Barbara Blomberg by Georg Ebers
After the short walk in the park of his palace, during which Barbara had met him in the dusk, the Emperor Charles had dined with his son Philip and the Queen of Hungary. Now he entered his spacious study.
His feet were refusing their support more and more, and the fingers of his right hand, which the gout was now crippling, found it hard to grasp his cane.
He sank back in his arm-chair exhausted, closed his eyes, and laid his hand upon the clever pointed head of the greyhound which lay at his feet.
The short walk and the fiery wine which he had again enjoyed in abundance at dinner had increased the pain from which he was now never free, day or night, and it was some time ere Adrian could succeed in propping his infirm body comfortably.
At last Charles passed his handkerchief across his perspiring brow, and called to the majordomo.
Quijada eagerly approached, and the valet was respectfully leaving the room, but the Emperor's summons stopped him.
"I have something," Charles began, no longer able to maintain complete control over his voice, which was sometimes interrupted by the shortness of breath that had recently attacked him, "to say to you also--"
Here he hesitated, pointed to the window which overlooked the park, then, with a keen glance at the valet's face, continued:
"A ghost wanders about there. I have already seen it several times under the trees. True, it avoided approaching me. What still remains useful in this miserable body! But my eyes are sharp yet, and I recognised the spectre--it is the Ratisbon singer."
"Your Majesty knows," replied Quijada, "what befell her after the birth of the child, and that she is now living here in Brussels; but I was strictly forbidden to mention her name in your Majesty's presence."
"That command closed my lips also," said the valet.
"But what the hearing rejected forced itself upon the sight," remarked Charles, gazing fixedly into vacancy. "Wherever I appear in public I see this woman, always this woman! It is not only the basilisk's eye that has constraining power. I can not help perceiving her, yet I have as little desire to meet her gaze as to encounter vanity, worldly pleasure, folly, sin."
"Then," cried Quijada angrily, "it will be advisable to transfer her husband, who is in your Majesty's service, from here to Andalusia or to the New World."
"As if she would accompany him!" exclaimed the monarch with a scornful laugh. "No, my friend. This woman did not marry for her own pleasure, but to cause me sorrow or indignation. She succeeded, too, to a certain extent; but I do not war with women, least of all with one who is so unhappy. If we send her husband--who, moreover, is a useful fellow--across the ocean, she will stay here in Brussels, and we shall fare like the maid-servants who killed the cocks, and were then waked by the mistress of the house still earlier than before. Besides, one who earnestly seeks his true salvation will not remove from his path such a living memento, such a walking monitor of past sins and follies; and, finally, this woman is not wholly wrong in deeming herself an unusual person, cruelly as Heaven has destroyed her best gift. On no account--you hear me--shall she be wounded or injured for my sake so long as she reminds me only by her eyes that in happier days we were closely connected. But to-day the ghost ventured to draw nearer to me than is seemly, and I recognise the object. It entered the park, not on my account, but the boy's--and, Adrian, from your house. I demand the whole truth! Did she find the way to the boy, and was your wife, who is usually a prudent woman, unwise enough to allow her to feast her eyes upon him?"
"She is the child's mother," the valet answered gently, "and your Majesty knows--"
"I know," Charles interrupted the faithful attendant in a sterner tone than he commonly used to him, "that you were most positively forbidden to permit any one to approach the boy, least of all the person who gazes at him with greedy eyes, and from whom might proceed measureless perils. Your wife, Adrian, who is tenderly attached to the child, will now suffer the most painfully for the disobedience. It must go away from here, go at once, and to a distant country--to Spain. If politics and Heaven permit, I shall soon follow.--You, Luis, will now arrange with Adrian the best plan for the removal. The work must be accomplished in the utmost secrecy. The boy shall grow up in the wholesome air of the country. No one who surrounds him must be permitted even to suspect to whom he owes his life. This child shall be simple in his habits, devout, and modest, far from flattery and spoiling, among other lads of plain families, who know nothing of heresy and court follies. This innocent child's soul, at least, shall not be corrupted at its root. I consecrated him to the Saviour, and as a pure sacrifice he must receive him from his father's hand. I have given him a beautiful charge. In the monastery his prayers will remove the guilt of him who gave him life. The pardon for which the mother refused to strive, the son, consecrated to Jesus Christ our Lord, will struggle to obtain."
With uplifted gaze he interrupted himself. His eyes flashed with a fiery light, and his voice gained an imperious tone, which showed no trace of the asthmatic trouble that had just affected it as he added: "But the secret which even the reckless mother has hitherto known how to guard must be kept. Not even your wife, Luis, not even our sister, Queen Mary, must learn what is being accomplished."
Then he added more quietly: "The opportunity to take the boy to Spain is favourable. Our son, Don Philip, will return in three weeks to Valladolid. The child can be carried in his train. It will disappear among the throng, for an actual army forms the tail of the comet. I will hear your proposal to-morrow. Who is to take charge of him on the way? Where can a suitable shelter for the boy be found in Spain?"
