Barbara Blomberg by Georg Ebers
Silence pervaded the little castle in Prebrunn; nay, there were days when a thick layer of straw in the road showed that within the house lay some one seriously ill, who must be guarded from every sound.
In Ratisbon and the Golden Cross, on the contrary, the noise and bustle constantly increased. On the twenty-eighth of May, King Ferdinand arrived with his family to visit his brother Charles. The Reichstag would be opened on the fifth of June, and attracted to the Danube many princes and nobles, but neither the Elector John of Saxony nor the Landgrave Philip of Hesse, the heads of the Smalcald league. King Ferdinand's two daughters were to be married the first of July, and many a distinguished guest came to Ratisbon in June. Besides, several soldiers began to appear.
The Emperor Charles's hours were filled to the brim with work and social obligations. The twinges of the gout had not wholly disappeared, but remained bearable.
The quiet good-breeding of the two young archduchesses pleased the Emperor, and their young brother Maximilian's active mind and gay, chivalrous nature delighted him, though many a trait made him, as well as the confessor, doubt whether he did not incline more toward the evangelical doctrine than beseemed a son of his illustrious race. But Charles himself, in his youth, had not been a stranger to such leanings. If Maximilian was intrusted with the reins of government, he would perceive in what close and effective union stood the Church and the state. Far from rousing his opposition by reproaches, the shrewd uncle won his affection and merely sowed in his mind, by apt remarks, the seeds which in due time would grow and bear their fruit.
The Austrians watched with sincere admiration the actually exhausting industry of the illustrious head of their house, for he allowed himself only a few hours' sleep, and when Granvelle had worked with him until he was wearied, he buried himself, either alone or with some officers of high rank, in charts of the seat of war, in making calculations, arranging the levying of recruits and military movements, and yet did not withdraw from the society of his Viennese relatives and other distinguished guests.
Still, he did not forget Barbara. The leech was daily expected to give a report of her health, and when, during the middle of June, Dr. Mathys expressed doubts of her recovery, it rendered him so anxious that his relatives noticed it, and attributed it to the momentous declaration of war which was on the eve of being made.
When the sufferer at last began to recover, his selfishness was satisfied with the course of events. True, he thought of the late springtime of love which he had enjoyed as an exquisite gift of Fortune, and when he remembered many a tender interview with Barbara a bright smile flitted over his grave countenance. But, on the whole, he was glad that this love affair had come to so honourable an end. The last few weeks had claimed his entire time and strength so rigidly and urgently that he would have been compelled to refuse Barbara's demands upon his love or neglect serious duties.
Besides, a meeting between Barbara and his nephew and young nieces could scarcely have been avoided, and this would have cast a shadow upon the unbounded reverence and admiration paid him by the wholly inexperienced, childlike young archduchesses, which afforded him sincere pleasure. The confessor had taken care to bring this vividly before his mind. While speaking of Barbara with sympathizing compassion, he represented her illness as a fresh token of the divine favour which Heaven so often showed to the Emperor Charles, and laid special stress upon the disadvantages which the longer duration of this love affair--though in itself, pardonable, nay, even beneficial--would have entailed.
Queen Mary's boy choir was to remain in Ratisbon some time longer, and whenever the monarch attended their performances--which was almost daily-the longing for Barbara awoke with fresh strength. Even in the midst of the most arduous labour he considered the question how it might be possible to keep her near him--not, it is true, as his favourite, but as a singer, and his inventive brain hit upon a successful expedient.
By raising her father to a higher rank, he might probably have had her received by his sister Mary among her ladies in waiting, but then there would always have been an unwelcome temptation existing. If, on the other hand, Barbara would decide to take the veil, an arrangement could easily be made for him to hear her often, and her singing might then marvellously beautify the old age, so full of suffering and destitute of pleasure, that awaited him. He realized more and more distinctly that it was less her rare beauty than the spell of her voice and of her art which had constrained him to this late passion.
The idea that she would refuse to accept the fate to which he had condemned her was incomprehensible to his sense of power, and therefore did not occur to his mind.
Yet, especially when he was bearing pain, he did not find it difficult to silence even this wish for the future, for then memories of the last deeply clouded hours of their love bond forced themselves upon him.
He saw her swinging like a Bacchante in the dance with the young Saxon duke; the star which had been thrown away appeared before his eyes, and his irritated soul commanded him never to see her again.
