Barbara Blomberg by Georg Ebers
As soon as the captain's limping steps died away on the stairs, Wolf summoned all his courage and moved nearer to Barbara.
His heart throbbed anxiously as he told himself that the next few minutes would decide his future destiny.
As he saw her before him, fairer than ever, with downcast eyes, silent and timid, without a trace of the triumphant self-assurance which she had gained during his absence, he firmly believed that he had made the right choice, and that her consent would render him the most enviable of happy mortals. If she refused him her hand--he felt this no less plainly--his life would be forever robbed of light and joy.
True, he was no longer as blithe and full of hope as when he entered her plain lodgings a short time before.
The doubt of the worthy man, behind whom the house door had just closed, had awakened his doubts also. Yet what he now had it in his power to offer, since his conversation with the syndic, was by no means trivial. He must hold fast to it, and as he raised his eyes more freely to her his courage increased, for she was still gazing at the floor in silent submission, as if ready to commit her fate into his hands; nay, in the brief seconds during which his eyes rested upon her, he perceived an expression which seemed wholly alien to her features, and bestowed upon this usually alert, self-assured, vivacious creature an air of weary helplessness.
While he was generally obliged to maintain an attitude of defence toward her, she now seemed to need friendly consolation. So, obeying a hasty impulse, he warmly extended both hands, and in a gentle, sympathizing tone exclaimed, "Wawerl, my dear girl, what troubles you?"
Then her glance met his, and her blue eyes flashed upon him with an expression of defiant resistance; but he could not help thinking of the young witch who was said to have resembled her, and a presentiment told him that she was lost to him.
The confirmation of this foreboding was not delayed, for in a tone whose repellent sternness startled him, she angrily burst forth: "What should trouble me? It as ill becomes you to question me with such looks and queries as it pleases me." Wolf, in bewilderment, assured her that she had seemed to him especially charming in her gracious gentleness. If anything had happened to cloud her fearless joyousness, let her forget it, for the matter now to be considered concerned the happiness of two human lives.
That was what she was saying to herself, Barbara replied in a more friendly tone, and, with newly awakened hope, the young knight informed her that the time had now come when, without offending against modesty, he might call himself a "made man."
With increasing eagerness and confidence he then told her what the councillor had offered. Without concealing her father's scruples, he added the assurance that he felt perfectly secure against the temptations of which there would certainly be no lack while he was in the service of a Protestant magistracy.
"And when you, devout, pure, true girl, stand by my side," he concluded with an ardour which surprised Barbara in this quiet, reserved man, "when you are once mine, my one love, then I shall conquer the hardest obstacle as if it were mere pastime, then I would not change places with the Emperor, for then my happiness would be----"
Hitherto she had silently permitted him to speak, but now her cheeks suddenly flamed with a deep flush, and she warmly interrupted: "You deserve to be happy, Wolf, and I could desire nothing more ardently than to see you glad and content; but you would never become so through me. How pale you grow! For my sake, do not take it so much to heart; it grieves me to see you suffer. Only believe that. It cuts me to the heart to inflict such great sorrow upon one so loyal, good, and dear, who values me so much more than I deserve."
Here Wolf, deeply agitated, wildly called her name, and besought her not to cast aside so harshly the wealth of love and fidelity which he offered.
His own anguish of soul, and the pain inflicted by the cruel blow which crushed his dearest hopes, robbed him of fortitude and calmness. With tears in his eyes, he threw himself on his knees before her and gazed into her face with anxious entreaty, exclaiming brokenly: "Do not--do not inflict this suffering upon me, Wawerl! Rob me of everything except hope. Defer your acceptance until I can offer you a still fairer future, only be merciful and leave me hope!"
Tears now began to glitter in Barbara's eyes also, and Wolf, noticing it, hastened with reviving courage to assure her how little it would cost him to reject, once for all, to please her, the tempting position offered to him here. He could soon obtain a good office elsewhere, since their Majesties were not only favourably disposed toward him, but now toward her also. True, to him even the most brilliant external gifts of life would be valueless and charmless without her love.
