Volume 10.
Chapter XVII.
 

The following afternoon Wolf sought Barbara again, and now for the first time succeeded in relating regularly and clearly what, constantly interrupted by her impatience, he had told in a confused medley the day before. Pyramus, as usual, was away, and Barbara had taken care that no one should interrupt them.

Deep silence pervaded the comfortable room, and Wolf had seated himself in the arm-chair opposite to the young wife when, at her entreaty, he began to tell the story again. She had informed him of Dona Magdalena's letter, and that it took her to the Emperor's residence in San Yuste. At that point her friend's fresh tidings began.

In the spring of the previous year Wolf had again been summoned from Valladolid, where in the winter he directed the church singing as prinnen of the religious music, to Cuacos, near San Yuste, where Quijada's wife lived with her foster-son Geronimo. From there he had often gone with Dona Magdalena and the boy to the Emperor's residence, and frequently saw him.

The account given in the letter written by Quijada's wife also applied to the last months of the imperial recluse's existence. Doubtless he sometimes devoted himself to pious exercises and quiet meditation, but he was usually busied with political affairs and the reading and dictating of despatches. Even at that time he received many visitors. When Geronimo came from Cuacos, he was permitted to go in and out of his apartments freely, and the Emperor even seemed to prefer him to Don Carlos, his grandson, King Philip's only son, who was destined to become the head of his house; at least, Charles's conduct favoured this opinion.

On his return to Spain he had made his grandson's acquaintance in Valladolid.

He was a boy who had well-formed, somewhat sickly features, and a fragile body. Of course the grandfather felt the deepest interest in him, and the influence of the famous victor in so many battles upon the twelve-year-old lad was a most beneficial one.

But Charles had scarcely left Valladolid when the passionate boy's extremely dangerous tastes burst forth with renewed violence. The recluse student of human nature had probably perceived them, for when his tutor, and especially the young evildoer's aunt, Juana, the Emperor Charles's daughter, earnestly entreated him to let the grandson, whose presence would disturb him very little, come to San Yuste, because his influence over Don Carlos would be of priceless value, the grandfather most positively refused the request.

On the other hand, the Emperor had not only tolerated his son Geronimo near him, but rejoiced in his presence, for the quiet sufferer's eyes had sparkled when he saw him. Wolf himself had often witnessed this delightful sight.

How Barbara's heart swelled, how eagerly she listened, as Wolf described how well founded was his Majesty's affection for this beautiful, extremely lovable, docile, true-hearted, and, moreover, frank, boy!

True, he showed as yet little taste for knowledge and all that can be learned from books; but he devoted himself with fiery zeal to the knightly exercises which since his Majesty's death Quijada himself was directing, and in which he promised to become a master. Besides, by appealing to his ambition, he could be induced to put forth all his powers, and, if his teachers aimed at what they studiously omitted, it would not be difficult to make a scholar of him.

He had not remained unnoticed by any of the great lords who had sought the Emperor in Sal Yuste and met him. The Venetian ambassador Bodoaro, had asked the name of the splendid young noble.

Even when Death was already stretching hi hand toward the Emperor, he was still overburdened with business, and the heretical agitation which was discovered at that time in Spain had caused him much sorrow, especially as men and women whom he knew personally, belonging to the distinguished families of Posa and De Rojas, has taken part in it.

The monarch's end came more quickly than was expected. He had been unable to attend the auto-da-fe at which the heretics were committed to the flames. He would have done so gladly, and after this mournful experience even regretted that he had granted the German misleader, Luther, the safe conduct promised.

Before a fatal weakness suddenly attacked him his health had been rather better than before; then his voice failed, and Quijada was compelled to kneel beside his bed that he might understand what he wished to impress upon him. While doing so, the dying man had expressed the desire that Don Luis would commend Geronimo to the love of his son Philip.

He had also remembered the love of better days, and when Barbara insisted upon learning what he had said of her, Wolf, who had heard it from Don Luis, did not withhold it.

He had complained of her perverse nature. Had she obediently gone to the convent, he might have spared himself and her the sorrow of holding her so rigidly aloof from his person. Finally, he had spoken of her singing with rapturous delight. At night the "Quia amore langueo" from the Mary motet had echoed softly from his lips, and when he perceived that Don Luis had heard him, he murmured that this peerless cry of longing, reminded him not of the earthly but the heavenly love.

At these words Barbara hid her face in her hands, and Wolf paused until she had controlled the sobs which shook her breast.

Then he went on, she listening devoutly with wet eyes and clasped hands.

