(Return to Web Text-ures)
Click Here to return to
Legends of the Rhine
Click Here to return to
the previous section
In all the Rhine provinces the virtuous spouse of Count Siegfried of the Palatinate was esteemed and venerated. The people called her St. Genovefa, which name indeed she was worthy of, as she suffered cruel trials and sorrows. Siegfried's castle stood near the old town of Andernach, just at the time when Charles Martel was reigning over the Franks.
Siegfried and his young wife lived in peaceful unity, till a cloud came over their happiness. The much-dreaded Arabs from Spain had forced their way into Gaul, and were now marching northwards, burning and destroying all on their course. The enemies of the cross must be repulsed, unless the west was to share the fate of Africa, which had been subdued by the Mohametans.
The war-cry reached the Palatinate, and Siegfried had to go forth to the fight. Equipped in his armour, and having kissed his weeping wife, he bade farewell to the castle of his fathers. But be was sad at heart at leaving the spot where the happiest days of his life had been spent. He entrusted the administration of his property to Golo, his steward, and recommended his beloved wife very earnestly to his protection, begging her in turn to trust him in everything.
The poor countess was heart-broken at this bitter separation. She felt the loneliness of the castle deeply, she longed for his happy presence and the sound of his voice. She could never speak to Golo as to the friend to whose care her husband had recommended her. Her pure eyes shrank from the passionate look which gleamed in his. It seemed to her that he followed her every, movement with a look which her childlike soul did not understand.
She missed her husband's presence more and more. She would go out on the balcony and weave golden dreams, and while she sat there, looking out over the hazy blue distance, she longed for the moment when Siegfried would return, where she could lean her head upon his breast, and tell him of the great happiness in store for them.
Perhaps the war against the heathens might last so long that she would be able to hold the pledge of their love joyfully out to him from the balcony on his return. And the countess' lovely face would be lit up with a gleam of blissful happiness, and she would while away the time on her favourite spot, dreaming and looking out into the hazy blue distance.
The secret aversion which the countess felt towards the steward was not without a reason. Her angel-like beauty had awakened lustful passion in Golo's breast, which he did not strive to hide. On the contrary his frequent intercourse with her, who was as gracious to him as to all her other inferiors, stirred his passion still more, and one day, losing all control, he threw himself at the countess' feet, declaring his love for her, and imploring her to return it. Genovefa was horrified at this confession. With indignation and scorn she rejected his love, forbidding him to appear before her as he had utterly forgotten his duty, and at the same time, threatening to complain of him to her husband. Golo's eyes flared up, and a deadly look of hatred gleamed from them.
He could hope for no pardon from his angry mistress. Besides, his pride would not allow him to seek it, and now his one desire was revenge. It only remained for him to follow his dastardly plan and to avoid Siegfried's wrath.
Hatred raged in his breast. He dismissed all the servants of the castle and put new ones of his own creation in their places. Then one day he appeared before the horrified countess, and openly accused her of being unfaithful to her husband far away.
Shame and wrath robbed Genovefa of speech. Golo explained to the servants who were stranding around in silent amazement, that he had already informed the count of his wife's faithless conduct, and that he, Golo, as present administrator of the castle, now condemned the countess to be imprisoned in the dungeon.
The unhappy Genovefa awakened to find her self in an underground cell of the castle. She covered her face in deep sorrow, imploring Him who had sent her this trial, to help her in her present affliction. There after some time a son was born to her. She baptized him with her tears, giving him the name of Tristan, which means "full of sorrows."
Siegfried had already been absent six months. He had fought like a hero in many a desperate battle. The fanatical followers of Mohamet having crossed the Pyrenees, struggled with wild enthusiasm, hoping to subdue the rest of western Europe to the doctrines of Islam by fire and sword. In several encounters, the Franks had been obliged to give way to their power. These unbridled hordes had already penetrated into the heart of Gaul, when Charles first appeared and engaged the Arabs in the bloody battle of Tours. From morning till evening the struggle on which hung the fate of Europe raged. And there Charles proved himself worthy of the name of Martel, "the hammer", which he afterwards received.
Siegfried fought at the leader's side like a lion; but towards evening a Saracen's lance pierced him, and though the wound was not mortal, yet he was obliged to remain inactive for several months on a sick-bed, where he thought with longing in his heart of his loving wife by the Rhine.
A messenger arrived one day at the camp bearing a parchment from Golo, Siegfried's steward. The count gazed long at the fateful letter, trying to comprehend its meaning. What he had read, ran thus: "Your wife is unfaithful to you and has betrayed you for the sake of Drago, a servant, who ran away." The hero crushed the letter furiously in his hand, a groan escaping from his white lips. Then he started off accompanied by a few followers, and rode towards the Ardennes, never stopping till he reached his own fort. A man stood on the balcony, looking searchingly out into the distance, and seeing a cloud of dust approaching in which a group of horsemen soon became visible, his eyes gleamed triumphantly.
A stately knight advanced, his charger stamping threateningly on the drawbridge. Colo, with hypocritical emotion stood before the count, who had now alighted from his foaming horse, and informed him again of what had happened. "Where is the evil-doer who has stained the honour of my house, where is he, that I may crush his life out?" cried Siegfried in a fury.
"My lord, I have punished the wretch deservedly and lashed him out of the castle," answered Golo in a stern voice, sighing deeply.
The count made a sign to Golo whose false eyes gleamed with devilish joy, to lead the way.
