The Sword Maker by Robert Barr
VII. Mutiny in the Wilderness
It was a lovely morning in July when Prince Roland walked into the shadow of the handsome tower which to-day is all that survives of the Elector's palace at Hochst, on the river Main. He found Greusel there awaiting him, but none of the others. When the two had greeted one another, the Prince said:
"Joseph, I determined several days ago to appoint you my lieutenant on this expedition."
"If you take my advice, Roland, you will do nothing of the kind."
"Because it may be looked upon as favoritism, and so promote jealously in the ranks, which is a thing to avoid."
"Whom would you suggest for the place?"
"What! and run the risk of divided authority? I am determined to be commander, you know."
"Kurzbold, even if made lieutenant, would be as much under your orders as the rest of us. He is an energetic man, and you may thus direct his energy along the right path. From being a critic, he will become one of the criticised, giving him something to think about. Then your appointment of him would show that you bear no ill-feeling for what he said last night."
"You appear to think, Greusel, that it is the duty of a commander to curry favor with his following."
"No; but I regard tact as a useful quality. You see, you are not in the position of a general with an army. The members of the guild can depose you whenever they like and elect a successor, or they may desert you in a body, and you have no redress. Your methods should not be drastic, but rather those of a man who seeks election to some high office."
"I fear I am not constituted for such a role, Greusel."
"If you are to succeed in the task you have undertaken, Roland, you must adapt yourself to your situation as it actually is, and not as you would wish to have it. I stood by you yesterday evening, and succeeded in influencing the others to do the same, yet there is no denying that you spoke to those men in a most overbearing manner. Why, you could not have been more downright had you been an officer of the Emperor himself. What passed through my mind as I listened was, 'Where did this youth get his swagger?? You ordered Kurzbold out of the ranks, you know."
"Then why favor my action?"
"Because I was reluctant to see a promising marauding adventure wrecked at the very outset for lack of a few soothing words."
Roland laughed heartily. The morning was inspiring, and he was in good fettle.
"Your words to Kurzbold were anything but soothing."
"Oh, I was compelled to crush him. He was the cause of the disturbance, and therefore I had no mercy so far as the affair impinged upon him. But the others, with the exception of Gensbein perhaps, are good, honest, sweet-tempered fellows, whom I did not wish to see misled. I think you must put out of your mind all thought of punishment, no matter what the offense against your authority may be."
"Then how would you deal with insubordination when it arises?"
"I should trust to the good sense of the remaining members of your company to make it uncomfortable for the offender."
"But suppose they don't?"
Greusel shrugged his shoulders.
"In that case you are helpless, I fear. At any rate, talking of hanging, or the infliction of any other punishment, is quite futile so long as you do not possess the power to carry out your sentence. To return to my simile of the general: a general can order any private in his army to be hanged, and the man is taken out and hanged accordingly, but if one of the guild is to be executed, he must be condemned by an overwhelming vote of his fellows, because even if a bare majority sentenced one belonging to the minority it would mean civil war among us. Suppose, for example, it was proposed to hang you, and eleven voted for the execution and nine against it. Do you think we nine would submit to the verdict of the eleven? Not so. I am myself the most peaceful of men, but the moment it came to that point, I should run my sword through the proposer of the execution before he had time to draw his weapon. In other words, I'd murder him to lessen the odds, and then we'd fight it out like men."
"Why didn't you say all this last night, Greusel?"
"Last night my whole attention was concentrated on inducing Kurzbold to forget that you had threatened the company with a hangman's rope. Had he remembered that, I could never have carried the vote of confidence. But you surely saw that the other men were most anxious to support you if your case was placed fairly before them, a matter which, for some reason, you thought it beneath your dignity to attempt."
"My dear Joseph, your wholesale censure this morning does much to nullify the vote I received last night."
"My dear Roland, I am not censuring you at all; I am merely endeavoring to place facts before you so that you will recognize them."
"Quite so, but what I complain of is that these facts were not exhibited in time for me to shoulder or shirk the responsibility. I do not believe that military operations can be successfully carried on by a little family party, the head of which must coddle the others in the group, and beg pardon before he says 'Devil take you!' I would not have accepted the leadership last night had I known the conditions."
