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- Barbara Blomberg, Volume 7. - 10/12 -
So she remained under the linden, and Dr. Mathys did not put her newly won virtue of patience, which he prized so highly, to too severe a trial.
Fran Lamperi had watched for him, and hastily announced that his litter had already passed the Reichart pottery.
Now Barbara did not turn her eyes from the garden door through which the man she ardently longed to see usually came, and when it opened and the stout, broad-shouldered leech, with his peaked doctor's hat, long staff, and fine linen kerchief in his right hand advanced toward her, she motioned to the nun and the maid to leave them, and pressed her left hand upon her heart, for her emotion at the sight of him resembled the feeling of the prisoner who expects the paper with which the judge enters his cell to contain his death-warrant.
She thought she perceived her own in the physician's slow, almost lagging step. His gait was always measured; but if he had had good news to bring, he would have approached more rapidly. A sign, a gesture, a shout would have informed her that he was bearing something cheering.
But there was nothing of this kind.
He did not raise his hat until he stood directly in front of her, and while mopping his broad, clamp brow and plump cheeks with his handkerchief, she read in his features the confirmation of her worst fears.
Now in his grave voice, which sounded still deeper than usual, he uttered a curt "Well, it can't be helped," and shrugged his shoulders sorrowfully.
This gesture destroyed her last hope. Unable to control herself longer, she cried out in the husky voice whose hoarse tone was increased by her intense agitation: "I see it in your face, Doctor; I must be prepared for the worst."
"Would to Heaven I could deny it!" he answered in a hollow tone; but Barbara urged him to speak and conceal nothing from her, not even the harshest news.
The leech obeyed.
With sincere compassion he saw how her face blanched at his information that, owing to the pressure of duties which the commencement of the war imposed upon him, his Majesty would be unable to visit her here. But when, to sweeten the bitter potion, he had added that when her throat was well again, and her voice had regained its former melody, the monarch would once more gladly listen to her, he was startled; for, instead of answering, she merely shrugged her shoulders contemptuously, while her face grew corpselike in its pallor. He would have been best pleased to end his report here, but she could not be spared the suffering to which she was doomed, and pity demanded that the torture should be ended as quickly as possible. So, to raise her courage, he began with the Emperor's congratulations, and while her eves were sparkling brightly and her pale cheeks were crimsoned by a fleeting flush, he went on, as considerately as he could, to inform her of the Emperor's resolution, not neglecting while he did so to place it in a milder light by many a palliating remark.
Barbara, panting for breath, listened to his report without interrupting him; but as the physician thought he perceived in the varying expression of her features and the wandering glance with which she listened tokens that she did not fully understand what the Emperor required of her, he summed up his communications once more.
"His Majesty," he concluded, "was ready to recognise as his own the young life to be expected, if she would keep the secret, and decide to commit it to his sole charge from its arrival in the world; but, on the other hand, he would refuse this to her and to the child if she did not agree to impose upon herself sacrifice and silence."
At this brief, plain statement Barbara had pressed her hands upon her temples and stretched her head far forward toward the physician. Now she lowered her right hand, and with the question, "So this is what I must understand?" impetuously struck herself a blow on the forehead.
The patient man again raised his voice to make the expression of the monarch's will still plainer, but she interrupted him after the first few words with the exclamation: "You can spare yourself this trouble, for the meaning of the man whose message you bear is certainly evident enough. What my poor intellect fails to comprehend is only--do you hear?--is only where the faithless traitor gains the courage to make me so unprecedented a demand. Hitherto I was only not wicked enough to know that there-- there was such an abyss of abominable hard-heartedness, such fiendish baseness, such----"
Here an uncontrollable fit of coughing interrupted her, but Dr. Mathys would have stopped her in any case; it was unendurable to him to listen longer while the great man who was the Emperor, and whom he also honoured as a man, was reviled with such savage recklessness.
As in so many instances, Charles's penetration had been superior to his; for he had not failed to notice to what tremendous extremes this girl's hasty temper could carry her. What burning, almost evil passion had flamed in her eyes while uttering these insults! How perfectly right his Majesty was to withdraw from all association with a woman of so irresponsible a nature!
