The Saint of the Dragon's Dale A Fantastical Tale
LITTLE NOVELS BY
The Saint of the
WILLIAM STEARNS DAVIS
The Saint of the
A Fantastic Tale
WILLIAM STEARNS DAVIS
AUTHOR OF “A FRIEND OF C∆SAR,”
“GOD WILLS IT,” ETC.
“And he wist not that his face shone.”
Exodus xxxiv. 29.
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
London: Macmillan & Co., Ltd.
All rights reserved
By THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.
Set up, electrotyped, and published July, 1903.
J. S. Cushing & Co.—Berwick & Smith Co.
Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.
LE BARON RUSSELL BRIGGS
AN EVER KINDLY
FRIEND AND COUNSELLOR
AS TO SO MANY OTHER
SONS OF HARVARD
|I.||Jerome of the Dragon’s Dale||1|
|IV.||The Dove at the Dragon’s Dale||38|
|V.||Jerome is tempted of the Devil||49|
|VI.||The Herald of the Kaiser||61|
|VII.||Fritz the Masterless||74|
|IX.||Harun knows the Way||101|
|X.||The Evening Light||115|
|Portrait of William Stearns Davis||Frontispiece|
|“‘Give him the maid, Franz, and all the fiends go with her’”||33|
|“‘Back to Witch Martha; back! Fly fast, as you love me’”||84|
THE SAINT OF THE
JEROME OF THE DRAGON’S DALE
PATTER, patter,—the rain hadbeaten all day on the brown roofsof Eisenach. The wind sweptin raw gusts across the ripplingocean of pines and beeches which crowdedupon the little town from many a swellinghill. Under the grey battlements theHŲrsel brawled angrily. At the MarienGate, Andreas the warder dozed in his box,wrapping his great cloak tighter. He hadsearched few incoming wagons for toll thatday. It was very cold, as often chanceseven in summer in tree-carpeted Thuringia.Andreas was sinking into another day-dream,when Joram, his shaggy dog, having openedone eye, opened the other, then started hismaster with a bark.
“Hoch! hold!” cried Andreas, rubbinghis eyes. “Who passes?”
“Johann of the ‘Crown and Bells.’” Andthe warder saw the tow-thatched striplingof the innkeeper tugging a great basket,whilst his buff coat dripped with rain.
“And whither away?” quoth Andreas,settling back, as Joram ceased growling.
“The ‘Saint’ in the Dragon’s Dale needshis basket, rain or no rain—curse him!”And Johann’s broad mouth drew into nomerry smile.
Andreas crossed himself as became apious Christian. “Do not blaspheme theSaint. Ask his prayers rather. This is anoble time for the gnomes and pixies to gohunting in the Marienthal for just suchblithe rascals as you. So pray hard andrun harder.”
Small need of this. Gnomes and pixieshad been much in Johann’s mind sincegoodwife Kathe, his mother, had thrust thebasket on his reluctant arm, and haled himby an ear to the inn door. It was nigh asbad as wandering by night, to thread theforest on a day like this. As he quittedthe gate, from east, west, south, was pressingthe green Thuringerwald,—avenue onavenue of stately beeches, lofty as churchspires, graceful as the piers of some tallcathedral. He could see their serried,black trunks running away into distance,till his eye wearied of wandering amid theirmazes. A clearing next, fresh chips, youngweeds, a carpet of dank leaves—but thewood-cutters were gone. Then the pathopened enough to give one glimpse to thewestward and southward, toward the leafypeak of the Hainstein; and beyond andhigher, to a proudly built castle,—with ascarlet banner trailing through the rain,—theWartburg, one-time fortress of theLandgraf of Thuringia, now the hold ofBaron Ulrich, boldest and wickedest of allthe “ritters” who watched the roads inthese evil days which had fallen uponGermany.
