Barbara Blomberg by Georg Ebers
On the way home Barbara often pressed her left hand with her right to assure herself that she was not dreaming.
This time she found her husband in the house. At the first glance Pyramus saw that something unusual had happened; but she gave him no time to question her, only glanced around to see if they were alone, and then cried, as if frantic: "I will bear it no longer. You must know it too. But it is a great secret." Then she made him swear that he, too, would keep it strictly, and in great anxiety he obeyed.
He, like Barbara's father, had supposed that the Emperor's son had entered the world only to leave it again. Barbara's "I no longer have a child; it was taken from me," he had interpreted in the same way as the old captain, and, from delicacy of feeling, had never again mentioned the subject in her presence.
While taking the oath, he had been prepared for the worst; but when his wife, in passionate excitement, speaking so fast that the words fair tumbled over one another, told him how she had been robbed of her boy; how his imperial father had treated him; how she had longed for him; what prayers she had uttered in his behalf; how miserable she had been in her anxiety about this child; and, now, that Dona Magdalena's letter permitted her to cherish the highest and greatest hopes for the boy, the tall, strong man stood before her with downcast eyes, like a detected criminal, his hand gripping the edge of the top of the table which separated her from him.
Barbara saw his broad, arched chest rise and fall, and wondered why his manly features were quivering; but ere she had time to utter a single soothing word, he burst forth: "I made the vow and will be silent; but to-morrow, or in a year or two, it will be in everybody's mouth, and then, then My good name! Honour!"
Fierce indignation overwhelmed Barbara, and, no longer able to control herself, she exclaimed: "What did it matter whether Death or his father snatched the child from me? The question is, whether you knew that I am his mother, and it was not concealed from you. Nevertheless, you came and sought me for your wife! That is what happened! And--you know this--you are as much or little dishonoured by me, the mother of the living child, as of the dead one. Out upon the honour which is harmed by gossip! What slanderous tongues say of me as a disgrace I deem the highest honour; but if you are of a different opinion, and held it when you wooed me, you would be wiser to prate less loudly of the proud word 'honour,' and we will separate."
Pyramus had listened to these accusations and the threat with trembling lips. His simple but upright mind felt that she was right, so far as he was concerned, and she was more beautiful in her anger than he had seen her since the brilliant days of her youthful pride. The fear of losing her seized his poor heart, so wholly subject to her, with sudden power and, stammering an entreaty for forgiveness, he confessed that the surprise had bewildered him, and that he thought he had showed in the course of the last ten years how highly, in spite of people's gossip, he prized her. He held out his large honest hand with a pleading look as he spoke, and she placed hers in it for a short time.
Then she went to church to collect her thoughts and relieve her overburdened heart. Boundless contempt for the man to whom she was united filled it; yet she felt that she owed him a debt of gratitude, that he was weak only through love, and that, for her children's sake, she must continue to wear the yoke which she had taken upon herself.
His existence henceforth became of less and less importance to her feelings and actions, especially as he left the management of their two boys to her. He had reason to be satisfied with it, for she provided Conrad with the best instruction, that the might choose between the army and the legal profession; his younger brother she intended for the priesthood, and the boy's inclination harmonized with her choice.
The fear that the Emperor Charles might yet commit the child she loved to the monastery never left her. But she thought that she might induce Heaven to relinquish its claim upon her John, whom, moreover, it seemed to have destined for the secular life, by consecrating her youngest child to its service.
While she did not forget her household, her mind was constantly in Spain. Her walks were usually directed toward the palace, to inquire how the recluse in San Yuste was faring, and whether any rumour mentioned her imperial son.
After the great victory gained by Count Egmont against the military forces of France, eleven months after the battle of St. Quentin, there was enough to be seen in Brussels. The successful general was greeted with enthusiastic devotion. Egmont's name was in every one's mouth, and when she, too, saw the handsome, proud young hero, the idol, as it were, of a whole nation, gorgeous in velvet, silk, and glittering gems, curbing his fiery steed and bowing to the shouting populace with a winning smile, she thought she caught a glimpse of the future, and beheld the predecessor of him who some day would receive similar homage.
Why should she not have yielded to such hopes? Already there was a rumour that the daughter of the Emperor and that Johanna Van der Gheynst, who had been Charles's first love, Margaret of Parma, her own son's sister, had been chosen to rule the Netherlands as regent.
Why should less honours await Charles's son than his daughter?
But the festal joy in the gay capital was suddenly extinguished, for in the autumn of the year that, in March, had seen Ferdinand, the Emperor's brother, assume the imperial crown, a rumour came that the recluse of San Yuste had closed his eyes, and a few days after it was verified.
