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- Margery, Volume 6. - 6/9 -
as a trout in the brook, and had good chances for making the most of those humble gifts and powers wherewith I was blessed.
As to Herdegen, it was no small comfort to us to learn that my lord Cardinal Bernhardi had taken that matter in hand, and had bidden all the priests and friars in the Levant to make enquiry for tidings of him.
The good prelate was to be nine months journeying abroad, and whereas five months were now spent we were rejoicing in hope of his homecoming; but there was one in Nuremberg who looked for it even more eagerly than we did, and that was my grand-uncle Im Iloff. The old knight had, as I have said, done us thank-worthy service as our guardian; yet had he never been dear to me, and I could not think of him but with silent wrath. Howbeit he was now in so sad and cruel a plight that a heart of stone must have melted to behold him. Thus pity led me to him, although it was a penance to stay in his presence. The old Baron,--for of this title likewise he could boast, since he had poured a great sum into the Emperor's treasury,--this old man, who of yore had but feigned a false and evil show of repentance--as that he would on certain holy days wash the feet of beggar folk who had first been cleansed with care, now in sickness and the near terror of death was in terrible earnest, and of honest intent would fain open the gates of Heaven by pious exercises. He had to be sure at the bidding of Master Ulsenius the leech, exchanged the coffin wherein he had been wont to sleep for a common bedstead of wood; yet in this even he might get no rest, and was fain to pass his sleepless nights in his easy chair, resting his aching feet in a cradle which, with his wonted vain-glory, he caused to be made of the shape and color of a pearl shell. But his nights in the coffin, and mockery of death, turned against him; he had ever been pale, and now he wore the very face of a corpse. The blood seemed frozen in his veins, and he was at all times so cold that the great stove and the wide hearth facing him were fed with mighty logs day and night.
In this fearful heat the sweat stood on my brow so soon as I crossed the threshold, and if I tarried in the chamber I soon lacked breath. The sick man's speech was scarce to be heard, and as to all that Master Ulsenius told us of the seat of his ill, and of how it was gnawing him to death I would fain be silent. Instead of that Lenten mockery of the foot washing he now would do the hardest penance, and there was scarce a saint in the Calendar to whom he had not offered gifts or ever he died.
A Dominican friar was ever in his chamber, telling the rosary for him and doing him other ghostly service, especially in the night season, when he was haunted by terrible restlessness. Nothing eased him as a remedy against this so well as the presence of a woman to his mind. But of all those to whom, on many a Christmas eve, he had made noble gifts, few came a second time after they had once been in that furnace; or, if they did, it would be no more than to come and depart forthwith. Cousin Maud could endure to stay longest with him; albeit afterwards she would need many a glass of strong waters to strengthen her heart.
As for me, each time when I came home from my grand-uncle's with pale cheeks she would forbid me ever to cross his threshold more: but when his bidding was brought me she likewise was moved to compassion, and suffered me to obey.
Nevertheless, if I had not been more than common strong, thank the Saints, long sitting with the sick man would of a certainty have done me a mischief, for body and soul had much to endure. Meseemed that pain had loosened the tongue of that hitherto wordless old man, and whereas he had ever held his head high above all men, he would now abase himself before the humblest. He would stay any man or woman who would tarry, to tell of all his sufferings, and of what he endured in mind and body. His confessor had indeed forbidden him to complain of the evil wherewith Heaven had punished him, but none could hinder him from bewailing the evil he had committed in his sinfulness and vanity. And his self- accusings were so manifold and fearful, that I was fain to believe his declaration that all he had ever thought or done that was good was, as it were, buried; and that nought but the ill he had suffered and committed was left and still had power over him. The death-stroke he had dealt all unwittingly, in heedless passion, rose before his soul day and night as an accursed and bloody deed; and every moment embittered by his wife's unfaith, even to the last hour when, on her death-bed, she cursed him, he lived through again, night after night. Whereupon he would clasp his thin hands, through which you might see the light, over his tear-stained face and would not be still or of better cheer till I could no longer hide my own great grief for him.
Howbeit, when I had heard the same tale again and again it ceased from touching me so deeply; so that at last, instead of such deep compassion, it moved me only to dull gloom and, I will confess, to unspeakable weariness. The tears came not to my eyes, and the only use for my kerchief was to hide my yawning and vinaigrette. Thus it fell that the old penitent took no pleasure in my company, and at last weeks might pass while he bid me not to his presence.
Now, when the pictures were ended, whereas he heard that they were right good likenesses, and moreover was told that my lord Cardinal was minded to come home within no long space, he fell into a strange tumult and desired to behold those pictures both of me and of Ann. At this I marvelled not: he had long since learned to think of Councillor Pernbart's step-daughter in all kindness; nay, he had desired me to beg her to forgive a dying old man. We were well-disposed to do his will, and the Pernharts no less; on a certain Wednesday the pictures were carried to his house, and on the morrow, being Thursday, I would go and know whether he were content. And behold my likeness was set in a corner where he scarce could see it; but that of Ann was face to face with him and, as I entered the chamber, his eyes were fixed thereon as though ravished by the vision of a Saint from Heaven. And he was so lost in thought that he looked not away till the Dominican Brother spoke to him.