"Well, it is not yet too late to recede. The barge does not leave Frankfort until this evening, and it is but two leagues back to that city. Within half an hour at the farthest, every man of us will be assembled here. Now is the time to have it out with them, because to-morrow morning the opportunity to withdraw will be gone."
"It is too late even now, Greusel. If last night the guild could not make up the money we owe to Goebel, what hope is there that a single coin remains in their pockets this morning? Do I understand, then, that you refuse to act as my lieutenant?"
"No; but I warn you it will be a step in the wrong direction. You are quite sure of me; and as merely a man-at-arms, as you called us last night, I shall be in a better position to speak in your favor than if I were indebted to you for promotion from the ranks."
"I see. Therefore you counsel me to nominate Kurzbold?"
"Why not Gensbein, who was nearly as mutinous as Kurzbold?"
"Well, Gensbein, if you prefer him."
"He showed a well-balanced mind last night, being part of the time on one side and part on the other."
"My dear commander, we were all against you last night, when you spoke of hanging, and even when you only went as far as expulsion."
"Yes, I suppose you were, and the circumstances being such as you state, doubtless you were justified. I am to command, then, a regiment that may obey or not, according to the whim of the moment; a cheering prospect, and one I had not anticipated. When I received the promise of twenty men that they would carry out faithfully whatever I undertook on their behalf, I expected them to stand by it."
"I think you are unjust, Roland. No one has refused, and probably no one will. If any one disobeys a command, then you can act as seems best to you, but I wish you fully to realize the weakness of your status should it come to drastic punishment."
"Quite so, quite so," said Roland curtly. He clasped his hands behind his back, and without further words paced up and down along the bank of the river, head bowed in thought.
Ebearhard was the next arrival, and he greeted Greusel cordially, then one after another various members of the company came upon the scene. To the new-comers Roland made no salutation, but continued his meditating walk.
At last the bell in the tower pealed forth nine slow, sonorous strokes, and Roland raised his head, ceasing his perambulations. Greusel looked anxiously at him as he came forward to the group, but his countenance gave no indication whether or not he had determined to abandon the expedition.
"Are we all here?" asked Roland.
"No," was the reply; "Kurzbold, Eiselbert, Rasselstein, and Gensbein have not arrived yet."
"Then we will wait for them a few moments longer," said the commander, with no trace of resentment at their unpunctuality, and from this Greusel assumed that he not only intended to go on, but had taken to heart the warning given him. Ebearhard and a comrade walked up the road rapidly toward Frankfort, hoping for some sign of the laggards, and Roland resumed his stroll beside the river. At last Ebearhard and his companion returned, and the former approached Roland.
"I see nothing of those four," he said. "What do you propose to do?"
"I think sixteen good men, all of a mind, will accomplish quite as much as twenty who are divided in purpose. I propose, therefore, to go on, unless you consider the missing four necessary, in which case we can do nothing but wait."
"I am in favor of going forward," said Ebearhard; then turning to the rest, who had gathered themselves around their captain, he appealed to them. All approved of immediate action.
"Do you intend to follow the river road, Captain?" asked Ebearhard.
"Yes, for two or three leagues, but after that we strike across the country."
"Very well. We can proceed leisurely along the road, and our friends may overtake us if they have any desire to do so."
"Right!" said Roland. "Then let us set out"
The seventeen walked without any company formation through the village, then, approaching a wayside tavern, they were hailed by a loud shout from the drinkers in front of it. Kurzbold was the spokesman for the party of four, which he, with his comrades, made up.
"Come here and drink success to glory," he shouted. "Where have you lads been all the morning?"
"The rendezvous," said Roland sternly, "was at the Elector's tower."
"My rendezvous wasn't. I have been here for more than an hour," said Kurzbold. "I told you last night that when I arrived at Hochst I should be thirsty, and would try to mitigate the disadvantage at a tavern."
"Yes," said Ebearhard, with a laugh, "we can all see you have succeeded in removing the disadvantage."
"Oh, you mean I'm drunk, do you? I'll fight any man who says I'm drunk. It was a tremendous thirst caused by the dryness of my throat from last night, and the dust on the Frankfort road this morning. It takes a great deal of wine to overcome two thirsts. Come along, lads, and drink to the success of the journey. No hard feeling. Landlord, set out the wine here for seventeen people, and don't forget us four in addition."
