Gudrun - George Upton

Gudrun's Test

Many months passed during which Hartmut omitted no proof of devotion to his fair captive, but never did the King's daughter cease to think of him whose ring of gold she wore upon her finger.

One day Gerlinda said to Gudrun in the presence of her son: "When wilt thou relent, perverse one? Delay no longer, but give thy hand to Hartmut, for, of a truth, he is the peer of any king alive!"

For answer Gudrun turned toward her and asked: "Wouldst thou, Lady Gerlinda, take for thy husband one who had caused the death of so many of thine own people?"

Gerlinda, knowing how her son's heart was set on Gudrun, replied: "Nay, dwell not on what is past, thou foolish maid! Wed him who loves thee well, and gladly will I yield to thee my crown."

Gudrun's eyes filled with tears and her cheeks grew red, as she answered:

"Can there be love where treacherous deeds

Of bloody crimes have sown the seeds?

The bitter tears mine eyes so drown,

They dim the glitter of a crown.

For freedom thirsts my soul for aye,

Of freedom dream I night and day:

Naught but a captive I'll remain,

Nor wed him whom my sire hath slain!"

She left the hall weeping.

Hartmut sprang up angrily, saying: "Enough of this! Since she ever doth scorn me, I will no longer show her favor!"

This filled Gerlinda with secret joy, for now at least she thought the haughty princess would be in her power, and following Hartmut she said to him: "My son, 'tis beyond thy skill to deal with Gudrun. So stubborn a child can be brought to better ways only by those of more experience. Leave her to me and thou shalt soon find her pride humbled."

"Heaven grant it!" cried Hartmut. "Easily might I force her to be mine, yet my heart rebels against such harshness."

"Trust me,—all shall be as thou dost wish," replied Gerlinda, eagerly.

"Fail not to deal with her as becomes her rank," he continued, "and forget not that the poor maid hath had much cause for grief!"

The next morning Hartmut took leave of his parents and left the court, but ere he departed he sought his mother once more and charged her to treat Gudrun kindly. Then he rode forth with his followers to drown remembrance of his love and sorrow in the dangers of battle, bearing with him the hope that Gudrun's heart would turn to him at last. Had he but known the evil thoughts in Gerlinda's mind, he would never have departed. Scarcely was he out of sight, however, when the Queen gave full vent to her malice. Seeking Gudrun, she said to her: "Since thou dost scorn the love and favor of a King, forsooth, thou shalt do menial service and taste beggar's fare!

"Alas!" replied Gudrun, "I am at thy mercy and must bear whate'er thou dost inflict on me. But know this, Queen! that naught shall avail to shake my loyalty."

"Then," continued Gerlinda, "shall thy maidens also serve as drudges for the sake of thy loyalty: heat the ovens, carry wood, and sweep up dust and litter. Oh, I will soon bend thy stubborn pride, I promise thee!"

Gudrun was greatly distressed that her maidens, who were all of noble birth, should be made to suffer for her sake, but she was powerless to prevent it.

What the Queen had threatened soon came to pass. Gudrun was separated from her companions and forced to perform the lowest tasks, but when Gerlinda one day asked her mockingly how her life at the court now pleased her, she replied simply: "The good God who gave me constancy, granted me also the strength to bear the undeserved trouble it hath brought upon me."

Thus three years went by, and Hartmut returned at last from his wanderings, rich in fame and honors. Full of hope, he rode joyfully into the castle; but what was his horror to behold the high-born princess in the garb of a menial!

"Alas! my mother, what hast thou done?" he cried, and giving his hand to Gudrun, he said sorrowfully: "Believe me, most noble maiden, 'tis through no fault of mine that this shame hath be fallen thee! Yet wilt thou but look upon my suit with favor, then all thy sorrow shall be turned to joy."

But Gudrun answered: "Already have I made it plain to thee that my heart is his to whom my vows are plighted. Go! leave me to the misery thine honor should have spared me!"

Then Hartmut reminded her of his rescue of her from the water at peril of his life, as proof of his devotion. "And wilt thou leave such love still unrewarded?" he asked.

"Was it not thou," replied Gudrun, "that tore me from my home and all I loved? Didst thou not slay my father? And yet for all these wrongs thou dost expect my thanks?"

"Have it as thou wilt, then!" he cried angrily, "and abide in thy misery! 'Twas no act of mine that brought it upon thee, yet it wellnigh seems thou dost deserve thy shame!"

But it was not long till his love for Gudrun again awoke, and he determined to make one more effort to win her heart.