The Fire Of The Forge by Georg Ebers
At Heinz Schorlin's quarters the day before his young hostess, Frau Barbel, had had the costly armour entrusted to her care, and the trappings belonging to it, cleaned and put in order, but her labour was vain; for Heinz Schorlin had ridden directly to the fortress from Schweinau, without stopping at his lodgings in the city.
Only a short time before he had learned that his two messengers had been captured and failed to reach their destination. He owed this information to Sir Boemund Altrosen--and many another piece of news which Cordula had given him.
The main portion of Heinz Schorlin's task was completed when the countess's ambassador reached him, so he set out on his homeward way at once, and this time his silent friend had been eloquent and told him everything which had occurred during his absence.
He now knew that Boemund and Cordula had plighted their troth, what the faithful Biberli had done and suffered for him, and lastly--even to the minutest detail--the wonderful transformation in Eva.
When he had ridden forth he had hoped to learn to renounce her whom he loved with all the might of his fervid soul, and to bring himself to close his career as a soldier with this successful campaign; but whilst he destroyed castles and attacked the foe, former wishes were stilled, and a new desire and new convictions took their place. He could not give up the profession of arms, which all who bore the name of Schorlin had practised from time immemorial, and to resign the love which united him to Eva was impossible. She must become his, though she resembled an April day, and Biberli's tales of the danger which threatened the husband from a sleep-walking wife returned more than once to his memory.
Yet what beautiful April days he had experienced, and though Eva might have many faults, the devout child, with her angel beauty, certainly did not lack the will to do what was right and pleasing to God. When she was once his she should become so good that even his mother at home would approve his choice.
He had wholly renounced the idea of going into the monastery. The Minorite Ignatius, whom Father Benedictus had sent after him that he might finish the work which the latter had begun, was a man who lacked neither intellect nor eloquence; but he did not possess the fiery enthusiasm and aristocratic confidence of the dead man. Yet when the zealous monks, whom the prior of the Dominicans had despatched to complete Heinz's conversion, opposed him, the former entered into such sharp and angry arguments with them that the young knight, who witnessed more than one of their quarrels, startled and repelled, soon held aloof from all three and told them that he had resolved to remain in the world, and his onerous office gave him no time to listen to their well-meant admonitions.
He was not created for the monastery. If Heaven had vouchsafed him a miracle, it was done to preserve his life that--as Eva desired--he might fight to the last drop of his blood for the Church, his holy faith, and the beloved Emperor. But if he remained in the world, Eva would do the same; they belonged to each other inseparably. Why, he could not have explained, but the voice which constantly reiterated it could not lie.
After he had slain Seitz Siebenburg in the sword combat, and destroyed his brother's castle, his resolve to woo Eva became absolutely fixed.
His heart dictated this, but honour, too, commanded him to restore to the maiden and her sister the fair fame which his passionate impetuosity had injured.
During the rapid ride which he and Boemund Altrosen took to Nuremberg he had stopped at Schweinau hospital, and found in Biberli, Eva's former enemy, her most enthusiastic panegyrist. Heinz also heard from him how quickly she had won the hearts of his mother and Maria, and that he would find all three at the fortress.
Lastly, Sister Hildegard had informed him of the great peril threatening his beloved faithful servant and companion, "old Biber," which had led Eva there to appeal to the Emperor.
Beside the body of Father Benedictus he learned how beautiful had been the death of the old man who had so honestly striven to lead him into the path which he believed was the right one for him to tread. In a brief prayer beside his devout friend Heinz expressed his gratitude, and called upon him to witness that, even in the world, he would not forget the shortness of this earthly pilgrimage, but would also provide for the other life which endured forever. True, Heinz had but a few short moments to devote to this farewell, the cause of the faithful follower who, unasked, had unselfishly endured unutterable tortures for him, took precedence of everything else and would permit no delay.
When the knight, with his figure drawn up to its full height, strode hastily into the royal hall, he beheld with joyful emotion those who were most dear to him, for whose presence he had longed most fervently during the ride--his mother, Eva, his sister, and the imperial friend he loved so warmly.
