A little village with its scattered glimmering lights lay in peaceful dreams. Just as a black swan draws her young under her, so the mighty Cathedral rested in the midst of the low houses, which seemed to creep, like birds, under its wing.
It struck twelve from the church tower, and larger and smaller clocks, near and far, carried the message onward. Dead silence again hovered over the sleeping village.
Just as dawn bathed the hills in sunlight, two stately men wandered along the Cathedral Square. One seemed somewhat older, with his full gray beard. His hair, rich and abundant, curled beneath his velvet cap. He walked so majestically that one could see, at the very first glance, that he was no ordinary person, but one upon whose shoulders an invisible weight rested. Handsome, tall and noble, just as one would picture the highest type of man—a king from head to foot.
Here, in the little village of Breisach, as he named it, Emperor Maximilian liked to rest from the cares of his Empire. Here, in this little retreat, filled with calm and quietude, he loved to wander. From here he sent letters full of tender thoughts to his daughter in the Netherlands.
He loved the place well, and christened it "Care-Free."
As Emperor Maximilian walked proudly, but with heavy tread, along the parapet of the Cathedral Square, his eye rested upon the gay scene at his feet. To-day the invisible world of care pressed heavily upon his shoulders. Suddenly he stood still, and turning to his private secretary, he said, "I wonder who those children are who are so industriously planting a rose-bush in the niche of the wall?"
The children, a girl and a boy (the former about eight, and the latter twelve years of age), were so engrossed in their work that they had not noticed the approach of the Emperor, until his presence was so near that it startled them. They turned full face upon him. Then the boy touched the girl and said, "It's the Emperor!"
"What are you doing there?" he asked, and his artistic eye feasted on the beauty of this charming pair.
"We are planting a rose-bush," said the boy, undaunted.
The Emperor smiled, and said, "What is your name?"
"Hans Le Fevre, sir."
"And the little one, is she your sister?"
"No, she is Marie, our neighbor's child."
"Ah!—you like each other very much?"
"Yes, when I'm old enough, and when I own a knife, I'm going to marry her."
The Emperor opened his eyes wide, and said, "Why do you need a knife?"
"Surely," answered the boy, earnestly, "if I have no knife I cannot cut, and if I cannot cut I can earn no money. My mother has always said that without money one cannot marry. Besides, I should have to have much money to enable me to marry my little friend Marie, as she is the Counselor's daughter."
"But," questioned the Emperor, "what do you want to cut?"
"Ha! ha! I understand. You want to be a wood-carver. Now, I remember that I once met two young boys, named Le Fevre. They were studying in Nürnberg, with Dürer, 'The Prince of Artists.' Were they, perhaps, your relatives?"
"Yes, my cousins, and once I saw them carve, and I would like to learn how, too; but my father and uncle are dead, and my mother never buys me a knife."
The Emperor thrust his hand into his pocket, and after much fumbling and jingling, pulled out a knife with an artistically carved handle. "Will that do?" said he.
The boy flushed, and one could see how beneath his coarse, torn shirt his heart beat with joy.
"Yes," stammered the boy, "it's beautiful."
"Well, take it and use it diligently," said the Emperor.
The boy took the treasure from the Emperor's hand as carefully as if it were red hot and might burn his fingers.
"I thank you many times!" was all that he could say; but in his dark eyes there beamed a fire of joy whose sparks of love and gratitude electrified the Emperor.
"Would you like to go to your cousins in Nürnberg, and help them in plate-engraving? There's plenty of work there."
"I would like to go to Dürer in Nürnberg, but I don't want to be a plate-engraver. I would rather cut figures that look natural."
"That's right," said the Emperor, "you will be a man, indeed; always hold to that which is natural and you will not fail."
At that moment the Emperor drew a leather bag from his velvet riding jacket and gave it to the boy.
"Be careful of it. Save the golden florins within; give them to no one. Remember, the Emperor has ordered that they be used toward your education. Study well, and when you are full-grown and able to travel, then go to Dürer, in Nürnberg. Convey to him my greetings; say to him that, as I, while in his studio one day, held the ladder for him lest he fall, so should he now hold the ladder of fame for you, that you may be able to climb to the very top of it. Will you promise me all that, my boy?"
