The Sword Maker by Robert Barr
XXII. Long Live Their Majesties
The most anxious man in all Frankfort was not to be found among the mighty who ruled the Empire, or among the merchants who trafficked therein, or among the people who starved when there was no traffic. The most anxious man was a small, fussy individual of great importance in his own estimation, cringing to those above him, denouncing those beneath; Herr Durnberg, Master of the Romer, in other words, the Keeper of the Town Hall. The great masters whom this little master served were imperious and unreasonable. They gave him too little information regarding their intentions, yet if he failed in his strict duty towards them, they would crush him as ruthlessly as if he were a wasp.
Unhappy Durnberg! Every morning he expected the Electoral Court to be convened that day, and every evening he was disappointed. It was his first duty to lay out upon the table in that great room, the Kaisersaal, a banquet, to be partaken of by the newly-made Emperor, and by the seven potentates who elected him. It was also his duty to provide two huge tanks of wine, one containing the ruby liquor pressed out at Assmannshausen; the other the straw-colored beverage that had made Hochheim famous. These tanks were connected by pipes with the plain, unassuming fountain standing opposite the Town Hall in that square called the Romerberg. The moment an election took place Herr Durnberg turned off the flow of water from the fountain, and turned on the flow of wine, thus for an hour and a half there poured from the northward pointing spout of the fountain the rich red wine of Assmannshausen, and from the southern spout the delicate white wine of Hochheim. Now, wine will keep for a long time, but a dinner will not, so the distracted Durnberg prepared banquet after banquet for which there were no consumers.
At last, thought Herr Durnberg, his vigilance was about to be rewarded. There came up the broad, winding stair, to the landing on which opened the great doors of the Kaisersaal, two joyous-looking young people, evidently lovers, and with the hilt of his sword the youth knocked against the stout panels of the door. It was Herr Durnberg himself who opened, and he said haughtily--
"The Romer is closed, and will not be free to strangers until after the Election."
"We enter, nevertheless. I am Prince Roland, here to meet the Court of Electors, who convene at midday in the adjoining Wahlzimmer. You, Romer-meister, will announce to their august Lordships that I am here, and, when their will is expressed, summon me to audience with them."
Herr Durnberg bowed almost to the polished floor, and flinging open both doors, retreated backwards, still bent double as he implored them to enter. Locking the doors, for the Electors would reach the Wahlzimmer through a private way, to be used by none but themselves, the bustling Durnberg produced two chairs, which he set by the windows in the front, and again running the risk of falling on his nose, bowed his distinguished visitors to seats where they might entertain themselves by watching the enormous crowd that filled the Romerberg from end to end, for every man in Frankfort knew an Election was impending, and it was after the banquet, when the wine began to flow in the fountain, that the new Emperor exhibited himself to his people by stepping from the Kaisersaal out upon the balcony in front of it.
"Do you feel any shyness about meeting this formidable conclave? Remember you have at least two good friends among them."
The girl placed her hand in his, and looked affectionately upon him.
"When you are with me, Roland, I am afraid of nothing."
"I should not ask you to pass through this ordeal were it not for your guardian. His astonishment at the announcement of our marriage will be so honest and unacted that even the suspicious Mayence cannot accuse him of connivance in what we have done. Of course, the strength of my position is that I have but carried out the formal request of their three Lordships; a request which has never been rescinded."
Before she could reply the hour of twelve rang forth. The deferential Herr Durnberg entered from the Wahlzimmer, and softly approached them.
"Your Highness," he said, "my Lords, the Electors, request your presence in the Wahlzimmer."
"How many are there, Romer-meister?"
"There are four, your Highness; the three Archbishops and the Count Palatine."
"Ah," breathed Roland, relieved that Mayence had not called up his reserve, and assured now that the seventh Elector had not arrived. With a glance of encouragement at his wife, Roland passed into the presence.
Herr Durnberg, anxious about the outcome, showed an inclination to close the door and remain inside, but a very definite gesture from Mayence wafted the good man to outer regions.
Mayence opened the proceedings.
