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- Barbara Blomberg, Volume 4. - 2/11 -
all, will force you to yield to the will of heretical superiors. The high pay alone will hardly win her."
"It will not?" asked Wolf in astonishment. "It is for her alone, not for myself, that I value the increased income."
"For her?" repeated the old man, shrugging his shoulders incredulously. "Open your eyes, and you will see what she cares for gold and jewels."
"The splendid bouquet there--do you suppose that she even looked at it? Bright pinks, red roses, and stately lilies in the centre. Where were they obtained, since April is scarcely past? And yet she threw the costly birthday gift aside as if the flowers were apple parings. It was not she, but I, who afterward put them in the pitcher, for I can't bear to see any of God's creatures thirst, even though it is only a flower. Besides, we both know that the fullest purse in the city, and a man worthy of all respect to boot, are attached to the bouquet. Yes, indeed! For a long time she has been unwilling to share my poverty, and if Herr Peter had remained loyal to our holy religion, I would persuade her myself."
Here, exhausted by his eager speech, he paused with flushed cheeks--for it was a hot day--and raised his long arm to take his hat from the hook, to refresh his dry palate at the tavern.
But, after a brief pause for reflection, he restored it to its place.
He had remembered that he had not stirred a finger that morning, and had promised to have an inscription on a jug completed early the next day. Besides, the baker had not been paid for four weeks, so, sighing heavily, he dragged himself to the workbench to move the burin with a weary hand.
Wolf had followed him with his eyes, and the sight of the chivalrous hero, the father of the girl whom he loved, undertaking such a wretched occupation, in such a mood, pierced him to the heart.
"Father Blomberg," he said warmly, putting his hand on his shoulder, "let your graver rest. I am a suitor for your child's hand. We are old friends, and if from my abundance I offer you----"
Here the hot-blooded old man furiously exclaimed: "Don't forget to whom you are speaking, young fellow! How important he feels because he gets his living at court! True, there is no abundance here; but I practise this art merely because I choose, and because it cools my hot blood in this lukewarm time of peace. But if on that account," he added threateningly, while his prominent eyes protruded even farther than usual, "you ever again venture to talk to me as though I were a day labourer or a receiver of alms----"
Here he hesitated, for in the midst of his outbreak Barbara had noiselessly entered the room. Now she approached him, and, in a more gentle and affectionate tone than she had ever used before, entreated him to rest.
The captain, groaning, shook his head, but Barbara stepped lightly upon the low wooden bench on which he sat, drew his gray head toward her, and tenderly stroked his hair and beard, whispering: "Rise, father, and let somebody else finish the engraving, it is so cool and shady in the green woods where the birds are singing, and only yesterday you praised the refreshing drink at the Red Cock."
Here he impatiently, yet with a pleased senile, endeavoured to release himself from her arms, but she interrupted his exclamation, "Don't you know, Miss Thoughtless," with the whispered entreaty: "Here me out first, father! Maestro Appenzelder asked me to add my voice to the boy choir a few times more, and yesterday evening the treasurer told me that the Queen of Hungary had commissioned him to give me as many ducats as the boys received pennies."
She spoke the truth; but the old man laughed heartily in his deep tones, cast a quick glance at Wolf, who was looking up at his weapons, and, lowering his voice, cried gaily, "That's what I call a feminine Chrysostomus or golden mouth, and I should think----"
Here he hesitated, for a doubt arose in his chivalrous mind whether it was seemly for a young girl who belonged to a knightly race to accept payment for her singing. But the thought that it came from the hand of royalty, and that even the great Duke of Alba, the renowned Granvelles, and so many princes, counts, and barons received golden wages for their services from the Emperor's hand, put an end to these scruples.
So, in a happier frame of mind than he had experienced for a long time, he said in a low tone, that he might not be understood by their guest: "Greater people than we rejoice in the gifts which emperors and kings bestow, and--we can use them, can't we?"
Then he rubbed his hands, laughed as if he had outwitted the people of whom he was thinking, and whispered to his daughter: "The baker will wonder when he gets paid this time in glittering gold, and the butcher and Master Reinhard! My boots still creak softly when I step, and you know what that means. The soles of your little shoes probably only sing, but they, too, are not silent."
