Heidelberg is known all over the world as one of Germany's great university towns, as the site of an unrivalled if ruined schloss, and of a view at the junction of the Rhine with the Neckar which is one of the most famous in the world. It lies between lofty hills covered with vineyards and forests, flanked by handsome villas and gardens, and is crowned by its castle, which has suffered equally from siege and the elements, being partially blown up by the French in 1609, and struck by lightning in 1704.
The name of Jette, a beautiful prophetess of the ancient goddess Herthe, is linked with the neighbourhood of Heidelberg by the following tragic tale.
When the old heathen gods and goddesses were still worshipped in the Rhine country, a certain priestess of Herthe took up her abode in an ancient grove, where she practised her occult arts so successfully that the fame of her divinations spread far and wide, and men came from all parts of Europe to learn from her what the future had in store for them. Frequently a warrior left her abode with a consuming fire kindled in his breast which would rob him of sleep for many a long night, yet none dared to declare his love to her, for, lovely though she was, there was an air of austerity, an atmosphere of mysticism about her which commanded awe and reverence, and forbade even the smallest familiarity.
One evening there came to the grove of Herthe a youth from a far distant land, seeking to know his destiny. All
day he had journeyed thitherward, and the dusk had already fallen ere he reached the sacred spot. Jette sat on the glimmering altar-steps, clad in a flowing white robe, while on the altar itself burned a faint and fitful flame. The tall, slender trees, showing fantastic and ghostly in the fading light, made a fitting background for the gleaming shrine; and the elusive, unearthly beauty of the priestess was quite in keeping with the magic scene. Her mantle of austerity had fallen from her; she had forgotten that she was a prophetess; for the moment she was but a woman, full of grace and charm. The youth paused as though held by a spell.
"Fair prophetess," he said in a low voice, fearing to break in rudely upon her meditations, "wilt thou read me my fate?"
Jette, roused from her reverie, fixed her startled gaze on the handsome stranger, whose dark, burning eyes met hers in deepest admiration. Something stirred in her heart at the ardent glance, the thrilling tones, and her wonted composure deserted her.
"Youth," she faltered at length, "thou comest at a time when my prophetic skill hath failed me. Ere I tell thee thy fate I must offer sacrifice to Herthe. If thou wilt come to-morrow at this hour I will tell thee what the stars say concerning thy destiny."
It was true that her skill had deserted her under the admiring scrutiny of the young warrior, yet she delayed also because she wished to hear his voice again, to meet the ardent yet courteous glance of his dark eyes.
"I will return, O prophetess," said he, and with that he was gone.
Jette's peace of mind had gone too, it seemed, for she could think of naught but the handsome stranger.
On the following evening he returned, and again she delayed to give him the information he sought. He was no less rejoiced than was Jette at the prospect of another meeting.
On the third day the priestess greeted him with downcast eyes.
"I cannot read thy destiny, youth," she said; "the stars do not speak plainly. Yet methinks thy star and mine are very close together." She faltered and paused.
"Dost thou love me, Jette?" cried the young man joyfully. "Wilt thou be my bride?"
The maiden's blushing cheeks and downcast glance were sufficient answer.
"And wilt thou come with me to my tower?" pursued the youth eagerly.
Jette started back in affright.
"Nay, that I cannot," she cried. "A priestess of Herthe is doomed an she marry. If I wed thee we must meet in secret and at night."
"But I will take thee to Walhalla, and Freya shall appease Herthe with her offerings."
Jette shook her head.
"Nay," said she; "it is impossible. The vengeance of Herthe is swift--and awful. I will show thee a spring where we may meet."
She led him to a place where the stream branched off in five separate rivulets, and bade him meet her there on the following night at a certain hour. The lovers then parted, each full of impatience for the return of the hour of meeting.
Next evening, when the dusk had fallen on the sacred grove of Herthe, Jette made her way to the rendezvous. The appointed time had not yet arrived, but scarcely had
she reached the spot ere she fancied she heard a step among the undergrowth, and turned with a glad smile, prepared to greet her lover. Imagine her dismay when instead of the youth a grisly wolf confronted her! Her shriek of terror was uttered in vain. A moment later the monster had sprung at her throat.
Her lover, hastening with eager steps toward the place of meeting, heard the agonized shriek and, recognizing the voice of Jette, broke into a run. He was too late! The monster wolf stood over the lifeless body of his beloved, and though in his despairing fury the youth slew the huge brute, the retribution of Herthe was complete.
Henceforth the scene of the tragedy was called the 'Wolf's Spring,' and the legend is enshrined there to this day.
Considering the wide fame of Rhenish vintages, it is perhaps not surprising that wine should enter as largely into the Rhine legends as the 'barley bree' is supposed to enter into Scottish anecdote. In truth there runs through these traditions a stream of Rhenish which plays almost as important a part in them as the Rhine itself. We are told that the Emperor Wenzel sold his crown for a quantity of wine; in the tale connected with Thann, in Alsace, mortar is mixed with wine instead of water, because of the scarcity of the latter commodity during the building of a steeple; while in the legends of "The Devil's Vineyard," and "The Cooper of Auerbach" the vintage of Rhineland provides the main interest of the plot. The following quaint little story, attaching to the castle of Heidelberg, is a 'Rhenish' tale in every sense of the word.
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The Jester of Heidelberg 324
In the days when the Schloss Heidelberg was in its most flourishing state the lord of the castle numbered among his retainers a jester, small of stature and ugly of feature, whose quips and drolleries provided endless amusement for himself and his guests. Prominent among the jester's characteristics was a weakness for getting tipsy. He was possessed of an unquenchable thirst, which he never lost an opportunity of satisfying.
Knowing his peculiarity, some youthful pages in the train of the nobleman were minded to have some amusement at his expense, and they therefore led him to a cellar in which stood a large vat filled with fragrant wine. And there for a time they left him.