"Yesterday I received a communication from your Highness, requesting me to convene this Court. I am as ignorant as my colleagues regarding the subjects to be placed before us. I therefore announce to you that we are prepared to listen."
"I thank you, my Lord of Mayence," began the Prince very quietly. "When first I had the honor of meeting your three Lordships in the Castle of Ehrenfels, I signed certain documents, and came to an agreement with you upon other verbal requests. I am not yet a man of large experience, but at that time, although comparatively few days have elapsed, I was a mere boy, trusting in the good faith of the whole world, knowing nothing of its chicanery. Since then I have been through a bitter school, learning bitter lessons, but I am nevertheless encouraged, in that for every man of treachery and deceit I meet two who are trustworthy."
"Pardon me," said Mayence suavely, "I did not understand that the discourse you proposed was to be a sermon. If your theme is a lecture on morality, I beg to remind you that this Wahlzimmer is a place of business, and what you say is better suited to a chapel or even a church, than to the Election Chamber of the Empire."
"I am sorry, my Lord," said Roland humbly, "if my introduction does not meet your approval. I assure you that the very opposite was my intention. My purpose is to show you why a change has come over me, and in order--"
"Once more I regret interrupting, but the reason for whatever change has occurred can be of little interest to any one but yourself. You begin by making vague charges of dishonesty, treachery, and what-not, against some person or persons unknown. May I ask you to be definite?"
"Is it your Lordship's wish that I should mention names?"
Cologne showed signs of uneasiness; Treves looked in bewilderment from one to another of his colleagues; the Count Palatine sat deeply interested, his elbows on the table, massive chin supported by huge hands.
"Your Highness is the best judge whether names should be mentioned or not," said Mayence, quite calmly, as if his withers were unwrung. "But you must see that if you hint at conspiracy and bafflement, certain inferences are likely to be drawn. Since the time you speak of there has been no opportunity for you to meet your fellow-men, therefore these inferences are apt to take the color that reference is made to one or the other of the three personages you did meet. I therefore counsel you either to abstain from innuendo or explain explicitly what you mean."
"I the more willingly bow to your Lordship's decision because it is characterized by that wisdom which accompanies every word your Lordship utters. I shall therefore designate good men and bad."
Mayence gazed at the young man in amazement, but merely said:
"Proceed, sir, on your perilous road."
"I am the head of a gang of freebooters. When this company left Frankfort under my command we appeared to be all of one mind. My gang consisted entirely of ironworkers, well-set-up young fellows in splendid physical condition, yet before I was gone a day on our journey I found myself confronted by mutiny. A man named Kurzbold was the leader of this rebellion; a treacherous hound, whom I sentenced to death. The two who stood by me were Greusel and Ebearhard, therefore I told you that when I met one villain I encountered two trustworthy men."
"When did this happen?" asked Mayence. "And what was the object of your freebooting expedition?"
"High Heaven!" cried the Archbishop of Cologne, unable longer to restrain his impatience when he saw the fatal trend of the Prince's confession, "what madness has overcome you? Can you not see the effect of these disturbing disclosures?"
The Prince smiled, and answered first the last question.
"'Tis an honest confession, my Lord, of what may be considered a dishonest practice. It is information that should be within your knowledge before you sit down to elect an Emperor.
"When did this happen, my Lord of Mayence?" he continued, turning to the chairman. "It happened when you thought I was your prisoner in Ehrenfels. Never for a day did you hold me there. I roamed the country at my pleasure. I examined leisurely and effectively the defenses of nearly every castle on the Rhine from the town of Bonn to your own city of Mayence. The object of our expedition, you ask? It was to loot the stolen treasure of the robber castles, and incidentally it resulted in the destruction by fire of Furstenberg. The marauding excursion ended at Pfalz, where I lightened the Pfalzgraf of his wealth, and liberated the Countess von Sayn, unlawfully imprisoned within that fortress."
"By the Three Kings!" cried the Count Palatine, bringing his huge fist down on the table like the blow of a sledge hammer, "you are a man, and I glory that it is my privilege to vote for you."