This announcement fell upon the valet like a thunderbolt, for little John, who regarded him and his wife as his parents, had become as dear to the childless couple as if he was their own. To part from the beautiful, frank, merry boy would darken Frau Traut's whole life. He, Adrian, had warned her, but she had been unable to resist the entreaties of the sorely punished mother. Cautiously as Barbara's visits had been managed, the infirm monarch's eye had maintained its keenness of vision here also.
Now his wife must pay dearly for her weakness and disobedience. Frau Traut was threatened, too, with another loss. Massi, the most intimate friend of their house, also expected to return to Spain in the Infant Philip's train, to spend the remainder of his days there in peace. Permission to depart had been granted to him a few hours before.
Little John was fond of this frequent visitor of his foster-parents, who could whistle so beautifully and knew how to play for him upon a blade of grass or a comb; but this was not the only reason which made Adrian think of giving the Emperor's son to the musician's care for the journey to Spain, where Massi's wife and daughter were awaiting his return at Leganes, near Madrid. In this healthfully located village lived a pastor and a sacristan of whom the musician had spoken, and who perhaps later might take charge of the child's education.
Adrian informed Don Luis and then the monarch of all this, and as Quijada knew Massi to be a trustworthy man, and described him to his royal master, Charles entered into negotiations with him.
The result was that a formal compact was concluded between Dubois and the musician, which granted the violinist considerable emoluments, but bound him and his family by oath to maintain the most absolute secrecy concerning the child's origin. Moreover, Massi himself knew nothing about the boy's parents except that they belonged to the most aristocratic circles, and he was inclined to believe little John to be Quijada's son.
The sovereign himself examined the agreement, and at its close made Frau Traut take a special oath to preserve the most absolute secrecy about everything concerning the boy to every one, even Barbara.
What Adrian had expected happened. The Emperor's command to take her darling from her affected his wife most painfully. With eyes reddened by weeping, and an aching heart, she awaited the day of departure.
On the evening before the journey she was sitting by the child's couch to enjoy the sight of him as much as possible. Wholly absorbed in gazing at his infantile grace and patrician beauty, she did not hear the door open, and started in terror at the sound of footsteps close behind her.
Her husband had ushered the Emperor and Quijada, on whose arm he was leaning, into the nursery without announcing his entrance. She involuntarily pressed her finger on her lips to intimate that the child must not be roused from its slumber; but the gesture was instantly followed by the profound bow due to the sovereign, and then, with tears in her eyes, she held the light so that it might fall upon the face of the lovely child.
A flush tinged the livid features of the invalid, prematurely aged monarch, and at a wave of his hand the foster-mother left him and his companion alone with the little one. Charles gazed suspiciously around the small, neat room.
Not until he had assured himself that he was alone did he look closely at the son who lay with flushed cheeks on the white pillows of his little bed in the sound slumber of childhood.
Rarely had he seen a more beautiful boy. How finely chiselled were these childish features, how thick and wavy the curls that clustered around his head! The golden lustre which shone from them had also brightened his mother's hair. And the smile on the cherry lips of the slightly open mouth. That, too, was familiar to him. The child had inherited it from Barbara. Memories which had long since paled in his soul, oppressed by suffering and disappointment, regained their vanished forms and colours, and for the first time in many months a smile hovered upon his lips.
What an exquisite image of the Creator was this child! and he might call it his own, and if, as he intended, it grew up an innocent, happy lad, it would also become a genuine man, with a warm heart and simple, upright nature, not a moving marble figure, inflated by pompous self-conceit, incapable of any deep feeling, any untrammelled emotion, like his son Philip. Then it might happen that from love, from a real living impulse of the heart, he would fall upon his neck; then----
He stretched both hands towards the little bed and, obeying a mighty impulse of paternal affection, bent toward the boy to kiss him. But ere his lips touched the child's he again gazed around him like a thief who is afraid of being caught. At last he yielded to the longing which urged him, and kissed little John--his, yes, his own son--first on his high, open brow, and then on his red lips.
How sweet it was! Yet while he confessed this a painful emotion blended with the pleasure.
He had again thought of Barbara, of her first kiss and the other joys of the fairest May-time of his life, and the anxious fear stole upon him that he might give sin a power over his soul which, after undergoing a heavy penance, he thought he had broken.
Nothing, nothing at all, he now said to himself, ought to bind him to the woman whom he had effaced from the book of his life as unworthy, rebellious, lost to salvation; and, in a totally different mood, he again gazed at the child. It already wore the semblance of an angel in the gracious Virgin's train, and it should be dedicated to her and her divine Son.
Then the boy drew his little arm from under his head.
How strong he was! how superbly the chest of this child not yet four years old already arched! This bud, when it had bloomed to manhood, might prove itself, as he himself had done in his youth, the stronger among the strong. He carefully examined the harmoniously developed little muscles. What a knight this child promised to become! Surely it was hardly created for quiet prayer and the inactive peace of the cloister! He was still free to dispose of the boy. If he should intrust his physical development to the reliable Quijada, skilled in every knightly art, and to Count Lanoi, famed as a rider and judge of horses; confide the training of his mind and soul to the Bishop of Arras, the learned Frieslander Viglius, or any other clever, strictly religious man, he might become a second Roland and Bayard--nay, if a crown fell to his lot, he might rival his great-grandfather, the Emperor Max, and--in many a line he, too, had done things worthy of imitation--him, his father. The possession of this child would fill his darkened life with sunshine, his heart, paralyzed by grief and disappointment, with fresh pleasure in existence throughout the brief remainder of his earthly pilgrimage. If he, the father, acknowledged him and aided him to become a happy, perhaps a great man, this lovely creature might some day be a brilliant star in the firmament of his age.
