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- Barbara Blomberg, Volume 8. - 10/11 -
successes, and now it had also become the birthday of the boy whom she had given him and resigned that he might lead it to grandeur, splendour, and magnificence.
Nothing was more improbable than that the man whose faithful memory retained everything, and whose active mind discovered what escaped the notice of others, should have overlooked this sign from heaven. And yet she vainly waited for a token of pleasure, gratitude, remembrance. How this pierced the soul and corroded the existence of the poor deserted girl, the bereaved mother, the unfortunate one torn from her own sphere in life!
At last, toward the end of March, the message so ardently desired arrived. A special courier brought it, but how it was worded!
A brief expression of his Majesty's gratification at the birth of the healthy, well-formed boy; then, in blunt words, the grant of a small annual income and an additional gift, with the remark that his Majesty was ready, to increase both generously, and, moreover, to give her ambition every support, if Barbara would enter a convent. If she should persist in remaining in the world, what was granted must be taken from her as soon as she broke her promise to keep secret what his Majesty desired to have concealed.
The conclusion was: "And so his Majesty once more urges you to renounce the world, which has nothing more important to offer you than memories, which the convent is the best place to cherish. There you will regain the favour of Heaven, which it so visibly withdrew from you, and also the regard of his Majesty, which you forfeited, and he in his graciousness, and in consequence of many a memory which he, too, holds dear, would gladly show you again."
This letter bore the signature of Don Luis Quijada, and had been written by a poor German copyist, a wretched, cross-eyed fellow, whom Wolf had pointed out to her, and whose hand Barbara knew. From his pen also came the sentence under the major-domo's name, "The Golden Cross must be vacated during the month of April."
When Barbara had read these imperial decisions for the second and the third time, and fully realized the meaning of every word, she clinched her teeth and gazed steadily into vacancy for a while. Then she laughed in such a shrill, hoarse tone that she was startled at the sound of her own voice, and paced up and down the room with long strides.
Should she reject what the most powerful and wealthy sovereign in the world offered with contemptible parsimony? No! It was not much, but it would suffice for her support, and the additional gift was large enough to afford her father a great pleasure when he came home.
Pyramus Kogel's last letter reported that his condition was improving. Perhaps he might soon return. Then the money would enable her to weave a joy into the sorrow that awaited him. It had always been a humiliating thought that he had lost his own house and was obliged to live in a hired one, and at least she could free him from that.
It was evident enough that her pitiful allowance did not proceed from the Emperor's avarice; Charles only wished to force her to obey his wish to shut her for the rest of her life in a cloister. The mother of his son must remain concealed from the world; he desired to spare him in after years the embarrassment of meeting the woman whose birth was so much more humble than his own and his father's. Want should drive her from the world, and, to hasten her flight, the shrewd adept in reading human nature showed her in the distance the abbess's cross, and tried thereby to arouse her ambition.
But in her childhood and youth Barbara had been accustomed to still plainer living than she could grant herself in future, and she would have been miserable in the most magnificent palace if she had been compelled to relinquish her independence. Rather death in the Danube than to dispense with it!
She was young, healthy, and vigorous, and it seemed like voluntary mutilation to resign her liberty at twenty-one. But even had she felt the need of the lonely cell, quiet contemplation, and more severe penance than had been imposed upon her in the confessional, she would still have remained in the world; for the more plainly the letter showed how eagerly Charles desired to force her out of it, the more firmly she resolved to remain in it. How many hopes this base epistle had destroyed; it seemed as though it had killed the last spark of love in her soul!
Too much kindness leads to false paths scarcely more surely than the contrary, and the Emperor's cruel decision destroyed and hardened many of the best feelings in Barbara's heart, and prepared a place for resentment and hatred.
The great sovereign's love, which had been the sunshine of her life, was lost; her child had been taken from her; even the home that sheltered her, and which hitherto she had regarded as a token of its father's kindly care, was now withdrawn. A new life path must be found, but she would not set out upon it from the Golden Cross, where her brief happiness had bloomed, but from the place where she had experienced the penury of her childhood and early youth.
