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Eginhard and Emma
The story which we have now to relate is a very touching one, and it becomes even more interesting when we know that it is based on real fact. In the little town of Ingelheim there was a beautiful marble castle, the favourite residence of Charlemagne. He often retired to this lonely, peaceful spot accompanied only by a few of his faithful vassals and the members of his own family. Eginhard, the emperor's private secretary, was never missing from this little circle.
Charlemagne thought highly of this man, then in the prime of youth, on account of his profound knowledge and extraordinary talents. The young scholar, so different from the wise councillors not only in his learning but in his cultivated manners, was a great favourite among the ladies of the court.
Eginhard who was a constant companion of the emperor, had also become an intimate member of the family circle, and Charlemagne entrusted him with the education of his favourite child Emma, daughter of his wife Gismonda. This dark-eyed maiden was considered the most beautiful of her age, and the young scholar could not long remain cold and indifferent to her charms. The undisturbed hours which should have been spent in learning, led to a mutual understanding. Eginhard struggled to remind himself of his duty towards his sovereign, but love overcame him, and soon an oath of eternal fidelity united these young hearts.
The great emperor ought to have known what would be the consequence of allowing the young scholar to ,enjoy the society of his dark-eyed, passionate daughter. In the still hours of the night when all the inmates of the castle lay wrapped in sleep, Eginhard sought the chamber of his beloved. She listened enchanted to the glowing words of his burning heart, but their love was chaste and pure, no gusts of passion troubling them.
But fate was against these lovers. One night they were sitting in Emma's chamber talking confidentially together. The great palace was veiled in darkness, no ray of light, no star was to be seen in the heavens. As Eginhard Was about to leave the chamber, he perceived that the courtyard below was covered with snow. It would have been impossible to pass across it without leaving a trace behind him, but at all risks he must reach his room.
What was to be done? Love is ingenious. After considering for some time together, they both concluded that there was but one way to prevent their being betrayed. The slender maiden took her lover on her back and carried him across the courtyard, thus leaving behind only her small foot-prints.
It happened that Charles the Great had not yet sought the repose he needed so much, as care banished sleep from his eyes. He sat at his window and looked out into the silent night. In the courtyard below he perceived a shadow crossing the pavement and, looking carefully, he recognised his favourite daughter Emma carrying a man on her back. – Yes I and this man was Eginhard his great favourite. Pain and anger struggled in his heart. He wanted to rush down and kill him – an emperor's daughter and a mere secretary – but with a great effort he restrained himself, mastered the violent agitation which this unexpected sight caused him, and went back to his chamber to wait wearily for dawn.
The next day Charles assembled his councillors. They were all horrified to see his ghastly look; his brow was dark, and sorrow was depicted on every feature. Eginhard looked at his master apprehending coming evil. Charlemagne stood up and spake:
"What does a royal princess deserve, who receives the visit of a man at night?" The councillors looked at each other speechless. Eginhard's countenance became white as death. The councillors soon guessed the name of the royal princess, and they consulted together for some time not knowing what to say, but at last one councillor answered: –
"Your Majesty, we think that a weak woman must not be punished for anything done out of love."
"And what does a favourite of the emperor deserve who creeps into a royal princess' chamber at night?"
Charlemagne cast a dark look at his secretary, who trembled and became even paler. "Alas! all is lost," murmured he to himself. Then, raising his voice, he said, "Death, my Master and Emperor!"
Charles looked at the young man full of astonishment. The wrath in his soul melted at this self-accusation and fervent repentance. Deep silence followed this answer, and in a few minutes the emperor dismissed his councillors, making a sign at the same time to Eginhard to follow him.
Without a word Charles led him into his private chamber, where in answer to his summons, Emma appeared.
Her heart misgave her as she saw the dark look on her father's face and the troubled features of her beloved. She understood all at once, and with a convulsive cry of pain threw herself at her father's feet.
"Mercy! mercy! my father, we love each other so dearly!" murmured she, raising her large eyes imploringly. "Mercy!" murmured Eginhard too, bending his knees.
