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Here was Tilly, the "little corporal" now recently stretched in a soldier's grave, with his wily and inflexible features. Over against him was his great enemy, who had first taught him the hard lesson of retreating, Gustavus Adolphus, with his colossal bust, and "atlantean shoulders, fit to bear the weight of mightiest monarchies." He also had perished, and too probably by the double crime of a.s.sa.s.sination and private treason; but the public glory of his short career was proclaimed in the ungenerous exultations of Catholic Rome from Vienna to Madrid, and the individual heroism in the lamentations of soldiers under every banner which now floated in Europe. Beyond him ran the long line of imperial generals,--from Wallenstein, the magnificent and the imaginative, with Hamlet's infirmity of purpose, De Mercy, etc., down to the heroes of partisan warfare, Holk, the Butlers, and the n.o.ble Papenheim, or n.o.bler Piccolomini. Below them were ranged Gustavus Horn, Banier, the Prince of Saxe-Weimar, the Rhinegrave, and many other Protestant commanders, whose names and military merits were familiar to Paulina, though she now beheld their features for the first time.
Maximilian was here the best interpreter that she could possibly have met with. For he had not only seen the greater part of them on the field of battle, but, as a favorite and confidential officer of the emperor's, had personally been concerned in diplomatic transactions with the most distinguished amongst them.
Midnight insensibly surprised them whilst pursuing the many interesting historical remembrances which the portraits called up. Most of the company, upon this warning of the advanced hour, began to drop off; some to rest, and some upon the summons of the military duty which awaited them in their turn. In this way, Maximilian and Paulina were gradually left alone, and now at length found a time which had not before offered for communicating freely all that pressed upon their hearts. Maximilian, on his part, going back to the period of their last sudden separation, explained his own sudden disappearance from Vienna.
At a moment's warning, he had been sent off with sealed orders from the emperor, to be first opened in Klosterheim: the mission upon which he had been despatched was of consequence to the imperial interests, and through his majesty's favor would eventually prove so to his own. Thus it was that he had been peremptorily cut off from all opportunity of communicating to herself the purpose and direction of his journey previously to his departure from Vienna; and if his majesty had not taken that care upon himself, but had contented himself, in the most general terms, with a.s.suring Paulina that Maximilian was absent on a private mission, doubtless his intention had been the kind one of procuring her a more signal surprise of pleasure upon his own sudden return. Unfortunately, however, that return had become impossible: things had latterly taken a turn which embarra.s.sed himself, and continued to require his presence. These perplexities had been for some time known to the emperor; and, upon reflection, he doubted not that her own journey, undertaken before his majesty could be aware of the dangers which would beset its latter end, must in some way be connected with the remedy which the emperor designed for this difficult affair.
But doubtless she herself was the bearer of sufficient explanations from the imperial ministers on that head. Finally, whilst a.s.suring her that his own letters to herself had been as frequent as in any former absence, Maximilian confessed that he did not feel greatly astonished at the fact of none at all having reached her, when he recollected that to the usual adverse accidents of war, daily intercepting all messengers not powerfully escorted, were to be added, in this case, the express efforts of private malignity in command of all the forest pa.s.ses.
This explanation recalled Paulina to a very painful sense of the critical importance which might be attached to the papers which she had lost. As yet, she had found no special opportunity, or, believing it of less importance, had neglected it, for communicating more than the general fact of a robbery. She now related the case more circ.u.mstantially; and both were struck with it, as at this moment a very heavy misfortune. Not only might her own perilous journey, and the whole purposes of the emperor embarked upon it, be thus rendered abortive; but their common enemies would by this time be possessed of the whole information which had been so critically lost to their own party, and perhaps would have it in their power to make use of themselves as instruments for defeating their own most important hopes.
Maximilian sighed as he reflected on the probability that a far shorter and bloodier event might defeat every earthly hope, within the next twenty-four hours. But he dissembled his feelings; recovered even a tone of gayety; and, begging of Paulina to dismiss this vexatious incident from her thoughts, as a matter that after all would probably be remedied by their first communication with the emperor, and before any evil had resulted from it, he accompanied her to the entrance of her own suite of chambers, and then returned to seek a few hours'
repose for himself on one of the sofas he had observed in one of the small ante-rooms attached to the library.
The particular room which he selected for his purpose, on account of its small size, and its warm appearance in other respects, was furnished under foot with layers of heavy Turkey carpets, one laid upon another (according to a fashion then prevalent in Germany), and on the walls with tapestry. In this mode of hanging rooms, though sometimes heavy and sombre, there was a warmth sensible and apparent, as well as real, which peculiarly fitted it for winter apartments, and a ma.s.sy splendor which accorded with the style of dress and furniture in that gorgeous age. One real disadvantage, however, it had as often employed; it gave a ready concealment to intruders with evil intentions; and under the protecting screen of tapestry many a secret had been discovered, many robberies facilitated, and some celebrated murderers had been sheltered with circ.u.mstances of mystery that forever baffled investigation.
