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- In The Fire Of The Forge, Volume 3. - 8/11 -
that the man who had made her heart beat so quickly was indeed a young and handsome knight, but by no means the person for whom she had mistaken him. It was Boemund Altrosen, famed as victor in many a tournament, who when a boy had often been at the house of her uncle, Herr Pfinzing. There was no mistaking his coal-black, waving locks. It was said that the dark-blue sleeve of a woman's robe which he wore on his helmet in the jousts belonged to the Countess von Montfort. She was his lady, for whom he had won so many victories.
Heinz Schorlin had mentioned him at the ball as his friend, and told her that the gallant knight would vainly strive to win the reckless countess. Perhaps he was now looking at the house so intently on Cordula's account. Or had Heinz, his friend, sent him to watch over her while he was possibly detained by the Emperor?
But, no; he had just gone nearer to the house to question a man in the von Montfort livery, and the reply now led him to move on towards the convent.
Were the tears which filled Eva's eyes caused by the smoke that poured from the fire more and more densely into the street, or to disappointment and bitter anguish?
The danger which threatened her aunt and her beloved nuns also increased her excitement. True, the sisters themselves seemed to feel safe, for snatches of their singing were still audible amid the ringing of the bells and the blare of the trumpets, but the fire must have been very hard to extinguish. This was proved by the bright glow on the linden tree and the shouts of command which, though unintelligible, rose above every other sound.
The street below was becoming less crowded. Most of those who had left their beds to render aid had already reached the scene of the conflagration. Only a few stragglers still passed through the open gate towards the Marienthurm. Among them were horsemen, and Eva's heart again throbbed more quickly, but only for a short time. Heinz Schorlin was far taller than the man who had again deceived her, and his way would hardly have been lighted by two mounted torch bearers. Soon her rosy lips even parted in a smile, for the sturdy little man on the big, strong-boned Vinzgau steed, whom she now saw distinctly, was her dearest relative, her godfather, the kind, shrewd, imperial magistrate, Berthold Pfinzing, the husband of her father's sister, good Aunt Christine.
If he looked up he would tell her about old Herr Vorchtel. Nor did he ride past his darling's house without a glance at her window, and when he saw Eva beckon he ordered the servants to keep back, and stopped behind the chains.
After he had briefly greeted his niece and she had enquired what had befallen the Vorchtels, he asked anxiously: "Then you know nothing yet? And Els--has it been kept from her, too?"
"What, in the name of all the saints?" asked Eva, with increasing alarm.
Then Herr Pfinzing, who saw that the door of the house was open, asked her to come down. Eva was soon standing beside her godfather's big bay, and while patting the smooth neck of the splendid animal he said hurriedly, in a low tone: "It's fortunate that it happened so. You can break it gradually to your sister, child. To-night Summon up your courage, for there are things which even a man--To make the story short, then: Tonight Wolff Eysvogel and young Vorchtel quarreled, or rather Ulrich irritated your Wolff so cruelly that he drew his sword--"
"Wolff!" shrieked Eva, whose hand had already dropped from the horse. "Wolff! He is so terribly strong, and if he drew his sword in anger----"
"He dealt his foe one powerful thrust," replied the imperial magistrate with an expressive gesture. "The sword pierced him through. But I must go on Only this one thing more: Ulrich was borne back to his parents as a corpse. And Wolff Where is he hiding? May the saints long be the only ones who know! A quarrel with such a result under the Emperor's eyes, now when peace has just been declared throughout the land! Who knows what sentence will be pronounced if the bailiffs show themselves shrewder this time than usual! My office compelled me to set the pack upon him. That is the reason I am so late. Tell Els as cautiously as possible."
He bowed gallantly and trotted on, but Eva, as if hunted by enemies, rushed up the staircase, threw herself on her knees before the prie dieu, and sobbed aloud.
Young Vorchtel had undoubtedly heard of the events in the entry, taunted Wolff with his betrothed bride's nocturnal interview with a knight, and thus roused the strong man to fury. How terrible it all was! How could she bear it! Her thoughtlessness had cost a human life, robbed parents of their son! Through her fault her sister's betrothed husband, whom she also loved, was in danger of being placed under ban, perhaps even of being led to the executioner's block!
She had no thought of any other motive which might have induced the hot- blooded young men to cross swords and, firmly convinced that her luckless letter had drawn Heinz Schorlin to the house and thus led to all these terrible things, she vainly struggled for composure.
