The Sword Maker by Robert Barr
IV. The Disturbing Journey of Father Ambrose
The setting summer sun shone full on the western side of Sayn Castle, sending the shadow of that tenth-century edifice far along the greensward of the upper valley. Upon a balcony, perched like a swallow's nest against the eastern end of Sayn Castle, a lovely girl of eighteen leaned, meditating, with arms resting on the balustrade, the harshness of whose stone surface was nullified by the soft texture of a gaudily-covered robe flung over it. This ample cloth, brought from the East by a Crusading ancestor of the girl, made a gay patch of scarlet and gold against the somber side of the Castle.
The youthful Countess Hildegunde von Sayn watched the slow oncoming of a monk, evidently tired, who toiled along the hillside deep in the shadow of the Castle, as if its cool shade was grateful to him. Belonging, as he did, to the very practical Order of the Benedictines, whose belief was in work sanctioned by prayer, the Reverend Father did not deny himself this temporary refuge from the hot rays of the sun, which had poured down upon him all day.
Looking up as he approached the stronghold, and seeing the girl, little dreaming of the frivolous mission she would propose, he waved his hand to her, and she responded gracefully with a similar gesture.
Indeed, however strongly the monk might disapprove, there was much to be said in favor of the resolution to which the young lady had come. She was well educated, probably the richest heiress in Germany, and carefully as the pious Sisters of Nonnenwerth Convent may have concealed the fact from her, she was extremely beautiful, and knew it, and although the valley of the Saynbach was a very haven of peace and prosperity, the girl became just a trifle lonely, and yearned to know something of life and the Court in Frankfort, to which her high rank certainly entitled her.
It is true that very disquieting rumors had reached her concerning the condition of things in the capital city; nevertheless she determined to learn from an authoritative source whether or not it was safe to take up a temporary residence in Frankfort, and for this purpose the reluctant Father Ambrose would journey southward.
Father Ambrose was more than sixty years old, and if he had belonged to the world, instead of to religion, would have been entitled to the name Henry von Sayn. His presence in the Benedictine Order was proof of the fact that money will not accomplish everything. His famous, or perhaps we should say infamous, ancestor, Count Henry III. of Sayn, who died in 1246, was a robber and a murderer, justly esteemed the terror of the Rhine. Concealed as it was in the Sayn valley, half a league from the great river, the situation of his stronghold favored his depredations. He filled his warehousing rooms with merchandise from barges going down the river, and with gold seized from unhappy merchants on their way up. He thought no more of cutting a throat than of cutting a purse, and it was only when he became amazingly wealthy that the increase of years brought trouble to a conscience which all men thought had ceased to exist. Thereupon, for the welfare of his soul, he built the Abbey of Sayn, and provided for the monks therein. Yet, when he came to die, he entertained fearsome, but admittedly well-founded doubts regarding his future state, so he proceeded to sanctify a treasure no longer of any use to him, by bequeathing it to the Church, driving, however, a bargain by which he received assurance that his body should rest quietly in the tomb he had prepared for himself within the Abbey walls.
He was buried with impressive ceremony, and the monks he had endowed did everything to carry out their share of the pact. The tomb was staunchly built with stones so heavy that no ordinary ghost could have emerged therefrom, but to be doubly sure a gigantic log was placed on top of it, strongly clamped down with concealed bands of iron, and, so that this log might not reveal its purpose, the monks cunningly carved it into some semblance of Henry himself, until it seemed a recumbent statue of the late villainous Count.
But despite such thoughtfulness their plan failed, for when next they visited the tomb the statue lay prone, face downwards, as if some irresistible, unseen power had flung it to the stone flags of the floor. Replacing the statue, and watching by the tomb, was found to be of little use. The watchers invariably fell asleep, and the great wooden figure, which during their last waking moments lay gazing towards the roof, was now on its face on the monastery floor, peering down in the opposite direction, and this somehow was regarded by the brethren as a fact of ominous significance.