The old man, released from a heavy burden of care, laughed merrily again at this jest, and then, raising his voice, told his daughter and Wolf that he would first get a cool drink and then go outside the gate wherever his lame foot might carry him. Would not the young nobleman accompany him?
But Wolf preferred to stay with Barbara, that he might plead his cause in person. There was something so quiet and diffident in her manner. If she would not listen to him to-day, she never would. In saying farewell, the captain remarked that he would not meddle in the affair of the Council. Wawerl alone must decide that.
"When I return home," he concluded, "you will have come to an agreement, and, whatever the determination may be, I shall be satisfied. Perhaps some bright idea may come to me, too, over the wine. I'll go to the Black Bear, where I always meet fellow-soldiers."
Then he raised his hand with a gay farewell salute, and left the room.
As soon as the captain's limping steps died away on the stairs, Wolf summoned all his courage and moved nearer to Barbara.
His heart throbbed anxiously as he told himself that the next few minutes would decide his future destiny.
As he saw her before him, fairer than ever, with downcast eves, silent and timid, without a trace of the triumphant self-assurance which she had gained during his absence, he firmly believed that he had made the right choice, and that her consent would render him the most enviable of happy mortals. If she refused him her hand--he felt this no less plainly--his life would be forever robbed of light and joy.
True, he was no longer as blithe and full of hope as when he entered her plain lodgings a short time before.
The doubt of the worthy man, behind whom the house door had just closed, had awakened his doubts also. Yet what he now had it in his power to offer, since his conversation with the syndic, was by no means trivial. He must hold fast to it, and as he raised his eyes more freely to her his courage increased, for she was still gazing at the floor in silent submission, as if ready to commit her fate into his hands; nay, in the brief seconds during which his eyes rested upon her, he perceived an expression which seemed wholly alien to her features, and bestowed upon this usually alert, self-assured, vivacious creature an air of weary helplessness.
While he was generally obliged to maintain an attitude of defence toward her, she now seemed to need friendly consolation. So, obeying a hasty impulse, he warmly extended both hands, and in a gentle, sympathizing tone exclaimed, "Wawerl, my dear girl, what troubles you?"
Then her glance met his, and her blue eyes flashed upon him with an expression of defiant resistance; but he could not help thinking of the young witch who was said to have resembled her, and a presentiment told him that she was lost to him.
The confirmation of this foreboding was not delayed, for in a tone whose repellent sternness startled him, she angrily burst forth: "What should trouble me? It as ill becomes you to question me with such looks and queries as it pleases me." Wolf, in bewilderment, assured her that she had seemed to him especially charming in her gracious gentleness. If anything had happened to cloud her fearless joyousness, let her forget it, for the matter now to be considered concerned the happiness of two human lives.
That was what she was saying to herself, Barbara replied in a more friendly tone, and, with newly awakened hope, the young knight informed her that the time had now come when, without offending against modesty, he might call himself a "made man."
With increasing eagerness and confidence he then told her what the councillor had offered. Without concealing her father's scruples, he added the assurance that he felt perfectly secure against the temptations of which there would certainly be no lack while he was in the service of a Protestant magistracy.
"And when you, devout, pure, true girl, stand by my side," he concluded with an ardour which surprised Barbara in this quiet, reserved man, "when you are once mine, my one love, then I shall conquer the hardest obstacle as if it were mere pastime, then I would not change places with the Emperor, for then my happiness would be----"
Hitherto she had silently permitted him to speak, but now her cheeks suddenly flamed with a deep flush, and she warmly interrupted: "You deserve to be happy, Wolf, and I could desire nothing more ardently than to see you glad and content; but you would never become so through me. How pale you grow! For my sake, do not take it so much to heart; it grieves me to see you suffer. Only believe that. It cuts me to the heart to inflict such great sorrow upon one so loyal, good, and dear, who values me so much more than I deserve."
Here Wolf, deeply agitated, wildly called her name, and besought her not to cast aside so harshly the wealth of love and fidelity which he offered.
His own anguish of soul, and the pain inflicted by the cruel blow which crushed his dearest hopes, robbed him of fortitude and calmness. With tears in his eyes, he threw himself on his knees before her and gazed into her face with anxious entreaty, exclaiming brokenly: "Do not--do not inflict this suffering upon me, Wawerl! Rob me of everything except hope. Defer your acceptance until I can offer you a still fairer future, only be merciful and leave me hope!"
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