It was nearly midnight when Count Konrad von Hochstaden reached his castle on the Rhine, with a score of very tired and hungry men behind him. The warder at the gate of Schloss Hochstaden, after some cautious parley with the newcomers, joyously threw apart the two great iron- studded oaken leaves of the portal when he was convinced that it was indeed his young master who had arrived after some tumultuous years at the crusades, and Count Konrad with his followers rode clattering under the stone arch, into the ample courtyard. It is recorded that, in the great hall of the castle, the Count and his twenty bronzed and scarred knights ate such a meal as had never before been seen to disappear in Hochstaden, and that after drinking with great cheer to the downfall of the Saracene and the triumph of the true cross, they all lay on the floor of the Rittersaal and slept the remainder of the night, the whole of next day, and did not awaken until the dawn of the second morning. They had had years of hard fighting in the east, and on the way home they had been compelled to work their passage through the domains of turbulent nobles by good stout broadsword play, the only argument their opposers could understand, and thus they had come through to the Rhine without contributing aught to their opponents except fierce blows, which were not commodities as marketable as yellow gold, yet with this sole exchange did the twenty-one win their way from Palestine to the Palatinate, and thus were they so long on the road that those in Schloss Hochstaden had given up all expectation of their coming.
Count Konrad found that his father, whose serious illness was the cause of his return, had been dead for months past, and the young man wandered about the castle which, during the past few years, he had beheld only in dreams by night and in the desert mirages by day, saddened because of his loss. He would return to the Holy Land, he said to himself, and let the castle be looked after by its custodian until the war with the heathen was ended.
The young Count walked back and forth on the stone paved terrace which commanded from its height such a splendid view of the winding river, but he paid small attention to the landscape, striding along with his hands clasped behind him; his head bent, deep in thought. He was awakened from his reverie by the coming of the ancient custodian of the castle, who shuffled up to him and saluted him with reverential respect, for the Count was now the last of his race; a fighting line, whose members rarely came to die peaceably in their beds as Konrad’s father had done.
The Count, looking up, swept his eye around the horizon and then to his astonishment saw the red battle flag flying grimly from the high northern tower of Castle Bernstein perched on the summit of the next hill to the south. In the valley were the white tents of an encampment, and fluttering over it was a flag whose device, at that distance, the Count could not discern.
“Why is the battle flag flying on Bernstein, Gottlieb, and what means those tents in the valley?” asked Konrad.
The old man looked in the direction of the encampment, as if the sight were new to him, but Konrad speedily saw that the opposite was the case. The tents had been there so long that they now seemed a permanent part of the scenery.
“The Archbishop of Cologne, my Lord, is engaged in the besiegement of Schloss Bernstein, and seems like to have a long job of it. He has been there for nearly a year now.”
“Then the stout Baron is making a brave defence; good luck to him!”
“Alas, my Lord, I am grieved to state that the Baron went to his rest on the first day of the assault. He foolishly sallied out at the head of his men and fell hotly on the Archbishop’s troops, who were surrounding the castle. There was some matter in dispute between the Baron and the Archbishop, and to aid the settlement thereof, his mighty Lordship of Cologne sent a thousand armed men up the river, and it is said that all he wished was to have parley with Baron Bernstein, and to overawe him in the discussion, but the Baron came out at the head of his men and fell upon the Cologne troops so mightily that he nearly put the whole battalion to flight, but the officers rallied their panic- stricken host, seeing how few were opposed to them, and the order was given that the Baron should be taken prisoner, but the old man would not have it so, and fought so sturdily with his long sword, that he nearly entrenched himself with a wall of dead. At last the old man was cut down and died gloriously, with scarcely a square inch unwounded on his whole body. The officers of the Archbishop then tried to carry the castle by assault, but the Lady of Bernstein closed and barred the gate, ran, up the battle flag on the northern tower and bid defiance to the Archbishop and all his men.”
“The Lady of Bernstein? I thought the Baron was a widower. Whom, then, did he again marry?”
“‘Twas not his wife, but his daughter.”
“His daughter? Not Brunhilda? She’s but a child of ten.”
“She was when you went away, my Lord, but now she is a woman of eighteen, with all the beauty of her mother and all the bravery of her father.”
“Burning Cross of the East, Gottlieb! Do you mean to say that for a year a prince of the Church has been warring with a girl, and her brother, knowing nothing of this cowardly assault, fighting the battles for his faith on the sands of the desert? Let the bugle sound! Call up my men and arouse those who are still sleeping.”
