The Vizier of the Two-horned Alexander/Chapter 6
Her husband shook his head. "No, no, my dear; we can't go on with my autobiography in that fashion. If I should take up my life step by step, there would not be time enough—" There he stopped, but I am sure we both understood his meaning. There would be plenty of time for him!
"Often and often," said Mr. Crowder, after a few minutes silence, "have I determined to adopt some particular profession, and continue its practice wherever I might find myself; but in this I did not succeed very well. Frequently I was a teacher, but not for many consecutive years. Something or other was sure to happen to turn my energies into other channels."
"Such as falling in love with thy scholars," said his wife.
"You have a good memory," he replied. "That sometimes happened; but there were other reasons which turned me away from the paths of the pedagogue. With my widely extended opportunities, I naturally came to know a good deal of medicine and surgery. Frequently I had been a doctor in spite of myself, and as far back as the days of the patriarchs I was called upon to render aid to sick and ailing people.
"In the days when I lived in a cave and gained a reputation as a wise and holy her mit, more people came to me to get relief from bodily ailments than to ask for spiritual counsel. You will remember that I told you that I was visited at that time by Moses and Joshua. Moses came, I truly believe, on account of his desire to become acquainted with the prophet El Khoudr, of whom he had heard so much; but Joshua wanted to see me for an entirely different reason. The two remained with me for about an hour, and although Moses had no belief in me as a prophet, he asked me a great many , and I am sure that I proved to him that I was a man of a great deal of information. He had a keen mind, with a quick perception of the motives of others, and in every way was well adapted to be a leader of men.
"When Moses had gone away to a tent about a mile distant, where he intended to spend the night, Joshua remained, and as soon as his uncle was out of sight, he told me why he wished to see me."
"His uncle!" exclaimed Mrs. Crowder.
"Certainly," said her husband; "Joshua was the son of Nun and of Miriam, and Miriam was the sister of Moses and Aaron. What he now wanted from me was medical advice. For some time he had been afflicted with rheumatism in his left leg, which came upon him after exposure to the damp and cold.
"Now, this was a very important thing to Joshua. He was a great favorite with Moses, who intended him, as we all know, to be his successor as leader of the people and of the army. Joshua was essentially a soldier; he was quiet, brave, and a good disciplinarian; in fact, he had all the qualities needed for the position he expected to fill: but he was not young, and if he should become subject to frequent attacks of rheumatism, it is not likely that Moses, who had very rigid ideas of his duties to his people, would be willing to place at their head a man who might at any time be incapacitated from taking his proper place on the field of battle. So Joshua had never mentioned his ailment to his uncle, hoping that he might be relieved of it, and having heard that I was skilled in such matters, now wished my advice.
"I soon found that his ailment was a very ordinary one, which might easily be kept under control, if not cured, and I proceeded at once to apply remedies. I will just mention that in those days remedies were generally heroic, and I think you will agree with me when I tell you how I treated Joshua. I first rubbed his aching muscles with fine sand, keeping up a friction until his skin was in a beautiful glow. Then I brought out from the back part of my cave, where I kept my medicines, a jar containing a liniment which I had made for such purposes. It was composed of oil, in which had been steeped the bruised fruit or pods of a plant very much resembling the Tabasco pepper-plant."
"Whoop!" I exclaimed involuntarily.
"Yes," said Mr. Crowder, "and Joshua 'whooped' too. But it was a grand liniment, especially when applied upon skin already excited by rubbing with sand. He jumped at first, but he was a soldier, and he bore the application bravely.
"I saw him again the next day, and he assured me with genuine pleasure that every trace of the rheumatism had disappeared. I gave him some of my liniment, and also showed him some of the little pepper pods, so that he might procure them at any time in the future when he should need them.
"It was more than twenty years after this that I again met Joshua. He was then an elderly man, but still a vigorous soldier. He assured me that he had used my remedy whenever he had felt the least twinges of rheumatism, and that the disease had never interfered with the performance of his military duties.
"He was much surprised to see that I looked no older than when he had met me before. He was greatly impressed by this, and talked a good deal about it. He told me he considered himself under the greatest obligations to me for what I had done for him, and as he spoke I could see that a hope was growing within him that perhaps I might do something more. He presently spoke out boldly, and said to me that as my knowledge of medicine had enabled me to keep myself from growing old, perhaps I could do the same thing for him. Few men had greater need of protecting themselves against the advance of old age. His work was not done, and years of bodily strength were necessary to enable him to finish it.
