Volume 2.
Chapter VIII.
 

Wolf's first walk took him to the Golden Cross, the lodgings of the Emperor Charles and his court. The sky had clouded again, and a keen northwest wind was blowing across the Haidplatz and waving the banner on the lofty square battlemented tower at the right of the stately old edifice.

It had originally belonged to the Weltenburg family as a strong offensive and defensive building, then frequently changed hands.

The double escutcheon on the bow-window was that of the Thun and Fugger von Reh families, who had owned it in Wolf's childhood.

Now he glanced up to see whether young Herr Crafft, to whom the building now belonged, had not also added an ornament to it. But when Wolf's gaze wandered so intently from the tower to the bow-window, and from the bow-window to the great entrance door, it was by no means from pleasure or interest in the exterior of the Golden Cross, but because Barbara had confessed that the nineteen-year-old owner of the edifice, who was still a minor, was also wooing her.

What was the probable value of this stately structure, this aristocratic imperial abode? How rich its owner was! yet she, the brilliant young beauty who had grown up in poverty, disdained young Crafft because her heart did not attract her to him.

So, in this case, faithful Ursel must deceive herself and misjudge the girl, for the old woman's strangely evasive words had revealed plainly enough that she did not consider Barbara the right wife for him.

The good people of Ratisbon could not understand this rare creature! Her artist nature gave her peculiar, unusual traits of character, which were distasteful to the ways of German burghers. Whatever did not fit the usual forms, whatever surpassed ordinary models, was regarded with distrust. He himself had scarcely been able to understand how a girl so free and independent in her feelings, and probably also in her actions, such a mistress of the art of singing, whose performances fulfilled the highest demands, could have bloomed and matured in this environment.

Old Ursel's evasion had wounded and troubled him; the thoughts associated with the double escutcheon on the bow-window, however, revived the clouded feeling of happiness, and, with head erect, he passed the guards at the entrance and went into the corridor, which was again crowded with lords and ladies of the court, priests of all ranks, knights, pages, and servants.

His position gave him access to the Queen of Hungary's apartments without delay--nay, he might hope to be received by her Majesty sooner than many of the knights, lords and ladies, ecclesiastical and secular dignitaries who were waiting there; the stewards, chamberlains and heralds, the ladies of the court, pages, and lackeys knew that the royal lady not only summoned Sir Wolf Hartschwert frequently, but welcomed his presence.

Nearly all were Spaniards or natives of the Netherlands, and it was fortunate for Wolf, on the one hand, that he had learned their language quickly and well in Italy and Brussels, and, on the other, that his birth entitled him to a place with nobles who had the rank of knights.

How formal and stiffly precise everything was here! How many backs bowed low, how softly bombastic, high-sounding words were murmured! It seemed as if every free, warm impulse would lapse into stiffness and coldness; moreover, those assembled here were not the poor petitioners of other antechambers, but lords and ladies who belonged to the most illustrious and aristocratic families, while among the waiting ecclesiastics there was many a prelate with the dignified bearing of a bishop.

Some of the Netherlanders alone frequently threw off the constraint which fettered all, and one even turned with the gayest ease from one person to another. This was Baron Malfalconnet, one of the Emperor's major-domos. He was permitted to do what no one else ventured, for his cheerfulness and wit, his gift of story-telling, and sharp tongue often succeeded in dispelling the clouds of melancholy from the brow of his imperial master.

At Wolf's entrance the baron greeted him with merry banter, and then whispered to him that the regent was expecting him in her private room, where the leaders of the newly arrived musicians had already gone. As Wolf belonged to the "elect," he would conduct him to her Majesty before "the called" who were here in the waiting room.

As he spoke he delivered him to the Emperor's confidential secretary, Gastelu, whom Wolf had often aided in the translation of German letters, and the latter ushered him into the Queen's reception room.

It was the royal lady's sleeping apartment, a moderately wide, unusually deep chamber, looking out upon the Haidplatz. The walls were hung with Flanders Gobelin tapestry, whose coloured pictures represented woodland landscapes and hunters. The Queen's bed stood halfway down the long wall at the right.

Little could be seen of her person, for heavy gold-embroidered damask curtains hung around the wide, lofty bedstead, falling from the canopy projecting, rootlike, above the top, where gilded child genii bore a royal crown. On the side toward the room the curtains were drawn back far enough to allow those who were permitted to approach the regent to see her head and the upper portion of her body, which was wrapped in an ermine cape.

She leaned in a sitting posture against a pile of white satin pillows, and her thick locks, interwoven with strings of pearls, bore witness to the skill of the maid who had combed and curled them so artistically and adorned them with a heron's plume. Two beautiful English pointers and a slender hound were moving about and sometimes disturbed the repose of the two Wachtersbach badger dogs, who were trained to keep side by side everywhere--in the room as well as in hunting. When the door opened they only raised their sagacious little heads with a low growl.

The other living beings who had obtained admittance to the Queen's chamber at so early an hour were constrained by etiquette to formal, silent quiescence. Only the ladies in waiting and the chamberlains moved to and fro unasked, but they also stepped lightly and graduated the depth of the bow with which they greeted each individual to suit his or her rank, while the pages used their nimble feet, whose tread silken shoes rendered noiseless, lightly and carelessly.

The features of most of the persons present expressed reverence and expectation. But although, on account of the clouded sky and the small window panes, the rear of the deep apartment especially was only dimly lighted, the impression produced was neither gloomy nor depressing. This was prevented by the swift movements of the pages, the shrill screams of the gay parrots at the window, the paraphernalia of the chase hung on the wall, and especially by the regent herself, whose clear voice broke the silence with gay unconcern, and exerted a redeeming influence upon the constraint of the listeners.

