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- Barbara Blomberg, Volume 7. - 3/12 -
yet she thought far less of the discomfort which it caused her than of increased danger to Erasmus from the Hiltners' long absence.
The third quarter of an hour was already drawing to an end when Valentin came hurrying up and told Barbara that they were on the way. He had managed to speak to the syndic, and told him who was waiting for him.
A young maid-servant, running rapidly, came first to open the house and light the lamps. She was followed, quite a distance in advance of the others, by Dr. Hiltner.
The fisherman's communication had made him anxious. He, too, had heard that Barbara was the Emperor's favourite. Besides, more than one complaint of her offensive arrogance had reached him. But, for that very reason, the wise man said to himself, it must be something of importance that led her to him at this hour and in such weather.
At first he answered her greeting with cool reserve, but when she explained that she had come, in spite of the storm, because the matter concerned the weal or woe of a person dear to him, and he saw that she was dripping wet, he honestly regretted his long delay, and in his manly, resolute manner requested her to follow him into the house; but Barbara could not be persuaded to do so.
To give the thunderstorm time to pass and take his wife and daughter home dry, he had entered a tavern near the lindens and there engaged in conversation with several friends over some wine. Whenever he urged returning, the young people--she knew why--objected. But at last they had started, and Bernhard Trainer had accompanied the Hiltners, in order to woo Martina on the way. Her parents had seen this coming, and willingly confided their child's happiness to him.
The betrothed couple now came up also, and saw with surprise the earnest zeal with which Martina's father was discussing something, they knew not what, with the singer on whose account they had had their first quarrel. The lover had condemned Barbara's unprecedented arrogance during the dance so severely that Martina found it unendurable to listen longer.
Frau Sabina, too, did not know how to interpret Barbara's presence; but one thing was certain in her kindly heart--this was no place for such conversation. How wet the poor girl must be! The wrong which Barbara had done her child was not taken into consideration under these circumstances and, with maternal solicitude, she followed her husband's example, and earnestly entreated Barbara to change her clothes in her house and warm herself with a glass of hot black currant wine. But Barbara could not be induced to do so, and hurriedly explained to the syndic what he lacked the clew to understand.
In a few minutes she had made him acquainted with everything that it was necessary for him to know. Dr. Hiltner, turning to his wife, and mean while looking his future son-in-law steadily in the eye, exclaimed, "We are all, let me tell you, greatly indebted to this brave girl."
Frau Sabina's heart swelled with joy, and to Martina, too, the praise which her father bestowed on Barbara was a precious gift. The mother and daughter had always espoused her cause, and now it again proved that they had done well.
"So I was right, after all," whispered the young girl to her lover.
"And will prove so often," he answered gaily. But when, a short time after, he proposed to Barbara's warm advocate to accompany the singer home, Martina preferred to detain him, and invited him to stay in the house with her a little while longer.
These incidents had occupied only a brief period, and Dr. Hiltner undertook to escort the young girl himself. To save time, he questioned her about everything which he still desired to know, but left her before she turned into the lane leading to the little castle, because he was aware that she, who belonged to the Emperor's household, might he misjudged if she were seen in his company.
Shortly after, he had freed Erasmus from imprisonment and sent him, in charge of one of the Council's halberdiers, beyond the gate. He was to remain concealed outside the city until the syndic recalled him.
The young theologian willingly submitted, after confessing to his foster- father how strongly love for Barbara had taken possession of him.
This act might arouse strong hostility to the syndic, but he did not fear it. Moreover, the Emperor had showed at the festival plainly enough his withdrawal of the good opinion which he had formerly testified upon many an occasion. This was on account of his religion, and where that was concerned there was no yielding or dissimulation on either side.
Barbara returned home soothed.
Frau Lerch was waiting for her, and with many tokens of disapproval undressed her. Yet she carefully dried her feet and rubbed them with her hands, that she might escape the fever which she saw approaching.
Barbara accepted with quiet gratitude the attention bestowed upon her, but, though she closed her eyes, the night brought no sleep, for sometimes she shivered in a chill, sometimes a violent headache tortured her.
