Barbara Blomberg
by Georg Ebers
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

It was Barbara's husband who told her of the loss which had befallen her and the world. He did this with the utmost consideration, fearing the effect of this agitating news upon his wife; but Barbara only turned pale, and then, with tears glittering in her eyes, said softly, "He, too, was only a mortal man."

Then she withdrew to her own room, and even on the following day saw neither her husband nor her children. She had long expected Charles's death, yet it pierced the inmost depths of her being.

This sorrow was something sacred, which belonged to her and to her alone. It would have seemed a profanation to reveal it to her unloved husband, and she found strength to shut it within herself.

How desolate her heart seemed! It had lost its most distinguished object of love or hate.

Through long days she devoted herself in quiet seclusion to the memory of the dead, but soon her active imagination unfolded its wings again, and with the new grief mingled faint hopes for the boy in Spain, which increased to lofty anticipations and torturing anxiety.

The imperial father was dead. What now awaited the omnipotent ruler's son?

How had Charles determined his fate?

Was it possible that he still intended him for the monastic life, now that he had become acquainted with his talents and tastes?

Since Barbara had learned that her son had won his father's heart, and that the Emperor, as it were, had made him his own with a kiss, she had grown confident in the hope that Charles would bestow upon him the grandeur, honours, and splendour which she had anticipated when she resigned him at Landshut, and to which his birth gave him a claim. But her early experience that what she expected with specially joyful security rarely happened,—constantly forced upon her mind the, fear that the dead man's will would consign John to the cloister.

So the next weeks passed in a constant alternation of oppressive fears and aspiring hopes, the nights in torturing terrors.

All the women of the upper classes wore mourning, and with double reason; for, soon after the news of the Emperor's death reached Brussels, King Philip's second wife, Mary Tudor, of England, also died. Therefore no one noticed that Barbara wore widow's weeds, and she was glad that she could do so without wounding Pyramus.

A part of the elaborate funeral rites which King Philip arranged in Brussels during the latter part of December in honour of his dead father was the procession which afforded the authorities of the Brabant capital an opportunity to display the inventive faculty, the love of splendour, the learning, and the wit which, as members of flourishing literary societies, they constantly exercised. In the pageant was a ship with black sails, at whose keel, mast, and helm stood Hope with her anchor, Faith with her chalice, and Love with the burning heart. Other similar scenic pieces made the sincerity of the grief for the dead questionable, and yet many real tears were shed for him. True, the wind which swelled the sails of the sable ship bore also many an accusation and curse; among the spectators of the procession there were only too many whose mourning robes were worn not for the dead monarch, but their own nearest relatives, whom his pitiless edicts had given to the executioner as readers of the Bible or heterodox.

These displays, so pleasing to the people of her time and her new home, were by no means great or magnificent enough for Barbara. Even the most superb show seemed to her too trivial for this dead man.

She was never absent from any mass for the repose of his soul, and she not only took part outwardly in the sacred ceremony, but followed it with fervent devotion. As a transfigured spirit, he would perceive how she had once hated him; but he should also see how tenderly she still loved him.

Now that he was dead, it would be proved in what way he had remembered the son whom, in his solitude, he had learned to love, what life path John had been assigned by his father.

But longingly as Barbara thought of Spain and of her boy, often as she went to the Dubois house and to the regent's home to obtain news, nothing could be heard of her child.

Many provisions of the imperial will were known, but there was no mention of her son. Yet Charles could not have forgotten him, and Adrian protested that it would soon appear that he had not omitted him in his last will, and this was done in a manner which indicated that he knew more than he would or could confess.

All this increased Barbara's impatience to the highest degree, and induced her to watch and question with twofold zeal. On no account would she have left the capital during this period of decision, and, though her husband earnestly entreated her to go to the springs, whose waters had proved so beneficial, she remained in Brussels.

In August she saw King Philip set out for Spain, and Margaret of Parma, her son's sister, assume the government of the Netherlands as regent.

On various occasions she succeeded in obtaining a near view of the stately-lady, with her clever; kindly and, spite of the famous down on her upper lip, by no means unlovely features, and her attractive appearance gave Barbara courage to request an audience, in order to learn from her something about her child. But the effort was vain, for the duchess had had no news of the existence of a second son of her father; and this time it was Granvelle who prevented the regent from receiving the woman who would probably have spoken to her of the boy concerning whose fate King Philip had yet reached no determination.

Barbara spent the month of October in depression caused by this fresh disappointment, but it, too, passed without bringing her any satisfaction.

It seemed almost foolish to lull herself further with ambitious expectations, but the hope a mother's heart cherishes for her child does not die until its last throb; and if the Emperor Charles's will did not give her John his rights, then the gracious Virgin would secure them, if necessary, by a miracle.

Her faithful clinging to hope was rewarded, for when one day, with drooping head, she returned home from another futile errand, she found Hannibal Melas there, as bearer of important news.

