Barbara Blomberg by Georg Ebers
The cantor house was only a few steps from the Red Cock, and Wolf knew every stone in the street, which was named for the tavern. Yet that very circumstance delayed him, for even the smallest trifle which had changed during his absence attracted his attention.
He had already noticed at the familiar inn that the gay image of the Madonna and Cluld, and the little lamp above, were no longer there. The pictures of the saints had been removed from the public rooms, and even the painting which had been impressed upon his memory from boyhood--like a sign of the house--had vanished. A large red cock, crowing with wide-open beak at the Apostle Peter, had been there.
This venerable work of an old artist ought to have been retained, no matter what doctrine the Leitgebs now professed. Its disappearance affected the knight unpleasantly.
It also induced him to see whether the Madonna with the swords in her heart, which, at the time of his departure, had adorned the Ark, the great house at the corner of the Haidplatz, had met with the same fate, and this sacred witness of former days had likewise been sacrificed to the iconoclasm of the followers of the new Protestant faith. This also grieved him, and urged him to go from street to street, from church to church, from monastery to monastery, from one of the chapels which no great mansion in his native land lacked to another, in order to ascertain what else religious fanaticism had destroyed; but he was obliged to hasten if he wished to be received by those in his home whom he most desired to see.
The windows of the second story in the Golden Cross, opposite to the Ark, were brilliantly lighted. The Emperor Charles lodged there, and probably his royal sister also. Wolf had given his heart to her with the devotion with which he had always clung to every one to whom he was indebted for any kindness. He knew her imperial brother's convictions, too, and when he saw at one of the windows a man's figure leaning, motionless against the casement with his hand pressed upon his brow, he realized what deep indignation had doubtless seized upon him at the sight of the changes which had taken place here during the five years of his absence.
But Emperor Charles was not the man to allow matters which aroused his wrath and strong disapproval to pass unpunished. Wolf suspected that the time was not far distant when yonder monarch at the window, who had won so many victories, would have a reckoning with the Smalcalds, the allied Protestants of Germany, and his vivid imagination surrounded him with an almost mystical power.
He would surely succeed in becoming the master of the Protestant princes; but was the steel sword the right weapon to destroy this agitation of the soul which had sprung from the inmost depths of the German nature? He knew the firm, obstinate followers of the new doctrine, for there had been a time when his own young mind had leaned toward it.
Since those days, however, events had happened which had bound him by indestructible fetters to the old faith. He had vowed to his dying mother to remain faithful to the Holy Church and loyally to keep his oath. It was not difficult for one of his modest temperament to be content with the position of spectator of the play of life which he occupied. He was not born for conflict, and from the seat to which he had retired he thought he had perceived that the burden of existence was easier to bear, and the individual not only obtained external comfort, but peace of mind more speedily, if he left to the Church many things which the Protestant was obliged to settle for himself. Besides, as such, he would have missed many beautiful and noble things which the old faith daily bestowed upon him, the artist.
People in Ratisbon held a different opinion. Defection from the Roman Catholic Church, which seemed to him reprehensible, was considered here a sacred duty, worthy of every sacrifice. This threatened to involve him in fresh spiritual conflicts, and, as he dreaded such things as nocturnal birds shun the sunlight, he stood still, thoughtfully asking himself whether he ought not at once to give up the desire of striking new roots into this perilous soil.
Only one thing really bound him to Ratisbon, and that was by no means the house which he had inherited, but a very young girl, and, moreover, a very changeable one, of whose development and life he had heard nothing during his absence except that she had not become another's wife. Perhaps this girl, whose charm and musical talent, according to his opinion, were unequalled in Ratisbon, had remained free solely because she was keeping the promise made when, a child of sixteen, she bade him farewell. She had told him, though only in her lively childish fashion, that she would wait for him and become his wife when he returned home a made man. Yet it now seemed that she had been as sincerely in earnest in that youthful betrothal as he himself.
