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- Barbara Blomberg, Volume 5. - 5/8 -
from the Holy Inquisition.
Therefore while Erasmus, with burning head and great excitement, was still urging his friend to come in, Wolf unexpectedly bade him a hasty and resolute farewell.
Wolf left the Hiltner house behind him with the feeling that he had upheld the cause of his Church against the learned opponent to the best of his ability, and had not been defeated. Yet he was not entirely satisfied. In former years he had read the Hutten dialogues, and, though he disapproved of their assaults upon the Holy Father in Rome, he had warmly sympathized with the fiery knight's love for his native land.
Far as, at the court of Charles, the German ranked below the Netherlander, the Spaniard, and the Italian, Wolf was proud of being a German, and it vexed him that he had not at least made the attempt to repel the theologian's charge that the Catholic, to whom the authority of Rome was the highest, would be inferior to the Protestant in patriotism.
But he would have succeeded no better in convincing Erasmus than the learned theologians who, at the Emperor's instance, had held an earnest religious discussion in Ratisbon a short time before, had succeeded in arriving at even a remote understanding.
As he reached the Haidplatz new questions of closer interest were casting these of supreme importance into the shade.
He was to enter his home directly, and then the woman whom he loved would rest above him, and alone, unwatched, and unguarded, perhaps dream of another.
Who was the man for whose sake she withdrew from him the heart to whose possession he had the best and at any rate the oldest right?
Certainly not Baron Malfalconnet.
Neither could he believe it to be Peter Schlumperger or young Crafft.
Yet perhaps the fortunate man belonged to the court. If that was the case, how easy would the game now be made for him with the girl, who was guarded by no faithful eye!
His heart throbbed faster as he entered Red Cock Street.
The moon was still in the cloudless, starry sky, shining with her calm, silver radiance upon one side of the street. Barbara's bow-window was touched by it, and--what did it mean?--a small lamp must still be burning in her room, for the window was illuminated, though but dimly. Perhaps she had kept the light because she felt timid in her lonely chamber. Now Wolf crossed obliquely toward his house.
Just at that moment he saw the tall figure of a man.
What was he doing there at this hour? Was it a thief or a burglar? There was no lack of evil-disposed folk in this time of want.
Wolf still wore his court costume, and the short dress sword which belonged to it hung in its sheath.
His heart beat quicker as he loosed the blade and advanced toward the suspicious night-bird.
Just then he saw the other calmly turn the big key and take it out of the door.
That could be no thief! No, certainly not!
It was a gentleman of tall stature, whose aristocratic figure and Spanish court costume were partially covered by a long cloak.
There was no doubt! Wolf could not be mistaken, for, while the former was putting the key in his pocket, the mantle had slipped from one shoulder.
"Malfalconnet," muttered Wolf, grasping the hilt of his short sword more firmly.
But at the same moment the moonlight showed him the Spaniard's face. A chill ran through his frame, followed by a feverish heat, for the nocturnal intruder into his house was not the baron, but Quijada, the noble Don Luis, his patron, who had just been lauding to the skies the virtues, the beauty, the goodness of the peerless Dona Magdalena de Ulloa, his glorious wife. He had intended to send Wolf, the friend and housemate of his victim, to Spain to become the instructor of his deceived wife.
He saw through the game, and it seemed as if he could not help laughing aloud in delight at his own penetration, in rage and despair.
How clearly, and yet how coarsely and brutally, it had all been planned!
The infamous scoundrel, who possessed so much influence over the Emperor, had first sent old Blomberg away; now he, Wolf, was to follow, that no one might stand between the game and the pursuer.
Barbara's lover must be Quijada. For the Spaniard's sake she had given him up, and perhaps even played the part of adviser in this abominable business. It must be so, for who else could know what she was to him?
Yet no! He himself had aided the guilty passion of this couple, for how warmly he had sung Barbara's praises to Don Luis! And then in how many a conversation with Barbara had Quijada's name been mentioned, and he had always spoken of this man with warm regard. Hence her remark that he himself deemed her lover worthy of esteem.
In a few seconds these thoughts darted through his heated brain with the speed of lightning.
The street began to whirl around him, and a deep loathing of the base traitor, a boundless hatred of the destroyer of his happiness, of the betrayed girl, and the life which led through such abysses overpowered the deluded man.
The infamous girl had just left her lover's arms, her kiss was doubtless still glowing on his faithless lips!
Wolf groaned aloud like a sorely stricken deer, and for a moment it seemed to him that the best course would be to put an end to his own ruined life. But rage and hate urged him upon another victim, and, unable to control himself, he rushed with uplifted blade upon the hypocritical seducer.
This utterly unexpected attack did not give Don Luis time to draw his sword, but, with ready presence of mind, he forced the hand wielding the weapon aside, and, while he felt a sharp pain in his left arm, seized the assassin with his right hand, swung his light figure upward, and with the strength and skill peculiar to him hurled it with all his might upon the stone steps of the dwelling.
Not a single word, only a savage cry of fury, followed by a piteous moan, had escaped Wolf's lips during this swift deed of violence.
The Spaniard scornfully thrust aside with his foot the inert body lying on the ground. His arrogance did not deem it worth while to ascertain what had befallen the murderer who had been punished. He had more important things to do, for his own blood was flowing in a hot, full stream over his hand.
Accustomed in bull fighting and in battle to maintain his calmness and caution even in the most difficult situation, he said to himself that, if his wound should be connected with the murder before this house it would betray his master's secret to the Ratisbon courts of justice, and thereby to the public.
He had heard the skull of the lurking thief strike against the granite steps of the house. So the dark, motionless mass before him was probably a corpse. There was no hurry about that, but his own condition compelled him to take care of himself. Entering the shadow of a tall building opposite the dwelling, he assured himself that the street was entirely empty, and then, drawing the aching arm from the doublet, he examined the wound as well as the dim light would permit. It was deep, it is true, but the robber's weapon appeared merely to have cut the flesh.
A jerk, and Quijada had stripped the ruff from his neck, and, as this did not suffice, he cut with his sword blade and his teeth a piece of fine linen from his shirt.
This would do for the first bandage. The skilful hand which, in battle, had aided many a bleeding comrade soon completed the task.
Then he flung his uninjured cloak around him again, and turned toward the lifeless body at the foot of the steps.
There lay the murderer's weapon--a delicately fashioned short dress sword, with an ivory hilt, not the knife of a common highwayman.
That was the reason the wound was so narrow.
But who had sought his life with this dainty steel blade?
There were few at court who envied him the Emperor's favour--his office often compelled him to deny even persons of higher rank access to his Majesty; but he had never--this he could assure himself--treated even men of humble station harshly or unjustly. If he had offended any one by haughty self-confidence, it had been unintentional. He was not to blame for the manner natural to the Castilian.
Besides, he had little time for reflection; scarcely had he hastily wiped off with the little cloak that lay beside him the blood which covered the face of the prostrate man than he started back in horror, for the person who had sought his life was the very one whom he had honoured with his highest confidence, and had chosen as the teacher and companion of the wife who was dearer than his own existence.
Some cruel misunderstanding, some pitiable mistake must have been at work here, and he came upon the right trail speedily enough.
The hapless knight loved Barbara, and had taken him, Luis, for her betrayer and nocturnal visitor.
Fatal error of the Emperor, whose lamentable consequences were already beginning!
With sincere repentance for his needlessly violent act of defence, he bent over the severely injured man. His heart was still beating, but
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