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- Barbara Blomberg, Volume 7. - 2/12 -
coif, when she started up and, with the obstinate positiveness characteristic of her, declared that she was going at once to the Hiltners to inform the syndic of what had happened here. Erasmus was still in the hands of the town guards, and perhaps it would be possible for the former to withdraw the prisoner from ecclesiastical jurisdiction.
Frau Lerch clasped her hands in horror, exclaiming: "Holy Virgin, child! Have you gone crazy? Go out in this weather? Whoever is not killed by lightning will drown in the puddles."
But with that violent peal of thunder the storm had reached its height, and when the next flash of lightning came the thunder did not follow until some time after, though the rain continued to beat as heavily against the panes. Yet even had the tempest continued to rage with full fury, Barbara would not have been dissuaded from the resolution which she had once formed.
True, her attempt to persuade Frau Lerch to accompany her remained futile. Her frail body, the dressmaker protested, was not able to undertake such a walk through the storm. If she yielded, it would be her death. It would kill Barbara, also, and this crazy venture would be too dearly paid for at the cost of two human lives.
Barbara's angry remark that if she would not run the risk of getting wet for the sake of compassion, she might on account of the Hiltners' good custom, finally made the excited woman burst into piteous crying; yet in the midst of it she brought Barbara's dress and old thick cloak and, as she put them on the girl, exclaimed, "But I tell you, child, you'll turn back again when you get halfway there, and all you bring home will be a bad illness."
"Whoever can execute the gagliarde to dance herself into misery," replied Barbara impatiently, "will not find it difficult to take a walk through the rain to save some one else from misfortune. The cloak!"
"She will go," sobbed Frau Lerch. "The servants must still obey you. At least order the litter. This crazy night pilgrimage can not remain concealed."
"Then let people talk about it," replied Barbara firmly and, after having the cloak clasped and the hood drawn over her head, she went out. Frau Lerch, who had the key, opened the door for her amid loud lamentations and muttered curses; but when the girl had vanished in the darkness, she turned back, saying fiercely through her set teeth: "Rush on to ruin, you headstrong creature! If I see aright, the magnificence here is already tottering. Go and get wet! I've made my profit, and the two unfinished gowns can be added to the account. The Lord is my witness that I meant well. But will she ever do what sensible people advise? Always running her head against the wall. Whoever will not hear, must feel."
She hastened back into the house as she spoke to escape the pouring rain, but Barbara paid little heed to the wet, and waded on through the mire of the road.
The force of the storm was broken, the wind had subsided, distant flashes of lightning still illumined the northern horizon, and the night air was stiflingly sultry. No one appeared in the road, and yet some belated pedestrian might run against her at any moment, for the dense darkness shrouded even the nearest objects. But she knew the way, and had determined to follow the Danube and go along the woodlands to the tanner's pit, whence the Hiltner house was easily reached. In this way she could pass around the gate, which otherwise she would have been obliged to have opened.
But ere gaining the river she was to learn that she had undertaken a more difficult task than she expected. Her father had never allowed her to go out after dark, unaccompanied, even in the neighbourhood, and the terrors of night show their most hideous faces to those who are burdened by anxious cares. Several times she sank so deep into the mud that her shoe stuck fast in it, and she was obliged to force it on again with much difficulty. As she walked on and a strange, noise reached her from the woodyard on her left, when she constantly imagined that she heard another step following hers like an audible shadow, when drunken raftsmen came toward her, hoarsely singing an obscene song, she pressed against a fence in order not to be seen by the dissolute fellows. But now a light came wavering toward her, looking like a shining bird flying slowly, or a hell-hound, with glowing eyes, and at the sight it seemed to her impossible to wander on all alone. But the mysterious light proved to be only a lantern in the hand of an old woman who had been to fetch a doctor, so she summoned up fresh courage, though she told herself that here near the lumber yards she might easily encounter raftsmen and guards watching the logs and planks piled on the banks of the river, fishermen, and sailors. Already she heard the rushing of the swollen Danube, and horrible tales returned to her memory of hapless girls who had flung themselves into the waves here to put an end to lives clouded by disgrace and fear.
Then a shiver ran through her, and she asked herself what her father would say if he could see her wading alone through the water. Perhaps the fatigues of the long journey had thrown him upon a sick-bed; perhaps he had even--at the fear she felt as though her heart would stop beating --succumbed to them. Then he knew how matters stood with her, the sin she had committed, and the shame she had brought upon him that she might enjoy undisturbed a happiness which was already changing into bitter sorrow. Meanwhile it seemed as if she was gazing into his rugged, soldierly face, reddish-brown, with rolling eyes, as it looked when disfigured by anger, and she raised her hands as if to hold him back; but only for a few minutes, for she perceived that her excited imagination was terrifying her with a delusion.
