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- In The Fire Of The Forge, Volume 8. - 4/11 -
Her face was flushed by the rapid ride; her thick, fair hair, which usually fell loosely on her shoulders, had been hastily braided before she mounted her horse, but the long, heavy braids had become unfastened on the way, and now hung in tresses round her face and pliant figure.
She waved her hand gaily from the threshold to the patient for whom she had done and dared so much; but ere approaching his couch she modestly saluted the stately matron who was with Biberli, and nodded a pleasant welcome to her daughter, whose pretty, frank face attracted her. After the Swabians had cordially returned her greeting, she briefly excused herself, as an urgent duty would not permit her to yield to her desire to remain with them.
Lastly, she addressed a few hasty questions to the squire about his health, kissed little Walpurga, who had nestled to her side, bade her tell her another that she would come to her later, and entered the next room.
"Well?" Biberli asked his visitors eagerly, after the door had closed behind her.
"Oh, how beautiful she is!" cried the younger lady quickly, but her mother's voice trembled with deep emotion as she answered: "How I objected to my son's marriage with the daughter of a city family! Nay, I intended to cast all the weight of my maternal influence between Heinz and the Nuremberg maiden. Yet you did not say too much, my friend, and what your praise began Eva's own appearance has finished. She will be welcome to me as a daughter. I have scarcely ever seen anything more lovely. That she is devout and charitable and, moreover, has a clear intellect and resolute energy, can be plainly perceived in spite of the few minutes which she could spare us. If Heaven would really suffer our Heinz to win the heart of this rare creature----"
"Every fibre of it is his already," interrupted Biberli. "The rub-- pardon me, noble lady!--is somewhere else. Whether he--whether Heinz can be induced to renounce the thought of the monastery, is the question."
He sighed faintly as he gazed into the still beautiful, strong, and yet kindly face of the Lady Wendula Schorlin, Sir Heinz's mother, for she was the older visitor.
"We ought not to doubt that," replied the matron firmly. "As the last of his ancient race, it is his duty to provide for its continuance, not solely for his own salvation. He was always a dutiful son."
"Yet," replied Biberli thoughtfully, "'Away with those who gave us life!' was the exhortation of Father Benedictus in the next room. 'Away with the service of sovereign and woman!' he cried to our knight. 'Away with everything that stands in the way of your own salvation!' And," Biberli added, "St. Francis was not the first to devise that. Our Lord and Saviour commanded His disciples to leave father and mother and to follow Him."
"Who will prevent his walking in the paths of Jesus Christ?" replied the Lady Wendula? "Yet, though he follows His footsteps, he must and can do so as a scion of a noble race, as a knight and the brave soldier and true servant of his Emperor, which he is, as a good son and, God willing, as a husband and father. He is sure of my blessing if he wields his sword as a champion of his holy faith. When my two daughters took the veil I submissively yielded. They can pray for heavenly bliss for their brother and ourselves. My only son, the last Schorlin, I neither can nor will permit to renounce the world, in which he has tasks to perform which God Himself assigned him by his birth."
"And how could Heinz part from this angel," cried Maria--to whom, next to her mother, her brother was the dearest person on earth--"if he is really sure of her love!"
She herself had not yet opened her heart to love. To wander through forest and field with the aged head of her family, assist her mother in housekeeping, and nurse the sick poor in the village, had hitherto been the joy and duty of her life. Gaily, often with a song upon her lips, she had carelessly seen one day follow another until Schorlin Castle was besieged and destroyed, and her dear uncle, the Knight Ramsweg, was slain in the defence of the fortress confided to his care. Then she and her mother were taken to the convent at Constance. Both remained there in perfect freedom, as welcome guests of the nuns, until the mounted courier brought a letter from the Knight Maier of Silenen, her cousin, who wrote from Nuremberg that Heinz, like his sisters, intended to renounce the world.
Lady Schorlin set out at once, and with an anxious heart rode to Nuremberg with her daughter as fast as possible.
They had arrived a few hours before and gone to their cousin from Silenen. From him the Lady Wendula learned what her maternal love desired to know. Biberli's fate brought her, after a brief rest, to the hospital, and how it comforted the faithful fellow's heart to see the noble lady who had confided his master to his care, and in whose house the T and St had been embroidered on his long coat and cap!