The emperor remained silent. After a time he began to speak earnestly and coldly at first, but his voice changed to a milder tone on hearing the sobs of his favourite child.
"I shall not separate you who are bound to each other by love. A priest shall unite you, and at dawn to-morrow you must both be gone from the castle, never to return."
He left them, shutting the door behind him. The beautiful maiden sank down on her knees, only half conscious in her grief of what her father had said. But Eginhard's soft voice soon whispered in her ear.
"Do not weep, Emma. By thrusting you from him, your father, my master, has only bound us together for ever. Come," he continued in a trembling voice, alarmed at her passionate tears, "we must go, but love will be ever with us."
The next day two pilgrims left the castle of Ingelheim, and took the road in the direction of Mayence.
Time wore on.
Charles the Great had made war on Saxony, had set the Roman crown upon his own head, and had become famous throughout the whole world. But all his fame had not prevented his hair from becoming grey, nor his heart from being sad. A mournful picture had imprinted itself on his mind, despite all his efforts to forget the past. In the evening when the setting sun glittered on the marble pillars of the royal palace, casting its golden rays into the chamber of the great emperor, it would find him sitting motionless in his carved oak-chair, his grey head buried in his hands, mournful dreams troubling his peace. He was thinking of the days which were past, of the young man whose gentle ways made him so different from the rough warriors of the court, how he used to recite poetry and Sing the songs of the old bards so passionately, and the old legends which the emperor prized so much, how he used to read to him from the old gray parchment which he, Eginhard, had written so carefully, how his own favourite dark-eyed daughter had so often been present, sitting at his feet listening intently to the reader – all this came back to his memory, saddening his heart, and filling his eyes with tears.
Bugle-horns sounded through the forest, Charles and his followers were at the chase. The old emperor, seeking to forget his grief, had seized his spear and had gone out to hunt.
In his eagerness to follow a magnificent stag he had become separated from his escort. The sun was already low in the west; the animal, now seeing no way of escape, as his pursuer was close behind him, dashed into a river and swam to the other side. The emperor, in hot pursuit and much exhausted, arrived at the water's edge, and for the first time noticed that he was alone, and in a part of the country quite unknown to him.
The river lay before him and the forest behind, but the latter seemed to be quite impenetrable. It was already night, and Charles sought in vain to find some path or track.
As he was looking round him, he perceived a light in the distance. Greatly pleased he started off in that direction, and found a little hut close to the river, but on looking through the window Charlemagne saw that the room was a very poor one.
"Perhaps this is the hermitage of some pious man," thought he, and knocked at the door, whereupon a fair-haired man appeared on the threshold.
Without mentioning his name, the emperor informed him of what had happened, and begged shelter for the night.
At the sound of this loved voice, the man trembled, but controlling himself, he invited the emperor to enter. A young woman was sitting on a stool rocking a baby in her arms. She started, became very pale at the sight of the emperor, and then hurried into the next room to hide her emotion; Charles sat down, and refusing refreshment from his host leaned his head wearily on his hands.
Minutes passed, and still he sat there lost in thought, dreaming of those happy by-gone days. At last the sweet prattle of a child roused him, and looking up he saw a little girl about five years old at his side, stretching out her arms to him, bidding him goodnight. Charles looked closely at the little angel-like creature, his heart throbbing within him.
"What is your name, little one?" asked he.
"Emma," answered the child.
"Emma," repeated Charles with tears in his eyes, and drawing the child closer to him he pressed a kiss on its forehead.
In a moment the man and his young wife were at the emperor's feet imploring pardon. "Emma! Eginhard!" cried he with great emotion, embracing them both. "Blessed be the place where I have found you again!"
Emma and Eginhard returned in great pomp to the emperor's court. The latter gave them his beautiful palace at Ingelheim, and only felt himself happy when he was with them.
He caused a cloister to be built on the spot where he had found them again, which to the present day is called "Seligenstadt," "town of the happy."
In the church belonging to this little town the tomb of Eginhard and Emma is still shown, for according to their wishes, their bones were interred in the same coffin.Click to go to the next section of the Legends of the Rhine