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- In The Fire Of The Forge, Volume 1. - 5/9 -

Often she had sat with closed eyes for a long time, dreaming that she was in the kingdom of heaven and, herself an angel, dwelt with angels. How often she had wondered whether earthly love could bestow greater joy than such a happy dream, or the walks through the garden and forest, during which the abbess told her of St. Francis of Assisi, who founded her order, the best and most warmhearted among the successors of Christ, of whom the Pope himself said that he would hear even those whom God would not! Moreover, there was no plant, no flower, no cry of any animal in the woods which was not familiar to the Abbess Kunigunde. Like St. Francis; she distinguished in everything which the ear heard and the eye beheld voices that bore witness to the goodness and greatness of the Most High. The abbess felt bound by ties of sisterly affection to every one of God's creatures, and taught Eva to love them, too, and, as a person who treats a child kindly wins the mother's heart also, to obtain by love of his creatures that of the Creator.

Others had blamed her because she held aloof from her sister's friends and amusements. They were ignorant of the joys of solitude, which her aunt and her saint had taught her to know.

She had endured interruptions and reproaches, often humbly, oftener still, when her hot blood swept away her self-control, with vehement indignation and tears; but meanwhile she had always cherished the secret thought that the time would come when she, too, would be permitted, at one with God and the Saviour, to enjoy the raptures of eternal bliss. She loved her invalid mother and, often as his sudden fits of passion alarmed her, she was tenderly attached to her father; yet it would have seemed to her an exquisite delight to be permitted to imitate the saints and sever all bonds which united her to the world and its clogging demands. She had long been yearning for the day when she would be allowed to entreat the abbess to grant her admittance to the convent, whose doors would be flung wide open for her because, next to the brothers Ebner, who founded it, her parents had contributed the largest sum for its support.

But she was obliged to wait patiently, for Els, her older sister, would probably soon marry her Wolff, and then it would be her turn to nurse her invalid mother. Her own heart dictated this, and the abbess had said: "Let her enter eternity clasping your hand before you begin, with us, to devote all your strength to securing your own salvation. Besides, you will thereby ascend a long row of steps nearer to your sublime goal."

But Eva would far rather have given her hand now, aloof from the world, to the Most High in an inviolable bond. What marvel that, with such a goal in view, she was deeply reluctant to enter the gay whirl of a noisy ball!

With serious repugnance she had allowed Katterle and her sister to adorn her, and entered the sedan chair which was to convey her to the Town Hall. Doubtless her own image, reflected in the mirror, had seemed charming enough, and the loud expressions of delight from the servants and others who admired her rich costume had pleased her; but directly after she realized the vanity of this emotion and, while approaching the ballroom in her chair, she prayed to her saint to help her conquer it.

Striving honestly to vanquish this error, she entered the hall soon after the Emperor and his young daughter-in-law; but there she was greeted from the balcony occupied by the city pipers and musicians, long before Biberli entered it, with the same fanfare that welcomed the illustrious guests of the city, and with which blended the blare of the heralds' trumpets. Thousands of candles in the chandeliers and candelabra diffused a radiance as brilliant as that of day and, confused by the noise and waves of light which surged around her, she had drawn closer to her father, clinging to him for protection. She especially missed her sister, with whom she had grown up, who had become her second self, and whom she needed most when she emerged from her quiet life of introspection into the gay world.

At first she had stood with downcast lashes, but soon her eyes wandered over the waving plumes and flashing jewels, the splendour of silk and velvet, the glitter of gold and glimmer of pearls.

Sometimes the display in church had been scarcely less brilliant, and even without her sister's request she had gazed at it, but how entirely different it was! There she had rejoiced in her own modest garb, and told herself that her simplicity was more pleasing to God and the saints than the vain splendour of the others, which she might so easily have imitated or even surpassed. But here the anxious question of how she appeared among the rest of the company forced itself upon her.

True, she knew that the brocade suckenie, which her father had ordered from Milan, was costly; that the sea-green hue of the right side harmonised admirably with the white on the left; that the tendrils and lilies of the valley wrought in silver, which seemed to be scattered over the whole, looked light and airy; yet she could not shake off the feeling that everything she wore was in disorder--here something was pulled awry, there something was crushed. Els, who had attended to her whole toilet, was not there to arrange it, and she felt thoroughly uncomfortable in the midst of this worldly magnificence and bustle.

Notwithstanding her father's presence, she had never been so desolate as among these ladies and gentlemen, nearly all of whom were strangers.

Her sister was intimate with the other girls of her age and station, few of whom were absent, and if Eva could have conjured her to her side doubtless many would have joined them; but she knew no one well, and though many greeted her, no one lingered. Everybody had friends with whom they were on far more familiar terms. The young Countess von Montfort, a girl of her own age and an inmate of her own home, also gave her only a passing word. But this was agreeable to her--she disliked Cordula's free manners.

