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- Barbara Blomberg, Volume 7. - 1/12 -
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an entire meal of them. D.W.]
By Georg Ebers
Through the storm, which lashed her face with whirling clouds of dust and drops of rain, Barbara reached the little Prebrunn castle.
The marquise had not yet left her litter. The wind had extinguished two of the torches. One bearer walked in front of Barbara with his, and the gale blew the smoking flame aside. But, ere she had reached the gate, a man who had been concealed behind the old elm by the path stepped forward to meet her. She started back and, as he called her by name, she recognised the young Wittenberg theologian, Erasmus Eckhart. Sincerely indignant, she ordered him to go away at once, but her first words were interrupted by the shrill voice of the marquise, who had now left her litter, and with loud shrieks ordered the steward to seize the burglar.
Erasmus, however, trusted to his strength and nimbleness and, instead of promptly taking flight, entreated Barbara to listen to him a moment. Not until, far from allowing herself to be softened, she, too, threatened him, did he attempt to escape, but both litters were in his way, and when he had successfully passed around them the gardener, suddenly emerging from the darkness, seized him. But the sturdy young fellow knew how to defend his liberty, and had already released himself from his assailant when other servants grasped him.
Above the roar of the storm now rose the shrieks of the marquise, the shouts of "Stop thief!" from the men, and Erasmus's protestations that he was no robber, coupled with an appeal to Jungfrau Blomberg, who knew him.
Barbara now stated that he was the son of a respectable family, and had by no means come here to steal the property of others; but the marquise, though she probably correctly interpreted the handsome young fellow's late visit, vehemently insisted upon his arrest. She treated Barbara's remonstrance with bitter contempt; and when Cassian, the almoner's servant, appeared and declared that he had already caught this rascal more than once strolling in a suspicious manner near the castle, and that he himself was here so late only because his beloved bride, in her mistress's absence, was afraid of the robber and his companions, Barbara's entreaties and commands were disregarded, and Erasmus's hands were bound.
By degrees the noise drew most of the inmates of the castle out of doors, and among them Frau Lerch. Lastly, several halberdiers, who were coming from the Lindenplatz and had heard the screams in the garden, appeared, chained the prisoner, and took him to the Prebrunn jail.
But scarcely had Erasmus been led away when the priests of the household also came out and asked what had happened. In doing this Barbara's caution in not calling Erasmus by name proved to have been futile, for Cassian had recognised him, and told the ecclesiastics what he knew. The chaplain then asserted that, as the property of the Prince Abbot of Berchtesgaden, the house and garden were under ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and committed the further disposal of the burglar's fate to the Dominican whom the almoner had placed there. For the present he might remain in secular custody. Early the following morning he must be brought before the Spanish Dominicans who had come with the Emperor, and from whom greater severity might be expected than from the Ratisbon brotherhood, by whom monastic discipline had been greatly relaxed.
Meanwhile the wind had subsided, and the storm had burst with thunder, lightning, and torrents of rain. Priests and laymen retreated into the house, and so did Barbara and the marquise. The latter had exposed herself to the tempest only long enough to emphasize the necessity of delivering the heretical night-bird to the Spanish Dominicans very early the next morning, and to show Barbara that she did not overlook the significance of the incidents under the lindens. With a disagreeable blending of tenderness and malice, she congratulated the young girl on the applause she had received as a dancer, the special favour which she had enjoyed from the Duke of Saxony, and the arrest of the dangerous burglar, which would also be a gratification to his Majesty.
With these words the old aristocrat, coughing slightly, tripped up the stairs; but Barbara, without vouchsafing an answer to this speech, whose purpose she clearly understood, turned her back upon her and went to her own room.
She had desired no gift in return when, to save this contemptible woman's son and his child, she sacrificed her lover's precious memento; but the base reward for the kind deed added a burning sense of pain to the other sorrows which the day had brought. What a shameful crime was ingratitude! None could be equally hateful to eternal justice, for--she now learned it by her own experience--ingratitude repaid kindness with evil instead of with good, and paralyzed the disappointed benefactor's will to perform another generous deed.
When she entered her sleeping-room the courage which she had summoned during the walk, and the hope to which she had yielded, appeared to be scattered and blown away as if by a gust of wind. Besides, she could not conceal from herself that she had drawn the nails from the planks of her wrecked ship of life with her own hand.