Overwhelmed by agitation, he flung himself on his knees before his master, kissing his hand and his robe, but the Emperor ordered him to rise and cordially greeted him.
Before speaking to his relatives, Heinz informed the monarch that he had successfully executed his commission and, receiving a few words of thanks and appreciation, modestly but with urgent warmth entreated the Emperor, if he was satisfied with his work, instead of any other reward, to save from further persecution the faithful servant who for his sake had borne the most terrible torture.
The face of the sovereign, who had welcomed Heinz as if he were a long-absent son, assumed a graver expression, and his tone seemed to vibrate with a slight touch of indignation, as he exclaimed: "First, let us settle your own affairs. Serious charges have been made against you, my son, as well as against your servant, on whose account I have been so tormented. A father, who is one of the leading men in this city, accuses you of having destroyed his daughter's good name by forcing yourself into his house after assuring his child of your love."
Heinz turned to Eva, to protest that he was here to atone for the wrong he had done her, but the Emperor would not permit him to speak. It was important to silence at once any objection which could be made against the marriage by ecclesiastical and secular foes; therefore, eagerly as he desired to enjoy the happiness of the young pair, he forced himself to maintain the expression of grave dissatisfaction which he had assumed, and ordered a page to summon the imperial magistrate, the First Losunger of the city, and his protonotary, who were all amongst the guests, and, lastly, the Duchess Agnes.
He could read the latter's child eyes like the clear characters of a book, and neither the radiant glow on her face at Heinz Schorlin's entrance nor her hostile glance at the Countess von Montfort had escaped his notice. Both her affection and her jealous resentment should serve him.
The young Bohemian now thought herself certain that Heinz Schorlin, and no other, was Cordula's chosen knight; the countess, at his entrance, had exclaimed to her father loudly enough, "Here he is again!"
When the princess stood before the Emperor, with the gentlemen whom he had summoned, he asked her to decide the important question.
"Yonder knight--he motioned towards Heinz--had been guilty of an act which could scarcely be justified. Though he had wooed the daughter of a noble Nuremberg family, and even forced his way into her father's house, he had apparently forgotten the poor girl.
"And," cried the young wife indignantly, "the unprincipled man has not only made a declaration of love to another, but formally asked her hand."
"That would seem like him," said the Emperor. "But we must not close our ears to the charge of the Nuremberg Honourable. His daughter, a lovely, modest maiden of excellent repute, has been seriously injured by Heinz Schorlin, and so I beg you, child, to tell us, with the keen appreciation of the rights and duties of a lady which is peculiar to you, what sentence, in your opinion, should be imposed upon Sir Heinz Schorlin to atone for the wrong he has done to the young Nuremberg maiden."
He beckoned to the protonotary, as he spoke, to command him to show Ernst Ortlieb's accusation to the duchess, but she seemed to have practised the art of reading admirably; for, more quickly than it would otherwise have appeared possible to grasp the meaning of even the first sentences, she exclaimed, drawing herself up to her full height and gazing at Cordula with haughty superiority: "There is but one decision here, if the morality of this noble city is to be preserved and the maiden daughters of her patrician families secured henceforward from the misfortune of being a plaything for the wanton levity of reckless heart breakers. But this decision, on which I firmly and resolutely insist, as lady and princess, in the name of my whole sex and of all knightly men who, with me, prize the reverence and inviolable fidelity due a lady, is: Sir Heinz Schorlin must ask the honourable gentleman who, with full justice, brought this complaint to your imperial Majesty, for his daughter's hand and, if the sorely injured maiden vouchsafes to accept it, lead her to the marriage altar before God and the world."
"Spoken according to the feelings of my own heart," replied the Emperor and, turning to the citizens of Nuremberg, he added: "So I ask you, gentlemen, who are familiar with the laws and customs of this good city and direct the administration of her justice, will such a marriage remove the complaint made against Sir Heinz Schorlin and his servant?"
"It will," replied old Herr Berthold Vorchtel, gravely and firmly.
