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- Barbara Blomberg, Volume 8. - 6/11 -
she could also strive to render the hard fate imposed upon the poor girl more endurable.
Barbara had listened eagerly to the story without interrupting her; then she desired to learn further particulars concerning the health of the man from whom even now her soul could not be sundered and, finally, she urged her to talk about herself.
So time passed with the speed of the wind. The candles in the candelabrum were already half burned down when Fran Dubois at last urged going to rest.
Barbara felt that she was fortunate to have found so kind and sensible a companion and, while the Rhinelander was helping her undress, she begged her in future to call her by her Christian name "Gertrud," or, as people liked to address her, "Frau Traut."
When Barbara rose from her couch the next morning it was no longer early in the day. She had slept soundly and dreamlessly for several hours, then she had been kept awake by the same thoughts which had pressed upon her so constantly of late.
She would defy Charles's cruel demand. The infuriating compulsion inflicted upon her could only strengthen her resolve. If she was dragged to a convent by force, she would refuse, at the ceremony of profession, to become a nun.
She thought of a pilgrimage to induce Heaven to restore the lost melody of her voice. But meanwhile the longing to see the Emperor Charles's face once more again and again overpowered her. On the other hand, the desire to speak to him and upbraid him to his face for the wrong he had done her was soon silenced; it could only spoil his memory of her if he should hear the discordant tones which inflicted pain on her own ear.
Another train of thoughts had also kept her awake. How was her father faring? Had he learned what she feared to confess to him? What had befallen him, and what had the recruiting officer to tell of his fate?
She was to know soon enough, for she had scarcely risen from breakfast when a ducal servant announced Sir Pyramus.
Barbara with anxious heart awaited his entrance, and as she stood there, her cheeks slightly flushed and her large, questioning eyes fixed upon the door, she seemed to Frau Traut, in spite of her short hair and the loss of the rounded oval of her face, so marvellously beautiful that she perfectly understood how she had succeeded in kindling so fierce a flame in the Emperor's heart, difficult as it was to fire.
Frau Traut did not venture to determine what made the blood mount into Pyramus's cheeks when Barbara at his entrance held out her slender white hand, for she had left the room immediately after his arrival. But she did not need to remain absent long; the interview ended much sooner than she expected.
This young officer was certainly a man of splendid physique, with handsome, manly features, yet she thought she perceived in his manner an air of constraint which repelled her and, in fact, this gigantic soldier was conscious that if, for a single moment, he relinquished the control he imposed upon himself his foolish heart would play him a trick.
Barbara had seemed more beautiful than ever as she greeted him with almost humble friendliness, instead of her former defiance. The hoarse tone of her voice, once so musical, caused him so much pain that he was on the verge of losing his power to keep his resolve to conceal the feelings which, in spite of the insults she had heaped upon him, he still cherished for her. While he allowed himself to look into her face, he realized for the first time how difficult a task he had undertaken, and therefore tried to assume an expression of indifference as he began the conversation with the remark that the ride to the citadel was detaining him from his duties longer than he could answer for in such a stress of military business and, moreover, under the eyes of his Majesty. Therefore it would only be possible to talk a very short time.
He had hurled forth this statement rather than spoken it; but Barbara, smiling mournfully, replied that she could easily understand his reluctance to lose so much time merely on her account.
"For your sake, my dear lady," he replied with an acerbity which sounded sufficiently genuine, "it might scarcely have seemed feasible to go so far from the camp; but for the brave old comrade who was intrusted to my care I would have made even more difficult things possible--and you are his daughter."
The girl nodded silently to show that she understood the meaning of his words, and then asked how the journey had passed and what was the cause of her father's illness.
Everything had gone as well as possible, he replied, until they reached Spain; but there the captain was tortured by homesickness. Nothing had pleased him except the piety of the people. The fiery wine did not suit him, the fare seemed unbearable, and the inability to talk with any one except himself had irritated him to actual outbursts of rage. On the neat Netherland ship which bore him homeward matters were better; nay, while running into the harbour of Antwerp he had jested almost in his old reckless manner. But when trying to descend the rope-ladder from the high ship into the skiff in which sailors had rowed from the land, he made a misstep with his stiff leg and fell into the boat.
