Barbara Blomberg by Georg Ebers
Dr. Mathys had himself carried in the litter from the Golden Cross to Barbara.
This errand was a disagreeable one, for, though the Emperor's remark that he had yielded to the rare charm of this woman was not true, his kindly heart had become warmly attached to Barbara. For the first time he saw in her the suffering which often causes a metamorphosis in certain traits in a sick person's character extend their transforming power to the entire nature. Passionate love for her art gave her the ability to maintain with punctilious exactness the silence which he had been compelled to impose upon her, and the once impetuous, obstinate creature obeyed his directions and wishes with the patience of a docile child.
The manner in which, after he permitted her to speak, she had disclosed in a low whisper her happy yet disquieting secret, hovered before him now as one of the most pathetic incidents in a life full of varied experiences.
How touchingly deep misery and the greatest rapture, gloomy anxiety and radiant joy, bitter dread and sweet anticipation, despairing helplessness and firm confidence had looked forth at him from the beautiful face whose noble outlines were made still more delicate by the illness through which she had passed! He could not have refused even a more difficult task to this petitioner.
Now he was returning from the Emperor, and he felt like a vanquished general.
In what form was he to clothe the bad news which he was bringing to the convalescent girl? Poor child! How heavily she had to atone for her sin, and how slight was his own and every other influence upon the man, great even in his selfishness, who had had the power to render him a messenger of joy!
While the physician was approaching the little castle, she of whom he was so eagerly thinking awaited his return with feverish suspense. Yet she was obliged at this very time to devote herself to a visitor. True, he was the only person whom she would not have refused to see at this hour.
Wolf Hartschwert was with her.
His first errand after the period of severe suffering through which he had passed was to Barbara, earnestly as old Ursel had endeavoured to prevent him.
He had found her under a linden tree in the garden.
How they had met again!
Wolf, pale and emaciated, advanced toward her, leaning on a cane, while Barbara, with slightly flushed cheeks, reclined upon the pillows which Sister Hyacinthe had just arranged for her.
Her head seemed smaller, her features had become more delicate and, in spite of the straw hat which protected her from the dazzling sunshine, he perceived that her severe illness had cost her her magnificent golden hair. Still wavy, it now fell only to her neck, and gave her the appearance of a wonderfully handsome boy.
The hand she extended to him was transparently thin, and when he clasped it in his, which was only a little larger, and did not seem much stronger, and she had hoarsely whispered a friendly greeting, his eyes filled with tears. For a time both were silent. Barbara was the first to find words and, raising her large eyes beseechingly to his, said: "If you come to reproach me--But no! You look pale, as though you had only partially recovered yourself, yet kind and friendly. Perhaps you do not know that it was through my fault that all these terrible things have befallen you."
Here a significant smile told her that he was much better informed than she supposed, and, lowering her eyes in timid embarrassment, she asked,
"Then you know who it was for whom this foolish heart----"
Here her breath failed, and while she pressed her hand upon her bosom, Wolf said softly: "If you had only trusted me before! Many things would not have happened, and much suffering might have been spared. You did wrong, Wawerl, certainly, but my guilt is the greater, and we were both punished--oh, how sorely!"
Barbara, amid low sobbing, nodded assent, but he eagerly continued: "Quijada confided everything to me, and if he--you know--now forgets all other matters in the war and the anxieties of the general, and, you need my counsel and aid, we will let what came between us he buried, and think that we are brother and sister."
The girl held out her hand to him, saying: "How long you have been a brother to me! But, as for your advice--Holy Virgin!--I know now less than ever how I am to fare; but I shall soon learn. I can say no more. It must be a severe trial to listen to me. Such a raven's croak from the throat which usually gave you pleasure, and to which you gladly listened! Shall I myself ever grow accustomed to this discord? And you? Answer honestly--I should like to know whether it is very, very terrible to hear."
"You are still hoarse," was the reply. "Such things pass away in a few weeks, and it will again be a pleasure to hear you sing."
"Do you really think so?" she cried with sparkling, eyes.
"Firmly and positively," answered the young knight in a tone of most honest conviction; but she repeated in joyous excitement, "Firmly and positively," and then eagerly continued: "Oh, if you should be right, Wolf, how happy and grateful I would be, in spite of everything! But I can talk no longer now. Come again to-morrow, and then the oftener the better."
"Unfortunately, that can not be, gladly as I would do so," he answered sadly, extending his hand in farewell. "In a few days I shall return to Brussels."
"To remain with the regent?" asked Barbara eagerly.
"No," he answered firmly. "After a short stay with her Majesty, I shall enter the service of Don Luis Quijada, or rather of his wife."
