The Sword Maker by Robert Barr
III. Dissension in the Ironworkers' Guild
Up to the time of his midnight awakening, Prince Roland had led a care-free, uneventful life. Although he received the general education supposed to be suitable for a youth of his station, he interested himself keenly in only two studies, but as one of these challenged the other, as it were, the result was entirely to the good. He was a very quiet boy, much under the influence of his mother, seeing little or nothing of his easy-going, inebriated father. It was his mother who turned her son's attention towards the literature of his country, and he became an omnivorous reader of the old monkish manuscripts with which the Palace was well supplied. Especially had his mind been attracted by the stories and legends of the Rhine. The mixture of history, fiction, and superstition which he found in these vellum pages, so daintily limned, and so artistically embellished with initial letters in gold and crimson and blue, fascinated him, and filled him with that desire to see those grim strongholds on the mountain-sides by the river, which later on resulted in his journey from Ehrenfels to Bonn, when his ingenuity, and the cupidity of his custodian, freed him from the very slight thraldom in which he was held by the Archbishop of Mayence.
If his attention had been entirely absorbed by the reading of these tomes, he might have become a mere dreamy bookworm, his intellect saturated with the sentimental and romantic mysticism permeating Germany even unto this day, and, as he cared nothing for the sports of boyhood, body might have suffered as brain developed.
But, luckily, he had been placed under the instruction of Rinaldo, the greatest master of the sword that the world had up to that period produced. Rinaldo was an Italian from Milan, whom gold tempted across the Alps for the purpose of instructing the Emperor's son in Frankfort. He was a man of grace and politeness, and young Roland took to him from the first, exhibiting such aptitude in the art of fencing that the Italian was not only proud of one who did such credit to his tuition, but came to love the youth as if he were his own son.
For the sword-making of Germany the Italian expressed the utmost contempt. The coarse weapons produced by the ironworkers of Frankfort needed strength rather than skill in their manipulation. Between the Italian method and the German was all the contrast that exists between the catching of salmon with a delicate line and a gossamer fly, or clubbing the fish to death as did the boatmen at that fishery called the Waag down the Rhine by St. Goar.
Roland listened intently and without defense to the diatribe against his country's weapons and the clumsy method of using them, but although he said nothing, he formed opinions of his own, believing there was some merit in strength which the Italian ignored; so, studying the subject, he himself invented a sword which, while lacking the stoutness of the German weapon, retained some of its stability, and was almost as easily handled as the Italian rapier, without the disadvantage of its extreme frailty.
Thus it came about that young Roland stole away from the Palace and made the acquaintance of the sword makers. The practice of fencing exercises every muscle in the body, and Roland's constant bouts with Rinaldo did more than make him a master of the weapon, with equal facility in his right arm or his left; it produced an athlete of the first quality; agile and strong, developing his physical powers universally, and not in any one direction.
Meanwhile Roland remained deplorably ignorant regarding affairs of State, this being a subject of which his mother knew nothing. The Emperor, who should have been his son's natural teacher, gave his whole attention to the wine-flagon, letting affairs drift towards disaster, allowing the power that deserted his trembling fingers to be grasped by stronger but unauthorized hands. Roland's surreptitious excursions into the city to confer with the sword makers taught him little of politics, for his conversations with these mechanics were devoted entirely to metal-working. He was hustled now and again by the turbulent mob, in going to and fro, but he did not know why it clamored, and, indeed, took little interest in the matter, conscious only that he came more and more to hate the city and loathe its inhabitants. When he could have his own way, he said to himself, he would retire to some country castle which his father owned, and there devote himself to such employment as fell in with his wishes.
But he was to receive a sharp lesson that no man, however highly placed, is independent of his fellows. He was unaware of the commotion that arose round his own name, and of the grim hanging of the leaders who chose him as their supreme head. When, bewildered and sleepy, he was aroused at midnight, and saw three armed men standing by his bedside, he received a shock that did more to awaken him than the grip of alien hands on his shoulders. During that night ride in the boat he said nothing but thought much. He had heard his mother plead for him without for a moment delaying his departure. She, evidently, was powerless. There was then in the land a force superior to that of the Throne. Something that had been said quieted his mother's fears, for at last she allowed him to go without further protest, but weeping a little, and embracing him much. There was no roughness or rudeness on the part of those who conveyed him down the river Main, and finally along the Rhine to Ehrenfels, but rather the utmost courtesy and deference, yet Roland remained silent throughout the long journey, agitated by this new, invisible, irresistible sovereignty animated with the will and power to do what it liked with him.
