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- Barbara Blomberg, Volume 3. - 2/10 -
had gone to rest like a knight who has been hurled upon the sand.
The next morning, after mass, Barbara went to the rehearsal, and returned in a very joyous mood with the tidings that the Emperor wished to hear her about noon. But this time her father wanted to forbid her taking part in the performance, and Wolf had not found it easy to make him understand that this would insult and offend his Majesty.
The dispute was by no means ended when the little Maltese summoned her to the New Scales. Wolf accompanied her only to the Haidplatz, for he had been called to the Town Hall on business connected with his inheritance; but Barbara learned in the room assigned to the musicians that the noon performance had just been countermanded, and no special reason had been given for the change.
The leader of the orchestra had been accustomed to submit to the sovereign's arrangements as unresistingly as to the will of higher powers, and Barbara also restrained herself.
True, wrath boiled and seethed in her breast, but before retiring she only said briefly, with a seriousness which revealed the contempt concealed beneath:
"You were quite right, Maestro Appenzelder. The Emperor considered my voice nothing unusual, and nothing else is fit for the august ears of his Majesty. Now I will go to the green woods."
The leader of the boy choir again did his best to detain her, for what the noon denied the evening would bring, and Gombert aided him with courteous flatteries; but Barbara listened only a short time, then, interrupting both with the exclamation, "I force myself upon no one, not even the highest!" she left the room, holding her head haughtily erect.
Appenzelder fixed his eyes helplessly upon the ground.
"I'd rather put a hoarse sailor or a croaking owl into my choir henceforward than such a trilling fair one, who has more whims in her head than hairs on it."
Then he went out to look for Wolf, for he, as well as Gombert, had noticed that he possessed a certain degree of influence over Barbara. What should he say to their Majesties if they ordered the choir for the late meal and missed the voice about which the Oueen had said so many complimentary things in the Emperor's name?
Wolf had told him that he was summoned to the Town Hall. The maestro followed him, and when he learned there that he had gone to the syndic, Dr. Hiltner, he inquired the way to this gentleman's house.
But the knight was no longer to be found there. For the third time the busy magistrate was not at home, but he had been informed that the syndic expected him that afternoon, as he wished to discuss a matter of importance. Dr. Hiltner's wife knew what it was, but silence had been enjoined upon her, and she was a woman who knew how to refrain from speech.
She and her daughter Martina--who during Wolf's absence had grown to maidenhood--were sincerely glad to see him; he had been the favourite schoolmate of her adopted son, Erasmus Eckhart, and a frequent guest in her household. Yet she only confirmed to the modest young man, who shrank from asking her more minute questions, that the matter concerned an offer whose acceptance promised to make him a prosperous man. She was expecting her Erasmus home from Wittenberg that evening or early the next morning, and to find Wolf here again would be a welcome boon to him.
What had the syndic in view? Evidently something good. Old Ursel should help counsel him. The doctor liked her, and, in spite of the severe illness, she had kept her clever brain.
He would take Barbara into his confidence, too, for what concerned him concerned her also.
But when he turned from the Haidplatz into Red Cock Street he saw three fine horses in front of the cantor house. A groom held their bridles. The large chestnut belonged to the servant. The other two-a big-boned bay and an unusually wellformed Andalusian gray, with a small head and long sweeping tail--had ladies' saddles.
The sister of rich old Peter Schlumperger, who was paying court to Barbara, had dismounted from the former. She wanted to persuade the young girl, in her brother's name, to join the party to the wood adjoining Prfifening Abbey.
At first she had opposed the marriage between the man of fifty and Barbara; but when she saw that her brother's affection had lasted two years, nay, had increased more and more, and afforded new joy to the childless widower, she had made herself his ally.
She, too, was widowed and had a large fortune of her own. Her husband, a member of the Kastenmayr family, had made her his heiress. Blithe young Barbara, whose voice and beauty she knew how to value, could bring new life and brightness into the great, far too silent house. The girl's poverty was no disadvantage; she and her brother had long found it difficult to know what to do with the vast wealth which, even in these hard times, was constantly increasing, and the Blomberg family was as aristocratic as their own.
The widow's effort to persuade the girl to ride had not been in vain, for Wolf met Frau Kastenmayr on the stairs, and Barbara followed in a plain dark riding habit, which had been her mother's.
