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- Barbara Blomberg, Volume 2. - 6/11 -
same time. Unfortunately, its character was such that Wolf scarcely ventured to hope for the full success of the surprise.
Johann of Cologne and Benevenuto Bosco of Catania, in Sicily, the two leaders and ornaments of the choir, were so very ill that their recovery could scarcely be expected even within the next few days. The native of Cologne had been attacked on the way by a hoarseness which made the fifteenyear-old lad uneasy, because signs of the approaching change of voice had already appeared.
The break meant to the extremely musical youth, who had been distinguished by the bell-like purity of his tones, the loss of his well-paid position in the boy choir, which, for his poor mother's sake, he must retain as long as possible. So, with mingled grief and hope, he dipped deeply into his slender purse when, at Neumarkt, where the travelling musicians spent the night just at the time the annual fair was held, he met a quack who promised to help him.
This extremely talkative old man, who styled himself "Body physician to many distinguished princes and courts," boasted of possessing a secret remedy of the famous Bartliolomaus Anglicus, which, besides other merits, also had the power of bestowing upon a harsh voice the melody of David's harp.
Still, the young native of Cologne delayed some time before using the nostrum. Not until the hoarseness increased alarmingly did he in his need take the leech's prescription, and Benevenuto Bosco, whom he had admitted to his confidence, and who also felt a certain rawness in his throat, since beyond Nuremberg one shower of rain after another had drenched the travellers, asked him to let him use the medicine also.
At first both thought that they felt a beneficial result; but soon their condition changed for the worse, and their illness constantly increased.
On reaching Ratisbon they were obliged to go to bed, and a terrible night was followed by an equally bad morning.
When Appenzelder returned from the audience at the Golden Cross, he found his two best singers in so pitiable a condition that he was obliged to summon the Emperor's leech, Dr. Mathys, to the sufferers.
The famous physician was really under obligations to remain near the sovereign at this time of day. Yet he had gone at once to the Stag, and pronounced the patients there to be the victims of severe poisoning.
A Ratisbon colleague, whom he found with the sufferers, was to superintend the treatment which he prescribed.
He had left the house a short time before. Master Appenzelder, Wolf heard from the choir boys, was now with the invalids, and the knight set off to inquire about them at once.
He had forbidden the idle young singers who wanted to go with him to follow, but one had secretly slipped after, and, in one of the dark corridors of the big house, full of nooks and corners, he suddenly heard a voice call his name. Ere he was aware of it, little Hannibal Melas, a young Maltese in the boy choir, whose silent, reserved nature had obtained for him from the others the nickname Tartaruga, the tortoise, seized his right hand in both his own.
It was done with evident excitement, and his voice sounded eagerly urgent as he exclaimed:
"I fix my last hope on you, Sir Knight, for you see there is scarcely one of the others who would not have an intercessor. But I! Who would trouble himself about me? Yet, if you would only put in a good word, my time would surely come now."
"Your time?" asked Wolf in astonishment; but the little fellow eagerly continued:
"Yes, indeed! What Johann of Cologne or at least what Benevenuto can do, I can trust myself to do too. The master need only try it with me, and, now that both are ill, put me in place of one or the other."
Wolf, who knew what each individual chorister could do, shook his head, and began to tell the boy from Malta for what good reason the master preferred the two sick youths; but little Hannibal interrupted by exclaiming, in tones of passionate lamentation:
"So you are the same? The master having begun it, all misjudge and crush me! Instead of giving me an opportunity to show what I can do in a solo part, I am forced back into the crowd. My best work disappears in the chorus. And yet, Sir Wolf, in spite of all, I heard the master's own lips say in Brussels--I wasn't listening--that he had never heard what lends a woman's voice its greatest charm come so softly and tenderly from the throat of a boy. Those are his own words. He will not deny them, for at least he is honest. What is to become of the singing without Johann and Benevenuto? But if they would try me, and at least trust a part of Bosco's music to me--"
Here he stopped, for Master Appenzelder was just coming from the door of the sick-room into the corridor; but Wolf, with a playful gesture, thrust his fingers through the lad's bushy coal-black hair, turned him in the direction from which he came, and called after him, "Your cause is in good hands, you little fellow with the big name."
Then, laying his hand on the arm of the deeply troubled musician, and pointing to the boy who was trotting, full of hope, down the corridor, he said: "'Hannibal ante portas!' A cry of distress that is full of terror; but the Maltese Hannibal who is vanishing yonder gave me an idea which will put an end to your trouble, my dear Maestro. The sooner the two poisoned lads recover the better, of course; yet the Benedictio Mensae need not remain unsung on account of their heedlessness, for little Hannibal showed me the best substitute."
