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- Barbara Blomberg, Volume 2. - 10/11 -
the plan had been executed; and when he had heard the story, he fervently praised the delicacy of feeling and true sportsmanlike energy of her strong and loving woman's heart.
The court orchestra gave its best work, and so did the new head cook. The pheasant stuffed with snails and the truffle sauce with it seemed delicious to the sovereign, who called the dish a triumph of the culinary art of the Netherlands. The burden of anxieties and the pangs inflicted by the gout seemed to be forgotten, and when the orchestra ceased he asked to hear the boy choir again.
This time it gave the most beautiful portion of Joscluin de Pres's hymn to the Virgin, "Ecce tu pulchra es"; and when Barbara's "Quia amore langueo" reached his ear and heart with its love-yearning melody, he nodded to his sister with wondering delight, and then listened, as if rapt from the world, until the last notes of the motet died away.
Where had Appenzelder discovered the marvellous boy who sang this "Quia amore langueo"? He sent Don Luis Quijada to assure the leader and the young singer of his warmest approbation, and then permitted the Queen also to seek the choir and its leader to ask whom the latter had succeeded in obtaining in the place of the lad from Cologne, whom he had often heard sing the "tu pulchra es," but with incomparably less depth of feeling.
When she returned she informed the Emperor of the misfortune which had befallen the two boys, and how successful Appenzelder had been in the choice of a substitute. Yet she still concealed the fact that a girl was now the leader of his choir, for, kindly as her brother nodded to her when she took her place at the table again, no one could tell how he would regard this anomaly.
Besides, the next day would be the 1st of May, the anniversary of the death of his wife Isabella, who had passed away from earth seven years before, and the more she herself had been surprised by the rare and singular beauty of the fair-haired songstress, the less could she venture on that day or the morrow to blend with the memories of the departed Queen the image of another woman who possessed such unusual charms. The Emperor had already asked her a few questions about the young singers, and learned that the bell-like weaker voice, which harmonized so exquisitely with that of the invalid Johannes's substitute, belonged to the little Maltese lad Hannibal, whose darling wish, through Wolf's intercession, had been fulfilled. His inquiries, however, were interrupted by a fresh performance of the boy choir.
This again extorted enthusiastic applause from the sovereign, and when, while he was still shouting "Brava!" the highly seasoned game pasty which meanwhile, despite the regent's former prohibition, had been prepared, and now, beautifully browned, rose from a garland of the most tempting accessories, was offered, he waved it away. As he did so his eyes sought his sister's, and his expressive features told her that he was imposing this sacrifice upon himself for her sake.
It was long since he had bestowed a fairer gift. True, in this mood, it seemed impossible for him to refrain from the wine. It enlivened him and doubled the unexpected pleasure. Unfortunately, he was to atone only too speedily for this offence against medical advice, for his heated blood increased the twinges of the gout to such a degree that he was compelled to relinquish his desire to listen to the exquisite singing longer.
Groaning, he suffered himself--this time in a litter--to be carried back to his chamber, where, in spite of the pangs that tortured him, he asked for the letter in which Granvelle informed his royal master every evening what he thought of the political affairs to be settled the nextday. Master Adrian, the valet, had just brought it, but this time Charles glanced over the important expressions of opinion given by the young minister swiftly and without deeper examination. The saying that the Emperor could not dispense with him, but he might do without the Emperor, had originally applied to his father, whose position he filled to the monarch's satisfaction in every respect.
The confessor had reminded the sovereign of the anniversary which had already dawned, and which he was accustomed to celebrate in his own way.
Very early in the morning, after a few hours spent in suffering, he heard mass, and then remained for hours in the sable-draped room where he communed with himself alone.
The regent knew that on this memorable day he would not be seen even by her. The success of the surprise afforded a guarantee that music would supply her place to him on the morrow also, and ere she left him she requested a short leave of absence to enjoy the hunting for which she longed, and permission to take his major-domo Quijada with her.
An almost unintelligible murmur from the sufferer told her that he had granted the petition. It was done reluctantly, but the Queen departed at dawn with Don Luis and a small train of attendants, while the Emperor retired into the black-draped chamber.
The gout would really have prohibited him from kneeling before the altar, whence the agonized face of the crucified Redeemer, carved in ivory by a great Florentine master, gazed at him, but he took this torture upon himself.
Even in the period of health and happiness when, at the age of twenty- three, besides the great boon of health, besides fame, power, and woman's love, he had enjoyed in rich abundance all the gifts which Heaven bestows on mortals, his devout nature had led him to retreat into a gloomy, solitary apartment.
