Called the "Swallow's Nest" and "The Brothers,"
as Condensed from the Captain's Tale
In the neighborhood of three hundred years ago the Swallow's
Nest and the larger castle between it and Neckarsteinach
were owned and occupied by two old knights who were
twin brothers, and bachelors. They had no relatives.
They were very rich. They had fought through the wars
and retired to private life--covered with honorable scars.
They were honest, honorable men in their dealings,
but the people had given them a couple of nicknames which
were very suggestive--Herr Givenaught and Herr Heartless.
The old knights were so proud of these names that if
a burgher called them by their right ones they would
The most renowned scholar in Europe, at the time, was the
Herr Doctor Franz Reikmann, who lived in Heidelberg.
All Germany was proud of the venerable scholar, who lived
in the simplest way, for great scholars are always poor.
He was poor, as to money, but very rich in his sweet
young daughter Hildegarde and his library. He had been
all his life collecting his library, book and book,
and he lived it as a miser loves his hoarded gold.
He said the two strings of his heart were rooted,
the one in his daughter, the other in his books; and that
if either were severed he must die. Now in an evil hour,
hoping to win a marriage portion for his child, this simple
old man had entrusted his small savings to a sharper to be
ventured in a glittering speculation. But that was not
the worst of it: he signed a paper--without reading it.
That is the way with poets and scholars; they always sign
without reading. This cunning paper made him responsible
for heaps of things. The rest was that one night he
found himself in debt to the sharper eight thousand
pieces of gold!--an amount so prodigious that it simply
stupefied him to think of it. It was a night of woe in
"I must part with my library--I have nothing else.
So perishes one heartstring," said the old man.
"What will it bring, father?" asked the girl.
"Nothing! It is worth seven hundred pieces of gold;
but by auction it will go for little or nothing."
"Then you will have parted with the half of your heart
and the joy of your life to no purpose, since so mighty
of burden of debt will remain behind."
"There is no help for it, my child. Our darlings must
pass under the hammer. We must pay what we can."
"My father, I have a feeling that the dear Virgin will
come to our help. Let us not lose heart."
"She cannot devise a miracle that will turn NOTHING into
eight thousand gold pieces, and lesser help will bring
us little peace."
"She can do even greater things, my father. She will
save us, I know she will."
Toward morning, while the old man sat exhausted and asleep
in his chair where he had been sitting before his books
as one who watches by his beloved dead and prints the
features on his memory for a solace in the aftertime
of empty desolation, his daughter sprang into the room
and gently woke him, saying--
"My presentiment was true! She will save us.
Three times has she appeared to me in my dreams, and said,
'Go to the Herr Givenaught, go to the Herr Heartless,
ask them to come and bid.' There, did I not tell you she
would save us, the thrice blessed Virgin!"
Sad as the old man was, he was obliged to laugh.
"Thou mightest as well appeal to the rocks their
castles stand upon as to the harder ones that lie
in those men's breasts, my child. THEY bid on books
writ in the learned tongues!--they can scarce read their own."
But Hildegarde's faith was in no wise shaken.
Bright and early she was on her way up the Neckar road,
as joyous as a bird.
Meantime Herr Givenaught and Herr Heartless were having
an early breakfast in the former's castle--the Sparrow's
Nest--and flavoring it with a quarrel; for although
these twins bore a love for each other which almost
amounted to worship, there was one subject upon which they
could not touch without calling each other hard names--
and yet it was the subject which they oftenest touched upon.
"I tell you," said Givenaught, "you will beggar yourself
yet with your insane squanderings of money upon
what you choose to consider poor and worthy objects.
All these years I have implored you to stop this foolish
custom and husband your means, but all in vain.
You are always lying to me about these secret benevolences,
but you never have managed to deceive me yet. Every time
a poor devil has been set upon his feet I have detected
your hand in it--incorrigible ass!"
"Every time you didn't set him on his feet yourself,
you mean. Where I give one unfortunate a little private lift,
you do the same for a dozen. The idea of YOUR swelling
around the country and petting yourself with the nickname
of Givenaught--intolerable humbug! Before I would be
such a fraud as that, I would cut my right hand off.
Your life is a continual lie. But go on, I have tried MY
best to save you from beggaring yourself by your riotous
charities--now for the thousandth time I wash my hands
of the consequences. A maundering old fool! that's
what you are."
"And you a blethering old idiot!" roared Givenaught,
"I won't stay in the presence of a man who has no more
delicacy than to call me such names. Mannerless swine!"
So saying, Herr Heartless sprang up in a passion.
