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- The Dove in the Eagle's Nest - 50/59 -
something to set you by the ears together again, which, judging by this morning's work, is not improbable."
"Alas! no," said Ebbo, "while I am laid by."
"Had you both been in our camp, you should have sworn friendship in my chapel. Now must Dankwart come hither to thee, as I trow he had best do, while I am here to keep the peace. See, friend Ebbo, we will have him here to-morrow; thy chaplain shall deck the altar here, the Father Abbot shall say mass, and ye shall swear peace and brotherhood before me. And," he added, taking Ebbo's hand, "I shall know how to trust thine oaths as of one who sets the fear of God above that of his king."
This was truly the only chance of impressing on the wild vassals of the two houses an obligation that perhaps might override their ancient hatred; and the Baron and his mother gladly submitted to the arrangement. Maximilian withdrew to give directions for summoning the persons required and Christina was soon obliged to leave her son, while she provided for her influx of guests.
Ebbo was alone till nearly the end of the supper below stairs. He had been dozing, when a cautious tread came up the turret steps, and he started, and called out, "Who goes there? I am not asleep."
"It is your kinsman, Freiherr," said a well-known voice; "I come by your mother's leave."
"Welcome, Sir Cousin," said Ebbo, holding out his hand. "You come to find everything changed."
"I have knelt in the chapel," said Wildschloss, gravely.
"And he loved you better than I!" said Ebbo.
"Your jealousy of me was a providential thing, for which all may be thankful," said Wildschloss gravely; "yet it is no small thing to lose the hope of so many years! However, young Baron, I have grave matter for your consideration. Know you the service on which I am to be sent? The Kaisar deems that the Armenians or some of the Christian nations on the skirts of the Ottoman empire might be made our allies, and attack the Turk in his rear. I am chosen as his envoy, and shall sail so soon as I can make my way to Venice. I only knew of the appointment since I came hither, he having been led thereto by letters brought him this day; and mayhap by the downfall of my hopes. He was peremptory, as his mood is, and seemed to think it no small favour," added Wildschloss, with some annoyance. "And meantime, what of my poor child? There she is in the cloister at Ulm, but an inheritance is a very mill-stone round the neck of an orphan maid. That insolent fellow, Lassla von Trautbach, hath already demanded to espouse the poor babe; he--a blood-stained, dicing, drunken rover, with whom I would not trust a dog that I loved! Yet my death would place her at the disposal of his father, who would give her at once to him. Nay, even his aunt, the abbess, will believe nothing against him, and hath even striven with me to have her betrothed at once. On the barest rumour of my death will they wed the poor little thing, and then woe to her, and woe to my vassals!"
"The King," suggested Ebbo. "Surely she might be made his ward."
"Young man," said Sir Kasimir, bending over him, and speaking in an undertone, "he may well have won your heart. As friend, when one is at his side, none can be so winning, or so sincere as he; but with all his brilliant gifts, he says truly of himself that he is a mere reckless huntsman. To-day, while I am with him, he would give me half Austria, or fight single-handed in my cause or Thekla's. Next month, when I am out of sight, comes Trautbach, just when his head is full of keeping the French out of Italy, or reforming the Church, or beating the Turk, or parcelling the empire into circles, or, maybe, of a new touch-hole for a cannon--nay, of a flower-garden, or of walking into a lion's den. He just says, 'Yea, well,' to be rid of the importunity, and all is over with my poor little maiden. Hare- brained and bewildered with schemes has he been as Romish King--how will it be with him as Kaisar? It is but of his wonted madness that he is here at all, when his Austrian states must be all astray for want of him. No, no; I would rather make a weathercock guardian to my daughter. You yourself are the only guard to whom I can safely intrust her."
"My sword as knight and kinsman--" began Ebbo.
"No, no; 'tis no matter of errant knight or distressed damsel. That is King Max's own line!" said Wildschloss, with a little of the irony that used to nettle Ebbo. "There is only one way in which you can save her, and that is as her husband."
Ebbo started, as well he might, but Sir Kasimir laid his hand on him with a gesture that bade him listen ere he spoke. "My first wish for my child," he said, "was to see her brought up by that peerless lady below stairs. The saints--in pity to one so like themselves--spared her the distress our union would have brought her. Now, it would be vain to place my little Thekla in her care, for Trautbach would easily feign my death, and claim his niece, nor are you of age to be made her guardian as head of our house. But, if this marriage rite were solemnized, then would her person and lands alike be yours, and I could leave her with an easy heart."
