Volume 5.
Chapter XXIV.
 

The very harsh execrations which the regent bestowed upon pleasant Ratisbon when she learned what had befallen Sir Wolf Hartschwert were better suited to the huntress than to the queen and sister of a mighty emperor.

Murderous knaves who, in the heart of the city, close to the imperial precincts, endangered the lives of peaceful people at night! It was unprecedented, and yet evidently only a result of the heretical abuses.

She had sprung into the saddle--she always travelled on horseback--in the worst possible mood, but had urged all who were near the Emperor Charles's person, and also the almoner Pedro de Soto, to remember the wounded man and do everything possible to aid his recovery.

She did not mention Barbara, even by a single word, in her farewell to her royal brother.

The latter had intended to accompany her a portion of the way, but a great quantity of work--not least in consequence of the loss of time occasioned by the new love life--had accumulated, and he therefore preferred to take leave of his sister in the courtyard of the Golden Cross.

There, with his assistance, she mounted her horse.

Quijada, who usually rendered her this service, stood aloof, silent and pale. The regent had noticed it, and attributed his appearance to grief for her departure. No one at court held a higher place in her regard, and it pleased her that he, too, found it so hard to do without her.

As her horse started, her last salute was to the monarch and to him.

Malfalconnet, whose eyes were everywhere, noticed it, and whispered to the Marquise de Leria, who was standing beside him: "Either Don Luis would do well to intrust himself to our Mathys's treatment, or this gentleman is an accomplished actor, or our most gracious lady has tampered with the fidelity of this most loyal husband, and the paternosters and pilgrimages of Dona Magdalena de Ulloa have been vain."

A few minutes after, the Emperor Charles was sitting at the writing table examining, with the Bishop of Arras, a mountain of reports and documents. Two or three hours elapsed ere he received ambassadors and gave audiences, and during that time Quijada was not needed by his royal master.

He had previously had leisure only to provide for the wounded man, cleanse himself from blood, change his dress, bid Queen Mary farewell, and bandage the hurt afresh. He had done this with his own hands because he distrusted the reticence of his extremely skilful but heedless French valet.

When he returned to his lodgings, Master Adrian followed him, and modestly, yet with all the warmth of affection which he felt for this true friend of his master, entreated him to permit him to speak freely. He had perceived, not only by the pallor of Don Luis's cheeks, but other signs, that he was suffering, and in the name of his wife, who, when her husband was summoned from her side, had urged him with the earnestness of anxious love to watch over him, begged him not to force himself beyond his strength to perform his service, if his sufferings corresponded with his appearance.

Don Luis looked sharply into the faithful face, and what he found there induced him to admit that he was concealing a wound. Adrian silently beckoned to him, and led the way into his own room, where he entreated Don Luis to show him the injury. When he saw it, his by no means mobile features blanched.

He knew that Quijada had accompanied Barbara home that night. On this errand, he was sure of it, Don Luis must have received this serious wound at the same time as Wolf, or even obtained it from the young knight himself. Besides, he felt certain that the object of the Emperor's love was connected with both disasters. Yet not a word which could have resembled a question escaped his beardless lips while he examined, sewed, and bandaged the deep sword thrust with the skill and care of a surgeon.

When he had finished his task, he thanked Don Luis for the confidence reposed in him.

Quijada pressed his hand gratefully, and begged him to do his best that no one, not even the Emperor, should learn anything about this vexatious mischance. Then, not from curiosity, for grave motives, he desired to know what relations existed between Sir Wolf Hartschwert and Barbara.

The answer was somewhat delayed, for Wolf had won the affection of the influential valet, and what Master Adrian had learned concerning the young knight's personal affairs from himself, his own wife in Brussels, and the violinist Massi, he would have confided to no one on earth except Quijada, and perhaps not even to him had he not accompanied his inquiry with the assurance that what he intrusted to him would remain buried in his soul, and be used only for Wolf's advantage.

