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- The Dove in the Eagle's Nest - 30/59 -
the dance with the handsome bride of the Rathsherr, Ulrich Burger. Ebbo blushed up to the eyes, and muttered that he prayed his uncle to excuse him.
"So!" said the old citizen, really displeased; "thy kinsman might have proved to thee that it is no derogation of thy lordly dignity. I have been patient with thee, but thy pride passes--"
"Sir," interposed Friedel hastily, raising his sweet candid face with a look between shame and merriment, "it is not that; but you forget what poor mountaineers we are. Never did we tread a measure save now and then with our mother on a winter evening, and we know no more than a chamois of your intricate measures."
Master Gottfried looked perplexed, for these dances were matters of great punctilio. It was but seven years since the Lord of Praunstein had defied the whole city of Frankfort because a damsel of that place had refused to dance with one of his Cousins; and, though "Fistright" and letters of challenge had been made illegal, yet the whole city of Ulm would have resented the affront put on it by the young lord of Adlerstein. Happily the Freiherr of Adlerstein Wildschloss was at hand. "Herr Burgomaster," he said, "let me commence the dance with your fair lady niece. By your testimony," he added, smiling to the youths, "she can tread a measure. And, after marking us, you may try your success with the Rathsherrinn."
Christina would gladly have transferred her noble partner to the Rathsherrinn, but she feared to mortify her good uncle and aunt further, and consented to figure alone with Sir Kasimir in one of the majestic, graceful dances performed by a single couple before a gazing assembly. So she let him lead her to her place, and they bowed and bent, swept past one another, and moved in interlacing lines and curves, with a grand slow movement that displayed her quiet grace and his stately port and courtly air.
"Is it not beautiful to see the motherling?" said Friedel to his brother; "she sails like a white cloud in a soft wind. And he stands grand as a stag at gaze."
"Like a malapert peacock, say I," returned Ebbo; "didst not see, Friedel, how he kept his eyes on her in church? My uncle says the Bohemians are mere deceivers. Depend on it the woman had spied his insolent looks when she made her ribald prediction."
"See," said Friedel, who had been watching the steps rather than attending, "it will be easy to dance it now. It is a figure my mother once tried to teach us. I remember it now."
"Then go and do it, since better may not be."
"Nay, but it should be thou."
"Who will know which of us it is? I hated his presumption too much to mark his antics."
Friedel came forward, and the substitution was undetected by all save their mother and uncle; by the latter only because, addressing Ebbo, he received a reply in a tone such as Friedel never used.
Natural grace, quickness of ear and eye, and a skilful partner, rendered Friedel's so fair a performance that he ventured on sending his brother to attend the councilloress with wine and comfits; while he in his own person performed another dance with the city dame next in pretension, and their mother was amused by Sir Kasimir's remark, that her second son danced better than the elder, but both must learn.
The remark displeased Ebbo. In his isolated castle he knew no superior, and his nature might yield willingly, but rebelled at being put down. His brother was his perfect equal in all mental and bodily attributes, but it was the absence of all self-assertion that made Ebbo so often give him the preference; it was his mother's tender meekness in which lay her power with him; and if he yielded to Gottfried Sorel's wisdom and experience, it was with the inward consciousness of voluntary deference to one of lower rank. But here was Wildschloss, of the same noble blood with himself, his elder, his sponsor, his protector, with every right to direct him, so that there was no choice between grateful docility and headstrong folly. If the fellow had been old, weak, or in any way inferior, it would have been more bearable; but he was a tried warrior, a sage counsellor, in the prime vigour of manhood, and with a kindly reasonable authority to which only a fool could fail to attend, and which for that very reason chafed Ebbo excessively.
Moreover there was the gipsy prophecy ever rankling in the lad's heart, and embittering to him the sight of every civility from his kinsman to his mother. Sir Kasimir lodged at a neighbouring hostel; but he spent much time with his cousins, and tried to make them friends with his squire, Count Rudiger. A great offence to Ebbo was however the criticisms of both knight and squire on the bearing of the young Barons in military exercises. Truly, with no instructor but the rough lanzknecht Heinz, they must, as Friedel said, have been born paladins to have equalled youths whose life had been spent in chivalrous training.
