The Fire Of The Forge by Georg Ebers
As her father had ordered the servants not to disturb the young girls, Els did not wake till the sun was high in the heavens. Eva's place at her side was empty. She had already left the room. For the first time it had been impossible to sleep even a few short moments, and when she heard from the neighbouring cloister the ringing of the little bell that summoned the nuns to prayers, she could stay in bed no longer.
Usually she liked to dress slowly, thinking meanwhile of many things which stirred her soul. Sometimes while the maid or Els braided her hair she could read a book of devotion which the abbess had given her. But this morning she had carried the clothes she needed into the next room on tiptoe, that she might not wake her sister, and urged Katterle, who helped her dress, to hurry.
She longed to see her aunt at the convent. While kneeling at the prie-dieu, she had reached the certainty that her patron saint had led Heinz Schorlin to her. He was her knight and she his lady, so he must render her obedience, and she would use it to estrange him from the vanity of the world and make him a champion of the holy cause of the Church of Christ, the victorious conqueror of her foes. Sky-blue, the Holy Virgin's colour, should be hers, and thus his also, and every victory gained by the knight with the sky-blue on his helmet, under St. Clare's protection, would then be hers.
Heinz Schorlin was already one of the boldest and strongest knights; her love must render him also one of the most godly. Yes, her love! If St. Francis had not disdained to make a wolf his brother, why might she not feel herself the loving sister of a youth who would obey her as a noble falcon did his mistress, and whom she would teach to pursue the right quarry? The abbess would not forbid such love, and the impulse that drew her so strongly to the convent was the longing to know how her aunt would receive her confession.
The night before when, after her conversation with Els, she began to pray, she had feared that she had fallen into the snare of earthly love, and dreaded the confession which she had to make to her aunt Kunigunde. Now she found that it was no fleshly bond which united her to the knight. Oh, no! As St. Francis had gone forth to console, to win souls for the Lord, to bring peace and exhort to earnest labour in the service of the Saviour, as his disciples had imitated him, and St. Clare had been untiring in working, in his spirit, among women, she, too, would obey the call which had come to her saint in Portiuncula, and prove herself for the first time, according to the Scripture, "a fisher of souls."
Now she gladly anticipated the meeting; for though her sister did not understand her, the abbess must know how to sympathise with what was passing in her mind. This expectation was fulfilled; for as soon as she was alone with her aunt she poured forth all her hopes and feelings without reserve, eagerly and joyfully extolling her good fortune that, through St. Clare, she had been enabled to find the noblest and most valiant knight, that she might win him for the Holy War under her saint's protection and to her honour.
The abbess, who knew women's hearts, had at first felt the same fear as Els; but she soon changed her opinion, and thought that she might be permitted to rejoice over the new emotion in her darling's breast.
No girl in love talked so openly and joyously of the conquest won, least of all would her truthful, excitable niece, whom she had drawn into her own path, speak thus of the man who disturbed her repose. No sensitive girl, unfamiliar with the world and scarcely beyond childhood, would decide with such steadfast firmness, so wholly free from every selfish wish, the future of the man dearest to her heart. No, no! Eva had already attained her new birth, and was not to be compared with other girls She had already once reached that ecstatic rapture which followed only a long absorption in God and an active sympathy with the deep human love of the Saviour and the unspeakable sufferings which he had taken upon himself. Little was to be feared from earthly love for one who devoted herself with all the passion of her fervid nature to the divine Bridegroom. Among the many whom Kunigunde received into the convent as novices, she was most certainly "called." If she felt something which resembled love for the young knight--and she made no concealment of it--it was only the result of the sweet joy of winning for the Lord, the faith, and her saint a soul which seemed to her worthy of such grace.
Dear, highly gifted child!
She, the abbess Kunigunde, was willing it should be so, and that Eva should surpass herself. She should prove that genuine piety conquers even the yearning of a quickly throbbing heart.
True, she must keep her eyes open in order to prevent Satan, who is everywhere on the watch, from mingling in a game not wholly free from peril. But, on the other hand, the abbess intended to help her beloved niece to reap the reward of her piety.
It was scarcely to be doubted that Heinz Schorlin was fired with ardent love for Eva; but, for that very reason, he would be ready to yield her obedience, and therefore it was advisable to tell her exactly to what she must persuade him. She must win him to join the Order of Malta, and if the famous champion of Marchfield performed heroic deeds with the white cross on his black mantle, or in war on his red tunic, he, the Emperor's favourite, would be sure of a high position among the military members of the order.
The young girl listened eagerly, but the elderly abbess herself became excited while encouraging the young future "Sister" to her noble task. The days when, with the inmates of the convent, she had prayed that the Emperor Rudolph might fulfil the Pope's desire, and in a new crusade again wrest the Holy Land from the infidels, came back to her memory, and Heinz Schorlin, guided by the nuns of St. Clare, seemed the man to bring the fulfilment of this old and cherished wish.
It appeared like a leading of the saints and a sign from God that Heinz had been dubbed a knight, and commenced his glorious career at Lausanne while the Emperor Rudolph pledged himself to a new crusade.
She detained Eva so long that dinner was over at the Ortlieb mansion, and her impatient father would have sent for her had not the invalid mother urged him to let her remain.
True, she longed to have a talk with her darling, who for the first time in her life had attended a great entertainment, and doubtless it grieved her to think that Eva did not feel the necessity of pouring out her heart to her own mother rather than to any one else, and sharing with her all the new emotions which undoubtedly had thrilled it; but she knew her child, and would have considered it selfish to place any obstacle in the pathway to eternal salvation of the elect whom God summoned with so loud a voice. Formerly she would rather have seen the young girl, whose charms were developing into such rare beauty, wedded to some good man; but now she rejoiced in the idea that Eva was summoned to rule over the nuns in the neighbouring cloister some day as abbess, in the place of her sister-in-law Kunigunde. Her own days, she knew, were numbered, but where could her child more surely find the happiness she desired for her than with the beloved sisters of St. Clare, whose home she and her husband had helped to build?