The whole company strolled in under the trees that fronted the tavern, except Roland, who stood aloof.
"Here's a salute to you, Captain," cried Kurzbold. "I drink wine with you."
"Not till we return from a successful expedition," said Roland.
"Oh, nonsense!" hiccoughed Kurzbold. "Don't think that your office places you so high above us that it is infra dig. to drink with your comrades."
To this diatribe Roland made no reply, and the sixteen, seeing the attitude of their leader, hesitated to raise flagon to lip. The diplomatic Ebearhard seized a measure of wine and approached Roland.
"Drink with us, Commander," he said aloud; and then in a whisper, "Greusel and I think you should."
"Thank you, comrade," said Roland, taking the flagon from him. "And now, brethren, I give you a toast."
"Good, good, good!" cried Kurzbold, with drunken hilarity. "Here's to the success of the expedition. That's the toast, I make no doubt, eh, Captain?"
"The sentiment is included in the toast I shall offer you. Drink to the health of Joseph Greusel, whom I have this morning appointed my lieutenant. If we all conduct ourselves as honorably and capably as he, our project is bound to prosper."
Greusel, who was seated at a table, allowed his head to sink into his hands. Here was his advice scouted, and a direct challenge flung in the face of the company. He believed now that, after all, Roland had resolved to return to Frankfort, money or no money. If he intended to proceed to the Rhine, then even worse might happen, for it was plain he was bent on rule or ruin. Instantly the challenge was accepted. Kurzbold stood up, swaying uncertainly, compelled to maintain his upright position by grasping the top of the table at which he had been seated.
"Stop there, stop there!" he cried. "No man drinks to that toast just yet. Patience, patience! all things in their order. If we claim the power to elect our captain, by the cock-crowned Cross of the old bridge we have a right to name the lieutenant! This is a question for the companionship to decide, and a usurpation on the part of Roland."
"Sit down, you fool!" shouted Ebearhard savagely. "You're drunk. The Captain couldn't have made a better selection. What say you, comrades?"
A universal shout of "Aye!" greeted the question, and even Kurzbold's three comrades joined in it.
"And now, gentlemen, no more talk. Here's to the health of the new lieutenant, Joseph Greusel."
The toast was drunk enthusiastically, all standing, with the exception of Kurzbold, who came down in his seat with a thud.
"All right!" he cried, waving his hand. "All right; all right! That's what I said. Greusel's good man, and now he's elected by the companionship, he's all right. I drink to him. Drink to anybody, I will!"
In groping round for the flagon, he upset it, and then roared loudly for the landlord to supply him again.
"Now, comrades," said Roland sharply, "fall in! We've a long march ahead of us. Come, Greusel, we must lead the van, for I wish to instruct you in your duties."
It was rather a straggling procession that set out from Hochst.
"Perhaps," began Roland, as he strode along beside Greusel, "I should make some excuse for not following the advice you so strenuously urged upon me this morning regarding the appointment of a lieutenant. The truth is I wished to teach you a lesson, and could not resist the temptation of proving that a crisis firmly and promptly met disappears, whereas if you compromise with it there is a danger of being overwhelmed."
"I admit. Commander, that you were successful just now, and the reason is that most of our brigade are sane and sober this morning. But wait until to-night, when the wine passes round several times, and if you try conclusions with them then you are likely to fail."
"But the wine won't pass round to-night."
"How can you prevent it?"
"Wait, and you will see," said Roland, with a laugh.
By this time they arrived at a fork in the road, one section going southwest and the other straight west. The left branch was infinitely the better thoroughfare, for the most part following the Main until it reached the Rhine. Roland, however, chose the right-hand road.
"I thought you were going along by the river," said his lieutenant.
"I have changed my mind," replied Roland, without further explanation.
At first Kurzbold determined to set the pace. He would show the company he was not drunk, and tax them to follow him, but, his stout legs proving unable to carry out this excellent resolution, he gradually fell to the rear. As the sun rose higher, and grew hotter, the pace began to tell on him, and he accepted without protest the support of two comrades who had been drinking with him at Hochst. He retrograded into a condition of pessimistic dejection as the enthusiasm of the wine evaporated. A little later he wished to lie down by the roadside and allow a cruel and unappreciative world to pass on its own way, but his comrades encouraged him to further efforts, and in some manner they succeeded in dragging him along at the tail of the procession.