The Archbishop of Toledo was summoned, and predicted that Charles would die on the day after to-morrow, St. Matthew's day. He was born on St. Matthias's day, and he would depart from life on St. Matthew's,--[September 12, 1558]--Matthias's brother and fellow-disciple.

So it was, and Barbara remembered that his son and hers had also seen the light of the world on St. Matthias's day.

Charles's death-agony was severe. When Dr. Mathys at last said softly to those who were present, "Jam moritur,"--[Now he is dying]--the loud cry "Jesus!" escaped his lips, and he sank back upon the pillows lifeless.

Here Wolf was again obliged to give his weeping friend time to calm herself.

What he now had to relate--both knew it--was well suited to transform the tears which Barbara was shedding in memory of the beloved dead to tears of joy.

While she was wiping her eyes, Wolf described the great anxiety which, after Charles's death, overpowered the Quijadas in Villagarcia.

The codicil had existed, and Don Luis was familiar with its contents. But how would King Philip take it?

Dona Magdalena knew not what to do with herself in her anxiety.

The immediate future must decide Geronimo's fate, so she went on a pilgrimage with her darling to the Madonna of Guadelupe to pray for the repose of the Emperor's soul, and also to beseech the gracious Virgin mercifully to remember him, Geronimo.

Until that time the boy had believed Don Luis and his wife to be his parents, and had loved Dona Magdalena like the most affectionate son.

He had not even the slightest suspicion that he was a child of the Emperor, and was perfectly satisfied with the lot of being the son of a grandee and the child of so good, tender, and beautiful a mother.

This exciting expectation on the part of the Quijadas lasted nearly a whole year, for it was that length of time before Don Philip finally left the Netherlands and reached Valladolid.

He spent the anniversary of his father's death in the monastery of Del Abrojo.

There, or previously, he had read the codicil in which his imperial father acknowledged the boy Geronimo as his son.

Barbara now desired to learn the contents of the codicil and, as Wolf had told her yesterday how the boy's fate had changed, he interrupted his narrative and obeyed her wish.

As a widower, Charles confessed that he had had a son in Germany by an unmarried woman. He had reason to wish that the boy should assume the robe of a reformed order, but he must be neither forced nor persuaded to do so. If he wished to remain in the world, he would settle upon him a yearly income of from twenty to thirty thousand ducats, which was to pass also to his heirs. Whatever mode of life he might choose, he commanded his son Philip to honour him and treat him with due respect.

As on the day before, when Barbara had only learned in general terms what the codicil contained, her soul to-day, while listening to the more minute particulars, was filled with grateful joy.

Her sacrifice had not been vain. For years the fear of seeing her son vanish in a monastery had darkened her days and nights, and Quijada and Dona Magdalena had also probably dreaded that King Philip might confide his half-brother to a reformed order, for the monarch had by no means hastened to inform the anxious pair what he had determined.

It was not until the end of September that, upon the pretext of hunting, he went to the monastery of San Pedro de la Espina, a league from Villagarcia, and ordered Don Luis to seek him there with the boy. He was to leave the latter wholly unembarrassed, and not even inform him that the gentleman whom he would meet was the King.

His decision, he had added in the chilling manner characteristic of him, would depend upon circumstances.

Quijada, with a throbbing heart, obeyed, but Geronimo had no suspicion of what awaited him, and only wondered why his mother took so much trouble about his dress, since they were merely going hunting. The tears glittering in her eyes he attributed to the anxiety which she often expressed when he rode with the hunters on the fiery young Andalusian which his father had given him. He was then twelve years and a half old, but might easily have been taken for fourteen.

"It was a splendid sight," Wolf went on, "as the erect figure of the dark Don Luis, on his powerful black stallion, galloped beside the fair, handsome boy with his white skin and blue eyes, who managed his spirited dun horse so firmly and joyously.

"Dona Magdalena and I followed them on our quiet bays. Her lips moved constantly, and her right hand never stirred from the rosary at her belt while we were riding along the woodland paths.

"To soothe her, I began to talk about the pieces of music which his Majesty had brought from Brussels, but she did not hear me. So I remained silent until the monastery glimmered through the trees. The blood left her cheeks, for at the same moment the thought came to us both that King Philip was taking him to the monks.

"But we had scarcely time to confide what we feared to each other ere the blast of horns echoed from the forest.

"Then, to calm the anxious mother's heart, I remarked, 'His Majesty would not have the horns sounded in that way if he were taking the pious brothers a new companion,' and Dona Magdalena's wan cheeks again flushed slightly.

