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- Barbara Blomberg, Volume 1. - 3/10 -
Yet she knew that, if any one could accomplish the impossible, it was Quijada, where the object in view was to serve her and the Emperor.
The influence of this eulogy was doubled by a tender glance from her bright eyes, and the Spaniard promised to do everything in his power to secure the success of her beautiful surprise. There would undoubtedly be difficulties with his Majesty and the treasurer on the score of the expense, for their finances were at the very lowest ebb.
"There is always the same annoyance where money is concerned," cried the Queen irritably, "in spite of the vast sums which my Netherlands pour into the treasury--four times as much as Spain supplies, including the gold and silver of the New World. You keep it secret, but two fifths of the revenue from all the countries over which Charles reigns are contributed by my provinces. Torrents of ducats inundate your treasury, and yet--yet--it's enough to drive one mad!--in spite of this and the lamentable parsimony with which the Emperor deprives himself of both great and small pleasures--it is simply absurd!--the story is always: The finances are at the lowest ebb--save and save again. To protect the plumes in his new cap from being injured by the rain, the sovereign of half the world ordered an old hat to be brought, and waited in the shower until the shabby felt came. And where are the millions which this excellent economist saves from his personal expenses? The dragon War devours them all. True, he has vanquished foes enough, but the demon of melancholy, that makes even Dr. Mathys anxious, is far worse than the infidels before whom you were compelled to retreat in Algiers--far more terrible than the Turks and heretics combined. Yet what are you and the wise treasurer doing? The idea of lessening the salaries of the physician-in-ordinary and his colleagues has never entered the heads of the estimable gentlemen who call themselves his Majesty's faithful servants. Very well! Then put the musicians' travelling expenses upon the apothecary's bill. They have as much right to be there as the senna leaves. But, if the penny pinchers in the council of finance refuse to advance the necessary funds, why--charge this medicine to my account. I'll pay for it, in spite of the numerous leeches that suck my substance."
"It certainly will not come to that, your Majesty," replied Quijada soothingly. "Our sovereign lord knows, too, that it beseems him to be less rigid in saving. Only yesterday he dipped into his purse deeply enough for another remedy."
"What was that?" asked the Queen in surprise.
"He paid the debts of my colleague Malfalconnet, not less than ten thousand ducats."
"There it is!" exclaimed the regent, striking her hands sharply together. "The baron dispels the Emperor's melancholy by his ready wit, which often hits the nail on the head, and his nimble tongue, but my medicine must provide the fitting mood for Malfalconnet's dearly bought jests and witticisms to exert the proper influence."
"And, moreover," Quijada added gaily, "your Majesty will present the completed deed for the treasurer's action. But now I most humbly entreat you to dismiss me. I must inform the quartermasters at once, and look after the matter myself if your Majesty's costly magic pills are not to be spoiled by this wet April weather. Besides, many of the musicians are not the strongest of men."
Bowing as he spoke, he prepared to take leave of the Queen, but she detained him with the remark:
"Our invitation went to Sir Wolf Hartschwert also. He is a native of Ratisbon, and can aid you and the quartermasters in assigning lodgings."
"A fresh proof of the wise caution of my august mistress," replied Quijada. "If your Majesty will permit, I should like to talk with my royal patroness about this man shortly. I have something in my mind concerning him which can not be easily explained in a few words, especially as I know that the modest, trustworthy fellow----"
"If what you have in view is for his benefit," the Queen eagerly interrupted, "it is granted in advance."
The promise reached Quijada just as he gained the threshold; ere he crossed it, Queen Mary called to him again, saying frankly: "I will not let you go so, Luis! You are an honest man, and I am ashamed to deceive you. The cure of his Majesty's melancholy is my principal object, it is true, but one half the expense of this medicine ought to be credited to me; for--but do not tell the treasurer--for it will afford me relief also. I can endure these rooms no longer. The forest is putting forth its first green leafage. The birds are returning. Red deer are plenty in the woods along the Danube. I must get out of doors into the open air. As matters are now, I could not leave his Majesty; but when the band and the boy choir are at his disposal, they will dispel his melancholy moods, and I can venture later to leave him to you and Malfalconnet, whose wit will be freshly seasoned by the payment of his debts. O Luis! if only I can get out of doors! Meanwhile, may music do for my imperial brother what we anticipate! And one thing more: Take Master Adrian with you. I released him from attendance upon the Emperor until midnight. It was no easy matter. When you have provided the favourites of Apollo with lodgings, come to me again, however late the hour may be. Sir Wolf Hartschwert must call early to-morrow morning. The nuncio brought some new songs from Rome. The music is too high for my voice, and the knight understands how to transpose the notes for me better than even the leader of the choir, Appenzelder."
