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- In The Fire Of The Forge, Volume 4. - 1/11 -
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an entire meal of them. D.W.]
IN THE FIRE OF THE FORGE
A ROMANCE OF OLD NUREMBERG
By Georg Ebers
The city gates were already open. Peasants and peasant women bringing vegetables and other farm produce to market thronged the streets, wains loaded with grain or charcoal rumbled along, and herds of cattle and swine, laden donkeys, the little carts of the farmers and bee keepers conveying milk and honey to the city, passed over the dyke, which was still softened by the rain of the preceding night.
The thunderstorm had cooled the air, but the rays of the morning sun were already scorching. A few heavy little clouds were darkly relieved against the blue sky, and a peasant, driving two sucking pigs before him, called to another, who was carrying a goose under each arm, that the sun was drawing water, and thundershowers seldom came singly.
Yet the city looked pleasant enough in the freshness of early June. The maidservants who were opening the shutters glanced gaily out into the streets, and arranged the flowers in front of the windows or bowed reverently as a priest passed by on his way to mass. The barefooted Capuchin, with his long beard, beckoned to the cook or the tradesman's wife and, as she put something into his beggar's sack and he thanked her kindly with some pious axiom, she felt as if she herself and all her household had gained a right to the blessing of Heaven for that day, and cheerily continued her work.
The brass counter in the low, broad bow window of the baker's house glittered brightly, and the pale apprentice wiped the flour from his face and gave his master's rosy-cheeked daughter fresh warm cakes to set on the shining shelves. The barber's nimble apprentice hung the towel and basin at the door, while his master, wearied by the wine-bibbing and talk at the tavern or his labour at the fire, was still asleep. His active wife had risen before him, strewed the shop with fresh sand, and renewed the goldfinch's food.
The workshops and stores were adorned with birch branches, and the young daughters of the burghers, in becoming caps, the maid servants and apprentices, who were going to market with baskets on their arms, wore a flower or something green on their breasts or in their caps.
The first notes of the bells, pealing solemnly, were summoning worshippers to mass, the birds were singing in the garden, and the cocks were crowing in the yards of the houses. The animals passing in the street lowed, grunted, and cackled merrily in the dawn of the young day.
Gay young men, travelling students who had sought cheap quarters in the country, now entered the city with a merry song on their lips just shaded by the first down of manhood, and when a maiden met them she lowered her eyes modestly before the riotous fellows.
The terrors of the frightful thunderstorm seemed forgotten. Nuremberg looked gladsome; a carpet hung from many a bow-window, and flags and streamers fluttered from roofs and balconies to honour the distinguished guests. Many signs of their presence were visible, squires and equerries, in their masters' colours, were riding spirited horses, and a few knights who loved early rising were already in the saddle, their shining helmets and coats of mail flashing brightly in the sunshine.
The gigantic figure of Sir Seitz Siebenburg moved with drooping head through the budding joy of this June day towards the Eysvogel dwelling.
His gloomy, haggard face and disordered attire made two neatly dressed young shoemaker's apprentices, on their way to their work, nudge each other and look keenly at him.
"I'd rather meet him here in broad daylight among houses and people than in the dusk on the highway," remarked one of them.
"There's no danger," replied the other. "He wears the curb now. He moved from the robber nest into the rich Eysvogel house opposite. That's Herr Casper's son-in-law. But such people can never let other folks' property alone. Only here they work in another way. The shoes he wears were made in our workshop, but the master still whistles for his pay, and he owes everybody--the tailor, the lacemaker, the armourer, the girdlemaker, and the goldsmith. If an apprentice reminds him of the debt, let him beware of bruises."
"The Emperor Rudolph ought to issue an edict against such injustice!" wrathfully exclaimed the other and taller youth, the handsome son of a master of the craft from Weissenburg on the Sand, who expected soon to take his father's place. "Up at Castle Graufels, which is saddled on our little town, master and man would be going barefoot but for us; yet for three years we haven't seen so much as a penny of his, though my father says times have already improved, since the Hapsburg, as a just man----"
"Things have not been so bad here for a long while, the saints be praised!" his companion broke in. "Siebenburg, or some of his wife's rich kindred, will at last be compelled to settle matters. We have the law and the Honourable Council to attend to that. Look up! Yonder stately old house gave its daughter to the penniless knight. She is one of our customers too; a handsome woman, and not one of the worst either. But her mother, who was born a countess--if the shoe doesn't make a foot small which Nature created big, there's such an outcry! True, the old woman, her mother, is worse still; she scolds and screams. But look up at the bow window. There she stands. I'm only a poor brewer's son, but before I----"
"You don't say so!" the other interrupted. Have you seen the owl in the cage in front of the guardhouse at the gate of the hospital? It is her living image; and how her chin projects and moves up and down, as though she were chewing leather!"
