Barbara Blomberg by Georg Ebers
During the singing in the chapel on the fast day Barbara had waited vainly for a word of appreciation from the Emperor. The Queen of Hungary had gone to the chase, and the monarch had remained in his apartments, while she had done her best below. A few lords and ladies of the court, several priests, knights, and pages had been the only listeners.
This had sorely irritated her easily wounded sensitiveness, but she had appeared at the rehearsal in the New Scales on the following morning. Again she reaped lavish praise, but several times she met Appenzelder's well-founded criticisms with opposition.
The radiant cheerfulness which, the day before yesterday, had invested her nature with an irresistible charm had vanished.
When the tablatures were at last laid aside, and the invitation to sing in the Golden Cross did not yet arrive, her features and her whole manner became so sullen that even some of the choir boys noticed it.
Since the day before a profound anxiety had filled her whole soul, and she herself wondered that it had been possible for her to conquer it just now during the singing.
How totally different an effect she had expected her voice--which even the greatest connoisseurs deemed worthy of admiration--to produce upon the music-loving Emperor!
What did she care if the evening of the day before yesterday the Queen of Hungary had paid her fine compliments and assured her of the high approval of her imperial brother, since Appenzelder had informed her yesterday that it was necessary to conceal from his Majesty the fact that a woman was occupying the place of the lad from Cologne, Johannes. The awkward giant had been unfriendly to women ever since, many years before, his young wife had abandoned him for a Neapolitan officer, and his bad opinion of the fairer sex had been by no means lessened when Barbara, at this communication, showed with pitiless frankness the anger and mortification which it aroused in her mind. A foul fiend, he assured Gombert, was hidden in that golden-haired delight of the eyes with the siren voice; but the leader of the orchestra had interceded for her, and thought that her complaint was just. So great an artist was too good to fill the place of substitute for a sick boy who sang for low wages. She had obliged him merely to win the applause of the Emperor and his illustrious sister, and to have the regent turn her back upon Ratisbon just at this time, and without having informed his Majesty whose voice had with reason aroused his delight, would be felt even by a gentler woman as an injury.
Appenzelder could not help admitting this, and then dejectedly promised Barbara to make amends as soon as possible for the wrong which the regent, much against his will, had committed.
He was compelled to use all the power of persuasion at his command to keep her in the boy choir, at least until the poisoned members could be employed again, for she threatened seriously to withdraw her aid in future.
Wolf, too, had a difficult position with the girl whom his persuasion had induced to enter the choir. What Appenzelder ascribed to the devil himself, he attributed merely to the fervour of her fiery artist temperament. Yet her vehement outburst of wrath had startled him also, and a doubt arose in his mind as to what matrimonial life might be with a companion who, in spite of her youth, ventured to oppose elderly, dignified men so irritably and sharply. But at the very next song which had greeted him from her rosy lips this scruple was forgotten. With sparkling eyes he assented to Gombert's protestation that, in her wrath, she had resembled the goddess Nemesis, and looked more beautiful than ever.
In spite of his gray hair, she seemed to have bewitched the great musician, like so many other men, and this only enhanced her value in Wolf's sight.
Urgently, nay, almost humbly, he at last entreated her to have patience, for, if not at noon, his Majesty would surely desire to hear the boy choir in the evening. Besides, he added, she must consider it a great compliment that his Majesty had summoned the singers to the Glen Cross the evening before at all, for on such days of fasting and commemoration the Emperor was in the habit of devoting himself to silent reflection, and shunned every amusement.
But honest Appenzelder, who frankly contradicted everything opposed to the truth, would not let this statement pass. Nay, he interrupted Wolf with the assurance that, on the contrary, the Emperor on such days frequently relied upon solemn hymns to transport him into a fitting mood. Besides, the anniversary was past, and if his Majesty did not desire to hear them to-day, business, or the gout, or indigestion, or a thousand other reasons might be the cause. They must simply submit to the pleasure of royalty. They was entirely in accordance with custom that his Majesty did not leave his apartments the day before. He never did so on such anniversaries unless he or Gombert had something unusual to offer.
Barbara bit her lips, and, while the May sun shone brilliantly into the hall, exclaimed:
"So, since this time you could offer him nothing 'unusual,' Master, I will beg you to grant me leave of absence." Then turning swiftly upon her heel and calling to Wolf, by way of explanation, "The Schlumpergers and others are going to Prufening to-day, and they invited me to the May excursion too. It will be delightful, and I shall be glad if you'll come with us."
