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- Barbara Blomberg, Volume 3. - 3/10 -
They were to meet the other members of the party at St. Oswald's Church on the Danube, so they were obliged to pass the Golden Cross.
This suited Barbara and, with triumphant selfconfidence, in which mingled a slight shade of defiance, she looked up to the Emperor's windows. She did not see him, it is true, but she made him a mute speech which ran: "When, foolish sovereign, who did not even think it worth while to grant me a single look, you hear the singing again to-night, and miss the voice which, I know full well, penetrated your heart, you will learn its value, and long for it as ardently as I desired your summons."
Here her cheeks glowed so hotly that Frau Kastenmayr noticed it, and with maternal solicitude asked, from her heavy, steady bay horse:
"Is the gray too gay for you, my darling?"
Shortly after sunset Appenzelder received the order to have the boy choir sing before the Emperor.
During the noon hour, which the monarch had spent alone, thoughts so sad, bordering upon melancholy, had visited him, although for several hours he had been free from pain, that he relinquished his resentful intention of showing his undutiful sister how little he cared for her surprise and how slight was his desire to enjoy music.
In fact, he, too, regarded it as medicine, and hoped especially for a favourable effect from the exquisite soprano voice in the motet "Tu pulchra es."
He still had some things to look over with Granvelle, but the orchestra and the boy choir must be ready by ten o'clock.
Would it not have been foolish to bear this intolerable, alarming mood until the midnight meal? It must be dispelled, for he himself perceived how groundless it was. The pain had passed away, the despatches contained no bad news, and Dr. Mathys had permitted him to go out the next day. When Adrian already had his hand on the door knob, he called after him, "And Appenzelder must see that the exquisite new voice--he knows--is heard."
Soon after, when Granvelle had just left him, the steward, Malfalconnet, entered, and, in spite of the late hour--the Nuremberg clock on the writing table had struck nine some time before--asked an audience for Sir Wolf Hartschwert, one of her Highness the regent's household, to whom she committed the most noiseless and the most noisy affairs, namely, the secret correspondence and the music.
"The German?" asked Charles, and as the baron, with a low bow, assented, the Emperor continued: "Then it is scarcely an intrigue, at any rate a successful one, unless he is unlike the usual stamp. But no! I noticed the man. There is something visionary about him, like most of the Germans. But I have never seen him intoxicated."
"Although he is of knightly lineage, and, as I heard, at home in the neighbourhood of the Main, where good wine matures," remarked Malfalconnet, with another bow. "At this moment he looks more than sober, rather as though some great fright had roused him from a carouse. Poor knight!"
"Ay, poor knight!" the Emperor assented emphatically. "To serve my sister of Hungary in one position may be difficult for a man who is no sportsman, and now in two! God's death! These torments on earth will shorten his stay in purgatory."
The Emperor Charles had spoken of his sister in a very different tone the day before, but now she remained away from him and kept with her a friend whom he greatly needed, so he repaid her for it.
Therefore, with a shrug of the shoulders expressive of regret, he added, "However badly off we may be ourselves, there is always some one with whom we would not change places."
"Were I, the humblest of the humble, lucky enough to be in your Majesty's skin," cried the baron gaily, "I wouldn't either. But since I am only poor Malfalconnet, I know of nobody--and I'm well acquainted with Sir Wolf--who seems to me more enviable than your Majesty."
"Jest, or earnest?" asked the Emperor.
"Earnest, deep, well-founded earnest," replied the other with an upward glance whose solemn devotion showed the sovereign that mischief was concealed behind it. "Let your Majesty judge for yourself. He is a knight of good family, and looks like a plain burgher. His name is Wolf Hartschwert, and he is as gentle as a lamb and as pliant as a young willow. He appears like the meek, whom our Lord calls blessed, and yet he is one of the wisest of the wise, and, moreover, a master in his art. Wherever he shows himself, delusion follows delusion, and every one redounds to his advantage, for whoever took him for an insignificant man must doff his hat when he utters his name. If a shrewd fellow supposed that this sheep would not know A from B, he'll soon give him nuts to crack which are far too hard for many a learned master of arts. Nobody expects chivalric virtues and the accompanying expenditure from this simple fellow; yet he practises them, and, when he once opens his hand, people stare at him as they do at flying fish and the hen that lays a golden egg. Appreciative surprise gazes at him, beseeching forgiveness, wherever he is known, as surely as happy faces welcome your Majesty's entry into any Netherland city. Fortune, lavish when she once departs from her wonted niggardliness, guards this her favourite child from disappointment and misconstruction."
