Barbara Blomberg by Georg Ebers
Everything in Barbara's residence had remained as it was when she arrived, only the second story, since the departure of the marquise, had stood empty. Two horses had been left in the stable, the steward performed his duties as before, the cook presided in the kitchen, and Frau Lamperi attended to Barbara's rooms.
Nevertheless, at Wolf's first visit he was obliged to exert all his powers of persuasion to induce his miserable friend to give up her resolution of moving into her former home. Besides, after the conversation with Charles's messenger, she had felt so ill that no visitor except himself had been received.
When, a few days later, she learned that the Emperor had set out for Landshut, she entreated Wolf to seek out Pyramus Kogel, for she had just learned that during her illness her father's travelling companion had asked to see her, but, like every one else, had been refused. She grieved because they had forgotten to tell her this; but when she discovered that the same stately officer had called again soon after the relapse, she angrily upbraided, for the first time, Frau Lamperi, who was to blame for the neglect, and her grief increased when, on the same day, a messenger brought from the man who had twice been denied admittance a letter which inclosed one from her father, and briefly informed her that he should set out at once for Landshut. As she would not receive him, he must send her the captain's messages in this way.
It appeared from the old man's letter that, while leaving the ship at Antwerp, he had met with an accident, and perhaps might long be prevented from undertaking the toilsome journey home. But he was well cared for, and if she was still his clear daughter, she must treat Herr Pyramus Kogel kindly this time, for he had proved a faithful son and good Samaritan to him.
A stranger's hand had written this letter, which contained nothing more about the old soldier's health, but reminded her of a tin tankard which he had forgotten to deliver, and urged her to care for the ever-burning lamp in the chapel. It closed with the request to offer his profound reverence at the feet of his Majesty, the most gracious, most glorious, and most powerful Emperor, and the remark that there was much to say about the country of Spain, but the best was certainly when one thought of it after turning the back upon it.
As a postscript, he had written with his own hand, as the crooked letters showed: "Mind what I told you about Sir Pyramus, without whom you would now be a deserted orphan. Can you believe that in all Spain there is no fresh butter to be had, either for bread or in the kitchen for roast meat, but instead rancid oil, which we should think just fit for burning?"
With deep shame Barbara realized through this letter how rarely she remembered her father. Only since she knew positively what joy and what anxiety awaited her had she again thought frequently of him, but always with great fear of the old man whose head had grown gray in an honourable life. Now the hour was approaching when she would be obliged to confess to him what she still strove to deem a peerless favour of Fate, for which future generations would envy her. Perhaps he who looked up to the Emperor Charles with such enthusiastic devotion would agree with her; perhaps what she must disclose to him would spoil the remainder of his life. The image of the aged sufferer, lying in pain and sorrow far from her old his home, in a stranger's house, constantly forced itself upon her, and she often dwelt upon it, imagining it with ingenious self-torture.
Love for another had estranged her from him who possessed the first claim to every feeling of tenderness and gratitude in her heart. The thought that she could do nothing for him and give him no token of her love pierced deep into her soul. Every impulse of her being urged her to learn further details of him and his condition. As Pyramus Kogel was staying in Landshut, she wrote a note entreating him, if possible, to come to Ratisbon to tell her about her father, or, if this could not be, to inform her by letter how he fared.
There was no lack of messengers going to Landshut, and the answer was not delayed. During these war times, Pyramus answered, he was not his own master even for a moment; therefore he must deny himself a visit to her, and he also lacked time for a detailed account by letter. If, however, she could resolve to do him the honour of a visit, he would promise her a more cordial reception than he had experienced on her side. For the rest, her father was being carefully nursed, and his life was no longer in danger.
At first Barbara took this letter for an ungenerous attempt of the insulted man to repay the humiliation which he had received from her; but the news from the throngs of troops pouring into the city made the officer's request appear in a milder light, and the longing to ascertain her father's condition daily increased.