But here Barbara imperatively commanded him to rise, and not make his own heart and hers still heavier without avail.
Wolf pressed his hands upon his temples as violently as if he feared losing his senses; but the young girl voluntarily put her arm around his shoulders, and said with sincere emotion: "Poor Wolf! I know how thoroughly in earnest you are, but I dare not even leave you hope--I neither can nor ought. Yet you may hear this: From my childhood you have been dearer to me than any one else, and never shall I forget how firmly you cling to me, how hard it is for you to give me up."
Then Sir Wolf vehemently asked to know what stood between them; and Barbara, after a brief pause for reflection, answered, "Love for another."
The confession pierced him like a dagger thrust, and he passionately entreated her to tell him the name of the man who had defrauded him of the happiness to which he possessed an older and better right than any one else.
He paced the room with long strides as he spoke, gazing around him as if he imagined that she had his rival concealed somewhere.
In doing so his glance fell upon Herr Schlumperger's bouquet, and he wildly cried: "He? So, after all, wealth----"
But this was too much for Barbara, and she stopped him with the exclamation: "Fool that you are! As if You did not know that I am not to be bought for the paltry florins of a Ratisbon moneybag!"
But the next instant she had repented her outbreak, and in words so loving and gentle, so tender and considerate that his heart melted and he would fain have flung himself again at her feet, she explained to him more particularly why she was obliged to inflict this suffering upon him.
Her heart was no longer free, and precisely because he was worthy of the whole affection of a loyal heart she would not repay him in worthless metal for the pure gold of his love. She was no prophetess, yet she knew full well that some day he would bless this hour. What she concealed from every one, even her father, as an inviolable secret, she had confessed to him because he deserved her confidence.
Then she began to speak of Dr. Hiltner's offer, and discussed its pros and cons with interest as warm as if her own fate was to be associated with his.
The result was that she dissuaded him from settling in Ratisbon. She expected higher achievements from him than he could attain here among the Protestants, who, on account of his faith, would place many a stumbling-block in his way.
Then, changing her businesslike tone, she went on with greater warmth to urge him, for her sake, and that he might be the same to her as ever, to remain loyal to the religion they both professed. She could not fulfil his hopes, it is true, but her thoughts would often dwell with him and her wishes would follow him everywhere. His place was at court, where some day he would win a distinguished position, and nothing could render her happier than the news that he had attained the highest honour, esteem, and fame.
How gentle and kind all this sounded! Wolf had not imagined that she could be so thoughtful, so forgetful of self, and so affectionate in her sympathy. He hung upon her lips in silent admiration, yet it was impossible for him to determine whether this sisterly affection from Barbara was pouring balm or acrid lye upon his wounds.
Positively as she had refused to answer his question concerning the happy mortal whom she preferred to him, Wolf could not help secretly searching for him.
Agitated and tortured to the verge of despair, even the friendliness with which she was trying to sweeten his cruel fate became unbearable, and while she was entreating him to continue to care for her and to remain on the same terms of intimacy with her father and herself, he suddenly seized her hand, covered it with ardent kisses, and then, without a farewell word, hastily left the room.
When Barbara was alone she retired into the bow-window and fell into a silent reverie, during which she often shook her head, as if amazed at herself, and often curled her full lips in a haughty smile.
The maid-servant brought in the modest meal.
Her father had forgotten it, but he would undoubtedly find more substantial viands at the Black Bear. Barbara was speedily satisfied. How poorly the food was cooked, how unappetizing was the serving! When the maid had removed the dishes, Barbara continued her reverie, and even her father had never gazed into vacancy with such gloomy earnestness.
What would she now have given for a mother, a reliable, faithful confidante! But she had none; and Wolf, on whose unselfish love she could depend, was the last person whom she could initiate into her secret.
If she had confided to him the matter which so deeply troubled her and yet filled her with the greatest pride, the poor old warrior, who valued honour far more than life, would have turned her out of the house.
