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Wonder tales from Wagner, told for young people online

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The knights, drawing their swords, closed about




y



I PLEAD FOR HIM I PLEAD FOR HIS LIFE



The Contest of Song 53

Tannhiiuser to slay him. Suddenly a figure in trail-
ing draperies rushed the length of the hall, and
threw herself in front of the offender.

" vStop !" cried Elizabeth, in tones of mingled de-
spair and command. " Stand back! or else kill



me.'



The knights whispered together, amazed. Never
could they have believed that the Princess would
have stooped to shield one like Tannhauser. Eliza-
beth continued, her voice full of piteous tragedy,
" What is the wound that your swords could give
to the death-stroke that has been dealt me?"

" You indeed should be the first to scorn and re-
proach him," cried the nobles.

" Why do you speak of me ?" said the Princess,
with passionate sadness. " You should speak of him
his salvation. Would you rob him of his eternal
hope of forgiveness from God ?"

" He cannot be forgiven !" shouted the knights,
rushing forward with their swords ready to strike,
but Elizabeth's voice again restrained them.

"Away!" she cried, indignantly, "how dare you
judge him? Against your swords he has but one."

She checked her own excitement and continued
more gently, all her soul pleading in her voice :

" Hear through me what must be God's will.
This unfortunate one, who has found himself held
by the terrible magic can he not win forgiveness



54 Tannhduser

in this world through repentance and sorrow? If
you are so strong in holy faith, do you not know
the highest command to be merciful, and comfort
grief? I plead for him I plead for his life."

Tannhauser bowed his head in his hands, over-
powered by her words and his own remorse. The
knights, softened and touched, drew near him, talk-
ing together, and speaking to him more gently but
always with reproach. At last the Landgrave, with
slow tread, stepped into the centre of the crowd, and
in grave, sad words, told Tannhauser that he must be
banished from the realm. Around him clung magic
spells, and dark enchantment lingered in his heart.
He and the evil influences about him must depart
from Thuringia, and he must not return until he
should be himself once more, and free from all the
magical chains of Venus. He earnestly advised
Tannhauser to join the band of pilgrims who were
about to start for Rome, to obtain pardon for all
their sins from the Pope. All the knights united in
entreating Tannhauser to do this, and strengthen-
ing their appeals came a slow, sweet chant from
without. The pilgrims were preparing to set forth
on their journey. Their voices fell with restful
power upon the confusion in the Minstrels' Hall.
Tannhauser's face brightened as he listened, and,
with a wild, hopeful impulse, he cried, " To Rome !"
and rushed out of the hall to join the pilgrims.



TJie Contest of Song 55

The Landgrave and Elizabeth, with the minstrels
and nobles, followed him to the great doorway of
the hall, speeding him with eager gestures of en-
couragement and hope, and echoing as with one
voice, " To Rome !"



Motif of Tannhauser's Pilgrimage




CHAPTER III
THE POPE'S STAFF

FULL of hope, repentance, and longing for pardon,
Tannhauser hastened on his pilgrimage to Rome.
The road was long and rough, and, like the other
pilgrims, he walked all the way with no aid save his
staff ; but his own remorse, his new-born faith in
God, and the reverent love which he felt for Eliza-
beth made the road easy, and helped him to find
comfort in all his privations. When he saw the other
pilgrims choose the smooth way over the meadow-
land, he turned aside to bruise his feet among sharp
rocks and brambles ; when they paused to drink at
streams by the wayside, he endured his thirst in si-
lence and pressed on. His sorrow and contrition
were complete. He was strangely altered from the
knight who sang in the Wartburg. He felt changed ;
older, and graver, and full of noble thoughts for



The Pop is Staff 57

future deeds. Many of the pilgrims rested at the
Hospice, but he remained outside in the snow, happy
in bearing the cold and watching the stars glimmer
in the dark sky.

At last, after many days, he reached Rome. The
bells were pealing, voices were singing anthems, and
the day rose on the weary band of pilgrims as
though with a promise of pardon. One by one they
went into the presence of the Pope ; one by one
they returned, with his assurance that God would
forgive them for all their sins. Then came Tann-
hauser's turn. He knelt humbly, and told of all his
foolishness, his wasted year, and the evil spells which
had surrounded him, and which had seized him so
wildly that night in the Minstrels' Hall. Sternly
the Pope answered him :

" If you have been in the Venusberg you will
never be free from the magic powers. If you have
been enchained once by the spell you will succumb
to it again. Freedom from enchantment and for-
giveness from God you may hope for on that day on
which my bare staff shall put forth green leaves."