"O-o-oh!" she murmured slowly. "The world seems wholly strange to me after my long illness. I must first collect my thoughts, and that is now utterly impossible. To-morrow, Wolf! Won't you come to-morrow? Then I shall know better what is before me. Thanks, cordial thanks, and if tomorrow I deny myself to every one else, I will admit you."
After Wolf had gone, Barbara gazed fixedly into vacancy. What did the aspiring young musician seek with a nobleman's wife in a lonely Spanish castle? Were his wings broken, too, and did he desire only seclusion and quiet?
But the anxiety which dominated her mind prevented her pursuing the same thought longer. Dr. Mathys had promised to tell her the result of his conversation with the Emperor as soon as possible, and yet he had not returned.
Fool that she was!
Even on a swift steed he could not have traversed the road back to the castle if he had been detained only half an hour in the Golden Cross. It was impatience which made the minutes become quarters of an hour. She would have liked to go to the cool frigidarium again to watch for the physician's litter; but she was warned, and had accustomed herself to follow the doctor's directions as obediently as a dutiful child. Besides, Sister Hyacinthe no longer left her alone out of doors, and possessed a reliable representative, who had won Barbara's confidence and affection, in Frau Lamperi, the garde-robiere, whom the Queen of Hungary had not yet summoned.
So she remained under the linden, and Dr. Mathys did not put her newly won virtue of patience, which he prized so highly, to too severe a trial.
Fran Lamperi had watched for him, and hastily announced that his litter had already passed the Reichart pottery.
Now Barbara did not turn her eyes from the garden door through which the man she ardently longed to see usually came, and when it opened and the stout, broad-shouldered leech, with his peaked doctor's hat, long staff, and fine linen kerchief in his right hand advanced toward her, she motioned to the nun and the maid to leave them, and pressed her left hand upon her heart, for her emotion at the sight of him resembled the feeling of the prisoner who expects the paper with which the judge enters his cell to contain his death-warrant.
She thought she perceived her own in the physician's slow, almost lagging step. His gait was always measured; but if he had had good news to bring, he would have approached more rapidly. A sign, a gesture, a shout would have informed her that he was bearing something cheering.
But there was nothing of this kind.
He did not raise his hat until he stood directly in front of her, and while mopping his broad, clamp brow and plump cheeks with his handkerchief, she read in his features the confirmation of her worst fears.
Now in his grave voice, which sounded still deeper than usual, he uttered a curt "Well, it can't be helped," and shrugged his shoulders sorrowfully.
This gesture destroyed her last hope. Unable to control herself longer, she cried out in the husky voice whose hoarse tone was increased by her intense agitation: "I see it in your face, Doctor; I must be prepared for the worst."
"Would to Heaven I could deny it!" he answered in a hollow tone; but Barbara urged him to speak and conceal nothing from her, not even the harshest news.
The leech obeyed.
With sincere compassion he saw how her face blanched at his information that, owing to the pressure of duties which the commencement of the war imposed upon him, his Majesty would be unable to visit her here. But when, to sweeten the bitter potion, he had added that when her throat was well again, and her voice had regained its former melody, the monarch would once more gladly listen to her, he was startled; for, instead of answering, she merely shrugged her shoulders contemptuously, while her face grew corpselike in its pallor. He would have been best pleased to end his report here, but she could not be spared the suffering to which she was doomed, and pity demanded that the torture should be ended as quickly as possible. So, to raise her courage, he began with the Emperor's congratulations, and while her eyes were sparkling brightly and her pale cheeks were crimsoned by a fleeting flush, he went on, as considerately as he could, to inform her of the Emperor's resolution, not neglecting while he did so to place it in a milder light by many a palliating remark.
Barbara, panting for breath, listened to his report without interrupting him; but as the physician thought he perceived in the varying expression of her features and the wandering glance with which she listened tokens that she did not fully understand what the Emperor required of her, he summed up his communications once more.
"His Majesty," he concluded, "was ready to recognise as his own the young life to be expected, if she would keep the secret, and decide to commit it to his sole charge from its arrival in the world; but, on the other hand, he would refuse this to her and to the child if she did not agree to impose upon herself sacrifice and silence."
At this brief, plain statement Barbara had pressed her hands upon her temples and stretched her head far forward toward the physician. Now she lowered her right hand, and with the question, "So this is what I must understand?" impetuously struck herself a blow on the forehead.
