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- In The Fire Of The Forge, Volume 1. - 6/9 -
emulating them. She would willingly have given more than a year of her life to be permitted to gaze into the pure, loving countenance of St. Francis, who had closed his eyes seven years after her birth.
So Eva, who was accustomed to render strict obedience to her honoured aunt, honestly strove to watch every movement of the Emperor; but her attention had been continually diverted, mainly by the young knight, from whom--the Emperor's sister, Burgravine Elizabeth, had said so herself-- danger threatened her heart.
But the young Countess Cordula von Montfort, the inmate of her home, also compelled her to gaze after her, for Heinz Schorlin had approached the vivacious native of the Vorarlberg, and the freedom with which she treated him--allowing herself to go so far as to tap him on the arm with her fan--vexed and offended her like an insult offered to her whole sex. To think that a girl of high station should venture upon such conduct before the eyes of the Emperor and his sister!
Not for the world would she have permitted any man to talk and laugh with her in such a way. But the young knight whom she saw do this was again the Swiss. Yet his bright eyes had just rested upon her with such devout admiration that lack of respect for a lady was certainly not in his nature, and he merely found himself compelled, contrary to his wish, to defend himself against the countess and her audacity.
Eva had already heard much praise of the great valour of the young knight Heinz Schorlin. When Katterle, whose friend and countryman was in his service, spoke of him--and that happened by no means rarely--she had always called him a devout knight, and that he was so, in truth, he showed her plainly enough; for there was fervent devotion in the eyes which now again sought hers like an humble penitent.
The musicians had just struck up the Polish dance, and probably the knight, whom the Emperor's sister had recommended to her for a partner, wished by this glance to apologise for inviting Countess Cordula von Montfort instead. Therefore she did not need to avoid the look, and might obey the impulse of her heart to give him a warning in the language of the eyes which, though mute, is yet so easily understood. Hitherto she had been unable to answer him, even by a word, yet she believed that she was destined to become better acquainted, if only to show him that his power, of which the Burgravine had spoken, was baffled when directed against the heart of a pious maiden.
And something must also attract him to her, for while she had the honour of being escorted up and down the hall by one of the handsome sons of the Burgrave von Zollern to the music of the march performed by the city pipers, Heinz Schorlin, it is true, did the same with his lady, but he looked away from her and at Eva whenever she passed him.
Her partner was talkative enough, and his description of the German order which he expected to enter, as his two brothers had already done, would have seemed to her well worthy of attention at any other time, but now she listened with but partial interest.
When the dance was over and Sir Heinz approached, her heart beat so loudly that she fancied her neighbours must hear it; but ere he had spoken a single word old Burgrave Frederick himself greeted her, inquired about her invalid mother, her blithe sister, and her aunt, the abbess, who in her youth had been the queen of every dance, and asked if she found his son a satisfactory partner.
It was an unusual distinction to be engaged in conversation by this distinguished gentleman, yet Eva would fain have sent him far away, and her replies must have sounded monosyllabic enough; but the sweet shyness that overpowered her so well suited the modest young girl, who had scarcely passed beyond childhood, that he did not leave her until the 'Rai' began, and then quitted her with the entreaty that she would remove the cap which had hitherto rendered her invisible, to the injury of knights and gentlemen, and be present at the dance which he should soon give at the castle.
The pleasant old nobleman had scarcely left her when she turned towards the young man who had just approached with the evident intention of leading her to the dance, but he was again standing beside Cordula von Montfort, and a feeling of keen resentment overpowered her.
The young countess was challenging his attention still more boldly, tossing her head back so impetuously that the turban-like roll on her hair, spite of the broad ribbon that fastened it under her chin, almost fell on the floor. But her advances not only produced no effect, but seemed to annoy the knight. What charm could he find in a girl who, in a costume which displayed the greatest extreme of fashion, resembled a Turk rather than a Christian woman? True, she had an aristocratic bearing, and perhaps Els was right in saying that her strongly marked features revealed a certain degree of kindliness, but she wholly lacked the spell of feminine modesty. Her pleasant grey eyes and full red lips seemed created only for laughter, and the plump outlines of her figure were better suited to a matron than a maiden in her early girlhood. Not the slightest defect escaped Eva during this inspection. Meanwhile she remembered her own image in the mirror, and a smile of satisfaction hovered round her red lips.
Now the knight bowed.
Was he inviting the countess to dance again? No, he turned his back to her and approached Eva, whose lovely, childlike face brightened as if a sun beam had shone upon it. The possibility of refusing her hand for the 'Rai' never entered her head, but he told her voluntarily that he had invited Countess Cordula for the Polish dance solely in consequence of the Burgravine's command, but now that he was permitted to linger at her side he meant to make up for lost time.
