The Fire Of The Forge by Georg Ebers
Outside the courtyard of the Ortlieb mansion Eva saw Biberli going towards the Frauenthor. He had been with Els a long time, giving a report as frankly as ever. The day before he said to Katterle: "Calm yourself, my little lamb. Now that the daughters need you and me to carry secret messages, the father will leave us in peace too. A member of the Council would be like the receiver of stolen goods if he allowed a man whom he deemed worthy of the stocks to render him many services."
And Herr Ernst Ortlieb really did let him alone, because he was forced to recognise that Biberli and Katterle were indispensable in carrying on his daughter's intercourse with Wolff.
Els had forgiven the clever fellow the more willingly the more consoling became the tidings he brought her from her betrothed bridegroom. Besides, she regarded it as specially fortunate that she learned through him many things concerning Heinz Schorlin, which for her sister's sake she was glad to know.
True, it would have been useless trouble to try to extort from the true and steadfast Biberli even a single word which, for his master's sake, it would have been wiser to withhold, yet he discussed matters patiently, and told her everything that he could communicate conscientiously. So, when Eva returned, she was accurately informed of all that had befallen and troubled the knight the day before.
She listened sympathisingly to the servant's lamentation over the marvellous change which had taken place in Heinz since his horse was killed under him. But she shook her head incredulously at Biberli's statement that his master seriously intended to seek peace in the cloister, like his two older sisters; yet at the man's animated description of how Father Benedictus had profited by Sir Heinz's mood to estrange him from the world, the doubt vanished.
Biberli's assurance that he had often seen other young knights rush into the world with specially joyous recklessness, who had suddenly halted as if in terror and known no other expedient than to change the coat of mail for the monk's cowl, reminded her of similar incidents among her own acquaintances. The man was right in his assertion that most of them had been directed to the monastery by monks of the Order of St. Francis, since the name of the Saint of Assisi and the miracles he performed had become known in this country also. Whoever believed it impossible to see the gay Sir Heinz in a monk's cowl, added the experienced fellow, might find himself mistaken.
He had intentionally kept silence concerning Sir Seitz Siebenburg's challenge and his master's other dealings with the "Mustache." On the other hand, he had eagerly striven to inform Els of the minutest details of the reception he met with from her betrothed lover. With what zealous warmth he related that Wolff, like the upright man he was, had rejected even the faintest shadow of doubt of her steadfastness and truth, which were his own principal virtues also.
Even before Sir Heinz Schorlin's visit young Herr Eysvogel had known what to think of the calumnies which, it is true, were repeated to him. His calm, unclouded courage and clear mind were probably best shown by the numerous sheets of paper he had covered with estimates, all relating to the condition of the Eysvogel business. He had confided these documents also to him to be delivered to his father, and after discharging this duty he had come to her. According to his custom, he had reserved the best thing for the last, but it was now time to give it to her.
As he spoke he drew from the breast pocket of his long coat a wrought-iron rose. Els knew it well; it had adorned the clasp of her lover's belt, and the unusual delicacy of the workmanship had often aroused her admiration. What the gift was to announce she read on the paper accompanying it, which contained the following simple lines:
"The iron rude, when shaped by fire and blows, Delights our eyes as a most beauteous rose. So may the lies which strove to work us ill But serve our hearts with greater love to fill."
Biberli withdrew as soon as he had delivered the gift; his master was awaiting him on his return from his early ride with the Emperor; but Els, with glowing cheeks, read and reread the verse which brought such cheering consolation from her lover. It seemed like a miracle that they recalled the words of her dying mother concerning the forge fire which, in her last moments, she had mentioned in connection with Eva's future. Here it had formed from rude iron the fairest of flowers. Nothing sweeter or lovelier, the sister thought, could be made from her darling. But would the fire also possess the power to lead Eva, as it were, from heaven to earth, and transform her into an energetic woman, symmetrical in thought and deed? And what was the necessity? She was there to guide her and remove every stone from her path.
