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The Heidenmauer - Or, The Benedictines

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



A LEGEND OF THE RHINE (1832)

Durkheim, now a busy town among the vineyards of the Haardt Mountains, in the region of the Rhine, was once the residence of the Princes of Leiningen-Hartenburg, the remains of whose castle are still extant. About one and a half miles west, on an eminence, are the picturesque ruins of the Benedictine Abbey of Limburg, built in the eleventh century, and destroyed in 1504 by Count Emich VIII of Leiningen, whose quarrel with the monks is the subject of this story. The Heidenmauer (Heathens' Wall) is a rude stone rampart on the Kastanienberg, about three and a half miles in circumference, probably of ancient Germanic origin. The object of the tale is to represent society in the act of passing from the influence of one set of governing principles to that of another, when monk and baron came into collision—the former, neither pure nor perfect, descending to subterfuge and deceit; the latter, under the influence of Luther, distrusting the faith he professed and vacillating between dread of unknown dangers and love of domination.

OASTER BERCHTHOLD HINTERMAYER,forester to Count Emich of Hartenburg, and Gottlob Frincke, cowherd to the same, and the forester's foster-brother, set out, one moonlight night, to visit the Anchorite of the Cedars, a recluse who had established himself in the Heidenmauer about six months previously. None had seen him come, none knew what brought him thither, nor could any say from what sources he drew the few articles of household furniture which were placed in his hut. A plain crucifix at his door sufficiently announced the motive of his retirement. The establishment of a hermit in a neighborhood was usually hailed as a propitious event by all within the influence of his name; but Count Emich, the burgomasters of Durkheim, and the monks of Limburg disapproved of his coming. The haughty and war-like baron had imbibed a standing prejudice against all devotees, while the magistrates were jealous of every influence which custom and the laws had not rendered familiar. As to the monks, they had always held the Abbot of Limburg to be the judge, in the last resort, of all intercessions between earth and heaven, and they secretly disliked to be outdone in their own profession.

The Heidenmauer, originally a Roman camp, of which the Huns under Attila had prudently availed themselves during a winter in their progress south, was overgrown, at the time of our tale, by cedars. Here and there, within its circuit, were the walls of roofless habitations, some of which showed signs of later occupancy, though now abandoned. One low building, with a single window, a door, and a rude chimney, showed signs of if as Berchthold and Gottlob approached, a torch shining dimly from its casement.

The forester, young, active, and of winning manners, wore a coarse frock of green and a cap of green velvet, both ornamented with his badge of office, a hunting-horn. He was armed with a couteau-de-chasse, while Gottlob, more coarsely clad, was provided with a heavy halberd which his father had often wielded in battle. While the two stood looking at the anchorite's dim light, they were suddenly startled by a monk who appeared beside them. As they were on the lands of the abbey, or rather on ground in dispute between the burghers of Durkheim and the convent, but actually in possession of the latter, they felt the insecurity of their situation as dependents of the Count of Hartenburg. But the monk received them civilly, asked if they had come to consult the anchorite, and invited them to accompany him to the hut of the recluse.

As the three approached the open door, they saw that the anchorite was not alone. Their footsteps had evidently been heard, and a female figure had time to arise from her knees and to arrange her mantle so as to conceal her face. As the Benedictine darkened the door, the two young men stood gazing over his shoulder with lively curiosity mingled with surprise.

The anchorite, whose form and countenance indicated middle age, regarded his visitors earnestly and invited them to enter. There was jealous suspicion in the glance of the monk as he complied, for he was surprised to see that the recluse was usurping so intimate an influence over the minds of the young as the presence of this female would indicate.

"I knew thou wert of holy life, venerable hermit," he said, "but I had not thought thee vested with the Church's power to harken to transgressions and to forgive sins!"

"The latter is an office, brother, that of right belongs only to God. The head of the Church himself is but an humble instrument of faith in discharging this solemn trust."

While this conversation was going on, Gottlob, in obedience to a sign from Berchthold, thrust himself into the conversation in such a way as to engage the attention of the two and to give the lady a chance to slip out.

"What has become of thy companion and of the maiden?" hastily demanded the Benedictine, as soon as he noted their absence. "They seem to have left—and in company."

"They are gone as they came," replied the recluse, "voluntarily and without question."

"Thou knowest them by frequent visits, holy hermit?" "Father, I question none. To all, at parting, I say—God speed ye."

Berchthold had swiftly followed the lady when she slipped out of the hut.

