The Fire Of The Forge by Georg Ebers
The Minorite had gone. Biberli had noticed with delight that his master had not sought as usual to detain him. The iron now seemed to him hot, and he thought it would be worth while to swing the hammer.
The danger in which Heinz stood of being drawn into the monastery made him deeply anxious, and he had already ventured several times to oppose his design. Life was teaching him to welcome a small evil when it barred the way to a greater one, and his master's marriage, even with a girl of far lower station than Eva Ortlieb, would have been sure of his favour, if only it would have deterred him from the purpose of leaving the world to which he belonged.
"True," the servitor began, "in such heat it is easier to walk in the thin cowl than in armour. The holy Father is right there. But when it is necessary to be nimble, the knight has his dancing dress also. Oh, my lord, what a sight it was when you were waltzing with the lovely Jungfrau Eva! Look at Heinz Schorlin, the brave hero of Marchfield, and the girl with the angel face who is with him!' said those around me, as I was gazing down from the balcony. And just think--I can't help speaking of it again--that now respectable people dare to point their fingers at the sisters and join in the base calumny uttered by a scoundrel!"
Then Heinz fulfilled Biberli's secret longing to be questioned about the Es and the charges against them, and he forged the iron.
Not from thirst, he said, but to ascertain what fruit had grown from the hellish seeds sown by Siebenburg, and probably the still worse ones of the Eysvogel women, he went from tavern to tavern, and there he heard things which made him clench his fists, and, at the Red Ox, roused him to such violent protest that he went out of the tap-room faster than he entered it.
Thereupon, without departing far from the truth, he related what was said about the beautiful Es in Nuremberg.
It was everywhere positively asserted that a knight belonging to the Emperor's train had been caught at the Ortlieb mansion, either in a nocturnal interview or while climbing into the window. Both sisters were said to be guilty. But the sharpest arrows were aimed at Els, the betrothed bride of the son of a patrician family, whom many a girl would have been glad to wed. That she preferred the foreigner, whether a Bohemian, a Swabian, or even a Swiss, made her error doubly shameful in the eyes of most persons.
Whenever Biberli had investigated the source of these evil tales, he had invariably found it to be Seitz Siebenburg, his retainers, the Eysvogel butler, or some man or maidservant in their employ.
The Vorchtels, who, as he knew from Katterle, would have had the most reason to cherish resentment against the Ortliebs, had no share in these slanders.
The shrewd fellow had discovered the truth, for after Seitz Siebenburg had wandered about in the open air during the storm, he again tried to see his wife. But the effort was vain. Neither entreaties nor threats would induce her to open the door. Meanwhile it had grown late and, half frantic with rage, he went to the Duke of Pomerania's quarters in the Green Shield to try his luck in gaming. The dice were again moving rapidly, but no one grasped the box when he offered a stake. No more insulting rebuff could be imagined, and the repulse which he received from his peers, and especially the duke, showed him that he was to be excluded from this circle.
He was taught at the same time that if he answered the challenge of the Swiss he would not be permitted to enter the lists. Thus he confronted the impossibility of satisfying a demand of honour, and this terrible thought induced him to declare war against everything which honour had hitherto enjoined, and with it upon its guardians.
If they treated him as a robber and a dishonoured man, he would behave like one; but those who had driven him so far should suffer for it.
During the rest of the night and on the following day, until the gate was closed, he wandered, goblet in hand, only half conscious of what he was doing, from tavern to tavern, to tell the guests what he knew about the beautiful Es; and at every repetition of the accusations, of whose justice he was again fully convinced, his hatred against the sisters, and those who were their natural defenders and therefore his foes, increased. Every time he repeated the old charges an addition increasing the slander was made and, as if aided by some mysterious ally, it soon happened that in various places his own inventions were repeated to him by the lips of others who had heard them from strangers. True, he was often contradicted, sometimes violently but, on the whole, people believed him more readily than would have happened in the case of any other person; for every one admitted that, as the brother-in-law of the older E, he had a right to express his indignation in words.
Meanwhile his twins often returned to his memory. The thought ought to have restrained him from such base conduct; but the idea that he was avenging the wrong inflicted upon their father's honour, and thus upon theirs, urged him further and further.
