Barbara Blomberg by Georg Ebers
The April sun, ere it sank to rest, had won the victory and kindly dried the garments of the horsemen who were approaching Ratisbon by the Nuremberg road.
A young man who had ridden forward in advance of the great train of travellers behind him checked his steed above the village of Kneiting, just where the highway descended in many a curve to the valley of the Danube, and gazed at the landscape whose green spring leafage, freshened by rain, appeared before him.
His heart throbbed faster, and he thought that he had seen no fairer prospect in all the wide tract of earth over which he had wandered during the past five years. Below him were green meadows and fields, pleasant villages, and the clear, full current of the Danube, along whose left bank extended a beautifully formed mountain chain, whose declivity toward the river presented a rich variety to the eye, for sometimes it was clothed in budding groves, sometimes displayed picturesque bare cliffs, and again vineyards in which labourers were working. From the farthest distance the steeples of Ratisbon offered the first greeting to the resting horseman.
What a wealth of memories this pleasant landscape awoke in the mind of the returning traveller! How often he had walked through these charming valleys, climbed these heights, stopped in these villages! It was difficult for him to turn from this view, but he let his bay horse have its way when the companion whom he had left behind overtook him here, and the animal followed the other's black Brabant steed, with which it had long been on familiar terms. He rode slowly at his friend's side into the valley.
Both silently feasted their eyes upon the scene opening with increasing magnificence before them.
As they reached the village of Winzer, the victorious sun was approaching the western horizon, and diffused over it a fan of golden rays. The gray cloud bank above, which a light breeze was driving before it, was bordered with golden edges. The young green foliage, refreshed by the rain, glittered as richly and magnificently as emerald and chrysoprase, and the primroses and other early spring flowers, which had just grown up along the roadside and in the meadows, shone in brighter colours than in the full light of noon. The big fresh drops on the leaves and blossoms sparkled and glittered in the last rays of the sun.
Now Ratisbon also appeared.
The city, with its throng of steeples, was surrounded by a damp vapour which the reflection of the sun coloured with a faint, scarcely perceptible roseate hue. The notes of bells from the twin towers of the cathedral and the convent of Nieder Munster, from St. Emmeram on the right, and the church of the Dominicans on the left, echoed softly in this hour when Nature and human activity were at rest--often dying away in the distance--to greet the returning citizen.
Obeying an involuntary impulse, Wolf Hartschwert raised his hat. Within the shelter of the walls of this venerable city he had played as a boy, completed his school and student days, and early felt the first quickened throbbing of the heart. Here he had first been permitted to test what knowledge he had won in the schools of poetry and music.
He had remained in Ratisbon until his twenty-first year, then he had ventured out into the world, and, after an absence of five years, he was returning home again.
But was the stately city before him really his home?
When he had just gazed down upon it from the height, this question had occupied his thoughtful mind.
He had not been born on the shore of this river, but of the Main. All who had been dearest to him in Ratisbon--the good people who had reared him from his fourth year as their own child, the woman who gave him birth, and the many others to whom he was indebted for kindnesses--were no longer there.
But why had he not thought first of the mother, who is usually the centre of the circle of love, and whose figure precedes every other, now that he was approaching the place where she rested beneath the turf? He asked himself the question with a faint feeling of self-reproach, but he did not confess the true reason.
When the summons to Ratisbon had reached him in Brussels, he had been joyously ready to obey it--nay, he had felt it a great happiness to see again the beloved place for which he had never ceased to long. And yet, the nearer he approached it, the more anxiously his heart throbbed.
When, soon after noonday, the rain drenched him, he had experienced no discomfort, because such exquisite sunny visions of the future had hovered before him; but as the sky cleared they had shrivelled and doubt of the result of the decision which he was riding to meet had cast everything else into the shade.
Now the whole city appeared before him, and, as he looked at the cathedral, whose machicolated tower permitted the rosy hue of the sky to shine through, his heart rose again, and he gazed with grateful delight at the verdant spring attire of his home and the magnificence with which she greeted him; her returning son.