"Thou art not alone, Meta," he said, as he reached her side.

"Had I carried imprudence to this pass, Master Berchthold, thou wouldst have reason to believe, in sooth, that it was the daughter of some peasant that had crossed thy footstep."

"There is little danger of that error," said Berchthold. "I know thee well; thou art Meta, the only child of Heinrich Frey, the Burgomaster of Durkheim. None know thy quality and hopes better than I."

"I feared thou shouldst imagine I had forgotten the modesty of my sex and condition—or that—thy manner is much changed of late, Berchthold!"

"Thy father loves me not, Meta?"

"He does not so much disapprove of thee, Master Berchthold, as that thou art only Lord Emich's forester. Wert thou, as thy parent was, a substantial burgher, he might esteem thee much. But thou hast great favor with my dear mother."

"Heaven bless her, that in her prosperity she hath not for-gotten those who have fallen ! "

"Nay, I know not that a forester's is a dishonorable office. What is Count Emich but a vassal of the Elector, who in turn is a subject of the Emperor? Thou shalt not dishonor thyself thus, Berchthold, and no one say aught to vindicate thee."

"Thanks, dearest Meta. Thou art the child of my mother's oldest and dearest friend; and in truth, the fairest, kindest, and gentlest damsel of thy town."

The daughter and heiress of the wealthiest burgher of Durkheim did not hear this opinion of Lord Emich's handsome for-ester without great secret satisfaction. In the conversation which followed she explained to Berchthold that she had come up the mountain accompanied by her old nurse Ilse, who was awaiting her at the opening in the wall; that this was not her first visit to the anchorite, who in his visits to the town had shown her mother and herself greater notice than to any others in Durkheim. "My mother—I know not why—in no wise discourages these visits to the Heidenmauer."

"It is strange, Meta," replied Berchthold. "The holy man who thus urges his advice on you, most gives his counsel to me among the youths of the Jaegerthal!"

"We are young, Berchthold, and may not yet understand all that enters into older and wiser heads."

There was a charm in this idea of the unexplained sympathy between the man of God and themselves; and the two discussed it long and earnestly, for it seemed to both that it contained a tie to unite them still closer to each other. Berchthold left his companion when the two reached old Ilse, whom they found fast asleep, and the old woman accompanied her charge down the mountain wholly unconscious that Meta had seen any but the holy hermit.

Meanwhile the Benedictine, whom Gottlob recognized as Father Siegfried of the Abbey, had found the cowherd waiting outside the hut after he had finished his conference with the hermit, and took occasion, as they walked down the mountain, to question him closely as to the humor of the people of Durkheim in "this matter of contention between our holy abbot and Lord Emich of Hartenburg."

But Gottlob was too shrewd to commit himself on either side and answered evasively.

"The burghers wish to see the affair brought to an end, in such a way as to leave no doubt to which party they owe most obedience and love, since they find it a little hard upon their zeal to have so large demands of these services made by both parties."

"Thou canst not serve God and Mammon, son. So sayeth one who could not deceive."

"And so sayeth reason, too, worshipful monk. But to give thee my inmost soul, I believe there is not a man in Durkheim who believes himself strong enough to say, in this strife of duties, which is God and which is Mammon."

"How! do they call in question our sacred mission—our divine embassy ?"

"The most we say in Durkheim is that the monks of Limburg seem to be men of God."

"And Lord Emich?"

"We hold it wise, father, to remember he is a great noble. The Elector has not a bolder knight, nor the Emperor a truer vassal; we say, therefore, he seems to be brave and loyal."

"For a cowherd thou wantest not wit. Dost thou think the good people of Durkheim will stand neuter between the Abbey and the Count ?"

"Father, if thou wilt show me by which side they will be the greater gainers, I think I might venture to say on which side they will be likely to draw the sword."

After much more desultory conversation, in which the cow-herd outwitted the monk by his seeming simplicity, Father Siegfried bluntly asked Gottlob to do him a service, promising him a piece of gold if he brought him the news he wanted.

"The service I ask of thee is this: We have had reason to know that there is a strong band of armed men in the castle, ready and anxious to assail our walls, under a vain belief that they contain riches and stores to repay the sacrilege; but we want precise knowledge of their numbers and intentions. Were we to send one of known pursuits on this errand, the Count would find means to mislead him; whereas one of thy intelligence might purchase the Church's kindness without suspicion."

Gottlob finally agreed to do his best to obtain the desired in-formation in consideration of an "image of the Emperor in gold," and the monk, giving him his benediction, went his way to the Abbey.