The Emperor's last will had a codicil, which concerned a son of his Majesty; but, a few days before his end, Charles had also remembered Barbara, and commissioned Ogier Bodart, Adrian's successor, to buy a life annuity for her in Brussels. Hannibal had learned all this from secret despatches received by Granvelle the day before. Informing her of their contents might cost him his place; but how often she had entreated him to think of her if any news came from Valladolid of a boy named Geronimo or John, and how much kindness she had showed him when he was only a poor choir boy!

At last, at last the most ardent desire of the mother's heart was to be fulfilled. She saw in the codicil the bridge which would lead her son to splendour and magnificence, and up to the last hour of his life the Emperor Charles had also remembered her.

She felt not only relieved of a burden, but as if borne on wings. Which of these two pieces of news rendered her the happier, she could not have determined. Yet she did not once think of the addition to her income. What was that in comparison to the certainty that to the last Charles did not forget her!

It made her husband happy to see her sunny cheerfulness. Never had she played and romped with the children in such almost extravagant mirth. Nay, more! For the first time the officer's modest house echoed with the singing of its mistress.

Though her voice was no longer so free from sharpness and harshness as in the old days, it by no means jarred upon the ear; nay, every tone revealed its admirable training. She had broken the long silence with Josquin's motet, "Quia amore langueo," and in her quiet chamber dedicated it, as it were, to the man to whom this cry of longing had been so dear. Then, in memory of and gratitude to him, other religious songs which he had liked to hear echoed from her lips.

The little German ballads which she afterward sang, to the delight of her boys, deeply moved her husband's heart, and she herself found that it was no insult to art when, with the voice that she now possessed, she again devoted herself to the pleasure of singing.

If the codicil brought her son what she desired, she could once more, if her voice lost the sharpness which still clung to it, serve her beloved art as a not wholly unworthy priestess, and then, perchance, she would again possess the right, so long relinquished, of calling herself happy.

She would go the next day to Appenzelder, who always greeted her kindly when they met in the street, and ask his advice.

If only Wolf had been there!

He understood how to manage women's voices also, and could have given her the best directions how to deal with the new singing exercises.

It seemed as though in these days not one of her wishes remained unfulfilled, for the very next afternoon, just as she was dressing to call upon the leader of the boy choir, the servant announced a stranger.

A glad presentiment hurried her into the vestibule, and there stood Sir Wolf Hartschwert in person, an aristocratic cavalier in his black Spanish court costume. He had become a man indeed, and his appearance did not even lack the "sosiego," the calm dignity of the Castilian noble, which gave Don Louis Quijada so distinguished an appearance.

True, his greeting was more eager and cordial than the genuine "sosiego"—which means "repose"—would have permitted. Even the manner in which Wolf expressed his pleasure in the new melody of Barbara's voice, and whispered an entreaty to send the children and Frau Lamperi—who came to greet him—away for a short time, was anything but patient.

What had he in view?

Yet it must be something good.

When the light shone through her flower-decked window upon his face, she thought she perceived this by the smile hovering around his lips. She was not mistaken, nor did she wait long for the joyous tidings she expected; his desire to tell her what, with the exception of the regent—to whom his travelling companion, the Grand Prior Don Luis de Avila, was perhaps just telling it as King Philip's envoy—no human being in the Netherlands could yet know, was perhaps not much less than hers to hear it.

Scarcely an hour before he had dismounted in Brussels with the nobleman, and his first visit was to her, whom his news must render happy, even happier than it did him and the woman in the house near the palace, whose heart cherished the Emperor's son scarcely less warmly than his own mother's.

On the long journey hither he had constantly anticipated the pleasure of telling every incident in succession, just as it had happened; but Barbara interrupted his first sentence with an inquiry how her John was faring.

"He is so well that scarcely ever has any boy in the happiest time of his life fared better," was the reply; and its purport, as well as the tone in which it was uttered, entered Barbara's heart like angels' greetings from the wide-open heavens. But Wolf went on with his report, and when, in spite of hundreds of questions, he at last completed the main points, his listener staggered, as if overcome by wine, to the image of the Virgin on the pilaster, and with uplifted hands threw herself on her knees before it.

Wolf, unobserved, silently stole away.


The following afternoon Wolf sought Barbara again, and now for the first time succeeded in relating regularly and clearly what, constantly interrupted by her impatience, he had told in a confused medley the day before. Pyramus, as usual, was away, and Barbara had taken care that no one should interrupt them.

Deep silence pervaded the comfortable room, and Wolf had seated himself in the arm-chair opposite to the young wife when, at her entreaty, he began to tell the story again. She had informed him of Dona Magdalena's letter, and that it took her to the Emperor's residence in San Yuste. At that point her friend's fresh tidings began.

In the spring of the previous year Wolf had again been summoned from Valladolid, where in the winter he directed the church singing as prinnen of the religious music, to Cuacos, near San Yuste, where Quijada's wife lived with her foster-son Geronimo. From there he had often gone with Dona Magdalena and the boy to the Emperor's residence, and frequently saw him.

