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- Barbara Blomberg, Volume 6. - 10/11 -

Whatever it might cost, she must undertake the risk.

Summoning all her strength of will, she silenced the bitter resentment which filled her heart, and a sunny glance told Duke Maurice how much his escort pleased her. Malfalconnet had watched every look of the lady on his arm, as well as the duke's, and as they approached the scene of the dance he asked the latter if his Highness would condescend to relieve him for a short time of a delightful duty. An important one in the service of his imperial Majesty----

Here the duke's eager assent interrupted him, and the next moment Barbara was leaning on the arm of the handsome young prince.

She had found in him the tool which she needed, and Maurice entered into her design only too readily, for the baron had scarcely retired ere he changed his tone of voice and began an attack upon her heart.

He had no need to respect the older rights of his imperial host, for Charles had distrustfully concealed from him the bond which united him to the beautiful singer. So, with glowing eloquence, he described to Barbara how quickly and powerfully the spell of her beauty and her wonderful art had fired his brain, and besought her to aid him not to commence one of the most important periods of his life with a sore heart and sick with longing; but she allowed him to speak, without interrupting him by a single word.

She could not misunderstand what he desired, and many a glance permitted him to interpret it in his favour; but resentment still continued to stir in her soul, growing and deepening as the Emperor, seated on the throne erected for him, without noticing her appearance, sometimes listened to the chamberlain, who mentioned the names of the handsomest dancers, sometimes addressed a question to the Bishop of Arras and the other gentlemen who had followed him.

Her royal lover deprived her of even the possibility of rousing him by jealousy from the consciousness of the secure possession of her person. Besides, the flushed faces of the young men who had so shamelessly insulted her were beaming before her with the joy of the festival.

But the expression of their features was already changing. Duke Maurice had been recognised, and now all who felt entitled to do so approached him, among them her foes, at their head Bernhard Trainer, who were obliged to bend low before him, and therefore before her also.

Just then the city pipers struck up a gagliarde, and the music was the air of the dancing-master's song by Baldassaro Donati, which had roused the Emperor's indignation a few days ago. In imagination she again heard his outburst of anger, again saw him rise from his seat in wrath at the innocent "Chi la gagliarda vuol imparare."

The time of reckoning had come, and he should pay her for the bitterness of that hour! Yonder malevolent fellows, who now looked bewildered and uneasy, should be forced to retreat before her and perceive what power she had obtained by her beauty and her art.

With fevered blood and panting breath she listened to the gay music of the enlarged band of city pipers, and watched the movements of the couples who had already commenced the gagliarde, and--how was it possible in such a mood?--a passionate desire to dance took possession of her.

Without heeding the many persons who stood around them, she whispered softly to the duke, "It would be a pleasure to keep time to the music of the gagliarde with you, your Highness."

An ardent love glance accompanied this invitation, and the bold Saxon duke was a man to avail himself of every advantage.

He instantly expressed to the Ratisbon gentlemen his desire to try the gagliarde himself to such excellent music, and at a sign from the master of ceremonies the dance stopped.

Several members of the Council requested the couples to make way, and Maurice took his partner's hand and led her on the stage.

The sudden cessation of the music attracted the Emperor's attention also. In an instant he perceived what was about to take place, and looked at Barbara. Her eyes met his, and such a glow of indignation, nay, wrath, so imperious a prohibition flashed from his glance that her flushed cheeks paled, and she strove to withdraw her hand from the duke's.

But Maurice held it firmly, and at the same moment the city pipers began to play again, and the music streamed forth in full, joyous tones.

The wooing notes fell into her defiant soul like sparks on dry brushwood. She could not help dancing, though it should be her death. Already she had begun, and with mischievous joy the thought darted through her mind that now Charles, too, would perceive what anguish lay in the fear of losing those whom we love.

If this grief brought him back to her, she thought, while eagerly following the figures of the dance, she would tend him all her life like a maidservant; if his pride severed the bond between them--that could not be done, because he loved her--she must bear it. Doubtless the conviction forced itself upon her superstitious mind that Fate would be ready to ruin her by the dance, yet she executed what must bring misfortune upon her; to retreat was no longer possible.

