Barbara Blomberg by Georg Ebers
During this conversation the violinist Massi had been to take leave of Barbara. Pyramus, after a short stay at home, had been obliged to depart again to an inspection in Lowen, and the musician was sorry not to find his friend. He did not know to whom the child that had been intrusted to his care belonged, and, as he had bound himself by a solemn oath to maintain secrecy toward every one, he did not utter a word to Barbara about the boy and the obligations which he had undertaken.
The parting was a sad one to the young wife, for in Massi she lost not only a tried friend, but as it were a portion of her former life. He had been a witness of the fairest days which Fate had granted her; he had heard her sing when she had been justified in feeling proud of her art; and he had been intimate with Wolf Hartschwert, whom she remembered with affectionate interest, though he had only informed her once in a brief letter that he was prospering in Villagarcia and his new position. While with tearful eyes she bade Massi farewell, she gave him messages of remembrance to Wolf; and the violinist, no less agitated than herself, promised to deliver them. He was hopefully anticipating a cheerful evening of life in the midst of his family. Existence had promised Barbara higher things, but she seemed to have found the power to be content. At least he had heard no complaint from her lips, and her husband had often told him of the happiness which he had obtained through her in marriage. So he could leave her without anxiety; but she, even in the hour of parting, was too proud to offer him a glimpse of her desolate life, whose fairest ornaments were memories.
When he left her the young wife felt still poorer than before, and during the sleepless night which in imagination she had spent with her imperial child in the Dubois house, and in the days of splendour and misery at Ratisbon, she determined to clasp once more the hand of her departing friend when he set out with the Infant Philip's train.
Although it was to start early in the morning, she was in the square in ample time, partly because she hoped to see the Emperor in the distance.
The throng that followed Philip really did resemble an army.
Barbara had already often seen the short, slender 'Infant', with his well-formed, fair head and light, pointed beard, who held himself so stiffly erect, and carried his head as high as if he considered no one over whom his glance wandered worthy of so great an honour.
It seemed strange to her, too, how well this man, naturally so insignificant in person, succeeded in giving his small figure the appearance of majestic dignity. But how totally unlike him his father must have looked in his youth! There was something austere, repellent, chilling, in the gaze which, while talking with others, he usually fixed upon the ground, and, in fact, in the whole aspect of the son. How brightly and frankly, on the contrary, his father's eyes, in spite of all his suffering, could sparkle even now! How easy it would be for him to win hearts still!
If he would only come!
But this time he did not accompany his son. Philip was on horseback, but a magnificent empty coach in the procession would receive him as soon as he left Brussels.
He wished to present a gallant appearance in the saddle on his departure, and a more daintily, carefully clad cavalier could scarcely be imagined.
His garments fitted like a glove, and were of faultless fineness. Queen Mary, the regent, rode at his side, and the Brabant nobles, the heads of the Brussels citizens, and his Spanish courtiers formed his retinue. The leaders of the Netherland nobility were figures very unlike in stature and size to Philip; but he could vie in haughty majesty with any of them. Not a limb, not an expression lacked his control a single instant. He desired to display to these very gentlemen in every inch of his person his superior power and grandeur, and especially not to be inferior to them in chivalrous bearing.
To a certain extent he succeeded in doing so; but his aunt, Queen Mary, seemed unwilling to admit it, for just when he showed his arrogant dignity most plainly a smile by no means expressive of reverence hovered around the mouth of the frank royal huntress.
Barbara had soon wearied of gazing at the magnificent garments and horses of these grandees. As Charles did not appear, the only person in the endless procession who attracted her attention was Massi, whom she soon discovered on his insignificant little horse; but he did not heed her eager signals, for he was talking earnestly to the occupant of the large litter borne by two mules that moved beside him.
Barbara tried to force her way to him, and when she succeeded her cheeks suddenly burned hotly, and a swift dread checked her progress; for from the great window of the litter a wonderfully beautiful little head, covered with fair curls, looked forth, and two little arms were extended toward the violinist.
How gleefully this child's eyes sparkled! how his whole little figure seemed instinct with joy and life while gazing at the horseman at the side of the street who was having a hard struggle with his refractory stallion!
No one knew this boy better than she, for it was her own son, the imperial child she had given to the Emperor. At the same time she thought of her other two boys, and her face again wore a compassionate expression. Not they, but this little prince from fairyland was her first-born, her dearest, her true child.
But where were they taking her John? What had Massi to do with him? Why should the boy be in Philip's train?
There was only one explanation. Her child was being conveyed to Spain.
Had the father heard that she had discovered his abode, and did he wish to remove it from the mother whom he hated?
Was it being taken there merely that it might grow up a Castilian?
