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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Joseph Viktor von Scheffel (1826–1886)

Temporal Power

From “Ekkehard”

“WHERE were we insulted in the person of our servant?” asked the duchess.

“Out upon the fields, by the circle of rocks. They caught him, dragged him to the grave of the Huns, and would have slain him.”

“In the very center of our domain!” The voice of the duchess rang out. “That is too much! Where is our chamberlain? Sir Spazzo, you will ride!”

“We will ride!” said the chamberlain grimly.

“And this very day you will demand tribute, fine, and apology from the Abbot of Reichenau. The temporal power shall not be interfered with by monkish insolence!”

“Not be interfered with by monkish insolence!” repeated Sir Spazzo, waxing still more wroth.

No pleasanter commission could have come to him. He stroked his beard. “We will ride, Sir Abbot!” he said, and went to equip himself.

He did not take his velvet doublet, nor his embroidered cloak. He put on a shabby leather jerkin, buckled on his greaves and heavy spurs, with which he had ridden to battle, and tested the clank of his tread. An iron cap with three large feathers he set upon his head, and girt his great sword about his middle.

Thus he came into the courtyard.

“Consider me a moment, oh, lovely Praxedis!” he said to the duchess’s Greek maid. “What kind of face have I to-day?”

“A most insolent one, Sir Chamberlain,” answered the girl.

“Good!” cried Sir Spazzo, and sprang upon his horse. He rode out of the gate with a flying of sparks, filled by the joyous thought that, for once, insolence and duty were identical.

He practised manners on the way. A fallen fir-tree blocked his path. “Out of the way, monkish clod!” The clod did not move. Sir Spazzo drew his sword. “Forward, Falada!” The horse jumped the tree. Sir Spazzo made the twigs fly with his sword.

An hour and a half and he was at the convent gate. Sir Spazzo swung down from his horse….

Across the court he came to the inner door. The gong was sounding for the midday meal. Swiftly one of the friars crossed the yard. Sir Spazzo grasped the monk’s habit, and that not gently.

“Call me down the abbot!” he commanded.

The monk, surprised, glanced at the stranger’s shabby apparel. “It is meal-time. If you are invited, but——”

A fist flew into the brother’s face; the brother flew to the ground, and the sunlight shone upon his tonsure.

The abbot had heard that his men had laid violent hands upon the duchess’s serf. He heard the tumult in the cloister court, saw pious Brother Yvo gyrating in the sun, and drew conclusions. “Happy is he,” sings Vergil, “who understands the hidden causes of things.” Abbot Wazmann discerned these causes. He had seen the nodding plumes of Spazzo’s head-gear from afar.

“Call down the abbot!”

The resonance of the voice made the windows rattle. The soup grew cold, but they in the refectory determined at last to eat without the abbot.

Shyly a monk came to the abbot’s chamber.

“You are to come down,” he said softly. “The man below rages and storms.”

The abbot turned to Rudimann, the cellarer:

“’Tis vile weather at the castle. I know the chamberlain. He is the duchess’s weather-cock. If she smiles, he laughs; when the clouds gather on her forehead, he thunders and lightens——”

“And strikes,” added Rudimann.

A heavy tread sounded in the passage.

“No time to be lost,” said the abbot. “Rudimann, gird your loins. Go to the castle, and convey our apology to the duchess. Take silver pence from our treasury as a present for the injured man, and say that we will pray for his recovery.”

“It will not be easy,” said Rudimann; “she is very violent.”

“Take her a present,” said the abbot. “Women and children are easily dazzled.”

The door flew open, and Sir Spazzo appeared.

“By the life of my duchess!” he cried, “has the abbot lead in his ears, or gout in his feet? Why did you not come out to receive your guest?”

“We were taken by surprise,” said the abbot. “You are welcome!” He raised his hand in blessing.