Thereupon he hastily greeted me, and went on to ask of me whether I duly minded that he had been a faithful and thankworthy guardian. And when I answered yes he whispered to me, with a side-look at the friar, that of a surety my lord Cardinal must hold Ann full dear, if he would bid so famous a master to Nuremberg that he might possess her image. Now inasmuch as I wist not yet to what end he sought to beguile me by these questions, I confirmed his words with all prudence; and then he glanced again at the monk, and whispered hastily in my ear, and so low that I scarce might hear him:
"That fellow is privily drinking up all my old Cyprus wine and Malvoisie. And the other priests, the Plebian here--do you know their worldly and base souls? They take up no cross, neither mortify the flesh by holy fasting, but cherish and feed it as the lost heathen do. Are they holy men following in the footsteps of the Crucified Lord? All that brings them to me is a care for my oblations and gifts. I know them, I know them all, the whole lot of them here in Nuremberg. As the city is, so are the pastors thereof! Which of them all mortifies himself? Is there any high court held here? To win the blessing of a truly lordly prelate, a man must journey to Bamberg or to Wurzburg. Of what avail with the Blessed Virgin and the Saints are such as these ruddy friars? Fleischmann, Hellfeld, nay the Dominican prior himself--what are they? Why, at the Diet they walked after the Bishop of Chiemsee and Eichstadt. In the matters of the city--its rights, alliances, and dealings--they had indeed a hand; there is nought so dear to them--in especial to Fleischmann--as politics, and they are overjoyed if they may but be sent on some embassy. Aye, and they have done me some service, as a merchant trader, whensoever I have desired the safe conduct of princes and knights; but as to charging them with the safe conduct of my soul, the weal or woe of my immortal spirit!--No, no, never! Aye, Margery, for I have been a great sinner. Greater power and more mighty mediation are needed to save and deliver me, and behold, my Margery, meseems--hear me Margery--meseems a special ruling of Heaven hath sent.... When is it that his Eminence Cardinal Bernhardi will return from England?"
Hereupon I saw plainly what was in the wind. I answered him that his Eminence purposed to return hither in three or four months' time; he sighed deeply: "Not for so long--three months, do you say?"
"Or longer," quoth I, hastily; but he, forgetting the Friar, cried out as though he knew better than I "No, no, in three months. So you said."
Then he spoke low again, and went on in a confident tone: "So long as that I can hold out, by the help of the Saints, if I.... Yea, for I have enough left to make some great endowment. My possessions, Margery, the estate which is mine own--No man can guess what a well-governed trading- house may earn in half a century.--Yes, I tell you, Margery, I can hold out and wait. Two, or at most three months; they will soon slip away. The older we grow and the duller is life, the swifter do the days fly."
And verily I had not the heart to tell him that he might have to take much longer patience, and, whereas I noted how hard he found it to speak out that which weighed on his mind, I gave him such help as I might; and then he freely confessed that what he most desired on earth was to receive absolution and the Viaticum from the hands of the Cardinal. Meseemed he believed that his Eminence's prayers would serve him better in Heaven than those of our simple priests, who had not even gained a bishop's cope; just as the good word of a Prince Elector gains the Emperor's ear sooner than the petition of a town councillor. Likewise it soothed his pride, doubtless, to think that he might turn his back on this world under the good guidance of a prelate in the purple. Hereupon I promised that his case should be brought to the Cardinal's knowledge by Ann, and then he gave me to understand that it was his desire that Ann should come to see him, inasmuch as that her presentment only had brought him more comfort than the strongest of Master Ulsenius' potions. He could not be happy to die without her forgiveness, and without blessing her by hand and word.
And he pointed to my likeness, and said that, albeit it was right well done, he could bear no more to see it; that it looked forth so full of health and hope, that to him it seemed as though it mocked his misery, and he straitly desired me to send Ann to him forthwith; the Saints would grant her a special grace for every hour she delayed not her coming.
Thereupon I departed; Ann was ready to do the dying man's bidding, and when I presently went with her into his presence he gazed on her as he had on her portrait, as it were bewitched by her person and manners; and ever after, if she were absent for more than a day or two, he bid her come to him, with prayers and entreaties. And he found means to touch her heart as he had mine; yet, whereas I, ere long, wearied of his complaining, Ann's compassion failed not; instead of yawning and being helpless to comfort him, she with great skill would turn his thoughts from himself and his sufferings.
Then they would often talk of Herdegen, and of how to come upon some trace of him, and whereas the old man had in former days left such matters to other folks, he now showed a right wise and keen experience in counselling the right ways and means. Hitherto he had trusted to Ursula's good words and commended us to the same confidence; now, however, he remembered on a sudden how ill-disposed she had ever been to my lost brother, and whereas it was the season of the year when the trading fleet should set sail from Venice for Alexandria in the land of Egypt, he sent forth a messenger to Kunz, charging him to take ship himself and go thither to seek his brother. This filled Ann and me likewise with fresh hope and true thankfulness. Yet, in truth, as for my grand-uncle, he owed much to Ann; her mere presence was as dew on his withered heart, and the hope she kept alive in him, that her uncle, my lord Cardinal, would ere long reach home and gladly fulfil his desires, gave him strength and will to live on, and kept the feeble spark of life
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