Volume 5.
Chapter XXIII.
 

Wolf left the Hiltner house behind him with the feeling that he had upheld the cause of his Church against the learned opponent to the best of his ability, and had not been defeated. Yet he was not entirely satisfied. In former years he had read the Hutten dialogues, and, though he disapproved of their assaults upon the Holy Father in Rome, he had warmly sympathized with the fiery knight's love for his native land.

Far as, at the court of Charles, the German ranked below the Netherlander, the Spaniard, and the Italian, Wolf was proud of being a German, and it vexed him that he had not at least made the attempt to repel the theologian's charge that the Catholic, to whom the authority of Rome was the highest, would be inferior to the Protestant in patriotism.

But he would have succeeded no better in convincing Erasmus than the learned theologians who, at the Emperor's instance, had held an earnest religious discussion in Ratisbon a short time before, had succeeded in arriving at even a remote understanding.

As he reached the Haidplatz new questions of closer interest were casting these of supreme importance into the shade.

He was to enter his home directly, and then the woman whom he loved would rest above him, and alone, unwatched, and unguarded, perhaps dream of another.

Who was the man for whose sake she withdrew from him the heart to whose possession he had the best and at any rate the oldest right?

Certainly not Baron Malfalconnet.

Neither could he believe it to be Peter Schlumperger or young Crafft.

Yet perhaps the fortunate man belonged to the court. If that was the case, how easy would the game now be made for him with the girl, who was guarded by no faithful eye!

His heart throbbed faster as he entered Red Cock Street.

The moon was still in the cloudless, starry sky, shining with her calm, silver radiance upon one side of the street. Barbara's bow-window was touched by it, and--what did it mean?--a small lamp must still be burning in her room, for the window was illuminated, though but dimly. Perhaps she had kept the light because she felt timid in her lonely chamber. Now Wolf crossed obliquely toward his house.

Just at that moment he saw the tall figure of a man.

What was he doing there at this hour? Was it a thief or a burglar? There was no lack of evil-disposed folk in this time of want.

Wolf still wore his court costume, and the short dress sword which belonged to it hung in its sheath.

His heart beat quicker as he loosed the blade and advanced toward the suspicious night-bird.

Just then he saw the other calmly turn the big key and take it out of the door.

That could be no thief! No, certainly not!

It was a gentleman of tall stature, whose aristocratic figure and Spanish court costume were partially covered by a long cloak.

There was no doubt! Wolf could not be mistaken, for, while the former was putting the key in his pocket, the mantle had slipped from one shoulder.

"Malfalconnet," muttered Wolf, grasping the hilt of his short sword more firmly.

But at the same moment the moonlight showed him the Spaniard's face. A chill ran through his frame, followed by a feverish heat, for the nocturnal intruder into his house was not the baron, but Quijada, the noble Don Luis, his patron, who had just been lauding to the skies the virtues, the beauty, the goodness of the peerless Dona Magdalena de Ulloa, his glorious wife. He had intended to send Wolf, the friend and housemate of his victim, to Spain to become the instructor of his deceived wife.

He saw through the game, and it seemed as if he could not help laughing aloud in delight at his own penetration, in rage and despair.

How clearly, and yet how coarsely and brutally, it had all been planned!

The infamous scoundrel, who possessed so much influence over the Emperor, had first sent old Blomberg away; now he, Wolf, was to follow, that no one might stand between the game and the pursuer.

Barbara's lover must be Quijada. For the Spaniard's sake she had given him up, and perhaps even played the part of adviser in this abominable business. It must be so, for who else could know what she was to him?

Yet no! He himself had aided the guilty passion of this couple, for how warmly he had sung Barbara's praises to Don Luis! And then in how many a conversation with Barbara had Quijada's name been mentioned, and he had always spoken of this man with warm regard. Hence her remark that he himself deemed her lover worthy of esteem.

In a few seconds these thoughts darted through his heated brain with the speed of lightning.

The street began to whirl around him, and a deep loathing of the base traitor, a boundless hatred of the destroyer of his happiness, of the betrayed girl, and the life which led through such abysses overpowered the deluded man.

