|The Rusty Knight
Richard von Volkmann-Leander
Once there was a very rich and noble knight who lived a luxurious life but he was proud and he had
no heart for the poor. Therefore God punished him by letting one side of him rust. His left arm
rusted as well as his left leg; and likewise his body down to his waist. But his face remained intact. He
wore a glove on his left hand but had it sewed tight around his wrist. He did not remove it during the
day or at night so that no one would see how rusted he was. Then a change came over him and he
wanted to start his life all over again. He broke off with his old friends and drinking comrades and
married a beautiful, devout woman. She had heard some disquieting stories about her husband, the
knight, but because his face was in no way deformed she thought, when she was alone and recalled
the stories, that they were only half true. And when they were both together talking she never gave
those stories a thought. She would not have married him if the stories were true. But after the
wedding, on the very first night, she noticed why he never removed the glove from his left hand and
she trembled with fear. But she did not show that she had noticed anything, but instead told her
husband the next morning that she wanted to go out to the little chapel in the woods to pray. An
old hermit lived in a cell beside the chapel. In earlier times he had lived in Jerusalem and he was so
holy now that people from far and wide made pilgrimages to the chapel and the cell where he lived.
The knight's wife thought this holy man might be able to help her.
When she had told the hermit everything he went to the chapel and prayed to the Virgin Mary for a
long time, and when he came back he said: "You will be able to save your husband but it will be
difficult. And if you make a start and do not carry through to the end, you yourself will start to rust.
Your husband has dealt quite unjustly all his life, he has been proud and hard-hearted towards the
poor: if you are willing to go begging for him, bare-footed and in rags like the poorest beggar, and if
you persevere until you have collected one hundred gold guilders your husband will be redeemed.
Then you must take him by the hand and go into a church and place the hundred gold guilders in the
poorbox. If you do that God will forgive you husband's sins, the rust will disappear and his skin will
be just as it was before."
"Yes, I will do that", said the knight's wife, "even though it will be difficult and take so long. I want to
make amends for my husband, for he has rusted only on the outside, I am quite sure of that!"
With that she left the hermit and walked into the woods and before long she met an old woman who
was looking for brushwood. She was wearing a dirty, ragged skirt and a coat over it that was
checkered with patches and she looked like a map of the Holy Roman Empire. One could not be sure
what real colors of the patches were for rain and sunshine had done so much damage to the coat.
"Would you be so kind as to give me your jacket and your coat, Mother", said the knight's wife. "I will
give you all the money I have in my purse and the silk clothes I am wearing, for I want to be poor."
The old woman looked at her with amazement and said:
"Yes, I will, gladly, my virtuous daughter, if you really mean it. I have seen a lot of the world and met
many people who wanted to be rich, but that someone would want to be poor, that I find hard to
understand. You will have a hard time of it with your tender hands and your sweet face!"
But the knight's wife had already begun to take off her clothes and was so earnest and sad while
doing so that the old woman could not help but realize that she was indeed very sincere. So she
gave her her jacket and coat, helped her put them on and then asked:
"What do you want to do now, my virtuous little daughter?"
"Beg, Mother!" answered the knight's wife.
"Beg? Do not be troubled by it, it is no disgrace. At heaven's gate there are many who will have to
beg because they never did it while they lived.— ”But first I want to teach you the beggar's song:
To beg and to loiter,
To hunger and thirst
Always and everywhere
T'is what a beggar must!
Of what you have,
Give some to me,
Ah, just a morsel!
Some bread for my sack
Some soup in my cup!--
Knapsack of leather,
Jackets with frills
T'is what we wear!—kl
What we begged for,
Make we merry with!"
"Now isn't that a nice song?" said the old woman. Then she quickly put on her satin dress, sprang
into the bushes and was soon out of sight.
But the knight's wife made her way through the woods and after a while she met a farmer who was
out looking for a servant girl to help on the farm for it was harvest time and, what is more, a time of
want. The knight's wife remained standing there, held her hand out and said: "Have you something
for me, pray, just a little something!" But she did not recite the other verses because she did not like
them. The farmer looked at the woman and saw, in spite of her rags, that she was neat and healthy
and he asked if she would like to help on the farm.
"For Easter I will give you a cake, for St. Martin's Day a goose and for Christmas a thaler and a new
dress. Would you be satisfied with that?"
"No", replied the knight's wife, "I must be a beggar; the Good Lord wants it that way."
With that the farmer flew into a rage, scolded and insulted her and said jeeringly:
"The Good Lord wants it that way! And you believe that? Did you happen to have dinner with him?
Yes? Lentils and sausages, wasn't it? Or are you perhaps his aunt and know exactly what he wants?
