For the first time she asked where she was to find shelter in Ratisbon; the Emperor's command closed Wolf's house against her; the Prebrunn castle was only a summer residence, unfit for winter use. So it was necessary to seek new quarters, and Barbara did not lack proposals. But the answer from camp must be awaited, and it came sooner than Frau Dubois expected. The messenger who brought it was her husband. His Majesty, he said, rejoiced at Barbara's decision, and had commissioned him to take her at once to Ratisbon and lodge her in the Golden Cross. The imperial apartments were still at the monarch's disposal, and the owner of the house, whom Barbara did not wish to meet, had gone to Italy to spend the winter.
Herr Adrian did not mention what a favour the sovereign was showing Barbara by parting with his trusted servant for several days, but she told herself so with joyful pride, for she had learned how greatly Charles needed this man.
The Emperor had dismissed Quijada from attendance on his person. He knew the Castilian's value as a soldier, and would have deemed himself forgetful of duty had he withheld so able an assistant from the great cause which he was leading.
At the end of the first week in November Barbara again entered the Golden Cross in Ratisbon. The great house seemed dead, but Adrian, in his royal master's name, provided for the comfort of the women, who had been joined by Sister Hyacinthe.
In the name of Frau Dubois, to whom his Majesty gave it up, Adrian took possession of the Golden Cross, and as such Barbara was presented to the newly engaged servants, while his wife was known by them as a Frau Traut from the Netherlands.
No inhabitant of Ratisbon was informed of the return of their young fellow-citizen, and Barbara only went out of doors with her companion early in the morning or in the twilight, and always closely veiled. But few persons had seen her after her illness, and on returning home she often mentioned the old acquaintances whom she had met without being recognised by them. The apartments she occupied were warm and comfortable. The harp and lute had been sent from Prebrunn with the rest of her property, and though she would not have ventured to sing even a single note, she resolved to touch their chords again. Playing on the harp afforded her special pleasure, and Frau Traut fancied she could understand her thoughts while doing so. The tones often sounded as gentle as lullabies, often as resonant and impetuous as battle songs. In reply to a question from her companion, Barbara confessed that while playing she sometimes imagined that she beheld a lovely girl, sometimes a young hero clad in glittering armour, with the Golden Fleece on his neck, rushing to battle against the infidels.
When the women were sitting together in the evening, Barbara urged her companion, who was familiar with the court and with Charles's former life, to tell her about the Netherlands and Spain, Brussels and Valladolid, the wars, the monarch's wisdom, the journeys of Charles, his intercourse with men and women, his former love affairs, his married life, his relatives and children, and again and again of Johanna Van der Gheynst, the mother of the Duchess Margaret of Parma. In doing so the clever native of Cologne never failed to draw brilliant pictures of the splendour of the imperial court. As a matter of course, Brussels, the favourite residence of the Dubois couple, was most honoured in the narrative, and Barbara could never hear enough of this superb city. Maestro Gombert had already aroused her longing for it, and Frau Traut made her, as it were, at home there.
So December and Christmas flew by. New Year's and Epiphany also passed, and when January was over and the month of February began, a guest arrived in Ratisbon from the household of the Emperor, who was now holding his court at Ulm. It was Dr. Mathys, the leech, who readily admitted that he had come partly by his Majesty's desire, partly from personal interest in Barbara's welfare.
The physician found her in the same mood as after the relapse. Obedient, calm, yielding, only often overpowered by melancholy and bitter thoughts and feelings, yet, on the other hand, exalted by the fact that the Emperor Charles, for her sake, was now depriving himself also of this man, whom he so greatly needed.
She awaited the fateful hour with anxious expectation. The twenty-fourth of February was the Emperor's birthday, and if it should come then, if the father and child should see the light of the world on the same day of the almanac, surely it must seem to Charles a favourable omen.
On the day of St. Matthias—that is, the twenty-fourth of February, Charles's birthday-at noon, Frau Traut, radiant with joy, could despatch the waiting messenger to Ulm with the tidings that a son had just been born to his Majesty.
The next morning the child was baptized John by the chaplain who accompanied the women, because this apostle had been nearest to the Saviour's heart.
The young mother was not permitted to rejoice at the sight of her babe. Charles had given orders in advance what should be done hour by hour, and believed he was treating the mother kindly by refusing to allow her to enjoy the sight of the newborn child which could not remain with her.
This caused much weeping and lamenting, and such passionate excitement that the bereaved mother nearly lost her life; but Dr. Mathys devoted the utmost care to her, and did not leave Ratisbon until after three weeks, when he could commit the nursing to the experienced Sister Hyacinths.
But for the trouble in her throat, Barbara would have been physically as well as ever; her mental suffering was never greater.
She felt robbed and desolate, like the bird whose nestlings are stolen by the marten; for all that might have made her ruined life precious had been taken, and the man to whom she had surrendered her dearest treasure did not even express, by one poor word, his gratitude and joy. No, he seemed to have forgotten her as well as her future.
Frau Traut had left her with the promise that she would sometimes send her news of her boy's health, yet she, too, remained silent, and was deceiving her confidence. She could not know that the promise-breaker thought of her often enough, but that she had been most strictly forbidden by her imperial master to tell the boy's mother his abode or to hold any further intercourse with her.
How little Charles must care for her, since he now showed such deep neglect and found no return for all that she had sacrificed to him save cruel sternness! Yet the precious gift for which he was indebted to her must have afforded special pleasure to the man who attached such great value to omens, for it gave him the right to cherish the most daring hopes for the future of his boy. The fact that he was born on his father's birthday seemed to her an especial favour of heaven, and the old chaplain, who still remained with her, had discovered other singular circumstances which foreshadowed that the son would become the father's peer; for on the twenty-fourth of February Charles V had been crowned, and on the same day he had won at Pavia his greatest victory.
This had been the most brilliant day in the ruler's life, so rich in successes, and now it had also become the birthday of the boy whom she had given him and resigned that he might lead it to grandeur, splendour, and magnificence.
Nothing was more improbable than that the man whose faithful memory retained everything, and whose active mind discovered what escaped the notice of others, should have overlooked this sign from heaven. And yet she vainly waited for a token of pleasure, gratitude, remembrance. How this pierced the soul and corroded the existence of the poor deserted girl, the bereaved mother, the unfortunate one torn from her own sphere in life!
At last, toward the end of March, the message so ardently desired arrived. A special courier brought it, but how it was worded!
A brief expression of his Majesty's gratification at the birth of the healthy, well-formed boy; then, in blunt words, the grant of a small annual income and an additional gift, with the remark that his Majesty was ready, to increase both generously, and, moreover, to give her ambition every support, if Barbara would enter a convent. If she should persist in remaining in the world, what was granted must be taken from her as soon as she broke her promise to keep secret what his Majesty desired to have concealed.
The conclusion was: "And so his Majesty once more urges you to renounce the world, which has nothing more important to offer you than memories, which the convent is the best place to cherish. There you will regain the favour of Heaven, which it so visibly withdrew from you, and also the regard of his Majesty, which you forfeited, and he in his graciousness, and in consequence of many a memory which he, too, holds dear, would gladly show you again."
This letter bore the signature of Don Luis Quijada, and had been written by a poor German copyist, a wretched, cross-eyed fellow, whom Wolf had pointed out to her, and whose hand Barbara knew. From his pen also came the sentence under the major-domo's name, "The Golden Cross must be vacated during the month of April."
When Barbara had read these imperial decisions for the second and the third time, and fully realized the meaning of every word, she clinched her teeth and gazed steadily into vacancy for a while. Then she laughed in such a shrill, hoarse tone that she was startled at the sound of her own voice, and paced up and down the room with long strides.
Should she reject what the most powerful and wealthy sovereign in the world offered with contemptible parsimony? No! It was not much, but it would suffice for her support, and the additional gift was large enough to afford her father a great pleasure when he came home.
Pyramus Kogel's last letter reported that his condition was improving. Perhaps he might soon return. Then the money would enable her to weave a joy into the sorrow that awaited him. It had always been a humiliating thought that he had lost his own house and was obliged to live in a hired one, and at least she could free him from that.
It was evident enough that her pitiful allowance did not proceed from the Emperor's avarice; Charles only wished to force her to obey his wish to shut her for the rest of her life in a cloister. The mother of his son must remain concealed from the world; he desired to spare him in after years the embarrassment of meeting the woman whose birth was so much more humble than his own and his father's. Want should drive her from the world, and, to hasten her flight, the shrewd adept in reading human nature showed her in the distance the abbess's cross, and tried thereby to arouse her ambition.