The account given in the letter written by Quijada's wife also applied to the last months of the imperial recluse's existence. Doubtless he sometimes devoted himself to pious exercises and quiet meditation, but he was usually busied with political affairs and the reading and dictating of despatches. Even at that time he received many visitors. When Geronimo came from Cuacos, he was permitted to go in and out of his apartments freely, and the Emperor even seemed to prefer him to Don Carlos, his grandson, King Philip's only son, who was destined to become the head of his house; at least, Charles's conduct favoured this opinion.

On his return to Spain he had made his grandson's acquaintance in Valladolid.

He was a boy who had well-formed, somewhat sickly features, and a fragile body. Of course the grandfather felt the deepest interest in him, and the influence of the famous victor in so many battles upon the twelve-year-old lad was a most beneficial one.

But Charles had scarcely left Valladolid when the passionate boy's extremely dangerous tastes burst forth with renewed violence. The recluse student of human nature had probably perceived them, for when his tutor, and especially the young evildoer's aunt, Juana, the Emperor Charles's daughter, earnestly entreated him to let the grandson, whose presence would disturb him very little, come to San Yuste, because his influence over Don Carlos would be of priceless value, the grandfather most positively refused the request.

On the other hand, the Emperor had not only tolerated his son Geronimo near him, but rejoiced in his presence, for the quiet sufferer's eyes had sparkled when he saw him. Wolf himself had often witnessed this delightful sight.

How Barbara's heart swelled, how eagerly she listened, as Wolf described how well founded was his Majesty's affection for this beautiful, extremely lovable, docile, true-hearted, and, moreover, frank, boy!

True, he showed as yet little taste for knowledge and all that can be learned from books; but he devoted himself with fiery zeal to the knightly exercises which since his Majesty's death Quijada himself was directing, and in which he promised to become a master. Besides, by appealing to his ambition, he could be induced to put forth all his powers, and, if his teachers aimed at what they studiously omitted, it would not be difficult to make a scholar of him.

He had not remained unnoticed by any of the great lords who had sought the Emperor in Sal Yuste and met him. The Venetian ambassador Bodoaro, had asked the name of the splendid young noble.

Even when Death was already stretching hi hand toward the Emperor, he was still overburdened with business, and the heretical agitation which was discovered at that time in Spain had caused him much sorrow, especially as men and women whom he knew personally, belonging to the distinguished families of Posa and De Rojas, has taken part in it.

The monarch's end came more quickly than was expected. He had been unable to attend the auto-da-fe at which the heretics were committed to the flames. He would have done so gladly, and after this mournful experience even regretted that he had granted the German misleader, Luther, the safe conduct promised.

Before a fatal weakness suddenly attacked him his health had been rather better than before; then his voice failed, and Quijada was compelled to kneel beside his bed that he might understand what he wished to impress upon him. While doing so, the dying man had expressed the desire that Don Luis would commend Geronimo to the love of his son Philip.

He had also remembered the love of better days, and when Barbara insisted upon learning what he had said of her, Wolf, who had heard it from Don Luis, did not withhold it.

He had complained of her perverse nature. Had she obediently gone to the convent, he might have spared himself and her the sorrow of holding her so rigidly aloof from his person. Finally, he had spoken of her singing with rapturous delight. At night the "Quia amore langueo" from the Mary motet had echoed softly from his lips, and when he perceived that Don Luis had heard him, he murmured that this peerless cry of longing, reminded him not of the earthly but the heavenly love.

At these words Barbara hid her face in her hands, and Wolf paused until she had controlled the sobs which shook her breast.

Then he went on, she listening devoutly with wet eyes and clasped hands.

The Archbishop of Toledo was summoned, and predicted that Charles would die on the day after to-morrow, St. Matthew's day. He was born on St. Matthias's day, and he would depart from life on St. Matthew's,—[September 12, 1558]—Matthias's brother and fellow-disciple.

So it was, and Barbara remembered that his son and hers had also seen the light of the world on St. Matthias's day.

Charles's death-agony was severe. When Dr. Mathys at last said softly to those who were present, "Jam moritur,"—[Now he is dying]—the loud cry "Jesus!" escaped his lips, and he sank back upon the pillows lifeless.

Here Wolf was again obliged to give his weeping friend time to calm herself.

What he now had to relate—both knew it—was well suited to transform the tears which Barbara was shedding in memory of the beloved dead to tears of joy.

While she was wiping her eyes, Wolf described the great anxiety which, after Charles's death, overpowered the Quijadas in Villagarcia.

The codicil had existed, and Don Luis was familiar with its contents. But how would King Philip take it?

Dona Magdalena knew not what to do with herself in her anxiety.

The immediate future must decide Geronimo's fate, so she went on a pilgrimage with her darling to the Madonna of Guadelupe to pray for the repose of the Emperor's soul, and also to beseech the gracious Virgin mercifully to remember him, Geronimo.

Until that time the boy had believed Don Luis and his wife to be his parents, and had loved Dona Magdalena like the most affectionate son.

He had not even the slightest suspicion that he was a child of the Emperor, and was perfectly satisfied with the lot of being the son of a grandee and the child of so good, tender, and beautiful a mother.