Here he paused. The question, "For how long?" forced itself upon him. He, too, during the short span of youth had been a hero and a victorious knight. With secure confidence he had undertaken to establish for himself and his family a sovereignty of the world which should include the state and the Church. "More, farther," had been his motto, and to what stupendous successes it had led him! Three years before he had routed at Muhlberg his most powerful rivals. As prisoners they still felt his avenging hand.
And now? At this hour?
The hope of the sovereignty of the world lay shattered at his feet. The wish to obtain the German imperial crown for his heir and successor, Philip, had proved unattainable. It was destined for his brother, Ferdinand of Austria, and afterward for the latter's son, Maximilian. To lead the defeated German Protestants back to the bosom of the Holy Church appeared more and more untenable. Here in the Netherlands the heretics, in consequence of the Draconian severity of the regulations which he himself had issued, had been hung and burned by hundreds, and hitherto he had gained nothing but the hatred of the nation which he preferred to all others. His bodily health was destroyed, his mind had lost its buoyancy, and he was now fifty years old. What lay before him was a brief pilgrimage--perchance numbering only a few years--here on earth, and the limitless eternity which would never end. How small and trivial was the former in comparison with the latter, which had no termination! And would he desire to rear for the space of time that separates the grave from the cradle the child for whom he desired the best blessings, instead of securing for him salvation for the never-ceasing period of eternal life?
No! This beauty, this strength, should be consecrated to no vain secular struggle, but to Heaven. The boy when he matured to a correct judgment would thank him for this decision, which was really no easy one for his worldly vanity.
Then he reverted to the wish with which he had approached the child's couch. The son, from gratitude, should take upon himself for his father and, if he desired, also for his refractory mother, what both had neglected--the care for their eternal welfare--in prayer and penance.
By consecrating him to Heaven and rearing him for a peaceful existence in God, far from the vain pleasures of the world and the court he had done his best for his son and, as if he feared that the sight of his beautiful, strong boy might shake his resolution, he turned away from him and called Quijada.
While Charles in a fervent, silent prayer commended John to the favour of Heaven, the most faithful of his attendants was gazing at the sovereign's son. Hitherto Heaven had denied him the joy of possessing a child. How he would have clasped this lovely creature to his heart if it had been his! What a pleasure it would have been to transmit everything that was excellent and clever in himself to this child! To devote it to a monastic life was acting against the purpose of the Providence that had dowered it with such strength and beauty.
The Emperor could not, ought not to persist in this intention.
While he was supporting his royal master through the dark park he ventured to repeat what Adrian and his wife had told him of the strength and fearlessness of the little John, and then to remark what rare greatness this boy promised to attain as the son of such a father.
"The highest of all!" replied Charles firmly. "He only is truly great who in his soul feels his own insignificance and deems trivial all the splendour and the highest honours which life can offer; and to this genuine greatness, Luis, I intend to rear this young human plant whose existence is due to weakness and sin."
Quijada again summoned up his courage, and observed:
"Yet, as the son of my august ruler, this child may make claims which are of this world."
"What claims?" cried the Emperor suspiciously. "His birth?--the law gives him none. What earthly possessions may perhaps come to him he will owe solely to my favour, and it would choose for him the only right way. Claims--mark this well, my friend--claims to the many things which will remain of my greatness and power when I have closed my pilgrimage beneath the sun, can be made by one person only--Don Philip, my oldest son and lawful heir."
Not until after he had rested in his study did Charles resume the interrupted conversation, and say:
"It may be that this boy will grow up into a more brilliant personality than my son Philip; but you Castilians and faithful servants of the Holy Church ought to rejoice that Heaven has chosen my lawful son for your king, for he is a thorough Spaniard, and, moreover, cautious, deliberate, industrious, devout, and loyal to duty. True, he knows not how to win love easily, but he possesses other means of maintaining what is his and still awaits him in the future. My pious son will not let the gallows become empty in this land of heretical exaltation. Had the Germans put him in my place, he would have become a gravedigger in their evangelical countries. He never gave me what is called filial affection, not even just now in the parting hour; yet he is an obedient son who understands his father. Instead of a heart, I have found in him other qualities which will render him capable of keeping his heritage in these troubled times and preserving the Holy Church from further injury. If I were weaker than I am, and should rear yonder splendid boy, who charmed you also, Luis, under my own eyes with paternal affection, many an unexpected joy might grow for me; but I still have an immense amount of work to do, and therefore lack time to toy with a child. It is my duty to replace this boy's claims, which I can not recognise, with higher ones, and I will fulfill it."