Dumb with despair, Tannhauser staggered away,
and sank down upon the hard earth overpowered by
the hopelessness of what had been told him. After
a time he rose, to find that he was alone. The pil-
grims had passed on their way towards home. From
afar sounded their chorus of thanksgiving for their

o o



5 8 Tannhauser

pardon. Tannhauser took up his staff and started
on his journey alone, without consolation or hope.

*******

A year had passed since Tannhauser had set out
upon his pilgrimage. Every day Elizabeth prayed
for him at a shrine to the Virgin, in the valley.
Every day Wolfram, watching, saw the longing in
her eyes, the growing sadness that preyed upon her,
the anxiety that made her face white and sorrowful.

It was sunset in the valley below the Wartburg.
As Elizabeth came to kneel at the shrine she seemed
more troubled and disturbed than usual, and Wol-
fram knew that she realized how near it was to the
time when the pilgrims must be expected to return.
He was passing slowly down a forest path, looking
now and then towards the white kneeling figure, when
from the distance the pilgrims' chorus made him stop
abruptly. Elizabeth started to her feet, with clasped
hands, whispering, " It is their song !"

Nearer and nearer came the pilgrims, singing of
God's mercy and forgiveness, and the blessedness of
pardon. They came in sight ; Elizabeth strained her
eyes to see the face of the pilgrim whom she loved
and for whom she prayed ; they passed, and were
gone from sight, singing triumphantly.

" He will never return," said Elizabeth, quietly,
and as the chant died away she sank on her knees in




" ELIZABETH CAME TO KNEEL AT THE SHRINE



The Popes Staff 59

prayer. After a few minutes she rose, and passed
on her way towards the Wartburg.

" May I not go with you ?" asked Wolfram, gen-
tly, coming forward in sorrow and pity. She shook
her head, looking at him with eyes full of gratitude,
and an exaltation which startled him. Raising her
hand, she pointed upward, stood motionless a mo-
ment, then slowly mounted the steep pathway lead-
ing to the castle, and was gone. Wolfram stood
looking after her until she was out of sight, then he
seated himself among some high rocks and struck
his harp. Numberless thoughts passed through his
mind, born of the coming night with its all-shadow-
ing wings of gloom. He sang softly a song in which
he made Elizabeth and the pure evening star one
beautiful shining spirit. Then he ceased singing
and sat silent, playing on his harp among the
shadows.

The night came down, dark and lowering. From
the upper end of the valley came a figure with un-
certain steps. It was that of a pilgrim, in ragged
garb, leaning heavily on his staff. As he drew near,
Wolfram recognized the wasted face and burning
eyes to be those of Tannhauser, and started forward.

" What does this mean ?" he cried. " Why do
you look so despairing ? Did you not receive par-
don? Speak! tell me all! Have you not been in
Rome?"



60 TannJiduser

" Yes," said Tannhauser, bitterly, " I have been in
Rome."

" Unfortunate one," said Wolfram, sadly, " I am
waiting in deepest pity to hear the narrative of your
pilgrimage."

Tannhauser looked up, astonished at the gentle-
ness of the words. Then seating himself upon a
rock he told the story of his journey to Rome and
repeated the words of the Pope. As he completed
the narrative he rose to his feet with determination.
A memory had come to him of Venus's bidding to
return to her if the world met him with coldness.
The Pope had assured him that there was no hope
for him ; then why not voluntarily throw himself be-
neath the sorceress's spell, since he could never es-
cape from it, even by earnest endeavor? In the
Venusberg the turmoil and struggle in his heart
would be stilled, and he longed to hear the rich music
and see the rosy mists sinking down over the still
waters, and breathe the sweet, heavy perfume of the
flowers.

" I have tried to do my best," he cried, suddenly.
" I have toiled, with suffering and penitence, to over-
come the evil spells that were about me. Men have
turned from me and refused me their help. They
have told me that I could never be free from the en-
chantment. So what does it matter ? Come, Venus
enchantress, sorceress, marvellous goddess !




HE REACHED THE BIER WITH DIFFICULTY



The Popes Staff 61

come and show me the path by which I may return
to the Venusberg !"

As he spoke great clouds rolled from above and
below and from all sides, surrounding him and Wol-
fram. Winds heavy with fragrance blew through
the darkness ; piercingly sweet music came to them ;
brilliant, rosy light gleamed in the midst of the
clouds, which glowed in answering brightness until it
was as though a surging, rolling sea of rose-color filled
the air. Misty figures appeared in the magical glow,
dancing in dizzy circles through the clouds. The
doors of the Venusberg seemed to have been
opened. Within Venus was seen beckoning in the
radiance. Her voice came softly, caressingly to
the cars of Tannhauser, but he was closely held
by Wolfram and could not go. At last, after a
fierce struggle, he tore himself free and started for-
ward.

