Up from the gray rocks, rising sheer and bold and bare, stood
the walls and towers of Castle Drachenhausen. A great gate-way,
with a heavy iron-pointed portcullis hanging suspended in the dim
arch above, yawned blackly upon the bascule or falling drawbridge
that spanned a chasm between the blank stone walls and the roadway
that winding down the steep rocky slope to the little valley just
beneath. There in the lap of the hills around stood the wretched
straw-thatched huts of the peasants belonging to the
castle—miserable serfs who, half timid, half fierce, tilled their
poor patches of ground, wrenching from the hard soil barely enough
to keep body and soul together. Among those vile hovels played the
little children like foxes about their dens, their wild, fierce
eyes peering out from under a mat of tangled yellow hair.
Beyond these squalid huts lay the rushing, foaming river,
spanned by a high, rude, stone bridge where the road from the
castle crossed it, and beyond the river stretched the great, black
forest, within whose gloomy depths the savage wild beasts made
their lair, and where in winter time the howling wolves coursed
their flying prey across the moonlit snow and under the net-work of
the black shadows from the naked boughs above.
The watchman in the cold, windy bartizan or watch-tower that
clung to the gray walls above the castle gateway, looked from his
narrow window, where the wind piped and hummed, across the
tree-tops that rolled in endless billows of green, over hill and
over valley to the blue and distant slope of the Keiserberg, where,
on the mountain side, glimmered far away the walls of Castle
Within the massive stone walls through which the gaping gateway
led, three great cheerless brick buildings, so forbidding that even
the yellow sunlight could not light them into brightness, looked
down, with row upon row of windows, upon three sides of the bleak,
stone courtyard. Back of and above them clustered a jumble of other
buildings, tower and turret, one high-peaked roof overtopping
The great house in the centre was the Baron's Hall, the part to
the left was called the Roderhausen; between the two stood a huge
square pile, rising dizzily up into the clear air high above the
rest—the great Melchior Tower.
At the top clustered a jumble of buildings hanging high aloft in
the windy space a crooked wooden belfry, a tall, narrow
watch-tower, and a rude wooden house that clung partly to the roof
of the great tower and partly to the walls.
From the chimney of this crazy hut a thin thread of smoke would
now and then rise into the air, for there were folk living far up
in that empty, airy desert, and oftentimes wild, uncouth little
children were seen playing on the edge of the dizzy height, or
sitting with their bare legs hanging down over the sheer depths, as
they gazed below at what was going on in the court-yard. There they
sat, just as little children in the town might sit upon their
father's door-step; and as the sparrows might fly around the feet
of the little town children, so the circling flocks of rooks and
daws flew around the feet of these air-born creatures.
It was Schwartz Carl and his wife and little ones who lived far
up there in the Melchior Tower, for it overlooked the top of the
hill behind the castle and so down into the valley upon the further
side. There, day after day, Schwartz Carl kept watch upon the gray
road that ran like a ribbon through the valley, from the rich town
of Gruenstaldt to the rich town of Staffenburgen, where passed
merchant caravans from the one to the other—for the lord of
Drachenhausen was a robber baron.
Dong! Dong! The great alarm bell would suddenly ring out from
the belfry high up upon the Melchior Tower. Dong! Dong! Till the
rooks and daws whirled clamoring and screaming. Dong! Dong! Till
the fierce wolf-hounds in the rocky kennels behind the castle
stables howled dismally in answer. Dong! Dong!—Dong! Dong!
Then would follow a great noise and uproar and hurry in the
castle court-yard below; men shouting and calling to one another,
the ringing of armor, and the clatter of horses' hoofs upon the
hard stone. With the creaking and groaning of the windlass the
iron-pointed portcullis would be slowly raised, and with a clank
and rattle and clash of iron chains the drawbridge would fall
crashing. Then over it would thunder horse and man, clattering away
down the winding, stony pathway, until the great forest would
swallow them, and they would be gone.
Then for a while peace would fall upon the castle courtyard, the
cock would crow, the cook would scold a lazy maid, and Gretchen,
leaning out of a window, would sing a snatch of a song, just as
though it were a peaceful farm-house, instead of a den of
Maybe it would be evening before the men would return once more.
Perhaps one would have a bloody cloth bound about his head, perhaps
one would carry his arm in a sling; perhaps one—maybe more than
one—would be left behind, never to return again, and soon forgotten
by all excepting some poor woman who would weep silently in the
loneliness of her daily work.
Nearly always the adventurers would bring back with them
pack-horses laden with bales of goods. Sometimes, besides these,
they would return with a poor soul, his hands tied behind his back
and his feet beneath the horse's body, his fur cloak and his flat
cap wofully awry. A while he would disappear in some gloomy cell of
the dungeon-keep, until an envoy would come from the town with a
fat purse, when his ransom would be paid, the dungeon would
disgorge him, and he would be allowed to go upon his way again.
One man always rode beside Baron Conrad in his expeditions and
adventures a short, deep-chested, broad-shouldered man, with sinewy
arms so long that when he stood his hands hung nearly to his
His coarse, close-clipped hair came so low upon his brow that
only a strip of forehead showed between it and his bushy, black
eyebrows. One eye was blind; the other twinkled and gleamed like a
spark under the penthouse of his brows. Many folk said that the
one-eyed Hans had drunk beer with the Hill-man, who had given him
the strength of ten, for he could bend an iron spit like a hazel
twig, and could lift a barrel of wine from the floor to his head as
easily as though it were a basket of eggs.
As for the one-eyed Hans he never said that he had not drunk
beer with the Hill-man, for he liked the credit that such reports
gave him with the other folk. And so, like a half savage mastiff,
faithful to death to his master, but to him alone, he went his
sullen way and lived his sullen life within the castle walls, half
respected, half feared by the other inmates, for it was dangerous
trifling with the one-eyed Hans.