"I agree with my brother of Cologne," said Treves, speaking for the first time, "that this young man does not properly weigh the inevitable result of his terrible words. I vote, of course, with my Lord of Mayence, but such a vote will be most reluctantly given for a self-confessed burglar and incendiary."
"Be not too hasty, gentlemen," counseled Mayence. "We are not met here to cast votes. Your Highness, I complained a moment ago of lack of interest in your recital; I beg to withdraw that plea. After having heard you I agree that the Countess was unjustly imprisoned. She was accurate in her estimate of your character."
"I think not, my Lord, I do not regard myself as burglar, incendiary, thief, or robber. I call myself rather a restorer of stolen property. I shed no blood, which in itself is a remarkable feature of action so drastic as mine. The incendiarism was merely incidental, forced upon me by the fact that the Red Margrave tied up eighteen of my men, whom he proposed presently to hang. I diverted his attention from this execution by the first method that occurred to me, namely, the firing of his Castle. In my letter to you yesterday, my Lord, I promised to clear away certain obstacles from your path. I therefore remove one, by saying that an object of this conference is my own renunciation of the Emperorship, thus while I thank my Lord Count for his proffered franchise, I quiet the mind of my Lord of Treves by assuring him his defection has no terror for me. And now, my Lord of Mayence, will you listen carefully to my suggestion?"
"Prince Roland," replied his Lordship, almost with geniality, "I have never heard so graphic a narrator in my life. Proceed, I beg of you."
"When our band of cut-purses set out from Frankfort, they supposed the gold was to be shared equally among us. Mutiny taught me to use the arts of diplomacy, which I despise. I hoped to attain such influence over them that they would agree to abjure wealth for the benefit of Frankfort. I am happy to say that I accomplished my object, so that yesterday and to-day you have witnessed the results of my efforts; the relief of a starving city. I merely removed the wealth of robbers to benefit those whom they robbed. Knowing the dangerous feeling actuating this town against your Lordships, I caused proclamation to be made crediting this relief to the Archbishops.
"My Lord of Mayence, when yesterday I saw you appear on your own balcony, the most stern, the most dignified figure I ever beheld; when I heard the ringing cheers that greeted you; when I realized, as never before, the majesty of your genius, I cursed the stupid decree of Fate that denied me your friendship. What could we not have accomplished together for the Fatherland? I, with my youth and energy, under the tutelage of your wisdom and experience. You tasted there, probably for the first time in your life, the intoxicating cup of popularity, yet it affected you no more than if you had drunk of the fountain in the Romerberg.
"Now, my Lords, here is what I ask of you, and it will show how much I would have depended upon you had I been chosen to the position at first proposed to me. I request you, my Lord of Treves, to remove your three thousand troops to the other side of the Rhine."
"I shall do nothing of the sort," blurted Treves, amazed at the absurd proposal.
Roland went on, unheeding:
"I ask you, my Lord of Cologne, to march your troops to Assmannshausen."
"You indeed babble like the boy you said you were!" cried the indignant Cologne. "You show no grasp of statesmanship."
A faint smile quivered on the thin lips of Mayence at his colleagues' ill-disguised fear at leaving him the man in possession so far as Frankfort was concerned. The naive proposal which angered his two brethren merely amused Mayence. This young man's absurdity was an intellectual treat. Roland smiled in sympathy as he turned towards him, but his next words banished all expression of pleasure from the face of Mayence.
"I hope to succeed better with you, my Lord. Of course I recognize I have no standing with this Court since my refusal of the gift you intended to bestow. I ask you to draft into this city seven thousand men;" then after a pause: "the seven thousand will not have far to march, my Lord."
He caught an expression almost of fear in the Archbishop's eyes, which were quickly veiled, but his Lordship's tone was as unwavering as ever when he asked:
"What do you mean by that?"
"I mean that the city of Mayence is nearer to Frankfort than either Cologne or Treves."
"Your geographical point is undeniable. What am I to do with my ten thousand once they are here?"