The glimpse of the Wartburg cheeredJohann. Man was there—and what wasa “robber-knight” beside a redoubtablepixie? Likewise, what likelier place forpixies than those glades just before? Johannhad not forgotten the wise tales ofold grandame Elsa; and there it was,—thestone cross, where forty years ago the gripingburgomaster Gottfried had been found lyingstiff and cold, with purse untouched, andnever a scar, save a little one behind hisear. “He had gone to meet the Devil,and the Devil had stolen his soul;” so saidFather Georg in church. It was heresy todoubt it.
Johann was sure it was best to pray at thecross. He plumped on the wet grass, saidtwo Aves and a Paternoster. At the last“Amen,” whir!—went something off behind.A gnome? No; only a partridge.He trudged on happier. Now the glade wasnarrowing; the trees thickened, the brooksang over rocks and sands. One could seethe slim trout shooting in the pools. Johann’sstride lengthened. The forest closed allview. He crossed the stream on stepping-stones,and drew a long breath. “Only twohundred paces more!” It had ceased raining,but all the trees were hung with pearls,and shook down showers at every sweepingbreeze. The air was suddenly grown warm.The last hundred paces, Johann seemedwalking into a sheer wall of rock, whence thestream crawled from under a tiny fissure.What dwelt beyond—dog-men who fed onbabes, or only ordinary and commonplacedevils, Johann did not care to guess. Tenpaces from the precipice he halted, crossedhimself as a precaution, laid down the basket,and turned to a sapling whence dangled arusty helmet by a leathern thong.
Thrice he beat with a stick, and the metallicbooms sent new quakings, not appeasedby a voice which proceeded from the centreof the beetling rock.
“Who is this that comes to the Dragon’sDale?”
“I, Johann of the ‘Crown and Bells’;”and Johann’s teeth rattled.
“Have you brought the basket?”
“Surely, holy father; bread and cheese asalways on the first of the month.”
“Christ then abide with you and your goodparents. In the helmet you will find theaccustomed payment. Now leave the basketand depart.”
From the helmet Johann took a silverpiece,—a strange coin current amongst theOrient infidels. However, silver was silver;it came from a holy hermit, and Johann’schief need was a swift gait home; so homehe flew, his teeth a-chattering.
For long after his going, absolute silenceheld the glade; then seemingly out from theprecipice emerged a man who walked straightto the basket and lifted it so easily as to convincea grave crow—the sole onlooker—thathere was a mortal of wondrous strength.The new-comer moved in long strides whichdid not belie the mighty proportions of thighand limb. Over his broad shoulders, scarcelybowed with fast and age, hung a brown sheepskinjerkin, sewed with thongs, descending belowthe knees and bound with a bit of rope.Feet, neck, arms, were absolutely bare, hairy,and sinewy. How the face looked one mightnot tell, all hidden as the features were behindthe unshorn snow-white hair and beard whichveiled almost everything save two marvellouslylustrous blue eyes.
Without a word or look to right or left, helifted the basket, and strode directly towardthe rock. Not till the wall was arm’s lengthaway could a stranger have discovered howone boulder thrusting before another openeda passage, narrow, tortuous, dark, betwixtthe masses of sandstone. The defile wasscarce wide enough for two to pass. Under-foottrickled a shallow stream. The stonewalls were mantled with green moss andmyriad ferns and harebells. Often the rockslocked closer, throwing the gorge into twilight,or opening, disclosed the grassy hill-slopesfifty feet on high. The solitary wentonward, heedless of gloom, until, after followingthis uncanny path for nigh two hundredyards, the rocks sprang apart, and as by art-magicthe long-prisoned sun burst forth, andshot his glory over the greenwood. Instantlyall the beeches’ leafy clusters were glisteringwith diamonds, the sheen of the grassy slopesgrew dazzling, the brook flashed on its way,with a rainbow in every ripple, whilst rightover the massy Wartburg hung a true “Bowof the Promise” in full splendour.