"Wait wait," panted Wolfram, with exalted ap-
peal, " God will pardon you ! An angel even now
is pleading for you in heaven Elizabeth."

Tannhauser started, as though a knife had been
thrust suddenly into his heart.

" Elizabeth !" he repeated, in hushed tones, and
there came into his heart a strange, new sensation of
freshness and peace, together with a great, over-
whelming sorrow. The light upon the mist faded,
the magic music ceased. From the castle came a



62 Tannhduser

train of people, bearing torches and singing an an-
them in solemn voices.

" Alas," cried the sorceress, wildly, " I have lost
him !"

She sank into the earth, the doors of the Venus-
berg crashed together, the mist vanished, and from
over the hills shone the first light of the dawn.

" Do you hear the music ?" whispered Wolfram.

" I hear it," answered Tannhauser, with bowed
head.

Higher rose the voices in the fresh morning air as
a number of knights came down the path from the
Wartburg bearing a bier. Upon it lay Elizabeth,
who in prayer and sorrow for Tannhauser had died.
In response to a gesture from Wolfram the bier was
placed upon the ground and Tannhauser was led
slowly to it by his friend, for all his strength seemed
suddenly to have left him. He reached it with dif-
ficulty, and sank quietly to the earth, putting out
his hands as though in reverent supplication.

" Holy Elizabeth, pray for me !" he whispered. He
sank back. The knights, drawing near, saw that he
was dead. One by one the torches were extin-
guished. Suddenly came the sound of voices sing-
ing of the marvel wrought by God : the Pope's
staff had put forth new green leaves, and he had
sent it by messengers out over the land, to bring to
the banished pilgrim the proof of his pardon. One



The Pope's Staff



and all raised their voices in a stupendous paean of
prayerful thanksgiving for Tannhauser's freedom
from evil spells, and for God's mercy to him.

Over the valley the sunshine streamed out brill-
iantly, gloriously, as though in fulfilment of the
promise of the dawn.



The Pilgrims' Chorus




=t



^^l



S:



-I I-



-<gn



I I f



LOHENGRIN



E a'j Dream Mol f



Tf^.



CHAPTER I
THE COMING OF THE KXIGHT

WE read in an old legend of a cup in which Jesus
Christ's blood was received when He hung, wour. Jc .:
to death, upon the Cross. Angels took the ; t [
hich had been made sacred forever, and placed it
in a secret shrine, in a castle named Monsalvat,
where i: was worshipped by a mystic Brotherhoi I
of K:~. j'.ts. The cup was called the Holy G:i
and those who guarded it became immortal through
1:5 r. : er. Once every year it was unveiled, and a
white dove fle-.v down from heaven and hover-;'.
over it : at other times it was kept concealed in its
shrine, worshipped by all the Knights of ^lor :. :
It is this legend that forms the b:.:'-:j:-Dund for the
: :jry which I shall tell you.

In the first half of the tenth century Ger:v
was at war with the Hungarians, who threG.ter.eJ i -
vasion. The King cf Germany, Heinrich I., often



68 Loltcngrin

called Der Vogler (the Fowler), hastened to Brabant
to collect forces to assist in repelling the invaders,
and also to sit in judgment upon disputes, as was
his annual custom. Arriving at Antwerp, he found
that the duchy was in a much confused state, with
apparently no one governing it.

Upon a bright clear day he made his way to the
banks of the Scheldt, where a throne had been placed
for him in the shade of a great tree called the Oak
of Justice. Looking around him upon the assembled
Brabantians, and the many Saxons and Thuringians
who were also present, he caught sight of the dark
features of one who had saved his life in a battle
with the Danes a noble of Brabant, well-reputed in
war and peace, Friedrich, Count von Telramund.
On being called upon to give an explanation of the
strange condition of affairs in the duchy, Count von
Telramund stepped forward.

He was a tall man with frowning brows and som-
bre black eyes, and wore the rich robes indicating
the state of a Brabantian duke. Behind him stood
his wife, silent and watchful.