It was Barbara's husband who told her of the loss which had befallen her and the world. He did this with the utmost consideration, fearing the effect of this agitating news upon his wife; but Barbara only turned pale, and then, with tears glittering in her eyes, said softly, "He, too, was only a mortal man."
Then she withdrew to her own room, and even on the following day saw neither her husband nor her children. She had long expected Charles's death, yet it pierced the inmost depths of her being.
This sorrow was something sacred, which belonged to her and to her alone. It would have seemed a profanation to reveal it to her unloved husband, and she found strength to shut it within herself.
How desolate her heart seemed! It had lost its most distinguished object of love or hate.
Through long days she devoted herself in quiet seclusion to the memory of the dead, but soon her active imagination unfolded its wings again, and with the new grief mingled faint hopes for the boy in Spain, which increased to lofty anticipations and torturing anxiety.
The imperial father was dead. What now awaited the omnipotent ruler's son?
How had Charles determined his fate?
Was it possible that he still intended him for the monastic life, now that he had become acquainted with his talents and tastes?
Since Barbara had learned that her son had won his father's heart, and that the Emperor, as it were, had made him his own with a kiss, she had grown confident in the hope that Charles would bestow upon him the grandeur, honours, and splendour which she had anticipated when she resigned him at Landshut, and to which his birth gave him a claim. But her early experience that what she expected with specially joyful security rarely happened,--constantly forced upon her mind the, fear that the dead man's will would consign John to the cloister.
So the next weeks passed in a constant alternation of oppressive fears and aspiring hopes, the nights in torturing terrors.
All the women of the upper classes wore mourning, and with double reason; for, soon after the news of the Emperor's death reached Brussels, King Philip's second wife, Mary Tudor, of England, also died. Therefore no one noticed that Barbara wore widow's weeds, and she was glad that she could do so without wounding Pyramus.
A part of the elaborate funeral rites which King Philip arranged in Brussels during the latter part of December in honour of his dead father was the procession which afforded the authorities of the Brabant capital an opportunity to display the inventive faculty, the love of splendour, the learning, and the wit which, as members of flourishing literary societies, they constantly exercised. In the pageant was a ship with black sails, at whose keel, mast, and helm stood Hope with her anchor, Faith with her chalice, and Love with the burning heart. Other similar scenic pieces made the sincerity of the grief for the dead questionable, and yet many real tears were shed for him. True, the wind which swelled the sails of the sable ship bore also many an accusation and curse; among the spectators of the procession there were only too many whose mourning robes were worn not for the dead monarch, but their own nearest relatives, whom his pitiless edicts had given to the executioner as readers of the Bible or heterodox.
These displays, so pleasing to the people of her time and her new home, were by no means great or magnificent enough for Barbara. Even the most superb show seemed to her too trivial for this dead man.
She was never absent from any mass for the repose of his soul, and she not only took part outwardly in the sacred ceremony, but followed it with fervent devotion. As a transfigured spirit, he would perceive how she had once hated him; but he should also see how tenderly she still loved him.
Now that he was dead, it would be proved in what way he had remembered the son whom, in his solitude, he had learned to love, what life path John had been assigned by his father.
But longingly as Barbara thought of Spain and of her boy, often as she went to the Dubois house and to the regent's home to obtain news, nothing could be heard of her child.
Many provisions of the imperial will were known, but there was no mention of her son. Yet Charles could not have forgotten him, and Adrian protested that it would soon appear that he had not omitted him in his last will, and this was done in a manner which indicated that he knew more than he would or could confess.
All this increased Barbara's impatience to the highest degree, and induced her to watch and question with twofold zeal. On no account would she have left the capital during this period of decision, and, though her husband earnestly entreated her to go to the springs, whose waters had proved so beneficial, she remained in Brussels.
In August she saw King Philip set out for Spain, and Margaret of Parma, her son's sister, assume the government of the Netherlands as regent.
On various occasions she succeeded in obtaining a near view of the stately-lady, with her clever; kindly and, spite of the famous down on her upper lip, by no means unlovely features, and her attractive appearance gave Barbara courage to request an audience, in order to learn from her something about her child. But the effort was vain, for the duchess had had no news of the existence of a second son of her father; and this time it was Granvelle who prevented the regent from receiving the woman who would probably have spoken to her of the boy concerning whose fate King Philip had yet reached no determination.
Barbara spent the month of October in depression caused by this fresh disappointment, but it, too, passed without bringing her any satisfaction.
