Barbara Blomberg by Georg Ebers
"Poor Wolf!" old Ursel had exclaimed. But whoever had met the young knight the following morning, as he went up the stairs to the Blombergs' rooms, would have deemed him, like Baron Malfalconnet, the happiest of mortals.
He had obeyed Dr. Hiltner's summons, and remained a long time with him. Then he went home at a rapid pace, for he longed to tell Barbara how fair a prospect for their future was opening before him.
She had showed her liking for him plainly enough yesterday when they parted. What should prevent her from becoming his now that he could promise an ample income?
There was some one stirring in the private chapel as he passed, but he paid no heed; in former days many people from the neighbourhood prayed here frequently.
He found no one in the Blombergs' home except the father.
Barbara would certainly return immediately, the old man said. She had gone down to the chapel a short time before. She was not in the habit of doing so at this hour, but the great favour shown her by the Emperor had probably gone to her head, and who could wonder?
Wolf also thought it natural that so great a success should excite her powerfully: but he, too, had a similar one to relate, and, with joyful emotion, he now told the old gentleman what the syndic had offered.
The Council, which, by the establishment of the "Convivium," had already provided for the fostering of the noble art of music, wished to do still more. The project had been dear to the recently deceased Martin Luther, and the Ratisbon syndic, who had enjoyed his friendship, thought he was carrying out his wishes----
Here Wolf was interrupted, for the table groaned under the blow of the old warrior's still powerful fist, coupled with the exclamation: "So there is still to be no rest from the accursed disturber of the peace, although he is dead! No offence, my lad; but there can be nothing edifying to a good Christian where that Wittenberg fellow is concerned."
"Only have patience," Wolf interposed here, secure of victory, and now, slightly vexed with himself for his imprudence in mentioning Martin Luther's name to the old hater of Turks and heretics, he explained that Dr. Hiltner, in the name of the Council, had offered him the position of Damian Feys, Barbara's teacher. The Netherlander was going home, and the magistrate was glad to have found in him, Wolf, a native of Ratisbon who would be no less skilled in fostering music in this good city. To bind him securely, and avoid the danger of a speedy invitation elsewhere, the position offered was provided with an annual salary hitherto unprecedented in this country, and which far exceeded that of many an imperial councillor. This had been rendered possible through a bequest, whose interest was to be devoted to the development of music, and--if he should accept the place--to him and his future wife.
When he heard this, he would fain have instantly bestowed the most beautiful candles upon the Holy Virgin, but the scruple concerning religion had prevented his rejoicing fully; and when he told the syndic that under no circumstances could he abandon the old faith, it was done with the fear that the glittering bird would fly away from him. But the result had been different, for Dr. Hiltner replied that religion did not enter into the matter. He knew Wolf and his peaceful nature, and therefore hoped that he would be advised that music was a language equally intelligible to all persons of feeling, whatever tongue they spoke and whatever creed they preferred. This opinion was also that of the Catholic maestro Feys, and he had therefore escaped all difficulty. Wolf must, of course, consider the circumstances which he would find here. If he would accommodate himself to them, the Council would be willing to overlook his faith; besides, Hiltner, on his own authority, had given him the three days' time to reflect, for which he had asked on Barbara's account.
A long-drawn "H'm" from Blomberg followed this disclosure. Then he shook his clumsy head, and, grasping his mustache with his hand, as if he wanted in that way to stop the motion of his head, he said thoughtfully: "Not a whole thing, Wolf, rather a double one, or--if we look at it differently--it is only a half, for an honest friend of our Holy Church. The way into which they tempt you is paved with gold, but--but--I see the snares and pitfalls----"
He rose as he spoke, muttering all sorts of unintelligible things, until he finally exclaimed, "Yet perhaps one might----"
Then he looked impatiently toward the door, and asked: "Where is the girl loitering? Would Eve probably bite the apple of temptation also?"
"Shall I call her?" cried Wolf eagerly.
