Barbara Blomberg by Georg Ebers
Three years passed.
Barbara occupied with her husband and the two sons she had given him a pretty little house in the modest quarter of Saint-Gery in Brussels.
Here the capital of wealthy, flourishing Brabant certainly looked very unlike what she had expected from Gombert's stories; and how little share she had had hitherto in the splendour which on the drive to Landshut she had expected to find in Brussels!
Since the musician had described the city, she had seen it distinctly before her in her vivid imagination. The lower portion, intersected by the river Senne and numerous canals, belonged to the rich, industrious citizens, the skilful artisans, and the common people; the upper, which occupied a hill, contained the great Brabant palace, the residence of the Emperor Charles. This edifice, which, though its exterior was almost wholly devoid of ornament, nevertheless presented a majestic aspect on account of its vast size, adjoined a splendid park, whose leafy groups of ancient trees merged into the forest of Soignies. Here also stood the palaces of the great nobles and, on the side of the hill which sloped to the lower city, the Cathedral of St. Gudule towered proudly aloft.
Much as Barbara had heard in praise of the magnificent market-place in the lower city, with its marvellous Town Hall, it was always the upper portion of Brussels she beheld when she thought of the capital. She had felt that she belonged to this quarter, where all who had any claim to aristocracy lived; here, near the palace and the beautiful leafy trees, her future home had been in her imagination.
The result was different, and now the longing for the brilliant Brussels on the hill was doubly strong. True, there dwelt also those who had the greatest power of attraction for her.
She was just returning home from the palace park, where stood a pleasant summer house in which Adrian Dubois lived with his wife and one child. It was this child especially that drew Barbara to the upper city as often as possible, and constantly forced her thoughts to linger there and still to follow the "higher" of the imperial motto, which everywhere else she was compelled to renounce.
True, a limit was fixed to these visits to the Dubois couple. For one whole year Frau Traut had successfully concealed the child from the mother; then Barbara had once met the boy outside the house, and the way in which he was hurried out of her sight led to the conviction that this was her child, and Frau Dubois had imprudently betrayed the secret.
From this time Barbara knew that her John had been confided to the care of the valet and his wife. At last Frau Traut had been unable to resist her entreaties, and allowed her to see her son and hold him a short time in her arms.
He was a strong, splendid child, with his mother's thick, curling locks and large blue eyes. Barbara thought that she had never seen a handsomer boy; and not only the Dubois, who had yielded their whole hearts to their nursling, but strangers also admired the magnificent development of this rare child. The young mother saw in him something grander, more perfect than the children of other human beings, even than the two boys whom she had given her husband, although little John usually repulsed her caresses.
In granting Barbara permission to see her child often, Frau Traut transgressed an explicit command of the Emperor and, to prevent the evil consequences which her sympathy might entail, she allowed the mother to rejoice in the sight of her little son only once a month, and then always for a short time.
During these interviews she was strictly forbidden to bestow even the smallest gift upon the boy.
To-day John had voluntarily approached the stranger to whom he owed his life, but whose passionate caresses at their first meeting had frightened him, to show her the little wooden horse that Adrian had just given him. This had made her happy, and on the way home the memory of her hidden treasure more than once brought a joyous smile to her lips.
At home she first sought her children. Her husband, who had now been appointed mustering officer, was on one of the journeys required by the service, which rarely permitted him to remain long in his own house.
Barbara did not miss him; nay, she was happiest during his absence.
After glancing into the nursery, she retired to her quiet chamber, where her harp stood and the lutes hung which often for hours supplied the place of her lost voice, and sat down at her spinning wheel.
She turned it thoughtfully, but the thread broke, and her hands fell into her lap. Her mind had again found the way to the house in the park and to her John, her own, wonderful, imperial child, and lingered there until from the next room the cry of an infant was heard and a woman's voice singing it to sleep. Frau Lamperi, who had made herself a part of the little household, and beheld in its master the incarnation of every manly virtue, was lulling the baby to rest. Beside it slept another child, a boy two years old. Both were hers, yet, though the infant raised its voice still louder, she remained at the spinning wheel, dreaming on.
In this way, and while playing on the harp and the lutes, her solitude was best endured. Her husband's journeys often led him through the whole Netherlands and the valley of the Rhine as far as Strasbourg and Basle, and her father had returned to Ratisbon.
She had found no new friends in Brussels, and had not endeavoured to gain any.