Did it not seem as if she had intentionally done precisely what she ought most studiously to have left undone? Her sale of the star had been only an unfortunate act of weakness, but the dance, the luckless dance! Not once only, several times Charles had stated plainly enough how unpleasant it was to him even to hear the amusement mentioned. She had behaved as if she desired to forfeit his favour.
And why, in Heaven's name, why? To arouse his jealousy?
Fool that she was! This plant took root only in a heart filled with love
Because she perceived that his love was dying, she had awakened this fatal passion. Was it not as if she had expected to make a water-lily blossom in the sands of the desert?
True, still another motive had urged her to this mad act. She knew not what name to give it, yet it was only too possible that, in spite of her recent experiences, it might overpower her again on the morrow.
Surprised at herself, she struck her brow with her hand, and when Frau Lerch, who was just combing her wet hair, perceived it, she sobbed aloud, exclaiming: "Poor, poor young gentleman, and the Hiltners, who love him as if he were their own son! Such a terrible misfortune! Old fool that I am! The first time he asked admittance to show you the tablature, and you did not want to receive him, I persuaded you to do so. Then he fared like all the others whose heads you have turned with your singing. Holy Virgin! If the Hiltners learn that you and I let him be bound without making any real protest. It will fall heaviest upon me; you can believe that, for Fran Hiltner and Jungfrau Martina, since the young girl has gone to dances, have been among my best customers. Now they will say: Frau Lerch, who used to be a good little woman, left the young fellow in the lurch when his life was at stake, for they will take him to the Spanish Dominicans. They belong, to the Holy Inquisition, and think no more of burning people at the stake than we do of a few days in prison."
Here Barbara interrupted her with the remark that Erasmus could be convicted of no crime, and the Holy Inquisition had no authority in Ratisbon.
But Frau Lerch knew better. That was all very well during the Emperor's absence, but now that his Majesty resided in the city the case was different. Erasmus had been arrested on ecclesiastical ground, the chaplain had ordered him to be delivered to the Spaniards early the next morning and, ere the syndic could interpose, the rope would already be twisted for him, for with these gentlemen the executioner stood close beside the judge. Besides, she had heard of a pamphlet against the Pope, which the young theologian had had published, that had aroused great indignation among the priesthood. If he fell into the hands of the Dominicans, he would be lost, as surely as she hoped to be saved. If he were only in the custody of the city, of course a better result might be hoped.
Here she stopped with a shriek, dropping the comb, for the thundercloud was now directly over the city, and a loud peal, following close upon the flash of lightning, shook the house; but Barbara scarcely heeded the dazzling glare and the rattling panes.
She had risen with a face as white as death. She knew what severe sentences could be pronounced by the Council of the Inquisition, and the thought that the keenest suffering should be inflicted upon the Hiltners through her, to whom they had showed so much kindness, seemed unendurable. Besides, what she had just said to herself concerning ingratitude returned to her mind.
And then, Inquisition and the rack were two ideas which could scarcely be separated from one another. What might not be extorted from the accused by the torture! In any case, the almoner's suspicion would obtain fresh nourishment, and her lover had told her more than once--what a special dislike he felt for women who, with their slender intelligence, undertook to set themselves above the eternal truths of the Holy Church. And the jealousy which, fool that she was, she had desired to arouse in her lover, what abundant nourishment it would derive from the events which had occurred on her return from the festival!
But even these grave fears were overshadowed by the thought of Dr. Hiltner's wife and daughter. With what fair-mindedness the former in the Convivium had made her cause her own, how touching had been Martina's effort to approach her, and how ill that very day she had requited their loyal affection! Erasmus was as dear as a beloved son to these good women, and Frau Lerch's reproach that her intercession for him was but lukewarm had not been wholly groundless. The next day these friends who, notwithstanding the difference in their religious belief, had treated her more kindly than any one in Ratisbon, would hear this and condemn her. That should not be! She would not suffer them to think of her as she did of the shameless old woman whose footsteps she still heard over her head.
She must not remain idly here, and what her impetuous nature so passionately demanded must be carried into execution, though reason and the loud uproar of the raging storm opposed it.
Fran Lerch had just finished arranging her hair and handed her her night-
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