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- Barbara Blomberg, Volume 6. - 5/11 -
intention of ridding herself, by this conduct, of a heavy debt became apparent, and she opposed to the base cunning a gay defence, but was then forced to encounter the marquise's condemnation of it as the outgrowth of an ungenerous soul.
How unpleasant this was! Yet she kept what she had done for the old aristocrat and the way in which she had requited it a secret, even from Frau Lerch, especially as the Emperor soon alluded to his denial of her entreaty, and gave a description of young Leria which filled her with horror, and led to the conviction that the sacrifice which she had made for him and his little daughter had been utterly futile.
Little Babette, she also heard, was cared for in the best possible manner, having been withdrawn front her father's influence long before and placed in charge of an estimable, wealthy, and aristocratic aunt, her mother's sister, who filled the latter's place.
This act of charity had been utterly spoiled for the overhasty giver, and, while the glad remembrance of the pure delight which she had felt after her generous resolve faded more and more, she began to be uneasy about her reckless transaction with the Nuremberg goldsmith, for the Emperor during his very next visit had asked about the star, and in her confusion she had again been forced into a falsehood, and tried to excuse herself for so rarely wearing his beautiful present by the pretext that the gold pin which fastened it was bent.
She could have inflicted various punishments upon herself for her precipitate yielding to a hastily awakened sympathy, for it would surely anger the Emperor if he learned how carelessly she had treated his first costly gift.
Perhaps some hint of its sale had already reached his ears, for, although he had made no opposition to her apology, he afterward remained taciturn and irritable.
Every subsequent interview with her lover was terribly shadowed by the dread that he might think of the unlucky ornament again.
Yet, on this occasion also, fear prevented the brave girl from confessing the whole truth.
On St. Desiderius's Day--[May 23rd]--the Emperor again missed the star, and, as it was in the Golden Cross and the heat was great, Barbara replied that her dress was too thin for the heavy ornament. But the inquiry had made her fear of additional questions so great that she rejoiced over the news that her lover would not visit her the next day.
On the day before yesterday Christoph Madrucci, the Cardinal of Trent, his warlike brother Hildebrand, and the Count of Arco had arrived, bringing news from the Council; but on the morrow Duke Maurice of Saxony was expected, and the most important negotiations were to be carried on not only with him, but also with the former, each individual being dealt with singly and at different hours.
In the evening the welcome guest was to be entertained by music and, if agreeable to Barbara, by singing also. On the twenty-fifth the city had decided to give a May festival under the lindens in honour of the duke. The Emperor and the whole court were of course invited.
Barbara then acknowledged that she was fond of such magnificent exhibitions, and begged Charles to allow her to attend the festival with the marquise.
The answer was an assent, but the Emperor gave it after some delay, and with the remark that he could devote little time to her, and expected that she would subject herself to some restraint.
True, the painful surprise which her features expressed vividly enough led him to add the apology that, on account of the presence of the two cardinals--for one had come from Augsburg--he would be compelled to deny himself the pleasure of showing her anything more than courteous consideration in public; but she could not succeed in conquering the mortification which, besides the grief of disappointment, had taken possession of her sensitive soul.
Charles probably perceived, by the alternate flushing and paling of her cheeks, what was passing in her thoughts, and would gladly have soothed her; but he refrained, and forced himself to be content with the few conciliatory words which he had already addressed to her.
Great events were impending. If he decided upon war, nothing, not even love, could be permitted to encroach too heavily upon his time and strength; but Barbara and the demands which her love made upon him would surely do this if he did not early impose moderation upon her and himself.
He had heard nothing about the sale of the star, and whatever had displeased him in Barbara's conduct during the last few weeks she had succeeded in effacing. Yet he had often been on the point of breaking off his relations with her, for just at this time it was of infinite importance that he should keep himself free and strong in mind and body.
Moreover, in a few days he expected his brother Ferdinand with his grown children. Two of his nieces were to be married here in his presence, and he felt that he ought not to let either them or the Cardinal of Trent-- who was coming from the Council and would return there--see how strong were the fetters with which, at his age and just at this time, he allowed himself to be bound by love for a beautiful singer.