The April sun, ere it sank to rest, had won the victory and kindly dried the garments of the horsemen who were approaching Ratisbon by the Nuremberg road.
A young man who had ridden forward in advance of the great train of travellers behind him checked his steed above the village of Kneiting, just where the highway descended in many a curve to the valley of the Danube, and gazed at the landscape whose green spring leafage, freshened by rain, appeared before him.
His heart throbbed faster, and he thought that he had seen no fairer prospect in all the wide tract of earth over which he had wandered during the past five years. Below him were green meadows and fields, pleasant villages, and the clear, full current of the Danube, along whose left bank extended a beautifully formed mountain chain, whose declivity toward the river presented a rich variety to the eye, for sometimes it was clothed in budding groves, sometimes displayed picturesque bare cliffs, and again vineyards in which labourers were working. From the farthest distance the steeples of Ratisbon offered the first greeting to the resting horseman.
What a wealth of memories this pleasant landscape awoke in the mind of the returning traveller! How often he had walked through these charming valleys, climbed these heights, stopped in these villages! It was difficult for him to turn from this view, but he let his bay horse have its way when the companion whom he had left behind overtook him here, and the animal followed the other's black Brabant steed, with which it had long been on familiar terms. He rode slowly at his friend's side into the valley.
Both silently feasted their eyes upon the scene opening with increasing magnificence before them.
As they reached the village of Winzer, the victorious sun was approaching the western horizon, and diffused over it a fan of golden rays. The gray cloud bank above, which a light breeze was driving before it, was bordered with golden edges. The young green foliage, refreshed by the rain, glittered as richly and magnificently as emerald and chrysoprase, and the primroses and other early spring flowers, which had just grown up along the roadside and in the meadows, shone in brighter colours than in the full light of noon. The big fresh drops on the leaves and blossoms sparkled and glittered in the last rays of the sun.
Now Ratisbon also appeared.
The city, with its throng of steeples, was surrounded by a damp vapour which the reflection of the sun coloured with a faint, scarcely perceptible roseate hue. The notes of bells from the twin towers of the cathedral and the convent of Nieder Munster, from St. Emmeram on the right, and the church of the Dominicans on the left, echoed softly in this hour when Nature and human activity were at rest--often dying away in the distance--to greet the returning citizen.
Obeying an involuntary impulse, Wolf Hartschwert raised his hat. Within the shelter of the walls of this venerable city he had played as a boy, completed his school and student days, and early felt the first quickened throbbing of the heart. Here he had first been permitted to test what knowledge he had won in the schools of poetry and music.
He had remained in Ratisbon until his twenty-first year, then he had ventured out into the world, and, after an absence of five years, he was returning home again.
But was the stately city before him really his home?
When he had just gazed down upon it from the height, this question had occupied his thoughtful mind.
He had not been born on the shore of this river, but of the Main. All who had been dearest to him in Ratisbon--the good people who had reared him from his fourth year as their own child, the woman who gave him birth, and the many others to whom he was indebted for kindnesses--were no longer there.
But why had he not thought first of the mother, who is usually the centre of the circle of love, and whose figure precedes every other, now that he was approaching the place where she rested beneath the turf? He asked himself the question with a faint feeling of self-reproach, but he did not confess the true reason.
When the summons to Ratisbon had reached him in Brussels, he had been joyously ready to obey it--nay, he had felt it a great happiness to see again the beloved place for which he had never ceased to long. And yet, the nearer he approached it, the more anxiously his heart throbbed.
When, soon after noonday, the rain drenched him, he had experienced no discomfort, because such exquisite sunny visions of the future had hovered before him; but as the sky cleared they had shrivelled and doubt of the result of the decision which he was riding to meet had cast everything else into the shade.
Now the whole city appeared before him, and, as he looked at the cathedral, whose machicolated tower permitted the rosy hue of the sky to shine through, his heart rose again, and he gazed with grateful delight at the verdant spring attire of his home and the magnificence with which she greeted him; her returning son.
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