It seemed almost foolish to lull herself further with ambitious expectations, but the hope a mother's heart cherishes for her child does not die until its last throb; and if the Emperor Charles's will did not give her John his rights, then the gracious Virgin would secure them, if necessary, by a miracle.
Her faithful clinging to hope was rewarded, for when one day, with drooping head, she returned home from another futile errand, she found Hannibal Melas there, as bearer of important news.
The Emperor's last will had a codicil, which concerned a son of his Majesty; but, a few days before his end, Charles had also remembered Barbara, and commissioned Ogier Bodart, Adrian's successor, to buy a life annuity for her in Brussels. Hannibal had learned all this from secret despatches received by Granvelle the day before. Informing her of their contents might cost him his place; but how often she had entreated him to think of her if any news came from Valladolid of a boy named Geronimo or John, and how much kindness she had showed him when he was only a poor choir boy!
At last, at last the most ardent desire of the mother's heart was to be fulfilled. She saw in the codicil the bridge which would lead her son to splendour and magnificence, and up to the last hour of his life the Emperor Charles had also remembered her.
She felt not only relieved of a burden, but as if borne on wings. Which of these two pieces of news rendered her the happier, she could not have determined. Yet she did not once think of the addition to her income. What was that in comparison to the certainty that to the last Charles did not forget her!
It made her husband happy to see her sunny cheerfulness. Never had she played and romped with the children in such almost extravagant mirth. Nay, more! For the first time the officer's modest house echoed with the singing of its mistress.
Though her voice was no longer so free from sharpness and harshness as in the old days, it by no means jarred upon the ear; nay, every tone revealed its admirable training. She had broken the long silence with Josquin's motet, "Quia amore langueo," and in her quiet chamber dedicated it, as it were, to the man to whom this cry of longing had been so dear. Then, in memory of and gratitude to him, other religious songs which he had liked to hear echoed from her lips.
The little German ballads which she afterward sang, to the delight of her boys, deeply moved her husband's heart, and she herself found that it was no insult to art when, with the voice that she now possessed, she again devoted herself to the pleasure of singing.
If the codicil brought her son what she desired, she could once more, if her voice lost the sharpness which still clung to it, serve her beloved art as a not wholly unworthy priestess, and then, perchance, she would again possess the right, so long relinquished, of calling herself happy.
She would go the next day to Appenzelder, who always greeted her kindly when they met in the street, and ask his advice.
If only Wolf had been there!
He understood how to manage women's voices also, and could have given her the best directions how to deal with the new singing exercises.
It seemed as though in these days not one of her wishes remained unfulfilled, for the very next afternoon, just as she was dressing to call upon the leader of the boy choir, the servant announced a stranger.
A glad presentiment hurried her into the vestibule, and there stood Sir Wolf Hartschwert in person, an aristocratic cavalier in his black Spanish court costume. He had become a man indeed, and his appearance did not even lack the "sosiego," the calm dignity of the Castilian noble, which gave Don Louis Quijada so distinguished an appearance.
True, his greeting was more eager and cordial than the genuine "sosiego"--which means "repose"--would have permitted. Even the manner in which Wolf expressed his pleasure in the new melody of Barbara's voice, and whispered an entreaty to send the children and Frau Lamperi--who came to greet him--away for a short time, was anything but patient.
What had he in view?
Yet it must be something good.
When the light shone through her flower-decked window upon his face, she thought she perceived this by the smile hovering around his lips. She was not mistaken, nor did she wait long for the joyous tidings she expected; his desire to tell her what, with the exception of the regent--to whom his travelling companion, the Grand Prior Don Luis de Avila, was perhaps just telling it as King Philip's envoy--no human being in the Netherlands could yet know, was perhaps not much less than hers to hear it.
Scarcely an hour before he had dismounted in Brussels with the nobleman, and his first visit was to her, whom his news must render happy, even happier than it did him and the woman in the house near the palace, whose heart cherished the Emperor's son scarcely less warmly than his own mother's.
On the long journey hither he had constantly anticipated the pleasure of telling every incident in succession, just as it had happened; but Barbara interrupted his first sentence with an inquiry how her John was faring.
"He is so well that scarcely ever has any boy in the happiest time of his life fared better," was the reply; and its purport, as well as the tone in which it was uttered, entered Barbara's heart like angels' greetings from the wide-open heavens. But Wolf went on with his report, and when, in spite of hundreds of questions, he at last completed the main points, his listener staggered, as if overcome by wine, to the image of the Virgin on the pilaster, and with uplifted hands threw herself on her knees before it.
Wolf, unobserved, silently stole away.