But in her childhood and youth Barbara had been accustomed to still plainer living than she could grant herself in future, and she would have been miserable in the most magnificent palace if she had been compelled to relinquish her independence. Rather death in the Danube than to dispense with it!
She was young, healthy, and vigorous, and it seemed like voluntary mutilation to resign her liberty at twenty-one. But even had she felt the need of the lonely cell, quiet contemplation, and more severe penance than had been imposed upon her in the confessional, she would still have remained in the world; for the more plainly the letter showed how eagerly Charles desired to force her out of it, the more firmly she resolved to remain in it. How many hopes this base epistle had destroyed; it seemed as though it had killed the last spark of love in her soul!
Too much kindness leads to false paths scarcely more surely than the contrary, and the Emperor's cruel decision destroyed and hardened many of the best feelings in Barbara's heart, and prepared a place for resentment and hatred.
The great sovereign's love, which had been the sunshine of her life, was lost; her child had been taken from her; even the home that sheltered her, and which hitherto she had regarded as a token of its father's kindly care, was now withdrawn. A new life path must be found, but she would not set out upon it from the Golden Cross, where her brief happiness had bloomed, but from the place where she had experienced the penury of her childhood and early youth.
The very next afternoon she moved into Wolf's house. Sister Hyacinthe was obliged to return to her convent, so no one accompanied her except Frau Lamperi. She had become attached to Barbara, and therefore remained in her service instead of returning to the Queen of Hungary. True, she had not determined to do so until her mistress had promised to remain only a few weeks in Ratisbon at the utmost, and then move to Brussels, where she longed to be.
Ratisbon was no home for the Emperor's former favourite. Life in her native city would have been one long chain of humiliations, now that she had nothing to offer her fellow-citizens except the satisfaction of a curiosity which was not always benevolent.
But where should she go, if not to the country where her child's father lived, where, she had reason enough to believe, the infant would be concealed, and where she might hope to see again and again at a distance the man to whom hate united her no less firmly than love?
This prospect offered her the greatest attraction, and yet she desired nothing, nothing more from him except to be permitted to watch his destiny. It promised to be no happy one, but this fact robbed the wish of no charm.
Besides, the desire for a richer life again began to stir within her soul, and what sustenance for the eye and ear Gombert, Frau Traut, and now also Lamperi promised her in Brussels!
Her means would enable her to go there with the maid and live in a quiet way. If her father forgave her and would join her in the city, she would rejoice. But he was bound to Ratisbon by so many ties, and had so many new tales to relate in its taprooms, that he would certainly return to it. So she must leave him; it was growing too hot for her here.
She found old Ursel cheerful, and was less harshly received than at her last visit. True, Barbara came when she was in a particularly happy mood, because a letter from Wolf stated that he already felt perfectly at home in Quijada's castle at Villagarcia, and that Dona Magdalena de Ulloa was a lady of rare beauty and kindness of heart. Her musical talent was considerable, and she devoted every leisure hour to playing on stringed instruments and singing. True, there were not too many, for the childless woman had made herself the mother of the poor and sick upon her estates, and had even established a little school where he assisted her as singing-master.
So Barbara was at least relieved from self-reproach for having brought misfortune upon this faithful friend. This somewhat soothed her sorely burdened heart, and yet in her old, more than plain lodgings, with their small, bare rooms, she often felt as though the walls were falling upon her. Besides, what she saw from the open window in Red Cock Street was disagreeable and annoying.
When evening came she went to rest early, but troubled dreams disturbed her sleep.
The dawn which waked her seemed like a deliverance, and directly after mass she hurried out of the gate and into the open country.
On her return she found a letter from her father.
Pyramus Kogel was its bearer, and he had left the message that he would return the next day. This time her father had written with his own hand. The letters were irregular and crooked enough, but they were large, and there were not too many of them. He now knew what people were saying about her. It had pierced the very depths of his old heart and darkened his life. But he could not curse her, because she was his only child, and also because he told himself how much easier her execrable vanity had made the Emperor Charles's game. Nor would he give her up as lost, and his travelling companion. Pyramus, who was like a son to him, was ready to aid him, for his love was so true and steadfast that he still wished to make her his wife, and offered through him to share everything with her, even his honourable name.
If misfortune had made her modest, if it had crushed her wicked arrogance, and she was still his own dear child, who desired her father's blessing, she ought not to refuse the faithful fellow who would bring her this letter, but accept his proposal. On that, and upon that alone, his forgiveness would depend; it was for her to show how much or how little she valued it.
Barbara deciphered this epistle with varying emotions.
Was there no room for unselfish love in the breast of any man?
Her father, even he, was seeking to profit by that which united him to his only child. To keep it, and to secure his blessing, she must give her hand to the unloved soldier who had shown him kindness and won his affection.
She again glanced indignantly over the letter, and now read the postscript also. "Pyramus," it ran, "will remain only a short time in Germany, and go from there directly to Brussels, where he is on duty, and thence to me in Antwerp."
Barbara started, her large eyes sparkled brightly, and a faint flush suddenly suffused her cheeks. The "plus ultra" was forever at an end for her. Her boy was living in Brussels near his father; there she belonged, and she suddenly saw herself brought so near this unknown, brilliant city that it seemed like her real home. Where else could she hope to rid herself of the nightmares that oppressed her except where she was permitted to see the man from whom nothing could separate her, no matter how cruelly he repulsed her?
The only suitable place for her, he thought, was the cloister. No man, he believed in his boundless vanity, could satisfy the woman who had once received in his love.
He should learn the contrary! He should hear—nay, perhaps he should see—that she was still desired, in spite of the theft which he had committed, in spite of the cruelty with which Fate had destroyed the best treasure that it had generously bestowed.
The recruiting officer was certainly a handsome man and, moreover, of noble birth. Her father wished to have him for a son, and would forgive her if she gave him the hand for which he shed.
So let him be the one who should take her to Brussels, and to whom she would give the right of calling himself her husband.
Here her brow contracted in a frown, for the journey on which she was to set out with him would lead not only to the Netherlands, but through her whole life, perhaps to the grave.
Deep resentment seized upon her, but she soon succeeded in conquering it; only the question what she had to give her suitor in return for his loyal love could not be silenced. Yet was it she who summoned him? Did he not possess the knowledge of everything that might have deterred another from wooing her? Had she not showed him more than plainly how ill he had succeeded in gaining her affection? If, nevertheless, he insisted upon winning her, he must take her as she was, though the handsome young man would have had a good right to a heart full of love. Hers, so long as the gouty traitor lived who had ruined her whole existence, could never belong entirely to another.
Once she had preferred the handsome, stately dancer to all other men. Might not this admiration of his person be revived? No—oh, no! And it was fortunate that it was so, for she no longer desired to love—neither him nor any one else. On the other hand, she resolved to make his life as pleasant as lay in her power. When what she granted him had reconciled her father to her, and she was in Brussels, perhaps she would find strength to treat Pyramus so that he would never repent his fidelity.
In the afternoon she longed to escape from the close rooms into the fresh air, and turned her steps toward Prebrunn, in order to see once more the little castle which to her was so rich in beautiful and terrible memories.
On the way she met Frau Lerch. The old woman had kept her keenness of vision and, though Barbara tried to avoid her, the little ex-maid stopped her and asked scornfully:
"Here in Ratisbon again, sweetheart? How fresh you look after your severe illness!—yet you're still on shank's mare, instead of in the gold coach drawn by white horses."
Barbara abruptly turned her back upon her and went home.
As she was passing the Town Hall Pyramus Kogel left it, and she stopped as he modestly greeted her.
Very distinguished and manly he looked in his glittering armour, with the red and yellow sash and the rapier with its large, flashing basket-hilt at his side; yet she said to herself: "Poor, handsome fellow! How many would be proud to lean on your arm! Why do you care for one who can never love you, and to whom you will appear insignificant to the end?"
Then she kindly clasped the hand which he extended, and permitted him to accompany her home. On the Haidplatz she asked him whether he had read the letter which he brought from her father.
He hesitatingly assented. Barbara lowered her eyes, and added softly:
"It is my own dear father to whom you have been kind, and my warmest gratitude is due to you for it."
The young officer's heart throbbed faster; but as they turned into Red Cock Street she asked the question:
"You are going from here to Brussels, are you not?"
"To Brussels," he repeated, scarcely able to control his voice.
She raised her large eyes to him, and, after a hard struggle, the words escaped her lips:
"I learned in Landshut, and it was confirmed by my father's letter, that you are aware of what I am accused, and that you know—I committed the sin with which they charge me."
