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- In The Fire Of The Forge, Volume 6. - 5/10 -
a disappointment, she now felt that this dread had been needless, and that her offended maidenly pride absolved her from consideration for any person.
With cautious tenderness she released herself from the arms of the abbess, gazed sorrowfully at her with her large eyes as if beseeching forgiveness then, as she saw her aunt look at her with pained surprise, again threw herself on her breast.
Instead of being protectingly embraced by the elder woman, the young girl clasped her closely to her heart, kissed and patted her with caressing love, and with the winning charm peculiar to her besought her forgiveness if she denied herself and her that which she had long desired as the fairest and noblest goal.
When the abbess interrupted her to represent what awaited her in the world and in the convent, Eva listened, nestling closely to her side until she had finished, then sighing as deeply as if her own resolve caused her the keenest suffering, threw her head back, exclaiming, "Yet, in spite of everything, I cannot, must not enter the convent now." Clasping the abbess's hand, she explained what prevented her from fulfilling the wish of her childhood's guide, which had so long been her own, extolling with warm, sincere gratitude the quiet happiness and sweet anticipations enjoyed with her beloved nuns ere love had conquered her.
During the recent days of sorrow she had again sought the path to her saints and found the greatest solace in prayer; but whenever she uplifted her heart to the Saviour, whose bride she had once so fervently vowed to become, the Redeemer had indeed appeared as usual before the eyes of her soul, but he resembled in form and features Sir Heinz Schorlin, and, instead of turning her away from the world to divine love, she had surrendered herself completely to earthly affection. Prayer had become sin. The saint's song:
"O Love, Love's reign announcing, Why dost thou wound me so? Into thy fiercest flames I fling My heart, my life below."
no longer invited her to give herself up to be fused into divine love, but merely rendered the need of her own soul clearer, and expressed in words the yearning of her heart for her lover.
Here her aunt interrupted her with the assurance that all this--she had had the same experience when, renouncing the love of the noblest and best of men, she took the veil--would be different, wholly different, when with St. Clare's aid she had again found the path on which she had already once so nearly reached heaven. Even now she beheld in imagination the day when Eva would look back upon the world she had left as if it were a mere formless mass of clouds. These were no idle words. The promise was something derived from her own experience.
On her pilgrimage to Rome she had gazed from an Alpine peak and beheld at her feet nothing save low hills, forests, valleys, and flashing streams, with here and there a village; but she could distinguish neither human beings nor animals; a light mist had veiled everything, converting it into one monotonous surface. But above her head the sky, like a giant dome free from cloud and mist, arched in a beautiful vault, blue as turquoise and sapphire. It seemed so close that the eagle soaring near her might reach it with a few strokes of his pinions. She was steeped in radiance, and the sun shone down upon her with overpowering brilliancy like the eye of God.
Close at her side a gay butterfly hovered about the solitary little white flower which grew from a bare rock on the topmost summit. In the brilliant light and amidst the solemn silence that butterfly seemed like a transfigured soul, and aroused the question, Who that was permitted to live on this glowing height, so near the Most High, could desire to return to the grey mist below?
So the human soul which soared to the shining height where it was so near heaven, would blissfully enjoy the purity of the air and the un shadowed light which bathed it, and all that was passing in the world below would blend into a single vanquished whole, whose details could no longer be distinguished. Thus Heinz Schorlin's image would also mingle with the remainder of the world, lying far below her, to which he belonged. It should merely incite her to rise nearer and nearer to heaven, to the radiant light above, to which her soul would mount as easily as the eagle that before the pilgrim's eyes had vanished in the divine blue and the golden sunshine.
"So come and dare the flight!" she concluded with warm enthusiasm. "The wings you need have grown from your soul, you chosen bride of Heaven. Use them. That which now most repels you from the goal will fall away as the snake sheds its skin. Like the phoenix rising from its ashes, the destruction of the little earthly love which even now causes you more pain than pleasure, will permit the ascent of the great love for Him Who is Love incarnate, the love which encompasses the lonely butterfly on the white blossom in the silent, deserted mountain solitude, which lacks no feather on its wings, no tiniest hair on its feelers, as warmly and carefully as the vast, unlimited universe whose duration ends only with eternity."
Eva, with labouring breath, had fairly hung upon the lips of the revered woman, who at last gazed upwards with dilated eyes like a prophetess.
When she paused the young girl nodded assent. Her teacher and friend seemed to have crushed her resistance.
