| Otto of the Silver Hand|
|by Howard Pyle|
|A stirring tale of medieval Germany in the days of robber barons and deadly feuds. The kidnapping of Otto, his adventures among the rough soldiers, and his daring rescue, make for a spirited and thrilling story. The author says of his tale that it 'is of a little boy who lived and suffered in those dark middle ages; of how he saw both the good and the bad of men, and of how, by gentleness and love and not by strife and hatred, he came at last to stand above other men and to be looked up to by all.' Vigorous illustrations by the author add much to the interest of the book. Ages 11-14 |
HOW OTTO DWELT AT ST. MICHAELSBURG
O the poor, little, motherless waif lived among the old monks at the White Cross on the hill, thriving and
growing apace until he had reached eleven or twelve years of age; a slender, fair- haired little fellow, with
a strange, quiet, serious manner.
"Poor little child!" Old Brother Benedict would sometimes say to the others, "poor little child! The troubles
in which he was born must have broken his wits like a glass
 cup. What think ye he said to me to-day? 'Dear Brother Benedict,' said he, 'dost thou shave the hair off of
the top of thy head so that the dear God may see thy thoughts the better?' Think of that now!" and the good
old man shook with silent laughter.
When such talk came to the good Father Abbot's ears, he smiled quietly to himself. "It may be," said he, "that
the wisdom of little children flies higher than our heavy wits can follow."
At least Otto was not slow with his studies, and Brother Emmanuel, who taught him his lessons, said more than
once that, if his wits were cracked in other ways, they were sound enough in Latin.
Otto, in a quaint, simple way which belonged to him, was gentle and obedient to all. But there was one among
the Brethren of St. Michaelsburg whom he loved far above all the rest—Brother John, a poor half-witted fellow,
of some twenty-five or thirty years of age. When a very little child, he had fallen from his nurse's arms and
hurt his head, and as he grew up into boyhood, and showed that his wits had been addled by his fall, his
family knew not what else to do with him, and so sent him off to the Monastery of St. Michaelsburg, where he
lived his simple, witless life upon a sort of sufferance, as though he were a tame, harmless animal.
While Otto was still a little baby, he had been given into Brother John's care. Thereafter, and until Otto had
grown old enough to care for himself, poor Brother John
 never left his little charge, night or day. Oftentimes the good Father Abbot, coming into the garden, where he
loved to walk alone in his meditations, would find the poor, simple Brother sitting under the shade of the
pear-tree, close to the bee-hives, rocking the little baby in his arms, singing strange, crazy songs to it,
and gazing far away into the blue, empty sky with his curious, pale eyes.
Although, as Otto grew up into boyhood, his lessons and his tasks separated him from Brother John, the bond
between them seemed to grow stronger rather than weaker. During the hours that Otto had for his own they were
scarcely ever apart. Down in the vineyard, where the monks were gathering the grapes for the vintage, in the
garden, or in the fields, the two were always seen together, either wandering hand in hand, or seated in some
shady nook or corner.
But most of all they loved to lie up in the airy wooden belfry; the great gaping bell hanging darkly above
them, the mouldering cross-beams glimmering far up under the dim shadows of the roof, where dwelt a great
brown owl that, unfrightened at their familiar presence, stared down at them with his round, solemn eyes.
Below them stretched the white walls of the garden, beyond them the vineyard, and beyond that again the far
shining river, that seemed to Otto's mind to lead into wonder-land. There the two would lie upon the belfry
floor by the hour, talking together of the strangest things.
THE POOR, SIMPLE BROTHER SITTING UNDER THE PEAR-TREE,
CLOSE TO THE BEE-HIVES, ROCKING THE LITTLE BABY IN HIS ARMS.
 "I saw the dear Angel Gabriel again yester morn," said Brother John.
"So!" says Otto, seriously; "and where was that?"
"It was out in the garden, in the old apple-tree," said Brother John. "I was walking there, and my wits were
running around in the grass like a mouse. What heard I but a wonderful sound of singing, and it was like the
hum of a great bee, only sweeter than honey. So I looked up into the tree, and there I saw two sparks. I
thought at first that they were two stars that had fallen out of heaven; but what think you they were, little
"I do not know," said Otto, breathlessly.