The jester was delighted at the propinquity of his favourite beverage and decided that he would always remain in the cellar, regaling himself with the vintage. His thirst increased at the prospect, so he produced a gimlet, bored a hole in the vat, and drank and drank till at length he could drink no more; then the fumes of the wine overcame him and he sank down in a drunken stupor. Meanwhile the merry little stream flowed from the vat, covered the floor of the cellar, and rose ever higher.
The pages waited at the top of the stairs, listening for the bursts of merriment which were the usual accompaniments of the jester's drinking bouts; but all was silent as the grave. At last they grew uneasy and crept below in a huddled group. The fool lay quite still, submerged beneath the flood.
He had been drowned in the wine.
The joke now seemed a sorry one, but the pages consoled themselves with the thought that, after all, death had come to the jester in a welcome guise.
There is a legend connected with the town of Speyer in which poetic justice is meted out to the principal characters, although not until after they have died.
The tale concerns itself with the fate of the unfortunate monarch Henry IV. History relates that Henry was entirely unfit to wear the ermine, but weak as he was, and ignominious as was his reign, it was a bitter blow that his own son was foremost among his enemies. At first the younger Henry conspired against his father in secret; outwardly he was a model of filial affection, so that he readily prevailed upon the weak monarch to appoint him as his successor. After that, however, he openly joined himself to his father's foes; and when the Pope excommunicated the monarch, gradually the Emperor's following went over to the side of his son, who then caused himself to be invested with imperial honours. The deposed sovereign, deprived of power and supporters, was compelled to go into exile; even his personal freedom was secured only as the price of his renunciation of the crown. Broken and humiliated, feeling intensely the disgrace of his position, he determined to undertake a pilgrimage to Liége, accompanied only by his servant Kurt, who alone of all his train had remained faithful to him. The pilgrimage was successfully accomplished, but ere he could enter upon the return journey the wretched Emperor died, in want and misery, utterly neglected by his kindred. Even after death the Pope's ban was effective, so that his corpse was not allowed interment for several years. During that period the faithful Kurt kept guard unceasingly over his master's coffin and would not suffer himself to be drawn therefrom.
At length, however, Henry V, under pressure from his princes and nobles, gave orders that his father's remains be conveyed to Speyer and there interred in the royal vault with such honours as befitted the obsequies of a monarch. The messengers found old Kurt still holding his vigil beside the Emperor's body, and in recognition of his faithfulness he was permitted to follow the funeral cortège to Speyer. There were in the town certain good and pious folk who were touched by the servant's devotion, and by these he was kindly treated. But all their kindness and attention could not repair the havoc which his weary vigil and long privations had wrought on his health, and a few months later he followed his master to the grave.
Strange to relate, as he expired all the bells of Speyer tolled out a funeral peal such as was accorded to an emperor, and that without being touched by human hands. Meanwhile Henry V also lay dying. All the luxury of his palace could not soothe his last moments; though he was surrounded by courtiers who assumed sorrow and walked softly, and though all his kindred were around him, he saw ever before him the image of his dead father, pointing at him with a grim, accusing finger. Stricken with terror and remorse, and tortured by disease, he longed for death to end his torments, and at last it came.
Again the passing bell was tolled by invisible hands, but not this time the peal which announced the passing of an emperor. The citizens heard the awful sound which told that a criminal had paid the law's last penalty, and asked one another what poor wretch had been executed. Awe and astonishment seized upon everyone when it was known that the Emperor had died, for they knew then that it was no earthly hand that had rung his death-knell.
Concerning the neighbourhood of Windeck, some eight miles from Baden, several interesting tales are current. The castle itself has long enjoyed the reputation of being haunted by the ghost of a beautiful girl, though when or wherefore this originated tradition does not relate. We are told that a young huntsman, whom the chase had driven thitherward, saw the spectre and was so stricken with her charms that day after day he visited the castle, hoping to see her once more. But being disappointed, he at length took up his solitary abode in the deserted fortress, renouncing his former pursuits and ceasing from all communication with his friends.
One day he was found dead in his bed with so peaceful an expression of countenance that those who saw him could not doubt that his end had been a pleasant one. On his finger was a ring of quaint design which he had not been known to wear, and it was whispered among the peasantry that the ghost-maid of Windeck had claimed her lover.
Hard by the Schloss Windeck lay a deep trench, known as the Hennegraben, of which traces may still be found. It is rendered immortal by reason of the following romantic legend, which tells of its magical origin.
A certain young knight, lord of the castle of Windeck, for some unknown reason had seized and imprisoned the worthy Dean of Strassburg. It is true that the Churchman was treated with every consideration, more like a guest than a captive, but he nevertheless resented strongly the loss of his liberty, as did also the good folk of Strassburg when they learned what had happened.
Two of the Dean's young kinsfolk resolved to journey to Windeck and beg that their uncle might be set free. On their way thither they had to pass through a forest, where they met an old woman.
"Whither away, my pretty boys?" said she. "Will you not tell an old gossip your destination?"
The elder of the two replied courteously that they were on their way to Windeck, where their uncle was imprisoned. "Perchance," he added timidly, "the lord may accept us as hostages till the ransom be paid."
"Perchance," mimicked the old woman, "aye, perchance! Think you the knight of Windeck will take such lads as you are for hostages?"
And in truth they were not an imposing couple--the elder a slim, fragile youth, whose eyes were already tearful at the prospect of confronting his uncle's captor; while the younger was a mere boy, sanguine and adventuresome as children often are.
"I will challenge this knight," said the boy seriously. "I will draw sword for my uncle, for I also am a knight."
"Hush, Cuno," said his brother, smiling in spite of himself at the boy's ardour. "We must not talk of fighting. We must entreat the knight to let our uncle go free."
"What would you have, Imma? Entreat? Nay, that we shall not."
He stopped awkwardly, and his sister's rising colour showed plainly her embarrassment at having her sex thus suddenly revealed.
