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- Barbara Blomberg, Volume 10. - 10/13 -
How noble and yet how easy was the bearing of the dignitary, who was still less than thirty years old!
His figure was only slightly above middle height. What gave it the air of such royal stateliness?
Certainly it was not merely his dress, which consisted wholly of velvet, silk, and satin, with the gold of the Fleece that hung below the lace ruff at his throat. True, the colours of the costume were becoming. Dark violet and golden yellow alternated in the slashed doublet and wide breeches. His father had worn similar apparel when he confessed his love for her.
Should Barbara regard this as a good omen or an evil one?
He was not yet aware of her arrival for, completely absorbed in the subject of their conversation, he was talking with his private secretary Escovedo.
How animated his beautiful features became! how leonine he looked when he indignantly shook his head with its wealth of golden hair!
Oh, yes! Women's hearts must indeed fly to him, and Barbara now understood what she had heard of the beautiful Diana of Sorrento, and the no less beautiful Alaria Mendoza, and their love for him.
Thus she had imagined him. Yet no! His outer man, in its proud patrician beauty and winning charm, even surpassed her loftiest expectation. One thing alone surprised her: the seriousness of his youthful features and the lines upon his lofty brow.
Why did her favourite of fortune bear these traces of former anxieties?
Now the priest interrupted him. Had he told her John of her entrance?
Yet that was scarcely possible, for his face revealed no trace of filial pleasure. On the contrary. He rallied his courage, as if he were about to step into a cold river, straightened himself, and pressed his right hand, clinched into a fist, upon his hip. Perhaps--the saints be praised!--Father Dorante might have reminded him of something else, for he turned to Escovedo again and gave him an order.
Then he waved his hand, flung back his handsome head as King Philip was in the habit of doing, but in a far nobler, freer manner, hastily passed his hand through his wavy hair, as if to strengthen his courage, and then walked slowly, with haughty, almost arrogant dignity, to the door.
On the threshold he paused and looked at her. How bright were the large blue eyes which now gazed at Barbara with an expression far more searching than joyous.
Yet even while, with one hand resting on the back of the chair and the other pressed upon her panting bosom, she was striving to find the right words, Don John's glance brightened.
She was not mistaken. He had dreaded this meeting, and now with joyful surprise was asking himself whether this could be the woman who had been described to him as a showy, extremely whimsical, perverse person, who used her son's renown to obtain access to aristocratic houses and as many pleasures as possible.
She must at any rate have been remarkably beautiful, and how wonderfully her delicately chiselled features had retained a charm which is usually peculiar to youth! how well the now dull gold of her thick tresses harmonized with the faint flush on the almost unwrinkled face! and how dignified was the bearing of her figure, still slender, in spite of her matronly increase in flesh!
No wonder that she had once fired the heart of his distinguished father! Now--that sunny glance could not deceive Barbara--now her appearance had ceased to be unpleasant to him; nay, perhaps even pleased him. And now she could bear it no longer; from the inmost depths of her heart rose the cry: "John, my child! My dear, dear son!"
Again, with the speed of lightning, the question darted through Don John's mind: "Is this the woman whose voice, I was told, offended the ear? Spiteful, base slander!" How fervent, how gentle, how full of tender affection her cry had sounded! Not even from the lips of Doha Magdalena, his much-loved "Tia," had his own name ever echoed so musically as from those of yonder woman, whom he had just shrunk from meeting as though it were an inevitable misfortune.
Shame, regret, love, seethed hotly within him. It was long since he had felt emotion like that which mastered him when her tearful eyes again met his, and now, in the enthusiastic soul of this favourite of fortune, whose lofty flight neither glory, nor fame, nor disappointment could paralyze, in the bosom of this good, high-minded young human being stirred the consciousness that a great new happiness was in store for him, and from his lips rang the cry for which Barbara had waited so long with vain yearning, "Mother!" and again "Mother!"
It seemed to her as if the bright sun had suddenly burst in its full, dazzling radiance from midnight darkness. Three swift steps took her to Don John and, no longer able to control herself, she seized one of the hands which he had extended to her to kiss it; but his chivalrous nature forbade him to permit this, and at the same moment he had obeyed the impulse to kiss the face upturned to his with such loving tenderness.