At the Castle of Ehrenfels he found awaiting him no rigorous imprisonment. He was treated as a welcome guest of an invisible host. It was his conversations with the garrulous custodian, who was a shrewd observer of the passing show, that gradually awakened the young Prince to some familiarity with the affairs of the country. He learned now in what a deplorable state the capital stood, through the ever-increasing exactions of the robber Barons along the Rhine. He asked his instructor why the merchants did not send their goods by some other route, which was a very natural query, but was told there existed no other route. A great forest extended for the most part between Frankfort and Cologne, and through the wilderness were no roads, for even those constructed by the Romans had been allowed to fall into decay; overgrown with trees, Nature thus destroying the neglected handiwork of man; the forest reclaiming its own.
"Indeed," continued the custodian, "for the last ten years things have been going to the devil, for the lack of a strong hand in the capital. A strong hand is needed by nobles and outlaws alike. We want a new Frederick Barbarossa; the hangman's rope and the torch judiciously applied might be the saving of the country."
Ehrenfels, belonging to the Archbishop, was not a nest of piracy, and so its guardian could talk in this manner if he chose, but had he uttered these sentiments farther down the Rhine, he would himself have experienced the utility of the hangman's rope. Roland, knowing by this time who had taken him into custody, said:
"Why do not the three Archbishops put a stop to it? They possess the power."
The old jailer shrugged his shoulders.
"My chief, the great prelate of Mayence, would do it speedily enough if he stood alone, but the Archbishops of Treves have ever been robbers themselves, and Cologne is little better, therefore they neutralize one another. No two of them will allow the other to act, fearing he may gain in power, and thus upset the balance of responsibility, which I assure your Highness is very nicely adjusted. Each of the three claim allegiance from this Baron or the other, and although the Archbishops themselves may not lay toll directly on the Rhine, their ardent partisans do, which produces a deadlock."
Thus Roland received an education not to be had in palaces, and, saying little beyond asking an occasional question, he thought much, and came to certain conclusions. He arrived at an ambition to open the lordly Rhine and spent his time gathering knowledge and forming plans.
Twelve hours after receiving the five hundred thalers from the merchant, he again presented himself at the now familiar door in the Fahrgasse. In the room on the first floor he found with Herr Goebel a thick-set, heavily-bearded, weather-beaten man, who stood bonnet in hand while the merchant gave him final instructions.
"Good-morning, Sir Roland," cried Herr Goebel cheerfully. He exhibited no resentment for his treatment of the night before, and apparently daylight brought with it renewed confidence that the young man might succeed in his mission. There was now no hesitation in the merchant's manner; alert and decided, all mistrust seemed to have vanished. "This is Captain Blumenfels, whom I put in charge of the barge, and who has gathered together a crew on which he can depend although, of course, you must not expect them to fight."
"No," said Roland, "I shall attend to that portion of the enterprise."
"Now, Captain Blumenfels," continued Herr Goebel, "this young man is commander. You are to obey him in every particular, just as you would obey me."
The captain bowed without speaking.
"I shall not detain you any longer, captain, as you will be anxious to see the bales disposed of to your liking on the barge."
The captain thereupon took himself off, and Roland came to the conclusion that he liked this rough-and-ready mariner with so little to say for himself; a silent man of action, evidently.
Herr Goebel turned his attention to Roland.
"I have ordered bales of cloth to the value of a trifle more than four thousand thalers to be placed in the barge," he said. "The bales are numbered, and I have given the captain an inventory showing the price of each. I suppose you despise our vulgar traffic, and, indeed, I had no thought of asking so highly placed a person as yourself to sell my goods, therefore Blumenfels will superintend the marketing when you reach Cologne--that is, if you ever get so far."
