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- In The Fire Of The Forge, Volume 8. - 6/11 -
next room led the Swabian to ask whether it was true that the master of her suffering friend on the couch, who intended to devote himself to a monastic life, meant to enter the order of the Minorite whom she had just left and become a mendicant friar. When Eva assented, the lady remarked that members of this brotherhood had rarely come to her castle; but Biberli said that they were quiet, devout men who, content with the alms they begged, preached, and performed other religious duties. They were recruited more from the people than from the aristocratic classes. Many, however, joined them in order to live an idle life, supported by the gifts of others.
Eva eagerly opposed this view, maintaining that true piety could be most surely found in the order of St. Francis. Then, with warm enthusiasm, she praised its founder, asserting that, on the contrary, the Saint of Assisi had enjoined labour upon his followers. For instance, one of his favourite disciples was willing to shake the nuts from the rotten branches of a nut tree which no one dared to climb if he might have half the harvest. This was granted, but he made a sack of his wide brown cowl, filled it with the nuts, and distributed them amongst his poor.
This pleased the mother and daughter; yet when the former remarked that work of this kind seemed to her too easy for a young, noble, and powerful knight, Eva agreed, but added that the saint also required an activity in which the hands, it is true, remained idle, but which heavily taxed even the strongest soul. St. Francis himself had set the example of performing this toil cheerfully and gladly.
Whilst giving this information she had again risen. Sister Hildegard had announced that her palfrey and the horses of the guests had been led up.
Finally Eva promised to mount at the same time as the Swabians, bade farewell to Biberli, who looked after her with surprise, yet silently conjectured that this errand to the Emperor was in his behalf, and then went into the entry, where Sister Hildegard told her that Father Benedictus had just died.
The monks were still chanting beside his deathbed. Brother AEgidius, the friend and comrade of the dead man, however, had left them and approached Eva.
Deeply agitated, he struggled to repress his sobs as he told her that the old man's longing was fulfilled and his Saviour had summoned him. To die thus, richly outweighed the many sacrifices he had so willingly made here below during a long life. If Eva had witnessed his death she would have perceived the aptness of the saying that a monk's life is bitter, but his death is sweet. Such an end was granted only to those who cast the world aside. Let her consider this once more, ere she renounced the eternal bliss for which formerly she had so devoutly yearned.
Eva's only answer was the expression of her grief for his friend's decease. But whilst passing out into the darkness she thought: the holy Brother certainly had a beautiful and happy death, yet how gently, trusting in the mercy of her Redeemer, my mother also passed away, though during her life and on her deathbed she remained in the world. And then --whilst Father Benedictus was closing his eyes--what concern did he probably have for aught save his own salvation, but my mother forgot herself and thought only of others, of those whom she loved, whilst the Saviour summoned her to Himself. Her eyes were already dim and her tongue faltered when she uttered the words which had guided her daughter until now. The forge fire of life burns fiercely, yet to it my gratitude is due if the resolutions I formed in the forest after I had gathered the flowers for her and saw Heinz kneeling in prayer have not been vain, but have changed the capricious, selfish child into a woman who can render some service to others.
If Heinz comes now and seeks me, I think I can say trustingly, "Here I am!" We have both striven for the divine Love and recognised its glorious beauty. If later, hand in hand, we can interweave it with the earthly one, why should it not be acceptable to the Saviour? If Heinz offers me his affection I will greet it as "Sister Love," and it will certainly summon me with no lower voice to praise the Father from whom it comes and who has bestowed it upon me, as do the sun, the moon and stars, the fire and water.
Whilst speaking she went out, and after learning that Frau Christine and her husband had not yet returned, she rode with the Swabians towards the city.
In order not to pass through the whole length of Nuremberg, Eva guided her friends around the fortifications. Their destination was almost the same, and they chose to enter at the Thiergartnerthor, which was in the northwestern part of the city, under the hill crowned by the castle, whilst the road to Schweinau usually led through the Spitalthor.
On the way Lady Wendula induced Eva to tell her many things about herself, urging her to describe her father and her dead mother. Her daughter Maria, on the other hand, was most interested in her sister Els, who, as she had heard from Biberli, was the second beautiful E.
Eva liked to talk about her relatives, but her depression continued and she spoke only in reply to questions, for the Minorite's death had affected her, and her heart throbbed anxiously when she thought of the moment that she must appear amongst the courtiers and see the Emperor.
