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- Barbara Blomberg, Volume 3. - 10/10 -
Yet there had never been a favourite at this monarch's court, and she was curious to learn what position would be assigned to her.
After accompanying the girl intrusted to her care down the stairs with flattering kindness, she committed her to the musicians and Wolf, who, with old Blomberg, were awaiting her in the chapel with increasing impatience. The captain had obtained admittance through Wolf.
At her first glance at Barbara the eyes of the old marquise had rested on the glittering star which the Emperor had fastened on the lady of his love.
The men did not notice it until after they had congratulated the singer upon her exquisite performance and the effect which it had produced upon his Majesty.
Maestro Gombert perceived it before the others, and Captain Blomberg and Wolf rejoiced with him and Appenzelder over this tangible proof of the imperial favour.
A conversation about the Emperor's judgment and the rarity with which be bestowed such costly tokens of his regard was commencing in the chapel, but Barbara speedily brought it to a close by the assurance that she was utterly exhausted and needed rest.
On the way home she said very little, but when Wolf, in the second story of the house, held out his hand in farewell, she pressed it warmly, and thanked him with such evident emotion that the young man entered his rooms full of hope and deep secret satisfaction.
After Barbara had crossed the threshold of hers, she said good-night to her father, who wished to learn all sorts of details, alleging that she could scarcely speak from weariness.
The old gentleman went to rest grumbling over the weakness of women in these days, to which even his sturdy lass now succumbed; but Barbara threw herself on her knees beside the bed in her room, buried her face in the pillows, and sobbed aloud. Another feeling, however, soon silenced her desire to weep. Her lover's image and the memory of the happy moments which she had just experienced returned to her mind. Besides, she must hasten to arrange her hair again, and--this time with her own hands--change her clothing.
While she was loosening her golden tresses and gazing into the mirror, her eyes again sparkled with joy. The greatest, the loftiest of mortals loved her. She belonged to him, body and soul, and she had been permitted to call him "her own."
At this thought she drew herself up still more haughtily in proud self- consciousness, but, as her glance fell upon the image of the Virgin above the priedieu, she again bowed her head.
Doubtless she desired to pray, but she could not.
She need confess nothing to the august Queen of Heaven. She knew that she had neither sought nor desired what now burdened her heart so heavily, and yet rendered her so infinitely happy. She had obeyed the Emperor's summons in order to win approval and applause for her art, and to afford the monarch a little pleasure and cheer, and, instead, the love of the greatest of all men had flamed ardently from the earth, she had left her whole heart with him, and given herself and all that was in her into his power. Now he summoned her--the Holy Virgin knew this, too--and she must obey, though the pure face yonder looked so grave and threatening.
And for what boon could she beseech the Queen of Heaven?
What more had the woman, to whom the Emperor's heart belonged, to desire?
The calmness of her soul was at an end, and not for all the kingdoms Charles possessed would she have exchanged the tumult and turmoil in her breast for the peace which she had enjoyed yesterday.
Obeying a defiant impulse, she turned from the benign face, and her hands fairly flew as, still more violently agitated, she completed the changes in her dress.
In unfastening the star, her lover's gift, she saw upon the gold at the back Charles's motto, "Plus ultra!"
Barbara had known it before, but had not thought of it for a long time, and a slight tremor ran through her frame as she said to herself that, from early childhood, though unconsciously, it had been hers also. Heaven--she knew it now--Fate destined them for each other.
Sighing heavily, she went at last, in a street dress, to open the bow- window which looked upon Red Cock Street.
Barbara felt as if she had outgrown herself. The pathos which she had often expressed in singing solemn church music took possession of her, and left no room in her soul for any frivolous emotion. Proud of the lofty passion which drew her with such mighty power to her lover's arms, she cast aside the remorse, the anxiety, the deep sense of wrong which had overpowered her on her return home.
What was greater than the certainty of being beloved by the greatest of men? It raised her far above all other women, and, since she loved him in return, this certainty could not fail to make her happy also, when she had once fully recovered her composure and ventured to look the wonderful event which had happened freely in the face.
The stars themselves, following their appointed course in yonder blue firmament--his device taught that--made her belong to him. If she could have forced herself to silence the desire of her heart, it would have been futile. Whoever divides two trees which have grown from a single root, she said to herself, destroys at least one; but she would live, would be happy on the highest summit of existence. She could not help obeying his summons, for as soon as she listened to the warning voice within, the "Because I long for love" with which he had clasped her in his arms, urged her with irresistible power toward the lover who awaited her coming.
The clock now struck two, and a tall figure in a Spanish cloak stood outside the door of the house. It was Don Luis Quijada, the Emperor's majordomo.
It would not do to keep him waiting, and, as she turned back into the room to take the little lamp, her glance again fell upon the Virgin's image above the priedieu and rested upon her head.
Then the figure of her imperial lover stood in tangible distinctness before her mind, and she imagined that she again heard the first cry of longing with which he clasped her in his arms, and without further thought or consideration she kissed her hand to the image, extinguished the little lamp, and hurried as fast as the darkness permitted into the entry and down the stairs.
Outside the house Wolf returned to her memory a moment.
How faithfully he loved her!
Yet was it not difficult to understand how she could even think of the poor fellow at all while hastening to the illustrious sovereign whose heart was hers, and who had taught her with what impetuous power true love seizes upon the soul. Barbara threw her head back proudly, and, drawing a long breath, opened the door of the house. Outside she was received by Quijada with a silent bend of the head; but she remembered the far more profound bows with which he greeted the monarch, and, to show him of how lofty a nature was also the woman whom the Emperor Charles deemed worthy of his love, she walked with queenly dignity through the darkness at her aristocratic companion's side without vouchsafing him a single glance.
Two hours later old Ursula was sitting sleepless in her bed in the second story of the cantor house. A slight noise was heard on the stairs, and the one-eyed maid-servant who was watching beside her exclaimed: "There it is again! just as it was striking two I said that the rats were coming up from the cellar into the house."
"The rats," repeated the old woman incredulously; and then, without moving her lips, thought: "Rats that shut the door behind them? My poor Wolf!"
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