Barbara Blomberg by Georg Ebers
Sleep also deserted the Emperor's couch. After his return from the festival he tried to examine several documents which the secretary Gastelii had laid ready for him on the writing-table, but he could not succeed. His thoughts constantly reverted to Barbara and her defiant rebellion against the distinct announcement of his will. Had the Duke of Saxony, so much his junior and, moreover, a far handsomer and perhaps more generous prince, won her favour, and therefore did she perhaps desire to break the bond with him?
She was a woman, and a capricious one, too, and of what would not such a nature be capable? Besides, there was something else. Jamnitzer, the Nuremberg goldsmith, had intrusted a casket of jewels to Adrian to keep during his absence. They were intended for the diadems which the Emperor was to give his two nieces for bridal presents. The principal gems among them were two rubies and a diamond. On the gold of the old-fashioned setting were a P and an l, the initial letters of his motto "Plus ultra." He had once had it engraved upon the back of the star which he bestowed upon Barbara. His keen eye and faithful memory could not be deceived--Jamnitzer's jewels had been broken from that costly ornament.
From time immemorial it had belonged to the treasures of his family, and he had already doubted whether it was justifiable to give it away.
Was it conceivable that Barbara had parted with this, his first memento, sold it, "turned it into money"?--the base words wounded his chivalrous soul like the blow of a scourge.
She was a passionate, defiant, changeful creature, it is true, yet her nature was noble, hostile to baseness, and what a wealth of the purest and deepest feeling echoed in her execution of solemn songs! This induced him to reject as impossible the suspicion that she could have stooped to anything so unworthy.
Still, it was not easily banished. A long series of the sorest disappointments had rendered him distrustful, and he remembered having asked her several times for the star in vain.
Perhaps it had been stolen from her, and Jamnitzer had obtained it from the thief himself or from the receiver. This thought partially soothed him, especially as, if correct, it would be possible for him to recover the ornament. But he was an economical manager, and to expend thousands of ducats for such a thing just at this time, when immense sums were needed for the approaching war, seemed to him more than vexatious.
Besides, the high price which he had paid for the Saxon's aid rendered him uneasy. He had ceded two large bishoprics to his Protestant ally, and this act of liberality, which, it is true, had been approved and supported by Granvelle, could no longer be undone. Moreover, if he drew the sword, he must maintain the pretence that it was not done for the sake of religion, but solely to chastise the insubordinate Protestant princes, headed by the Elector John Frederick of Saxony and Philip of Hesse, who had seriously angered him.
In ten days the Reichstag would be opened in Ratisbon and, in spite of his special invitation, these princes, who had refused to recognise the Council of Trent, had excused their absence upon trivial pretexts--the Hessian, who on other occasions, attended by his numberless servants in green livery, had made three times as great a display as he, the Emperor, on the pretext that the journey to Ratisbon would be too expensive.
Maurice now had his imperial word and he the duke's; but since that evening Charles thought he had noticed something which lessened his confidence in the Saxon. It was not only jealousy which showed him this young, clever, brave, and extremely ambitious prince in a more unfavourable light than before. He knew men, and thought that he had perceived in him signs of the most utter selfishness. As Maurice, to gain two bishoprics, and perhaps later the Elector's hat, abandoned his coreligionists, his cousin and his father-in-law, he would also desert him if his own advantage prompted him to do so. True, such an ally was useful for many things, but he could not be trusted implicitly a single hour.
Maurice certainly had not remained ignorant of Barbara's relation to him, the Emperor, and yet, in the sovereign's very presence, he had courted her favour with such defiant boldness that Charles struck the writing-table with his fist as he thought of his manner to the singer. Would Maurice impose greater moderation upon himself in political affairs?
Yet perhaps he judged the Saxon too severely, and made him suffer for another's sin. The man's conduct is governed by the woman's, and he had seen how Barbara, as it were, gave Maurice the right to sue thus boldly for her favour.
Was it conceivable that she loved him, after having wounded him, as if intentionally, by acts which she knew were detestable to him? If her heart was still his, how could she have so inconsiderately favoured in his presence another, younger man?