Loneliness, which she had dreaded in the heyday of her early youth, no longer alarmed her, for quiet reveries and dreams led her back to the time when life had been beautiful, when she had enjoyed the love of the greatest of mortals, and art had given her existence an exquisite consecration.
With the loss of her voice--she was now aware of it--many of the best things in her life had also ceased to exist. Her singing might perhaps have lured back her inconstant lover, and had she come to Brussels possessing the mastery of her voice which was hers during that happy time in May, her life would have assumed a totally different form.
Gombert, who had induced her to move hither, had urged her with the best intentions during their drive to Landshut to change her residence. When he did so, however, Barbara was still connected with the Emperor, and he was animated by the hope that the trouble in her throat would be temporary.
It would have been easy to throw wide to a singer of her ability the doors of the aristocratic houses which were open to him; for, except his professional comrades, he associated only with the wealthy nobles in the upper part of the city, who needed him for the brilliant entertainments which they understood how to arrange so superbly. The Oranges, Egmont, Aremberg, Brederode, Aerschot, and other heads of the highest nobility in Brabant would have vied with one another to present her to their guests, receive her at their country seats, and invite her to join their riding parties. Where, on the contrary, could he expect to find a friendly reception for the wife of a poor officer belonging to the lower nobility, who was said to have forfeited the Emperor's favour, who could offer nothing to the ear, and to the eye only a peculiar style of beauty, which she could enhance neither by magnificent attire nor by any other arts?
Had she been still the Emperor Charles's favourite, or had he bestowed titles and wealth upon her, more might have been done for her; but as it was, nothing was left of the favour bestowed by the monarch save the stain upon her fair name. Deeply as Gombert regretted it, he could therefore do nothing to make her residence in Brussels more agreeable. He was not even permitted to open his own house to her, since his wife, who was neither more jealous nor more scrupulous than most other wives of artists, positively refused to receive the voiceless singer with the tarnished reputation.
Worthy Appenzelder associated exclusively with men, and thus of her Ratisbon friends not one remained except Massi, the violinist, and the Maltese choir boy, Hannibal Melas.
The little fellow had lost his voice, but had remained in Brussels and, in fact, through Barbara's intercession; for she had ventured to recommend the clever, industrious lad to the Bishop of Arras in a letter which reminded him of his kindness in former days, and the latter had been gracious, and in a cordial reply thanked her for her friendly remembrance. Hannibal had remained in the minister's service and, as he understood several languages and proved trustworthy, was received among his private secretaries.
The violinist Massi remained faithful and, as he became her husband's friend also, he was always a welcome guest in her house.
Her father had returned to Ratisbon. After he had acted as godfather to the oldest boy, Conrad, he could be detained no longer. Homesickness had obtained too powerful a hold upon him.
True, Barbara and her husband did everything in their power to make life in their home pleasant; but he needed the tavern, and there either the carousing was so noisy that it became too much for him, or people often had very violent political discussions about liberty and faith, which he only half understood, though they used the Flemish tongue. And the Danube, the native air, the familiar faces! In short, he could not stay with his children, though he dearly loved his little godson Conrad; and it pleased him to see his daughter more yielding and ready to render service than ever before, and to watch her husband, who, as the saying went at home, "was ready to let her walk over him."
The husband's intention of making the unbending iron pliant was wholly changed; the recruiting officer whom his companions and subordinates knew and feared as one of the sternest of their number, showed himself to Barbara the most yielding of men. The passionate tenderness with which he loved her had only increased with time, and the stern soldier's subjection to her will went so far that, even when he would gladly have expressed disapproval, he usually omitted to do so, because he dreaded to lessen the favour which she showed him in place of genuine love, and which he needed. Besides, she gave him little cause for displeasure; she did her duty, and strove to render his outward life a pleasant one.
Even after her father had left her she remained a wife who satisfied his heart. He had learned the coolness of her nature in his first attempts to woo her in Ratisbon and, as at that time, he whom the service frequently detained from her for long periods regarded it as a merit.
So he wrote her father letters expressing his gratification, and the replies which the captain sent to Brussels were in a similar tone.
Barbara had obtained for him his own house, for which he had longed. He felt comfortable there, and what he lacked in his home he found at the Red Cock or the Black Bear. An elderly Landshut widow, a relative, acted as his housekeeper and provided in the best possible manner for his comfort.
