Barbara Blomberg by Georg Ebers
A short time after, the Emperor Charles, accompanied by the Queen of Hungary and several lords and ladies, took a ride in the open air for the first time after long seclusion.
According to his custom, he had spent Passion week in the monastery. Easter had come on the latest day possible--the twenty-fifth of April--and when he bade farewell to the monks the gout had already attacked him again.
Now he rode forth into the open country and the green woods like a rescued man; the younger Granvelle, long as he had been in his service, had never seen him so gay and unconstrained. He could now understand his father's tales of his Majesty's better days, his vigorous manly strength and eager delight in existence.
True, the period of anxiety concerning the tidings of political affairs which had arrived the day before and that morning appeared to be over, for Herr von Parlowitz, the minister of Duke Maurice of Saxony, had expressed his conviction that this active young monarch might be induced to separate from the other Protestant princes and form an alliance with the Emperor, especially as his Majesty had not the most distant intention of mingling; religious matters in the war that was impending.
Despatches had also been sent from Valladolid by Don Philip, the Emperor's oldest son, which afforded the greatest satisfaction to the sovereign. If war was waged against the Smalkalds, the allied Protestants of Germany, Spain, which had been taught to regard the campaign as a religious war, was ready to aid Charles with large subsidies of money and men.
Lastly, it seemed as if two betrothals were to be made which promised to sustain the Emperor's statesmanship. Two of his nieces, the daughters of his brother Ferdinand, expected to marry--one the heir to the Bavarian throne, the other the Duke of Cleves.
Thus many pleasant things came to him simultaneously with his recovery, and his mind, inclined to mysticism, received them as a sign that Heaven was favourable to his late happiness in love.
Granvelle attributed the Emperor's unexpectedly rapid convalescence and the fortunate change which had taken place in his gloomy mood to the favourable political news, and perhaps also to the music which, as a zealous patron of art, he himself loved. He, who usually did not fail to note even the veriest trifle when he desired to trace the motives of events which were difficult to explain, now thought he need seek no further for causes.
During the ride Barbara was not thought of, but in the Golden Cross it was to become evident to the keen intelligence of the young master of statecraft that something extremely important might escape even his penetration.
While waiting with Malfalconnet in the reception room of the monarch, who had gone into his chamber, for Charles's return, and summing up to the baron in a most charming way the causes which had effected the wonderful rejuvenation of his Majesty, the other showed him that he, Granvelle, had been short-sighted enough to overlook the most powerful influence.
This would have been vexatious to the statesman had not his mind been wholly occupied in considering how this unexpected event could be made most profitable to himself, and also to his master, whom he served with loyal devotion.
Malfalconnet had received no confidence either from the Emperor or any male member of the court, yet he knew all, for, though the Marquise de Leria well deserved the reputation of secrecy, she did not keep her tongue sufficiently in check while talking with her gay countryman. What she overheard, he succeeded by his amiable wiles in learning, and this time also he had not failed.
Soon after the Emperor had appeared again audience was given to several ambassadors. Then Chamberlain de Praet announced Captain Blomberg.
The latter, clad in full armour, entered the apartment. Over the shining coat of mail, which he himself had cleaned with the utmost care, he wore a somewhat faded scarf, and his long battle sword hung at his left side.
He looked stately enough, and his grave, oldfashioned, but thoroughly soldierly manners admirably suited the elderly warrior.
The Emperor Charles accosted the father of the woman he loved with the same blunt friendliness that so easily won the hearts of the companions in arms to whom he condescended.
Blomberg must tell him this thing and that, and the old man gazed into his face with honest amazement and sincere delight when the monarch supplied the names of places and persons which had escaped his own feeble memory.
He accepted the praise of his daughter with a smile and the modest remark: "She is certainly a dear, kind-hearted child; and as for her voice, there were probably some to which people found less pleasure in listening. But, your Majesty, that of the nightingale battering down solid walls sounds still more beautiful to me."
The Emperor knew that the German cannoneers gave their guns the name of nightingale, and was pleased with the comparison.