Els had concealed from her parents what she fancied she had discovered, for any anxiety injured the invalid, and no one could anticipate how her irritable father might receive the information of her fear. On the other hand, she could confide her troubles without anxiety to Wolff, her betrothed husband. He was wise, prudent, loved Eva like a sister, and in exchanging thoughts with him she always discovered the right course to pursue; but though she expected him so eagerly and confidently, he did not come.
When, in the afternoon, Eva returned home, her whole manner expressed such firm, cheerful composure that Els began to hope she might have been mistaken. The undemonstrative yet tender affection with which she met her mother, too, by no means harmonised with her fears.
How lovely the young girl looked as she sat on a low stool at the head of the invalid's couch and, with her mother's emaciated hand clasped in hers, told her all that she had seen and experienced the evening before! To please the beloved sufferer, she dwelt longer on the description of the gracious manner of the Emperor Rudolph and his sister to her and her father, the conversation with which the Burgrave had honoured her, and his son's invitation to dance. Then for the first time she mentioned Heinz Schorlin, whom she had found a godly knight, and finally spoke briefly of the distinguished foreign nobles and ladies whom he had pointed out and named.
All this reminded the mother of former days and, in spite of the warning of watchful Els not to talk too much, she did not cease questioning or recalling the time when she herself attended such festivals, and as one of the fairest maidens received much homage.
It had been a good day, for it was long since she had enjoyed so much quiet in her own home. The von Montforts, she told Eva, had set off early, with a great train of knights and servants, to ride to Radolzburg, the castle of the Burgrave von Zollern. Her father thought they would probably have a dance there, for the young sons of the Burgrave would act as hosts.
Eva asked carelessly who rode with Cordula this time to submit to her whims, but Els perceived by her sister's flushed cheeks and the tone of her voice what she desired to know, and answered as if by accident that Sir Heinz Schorlin certainly was not one of her companions, for he had ridden through the Frauenthor that afternoon in the train of the Emperor Rudolph and his Bohemian daughter-in-law.
Twilight was already beginning to gather, and Els could not see whether this news afforded Eva pleasure or annoyance, for her mother had taken too little heed of her weakness, and one of the attacks which the physician so urgently ordered her to avoid by caution commenced.
Els and the convent Sister Renata, who helped her nurse the invalid, were now completely absorbed in caring for her, but Eva turned away from the beloved sufferer--her sensitive nature could not endure the sight of her convulsions.
As soon as her mother again lay weak but quiet on the pillows which Els had rearranged for her, Eva obeyed her entreaty to go away, and went to her own chamber. When another attack drew her back to the invalid, a sign from her sister as she reached the threshold bade her keep away from the couch. Should it prove necessary, she whispered, she would call her. If Wolff came, Eva was to tell him that she could not leave her mother, but he must be sure to return early the next morning, as she had a great deal to say to him.
Eva then went to her father, who was dressing to attend a banquet at the house of Herr Berthold Vorchtel, the first Losunger--[Presiding Officer]--in the Council, from which he would be loath to absent himself for the very reason that his host's family had been hostile to him ever since the rumour of the betrothal of Wolff Eysvogel, whom the Vorchtels had regarded as their daughter Ursula's future husband.
Nevertheless, Herr Ernst would not have gone to the entertainment had his wife's condition given cause for anxiety. But he was familiar with these convulsions which, it is true, weakened the invalid, but produced no other results; so he permitted Eva to help him put the last touches to his dress, on which he lavished great care. Spick and span as if he were just out of a bandbox, the elderly man, before leaving the house, went once more to the sick-room, and Eva stood near as, after many questions and requests, he whispered something to Els which she did not hear. With excited curiosity she asked what he had said so secretly, but he only answered hurriedly, "The name of the Man in the Moon's dog," kissed her cheek, and ran downstairs.
At the foot he again turned to Eva and told her to send for him if her mother should grow worse, for these entertainments at the Vorchtels usually lasted a long time.
"Will the Eysvogels be there too?" asked the girl.
"Who knows," replied her father. "I shall be glad if Wolff comes."
The tone in which he uttered the name of his future son-in-law distinctly showed how little he desired to meet any other member of the family, and Eva said sympathisingly, "Then I hope you will have an opportunity to remember me to Wolff."
"Shall I say nothing to Ursel?" asked the father, pressing a good-night kiss upon the young girl's forehead.
"She would not care for it," was the reply. "It cannot be easy to forget a man like Wolff."
"I wish he had stuck to Ursel, and let Els alone," her father answered angrily. "It would have been better for both."
"Why, father," interrupted Eva reproachfully, "do not our lovers seem really created for each other?"
"If the Eysvogels were only of the same opinion," exclaimed Ernst Ortlieb, shrugging his shoulders with a faint sigh. "Whoever marries, child, weds not only a man or a woman; all their kindred, unhappily, must be taken into the bargain. However, Els did not lack earnest warning. When your time comes, girl, your father will be more careful."
Smiling tenderly, he passed his hand over the little cap which covered her thick, fair hair, and went out.
Eva returned to her room and sat down at the spinning-wheel in the bow window, where Katterle had just drawn the curtains closely and lighted the hanging lamp. But the distaff remained untouched, and her thoughts wandered swiftly to the evening before and the ball at the Town Hall. Heinz Schorlin's image rose more and more distinctly before her mind, and this pleased her, for she fancied that he wore on his helm the blue favour which she had chosen, and it led her to consider against what foe she should first send him in the service of his lady and the Holy Church.