The new Count von Sayn, heir to the title and estate of the late Henry III. was a gloomy, pious man, very different indeed from his turbulent predecessor. Naturally he was much perturbed by the conduct of the wooden statue. At first he affected disbelief in the phenomena despite the assurances of the monks, and later on the simple brethren deeply regretted they had made any mention of the manifestations. The new Count himself took up the task of watching, and paced all night before the tomb of the third Henry. He was not a man to fall asleep while engaged on such a somber mission, and the outcome of his vigil was so amazing that in the morning he gathered the brethren together in the great hall of the Abbey, that he might relate to them his experience.
The wooden statue had turned over, and fallen to the floor, as was its habit, but on this occasion it groaned as it fell. This mournful sound struck terror into the heart of the lonely watcher, who now, he confessed, regretted he had not accepted the offer of the monks to share his midnight surveillance. The courage of the House of Sayn is, however, a well-known quality, and, notwithstanding his piety, the new holder of the title was possessed of it, for although admitting a momentary impulse towards flight, and the calling for assistance which the monks would readily have given, he stood his ground, and in trembling voice asked what he could do to forward the contentment of his deceased relative.
The statue replied, still face downward on the stone floor, that never could the late wicked Count rest in peace unless the heir to his titles and lands should take upon himself the sins Henry had committed during his life, while a younger member of the family should become a monk of the Benedictine Order, and daily intercede for the welfare of his soul.
"With extreme reluctance," continued the devout nobleman, "I gave my assent to this unwelcome proposal, providing only that it should receive the sanction of the Abbot and brethren of the Monastery of Sayn, hoping by a life of continuous rectitude to annul, in some measure at least, the evil works of Henry III.; and that holy sanction I now request, trusting if given it may remove any doubts regarding the righteousness of my promise."
Here the Count bowed low to the enthroned Abbot and, with less reverence, to the assembled brethren. The Abbot rose to his feet, and in a few well-chosen words complimented the nobleman on the sacrifice he made, predicting that it would redound greatly to his spiritual welfare. Speaking for himself, he had no hesitation in giving the required sanction, but as the Count made it a proviso that the brethren should concur, he now requested their acquiescence.
This was accorded in silent unanimity, whereupon Count von Sayn, deeply sighing as one accepting a burden almost too heavy to bear, spoke with a tremor of grief in his voice.
"It is not for me," he said, "to question your wisdom, nor shrink from my allotted task. After all, I am but human, and up to this decisive moment had hoped, alas! in vain, that some one more worthy than I might be chosen in my place. The most grievous part of the undertaking, so far as I am concerned, was outlined in the last words spoken by the wooden statue. The evil deeds my ancestor has committed will in time be obliterated by the prayers of the younger member of my family who becomes a monk, but the accumulated gold carries with it a continual curse, which can be wiped off each coin only by that coin benefiting the merchants who have been robbed. The contamination of this metal, therefore, I must bear, for it adds to the agony of my ancestor that, little realizing what he was doing, he bequeathed this poisonous dross to the Abbey he founded. I am required to lend it in Frankfort, upon undoubted security and suitable usury, that it may stimulate and fertilize the commerce of the land, much as the contents of a compost heap, disagreeable in the senses, and defiling to him who handles it, when spread upon the fields results in the production of flower, fruit, and food, giving fragrance, delight, and sustenance to the human frame."
The count, bowing for the third time to the conclave, passed from its presence with mournful step and sorrowful countenance; whereupon the brethren, seeing themselves thus denuded of wealth they had hoped to enjoy, gave utterance to a groan doubtless much greater in volume than that emitted by the carven statue, which wooden figure may be seen to-day in the museum of the modern Castle of Sayn by any one who cares to spend the fifty pfennigs charged for admission.
All that has been related happened generations before the time when the Countess Hildegunde reigned as head of the House of Sayn, but Father Ambrose formed a link with the past in that he was the present scion of Sayn who, as a Benedictine, daily offered prayer for the repose of the wicked Henry III. The gold which Henry's immediate successor so craftily deflected from the monks seemed to be blessed rather than cursed, for under the care of that subtle manager it multiplied greatly in Frankfort, and scandal-mongers asserted that besides receiving the usury exacted, the pietistic Count tapped the treasure-casks of upward-sailing Rhine merchants quite as successfully, if more quietly, than the profane Henry had done. Thus the House of Sayn was one of the richest in Germany.
