Barbara Blomberg by Georg Ebers
When Barbara rose from her couch the next morning it was no longer early in the day. She had slept soundly and dreamlessly for several hours, then she had been kept awake by the same thoughts which had pressed upon her so constantly of late.
She would defy Charles's cruel demand. The infuriating compulsion inflicted upon her could only strengthen her resolve. If she was dragged to a convent by force, she would refuse, at the ceremony of profession, to become a nun.
She thought of a pilgrimage to induce Heaven to restore the lost melody of her voice. But meanwhile the longing to see the Emperor Charles's face once more again and again overpowered her. On the other hand, the desire to speak to him and upbraid him to his face for the wrong he had done her was soon silenced; it could only spoil his memory of her if he should hear the discordant tones which inflicted pain on her own ear.
Another train of thoughts had also kept her awake. How was her father faring? Had he learned what she feared to confess to him? What had befallen him, and what had the recruiting officer to tell of his fate?
She was to know soon enough, for she had scarcely risen from breakfast when a ducal servant announced Sir Pyramus.
Barbara with anxious heart awaited his entrance, and as she stood there, her cheeks slightly flushed and her large, questioning eyes fixed upon the door, she seemed to Frau Traut, in spite of her short hair and the loss of the rounded oval of her face, so marvellously beautiful that she perfectly understood how she had succeeded in kindling so fierce a flame in the Emperor's heart, difficult as it was to fire.
Frau Traut did not venture to determine what made the blood mount into Pyramus's cheeks when Barbara at his entrance held out her slender white hand, for she had left the room immediately after his arrival. But she did not need to remain absent long; the interview ended much sooner than she expected.
This young officer was certainly a man of splendid physique, with handsome, manly features, yet she thought she perceived in his manner an air of constraint which repelled her and, in fact, this gigantic soldier was conscious that if, for a single moment, he relinquished the control he imposed upon himself his foolish heart would play him a trick.
Barbara had seemed more beautiful than ever as she greeted him with almost humble friendliness, instead of her former defiance. The hoarse tone of her voice, once so musical, caused him so much pain that he was on the verge of losing his power to keep his resolve to conceal the feelings which, in spite of the insults she had heaped upon him, he still cherished for her. While he allowed himself to look into her face, he realized for the first time how difficult a task he had undertaken, and therefore tried to assume an expression of indifference as he began the conversation with the remark that the ride to the citadel was detaining him from his duties longer than he could answer for in such a stress of military business and, moreover, under the eyes of his Majesty. Therefore it would only be possible to talk a very short time.
He had hurled forth this statement rather than spoken it; but Barbara, smiling mournfully, replied that she could easily understand his reluctance to lose so much time merely on her account.
"For your sake, my dear lady," he replied with an acerbity which sounded sufficiently genuine, "it might scarcely have seemed feasible to go so far from the camp; but for the brave old comrade who was intrusted to my care I would have made even more difficult things possible--and you are his daughter."
The girl nodded silently to show that she understood the meaning of his words, and then asked how the journey had passed and what was the cause of her father's illness.
Everything had gone as well as possible, he replied, until they reached Spain; but there the captain was tortured by homesickness. Nothing had pleased him except the piety of the people. The fiery wine did not suit him, the fare seemed unbearable, and the inability to talk with any one except himself had irritated him to actual outbursts of rage. On the neat Netherland ship which bore him homeward matters were better; nay, while running into the harbour of Antwerp he had jested almost in his old reckless manner. But when trying to descend the rope-ladder from the high ship into the skiff in which sailors had rowed from the land, he made a misstep with his stiff leg and fell into the boat.
A low cry of terror here escaped the lips of the deeply agitated daughter, and Pyramus joined in her expressions of grief, declaring that a chill still ran down his back whenever he thought of that fall. The captain had been saved as if by a miracle. Yet the consequences were by no means light, for when he, Pyramus, left him, he was barely able to totter from one chair to another. A journey on horseback, the physician said, would kill him, and a ride in a carriage over the rough roads would also endanger his life. Several months must pass ere he could think of returning home.
In reply to Barbara's anxious question how the impatient man bore the inactivity imposed upon him, her visitor answered, "Rebelliously enough, but he has already grown quieter, and my sister is fond of him and takes the best care of him."
