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- Memorials and Other Papers V2 - 1/45 -
MEMORIALS, AND OTHER PAPERS, VOL. II.
BY THOMAS DE QUINCEY
KLOSTERHEIM THE SPHINX'S RIDDLE THE TEMPLARS' DIALOGUES
The winter of 1633 had set in with unusual severity throughout Suabia and Bavaria, though as yet scarcely advanced beyond the first week of November. It was, in fact, at the point when our tale commences, the eighth of that month, or, in our modern computation, the eighteenth; long after which date it had been customary of late years, under any ordinary state of the weather, to extend the course of military operations, and without much decline of vigor. Latterly, indeed, it had become apparent that entire winter campaigns, without either formal suspensions of hostilities, or even partial relaxations, had entered professedly as a point of policy into the system of warfare which now swept over Germany in full career, threatening soon to convert its vast central provinces--so recently blooming Edens of peace and expanding prosperity--into a howling wilderness; and which had already converted immense tracts into one universal aceldama, or human shambles, reviving to the recollection at every step the extent of past happiness in the endless memorials of its destruction. This innovation upon the old practice of war had been introduced by the Swedish armies, whose northern habits and training had fortunately prepared them to receive a German winter as a very beneficial exchange; whilst upon the less hardy soldiers from Italy, Spain, and the Southern France, to whom the harsh transition from their own sunny skies had made the very same climate a severe trial of constitution, this change of policy pressed with a hardship that sometimes [Footnote: Of which there is more than one remarkable instance, to the great dishonor of the French arms, in the records of _her_ share in the Thirty Years' War.] crippled their exertions.
It was a change, however, not so long settled as to resist the extraordinary circumstances of the weather. So fierce had been the cold for the last fortnight, and so premature, that a pretty confident anticipation had arisen, in all quarters throughout the poor exhausted land, of a general armistice. And as this, once established, would offer a ready opening to some measure of permanent pacification, it could not be surprising that the natural hopefulness of the human heart, long oppressed by gloomy prospects, should open with unusual readiness to the first colorable dawn of happier times. In fact, the reaction in the public spirits was sudden and universal. It happened also that the particular occasion of this change of prospect brought with it a separate pleasure on its own account. Winter, which by its peculiar severity had created the apparent necessity for an armistice, brought many household pleasures in its train--associated immemorially with that season in all northern climates. The cold, which had casually opened a path to more distant hopes, was also for the present moment a screen between themselves and the enemy's sword. And thus it happened that the same season, which held out a not improbable picture of final restoration, however remote, to public happiness, promised them a certain foretaste of this blessing in the immediate security of their homes.
But in the ancient city of Klosterheim it might have been imagined that nobody participated in these feelings. A stir and agitation amongst the citizens had been conspicuous for some days; and on the morning of the eighth, spite of the intense cold, persons of every rank were seen crowding from an early hour to the city walls, and returning homewards at intervals, with anxious and dissatisfied looks. Groups of both sexes were collected at every corner of the wider streets, keenly debating, or angrily protesting; at one time denouncing vengeance to some great enemy; at another, passionately lamenting some past or half-forgotten calamity, recalled to their thoughts whilst anticipating a similar catastrophe for the present day.
Above all, the great square, upon which the ancient castellated palace or _schloss_ opened by one of its fronts, as well as a principal convent of the city, was the resort of many turbulent spirits. Most of these were young men, and amongst them many students of the university: for the war, which had thinned or totally dispersed some of the greatest universities in Germany, under the particular circumstances of its situation, had greatly increased that of Klosterheim. Judging by the tone which prevailed, and the random expressions which fell upon the ear at intervals, a stranger might conjecture that it was no empty lamentation over impending evils which occupied this crowd, but some serious preparation for meeting or redressing them. An officer of some distinction had been for some time observing them from the antique portals of the palace. It was probable, however, that little more than their gestures had reached him; for at length he moved nearer, and gradually insinuated himself into the thickest part of the mob, with the air of one who took no further concern in their proceedings than that of simple curiosity. But his martial air and his dress allowed him no means of covering his purpose. With more warning and leisure to arrange his precautions, he might have passed as an indifferent spectator; as it was, his jewel-hilted sabre, the massy gold chain, depending in front from a costly button and loop which secured it half way down his back, and his broad crimson scarf, embroidered in a style of peculiar splendor, announced him as a favored officer of the Landgrave, whose ambitious pretensions, and tyrannical mode of supporting them, were just now the objects of general abhorrence in Klosterheim. His own appearance did not belie the service which he had adopted. He was a man of stout person, somewhat elegantly formed, in age about three or four and thirty, though perhaps a year or two of his apparent age might be charged upon the bronzing effects of sun and wind. In bearing and carriage he announced to every eye the mixed carelessness and self-possession of a military training; and as his features were regular, and remarkably intelligent, he would have been pronounced, on the whole, a man of winning exterior, were it not for the repulsive effect of his eye, in which there was a sinister expression of treachery, and at times a ferocious one of cruelty.
