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- In The Blue Pike, Complete - 3/20 -
listeners, she related how the girl had lured florins and zecchins from the purse of many a wealthy ecclesiastic. She might have been as rich as the Fuggers if she hadn't met with the accident and had understood how to keep what she earned. But she could not hold on to her gold. She had flung it away like useless rubbish. So long as she possessed anything there had been no want in Loni's company. She, Gundel, had caught her arm more than once when she was going to fling Hungarian ducats, instead of coppers, to good-for-nothing beggars. She had often urged her, too, to think of old age, but Kuni--never cared for any one longer than a few weeks, though there were some whom she might easily have induced to offer her the wedding ring.
She glanced at Kuni again, but, perceiving that the girl did not yet vouchsafe her even a single look, she was vexed, and, moving nearer to Cyriax, she added in a still lower tone:
"A more inconstant, faithless, colder heart than hers I never met, even among the most disorderly of Loni's band; for, blindly as the infatuated lovers obeyed every one of her crazy whims, she laughed at the best and truest. 'I hate them all,' she would say. 'I wouldn't let one of them even touch me with the tip of his finger if I could not use their zecchins. 'With these,' she said, 'she would help the rich to restore to the poor what they had stolen from them.' She really treated many a worthy gentleman like a dog, nay, a great deal worse; for she was tender enough to all the animals that travelled with the company; the poodles and the ponies, nay, even the parrots and the doves. She would play with the children, too, even the smallest ones--isn't that so, Peperle?--like their own silly mothers." She smoothed the blind boy's golden hair as she spoke, then added, sighing:
"But the little fellow was too young to remember it. The rattle which she gave him at Augsburg--it was just before the accident--because she was so fond of him--Saint Kunigunde, how could we keep such worthless jewels in our sore need?--was made of pure silver. True, the simpletons who were so madly in love with her, and with whom she played so cruelly, would have believed her capable of anything sooner than such kindness. There was a Swabian knight, a young fellow----"
Here she stopped, for Cyriax and the other vagabonds, even the girl of whom she was speaking, had started up and were gazing at the door.
Kuni opened her eyes as wide as if a miracle had happened, and the crimson spots on her sunken cheeks betrayed how deeply she was agitated. But she had never experienced anything of this kind; for while thinking of the time when, through Lienhard Groland's intercession, she had entered the house of the wealthy old Frau Schurstab, in order to become estranged from a vagabond life, and recalling how once, when he saw her sorrowful there, he had spoken kindly to her, it seemed as if she had actually heard his own voice. As it still appeared to echo in her ears, she suddenly became aware that the words really did proceed from his lips. What she had heard in her dream and what now came from his own mouth, as he stood at the door, blended into one. She would never have believed that the power of imagination could reproduce anything so faithfully.
Listening intently, she said to herself that, during the many thousand times when she had talked with him in fancy, it had also seemed as if she heard him speak. And the same experience had befallen her eyes; for whenever memory reverted to those distant days, she had beheld him just as he now looked standing on the threshold, where he was detained by the landlady of The Pike. Only his face had become still more manly, his bearing more dignified. The pleasant, winning expression of the bearded lips remained unchanged, and more than once she had seen his eyes sparkle with a far warmer light than now, while he was thanking the portly woman for her cordial welcome.
While Kuni's gaze still rested upon him as if spellbound, Cyriax nudged her, stammering hurriedly:
"They will have to pass us. Move forward, women, in front of me. Spread out your skirt, you Redhead! It might be my death if yonder Nuremberg fine gentleman should see me here and recollect one thing and another."
As he spoke he dragged Kuni roughly from the window, flung the sack which he had brought in from the cart down before him, and made them sit on it, while he stretched himself on the floor face downward, and pretended to be asleep behind the women.
This suited Kuni. If Lienhard Groland passed her now he could not help seeing her, and she had no greater desire than to meet his glance once more before her life ended. Yet she dreaded this meeting with an intensity plainly revealed by the passionate throbbing of her heart and the panting of her weakened lungs. There was a rushing noise in her ears, and her eyes grew dim. Yet she was obliged to keep them wide open- -what might not the next moment bring?
For the first time since her entrance she gazed around the large, long apartment, which would have deserved the name of hall had it not been too low.