On the way she had pondered long over the question how she should address him; but now she knew that she need not call him "Your Excellency," far less "Your Highness." To impose so severe a constraint upon her poor, poor heart was no longer required and, though interrupted by low sobbing, she again cried with all the fervour of the most tender maternal love: "My son! My dear, dear child!"
Then suddenly the words she had vainly sought came voluntarily, and in fluent speech she told him how her heart had so long consumed itself with yearning for him, and that she had now left everything behind to obey his summons; and he thanked her with eager warmth by raising the hand which clasped his to his lips.
What he desired of her would be hard for her to do, but now that he knew her it was far harder to ask. Yet it must be done, because upon this might perhaps depend the great hopes which he fixed upon the future, and which would atone for what had so cruelly embittered and poisoned the past.
Barbara gazed more intently into the noble face whose blooming youthful beauty had just delighted her, and in doing so perceived far more distinctly the sorrowful, anxious expression which she had formerly thought she noticed. In pained surprise she inquired what cause he, whom Heaven had hitherto loaded with its most precious gifts, had to complain of Fate, as whose spoiled favourite she, like all the rest of the world, had believed him happy.
He laughed softly, but with such keen bitterness that it pierced her to the heart, and the bright flush with which joy had suffused her cheeks suddenly vanished.
Her favourite of Fortune indignantly rejected the belief that he had reason to look back upon his past life with gratitude and pleasure.
It was incomprehensible and, carried away by the violent agitation which seized upon her, she described with fiery vivacity how the conviction that he had gained everything which her hard sacrifice and her prayers had sought, had beautified her life and helped her to bear even the most painful trials with quiet submission, nay, with joyous gratitude.
Stimulated by the power of the extraordinary things which she had experienced, she described in a ceaseless flow of vivid words how she had torn her child from her soul in order to place it in the path which was to lead to fame, splendour, and honour--in short, to everything that adorns and lends value to life.
"And why, in the name of all the saints," she concluded, "why must I now tell myself that I endured this great suffering in vain, and that what filled my heart with joy was only an idle delusion? Yet I watched your steps as the hunter follows the trail of the game. I saw how every fresh onset led you to greater splendour, higher renown, and more exalted grandeur."
His cheeks, too, had now flushed. What life was still pulsing in the veins of this woman, already past her youth! with what impressive power she understood how to describe what moved her! Yet how mistaken was the view to which maternal love and the desire of her heart had led her artist nature! She had seen only the light, not the shadow, the darkness, the gloom, which had clouded his course of fame.
To secure splendour and grandeur for him, she had yielded to the most cruel demand, and what had been the result of this sacrifice? What had she gained by it?
How had the happiness in which she fancied she saw him revelling been constituted?
The power of the newly awakened experiences bore him away also, and he described no less vividly what he had suffered.
Yes, indeed! He had not lacked great successes, far-reaching renown, high honours, and some degree of glory. But what a tale he--not yet thirty--now related! He, the son of an Emperor, the brother of a powerful King, who was adorned by as many crowns as there were fingers on his hand!
He had been King Philip's servant and useful commander in chief, nothing more.
And now he described the sovereign's cold nature, unfeeling calculation, and offensive suspicion. He, Don John, the not all unworthy son of the great Emperor Charles, was not born to obey all his life, and allow himself to be turned to account, worn out, and abused for the benefit of another. He, too, might lay claim to the right of governing a kingdom of his own as its ruler, benefactor, and Mehrer.
After Lepanto, the crowns of the Morea and Albania had been offered to him. Then, after he had conquered Tunis for his brother Philip, he had wished to reign over that country as its king. Had it been ceded to him, large provinces would have been taken from the infidels. This, it might have been supposed, was sufficient reason for Philip to intrust it to his government. But although the Holy Father in Rome and other rulers had recognised the justice of these wishes, his royal brother could not be persuaded to grant his just demands, and destroyed these hopes with cruel coldness. He had not even been induced to recognise him as Infant, as a lawful member of his family.
With trivial pretexts, and promises which he never intended to fulfil, the hypocritical, selfish, niggardly man had repulsed, delayed, and put him off.
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