As they approached the village of Zeilsheim, Roland requested his lieutenant to inform the marchers that there would be no halt until mittagessen.
Zeilsheim is rather more than a league from Hochst, and Kurzbold allowed himself to wake up sufficiently to maintain that the distance earned another drink, but his supporters dragged him on with difficulty past those houses which displayed a bush over the door. At the larger town of Hofheim, five leagues from Frankfort, the same command was passed down the ranks, and at this there was some grumbling, for the day had become very hot, and the way was exceedingly trying, up hill and down dale.
Well set up as these city lads were, walking had never been their accustomed exercise. The interesting Taunus mountains, which to-day constitute an exercise ground full of delights to the pedestrian, forming, as they do, practically a suburb of Frankfort, were at that time an unexplored wilderness, whose forests were infested by roving brigands, where no man ventured except at the risk of an untimely grave. The mediaeval townsman rarely trusted himself very far outside the city gates, and our enterprising marauders, whom to outward view seemed stalwart enough to stand great fatigue, proved so soft under the hot sun along the shadeless road that by the time they reached Breckenheim, barely six leagues from Frankfort, there was a mopping of brows and a general feeling that the limit of endurance had been reached.
At Breckenheim Roland called a halt for midday refreshment, and he was compelled to wait nearly half an hour until the last straggler of his woebegone crew limped from the road on to the greensward in front of the Weinstaube which had been selected for a feeding-place. Black bread and a coarse kind of country cheese were the only provisions obtainable, but of these eatables there was an ample supply, and, better than all to the jaded wayfarers, wine in abundance, of good quality, too, for Breckenheim stands little more than a league to the north of the celebrated Hochheim.
The wanderers came in by ones and twos, and sank down upon the benches before the tavern, or sprawled at full length on the short grass, where Kurzbold and his three friends dropped promptly off into sleep. A more dejected and amenable gang even Roland could not have wished to command. Every ounce of fight, or even discussion, was gone from them. They cared not where they were, or what any one said to them. Their sole desire was to be let alone, and they took not the slightest interest even in the preparing of their frugal meal. A mug of wine served to each mitigated the general depression, although Kurzbold showed how far gone he was by swearing dismally when roused even to drink the wine. He said he was resolved to lead a temperate life in future, but nevertheless managed to dispose of his allowance in one long, parched draught.
Greusel approached his chief.
"There will be some difficulty," he said, "when this meal has to be paid for. I find that the men are all practically penniless."
"Tell them they need anticipate no trouble about that," replied Roland. "I have settled the bill, and will see that they do not starve or die of thirst before we reach the Rhine."
"It is proposed," continued Greusel, "that each man should give all the money he possesses into a general fund to be dealt with by a committee the men will appoint. What do you say to this?"
"There is nothing to say. I notice that the proposal was not made until the proposers' pouches were empty."
"They know that some of us have money," Greusel went on, "myself, for instance, and they wish us to share as good comrades should--at least, that is their phrase."
"An admirable phrase, yet I don't agree with it. How much money have you, Greusel?"
"The thirty thalers are practically intact, and Ebearhard has about the same."
"Well, fifty thalers lie safe in my pouch, but not a coin goes into the treasury of any committee the men may appoint. If they choose a committee, let them finance it themselves."
"There will be some dissatisfaction at that decision, Commander."
"I dare say. Still, as you know, I am always ready to do anything conducive to good feeling, so you may inform them that you and Ebearhard and myself, that is, three of us, will contribute to the committee's funds an amount equal to that subscribed by the other eighteen. Such lavishness on our part ought to satisfy them."
"It won't, Commander, because there's not a single kreuzer among the eighteen."
"So be it. That's as far as I am willing to go. Appeal to their reasoning powers, Greusel. If each of the eighteen contributes one thaler, we three will contribute six thalers apiece. Ask them whether they do not think we are generous when we do six times more than any one of them towards providing capital for a committee."