The old woman looked at her kindly.
"I knew from the first that thou wert a maid disguised," she said. "Go, and God speed you! Tell the knight of Windeck that the people of Strassburg mean to attack
his castle on the morrow, and that his only means of resisting them is to dig a deep trench across the one possible approach. But stay--there is no time for that; I will give you something wherewith to dig the trench." She whistled shrilly and in answer to her call a grey hen fluttered toward her; this she gave to the young people. "When the moon rises," she said, "take the hen and place it where you wish the trench to be."
Then with a few words to the hen in a strange tongue, she bade the brother and sister farewell and went on her way.
The two continued their journey and upon arriving at Windeck they were agreeably surprised in the lord of the castle, for he was young and handsome and very courteous, not at all the ogre they had imagined. In faltering tones Imma told him their mission, conveyed to him the old witch's warning, and presented the grey hen.
When he heard that they proposed to gain their uncle's freedom by themselves taking his place, the knight regarded his visitors with mingled feelings of pity and astonishment. The gentle, appealing glance of the elder, no less than the naive candour of the younger, appealed to his sympathies. In a very short time Cuno, who had quite forgotten to challenge his host, was on the best of terms with him.
Meanwhile the Dean, very impatient and incensed, paced his small chamber like a caged lion, or bemoaned his lost liberty and meditated on the chances of escape. He was roused from a reverie by the sound of familiar voices outside his cell, and a moment later the door was flung open and Cuno entered unceremoniously.
"You are free, uncle, you are free! Imma and I have come to save you!"
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A grey hen fluttered toward her 330
Once more Imma flushed crimson at the revelation of her sex. The astonished knight glanced with a new interest at her beautiful face, with its rosy colour and downcast eyes. Turning to the Dean, he greeted him cordially.
"You are free," he said. "Your nephews have promised to remain with me as hostages till you have provided a ransom," Then, turning humorously to Imma, he added: "Wilt thou be a soldier in my employ, youth? Or wouldst have a place in my household?"
Imma vouchsafed no other reply than a deepening of her colour. She must, however, have found words to utter when, later, the gallant knight begged her seriously to remain at Windeck as his wife--for ere nightfall the old Dean, grumbling and somewhat reluctant, was called upon to consent to his niece's betrothal. This he did at length, when Imma had joined her entreaties to those of her lover.
That night the grey hen was placed as the witch had advised, and it was as she had said. With the dawn the Strassburgers arrived before the castle, to find a newly made trench filled with the castle troopers. When they learned that the Dean was free they called for a truce, and it was not blood, but wine, which flowed that day, for all were invited to share the wedding-feast of Imma and the knight of Windeck.
On the road between Gernsbach and Eberstein there once stood an ancient, moss-grown cell. It had been occupied by a beautiful pagan priestess, a devotee of Herthe, but when the preaching of the white monks had begun to spread Christianity among the people she left the neighbourhood.
[paragraph continues] In passing by that way a Christian monk noticed the deserted retreat and took possession of it, issuing at intervals to preach to the inhabitants of the surrounding country.
One stormy night as he sat within his cell he fancied he heard a pleading voice mingling with the roar of wind and waters. Going to the door, he beheld a young girl who seemed to be half dead with cold and fatigue. The good monk, who was never indifferent to human suffering, drew her quickly inside, bade her seat herself by the fire, and set food and wine before her. When she had recovered a little from the effects of the storm the hermit questioned her with regard to her presence in such a lonely spot and at such an unseasonable hour. The maid replied that she had once dwelt in just such a pleasant and peaceful cell as that in which she now reposed, but that cruel persecution had driven her from her retreat.
"Then you, too, are a hermit?" said the young monk inquiringly, looking down at his fair guest. The wine had brought some colour to her pale cheeks and he could see that she was beautiful, with a beauty beyond that of any maiden he had ever seen.
"Yes," she replied, "I am a priestess of Herthe. This cell in which I beg for shelter was once my own. It was those of your religion who drove me from it."
"You are not a Christian?" asked the monk, startled in spite of himself by the passionate tones in which she spoke.
The maiden laughed.
"Am I not as beautiful as your Christian maids?" said she. "Am I not human even as they are?" She moved about the cell as she spoke, and picked up a piece of embroidery. "See, this is my handiwork; is it less
beautiful because it is not the work of a Christian? Why should we suffer persecution at your hands?"
The young monk endeavoured to show that she was unjust in her estimate of his religion. Gravely he told her the story of Christianity, but his thoughts were of her weird beauty and he spake less earnestly than was usual. And the maid, with an appearance of child-like innocence, waited until he had finished his recital. She saw that she had him completely in her power and pressed her advantage to the uttermost. She drew closer to him, raised his hand, and pressed it to her lips. The monk surrendered himself to her caresses, and when at length she begged him to break the symbol of his religion he was too much fascinated to refuse. He raised the cross and would have dashed it to the ground, but at that very moment he heard high above the storm the sound of a bell. Contrite and ashamed, he fell on his knees and prayed for pardon. When he looked up again the girl had disappeared.
The hermit found the warning bell suspended on a bough outside his cell; how it came there he never knew, but he was sure that it had been sent to rescue him from the wiles of Satan and he treasured it as a sacred relic. Many came from far and near to see the wonder, and on the site of the cell the monk founded a chapel which became known as the Klingelkapelle, or 'Tinkling-chapel.'
A charming story is linked with the castle of Staufenberg. One day while its owner was out hunting he lost his way in the forest. The day was hot, and the hunter was well-nigh overcome with thirst and fatigue when he entered a pleasant glade in which a spring of limpid water bubbled
and sparkled. Having quenched his thirst, he seated himself on a mossy bank to rest before proceeding homeward. Suddenly he saw at a little distance a damsel of unique and marvellous beauty, braiding her wet hair by the side of the spring. He watched her for a time in silence, then, conscious that the damsel had observed his scrutiny, he hastened to her side and courteously begged her permission to remain a little longer in the glade.
