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- In The Fire Of The Forge, Volume 4. - 2/11 -
Now he again remembered the hour when she had laid her slender hand in his. For a brief period he had been really happy; his heart had not felt so light since early childhood, though at first he had ventured to confess only one half his load of debt to his father-in-law. He had even assumed fresh obligations to relieve his brothers from their most pressing cares. They had attended his brilliant wedding, and it had flattered his vanity to show them what he could accomplish as the wealthy Eysvogel's son-in-law.
But how quickly all this had changed! He had learned that, besides the woman who had given him her heart and inspired him with a passion hitherto unknown, he had wedded two others.
Now, as the image of old Countess Rotterbach, Isabella's grandmother, forced itself upon his mind, he unconsciously knit his brow. He had not heard her say much, but with every word she bestowed upon him he was forced to accept something bitter. She rarely left her place in the armchair in the bow window in the sitting-room, but it seemed as if her little eyes possessed the power of piercing walls and doors, for she knew everything that concerned him, even his greatest secrets, which he believed he had carefully concealed. More on her account than on that of his mother-in-law, who did nothing except what the former commanded, he had repeatedly tried to remove with his wife to the estate of Tannenreuth, which had been assigned to him on the day of the marriage, that its revenues might support the young couple, but the mother and grandmother detained his wife, and their wishes were more to her than his. Perhaps, however, he might have induced her to go with him had not his father-in-law made his debts a snare, which he drew whenever it was necessary to stifle his wishes, and he, too, wanted to retain his daughter at home.
Since Wolff's return from Italy he had become aware that the stream of gold from the Eysvogel coffers flowed more sparingly, or even failed altogether to satisfy his extravagant tastes. Therefore his relations with his brother-in-law, whose prudent caution he considered avarice, and whose earnest protests against his often unprecedented demands frequently roused his ire, became more and more unfriendly.
The inmates of the Eysvogel house rendered his home unendurable, and from the experiences of his bachelor days he knew only too well where mirth reigned in Nuremberg. So he became a rare guest at the Eysvogels, and when Isabella found herself neglected and deceived, she made him feel her resentment in her own haughty and--as soon as she deemed herself injured --harsh manner.
At first her displeasure troubled him sorely, but the ardent passion which had absorbed him during the early days of their marriage had died out, and only flamed up with its old fervour occasionally; but at such times the haughty, neglected wife repulsed him with insulting severity.
Yet she had never permitted any one to disparage her husband behind his back. True, Siebenburg did not know this, but he perceived more and more plainly that both the Eysvogels, father and son, were oppressed by some grave anxiety, and that the sums which Wolff now paid him no longer sufficed to hold his creditors in check. He was not accustomed to impose any restraint upon himself, and thus it soon became known throughout the city that he did not live at peace with his wife and her family.
Yet five weeks ago matters had appeared to improve. The birth of the twins had brought something new into his life, which drew him nearer to Isabella.
The children at first seemed to him two lovely miracles. Both boys, both exactly like him. When they were brought to him on their white, lace- trimmed pillows, his heart had swelled with joy, and it was his greatest delight to gaze at them.
This was the natural result.
He, the stalwart Siebenburg, had not become the father of one ordinary boy, but of two little knights at once. When he returned home--even if his feet were unsteady--his first visit was to them, and he had often felt that he was far too poor and insignificant to thank his neglected wife aright for so precious a gift.
Whenever this feeling took possession of him he expressed his love to Isabella with tender humility; while she, who had bestowed her hand upon him solely from love, forgot all her wrongs, and her heart throbbed faster with grateful joy when she saw him, with fatherly pride, carry the twins about with bent knees, as if their weight was too heavy for his giant arms to bear.
The second week after their birth Isabella fell slightly ill. Her mother and grandmother undertook the nursing, and as the husband found them both with the twins whenever he came to see the infants and their mother, the sick-room grew distasteful to him. Again, as before their birth, he sought compensation outside of the house for the annoyance caused by the women at home; but the memory of the little boys haunted him, and when he met his companions at the tavern he invited them to drink the children's health in the host's best wine.
So life went on until the Reichstag brought the von Montforts, whom he had met at a tournament in Augsburg, to the city of Nuremberg.
Mirth reigned wherever Countess Cordula appeared, and Siebenburg needed amusement and joined the train of her admirers--with what evil result he now clearly perceived for the first time.
