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- Barbara Blomberg, Volume 3. - 6/10 -
Yet, during this ride through the silent night, she did not even bestow the lightest thought upon the riches of the man who was summoning her to his side. The gold, the purple, the ermine, the gems, and all the other splendours which she had seen, as if in a dream, hovering before her at the first tidings that she was invited to sing before the Emperor Charles, had vanished from her imagination.
She only longed to display her art before the greatest of men, whose "entreaty" had intoxicated her with very different power from the Malmsey at Herr Peter's table, and show herself worthy of his approval. That the mightiest of the mighty could not escape pain seemed to her like a mockery and a spiteful cruelty of Fate, and at the early mass that day she had prayed fervently that Heaven might grant him recovery.
Now she believed that it was in her own hands to bring it to him.
How often had she been told that her singing possessed the power to cheer saddened souls! Surely the magic of her art must exert a totally different influence upon the man to whom her whole being attracted her than upon the worthy folk here, for whom she cared nothing. She, ay, she, was to free his troubled spirit from every care, and if she succeeded, and he confessed to her that he, too, found in her something unusual, something great in its way, then the earnest diligence which Master Feys had often praised in her would be richly rewarded; then she would be justified in the pride which, notwithstanding her poverty, was a part of her, like her eyes and her lips, and for which she had so often been blamed.
She had always rejected coldly and unfeelingly the young men who sought her favour, but with what passionate yearning her heart throbbed for the first person whom she deemed worthy of it, yet from whom she expected nothing save warm sympathy for the musical talents which she held in readiness for him, earnest appreciation which raised her courage, and also, perhaps, the blissful gift of admiration!
Never had she rejoiced so gleefully, so proudly, and so hopefully in the magic of her voice, and she also felt it as a piece of good fortune that she was beautiful and pure as the art with which she expected to elevate and cheer his soul.
Transported out of herself, she did not heed the starry heavens above her head, at which she usually gazed with so much pleasure--Wolf had taught her to recognise the most beautiful planets and fixed stars--nor at the night birds which, attracted by the torches of the horsemen riding in advance, often darted close by her, nor the flattering words to which she was wont to listen willingly, and which few understood how to choose better than the well-trained breaker of hearts at her side.
The envoys had taken care that the city gate should be kept open for them. Not until the hoofs of her gray horse rang upon the pavement did Barbara awake from the dream of longing which had held her captive. She started in alarm, raised her little plumed cap, and drew a long breath. The ancient, well-known houses along the sides of the streets brought her back to reality and its demands.
She could not appear before the Emperor just as she was, in her riding habit, with disordered hair. Besides, her head was burning after the dancing and the wine which she had drunk. She must calm herself ere entering the presence of the royal connoisseur whose approval could render her so happy, whose dissatisfaction or indifference would make her wretched.
Quickly forming her resolution, she turned to Malfalconnet and explained that she could not appear before his Majesty until after she had allowed herself a short period of rest; but the baron, who probably feared that some feminine caprice would spoil, even at the twelfth hour, the successful issue of his mission, thought that he must deny this wish, though in the most courteous manner and with the assurance that he would procure her an opportunity to collect her thoughts quietly in the Golden Cross.
Barbara unexpectedly wheeled her horse, struck him a blow with the whip, and called to the astonished gentlemen, "In front of the Golden Cross in a quarter of an hour. You, Wolf, can wait for me at the Grieb."
The last words were already dying away as she clashed swiftly up the street and across the Haidplatz. Bright sparks flashed from the paving stones struck by her horse's hoofs.
"Confounded witch!" cried Malfalconnet. "And how the unruly girl wheels her horse and sits erect in her wild career over the flagstones! If the gray falls, it will do her no harm. Such rising stars may drop from the skies, but they will leap up again like the cats which I threw from the roof when a boy. His Majesty will get something to trouble him if he continues his admiration. Sacre Dieu! What a temperament!--and a German!"
Hitherto both had ridden on at a walk, gazing after Barbara, although she had already vanished in the darkness, which was illumined only by the stars in the cloudless sky. Now the clock struck half-past ten, and Malfalconnet exclaimed, half to the young knight, half to himself, "If only the wild bird does not yet escape our snare!"