This fair hope crowded every scruple far into the shade. If Barbara had kept her troth to him, he would reward her. Wherever he might build his nest with her, he would be sure of the richest happiness. Therefore he persisted in making his decision for the future depend upon her reception.
The only question was whether it had not already grown too late for him to visit her and her father, who went to bed with the chickens. But the new clock in Jacobsplatz pealed only nine bell-like strokes through the stillness of the evening, and, as he had sent his gifts in advance, he was obliged to follow them.
He might now regard the cantor house, which was quickly gained, as his own. Though it was now in the deepest darkness, he gazed up at the high, narrow building, with the pointed arches of the windows and the bracket which supported the image of St. Cecilia carved from sandstone, as intently as if he could distinguish every defect in the windows, every ornament carved in the ends of the beams.
The second story, which projected above the ground floor into the street, was completely dark; but a faint glimmer of light streamed from the little window over the spurge laurel tree, and--this was the main thing--the bow window in the third story was still lighted.
She whom he sought was waiting there with her father, while beneath it was the former abode of the precentor and organist and his wife, who had reared Wolf, and whose heir, after the old man's death, he had become.
He would take up his quarters in the room which he had occupied as a scholar, where he had studied, practised music, trained himself in the art of composition, and in leisure hours had even drawn and painted a little.
Old Ursula, as he had learned from the legal document which informed him of his inheritance, was taking care of the property bequeathed to him. With what pleasure the old maid-servant, faithful soul, who had come with him--then a little four-year-old boy--and his mother to Ratisbon twenty-two years ago, would make a bed for him and again cook the pancakes, which she knew to be his favourite dish!
The thought of the greeting awaiting him from her dispelled the timidity with which he had set his foot on the first of the three steps that led up to the threshold of the house. He had no occasion to use the knocker; a narrow, long streak of light showed that, notwithstanding the late hour, the outer door was ajar.
Now he heard an inner door open, and this again aroused the anxiety he had just conquered. Suppose that he should find Wawerl below? Ardently as he yearned for her to whom all the love of his heart belonged, this meeting would have come too quickly. Yet she might very easily happen to be in the lower story, for the lighted window beside the door belonged to the little house chapel, and since her confirmation she had undertaken to sweep it, clean the candlesticks and lamps, and keep them in order, fill the vases on the little altar with blossoms, and adorn the image of the Madonna with flowers on Lady day and other festivals.
How often he had helped the child and heard her father call her "his little sacrist"!
The chapel here had gained greater importance to him when the Blombergs placed above the altar the Madonna and Child which he, who tried all the arts, had copied with his own hand from an ancient painting. This had been in July; but when, on the Virgin's Assumption day in August, Barbara was twining a beautiful garland of summer flowers around it, and he, with an overflowing heart, was helping her, his head accidentally struck against hers, and to comfort her he compassionately kissed the bruised spot. Only a short time ago she had frankly thrown her arms around his neck if she wanted him to gratify a wish or forgive an offence without ever receiving a response to her affection. This time he had been the aggressor, and received an angry rebuff; during the little scuffle which now followed, Wolf's heart suddenly grew hot, and his kiss fell upon her scarlet lips. The first was followed by several others, until steps on the stairs parted the young lover from the girl, who offered but a feeble resistance.
Now he remembered the incident, and his cheeks flushed again. Oh, if to-day he should possess the right to have those refractory lips at his disposal!
During the five months spent in Ratisbon after that attack in the chapel he had more than once been bold enough to strive for more kisses, but always in vain, and rarely without bearing away a sharp reprimand, for Barbara had felt her slight resistance in the chapel as a grave offence. She had permitted something forbidden under the eyes of the Virgin's image, and this had seemed to her so wicked that she had confessed it, and not only been sternly censured, but had a penance imposed.
Barbara had not forgotten this, and had understood how to keep him aloof with maidenly austerity until, on the evening before his departure, he had hung around her neck the big gold thaler his godfather had given him.
