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The Bride of Clemenskirely.
BY J. NIMMO SMITH.
CHAPTER I. THREE hundred years ago on Clemenskirch arose the sun, darting his rays up the mountain's side, and wreathing its hoary head with a crown of light-glancing 'twixt forest pillars, through which the blasts of hundreds of winters had howled, hurrying away to revel amidst the eternal snows and iceberg-cities of their polar home-chasing the shadows and drinking the dews-lighting up the thousand-coloured carpets of the mead-spangling the trees with countless gems, richer than ocean’s bed conceals—-kissing the deep waters of the rapid Rhine-like a welcome friend bursting unbidden into cottage and castle alike ; a true republican is the glorious sun-enriching the bloom on the clustering grape, and the maiden's cheek breathing her matin prayer beneath its arching shade-awaking the peasant to his field-toil, and the lord to his field-sport--the shepherd's tousy companion to his hillside tending, the hound of the knight to the chase--and away over mountain and plain, river and ocean, spreading light, welcome light, and banishing night quicker than thought.
But in Clemenskirch signs of work there were none that day, each simple villager was attired in his holiday suit; the implements of husbandry were left unhandled; the cattle enjoyed an universal sabbath ; and the gladsome smile, and joyous salute with which neighbour met neighbour, told plainly of some festivity or merry-making about to come off. Matron and maiden vied with each other in gaiety and good humour, and a sense of gladness seemed to overlay all.
The day was barely an hour old ere the village was almost emptied of its inhabitants ; the young and light-hearted with laughter and song, the aged and infirm with crutches and staff, the gay and the grave, alike without distinction, might be seen threading the different paths leading to the castle hanging above their heads on the rugged mountain, from whence it seemed to look down on the simple village like some gaunt old nurse on the cradled-sleep of her infant charge, at once the guide and protector of that helpless spot. After all our vain-glorying, there was much to reverence in the paternal care and solicitude of those feudal times, when the power placed in the hands of the superior was not abused.
Onward sped the rustics to feed on hog's flesh and wheaten bread—the very taste of which was almost unknown to them and drink to the health of their lady, the Bride of Clemenskirch, in good Rhenish wine ;-and a right mirthful and hilarious day was that when the Baron of Clemenskirch gave his lovely daughter, Margaret, to Count Robert of Ehrenfels, the bravest knight and truest in the whole of Rhine-land.
As the morning strengthened, guests of high and low degree poured through the castle gates from many a distant hill and far-off valley, by river and road, until the stables were filled with every kind of horse, and the river crowded with every description of boat. The company was not less varied ;-lords, knights, and retainers ; minstrels gay, and merchants, with their bales of silk and lace, and caskets filled with costly and rare jewels of foreign workmanship strangely wrought; perfumes and spices; rosaries, amulets, and missals from sacred Rome, rich with the blessing of holy Mother Church; Spanish blades, embroidered cloaks, and plumed bonnets; wares from the golden east and the lands of the south, on the “mediterranean flote,”- curious collections calculated to entice either knight or maiden, baron or bursch, to part with a gold piece.
At lengthwhen all the expected and unexpected guests had arrived, greetings had been exchanged, and the ladies conducted to the chamber of the bridethe warder on the keep reported, as. he had been previously instructed to do, the signal, which rose on the morning breeze, and floated, silently unfolding its bright colors, over the towers of Ehrenfels, intimating that Count Robert was about to cross the river; and while the voiceless answer to the signal on Ehrenfels was hoisted upon Clemenskirch, a foot procession was formed, and issued forth 'neath arch and portcullis. First came the minstrels, chanting forth their ancient minnielieders-ballads; then followed those indispensable members of every rich man's household, in the golden days by-gone, the jesters, crowned with their many-colored coxcombs, dealing forth their rodomontade and ribald jests; next came, surrounded by his friends, knights and lords, the stately, noble, and grey-headed Baron of Clemenskirch. Gladness was in his eye, a happy smile
to do, the sigholding its Robert
played about his mouth, as he listened to the praises of his son-inlaw to-be, Count Robert of Ehrenfels—for well he loved his daughter, the pride and joy of his age, and he truly believed they loved each other. A multitude of vassals and retainers brought up the rear, amusing themselves whereby following the example as well as the persons of their superiors) by exchanging opinions as to the character of the bridegroom and beauty of the bride ; betting (a custom not peculiar to this age alone) on the probability of the Baron living to be a grandfather, and varying the topic by speculating as to the nature of the feast which was to follow the ceremony ;-and on they went, winding down the circuitous path over rude wooden drawbridges, thrown across yawning crags, and and down through deep ravines, down, down to the side of the deep, dark, fabled Rhine ; and a brave and gallant company they showed, spread out on its silent margin, their gaily-decked figures, strangely reflected back from its sun-lit wavelets.
All eyes were turned towards Ehrenfels, black in relief against the sun ; and presently out from the shadow of its hill floated a little fleet of gaily-decorated boats—a beautiful pageant-music around them, and sun-shine on high-their bright colored streamers pointing, like hope, in the gale towards Clemenskirch-their measured oars, amid ripple and spray, and the flushing of light, keeping time to the music. Count Robert's boat headed the rest; he was alone in her, save the boatmen—a noble figure of manly symmetry, set off by a splendid dress; his fine countenance was flushed with the glow of youth, and joy rioted in his large and expressive eyes; and, as he sprung from her bow to the land and took the welcoming hand of the Baron, the whole host sent forth a heart-uttered, heart-cheering salutation, and the resonant hills, answering to each ocher, sent back that shout as wave succeeds to wave.