"Yes, your majesty!" cried Hans, inspired, and, seizing the Emperor's right hand, he shook it heartily and kissed it. Then the Emperor passed on, while the boy stood there in a dream. Marie still held tightly to her apron.
Just at that moment a servant appeared who had been in search of Marie. The children ran to meet her and related their experience with the Emperor. The servant called all the townsfolk together to see the knife and the contents of the bag, but wise Hans kept the bag closed.
The next day the Emperor rode off; but for many days to come his talk with Hans was the town topic. "Surely, it is no wonder," said the envious ones. "Hans always was a bold boy and knew how to talk up for himself, so why shouldn't he know how to talk to the Emperor?" This speech was decidedly undeserved; but Hans was too young to understand their meanness. He was absorbed in the Emperor's greatness and kindliness.
Years passed. Hans Le Fevre lost his mother and Marie hers; and closer and closer did the bond of companionship draw these children.
In the evening, when her father was busy with a committee-meeting and the housekeeper was gossiping with the neighbors, Hans and Marie would climb the garden wall. Here they would sit together, while Hans cut beautiful toys for her, such as no child of those times had. He would talk with her about all the beautiful pictures and carvings he had lately seen, and of the masters in the art of wood-carving; for now he was attending art lectures and studying hard. Hours were spent in this way; but often, when the opportunity offered, they would run off to the Cathedral and water the rose-bush, which Hans had now christened the "Emperor's Bush."
There they loved best to linger, for there they hoped always that the Emperor would return. And often they would cry out aloud, "Your Majesty, Your Majesty, come again!"
But their voices died away unanswered; for, far from them, the Emperor was concerned with the affairs of State. The children waited for him in vain. The Emperor came no more.
As the time went by, the children grew, and the rose-bush grew also. Just as if the tender threads of love in their hearts had unconsciously entwined them as one around the roots of the little bush, it kept drawing them to itself, there in the niche of the wall. There they found each other, day after day. The bush was like a true friend, who held their two hands fast in his. But their true friend was not strong enough to hold together what other people wished to separate.
The lovely, highly respected Counselor's daughter was no longer permitted to meet Hans. Her father forbade her one day, saying that Hans was not only poor but was not even a native of the town. His ancestors were Hollanders who had wandered into Breisach. A stranger he was, and a poor stranger at that. He was a sort of Pariah and could not be fitted into their time-honored customs. Then, too, he did not pursue any regular trade. "He expects to be an artist." At that time that was as good as to be a robber, or a tramp or a conjurer.
Whatever Hans did or whatever he worked at, he kept a secret. He had bought the little house in which he dwelt, and since his mother's death had lived there all alone. Nobody came or went, except a famous sculptor who had quarreled one day with a native in Breisach and been obliged to leave the town. People said that Hans helped him get away. Ever since that time Hans had been in ill-repute with his rich neighbor, the Counselor.
Often Hans met Marie at the "Emperor's Bush," and these little meetings seemed to make them like each other more than they had ever dreamed. After Hans had missed Marie for many days, he sang a little song beneath her window.
The next day she met Hans at the "Emperor's Bush," and there they promised to be true to each others always. Then, in a moment of ecstasy, Hans cried out, "Would that the Emperor were here!" Just as if he felt that no one but the Emperor was worthy of sharing his great joy.
As the Emperor did not come, Hans cut the initials "M." and "H." in the bark of the rose-bush, and above it a little crown. This meant "Marie, Hans and Emperor Maximilian."
The fall passed and winter came; and the children now seldom saw each other. Hans sang so frequently beneath Marie's window that her father heard him one night, and in great anger threatened to punish her if she continued her acquaintance with this boy.
One evening Hans and Marie stood for the last time under the rose-bush which they had planted eight years before. He was now a youth of twenty years; she a rosebud of sixteen summers. It was a lowering day in February. The snow had melted and a light wind shook the bare branches of the bush. With downcast eyes she had related to him all she had been forced to hear concerning him; and big tears rolled down her cheeks.
