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- Barbara Blomberg, Volume 6. - 2/11 -
to the rides she took every afternoon; for the latter were always under the charge of Herr de Fours, an old equerry of the Emperor, and in the company of several courtiers, among whom Baron Malfalconnet was often included. A number of gay young pages always belonged to this brilliant cavalcade, whose number never lacked the handsome sixteen-year-old Count Tassis, who spent his whole large stock of pocket money in flowers which he sent every morning to Barbara.
The confessor was glad to hear that the estimable violinist Massi frequently visited the girl, for he was firm in the faith, and that he brought her tidings of the sorely wounded Sir Wolf Hartschwert could only be beneficial, for perhaps he warned her of the seriousness of life and that there were other things here below than the joy of love, jest, and laughter. The almoner's doubt of Wolf's orthodoxy had been entirely dispelled by his confession. Men do not deceive in the presence of death.
It would have been a genuine boon had Barbara selected him to open her heart to him in the confessional, for her relation to the wounded man rendered it difficult for him to trust her entirely.
Wolf's thoughts in his fever constantly dwelt upon her, and he sometimes accused her of the basest treachery, sometimes coupled her name with Malfalconnet's, sometimes with Luis Quijada's. The Emperor's, on the contrary, he had not mentioned.
He must love Barbara with ardent passion, and she, too, still seemed warmly attached to him, for to see him again she had bravely exposed herself to serious danger.
Eye and ear witnesses had reported that, notwithstanding his Majesty's positive orders to avoid her old home, she had entered the house and the knight's apartments, knelt beside his couch, and even kissed his weak, burning hand with tender devotion.
But though she still retained a portion of her former affection for Wolf Hartschwert, she loved the Emperor Charles with passionate fervour. Even the marquise did not venture to doubt this. Often as she had watched the meetings of the lovers, she had marvelled at the youthful ardour of the monarch, the joyous excitement with which Barbara awaited him, and her sorrowful depression when he left her. During the first week the old noblewoman thought that she had never met a happier pair. The almoner deemed it unworthy of him to listen to a report of the caresses which she scornfully mentioned.
The time even came when he no longer needed confirmation from others, and forbade himself to doubt Barbara's fidelity to her religion; for at the end of the first week in Prebrunn she had desired to ask a servant of the Church what she must do to make herself worthy of such abundance of the highest happiness, and to atone for the sin she was committing through her love.
In doing so she had opened her heart to the confessor with childlike frankness, and what De Soto heard on this occasion sincerely delighted him and endeared to him this thoroughly sound, beautiful creature overmastered by a first great passion. He believed her, and indignantly rejected what the spies afterward brought to him.
Yet he did not close his ears to the marquise when, in her clever, entertaining way, she told him what, against her will, she had overheard in consequence of the careless construction of the little castle, built only for a summer residence, or had seen during a walk in the garden when the shutters, through forgetfulness, had not been closed.
How should he not have heard gladly that the monarch, at every interview with Barbara, listened to her singing with special pleasure?
At first she chose grave, usually even religious songs, and among them Charles's favourite was the "Quia amore langueo."
To listen to these deeply felt tones of yearning always seemed to possess a fresh charm for him.
The singer understood how to produce a new effect each time by means of wonderful gradations of expression in the comprehension and execution.
Once she had also succeeded in cheering her lover with Perissone Cambio's merry singing lesson on the 'ut re mi fa sol', and again with Willaert's laughing song, "Sempre mi ridesta."
Two days later there had again been a great deal of laughing because Barbara undertook to sing to his Majesty another almost recklessly merry song by the same composer. The marquise knew it, and declared that Barbara's style and voice did not suit such things. She admitted that her execution of serious, especially religious and solemn compositions, was not amiss--nay, often it was wonderfully fine--but in such secular tunes her real nature appeared too plainly, and the skilful singer became a Bacchante.
It had been a sorry pleasure to her to watch the boisterous manner and singing of this creature, who had been far too highly favoured by the caprice of Fortune.
These reckless songs, unless she was mistaken, had also been by no means pleasing to his Majesty. The light had fallen directly upon his face just as she happened to glance up at the house from under the group of lindens, and she had distinctly seen him angrily thrust out his lower lip, which every one near his person knew was a sign of extreme displeasure.