Early that morning she had averted her lips from his because she felt as if the Emperor's kiss had consecrated them. She was still under the mastery of the feeling that some disagreeable dream had borne her back to these miserable rooms, while her true place was in the magnificent apartments of royalty.
She had slept too late to attend mass, and therefore went to the private chapel, the abode of the only confidante to whom she could open her whole heart without reserve or timidity--the Mother of God.
She had done this with entire devotion, and endeavoured to reflect upon what had happened and what obligations she must meet. But she had had little success, for as soon as she began to think, her august lover rose before her eyes, she imagined that she heard his tender words, and her mind wandered to the future.
Only she had clearly perceived that she had lost something infinitely great, and obtained in its place something that was far more exquisite, that she had been deemed worthy of a loftier honour, a richer happiness than any one else.
Ah, yes, she was happy, more than happy, and yet not entirely so, for happiness must be bright, and a dark, harassing shadow fell again and again over the sunny enthusiasm which irradiated her nature and lent her a haughtier bearing.
She ascribed it to the novelty of her elevation to a height of which she had never dreamed. Eyes accustomed to twilight must also endure pain, she told herself, ere they became used to the brilliance of the sun.
Perhaps Heaven, in return for such superabundant gifts, demanded a sacrifice, and denied complete enjoyment. She would gladly do all in her power to satisfy the claim, and so she formed the resolve--which seemed to her to possess an atoning power--no longer to deceive the worthy man who loved her so loyally, and for whom she felt an affection. At the very next opportunity Wolf should learn that she could never become his, and when she had just confessed it so gently and lovingly, she had only fulfilled the vow made in the chapel before the Virgin's image. There, too, she had determined, if the Emperor ever gave her any power over his decisions, to reward Wolf's loyal love by interceding for him wherever it could be done.
Now he had left her; but she could wait for her father no longer. She must go to Fran Lerch.
The idea of confiding to her the secret which filled her with happy dread was far from her thoughts; but love had both increased her vanity tenfold, and confined it within narrower limits. She could not be beautiful enough for the lover who awaited her, yet she wished to be beautiful for him alone. But her stock of gowns and finery was so very scanty, and no one understood how to set off her charms so well as the obliging, experienced old woman, who had an expedient for every emergency.
Retiring to her little bow-windowed room, she examined her store of clothes.
There, too, lay her royal lover's gift, the glittering star.
She involuntarily seized it to take the jewel to the Grieb and show it to the old woman; but the next instant, with a strange feeling of dissatisfaction, she flung it back again among the other contents of the chest.
Thus, in her impetuous fashion, she thrust it out of her sight. Maestro Gombert had pronounced the star extremely valuable, and she desired nothing from the Emperor Charles, nothing from her beloved lord save his love.
She had already reached the outer door, when her two Woller cousins from the Ark greeted her. They were merry girls, by no means plain, and very fond of her. The younger, Anne Mirl, was even considered pretty, and had many suitors. They had learned from their house steward, who had been told by a fellow-countryman in the royal service, that his Majesty had rewarded Barbara for her exquisite singing with a magnificent ornament, and they wanted to see it.
So Barbara was obliged to open the chest again, and when the star flashed upon them the rich girls clapped their hands in admiration, and Anne Mirl did not understand how any one could toss such an exquisite memento into a chest as if it were a worn-out glove. If the Emperor Charles had honoured her with such a gift, she would never remove it from her neck, but even wear it to bed.
"Everybody to her taste," replied Barbara curtly, shrugging her shoulders.
Never had her cousins seemed to her so insignificant and commonplace; and, besides, their visit was extremely inopportune.
But the Woller sisters were accustomed to see her in all sorts of moods, and Nandl, the elder, a quiet, thoughtful girl, asked her how she felt. To possess such heavenly gifts as her voice and her beauty must be the most glorious of all glorious things.
"And the honour, the honour!" cried Anne Mirl. "Do you know, Wawerl, one might almost want to poison you from sheer envy and jealousy. Holy Virgin! To be in your place when you sing to the Emperor Charles again! And to talk with him as you would to anybody else!"