"'Tis not willingness they lack, Commander, but ability."
"They are not logical, Joseph. They prate of comradeship, and when it comes to an exercise of power they demand equality. How, then, can they, with any sense of fairness, prove ungrateful to us when we offer to bear six times the burden they are asked to shoulder?"
The lieutenant said no more, but departed to announce the decision to the men, and either the commander's reasoning overcame all opposition, or else the company was too tired to engage in a controversy.
When the black bread and cheese were served, with a further supply of wine, all sat up and ate heartily. The banquet ended, Greusel made an announcement to the men. There would now be an hour's rest, he said, before taking to the road again. The meal and the wine had been paid for by the commander, so no one need worry on that account, but if any man wished more wine he must pay the shot himself. However, before the afternoon's march was begun flagons of wine would be served at the commander's expense. This information was received in silence, and the men stretched themselves out on the grass to make the most of their hour of rest. Roland strolled off alone to view the village. The lieutenant and Ebearhard sat together at a table, conversing in low tones.
"Well," said Ebearhard, "what do you think of it all?"
"I don't know what to think," replied Greusel. "If the Barons of the Rhine could see us, and knew that we intended to attack them, I imagine there would be a great roar of laughter."
Ebearhard emulated the Barons, and laughed. He was a cheerful person.
"I don't doubt it," he said; "and talking of prospects, what's your opinion of the Commander?"
"I am quite adrift on that score also. This morning I endeavored to give him some good advice. I asked him not to appoint me lieutenant, but to choose Kurzbold or Gensbein from among the malcontents, for I thought if responsibility were placed on their shoulders we should be favored with less criticism."
"A very good idea it seems to me," remarked Ebearhard.
"Well, you saw how promptly he ignored it, yet after all there may be more wisdom in that head of his than I suspected. Look you how he has made a buffer of me. He gives no commands to the men himself, but merely orders me to pass along the word for this or that. He appears determined to have his own way, and yet not to bring about a personal conflict between himself and his following."
"Do you suppose that to be cowardice on his part?"
"No; he is not a coward. He doubtless intends that I shall stand the brunt of any ill-temper on the part of the men. Should disobedience arise, it will be my orders that are disobeyed, not his. If the matter is of no importance one way or the other, I take it he will say nothing, but I surmise that when it comes to the vital point, he will brush me aside as though I were a feather, and himself confront the men regardless of consequences. This morning I thought they would win in such a case, but, by the iron Cross, I am not so confident now. Remember how he sprung my appointment on the crowd, counting, I am sure, on your help. He said to me, when we were alone by the tower, that you were the most fair-minded man among the lot, and he evidently played on that, giving them not a moment to think, and you backed him up. He carried his point, and since then has not said a word to them, all orders going through me, but I know he intended, as he told you, to take the river road, instead of which he has led us over this hilly district until every man is ready to drop. He is himself very sparing of wine, and is in fit condition. I understand he has tramped both banks of the Rhine, from Ehrenfels to Bonn, so this walk is nothing to him. At the end of it he was off for a stroll, and here are these men lying above the sod like the dead underneath it."
"I cannot make him out," mused Ebearhard. "What has been his training? He appears to be well educated, and yet in some common matters is ignorant as a child, as, for instance, not knowing the difference in status between a skilled artisan and a chaffering merchant! What can have been his up-bringing? He is obviously not of the merchant class, yet he persuades the chief of our merchants, and the most conservative, to engage in this wild goose chase, and actually venture money and goods in supporting him. This expedition will cost Herr Goebel at least five thousand thalers, all because of the blandishments of a youth who walked in from the street, unintroduced. Then he is not an artisan of any sort, for when he joined us his hands were quite useless, except upon the sword-hilt."
"He said he was a fencing-master," explained Greusel.
"I know he did, and yet when he was offered a fee to instruct us he wouldn't look at it. The first duty of a fencing-master, like the rest of us, is to make money. Roland quite evidently scorns it, and at the last instructs us for nothing. Fencing-masters don't promote freebooting expeditions, and, besides, a fencing-master is always urbane and polite, cringing to every one. I have watched Roland closely at times, trying to study him, and in doing so have caught momentary glimpses of such contempt for us, that, by the good Lord above us, it made me shrivel up. You know, Greusel, that youth has more of the qualities usually attributed to a noble than those which go to the make-up of any tradesman."
