Barbara Blomberg by Georg Ebers
The Emperor's table was laid in one of the lower rooms of the Golden Cross. The orchestra and the boy choir had been stationed in Saint Leonhard's chapel. A wide door led from the consecrated chamber, spanned by a vaulted roof, into the dining-room. When it was opened, the music and singing would pour in a full flood to those seated around the board.
Shortly before midnight everything in kitchen and cellar was ready for the royal couple. The wax candles and lamps were already lighted when Queen Mary prepared to bring her imperial brother to the surprise which she had planned, and whose influence she eagerly anticipated.
The Emperor had received the last report half an hour before, and then commissioned his physician, who had again warned him against the excess of work, to protect him from interruption--he desired to have an hour alone.
Dr. Mathys had fulfilled this order with the utmost strictness. Even the English ambassador was dismissed. The members of the royal household and the nobles who during their stay in Ratisbon crowded around the royal brother and sister, and even at this late hour filled the rooms and corridors of the spacious building with busy life, had been commanded to step lightly and keep silent.
The lord chamberlain, Count Heinrich of Nassau, saw that nothing was stirring near the apartment of his imperial master, and the stewards, Quijada and Malfalconnet, aided him. But they could not prevent the barking of Queen Mary's hunting dogs, and when their royal mistress followed them to accompany her illustrious brother to the dining-hall, Malfalconnet ventured to remark that the lion, when he retires to solitude, sometimes values rest more than the presence of even the most beloved and adorable member of his noble race; but the regent quickly retorted that she had not yet reached lion hunting, but she knew that even the king of beasts possessed a stomach, and would be glad to have rest seasoned with dainty food.
"The banquet is ready," added Count Buren, and Malfalconnet, with a low bow, said:
"And a portion of it is the covered chiming dish with which your Majesty's love and wisdom intends to surprise the illustrious epicure."
While speaking, he cautiously opened the door of the royal apartment, but the dogs were held back by the pages who had carried the train of the festal robe. Two others zealously aided her to throw the trailing brocade across her arm, and in this manner she entered her distinguished brother's chamber.
This was so deep that a short walk was necessary to reach the window near which the Emperor sat. The office of lighting the vast room was assigned to a dozen wax candles in a silver candelabrum, but they were so inadequate to the task that neither the mythological scenes on the Brabant Gobelin curtains with which the walls were hung, nor the very scanty furniture of the remainder of the long chamber could be seen from the door.
Thus the prevailing dusk concealed the surroundings of the great monarch who was resting there, and the only object visible to the entering Queen was his figure illumined by the light. In her soul everything else receded far behind the person, welfare, and pleasure of this mighty sovereign. Yet she had already crossed half the room, and her entrance still remained unnoticed.
The Emperor Charles, with his forehead resting on his hand, sat absorbed in thought before the papers which had occupied his attention. How mournful he looked, what sorrowful thoughts were doubtless again burdening that anxious brain! Never before had he seemed to his sister so old.
Perhaps it was the ceaseless planning and pondering of the statesman and general which, during the last few years, had thinned the light-brown hair at the corners of the brow.
The resting ruler now seemed to have brought his mind to repose also, for every emotion had vanished from his pallid face. Even the sharply cut nostrils of the long nose, which usually moved swiftly, were perfectly still. The heavy chin, framed by a thin, closely clipped beard, had sunk upon the high ruff as if for support, and the thick, loosely hanging lower lip appeared to have lost its elasticity.
In this hour of rest and relaxation this tireless and successful sovereign, utterly exhausted, had even relinquished seeming what he was; his brown hair framed his brow and temples in a tangled, disordered mass; the lacings of his velvet doublet were loosened; a shabby woollen coverlet of anything but imperial appearance was wound around his lower limbs, and the foot in which the gout throbbed and ached rested on his sleeping hound, and was wrapped in the cloths which his valet Adrian found at hand after the Venetian ambassador, the confessor, and the leech had left his master.
It pierced his sister to the heart to see her mighty brother, upon whose dominions, it was said, the sun never set, in this guise.
Her glance rested sorrowfully upon him a long time, but even when she moved several paces nearer he retained the same motionless rigidity which had seized upon him and even communicated itself to the dog. The animal knew the regent, and did not let her disturb its repose.
Then a terrible fear assailed her, and the image of the Cid Campeador who, mounted on horseback, went swaying on his steed to meet the foe, rose before her.
"Your Majesty," then again "Your Majesty," she called in a low tone, that she might not startle him; but the answer for which she waited in breathless suspense did not come, and now the anxious dread that filled her sisterly heart forced from her lips the cry, "Carlos!" and once more "Carlos!"