He repressed with difficulty the indignation which had overpowered him until her coughing ceased, then, in a tone of stern reproof, he declared that he could not and ought not to listen to such words. She whom the Emperor Charles had honoured with his love would perhaps in the future learn to recognise his decision as wise, though it might offend her now. When she had conquered the boundless impetuosity which so ill beseemed her, she herself would probably perceive how immeasurably deep and wide was the gulf which separated her from the sacred person of the man who, next to God, was the highest power on earth. Not only justice but duty would command the head of the most illustrious family in the world to claim the sole charge of his child, that it might be possible to train it unimpeded to the lofty position of the father, instead of the humble one of the mother.
Hitherto Barbara had remained silent, but her breath had come more and more quickly, the tremor of the nostrils had increased; but at the physician's last remark she could control herself no longer, and burst forth like a madwoman: "And you pretend to be my friend, pretend to be a fairminded man? You are the tool, the obedient echo of the infamous wretch who now stretches his robber hand toward my most precious possession! Ay, look at me as though my frank speech was rousing the greatest wrath in your cowardly soul! Where was the ocean-deep gulf when the perjured betrayer clasped me in his arms, uttered vows of love, and called himself happy because his possession of me would beautify the evening of his life? Now my voice has lost its melting music, and he sends his accomplice to leave the mute 'nightingale'--how often he has called me so!--to her fate."
Here she faltered, and her cheeks glowed with excitement as, with her clinched hand on her brow, she continued: "Must everything be changed and overturned because this traitor is the Emperor, and the betrayed only the child of a man who, though plain, is worthy of all honour, and who, besides, was not found on the highway, but belongs to the class of knights, from whom even the proudest races of sovereigns descend? You trample my father and me underfoot, to exalt the grandeur of your master. You make him the idol, to humble me to a worm; and what you grant the she-wolf--the right of defence when men undertake to rob her of her young--you deny me, and, because I insist upon it, I must be a deluded, unbridled creature."
Here she sobbed aloud and covered her face with her hands; but Dr. Mathys had been obliged to do violence to his feelings in order not to put a speedy end to the fierce attack. Her glance had been like that of an infuriated wild beast as the rage in her soul burst forth with elementary power, and the sharpness of her hoarse voice still pierced him to the heart.
Probably the man of honour whom she had so deeply-insulted felt justified in paying her in the same coin, but the mature and experienced physician knew how much he must place to the account of the physical condition of this unfortunate girl, and did not conceal from himself that her charges were not wholly unjustifiable. So he restrained himself, and when she had gained control over the convulsive sobbing which shook her bosom, he told her his intention of leaving her and not returning until he could expect a less hostile reception. Meanwhile she might consider whether the Emperor's decision was not worthy of different treatment. He would show his good will to her anew by concealing from his Majesty what he had just heard, and what she, at no distant day, would repent as unjust and unworthy of her.
Then Barbara angrily burst forth afresh: "Never, never, never will that happen! Neither years nor decades would efface the wrong inflicted upon me to-day. But oh, how I hate him who makes this shameful demand--yes, though you devour me with your eyes--hate him, hate him! I do so even more ardently than I loved him! And you? Why should you conceal it? From kindness to me? Perhaps so! Yet no, no, no! Speak freely! Yes, you must, must tell him so to his face! Do it in my name, abused, ill- treated as I am, and tell him----"
Here the friendly man's patience gave out, and, drawing his little broad figure stiffly up, he said repellently: "You are mistaken in me, my dear. If you need a messenger, you must seek some one else. You have taken care to make me sincerely regret having discharged this office for your sake. Besides, your recovery will progress without my professional aid; and, moreover, I shall leave Ratisbon with my illustrious master in a few days."
He turned his back upon her as he spoke. When toward evening the Emperor asked him how Barbara had received his decision, he shrugged his shoulders and answered: "As was to be expected. She thinks herself ill- used, and will not give up the child."
"She will have a different view in the convent," replied the Emperor. "Quijada shall talk with her to-morrow, and De Soto and the pious nuns here will show her where she belongs. The child--that matter is settled --will be taken from her."
The execution of the imperial will began on the very next morning. First the confessor De Soto appeared, and with convincing eloquence showed Barbara how happily she could shape her shadowed life within the sacred quiet of the convent. Besides, the helpless creature whose coming she was expecting with maternal love could rely upon the father's recognition and aid only on condition that she yielded to his Majesty's expressed will.
Barbara, though with no little difficulty, succeeded in maintaining her composure during these counsels and the declaration of the servant of the Holy Church. Faithful to the determination formed during the night, she imposed silence upon herself, and when De Soto asked for a positive answer, she begged him to grant her time for consideration.
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