"They were angel's eyes," said Brother John; and he smiled in the strangest way, as he gazed up into the blue
sky. "So I looked at the two sparks and felt happy, as one does in spring time when the cold weather is gone,
and the warm sun shines, and the cuckoo sings again. Then, by-and-by, I saw the face to which the eyes
belonged. First, it shone white and thin like the moon in the daylight; but it grew brighter and brighter,
until it hurt one's eyes to look at it, as though it had been the blessed sun itself. Angel Gabriel's hand was
as white as silver, and in it he held a green bough with blossoms, like those that grow on the thorn bush. As
for his robe, it was all of one piece, and finer than the Father Abbot's linen, and shone beside like the
sunlight on pure snow. So I knew from all these things that it was the blessed Angel Gabriel."
 " 'What do they say about this tree, Brother John?' said he to me.
" 'They say it is dying, my Lord Angel,' said I, 'and that the gardener will bring a sharp axe and cut it down.'
" 'And what dost thou say about it, Brother John?' said he.
" 'I also say yes, and that it is dying,' said I.
"At that he smiled until his face shone so bright that I had to shut my eyes."
" 'Now I begin to believe, Brother John, that thou art as foolish as men say,' said he. 'Look, till I show
thee.' And thereat I opened mine eyes again.
"Then Angel Gabriel touched the dead branches with the flowery twig that he held in his hand, and there was
the dead wood all covered with green leaves, and fair blossoms and beautiful apples as yellow as gold. Each
smelling more sweetly than a garden of flowers, and better to the taste than white bread and honey.
" 'They are souls of the apples,' said the good Angel, 'and they can never wither and die.'
" 'Then I'll tell the gardener that he shall not cut the tree down,' said I.
" 'No, no,' said the dear Gabriel, 'that will never do, for if the tree is not cut down here on the earth, it
can never be planted in paradise.' "
Here Brother John stopped short in his story, and began
 singing one of his crazy songs, as he gazed with his pale eyes far away into nothing at all.
"But tell me, Brother John," said little Otto, in a hushed voice, "what else did the good Angel say to thee?"
Brother John stopped short in his song and began looking from right to left, and up and down, as though to
gather his wits.
"So!" said he, "there was something else that he told me. Tschk! If I could but think now. Yes, good! This is
it—'Nothing that has lived,' said he, 'shall ever die, and nothing that has died shall ever
Otto drew a deep breath. "I would that I might see the beautiful Angel Gabriel sometime," said he; but Brother
John was singing again and did not seem to hear what he said.
Next to Brother John, the nearest one to the little child was the good Abbot Otto, for though he had never
seen wonderful things with the eyes of his soul, such as Brother John's had beheld, and so could not tell of
them, he was yet able to give little Otto another pleasure that no one else could give.
He was a great lover of books, the old Abbot, and had under lock and key wonderful and beautiful volumes,
bound in hog-skin and metal, and with covers inlaid with carved ivory, or studded with precious stones. But
within these covers, beautiful as they were, lay the real wonder of the books, like the soul in the body; for
there, beside the black
 letters and initials, gay with red and blue and gold, were beautiful pictures painted upon the creamy
parchment. Saints and Angels, the Blessed Virgin with the golden oriole about her head, good St. Joseph, the
three Kings; the simple Shepherds kneeling in the fields, while Angels with glories about their brow called to
the poor Peasants from the blue sky above. But, most beautiful of all was the picture of the Christ Child
lying in the manger, with the mild-eyed Kine gazing at him.
Sometimes the old Abbot would unlock the iron-bound chest where these treasures lay hidden, and carefully and
lovingly brushing the few grains of dust from them, would lay them upon the table beside the oriel window in
front of his little namesake, allowing the little boy freedom to turn the leaves as he chose.
Always it was one picture that little Otto sought; the Christ Child in the manger, with the Virgin, St.
Joseph, the Shepherds, and the Kine. And as he would hang breathlessly gazing and gazing upon it, the old
Abbot would sit watching him with a faint, half-sad smile flickering around his thin lips and his pale, narrow
It was a pleasant, peaceful life, but by-and-by the end came.
Otto was now nearly twelve years old.
ALWAYS IT WAS ONE PICTURE THAT LITTLE OTTO SOUGHT.