"The forest is cleared in front of the monastery, but it surrounds on all sides the open glade amid whose grass the meadow saffron was then growing thickly.

"I can still see Geronimo as he swung himself from the saddle to gather some of the flowers. His mother needed them as medicine for a poor woman in the village.

"We stopped behind the last trees, where we had a good view of the glade. Don Luis left the boy to himself for a time; but when the blast of horns and the baying of the hounds sounded nearer, he ordered him, in the commanding tone he used in teaching him to ride, to remount.

"Geronimo laughed, thrust the flowers hastily into his saddlebag, and with a bold leap vaulted on his horse's back.

"A few minutes after, the King rode out of the forest.

"He was mounted on a noble bay hunting charber, and wore a huntsman's dress.

"No rider can hold a slender figure more erect.

"His haughty head, with the fair, pointed beard, was carried slightly thrown back, which gave him an especially arrogant appearance.

"When he saw Quijada, he raised his riding-whip with a significant gesture to his lips. We, too, understood what it meant, and Don Luis knew him far better than we.

"He greeted the King without the least constraint, as if he were merely a friend of noble birth, then beckoned to Geronimo, and the introduction was only the brief words, 'My son' and 'The Count of Flanders.'

"The boy raised his little plumed hat with frank courtesy and, while bowing in the saddle, forced his dun horse to approach the King sideways. It was no easy matter, and seemed to please his Majesty, for a smile of satisfaction flitted over his cold features, and we heard him exclaim to Quijada, 'A horseman, and, if the saints so will, a knight well pleasing to Heaven.'

"What more he said to the boy we learned later. The words which by the movement of his lips we saw that he added to the exclamation were, 'Unless our noble young friend prefers to consecrate himself in humility to the service of the highest of all Masters.'

"He had pointed to the monastery as he spoke. Geronimo did not delay his reply, but, crossing himself, answered quickly:

"'I wish to be a faithful servant of our Lord Jesus Christ, but only in the world, fighting against his foes.'

"Philip nodded so eagerly that his stiff white ruff was pushed awry, and then, with patronizing approval, added: 'So every nobleman ought to think. You, my young friend, saw a short time ago at the auto-da-fe in Valladolid how a considerable number of Spanish gentlemen of the noblest blood expiated at the stake the mortal sin of heresy. A severe punishment, and a terrible end! Would you perhaps have preferred to see his Majesty's mercy grant them their lives?'

"'On no account, my Lord Count,' cried Geronimo eagerly. 'There is no mercy for the heretic.'

"His Majesty now summoned the two knights who attended him and, while one held his horse, he dismounted.

"At a sign from Quijada, Geronimo now also sprang to the ground, and gazed wonderingly at the stranger, whom, on account of his fair beard, he supposed to be a Netherland noble; but Dona Magdalena could bear to remain under the trees no longer, and I followed her to the edge of the meadow. The King advanced toward the boy, and stood before him with so proud and dignified a bearing that one might have supposed his short figure had grown two heads taller.

"Geronimo must have felt that some very distinguished personage confronted him, and that something great awaited him, for he involuntarily raised his hat again. His wavy golden locks now fell unconfined around his head, his cheeks glowed, and his large blue eyes gazed questioningly and with deep perplexity into the stranger's face as he said slowly, with significant emphasis: 'I am not the man whom you suppose. Who, boy, do you think that I might be?'

"'Geronimo turned pale; only one head could be lifted with so haughty a majesty, and suddenly remembering the face which he had seen upon many a coin, sure that he was right, he bent the knee with modest grace, saying, 'Our sovereign lord, his Majesty King Philip''

"'I am he,' was the reply. 'But to you, dear boy, I am still more.'

"'As he spoke he gave him his hand, and, when Geronimo rose, he said, pointing to his breast: 'Your place is here, my boy; for the Emperor Charles, who is now enjoying the bliss of heaven, was your father as well as mine, and you, lad, are my brother.'

"Then passing his arm around his shoulders, he drew him gently toward him, lightly imprinting a kiss upon his brow and cheeks; but Geronimo, deeply moved, pressed his fresh red lips to his royal brother's right hand. Yet he had scarcely raised his head again when he started, and in an agitated tone asked, 'And Don Luis--and my dear mother?'

"'Continue to love and honour them,' replied the King.--'Explain the rest to him, Don Luis. But keep what has happened here secret for the present. I will present him myself to our people as my brother. He received in holy baptism the name of John, which in Castilian is Juan. Let him keep it.--Give me your hand again, Don Juan d'Austria.--[Don John of Austria]--A proud name! Do it honour.'

