The Sword Maker by Robert Barr
V. The Countess von Sayn and the Archbishop of Cologne
It was high noon when that great Prince of the Church, the Archbishop of Cologne, arrived at Castle Sayn, with a very inconsiderable following, which seemed to indicate that he traveled on no affair of State, for on such occasions he led a small army. The lovely young Countess awaited him at the top of the Castle steps, and he greeted her with the courtesy of a polished man of the world, rather than with the more austere consideration of a great Churchman. Indeed, it seemed to the quick apprehension of the girl that as he raised her fair hand to his lips his obeisance was lower, more deferential, than their differing stations in life justified.
He shook hands with Father Ambrose in the manner of old friend accosting old friend, and nothing in his salutation indicated displeasure of any sort in the background.
Perhaps, then, that sense of uneasiness felt by both the aged Father Ambrose and the youthful Countess Hildegunde in the Archbishop's presence came from their consciousness of conspiracy, resulting in the ill-fated journey to Frankfort. Nevertheless, all that afternoon the two were oppressed by the shadow of some impending danger, and the good spirits of the Archbishop seemed to them assumed for the occasion, and indeed in this they were not far wrong. His Lordship of Cologne was keenly apprehensive regarding an important conference set down for the next day, and the exuberance of an essentially serious man in such a crisis is prone to be overdone.
Father Ambrose, who, in the midst of luxury and plenty, lived with the abstemiousness of an anchorite, and always partook of his scant refreshment alone in his cell, was invited by the Archbishop to a seat at the table in the dining-hall.
"So long as you cast no look of reproach upon me for my enjoyment of Sayn's most excellent cuisine, and my appreciation of its unequaled cellar, I shall not comment on your dinner of parched peas and your unexhilarating tankard of water. Besides, I wish to consult with Ambrose the librarian of Sayn, touching the archives of this house, rather than with Ambrose the superintendent of farms, or Father Ambrose the monk."
During the midday meal the Archbishop led, and at times monopolized, the conversation.
"While you were under the tutelage of the good Sisters at Nonnenwerth Convent, Hildegunde, the Abbess frequently spoke of your proficiency in historical studies. Did you ever turn your attention to the annals of your own House?"
"No, Guardian. From what I heard casually of my ancestors a record of their doings would be scarcely the sort of reading recommended to a young girl."
"Ah, very true, very true," agreed the Archbishop. "Some of the Counts of Sayn led turbulent lives, and except with a battle-ax it was difficult to persuade them not to meddle with the goods and chattels of their neighbors. A strenuous line they proved in those olden days; but many noble women have adorned the Castle of Sayn whose lives shine out like an inspiration against the dark background of medieval tumult. Did you ever hear of your forebear, the gracious Countess Matilda von Sayn, who lived some hundreds of years ago? Indeed, the letters I have been reading, written in her quaint handwriting, are dated about the middle of the thirteenth century. I cannot learn whether she was older or younger than the Archbishop of Cologne of that period, and thus I wish to enlist the interest of Father Ambrose in searching the archives of Sayn for anything pertaining to her. The Countess sent many epistles to the Archbishop which he carefully preserved, while documents of much more importance to the Archbishopric were allowed to go astray.
"Her letters breathe a deep devotion to the Church, and a warm kindliness to its chief ornament of that day, the then Archbishop of Cologne. She was evidently his most cherished adviser, and in points of difficulty her counsel exhibits all the clarity of a man's brain, to which is added a tenderness and a sense of justice entirely womanly. I could not help fancying that this great prelate's success in his Archbishopric was largely due to the disinterested advice of this noble woman. It is clearly to be seen that the Countess was the benignant power behind the throne, and she watched his continued advancement with a love resembling that lavished on a favorite son. Her writings now and then betray an affection of a quality so motherly that I came to believe she was much older than the great Churchman, but then there is the fact that she long outlived him, so it is possible she may have been the younger."
"Why, my Lord, are you about to weave us a romance?"
The Archbishop smiled, and for a moment placed his hand upon hers, which rested on the table beside him.
"A romance, perhaps, between myself and the Countess of long ago, for as I read these letters I used much of their contents for my own guidance, and found her precepts as wise to-day as they were in 1250, and to me ... to me," the Archbishop sighed, "she seems to live again. Yes, I confess my ardent regard for her, and if you call that romance, it is surely of a very innocent nature."
"But the other Archbishop? Your predecessor, the friend of Matilda; what of him?"
"There, Hildegunde, I have much less evidence to go upon, for his letters, if they exist, are concealed somewhere in the archives of Sayn Castle."
"To-morrow," cried the girl, "I shall robe myself in the oldest garments I possess, and will rummage those dusty archives until I find the letters of him who was Archbishop in 1250."
"I have bestowed that task upon one less impulsive. Father Ambrose is the searcher, and he and I will put our wise old heads together in consultation over them before entrusting them to the perusal of that impetuous young noblewoman, the present Countess von Sayn."
The impetuous person referred to brought down her hand with a peremptory impact upon the table, and exclaimed emphatically:
"My Lord Archbishop, I shall read those letters to-morrow."
Once more the Archbishop placed his hand on hers, this time, however, clasping it firmly in his own. There was no smile on his face as he said gravely:
"My lady, to-morrow you will face three living Archbishops, more difficult, perhaps, to deal with than one who is dust."