"My Lord, I admire the rigid discipline of your men, and estimate from that the genius of organization possessed by your officers; a genius imparted, I believe, by you. No one knows better than I the state of confusion which this effort at relief has brought upon the city. I suggest that your capable officers divide this city into cantons, proclaim martial law, and deliver to every inhabitant rations of food as if each man, woman, and child were a member of your army. Meanwhile the merchants should be relieved of a task for which they have proved their incapacity, and turn their attention to commerce. This relief at best must be temporary. The vital task is to open the Rhine. The merchants will load every barge on the river with goods, and this flotilla the armies of Treves and Cologne will escort in safety to the latter city. In passing they will deliver an ultimatum to every castle, demanding a contribution in gold towards the further relief of Frankfort, until commerce readjusts itself, and assuring each nobleman that if this commerce is molested, his castle shall be forfeited, and himself imprisoned or hanged."
"Quite an effective plan, I think, your Highness, to which I willingly agree, if you can assure me of the support of my two colleagues, which I regret to say has already been refused."
His Lordship looked from one to another, but neither withdrew his declaration.
"Prince Roland," continued Mayence, "we seem to have reached a deadlock, and I fear its cause is that distrust of one human being toward another that you deplored a while ago. I confess myself, however, so pleased with the trend of your mind as exhibited in your conversation with us, that I am desirous to know what further proposals you care to make, now that our mutual good intentions have led us into an impasse."
"Willingly, my Lord. I propose that you at once proceed to the Election of an Emperor, for the delay in his choosing has already caused an anxiety and a tension dangerous to the peace of this country."
"Ah, that is easier said than done, your Highness. Having yourself eliminated the one on whom we were agreed, it seems to me you should at least suggest a substitute."
"Again willingly, my Lord. You should choose some quiet, conservative man, and, if possible, one well known to the citizens of Frankfort, and held in good esteem by the people everywhere. He should be a man of middle age--" Mayence's eyes began to close again, and his lips to tighten--"and if he had some experience in government, that would be all to the good. One already married is preferable to a bachelor, for then no delicate considerations regarding a woman can arise, as, I need not remind your Lordship, have arisen in my own case. A man of common sense should be selected, who would not make rash experiments with the ideals of the German people, as a younger and less balanced person might be tempted to do. That he should be a good Churchman goes without saying--"
"A truce, a truce!" cried Mayence sternly. "Again we are running into a moral catalogue impossible of embodiment. Is there any such man in your mind, or are you merely treating us to a counsel of perfection?"
"Notwithstanding my pessimism," said Roland, "I still think so well of my countrymen as to believe there are many such. Not to make any recommendation to those so much better qualified to judge than I, but merely to give a sample, I mention the Grand Duke Karl of Hesse, who fulfills every requirement I have named."
For what seemed to the onlookers a tense period of suspense, the old man seated and the young man standing gazed intently at one another. Mayence knew at once that in some manner unknown to him the Prince had fathomed his intentions; that his Highness alone knew why the Election had been delayed, yet the Prince conveyed this knowledge directly to the person most concerned, in the very presence of those whom Mayence desired to keep ignorant, without giving them the slightest hint anent the actual state of affairs.
The favorable opinion which the Archbishop had originally formed of Roland in Ehrenfels during this conference became greatly augmented. Even the most austere of men is more or less susceptible to flattery, and yet in flattering him Roland had managed to convey his own sincerity in this laudation.
"We will suppose the Grand Duke Karl elected," Mayence said at last. "What then?"
"Why then, my Lord, the three differing bodies of troops at present occupying Frankfort would be withdrawn, and the danger line crossed over to the right side."
Mayence now asked a question that in his own mind was crucial. Once more he would tempt the young man to state plainly what he actually knew.
"Can your Highness give us any reason why you fear danger from the presence of troops commanded by three friendly men like my colleagues and myself?"
"My fear is that the hands of one or the other of you may be forced, and I can perhaps explain my apprehension better by citing an incident to which I have already alluded. I had not the slightest intention of burning Castle Furstenberg, but suddenly my hand was forced. I was responsible for the safety of my men. I hesitated not for one instant to fire the Castle. Of the peaceful intentions of my Lords the Archbishops there can be no question, but at any moment a street brawl between the soldiers, say, of Cologne and Treves, may bring on a crisis that can only be quelled by bloodshed. Do you see my point?"
