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   Chapter 13 THE BRIDEGROOM.

Andreas Hofer: An Historical Novel By L. Mühlbach Characters: 25641

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Wild shouts were heard now, and a great commotion arose among the Tyrolese. The bold deed of the Bavarian had surprised and confused them; they had forgot the soldiers for a moment, and riveted their whole attention on the captain.

He was uninjured, for, in jumping down, he had fallen on the backs of two Tyrolese, dragged them down with him, and thus broken the violence of the fall.

Before the two men, stunned by their sudden fall, had recovered from their surprise, Ulrich was again on his feet, and, drawing his sword, cleared himself a passage through the quickly-receding crowd.

"Come to me, my soldiers, come to me!" he shouted, in a panting voice.

"Here we are, captain," cried twenty soldiers, driving the crowd back with powerful strokes. They had profited by the favorable moment when the windows had not been watched, and had jumped to the ground.

Now followed a hand-to-hand struggle of indescribable fury. Nothing was heard but the wild imprecations and shouts of the fighting, the shrieks and groans of the wounded and the screams of the women and children.

But amidst the struggle and the general confusion Anthony Wallner did not lose his presence of mind. He had posted twenty sharpshooters in front of the windows, behind which the soldiers were standing, and, with rifles raised, they threatened death to all who should dare to approach the windows. Hence, the soldiers bad retired into the back part of the rooms, and were deliberating on the course which they were to pursue. But their faces were anxious and irresolute, and they whispered to each other: "If our captain should fall, nothing remains for us but to surrender."

But their captain had not yet fallen; he still lived and defended himself courageously, surrounded by his soldiers, against the Tyrolese, who attacked him furiously and parried the sabre-strokes with the butt-ends of their rifles, but had no room, and did not dare to shoot at him, for fear of hitting in the wild melee one of their own men instead of their enemy.

But the odds were too great; six of the soldiers had already been knocked down by the butt-ends of the Tyrolese rifles. The Tyrolese had wrested the sabres from the hands of the fallen soldiers, and had rushed with them upon their comrades. Then followed a furious hand-to-hand struggle. The fumes of the blood flowing on the ground, the shouts of the combatants, the hatred and fury with which the enemies stood face to face, had filled their hearts with boundless ferocity. Nobody gave, nobody asked quarter. Under the butt-end blows of the Tyrolese, the Bavarians sank to the ground with a glance of hatred; pierced by the swords of the Bavarians, the Tyrolese fell, with an imprecation on their lips.

Ulrich von Hohenberg was still holding his ground; his sword had spread destruction and death around him; he was still encouraging his soldiers with loud shouts, but his voice was beginning to grow faint, and his blood was running from a terrible wound in his shoulder.

"To the rescue, soldiers?" he shouted now with a last effort, "do not suffer your captain to be slain by miserable peasants. To the rescue! help me or shoot me, that I may die an honorable death, and not be assassinated by the traitors."

"I will comply with your wishes," cried Anthony Wallner, rushing into the midst of the bloody melee close up to the captain; "yes, you shall die; I will put an end to your life!"

And his arm, brandishing the sword of a fallen Bavarian, rose threateningly above Ulrich's head, while two other Tyrolese rushed upon him from behind with furious shouts.

At this moment two hands clutched Wallner's arm convulsively, and a loud, anxious voice exclaimed:

"Father, do not kill him! He is my bridegroom!"

"Her bridegroom!" echoed the Tyrolese, starting back in surprise.

"Your bridegroom?" asked Anthony Wallner, casting a look of dismay on his daughter Eliza, who was standing in front of her father, pale, with flashing eyes, encircling Ulrich's neck with one arm, lifting up the other menacingly, and staring at her father with a resolute and defiant expression.

"Away from him, Lizzie!" cried Wallner, furiously; "I cannot believe that my child will inflict on me the disgrace of loving a Bavarian."

"Yes, I love him," exclaimed Eliza, with glowing cheeks. "If you wish to kill him, you must kill me first, for we have sworn to live and die together. He is my bridegroom, father, and shall become my husband, so help me God!"

"No, never!" cried Ulrich von Hohenberg, trying to disengage himself from Eliza. "Never can the peasant-girl become my wife! Begone, Eliza, I have nothing further to do with you."

"And still you swore a few minutes ago that you loved nothing on earth more dearly than me alone," said Eliza, in a loud voice, "and you implored me to go with you and remain always by your side?"

"But never did I say that I would marry you," exclaimed Ulrich, pale with rage, and still trying to disengage himself from Eliza's arm.