Did Charles desire to rear it there to the grandeur and splendour for whose sake she had yielded him?
Yet whatever was in view for John, he would be beyond her reach as soon as the ship to which he was being conveyed weighed anchor.
But she would not, could not do without seeing him! The light of day would be darkened for her if she could no longer hope to gaze at least now and then into his blue eyes and to hear the sound of his clear, childish tones.
"This too! this too!" she hissed, as if frantic; and as the guards forced her out of the procession she followed it farther and farther through the heat and dust, as though attracted by some magnetic power.
Her feet moved involuntarily while her gaze rested on the litter, and she caught a glimpse sometimes of a golden curl, sometimes of a little hand, sometimes of the whole marvellously beautiful fair head.
Not until the train stopped and the lords, ladies, and gentlemen who were escorting Philip turned their horses and left him did she recollect herself. To follow these horsemen, coaches, carts, litters, and pedestrians just as she was would have been madness. Her place was at home with her husband and children. Ten times she repeated this to herself and prepared to turn back; but the force which drew her to her child was stronger than the warning voice of reason.
At any rate, she must speak to Massi and learn where he was taking the boy. He had not yet seen her; but now, as the train stopped, she forced her way to him.
Amazed at meeting her, he returned her greeting, and granted her request to let her speak with him a few minutes,
Greatly perplexed, he swung himself from the saddle, flung his bridle to a groom, and followed her under a mountain-ash tree which stood by the roadside. Barbara had used the time of his dismounting to gaze at her child again, and to impress his image upon her soul. She dared not call to him, for she had sworn to keep the secret, and the boy, who so often repulsed her eager advances, would perhaps have turned from her if she had gone close to him and attempted to kiss him through the window.
This reserve was so hard for her that her eyes were full of tears when Massi approached to ask what she desired. She did not give him time for even a single question, but with frantic haste inquired who the boy in the litter was, and where he intended to take him.
But her friend, usually so obliging, curtly and positively refused to give her any information. Then forming a hasty resolve, Barbara besought him if it were possible to take her with him to his home. Life in her own house had become unendurable. If a nurse was wanted for this child, no matter to whom it might belong, let him give her the place. She would devote herself to the boy day and night, more faithfully than any mother, and ask no wages for it, only she would and must go to Spain.
Massi had listened to her rapid words in warm; nay, he was thoroughly startled. The fire that flashed from Barbara's blue eyes, the anguish which her quivering features expressed, suggested the thought that she had lost her reason, and with sympathizing kindness he entreated her to think of his friend her husband, and her splendid boys at home. But when she persisted that she must go to Spain, he remembered that a bond of love had once united her to his friend Wolf Hartschwert, and in bewilderment he asked if it was the knight who attracted her there.
"If you think so, yes," she exclaimed. "Only I must go to Spain, I must go to Spain!"
Again Massi was seized with the conviction that he was dealing with a madwoman, and as the procession started he only held out his hand to her once more, earnestly entreated her to calm herself, sent his remembrances to her husband and children, and then swung himself into the saddle.
Barbara remained standing by the side of the road as if turned to stone, gazing after the travellers until the dust which they raised concealed them from her gaze. Then she shook her head and slowly returned to Brussels.
Pyramus would come home at noon. Lamperi and the maid might provide the meal and attend to the rest of the household affairs. It was far past twelve, and it would still be a long time before she went home, for she must, yes, must go up to the palace park and to the Dubois house to inquire where her soul must seek her child in future.
Her feet could scarcely support her when she entered the dwelling.
Startled at her appearance, Frau Traut compelled the exhausted woman to sit down. How dishevelled, nay, wild, Barbara, who was usually so well dressed, looked! But she, too, that day did not present her usual dainty appearance, and her eyes and face were reddened by weeping. Barbara instantly noticed this, and it confirmed her conjecture. This woman, too, was bewailing the child which the cruel despot had torn from her.
"He is on the way to Spain!" she cried to the other. "There is nothing to conceal here."
Frau Traut started, and vehemently forbade Barbara to say even one word more about the boy if she did not wish her to show her the door and close it against her forever.
But this was too much for the haughty mother of the Emperor's son. The terrible agitation of her soul forced an utterance, and in wild rebellion she swore to the terrified woman that she would burden herself with the sin of perjury and break the silence to which she had bound herself if she did not confess to her where Massi was taking her boy. She would neither seek him nor strive to get possession of him, but if she could not imagine where and with what people he was living, she would die of longing. She would have allowed herself to be abused and trodden under foot in silence, but she would not suffer herself to be deprived of the last remnant of her maternal rights.
