Page images
PDF
EPUB

-trees were loaded with peasants, hung up for no other crime than because they were subjects of King Eginhard-and the good emperor rode through it all, and ordered a conflagration here, and a massacre there, without the slightest pang of conscience, and with the agreeable notion that he was merely doing a rational act of justice. At Prague there was a little revolution going on, for though the emperor had not yet reached the capital, the inhabitants shrewdly guessed what was coming, and heartily cursed King Eginhard, and the fair Adelaide, and the crafty Dietwold, who, by his excessive talent, had brought all these calamities about their ears. The king stopped the popular movement by cutting off his preceptor's head and pitching it out of the palace-window to the crowd below, but the progress of the invading army was not so easily to be checked. Adelaide thought she would try the effect of a letter, and accordingly sent an affectionate epistle to her father, in which she confessed that she had acted wrong, but argued that it was rather hard that the poor devils of Bohemians, who had nothing to do with her elopement, should be made to suffer. She represented, moreover, that her husband, Eginhard, had acted as handsomely as possible under the circumstances, for he had cut off the head of his tutor, who had originated all the mischief.

The emperor's answer was as follows:

"Beloved daughter. Your humble supplications have moved me to compassion, and therefore, instead of putting you to death as I originally designed, I shall merely send you back to the convent, where you will be kept in solitary confinement for the remainder of your days. But as for that *** villain, your husband, it is my intention to load him with chains, and afterwards to strike his evil head from his shoulders. I would suggest that he come to my tent of his own accord, that I may put this intention into effect, for if he does not, there shall not be a single man, woman, or child alive in Bohemia, from one end to the other."

It is needless to remark that the king and queen did not find this letter consoling.

III.

HOW KING EGINHARD RETIRED FROM PUBLIC LIFE, AND HOW THE EMPEROR LOST HIS WAY.

UNDER the pressure of these melancholy circumstances, King Eginhard began to reflect that discretion is the better part of valour, and he also bethought himself of an old strong castle, in the middle of the Bohemian forest. So to this same castle he retired with his wife Adelaide and a few trusty friends, taking good care that no other of his subjects should be acquainted with his place of retreat. There he lived for many a month, knowing nothing of what was going on around him, and perfectly satisfied with his own state of obscurity, till one night he was dreadfully frightened at the sound of a bell in the vicinity. The bell, however, boded no harm, for the tinkle only came from a neighbouring hermitage, and the hermit, whose name was Paul, was soon taken into the service, and employed as a sort of scout.

Whilst King Eginhard was snugly ensconced in his retreat, the plundering, burning, and hanging were going on as vigorously as ever. When

the good emperor had slaughtered in cold blood, about a fifth part of the rural population of Bohemia, he entered Prague, and lo!-no Eginhard was there. This unexpected absence produced somewhat of a re-action in his mind. Perhaps he was superstitious, and thought fortune was against him. At all events, he mercifully contented himself with hanging a score of the principal citizens of Prague, and then began to march home. Somehow or other, on his way back, he and his squire, Strado, for whom he had a great respect, were separated from the army, and lost. themselves in the very wood where King Eginhard was concealed. It was a dark, uncomfortable sort of place, and the roaring of the bears and wolves did not at all increase the pleasure of the wanderers. At the same time, these animals prevented the journey from being monotonous. three wolves attacked the valiant pair, who slew two of them, and put the other to flight, but while they were thus occupied their horses were devoured by a couple of bears. These calamities disposed the emperor's mind to melancholy, and his conscience smote him, when he thought of the harshness he had shown to his daughter Adelaide. As for any remorse for slaughtering those unfortunate Bohemians by wholesale, such a thing never for an instant crossed the imperial mind.

When they had reached a mountain overgrown with trees, the squire proposed to climb one of the loftiest, and look out for some place of shelter. Accordingly he ascended a very tall, tapering tree, which, when he was on the top, began to swing backwards and forwards with his weight like an inverted pendulum. The squire was of a short lusty figure, and albeit the emperor's mind was harassed by the perils of his situation, and oppressed with grief at the remembrance of his daughter, yet could he not help laughing at his swinging squire, till he made the woods echo again. The squire descended from his perch. "I am delighted to have afforded so much amusement to your gracious majesty," he said, "and be doubtless still further pleased to hear that I have seen a light.'

you will The emperor was pleased-so very pleased that he promised to grant his squire every favour which the latter might desire, and off they walked to the castle in which Eginhard resided, and whence the light proceeded. "What shall we say when we knock at the door?" asked Strado.

