Barbara Blomberg by Georg Ebers
The winter came and passed. Instead of leaving the Netherlands, the Emperor Charles remained nearly a year in Brussels. He lived in a modest house in Lion Street and, although he had resigned the sovereignty, nothing was done in the domain of politics to which he had not given his assent.
Barbara, more domestic than ever before, was leading a dream life, in which she dwelt more with her beloved dead and her child in Spain than with her family at home. She thought of the boy's father sometimes with bitter resentment, sometimes with quiet pity. Outward circumstances rendered it easier for her to conceal these feelings, for Pyramus attributed the melancholy mood which sometimes overpowered her to grief for her father.
Her husband left the settlement of the business connected with her inheritance solely to her. There were many letters to be written and, as she had become unfamiliar with this art, Hannibal faithfully aided her.
Dr. Hiltner, of Ratisbon, to whom, in spite of his heretical belief, she intrusted the legal business of the estate, acted wisely and promptly in her behalf. Thus the sale of the house which she had purchased for the dead man, and the disposal of her father's share in the Blomberg business, brought her far more money than she had expected.
It seemed as though Fate desired to compensate her by outward prosperity for the secret sorrow which, in spite of her husband's affectionate solicitude and the thriving growth of her two boys, she could not shake off.
In one respect she regarded the money which this winter brought her as a genuine blessing, for it seemed to invite her to go to Ems and do all in her power for the restoration of her voice. The hoarseness was now barely perceptible in her speech, and Dr. Mathys, whom she visited in April, encouraged her, and told her of really marvellous cures wrought by the famous old springs.
When May came and the trees and shrubs in leafy Brussels adorned themselves with new buds, she could not help thinking more frequently, as usual in this month, of her wasted love and of the man for whom it had bloomed and who had destroyed it. So she liked to pass through Lion Street in her walks, for it led her by his house. She might easily meet him again there, and she longed to see his face once more before the departure for Spain, which would remove him from her sight forever.
And behold! One sunny noon he was borne toward her in a litter. She stopped as though spellbound, bowing profoundly; her glance as he passed met his, and he waved his emaciated hand--yes, she was not mistaken--he waved it to her.
For an instant it seemed as if a crimson rose had bloomed in the midst of winter snows. She had been as sure that he had not forgotten her as that she herself had not ceased to think of him.
Now her confidence was, as it were, confirmed by letter and seal, and this made her happy.
The man in the litter had been only the wreck of the Charles whom she loved; even the fiery light in his eyes, though not extinguished, had appeared subdued and veiled. Other women would probably have thought him repulsively plain, but what did she care for his looks? Each of them was still a part of the other, for her image lived in his soul, as his dwelt in hers.
Barbara did not take as long a walk as usual; but when she was again approaching the house occupied by the abdicated sovereign, Dr. Mathys came toward her. The expression of his broad, dignified face suited the bright May morning; nay, she imagined that his step was lighter and less sedate than usual.
During the whole decade which they had known each other he had never flattered her, but to-day, after the first greeting, he began his conversation with the question:
"Do you know, Frau Barbara, that you were never more beautiful and charming than just at this very time? Perhaps it is the mourning which is so becoming to your pink-and-white complexion and the somewhat subdued lustre of your golden hair. But why do I feed your vanity with such speeches? Because I think that our gracious lord, who for many a long day has not bestowed even the least side glance upon any of your bewitching sex, noticed the same thing. And now you will presently be obliged to admit that the old messenger of bad news in Ratisbon, whom you requited so ill for his unpleasant errand, can also bring good tidings; for the Emperor Charles--in spite of the abdication, he will always be that until he, too, succumbs to the power which makes us all equal--his Majesty sends you his greetings, and the message that he desires to do what he can to restore to you the art in which you attained such rare mastery. He places at your disposal--this time, at least, he was not economical--a sum which will take you to the healing springs four or five times, nay, oftener still."
Barbara had listened thus far, speechless with joyful surprise. If it was Charles to whom she owed her recovery, the gift of song which it restored would possess tenfold value for her, if that was conceivable. She was already beginning to charge the leech to be the bearer of her gratitude and joy, but he did not let her finish, and went on to mention the condition which his Majesty attached to this gift.
Barbara must never mention it to any one, and must promise the physician to refrain from all attempts to thank him either in person or by letter in short, to avoid approaching him in any way.
