Barbara Blomberg by Georg Ebers
The Queen of Hungary had returned home the evening before, and on the following morning summoned Barbara to the Golden Cross to sing with the boy choir.
When the major-domo, Quijada, obedient to her command, entered the room at eleven o'clock, she called to him: "Miracles, Luis, mighty miracles in these godless times! I have just come from his Majesty, and in what did I find him occupied? Turning over music with Maestro Gombert--of course, for a female voice. Besides, he looked as if he had just defeated the Turks and Frenchmen at once. As for the gout, he'll be dancing the 'hoppedei' with the peasants presently."
"Day before yesterday he surprised us by wearing satin shoes," remarked Quijada. "May I congratulate you on the really magical effect of your Majesty's prescription?"
"Continue to think so, if it suits you," cried the Queen gaily. "Only a few powerful drops from elsewhere have probably fallen into the potion. But how stupidly artless you can look when you feign ignorance, Luis! In this case, however, you need not let your breathing be oppressed by the mask. I bow to your masculine secrecy--but why did my worldly-wise brother mingle a petticoat in this delicate business if he wishes to keep it hidden?"
"The Marquise Leria!" cried the major-domo, shrugging his shoulders angrily, as if against an inevitable misfortune.
"My, senior lady in waiting," said the regent in assent to this conjecture. "Make haste to bestow a stately candle, because it is she, and no one else. You might spare yourself that smile; I know her better than you do. If she had as many teeth as she possesses vices, she might be happy; yet one admirable quality mingles with the evil traits in her character."
"And that?" asked Quijada, as if he deemed a satisfactory answer impossible.
"Secrecy," replied the Queen firmly. "She keeps what she has overheard to herself as closely as a miser guards his gold."
"In order to turn it to account when the favourable moment comes," remarked the major-domo. "Your Majesty will also permit me to observe that if the marquise has already betrayed what was intended to remain secret----"
"Her boasted reticence can not be very great, you think," interrupted the Queen. "But justice for all, my handsome lord. At present she is in any service, and no other. Whose bread I eat, his song I sing--which in this case means: His secret I keep, and to him I carry whatever I discover. Besides, this time even the person betrayed owes her a debt of gratitude, for you know how difficult it is for him to use his limbs, and she is most obligingly smoothing the path for him. I tell you, Luis, with all due respect for his Majesty as a general and a statesman, in a skirmish of intrigue this woman will outwit you all. The schemes her aged brain invents have neither fault nor flaw. The wheels work upon one another as they do in the Emperor's best Nuremberg clock. I want to watch their turning before I go, for, be it known to you, early tomorrow morning--the saints be praised!--I start for Brussels."
"Oh!" exclaimed Quijada with an expression of sincere regret; but the Queen gravely said: "There can be no further delay, Luis. It may sound improbable that there is something which draws me back to the Netherlands more strongly than the desire for freedom of movement, a pleasant ride through the forest, and the excitement of the chase, which lends spice to the insipidity of my life, yet you may believe it."
"Business matters?" asked the nobleman anxiously.
The Queen nodded assent, and then eagerly continued: "And important ones which his Majesty himself solemnly enjoined upon me to hasten my departure. His zeal resembled a rude gesture toward the door, as much as one rotten egg looks like another, for, under certain circumstances, the affectionate brother prefers to have his beloved sister as far away as possible. Had I been of a more obstinate nature, I would stay; but there really are matters to be settled in the Netherlands which can not be deferred, and the manner of his farewell showed plainly enough that he no longer needed me. Merciful Heaven! When we parted yesterday, I dreaded his Majesty's anger. I had left him in the lurch to gratify my own love for copse and forest. I had remained beyond the allotted time, and had resolved, bend or break, to return to my post in Brussels. When I rode in here I really felt as though I was entering the lion's den. But then came miracle after miracle. Do you know something, Luis? The best results have often followed my most reckless acts."
