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- In The Fire Of The Forge, Volume 4. - 6/11 -

consent, I think. I know him, and esteem him so highly----"

"That you invite his plighted bride to nocturnal love dalliance, and exchange love messages with her," interrupted the other.

This was too much for Heinz Schorlin and, with honest indignation, he cried: "Prove it! Or, by our Lord's blood!--My sword, Biberli!--Spite of the peace proclaimed throughout the land, you shall learn, ere you open your slandering lips again----"

Here he paused suddenly, for while Biberli withdrew to obey the command which, though it probably suited his wishes, he was slow in executing, doubtless that he might save his master from a reckless act, Siebenburg, frantic with fury, rushed to the curtain. Ere Heinz could interfere, he jerked it back so violently that he tore it from the fastenings and forced the terrified maid, whose arm he grasped, to approach the knight with him.

Heinz had seen Katterle only by moonlight and in the twilight, so her unexpected appearance gave him no information. He gazed at her enquiringly, with as much amazement as though she had risen from the earth. Siebenburg gave him no time to collect his thoughts, but dragged the girl before the monk and, raising his voice in menace, commanded: "Tell the holy Brother who you are, woman!"

"Katterle of Sarnen," she answered, weeping. "And whom do you serve?" the knight demanded.

"The Ortlieb sisters, Jungfrau Els and Jungfrau Eva," was the reply.

"The beautiful Es, as they are called here, holy Brother," said Siebenburg with a malicious laugh, "whose maid I recognise in this girl. If she did not come hither to mend the linen of her mistress's friend--"

But here Biberli, who on his return to the anteroom had been terrified by the sight of his sweetheart, interrupted the knight by turning to Heinz with the exclamation: "Forgive me, my lord. Surely you know that she is my betrothed bride. She came just now--scarcely a dozen Paternosters ago-to talk with me about the marriage."

Katterle had listened in surprise to the bold words of her true and steadfast lover, yet she was not ill pleased, for he had never before spoken of their marriage voluntarily. At the same time she felt the obligation of aiding him and nodded assent, while Siebenburg rudely interrupted the servant by calling to the monk: "Lies and deception, pious Brother. Black must be whitened here. She stole, muffled, to her mistress's gallant, to bring a message from the older beautiful E, with whom this godly knight was surprised last night."

Again the passionate outbreak of his foe restored the Swiss to composure. With a calmness which seemed to the servant incomprehensible, though it filled him with delight, he turned to the monk, saying earnestly and simply: "Appearances may be against me, Pater Benedictus. I will tell you all the circumstances at once. How this maid came here will be explained later. As for the maiden whom this man calls the older beautiful E, never--I swear it by our saint--have I sought her love or received from her the smallest token of her favour."

Then turning to Siebenburg he continued, still calmly, but with menacing sternness: "If I judge you aright, you will now go from one to another telling whom you found here, in order to injure the fair fame of the maiden whom your wife's valiant brother chose for his bride, and to place my name with hers in the pillory."

"Where Els Ortlieb belongs rather than in the honourable home of a Nuremberg patrician," retorted Siebenburg furiously. "If she became too base for my brother-in-law, the fault is yours. I shall certainly take care that he learns the truth and knows where, and at what an hour, his betrothed bride met foreign heartbreakers. To open the eyes of others concerning her will also be a pleasant duty."

Heinz sprang towards Biberli to snatch the sword from his hand, but he held it firmly, seeking his master's eyes with a look of warning entreaty; but his faithful solicitude would have been futile had not the monk lent his aid. The old man's whispered exhortation to his young friend to spare the imperial master, to whom he was so deeply indebted, a fresh sorrow, restored to the infuriated young knight his power of self- control. Pushing the thick locks back from his brow with a hasty movement, he answered in a tone of the most intense contempt:

"Do what you will, but remember this: Beware that, ere the joust begins, you do not ride the rail instead of the charger. The maidens whose pure name you so yearn to sully are of noble birth, and if they appear to complain of you----"

"Then I will proclaim the truth," Siebenburg retorted, "and the Court of Love and Pursuivant at Arms will deprive you, the base seducer, of the right to enter the lists rather than me, my handsome knight!"

"So be it," replied Heinz quietly. "You can discuss the other points with my herald. Wolff Eysvogel, too--rely upon it--will challenge you, if you fulfil your base design."

Then, turning his back upon Seitz without a word of farewell, he motioned the monk towards the open door of the antechamber, and letting him lead the way, closed it behind them.

"He will come to you, you boaster!" Siebenburg shouted contemptuously after the Swiss, and then turned to Biberli and the maid with a patronising question; but the former, without even opening his lips in reply, hastened to the door and, with a significant gesture, induced the knight to retire.