Maximilian smiled as the sight of the hangings, with their rich colors glowing in the fire-light, brought back to his remembrance one of those tales which in the preceding winter had made a great noise in Vienna.
With a soldier's carelessness, he thought lightly of all dangers that could arise within four walls; and having extinguished the lights which burned upon a table, and unbuckled his sabre, he threw himself upon a sofa which he drew near to the fire; and then enveloping himself in a large horseman's cloak, he courted the approach of sleep. The fatigues of the day, and of the preceding night, had made this in some measure needful to him. But weariness is not always the best preface to repose; and the irritation of many busy anxieties continued for some time to keep him in a most uneasy state of vigilance. As he lay, he could see on one side the fantastic figures in the fire composed of wood and turf; on the other side, looking to the tapestry, he saw the wild forms, and the _melee_, little less fantastic, of human and brute features in a chase--a boar-chase in front, and a stag-chase on his left hand. These, as they rose fitfully in bright ma.s.ses of color and of savage expression under the lambent flashing of the fire, continued to excite his irritable state of feeling; and it was not for some time that he felt this uneasy condition give way to exhaustion. He was at length on the very point of falling asleep, or perhaps had already fallen into its very lightest and earliest stage, when the echo of a distant door awoke him. He had some slight impression that a noise in his own room had concurred with the other and more distant one to awake him. But, after raising himself for a moment on his elbow and listening, he again resigned himself to sleep.
Again, however, and probably before he had slept a minute, he was roused by a double disturbance. A low rustling was heard in some part of the room, and a heavy foot upon a neighboring staircase. Housed, at length, to the prudence of paying some attention to sounds so stealthy, in a situation beset with dangers, he rose and threw open the door. A corridor, which ran round the head of the staircase, was lit up with a brilliant light; and he could command from this station one flight of the stairs. On these he saw nothing; all was now wrapt in a soft effulgence of light, and in absolute silence. No sound recurring after a minute's attention, and indisposed by weariness to any stricter examination, where all examination from one so little acquainted with the localities might prove unavailing, he returned to his own room; but, before again lying down, he judged it prudent to probe the concealments of the tapestry by carrying his sabre round, and everywhere pressing the hangings to the wall. In this trial he met with no resistance at any point; and willingly believing that he had been deceived, or that his ear had exaggerated some trivial sound, in a state of imperfect slumber, he again laid down and addressed himself to sleep. Still there were remembrances which occurred at this moment to disturb him. The readiness with which they had been received at the chateau was in itself suspicious. He remembered the obstinate haunting of their camp on the preceding night, and the robbery conducted with so much knowledge of circ.u.mstances. Jonas Melk, the brutal landlord of Waldenhausen, a man known to him by repute (though not personally), as one of the vilest agents employed by the Landgrave, had been actively engaged in his master's service at their preceding stage. He was probably one of those who haunted the wood through the night. And he had been repeatedly informed through the course of the day that this man in particular, whose features were noticed by the yagers, on occasion of their officer's reproach to him, had been seen at intervals in company with others, keeping a road parallel to their own, and steadily watching their order of advance.
These recollections, now laid together, impressed him with some uneasiness. But overpowering weariness gave him a strong interest in dismissing them. And a soldier, with the images of fifty combats fresh in his mind, does not willingly admit the idea of danger from a single arm, and in a situation of household security. Pshaw! he exclaimed, with some disdain, as these martial remembrances rose up before him, especially as the silence had now continued undisturbed for a quarter of an hour. In five minutes more he had fallen profoundly asleep; and, in less than one half-hour, as he afterwards judged, he was suddenly awakened by a dagger at his throat.