"Probably because even your Majesty's least prudent deeds merit a modest reward," replied Quijada, "and because, besides the heavenly powers, there are also less estimable ones that meddle with the affairs of this world."
"Perhaps so!" exclaimed the Queen, astonished at this idea. "Perhaps the Prince of Darkness finds pleasure in this affair, and, as a fair-minded devil, is grateful to me. One thing is certain: What a woman of my age could not tell her daughter or--if she has none--her young niece, she should not meddle with. All this is by no means pleasing to me, and yet, Luis, yet We ought to rejoice in this love affair, not only for ourselves, but for his Majesty. De Soto, too, I know, is satisfied; nay, it seems as if he saw a special act of divine favour in this late blazing of the flames of love in a heart whose fires had apparently burned out."
"Wherever this passion originates," observed Quijada, "it seems to have had a good influence upon his Majesty's mood. It is said that Satan often designs evil and yet works good, and if this late and very tender emotion is a gift of hell, it nevertheless affords our sovereign lord unexpected and therefore all the more exquisite joys."
"In whose behalf it may also be said that they are numbered among those which can hardly be approved, or even forbidden ones," the regent eagerly interrupted. "But no matter! Happy is he whose pathway at the beginning of life's evening is once more so brilliantly illumined by the sun of love. In my devotion to the duties of government and the chase, I have not yet wholly forgotten enthusiasm. Whoever has once been really young retains this advantage, and I have, Luis. Therefore I could envy my beloved brother to-day no less sincerely than I pitied him yesterday. Joy is the best thing in life, and who bestows it more certainly and lavishly than the little winged god? It is fortunate for my Charles that he is again permitted to quaff the beaker of happiness! Only too soon--I know it--he will again withdraw it from his lips with his own hand, if it were only because the inclination to self-torture which he inherits, the ascetic instinct, that constantly increases in strength, destroys and stamps as sinful forgetfulness of duty every pleasure which he enjoys for any length of time. We will hope that he will not retain this new happiness too briefly. It would be of service to us all. What he might possibly have granted me after long hesitation and consideration, and with many a delay, he yielded after mass this morning with smiling lips. Love expands the heart, and at the same time enlarges the views, especially if it is not an unfortunate one; but this Barbara Blomberg is a genuine daughter of Eve, over whom the mother of nations, if she met her by chance, would rejoice. A German Venus, whom I would gladly send to Titian for a model. And her voice and the unexpected good fortune of finding such a teacher here! Appenzelder and Gombert are full of her praises. Good heavens! How she sang yesterday evening! It was enough to stir the dead. Afterward I drew her aside for a short time."
"And your Majesty did her the honour to feel her teeth?"--[A German phrase meaning to sound a person's intentions.--TR.]--queried Quijada.
"Feel her teeth?" replied the Queen. "It might have been worth while, for those that glitter between her rosy lips are white and beautifully formed. But I did even more--I tested the girl's heart and mind."
"And the result?"
"H'm!" said the Queen. "Very favourable. Yet no. If I must be honest, that is saying too little. She stood it very, surprisingly well. Her intellect is anything but limited; nay, her comprehension is so swift that she can be sure of not trying his Majesty's patience unduly. Her manners, too, are not amiss for a German; but what is the main point--she is pious, firm in the faith, and ardent in her hatred of the foes of the Holy Church. My life upon it! all this is as genuine as the diamond in my ring, and so the white raven is complete. That she has returned the Emperor Charles love for love by no means sullies her plumage. In my eyes, it only shines the more brightly, since one so great as he permits her, though only for a short distance, to share his glorious flight. This Barbara is certainly a rare bird. But in the chase, and as regent of a restless nation, one's sight becomes keen--"
"And now," cried Quijada, "comes the 'but.'"
"It does come," replied the regent firmly, "and I will point it out to you. I only found the trail; but you, Luis, as a good sportsman and a loyal friend of his Majesty, will keep a sharp watch upon it. This girl is obstinate to the verge of defiance, vain, and unusually ambitious."
