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- In The Fire Of The Forge, Volume 8. - 1/11 -
[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
Day followed day, a week elapsed, and no message had reached Schweinau from Heinz Schorlin or Katterle.
The magistrate had learned that the Siebenburg brothers, with the robber knights who had joined them, were obstinately defending their castles and making it difficult for Heinz Schorlin to perform his task. The day before news had come that the Absbach's strong mountain fortress had fallen; that the allied knights, in a sortie which merged into a miniature battle, had been defeated, and the Siebenburgs could not hold out much longer; but in the stress of his duties the knight seemed to have forgotten to make the slightest effort in behalf of his faithful servant. At least the protonotary Gottlieb, a friend of Herr Berthold, through whose hands passed all letters addressed to the Emperor, positively assured them that, though plenty of military reports had arrived, in not a single one had the young commander mentioned his servant even by a word. He, the protonotary, had taken advantage of a favourable hour to urge his royal master, as a reward for Biberli's rare fidelity, to protect him from further persecution by the citizens of Nuremberg; but the Emperor Rudolph did not even allow him to finish, because, as a matter of principle, he refrained from interference in matters whose settlement rightfully pertained to the Honourable Council.
When soon after Herr Pfinzing availed himself of a report which he had to deliver to the Emperor to intercede himself for the valiant fellow, the Hapsburg, with the ruler's strong memory, recalled the protonotary's plea and referred Herr Berthold to the answer the former had received, remarking, less graciously than usual, that the imperial magistrate ought to know that he would be the last to assail the privileges which he had himself bestowed upon the city.
Finally even Burgrave Frederick, whose sympathy had been enlisted in Biberli's behalf by Herr Berthold, fared no better.
His interests were often opposed to those of the Council and, kindly as was his disposition, disputes concerning many questions of law were constantly occurring between him and the Honourables. When he began to persuade the Emperor to prevent by a pardon the cruelty which the Council intended to practise upon a servant of Sir Heinz Schorlin, who was doing such good service in the field, the sovereign told even him, his friend and brother-in-law, who had toiled so energetically to secure him the crown, that he would not interfere, though it were in behalf of a beloved brother, with the decrees of the Council, and the noble petitioner was silenced by the reasons which he gave. The Burgrave deemed the Emperor's desire to maintain the Honourables' willingness to grant the large loan he intended to ask to fill his empty treasury still more weighty than those with which he had repulsed Herr Pfinzing.
On the other hand, the pardon granted to Ernst Ortlieb and Wolff Eysvogel could only tend to increase the good will of the Council. The former was given at once, the latter only conditionally after the First Losunger of the city, with several other Honourables, had recommended it. The Emperor thought it advisable to defer this act of clemency. A violation of the peace of the country committed under his own eyes ought not to be pardoned during his stay in the place where the bloody deed was committed. It would have cast a doubt upon the serious intent of the important measure which threatened with the severest punishment any attempt upon the lives and property of others.
So long as the Emperor held his court at Nuremberg, Wolff, against whom no accuser had yet appeared, must remain concealed. When the sovereign had left the city he might again mingle with his fellow-citizens. An imperial letter alluding to the gratitude which Rudolph owed to the soldiers of Marchfield, to whose band the evildoer belonged, and the whole good city of Nuremberg for the hospitable reception tendered to him and his household, should shield from punishment the young patrician who had only drawn his sword in self-defence, and fulfil the petition of the Council for Wolff Eysvogel's restoration to the rights which he had forfeited.
The news of this promise gave Els the first happy hour after long days of discomfort and the most arduous mental conflict. True, the measures adopted by her friends seemed to have guarded her from the attacks of the old Countess Rotterbach; but Fran Rosalinde, since she had been allowed more freedom to move about than her mother, who had been confined to the upper story, felt like a boat drifting rudderless down the stream. She needed guidance and, as Els now ruled the house, asked direction from her for even the most simple matters. Clinging to her like a child deserted by its nurse, she told her the most hostile and spiteful remarks which the countess never failed to make whenever it suited her daughter to bear her company. During the last few days the old lady had again won Rosalinde over to her side, and in consequence an enmity towards Els had sprung up, which was often very spiteful in its manifestations, and was the more difficult to bear, the more rigidly her position as daughter of the house forbade energetic resistance.
But most painful of all to the volunteer nurse was the sick man's manner; for though Herr Casper rarely regained perfect consciousness, he showed his unfriendly disposition often enough by glances, gestures, and words stammered with painful effort.