He again stood before the stately dwelling where he had hoped to find luxury and wealth, but where his heart now throbbed more anxiously than those of his kinsmen had formerly done in the impoverished castle of his father, who had died so long ago.
The Eysvogel dwelling, with its showy escutcheon above the door, was threatened by want, and hand in hand with it, he knew, the most hideous of all her children--disgrace.
Now he also remembered what he himself had done to increase the peril menacing the ancient commercial house. Perhaps the old man within was relying upon the estate of Tannenreuth, which he had assigned to him, to protect some post upon which much depended, and he had gambled it away. This must now be confessed, and also the amount of his own debts.
An unpleasant task confronted him but, humiliating and harassing as was the interview awaiting him beyond the threshold before which he still lingered, at least he would not find Wolff there. This seemed a boon, since for the first time he would have felt himself in the wrong in the presence of his unloved brother-in-law. Even the burden of his debts weighed less heavily on his conscience than the irritating words with which he had induced his father-in-law to break off Wolff's betrothal to Els Ortlieb. The act was base and malicious. Greatly as he had erred, he had never before been guilty of such a deed, and with a curse upon himself on his bearded lips he approached the door; but when half way to it he stopped again and looked up to the second-story windows behind which the twins slept. With what delight he had always thought of them! But this time the recollection of the little boys was spoiled by Countess Cordula's message to his wife to rear them so that they would not be like him, their father.
An evil wish! And yet the warmest love could have devised no better one in behalf of the true welfare of the boys.
He told himself so as he passed beneath the escutcheon through the heavy open door with its iron ornaments. He was expected, the steward told him, but he arched his broad breast as if preparing for a wrestling match, pulled his mustache still longer, and went up the stairs.
The spacious, lofty sitting-room which Seitz Siebenburg entered looked very magnificent. Gay Flanders tapestries hung on the walls. The ceiling was slightly vaulted, and in the centre of each mesh of the net designed upon it glittered a richly gilded kingfisher from the family coat of arms. Bear and leopard skins lay on the cushions, and upon the shelf which surrounded three sides of the apartment stood costly vases, gold and silver utensils, Venetian mirrors and goblets. The chairs and furniture were made of rare woods inlaid with ebony and mother of pearl, brought by way of Genoa from Moorish Spain. In the bow window jutting out into the street, where the old grandmother sat in her armchair, two green and yellow parrots on brass perches interrupted the conversation, whenever it grew louder, with the shrill screams of their ugly voices.
Siebenburg found all the family except Wolff and the twins. His wife was half sitting, half reclining, on a divan. When Seitz entered she raised her head from the white arm on which it had rested, turned her oval face with its regular features towards him, and gathered up the fair locks which, released from their braids, hung around her in long, thick tresses. Her eyes showed that she had been weeping violently, and as her husband approached she again sobbed painfully.
Her grandmother seemed annoyed by her lamentations for, pointing to Isabella's tears, she exclaimed sharply, glancing angrily at Siebenburg:
"It's a pity for every one of them!"
The knight's blood boiled at the words, but they strengthened his courage. He felt relieved from any consideration for these people, not one of whom, except the poor woman shedding such burning tears, had given him occasion to return love for love. Had they flowed only for the lost wealth, and not for him and the grief he caused Isabella, they would not have seemed "a pity" to the old countess.
Siebenburg's breath came quicker.
The gratitude he owed his father-in-law certainly did not outweigh the humiliations with which he, his weak wife, and ill-natured mother-in-law had embittered his existence.
Even now the old gentleman barely vouchsafed him a greeting. After he had asked about his son, called himself a ruined man, and upbraided the knight with insulting harshness because his brothers--the news had been brought to him a short time before--were the robbers who had seized his goods, and the old countess had chimed in with the exclamation, "They are all just fit for the executioner's block!" Seitz could restrain himself no longer; nay, it gave him actual pleasure to show these hated people what he had done, on his part, to add to their embarrassments. He was no orator, but now resentment loosened his tongue, and with swift, scornful words he told Herr Casper that, as the son-in-law of a house which liked to represent itself as immensely rich, he had borrowed from others what-- he was justified in believing it--had been withheld through parsimony. Besides, his debts were small in comparison with the vast sums Herr Casper had lavished in maintaining the impoverished estates of the Rotterbach kindred. Like every knight whose own home was not pleasant, he sometimes gambled; and when, yesterday, ill luck pursued him and he lost the estate of Tannenreuth, he sincerely regretted the disaster, but it could not be helped.
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