Sometimes she beheld in imagination the despairing Els; sometimes the aged Vorchtels, grieving themselves to death; sometimes Wolff, outlawed, hiding like a hunted deer in the recesses of the forest; sometimes the maid, fleeing with her little bundle into the darkness of the night; sometimes the burning convent; and at intervals also Heinz Schorlin, as he knelt before her and raised his clasped hands with passionate entreaty.
But she repelled every thought of him as a sin, and even repressed the impulse to look out into the street to seek him. Her sole duty now was to pray to her patron saint and the Mother of God in behalf of her sister, whom she had hurled into misfortune, and her poor heart bleeding from such deep wounds; but the consolation which usually followed the mere uplifting of her soul in prayer did not come, and it could not be otherwise, for amid her continual looking into her own heart and listening to what went on around her no real devotion was possible.
Although she constantly made fresh efforts to collect her thoughts, and continued to kneel with clasped hands before the prie dieu, not a hoof- beat, not a single loud voice, escaped her ear. Even the alternate deepening and paling of the reflection of the fire, which streamed through the window, attracted her attention, and the ringing of bells and braying of trumpets, which still continued, maintained the agitation in her soul.
Yet prayer was the sole atonement she could make for the wrong she had done her sister; so she did not cease her endeavours to plead for her to the Great Helper above, but her efforts were futile. Yet even when she heard voices close by the house, among which she distinguished Countess Cordula's and--if she was not mistaken--her father's, she resisted the impulse to rise from her knees.
At last the vain struggle was ended by an interruption from without. After unusually loud voices exclaiming and questioning had reached her from the entry, the door of her chamber suddenly opened and old Martsche looked in. The housekeeper was seeking something; but when she found the devout child on her knees she did not wish to disturb her, and contented herself with the evidence of her eyes. But Eva stopped her, and learned that she was searching for Katterle, who could neither be found in her room, or anywhere else. Herr Ortlieb had brought Countess von Montfort home severely burned, and there were all sorts of things for the maid to do.
Eva clung shuddering to the back of the prie dieu, for the certainty that the unfortunate girl had really fled was like strewing salt on her wounds.
When Martsche left her and Els entered, her excitement had risen to such a pitch that she flung herself before her, as if frantic and, clinging to her knees, heaping self-accusations upon herself with passionate impetuosity, she pleaded, amid her sobs, for pardon and mercy.
Meanwhile Els had been informed by her father of her lover's fatal deed, and as soon as she perceived what tortured her sister she relieved her, with loving words of explanation, from the reproach of being the cause of this misfortune also, for the quarrel had taken place so early that no tidings of the meeting in the entry could have reached young Vorchtel when he became involved in the fray with Wolff.
Nor was it solely to soothe Eva that she assured her that, deeply as she mourned the death of the hapless Ulrich and his parents' grief, Wolff's deed could not diminish either her love or her hope of becoming his.
Eva listened to this statement with sparkling eyes. The love in her sister's heart was as immovably firm as the ancient stones of her native stronghold, which defied every storm, and on which even the destroying, kindling lightning could inflict no injury. This made her doubly dear, and from the depths of dull despair her soul, ever prone to soar upwards, rose swiftly to the heights of hopeful exaltation.
When Els at last entreated her to go to rest without her, she willingly consented, for her mother was comfortable, and Sister Renata was watching at her bedside.
Eva kept her promise, after Els, who wanted to see the Countess von Montfort, had satisfied her concerning the welfare of the nuns and promised to go to rest herself as soon as possible.
The stopping of the alarm bells proved that the fire was under control. Even its reflection had disappeared, but the eastern sky was beginning to be suffused with a faint tinge of rose colour.
When her sister left her Eva herself drew the curtains before the window, and sleep soon ended her thoughts and yearnings, her grief and her hope.
Countess Cordula von Montfort's room faced the east and looked out into the garden. The sun of the June morning had just risen, filling it with cheerful light.
The invalid's maid had wished to deny Els admittance, but the countess called eagerly to her, and then ordered the windows to be opened, because she never felt comfortable unless it was light around her and she could breathe God's pure air.
The morning breeze bore the smoke which still rose from the fire in another direction, and thus a refreshing air really entered the room from the garden, for the thunderstorm had refreshed all nature, and flower beds and grass, bush and tree, exhaled a fresh odour of earth and leafage which it was a delight to breathe.
The leech Otto, to whom the severely wounded Ulrich Vorchtel had been
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