This promise loosed the cautious valet's tongue. He knew his man, and, when Don Luis also desired to learn whether the knight had already discovered that Barbara was now the Emperor's love, he thought he could answer in the negative.

What he had heard of Wolf's relation to Barbara was only that the two had spent their early youth in the same house, that the knight loved the singer, but that she had rejected his suit.

This avowal appeared to satisfy Quijada, and it really did calm him. He now believed that Wolf had misjudged him, and, supposing that he was coming from a meeting with the girl he loved, had drawn his sword against him. The manner in which he had attempted to rid himself of the rival seemed criminal enough, yet the nocturnal attack had scarcely concerned him personally, and he would not condemn the man who was usually so calm and sensible without having heard him.

If Wolf lived--and he desired it from his heart--this act, which he appeared to have committed in a fit of blind jealousy, should do him no injury.

With a warm clasp of the hand, which united these two men more firmly than a long period of mutual intercourse, each went his way in quiet content.

In the afternoon Master Adrian was sent out to Prebrunn to announce to Barbara a visit from the Emperor after vespers.

Wolf, it is true, had told her many things about Adrian Dubois, and informed her how much pleasure he had had at Brussels in visiting him and his sensible, cheerful wife, how implicitly the Emperor trusted him, how faithfully he served him, how highly the ambassadors and the most aristocratic gentlemen esteemed him, and how great an advantage it had been to him, Wolf, to possess his friendship; yet she thought proper to treat the valet with the haughty reserve which beseemed her as the Emperor's favourite, and which yesterday evening had won the approval of the Wittenberg theologian and of Wolf.

But Master Adrian appeared to take no notice of her manner, and performed his errand with businesslike composure.

The Emperor Charles wished to know how she liked her new home.

In reality she had found its beauty and comfort far beyond her expectations, had clapped her hands in surprise when she was conducted by the marquise through the new abode, and, under the guidance of the house steward Steen, had been shown the kitchen, the stable, the four horses, and the garden. In her reception-room she found a lute and a harp of exquisitely beautiful workmanship, and a small Milan cabinet made of ebony inlaid with ivory, in which was a heavy casket bound with silver. The key had been given to her the evening before by the regent herself, and when Barbara opened it she discovered so many shining zecchins and ducats that a long time was occupied when she obeyed Fran Lerch's request to count them.

The dressmaker from the Grieb was already in her service, and had been a witness of her sincere delight and grateful pleasure. The second hour after their arrival she had helped her to employ Frau Lamperi, the maid whom the steward called the 'garde-robiere', and had already been to the city herself to buy, for her fortunate "darling" costly but, on account of the approach of summer, light materials. But she had seen Master Adrian corning, and, while he was passing through the garden, gave her the advice by no means to praise what she found here, but to appear as though she had been accustomed to such surroundings, and found this and that not quite worthy of her, but needing addition and improvement.

At first Barbara had succeeded in assuming the airs of the spoiled lady, but when Adrian, with prosaic definiteness, asked for details, and she saw herself compelled to begin the game of dissimulation anew, it grew repugnant to her.

To her artist nature every restraint soon became irksome, especially so unpleasant a one, which was opposed to her character, and ere she was her self aware of it she was again the vivacious Wawerl, and frankly and freely expressed her pleasure in the beautiful new things she owed to her lover's kindness.

A smile, so faint and brief that Barbara did not perceive it, was hovering meanwhile around the valet's thin lips. The causes of this strange change of opinion and mood would have been sufficiently intelligible to him, even had he not perceived one of the reproving glances which Frau Lerch cast at Barbara.

She, too, had met one; but since she had once obeyed the impulse of her own nature, and felt content in doing so, she troubled herself no further about the monitor, and there was nothing in her new home which was not far more beautiful than what she had had in the precentor's modest house.

The marquise displeased her most deeply, and this also she plainly told Master Adrian, and begged him to inform his Majesty, with her dutiful greeting. His best gift was the precaution which he had taken that she should live apart from the old monkey.

The valet received this commission, like all the former ones, with a slight, grave bow.