"You would not marry her!" cried Anthony Wallner; "you intended only to dishonor her, my proud Bavarian gentleman? You thought a Tyrolese peasant-girl's honor an excellent pastime, but you would not marry her?"

"Father, father," cried Eliza, beseechingly, clinging firmly to Ulrich's side, "father, I love him and cannot live without him. He is my bridegroom!"

"No, no!" shouted Ulrich, and a wild imprecation against Eliza burst from his lips.

The Tyrolese in the mean time had long since overpowered the few soldiers, and, attracted by the strange scene, crowded around the curious group; only the twenty sharpshooters were still standing with rifles raised in front of the windows of the imprisoned soldiers, and watching them with threatening eyes.

Anthony Wallner had dropped his arm and looked down musingly; on hearing the captain's insulting words, he gave a shout and lifted up his face flushed with pride and indignation.

"Just listen to the traitor, brethren!" he said in the cold, quiet tone which only the most profound exasperation imparts to the human voice. "First he turned the girl's head and heart by the protestations of his love, causing her even to forget her father and her Tyrol; and now he insults her and refuses to marry her!"

"He said it only in his rage, father, but he loves me after all," exclaimed Eliza, clinging to the captain notwithstanding his resistance, and trying to wrest his sword from him.

"Begone, Eliza!" cried Ulrich, "or-" He pushed her violently from him, and quickly raised his sword against her. But two Tyrolese prevented him from carrying out his fell design by rushing upon him, seizing his arm with Herculean strength, wresting the sword from his hand, throwing the weapon tar away, and exclaiming triumphantly: "Now surrender, Bavarian! You are our prisoner."

" Then shoot me at least," shouted Ulrich, beside himself with rage; "shoot me, I say; death is preferable to the disgrace of being a prisoner of such miserable rabble."

"Hush, beloved, for God's sake, hush!" said Eliza, clinging to him tenderly.

He pushed her violently from his side. "Begone, hypocritical wench!" he shouted in a paroxysm of fury; "I do not want to have any thing to do with you!"

"But you shall have something to do with her," said Anthony Wallner, with proud calmness. "The girl says that she loves you, and that you promised to marry her. It was bad in you to persuade her behind the backs of her parents and infatuate her poor heart, and you shall be punished now for your infamy. You shall marry Lizzie. The proud and wealthy baron who despises the Tyrolese peasants so much shall now marry the Tyrolese peasant-girl."

"Yes, yes, that is right," exclaimed the Tyrolese exultingly; "the proud baron shall marry the Tyrolese peasant-girl."

"Let us go down to the village, then," said Anthony Wallner; "our curate shall marry them immediately at the church; and then let the two leave the place as quickly as possible, and beware of ever returning to Windisch-Matrey; for never shall the wife of the Bavarian Captain Ulrich von Hohenberg dare to say that she is Eliza Wallner, daughter of the Tyrolese Anthony Wallner-Aichberger, the innkeeper of Windisch-Matrey. I have no longer a daughter-I tear her from my heart, as she tore honor, righteousness, and faith from hers."

Eliza called two Tyrolese with an impetuous wave of her hand to her side. "Hold him," she said, pointing to Ulrich, who, pale and tottering, exhausted from his superhuman efforts and loss of blood, was scarcely able to stand on his feet; "hold him, I must speak to my father."

She hastened to him, seized both his hands despite his resistance, and drew his face so close to hers that his hot, panting breath touched her cheek; but he averted his eyes with a gloomy expression and avoided meeting her fiery glances.

"You do not want to know me, father!" she asked mournfully. "You avert your eyes from your Lizzie, whom you called only yesterday your dear, brave Tyrolese girl?"

"You are no child of mine, you are no Tyrolese girl," exclaimed her father, angrily and mournfully. "You want to marry the Bavarian, and become an aristocratic lady."

