, then, removing his hat, he followed her.