Barbara Blomberg by Georg Ebers
Majesty, whose nature demands that people should look up to it, shuns the downward glance of compassion. Yet during this walk the Emperor Charles, even at the risk of presenting a pitiable spectacle, would gladly have availed himself of the litter.
He, who had cherished the proud feeling of uniting in himself, his own imperial power, the temporal and ecclesiastical sovereignty over all Christendom, would now willingly have changed places with the bronzed, sinewy halberdiers who were presenting arms to him along the sides of the staircase. Yet he waved back Luis Quijada with an angry glance and the sharp query, "Who summoned you?" when, in an attitude of humble entreaty, he ventured to offer him the support of his strong arm. Still, pain. compelled him to pause at every third step, and ever and anon to lean upon the strong hip of his royal sister.
Queen Mary gladly rendered him the service, and, as she gazed into his face, wan with anxiety and suffering, and thought of the beautiful surprise which she had in store, she waved back, unnoticed by her royal brother, the pages and courtiers who were following close behind. Then looking up at him, she murmured:
"How you must suffer, Carlos! But happiness will surely follow the martyrdom. Only a few steps, a few minutes more, and you will again look life in the face with joyous courage. You will not believe it? Yet it is true. I would even be inclined to wager my own salvation upon it."
The Emperor shook his head dejectedly, and answered bitterly:
"Such things should not be trifled with; besides, you would lose your wager. Joyous courage, Querida, was buried long ago, and too many cares insure its having no resurrection. The good gifts which Heaven formerly permitted me to enjoy have lost their zest; instead of bread, it now gives me stones. The best enjoyment it still grants me--I am honest and not ungrateful in saying so--is a well-prepared meal. Laugh, if you choose! If moralists and philosophers heard me, they would frown. But the consumption of good things affords them pleasure too. It's a pity that satiety so speedily ends it."
While speaking, he again descended a few steps, but the Queen, supporting him with the utmost solicitude, answered cheerily:
"The baser senses, with taste at their head, and the higher ones of sight and hearing, I know, are all placed by your Majesty in the same regiment, with equal rank; your obedient servant, on the contrary, bestows the commissions of officers only on the higher ones. That seems to me the correct way, and I don't relinquish the hope of winning for it the approval of the greatest general and most tasteful connoisseur of life."
"If the new cook keeps his promise, certainly not," replied Charles, entering into his sister's tone. "De Rye asserts that he is peerless. We shall see. As to the senses, they all have an equal share in enabling us to receive our impressions and form an opinion from them. Why should the tongue and the palate--But stay! Who the devil can philosophize with such twinges in the foot?"
"Besides, that can be done much better," replied the Queen, patting the sufferer's arm affectionately, "while the five unequal brothers are performing the duties of their offices. The saints be praised! Here we are at the bottom. No, Carlos, no! Not through the chapel! The stone flags there are so hard and cold."
As she spoke she guided him around it into the dining-room, where a large table stood ready for the monarch's personal suite and a smaller one for his sister and himself.
The tortured sovereign, still under the influence of the suffering which he had endured, crossed himself and sat down. Quijada and young Count Tassis, the Emperor's favourite page, placed the gouty foot in the most comfortable position, and Count Buren, the chamberlain, presented the menu. Charles instantly scanned the list of dishes, and his face clouded still more as he missed the highly seasoned game pasty which the culinary artist had proposed and he had approved. Queen Mary had ordered that it should be omitted, because Dr. Mathys had pronounced it poison for the gouty patient, and she confessed the offence.
This was done with the frank affection with which she treated her brother, but Charles, after the first few words, interrupted her, harshly forbidding any interference, even hers, in matters which concerned himself alone, and in the same breath commanded Count Buren to see that the dish should still be made. Then, as if to show his sister how little he cared for her opposition, he seized the crystal jug with his own hand, without waiting for the cup-bearer behind him, filled the goblet with fiery Xeres wine, and hurriedly drained it, though the leech had forbidden him, while suffering from the gout, to do more than moisten his lips with the heating liquor.
