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- In The Fire Of The Forge, Volume 8. - 2/11 -
favourite virtue, represented by the T and St, and might expect his master's praise and gratitude!
All these things fell from her lips more warmly the more vividly she conjured up the image of the man for whose sake the gallant fellow had endured this martyrdom, the happier it made her to help Heinz, though without his knowledge, to pay the great debt of gratitude which he owed the faithful servitor. She was not aware of it, but the strongest of all educational powers--sorrow and love--were transforming the unsocial, capricious "little saint" into a noble, self-sacrificing woman. She was training herself to be what she desired to become to her lover, and the secret power whose influence upon her whole being she distinctly felt at each success, she herself called--remembering the last words of her dying mother--"the forge fire of life."
At first it had been extremely painful for Biberli to allow himself to be nursed with such devoted, loving care by the very person from whom he had earnestly endeavoured to estrange his master; but soon the warmest gratitude cast every other feeling into the shade, and when he woke from the light slumber into which he frequently fell and saw Eva beside his bed, his heart swelled and he often felt as if Heaven had sent her to him to restore the best gifts for which he was struggling--life and health. When he began to recover, the faithful fellow clung to her with the utmost devotion; but this by no means lessened his love for his master and his absent sweetheart. On the contrary, the farther his convalescence progressed the more constantly and anxiously he thought of Heinz and Katterle, the more pleasure it afforded him to talk about them and to discuss with Eva what could have befallen both.
It was impossible--Biberli believed this as firmly as his nurse--that Heinz could coldly forget his follower or Katterle neglect what she had undertaken. So both agreed in the conjecture that the messengers sent by the absent ones had been prevented from reaching their destination.
The supposition was correct. Two troopers despatched by Heinz had been captured by the Siebenburgs, and the maid's messenger had cheated her by pocketing the small fee which she paid him and performing another commission instead of going to Schweinau. Of the knight's letters which had fallen into the wrong hands, one had besought the Emperor Rudolph to pardon the loyal servant, the other had thanked Biberli, and informed him that his master remembered and was working for him.
Katterle had reached Heinz, had been required to tell him everything she knew about Eva and Biberli down to the minutest detail and had then been commissioned to repeat to the latter what had been also contained in the letter. On the way home, however, she only reached Schwabach, for the long walk in the most terrible anxiety, drenched by a pouring rain, whilst enquiring her way to Heinz, and especially the terrible excitements of the last few days, had been too much even for her vigorous constitution. Her pulse was throbbing violently and her brow was burning when she knocked at the door of Apel, the carrier, who had taken her into his waggon at Schweinau, and the good old man and his wife received and nursed her. The fever was soon broken, but weakness prevented her journeying to Schweinau on foot, and, as Apel intended to go to Nuremberg the first of the following week, she had been forced to content herself with sending the messenger who had betrayed her confidence.
How hard it was for Katterle to wait! And her impatience reached its height when, before she could leave, some of the imperial troopers stabled their horses at the carrier's and reported that Castle Siebenburg and the robber stronghold of the Absbachs were destroyed. Sir Heinz Schorlin had fought like St. George. Now he was detained only by the fortresses of the knights Hirschhorn and Oberstein, whose situation on inaccessible crags threatened long to defy the imperial power.
The thought that the strong Swiss girl might be ill never entered the mind of Biberli or Eva, but in quiet hours he asked himself which it would probably grieve him most to miss forever--his beautiful young nurse or his countrywoman and sweetheart. His heart belonged solely to Katterle, but towards Eva he obeyed the old trait inherent in his nature, and clung with the same loyalty hitherto evinced for his master to her whom he now regarded as his future mistress.
This she must and should be, because already life seemed to him no longer desirable without her voice. Never had he heard one whose pure tones penetrated the heart more deeply. And had Heinz been permitted to hear her talk with the Dominicans, he would have given up his wish to renounce the world and, instead of entering a monastery, striven with every power of his being to win this wonderful maiden, for whom his heart glowed with such ardent love. When she persisted in her refusal to take the veil because she had learned that it is possible in the world to live at peace with one's self, feel in harmony with God, and follow in love and fidelity the footsteps of the Saviour, she had heard many a kindly word of admonition, many a sharp reproof, and many a fierce threat from the Dominicans, but she did not allow herself to be led astray, and understood how to defend herself so cleverly and forcibly that his heart dilated, and he asked himself how a girl of eighteen could maintain her ground so firmly, so shrewdly, and with such thorough knowledge of the Scriptures, against devout, highly educated men--nay, the most learned and austere.
The Abbess Kunigunde had also appeared sometimes at his bedside, and Eva's conversations with her revealed to him that she had obtained her armour against the Dominicans from the Sisters of St. Clare. True, at first the former had laboured with the utmost earnestness to win her back to the convent, but two days before she had met two Dominicans, and the evident efforts of one who seemed to hold a distinguished position among his brother monks to gain Eva for his own order and withdraw her from the Sisters of St. Clare, whom he believed to be walking in paths less pleasing to God, had so angered the abbess that she lost the power, and perhaps also the will, to maintain her usual composure. Therefore, yesterday she had opposed her niece's wish to remain in the world less strongly than before; nay, on parting with her she had clasped her in her arms and, as it were, restored her freedom by admitting that various paths led to the kingdom of heaven.