"Marie," said the boy in deep grief, "I suppose you will finally be made to believe that I am really a bad person?"
Then she looked full upon him, and a light smile played over her features as she said: "No, Hans, never, never. No one can make me doubt you. They do not understand you, but I do. You have taught me (what the others do not know) everything that is good and great and noble. You have made me what I am; just as your artistic hands have cut beautiful forms out of dead wood." She took his big, brown hands and gently pressed them to her lips. "I believe in you, for you worship the Supreme with your art; and the man who does that, in word or deed, cannot be wicked."
"And will you always remain true, Marie, till I have perfected myself and my art, and can return to claim you?"
"Yes, Hans, I will wait for you; and should I die before you return, it is here under this rose-bush, where we have spent so many happy hours, that I wish to be buried. You must return here to rest, when wearied by your troubles; and every rose-leaf that falls upon you will be a good wish from me."
Her tears fell silently, and their hearts were sorely tried by the grief of parting.
"Don't cry," said Hans, "all will yet be well. I am going to Dürer, as the Emperor bade me. I will learn all that I can; and when I feel I know something, I will seek the Emperor, wherever he may be, tell him my desires, and beg him to intercede for me with your father."
"Oh, yes, the Emperor—if he were only here, he would help us."
"Perhaps he will come again," said Hans. "We will pray that he be sent to us, or I to him."
They sank upon their knees in the cold, soft winter grass; and it seemed to them as if a miracle would be performed, and the rose-bush be changed into the Emperor.
There—what was that? The big clock on the church struck slowly, solemnly, sadly——
The two looked up. "What is it, do you suppose? A fire—enemies, perhaps? I sense a great calamity," said she.
Just at that moment people were coming toward the church. Hans hurried up to them, to find out what was the trouble, while Marie waited.
"Where have you been, that you don't know? Why, yonder in the market place the notice was read—'the Emperor is dead!' " they cried.
"The Emperor is dead?"
There stood Hans, paralyzed. All his hopes seemed shattered. As soon as quiet reigned again, he returned to Marie, and seated himself on a bench. Leaning his head in uncontrollable grief against the slender stem of the rose-bush, he moaned aloud: "Oh, my Emperor, my dear, good Emperor, why did you leave me?" Lightly Marie touched his shoulder in sympathy.
The last rays of the setting sun had now departed. The last tones of the dirge had died away. Everything was still and deserted, as if there could never again be spring.
"Oh, Marie!" lamented Hans, hopelessly, "the King will never come again."
"Bear up," said Marie, "for we have each other." And as she gazed far off in the twilight, her eyes seemed like two exiled stars, yearningly seeking their home.
As Hans gazed at her, standing there before him with her hands crossed over her breast, in all her purity and humility, a great joy lit up his countenance. He folded his hands, inspired.
"Marie," he whispered, "let us not despair. In this very moment I have received an inspiration, and if I can bring to pass that which I now see in my mind's eye, I shall be an artist who will need the help of no one—not even an Emperor."
The dawn of the next day found Hans ready to set out on his journey. He carried a knapsack on his back, and on his breast the little leather bag which the Emperor had given him, with the few florins that remained. He closed the door of his little house, put the key into his pocket, and walked slowly off. Loud and clear sounded his rich, soft voice as he sang, "On the rose thorn, on the rose thorn, there my hope is hanging!"
Softly in Marie's house a window was raised, and with a little white handkerchief she gently waved her mute farewell.
Quickly mastering himself, Hans grasped his staff more firmly, and now only his heavy tread echoed through the streets.
Year after year passed. Hans Le Fevre had not been heard from. People thought of him, however, when they passed his house with the front door firmly locked and the shades drawn, and wondered who would next lay claim to it.
Only Marie thought constantly of him, and hoped and waited longingly. No pleading, no scolding, no threats could arouse her. She never left the house, unless it was to visit the rose-bush which she watered and tended so well that it had now grown tall and stately. She knew that the sight of it would cheer his faithful heart on his return. It was the only bond between them. He had planted it with her, and they both loved it. It was almost as high as the niche where it stood, and seemed as if it wished to stretch beyond. Marie bent it and fastened it to the wall with a string, so that its flowering top had to bend beneath the vaulted niche.