"Your pardon, Herr Goebel, but I have my own plans regarding the disposal of your goods. I intend to be quit of them long before I see Cologne. Indeed, should I prosper, I hope your boat will set its nose southward for the return journey some distance this side of Coblentz."
The merchant gazed up at him in astonishment.
"Your design is impossible. There is no sale for cloth nearer than Coblentz. Your remarks prove you unacquainted with the river."
"I have walked every foot of both sides of the river between Ehrenfels and Bonn. There are many wealthy castles on this side of Coblentz."
"True, my good sir, true; but how became they wealthy? Simply by robbing the merchants. Are you not aware that each of these castles is inhabited by a titled brigand? You surely do not expect to sell my cloth to the Barons?"
"Why not? Remember how long it is since a cloth-barge went down the Rhine. Think for a moment of the arduous life which these Barons lead, hunting the boar, the bear, and the deer, tearing recklessly through thicket and over forest-covered ground. Why, our noble friends must be in rags by this time, or clad in the skins of the beasts they kill! They will be delighted to see and handle a piece of well-woven cloth once more."
For a full minute the merchant gaped aghast at this senseless talk so seriously put forward; then a smile came to his lips.
"Prince Roland, I begin to understand you. Your words are on a par with the practical joke you played upon me so successfully last night. Of course, you know as well as I that the Barons will buy nothing. They will take such goods as they want if you but give them opportunity. What you say is merely your way of intimating it is none of my affair how the goods are disposed of, so long as you hand over to me four thousand thalers." "Four thousand five hundred, if you please."
"I shall be quite content with the four thousand, regarding the extra five hundred as paid for services rendered. Now, can I do anything further to aid you?"
"Yes. I wish you to send a man on horseback to Lorch, there to await the barge. Choose a man as silent as your captain; one whom you trust implicitly, for I hope to send back with him four thousand five hundred thalers, and also some additional gold, which I beg of you to keep safely for me until I return."
"Prince Roland, there can be no gold for me at Lorch."
"Dispatch a trustworthy man in case I receive the money. You will be anxious to know how we prosper, and I can at least forward a budget of news."
"But should there be gold, he cannot return safely with it to Frankfort."
"Oh, yes, if he keeps to the eastern bank of the Rhine. There is no castle between Lorch and Frankfort except Ehrenfels, and that, being the property of the Archbishop, may be passed safely."
"Very well. The man shall await you at Lorch. Inquire for Herr Kruger at Mergler's Inn."
That night, in the Kaiser cellar, another excellent supper was spread before the members of the metal-workers' league. It was quite as hilarious as the banquet of the night before; perhaps more so, because now, for the first time in months, the athletic young men were well fed, with money in their pouches. Each was clad in a new suit of clothes. Nothing like uniformity in costume had been attempted, there being but one day in which to replenish the wardrobes, which involved the acquiring of garments already made. However no trouble was experienced about this, for each branch of the metal-workers had its own recognized outfit, which was kept on hand in all sizes by various dealers catering to the wants of artisans, from apprentices to masters of their trade. The costumes were admirably adapted to the use for which they were intended. There was nothing superfluous in their make-up, and, being loosely cut, they allowed ample play to stalwart limbs. For dealing with metal the wearers required a cloth tightly woven, of a texture as nearly as possible resembling leather, and better accouterment for a rough-and-tumble, freebooter's excursion could not have been found, short of coats of mail, or, failing that, of leather itself.
Roland appeared in the trousers and doublet of a sword maker, and his comrades cheered loudly when he threw off his cloak and displayed for the first time that he was actually one of themselves. Hitherto something in the fashioning of his wearing apparel had in a manner differentiated him from the rest of the company, but now nothing in his dress indicated that he was leader of the coterie, and this pleased the independent metal-workers.
The previous night, after the landlord's bill was generously liquidated, each man had received upwards of thirty thalers. Roland then related to them his adventure with the merchant, and the result of his sword-play in the vicinity of Herr Goebel's throat. Two accomplishments he possessed endeared Roland to his comrades: first, the ability to sing a good song; and second, his talent for telling an interesting story, whether it was a personal adventure, a legend of the Rhine, or some tale of the gnomes which, as every one knows, haunt the gloomy forests in the mountain regions. His account of the evening spent with Herr Goebel aroused much laughter and applause, which greatly augmented when the material advantages of the interview were distributed among the guild.