At one bound he sprung upon his feet. The cloak, in which he had been enveloped, caught upon some of the buckles or ornamented work of his appointments, and for a moment embarra.s.sed his motions. There was no light, except what came from the sullen and intermitting gleams of the fire. But even this was sufficient to show him the dusky outline of two figures. With the foremost he grappled, and, raising him in his arms, threw him powerfully upon the floor, with a force that left him stunned and helpless. The other had endeavored to pinion his arms from behind; for the body-armor, which Maximilian had not laid aside for the night, under the many antic.i.p.ations of service which their situation suggested, proved a sufficient protection against the blows of the a.s.sa.s.sin's poniard. Impatient of the darkness and uncertainty, Maximilian rushed to the door and flung it violently open. The a.s.sa.s.sin still clung to his arms, conscious that if he once forfeited his hold until he had secured a retreat, he should be taken at disadvantage. But Maximilian, now drawing a petronel which hung at his belt, c.o.c.ked it as rapidly as his embarra.s.sed motions allowed him. The a.s.sa.s.sin faltered, conscious that a moment's relaxation of grasp would enable his antagonist to turn the muzzle over his shoulder. Maximilian, on the other hand, now perfectly awake, and with the benefit of that self- possession which the other so entirely wanted, felt the nervous tremor in the villain's hands; and, profiting by this moment of indecision, made a desperate effort, released one arm, which he used with so much effect as immediately to liberate the other, and then intercepting the pa.s.sage to the stairs, wheeled round upon his murderous enemy, and, presenting the petronel to his breast, bade him surrender his arms if he hoped for quarter.
The man was an athletic, and, obviously, a most powerful ruffian. On his face he carried more than one large glazed cicatrix, that a.s.sisted the savage expression of malignity impressed by nature upon his features. And his matted black hair, with its elf locks, completed the picturesque effect of a face that proclaimed, in every lineament, a reckless abandonment to cruelty and ferocious pa.s.sions. Maximilian himself, familiar as he was with the faces of military butchers in the dreadful hours of sack and carnage, recoiled for one instant from this hideous ruffian, who had not even the palliations of youth in his favor, for he seemed fifty at the least. All this had pa.s.sed in an instant of time; and now, as he recovered himself from his momentary shock at so hateful an expression of evil pa.s.sions, great was Maximilian's astonishment to perceive his antagonist apparently speechless, and struggling with some over-mastering sense of horror, that convulsed his features, and for a moment glazed his eye.
Maximilian looked around for the object of his alarm; but in vain. In reality it was himself, in connection with some too dreadful remembrances, now suddenly awakened, that had thus overpowered the man's nerves. The brilliant light of a large chandelier, which overhung the staircase, fell strongly upon Maximilian's features; and the excitement of the moment gave to them the benefit of their fullest expression. Prostrate on the ground, and abandoning his dagger without an effort at retaining it, the man gazed, as if under a rattlesnake's fascination, at the young soldier before him. Suddenly he recovered his voice; and, with a piercing cry of unaffected terror, exclaimed, "Save me, save me, blessed Virgin! Prince, n.o.ble prince, forgive me! Will the grave not hold its own? Jesu Maria! who could have believed it?"
"Listen, fellow!" interrupted Maximilian. "What prince is it you speak of? For whom do you take me? speak truly, and abuse riot my forbearance."
"Ha! and his own voice too! and here on this spot! G.o.d is just! Yet do thou, good patron, holy St. Ermengarde, deliver me from the avenger!"
"Man, you rave! Stand up, recover yourself, and answer me to what I shall ask thee: speak truly, and thou shalt have thy life. Whose gold was it that armed thy hand against one who had injured neither thee nor thine?"
But he spoke to one who could no longer hear. The man grovelled on the ground, and hid his face from a being, whom, in some incomprehensible way, he regarded as an apparition from the other world.
Mult.i.tudes of persons had by this time streamed in, summoned by the noise of the struggle from all parts of the chateau. Some fancied that, in the frenzied a.s.sa.s.sin on the ground, whose panic too manifestly attested itself as genuine, they recognized one of those who had so obstinately dogged them by side-paths in the forest. Whoever he were, and upon whatever mission employed, he was past all rational examination; at the aspect of Maximilian, he relapsed into convulsive horrors, which soon became too fit for medical treatment to allow of any useful judicial inquiry; and for the present he was consigned to the safe-keeping of the provost-martial.
His companion, meantime, had profited by his opportunity, and the general confusion, to effect his escape. Nor was this difficult.
Perhaps, in the consternation of the first moment, and the exclusive attention that settled upon the party in the corridor, he might even have mixed in the crowd. But this was not necessary. For, on raising the tapestry, a door was discovered which opened into a private pa.s.sage, having a general communication with the rest of the rooms on that floor. Steps were now taken, by sentries disposed through the interior of the mansion, at proper points, to secure themselves from the enemies who lurked within, whom hitherto they had too much neglected for the avowed and more military a.s.sailants who menaced them from without. Security was thus restored. But a deep impression accompanied the party to their couches of the profound political motives, or (in the absence of those) of the rancorous personal malignity, which could prompt such obstinate persecution; by modes, also, and by hands, which encountered so many chances of failing; and which, even in the event of the very completest success for the present, could not be expected, under the eyes of so many witnesses, to escape a final exposure. Some enemy, of unusual ferocity, was too obviously working in the dark, and by agencies as mysterious as his own purpose.