Drawing a long breath, she pushed her dank hair back into her hood and pressed her hand upon her heart. Then she was calm a while, but a new terror set it throbbing again. Close beside her--this time at her right --the loud laughter of men's harsh voices echoed through the darkness.
Barbara involuntarily stopped, and when she collected her thoughts and looked around her, her features, distorted by anxiety and terror, smoothed again, and she instantly knocked with her little clinched hand upon the door of the hut from whose open windows the laughter had issued.
It stood close to the river bank, and the tiny dwelling belonged to the Prior of Berchtesgaden's fisherman and boatman, who kept the distinguished prelate's gondolas and boats in order, and acted as rower to the occupants of the little Prebrunn castle. She had often met this man when he brought fish for the kitchen, and he had gone with the boats in the water excursions which she had sometimes taken with Gombert and Appenzelder or with Malfalconnet and several pages. She had treated him kindly, and made him generous gifts.
All was still in the house after her knock, but almost instantly the deep voice of the fisherman Valentin, who had thrust his bearded face and red head out of the window, asked who was there.
The answer received an astonished "Can it be!" But as soon as she informed him that she needed a companion, he shouted something to the others, put on his fisherman's cap, stepped to Barbara's side, and led the way with a lantern which stood lighted on the table.
The road was so softened that, in spite of the light which fell on the ground, it was impossible to avoid the pools and muddy places. But the girl had become accustomed to the wet and the wading. Besides, the presence of her companion relieved her from the terrors with which the darkness and the solitude had tortured her. Instead of watching for new dangers, she listened while Valentin explained how it happened that she found him still awake. He had helped hang the banners and lamps tinder the lindens, and when the storm arose he assisted in removing the best pieces. In return a jug of wine, with some bread and sausages, had been given to him, and he had just begun to enjoy them with two comrades.
The Hiltner house was soon reached. Nothing had troubled Barbara during the nocturnal walk since the fisherman had accompanied her.
Her heart was lighter as she rapped with the knocker on the syndic's door; but, although she repeated the summons several times, not a sound was heard in the silent house.
Valentin had seen the Hiltners' two men-servants with the litters under the lindens, and Barbara thought that perhaps the maids might have gone to the scene of the festival to carry headkerchiefs and cloaks to the ladies before the outbreak of the storm. That the deaf old grandmother did not hear her was easily understood.
The Hiltners could not have returned, so she must wait.
First she paced impatiently to and fro in the rain, then sat upon a curbstone which seemed to be protected from the shower by the roof. But ever and anon a larger stream of water poured down upon her from the jaws of a hideous monster in which the gutter ended than from the black clouds, and, dripping wet, she at last leaned against the door, which was better shielded by the projecting lintel, while the fisherman inquired about the absent occupants of the house.
Thus minute after minute passed until the first and then the second quarter of an hour ended. When the third commenced, Barbara thought she had waited there half the night. The rain began to lessen, it is true, but the sultry night grew cooler, and a slight chill increased her discomfort.
Yet she did not move from the spot. Here, in front of the house in which estimable women had taken her to their hearts with such maternal and sisterly affection, Barbara had plainly perceived that she, who had never ceased to respect herself, would forever rob herself of this right if she did not make every effort in her power to save Erasmus from the grave peril in which he had become involved on her account. During this self-inspection she did not conceal from herself that, while singing his own compositions to him, she had yielded to the unfortunate habit of promising more with her eyes than she intended to perform. How could this vain, foolish sport have pleased her after she had yielded herself, soul and body, to the highest and greatest of men!
Anne Mirl Woller had often been reproved by her mother, in her presence, for her freedom of manner. But who had ever addressed such a warning to her? Now she must atone for her heedlessness, like many other things which her impetuous will demanded and proved stronger than the reason which forbade it. It was a wonder that Baron Malfalconnet and Maestro Gombert had not sued more urgently for her favour. If she was honest, she could not help admitting that her lover--and such a lover!--was justified in wishing many things in her totally different. But she was warned now, and henceforth these follies should be over--wholly and entirely over!
If only he would refrain from wounding her with that irritating sharpness, which made her rebellious blood boil and clouded her clear brain! He was indeed the Emperor, to whom reverence was due; but during the happy hours which tenderly united them he himself desired to be nothing but the man to whom the heart of the woman he loved belonged. She must keep herself worthy of him, nothing more, and this toilsome errand would prevent her from sullying herself with an ugly sin.
During these reflections the chill had become more and more unendurable,
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