In the very same place where, on an evening never to be forgotten, he had received the first sharp rebuff from Barbara, she now confessed her guilt to him—he doubtless noticed it. It must have seemed like a sign from heaven that it was here she voluntarily approached him, nay, as it were, offered herself to him. But he loved her, and he would have deemed it unchivalrous to let her feel now that their relation to one another had changed. So he only exclaimed with joyous confidence:
"And yet, Barbara, I trustfully place happiness and honour in your beloved hands. You have long been clear to me, but now for the first time I believe confidently and firmly that I have found in you the very wife for me. The bitter trial imposed upon you—I knew it in Landshut—bowed your unduly obstinate nature, and if you only knew how well your modest manner becomes you! So I entreat permission to accompany you home."
Barbara nodded assent, and when he had mounted the steep staircase of the house before her he stopped in front of the narrow door, and a proud sense of satisfaction came over him at the thought that the vow which he had made in this spot was now fulfilled.
Her father had failed to bend this refractory, wonderfully beautiful iron; he had hoped to try with better fortune, but Fate had anticipated him, and he was grateful.
Full of blossoming hopes, he now asked, with newly awakened confidence, whether she would permit him to cross her threshold as a suitor and become his dear and ardently worshipped wife, and the low "Yes" which he received in response made him happy.
A few days after he married her, and journeyed with her on horseback to the Netherlands.
On the way tidings of the battle of Muhlberg reached them. The Emperor Charles had utterly routed the Protestants. He himself announced his great victory in the words, "I came, I saw, and God conquered."
When Pyramus told the news to his young wife, she answered quietly, "Who could resist the mighty monarch!"
In Brussels she learned that the Emperor had taken the Elector of Saxony captive on the battlefield, but the Landgrave of Hesse had been betrayed into his power by a stratagem which the Protestants branded as base treachery, and used to fill all Germany with the bitterest hatred against him; but here Barbara's wrath flamed forth, and she upbraided the slanderous heretics. It angered her to have the great sovereign denied his due reverence in her own home; but secretly she believed in the breach of faith.
By Georg Ebers
Three years passed.
Barbara occupied with her husband and the two sons she had given him a pretty little house in the modest quarter of Saint-Gery in Brussels.
Here the capital of wealthy, flourishing Brabant certainly looked very unlike what she had expected from Gombert's stories; and how little share she had had hitherto in the splendour which on the drive to Landshut she had expected to find in Brussels!
Since the musician had described the city, she had seen it distinctly before her in her vivid imagination. The lower portion, intersected by the river Senne and numerous canals, belonged to the rich, industrious citizens, the skilful artisans, and the common people; the upper, which occupied a hill, contained the great Brabant palace, the residence of the Emperor Charles. This edifice, which, though its exterior was almost wholly devoid of ornament, nevertheless presented a majestic aspect on account of its vast size, adjoined a splendid park, whose leafy groups of ancient trees merged into the forest of Soignies. Here also stood the palaces of the great nobles and, on the side of the hill which sloped to the lower city, the Cathedral of St. Gudule towered proudly aloft.
Much as Barbara had heard in praise of the magnificent market-place in the lower city, with its marvellous Town Hall, it was always the upper portion of Brussels she beheld when she thought of the capital. She had felt that she belonged to this quarter, where all who had any claim to aristocracy lived; here, near the palace and the beautiful leafy trees, her future home had been in her imagination.
The result was different, and now the longing for the brilliant Brussels on the hill was doubly strong. True, there dwelt also those who had the greatest power of attraction for her.
She was just returning home from the palace park, where stood a pleasant summer house in which Adrian Dubois lived with his wife and one child. It was this child especially that drew Barbara to the upper city as often as possible, and constantly forced her thoughts to linger there and still to follow the "higher" of the imperial motto, which everywhere else she was compelled to renounce.
True, a limit was fixed to these visits to the Dubois couple. For one whole year Frau Traut had successfully concealed the child from the mother; then Barbara had once met the boy outside the house, and the way in which he was hurried out of her sight led to the conviction that this was her child, and Frau Dubois had imprudently betrayed the secret.
From this time Barbara knew that her John had been confided to the care of the valet and his wife. At last Frau Traut had been unable to resist her entreaties, and allowed her to see her son and hold him a short time in her arms.
He was a strong, splendid child, with his mother's thick, curling locks and large blue eyes. Barbara thought that she had never seen a handsomer boy; and not only the Dubois, who had yielded their whole hearts to their nursling, but strangers also admired the magnificent development of this rare child. The young mother saw in him something grander, more perfect than the children of other human beings, even than the two boys whom she had given her husband, although little John usually repulsed her caresses.
In granting Barbara permission to see her child often, Frau Traut transgressed an explicit command of the Emperor and, to prevent the evil consequences which her sympathy might entail, she allowed the mother to rejoice in the sight of her little son only once a month, and then always for a short time.
During these interviews she was strictly forbidden to bestow even the smallest gift upon the boy.
To-day John had voluntarily approached the stranger to whom he owed his life, but whose passionate caresses at their first meeting had frightened him, to show her the little wooden horse that Adrian had just given him. This had made her happy, and on the way home the memory of her hidden treasure more than once brought a joyous smile to her lips.
At home she first sought her children. Her husband, who had now been appointed mustering officer, was on one of the journeys required by the service, which rarely permitted him to remain long in his own house.
Barbara did not miss him; nay, she was happiest during his absence.
After glancing into the nursery, she retired to her quiet chamber, where her harp stood and the lutes hung which often for hours supplied the place of her lost voice, and sat down at her spinning wheel.
She turned it thoughtfully, but the thread broke, and her hands fell into her lap. Her mind had again found the way to the house in the park and to her John, her own, wonderful, imperial child, and lingered there until from the next room the cry of an infant was heard and a woman's voice singing it to sleep. Frau Lamperi, who had made herself a part of the little household, and beheld in its master the incarnation of every manly virtue, was lulling the baby to rest. Beside it slept another child, a boy two years old. Both were hers, yet, though the infant raised its voice still louder, she remained at the spinning wheel, dreaming on.
In this way, and while playing on the harp and the lutes, her solitude was best endured. Her husband's journeys often led him through the whole Netherlands and the valley of the Rhine as far as Strasbourg and Basle, and her father had returned to Ratisbon.
She had found no new friends in Brussels, and had not endeavoured to gain any.
Loneliness, which she had dreaded in the heyday of her early youth, no longer alarmed her, for quiet reveries and dreams led her back to the time when life had been beautiful, when she had enjoyed the love of the greatest of mortals, and art had given her existence an exquisite consecration.
With the loss of her voice—she was now aware of it—many of the best things in her life had also ceased to exist. Her singing might perhaps have lured back her inconstant lover, and had she come to Brussels possessing the mastery of her voice which was hers during that happy time in May, her life would have assumed a totally different form.
Gombert, who had induced her to move hither, had urged her with the best intentions during their drive to Landshut to change her residence. When he did so, however, Barbara was still connected with the Emperor, and he was animated by the hope that the trouble in her throat would be temporary.
It would have been easy to throw wide to a singer of her ability the doors of the aristocratic houses which were open to him; for, except his professional comrades, he associated only with the wealthy nobles in the upper part of the city, who needed him for the brilliant entertainments which they understood how to arrange so superbly. The Oranges, Egmont, Aremberg, Brederode, Aerschot, and other heads of the highest nobility in Brabant would have vied with one another to present her to their guests, receive her at their country seats, and invite her to join their riding parties. Where, on the contrary, could he expect to find a friendly reception for the wife of a poor officer belonging to the lower nobility, who was said to have forfeited the Emperor's favour, who could offer nothing to the ear, and to the eye only a peculiar style of beauty, which she could enhance neither by magnificent attire nor by any other arts?
Had she been still the Emperor Charles's favourite, or had he bestowed titles and wealth upon her, more might have been done for her; but as it was, nothing was left of the favour bestowed by the monarch save the stain upon her fair name. Deeply as Gombert regretted it, he could therefore do nothing to make her residence in Brussels more agreeable. He was not even permitted to open his own house to her, since his wife, who was neither more jealous nor more scrupulous than most other wives of artists, positively refused to receive the voiceless singer with the tarnished reputation.
Worthy Appenzelder associated exclusively with men, and thus of her Ratisbon friends not one remained except Massi, the violinist, and the Maltese choir boy, Hannibal Melas.
The little fellow had lost his voice, but had remained in Brussels and, in fact, through Barbara's intercession; for she had ventured to recommend the clever, industrious lad to the Bishop of Arras in a letter which reminded him of his kindness in former days, and the latter had been gracious, and in a cordial reply thanked her for her friendly remembrance. Hannibal had remained in the minister's service and, as he understood several languages and proved trustworthy, was received among his private secretaries.
The violinist Massi remained faithful and, as he became her husband's friend also, he was always a welcome guest in her house.
