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- In The Fire Of The Forge, Volume 8. - 5/11 -
"Praises and thanks and blessing to my Master be! Serve ye Him all, with great humility."
How God was loved by this saint, who beheld in everything the Most High had created kindred whom he loved and held intercourse with as with brother and sister! Whatever the divine Father's love had formed--the sun, the moon and stars, the wood, water and fire, the earth and her fair children, the various flowers and plants--he made proclaim, each for itself and all in common, like a mighty chorus, the praise of God. Even death joins in the hymn, and all these sons and daughters of the same exalted Father call to the minds of men the omnipotent, beneficent rule of the Lord. They help mortals to appreciate God's majesty, fill their hearts with gratitude, and summon them to praise His sublimity and greatness. In death, whom the poet also calls his sister, he sees no cruel murderer, because she, too, comes from the Most High. "And what sister," asks the saint, "could more surely rescue the brother from sorrow and suffering?" Whoever, as a child of God, feels like the loving Saint of Assisi, will gratefully suffer death to lead him to union with the Father.
Benedictus had followed the magnificent poem with rapture. At the lines,
"But blessed are they who die doing Thy will; The second death can strike at them no blow,"
he nodded gently, as if sure that the close of his earthly pilgrimage meant nothing to him except the beginning of a new and happy life; but when Eva ended with the command to serve the Lord with great humility, he lowered his eyes to the floor hesitatingly, as if not sure of himself.
But he soon raised them again and fixed them on the young girl. They seemed to ask the question whether this noble hymn did not draw his nurse also to him who had sung it; whether, in spite of it, she still persisted, with sorrowful blindness, in her refusal to join the Sisters of St. Clare, whom the saintly singer also numbered amongst his followers. Yet he felt too feeble to appeal to her conscience now, as he had often done, and bear the replies with which this highly gifted, peculiar creature, in every conversation his increasing weakness permitted him to share with her, had pressed him hard and sometimes even silenced him.
True, they fought with unequal weapons. Pain and illness paralysed his keen intellect, and difficulty of breathing often checked the eloquent tongue, both of which had served him so readily in his intercourse with Heinz Schorlin. She contended with the most precious goal of youth before her eyes, fresh and healthy in mind and body, conscious, in the midst of the struggle, against doubt and suffering, for what she held dearest of her own vigorous energy, panoplied by the talisman of the last mandate from the lips of her dying mother.
Benedictus, during a long life devoted to the highest aims, had battled enough. He already saw Sister Death upon the threshold, and he wished to depart in peace and reap the reward for so much conflict, pain, and sacrifice. The Lord Himself had broken his weapons. The Minorite Egidius, his friend and companion in years, must carry on with Eva, Father Ignatius, the most eloquent member of the order in Nuremberg, with Heinz Schorlin, the work which he, Benedictus, had begun. Though he himself must retire from the battlefield, he was sure that his post would not remain empty.
The chant had placed him in the right mood to take leave of the Brothers, whose arrival Sister Hildegard had just announced.
Since yesterday he had seen the Saviour constantly before his mental vision. Sometimes he imagined that he beheld Him beckoning to him; sometimes that He extended His arms to him; sometimes he even fancied that he heard His voice, or that of St. Francis, and both invited him to approach.
To-day-the leech had admitted it, and he himself felt it by his fevered brow, the failing pulsations of the heart, and the chill in the cold feet, perhaps already dead--he might expect to leave the dust of the world and behold those for whom he longed face to face in a purer light.
He wished to await the end surrounded only by the Brothers, who were fighting the same battle, reminded by nothing of the world, as if in the outer court of heaven.
Eva, the beautiful yet perverse woman, was one of the last persons whom he would have desired to have near him when he took the step into the other world.
Speech was difficult. A brief admonition to renounce her earthly love in order to share the divine one whose rich joys he hoped to taste that very day was the farewell greeting he vouchsafed Eva. When she tried to kiss his hand he withdrew it as quickly as his weakness permitted.
Then she retired, and Father AEgidius led the Brothers of the order in Nuremberg into the room. Meanwhile it had grown dark, and the Beguine Paulina brought in a two-branched candelabrum with burning candles. Eva took it from her hand and placed it so that the light should not dazzle her patient; but he saw her and, by pointing with a frowning brow to the door, commanded her to leave the room.
She gladly obeyed. When she had passed the Brothers, however, she paused on the threshold before going into the entry and again gazed at the old man's noble, pallid features illumined by the candlelight.