Lady Wendula had remembered these letters, and when she spoke of them he replied that since he had partially verified what the T and St had announced to people concerning his character, and to which the letters had themselves incited him, he no longer needed them.
Then he lapsed into silence, and at last, as the result of his meditations, told his mistress that there was something unusual about his insignificant self, because he earnestly desired to practise the virtues whose possession he claimed before the eyes of the people. He had usually found the worst wine in the taverns with showy signs, and when the Lady Wendula's daughter had embroidered those letters on the cloth for him, what he furnished the guests was also of very doubtful quality. On his sick bed he had been obliged to place no curb upon his proneness to reflection, and in doing so had discovered that there was no virtue which can be owned like a house or a steed, but that each must be constantly gained anew, often amidst toil and suffering. One thing, however, was now firmly established in his belief: that his favourite virtues were really the fairest of all, because--one will answer for all --man never felt happier than when he had succeeded in keeping his fidelity inviolate and maintaining his steadfastness. He had learned, too, from Fraulein Eva that the Redeemer Himself promised the crown of eternal life to those who remain faithful unto death. In this confidence he awaited the jailers, who perhaps would come very soon to lead him into the most joyless of all apartments--the Nuremberg torture chamber.
Then he told the ladies what he knew of the love which united Heinz and Eva. The four Fs which he had advised his master to heed in his wooing --Family, Figure, Favor, and Fortune--he no longer deemed the right touch-tones. Whilst he was forced to lie idly here he had found that they should rather be exchanged for four Ss--Spirituality, Steadfastness, Stimulation, and Solace--for the eyes and the heart.
All these were united in Eva and, moreover, there could be no objection to the family to which she belonged.
Thereupon he had commenced so enthusiastic a eulogy of his beloved nurse and preserver that more than once Lady Wendula, smiling, stopped him, accusing him of permitting his grateful heart to lead him to such exaggeration that the maiden he wished to serve would scarcely thank him.
Yet Eva's personal appearance had disappointed neither the experienced mother nor the easily won daughter. Nay, when Maria Schorlin gazed at her through the half-open door of the Minorite's room, because she did not want to lose sight of the girl who had already attracted her on account of her hard battle in the cause of love, and who specially charmed her because it was her Heinz whom she loved, she thought no human being could resist the spell which emanated from Eva.
With her finger on her lip she beckoned to her mother, and she, too, could not avert her eyes from the wonderful creature whom she hoped soon to call daughter, as she saw Eva standing, with eyes uplifted to heaven, beside the old man's couch, and heard her, in compliance with his wish, as she had often done before, half recite, half sing in a low voice the Song of the Sun, the finest work of St. Francis.
The words were in the Italian language, in which this song had flowed from the poet heart of the Saint of Assisi, so rich in love to God and all animate nature; for she had learned to speak Italian in the Convent of St. Clare, to which several Italians had been transferred from their own home and that of their order and its founder.
Lady Wendula and her daughter could also follow the song; for the mother had learned the beautiful language of the Saint of Assisi from the minnesingers in her youth, and in the early years of her marriage had accompanied the Emperor Frederick, with her husband, across the Alps. So she had taught Maria.
As Lady Schorlin approached the door Eva, with her large eyes uplifted, was just beginning the second verse:
"Praised by His creatures all Praised be the Lord my God By Messer Sun, my brother, above all, Who by his rays lights us and lights the day. Radiant is he, with his great splendour stored, Thy glory, Lord, confessing.
"By sister Moon and stars my Lord is praised, Where clear and fair they in the heavens are raised.
"By brother Wind, my Lord, thy praise is said, By air and clouds, and the blue sky o'erhead, By which thy creatures all are kept and fed.
"By one most humble, useful, precious, chaste, By sister Water, O my Lord, thou art praised.
"And praised is my Lord By brother Fire-he who lights up the night; Jocund, robust is he, and strong and bright.
"Praised art Thou, my Lord, by mother Earth, Thou who sustainest her and governest, And to her flowers, fruit, herbs, dost colour give and birth.
"And praised is my Lord By those who, for Thy love, can pardon give And bear the weakness and the wrongs of men.
"Blessed are those who suffer thus in peace, By Thee, the Highest, to be crowned in heaven.
"Praised by our sister Death, my Lord, art Thou, From whom no living man escapes. Who die in mortal sin have mortal woe, But blessed are they who die doing Thy will; The second death can strike at them no blow.
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