Whoever met the stately mustering officer alone or arm in arm with his beautiful young wife, whose golden hair had grown out again, must have believed him a happy man; and so he would have been had not some singular habits which Barbara possessed made him uneasy. At first the reveries into which she often sank, and which were so unlike her former self, had been still worse. He did not know that the improvement had taken place since she had discovered her John's abode and been permitted sometimes to see him. Barbara's husband and father supposed that the child which she had given to the Emperor was dead; both had placed this interpretation upon her brief statement that it had been taken from her, and afterward delicacy of feeling prevented any other allusion to this painful subject.
Besides this proneness to reverie, Barbara's husband was sometimes disturbed by the carelessness with which she neglected the most important domestic matters if there was an entertainment or exhibition which the Emperor Charles attended; and, finally, there was something in her manner to the children, whom Pyramus loved above all things, which disturbed, incensed, and wounded him, yet which he felt that neither threats nor stern interposition could change.
He possessed no defence against the reveries except a warning or a jesting word. Delight in brilliant spectacles was doubtless natural to her disposition, and as Pyramus not only loved but esteemed her, it was repugnant to his feelings to watch her. Yet when, nevertheless, he once followed her steps, he had found her, according to her expressed intention, among other women in St. Gudule's Cathedral. Her eyes, which he watched intently, were constantly turned toward the great personages whose presence adorned the festival--the Emperor and Queen Mary of Hungary.
These expeditions were evidently not to meet a lover, yet from that hour he cherished a conviction, mingled with a bitter sense of resentment, that she went to the festivals which his Majesty attended in order to see the man whom she had once loved, and whose image even now she could not wholly efface from her imagination, perhaps also from her heart.
For her manner to the children, on the contrary, he could find no plausible explanation. Her love for them was unmistakable. Yet what was the meaning of the compassionate manner with which she treated them, talked to them, spoke of them, until it nearly drove him frantic? She often treated the healthy, merry older boy as if he was ill and needed comfort, and the pretty infant in the cradle was addressed in the same way.
If he summoned up his courage and openly reproved her, she always answered in general terms, such as: "What do you mean? Are we not all born to suffer?" or, "Shall we envy them because they have entered life to endure pain and to die?"
Not until Pyramus, with sorrowful emotion, entreated her not to speak of the children as if they had been given to them for a punishment and not for a joy, she imposed a certain degree of constraint upon herself and changed her manner of speech; yet the expression of her eyes revealed that she felt no really glad, unconstrained joy in her sons.
Though she denied it, she knew how to explain this manner to herself; for, after her attention had been directed to it, she secretly admitted that the sight of the two dear children who were wholly hers always reminded her of the third who had been taken from her, whom she was permitted to see very rarely, and only in secret, yet who, beside the others, seemed like a young lion beside modest lambs.
She cherished no desire for a new love, though the lukewarm blending of gratitude and good will which she bestowed upon her husband did not even remotely deserve this lofty name.
There was no lack of gallants in Brussels who noticed and were attracted by her, but whoever knew or had heard of Pyramus Kogel avoided interfering with his rights; for he was numbered among the best swordsmen in Brussels, and the air with which the tender-hearted husband wore his long rapier was decidedly threatening.
Besides, Barbara herself also knew how to protect herself against any intrusiveness with haughty sharpness.
To-day she was especially glad that Pyramus was absent on an inspecting tour. She had gratefully enjoyed the meeting with her John. Never had the light of his blue eyes seemed so sunny, his head with its fair curls so angelic in its beauty. His voice, too, had enraptured her by its really bewitching melody. The maternal gift of song would certainly descend to him, and perhaps it was allotted to the Emperor's son to amaze his generation by the presence of hero and singer in one person, like a second King David.
Twilight had already shadowed the paths when she left the Dubois house, and on her way home she saw the Emperor approaching. She had slipped behind a statue as quickly as possible, and he could scarcely have recognised her, for the gloaming had already merged into partial darkness; but the mere thought of having been so near him quickened the pulsation of her heart.
The little gentleman at his side with the stiffly erect bearing and pompous walk was his son Philip, who was now visiting his father in Brussels, and expected to leave in a few days. How insignificant was the figure of the heir of so many crowns! How the brother whom she had given to his imperial father would some day tower above him!
She again imagined all these things in the quiet of her room. The thought of this child cheered her heart, but it contracted again as she remembered the series of bitter humiliations which she had experienced in Brussels. Among the courtiers whom she had known so well in Ratisbon not one vouchsafed her anything more than a passing greeting; and the Queen of Hungary, to whom she would gladly have poured out her heart, had refused her repeated entreaties for an audience.