Meantime, in the city of Klosterheim, the general interest in the fortunes of the approaching travellers had suffered no abatement, and some circ.u.mstances had occurred to increase the popular irritation. It was known that Maximilian had escaped with a strong party of friends from the city; but how, or by whose connivance, could in no way be discovered. This had drawn upon all persons who were known as active partisans against the Landgrave, or liable to suspicion as friends of Maximilian, a vexatious persecution from the military police of the town. Some had been arrested; many called upon to give security for their future behavior; and all had been threatened or treated with harshness. Hence, as well as from previous irritation and alarm on account of the party from Vienna, the whole town was in a state of extreme agitation.
Klosterheim, in the main features of its political distractions, reflected, almost as in a representative picture, the condition of many another German city. At that period, by very ancient ties of reciprocal service, strengthened by treaties, by religious faith, and by personal attachment to individuals of the imperial house, this ancient and sequestered city was inalienably bound to the interests of the emperor.
Both the city and the university were Catholic. Princes of the imperial family, and Papal commissioners, who had secret motives for not appearing at Vienna, had more than once found a hospitable reception within the walls. And, amongst many acts of grace by which the emperors had acknowledged these services and marks of attachment, one of them had advanced a very large sum of money to the city chest for an indefinite time; receiving in return, as the warmest testimony of confidential grat.i.tude which the city could bestow, that _jus liberi ingressus_ which ent.i.tled the emperor's armies to a free pa.s.sage at all times, and, in case of extremity, to the right of keeping the city gates and maintaining a garrison in the citadel. Unfortunately, Klosterheim was not _sui juris_, or on the roll of free cities of the empire, but of the nature of an appanage in the family of the Landgrave of X----; and this circ.u.mstance had produced a double perplexity in the politics of the city; for the late Landgrave, who had been a.s.sa.s.sinated in a very mysterious manner upon a hunting party, benefited to the fullest extent both by the political and religious bias of the city--being a personal friend of the emperor's, a Catholic, amiable in his deportment, and generally beloved by his subjects. But the prince who had succeeded him in the Landgraviate, as the next heir, was everywhere odious for the harshness of his government, no less than for the gloomy austerity of his character; and to Klosterheim in particular, which had been p.r.o.nounced by some of the first jurisprudents a female appanage, he presented himself under the additional disadvantages of a very suspicious t.i.tle, and a Swedish bias too notorious to be disguised. At a time when the religious and political attachments of Europe were brought into collisions so strange, that the foremost auxiliary of the Protestant interest in Germany was really the most distinguished cardinal in the church of Rome, it did not appear inconsistent with this strong leaning to the King of Sweden that the Landgrave was privately known to be a Catholic bigot, who practised the severest penances, and, tyrant as he showed himself to all others, grovelled himself as an abject devotee at the feet of a haughty confessor. Amongst the populace of Klosterheim this feature of his character, confronted with the daily proofs of his entire va.s.salage to the Swedish interest, pa.s.sed for the purest hypocrisy; and he had credit for no religion at all with the world at large. But the fact was otherwise. Conscious from the first that he held even the Landgraviate by a slender t.i.tle (for he was no more than cousin once removed to his immediate predecessor), and that his pretensions upon Klosterheim had separate and peculiar defects,-- sinking of course with the failure of his claim as Landgrave, but not, therefore, prospering with its success,--he was aware that none but the most powerful arm could keep his princely cap upon his head. The compet.i.tors for any part of his possessions, one and all, had thrown themselves upon the emperor's protection. This, if no other reason, would have thrown him into the arms of Gustavus Adolphus; and with this, as it happened, other reasons of local importance had then and since cooperated. Time, as it advanced, brought increase of weight to all these motives. Rumors of a dark and ominous tendency, arising no one knew whence, nor by whom encouraged, pointed injuriously to the past history of the Landgrave, and to some dreadful exposures which were hanging over his head. A lady, at present in obscurity, was alluded to as the agent of redress to others, through her own heavy wrongs; and these rumors were the more acceptable to the people of Klosterheim, because they connected the impending punishment of the hated Landgrave with the restoration of the imperial connection; for, it was still insinuated, under every version of these mysterious reports, that the emperor was the ultimate supporter, in the last resort, of the lurking claims now on the point of coming forward to challenge public attention. Under these alarming notices, and fully aware that sooner or later he must be thrown into collision with the imperial court, the Landgrave had now for some time made up his mind to found a merit with the Swedish chancellor and general officers, by precipitating an uncompromising rupture with his Catholic enemies, and thus to extract the grace of a voluntary act from what, in fact, he knew to be sooner or later inevitable.