"Isn't it beautiful here?" he asked, suddenly breaking the silence as he turned to Massi, the violinist, who rode at his side, and then was secretly grateful to him when, after a curt "Very pleasant," he disturbed him with no further speech.
It was so delightful to listen to the notes of the bells, so familiar to him, whose pure tones had accompanied with their charming melody all his wanderings in childhood and youth. At the same time, the mood in which the best musical ideas came to him suddenly overpowered him. A new air, well worth remembering, pressed itself on him unbidden, and his excited imagination showed him in its train himself, and by his side, first, a romping, merry child, and then a girlish figure in the first budding charm of youth. He thought he heard her sing, and old, unforgotten notes of songs swiftly crowded out his own musical creations.
Every tone from the fresh red lips of the lovely fair-haired girl awakened a new memory. The past lived again, and, without his volition, transformed the image of the child of whom he had thought whenever he recalled his youthful days in Ratisbon into that of a lovely bride, with the myrtle wreath on her waving hair, while beside her he beheld himself with the wedding bouquet on his slashed velvet holiday doublet.
He involuntarily seized the saddlebag which contained the handsomest gift he had bought in Brussels for the person who had drawn him back to Ratisbon with a stronger power of attraction than anything else. If all went well, that very day, perhaps, he might have the right to call her his own.
These visions of the future aroused so joyous a feeling in his young soul that Massi, the violinist, read in his by no means mobile features what was passing in his mind. His cheery "Well, Sir Knight!" awakened his ever-courteous colleague and travelling companion from his dream, and, when the latter started and turned toward him, Alassi gaily continued: "To see his home and his family again does, indeed, make any man glad! The sight of yonder shining steeples and roofs seems to make your heart laugh, Sir Wolf, and, by Our Lady, you have good reason to bestow one or more candles upon her, for, besides other delightful things, a goodly heritage is awaiting you in Ratisbon."
Here he paused, for the sunny radiance vanished simultaneously from the sky and from his companion's face. The violinist, as if in apology, added: "Some trouble always precedes an inheritance, and who knows whether, in your case also, rumour did not follow the evil custom of lying or making a mountain out of a molehill?"
Wolf Hartschwert slightly shrugged his shoulders and calmly answered:
"It is all true about the heritage, Massi, and also the trouble, but it is unpleasant to hear you, too, call me 'Sir.' Let it drop for the future, if we are to be intimate. To others I shall, of course, be the knight or cavalier. You know what the title procures for a man, though your saying--
'Knightly Knightly rank with lack of land More care than joy hath at command,'
is but too true. As for the heritage, an old friend has really named me in his will, but you must not expect that it is a large bequest. The man who left it to me was a plain person of moderate property, and I myself shall not learn until the next few days what I am to receive in addition to his modest house."
"The more it is, the more cordially I shall congratulate you," cried the violinist, and then looked back toward the other travellers.
Wolf did the same, and turned his horse. If he did not urge on the loiterers the gate, which was closed at nightfall, would need to be opened for them, for the five troopers who acted as escort had deemed their duty done when Winzer was reached, and made themselves comfortable in the excellent tavern there.
The carters had used the lash stoutly, yet it had been no easy matter to advance rapidly. The rain had softened the road, and the horses and beasts of burden were sorely wearied by the long trip from Brussels to Ratisbon, which had been made in hurried days' journeys. The train of horsemen and wagons stretched almost beyond the range of vision, for it comprised the whole world-renowned orchestra of the Emperor Charles, and Queen Mary's boy choir.
Only the leaders were absent. Gombert had left Brussels later than the others, and hastened after them with post-horses, overtaking them about an hour before, when he induced Appenzelder, the leader of the boy choir, to enter his carriage, though the latter was reluctant to leave the young singers who were intrusted to his care. As to the other travellers, the Queen and Don Luis Quijada had made a great mistake in their calculations--the number considerably exceeded a hundred. Neither had thought of the women and children who accompanied the musicians.