Angrily excited by the question, he rose from the writing-table. But ere he went to rest he thought of his hapless mother, whose birthday at this hour, beyond midnight, was now over, and, kneeling before the priedieu in his bedroom, he fervently commended her to the mercy of Heaven. This woman had loved her husband so fondly that it was long ere she could resolve to part from his corpse, yet she was the heiress of the mightiest sovereigns; and what was this Ratisbon girl whom he honoured with his affection?
While her lips were still glowing from his kisses, she had carried on a reckless game with another, and was now robbing him of the repose of mind which he so urgently, needed.
And the mother of the woman whose birthday had just passed, the proud Queen Isabella, the conqueror of the Moors--what would she have said had she been condemned to see her grandson, the heir of so great an empire, ensnared by such bonds?
He had proved, since he wielded the sceptre, that he did not lack strength of will, and he must show it again.
He reminded himself indignantly that he was not only the ruler of many nations, but the head of perhaps the most illustrious family on earth.
He thought of his royal brothers and sisters, his haughty son Philip, his daughters, nephews, and nieces; and while pouring forth his soul in fervent prayer for his unfortunate mother, with her disordered intellect, he also besought the Redeemer to free him from the evil of this love. Three words from his lips would have sufficed to rid him of Barbara forever, but--he felt it--that would not end the matter. He must also learn to forget her, and for that he needed the aid of the higher powers. He had once more yielded to worldly pleasure. The kiss of her beautiful soft lips had been sweet, the melody of her voice still more blissful. It had given him hours of rapture; but were these joys worth the long repentance which was already beginning? It was wise to sacrifice the transitory pleasures of earth to loftier purposes. One thing alone promised permanent duration even here--what he was achieving for the future greatness of his own name and that of his race. For them he was now going to war, and, by fighting against the heretics, the foes of God, he entered the strife, in a sense, as the instrument of Heaven. Thus, not only his duty as a sovereign, but care for his eternal salvation, compelled him to cast aside everything which might jeopardize the triumph of his good, nay, sacred cause; and what could imperil it more seriously than this late passion, which to-day had rendered it impossible to do his duty?
Firmly resolved to resign Barbara before his brother Ferdinand reached Ratisbon with his family, he rose from the priedieu and sought his couch. But sleep fled from the anxious ruler; besides, the pain of the gout became more severe.
After rising early, he went limping to mass, breakfasted, and began his work.
Many charts and plans had been placed on the writing-table for him, and beside them he found a letter from Granvelle, in which he stated his views concerning the alliance with Duke Maurice, and what advantage might be derived from it. Both as a whole and in detail Charles approved them, and gladly left to the minister the final negotiations with the duke, who intended to leave Ratisbon at noon. If he briefly ratified the terms which had been arranged with Granvelle, and gave Maurice his hand in farewell, he thought he would have satisfied amply the claims of the covetous man, of whose aid, however, he stood in need.
After the thunderstorm the weather had grown cloudy and cool. Perhaps the change had caused his increased suffering and unhappy mood. But the true reason was doubtless the resolution formed the night before, and which now by day seemed more difficult to execute than he had thought at the priedieu. He was still resolved to keep it, but earthly life appeared less short, and he could not conceal from himself that, without Barbara's sunny cheerfulness, bewitching tenderness, and, alas! without her singing, his future existence would lack its greatest charm. His life would be like this gloomy day. Put he would not relinquish what he had once firmly determined and proved to himself by reasoning to be the correct course.
He could not succeed in burying himself in charts and plans as usual and, while imagining how life could be endured without the woman he loved, he pushed the papers aside.
In days like these, when the old ache again attacked him, Barbara and her singing had brightened the dreary gloom and lessened the pain, or she had caressed and sung it entirely away. He seemed to himself like a surly patient who throws aside the helpful medicine because it once tasted badly to him and was an annoyance to others. Yet no. It contained poison also, so it was wise to put it away. But had not Dr. Mathys told him yesterday that the strongest remedial power was concealed in poisons, and that they were the most effective medicines? Ought he not to examine once more the reasons which had led him to this last resolution? He bowed his head with an irresolution foreign to his nature, and when his greyhound touched his aching foot he pushed the animal angrily away.