Then, obeying an impulse of gratitude, she had thrown her arms around his neck; but even then she would not allow him to kiss her lips again. Instead, she hastily drew back to examine the gold thaler closely, praised its weight and beauty, and then promised Wolf that when she was rich and he had become a great lord she would have a new goblet made for him out of just such coins, like one which she had seen at the Wollers in the Ark, the richest of her wealthy relatives.
As Wolf now recalled this promise it vexed him again.
What had he expected from that parting hour--the vow of eternal fidelity, a firm betrothal, ardent kisses, and a tender embrace? But, instead of obtaining even one of these beautiful things, he had become involved in a dispute with Barbara because he desired to receive nothing from her, and only claimed the right of showering gifts upon her later.
This had pleased her, and, when he urged her to promise to wait for him and become his wife when he returned home a made man, she laughed gaily, and declared that she liked him, and, if it should be he who obtained for her what she now had in mind, she would be glad.
Then his loving heart overflowed, and with her hands clasped in his he entreated her to give up these arrogant thoughts, be faithful to him, and not make him wretched.
The words had poured so ardently, so passionately from the quiet, sedate young man's lips that the girl was thoroughly frightened, and wrenched her hands from his grasp. But when she saw how deeply her struggling hurt him, she voluntarily held out her right hand, exclaiming:
"Only succeed while you are absent sufficiently to build a house like our old one in the Kramgasse, and when the roof is on and your knightly escutcheon above the door we will move in together, and life will be nothing but music and happiness."
This was all that gave him the right to consider her as his betrothed bride, for after a brief farewell and a few kisses of the hand flung to him from the threshold, she had escaped to the little bow-windowed room and thereby also evaded from the departing lover an impressive, well-prepared speech concerning the duties of a betrothed couple.
Yet in Rome and Brussels Wolf had held fast to the conviction that a beloved betrothed bride was awaiting him in Ratisbon.
So long as his foster-parents lived he had had news from them of the Blombergs. After the death of the old couple, Barbara's father had answered in a very awkward manner the questions which he had addressed to him in a letter, and his daughter wrote a friendly message under the old captain's signature. True, it was extremely brief, but few fiery love letters ever made the recipient happier or were more tenderly pressed to the lips.
The girl he loved still bore the name of Barbara Blomberg.
This outweighed a whole archive of long letters. The captain, who, for the sake of fighting the infidels, had so sadly neglected his property that his own house in the Kramgasse fell into the hands of his creditors, had rented the second story in the cantor house. Barbara at that time was very small, but now she had ceased to be a child, and, after she devoted herself earnestly to acquiring the art of singing, the old warrior had undertaken to keep the little chapel in order.
The task certainly seemed strangely ill-suited to the tall, broad-shouldered man with the bushy eyebrows, long beard, and mustache twisted stiffly up at the ends, who had obtained in Tunis and during the Turkish war the reputation of being one of the most fearless heroes, and carried away severe wounds; but he knew how to make scoffers keep their distance, and did not trouble himself at all about other people.
Regularly every evening he went down the stairs and performed the duty he had undertaken with the punctilious care of a neat housewife.
He was a devout man, and did his work there in the hope of pleasing the Holy Virgin, because the reckless old warrior was indebted to her for more than one deliverance from impending death, and because he trusted that she would repay it to him in his child.
Besides, his income was not large enough for him to keep a maid-servant of his own, and he could not expect old Ursel, who had worked for the precentor and his wife, and performed the roughest labour in the third story for a mere "thank you," to take care of the chapel also. She had plenty to do, and besides she had been a Protestant three years, and took the Lord's Supper in a different form.
This would have induced him to break off every connection with his old friend's maid-servant had not his kind, grateful heart forbidden him to hurt her feelings. Besides, she was almost indispensable to his daughter and himself; it was difficult enough, in any case, for the nobly born captain to meet the obligations imposed by his position.