"Three!" she cried, startled, a gleam of apprehension troubling her fine eyes. "My Lords of Mayence, Treves, and yourself? Are they coming here?"
"The conclave of the Archbishops will be held at Castle Stolzenfels, the Rhine residence of my brother of Treves."
"Why is this Court convened?"
"That will be explained to you, Hildegunde, by his Highness of Mayence. I did not intend to speak to you about this until later, so I will merely say that there is nothing to fear. I, being your guardian, am sent to escort you to Stolzenfels, and as we ride there together I wish to place before you some suggestions which you may find useful when the meeting takes place."
"I shall faithfully follow any advice you give me, my Lord."
"I am sure of it, Hildegunde, and you will remember that I speak as guardian, not as Councilor of State. My observations will be requests and not commands. You see, we have reversed the positions of my predecessor and the Countess Matilda. It was always she who tendered advice, which he invariably accepted. Now I must take the role of advice-giver; thus you and I transpose the parts of the former Archbishop of Cologne, and the former Countess of Sayn, who, I am sorry to note, have been completely banished from your thoughts by my premature announcement regarding the three living Archbishops."
"Oh, not at all, not at all! I am still thinking of those two. Have you told me all you know about them?"
"Far from it. Although I was handicapped in my reconstitution of their friendship by lack of the Archbishop's letters, he had nevertheless made a note here and there upon the communications he received from the Countess. Throughout the letters certain paragraphs are marked with a cross, as if for reperusal, these paragraphs being invariably most delicately and charmingly written. But now I come to the last very important document, the only one of which a copy has been kept, written in the Archbishop's own hand.
"In the year 1250, the Countess von Sayn had ceded to him the Rhine town of Linz. Linz seems to have been a rebellious and troublesome fief, which the Sayns held by force of arms. When it came into the possession of the Archbishop, the foolish inhabitants, remembering that Cologne was a long distance down the river compared with the up-river journey to Sayn, broke out into open revolt. The Archbishop sent up his army, and most effectually crushed this outbreak, severely punishing the rebels. He returned from this subdued town to his own city of Cologne, and whether from the exposure of the brief campaign, or some other cause, he was taken ill and shortly after died.
"The new Archbishop was installed, and nearly two years passed, so far as I can learn, before the Countess Matilda made claim that the town of Linz should come again within her jurisdiction, saying that this restitution had been promised by the late Archbishop. His successor, however, disputed this claim. He possessed, he said, the deed of gift making over the town of Linz to his predecessor, and this document was definite enough. If then, it was the intention of the late Archbishop to return Linz to the House of Sayn, the Countess doubtless held some document to that effect, and in this case he would like to know its purport.
"The Countess replied that an understanding had existed between the late Archbishop and herself regarding the subjugation of the town of Linz and its return to her after the rebellion was quelled. But for the untimely death of the late Archbishop she did not doubt that his part of the contract would have been kept long since. Nevertheless, she did possess a document, in the late Archbishop's own hand, setting out the terms of their agreement, and of this manuscript she sent a copy.
"The crafty Archbishop, without casting doubt on the authenticity of the copy, said that of course it would be illegal for him to act upon it. He must have the original document. Matilda replied, very shrewdly, that on her part she could not allow the original document to quit her custody, as upon it rested her rights to the town of Linz. She would, however, exhibit this document to any ecclesiastical committee her correspondent might appoint, and the members of the committee so chosen should be men well acquainted with the late Archbishop's writing and signature. In reply the Archbishop regretted that he could not accept her suggestion. The people of Cologne, believing that their overlord had rightfully acquired Linz, cheerfully consented to make good their title by battle, thus having, as it were, bought the town with their blood, and indeed, a deplorable sacrifice of life, it would become a dangerous venture to give up the town unless indisputable documentary evidence might be exhibited to them showing that such a bargain was made by the deceased prelate.
"But before proceeding farther in this matter, he asked the Countess if she were prepared to swear that the copy forwarded to him was a full and faithful rendition of the original. Did it contain every word the late Archbishop had written in that letter?
"To this the Countess made no reply, and allowed to lapse any title she might have to the town of Linz."
"I think," cried the girl indignantly, "that my ancestress was in the right, refusing further communication with this ignoble Churchman who dared to impugn her good faith."
The Archbishop smiled at her vehemence.
"I shall make no attempt to defend my astute predecessor. A money-lender's soul tenanted his austere body, but what would you say if his implication of the Countess Matilda's good faith was justified?"
"You mean that the copy which she sent of the Archbishop's letter was fraudulent? I cannot believe it."
"Not fraudulent. So far as it went her copy was word perfect. She neglected to add, however, a final sentence, and rather than make it public forfeited her rightful claim to great possessions. Of the Archbishop's communications to her there remains in our archives a copy of this last epistle written in his own hand. I cannot imagine why he added the final clauses to what was in essence an important business communication. The premonition he admits may have set his thoughts upon things not of this world, but undoubtedly he believed that he would live long enough to conquer the rebels of Linz, and restore to the Countess her property. This is what he wrote, and she refused to publish:
"'Matilda, I feel that my days are numbered, and that their number is scant. To all the world my life seems to have been successful beyond the wishes of mortal man, but to me it is a dismal failure, in that I die bachelor Archbishop of Cologne, and you are the spinster Countess von Sayn.'"