Barbara assured them that she would tell the whole story at their next meeting, but she had no time to spare now, for she was expected at the rehearsal.
The sisters then bade her good-bye, but asked to see the star again, and Anne Mirl counted the jewels, to be able to describe it to her mother exactly.
At last Barbara was free, but before, still vexed by the detention, she could set out for Fran Lerch's, she heard loud voices upon the stairs. It startled her, for if the Emperor sent Don Luis Quijada, or even Baron Malfalconnet, to her wretched lodgings, it would now be even more unpleasant than before.
Barbara was obliged to wait some time in vain. Her cousins had been stopped below, and were talking there with her father and another man. At last the captain came stumping up the stairs with his limping steps. Barbara noticed that he was hurrying, and he reached the top more quickly than usual and opened the door.
He looked merry, and his massive but well-formed and manly features were flushed. He came from Erbach in the Black Bear, it is true, but in so short a time--his daughter knew that--the spirits of the wine could have done him no harm. Besides, his voice sounded as deep and firm as usual as he called to her from the threshold: "A guest, Wawerl, a distinguished guest! A splendid fellow! You've already spoken of him, and I made his acquaintance in the Bear. I learned many and many a piece of news from him about how things are going in the world-news, I tell you, girl! My heart is fairly dancing in my body. And, besides, a little puss like you is always glad to hear of an admirer, and only a short time ago you praised him loudly enough as a splendid dancer. A downright good fellow, child, just as I was myself at his age. An uncle of his, a captain of arquebusiers, Pyramus Kogel."
Hitherto Barbara, with increasing displeasure, had only suspected whom her father meant; but when he now mentioned his new friend's name, the indignant blood crimsoned her cheeks.
She had liked the handsome officer, for it was true that few men so well understood the art of guiding a partner through the dance; she, fool that she was, had made eyes at him in order not to let pretty Elspet Zohrer have the precedence. But he had himself confessed how much farther he had entered the snare than she intended when, on her way home from Fran Lerch's after her meeting with Wolf, the young officer had met her outside of the Grieb and sued for her hand.
Now the amorous swain had probably tried his luck with her father, and how the latter, in spite of poor Wolf and Herr Schlumperger, had treated him was evident from the fact that he, who usually closed his home against old friends, opened it wide to this stranger.
This was not only unpleasant to Barbara, but anger crimsoned her cheeks.
How dared the man whom she had so positively and sternly refused venture to continue his suit? Since the Emperor had loved her, she felt raised infinitely above the poor nobleman. Nay, she considered it a reprehensible impropriety that he still sought her. And, besides what consequences the visit of so stately a ladykiller, whose unusual height rendered him easily recognised, might now entail upon her! Suppose that he should meet a messenger from the Emperor on the stairs, or it should be rumoured at court that she received such visitors. How quickly whatever happened in Ratisbon was noised abroad among the people she had just learned through the Woller girls.
The happiness which filled her was so great that everything which threatened to affect it, even remotely, alarmed her, and thus anxiety blended with indignation as, deeply agitated, she interrupted her father, and in the most unfilial manner reproached him for allowing the flattery of a boastful coxcomb to make him forget what he owned to her and her good name.
The brave champion of the faith dejectedly, almost humbly, strove to soothe her, and at least induce her not to offend his guest by unfriendly words; but she ignored his warnings with defiant passion, and when the recruiting officer, who had been detained some time on the staircase by the Wollers, knocked at the door, she shot the bolt noisily, calling to her father in a tone so loud that it could not fail to be heard outside: "I repeat it, I will neither see nor speak to this importunate gentleman. When he attacked me in the street at night, I thought I showed him plainly enough how I felt. If he forces his way into our house now, receive him, for aught I care; you have a right to command here. But if he undertakes to speak to me, he can wait for an answer till the day of judgment!"
Then she hastily slipped the bolt back again, darted past Pyramus Kogel, who did not know what had befallen him, without vouchsafing him a single glance, and then, with haughty composure, descended the stairs.
The officer, incapable of uttering a word, gazed after her.
