Volume 2.
Chapter VI.

The old captain blew the dust from the wine flagon and carefully removed the seal. His presence prevented Wolf from renewing the interrupted conversation.

Reflection doubtless warned him that it would be a dangerous venture to enter the same life-boat with this woman, yet how bewitchingly beautiful she had seemed to him in her proud superiority, in the agitation of soul aroused by the yearning for a fairer fate! Have her he must, even though he was permitted to call her his own but for a year, a month, an hour.

Many of her words had been harsh and apparently unfeeling, yet how noble must be the soul of this young creature who, for the sake of being loyal to truth, the pure source of everything grand and lofty, paid no heed to much that is usually sacred to human beings!

But Barbara's conduct during the next hour appeared to belie this opinion of the man who loved her, for scarcely had her father sat down with the knight before the venerable wine flagon than she flung down the smoothing iron, hastily piled the finished articles one above another, and then, without heeding the parchment on which Wolf's verses were written, rolled up the ruby velvet. Directly after, with the package under her arm, she wished the men a merry drinking bout, and added that poor Ursel might need her. Besides, she wanted to show her the beautiful material, which would please the faithful soul.

Then, without even pausing at the rooms in the second story, she hurried swiftly down the stairs into the street.

She was carrying Wolf's gift to Frau Lerch, her dressmaker.

The Grieb, where the latter lived as wife of the keeper of the house, was only a few steps distant. If the skilful woman, who was indebted to her for many a customer, began the work of cutting at once, her cousins, the Wollers, could help her the next day with the sewing. True, these were the very girls who would "turn yellow with rage" at the sight of the velvet, but precisely because these rich girls had so many things of which she was deprived she felt that, in asking their aid, she was compelling Fate to atone for an injustice.

Haste was necessary for, at the first glance at the velvet, she had determined to wear it at the next dance in the New Scales, and she also saw distinctly in imagination the person whose attention she desired to attract.

True, the recruiting officer sent to Ratisbon, of whom she was thinking, was by no means a more acceptable suitor, but a handsome fellow, a scion of a noble family, and, above all, an excellent dancer.

She did not love him--nay, she was not even captivated by him like so many others. But, if his heart throbbed faster for any one, it was Barbara. Yet perhaps his glances strayed almost as frequently to one other maiden. The velvet gown should now decide whether he gave the preference to her or to pretty Elspet Zohrer--of course, only in the dance--for she would never have accepted him as a serious suitor.

Besides, the young noble, Pyramus Kogel, himself probably thought of no such folly.

It was very different with Wolf Hartschwert. She had been told the small amount of his inheritance long before, and on that account she would have been obliged to refuse him positively at once, yet the affectionate relations existing between them must not be clouded. He might still become very useful to her and, besides, the modest companion of her childhood was dear to her. She would have sincerely regretted an irreparable breach with him.

Her father indulged her in every respect, only he strictly forbade his beautiful child to leave the house alone after sunset. Therefore Barbara had not told him the real object of her visit. She now had no occasion to fear his following her.

Yet she made all possible haste, and, as she found Frau Lerch at home, and the skilful little woman was instantly at her service, she crowded into the space of an hour the many points about the cutting which were to be discussed.

Then she set out on her way home, expecting to traverse the short distance swiftly and without delay; but, when she had gone only a few paces from the Grieb, a tall man came toward her.

To avoid him she crossed nimbly to the other side of the dark little street, but just where it turned into Red Cock Street he suddenly barred her way. She was startled, but the oft-proved courage of the Blomberg race, to which she had just alluded, really did animate her, and, with stern decision, she ordered her persecutor to stand aside.

He, however, was not to be intimidated, but exclaimed as joyously as though some great piece of good fortune had befallen him:

"Thanks for accosting me, Jungfrau Barbara, for, though the words are harsh, they prove that, in spite of the darkness here, my eyes did not deceive me. Heaven be praised!"