Herr Pfinzing also assented, it is true, but added earnestly that an unfortunate meeting had caused another to suffer even more severely than Eva from the knight's imprudence. This was her older sister, the betrothed bride of young Eysvogel. For her sake, as well as to make the bond between Sir Heinz Schorlin and the younger Jungfrau Ortlieb valid, the father's consent was necessary. If his imperial Majesty desired to bring to a beautiful end, that very day, the gracious work so auspiciously commenced there was no obstacle in the way, for Ernst Ortlieb was at the von Zollern Castle with the daughter who had been so basely slandered.
The Emperor asked in surprise how they came there, and then ordered Eva's father and sister to be brought to him. He was eager to make the acquaintance of the second beautiful E.
"And Wolff Eysvogel?" asked the magistrate.
"We agreed to release him after we had turned our back on Nuremberg," replied the sovereign. "Much as we have heard in praise of this young man, gladly as we have shown him how gratefully we prize the blood a brave man shed for us upon the Marchfield, no change can be made in what, by virtue of our imperial word----"
"Certainly not, little brother," interrupted the court fool, Eyebolt, "but for that very reason you must open the Eysvogel's cage as quickly as possible and let him fly hither, for on the ride to the beekeeper's you crossed in your own seven-foot tall body the limits of this good city, whose length does not greatly surpass it--your imperial person, I mean. So you as certainly turned your back upon it as you stand in front of things which lie behind you. And as an emperor's word cannot have as much added or subtracted as a fly carries off on its tail, if it has one, you, little brother, are obliged and bound to have the strange monster, which is at once a wolf and a bird, immediately released and summoned hither."
"Not amiss," laughed the Emperor, "if the boundaries of Nuremberg saw our back for even so brief a space as it needs to make a wise man a fool.
"We will follow your counsel, Eyebolt.--Herr Pfinzing, tell young Eysvogel that the Emperor's pardon has ended his punishment. The breach of the country's peace may be forgiven the man who so heroically aided the battle for peace."
Then turning to Meister Gottlieb, the protonotary, he whispered so low that he alone could hear the command, that he should commit to paper a form of words which would give the bond between Heinz Schorlin and Eva Ortlieb sufficient legal power to resist both secular authority and that of the Dominicans and Sisters of St. Clare.
During this conference court etiquette had prevented the company from exchanging any remarks. Whatever one person might desire to say to another he was forced to entrust to the mute language of the eyes, and a sportive impulse induced Emperor Rudolph to maintain the spell which held apart those who were most strongly attracted to each other.
Meantime, whilst he was talking with the protonotary, the bolder guests ventured to move about more freely, and of them all Cordula imposed the least restraint upon herself.
Ere Heinz had found time to address a word to Eva or to greet his mother she glided swiftly to his side and, with an angry expression on her face, whispered: "If Heaven bestowed the greatest happiness upon the most deserving, you must be the most favoured of mortals, for a more exquisite masterpiece than your future wife--I know her--was never created. But now open your ears and follow my advice: Do not reveal the state of your heart until you have left the castle so far behind that you are out of sight of the Bohemian princess, or your ship of happiness may be wrecked within sight of port."
Then, with a well-assumed air of indignation, she abruptly turned her back upon him.
After moving away, she intentionally remained standing near the duchess, with drooping head. The latter hastily approached her, saying with admirably simulated earnestness: "You, Countess, will probably be the last to refuse your approval of my interference against our knightly butterfly and in behalf of the poor inexperienced girl, his victim."
"If that is your Highness's opinion," replied Cordula, shrugging her shoulders as if it were necessary to submit to the inevitable, "for my part I fear your kind solicitude may send me behind convent walls."
"Countess von Montfort a nun!" cried the child wife, laughing. "If it were Sir Heinz Schorlin to whom you just alluded, you, too, are among the deluded ones whom we must pity, yet with prudent foresight you provided compensation long ago. Instead of burying yourself in a convent, you, whom so many desire, would do better to beckon to one of your admirers and bestow on him the happiness of which the other was not worthy."
