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- In The Fire Of The Forge, Volume 5. - 6/10 -


lightning struck the knight's casque during the thundershower yesterday; it ran along his armour, flashing brightly; the horse sank dead under him without moving a limb, but he himself escaped unhurt, and the mark of a cross can be seen in the place where the lightning struck his helmet."

"And you think this happened to the very knight who took the flowers yonder?" asked Eva anxiously.

"As certainly as I hope to have the sacrament before I die, Jungfrau Eva," the youth protested. "I saw him riding with that lank Biberli, Katterle's lover, who serves him, and such noblemen are not found by the dozen. Besides, he is one of those nearest to the Emperor Rudolph's person. If it isn't he, I'll submit to torment----"

"Fie upon your miserable oaths!" Eva interrupted reprovingly. "Do you know also that the tall, stately gentleman with the long grey hair----"

"That was the Emperor Rudolph!" cried Ortel, sure he was right. "Whoever has once seen him does not forget him. Everything on earth belongs to him; but when the knight took our flowers so freely just now as if they were his own, I thought But there--there--there! See for yourself, Jungfrau! A heavy, unclipped yellow zecchin!"

As he spoke he took the coin in his hand, crossed himself, and added thoughtfully: "The little silver coin, or whatever he flung in here-- perhaps to pay for the flowers, which are not worth five shillings--has been changed into pure gold by the saint who wrought the miracle for him. My soul! If many in Nuremberg paid so high for forage, the rich Eysvogel would leave the Council and go in search of wild flowers!"

Eva begged the man to leave the zecchin, promising to give him another at home and half a pound in coppers as earnest money. "This is what I call a lucky morning!" cried Ortel. But directly after he changed his tone, remembering Eva's white mourning robe and the object of their expedition, and his fresh voice sounded very sympathetic as he added: "If one could only call your lady mother back to life! Ah, me! I'd spend all my savings to buy for the saints as many candles as my mother has in her little shop, if that would change things."

Whilst speaking he filled the basket with flowers, and the nun helped him. Eva walked before them with bowed head.

Could she hope to wed the man for whom Heaven had performed such a miracle? Was it no sin to hope and plead that he would wear their common colour, not in honour of the Queen of Heaven, but of the lowly Eva, in whom nothing was strong save the desire for good? Was not Heinz forcing her to enter into rivalry with one the most distant comparison with whom meant defeat? Yet, no! Her gracious Friend above knew her and her heart. She knew with what tender love and reverence she had looked up to her from childhood, and she now confided the love in her heart to her who had shown herself gracious a thousand times when she raised her soul to her in prayer.

Eva was breathing heavily when she emerged from the forest and stopped to wait until Sister Perpetua had finished her prayer in the chapel and overtook her. Her heart was heavy, and when, in the meadow beyond the woods, the heat of the sun, which was already approaching the zenith, made itself felt, it seemed as if she had left the untroubled happiness of childhood behind her in the green thicket. Yet she would not have missed this forest walk at any price. She knew now that she had no rival save the one whom Heinz ought to love no less than she. Whether they both decided in favour of the world or the cloister, they would remain united in love for her and her divine Son.

CHAPTER III.

Outside the courtyard of the Ortlieb mansion Eva saw Biberli going towards the Frauenthor. He had been with Els a long time, giving a report as frankly as ever. The day before he said to Katterle: "Calm yourself, my little lamb. Now that the daughters need you and me to carry secret messages, the father will leave us in peace too. A member of the Council would be like the receiver of stolen goods if he allowed a man whom he deemed worthy of the stocks to render him many services."

And Herr Ernst Ortlieb really did let him alone, because he was forced to recognise that Biberli and Katterle were indispensable in carrying on his daughter's intercourse with Wolff.

Els had forgiven the clever fellow the more willingly the more consoling became the tidings he brought her from her betrothed bridegroom. Besides, she regarded it as specially fortunate that she learned through him many things concerning Heinz Schorlin, which for her sister's sake she was glad to know.

True, it would have been useless trouble to try to extort from the true and steadfast Biberli even a single word which, for his master's sake, it would have been wiser to withhold, yet he discussed matters patiently, and told her everything that he could communicate conscientiously. So, when Eva returned, she was accurately informed of all that had befallen and troubled the knight the day before.

She listened sympathisingly to the servant's lamentation over the marvellous change which had taken place in Heinz since his horse was killed under him. But she shook her head incredulously at Biberli's statement that his master seriously intended to seek peace in the cloister, like his two older sisters; yet at the man's animated description of how Father Benedictus had profited by Sir Heinz's mood to estrange him from the world, the doubt vanished.

