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- Barbara Blomberg, Volume 2. - 4/11 -
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.
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.
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