This exciting expectation on the part of the Quijadas lasted nearly a whole year, for it was that length of time before Don Philip finally left the Netherlands and reached Valladolid.

He spent the anniversary of his father's death in the monastery of Del Abrojo.

There, or previously, he had read the codicil in which his imperial father acknowledged the boy Geronimo as his son.

Barbara now desired to learn the contents of the codicil and, as Wolf had told her yesterday how the boy's fate had changed, he interrupted his narrative and obeyed her wish.

As a widower, Charles confessed that he had had a son in Germany by an unmarried woman. He had reason to wish that the boy should assume the robe of a reformed order, but he must be neither forced nor persuaded to do so. If he wished to remain in the world, he would settle upon him a yearly income of from twenty to thirty thousand ducats, which was to pass also to his heirs. Whatever mode of life he might choose, he commanded his son Philip to honour him and treat him with due respect.

As on the day before, when Barbara had only learned in general terms what the codicil contained, her soul to-day, while listening to the more minute particulars, was filled with grateful joy.

Her sacrifice had not been vain. For years the fear of seeing her son vanish in a monastery had darkened her days and nights, and Quijada and Dona Magdalena had also probably dreaded that King Philip might confide his half-brother to a reformed order, for the monarch had by no means hastened to inform the anxious pair what he had determined.

It was not until the end of September that, upon the pretext of hunting, he went to the monastery of San Pedro de la Espina, a league from Villagarcia, and ordered Don Luis to seek him there with the boy. He was to leave the latter wholly unembarrassed, and not even inform him that the gentleman whom he would meet was the King.

His decision, he had added in the chilling manner characteristic of him, would depend upon circumstances.

Quijada, with a throbbing heart, obeyed, but Geronimo had no suspicion of what awaited him, and only wondered why his mother took so much trouble about his dress, since they were merely going hunting. The tears glittering in her eyes he attributed to the anxiety which she often expressed when he rode with the hunters on the fiery young Andalusian which his father had given him. He was then twelve years and a half old, but might easily have been taken for fourteen.

"It was a splendid sight," Wolf went on, "as the erect figure of the dark Don Luis, on his powerful black stallion, galloped beside the fair, handsome boy with his white skin and blue eyes, who managed his spirited dun horse so firmly and joyously.

"Dona Magdalena and I followed them on our quiet bays. Her lips moved constantly, and her right hand never stirred from the rosary at her belt while we were riding along the woodland paths.

"To soothe her, I began to talk about the pieces of music which his Majesty had brought from Brussels, but she did not hear me. So I remained silent until the monastery glimmered through the trees. The blood left her cheeks, for at the same moment the thought came to us both that King Philip was taking him to the monks.

"But we had scarcely time to confide what we feared to each other ere the blast of horns echoed from the forest.

"Then, to calm the anxious mother's heart, I remarked, 'His Majesty would not have the horns sounded in that way if he were taking the pious brothers a new companion,' and Dona Magdalena's wan cheeks again flushed slightly.

"The forest is cleared in front of the monastery, but it surrounds on all sides the open glade amid whose grass the meadow saffron was then growing thickly.

"I can still see Geronimo as he swung himself from the saddle to gather some of the flowers. His mother needed them as medicine for a poor woman in the village.

"We stopped behind the last trees, where we had a good view of the glade. Don Luis left the boy to himself for a time; but when the blast of horns and the baying of the hounds sounded nearer, he ordered him, in the commanding tone he used in teaching him to ride, to remount.

"Geronimo laughed, thrust the flowers hastily into his saddlebag, and with a bold leap vaulted on his horse's back.

"A few minutes after, the King rode out of the forest.

"He was mounted on a noble bay hunting charber, and wore a huntsman's dress.

"No rider can hold a slender figure more erect.

"His haughty head, with the fair, pointed beard, was carried slightly thrown back, which gave him an especially arrogant appearance.

"When he saw Quijada, he raised his riding-whip with a significant gesture to his lips. We, too, understood what it meant, and Don Luis knew him far better than we.

"He greeted the King without the least constraint, as if he were merely a friend of noble birth, then beckoned to Geronimo, and the introduction was only the brief words, 'My son' and 'The Count of Flanders.'

"The boy raised his little plumed hat with frank courtesy and, while bowing in the saddle, forced his dun horse to approach the King sideways. It was no easy matter, and seemed to please his Majesty, for a smile of satisfaction flitted over his cold features, and we heard him exclaim to Quijada, 'A horseman, and, if the saints so will, a knight well pleasing to Heaven.'

"What more he said to the boy we learned later. The words which by the movement of his lips we saw that he added to the exclamation were, 'Unless our noble young friend prefers to consecrate himself in humility to the service of the highest of all Masters.'

"He had pointed to the monastery as he spoke. Geronimo did not delay his reply, but, crossing himself, answered quickly:

"'I wish to be a faithful servant of our Lord Jesus Christ, but only in the world, fighting against his foes.'

