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- In The Blue Pike, Volume 1. - 2/7 -
made remarks concerning what he had just heard which induced even red- haired Gitta to declare that the loss of his tongue was scarcely a misfortune.
Kuni indignantly turned her back upon the slanderer and gazed out of the window again. The Nuremberg Honourables had disappeared, but several grooms were unbuckling the knapsacks from the horses and carrying them into the house. The aristocratic travellers were probably cleansing themselves from the dust of the road before they entered the taproom.
Kuni thought so, and gazed sometimes into vacancy, sometimes into her own lap. Her eyes had a dreamy light, for the incident which she had just related rose before her mind with perfect clearness.
It seemed as though she were gazing a second time at the wedding procession which was approaching St. Sebald's, and the couple who led it.
Never had she beheld anything fairer than the bride with the myrtle wreath on her beautifully formed head, whence a delicate lace veil floated over her long, thick, golden hair. She could not help gazing at her as if spellbound. When she moved forward, holding her bridegroom's hand, she appeared to float over the rice and flowers strewn in her path to the church--it was in February. As Kuni saw the bride raise her large blue eyes to her lover's so tenderly and yet so modestly, and the bridegroom thank her with a long joyous look of love, she wondered what must be the feelings of a maiden who, so pure, so full of ardent love, and so fervently beloved in return, was permitted to approach the house of God, accompanied by a thousand pious wishes, with the first and only man whom she loved, and to whom she wished to devote herself for her whole life. Again, as at that time, a burning thrill ran through her limbs. Then a bitter smile hovered around her lips.
She had asked herself whether the heart of one who experienced such joys, to whom such a fate was allotted, would not burst from sheer joy. Now the wish, the hope, and every new resolve for good or ill were alike over. At that hour, before the door of St. Sebald's, she had been capable of all, all, perhaps even the best things, if any one had cherished her in his heart as Lienhard Groland loved the beautiful woman at his side.
She could not help remembering the spell with which the sight of those two had forced her to watch their every movement, to gaze at them, and them only, as if the world contained nothing else. How often she had repeated to herself that in that hour she was bewitched, whether by him or by her she could not decide. As the throng surged forward, she had been crowded against the woman who lost the rosary. She had not had the faintest thought of it when the bailiff suddenly snatched her from her rapturous gazing to stern reality, seizing with a rude grip the hand that held the jewel. Then, pursued by the reviling and hissing of the populace, she had been taken to prison.
Now she again saw herself amid the vile rabble assembled there, again felt how eagerly she inhaled the air as she was led across the courtyard of the townhall into the presence of the magistrates. Oh, if she could but take such a long, deep breath of God's pure air as she did then! But that time was past. Her poor, sunken chest would no longer permit it. Then she fancied that she was again standing before the judges, who were called The Five.
Four magistrates sat with the Pfander--[Chief of police]--at the table covered with a green cloth, but one, who surpassed all the others both in stature and in manly beauty, was the selfsame Lienhard Groland, who yesterday had led to the altar the wonderfully lovely girl who had bewitched her. She felt how the blood had mounted into her cheeks when she again saw him who could know nothing of her except that she was a jade, who had stolen another person's property. Yet her glance soon met his, and he must have been blind had he not read in the radiant lustre of her blue eyes, which had early learned to woo applause and promise love, what he was to her, and how gratefully her heart throbbed for him.
After the other gentlemen had treated her harshly, and threatened to put her in the stocks, he interceded for her, and entreated his brother magistrates to let mercy, in this instance, take the place of justice, because she was so young, and perhaps had intended to return the rosary later. Finally he bent smiling toward his companions and said something to them in a subdued tone. The voice was so low that his intention to keep her in ignorance of it was evident. But Kuni's hearing had been as keen as a bird's, and not a word escaped her. He could not help regarding it as an evil omen for him and his young wife if a girl, hitherto unpunished, should be plunged into disgrace and perhaps made miserable throughout the rest of a long life on account of his wedding procession.
How high her heart had throbbed at this request, and when it was granted, the discussion closed, and she herself informed that she would be set free, she hurried after her preserver, who had left the Council chamber with the other magistrates, to thank him. He permitted her to detain him, and when she found herself alone in his presence, at first, with streaming eyes, she was unable to utter a word. He laid his hand kindly on her shoulder to soothe her, and then listened to her assurance that, though she was a strolling rope-dancer, she had never taken other people's property.
Now she closed her eyes to have a clearer vision of the picture evoked by memory, which rose so vividly before her. Again she saw herself seize his hand to kiss it humbly, yet with fervent devotion; again she met the patronizing but friendly smile with which he withdrew it, and a thrill of happiness ran through every nerve, for she imagined she once more felt his slender white hand soothingly stroke her black hair and burning cheeks, as if she were a sick child who needed help. Later years had never granted her aught more blissful than that moment.