“My Lord, my Lord, I beg of you to have caution in this matter.”
“Caution? God’s patience! Has caution rotted the honour out of the bones of all Rhine men, that this outrage should pass unmolested before their eyes! The father murdered; the daughter beleaguered; while those who call themselves men sleep sound in their safe castles! Out of my way, old man! Throw open the gates!”
But the ancient custodian stood firmly before his over-lord, whose red angry face seemed like that of the sun rising so ruddily behind him.
“My Lord, if you insist on engaging in this enterprise it must be gone about sanely. You need the old head as well as the young arm. You have a score of well-seasoned warriors, and we can gather into the castle another hundred. But the Archbishop has a thousand men around Bernstein. Your score would but meet the fate of the old Baron and would not better the case of those within the castle. The Archbishop has not assaulted Bernstein since the Baron’s death, but has drawn a tight line around it and so has cut off all supplies, daily summoning the maiden to surrender. What they now need in Bernstein is not iron, but food. Through long waiting they keep slack watch about the castle, and it is possible that, with care taken at midnight, you might reprovision Bernstein so that she could hold out until her brother comes, whom it is said she has summoned from the Holy Land.”
“Thou art wise, old Gottlieb,” said the Count slowly, pausing in his wrath as the difficulties of the situation were thus placed in array before him; “wise and cautious, as all men seem to be who now keep ward on the Rhine. What said my father regarding this contest?”
“My Lord, your honoured father was in his bed stricken with the long illness that came to be his undoing at the last, and we never let him know that the Baron was dead or the siege in progress.”
“Again wise and cautious, Gottlieb, for had he known it, he would have risen from his deathbed, taken down his two-handed sword from the wall, and struck his last blow in defence of the right against tyranny.”
“Indeed, my Lord, under danger of your censure, I venture to say that you do not yet know the cause of the quarrel into which you design to precipitate yourself. It may not be tyranny on the part of the overlord, but disobedience on the part of the vassal, which causes the environment of Bernstein. And the Archbishop is a prince of our holy Church.”
“I leave those nice distinctions to philosophers like thee, Gottlieb. It is enough for me to know that a thousand men are trying to starve one woman, and as for being a prince of the Church, I shall give his devout Lordship a taste of religion hot from its birthplace, and show him how we uphold the cause in the East, for in this matter the Archbishop grasps not the cross but the sword, and by the sword shall he be met. And now go, Gottlieb, set ablaze the fires on all our ovens and put the bakers at work. Call in your hundred men as speedily as possible, and bid each man bring with him a sack of wheat. Spend the day at the baking and fill the cellars with grain and wine. It will be reason enough, if any make inquiry, to say that the young Lord has returned and intends to hold feasts in his castle. Send hither my Captain to me.”
Old Gottlieb hobbled away, and there presently came upon the terrace a stalwart, grizzled man, somewhat past middle age, whose brown face showed more seams of scars than remnants of beauty. He saluted his chief and stood erect in silence.
The Count waved his hand toward the broad valley and said grimly:
“There sits the Archbishop of Cologne, besieging the Castle of Bernstein.”
The Captain bowed low and crossed himself.
“God prosper his Lordship,” he said piously.
“You may think that scarcely the phrase to use, Captain, when I tell you that you will lead an assault on his Lordship to-night.”
“Then God prosper us, my Lord,” replied the Captain cheerfully, for he was ever a man who delighted more in fighting than in inquiring keenly into the cause thereof.
“You may see from here that a ridge runs round from this castle, bending back from the river, which it again approaches, touching thus Schloss Bernstein. There is a path along the summit of the ridge which I have often trodden as a boy, so I shall be your guide. It is scarce likely that this path is guarded, but if it is we will have to throw its keepers over the precipice; those that we do not slay outright, when we come upon them.”
“Excellent, my Lord, most excellent,” replied the Captain, gleefully rubbing his huge hands one over the other.
“But it is not entirely to fight that we go. You are to act as convoy to those who carry bread to Castle Bernstein. We shall leave here at the darkest hour after midnight and you must return before daybreak so that the Archbishop cannot estimate our numbers. Then get out all the old armour there is in the castle and masquerade the peasants in it. Arrange them along the battlements so that they will appear as numerous as possible while I stay in Castle Bernstein and make terms with the Archbishop, for it seems he out-mans us, so we must resort, in some measure, to strategy. On the night assault let each man yell as if he were ten and lay about him mightily. Are the knaves astir yet?”