"But I could do nothing for Joshua in this respect. I assured him that my apparent exemption from the effects of passing years was perfectly natural, and was not due to drugs or medicaments.
"Joshua lived many years after that day, and did a good deal of excellent military work; but his life was not long enough to satisfy him. He fell sick, was obliged to give up his command to his relative Caleb, and finally died, in his one hundred and twenty-eighth year."
"Which ought to satisfy him, I should say," said Mrs. Crowder.
"I have never yet met a thoroughbred worker," said Mr. Crowder, "who was satisfied to stop his work before he had finished it, no matter how old he might happen to be. But my last meeting with Joshua taught me a lesson which in those days had not been sufficiently impressed upon my mind. I became convinced that I must not allow people to think that I could live along for twenty years or more without growing older, and after that I gave this matter a great deal more attention than I had yet bestowed upon it."
"It is a pity," said Mrs. Crowder, "that thy life should have been marred by such constant anxiety."
"Yes," said he; "but this is a suspicious world, and it is dangerous for a man to set himself apart from his fellow-beings, especially if he does it in some unusual fashion which people cannot understand."
"But I hope now," said his wife, "that those days of suspicion are entirely past."
Now the conversation was getting awkward; it could not be pleasant for any one of us to talk about what the world of the future might think of Mr. Crowder when it came to know all about him, and, appreciating this, my host quickly changed the subject.
"There is a little story I have been wanting to tell you," said he, addressing his wife, "which I think would interest you. It is a love-story in which I was concerned."
"Oh!" said Mrs. Crowder, looking up quickly, "a scholar?"
"No," he answered; "not this time. Early in the fourteenth century I was living at Avignon, in the south of France. At that time I was making my living by copying law papers. You see, I was down in the world again."
Mrs. Crowder sighed, but said nothing.
"One Sunday morning I was in the Church of St. Claire, and, kneeling a little in front of me, I noticed a lady who did not seem to be paying the proper attention to her devotions. She fidgeted uneasily, and every now and then she would turn her head a little to the right, and then bring it back quickly and turn it so much in my direction that I could see the profile of her face. She was a good-looking woman, not very young, and evidently nervous and disturbed.
"Following the direction of her quick gaze when she again turned to the right, I saw a young man, apparently not twenty-five years of age, and dressed in sober black. He was also kneeling, but his eyes were steadfastly fixed upon the lady in front of me, and I knew, of course, that it was this continuous gaze which was disturbing her. I felt very much disposed to call the attention of a priest to this young man who was making one of the congregation unpleasantly conspicuous by staring at her; but the situation was brought to an end by the lady herself, who suddenly rose and went out of the church. She had no sooner passed the heavy leathern curtain of the door than the young man got up and went out after her. Interested in this affair, I also left the church, and in the street I saw the lady walking rapidly away, with the young man at a respectful distance behind her.
"I followed on the other side of the street, determined to interfere if the youth, so evidently a stranger to the lady, should accost her or annoy her. She walked steadily on, not looking behind her, and doubtless hoping that she was not followed. As soon as she reached another church she turned and entered it. Without hesitation the young man went in after her, and then I followed."As before, the lady knelt on the pavement of the church, and the young man, placing himself not very far from her, immediately began to stare at her. I looked around, but there was no priest near, and then I advanced and knelt not very far from the lady, and between her and her persistent admirer. It was plain enough that he did not like this, and he moved forward so that he might still get a view of her. Then I also moved so as to obstruct his view. He now fixed his eyes upon me, and I returned his gaze in such a way as to make him understand that while I was present he would not be allowed to annoy a lady who evidently wished to have nothing to do with him. Presently he rose and went out. It was evident that he saw that it was no use for him to continue his reprehensible conduct while I was present.
"I do not know how the lady discovered that her unauthorized admirer had gone away, but she did discover it, and she turned toward me for an instant and gave me what I supposed was a look of gratitude.
"I soon left the church, and I had scarcely reached the street when I found that the lady had followed me. She looked at me as if she would like to speak, and I politely saluted her. 'I thank you, kind sir,' she said, for relieving me of the importunities of that young man. For more than a week he has followed me whenever I go to church, and although he has never spoken to me, his steady gaze throws me into such an agitation that I cannot think of my prayers. Do you know who he is, sir?'