Such was the positive and relative aspect of the several interests which were now struggling in Klosterheim. Desperate measures were contemplated by both parties; and, as opportunities should arise, and proper means should develop themselves, more than one party might be said to stand on the brink of great explosions. Conspiracies were moving in darkness, both in the council of the burghers and of the university. Imperfect notices of their schemes, and sometimes delusive or misleading notices, had reached the Landgrave. The city, the university, and the numerous convents, were crowded to excess with refugees. Malcontents of every denomination and every shade,-- emissaries of all the factions which then agitated Germany; reformado soldiers, laid aside by their original employers, under new arrangements, or from private jealousies of new commanders; great persons with special reasons for courting a temporary seclusion, and preserving a strict incognito; misers, who fled with their h.o.a.rds of gold and jewels to the city of refuge; desolate ladies, from the surrounding provinces, in search of protection for themselves, or for the honor of their daughters; and (not least distinguished among the many cla.s.ses of fugitives) prophets and enthusiasts of every description, whom the magnitude of the political events, and their religious origin, so naturally called forth in swarms; these, and many more, in connection with their attendants, troops, students, and the terrified peasantry, from a circle of forty miles radius around the city as a centre, had swelled the city of Klosterheim, from a total of about seventeen, to six or seven and thirty thousand. War, with a slight reserve for the late robberies of Holkerstein, had as yet spared this favored nook of Germany. The great storm had whistled and raved around them; but hitherto none had penetrated the sylvan sanctuary which on every side invested this privileged city. The ground seemed charmed by some secret spells, and consecrated from intrusion. For the great tempest had often swept directly upon them, and yet still had wheeled off, summoned away by some momentary call, to some remoter attraction. But now at length all things portended that, if the war should revive in strength after this brief suspension, it would fall with acc.u.mulated weight upon this yet unravaged district.
This was the antic.i.p.ation which had governed the Landgrave's policy in so sternly and barbarously interfering with the generous purposes of the Klosterheimers, for carrying over a safe-conduct to their friends and visitors, when standing on the margin of the forest. The robber Holkerstein, if not expressly countenanced by the Swedes, and secretly nursed up to his present strength by Richelieu, was at any rate embarked upon a system of aggression which would probably terminate in connecting him with one or other of those authentic powers. In any case, he stood committed to a course of continued offence upon the imperial interests; since in that quarter his injuries and insults were already past forgiveness. The interest of Holkerstein, then, ran in the same channel with that of the Landgrave. It was impolitic to weaken him. It was doubly impolitic to weaken him by a measure which must also weaken the Landgrave; for any deduction from his own military force, or from the means of recruiting it, was in that proportion a voluntary sacrifice of the weight he should obtain with the Swedes on making the junction, which he now firmly counted on, with their forces. But a result which he still more dreaded from the cooperation of the Klosterheimers with the caravan from Vienna, was the probable overthrow of that supremacy in the city, which even now was so nicely balanced in his favor that a slight reinforcement to the other side would turn the scale against him.
In all these calculations of policy, and the cruel measures by which he supported them, he was guided by the counsels of Luigi Adorni, a subtle Italian, whom he had elevated from the post of a private secretary to that of sole minister for the conduct of state affairs. This man, who covered a temperament of terrific violence with a masque of Venetian dissimulation and the most icy reserve, met with no opposition, unless it were occasionally from Father Anselm, the confessor. He delighted in the refinements of intrigue, and in the most tortuous labyrinths of political man?uvring, purely for their own sakes; and sometimes defeated his own purposes by mere superfluity of diplomatic subtlety; which hardly, however, won a momentary concern from him, in the pleasure he experienced at having found an undeniable occasion for equal subtlety in unweaving his own webs of deception. He had been confounded by the evasion of Maximilian and his friends from the orders of the Landgrave; and the whole energy of his nature was bent to the discovery of the secret avenues which had opened the means to this elopement.
There were, in those days, as is well known to German antiquaries, few castles or fortresses of much importance in Germany, which did not communicate by subterraneous pa.s.sages with the exterior country. In many instances these pa.s.sages were of surprising extent, first emerging to the light in some secluded spot among rocks or woods, at the distance of two, three, or even four miles. There were cases even in which they were carried below the beds of rivers as broad and deep as the Rhine, the Elbe, or the Danube. Sometimes there were several of such communications on different faces of the fortress; and sometimes each of these branched, at some distance from the building, into separate arms, opening at intervals widely apart. And the uses of such secret communications with the world outside, and beyond a besieging enemy, in a land like Germany, with its prodigious subdivision of independent states and free cities, were far greater than they could have been in any one great continuous princ.i.p.ality.