So, in spite of Maestro Appenzelder, Miss Self-Will had really determined to leave the city.
Her hasty information that the Emperor did not wish to hear the choir at noon somewhat relieved his mind; but when, in answer to his no less hasty question about the singing at the late meal, the answer came, "What is that to me?" he perceived that the sensitiveness which yesterday had almost led her to a similar step had now urged her to an act that might cause Appenzelder great embarrassment, and rob her forever of the honour of singing before their Majesties.
While the very portly Frau Kastenmayr went panting down the narrow stairs, Wolf again stopped Barbara with the question why she so carelessly trifled with what might be the best piece of good fortune in her life, and shook his head doubtfully as, tossing hers higher, with self-important pride she answered low enough not to be heard by the widow, "Because a ride through the green woods in the month of May is pleasanter than to sing into vacancy at midnight unheeded."
Here the high, somewhat shrill voice of Frau Kastenmayr, who felt jealous in her brother's behalf at hearing Barbara whispering with the young knight, interrupted them.
Her warning, "Where are you, my darling?" made the girl, with the skirt of her riding habit thrown over her arm, follow her swiftly.
Wolf, offended and anxious, would have liked to make her feel his displeasure, but could not bring himself to let her go unattended, and, with some difficulty, first helped Frau Kastenmayr upon her strong steed, then, with very mingled feelings, aided Barbara to mount the noble Andalusian. While she placed her little foot in his hand to spring thence with graceful agility into the saddle, the widow, with forced courtesy, invited the young gentleman to accompany her and her brother to Prufening. There would be a merry meal, which she herself had provided, in the farmhouse on the abbey lands.
Without giving a positive answer, Wolf bowed, and his heart quivered as Barbara, from her beautiful gray horse, waved her riding whip to him as a queen might salute a vassal.
How erect she sat in her saddle! how slender and yet how well rounded her figure was! What rapture it would be to possess her charms!
That she would accept the elderly Schlumperger for the sake of his money was surely impossible. And yet! How could she, with laughing lips, cast to the wind the rare favour of fortune which permitted her to display her art to the Emperor, and so carelessly leave him, Wolf, who had built the bridge to their Majesties, in the lurch, unless she had some special purpose in view; and what could that be except the resolution to become the mistress of one of the richest houses in Ratisbon? The words "My darling," which Frau Kastenmayr had called to Barbara, again rang in his ears, and when the two ladies and the groom had vanished, he returned in a very thoughtful mood to the faithful old maid-servant.
Every one else who was in the street or at the window looked after Barbara, and pointed out to others the beautiful Jungfrau Blomberg and the proud security with which she governed the spirited gray. She had become a good rider, first upon her father's horses, and then at the Wollers in the country, and took risks which many a bold young noble would not have imitated.
Her aged suitor's gray Andalusian was dearer than the man himself, whom she regarded merely as a sheet-anchor which could be used if everything else failed.
The thought of what might happen when, after these days of working for her bread ended, still more terrible ones followed, had troubled her again and again the day before. Now she no longer recollected these miserable things. What a proud feeling it was to ride on horseback through the sweet May air, in the green woods, as her own mistress, and bid defiance to the ungrateful sovereign in the Golden Cross!
The frustration of the hope that her singing would make the Emperor desire to hear her again and again had wounded her to the depths of her soul and spoiled her night's rest. The annoyance of having vainly put forth her best efforts to please him had become unendurable after the fresh refusal which, as it were, set the seal upon her fears, and in the defiant flight to the forest she seemed to have found the right antidote. As she approached the monarch's residence, she felt glad and proud that he, who could force half the world to obey him, could not rule her.
To attract his notice by another performance would have been the most natural course, but Barbara had placed herself in a singular relation toward the Emperor Charles. To her he was the man, not the Emperor, and that he did not express a desire to hear her again seemed like an insult which the man offered to the woman, the artist, who was ready to obey his sign.
Her perverse spirit had rebelled against such lack of appreciation of her most precious gifts, and filled her with rankling hatred against the first person who had closed his heart to the victorious magic of her voice.
When she refused Appenzelder her aid in case the Emperor Charles desired to hear the choir that evening, and promised Frau Kastenmayr to accompany her to Prufening, she had been like a rebellious child filled with the desire to show the man who cared nothing for her that, against her will, he could not hear even a single note from her lips.
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