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- In The Fire Of The Forge, Volume 6. - 6/10 -
toad, a very ugly toad, and I would not permit a dragon to be brought into the house to you poor things in its place."
He poured all this forth very rapidly, for, notwithstanding the intense heat, and the burden of business at the Town Hall, he had left it, though only to do his dear Es a kindness, lie and his worthy wife Christine, the sister of Herr Ernst Ortlieb and of the abbess, had long been familiar with all the tales which slander had called to life, and had striven zealously enough to refute them. What he had now to relate filled him with honest indignation against the evil tongues, and he knew how deeply it would excite and grieve Eva, his godchild, who stood especially near his heart. He would gladly have said a few kind words to her before beginning his story, but he was obliged to return to the Town Hall immediately to open the important conference concerning the fate of the Eysvogel business.
His appearance showed how rapidly he had hurried to the house through the burning sunshine, for drops of perspiration were trickling down his broad, low forehead over his plump, smoothshaven cheeks and thick red neck, in which his small chin vanished as if it were a cushion. Besides, he constantly raised a large linen handkerchief to his face, and his huge chest laboured for breath as he hastily repeated to Eva and the abbess what he had just announced to Els in a few rapid words.
Herr Ernst Ortlieb had gone to the Town Hall, where he attended an examination in his character as magistrate, and had entered the court yard to enjoy the cool air for a short time with a few other "Honourables," in the shady walk near the main gate.
Just then master-tailor Seubolt, the guardian of Ortel and his sister, who were in service at the Ortlieb mansion, approached the Town Hall. No one could have supposed that the tall, grey-headed man with the bowed back, who was evidently nearing sixty, really meant to make a young girl like Metz Vorkler his wife. Besides, he assumed a very humble, modest demeanour when, passing through the vaulted entrance of the Town Hall, which stood open to every citizen, he approached Herr Ernst to ask, with many bows and humble phrases, for the permission, which he had been refused at the Ortlieb house, to remove his wards from a place which their mother, as well as he himself, felt sure--he had supposed that the "Honourable" would have no objection--would be harmful to them in both body and soul.
Surprised and indignant, but perfectly calm, Herr Ernst had requested him to tell him whatever he had to say at a more convenient time. But as the tailor insisted that the matter would permit no delay, he invited him to step aside with him, in order not to make the councillors who were with him witnesses of the unpleasant discussion.
Seubolt, however, seemed to have no greater desire than to be heard by as many people as possible. Raising his voice to a very loud tone, though he still maintained an extremely humble manner, he began to give the reasons which induced him, spite of his deep regret, to remove his wards from the Ortlieb house. And now, sheltering himself behind frequent repetitions of "As people say" and "Heaven forbid that I should believe such things," he began to relate what the most venomous slander had dared to assert concerning the beautiful Es.
For a time Herr Ernst had forced himself to listen quietly to this malicious abuse of those whom he held dearest, but at last it became too much for the quick-tempered man. The tailor had ventured to allude to Jungfrau Els "who certainly had scarcely given full cause for such evil slander" in words which caused even the councillors standing near to contradict him loudly, and induced Herr Pfinzing, who had just come up, to beckon to the city soldiers. At that instant the blood mounted to the insulted father's brain, and the misfortune happened; for as the tailor, with an unexpected gesture of the arm he was flourishing, brushed Herr Ernst's cap, the latter, fairly insane with rage, snatched the pike from one of the men who, obeying Herr Pfinzing's signal, were just approaching the tailor, and with a wild cry struck down the base traducer.
Herr Pfinzing, with the presence of mind characteristic of him, instantly ordered the beadles to carry the wounded man into the Town Hall, and thus prevented the luckless deed of violence from creating any excitement.
The few persons in the courtyard had been detained, and perhaps everything might yet be well. Herr Ernst had instantly delivered himself up to justice, and instead of being taken to prison like a common criminal, had been conveyed in a closed sedan-chair to the watch-tower.
The pike had pierced the tailor's shoulder, but the wound did not seem to be mortal, and Herr Ernst's rash deed might be made good by the payment of blood-money, though, it is true, on account of the tailor's position and means, this might be a large sum.
"My horse," said Herr Berthold in conclusion, "was waiting for me, and brought me here as swiftly as he must carry me back again. But, you poor things! as for you, my Els, you have a firm nature, and if you insist upon refusing the invitation to our house, why, wait here to learn whether your father needs you. You, my little goddaughter Eva, are provided for. This sorrow, of course, will throw the veil over your fair head."
The worthy man, as he spoke, laid his hand on her shoulder and looked at her with a glance which seemed to rely on her assent, but she interrupted him with the exclamation, "No, uncle! Until you have convinced yourself that no one will dare assail Eva Ortlieb's honour, do not ask her again if she desires the protection of the convent."