"And yet," said the other, as if insisting upon something difficult to believe, "and yet the old woman is a real countess."
The Weissenburg apprentice expressed his astonishment with another: "You don't say so!" but as he spoke he grasped his companion's arm, adding earnestly: "Let us go. That ugly old woman just looked at me, and if it wasn't the evil eye I shall go straight to the church and drive away the misfortune with holy water."
"Come, then," answered the Nuremberg youth, but continued thoughtfully: "Yet my master's grandmother, a woman of eighty, is probably older than the one up there, but nobody could imagine a kinder, pleasanter dame. When she looks approvingly at one it seems as if the dear God's blessing were shining from two little windows."
"That's just like my grandmother at home!" exclaimed the Weissenburg apprentice with sparkling eyes.
Turning from the Eysvogel mansion as they spoke, they pursued their way.
Siebenburg had overtaken the apprentices, but ere crossing the threshold of the house which was now his home he stopped before it.
It might, perhaps, be called the largest and handsomest in Nuremberg; but it was only a wide two-story structure, though the roof had been adorned with battlements and the sides with a small bow-windowed turret. At the second story a bracket, bearing an image of the Madonna, had been built out on one side, and on the other the bow window from which old Countess Rotterbach had looked down into the street.
The coat of arms was very striking and wholly out of harmony with the simplicity of the rest of the building. Its showy splendour, visible for a long distance, occupied the wide space between the door of the house and the windows of the upper story. The escutcheon of the noble family from which Rosalinde, Herr Casper's wife, had descended rested against the shield bearing the birds. The Rotterbach supporters, a nude man and a bear standing on its hind legs, rose on both sides of the double escutcheon, and the stone cutter had surmounted the Eysvogel helmet with a count's coronet.
This elaborate decoration of the ancient patrician house had become one of the sights of the city, and had often made Herr Casper, at the Honourable Council and elsewhere, clench his fist under his mantle, for it had drawn open censure and bitter mockery upon the arrogant man, but his desire to have it replaced by a more modest one had been baffled by the opposition of the women of his family. They had had it put up, and would not permit any one to touch it, though Wolff, after his return from Italy, had strenuously urged its removal.
It had brought the Eysvogels no good fortune, for on the day of its completion the business received its first serious blow, and it also served to injure the commercial house externally in a very obvious manner. Whereas formerly many wares which needed to be kept dry had been hoisted from the outer door and the street to the spacious attic, this was now prevented by the projecting figures of the nude men and the bears. Therefore it became necessary to hoist the goods to be stored in the attic from the courtyard, which caused delay and hindrances of many kinds. Various expedients had been suggested, but the women opposed them all, for they were glad that the ugly casks and bales no longer found their way to the garret past their windows, and it also gratified their arrogance that they were no longer visible from the street.
Siebenburg now looked up at the huge escutcheon and recalled the day when, after having been specially favoured by Isabella Eysvogel at a dance in the Town Hall, he had paused in the same place. A long line of laden waggons had just stopped in front of the door surmounted by the double escutcheon, and if he had previously hesitated whether to profit by the favour of Isabella, whose haughty majesty, which attracted him, also inspired him with a faint sense of uneasiness, he was now convinced how foolish it would be not to forge the iron which seemed aglow in his favour. What riches the men-servants were carrying into the vaulted entry, which was twice as large as the one in the Ortlieb mansion! Besides, the escutcheon with the count's coronet had given the knight assurance that he would have no cause to be ashamed, in an assembly of his peers, of his alliance with the Nuremberg maiden. Isabella's hand could undoubtedly free him from the oppressive burden of his debts, and she was certainly a magnificent woman! How well, too, her tall figure would suit him and the Siebenburgs, whose name was said to be derived from the seven feet of stature which some of them measured!
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