The old physician had communicated this stipulation--which his royal patient had strictly associated with the gift--to Barbara in the emphatic manner peculiar to him, but she had listened, at first in surprise, then with increasing indignation. The donation which, as a token of remembrance and kind feeling, had just rendered her so happy, now appeared like mere alms. Nay, the gift would make her inferior to the poorest beggar, for who forbids the mendicant to utter his "May God reward you"?
Charles kept her aloof as if she were plague-stricken. Perhaps it was because he feared that if he saw her once he might desire a second and a third meeting. But no matter. She would accept no aid at the cost of so severe an offence to her pride, least of all when it came from the man who had already wounded her soul often and painfully enough.
The startled physician perceived what was passing in her mind, and when, not passionately as in her youth, but with cool composure, she requested Dr. Mathys to tell his master that it would be as impossible for her to accept a gift for which she could not express her thanks as to give alms without wishing well to the recipient, the leech eagerly endeavoured to persuade her to use the sum bestowed according to the donor's wish. But Barbara firmly persisted in her refusal, and when she parted from the old man he could not be angry with her, for, as in the garden of the little Prebrunn castle, he could not help saying to himself that the wrong was not wholly on the side of the independent young woman.
The result in this case was the usual one when the weaker party succeeds in maintaining itself against the superior power of the stronger. Barbara set out on her way home with her head proudly erect, but she soon asked herself whether this victory was not too dearly purchased. In a few months John was to meet his father, and then might there not be cause to fear that the opposition which she, his mother, had offered to the Emperor, in order to escape an offence to her own pride, would prove an injury to the son? She stopped, hesitating; but after a brief period of reflection, she continued her walk. What she had done might vex the monarch, but it must rather enhance than lower her value in his eyes, and everything depended upon that. Charles would open the path to high honours and royal splendour to the son of a haughty mother rather than to the child of a narrow-minded woman, who would receive a gift without being suffered to express her thanks.
She had done right, and rejoiced that this time she had obeyed the voice of her imperious soul. She no longer desired to meet again the man whom she loved. Her wish to look into his eyes once more before his death or hers was fulfilled, and his glance, which had certainly been the last that he could give her, had expressed the kind feeling and forgiveness for which she had secretly yearned. So what he had done was surely not intended to wound her. She understood his desire to obtain peace of mind and his fear of entering into communication with her again, and from this time it once more became a necessity to her to include him in her prayers.
She left her home with a lighter heart, better satisfied with herself than she had been for years. The Emperor Charles could not help thinking of her now as she desired. The love which she had never wholly withdrawn was again his, and the feeling of belonging to him exalted her pride and brightened her clouded soul.
Frau Lamperi accompanied her, and marvelled at her mistress's happy mood. Besides, the Ems waters and the excellent advice of the physician to whose care she intrusted herself exerted a beneficial influence upon her ailment.
Her mourning garb prevented her from taking any part in the gay life of the watering-place, but she found pleasure in watching it.
When she returned to Brussels, Pyramus thought she looked as young as in her girlhood, and every wish that her husband fancied he could read in her eyes was gratified with loving eagerness.
But the preparations for war against France allowed him only a short time to remain in Brussels, and during his absence Barbara enjoyed unlimited freedom.
The Emperor had sailed for Spain, Queen Mary had retired from the regency, and Duke Emanuel Philibert of Savoy had taken it in her place. King Philip remained in the Netherlands, and it was said in his praise that he showed the boundless arrogance characteristic of him in a less offensive way, and had acquired more affable manners.
Barbara often longed to seek an audience with him.
But what would it avail?
Philip was perhaps the very person who would be glad to have his half-brother disappear in a monastery.
Yet the yearning to hear some news of her child would not be silenced. Of the distant Emperor, who was said to be near his end, and spent his days and sleepless nights in the monastery of San Yuste in prayer and severe mortification, as the most pious of monks, she thought with sympathizing affection.
The following year Barbara went to Ems again, this time no longer in mourning robes, but scarcely less magnificently attired than many a Rhenish noble's wife, who was also seeking health and amusement there. The property she had inherited, and which the conscientious Pyramus would not touch, and Frau Lamperi's skilful fingers had accomplished this. Though the materials which she selected were not the most costly, her aristocratic bearing made them appear valuable. She still possessed the pearl necklace and other ornaments of more prosperous days, and on festal occasions they did not remain in a chest.
