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The Chamberlain's Daughter
Conrad of Isenburg, Elector Treves, of was a very avaricious man. As the Bishop of Mainz collected Rhine-dues in spite of the Emperor's order that no custom's barriers should be set up on the river for the taxing of travellers, Conrad determined to do the same. To his castle of Stolzenfels, built on the summit of a wooded hill, he added a fortified toll-house. The stewardship of both he handed over to his chamberlain Gerhard Frundsberg. This official, even to a greater degree than his master, was consumed by avarice. He made the tolls at Stolzenfels so oppressive as to be almost unbearable.
For example, he even made use of hounds specially trained to scent out wandering Jews and, when any of these unfortunate people were brought before him the taxes were doubled. While Governor Frundsberg was wicked enough to resort to the practice of suppressing part of the proceeds of the taxes, his greed became only the more inflamed at the sight of his apparently self-accumulating riches.
A traveller from Italy called Lionardo, heard of the greed of the Governor of Stolzenfels. This individual employed his secret knowledge of astrology and kindred arts, to ingratiate himself with knights and church dignitaries. He asked for a private interview with Gerhard Frundsberg, and boasted to him of the fabulous wealth he could create, by aid of the wonderful science of alchemy. According to his own confession he was an adept and understood the two great secrets of this black art. He spoke learnedly of the Philosopher's Stone with which he could turn all baser metals into silver and gold. Then, there was the Elixir. These two together gave the Grand Elixir or Panacea of Life. When diluted, this furnished a golden drink which could cure all diseases, turn age to youth, and lengthen life. The greedy chamberlain gave himself over body and soul to the Italian savant. Greed blinded him to the fact that his false companion was gradually making away with his wealth, and while he waited for the greater treasures which he was assured he would soon possess, he allowed himself to be tempted to still further spoliation of the Elector's goods. His pretty daughter Gertraud wrung her hands and besought her father not to follow a course so sure to lead to destruction. But the hardened miser gave no ear to her entreaties.
Then one day came the news that Conrad of Isenburg was going to visit his castle in order to receive the money which had been collected from the increased Rhine-dues. The unfaithful steward shuddered before the hour of reckoning. In great anxiety Gertraud went to the alchemist and entreated him to save her father in this hour of deep distress. With an evil look in his eyes Lionardo confided to her, that only the self-sacrifice of a pure virgin could save her father. By such a sacrifice however, royal wealth and honour, youth in his old age, in short all earthly treasures would be granted to him. In silence the maiden listened to him, and then without a shudder declared that she was willing to offer up her young life to save her father, whom she loved deeply, if as the Italian magician declared the secret powers of alchemy demanded this. In the darkness of the night the maiden resorted to a room in a remote tower where Lionardo pursued his experiments for the manufacture of gold. Over a large table in the middle of the room a purple cloth had been spread. A basin stood upon it, and a dagger lay near. Out of a tripod tongues of bluish flame were leaping, and filled the chamber with a ghastly light. The maiden looked deadly pale, and when she advanced the magician gave her a cloth of shimmering lawn. Then he ordered her to take off her clothes and place herself upon the purple cover of the table, and to wrap her youthful body in the snow-white lawn. The maiden, thinking of her unhappy father and his miserable plight, did as she was bid, Lionardo bent over the sacrificial flame, and burnt in it a small piece of wood from Mount Lebanon. While Gertraud closed her eyes and commended her pure soul to her heavenly father the Italian suddenly brought his necromantic spells to an end. He tore the white cloth roughly aside, and with a fierce look gleaming in his wicked eyes, he raised the dagger in his right hand to strike at the maiden's heart. Just at that moment the door of the chamber was burst open. A hand gripped the raised arm of the alchemist like an iron vice, and in the next moment a blow felled him like an ox to the ground. The young nobleman, Reinhard von Westerburg, the captain of the Elector's troops at Stolzenfels bowed before Gertraud, who in shame wrapped her chaste limbs in the lawn. The noble-minded maid confessed to him all that had happened in the castle. The young man explained how he had been alarmed by her troubled looks, and full of forebodings of evil, he carefully watched the maiden he had long secretly loved. He had succeeded in following her till she entered the magician's chamber. Then a higher will than his own had constrained him to burst open the door and prevent the perpetration of a deed of infamy. To-morrow he would deliver over this Italian adventurer to the hangman employed by the Elector. The Italian savant had been lying stretched on the floor as if dead, but at these words he raised himself with a sudden snake-like motion, and with a horrible curse fled from the room. Next morning young Reinhard of Westerburg went to Frundsberg, and in manly fashion asked him for the hand of his amiable daughter. When the chamberlain confessed with much evident confusion, that his daughter though rich in beauty and grace, was in worldly possessions quite unworthy of such a husband, the young nobleman declared that in making his suit, he had only one condition to impose, and it was, that the father of his bride must accept without remonstrance the sum of money of which he had been defrauded by the cunning Italian. Fortunately, the devil had carried off this individual during the night. While Gerhard Frundsberg with blanched features wondered what the young man's words might really mean, a stable-boy rushed in and said that the Italian magician had been found below the castle on a projecting rock, with his skull fractured. It was evident that, in the darkness and fog he had lost his way, and making a false step had fallen over the precipice. The chamberlain crossed himself in terror, but the noble young lord of Westerburg took the hands of the trembling' old man in his own, and once more begged that they might share their treasures together.
By mid-day, with much state, the Elector of Treves entered Stolzenfels. Conrad von Isenburg made a most severe scrutiny of his chamberlain's transactions, and found everything in the best order. A few days later, he assisted in the castle-chapel at the marriage of the virtuous Gertraud to the noble young captain of the Stolzenfels garrison. His Highness of Treves rejoiced that henceforth his fortress of Stolzenfels would be under doubly safe supervision.Click to go to the next section of the Legends of the Rhine