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- Barbara Blomberg, Volume 3. - 4/10 -
Then he passed his hand across his lofty brow, and in a different tone asked Wolf, "So it is a girl, and a native of this city?"
"Yes, your Majesty," was the reply.
"And, in spite of the praise of the gracious mother of God, a Protestant, like the other fools in this country?"
"No, my lord," replied the nobleman firmly; "a pious Catholic Christian."
"Of what rank?"
"She belongs, through both parents, to a family of knightly lineage, entitled to bear a coat-of-arms and appear in the lists at tournaments. Her father has drawn his sword more than once in battle against the infidels--at the capture of Tunis, under your own eyes, your Majesty, and in doing so he unfortunately ruined the prosperity of his good, ancient house."
"What is his name?"
"A big, broad-shouldered German fighter, with a huge mustache and pointed beard. Shot in the leg and wounded in the shoulder. Pious, reckless, with the courage of a lion. Afterward honoured with the title of captain."
Full of honest amazement at such strength of memory, Wolf endeavoured to express his admiration; but the imperial general interrupted him with another question, "And the daughter? Does her appearance harmonize with her voice?"
"I think so," replied Wolf in an embarrassed tone.
"Wonderfully beautiful and very aristocratic," said the baron, completing the sentence, and raising the tips of his slender fingers to his lips.
But this gesture seemed to displease his master, for he turned from him, and, looking the young Ratisbon knight keenly in the face, asked suspiciously, "She is full of caprices--I am probably right there also --and consequently refuses to sing?"
"Pardon me, your Majesty," replied Wolf eagerly. "If I understand her feelings, she had hoped to earn your Majesty's approval, and when she received no other summons, nay, when your Majesty for the second time countermanded your wish to hear the boy choir, she feared that her art had found no favour in your Majesty's trained ears, and, wounded and disheartened--"
"Nonsense!" the Emperor broke in wrathfully. "The contrary is true. The Queen of Hungary was commissioned to assure the supposed boy of my approval. Tell her this, Sir Wolf Hartschwert, and do so at once. Tell her--"
"She rode to the forest with some friends," Wolf timidly ventured to interpose to save himself other orders impossible to execute. "If she has not returned home, it might be difficult--"
"Whether difficult or easy, you will find her," Charles interrupted. "Then, with a greeting from her warmest admirer, Charles, the music lover, announce that he does not command, but entreats her to let him hear again this evening the voice whose melody so powerfully moved his heart.--You, Baron, will accompany the gentleman, and not return without the young lady!--What is her name?"
"Barbara," repeated the sovereign, as if the name evoked an old memory; and, as though he saw before him the form of the woman he was describing, he added in a low tone: "She is blue-eyed, fairskinned and rosy, slender yet well-rounded. A haughty, almost repellent bearing. Thick, waving locks of golden hair."
"That is witchcraft!" the baron exclaimed. "Your Majesty is painting her portrait in words exactly, feature by feature. Her hair is like that of Titian's daughter."
"Apparently you have not failed to scrutinize her closely," remarked the Emperor sharply. "Has she already associated with the gentlemen of the court?"
Both promptly answered in the negative, but the Emperor continued impatiently: "Then hasten! As soon as she is here, inform me.--The meal, Malfalconnet, must be short-four courses, or five at the utmost, and no dessert. The boy choir is not to be stationed in the chapel, but in the dining hall, opposite to me.--We leave the arrangement to you, Sir Wolf. Of course, a chair must be placed for the lady.--Have the larger table set in another room, baron, and, for ought I care, serve with all twenty courses and a dessert. Old Marquise de Leria will remain here. She will occupy Queen Mary's seat at my side. On account of the singer, I mean. Besides, it will please the marquise's vanity."
His eyes sparkled with youthful fire as he gave these orders. When the ambassadors were already on the threshold, he called after them:
"Wherever she may be, however late it may become, you will bring her. And," he added eagerly, as the others with reverential bows were retiring, "and don't forget, I do not command--I entreat her."
When he was alone, Charles drew a long breath, and, resting his head on his hand, his thoughts returned to the past. Half-vanished pictures unconsciously blended with the present, which had so unexpectedly assumed a bright colouring.