The leader of the choir saw his error, and with earnest warmth entreated her not to make his foolish old head suffer for it. "If, after all, his Majesty should desire to hear the choir that noon, it would only be because----"
Here he hesitated, and then reluctantly made the admission--"Because you yourself, you fair one, who turns everybody's bead, are the 'unusual' something which our sovereign lord would fain hear once more, if the gout does not----"
Then Barbara laughed gaily in her clear, bell like tones, seized the clumsy Goliath's long, pointed beard, and played all sorts of pranks upon him with such joyous mirth that, when she at last released him, he ran after her like a young lover to catch her; but she had nimbler feet, and he was far enough behind when she called from the threshold:
"I won't let myself be caught, but since your pretty white goat's beard bewitches me, I'll be obliging to-day."
She laughingly kissed her hand to him from the doorway as she spoke, and it seemed as though her yielding was to be instantly rewarded, for before she left the house Chamberlain de Praet appeared to summon the choir to the Golden Cross at one o'clock.
Barbara's head was proudly erect as she crossed the square. Wolf followed her, and, on reaching home, found her engaged in a little dispute with her father.
The latter had been much disgusted with himself for his complaisance the day before. Although Wolf had come to escort Barbara to the Emperor's lodgings, he had accompanied his child to the Golden Cross, where she was received by Maestro Appenzelder. Then, since he could only have heard the singing under conditions which seemed unendurable to his pride, he sullenly retired to drink his beer in the tap-room of the New Scales.
As, on account of the late hour, he found no other guest, he did not remain there long, but returned to the Haidplatz to go home with Barbara.
This he considered his paternal duty, for already he saw in imagination the counts and knights who, after the Emperor and the Queen had loaded her with praise and honour, would wish to escort her home. Dainty pages certainly would not be deprived of the favour of carrying her train and lighting her way with torches. But he knew courtiers and these saucy scions of the noblest houses, and hoped that her father's presence would hold their insolence in check. Therefore he had endeavoured to give to his outer man an appearance which would command respect, for he wore his helmet, his coat of mail, and over it the red scarf which his dead wife had embroidered with gold flowers and mountains-his coat-of-arms.
In spite of the indispensable cane in his right hand, he wore his long battle sword, but he would have been wiser to leave it at home.
While pacing up and down before the Golden Cross in the silent night to wait for his daughter, the halberdiers at the entrance noticed him.
What was the big man doing here at this late hour? How dared he venture to wear a sword in the precincts of the Emperor's residence, contrary to the law, and, moreover, a weapon of such unusual length and width, which had not been carried for a long while?
After the guards were relieved they had suddenly surrounded him, and, in spite of his vigorous resistance, would have taken him prisoner. But fortunately the musicians, among them Barbara and Wolf, had just come out into the street, and the latter had told the sergeant of the guards, whom he knew, how mistaken he had been concerning the suspicions pedestrian, and obtained his release. Thus the careful father's hopes had been frustrated. But when he learned that his daughter had not seen the Emperor at all, and had neither been seen nor spoken to by him, he gave--notwithstanding his reverence for the sacred person of his mighty commander--full expression to his indignation.
Fool that he had been to permit Barbara to present herself at court with a troop of ordinary singing boys! Even on the following day he persisted in the declaration that it was his duty, as a father and a nobleman, to protect his daughter from further humiliations of this sort.
Yet when, on the day of fasting, the invitation to sing came, he permitted Barbara to accept it, because it was the Emperor who summoned her. He had called for her again, and on the way home learned that neither his Majesty nor the regent had been among the listeners, and he had gone to rest like a knight who has been hurled upon the sand.
The next morning, after mass, Barbara went to the rehearsal, and returned in a very joyous mood with the tidings that the Emperor wished to hear her about noon. But this time her father wanted to forbid her taking part in the performance, and Wolf had not found it easy to make him understand that this would insult and offend his Majesty.
The dispute was by no means ended when the little Maltese summoned her to the New Scales. Wolf accompanied her only to the Haidplatz, for he had been called to the Town Hall on business connected with his inheritance; but Barbara learned in the room assigned to the musicians that the noon performance had just been countermanded, and no special reason had been given for the change.