Would her errand be vain? Must poor Biberli pay for his resolute fidelity with his life? What pain it would cause her, and how heavily it would burden his master's soul that he had failed to intercede for him!
Not until Lady Schorlin questioned her did Eva confess what troubled her, and how she dreaded the venture which she had undertaken on her own responsibility.
They were obliged to wait outside the Thiergartnerthor, for it had just been opened to admit a train of freight waggons.
Whilst Eva remained on the high-road, with the castle before her eyes, she sighed from the depths of her troubled heart: "Why should the Emperor Rudolph grant me, an insignificant girl, what he refused his sister's husband, the powerful Burgrave, to whom he is so greatly indebted? Oh, suppose he should treat me harshly and bid me go back to my spinning wheel!"
Then she felt the arm of the dignified lady at her side pass round her and heard her say: "Cheer up, my dear girl. The blessing of a woman who feels as kindly towards you as to her own daughter will accompany you, and no Emperor will ungraciously rebuff you, you lovely, loyal, charitable child."
At these words from her kind friend Eva's heart opened as if the dear mother whom death had snatched from her had inspired her with fresh courage, and from the very depths of her soul rose the cry, "Oh, how I thank you!"
She urged her nimble palfrey nearer the lady's horse to kiss her left hand, which held the bridle, but Lady Wendula would not permit it and, drawing her towards her, exclaimed, "Your lips, dear one," and as her red mouth pressed the kind lady's, Eva felt as if the caress had sealed an old and faithful friendship. But this was not all. Maria also wished to show the affection she had won, and begged for a kiss too.
Without suspecting it, Eva, on the way to an enterprise she dreaded, received the proof that her lover's dearest relatives welcomed her with their whole hearts as a new member of the family.
On the other side of the gate she was obliged to part from the Swabians.
Lady Wendula bade her farewell with an affectionate "until we meet again," and promised positively to go to the reception at the castle.
Eva uttered a sigh of relief. It seemed like an omen of success that this lady, who had so quickly inspired her with such perfect confidence, was to witness her difficult undertaking. She felt like a leader who takes the field with a scanty band of soldiers and is unexpectedly joined by the troops of a firm friend.
When Arnold, the warder from Berne, helped Eva from the saddle, a blaze of light greeted her from the imperial residence. The banquet was just beginning.
Frau Gertrude had more than one piece of good news to tell while assisting the young girl. Among the sovereign's guests was her uncle the magistrate, who had accompanied the Emperor to the beekeeper's, and with his wife, whom she would also find there, had been invited to the banquet. Besides--this, as the best, she told her last--her father, Herr Ernst Ortlieb, had returned from Ulm and Augsburg, and a short time before had come to the fortress to conduct Jungfrau Els, by the Burgrave's gracious permission, to her betrothed husband's hiding place. Fran Gertrude had lighted her way, and a long separation might be borne for such a meeting.
The ex-maid was obliged to bestir herself that Eva might have a few minutes for her sister and Wolff, yet she would fain have spent a much longer time over the long, thick, fair hair, which with increasing pleasure she combed until it flowed in beautiful waving tresses over the rich Florentine stuff of her plain white mourning robe.
The Swiss had also provided white roses from the Burgrave's garden to fasten at the square neck of Eva's dress. The latter permitted her to do this, but her wish to put a wreath of roses on the young girl's head, according to the fashion of the day, was denied, because Eva thought it more seemly to appear unadorned, and not as if decked for a festival when she approached the Emperor as a petitioner. The woman whose life had been spent at court perceived the wisdom of this idea, and at last rejoiced that she had not obtained her wish; for when her work was finished Eva looked so bewitching and yet so pure and modest, that nothing could be removed or--even were it the wreath of roses--added without injuring the perfect success of her masterpiece.
Lack of time soon compelled the young girl to interrupt the exclamations of admiration uttered by the skilful tiring woman herself, her little daughter, the maidservant, and the friend whom Fran Gertrude had invited to come in as if by accident.
While following the warder's wife through various corridors and rooms, Eva thought of the hour in her own home before the dance at the Town Hall, and it seemed as if not days but a whole life intervened, and she was a different person, a complete contrast in most respects to the Eva of that time.
Before the dance she had secretly rejoiced in the applause elicited by her appearance; now she was indifferent to it--nay, the more eagerly the spectators expressed their delight the more she grieved that the only person whom she desired to please was not among them.
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