"Philip nodded so eagerly that his stiff white ruff was pushed awry, and then, with patronizing approval, added: 'So every nobleman ought to think. You, my young friend, saw a short time ago at the auto-da-fe in Valladolid how a considerable number of Spanish gentlemen of the noblest blood expiated at the stake the mortal sin of heresy. A severe punishment, and a terrible end! Would you perhaps have preferred to see his Majesty's mercy grant them their lives?'

"'On no account, my Lord Count,' cried Geronimo eagerly. 'There is no mercy for the heretic.'

"His Majesty now summoned the two knights who attended him and, while one held his horse, he dismounted.

"At a sign from Quijada, Geronimo now also sprang to the ground, and gazed wonderingly at the stranger, whom, on account of his fair beard, he supposed to be a Netherland noble; but Dona Magdalena could bear to remain under the trees no longer, and I followed her to the edge of the meadow. The King advanced toward the boy, and stood before him with so proud and dignified a bearing that one might have supposed his short figure had grown two heads taller.

"Geronimo must have felt that some very distinguished personage confronted him, and that something great awaited him, for he involuntarily raised his hat again. His wavy golden locks now fell unconfined around his head, his cheeks glowed, and his large blue eyes gazed questioningly and with deep perplexity into the stranger's face as he said slowly, with significant emphasis: 'I am not the man whom you suppose. Who, boy, do you think that I might be?'

"'Geronimo turned pale; only one head could be lifted with so haughty a majesty, and suddenly remembering the face which he had seen upon many a coin, sure that he was right, he bent the knee with modest grace, saying, 'Our sovereign lord, his Majesty King Philip''

"'I am he,' was the reply. 'But to you, dear boy, I am still more.'

"'As he spoke he gave him his hand, and, when Geronimo rose, he said, pointing to his breast: 'Your place is here, my boy; for the Emperor Charles, who is now enjoying the bliss of heaven, was your father as well as mine, and you, lad, are my brother.'

"Then passing his arm around his shoulders, he drew him gently toward him, lightly imprinting a kiss upon his brow and cheeks; but Geronimo, deeply moved, pressed his fresh red lips to his royal brother's right hand. Yet he had scarcely raised his head again when he started, and in an agitated tone asked, 'And Don Luis—and my dear mother?'

"'Continue to love and honour them,' replied the King.—'Explain the rest to him, Don Luis. But keep what has happened here secret for the present. I will present him myself to our people as my brother. He received in holy baptism the name of John, which in Castilian is Juan. Let him keep it.—Give me your hand again, Don Juan d'Austria.—[Don John of Austria]—A proud name! Do it honour.'

"He turned away as he spoke, mounted with the aid of one of his knights, waved his hand graciously to Quijada and, while his horse was already moving, called to him, 'My brother, Don Juan, will be addressed as your Excellency.'

"He took no notice of Dona Magdalena, probably because she had appeared here either without or against his orders, and thus offended one of the forms of etiquette on which he placed so much value. So his Majesty neither saw nor heard how the son of an Emperor and the brother of a King rushed up to his foster-mother, threw himself into her outstretched arms, and exclaimed with warm affection, 'Mother! my dear, dear mother!'"

Barbara had listened weeping to this description, but the last sentence dried her tears and, like Frau Traut a short time ago, her friend regretted that he had not exercised greater caution as he heard her, still sobbing, but with an angry shrug of the shoulders, repeat the exclamation which her son—ay, her son only—had poured forth from his overflowing heart to another woman.

So Wolf did not tell her what he had witnessed in Villagarcia, when Don Juan and Dona Magdalena had fallen into each other's arms, and that when he asked about his real mother the lady answered that she was an unfortunate woman who must remain away from him, but for whom it would be his duty to provide generously.

Directly after, on the second day of October, Wolf added, the King had presented her son to the court as his Excellency, his brother Don John of Austria!

He, Wolf, had set off for Brussels with the grand prior that very day, and, as his ship sailed from Spain before any other, he had succeeded in being the first to bring this joyful news to the Netherlands and to her.

When Wolf left Barbara, it seemed as though what had hitherto appeared a bewildering, happy dream had now for the first time been confirmed. The lofty goal she had striven to reach, and of which she had never lost sight, was now gained; but a bitter drop of wormwood mingled with the happiness that filled her grateful heart to overflowing. Another woman had forced herself into her place and robbed her of the boy's love, which belonged to her and, after his father's death, to her alone.

Every thought of the much-praised Dona Magdalena stirred her blood. How cruel had been the anguish and fears which she had endured for this child she alone could know; but the other enjoyed every pleasure that the possession of so highly gifted a young creature could afford. She could say to herself that, of all sins, the one farthest from her nature was envy; but what she felt toward this stealer of love fatally resembled sharp, gnawing ill will.

Yet the bright sense of happiness which pervaded her whole being rendered it easy for her to thrust the image of the unloved woman far into the shade, and the next morning became a glorious festival for her; she used it to pay a visit to the Dubois couple, and when she told them what she had heard from Wolf, and saw Frau Traut sob aloud in her joy and Adrian wipe tears of grateful emotion from his aged eyes, her own happiness was doubled by the others' sympathy.