Not until a long ride through the forest had sobered him did he see his conduct in the proper light.
Insult and disgrace would certainly await him in the city. His brothers would receive him kindly. They were of his own blood and could not help welcoming his sharp sword. Side by side with them he would fight and, if it must be, die. A voice within warned him against making common cause with those who had robbed the family of which he had become a member, yet he again used the remembrance of his innocent darlings to palliate his purpose. For their sakes only he desired to go to his death, sword in hand, like a valiant knight in league with those who were risking their lives in defence of the ancient privilege of their class. They must not even suspect that their father had been shut out from the tournament, but grow up in the conviction that he had fallen as a heroic champion of the cause of the lesser knights to whom he belonged, and on whose neck the Emperor had set his foot.
The assurance which Biberli brought Heinz Schorlin that Seitz Siebenburg had joined those whom he was ordered to punish, placed the task assigned him by the Emperor in a new and attractive light; but the servant's report, so far as it concerned the Ortlieb sisters, pierced the inmost depths of his soul. He alone was to blame for the disgrace which had fallen upon innocent maidens. By the destruction of the calumny he would at least atone for a portion of his sin. But this did not suffice. It was his duty to repair the wrong he had done the sisters. How? That he could not yet determine; for whilst wielding the executioner's sword in his master's service all these thoughts must be silenced; he could consider nothing save to fulfil the task confided to him by his imperial benefactor and commander in chief, according to his wishes, and show him that he had chosen wisely in trusting him to "crack the nut" which he himself had pronounced a hard one. The yearning and renunciation, the reproaches and doubts which disturbed his life, until recently so easy, had disgusted him with it. He would not spare it. Yet if he fell he would be deprived of the possibility of doing anything whatever for those who through his imprudence had lost their dearest possession--their good name. Whenever this picture rose before him it sometimes seemed as if Eva was gazing at him with her large, bright eyes as trustingly as during the pause in the dancing, and anon he fancied he saw her as she looked at her mother's consecration in her deep mourning before the altar. At that time her grief and pain had prevented her from noticing how his gaze rested on her; yet never had she appeared more desirable, never had he longed more ardently to clasp her in his arms, console her, and assure her that his love should teach her to forget her grief, that she was destined to find new happiness in a union with him.
This had happened to him just as he commenced the struggle for a new life. Startled, he confessed it to his grey-haired guide, and used the means which the Minorite advised him to employ to attain forgetfulness and renunciation, but always in vain. Had he, like St. Francis, rushed among briers, his blood would not have turned into roses, but doubtless fresh memories of her whose happiness his guilt had so suddenly and cruelly destroyed.
For her sake he had already begun to doubt his vocation on the very threshold of his new career, and did not recover courage until Father Benedictus, who had communicated with the Abbess Kunigunde, informed him that Eva was wax in her hands, and within the next few days she would induce her niece to take the veil.
This news had exerted a deep influence upon the young knight's soul. If Eva entered the cloister before him, the only strong tie which united him to the world would be severed, and nothing save the thought of his mother would prevent his following his vocation. Yet vehement indignation seized him when he heard from Biberli that the slanderer's malice would force Eva to seek refuge with the Sisters.
No, a thousand times no! The woman whom he loved should need to seek refuge from nothing for which Heinz Schorlin's desire and resolve alike commanded him to make amends.
He must succeed in proving to the whole world that she and her sister were as pure as they lived in his imagination, either by offering in the lists the boldest defiance to every one who refused to acknowledge that both were the most chaste and decorous ladies in the whole world, and Eva, at the same time, the loveliest and fairest, or by the open interference of the Emperor or the Burggravine in behalf of the persecuted sisters, after he had confessed the whole truth to his exalted patrons.
But when Biberli pointed out the surest way of restoring the endangered reputation of the woman he loved, and begged him to imagine how much more beautiful she would look in the white bridal veil than in her mourning Riese--[Kerchief of fine linen, arranged like a veil]--he ordered him to keep silence.