"You are the lord of these domains," she replied graciously. "It is I who am grateful to you for suffering me to dwell here."
The young knight protested eagerly that she honoured the forest with her presence, and, indeed, he had already begun to wish that she might dwell not only in the forest but in the schloss itself as his wife and its mistress--for he had fallen in love with her at first sight. Indeed, so ardent was his passion that he could not conceal his infatuation; he told her of his love and begged that she would give him a little hope. The maid's hesitation only drove him to urge his suit with increasing ardour.
"I will say neither 'yes' nor 'no,'" she replied, smiling. "Meet me to-morrow at this hour and you shall have your answer."
The knight parted reluctantly from the fair lady and promised to return on the following day. When the appointed time arrived he was already at the tryst, eagerly awaiting the approach of his beloved. When at length she came he renewed his pleadings with even greater ardour, and to his unbounded delight the answer was favourable. "I am a water-nymph," said the lady, "the spirit of the stream from which you drank yesterday. You saw me then for the first time, but I have often seen you in the forest--and I have long loved you."
The knight was more than ever enchanted by this naive confession, and begged that their wedding should not be long delayed.
"There is one condition," said the nymph. "If you marry me you must remain for ever faithful. Otherwise you must suffer death, and I eternal unhappiness."
The knight laughed at the bare idea of his proving unfaithful to his beloved, and his vows were sincere.
Shortly afterward they were married, and none supposed the beautiful being to be aught but a very attractive woman; in time there was born to them a little son. The knight adored both wife and child, and for some years lived a life of ideal domestic happiness. But there came a time when another interest entered into his life. Rumours of fighting reached him from France; he saw the knights of neighbouring fortresses leading their troops to the war, and a martial spirit stirred within him. His wife was not slow to observe that his world was no longer bounded by the castle-walls of Staufenberg, and she wisely resolved not to stand in the way of her lord's ambitions, but rather, if possible, to help them to an honourable realization. So with much labour and skill she made him a strangely wrought belt, which she gave him at once as a love-token and a charm to secure success in battle. She concealed her grief at his departure and bade him farewell bravely.
At the head of his troop the knight rode boldly into France and offered his services to a distinguished French leader, to whom he soon became indispensable--so much so, in fact, that the nobleman cast about for a means of retaining permanently in his train a knight of such skill and courage. But he could think of nothing with which to tempt the young man, who was already possessed of gold and lands, till the artless glances of his youngest daughter
gave him his cue. For he saw that she had lately begun to look with some favour on the simple knight of Staufenberg, and it occurred to him that the hand of a lady of rank and beauty would be a very desirable bait. Nor was he mistaken, for the gaieties of the Frankish court had dazzled the knight, and the offer of the lady's hand completely turned his head; not that he felt a great affection for her, but because of the honour done to him. So he accepted the offer and drowned, as best as he could, the remembrance of his wife and child at Staufenberg. Nevertheless he sometimes felt that he was not acting honourably, and at length the struggle between his love for his wife and his pride and ambition became so severe that he determined to consult a priest.
The good man crossed himself when he heard the story. "She whom you married is an evil spirit," said he. "Beneficent spirits do not wed human beings. It is your duty to renounce her at once and do penance for your sin." Though he hardly found it possible to believe the priest's assertion, the knight strove to persuade himself that it was true, and that he was really acting virtuously in renouncing the water-nymph and marrying again. So he performed the penances prescribed by the priest, and allowed the wedding preparations to proceed.
When the day of his wedding arrived, however, he was strangely perturbed and pale. The rejoicings of the people, the gay processions, even the beautiful bride, seemed to have no interest for him. When the hand of the lady was placed in his he could not repress an exclamation; it was cold to the touch like the hand of a corpse.
On returning the wedding procession was obliged to cross a bridge, and as they approached it a great storm arose
so that the waters of the stream washed over the feet of the bridegroom's horse, making it prance and rear. The knight was stricken with deadly terror, for he knew that the doom of which the water-nymph had spoken was about to overtake him. Without a word he plunged into the torrent and was nevermore seen.
At the very hour of this tragedy a great storm raged round the castle of Staufenberg, and when it abated the mother and child had disappeared for ever. Yet even now on a stormy night she can still be heard among the tree-tops weeping passionately, and the sound is accompanied by the whimpering of a child.
As a troop of horsemen rode through Annweiler toward the castle of Trifels, in which Richard Cœur-de-Lion was imprisoned by the Archduke of Austria, his deadly enemy, the plaintive notes of a familiar lay fell on their ears. The singer was a young shepherd, and one of the knights, a troubadour, asked him to repeat his ditty. The youth complied, and the knight accompanied him as he sang, their voices blending tunefully together.
Giving him generous largess, the knight asked the minstrel who had taught him that song. The shepherd replied that he had heard it sung in the castle of Trifels. At this intelligence the stranger appeared highly gratified, and, turning to his companions, ejaculated: "The King is found!"
It was evident to the shepherd that the new-comers were friends of Richard, and he warned them earnestly that danger lay before them. Only by guile could they hope to succour their King. The warning was heeded, and the tuneful knight rode forward alone, disguised in a minstrel's
tunic, in which he was welcomed at the castle. His courtly bearing soon won him the favour of the castellan's pretty niece, who persuaded her uncle to listen to his songs. During one of their stolen interviews the girl betrayed the place where the King of England was imprisoned, and that night, from beneath a window, the minstrel heard his King's well-remembered voice breathing a prayer for freedom. His hopes being thus confirmed, he took his harp and played the melody which he himself had composed for Richard. The King immediately joined in the familiar lay. When its strains had ended, "Blondel!" cried the captive excitedly. The minstrel cautiously replied by singing another song, telling how he was pledged to liberate his master.
