The Knighted Knave of Bergen
One day it occurred to me that it had been many years since the world
had been afforded the spectacle of a man adventurous enough to undertake
a journey through Europe on foot. After much thought, I decided that
I was a person fitted to furnish to mankind this spectacle. So I
determined to do it. This was in March, 1878.
I looked about me for the right sort of person to accompany me in the
capacity of agent, and finally hired a Mr. Harris for this service.
It was also my purpose to study art while in Europe. Mr. Harris was in
sympathy with me in this. He was as much of an enthusiast in art as
I was, and not less anxious to learn to paint. I desired to learn the
German language; so did Harris.
Toward the middle of April we sailed in the HOLSATIA, Captain Brandt,
and had a very peasant trip, indeed.
After a brief rest at Hamburg, we made preparations for a long
pedestrian trip southward in the soft spring weather, but at the
last moment we changed the program, for private reasons, and took the
We made a short halt at Frankfort-on-the-Main, and found it an
interesting city. I would have liked to visit the birthplace of
Gutenburg, but it could not be done, as no memorandum of the site of the
house has been kept. So we spent an hour in the Goethe mansion instead.
The city permits this house to belong to private parties, instead
of gracing and dignifying herself with the honor of possessing and
Frankfort is one of the sixteen cities which have the distinction of
being the place where the following incident occurred. Charlemagne,
while chasing the Saxons (as HE said), or being chased by them (as THEY
said), arrived at the bank of the river at dawn, in a fog. The enemy
were either before him or behind him; but in any case he wanted to get
across, very badly. He would have given anything for a guide, but none
was to be had. Presently he saw a deer, followed by her young, approach
the water. He watched her, judging that she would seek a ford, and he
was right. She waded over, and the army followed. So a great Frankish
victory or defeat was gained or avoided; and in order to commemorate the
episode, Charlemagne commanded a city to be built there, which he named
Frankfort--the ford of the Franks. None of the other cities where this
event happened were named for it. This is good evidence that Frankfort
was the first place it occurred at.
Frankfort has another distinction--it is the birthplace of the German
alphabet; or at least of the German word for alphabet--BUCHSTABEN.
They say that the first movable types were made on birch
sticks--BUCHSTABE--hence the name.
I was taught a lesson in political economy in Frankfort. I had brought
from home a box containing a thousand very cheap cigars. By way of
experiment, I stepped into a little shop in a queer old back street,
took four gaily decorated boxes of wax matches and three cigars, and
laid down a silver piece worth 48 cents. The man gave me 43 cents
In Frankfort everybody wears clean clothes, and I think we noticed that
this strange thing was the case in Hamburg, too, and in the villages
along the road. Even in the narrowest and poorest and most ancient
quarters of Frankfort neat and clean clothes were the rule. The little
children of both sexes were nearly always nice enough to take into a
body's lap. And as for the uniforms of the soldiers, they were newness
and brightness carried to perfection. One could never detect a smirch
or a grain of dust upon them. The street-car conductors and drivers wore
pretty uniforms which seemed to be just out of the bandbox, and their
manners were as fine as their clothes.
In one of the shops I had the luck to stumble upon a book which has
charmed me nearly to death. It is entitled THE LEGENDS OF THE RHINE FROM
BASLE TO ROTTERDAM, by F. J. Kiefer; translated by L. W. Garnham, B.A.
All tourists MENTION the Rhine legends--in that sort of way which
quietly pretends that the mentioner has been familiar with them all his
life, and that the reader cannot possibly be ignorant of them--but no
tourist ever TELLS them. So this little book fed me in a very hungry
place; and I, in my turn, intend to feed my reader, with one or
two little lunches from the same larder. I shall not mar Garnharn's
translation by meddling with its English; for the most toothsome thing
about it is its quaint fashion of building English sentences on the
German plan--and punctuating them accordingly to no plan at all.
In the chapter devoted to "Legends of Frankfort," I find the following:
"THE KNAVE OF BERGEN"
"In Frankfort at the Romer was a great mask-ball, at the coronation
festival, and in the illuminated saloon, the clanging music invited
to dance, and splendidly appeared the rich toilets and charms of the
ladies, and the festively costumed Princes and Knights. All seemed
pleasure, joy, and roguish gaiety, only one of the numerous guests had
a gloomy exterior; but exactly the black armor in which he walked about
excited general attention, and his tall figure, as well as the noble
propriety of his movements, attracted especially the regards of the
ladies. Who the Knight was? Nobody could guess, for his Vizier was
well closed, and nothing made him recognizable. Proud and yet modest he
advanced to the Empress; bowed on one knee before her seat, and begged
for the favor of a waltz with the Queen of the festival. And she allowed
his request. With light and graceful steps he danced through the long
saloon, with the sovereign who thought never to have found a more
dexterous and excellent dancer. But also by the grace of his manner, and
fine conversation he knew to win the Queen, and she graciously accorded
him a second dance for which he begged, a third, and a fourth, as well
as others were not refused him. How all regarded the happy dancer, how
many envied him the high favor; how increased curiosity, who the masked
knight could be.
"Also the Emperor became more and more excited with curiosity, and with
great suspense one awaited the hour, when according to mask-law, each
masked guest must make himself known. This moment came, but although all
other unmasked; the secret knight still refused to allow his features
to be seen, till at last the Queen driven by curiosity, and vexed at the
obstinate refusal; commanded him to open his Vizier. He opened it,
and none of the high ladies and knights knew him. But from the crowded
spectators, 2 officials advanced, who recognized the black dancer, and
horror and terror spread in the saloon, as they said who the supposed
knight was. It was the executioner of Bergen. But glowing with rage,
the King commanded to seize the criminal and lead him to death, who
had ventured to dance, with the queen; so disgraced the Empress, and
insulted the crown. The culpable threw himself at the Emperor, and
"'Indeed I have heavily sinned against all noble guests assembled here,
but most heavily against you my sovereign and my queen. The Queen is
insulted by my haughtiness equal to treason, but no punishment even
blood, will not be able to wash out the disgrace, which you have
suffered by me. Therefore oh King! allow me to propose a remedy, to
efface the shame, and to render it as if not done. Draw your sword and
knight me, then I will throw down my gauntlet, to everyone who dares to
speak disrespectfully of my king.'
"The Emperor was surprised at this bold proposal, however it appeared
the wisest to him; 'You are a knave he replied after a moment's
consideration, however your advice is good, and displays prudence, as
your offense shows adventurous courage. Well then, and gave him the
knight-stroke so I raise you to nobility, who begged for grace for your
offense now kneels before me, rise as knight; knavish you have acted,
and Knave of Bergen shall you be called henceforth, and gladly the Black
knight rose; three cheers were given in honor of the Emperor, and loud
cries of joy testified the approbation with which the Queen danced still
once with the Knave of Bergen."
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