Ah, if she should renounce the cloister and find a husband like her Wolff! Again and again she read his greeting and pressed the beloved sheet to her lips. She would fain have hastened to her mother's corpse to show it to her. But just at that moment Eva returned. She must rejoice with her over this beautiful confirmation of her hope, and as, with flushed cheeks and brow moist with perspiration, she stood before her, Els tenderly embraced her and, overflowing with gratitude, showed her her lover's gift and verse, and invited her to share the great happiness which so brightly illumined the darkness of her grief. Eva, who was so weary that she could scarcely stand thought, like her sister, as Els read Wolff's lines aloud, of her mother's last words. But the forge fire of life must not transform her into a rose; she would become harder, firmer, and she knew why and for whose sake. Only yesterday, had she been so exhausted, nothing would have kept her, after a few brief words to prevent Els's disappointment, from lying down, arranging her pillows comfortably, and refreshing herself with some cooling drink; but now she not only succeeded in appearing attentive, but in sympathising with all her heart in her sister's happiness. How delightful it was, too, to be able to give something to the person from whom hitherto she had only received.
She succeeded so fully in concealing the struggle against the claims of her wearied body that Els, after joyously perceiving how faithfully her sister sympathised with her own delight, continued to relate what she had just heard. Eva forced herself to listen and behave as if her account of Heinz Schorlin's wonderful escape and desire to enter a monastery was news to her.
Not until Els had narrated the last detail did she admit that she needed rest; and when the former, startled by her own want of perception, urged her to lie down, she would not do so until she had put the flowers she had brought home into water. At last she stretched herself on the couch beside her sister, who had so long needed sleep and rest, and a few minutes after the deep dreamless slumber of youth chained both, until Katterle, at the end of an hour, woke them.
Both used the favourable moments which follow the awakening from a sound sleep to cherish the best thoughts and most healthful resolutions. When Eva left her chamber she had clearly perceived what the last hours had taken and bestowed, and found a positive answer to the important question which she must now confront.
Els, like her lover, would cling fast to her love, and strive with tireless patience to conquer whatever obstacles it might encounter, especially from the Eysvogel family.
Before leaving home Eva adorned the beloved dead with the flowers, leaves, and vines which the gardener had brought and she herself had gathered, and at the church she put the last touches to this work so dear to her heart. She gave the preference to the flowers which had been her mother's favourites, but the others were also used. With a light hand and a delicate appreciation of harmony and beauty she interwove the children of the forest with those of the garden. She could not be satisfied till every one was in the right place.
Countess Cordula had insisted upon attending the consecration, but she had not known who cared for its adornment. Yet when she stood in the church by the side of the open coffin she gazed long at the gentle face of the quiet sufferer, charming even in death, who on her bright couch seemed dreaming in a light slumber. At last she whispered to Els: "How wonderfully beautiful! Did you arrange it?"
The latter shook her head, but Cordula added, as if soliloquising: "It seems as though the hands of the Madonna herself had adorned a sleeping saint with garden flowers, and child-angels had scattered over her the blossoms of the forest."
Then Els, who hitherto had refused to talk in this place and this solemn hour, broke her silence and briefly told Cordula who had artistically and lovingly adorned her mother.
"Eva?" repeated the countess, as if surprised, gazing at her friend's younger sister who, as the music of the organ and the alternate chanting had just begun, had already risen from her knees. Cordula felt spellbound, for the young girl looked as fresh as a May rose and so touchingly beautiful in the deep, earnest devotion which filled her whole being, and the white purity of her mourning robes, that the countess did not understand how she could ever have disliked her. Eva, with her up lifted eyes, seemed to be gazing directly into the open heavens.