He now received only a very small portion of the profits of the lumber trade which had supported his ancestors, his father, and himself very handsomely, for he had been compelled to mortgage his share in the business.
Notwithstanding the title of "Captain" with which his imperial commander had honoured him when he received his discharge, the pension he had was scarcely worth mentioning, and, besides, it was very irregularly paid. Therefore the father and daughter had tried to obtain some means of earning money which could be kept secret from their fellow-citizens. The "Captain" busied himself with tracing coats-of-arms, ornaments, and inscriptions upon tin goblets, mugs, tankards, and dishes. Barbara, when she had finished her exercises in singing, washed fine laces. This was done entirely in secret. A certain Frau Lerch, who when a girl had served Barbara's dead mother as waiting maid, and now worked as a dressmaker for the most aristocratic women in Ratisbon, privately obtained this employment. It was partly from affection for the young lady whom she had tended when a child; but the largest portion of Barbara's earnings returned to her, for she cut for the former all the garments she needed to appear among her wealthy relatives and young companions at dances, musical entertainments, banquets, and excursions to the country. True, Frau Lerch, who was a childless woman, worked very cheaply for her, and, when she heard that Barbara had again been the greatest beauty, it pleased her, and she saw her seed ripening.
What a customer the vain darling, who was very ambitious, promised to become in the future as the wife of a rich aristocrat! She would undoubtedly be that. There was absolute guarantee of it in her marvellously beautiful head, with its abundant golden hair, her magnificent figure, which--she could not help knowing it--was unequalled in Ratisbon, and her nightingale voice.
Even old Blomberg, who kept aloof from the meetings of his distinguished fellow-citizens, but, on the other hand, when his supply of money would permit, enjoyed a drinking bout at the tavern with men of the sword all the more, rejoiced to hear his daughter's rare gifts lauded. The use of the graver was thoroughly distasteful and unsuited to his rank; but even the most laborious work gained a certain charm for his paternal heart when, while wiping the perspiration from his brow, he thought of what his diligence would allow him to devote to the adornment and instruction of his daughter.
He preferred to be alone at home, and his reserved, eccentric nature had caused his relatives to shun his house, which doubtless seemed to them contemptibly small.
Barbara endured this cheerfully, for, though she had many relatives and acquaintances among the companions of her own age, she possessed no intimate friend.
As a child, Wolf had been her favourite playmate, but now visits from her aunts and cousins would only have interrupted her secret work, and disturbed her practice of singing.
When Wolf entered the house, the captain had just left the chapel. He did not notice the returning owner, for people must have made their way into the quiet dwelling. At least he had heard talking in the entry of the second story, where usually it was even more noiseless than in his lodgings in the third, since it was tenanted only by old Ursel, who was now confined to her bed.
Wolf saw Barbara's father, whose height surpassed the stature of ordinary men by a head, hurrying up the stairs. It was a strange, and, for children, certainly an alarming, sight--his left leg, which had been broken by a bullet from a howitzer, had remained stiff, and, as he leaped up three stairs at a time, he stretched his lean body so far forward that it seemed as though he could not help losing his balance at the next step. He was in haste, for he thought that at last he could again acquit himself manfully and cope with one or rather with two or three of the burglars who, since the Duke of Bavaria had prohibited the conveyance of provisions into Ratisbon as a punishment for its desertion of the Catholic Church, had pursued their evil way in the city.
He first discovered with what very small ill-doers he had to deal when he held the little lamp toward them, and, to his sincere vexation, found that they were only little boys, who, moreover, were the children of honest folk, and therefore could scarcely be genuine scoundrels.
Yet it could hardly be any laudable purpose which brought them at so late an hour to the cantor house, and therefore, with the intention of turning the serious attack into a mirthful one; he shouted in a harsh voice the gibberish which he had compounded of scraps of all sorts of languages, and whose effect upon unruly youngsters he had tested to his own amusement.