Sleep also deserted the Emperor's couch. After his return from the festival he tried to examine several documents which the secretary Gastelii had laid ready for him on the writing-table, but he could not succeed. His thoughts constantly reverted to Barbara and her defiant rebellion against the distinct announcement of his will. Had the Duke of Saxony, so much his junior and, moreover, a far handsomer and perhaps more generous prince, won her favour, and therefore did she perhaps desire to break the bond with him?
She was a woman, and a capricious one, too, and of what would not such a nature be capable? Besides, there was something else. Jamnitzer, the Nuremberg goldsmith, had intrusted a casket of jewels to Adrian to keep during his absence. They were intended for the diadems which the Emperor was to give his two nieces for bridal presents. The principal gems among them were two rubies and a diamond. On the gold of the old-fashioned setting were a P and an l, the initial letters of his motto "Plus ultra." He had once had it engraved upon the back of the star which he bestowed upon Barbara. His keen eye and faithful memory could not be deceived-- Jamnitzer's jewels had been broken from that costly ornament.
From time immemorial it had belonged to the treasures of his family, and he had already doubted whether it was justifiable to give it away.
Was it conceivable that Barbara had parted with this, his first memento, sold it, "turned it into money"?--the base words wounded his chivalrous soul like the blow of a scourge.
She was a passionate, defiant, changeful creature, it is true, yet her nature was noble, hostile to baseness, and what a wealth of the purest and deepest feeling echoed in her execution of solemn songs! This induced him to reject as impossible the suspicion that she could have stooped to anything so unworthy.
Still, it was not easily banished. A long series of the sorest disappointments had rendered him distrustful, and he remembered having asked her several times for the star in vain.
Perhaps it had been stolen from her, and Jamnitzer had obtained it from the thief himself or from the receiver. This thought partially soothed him, especially as, if correct, it would be possible for him to recover the ornament. But he was an economical manager, and to expend thousands of ducats for such a thing just at this time, when immense sums were needed for the approaching war, seemed to him more than vexatious.
Besides, the high price which he had paid for the Saxon's aid rendered him uneasy. He had ceded two large bishoprics to his Protestant ally, and this act of liberality, which, it is true, had been approved and supported by Granvelle, could no longer be undone. Moreover, if he drew the sword, he must maintain the pretence that it was not done for the sake of religion, but solely to chastise the insubordinate Protestant princes, headed by the Elector John Frederick of Saxony and Philip of Hesse, who had seriously angered him.
In ten days the Reichstag would be opened in Ratisbon and, in spite of his special invitation, these princes, who had refused to recognise the Council of Trent, had excused their absence upon trivial pretexts--the Hessian, who on other occasions, attended by his numberless servants in green livery, had made three times as great a display as he, the Emperor, on the pretext that the journey to Ratisbon would be too expensive.
Maurice now had his imperial word and he the duke's; but since that evening Charles thought he had noticed something which lessened his confidence in the Saxon. It was not only jealousy which showed him this young, clever, brave, and extremely ambitious prince in a more unfavourable light than before. He knew men, and thought that he had perceived in him signs of the most utter selfishness. As Maurice, to gain two bishoprics, and perhaps later the Elector's hat, abandoned his coreligionists, his cousin and his father-in-law, he would also desert him if his own advantage prompted him to do so. True, such an ally was useful for many things, but he could not be trusted implicitly a single hour.
Maurice certainly had not remained ignorant of Barbara's relation to him, the Emperor, and yet, in the sovereign's very presence, he had courted her favour with such defiant boldness that Charles struck the writing- table with his fist as he thought of his manner to the singer. Would Maurice impose greater moderation upon himself in political affairs?
Yet perhaps he judged the Saxon too severely, and made him suffer for another's sin. The man's conduct is governed by the woman's, and he had seen how Barbara, as it were, gave Maurice the right to sue thus boldly for her favour.
Was it conceivable that she loved him, after having wounded him, as if intentionally, by acts which she knew were detestable to him? If her heart was still his, how could she have so inconsiderately favoured in his presence another, younger man?
Angrily excited by the question, he rose from the writing-table. But ere he went to rest he thought of his hapless mother, whose birthday at this hour, beyond midnight, was now over, and, kneeling before the priedieu in his bedroom, he fervently commended her to the mercy of Heaven. This woman had loved her husband so fondly that it was long ere she could resolve to part from his corpse, yet she was the heiress of the mightiest sovereigns; and what was this Ratisbon girl whom he honoured with his affection?
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