The aged monk and the youthful Countess were distant relatives, but he regarded her as a daughter, and her affection was given to him as to a father, in other than the spiritual sense.
In his youth Ambrose the Benedictine, because of his eloquence in discourse, and also on account of his aristocratic rank, officiated at the court in Frankfort. Later, he became spiritual and temporal adviser to that great prelate, the Archbishop of Cologne, and the Archbishop, being guardian of the Countess von Sayn, sent Father Ambrose to the castle of his ancestor to look after the affairs of Sayn, both religious and material. Under his gentle rule the great wealth of his House increased, although he, the cause of prosperity, had no share in the riches he produced, for, as has been written of the Benedictines:
"It was as teachers of ... scientific agriculture, as drainers of fens and morasses, as clearers of forests, as makers of roads, as tillers of the reclaimed soil, as architects of durable and even stately buildings, as exhibiting a visible type of orderly government, as establishing the superiority of peace over war as the normal condition of life, as students in the library which the rule set up in every monastery, as the masters in schools open not merely to their own postulants but to the children of secular families also, that they won their high place in history as benefactors of mankind."
* * * * *
"Oh, Father Ambrose," cried the girl, when at last he entered her presence, "I watched your approach from afar off. You walked with halting step, and shoulders increasingly bowed. You are wearing yourself out in my service, and that I cannot permit. You return this evening a tired man."
"Not physically tired," replied the monk, with a smile. "My head is bowed with meditation and prayer, rather than with fatigue. Indeed, it is others who do the harassing manual labor, while I simply direct and instruct. Sometimes I think I am an encumberer in the vineyard, lazily using brain instead of hand."
"Nonsense!" cried the girl, "the vineyard would be but a barren plantation without you; and speaking of it reminds me that I have poured out, with my own hand, a tankard of the choicest, oldest wine in our cellars, which I allow no one but yourself to taste. Sit down, I beg of you, and drink."
The wise old man smiled, wondering what innocent trap was being set for him. He raised the tankard to his lips, but merely indulged in one sip of the delectable beverage. Then he seated himself, and looked at the girl, still smiling. She went on speaking rapidly, a delicate flush warming her fair cheeks.
"Father, you are the most patient and indefatigable of agriculturists, sparing neither yourself nor others, but there is danger that you grow bucolic through overlong absence from the great affairs of this world."
"What can be greater, my child, than increasing the productiveness of the land; than training men to supply all their needs from the fruitful earth?"
"True, true," admitted the girl, her eyes sparkling with eagerness, "but to persist overlong even in well-doing becomes ultimately tedious. If the laborer is worthy of his hire, so, too, is the master. You should take a change, and as I know your fondness for travel, I have planned a journey for you."
The old man permitted himself another sip of the wine.
"Where?" he asked.
"Oh, an easy journey; no farther than the royal city of Frankfort, there to wander among the scenes of your youth, and become interested for a time in the activities of your fellow-men. You have so long consorted with those inferior to you in intellect and learning that a meeting with your equals--though I doubt if there are any such even in Frankfort--must prove as refreshing to your mind as that old wine would to your body, did you but obey me and drink it."
Father Ambrose slowly shook his head.
"From what I hear of Frankfort," he said, "it is anything but an inspiring town. In my day it was indeed a place of cheer, learning, and prosperity, but now it is a city of desolation."
"The rumors we hear, Father, may be exaggerated; and even if the city itself be doleful, which I doubt, there is sure to be light and gayety in the precincts of the Court and in the homes of the nobility."
"What have I to do with Court or palaces? My duty lies here."