"He is a puzzle to me," admitted Greusel, "and if this excursion does not break up at the outset, I am not sure that it will be a success."
Noticing a look of alarm in Ebearhard's eyes, Greusel cast a glance over his shoulder, and saw Roland standing behind him. The young man said quietly:
"It hasn't broken up at the outset, for we are already more than five leagues from Frankfort. Our foray must be a success while I have two such wise advisers as I find sitting here."
Neither of the men replied. Both were wondering how much their leader had overheard. He took his place on the bench beside Ebearhard, and said to him:
"I wish you to act as my second lieutenant. If anything happens to me, Greusel takes my place and you take his. This, by the way, is an appointment, rather than an election. It is not to be put before the guild. You simply act as second lieutenant, and that is all there is about it."
"Very good, Commander," said Ebearhard.
"Greusel, how much money have you?"
"Economical man! Will you lend me the sum until we reach Assmannshausen?"
"Certainly." Greusel pulled forth his wallet, poured out the gold, and Roland took charge of it.
"And you, Ebearhard? How are you off for funds?"
"I possess twenty-five thalers."
"May I borrow from you as well?"
"I was thinking," continued the young man, as he put away the gold, "that this committee idea of the men has merits of its own; therefore I have formed myself into a committee, appointed, not elected, and will make the disbursements. How much money does our company possess?"
"Not a stiver, so far as I can learn."
"Ah, in that case there is little use in my attempting a collection. Now, as I was saying, Greusel, if anything happens to me, you carry on the enterprise along the lines I have laid down. The first thing, of course, is to reach Assmannshausen."
"Nothing can happen to you before we arrive there", hazarded Greusel.
"I'm not so sure. The sun is very powerful to-day, and should it beat me down, let me lie where I fall, and allow nothing to interrupt the march. Once at Assmannshausen, you two must keep a sharp lookout up the river. When you see the barge, gather your men and lead them up to it. It is to await us about half a league above Assmannshausen."
The three conversed until the hour was consumed, then Roland, throwing his cloak over his arm, rose, and said to his lieutenant:
"Just rouse the men, if you please; and you, Ebearhard, tell the landlord to give each a flagon of wine. We take the road to Wiesbaden. I shall walk slowly on ahead, so that you and the company may overtake me."
With this the young leader sauntered indifferently away, leaving to his subordinates the ungracious task of setting tired men to their work again. Greusel looked glum, but Ebearhard laughed.
Some distance to the east of Wiesbaden the leader deflected his company from the road, and thus they passed Wiesbaden to the left, arriving at the village of Sonnenberg. The straggling company made a halt for a short time, while provisions were purchased, every man carrying his own share, which was scantly sufficient for supper and breakfast, and a quantity of wine was acquired to gratify each throat with about a liter and a half; plenty for a reasonable thirst, but not enough for a carouse.
The company grumbled at being compelled to quit Sonnenberg. They had hoped to spend the night at Wiesbaden, and vociferously proclaimed themselves satisfied with the amount of country already traversed. Their leader said nothing, but left Greusel and Ebearhard to deal with them. He paid for the provisions and the wine, and then, with his cloak loosely over his arm, struck out for the west, as if the declining sun were his goal. The rest followed him slowly, in deep depression of spirits. They were in a wild country, unknown to any of them. The hills had become higher and steeper, and there was not even a beaten path to follow; but Roland, who apparently knew his way, trudged steadily on in advance even of his lieutenants. A bank of dark clouds had risen in the east, the heat of the day being followed by a thunderstorm that growled menacingly above the Taunus mountains, evidently accompanying a torrent of rain, although none fell in the line of march.
The sun had set when the leader brought his company down into the valley of the Walluf, about two and a half leagues from Sonnenberg. Here the men found themselves in a wilderness through which ran a brawling stream. Roland announced to them that this would be their camping place for the night. At once there was an uproar of dissent. How were they to camp out without tents? A heavy rain was impending. Listen to the thunder, and taking warning from the swollen torrent.
