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- Margery, Volume 5. - 6/9 -
now signed to her father and he slowly rose, clinked on his glass, and seeing that many were hearkening for what he should say, he declared to his guests that he had bidden them to this banquet not alone to do honor to the name-day of his venerable mother, whose praises his friend Master Tucher had eloquently spoken, but rather that he might announce to them the betrothal of his daughter Ursula to the noble knight and baron Franz von Welemisl. Then was there shouting and clinking and emptying of wine cups, whereat old Dame Clara Tetzel, who was deaf and had failed to gather the purport of her son's address, cried aloud "Is young Schopper come at last then?"
Hereupon Sir Franz turned pale; he had gone up to the old woman, glass in hand, with Ursula, and she now spoke into her grand-dame's ear to explain the matter. The old woman looked first at her son and then at my grand- uncle, and shook her head; nevertheless she put a good face on a bad case, gave Sir Franz her hand to kiss, and was duly embraced by Ursula; yet she sat nodding her head up and down, and ever more shrewdly as she heard the bridegroom cough. Amazement sat indeed on the faces of all the guests; howbeit the ice was broken, and the silent and gloomy company had on a sudden turned right mirthful. Cousin Maud, meseemed, was the most content of all. Ursula's betrothal had rescued her favorite from great peril, and henceforth her plumed head-gear was at rest once more.
All about me was talk and laughter, glasses ringing, voices uplifted in set speeches, and many a shout of gratulation. When a betrothal is in the wind, folks ever believe that they have hold of the guiding clue to happiness, even if it be between a simpleton and a deaf mute.
The seat on my left hand, which my lover should have filled, remained empty; on my right sat his reverence Master Sebald Schurstab, the minorite preacher and prior who, so soon as he had spoken in honor of one toast, fixed his eyes on the board and thought only of the next. Thus, in the midst of all this mirthful fellowship, there was nought to hinder my fears and hopes from taking their way. Each time that a cry of "Hoch!" was raised, I roused me and joined in; scarce knowing, however, in whose honor. Likewise the hall waxed hotter and hotter, and the air right heavy to breathe.
To-day again, as yesterday, a storm burst over us. Albeit the sun was not yet set, it was presently so dark that lights had been brought in and fifty tapers in the silver candlesticks added to the heat. The lightning flashes glared in at the curtained windows like a flitting lamp, and the roar of the thunder shook the panes which rattled and clanked in their leaden frames. The reverend Prior called on the blessed saints whose special protection this house had never neglected to secure, and crossed himself. We all did the same, and had soon forgotten the storm without. The glasses ere long were clinking once more. I watched the numberless dishes borne in and out-roasted peacocks, with showy spread tails and crested heads raised as it were in defiance: boars' heads with a lemon in their mouth and gaily wreathed; huge salmon lying in the midst of blue trout, with scarlet crawfish clinging to them; pasties and skilfully- devised sweetmeats; nay, now and again, I scarce consciously put forth my hand and carried this or that morsel to my mouth but whether it were bread or ginger my tongue heeded not the savor. Silver tankards and Venetian glasses were filled from flasks and jugs; I heard the guests praising the wines of Furstenberg and Bacharach, of Malvoisie and Cyprus, and I marked the effects of the noble and potent grape-juice, nay, now and then I played the part of "warder" to Uncle Christian; yet meseemed that it was only by another's will or ancient habit that I raised a warning finger. Was I in truth at a banquet or was I only dreaming that I sat as a guest at the richly spread board? The only certain matter was that the storm was overpast, and that no hail nor rain now beat upon the window panes. How wet must my Hans be, who had ridden forth in court array, without a cloke to cover him.
To judge by the voices and demeanor of the menfolk the end of the endless meal must surely be not far off, and indeed dishes were by this time being served with packets of spices and fruits and pies and sweetmeats for the little ones at home. I drew a deeper breath, and methought the company would soon rise from the table, forasmuch as that Jost Tetzel had already quitted his seat. Then I beheld his pale face through a curtain and his lean hand beckoning to my grand-uncle. He likewise rose, and Ursula followed him. Forthwith, from without came a strange noise of footsteps to and fro and many voices. A serving man came to hail forth Master Ebner and Uncle Tucher, and the muttering and stir without waxed louder and louder. The guests sat in silence, gazing and enquiring of each other. Somewhat strange, and for certain somewhat evil, had befallen.
My heart beat in my temples like the clapper of an alarm-bell. That which was going forward, and to which one after another was called forth, was my concern; it must be, and mine alone. I felt I could not longer keep my place, and I had pushed back my seat when I saw Uncle Tucher standing by Cousin Maud, and his kind and worthy face, still ruddy from the wine he had drunk, was a very harbinger of horror and woe. He bent over my cousin to speak in her ear.
My eyes were fixed on his lips, and lo! she, my second mother, started up hastily as any young thing and, clasping her hand to her breast she well- nigh screamed: "Jesu-Maria! And Margery!"