Barbara had anticipated Wolf, but while going home she met him on his way to the Dubois house. He joined her, and still had many questions to answer.

During the next few days her friend helped her compose a letter to her son; but he was constantly obliged to impose moderation upon the passionate vehemence of her feelings. She often yielded to his superior prudence, only she would not fulfil his desire to address her boy as "your Excellency."

When she read the letter, she thought she had found the right course.

Barbara first introduced herself to John as his real mother. She had loved and honoured his great father with all the strength of her soul, and she might boast of having been clear to him also. By the Emperor Charles's command he, her beloved child, had been taken from her. She had submitted with a bleeding heart and, to place him in the path of fortune, had inflicted the deepest wounds upon her own soul. Now her self-sacrifice was richly rewarded, and it would make her happier than himself if she should learn that his own merit had led him to the height of fame which she prayed that he might reach.

Then she congratulated him, and begged him not to forget her entirely amid his grandeur. She was only a plain woman, but she, too, belonged to an ancient knightly race, and therefore he need not be ashamed of his mother's blood.

Lastly, at Wolf's desire, she requested her son to thank the lady who so lovingly filled her place to him.

Her friend was to give this letter himself to Don John of Austria, and he voluntarily promised to lead the high-minded boy to the belief that his own mother had also been worthy of an Emperor's love.

Lastly, Wolf promised to inform her of any important event in her son's life or his own. During the last hour of their meeting he admitted that he was one of the few who felt satisfied with their lot. True, he could not say that he had no wishes; but up to this hour he had desired nothing more constantly and longingly than to hear her sing once more, as in that never-to-be-forgotten May in the Ratisbon home. He might now hope, sooner or later, to have this wish, too, fulfilled. These were kind, cheering words, and with a grateful ebullition of feeling she admitted that, after his glad tidings, she, too, again felt capable of believing in a happy future.

So the friends from childhood bade each other farewell.


During the following days Barbara's life path was illumined by the reflection of the happiness bestowed by the wonderful change in the fate of her child of sorrow, who now promised to become a giver of joy to her.

Doubtless during the ensuing years many dark shadows fell upon her existence and her heart; but when everything around and within was gloomy, she only needed to think of the son whom she had given the Emperor, and the constantly increasing brilliancy of his career, to raise her head with fresh confidence. Yet the cloud obscuring her happiness which she found it hardest to bear proceeded directly from him.

He had probably mentioned her to his royal brother, and revenues had been granted her far exceeding poor Wawerl's dreams, and doubtless a reflection of the admiration which her son earned fell upon her, and her pride was greatly increased. Moreover, she could again devote herself without fear to her ardently beloved art, for even honest old Appenzelder declared that he liked to listen to her, though her voice still lacked much of the overpowering magic of former days. She was in a position, too, to gratify many a taste for whose satisfaction she had often yearned, yet she could not attain a genuine and thorough new sense of happiness.

The weeks which, a few years after her John's recognition, she spent with self-sacrificing devotion beside her husband's couch of pain, which was to become his deathbed, passed amid anxiety and grief, and when her affectionate, careful nursing proved vain, and Pyramus died, deep and sincere sorrow overpowered her. True, he had not succeeded in winning her to return his tender love; but after he had closed his eyes she realized for the first time what a wealth of goodness and fidelity was buried with him and lost to her forever.

Her youngest boy, soon after his father's death, was torn from her by falling into a cistern, and she yielded herself to such passionate grief for his loss that she thought she could never conquer it; but it was soon soothed by the belief that, for the sake of this devout child, whose training for a religious life had already commenced, Heaven had resigned its claims upon John, and that the boy was dwelling in the immediate presence of the Queen of Heaven.

Thus, ere she was aware of it, her burning anguish changed into a cheerful remembrance. Earlier still—more than two years after Wolf's departure—tidings closely associated with the sorrow inflicted through her John had saddened her. The ship which was to bear the loyal companion of her youth to Spain was wrecked just before the end of the voyage, and Wolf went down with it. Barbara learned the news only by accident, and his death first made her realize with full distinctness how dear he had been to her.

The letter which she had addressed to her son was lost with the man in whom Fate had wrested from her the last friend who would have been able and willing to show her John clearly and kindly a correct picture of his mother's real character.

For two years she had hoped that Wolf would complete her letter in his own person, and tell her son how her voice and her beauty had won his father's heart. Quijada had known it; but if he spoke of her to his wife and foster-son, it was scarcely in her favour—he cared little for music and singing.

So the loss of this letter seemed to her, with reason, a severe misfortune. What she now wrote to John could hardly exert much influence upon him. Yet she did write, this time with the aid of Hannibal. But the new letter, which began with thanks for the financial aid which the son had conferred upon his mother through his royal brother, was distasteful both to her pride and her maternal affection. Half prosaic, half far too effusive, it gave a distorted idea of her real feelings, and she tore it up before giving it to the messenger.