Her father had returned to Ratisbon. After he had acted as godfather to the oldest boy, Conrad, he could be detained no longer. Homesickness had obtained too powerful a hold upon him.
True, Barbara and her husband did everything in their power to make life in their home pleasant; but he needed the tavern, and there either the carousing was so noisy that it became too much for him, or people often had very violent political discussions about liberty and faith, which he only half understood, though they used the Flemish tongue. And the Danube, the native air, the familiar faces! In short, he could not stay with his children, though he dearly loved his little godson Conrad; and it pleased him to see his daughter more yielding and ready to render service than ever before, and to watch her husband, who, as the saying went at home, "was ready to let her walk over him."
The husband's intention of making the unbending iron pliant was wholly changed; the recruiting officer whom his companions and subordinates knew and feared as one of the sternest of their number, showed himself to Barbara the most yielding of men. The passionate tenderness with which he loved her had only increased with time, and the stern soldier's subjection to her will went so far that, even when he would gladly have expressed disapproval, he usually omitted to do so, because he dreaded to lessen the favour which she showed him in place of genuine love, and which he needed. Besides, she gave him little cause for displeasure; she did her duty, and strove to render his outward life a pleasant one.
Even after her father had left her she remained a wife who satisfied his heart. He had learned the coolness of her nature in his first attempts to woo her in Ratisbon and, as at that time, he whom the service frequently detained from her for long periods regarded it as a merit.
So he wrote her father letters expressing his gratification, and the replies which the captain sent to Brussels were in a similar tone.
Barbara had obtained for him his own house, for which he had longed. He felt comfortable there, and what he lacked in his home he found at the Red Cock or the Black Bear. An elderly Landshut widow, a relative, acted as his housekeeper and provided in the best possible manner for his comfort.
Whoever met the stately mustering officer alone or arm in arm with his beautiful young wife, whose golden hair had grown out again, must have believed him a happy man; and so he would have been had not some singular habits which Barbara possessed made him uneasy. At first the reveries into which she often sank, and which were so unlike her former self, had been still worse. He did not know that the improvement had taken place since she had discovered her John's abode and been permitted sometimes to see him. Barbara's husband and father supposed that the child which she had given to the Emperor was dead; both had placed this interpretation upon her brief statement that it had been taken from her, and afterward delicacy of feeling prevented any other allusion to this painful subject.
Besides this proneness to reverie, Barbara's husband was sometimes disturbed by the carelessness with which she neglected the most important domestic matters if there was an entertainment or exhibition which the Emperor Charles attended; and, finally, there was something in her manner to the children, whom Pyramus loved above all things, which disturbed, incensed, and wounded him, yet which he felt that neither threats nor stern interposition could change.
He possessed no defence against the reveries except a warning or a jesting word. Delight in brilliant spectacles was doubtless natural to her disposition, and as Pyramus not only loved but esteemed her, it was repugnant to his feelings to watch her. Yet when, nevertheless, he once followed her steps, he had found her, according to her expressed intention, among other women in St. Gudule's Cathedral. Her eyes, which he watched intently, were constantly turned toward the great personages whose presence adorned the festival—the Emperor and Queen Mary of Hungary.
These expeditions were evidently not to meet a lover, yet from that hour he cherished a conviction, mingled with a bitter sense of resentment, that she went to the festivals which his Majesty attended in order to see the man whom she had once loved, and whose image even now she could not wholly efface from her imagination, perhaps also from her heart.
For her manner to the children, on the contrary, he could find no plausible explanation. Her love for them was unmistakable. Yet what was the meaning of the compassionate manner with which she treated them, talked to them, spoke of them, until it nearly drove him frantic? She often treated the healthy, merry older boy as if he was ill and needed comfort, and the pretty infant in the cradle was addressed in the same way.
If he summoned up his courage and openly reproved her, she always answered in general terms, such as: "What do you mean? Are we not all born to suffer?" or, "Shall we envy them because they have entered life to endure pain and to die?"
Not until Pyramus, with sorrowful emotion, entreated her not to speak of the children as if they had been given to them for a punishment and not for a joy, she imposed a certain degree of constraint upon herself and changed her manner of speech; yet the expression of her eyes revealed that she felt no really glad, unconstrained joy in her sons.
Though she denied it, she knew how to explain this manner to herself; for, after her attention had been directed to it, she secretly admitted that the sight of the two dear children who were wholly hers always reminded her of the third who had been taken from her, whom she was permitted to see very rarely, and only in secret, yet who, beside the others, seemed like a young lion beside modest lambs.
She cherished no desire for a new love, though the lukewarm blending of gratitude and good will which she bestowed upon her husband did not even remotely deserve this lofty name.
There was no lack of gallants in Brussels who noticed and were attracted by her, but whoever knew or had heard of Pyramus Kogel avoided interfering with his rights; for he was numbered among the best swordsmen in Brussels, and the air with which the tender-hearted husband wore his long rapier was decidedly threatening.
Besides, Barbara herself also knew how to protect herself against any intrusiveness with haughty sharpness.
To-day she was especially glad that Pyramus was absent on an inspecting tour. She had gratefully enjoyed the meeting with her John. Never had the light of his blue eyes seemed so sunny, his head with its fair curls so angelic in its beauty. His voice, too, had enraptured her by its really bewitching melody. The maternal gift of song would certainly descend to him, and perhaps it was allotted to the Emperor's son to amaze his generation by the presence of hero and singer in one person, like a second King David.
Twilight had already shadowed the paths when she left the Dubois house, and on her way home she saw the Emperor approaching. She had slipped behind a statue as quickly as possible, and he could scarcely have recognised her, for the gloaming had already merged into partial darkness; but the mere thought of having been so near him quickened the pulsation of her heart.
The little gentleman at his side with the stiffly erect bearing and pompous walk was his son Philip, who was now visiting his father in Brussels, and expected to leave in a few days. How insignificant was the figure of the heir of so many crowns! How the brother whom she had given to his imperial father would some day tower above him!
She again imagined all these things in the quiet of her room. The thought of this child cheered her heart, but it contracted again as she remembered the series of bitter humiliations which she had experienced in Brussels. Among the courtiers whom she had known so well in Ratisbon not one vouchsafed her anything more than a passing greeting; and the Queen of Hungary, to whom she would gladly have poured out her heart, had refused her repeated entreaties for an audience.
After the short walk in the park of his palace, during which Barbara had met him in the dusk, the Emperor Charles had dined with his son Philip and the Queen of Hungary. Now he entered his spacious study.
His feet were refusing their support more and more, and the fingers of his right hand, which the gout was now crippling, found it hard to grasp his cane.
He sank back in his arm-chair exhausted, closed his eyes, and laid his hand upon the clever pointed head of the greyhound which lay at his feet.
The short walk and the fiery wine which he had again enjoyed in abundance at dinner had increased the pain from which he was now never free, day or night, and it was some time ere Adrian could succeed in propping his infirm body comfortably.
At last Charles passed his handkerchief across his perspiring brow, and called to the majordomo.
Quijada eagerly approached, and the valet was respectfully leaving the room, but the Emperor's summons stopped him.
"I have something," Charles began, no longer able to maintain complete control over his voice, which was sometimes interrupted by the shortness of breath that had recently attacked him, "to say to you also—"
Here he hesitated, pointed to the window which overlooked the park, then, with a keen glance at the valet's face, continued:
"A ghost wanders about there. I have already seen it several times under the trees. True, it avoided approaching me. What still remains useful in this miserable body! But my eyes are sharp yet, and I recognised the spectre—it is the Ratisbon singer."
"Your Majesty knows," replied Quijada, "what befell her after the birth of the child, and that she is now living here in Brussels; but I was strictly forbidden to mention her name in your Majesty's presence."
"That command closed my lips also," said the valet.
"But what the hearing rejected forced itself upon the sight," remarked Charles, gazing fixedly into vacancy. "Wherever I appear in public I see this woman, always this woman! It is not only the basilisk's eye that has constraining power. I can not help perceiving her, yet I have as little desire to meet her gaze as to encounter vanity, worldly pleasure, folly, sin."
"Then," cried Quijada angrily, "it will be advisable to transfer her husband, who is in your Majesty's service, from here to Andalusia or to the New World."