"He turned away as he spoke, mounted with the aid of one of his knights, waved his hand graciously to Quijada and, while his horse was already moving, called to him, 'My brother, Don Juan, will be addressed as your Excellency.'

"He took no notice of Dona Magdalena, probably because she had appeared here either without or against his orders, and thus offended one of the forms of etiquette on which he placed so much value. So his Majesty neither saw nor heard how the son of an Emperor and the brother of a King rushed up to his foster-mother, threw himself into her outstretched arms, and exclaimed with warm affection, 'Mother! my dear, dear mother!'"

Barbara had listened weeping to this description, but the last sentence dried her tears and, like Frau Traut a short time ago, her friend regretted that he had not exercised greater caution as he heard her, still sobbing, but with an angry shrug of the shoulders, repeat the exclamation which her son--ay, her son only--had poured forth from his overflowing heart to another woman.

So Wolf did not tell her what he had witnessed in Villagarcia, when Don Juan and Dona Magdalena had fallen into each other's arms, and that when he asked about his real mother the lady answered that she was an unfortunate woman who must remain away from him, but for whom it would be his duty to provide generously.

Directly after, on the second day of October, Wolf added, the King had presented her son to the court as his Excellency, his brother Don John of Austria!

He, Wolf, had set off for Brussels with the grand prior that very day, and, as his ship sailed from Spain before any other, he had succeeded in being the first to bring this joyful news to the Netherlands and to her.

When Wolf left Barbara, it seemed as though what had hitherto appeared a bewildering, happy dream had now for the first time been confirmed. The lofty goal she had striven to reach, and of which she had never lost sight, was now gained; but a bitter drop of wormwood mingled with the happiness that filled her grateful heart to overflowing. Another woman had forced herself into her place and robbed her of the boy's love, which belonged to her and, after his father's death, to her alone.

Every thought of the much-praised Dona Magdalena stirred her blood. How cruel had been the anguish and fears which she had endured for this child she alone could know; but the other enjoyed every pleasure that the possession of so highly gifted a young creature could afford. She could say to herself that, of all sins, the one farthest from her nature was envy; but what she felt toward this stealer of love fatally resembled sharp, gnawing ill will.

Yet the bright sense of happiness which pervaded her whole being rendered it easy for her to thrust the image of the unloved woman far into the shade, and the next morning became a glorious festival for her; she used it to pay a visit to the Dubois couple, and when she told them what she had heard from Wolf, and saw Frau Traut sob aloud in her joy and Adrian wipe tears of grateful emotion from his aged eyes, her own happiness was doubled by the others' sympathy.

Barbara had anticipated Wolf, but while going home she met him on his way to the Dubois house. He joined her, and still had many questions to answer.

During the next few days her friend helped her compose a letter to her son; but he was constantly obliged to impose moderation upon the passionate vehemence of her feelings. She often yielded to his superior prudence, only she would not fulfil his desire to address her boy as "your Excellency."

When she read the letter, she thought she had found the right course.

Barbara first introduced herself to John as his real mother. She had loved and honoured his great father with all the strength of her soul, and she might boast of having been clear to him also. By the Emperor Charles's command he, her beloved child, had been taken from her. She had submitted with a bleeding heart and, to place him in the path of fortune, had inflicted the deepest wounds upon her own soul. Now her self-sacrifice was richly rewarded, and it would make her happier than himself if she should learn that his own merit had led him to the height of fame which she prayed that he might reach.

Then she congratulated him, and begged him not to forget her entirely amid his grandeur. She was only a plain woman, but she, too, belonged to an ancient knightly race, and therefore he need not be ashamed of his mother's blood.

Lastly, at Wolf's desire, she requested her son to thank the lady who so lovingly filled her place to him.

Her friend was to give this letter himself to Don John of Austria, and he voluntarily promised to lead the high-minded boy to the belief that his own mother had also been worthy of an Emperor's love.

Lastly, Wolf promised to inform her of any important event in her son's life or his own. During the last hour of their meeting he admitted that he was one of the few who felt satisfied with their lot. True, he could not say that he had no wishes; but up to this hour he had desired nothing more constantly and longingly than to hear her sing once more, as in that never-to-be-forgotten May in the Ratisbon home. He might now hope, sooner or later, to have this wish, too, fulfilled. These were kind, cheering words, and with a grateful ebullition of feeling she admitted that, after his glad tidings, she, too, again felt capable of believing in a happy future.

So the friends from childhood bade each other farewell.