The eyes of the royal huntress, though she was by no means unduly soft-hearted, grew dim with tears. This was her brother's gratitude for the faithful care which she bestowed upon him! Who could tell whether her surprise, instead of pleasing him, might not rouse his anger? He was still frowning as though the greatest injury had been inflicted upon him, and his sister's tearful eyes led him to exclaim wrathfully, as if he wished to palliate his unchivalrous indignation to a lady:
"I am deprived of one pleasure after another, and the little enjoyment remaining is lessened wherever it can be. Who has heavier loads of anxiety to endure?--yet you spoil my recreation during the brief hours when I succeed in casting off the burden."
Here he paused and obstinately grasped the golden handle of the pitcher again. The Queen remained silent. Contradiction would have made the obdurate sovereign empty another goblet also. Even a look of entreaty would have been out of place on this occasion. So she fixed her eyes mutely and sadly upon her silver plate; but even her silence irritated the Emperor, and he was about to give fresh expression to his ill-humour, when the doors of the chapel opposite to him opened, and the surprise began.
The signal for the commencement of the singing had been the delivery of the first dish from the steward to one of the great nobles, who presented it to their Majesties.
The Queen's face brightened, and tears of heartfelt joy, instead of grief and disappointment, now moistened her eyes, for if ever a surprise had accomplished the purpose desired it was this one.
Charles was gazing, as if the gates of Paradise had opened before him, toward the chapel doors, whence Maestro Gombert's Benedictio Mensae, a melody entirely new to him, was pouring like a holy benediction, devout yet cheering, sometimes solemn, anon full of joy.
The lines of anxiety vanished from his brow as if at the spell of a magician. The dull eyes gained a brilliant, reverent light, the bent figure straightened itself. He seemed to his sister ten years younger. She saw in his every feature how deeply the music had affected him.
She knew her imperial brother. Had not his heart and soul been fully absorbed by the flood of pure and noble tones which so unexpectedly streamed toward him, his eyes would have been at least briefly attracted by the dish which Count Krockow more than once presented, for it contained an oyster ragout which a mounted messenger had brought that noon from the Baltic Sea to the city on the Danube.
Yet many long minutes elapsed ere he noticed the dish, though it was one of his favourite viands. Barbara's song stirred the imperial lover of music at the nocturnal banquet just as it had thrilled the great musicians a few hours before. He thought that he had never heard anything more exquisite, and when the Benedictio Mensa: died away he clasped his sister's hand, raised it two or three times to his lips, and thanked her with such affectionate warmth that she blessed the accomplishment of her happy idea, and willingly forgot the unpleasant moments she had just undergone.
Now, as if completely transformed, he wished to be told who had had the lucky thought of summoning his orchestra and her boy choir, and how the plan had been executed; and when he had heard the story, he fervently praised the delicacy of feeling and true sportsmanlike energy of her strong and loving woman's heart.
The court orchestra gave its best work, and so did the new head cook. The pheasant stuffed with snails and the truffle sauce with it seemed delicious to the sovereign, who called the dish a triumph of the culinary art of the Netherlands. The burden of anxieties and the pangs inflicted by the gout seemed to be forgotten, and when the orchestra ceased he asked to hear the boy choir again.
This time it gave the most beautiful portion of Joscluin de Pres's hymn to the Virgin, "Ecce tu pulchra es"; and when Barbara's "Quia amore langueo" reached his ear and heart with its love-yearning melody, he nodded to his sister with wondering delight, and then listened, as if rapt from the world, until the last notes of the motet died away.
Where had Appenzelder discovered the marvellous boy who sang this "Quia amore langueo"? He sent Don Luis Quijada to assure the leader and the young singer of his warmest approbation, and then permitted the Queen also to seek the choir and its leader to ask whom the latter had succeeded in obtaining in the place of the lad from Cologne, whom he had often heard sing the "tu pulchra es," but with incomparably less depth of feeling.
