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- Margery, Volume 8. - 6/11 -
As he spoke he upraised his eyes and hands to heaven as in prayer, and without bidding us "Vale," or "Valete," as was his wont, he gathered his gaudy robe and fled up-stairs again.
The storm was yet as heavy as it had been yestereve; howbeit, though Bayard sank into the snow so deep that I swept it with the hem of my kirtle, yet the ride to the forest-lodge meseemed was as short as though I had flown. Cousin Maud would ride slowly in the sleigh, so I suffered her to creep along, and presently outstripped her.
Gotz and I had yestereve agreed that I should first see Aunt Jacoba, and then meet him at Grubner's lodge to report of what mind she might seem to be. Ann had no choice but to stay at home, inasmuch as she must be in attendance at the Cardinal's homecoming.
No one in all the dear old forest home was aware of my coming save the gate warden. My uncle had ridden forth at an early hour, and was not yet returned, but my aunt I found below stairs, strange to say, against her wont, dressed and in discourse with the chaplain. Peradventure then her husband had already made known to her what had taken him forth to Grubner's dwelling, and if so he had lifted a heavy task from me, for indeed my whole soul yearned to this dearly-beloved aunt, yet meseemed it was no light matter to prepare her, who was so feeble and yet so self- willed, for the joy and the strife of soul which awaited her. The board was spread for them as it were, and yet she and Gotz, by their baleful oath, had barred themselves from tasting of that bread and that cup.
I crossed the threshold in trembling, and as soon as she beheld me she cried out, with burning cheeks, which glowed not so, for sure, from the blaze in the chimney: "Margery, Margery! And so happy as she looks! You have seen your uncle, child, and can tell me wherefor he is gone forth?"
I told her truly that I had not; and then bid her rejoice with me, inasmuch as that all the price of Herdegen's ransom had been paid and, best of all, that we had good tidings of our brothers' well-being.
Then she was fain to know when and through whom, and made enquiry in such wise as though she had some strong suspicion; and I answered her as calmly as I might, that a pilgrim from the East had come to us yestereve, a right loyal and worthy gentleman, whom, indeed, I hoped to bring to her knowledge.
But I might say no more by reason that her eyes on a sudden flashed up brightly, and she vehemently broke in:
"Chaplain, Chaplain! Now what do you say? When the old man rode forth so early this morning, and bid me farewell in so strange a wise, then-- hear me, Margery--he likewise spoke to me of a messenger from the East who rode into the city yestereve--just as you say. But it was not of Herdegen that he brought tidings, but of him--of him--of Gotz that he had sure knowledge. And when the old man told me so much as that, for certain somewhat lay behind it.--And now, Margery--when I see you--when I consider. . . ." Here, as I cast a meaning glance at the Chaplain, on a sudden she shrieked with such a yell as pierced my bones and marrow; and or ever I saw her, her weak, lean hand had clutched my wrist, and she cried in a hoarse voice:
"Then you, you have hid somewhat from me! The look wherewith you warned the Chaplain, oh! I marked it well.--And you hesitate--and now--you-- Margery--Margery! By Christ's wounds I ask you, Margery. What is it?-- What of Gotz? Has he.... out with it--out with the truth.... Has he written?--No.--You shake your head.... Merciful Virgin! He--he--Gotz is on his way Home wards." And she clapped her hands over her face. I fell on my knees by her side, dragged first her left hand and then her right hand away from her eyes, covered them with kisses, and whispered to her: "Yes, yes, Aunt, Mother, sweet, dear little mother! Only wait--You shall hear all. Gotz is weary of wandering; he had not forgotten his father and mother, nor me, his little Red-riding-hood--I know it, I am sure of it. Patience! only a little patience and he will be here--in Germany, in Franconia, in Nuremberg, in the forest, in the house, in this hall, here, here where I am kneeling, at your feet, in your arms!"
Then the deeply-moved dame, who had listened to me breathless, flung her hands high in the air as if she were seeking somewhat, and it was as though her eyes turned inside out; and I was seized with sudden terror, inasmuch as I deemed that she had drunk death out of the overfull cup of joy that my hand had put to her lips. Howbeit, it was but a brief swoon which had come upon her, and as soon as she had come to herself again and I had told her the whole truth, little by little and with due caution, even that Gotz and I had found each other and both fervently and earnestly longed for her motherly blessing, she gave it me in rich abundance.
Now was it my part to make known to her that her returned son held fast to his oath; and I had already begun to tell her this when she waved her hands, and eagerly broke in: "And do you think I ever looked that he, who is a Waldstromer and a Behaim both in one, should ever break a vow? And of a truth he hath given me time enough to consider of it!--But to-day, this very day, early in the morning I found the right way out of the matter, albeit it is as like a trick of woman's craft as one egg is like another.--You know that reckless oath. It requires me never, never to bid Gotz home again; but yet,"--and now her eyes began to sparkle brightly with gladness--"what my oath does not forbid is that I should go forth to meet Gotz, and find him wheresoever he may be."