Seitz submitted and hastened down the stairs, his eyes flashing as if he had won a great victory. At the door of the house he grasped the hilt of his sword, and then, with rapid movements, twisted the ends of his mustache. The surprise he had given the insolent Swiss by the discovery of his love messenger--it had acted like a spell--could not have succeeded better. And what had Schorlin alleged in justification? Nothing, absolutely nothing at all. Wolff Eysvogel's herald should challenge the Swiss, not him, who meant to open the deceived lover's eyes concerning his betrothed bride.

He eagerly anticipated the joust and the sword combat with Heinz. The sharper the herald's conditions the better. He had hurled more powerful foes than the Swiss from the saddle, and from knightly "courtoisie" not even used his strength without consideration. Heinz Schorlin should feel it.

He gazed around him like a victor, and throwing his head back haughtily he went down the Bindergasse, this time past the Franciscan monastery towards the Town Hall and the fish market. Eber, the sword cutler, lived there and, spite of the large sum he owed him, Seitz wished to talk with him about the sharp weapons he needed for the joust. On his way he gave his imagination free course. It showed him his impetuous onset, his enemy's fall in the sand, the sword combat, and the end of the joust, the swift death of his hated foe.

These pictures of the future occupied his thoughts so deeply that he neither saw nor heard what was passing around him. Many a person for whom he forgot to turn aside looked angrily after him. Suddenly he found his farther progress arrested. The crier had just raised his voice to announce some important tidings to the people who thronged around him between the Town Hall and the Franciscan monastery. Perhaps he might have succeeded in forcing a passage through the concourse, but when he heard the name "Ernst Ortlieb," in the monotonous speech of the city crier, he followed the remainder of his notice. It made known to the citizens of Nuremberg that, since the thunderstorm of the preceding night, a maid had been missing from the house of the Honourable Herr Ernst Ortlieb, of the Council, a Swiss by birth, Katharina of Sarnen, called Katterle, a woman of blameless reputation. Whoever should learn anything concerning the girl was requested to bring the news to the Ortlieb residence.

What did this mean?

If the girl had vanished at midnight and not returned to her employers since, she could scarcely have sought Heinz Schorlin as a messenger of love from Els. But if she had not come to the Swiss from one of the Es, what proof did he, Seitz, possess of the guilt of his brother-in-law's bride? How should he succeed in making Wolff understand that his beloved Els had wronged him if the maid was to play no part in proving it? Yesterday evening he had not believed firmly in her guilt; that very morning it had even seemed to him a shameful thing that he had cast suspicion upon her in the presence of others. The encounter with the maid at the Swiss knight's lodgings had first induced him to insist on his accusation so defiantly. And now? If Heinz Schorlin, with the help of the Ortliebs, succeeded in proving the innocence of those whom he had accused, then--ah, he must not pursue that train of thought--then, at the lady's accusation, he might be deprived of the right to enter the lists in the tournament; then all the disgrace which could be inflicted upon the slanderous defamer of character threatened him; then Wolff would summon him to a reckoning, as well as Heinz Schorlin. Wolff, whom he had begun to hate since, with his resistless arm of iron, he had exposed him for the first time to the malicious glee of the bystanders in the fencing hall.

Yet it was not this which suddenly bowed his head and loudly admonished him that he had again behaved like a reckless fool. Cowardice was his least fault. He did not fear what might befall him in battle. Whether he would be barred out from the lists was the terrible question which darkened the bright morning already verging towards noon. He had charged Els with perfidy in the presence of others, and thereby exposed her, the plighted bride of a knight, to the utmost scorn. And besides--fool that he was!--his brothers had again attacked a train of waggons on the highway and would soon be called to account as robbers. This would certainly lead the Swiss and others to investigate his own past, and the Pursuivant at Arms excluded from joust and tourney whoever "injured trade or merchant." What would not his enemy, who was in such high favour with the Emperor, do to compass his destruction? But--and at the thought he uttered a low imprecation--how could he ride to the joust if his father- in-law closed his strong box which, moreover, was said to be empty? If the old man was forced to declare himself bankrupt Siebenburg's creditors would instantly seize his splendid chargers and costly suits of armour, scarcely one half of which were paid for. How much money he needed as security in case of defeat! His sole property was debts. Yet the thought seemed like an illumination--his wife's valuable old jewels could probably still be saved, and she might be induced to give him part of the ornaments for the tournament. He need only make her understand that his honour and that of the twins were at stake. Would that Heaven might spare his boys such hours of anxiety and self-accusation!

But what was this? Was he deluding himself? Did his over-excited imagination make him hear a death knell pealing for his honour and his hopes, which must be borne to their grave? Yet no! All the citizens and peasants, men and women, great and small, who thronged the salt market, which he had just entered, raised their heads to listen with him; for from every steeple at once rang the mournful death knell which announced to the city the decease of an "honourable" member of the Council, a secular or ecclesiastical prince. The mourning banner was already waving

In The Fire Of The Forge, Volume 4. - 6/11

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