Amy Steedman

Saint Ursula

Part 2 of 2

But all this while the Prince Conon waited with no little impatience for news of Ursula. He had been baptized and joined the Christian faith, he had sent the companions she desired, and now he waited for her to fulfil her promise.

And ere long a letter reached him, written round and fair in the princess's own handwriting, telling [8] him that as he had so well fulfilled her conditions, and was now her own true knight, she gave him permission to come to her father's court, that they might meet and learn to know each other.

It was but little time that Prince Conon lost before he set sail for Brittany. The great warships made a prosperous voyage over the sea that parted the two countries, and came sailing majestically into the harbour of Brittany, where the people had gathered in crowds to see the young prince who had come to woo their fair princess.

From every window gay carpets were hung, and the town was all in holiday, as Ursula stood on the landing-place, the first to greet the prince as he stepped ashore, and all that Conon had heard of her seemed as nothing compared to the reality, as she stood before him in her great beauty and welcomed him with gentle courtesy. And he grew to love her so truly that he was willing to do in all things as she wished, though he longed for the three years to be over that he might carry her off to England and make her his queen.

But Ursula told the prince of the vision that had come to her in her dream, when the angel had said she must first go through much suffering, and visit the shrines of saints in distant lands. And she told him she could not be happy unless he granted her these three years in which to serve God, and begged him meanwhile to stay with her father and comfort him while she was gone.


[Illustration]

So Ursula set out with her eleven thousand maidens, and the city was left very desolate and [9] forlorn. But the pilgrims were happy as they sailed away over the sea, for they were doing the angel's bidding, and they feared nothing, for they trusted that God would protect and help them.

At first the winds were contrary and they were driven far out of their course, so that instead of arriving at Rome, which was the place they had meant to go to, they were obliged to land at a city called Cologne, where the barbarous Germans lived. Here, while they were resting for a little, another dream was sent to Ursula, and the angel told her that in this very place, on their return, she and all her maidens would suffer death and win their heavenly crowns. This did not affright the princess and her companions, but rather made them rejoice, that they should be found worthy to die for their faith.

So they sailed on up the River Rhine till they could go no further, and they landed at the town of Basle, determined to do the rest of their pilgrimage on foot.

It was a long and tedious journey over the mountains to Italy, and the tender feet of these pilgrims might have found it impossible to climb the rough road had not God sent six angels to help them on their way, to smooth over the rough places, and to help them in all dangers so that no harm could befall them.

First they journeyed past the great lakes where the snow-capped mountains towered in their white glory, then up the mountain-road, ever higher and higher, where the glaciers threatened to sweep down [10] upon them, and the path was crossed by fierce mountain-torrents. But before long they began to descend the further side; and the snow melted in patches and the green grass appeared. Then followed stretches of flowery meadow-land, where the soft southern air whispered to them of the land of sunshine, fruit, and flowers.

Lower down came the little sun-baked Italian villages, and the simple, kindly people who were eager to help the company of maidens in every way, and gazed upon them with reverence when they knew they were on a pilgrimage to Rome.

Thus the pilgrims went onward until at length they came to the River Tiber and entered the city of Rome, where were the shrines of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.

Now the Bishop of Rome, whom men call the Pope, was much troubled when it was told him that a company of eleven thousand fair women had entered his city. He could not understand what it might mean, and was inclined to fear it might be a temptation of the evil one. So he went out to meet them, taking with him all his clergy in a great procession, chanting their hymns as they went.

And soon the two processions met, and what was the amazement and joy of the Pope when a beautiful maiden came and knelt before him and asked for his blessing, telling him why she and her companions had come to Rome.

"Most willingly do I give thee my blessing," answered the old man, "and bid thee and thy companions welcome to my city. My servants shall put [11] up tents for you all in some quiet spot, and ye shall have the best that Rome can afford."

So the maidens rested there in quiet happiness, thankful to have come to the end of their pilgrimage and to have reached the shrines of God's great saints. But to Ursula an added joy was sent which made her happiness complete.

For the prince, whom she had left behind, grew impatient of her long absence, and the longing for his princess grew so strong he felt that he could not stay quietly at home not knowing where she was nor what had befallen her. So he had set out, and, journeying by a different route, had arrived in Rome the same day as Ursula and her maidens were received by the good bishop.

