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- Barbara Blomberg, Volume 9. - 5/15 -
Her feet moved involuntarily while her gaze rested on the litter, and she caught a glimpse sometimes of a golden curl, sometimes of a little hand, sometimes of the whole marvellously beautiful fair head.
Not until the train stopped and the lords, ladies, and gentlemen who were escorting Philip turned their horses and left him did she recollect herself. To follow these horsemen, coaches, carts, litters, and pedestrians just as she was would have been madness. Her place was at home with her husband and children. Ten times she repeated this to herself and prepared to turn back; but the force which drew her to her child was stronger than the warning voice of reason.
At any rate, she must speak to Massi and learn where he was taking the boy. He had not yet seen her; but now, as the train stopped, she forced her way to him.
Amazed at meeting her, he returned her greeting, and granted her request to let her speak with him a few minutes,
Greatly perplexed, he swung himself from the saddle, flung his bridle to a groom, and followed her under a mountain-ash tree which stood by the roadside. Barbara had used the time of his dismounting to gaze at her child again, and to impress his image upon her soul. She dared not call to him, for she had sworn to keep the secret, and the boy, who so often repulsed her eager advances, would perhaps have turned from her if she had gone close to him and attempted to kiss him through the window.
This reserve was so hard for her that her eyes were full of tears when Massi approached to ask what she desired. She did not give him time for even a single question, but with frantic haste inquired who the boy in the litter was, and where he intended to take him.
But her friend, usually so obliging, curtly and positively refused to give her any information. Then forming a hasty resolve, Barbara besought him if it were possible to take her with him to his home. Life in her own house had become unendurable. If a nurse was wanted for this child, no matter to whom it might belong, let him give her the place. She would devote herself to the boy day and night, more faithfully than any mother, and ask no wages for it, only she would and must go to Spain.
Massi had listened to her rapid words in warm; nay, he was thoroughly startled. The fire that flashed from Barbara's blue eyes, the anguish which her quivering features expressed, suggested the thought that she had lost her reason, and with sympathizing kindness he entreated her to think of his friend her husband, and her splendid boys at home. But when she persisted that she must go to Spain, he remembered that a bond of love had once united her to his friend Wolf Hartschwert, and in bewilderment he asked if it was the knight who attracted her there.
"If you think so, yes," she exclaimed. "Only I must go to Spain, I must go to Spain!"
Again Massi was seized with the conviction that he was dealing with a madwoman, and as the procession started he only held out his hand to her once more, earnestly entreated her to calm herself, sent his remembrances to her husband and children, and then swung himself into the saddle.
Barbara remained standing by the side of the road as if turned to stone, gazing after the travellers until the dust which they raised concealed them from her gaze. Then she shook her head and slowly returned to Brussels.
Pyramus would come home at noon. Lamperi and the maid might provide the meal and attend to the rest of the household affairs. It was far past twelve, and it would still be a long time before she went home, for she must, yes, must go up to the palace park and to the Dubois house to inquire where her soul must seek her child in future.
Her feet could scarcely support her when she entered the dwelling.
Startled at her appearance, Frau Traut compelled the exhausted woman to sit down. How dishevelled, nay, wild, Barbara, who was usually so well dressed, looked! But she, too, that day did not present her usual dainty appearance, and her eyes and face were reddened by weeping. Barbara instantly noticed this, and it confirmed her conjecture. This woman, too, was bewailing the child which the cruel despot had torn from her.
"He is on the way to Spain!" she cried to the other. "There is nothing to conceal here."
Frau Traut started, and vehemently forbade Barbara to say even one word more about the boy if she did not wish her to show her the door and close it against her forever.
But this was too much for the haughty mother of the Emperor's son. The terrible agitation of her soul forced an utterance, and in wild rebellion she swore to the terrified woman that she would burden herself with the sin of perjury and break the silence to which she had bound herself if she did not confess to her where Massi was taking her boy. She would neither seek him nor strive to get possession of him, but if she could not imagine where and with what people he was living, she would die of longing. She would have allowed herself to be abused and trodden under foot in silence, but she would not suffer herself to be deprived of the last remnant of her maternal rights.