The confessor De Soto found him in this mood at his first visit.
Ere he crossed the threshold he saw that Charles was suffering and felt troubled by some important matter, and soon learned what he desired to know. But if Charles expected the Dominican to greet his decision with grateful joy, he was mistaken, for De Soto had long since relinquished the suspicion which had prejudiced him against Barbara and, on the contrary, with the Bishop of Arras, had reached the certainty that the love which united the monarch to the singer would benefit him.
Both knew the danger which threatened the sovereign from his tendency to melancholy, and now that he saw his efforts to urge the Emperor to a war with the Smalcalds crowned with success, he wished to keep alive in him the joyousness which Barbara, and she alone, had aroused and maintained.
So he used the convincing eloquence characteristic of him to shake the monarch's resolve, and lead him back to the woman he loved.
The Church made no objection to this bond of free love formed by a sovereign whom grave political considerations withheld from a second marriage. If his Majesty's affection diminished the success of his work, the separation from so dear a being, who afforded him so much pleasure, would do this to a far greater degree. That Barbara had allowed the bold Saxon too much liberty on the dancing ground he did not deny, but took advantage of the opportunity to point out the unscrupulousness which characterized Maurice, like all heretics. As for Barbara, the warm blood and fresh love of pleasure of youth, qualities which to many were her special charm, had led her into the error of the luckless dance. But the Emperor, who until then had listened to De Soto' here interrupted him to confide the unfortunate suspicion which had been aroused in him the day before.
The mention of this matter, however, was very opportune to the almoner, for he could easily turn it to the advantage of the suspected girl. The day before yesterday she had confessed to him the fate of the valuable star, and begged him, if her imprudent deed of charity should be discovered, to relieve her of the painful task of explaining to Charles how she had been induced to sell a memento so dear to her. Thereupon the confessor himself had ascertained from the marquise and the goldsmith Jamnitzer that Barbara had told him the whole truth.
So in his eyes, and probably in those of a higher power, this apparently ignoble act would redound no little to the credit of the girl's heart.
Charles listened to this explanation with a silent shrug of the shoulders. Such a deed could scarcely be otherwise regarded by the priest, but Barbara's disregard of his first gift offended him far more than the excellent disposition evinced by the hasty act pleased him. She had flung the first tangible token of his love into the insatiable jaws of a worthless profligate, like a copper coin thrown as alms to a beggar. It grieved the soul of the economical manager and lover of rare works of art to have this ancient and also very valuable family heirloom broken to pieces. Malfalconnet would not fail to utter some biting jest when he heard that Charles must now, as it were, purchase this costly ornament of himself. He would have forgiven Barbara everything else more easily than this mad casting away of a really royal gift.
Expressing his indignation to the almoner without reserve, he closed the interview with him. When Charles was again alone he tried to rise, in order, while pacing up and down the room, to examine his resolution once more. But his aching foot prevented this plan and, groaning aloud, he sank back into his arm-chair.
His heart had not been so sore for a long time, and it was Barbara's fault. Yet he longed for her. If she had laid her delicate white hand upon his brow, he said to himself, or had he been permitted to listen to even one of her deeply felt religious songs, it would have cheered his soul and even alleviated his physical suffering. Several times he stretched his hand toward the bell to send for her; but she had offended him so deeply that he must at least let her feel how gravely she had erred, and that the lion could not be irritated unpunished, so he conquered himself and remained alone. The sense of offended majesty strengthened his power of resisting the longing for her.
Indignant with himself, he again drew the maps toward him. But like a cloth fluttering up and down between a picture and the beholder, memories of Barbara forced themselves between him and the plans over which he was bending.
This could not continue!
Perhaps, after all, her singing was the only thing which could restore his lost composure. He longed for it even more ardently than for her face. If he sent for her, he could show her by his manner what fruit her transgressions had borne. The rest would follow as a matter of course. Now every fibre of his being yearned for the melody of her voice.