Many who were friends of Els had gathered around Ursula Vorchtel, the daughter of the richest man in the city, and she intentionally avoided the Ortliebs because, before Wolff Eysvogel sued for Els's hand, he and Ursula had been intended for each other.

Eva was just secretly vowing that this first ball should also be the last, when the imperial magistrate, Herr Berthold Pfinzing, her godfather, came to present her to the Emperor, who had requested to see the little daughter of the Herr Ernst Ortlieb whose son had fallen in battle for him. His "little saint," Herr Pfinzing added, looked no less lovely amid the gay music of the Nuremberg pipers than kneeling in prayer amid the notes of the organ.

Every tinge of colour had faded from Eva's cheeks, and though a few hours before she had asked her sister what the Emperor's greatness signified in the presence of God that she should be forced, for his sake, to be faithless to the holiest things, now fear of the majesty of the powerful sovereign made her breath come quicker.

How, clinging to her godfather's hand, she reached the Emperor Rudolph's throne she could never describe, for what happened afterwards resembled a confused dream of mingled bliss and pain, from which she was first awakened by her father's warning that the time of departure had come.

When she raised her downcast eyes the monarch was standing before the throne placed for him. She had been compelled to bend her head backward in order to see his face, for his figure, seven feet in height, towered like a statue of Roland above all who surrounded him. But when, after the Austrian duchess, his daughter-in-law, who was scarcely beyond childhood, and the Burgrave von Zollern, his sister, had graciously greeted her, and Eva with modest thanks had also bowed low before the Emperor Rudolph, a smile, spite of her timidity, flitted over her lips, for as she bent the knee her head barely reached above his belt. The Burgravine, a vivacious matron, must have noticed it, for she beckoned to her, and with a few kind words mentioned the name of the young knight who stood behind her, between her own seat and that of the young Duchess Agnes of Austria, and recommended him as an excellent dancer. Heinz Schorlin, the master of the true and steadfast Biberli, had bowed courteously, and answered respectfully that he hoped he should not prove himself unworthy of praise from such lips.

Meanwhile his glance met Eva's, and the Burgravine probably perceived with what, ardent admiration the knight's gaze rested on the young Nuremberg beauty, for she had scarcely stepped back after the farewell greeting when the noble lady said in a low tone, but loud enough for Eva's quick ear to catch the words, "Methinks yonder maiden will do well to guard her little heart this evening against you, you unruly fellow! What a sweet, angelic face!"

Eva's cheeks crimsoned with mingled shame and pleasure at such words from such lips, and she would have been only too glad to hear what the knight whispered to the noble lady.

The attention of the young Duchess Agnes, daughter of King Ottocar of Bohemia and wife of the Emperor's third son, who also bore the name of Rudolph, had been claimed during this incident by the Duke of Nassau, who had presented his ladies to her, but they had scarcely retired when she beckoned to Heinz Schorlin, and while talking with him gazed into his eyes with such warm, childlike pleasure that Eva was incensed; she thought it unseemly for a wife and a duchess to be on such familiar terms with a simple knight. Nay, her disapproval of the princess's conduct must have been very deep, for during the whole time of her conversation with the knight there was a loud singing in the young girl's ears. The Bohemian's face might be considered pretty; her dark eyes sparkled brightly, animating the immature features, now slightly sunburnt; and although four years younger than Eva, her figure, though not above middle height, was well developed and, in spite of its flexibility, aristocratic in bearing. While conversing with Heinz Schorlin she seemed joyously excited, unrestrainedly cordial, but her manner expressed disappointment and royal hauteur as another group of ladies and gentlemen came forward to be presented, compelling her to turn her back upon the young Swiss with a regretful shrug of her shoulders.

The counts and countesses, knights and ladies who thronged around her concealed her from Eva's eyes, who, now that Heinz Schorlin had left the Bohemian, again turned her attention to the Emperor, and even ventured to approach him. What paternal gentleness Rudolph's deep tones expressed! How much his face attracted her!

True, it could make no pretensions to beauty--the thin, hooked nose was far too large and long; the corners of the mouth drooped downward too much; perhaps it was this latter peculiarity which gave the whole face so sorrowful an aspect. Eva thought she knew its source. The wound dealt a few months before by the death of his faithful wife, the love of his youth, still ached. His eyes could not be called either large or bright; but how kindly, how earnest, shrewd and, when an amusing thought passed through his mind, how mischievous they could look! His light-brown hair had not yet turned very grey, spite of his sixty-three years, but the locks had lost their luxuriance and fell straight, except for a slight curl at the lower ends, below his neck.

Eva's father, when a young man, had met Frederic II, of the Hohenstaufen line, in Italy, and was wont to call this a special boon of fate. True, her aunt, the abbess, said she did not envy him the honour of meeting the Antichrist; yet that very day after mass she had counselled Eva to impress the Emperor Rudolph's appearance on her memory. To meet noble great men elevates our hearts and makes us better, because in their presence we become conscious of our own insignificance and the duty of

In The Fire Of The Forge, Volume 1. - 5/9

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