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- In The Fire Of The Forge, Volume 6. - 1/10 -
[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 Minorite had gone. Biberli had noticed with delight that his master had not sought as usual to detain him. The iron now seemed to him hot, and he thought it would be worth while to swing the hammer.
The danger in which Heinz stood of being drawn into the monastery made him deeply anxious, and he had already ventured several times to oppose his design. Life was teaching him to welcome a small evil when it barred the way to a greater one, and his master's marriage, even with a girl of far lower station than Eva Ortlieb, would have been sure of his favour, if only it would have deterred him from the purpose of leaving the world to which he belonged.
"True," the servitor began, "in such heat it is easier to walk in the thin cowl than in armour. The holy Father is right there. But when it is necessary to be nimble, the knight has his dancing dress also. Oh, my lord, what a sight it was when you were waltzing with the lovely Jungfrau Eva! Look at Heinz Schorlin, the brave hero of Marchfield, and the girl with the angel face who is with him!' said those around me, as I was gazing down from the balcony. And just think--I can't help speaking of it again--that now respectable people dare to point their fingers at the sisters and join in the base calumny uttered by a scoundrel!"
Then Heinz fulfilled Biberli's secret longing to be questioned about the Es and the charges against them, and he forged the iron.
Not from thirst, he said, but to ascertain what fruit had grown from the hellish seeds sown by Siebenburg, and probably the still worse ones of the Eysvogel women, he went from tavern to tavern, and there he heard things which made him clench his fists, and, at the Red Ox, roused him to such violent protest that he went out of the tap-room faster than he entered it.
Thereupon, without departing far from the truth, he related what was said about the beautiful Es in Nuremberg.
It was everywhere positively asserted that a knight belonging to the Emperor's train had been caught at the Ortlieb mansion, either in a nocturnal interview or while climbing into the window. Both sisters were said to be guilty. But the sharpest arrows were aimed at Els, the betrothed bride of the son of a patrician family, whom many a girl would have been glad to wed. That she preferred the foreigner, whether a Bohemian, a Swabian, or even a Swiss, made her error doubly shameful in the eyes of most persons.
Whenever Biberli had investigated the source of these evil tales, he had invariably found it to be Seitz Siebenburg, his retainers, the Eysvogel butler, or some man or maidservant in their employ.
The Vorchtels, who, as he knew from Katterle, would have had the most reason to cherish resentment against the Ortliebs, had no share in these slanders.
The shrewd fellow had discovered the truth, for after Seitz Siebenburg had wandered about in the open air during the storm, he again tried to see his wife. But the effort was vain. Neither entreaties nor threats would induce her to open the door. Meanwhile it had grown late and, half frantic with rage, he went to the Duke of Pomerania's quarters in the Green Shield to try his luck in gaming. The dice were again moving rapidly, but no one grasped the box when he offered a stake. No more insulting rebuff could be imagined, and the repulse which he received from his peers, and especially the duke, showed him that he was to be excluded from this circle.
He was taught at the same time that if he answered the challenge of the Swiss he would not be permitted to enter the lists. Thus he confronted the impossibility of satisfying a demand of honour, and this terrible thought induced him to declare war against everything which honour had hitherto enjoined, and with it upon its guardians.
If they treated him as a robber and a dishonoured man, he would behave like one; but those who had driven him so far should suffer for it.
During the rest of the night and on the following day, until the gate was closed, he wandered, goblet in hand, only half conscious of what he was doing, from tavern to tavern, to tell the guests what he knew about the beautiful Es; and at every repetition of the accusations, of whose justice he was again fully convinced, his hatred against the sisters, and those who were their natural defenders and therefore his foes, increased. Every time he repeated the old charges an addition increasing the slander was made and, as if aided by some mysterious ally, it soon happened that in various places his own inventions were repeated to him by the lips of others who had heard them from strangers. True, he was often contradicted, sometimes violently but, on the whole, people believed him more readily than would have happened in the case of any other person; for every one admitted that, as the brother-in-law of the older E, he had a right to express his indignation in words.
Meanwhile his twins often returned to his memory. The thought ought to have restrained him from such base conduct; but the idea that he was avenging the wrong inflicted upon their father's honour, and thus upon theirs, urged him further and further.