Here Adrian himself entered the room; but Barbara was by no means calmed by his appearance, and with a fresh outburst of wrath shrieked to his face that he might choose whether he would confide to her, the mother, where his master was taking the child or see her rush from here to the market place and call out to the people what she had promised, for the boy's sake, to hold secret.
The valet saw that she would keep her word and, to prevent greater mischief, he informed her that the violinist Massi was commissioned to take her son to Spain to rear him in his wife's native place until his Majesty should alter his plans concerning him.
This news produced a great change in the tortured mother. With affectionate, repentant courtesy, she thanked the Dubois couple and, when Frau Traut saw that she was trying to rearrange her hair and dress, she helped her, and in doing so one woman confessed to the other what she had lost in the child.
Adrian's yielding had pleased Barbara. Besides, during the years of her intercourse with Massi she had heard many things about his residence--nay, every member of his household--and therefore she could now form a picture of his future life.
So she had grown quieter, though by no means perfectly calm.
Her husband, who must have already returned from his journey, and had not found her at home, would scarcely receive her pleasantly, but she cared little for that if only he had not been anxious about her, and in his joy at seeing her again did not clasp her tenderly in his arms. That would have been unbearable to-day. She would have liked it best if Massi would really have taken her with him as her child's nurse to Leganes, his residence. Thereby she would have reached the place where she thought she belonged--by the side of the child, in whom she beheld everything that still rendered her life worth living.
Nevertheless, on her way home she thought with maternal anxiety of her two boys; but the nearer she approached the unassuming quarter of the city where she lived the more vividly she felt that she did not belong there, but in the part of Brussels whence she came.
Her own home was far more richly and prettily furnished than her old one in Red Cock Street, but it did not yet satisfy her desires, and she did not feel content in it. To-day a slight feeling of aversion even came over her as she thought of it.
Perhaps the best plan would have been for her to put an end to this misery, and, instead of returning, make a pilgrimage to Compostella in Spain, and while doing so try to find her John in Leganes. But even while yielding to these thoughts Barbara felt how sinful they were. Did not her little house look attractive and pretty? It was certainly the prettiest and neatest in the neighbourhood, and as she drew nearer pleasure at the thought of seeing her children again awoke. An unkind reception from her husband would have been painful, after all.
But she was to receive no greeting at all from him. Pyramus had been detained on the way. Barbara felt this as a friendly dispensation of Providence. But something else spoiled her return home. Conrad, her oldest boy, two-year-old Conrad, who was already walking about, beginning to prattle prettily, and who could show the affection of his little heart with such coaxing tenderness, came toward her crying, and when she took him up rested his little burning head against her cheek.
The little fellow's forehead and throat were aching.
Some illness was coming on.
The child himself asked to be put in his little bed, the physician was summoned, and the next morning the scarlet fever broke out.
When the father returned, the youngest chill had also been attacked by the same fell disease, and now a time came when Barbara, during many an anxious hour of the night, forgot that in distant Spain she possessed another child for whose sake she had been ready to rob these two dear little creatures, who so greatly needed her, of their mother. This purpose weighed upon her conscience like the heaviest of sins while she was fighting against Death, which seemed to be already stretching his hand toward the oldest boy.
When one evening the physician expressed the fear that the child would not survive the approaching night, she prayed with passionate fervour for his preservation, and meanwhile it seemed as though a secret voice cried: "Vow to the gracious Virgin not to give the Emperor's son a higher place in your heart than the children of the man to whom a holy sacrament unites you! Then you will first make yourself worthy of the dear imperilled life in yonder little bed."
Thrice, four times, and oftener still, Barbara raised her hands to utter this vow, but ere she did so she said to herself that never, never could she wholly fulfil it, and, to save herself from a fresh sin, she did not make it.
But with what anxiety she now gazed at the glowing face of the fevered boy whenever the warning voice again rose!
At midnight the little sufferer's eyes seemed to her to shine with a glassy look, and when, pleading for help, he raised them to her, her heart melted, and in fervent, silent prayer she cried to the Queen of Heaven, "Spare me this child, make it well, and I will not think of the Emperor's son more frequently nor, if I can compass it, with warmer love than this clear creature and his little brother in the cradle."
Scarcely had these words died on her lips than she again felt that she had promised more than she had the power to perform. Yet she repeated the vow several times.
During the whole terrible night her husband stood beside her, obeying every sign, eagerly and skilfully helping in many ways; and when in the morning the doctor appeared she was firmly convinced that her vow had saved the sick boy's life. The crisis was over.
Henceforth, whenever the yearning for the distant John seized upon her with special power, she thought of that night, and loaded the little sons near her with tokens of the tenderest love.
On that morning of commencing convalescence her husband's grateful kiss pleased her.