"It is all the same to me whether Ulrich yonder is an aristocratic gentleman or not," said Eliza, shaking her head proudly; "I love him only because he pleases me so well, and because he loves me so fondly and ardently. But, father, you must not say that I am no true daughter of the Tyrol, and do not love the fatherland. I will prove to all of you that I do love it; and to Ulrich yonder, who wished to persuade me to run away with him secretly, and who must marry me now to atone for it, I will prove likewise that I am no baroness although I love him, and that I do not love his king and his brilliant uniform, but that I will remain loyal to my emperor alone. Listen to me, therefore, father, and all of you: Ulrich von Hohenberg is my bridegroom, and therefore you shall not kill him, nor do him any harm, but convey him as a prisoner to my father's house, not for the purpose of being married to me, but to be kept and nursed as a wounded prisoner. I swear by the Lord God and the Holy Virgin, I will not marry him till we have conquered, till all Bavarians have been driven from the country, and the Emperor Francis is once more sovereign of the Tyrol. Nor shall I stay at home to nurse my bridegroom and speak with him of love and marriage, but I will go and fight with you for our Tyrol and our emperor. I will fight with my father and my countrymen, and prove that I am a true daughter of the Tyrol. When you have nothing to eat, I will cook for you; and when you go to fight the Bavarians, I will fight with you. My father's lame porter, our faithful Schroepfel, shall have my bridegroom in his custody, and protect him until we return to our homes. But we shall not return before our dear Tyrol is free and restored to the Emperor Francis, and then, father, when your Lizzie has bravely fought for our dear Tyrol, you will permit her to marry the man whom she loves, and you will no longer say that she is not your daughter, will you?" "No, Lizzie, then I shall no longer say or think so," cried Wallner, folding his daughter to his heart, overcome by his emotion. "Yes, you are a brave child of the Tyrol; you shall march to the field with us, and when we return to our homes, you shall marry your Bavarian. Say, my dear friends, shall it be so?"

"Yes, it shall," shouted the Tyrolese. "Her wedding shall take place when we return to our homes, and when the Tyrol is free."

"No, no," cried Ulrich, raising himself up with a last effort: "never will my father's son dishonor himself so deeply as to marry a peasant-girl-"

He said no more; a stream of blood rushed from his mouth, a mortal pallor overspread his cheeks, his eyes closed, and he sank to the ground with a groan of pain.

"He is dying! he is dying!" cried Eliza, despairingly. She rushed to him, knelt down by his side, and encircled him firmly with both her arms, so that his head reposed on her breast.

A cry, a loud, painful cry, resounded above her in the air; all eyes turned toward the balcony, but no one was there; only for a moment it seemed to them as though a female form glided through the dining- room.

"Elza, it was Elza!" murmured Eliza. "Why does she not come to me? why-" At this moment Ulrich opened his eyes again, and fixed a look of proud hatred full upon Eliza's face, which was tenderly bent over him.

"I do not love you, I detest you!" he hissed, between his firmly- compressed teeth.

"He lives, thank God, he lives!" cried Eliza; "now all is well, and I am no longer afraid of anything. Schroepfel, come here; take him on your shoulders, dear Schroepfel, or

let John help you to carry him to my chamber, where you will lay him on my bed. You swear to me by the Holy Virgin that you will watch over him faithfully?"

"I swear by the Holy Virgin," said Schroepfel, lifting his heavy fists to heaven, and then fixing his small, flashing eyes on Ulrich, as a watch-dog eyes the bone he fears may be taken from him.

"And now let us settle that affair with the soldiers yonder," said Anthony Wallner, going to the windows, in front of which the sharpshooters were still drawn up in line.

"Soldiers in the rooms," he shouted in a powerful voice, "surrender! The fight is at an end; your captain is our prisoner. Surrender, or you are lost; we will set fire to the house, and shoot down whosoever jumps out of the windows. if you wish to save your lives, surrender."

One of the sergeants appeared at the window.

"We are locked up and surrounded," he said; "we have no ammunition, and our captain is a prisoner. Therefore, we will surrender if you will allow us to evacuate the castle."

"Yes, but without arms," said Anthony Wallner, imperatively. "You will all come in squads of four to the windows and hand out your carbines and side-arms. There are yet a hundred of you in the rooms. As soon as we have got a hundred carbines and a hundred sabres we shall open the portal and let you out. You may return then to Bavaria, and tell your government that no Southern Bavarians, but true Tyrolese, live in the Pusterthal, the Vintschgau, and the Passeyrthal."

"We accept your terms," replied the sergeant; "come, therefore, and receive our arms."

The Tyrolese stepped up to the windows, at each of which squads of four soldiers made their appearance, and silently and sullenly handed out their arms, which the Tyrolese took and stacked in the middle of the court-yard.

"Now I will go and see where my Elza has concealed herself," murmured Eliza to herself; and she glided hastily through the ranks of the Tyrolese into the castle.

No one was to be seen in the large hall, and, unnoticed by anybody, Eliza ascended the staircase, hastened down the corridor, and entered the dining-room.

The instinct of her heart had guided her rightly; yonder, in the most remote corner of the room, sat Elza, groaning aloud in bitter woe, her hands clasped on her knees, her head bent on her breast, and not perceiving in her agony that Eliza came in, that she hastened rapidly, yet noiselessly and on tiptoe through the room, and stood still now close in front of her.