But the suffering of a person whom we have once loved possesses a reconciling power, and he who usually forgot no insult, even after the lapse of years, was again disposed to forgive her, and reverted to the wish to continue to enjoy her singing.
When, before their wedding day, he gave his nieces the diadems which Jammtzer had made for them, his resentment concerning the ornament sold by Barbara again awoke. He could no longer punish her for this "loveless" deed, as he called it, but he made the marquise feel severely enough his indignation for her abuse of the young girl's inexperience, for, without granting her a farewell audience, he sent her back to Brussels, with letters to Queen Mary expressing his displeasure. Instead of her skilful maid Alphonsine, a clumsy Swabian girl accompanied her--the former had married Cassian.
Barbara heard nothing of all these things; her recovery was slow, and every source of anxiety was kept from her.
She had never been ill before, and to be still at a time when every instinct urged her to battle for her life happiness and her love, to prove the power of her beauty and her art, put her slender stock of patience to the severest test.
During the first few days she was perfectly conscious, and watched with keen suspense what was passing around her. It made her happy to find that Charles sent his own physician to her but, on the other hand, she was deeply and painfully agitated by his failure to grant the entreaty which she sent by Dr. Mathys to let her see his face, even if only for a moment.
Gombert and Appenzelder, Massi, the Wollers from the Ark, Dr. Hiltner's wife and daughter, the boy singer Hannibal, and many gentlemen of the court-nay, even the Bishop of Arras--came to inquire for her, and Barbara had strictly enjoined Frau Lerch to tell her everything that concerned her; for every token of sympathy filled the place, as it were, of the applause to which she was accustomed.
When, on the second day, she heard that old Ursula had been there to ask about her for Wolf, who was now convalescing, she passionately insisted upon seeing her, but, obedient to the physician's orders, Frau Lerch would not admit her. Then Barbara flew into such a rage that the foolish woman forgot to take the fever into account, and determined to return home. Many motives drew her there, but especially her business; day and night her mind was haunted by the garments which, just at this time, before the commencement of the Reichstag, other dressmakers were fashioning for her aristocratic customers.
A certain feeling of shame had restrained her from leaving Barbara directly after the beginning of her illness. Besides, delay had been advisable, because the appearance of the Emperor's physician proved that the monarch's love was not wholly dead. But Barbara's outbreak now came at an opportune time, for yesterday, by the leech's suggestion, and with the express approval of the Emperor, one of the Dominican nuns, Sister Hyacinthe, had come from the Convent of the Holy Cross and, with quiet dignity, assumed her office of nurse beside her charge's sick-bed. This forced Fran Lerch into a position which did not suit her, and as, soon after Barbara's outbreak, Dr. Mathys sternly ordered her to adopt a more quiet and modest bearing, she declared that she would not bear such insult and abuse, hastily packed her property, and returned to the Grieb with a much larger amount of luggage than she had brought with her.
Sister Hyacinthe now ruled alone in the sickroom, and the calm face of the nun, whose cap concealed hair already turning gray, exerted as soothing an influence upon the patient as her low, pleasant voice. She was the daughter of a knightly race, and had taken the veil from a deep inward vocation, as one of the elect who, in following Christ, forget themselves, in order to dedicate to her suffering neighbours all her strength and the great love which filled her heart. They were her world, and her sole pleasure was to satisfy the compassionate impulse in her own breast by severe toil, by tender solicitude, by night watching, and by exertions often continued to actual suffering. Death, into whose face she had looked beside so many sickbeds, was to her a kind friend who held the key of the eternal home where the Divine Bridegroom awaited her.
The events occurring in the world, whether peace reigned or the nations were at war with one another, affected her only so far as they were connected with her patient. Her thoughts and acts, all her love and solicitude, referred solely to the invalid in her care.
The departure of Frau Lerch was a relief to her mind, and it seemed an enigma that Barbara, whose beauty increased her interest, and whom the physician had extolled as a famous singer, could have given her confidence, in her days of health, to this woman.
Sister Hyacinthe's appearance beside her couch had at first perplexed Barbara, because she had not asked for her; but the mere circumstance that her lover had sent her rendered it easy to treat the nun kindly, and the tireless, experienced, and invariably cheerful nurse soon became indispensable.