The dog stirred, and at the same time the Emperor raised his bowed head and turned toward his sister.
Drawing a long breath, as if relieved from a heavy burden, she hastened to his side, and, clasping his delicately formed hand, kissed it with passionate tenderness; but the Emperor withdrew it, saying with a mournful smile, which gave his rigid countenance a new and more winning expression, in the Castilian language in which he always addressed her:
"Why are you so agitated, Querida? Did the sight of the silent brother alarm the sister? Ay, darling, there are some things more terrible than the wild boar at which the brave huntress hurls her spear. Our mother's bequest----"
Queen Mary, with hands outstretched beseechingly, bowed the knee before him; but he raised her with more strength than would have been expected from him just before, and, sighing faintly, continued:
"There are hours, Mary, when the demon that overpowered the mother stretches his talons toward the son also. But, in spite of his satanic origin, he is a cowardly wight, and a loving face, a tender word, drives him away."
"Then may my coming be blessed!" she answered warmly. "Yet it can scarcely be a demon or any being of mortal mould that is spoiling the life happiness of my beloved brother and sovereign lord. After all, they are tolerably alike in the main point, and what semblance would the son of hell wear that dares to assail the most powerful and vigorous mind of all the ages, and yet is seized with panic terror at the glance of a feeble woman? Whoever knows the anxieties which have recently burdened your Majesty, and the wide range of the decision to which the course of events is urging you, can not wonder if, as just now, your cheerful spirits desert you. No demons or evil creatures of that sort, Heaven knows, are needed to accomplish it."
"Certainly not," replied the Emperor. "Yet it does not matter what name is borne by the unconquerable power which poisons with horrible images the few hours of repose allotted to the solitary man who is bereft of love and joy. But let us drop the subject! When you appear and raise your voice, it seems as though all gloomy thoughts heard the view hallo which drives your stags and roes back into their coverts, Mary. I suppose you have come to summon me to the table?"
The Queen assented, and now he could not prevent her kissing his hand. Then she seized the dainty little bell on the table to ring for the valet Adrian; but the Emperor Charles stopped her with the exclamation:
"Never mind him. I will go with you as I am, if you do not object to sharing your meal with such a scarecrow of a man. Only permit me to lock up these papers."
"From Rome?" asked the regent eagerly.
"That is easily discerned," replied the Emperor. "New and amazingly favourable promises. Nothing is required of me except the trifling obligation to allow the Protestants nothing in religious affairs which the Pope or the Council do not approve. If I agree to accept the promises, every one will think that I have the advantage, and yet, if the contract is made, it is tearing from the sky the political polestar of many a lustrum, and burying one of my clearest, ripest, most sacred hopes."
Here the startled Queen interrupted him: "That would surely, inevitably be the evil fruit which would grow from such a treaty. It would deliver to the Pope, with fettered hands, this very Council which your Majesty so confidently expected would remove or diminish, in orderly methods, the abuses which are urging so many Christians to abandon the Catholic Church. How often I have heard even her most faithful sons acknowledge that such abuses exist! But if you make the alliance, the self-interest of the hierarchy will know how to prevent the introduction of even a single vigorous amendment, and, instead of the conqueror of the hydra of abuse, your Majesty will render yourself its guardian."
"And," added the Emperor affectionately--he still retained his seat at the writing table--"this alliance, moreover, would force me to the painful necessity of opposing the earnest wish of the dearest, fairest, and wisest of my sisters."
"Because it would render war with the evangelical princes inevitable," cried the Queen excitedly. "Oh, your Majesty, you know that the heretical movement, which is making life a burden to me in my provinces, is going much too far for me, as well as for you here in Germany; nay, that it is hateful to me, because I value nothing more than our holy Church, her greatness and unity. But would it really redound to her welfare if the schism now existing, and which you yourself expected to heal through the Council, should by this very Council be embittered and even perhaps perpetuated? For a long time nothing has seemed to me more execrable than this war. Your Majesty knows that, and therefore my lord and brother can not be vexed with me if I remind him of the hour when, a few months ago, he promised to avoid it and do all in his power to bring what relates to religious matters in these German countries to a peaceful conclusion."