"As if she would accompany him!" exclaimed the monarch with a scornful laugh. "No, my friend. This woman did not marry for her own pleasure, but to cause me sorrow or indignation. She succeeded, too, to a certain extent; but I do not war with women, least of all with one who is so unhappy. If we send her husband—who, moreover, is a useful fellow—across the ocean, she will stay here in Brussels, and we shall fare like the maid-servants who killed the cocks, and were then waked by the mistress of the house still earlier than before. Besides, one who earnestly seeks his true salvation will not remove from his path such a living memento, such a walking monitor of past sins and follies; and, finally, this woman is not wholly wrong in deeming herself an unusual person, cruelly as Heaven has destroyed her best gift. On no account—you hear me—shall she be wounded or injured for my sake so long as she reminds me only by her eyes that in happier days we were closely connected. But to-day the ghost ventured to draw nearer to me than is seemly, and I recognise the object. It entered the park, not on my account, but the boy's—and, Adrian, from your house. I demand the whole truth! Did she find the way to the boy, and was your wife, who is usually a prudent woman, unwise enough to allow her to feast her eyes upon him?"
"She is the child's mother," the valet answered gently, "and your Majesty knows—"
"I know," Charles interrupted the faithful attendant in a sterner tone than he commonly used to him, "that you were most positively forbidden to permit any one to approach the boy, least of all the person who gazes at him with greedy eyes, and from whom might proceed measureless perils. Your wife, Adrian, who is tenderly attached to the child, will now suffer the most painfully for the disobedience. It must go away from here, go at once, and to a distant country—to Spain. If politics and Heaven permit, I shall soon follow.—You, Luis, will now arrange with Adrian the best plan for the removal. The work must be accomplished in the utmost secrecy. The boy shall grow up in the wholesome air of the country. No one who surrounds him must be permitted even to suspect to whom he owes his life. This child shall be simple in his habits, devout, and modest, far from flattery and spoiling, among other lads of plain families, who know nothing of heresy and court follies. This innocent child's soul, at least, shall not be corrupted at its root. I consecrated him to the Saviour, and as a pure sacrifice he must receive him from his father's hand. I have given him a beautiful charge. In the monastery his prayers will remove the guilt of him who gave him life. The pardon for which the mother refused to strive, the son, consecrated to Jesus Christ our Lord, will struggle to obtain."
With uplifted gaze he interrupted himself. His eyes flashed with a fiery light, and his voice gained an imperious tone, which showed no trace of the asthmatic trouble that had just affected it as he added: "But the secret which even the reckless mother has hitherto known how to guard must be kept. Not even your wife, Luis, not even our sister, Queen Mary, must learn what is being accomplished."
Then he added more quietly: "The opportunity to take the boy to Spain is favourable. Our son, Don Philip, will return in three weeks to Valladolid. The child can be carried in his train. It will disappear among the throng, for an actual army forms the tail of the comet. I will hear your proposal to-morrow. Who is to take charge of him on the way? Where can a suitable shelter for the boy be found in Spain?"
This announcement fell upon the valet like a thunderbolt, for little John, who regarded him and his wife as his parents, had become as dear to the childless couple as if he was their own. To part from the beautiful, frank, merry boy would darken Frau Traut's whole life. He, Adrian, had warned her, but she had been unable to resist the entreaties of the sorely punished mother. Cautiously as Barbara's visits had been managed, the infirm monarch's eye had maintained its keenness of vision here also.
Now his wife must pay dearly for her weakness and disobedience. Frau Traut was threatened, too, with another loss. Massi, the most intimate friend of their house, also expected to return to Spain in the Infant Philip's train, to spend the remainder of his days there in peace. Permission to depart had been granted to him a few hours before.
Little John was fond of this frequent visitor of his foster-parents, who could whistle so beautifully and knew how to play for him upon a blade of grass or a comb; but this was not the only reason which made Adrian think of giving the Emperor's son to the musician's care for the journey to Spain, where Massi's wife and daughter were awaiting his return at Leganes, near Madrid. In this healthfully located village lived a pastor and a sacristan of whom the musician had spoken, and who perhaps later might take charge of the child's education.
Adrian informed Don Luis and then the monarch of all this, and as Quijada knew Massi to be a trustworthy man, and described him to his royal master, Charles entered into negotiations with him.
The result was that a formal compact was concluded between Dubois and the musician, which granted the violinist considerable emoluments, but bound him and his family by oath to maintain the most absolute secrecy concerning the child's origin. Moreover, Massi himself knew nothing about the boy's parents except that they belonged to the most aristocratic circles, and he was inclined to believe little John to be Quijada's son.
The sovereign himself examined the agreement, and at its close made Frau Traut take a special oath to preserve the most absolute secrecy about everything concerning the boy to every one, even Barbara.
What Adrian had expected happened. The Emperor's command to take her darling from her affected his wife most painfully. With eyes reddened by weeping, and an aching heart, she awaited the day of departure.
On the evening before the journey she was sitting by the child's couch to enjoy the sight of him as much as possible. Wholly absorbed in gazing at his infantile grace and patrician beauty, she did not hear the door open, and started in terror at the sound of footsteps close behind her.
Her husband had ushered the Emperor and Quijada, on whose arm he was leaning, into the nursery without announcing his entrance. She involuntarily pressed her finger on her lips to intimate that the child must not be roused from its slumber; but the gesture was instantly followed by the profound bow due to the sovereign, and then, with tears in her eyes, she held the light so that it might fall upon the face of the lovely child.
A flush tinged the livid features of the invalid, prematurely aged monarch, and at a wave of his hand the foster-mother left him and his companion alone with the little one. Charles gazed suspiciously around the small, neat room.
Not until he had assured himself that he was alone did he look closely at the son who lay with flushed cheeks on the white pillows of his little bed in the sound slumber of childhood.
Rarely had he seen a more beautiful boy. How finely chiselled were these childish features, how thick and wavy the curls that clustered around his head! The golden lustre which shone from them had also brightened his mother's hair. And the smile on the cherry lips of the slightly open mouth. That, too, was familiar to him. The child had inherited it from Barbara. Memories which had long since paled in his soul, oppressed by suffering and disappointment, regained their vanished forms and colours, and for the first time in many months a smile hovered upon his lips.
What an exquisite image of the Creator was this child! and he might call it his own, and if, as he intended, it grew up an innocent, happy lad, it would also become a genuine man, with a warm heart and simple, upright nature, not a moving marble figure, inflated by pompous self-conceit, incapable of any deep feeling, any untrammelled emotion, like his son Philip. Then it might happen that from love, from a real living impulse of the heart, he would fall upon his neck; then——
He stretched both hands towards the little bed and, obeying a mighty impulse of paternal affection, bent toward the boy to kiss him. But ere his lips touched the child's he again gazed around him like a thief who is afraid of being caught. At last he yielded to the longing which urged him, and kissed little John—his, yes, his own son—first on his high, open brow, and then on his red lips.
How sweet it was! Yet while he confessed this a painful emotion blended with the pleasure.
He had again thought of Barbara, of her first kiss and the other joys of the fairest May-time of his life, and the anxious fear stole upon him that he might give sin a power over his soul which, after undergoing a heavy penance, he thought he had broken.
Nothing, nothing at all, he now said to himself, ought to bind him to the woman whom he had effaced from the book of his life as unworthy, rebellious, lost to salvation; and, in a totally different mood, he again gazed at the child. It already wore the semblance of an angel in the gracious Virgin's train, and it should be dedicated to her and her divine Son.
Then the boy drew his little arm from under his head.
How strong he was! how superbly the chest of this child not yet four years old already arched! This bud, when it had bloomed to manhood, might prove itself, as he himself had done in his youth, the stronger among the strong. He carefully examined the harmoniously developed little muscles. What a knight this child promised to become! Surely it was hardly created for quiet prayer and the inactive peace of the cloister! He was still free to dispose of the boy. If he should intrust his physical development to the reliable Quijada, skilled in every knightly art, and to Count Lanoi, famed as a rider and judge of horses; confide the training of his mind and soul to the Bishop of Arras, the learned Frieslander Viglius, or any other clever, strictly religious man, he might become a second Roland and Bayard—nay, if a crown fell to his lot, he might rival his great-grandfather, the Emperor Max, and—in many a line he, too, had done things worthy of imitation—him, his father. The possession of this child would fill his darkened life with sunshine, his heart, paralyzed by grief and disappointment, with fresh pleasure in existence throughout the brief remainder of his earthly pilgrimage. If he, the father, acknowledged him and aided him to become a happy, perhaps a great man, this lovely creature might some day be a brilliant star in the firmament of his age.
Here he paused. The question, "For how long?" forced itself upon him. He, too, during the short span of youth had been a hero and a victorious knight. With secure confidence he had undertaken to establish for himself and his family a sovereignty of the world which should include the state and the Church. "More, farther," had been his motto, and to what stupendous successes it had led him! Three years before he had routed at Muhlberg his most powerful rivals. As prisoners they still felt his avenging hand.
And now? At this hour?