“I need no welcome,” answered Sir Spazzo. “The devil is this day’s patron saint. We have been injured, mightily injured! We require a fine—two hundred silver marks at least. Let us have it! Death and damnation! The temporal power shall not be interfered with by monkish insolence! We are here as ambassador!”

His spurs rang on the floor.

“Your pardon,” said the abbot, “a leather jerkin hardly revealed the ducal ambassador.”

“By the dress of camel-hair worn by John the Baptist! had I come in my shirt I should have been all too fine for your cowls.”

He put on his helmet. The plumes nodded. “Pay, that I may depart! The air is bad here—bad, very bad!”

“Permit me,” said the abbot, “we let no one depart in wrath. You are severe, being empty. Partake of our repast. After that, business.”

To be invited to dinner as a reward for one’s rudeness made some impression on the chamberlain. He took his helmet off. “The temporal power shall not be interfered with by monkish insolence.” The abbot pointed through an open door. A rosy boy was turning a spit, and smacked his lips, for the rich scent of the roast made his mouth water. Covered dishes stood mysteriously in the background. A monk came from the cellar bearing a huge tankard. The sight was too alluring. Sir Spazzo forgot his official frown and accepted the invitation.

At the third dish his insolence grew milder. The red Meersburger wine conquered any remnants of it. The red Meersburger was good….

The red Meersburger was good. Sir Spazzo considered it no light matter to sit over his wine. He drank with obduracy, sat on his bench as though cast of iron, drank like a man—not with the carelessness of youth, but seriously and deep.

“This wine is the most sensible thing about the convent,” he had said when the first tankard showed bottom. “Presumably you have more.” This was an overture of peace. The second tankard came. He drank to the abbot. “The temporal power shall not be interfered with!”

“It shall not,” said the abbot, with a side glance.

The fifth hour of afternoon came, and a little bell rang in the cloister. “Your pardon,” said the abbot, “it is the vesper hour. Will you pray with us?”

“I prefer to await you here.” In the tankard’s deep cavity the wine stood high.

Another hour passed. Sir Spazzo tried to recall the reason of his presence in the convent, and failed.

The abbot returned. “How did you pass the time?”

“Well!” said Sir Spazzo. The tankard was empty.

“I do not know—” began the abbot.

“Surely!” said Sir Spazzo, and nodded vigorously. Then came another tankard.

The red wine shone like fiery gold. An aureole glimmered about the abbot’s head, Sir Spazzo thought. “By the life of the duchess,” he said, “who are you?”

“I beg your pardon?” said the abbot.

The chamberlain recognized the voice. “Aha!” his fist thundered on the table, “the temporal power shall not be interfered with by monkish insolence!”

“Of course not,” said the abbot.

The chamberlain felt a shooting pain in his forehead. He called it his “wakener.” It came with wine; once, and his tongue was paralyzed; twice, and he lost his power of movement. Sir Spazzo rose. “The monks shall not see the tongue or legs of a ducal servant conquered by their wine,” said he to himself. He stood squarely on his feet.

“Hold!” said the abbot, “a stirrup-cup!”

Still another tankard came. As Sir Spazzo tried to put it down, he stood it up serenely in mid-air. The tankard smashed down upon the floor. He clutched at the abbot’s goblet, and emptied that.

A sweet smile enwreathed the chamberlain’s lips. He embraced the abbot.

“Friend, brother, beloved old wine-barrel, how would you like me to poke you in the eye?” His tongue struggled, stammered, refused to move. He hugged the abbot closely, treading, booted and spurred, as he was, upon reverend toes.

The abbot had been about to offer Sir Spazzo shelter for the night. The embrace changed his purpose….

Sir Spazzo’s horse stood in the courtyard. He mounted, then slipped off. At last he sat in the saddle. He pressed his helmet on his head, and grasped his reins. He fought his helpless tongue. For a moment he recovered his power of speech, and, dashing through the gate, he roared:

“The temporal power shall not be interfered with by monkish insolence!”