The patient man again raised his voice to make the expression of the monarch's will still plainer, but she interrupted him after the first few words with the exclamation: "You can spare yourself this trouble, for the meaning of the man whose message you bear is certainly evident enough. What my poor intellect fails to comprehend is only--do you hear?--is only where the faithless traitor gains the courage to make me so unprecedented a demand. Hitherto I was only not wicked enough to know that there--there was such an abyss of abominable hard-heartedness, such fiendish baseness, such----"
Here an uncontrollable fit of coughing interrupted her, but Dr. Mathys would have stopped her in any case; it was unendurable to him to listen longer while the great man who was the Emperor, and whom he also honoured as a man, was reviled with such savage recklessness.
As in so many instances, Charles's penetration had been superior to his; for he had not failed to notice to what tremendous extremes this girl's hasty temper could carry her. What burning, almost evil passion had flamed in her eyes while uttering these insults! How perfectly right his Majesty was to withdraw from all association with a woman of so irresponsible a nature!
He repressed with difficulty the indignation which had overpowered him until her coughing ceased, then, in a tone of stern reproof, he declared that he could not and ought not to listen to such words. She whom the Emperor Charles had honoured with his love would perhaps in the future learn to recognise his decision as wise, though it might offend her now. When she had conquered the boundless impetuosity which so ill beseemed her, she herself would probably perceive how immeasurably deep and wide was the gulf which separated her from the sacred person of the man who, next to God, was the highest power on earth. Not only justice but duty would command the head of the most illustrious family in the world to claim the sole charge of his child, that it might be possible to train it unimpeded to the lofty position of the father, instead of the humble one of the mother.
Hitherto Barbara had remained silent, but her breath had come more and more quickly, the tremor of the nostrils had increased; but at the physician's last remark she could control herself no longer, and burst forth like a madwoman: "And you pretend to be my friend, pretend to be a fairminded man? You are the tool, the obedient echo of the infamous wretch who now stretches his robber hand toward my most precious possession! Ay, look at me as though my frank speech was rousing the greatest wrath in your cowardly soul! Where was the ocean-deep gulf when the perjured betrayer clasped me in his arms, uttered vows of love, and called himself happy because his possession of me would beautify the evening of his life? Now my voice has lost its melting music, and he sends his accomplice to leave the mute 'nightingale'--how often he has called me so!--to her fate."
Here she faltered, and her cheeks glowed with excitement as, with her clinched hand on her brow, she continued: "Must everything be changed and overturned because this traitor is the Emperor, and the betrayed only the child of a man who, though plain, is worthy of all honour, and who, besides, was not found on the highway, but belongs to the class of knights, from whom even the proudest races of sovereigns descend? You trample my father and me underfoot, to exalt the grandeur of your master. You make him the idol, to humble me to a worm; and what you grant the she-wolf--the right of defence when men undertake to rob her of her young--you deny me, and, because I insist upon it, I must be a deluded, unbridled creature."
Here she sobbed aloud and covered her face with her hands; but Dr. Mathys had been obliged to do violence to his feelings in order not to put a speedy end to the fierce attack. Her glance had been like that of an infuriated wild beast as the rage in her soul burst forth with elementary power, and the sharpness of her hoarse voice still pierced him to the heart.
Probably the man of honour whom she had so deeply-insulted felt justified in paying her in the same coin, but the mature and experienced physician knew how much he must place to the account of the physical condition of this unfortunate girl, and did not conceal from himself that her charges were not wholly unjustifiable. So he restrained himself, and when she had gained control over the convulsive sobbing which shook her bosom, he told her his intention of leaving her and not returning until he could expect a less hostile reception. Meanwhile she might consider whether the Emperor's decision was not worthy of different treatment. He would show his good will to her anew by concealing from his Majesty what he had just heard, and what she, at no distant day, would repent as unjust and unworthy of her.
Then Barbara angrily burst forth afresh: "Never, never, never will that happen! Neither years nor decades would efface the wrong inflicted upon me to-day. But oh, how I hate him who makes this shameful demand--yes, though you devour me with your eyes--hate him, hate him! I do so even more ardently than I loved him! And you? Why should you conceal it? From kindness to me? Perhaps so! Yet no, no, no! Speak freely! Yes, you must, must tell him so to his face! Do it in my name, abused, ill-treated as I am, and tell him----"
Here the friendly man's patience gave out, and, drawing his little broad figure stiffly up, he said repellently: "You are mistaken in me, my dear. If you need a messenger, you must seek some one else. You have taken care to make me sincerely regret having discharged this office for your sake. Besides, your recovery will progress without my professional aid; and, moreover, I shall leave Ratisbon with my illustrious master in a few days."
He turned his back upon her as he spoke. When toward evening the Emperor asked him how Barbara had received his decision, he shrugged his shoulders and answered: "As was to be expected. She thinks herself ill-used, and will not give up the child."