"She has already shown us the obstinacy," observed the Castilian.
"When she wheeled her horse to escape you?" asked the Queen.
"But there she was perfectly right. What a heedless, inconsiderate masculine idea, to usher a woman directly from a horseback ride into a company of gentlemen to sing before the Emperor! As to the vanity, I do not find much fault with that. It would be far worse if she lacked it. One can not imagine a genuine woman without it. It has been called pride in charms which we do not possess, but it also serves to place actual charms in a brighter light, and that I expect from this fair one. If she knows how to avoid extravagance, it will willingly be indulged. But her ambition, Luis; perils may arise from that. If it begins to stir too covetously, remember your duty as watcher--sound the horn and set the packs upon her."
"For the sake of our sovereign lord, I will not fail," replied Quijada. "So far as she herself is concerned, she is one of those women whose beauty I acknowledge, but to whom I am indifferent. More modest manners please me better."
"You are thinking of Dona Magdalena de Ulloa," observed the Queen, "you poor loyal widower, while the loveliest of wives still lives. Certainly this German bears so little resemblance to her----"
"That I most humbly entreat your Majesty," interposed Quijada with haughty decision, "not to compare these two women, even by way of contrast."
"B-r-r!" said the regent, extending her hands toward him as if to repel an assault. "Yet I like you in this mood, Luis. You are a true Castilian! So we will leave Dona Magdalena in her Villagarcia, and only permit myself to admire the self-sacrifice of a woman who grants a husband like you so long a leave of absence. As to the Ratisbon maiden----"
"I should be very glad to know," Quijada began, this time in a submissive tone, "by what sign your Majesty's penetration discovered this young creature's ambition."
"That is soon told," replied the regent kindly. "She specially mentioned her distinguished relatives in the city and in Landshut, and when I advised her to show due respect to the marquise, who, in spite of everything, is a woman of high rank and certainly an old lady, before whose gray hairs Scripture commands us to rise, something hovered around her lips--they are ripe for kisses--something which it is not easy to find exactly the right words to describe: a blending of repugnance, self-assertion, and resistance. She suffered it to remain on her beautiful face only a few minutes, but it gave me reason enough to urge you to sound a warning if his Majesty's late love should render him more yielding than is desirable."
"The warned man will heed what prescient wisdom enjoins upon him," the major-domo protested, with his hand upon his heart. "But if I know his Majesty, his strong and well-warranted sense of imperial dignity will render my attentive solicitude needless. The moment that the singer assails it will put a speedy end to my royal master's love."
The Queen shook her head, and answered doubtfully: "If only you do not undervalue the blind boy-god's power! Yet it must be owned that your theory has a certain degree of justification." She went to the window as she spoke, and added: "Karlowitz, the minister of Duke Maurice of Saxony, is leaving the house. He looks pleased, and if he has come to an agreement with the Bishop of Arras, that will also help to put the Emperor in a pleasant mood--"
"And all of us!" exclaimed Quijada, grasping his sword hilt. "If this energetic young prince, with his military ability and his army, joins us, why, then----"
"Then there will be war," interrupted the Queen, completing the sentence; "then there will be great joy among you younger, belligerent Castilians! What do you care for the tears of mothers and the blood of husbands and sons? Both will flow in streams, and, even if we were certain of victory--which we are not--what will the gain be?"
"Triumph, the restored unity of Holy Church!" cried Quijada enthusiastically.
"For which I daily pray," said the regent. "But even if you succeeded in gaining a complete victory, if every church in city and country again belonged to the only faith by which we can obtain salvation, I shall still see them deprived of their holy vocation, for they will stand empty, because then the men who would rather die than abjure their delusion will be lying silent upon battlefields."
"May they rot there!" cried the Spaniard. "But we are not fighting only for to-day and tomorrow. New generations will again fill churches and chapels. We will shed the last drops of our blood to accomplish it, and every true Castilian thinks as I do."
