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- In The Blue Pike, Volume 3. - 4/6 -
imprisonment and exile.
He had already related this in detail when Kuni came to listen. Now, pointing to Wilibald Pirckheimer, who sat opposite, he went on with his story, describing how, thanks to the mediation of the latter and of the great artist, Albrecht Durer, he had obtained an audience at Innsbruck with the Emperor Maximilian, how the sovereign had interceded personally in behalf of himself and his betrothal, and how, in consequence of this royal intervention, he had attained the goal of his wishes.
"Our Honourables," he concluded, "now willingly permitted me to return home, and Hans Harsdtirffer, Katharina's father-Heaven rest his soul-- relinquished his opposition to our marriage. Perhaps he would have done so earlier, but for the keen antagonism which, owing to their totally different natures, had arisen between the stern man and my lighthearted father, and displayed itself in the Council as well as in all the affairs of life. Not until his old opponent, to whom I owed my existence, was on his death-bed, did Herr Hans clasp hands with him in reconciliation, and consent to our betrothal."
"And I know," Wilibald Pirckheimer interrupted, that among the many obstacles which his foes placed in his path, and which clouded his active life, you two, and your loyal love, gave him more light and greater consolation than anything else. I have often heard him gladly acknowledge this, and as for you, friend Lienhard."
"I know," replied the young Honourable modestly, checking him, "that he was right in deeming the immature youth, which I was at the time of my first wooing, unworthy of his daughter."
"Though you had been the peer in strength and beauty of the valiant Achilles, and in wisdom of the subtle Ulysses, son of Laertes, I would not contradict you," interrupted Pirckheimer; "for, gentlemen, this gallant husband's wife is a jewel of a peculiar kind. Nuremberg is proud of calling Frau Katharina her daughter. Far as the German language is spoken, her equal would be sought in vain."
"You are an enviable man," said little Dr. Eberbach, turning to Lienhard. "But probably you will permit me one question. Even when a boy,--as we heard, you loved the child Katharina. As a youth, you took this love across the Alps to Padua and Bologna. But when, like the noble Virgil, I perceive that 'Nowhere is there aught to trust-nowhere,'-- [Virg. AEn. iv, 373.]--and find that the esteemed Catullus's words, 'No man passes through life without error,'--[Catull. Dist. I, 5.]-- are verified, I would fain learn whether in Italy also you held fast, in small things as well as great ones, to the--among us men--rare bird of the fidelity sworn to the woman whom we love. I, who compared to you, am like a faun with pointed ears beside the handsome Ares, nevertheless know by experience how easily the glowing eyes of that country kindle conflagrations. Was the armour of a former love really strong enough to guard your heart from every flame, even before any vow bound you to the child whom you chose so early for the companion of your life"?
"It was the same before the priest's consecration as afterward," replied the young Councillor, gravely and firmly.
Then, changing his manner, he held out his brimming glass toward the Thuringian and gaily continued:
"It ought not to seem so amazing to a man of your learning, my incredulous Herr Doctor. Surely your far-famed Propertius says, 'Love is benefited by many things, a faithful nature and resolute persistence.' Believe me, doctor, even without the counsel of your experienced Roman, I should have kept faith with the lovely child at home. From my boyhood, Katharina was to me the woman, the one above all others, the worthy Tryphon, my teacher of Greek in Bologna, would have said. My heart's darling has always been my light, as Helios was that of the Greeks, though there were the moon and so many planets and stars besides."
"And the vagrant we saw just now, on whom you bestowed a golden shower of remembrance as Father Zeus endowed the fair Danae?" asked Doctor Peutinger of Augsburg, shaking his finger mischievously at his young friend. "We humanists follow the saying of Tibullus: 'Whoever confesses let him be forgiven,' and know the world sufficiently to be aware that within the walls of Ilium and without enormities are committed."-- [Horace, Epist. 1, 2, 16.]
"A true statement," replied Lienhard. "It probably applies to me as much as to the young girl, but there was really nothing between us which bore the most distant resemblance to a love intrigue. As a magistrate, I acquitted her of a trivial misdemeanour which she committed while my wedding procession was on its way to the altar. I did this because I was unwilling to have that happy hour become a source of pain to any one. In return, she grew deeply attached to me, who can tell whether from mere gratitude, or because a warmer feeling stirred her strange heart? At that time she was certainly a pretty, dainty creature, and yet, as truly as I hope to enjoy the love of my darling wife for many a year, there was nothing, absolutely nothing, between me and the blue-eyed, dark-haired wanderer which the confessor might not have witnessed. I myself wonder at this, because I by no means failed to see the ropedancer's peculiar changeful charms, and the tempter pointed them out to me zealously enough. Besides, she has no ordinary nature. She had accomplished really marvellous feats in her art, until at Augsburg, during the Reichstag, when in the Emperor's presence, she risked the most daring ventures--"
"Could it be the same person who, before our poor Juliane's eyes, had the awful fall which frightened the child so terribly?" asked Doctor Peutinger earnestly.