The miracle wrought in his behalf forbade him to yearn for happiness and joy here below. It was intended rather to open his eyes and urge him to leave the path which led to eternal damnation. It pointed him to the kingdom of heaven and its bliss, which could be purchased only by severe sacrifice and the endurance of every grief which the Saviour had taken upon Himself. But he could at least pay one honour to the maiden to whom he was so strongly attracted, and whose happiness for life was menaced by his guilt. When he had assembled his whole force at Schwabach, he would go into battle with her colour on his helmet and shield. The Queen of Heaven would not be angry with him if he wore her light blue to atone to the pure and pious Eva, who was hers even more fully than he himself, for the wrong inflicted upon her by spiteful malice.
Heinz Schorlin's friends thought the change in his mood a natural consequence of the events which had befallen him; young Count Gleichen, his most intimate companion, even looked up to him since his "call" as a consecrated person.
His grey-haired cousin, Sir Arnold Maier, of Silenen, was a devout man whose own son led a happy life as a Benedictine monk at Engelberg. The sign by which Heaven had signified its will to Heinz had made a deep impression upon him, and though he would have preferred to see him continue in the career so auspiciously begun, he would have considered it impious to dissuade him from obeying the summons vouchsafed by the Most High. So he offered no opposition, and sent by the next courier a letter to Lady Wendula Schorlin, his young cousin's mother, in which, with Heinz's knowledge-nay, at his request--he related what her son had experienced, and entreated her not to withhold him from the vocation of which God deemed him worthy.
Meanwhile, Biberli wrote to his master's mother in a different strain, and did not desist from expressing his opinion, to Heinz, and assuring him that his place was on a battle charger, with his sword in its sheath or in his hand, rather than in a monastery with a rosary hanging from a hempen girdle.
This had vexed Heinz--nay, made him seriously angry with the faithful fellow; and when in full armour he prepared to mount his steed to receive the last directions of his imperial master, and Biberli asked him on which horse he should follow, he answered curtly that this time he would go without him.
Yet when he saw tears fill the eyes of his "true and steadfast" companion, he patted the significant St. on his cap, and added kindly: "Never mind, Biber, everything will be unchanged between us till I obey my summons, and you build your own nest with Katterle."
So Biberli had remained in Nuremberg whilst Heinz Schorlin, after the Emperor with fatherly kindness had dismissed him, granting him full authority, set forth at the head of his troops as their commander, to take the field against the Siebenburgs and their allies.
The servant was permitted to attend him only to the outskirts of the city.
Before the Spitalthor, Countess Cordula, though she was returning from a ride into the country, had wheeled her spirited dappled horse and joined him as familiarly as though she belonged to him. Heinz, who would have liked best to be alone, and to whom any other companion would have been more welcome, showed her this plainly enough, but she did not seem to notice it, and during the whole of their ride together gave her tongue free rein and, though he often indignantly interrupted her, described with increasing warmth what the Ortlieb sisters had suffered through his fault. In doing so she drew so touching a picture of Eva's silent sorrow that Heinz sometimes longed to thank her, but more frequently to have her driven away by his men at arms; for he had mounted his horse with the intention of dividing the time of his ride between pious meditations and plans for the arrangement of the expedition. What could be more unwelcome than the persistent loquacity of the countess, who filled his heart and mind with ideas and wishes that threatened most seriously to imperil his design?
Cordula plainly perceived how unwillingly he listened. Nay, as Heinz more and more distinctly, at last even offensively, showed her how little he desired her society, it only increased the animation of her speech, which seemed to her not to fail wholly in the influence she desired to exert in Eva's favour; therefore she remained at his side longer than she had at first intended. She did not even turn back when they met the young Duchess Agnes, who with her train was returning to the city from a ride.
The Bohemian princess had known that Heinz would ride through the Spitalthor at this hour to confront his foe, and had intended that the meeting with her should seem like a good omen. The thought of wishing him success on his journey had been a pleasant one. True, Cordula's presence did not prevent this, but it disturbed her, and she was vexed to find the countess again at Heinz Schorlin's side.
She showed her displeasure so plainly that her Italian singing mistress, the elderly spinster Caterina de Celano, took sides with her, and scornfully asked the countess whether she had brought her curling irons with her.
But she bit her lips at Cordula's swift retort "O no! Malice meets us on every road, but in Germany we do not pull one another's hair on the highway over every venomous or foolish word."