Obeying a hasty resolution, he rang the bell and ordered Adrian to call Quijada and command Barbara to sing in the Golden Cross that afternoon.
After the valet had replaced his aching foot in the right position, Don Luis appeared. Without any further comment the Emperor informed him that he had determined to sever the bond of love which united him to the singer.
While speaking, he looked his friend sharply in the face, and when he saw, by his silent bow, that his decision called forth no deeper emotion in him, he carelessly added that, nevertheless, he intended to hear her sing that day, and perhaps many times more.
Perceiving a significant smile upon the lips of the faithful follower, and recognising the peril contained in the last resolve, he shook his finger at Quijada, saying: "As if even the inmost recesses of your soul were concealed from me! You are asking yourself, Why does Charles deny me leave to visit Villagarcia, and thereby cruelly prevent my being happy with my dear, beautiful young wife, after so long a separation, if he considers himself strong enough to turn his back, without further ceremony, upon the woman he loves, after seeing and hearing her again?"
"Your Majesty has read correctly," replied Don Luis, "yet my wish for a brief stay with Doha Magdalena de Ulloa is very different from your Majesty's desire."
"How?" demanded Charles in a sharp tone of inquiry. "Is my strength of will, in your opinion, so far inferior to yours?"
"Your Majesty can scarcely deem me capable of so presumptuous an error," replied Quijada. "But your Majesty is Charles V, who has no superior save our Lord in heaven. I, on the contrary, am only a Castilian nobleman, and as such prize my honour as my highest treasure; but, above all other things, even above the lady of my heart, stands the King."
"I might know that," cried the Emperor, holding out his hand to his friend. "Yet I refused you the leave of absence, you faithful fellow. The world calls this selfishness. But since it still needs me, it ought in justice to excuse me, for never have I needed you so much as during these decisive weeks, whether war is declared--and it will come to that--or not. Think how many other things are also impending! Besides, my foot aches, and my heart, this poor heart, bears a wound which a friend's careful hand will soothe. So you understand, Luis, that the much-tormented Charles can not do without you just now."
Quijada, with sincere emotion, bent over the monarch's hand and kissed it tenderly, but the Emperor, for the first time, hastily stroked his bearded cheek, and said in an agitated tone, "We know each other."
"Yes, your Majesty," cried the Spaniard. "In the first place, I will not again annoy my master with the request for a leave of absence. Dona Magdalena must try how she can accommodate herself to widowhood while she has a living husband, if the Holy Virgin will only permit me to offer your Majesty what you expect from me."
"I will answer for that," the Emperor was saying, when Adrian interrupted him.
The messenger had returned from Prebrunn with the news that the singer had taken cold the day before, and could not leave the house.
Charles angrily exclaimed that he knew what such illness meant, and his under lip protruded so far that it was easy to perceive how deeply this fresh proof of Barbara's defiance and vanity incensed him.
But when the chamberlain said that the singer had been attacked by a violent fever, Charles changed colour, and asked quickly in a tone of sincere anxiety: "And Dr. Mathys? Has he seen her? No? Then he must go to her at once, and I shall expect tidings as soon as he returns. Perhaps the fever was seething in her blood yesterday."
He had no time to make any further remarks about the sufferer, for one visitor followed another.
Shortly before noon the Bishop of Arras ushered in Duke Maurice, who wished to take leave of him.
Granvelle, in a businesslike manner, summed up the result of the negotiations, and Charles made no objection; but after he had said farewell to the Saxon prince, he remarked, with a smile which was difficult to interpret: "One thing more, my dear Prince. The beautiful singer has suffered from the gagliarde, which she had the honour of dancing with you; she is lying ill of a fever. We will, however, scarcely regard it as an evil omen for the agreements which we concluded on the same day. With our custom of keeping our hands away from everything which our friendly ally claims as his right, our alliance, please God, will not fail to have good success."
A faint flush crimsoned the intelligent face of the Saxon duke, and an answer as full of innuendo as the Emperor's address was already hovering on his lips, when the chief equerry's entrance gave him power to restrain it.
Count Lanoi announced that his Highness's travelling escort was ready, and the Emperor, with an air of paternal affection, bade the younger sovereign farewell.