"Barbara," he murmured, almost inaudibly. Then he continued in soliloquy: "The beautiful Jungfrau Groen in Brussels was also called Barbara, and she was the first. Another of this name, and perhaps the last. How can this ardent yearning take root in my seared soul and grow so vigorously?"
Meanwhile he fancied that the "Quia amore langueo" again greeted him yearningly in the sweet melody of her voice.
"How powerfully the ear affects the heart!" he continued, pursuing the same train of thought. "Slender, well-rounded, golden-haired. If she should really resemble the Brussels Barbara! Malfalconnet is a connoisseur. Perhaps, after these gloomy days and years, a semblance of sunlight may return. It is long enough since politics and war have granted me even the slightest refreshment of the heart. And yet, methinks Heaven might feel under obligation to do something for the man who has made it his life-task to hold its enemies in check."
He rose quickly as he spoke, and, while moving forward to ring the little bell whose peal summoned the valet, not the slightest trace of the gouty pain in his foot was perceptible.
Adrian saw with joyful surprise that his master approached without a crutch the door through which he had come, and the faithful servant expressed his astonishment in terms as eager as his position permitted.
On reaching his sleeping-room, the Emperor interrupted him. He wished to be dressed for dinner.
Master Adrian would not believe his own ears. He was to bring one of the new reception robes, and yet to-day not even the Queen of Hungary was to share his Majesty's repast. One of the costliest new costumes! What had come over his lord, who for months, when no distinguished guests were present, had worn only the most comfortable and often very shabby clothes at table, saving the better new garments like an economical housekeeper?
But Charles was not satisfied even with these, for, when Adrian hung over the back of a chair a handsome black court dress, slashed with satin, his master signed to him to take it away, and asked for one of the newest works of art of his Brussels tailor, a violet velvet garment, with slashes of golden yellow sill: on the breast, in the puffed sleeves and short plush breeches. With this were silk stockings tightly incasing the feet and limbs, as well as a ruff and cuffs of Mechlin lace.
Shaking his head, the valet took these articles of dress from the chest; but before he put them on his master, the latter sat down to have his hair and beard carefully arranged.
For weeks he had performed this slight task himself, though with very ill success, for his hair and beard had seemed to his visitors rough and unkempt. This time, on the contrary, mirror in hand, he directed the work of the skilful servant with many an objection, showing as much vanity as in his youth.
After Adrian had put on the new costume, the Emperor shook off the large, warm boot, and held out his gouty foot to the valet.
The faithful fellow gazed beseechingly into his master's face, and modestly entreated him to remember the pain from which he had scarcely recovered; but the Emperor imperiously commanded, "The shoes!" and the servant brought them and cautiously, with grave anxiety, fitted the low- cut violet satin shoes on his feet.
Lastly, the sovereign ordered the Golden Fleece, which he usually wore on a hook below his neck, to be put on the gold chain which, as the head of the order, he had a right to wear with it, and took from the jewel case several especially handsome rings and a very costly star of diamonds and rubies, which he had fastened in the knot of the bow of his ruff. The state sword and sheath, which Adrian handed to him unasked, were rejected.
He needed no steel weapons to-day; the victory he sought must be won by his person.
When the servant held the Venetian mirror before him, he was satisfied. The elderly, half-broken-down man of the day before had become a tall, stately noble in the prime of life; nay, in spite of his forty-six years, his eyes sparkled far more brightly and proudly than many a young knight's in his train.
His features, even now, did not show beautiful symmetry, but they bore the stamp of a strong, enrgetic mind. The majestic dignity which he knew how to bestow upon it, made his figure, though it did not exceed middle height, appear taller; and the self-confident smile which rested on his full lips, as he was sure of a speedy triumph, well beseemed a general whose sword and brain had gained the most brilliant victories.
Adrian had seen him thus more than once after battles had been won or when he had unhorsed some strong antagonist in the tournament, but it was many a long year ago. He felt as though a miracle was wrought before his eyes, and, deeply loved, kissed his master's sleeve.
Charles noticed it, and, as if in token of gratitude, patted him lightly on the shoulder. This was not much, but it made the faithful fellow happy. How long it was since the last time his imperial aster had
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