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- In The Fire Of The Forge, Volume 7. - 2/13 -
not withdraw from life and its influences, which, if she did not spare herself, promised to transform her into the resolute woman she desired to become.
She had listened with labouring breath to the speaker's last words, and when Els embraced Cordula, she raised her little clenched hand, exclaiming with passionate emotion: "Oh, if I had only been at home with you! You are brave, Countess, but I, too, would not have shrunk from them. I would voluntarily have made myself the target for their malice, and called to their faces that only miserably deluded people or shameless rascals could throw stones at my Els, who is a thousand times better than any of them!"
"Or at you, you dear, brave child," added Cordula in an agitated tone.
From the day following the burning of the convent the countess had given up her whim of winning Heinz Schorlin. She now knew that all her nobler feelings spoke more loudly in favour of the quiet man who had borne her out of the flames. Sir Boemund Altrosen's love had proved genuine, and she would reward him for it; but the heart of the pretty creature opposite to her was also filled with deep, true love, and she would do everything in her power for Eva, whom she had loved ever since her affliction had touched her tender heart.
Both sisters were now aware of Cordula's kind intentions, and the warm pleasure she displayed when Els told her what the Council had determined, showed plainly enough that the motherless young countess, who had neither brother nor sister, clung to the daughters of her host like a third sister. Old Herr Vorchtel's treatment of the man who had inflicted so deep a sorrow upon him touched her inmost soul. It was grand, noble; the Saviour himself would have rejoiced over it. "If it would only please the good old man," she exclaimed, "I would rather offer him my lips to kiss than the handsomest young knight."
Though two of Count von Montfort's mounted huntsmen and several constables accompanied the unusually large and handsome sedan-chair, a curious crowd had followed it; but the opinion probably prevailed that the countess's companions were some of her waiting-women. When they alighted in front of the watch-tower, however, an elderly laundry-maid who had worked for the Ortliebs recognised the sisters and pointed them out to the others, protesting that it was hard for a woman of her chaste spirit to have served in a house where such things could have happened. Then a tailor's apprentice, who considered the whole of the guild insulted in the wounded Meister Seubolt, put his fingers to his wide mouth and emitted a long, shrill whistle; but the next instant a blow from a powerful fist silenced him. It was young Ortel, who had come to the watch-tower to seek Herr Ernst and tell him that he and his sister Metz, spite of their mother and guardian, meant to stay in his service. His heart's blood would not have been too dear to guard Eva, whom he instantly recognised, from every insult; but he had no occasion to use his youthful strength a second time, for the soldiers who guarded the tower and the city mercenaries drove back the crowd and kept the square in front of the tower open.
The countess would not be detained long, for the sun had already sunk behind the towers and western wall of the fortress, and the reflection of the sunset was tinging the eastern sky with a roseate hue. The warden really ought to have refused them admittance, for the time during which he was permitted to take visitors to the imprisoned "Honourable" had already passed. But for the daughters of Herr Ernst Ortlieb, to whom he was greatly indebted, he closed his eyes to this fact, and only entreated them to make their stay brief, for the drawbridge leading to the tower must be raised when darkness gathered.
The young girls found their father, absorbed in grief as if utterly crushed, seated at a table on which stood a leaden inkstand with several sheets of paper. He still held the pen in his hand.
He received his daughters with the exclamation, "You poor, poor children!" But when Els tried to tell him what had given her so much pleasure, he interrupted her to accuse himself, with deep sorrow, of having again permitted sudden passion to master him. Probably this was the last time; such experiences would cool even the hottest blood. Then he began to relate what had induced him to raise his hand against the tailor, and as, in doing so, he recalled the insolent hypocrite's spiteful manner, he again flew into so violent a rage that the blow which he dealt the table made the ink splash up and soil both the paper lying beside it and his own dress, still faultlessly neat even in prison. This caused fresh wrath, and he furiously crushed the topmost sheet, already half covered with writing, and hurled it on the floor.
Not until Els stooped to pick it up did he calm himself, saying, with a shrug of the shoulders, "Who can remain unmoved when the whirlwind of despair seizes him? When a swarm of hornets attacks a horse, and it rears, who wonders? And I--What stings and blows has Fate spared me?" Els ventured to speak soothingly to him, and remind him of God, and the saints to whom he had made such generous offerings in building the convent; but this awakened an association, and he asked if it were true that Eva had refused to take the veil.