When she returned she informed the Emperor of the misfortune which had befallen the two boys, and how successful Appenzelder had been in the choice of a substitute. Yet she still concealed the fact that a girl was now the leader of his choir, for, kindly as her brother nodded to her when she took her place at the table again, no one could tell how he would regard this anomaly.
Besides, the next day would be the 1st of May, the anniversary of the death of his wife Isabella, who had passed away from earth seven years before, and the more she herself had been surprised by the rare and singular beauty of the fair-haired songstress, the less could she venture on that day or the morrow to blend with the memories of the departed Queen the image of another woman who possessed such unusual charms. The Emperor had already asked her a few questions about the young singers, and learned that the bell-like weaker voice, which harmonized so exquisitely with that of the invalid Johannes's substitute, belonged to the little Maltese lad Hannibal, whose darling wish, through Wolf's intercession, had been fulfilled. His inquiries, however, were interrupted by a fresh performance of the boy choir.
This again extorted enthusiastic applause from the sovereign, and when, while he was still shouting "Brava!" the highly seasoned game pasty which meanwhile, despite the regent's former prohibition, had been prepared, and now, beautifully browned, rose from a garland of the most tempting accessories, was offered, he waved it away. As he did so his eyes sought his sister's, and his expressive features told her that he was imposing this sacrifice upon himself for her sake.
It was long since he had bestowed a fairer gift. True, in this mood, it seemed impossible for him to refrain from the wine. It enlivened him and doubled the unexpected pleasure. Unfortunately, he was to atone only too speedily for this offence against medical advice, for his heated blood increased the twinges of the gout to such a degree that he was compelled to relinquish his desire to listen to the exquisite singing longer.
Groaning, he suffered himself--this time in a litter--to be carried back to his chamber, where, in spite of the pangs that tortured him, he asked for the letter in which Granvelle informed his royal master every evening what he thought of the political affairs to be settled the next day. Master Adrian, the valet, had just brought it, but this time Charles glanced over the important expressions of opinion given by the young minister swiftly and without deeper examination. The saying that the Emperor could not dispense with him, but he might do without the Emperor, had originally applied to his father, whose position he filled to the monarch's satisfaction in every respect.
The confessor had reminded the sovereign of the anniversary which had already dawned, and which he was accustomed to celebrate in his own way.
Very early in the morning, after a few hours spent in suffering, he heard mass, and then remained for hours in the sable-draped room where he communed with himself alone.
The regent knew that on this memorable day he would not be seen even by her. The success of the surprise afforded a guarantee that music would supply her place to him on the morrow also, and ere she left him she requested a short leave of absence to enjoy the hunting for which she longed, and permission to take his major-domo Quijada with her.
An almost unintelligible murmur from the sufferer told her that he had granted the petition. It was done reluctantly, but the Queen departed at dawn with Don Luis and a small train of attendants, while the Emperor retired into the black-draped chamber.
The gout would really have prohibited him from kneeling before the altar, whence the agonized face of the crucified Redeemer, carved in ivory by a great Florentine master, gazed at him, but he took this torture upon himself.
Even in the period of health and happiness when, at the age of twenty-three, besides the great boon of health, besides fame, power, and woman's love, he had enjoyed in rich abundance all the gifts which Heaven bestows on mortals, his devout nature had led him to retreat into a gloomy, solitary apartment.
The feeling that constantly drew him thither again was akin to the dread which the ancients had of the envy of the gods, and, moreover, the admonition of his pious teacher who afterward became Pope Adrian, that the less man spares himself the more confidently he can rely upon the forbearance of God.
And, in truth, this mighty sovereign, racked by almost unendurable pain, dealt cruelly enough with himself when he compelled his aching knee to bend until consciousness threatened to fail under the excess of agony.