As soon as the door had closed behind Maurice, Charles, turning to Granvelle, remarked, "The Saxon cousin returned our clasp of the hand some what coldly, but the means of rendering it warmer are ready."
"The Elector's hat," replied the Bishop of Arras. "I hope it will prevent him from making our heads hot, as the Germans say, instead of his own."
"If only our brains keep cool," replied the Emperor. "It is needful in dealing with this young man."
"He knows his Machiavelli," added the statesman, "but I think the Florentine did not write wholly in vain for us also."
"Scarcely," observed the Emperor, smiling, and then rang the little bell to have his valet summon Dr. Mathys.
The leech had returned from his visit to Barbara, and feared that the burning fever from which she was suffering might indicate the commencement of inflammation of the lungs.
Charles started up and expressed the desire to be conveyed at once in the litter to Prebrunn; but the physician declared that his Majesty's visit would as certainly harm the feverish girl as going out in such weather would increase the gout in his royal master's foot.
The monarch shrugged his shoulders, and seized the despatches and letters which had arrived. The persons about him suffered severely from his detestable mood, but the dull weather of this gloomy day appeared also to have a bad effect upon the confessor De Soto, for his lofty brow was scarcely less clouded than the sky. He did not allude to Barbara by a single word, yet she was the cause of his depression.
After his conversation with the sovereign he had retired to his private room, to devote himself to the philological studies which he pursued during the greater portion of the day with equal zeal and success. But he had scarcely begun to be absorbed in the new copy of the best manuscript of Apuleius, which had readied him from Florence, and make notes in the first Roman printed work of this author, when Cassian interrupted him.
He had missed the servant in the morning. Now the fellow, always so punctual when he had not gazed too deeply into the wine-cup, stood before him in a singular plight, for he was completely drenched, and a disagreeable odour of liquor exhaled from him. The flaxen hair, which bristled around his head and hung over his broad, ugly face, gave him so unkempt and imbecile an appearance that it was repulsive to the almoner, and he harshly asked where he had been loitering.
But Cassian, confident that his master's indignation would soon change to approval and praise, rapidly began to relate what had occurred outside the little castle at Prebrunn when the festival under the lindens was over.
After helping to place the Wittenberg theologian in custody, he had followed Barbara at some distance during her nocturnal walk. While she waited in front of Dr. Hiltner's house and talked with the members of the syndic's family after their return, he had remained concealed in the shadow of a neighbouring dwelling, and did not move until the doctor had gone away with the singer. He cautiously glided behind them as far as the garden, witnessed the syndic's cordial farewell to his companion, and dogged the former to the Prebrunn jail. Here he had again been obliged to wait patiently a long while before the doctor came out into the open air with the prisoner. The rope had been removed from Erasmus's hands, and Cassian had remained at his heels until he stopped in the village of Kager, on the Nuremberg road. The young man had taken a lunch in the tavern there; the money for it was given him by the syndic. Cassian had seen the gold pieces which had been placed in Erasmus's hand, to pay his travelling expenses, glitter in the rosy light of dawn.
In reply to the almoner's question whether he remembered any portion of the conversation between the syndic and the singer, Cassian admitted that he had been obliged to keep too far away from them to hear it, but Dr. Hiltner's manner to the girl had been very friendly, especially when he took leave of her.
The anything but grateful manner with which the almoner received this story was a great disappointment to the overzealous servant; nay, he secretly permitted himself to doubt his master's wisdom and energy when the latter remarked that the arrest of a man who had merely entered a stranger's garden was entirely unjustifiable, and that he was aware of the singer's acquaintanceship with the Hiltners.
With these words he motioned Cassian to the door.
When the prelate was again alone he gazed thoughtfully into vacancy. He understood human beings sufficiently well to know that Barbara had not deceived him in her confession. In spite of the nocturnal walk with the head of the Ratisbon heretics, she was faithful to the Catholic Church.
Erasmus's visit at night alone gave him cause for reflection, and suggested the doubt whether he might not have interceded too warmly for this peculiar creature and her excitable artist nature.