Most of the women were the wives of the members of the orchestra, who had availed themselves of this opportunity to see something of the world. Others, from motives of love or jealousy, would not part from their husbands. The little children had been taken because their mothers, who were fond of travelling and, like their husbands, were natives of all countries, possessed no relatives in Brussels who would care for them.
The jealous spouses especially had not joined the party without cogent reasons, for the mirth in the first long wagon, covered with a linen tilt, was uproarious enough.
Wolf and his companion heard shrill laughter and loud shrieks echoing from its dusky interior.
The younger men and the women who liked journeying were sitting in motley confusion upon the straw which covered the bottom of the vehicle, and the boisterous mirth of the travellers gave ample proof that the huge jugs of wine carried with them as the Emperor's provision for the journey had been freely used.
In the second cart, an immense ark, swaying between four wheels and drawn by a team of four horses, grave older artists sat silently opposite to each other, all more or less exhausted by the continual rocking motion of the long ride. These men and the other travellers were joyfully surprised by the news that the goal of the journey was already at hand. Pressing their heads together, they gazed out of the open linen tilt which arched above the first cart or crowded to the little windows of the coaches to see Ratisbon.
Even the old Neapolitan nurse, who was predicting future events from a pack of cards, dropped them and peered out. But the noise in the second tilted wagon was especially confused, for there the gay shouts of the boy choir, only half of whom were on horseback, mingled with the loud talking of the women, the screams of the babies, and the barking of the dogs.
The groans of two young singers who were seriously ill were drowned by the din and heeded by no one except the old drummer's pitying wife, who sometimes wiped the perspiration from the sufferers' brows or supported their heads.
Other carts, containing the musicians' instruments, followed this tilted wagon. Some members of the orchestra would not part with theirs, and behind the saddle of many a mounted virtuoso or attendant was fastened a violin case or a shapeless bag which concealed some other instrument.
A large number of musicians mounted on horses or mules surrounded the two-wheeled cart in which sat Hernbeize of Ghent, the treasurer of the orchestra, and his fat wife. The corpulent couple, squeezed closely together, silent and out of humour, had taken no notice of each other or their surrounding since Frau Olympia had presumed to drag her husband by force out of the first wagon, where he was paying a visit to a clarionet player's pretty young wife.
Whenever Wolf appeared he urged the horsemen and drivers to greater haste, and thus the musical caravan, with its unauthorized companions, succeeded in passing through the gate ere it closed. Beyond it the travellers were received by Quijada, the imperial valet, Adrian Dubois, and several quartermasters, who meanwhile had provided lodgings.
The major-domo greeted the musicians with dignified condescension, Wolf with familiar friendship. Master Adrian, the valet, also shook hands cordially with him and Massi, the "first violin" of the orchestra. Finally Don Luis rode up to Wolf and informed him that the Queen of Hungary wished to speak to him early the next morning, and that he also had something important to discuss at the earliest opportunity. Then he listened to the complaints of the quartermasters.
These men, who performed their duties with great lack of consideration, had supposed that they had provided for all the expected arrivals, but, after counting heads, they discovered that the billets were sufficient for only half the number. Their attempt to escape providing for the wives was baffled by the vigorous interposition of the treasurer and by a positive order from Quijada.
Of course, under these circumstances they were very glad to have Sir Wolf Hartschwert return his billet--the room in the Crane allotted to him by the valet was large enough to accommodate half a dozen women.
The nobleman returning to his home had no occasion to find shelter in a tavern.
Yet, as he wished to remove the traces of the long ride ere he entered his own house and appeared before the person for whose sake he had gladly left Brussels, he asked Massi's permission to use his room in the Red Cock for a short time.
