Barbara Blomberg by Georg Ebers
Every one in Ratisbon or at the court who spoke of Sir Wolf Hartschwert called him an excellent fellow. In fact, he had so few defects and faults that perhaps it might have been better for his advancement in life and his estimation in the circle of society to which he belonged if more of them had clung to him.
Hitherto the vice of avarice was the last with which he could have been reproached. But, when his old friend filled his glass with wine, the desire that the property left to him might prove larger than he had expected overpowered every other feeling.
Formerly it had been welcome mainly as a testimonial of his old friend's affection. He did not need it for his own wants; his position at court yielded him a far larger income than he required for the modest life to which he was accustomed. For Barbara's sake alone he eagerly hoped that he had greatly underestimated his foster parents' possessions.
Ought he to blame her because she desired to change the life of poverty with her father for one which better harmonized with her worth and tastes? He himself, who had lived years in a Roman palace, surrounded by exquisite works of the gloriously developed Italian art, and then in the one at Brussels, furnished with imperial splendour, did not feel perfectly content in the more than simple room which Blomberg called his "artist workshop."
A few rude wooden chairs, a square table with clumsy feet, and an open cupboard in which stood a few tin cups, were, the sole furniture of the narrow, disproportionately long room, whose walls were washed with gray. The ceiling, with its exposed beams, was blackened by the pine torches which were often used for lights. Pieces of board were nailed over the defective spots in the floor, and the lines where the walls met rarely showed a right angle.
The window disappeared in the darkness. It was in the back of the niche formed by the unusually thick walls. During the day its small, round panes gave the old gentleman light while he guided his graving tool. A wooden tripod supported the board on which his tools lay. The stool, which usually stood on a wooden trestle opposite to it, now occupied a place before the table bearing the flagon of wine, and was intended for Barbara.
After the torches had ceased to burn, a single tallow candle in a wrought-iron candlestick afforded the two men light, and threatened to go out when, in the eagerness of their conversation, they forgot to use the snuffers.
Neither curtain, carpet, nor noteworthy work of art pleased the eye in this bare, strangely narrow room. The weapons and pieces of armour of the aged champion of the faith, which hung high above the window, made no pretension to beauty. Besides, the rays of the dim candle did not extend to them any more than to the valueless pictures of saints and virgins on the wall.
The door of Barbara's little bow-window room stood open. Nothing but a small oil lamp was burning there. But the articles it contained, though dainty in themselves, were standing and lying about in such confusion that it also presented an unpleasant aspect.
Yet Barbara's beauty had shed such radiance upon this hideous environment that the scene of her industry had seemed to Wolf like an Eden.
Now he could scarcely understand this; but he found it so much the easier to comprehend that these wretched surroundings no longer suited such a pearl, and that it behooved him to procure it a worthier setting.
Still, it was by no means easy to ask the captain what he desired to know, for during the young knight's absence a great many important things had happened which Blomberg was longing to tell.
He was in such haste to do this that he detained Wolf, who wanted to speak to old Ursel before he began to drink the wine, by the statement that she suffered from wakefulness, and he would disturb her just as she was falling asleep.
The account of the property bequeathed to the young knight was only too quickly completed, for, though the precentor's will made his foster son the sole heir, the legacy consisted only of the house, some portable property, and scarcely more than a thousand florins.
Yet perhaps something else was coming to Wolf; early yesterday Dr. Hiltner, the syndic of the city, had asked his place of residence, and added that he had some news for him which promised good fortune.
After these communications Blomberg hoped to be able to mention the important events which had occurred in Ratisbon during his young friend's absence; but Wolf desired with such eager curiosity to hear the syndic's news first that it vexed the captain, and he angrily told him that he would bite off his tongue before he would even say "How are you?" to that man, and to play eavesdropper to any one was not at all in his line.
Here his companion interrupted with the query, What had caused the learned scholar, whom every one, as well as the precentor, had highly esteemed, to forfeit his friend's good opinion?
Blomberg had waited for such a question.
He had been like a loaded culverin, and Wolf had now touched the burning match to the powder. To understand why he, Blomberg, who wished only the best fortune to every good Christian, would fain have this thorough scoundrel suffer all the torments of hell, the young knight must first learn what had happened in Ratisbon since the last Reichstag.
