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- In The Fire Of The Forge, Volume 7. - 1/13 -
[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
A few minutes later the sisters left the Town Hall. Their white Rieses were wound so closely about their faces that their features were completely hidden, but the thin material permitted them to see Herr Vorchtel, leaning upon the arm of the young burgomaster, Hans Nutzel, leave the Council chamber, where the other Honourables were still deliberating. Pointing to the old man, the city clerk told Els with a significant smile that Ursula Vorchtel was engaged to the talented, attractive young merchant now walking with her father, and that he had promised Herr Vorchtel to aid him and his younger son in the management of his extensive business. This was a great pleasure to the noble old merchant, and when he, the city clerk, met Ursula that morning, spite of her deep mourning, she again looked out upon the world like the happy young creature she was. Her new joy had greatly increased her beauty, and her lover was the very person to maintain it. Herr Schedel thought it would be pleasant news to Els, too. The young girl pressed his hand warmly; for these good tidings put the finishing touch to the glad tidings she had just heard. The reproach which, unjust as it might be, had spoiled many an hour for Wolff and entailed such fatal consequences, was now removed, and to her also "Ursel's" altered manner had often seemed like a silent accusation. She felt grateful, as if it were a personal joy, for the knowledge that the girl who had believed herself deserted by Wolff, her own lover, was now a happy betrothed bride.
Ursula's engagement removed a burden from Eva's soul, too, only she did not understand how a girl whose heart had once opened to a great love could ever belong to anyone else. Els understood her; nay, in Ursula's place she would have done the same, if it were only to weave a fresh flower in her afflicted father's fading garland of joy.
The city clerk accompanied them to the great entrance door of the Town Hall.
Several jailers and soldiers in the employ of the city were standing there, and whilst their old friend was promising to do his utmost to secure Ernst Ortlieb's liberation and recommending the girls to the protection of one of the watchmen, Eva's cheeks flushed; for a messenger of the Council had just approached the others, and she heard him utter the name of Sir Heinz Schorlin and his follower Walther Biberli. Els listened, too, but whilst her sister in embarrassment pressed her hand upon her heart, she frankly asked the city clerk what had befallen the knight and his squire, who was betrothed to her maid. She heard that at the last meeting of the Council an order had been issued for Biberli's arrest.
His name must have been brought up during the discussions of the slanders which had so infamously pursued the Ortlieb sisters, but she could not enquire how or in what connection, for the sun was already low in the western sky, and if the girls wished to see their father there was no time to lose.
Yet, though Katterle had just said that Countess von Montfort was waiting outside in her great sedan-chair for the young ladies, they were still detained, for they would not leave the Town Hall without thanking the city clerk and saying farewell to him. He was still near, but the captain of the city soldiers had drawn him aside and was telling him something which seemed to permit no delay, and induced the old gentleman to glance at the sisters repeatedly.
Eva did not notice it; for Biberli's arrest, which probably had some connection with Heinz and herself, had awakened a series of anxious thoughts associated with her lover and his faithful follower. Els troubled herself only about the events occurring in her immediate vicinity, and felt perfectly sure that the captain's communications referred not only to the four itinerant workmen and the three women who had just been led across the courtyard to the "Hole," and to whom the speaker pointed several times, but especially to her and her sister.
When the city clerk at last turned to them again, he remarked carelessly that a disagreeable mob in front of the Ortlieb mansion had been dispersed, and then, with urgent cordiality, invited the two girls to spend the night under the protection of his old housekeeper. When they declined, he assured them that measures would be taken to guard them from every insult. He had something to tell their uncle, and the communication appeared to permit no delay, for with a haste very unusual in the deliberate old gentleman he left the two sisters with a brief farewell.
Meanwhile Countess Cordula had become weary of waiting in the sedan- chair. She came striding to meet her new friends, attired in a rustling canary-green silk robe whose train swept the ground, but it was raised so high in front that the brown hunting-boots encasing her well-formed feet were distinctly visible. She was swinging her heavy riding-whip in her hand, and her favourite dogs, two black dachshunds with yellow spots over their eyes, followed at her heels.
As it was against the rules to bring dogs into the Town Hall, the doorkeeper tried to stop her, but without paying the slightest attention to him, she took Els by the hand, beckoned to Eva, and was turning to leave the path leading to the market-place.