Nowhere did he find more complete calmness than here, in no spot could he pray more fervently, and the boon which he most ardently besought from Heaven was that it would spare him the fate of his insane mother, hold aloof the fiend which in many a gloomy hour he saw stretching a hand toward him.
Here, too, he sought to penetrate the nature of death. In this room, clothed with the sable hue of mourning, he felt that alreadv, while on earth, he had fallen into its all-levelling power. Here his mind, like that of a dying man's, grasped for brief intervals what life had offered and what awaited him beyond the confines of this short earthly existence, in eternity.
While thus occupied, the sovereign, accustomed to speculation, encountered many a dangerous doubt, but he only needed to gaze at the crucified Saviour to find the way again to the promises of his Church.
The last years had deprived him of so large a portion of the most valuable possessions and the best ornaments of his life, and inflicted, both in wardly and outwardly, such keen suffering, that it was easy for him to perceive what a gain death would bring.
What it could take from him was easily lost; the relief it promised to afford no power, science, or art here on earth could procure for him--release from cruel suffering and oppressive cares.
While he was learning the German language the name "Friend Hein," which he heard applied to death, perplexed him; now he thought that he understood it, for the man with the scythe wore to him also the face of a friend, who when the time had come would not keep him waiting long. As he thought of his wife, of whose death this day was the anniversary, he felt inclined to envy her. What he had lost by her decease seemed very little to others who were aware of the long periods of time during which, separated from each other, they had gone their own ways; but he knew that it was more than they supposed, for with Isabella he had lost the certainty that the sincere, nay, perhaps affectionate interest of a being united to him by the sacrament of marriage accompanied his every step.
His pleasure in life had withered with the growth of the harsh conviction that he was no longer loved by any one for his own sake.
In this chamber, draped with sable hangings, his own heart seemed dead, like dry wood from which only a miracle could lure green leafage again. With the only real pity which was at his command, compassion on himself, he rose from the kneeling posture which had become unbearable.
With difficulty he sank into the arm-chair which stood ready for him, and, panting for breath, asked himself whether every joy had indeed vanished. No!
Music still stirred his benumbed heart to swifter throbbing. He thought of the pleasure which the previous evening had afforded, and suddenly it seemed as if he again heard the "Quia amore langueo"--"Because I long for love"--that had touched his soul the day before.
Yes, he, too, still longed for love, for a different, a warmer feeling than the lukewarm blood of his royal mother had bestowed upon her children, or the devotion of the sister to whom the chase was dearer than aught else, certainly than his society.
But such thoughts did not befit this room, which was consecrated to serious reflections. The anniversary summoned him to far different feelings. Yet, powerfully as he resisted them, his awakened senses continued to demand their rights, and, while he closed his eyes and pressed his brow against the base of the altar covered with black cloth, changeful images of happier days rose before him. He, too, had rejoiced in a vigorous, strong, and pliant body. In the jousts he had been sure of victory over even dreaded opponents; as a bull-fighter he had excelled the matador; as a skilful participant in riding at the ring, as well as a tireless hunter, he had scarcely found his equal. In the prime of his youth the hearts of many fair women had throbbed warmly for him, but he had been fastidious. Yet where he had aimed at victory, he had rarely failed.
The sensuous, fair-haired Duchess of Aerschot, the dark-eyed Cornelia Annoni of Milan, the devout Dolores Gonzaga, with her large, calm, enthusiastic eyes, and again and again, crowding all the others into the background, the timid Johanna van der Gheynst, who under her delicate frame concealed a volcano of ardent passion. She had given him a daughter whose head was now adorned by a crown. In spite of the brief duration of their love bond, she had been clearer to him than all the rest--clearer even than the woman to whom the sacrament of marriage afterward united him. And she of whom seven years ago death had bereft him?