Until then the good city had resisted the accursed new religious doctrines which had gained a victory in Nuremberg and the other cities of the empire.
Here also, as Wolf himself had probably experienced, there had been no lack of inclination toward the Lutheran doctrine. It was certainly natural, since it suited the stomach better to fill itself, even during Lent, than to renounce meat; since there were shameless priests who would rather embrace a woman than to remain unmarried; since the Church property bestowed by pious souls was a welcome morsel to princes and to cities, and, finally, because licentiousness was more relished than wholesome discipline. The wicked desires inspired by all the evil spirits and their tool, the Antichrist Luther, had gained the upper hand here also, and Dr. Hiltner, above all others, had prepared the way for them in Ratisbon. Even at the last Reichstag his Majesty the Emperor had earnestly, but with almost too much gracious forbearance, endeavoured to effect a union between the contending parties, but directly after his departure from the city rebellion raised its head with boundless insolence. The very next year the Council formally introduced the evil which they called ecclesiastical reformation. The blinded people flocked to the new parish church to attend the first service, which they called "Protestant." Then the mischief hastened forward with gigantic strides.
"Last year," cried the old gentleman, hoarse with indignation, striking the table with his clenched fist as if he were in camp, "I saw them with my own eyes throw down and drag away, I know not where, the pillar with the beautiful image of Mary, the masterpiece of Erhard Heydenreich, the architect of the cathedral, which stood in front of the new parish church. Songs had been composed in her honour, and she was dear and precious to you from early childhood, as well as to every native of Ratisbon; the precentor--God rest his soul!--read to me from your letter from Rome what exquisite works of art you saw there every day, but that you still remembered with pleasure the beautiful Virgin at home.
"But what do these impious wretches care about beautiful and sacred things? The temple desecrators removed and destroyed one venerable, holy image after another. True, they did not venture into the cathedral, probably from fear of his Majesty the Emperor, and whoever had undertaken to lay hands upon the altar painting and the Madonna in our chapel would have paid for it--I am not boasting--with his life. Though 'the beautiful Mary,' in her superabundant mercy, quietly endured the affront offered, our Lord himself punished it, for he inspired the illustrious Duke of Bavaria to issue an edict which forbids his subjects to trade with Ratisbon. Whoever even enters the city must pay a heavy fine. This set many people thinking. Ursel will tell you what sinful prices we have paid since for butter and meat. Even the innocent are obliged to buckle their belts tighter. Those who wished to escape fasting are now compelled by poverty to practise abstinence. It is said the Roman King Ferdinand is urging the revocation of the order. If I were in his place, I would advise making it more stringent till the rebels sweat blood and crept to the cross."
Then Blomberg bewailed the untimely leniency of the Emperor, for there was not even any rumour of a serious assault upon the Turks. And yet, if only he, Blomberg, was commissioned to raise an army of the cross, Christianity would soon have rest from its mortal foe! But if it should come to fighting--no matter whether against the infidels or the heretics--in spite of Wawerl and his lame leg, he would take the field again. No death could be more glorious than in battle against the destroyer of souls. The scoundrels were flourishing like tares among the wheat. At the last Reichstag the Electors of Brandenburg and Saxony, as well as the Landgrave Philip of Hesse, brought their own preachers, whose sermons turned many heads, even the pastor of St. Emmeran's, Zollern, who was a child of Ratisbon. At Staufferhof Baron von Stauff, formerly a man worthy of all honour, had opened his chapel of St. Ann to all the citizens to permit them to participate in the Lutheran idolatry. Two Protestant ministers, one of whom, Dr. Forster, Luther himself had brought to Ratisbon, were liberally paid by the Council. Whether Wolf believed it or not, Father Hamberger, whom he surely remembered as Prior of the Minorites, and who at that time enjoyed universal esteem, had taken a wife, and the rest of the monks had followed the iniquitous example. Many other priests had married if it suited them, and, instead of the cowl, wore secular garments. The instruction given in the school of poets was perfectly abominable, as he heard from Councillor Steuerer, who was faithful to the Catholic Church, and strove to induce the Duke of Bavaria to adopt still sterner measures against all this disorder.