This evening he purposed making a still more important disclosure; thus when the meal was finished, and the landlord, after replenishing the flagons, had retired, the new sword maker rose in his place at the head of the table.
"I crave your strict attention for a few minutes. Although I refused to confide my plans to Herr Goebel, I consider it my duty to inform you minutely of what is before us, and if I speak with some solemnity, it is because I realize we may never again meet around this table. We depart from Frankfort to-morrow upon a hazardous expedition, and some of us may not return."
"Oh, I say, Roland," protested Conrad Kurzbold, "don't mar a jovial evening with a note of tragedy. It's bad art, you know."
Kurzbold was one of the three actual sword makers, and had been president of the guild until he gave place to Roland. He was the oldest of the company; an ambitious man, a glib talker, with great influence among his fellows, and a natural leader of them. What he said generally represented the opinion of the gathering.
"For once, Kurzbold, I must ask you to excuse me," persisted Roland. "It is necessary that on this, the last, opportunity I should place before you exactly what I intend to do. I am very anxious not to minimize the danger. I wish no man to follow me blindfold, thus I speak early in the evening, that you may not be influenced by the enthusiasm of wine in coming to a decision. I desire each man here to estimate the risk, and choose, before we separate to-night, whether or not he will accompany the expedition.
"Here is the compact made with Herr Goebel: I promised that, with the help of my comrades, I would endeavor to open the Rhine to mercantile traffic. On the strength of such promise he gave me the money."
At this announcement rose a wild round of applause, and with the thunder of flagons on the table, and the shouting of each member, no single voice could make itself heard above the tumult. These lads had no conception of the perils they were to face, and Roland alone remained imperturbable, becoming more and more serious as the uproar went on. When at last quiet was restored, he continued, with a gravity in striking contrast to the hilarity of his audience:
"Herr Goebel is filling his largest barge with bales of cloth, and he has engaged an efficient crew, and a capable captain who will assume charge of the navigation. The barge will proceed to-morrow night down the Main, leaving Frankfort as unostentatiously as possible, while we march across the country to Assmannshausen, and there join this craft. It is essential that no hint of our intention shall spread abroad in gossipy Frankfort, therefore, depending on Captain Blumenfels to get his boat clear of the city without observation, and before the moon rises, I ask you to leave to-morrow separately by different gates, meeting me at Hochst, something more than two leagues down the river. I dare say you all know the Elector's palace, whose beautiful tower is a landmark for the country round."
"I protest against such a rendezvous," objected Kurzbold. "Make it the tavern of the Nassauer Hof, Roland. We shall all be thirsty after a walk of two leagues."
"Not at that time in the morning, I hope," said Roland, "for I shall await you in the shadow of the tower at nine o'clock. Let every man drink his fill to-night, for I intend to lead a sober company from Hochst to-morrow."
"Oh, you're optimistic, Roland," cried John Gensbein. "Give us till twelve o'clock to cool our heads."
"Drink all you wish this evening," repeated Roland, "but to-morrow we begin our work, with a long day's march ahead of us, so nine is none too early for a start from Hochst."
"Sufficient to the day is the wine thereof," said Conrad Kurzbold, rising to his feet. "Wine, blessed liquor as it is, possesses nevertheless one defect, which blot on its escutcheon is that it cannot carry over till next day, except in so far as a headache is concerned, and a certain dryness of the mouth. It is futile to bid us lay in a supply to-night that will be of any use to-morrow morning. For my part, I give you warning, Roland, that I shall make directly for the Nassauer Hof, or for the Schone Aussicht, where they keep most excellent vintages."
To this declaration Roland made no reply, but continued his explanatory remarks.