At this question a bitter smile hovered around his full lips. How much better love than hers he had known! And how easy Isabella had rendered it not to weary of her, for during his long journeys and frequent dangerous campaigns, instead of accompanying him, she had led in some carefully guarded castle a life that suited her quiet tastes.
A sorrowful smile curled his lips as he recalled the agreement which they had made just before a separation. At that time both were young, yet how willingly she had accepted his proposal that, when age approached, they should separate forever, that she in one cloister and he in another might prepare for the end of life!
What reply would a woman with true love in her heart have made to such a demand?
No, no, Isabella had felt as little genuine love for him as he for her! Her death had been a sorrow to him, but he had shed no tears over it.
He could not weep. He no longer knew whether he was able to do so when a child. Since his beard had grown, at any rate, his eyes had remained dry. The words of the Roman satirist, that tears were the best portion of all human life, returned to his memory. Would he himself ever experience the relief which they were said to afford the human heart?
But who among the living would he have deemed worthy of them? When his insane mother died, he could not help considering the poor Queen fortunate because Heaven had at last released her from such a condition. Of the children whom his wife Isabella and Johanna van der Gheynst had given him, he did not even think. An icy atmosphere emanated from his son Philip which froze every warm feeling that encountered it. He remembered his daughter with pleasure, but how rarely he was permitted to enjoy her society! Besides, he had done enough for his posterity, more than enough. To increase the grandeur of his family and render it the most powerful reigning house in the world, he had become prematurely old; had undertaken superhuman tasks of toil and care; even now he would permit himself no repose. The consciousness of having fulfilled his duty to his family and the Church might have comforted him in this hour, but the plus ultra--more, farther--which had so often led him into the conflict for the dream of a world sovereignty, the grandeur of his own race, and against the foes of his holy faith, now met the barrier of a more powerful fate. Instead of advancing, he had seemed, since the defeat at Algiers, to go backward.
Besides, how often the leech threatened him with a speedy death if he indulged himself at table with the viands which suited his taste! Yet the other things that remained for him to enjoy scarcely seemed worth mentioning. To restore unity to the Church, to make the crowns which he wore the hereditary possessions of his house, were two aims worthy of the hardest struggles, but, unless he deceived himself, he could not hope to attain them. Thus life, until its end--perhaps wholly unexpectedly--arrived within a brief season, offered him nothing save suffering and sacrifice, disappointment, toil, and anxieties.
With little cheer or elevation of soul, he looked up and rang the bell. Two chamberlains and Master Adrian appeared, and while Baron Malfalconnet, who did not venture to jest in this spot, offered him his arm and the valet the crutch, his confessor, Pedro de Soto, also entered the black-draped room.
A single glance showed him that this time the quiet sojourn in the gloomy apartment, instead of exerting an elevating and brightening influence, had had a depressing and saddening effect upon the already clouded spirit of his imperial penitent. In spite of the most zealous effort, he had not succeeded in finding his way into the soul-life of this sovereign, equally great in intellect and energy, but neither frank nor truthful, yet, on the other hand, his penetration often succeeded in fathoming the causes of the Emperor's moods.
With the quiet firmness which harmonized so perfectly with a personal appearance that inspired confidence, the priest now frankly but respectfully expressed what he thought he had observed.
True, he attributed the Emperor's deep despondency to totally different causes, but he openly deplored the sorrowful agitation which the memories of the beloved dead had awakened in his Majesty.
In natural, simple words, the learned man, skilled in the art of language, represented to the imperial widower how little reason he had to mourn his devout wife. He was rather justified in regarding her death hour as the first of a happy birthday. For the sleeper whose dream here on earth he, Charles, had beautified in so many ways, a happy waking had long since followed in the land for which she had never ceased to yearn. For him, the Emperor, Heaven still had great tasks in this world, and many a victory awaited him. If his prayer was heard, and his Majesty should decide to battle for the holiest cause, sorrowful anxieties would vanish from his pathway as the mists of dawn scatter before the rising sun. He well knew the gravity of the demands which every day imposed upon his Majesty, but he could give him the assurance that nothing could be more pleasing to Heaven than that he, who was chosen as its champion, should, by mastering them, enjoy the gifts with which Eternal Love set its board as abundantly for the poorest carter as for the mightiest ruler.