But suspicion was aroused, and Blondel was requested to depart on the following day. Deeming it prudent to make no demur, he mounted his horse, after having arranged with the castellan's niece to return secretly at nightfall. He rode no further than an inn near Annweiler, which commanded a view of the castle. There his host informed him that the Emperor was presently to be crowned at Frankfort, and that on the evening of that day the garrison would celebrate the event by drinking his health.
The minstrel said that he would certainly join the company, ordered wine for the occasion, and promised to pay the reckoning. He then withdrew to seek his comrades. At dusk he returned stealthily to the castle, and at his signal the maid appeared at a little postern and admitted him.
On the day of the Emperor's coronation stealthy forms crept among the trees near by the castle, and concealed themselves in the thick foliage of the underbrush. The
garrison, gaily dressed, quitted the keep, the drawbridge was lowered, and the men were soon quaffing the choice wine which the stranger had ordered.
Meanwhile Blondel had appeared before the postern and had given his accustomed signal; for a time there was no response, and the minstrel was becoming impatient, when the gate was suddenly opened and the maiden appeared.
The minstrel now told the girl his reason for coming hither: how he hoped to liberate the captive monarch. As a reward for her connivance he promised to take her with him to England. Then he beckoned to his friends, there was a sudden rush, and armed forms thronged the postern. The frightened maid, dreading lest violence should overtake her uncle, shrieked loudly; but her cries were unheeded, and the English knights pressed into the courtyard.
The assailants met with little resistance, seized the keys, threw open the prison door, and liberated their King. The castellan protested loudly, and threatened Richard with mighty words, but all to no purpose. When the garrison returned they were powerless to render aid, for the castellan was threatened with death should his followers attack the castle. In the end a truce was made, and the English were allowed to retire unmolested with their King. Although urged by him, the maid refused to accompany Blondel, so, giving her a gold ring as a memento, he parted from her.
Returning again many years afterward, the minstrel once more heard the same song which the King had sung to his harp in the castle of Trifels. Entering the inn, he recognized in the landlord the one-time shepherd-boy. From him he learnt that the castellan had perished by
an unknown hand, and that his pretty niece, having, as she thought, plumbed the depths of masculine deceit, had entered the nunnery of Eberstein at Baden.
Thann is known to legend by two things: a steeple and a field. The steeple was built in a season of great drought. Water had failed everywhere; there was only the thinnest trickle from the springs and fountains with which the people might allay their thirst. Yet, strangely, the vineyards had yielded a wonderful harvest of luscious grapes, and the wine was so abundant that the supply of casks and vessels was insufficient for the demand. Therefore did it happen that the mortar used for building the steeple was mixed with wine, wherefore the lime was changed to must. And it is said that even to this day, when the vines are in blossom, a delicate fragrance steals from the old steeple and on the stones a purple dew is seen, while some declare that there is a deeper tone in the harmony of the bells.
The field is a terrible place, barren and desolate, for it is avoided as a spot accursed. No living thing moves upon it; the earth is streaked with patches of dark moss and drifts of ghastly skulls, like a scattered harvest of death. Once, says the legend, a wayfarer, surprised by the swift-fallen night, lost himself on the plain. As he stumbled in the darkness he heard the clocks of the town near by strike the hour of midnight. At this the stillness about the wanderer was broken. Under his feet the earth seemed to tremble, there was a rattling of weapons, and there sounded the tramp of armed men and the tumult of battle.
[paragraph continues] Suddenly the shape of a man in armour appeared before him, terrific and menacing.
"What do you seek here, in a field that has been accursed through many centuries?" he asked. "Do you not know that this is a place of terror and death? Are you a stranger that you stand on the place where a king, Louis the Pious, betrayed by his own sons, was handed over to his enemies, his crown torn from his head by his own troops? And he who would have died gladly in battle suffered the shame and dishonour that were worse than death. He lifted up his hands to heaven and cried with bitterness: 'There is no such thing on earth as faith and loyalty. Accursed be sons and warriors, accursed be this field whereon such deeds have been done, accursed be they for ever!'"
The spectre paused and his words echoed across the field like the cry of a lost soul. Again he spoke to the trembling wanderer: "And that curse has endured through the centuries. Under this plain in mile-wide graves we faithless warriors lie, our bones knowing no repose; and never will that curse of our betrayed king be lifted from us or this place!"
The spectral warrior sank into the gloomy earth, the tumult of fighting died away. The wayfarer, seized with terror, stumbled blindly on in the night.
Strassburg, the capital of Alsace-Lorraine, is only two miles west of the Rhine. The city is of considerable antiquity, and boasts a cathedral of great beauty, in which the work of four centuries is displayed to wonderful advantage. By the light of the stained-glass windows the famous astronomical clock in the south transept can be descried,
still containing some fragments of the horologe constructed by the mathematician Conrad Dasypodius in 1574. This, however, does not tally with the well-known legend of the clock, which now follows.
There dwelt in the town of Strassburg an old clockmaker. So wrapped up was he in his art that he seemed to live in a world of his own, quite indifferent to the customs and practices of ordinary life; he forgot his meals, forgot his sleep, cared nothing for his clothes, and would have been in evil case indeed had not his daughter Guta tended him with filial affection. In his absent-minded fashion he was really very fond of Guta, fonder even than he was of his clocks, and that is saying not a little.
The neighbours, busy, energetic folk who performed their daily tasks and drank wine with their friends, scoffed at the dreamy, unpractical old fellow and derided his occupation as the idle pastime of a mind not too well balanced. But the clockmaker, finding in his workroom all that he needed of excitement, of joy and sorrow, of elation and despondency, did not miss the pleasures of social life, nor did he heed the idle gossip of which he was the subject.
It need hardly be said that such a man had but few acquaintances; yet a few he had, and among them one who is worthy of especial note--a wealthy citizen who aspired to a position of civic honour in Strassburg. In appearance he was lean, old, and ugly, with hatchet-shaped face and cunning, malevolent eyes; and when he pressed his hateful attentions on the fair Guta she turned from him in disgust.