"We shall join the barge, as I have said, above Assmannshausen, probably at night, and then cross directly over the river. The first castle with which I intend to deal is that celebrated robber's roost, Rheinstein, standing two hundred and sixty feet above the water. Disembarking about a league up the river from Rheinstein, before daybreak we will all lie concealed in the forest within sight of the Castle gates. When the sun is well risen, Captain Blumenfels will navigate his boat down the river, and as it approaches Rheinstein we shall probably enjoy the privilege of seeing the gates open wide, as the company from the Castle descend precipitously to the water. While they rifle the barge we shall rifle the Castle, overpowering whoever we may find there, and taking in return for the cloth they steal such gold or silver as the treasury affords. We will then imprison all within the Castle, so that a premature alarm may not be given. If we are hurried, we may lock them in cellars, or place them in dungeons, then leave the Castle with our booty, but I do not purpose descending to the river until we have traversed a league or more of the mountain forest, where we may remain concealed until the barge appears, and so take ship again.
"The next castle is Falkenberg, the third Sonneck, both on the same side of the river as Rheinstein, and within a short distance from the stronghold, but the plan with each being the same as that already outlined, it is not necessary for me to repeat it."
"An excellent arrangement!" cried several; but John Gensbein spoke up in criticism.
"Is there to be no fighting?" he asked. "I expected you to say that after we had secured the gold we would fall on the robbers to the rear, and smite them hip and thigh."
"There is likely to be all the fighting you can wish for," replied Roland, "for at some point our scheme may go awry. It is not my intention to attack, but I expect you to fight like heroes in our own defense."
"I agree with Herr Roland," put in Conrad Kurzbold, rising to his feet. "If we purpose to win our way down to Cologne, it is unnecessary to search for trouble, because we shall find enough of it awaiting us at one point or another. But Roland stopped his account at what seems to me the most interesting juncture. What is the destination of the gold we loot from the castles?"
"The first call upon our accumulation will be the payment of four thousand five hundred thalers to Herr Goebel."
"Oh, damn the merchant!" cried Conrad. "We are risking our lives, and I don't see why he should reach out his claws. He will profit enough through our exertions if we open the Rhine."
"True; but that was the bargain I made with him. We risk our lives, as you say, but he risks his goods, besides providing barge, captain, and crew. He also furnished us with the five hundred thalers now in our pockets. We must deal honestly with the man who has supported us in the beginning."
"Oh, very well," growled Kurzbold, "have it your own way; but in my opinion the merchants should combine and raise a fund with which to reward us for our exertions if we succeed. Still, I shall not press my contention in the face of an overwhelming sentiment against me. However, I should like to speak to our leader on one matter which it seemed ungracious to mention last night. The merchant offered him a thousand thalers in gold, and he, with a generosity which I must point out to him was exercised at our expense, returned half that money to Herr Goebel. I confess that all I received has been spent; my hand is lonesome when it enters my pouch. I should be glad of that portion which might have been mine (and when I speak for myself, I speak for all) were it not for the misplaced prodigality of our leader who, possessing the money, was so thoughtless of our fellowship that he actually handed over five hundred thalers to a man who had not the slightest claim upon it."
"Herr Kurzbold," said Roland, with some severity, "many penniless nights passed over our heads in this room. If you know so much better than I how to procure money, why did you not do so? I should not venture to criticise a man who, without any effort on my part, placed thirty thalers at my disposal."
There was a great clamor at this, every one except Kurzbold, who stood stubbornly in his place, and Gensbein, who sat next to him, becoming vociferous in defense of their leader.
"It is uncomrade-like," cried Ebearhard above the din, "to spend the money and then growl."
"I speak in the interests of us all," shouted Kurzbold. "In the interests of our leader, no less than ourselves," but the others howled him down.
Roland, holding up his right hand, seemed to request silence and obtained it.
"I am rather glad," he said, "that this discussion has arisen, because there is still time to amend our programme. Herr Goebel's barge will not be loaded until to-morrow night, so the order may even yet be countermanded. The five hundred thalers which belonged to me I say nothing about, but the five hundred advanced by Herr Goebel must be returned to him unless we are in perfect unanimity."
At this suggestion Kurzbold sat down with some suddenness.
