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The old Knight and his Daughters
Above Rheinbrohl, on a dreary sandstone rock, stand the ruins of the old imperial fortress of Hammerstein. For a thousand years the storms have beat on those desolate wails. One of the first owners was Wolf von Hammerstein, a faithful vassal of tire Emperor. It was Henry IV. who then ruled, and partly by his own faults, partly by those of others, the crown had indeed become to this sovereign one of thorns. Wolf of Hammerstein had made the historic pilgrimage to Canossa alone with his master. Now, on account of the infirmities of age the venerable knight seldom descended the castle-hill, and only from afar, the loud trumpet call of the world fell upon his ears. His wife, now for several years deceased, had born him six daughters, all attractive maidens and tenderly attached to their surviving parent, but their filial affection met with the roughest and most ungrateful responses from the sour old fellow. It was a sore grievance to Wolf of Hammerstein that he had no son.
He would willingly have exchanged his half-dozen daughters for a single male heir. The girls were only too well aware of this fact, and tried all the more, by constant love and tender care to reconcile their ungracious parent to his lot.
One evening it thus befell. The autumn wind grumbled round the castle like a croaking raven, and the old knight, Wolf of Hammerstein, sat by a cheerful fire and peevishly nursed his gouty limbs. In spite of the most assiduous attentions of his daughters he remained in a most surly mood. The pretty maidens however kept hovering round the ill-tempered old fellow like so many tender doves. Then the porter announced two strangers. Both were wrapped in their knightly mantles, and in spite of his troubles the hospitable lord of the castle prepared to welcome his guests. Into the comfortable room two shivering and weary travellers advanced, and as outlaws they craved shelter and protection for the night. At the sound of one of the voices the knight started up, listening eagerly, and when the stranger raised his visor and threw back his mantle, Wolf of Hammerstein sank on his knees at the stranger's feet, and seizing his hand he pressed it to his lips, exclaiming: "Henry, my lord and king!" Then, with trembling voice the Emperor told his old comrade-in-arms that he was a fugitive, and before one who had torn from him the imperial crown and mantle. And when the old knight, trembling with excitement, demanded who this impious and dishonourable man might be, the Emperor murmured the words, "My son," and then buried his face in his hands.
Rigid as a marble statue stood the old knight. Like a bolt from heaven the consciousness of his past ignoble conduct had flashed upon him. Suddenly he seemed to feel how tenderly the loving arms of his daughters had enfolded him. He spread out his hands towards them, as if anxious to atone by the tenderness of a minute for the harshness of years. Then the Emperor, deeply touched, thus addressed the old man. "Dear comrade-in-arms, your position is indeed enviable. The faithful love of your daughters will tend you in your declining years. No misguided son, impatient for your end, will hunt you from your home. Alas, for me, to-morrow accompanied by a few faithful followers, I must go down to battle against my own flesh and blood."
Towards midnight the unhappy monarch was conducted to a room prepared with care for his reception; and, while he sank into a troubled sleep, the old knight overwhelmed his daughters with long-delayed caresses. In his heart, he silently entreated for pardon for the deep grudge he had long cherished against the God who had been pleased to grant him no son.Click to go to the next section of the Legends of the Rhine