Barbara Blomberg by Georg Ebers
Shortly after sunset Appenzelder received the order to have the boy choir sing before the Emperor.
During the noon hour, which the monarch had spent alone, thoughts so sad, bordering upon melancholy, had visited him, although for several hours he had been free from pain, that he relinquished his resentful intention of showing his undutiful sister how little he cared for her surprise and how slight was his desire to enjoy music.
In fact, he, too, regarded it as medicine, and hoped especially for a favourable effect from the exquisite soprano voice in the motet "Tu pulchra es."
He still had some things to look over with Granvelle, but the orchestra and the boy choir must be ready by ten o'clock.
Would it not have been foolish to bear this intolerable, alarming mood until the midnight meal? It must be dispelled, for he himself perceived how groundless it was. The pain had passed away, the despatches contained no bad news, and Dr. Mathys had permitted him to go out the next day. When Adrian already had his hand on the door knob, he called after him, "And Appenzelder must see that the exquisite new voice--he knows--is heard."
Soon after, when Granvelle had just left him, the steward, Malfalconnet, entered, and, in spite of the late hour--the Nuremberg clock on the writing table had struck nine some time before--asked an audience for Sir Wolf Hartschwert, one of her Highness the regent's household, to whom she committed the most noiseless and the most noisy affairs, namely, the secret correspondence and the music.
"The German?" asked Charles, and as the baron, with a low bow, assented, the Emperor continued: "Then it is scarcely an intrigue, at any rate a successful one, unless he is unlike the usual stamp. But no! I noticed the man. There is something visionary about him, like most of the Germans. But I have never seen him intoxicated."
"Although he is of knightly lineage, and, as I heard, at home in the neighbourhood of the Main, where good wine matures," remarked Malfalconnet, with another bow. "At this moment he looks more than sober, rather as though some great fright had roused him from a carouse. Poor knight!"
"Ay, poor knight!" the Emperor assented emphatically. "To serve my sister of Hungary in one position may be difficult for a man who is no sportsman, and now in two! God's death! These torments on earth will shorten his stay in purgatory."
The Emperor Charles had spoken of his sister in a very different tone the day before, but now she remained away from him and kept with her a friend whom he greatly needed, so he repaid her for it.
Therefore, with a shrug of the shoulders expressive of regret, he added, "However badly off we may be ourselves, there is always some one with whom we would not change places."
"Were I, the humblest of the humble, lucky enough to be in your Majesty's skin," cried the baron gaily, "I wouldn't either. But since I am only poor Malfalconnet, I know of nobody--and I'm well acquainted with Sir Wolf--who seems to me more enviable than your Majesty."
"Jest, or earnest?" asked the Emperor.
"Earnest, deep, well-founded earnest," replied the other with an upward glance whose solemn devotion showed the sovereign that mischief was concealed behind it. "Let your Majesty judge for yourself. He is a knight of good family, and looks like a plain burgher. His name is Wolf Hartschwert, and he is as gentle as a lamb and as pliant as a young willow. He appears like the meek, whom our Lord calls blessed, and yet he is one of the wisest of the wise, and, moreover, a master in his art. Wherever he shows himself, delusion follows delusion, and every one redounds to his advantage, for whoever took him for an insignificant man must doff his hat when he utters his name. If a shrewd fellow supposed that this sheep would not know A from B, he'll soon give him nuts to crack which are far too hard for many a learned master of arts. Nobody expects chivalric virtues and the accompanying expenditure from this simple fellow; yet he practises them, and, when he once opens his hand, people stare at him as they do at flying fish and the hen that lays a golden egg. Appreciative surprise gazes at him, beseeching forgiveness, wherever he is known, as surely as happy faces welcome your Majesty's entry into any Netherland city. Fortune, lavish when she once departs from her wonted niggardliness, guards this her favourite child from disappointment and misconstruction."
"The blessing of those who are more than they seem," replied the Emperor.
"That is his also," sighed Malfalconnet. "That man, your Majesty, and I the poorest of the poor! I was born a baron, and, as the greatest piece of good fortune, obtained the favour of my illustrious master. Now everybody expects from me magnificence worthy of my ancient name, and a style of living in keeping with the much-envied grace that renders me happy. But if your Majesty's divine goodness did not sometimes pay my debts, which are now a part of me as the tail belongs to the comet--"
"Oho!" cried the Emperor here. "If that is what is coming--"
"Do I look so stupid," interrupted the baron humbly, "as to repeat to-day things which yesterday did not wholly fail to make an impression upon your Majesty?"