Very recently men hitherto blameless, like Andreas Weinzierl and Georg Seidl, had sent their eighteen-year-old sons to the University of Wittenberg, where the Lutheran heresies were flourishing most luxuriantly.
But the worst of all was that even faithful sons and daughters of Holy Church could not keep themselves wholly untouched by such mischief. Among these, alas! were he and his Wawerl, for he had been obliged to allow the girl to join the choristers who sang in the Convivium Musicum, which the Council had established in the summer three years before. Two councillors were assigned to each Convivium, and thus these arrangements were in Protestant hands.
"Of course," he added dejectedly, "I wished to forbid her taking part in them, but, though with me it is usually bend or break, what can a man do when a woman is pestering him day and night, sometimes begging with tears, sometimes with caresses?
"Besides, many a good Catholic entreated me to give up my opposition. They, do not grudge the girl her progress, and how much she already owes to the music teacher who now directs the Collegium Musicuin! Singing is everything to her, and what else can I give the poor child? At any rate, the Netherlander whom the Council brought here three years ago--so connoisseurs say--scarcely has his equal anywhere in knowledge and ability. The man came to me and frankly said that he needed the girl's voice for the Convivium, and, if I refused to let Wawerl take part, he would stop teaching her. As he is a just man of quiet temperament and advanced in years."
"Where is he from, and what is his name?" Wolf eagerly interrupted.
"Damian Feys," replied the captain, "and he is a native of Ghent in the Netherlands. Although he is in the pay of the city, he has remained--he told me so himself--a good Catholic. There was nothing to be feared for the child on the score of religion. The anxieties which are troubling me on her account come from another source."
Then, with a mischievous mirthfulness usually foreign to his nature, Wolf raised his goblet, exclaiming:
"Cast them upon me, Father Blomberg! I will gladly help you bear them as your loyal son-in-law."
"So that's the way of it," was the captain's answer, his honest eyes betraying more surprise than pleasure.
Yet he pledged Wolf, and, touching his glass to his, said:
"I've often thought that this might happen if you should see how she has grown up. If she consents, nothing could please me better; but how many lovers she has already encouraged, and then, before matters became serious, dismissed! I have experienced it. If you succeed in putting an end to such trifling, may this hour be blessed! But do you know the huge maggots she keeps under her golden hair?"
"Both large and small ones," cried Wolf, with glowing cheeks. "Truthful as she is, she did not conceal from the playmate of her youth a single impulse of her ambitious soul."
"And did she give you hope?" asked the captain, thrusting his head eagerly forward.
"Yes," replied the youth firmly; but he quickly corrected himself, and, in a less confident tone, added, "That is, if I could offer her a care-free life."
"There it is," sighed the old man. "She knows what she wants, and holds firmly to it. You are the son of a knight, and on account of the music which you can pursue together--With her everything is possible and little is impossible. In any case, you will have no easy life with her, and, ere you order the wedding ring----" Here he suddenly stopped, for a bird-song, high, clear, and yet as insinuatingly sweet as though, on this evening in late April, the merriest and most skilful feathered songsters which had recently found their way home to the fresh green leafage on the shore of the Danube had made an appointment on the steps of the gloomy house in Red Cock Street, rose nearer and nearer to the two men who were sitting over their wine.
It was difficult to believe that this whistling and chirping, trilling and cuckoo calling, came from the same throat; but when the bird notes ceased just outside the door, and Barbara, with bright mirthfulness and the airiest grace, sang the refrain of the Chant des Oiseaux, 'Car la saison est bonne', bowing gracefully meanwhile, the old enemy of the Turks fairly beamed with delight.
His eyes, wet with tears of grateful joy, sought the young man's, and, though he had just warned him plainly enough against courting his daughter, his sparkling gaze now asked whether he had ever met an equally bewitching marvel.
"The deuce!" he cried out to his daughter when she at last paused and extended her hand to him. He leaned comfortably farther back in his arm-chair as he spoke, but she kissed him lightly on the forehead, while her large blue eyes shone with cheerful content.
She had gained her object.