She had just received the Bishop of Hildesheim, the Prince of Savoy, and the Countess Tassis, but gave each only a brief audience, for the entrance of the conductor of the orchestra had not escaped her attention.

Several other personages of the highest rank were still among the waiting group, and her chamberlain, Count Hochstraaten, asked in a low tone whether she would deign to receive the Count Palatine von Simmern; but she was determined to close the audience, for Wolf Hartschwert had entered the room, and the subjects which she desired to discuss with him and the musicians would permit no witnesses.

So, without answering Hochstraaten's question, she turned her face toward the chamber, and said, loudly enough to be heard by all present:

"This reception must suffice for to-day! Whoever does not know that I used last night in his Majesty's service for a better purpose than sleep will deem me a lazy sluggard. Would to Heaven I had no worse fault! The rising sun sees me more frequently at my station in the hunting grounds than it does many of you, my honoured friends, at the breakfast table. So, Hochstraaten, be kind enough to tell the ladies and gentlemen who have given me the pleasure of their visits, that their patience shall be less severely tried this evening before vespers."

While speaking, she beckoned to the Marquise de Leria, her oldest lady in waiting, and, as the latter bent her aged back to adjust the pillows, the Queen whispered to her to detain the conductor of the orchestra and Sir Wolf Hartschwert.

The order was instantly obeyed, but some time elapsed ere the last of those who had sought an audience left the room, for, although the regent vouchsafed no one a glance, but turned the pages of a note-book which had been lying on the little table at the head of her bed, each person, before crossing the threshold, bowed toward the couch in the slow, formal manner which etiquette dictated.

As soon as Queen Mary found herself alone with the musicians and the marquise, she beckoned graciously to the former, but with familiar kindness to Wolf, and asked for a brief account of his journey. Then she confessed that the Emperor's sufferings and melancholy mood had induced her to subject them to the discomforts of the trip to Ratisbon. His Majesty was ignorant of their presence, but she anticipated the most favourable result upon her royal brother, who so warmly loved and keenly appreciated music, if he could hear unexpectedly the finest melodies, sometimes inspiring, sometimes cheering in tone.

Her inquiry whether his Majesty's orchestra and her own boys would be able to give a performance that evening was eagerly answered in the affirmative by Maestro Gombert, the conductor of the orchestra, and Benedictus Appenzelder, conductor of the boy choir, who was in her personal service. She expressed her pleasure in the knowledge, and then proposed to surprise the Emperor at the principal meal, about midnight, with Jacob Hobrecht's Missa Graecorum, whose magnificent profundity his Majesty especially admired.

Gombert forced himself to keep silence, but the significant smile on his delicate, beardless lips betrayed what he thought of this selection. The conductor of the boy choir was franker. He slightly shook his ponderous head, whose long, gray hair was parted in the middle, and then honestly admitted, in his deep tones, that the Missa Graecorum seemed to him too majestic and gloomy for this purpose. Wolf, too, disapproved of the Queen's suggestion for the same reason, and, though she pointed out that she had chosen this composition precisely on account of its deep religious earnestness, the former persisted in his opposition, and modestly mentioned the melody which would probably be best suited for a surprise at his imperial Majesty's repast.

Maestro Gombert had recently composed a Benedictio Mensae for four voices, and, as it was one of his most effective creations, had never been executed, and therefore would be entirely new to the Emperor, it was specially adapted to introduce the concert with which the monarch was to be surprised at table.

The Queen would have preferred that a religious piece should commence the musical performance, but assented to Wolf's proposal. Gombert himself dispelled her fear that his composition would be purely secular in character, and Wolf upheld him by singing to the musical princess, to the accompaniment of the lute, snatches of the principal theme of the Benedictio, which had impressed itself upon his faithful memory.

Gombert assisted him, but Appenzelder stroked his long beard, signifying his approval by nods and brief exclamations of satisfaction. The Queen was now sincerely glad that this piece of music had been brought to her notice; certainly nothing more suitable for the purpose could have been found. Besides, her kindly nature and feminine tact made her grateful to Wolf for his hint of distinguishing, by the first performance of one of his works, the able conductor and fine composer upon whom she had imposed so fatiguing a journey.

She would gladly have given Appenzelder also some token of her favour, but she could not have used any of his compositions--the most famous of which was a dirge--upon this occasion, and the blunt long-beard frankly admitted this, and declared unasked that he desired nothing better than to offer his Majesty, with the Benedictio, the first greeting of Netherland music.

Gombert's bearing was that of an aristocrat, his lofty brow that of a thinker, and his mobile mouth rendered it easy to perceive what a wealth of joyous mirth dwelt within the soul of this artist, who was equally distinguished in grave and gay moods.

Queen Mary was by no means blind to these merits, and lamented the impossibility of being on more familiar terms of intercourse with him and his colleague of the boy choir. But both were of humble birth, and from childhood custom had prohibited her, as well as the other female members of her family, from associating with persons who did not belong to the nobility. So there was no place for either in her household.

Rough Appenzelder regarded this as fortunate; Gombert thought it a matter of course because custom so ordained.

The stimulus which the Queen could expect from Wolf Hartschwert was certainly far less deep and varied; yet to him who, as a knight, belonged to her train, she granted many favours which she denied the famous Gombert. Besides, Wolf's musical knowledge was as remarkable as his usefulness as a secretary. Lastly, his equable disposition, his unerring sense of propriety, and his well-proved fidelity had gained the full confidence of the royal lady.

By the side of the two composers and leaders of the musicians he looked almost boyish, yet, as the regent was overburdened with affairs of state, she confided to him alone the care of the further success of the surprise.

He was familiar with the rooms of the Golden Cross, and before midnight would have posted the singers and musicians so that his Majesty would first learn through his ears the pleasure which they intended to bestow upon him.