"The blessing of those who are more than they seem," replied the Emperor.
"That is his also," sighed Malfalconnet. "That man, your Majesty, and I the poorest of the poor! I was born a baron, and, as the greatest piece of good fortune, obtained the favour of my illustrious master. Now everybody expects from me magnificence worthy of my ancient name, and a style of living in keeping with the much-envied grace that renders me happy. But if your Majesty's divine goodness did not sometimes pay my debts, which are now a part of me as the tail belongs to the comet--"
"Oho!" cried the Emperor here. "If that is what is coming--"
"Do I look so stupid," interrupted the baron humbly, "as to repeat to-day things which yesterday did not wholly fail to make an impression upon your Majesty?"
"They would find deaf cars," Charles replied. "You are certainly less destitute of brains than of money, because you lack system. One proceeds in a contrary direction from the other. Besides, your ancient name, though worthy of all honour, does not inspire the most favourable impression. Malfalconnet! Mal is evil, and falconnet--or is it falconnelle?--is a cruel, greedy bird of prey. So whoever encounters no evil from you, whoever escapes you unplucked, also enjoys a pleasant surprise. As for not being plucked, I, at least, unfortunately have not experienced this. But we will not cloud by too long waiting the good fortune of the gentleman outside who was born under such lucky stars. What brings the Wolf in sheep's clothing to us?"
"One would almost suppose," replied the baron with a crafty smile, "that he was coming to-day on a useless errand, and meant to apply to your Majesty for the payment of his debts."
Here the Emperor interrupted him with an angry gesture; but Malfalconnet went on soothingly: "However, there is nothing to be feared from lambs in sheep's clothing. Just think, your Majesty, how warm they must be in their double dress! No; he comes from the musicians, and apparently brings an important message."
"Admit him, then," the Emperor commanded. A few minutes later Wolf stood before the sovereign, and, in Appenzelder's name, informed him in a tone of sincere regret, yet with a certain degree of reserve, that the performance of the choir boys that day would leave much to be desired, for two of the best singers had not yet recovered.
"But the substitute, the admirable substitute?" Charles impatiently interrupted.
"That is just what troubles us," Wolf replied uneasily. "The magnificent new voice wishes to desert the maestro to-night."
"Desert?" cried the Emperor angrily. "A choir boy in the service of her Majesty the Queen of Hungary! So there is still something new under the sun."
"Certainly," replied Wolf with a low bow, still striving, in obedience to the regent's strict command, not to reveal the sex of the new member of the choir. "And this case is especially unusual. This voice is not in her Majesty's service. It belongs to a volunteer, as it were, a native of this city, whose wonderful instrument and rare ability we discovered. But, begging your Majesty's pardon, the soul of such an artist is a strange thing, inflammable and enthusiastic, but just as easily wounded and disheartened."
"The soul of a boy!" cried Charles contemptuously. "Appenzelder does not look like a man who would permit such whims."
"Not in his choir, certainly," said the young nobleman. "But this voice --allow me to repeat it--is not at his disposal. It was no easy matter to obtain it at all, and, keenly as the maestro disapproves of the caprices of this beautiful power, he can not force it--the power, I mean --to the obedience which his boys----"
Here the Emperor laughed shrilly. "The power, the voice! The songstress, you should say. This whimsical volunteer with the voice of an angel, who is so tenderly treated by rough Appenzelder, is a woman, not a refractory choir boy. How you are blushing! You have proved a very inapt pupil in the art of dissimulation and disguise in my royal sister's service. Really and truly, I am right!"
Here another bow from Wolf confirmed the Emperor's conjecture; but the latter, highly pleased with his own penetration, laughed softly, exclaimin, to the baron: "Where were our ears? This masquerade is surely the work of the Queen, who so dearly loves the chase. And she forbade you too, Malfalconnet, to give me your confidence?" Again a silent bow assented.
The Emperor bent his eyes on the ground a short time, and then said, half in soliloquy: "It was not possible otherwise. Whence could a boy learn the ardent, yearning longing of which that 'Quia amore langueo' was so full? And the second, less powerful voice, which accompanied her, was that a girl's too? No? Yet that also, I remember, had a suggestion of feminine tenderness. But only the marvellously beautiful melody of one haunted me. I can hear it still. The irresistible magic of this 'Amore langueo' mingled even in my conversation with Granvelle."
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