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- In The Fire Of The Forge, Volume 2. - 2/10 -
the couch. Should it prove necessary, she whispered, she would call her. If Wolff came, Eva was to tell him that she could not leave her mother, but he must be sure to return early the next morning, as she had a great deal to say to him.
Eva then went to her father, who was dressing to attend a banquet at the house of Herr Berthold Vorchtel, the first Losunger--[Presiding Officer] --in the Council, from which he would be loath to absent himself for the very reason that his host's family had been hostile to him ever since the rumour of the betrothal of Wolff Eysvogel, whom the Vorchtels had regarded as their daughter Ursula's future husband.
Nevertheless, Herr Ernst would not have gone to the entertainment had his wife's condition given cause for anxiety. But he was familiar with these convulsions which, it is true, weakened the invalid, but produced no other results; so he permitted Eva to help him put the last touches to his dress, on which he lavished great care. Spick and span as if he were just out of a bandbox, the elderly man, before leaving the house, went once more to the sick-room, and Eva stood near as, after many questions and requests, he whispered something to Els which she did not hear. With excited curiosity she asked what he had said so secretly, but he only answered hurriedly, "The name of the Man in the Moon's dog," kissed her cheek, and ran downstairs.
At the foot he again turned to Eva and told her to send for him if her mother should grow worse, for these entertainments at the Vorchtels usually lasted a long time.
"Will the Eysvogels be there too?" asked the girl.
"Who knows," replied her father. "I shall be glad if Wolff comes."
The tone in which he uttered the name of his future son-in-law distinctly showed how little he desired to meet any other member of the family, and Eva said sympathisingly, "Then I hope you will have an opportunity to remember me to Wolff."
"Shall I say nothing to Ursel?" asked the father, pressing a good-night kiss upon the young girl's forehead.
"She would not care for it," was the reply. "It cannot be easy to forget a man like Wolff."
"I wish he had stuck to Ursel, and let Els alone," her father answered angrily. "It would have been better for both."
"Why, father," interrupted Eva reproachfully, "do not our lovers seem really created for each other?"
"If the Eysvogels were only of the same opinion," exclaimed Ernst Ortlieb, shrugging his shoulders with a faint sigh. "Whoever marries, child, weds not only a man or a woman; all their kindred, unhappily, must be taken into the bargain. However, Els did not lack earnest warning. When your time comes, girl, your father will be more careful."
Smiling tenderly, he passed his hand over the little cap which covered her thick, fair hair, and went out.
Eva returned to her room and sat down at the spinning-wheel in the bow window, where Katterle had just drawn the curtains closely and lighted the hanging lamp. But the distaff remained untouched, and her thoughts wandered swiftly to the evening before and the ball at the Town Hall. Heinz Schorlin's image rose more and more distinctly before her mind, and this pleased her, for she fancied that he wore on his helm the blue favour which she had chosen, and it led her to consider against what foe she should first send him in the service of his lady and the Holy Church.
Eva had gazed into vacancy a long time, and beheld a succession of pleasing pictures, in every one of which, Heinz Schorlin appeared. Once, in imagination, she placed a wreath on his helmet after a great victory over the infidels.
Why should not this vision become a reality? Doubtless it owed its origin to a memory, for Wolff Eysvogel had been fired with love for her sister while Els was winding laurel around his helmet.
After the Honourable Council had resolved that the youths belonging to noble families, who had fought in the battle of Marchfield and returned victorious, should be adorned with wreaths by the maidens of their choice, Fate had appointed her sister to crown Eysvogel.
At that time Wolff had but recently recovered from the severe wounds with which he had returned from the campaign. But while he knelt before Els and his eyes met hers, love had overmastered him so swiftly and powerfully, that at the end of a few days he determined to woo her.
Meanwhile his own family resolutely opposed his choice. The father declared that he had made an agreement with Berthold Vorchtel to marry him to his daughter Ursula, and withdrawal on his son's part would embarrass him. His grandmother, the arrogant old Countess Rotterbach, agreed with him, and declared that Wolff ought to wed no one except a lady of the most aristocratic birth or an heiress like Ursula. Her daughter Rosalinde Eysvogel, as usual, was the echo of her mother.
Herr Ernst Ortlieb, too, would far rather have seen his Els marry into another home; but Wolff himself was a young man of such faultless honour, and the bride he had chosen was so eager to become his, that he deemed it a duty to forget the aversion inspired by the suitor's family.