On the whole, the experienced man was not ill-pleased with her, only it seemed to him strange that Barbara did not mention the serious misfortune which had befallen Wolf; yet she knew from his own lips that he loved the knight, and had learned that the latter's life was in serious danger.

So he turned the conversation to his young friend, and in an instant a remarkable change took place in Barbara. Wolf's sorrowful fate and severe wound had weighed heavily upon her heart, but what the present brought was so novel and varied that it had crowded the painful event, near as was the past to which it belonged, into the shadow.

She now desired to know who the murderer was who had attacked him, and cursed him with impetuous wrath. She thought it base and shameful that she had been denied access to his couch.

Poor, poor Wolf!

Of all the men on earth, he was the best! Meanwhile tears of genuine compassion flowed from her eyes and, with passionate vehemence, she declared that no power in the world should keep her from him. The mere sound of her voice, she knew, would be a cordial to him.

So Master Adrian had not been mistaken.

It was not only in song that she was capable of deep feeling, and the love which had seized the Emperor Charles so late, and yet so powerfully, had not gone far astray.

He could scarcely have bestowed it upon a more beautiful woman. While pleasure in her new surroundings held sway over her, it was a real pleasure to see her face. But this creature, so richly gifted by the grace of God, was not suited for his modest young friend; this had become especially evident to him when an almost evil expression escaped her lips while she emptied the vial of her wrath upon Wolf's murderer.

If she deemed herself worthy of his master's love, she would not lack Adrian's protection, which was the more effective the more persistently he refrained from asking of the Emperor's favour even the slightest thing for himself, his wife, or others; that the time would come when she would need it, he was certain.

No one knew the Emperor so well as he, and he saw before him the cliffs which threatened to shatter the little ship of this love bond. Already an imprudent violation of his extreme sense of the dignity of majesty, or of the confidence which he bestowed upon her, might become fatal to it.

But, ardently as she might return his love, loyal and discreet as her conduct might be, there were other grave perils menacing the tie which united the Emperor to Barbara.

Charles was a man of action, of work, of fulfilment of duty. The moment that he perceived this love bond would impede his progress toward the lofty goals to which he aspired might easily mark the beginning of its end.

Now, in the midst of peace, such a result was scarcely to be feared; but if it came to fighting--and many a sign showed Adrian that war was not far distant--a great change would take place in his master's character; the general would assert his rights. Every other consideration would then be pitilessly thrust aside and, if Charles still remained loyal to his affection, he would have fallen under the spell of one of those great passions which defy every assault of time and circumstance and find an end only in death. But the sharp-sighted man could not believe in such love on his master's part; in his nature the claims of reason threw those of the heart too far into the shade. If Barbara was wise, her daily prayer should be for the maintenance of peace.

To speak of these fears to the care-free girl would have been cruel, but he could probably give her a useful hint as opportunity offered.

Accustomed to perform his duty silently and, where speech was necessary, to study the utmost brevity, he had not learned the art of clothing his thoughts in pleasing forms. So, without circumlocution, he whispered to Barbara the advice to send away Frau Lerch, who was not fit for her service, and as soon as possible to dismiss her entirely.

The girl flew into a rage, and no whisper or urgency from another, but her own unbridled, independent nature, which during continual struggle had been steeled to assert herself, in spite of her poverty, among the rich companions of her own rank, as well as the newly awakened haughty consciousness that now, as the object of the mightiest monarch's love, she was exalted far above the companions of her own rank--led her to rebuff the warning of the well-meaning man with a sharpness that it ill beseemed one so much younger to use toward the Emperor's gray-haired messenger.

The valet shrugged his shoulders compassionately, and his regular features, whose expression varied only under the influence of strong, deep feelings, distinctly betrayed how sincerely he lamented her conduct.

Barbara noticed it, and instantly remembered what Wolf had told her about him and his wife. She did not think of the influence which he exercised upon the Emperor and the service which he might render her, but all the more vividly of his steadfast, devoted loyalty, and what he was and had accomplished for the man whom she loved, and, seized with sincere repentance, obeying a powerful impulse, she held out her hand with frank cordiality just as he was already bowing in farewell. Adrian hesitated a moment.

What did this mean?

What accident was causing this new change of feeling in this April day of a girl?

But when her sparkling blue eyes gazed at him so brightly and at the same time so plainly showed that she knew she had wronged him, he clasped the hand, and his face again wore a friendly expression.

Then Barbara laughed in her bewitching, bell-like tones and, like a naughty child begging forgiveness for a trivial fault, asked him gaily not to take offence at her foolish arrogance. All the new things here had somewhat turned her silly brain. She knew how faithfully he served her Charles, and for that reason she could not help liking him already.

"If you have any cause to find fault with me," she concluded merrily, "out with it honestly." Then addressing Frau Lerch, not as though she were speaking to a servant, but to an older friend, she asked her to leave her alone with Herr Adrian a short time; but she insisted positively on having her own way when the dressmaker remarked that she did not know why, after the greatest secret of all had been forced upon her, her discretion should be distrusted.

As soon as she had retired the valet entreated Barbara to beware of the advice of this woman, whose designs he saw perfectly. He, Adrian, would wish her to have a companion of nobler nature and more delicate perceptions.

But this warning seemed scarcely endurable to Barbara. Although she did not fly into a passion again, she asked in an irritated tone whether Adrian had been granted the power of looking into another's soul. What she perceived with absolute certainty in Frau Lerch, who, as her dead mother's maid, had tended her as a child, was great faithfulness and secrecy and the most skilful hands. Still, she promised to remember his well-meant counsel.

Adrian's warning always to consider what a position her lord occupied in the world, and to beware of crossing the border line which separated the monarch from his subjects, and even from those who were of the highest rank and dearest to him, was gratefully received, for she remembered the sharp rebuff which she had already experienced from her lover. It proved this excellent man's good will toward her, and her eyes fairly hung upon his lips as he informed her of some of his master's habits and peculiarities which she must regard. He warned her, with special earnestness, not to allow herself to be used by others to win favour or pardon for themselves or their kindred. She might perhaps find means for it later; now she would at once awaken in the extremely suspicious monarch doubt of her unselfishness.

This was certainly good advice, and Barbara confessed to the valet that the marquise had requested her at dinner that day to intercede for her unfortunate son, who, unluckily, had the misfortune to be misunderstood by the Emperor Charles. Master Adrian had expected something of the kind, for the lady in waiting had more than once urged him also to obtain his Majesty's pardon for this ruined profligate, the shame of his noble race. He had persistently refused this request, and now enjoined it upon Barbara to follow his example. Before leaving her, he undertook to send her tidings of Wolf's health now and then by the violinist Massi, as he had not leisure to do it himself. At the same time he earnestly entreated her to repress her wish to see the sufferer again, and to bear in mind that she could receive no visitor, take no step in this house or in the city, which would not be known in the Golden Cross.

Barbara passionately demanded to know the spy who was watching her, and whether she must beware specially of the marquise, her French maid, the Spanish priest who accompanied the old woman as her confessor, the garde-robiere Lamperi, who nevertheless had a good face, or who else among the servants.

On this point, however, the valet would or could give no information. He knew only his master's nature. Just as he was better acquainted with every province than the most experienced governor, with every band of soldiers than the sergeant, so nothing escaped him which concerned the private lives of those whom he valued. It need not grieve her that he watched her so carefully. Her acts and conduct would not become a matter of indifference to him until he withdrew his confidence from her or his love grew cold.

The deep impression which this information made upon the girl surprised Adrian. While he was speaking her large eyes dilated more and more, and with hurried breathing she listened until he had finished. Then pressing both hands upon her temples, she frantically exclaimed: "But that is horrible! it is base and unworthy! I will not be a prisoner--! will not, can not bear it! My whole heart is his, and never belonged to any other; but, rather than be unable to take a step that is not watched, like the Sultan's female slaves, I will return to my father."

Here she hesitated; for the first time since she had entered Prebrunn she remembered the old man who for her sake had been sent out into the world. But she soon went on more calmly: "I even permitted my father to be taken from me and sent away, perhaps to death. I gave everything to my sovereign, and if he wants my life also," she continued with fresh emotion, "he may have it; but the existence of a caged bird!--that will destroy me."

Here the sensible man interrupted her with the assurance that no one, last of all his Majesty, thought of restricting her liberty more than was reasonable. She would be permitted to walk and to use her horses exactly as she pleased, only the object of her walks and rides must be one which she could mention to her royal lover without timidity.

Barbara, still with quickened breathing, then put the question how she could know this; and Adrian, with a significant smile, replied that her heart would tell her, and if it should ever err--of this he was certain--the Emperor Charles.

With these words he took leave of her to go, on behalf of his master, to the marquise, and Barbara stood motionless for some time, gazing after him.

In the Golden Cross Quijada asked Adrian what he thought of the singer, and it was some time ere he answered deliberately: "If only I knew exactly myself, your lordship--I am only a plain man, who wishes every one the best future. Here I do so out of regard for his Majesty, Sir Wolf Hartschwert, and the inexperienced youth of this marvellously beautiful creature. But if you were to force me by the rack to form a definite opinion of her, I could not do it. The most favourable would not be too good, the reverse scarcely too severe. To reconcile such contrasts is beyond my power. She is certainly something unusual, that will fit no mould with which I am familiar."

"If you had a son," asked Don Luis, "would you receive her gladly as a daughter-in-law?"

A gesture of denial from the valet gave eloquent expression of his opinion; but Quijada went on in a tone of anxious inquiry: "Then what will she whom he loves be to the master whose happiness and peace are as dear to you as to me?"

Adrian started, and answered firmly: "For him, it seems to me, she will perhaps be the right one, for what power could she assert against his? And, besides, there is something in his Majesty, as well as in this girl, which distinguishes them from other mortals. What do I mean by that? I see and hear it, but I can neither exactly understand nor name it."

"That might be difficult even for a more adroit speaker," replied Quijada; "but I think I know to what you allude. You and I, Master Adrian, have hearts in our breasts, like thousands of other people, and in our heads what is termed common sense. In his Majesty something else is added. It seems as though he has at command a messenger from heaven who brings him thought and decisions."

"That's it!" exclaimed Adrian eagerly; "and whenever she raises her voice to sing, a second one stands by the side of this Barbara Blomberg."

"Only we do not yet know," observed Quijada anxiously, "whether this second one with the singer is a messenger from heaven, like his Majesty's, or an emissary of hell."

The valet shrugged his shoulders irresolutely, and said quietly: "How could I venture to express an opinion about so noble an art? But when I was listening to the hymn to the Virgin yesterday, it seemed as if an angel from heaven was singing from her lips."

"Let us hope that you may be right," replied the other. "But no matter! I think I know whence comes the invisible ally his Majesty has at his disposal. It is the Holy Ghost that sends him--there is no doubt of it! His control is visible everywhere. With miraculous power he urges him on in advance of all others, and even of himself. This becomes most distinctly perceptible in war."

"That is true," declared the valet, "and your lordship has surely hit the right clew. For"--he glanced cautiously around him and lowered his voice--"whenever I put on my master's armour I always feel how he is trembling--yes, trembling, your lordship. His face is livid, and the drops of perspiration on his brow are not due solely to the heat."

"And then," cried Quijada, his black eyes sparkling with a fiery light--"then in his agitation he scarcely knows what he is doing as I hold the stirrup for him. But when, once in his saddle, his divine companion descends to him, he dashes upon the foe like a whirlwind and, wherever he strikes, how the chips fly! The strongest succumb to his blows. 'Victory! victory!' men shout exultingly wherever he goes. Even in the last accursed Algerian defeat his helper was at his side; for, Adrian"--here he, too, lowered his voice--"without him and his wonderful power every living soul of us, down to the last boat and camp follower, would have been destroyed."