Cordula paid little attention to the sacred service, but watched the Es, as she liked to call the sisters, all the more closely. The elder, though so overwhelmed with grief that she could not help sobbing aloud, did not cease to think of her dear ones, and from time to time gazed with tender sympathy at her father or with quiet sorrow at her sister. Eva, on the contrary, was completely absorbed by her own anguish and the memory of her to whom it was due. The others appeared to have no existence for her. Whilst the large tears rolled slowly down her cheeks, she sometimes gazed tenderly at the face of the beloved dead; sometimes, with fervent entreaty, at the image of the Virgin. The pleading expression of the large blue eyes seemed to the countess to express such childlike need of help that the impetuous girl would fain have clasped her to her heart and exclaimed:
"Wait, you lovely, obstinate little orphan; Cordula, whom you dislike, is here, and though you don't wish to receive any kindness from her, you must submit. What do I care for all the worshippers of a very poor idol who call themselves my 'adorers'? I need only detain wandering pilgrims, or invite minnesingers to the castle, to shorten the hours. And he for whom yonder child-angel's heart yearns--would he not be a fool to prefer a Will-o'-the-wisp like me? Besides, it is easy for the peasant to give his neighbour the cloud which hangs over his field. True, before the dance----But the past is past. Boemund Altrosen is the only person who is always the same. One can rely upon him, but I really need neither. If I could only do without the open air, the forest, horses, and hunting, I should suit convent walls far better than this Eva, whom Heaven itself seems to have created to be the delight of every man's heart. We will see what she herself decides."
Then she recognised Sir Boemund Altrosen in the congregation and pursued her train of thought. "He is a noble man, and whoever thus makes himself miserable about me I ought to try to cure. Perhaps I will yet do so."
Similar reflections occupied her mind until she saw Heinz Schorlin kneeling, half concealed by a pillar, behind Boemund Altrosen. He had learned from Biberli at what hour the consecration would take place, and his honest heart bade him attend the service for the dead woman who had so much to forgive him.
The Ortlieb sisters did not see him, but Cordula unconsciously shook her head as she gazed. Was this grave man, so absorbed in devotion that he did not vouchsafe those who surrounded him even a single glance, the Heinz whose delightful gaiety had captivated her heart? The linden, with foliage withered by the autumn blasts, was more like the same tree in the spring when the birds were singing in its boughs, than yonder absorbed supplicant resembled the bold Heinz of a few days ago. The old mocker, Chamberlain Wiesenthau, was right when he told her and her father that morning that the gay Swiss had been transformed by the miracle which had befallen him, like the Saul of holy writ, in the twinkling of an eye, into a Paul. The calendar-makers were already preparing to assign a day to St. Schorlin.
But she ought not to have joined in the boisterous laugh with which her father rewarded the old slanderer's news. No! The knight's experience must have made a deeper impression than the others suspected.
Perhaps little Eva's love would result in her seeking with the sisters of St. Clare, and Heinz with the Franciscans, peace and a loftier passion. She was certainly to be pitied if love had taken as firm a hold upon her heart as Cordula thought she had perceived.
Again her kind heart throbbed with tender sympathy, and when the sisters left the sedan chairs which had brought them back to the house, and Cordula met Eva in the corridor, she held out her hand with frank cordiality, saying, "Clasp it trustingly, girl. True, you do not value it much, but it is offered to no one to whom Cordula does not mean kindly."
Eva, taken by surprise, obeyed her request. How frank and kindly her grey eyes were! Cordula herself must be so, too, and, obeying a hasty impulse, she nodded with friendly warmth; then, as if ashamed of her change of mood, hurried past her up the stairs.
The following day had been appointed for the mass for the dead in St. Sebald's Church.
Els had told Eva that the countess had seen Heinz Schorlin at the consecration. The news pleased her, and she expressed her joy so animatedly and spoke so confidently of the knight's love that Els felt anxious. But she did not have courage to disturb her peace of mind, and her father's two sisters, the abbess, and Herr Pfinzing's wife, also said nothing to Eva concerning the future as they helped Els to arrange the dead woman's clothing, which was to be given to the poor, decide to what persons or charitable institutions it should be sent, and listened to her account of the facts that formed the foundation of the slanders against her, which were being more loudly and universally discussed throughout the city.