She made a silent gesture of assent, expecting another outburst of anger; but her father only shook his head sorrowfully, clasped her right hand in both his, and said sadly: "Poor, poor child! But she, she--your mother-- would probably----The last words her dear lips bestowed upon us concerned you, child, and I believe their meaning----"
Here the warden interrupted him to remind the girls that it was time to depart; but whilst Els was begging the man for a brief delay, Herr Ernst looked first at the paper and writing materials, then at his daughters, and added with quiet decision: "Before you go, you must hear that, in spite of everything, I did not wholly lose courage, but began to act."
"That is right, dear father," exclaimed Els, and told him briefly and quickly what the Council had decided, how warmly old Berthold Vorchtel had interceded for Wolff, and that the management of the business was to be confided solely to him.
These tidings swiftly and powerfully revived the fading hopes of the sorely stricken man. He drew up his short figure as if the vigour of youth had returned, declaring that he now felt sure that this first star in the dark night would soon be followed by others. "It will now be your Wolff's opportunity," he exclaimed, "to make amends for much that Fate But I was commencing something else. Give me that bit of crumpled paper. I'll look at it again early to-morrow morning; it is a letter to the Emperor I was composing. Your brother ought not to have given up his young life on the battlefield for the Crown in vain. He owes me compensation for the son, you for the brother. He is certainly a fair- minded man, and therefore will not shut his ears to my complaint. Just wait, children! And you, my devout Eva, pray to your saint that the petition, which concerns you also, may effect what I expect."
"And what is that?" asked Eva anxiously. "That the wrong done you, you poor, deceived child, shall be made good," replied Herr Ernst with imperious decision.
Eva clasped his hand, pleading warmly and tenderly: "By all that you hold dear and sacred, I beseech you, father, not to mention me and Sir Heinz Schorlin in your letter. If he withdrew his love from me, no imperial decree--"
The veins on the Councillor's brow again swelled with wrath, and though he did not burst into a passion, he exclaimed in violent excitement: "A nobleman who declares his love to a chaste Nuremberg maiden of noble birth assumes thereby a duty which, if unfulfilled, imposes a severe punishment upon him. This just punishment, at least, the tempter shall not escape. The Emperor, who proclaimed peace throughout the land and cleared the highways of the bands of robbers, will consider it his first duty--"
Here the warden interrupted him by calling from the threshold of the room that the draw-bridge would be raised and the young ladies must follow him without delay.
Eva again besought her father not to enter an accusation against the knight, and Els warmly supported her sister; but their brief, ardent entreaty produced no effect upon the obstinate man except, after he had pressed a farewell kiss upon the brows of both, to tell them with resolute dignity that the night would bring counsel, and he was quite sure that this time, as usual, he should pursue the right course for the real good of his dear children.
Hitherto Herr Ernst had indeed proved himself a faithful and prudent head of his family, but this time his daughters left him with heavy, anxious hearts.
Fear of her father's intention tortured Eva like a new misfortune, and Els and the countess also hoped that the petition would go without the accusation against Heinz.
Whilst the sedan-chair was bearing the girls home few words were exchanged. Not until they approached the Frauenthor did they enter into a more animated conversation, which referred principally to Biberli and the question whether the Honourable Council would call Katterle to account also, and what could be done to save both from severe punishment. Cordula had drawn aside the curtain on the right and was gazing into the street, apparently from curiosity, but really with great anxiety. But Herr Pfinzing had done his part, and with the exception of several soldiers in the pay of the city there were few people in sight near the Ortlieb mansion.
A horse was being led up and down on the opposite side of the courtyard, and behind the chains stood a sedan-chair with several men, to whom Metz had just brought from the kitchen a coal of fire to light their torches. The pretty girl looked as bright as if she felt small concern for the severe wound of the grey-haired tailor who had chosen her for his wife.
As the young girls were getting out of their sedan-chair, the Frauenthor, which was closed at nightfall, opened to admit another whose destination also seemed to be the Ortlieb mansion.
Katterle was standing in the lower entry with her apron raised to her face. She had learned that her true and steadfast lover had been carried to the "Hole," and was waiting here for her mistresses and also for Herr Pfinzing and his wife, whom old Martsche had conducted to the sittingroom in the second story. Herr Pfinzing, in her opinion, had as much power as the Emperor, and his wife was famed all over the city for her charitable and active kindness. When the noble couple came down Katterle meant to throw herself on her knees at their feet and beseech them to have mercy on her betrothed husband. The sisters and Cordula comforted her with the promise that they would commend Biberli's cause to the magistrate; but as they went upstairs they again expressed to one another the fear that Katterle herself would sooner or later follow the man she loved to prison.
They found Herr Pfinzing and his wife in the sitting-room.
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