The wisdom which had long been characteristic of him commanded him to sever abruptly the connection with the woman he loved and remove her from his path. But the demands of the heart and the senses were too powerful for the man who indulged to excess in fiery wine and spiced foods, though he knew that greater abstinence would have spared him torturing pangs.
He had succeeded hundreds of times in obtaining the victory over other urgent wishes, and conquering strong affections. But this was different, for separation from Barbara must, at any rate, destroy the exquisite late happiness of the newly unfolded enjoyment of life, and for this heavy loss he saw no compensation. To part from her entirely, therefore, seemed to him impossible--at any rate, for the present. On the other hand, the duty of the sovereign and consideration for his relatives both commanded him to restrict the demands of her passionate young heart and his own, which had so recently awaked from slumber.
He had recognised this necessity, and considered the pros and cons precisely as if the matter were a political question. He who, without the quiver of an eyelash, had sent many a band of soldiers to certain death in order to execute a well-conceived plan of battle, was compelled to inflict keen suffering upon the woman he loved and himself, that greater interests might not be injured.
He had commenced the retreat that day.
The constraint which it was necessary to impose upon themselves must be equally painful to them both, yet this could not be altered.
Had it affected him alone, in defiance of his sense of rank and the tyranny of court etiquette, he would have led Barbara, attired like a true queen, with his own hand to the festival under the lindens, but the gratification of this heartfelt wish would have entailed too many evil consequences.
Toying with her, who so quickly understood and so gratefully accepted the gifts of the intellect which he offered, was so sweet, but in these days it must not be permitted to impair mental repose, keen thought. What he had to discuss and settle with Maurice of Saxony and Cardinal Madrucci was of too momentous importance to the destiny of the world, to the Church, to his fame as a sovereign, to his own greatness and that of his race.
He would have liked best to send Barbara away from Ratisbon, as he had despatched her father three weeks before, and not recall her until these decisive days were over; but this was prohibited by his ardent desire for her presence, her clever questions and appreciative listening, and, above all, her singing, which he valued perhaps even more than her beauty.
Had he confided to Barbara the important reasons which compelled him to impose restrictions for a short time upon the demands of his heart, she, who esteemed his grandeur little less than his love, would have cheerfully submitted to what was necessary and right; but truthfulness and frankness were far more characteristic of her nature than of that of the politician who was accustomed to the tricks and evasions of the time of Machiavelli. He never lacked credible reasons when he desired to place an intention in a favourable light, and where he wished to keep Barbara away from him, during the next few days, such were certainly to be found in each individual instance. Suppose the woman he loved did not accept them? So much the worse for her; he was the Emperor.
As for Barbara, with the subtle power of presentiment of a loving heart she felt that his passion was waning, and tortured her mobile intellect to discover the right cause.
If the luckless star was connected with it, why had he not blamed her openly?
Adrian had already predicted it; his constancy could not be relied upon, and if war was in prospect he forgot everything that was usually dear to his heart, and the appearance of the Duke of Saxony certainly seemed to indicate an outbreak. Many an intimation of the Emperor, Granvelle, and the almoner seemed to suggest this, and, deeply troubled, she went to rest.
During the silent night her worst fears became certainty.
She recalled to mind every hour which they had spent alone together. Some change had certainly taken place in him of late.
During her visit as a page the passion of former days had once more glowed hotly, as the fire on the hearth blazes up brightly before it expires.
The alteration had begun with the reproaches for her visit to the suffering Wolf. Now he was aiming to rid himself of her, though with a considerate hand. And she, what could she do to win back the man who held every fixed resolve as firmly as the rocks of the cliff hold the pine which grows from them?
Nothing, except to bear patiently whatever he inflicted upon her.
This, however, seemed to her so impossible and painful, so humiliating and shocking, that she sprang from her bed and for a long time paced with bare feet the sleeping-room, which was but dimly lighted by the lamp.
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