On the whole, both the leech and Sister Hyacinthe could call Barbara a docile patient, and she often subjected herself to a restraint irksome to her vivacious temperament, because she felt how much gratitude she owed to both.
Not until the fever reached its height did her turbulent nature assert its full power, and the experienced disciple of the art of healing had seen few invalids rave more wildly.
The delusions that tortured her were by no means varied, for all revolved about the person of her imperial lover and her art. But under the most careful nursing her strong constitution resisted even the most violent attacks of the fever, and when June was drawing toward an end all danger seemed over.
Dr. Mathys had already permitted her to sit out of doors, and informed the Emperor that there was no further occasion for fear.
The monarch expressed his gratification but, instead of asking more particularly about the progress of her convalescence, he hastily turned the conversation to his own health.
Dr. Mathys regretted this for the sake of the beautiful neglected creature, who had won his sympathy, but it did not surprise him, for duty after duty now filled every hour of Charles's day. Besides, on the day after to-morrow, the fourth of July, the marriages of his two nieces were to take place, and he himself was to accompany the bridal procession and attend the wedding. On the fifth the Reichstag would be opened, and the Duke of Alba, with several experienced colonels, had arrived as harbingers of the approaching war. Where this stern and tried general appeared, thoughts of war began to stir, and already men equipped with helmets and armour began to be seen in unusual numbers in all the streets and squares of Ratisbon.
The Emperor's room, too, had an altered aspect, for, instead of a few letters and despatches, his writing-table was now covered not only with maps and plans, but lists and tables referring to the condition of his army.
What could the health of a half-convalescent girl now be to the man to whom even his most trusted friend would no longer have dared to mention her as his favourite?
Of course, Dr. Mathys told Barbara nothing about the Emperor's lack of interest, for any strong mental excitement might still be injurious to her. Besides, he was a reserved man, who said little more to Barbara than was necessary. Toward the Emperor Charles he imposed a certain restraint upon himself; but the royal adept in reading human nature knew that in him he possessed one of the most loyal servants, and gave him his entire confidence. For his sake alone this wealthy scholar devoted himself to the laborious profession which so often kept him from library and laboratory. Although his smooth, brown hair had turned gray long ago, he had never married, for he had decided in the Emperor's favour--this Charles knew also--whenever the choice presented itself to follow his royal patient during his journeys and expeditions or to find rest and comfort in a home of his own.
The calm, kindly manner of this far-famed physician very soon gained a great influence over the vivacious Barbara. Since she had felt sure of his good will, she had willingly obeyed him. Though he was often obliged to shake his finger at her and tell her how much she herself could contribute toward regaining freedom of motion and the use of her voice, she really did nothing which he could seriously censure, and thus her recovery progressed in the most favourable manner until the wedding day was close at hand.
She had already been permitted to receive visits from old acquaintances and, without saying much herself, listen to the news they brought. The little Maltese, Hannibal, had also appeared again, and the lively boy told her many things which Gombert and Appenzelder had not mentioned.
The morning of the day before the princesses' marriage he informed her, among other things, that the bridal procession would march the following morning. It was to start from the cathedral square and go to Prebrunn, where it would turn back and disband in front of the Town Hall. All the distinguished noblemen and ladies who had come to Ratisbon to attend the wedding and the Reichstag would show themselves to the populace on this occasion, and it was even said that the Emperor intended to lead the train with his royal brother. It must pass by the garden; but the road could scarcely be seen from the little castle--the lindens, beeches, and elms were too tall and their foliage was too thick to permit it.
This news destroyed Barbara's composure. Though she had slept well during the past few nights, on this one slumber deserted her. She could not help thinking constantly of the possibility that the Emperor might be present in the procession, and to see her lover again was the goal of her longing.
Even in the morning, while the physician permitted her to remain in the open air because the clay was hot and still, the bridal procession was continually in her thoughts. Yet she did not utter a word in allusion to it.
At the noon meal she ate so little that Sister Hyacinthe noticed it, and anxiously asked if she felt worse; but Barbara reassured her and, after a short rest in the house, she asked to be taken out again under the lindens where she had reclined in an armchair that morning.
Scarcely had she seated herself when all the bells in the city began to ring, and the heavy ordnance and howitzers shook the air with their thunder.
What a festal alarum!
How vividly it reminded her of the brilliant exhibitions and festivities which she had formerly attended!