She turned her back on her as she spoke until the duchess had taken leave of Heinz, and then rode on with him; but as soon as a portion of the road intervened between her and the countess the young Bohemian exclaimed: "We must certainly try to save Sir Heinz from this disagreeable shrew!"
"And the saints will aid the good work," the Italian protested, "for they themselves have a better right to the charming knight. How grave he looked! Take care, your Highness, he is following, as my nimble cousin Frangipani did a short time ago, in the footsteps of the Saint of Assisi."
"But he must not, shall not, go into the monastery!" cried the young duchess, with childish refractoriness. "The Emperor is opposed to it, and he, too, does not like the von Montfort's boisterous manner. We will see whether I cannot accomplish something, Caterina."
Here she stopped. They had again reached the village of Rottenpach, and in front of the newly built little church stood its pastor, with the dignitaries of the parish, and the children were scattering flowers in the path. She checked her Arabian, dismounted, and graciously inspected the new house of God, the pride of the congregation.
On the way home, just beyond the village, her horse again shied. The animal had been startled by an old Minorite monk who sat under a crab apple tree. It was Father Benedictus, who had set out early to anticipate Heinz and surprise him in his night quarters by his presence. But he had overestimated his strength, and advanced so slowly that Heinz and his troopers, from whom he had concealed himself behind a dusty hawthorn bush, had not seen him. From Schweinau the walk had become difficult, especially as it was contrary to the teaching of the saint to use a staff. Many a compassionate peasant, many a miller's lad and Carter, had offered him a seat on the back of his nag or in his waggon but, without accepting their friendly offers, he had plodded on with his bare feet.
Perhaps this journey would be his last, but on it he would redeem the promise which he had made his dying master, to go forth according to the command of the Saviour, which Francis of Assisi had made his own and that of his order, to preach and to proclaim, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand!"
"Without price," ran the words, "have ye received, without price give." He had no regard for earthly reward, therefore he yearned the more ardently for the glad knowledge that he had saved a soul for heaven.
He had learned to love Heinz as the saint had formerly loved him, and he did not grudge him the happiness which, at the knight's age, had fallen to the lot of the man whose years now numbered eighty. How long he had been permitted to enjoy this bliss! True, during the last decades it had been clouded by many a shadow.
He had endured much hardship in the service of his sacred cause, but the greater the sacrifice he offered the more exquisite was the reward reaped by his soul. Oh, if this pilgrimage might yield him Heinz Schorlin's vow to follow his saint and with him the Saviour!--if he might be permitted, clasping in his the hand of the beloved youth he had saved, to exchange this world for eternal bliss!
Earth had nothing more to offer; for he who was one of the leaders of his brotherhood beheld with grief their departure from the paths of their founder. Poverty, which secures freedom to the body, which knows nothing of the anxieties of this world and the burden of possession, which permits the soul to soar unfettered far above the dust--poverty, the divine bride of St. Francis, was forsaken in many circles of his brother monks. With property, ease and the longing for secular influence had stolen into many a monastery. Many shunned the labour which the saint enjoined upon his disciples, and the old jugs were often filled with new wine, which he, Benedictus, never tasted, and which the saint rejected as poison. He was no longer young and strong enough to let his grief and indignation rage like a purifying thunderstorm amidst these abuses.
But Heinz Schorlin!
If this youth of noble blood, equally gifted in mind and person, whom Heaven itself had summoned with lightning and thunder, devoted himself from sincere conviction, with a heart full of youthful enthusiasm, to his sacred cause--if Heinz, consecrated by him, and fully aware of the real purposes of the saint, who, also untaught and rich only in knowledge of the heart, had begun a career so momentous in consequences, announced himself as a fearless champion of St. Francis's will, then the St. George had been found who was summoned to slay the dragon, and with his blood instil new life at last into the monasteries of Germany, then perhaps the fresh prosperity which he desired for the order was at hand. The larger number of its recruits came from the lower ranks of the people. Sir Heinz Schorlin's example would perhaps bring it also, as an elevating element, the sons of his peers.
So, bathed in perspiration, and often on the point of fainting, he followed Heinz through the dust of the highway.
Often, when his strength failed, and he sat down by the roadside to take breath, his soul-life gained a loftier aspiration.