The hope of the sovereignty of the world lay shattered at his feet. The wish to obtain the German imperial crown for his heir and successor, Philip, had proved unattainable. It was destined for his brother, Ferdinand of Austria, and afterward for the latter's son, Maximilian. To lead the defeated German Protestants back to the bosom of the Holy Church appeared more and more untenable. Here in the Netherlands the heretics, in consequence of the Draconian severity of the regulations which he himself had issued, had been hung and burned by hundreds, and hitherto he had gained nothing but the hatred of the nation which he preferred to all others. His bodily health was destroyed, his mind had lost its buoyancy, and he was now fifty years old. What lay before him was a brief pilgrimage—perchance numbering only a few years—here on earth, and the limitless eternity which would never end. How small and trivial was the former in comparison with the latter, which had no termination! And would he desire to rear for the space of time that separates the grave from the cradle the child for whom he desired the best blessings, instead of securing for him salvation for the never-ceasing period of eternal life?
No! This beauty, this strength, should be consecrated to no vain secular struggle, but to Heaven. The boy when he matured to a correct judgment would thank him for this decision, which was really no easy one for his worldly vanity.
Then he reverted to the wish with which he had approached the child's couch. The son, from gratitude, should take upon himself for his father and, if he desired, also for his refractory mother, what both had neglected—the care for their eternal welfare—in prayer and penance.
By consecrating him to Heaven and rearing him for a peaceful existence in God, far from the vain pleasures of the world and the court he had done his best for his son and, as if he feared that the sight of his beautiful, strong boy might shake his resolution, he turned away from him and called Quijada.
While Charles in a fervent, silent prayer commended John to the favour of Heaven, the most faithful of his attendants was gazing at the sovereign's son. Hitherto Heaven had denied him the joy of possessing a child. How he would have clasped this lovely creature to his heart if it had been his! What a pleasure it would have been to transmit everything that was excellent and clever in himself to this child! To devote it to a monastic life was acting against the purpose of the Providence that had dowered it with such strength and beauty.
The Emperor could not, ought not to persist in this intention.
While he was supporting his royal master through the dark park he ventured to repeat what Adrian and his wife had told him of the strength and fearlessness of the little John, and then to remark what rare greatness this boy promised to attain as the son of such a father.
"The highest of all!" replied Charles firmly. "He only is truly great who in his soul feels his own insignificance and deems trivial all the splendour and the highest honours which life can offer; and to this genuine greatness, Luis, I intend to rear this young human plant whose existence is due to weakness and sin."
Quijada again summoned up his courage, and observed:
"Yet, as the son of my august ruler, this child may make claims which are of this world."
"What claims?" cried the Emperor suspiciously. "His birth?—the law gives him none. What earthly possessions may perhaps come to him he will owe solely to my favour, and it would choose for him the only right way. Claims—mark this well, my friend—claims to the many things which will remain of my greatness and power when I have closed my pilgrimage beneath the sun, can be made by one person only—Don Philip, my oldest son and lawful heir."
Not until after he had rested in his study did Charles resume the interrupted conversation, and say:
"It may be that this boy will grow up into a more brilliant personality than my son Philip; but you Castilians and faithful servants of the Holy Church ought to rejoice that Heaven has chosen my lawful son for your king, for he is a thorough Spaniard, and, moreover, cautious, deliberate, industrious, devout, and loyal to duty. True, he knows not how to win love easily, but he possesses other means of maintaining what is his and still awaits him in the future. My pious son will not let the gallows become empty in this land of heretical exaltation. Had the Germans put him in my place, he would have become a gravedigger in their evangelical countries. He never gave me what is called filial affection, not even just now in the parting hour; yet he is an obedient son who understands his father. Instead of a heart, I have found in him other qualities which will render him capable of keeping his heritage in these troubled times and preserving the Holy Church from further injury. If I were weaker than I am, and should rear yonder splendid boy, who charmed you also, Luis, under my own eyes with paternal affection, many an unexpected joy might grow for me; but I still have an immense amount of work to do, and therefore lack time to toy with a child. It is my duty to replace this boy's claims, which I can not recognise, with higher ones, and I will fulfill it."
During this conversation the violinist Massi had been to take leave of Barbara. Pyramus, after a short stay at home, had been obliged to depart again to an inspection in Lowen, and the musician was sorry not to find his friend. He did not know to whom the child that had been intrusted to his care belonged, and, as he had bound himself by a solemn oath to maintain secrecy toward every one, he did not utter a word to Barbara about the boy and the obligations which he had undertaken.
The parting was a sad one to the young wife, for in Massi she lost not only a tried friend, but as it were a portion of her former life. He had been a witness of the fairest days which Fate had granted her; he had heard her sing when she had been justified in feeling proud of her art; and he had been intimate with Wolf Hartschwert, whom she remembered with affectionate interest, though he had only informed her once in a brief letter that he was prospering in Villagarcia and his new position. While with tearful eyes she bade Massi farewell, she gave him messages of remembrance to Wolf; and the violinist, no less agitated than herself, promised to deliver them. He was hopefully anticipating a cheerful evening of life in the midst of his family. Existence had promised Barbara higher things, but she seemed to have found the power to be content. At least he had heard no complaint from her lips, and her husband had often told him of the happiness which he had obtained through her in marriage. So he could leave her without anxiety; but she, even in the hour of parting, was too proud to offer him a glimpse of her desolate life, whose fairest ornaments were memories.
When he left her the young wife felt still poorer than before, and during the sleepless night which in imagination she had spent with her imperial child in the Dubois house, and in the days of splendour and misery at Ratisbon, she determined to clasp once more the hand of her departing friend when he set out with the Infant Philip's train.
Although it was to start early in the morning, she was in the square in ample time, partly because she hoped to see the Emperor in the distance.
The throng that followed Philip really did resemble an army.
Barbara had already often seen the short, slender 'Infant', with his well-formed, fair head and light, pointed beard, who held himself so stiffly erect, and carried his head as high as if he considered no one over whom his glance wandered worthy of so great an honour.
It seemed strange to her, too, how well this man, naturally so insignificant in person, succeeded in giving his small figure the appearance of majestic dignity. But how totally unlike him his father must have looked in his youth! There was something austere, repellent, chilling, in the gaze which, while talking with others, he usually fixed upon the ground, and, in fact, in the whole aspect of the son. How brightly and frankly, on the contrary, his father's eyes, in spite of all his suffering, could sparkle even now! How easy it would be for him to win hearts still!
If he would only come!
But this time he did not accompany his son. Philip was on horseback, but a magnificent empty coach in the procession would receive him as soon as he left Brussels.
He wished to present a gallant appearance in the saddle on his departure, and a more daintily, carefully clad cavalier could scarcely be imagined.
His garments fitted like a glove, and were of faultless fineness. Queen Mary, the regent, rode at his side, and the Brabant nobles, the heads of the Brussels citizens, and his Spanish courtiers formed his retinue. The leaders of the Netherland nobility were figures very unlike in stature and size to Philip; but he could vie in haughty majesty with any of them. Not a limb, not an expression lacked his control a single instant. He desired to display to these very gentlemen in every inch of his person his superior power and grandeur, and especially not to be inferior to them in chivalrous bearing.
To a certain extent he succeeded in doing so; but his aunt, Queen Mary, seemed unwilling to admit it, for just when he showed his arrogant dignity most plainly a smile by no means expressive of reverence hovered around the mouth of the frank royal huntress.
Barbara had soon wearied of gazing at the magnificent garments and horses of these grandees. As Charles did not appear, the only person in the endless procession who attracted her attention was Massi, whom she soon discovered on his insignificant little horse; but he did not heed her eager signals, for he was talking earnestly to the occupant of the large litter borne by two mules that moved beside him.
Barbara tried to force her way to him, and when she succeeded her cheeks suddenly burned hotly, and a swift dread checked her progress; for from the great window of the litter a wonderfully beautiful little head, covered with fair curls, looked forth, and two little arms were extended toward the violinist.
How gleefully this child's eyes sparkled! how his whole little figure seemed instinct with joy and life while gazing at the horseman at the side of the street who was having a hard struggle with his refractory stallion!
No one knew this boy better than she, for it was her own son, the imperial child she had given to the Emperor. At the same time she thought of her other two boys, and her face again wore a compassionate expression. Not they, but this little prince from fairyland was her first-born, her dearest, her true child.
But where were they taking her John? What had Massi to do with him? Why should the boy be in Philip's train?
There was only one explanation. Her child was being conveyed to Spain.
Had the father heard that she had discovered his abode, and did he wish to remove it from the mother whom he hated?
Was it being taken there merely that it might grow up a Castilian?
Did Charles desire to rear it there to the grandeur and splendour for whose sake she had yielded him?