At the end of the first week in August her strength would have sufficed for the short drive to Landshut. True, she was as hoarse as when she gave the physician a disinclination to return, but she had regained her physical vigour, and had taken walks, without special fatigue, sometimes with Wolf, sometimes with Gombert. The latter, as well as Appenzelder, still frequently called upon her, and tried to diminish her grief over the injury to her voice by telling her of hundreds of similar cases which had resulted favourably.
The musicians were to return to Brussels the next day. Appenzelder would not leave his boy choir, but Gombert had accepted an invitation from the Duke of Bavaria, at whose court in Munich the best music was eagerly fostered. His road would lead him through Landshut, and how more than gladly Barbara would have accompanied him there!
She must now bid farewell to Appenzelder and Massi, and it was evident that the parting was hard for them also. The eyes of the former even grew dim with tears as he pressed a farewell kiss upon Barbara's brow. The little Maltese, Hannibal Melas, would have preferred to stay with her--nay, he did not cease entreating her to keep him, though only as a page; but how could he have been useful to her?
Finally, she was obliged to bid Wolf, too, farewell, perhaps for many years.
During the last few days he had again proved his old friendship in the most loyal manner. Through Quijada he had learned everything which concerned her and the Emperor Charles, and this had transformed his former love for Barbara, which was by no means dead, into tender compassion.
Not to serve the monarch or the husband of his new mistress in Villagarcia, but merely to lighten her own hard fate, he had not ceased to represent what consequences it might entail upon her if she should continue to defy the Emperor's command so obstinately.
He, too, saw in the convent the fitting place for her future life, now bereft of its best possessions; but although she succeeded in retaining her composure during his entreaties and warnings, she still most positively refused to obey the Emperor's order.
Her strong desire to visit Landshut was by no means solely from the necessity of hearing the particulars about her father, and the wish to see so brilliant an assemblage of troops from all countries, but especially the consuming longing to gaze once more into the face of the lover who was now making her so miserable, yet to whom she owed the greatest joy of her life.
She thought it would restore her peace of mind forever if she could succeed in speaking to him for even one brief moment and telling him what a transformation his guilt had wrought in her ardent love and her whole nature.
Wolf's representations and imploring entreaties remained as futile as those of Sister Hyacinthe and the abbesses of the Clare Sisters and the Convent of the Holy Cross, who had sought her by the confessor's wish. None of these pious women, except her nurse, knew the hope she cherished. They saw in her only the Emperor's discarded love; yet as such it seemed to them that Barbara was bidden to turn her back upon the world, which had nothing similar to offer her, in order, as the Saviour's bride, to seek a new and loftier happiness.
But Barbara's vivacious temperament shrank from their summons as from the tomb or the dungeon and, with all due reverence, she said so to the kindly nuns.
She desired no new happiness, nay, she could not imagine that she would ever again find joy in anything save the heavenly gift which she expected with increasing fear, and yet glad hope. Yet they wished to deprive her of this exquisite treasure, this peerless comfort for the soul! But she had learned how to defend herself, and they should never succeed in accomplishing this shameful purpose. She would keep her child, though it increased the Emperor's resentment to the highest pitch, and deprived her of every expectation of his care.
Eagerly as Wolf praised Quijada's noble nature, she commanded him to assure the Castilian, whose messenger he honestly confessed himself to be, that she would die rather than yield to the Emperor's demands.
When the time at last came to part from Wolf also, and he pressed his lips to her hand, she felt that she could rely upon him, no matter how sad her future life might be. He added many another kind and friendly word; then, in an outburst of painful emotion, cried: "If only you had been contented with my faithful love, Wawerl, how very different, how much better everything would have been, how happy I might be! and, if loyal love possesses the power of bestowing happiness, you, too----"
Here Barbara pointed mournfully to her poor aching throat and, while he earnestly protested that, deeply as he lamented the injury to her voice, this cruel misfortune would by no means have lessened his love, her eyes suddenly flashed, and there was a strange quiver around the corners of her mouth as she thought: "Keep that opinion. But I would not exchange for a long life, overflowing with the happiness which you, dear, good fellow, could offer me, the brief May weeks that placed me among the few who are permitted to taste the highest measure of happiness."