But some lucky accident intervened, as usual, to change
the subject, and the daily quarrel ended in the customary
daily living reconciliation. The gray-headed old
eccentrics parted, and Herr Heartless walked off to his
Half an hour later, Hildegarde was standing in the presence
of Herr Givenaught. He heard her story, and said--
"I am sorry for you, my child, but I am very poor,
I care nothing for bookish rubbish, I shall not be there."
He said the hard words kindly, but they nearly broke poor
Hildegarde's heart, nevertheless. When she was gone
the old heartbreaker muttered, rubbing his hands--
"It was a good stroke. I have saved my brother's pocket
this time, in spite of him. Nothing else would have
prevented his rushing off to rescue the old scholar,
the pride of Germany, from his trouble. The poor child
won't venture near HIM after the rebuff she has received
from his brother the Givenaught."
But he was mistaken. The Virgin had commanded,
and Hildegarde would obey. She went to Herr Heartless
and told her story. But he said coldly--
"I am very poor, my child, and books are nothing to me.
I wish you well, but I shall not come."
When Hildegarde was gone, he chuckled and said--
"How my fool of a soft-headed soft-hearted brother would
rage if he knew how cunningly I have saved his pocket.
How he would have flown to the old man's rescue! But the
girl won't venture near him now."
When Hildegarde reached home, her father asked her how she
had prospered. She said--
"The Virgin has promised, and she will keep her word;
but not in the way I thought. She knows her own ways,
and they are best."
The old man patted her on the head, and smiled a doubting
smile, but he honored her for her brave faith, nevertheless.
Next day the people assembled in the great hall
of the Ritter tavern, to witness the auction--for
the proprietor had said the treasure of Germany's most
honored son should be bartered away in no meaner place.
Hildegarde and her father sat close to the books,
silent and sorrowful, and holding each other's hands.
There was a great crowd of people present. The bidding began--
"How much for this precious library, just as it stands,
all complete?" called the auctioneer.
"Fifty pieces of gold!"
A brief pause.
A longer pause, while the auctioneer redoubled his persuasions.
A heavy drag--the auctioneer persuaded, pleaded,
implored--it was useless, everybody remained silent--
"Well, then--going, going--one--two--"
"Five hundred and fifty!"
This in a shrill voice, from a bent old man, all hung
with rags, and with a green patch over his left eye.
Everybody in his vicinity turned and gazed at him.
It was Givenaught in disguise. He was using a disguised
"Good!" cried the auctioneer. "Going, going--one--two--"
"Five hundred and sixty!"
This, in a deep, harsh voice, from the midst of the
crowd at the other end of the room. The people near
by turned, and saw an old man, in a strange costume,
supporting himself on crutches. He wore a long white beard,
and blue spectacles. It was Herr Heartless, in disguise,
and using a disguised voice.
"Good again! Going, going--one--"
Sensation. The crowd raised a cheer, and some one
cried out, "Go it, Green-patch!" This tickled the audience
and a score of voices shouted, "Go it, Green-patch!"
"Going--going--going--third and last call--one--two--"
"Huzzah!--well done, Crutches!" cried a voice. The crowd
took it up, and shouted altogether, "Well done, Crutches!"
"Splendid, gentlemen! you are doing magnificently.
"Three cheers for Green-patch! Up and at him, Crutches!"
And while the people cheered and shouted, "Crutches" muttered,
"Who can this devil be that is fighting so to get these
useless books?--But no matter, he sha'n't have them.
The pride of Germany shall have his books if it beggars
me to buy them for him."
"Going, going, going--"
"Come, everybody--give a rouser for Green-patch!"
And while they did it, "Green-patch" muttered, "This cripple
is plainly a lunatic; but the old scholar shall have
his books, nevertheless, though my pocket sweat for it."
"We are saved, father! I told you the Holy Virgin
would keep her word!" "Blessed be her sacred name!"
said the old scholar, with emotion. The crowd roared,
"Huzza, huzza, huzza--at him again, Green-patch!"
"TEN thousand!" As Givenaught shouted this, his excitement
was so great that he forgot himself and used his
natural voice. He brother recognized it, and muttered,
under cover of the storm of cheers--
"Aha, you are there, are you, besotted old fool? Take
the books, I know what you'll do with them!"
So saying, he slipped out of the place and the auction was
at an end. Givenaught shouldered his way to Hildegarde,
whispered a word in her ear, and then he also vanished.
The old scholar and his daughter embraced, and the former said,
"Truly the Holy Mother has done more than she promised,
child, for she has give you a splendid marriage portion--
think of it, two thousand pieces of gold!"
"And more still," cried Hildegarde, "for she has give
you back your books; the stranger whispered me that he
would none of them--'the honored son of Germany must
keep them,' so he said. I would I might have asked
his name and kissed his hand and begged his blessing;
but he was Our Lady's angel, and it is not meet that we
of earth should venture speech with them that dwell above."