Eva felt painfully how incapable of rendering assistance the others considered her, and her pride forbade her to urge it upon them. Even her Aunt Kunigunde scarcely asked her a question. It seemed to the abbess that the right hour for a decisive enquiry had not yet come, and wise Aunt Christine never talked with her younger niece upon religious subjects unless she herself requested her to do so.
The mass for the dead was to be celebrated at an unusually early hour, for another, which would be attended by the whole city and all the distinguished persons, knights, and nobles who had come to the Reichstag, was to begin four hours before noon. This was for Prince Hartmann, who had been snatched away so prematurely.
The Ortliebs, with all their kindred and servants, the members of the Council with their wives and daughters, and many burghers and burgher women, assembled soon after sunrise in St. Sebald's Church.
Those present were almost lost in the spacious, lofty interior with its three naves. At first there was little appearance of devotion, for the early arrivals had many things to ask and whisper to one another. The city architect lowered his loud voice very little as he discussed with a brother in the craft from Cologne in what way the house of God, which originally had been built in the Byzantine style, could be at least partly adapted to the French pointed arch which was used with such remarkable success in Germany, at Cologne and Marburg. They discussed the eastern choir, which needed complete rebuilding, the missing steeples, and the effect of the pointed arch which harmonised so admirably with the German cast of character, and did not cease until the music began. Now the great number of those present showed how much love the dead woman had sowed and reaped. The sisters, when they first looked around them, saw with grateful joy the father of the young man who had fallen in the duel with Wolff, old Herr Berthold Vorchtel, his wife, and Ursula. On the other hand, the pew adorned with the Eysvogel coat of arms was still empty. This wounded Els deeply; but she uttered a sigh of relief when--the introitus had just begun--at least one member of the haughty family to which she felt allied through Wolff appeared, Isabella Siebenburg, her lover's sister. It was kind in her to come notwithstanding the absence of the others, and even her own husband. Els would return it to her and her twins.
The music, whose heart-stirring notes accompanied the solemn service, deeply moved the souls of both sisters; but when, after the Gloria in excelsis Deo, the Cum Sancto Spiritu pealed forth, Eva, who, absorbed in devotion, had long since ceased to gaze around her, felt her sister's hand touch her arm and, following the direction of her glance, saw at some distance the man for whom her heart yearned, and the grave, devout knight yonder seemed far nearer to her than the gay companion who, in the mazes of the dance, had gazed so boldly into the faces of the men, so tenderly into those of the fair women. How fast her heart throbbed! how ardently she longed for the moment when he would raise his head and look across at her! But when he moved, it was only to follow the sacred service and with it Christ's sacrifice upon the cross.
Then Eva reproached herself for depriving her dead mother, to the repose of whose soul this hour was dedicated, of her just due, and she strove with all her power to regain the spirit of devotion which she had lost. But her lover sat opposite and, though she lowered her eyes, her earnest endeavour to concentrate her thoughts was futile.
Her struggle was interrupted by the commencement of the Credo, and during this confession, which brings before the Christian in a fixed form what it is incumbent upon him to believe, the thought entered her mind of beseeching her whose faithful love had always guided her safely and for her good--the Queen of Heaven, to whom Heinz was as loyally devoted as she herself--that she might give her a sign whether she might continue to believe in his love and keep faith with him, or whether she should return to the path which led to a different form of happiness.
During the singing of the Credo the heavenly Helper, for whose aid she hoped, made known to her that if, before the end of the Sanctus, which immediately followed the Credo, Heinz looked over at her and returned her glance, she might deem it certain that the Holy Virgin would permit her to hope for his love. If he omitted to do so, then she would consider it decided that he renounced his earthly for his heavenly love, and try herself to give up the earthly one, in which, however, she believed she had recognised something divine. The Credo closed and died away, the resonant harmonies of the Sanctus filled the wide space, and the knight, with the same devout attention, followed the sacred service in which, in the imagination of believers, the bread and wine is transformed into the body and blood of Christ, and a significant, painless ceremony represents the Saviour's bloody death upon the cross.