Yet the brave girl's patience seemed inexhaustible, and she resolutely performed even the most arduous tasks imposed by nursing the sufferer. Nay, the thought that Wolff owed his life to him aided her always to be kind to her father-in-law, no matter how much he wounded her, and to tend him no less carefully than she had formerly cared for her invalid mother.
So she had held out valiantly until, at the end of a long, torturing week, something occurred which destroyed her courage. On returning from an errand in the city, she was received at the door of the sick-room by her future mother-in-law with the statement that she would take charge of her husband herself, and no longer allow the intruder to keep her from the place which belonged to her alone. The old countess's power of persuasion had strengthened her courage, and the unwonted energy of the weak, more than yielding woman, exerted so startling and at the same time disheartening an effect upon the wearied, tortured young creature that she attempted no resistance. The entreaties of the leech and kind Herr Teufel, however, induced her to persist a short time longer.
But when, soon after, the same incident occurred a second time, it seemed impossible to remain in their house even another day.
Without opposing her lover's mother, she retired to her chamber and, weeping silently, spite of the earnest entreaties of the Sister of Charity, packed the few articles she had brought with her and prepared to leave the post maintained with so much difficulty. To be again with Eva under the protection of her uncle and aunt now seemed the highest goal of her longing. She did not wish to go home; for after his liberation from the tower her father had had a long conversation with Wolff and old Berthold Vorchtel, and then, at the desire of the Council, had ridden to Augsburg and Ulm to arrange the affairs of the Eysvogel firm. He had felt that he could be spared by his family, knowing that his younger daughter was safe at Schweinau, and having heard that Wolff's pardon would not be long delayed.
Eva, too, had experienced toilsome days and many an anxious night. True, Biberli and the carrier's widow, with her children, had been moved to the Beguines' house, where she could pursue her charitable work safe from the rude attacks of the criminal inmates of the hospital; but what heavy cares had burdened her concerning the two patients for whom she was battling with death! how eagerly she watched for tidings from the neighbourhood of the Siebenburgs! what hours of trouble were caused by the prior of the Dominicans and his envoys, who strove to convince her that her intention of renouncing her conventual life was treason to God, and that the boldness with which she had released herself from the former guides of her spiritual life and sought her own way would lead her to heresy and perdition! How painful, too, was the feeling that she was being examined to discover whether the Abbess Kunigunde had any share in her change of purpose!
The torture to which stronger men rarely succumbed seemed to threaten the life of the more delicate ex-schoolmaster. At first the leech Otto, who, to please Els and Fran Christine, and touched by the brave spirit of this humble man, had daily visited Biberli, believed that he could not save him. On the straw pallet, and with the incompetent nursing at the hospital, he would have died very speedily, and what would have befallen his poor mangled toes and fingers in the hands of the barbers who managed affairs there?
At the Beguines the kindly, skilful old physician had bandaged his hands and feet as carefully as if he had been the most aristocratic gentleman, and no prince could have been more tenderly and patiently watched by trained nurses; for, wonderful to relate, Eva, who had so willingly left her sick mother to her sister's care, and had often been vexed with herself because she could not even remotely equal Els beside the couch of the beloved invalid, rendered the mangled squire every service with a touch so light and firm that the old physician often watched her with glad astonishment.
Caution, the quality she most lacked, seemed to have suddenly waked from a long slumber with doubly clear, far-seeing eyes. If it was necessary to turn the sick man, she paid special heed to every aching spot in his tortured body, and invented contrivances which she arranged with patient care to save him pain.
Her own bed had been placed in the widow's chamber next to Biberli's, and from the night that her Aunt Christine had permitted her to remain in the Beguine house, she, who formerly had loved sleep and slumbered soundly, had been beside the sick woman at the least sign. On the third day she rendered her, with her own hands, every service for which she had formerly needed a Beguine's aid. She had possessed the gift of uttering words of cheer and comfort even to her invalid mother better than any one else, and often gave new courage to the suffering man when almost driven to despair by the anguish of pain assailing him in ten places at once. How kindly she taught him what comfort the sufferer finds who not only moves his lips and turns his rosary in prayer, as he had hitherto done, but commends himself and his pain to Him who endured still worse agonies on the cross! What a smile of content rested on the lips of the man who, in the ravings of fever, had so often repeated the words "steadfast and true," when she told him that he had done honour most marvellously to his
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