"Your sister?" asked Barbara abashed, holding out her hand again; but he pretended not to notice it, and merely explained curtly that she had come to the Netherlands with her husband. This enterprising man, like himself, was a native of the principality of Grubenhagen in the Hartz Mountains. At sixteen the wild fellow went out into the world to seek his fortune, and had found it as a daring sailor. He returned a rich man to seek a wife in his old home. Now he had gone on a voyage to the Indies, and while his wife awaited his return she had gladly received her brother's old comrade. Nursing him would afford her a welcome occupation during her loneliness. Her house lacked nothing, and Barbara might comfort herself with the knowledge that the captain would have the best possible care.
With these words he seemed about to leave her; but she stopped him with the question, "And when the service summoned you away from him, had he heard what his daughter----"
Here, flushing deeply, she paused with downcast eyes. Pyramus feasted a short time on the spectacle of her humbled pride, but soon he could no longer bear to see her endure such bitter suffering, and therefore answered hastily, "If you mean what is said about you and his Majesty the Emperor, he was told of it by an old comrade from this neighbourhood."
"And he?" she asked anxiously.
"He wrathfully ordered him out of the door," replied the officer, and he saw how her eyes filled with tears.
Then feeling how soft his own heart was also growing, he hurriedly said farewell. Again she gratefully extended her hand, and he clasped it and allowed himself the pleasure of holding it in his a short time. Then bowing hastily, he left her.
She had been the Emperor's toy, her voice had lost its melting melody, and yet he thought there was no woman more to be desired, far as his profession of recruiting had led him through all lands. This iron no longer needed bending; but how fiercely the flames of suffering which melted her obstinate nature must have burned! Surely he had not seen her for the last time, and perhaps Fate would now help him to perform the vow that he had made before her door in the dark entry of the house in Ratisbon.
While Sir Pyramus was leaving her Barbara had heard a man's voice in Frau Traut's room, but she scarcely noticed it. What she had learned weighed heavily upon her soul.
Her father would not believe what was, nevertheless, the full, undeniable truth. How would he deal with the certainty that he had showed his old comrade the door unjustly when he at last came home and she confessed all, all that she had sinned and suffered? She was sure of one thing only--he, too, would not permit her child to be taken from her; and she cherished a single hope--the blow which Fate had dealt by destroying her tuneful voice would force him to pity, and perhaps induce him to forgive her. Oh, if she could only have conjured him here, opened her heart fully, freely to him, and learned from his own lips that he approved of her resistance!
During this period of quiet reflection many sounds and shouts which she had not heard before reached her room.
As they grew louder and more frequent, Barbara rose to approach the open window, but ere she reached it Frau Taut returned.
The visitor whom she had received was Adrian, her husband. He had come up the Trausnitz to make all sorts of arrangements, for something unusual was to happen which would bring even his Majesty the Emperor here.
These tidings startled Barbara.
Suppose that Charles was now coming to influence her by the heavy weight of his personality; suppose he----
But Frau Traut gave her no time to yield to these and other fears and hopes; she added, in a quiet tone, that his Majesty merely intended to invest his son-in-law, Ottavio Farnese, Duke of Parma, with the Order of the Golden Fleece in the Trausnitz courtyard. It would be a magnificent spectacle, and Barbara could witness it if she desired. One of the rooms in the second story of the ladies' wing where she lodged was still untenanted, and her husband would be responsible if she occupied it, only Barbara must promise not to attract attention to herself by any sound or gesture.
She yielded to this demand with eager zeal, and when Frau Traut perceived the girl's pale cheeks again flushed she wondered at the rapid excitability of this singular creature, and willingly answered the long series of questions with which she assailed her.
Barbara especially desired to hear particulars about the mother of Margaret of Parma, the wife of Ottavio Farnese, that Johanna Van der Gheynst who gave this daughter to the Emperor.
Then Barbara learned that she was a Netherland girl of respectable family, but of scarcely higher rank than her own; only she had been adopted by Count Bon Haagestraaten before the Emperor made her acquaintance.
"Was Johanna beautiful?" Barbara eagerly interrupted.
"I think you are far handsomer," was the reply, "though she, too, was a lovely creature."
Then Barbara wished to learn whether she was fair or dark, lively or quiet, and, finally, whether she had consented to give up her child; and Frau Traut answered that Johanna had done this without resistance, and her daughter was afterward reared first by the Duchess of Savoy, and later by Queen Mary, the regent of the Netherlands.