These quiet acts were her only joy, her only recreation. In work and prayer she passed her days, and her fresh young cheeks began to pale. Her father noticed the change, but without pity. It was fortunate for her that his busy life took him away from home so often.
Just at this time the people of Breisach desired a new altar for their church. A proclamation was accordingly sent forth to all German artists to compete, by submitting drawings and estimates for the work. To the one who sent the best the contract would be given to carry out the design.
Marie heard little about this, as she seldom came in contact with the people. She lived lonely in her little home. It was now the fifth year since Hans' departure, and long ago his letters had ceased to come, because her father had forbidden any correspondence. Hans had no friends in Breisach through whom he could communicate. But such uncertainty gnaws. Marie was tired of waiting—very tired.
One afternoon she seated herself at her desk and started to write her last wish. Her father was absent, and she was unwatched.
"When I die," she wrote, "I beg you to bury me yonder beside the Cathedral wall, under the rose-bush which I planted in my childhood. Should Hans Le Fevre ever return, I beg you—" she paused, for just then a song, at first soft, then louder, greeted her ears.
No star ever fell from heaven, no swallow ever flew more quickly than flew the maiden to her window, drawn by this call.
In trembling tones the final words of the song died away. Her paper, her ink, her pen, everything had fallen from her in her haste. As a captive bird, freed from its cage, flies forth joyously, so Marie bounded forth from her home. Faster and faster she went, never stopping till she reached the rose-bush. Breathless and with beating heart, she halted. There before her stood Hans Le Fevre.
They seated themselves upon the bench. Long, long they sat silently.
At last Hans said, "My dear, true girl, how pale you have grown. Are you ill?"
She shook her head. "No more, and I trust never again. But you stayed away much too long. Couldn't you have come back sooner?"
"No, my dear, I could not. Had I returned as a poor, struggling carver your father would have banished me from his door-step. We should then have seen each other again, only to be parted for the second time. So I waited till I had accomplished what I set out to do. I have traveled extensively and feasted my eyes on the beautiful works of art in great cities. I have studied under Dürer, and now my name is mentioned with honor as one of Dürer's pupils."
"Oh, Hans, do you really believe that that will soften my father's heart?" said Marie, anxiously.
"Yes, Marie, I don't think that he can fail me. I heard in Nürnberg that a new altar is to be built in this Cathedral, so I hastened here to compete. Should I be deemed worthy to do such a piece of work, what could your father have against me?"
Marie, however, shook her head doubtfully; but Hans was full of hope.
"But see how our rose-bush has grown!" cried Hans in astonishment. "You tended it well; but it seems almost as if the roses had taken from you all your life and strength and health. Return my darling's strength to her," Hans said laughingly; and taking a handful of roses, he softly stroked her face with them; but her cheeks remained white.
"Rejoice, my rosebud, rejoice, my darling, for the spring will soon be here; and with my care you will soon be well."
A half hour later, the beadle walked timidly into the council hall of the high-gabled Council House, and said, "Honored Counselor, will you graciously pardon me, but there is a man without who pressingly begs to be ushered into your presence."
"Who is it?" asked the Counselor.
"It is Hans Le Fevre," answered the beadle, "but he is handsomely attired. I hardly recognized him."
This was a great surprise to all. Hans, the runaway, the tramp, who slipped away by night—whither, no one had learned; and had wandered for years—where, no one knew.
"What does he want?" cried the Counselor.
"He wishes to make inquiry concerning the construction of the altar, and to lay his designs before you."
"What, I should hold conversation with a scamp like that; with a boy who never accomplished anything but what any old cooper could do?" shouted the Counselor. The other wise counselmen fully agreed with him.
"He had better take himself off," was the final decision. "Such a piece of work we will not give to any passing bungler."
The good-natured beadle sadly retraced his steps, after this blunt speech. But he returned immediately, and with a thousand bows, brought with him a large portfolio. Hans followed.