You are just a lazy good-for-nothing. Always avoiding work, would rather beg! Having said that he
went his way and left her standing there and gave her nothing. Then she began to understand how
difficult begging can be.
She kept on her way and after a little while she came to a place where the road divided and where
there were two great stones. On the one sat a beggar holding his crutch. Because the knight's wife
was so tired she wanted to sit down for a moment on the vacant stone and rest. Hardly had she
done so when the beggar hit her with his crutch and shouted:
"See to it that you get out of here, you lazy Susan! Do you want to chase away my customers, you,
with your rags and your sugar-sweet face? I have claimed this place for myself. Hurry up or I'll show
you how I can make your back serve as a weird violin and how I will use my crutch on as a bow!"
The knight's wife took a deep breath, got up and walked on as far away as her feet would take her.
Finally she reached a town she had never heard of before. She stayed there, found a place in a lane
that led to the church where she could sit and beg for alms. At night she slept on the steps leading
up to the church. Day after day she went on living like that. Some passer-by would give her a penny,
someone else a heller; other people refused to give her anything or they might even take to scolding
her like the farmer had done. It would take a long time to collect a hundred gold guilders. After she
had been begging for nine months she had only one guilder to show for. But on the very day she
had finally got that first guilder she gave birth to a little baby boy whom she called "Alliswell", for she
went on hoping that she could make amends for her husband. From the bottom of her coat she tore
a strip of cloth wide enough to wrap her baby in, but then her coat only reached down to her knees.
She would hold her child on her lap and go on begging. And when the baby was unable to sleep she
would rock it and sing:
"Go to sleep on my lap,
Poor little beggar babe,
In a castle your father lives--
And outside blows the wind.
Of velvet and silk his dress,
Drinks wine, eats white bread,
And if he could see us here,
Would touch him to the heart.
He need not worry
You lie soft and warm;
He is so much poorer,
Lord have mercy!"
People would often stop and look at the poor beggar woman with her sweet baby and they would
always give her a bit more than they had before. She was now in good spirits and no longer cried
because she knew that she could redeem her husband if she would just keep on.—
But the knight in his castle, when his wife never came home, was deeply saddened and said to
himself: She knew what happened to me and for that reason she left me. And then he went to the
woods and asked the hermit if she had come to the chapel to pray. But the hermit had no time for
him and said with a brusque voice:
"Have you not been living the high life? What about your pride and hardheartedness toward the
poor? And has God not punished you by letting you rust? Your wife treated you justly by leaving
you. One must not put a good apple and a rotten one in the same box for the good ones will rot
along with the bad.
Then the knight sat down on the ground, took off his helmet and wept bitterly.
When the hermit saw that, his voice became friendlier and he said: "Now that I see that your heart
has not rusted along with your body, I want to give you some advice: Be good to people and visit all
the churches and you will find your wife again."
And now the knight left his castle and rode from one town to the next. Wherever he found poor
people he gave them alms and when he saw a church he went in and knelt down to pray. But he
never found his wife. Almost a year had passed before he entered the town where his wife was
sitting in the lane leading to the church begging, and the first thing he did was to go into that
church. Even from the distance his wife recognized him for he was a sturdy man and stately and he
wore a golden helmet with a vulture's claw on its knob that shone for all to see. She was afraid now
because she had only collected two gold guilders and so she would not yet be able to redeem him.
She pulled her coat up over her head so he would not notice her and crouched so that he would not
happen to see her snow white feet; for her coat only reached down to her knees ever since she had
shortened it. But as her husband was walking past her he heard her quiet sobbing and when he saw
her ragged and patched coat and the lovely little child on her lap, also wrapped in rags, it hurt him to
the heart. He went over to her and asked what she needed. But she did not answer and sobbed all
the more in spite of her attempts to hide it. The knight, however, took out his purse in which he had
much more than a hundred guilders, laid it on her lap and said: "I want to give you everything I have,
even if I have to beg until I get back home."
Then, without her wishing it, the coat she had over her head slid off and the knight saw that it was
his wife to whom he had given the money. In spite of her rags he embraced and kissed her and when
he found out that the baby was his son he took it into his arms and kissed it too. Then the woman
took her husband, the knight, by the hand, led him into the church and placed the money on the
poorbox. Then she said: "I wanted to redeem you, but you have redeemed yourself."
That is how the story ended; for when the knight left the church the curse was lifted and the rust
that covered his left side disappeared. He lifted his wife and the child onto his horse and he walked
along beside them, and together they went back to the castle where they lived many a happy year
together and did so many good works and they were praised from all sides.
The knight hung the beggar's clothing that his wife had worn in a precious shrine and every morning
when he arose he went to the shrine, looked at the rags and said: "That is my morning devotion and
I am sure the Good Lord approves and knows what I mean by it, and afterwards I will go to church
|Reveries at French Firesides