The feeling that constantly drew him thither again was akin to the dread which the ancients had of the envy of the gods, and, moreover, the admonition of his pious teacher who afterward became Pope Adrian, that the less man spares hiniself the more confidently he can rely upon the forbearance of God.
And, in truth, this mighty sovereign, racked by almost unendurable pain, dealt cruelly enough with himself when he compelled his aching knee to bend until consciousness threatened to fail under the excess of agony.
Nowhere did he find more complete calmness than here, in no spot could he pray more fervently, and the boon which he most ardently besought from Heaven was that it would spare him the fate of his insane mother, hold aloof the fiend which in many a gloomy hour he saw stretching a hand toward him.
Here, too, he sought to penetrate the nature of death. In this room, clothed with the sable hue of mourning, he felt that alreadv, while on earth, he had fallen into its all-levelling power. Here his mind, like that of a dying man's, grasped for brief intervals what life had offered and what awaited him bevond the confines of this short earthly existence, in eternity.
While thus occupied, the sovereign, accustomed to speculation, encountered many a dangerous doubt, but he only needed to gaze at the crucified Saviour to find the way again to the promises of his Church.
The last years had deprived him of so large a portion of the most valuable possessions and the best ornaments of his life, and inflicted, both in wardly and outwardly, such keen suffering, that it was easy for him to perceive what a gain death would bring.
What it could take from him was easilv lost; the relief it promised to afford no power, science, or art here on earth could procure for him-- release from cruel suffering and oppressive cares.
While he was learning the German language the name "Friend Hein," which he heard applied to death, perplexed him; now he thought that he understood it, for the man with the scythe wore to him also the face of a friend, who when the time had come would not keep him waiting long. As he thought of his wife, of whose death this day was the anniversary, he felt inclined to envy her. What he had lost by her decease seemed very little to others who were aware of the long periods of time during which, separated from each other, they had gone their own ways; but he knew that it was more than they supposed, for with Isabella he had lost the certainty that the sincere, nay, perhaps affectionate interest of a being united to him by the sacrament of marriage accompanied his every step.
His pleasure in life had withered with the growth of the harsh conviction that he was no longer loved by any one for his own sake.
In this chamber, draped with sable hangings, his own heart seemed dead, like dry wood from which only a miracle could lure green leafage again. With the only real pity which was at his command, compassion on himself, he rose from the kneeling posture which had become unbearable.
With difficulty he sank into the arm-chair which stood ready for him, and, panting for breath, asked himself whether every joy had indeed vanished. No!
Music still stirred his benumbed heart to swifter throbbing. He thought of the pleasure which the previous evening had afforded, and suddenly it seemed as if he again heard the "Quia amore langueo"--"Because I long for love"--that had touched his soul the day before.
Yes, he, too, still longed for love, for a different, a warmer feeling than the lukewarm blood of his royal mother had bestowed upon her children, or the devotion of the sister to whom the chase was dearer than aught else, certainly than his society.
But such thoughts did not befit this room, which was consecrated to serious reflections. The anniversary summoned him to far different feelings. Yet, powerfully as he resisted them, his awakened senses continued to demand their rights, and, while he closed his eyes and pressed his brow against the base of the altar covered with black cloth, changeful images of happier days rose before him. He, too, had rejoiced in a vigorous, strong, and pliant body. In the jousts he had been sure of victory over even dreaded opponents; as a bull-fighter he had excelled the matador; as a skilful participant in riding at the ring, as well as a tireless hunter, he had scarcely found his equal. In the prime of his youth the hearts of many fair women had throbbed warmly for him, but he had been fastidious. Yet where he had aimed at victory, he had rarely failed.
The sensuous, fair-haired Duchess of Aerschot, the dark-eyed Cornelia Annoni of Milan, the devout Dolores Gonzaga, with her large, calm, enthusiastic eyes, and again and again, crowding all the others into the background, the timid Johanna van der Gheynst, who under her delicate frame concealed a volcano of ardent passion. She had given him a daughter whose head was now adorned by a crown. In spite of the brief duration of their love bond, she had been clearer to him than all the rest--clearer even than the woman to whom the sacrament of marriage afterward united him. And she of whom seven years ago death had bereft him?
At this question a bitter smile hovered around his full lips. How much better love than hers he had known! And how easy Isabella had rendered it not to weary of her, for during his long journeys and frequent dangerous campaigns, instead of accompanying him, she had led in some carefully guarded castle a life that suited her quiet tastes.
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