In doing so her eyes fell upon the courtyard, where, just after the Ave Maria, a motley throng had gathered. Here, guarded by jailers, stood vagabonds and disreputable men and women, sham blind beggars and cripples, swindlers, and other tatterdemalions, who had been caught in illegal practices or without the beggar's sign. In another spot, dark- robed servants of the Council were discussing official and other matters. Near the "Hole" a little party of soldiers were resting, passing from hand to hand the jug of wine bestowed by the Honourable Council. The "Red Coat"--[Executioner]--was giving orders to his "Life"-- [Executioner's assistant ("Lion")]--as they carried across the courtyard a new instrument of torture intended for the room adjoining the Council chamber, where those who refused to make depositions were forced to it. In a shady corner sat old people, poorly clad women, and pale-faced children, the city poor, who at this hour received food from the kitchen of the Town Hall. A few priests and monks were going into the wing of the building which contained the "Hole," with its various cells and the largest chamber of torture, to give the consolations of religion to the prisoners and those tortured by the rack who had not yet been conveyed to the hospital at Schweinau.
The countess's keen glance wandered from one to another. When they reached the group of paupers they rested upon a woman with deadly pale, hollow cheeks, pressing a pitifully emaciated infant to her dry breast, and her eyes swiftly filled with tears.
"Here," she whispered to old Martsche, taking several gold coins from the pocket that hung at her belt, "give these to the poorest ones. You are sensible. Divide it so that several will have a share and the money will reach the right hands. You can take your time. We need neither you nor Katterle. Go back to the house. I will carry your young mistresses to their father and home again. Where I am you need have no fear that harm will befall them."
Then she turned again towards the "Hole," and seeing the people yelling and shouting while awaiting imprisonment, she pointed to them with her whip, saying, "That's a part of the pack which was set upon you. You shall hear about it presently. But now come."
As she spoke she went before the girls and urged them to step quickly into the large, handsome sedan-chair, around which an unusual number of people had assembled, for she wished to avoid any recognition of the sisters by the curious spectators. The gilded box, borne between two powerful Brabant horses in such a way that it hung between the tail of the first and the head of the second, would have had room for a fourth occupant.
When it moved forward, swaying from side to side, Cordula pointed to the curtained windows, and said: "Shameful, isn't it? But it is better so, children. That arch-rascal Siebenburg robbed the people of the little sense they possessed, and that cat of a candle-dealer, with her mate, the tailor, or rather his followers, poisoned the minds of the rest. How quickly it worked! Goodness, it seems to me, acts more slowly. True, your hot-tempered father spoiled the old rascal's inclination to woo pretty Metz for a while; but his male and female gossips, aunts, cousins, and work-people apparently allowed themselves to be persuaded by his future mother-in-law to the abominable deed, which caused the brawling rabble you saw in the Town Hall court to content themselves with a hard couch in the 'Hole' overnight."
"They have done everything bad concerning us, though I don't know exactly what," cried Els indignantly.
"Wished to do, Miss Wisdom," replied the countess, patting Els's arm soothingly. "We kept our eyes open, and I helped to put a stop to their proceedings. The rabble gathered in front of your house, yelling and shrieking, and when I stepped into your bow-window there was as great an outcry as if they were trying to bring down the walls of Jericho a second time. Some boys even flung at me everything they could find in the mire of the streets. The most delightful articles! There was actually a dead rat! I can see its tail flying now! Our village lads know how to aim better. Before the worst came, by the advice of the equerry and our wise chaplain, whom I consulted, we had done what was necessary, and summoned the guard at the Frauenthor to our assistance. But the soldiers were in no great haste; so when matters were going too far, I stepped into the breach myself, called down to tell them my name, and also showed my crossbow with an arrow on the string. This had an effect. Only a few women still continued to load me with horrible abuse. Then the chaplain came to the window and this restored silence; but, in spite of his earnest words, not a soul stirred from the spot until the patrol arrived, dispersed the rabble, and arrested some of them."
Els, who sat by Cordula's side, drew her towards her and kissed her gratefully; but Eva's eyes had filled with tears of grief at the beginning of the countess's report of this new insult, and the hostility of so many of the townsfolk; yet she succeeded in controlling herself. She would not weep. She had even forced herself to gaze, without the quiver of an eyelash, at the sorrowful and horrible spectacle outside of the "Hole." She must cease being a weak child. How true her dying mother's words had been! To be able to struggle and conquer, she must
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