Yet she did not cease to hope that, in some favourable hour, the heart of the idol of her soul would urge him to approach his mother; but year after year elapsed without bringing her even the slightest token of his remembrance, and this omission was the bitter drop that spoiled the happiness which, after the death of her youngest boy, was clouded by no outward event.

When at last she addressed herself to John in a third letter, which this time she dictated to Hannibal as her heart prompted, she received an answer, it is true, though not from him, but from Dona Magdalena.

In kind words this lady urged her not to write to "her"—Dona Magdalena's—son in future. She had taught him to think of the woman who bore him with fitting respect, but it would be impossible for him to maintain the relation with her. She must spare her the explanation of the reasons which made this appear to be an obstacle to his career. Don John would prove in the future, by his care for her prosperity and comfort, that he did not forget her. She had no right, it is true, to counsel her; but when she transported herself into the soul of the woman who had enjoyed the love of the Emperor Charles, and on whom Heaven had bestowed a son like John of Austria, she felt sure that this woman would act wisely and promote her real welfare if she preferred communion with her Saviour, in the quiet of a cloister, to the bustle of life amid surroundings which certainly were far too humble for her.

Barbara felt wounded to the inmost depths of her being by this letter. Had the officious adviser, who had certainly despatched the reply without her son's knowledge, been within her reach, she would have showed her how little inclination she felt to be patronized by the person who, after alienating the son's heart from his mother, even presumed to dictate to her to rob herself of her last claim upon his regard.

True, in one respect she agreed with the writer of the letter.

Precisely because it appeared as if Heaven had accepted her sacrifice and the grandeur for which she had made it seemed to be awaiting her son, she ought to attempt nothing that might impede his climbing to the height, and her open connection with him might easily have placed stones in his path. His elevation depended upon King Philip, whose boundless pride had gazed at her from his chilling face.

So she resolved to make no more advances to her child until the day came—and a voice within told her that come it must—when he himself longed for his own mother. Meanwhile she would be content with the joy of watching his brilliant course from the distance.

The miracles which she had anticipated and prayed for in his behalf were accomplished. First, she heard that Count Ribadavia's splendid palace would be prepared for her son, that the sons of noble families would be assigned to attend him, and that a body-guard of Spaniards and Germans and a train of his own were at his command.

Then she learned in what a remarkable manner Elizabeth of Valois, the King's new wife, favoured the lad of thirteen. At the taking of the oath by which the Cortes recognised Don Carlos as the heir to the throne, John had been summoned directly after the Infant as the first person entitled to homage.

Next, she learned that he had entered the famous University of Alcala de Henares.

And his classmates and friends? They were no less important personages than Don Carlos himself and Alessandro Farnese, John's nephew, the son of that Ottavio at whose admission as Knight of the Golden Fleece Barbara had made at Landshut the most difficult resolution of her life.

He was said to share everything with these distinguished companions, and to be himself the handsomest and most attractive of the illustrious trio. He was particularly inseparable from Alessandro, the son of the woman now ruling as regent in Brussels, who was John's sister.

What reply would he have made to this illustrious scion of one of the most ancient and noble royal races if a letter from her had reached him, and the duke's son had asked, "Who is this Frau Barbara Blomberg?" or, as she now signed herself, "Madame de Blomberg"?

The answer must have been: "My mother."

Oh, no, no, never!

It would have been cruel to expect this from him; never would she place her beloved child, her pride, her joy, in so embarrassing a position.

Besides, though she could only watch him from a distance, thanks to his generosity or his brother's, she could lead a pleasant life. To sun herself in his glory, too, was sufficiently cheering, and must satisfy her.

He spent three years at the University of Aleala, and nothing but good news of him reached her. Then she received tidings which gave her special joy, for one of the wishes she had formed in Landshut was fulfilled. He had been made a Knight of the Golden Fleece, and how becoming the jewel on the red ribbon must be to the youth of one-and-twenty! How many of her acquaintances belonging to the partisans of the King and Spain came to congratulate her upon it! Because John had become Spanish, and risen in Spain to the position which she desired for him, she wished to become so, and studied the Spanish language with the zeal and industry of a young girl. She succeeded in gaining more and more knowledge of it, and, finally, through intercourse with Spaniards, in mastering it completely.

At that time the prospects for her party were certainly gloomy; the heretical agitation and the boldness of the rebellious enthusiasts for independence and liberty surpassed all bounds.

The King therefore sent the Duke of Alba to the Netherlands to restore order, and, with the twenty thousand men he commanded, make the insurgents feel the resistless power of offended majesty and the angered Church.

Barbara and her friends greeted the stern duke as a noble champion of the faith, who was resolved to do his utmost. The new bishoprics, which by Granvelle's advice had been established, the foreign soldiers, and the Spanish Inquisition, which pursued the heretics with inexorable harshness, had roused the populace to unprecedented turmoil, and induced them to resist the leading nobles, who were indebted to the King for great favours, to the intense wrath of these aristocrats and the partisans of Spain.