But the girl had gone beyond all bounds. Old as she was, she could not help blushing at the mere thought of it. In her reckless mood she had probably forgotten that she had drawn her imperial lover into her net by arts of an entirely different nature. The almoner listened incredulously, for in his youth the Emperor Charles had joined in the wildest songs of the soldiery, and had well understood, on certain occasions, how to be merry with the merry, laugh and carouse in a Flemish tavern. After the confession the almoner heard things to which he would gladly have shut his ears, though they proved that the time which the marquise had spent at the French court had benefited her powers of observation.
Three days before the Emperor, for the first time, had seriously found fault with Barbara.
It had been impossible for the lady in waiting to discover the cause; but what she knew certainly was that her lover's censure had roused the girl to vehement contradiction, and that his Majesty, after a sharp reply, had been on the point of leaving her. True, the reckless beauty had repented her imprudent outburst of wrath speedily enough, and had understood how to conciliate the far too indulgent sovereign by such humility and such sweet tenderness that he probably must have forgiven her--at least the farewell had been as affectionate as ever.
Nevertheless, on the following evening, for the first time, he did not come to the castle, and the marquise had feared that the Emperor might now withdraw his favour from Barbara, which would have been too soon for her own wishes.
But yesterday evening, after sunset, the dark litter, to the old noblewoman's relief, had again stopped behind the garden gate, and the pleasure of having her lover again had so deeply overjoyed Barbara that he, too, was infected by her radiant delight.
Then, in the midst of the most tender caresses, he had been summoned out of the room, and when he returned, with frowning brow, the marquise had witnessed at least the commencement of a scene which seemed to justify her opinion that his Majesty: would have no taste for Barbara's utter freedom from restraint and gay secular songs.
Unfortunately, she had been prematurely driven from her post of observation; but she had seen the Emperor come in, and Barbara, without noticing his altered expression, or rather, probably, to cheer him by something especially merry, gaily began Baldassare Donati's superb dancing-master's song, "Qui la gagliarda vuol imparare," at the same time in the merriest, most graceful manner imitating the movements of the gagliarda dancer.
But Charles soon interrupted her, sharply requesting her to sing something else or cease entirely for that day.
Startled, she again asked forgiveness, and then pleaded in justification the universally acknowledged beauty of this charming song, which Maestro Gombert also admired; but the Emperor flew into a passion, and cut her short with the loud remark that he was not in the habit of having his own judgment corrected by the opinion of others. The jest did all honour to the skill and merry mood of the composer, but the contrary might be said of the singer who ventured to sing it to a person in whom it could awaken only bitter feelings.
But when, so painfully surprised that her eyes filled with tears, she confessed that her selection perhaps had not been very appropriate, and sadly added the inquiry why her beloved sovereign condemned a trivial offence so harshly, he wrathfully exclaimed, "For more than one reason."
Then, rising, he paced the room several times with a somewhat limping gait, saying, in so loud a tone that it could be distinctly heard in the dark, sultry garden: "Because it shows little delicacy of feeling when the man who is satiated tells the starving one of the dainty meal which he has just eaten; because--because I call it shameful for a person who can see to tell one who is blind of the pleasure he derives from the splendid colours of gay flowers; because I expect from the woman whom I honour with my love more consideration for me and what shadows my life. Because"--and here he raised his voice still more angrily--"I demand from any one united to me, the Emperor, by whatever bond----"
The marquise had been unable to hear more of the monarch's violent attack, for the messenger who had just brought the unwelcome news--it was Adrian Dubois--had not only passed her, but ventured to call to her and remark that she would be wise to go into the house--a thunderstorm was rising. He was not afraid of the rain, and would wait there for his Majesty.
So the listener did not hear how the incensed monarch continued with the demand that the woman he loved should neither tell him falsehoods nor deceive him.
Until then Barbara had listened, silent and pale, biting her trembling lips in order to adhere to her resolve to submit without reply to whatever Charles's terrible irritability inflicted upon her. But he must have noticed what was passing in her mind, for he suddenly paused in his walk, and, abruptly standing before her, gazed full into her face, exclaiming: "It is not you who are offended, but I, the sovereign whom you say you love. Day before yesterday I forbade you to go to the musician in Red Cock Street, yet you were with him to-day. I asked you just now whether you had obeyed me and, with smiling lips, you assented."
Barbara was already prepared with an answer in harmony with the sharpness
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