The infamous girl had just left her lover's arms, her kiss was doubtless still glowing on his faithless lips!

Wolf groaned aloud like a sorely stricken deer, and for a moment it seemed to him that the best course would be to put an end to his own ruined life. But rage and hate urged him upon another victim, and, unable to control himself, he rushed with uplifted blade upon the hypocritical seducer.

This utterly unexpected attack did not give Don Luis time to draw his sword, but, with ready presence of mind, he forced the hand wielding the weapon aside, and, while he felt a sharp pain in his left arm, seized the assassin with his right hand, swung his light figure upward, and with the strength and skill peculiar to him hurled it with all his might upon the stone steps of the dwelling.

Not a single word, only a savage cry of fury, followed by a piteous moan, had escaped Wolf's lips during this swift deed of violence.

The Spaniard scornfully thrust aside with his foot the inert body lying on the ground. His arrogance did not deem it worth while to ascertain what had befallen the murderer who had been punished. He had more important things to do, for his own blood was flowing in a hot, full stream over his hand.

Accustomed in bull fighting and in battle to maintain his calmness and caution even in the most difficult situation, he said to himself that, if his wound should be connected with the murder before this house it would betray his master's secret to the Ratisbon courts of justice, and thereby to the public.

He had heard the skull of the lurking thief strike against the granite steps of the house. So the dark, motionless mass before him was probably a corpse. There was no hurry about that, but his own condition compelled him to take care of himself. Entering the shadow of a tall building opposite the dwelling, he assured himself that the street was entirely empty, and then, drawing the aching arm from the doublet, he examined the wound as well as the dim light would permit. It was deep, it is true, but the robber's weapon appeared merely to have cut the flesh.

A jerk, and Quijada had stripped the ruff from his neck, and, as this did not suffice, he cut with his sword blade and his teeth a piece of fine linen from his shirt.

This would do for the first bandage. The skilful hand which, in battle, had aided many a bleeding comrade soon completed the task.

Then he flung his uninjured cloak around him again, and turned toward the lifeless body at the foot of the steps.

There lay the murderer's weapon--a delicately fashioned short dress sword, with an ivory hilt, not the knife of a common highwayman.

That was the reason the wound was so narrow.

But who had sought his life with this dainty steel blade?

There were few at court who envied him the Emperor's favour--his office often compelled him to deny even persons of higher rank access to his Majesty; but he had never--this he could assure himself--treated even men of humble station harshly or unjustly. If he had offended any one by haughty self-confidence, it had been unintentional. He was not to blame for the manner natural to the Castilian.

Besides, he had little time for reflection; scarcely had he hastily wiped off with the little cloak that lay beside him the blood which covered the face of the prostrate man than he started back in horror, for the person who had sought his life was the very one whom he had honoured with his highest confidence, and had chosen as the teacher and companion of the wife who was dearer than his own existence.

Some cruel misunderstanding, some pitiable mistake must have been at work here, and he came upon the right trail speedily enough.

The hapless knight loved Barbara, and had taken him, Luis, for her betrayer and nocturnal visitor.

Fatal error of the Emperor, whose lamentable consequences were already beginning!

With sincere repentance for his needlessly violent act of defence, he bent over the severely injured man. His heart was still beating, but doubtless on account of the great loss of blood--it throbbed with alarming weakness. Don Luis also soon found a wound in the skull, which appeared to be fractured.

If speedy aid was not rendered, the unfortunate man was lost.

Quijada laid Wolf's head quickly and carefully on his cloak, which he placed in a roll beneath it, and then hurried to the Red Cock, where one servant was just opening the door and another was leading out two horses. The latter was Jan, Wolf's Netherland servant, who wanted to water the animals before starting on the journey.

He instantly recognised the nobleman; but the latter had resolved to keep the poor musician's attack a secret.

As Jan bowed respectfully to him, he ordered him and the servant of the Red Cock to leave everything and follow him. He had found a dead man in the street.