"See us in a downright fight," said Ebbo; "we could strike as hard as any courtly minion."
"As hard, but scarce as dexterously," said Friedel, "and be called for our pains the wild mountaineers. I heard the men-at-arms saying I sat my horse as though it were always going up or down a precipice; and Master Schmidt went into his shop the other day shrugging his shoulders, and saying we hailed one another across the market-place as if we thought Ulm was a mountain full of gemsbocks."
"Thou heardst! and didst not cast his insolence in his teeth?" cried Ebbo.
"How could I," laughed Friedel, "when the echo was casting back in my teeth my own shout to thee? I could only laugh with Rudiger."
"The chief delight I could have, next to getting home, would be to lay that fellow Rudiger on his back in the tilt-yard," said Ebbo.
But, as Rudiger was by four years his senior, and very expert, the upshot of these encounters was quite otherwise, and the young gentlemen were disabused of the notion that fighting came by nature, and found that, if they desired success in a serious conflict, they must practise diligently in the city tilt-yard, where young men were trained to arms. The crossbow was the only weapon with which they excelled; and, as shooting was a favourite exercise of the burghers, their proficiency was not as exclusive as had seemed to Ebbo a baronial privilege. Harquebuses were novelties to them, and they despised them as burgher weapons, in spite of Sir Kasimir's assurance that firearms were a great subject of study and interest to the King of the Romans. The name of this personage was, it may be feared, highly distasteful to the Freiherr von Adlerstein, both as Wildschloss's model of knightly perfection, and as one who claimed submission from his haughty spirit. When Sir Kasimir spoke to him on the subject of giving his allegiance, he stiffly replied, "Sir, that is a question for ripe consideration."
"It is the question," said Wildschloss, rather more lightly than agreed with the Baron's dignity, "whether you like to have your castle pulled down about your ears."
"That has never happened yet to Adlerstein!" said Ebbo, proudly.
"No, because since the days of the Hohenstaufen there has been neither rule nor union in the empire. But times are changing fast, my Junker, and within the last ten years forty castles such as yours have been consumed by the Swabian League, as though they were so many walnuts."
"The shell of Adlerstein was too hard for them, though. They never tried."
"And wherefore, friend Eberhard? It was because I represented to the Kaiser and the Graf von Wurtemberg that little profit and no glory would accrue from attacking a crag full of women and babes, and that I, having the honour to be your next heir, should prefer having the castle untouched, and under the peace of the empire, so long as that peace was kept. When you should come to years of discretion, then it would be for you to carry out the intention wherewith your father and grandfather left home."
"Then we have been protected by the peace of the empire all this time?" said Friedel, while Ebbo looked as if the notion were hard of digestion.
"Even so; and, had you not freely and nobly released your Genoese merchant, it had gone hard with Adlerstein."
"Could Adlerstein be taken?" demanded Ebbo triumphantly.
"Your grandmother thought not," said Sir Kasimir, with a shade of irony in his tone. "It would be a troublesome siege; but the League numbers 1,500 horse, and 9,000 foot, and, with Schlangenwald's concurrence, you would be assuredly starved out."
Ebbo was so much the more stimulated to take his chance, and do nothing on compulsion; but Friedel put in the question to what the oaths would bind them.
"Only to aid the Emperor with sword and counsel in field or Diet, and thereby win fame and honour such as can scarce be gained by carrying prey to yon eagle roost."
"One may preserve one's independence without robbery," said Ebbo coldly.
"Nay, lad: did you ever hear of a wolf that could live without marauding? Or if he tried, would he get credit for so doing?"
"After all," said Friedel, "does not the present agreement hold till we are of age? I suppose the Swabian League would attempt nothing against minors, unless we break the peace?"
"Probably not; I will do my utmost to give the Freiherr there time to grow beyond his grandmother's maxims," said Wildschloss. "If Schlangenwald do not meddle in the matter, he may have the next five years to decide whether Adlerstein can hold out against all Germany."
"Freiherr Kasimir von Adlerstein Wildschloss," said Eberhard, turning solemnly on him, "I do you to wit once for all that threats will not serve with me. If I submit, it will be because I am convinced it is right. Otherwise we had rather both be buried in the ruins of our castle, as its last free lords."
"So!" said the provoking kinsman; "such burials look grim when the
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