"She will have a different view in the convent," replied the Emperor. "Quijada shall talk with her to-morrow, and De Soto and the pious nuns here will show her where she belongs. The child--that matter is settled--will be taken from her."
The execution of the imperial will began on the very next morning. First the confessor De Soto appeared, and with convincing eloquence showed Barbara how happily she could shape her shadowed life within the sacred quiet of the convent. Besides, the helpless creature whose coming she was expecting with maternal love could rely upon the father's recognition and aid only on condition that she yielded to his Majesty's expressed will.
Barbara, though with no little difficulty, succeeded in maintaining her composure during these counsels and the declaration of the servant of the Holy Church. Faithful to the determination formed during the night, she imposed silence upon herself, and when De Soto asked for a positive answer, she begged him to grant her time for consideration.
Soon after Don Luis Quijada was announced. This time he did not appear in the dark Spanish court costume, but in the brilliant armour of the Lombard regiment whose command had been entrusted to him.
When he saw Barbara, for the first time after many weeks, he was startled.
Only yesterday she had seemed to Wolf Hartschwert peerlessly beautiful, but the few hours which had elapsed between the visit of the physician and the major-domo had sadly changed her. Her large, bright eyes were reddened by weeping, and the slight lines about the corners of the mouth had deepened and lent her a severe expression.
A hundred considerations had doubtless crowded upon her during the night, yet she by no means repented having showed the leech what she thought of the betrayer in purple and the demand which he made upon her. De Soto's attempt at persuasion had only increased her defiance. Instead of reflecting and thinking of her own welfare and of the future of the beloved being whose coming she dreaded, yet who seemed to her the most precious gift of Heaven, she strengthened herself more and more in the belief that it was due to her own dignity to resist the Emperor's cruel encroachments upon her liberty. She knew that she owed Dr. Mathys a debt of gratitude, but she thought herself freed from that duty since he had made himself the blind tool of his master.
Now the Spaniard, who had never been her friend, also came to urge the Emperor's will upon her. Toward him she need not force herself to maintain the reserve which she had exercised in her conversation with the confessor.
On the contrary!
He should hear, with the utmost plainness, what she thought of the Emperor's instructions. If he, his confidant, then showed him that there was one person at least who did not bow before his pitiless power, and that hatred steeled her courage to defy him, one of the most ardent wishes of her indignant, deeply wounded heart would be fulfilled. The only thing which she still feared was that her aching throat might prevent her from freely pouring forth what so passionately agitated her soul.
She now confronted the inflexible nobleman, not a feature in whose clear-cut, nobly moulded, soldierly face revealed what moved him.
When, in a businesslike tone, he announced his sovereign's will, she interrupted him with the remark that she knew all this, and had determined to oppose her own resolve to his Majesty's wishes.
Don Luis calmly allowed her to finish, and then asked: "So you refuse to take the veil? Yet I think, under existing circumstances, nothing could become you better."
"Life in a convent," she answered firmly, "is distasteful to me, and I will never submit to it. Besides, you were hardly commissioned to discuss what does or does not become me."
"By no means," replied the Spaniard calmly; "yet you can attribute the remark to my wish to serve you. During the remainder of our conference I will silence it, and can therefore be brief."
"So much the better," was the curt response. "Well, then, so you insist that you will neither keep the secret which you have the honour of sharing with his Majesty, nor----"
"Stay!" she eagerly interrupted. "The Emperor Charles took care to make the bond which united me to him cruelly hateful, and therefore I am not at all anxious to inform the world how close it once was."
Here Don Luis bit his lips, and a frown contracted his brow. Yet he controlled himself, and asked with barely perceptible excitement, "Then I may inform his Majesty that you would be disposed to keep this secret?"
"Yes," she answered curtly.
"But, so far as the convent is concerned, you persist in your refusal?"
"Even a noble and kind man would never induce me to take the veil."
Now Quijada lost his composure, and with increasing indignation exclaimed: "Of all the men on earth there is probably not one who cares as little for the opinion of an arrogant woman wounded in her vanity. He stands so far above your judgment that it is insulting him to undertake his defence. In short, you will not go to the convent?"
"No, and again no!" she protested bitterly. "Besides, your promise ought to bind you to still greater brevity. But it seems to please your noble nature to insult a defenceless, ill-treated woman. True, perhaps it is done on behalf of the mighty man who stands so far above me."
"How far, you will yet learn to your harm," replied Don Luis, once more master of himself. "As for the child, you still seem determined to withhold it from the man who will recognise it as his solely on this condition?"
