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- The Dove in the Eagle's Nest - 20/59 -


submission has never been made, and the Emperor cannot dispose of our wardship."

And Kunigunde looked defiant, regarding herself and her grandson as quite as good as the Emperor, and ready to blast her daughter-in-law with her eyes for murmuring gratefully and wistfully, "Thanks, noble sir, thanks!"

"Let me at least win a friendly right in my young cousins," said Sir Kasimir, the more drawn by pitying admiration towards their mother, as he perceived more of the grandmother's haughty repulsiveness and want of comprehension of the dangers of her position. "They are not baptized? Let me become their godfather."

Christina's face was all joy and gratitude, and even the grandmother made no objection; in fact, it was the babes' only chance of a noble sponsor; and Father Norbert, who had already been making ready for the baptism, was sent for from the hall. Kunigunde, meantime, moved about restlessly, went half-way down the stairs, and held council with some one there; Ursel likewise, bustled about, and Sir Kasimir remained seated on the chair that had been placed for him near Christina's bed.

She was able again to thank him, and add, "It may be that you will have more cause than the lady grandmother thinks to remember your offer of protection to my poor orphans. Their father and grandfather were, in very deed, on their way to make submission."

"That is well known to me," said Sir Kasimir. "Lady, I will do all in my power for you. The Emperor shall hear the state of things; and, while no violence is offered to travellers," he added, lowering his tone, "I doubt not he will wait for full submission till this young Baron be of age to tender it."

"We are scarce in force to offer violence," said Christina sighing. "I have no power to withstand the Lady Baroness. I am like a stranger here; but, oh! sir, if the Emperor and Diet will be patient and forbearing with this desolate house, my babes, if they live, shall strive to requite their mercy by loyalty. And the blessing of the widow and fatherless will fall on you, most generous knight," she added, fervently, holding out her hand.

"I would I could do more for you," said the knight. "Ask, and all I can do is at your service."

"Ah, sir," cried Christina, her eyes brightening, "there is one most inestimable service you could render me--to let my uncle, Master Gottfried, the wood-carver of Ulm, know where I am, and of my state, and of my children."

Sir Kasimir repeated the name.

"Yes," she said. "There was my home, there was I brought up by my dear uncle and aunt, till my father bore me away to attend on the young lady here. It is eighteen months since they had any tidings from her who was as a daughter to them."

"I will see them myself," said Kasimir; "I know the name. Carved not Master Gottfried the stall-work at Augsburg?"

"Yes, indeed! In chestnut leaves! And the Misereres all with fairy tales!" exclaimed Christina. "Oh, sir, thanks indeed! Bear to the dear, dear uncle and aunt their child's duteous greetings, and tell them she loves them with all her heart, and prays them to forgive her, and to pray for her and her little ones! And," she added, "my uncle may not have learnt how his brother, my father, died by his lord's side. Oh! pray him, if ever he loved his little Christina, to have masses sung for my father and my own dear lord."

As she promised, Ursel came to make the babes ready for their baptism, and Sir Kasimir moved away towards the window. Ursel was looking uneasy and dismayed, and, as she bent over her mistress, she whispered, "Lady, the Schneiderlein sends you word that Matz has called him to help in removing the props of the door you wot of when HE yonder steps across it. He would know if it be your will?"

"The oubliette!" This was Frau Kunigunde's usage of the relative who was doing his best for the welfare of her grandsons! Christina's whole countenance looked so frozen with horror, that Ursel felt as if she had killed her on the spot; but the next moment a flash of relief came over the pale features, and the trembling lip commanded itself to say, "My best thanks to good Heinz. Say to him that I forbid it. If he loves the life of his master's children, he will abstain! Tell him so. My blessings on him if this knight leave the castle safe, Ursel." And her terrified earnest eyes impelled Ursel to hasten to do her bidding; but whether it had been executed, there was no knowing, for almost immediately the Freiherrinn and Father Norbert entered, and Ursel returned with them. Nay, the message given, who could tell if Heinz would be able to act upon it? In the ordinary condition of the castle, he was indeed its most efficient inmate; Matz did not approach him in strength, Hans was a cripple, Hatto would be on the right side; but Jobst the Kohler, and the other serfs who had been called in for the defence, were more likely to hold with the elder than the younger lady. And Frau Kunigunde herself, knowing well that the five-and-twenty men outside would be incompetent to avenge their master, confident in her narrow-minded, ignorant pride that no one could take Schloss Adlerstein, and incapable of understanding the changes in society that were rendering her isolated condition untenable, was certain to scout any representation of the dire consequences that the crime would entail. Kasimir had no near kindred, and private revenge was the only justice the Baroness believed in; she only saw in her crime the satisfaction of an old feud, and the union of the Wildschloss property with the parent stem.