Yet she listened with sincere sympathy to what he had heard of Villagarcia and Magdalena de Ulloa, Quijada's wife, and what he expected to find there and in Valladolid.
It pleased her most to know that he would be permitted to return sometimes to the Netherlands. When once there, he must seek her out wherever her uncertain destiny had cast her.
When, in saying this, her hoarse voice failed and tears of pain and sorrow filled her eyes, emotion overpowered him also and, after he had again urged her to submit to the will of their imperial master, he tore himself away with a last farewell.
The ardent, long-cherished passion which had brought the young knight full of hope to Ratisbon had changed to compassion. With drooping head, disappointed, and heavily burdened with anxiety for the future of the woman who had exerted so powerful an influence upon his fate, he left the home of his childhood; but Barbara saw him go with the sorrowful fear that, in the rural solitude which awaited him in Spain, her talented friend would lose his art and every loftier aspiration; yet both felt sure that, whatever might be the course of their lives, each would hold a firm place in the other's memory.
A few hours after this farewell Barbara received a letter from the Council, in which Wolf Hartschwert secured to her and her father during their lives the free use of the house which he had inherited in Red Cock Street, with the sole condition of allowing his faithful Ursula to occupy the second story until her death.
The astonished girl at once went to express her thanks for so much kindness; but Wolf had left Ratisbon a short time before, and when Barbara entered the house she found old Ursula at the window with her tear-stained face resting on her clasped hands. When she heard her name called, she raised her little head framed in the big cap, and as soon as she recognised the unexpected visitor she cast so malevolent a glance at her that a shiver ran through the girl's frame.
After a few brief words of greeting, Barbara left the old woman, resolving not to enter the house soon again.
In passing the chapel she could and would not resist its strong power of attraction. With bowed head she entered the quiet little sanctuary, repeated a paternoster, and prayed fervently to the Mother of God to restore the clearness of her voice once more. While doing so, she imagined that the gracious intercessor gazed down upon her sometimes compassionately, sometimes reproachfully, and, in the consciousness of her guilt, she raised her hands, imploring forgiveness, to the friendly, familiar figure.
How tenderly the Christ-child nestled to the pure, exalted mother! Heaven intended to bestow a similar exquisite gift upon her also, and already insolent hands were outstretched to tear it from her. True, she was determined to defend herself bravely, yet her best friend advised her to yield without resistance to this unprecedented demand.
What should she do?
With her brow pressed against the priedieu, she strove to attain calm reflection in the presence of the powerful and gracious Queen of Heaven. If she yielded the child to its cruel father, she would thereby surrender to him the only happiness to which she still possessed a claim; if she succeeded in keeping it for herself, she would deprive it of the favour of the mighty sovereign, who possessed the power to bestow upon it everything which the human heart craves. Should she persist in resistance or yield to the person to whom she had already sacrificed so much the great blessing which had the ability to console her for every other loss, even the most cruel?
Then her refractory heart again rebelled. This was too much; Heaven itself could not require it of her, the divine Mother who, before her eyes, was pressing her child so tenderly to her bosom, least of all. Hers, too, would be a gift of God, and, while repeating this to herself, it seemed as though a voice cried out: "It is the Lord himself who intends to confide this child to you, and if you give it up you deprive it of its mother and rob it--you have learned that yourself--of its best possession. What was given to you to cherish tenderly, you can not confide to another without angering him who bestowed the guerdon upon you."
Just at that moment she thought of the star, her lover's first memento, with which she had parted from weakness, though with a good intention.
The misfortune which she was now enduring had grown out of this lamentable yielding. No! She would not, ought not to allow herself to be robbed of her precious hope. One glance at the Mother and Child put an end to any further consideration.
Comforted and strengthened, she went her way homeward, scarcely noticing that Peter Schlumperger and his sister, whom she met, looked away from her with evident purpose.