"How wisely the young lady acted," Frau Dubois concluded, "you yourself know. A crown now adorns her child's head for the second time, and you will soon see how the Emperor Charles bestows honours upon her husband. His Majesty understood how to provide for his daughter, who is his first child. Her former marriage, it is true, was short. Alessandro de' Medici, to whom she was wedded at almost too early an age, was murdered scarcely a year after their nuptials. Her present husband, the Duke of Parma, whom you will see, is, on the contrary, younger than she, but since the unfortunate campaign against Algiers, in which he participated, and after his recovery from the severe illness he endured after his return home, they enjoy a beautiful conjugal happiness. His Majesty is warmly attached to his daughter, and the great distinction which he will bestow upon her husband to-day is given by no means least to please his own beloved child, though her mother was only a Jollanna van der Gheynst."
Barbara had listened to these communications with dilated eyes, but the speaker was now interrupted; the leech, Dr. Matthys, was announced, and immediately entered the room.
Barbara's outburst of rage had not lessened his sympathy for her, and in the interest of science he desired to learn what effect his remedies had had. Unfortunately, in spite of their use, no improvement was visible.
The strange absence of mind with which the girl, who usually answered questions so promptly and decidedly, now seemed scarcely to hear them, he attributed to the painful remembrance of her unseemly behaviour at their last meeting, and therefore soon left her, by no means satisfied with his visit. On the way, however, he told himself that it was unfair to blame the bird which had just been captured for fluttering.
When the leech had retired, Barbara regretted that she had answered him so indifferently. But the anticipation of seeing her imperial lover again dominated every thought and feeling. Besides, she again and again saw before her the figure of the young duke, whom she had never beheld, but whom Charles had married to the daughter of that Johanna who was said to have been neither more beautiful nor more aristocratic than she herself.
Frau Traut saw compassionately that she could not remain long quietly in any place, and that when the noon meal was served she scarcely tasted food.
As soon as the first blast of the horns rose from the gate of the citadel she urged departure like an impatient child, and her indulgent companion yielded, though she knew that the stately ceremonial would not begin for a long time.
The window which Adrian had assigned to the two women in a room which was to be occupied by them alone afforded a view of the entire courtyard, and from the arm-chair which Frau Traut had had brought for her Barbara gazed down into it with strained attention.
The first sound of the horns had saluted Ottavio Farnese.
Mounted on a spirited charger, he held aloft, as gonfaloniere of the Church, the proud banner to be whose bearer was deemed by the Dukes of Parma one of their loftiest titles of honour.
He was greeted by the nobles present with loud acclamations, but was still booted and attired as beseemed a horseman. The cavaliers, officers, and pages who attended him entered the citadel in no regular order. But as Ottavio swung himself from his magnificently formed, cream-coloured steed, and issued orders to his train, Barbara could look him directly in the face and, though she thought him neither handsome nor possessed of manly vigour, she could not help admitting that she had rarely seen a young man of equally distinguished bearing. His every movement bore the impress of royal self-confidence, yet at the same time was unconstrained and graceful.
Now he disappeared in the wing of the building that united the ladies' rooms with the main structure opposite.
The Emperor Charles could not be here yet. His arrival would not have been passed by so quietly, and the imperial banner did not float either from the many-sided turret at the left end of the main building nor from the lofty roof of the ancient Wittelsbach tower. Great nobles, mounted on splendid chargers, constantly rode into the citadel, sometimes in groups, and were saluted by the blast of horns; nimble squires led the horses away, while ducal councillors, nobles, chamberlains, and ushers received the distinguished guests of the citadel and conducted them to the Turnitz, the huge banquet hall in the lower story of the main building, where the best of everything undoubtedly stood ready for them.
But every arrangement had already been made for the approaching ceremony--a broad wooden estrade was erected in the centre of the courtyard, and richly decorated with garlands of flowers, blossoming branches, flags, and streamers. At the back stood the Emperor's throne, covered with purple damask, and beside it numerous velvet cushions lay piled one upon another, waiting to be used.
Barbara's vivid imagination already showed her the course of this rare spectacle, and she gladly and confidently expected that the Emperor must turn his face toward her during the principal portion of the ceremony.