"But," said the confused, surprised Ebbo, "what can I do? They say I shall not walk for many weeks to come. And, even if I could, I am so young--I have so blundered in my dealings with my own mountaineers, and with this fatal bridge--how should I manage such estates as yours? Some better--"
"Look you, Ebbo," said Wildschloss; "you have erred--you have been hasty; but tell me where to find another youth, whose strongest purpose was as wise as your errors, or who cared for others' good more than for his own violence and vainglory? Brief as your time has been, one knows when one is on your bounds by the aspect of your serfs, the soundness of their dwellings, the prosperity of their crops and cattle above all, by their face and tone if one asks for their lord."
"Ah! it was Friedel they loved. They scarce knew me from Friedel."
"Such as you are, with all the blunders you have made and will make, you are the only youth I know to whom I could intrust my child or my lands. The old Wildschloss castle is a male fief, and would return to you, but there are domains since granted that will cause intolerable trouble and strife, unless you and my poor little heiress are united. As for age, you are--?"
"Eighteen next Easter."
"Then there are scarce eleven years between you. You will find the little one a blooming bride when your first deeds in arms have been fought out."
"And, if my mother trains her up," said Ebbo, thoughtfully, "she will be all the better daughter to her. But, Sir Cousin, you know I too must be going. So soon as I can brook the saddle, I must seek out and ransom my father."
"That is like to be a far shorter and safer journey than mine. The Genoese and Venetians understand traffic with the infidels for their captives, and only by your own fault could you get into danger. Even at the worst, should mishap befall you, you could so order matters as to leave your girl-widow in your mother's charge."
"Then," added Ebbo, "she would still have one left to love and cherish her. Sir Kasimir, it is well; though, if you knew me without my Friedel, you would repent of your bargain."
"Thanks from my heart," said Wildschloss, "but you need not be concerned. You have never been over-friendly with me even with Friedel at your side. But to business, my son. You will endure that title from me now? My time is short."
"What would you have me do? Shall I send the little one a betrothal ring, and ride to Ulm to wed and fetch her home in spring?"
"That may hardly serve. These kinsmen would have seized on her and the castle long ere that time. The only safety is the making wedlock as fast as it can be made with a child of such tender years. Mine is the only power that can make the abbess give her up, and therefore will I ride this moonlight night to Ulm, bring the little one back with me by the time the reconciliation be concluded, and then shall ye be wed by the Abbot of St. Ruprecht's, with the Kaisar for a witness, and thus will the knot be too strong for the Trautbachs to untie."
Ebbo looked disconcerted, and gasped, as if this were over-quick work.--"To-morrow!" he said. "Knows my mother?"
"I go to speak with her at once. The Kaisar's consent I have, as he says, 'If we have one vassal who has common sense and honesty, let us make the most of him.' Ah! my son, I shall return to see you his counsellor and friend."
Those days had no delicacies as to the lady's side taking the initiative: and, in effect, the wealth and power of Wildschloss so much exceeded those of the elder branch that it would have been presumptuous on Eberhard's part to have made the proposal. It was more a treaty than an affair of hearts, and Sir Kasimir had not even gone through the form of inquiring if Ebbo were fancy-free. It was true, indeed, that he was still a boy, with no passion for any one but his mother; but had he even formed a dream of a ladye love, it would scarcely have been deemed a rational objection. The days of romance were no days of romance in marriage.
Yet Christina, wedded herself for pure love, felt this obstacle strongly. The scheme was propounded to her over the hall fire by no less a person than Maximilian himself, and he, whose perceptions were extremely keen when he was not too much engrossed to use them, observed her reluctance through all her timid deference, and probed her reasons so successfully that she owned at last that, though it might sound like folly, she could scarce endure to see her son so bind himself that the romance of his life could hardly be innocent.
"Nay, lady," was the answer, in a tone of deep feeling. "Neither lands nor honours can weigh down the up-springing of true love;" and he bowed his head between his hands.
Verily, all the Low Countries had not impeded the true-hearted affection of Maximilian and Mary; and, though since her death his want of self-restraint had marred his personal character and morals, and though he was now on the point of concluding a most loveless political marriage, yet still Mary was--as he shows her as the Beatrice of both his strange autobiographical allegories--the guiding star of his fitful life; and in heart his fidelity was so unbroken
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