This was balm to the convalescent's wounds; for he cherished no wish more ardent than to accompany his master to the marriage altar, where Eva would give her hand to Heinz Schorlin as her faithful husband, and the abbess's last visit seemed to favour this desire. Besides, he who had gazed at life with open eyes had never yet beheld a brave young warrior, soon after reaping well-earned renown, yearn for the monk's cowl. Doubt, suffering, and a miraculous escape from terrible peril had inspired the joyous-hearted Heinz with the desire to renounce the world. Now, perhaps, Heaven itself was showing him that he had not received the boon of life to bury himself in a monastery, but to be blessed with the fairest and noblest of gifts, the love of a woman who, in his opinion, had not her equal beneath the wide vault of the azure sky.
Countess Cordula was not suited for his master. During the long hours that he lay quietly on his pallet a hundred reasons strengthened this opinion. The man for whom he had steadfastly endured such severe agony, and was suffering still, was worthy of a more beautiful, devout, and calm companion-nay, the very loveliest and best--and that, in his eyes, was the girl for whom Heinz had felt so overmastering a passion just before his luckless winnings at the gaming table. This potent fire of love might doubtless be smothered with sand and ashes, but never extinguished.
Such were Biberli's thoughts as he recalled the events of the previous day. He had found Eva less equable in her tender management than usual. Some anxiety concerning something apart from her patients seemed to oppress her. True, she had not wished to reveal it, but his eyes were keen.
Soon after sunrise that morning she had carefully rebandaged his crushed thumb, which was not yet healed. Then she had gone away, as she assured him, for only a few hours. Now the sun was already high in the heavens, yet she did not return, though it was long past the time for the bandages to be renewed, and the drops to be given which sustained the life of the dying Minorite in the adjoining room. It made him uneasy, and when anxiety had once taken root in his heart it sent its shoots forward and backward, and he remembered many things in which Eva had been different the day before. Why had she whispered so long with Herr Pfinzing and then looked so sorrowfully at him, Biberli? Why had Frau Christine come not less than three times yesterday afternoon, and again in the evening? She had some secret to discuss with the surgeon Otto. Had any change taken place in his condition? and did the leech intend to amputate his thumb, or even his hand? But, no! only yesterday he had been assured that he could save all five fingers, and his sorely mangled left foot too. The widow was better, and all hope of saving the Minorite's life had been relinquished two days ago. Eva's anxiety must have some other cause, and he asked himself, in alarm, whether she could have received any bad news from his master or Katterle?
A terrible sense of uneasiness overpowered him, and the necessity of confiding it to some one took such possession of the loquacious man that he called little Walpurga from the next room. But instead of running to his bedside, she darted forward with the joyful cry, "She is coming!" towards the door and Eva.
Soon after the latter, leading the child by the hand, entered the room. Biberli felt as if the sun were rising again. How gay her greeting sounded! The expression of her blue eyes seemed to announce something pleasant. Whoever possessed this maiden would be sure to have no lack of light in his home, no matter how dark the night might be.
He must have been mistaken concerning the anxiety which had seemed to oppress her on his account. Instead of bad news, she was surely bringing good tidings. Nay, she had the best of all; for Katterle, Eva told him, would soon arrive. But his future wife had been ill too. Her cheeks had not yet regained their roundness or their bright colour.
Sharp-sighted Biberli noticed this, and exclaimed: "Then she is here already! For, my mistress, how else could you know how her cheeks look?"
Soon afterwards the maid was really standing beside her lover's couch.
Eva allowed them to enjoy the happiness of meeting undisturbed, and went to her other two patients. When she returned to the couple, Katterle had already related what she had experienced in Schwabach. It was little more than Eva had already heard from her uncle and others.
That Seitz Siebenburg, whom he bitterly hated, had fallen in a sword combat by his master's own hand, afforded Biberli the keenest delight. No portion of the narrative vexed him except the nonarrival of the messengers, and the probability that some time must yet elapse ere Heinz could sheathe his sword.
Eva's cheeks flushed with joy and pride as she heard how nobly her lover had justified the confidence of his imperial patron. But it seemed to be impossible to follow Biberli's flood of eloquence to the end. She was in haste, and he had been right concerning the cares which oppressed her.
She had stood beside his couch the day before with a heavy heart, and it required the exercise of all her strength to conceal the anxiety with which her mind was filled, for if she did not intercede for him that very day; if his pardon could not be announced early the following morning during the session of the court in the Town Hall, then the half-recovered man must be surrendered to the judges again, and Otto believed that the torture would be fatal to his enfeebled frame.
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