"They would find deaf cars," Charles replied. "You are certainly less destitute of brains than of money, because you lack system. One proceeds in a contrary direction from the other. Besides, your ancient name, though worthy of all honour, does not inspire the most favourable impression. Malfalconnet! Mal is evil, and falconnet--or is it falconnelle?--is a cruel, greedy bird of prey. So whoever encounters no evil from you, whoever escapes you unplucked, also enjoys a pleasant surprise. As for not being plucked, I, at least, unfortunately have not experienced this. But we will not cloud by too long waiting the good fortune of the gentleman outside who was born under such lucky stars. What brings the Wolf in sheep's clothing to us?"
"One would almost suppose," replied the baron with a crafty smile, "that he was coming to-day on a useless errand, and meant to apply to your Majesty for the payment of his debts."
Here the Emperor interrupted him with an angry gesture; but Malfalconnet went on soothingly: "However, there is nothing to be feared from lambs in sheep's clothing. Just think, your Majesty, how warm they must be in their double dress! No; he comes from the musicians, and apparently brings an important message."
"Admit him, then," the Emperor commanded. A few minutes later Wolf stood before the sovereign, and, in Appenzelder's name, informed him in a tone of sincere regret, yet with a certain degree of reserve, that the performance of the choir boys that day would leave much to be desired, for two of the best singers had not yet recovered.
"But the substitute, the admirable substitute?" Charles impatiently interrupted.
"That is just what troubles us," Wolf replied uneasily. "The magnificent new voice wishes to desert the maestro to-night."
"Desert?" cried the Emperor angrily. "A choir boy in the service of her Majesty the Queen of Hungary! So there is still something new under the sun."
"Certainly," replied Wolf with a low bow, still striving, in obedience to the regent's strict command, not to reveal the sex of the new member of the choir. "And this case is especially unusual. This voice is not in her Majesty's service. It belongs to a volunteer, as it were, a native of this city, whose wonderful instrument and rare ability we discovered. But, begging your Majesty's pardon, the soul of such an artist is a strange thing, inflammable and enthusiastic, but just as easily wounded and disheartened."
"The soul of a boy!" cried Charles contemptuously. "Appenzelder does not look like a man who would permit such whims."
"Not in his choir, certainly," said the young nobleman. "But this voice--allow me to repeat it--is not at his disposal. It was no easy matter to obtain it at all, and, keenly as the maestro disapproves of the caprices of this beautiful power, he can not force it--the power, I mean--to the obedience which his boys----"
Here the Emperor laughed shrilly. "The power, the voice! The songstress, you should say. This whimsical volunteer with the voice of an angel, who is so tenderly treated by rough Appenzelder, is a woman, not a refractory choir boy. How you are blushing! You have proved a very inapt pupil in the art of dissimulation and disguise in my royal sister's service. Really and truly, I am right!"
Here another bow from Wolf confirmed the Emperor's conjecture; but the latter, highly pleased with his own penetration, laughed softly, exclaiming to the baron: "Where were our ears? This masquerade is surely the work of the Queen, who so dearly loves the chase. And she forbade you too, Malfalconnet, to give me your confidence?" Again a silent bow assented.
The Emperor bent his eyes on the ground a short time, and then said, half in soliloquy: "It was not possible otherwise. Whence could a boy learn the ardent, yearning longing of which that 'Quia amore langueo' was so full? And the second, less powerful voice, which accompanied her, was that a girl's too? No? Yet that also, I remember, had a suggestion of feminine tenderness. But only the marvellously beautiful melody of one haunted me. I can hear it still. The irresistible magic of this 'Amore langueo' mingled even in my conversation with Granvelle."
Then he passed his hand across his lofty brow, and in a different tone asked Wolf, "So it is a girl, and a native of this city?"
"Yes, your Majesty," was the reply.
"And, in spite of the praise of the gracious mother of God, a Protestant, like the other fools in this country?"
"No, my lord," replied the nobleman firmly; "a pious Catholic Christian."
"Of what rank?"
"She belongs, through both parents, to a family of knightly lineage, entitled to bear a coat-of-arms and appear in the lists at tournaments. Her father has drawn his sword more than once in battle against the infidels--at the capture of Tunis, under your own eyes, your Majesty, and in doing so he unfortunately ruined the prosperity of his good, ancient house."
"What is his name?"
"A big, broad-shouldered German fighter, with a huge mustache and pointed beard. Shot in the leg and wounded in the shoulder. Pious, reckless, with the courage of a lion. Afterward honoured with the title of captain."
Full of honest amazement at such strength of memory, Wolf endeavoured to express his admiration; but the imperial general interrupted him with another question, "And the daughter? Does her appearance harmonize with her voice?"
"I think so," replied Wolf in an embarrassed tone.
"Wonderfully beautiful and very aristocratic," said the baron, completing the sentence, and raising the tips of his slender fingers to his lips.