"I assured her that I had never seen the youth before that morning, but that doubtless I could find out all about him. I told her that I was acquainted with several officers of the law, and that there would be no difficulty in preventing him from giving her any further annoyance. 'Oh, don't do that!' she said quickly. 'I would not wish to attract attention to myself in that way. You seem to be a kind and fatherly gentleman. Can you not speak to the young man himself and tell him who I am, and impress upon his mind how much he is troubling me by his inconsiderate action?'
"As I did not wish to keep her standing in the street, we now walked on together, and she briefly gave me the facts of the case.
"Her name was Mme. de Sade: she had been happily married for two years, and never before had she been annoyed by impertinent attentions from any one; but in some manner unaccountable to her this young student had been attracted by her, and had made her the object of his attention whenever he had had the opportunity. Not only had he annoyed her at church, but twice he had followed her when she had left her house on business, thus showing that he had been loitering about in the vicinity. She had not yet spoken to her husband in the matter, because she was afraid that some quarrel might arise. But now that the good angels had caused her to meet with such a kind-hearted old gentleman as myself, she hoped that I might be able to rid her of the young man without making any trouble. Surely this student, who seemed to be a respectable person, would not think of such a thing as fighting me."
"Thee must have had a very long white beard at that time," interpolated Mrs. Crowder.
"Yes," said her husband; "I was in one of my periods of venerable age.
"I left Mme. de Sade, promising to do what I could for her, and as she thanked me I could not help wondering why the handsome young student had made her the object of his attention. She was a well-shaped, fairly good-looking woman, with fair skin and large eyes; but she was of a grave and sober cast of countenance, and there was nothing about her which indicated the least of that piquancy which would be likely to attract the eyes of a youth. She seemed to me to be exactly what she said she was—the quiet and respectable lady of a quiet and respectable household.
"In the course of the afternoon I discovered the name and residence of the young man, with whom I had determined to have an interview. His name was Francesco Petrarca, an Italian by birth, and now engaged in pursuing his studies in this place. I called upon him at his lodgings, and, fortunately, found him at home. As I had expected, he recognized me at once as the elderly person who had interfered with him at the church; but, as I did not expect, he greeted me politely, without the least show of resentment.
"I took the seat he offered me, and proceeded to deliver a lecture. I laid before him the facts of the case, which I supposed he might not know, and urged him, for his own sake, as well as for that of the lady, to cease his annoying and, I did not hesitate to state, ungentlemanly pursuit of her.
"He listened to me with respectful attention, and when I had finished he assured me that he knew even more about Mme. de Sade than I did. He was perfectly aware that she was a religious and highly estimable lady, and he did not desire to do anything which would give her a moment's sorrow. 'Then stop following her,' said I, 'and give up that habit of staring at her in such a way as to make her the object of attention to everybody around her.' 'That is asking too much,' answered Master Petrarca. 'That lady has made an impression upon my soul which cannot be removed. My will would have no power to efface her image from my constant thought. If she does not wish me to do so, I shall never speak a word to her; but I must look upon her. Even when I sleep her face is present in my dreams. She has aroused within me the spirit of poetry; my soul will sing in praise of her loveliness, and I cannot prevent it. Let me read to you some lines,' he said, picking up a piece of manuscript which was lying on the table. 'It is in Italian, but I will translate it for you.' 'No,' said I; 'read it as it is written; I understand Italian.' Then he read the opening lines of a sonnet which was written to Laura in the shadow. He read about six lines and then stopped. 'It is not finished,' he said, and what I have written does not altogether satisfy me; but you can judge from what you have heard how it is that I think of that lady, and how impossible it is that I can in any way banish her from my mind, or willingly from my vision.'
"'How did you come to know that her name is Laura?' I asked. 'I found it out from the records of her marriage,' he answered.
"I talked for some time to this young man, but failed to impress him with the conviction that his conduct was improper and unworthy of him. I found means to inform Mme. de Sade of the result of my conversation with Petrarch,—as we call his name in English,—and she appeared to be satisfied that the young student would soon cease his attentions, although I myself saw no reason for such belief.
"I visited the love-lorn young man several times, for I had become interested in him, and endeavored to make him see how foolish it was—even if he looked upon it in no other light—to direct his ardent affections upon a lady who would never care anything about him, and who, even if unmarried, was not the sort of woman who was adapted to satisfy the lofty affection which his words and his verses showed him to possess.