She by no means lacked notice, partly on her own account, partly in consequence of the conversations with which Granvelle, who visited the springs for a short time, honoured her, while he kept entirely aloof from all the other guests. This favour on the part of so famous and powerful a statesman induced many of the most aristocratic ladies and nobles to seek her, and many who had been attracted solely by curiosity were charmed with the entertaining sprightliness of the beautiful woman, and admitted her to their very exclusive circle.
This time the springs proved still more beneficial than when she first used them, and the hope of soon being able to exercise her beloved art again gained new and solid foundation.
This occupied a large share of her thoughts, but a still greater one was filled with the yearning for her John, of whom, in spite of many inquiries, she could hear nothing.
When, in her quiet home life, the monotony of her days oppressed her more heavily, she often remembered Ems, and the pleasures and attention which the next summer there would bring tier. Now that the great, passionate emotions which had been devoted to others were at rest, she began to think more of her own person. It seemed desirable to show herself to advantage, and though she longed for her recovery above all for the sake of her art and the pleasure which its exercise afforded her, she was already secretly thinking how she could use it to restore and obtain satisfaction for her paralyzed self-esteem.
In consequence of the victory of St. Quentin, Brussels was filled with festal joy; but Barbara took very little part in the numerous festivities which followed one another, and again went to Ems.
When she returned, much benefited, her first visit was to the Dubois house in the park. Unfortunately, it was futile; but when, a few weeks before the battle of Gravelines, she repeated it for the second time, she met the couple, now advancing in years, out of doors, and saw that some good fortune had come to them.
Usually she had always been received here with a certain shade of embarrassment, but to-day her coming seemed to please Herr Adrian. From the great arm-chair, which he now never left, he held out his hand to her, and Frau Traut's merry eyes looked a glad welcome.
After the first greetings, they eagerly expressed their joyful amazement at the clear tones of her voice. Then Frau Dubois exchanged a significant glance with her husband, and now Barbara learned that a letter had arrived from San Yuste that very morning, which contained little except pleasant news of his Majesty and John.
While speaking, Adrian drew from his doublet the precious missive, showed it to the young wife as cautiously as a fragile ornament which we are reluctant to let pass out of our hands, and said in an agitated voice:
"The writer is no less a personage than Dona Magdalena de Ulloa. May Heaven reward her for it!"
Barbara gazed beseechingly into his wrinkled face, and from the inmost depths of her heart rose the cry: "Oh, let me see it, for I--you know it--I am his mother!"
"So she is," said the old man in a tone of assent, nodded his long head, whose hair was now snow-white, and glanced questioningly at his wife. The answer was an assent.
Adrian clasped his chin--during the period of his service he had always worn it smooth-shaven, but the white stubble of a full beard was now growing on it--in his emaciated hand, and asked Barbara if she understood Spanish.
Her knowledge of it was very slight; but Frau Traut, who, like her husband, had mastered it during the long years of intercourse with the Castilian court, now undertook to put the contents of the letter into German.
This was not difficult, for she had already been obliged to read it aloud three times to Adrian, who could no longer decipher written characters.
The address was not omitted; it had pleased them both. It ran as follows:
"To his Majesty's good and faithful servant, Adrian Dubois, from his affectionate friend of former days, Dona Magdalena de Ulloa, wife of Don Luis Mendez Quijada, Lady of Villagarcia."
Frau Trout read these noble names aloud to Barbara proudly, as if they were her own; but before she went on Adrian interrupted--
"As to friendship, you may think, Frau Barbara, that Dona Magdalena is showing me far too much honour in using those words; but I would still give my right hand for that lovely creature with her kindly soul. When, just after Don Luis married her, his Majesty took her young husband away, she entreated me most earnestly to look after him, and I could sometimes be of assistance. To be sure, we broke many a piece of bread together in war and peace in the same service. Ah, Frau Barbara! I am far better off here than I deserve to be; but sometimes my heart is ready to break when I think of my Emperor, and that I must leave the care of him to others."
"But it is hard enough for the major-domo and his Majesty to do without you," said Frau Traut importantly. "Don Luis, the letter says, would gladly have written with his own hand, but he had not a single leisure moment; for, since Adrian had gone, he was obliged to be at hand to serve his Majesty by day as well as by night. My husband's successor, Bodart, whom he trained for the service, is skilful and makes every effort, but he can not replace Adrian to his suffering master."
Then Frau Traut looked more closely at the letter, and began to translate its contents.