"I told you, when I left this room, promising to find the money within a week, that one condition was the backing of my fellows. You empowered me to pledge the efforts of our club as though it contained but one man. If that promise is not to be kept in spirit as well as in letter, I shall retire from the position I now hold, and you may elect in my stead Conrad Kurzbold, John Gensbein, or any one else that pleases you. But first I must be in a position to give back intact Herr Goebel's money; then, as I have divulged to you my plans, Conrad Kurzbold may approach him, and make better terms than I was able to arrange."
There were cries of "Nonsense! Nonsense!" "Don't take a little opposition in that spirit, Roland." "We are all free-speaking comrades, you know." "You are our leader, and must remain so."
Kurzbold rose to his feet for the third time.
"Literally and figuratively, my friend Roland has me on the hip, for my hip-pocket contains no money, and it is impossible for me to refund. I imagine, if the truth were told, we are all more or less in the same condition, for we have had equipment to buy, and what-not."
"Also Hochheimer," said one, at which there was a laugh, as Kurzbold was noted for his love of good wine. Up to this point Roland had carried the assemblage with him, but now he made an injudicious remark that instantly changed the spirit of the room.
"I am astonished," he said, "that any objection should be made to the fair treatment of Herr Goebel, for you are all of the merchant class, and should therefore hold by one of your own order."
He could proceed no farther. Standing there, pale and determined, he was simply stormed down. His ignorance of affairs, of which on several occasions the merchant himself had complained, led him quite unconsciously to touch the pride of his hearers. It was John Gensbein who angrily gave expression to the sentiment of the meeting.
"To what class do you belong, I should like to know? Do you claim affinity with the merchant class? If you do, you are no leader of ours. I inform you, sir, that we are skilled artisans, with the craft to turn out creditable work, while the merchants are merely the vendors of our products. Which, therefore, takes the higher place in a community, and which deserves it better: he who with artistic instinct unites the efforts of brain and hand to produce wares that are at once beautiful and useful, or he who merely chaffers over his counter to get as much lucre as he can for the creations that come from our benches?"
To Roland's aristocratic mind, every man who lacked noble blood in his veins stood on the same level, and it astonished him that any mere plebeian should claim precedence over another. He himself felt immeasurably superior to those present, sensible of a fathomless gulf between him and them, which he, in his condescension, might cross as suited his whim, but over which none might follow him back again; and this, he was well aware, they would be the first to admit did they but know his actual rank.
For a moment he was tempted to acknowledge his identity, and crush them by throwing the crown at their heads, but some hitherto undiscovered stubbornness in his nature asserted itself, arousing a determination to stand or fall by whatever strength of character he might possess.
"I withdraw that remark," he said, as soon as he could obtain a hearing. "I not only withdraw it, but I apologize to you for my folly in making it. It was merely thoughtlessness on my part, and, resting on your generosity, I should like you to consider the words unsaid."
Once more eighteen of the twenty swung round to his side. Roland now turned his attention to Conrad Kurzbold, ignoring John Gensbein, who had sat down flushed after his declamation, bewildered by the mutability of the many as Coriolanus had been before him.
"Herr Kurzbold," began Roland sternly, "have you any further criticism to offer?"
"No; but I stand by what I have already said."
"Well, I thank you for your honest expression of that determination, and I announce that you cannot accompany this expedition."
Again Roland instantaneously lost the confidence of his auditors, and they were not slow in making him of the fact.
"This is simply tyranny", said Ebearhard. "If a man may not open his mouth without running danger of expulsion, then all comradeship is at an end, and I take it that good comradeship is the pivot on which this organization turns. I do not remember that we ever placed it in the power of our president merely by his own word to cast out one of us from the fellowship. I may add, Roland, that you seem to harbor strange ideas concerning rank and power. I have been a member of this guild much longer than you, and perhaps understand better its purpose. Our leader is not elected to govern a band of serfs. Indeed, and I say it subject to correction from my friends, the very opposite is the case. Our leader is our servant, and must conduct himself as we order. It is not for him to lay down the law to us, but whatever laws exist for our governance, and I thank Heaven there are few of them, must be settled in conclave by a majority of the league."