Yet whatever was in view for John, he would be beyond her reach as soon as the ship to which he was being conveyed weighed anchor.
But she would not, could not do without seeing him! The light of day would be darkened for her if she could no longer hope to gaze at least now and then into his blue eyes and to hear the sound of his clear, childish tones.
"This too! this too!" she hissed, as if frantic; and as the guards forced her out of the procession she followed it farther and farther through the heat and dust, as though attracted by some magnetic power.
Her feet moved involuntarily while her gaze rested on the litter, and she caught a glimpse sometimes of a golden curl, sometimes of a little hand, sometimes of the whole marvellously beautiful fair head.
Not until the train stopped and the lords, ladies, and gentlemen who were escorting Philip turned their horses and left him did she recollect herself. To follow these horsemen, coaches, carts, litters, and pedestrians just as she was would have been madness. Her place was at home with her husband and children. Ten times she repeated this to herself and prepared to turn back; but the force which drew her to her child was stronger than the warning voice of reason.
At any rate, she must speak to Massi and learn where he was taking the boy. He had not yet seen her; but now, as the train stopped, she forced her way to him.
Amazed at meeting her, he returned her greeting, and granted her request to let her speak with him a few minutes,
Greatly perplexed, he swung himself from the saddle, flung his bridle to a groom, and followed her under a mountain-ash tree which stood by the roadside. Barbara had used the time of his dismounting to gaze at her child again, and to impress his image upon her soul. She dared not call to him, for she had sworn to keep the secret, and the boy, who so often repulsed her eager advances, would perhaps have turned from her if she had gone close to him and attempted to kiss him through the window.
This reserve was so hard for her that her eyes were full of tears when Massi approached to ask what she desired. She did not give him time for even a single question, but with frantic haste inquired who the boy in the litter was, and where he intended to take him.
But her friend, usually so obliging, curtly and positively refused to give her any information. Then forming a hasty resolve, Barbara besought him if it were possible to take her with him to his home. Life in her own house had become unendurable. If a nurse was wanted for this child, no matter to whom it might belong, let him give her the place. She would devote herself to the boy day and night, more faithfully than any mother, and ask no wages for it, only she would and must go to Spain.
Massi had listened to her rapid words in warm; nay, he was thoroughly startled. The fire that flashed from Barbara's blue eyes, the anguish which her quivering features expressed, suggested the thought that she had lost her reason, and with sympathizing kindness he entreated her to think of his friend her husband, and her splendid boys at home. But when she persisted that she must go to Spain, he remembered that a bond of love had once united her to his friend Wolf Hartschwert, and in bewilderment he asked if it was the knight who attracted her there.
"If you think so, yes," she exclaimed. "Only I must go to Spain, I must go to Spain!"
Again Massi was seized with the conviction that he was dealing with a madwoman, and as the procession started he only held out his hand to her once more, earnestly entreated her to calm herself, sent his remembrances to her husband and children, and then swung himself into the saddle.
Barbara remained standing by the side of the road as if turned to stone, gazing after the travellers until the dust which they raised concealed them from her gaze. Then she shook her head and slowly returned to Brussels.
Pyramus would come home at noon. Lamperi and the maid might provide the meal and attend to the rest of the household affairs. It was far past twelve, and it would still be a long time before she went home, for she must, yes, must go up to the palace park and to the Dubois house to inquire where her soul must seek her child in future.
Her feet could scarcely support her when she entered the dwelling.
Startled at her appearance, Frau Traut compelled the exhausted woman to sit down. How dishevelled, nay, wild, Barbara, who was usually so well dressed, looked! But she, too, that day did not present her usual dainty appearance, and her eyes and face were reddened by weeping. Barbara instantly noticed this, and it confirmed her conjecture. This woman, too, was bewailing the child which the cruel despot had torn from her.
"He is on the way to Spain!" she cried to the other. "There is nothing to conceal here."
Frau Traut started, and vehemently forbade Barbara to say even one word more about the boy if she did not wish her to show her the door and close it against her forever.
But this was too much for the haughty mother of the Emperor's son. The terrible agitation of her soul forced an utterance, and in wild rebellion she swore to the terrified woman that she would burden herself with the sin of perjury and break the silence to which she had bound herself if she did not confess to her where Massi was taking her boy. She would neither seek him nor strive to get possession of him, but if she could not imagine where and with what people he was living, she would die of longing. She would have allowed herself to be abused and trodden under foot in silence, but she would not suffer herself to be deprived of the last remnant of her maternal rights.
Here Adrian himself entered the room; but Barbara was by no means calmed by his appearance, and with a fresh outburst of wrath shrieked to his face that he might choose whether he would confide to her, the mother, where his master was taking the child or see her rush from here to the market place and call out to the people what she had promised, for the boy's sake, to hold secret.
The valet saw that she would keep her word and, to prevent greater mischief, he informed her that the violinist Massi was commissioned to take her son to Spain to rear him in his wife's native place until his Majesty should alter his plans concerning him.
This news produced a great change in the tortured mother. With affectionate, repentant courtesy, she thanked the Dubois couple and, when Frau Traut saw that she was trying to rearrange her hair and dress, she helped her, and in doing so one woman confessed to the other what she had lost in the child.
Adrian's yielding had pleased Barbara. Besides, during the years of her intercourse with Massi she had heard many things about his residence—nay, every member of his household—and therefore she could now form a picture of his future life.
So she had grown quieter, though by no means perfectly calm.
Her husband, who must have already returned from his journey, and had not found her at home, would scarcely receive her pleasantly, but she cared little for that if only he had not been anxious about her, and in his joy at seeing her again did not clasp her tenderly in his arms. That would have been unbearable to-day. She would have liked it best if Massi would really have taken her with him as her child's nurse to Leganes, his residence. Thereby she would have reached the place where she thought she belonged—by the side of the child, in whom she beheld everything that still rendered her life worth living.
Nevertheless, on her way home she thought with maternal anxiety of her two boys; but the nearer she approached the unassuming quarter of the city where she lived the more vividly she felt that she did not belong there, but in the part of Brussels whence she came.
Her own home was far more richly and prettily furnished than her old one in Red Cock Street, but it did not yet satisfy her desires, and she did not feel content in it. To-day a slight feeling of aversion even came over her as she thought of it.
Perhaps the best plan would have been for her to put an end to this misery, and, instead of returning, make a pilgrimage to Compostella in Spain, and while doing so try to find her John in Leganes. But even while yielding to these thoughts Barbara felt how sinful they were. Did not her little house look attractive and pretty? It was certainly the prettiest and neatest in the neighbourhood, and as she drew nearer pleasure at the thought of seeing her children again awoke. An unkind reception from her husband would have been painful, after all.
But she was to receive no greeting at all from him. Pyramus had been detained on the way. Barbara felt this as a friendly dispensation of Providence. But something else spoiled her return home. Conrad, her oldest boy, two-year-old Conrad, who was already walking about, beginning to prattle prettily, and who could show the affection of his little heart with such coaxing tenderness, came toward her crying, and when she took him up rested his little burning head against her cheek.
The little fellow's forehead and throat were aching.
Some illness was coming on.
The child himself asked to be put in his little bed, the physician was summoned, and the next morning the scarlet fever broke out.
When the father returned, the youngest chill had also been attacked by the same fell disease, and now a time came when Barbara, during many an anxious hour of the night, forgot that in distant Spain she possessed another child for whose sake she had been ready to rob these two dear little creatures, who so greatly needed her, of their mother. This purpose weighed upon her conscience like the heaviest of sins while she was fighting against Death, which seemed to be already stretching his hand toward the oldest boy.
When one evening the physician expressed the fear that the child would not survive the approaching night, she prayed with passionate fervour for his preservation, and meanwhile it seemed as though a secret voice cried: "Vow to the gracious Virgin not to give the Emperor's son a higher place in your heart than the children of the man to whom a holy sacrament unites you! Then you will first make yourself worthy of the dear imperilled life in yonder little bed."
Thrice, four times, and oftener still, Barbara raised her hands to utter this vow, but ere she did so she said to herself that never, never could she wholly fulfil it, and, to save herself from a fresh sin, she did not make it.
But with what anxiety she now gazed at the glowing face of the fevered boy whenever the warning voice again rose!
At midnight the little sufferer's eyes seemed to her to shine with a glassy look, and when, pleading for help, he raised them to her, her heart melted, and in fervent, silent prayer she cried to the Queen of Heaven, "Spare me this child, make it well, and I will not think of the Emperor's son more frequently nor, if I can compass it, with warmer love than this clear creature and his little brother in the cradle."
Scarcely had these words died on her lips than she again felt that she had promised more than she had the power to perform. Yet she repeated the vow several times.