A few minutes after the three were standing at the steps of the house, before the object of their solicitude.

The groom of the Red Cock, who still held a lantern in his hand, though dawn was already beginning to glimmer faintly in the east, threw the light upon the face of the bleeding form, and Jan exclaimed in grief and terror that the injured man was his master.

The Brabant lad wailed, and the German, who had known the "precentor cavalier" all his life, joined in the lamentation; but Quijada induced them both to think only of saving the wounded nobleman.

The old groom, with savage imprecations upon the scoundrels who now infested their quiet streets, raised the wounded man's head and told Jan to lift his feet. Both were familiar with the house, and, while the servants bore Wolf up the narrow stairs, the proud Spanish grandee lighted their way with the lantern, supporting the wounded man's injured head, with his free hand. At the door of the young knight's rooms he told the servants to attend to his needs, and then hurried back to the Golden Cross.

He found a great bustle prevailing there. Tilted wagons were being loaded with the regent's luggage, couriers and servants were rushing to and fro, and in the courtyard men were currying the horses which were to be ridden on the journey.

Don Luis paid no heed to all this, hastening first to the chapel to ask a young German chaplain to administer the sacrament to Sir Wolf Hartschwert, to whose house he hurriedly directed him. Then going swiftly to the third story, he waked Dr. Mathys, the Emperor's leech.

The portly physician rubbed his eyes angrily; but as soon as he learned for whom he was wanted and how serious was the injury, he showed the most praiseworthy haste and, with the attendant who carried his surgical instruments and medicines, was standing beside the sufferer's couch almost as soon as the wounded man.

The result of his examination was anything but gratifying.

He would gladly do all that his skill would permit for the knight, but in so serious a fracture of the skull only the special mercy of Heaven could preserve life.

Dr. Doll, the best physician in Ratisbon, assisted him with the bandaging, and old Ursel had suddenly recovered her lost strength.

When the maid-servant asked timidly if she should not call Wawerl down from upstairs, she shrugged her shoulders with a movement which the one-eyed girl understood, and which signified anything but acceptance of the proposal.

Yet Barbara would perhaps have rendered most efficacious assistance.

True, she was still sleeping the sound slumber of wearied youth. Directly after her return from her imperial lover, she had gone to rest in the little chamber behind the bow-windowed room. It looked out upon the courtyard, and was protected from the noise of the street. When she heard sounds in the house, she thought that old Ursel was ill and they were summoning the doctor. For a moment she felt an impulse to rise and go downstairs, but she did not like to leave her warm bed, and Wolf would manage without her. She had always lacked patience to wait upon the sick, and Ursel had grown so harsh and disagreeable since she joined the Protestants. Finally, Barbara had brought home exquisite recollections of her illustrious lover, which must not be clouded by the suffering of the old woman, whom, besides, she could rarely please.

She did not learn what had happened until she went to mass, and then it weighed heavily upon her heart that she had not given Wolf her assistance, especially as she suspected, with strange certainty, that she herself was connected with this terrible misfortune.

Now--ah, how gladly!--she would have helped Ursel with the nursing, but she forbade her to enter the sick-room. The most absolute quiet must reign there. No one was permitted to cross the threshold except herself and an elderly nun, whom the Clares had sent for the sake of the wounded man's dead mother. A Dominican also soon came, whom the old woman could not shut out because he was despatched by the Queen of Hungary, and the violinist Massi, whom she gladly welcomed as a good friend of her Wolf. He proved himself loyal, and devoted every leisure hour of the night to the sufferer. Barbara knocked at the door very often, but Ursel persisted in refusing admittance. She knew that the girl had rejected her darling's proposal, and it was a satisfaction to her when, toward noon, the former told her that she was about to leave the house to go to Prebrunn.

A cart would convey her luggage, but it would be only lightly laden. Fran Lerch went with the baggage.

An hour later Barbara herself moved into the little castle, which had been refurnished for her. Mounted upon a spirited bay horse from her Prebrunn stables, she rode beside the Marquise de Leria's huge litter to her new home.