"Hans would not have it otherwise but that the honored gentlemen should look, at least for a moment, upon his designs, and, if the worthy gentlemen are ignorant of what Hans Le Fevre can do, possibly by inquiring of Dürer, in Nurnberg, they would be enlightened."
"If this scamp does not leave instantly," cried the Counselor, "we will have the beadle drag him away."
"If this scamp does not leave instantly we will have the beadle drag him away."
"Easy, easy, Mr. Counselor," said the Mayor (a quiet man, who in the meanwhile had opened the portfolio), "the design does not seem so bad to me. "See! see! ingeniously thought out," cried he.
"But just to design a thing is far easier than to carry it out," said another.
"Hans Le Fevre never did this kind of work before."
"Perhaps he has progressed," remarked the Mayor, "and possibly he would do it cheaper than the renowned Master Artist."
This idea took root. "But," said one, "it would be an unheard of thing to give such an exalted work to a simple boy like Hans Le Fevre, whom everybody knew as a stupid child, and whom we looked upon disdainfully. The appearance of the thing alone would not justify us in selecting him."
But this remark had its good side, too; for the gentlemen now decided that, in order that the work be given to the most competent, it would be advisable to send to Dürer all the designs thus far submitted, and ask his opinion in the matter.
Marie cried bitterly when she heard of the treatment Hans had received; but Hans did not yet despair. At the same time that these worthy gentlemen dispatched the designs to Dürer, Hans sent a letter to his great friend and teacher, in whom he had great faith.
Weeks elapsed. The Counselor's attention was directed to affairs of state, and thus withdrawn from his daughter, who lived and bloomed with the returning spring.
Hans had opened his desolate house, for which, in the meantime, he had carved a beautiful front door. Notwithstanding all the depreciation expressed for the native artist's ability, this door caused quite a sensation.
Dürer's answer was long delayed. At last, after four weeks, the letter arrived. Who can describe the astonishment of the assembled committee, as the contents of the letter revealed the design of the disdainfully rejected applicant, Hans Le Fevre.
Dürer wrote, "With the very best intentions, I could recommend no wiser course for you to pursue than to use the sketch presented by my friend and pupil, Hans Le Fevre; and I will furnish security for the complete execution of his plan. I cannot understand how a town that harbors in its midst such a genius, should look abroad for other artists. Hans Le Fevre is such an honorable lad and such a great artist, that the town of Breisach should be proud to name him as her own, and should do everything in its power to hold him captive; for to Hans the world lies open, and only his attachment to Breisach has moved him to return there once more."
Directly upon receipt of this letter, an unheard of number of villagers crowded the narrow street. Hans, who was working quietly in his shop, ran to the window to see what the noise was about. But lo! the crowd had stopped at his house and loudly did they make the brazen knocker resound, as it struck the carved lion's head upon the door.
Hans came forth, and before him stood a deputation of men in festive attire, followed by a throng of residents.
"What do you desire of me?" asked Hans, surprised.
"Hans Le Fevre," began the speaker, "the honorable Counselor makes known to you that he has finally decided to honor your application, with the instruction that if money be needed for the purchase of materials, application may be made to the clerk of the town."
Hans clapped his hands in glee. "Is it true—is it possible?" said he. "To whom am I indebted for this good fortune?"
"The Council sends you this letter which we will now read before these assembled people." Hans had not noticed in his joy that his neighbor, the Counselor, had angrily closed his windows, as if the praise bestowed upon the young artist might offend his ears.
After the deputation had departed, and Hans found himself alone, he dressed, put a flower in his buttonhole, and walked over to the Counselor's house; for now the moment had arrived when he could prove his worth.
Marie opened the door. A loud cry of joy escaped her, and she ran to her room.
Hans, undaunted, stepped up to her father.
"Hans, undaunted, stepped up to her father."
"What do you wish?" said the Counselor, with flashing eyes.
"I wish first to thank you for your faith in me."
"You need not thank me," interrupted her father. "I did not cast my vote for you."
"So?" said Hans, disappointed. "That was not kind. What did you have to say against me?"
"What, do you still ask the same old question? You well know my opinion of you. You know that I wish my daughter to marry a good and honorable man."