But while he was still talking gaily with the old warrior, who had really displayed truly leonine courage on many an occasion, Count Buren brought in a new despatch, remarking, as he did so, that unfortunately the bearer, a young Spanish noble, had been thrown from his horse just outside the city, and was lying helpless with a broken leg.
Sincere compassion was expressed, in which the Bishop of Arras joined, meanwhile glancing through the somewhat lengthy document.
It came from the heir and regent, Don Philip, in Valladolid. The prince desired to know the state of the negotiations with Rome and with Duke Maurice of Saxony.
After Granvelle had read the despatch he handed it to the monarch, and the latter, in a low tone, charged him not yet to inform his son of the fair prospects for an alliance with Maurice, but to send an answer at once.
While the minister withdrew to the writing table, the Emperor asked whether a trustworthy horseman could be had, since the Spaniard was disabled; and Reitzenstein, Beust, and Van der Kapellen, in whom implicit confidence could be placed, had been sent off that morning.
Then the Bishop of Arras again turned to the monarch, cast a significant glance at Malfalconnet, and, pointing to Blomberg, eagerly exclaimed: "If this valiant and faithful soldier still has a firm seat in the saddle, this highly important message might be intrusted to him."
The proposal affected the adventure-loving old man like music. With youthful fire he protested that he could ride a horse as fast and endure fatigue as long as the youngest man, even though the goal were the end of the world.
Such an exertion, however, was by no means expected of him, for he was to set sail at Flushing and land at Loredo in Spain. There Postmaster-General de Tassis would furnish him with horses.
The Emperor had listened to this proposal from his counsellor with a smile of satisfaction. His purpose was sufficiently obvious.
How thoroughly this young diplomat understood men! With how delicate a scent he had again discovered a secret and removed a stone of offence from his master's path! He was competent to fill his clever father's place in every respect. It was evident that neither promises nor gifts would have induced the old warrior to favour the tender wishes of his imperial master. Now he himself hastened to leave the field clear, and Granvelle had foreseen how he would receive the proposal. Charles intentionally refrained from taking any personal share in the arrangements with the old man which now followed. A communication from Malfalconnet appeared to claim his whole attention, until the Bishop of Arras announced that the captain had received his instructions and was ready to set out for Flushing and Valladolid.
The monarch listened with a slight shake of the head, and expressed his hesitation about intrusting so important a message to a man of such advanced age; but Malfalconnet, in a tone of good-natured anxiety, called to the captain, "One may be the father of a nightingale, my brave hero, and yet miss the way to the south without a guide."
"True, true," the Emperor assented. "So we will give our gallant friend a travelling companion who understands Castilian, and on whom we can also rely. Besides, affairs of so much moment are better cared for by two messengers than by one. What is the name of the cavalier, Malfalconnet, who spoke to you of the friendship which unites him to this brave old champion of the faith?"
"Wolf Hartschwert, your Majesty," was the reply.
"The musician," said the monarch, as if some memory was awakened in his mind. "A modest fellow, whose reliability my sister praised.--And now, my vigorous friend, a prosperous journey! Your daughter, whom the favour of Heaven has so richly endowed with beautiful gifts, has found, I have heard, a maternal guardian in the Marquise de Leria. We, too, will gladly interest ourselves in the charming singer who affords us such rare pleasure."
As he spoke he showed his old companion in arms the unusual honour of extending his hand to him, and when the latter, deeply moved by such graciousness, ardently kissed it, he hurriedly withdrew it, saying, as he kindly patted his arm, "You are doing us a greater service than you imagine, Captain Blomberg."
Then, wishing him a successful journey, he went to the writing table, on which the secretary Gastelu had laid the newly received despatches.
Radiant with joy, the captain, making many profound bows, left the apartment of the gracious monarch, for whom now he would really have ridden to the world's end.
On the stairs he was detained. Malfalconnet handed him two heavy rolls of gold for the expenses of the journey, and enjoined it upon him to be ready to set out early the following morning. He might make his own arrangements with Sir Wolf Hartschwert, and assure him of his Majesty's gratitude in advance.