“Most of them, my Lord, and drinking steadily the better to endure the dryness of the desert when we go eastward again.”
“Well, see to it that they do not drink so much as to interfere with clean sword-play against to-night’s business.”
“Indeed, my Lord, I have a doubt if there is Rhine wine enough in the castle’s vaults to do that, and the men yell better when they have a few gallons within them.”
At the appointed hour Count Konrad and his company went silently forth, escorting a score more who carried sacks of the newly baked bread on their backs, or leathern receptacles filled with wine, as well as a stout cask of the same seductive fluid. Near the Schloss Bernstein the rescuing party came upon the Archbishop’s outpost, who raised the alarm before the good sword of the Captain cut through the cry. There were bugle calls throughout the camp and the sound of men hurrying to their weapons, but all the noise of preparation among the besiegers was as nothing to the demoniac din sent up by the Crusaders, who rushed to the onslaught with a zest sharpened by their previous rest and inactivity. The wild barbaric nature of their yells, such as never before were heard on the borders of the placid Rhine, struck consternation into the opposition camp, because some of the Archbishop’s troops had fought against the heathen in the East, and they now recognised the clamour which had before, on many an occasion, routed them, and they thought that the Saracenes had turned the tables and invaded Germany; indeed from the deafening clamour it seemed likely that all Asia was let loose upon them. The alarm spread quickly to Castle Bernstein itself, and torches began to glimmer on its battlements. With a roar the Crusaders rushed up to the foot of the wall, as a wave dashes against a rock, sweeping the frightened bread-carriers with them. By the light of the torches Konrad saw standing on the wall a fair young girl clad in chain armour whose sparkling links glistened like countless diamonds in the rays of the burning pitch. She leaned on the cross-bar of her father’s sword and, with wide-open, eager eyes peered into the darkness beyond, questioning the gloom for reason of the terrifying tumult. When Konrad strode within the radius of the torches, the girl drew back slightly and cried:
“So the Archbishop has at last summoned courage to attack, after all this patient waiting.”
“My Lady,” shouted the Count, “these are my forces and not the Archbishop’s. I am Konrad, Count of Hochstaden.”
“The more shame, then, that you, who have fought bravely with men, should now turn your weapons against a woman, and she your neighbour and the sister of your friend.”
“Indeed, Lady Brunhilda, you misjudge me. I am come to your rescue and not to your disadvantage.. The Archbishop’s men were put to some inconvenience by our unexpected arrival, and to gather from the sounds far down the valley they have not ceased running yet. We come with bread, and use the sword but as a spit to deliver it.”
“Your words are welcome were I but sure of their truth,” said the lady with deep distrust in her tone, for she had had experience of the Archbishop’s craft on many occasions, and the untimely hour of the succour led her to fear a ruse. “I open my gates neither to friend nor to foe in the darkness,” she added.
“Tis a rule that may well be commended to others of your bewitching sex,” replied the Count, “but we ask not the opening of the gates, although you might warn those within your courtyard to beware what comes upon them presently.”
So saying, he gave the word, and each two of his servitors seized a sack of bread by the ends and, heaving it, flung it over the wall. Some of the sacks fell short, but the second effort sent them into the courtyard, where many of them burst, scattering the round loaves along the cobble-stoned pavement, to be eagerly pounced upon by the starving servitors and such men-at-arms as had escaped from the encounter with the Archbishop’s troops when the Baron was slain. The cries of joy that rang up from within the castle delighted the ear of the Count and softened the suspicion of the lady on the wall.
“Now,” cried Konrad to his Captain, “back to Schloss Hochstaden before the dawn approaches too closely, and let there be no mistake in the Archbishop’s camp that you are on the way.”
They all departed in a series of earsplitting, heart-appalling whoops that shattered the still night air and made a vocal pandemonium of that portion of the fair Rhine valley. The colour left the cheeks of the Lady of Bernstein as she listened in palpable terror to the fiendish outcry which seemed to scream for blood and that instantly, looking down she saw the Knight of Hochstaden still there at the foot of her wall gazing up at her.
“My Lord,” she said with concern, “if you stay thus behind your noisy troop you will certainly be captured when it comes day.”
“My Lady of Bernstein, I am already a captive, and all the Archbishop’s men could not hold me more in thrall did they surround me at this moment.”
“I do not understand you, sir,” said Brunhilda coldly, drawing herself up with a dignity that well became her, “your language seems to partake of an exaggeration that doubtless you have learned in the tropical East, and which we have small patience with on the more temperate banks of the Rhine.”