"Well," said Hans, "I know a worthy man and I have come to bring him before you."
"Pray, who can he be?"
"I, worthy Counselor."
"You? Did anyone ever hear such audacity from a beggar boy?"
"Mr. Counselor, I never was a beggar. I was poor, but let that person come before you who dares say he ever gave me a cent. My father supported me until his death, when my mother took up the burden. The only thing I ever received was the King's gift, and for that I never begged. The King gave it to me out of his big heart. His eye could pierce with love the soul of humanity; and in me, a poor boy, he sensed appreciation. Truly, his money has accumulated interest. I am no beggar, Mr. Counselor, and will not tolerate such a speech."
"No, you will not tolerate it;" said he, somewhat calmed. "Where, then, is your wealth?"
"Here," said Hans Le Fevre, and he touched his head and his hands. "I have a thinking head and skilled hands."
"Well, what do you purpose doing?"
"For the next two years I shall be busy with the altar, which will yield me ample means to marry your daughter."
Long and wearily they argued, till Hans felt as if he could control himself no longer.
"O, patience!" he cried, "if it were not that I regard you as something holy, because you are the father of Marie, I would not brook your disdain. A king held the ladder for Dürer, and a Counselor treats his beloved pupil like a rogue. Yonder is a laughing, alluring world. There I have enjoyed all the honors of my calling; and here, in this little dark corner of the earth, I must let myself be trodden upon. All because I bring a ray of sunshine and beauty that hurts your blinded eyes—in short, because I am an artist."
"Go, then, into your artistic world. Why didn't you stay there? Why did you bother to return to this dark corner, as you name it?"
"Because I love your daughter so much, that no sacrifice I could make would be too great."
"Did you for one moment think that I could sink so far as to allow my daughter to marry an artist?"
"Yes, considering the respect I enjoyed."
"Well, I don't care how many times the King held the ladder, or whether or not he cleaned Dürer's shoes, I will hold to this: that as impossible as it is for you to build within the Cathedral an altar that is yet higher than the Cathedral, just so impossible is it for you to marry my daughter, who is so much above you in station."
"Mr. Counselor, is this your last word?" said Hans.
The Counselor laughed scornfully, and said, "Carve an altar that is higher than the church in which it is to stand. Then, and not before then, you may ask for my daughter."
Hans hastened from his presence and turned his steps to the rose-bush. It was a beautiful day. Shadowless the world lay before him. Splendor and glory streamed from the sky. But nature in all her beauty seemed to him, this day, like a disinterested friend, who laughs while another grieves. He seated himself in the niche under the rose-bush, where somehow he always felt the Emperor's presence and influence, and where, too, he always found peace and hope.
But what hope could ever come to him again? Could the bush uproot itself and plead with the Counselor? Could the King, who had never returned in life, return from death to help him? No one could help him, for had not the Counselor taken an oath, that he would not give his daughter to him, unless he built an altar higher than the church in which it should stand. This, of course, was impossible. His overcharged feelings gave vent to tears, and he cried, "My Emperor, my Emperor, why did you desert me?" This time Marie was not at his side to cheer him, and tell him that God would not desert him.
All was still, except the humming of the bees among the roses; and in the distance the birds sang. All of a sudden something struck him in the back. He thought that maybe the Emperor had returned. But what was it but the rose-bush, which by the force of its own weight had loosened itself from the arched wall and had pressed itself outward. For the first time, Hans noticed that the bush had grown much higher than the niche in which it had been planted. As quick as lightning a thought flashed through his brain. What had the rose-bush taught him?
Hans could not see Marie, for her father had sent her far away.
From early morn till late at night Hans worked, without rest or quiet. Neither pleadings nor threats moved him to desist from his labors. He lived like a hermit in his workshop. Two long years had passed; and at last Hans appeared at the Council Chamber and made known the fact that he had accomplished the work assigned him.
Great excitement reigned in Breisach. The Cathedral was locked for three days, during which time the altar was to be placed. Many inquisitive neighbors gathered around the Cathedral to get a glimpse of the work, if possible. But well-wrapped and concealed, Hans brought the pieces, one by one, from his house—and so the excitement grew intenser every moment.