As had often happened before, the memory of it overmastered her with such power that she could not escape it, but recalled his every look and movement. Meanwhile, she imagined that she heard his voice, whose deep, pure tones had pleased her ear, alive to harmony, more than any to which she had ever listened, counselling her to give up her vagrant life, and again received his assurance that he pitied her, and it would grieve him if she, who seemed worthy of a better fate, should be ruined, body and soul, so young. Thus absorbed, she neither saw nor listened to anything that was occurring near her or in the large room of the tavern, but stood gazing into vacancy as if rapt away from earth.
True, Cyriax and the others had lowered their voices, for they were talking about her and the aristocratic couple on whose wedding day Kuni had stolen the rosary.
Raban, a tall, lank vagabond with red-rimmed eyes, whose ugly face bristled with a half-grown black beard, had a few more particulars to give concerning the bride and bridegroom. He wandered about the world and, whenever he stretched out his hand to beg, gave the pretext that he was collecting the price of blood required for a man whom he had killed in self-defence, that his own head might not fall under the axe of the executioner. His dead father had heated the furnaces in the smelting works at Eschenbach, near Nuremberg, and the bride was Katharina, the eldest of the three daughters of the owner, old Harsdorffer of the Council. He had been a man of steel and iron, and opposed Lienhard Groland's father at every point, not excepting even their official business. When he discovered that the young man was carrying on a love affair with his daughter, he had summoned him before a court of justice for a breach of the law which forbade minors to betroth themselves without parental consent. The magistrates sentenced Lienhard to five years' exile from the city but, through the Emperor's mediation, he was spared the punishment. Old Harsdorffer afterward succeeded in keeping the suitor away from his daughter a long time, but finally relinquished his opposition.
"The devil came soon enough and broke his stiff neck," added Cyriax, on whom the vagabond's story had had the same effect as a red rag upon a bull. Spite of the old slanderer's mutilated tongue, invectives flowed fast enough from his lips when he thought of young Frau Groland's father. If the Groland outside resembled his father-in-law, he would like to drink him a pledge that should burn like the plague and ruin.
He snatched a flask from his pocket as he spoke, and after a long pull and a still longer "A-ah!" he stammered:
"I've been obliged to bid farewell to my tongue, yet it feels as if it were sticking in my throat like the dry sole of a shoe. That's what comes from talking in this dog-day heat."
He looked into the empty bottle and was about to send Kuni out to fill it again. In turning to do so he saw her pale face, wan with suffering, but which now glowed with a happy light that lent it a strange beauty. How large her blue eyes were! When he had picked her up in Spain she was already a cripple and in sore distress. But Groland probably knew what he was about when he released her. She must have been a pretty creature enough at that time, and he knew that before her fall she was considered one of the most skilful rope-dancers.
An elderly woman with a boy, whose blindness helped her to arouse compassion, was crouching by Raban's side, and had just been greeted by Kuni as an old acquaintance. They had journeyed from land to land in Loni's famous troupe, and as Raban handed Cyriax his own bottle, he turned from the dreaming girl, whose services he no longer needed, and whispered to the blind boy's mother--who among the people of her own calling still went by the name of Dancing Gundel--the question whether yonder ailing cripple had once had any good looks, and what position she had held among rope-dancers.
The little gray-haired woman looked up with sparkling eyes. Under the name of "Phyllis" she had earned, ere her limbs were stiffened by age, great applause by her dainty egg-dance and all sorts of feats with the balancing pole. The manager of the band had finally given her the position of crier to support herself and her blind boy. This had made her voice so hollow and hoarse that it was difficult to understand her as, with fervid eloquence, vainly striving to be heard by absent-minded Kuni, she began: "She surpassed even Maravella the Spaniard. And her feats at Augsburg during the Reichstag--I tell you, Cyriax, when she ascended the rope to the belfry, with the pole and without--"
"I've just heard of that from another quarter," he interrupted. "What I want to know is whether she pleased the eyes of men."
"What's that to you?" interposed red-haired Gitta jealously, trying to draw him away from Gundel by the chain.
Raban laughed heartily, and lame Jungel, chuckling, rapped on the floor with his right crutch, exclaiming:
"Good for you!"
Kuni was accustomed to such outbursts of merriment. They were almost always awakened by some trifle, and this time she did not even hear the laughing. But Cyriax struck his wife so rudely on the hand that she jerked furiously at the chain and, with a muttered oath, blew on the bruised spot. Meanwhile Gundel was telling the group how many distinguished gentlemen had formerly paid court to Kuni. She was as agile as a squirrel. Her pretty little face, with its sparkling blue eyes, attracted the men as bacon draws mice. Then, pleased to have
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