"I know it," sighed the regent, "and it is not my business to preach to deaf ears. But one thing more: Do you know that his Majesty has just accepted the Marquise de Leria's offer?"
"No; but I should be greatly indebted to your royal----"
"Then listen," the Queen hastily interrupted. "In the suburb of Prebrunn, in a large garden, stands the pretty little castle of the Prince Prior of Berchtesgaden--I don't mean the one belonging to the worthy Trainer, on whose preserves we hunted once in April, and which is erroneously called here the 'cassl.' The reverend owner offered it to his Majesty to shelter a guest of high rank. Now the marquise is to occupy it, because country air would benefit her. The singer will establish herself under the noblewoman's maternal care. You know the Marquise de Leria's huge litter, which was borne here by two strong mules that Ruy Gomez--what will not people do to find out something?--gave her. The black ark, with the coats-of-arms of the De Lerias and the Duke of Rency on the back, the front, and both sides, is probably well known here. At first the boys ran after the monster; now they are used to the thing, and no longer notice it. But it is comfortable, and it can be opened. When the old woman uses the litter the cover will be removed and people will see her; when it is closed, the most sharp-sighted can not discover who is within. If his Majesty desires to go out to Prebrunn and return here, he will take it, and, even if his foot pains him, will reach his fair goal unseen. The young girl consented yesterday to move there with the marquise, and directly after it will be your duty, aided by Master Adrian, to attend to the furnishing of the little castle. I will aid you. You will hear the particulars from his Majesty. The marquise will take Barbara directly to the chapel, where the choir is to sing. People must become accustomed to see and speak of the two together. What would you think of an alliance between Leria and Blomberg? If I see correctly, the old woman will train the girl to be a useful tool."
"And if the tool cuts her fingers in the process," said Quijada, "I shall be glad."
"So shall I!" assented the Queen, laughing. Then she dismissed the major-domo, and a short time later singing was heard in the chapel.
The Emperor, after he had finished his meal, heard it also, and listened to Barbara as if enraptured when, in Hobrecht's motet for five voices, Salve crux arbor vitae, in the sublime O crux lignum triumphale, she raised her voice with a power, a wealth of pious devotion which he had never before heard in the execution of this forceful composition.
The little Maltese Hannibal again acquitted himself admirably, and in one of the duets in the second part Johannes of Cologne could prove that he had recovered.
His young companion in illness had also escaped lasting injury.
Appenzelder, too, showed himself fully satisfied with Barbara's execution. Something new and powerful, rising from the inmost depth of the soul, a passion of devout exaltation, rang in her voice which he had not perceived during the first rehearsals. Her art seemed to him to grow under his eyes like a wonderful plant, and the quiet, reserved man expressed his delight so unequivocally that the Emperor beckoned to him and asked his opinion of the singer's performance.
The musician expressed with unreserved warmth the emotions that filled his honest heart; but the monarch listened approvingly, and drew from his finger a costly ring to bestow it upon the discoverer of this glorious jewel.
The leader of the choir, it is true, declined this title of honour to award it to Sir Wolf Hartschwert; but the Emperor asserted that he was grateful to him also for many a service, and then ordered the gold chain, which had long been intended for him, to be brought for Maestro Gombert.
After these tokens of favour, which awakened the utmost surprise in those who were present, as the Emperor very rarely yielded to such impulses of generosity, the monarch's eyes sought Barbara's, and his glance seemed to say: "For your sake, love. Thus shall those who have deserved it from you be rewarded."
Finally he accosted her, intentionally raising his voice as he did so.
Word for word was intended to be heard by every one, even the remark that he wished to make the acquaintance of her father, whom he remembered as a brave comrade. Barbara would oblige him if she would request him to call upon him that afternoon. It was his duty to thank the man through whose daughter he enjoyed such lofty pleasure.