The leader of the orchestra had been accustomed to submit to the sovereign's arrangements as unresistingly as to the will of higher powers, and Barbara also restrained herself.
True, wrath boiled and seethed in her breast, but before retiring she only said briefly, with a seriousness which revealed the contempt concealed beneath:
"You were quite right, Maestro Appenzelder. The Emperor considered my voice nothing unusual, and nothing else is fit for the august ears of his Majesty. Now I will go to the green woods."
The leader of the boy choir again did his best to detain her, for what the noon denied the evening would bring, and Gombert aided him with courteous flatteries; but Barbara listened only a short time, then, interrupting both with the exclamation, "I force myself upon no one, not even the highest!" she left the room, holding her head haughtily erect.
Appenzelder fixed his eyes helplessly upon the ground.
"I'd rather put a hoarse sailor or a croaking owl into my choir henceforward than such a trilling fair one, who has more whims in her head than hairs on it."
Then he went out to look for Wolf, for he, as well as Gombert, had noticed that he possessed a certain degree of influence over Barbara. What should he say to their Majesties if they ordered the choir for the late meal and missed the voice about which the Queen had said so many complimentary things in the Emperor's name?
Wolf had told him that he was summoned to the Town Hall. The maestro followed him, and when he learned there that he had gone to the syndic, Dr. Hiltner, he inquired the way to this gentleman's house.
But the knight was no longer to be found there. For the third time the busy magistrate was not at home, but he had been informed that the syndic expected him that afternoon, as he wished to discuss a matter of importance. Dr. Hiltner's wife knew what it was, but silence had been enjoined upon her, and she was a woman who knew how to refrain from speech.
She and her daughter Martina--who during Wolf's absence had grown to maidenhood--were sincerely glad to see him; he had been the favourite schoolmate of her adopted son, Erasmus Eckhart, and a frequent guest in her household. Yet she only confirmed to the modest young man, who shrank from asking her more minute questions, that the matter concerned an offer whose acceptance promised to make him a prosperous man. She was expecting her Erasmus home from Wittenberg that evening or early the next morning, and to find Wolf here again would be a welcome boon to him.
What had the syndic in view? Evidently something good. Old Ursel should help counsel him. The doctor liked her, and, in spite of the severe illness, she had kept her clever brain.
He would take Barbara into his confidence, too, for what concerned him concerned her also.
But when he turned from the Haidplatz into Red Cock Street he saw three fine horses in front of the cantor house. A groom held their bridles. The large chestnut belonged to the servant. The other two-a big-boned bay and an unusually wellformed Andalusian gray, with a small head and long sweeping tail--had ladies' saddles.
The sister of rich old Peter Schlumperger, who was paying court to Barbara, had dismounted from the former. She wanted to persuade the young girl, in her brother's name, to join the party to the wood adjoining Prfifening Abbey.
At first she had opposed the marriage between the man of fifty and Barbara; but when she saw that her brother's affection had lasted two years, nay, had increased more and more, and afforded new joy to the childless widower, she had made herself his ally.
She, too, was widowed and had a large fortune of her own. Her husband, a member of the Kastenmayr family, had made her his heiress. Blithe young Barbara, whose voice and beauty she knew how to value, could bring new life and brightness into the great, far too silent house. The girl's poverty was no disadvantage; she and her brother had long found it difficult to know what to do with the vast wealth which, even in these hard times, was constantly increasing, and the Blomberg family was as aristocratic as their own.
The widow's effort to persuade the girl to ride had not been in vain, for Wolf met Frau Kastenmayr on the stairs, and Barbara followed in a plain dark riding habit, which had been her mother's.
So, in spite of Maestro Appenzelder, Miss Self-Will had really determined to leave the city.
Her hasty information that the Emperor did not wish to hear the choir at noon somewhat relieved his mind; but when, in answer to his no less hasty question about the singing at the late meal, the answer came, "What is that to me?" he perceived that the sensitiveness which yesterday had almost led her to a similar step had now urged her to an act that might cause Appenzelder great embarrassment, and rob her forever of the honour of singing before their Majesties.
While the very portly Frau Kastenmayr went panting down the narrow stairs, Wolf again stopped Barbara with the question why she so carelessly trifled with what might be the best piece of good fortune in her life, and shook his head doubtfully as, tossing hers higher, with self-important pride she answered low enough not to be heard by the widow, "Because a ride through the green woods in the month of May is pleasanter than to sing into vacancy at midnight unheeded."