"It may be," cried the girl archly, "that some part of your duty lies there. If Frankfort is indeed in bad case, your sage advice might be of the greatest benefit. Prosperity seems to follow your footsteps, and, besides, you were once a chaplain in the Court, and surely you have not lost all interest in your former charge?"
Again that quiet, engaging smile lit up the monk's emaciated features, and then he asked a question with that honest directness which sometimes embarrassed those he addressed:
"Daughter Hildegunde, what is it you want?"
"Well," said the girl, sitting very upright in her chair, "I confess to loneliness. The sameness of life in this castle oppresses me, and in its continuous dullness I grow old before my time. I wish to enjoy a month or two in Frankfort, and, as doubtless you have guessed, I send you forth as my ambassador to spy out the land."
"In such case, daughter, you should present your petition to that Prince of the Church, the Archbishop of Cologne, who is your guardian."
"No, no, no, no!" cried the girl emphatically; "you are putting the grapes into the barrel instead of into the vat. Before I trouble the worthy Archbishop with my request, I must learn whether it is practicable or not. If the city is indeed in a state of turbulence, of course I shall not think of going thither. It is this I wish to discover, but if you are afraid." She shrugged her shoulders and spread out her hands.
And now the old monk came as near to laughing as he ever did.
"Clever, Hildegunde, but unnecessary. You cannot spur me to action by slighting the well-known valor of our race. I will go where and when you command me, and report to you faithfully what I see and hear. Should the time seem favorable for you to visit Frankfort, and if your guardian consents, I shall raise not even one objection."
"Oh, dear Father, I do not lay this as a command upon you."
"No; a request is quite sufficient. To-morrow morning I shall set out."
"Along the Rhine?" queried the girl, so eagerly that the old man's eyes twinkled at the celerity with which she accepted his proposition.
"I think it safer," he said, "to journey inland over the hills. The robbers on the Rhine have been so long bereft of the natural prey that one or other of them may forget I am Father Ambrose, a poor monk, remembering me only as Henry of the rich House of Sayn, and therefore hold me for ransom. I would not willingly be a cause of strife, so I shall go by way of Limburg on the Lahn, and there visit my old friend the Bishop, and enjoy once more a sight of the ancient Cathedral on the cliff by the river."
When the young Countess awoke next morning, and reviewed in her mind the chief event of the preceding day, remembering the reluctance of Father Ambrose to undertake the quest she had outlined without the consent of his overlord the Archbishop, a feeling of compunction swept over her. She berated her own selfishness, resolving to send her petition to her guardian, the Archbishop, and abide by his decision.
When breakfast was finished, she asked her lady-in-waiting to request the presence of Father Ambrose, but instead of the monk came disturbing news.
"The seneschal says that Father Ambrose left the Castle at daybreak this morning, taking with him frugal rations for a three days' journey."
"In which direction did he go?" asked the lady of Sayn.
"He went on horseback up the valley, after making inquiries about the route to Limburg on the Lahn."
"Ah!" said the Countess. "He spoke yesterday of taking such a journey, but I did not think he would leave so early."
This was the beginning of great anxiety for the young lady of the Castle. She knew at once that pursuit was useless, for daybreak comes early in summer, and already the good Father had been five hours on his way--a way that he was certain to lose many times before he reached the capital city. An ordinary messenger might have been overtaken, but the meditative Father would go whither his horse carried him, and when he awoke from his thoughts and his prayers, would make inquiries, and so proceed. A day or two later came a message that he had achieved the hospitality of Limburg's bishop, but after that arrived no further word.
Nearly two weeks had elapsed when, from the opposite direction, Hildegunde received a communication which added to her already painful apprehension. It was a letter from her guardian in Cologne, giving warning that within a week he would call at her Castle of Sayn.
"Matters of great import to you and me," concluded the Archbishop, "are toward. You will be called upon to meet formally my two colleagues of Mayence and Treves, at the latter's strong Castle of Stolzenfels, above Coblentz. From the moment we enter that palace-fortress, I shall, temporarily, at least, cease to be your guardian, and become merely one of your three overlords. But however frowningly I may sit in the throne of an Elector, believe me I shall always be your friend. Tell Father Ambrose I wish to consult with him the moment I arrive at your castle, and that he must not absent himself therefrom on any pretext until he has seen me."