"Why do you weep, dearest Elza?" asked Eliza, kneeling down before her friend.

Elza gave a start, and quickly raised her face, over which were rolling rivers of scalding tears. "I do not weep at all, Eliza," she said, in a low voice.

"Eliza?" she asked, wonderingly. "You call me Eliza? Then I am no longer your darling, your Lizzie? You did not assist me when I had to save your cousin Ulrich below in the court-yard? You uttered a loud cry when he lay more dead than alive in my lap, and you did not come to help him and me? And now you call me Eliza?"

"What should I have done there?" asked Elza, in a bitter, mournful tone. "He reposed well on your breast; he did not need me. I am only his cousin, but you, you are his affianced bride."

"But formerly, I suppose, Elza, he was to be your affianced bridegroom?" asked Eliza, in a low, tremulous voice. "Oh, I always thought so; I knew it all the time, although you never told me so. I always thought Elza and Ulrich would be a good match; they are suited to each other, and will love each other and be happy. Elza, Ulrich was to be your bridegroom, was he not?"

"What is the use of talking about it now?" asked Elza, vehemently. "He is YOUR bridegroom, he has sworn eternal fidelity to you, and I shall not dispute him with you. Marry him and be happy."

"And would your Lizzie be happy if her Elza were not content with her?" asked Eliza, tenderly. "Tell me only this: your father and his parents thought you were a good match-did they not?"

"Yes, they did," whispered Elza, bursting again into tears.

"My father told me yesterday that it was his wish, as well as that of Ulrich's parents."

"And Ulrich told you, too, that he loved you and would marry you? Tell me the truth, Elza. Never mind what I said in the court yard about Ulrich being my bridegroom. Remember only that I am your Lizzie, who loves you better than she can tell you, but who will prove it to you if the good God will permit her to do so. Tell me therefore, my darling, Ulrich said to you he loved you and wished to marry you?"

"No, he did not say so, Lizzie, but-but I thought so, I believe, and he thought so, too; and, O God! I believe I love him. It seemed to me as though a dagger pierced my heart when you said that he was your bridegroom. I could not hear it, and hastened into the house in order not to see and hear any thing further. I meant to seat myself quietly in the dining-room here and submit to all that might happen; and yet I was drawn irresistibly toward the balcony, and orb rushing out I saw you holding him in your lap and pressing his dear pale head to your bosom. I felt as though the heavens were falling down on me; I had to cry out aloud in my anguish and despair. I hurried back into the room, fell on my knees, and prayed that death might deliver me from my pains. O God, God! it did not; I must carry on life's dreary burden and cannot die!"

She buried her face in her hands and sobbed aloud.

While Elza was speaking, Eliza had turned paler and paler; a slight tremor passed through her whole frame, and she compressed her lips firmly, as if to restrain the cry oppressing her bosom.

Now she laid her hand gently on Elza's head. "You love him, Elza," she said mildly. "I understand your heart, dearest Elza, you love him. And now dry your tears and listen to what I have to say to you. But first you must look at me, Elza, and you must show me your dear face; otherwise I won't tell you the good news I have got for you."

Elza dropped her hands from her face, and looked, smiling amid her tears, into Eliza's countenance, which seemed now again entirely calm and serene.

"Now listen, Elza," she whispered, hurriedly; "Ulrich is not my bridegroom, and he never told me that he loved me."

Elza uttered a cry of joy, and a sunbeam seemed to illuminate her face.

"I merely said so in order to save him," added Lizzie; "that was the reason why I uttered that impudent lie, which God Almighty, I hope, will forgive me. I saw that my father was just about to hill him and my heart told me I ought to save him at all hazards. I hastened to my father, and the words escaped my lips, I myself do not know how. I said I loved him, he would marry me, and was my affianced bride- groom; and this saved him, for he was intent on dying rather than fall alive, as he said, into the hands of the peasant-rabble. That was the reason why he was so bold, abused the Tyrolese so violently, and would not cease resisting them. Therefore, I had to save him not only from my father, but from his own rage; and I did it."

"But do you not love him?" asked Elza smiling.

"Do you not know that Joseph Thurmwalder has been courting me for a year past? My father will be glad to have me marry him; for he is the son of rich parents and the most skillful and handsome hunter in the whole Puster valley."

"But you have often told me that you did not love him?"

"Have you not often told me likewise that you did not love Ulrich,

Elza? We girls are queer beings, and never say whom we love!"

"But Ulrich! He loves you! Yes, yes, I know he loves you. I have suspected it a long time, and always teased him with his attachment to you."

