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- In The Fire Of The Forge, Volume 7. - 5/13 -
When she raised her tearful eyes to Herr Pfinzing and Frau Christine, saying mournfully, "I must beg you to excuse me, my dear aunt and uncle; you have heard how much my Wolff's father needs me," all saw their expectations fulfilled.
"Hard, hard!" said the magistrate, patting her on the shoulder. "Yet the lead with which we burden ourselves from kindly intentions becomes wood, or at last even feathers."
But Frau Christine was not content with uttering cheering words; she offered to accompany Els and secure the place to which she was entitled. Frau Rosalinde had formerly often visited the matron to seek counsel, and had shown her, with embarrassing plainness, how willingly she admitted her superior ability. She disliked the old countess--but with whom would not the self-reliant woman, conscious of her good intentions, have dared to cope? Since the daughter of the house had left her relatives, the place beside his father's sick-bed belonged to the son's future wife. Frau Rosalinde was weak, but not the worst of women. "Just wait, child," Aunt Christine concluded, "she will see soon enough what a blessing enters the house and the sick-room with you. We will try to erect a wall against the old woman's spite."
Conrad Teufel confessed that he had come with the hope of inducing Els, who had nursed her own mother so skilfully and patiently, to make so praiseworthy a resolution. In taking leave he promised to keep a sharp lookout for her rights, and, if necessary, to show the old she-devil his own cloven foot.
After he, too, had gone, the preparations for the sisters' departure were commenced. Whilst Cordula was helping Eva to select the articles she wished to take to Schweinau, and her older sister, with Katterle's assistance, was packing the few pieces of clothing she needed as a nurse in the Eysvogel family, the countess offered to visit Herr Ernst in the watch-tower early the following morning and tell him what detained his daughters. Towards evening Eva could come into the city under the protection of her aunt, who had many claims upon her the next day, and see the prisoner.
This time, to the surprise of her sister, who had always relieved her of such cares, Eva herself did the packing. When she had finished she led the weeping Katterle to her uncle, that she might beg for mercy upon her lover.
The magistrate was thoroughly aware of the course of affairs, and talked to the maid with the gentle manner, pervaded with genuine kindness of heart, which was one of his characteristics. Biberli had already been subjected to an examination by torture; but even on the rack he had not said one word about his betrothed bride, and had resolutely denied everything which could criminate his master. A second trial awaited him on the morrow, but the magistrate promised to do all in his power to obtain the mildest possible sentence for him. At any rate, like all whose blood was shed by a legal sentence, he would be sent to Schweinau to be cured, and as Katterle would accompany Eva there, she could find an opportunity of nursing her betrothed husband herself.
With these words he dismissed the girl, but when again alone with his wife he admitted to her that the poor fellow might easily fare badly-- nay, might even lose his tongue--if on the rack, which was one of the instruments of torture to which he must again be subjected, he confessed having forced his way into the house of an "Honourable" at night. True, the fact that in doing so he had only followed his master, would mitigate the offence. He must bind the judges to secrecy, should it prove impossible to avoid the necessity of informing them of Eva's somnambulism. If the sentence were very severe, he might perhaps be able to delay its execution. Sir Heinz Schorlin, who stood high in the Emperor's favour, would then be asked to apply to the sovereign to annul it, or at any rate to impose a lighter punishment.
Here he was interrupted by his nieces and Cordula, and soon after Frau Christine went out with Els to go to the Eysvogels. Herr Pfinzing remained with the others.
A personage of no less distinction than the Duchess Agnes had complained to him of the reckless countess. Only yesterday she had ridden into the forest with her father, and when the young Bohemian princess met her, Cordula's dogs had assailed her skittish Arabian so furiously that it would have been difficult for a less practised rider to keep her seat in the saddle. This time the docile animals had refused to obey their mistress, and the duchess expressed the suspicion that she had not intended to call them off; for, though she had carelessly apologised, she asked, as if the words were a gibe, if there was anything more delightful than to curb a refractory steed. She had an answer ready for Cordula, however, and retorted that the disobedience of her dogs proved that, if she understood how to obtain from horses what she called the greatest delight, she certainly failed in the case of other living creatures. She therefore offered her royal condolence on the subject.
Then she remarked to the magistrate that the incident had occurred in the imperial forest where, as she understood, the unrestricted wandering of strange hunting dogs was prohibited. Therefore, in future, Countess von Montfort might be required to leave hers at home when she rode to the woods.
