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- In The Fire Of The Forge, Volume 5. - 4/10 -
had so often cherished, again awoke. No other was more pleasing to her Heavenly Bridegroom, and she forbade herself in this hour to think of the only person for whose sake she would gladly have adorned herself. Yet the struggle to forget him constantly recalled him to her mind, no matter how earnestly she strove to shut out his image whenever it appeared. But, after her last conversation, must not her mother have died in the belief that she would not give up her love? And the dead woman's last words? Yet, no matter what they meant, here and now nothing should come between her and the beloved departed. She devoted herself heart and soul to the memory of the longing for her.
Grief for her loss, repentance for not having devoted herself faithfully enough to her, and the hope that in the convent her prayers might obtain a special place in the world beyond for the beloved sleeper, now revived her wish to take the veil. She felt bound to the nuns, who shared her aspirations. When her father came to send her to her rest and asked whether, as a motherless child, she intended to trust his love and care or to choose another mother who was not of this world, she answered quietly with a loving glance at the picture of St. Clare, "As you wish, and she commands."
Herr Ernst kindly replied that she still had ample time to make her decision, and then again urged her to leave the watch beside the dead to the women who had been appointed to it and the nuns, who desired to remain with the body; but Eva insisted so eagerly upon sharing it that Els, by a significant gesture to her father, induced him to yield.
She kept her sister away whilst the corpse was being laid out and the women were performing their other duties by asking Eva to receive their Aunt Christine, the wife of Berthold Pfinzing, who had hurried to the city from Schweinau as soon as she had news of her sister-in-law's death.
Nothing must cloud the memory of the beloved sufferer in the mind of her child, and Els knew that Frau Christine had been a dear friend of the dead woman, that Eva clung to her like a second mother, and that nothing could reach her sister from her honest heart which would not benefit her. Nor was she mistaken, for the warm, affectionate manner in which the matron greeted the young girl restored her composure; nay, when Fran Christine was obliged to go, because her time was claimed by important duties, she would gladly have detained her.
When Eva, in a calmer mood than before, at last entered the hall where her mother's body now lay in a white silk shroud on the snowy satin pillows, as she was to be placed before the altar for the service of consecration on the morrow, she was again overwhelmed with all the violence of the deepest grief; nay, the burning anguish of her soul expressed itself so vehemently that the abbess, who had returned whilst the sisters were still taking leave of their Aunt Christine, did not succeed in soothing her until, drawing her aside, she whispered: "Remember our saint, child. He called everything, even the sorest agony, 'Sister Sorrow'. So you, too, must greet sorrow as a sister, the daughter of your heavenly Father. Remember the supreme, loving hand whence it came, and you will bear it patiently."
Eva nodded gratefully, and when grief threatened to overpower her she thought of the saint's soothing words, "Sister Sorrow," and her heart grew calmer.
Els knew how much the emotions of the previous nights must have wearied her, and had permitted her to share the vigil beside the corpse only because she believed that she would be unable to resist sleep. She had slipped a pillow between her back and that of the tall, handsome chair which she had chosen for a seat, but Eva disappointed her expectation; for whatever she earnestly desired she accomplished, and whilst Els often closed her eyes, she remained wide awake. When sleep threatened to overpower her she thought of her mother's last words, especially one phrase, "the forge fire of life," which seemed specially pregnant with meaning. Yet, ere she had reached any definite understanding of its true significance, the cocks began to crow, the song of the nightingale ceased, and the twittering of the other birds in the trees and bushes in the garden greeted the dawning day.
Then she rose and, smiling, kissed Els, who was sleeping, on the forehead, told Sister Renata that she would go to rest, and lay down on her bed in the darkened chamber.
Whilst praying and reflecting she had thought constantly of her mother. Now she dreamed that Heinz Schorlin had borne her in his strong arms out of the burning convent, as Sir Boemund Altrosen had saved the Countess von Montfort, and carried her to the dead woman, who looked as fresh and well as in the days before her sickness.
When, three hours before noon, she awoke, she returned greatly refreshed to her dead mother. How mild and gentle her face was even now; yet the dear, silent lips could never again give her a morning greeting and, overwhelmed by grief, she threw herself on her knees before the coffin.
But she soon rose again. Her recent slumber had transformed the passionate anguish into quiet sorrow.
Now, too, she could think of external things. There was little to be done in the last arrangement of the dead, but she could place the delicate, pale hands in a more natural position, and the flowers which the gardener had brought to adorn the coffin did not satisfy her. She knew all that grew in the woods and fields near Nuremberg, and no one could dispose bouquets more gracefully. Her mother had been especially fond of some of them, and was always pleased when she brought them home from her walks with the abbess or Sister Perpetua, the experienced old doctress of the convent. Many grew in the forest, others on the brink of the water. The beloved dead should not leave the house, whose guide and ornament she had been, without her favourite blossoms.