On the fourth day the altar was to be dedicated. Early in the day the people started for the Cathedral. Joyously the big clock resounded. From all sides, by foot and by wagon, the country folk swarmed to see the wonderful work, the talk of the neighborhood for the past two years.
At break of day Hans had hastened to the Cathedral once more to test his work with his critical eye. Just then the bell pealed forth. He dropped his hat, and with folded hands offered a short prayer.
Anyone who has worked for years, in the sweat of his brow, for future and fortune, knows how Hans felt as he stood there in his mute eloquence. His God understood it, too.
Now the crowd surged into the Cathedral, and the critical moment had arrived when the artist gave his work, executed through long, lonely days and nights, freely to the public eye. One last look he cast upon his creation, then he withdrew, and in anxious suspense watched the impression it would make upon the assembled people.
The morning sun sent her full rays directly upon the altar, and an exclamation of astonishment echoed from the high-vaulted roof. Joy and wonder filled each breast. There stood the altar before the people in all its glory. Was it really wood—stiff, hard wood—from which these figures had been carved? Were they not human? And that host of angels that seemed to be singing "Hallelujah," each one so perfectly natural. All figures were life size. The entire work was entwined and crowned with wreaths of artistically carved foliage, the center branch of which reached upward to the arched ceiling.
The untrained eye of the simple villagers could not all at once, drink in such a work. Not one of them had ever beheld the like. They felt there must be some magic in it. They now crowded around the artist, who, modest and deeply affected, felt every eye that beamed upon him.
The Mayor stepped forward and heartily shook him by the hand. Each one followed his example, except the Counselor, who leaned sullenly against a pillar.
Marie, who had been permitted to return for this occasion, stood beside her father, paler than ever, but with a heavenly expression in her charming face.
"Do you not notice that one of the angels on the altar resembles Marie?" said one to the other.
"True it is."
"And that another angel resembles the Emperor Maximilian?" said an old man. Like lightning, this news flew from row to row. Marie and the Emperor had been portrayed.
"Yes, my friends," said Hans, calmly and distinctly, "I did that because I know of nothing more beautiful in the world than the Emperor and Marie. God made people in His image, and the sculptor, who is like a creator, has the right to choose those forms which he feels are most like the Image."
"Well said," echoed from all sides.
Now Hans, with bold strides, neared the bench where the Counselor sat with his daughter.
"I still have something to say to you, and you must hear me. I have fully carried out your behest. Will you now keep your oath? You demanded of me what seemed impossible; namely, 'To build an altar higher than the Church in which it should stand,' and you solemnly vowed, that if I accomplished this, I should wed your daughter. Now, Mr. Counselor, look up. The altar is exactly one foot higher than the Church, and yet it stands within the Church—I have merely bent the top of it."
The Counselor saw it and paled. He had not dreamed of such a thing. It sickened him; but, as Counselor, in all propriety and dignity, he would have to keep his word before these assembled people.
A long pause ensued. Hans kept his patience. Then the Counselor arose, and taking his daughter by the hand, presented her to Hans, saying, "A Counselor should never break his word. There, take my child. You have fulfilled the condition and I keep my vow."
Two young boys hastily brought in some branches from the rose-bush, and wove wreaths for the pair. With loud approval, they crowned the master and his bride. Humbly, Hans removed his crown, and laid it on the altar. "These roses belong to God. With them He saved me. Do you notice, Marie," said he, as he pointed upward to the curved top of the altar, "that's what the rose-bush taught me. To you, Mr. Counselor, I would say that one may bend and still be greater than the one who causes him to stoop."
A few weeks later, Hans and Marie were married at this altar. It was a wedding the elegance of which surprised Breisach. For his work the grateful town had paid Hans a sum of money which, for that period, was a small fortune.
Marie's father paid all the expenses which this occasion demanded. By this time he realized how unreasonable he had been, and did all in his power to make amends. Besides, he now respected his artist son-in-law, and for many years he lived with the couple in peace and happiness.