The castle of Hartenburg, perched on an advanced spur of the mountain where the valley was most confined, consisted of a stronghold, the ancient fortress, now surrounded by a maze of courts, chapels, towers, and outbuildings, that marked the taste of the day and the consequence of the owner. The hamlet which lay in the dell beneath its walls was of little account in estimating the resources of its lord, which came chiefly from Durkheim and the fertile plains beyond. For certain of these lands and privileges he was bound to knight's service and to obedience to the Abbot of Limburg, a bond under which he chafed and which had led to much ill feeling between the two. Among other dues that the counts had paid annually to the Abbey were fifty casks of Rhenish wine. A proposition had come from Abbot Bonifacius that he and two of the brotherhood should engage with the Count of Hartenburg and two of his friends in a drinking-bout, to decide whether the tribute should be doubled or wiped out altogether. To this end the Abbot, accompanied by Fathers Siegfried and Cuno, presented themselves at the castle, where they were hospitably received by Count Emich and his two friends, Monsieur Latouche, a French abbe, and the Count's cousin, Albrecht of Viederbach, a knight of St. John, lately returned from fighting the Turks at Rhodes.

The Abbot came provided with two written instruments, which M. Latouche read carefully aloud. Count Emich listened warily as the Abbe read clause after clause of the deed, and at the conclusion called for an eagle's quill and executed the instrument on his part.

"Look you, Bonifacius," he said, shaking a finger at the Abbot, "should there be a flaw in this our convenant, this sword of mine shall cut it!"

"First earn the right, Count of Leiningen. The deeds are of equal virtue, and he who would lay claim to their benefits must win the wager."

The two deeds were placed on a high, curiously wrought vessel of silver in the center of the board, and the contest began. The glasses were filled and the combatants, at signals from Emich, swallowed draft after draft. The knight of St. John was the first to succumb, and after him Father Cuno slipped from his seat under the table. Father Siegfried and the Abbe departed almost simultaneously, leaving Count Emich and the Abbot as the sole contestants. The Count was past intelligible utterance, but he was able to flourish his hand in de-fiance, and continued the conflict by mutterings that seemed to breathe hatred and scorn.

"The Church's malediction on ye all!" uttered Bonifacius, as he fell back in his well-cushioned arm-chair and yielded to the sinister influences of the liquor he had swallowed. When Emich of Leiningen saw this, a gleam of triumph shot from beneath his shaggy eyebrows. By a desperate effort he reached and possessed himself of the deed, signed for Berchthold, who was in attendance, to approach, and, aided by his vigorous young arm, tottered to his sleeping-apartment and fell, clad as he was, upon his couch. Thus ended the famous drinking-bout of Hartenburg, which won the victor little less renown than if he had gained a victory in the field.

The next day, being Sunday, Count Emich went up with his friends to attend mass at the Abbey church, in which all the late contestants, the Abbe, Siegfried, and Cuno, took part. After the service he visited the tombs of his ancestors in the crypt and came into the light in a peaceful frame of mind, when he saw a sight that stirred up his pride and the bitterest feelings of his nature. The court in front of the church was occupied by groups, in which he recognized the burgomaster of Durkheim and his wife and daughter, to whom the knight of Rhodes and the Abbe were paying court, while Berchthold stood a little aloof, watching the interview with jealous eyes. But what angered him was to see, drawn up in military order, a large band of soldiers, wearing the colors of the Elector Friedrich. The Count held out his hand to the burgomaster.

"Hen Heinrich," he said, "hast looked well at these knaves of Friedrich? Ha! are they not melancholy and ill disposed at being cooped up with Benedictines, when there are stirring times in the Palatinate, and when their master hath as much as he can do to hold his court at Heidelberg?"

The burgher made no reply, but the exchange of glances between the two betrayed the nature of the understanding between the castle and the city.

"You spoke of commanding my duty, mein Herr Graf," said the burgomaster. "In what manner can I do you pleasure?"

"Turn thy horse's head toward Hartenburg and share my poor fare, with a loving welcome, for an hour or so."

In response to this invitation, the burgomaster, with Ulricke, his wife and Meta, his daughter, accompanied Count Emich to his castle, where important conferences took place. In a private talk with Heinrich concerning the monks and their warlike display, the burgomaster said:

"'Tis plain Duke Friedrich still upholds them. The men-at-arms have the air of fellows not likely to yield the hill with-out fair contention."