One bright, clear day, near the hour of noon, little Otto
 heard the porter's bell sounding below in the court-yard—dong! dong! Brother Emmanuel had been
appointed as the boy's instructor, and just then Otto was conning his lessons in the good monk's cell.
Nevertheless, at the sound of the bell he pricked up his ears and listened, for a visitor was a strange matter
in that out-ofthe-way place, and he wondered who it could be. So, while his wits wandered his lessons
"Postera Phœba lustrabat lampade terras," continued Brother Emmanuel, inexorably running his horny
finger-nail beneath the line, "humentemque Aurora polo dimoverat umbram—" the lesson dragged along.
Just then a sandaled footstep sounded without, in the stone corridor, and a light tap fell upon Brother
Emmanuel's door. It was Brother Ignatius, and the Abbot wished little Otto to come to the refectory.
As they crossed the court-yard Otto stared to see a group of mail-clad men-at-arms, some sitting upon their
horses, some standing by the saddle-bow. "Yonder is the young baron," he heard one of them say in a gruff
voice, and thereupon all turned and stared at him.
A stranger was in the refectory, standing beside the good old Abbot, while food and wine were being brought
and set upon the table for his refreshment; a great, tall, broad-shouldered man, beside whom the Abbot looked
thinner and slighter than ever.
The stranger was clad all in polished and gleaming armor,
 of plate and chain, over which was drawn a loose robe of gray woollen stuff, reaching to the knees and bound
about the waist by a broad leathern sword-belt. Upon his arm he carried a great helmet which he had just
removed from his head. His face was weather-beaten and rugged, and on lip and chin was a wiry, bristling
beard; once red, now frosted with white.
Brother Ignatius had bidden Otto to enter, and had then closed the door behind him; and now, as the lad walked
slowly up the long room, he gazed with round, wondering blue eyes at the stranger.
"Dost know who I am, Otto?" said the mail-clad knight, in a deep, growling voice.
"Methinks you are my father, sir," said Otto.
"Aye, thou art right," said Baron Conrad, "and I am glad to see that these milk-churning monks have not
allowed thee to forget me, and who thou art thyself."
"An' it please you," said Otto, "no one churneth milk here but Brother Fritz; we be makers of wine and not
makers of butter, at St. Michaelsburg."
Baron Conrad broke into a great, loud laugh, but Abbot Otto's sad and thoughtful face lit up with no shadow of
an answering smile.
"Conrad," said he, turning to the other, "again let me urge thee; do not take the child hence, his life can
never be your life, for he is not fitted for it. I had thought," said he, after a moment's pause, "I had
thought that thou hadst
 meant to consecrate him—this motherless one—to the care of the Universal Mother Church."
"So!" said the Baron, "thou hadst thought that, hadst thou? Thou hadst thought that I had intended to deliver
over this boy, the last of the Vuelphs, to the arms of the Church? What then was to become of our name and the
glory of our race if it was to end with him in a monastery? No, Drachenhausen is the home of the Vuelphs, and
there the last of the race shall live as his sires have lived before him, holding to his rights by the power
and the might of his right hand."
The Abbot turned and looked at the boy, who was gaping in simple wide-eyed wonderment from one to the other as
"And dost thou think, Conrad," said the old man, in his gentle, patient voice, "that that poor child can
maintain his rights by the strength of his right hand?"
The Baron's look followed the Abbot's, and he said nothing.
In the few seconds of silence that followed, little Otto, in his simple mind, was wondering what all this talk
portended. Why had his father come hither to St. Michaelsburg, lighting up the dim silence of the monastery
with the flash and ring of his polished armor? Why had he talked about churning butter but now, when all the
world knew that the monks of St. Michaelsburg made wine.
It was Baron Conrad's deep voice that broke the little pause of silence.
 "If you have made a milkmaid of the boy," he burst out at last, "I thank the dear heaven that there is yet
time to undo your work and to make a man of him."
The Abbot sighed. "The child is yours, Conrad," said he, "the will of the blessed saints be done. Mayhap if he
goes to dwell at Drachenhausen he may make you the better instead of you making him the worse."
Then light came to the darkness of little Otto's wonderment; he saw what all this talk meant and why his
father had come hither. He was to leave the happy, sunny silence of the dear White Cross, and to go out into
that great world that he had so often looked down upon from the high windy belfry on the steep hillside.
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