All grew dark before my eyes. A purple mist shrouded the table, the company, and all I beheld. I shut my eyes, and when presently I opened them once more, close before me, as it were within reach, behold the yellow headstone with black letters thereon, as in my dream; and albeit I closed my eyes again the name "Hans Haller" was yet there and the letters faded not, nay, but waxed greater and came nigher, and meseemed were as a row of gaping werewolves.
I held fast by the tall back of my heavy chair to save me from falling, on my knees; but a firm hand thrust it aside, and I was clasped in a pair of old yet strong arms to a faithful heart, and when I heard Cousin Maud's voice in mine ear, though half-choked with tears, crying: "My poor, poor, dear good Margery!" meseemed that somewhat melted in my heart and gushed up to my eyes; and albeit none had told me, yet knew I of a certainty that I was a widow or ever I was a wife, and that Cousin Maud's tears and my own were shed, not for Herdegen, but for him, for him....
And behold, face to face with me, who was this? Ursula stood before me, her blue eyes drowned in tears--tears for me, telling me that my woe was deep enough and bitter enough to grieve even the ruthless heart of my enemy.
The storm had cleared the air once more. How fair smiled the blue sky, how bright shone the sun, day after day and from morning till night; but meseemed its splendor did but mock me, and many a time I deemed that my heart's sorrow would be easier to bear with patience if it might but rain, and rain and rain for ever. Yea, and a grey gloomy day would have brought rest to eyes weary with weeping. And in my sick heart all was dark indeed, albeit I had not been slow to learn how this terror had come about.
That was all the tidings I had craved; as to how life should fare henceforth I cared no more, but let what might befall without a wish or a will. Sorrow was to me the end and intent of life. I spurned not my grief, but rather cherished and fed it, as it were a precious child, and nought pleased me so well as to cling to that alone.
Howbeit I seldom had the good hap to be left to humor this craving. I was wroth with the hard and bitter world for its cruelty; yet it was in truth that very world, and its pitiless call to duty, which at that time rescued me from worse things. Verily I now bless each one who then strove to rouse me from my selfish and gloomy sorrow, from the tailor who cut my mourning weed to Ann, whose loving comfort even was less dear to me than the solitude in which I might give myself up to bitter grieving. All I cared for was to hear those who could tell of his last hours and departing from this life, till at last meseemed I myself had witnessed his end.
From all the tidings I could learn, I gathered that old Henneleinlein, whose gall had been raised against me by the Court Fool, had no sooner parted from us at Master Pernhart's door than she had hastened to the school of arms to make known to Ursula that my brother had plighted his troth anew to his cast-off sweetheart. Hereupon Ursula had dared to say to the Junker that Herdegen was her knight, who would pick up his glove which he had cast down at the former dance; but that he nevertheless was playing a two-fold game, and had treacherously promised Ann to wed her, to win her favor likewise. Hereupon the Brandenburger had been filled with honest ire, had sworn to Ursula that he would chastise her false lover, and was ready, not alone to accept my brother's defiance, but to fight with ruthless fury.
Thus Ursula's plot had prospered right well, inasmuch as, so long as she hoped to win Herdegen, she had been in deathly fear lest the Junker should fall out with him; whereas, now that in her wrath she only desired that the faithless wight should give an account to the Junker's sword, she thought fit in her deep and malignant fury to brand my brother as the challenger, knowing that if the combat had a bloody issue he would of a surety suffer heavy penalty. And in truth she had not reckoned wrongly when she declared that my brother, whom she knew only too well, would be her ready, champion.
On the morning next after the great dance she had addressed a brief letter to Herdegen beseeching him, for the friendship's sake which had bound them from their youth up, and by reason that she had no brother, to teach Junker von Beust that a patrician's daughter of Nuremberg should not lack a true knight, when Brandenburg pride dared to cast scorn on her in the face of all the world. My brother's response to this letter was a challenge to the Junker; yet had he not perchance been in such hot haste, save that he had long burned to punish the overweening young noble who had given him many an uneasy hour. He scarce, indeed, would have drawn his sword at Ursula's behest, inasmuch as he could plainly see that what she had most at heart was to make their breach wear such seeming to other folks as though he, who had been looked upon by the whole city as her pledged husband, had not quitted her, but had been ready rather to shed his heart's blood in her service.
Verily Ursula believed that she had found a sure instrument of vengeance, whereas she had heard say that Junker Henning von Beust was one of the most dreaded swordsmen in the Marches. Herdegen, to be sure, was likewise famed in Nuremberg as a doughty champion; yet it is ever the way in Franconia, nay, and in all Germany, to esteem outlandish means more highly than the best at home. Moreover she had many a time heard my grand-uncle declare that the gentlemen of our patrician families were not above half knights, and her intent was to sacrifice Herdegen to the Brandenburger's weapon.
Howbeit she had reckoned ill. Hans, who did service to my brother as his second at Altenperg, after striving faithfully to make peace between the two, was witness how our Nuremberg swordsman, who had had the finest schooling at Erfurt, Padua, and Paris, not merely withstood the Brandenburger, but so far outdid him in strength and swiftness that the Junker fell into the arms of his friends with wounds in the head and breast, while Herdegen came forth from the fray with no more hurt than a
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