He kept his word, and was by no means content with the 'Rai'; for, after the young Duchess Agnes had summoned him to a 'Zauner', and during its continuance again talked with him far more confidentially than the modest Nuremberg maiden could approve, he persuaded Eva to try the 'Schwabeln' with him also; and though she had always disliked such dances she yielded, and her natural grace, as well as her quick ear for time, helped her to catch the unfamiliar steps without difficulty. While doing so he whispered that even the angels in heaven could have no greater bliss than it afforded him to float thus through the hall, clasping her in his arm, while she glanced up at him with a happy look and bent her little head in assent. She would gladly have exclaimed warmly: "Yes, indeed! Yet the Burgravine says that danger threatens me from you, you dear, kind fellow, and I should do well to avoid you."
Besides, she felt indebted to him. What would have befallen her here in his absence! Moreover, it gave her a strange sense of pleasure to gaze into his eyes, allow herself to be borne through the wide hall by his strong arm, and while pressed closely to his side imagine that his swiftly throbbing heart felt the pulsing of her own. Instead of injuring her, wishing her evil, and asking her to do anything wrong, he certainly had only good intentions. He had cared for her as if he occupied the place of her own brother who fell in the battle of Marchfield. It would have given him most pleasure--he had said so himself--to dance everything with her, but decorum and the royal dames who kept him in attendance would not permit it. However, he came to her in every pause to exchange at least a few brief words and a glance. During the longest one, which lasted more than an hour and was devoted to the refreshment of the guests, he led her into a side room which had been transformed into a blossoming garden.
Seats were placed behind the green birch trees--amid whose boughs hung gay lamps--and the rose bushes which surrounded a fountain of perfumed water, and Eva had already followed the Swiss knight across the threshold when she saw among the branches at the end of the room the Countess Cordula, at whose feet several young nobles knelt or reclined, among them Seitz Siebenburg, the brother-in-law of Wolff Eysvogel, her sister's betrothed bridegroom.
The manner of the husband and father whose wife, only six weeks before, had become the mother of twin babies--beautiful boys--and who for Cordula's sake so shamefully forgot his duties, crimsoned her cheeks with a flush of anger, while the half-disapproving, half-troubled look that Sir Boemund Altrosen cast, sometimes at the countess, sometimes at Siebenburg, showed her that she herself was on the eve of doing something which the best persons could not approve; for Altrosen, who leaned silently against the wall beside the countess, ever and anon pushing back the coal-black hair from his pale face, had been mentioned by her godfather as the noblest of the younger knights gathered in Nuremberg. A voice in her own heart, too, cried out that this was no fitting place for her.
If Els had been with her, Eva said to herself, she certainly would not have permitted her to enter this room, where such careless mirth prevailed, alone with a knight, and the thought roused her for a short time from the joyous intoxication in which she had hitherto revelled, and awakened a suspicion that there might be peril in trusting herself to Heinz Schorlin without reserve.
"Not here," she entreated, and he instantly obeyed her wish, though the Countess Cordula, as if he were alone, instead of with a lady, loudly and gaily bade him stay where pleasure had built a hut under roses.
Eva was pleased that her new friend did not even vouchsafe the young countess an answer. His obedience led her also to believe that her anxiety had been in vain. Yet she imposed greater reserve of manner upon herself so rigidly that Heinz noticed it, and asked what cloud had dimmed the pure radiance of her gracious sunshine.
Eva lowered her eyes and answered gently: "You ought not to have taken me where the diffidence due to modesty is forgotten." Heinz Schorlin understood her and rejoiced to hear the answer. In his eyes, also, Countess Cordula this evening had exceeded the limits even of the liberty which by common consent she was permitted above others. He believed that he had found in Eva the embodiment of pure and beautiful womanhood.
He had given her his heart from the first moment that their eyes met. To find her in every respect exactly what he had imagined, ere he heard a single word from her lips, enhanced the pleasure he felt to the deepest happiness which he had ever experienced.
He had already been fired with a fleeting fancy for many a maiden, but not one had appeared to him, even in a remote degree, so lovable as this graceful young creature who trusted him with such childlike confidence, and whose innocent security by the side of the dreaded heart-breaker touched him.
Never before had it entered his mind concerning any girl to ask himself the question how she would please his mother at home. The thought that she whom he so deeply honoured might possess a magic mirror which showed her her reckless son as he dallied with the complaisant beauties whose graciousness, next to dice-playing, most inflamed his blood, had sometimes disturbed his peace of mind when Biberli suggested it. But when Eva looked joyously up at him with the credulous confidence of a trusting child, he could imagine no greater bliss than to hear his mother, clasping the lovely creature in her arms, call her her dear little daughter.
His reckless nature was subdued, and an emotion of tenderness which he
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