66

Say of course that we are the emperor," replied the potentate, with dignity.

"With due deference to your majesty's superior wisdom," observed the squire, "I think that is about the last thing in the world we ought to say. For although the atrocities we have performed-('How!' interrupted the emperor)-I mean, although the deeds we have achieved in Bohemia were in themselves highly meritorious and praiseworthy, I do not think they were exactly of a nature to gain us favour with the inhabitants of the country. It strikes me that we had better conceal our dignity."

The emperor sneered at the observation, but took the hint, and accordingly when the warder asked them who they were, they replied that they were two knights'-errant, who, hearing of the emperor's proceedings in Bohemia, had prudently resolved to avoid him, and had lost their way in the wood. All they wanted was a place of rest for the night.

IV.

SHOWING A PROSPECT OF BETTER THINGS.

in

Now when we consider that King Eginhard had let his beard grow such a fashion, that his own father would scarcely have known him, and also that the emperor had only seen him once, and that in a crowd, we shall not wonder that no recognition took place when the travellers entered the castle. Adelaide had long retired to rest, for the life at the castle was very dull, and she liked to shorten her days by going to bed as early as possible.

It was the ancient custom of knighthood that when a guest arrived at a domicile, he, in the first place, gave up his helmet to the guard. Then, in the name of the lady of the castle, his sword was required of him by a noble page, and restored to him on the following day. This was done on the occasion of the emperor's visit to Castle Schildheiss-the place of Eginhard's retreat. The page took the swords of the emperor and the squire, and when he had conducted the illustrious guests to their sleeping apartment, placed the weapons in the hands of the king, who took them, with the girdles to which they were attached, into his own chamber.

When the queen awoke she saw the swords, and, what was of far more importance, she saw the girdles. The emperor's girdle had been embroidered with her own hand, in happy days, before he had thought of the convent, and therefore she recognised it at once, and therefore, by a rapid process of reasoning, she came to the unpleasant conclusion that one of the newly arrived guests was her imperial sire.

"Hem!-that is awkward," muttered Eginhard, when he heard her conviction.

"Very," observed Adelaide.

While the Royal Bohemian couple were discoursing on their situation, the emperor and his squire were indulging in pleasant and ingenious converse in the adjoining room; the former congratulating himself on the shelter he had found, and cursing the King of Bohemia with greater vehemence than ever. It was a great amusement with the emperor to consider what he should do with the obnoxious sovereign, if by chance he caught him. Sometimes he would devise all sorts of physical tortures, and with great satisfaction gloat over one which seemed peculiarly exquisite. At other times he seemed to prefer moral degradation, and declared with great unction, that he would use the king for his footstool, whenever he had occasion to mount his horse. As the King of Bohemia, planting his ear against a chink in the partition, listened to all these facetious plans, his heart felt not a little uneasy.

6:

"After all," said the squire, it strikes me that your majesty might as well adopt a little clemency by way of a change. With that strong feeling of justice by which your majesty is distinguished, you have already laid waste the greater part of Bohemia, and so frightened the king that he dare not so much as show his face."

"You insinuate that I ought to forgive him," said the emperor, "well, something of the sort has occurred to me. Indeed, if he had only trespassed on my dominions, slaughtered a few thousand peasants, and even knocked a man or two on the head, I would have pardoned him with

pleasure long ago. Acts of that kind belong to those little aberrations, in which sovereigns may be expected to indulge, and which call for leniency. But when it comes to taking a man's-I mean an emperor's daughter-out of a convent, there is a sort of impiety about the affair which one can scarcely overlook. Good heavens! we shall next hear of

a peasant killing game!"

"I am sorry to differ from your majesty," ("So you ought to be," growled the emperor), "but really, of all the weaknesses that are excusable in human nature, that of running away from a convent seems to me particularly venial," said the squire. "With all the respect I bear for your majesty, I am convinced that if you had put me in a convent, I should have run away with a celerity, only to be equalled by the swiftness of your imperial vengeance. It is not every one that relishes the notion of a convent, and I recollect the page Bragomart remarked, at the time you sent the Princess Adelaide to Ratisbon, that the scheme was exceedingly ill advised."