She had never seen him look so. He was gazing, radiant with joy, at the monks, who were to give him the benediction at his departure. Then he raised his dark eyes as if transfigured; he was thanking Heaven for so much mercy, but the other Minorites fell on their knees beside the bed and prayed with him.
How lovingly the old man looked into each face! He had never favoured her with such a glance. Yet no other nursing had been so difficult and often so painful. At first he had shown a positive enmity to her, and even asked Sister Hildegard for another nurse; but no suitable substitute for Eva could be found. Then he had earnestly desired to be removed to the Franciscan monastery in Nuremberg; this, however, could not be done because it would have hastened his death. So he was forced to remain, and Eva felt that her presence was not the least thing which rendered the hospital distasteful.
Yet, as his aged eyes refused their service and he liked to have someone read aloud from the gospels which he carried with him, or from notes written by his own hand, which also comprised some of the poems of St. Francis, and no one else in the house was capable of performing this office, he at last explicitly desired to keep her for his nurse.
To anoint and bandage, according to the physician's prescription, his sore feet and the deep scars made on his back by severe scourging, which had reopened, became more difficult the more plainly he showed his aversion to her touch, because she--he had told her so himself--was a woman. She certainly had not found it easy to keep awake and wear a pleasant expression when, after a toilsome day, he woke her at midnight and forced her to read aloud until the grey dawn of morning. But hardest of all for Eva to bear were the bitter words with which he wounded her, and which sounded specially sharp and hostile when he reproached her for standing between Heinz Schorlin and the eternal salvation for which the knight so eagerly longed. He seemed to bear her a grudge like that which the artist feels towards the culprit who has destroyed one of his masterpieces.
Often, too, a chance word betrayed that he blamed Heaven for having denied him victory in the battle for the soul of Heinz. Schorlin which he had begun to wage in its name. True, such murmuring was always followed by deep repentance. But in every mood he still strove to persuade Eva to renounce the world.
When she confessed what withheld her from doing so, he at first tried to convince her by opposing reasons, but usually strength to continue the interchange of thought soon failed him. Then he confined himself to condemning with harsh words her perverse spirit and worldly nature, and threatening her with the vengeance of Heaven.
Once, after repeating the Song of the Sun, as she had done just now, he asked whether she, too, felt that nothing save the peace of the cloister would afford the possibility of feeling the greatness and love of the Most High as warmly and fully as this majestic song commands us to do.
Then, summoning her courage, she assured him of the contrary. Though but a simple girl, she, who had often been the guest of the abbess, felt the grandeur and glory of God as much more deeply in the world and during the fulfilment of the hardest duties which life imposed than with the Sisters of St. Clare, as the forests and fields were wider than the little convent garden.
The old man, in a rage, upbraided her with being a blinded fool, and asked her whether she did not know that the world was finite and limited, whilst what the convent contained was eternal and boundless.
Another time he had wounded her so deeply by his severity that she had found it impossible to restrain her tears. But he had scarcely perceived this ere he repented his harshness. Nothing but love ought to move his heart on the eve of a union with Him whom he had just called Love itself, and with earnest and tender entreaties he besought Eva to forgive him for the censure which was also a work of love. Throughout the day he had treated her with affectionate, almost humble, kindness.
All these things returned to Eva's thoughts as she left her grey-haired patient.
He was standing on the threshold of the other world, and it was easy for her to think of him kindly, deeply as he had often wounded her. Nay, her heart swelled with grateful joy because she had been so patient and suffered nothing to divert her from the arduous duty which she had undertaken in nursing the old man, who regarded her with such disfavour.
A light had been brought into Biberli's room too. When Eva entered with glowing cheeks she found the Swabians still sitting beside his couch. The door leading into the chamber of the dying man had been closed long before, yet the notes of pious litanies came from the adjoining room. Lady Schorlin noticed her deep emotion with sympathy, and asked her to sit down by her side. Maria offered her own low stool, but Eva declined its use, because she would soon be obliged to ride back to the city. She pressed her hand upon her burning brow, sighing, "Now, now--after such an hour, at court!"
Lady Wendula urged her with such kindly maternal solicitude to take a little rest that the young girl yielded.
The matron's remark that she, too, was invited to the reception at the imperial residence that evening brought an earnest entreaty from Eva to accept the invitation for her sake, and the Swabian promised to gratify her if nothing occurred to prevent. At any rate, they would ride to the city together.
Biberli's astonished enquiry concerning the cause of Eva's visit to the fortress was answered evasively, and she was glad when the singing in the
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