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- In The Fire Of The Forge, Volume 8. - 3/11 -
The tailor and his adherents, as Eva knew from Herr Pfinzing, were making every effort to obtain his condemnation and prove to the city that they had not censured the proceedings of the Ortlieb household as mere reckless slanderers. Eva and her sister would be again mentioned in the investigation, and were even threatened with an examination.
At first this had startled her, but she believed her uncle's assurance that this examination would fully prove her innocence before the eyes of the whole world. For her own sake Eva surely would not have suffered herself to be so tortured by anxiety night and day, or undertaken and resolved to dare so much. The thought that the faithful follower whom her patient nursing had saved from death and to whom she had become warmly attached must now lose his life, and Heinz Schorlin be robbed of the possibility of doing anything for him, had cast every other fear in the shade, and had kept her constantly in motion the evening before and this morning.
But all that she and her Aunt Christine had attempted in behalf of the imperilled man had been futile. To apply to the Emperor again every one, including the magistrate, had declared useless, since even the Burgrave had been refused.
The members of the Council and the judges in the court had already, at Aunt Christine's solicitation, deferred the proceedings four days, but the law now forbade longer delay. Though individuals would gladly have spared the accused the torture, its application could scarcely be avoided, for how many accusers and witnesses appeared against him, and if there were weighty depositions and by no means truthful replies on the part of the prisoner, the torture could not be escaped. It legally belonged to the progress of the investigation, and how many who had by no means recovered from the last exposure to the rack were constantly obliged to enter the torture chamber? Besides, the judges would be charged with partiality by the tailor and his followers, and to show such visible tokens of favour threatened to prejudice the dignity of the court.
She had found good will everywhere, but all had withheld any positive promise. It was so easy to retreat behind the high-sounding words "justice and law," and then: who for the sake of a squire--who, moreover, was in the service of a foreign knight--would awaken the righteous indignation of the artisans, who made the tailor's cause their own.
Whatever the aunt and niece tried had failed either wholly or partially. Besides, Eva had been obliged to keep in the background in order not to expose herself to the suspicion of pleading her own cause. Many probably thought that Frau Christine herself was talking ostensibly in behalf of the servant and really for her brother's slandered daughter.
When Eva met Katterle in front of the hospital, she had passed without noticing her, so completely had sorrow, anxiety, and the effort to think of some expedient engrossed her attention.
It had been very difficult to meet Biberli with an untroubled manner, yet she had even succeeded in showing a bright face to the carrier's widow, as well as to Father Benedictus, whose hours seemed to be numbered, and who only yesterday had wounded her deeply.
When she returned from the Minorite's room to Biberli's the lovers were no longer alone. The fresh, pleasant face of a vigorous woman, who had already visited the sufferer several times, greeted her beside his couch.
When, in the exchange of salutations, her eyes met Eva's the latter suddenly found the plan of action she had vainly sought. Gertrude of Berne could help her take the chance which, in the last extremity, she meant to risk, for she was the wife of the Swiss warder in the Burgrave's castle. It certainly would not be difficult for her to procure her an interview with the Burgravine Elizabeth. If the noble lady could not aid herself, she could--her cheeks paled at the thought, yet she resolutely clung to it--present her to her brother, the Emperor.
When Eva, in a low tone, told Frau Gertrude what she hoped to accomplish at the castle, she learned that the Emperor had ridden with the Archduchess Agnes and a numerous train to the imperial forest, to show his Bohemian daughter-in-law the beekeeper's hives, and would scarcely return before sunset; but the Burgravine had remained at home on account of a slight illness.
Nevertheless Eva wished to go to the castle, and, whatever reception the noble lady bestowed upon her, she would return to Schweinau as soon as possible. Father Benedictus was so ill that she could not remain away from him long.
If the Burgravine could do nothing for Biberli, she would undertake the risk which made her tremble, because it compelled her, the young girl, to appear alone at the court with all its watchful eyes and sharp tongues. She would go to the fortress to beseech the Emperor herself for pardon.
She could act with entire freedom to-day, for her uncle had ridden to the city and, Frau Gertrude said, was one of the party who accompanied the Emperor to the beekeeper's, whilst her aunt had just gone to Nuremberg to see Els, who had besought her, in a despairing letter, to let her come to Schweinau, for her power of endurance was exhausted.