"The very same," replied Lienhard in a tone of sincere pity; but the Augsburg doctor continued, sighing:
"With that sudden fright, which thrilled her sensitive nature to its inmost depths, began the illness of the angel whose rich, loving heart throbbed so tenderly for you also, Herr Lienhard."
"As mine did for the peerless child," replied the young Councillor with eager warmth. "While Juliane, who sickened at the sight of the girl dancing on the edge of the grave, was pointing out to me some pages in the manuscript of Lucian, which I was to take from you to Herr Wilibald yonder, the unfortunate performer met with the terrible accident. We thought that she was killed, but, as if by a miracle, she lived. Ropedancing, of course, was over forever, as she had lost a foot. This, we supposed, would tend to her welfare and induce her to lead a regular, decorous life; but we were mistaken. In spite of her lameness, Kuni's restless nature drove her back to the highroad. Yet she would have been at liberty to remain in the convent as a lay sister without taking the vows."
"My wife, too, had opened our house to her for Juliane's sake," added Doctor Peutinger. "The sick child could not get the fall which had frightened her so terribly out of her head. Her compassionate heart was constantly occupied with the poor girl, and when she urged her mother to provide for her, she willingly gratified her wish and often inquired about the sufferer's health. How Juliane rejoiced when she heard that the bold and skilful dancer's life would be saved! But when, through the abbess, my wife offered her a situation in our home, the vagabond disdained what the mother and daughter had planned for her, Heaven knows how kindly."
"She treated the gift which we--my wife and I--left in the convent for her in the same way," added Lienhard. "Why did she refuse the aid I offered no less willingly? Probably because she was too proud to accept alms from a man from whom her ardent heart vainly desired something better."
Here Lienhard Groland hesitated, and it sounded like a confession as he eagerly continued:
"And, gentleman, she often seemed to me well worthy of a man's desire. Why should I deny it? Within and without the walls of Troy--we have just heard it--sin is committed, and had not the image of another woman stood between us, as the Alps rise between Germany and Italy-perhaps--But of what avail are conjectures? Will you believe that there were hours when I felt as though I ought to make some atonement to the poor girl?"
"In your place I should have done it long ago, for the benefit of both," protested little Doctor Eberbach merrily. "The commands of conscience should be obeyed, even when, by way of exception, it requires something pleasant. But how grave you look, sir. No offence! You are one of the rare specimens of featherless birds endowed with reason, who unite to the austerity of Cato the amiability of Titus."
"All due honour to Cato," added Wilibald Pirckheimer with a slight bend of his stately head; "but in my young days we had a better understanding of the art of reconciling stern duty with indulgent compassion, when dealing with a beautiful Calypso whom our sternness threatened to wound. But everything in the good old days was not better than at the present time, and that you, whom I honour as the most faithful of husbands, may not misunderstand me, Lienhard: To bend and to succumb are two different things."
"Succumb!" Sir Hans von Obernitz, the Nuremberg magistrate, here interposed indignantly. "A Groland, who, moreover, is blessed with a loyal, lovely wife, succumb to the sparkling eyes of a vagabond wanton! The Pegnitz would flow up the castle cliff first. I should think we might have less vulgar subjects to discuss."
"The daring, skilful ropedancer certainly does not belong to the latter," Doctor Peutinger eagerly retorted. "Besides, who would not desire to know how the free, hot-blooded daughter of the highway settled the account with you, friend Lienhard? Love disdained is said to be the mother of hatred, and from the days of Potiphar's wife has often caused cruel vengeance. Had this girl whom Sir Hans holds in such light esteem really possessed an evil nature, like others of her class--"
"That she does not," Lienhard Groland here warmly interrupted the Augsburg guest.
"Whatever Kuni may lack, and whatever errors she may have committed, she is, and will remain a rare creature, even among the few whose lofty spirit can not be bowed or broken by the deepest calamity. When I met her here again at The Blue Pike, among the most corrupt vagabonds, ill and poor, perhaps already the victim of death, I thought it a fitting time to renew the gift which she had refused. I would gladly do more for the poor girl, and my wife at home certainly would not be vexed; she, too, is fond of Kuni, and--I repeat it--this girl has a good, nay, the best nature. If, instead of among vagabonds, she had been born in a respectable household--"
Here the young envoy was suddenly interrupted. His table companions also raised their heads in surprise--a strange noise echoed through the night air.
Little Doctor Eberbach started up in affright, Hans von Obernitz, the Nuremberg magistrate, grasped the hilt of his sword, but Doctor Schedel instantly perceived that the sound which reached his aged ears was nothing but a violent, long-repressed fit of coughing. He and the other
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