"No, no," said the captain. "It is sinful to disturb even our nearest relatives at prayer. Besides, you would not believe how the maestro's praises and the imperial gift have excited the vanity in her woman's nature. For the first time in I know not how many years, she overslept the hour of mass. It was probably ten o'clock when I knocked at her chamber door. Toward eleven there was a movement in her room. Then I opened the door to bid her good-morning, but she neither heard nor saw anything, and knelt at the priedieu as if turned to stone. Before going to sleep and early in the morning I expect such things, but when it is almost noon! Her porridge still stood untouched on the table here, and to-day there is no occasion for fasting. But I did not like to disturb her, and perhaps she would still be kneeling before the Virgin's image if the maid-servant hadn't blundered in to carry a bouquet which Herr Peter Schlumperger's servant had brought. Then Barbara started up as if a hornet had stung her. And how she looked at me! Once--I knew it instantly--I had gazed into such a marvellously beautiful face, such helpless blue eyes. Afterward I remembered who and where it had been. God guard me from sinning against my own child, but that was exactly the way the young girl looked who they--it was farther back in the past than you can remember--burned here for a witch, as the halberdiers and monks led her to the place of execution. Susanne Schindler--that was her name--was the daughter of a respectable notary's clerk, who was obliged to wander about the world a great deal, and perished in Hungary just as she reached womanhood. Her mother had died when she was born, and an old woman had taken care of her out of friendship. People called the lass 'beautiful Susel,' and she was wonderfully charming. Pink and white, like the maiden in the fairy tale, and with glittering golden hair just like my Wawerl's. The old woman with whom she lived--her aunt or some other relative--had long practised the healing of all sorts of infirmities, and when a young Spanish count, who had come here with the Emperor Charles to the Reichstag in the year '31, fell under his horse in leaping a ditch, his limbs were injured so that he could not use them. As he did not recover under the care of the Knights of St. John, who first nursed him, he went to the herb doctress, and she took charge of him, and cured him, too, although the skill of the most famous doctors and surgeons had failed to help him.
"But, to make amends, Satan, who probably had the largest share in the miracle, visited him with the sorest evil, for 'beautiful Susel,' who was the old woman's assistant, had so bewitched the young count that he not only fell in love with her, but actually desired to make her his wife.
"Then all the noble relatives at home interfered. The Holy Inquisition commanded the investigation of the case, and sent a stern vicar general to direct the proceedings of the Dominicans, who had seized the temptress. Then it came to light that 'beautiful Susel' had bewitched the luckless young count and robbed him of reason by her wicked arts.
"The old woman, whom they had also examined, escaped her just punishment because she died of the plague, which was raging here at that time, but 'beautiful Susel' was burned, and I looked on while it was done.
"When the Dominicans had led her to the stake, she turned toward the people who had flocked here from all quarters. Many doubtless pitied her on account of her marvellous beauty, and because the devil had given her the mask of the most touching kindness of heart; but she gazed directly into my face with her large, blue eyes as I stood close by, and for years I saw the witch's look distinctly before me. Yet what do we not at last forget? And now it must happen that what reminded me of her again is my own innocent child! Wawerl just looked into my eyes as if 'beautiful Susel' had risen from her grave. It was not long, yet it seemed as if she shrank in terror from me, her own clear father. She gazed up at me in helpless despair, as if she feared God and the world.
"I have learned little about shivering, but a chill ran down my spine. Of course, I did not let her notice anything. Poor child! after the honour bestowed yesterday, I thought there would be nothing to-day except laughter and loud singing. But my grandmother used to say that the grief which tortures a young girl--she herself knows not why--is the hardest to bear, and then Barbara must now make up her mind about marriage, for, besides you, there are Peter Schlumperger and young Crafft to be considered.
"I remembered all this, and so, as usual, I took her face between my hands to give her her morning kiss. She always offers me her lips, but to-day she turned away so that my mouth barely brushed her cheeks. 'Women's whims!' I thought, and therefore let it pass. You can imagine how glad I should have been to hear something more about yesterday evening, but I made no objection when she wished to go to the chapel at once, because she had overslept the hour of mass. She would be back again before the porridge was heated. But the little bowl has stood there probably three quarters of an hour, and we are still waiting in vain."
Here he paused in his voluble flow of speech, and then burst forth angrily: "The devil may understand such a girl's soul! Usually Wawerl does just the opposite of what one expects; but if she does accept you, she will--as an honest man I ought not to conceal it from you--she will give you many a riddle to guess. Whims and freaks are as plenty with her as buttercups in spring turf; but you can't find a more pious girl in all Ratisbon. From ancient times the motto of the Blombergs has been 'Faith, Courage, and Honour,' and for that very reason it seems to me highly improbable that Wawerl would advise you to accept an office which, after all, will force you to yield to the will of heretical superiors. The high pay alone will hardly win her."
"It will not?" asked Wolf in astonishment. "It is for her alone, not for myself, that I value the increased income."
"For her?" repeated the old man, shrugging his shoulders incredulously. "Open your eyes, and you will see what she cares for gold and jewels."