The feeling that attracted him to Barbara was something entirely new, which since the last dance at the New Scales had robbed him of sleep by night and rest by day. He had fallen under her spell, body and soul, and he, whose business took him from city to city, from country to country, had resolved, ere he accosted Barbara in the street, to give up the free, gay life which he enjoyed with the eager zest of youth, and seek her hand in marriage.
Her first rebuff had by no means discouraged him; nay, the handsome, spoiled soldier was firmly convinced that her ungracious treatment was not due to his proposal, but to its certainly ill-chosen place. A wife of such rigid austerity would suit him, for he would often be compelled to leave her a long time alone.
When he heard the day before that he would find her among Peter Schlumperger's guests in Prufening, he had joined them, as if by accident, toward evening, and Barbara had danced with him twice.
In the schwabeln she had trusted herself to his guidance even longer than usual, and with what perfect time, with what passionate enjoyment she had whirled around with him under the sway of the intense excitement which had mastered her! He imagined that he felt her heart throb against his own breast, and had surrendered himself to the hope that it was newly awakened love for him which had deprived her of her calm bearing.
True, she had refused his company on the way home, but this was probably because she was afraid of being gossipped about in connection with him.
Well satisfied with his success, he had gone to Red Cock Street the next morning to renew his suit. On the way he met her father, and in the Black Bear had tried on the old warrior, with excellent success, the art of winning other men, in which, as a recruiting officer, he had become an adept.
Joyously confident of victory, he had accepted Blomberg's invitation, and now had experienced an unprecedentedly mortifying rebuff.
With a face blanched to the pallor of death, he stood before the old man. The wound which he had received burned so fiercely, and paralyzed his will so completely, that the clumsy graybeard found fitting words sooner than the ready, voluble trapper of men.
"You see," the captain began, "what is to be expected from one's own child in these days of insubordination and rebellion, though my Wawerl is as firm in her faith as the tower at Tunis of which I was telling you. But trust experience, Sir Pyramus! It is easier, far easier for you to exact obedience from a refractory squad of recruits than for a father to guide his little daughter according to his own will. For look! If it gets beyond endurance, you can seize the lash, or, if that won't do, a weapon; but where a fragile girl like that is concerned, we can't give vent to our rage, and, though she spoils the flavour of our food and drink by her pouting and fretting, we must say kind words to her into the bargain. Mine at least spares me the weeping and wailing in which many indulge, but it is easier to break iron than her obstinacy when her will differs from that of the person whom, on account of the fourth commandment, she----"
Pyramus Kogel, with both hands resting on the large basket handle of his long rapier, had listened to him in silence; now he interrupted the captain with the exclamation: "Iron against iron, comrade! Throw it into the fire, and swing the hammer. It will bend then. All that is needed is the right man, and I know him. If I did not feel very sorry for such a charming creature, I would laugh at the insult and go my way. But, as it is, I have a good memory, and it will be a pleasure, methinks, to keep so unruly a beauty and artistic nightingale in mind. It shall be done until my turn comes. In my pursuit I do not always succeed at the first attempt, but whoever I once fix my eyes upon comes on the roll at last, and I will keep the foremost place open for your lovely, refractory daughter. We shall meet again, Captain, and I haven't said my last word to your ungracious daughter either."
He held out his hand to Blomberg as he spoke, and after a brief delay the latter clasped it.
The fearless foe of the Turks was troubled by the recruiting officer's mysterious menaces, but his kind heart forbade him to add a new offence to the bitter mortification inflicted upon this man by his daughter. Besides, he had taken a special fancy to the stately, vigorous soldier, whose height and breadth of shoulder were little inferior to his own, and while descending the stairs he thought, "It would serve Wawerl right if yonder fellow put a stop to her obstinacy, pranks, and caprices."
But he quickly silenced the wish, for Barbara did not often give the rein to her self-will so freely, and her objectionable traits of character had been inherited from her mother. She was a good girl at heart, and how much pleasure and favour her beautiful gift brought, how much honour came to him and his ancient name through this rare child! Yet at that time he was not aware of the new benefit he was to owe to her within the next hour.