As his rough "Larum gardum quantitere runze punze ke hi voi la" now reached the little ones, the impression was far deeper than he had intended, for the cellar man's youngest son, a little fellow six years old, first shrieked aloud, and, when the terrible old man's long arms barred his way, he began to cry piteously.
This troubled the kind-hearted giant, who was really fond of children, and, ere the little lad was aware of it, the captain's free left hand grasped the waistband of his little leather breeches and lifted him into the air.
The swift act doubled the terror and anguish of the struggling little wight.
As the strong man held him on his arm he fought bravely with his fat little fists and his sturdy little legs. But though in the unequal conflict the boy pitilessly pulled the powerful monster's grayishy yellow imperial and bushy mustache, and the captain recognised the child from the Red Cock as one of the rascals who often shouted their nickname of "Turkey gobbler" after his tall figure, conspicuous from its height and costume, he strove with honest zeal to soothe the little one.
His deep voice, meanwhile, sounded so gentle and friendly, and his promise to give him a piece of spice cake which he was bringing home to Ursel to sweeten the disagreeable taste of her medicine produced so soothing an influence, that little Hans at last looked up at him trustingly and hopefully.
The cellar man's oldest son, who had violently assaulted the old gentleman to release his little brother, now stood penitently before him, and the landlord's boy related, in somewhat confused but perfectly intelligible words, the object of their coming, and in whose name they were bringing the roll and yonder little package to old Ursel.
The story sounded humble enough, but as soon as the captain had set little Hans on his feet and bent curiously over the forerunners of the dear friend, which had been placed on the little bench by the door, the three boys dashed down the stairs, and the shrill voice of the landlord's son shrieked from the lowest step one "Turkey gobbler" and "Pope's slave" after another.
"Satan's imps!" shouted the old man; but the outer door, which banged below him, showed that pursuit of the naughty mockers would result to his disadvantage. Then as, with an angry shake of the head, he drew back from the banisters, he saw his daughter's playmate.
How dear the latter was to him, and how fully his aged heart had retained its capacity of feeling, were proved by the reception which he gave the returning knight. The injury just inflicted seemed to have been entirely forgotten. With tears in his eyes and a voice tremulous with deep emotion, he drew Wolf toward him, kissing first his head, which reached only to his lips, then his cheeks and brow. Then, with youthful vivacity, he expressed his pleasure in seeing him again, and, without permitting Wolf to speak, he repeatedly exclaimed:
"And my Wawerl, and Ursel in there! There'll be a jubilee!"
When Wolf had at last succeeded in returning his old friend's greeting and then expressed a wish, first of all, to clasp the faithful old maid-servant's hand, the old gentleman's beaming face clouded, and he said, sighing:
"What has not befallen us here since you went away, my dear Wolf! My path has been bordered with tombstones as poplars line the highway. But we will let the dead rest. Nothing can now disturb their peace. Old Ursel, too, is longing for the end of life, and we ought not to grudge it to her. Only I dread the last hour, and still more the long eternity which will follow it, for the good, patient woman entered the snare of the Satanic Protestant doctrine, and will not hear of taking the holy sacrament."
Wolf begged him to admit him at once, but Blomberg declared that, after the attack of apoplexy which she had recently had, one thing and another might happen if she should so unexpectedly see the man to whom her whole heart clung. Wolf would do better first to surprise the girl upstairs, who had no suspicion of his presence. He, Blomberg, must look after the old woman now. He would carry those things--he pointed to the parcels which the boys had left--into the young nobleman's old room. Ursel had always kept it ready for his return, as though she expected him daily. This suited Wolf, only he insisted upon having his own way about the articles he had brought, and took them upstairs with him.
He would gladly have greeted the faithful nurse of his childhood at once, yet it seemed like a fortunate dispensation that, through the old man's delay below, his wish to have his first meeting with the woman he loved without witnesses should be fulfilled.