Leonhard Leitgeb, the landlord, and his bustling better half received Wolf as a neighbour's son and an old acquaintance. But, after they had shown him and Massi to the room intended for them and gone downstairs again, the landlady of the Cock shook her head, saying:
"He was always a good lad and a clever one, too, but even if a duke's coronet should fall upon the thin locks of the poor knight's son I should never take him for a real nobleman."
"Better let that drop," replied her husband. "Besides, the fine fellow is of more consequence since he had the legacy. If he should come here for our Kattl, I'll wager you wouldn't keep him waiting."
"Indeed I wouldn't," cried the landlady, laughing. "But just hear what a racket those soldiers are making again down below!"
Meanwhile Wolf was hurriedly attending to his outer man.
Massi had stretched himself on the thin cushion which covered the seat of the wooden bench in the bay-window, and thrust his feet far out in front of him.
As he watched the Ratisbon knight diligently use the little hand mirror while arranging his smooth, fair locks, he straightened himself, saying:
"No offence, Sir Knight, but when I think of the radiant face with which you gazed down into the valley of the Danube from the hill where you stopped before sunset, and now see how zealously you are striving to adorn your person, it seems to me that there must be in this good city some one for whom you care more than for all you left behind in Brussels. At your age, that is a matter of course, if there is a woman in the case, as I suppose. I know very well what I should do if I were in your place. Longing often urges me back to Spain like a scourge. I have already told you why I left my dear wife there in our home. A few more years in the service, and our savings and the pension together will be enough to support us there and lay aside a little marriage dowry for our daughter. When I have what is necessary, I shall turn my back on the orchestra and the court of Brussels that very day, dear as music is to me, and sure as I am that I shall never again find a leader like our Gombert. You do not yet know with how sharp a tooth yearning rends the soul of the man whom Fate condemns to live away from his family. This place is your home, and dearer to you than any other, so build yourself a snug nest here with the person you have in mind."
"How gladly I would do so!" replied the young knight, "but whether I can must be decided within the next few davs."
"Inde-e-ed?" drawled Massi; then he bent his eyes thoughtfully upon the floor for a short time, and, after calling Wolf by name in a tone of genuine friendly affection, he frankly added: "Surely you know how dear a comrade you are to me! Yet precisely for that reason I stick to my counsel. It's not only on account of the homesickness--I am, thinking rather of your position at court--and, let me speak candidly, it is unworthy of a nobleman and a musician of such ability. The regent is graciously disposed toward you, and you praise her liberality, but do you yourself know the name of the office which you fill? More than enough is placed upon you, and yet, so far as I see, nothing complete. They understand admirably how to make use of you. It would be well if that applied solely to the musician. But sometimes she makes you secretary, and you have to waste whole days in writing letters and do penance for having learned so many languages; sometimes you must share in the folly of arranging performances, and your wealth of knowledge is industriously utilized in preparing mythological figures and devising new ideas for the exhibitions at which we have to furnish the music. This affords plenty of labour, but others reap the credit. Recently the Bishop of Arras even asked you to write in German what he dictated in French, although you are in the regent's service, and just at that time you were transposing the old church songs for the boy choir. I regret to see you do such tradesmen's work without adequate reward. Why, even if her Majesty would give you a fat living or appoint you to the imperial council which directs musical affairs in the Netherlands! Pardon me, Sir Wolf! But give people an inch, and they take an ell, and your ever ready obligingness will injure you, for the harder it is to win a thing the higher its value becomes. You made yourself too cheap at court here people will surely know how to put a higher value upon a man who is equally skilful in Netherland, Italian, and German music. In counterpoint you are little inferior to Maestro Gombert, and, besides, you play as many instruments as you have fingers on your hands. We all like to have you lead us, because you do it with such delicate taste and comprehension, and, moreover, with a vigour which one would scarcely expect from you. You will not lack patrons. Look around you here or elsewhere for a position as leader of an orchestra. Goinbert, to relieve himself a little, would like to have de Hondt come from Antwerp to Brussels. His place would be the very one for you if you find nothing worthy of you here, where you have a house of your own and other things that bind you to the city."