"Yes, your Highness, I do, and your point is well taken. I repose such confidence in our future Emperor that voluntarily I shall withdraw my troops from Frankfort at once. Furthermore, I shall open the Rhine, by sending along its banks the ultimatum you propose, not supported by my army, but supported by the name of the Archbishop of Mayence, and I shall be interested to know what Baron on the Rhine dare flout that title. Will you accept my aid, Prince Roland?"
"I accept it, my Lord, with deep gratitude, knowing that it will prove effective."
His Lordship rose in his place.
"I said this was not an Electoral Court. I rise to announce my mistake. We Electors here gathered together form a majority. I propose to you the name of Prince Roland, son of our late Emperor."
"My Lord, my Lord!" cried Roland, raising his hand, "you do not know all."
"Patient Heaven!" cried the irritated Archbishop, "you make too much of us as father confessors. Do not tell us now you have been guilty of assassination!"
"No, my Lord, but you should know that I have married the Lady Hildegunde, Countess von Sayn, whom you have already rejected as Empress."
"Well, if you have accepted the dame, the balance is redressed. I am not sure but you made an excellent choice."
It was now the turn of the amazed Archbishop of Cologne to rise to his feet.
"What his Highness says is impossible. The Lady von Sayn has been in my care ever since she entered Frankfort, and I pledge my word she has never left my Palace!"
"We were married yesterday at three o'clock, in the chapel of the Benedictine Fathers, and in the presence of four of them. We left your Palace, my Lord, by a door which you may discover in the wall of your garden, near the summer-house, and my wife is present in the adjoining room to implore your forgiveness."
Cologne collapsed into his chair, and drew a hand across his bewildered brow. The situation appeared to amuse Mayence.
"I wish your Highness had withheld this information until I was sure that my brother of Treves will vote with me, as he promised. My Lord of Treves, you heard my proposition. May I count on your concurrence?"
Treves' house of cards fell so suddenly to the ground that under the compelling eyes of Mayence he could do no more than stammer his acquiescence.
"I vote for the Prince," he said in tones barely audible.
"And you, my Lord of Cologne?"
"Aye," said Cologne gruffly.
"The Count Palatine?"
"Yes," thundered the latter. "A choice that meets my full approval, and I speak now for the Empress as well as the Emperor."
"Durnberg!" cried Mayence, raising his voice.
The doors were instantly opened, and the cringing Romer-meister appeared.
"Is the banquet prepared?"
"Ready to lay on the table, my Lord."
"The wine for the fountains?"
"Needs but the turning of the tap, my Lord."
"Order up the banquet, turn the tap; and as the new Emperor is unknown to the people, cause heralds with trumpets to set out and proclaim the Election of Prince Roland of Frankfort."
"Yes, my Lord."
The Archbishop of Mayence led the way out into the grand Kaisersaal, and the new Empress rose from her chair, standing there, her face white as the costume she wore. Mayence advanced to her, bending his gray head over the hand he took in his own.
"Your Majesty," he said gravely, and this was her first hint of the outcome, "I congratulate you upon your marriage, as I have already congratulated your husband."
"My Lord Archbishop," she said in uncertain voice, "you cannot blame me for obeying you."
"I think my poor commands would have been futile were it not for the assistance lent me by his Majesty."
The salutations of the others were drowned by the cheers of the great assemblage in the Romerberg. The red wine and white had begun to flow, and the people knew what had happened. In the intervals between the clangor of the trumpets, they heard that a Prince of their own town had been elected, so all eyes turned to the Romer, and cries of "The Emperor! The Emperor!" issued from every throat. The multitude felt that a new day was dawning.
"I believe," said Mayence, "that hitherto only the Emperor has appeared on the balcony, but to-day I suggest a precedent. Let Emperor and Empress appear before the people."
He motioned to Herr Durnberg, and the latter flung open the tall windows; then Roland taking his wife's hand, stepped out upon the balcony.