"Have no fear," replied Wolf. "She will keep her promise, for she is truthfulness itself. But you would oblige me, Herr Baron, if in future you use a tone less light in speaking of this young lady, who is worthy of every honour. Her reputation is as faultless as the purity of her voice, and, obstinate as she may be----"
"So this masterpiece of the Creator finds much favour in your eves and your keen ears, Sir Knight," Malfalconnet gaily interrupted. "From any one else, my young friend, I should not suffer such a warning to pass; but we are now riding in the Emperor's precincts, so it would cause me sore embarrassment if my steel pierced you, for my neck, which is very precious to me, would then probably fall under the rude axe of the executioner. Besides, I wish you well, as you know, and I understand you German pedants. Henceforward--I swear it by all the saints!--I will utter no disrespectful word of your lovely countrywoman until you yourself release my tongue."
"That will never be done!" Wolf eagerly protested, "and the mere supposition would force me to bare my sword, if it were not you----"
"If it were not sheer madness for your thumb-long parade dagger to cross blades with my good sword," laughed Malfalconnet. "Ere you drew your rapier, I think your lust for murder would have fled. So let us leave our blades in their sheaths and permit my curiosity, to ask just one more question: What consideration induces you, Sir Knight, to constrain yourself to discreet peaceableness toward me, who, Heaven knows, excited your ire with no evil intent?"
"The same which restrains you from the duel with me," replied Wolf quietly; and then, in a warmer tone, continued: "You are dear to me because you have shown me kindness ever since I came to the court. But you are the last person who would admit that gratitude should fetter the hand which desires to defend itself. In comparison with you, Baron, I am but an insignificant man, but noble blood flows in my veins as well as in yours, and I, too, am no coward. Perhaps you suspect it because I have accepted many things from you which I would overlook from no one else. But I know that, however your jesting tongue sins against me, it has nothing to do with your disposition, whose kindness has ever been proved when the occasion offered. But you are now denying respect to a lady--"
"From that, too, my heart is as far removed as the starry sky above our heads from the wretched pavement of this square," Malfalconnet interrupted.
"Yes, Sir Knight, you judged me aright, and God save me from thinking or speaking evil of a lady who is so dear to the heart of a friend!"
As he spoke he held out his right hand to his companion with gay yet stately cordiality.
Wolf eagerly clasped it, and directly after both swung themselves from their horses in the courtyard of the Golden Cross, Malfalconnet to inform the Emperor of the successful result of his ride, the Ratisbon knight to arrange for the proper stationing of the boy choir, and then, obedient to Barbarbara's injunction, to go to the Grieb.
He knew the baron, and was aware that any one whom this chivalrous gentleman assured of his friendship might rely upon it, but that he did not spare even the most sacred things if he might hope thereby to win the approval and arouse the mirth of his imperial master.
In the glad conviction that he had done his best for the woman he loved, and yet had not forfeited the favour of the influential man to whom he owed a debt of gratitude, whose active mind he admired, and who had, moreover, won his affection, he went to the neighbouring Grieb.
The favour which the Emperor showed Barbara seemed to him not only a piece of great good fortune for her, but also for himself. He knew Charles's delicate appreciation of music, and could confidently anticipate that her voice would satisfy him and win his interest. But if this occurred, and the sovereign learned that Wolf wished to marry the singer to whom their Majesties owed such great pleasure, it would be an easy matter for the Emperor to place him in a position which could not fail to content the just desire of the girl whom he loved for an existence free from want. The interview with the monarch, to which he was to lead Barbara at once, therefore seemed to him like a bridge to her consent, and when he met at the Ark the court musician, Massi, followed by a servant carrying his violin case, he called to him: "Just look at the shining stars up above us, Massi! They are friendly to me, and, if they keep their promise, the journey here will be blessed."
"Amen!" replied the other as he pressed his hand cordially and asked for further particulars; but Wolf put him off until the next day, exclaim ing: "Jungfrau Blomberg, whose voice and execution bewitched you also, is now to sing before his Majesty. Wish her the best luck, for on her success depend many things for her, and perhaps for your friend also. Once more, uphold us!"
He turned toward the Grieb as he spoke, and the longing for Barbara quickened his pace.
The fear that the gouty monarch could cherish any other wishes concerning the young girl than to enjoy her singing was farthest from his thoughts.
Who would ever have seen an aspirant for woman's favour in the suffering Emperor, bowed during the last few years by the heaviest political cares, and whose comparative youthfulness was easily overlooked?
At the main entrance of the Grieb Wolf was accosted by the master of the house.
The wife of this obedient husband, Frau Lerch, known throughout all Ratisbon as "Lerch, the mantuamaker," had told him to keep watch, and impressed it upon him to let no one, no matter who it might be, enter her rooms on the ground floor except the cantor knight, as she called Wolf.
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