"Thinkest thou so? Do the monks still press the town for dues?"

"With offensive importunity. If matters be not quickly stayed, we shall come to open and indecent dissension."

"Herr Heinrich, it is full time that you come to certain conclusions, else shall we be saddled to the end of our days by these hard-riding priests! Art thou not wearied with their greedy exactions, that thou waitest patiently for more ? "

The result of this conference was a resolution on the part of both that the interests of the castle and town demanded the suppression of the Abbey. This conclusion had scarcely been reached when Dame Ulricke interrupted the conference, coming in to consult the Count concerning the future of her daughter Meta. Heinrich Frey listened patiently to what his wife had to say in regard to providing a proper mate for his daughter until Ulricke spoke of an attachment which Meta had made.

"This is getting to be plain, Herr Emich," said Heinrich, "and must needs be looked to. Wilt condescend to name the youth thou meanest, Ulricke ? "

"Berchthold Hintermayer."

"Berchthold Teufelstein!" exclaimed the burgomaster. "A penniless boy is truly a fit husband for a child of mine!"

"He is not rich, Heinrich," was her answer, "but he is worthy."

"Hear you this, Herr Emich? My wife is lifting the curtain of privacy before your respected eyes with a freedom for which I could fain cry mercy."

"Berchthold is a youth I love," gravely observed the Count. "In that case I shall say nothing disrespectful of the lad, who is a worthy forester, and in all things suited to his service in the family of Hartenburg; still, he is but a forester, and a very penniless one."

Count Emich saw how interested Ulricke was in this matter and, turning to the burgomaster, said : "Give us leave, Herr Heinrich; I would fain reason this matter with Ulricke without thy aid."

"Kiss me, dame," said Heinrich, rising, "and prithee do no dishonor to the Count's counsel."

When the door closed behind Heinrich, Count Emich said :

"I love young Berchthold Hintermayer, good Ulricke, and would aid in this affair, which I see thou bast much at heart."

"You will deserve far more than I can bestow, Herr Count, should you do aught to secure the happiness of Meta."

"Fair wife," continued Emich, "thou knowest the manner in which these Benedictines have so long vexed our valley. Wearied of their insolence and exactions, we have seriously bethought us of the means by which to reduce them to the modesty that becometh their godly professions."

Emich paused. He had touched on the very subject which had been Ulricke's chief inducement for intruding upon the conspirators; and though she felt deep care for the future lot of Meta, her real object was to find out about the plot, which she had long suspected, and to warn Heinrich against its possible consequences.

She was firm in her belief that Limburg, reared in honor of God, was holy; that though there might be unworthy ministers at its altars, there were also those that were worthy; and that he who would raise a hand against its sacred walls would be apt to repent his rashness in wo. The Count was disturbed at her earnestness, and leaned his chin upon his hand as if pondering on the hazards of his enterprise. At last he turned the conversation back to its former channel.

"Thou art aware, Ulricke, that there are heavy issues between me and the brotherhood concerning certain dues, not only in the valley, but in the plain, and that the contest fairly settled in my favor will much increase my revenues. We want but this affair rightly settled to possess the means of winning Heinrich to our desires in regard to Meta."

"Could this he honestly done, my blessing on him that shall effect it."

"I rejoice to hear thee say this, good Ulricke, for Heinrich and I have well-nigh decided on the fitness of disturbing the monks in their riotous abominations."

"Count Emich," said Ulricke, folding her hands and turning her meek blue eyes to heaven, "rather than aid thee in this unhallowed design; rather than do aught, even in rebellious thought, against the altars of my God; rather than set my selfishness in array against His dread power, I could follow the girl to her grave with a tearless eye and place my own head by her side."

The Count of Leiningen recoiled at the energy of her words, but it did not deter him from his purpose. Two nights later a band of a hundred burghers under Heinrich Frey, joined with a second company from the castle under command of Berchthold Hintermayer, burst in the Abbey gates and fired the buildings. They had expected resistance, but to their astonishment there was none to oppose them, the men-at-arms of the Elector, who had so excited the ire of Count Emich, having been withdrawn the night before. On entering the Abbey church, Heinrich and Berchthold found the entire community assembled in the choir, calmly waiting to receive the blow in their collective and official character. The candles still burned before the altar, and the Abbe sat on his throne, motionless, indisposed to yield, and haughty, though with features that betrayed great but repressed passion. While their followers crowded into the body of the church, Heinrich and Berchthold advanced into the choir alone, uncovered. After a parley, in which it was made plain to Bonifacius that the end had come, the Abbot, rising with dignity, said:

"Before I quit these holy walls, hear my malediction: on thee and on thy town—on all that call thee magistrate, parent—"

"Stay thy dreadful words!" cried a piercing voice. "Reverend and holy Abbot have mercy! Madness hath seized on him and the town. They are but tools in the hands of one more powerful than they."