She listened breathlessly to the sounds from the city, and now a distant blare of trumpets drowned the dull roar of the ordnance and the sharp rattle of the culverins.
The confused blending of many human voices reached her from beyond the garden wall.
The road must be full of people. Now single shrill trumpet notes echoed from afar amid the trombones and the dull roll of the drums, the noise increasing every moment. From a large, old beech tree close to the wall, into which a dozen lads had climbed, she already saw handkerchiefs waving and heard the shouts of clear, boyish voices.
Sister Hyacinthe had just gone into the house, and like an illumination the thought darted through Barbara's mind that the road could be seen from the little summer house which the reverend owner of the castle called his "frigidarium," because it was cool even during the warmest summer day.
It was a small, towerlike building close to the garden wall, whose single inner room was designed to imitate a rock cave. The walls were covered with tufa and stalagmites, shells, mountain crystals, and corals, and from the lofty ceiling hung large stalactites. From one of the walls a fountain plashed into a large shell garlanded with green aquatic plants and tenanted by several goldfish and frogs.
The single open window resembled a cleft in the rocks, and looked out upon the road. Blocks of stone, flung one upon another without regard to order, formed steps from which to look out of doors.
These stairs afforded a view of the road to the city. Barbara had often used them when watching in the dusk of evening for her lover's litter or, at a still later hour, for the torch-bearers who preceded it.
She could already walk firmly enough to mount the few rough steps which led to the opening in the rocks and, obeying the tameless yearning of her heart, she rose from the arm-chair and walked as rapidly as her feeble strength permitted toward the frigidarium.
It was more difficult to traverse the path, illumined by the hot July sun, than she had expected; but the pealing of the bells and the roar of the cannon continued, and now it was drowned by the fanfare of the trumpets and the shouts of the people.
All this thundering, ringing, clashing, chiming, and cheering was a greeting to him for the sight of whom her whole being so ardently longed; and when, halfway down the path, she felt the need of resting on a bench under a weeping ash, she did not obey it, but forced herself to totter on.
Drops of perspiration covered her forehead when she entered the frigidarium, but there the most delicious coolness greeted her. Here, too, however, she could allow herself no rest, for the boys in the top of the beech, and some neighbouring trees, were already shouting their clear voices hoarse and waving caps and branches.
With trembling knees she forced herself to climb one after another of the blocks that formed the staircase. When a slight faintness attacked her, a stalactite afforded her support, and it passed as quickly as it came. Now she had reached her goal. The rock on which she stood gave her feet sufficient support, as it had done many times before.
Barbara needed a few minutes in this wonderfully cool atmosphere to recover complete self-control. Only the wild pulsation of her heart still caused a painful feeling; but if she was permitted to see the object of her love once more, the world might go to ruin and she with it.
Now she gazed from the lofty window over the open country.
She had come just at the right time. Imperial halberdiers and horse guards, galloping up and down, kept the centre of the road free. On the opposite side of the highway which she overlooked was a dense, countless multitude of citizens, peasants, soldiers, monks, women, and children, who with difficulty resisted the pressure of those who stood behind them, shoulder to shoulder, head to head. Barbara from her lofty station saw hats, barets, caps, helmets, women's caps and coifs, fair and red hair on uncovered heads and, in the centre of many, the priestly tonsure.
Then a column of dust advanced along the road from which the fanfare resounded like the scream of the hawk from the gray fog. A few minutes later, the cloud vanished; but the shouts of the multitude increased to loud cheers when the heralds who rode at the head of the procession appeared and raised their long, glittering trumpets to their lips. Behind them, on spirited stallions, rode the wedding marshals, members of royal families, in superb costumes with bouquets of flowers on their shoulders.
Now the tumult died away for a few minutes, and Barbara felt as though her heart stood still, for the two stately men on splendid chargers who now, after a considerable interval, followed them, were the royal brothers, the Emperor Charles and King Ferdinand.
The man for whom Barbara's soul longed, as well as her eyes, rode on the side toward her.