“The language that I use, fair Brunhilda, knows neither east nor west; north nor south, but is common to every land, and if it be a stranger to the Rhine, the Saints be witness ’tis full time ’twere introduced here, and I hold myself as competent to be its spokesman, as those screeching scoundrels of mine hold themselves the equal in battle to all the archbishops who ever wore the robes of that high office.”
“My Lord,” cried Brunhilda, a note of serious warning in her voice, “my gates are closed and they remain so. I hold myself your debtor for unasked aid, and would fain see you in a place of safety.”
“My reverenced Lady, that friendly wish shall presently be gratified,” and saying this, the Count unwound from his waist a thin rope woven of horse-hair, having a long loop at the end of it. This he whirled round his head and with an art learned in the scaling of eastern walls flung the loop so that it surrounded one of the machicolations of the bastion, and, with his feet travelling against the stone work, he walked up the wall by aid of this cord and was over the parapet before any could hinder his ascent. The Maid of the Schloss, her brows drawn down in anger, stood with sword ready to strike, but whether it was the unwieldiness of the clumsy weapon, or whether it was the great celerity with which the young man put his nimbleness to the test, or whether it was that she recognised him as perhaps her one friend on earth, who can tell; be that as it may, she did not strike in time, and a moment, later the Count dropped on one knee and before she knew it raised one of her hands to his bending lips.
“Lovely Warder of Bernstein,” cried Count Konrad, with a tremor of emotion in his voice that thrilled the girl in spite of herself, “I lay my devotion and my life at your feet, to use them as you will.”
“My Lord,” she said quaveringly, with tears nearer the surface than she would have cared to admit, “I like not this scaling of the walls; my permission unasked.”
“God’s truth, my Lady, and you are not the first to so object, but the others were men, and I may say, without boasting, that I bent not the knee to them when I reached their level, but I have been told that custom will enable a maid to look more forgivingly on such escapades if her feeling is friendly toward the invader, and I am bold enough to hope that the friendship with which your brother has ever regarded me in the distant wars, may be extended to my unworthy self by his sister at home.”
Count Konrad rose to his feet and the girl gazed at him in silence, seeing how bronzed and manly he looked in his light well-polished eastern armour, which had not the cumbrous massiveness of western mail, but, while amply protecting the body, bestowed upon it lithe freedom for quick action; and unconsciously she compared him, not to his disadvantage, with the cravens on the Rhine, who, while sympathising with her, dared not raise weapon on her behalf against so powerful an over-lord as the warlike Archbishop. The scarlet cross of the Crusader on his broad breast seemed to her swimming eyes to blaze with lambent flame in the yellow torchlight. She dared not trust her voice to answer him, fearing its faintness might disown the courage with which she had held her castle for so long, and he, seeing that she struggled to hold control of herself, standing there like a superb Goddess of the Rhine, pretended to notice nothing and spoke jauntily with a wave of his hand: “My villains have brought to the foot of the walls a cask of our best wine which we dared not adventure to cast into the courtyard with that freedom which forwarded the loaves; there is also a packet of dainties more suited to your Ladyship’s consideration than the coarse bread from our ovens. Give command, I beg of you, that the gates be opened and that your men bring the wine and food to safety within the courtyard, and bestow on me the privilege of guarding the open gate while this is being done.”
Then gently, with insistent deference, the young man took from her the sword of her father which she yielded to him with visible reluctance, but nevertheless yielded, standing there disarmed before him. Together in silence they went down the stone steps that led from the battlements to the courtyard, followed by the torch-bearers, whom the lightening east threatened soon to render unnecessary. A cheer went up, the first heard for many days within those walls, and the feasters, flinging their caps in the air, cried “Hochstaden! Hochstaden!” The Count turned to his fair companion and said, with a smile:
“The garrison is with me, my Lady.”
She smiled also, and sighed, but made no other reply, keeping her eyes steadfast on the stone steps beneath her. Once descended, she gave the order in a low voice, and quickly the gates were thrown wide, creaking grumblingly on their hinges, long unused. Konrad stood before the opening with the sword of Bernstein in his hands, swinging it this way and that to get the hang of it, and looking on it with the admiration which a warrior ever feels for a well hung, trusty blade, while the men-at-arms nodded to one another and said: “There stands a man who knows the use of a weapon. I would that he had the crafty Archbishop before him to practise on.”