Here the high, somewhat shrill voice of Frau Kastenmayr, who felt jealous in her brother's behalf at hearing Barbara whispering with the young knight, interrupted them.
Her warning, "Where are you, my darling?" made the girl, with the skirt of her riding habit thrown over her arm, follow her swiftly.
Wolf, offended and anxious, would have liked to make her feel his displeasure, but could not bring himself to let her go unattended, and, with some difficulty, first helped Frau Kastenmayr upon her strong steed, then, with very mingled feelings, aided Barbara to mount the noble Andalusian. While she placed her little foot in his hand to spring thence with graceful agility into the saddle, the widow, with forced courtesy, invited the young gentleman to accompany her and her brother to Prufening. There would be a merry meal, which she herself had provided, in the farmhouse on the abbey lands.
Without giving a positive answer, Wolf bowed, and his heart quivered as Barbara, from her beautiful gray horse, waved her riding whip to him as a queen might salute a vassal.
How erect she sat in her saddle! how slender and yet how well rounded her figure was! What rapture it would be to possess her charms!
That she would accept the elderly Schlumperger for the sake of his money was surely impossible. And yet! How could she, with laughing lips, cast to the wind the rare favour of fortune which permitted her to display her art to the Emperor, and so carelessly leave him, Wolf, who had built the bridge to their Majesties, in the lurch, unless she had some special purpose in view; and what could that be except the resolution to become the mistress of one of the richest houses in Ratisbon? The words "My darling," which Frau Kastenmayr had called to Barbara, again rang in his ears, and when the two ladies and the groom had vanished, he returned in a very thoughtful mood to the faithful old maid-servant.
Every one else who was in the street or at the window looked after Barbara, and pointed out to others the beautiful Jungfrau Blomberg and the proud security with which she governed the spirited gray. She had become a good rider, first upon her father's horses, and then at the Wollers in the country, and took risks which many a bold young noble would not have imitated.
Her aged suitor's gray Andalusian was dearer than the man himself, whom she regarded merely as a sheet-anchor which could be used if everything else failed.
The thought of what might happen when, after these days of working for her bread ended, still more terrible ones followed, had troubled her again and again the day before. Now she no longer recollected these miserable things. What a proud feeling it was to ride on horseback through the sweet May air, in the green woods, as her own mistress, and bid defiance to the ungrateful sovereign in the Golden Cross!
The frustration of the hope that her singing would make the Emperor desire to hear her again and again had wounded her to the depths of her soul and spoiled her night's rest. The annoyance of having vainly put forth her best efforts to please him had become unendurable after the fresh refusal which, as it were, set the seal upon her fears, and in the defiant flight to the forest she seemed to have found the right antidote. As she approached the monarch's residence, she felt glad and proud that he, who could force half the world to obey him, could not rule her.
To attract his notice by another performance would have been the most natural course, but Barbara had placed herself in a singular relation toward the Emperor Charles. To her he was the man, not the Emperor, and that he did not express a desire to hear her again seemed like an insult which the man offered to the woman, the artist, who was ready to obey his sign.
Her perverse spirit had rebelled against such lack of appreciation of her most precious gifts, and filled her with rankling hatred against the first person who had closed his heart to the victorious magic of her voice.
When she refused Appenzelder her aid in case the Emperor Charles desired to hear the choir that evening, and promised Frau Kastenmayr to accompany her to Prufening, she had been like a rebellious child filled with the desire to show the man who cared nothing for her that, against her will, he could not hear even a single note from her lips.
They were to meet the other members of the party at St. Oswald's Church on the Danube, so they were obliged to pass the Golden Cross.
This suited Barbara and, with triumphant selfconfidence, in which mingled a slight shade of defiance, she looked up to the Emperor's windows. She did not see him, it is true, but she made him a mute speech which ran: "When, foolish sovereign, who did not even think it worth while to grant me a single look, you hear the singing again to-night, and miss the voice which, I know full well, penetrated your heart, you will learn its value, and long for it as ardently as I desired your summons."
Here her cheeks glowed so hotly that Frau Kastenmayr noticed it, and with maternal solicitude asked, from her heavy, steady bay horse:
"Is the gray too gay for you, my darling?"