He was still half concealed by dust, but it could be no one else, for now the outburst of enthusiasm, joy, and reverence from the populace reached its climax. It seemed as though the very trees by the wayside joined in the limitless jubilation. The greatness of the sovereign, the general, and the happy head of the family, made the Protestants around him forget with what perils this monarch threatened their faith and thereby themselves; and he, too, the defender and loyal son of the Church, appeared to thrust aside the thought that the people who greeted him with such impetuous delight, and shared the two-fold festival of his family with such warm devotion, were heretics who deserved punishment. At least he saluted with gracious friendliness the throng that lined both sides of the road, and as he passed by the garden of the little castle he even smiled, and glanced toward the building as though a pleasant memory had been awakened in his mind. At this moment Barbara gazed into the Emperor's face.
Those were the features which had worn so tender an expression when, for the first time, he had uttered the never-to-be-forgotten "Because I long for love," and her yearning heart throbbed no less quickly now than on that night. The wrong and suffering which he had inflicted upon her were forgotten. She remembered nothing save that she loved him, that he was the greatest and, to her, the dearest of all men.
It was perfectly impossible for him to see her, but she did not think of that; and when he looked toward her with such joyous emotion, and the cheers of the populace, like a blazing fire which a gust of wind fans still higher, outstripped, as it were, themselves, she could not have helped joining in the huzzas and shouts and acclamations around her though she had been punished with imprisonment and death.
And clinging more firmly to the stalactite, Barbara rose on tiptoe and mingled her voice with the joyous cheers of the multitude.
In the act her breath failed, and she felt a sharp pain in her chest, but she heeded the suffering as little as she did the weakness of her limbs. The physical part of her being seemed asleep or dead. Nothing was awake or living except her soul. Nothing stirred within her breast save the rapture of seeing him again, the indescribable pleasure of showing that she loved him.
Already she could no longer see his face, already the dust had concealed him and his charger from her eyes, yet still, filled with peerless happiness, she shouted "Charles!" and again and again "Charles!" It seemed to her as though the air or some good spirit insist bear the cry to him and assure him of her ardent, inextinguishable love.
The charming royal brides, radiant in their jewels, their betrothed husbands, and the lords and ladies of their magnificent train passed Barbara like shadows. The procession of German, Spanish, Hungarian, Bohemian, and Italian dignitaries swam in a confused medley before her eyes. The glittering armour of the princes, counts, and barons, the gems on the heads, the robes, and the horses' trappings of the ladies and the Magyar magnates flashed brightly before her, the red hats and robes of the cardinals gleamed out, but usually everything that her eyes beheld mingled in a single motley, shining, moving, many-limbed body.
The end of the procession was now approaching, and physical weakness suddenly asserted itself most painfully.
Barbara felt only too plainly that it was time to leave her post of observation; her feet would scarcely carry her and, besides, she was freezing.
She had entered the damp cave chamber in a thin summer gown, and it now seemed to be continually growing colder and colder.
Climbing down the high steps taxed her like a difficult, almost impossible task, and perhaps she might not have succeeded in accomplishing it unaided; but she had scarcely commenced the descent when she heard her name called, and soon after Sister Hyacinthe entered the frigidarium and, amid no lack of kindly reproaches, helped her to reach the open air.
When even in the warm sunshine the chill did not pass away, Barbara saw that the sister was right, yet she was far from feeling repentant.
During the night a violent attack of fever seized her, and her inflamed throat was extremely painful.
When Dr. Mathys came to her bedside he already knew from the nun the cause of this unfortunate relapse, and he understood only too well what had induced Barbara to commit the grave imprudence. Reproof and warnings were useless here; the only thing he could do was to act, and renew the conflict with the scarcely subdued illness. Thanks to his indefatigable zeal, to the girl's strong constitution, and to the watchful care of the nurse, he won the victory a second time. Yet he could not rejoice in a complete triumph, for the severe inflammation of the bronchial tubes had caused a hoarseness which would yield to none of his remedies. It might last a long time, and the thought that the purity of his patient's voice was perhaps forever destroyed occasioned sincere regret.
True, he opposed the girl when she expressed this fear; but as July drew to its close, and her voice still remained husky, he scarcely hoped to be able to restore the old melody. In other respects he might consider Barbara cured, and intrust her entire convalescence to her own patience and caution.
Perhaps the ardent desire to regain the divine gift of song would protect her from perilous ventures like this last one, and even more certainly the hope which she had confided to the nun and then to him also. The physician noticed, with warm sympathy, how deeply this mysterious expectation had influenced her excitable nature, ever torn by varying emotions, and the excellent man was ready to aid her as a friend and intercessor.