"'There are so many beautiful women,' said I, 'any one of whom you might love, of whom you might sing, and to whom you could indite your verses. She would return your love; she would appreciate your poetry; you would marry her and be happy all your life.'
"He shook his head. 'No, no, no,' he said. You don t understand my nature. Marriage would mean the cares of a house—food, fuel, the mending of clothes, a family—all the hard material conditions of life. No, sir! My love soars far above all that. If it were possible that Laura should ever be mine I could not love her as I do. She is apart from me; she is above me. I worship her, and for her I pour out my soul in song. Listen to this,' and he read me some lines of an unfinished sonnet to Laura in the sunlight. 'She was just coming from a shaded street into an open place when I saw her, and this poem came into my heart.'
"About a week after this I was very much surprised to see Petrarch walking with his Laura, who was accompanied by her husband. The three were very amicably conversing. I joined the party, and was made acquainted with M. de Sade, and after that, from time to time, I met them together, sometimes taking a meal with them in the evening.
"I discovered that Laura's husband looked upon Petrarch very much as any ordinary husband would look upon an artist who wished to paint portraits of his wife.
"I lived for more than a year in Avignon with these good people, and I am not ashamed to say that I never ceased my endeavors to persuade Petrarch to give up his strange and abnormal attentions to a woman who would never be anything to him but a vision in the distance, and who would prevent him from living a true and natural life with one who would be all his own. But it was of no use; he went on in his own way, and everybody knows the results.
"Now, just think of it," continued Mr. Crowder. "Suppose I had succeeded in my honest efforts to do good; think of what the world would have lost. Suppose I had induced Petrarch not to come back to Avignon after his travels; suppose he had not settled down at Vaucluse, and had not spent three long years writing sonnets to Laura while she was occupied with the care of her large family of children; suppose, in a word, that I had been successful in my good work, and that Petrarch had shut his eyes and his heart to Laura; suppose—"
"I don't choose to suppose anything of the kind," said Mrs. Crowder. "Thee tried to do right, but I am glad thee did not deprive the world of any of Petrarch's poetry. But now I want thee to tell us something about ancient Egypt, and those wonderfully cultivated people who built pyramids and carved hieroglyphics. Perhaps thee saw them building the Temple of the Sun at Heliopolis."
Mr. Crowder shook his head. "That was before my time," said he.
This was like an electric shock to both of us. If we had been more conversant with ancient chronology we might have understood, but we were not so conversant.
"Abraham! Isaac! Moses!" ejaculated Mrs. Crowder. "Thee knew them all, and yet Egypt was civilized before thy time! Does thee mean that?"
"Oh, yes," said Mr. Crowder. "I am of the time of Abraham, and when he was born the glories of Egypt were at their height."
"It is difficult to get these things straight in one's mind," said Mrs. Crowder. "As thee has lived so long, it seems a pity that thee was not born sooner."
"I have often thought that," said her husband; "but we should all try to be content with what we have. And now let us skip out of those regions of the dusky past. I feel in the humor of telling a love-story, and one has just come into my mind."
"Thee is so fond of that sort of thing," said his wife, with a smile, "that we will not interfere with thee."
"In the summer of the year 950," said Mr. Crowder, "I was traveling, and had just come over from France into the province of Piedmont, in northern Italy. I was then in fairly easy circumstances, and was engaged in making some botanical researches for a little book which I had planned to write on a medical subject. I will explain to you later how I came to do a great deal of that sort of thing.
"Late upon a warm afternoon I was entering the town of Ivrea, and passing a large stone building, I stopped to examine some leaves on a bush which grew by the road-side. While I was doing this, and comparing the shape and size of the leaves with some drawings I had in a book which I took from my pocket, I heard a voice behind me and apparently above me. Some one was speaking to me, and speaking in Latin. I looked around and up, but could see no one; but above me, about ten or twelve feet from the ground, there was a long, narrow slit of a window such as is seen in prisons. Again I heard the voice, and it said to me distinctly in Latin, 'Are you free to go where you choose?' It was the voice of a woman.
"As I wished to understand the situation better before I answered, I went over to the other side of the road, where I could get a better view of the window. There I saw behind this narrow opening a part of the face of a woman. This stone edifice was evidently a prison. I approached the window, and standing under it, first looking from side to side to see that no one was coming along the road, I said in Latin, 'I am free to go where I choose.'
