The sun was beginning to slope over Laach, and threw the shadows of the abbey towers half-way across the blue lake-waters, as two men in the garb of husbandmen emerged from the wood. Their feet plunged heavily and their heads hung down, as they strode beside a wain mounted with straw, whistling an air of stupid unconcern; but a close listener might have heard that the lumbering vehicle carried a human voice giving them directions as to the road they were to take, and what sort of behaviour to observe under certain events. The land was solitary. A boor passing asked whether toll or tribute they were conveying to Werner. Tribute, they were advised to reply, which caused him to shrug and curse as he jogged on. Hearing him, the voice in the wain chuckled grimly. Their next speech was with a trooper, who overtook them, and wanted to know what they had in the wain for Werner. Tribute, they replied, and won the title of ‘brave pigs’ for their trouble.
‘But what’s the dish made of?’ said the trooper, stirring the straw with his sword-point.
‘Tribute,’ came the answer.
‘Ha! You’ve not been to Werner’s school,’ and the trooper swung a sword-stroke at the taller of the two, sending a tremendous shudder throughout his frame; but he held his head to the ground, and only seemed to betray animal consciousness in leaning his ear closer to the wain.
‘Blood and storm! Will ye speak?’ cried the trooper.
’Never talk much; but an ye say nothing to the Baron,’—thrusting his hand into the straw—’here’s what’s better than speaking.’
‘Well said!—Eh? Liebfrauenmilch? Ho, ho! a rare bleed!’
Striking the neck of the flask on a wheel, the trooper applied it to his mouth, and ceased not deeply ingurgitating till his face was broad to the sky and the bottle reversed. He then dashed it down, sighed, and shook himself.
’Rare news! the Kaiser’s come: he’ll be in Cologne by night; but first he must see the Baron, and I’m post with the order. That’s to show you how high he stands in the Kaiser’s grace. Don’t be thinking of upsetting Werner yet, any of you; mind, now!’
‘That’s Blass-Gesell,’ said the voice in the wain, as the trooper trotted on: adding, ‘’gainst us.’
‘Makes six,’ responded the driver.
Within sight of the Eck, they descried another trooper coming toward them. This time the driver was first to speak.
’Tribute! Provender! Bread and wine for the high Baron Werner from his vassals over Tonnistein.’
‘And I’m out of it! fasting like a winter wolf,’ howled the fellow.
He was in the act of addressing himself to an inspection of the wain’s contents, when a second flask lifted in air, gave a sop to his curiosity. This flask suffered the fate of the former.
‘A Swabian blockhead, aren’t you?’
‘Ay, that country,’ said the driver. ’May be, Henker Rothhals happens to be with the Baron?’