Now the carpet on the stage was drawn tighter by lackeys in magnificent liveries, and the final touches were given to its decorations; now priests entered the smaller building at the left of the courtyard. The balcony on one of these buildings was adorned with flowers, and the singers of St. Martin's Church in Landshut gradually filled it. Now--but here Barbara's quiet observation suddenly ended; the air was shaken by the roar of cannon from the bastions of the citadel, and the signals of the warders' horns blended with the thunder of the artillery. At the same time the banners and streamers on every flagpole, stirred by a light breeze from the east, began to wave in the sunny August air. Then the blare of trumpets echoed, and a few minutes later from the Turnitz and the covered staircase between the main building and the right win; of the citadel the most brilliant body of men that Barbara had ever seen poured into the courtyard. They were the Knights of the Golden Fleece and the princes, counts, barons and knights, generals and colonels whom the Emperor Charles had invited to the Trausnitz citadel to attend the approaching solemn ceremonial.
What did she care for these dignitaries in gold, silver, and steel, velvet and silk, gems and plumes, when the enthusiastic cheers of this illustrious assemblage, the blare of trumpets, the thunder of cannon, and the ringing of bells loudly proclaimed the approach of him who, as their lord and master, stood far above them all? Would he appear on horseback, or had he dismounted at the gate and was advancing on foot? Neither. He was borne in a sedan chair. It was covered with gilding, and the top of the arched roof and each of the four corners were adorned with bunches of red and gold plumes, the colours of Philip of Burgundy, who more than a hundred years before had founded the order of the Golden Fleece.
Instead of lackeys, strong sergeants, chosen from the different regiments, bore the sedan chair. The gentlemen of the court--Prince Henry of Nassau, Baron Malfalconnet, and Don Luis Quijada, with Generals Furstenberg and Mannsfeld, Count Hildebrand Madrucci, the Master of the Teutonic Order, the Marchese Marignano, and others--were preceded by the stiff, grave, soldierly figure of the Duke of Alba, and, by the side of the platform, grandees and military commanders, Netherland lords, Italian, German, and Austrian princes, counts, barons, and knights had taken their places.
When the sedan chair was at last set on the ground in front of the lowest step of the platform, Barbara thought that her heart would burst; for while the singers in the balcony began the "Venite populi mundi," so familiar to her, and the cheers redoubled, Charles descended, and in what a guise she saw him again! He looked ten years older, and she felt with him the keen suffering which every step must cause.
This time it was not Quijada, but the Duke of Alba, who offered him the support of his mailed arm, and, leaning on it, he ascended the low stage.
While doing so he turned his back to Barbara, and as with bent figure and outstretched head he wearily climbed the two stairs leading to the platform, he presented a pitiable spectacle.
And have you loved this wreck of a man with all the fervour of your heart? the girl asked herself; does it still throb faster for him? could you even now expect from him a fairer happiness than from all these handsome warriors and nobles in the pride of their manly vigour? To this old man you have sacrificed happiness and honour, given up your father and the noblest, best of friends!
Fierce indignation for her own folly suddenly seized upon her with such overmastering power that she looked away from the sovereign toward the singers, who were summoning the whole world to pay homage to yonder broken-down man, as though he were a demigod.
A bitter smile hovered around her lips as she did so, but it vanished as swiftly as it had come; for when she again fixed her eyes upon the monarch, she would gladly have joined in the mighty hymn. As if by a miracle, he had become an entirely different person. Now he stood before the throne in the full loftiness and dignity of commanding majesty. A purple mantle fell from his shoulders, and the Duke of Alba was placing the crown on his head instead of the velvet cap.
Oh, no, she need not be ashamed of having loved this man, and she was not; for she loved him still, and was fully and joyously aware that whatever he suffered, whatever tortured and prematurely aged the man still in his fourth decade, no one on earth equalled him in intellect and grandeur.
And as pages then placed the velvet cushions on the carpet; as the Duke of Parma, the gonfaloniere on whose head rested the blessing of the representative of Christ, bent the knee before his imperial father-in-law, and the proud Alba and the other Knights of the Golden Fleece who were present did the same; as Charles, the grand master of the order, took from the cushion the symbol of honour which Count Henry of Nassau handed to him, and placed the golden sheepskin with the red ribbon around Duke Ottavio's neck, while the plaudits, the ringing of bells, and the thunder of the artillery echoed more loudly than ever from the stone walls of the courtyard, tears filled Barbara's eyes and, as when the Emperor passed at the head of the bridal procession in Prebrunn, her voice again blended with the enthusiastic shouts of homage to the man standing in majestic repose before the throne, the man who was the most exalted of human beings.