Placed upon their guard by his costume, and the severity of his countenance, those of the lower rank were silent as he moved along, or lowered their voices into whispers and inaudible murmurs. Amongst the students, however, whenever they happened to muster strongly, were many fiery young men, who disdained to temper the expression of their feelings, or to moderate their tone. A large group of these at one corner of the square drew attention upon themselves, as well by the conspicuous station which they occupied upon the steps of a church portico, as by the loudness of their voices. Towards them the officer directed his steps; and probably no lover of _scenes_ would have had very long to wait for some explosion between parties both equally ready to take offence, and careless of giving it; but at that moment, from an opposite angle of the square, was seen approaching a young man in plain clothes, who drew off the universal regard of the mob upon himself, and by the uproar of welcome which saluted him occasioned all other sounds to be stifled. "Long life to our noble leader!"--"Welcome to the good Max!" resounded through the square. "Hail to our noble brother!" was the acclamation of the students. And everybody hastened forward to meet him with an impetuosity which for the moment drew off all attention from the officer: he was left standing by himself on the steps of the church, looking down upon this scene of joyous welcome-- the sole spectator who neither fully understood its meaning, nor shared in its feelings.
The stranger, who wore in part the antique costume of the university of Klosterheim, except where he still retained underneath a travelling dress, stained with recent marks of the roads and the weather, advanced amongst his friends with an air at once frank, kind, and dignified. He replied to their greetings in the language of cheerfulness; but his features expressed anxiety, and his manner was hurried. Whether he had not observed the officer overlooking them, or thought that the importance of the communications which he had to make transcended all common restraints of caution, there was little time to judge; so it was, at any rate, that, without lowering his voice, he entered abruptly upon his business.
"Friends! I have seen the accursed Holkerstein; I have penetrated within his fortress. With my own eyes I have viewed and numbered his vile assassins. They are in strength triple the utmost amount of our friends. Without help from us, our kinsmen are lost. Scarce one of us but will lose a dear friend before three nights are over, should Klosterheim not resolutely do her duty."
"She shall, she shall!" exclaimed a multitude of voices.
"Then, friends, it must be speedily; never was there more call for sudden resolution. Perhaps, before to-morrow's sun shall set, the sword of this detested robber will be at their throats. For he has some intelligence (whence I know not, nor how much) of their approach. Neither think that Holkerstein is a man acquainted with any touch of mercy or relenting. Where no ransom is to be had, he is in those circumstances that he will and must deliver himself from the burden of prisoners by a general massacre. Infants even will not be spared."
Many women had by this time flocked to the outer ring of the listening audience. And, perhaps, for _their_ ears in particular it was that the young stranger urged these last circumstances; adding,
"Will you look down tamely from your city walls upon such another massacre of the innocents as we have once before witnessed?"
"Cursed be Holkerstein!" said a multitude of voices.
"And cursed be those that openly or secretly support him!" added one of the students, looking earnestly at the officer.
"Amen!" said the officer, in a solemn tone, and looking round him with the aspect of one who will not suppose himself to have been included in the suspicion.
"And, friends, remember this," pursued the popular favorite; "whilst you are discharging the first duties of Christians and brave men to those who are now throwing themselves upon the hospitality of your city, you will also be acquitting yourselves of a great debt to the emperor."
"Softly, young gentleman, softly," interrupted the officer; "his serene highness, my liege lord and yours, governs here, and the emperor has no part in our allegiance. For debts, what the city owes to the emperor she will pay. But men and horses, I take it--"
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