Here was trouble indeed, with Father Ambrose as completely disappeared as if the dragons of the Taunus had swallowed him. Never before on his journeys had he failed to communicate with her, even when his travels were taken on account of the Archbishop, and not, as in this case, on her own. She experienced the darkest forebodings from this incredible silence. Imagine, then, her relief, when exactly two weeks from the day he had left Schloss Sayn, she saw him coming down the valley. As when she last beheld him, he traveled on foot, leading his horse, that had gone lame.
Throwing etiquette to the wind, she flew down the stairway, and ran to meet her thrice-welcome friend.
She realized with grief that he was haggard, and the smile he called up to greet her was wan and pitiful.
"Oh, Father, Father!" she cried, "what has happened to you? I have been nearly distraught with doubt and fear, hearing nothing of you since your message from Limburg."
"I was made a prisoner," said the old man quietly, "and allowed to communicate with no one outside my cell. 'Tis a long and sad story, and, worse than all one that bodes ill for the Empire. I should have arrived earlier in the day, but my poor, patient beast has fallen lame."
"Yes!" said the girl indignantly, "and you spare him instead of yourself!"
The monk laid his left hand affectionately on her shoulder.
"You would have done the same, my dear," he said, and she looked up at him with a sweet smile. They were kin, and if she censured any quality in him, the comment carried something of self-reproach.
A servitor took away the lame horse; another waited on Father Ambrose in his small room, which was simple as that of a monastery cell, and as meagerly furnished. After a slight refection, Father Ambrose received peremptory command to rest for three full hours, the lady of the Castle saying it was impossible for her to receive him until that time had elapsed. The order was welcome to the tired monk, although he knew how impatient Hildegunde must be to unpack his budget of news, and he fell asleep even as he gave instructions that he should be awakened at nine.
Descending at that time, the supper hour of the Castle, he found a dainty meal awaiting him, flanked by a flagon of that rare wine which he sipped so sparingly.
"I lodged with my brethren in their small and quiet monastery on the opposite side of the Main from Frankfort, in that suburb of the workingmen which is called Sachsenhausen. Even if my eyes had not seen the desolation of the city, with the summer grass growing in many of its streets, the description given of its condition by my brethren would have been saddening enough to hear. All authority seems at an end. The nobles have fled to their country estates, for defense in the city is impossible should once a universal riot break out, and thinking men look for an insurrection when continued hunger has worn down the patience of the people. Up to the present sporadic outbreaks have been cruelly suppressed, starving men falling mutilated before the sword-cuts of the soldiers; but now disaffection has penetrated the ranks of the Army itself, through short rations and deferred pay, and when the people learn that the military are more like to join them than oppose, destruction will fall upon Frankfort. The Emperor sits alone in drunken stupor, and it is said cannot last much longer, he who has lasted too long already; while the Empress is as much a recluse as a nun in a convent."
"But the young Prince?" interrupted the Countess. "What of him? Is there no hope if he comes to the throne?"
"Ah!" cried the monk, with a long-drawn sigh, dolefully shaking his head.
"But, Father Ambrose, you knew him as a lad, almost as a young man. I have heard you speak highly of his promise."
"He denied me; denied his own identity; threatened my life with his sword, and finally flung me into the most loathsome dungeon in all Frankfort!"
The girl uttered an ejaculation of dismay. If so harsh an estimate of the heir-presumptive came from so mild and gentle a critic as Father Ambrose, then surely was this young man lower in the grade of humanity than even his bestial father.
"And yet," said the girl to herself, "what else was to be expected? Go on," she murmured; "tell me from the beginning."
"One evening, crossing the old bridge from Frankfort to Sachsenhausen, I saw approach me a swaggering figure that seemed familiar, and as he drew nearer I recognized Prince Roland, son of the Emperor, despite the fact that he held his cloak over the lower part of his face, as if, in the gathering dusk, to avoid recognition.