In many fortified places these pa.s.sages had existed from the middle ages. In Klosterheim they had possibly as early an origin: but by this period it is very probable that the gradual acc.u.mulation of rubbish, through a course of centuries, would have unfitted them for use, had not the Peasants' War, in the time of Luther's reformation, little more than one hundred years before, given occasion for their use and repair.
At that time Klosterheim had stood a siege, which, from the defect of artillery, was at no time formidable in a military sense; but as a blockade, formed suddenly when the citizens were slenderly furnished with provisions, it would certainly have succeeded, and delivered up the vast wealth of the convents as a spoil to the peasantry, had it not been for one in particular of these subterraneous pa.s.sages, which, opening on the opposite side of the little river Iltiss, in a thick _boccage_, where the enemy had established no posts, furnished the means of introducing a continual supply of fresh provisions, to the great triumph of the garrison, and the utter dismay of the superst.i.tious peasants, who looked upon the mysterious supply as a providential bounty to a consecrated cause.
So memorable a benefit had given to this one pa.s.sage a publicity and an historical importance which made all its circ.u.mstances, and amongst those its internal mouth, familiar even to children. But this was evidently _not_ the avenue by which Maximilian had escaped into the forest. For it opened externally on the wrong side of the river, whilst everybody knew that its domestic opening was in one of the chapels of the _schloss_; and another circ.u.mstance, equally decisive, was, that a long flight of stairs, by which it descended below the bed of the river, made it impa.s.sable to horses.
Every attempt, however, failed to trace out the mode of egress for the present. By his spies Adorni doubted not to find it soon; and, in the mean time, that as much as possible the attention of the public might be abstracted from the travellers and their concerns, a public proclamation was issued, forbidding all resort of crowds to the walls.
These were everywhere dispersed on the ninth; and for that day were partially obeyed. But there was little chance that, with any fresh excitement to the popular interest, they would continue to command respect.
The morning of the tenth at length arrived--that day on which the expected travellers from Vienna, and all whom they had collected on their progress, ardently looked to rejoin their long-separated friends in Klosterheim, and by those friends were not less ardently looked for.
On each side there were the same violent yearnings, on each side the same dismal arid overpowering fears. Each party arose with palpitating hearts: the one looked out from Falkenberg with longing eyes, to discover the towers of Klosterheim; the other, from the upper windows or roofs of Klosterheim, seemed as if they could consume the distance between themselves and Falkenberg. But a little tract of forest ground was interposed between friends and friends, parents and children, lovers and their beloved. Not more than eighteen miles of shadowy woods, of lawns, and sylvan glades, divided hearts that would either have encountered death, or many deaths, for the other. These were regions of natural peace and tranquillity, that in any ordinary times should have been peopled by no worse inhabitants than the timid hare scudding homewards to its form, or the wild deer sweeping by with thunder to their distant lairs. But now from every glen or thicket armed marauders might be ready to start. Every gleam of sunshine in some seasons was reflected from the glittering arms of parties threading the intricacies of the thickets; and the sudden alarum of the trumpet rang oftentimes in the nights, and awoke the echoes that for centuries had been undisturbed, except by the hunter's horn, in the most sequestered haunts of these vast woods.
Towards noon it became known, by signals that had been previously concerted between Maximilian and his college friends, that the party were advanced upon their road from Falkenberg, and, therefore, must of necessity on this day abide the final trial. As this news was dispersed abroad, the public anxiety rose to so feverish a point, that crowds rushed from every quarter to the walls, and it was not judged prudent to measure the civic strength against their enthusiasm. For an hour or two the nature of the ground and the woods forbade any view of the advancing party: but at length, some time before the light failed, the head of the column, and soon after the entire body, was descried surmounting a little hill, not more than eight miles distant. The black ma.s.s presented by mounted travellers and baggage-wagons was visible to piercing eyes; and the dullest could distinguish the glancing of arms, which at times flashed upwards from the more open parts of the forest.
Thus far, then, their friends had made their way without injury; and this point was judged to be within nine miles' distance. But in thirty or forty minutes, when they had come nearer by a mile and a half, the scene had somewhat changed. A heathy tract of ground, perhaps two miles in length, opened in the centre of the thickest woods, and formed a little island of clear ground, where all beside was tangled and crowded with impediments. Just as the travelling party began to deploy out of the woods upon this area at its further extremity, a considerable body of mounted troops emerged from the forest, which had hitherto concealed them, at the point nearest to Klosterheim. They made way rapidly; and in less than half a minute it became evident, by the motions of the opposite party, that they had been descried, and that hasty preparations were making for receiving them. A dusky ma.s.s, probably the black yagers, galloped up rapidly to the front and formed; after which it seemed to some eyes that the whole party again advanced, but still more slowly than before.