When the barrel was trundled in, the Lady of Bernstein had it broached at once, and with her own hand served to each of her men a flagon of the golden wine. Each took his portion, bowing low to the lady, then doffing cap, drank first to the Emperor, and after with an enthusiasm absent from the Imperial toast, to the young war lord whom the night had flung thus unexpectedly among them. When the last man had refreshed himself, the Count stepped forward and begged a flagon full that he might drink in such good company, and it seemed that Brunhilda had anticipated such a request, for she turned to one of her women and held out her hand, receiving a huge silver goblet marvellously engraved that had belonged to her forefathers, and plenishing it, she gave it to the Count, who, holding it aloft, cried, “The Lady of Bernstein,” whereupon there arose such a shout that the troubled Archbishop heard it in his distant tent.
“And yet further of your hospitality must I crave,” said Konrad, “for the morning air is keen, and gives me an appetite for food of which I am deeply ashamed, but which nevertheless clamours for an early breakfast.”
The lady, after giving instruction to the maids who waited upon her, led the way into the castle, where Konrad following, they arrived in the long Rittersaal, at the end of which, facing the brightening east, was placed a huge window of stained glass, whose great breadth was gradually lightening as if an unseen painter with magic brush was tinting the glass with transparent colour, from the lofty timbered ceiling to the smoothly polished floor. At the end of the table, with her back to the window, Brunhilda sat, while the Count took a place near her, by the side, turning so that he faced her, the ever- increasing radiance illumining his scintillating armour. The girl ate sparingly, saying little and glancing often at her guest. He fell to like the good trencherman he was, and talked unceasingly of the wars in the East, and the brave deeds done there, and as he talked the girl forgot all else, rested her elbows on the table and her chin in her hands, regarding him intently, for he spoke not of himself but of her brother, and of how, when grievously pressed, he had borne himself so nobly that more than once, seemingly certain defeat was changed into glorious victory. Now and then when Konrad gazed upon Brunhilda, his eloquent tongue faltered for a moment and he lost the thread of his narrative, for all trace of the warrior maid had departed, and there, outlined against the glowing window of dazzling colours, she seemed indeed a saint with her halo of golden hair, a fit companion to the angels that the marvellous skill of the artificer had placed in that gorgeous collection of pictured panes, lead-lined and cut in various shapes, answering the needs of their gifted designer, as a paint-brush follows the will of the artist. From where the young man sat, the girl against the window seemed a member of that radiant company, and thus he paused stricken speechless by her beauty.
She spoke at last, the smile on her lips saddened by the down turning of their corners, her voice the voice of one hovering uncertain between laughter and tears.
“And you,” she said, “you seem to have had no part in all this stirring recital. It was my brother and my brother and my brother, and to hear you one would think you were all the while hunting peacefully in your Rhine forests. Yet still I do believe the Count of Hochstaden gave the heathen to know he was somewhat further to the east of Germany.”
“Oh, of me,” stammered the Count. “Yes, I was there, it is true, and sometimes–well, I have a fool of a captain, headstrong and reckless, who swept me now and then into a melee, before I could bring cool investigation to bear upon his mad projects, and once in the fray of course I had to plead with my sword to protect my head, otherwise my bones would now be on the desert sands, so I selfishly lay about me and did what I could to get once more out of the turmoil.”
The rising sun now struck living colour into the great window of stained glass, splashing the floor and the further wall with crimson and blue and gold. Count Konrad sprang to his feet. “The day is here,” he cried, standing in the glory of it, while the girl rose more slowly. “Let us have in your bugler and see if he has forgotten the battle call of the Bernsteins. Often have I heard it in the desert. ‘Give us the battle call,’ young Heinrich would cry and then to its music all his followers would shout ‘Bernstein! Bernstein!’ until it seemed the far- off horizon must have heard.”
The trumpeter came, and being now well fed, blew valiantly, giving to the echoing roof the war cry of the generations of fighting men it had sheltered.
“That is it,” cried the Count, “and it has a double significance. A challenge on the field, and a summons to parley when heard from the walls. We shall now learn whether or no the Archbishop has forgotten it, and I crave your permission to act as spokesman with his Lordship.”
“That I most gratefully grant,” said the Lady of the Castle.
Once more on the battlements, the Lord of Hochstaden commanded the trumpeter to sound the call The martial music rang out in the still morning air and was echoed mockingly by the hills on the other side of the river. After that, all was deep silence.
“Once again,” said Konrad.
For a second time the battle blast filled the valley, and for a second time returned faintly back from the hills. Then from near the great tent of the Archbishop, by the margin of the stream, came the answering call, accepting the demand for a parley.