True, during the time that followed, Pyramus succeeded no better than before in warming his wife's cold heart, but Barbara omitted many things which had formerly clouded his happiness.
The Emperor Charles had again gone to foreign countries, and therefore festivals and shows no longer attracted her. She rarely allowed herself a visit to Frau Dubois, but, above all, she talked with her boys and about them like every other mother. It even seemed to Pyramus as though her old affection for the Emperor Charles was wholly dead; for when, in November of the following year, agitated to the very depths of his being, he brought her the tidings that the Emperor had been surprised and almost captured at Innsbruck by Duke Maurice of Saxony, who owed him the Elector's hat, and had only escaped the misfortune by a hurried flight to Carinthia, he merely saw a smile, which he did not know how to interpret, on her lips. But little as Barbara said about this event, her mind was often occupied with it.
In the first place, it recalled to her memory the dance under the lindens at Prebrunn.
Did it not seem as if her ardent royal partner of those days had become her avenger?
Yet it grieved her that the man whose greatness and power it had grown a necessity for her to admire had suffered so deep a humiliation and, as at the time of the May festival under the Ratisbon lindens, the sympathy of her heart belonged to him to whom she had apparently preferred the treacherous Saxon duke.
The treaty of Passau, which soon followed his flight, was to impose upon the monarch things scarcely less hard to bear; for it compelled him to allow the Protestants in Germany the free exercise of their religion, and to release his prisoners, the Elector John Frederick of Saxony and the Landgrave Philip of Hesse.
Whatever befell the sovereign she brought into connection with herself. Charles's motto had now become unattainable for him, as since her loss of voice it had been for her. Her heart bled unseen, and his misfortune inflicted new wounds upon it. How he, toward whom the whole world looked, and whose sensitive soul endured with so much difficulty the slightest transgression of his will and his inclination, would recover from the destruction of the most earnest, nay, the most sacred aspirations of a whole life, was utterly incomprehensible to her. To restore the unity of religion had been as warm a desire of his heart as the cultivation of singing had been cherished by hers, and the treaty of Passau ceded to the millions of German Protestants the right to remain separated from the Catholic Church. This must utterly cloud, darken, poison his already joyless existence. Spite of the wrong he had done her, how gladly, had she not been lost to art, she would now have tried upon him its elevating, consoling power!
From her old confessor, her husband, and others she learned that Charles scarcely paid any further heed to the political affairs of the German nation, which had once been so important to him; and with intense indignation she heard the fellow-countrymen whom her husband brought to the house declare that, in her German native land, Charles was now as bitterly hated as he had formerly been loved and reverenced.
The imperial crown would lapse to his brother; Ferdinand's son, Maximilian, now Charles's son-in-law, was destined to succeed his father, while the Infant Philip must in future be content with the sovereignty of Spain, the Netherlands, Charles's Italian possessions, and the New World.
For years Barbara had believed that she hated him, but now, when the bitterest envy could have desired nothing more cruel, with all the warmth of her passionate heart she made his suffering her own, and it filled her with shame and resentment against herself that she, too, had more than once desired to see her own downfall revenged on him.
Her soul was again drawn toward the sorely punished man more strongly than she would have deemed possible a short time before and, after his return to Brussels, she gazed with an aching heart at the ashen-gray face of the sufferer, marked by lines of deep sorrow.
Now he really did resemble a broken old man. Barbara rarely mingled with the people, but she sometimes went with her husband and several acquaintances outside the gate, or heard from the few intimate friends whom she had made, the neighbours, and the peddlers who came to her house, with what cruel harshness the heretics were treated.
When the monarch, it was often said, was no longer the Charles to whom the provinces owed great benefits and who had won many hearts, but his Spanish son, Philip, the chains would be broken, and this shameful bloodshed would be stopped; but her husband declared such predictions idle boasting, and Barbara willingly believed him because she wished that he might be right.
In the officer's eyes all heretics deserved death, and he agreed with Barbara that the Emperor Charles's wisdom took the right course in all cases.
His son Philip was obedient to his father, and would certainly continue to wield the sceptre according to his wishes.
The breath of liberty, which was beginning to stir faintly in the provinces through which he so often travelled, could not escape Pyramus's notice, but he saw in it only the mutinous efforts of shameless rebels and misguided men, who deserved punishment. The quiet seclusion in which Barbara lived rendered it easy to win her over to her husband's view of this noble movement; besides, it was directed against the unhappy man whom she would willingly have seen spared any fresh anxiety, and who had proved thousands of times how much he preferred the Netherlands to any other of his numerous kingdoms.
Hitherto Barbara had troubled herself very little about political affairs, and her interest in them died completely when a visitor called who threw them, as well as everything else, wholly into the shade.