It is easy to picture the delight of Conon and Ursula when they met together again, and knelt hand in hand to receive the Pope's blessing. And when Ursula told him all that had happened and of the angels whom God had sent to guide and protect them, the only desire the prince had was to share her pilgrimage and be near her when danger threatened. And his purpose only became stronger when she told him of the vision she had had in the city of Cologne.

"How can I leave thee, my princess," he asked, "when I have but now found thee? Life holds no pleasure when thou art absent. The days are grey and sunless without the sunshine of thy presence. Bid me come with thee and share thy dangers, and if it be, as thou sayest, that it is God's will that thou and all these maidens shall pass through [12] suffering and death for His sake, then let me too win the heavenly crown that we may praise God together in that country where sorrow and separation can touch us no more."

And Ursula was glad to think that, through love of her, the prince should be led to love God, and so granted his request and bade her companions prepare to set out once more.

The Pope would fain have persuaded them to stop longer in Rome, but Ursula told him of her vision, and how it was time to return as the dream had warned her. Then the Pope and his clergy made up their minds to join the pilgrimage also, that they too might honour God by a martyr's death.

Now there were in Rome at that time two great Roman captains who were cruel heathens, and who looked upon this pilgrimage with alarm and anger. They commanded all the imperial troops in the northern country of Germany; and when they heard that Ursula and her maidens were bound for Cologne they were filled with dismay and wrath. For they said to each other:

"If so many good and beautiful women should reach that heathen land the men there will be captivated by their beauty and wish to marry them. Then, of course, they will all become Christians, and the whole nation will be won over to this new religion."

"We cannot suffer this," was the answer. "Come, let us think of some way to prevent so great a misfortune that would destroy all our power in Germany."

[13] So these two wicked heathen captains agreed to send a letter to the king of the Huns, a fierce savage, who was just then besieging Cologne. In it they told him that thousands of fair women in a great company were on their way to help the city, and if they were allowed to enter all chances of victory for his army would vanish. There was but one thing to be done and that was to kill the entire band of maidens the moment they arrived.

Meanwhile Ursula and her companions had set sail for Cologne, and with them were now Prince Conon and his knights and the Pope with many bishops and cardinals. And after many days of danger and adventure the pilgrims arrived at the city of Cologne.

The army of barbarians who were encamped before the city was amazed to see such a strange company landing from the ships. For first there came the eleven thousand maidens, then a company of young unarmed knights, then a procession of old men richly robed and bearing no weapons of any kind.

For a moment the savage soldiers stood still in amazement, but then, remembering the orders they had received in the letter from the Roman captains, they rushed upon the defenceless strangers and began to slay them without mercy. Prince Conon was the first to fall, pierced by an arrow, at the feet of his princess. Then the knights were slain and the Pope with all his clergy.

Again the savage soldiers paused, and then like a pack of wolves they fell upon the gentle maidens, [14] and these spotless white lambs were slain by thousands.

And in their midst, brave and fearless, was the Princess Ursula, speaking cheerful words of comfort to the dying and bidding one and all rejoice and look forward to the happy meeting in the heavenly country. So great was her beauty and courage that even those wicked soldiers dared not touch her, and at last, when their savage work was done, they took her before their prince that he might decide her fate.

Never before had Ursula's beauty shone forth more wonderfully than it did that day when she stood among these savage men and gazed with steadfast eyes upon the prince, as one might look upon a wild beast.

The prince was amazed and enchanted, for he had never seen so lovely a maid in his life before, and he motioned to the soldiers to bring Ursula nearer to him.

"Do not weep, fair maiden," he said, trying to speak in his gentlest voice, "for though you have lost all your companions you will not be alone. I will be your husband, and you shall be the greatest queen in Germany."

Then most proudly did Ursula draw herself up, and her clear eyes shone with scorn as she answered:

"Does it indeed seem to thee as though I wept? And canst thou believe that I would live when all my dear ones have been slain by thee, thou cruel coward, slayer of defenceless women and unarmed men?"

And when the proud prince heard these scornful [15] words he fell into a furious rage, and, bending the bow that was in his hand, he shot three arrows through the heart of Princess Ursula and killed her instantly.

So the pure soul went to join the companions of her pilgrimage and to receive the crown of life which the angel of her dream had promised her, and for which she had laid down her earthly crown as gladly as when in her peaceful home she laid it aside before she went to rest.