" I am thankful, my King,'' said Telramund, with
ill-concealed excitement, " that you have come to
judge us of Brabant. I will tell you the truth.
When our Duke lay dying he chose me as guardian
of his children - Elsa, a maiden, and Gottfried, a
boy. I guarded them with care during their child-



The Coming of the Knight 69

hood ; their life was dearer to me than my honor.
Hear, my King, how I have been wronged ! Elsa and
the boy went gayly wandering into the wood one
day. She returned without him, saying that they
had become separated, and beseeching us to tell her
what we knew of him, and her lamentations and
feigned anxiety were great. Fruitless was all our
search and all our mourning. I spoke sternly to
Elsa, and by her blanched lips and shudderings she
was betrayed. Her appearance of horror and fear
confessed to me the girl's guilt. Her father had
willed me her hand in marriage, but I thankfully re-
linquished the right, and chose a wife who pleased
me well Ortrud, Princess of Friesland, and daughter
of the brave Radbod."

He turned towards his wife, and she came forward,
bowing low before the King. She was very hand-
some, with a gleam in her eyes like that of a watch-
ing lioness. Upon her head -was the coronet of
Brabant, and her carriage was that of a queen. A
beautiful, brave, but treacherous woman was Ortrud,
Countess von Telramund.

" I herewith charge Elsa of Brabant with fratri-
cide !" continued Frieclrich, loudly. "And because
my wife comes of the race from which this land re-
ceived its rulers long ago, and because I am the
nearest kinsman of our brave dead Duke, I claim
dominion over the duchy of Brabant."



7<D Lohengrin

As Count von Telramund ended his story, quick
exclamations of amazement and horror were heard
on all sides. The King himself was troubled and
incredulous, and declared that he would not cease
endeavors until the truth had been determined and
justice dealt. The herald came forward and called,
in loud tones, upon the Princess Elsa of Brabant to
come before the King for judgment.

There was a hush every one waited breathlessly.
Soon, at the edge of the crowd, soft words could be
heard passing from lip to lip.

" Behold her she comes nearer ! How fair and
pure and sweet she seems ! Oh, the truth must be
disclosed !"

The people parted eagerly before the train of la-
dies who slowly made their way towards the throne.
All were fair, and robed in pale blue and pure
white, to symbolize the innocence of their mistress.
Among them, dressed simply in white, with her
bright golden hair streaming about her pale face
and a dreamy light in her deep-blue eyes, walked
Elsa, the young Duchess of Brabant, uncrowned and
humbled before her subjects, yet seeming a princess
still, refuting all accusations by the sweetness and
simple majesty of her demeanor. Her ladies re-
mained with the crowd, and she came forward alone
to receive judgment.

"Are you Elsa of Brabant?" asked the King.



The Coming of the Knight 71

"Are you prepared to be judged by me? Can
you meet the accusation that is made against
you ?"

Elsa met each of these questions with silence.
Her dreamy eyes were turned with a rapt gaze to
the far blue of the distant hills.

" Then," resumed the King " then you confess
your guilt?''

Elsa raised her eyes to his.

" My poor brother!" she whispered, with lingering
sadness, and was again silent. There was a gen-
eral murmur of astonishment the people were be-
wildered.

" Speak, Elsa," said the King, gently. " What do
you wish to confide in me ?"

Every one listened eagerly, as slowly and very
softly Elsa began to speak.

" When I have been lonely, I have often prayed
for help," she said, in low, hushed tones. " It came
when I could not know it was so near. It was while
I was asleep."

She did not raise her voice, but a note of exal-
tation crept into it, and the words which followed
were full of triumphant solemnity.

" I saw in shining clouds of glory the figure of
a knight. The brightness of his countenance was
marvellous, and he leaned upon a glittering sword.
In a low, tender voice he spoke words of comfort,



72 Lohengrin

and I awoke, filled with hope. He will defend me
he will be my champion !"

Her voice rang more clearly with the last words,
and struck a conviction of truth to all who heard.

" Friedrich," said the King, solemnly, " think,
while there is yet time. In the name of all honor,
do you still accuse her ?"

tt

" I have proof," answered Friedrich von Telra-
mund, firmly. " I have as witness one who knows.
But let any one who still believes not stand forth
and fight with me, and may Heaven aid the
right !"

The people assented, with murmurs of approval,
and the King spoke with great gravity.

" I ask you, Friedrich, Count von Telramund, will
you do battle here, for life or death, and allow
Heaven to decide the truth by the conqueror ?"

" Yes," said Telramund, defiantly.

"And now I ask you, Elsa of Brabant, will you
submit to Heaven's decision in the battle for life or
death ?"

" Yes," whispered Elsa, softly; and in answer to
the King's question as to her champion, she said
that she would place her trust in the mysterious
Knight of her dream ; he, she declared, w r ould de-
fend her.

This, you know, was the ancient way of determin-
ing questions of right and wrong. Champions



The Coining of the Knight 73

fought, each for his cause, calling upon Heaven to
favor the truth.