One day this creature called on the clockmaker, announced
Click to enlarge
STRASSBURG CATHEDRAL FROM THE OLD PIG MARKET
LOUIS WEIRTER, R.B.A.
Facing page 342.
that he had been made a magistrate, and demanded the hand of Guta, hinting that it would go ill with the master should he refuse.
The clockmaker was taken completely by surprise, but he offered his congratulations and called the girl to speak for herself as to her hand. When Guta heard the proposal she cast indignant glances at the ancient magistrate, whereupon he, without giving her an opportunity to speak, said quickly:
"Do not answer me now, sweet maid; do not decide hastily, I beg of you, for such a course might bring lasting trouble on you and your father. I will return to-morrow for your answer."
When he was gone Guta flung herself into her father's arms and declared that she could never marry the aged swain.
"My dear," said the clockmaker soothingly, "you shall do as you please. Heed not his threats, for when I have finished my great work we shall be as rich and powerful as he."
On the following day the magistrate called again, looking very important and self-satisfied, and never doubting but that the answer would be favourable. But when Guta told him plainly that she would not marry him his rage was unbounded, and he left the house vowing vengeance on father and daughter.
Scarcely was he gone ere a handsome youth entered the room and looked with some surprise at the disturbed appearance of Guta and her father. When he heard the story he was most indignant; later, when the clockmaker had left the young people alone, Guta confessed that the attentions of the magistrate were loathsome to her, and burst into tears.
The young man had long loved the maiden in secret, and he could conceal his passion no longer. He begged that she would become his bride, and Guta willingly consented, but suggested that they should not mention the matter to her father till the latter had completed his great clock, which he fondly believed was soon to bring him fame and fortune. She also proposed that her lover should offer to become her father's partner--for he, too, was a clockmaker--so that in the event of the master's great work proving a failure his business should still be secure. The young man at once acted upon the suggestion, and the father gratefully received the proffered assistance.
At last the day came when the clockmaker joyfully announced that his masterpiece was finished, and he called upon Guta and his young partner to witness his handiwork. They beheld a wonderful clock, of exquisite workmanship, and so constructed that the striking of the hour automatically set in motion several small figures. The young people were not slow to express their admiration and their confidence that fame was assured.
When the clock was publicly exhibited the scepticism of the citizens was changed to respect; praise and flattery flowed from the lips that had formerly reviled its inventor. Nevertheless the civic authorities, urged thereto by Guta's discarded lover, refused to countenance any attempt to procure the wonderful clock for the town. But soon its fame spread abroad to other cities. Members of the clockmakers' guild of Basel travelled to see it, and raised their hands in surprise and admiration. Finally the municipal authorities of Basel made arrangements to purchase it.
But at this point the citizens of Strassburg stepped in and
insisted on preserving the clock in their own city, and it was therefore purchased for a round sum and erected in a chapel of the Strassburg Cathedral. The corporation of Basel, having set their hearts on the wonderful timepiece, commissioned the clockmaker to make another like it, and offered substantial remuneration. The old man gladly agreed, but his arch-enemy, hearing of the arrangement and scenting a fine opportunity for revenge, contrived to raise an outcry against the proposal. "Where was the advantage," asked the magistrates, "in possessing a wonderful clock if every city in Germany was to have one?" So to preserve the uniqueness of their treasure they haled the old clockmaker before a tribunal and ordered him to cease practising his art. This he indignantly refused to do, and the council, still instigated by his enemy, finally decided that his eyes be put out, so that his skill in clockmaking should come to a decided end. Not a few objections were raised to so cruel a decision, but these were at length overruled. The victim heard the dreadful sentence without a tremor, and when asked if he had any boon to crave ere it were carried out, he answered quietly that he would like to make a few final improvements in his clock, and wished to suffer his punishment in its presence.
Accordingly when the day came the old man was conducted to the place where his masterpiece stood. There, under pretence of making the promised improvements, he damaged the works, after which he submitted himself to his torturers. Hardly had they carried out their cruel task when, to the consternation of the onlookers, the clock began to emit discordant sounds and to whirr loudly. When it had continued thus for a while the gong struck thirteen and the mechanism came to a standstill.
"Behold my handiwork!" cried the blind clockmaker. "Behold my revenge!"
His assistant approached and led him gently away. Henceforward he lived happily with Guta and her husband, whose affectionate care compensated in part for the loss of his eyesight and his enforced inability to practise his beloved art. When the story became known the base magistrate was deprived of his wealth and his office and forced to quit the town.
And as for the clock, it remained in its disordered state till 1843, when it was once more restored to its original condition.
A beautiful and romantic tale which has inspired more than one work of art is the legend of the Trumpeter of Säckingen; it shares with "The Lorelei" and a few other legends the distinction of being the most widely popular in Rhenish folklore.
One evening in early spring, so the legend runs, a gallant young soldier emerged from the Black Forest opposite Säckingen and reined in his steed on the banks of the Rhine. Night was at hand, and the snow lay thickly on the ground. For a few moments the wayfarer pondered whither he should turn for food and shelter, for his steed and the trumpet he carried under his cavalry cloak were all he possessed in the world; then with a reckless gesture he seized the trumpet and sounded some lively notes which echoed merrily over the snow.
The parish priest, toiling painfully up the hill, heard the martial sound, and soon encountered the soldier, who saluted him gravely. The priest paused to return the
greeting, and entering into conversation with the horseman, he learned that he was a soldier of fortune, whereupon he invited him with simple cordiality to become his guest. The proffer of hospitality was gratefully accepted, and the kindly old man led the stranger to his home.