"'Your Highness!' I cried in surprise. On the instant his sword was out, and as the cloak fell from his face, displaying lips which took on a sinister firmness, I saw that I was not mistaken in so accosting him. He threw a quick glance from side to side, but the bridge, like the silent streets, was deserted. We stood alone, beside the iron Cross, and there under the Figure of Christ he denied me, with the sharp point of his sword against my breast.
"'Why do you dare address me by such a title?'
"'You are Prince Roland, son of the Emperor.'
"The sword-point pressed more sharply.
"'You lie!' he cried, 'and if you reiterate that falsehood, you will pay the penalty instantly with your life, despite your monkish cowl. I am nobody. I have no father.'
"'May I ask, then, sir, who you are?'
"'You may ask, but there is no reason for me to answer. Nevertheless, to satisfy your impertinent curiosity, I inform you that I am an ironworker, a maker of swords, and if you desire a taste of my handiwork, you have but to persist in your questioning. I lodge in the laboring quarter of Sachsenhausen, and am now on my way into Frankfort, which surely I have the right to enter free from any inquiry unauthorized by the law.'
"'In that case I beg your pardon,' said I. 'The likeness is very striking. I had once the honor to be chaplain at Court, where frequently I saw the young Prince in company with that noble lady, noble in every sense of the word, his mother, the Empress.
"I watched the young man narrowly as I said this, and despite his self-control, he winced perceptibly, and I thought I saw a gleam of recognition in his eyes. He thrust the sword back into its scabbard, and said with a light laugh:
"''Tis I that should beg your pardon for my haste and roughness. I assure you I honor the cloth you wear, and would not willingly offer it violence. We are all liable to make mistakes at times. I freely forgive yours and trust you will extend a like leniency to mine.'
"With that he doffed his hat, and left me standing there."
"Surely," said the Countess, deeply interested in the recital, "so far as speech was concerned he made amends?"
"Yes, my daughter; such speech never came from the lips of an ironworker."
"You are convinced he was the Prince?"
"Never for one instant did I doubt it."
"Be that as it may, Father Ambrose, why should not the young man walk the streets of his own capital city, and even explore the laborers' quarter of Sachsenhausen, if he finds it interesting to do so? Is it not his right to wear a sword, and go where he lists; and is it such a very heinous thing that, being accosted by a stranger, he should refuse to make the admission demanded? You took him, as one might say, unaware."
The monk bowed his head, but did not waste time in offering any defense of his action.
"I followed him," he went on, "through the narrow and tortuous streets of Frankfort, an easy adventure, because darkness had set in, but even in daylight my course would have been safe enough, for never once did he look over his shoulder, or betray any of that suspicion characteristic of our laboring classes."
"I think that tells in his favor," persisted the girl.
"He came to the steps of the Rheingold, a disreputable drinking cellar, and disappeared from my sight down its steps. A great shout greeted him, and the rattle of tankards on a table, as he joined what was evidently his coterie. Standing outside, I heard song and ribaldry within. The heir-presumptive to the throne of the Empire was too obviously a drunken brawler; a friend and comrade of the lowest scum in Frankfort.
"After a short time he emerged alone, and once more I followed him. He went with the directness of a purposeful man to the Fahrgasse, the street of the rich merchants, knocked at a door, and was admitted. Along the first-floor front were three lighted windows, and I saw his form pass the first two of these, but from my station in the street could not witness what was going on within. Looking about me, I found to my right a narrow alley, occupied by an outside stairway. This I mounted, and from its topmost step I beheld the interior of the large room on the opposite side of the way.
"It appeared to me that Prince Roland had been expected, for the elderly man seated at the table, his calm face toward me, showed no surprise at the Prince's entrance. His Highness sat with his back towards me, and for a time it seemed that nothing was going forward but an amiable conversation. Suddenly the Prince rose, threw off his cloak, whisked out his sword, and presented its point at the throat of the merchant.