"Then," said the emperor, "as soon as we get home, we will hang up the page Bragomart for his impertinence. At the same time, that is no reason we should not avail ourselves of his remark. Yes, Strado, I do think that I have not behaved to my daughter with that supreme wisdom which is naturally expected in a successor of Charlemagne. If I were any thing less than an emperor, it is just possible I might run the risk of being called an old fool. Lo, I here declare, that before I touch a hair of King Eginhard's head, or damage one more of his subjects, I will-seriously think the matter over. And, on second thoughts, we will not hang Bragomart, but we will make him Knight of the Blue Boar instead."

Then the good emperor fell into a maudlin strain, and talked of his daughter's beauty and accomplishments, till the faithful squire yawned again. In the middle of a long panegyric, a rattle, as of a chain, was suddenly heard.

"What the devil is that?" said the emperor.

V.

A SCENE OF DOMESTIC INTEREST.

It is an old received notion that the clanking of chains, even apart from all thoughts respecting a loss of liberty, is a most disagreeable sound. If you go into a haunted house, it is ten to one but you hear a rustling of silks or a clanking of chains. Why the ghost will wear such noisy incumbrances it is impossible to say, but nevertheless this appears to belong to the perverted taste of the supernatural world.

Now, when the rattle of chains was heard in that dismal castle Schildheiss, it is by no means marvellous, not only that the squire's teeth began to chatter, but also that the emperor himself lost somewhat of his presence of mind. Presently he looked for his sword, but after a vain search, he recollected that he had given it upon entering the castle, and he accordingly cursed the custom of knighthood with exceeding vigour.

The door opened, and discovered no horrible tableau, but a situation

of touching domestic interest; for in walked King Eginhard and his queen, holding a large chain between them, and throwing themselves at the emperor's feet, requested that he would either forgive them, or bind them with the chain, and hand them over to the tormentors. To the emperor all this seemed a wonderful manifestation of contrition, but we, who know how close the rooms were, are perfectly certain that the king and the big chain would never have appeared, if the former had not heard the agreeable turn in the conversation above described. The scene completely answered its purpose; the emperor being hit in a lucky moment, not only gave his complete forgiveness to the King and Queen of Bohemia, but even growled out a sort of sorrow at the mischief he had done. The young couple, in high glee at the lucky event, quitted the apartment, and set about preparing a magnificent supper, that the emperor might be entertained that very night.

"Come," said the squire, as soon as he was left alone with his imperial master; "I think we have got very well out of that scrape."

"Scrape!" said the astonished emperor, "what do you mean by

scrape ?"

66

Why, it only strikes me, that if his majesty of Bohemia, your royal son-in-law, had not been the most amiable person in the world, he might have chosen to cut our imperial throats instead of asking our forgiveness."

"Parlons d'autre chose," murmured the emperor.

VI.

HOW SIR STRADO ACQUIRED LARGE POSSESSIONS, AND HOW LONG HE KEPT THEM.

THE supper came off with exceeding splendour, and the emperor's good-humour being still increased by numerous potations, the Squire Strado took occasion to remind him of the very liberal promise he had made in the forest, viz., to grant any thing which he (Strado) might choose to ask. The emperor was not a little terrified at the production of this "blank cheque" on his generosity, but was greatly consoled when the squire informed him that all he desired was the honour of knighthood.

"The request," thought the emperor," is highly presumptuous, but it is nothing out of one's pocket."

So not only did he make him a knight, calling him "Sir Strado of the Fir-tree," in commemoration of the tree on which he had cut so striking a figure, but he gave him Castle Schildheiss and all the adjoining district -an inexpensive gift when we consider, in the first place, that it was a dreary place, which no one would inhabit except from extreme necessity; and in the second place, that it did not belong to the emperor at all, but to the King of Bohemia, who, however, was in too good a humour to make frivolous objections.

When the emperor had gone home with his destructive army, and the king and queen had returned to their metropolis, Prague, Sir Strado, who was left behind, set about improving his property. He invited to

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »