Barbara Blomberg by Georg Ebers
After this conversation the two men who, in different positions, stood nearest to the Emperor Charles, placed no obstacle in Barbara's way.
The third--the Bishop of Arras--also showed a friendly spirit toward the Emperor's love affair. True, he had not been taken into his confidence, but he rarely failed to be present when Barbara sang with the boy choir, or alone, in the Golden Cross, before the monarch or distinguished guests.
Charles summoned her there almost daily, and always at different hours.
This was done to strengthen the courtiers and the citizens of Ratisbon in the belief that Barbara owed his favour solely to her singing.
Granvelle, who appreciated and was interested in music as well as in painting and sculpture, found real pleasure in listening to Barbara, yet while doing so he did not forget that she might be of service to him. If she only remained on good terms with him she would, he was sure of that, whether willing or not, be used as his tool.
Spite of his nine-and-twenty years, he forbade himself to cherish any other wishes, because he would have regarded it treachery to the royal master whom he served with faithful devotion. But, as he accepted great gifts without ever allowing himself to be tempted to treason or forgetfulness of duty, so he did not reject little tokens of friendliness from Barbara, and of these she showed no lack. The young Bishop of Arras was also an extremely fine-looking man, whose clever brain and bright, penetrating glance harmonized with his great intellect and his position. Wolf had already told her how much the monarch regarded the opinion of this counsellor.
The fourth person whose good will had been represented to her as valuable was the almoner, Pedro de Soto; but he, who usually understood how to pay homage to beautiful women in the most delicate manner, kept rigidly aloof.
True, he had placed no obstacle in the way of the late kindling of the heart of his imperial master, but since his servant's report, from which it appeared that Barbara was on friendly terms with heretics, and therefore cherished but a lukewarm devotion to her own faith, she was no longer the same to him. In Spain this would have been enough to deliver her to the Holy Inquisition. Here, however, matters were different. Everywhere he saw the lambs associating with the wolves, and the larger number of the relatives of the Emperor's love had become converts to heresy. Therefore indulgence was demanded, and De Soto would have gladly been convinced of Barbara's orthodoxy under such difficult circumstances. But if it proved that the girl not only associated with heretics, but inclined to their error, then gentle inaction must be transformed into inexorable sternness, even though the rejuvenating power which she exerted upon the monarch were tenfold stronger than it doubtless was; for what danger might threaten the Emperor and Christianity from the bewitching woman who seemed to love Charles, if she undertook to influence him in favour of the new doctrines, which, in the eyes of every earnest Dominican, the Emperor treated far too leniently!
He, the confessor, even knew that Charles considered several demands of the Protestants to which the Church could never consent, entirely justifiable--nay, that he deemed a reformation of the Church by the council now in session at Trent extremely desirable.
Therefore it was a duty to withhold from him every influence which could favour these pernicious views and wishes, and Pedro de Soto had also been young and knew only too well what power so beautiful a woman, with such bewitching gifts, could exert upon the man whose heart cherishes her.
So, immediately after Barbara's entrance into Prebrunn, the confessor adopted his measures. Although the conversation to which he subjected her had resulted in her favour, he had deemed it beneficial to place a priest who was devoted to him among the ecclesiastics in the little castle.
To surround her with spies chosen from the lay class was repugnant to his lofty nature. Besides, they would have been superfluous; for a short time before his servant Cassian had asked permission to marry the marquise's French maid, and Alphonsine, who was neither young nor pretty, was inclined to all sorts of intrigues. She supplied slow, pious Cassian's deficiencies in the best possible manner. A chance word from the distinguished prelate had sufficed to make it their duty to watch Barbara and her visitors.
In Alphonsine's mistress, the Marquise de Leria, the almoner also possessed a willing tale-bearer. She had avoided him since his refusal to commend her ruined son to the favour of his imperial penitent. Now, unasked, she had again approached him, and her explanation first gave many an apparently unimportant communication from the servants its real value.
The atmosphere of the court was her vital air. Even when she had voluntarily offered to take Barbara under her charge, in a secluded house in the suburb, she had been aware how greatly she would miss the presence of royalty. Yet she would have endured far more difficult things, for a thousand signs betrayed that this time his Majesty's heart had not been merely superficially touched, and Barbara's traits of character made it appear probable that, like many a beauty at the court of Francis I of France, she might obtain an influence over the Emperor. If this occurred, the marquise had found the most powerful tool for the deliverance of her son.
This hope filled the old noblewoman's heart and brain. It was her last, for the Emperor was the only person who could save the worthless idol of her soul from ruin, and yet, when she had grovelled at his knees in her despair, she received an angry repulse and the threat of being instantly deprived of her position if she ever again attempted to speak to him about this vexatious matter. She knew only too well that Charles would keep his word, and therefore had already induced every person whom she believed possessed even a small share of influence over the monarch to intercede for her, but they had been no less sharply rebuffed than herself; for the sovereign, usually so indulgent to the reckless pranks of the young nobles, would not even hear the name of the aristocratic sharper, who was said to have sold the plans of the fortifications to France.
Charles now loved a woman whom, with swift presence of mind, she had bound to herself, and what no one else had succeeded in doing Barbara might accomplish.
Therefore the marquise had retired to the solitude which she hated, and hourly humbled herself to cringing flattery of a creature whom, on account of her birth, she scorned.
But Barbara was warned and, difficult as it often was for her to withstand the humble entreaties to which the old lady in waiting frequently condescended, persisted in her refusal.
Yet the unhappy mother did not give up hope, for as soon as the singer committed any act which she was obliged to conceal she could obtain power over her. So she kept her eyes open and, whenever the Emperor sought the young girl and was alone with her, she stole into the garden and peered through the badly fitting window shutters into the lighted room which was the scene of the happiness of the ill-matched lovers.
What she overheard, however, only increased the feeling of powerlessness against the hated creature whom she so urgently needed; for the tenderness which Charles showed Barbara was so great that it not only filled the marquise with surprise and bitter envy, but also awakened the conviction that it must be a small matter for the singer to obtain from so ardent a lover far greater things than she had asked.
So she continued to watch and listen unweariedly, day after day and evening after evening, but always in vain. She had not the most trivial thing for which Barbara could be seriously reproached to report to the confessor; yet De Soto desired nothing better, for Barbara still exerted an extremely favourable influence upon the Emperor's mood. Therefore it vexed him that Cassian informed him of many things which prevented his relying firmly upon her orthodoxy.
At any rate, there were Protestants among her visitors and, unfortunately, they included Herr Peter Schlumperger, whom De Soto knew as an active promoter of the apostasy of the Ratisbon burghers. He had called upon her the second day after her arrival and remained a long time but, it is true, had not appeared again. With the others also she held no regular intercourse--nay, she scarcely seemed to enjoy their visits. Thus the daughters of the Woller family from the Ark, who had appeared one afternoon, had been detained only a little longer by her than other Protestant matrons and maidens.
All this was scarcely sufficient to foster his anxiety; but Cassian reported one visit with which the case was different. Barbara had not only received this guest alone, but she had kept him more than an hour, and the servant could swear that the young man to whom she sang long songs--which, it is true, sounded like church music--to the lute and also to the harp, was Erasmus Eckhart, the adopted son of the archtraitor, Dr. Hiltner, who had just obtained the degree of Master of Arts in Wittenberg. This seemed suspicious, and induced De Soto to investigate the matter thoroughly.
Erasmus had come in the morning, at a time when the Emperor never visited Barbara. Nothing remarkable had taken place during their interview, but Cassian had heard her dismiss him with a warning which, even to a less distrustful person, would have seemed suspicious. Why had she assured the Wittenberg theologian, as she extended her hand to him in farewell, that what he offered her had given her great pleasure, and she would gladly invite him to bring her similar things often, but must deny herself this gratification from motives which he could imagine? His urgent entreaty at least to be permitted to call on her sometimes she had curtly and positively refused, but the Wittenberg heretic did not allow himself to be rebuffed, for Cassian had seen him several times in the neighbourhood of the castle.
There was as little cause to object to the visits paid to her by Gombert, Appenzelder, Damian Feys, occasionally some noblemen or guests of the court, and once even by no less a personage than the Bishop of Arras, as to the rides she took every afternoon; for the latter were always under the charge of Herr de Fours, an old equerry of the Emperor, and in the company of several courtiers, among whom Baron Malfalconnet was often included. A number of gay young pages always belonged to this brilliant cavalcade, whose number never lacked the handsome sixteen-year-old Count Tassis, who spent his whole large stock of pocket money in flowers which he sent every morning to Barbara.
The confessor was glad to hear that the estimable violinist Massi frequently visited the girl, for he was firm in the faith, and that he brought her tidings of the sorely wounded Sir Wolf Hartschwert could only be beneficial, for perhaps he warned her of the seriousness of life and that there were other things here below than the joy of love, jest, and laughter. The almoner's doubt of Wolf's orthodoxy had been entirely dispelled by his confession. Men do not deceive in the presence of death.
It would have been a genuine boon had Barbara selected him to open her heart to him in the confessional, for her relation to the wounded man rendered it difficult for him to trust her entirely.
Wolf's thoughts in his fever constantly dwelt upon her, and he sometimes accused her of the basest treachery, sometimes coupled her name with Malfalconnet's, sometimes with Luis Quijada's. The Emperor's, on the contrary, he had not mentioned.
He must love Barbara with ardent passion, and she, too, still seemed warmly attached to him, for to see him again she had bravely exposed herself to serious danger.
Eye and ear witnesses had reported that, notwithstanding his Majesty's positive orders to avoid her old home, she had entered the house and the knight's apartments, knelt beside his couch, and even kissed his weak, burning hand with tender devotion.
But though she still retained a portion of her former affection for Wolf Hartschwert, she loved the Emperor Charles with passionate fervour. Even the marquise did not venture to doubt this. Often as she had watched the meetings of the lovers, she had marvelled at the youthful ardour of the monarch, the joyous excitement with which Barbara awaited him, and her sorrowful depression when he left her. During the first week the old noblewoman thought that she had never met a happier pair. The almoner deemed it unworthy of him to listen to a report of the caresses which she scornfully mentioned.
The time even came when he no longer needed confirmation from others, and forbade himself to doubt Barbara's fidelity to her religion; for at the end of the first week in Prebrunn she had desired to ask a servant of the Church what she must do to make herself worthy of such abundance of the highest happiness, and to atone for the sin she was committing through her love.
In doing so she had opened her heart to the confessor with childlike frankness, and what De Soto heard on this occasion sincerely delighted him and endeared to him this thoroughly sound, beautiful creature overmastered by a first great passion. He believed her, and indignantly rejected what the spies afterward brought to him.
Yet he did not close his ears to the marquise when, in her clever, entertaining way, she told him what, against her will, she had overheard in consequence of the careless construction of the little castle, built only for a summer residence, or had seen during a walk in the garden when the shutters, through forgetfulness, had not been closed.
How should he not have heard gladly that the monarch, at every interview with Barbara, listened to her singing with special pleasure?
At first she chose grave, usually even religious songs, and among them Charles's favourite was the "Quia amore langueo."
To listen to these deeply felt tones of yearning always seemed to possess a fresh charm for him.
The singer understood how to produce a new effect each time by means of wonderful gradations of expression in the comprehension and execution.
Once she had also succeeded in cheering her lover with Perissone Cambio's merry singing lesson on the 'ut re mi fa sol', and again with Willaert's laughing song, "Sempre mi ridesta."
Two days later there had again been a great deal of laughing because Barbara undertook to sing to his Majesty another almost recklessly merry song by the same composer. The marquise knew it, and declared that Barbara's style and voice did not suit such things. She admitted that her execution of serious, especially religious and solemn compositions, was not amiss--nay, often it was wonderfully fine--but in such secular tunes her real nature appeared too plainly, and the skilful singer became a Bacchante.
It had been a sorry pleasure to her to watch the boisterous manner and singing of this creature, who had been far too highly favoured by the caprice of Fortune.
These reckless songs, unless she was mistaken, had also been by no means pleasing to his Majesty. The light had fallen directly upon his face just as she happened to glance up at the house from under the group of lindens, and she had distinctly seen him angrily thrust out his lower lip, which every one near his person knew was a sign of extreme displeasure.
But the girl had gone beyond all bounds. Old as she was, she could not help blushing at the mere thought of it. In her reckless mood she had probably forgotten that she had drawn her imperial lover into her net by arts of an entirely different nature. The almoner listened incredulously, for in his youth the Emperor Charles had joined in the wildest songs of the soldiery, and had well understood, on certain occasions, how to be merry with the merry, laugh and carouse in a Flemish tavern. After the confession the almoner heard things to which he would gladly have shut his ears, though they proved that the time which the marquise had spent at the French court had benefited her powers of observation.
Three days before the Emperor, for the first time, had seriously found fault with Barbara.
It had been impossible for the lady in waiting to discover the cause; but what she knew certainly was that her lover's censure had roused the girl to vehement contradiction, and that his Majesty, after a sharp reply, had been on the point of leaving her. True, the reckless beauty had repented her imprudent outburst of wrath speedily enough, and had understood how to conciliate the far too indulgent sovereign by such humility and such sweet tenderness that he probably must have forgiven her--at least the farewell had been as affectionate as ever.
Nevertheless, on the following evening, for the first time, he did not come to the castle, and the marquise had feared that the Emperor might now withdraw his favour from Barbara, which would have been too soon for her own wishes.
But yesterday evening, after sunset, the dark litter, to the old noblewoman's relief, had again stopped behind the garden gate, and the pleasure of having her lover again had so deeply overjoyed Barbara that he, too, was infected by her radiant delight.
Then, in the midst of the most tender caresses, he had been summoned out of the room, and when he returned, with frowning brow, the marquise had witnessed at least the commencement of a scene which seemed to justify her opinion that his Majesty: would have no taste for Barbara's utter freedom from restraint and gay secular songs.
Unfortunately, she had been prematurely driven from her post of observation; but she had seen the Emperor come in, and Barbara, without noticing his altered expression, or rather, probably, to cheer him by something especially merry, gaily began Baldassare Donati's superb dancing-master's song, "Qui la gagliarda vuol imparare," at the same time in the merriest, most graceful manner imitating the movements of the gagliarda dancer.
But Charles soon interrupted her, sharply requesting her to sing something else or cease entirely for that day.
Startled, she again asked forgiveness, and then pleaded in justification the universally acknowledged beauty of this charming song, which Maestro Gombert also admired; but the Emperor flew into a passion, and cut her short with the loud remark that he was not in the habit of having his own judgment corrected by the opinion of others. The jest did all honour to the skill and merry mood of the composer, but the contrary might be said of the singer who ventured to sing it to a person in whom it could awaken only bitter feelings.
But when, so painfully surprised that her eyes filled with tears, she confessed that her selection perhaps had not been very appropriate, and sadly added the inquiry why her beloved sovereign condemned a trivial offence so harshly, he wrathfully exclaimed, "For more than one reason."
Then, rising, he paced the room several times with a somewhat limping gait, saying, in so loud a tone that it could be distinctly heard in the dark, sultry garden: "Because it shows little delicacy of feeling when the man who is satiated tells the starving one of the dainty meal which he has just eaten; because--because I call it shameful for a person who can see to tell one who is blind of the pleasure he derives from the splendid colours of gay flowers; because I expect from the woman whom I honour with my love more consideration for me and what shadows my life. Because"--and here he raised his voice still more angrily--"I demand from any one united to me, the Emperor, by whatever bond----"
The marquise had been unable to hear more of the monarch's violent attack, for the messenger who had just brought the unwelcome news--it was Adrian Dubois--had not only passed her, but ventured to call to her and remark that she would be wise to go into the house--a thunderstorm was rising. He was not afraid of the rain, and would wait there for his Majesty.
So the listener did not hear how the incensed monarch continued with the demand that the woman he loved should neither tell him falsehoods nor deceive him.
Until then Barbara had listened, silent and pale, biting her trembling lips in order to adhere to her resolve to submit without reply to whatever Charles's terrible irritability inflicted upon her. But he must have noticed what was passing in her mind, for he suddenly paused in his walk, and, abruptly standing before her, gazed full into her face, exclaiming: "It is not you who are offended, but I, the sovereign whom you say you love. Day before yesterday I forbade you to go to the musician in Red Cock Street, yet you were with him to-day. I asked you just now whether you had obeyed me and, with smiling lips, you assented."
Barbara was already prepared with an answer in harmony with the sharpness of the attack, yet her lover's reproof was well founded.
When he had left the room shortly before he must have been informed that, in defiance of his explicit command, she had gone to the knight's house that morning.
But no one had ever charged her with lack of courage. Why had she not dared to confess the fault which, from a good and certainly pardonable impulse, she had committed?
Was she not free, or when had she placed herself under obligation to render blind obedience to her lover?
But the falsehood!
How severely she must perhaps atone for it this time!
Yet the esteem, the love of the man to whom her heart clung, whom she worshipped with all the fervour of her passionate soul, might be at stake, and when he now seized his hat to withdraw she barred his way.
Sobbing aloud, she threw herself at his feet, confessed that she was guilty, and remorsefully admitted that fear of his resentment, which seemed to her more terrible than death, had induced her to deny what she had done. She could hate herself for it. Nothing could palliate the departure from the path of truth, but her disobedience might perhaps appear to him in a milder light if he learned what had induced her to commit it.
Charles, still in an angry, imperious tone, ordered her to rise. She silently obeyed, and when he threw himself on the divan she timidly sat down by his side, turning toward him her troubled face, which for the first time he saw wet with tears.
Yet a hopeful smile brightened her moist eyes, for she felt that, since he permitted her to remain at his side, all might yet be well.
Then she timidly took his hand and, as he permitted it, she held it firmly while she explained what ties had bound her to Wolf from childhood.
She represented herself as the sisterly counsellor of the friend who had grown up in the same house with her. Music and the Catholic religion, in the midst of a city which had fallen into the Protestant heresy, had been the bond between them. After his return home he had probably been unable to help falling in love with her, but, so truly as she hoped for Heaven's mercy, she had kept her heart closed against Cupid until he, the Emperor, had approached in order, like that other Caesar, to come, to see, and to conquer. But she was only a woman, and pity in a woman's soft heart was as hard to silence as the murmur of a swift mountain stream or the rushing of the wind.
Yesterday she had learned from the violinist Massi that the knight's condition was much more critical, and he desired before his death to clasp her hand again. So, believing that disobedience committed to lighten the last hours of a dying man would be pardonable before God and human beings, she had visited the unfortunate Wolf.
The helpful and joy-bestowing power of good works, which the Protestants denied, had thus become very evident to her; for since she had clasped the sufferer's hand an indescribable sense of happiness had taken possession of her, while the knight began to improve. The news had reached her just before this, the Emperor's, arrival, had made her happy, and, in spite of her evil conscience, had put her in a very cheerful mood. But now this beautiful evening had become the saddest one of her whole life.
Fresh tears, and the other means of conciliation inspired by her loving heart, then induced the angry lover to forgive her.
Barbara felt this as a great piece of good fortune, and made every effort to curb the refractory temper which, hitherto, had found nothing less welcome than humble submission.
Day after day since that evening the confessor had been informed that nothing interrupted the concord of the lovers, and that Barbara often prayed very fervently in the private chapel. This pleased the almoner, and when Cassian told him that, on the evening after the quarrel, the Emperor had again come to the castle to remain a long time, he rejoiced.
To Barbara this visit had been a true heavenly blessing, but though Charles showed himself sufficiently loving, she felt, even during the succeeding visits, that since that fateful episode something difficult to describe or explain had rested like a gloomy shadow on the Emperor's joyous confidence.
This change in her lover could scarcely be due to her, for she had honestly endeavoured to avoid everything which could anger him.
How should she have suspected that the great student of human nature to whom she had given her heart perceived the restraint which she imposed upon herself in every interview with him, and that the moderation to which she submitted from love robbed her of a portion of the charm her gay unconcern had exerted upon him? Charles suspiciously attributed this change in the disposition of the woman he loved sometimes to one cause, sometimes to another; and when he showed her that he missed something in her which had been dear to him, she thought it a new token of his dissatisfaction, and increased the restraint which she placed upon herself.
If the gout again attacked him or the pressure of business, which at that time constantly made more and more imperious demands upon the Emperor Charles, detained him from her on one or another evening, torturing anxiety assailed her, and she had no sleep all night.
Besides, the marquise did not cease to press her with entreaties and expostulations, and Frau Lerch constantly urged Barbara to profit by the favour of such a lover. She ought to think of the future, and indemnify herself with estates and titles for the sad fate awaiting her if his Majesty wearied of her love.
The ex-maid knew how to describe, in vivid hues, how all would turn from her if that should happen, and how little the jewels with which he sometimes delighted her would avail.
But Barbara had cared only for her lord's love, and it was not even difficult for her to resist the urgency. Yet whenever she was alone with Charles, and he showed plainly how dear she was to him, the question forced itself upon her whether this would not be the right time to speak of her future, and to follow the counsel of the experienced woman who certainly meant kindly toward her.
This made her silent and constrained for a time, and when she saw that her manner annoyed her lover she thrust aside the selfish impulse which was rendering her unlovable, and sometimes showed her delight in the victory of love over every other feeling so impetuously, that her nature seemed to have lost the unvarying cheerfulness which had formerly delighted him, and he left her in a less satisfied mood.
Besides, the marquise had received a letter from Paris, in which her son declared that if his gambling debts were not paid by the first of August he would be completely disgraced, and nothing would remain for him except to end an existence which had lost all charm. The wretched mother again opened her heart to Barbara and, when she still resisted her lamentations and entreaties, threw herself on her knees and sobbing besought her to let her heart be softened.
The sight of the aged noblewoman writhing like a maniac in the dust was so pitiful and touching that it melted Barbara's heart, and induced her to promise to use the first favourable opportunity to intercede with the Emperor in behalf of her son and his child, a little girl of six. From that time she awaited at every new interview the opportune moment; but when Charles was less gracious, the right time certainly had not come, and when he was especially loving the happiness of possessing his heart seemed to her so great that it appeared sinful to risk it for the sake of a stranger.
This waiting and conflict with herself also did not remain unnoticed, and it was characteristic of Charles to reflect upon and seek reasons for it. Only the spell of her voice and her beauty had remained unchanged, and when she sang in the Golden Cross in the presence of the guests, who became more numerous the nearer drew the time of the opening of the Reichstag, fixed for the fifth of June, and he perceived their delight, vanity fanned the dying fire again, for he still loved her, and therefore felt associated with her and her successes.
So the days became weeks, and though they brought Barbara a wealth of happiness, they were not free from gloomy and bitter hours.
The marquise, who saw her son's doom drawing nearer and nearer, made the mealtimes and every moment which she spent with her a perfect hell. Frau Lerch continued to urge her, and now advised her to persuade the Emperor to rid her of the old tormentor.
In another matter also she was at a loss what to do. The Wittenberg theologian, Erasmus Eckhart, found that his own songs, when she sang them to him, seemed entirely new, and the gratitude he felt merged into ardent love, the first which had taken possession of his young soul. But Barbara resolutely refused to receive his visits, and thereby deprived him of the possibility of opening his heart to her. So, in despair, he wandered about her house more and more frequently, and sent her one fiery love letter after another.
To betray his unseemly conduct to the Emperor or to the confessor would have brought upon him too severe a punishment for an offence which, after all, was the most profound homage. She dared not go to the Hiltners, from fear of a fresh misunderstanding, and it would be a long time ere Wolf's health would permit him to be excited by such matters.
So she was forced to content herself with censuring Erasmus's conduct, through Frau Lerch, in the harshest manner, and threatening to appeal to his foster-parents and, in the worst extremity, to the magistrate, to rid herself of his importunities. Nearly two thirds of May had passed when the Emperor found himself prevented by a second attack of gout from visiting her. But Barbara's heart drew her toward him so strongly that during the usual noon ride she hit upon an idea, for whose execution she immediately made preparations by secretly entreating young Count Tassis to lend her one of his suits of clothes.
The merry page, a handsome boy of sixteen, who had already crossed rapiers with one of his companions for her sake, was about her height, and delighted to share a secret with her. His most expensive costume, with everything belonging to it, was placed in her room at twilight, and when night closed in, disguised as a page, she entered the litter and was carried to the Golden Cross, where Adrian received her and conducted her to his royal master.
The elderly man thought he had never seen her look so charming as in the yellow velvet doublet with ash-gray facings, the gray silk hose, and the yellow and gray cap resting on her glittering golden hair.
And the Emperor Charles was of the same opinion.
Besides, her lively prank transported him back to his own youth, when he himself had glided more than once in page's attire to some beautiful young lady of the court, and gaily as in better days, tenderly as an ardent youth, he thanked her for her charming enterprise.
After a few blissful hours, which crowded all that she had lately suffered into oblivion, she left him.
When she again entered the little Prebrunn castle she would gladly have embraced the whole world.
From the litter she had noticed a light in the windows of the marquise's sitting-room, but she could now look the poor old noblewoman freely in the face, for this time, sure of experiencing no sharp rebuff, she had found courage to speak of the son to her royal lover.
True, as soon as Charles heard what she desired, he kindly requested her not to sully her beautiful lips with the name of a scoundrel who had long since forfeited every claim to his favour, and her mission was thereby frustrated; but she had now kept her promise.
With the entreaty to spare him in future the pain of refusing any wish of the woman he loved, the disagreeable affair had been dismissed.
When Barbara took the lute, he had begged the fairest of all troubadours to sing once more, before any other song, his beloved "Quia amore langueo," and the most vigorous applause was bestowed on every one which she afterward executed.
Now she had done all that was possible for the marquise, but no power on earth should induce her to undertake anything of the sort a second time; She was saying this to herself as she entered the little castle.
Let the old noblewoman come now!
She was not long in doing so. But how she looked!
The little gray curls done up in papers stood out queerly from her narrow head. Her haggard cheeks were destitute of rouge and lividly pale.
Her black eyes glittered strangely from their deep sockets as if she were insane, and ragged pieces of her morning dress, which she had torn in a fit of helpless fury, hung down upon her breast.
The sight made Barbara shudder. She suspected the truth.
During her absence a new message of evil had reached the marquise.
Unless ten thousand lire could be sent to her son at once, he would be condemned to the galleys, and his child would be abandoned to misery and disgrace.
While speaking, the wretched mother, with trembling hands, tore out a locket which she wore on a little chain around her neck. It contained the angelic face, painted on ivory by an artist's hand, of a fair-haired little girl. The child bore her name, Barbara. The singer knew this. How often the affectionate grandmother had told her with sparkling eyes of her little "Babette"!
The father chained to the rowers' bench among the most abominable ruffians, this loveliest of children perishing in hunger, misery, and shame--what a terrible picture! Barbara beheld it with tangible distinctness, and while the undignified old aristocrat, deprived of all self-control, sobbed and besought her to have compassion, the girl who had grown up amid poverty and care went back in memory to the days when, to earn money for a thin soup, a bit of dry bread, a small piece of cheap cow beef, or to protect herself from the importunity of an unpaid tradesman, she had washed laces with her own delicate hands and seen her nobly born, heroic father scratch crooked letters and scrawling ornaments upon common gray tin.
The same fate, nay, one a thousand times worse, awaited this wonderfully lovely patrician child, whose father was to wield the oars in the galleys if no one interceded for the unfortunate man.
What was life!
From the height of happiness it led her directly to such an abyss of the deepest woe.
A day, an hour had transported her from bitter poverty and torturing yearning to the side of the highest and greatest of monarchs, but who could tell for how long--how soon the fall into the gulf awaited her?
A shudder ran through her frame, and a deep pity for the sweet creature whose coloured likeness she held in her hand seized upon her.
She probably remembered her lover's refusal, and that she only needed to allude to it to release herself from the wailing old woman, but an invisible power sealed her lips. She was filled with an ardent desire to help, to avert this unutterable misery, to bring aid to this child, devoted to destruction.
To rise above everything petty, and with the imperial motto "More, farther," before her eyes, to attain a lofty height from which to look down upon others and show her own generosity to them, had been the longing of her life. She was still permitted to feel herself the object of the love of the mightiest sovereign on earth, and should she be denied performing, by her own power, an act of deliverance to which heart and mind urged her?
No, and again no!
She was no longer poor Wawerl!
She could and would show this, for, like an illumination, words which she had heard the day before in the Golden Cross had flashed into her memory.
Master Wenzel Jamnitzer, the famous Nuremberg goldsmith, had addressed them to her in the imperial apartments, where he had listened to her singing the day before.
He had come to consult with the Emperor Charles about the diadems which he wished to give his two nieces, the daughters of Ferdinand, King of the Romans, who were to be married in July in Ratisbon. Their manufacture had been intrusted to Master Jamnitzer, and after the concert the Nuremberg artist had thanked Barbara for the pleasure which he owed her. In doing so, he had noticed the Emperor's first gift, the magnificent star which she wore on her breast at the side of her squarenecked dress. Examining it with the eye of an expert, he had remarked that the central stone alone was worth an estate.
If she deprived herself of this superb ornament, the despairing old mother would be consoled, and the lovely child saved from hunger and disgrace.
With Barbara, thought, resolve, and action followed one another in rapid succession.
"You shall have what you need to-morrow," she called to the marquise, kissed--obeying a hasty impulse--her little namesake's picture, rejected any expression of thanks from the astonished old dame, and went to rest.
Frau Lerch had never seen her so radiant with happiness, yet she was irritated by the reserve of the girl for whom she thought she had sacrificed so much, yet whose new garments had already brought her more profit than the earnings of the three previous years.
The next morning Master Jamnitzer called the valuable star his own, and pledged himself to keep the matter secret, and to obtain from the Fuggers a bill of exchange upon Paris for ten thousand lire.
The honest man sent her through the Haller banking house a thousand ducats, that he might not be open to the reproach of having defrauded her.
Yet the gold which she did not need for the marquise seemed to Barbara like money unjustly obtained. While she was riding out at noon, Frau Lerch found it in her chest, and thought that she now knew what had made the girl so happy the day before. She was all the more indignant when, soon after, Barbara gave half the new wealth to the Prebrunn town clerk to distribute among the poor journeymen potters whose huts had been burned down the previous night. The rest she kept to give to the relatives of her one-eyed maid-servant at home, who were in the direst poverty.
For the first time she had felt the pleasure of interposing, like a higher power, in the destiny of others. What she had hoped from the greatness to which she had risen now appeared on the eve of being actually and wholly fulfilled.
Even the strange manner in which the marquise thanked her for her generosity could but partially impair the exquisite sense of happiness which filled her heart.
As soon as the old noblewoman heard that the bill of exchange for her son was on the way to Paris, she expressed her intention of thanking his Majesty for this noble donation.
Startled and anxious, Barbara was obliged to forbid this, and to confess that, on the contrary, the Emperor had refused to do anything whatever for her son, and that morning, for little Babette's sake, she had used her own property.
The marquise then angrily declared that a Marquise de Leria could accept such a favour without a blush solely from his Majesty. Even from an equal in station she must refuse gifts of such value. If Barbara was honest, she would admit that she had never, even by a syllable, asked for a donation, but always only for her intercession with his Majesty. Her hasty action made withdrawal impossible, but the humiliation which she had experienced through her was so hard to conquer that she could scarcely bring herself to feel grateful for a gift which, in itself, was certainly worthy of appreciation.
In fact, from that time the marquise entirely changed her manner, and instead of flattering her ward as before, she treated her with haughty coldness, and sometimes remarked that poverty and hostility were often easier to bear than intrusive kindness and humiliating gifts.
Hitherto Barbara had placed no one under obligation to be grateful, and therefore the ugliness of ingratitude was unknown to her.
Now she was to become acquainted with it.
At first this disappointment wounded her, but soon the marquise's intention of ridding herself, by this conduct, of a heavy debt became apparent, and she opposed to the base cunning a gay defence, but was then forced to encounter the marquise's condemnation of it as the outgrowth of an ungenerous soul.
How unpleasant this was! Yet she kept what she had done for the old aristocrat and the way in which she had requited it a secret, even from Frau Lerch, especially as the Emperor soon alluded to his denial of her entreaty, and gave a description of young Leria which filled her with horror, and led to the conviction that the sacrifice which she had made for him and his little daughter had been utterly futile.
Little Babette, she also heard, was cared for in the best possible manner, having been withdrawn front her father's influence long before and placed in charge of an estimable, wealthy, and aristocratic aunt, her mother's sister, who filled the latter's place.
This act of charity had been utterly spoiled for the overhasty giver, and, while the glad remembrance of the pure delight which she had felt after her generous resolve faded more and more, she began to be uneasy about her reckless transaction with the Nuremberg goldsmith, for the Emperor during his very next visit had asked about the star, and in her confusion she had again been forced into a falsehood, and tried to excuse herself for so rarely wearing his beautiful present by the pretext that the gold pin which fastened it was bent.
She could have inflicted various punishments upon herself for her precipitate yielding to a hastily awakened sympathy, for it would surely anger the Emperor if he learned how carelessly she had treated his first costly gift.
Perhaps some hint of its sale had already reached his ears, for, although he had made no opposition to her apology, he afterward remained taciturn and irritable.
Every subsequent interview with her lover was terribly shadowed by the dread that he might think of the unlucky ornament again.
Yet, on this occasion also, fear prevented the brave girl from confessing the whole truth.