During the whole terrible night her husband stood beside her, obeying every sign, eagerly and skilfully helping in many ways; and when in the morning the doctor appeared she was firmly convinced that her vow had saved the sick boy's life. The crisis was over.
Henceforth, whenever the yearning for the distant John seized upon her with special power, she thought of that night, and loaded the little sons near her with tokens of the tenderest love.
On that morning of commencing convalescence her husband's grateful kiss pleased her.
True, during the time that followed, Pyramus succeeded no better than before in warming his wife's cold heart, but Barbara omitted many things which had formerly clouded his happiness.
The Emperor Charles had again gone to foreign countries, and therefore festivals and shows no longer attracted her. She rarely allowed herself a visit to Frau Dubois, but, above all, she talked with her boys and about them like every other mother. It even seemed to Pyramus as though her old affection for the Emperor Charles was wholly dead; for when, in November of the following year, agitated to the very depths of his being, he brought her the tidings that the Emperor had been surprised and almost captured at Innsbruck by Duke Maurice of Saxony, who owed him the Elector's hat, and had only escaped the misfortune by a hurried flight to Carinthia, he merely saw a smile, which he did not know how to interpret, on her lips. But little as Barbara said about this event, her mind was often occupied with it.
In the first place, it recalled to her memory the dance under the lindens at Prebrunn.
Did it not seem as if her ardent royal partner of those days had become her avenger?
Yet it grieved her that the man whose greatness and power it had grown a necessity for her to admire had suffered so deep a humiliation and, as at the time of the May festival under the Ratisbon lindens, the sympathy of her heart belonged to him to whom she had apparently preferred the treacherous Saxon duke.
The treaty of Passau, which soon followed his flight, was to impose upon the monarch things scarcely less hard to bear; for it compelled him to allow the Protestants in Germany the free exercise of their religion, and to release his prisoners, the Elector John Frederick of Saxony and the Landgrave Philip of Hesse.
Whatever befell the sovereign she brought into connection with herself. Charles's motto had now become unattainable for him, as since her loss of voice it had been for her. Her heart bled unseen, and his misfortune inflicted new wounds upon it. How he, toward whom the whole world looked, and whose sensitive soul endured with so much difficulty the slightest transgression of his will and his inclination, would recover from the destruction of the most earnest, nay, the most sacred aspirations of a whole life, was utterly incomprehensible to her. To restore the unity of religion had been as warm a desire of his heart as the cultivation of singing had been cherished by hers, and the treaty of Passau ceded to the millions of German Protestants the right to remain separated from the Catholic Church. This must utterly cloud, darken, poison his already joyless existence. Spite of the wrong he had done her, how gladly, had she not been lost to art, she would now have tried upon him its elevating, consoling power!
From her old confessor, her husband, and others she learned that Charles scarcely paid any further heed to the political affairs of the German nation, which had once been so important to him; and with intense indignation she heard the fellow-countrymen whom her husband brought to the house declare that, in her German native land, Charles was now as bitterly hated as he had formerly been loved and reverenced.
The imperial crown would lapse to his brother; Ferdinand's son, Maximilian, now Charles's son-in-law, was destined to succeed his father, while the Infant Philip must in future be content with the sovereignty of Spain, the Netherlands, Charles's Italian possessions, and the New World.
For years Barbara had believed that she hated him, but now, when the bitterest envy could have desired nothing more cruel, with all the warmth of her passionate heart she made his suffering her own, and it filled her with shame and resentment against herself that she, too, had more than once desired to see her own downfall revenged on him.
Her soul was again drawn toward the sorely punished man more strongly than she would have deemed possible a short time before and, after his return to Brussels, she gazed with an aching heart at the ashen-gray face of the sufferer, marked by lines of deep sorrow.
Now he really did resemble a broken old man. Barbara rarely mingled with the people, but she sometimes went with her husband and several acquaintances outside the gate, or heard from the few intimate friends whom she had made, the neighbours, and the peddlers who came to her house, with what cruel harshness the heretics were treated.
When the monarch, it was often said, was no longer the Charles to whom the provinces owed great benefits and who had won many hearts, but his Spanish son, Philip, the chains would be broken, and this shameful bloodshed would be stopped; but her husband declared such predictions idle boasting, and Barbara willingly believed him because she wished that he might be right.
In the officer's eyes all heretics deserved death, and he agreed with Barbara that the Emperor Charles's wisdom took the right course in all cases.
His son Philip was obedient to his father, and would certainly continue to wield the sceptre according to his wishes.
The breath of liberty, which was beginning to stir faintly in the provinces through which he so often travelled, could not escape Pyramus's notice, but he saw in it only the mutinous efforts of shameless rebels and misguided men, who deserved punishment. The quiet seclusion in which Barbara lived rendered it easy to win her over to her husband's view of this noble movement; besides, it was directed against the unhappy man whom she would willingly have seen spared any fresh anxiety, and who had proved thousands of times how much he preferred the Netherlands to any other of his numerous kingdoms.
Hitherto Barbara had troubled herself very little about political affairs, and her interest in them died completely when a visitor called who threw them, as well as everything else, wholly into the shade.
Wolf Hartschwert had come to Brussels and sought Barbara.
Her husband was attending to the duties of his office in the Rhine country when she received her former lover. Had Pyramus been present, he might perhaps have considered the knight a less dangerous opponent than seven years before, for a great change had taken place in his outer man. The boyish appearance which at that time still clung to him had vanished and, by constant intercourse with the Castilian nobility, he had acquired a manly, self-assured bearing perfectly in harmony with his age and birth.
As he sat opposite to Barbara for the first time, she could not avert her eyes from him and, with both his hands clasped in hers, she let him tell her of his journey to Brussels and his efforts to find her in the great city. Meanwhile she scarcely heeded the purport of his words; it was enough to feel the influence exerted by the tone of his voice, and to be reminded by his features and his every gesture of something once dear to her.
He appeared like the living embodiment of the first beautiful days of her youth, and her whole soul was full of gratitude that he had sought her; while he, too, had the same experience, though his former passion had long since changed into a totally different feeling. He thought her beautiful, but her permitting their hands to remain clasped so long now agitated him no more than if she had been a dear, long-absent sister.
When Barbara was told who awaited her in the sitting roam and, with flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes, clad in a light morning gown which was very becoming to her, had hastened to greet him, his heart had indeed throbbed faster, and it seemed as though an unexpected Easter morning awaited the old buried love; but she had scarcely uttered his name and exchanged a few words of greeting in a voice which, though no longer hoarse, still lacked melody, than the flood of newly awakened emotions swiftly ebbed again.
She was still only half the Wawerl of former days, whose musical voice had helped to make her the queen of his heart. So he had soon regained the calmness which, in Spain and on the journey here, he had expected to test at their meeting. Even the last trace of a deeper emotion passed away when she told him of her husband, her children, and her gray-haired father in Ratisbon, for the hasty, almost reluctant manner with which this was done perplexed and displeased him. True, he could not know that from the first moment of their meeting her one desire had been to obtain news of her stolen son. Everything else appeared trivial in comparison. And what constraint she was forced to impose upon herself when, not hearing her cautious introductory question, he told her about Villagarcia, his peerless mistress, Doha Magdalena de Ulloa, and his musical success! Not until he said that during the winter he would be occupied in training the boy choir at Valladolid did she approach her goal by inquiring about the welfare of the violinist Massi.
Both he and his family were in excellent health, Wolf replied. Rest in his little house at Leganes seemed to have fairly rejuvenated him.
Now Barbara herself mentioned the boy whom Massi had taken to Spain in the train of the Infant Don Philip.
How this affected Wolf!
He started, not only in surprise, but in actual alarm, and eagerly demanded to know who had spoken to her about this child in connection with the violinist.
Barbara now said truthfully that she had seen Massi with her own eyes in the Infant's train. So beautiful a boy is not easily forgotten, and she would be glad to hear news of him.
Wolf, however, seemed reluctant to talk of this child. True, he hastily remarked, he sometimes visited him at the request of his gracious mistress, but he had no more knowledge of his real origin than she or Dona Magdalena de Ulloa. The latter supposed the boy to be her husband's child, and in her generosity therefore interested herself doubly in the forsaken boy, though only at a distance and through his mediation; for his own part, he could never believe the fair-haired, pink-and-white Geronimo to be a son of the dark-skinned, black-eyed Don Luis. True, the stony silence which the major-domo maintained toward all questions concerning the lad would neither permit him to soothe his wife nor confirm her fear. At any rate, Geronimo must be the son of some great noble. This was perfectly apparent from his bearing, the symmetry of his limbs, his frank, imperious nature—nay, from every movement of this remarkable child.