The Emperor looked his sister full in the face, and, while struggling to his feet, said with majestic dignity:
"And I have never given your Highness occasion to doubt my word." Then, changing his tone, he continued kindly: "No means--I repeat it--shall remain untried to preserve peace. I am in earnest, child, though there are now many reasons for breaking the promise. I put them together on the long list yonder, and the Spaniards at the court add new ones every hour. If you care to know them----"
Here he hesitated, because the gout in his foot gave him a sharper twinge; but the Queen availed herself of the pause to exclaim: "I think I am aware of them. It is especially hard just now for the statesman and soldier to keep the sword in the sheath, because Rome offers more than ever, because at the present time no serious opposition is to be feared from the most important states, and because the princes of the empire have neglected nothing which could rouse the resentment of my imperial brother. I know all this, and yet it is as firmly established as Alpine mountains----"
Here a low laugh escaped the Emperor's lips.
"The political course which could be thus firmly established is to be found, you experienced regent, only in one place--the strong imagination of a high hearted woman, who desires to accomplish what she deems right. I, too, you may believe me, am opposed to this war, and, as matters stand now, the German renegades, rather than we, may expect a glorious result. But, nevertheless, it may happen that I shall be compelled to ask you to give me back my promise."
"I should like to see the person who could compel my august brother to undertake anything against his imperial will," the Queen passionately interrupted.
"We will hope that this superior being may not appear only too soon," replied the Emperor, smiling bitterly. "The invincible oppressor bears the name of unexpected circumstances; I encountered one of his harbingers to-day. There lie the documents. Do you know to what those miserable papers force me, the Emperor?--ay, force, I repeat it. To nothing less, Mary, than consciously to deal a blow in the face of justice, whose defender I ought and desire to be. I am not exaggerating, for I am withdrawing a fratricide from the courts, nay, am paving the way for him to evade punishment."
"You mean Alfonso Diaz, who had his brother murdered by a hired assassin because he abandoned the holy Church and accepted the Lutheran religion," said the Queen sorrowfully. "Malvenda was just telling me----"
"He was the instigator of the crime," interrupted the Emperor. "Now he rejoices in it as a deed well pleasing to God, and many thousands, I know, agree with him. And I? Had Juan Diaz been a German Johannes or Hans, the Emperor Charles would have made Alfonso expiate his crime upon the block this very day. But the brothers were Spaniards, and that alters the case."
With this sentence, which fell from his lips in firm, resolute tones, his bearing regained its old decision, and his eyes met his sister's with a flashing glance as he continued:
"The seed which here in the North, in carefully prepared soil and under the fostering care of men only too skilful and ready for conflict, took deep root in the domain of religion, which we were obliged to tolerate because it grew too rapidly and strongly for us to extirpate or crush it without depopulating a great empire and jeopardizing other very important matters, would mean ruin to our Spain. Whoever dared to transplant the heresy to her soil would be the most infamous of the corrupters of a nation, for the holy Church and the kingdom of Spain are one. The mere thought of a Juan Diaz, who had absorbed the heretical Lutheran doctrine here, returning home to infect the hearts of the Castilians with its venom, makes my blood boil also. Therefore, for the sake of Spain, a higher justice compels me to offend the secular one. The people beyond the Pyrenees shall learn that, even for the brother, it is no sin, but a duty, to shorten the life of the brother who abandoned the holy Church. Let Alfonso Diaz strive to obtain absolution. It will not be difficult. He can sleep calmly, so far as the judges are concerned who dispense justice in the name of Charles V."
As he spoke he waved his hand to repel the hound which, when he raised his voice, had pressed closer to him, and glanced at the artistically wrought Nuremberg clocks on the writing table, two of which struck the hour at the same time. Then he himself seized the little bell, rang it, and permitted the valet Adrian to brush his hair and make the necessary changes in his dress.
Then he invited his sister to accompany him to the table.
Walking without a shoe was difficult, and, when he saw the Queen look down sorrowfully at the cloths which swathed the foot, he said while toiling on:
"Imagine that we have been hunting and the boot remained stuck in the mud. I am sure of indulgence from you. As to the others, even with only one shoe I am still the Emperor."
He opened the door as he spoke, and, while the valet held the hound back, the Emperor, with chivalrous courtesy, insisted that his sister should precede him, though she resisted until Baron Malfalconnet, with a low bow to the royal dame, said:
"The meal is served, your Majesty, and if you lead the way you will protect our Emperor and sovereign lord from the unworthy suspicion of wishing to be first at the trencher."
He motioned toward the threshold as he uttered the words, but Charles, who often had a ready answer for the baron's jests, followed his sister in silence with a clouded brow.
Leaning on her arm and the crutch which Quijada had mutely presented to him, Charles cautiously descended the stairs. He had indignantly rejected the leech's proposal to use a litter in the house also, if the gout tortured him.