The magistrate hurriedly passed his huge handkerchief over his face; then taking Eva's head between his hands, kissed her brow, and--turning the shrewd, twinkling eyes, which were as round as everything else about his person, towards the others, said: "Did any one suggest this, or did the 'little saint' have the sensible idea herself?"
When Eva, smiling, pointed to her own forehead, he exclaimed: "My respects, child. They say that what stirs up there descends from godfather to godchild, and I'll never put goblet to my lips again if I--"
Here he stopped, and called after Els that he had not meant to hint, for she was hurrying out to get her uncle something to drink. But ere the door closed behind her he went on eagerly:
"But to you, my saintly child, I will say: your piety soars far too high for me to follow with my heavy body; yet on the ride here I, old sinner that I am, longed--no offence, sister-in-law abbess!--to warn you against the convent, for the very reason which keeps you away from your saint. We'll find the gag to stop the mouths of these accursed slanderers forever, and then, if you want to enter the convent, they shall not say, when you take the veil, 'Eva Ortlieb is hiding from her own shame and the tricks with which we frightened her out of the world.' No! All Nuremberg shall join in the hosanna!"
Then taking the goblet which Els had just filled, he drained it with great satisfaction, and rushing off, called back to the sisters: "I'll soon see you again, you brave little Es. My wife is coming to talk over the matter with you. Don't let that worthless candle-dealer's children leave the house till their time is up. If you wish to visit your father in the watch-tower there will be no difficulty. I'll tell the warder. Only the drawbridge will be raised after sunset. You can provide for his bodily needs, too, Els. We cannot release him yet; the law must take its course."
At the door he stopped again and called back into the room: "We can't be sure. If Frau Vorkler and the tailor's friends make an outcry and molest you, send at once to the Town Hall. I'll keep my eyes open and give the necessary orders."
A few minutes after he trotted through the Frauenthor on his clumsy stallion.
The watch-tower was in the northern part of the city, in the corn magazine of the fortress, and the whole width of Nuremberg must be traversed to reach it. Even before Herr Pfinzing had left the house the sisters determined to go to their father, and the abbess approved the plan. She invited the girls to spend the night at the convent, if they found the deserted house too lonely, but they did not promise to do so.
Countess Cordula, who was on friendly terms with Eva, also emptied the vials of her wrath with all the impetuosity of her nature upon Sir Seitz Siebenburg and the credulity and malice of the people. From the beginning she had been firmly convinced that the "Mustache," as she now called the knight in a tone of the most intense aversion, had contrived this base conspiracy, and her opinion was strengthened by Biberli. Now she would gladly have torn herself into pieces to mitigate the sisters' hard lot. She wanted to accompany them to the watch-tower, to have them taken there in her sedan-chair carried by horses, which had room for several persons, and at last begged for the favour of being allowed to spend the night in the room adjoining theirs. If the girls, amidst all these base suspicions, should find Nuremberg unendurable, she would leave the scene of the Reichstag with them to-morrow, if necessary, and take them to her castle in the Vorarlberg. She had other plans for them, too, in her mind, but lacked time now to explain them to the sisters; they could not obtain admittance to their father's prison after sundown, and in a few hours the long summer day would be over.
It was not advisable to use their sedan-chairs adorned with the Ortlieb coat of arms, which every one knew, so they went on foot with their faces shrouded by the 'Reise' which was part of their mourning dress; and, in order not to violate usage, were accompanied by two servants, old Martsche and Katterle.
From the Fleischbrucke they might have avoided the market-place, but Els wanted to enquire whether the Eysvogel matter was being discussed. One of the "Honourables"--all of whom she knew--was always to be found near the Town Hall, and Eva understood her sister's anxiety and went with her willingly.
But when they were passing the prison she became frightened.
Through the squares formed by the iron grating in front of the broad window of the largest one, head after head, hand after hand, was thrust into the street. The closely cropped heads of the prisoners, many of which showed mutilations by the hand of the executioner, which had barely healed, formed, as separated only by the iron bars, they protruded above, below, and beside one another into the open air, a mosaic picture, startlingly repulsive in appearance; for savage greed glittered in the eyes of most, and showed itself in the movements of the long, thin hands extended for gifts. Bitter need and passionate longing gazed defiantly, beseechingly, and threateningly at the people who crowded round the window. Few were silent; they implored the curious and pitying men, women, and children, who in the presence of their misery rejoiced in their more favoured lot, for aid in their distress, and rarely in vain; for many a mother gave her children a loaf to hand to the unfortunates, and meanwhile impressed on their minds the lesson that they would fare as badly as the most horrible of the mutilated prisoners unless they were
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