"Thou here!" cried Heinrich, regarding with surprise his wife, who he thought had gone to see the hermit of the Heidenmauer.

"Happily here, to avert this fearful crime from thee and thy household."

" Go to, good Ulricke, what can thy sex know of policy? Depart with thy nurse, and leave us to do our pleasure."

"Berchthold, I make the last appeal to thee. This cruel father, this negligent husband, is too madly bent on his counsel, and on the policy of the town, to remember God!"

At this juncture, one closely muffled advanced and, throwing aside his cloak, showed the armed person of Emich of Leiningen. When Ulricke recognized the unbending eye of the Baron, she buried her face in her hands and went out. Her husband and Berchthold followed anxiously, and did not return to the work until they had seen her placed under proper protection.

"What wouldst thou, audacious Baron ?" cried the Abbot, when he recognized Emich.

"Peace in this oft-violated valley—humility in shaven crowns—religion without hypocrisy—and mine own."

"In the behalf of that God to whom this shrine hath been raised, in His holy interest, and in His holy name—"

"At thy peril, priest!" shouted Emich. "Where are ye, followers of Hartenburg? Down with the maledictions of this mad monk!"

The Abbot, signing to the community, descended slowly and with dignity from his throne, and led the way from the choir. Emich followed with a troubled eye the procession of monks as they filed out in silence, and his followers, taking this retreat as an abandonment of their possessions, renewed the work of destruction, smashing windows and monuments and casting down the holy images. The confessionals were piled up and set on fire; the flames reached the roof, and soon the whole hill presented to those in the valley only volumes of red flame or of lurid smoke.

Meanwhile Father Johan rushed into the choir, and seizing some of the most venerated of the relics held them on high, while burning brands were falling to the pavement, as if he expected Heaven to stop the sacrilege. Berchthold, seeing his peril, darted in to save him.

"Berchthold! Berchthold! Come forth!" shouted the Count. "He will die with the wretched monk! The youth is mad!"

Then came a crashing of rafters and a blaze of fire, and the earth shook with the fall of the roof. The interior became a fiery furnace. The monk was seen to rise and then fall again, but Berchthold had disappeared.

Some weeks later, Count Emich, who, though disposed to throw off the dominion of the Church, so far clung to ancient prejudices as to entertain grave scruples of the lawfulness of the step his ambition had caused him to adopt, endeavored to atone in some measure for his deed by going on a pilgrimage to Einsiedeln and in doing penance. In this, Heinrich, Ulricke, Meta, Lottchen, the mother of Berchthold, and many who had taken part in the sacrilege, assisted. After their return rumors prevailed that the spirits of Berchthold, hunting with his hounds, and the monk, had been seen near the Heidenmauer; and these became so persistent that Count Emich, who had been told that the ghostly visitations would never cease until the Benedictines were restored to their abbey, determined to find out the truth of the stories, which he believed were set afloat by the monks themselves. A procession to the Heidenmauer was accordingly arranged, the Count and the burgomaster in front, the parish priests following, and behind them the pilgrims. As the entrance of the walled enclosure was reached, the baying of hounds among the trees caused all to shudder, and many to cry out. But the Count, seizing his sword with an iron grasp, cried: "Let us go on! 'Tis but a hound!"

The next instant two hounds rushed out of the grove, followed by Berchthold, and Lottchen fell into the arms of her son.

His story was soon told. When the roof of the Abbey fell, he and Odo the anchorite had escaped, both wounded and bleeding, into the crypt, where they had been found and cared for by the Benedictines. For certain reasons the monks had obliged him, when recovered, to take a vow of seclusion until the return of the pilgrims.

It turned out that the anchorite, who had shared his dangers, was the Herr Odo, Baron von Ritterstein, who had assumed the hermit's garb and life in expiation of an act of sacrilege done in his youth. He had been an old lover of Ulricke, and now, in consideration of his former attachment for her and his regard for Berchthold, he gave the latter a deed of all his worldly possessions, including his castle of Ritterstein. This removed the last objection of Heinrich to Count Emich's forester; and on the following day Berchthold and Meta were united.



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