Cordula fixed her eyes thoughtfully on the floor a short time, then, as if the advice had met with her approval, exclaimed: "Your Royal Highness's mature wisdom has found the right expedient this time also. I am not fit for the veil. Perhaps you may hear news of me to-morrow. By that time my choice will be determined. What would you say to the dark-haired Altrosen?"
"A brave champion!" replied the Bohemian, and this time the laugh which accompanied her words came from the heart. "Try him, in the name of all the saints! But look at Sir Heinz Schorlin! A gloomy face for a happy man! He does not seem quite pleased with our verdict."
She beckoned, as she spoke, to her chamberlain and the high steward, took leave of her imperial father-in-law and, with her pretty little head flung proudly back, rustled out of the hall.
Soon after Herr Pfinzing ushered Ernst Ortlieb, his daughter, and Wolff into the presence of the sovereign, who gazed as if restored to youth at the handsome couple whose weal or woe was in his hands. This consciousness afforded him one of the moments when he gratefully felt the full beauty and dignity of his responsible position.
With friendly words he restored Wolff's liberty, and expressed the expectation that, with such a companion, he would raise the noble house of his ancestors to fresh prosperity.
When he at last turned to Heinz again he asked in a low tone: "Do you know what this day means to me?"
"Nineteen years ago it gave you poor Hartmann," replied the knight, his downcast eyes resting sadly on the floor.
The kind-hearted sovereign nodded significantly, and said, "Then it must benefit those who, so long as he lives, may expect his father's favour."
He gazed thoughtfully into vacancy and, faithful to his habit of fixing his eye on a goal, often distant, and then carefully carrying out the details which were to ensure success, ere he turned to the next one, he summoned the imperial magistrate and the First Losunger to his side.
After disclosing to them his desire to allow the judges to decide and, should the verdict go against Biberli, release him from punishment by a pardon, both undertook to justify the absence of the accused from the trial. The wise caution with which the Emperor Rudolph avoided interfering with the rights of the Honourable Council afforded old Herr Berthold Vorchtel great satisfaction. Both he and the magistrate, sure of the result, could promise that this affair, which had aroused so much excitement, especially among the artisans, would be ended by the marriage of the two Ortlieb sisters and the payment of the blood money to the wounded tailor. Any new complaint concerning them would then be lawfully rejected by both court and magistrate.
Never had Heinz thanked his imperial benefactor more warmly for any gift, but though the Emperor received his gallant favourite's expressions of gratitude and appreciation kindly, he did not yet permit him to enjoy his new happiness.
There were still some things which must be decided, and for the third time his peculiar smile showed the initiated that he was planning some pleasant surprise for those whom it concerned.
The mention of the blood money which Herr Ernst Ortlieb owed the slandering tailor, who had not yet recovered from his wound, induced the Emperor to look at the father of the beautiful sisters.
He knew that Herr Ernst had also lost a valiant son in the battle of Marchfield, and Eva's father had been described as an excellent man, but one with whom it was difficult to deal. Now, spite of the new happiness of his children, the sovereign saw him glance gloomily, as if some wrong had been done him, from his daughters to Heinz, and then to Lady Schorlin and Maria, to whom he had not yet been presented. He doubtless felt that the Emperor had treated him and his family with rare graciousness, and was entitled to their warmest gratitude yet, as a father and a member of the proud and independent Honourable Council of the free imperial city of Nuremberg, he considered his rights infringed--nay, it had cost him a severe struggle not to protest against such arbitrary measures. He had his paternal rights even here--Els and Eva were not parentless orphans.