It was now mid-day. At the King's command,
four trumpeters placed themselves at the four points
of the compass, and blew long and loud. The herald
took his stand in front of the King's throne, and
cried :

" Let him stand forth who will do battle before
God for Elsa of Brabant."

There was a long, strained silence. No response
came to the summons.

" There is no answer," muttered the people, un-
easily.

" You see how she stands convicted before God 5"
cried Friedrich von Telramund, exultantly.

" Oh, my beloved King," besought Elsa, turning
pleadingly to the throne, " summon my Knight
again ! He dwells afar and does not hear."

" Once more sound the call," commanded the
King, and the summons was repeated. As a second
silence followed the first, there was a general move-
ment of disappointment and uneasiness. Telramund
raised his head triumphantly.

Dropping on her knees, Elsa prayed with her
whole soul for the help which had been promised
her. One by one, all her ladies did likewise, pray-
ing earnestly for justice and aid.

Every heart beat with intense excitement, born



74 Lohengrin

of the suspense. The situation was painful in its ex-
pectancy, yet seeming hopelessness ; not the faint-
est rustle could be heard in the crowd, so deep was
the stillness.

Suddenly, from the men nearest the water's edge,
came a wild cry :

" See ! see ! What is this ? A swan ! A swan
comes near, drawing a boat ! Within the craft stands
a knight. How his armor gleams! The swan is
harnessed with a golden chain. See, nearer comes
the marvel!"

"A wonder a wonder!" shouted the people,
rushing to the edge of the shore. " A wonder is
come !"

The King from his high throne watched the ap-
proach of the Knight with amazement and joy. Tel-
ramund started at the cries of the men, but Ortrud
remained silent, haughty, and seemingly unheeding,
until she saw the stately swan which drew the boat.
As her eyes caught sight of the soft plumage and
crested neck of the beautiful bird she grew rigid
with horror, and when she perceived the curious
golden chain with which it was bridled, she shrank
as from a threatening sword.

Elsa. with a soft, joyful cry, rose from her knees,
gazing in worship upon the Knight, who now sprang
on shore. His armor, fashioned of pure silver, re-
flected the light brilliantly ; the upper part of his



The Coming of the Knight 75

helmet was carved in the form of a swan with out-
stretched, shining wings; from his shoulder hung a
cloak of clear blue, the color of the sky ; a shield
covered with strange designs hung behind him ; a
golden horn hung at his belt ; his gauntleted hand
grasped the hilt of a sword. He was tall and pow-
erful, with deep golden hair and beard, the bright-
ness of which seemed like a nimbus of sunshine
about his face. His forehead was broad, his eyes
deep and far-seeing, and about him lingered a mys-
tic glory, new to the eyes of the people who watched
him. They grew hushed and awed after the first
clamor of relief. Helmets were doffed in homage,
and the hearts of one and all went out in instinctive
respect, admiration, and love to the stranger Knight.

Turning to his swan, he spoke to it in words of
tenderness, and after thanking it for drawing the
craft so safely and well, bade it farewell in tones full
of regret at the parting.

" Farewell, farewell, my beloved swan !" he ended,
softly. With lowered head, and every sign of sor-
row, the mystical bird floated away, drawing the
craft along the water's shining path, until the snow-
white form vanished in the winding curves of the
river.

The Knight turned from the water's side, and ad-
vancing with a buoyant step to the throne, cried in
a clear voice :



76 Lohengrin

"Hail, King Heinrich! May your valor, justice,
and honor have meet reward !"

" You have my thanks," returned the King, cour-
teously. " I must believe," he added, questioningly,
" that you are sent by Heaven to fulfil a mission ?"

" Yes," responded the Knight," I have come to do
battle before God for this maiden with whoever ac-
cuses her."

He turned swiftly to where Elsa was standing.
" So speak, Elsa of Brabant !" he cried. " Will you
trust your cause to my strength in battle without
fear?"

" My hero ! My rescuer !" whispered Elsa, broken-
ly. "Protect me, and I I give you all that I have



or am.'



" If I conquer in battle for you," continued the
Knight, " will you pledge me your faith ?"

" Bending at your feet, I will give you all my
heart and soul," answered the girl, steadily.

" Elsa," said the Knight, tenderly, "if you plight
me your troth, if I conquer for you, if we are united
forever then a promise I must exact from you."
He paused a moment, then spoke gravely, impres-
sively: "Never must you question me, nor covet


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Online LibraryAnna Alice ChapinWonder tales from Wagner, told for young people → online text (page 4 of 10)