When she sang this song she was safe from any troublesome questions. Besides, Gombert, of Bruges, the director of the imperial orchestra, who had arrived in Ratisbon that very day, was the composer of the charming bird-song, and she knew from her singing master that, though her voice was best adapted to solemn hymns, nothing in the whole range of secular music suited it better than this "Car la saison est bonne." She longed for the praise of such a musician, and Wolf must accompany her to him.
The young knight had not only been joyfully surprised, but most deeply delighted by the bewitching execution of this most charmingly arranged refrain.
Maestro Gombert and his colleague Appenzelder, the conductor of the boy choir, must hear it on the morrow. And how gladly Barbara consented to fulfil this wish!
She had received the greatest praise, she said, in the motet of the Blessed Virgin, by Josquin de Pres, in the noble song 'Ecce tu pulchra es'. Her teacher specially valued this master and his countryman Gombert, and his exquisite compositions were frequently and gladly sung at the Convivium.
This pleased Wolf, for he had a right to call himself, not only the pupil, but the friend of the director of the orchestra. As, seizing the lute, he began Gombert's Shepherd and Shepherdess, Barbara, unasked, commenced the song.
When, after Barbara's bell-like, well-trained voice had sung many other melodies, the young knight at last took leave of his old friends, he whispered that he had not expected to find home so delightful.
She, too, went to rest in a joyous, happy mood, and, as she lay in her narrow bed, asked herself whether she could not renounce her ardent longing for wealth and splendour and be content with a modest life at Wolf's side.
She liked him, he would cherish her, and lovingly devote the great skill which he had gained in Italy and the Netherlands to the final cultivation of her voice. Her house would become a home of art, her life would be pervaded and ennobled by song and music. What grander existence could earth offer?
Before she found an answer to this question, sleep closed her weary eyes. But when, the next morning, the cobbler's one-eyed daughter, who, since old Ursel's illness, had done the rough work in the chambers and kitchen, waked her, she speedily changed her mind. It was hard to rise early after the day's ironing and the late hour at which she had retired, and, besides, when Barbara returned from mass, the maid reported that Frau Lerch had been there and left the message that Fran Itzenweck wanted the laces which had been promised to her early that day.
So Barbara was obliged to go to work again immediately after the early breakfast. But, while she was loosening the laces from the pins and stirring her slender white fingers busily for the wretched pittance, her soul was overflowing with thoughts of the most sublime works of music, and the desire for success, homage, and a future filled with happiness and splendour.
Vehement repugnance to the humble labour to which necessity forced her was like a bitter taste in her mouth, and, ere she had folded the last strips of lace, she turned her back to the work-table and pressed both hands upon her bosom, while from the inmost depths of her tortured soul came the cry: "I will never bear it! In one way or another I will put an end to this life of beggary."
Thanks to old Ursel's care, Wolf had found his bed made and everything he needed at hand in his foster parents' deserted lodging. To avoid disturbing the sick woman, he removed his shoes in the entry, and then glided into his former little room. Weariness had soon closed his eyes also, but only for a few hours. His fevered blood, fear, and hope drove him from his couch at the first dawn of morning.
Ere returning to the two men the evening before, Barbara had hastily spoken to Ursula, and brought her whatever she preferred to receive from her hands rather than those of the one-eyed maid who spent the night with her--her Sunday cap and a little sealed package which she kept in her chest. When Wolf tapped at her door early the next morning, she was already up, and had had her cap put on. This was intended to give her a holiday appearance, but the expression of her faithful eyes and the smile upon her sunken mouth showed her darling that his return was a festival to her.
The stroke of apoplexy which had attacked the woman of seventy had been slight, and merely affected her speech a little. But she found plenty of words to show Wolf how happy it made her to see him again, and to tell him about his foster parents' last illness and death.
The precentor and organist, aided by Bishop Pangraz Sinzenhofer and Blasius, the captain of the city guard, had endeavoured to collect the papers which proved Wolf's noble birth. The package that Barbara handed to her the evening before contained the patent of nobility newly authorized by King Frederick at Vienna and the certificate of baptism which proved him to be the only son of the Frank Knight Ullmann Hartschwert and the Baroness Wendula Sandhof.
His mother's family died with her; on his father's side, as the precentor had learned, he still had an uncle, his father's older brother, but his castle had been destroyed during the Peasant War. He himself had commanded for several years a large troop of mercenaries in the service of the Queen of England, and his three children, a son and two daughters, had entered monastic and conventual life.