"Of course," she began, "San Yuste is not like Brussels; but if they think there that his Majesty lives like a monk and submits to the rules of the monastery, they are misinformed."
Here she lowered the sheet; but Barbara's cheeks were glowing with impatient interest, and she exclaimed with urgent warmth: "Oh, please, read on! But where--it is probably in the letter--where is our child?"
"One thing after the other, as the letter communicates it," replied the translator in a reproving tone; but her husband nodded soothingly to Barbara, and said:
"Only this first: Our John is near his father, and there is something especially good about him toward the end. Dona Magdalena is a true Castilian--first the King, then her husband, then the others according to their rank. It is different here and in your country. Patience and you, Frau Barbara, have been bad friends ever since I knew you."
Barbara's sorrowful smile confirmed this statement, and when Frau Traut at last went on, the tone of her voice betrayed how little she liked interruptions just now.
"You were informed of his Majesty's safe landing at Quiposcoa. It was pitiful to see how the people in his train who did not belong to the number of those who were to accompany him to Jarandilla behaved at the parting from their beloved master. The body-guards flung their halberds on the pavement, and there were plenty of tears and lamentations. On St. Blasius's day--[February 3, 1557]--his Majesty at last entered San Yuste. Don Luis, as you know, had gone before to get the house in readiness for his master. One could scarcely imagine a pleasanter spot, for there is no greener valley than that of San Yuste in the whole range of the Carpetano Mountains, nay, perhaps in all Spain. It is difficult to describe how everything is growing and blossoming here now, in the month of May. The little garden of the house is well kept and full of beautiful orange trees. While blossoming, they exhale the most exquisite perfume, and his Majesty enjoys the delicious fragrance which the wind bears to him.
"In your noisy Brussels it is hard to imagine how quiet it can be here, dear Senor Adrian. Nothing is to be heard save the carol of a bird, the rippling of a clear stream flowing swiftly through the valley, and at intervals the distinct notes of the little bells and cymbals upon the clocks which his Majesty brought with him. Even their ticking is often audible. At certain hours the ringing of the monastery bells blends solemnly and softly with the silence. The Hieronymites in the monastery are pious monks. His Majesty sometimes listens to their choir. Its music is very fine since Sir Wolf Hartschwert, whom you also know, has taken charge of it.
"From all this, you will perceive that the master, with whom your faithful soul doubtless often dwells, is supplied--restricted by no monastic discipline--with whatever suits his taste. He frequently devotes himself for hours to religious exercises, and also retires to the black-draped room with the coffin, which you know; but the old industry and secular cares pursued him here. Mounted messengers come and go continually, but they are not allowed to remain near the house.
"Even in Brussels he can scarcely have written and answered more letters than he does here.
"If only the body would prosper as well as the mind. That is as active and alert as ever. But the body--the body! O Senor Adrian! I fear that the end is not far distant, although our royal sufferer looks better than at his arrival.
"'The eating!' Dr. Mathys complains; but you know well enough how that is.
"Three days have passed since I began this letter. You are aware of most of what concerns your beloved master; now for my husband.
"He has never had service so arduous as here, for the grand prior, Don Luis de Avila, is nothing to his Majesty except a dear old brother in arms, with whom he is fond of talking about the past. Everything rests on my poor husband. He said, a short time ago, that he would no longer endure playing the host to everybody who comes to San Yuste, being agent for everybody in Spain who desires anything from the Emperor Charles, and at the same time constantly caring for the person of the sick sovereign. This life, he thinks, may suit a person who has taken leave of his property and the world, but he still clings to both, and especially to me, the poor wife who has been parted from him so long. He has served the Emperor twenty-five years, and during this time he lost all his brothers in the war. The estates came to him, and how long they have already been deprived of the master's eye!
"Don Luis told the Emperor Charles all this, yet he refused him leave of absence to go to Villagarcia. Instead, I was obliged to move near my husband, and am now living with Geronimo, in the wretched village of Cuacos, which is easily reached from San Yuste. There I finally arrived with the boy whom the Virgin, in her inexhaustible mercy, gave to me, a poor, childless woman, to make me happy, although on his account I wronged my lord and husband by a sinful suspicion.
"Here I must begin my letter for the third time.