"Then the voice above said, 'Wait!' but it spoke in Italian this time. You may be sure I waited, and in a few minutes a little package dropped from the window and fell almost at my feet. I stooped and picked it up. It was a piece of paper, in which was wrapped a bit of mortar to give it weight.
"I opened the paper and read, written in a clear and scholarly hand, these words: 'I am a most unfortunate prisoner. I believe you are an honest and true man, because I saw you studying plants and reading from a book which you carry. If you wish to do more good than you ever did before, come to this prison again after dark.'
"I looked up and said quickly, in Italian, 'I shall be here.' I was about to speak again and ask for some more definite directions, but I heard the sound of voices around a turn in the road, and I thought it better to continue my walk into the town.
"That night, as soon as it was really dark, I was again at the prison. I easily found the window, for I had noted that it was so many paces from a corner of the building; but there was no light in the narrow slit, and although I waited some time, I heard no voice. I did not dare to call, for the prisoner might not be alone, and I might do great mischief.
"My eyes were accustomed to the darkness, and it was starlight. I walked along the side of the building, examining it carefully, and I soon found a little door in the wall. As I stood for a few moments before this door, it suddenly opened, and in front of me stood a big soldier. He wore a wide hat and a little sword, and evidently was not surprised to see me. I thought it well, however, to speak, and I said: 'Could you give a mouthful of supper to a—'
"He did not allow me to finish my sentence, but putting his hand upon my shoulder, said gruffly: 'Come in. Don't you waste your breath talking about supper.' I entered, and the door was closed behind me. I followed this man through a stone passageway, and he took me to a little stone room. 'Wait here!' he said, and he shut me in. I was in pitch-darkness, and had no idea what was going to happen next. After a little time I saw a streak of light coming through a keyhole; then an inner door opened, and a young woman with a lamp came into the room."
"Now does the love-story begin?" asked his wife.
"Not yet," said Mr. Crowder. "The young woman looked at me, and I looked at her. She was a pretty girl with black eyes. I did not express my opinion of her, but she was not so reticent. 'You look like a good old man,' she said. 'I think you may be trusted. Come!' Her speech was provincial, and she was plainly a servant. I followed her. 'Now for the mistress,' said I to myself."
"Thee may have looked like an old man," remarked Mrs. Crowder, "but thee did not think like one."
Her husband laughed. "I mounted some stone steps, and was soon shown into a room where stood a lady waiting for me. As the light of the lamp carried by the maid fell upon her face, I thought I had never seen a more beautiful woman. Her dress, her carriage, and her speech showed her to be a lady of rank. She was very young, scarcely twenty, I thought.
"This lady immediately began to ask me questions. She had perceived that I was a stranger, and she wanted to know where I came from, what was my business, and as much as I could tell her of myself. 'I knew you were a scholar,' she said, 'because of your book, and I believe in scholars.' Then briefly she told me her story and what she wanted of me.
"She was the young Queen Adelheid, the widow of King Lothar, who had recently died, and she was then suffering a series of harsh persecutions from the present king, Berengar II, who in this way was endeavoring to force her to marry his son Adalbert. She hated this young man, and positively refused to have anything to do with him.
"This charming and royal young widow was bright, intelligent, and had a mind of her own; it was easy to see that. She had formed a scheme for her deliverance, and she had been waiting to find some one to help her carry it out. Now, she thought I was the man she had been looking for. I was elderly, apparently respectable, and she had to trust somebody.
"This was her scheme. She was well aware that unless some powerful friend interfered in her behalf she would be obliged to marry Adalbert, or remain in prison for the rest of her life, which would probably be unduly shortened. Therefore she had made up her mind to appeal to the court of the Emperor Otto I of Germany, and she wanted me to carry a letter to him.
"I stood silent, earnestly considering this proposition, and as I did so she gazed at me as if her whole happiness in this world depended upon my decision. I was not long in making up my mind on the subject. I told her that I was willing to help her, and would undertake to carry a letter to the emperor, and I did not doubt, from what I had heard of this noble prince, that he would come to her deliverance. But I furthermore assured her that the moment it became known that the emperor was about to interfere in her behalf, she would be in a position of great danger, and would probably disappear from human sight before relief could reach her. In that prison she was utterly helpless, and to appeal for help would be to bring down vengeance upon herself. The first thing to do, therefore, was to escape from this prison, and get to some place where, for a time at least, she could defend herself against Berengar, while waiting for Otto to take her under his protection.