Unfortunately, just at this time the pressure of business allowed the Emperor little leisure to listen to the voice of the heart.
The day before yesterday the Elector John Frederick of Saxony and the Landgrave Philip of Hesse had been banned, and with this the war began.
Already twelve troops of Spaniards who had served in Hungary, and other bands of soldiers had entered Ratisbon; cannon came up the Danube from Austria, and the city, had gained a warlike aspect. To disturb the Emperor in his work as a general at such a time, with a matter which must agitate him so deeply, was hazardous, and few would have been bold enough to bring it before the overburdened monarch; but the leech's interest in Barbara was so warm and sincere that he allowed himself to be persuaded to act the mediator between her and the man who had interfered so deeply in the destiny of her life. For the first time he saw her weep, and her winning manner seemed to him equally touching, whether she yielded to anxious distress of mind or to joyous hopes.
His intercession in her behalf would permit no delay, for the Emperor's departure to join the troops was close at hand.
Firmly resolved to plead the cause of the unfortunate girl, whose preservation, he might say, was his work, yet with slight hope of success, he crossed the threshold of the imperial apartments.
When the physician informed the sovereign that Barbara might be considered saved for the second time, the latter expressed his pleasure by a warm "We are indebted to you for it again "; but when Mathys asked if he did not intend to hasten Barbara's recovery by paying her a visit, though only for a few moments, the Emperor looked into the grave countenance of the physician, in whom he noticed an embarrassment usually foreign to him, and said firmly, "Unfortunately, my dear Mathys, I must deny myself this pleasure."
The other bowed with a sorrowful face, for Barbara's dearest wish had been refused. But the Emperor saw what was passing in the mind of the man whom he esteemed, and in a lighter tone added: "So even your invulnerable dragon hide was not proof against the shafts--you know! If I see aright, something else lies near your heart. My refusal--that is easily seen--annoys you; but, much as I value your good opinion, Mathys, it is firm. The more difficult I found it to regain my peace of mind, the more foolish it would be to expose it to fresh peril. Now, if ever, I must shun every source of agitation. Think! With the banning, the general's work begins. How you look at me! Well, yes! You, too, know how easy it is for the man who has most to do to spare a leisure hour which the person without occupation does not find, and neither of us is accustomed to deceive the other. Besides, it would be of little avail. So, to cut the matter short, I am unwilling to see Barbara again and awaken false hopes in her mind! But even these plain words do not seem to satisfy you."
"By your Majesty's permission," replied the leech, "deeply as I regret it for the invalid's sake, I believe, on the contrary, that you are choosing the right course. But I have only discharged the first part of my patient's commission. Though I have no pleasant tidings to take back to her, I am still permitted to tell her the truth. But your Majesty, by avoiding an interview with the poor girl, will spare yourself a sad, nay, perhaps a painful hour."
"Did the disease so cruelly mar this masterpiece of the Creator?" asked the Emperor. "With so violent a fever it was only too natural," replied the physician. "Time and what our feeble skill can do will improve her condition, I hope, but--and this causes the poor girl the keenest suffering--the unfortunate inflammation of the bronchial tubes most seriously injures the tone of her clear voice."
"Ah!" exclaimed the startled Emperor with sincere compassion. "Do everything in your power, Mathys, to purify this troubled spring of melody. I will repay you with my warmest gratitude, for, though the Romans said that Cupid conquered through the eyes, yet Barbara's singing exerted a far more powerful influence over my heart than even her wonderful golden hair. Restore the melting tones of her voice and, though the bond of love which rendered this month of May so exquisitely beautiful to us must remain severed, I will not fail to remember it with all graciousness."
"That, your Majesty, can scarcely be avoided," the physician here remarked with an embarrassment which was new in him to Charles, "for the continuance of the memory of the spring days which your Majesty recalls with such vivid pleasure seems to be assured. Yet, if it pleases Heaven, as I have learned to-day for the first time, to call a living being into existence for this purpose----"
"If I understand you correctly," cried the Emperor, starting up, "I am to believe in hopes----"
"In hopes," interrupted the physician with complete firmness, "which must not alarm your Majesty, but render you happy. This new branch of the illustrious trunk of your royal race I, who am only 30 a plain man, hail with proud joy, and half the world, I know, will do so with me."