When at last the Archbishop, mounted on a black charger, came slowly up the winding path which led to the castle, attended by only two of his officers, he found the Count of Hochstaden awaiting him on the battlements above the gate. The latter’s hopes arose when he saw that Cologne himself had come, and had not entrusted the business to an envoy, and it was also encouraging to note that he came so poorly attended, for when a man has made up his mind to succumb he wishes as few witnesses as possible, while if he intends further hostilities, he comes in all the pomp of his station.
“With whom am I to hold converse?” began the Archbishop, “I am here at the behest of the Bernstein call to parley, but I see none, of that name on the wall to greet me.”
“Heinrich, Baron Bernstein, is now on his way to his castle from the Holy Land, and were he here it were useless for me to summon a parley, for he would answer you with the sword and not with the tongue when he learned his father was dead at your hand.”
“That is no reply to my question. With whom do I hold converse?”
“I am Konrad, Count of Hochstaden, and your Lordship’s vassal.”
“I am glad to learn of your humility and pleased to know that I need not call your vassalage to your memory, but I fear that in the darkness you have less regard for either than you now pretend in the light of day.”
“In truth, my Lord, you grievously mistake me, for in the darkness I stood your friend. I assure you I had less than a thousand rascals at my back last night, and yet nothing would appease them but that they must fling themselves upon your whole force, had I not held them in check. I told them you probably outnumbered us ten to one, but they held that one man who had gone through an eastern campaign was worth ten honest burghers from Cologne, which indeed I verily believe, and for the fact that you were not swept into the Rhine early this morning you have me and my peaceful nature to thank, my Lord. Perhaps you heard the rogues discussing the matter with me before dawn, and going angrily home when I so ordered them.”
“A man had need to be dead and exceedingly deep in his grave not to have heard them” growled the Archbishop.
“And there they stand at this moment, my Lord, doubtless grumbling among themselves that I am so long giving the signal they expect, which will permit them to finish this morning’s work. The men I can generally control, but my captains are a set of impious cut-throats who would sooner sack an Archbishop’s palace than listen to the niceties of the feudal law which protects over-lords from such pleasantries.”
The Archbishop turned on his horse and gazed on the huge bulk of Schloss Hochstaden, and there a wonderful sight met his eye. The walls bristled with armed men, the sun glistening on their polished breastplates like the shimmer of summer lightning. The Archbishop turned toward the gate again, as though the sight he beheld brought small comfort to him.
“What is your desire?” he said with less of truculence in his tone than there had been at the beginning.
“I hold it a scandal,” said the Count gravely, “that a prince of the Church should assault Christian walls while their owner is absent in the East venturing his life in the uplifting of the true faith. You can now retreat without loss of prestige; six hours hence that may be impossible. I ask you then to give your assurance to the Lady of Bernstein, pledging your knightly word that she will be no longer threatened by you, and I ask you to withdraw your forces immediately to Cologne where it is likely they will find something to do if Baron Heinrich, as I strongly suspect, marches directly on that city.”
“I shall follow the advice of my humble vassal, for the strength of a prince is in the sage counsel of his war lords. Will you escort the lady to the battlements?”
Then did Count Konrad von Hochstaden see that his cause was won, and descending he came up again, leading the Lady Brunhilda by the hand.
“I have to acquaint you, madame,” said the Archbishop, “that the siege is ended, and I give you my assurance that you will not again be beleaguered by my forces.”
The Lady of Bernstein bowed, but made no answer. She blushed deeply that the Count still held her hand, but she did not withdraw it.
“And now, my Lord Archbishop, that this long-held contention is amicably adjusted,” began Von Hochstaden, “I crave that you bestow on us two your gracious blessing, potentate of the Church, for this lady is to be my wife”
“What!” cried Brunhilda in sudden anger, snatching her hand from his, “do you think you can carry me by storm as you did my castle, without even asking my consent?”
“Lady of my heart,” said Konrad tenderly, “I did ask your consent. My eyes questioned in the Rittersaal and yours gave kindly answer. Is there then no language but that which is spoken? I offer you here before the world my open hand; is it to remain empty?”
He stood before her with outstretched palm, and she gazed steadfastly at him, breathing quickly. At length a smile dissolved the sternness of her charming lips, she glanced at his extended hand and said:
“‘Twere a pity so firm and generous a hand should remain tenantless,” and with that she placed her palm in his.
The Archbishop smiled grimly at this lovers’ by-play, then solemnly, with upraised hands, invoked God’s blessing upon them.