Here Adrian himself entered the room; but Barbara was by no means calmed by his appearance, and with a fresh outburst of wrath shrieked to his face that he might choose whether he would confide to her, the mother, where his master was taking the child or see her rush from here to the market place and call out to the people what she had promised, for the boy's sake, to hold secret.
The valet saw that she would keep her word and, to prevent greater mischief, he informed her that the violinist Massi was commissioned to take her son to Spain to rear him in his wife's native place until his Majesty should alter his plans concerning him.
This news produced a great change in the tortured mother. With affectionate, repentant courtesy, she thanked the Dubois couple and, when Frau Traut saw that she was trying to rearrange her hair and dress, she helped her, and in doing so one woman confessed to the other what she had lost in the child.
Adrian's yielding had pleased Barbara. Besides, during the years of her intercourse with Massi she had heard many things about his residence-- nay, every member of his household--and therefore she could now form a picture of his future life.
So she had grown quieter, though by no means perfectly calm.
Her husband, who must have already returned from his journey, and had not found her at home, would scarcely receive her pleasantly, but she cared little for that if only he had not been anxious about her, and in his joy at seeing her again did not clasp her tenderly in his arms. That would have been unbearable to-day. She would have liked it best if Massi would really have taken her with him as her child's nurse to Leganes, his residence. Thereby she would have reached the place where she thought she belonged--by the side of the child, in whom she beheld everything that still rendered her life worth living.
Nevertheless, on her way home she thought with maternal anxiety of her two boys; but the nearer she approached the unassuming quarter of the city where she lived the more vividly she felt that she did not belong there, but in the part of Brussels whence she came.
Her own home was far more richly and prettily furnished than her old one in Red Cock Street, but it did not yet satisfy her desires, and she did not feel content in it. To-day a slight feeling of aversion even came over her as she thought of it.
Perhaps the best plan would have been for her to put an end to this misery, and, instead of returning, make a pilgrimage to Compostella in Spain, and while doing so try to find her John in Leganes. But even while yielding to these thoughts Barbara felt how sinful they were. Did not her little house look attractive and pretty? It was certainly the prettiest and neatest in the neighbourhood, and as she drew nearer pleasure at the thought of seeing her children again awoke. An unkind reception from her husband would have been painful, after all.
But she was to receive no greeting at all from him. Pyramus had been detained on the way. Barbara felt this as a friendly dispensation of Providence. But something else spoiled her return home. Conrad, her oldest boy, two-year-old Conrad, who was already walking about, beginning to prattle prettily, and who could show the affection of his little heart with such coaxing tenderness, came toward her crying, and when she took him up rested his little burning head against her cheek.
The little fellow's forehead and throat were aching.
Some illness was coming on.
The child himself asked to be put in his little bed, the physician was summoned, and the next morning the scarlet fever broke out.
When the father returned, the youngest chill had also been attacked by the same fell disease, and now a time came when Barbara, during many an anxious hour of the night, forgot that in distant Spain she possessed another child for whose sake she had been ready to rob these two dear little creatures, who so greatly needed her, of their mother. This purpose weighed upon her conscience like the heaviest of sins while she was fighting against Death, which seemed to be already stretching his hand toward the oldest boy.
When one evening the physician expressed the fear that the child would not survive the approaching night, she prayed with passionate fervour for his preservation, and meanwhile it seemed as though a secret voice cried: "Vow to the gracious Virgin not to give the Emperor's son a higher place in your heart than the children of the man to whom a holy sacrament unites you! Then you will first make yourself worthy of the dear imperilled life in yonder little bed."
Thrice, four times, and oftener still, Barbara raised her hands to utter this vow, but ere she did so she said to herself that never, never could she wholly fulfil it, and, to save herself from a fresh sin, she did not make it.
But with what anxiety she now gazed at the glowing face of the fevered boy whenever the warning voice again rose!
At midnight the little sufferer's eyes seemed to her to shine with a glassy look, and when, pleading for help, he raised them to her, her heart melted, and in fervent, silent prayer she cried to the Queen of Heaven, "Spare me this child, make it well, and I will not think of the Emperor's son more frequently nor, if I can compass it, with warmer love than this clear creature and his little brother in the cradle."
Scarcely had these words died on her lips than she again felt that she had promised more than she had the power to perform. Yet she repeated the vow several times.
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