The magistrate now brought the complaint to the person against whom it was made, adopting a merry jesting tone, in which Cordula gaily joined.
When the old gentleman asked whether she had previously angered the irritable princess, she answered laughing, "The saints have hitherto denied to the wife of the Emperor's son, as well as to other girls of thirteen or fourteen, the blessing of children, so she likes to play with dolls. She chanced to prefer the same one for which she saw me stretch out my hands."
The old magistrate vainly sought to understand this jest; but Eva knew whom the countess meant by the doll, and it grieved her to see two women hostile to each other, seeking to amuse themselves with one who bore so little resemblance to a toy, and to whom she looked up with all the earnestness of a soul kindled by the deepest passion.
While the magistrate and the countess were gaily arguing and jesting together she sat silent, and the others did not disturb her.
After a long time Frau Christine returned. Traces of tears were plainly visible, though she had tried, whilst in the sedan-chair, to efface them. The scenes which Els had experienced at the Eysvogels' had certainly been far worse than she had feared--nay, the old countess's attack upon her was so insulting, Frau Rosalinde's helpless grief and Herr Casper's condition were so pitiable, that she had thought seriously of bringing the poor girl back with her, and removing her from these people who, she was sure, would make Els's life a torment as soon as she herself had gone.
The grandmother's enquiry whether Jungfrau Ortlieb expected to find her Swiss gallant there, and similar insolent remarks, seemed fairly steeped with rancour.
What a repulsive spectacle the old woman, utterly bereft of dignity, presented as with solemn mockery she courtesied to Els again and again, as if announcing herself her most humble servant; but the poor child kept silence until Frau Christine herself spoke, and assigned her niece to the place beside Herr Casper's sick-bed, which no one else could fill so well.
Stillness reigned in this chamber, and Els scarcely had occasion to dread much disturbance, for the countess had been strictly forbidden to enter the sufferer's room. Frau Rosalinde seemed to fear the sight of the helpless man, and the Sister of Charity was a strong, resolute woman, who welcomed Els with sincere cordiality, and promised Frau Christine to let no evil befall her.
The sedan-chairs were already waiting outside, and the lady would have gladly deferred her account of these sorrowful events until later, but Cordula so affectionately desired to learn how her friend had fared in her lover's home, that she hurriedly and swiftly gratified her wish. Speaking of the matter relieved her heart, and in a somewhat calmer mood she was carried to Schweinau.
The little Pfinzing castle in Schweinau was neither spacious nor splendid, but it was Fran Christine's favourite place of abode.
The heat of summer found no entrance through the walls--three feet in thickness--of the ancient building. Early in the morning and at evening it was pleasant to stay in the arbour, a room open in the front, extending the whole length of the edifice, where one could breathe the fresh air even during rainy weather. It overlooked the herb garden, which was specially dear to its mistress, for it contained roses, lilies, pinks, and other flowers; and part of the beds, after being dug by the gardener, who had charge of the kitchen garden in the rear, were planted and tended by her own hand.
The hour between sunrise and mass was devoted to this work, in which Eva was to help her, and it would afford her much information; for her aunt raised many plants which possessed healing power. Some of the seeds or bulbs had been brought from foreign lands, but she was perfectly familiar with the virtues of all. Schweinau afforded abundant opportunity to use them, and the nurses in the city hospital, and the leech Otto, and other physicians, as well as many noble dames in the neighbourhood who took the place of a physician among their peasants and dependents, applied to Fran Christine when they needed certain roots, leaves, berries, and seeds for their sick. Nor did the monks and nuns, far and near, ever come to her for such things in vain.
True, the life at Castle Schweinau was by no means so quiet as the one which Eva had hitherto loved.
When she accepted the invitation she knew that, if she shared all her aunt's occupations, she would not have even a single half hour of her own; but this was not her first visit here, and she had learned that Frau Christine allowed her entire liberty, and required nothing which she did not offer of her own free will.
When she saw the matron, after the mass and the early repast which her husband shared with her before going to the city, visit the aged widows of the crusaders in the little institution behind the kitchen garden and inspect and regulate the work of the Beguines, she often wondered where this woman, whose age was nearer seventy than sixty, found strength for all this, as well as the duties which followed. First there were orders to give in the kitchen that the principal meal, after the vesper bells had rung, should always win from the master of the house the "Couldn't be better," which his wife heard with the same pleasure as ever. Then, after visiting the wash-house, the bleachcry, the linen presses, the cellar, the garret, and even the beehives to see that everything was in order, and emerging from the hands of the maid as a well-dressed
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