"Wrap your cloaks around you," said Roland, "and sleep under the trees. I have often done it myself, and will repeat the experience to-night. If you are not yet tired enough to ensure sound slumber, I shall be delighted to lead you on for another few leagues."
The men held a low-voiced, sullen consultation, gathered in a circle. They speedily decided upon returning to Sonnenberg, which it was the unanimous opinion of the company they should never have left. Townsmen all, who had not in their lives spent a night without a roof over their heads, such accommodation as their leader proposed they should endure seemed like being cast away on a desert island. The mystery of the forest affrighted them. For all they could tell the woods were full of wild animals, and they knew that somewhere near lurked outlaws no less savage. The eighteen, ignoring Greusel and Ebearhard, who stood on one side, watching their deliberations with anxious faces, moved in a body upon their leader, who sat on the bank of the torrent, his feet dangling down towards the foaming water.
"We have resolved to return to Sonnenberg," said the leader of the conclave.
"An excellent resolution," agreed Roland cheerfully. "It is a pleasant village, and I have passed through it several times. By the way, Wiesbaden, which is much larger, possesses the advantage to tired men of being half a league nearer."
The spokesman seemed taken aback by Roland's nonchalant attitude.
"We do not know the road to Wiesbaden, and, indeed, are in some doubt whether or no we can find our way to Sonnenberg with darkness coming on."
"Then if I were you, I shouldn't attempt it. Why not eat your supper, and drink your wine in this sheltering grove?"
"By that time it will be as dark as Erebus," protested the spokesman.
"Then remain here, as I suggested, for the night."
"No; we are determined to reach Sonnenberg. A storm impends."
"In that case, gentlemen, don't let me detain you. The gloom thickens as you spend your time in talk."
"Oh, that's all very well, but when we reach Sonnenberg we shall need money."
"So you will."
"And we intend to secure it."
"We demand from you three thalers for each man."
"Oh, you want the money from me?"
"Yes, we do."
"That would absorb all the funds I possess."
"No matter. We mean to have it."
"You propose to take it from me by force?"
"Ah, well, such being the case, perhaps it would be better for me to yield willingly?"
"I think so."
"I quite agree with you. There are eighteen of you, all armed with swords, while I control but one blade."
Saying this he unfastened his cloak, which he had put on in the gathering chill of the evening, and untying from his belt a well-filled wallet, held it up to their gaze.
"As this bag undisputedly belongs to me, I have a right to dispose of it as I choose. I therefore give it to the brook, whose outcry is as insistent as yours, and much more musical."
"Stop, Roland, stop!" shouted Ebearhard, but the warning came too late. The young man flung the bag into the torrent, where it disappeared in a smother of foam. He rose to his feet and drew his sword.
"If you wish a fight now, it will be for the love of it, no filthy lucre being at stake."
"By Plutus, you are an accursed fool!" cried the spokesman, making no further show of aggression now that nothing but steel was to be gained by a contest.
"A fool; yes!" said Roland. "And therefore the better qualified to lead all such. Now go to Sonnenberg, or go to Hades!"
The men did neither. They sat down under the trees, ate their supper, and drank their wine.
"Will you dine with me?" said Roland, approaching his two gloomy lieutenants, who stood silent at some distance from the circle formed by the others.
"Yes," said Greusel sullenly, "but I would have dined with greater pleasure had you not proven the spokesman's words true."
"You mean about my being a fool? Oh, you yourself practically called me that this morning. Come, let us sit down farther along the stream, where they cannot overhear what we say."
This being done, Roland continued cheerfully:
"I may explain to you that a week ago I had only a wallet of my own, but before leaving on this journey I called upon my mother, and she presented me with another bag. I foresaw during mittagessen that a demand would be made upon us for money, therefore I borrowed all that you two possessed. Walking on ahead, I prepared for what I knew must come, filling the empty wallet with very small stones picked up along the road. That wallet went into the stream. It is surprising how prone human nature is to jump at conclusions. Why should any of you think that I am simpleton enough to throw away good money? Dear, dear, what a world this is, to be sure!"
Half an hour later all were lying down enveloped in their cloaks, sleeping soundly because of their fatigue, despite being out of doors. Next morning there was consternation in the camp, real or pretended. Roland was nowhere to be found, nor did further search reveal his whereabouts.