The very next afternoon she moved into Wolf's house. Sister Hyacinthe was obliged to return to her convent, so no one accompanied her except Frau Lamperi. She had become attached to Barbara, and therefore remained in her service instead of returning to the Queen of Hungary. True, she had not determined to do so until her mistress had promised to remain only a few weeks in Ratisbon at the utmost, and then move to Brussels, where she longed to be.
Ratisbon was no home for the Emperor's former favourite. Life in her native city would have been one long chain of humiliations, now that she had nothing to offer her fellow-citizens except the satisfaction of a curiosity which was not always benevolent.
But where should she go, if not to the country where her child's father lived, where, she had reason enough to believe, the infant would be concealed, and where she might hope to see again and again at a distance the man to whom hate united her no less firmly than love?
This prospect offered her the greatest attraction, and yet she desired nothing, nothing more from him except to be permitted to watch his destiny. It promised to be no happy one, but this fact robbed the wish of no charm.
Besides, the desire for a richer life again began to stir within her soul, and what sustenance for the eye and ear Gombert, Frau Traut, and now also Lamperi promised her in Brussels!
Her means would enable her to go there with the maid and live in a quiet way. If her father forgave her and would join her in the city, she would rejoice. But he was bound to Ratisbon by so many ties, and had so many new tales to relate in its taprooms, that he would certainly return to it. So she must leave him; it was growing too hot for her here.
She found old Ursel cheerful, and was less harshly received than at her last visit. True, Barbara came when she was in a particularly happy mood, because a letter from Wolf stated that he already felt perfectly at home in Quijada's castle at Villagarcia, and that Dona Magdalena de Ulloa was a lady of rare beauty and kindness of heart. Her musical talent was considerable, and she devoted every leisure hour to playing on stringed instruments and singing. True, there were not too many, for the childless woman had made herself the mother of the poor and sick upon her estates, and had even established a little school where he assisted her as singing-master.
So Barbara was at least relieved from self-reproach for having brought misfortune upon this faithful friend. This somewhat soothed her sorely burdened heart, and yet in her old, more than plain lodgings, with their small, bare rooms, she often felt as though the walls were falling upon her. Besides, what she saw from the open window in Red Cock Street was disagreeable and annoying.
When evening came she went to rest early, but troubled dreams disturbed her sleep.
The dawn which waked her seemed like a deliverance, and directly after mass she hurried out of the gate and into the open country.
On her return she found a letter from her father.
Pyramus Kogel was its bearer, and he had left the message that he would return the next day. This time her father had written with his own hand. The letters were irregular and crooked enough, but they were large, and there were not too many of them. He now knew what people were saying about her. It had pierced the very depths of his old heart and darkened his life. But he could not curse her, because she was his only child, and also because he told himself how much easier her execrable vanity had made the Emperor Charles's game. Nor would he give her up as lost, and his travelling companion. Pyramus, who was like a son to him, was ready to aid him, for his love was so true and steadfast that he still wished to make her his wife, and offered through him to share everything with her, even his honourable name.
If misfortune had made her modest, if it had crushed her wicked arrogance, and she was still his own dear child, who desired her father's blessing, she ought not to refuse the faithful fellow who would bring her this letter, but accept his proposal. On that, and upon that alone, his forgiveness would depend; it was for her to show how much or how little she valued it.
Barbara deciphered this epistle with varying emotions.
Was there no room for unselfish love in the breast of any man?
Her father, even he, was seeking to profit by that which united him to his only child. To keep it, and to secure his blessing, she must give her hand to the unloved soldier who had shown him kindness and won his affection.
She again glanced indignantly over the letter, and now read the postscript also. "Pyramus," it ran, "will remain only a short time in Germany, and go from there directly to Brussels, where he is on duty, and thence to me in Antwerp."
Barbara started, her large eyes sparkled brightly, and a faint flush suddenly suffused her cheeks. The "plus ultra" was forever at an end for her. Her boy was living in Brussels near his father; there she belonged, and she suddenly saw herself brought so near this unknown, brilliant city that it seemed like her real home. Where else could she hope to rid herself of the nightmares that oppressed her except where she was permitted to see the man from whom nothing could separate her, no matter how cruelly he repulsed her?
The only suitable place for her, he thought, was the cloister. No man, he believed in his boundless vanity, could satisfy the woman who had once received in his love.
He should learn the contrary! He should hear--nay, perhaps he should
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