This promise flowed from Wolf's lips with such joyous confidence that the grave musician's sombre face brightened; but it swiftly darkened again, and he exclaimed, "We don't give such hasty work!" When the knight tried to tell him what he had in mind, the other brusquely interrupted with the request that he would first aid him in a more important matter. Wolf was acquainted with the city, and perhaps would spare him a walk by informing him where the sick lads would find the best shelter. The Stag was overcrowded, and he was reluctant to leave the poor fellows in the little sleeping room which they shared with their companions. The Ratisbon physician had ordered them to be sent to the hospital; but the boy from Cologne opposed it so impetuously that he, Appenzelder, thought it his duty to seek another shelter for the sufferers.
When Wolf with the older man entered the low, close chamber, he found the lad, a handsome, vigorous boy, with his fair, curling hair tossed in disorder around his fevered face, standing erect in his bed. While the doctor was trying to compel him to obey and enter the litter which stood waiting for him, he beat him back with his strong young fists. He would rather jump into the open grave or into the rushing river, he shrieked to the corpulent leech, than be dragged into the hospital, which was the plague, death, hell.
He emphasized his resistance with heavy blows, while his Italian companion in suffering, livid, ashen-gray, with bowed head and closed lids, permitted himself to be placed in the litter without moving.
At Wolf's entrance the German youth, like a drowning man who sees a friend on the shore, shrieked an entreaty to save him from the murderers who wanted to drag him to death. The young knight gazed compassionately at the lad's flushed face, and, after a brief pause of reflection, proposed committing the sufferers to the care of the Knights Hospitallers.
This removed the burden from the young Rhinelander's tortured soul, yet he insisted, with passionate impetuosity, upon having his master and the nobleman accompany him, that the physician whom, in his fevered fancy, he regarded as his mortal foe, should not drag him to the pest-house after all.
Both musicians yielded to his wish. On the way Appenzelder held the lad's burning hand in his own, and never wearied of talking affectionately to him. Not until after he had seen his charges, with the physician's assistance, comfortably lodged, and had left the house of the Hospitallers, did he permit himself to test the almost incredible news which Sir Wolf Hartschwert had brought him.
With what fiery zeal Wolf persuaded him, how convincing was his assurance that a substitute for Johann of Cologne, and a most admirable one, was actually to be found here in Ratisbon!
He had no need to seek for fitting words in the description of Barbara Blomberg, the melody of her voice, and her admirable training. The fact that she was a woman, he protested, need not be considered, nay, it might be kept secret. The Church, it is true, prohibited the assistance of women, but the matter here was simply the execution of songs in a private house.
At first Appenzelder listened grumbling, and shaking his head in dissent, but soon the proposal seemed worth heeding; nay, when he heard that the singer, whose talent and skill the quiet, intelligent German praised so highly, owed her training to his countryman, Damian Feys, whom he knew, he began to ask questions with, increasing interest. But, ere Wolf had answered the first queries, some one else made his appearance on the Haid, and the very person who was best fitted to give information about Barbara--her teacher, Feys, who had sought Gombert, his famous Brussels companion in art, and was just taking him to a rehearsal of the Convivium musicum. At this meeting the leader of the boy choir, in spite of his pleasure at seeing his valued countryman and companion in art, showed far less patience than before, for, after the first greeting, he at once asked Feys what he thought of his pupil Barbara. The answer was so favourable that Appenzelder eagerly accepted the invitation to attend the rehearsal also. So the four fellow-artists crossed the Haidplatz together, and Maestro Gombert was obliged to remind his colleague of the boy choir that people who occupied the conductor's desk forgot to run on a wager.
Wolf's legs were by no means so long as those of the tall, broad musician, yet, in his joyous excitement, it was an easy matter to keep pace with him. In the happy consciousness of meriting the gratitude of the woman whom he loved, he gazed toward the New Scales, the large building beneath whose roof she whose image filled his heart and mind must already have found shelter.
Did she see him coming? Did she suspect who his companions were, and what awaited her through them?
Yet, sharply as he watched for her, he could discover no sign of her fair head behind any of the windows.
Yet Barbara, from the little room where the singers laid aside their cloaks and wraps, had seen Wolf, with her singing master Feys and two other gentlemen, coming toward the New Scales, and correctly guessed the names of the slender, shorter stranger in the sable-trimmed mantle and the big, broad-shouldered, bearded one who accompanied her friend. Wolf
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