Seldom could such a christening have taken place as that of which Christina's bed-room was the scene--the mother scarcely able even to think of the holy sacrament for the horror of knowing that the one sponsor was already exulting in the speedy destruction of the other; and, poor little feeble thing, rallying the last remnants of her severely-tried powers to prevent the crime at the most terrible of risks.

The elder babe received from his grandmother the hereditary name of Eberhard, but Sir Kasimir looked at the mother inquiringly, ere he gave the other to the priest. Christina had well-nigh said, "Oubliette," but, recalling herself in time, she feebly uttered the name she had longed after from the moment she had known that two sons had been her Easter gift, "Gottfried," after her beloved uncle. But Kunigunde caught the sound, and exclaimed, "No son of Adlerstein shall bear abase craftsman's name. Call him Racher (the avenger);" and in the word there already rang a note of victory and revenge that made Christina's blood run cold. Sir Kasimir marked her trouble. "The lady mother loves not the sound," he said, kindly. "Lady, have you any other wish? Then will I call him Friedmund."

Christina had almost smiled. To her the omen was of the best. Baron Friedmund had been the last common ancestor of the two branches of the family, the patron saint was so called, his wake was her wedding- day, the sound of the word imported peace, and the good Barons Ebbo and Friedel had ever been linked together lovingly by popular memory. And so the second little Baron received the name of Friedmund, and then the knight of Wildschloss, perceiving, with consideration rare in a warrior, that the mother looked worn out and feverish, at once prepared to kiss her hand and take leave.

"One more favour, Sir Knight," she said, lifting up her head, while a burning spot rose on either cheek. "I beg of you to take my two babes down--yes, both, both, in your own arms, and show them to your men, owning them as your kinsmen and godsons."

Sir Kasimir looked exceedingly amazed, as if he thought the lady's senses taking leave of her, and Dame Kunigunde broke out into declarations that it was absurd, and she did not know what she was talking of; but she repeated almost with passion, "Take them, take them, you know not how much depends on it." Ursel, with unusual readiness of wit, signed and whispered that the young mother must be humoured, for fear of consequences; till the knight, in a good- natured, confused way, submitted to receive the two little bundles in his arms, while he gave place to Kunigunde, who hastily stepped before him in a manner that made Christina trust that her precaution would be effectual.

The room was reeling round with her. The agony of those few minutes was beyond all things unspeakable. What had seemed just before like a certain way of saving the guest without real danger to her children, now appeared instead the most certain destruction to all, and herself the unnatural mother who had doomed her new-born babes for a stranger's sake. She could not even pray; she would have shrieked to have them brought back, but her voice was dead within her, her tongue clave to the roof of her mouth, ringings in her ears hindered her even from listening to the descending steps. She lay as one dead, when ten minutes afterwards the cry of one of her babes struck on her ear, and the next moment Ursel stood beside her, laying them down close to her, and saying exultingly, "Safe! safe out at the gate, and down the hillside, and my old lady ready to gnaw off her hands for spite!"

CHAPTER IX: THE EAGLETS

Christina's mental and bodily constitution had much similarity-- apparently most delicate, tender, and timid, yet capable of a vigour, health, and endurance that withstood shocks that might have been fatal to many apparently stronger persons. The events of that frightful Easter Monday morning did indeed almost kill her; but the effects, though severe, were not lasting; and by the time the last of Ermentrude's snow-wreath had vanished, she was sunning her babes at the window, happier than she had ever thought to be--above all, in the possession of both the children. A nurse had been captured for the little Baron from the village on the hillside; but the woman had fretted, the child had pined, and had been given back to his mother to save his life; and ever since both had thriven perfectly under her sole care, so that there was very nearly joy in that room.

Outside it, there was more bitterness than ever. The grandmother had softened for a few moments at the birth of the children, with satisfaction at obtaining twice as much as she had hoped; but the frustration of her vengeance upon Kasimir of Adlerstein Wildschloss had renewed all her hatred, and she had no scruple in abusing "the burgher-woman" to the whole household for her artful desire to captivate another nobleman. She, no doubt, expected that degenerate fool of a Wildschlosser to come wooing after her; "if he did he should meet his deserts." It was the favourite reproach whenever she chose to vent her fury on the mute, blushing, weeping young widow, whose glance at her babies was her only appeal against the cruel accusation.


The Dove in the Eagle's Nest - 20/59

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