After the round of recognitions and congratulations had been gone through, the Baron, addressing Count Robert, said, “ Your brother, Sir Richard, Count, I miss him from your side; how is it he does not honor us with his company ?-it is not brotherly to be absent at such a time.”
“ He bids me greet you with all love from himself, and beg's that his absence may not be construed into offence; he is sick, and adds that he would not willingly bring a clouded brow amidst the sunshine of our happiness. Had it been otherwise, he prayed me to assure you that he would have been among the first to bid you joy, and borne the merriest face of all your noble company. But come,” he added, glancing up at the castle, “ I question not there are bright eyes looking down upon us, though we see them not, and quick-beating hearts wondering at our delay.- Come, friends, let us hasten to gladden ourselves in the light of those eyes, and dispel all doubts from those fu.d hearts.” So saying he led the way to the castle.
And now, reader mine, you and I will step on before and anticipate the anxious bridegroom by getting the first sight of the
love midst tapestry, empr. ancient dames, and that is to say, those
Amidst tapestry, embroidery, rustling silks, tags, lace, frills, perfumes, pieces of virtu, ancient dames, and blushing maidens ; the wedded, full of sage advice ; the spinsters, that is to say, those whose age was certain, and what is worse, their chance of continuing in a state of single blessedness more certain— they were every moment endangering their silken laces, bursting,—as a rainswollen stream its banks,—with very jealousy; the young and hopeful, like a sisterband of angels, beaming love. In the very centre of that gaily-dressed and perfumed assemblage of human contrarities, robed in pure white, nor gem nor ornament to be seen, maiden-modesty rich upon her brow, taller and withal more captivating than any there, most beautiful among the beautiful, stood Margaret-pure as the breath of young spring upon the mountains, her golden ringlets disencumbered on a neck of loveliness, unimpassioned, surrounded by the fullness of every earthly desire, like a still, calm rock in the midst of the surging sea-one might have imagined her the ideal creation of some inspired Greek; but beneath that cold and marble-like exterior, love's flame burnt bright, clear and true-and the brighter, clearer, and truer, that it sought to make no parade.
Nurtured and educated as she had been, always living within the domain of Clemenskirch, pure, ingenuous, and simple, was Margaret. Rumour from without had, it is true, wafted stories of the world—its pleasures, its troubles, its pomps, its wonders, its dangers, and its trials—but she comprehended them not. Clemenskirch to her was the universe ; within it was bounded up all her joys, hopes, and fears. 'Tis true, also, she had often listened with her heart to Count Robert-sitting with him on moonlit battlement, or in vine-clad bower, when he, having returned from some well-fought field, had told, in love's own whisper, of strange scenes in distant lands ; but she had no wish to know more than was conveyed in those simple stories.
In the deep forest, on the eternal hills, in her castle garden, made in terraces on the barren rock, like an oasis in the desert, or breathing in silent meditation the fresh evening breeze at her chamber window, and looking down upon the Rhine-flow, which seemed to whisper to her as it passed, of love, resignation, and peace;—in these and all else, she saw and heard enough to admire and rejoice in the glories of God.
As soon as the bridegroom and the procession accompanying him entered the hall of the castle, the priest pronounced a blessing on the youthful lovers. After the sound of his sonorous voice had died away in the rafters, they at once proceeded to the chapel, where the ceremony was performed with all the pomp and histrionic show the Church has always known so well how to display, when her interest or the occasion demanded.
When every requirement of the rite had been complied with, the whole party returned, through a swell of music, to the great hall, where a sumptuous banquet had been prepared and served partly on a raised dais, where those guests whose estate entitled them to the distinction, were to partake, with the bride and bridegroom; and for the more humble portion, substantial fare was provided at the lower end of the hall. And a fine sight it was to behold: the long and crowded tables groaning with their multitude of viands—the variety of dresses and faces—the walls hung with the portraits of a long line of ancestors, and near to each of which were suspended the different trophies gained in the field by the one it represented—tattered and fragmentary banners, war-hacked corslets, and swords of every shape ; the wreck of splintered jousting-spears, with dusty and discolored prizes clinging tenaciously to them-consisting chiefly of favors and scarfs, dealt, it may be, to the victor by the fair hand of some tourney-queen, whose very name, even, had long before crept silently and hushed behind the obscuring veil whose dark deep folds fall over the mighty caverns of the past. Mingling here and there with these, were the spoils of sylvan warfarethe jaws of the wolf and bear grinning horribly between cross-bows and battle-axes down upon those hearty feasters.
Merrily, and often noisily, proceeded the festivity. Well pleased was everyone with the entertainment, and each grew more and more satisfied with himself and agreeable to his neighbours, as flagons and goblets of Rhein-wein and Ferne-wein were filled and empitied to endless toasts. Songs and wit and streams of music flowed; while the more sober-minded listened with eagerness and avidity to some legend of thrilling interest, as old as the hills, related with great effect, and setting forth the vagaries of some