Then the girl recognised the recruiting officer and excellent dancer of whom she had just been thinking in connection with the velvet upper robe, and answered sharply:

"Certainly it is I; but if you are really a nobleman, Sir Pyramus, take care that I am not exposed by your fault to evil gossip, and can not continue to hold my head erect as I now do."

"Who will see us in this little dark street?" he asked in low, persuasive tones. "May all the saints guard me from assailing the honour of a modest maiden, fairest Barbara; yet, if you fear that I might prevent your remaining in the future what the favour of the Most High permits you to be, I shall rather accuse you of having inflicted upon me what you fear may befall you; for, since the last dance, I am really no longer myself, and can never become so until I have received from your beautiful lips the modest consolation for which this poor, tortured, loyal soul is yearning. May I not linger at your side long enough to ask you one question, you severe yet ardently beloved maiden?"

"Certainly not," replied Barbara with repellent harshness. "I never gave you a right to speak to me of love; but, above all, I shall not seek the sharer of a game of question and answer in the street."

"Then name a place," he whispered with passionate ardour, trying meanwhile to clasp her hand, "where I may be permitted, in broad sunlight and before the eyes of the whole world, to say to you what robs me of rest by day and sleep by night. Drop the cruel harshness which so strangely and painfully contradicts the language of your glances the evening of the last dance. Your eyes have kindled these flames, and this poor heart will consume in their glow if I am not suffered to confess to you that I love you with more ardour than was ever bestowed on any maiden. This place--I will admit that it is ill-chosen--but what other was open to me? After all, here, too, a bit of the sky with its many stars is looking down upon us. But, if you still unkindly refuse me, or the dread of crossing the barrier of strict decorum forbids you to listen to me here, you can mercifully name another spot. Allow me to go to your father and beg him for the clear hand which, in a happier hour, by not resisting the pressure of mine, awakened the fairest hopes in my heart."

"This is too much," Barbara indignantly broke in. "Make way for me at once, and, if you are well advised, you will spare yourself the visit to my father; for, even if you were in earnest with your love and came as an honest suitor to our modest house, it might easily happen that you would descend the staircase, which is very steep and narrow, in as sorrowful a mood as you climbed it secure of victory."

Then Pyramus Kogel changed his tone, and said bitterly:

"So your victorious eyes were only carrying on an idle game with my unsuspecting heart? You laugh! But I expected to find in my German native land only girls whose chaste reserve and simple honesty could be trusted. It would be a great sorrow if I should learn through you, Jungfrau Barbara, that here, too, it would have been advisable to arm myself against wanton deception. True, the French chansons you sing sound unlike our sincere German songs. And then you, the fairest of the fair, can choose at will among men; but the Emperor's service carries me from one country to another. I am only a poor nobleman--"

"I care not," she interrupted him here with icy coldness; "you might be just good enough for the daughter of another nobleman, who has little more to call his own than you, Sir Knight, but nevertheless far too little for me to grant you permission to load me with unjust reproaches. Besides, you wholly lack the one advantage which the man to whom I am willing to betroth myself must possess."

"And what is that?" he asked eagerly.

"Neither gold nor lands, rank nor splendour," she answered proudly, "but changeless fidelity of the heart. Remember your fluttering from lovely Elspet Zohrer to me, and from me to Elspet, Sir Pyramus, and ask yourself what reason you would give me to expect the fulfilment of such a demand. Your fine figure and gay manner please us girls very well at a dance, but, though you should possess the wealth of the Fuggers and the power of the Sultan, it would be useless trouble to seek my consent. Stand out of my path at once! There come the Emperor's body guards, and, if you do not obey me, as surely as I hope for salvation I will call them!"

The last words had escaped her lips in a raised voice, and vibrated with such honest indignation that the recruiting officer yielded; but a triumphant smile flitted over her beautiful face.

Had she known before how complete a victory he had already won over pretty Elspet Zohrer, her most dangerous rival, this late errand would have been unnecessary.

Yet she did not regret it; true, she cared no more for Pyramus Kogel than for any one else--the certainty that he, too, had succumbed to the spell of her beauty was associated with a feeling of pleasure whose charm she knew and valued.