Eva told herself that she ought to have followed with the same intentness as Heinz the mass celebrated for the soul of her own mother, but she could no longer succeed in doing so. Besides, she was denied the privilege of looking freely and often at him upon whose movements depended the fate of her life. Many glances were undoubtedly directed at her, the daughter of the dead woman in whose memory so many citizens had gathered; many, perhaps, had come solely to see the beautiful Es. Therefore propriety and modesty forbade her to watch Heinz. She only ventured to cast a stolen glance at him.
Every note of the Sanctus was familiar to her, and when it drew near the end Heinz retained the same position. The fairest hope of her life must be laid with the flowers in her mother's coffin.
Now the last bars of the Sanctus were commencing. He had scarcely had time to change his attitude since her last secret glance at him, yet she could not resist the temptation, though it was useless, of looking at him once more. She felt like the prisoner who sees the judge rise and does not know whether he intends to acquit or condemn him. The city lute-player who led the choir was just raising his hands again to let them fall finally at the close of the Sanctus, and as she turned her eyes from him in the direction whence only too soon she was to be deprived of the fairest of rights, a burning blush suddenly crimsoned her cheeks. Heinz Schorlin's eyes had met hers with a full, clear gaze.
Eva pressed her clasped hands, as if beseeching aid, upon her bosom, which rose and fell beneath them with passionate emotion; and No, she could not be mistaken; he had understood her, for his look expressed a wealth of sympathy, the ardent, sorrowful sympathy which only love knows. Then the eyes of both fell. When their glances met again, the hosanna of the choir rang out to both like a shout of welcome with which liberated Nature exultingly greets the awakening spring; and to the deeply agitated knight, who had resolved to fly from the world and its vain pleasures, the hosanna which poured its waves of sound towards him, whilst the eyes of the woman he loved met his for the second time, seemed to revive the waning joy of existence. The shout which had greeted the Saviour on his entry into Jerusalem reached the "called" man like a command from love to open wide the gate of the heart, and whether he willed it or not, love, amidst the solemn melody of the hosanna, made a new and joyous entrance into his grateful soul. But during the Benedictus he was already making the first attempt to resist this emotion; and whilst Eva, first offering thanks for the cheering decision, and then earnestly striving to enter with her whole soul into the sacred service, modestly denied herself the pleasure of looking across at her lover, Heinz was endeavouring to crush the hopes which had again mastered the soul resolved on renunciation.
Yet he found the conflict harder than he expected and as, at the close of the mass, the Dona nobis pacem (grant us peace) began, he joined beseechingly in the prayer.
It was not granted, for even during the high mass for the soul of his dearest friend, which also detained the Ortliebs in church, he sought Eva's glance only too often, but always in vain. Once only, when the Dona nobis pacem pealed forth again, this time for the prince, his eyes met those of the woman he loved.
The young Duchess Agnes noticed whither he looked so often, but when Countess Cordula knelt beside the Ortliebs, cordially returned every glance of the knight's, and once even nodded slightly to him, the young Bohemian believed the report that Heinz Schorlin and the countess were the same as betrothed, and it vexed her--nay, spoiled the whole of the day which had just begun.
When Heinz left the church Eva's image filled his heart and mind. He went directly from the sanctuary to his lodgings; but there neither Frau Barbara, his pretty young hostess, nor Biberli would believe their eyes or ears, when the former heard in the entry, the latter in the adjoining room, the lash of a scourge upon naked limbs, and loud groans. Both sounds were familiar to Barbel through her father, and to Biberli from the time of penance after his stay in Paris, and his own person.
Heinz Schorlin, certainly for the first time in his life, had scourged himself.
It was done by the advice of Father Benedictus but, although he followed the counsel so earnestly that for a long time large bloody stripes covered his back and shoulders, this remedy for sinful thoughts produced an effect exactly opposite to the one expected; for, whenever the places where the scourge had struck him so severely smarted under his armour, they reminded him of her for whose sake he had raised his hand against himself, and the blissful glance from her eyes.