But this gesture seemed to displease his master, for he turned from him, and, looking the young Ratisbon knight keenly in the face, asked suspiciously, "She is full of caprices--I am probably right there also--and consequently refuses to sing?"
"Pardon me, your Majesty," replied Wolf eagerly. "If I understand her feelings, she had hoped to earn your Majesty's approval, and when she received no other summons, nay, when your Majesty for the second time countermanded your wish to hear the boy choir, she feared that her art had found no favour in your Majesty's trained ears, and, wounded and disheartened--"
"Nonsense!" the Emperor broke in wrathfully. "The contrary is true. The Queen of Hungary was commissioned to assure the supposed boy of my approval. Tell her this, Sir Wolf Hartschwert, and do so at once. Tell her--"
"She rode to the forest with some friends," Wolf timidly ventured to interpose to save himself other orders impossible to execute. "If she has not returned home, it might be difficult--"
"Whether difficult or easy, you will find her," Charles interrupted. "Then, with a greeting from her warmest admirer, Charles, the music lover, announce that he does not command, but entreats her to let him hear again this evening the voice whose melody so powerfully moved his heart.--You, Baron, will accompany the gentleman, and not return without the young lady!--What is her name?"
"Barbara," repeated the sovereign, as if the name evoked an old memory; and, as though he saw before him the form of the woman he was describing, he added in a low tone: "She is blue-eyed, fairskinned and rosy, slender yet well-rounded. A haughty, almost repellent bearing. Thick, waving locks of golden hair."
"That is witchcraft!" the baron exclaimed. "Your Majesty is painting her portrait in words exactly, feature by feature. Her hair is like that of Titian's daughter."
"Apparently you have not failed to scrutinize her closely," remarked the Emperor sharply. "Has she already associated with the gentlemen of the court?"
Both promptly answered in the negative, but the Emperor continued impatiently: "Then hasten! As soon as she is here, inform me.--The meal, Malfalconnet, must be short-four courses, or five at the utmost, and no dessert. The boy choir is not to be stationed in the chapel, but in the dining hall, opposite to me.--We leave the arrangement to you, Sir Wolf. Of course, a chair must be placed for the lady.--Have the larger table set in another room, baron, and, for ought I care, serve with all twenty courses and a dessert. Old Marquise de Leria will remain here. She will occupy Queen Mary's seat at my side. On account of the singer, I mean. Besides, it will please the marquise's vanity."
His eyes sparkled with youthful fire as he gave these orders. When the ambassadors were already on the threshold, he called after them:
"Wherever she may be, however late it may become, you will bring her. And," he added eagerly, as the others with reverential bows were retiring, "and don't forget, I do not command--I entreat her."
When he was alone, Charles drew a long breath, and, resting his head on his hand, his thoughts returned to the past. Half-vanished pictures unconsciously blended with the present, which had so unexpectedly assumed a bright colouring.
"Barbara," he murmured, almost inaudibly. Then he continued in soliloquy: "The beautiful Jungfrau Groen in Brussels was also called Barbara, and she was the first. Another of this name, and perhaps the last. How can this ardent yearning take root in my seared soul and grow so vigorously?"
Meanwhile he fancied that the "Quia amore langueo" again greeted him yearningly in the sweet melody of her voice.
"How powerfully the ear affects the heart!" he continued, pursuing the same train of thought. "Slender, well-rounded, golden-haired. If she should really resemble the Brussels Barbara! Malfalconnet is a connoisseur. Perhaps, after these gloomy days and years, a semblance of sunlight may return. It is long enough since politics and war have granted me even the slightest refreshment of the heart. And yet, methinks Heaven might feel under obligation to do something for the man who has made it his life-task to hold its enemies in check."
He rose quickly as he spoke, and, while moving forward to ring the little bell whose peal summoned the valet, not the slightest trace of the gouty pain in his foot was perceptible.
Adrian saw with joyful surprise that his master approached without a crutch the door through which he had come, and the faithful servant expressed his astonishment in terms as eager as his position permitted.
On reaching his sleeping-room, the Emperor interrupted him. He wished to be dressed for dinner.
Master Adrian would not believe his own ears. He was to bring one of the new reception robes, and yet to-day not even the Queen of Hungary was to share his Majesty's repast. One of the costliest new costumes! What had come over his lord, who for months, when no distinguished guests were present, had worn only the most comfortable and often very shabby clothes at table, saving the better new garments like an economical housekeeper?
But Charles was not satisfied even with these, for, when Adrian hung over the back of a chair a handsome black court dress, slashed with satin, his master signed to him to take it away, and asked for one of the newest works of art of his Brussels tailor, a violet velvet garment, with slashes of golden yellow sill: on the breast, in the puffed sleeves and short plush breeches. With this were silk stockings tightly incasing the feet and limbs, as well as a ruff and cuffs of Mechlin lace.