Barbara thought it time to drop the restraint maintained with so much difficulty, and half with the intention of letting Charles's favourite hear the anguish that oppressed her heart, half carried away by the resentment which filled her soul, she permitted it to overflow and, in spite of the pain which it caused her to raise her voice, she ceased whispering, and cried: "You ask to hear what I intend to do? Nothing, save to keep what is mine! Though I know how much you dislike me, Don Luis Quijada, I call upon you to witness whether I have a right to this child and to consideration from its father; for when you, his messenger of love, led me for the first time to the man who now tramples me so cruelly under his feet, you yourself heard him greet me as the sun which was again rising for him. But that is forgotten! If his will is not executed, mother and child may perish in darkness and misery. Well, then, will against will! He has the right to cease to love me and to thrust me from him, but it is mine to hate him from my inmost soul, and to make my child what I please. Let him grow up as Heaven wills, and if he perishes in want and shame, if he is put in the pillory or dies on the scaffold, one mission at least will be left for me. I will shriek out to the world how the royal betrayer provided for the welfare of his own blood!"
"Enough!" interrupted Don Luis in mingled wrath and horror. "I will not and can not listen longer while gall and venom are poured upon the sacred head of the greatest of men."
"Then leave me!" cried Barbara, scarcely able to use her voice. "This room, at least, will be mine until I can no longer accept even shelter from the traitor who--you used the words yourself--instilled venom and bitter gall into my soul."
Quijada, with a slight bend of the head, turned and left the room.
When the door closed behind him, Barbara, with panting breath and flashing eyes, threw herself into an arm-chair, content as if she had been relieved of a heavy burden, but the Emperor's envoy mounted the horse on which he had come, and rode away.
He fared as the leech had done the day before. Barbara's infamous abuse still fired his blood, but he could not conceal from himself that this unfortunate woman had been wronged by his beloved and honoured master. In truth, he had more than once heard the ardent professions of love with which Charles had greeted and dismissed her, and his chivalrous nature rebelled against the severity with which he made her suffer for the cruelty of Fate that had prematurely robbed her of what had been to him her dearest charm.
Before he went to Prebrunn, Dr. Mathys had counselled him not to forget during the disagreeable reception awaiting him that he was dealing with an irritable invalid, and the thoroughly noble man resolved to remember it as an excuse. The Emperor Charles should learn only that Barbara refused to submit to his arrangements, that his harshness deeply wounded her and excited her quick temper. He was unwilling to expose himself again to an outburst of her rage, and he would therefore intrust to another the task of rendering her more docile, and this other was Wolf Hartschwert.
A few days before he had visited the recovering knight, and obtained from him a decision whose favourable nature filled him with secret joy whenever he thought of it.
Wolf had already learned from the valet Adrian the identity of the person to whom he had been obliged to yield precedence in Barbara's heart, and how generously Quijada had kept silence concerning the wound which he had dealt him. When Don Luis freely forgave him for the unfortunate misunderstanding for which he, too, was not wholly free from blame, Wolf had thrown himself on his knees and warmly entreated him to dispose of him, who owed him more than life, as he would of himself. Then, opening his whole heart, he revealed what Barbara had been to him, and how, unable to control his rage, he had rushed upon him when he thought he had discovered, in the man who had just asked him to go far away from the woman he loved, her betrayer.
After this explanation, Quijada had acquiesced in the knight's wish that he should give him the office offered on that luckless evening, and he now felt disposed also to intrust to him further negotiations with the singer.
In the report made to the Emperor, Don Luis suppressed everything which could offend him; but Charles remained immovable in his determination to withdraw the expected gift of Fate, from its first entrance into the world, from every influence except his own. Moreover, he threatened that if the blinded girl continued to refuse to enter the convent and yield up the child, he would withdraw his aid from both. After a sleepless night, however, he remarked, on the following morning, that he perceived it to be his duty, whatever might happen, to assume the care of the child who was entitled to call him its father. What he would do for the mother must depend upon her future conduct. This was another instance how every trespass of the bounds of the moral order which the Church ordains and hallows entails the most sorrowful consequences even here below. Precisely because he was so strongly attached to this unfortunate woman, once so richly gifted, he desired to offer her the opportunity to obtain pardon from Heaven, and therefore insisted upon her retiring to the convent. His own guilt was causing him great mental trouble and, in fact, notwithstanding the arduous labour imposed upon him by the war, the most melancholy mood again took possession of him.
The day before his departure to join the army which was gathered near by at Landshut, he withdrew once more into the apartment draped with sable hangings.
When he was informed that Barbara wished to leave the Prebrunn castle, he burst into a furious passion, and commanded that she should be kept there, even if it was necessary to use force.