How gladly Eva would have accompanied her aunt to her sister to exhort her to take courage! What a strange transformation of affairs! Ever since she could think Els had sustained her by her superior strength and perseverance. Now she was to be the stronger, and teach her to exercise patience.
She thought she had gained the right to do so. Whilst Eva was still explaining her plan to Frau Gertrude, she herself perceived that she had taken no account of time.
It was nearly noon, and if she ordered a sedan-chair to convey her to the city and back again to Schweinau, it would be too late to approach the Emperor as a petitioner. She could fulfil her design only by riding; but the warder's wife reminded her that it would be contrary to custom--nay, scarcely possible--to appear before the Emperor, or even his sister, in a riding habit.
But the young girl speedily found a way to fulfil her ardent wish to aid. On her swift palfrey, which her uncle had sent to Schweinau long before that she might refresh herself, after her arduous duties, by a ride, she would go to the city, stop at her own home, and have her new expensive mourning clothes taken to the castle. The only doubt was whether she could change her garments in the quarters of the Swiss, and whether Frau Gertrude would help her do so.
The latter gladly assented. There was no lack of room in her apartments, nor did Frau Gertrude, who had served the Burgravine as waiting maid many years before her marriage, lack either skill or good will.
So she went directly home on her mule; but Eva, after promising her patients to return soon, hastened to her uncle's residence.
There she mounted the palfrey and reached the city gate a long time before the Swiss. The clothes she needed were soon found in the Ortlieb mansion, and she was then carried in a sedan-chair to the castle with her wardrobe, whilst the groom led her palfrey after her. Countess Cordula was not at home; she, too, had ridden to the forest with the Emperor.
The Burgravine Elizabeth willingly consented to receive the charming child whose fate had awakened her warm interest. She had just been hearing the best and most beautiful things about Eva, for the leech Otto had been called to visit her in her attack of illness, and the old man was overflowing with praises of both sisters. He indignantly mentioned the vile calumnies with which Heinz Schorlin's name was associated, and which base slander had fixed upon the innocent girls whose pure morality he would guarantee.
The great lady, who probably remembered having directed Heinz's attention to Eva at the dance, understood very clearly that they could not fail to attract each other. Of all the knights in her imperial brother's train, none seemed to the Burgravine more worthy of her favour than her gay young countryman, whose mother had been one of the friends of her youth. She would gladly have rendered him a service and, in this case, not only for his own sake but still more on account of the rare fidelity of his servant, who was also a native of her beloved Swiss mountains. Yet, notwithstanding all this, it seemed impossible to bring this matter again before the Emperor. She knew her husband, and after the rebuff he had received on account of the tortured man he would be angry if she should plead his cause with her royal brother.
But her kind heart, and the regard which both Eva and Heinz Schorlin had inspired, strengthened her desire to aid, as far as lay in her power, the brave maiden who urged her suit with such honest warmth, and the petitioner's avowal of her intention, as a last resort, of appealing to the Emperor in person showed her how to convert her kind wishes into deeds.
Let Eva's youth and beauty try to persuade the Emperor to an act of clemency which he had refused to wisdom and power.
After supper her brother received various guests, and she could present the daughter of a Nuremberg patrician whom he already knew, and whose rare charms had attracted his notice.
Though she had been compelled to forego the ride to the forest, she was well enough to appear at supper in the Emperor's residence, which was close to her own castle. When the meal was over she would take Eva herself to her royal brother.
She told her this, and the gratitude which she received was so warm and earnest that it touched her heart, and as she bade the beautiful, brave child farewell she clasped her in her arms and kissed her.
Encouraged and hopeful, Eva again mounted her palfrey, and urged the swift animal outside the city to so rapid a pace that the old groom on his well-fed bay was left far behind. But the change of dress, the waiting, and the numerous questions asked by the Burgravine had consumed so much time that the poplars were already casting long shadows when she dismounted before the hospital.
Sister Hildegard received her with an embarrassment by no means usual, but which Eva thought natural when the former told her that the dying Father Benedictus had asked for her impatiently. The widow was doing well, and Biberli would hardly need her; for the wife of a Swabian knight in whose service he had formerly been was sitting by his couch with her young daughter, and their visit seemed to please him.
Eva remarked in surprise that she thought the sick man had never served any one except the Schurlins, but she was in too much haste for further questions, and entered the room where Biberli lay.
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