Shaking his head, the valet took these articles of dress from the chest; but before he put them on his master, the latter sat down to have his hair and beard carefully arranged.
For weeks he had performed this slight task himself, though with very ill success, for his hair and beard had seemed to his visitors rough and unkempt. This time, on the contrary, mirror in hand, he directed the work of the skilful servant with many an objection, showing as much vanity as in his youth.
After Adrian had put on the new costume, the Emperor shook off the large, warm boot, and held out his gouty foot to the valet.
The faithful fellow gazed beseechingly into his master's face, and modestly entreated him to remember the pain from which he had scarcely recovered; but the Emperor imperiously commanded, "The shoes!" and the servant brought them and cautiously, with grave anxiety, fitted the low-cut violet satin shoes on his feet.
Lastly, the sovereign ordered the Golden Fleece, which he usually wore on a hook below his neck, to be put on the gold chain which, as the head of the order, he had a right to wear with it, and took from the jewel case several especially handsome rings and a very costly star of diamonds and rubies, which he had fastened in the knot of the bow of his ruff. The state sword and sheath, which Adrian handed to him unasked, were rejected.
He needed no steel weapons to-day; the victory he sought must be won by his person.
When the servant held the Venetian mirror before him, he was satisfied. The elderly, half-broken-down man of the day before had become a tall, stately noble in the prime of life; nay, in spite of his forty-six years, his eyes sparkled far more brightly and proudly than many a young knight's in his train.
His features, even now, did not show beautiful symmetry, but they bore the stamp of a strong, energetic mind. The majestic dignity which he knew how to bestow upon it, made his figure, though it did not exceed middle height, appear taller; and the self-confident smile which rested on his full lips, as he was sure of a speedy triumph, well beseemed a general whose sword and brain had gained the most brilliant victories.
Adrian had seen him thus more than once after battles had been won or when he had unhorsed some strong antagonist in the tournament, but it was many a long year ago. He felt as though a miracle was wrought before his eyes, and, deeply loved, kissed his master's sleeve.
Charles noticed it, and, as if in token of gratitude, patted him lightly on the shoulder. This was not much, but it made the faithful fellow happy. How long it was since the last time his imperial aster had gladdened him by so friendly a sign of satisfaction!
Were the days to return when, in the Netherlands, Charles had condescended to treat even humble folk with blunt familiarity?
Adrian did not doubt that he should learn speedily enough what had caused this unexpected change; but the discovery of the real reason was now far from his alert mind, because he was still confident that the Emperor's heart had for years been closed against the charms of woman. Nevertheless, the experienced man told himself that some woman must be connected with this amazing rejuvenation. Otherwise it would surely have been one of the wonders which he knew only from legends.
And lo! Chamberlain de Praet was already announcing a lady--the Marquise de Leria.
If Master Adrian had ever permitted himself to laugh in his master's presence, it would certainly have happened this time, for the curtseying old woman in velvet, silk, and plumes, whose visit his Majesty did not refuse, was probably the last person for whose sake Charles endured the satin shoe on his sensitive foot.
How oddly her round, catlike head, with its prominent cheek bones, and the white wig combed high on the top, contrasted with the rouged, sunken cheeks and eyebrows dyed coal black!
Adrian hastily calculated that she was not far from seventy. But how tightly she laced, how erect was her bearing, how sweet the smile on her sunken mouth! And how did her aged limbs, which must have lost their flexibility long ago, accomplish with such faultless grace the low curtseys, in which she almost touched the floor?
But the valet, who had grown gray in Charles's service, had witnessed still more surprising things, and beheld the presence of royalty bestow strength for performances which even now seemed incomprehensible. The lame had leaped before his eyes, and feeble invalids had stood erect long hours when the duties of the court, etiquette, the command of royalty, compelled them to do so.
What a mistress in ruling herself the marquise had become during her long service at the French and Netherland courts! for not a feature betrayed her surprise at the Emperor's altered appearance while she was thanking him fervently for the favour of being permitted to share the meal with the august sovereign, which had bestowed so much happiness upon her.
Charles cut this speech short, and curtly requested her to take under her charge, in his royal sister's place, a young lady of a noble family.
The marquise cast a swift glance of understanding at the Emperor, and then, walking backward with a series of low bows, obeyed the sovereign's signal to leave him.
Without any attempt to conceal from the valet the strong excitement that mastered him, Charles at last impatiently approached the window and looked down into the Haidplatz.
When his master had turned his back upon him, Adrian allowed himself to smile contentedly. Now he knew all, and therefore thought, for the first time, that a genuine miracle had been wrought in the monarch. Yet it gave him pleasure; surely it was a piece of good fortune that this withering trunk was again putting forth such fresh buds.