"She saw the force of my remarks, and we discussed the matter for half an hour, and when I left—being warned by the soldier on guard, who was in love with the queen's black-eyed maid, that it was time for me to depart—it was arranged that I should return the next night and confer with the fair Adelheid.
"There were several conferences, and the unfaithful sentinel grumbled a good deal. I cannot speak of all the plans and projects which we discussed, but at last one of them was carried out. One dark, rainy night Adelheid changed clothes with her maid, actually deceived the guard—not the fellow who had admitted me—with a story that she had been sent in great haste to get some medicine for her royal mistress, and joined me outside the prison.
"There we mounted horses I had in readiness, and rode away from Ivrea. We were bound for the castle of Canossa, a stronghold of considerable importance, where my royal companion believed she could find refuge, at least for a time. I cannot tell you of all the adventures we had upon that difficult journey. We were pursued; we were almost captured; we met with obstacles of various kinds, which sometimes seemed insurmountable; but at last we saw the walls of Canossa rising before us, and we were safe.
"Adelheid was very grateful for what I had done, and as she had now learned to place full reliance upon me, she insisted that I should be the bearer of a letter from her to the Emperor Otto. I should not travel alone, but be accompanied by a sufficient retinue of soldiers and attendants, and should go as her ambassador.
"The journey was a long and a slow one, but I was rather glad of it, for it gave me an opportunity to ponder over the most ambitious scheme I have ever formed in the whole course of my life."
"Greater than to be autocrat of all the Russias?" exclaimed Mrs. Crowder.
"Yes," he replied. "That opportunity came to me suddenly, and I accepted it; I did not plan it out and work for it. Besides, it could be only a transitory thing. But what now occupied me was a grand idea, the good effects of which, if it should be carried out, might endure for centuries. It was simply this:
"I had become greatly attached to the young queen widow whose cause I had espoused. I had spent more than a month with her in the castle at Canossa, and there I learned to know her well and to love her. She was, indeed, a most admirable woman and charming in every way. She appeared to place the most implicit trust in me; told me of all her affairs, and asked my opinion about almost everything she proposed to do. In a word, I was in love with her and wanted to marry her."
"Thee certainly had lofty notions; but don't think I object," said Mrs. Crowder. "It is Chinese and Tartars I don't like."
"It might seem at first sight," he continued, "that I was aiming above me, but the more I reflected the more firmly I believed that it would be very good for the lady, as well as for me. In the first place, she had no reason to expect a matrimonial union worthy of her. Adalbert she had every reason to despise, and there was no one else belonging to the riotous aristocratic factions of Italy who could make her happy or give her a suitable position. In all her native land there was not a prince to whom she would not have to stoop in order to marry him.
"But to me she need not stoop. No man on earth possessed a more noble lineage. I was of the house of Shem, a royal priest after the order of Melchizedek, and King of Salem! No line of imperial ancestry could claim precedence of that."
Mrs. Crowder looked with almost reverent awe into the face of her husband. "And that is the blood," she said, "which flows in the veins of our child?"
"Yes," said he; "that is the blood."
After a slight pause Mr. Crowder continued: "I will now go on with my tale of ambition. A grand career would open before me. I would lay all my plans and hopes before the Emperor Otto, who would naturally be inclined to assist the unfortunate widow; but he would be still more willing to do so when I told him of the future which might await her if my plans should be carried out. As he was then engaged in working with a noble ambition for the benefit of his own dominions, he would doubtless be willing to do something for the good of lands beyond his boundaries. It ought not to be difficult to convince him that there could be no wiser, no nobler way of championing the cause of Adelheid than by enabling me to perform the work I had planned.
"All that would be necessary for him to do would be to furnish me with a moderate military force. With this I would march to Canossa; there I would espouse Adelheid; then I would proceed to Ivrea, would dethrone the wicked Berengar, would proclaim Adelheid queen in his place, with myself as king consort; then, with the assistance and backing of the imperial German, I would no doubt soon be able to maintain my royal pretensions. Once self-supporting, and relying upon our Italian subjects for our army and finances, I would boldly reestablish the great kingdom of Lombardy, to which Charlemagne had put an end nearly two hundred years before. Then would begin a grand system of reforms and national progress.
"Pavia should be my capital, but the beneficent influence of my rule should move southward. I would make an alliance with the Pope; I would crush and destroy the factions which were shaking the foundations of church and state; I would still further extend my power—I would become the imperial ruler of Italy, with Adelheid as my queen!