"Here I should probably be obliged to crowd somebody else out of one in order to obtain a position," replied Wolf, "and I am unwilling to do so."
"You are wrong," cried the violinist. "The course of the world causes the stronger--and that you are--to take precedence of the weaker. Learn at last to give up this modest withdrawal and elbow your way forward!"
"Pressing and jostling are not in my nature;" replied Wolf with a slight shrug of the shoulders. "Since I may hope to be relieved of anxiety concerning my daily bread, I am disposed to leave the court and seek quiet happiness in a more definite circle of duties at home. You see, Massi, it is just the same with us human beings as with material things. There is my man cutting the rope from yonder package with his sharp knife. The contents are distributed in a trice, and yet it was tiresome to collect them and pack them carefully. Thus it would need only a word to separate myself from the court; but to join it again would be a totally different affair. There have been numerous changes in this city since I went away, and many a hand which pressed mine in farewell is no longer here, or would perhaps be withdrawn, merely because I am a Catholic and intend to stay here among the Protestants. Besides--lay the roll on the table, Janche--besides, as you have already heard, the final decision does not depend upon myself.--Take care, Jan. That little package is breakable!"
This last exclamation was addressed to Wolf's Netherland servant, who was just unpacking his master's leather bag.
Massi noticed that the articles taken out could scarcely be intended for a man's use, and, pointing to a piece of Flanders velvet, he gaily remarked:
"So my guess was correct. Here, too, the verdict is to be pronounced by beardless lips." Wolf blushed like a girl, but, after the violinist had waited a short time for the confirmation of his conjecture, he continued more gravely:
"It ill befits me to intrude upon your secret. Every one must go his own way, and I have wondered why a person who so readily renders a service to others pursues his own path so unsocially. Will you ever let your friend know what stirs your heart?"
"I should often have confided in you gladly," replied Wolf, "but a certain shyness always restrained me. How can others be interested in what befalls a lonely, quiet fellow like me? It is not my habit to talk much, but you will always find me ready to use hand and brain in behalf of one who is as dear to me as you, Massi."
"You have already given me proof of that," replied the violinist, "and I often marvel how you find time, without neglecting your own business, to do so much for others with no payment except thanks. I thought you would accomplish something great, because you paid no heed to women; but probably you depend on other powers, for if it is a pair of beautiful eyes whose glance is to decide so important a matter----"
"Never mind that," interrupted Wolf beseechingly, raising his hand soothingly. "I confess with Terentius that nothing human is strange to me. As soon as the decision comes, I will tell you--but you alone--several particulars. Now accept my thanks for your well-meant counsel and the use of your room. I'll see you again early to-morrow. I promised Gombert and the leader of the boy choir to lend them a helping hand, so we shall probably meet at the rehearsal.--Go to the stable, Janche, and see that the groom has rubbed the bay down thoroughly. As for the rolls and packages here----"
"I'll help you carry them," said the violinist, seizing his shoes; but Wolf eagerly declined his assistance, and went out to ask the landlord to let him have one of his men.
But the servants of the overcrowded Red Cock all had their hands full, so the nine-year-old son of the Leitgeb couple and the cellar man's two somewhat younger boys, who had not yet gone to bed, were made bearers of the parcels.
How eager they were to do something which suited grown people, and, when Wolf described the place where they were to carry the articles, Fran Leitgeb sympathizingly helped him, and charged the children to hold the valuable packages very carefully. They must not spare the knocker in the second story of the cantor house, for old Ursula's hearing was no longer the best, and since the day before yesterday--Kathl had brought the news home--she had been ill. "Some rare luck," the landlady continued, "will surely follow the knight up to the Blombergs. The same old steep path, leads there; but as to Wawer!--it would be improper to say Jungfrau Barbara--you will surer open your eyes--" Here she was summoned to the kitchen, and Wolf followed his little assistants into the street.