The heated room, filled with buzzing flies, was crowded with travellers. The wife and daughter of a feather-curler, who were on their way with the husband and father to the Reichstag, where many an aristocratic gentleman would need plumes for his own head and his wife's, had just dropped the comb with which they were arranging each other's hair. The shoemaker and his dame from Nuremberg paused in the sensible lecture they were alternately addressing to their apprentices. The Frankfort messenger put down the needle with which he was mending the badgerskin in his knapsack. The travelling musicians who, to save a few pennies, had begun to eat bread, cheese, and radishes, instead of the warm meals provided for the others, let their knives drop and set down the wine-jugs. The traders, who were hotly arguing over Italian politics and the future war with Turkey, were silent. The four monks, who had leaned their heads against the cornice of the wide, closed fireplace and, in spite of the flies which buzzed around them, had fallen asleep, awoke. The vender of indulgences in the black cowl interrupted the impressive speech which he was delivering to the people who surrounded his coffer. This group also --soldiers, travelling artisans, peasants, and tradesfolk with their wives, who, like most of those present, were waiting for the vessel which was to sail down the Main early the next morning--gazed toward the door. Only the students and Bacchantes,--[Travelling scholars]--who were fairly hanging on the lips of a short, slender scholar, with keen, intellectual features, noticed neither the draught of air caused by the entrance of the distinguished arrivals and their followers, nor the general stir aroused by their appearance, until Dr. Eberbach, the insignificant, vivacious speaker, recognised in one of the group the famous Nuremberg humanist, Wilibald Pirckheimer.
At first Dietel, the old waiter, whose bullet-shaped head was covered with thick gray hair, also failed to notice them. Without heeding their entrance, he continued,--aided by two assistants who were scarcely beyond boyhood,--to set the large and small pine tables which he had placed wherever he could find room.
The patched tablecloths which he spread over the tops were coarse and much worn; the dishes carried after him by the two assistants, whose knees bent under the burden, were made of tin, and marred by many a dent. He swung his stout body to and fro with jerks like a grasshopper, and in doing so his shirt rose above his belt, but the white napkin under his arm did not move a finger's width. In small things, as well as great ones, Dietel was very methodical. So he continued his occupation undisturbed till an inexperienced merchant's clerk from Ulm, who wanted to ride farther speedily, accosted him and asked for some special dish. Dietel drew his belt farther down and promptly snubbed the young man with the angry retort; "Everybody must wait for his meal. We make no exceptions here."
Interrupted in his work, he also saw the newcomers, and then cast a peevish glance at one corner of the room, where stood a table covered with fine linen and set with silver dishes, among them a platter on which early pears and juicy plums were spread invitingly. The landlady of The Pike had arranged them daintily upon fresh vine leaves an hour before with her own plump but nimble hands. Of course they were intended for the gentlemen from Nuremberg and their guests. Dietel, too, now knew them, and saw that the party numbered a person no less distinguished than the far-famed and highly learned Doctor and Imperial Councillor, Conrad Peutinger. They were riding to Cologne together under the same escort. The citizens of Nuremberg were distinguished men, as well as their guest, but Dietel had served distinguished personages by the dozen at The Blue Pike for many years--among them even crowned heads--and they had wanted for nothing. His skill, however, was not sufficient for these city demigods; for the landlord of The Pike intended to look after their table himself. Tomfoolery! There was more than enough for him to do that day over yonder in the room occupied by the lansquenets and the city soldiers, where he usually directed affairs in person. It roused Dietel's ire. The cooking of The Blue Pike, which the landlady superintended, could vie with any in the Frank country, on the Rhine, or in Swabia, yet, forsooth, it wasn't good enough for the Nuremberg guests. The Council cook, a fat, pompous fellow, accompanied them, and had already begun to bustle about the hearth beside the hostess. They really would have required no service at all, for they brought their own attendants. It certainly was not Dietel's usual custom to wish any one evil, but if Gotz Berlichinger, who had recently attacked a party of Leipsic merchants at Forchheim, or Hans von Geisslingen had fallen upon them and subdued their arrogance, it would not have spoiled Dietel's appetite.
At last they moved forward. The others might treat them as they chose; he, at least, would neither say anything to them nor bow before them as the ears did before Joseph in Holy Writ. Nevertheless, he looked out of the corner of his eye at them as he took from the basket of the round- checked kitchen maid, who had now found her way to him, one fresh brown roll after another, and placed them beside plate after plate. How well risen and how crusty they were! They fairly cracked under the pressure of the thumb, yet wheat rolls had been baked specially for the Nuremberg party. Was God's good gift too poor for the Honourables with the gold chains?
Now, even fragile little Dr. Eberbach, and the students and Bacchantes who had stood around him like disciples, intently listening to his words, bowed respectfully. The ungodly, insolent fellows who surrounded the Dominican Jacobus, the vender of indulgences, had turned from him, while he exhorted them, as if he were an importunate beggar. What did the merchants, artisans, and musicians know about the godless Greek and Latin writings which brought the names of Pirckheimer and Peutinger before the people, yet how reverently many of these folk now bowed before them. Only the soldiers with swords at their sides held their heads erect. They proved that they were right in calling themselves "pious lansquenets." The broad-shouldered knight, with the plumed hat and suit of mail, who walked beside them, was Sir Hans von Obernitz, the Schultheiss of Nuremberg. He was said to be a descendant of the ancient Brandenstein race, and yet--was the world topsy-turvy?--he, too, was listening to every word uttered by Wilibald Pirckheimer and Dr. Peutinger as if it were a revelation. The gray-haired leech and antiquary, Hartmann Schedel, whom Herr Wilibald,--spite of the gout which sometimes
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