Hereupon the Chaplain clapped his hands and cried:
"And thus once more the love of a woman's heart hath digged a pit for Satan's craft."
And I ran forth to bid them harness the sleigh, whereas I knew full well that no counsel would avail.
And now, as of yore when she had fared into the town for love of Ann, she was wrapped in a mountain of warm garments, so we clothed her to-day in a heap of such raiment, and Young Kubbeling would suffer no man but himself to drive the horses. Thus we went at a slow pace to Grubner's lodge, and all the way we rode we met not a soul save Cousin Maud, and she only nodded to me, by reason that she could not guess that a living human creature was breathing beneath the furs and coverlets at my side. Young Kubbeling on the box, and the ravens and tomtits and redbreasts in the woods had not many words from us. While I was thinking with fear and expectation of the outcome of this meeting of the mother and son, I scarce spoke more than a kind word of good cheer now and again to my aunt, to which Kubbeling would ever add in a low voice: "All will come right!" or "God bless thee, most noble lady!" And each time we thus spoke I was aware of a small movement about my knees, and would then press my lips to the outermost cover of the beloved bundle by my side.
At about two hundred paces from the Forester's but the path turned off from the highway, so that we might be seen from the windows thereof; and scarce had the sleigh turned into this cross-road, when the door of the lodge was opened and my uncle and Gotz came forth.
The son had his arm laid on his father's shoulder and they gazed at us. And indeed it was a noble and joyful sight as they stood there, the old man and the young one, both of powerful and stalwart build, both grown strong in wind and weather, and true and trustworthy men. The slim young pine had indeed somewhat overtopped the gnarled oak, but the crown of the older tree was the broader. Such as the young man was now the old man must have been, and what the son should one day be might be seen--and I rejoiced to think it--in his father's figure and face. Howbeit, as a husband Gotz gave no promise of treading in his father's footsteps, and when I thought of this, and of the lesson I had yestereve received, my cheeks grew redder than they had already turned in the sharp December air, or under the gaze of my new lover.
Howbeit I had no time for much thought; the sleigh was already at the door, and or ever I was aware the old man had me in his arms and kissed my lips and brow, and called me his dear and well-beloved daughter. Then the younger man pressed forward to assert his claims, and when he bent over me I threw my arms round his neck, and he lifted me up, for all that I was none of the lightest in my winter furs and thick raiment, out of the sleigh like a child, and again his lips were on mine. But we might not suffer them to meet for more than a brief kiss. Uncle Conrad had discovered my aunt's face among all her wrappings, and gave loud utterance to his well-founded horror, while my aunt cried out to her long-lost son by name again and again, with all the love of a longing and long-robbed mother's heart.
I gladly set my lover free, and at the next minute he was on his knees in the snow and his trembling hands removed wrap after wrap from the beloved head, Kubbeling helping him from the driving-seat with his great hands, purpled by the cold.
And again in a few minutes the mother was covering her only son's head with tender kisses, so violently and so long that her strength failed her and she fell back on the pillows, overdone.
Hereupon Gotz bowed over her, and as he had erewhile lifted his sweetheart out of the sleigh, so now he lifted his mother; and while he held her thus in his arms and bore her into the house, not heeding the kerchiefs which dropped off by degrees and lay in a long line covering the ground behind her, as coals do which are carried in a broken scuttle, she cried in a trembling voice: "Oh you bad, only boy, you my darling and heart-breaker, you noble, wicked, perverse fellow! Gotz my son, my own and my All!"
And when she had found a place in the warm room, in the head forester's wife's arm-chair by the fire, I removed her needless raiment and Gotz sank down at her feet, and she took his head in her hands, and cried:
"I did not wait for you to come, but flew to meet you, my lad, by reason that, as you know--I took a sinful oath never to bid you to come home. But oath and vow are nought; they are null and void! I have learned from the depths of my heart that Heaven had nought to do with them--that it was pure pride and folly; and I bid you home with my whole heart and soul, and beseech your forgiveness for all the sorrow we have brought upon each other, and I will have and keep you henceforth, and nought else here on earth! Ah, and Gertrude, poor maid! She would have been heartily, entirely welcome to me as at this day, were it not that there is another maiden who is dearest to my heart of all the damsels on earth!"
Then was there heartfelt embracing and kissing on both parts, and, as I saw her weep, I made an unspoken vow that if the eyes of this mother and her son should ever shed tears again I would be the last to cause them, and that I would ever be ready and at hand to dry them carefully away.
I mind me likewise that I then beheld fair Waldtrud, the forester's daughter, inasmuch as she full heartily wished me joy; yet I remember even better that I felt no pang of jealousy, and indeed scarce looked at the wench, by reason that there were many other matters of which the sight gave me far greater joy.
It was a delightful and never-to-be-forgotten hour, albeit over-short; by my uncle's desire we ere long made ready to go homewards. Now when Gotz was carrying his mother from the hot chamber to the sleigh, and I was left looking about me for certain kerchiefs of my aunt's,
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