Biberli's assurance that he had often seen other young knights rush into the world with specially joyous recklessness, who had suddenly halted as if in terror and known no other expedient than to change the coat of mail for the monk's cowl, reminded her of similar incidents among her own acquaintances. The man was right in his assertion that most of them had been directed to the monastery by monks of the Order of St. Francis, since the name of the Saint of Assisi and the miracles he performed had become known in this country also. Whoever believed it impossible to see the gay Sir Heinz in a monk's cowl, added the experienced fellow, might find himself mistaken.

He had intentionally kept silence concerning Sir Seitz Siebenburg's challenge and his master's other dealings with the "Mustache." On the other hand, he had eagerly striven to inform Els of the minutest details of the reception he met with from her betrothed lover. With what zealous warmth he related that Wolff, like the upright man he was, had rejected even the faintest shadow of doubt of her steadfastness and truth, which were his own principal virtues also.

Even before Sir Heinz Schorlin's visit young Herr Eysvogel had known what to think of the calumnies which, it is true, were repeated to him. His calm, unclouded courage and clear mind were probably best shown by the numerous sheets of paper he had covered with estimates, all relating to the condition of the Eysvogel business. He had confided these documents also to him to be delivered to his father, and after discharging this duty he had come to her. According to his custom, he had reserved the best thing for the last, but it was now time to give it to her.

As he spoke he drew from the breast pocket of his long coat a wrought- iron rose. Els knew it well; it had adorned the clasp of her lover's belt, and the unusual delicacy of the workmanship had often aroused her admiration. What the gift was to announce she read on the paper accompanying it, which contained the following simple lines:

"The iron rude, when shaped by fire and blows, Delights our eyes as a most beauteous rose. So may the lies which strove to work us ill But serve our hearts with greater love to fill."

Biberli withdrew as soon as he had delivered the gift; his master was awaiting him on his return from his early ride with the Emperor; but Els, with glowing cheeks, read and reread the verse which brought such cheering consolation from her lover. It seemed like a miracle that they recalled the words of her dying mother concerning the forge fire which, in her last moments, she had mentioned in connection with Eva's future. Here it had formed from rude iron the fairest of flowers. Nothing sweeter or lovelier, the sister thought, could be made from her darling. But would the fire also possess the power to lead Eva, as it were, from heaven to earth, and transform her into an energetic woman, symmetrical in thought and deed? And what was the necessity? She was there to guide her and remove every stone from her path.

Ah, if she should renounce the cloister and find a husband like her Wolff! Again and again she read his greeting and pressed the beloved sheet to her lips. She would fain have hastened to her mother's corpse to show it to her. But just at that moment Eva returned. She must rejoice with her over this beautiful confirmation of her hope, and as, with flushed cheeks and brow moist with perspiration, she stood before her, Els tenderly embraced her and, overflowing with gratitude, showed her her lover's gift and verse, and invited her to share the great happiness which so brightly illumined the darkness of her grief. Eva, who was so weary that she could scarcely stand thought, like her sister, as Els read Wolff's lines aloud, of her mother's last words. But the forge fire of life must not transform her into a rose; she would become harder, firmer, and she knew why and for whose sake. Only yesterday, had she been so exhausted, nothing would have kept her, after a few brief words to prevent Els's disappointment, from lying down, arranging her pillows comfortably, and refreshing herself with some cooling drink; but now she not only succeeded in appearing attentive, but in sympathising with all her heart in her sister's happiness. How delightful it was, too, to be able to give something to the person from whom hitherto she had only received.

She succeeded so fully in concealing the struggle against the claims of her wearied body that Els, after joyously perceiving how faithfully her sister sympathised with her own delight, continued to relate what she had just heard. Eva forced herself to listen and behave as if her account of Heinz Schorlin's wonderful escape and desire to enter a monastery was news to her.

Not until Els had narrated the last detail did she admit that she needed rest; and when the former, startled by her own want of perception, urged her to lie down, she would not do so until she had put the flowers she had brought home into water. At last she stretched herself on the couch beside her sister, who had so long needed sleep and rest, and a few minutes after the deep dreamless slumber of youth chained both, until Katterle, at the end of an hour, woke them.

Both used the favourable moments which follow the awakening from a sound sleep to cherish the best thoughts and most healthful resolutions. When Eva left her chamber she had clearly perceived what the last hours had taken and bestowed, and found a positive answer to the important question which she must now confront.

Els, like her lover, would cling fast to her love, and strive with tireless patience to conquer whatever obstacles it might encounter, especially from the Eysvogel family.


In The Fire Of The Forge, Volume 5. - 6/10

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