A short time after, Barbara was packing the gray-haired courier's knapsack.
She had never yet worked for her father with so much filial solicitude. Everything that might be of use to him on the way was carefully considered.
Though she had not been taken into his confidence, she knew the reason that he had been selected to undertake this toilsome journey.
The Emperor Charles was sending the old man far away that the happiness of her love might be undisturbed and unclouded, and the consciousness weighed heavily upon her by no means unduly sensitive conscience.
Wolf, who was already unhappy on her account, had fared the same. When her father told her that the knight was to accompany him, she had felt as if an incident of her childhood, which had often disturbed her dreams, was repeated.
She had been swinging with boyish recklessness in the Woller garden. Suddenly one of the ropes broke, and the board which supported her feet turned over out of her reach. For a time, clinging with her hands to the uninjured rope, she swayed between heaven and earth. No one was near, and, though she soon stood once more on the firm ground unhurt, the moment when her feet, during the ascent, lost their support, was associated with feelings of so much terror that she--who at that time was considered the bravest of her playfellows--had never forgotten it.
Now she felt as though something similar had befallen her.
She had seen the props on which she might depend removed from under her feet. If her father and Wolf left her, she would look in vain for counsel and support.
That her lover was the most powerful sovereign on earth, and she could appeal to him if she needed help, did not enter her mind. Nay, a vague foreboding told her that he and what was associated with him formed the power against which she must struggle.
The sham affection of the aristocratic lady who was to be her chaperon; the Queen, who last evening had catechised her as if she were a child, and whom she distrusted; the servile flatterer, Malfalconnet, in whose mirthful manner that day for the first time she thought she had detected dislike and slight sarcasm; the imperial love messenger, Don Luis Quijada, who with icy, dutiful coldness scarcely vouchsafed a word to her; and, lastly, the confessor Pedro de Soto, who treated her like a person who needed pity, and probably only awaited a fitting time to hurl an anathema into her face--passed before her memory, and in all these persons, so far above her in birth and rank, she believed that she saw foes.
But how was it with the man who could trample them all in the dust like worms--with her imperial lover?
Until now he had been observant of her every sign, but yesterday night the lion had raised his paw against her.
A slight pain had again made itself felt in his foot. She had eagerly lamented it, and in doing so deplored the fact that she would never be permitted to share the pleasure of dancing with the man she loved and who had first taught her how beautiful life was. This perhaps incautious remark had roused the ire of the suffering monarch.
How sensitive was this man's consciousness of sovereignty, how much suspicion and bitterness must have gathered in his heart, if he could see in the girl's innocent compassion an offence to his dignity, a humiliating reproach!
The rebuking sharpness with which he expressed his displeasure had pierced her very soul. She felt as if she were shivering with a sudden chill, and for a long time she could not recover the loving warmth with which she had previously treated him. True, he had soon done everything in his power to atone for the pain which his irritability had inflicted, but the incident had given her the perception that the poets whose songs she sung were right when they made sorrow go hand in hand with the joys of love.
But as yet these joys of love far, far outweighed the suffering which it caused.
Even while, before the full knapsack which only needed locking, she was trying to discover what fault was to be found with the man whom she loved, while saying to herself that Charles's inconsiderate, selfish treatment of her father was unworthy of a generous man, and while also thinking of the separation from the faithful Wolf, her heart still longed for her lover.
Was she not, after all, under obligation to be grateful to him for everything for which she reproached him?
How dear she must be to this great sovereign, since, in order to possess her freely and completely, he allowed himself to be urged to an act which was unworthy of him!
If he had wounded her deeply, he had a right to expect her to excuse many things in him.
How he loved her, and how delicately he could woo and flatter, and mingle with his tender speeches the costly gifts of his rich and mobile intellect! How beautifully and aptly he could speak of her own art, and induce her to oppose to his clever remarks her own modest opinion! He had cheerfully endured contradiction the night before during the conversation concerning music.
But what had followed her luckless regret about his lame foot?