"And he always denied it, did he not?"

"Yes, he did, and yet-"

"And he denied it to-day too, when the lie would have saved him at once. He would die rather than be a peasant-girl's bridegroom! You see, therefore, that he does not love me, Elza. But my lie saved his life, and no one must find out that Ulrich is not my bridegroom. For if my father and his friends should discover it, they would kill him, because he insulted them too deeply to be forgiven. He must remain my bridegroom until tranquillity is re-established in the country."

"Yes, my Lizzie, my darling!" exclaimed Elza, encircling Eliza's neck with her arms; "yes, let him remain your bridegroom, my sagacious, brave Tyrolese girl. I always said and knew that you would be a heroine if you should have to meet a great danger, and to-day you WERE a heroine."

"Not yet Elza, but I shall be one. I am going to prove to my father and all his friends that I am a true daughter of the Tyrol, even though the Bavarian captain is my bridegroom. And now, farewell, dearest Elza; I must go down again to my father. But listen, I have to tell you something else yet. I shall leave our village with my father to-day. We shall march with our friends to Andreas Hofer, for the Tyrolese must concentrate their whole forces in order to be strong enough when they have to meet the enemy. Hence, it was resolved at the very outset, that, so soon as it was time for the people to rise against the Bavarians, Speckbacher and his friends, and my father with the peasants of the Puster valley, should join the men of the Passeyr valley under Hofer's command. I know that father will set out to-day, and I shall accompany him, Elza. I am not afraid of death and the enemy; I know that our cause is just, and that the good God will be on our side."

"But, nevertheless, many noble hearts will be pierced for this just cause, and yours, dearest Lizzie, may be among them," exclaimed Elza, tenderly folding her friend to her heart. "Oh, stay here, my darling, let the men fight it out alone; stay here!"

"No, Elza, I must go with them. My honor requires it, and forbids me to stay at our house with Ulrich von Hohenberg, for whose sake my father called me publicly to-day a recreant daughter of the Tyrol, and threatened to disown me forever. I must prove to all the world that I am a loyal daughter of the Tyrol; and I feel, Elza, that it will do me good to contribute my mite to the deliverance of the fatherland. I am not gentle and patient enough to sit quietly at home and wait until dear Liberty looks into my door and says to me, 'God bless you, Lizzie! I am here now. and you also may profit by the happiness which will be caused by my arrival.' No, Elza, I must go with my father, I must help him to find this dear Liberty on the mountains and in the valleys, and must say to her, 'God bless thee, Liberty! I am here now, and thou mayst profit by my strength, and I will help thee that thou mayst rule again over the mountains and valleys of our dear Tyrol.'"

"Oh, Lizzie, you are a genuine heroine!" exclaimed Elza; "I blush to think that I shall not accompany you and fight by your side for Liberty."

"You cannot," said Lizzie, gravely. "You have an aged father who will stay at home, and whom you must take care of, and the poor and sick count upon you, for they know that Elza will always be their good angel. Stay at home and pray for me. But never go down to my father's house, do not inquire for Ulrich, and do not try to have him brought to the castle here. He is under Schroepfel's surveillance, and Schroepfel would shoot him if he should suspect that all is not as it should be. But if God should decree my death, Elza, Ulrich would be free at once, and my father would not injure him, inasmuch as he was his Lizzie's affianced bridegroom. He would set him free. Ulrich would then come to you, and, Elza, you will tell him not to think that Lizzie Wallner was a bad girl, and that she was intent only on getting an aristocratic husband. You will tell him that my sole object was to save his life, and that I never thought of marrying him. You will tell him also that I forgave him the injury which he did me to-day, and that I shall pray to God Almighty for him. And when you stand before God's altar, and the priest joins your hands, think of me, and do not forget that I loved you, dearest Elza, better than any once else on earth. And now, farewell, Elza; I shall not kiss you again, for it makes my heart heavy."

"Lizzie, Lizzie!" shouted a powerful voice outside at this moment;

"Lizzie, where are you? 'Tis time to set out!"

"Here I am, dear father!" exclaimed Lizzie, stepping quickly out on the balcony. "I shall come down to you now. I was only taking leave of Elza. Now I am ready to set out and fight for the dear Tyrol and the dear Emperor Francis!"

"Hurrah, we will do so!" cried the Tyrolese. "We will fight for the dear Tyrol and the dear Emperor Francis! Hurrah! We will expel the Bavarians! Hurrah! the Austrians are coming! Hurrah! the Tyrol will be free again!"

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