After Heinz rode by without seeing him he continued his way until his feet grew so heavy that he was forced to sit down beside the road. Then he imagined that the Saviour Himself came towards him, gazed lovingly into his face, and turned to beckon some one, Benedictus did not know whom, heavenward. Suddenly the clouds that had covered the sky parted, and the old man fancied he heard the song of the troubadour whose soul had been subdued by love for God, which his friend and master had addressed to his Redeemer. It must come from the lips of his angels on high, but he longed to join in the strain. True, his aged lips, rapidly as they moved, uttered no sound, but he fancied he was sharing in this song of the soul, glowing with fervent, consuming flames of love, dedicated to the Saviour, the source of all love:
"Love's flames my kindling heart control, Love for my Bridegroom fair, When on my hand he placed the ring, The Lamb whose fervent love I share Did pierce my inmost soul,"
the fiery song began, and an absorbing yearning for death and the beloved Redeemer, whose form had vanished in the sea of flames surging before his dilated eyes, moved the very depths of his soul as he commenced the second verse:
"My heart amidst Love's tortures broke, Slain by the might of Love's keen stroke, To earth my senseless body sank, Love's flames my life-blood drank."
With flushed cheeks, utterly borne away from the world and everything which surrounded him, he raised his arms towards heaven, then they suddenly fell. Starting up, he passed his hand over his dazzled eyes and shook his head sorrowfully. Instead of the angels' song, he heard the beat of horses' hoofs coming nearer and nearer. The open heavens had closed again; he lay a poor exhausted mortal, with burning brow, beside the road.
Duchess Agnes, after visiting the new church at Rottenpach, rode past him on her return to Nuremberg.
Neither she nor her train heeded the old monk. But the Italian who, as she rode by, had been attracted by the noble features of the aged man, whose eyes still sparkled with youthful enthusiasm, gazed at him enquiringly. Her glance met his, and the Minorite's wrinkled features wore a look of eager enquiry. He longed to rise and ask the name of the black-eyed lady at the duchess's side. But ere he could stand erect, the party had passed on.
Disturbed in mind, and scarcely able to set one sore foot before the other, he dragged himself forward.
Before he reached Rottenpach he met one of the duchess's pages who had remained at the village forge and was now riding after his mistress. Father Benedictus called to him, and the boy, awed by the grey-haired monk, answered his questions, and told him that the lady on the horse with the white star on its face was the duchess's Italian singing mistress, Caterina de Celano.
Every drop of blood receded from the Minorite's fever-flushed cheeks, and the page was about to spring from his saddle to support him, but the monk waved him back impatiently, and by the exertion of all his strength of will forced himself to stagger on.
He had just felt happy in the heart of eternal love; but now the expression of his countenance changed, and his dark, sunken eyes flashed angrily.
The faded woman beside the duchess bore the name of the lady whose faithlessness had first induced him to seek rest and forgetfulness in the peace of the cloister, and led him to despise her whole sex.
The horsewoman must be a granddaughter, daughter, or niece of the woman who had so basely betrayed him. How much she resembled the traitress, but she did not understand how to hide her real nature as well; her faded features wore a somewhat malicious expression. The resentment which he thought he had conquered again awoke. He would have liked to rush after her and call her to her face----. Yet what would that avail? How was she to blame for the treachery of another person, whom perhaps she did not even know?
Yet he longed to follow her.
His fevered blood urged him on, but his exhausted, aching limbs refused to serve him. One more violent effort, and sparks flashed before his eyes, his lips were wet with blood, and he sank gasping on the ground.
After some time he succeeded in dragging himself to the side of the road, where he lay until a Nuremberg carrier, passing with his team of four horses, lifted him, with the help of his servant, into his cart and took him on.
At Schweinau the jolting of the vehicle became unendurable to the sufferer, and the carrier willingly fulfilled his wish to be taken to the hospital where mangled criminals, tortured by the rack, were nursed.
There, however, they instantly perceived that his place was not in this house dedicated to criminal misfortune, and the kind Beguines of Schweinau took charge of him.
On the way the old monk suffered severely in both soul and body. It seemed like treason, like a rejection of his pure and pious purposes, that Heaven itself barred the path along which he was wearily wandering to win it a soul.