A low cry of terror here escaped the lips of the deeply agitated daughter, and Pyramus joined in her expressions of grief, declaring that a chill still ran down his back whenever he thought of that fall. The captain had been saved as if by a miracle. Yet the consequences were by no means light, for when he, Pyramus, left him, he was barely able to totter from one chair to another. A journey on horseback, the physician said, would kill him, and a ride in a carriage over the rough roads would also endanger his life. Several months must pass ere he could think of returning home.
In reply to Barbara's anxious question how the impatient man bore the inactivity imposed upon him, her visitor answered, "Rebelliously enough, but he has already grown quieter, and my sister is fond of him and takes the best care of him."
"Your sister?" asked Barbara abashed, holding out her hand again; but he pretended not to notice it, and merely explained curtly that she had come to the Netherlands with her husband. This enterprising man, like himself, was a native of the principality of Grubenhagen in the Hartz Mountains. At sixteen the wild fellow went out into the world to seek his fortune, and had found it as a daring sailor. He returned a rich man to seek a wife in his old home. Now he had gone on a voyage to the Indies, and while his wife awaited his return she had gladly received her brother's old comrade. Nursing him would afford her a welcome occupation during her loneliness. Her house lacked nothing, and Barbara might comfort herself with the knowledge that the captain would have the best possible care.
With these words he seemed about to leave her; but she stopped him with the question, "And when the service summoned you away from him, had he heard what his daughter----"
Here, flushing deeply, she paused with downcast eyes. Pyramus feasted a short time on the spectacle of her humbled pride, but soon he could no longer bear to see her endure such bitter suffering, and therefore answered hastily, "If you mean what is said about you and his Majesty the Emperor, he was told of it by an old comrade from this neighbourhood."
"And he?" she asked anxiously.
"He wrathfully ordered him out of the door," replied the officer, and he saw how her eyes filled with tears.
Then feeling how soft his own heart was also growing, he hurriedly said farewell. Again she gratefully extended her hand, and he clasped it and allowed himself the pleasure of holding it in his a short time. Then bowing hastily, he left her.
She had been the Emperor's toy, her voice had lost its melting melody, and yet he thought there was no woman more to be desired, far as his profession of recruiting had led him through all lands. This iron no longer needed bending; but how fiercely the flames of suffering which melted her obstinate nature must have burned! Surely he had not seen her for the last time, and perhaps Fate would now help him to perform the vow that he had made before her door in the dark entry of the house in Ratisbon.
While Sir Pyramus was leaving her Barbara had heard a man's voice in Frau Traut's room, but she scarcely noticed it. What she had learned weighed heavily upon her soul.
Her father would not believe what was, nevertheless, the full, undeniable truth. How would he deal with the certainty that he had showed his old comrade the door unjustly when he at last came home and she confessed all, all that she had sinned and suffered? She was sure of one thing only--he, too, would not permit her child to be taken from her; and she cherished a single hope--the blow which Fate had dealt by destroying her tuneful voice would force him to pity, and perhaps induce him to forgive her. Oh, if she could only have conjured him here, opened her heart fully, freely to him, and learned from his own lips that he approved of her resistance!
During this period of quiet reflection many sounds and shouts which she had not heard before reached her room.
As they grew louder and more frequent, Barbara rose to approach the open window, but ere she reached it Frau Taut returned.
The visitor whom she had received was Adrian, her husband. He had come up the Trausnitz to make all sorts of arrangements, for something unusual was to happen which would bring even his Majesty the Emperor here.
These tidings startled Barbara.
Suppose that Charles was now coming to influence her by the heavy weight of his personality; suppose he----
But Frau Traut gave her no time to yield to these and other fears and hopes; she added, in a quiet tone, that his Majesty merely intended to invest his son-in-law, Ottavio Farnese, Duke of Parma, with the Order of the Golden Fleece in the Trausnitz courtyard. It would be a magnificent spectacle, and Barbara could witness it if she desired. One of the rooms in the second story of the ladies' wing where she lodged was still untenanted, and her husband would be responsible if she occupied it, only Barbara must promise not to attract attention to herself by any sound or gesture.
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