"It was fortunate that Geronimo left Massi and Leganes, for he was allowed to grow up there like a little savage. Before learning to obey, he was permitted to command.--No one opposed him, so in Villagarcia the first thing necessary was to accustom him to discipline, obedience, and the manners of the nobles. The trouble was not great, and how richly the boy rewarded it! He is now in his twelfth year, and how your good wife would stare, Adrian, if she could see her nursling again! Do not suppose that it is blind partiality when I say that few handsomer lads could be found in all King Philip's dominions. His figure is slender and only slightly above middle height; but how erect and noble is his bearing, how symmetrically his pliant form is developing! His delicately cut features and large blue eyes glow with the bold courage which fills his soul, and which he displays in riding, hunting, and fencing. He still has his wealth of fair, waving locks. Among a thousand other boys no one will overlook him. Don Luis, too, admits that he was born to dignity and honour. Every chivalrous and royal virtue is in his blood. Even his mother could not sully it."
Here Frau Traut paused to look at Barbara, who had listened, panting for breath.
She was sorry that she had not omitted the last sentence, but in the zeal of translating it had unconsciously escaped her lips, and, as she found no softening word, she went on:
"Geronimo has become a dear child to me. He thinks that I am his own mother, and clings to me with filial affection. To lead such a son to this august father was the greatest joy that Heaven has bestowed upon me.
"Dressed as my page, he rode with me to Jarandilla to meet his Majesty. He was to present to the imperial master, of whose near relationship he had no idea, a little basket filled with beautiful oranges from our garden in Villagarcia, which you know.
"The young horseman, who understands how to wheel his steed, swung himself from the saddle close beside his Majesty, bent the knee with noble grace, raised his little plumed hat, and, pressing his left hand upon his heart, presented the little gift to his sovereign and master. As the weather was mild, the latter sat in an open sedan chair, and when he saw Geronimo he scanned him with the keen glance of the ruler, and then looked inquiringly at my husband. Don Luis nodded the answer which he desired to receive, and a bright smile flitted over his emaciated, corpselike features. Then he accepted the oranges, stroked his son's curls, addressed a few questions to him, which he answered modestly but aptly, and then called to my husband, 'This boy must remain near me.'
"Oh, what pleasure all this gave me! Now Geronimo goes in and out of his Majesty's apartments freely, and my reason for writing this letter is an incident I happened to witness, and which will please you, Adrian, and your good wife, as it filled my heart with fervent gratitude. So listen: When the Emperor meets Geronimo in the presence of strangers, he seems to take neither more nor less notice of him than of the other pages who come to San Yuste. Only he often calls him, asks a question, or gives him some trivial commission. Others would scarcely notice it, but I see the brightening of his eyes as he does so.
"Recently I looked through the open door which leads from his Majesty's work-room into the garden, and what did the Virgin permit me to behold?--Geronimo, who was alone with the Emperor, picked up a sheet of paper that had fluttered to the ground and handed it to him. Then the Emperor Charles suddenly raised his poor hands oh, how they are disfigured by the gout!--laid them on the boy's temples, drew his head nearer, and kissed his brow and eyes! Charles V, the fugitive from the world, the man crushed by sorrow and disappointment, did that! This kiss--Don Luis believes it also--sealed the son's acceptance into his father's heart."
Here Frau Traut let the sheet fall. Her voice had failed during the last sentences; now she exclaimed amid her tears, "The Emperor's kiss!" and her husband, no less deeply stirred by emotion, cried, "The Emperor Charles--no one knows as well as I what that means--the Emperor Charles, whose heart compels him to kiss some one."
Here Barbara rose with flushed cheeks, panting for breath.
She felt as if she must cry aloud to these good people: "What do you know about my lover's kiss? I, I alone, not you, you poor, good man, could tell you. Insignificant and wretched as I may be, no woman on earth can boast of prouder memories, and now that he has also kissed his child and mine, everything is forgiven him."
Silently, with hurrying breath, she stood before the agitated couple, who were waiting for some remark, some outburst of gratitude and delight; but there was only a quivering of the lips, and her blue eyes flashed with a fiery light.
What was the matter with her?
Frau Train turned anxiously to her husband to ask, in a whisper, whether joy had turned the poor young mother's brain; but Barbara had already recovered her composure, and, passing her hand quickly across her brow, murmured softly, "It came over me too strongly."
Then she thanked them with earnest warmth; yet when Frau Traut praised Dona Magdalena's heavenly goodness, she nodded assent, it is true; but she soon took her leave--she felt paralyzed and dazzled.