She understood only a few words of the brief speech which the monarch addressed to the new Knight of the Golden Fleece. She saw for the first time the dignitaries of so many different nations upon whom she was gazing down, and most of whom she did not even know by name. But what did she care how they were called and who they were? Her eyes were fixed only on Charles and the young man in the armour artistically inlaid with gold, peach-coloured silver brocade, and white silk, who was kneeling before him.
Suppose that a son of hers should be permitted to share such an honour; suppose that Charles should some day bend down to her child and kiss his brow with the paternal affection which he had just showed to the young duke whom he had wedded to his daughter? And this daughter was the child of a mother who was her sister in sorrow, and had been her superior in nothing, neither in birth nor in beauty.
She said this to herself while she was intently watching the progress of the solemn ceremonial. How lovingly and with what enthusiastic reverence Ottavio was now gazing up into the face of his imperial father-in-law, and with what grateful fervour, as the youngest Knight of the Fleece, he kissed his hand! Not only outwardly but in heart--the warm light of their eyes revealed it--these men, so unlike in age and gifts, were united; yet Ottavio was not Charles's own son, as another would have been whom she wished to withhold from such a father, and in her selfish blindness to withdraw from the path to the summit of all earthly splendour and honour.
Who gave her the right to commit so great, so execrable a robbery?
What could she, the poor, deserted, scorned toy of a king--give to her child, and what the mightiest of the mighty yonder?
If he was ready to claim as his own the young life which she expected with hopeful yearning, it would thereby receive a benefit so vast, a gift so brilliant that all the wealth of love and care which she intended to bestow upon it vanished in darkness by comparison. Charles's resolve, which she had execrated as cruel, was harsh only against her who had angered him, and who could give him so little more; for her child it meant grandeur and splendour, and thereby, she thought in her vain folly, the highest happiness attainable for human beings.
Still she gazed as though spellbound at the decorated stage, but the ceremony was already rapidly approaching its close. The great nobles surrounded the new Knight of the Fleece to congratulate him, the Duke of Alba first; but vouchsafed a few brief, gracious words only to a few dignitaries, and then, this time assisted by Quijada, descended to the sedan chair.
Barbara had learned from Frau Traut that his Majesty knew that she was here in the ladies' apartments. Would he now raise his eyes to her, though but for a brief space?
He was already standing at the door of the sedan chair, and until now had kept his gaze bent steadily upon the ground. Meanwhile he must be experiencing severe pain; she saw it by the lines around the corners of his mouth. Now he placed his sound right foot upon the little step; now, before drawing the aching left one after it, he turned toward Quijada, whose hand was supporting him under the arm; and now--no, she was not mistaken--now he raised his eyes with the speed of lightning toward the ladies' apartments, and for one short second his glance met hers. Then his head vanished in the sedan chair.
Nevertheless, he had looked toward her, and this was a great boon. With all her strength she made it her own, and soon she felt absolutely sure that when he knew she was so near him he had been unable to resist the desire to gaze once more into her face. Perhaps it was intended for a precious farewell gift.
As soon as the sedan chair, amid cheers and the blare of trumpets, had disappeared in the direction of the drawbridge and the great main entrance, Barbara retired to her room. Frau Traut knew not whether she ought to bless or bewail having obtained permission for her to witness the bestowal of the Fleece.
At any rate, another great transformation had taken place in this extremely impressionable young creature. Barbara's impetuous nature seemed destroyed and crushed, and the bright gaiety which had pleased Frau Dubois so much the first day of their meeting had greatly diminished. Only on special occasions her former fiery vivacity burst forth, but the sudden flame expired as quickly as it had blazed and, dreamily absorbed in her own thoughts, she obeyed her with the docility of a child.
This swift and marked change in the disposition of her charge, whom Quijada and her own husband had described as so totally different, awakened her anxiety; yet it was easy to perceive that the volcano had not burned out, but was merely quiescent for the time.
During the night the dull indifference which she showed in the day abandoned her, and her attentive companion often heard her sobbing aloud.
It did not escape Frau Tract's notice that since Barbara had seen the Emperor again in the Trausnitz courtyard a mental conflict had begun which absorbed her whole being, but the girl did not permit her any insight into her deeply troubled soul.