As for Wolff, he had so firmly persisted in his resolve that his parents at last permitted him to ask for his darling's hand, but his father had made it a condition that the betrothal, on account of the youth of the lovers, should not be announced till after Wolff had returned from Milan, where he was to finish the studies commenced in Venice. True, everyone had supposed that they were completed long ago, but Eysvogel senior insisted upon his demand, and afterwards succeeded in deferring the announcement of the betrothal, until the resolute persistence of Wolff, who meanwhile had entered the great commercial house, and the wish of his own aged mother, a sensible woman, who from the first had approved her grandson's choice and to whom Herr Casper was obliged to show a certain degree of consideration, compelled him to give it publicity.
A few days later Herr Casper's brother died, and soon after his estimable old mother. He used these events as a pretext for longer delay, saying that both he and his wife needed at least six months' interval ere they could forget their mourning in a gay wedding festival. Besides, he would prefer not to have the marriage take place until after Wolff's election to the Council, which, in all probability, would occur after Walpurgis of the coming year.
Ernst Ortlieb had sullenly submitted to all this. Nothing but his love for his child and respect for Herr Casper's dead mother, who had taken Els to her heart like a beloved granddaughter, would have enabled him to conquer his hasty temper in his negotiations with the man whom he detested in his inmost soul, and not hurl back the consent so reluctantly granted to his son.
The friends who knew him admired the strength of will with which he governed his impetuous nature in this transaction. Some asserted that secret obligations compelled him to yield to the rich Eysvogel; for though the Ortlieb mercantile house was reputed wealthy, the business prudence of its head resulted in smaller profits, and people had not forgotten that it had suffered heavy losses during the terrible period of despotism which had preceded the Emperor Rudolph's accession to the throne.
The insecurity of the high-roads had injured every merchant, but in trying to find some explanation for Herr Ortlieb's submission the attacks which had cost him one and another train of wares were regarded as specially disastrous.
Finally, the dowry which Els was to bring bore no comparison to the large sums Ernst Ortlieb had lavished upon the erection of the St. Clare Convent, and hence it was inferred that the wealth of the firm had sustained considerable losses. This found ready credence, owing to the retired life led by the Ortliebs,--whose house had formerly been one of the most hospitable in the city,--ever since the wife had become an invalid and Eva had grown up with an aversion to the world. Few took the trouble to inquire into the very apparent causes for the change.
Yet this view of the matter was opposed by many-nay, when the conversation turned upon these subjects, Herr Berthold Vorchtel, perhaps the richest and most distinguished man in Nuremberg, who rented the imperial taxes, made comments from which, had it not been so difficult to believe, people might have inferred that Casper Eysvogel was indebted to Ernst Ortlieb rather than the latter to him.
Yet the cautious, prudent man never explained the foundation of his opinion, for he very rarely mentioned either of the two firms; yet prior to the battle of Marchfield he had believed that his own daughter Ursula and Wolff Eysvogel would sooner or later wed. Herr Casper, the young man's father, had strengthened this expectation. He himself and his wife esteemed Wolff, and his "Ursel" had shown plainly enough that she preferred him to the other friends of her elder brother Ulrich.
When he returned home the two met like brother and sister, and the parents of Ursula Vorchtel had expected Wolff's proposal until the day on which the wreaths were bestowed had made them poorer by a favourite wish and destroyed the fairest hope of their daughter Ursula.
The worthy merchant, it is true, deemed love a beautiful thing, but in Nuremberg it was the parents who chose wives and husbands for their sons and daughters; yet, after marriage, love took possession of the newly wedded pair. A transgression of this ancient custom was very rare, and even though Wolff's heart was fired with love for Els Ortlieb, his father, Herr Vorchtel thought, should have refused his consent to the betrothal, especially as he had already treated Ursel as his future daughter. Some compulsion must have been imposed upon him when he permitted his son to choose a wife other than the one selected.
But what could render one merchant dependent upon another except business obligations?--and Berthold Vorchtel was sharp-sighted. He knew the heavy draft which Herr Casper had made upon the confidence reposed in the old firm, and thought he had perceived that the great splendour displayed by the women of the Eysvogel family, the liberality with which Herr Casper had aided his impoverished noble relatives, and the lavish expenditure of his son-in-law, the debt-laden Sir Seitz Siebenburg, drew too heavily upon the revenues of the ancient house.
Even now Casper Eysvogel's whole conduct proved how unwelcome was his son's choice. To him, Ursula's father, he still intimated on many an occasion that he had by no means resigned every hope of becoming, through his son, more nearly allied to his family, for a betrothal was not a wedding.
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