"Right! Right!" was the unanimous cry, and when Ebearhard sat down all were seated except Roland, who stood at the end of the table with pale face and compressed lips.
"We are," he said, "about to set out against the Barons of the Rhine, entrenched in their strong castles. Hitherto these men have been completely successful, defying alike the Government and the people. It was my hope that we might reverse this condition of things. Now, Brother Ebearhard, name me a single Baron along the whole length of the Rhine who would permit one of his men-at-arms to bandy words with him on any subject whatever."
"I should hope," replied Ebearhard, "that we do not model our conduct after that of a robber."
"The robbers, I beg to point out to you, Ebearhard, are successful. It is success we are after, also a portion of that gold of which Herr Kurzbold has pathetically proclaimed his need."
"Do you consider us your men-at-arms, then, in the same sense that a Rhine Baron would employ the term?"
"You claim the liberty of expelling any one you choose?"
"Yes; I claim the liberty to hang any of you if I find it necessary."
"Oh, the devil!" cried Ebearhard, sitting down as if this went beyond him. He gazed up and down the table as much as to say, "I leave this in your hands, gentlemen."
The meeting gave immediate expression of its agreement with Ebearhard.
"Gentlemen," said Roland, "I insist that Conrad Kurzbold apologizes to me for the expressions he has used, and promises not again to offend in like manner."
"I'll do nothing of the sort," asserted Kurzbold, with equal firmness.
"In that case," exclaimed Roland, "I shall retire, and I ask you to put me in a position to repay Herr Goebel the money I extracted from him. I resign the very thankless office of so-called leadership."
At this several wallets came out upon the table, but their contents clinked rather weakly. The majority of the guild sat silent and sobered by the crisis that had so unexpectedly come upon them. Joseph Greusel, seeing that no one else made a move, uprose, and spoke slowly. He was a man who never had much to say for himself; a listener rather than a talker, in whom Roland reposed great confidence, believing him to be one who would not flinch if trial came, and he had determined to make Greusel his lieutenant if the expedition was not wrecked before it set out.
"My friends," said Greusel gloomily, "we have arrived at a deadlock, and I should not venture to speak but that I see no one else ready to make a suggestion. I cannot claim to be non-partisan in the matter. This crisis has been unnecessarily brought about by what I state firmly is a most ungenerous attack on the part of Conrad Kurzbold."
There were murmurs of dissent, but Greusel proceeded stolidly, taking no notice.
"It is not disputed that Kurzbold accepted the money from Roland last night, spent it to-day, and now comes penniless amongst us, quite unable to refund the amount when his unjust remarks produce their natural effect. He is like a man who makes a wager knowing he hasn't the money to pay should he lose. If Roland retires from this guild, I retire also, ashamed to keep company with men who uphold a trick worthy of a ruined gambler."
"My dear Joseph," cried Ebearhard, springing up with a laugh, "you were misnamed in your infancy. You should have been called Herod, practically justifying a slaughter of us innocents."
"I stand by Benjamin," growled Gruesel, "the youngest and most capable of our circle; the one who produced the money while all the rest of us talked."
"You never talked till now, Joseph," said Ebearhard, still trying to ease the situation with a laugh, "and what you say is not only deplorably severe, but uttered, as I will show you, upon entirely mistaken grounds. We did not, and do not, support Conrad Kurzbold in what he said at first. Now you rate us as if we were no better than thieves. Dishonest gamblers, you call us, and Lord knows what else, and then you threaten withdrawal. I submit that your diatribe is quite undeserved. We all condemn Kurzbold for censuring Roland's generosity to the merchant, unanimously upholding Roland in that action, and have said so plainly enough. What we object to is this: Roland arrogates to himself power which he does not possess, of peremptorily expelling any member whose remarks displease him. Surely you cannot support him in that any more than we."
"Let us take one thing at a time," resumed Greusel, "not forgetting from whom came the original provocation. I must know where we stand. I therefore move a vote of censure on Conrad Kurzbold for his unmerited attack upon our president anent his dealings with Herr Goebel."
"I second that with great pleasure," said Ebearhard.
"Now, as we cannot ask our leader to put that motion, I shall take the liberty of submitting it myself," continued Greusel. "All in favor of the vote of censure which you have heard, make it manifest by standing up."