The old priest, though not a little curious with regard to his guest's previous history, forbore out of courtesy to question him, but the warmth and cheer soon loosened the trumpeter's tongue, and he volunteered to tell the old man his story. Shorn of detail, it ran as follows:
The soldier's youth had been passed at the University of Heidelberg, where he had lived a gay and careless life, paying so little attention to his studies that at the end of his course his only asset was a knowledge of music, picked up from a drunken trumpeter in exchange for the wherewithal to satisfy his thirst. The legal profession, which his guardian had designed for him, was clearly impossible with such meagre acquirements, so he had joined a cavalry regiment and fought in the Thirty Years' War. At the end of the war his horse and his trumpet were his sole possessions, and from that time he had wandered through the world, gaining a scanty livelihood with the aid of his music. Such was his history.
That night Werner--for so the young man was called--slept soundly in the house of the old priest, and next morning he rose early to attend the festival of St. Fridolin, in celebration of which a procession was organized every year at Säckingen. There, at the head of a band of girls, he beheld a maid who outshone them all in beauty and grace, and to her he immediately lost his heart. From that moment the gaieties of the festival had no attraction for him, and he wandered disconsolately among the merry-makers,
thinking only of the lovely face that had caught his fancy.
Toward nightfall he embarked in a little boat and floated idly down the Rhine. Suddenly, to his amazement, there arose from the water the handsome, youthful figure of the Rhine-god, who had recognized in his pale cheek and haggard eye the infallible signs of a lover. Indicating a castle at the edge of the river, the apparition informed Werner that his lady-love dwelt therein, and he bade him take heart and seek some mode of communicating with her. At this Werner plucked up courage to row ashore to his lady's abode. There in the garden, beneath a lighted window, he played an exquisite serenade, every perfect note of which told of his love and grief and the wild hopes he would never dare to express in words.
Now, the lord of the castle was at that very moment telling to his beautiful daughter the story of his own long-past wooing; he paused in his tale and bade his daughter listen to the melting strains. When the notes had died away an attendant was dispatched to learn who the musician might be, but ere he reached the garden Werner had re-embarked and was lost to sight on the river. However, on the following day the nobleman pursued his inquiries in the village and the musician was discovered in an inn.
In obedience to a summons the trumpeter hastened to the castle, where the old lord greeted him very kindly, giving him a place with his musicians, and appointing him music-master to the fair Margaretha. Henceforward his path lay in pleasant places, for the young people were thrown a great deal into each other's society, and in time it became evident that the lady returned the young soldier's tender passion. Yet Werner did not dare to declare his
love, for Margaretha was a maiden of high degree, and he but a poor musician who not so very long ago had been a homeless wanderer.
One day Werner heard strange, discordant sounds issuing from the music-room, and thinking that some mischievous page was taking liberties with his trumpet, he quietly made his way to the spot, to find that the inharmonious sounds resulted from the vain attempt of his fair pupil to play the instrument. When the girl observed that her endeavours had been overheard, she joined her merriment with that of her teacher, and Werner then and there taught her a bugle-call.
A few weeks later the nobleman, hearing of a rising of the peasants, hastened to Säckingen to restore order, leaving his daughter and Werner to guard the castle. That night an attempt was made upon the stronghold. Werner courageously kept the foe at bay, but was wounded in the mêlée, and Margaretha, seeing her lover fall and being unable to reach him, took the trumpet and sounded the bugle-call he had taught her, hoping that her father would hear it and hasten his return. And, sure enough, that was what happened; the nobleman returned with all speed to the assistance of the little garrison, and the remnant of the assailants were routed. Werner, who was happily not wounded seriously, now received every attention.
Her lover's peril had taught Margaretha beyond a doubt where her affections lay, and she showed such unfeigned delight at his recovery that he forgot the difference in their rank and told her of his love. There on the terrace they plighted their troth, and vowed to remain true to each other, whatever might befall. Werner now ventured to seek the nobleman that he might acquaint him of the circumstances and beg for his daughter's hand, but ere he
could prefer his request the old man proceeded to tell him that he had but just received a letter from an old friend desiring that his son should marry Margaretha. As the young man was of noble birth, he added, and eligible in every respect he was disposed to agree to the arrangement, and he desired Werner to write to him and invite him to Säckingen. The unfortunate soldier now made his belated announcement; but the old man shook his head and declared that only a nobleman should wed with his daughter. It is true he was greatly attached to the young musician, but his ideas were those of his times, and so Werner was obliged to quit his service and fare once more into the wide world.
Years passed by, and Margaretha, who had resolutely discouraged the advances of her high-born lover, grew so pale and woebegone that her father in despair sent her to Italy. When in Rome she went one Sunday with her maid to St. Peter's Church, and there, leading the Papal choir, was her lover! Margaretha promptly fainted, and Werner, who had recognized his beloved, was only able with difficulty to perform the remainder of his choral duties. Meanwhile the Pope had observed that the young man was deeply affected, and believing this to be caused by the lady's indisposition, he desired that the couple should be brought before him at the conclusion of the service. With kindly questioning he elicited the whole story, and was so touched by the romance that he immediately created Werner Marquis of Santo Campo and arranged that the marriage of the young people should take place at once. Immediately after the ceremony, having received the Papal blessing, they returned to Säckingen, where the father of the bride greeted them cordially, for Margaretha was restored to health
and happiness, and his own condition was satisfied, for had she not brought home a noble husband?
In the woods of Zähringen there dwelt a young charcoal-burner. His parents before him had followed the same humble calling, and one might have supposed that the youth would be well satisfied to emulate their simple industry and contentment. But in truth it was not so. On one occasion, while on an errand to the town, he had witnessed a tournament, and the brilliant spectacle of beauty and chivalry had lingered in his memory and fired his boyish enthusiasm, so that thenceforth he was possessed by 'divine discontent.' The romance of the ancient forests wherein he dwelt fostered his strange longings, and in fancy he already saw himself a knight, fighting in the wars, jousting in the lists, receiving, perchance, the prize of the tourney from the fair hands of its queen. And, indeed, in all save birth and station he was well fitted for the profession of arms--handsome, brave, spirited, and withal gentle and courteous.