Then he spoke of the surprise of the night before, and how gratefully he had heard that music had once more exerted its former magic power. Its effect would be permanent, even though physical suffering and sorrowful memories might interrupt it for a few brief hours.
"That," he concluded, "Nature herself just at this season teaches us to hope. This day of fasting and sadness will be followed by a series of the brightest weeks--the time of leafage, blossom, and bird songs, which is so dear to the merciful mother of God. May the month of May, called by the Germans the joy month, and which dawns to-day with bright sunshine and a clear, blue sky, be indeed a season of joy to your Majesty!"
"God grant it!" replied the Emperor dully, and then, with a shrug of the shoulders, added: "Besides, I can not imagine whence such joy should come to me. A boy's bell-like voice sang to me yesterday, 'Quia amore langueo.' This heart, too, longs for love, but it will never find it on earth."
"Why not, if your Majesty sends forth to seek it?" replied the confessor eagerly. "The Gospel itself gives a guarantee of success. 'Seek, and ye shall find,' it promises. To the heart which longs for love the all-bountiful Father sends that for which it longs to meet it halfway."
"When it is young," added the Emperor, shrugging his shoulders impatiently. "But when the soul's power of flight has failed, who will bestow the ability to traverse the half of the way allotted to it?"
"The omnipotence which works greater miracles," replied the priest in a tone of the most ardent conviction, pointing upward.
Charles nodded a mournful assent, and, after a sign which indicated to the confessor that he desired the interview to end, he continued his painful walk.
He had waved aside the litter which the lord chamberlain, Count Heinrich of Nassau, had placed ready for him, and limped, amid severe suffering, to his room.
There the Bishop of Arras awaited him with arduous work, and the Emperor did not allow himself a moment's rest while his sister was using the beautiful first of May to ride and hunt. Charles missed her, and still more the faithful man who had served him as a page, and whom he had been accustomed since to have in close attendance upon him.
To gratify his sister's passion for the chase he had given Quijada leave of absence, and now he regretted it. True, he told no one that he missed Don Luis, but those who surrounded him were made to feel his ill-humour plainly enough. Only he admitted to the Bishop of Arras that the radiant light which was shining into his window was disagreeable. It made too strong a contrast to his gloomy soul, and it even seemed as though the course of the sun, in its beaming, unattainably lofty path, mocked the hapless, painful obstruction to his own motion.
At noon he enjoyed very little of the meal, prepared for a fast day, which the new cook had made tempting enough.
In reply to the Count of Nassau's inquiry whether he wished to hear any music, he had answered rudely that the musicians and the boy choir could play and sing in the chapel for aught he cared. Whether he would listen to the performance was doubtful.
Single tones had reached his ears, but he did not feel in the mood to descend the stairs.
He went to rest earlier than usual. The next morning, after mass, he himself asked for Josquin's "Ecce tu pulchra es." It was to be sung during the noonday meal. But when, instead of the Queen and Quijada, a little note came from his sister, requesting, in a jesting tone, an extension of the leave of absence because she trusted to the healing power of the sun and the medicine "music" upon her distinguished brother, and the chase bound her by a really magic spell to the green May woods, he flung the sheet indignantly away, and, just before the beginning of the meal, ordered the singing to be omitted.
Either in consequence of the fasting or the warm sunshine, the pangs of the gout began to lessen; but, nevertheless, his mood grew still more melancholy, for he had believed in the sincere affection of two human beings, and Queen Mary left him alone in his misery, while his faithful Luis, to please the female Nimrod, did the same.