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The Knave of Bergen

The Knave of Bergen
Nach einer Zeichnung von Adolf Menzel.

     The emperor was to be crowned at Frankfort, and great festivities were to be given in the town in his honour, among them a masquerade, at which knights and noble ladies rivaled each other in splendour. Joy was depicted on every face at this great assembly, only one knight among the many guests being noticeable for his gravity and restraint. He wore black armour, and the feather waving above his visor was black too. No one knew him or could guess who he was. He approached the empress with a noble grace, bent his knee, and asked her to dance with him, which she graciously consented to do. He glided gracefully through the splendid halls with the queen of the festival, and soon every eye was turned on them, and everyone was eager to know who he was.

     The empress was charmed with her excellent partner, and the grace of his refined conversation pleased her so much that she granted him a second and a third dance.

     Everyone became more and more curious to know who this masked knight was. Meanwhile the hour struck when every mask had to be raised, and every masked guest must make himself known. More than all the others the empress was anxious to know who her partner was. But he hesitated and even refused to take off his mask until she ordered him peremptorily to do so. The knight obeyed, but none of the high ladies or noble knights recognised him. Suddenly two stewards pressed through the crowd, crying out with indignation and horror; "It is the headsman from Bergen!"

     Then the emperor in great wrath ordered the shameful offender who had thus degraded the empress and insulted his sovereign to be led to execution.

     But the culprit, throwing himself at the emperor's feet, said boldly, "I have transgressed, my lord, and offended you and your noble guests, but most heavily have I sinned against my queen. No punishment, not even blood, will be able to wash out the disgrace you have suffered through me. Therefore, oh King l allow me to propose a remedy to efface the shame. Draw your sword and knight me, and I will throw down my gauntlet to any one who dares to speak disrespectfully of my sovereign."

     The emperor was taken by surprise at this bold proposal. However it appeared the wisest plan to adopt.

     "You are a knave," he replied after a moment's consideration, "but your advice is good and displays prudence, just as your offence shows adventurous courage. Well then,"  –  laying his sword on the man's neck  –  "rise Sir Knight. You have acted like a knave, and the Knave of Bergen you shall be called henceforth."

     A joyful shout of approbation pealed through the halls, and the new knight again glided gracefully through the crowd with the queen of the festival.

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