Siegfried entered the dungeon, followed by his servants and also by those who had travelled with him. Genovefa listened breathlessly in her prison, with a loved name trembling on her lips and a prayer to God in her heart. Now the terrible trial would come to an end, now she would leave this dungeon of disgrace triumphantly, and exchange the crown of thorns for the victor's wreath.
The bolt was unfastened, firm steps and men's voices were heard, the iron doors were dashed open. She snatched her slumbering child, the pledge of their love, and held it towards her dear husband. His name was on her lips, but before she could, utter it, a cry of agony escaped her. He had cast her from him and, his accusations falling like blows from a hammer on her head, the poor innocent countess fell senseless to the ground. The next day two servants led mother and child .out into the forest, where with their own hands, they were to kill her who had been so unfaithful to her husband, and her child also. They were to bring back two tongues to the count as a proof that they had obeyed his orders.
The servants drove them into the wildest depths of the forest where only the screams of birds of prey broke the silence. They drew their knives. But the poor countess fell on her knees, and holding up her little child, implored them to spare their lives, if not for her sake, at least for the sake of the helpless child. Pity .entered the two men's hearts and withheld their hands. Dragging the mother and child still deeper into the forest, they turned away hastily, leaving their victims to themselves.
They brought two harts' tongues to the count, informing him that they had fulfilled his orders.
Genovefa's tired feet wandered through the unknown forest, her child crying with hunger. She prayed fervently to Heaven in her despair, and tears were sent to relieve the dull pain in her heart, after which she felt more composed, and her child was soon sweetly slumbering. To her great astonishment she perceived a cavern near her, where she could take shelter, and as if God wished to show that He had heard her prayer, a white doe came towards the cavern, rubbing herself caressingly against the abandoned woman. Willingly the gentle animal allowed the little child to be suckled. The next day the doe came back again, and Genovefa thanked God from the depths of her heart. She found roots, berries, and plants, to support herself, and every day the tame doe came back to her, and at last remained always with her.
Days, weeks, and months passed. Her unfaltering faith had rendered her agony less. In time she learned to forgive her husband who had condemned her unjustly, and she even pardoned him who had taken such bitter revenge on her. Her lovely cheek's had become thinner, but the forest winds had breathed soft red into them, and the child who had no cares nor gnawing pain in its heart, grew into a beautiful little boy.
At the castle on the Rhine, sorrow was a constant guest since this terrible event had happened. Siegfried's burning anger had sunk into sorrow, and often when he was wandering restlessly through the rooms so rich in sweet memories, where now a deserted stillness reigned, the agony awoke again in his heart. He now repented of his hastiness, and a voice whispered in his ear that he had been too severe in his cruel punishment, that he had condemned too quickly, and that he should have considered what he could have done to mitigate her punishment.
When these haunting voice's pursued him, he would hurry away from the castle and its loneliness, not being able to bear the torment of his thoughts. Then to forget his trouble, he would follow the chase with the yelping hounds.
But he only seldom succeeded in dulling his misery. Everywhere he seemed to see the pale face of a woman looking imploringly at him.
The state of his master's soul had not escaped Golo, and this crafty man cringed the more to the sorrowful count, feigning to care for his welfare. A starving person accepts even the bread which a beggar-man offers, and Siegfried, supposing his steward wished to compensate him for his loss, accepted willingly every proof of devotion, and recompensed him with his favour, at the same time hating the man in his inmost soul who had rendered him such a terrible service.
One day the count rode out to the chase, accompanied by only a few retainers, one of whom was Golo. Siegfried pressed deeper than was his custom into the forest. A milk-white doe sprang up before him and sportsmanlike, he chased this singular animal through the bushes, hoping to shoot it. His spear had just grazed it, when it disappeared suddenly into a cavern. A woman whose ragged garments scarcely covered her nakedness, leading a little boy by the hand, suddenly came out of the opening in the rock, and the doe, seeking protection, rubbed herself against her. She looked at the hunter, but her limbs trembled so that she could scarcely stand, only her large sad eyes gazed wistfully at him. A stifled cry, half triumphant, half a groan, escaped from her lips, and she threw herself at the count's feet. From the voice which for long months had only moved in earnest prayer or in low sweet words to the child, now flowed solemn protestations of her innocence. Her words burned like fire into the soul of the count, and drawing her to his breast, he kissed her tears, and then sank at her feet imploring her pardon.
He pressed his little boy to his heart, overcome with gratitude and happiness, and wept with joy, calling him by a thousand affectionate names.
Then at the sound of his bugle-horn his retinue hastened towards him, Golo among them.
"Do you know these two?" thundered out the count to the latter, tearing him from the throng and conducting him to Genovefa.
The wretch, as if struck by a club, broke down and, clasping his master's knees, he confessed his wickedness and begged for mercy. Siegfried thrust him contemptuously from him, refusing sternly, in spite of the countess' intercession, to pardon his crime. Golo was bound and led away, and a disgraceful death was his reward.
Now began a time of great happiness for Siegfried and his saint-like wife, and they lived in undisturbed peace with their little son.
In gratitude to Heaven Siegfried caused a church to be built on the spot where the white doe had appeared to him first. The countess often made a pilgrimage to this house of God, to thank Him who had caused her tears to be turned into joy. Then a day came when her corpse was carried into the forest, and was buried in the church. Even now in Laach, the wanderer is shown the church and the tombstone, also the cavern where she suffered so much. Thus the name of St. Genovefa will last to all time.Click to go to the next section of the Legends of the Rhine