Volume 1.
Chapter IV.
 

In spite of the darkness and the zigzag turns of the stairs, Wolf was so familiar with every corner of the old house that he did not even need to grope his way with his hand.

He found the door of the Blomberg lodgings open. Putting down in the anteroom whatever might be in his way while greeting Barbara, and carrying the roll of velvet under his arm and a little box in his pocket, he entered the chamber which the old man called his artist workshop. It was in total darkness, but through the narrow open door in the middle of the left wall one could see what was going on in Barbara's little bow-windowed room. This was quite brightly lighted, for she was ironing and crimping ruffs for the neck, small lace handkerchiefs, and cuffs.

The light required for this purpose was diffused by a couple of tallow candles and also by the coals which heated the irons.

As she bent over the glow, it shone into her beautiful face and upon her magnificent fair hair, which rippled in luxuriant confusion about her round head or fell in thick waves to her hips. The red kerchief which had confined it was lying on the floor. Another had slipped from her neck and was hanging on the corner of the ironing board. Her stockings had lost their fastenings and slipped down to her feet, revealing limbs whose whiteness and beauty of form vied with the round arms which, after holding the iron near her hot cheeks, she moved with eager diligence.

The image of a vivacious, early developed child had impressed itself upon Wolf's mind. Now he stood before a maiden in the full bloom of her charms, whose superb symmetry of figure surprised and stirred him to the depths of his nature.

In spite of her immature youth, he had cherished her in his inmost heart. youth, she confronted him as an entirely new and doubly desirable creature. The quiet longing which had mastered him was transformed into passionate yearning, but he restrained it by exerting all the strength of will peculiar to him, for a voice within cried out that he was too insignificant for this marvellous maiden.

But when she dipped the tips of her fingers into the dainty little bowl, which he had once given her for a birthday present, sprinkled the linen with water, and meanwhile sang in fresh, clear notes the 'ut, re, me, fa, sol, la' of Perissone Cambio's singing lesson, new wonder seized him. What compass, what power, what melting sweetness the childish voice against whose shrillness his foster-father and he himself had zealously struggled now possessed! Neither songstress nor member of the boy choir whom he had heard in Italy or the Netherlands could boast of such bell-like purity of tone! He was a connoisseur, and yet it seemed as though every tone which he heard had received the most thorough cultivation.

Who in Ratisbon could have been her teacher? To whom did she owe this masterly training? As if by a miracle, he knew not whether from looking or listening, he found a combination of notes which he had long been seeking for the motet on which he was working. When he had registered it, and she sang a few passages from it, what an exquisite delight awaited him! But what should he do now? Ought he to surprise her in this way? It would certainly have been proper to be first announced by her father; but he could not bring himself even to stir a foot. Beads of perspiration stood upon his brow. Panting for breath, he seized his handkerchief to wipe it, and in doing so the roll of velvet which he had held under his arm fell on the floor.

Wolf stooped, and, ere he had straightened himself again, he heard Barbara call in a questioning tone, "Father?" and saw her put down the iron and stand listening.

Then, willing or not, he was obliged to announce his presence, and, with a timid "It is I, Wolf," he approached the little bow-windowed room and hesitatingly crossed the threshold.

"Wolf, my tame Wolf," she repeated gaily, without being in the least concerned about the condition of her dress. "I knew that we should soon meet again, for, just think of it! I dreamed of you last night. I was entering a golden coach. It was very high, so I put my foot on your hand, and you lifted me in."

Then, without the least embarrassment, she held out her right hand, but slapped his fingers smartly when he passionately endeavoured to raise it to his lips.

Yet the blow was not unkindly meant, for even while he drew back she voluntarily clasped both his hands, scrutinized him intently from head to foot, and said calmly:

"Welcome to the old home, Sir Knight!" Then, laughing gaily, she added: "Why, such a thing is unprecedented! Not a feature, not a look is unlike what it used to be! And yet you've been roaming five years in foreign lands! Changes take place--only look at me!--changes take place more swiftly here in Ratisbon. How you stare at me! I thought so! Out with it! Hasn't the feather-head of those days become quite a charming young lady?"

Now Wolf would gladly have made as many flattering speeches as she could desire, but his tongue refused to obey him. The new meeting was too unlike his expectation. The sight of the self-conscious woman who, in her wonderful beauty, stood leaning with folded arms on the ironing-table stirred his heart and senses too strongly.

Standing motionless, he strove for words, while his eyes revealed plainly enough the passionate rapture which agitated his soul. Barbara perceived what was passing in his thoughts, and also noticed how her dress had become disarranged during her work.

Flushing slightly, she pursed up her lips as if to whistle, and with her head thrust forward she blew into the air in his direction. Then, shaking her finger at him, she hastily sat down on the chest beside the fireplace, wound the kerchief which had fallen off closer around her neck, and, without the least embarrassment, pulled up her stockings.