"It was clear, from the expression of dismay on the merchant's face, that this move on the part of his guest was entirely unexpected, but its object was speedily manifested. The old man, with trembling hand, pushed across the table to his assailant a well-filled bag, which the Prince at once untied. Pouring out a heap of yellow gold, he began with great deliberation to count the money, which, when you consider his precarious situation, showed the young man to be old in crime. Some portion of the gold he returned to the merchant; the rest he dropped into an empty bag, which he tied to his belt.
"I did not wait to see anything more, but came down to the foot of the stairs, that I might learn if Roland took his money to his dissolute comrades. He came out, and once more I followed him, and once more he led me to the Rheingold cellar. On this occasion, however, I took step by step with him until we entered the large wineroom at the foot of the stairs, he less than an arm's length in front of me, still under the illusion that he was alone. Prince though he was, I determined to expostulate with him, and if possible persuade a restitution of the gold.
"'Your Highness!' I began, touching him lightly on the shoulder.
"Instantly he turned upon me with a savage oath, grasped me by the throat, and forced me backward against the cellar wall.
"'You spying sneak!' he cried. 'In spite of my warning you have been hounding my footsteps!'
"The moment I attempted to reply, he throttled me so as to choke every effort at utterance. There now approached us, with alarm in his wine-colored face, a gross, corpulent man, whom the Prince addressed as proprietor of the place, which doubtless he was.
"'Landlord,' said Roland very quietly, 'this unfortunate monk is weak in the head, and although he means no harm with his meddling, he may well cause disaster to my comrades and myself. Earlier in the evening he accosted on the bridge, but I spared him, hoping never to see his monkish costume again. You may judge the state of his mind when I tell you he accuses me of being the Emperor's son, and Heaven only knows what he would estimate to be the quality of my comrades were he to see them.'
"Two or three times I attempted to speak, but the closing of his fingers upon my throat prevented me, and even when they were slightly relaxed I was scarcely able to breathe."
The Countess listened with the closest attention, fixing upon the narrator her splendid eyes, and in them, despite their feminine beauty and softness, seemed to smoulder a deep fire of resentment at the treatment accorded her kinsman, a luminant of danger transmitted to her down the ages from ancestors equally ready to fight for the Sepulcher in Palestine or for the gold on the borders of the Rhine. In the pause, during which the monk wiped from his wrinkled brow the moisture brought there by remembrance of the indignity he had undergone, kindliness in the eyes of the Countess overcame their menace, and she said gently:
"I am quite confident, Father, that such a ruffian could not be Prince Roland. He was indeed the rude mechanic he proclaimed himself. No man of noble blood would have acted thus."
"Listen, my child, listen," resumed Father Ambrose. "Turning to the landlord, the Prince asked:
"'Is there a safe and vacant room in your establishment where I could bestow this meddlesome priest for a few days?'
"'There is a wine vault underneath this drinking cellar,' responded the landlord.
"'Does anyone enter that vault except yourself?'
"'Will you undertake charge of the priest, seeing that he communicates with none outside?'
"'Of a surety, Captain,'
"'Good. I will pay you well, and that in advance.'"
"This ruffian was never the Prince," interrupted the Countess firmly.
"I beg you to listen, Hildegunde, and my next sentence will convince you. The Prince continued:
"'Not only prevent his communication with others, but do not listen to him yourself. He will endeavor to persuade you that his name is Father Ambrose, and that he is a monk in good standing with the Benedictine Order. If he finds you care little for that, he may indeed pretend he is of noble origin himself; that he is Henry von Sayn, and thus endeavor to work on whatever sympathy you may feel for the aristocrats. But I assure you he is no more a Sayn than I am Prince Roland,'
"'Indeed, Captain,' replied the host, 'I have as little liking for an aristocrat as for a monk, so you may depend that I will keep him safe enough until you order his release.'