Eva arranged the flowers brought by the gardener as gracefully as possible, and then asked Sister Perpetua to go to walk with her, telling her father and sister that she wished to be out of doors with the nun for a short time.
She told no one what she meant to do. Her mother's favourite flowers should be her own last gift to her.
Old Martsche received the order to send Ortel, the youngest manservant in the household, a good-natured fellow eighteen years old, with a basket, to wait for her and Sister Perpetua at the weir.
After the thunderstorm of the day before the air was specially fresh and pure; it was a pleasure merely to breathe. The sun shone brightly from the cloudless sky. It was a delightful walk through the meadows and forest over the footpath which passed near the very Dutzen pool, where Katterle the day before had resolved to seek death. All Nature seemed revived as though by a refreshing bath. Larks flew heavenward with a low sweet song, from amidst the grain growing luxuriantly for the winter harvest, and butterflies hovered above the blossoming fields. Slender dragon-flies and smaller busy insects flitted buzzing from flower to flower, sucking honey from the brimming calyxes and bearing to others the seeds needed to form fruit. The songs of finches and the twitter of white-throats echoed from many a bush by the wayside.
In the forest they were surrounded by delightful shade animated by hundreds of loud and low voices far away and close at hand. Countless buds were opening under the moss and ferns, strawberries were ripening close to the ground, and the delicate leafy boughs of the bilberry bushes were full of juicy green oared fruit.
Near the weir they heard a loud clanking and echoing, but it had a very different effect from the noise of the city; instead of exciting curiosity there was something soothing in the regularity of the blows of the iron hammer and the monotonous croaking of the frogs.
In this part of the forest, where the fairest flowers grew, the morning dew still hung glittering from the blossoms and grasses. Here it was secluded, yet full of life, and amidst the wealth of sounds in which might be heard the tapping of the woodpecker, the cry of the lapwing, and the call of the distant wood-pigeon, it was so still and peaceful that Eva's heart grew lighter in spite of her grief.
Sister Perpetua spoke only to answer a question. She sympathised with Eva's thought when she frankly expressed her pleasure in every new discovery, for she knew for whom and with what purpose she was seeking and culling the flowers and, instead of accusing her of want of feeling, she watched with silent emotion the change wrought in the innocent child by the effort to render, in league with Nature, an act of loving service to the one she held dearest.
True, even now grief often rudely assailed Eva's heart. At such times she paused, sighing silently, or exclaimed to her companion, "Ah, if she could be with us!" or else asked thoughtfully if she remembered how her mother had rejoiced over the fragrant orchid or the white water-lily which she had just found.
Sister Perpetua had taken part of the blossoms which she had gathered; but Ortel already stood waiting with the basket, and the house-dog, Wasser, which had followed the young servant, ran barking joyously to meet the ladies. Eva already had flowers enough to adorn the coffin as she desired, and the sun showed that it was time to return.
Hitherto they had met no one. The blossoms could be arranged here in the forest meadow under the shade of the thick hazel-bushes which bordered the pine wood.
After Eva had thrown hers on the grass, she asked the nun to do the same with her own motley bundle.
Between the thicket and the road stood a little chapel which had been erected by the Mendel family on the spot where a son of old Herr Nikolaus had been murdered. Four Frank robber knights had attacked him and the train of waggons he had ridden out to meet, and killed the spirited young man, who fought bravely in their defence.
Such an event would no longer have been possible so near the city. But Eva knew what had befallen the Eysvogel wares and, although she did not lack courage, she started in terror as she heard the tramp of horses' hoofs and the clank of weapons, not from the city, but within the forest.
She hastily beckoned to her companion who, being slightly deaf had heard nothing, to hide with her behind the hazel-bushes, and also told the young servant, who had already placed the basket beside the flowers, to conceal himself, and all three strained their ears to catch the sounds from the wood.
Ortel held the dog by the collar, silenced him, and assured his mistress that it was only another little band of troopers on their way from Altdorf to join the imperial army.
But this surmise soon proved wrong, for the first persons to appear were two armed horsemen, who turned their heads as nimbly as their steeds, now to the right and now to the left, scanning the thickets along the road distrustfully. After a somewhat lengthy interval the tall figure of an elderly man followed, clad in deep mourning. Beneath his cap, bordered with fine fur, long locks fell to his shoulders, and he was mounted on a powerful Binzgau charger. At his side, on a beautiful
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