"What does it matter!" she cried with a slight shrug of the shoulders. "How often we two have waded together in water above our knees, like the storks! And yet such a thing turns the head of a youth who has returned from foreign lands a made man, and closes his bearded lips! Have you given me even a single honest word of welcome? That's the way with all of you! And you? If you stand there already like a dumb sign-post, how will it be when I thoroughly turn your head like all the rest with my singing?"

"I've heard you already!" he answered quickly; "magical, bewildering, magnificent! Who in the world wrought this miracle with your voice?"

"There we have it!" she cried, laughing merrily and clapping her hands. "To make you speak, one need only allude distantly to music. That, too, has remained unchanged, and I am glad, for I have much to ask you in relation to it. I can learn many things from you still. But what have you there in your hand? Is it anything pretty from Brabant?" This question flowed from her lips with coaxing tenderness, and she passed her soft hand swiftly over his cheek.

How happy it made him!

Hitherto he had been the receiver--nay, an unfair taker--but now he was to become the giver and she would be pleased with his present.

As if relieved from a nightmare, he now told her that he had gone from Rome, through the Papal Legate Contarini, whom he had accompanied to Italy as a secretary skilled in German and music--to the imperial court, where he now enjoyed the special favour of the Regent of the Netherlands, the widowed Queen of Hungary; that the royal lady, the sister of the Emperor Charles, had chosen him to be director of her lessons in singing, and also permitted him to write German letters for her; and what assistance worthy of all gratitude he had enjoyed through the director of the imperial musicians, Gombert, the composer and leader of the royal orchestra, and his colleague Appenzelder, who directed the Queen's boy choir.

At the mention of these names, Barbara listened intently. She had sung several of Gombert's compositions, and was familiar with one of Appenzelder's works.

When she learned that both must have arrived in Ratisbon several hours before, she anxiously asked Wolf if he would venture to make her acquainted with these great masters.

Wolf assented with joyous eagerness, while Barbara's cheeks crimsoned with pleasure at so valuable a promise.

Yet this subject speedily came to a close, for while talking Wolf had ripped the linen cover in which the roll of velvet was sewed, and, as soon as he unfolded the rich wine-coloured material, Barbara forgot everything else, and burst into loud exclamations of pleasure and admiration. Then, when Wolf hastened out and with hurrying fingers opened the little package he had brought and gave her the costly fur which was to serve as trimming for the velvet jacket, she again laughed gleefully, and, ere Wolf was aware of it, she had thrown her arms around his neck and kissed him on both cheeks.

He submitted as if dazed, and did not even regain his senses sufficiently to profit by what she had granted him with such unexpected liberality. Nor did she allow him to speak as she loosed her arms from his neck, for, with a bewitching light in her large, blue eyes, fairly overflowing with grateful tenderness, she cried:

"You dear, dear, kind little Wolf! To think that you should have remembered me so generously! And how rich you must be! If I had become so before you, I should have given myself a dress exactly like this. Now it's mine, just as though it had dropped from the sky. Wine-coloured Flanders velvet, with a border of dark-brown marten fur! I'll parade in it like the Duchess of Bavaria or rich Frau Fugger. Holy Virgin! if that isn't becoming to my golden hair! Doesn't it just suit me, you little Wolf and great spendthrift? And when I wear it at the dance in the New Scale or sing in it at the Convivium musicum, my Woller cousins and the Thun girl will turn yellow with envy."

Wolf had only half listened to this outburst of delight, for he had reserved until the last his best offering--a sky-blue turquoise breastpin set with small diamonds. It brought him enthusiastic thanks, and Barbara even allowed him to fasten the magnificent ornament with his own fingers, which moved slowly and clumsily enough.

Then she hurried into her chamber to bring the hand-mirror, and when in an instant she returned and, at her bidding, he held the shining glass before her, she patted his cheeks with their thin, fair, pointed beard, and called him her faithful little Wolf, her clear, stupid pedant and Satan in person, who would fill her mind with vanity.

Finally, she laid the piece of velvet over the back of a chair, let it fall down to the floor, and threw the bands of fur upon it. Every graver word, every attempt to tell her what he expected from her, the girl cut short with expressions of gratitude and pleasure until her father returned from the suffering Ursel.

Then, radiant with joy, she showed the old man her new treasures, and the father's admiration and expressions of gratitude were not far behind the daughter's.

It seemed as though Fate had blessed the modest rooms in Red Cock Street with its most precious treasures.

It might be either Wolf's return, the hopes for his daughter which were associated with it in the crippled old warrior's heart, or the unexpected costly gifts, to which Wolf had added for his old friend a Netherland drinking vessel in the form of a silver ship, which had moved the old gentleman so deeply, but at any rate he allowed himself to be tempted into an act of extravagance, and, in an outburst of good spirits which he had not felt for a long time, he promised Wolf to fetch from the cellar one of the jugs of wine which he kept there for his daughter's wedding.

"Over this liquid we will open our hearts freely to each other, my boy," he said. "The night is still long, and even at the Emperor's court there is nothing better to be tasted. My dead mother used to say that there are always more good things in a poor family which was once rich than in a rich one which was formerly poor."