Every heart upon the walls of Klosterheim palpitated with emotion, as the two parties neared each other. Many almost feared to draw their breath, many writhed their persons in the anguish of rueful expectation, as they saw the moment approach when the two parties would shock together. At length it came; and, to the astonishment of the spectators, not more, perhaps, than of the travellers themselves, the whole cavalcade of strangers swept by, without halting for so much as a pa.s.sing salute or exchange of news.
The first cloud, then, which had menaced their friends, was pa.s.sed off as suddenly as it had gathered. But this, by some people, was thought to bear no favorable construction. To ride past a band of travellers from remote parts on such uncourteous terms argued no friendly spirit; and many motives might be imagined perfectly consistent with hostile intentions for pa.s.sing the travellers una.s.sailed, and thus gaining the means of coming at any time upon their rear. Prudent persons shook their heads, and the issue of an affair antic.i.p.ated with so much anxiety certainly did not diminish it.
It was now four o'clock: in an hour or less it would be dark; and, considering the peculiar difficulties of the ground on nearing the town, and the increasing exhaustion of the horses, it was not judged possible that a party of travellers, so unequal in their equipments, and amongst whom the weakest was now become a law for the motion of the quickest, could reach the gates of Klosterheim before nine o'clock.
Soon after this, and just before the daylight faded, the travellers reached the nearer end of the heath, and again entered the woods. The cold and the darkness were now becoming greater at every instant, and it might have been expected that the great ma.s.s of the spectators would leave their station; but such was the intensity of the public interest, that few quitted the walls except for the purpose of reinforcing their ability to stay and watch the progress of their friends. This could be done with even greater effect as the darkness deepened, for every second horseman carried a torch; and, as much perhaps by way of signal to their friends in Klosterheim, as for their own convenience, prodigious flambeaux were borne aloft on halberds. These rose to a height which surmounted all the lower bushes, and were visible in all parts of the woods,--even the smaller lights, in the leafless state of the trees at this season of the year, could be generally traced without difficulty; and composing a brilliant chain of glittering points, as it curved and humored the road amongst the labyrinths of the forest, would have produced a singularly striking effect to eyes at leisure to enjoy it.
In this way, for about three hours, the travellers continued to advance unmolested, and to be traced by their friends in Klosterheim. It was now considerably after seven o'clock, and perhaps an hour, or, at most, an hour and a half, would bring them to the city gates. All hearts began to beat high with expectation, and hopes were loudly and confidently expressed through every part of the crowd that the danger might now be considered as past. Suddenly, as if expressly to rebuke the too presumptuous confidence of those who were thus thoughtlessly sanguine, the blare of a trumpet was heard from a different quarter of the forest, and about two miles to the right of the city. Every eye was fastened eagerly upon the spot from which the notes issued. Probably the signal had proceeded from a small party in advance of a greater; for in the same direction, but at a much greater distance, perhaps not less than three miles in the rear of the trumpet, a very large body of horse was now descried coming on at a great pace upon the line already indicated by the trumpet. The extent of the column might be estimated by the long array of torches, which were carried apparently by every fourth or fifth man; and that they were hors.e.m.e.n was manifest from the very rapid pace at which they advanced.
At this spectacle, a cry of consternation ran along the whole walls of Klosterheim. Here, then, at last, were coming the spoilers and butchers of their friends; for the road upon which they were advancing issued at right angles into that upon which the travellers, apparently unwarned of their danger, were moving. The hideous scene of carnage would possibly pa.s.s immediately below their own eyes; for the point of junction between the two roads was directly commanded by the eye from the city walls; and, upon computing the apparent proportions of speed between the two parties, it seemed likely enough that upon this very ground, the best fitted of any that could have been selected, in a scenical sense, as a stage for bringing a spectacle below the eyes of Klosterheim, the most agitating of spectacles would be exhibited,-- friends and kinsmen engaged in mortal struggle with remorseless freebooters, under circ.u.mstances which denied to themselves any chance of offering a.s.sistance.
Exactly at this point of time arose a dense mist, which wrapped the whole forest in darkness, and withdrew from the eyes of the agitated Klosterheimers friends and foes alike. They continued, however, to occupy the walls, endeavoring to penetrate the veil which now concealed the fortunes of their travelling friends, by mere energy and intensity of attention. The mist, meantime, did not disperse, but rather continued to deepen; the two parties, however, gradually drew so much nearer, that some judgment could be at length formed of their motions and position, merely by the ear. From the stationary character of the sounds, and the continued recurrence of charges and retreats sounded upon the trumpet, it became evident that the travellers and the enemy had at length met, and too probable that they were engaged in a sanguinary combat. Anxiety had now reached its utmost height; and some were obliged to leave the walls, or were carried away by their friends, under the effects of overwrought sensibility.