"The splendid bouquet there--do you suppose that she even looked at it? Bright pinks, red roses, and stately lilies in the centre. Where were they obtained, since April is scarcely past? And yet she threw the costly birthday gift aside as if the flowers were apple parings. It was not she, but I, who afterward put them in the pitcher, for I can't bear to see any of God's creatures thirst, even though it is only a flower. Besides, we both know that the fullest purse in the city, and a man worthy of all respect to boot, are attached to the bouquet. Yes, indeed! For a long time she has been unwilling to share my poverty, and if Herr Peter had remained loyal to our holy religion, I would persuade her myself."
Here, exhausted by his eager speech, he paused with flushed cheeks--for it was a hot day--and raised his long arm to take his hat from the hook, to refresh his dry palate at the tavern.
But, after a brief pause for reflection, he restored it to its place.
He had remembered that he had not stirred a finger that morning, and had promised to have an inscription on a jug completed early the next day. Besides, the baker had not been paid for four weeks, so, sighing heavily, he dragged himself to the workbench to move the burin with a weary hand.
Wolf had followed him with his eyes, and the sight of the chivalrous hero, the father of the girl whom he loved, undertaking such a wretched occupation, in such a mood, pierced him to the heart.
"Father Blomberg," he said warmly, putting his hand on his shoulder, "let your graver rest. I am a suitor for your child's hand. We are old friends, and if from my abundance I offer you----"
Here the hot-blooded old man furiously exclaimed: "Don't forget to whom you are speaking, young fellow! How important he feels because he gets his living at court! True, there is no abundance here; but I practise this art merely because I choose, and because it cools my hot blood in this lukewarm time of peace. But if on that account," he added threateningly, while his prominent eyes protruded even farther than usual, "you ever again venture to talk to me as though I were a day labourer or a receiver of alms----"
Here he hesitated, for in the midst of his outbreak Barbara had noiselessly entered the room. Now she approached him, and, in a more gentle and affectionate tone than she had ever used before, entreated him to rest.
The captain, groaning, shook his head, but Barbara stepped lightly upon the low wooden bench on which he sat, drew his gray head toward her, and tenderly stroked his hair and beard, whispering: "Rise, father, and let somebody else finish the engraving, it is so cool and shady in the green woods where the birds are singing, and only yesterday you praised the refreshing drink at the Red Cock."
Here he impatiently, yet with a pleased senile, endeavoured to release himself from her arms, but she interrupted his exclamation, "Don't you know, Miss Thoughtless," with the whispered entreaty: "Here me out first, father! Maestro Appenzelder asked me to add my voice to the boy choir a few times more, and yesterday evening the treasurer told me that the Queen of Hungary had commissioned him to give me as many ducats as the boys received pennies."
She spoke the truth; but the old man laughed heartily in his deep tones, cast a quick glance at Wolf, who was looking up at his weapons, and, lowering his voice, cried gaily, "That's what I call a feminine Chrysostomus or golden mouth, and I should think----"
Here he hesitated, for a doubt arose in his chivalrous mind whether it was seemly for a young girl who belonged to a knightly race to accept payment for her singing. But the thought that it came from the hand of royalty, and that even the great Duke of Alba, the renowned Granvelles, and so many princes, counts, and barons received golden wages for their services from the Emperor's hand, put an end to these scruples.
So, in a happier frame of mind than he had experienced for a long time, he said in a low tone, that he might not be understood by their guest: "Greater people than we rejoice in the gifts which emperors and kings bestow, and--we can use them, can't we?"
Then he rubbed his hands, laughed as if he had outwitted the people of whom he was thinking, and whispered to his daughter: "The baker will wonder when he gets paid this time in glittering gold, and the butcher and Master Reinhard! My boots still creak softly when I step, and you know what that means. The soles of your little shoes probably only sing, but they, too, are not silent."
The old man, released from a heavy burden of care, laughed merrily again at this jest, and then, raising his voice, told his daughter and Wolf that he would first get a cool drink and then go outside the gate wherever his lame foot might carry him. Would not the young nobleman accompany him?
But Wolf preferred to stay with Barbara, that he might plead his cause in person. There was something so quiet and diffident in her manner. If she would not listen to him to-day, she never would. In saying farewell, the captain remarked that he would not meddle in the affair of the Council. Wawerl alone must decide that.
"When I return home," he concluded, "you will have come to an agreement, and, whatever the determination may be, I shall be satisfied. Perhaps some bright idea may come to me, too, over the wine. I'll go to the Black Bear, where I always meet fellow-soldiers."
Then he raised his hand with a gay farewell salute, and left the room.