The contents of the package confirmed all these statements. Moreover, the very Dr. Hiltner, of whom Barbara's father had spoken so disagreeably, had paid a visit the day before to Ursel, who had won the esteem of the preceptor's old friend, and told her that he wished to talk with Wolf about an important matter.
It afforded the young man genuine pleasure to wait upon the faithful old woman and give her her medicine and barley-gruel. His mother had brought him to Ratisbon when he was a little boy four years old, and Ursel at that time had been his nurse. She had clung more closely to him than the woman to whom he owed his life, for his mother had deserted him to take the veil in the convent of the Sisters of St. Clare, but her maid-servant Ursel would not part from him. So she was received by his foster parents when they adopted him, and had served them faithfully until their deaths.
The wrinkled countenance of the old woman, who, even on her sick-bed, retained her neat appearance, expressed shrewdness and energy.
Wolf's services were a pleasure and an honour. A grateful, affectionate glance acknowledged each, and meanwhile he became clearly aware of the treasure which he, the orphaned youth, possessed in this faithful old friend.
If he saw aright, she might yet live a long time, and this gave him heartfelt joy. With her he would lose the last witness of his childhood, the chronicle, as it were, of his earliest youth. He could not understand why he had never before induced her to tell him her recollections.
During his boyhood, which was crowded with work, he had been content when she told him in general outlines that, during the Peasant War, fierce bands had attacked his father's castle, that one of his own bondmen had slain him with an axe, and that his mother had fled with Wolf to Ratisbon, where her brother lived as provost of the cathedral. He had invited her, at the outbreak of the peasant insurrection, to place herself under his protection.
The old woman had also described to him how, amid great hardships, they had reached the city in midwinter, and finally that his mother found Baron Sandhof, her brother, at the point of death, and, after her hope of having a home with the provost of the cathedral was baffled, she had taken the veil in the convent of the Dominicans, called here the Black Penitents. Wolf's foster father, the organist Stenzel, who was closely connected with his uncle, had rendered this step easier for the deserted widow by receiving the little boy in his childless home.
Ursel must give him more minute particulars concerning all these things.
His mother, who knew that he was well cared for, had troubled herself very little about him, and devoted her life to the care of her own salvation and that of her murdered husband, who had died without the benefit of the holy sacrament.
When he was fifteen, she closed her eyes on the world, and the hour when, on her death bed, she had asked of him a vow to be faithful to the Catholic Church and shut his heart against heresy, was as vividly before his memory as if she had just passed away.
He did not allude to these things now, for his heart urged him to confide to the faithful old woman what he thought of Barbara, and the beautiful hopes with which he had left her.
Ursel closed her eyes for a while and twirled the thumb of the hand she could use around the other for some time; but at last she gently nodded the little head framed in her big cap, and said carelessly:
"So you would like to seek a wife, child? Well, well! It comes once to every one. And you are thinking of Wawerl? It would certainly be fortunate for the girl. Marriages are made in heaven, and God's mills grind slowly. If the result is not what you expect, you must not murmur, and, above all things, don't act rashly. But now I can use my heavy tongue no longer. Remember Dr. Hiltner. When duty will permit, you'll find time for another little chat with old Ursel."
Casting a loving farewell glance at Wolf as she spoke, she turned over on the other side.
As his footsteps receded from her bedside, she pressed her lips more firmly together, thinking: "Why should I spoil his beautiful dream of happiness? What Wawerl offers to the eyes and ears of men is certainly most beautiful. But her heart! It is lacking! Unselfish love would be precisely what the early orphaned youth needs, and that Wawerl will never give him. Yet I wish no heavier anxieties oppressed me! One thing is certain--the husband of the girl upstairs must wear a different look from my darling, with his modest worth. The Danube will flow uphill before she goes to the altar with him! So, thank Heaven, I can console myself with that!"
But, soon after, she remembered many things which she had formerly believed impossible, yet which, through unexpected influence, had happened.
Then torturing uneasiness seized her. She anxiously clasped her emaciated hands, and from her troubled bosom rose the prayer that the Lord would preserve her darling from the fulfilment of the most ardent desire of his heart.