"Now, my dear Hildegunde, you see there was no mistake on my part. This young man asserted he knew nothing of me, and indeed, I believed he had forgotten the time of my chaplaincy at the Court, often as he listened to my discourses, yet all the time he knew me, and now, with an effrontery that seems incredible, he showed no hesitation in proving me right when I accosted him as son of the Emperor. I must in justice, however, admit that he instructed the landlord when he paid him, to treat me with gentleness, and to see that I had plenty to eat and drink. When three days had expired, I was to be allowed my liberty.
"'He can do no harm then,' concluded the Prince, in his talk with the landlord, 'for by that time I shall have succeeded or failed.'
"I was led down a narrow, broken stairway by the proprietor, and thrust into a dark and damp cellar, partially filled with casks of wine, and there I remained until set at liberty a few days ago.
"I returned at once to the Benedictine Monastery where I had lodged, expecting to find my brethren filled with anxiety concerning me, but such was not the case. Any one man is little missed in this world, and my comrades supposed that I was invited to the Court, and had forgotten them as I saw they had forgotten me, so I said nothing of my adventure, but mounted my waiting horse and journeyed back to the Castle of Sayn."
For a long time there was silence between the two, then the younger spoke.
"Do you intend to take any action regarding your unauthorized imprisonment?"
"Oh, no," replied the forgiving monk.
"Is it certain that this dissolute young man will be chosen Emperor?"
"There is a likelihood, but not a certainty."
"Would not the election of such a person to the highest position in the State prove even a greater misfortune to the land than the continuance of the present regime, for this young man adds to his father's vice of drunkenness the evil qualities, of dishonesty, cruelty, ribaldry, and a lack of respect for the privileges both of Church and nobility?"
"Such indeed is my opinion, daughter."
"Then is it not your duty at once to acquaint the three Archbishops with what you have already told me, so that the disaster of his election may be avoided?"
"It is a matter to which I gave deep thought during my journey thither, and I also invoked the aid of Heaven in guiding me to a just conclusion."
"And that conclusion, Father?"
"Is to say nothing whatever about my experiences in Frankfort."
"Because it is not given to a humble man like myself, occupying a position of no authority, to fathom what may be in the minds of those great Princes of the Church, the Archbishops. In effect they rule the country, and it is possible that they prefer to place on the throne a drunken nonentity who will offer no impediment to their ambitions, rather than to elect a moral young man who might in time prove too strong for them."
"I am sure no such motive would actuate the Archbishop of Cologne."
"His Lordship of Cologne, my child, dare not break with their Lordships of Treves and Mayence, so you may be sure that if these two wish to elect Prince Roland Emperor, nothing I could say to the Archbishop of Cologne would prevent that choice."
"Oh, I had forgotten, in the excitement of listening to your adventures, but talking of the Archbishop reminds me his Highness of Cologne will visit us to-morrow, and he especially wishes to see you. You may imagine my anxiety when I received his message a few days ago, knowing nothing of your whereabouts."
"Wishes to see me?" ejaculated Father Ambrose, wrinkling a perplexed brow. "I wonder what for. Can he have any knowledge of my visit to Frankfort?"
"How could he?"
"The Archbishops possess sources of enlightenment that we wot not of. If he charges me with being absent from my post, I must admit the fact."
"Of course. Let me confess to him as soon as he arrives; your journey was entirely due to my persistence. I alone am to blame."
The old man slowly shook his head.
"I am at least equally culpable," he said. "I shall answer truthfully any question asked me, but I hope I am not in the wrong if I volunteer no information."
The girl rose.
"You could do no wrong, Father, even if you tried; and now good-night. Sleep soundly and fear nothing. On the rare occasions when the good Archbishop was angry with me, I have always managed to placate him, and I shall not fail in this instance."
Father Ambrose bade her good-night, and left the room with the languid air of one thoroughly tired. As the young Countess stood there watching his retreat and disappearance, her dainty little fist clenched, and her eyebrows came together, bringing to her handsome face the determined expression which marked the countenances of some of her Crusader ancestors whose portraits decorated the walls.
"If ever I get that ruffian Prince Roland into my power," she said to herself, "I will make him regret his treatment of so tolerant and forbearing a man as Father Ambrose."