Charles, with brows contracted in a gloomy frown, gazed for a long time into vacancy.
The leech perceived how mighty a conflict between contradictory emotions would be waged in his breast, and silently gave him time to collect his thoughts.
At last, rising from his arm-chair, the Emperor struck the table with his open hand, and said: "Whether the Lord our God awoke this new life for our punishment or our pleasure the future will teach. What more must be done in this matter? You know my custom in regard to such important affairs. They are slept upon and maturely considered. Only there is one point," and as he uttered the words his voice assumed an imperious tone, "which is already irrevocably decided. The world must not suspect what hope offers itself to me and another. Tell her, Mathys, we wish her happiness; but if her maternal heart expects that I will do her child the honour of calling it mine, I must require her to keep silence, and intrust the newborn infant's destiny, from the first hour of its birth, to my charge."
Here he hesitated, and, after looking the physician in the face, went on: "You again think that harsh, Mathys--I see it in your expression--but, as my friend, you yourself can scarcely desire the world to see the Emperor Charles performing the same task with a Barbara Blomberg. She is free to choose. Either I will rear the child, whether it is a boy or a girl, as my own, as I did my daughter, Duchess Margaret of Parma, or she will refuse to give me the child from its birth and I must deny it recognition. I have already shared far too much with that tempting creature; I can not permit even this new dispensation to restore my severed relationship with the singer. If Barbara's maternal love is unselfish, the choice can not be difficult for her. That the charge of providing for this new life will fall upon me is a matter of course. Tell her this, Mathys, and if in future--But no. We will confide this matter to Quijada."
As the door closed behind the physician, Charles stood motionless. Deep earnestness furrowed his brow, but suddenly an expression of triumphant joy flashed over his face, and then yielded to a look of grateful satisfaction. Soon, however, his lofty brow clouded again, and his lower lip protruded. Some idea which excited his indignation must have entered his mind. He had just been thinking with the warmest joy of the gift of Fate of which the physician had told him, but now the reasons which forbade his offering it a sincere welcome crowded upon the thinker.
If Heaven bestowed a son upon him, would not only the Church, but also the law, which he knew so well, refuse to recognise his rights? A child whose mother had offended him, whose grandfather was a ridiculous, impoverished old soldier, whose cousins----
Yet for what did he possess the highest power on earth if he would not use it to place his own child, in spite of every obstacle, at the height of earthly grandeur?
What need he care for the opinion of the world? And yet, yet----
Then there was a great bustle below. The loud tramping of horses' hoofs was heard. A troop of Lombardy cavalry in full armour appeared on the Haidplatz--fresh re-enforcements for the war just commencing. The erect figure of the Duke of Alba, a man of middle height, followed by several colonels, trotted toward it. The standard-bearer of the Lombards lowered the banner with the picture of the Madonna before the duke, and the Emperor involuntarily glanced back into the room at the lovely Madonna and Child by the master hand of Giovanni Bellini which his royal sister had hung above his writing table.
How grave and lovely, yet how full of majesty, the Christ-child looked, how touching a grace surrounded the band of angels playing on violins above the purest of mothers!
Then the necessity of appealing to her in prayer seized upon him, and with fervent warmth he besought her to surround with her gracious protection the young life which owed its existence to him.
He did not think of the child's mother. Was he still angry with her?
Did she seem to him unworthy of being commended to the protection of the Queen of Heaven? Barbara was now no more to him than a cracked bell, and the child which she expected to give him, no matter to what high' honours he raised it, would bear a stain that nothing could efface, and this stain would be called "his mother."
No deviation from the resolve which he had expressed to the physician was possible. The child could not be permitted to grow up amid Barbara's surroundings. To prevent this she must submit to part from her son or her daughter, and to take the veil. In the convent she could remember the happiness which had once raised her to its loftiest height. She could and must atone for her sin and his by prayers and pious exercises. To return to the low estate whence he had raised her must appear disgraceful to herself. How could one who had once dined at the table of the gods still relish the fare of mortals? Even now it seemed inconceivable to him that she could oppose his will. Yet if she did, he would withdraw his aid. He no longer loved her. In this hour she was little more to him than the modest casket to which was confided a jewel of inestimable value, an object of anxiety and care. The determination which he had confided to his physician was as immovable as everything which he had maturely considered. Don Luis Quijada should provide for its execution.