The stranger mounted the slope, till castleand hills were clear in view; then spoke hisfirst word.
“O dear Lord Jesus Christ, if this Thypresent world is fair, how fair must be Thyheavenly world, before which all this shallflee unclean away!”
The speech was not German, but somestrange tongue of the East, alien indeed tothis northern forest; but the hermit onlyscanned the sky and valley once, then pressedup the hillside until in a hollow shaded byimmemorial pines, and carpeted by theirbrown needles, there was a hut of wicker andof boughs, and from the damp wood beforethe entrance a stream of thin smoke crawledupward, whilst at the crunching tread of thehermit a beast started from the dying fire,growled softly, and wagged a bushy tail,—ayellow, white-toothed wolf, who raised hisblack muzzle to the basket, and mildly sniffedfor bread, beseeching with low whines. Butthe strange man only spoke two sharp words,in the same Eastern tongue.
“Down, Harun!” And the wolf slunkback to the fireside to switch his tail and eyethe basket timidly.
The hermit deliberately entered the hut,soon to return with a cake of coarse blackbread. Again the wolf started, but the manrebuked him.
“First, we must thank God.”
The man knelt by the fire, and the beastregarded in silence.
“We thank thee, O Father of all mercies,for food and for another day of life in whichwe may prove ourselves repentant of our sins,and more obedient to Thy will, sic oramus innomine nostri delecti Domini, Jesu Christi:Amen.”
The “Amen” was answered by a yelp; thewolf rose on his hinder legs. The man brokethe cake into halves scrupulously equal, andcast one to the beast who caught it with histeeth, growled gently, and began to devour.His master seemed in no haste to eat. Itlacked an hour of evening. The slant sunshinethrough the trees streamed in a witchingbrightness. The air grew warm. Fromthe pines bird answered to bird. The manwent across the narrow clearing, drew fromhis girdle a keen knife, and cut a notch upona sturdy fir. Many notches were there already,some long, some short, forming a kindof reckoning. He scanned them carefully,clearing the moss from some with his fingers.
“Eight years ago, eight years lacking onemonth,”—he was speaking in the same uncouthtongue—“this same day I had to quitFulda for this place. The Abbot wished tomake me esteemed a saint, and so draw pilgrimsto the abbey. About this time I wasassailed by the Demon of Spiritual Pride, andthought myself somewhat righteous. Thenmight I have fallen into his clutches andbeen burned forever, I and the soul of mySigismund, but I escaped him, gloria Tibi,Domine!”
The wolf had finished the cake, and gave alow whine to attract attention.
“You may go,” spoke the man, upraisinghis head, whereat the beast shambled awayinto the forest, and his master returned byslow steps to the fire.
“Eight and thirty years ago to-day? ah!what was it then? Mother of Christ, I canremember,”—there shot a gleam out ofthose wild eyes which made them like brightsparks,—“it was the fÍte at Naples. Frederickthe Great, the ‘Wonder of the World,’was there. With the French Count of Autun,and the Flemish Seigneur of Charleroi, Iheld the lists against the best lances of Sicily,of Italy, of Spain. None unhorsed us,but I did best. They led me to the Emperor;Mathilde crowned me. That nightshe and I walked together in the gardens,and saw the moon upon the shimmering sea.It was that night she said,—”
A convulsive tremor shook his frame. Hedashed his hands against his breast as if totear his heart forth from its covert. Thewords were nigh a cry.
“Oh! all will come back. I cannot banishit. The fiends are strong, strong! Thatday I slew the Aragonese, Don Filipo, inhis sins. He forgot to confess ere he rodeto the tourney. At the Judgment bar I mustanswer for his soul, for twenty more. Odear Lord Christ, I am too weak! I cannotendure it! I am lost forever!” He passedhis hand across his forehead as if to brush amist from his eyes. “My head reels. Yes,I kept from sleep. I ate nothing yesterday.But prayer