"Over and over again I worked out and arranged this grand scheme, and when I reached the court of the Emperor Otto it was all as plain in my mind as if it had been copied on parchment.
"I was very well received by the emperor, and he read with great interest and concern the letter I had brought him. He gave me several private audiences, and asked me many questions about the fair young widow who had met with so many persecutions and misfortunes. This interest greatly pleased me, but I did not immediately submit to him my plan for the relief of Adelheid and the great good of the Italian nation. I would wait a little; I must make him better acquainted with myself. But the imperial Otto did not wait. On the third day after my arrival I was called into his cabinet and informed that he intended to set out himself at the head of an army; that he should relieve the unfortunate lady from her persecutions and establish her in her rights, whatever they might prove to be. His enthusiastic manner in speaking of his intentions assured me that I need not trouble myself to say one word about my plans.
"Now,—would you believe it?—that intermeddling monarch took out of my hands the whole grand, ambitious scheme I had so carefully devised. He went to Canossa; he married Adelheid; he marched upon Berengar; he subjugated him and made him his vassal; he formed an alliance with Pope John XII; he was proclaimed King of the Lombards; he was crowned with his queen in St. Peter's; he eventually acquired the southern portion of Italy. All this was exactly what I had intended to do."
Mrs. Crowder laughed. "In one way thee was served quite right, for thee made all thy plans without ever asking the beautiful young ex-queen whether she would have thee or not."
In the tones of this fair lady's voice there were evident indications of mental relief. "And what did thee do then?" she asked. "I hope thee got some reward for all thy faithful exertions."
"I received nothing at the time," Mr. Crowder replied; "and as I did not care to accompany the emperor into Italy, for probably I would be recognized as the man who had assisted Adelheid to escape from the prison at Ivrea, and as I was not at all sure that the emperor would remember that I needed protection, I thought it well to protect myself, and so I journeyed back into France as well as I could.
"This was not very well; for in purchasing the necessary fine clothes which I deemed it proper to wear in the presence of the royal lady whose interests I had in charge, in buying horses, and in many incidental expenses, I had spent my money. I was too proud to ask Otto to reimburse me, for that would have been nothing but charity on his part; and of course I could not expect the fair Adelheid to think of my possible financial needs. So, away I went, a poor wanderer on foot, and the imperial Otto rode forward to love, honor, and success."
"A dreadful shame!" exclaimed Mrs. Crowder. "It seems as if thee always carried a horn about with thee so that thee might creep out of the little end of it."
"But my adventures with Adelheid did not end here," he said. "About fifty years after this she was queen regent in Italy, during the infancy of her grandchild Otto III. Being in Rome, and very poor, I determined to go to her, not to seek for charity, but to recall myself to her notice, and to boldly ask to be reimbursed for my expenses when assisting her to escape from Ivrea, and in afterward going as her ambassador to Otto I. In other words, I wanted to present my bill for enabling her to take her seat upon the throne of the 'Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation.'
"As a proof that I was the man I assumed to be, I took with me a ring of no great value, but set with her royal seal, which she had given me when she sent me to Otto.
"Well, I will not spend much time on this part of the story. By means of the ring I was accorded an interview with the regent. She was then an old woman over seventy years of age. When I introduced myself to her and told her my errand, she became very angry. 'I remember very well,' she said, 'the person you speak of, and he is long since dead. He was an old man when I took him into my service. You may be his son or some one else who has heard how he was employed by me. At any rate, you are an impostor. How did you come into possession of this ring? The man to whom I gave it had no right to keep it. He should have returned it to me when he had performed his duties.'
"I tried to convince her that there was no reason to suppose that the man who had assisted her could not be living at this day. He need only be about one hundred years old, and that age was not uncommon. I affirmed most earnestly that the ring had never been out of my possession, and that I should not have come to her if I had not believed that she would remember my services, and be at least willing to make good the considerable sums I had expended in her behalf.
"Now she arose in royal wrath. 'How dare you speak to me in that way!' she said. 'You are a younger man at this moment than that old stranger you represent yourself to be.' Then she called her guards and had me sent to prison as a cheat and an impostor. I remained in prison for some time, but as no definite charge was made against me, I was not brought to trial, and after a time was released to make room for somebody else. I got away as soon as I could, and thus ended my most ambitious dream."