Not until a long ride through the forest had sobered him did he see his conduct in the proper light.
Insult and disgrace would certainly await him in the city. His brothers would receive him kindly. They were of his own blood and could not help welcoming his sharp sword. Side by side with them he would fight and, if it must be, die. A voice within warned him against making common cause with those who had robbed the family of which he had become a member, yet he again used the remembrance of his innocent darlings to palliate his purpose. For their sakes only he desired to go to his death, sword in hand, like a valiant knight in league with those who were risking their lives in defence of the ancient privilege of their class. They must not even suspect that their father had been shut out from the tournament, but grow up in the conviction that he had fallen as a heroic champion of the cause of the lesser knights to whom he belonged, and on whose neck the Emperor had set his foot.
The assurance which Biberli brought Heinz Schorlin that Seitz Siebenburg had joined those whom he was ordered to punish, placed the task assigned him by the Emperor in a new and attractive light; but the servant's report, so far as it concerned the Ortlieb sisters, pierced the inmost depths of his soul. He alone was to blame for the disgrace which had fallen upon innocent maidens. By the destruction of the calumny he would at least atone for a portion of his sin. But this did not suffice. It was his duty to repair the wrong he had done the sisters. How? That he could not yet determine; for whilst wielding the executioner's sword in his master's service all these thoughts must be silenced; he could consider nothing save to fulfil the task confided to him by his imperial benefactor and commander in chief, according to his wishes, and show him that he had chosen wisely in trusting him to "crack the nut" which he himself had pronounced a hard one. The yearning and renunciation, the reproaches and doubts which disturbed his life, until recently so easy, had disgusted him with it. He would not spare it. Yet if he fell he would be deprived of the possibility of doing anything whatever for those who through his imprudence had lost their dearest possession--their good name. Whenever this picture rose before him it sometimes seemed as if Eva was gazing at him with her large, bright eyes as trustingly as during the pause in the dancing, and anon he fancied he saw her as she looked at her mother's consecration in her deep mourning before the altar. At that time her grief and pain had prevented her from noticing how his gaze rested on her; yet never had she appeared more desirable, never had he longed more ardently to clasp her in his arms, console her, and assure her that his love should teach her to forget her grief, that she was destined to find new happiness in a union with him.
This had happened to him just as he commenced the struggle for a new life. Startled, he confessed it to his grey-haired guide, and used the means which the Minorite advised him to employ to attain forgetfulness and renunciation, but always in vain. Had he, like St. Francis, rushed among briers, his blood would not have turned into roses, but doubtless fresh memories of her whose happiness his guilt had so suddenly and cruelly destroyed.
For her sake he had already begun to doubt his vocation on the very threshold of his new career, and did not recover courage until Father Benedictus, who had communicated with the Abbess Kunigunde, informed him that Eva was wax in her hands, and within the next few days she would induce her niece to take the veil.
This news had exerted a deep influence upon the young knight's soul. If Eva entered the cloister before him, the only strong tie which united him to the world would be severed, and nothing save the thought of his mother would prevent his following his vocation. Yet vehement indignation seized him when he heard from Biberli that the slanderer's malice would force Eva to seek refuge with the Sisters.
No, a thousand times no! The woman whom he loved should need to seek refuge from nothing for which Heinz Schorlin's desire and resolve alike commanded him to make amends.
He must succeed in proving to the whole world that she and her sister were as pure as they lived in his imagination, either by offering in the lists the boldest defiance to every one who refused to acknowledge that both were the most chaste and decorous ladies in the whole world, and Eva, at the same time, the loveliest and fairest, or by the open interference of the Emperor or the Burggravine in behalf of the persecuted sisters, after he had confessed the whole truth to his exalted patrons.
But when Biberli pointed out the surest way of restoring the endangered reputation of the woman he loved, and begged him to imagine how much more beautiful she would look in the white bridal veil than in her mourning Riese--[Kerchief of fine linen, arranged like a veil]--he ordered him to keep silence.
The miracle wrought in his behalf forbade him to yearn for happiness and joy here below. It was intended rather to open his eyes and urge him to
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