Every one arose except Roland, Gensbein, and Kurzbold.
"There, we have removed that obstacle to a clear understanding of the case, and before I formally deliver this vote of censure to Herr Kurzbold, I request him to reconsider his position, and of his own motion to make such delivery unnecessary.
"If it is the case that Roland assumes authority to expel whom he pleases from this guild, I shall not support him."
"It is the case! It is the case!" shouted several.
"Pardon me, comrades; I have the floor," continued Greusel. "I am not attempting oratory, but trying to disentangle a skein in which we have involved ourselves. I wish to receive neither applause nor hissing until I have finished the business. You say it is the case. I say it is not. Roland gave Herr Kurzbold the alternative either of apologizing or of paying over the money, so that it might be returned to the merchant. As I understand the matter, our president does not insist on Kurzbold leaving the guild, but merely announces his own withdrawal from it. You have allowed Kurzbold to put you in the position of being compelled to choose between himself and Roland. If you are logical men you cannot pass a vote of censure on Kurzbold, and then choose him instead of Roland. I therefore move a vote of confidence in our chief, the man who has produced the money, a thousand thalers in all, half of which was his own, and has divided it equally amongst us, when the landlord's bill was paid, withholding not a single thaler, nor arrogating--I think that was your word, friend Ebearhard--to himself a stiver more of the money than each of the others received. While Kurzbold has prated of comradeship, Roland has given us an excellent example of it, and I think he deserves our warmest thanks and our cordial support. I therefore submit to you the following motion: This meeting tenders to the president its warmest thanks for his recent efforts on behalf of the guild, and begs to assure him of its most strenuous assistance in carrying out the project he has put before it to-night."
"Joseph," said Ebearhard, rising, with his usual laugh, "you are a very clever man, although you usually persist in hiding your light under a bushel. I desire to associate myself with the expressions you have used, and therefore second your motion."
"I now put the resolution which you have all heard," said Greusel, "and I ask those in favor of it to stand."
Every one stood up promptly enough except the two recalcitrants, and of those two John Gensbein showed signs of hesitation and uneasiness. He half rose, sat down again; then, apparently at the urging of the man next him, stood up, a picture of irresolution. Kurzbold, finding himself now alone, laughed, and got upon his feet, thus making the vote unanimous. As the company seated itself, Greusel turned to the president.
"Sir, it is said that all's well that ends well. It gives me pleasure to tender you the unanimous vote of thanks and confidence of the iron-workers' guild, and before calling upon you to make any reply, if such should be your intention, I will ask Conrad Kurzbold to say a few words, which I am sure we shall all be delighted to hear."
Kurzbold rose bravely enough, in spite of the fact that Joseph Greusel's diplomacy had made a complete separation between him and all the others.
"I should like to say," he began, with an air of casual indifference, "that my first mention of the money was wholly in jest. Our friend Roland took my remarks seriously, which, of course, I should not have resented, and there is little use in recapitulating what followed. As, however, my utterances gave offense which was not intended by me, I have no hesitation in apologizing for them, and withdrawing the ill-advised sentences. No one here feels a greater appreciation of what our president has done than I, and I hope he will accept my apology in the same spirit in which it is tendered."
"Now, Master of the Guild," said Greusel, and Roland took the floor once more.
"I have nothing to say but 'Thank you.' The antagonists whom we hope to meet are men brave, determined, and ruthless. If any one in this company holds rancor against me, I ask him to turn it towards the Barons, and punish me after the expedition is accomplished. Let us tolerate no disagreements in face of the foe."
The young man took his cloak and sword from the peg on which they hung, passed down along the table, and thrust across his hand to Kurzbold, who shook it warmly. Arriving at the door, Roland turned round.
"I wish to see Captain Blumenfels, and give him final instructions regarding our rendezvous on the Rhine, so good-night. I hope to meet you all under the shadow of the Elector's tower in Hochst to-morrow morning at nine," and with that the president departed, being too inexperienced to know that soft words do not always turn away wrath, and that mutiny is seldom quelled with a handshake.