The words had pierced her heart like knives; even now she did not understand where she obtained the strength to withhold the sharp answer for which her lips had already parted; but she knew her hasty spirit, which only too easily led her to outbreaks of anger. Had the power of love, or the magic spell which emanates from genuine royalty, forced her to silence?
A good angel had aided her to control herself, and in a rapid prayer she besought the Holy Virgin to assist her in future if her august lover again roused her to rebellion.
Now that she was losing her most sincere friends, the only ones who might have ventured a kindly warning, she must learn to guard herself.
Perhaps it was fortunate that she had already discovered how necessary it was not only to show the mighty sovereign to whom her heart belonged that he was dear to her, but also to display the timid reverence with which millions bowed before him. But if she imposed this constraint upon herself, would her love still remain the same?
"No, no, and again no!" cried the refractory spirit within.
Was he not a weak, fallible mortal, subject, like every one else, to suffering and disease, overcome by his passion, who had even been guilty of an act which, had it been committed by the son of a Ratisbon family, would have seemed to her reprehensible?
Again and again this question forced itself upon her, and with it another--whether she, the woman who had never tolerated such a thing from any one, ought not to undertake to defend herself against unjust assaults, which humiliated her in her own eyes, no matter whence they might come?
Would she not hold a higher position in his sight if she showed him, whom no one ventured to contradict, that the woman he deemed worthy of his love dared to defend her dignity, although he had deprived her of her natural protectors?
Precisely because she was conscious of loving him with her whole soul, because for his sake she had given the world the right to deny her honour and dignity, she was eager to show him that she prized both, and was not inclined to let them be assailed.
Hitherto she had not regarded it as a disgrace, but as the highest distinction, to be deemed worthy of the love of the greatest monarch on earth, and, with a sense of pride, had sacrificed her most sacred possession to his wishes. But how could she retain this feeling if he no longer showed her that he, too, regarded her worthy of him?
She had defied custom, law, the voice of her own conscience, and she did not regret that she had done so. On no account would she have changed what had occurred if only she succeeded in guarding herself from being humiliated by her lover. To accomplish this, it was worth while to confront a great danger boldly. It was the greatest of all, the peril of losing him, for what would she be if he deserted her?
At the bare thought a torturing dread overwhelmed her.
Never had she felt so irresolute, so deeply agitated, and she uttered a sigh of relief when her father returned from his visit to old Ursel, and praised the care with which she had selected the articles that filled his knapsack.
The flushed cheeks which he noticed could scarcely be the result of the light labour which she had performed for him. With the instinct of paternal love, he probably perceived that she was agitated, but he had so little idea of the mental conflict which had taken possession of her soul that her anxiety pleased him. The separation must be hard for the poor child, and how could the honour bestowed upon the father fail to affect the daughter's mind also.
He had hoped to find Wolf in Ursel's room, but he had already been away some time, and had told the old woman that he was going to the Hiltners, and should probably remain there a long while, as his schoolmate, Erasmus Eckhart, the nephew and adopted son of the syndic and his wife, had returned home from Wittenberg.
To find Wolf and deliver the important message Blomberg would have been obliged to enter the accursed heretic's house, and, rather than do it, he protested he would inflict this and that upon himself.
But whom should he trust to represent him? The best plan would be for Barbara to write to the young knight, informing him of the honour in store for him.
He himself wielded the sword so much better than the pen.
The obliging daughter put a speedy end to her father's embarrassment by offering to go in search of Wolf in person; she by no means shunned the Hiltners. In fact, the doctor's wife had always been especially kind to her at the Convivium musicum, and her young daughter Martina, during the months in which she, too, was permitted to sing in the chorus, had displayed, whenever opportunity offered, an admiration for Barbara which bordered on enthusiasm. Besides, there was no obligation to keep Barbara from this errand; the removal to Prebrunn to join the marquise was not to take place until noon of the following day.
The pious captain, it is true, was as reluctant to let his daughter go to the heretic's as to a pesthouse, but Wolf's notification permitted no delay, so he consented, and expressed his willingness to accompany her.