Like the eagle which had disappeared before the pilgrim's eyes in the azure vault of heaven, the radiant light on the pure summit summoned her pure soul to dare the flight.
The abbess watched with delight the influence of her words upon the soul of her darling, who, gazing thoughtfully at the floor, now seemed to be pondering over what she had urged.
But suddenly Eva raised her bowed head, and her eyes, sparkling with a brighter light, sought those of the abbess.
Her quick intellect had attentively considered what she had heard, and her vivid power of imagination had enabled her to transfer to reality the picture which had already half won her over to her friend's wishes.
"No, Aunt Kunigunde, no!" she began, raising her hands as if in repulse. "Your radiant height strongly allures me also, yet, gladly as I believe that, for many the world would be easily forgotten above, where no sound from it reaches us and the mist conceals individual figures from our eyes, for me, now that love has filled my heart, it would be impossible to ascend the peak alone and without him.
"Hear me, aunt!
"What was it that attracted me so powerfully from the beginning? At first, as you know, the hope of making him a combatant for the possessions which I have learned through you to regard as the highest and most sacred. Then, when love came, when a new power, heretofore unknown, awoke within me and--everything must be told--I longed for his wooing and his embrace, I also felt that our union could take root and put forth blossoms only in the full harmony of our mutual love for God and the Saviour. And though since the mass for the dead was celebrated for my mother--it wounded me, and defiance and the wish to punish him urged me to put the convent walls between us--no further token of his love has come, though I know as well as you that he desired to quit the world, this by no means impairs--nay, it only strengthens--the confidence I feel that our souls belong to one another as inseparably as though the sacrament had hallowed our union.
"Therefore I should never succeed in coming so near heaven as you, the lonely, devout pilgrim, attained on the summit of your mountain peak, unless he accompanied me in spirit, unless his soul joined mine in the ascent or the flight. It rests in mine as mine rests in his, and were they separated both would bleed as if from severed veins. For this reason, aunt, he can never blend into a uniform mass with the rest of the world below me; for if I gained the radiant height, he would remain at my side and gaze with me at the mist-veiled world beneath. He can never vanish from the eyes of my soul, and so, dear aunt, because I owe it to him to avoid even the semblance----"
Here she hesitated; for from the adjoining room they heard a man's deep voice telling Els something in loud, excited tones.
This interruption was welcome to the abbess; she had as yet found no answer to her niece's startling objection.
Eva answered her questioning glance with the exclamation, "Uncle Pfinzing!"
"He?" replied the abbess dejectedly. "His opinion has some weight with you, and this very day, during the burial, he told me how glad he should be to see you sheltered in the convent from the hateful calumnies caused by your imprudence!"
"Yet--you will see it directly," the girl declared, "he will surely understand me when I explain that I would rather endure the worst than appear to seek refuge from evil tongues in flight. Whoever has expected Eva Ortlieb to shelter herself from malice behind strong walls will be mistaken. Heinz is certainly aware of the shameful injustice which has pursued us, and if he returns he must find me where he left me. I am now encountering what my dead mother called the forge fire of life, and I will not shun it like a coward. Heinz, I know, will overthrow the man who unchained this generation of vipers against us; but if he does not return, or can bring himself to cast the love that unites us behind him with the world from which he would fain turn, then, aunt"--and Eva's eyes flashed brightly with passionate fire, and her clear voice expressed the firm decision of a vigorous will--"then I will commit our cause to One who will not suffer falsehood to conquer truth or wrong to triumph over right. Then, though it should be necessary to walk over red-hot ploughshares, let the ordeal bear witness for us."
The abbess, startled, yet rejoicing at the fulness of faith flaming in her darling's passionate speech, approached Eva to soothe her; but scarcely had she begun to speak when the door opened and Berthold Pfinzing entered with his older niece.
He was holding Els by the hand, and it was evident that some sorrowful thought occupied the minds of both.
"Has any new horror happened?" fell in tones of anxious enquiry from Eva's lips before she even greeted her dearest relative.
"Think of something very bad," was her sister's reply, in a tone so dejected and mournful, that Eva, with a low cry--"My father!"--pressed her hand upon her heart.
"Not dead, darling," said the magistrate, stroking her head soothingly with his short, broad hand, "by all the saints, not even wounded or ill. Yet the daughter has guessed aright, and I have kept the 'Honourables' waiting, that I might tell you the news myself; for what may not such tidings become whilst passing from lip to lip! It is a
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