Before Barbara had returned home the treasurer of the imperial and royal musicians came to his house and, in the regent's name, handed him the gold of which Barbara had spoken for services rendered in the boy choir of her Majesty Queen Mary. He was obliged to sign the receipt in his daughter's name, and when the portly Netherlander, who could also make himself understood in German, asked where a sup of good wine or beer could be had in Ratisbon, he was ready to act as his guide.
Thanks to his daughter's rich gifts, he need not wield the graver any longer that day, and for the second time could grant himself a special treat.
When he returned home he learned from the one-eyed maid that Barbara had been summoned by the Queen of Hungary to sing for her.
Weary as he was, he went to rest, and soon after the young girl entered his room to bid him "good night."
The Queen had been very gracious, and after the singing was over had inquired about hundreds of things--who had been her singing master, what her religion was, whether her mother was still living, what calling her father followed, whether he, too, had drawn the sword against the Turks, her husband's murderers, whether she was accustomed to riding, and, lastly, whether she was obliged to endure the narrow city streets in the summer.
Barbara had then been able to answer that the Wollers sometimes invited her to their country seat at Abbach, and intentionally added that they were her nearest relatives, and owned the Ark, the large, handsome family mansion which stood exactly opposite to the Golden Cross and her Majesty's windows. She had also often been the guest of her uncle Wolfgang Lorberer, who stood at the head of the community at Landshut.
It had gratified her to boast of these distinguished blood relations.
She had then been asked whether she could consent to leave her father for a time to go into the country with the old Marquise de Leria, whom she knew, and who was charmed with the beauty of her singing.
The leech desired to remove the invalid lady in waiting from the city air, and she had chosen Barbara for a companion.
Here the young girl hesitated, and then carelessly asked her father what he thought of the plan.
As Blomberg knew the name of Leria to be one of the most aristocratic in the empire, and many things were beckoning to him in the future in which Barbara's presence would only have been a hindrance, he left the decision to her.
He had made the acquaintance at the Black Bear, through Pyramus Kogel, of various soldiers who had fought in the same ranks--good Catholics, eager for a fray, who were waiting here for the outbreak of the war against the Smalkalds. What delightful hours their companionship would bestow if Barbara was provided for at present, now that he himself was no longer obliged to save every shilling so carefully!
But he had also thought of something else which was far more important, for the warlike conversation had affected him as the blast of a trumpet stirs the battle charger drawing a plough.
He had found complete enjoyment of life only in war, in the presence of death, in cutting and slashing, and he felt by no means too old to keep his seat in the saddle and lead his company of horsemen to the assault. He was not mistaken there, and, besides not only the recruiting officer, but also the scarred old captain whom they called little Gorgl, asserted that the Emperor would welcome every brave, tried soldier, even though older than he, as soon as war was declared.
Meanwhile Pyramus Kogel was constantly in his mind, and at last he thought it his duty to speak to Barbara about her unseemly treatment of this estimable man.
He had intended ever since she entered to call her to account for it, but, though he did not admit it even to himself, the old soldier dreaded his daughter's firm power of resistance.
Yet he could not keep silence this time; her behaviour had transgressed the bounds of propriety too far.
So he summoned up his courage, and, with a "What I was going to say," began to speak of the admirable officer whom he had brought into his house.
Then, clearing his throat, he drew himself up, and, raising his voice, asked how she dared to assail this gallant nobleman with such abominable, arrogant, and insulting words.
But he was to wait an answer in vain, for, with the brief declaration that she had not come to be lectured like a schoolgirl, Barbara banged the door behind her. Directly after, however, she opened it again, and with a pleasant, "No offence, father," wished the old gentleman a no less pleasant goodnight.
Then she went to her room, but in old Ursel's chamber, at the same hour as on the preceding night, a similar conversation took place.
The one-eyed maid spoke of the rats which had forced their way into the house, and the sick woman repeated impatiently, "The rats!" and, with prudent reserve, silently kept her thoughts to herself.