Time passed, and his ambitions seemed as far as ever from realization. Yet the ambitious mind lacks not fuel for its fires; the youth's imagination peopled the woody solitudes with braver company than courts could boast--vivid, unreal dream-people, whose shadowy presence increased his longing for the actuality. The very winds whispered mysteriously of coming triumphs, and as he listened his unrest grew greater. At length there came a time when dreams no longer satisfied him, and he pondered how he might attain his desires.
"I will go out into the world," he said to himself, "and take service under some great knight. Then, peradventure------"
[paragraph continues] At this point his musings were interrupted by the approach of an old man, clad in the garb of a hermit.
"My son," he said, "what aileth thee? Nay"--as the youth looked up in astonishment--"nay, answer me not, for I know what thou wouldst have. Yet must thou not forsake thy lowly occupation; that which thou dost seek will only come to thee whilst thou art engaged thereon. Follow me, and I will show thee the spot where thy destiny will meet thee."
The young man, not yet recovered from his surprise, followed his aged guide to a distant part of the forest. Then the hermit bade him farewell and left him to ponder on the cryptic saying: "Here thy destiny will meet thee."
"Time will show the old man's meaning, I suppose," he said to himself; "in any case, I may as well burn charcoal here as elsewhere."
He set to work, hewed down some great trees, and built a kiln, which, before lighting, he covered with stony earth. What was his amazement when, on removing the cover of the kiln in due course, he discovered within some pieces of pure gold! A moment's reflection convinced him that the precious metal must have been melted out of the stones, so he again built a kiln, and experienced the same gratifying result. Delighted with his good fortune, he concealed his treasure in an appropriate hiding-place and proceeded to repeat the process till he had obtained and hidden a large fortune, of whose existence none but himself was aware.
One night, as he lay awake listening to the wind in the trees--for his great wealth had this drawback, that it robbed him of his sleep--he fancied he heard a knock at the door. At first he thought he must have been mistaken,
but as he hesitated whether to rise or not the knock was repeated. Boldly he undid the door--a feat requiring no small courage in that remote part of the forest, where robbers and freebooters abounded--and there, without, stood a poor wayfarer, who humbly begged admittance. He was being pursued, he declared; would the charcoal-burner shelter him for a few days? Touched by the suppliant's plight, and moved by feelings worthy of his chivalrous ideals, the youth readily extended the hospitality of his poor home, and for some time the stranger sojourned there in peace. He did not offer to reveal his identity, nor was he questioned on that point. But one morning he declared his intention of taking his departure.
"My friend," he said warmly, "I know not how I may thank you for your brave loyalty. The time has come when you must know whom you have served so faithfully. Behold your unfortunate Emperor, overcome in battle, deprived of friends and followers and fortune!"
At these astounding words the young charcoal-burner sank on his knees before the Emperor.
"Sire," he said, "you have yet one humble subject who will never forsake you while life remains to him."
"I know," replied the Emperor gently, raising him to his feet, "and therefore I ask of you one last service. It is that you may lead me by some secret path to the place where the remnant of my followers await me. Alas, that I, once so powerful, should be unable to offer you any token of a sovereign's gratitude!"
"Sire," ventured the youth, "methinks I may be privileged to render yet one more service to your Majesty." Straightway he told the story of his hidden treasure and with simple dignity placed it at the disposal of his sovereign, asking for nothing in return but the right to
spend his strength in the Emperor's service--a right which was readily accorded him.
The gold, now withdrawn from its place of concealment, proved to be a goodly store, and with it the Emperor had no difficulty in raising another army. Such was the courage and confidence of his new troops that the first battle they fought resulted in victory. But the most valiant stand was made by the erstwhile charcoal-burner, who found on that field the opportunity of which he had long dreamt. The Emperor showed his recognition of the gallant services by knighting the young man on the field of battle. On the eminence whither the old hermit had led him the knight built a castle which was occupied by himself and his successors for many generations.
And thus did the charcoal-burner become the knight of Zähringen, the friend of his Emperor, the first of a long line of illustrious knights, honoured and exalted beyond his wildest dreams.
With this legend we close on a brighter and more hopeful note than is usually associated with legends of the Rhine. The reader may have observed in perusing these romances how closely they mirror their several environments. For the most part those which are gay and buoyant in spirit have for the places of their birth slopes where is prisoned the sunshine which later sparkles in the wine-cup and inspires song and cheerfulness. Those, again, which are sombre and tragic have as background the gloomy forest, the dark and windy promontory which overhangs the darker river, or the secluded nunnery. In such surroundings is fostered the germ of tragedy, that feeling of the inevitable which is inherent in all great literature. It
is to a tragic imagination of a lofty type that we are indebted for the greatest of these legends, and he who cannot appreciate their background of gloomy grandeur will never come at the true spirit of that mighty literature of Germany, at once the joy and the despair of all who know it.
Countless songs, warlike and tender, sad and passionate, have been penned on the river whose deathless tales we have been privileged to display to the reader. But no such strains of regret upon abandoning its shores have been sung as those which passed the lips of the English poet, Byron, and it is fitting that this book should end with lines so appropriate:
Adieu to thee again! a vain adieu!
There can be no farewell to scene like thine;
The mind is colour’d by thy every hue;
And if reluctantly the eyes resign
Their cherish’d gaze upon thee, lovely Rhine!
’Tis with the thankful heart of parting praise;
More mighty spots may rise, more glaring shine,
But none unite in one attaching maze
The brilliant, fair, and soft,--the glories of old days.
The negligently grand, the fruitful bloom
Of coming ripeness, the white city’s sheen,
The rolling stream, the precipice’s gloom,
The forest’s growth, and Gothic walls between,
The wild rocks shaped as they had turrets been,
In mockery of man’s art: and there withal
A race of faces happy as the scene,
Whose fertile bounties here extend to all,
Still springing o’er thy banks, though Empires near them fall.