Ten o'clock had now struck, and for some time the sounds had been growing sensibly weaker; and at last it was manifest that the two parties had separated, and that one, at least, was moving off from the scene of action; and, as the sounds grew feebler and feebler, there could be no doubt that it was the enemy, who was drawing off into the distance from the field of battle.
The enemy! ay, but how? Under what circ.u.mstances? As victor? Perhaps even as the captor of their friends! Or, if not, and he were really retreating as a fugitive and beaten foe, with what hideous sacrifices on the part of their friends might not that result have been purchased?
Long and dreary was the interval before these questions could be answered. Full three hours had elapsed since the last sound of a trumpet had been heard; it was now one o'clock, and as yet no trace of the travellers had been discovered in any quarter. The most hopeful began to despond; and general lamentations prevailed throughout Klosterheim.
Suddenly, however, a dull sound arose within a quarter of a mile from the city gate, as of some feeble attempt to blow a blast upon a trumpet. In five minutes more a louder blast was sounded close to the gate. Questions were joyfully put, and as joyfully answered. The usual precautions were rapidly gone through; and the officer of the watch being speedily satisfied as to the safety of the measure, the gates were thrown open, and the unfortunate travellers, exhausted by fatigue, hardships, and suffering of every description, were at length admitted into the bosom of a friendly town.
The spectacle was hideous which the long cavalcade exhibited as it wound up the steep streets which led to the market-place. Wagons fractured and splintered in every direction, upon which were stretched numbers of gallant soldiers, with wounds hastily dressed, from which the blood had poured in streams upon their gay habiliments; horses, whose limbs had been mangled by the sabre; and coaches, or caleches, loaded with burthens of dead and dying; these were amongst the objects which occupied the van in the line of march, as the travellers defiled through Klosterheim. The vast variety of faces, dresses, implements of war, or ensigns of rank, thrown together in the confusion of night and retreat, illuminated at intervals by bright streams of light from torches or candles in the streets, or at the windows of the houses, composed a picture which resembled the chaos of a dream, rather than any ordinary spectacle of human life.
In the market-place the whole party were gradually a.s.sembled, and there it was intended that they should receive the billets for their several quarters. But such was the pressure of friends and relatives gathering from all directions, to salute and welcome the objects of their affectionate anxiety, or to inquire after their fate; so tumultuous was the conflict of grief and joy (and not seldom in the very same group), that for a long time no authority could control the violence of public feeling, or enforce the arrangements which had been adopted for the night. Nor was it even easy to learn, where the questions were put by so many voices at once, what had been the history of the night. It was at length, however, collected, that they had been met and attacked with great fury by Holkerstein, or a party acting under one of his lieutenants. Their own march had been so warily conducted after nightfall, that this attack did not find them unprepared. A barrier of coaches and wagons had been speedily formed in such an arrangement as to cripple the enemy's movements, and to neutralize great part of his superiority in the quality of his horses. The engagement, however, had been severe; and the enemy's attack, though many times baffled, had been as often renewed, until, at length, the young general Maximilian, seeing that the affair tended to no apparent termination, that the bloodshed was great, and that the horses were beginning to knock up under the fatigue of such severe service, had brought up the very _elite_ of his reserve, placed himself at their head, and, making a dash expressly at their leader, had the good fortune to cut him down.
The desperateness of the charge, added to the loss of their leader, had intimidated the enemy, who now began to draw off, as from an enterprise which was likely to cost them more blood than a final success could have rewarded. Unfortunately, however, Maximilian, disabled by a severe wound, and entangled by his horse amongst the enemy, had been carried off a prisoner. In the course of the battle all their torches had been extinguished; and this circ.u.mstance, as much as the roughness of the road, the ruinous condition of their carriages and appointments, and their own exhaustion, had occasioned their long delay in reaching Klosterheim, after the battle was at an end. Signals they had not ventured to make; for they were naturally afraid of drawing upon their track any fresh party of marauders, by so open a warning of their course as the sound of a trumpet.
These explanations were rapidly dispersed through Klosterheim; party after party drew off to their quarters; and at length the agitated city was once again restored to peace. The Lady Paulina had been amongst the first to retire. She was met by the lady abbess of a princ.i.p.al convent in Klosterheim, to whose care she had been recommended by the emperor.