The noble monarch and shrewd judge of human nature perceived what was passing in the Nuremberg merchant's mind, but the pleasant smile still rested on his lips as, with a glance at the ill-humoured Honourable, he exclaimed to his future son-in-law: "I have just remembered something, Heinz, which might somewhat cool your warm expressions of gratitude. Yonder lovely child consented to become yours, it is true, but that does not mean very much, for it was done without the consent of her father, by which the compact first obtains signature and seal. Herr Ernst Ortlieb, however, seems to be in no happy mood. Only look at him! He is certainly mutely accusing me of vexatious interference with his paternal rights, and yet he may be sure that I feel a special regard for him. His son's blood, which flowed for his Emperor's cause, gives him a peculiar claim upon our consideration, and we therefore devoted particular attention to his complaint. In this he now demands, my son, that you restore to him, Herr Ernst Ortlieb, the two hundred silver marks which are awarded to the tailor as blood money and he must pay to the injured artisan. The prudent business man can scarcely be blamed for making this claim, for the wound he inflicted upon the ill-advised tradesman who so basely, insulted those dearest to him would certainly not have been dealt had not your insolent intrusion into the Ortlieb mansion unchained evil tongues. So, Heinz, you caused his hasty act, and therefor, are justly bound to answer for the consequence; If he brings the accusation, the judges will condemn you to pay the sum. I therefore ask whether you have it ready."
Here Herr Ernst attempted to explain that, in the present state of affairs, there could be no further mention of a payment which was only, intended to punish the disturber of his domestic peace more severely; but the Emperor stopper him and bade Heinz speak.
The latter gazed in embarrassment at the helmet he held in his hand, and had not yet found; fitting answer when the Emperor cried: "What am I to think? Was the Duke of Pomerani; wrong when he told me of a heap of gold----"
"No, Your Majesty," Heinz here interrupter without raising his eyes. "What was left of the money would have more than sufficed to cover the sum required----"
"I thought so!" exclaimed the sovereign with out letting him finish; "for a young knight who like a great lord, bestows a fine estate upon the pious Franciscans, certainly need only command his treasurer to open the strong box----"
"You are mocking me, Your Majesty," Heinz quietly interposed. "You are doubtless well aware whence the golden curse came to me. I thrust it aside like noxious poison, and if I am reluctant to use it to buy, as it were, what is dearest and most sacred to me, indeed it does not spring from parsimony, for I had resolved to offer the two remaining purses to the devout Sisters of St. Clare and the zealous Minorite Brothers, one of the best of whom laboured earnestly for the salvation of my soul."
"That is right, my son," fell from the Emperor's lips in a tone of warm approval. "If the gold benefits the holy poverty of these pious Brothers and Sisters, the devil's gift may easily be transformed into a divine blessing. You both--" he gazed affectionately at Heinz and Eva as he spoke--"have, as it were, deserted the cloister, and owe it compensation. But your depriving yourself of your golden treasure, my friend--for two hundred silver marks are no trifle to a young knight--puts so different a face upon this matter that--that----" Here he lowered his voice and continued with affectionate mirthfulness--"that a friend must determine to do what he can for him. True, my gallant Heinz, I see that your future father-in-law, the other Nuremberg Honourables, and even your mother, are ready to pay the sum; but he who is most indebted to you holds fast this privilege, and that man am I, my brave champion! What you did for your Emperor and his best work, the peace of the country, deserves a rich reward and, thanks to the saints, I have something which will discharge my debt. The Swabian fief of Reichenbach became vacant. It has a strong citadel, from which we command you to maintain the peace of the country and overthrow robber knights. This fief shall be yours. You can enjoy it with your dear wife. It must belong to your children and children's children forever; for that a Schorlin should be born who would be unworthy of such a fief and faithless to his lord and Emperor seems to me impossible. Three villages and broad forests, with fields and meadows, pertain to the estate. As lord of Reichenbach, it will be easy for you to pay the blood money, if your father-in-law is not too importunate a creditor."
The latter certainly would not be that, and it cost Ernst Ortlieb no effort to bend the knee gratefully before the kindly monarch.
The Emperor Rudolph accepted the homage, but he clasped the young lord of Reichenbach to his heart like a beloved son, and as he placed Eva's hand in his, and she raised her beautiful face to him, he stooped and kissed her with fatherly kindness.
When Wolff entreated him to bless his alliance in the place of his suffering father, he did so gladly; and Els also willingly offered him her lips; when he requested the same favour her sister had granted him, that he might boast of the kisses bestowed on him by the two beautiful Es, Nuremberg's fairest maidens.