These thoughts darted in wild confusion in a few moments through her burning brain, and while Maurice swung her around it seemed as if the music reached her through the roar and thunder of breakers. The words "Chi la gagliarda vuol imparare" constantly echoed in her ears, mocking, reckless, urging her to retaliation.

The dancing-master, Bernandelli, whom the Council had summoned from Milan to the Danube, had taught her and the other young people of Ratisbon the gagliarde. The sensible teacher, to suit the taste of the German burghers, had divested the gay dance of its recklessness. But he had showed his best pupils with how much more freedom the Italians performed the gagliarde, and Barbara had not forgotten the lesson. Duke Maurice moved and guided her with the same unfettered ease that the little maestro had displayed in former days. Willing or not, she was obliged to follow his lead, and she did so, carried away by the demands of her excited blood and the pleasure of dancing, so long denied, yet with the grace and perfect ear for time which were her special characteristics.

Neither the Ratisbon citizens nor Charles, who had been a good dancer himself, had ever seen the gagliarde danced in this way by either the gentleman or the lady. A better-matched couple could scarcely be imagined than the tall, powerful, chivalrous young prince and the beautiful, superbly formed, golden-haired girl who seemed, as it were, carried away by the music.

But Charles did not appear to share the pleasure which the sight of this rare couple and their dancing awakened even in the most envious and austere of the Ratisbon spectators, for when, in a pause, Barbara, with sparkling eyes, glanced first into the duke's face and then, with a merry look of inquiry, at her lover, she found his features no longer distorted by anger, but disgusted, as though he were witnessing an unpleasant spectacle.

Nevertheless she danced a short time longer without looking at him, until suddenly the remembrance of his reproving glance spoiled her pleasure in this rare enjoyment.

She whispered to the duke that she was satisfied.

A wave of his hand stopped the music but, ere returning the bow of her distinguished partner, Barbara looked for the Emperor.

Her eyes sought him in vain-he had left the turf under the lindens before the close of the dance. The Bishop of Arras, Malfalconnet, and several of the ladies and gentlemen who had left the tent in no small number and gone to the scene of the dancing after learning what was taking place there, had remained after the monarch's departure. Most of them joined in the applause which the younger Granvelle eagerly commenced when the city pipers lowered their instruments.

Barbara heard it, and saw that Bernhard Trainer and other young citizens of Ratisbon were following the courtiers' example, but she seemed scarcely to notice the demonstration.

The doubt whether Charles had merely not waited till the end of the dance, or had already left the festival, made her forget everything else. Through the Bishop of Arras she learned that his Majesty had gone home.

No one, not even the baron and Quijada, had received a message for her.

This fresh humiliation pierced her heart like a knife.

On every similar occasion hitherto he had sent her a few kind words, or, if Don Luis was the messenger, tender ones.

Yet she was obliged to force herself to smile, in order not to betray what was passing in her mind. Besides, she could not shake off the Duke of Saxony like the poor, handsome recruiting officer, Pyramus Kogel.

Fortunately, some of the most prominent Ratisbon citizens now crowded around Maurice to thank him for the honour which he had done the city.

She availed herself of the favourable opportunity to beg Granvelle, in a low tone, to keep the duke away from her the next morning until his departure at noon, and, if possible, now."

"One service for another," replied the statesman. "I will rid you of the most desirable admirer in Germany. But, on the day after to-morrow, you will adorn my modest banquet with the singing of the most gifted artist in the world."

"Gladly, unless his Majesty forbids me to do so," replied Barbara.

A few minutes later she informed her passionate young ducal lover, who wished to call upon her in her own home that very evening, that it would be utterly impossible. With an air of the greatest regret, she said that her little castle was guarded like an endangered citadel; and when the duke proposed a meeting, he was interrupted by the Bishop of Arras, who desired to speak to him about "important business."

In spite of the late hour, the minister, even without the girl's request, would have sought an audience with the duke, and to the ambitious Maurice politics and the important plans being prepared for immediate execution were of infinitely greater value than a love adventure, no matter what hours of pleasure it promised to afford.

So Barbara succeeded in taking leave of the duke without giving him offence.

The marquise was waiting for her with ill-repressed indignation. The weary old woman had wanted to return home long before, but the command of the grand chamberlain compelled her to wait for Barbara and accompany her

Barbara Blomberg, Volume 6. - 10/11

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