Barbara, with all her party, had welcomed the new bishoprics as an arrangement which promised many blessings, and the foreign troops seemed to her necessary to maintain order in the rebellious Netherlands. The cruelty of the Inquisition was only intended to enforce respect for the edicts which the Emperor Charles, in his infallible wisdom, had issued, and the hatred which the nobles, especially, displayed against Granvelle, Barbara's kind patron, the greatest statesman of his time and the most loyal servant of his King, seemed to her worthy of the utmost condemnation.

The scorn with which the rebels, after the compromise signed by the highest nobles, had called themselves Geusen, or Beggars, and endangered repose, would have been worthy of the severest punishment. What induced these people to risk money and life for privileges which a wise policy of the government—this was the firm conviction of those who shared Barbara's views—could not possibly grant, was incomprehensible to her, and she watched the course of the rebels with increasing aversion. Did they suppose their well-fed magistrates and solemn States-General, who never looked beyond their own city and country, would govern them better than the far-sighted wisdom of a Granvelle or the vast intellect of a Viglius, which comprised all the knowledge of the world?

What they called their liberties were privileges which a sovereign bestowed. Ought they to wonder if another monarch, whom they had deeply angered, did not regard them as inviolable gifts of God? The quiet comfort of former days had been clouded, nay, destroyed, by these patriots. Peace could be restored only by the King's silencing them. So she wished the Spaniards a speedy success, and detested the efforts of independent minds; above all, of William of Orange, their only too clear-sighted, cautious, devoted leader, also skilled in the arts of dissimulation, in whom she recognised the most dangerous foe of Spanish sovereignty and the unity of the Church.

When, by the Duke of Alba's orders, the Counts Egmont and Horn were executed one June day in the market place of Brussels, opinions, even of members of the Spanish party, were divided, especially as Count Egmont was a Catholic, and had acted finally according to the views of the government.

Barbara sincerely lamented his terrible end, for she had seen in him a brilliant model for her John. In hours of depression, the sudden fall of this favourite of the people seemed like an evil omen. But she would not let these disquieting thoughts gain power over her, for she wished at last to enjoy life and, as the mother of such a son, felt entitled to do so.

She regarded this cruel deed of Alba as a false step at any rate, for, though she kept so far aloof from the Netherland burghers and common people, she perceived what deep indignation this measure aroused.

Meanwhile the Prince of Orange, the spirit and soul of this execrable rebellion, had escaped the sentence of the court.

Nevertheless, she regarded Alba with great admiration, for he was a man of ability, whom the Emperor Charles had held in high esteem. Besides, after her husband's death the haughty noble had been courteous enough to assure her of his sympathy.

Moreover, a time was just approaching in which she withdrew too far from this conflict to follow it with full attention, for her son's first deed of heroism became known in Brussels.

The King had appointed John to the command of the fleet, and sent him against the pirates upon the African coast. He could now gather his first laurels, and to do everything in her power for the success of his arms, Barbara spent the greater portion of her time in church, praying devoutly. In September he was greeted in Madrid as a conqueror, but her joy was not unclouded; for the Infant Don Carlos had yielded up his young life in July as a prisoner, and she believed him to be her John's best friend, and lamented his death because she thought that it would grieve her hero son.

But this little cloud soon vanished, and how brilliantly the blue sky arched above her the next year, when she learned that Don John of Austria had received the honourable commission of crushing the rebellion of the infidel Moriscoes in Andalusia! Here her royal son first proved himself a glorious military hero, and his deeds at the siege of Galera and before Seron filled her maternal heart with inexpressible pride. The words which he shouted to his retreating men: "Do you call yourselves Spaniards and not know what honour means? What have you to fear when I am with you?" echoed in her ears like the most beautiful melody which she had ever sting or heard.

Yet a dark shadow fell on these radiant joys also; her John's friend and foster-father, Don Luis Quijada, had been wounded in these battles, and died from his injuries. Barbara felt what deep pain this would cause her distant son, and expressed her sympathy to him in a letter.

But the greatest happiness was still in store for her and for him. On the 7th of October, 1571, the young hero, now twenty-four years old, as commander of the united fleets of Spain, Venice, and the Pope, gained the greatest victory which any Castilian force had ever won over the troops of the infidels.

Instead of the name received at his baptism, and the one which he owed to his brother, that of Victor of Lepanto now adorned him. Not one of all the generals in the world received honours even distantly approaching those lavished upon him. And besides the leonine courage and talent for command which he had displayed, his noble nature was praised with ardent enthusiasm. How he had showed it in the distribution of the booty to the widow of the Turkish high admiral Ali Pasha! This renowned Moslem naval commander had fallen in the battle, and his two sons had been delivered to Don John as prisoners. When the unfortunate mother entreated him to release the boys for a large ransom, he restored one to her love with the companions for whose liberty he had interceded, with a letter containing the words, "It does not beseem me to keep your presents, since my rank and birth require me to give, not to receive."

These noble words were written by Barbara Blomberg's son, the boy to whom she gave birth, and who had now become just what her lofty soul desired.

After the conquest of Cyprus, the Crescent had seriously threatened the Cross in the Mediterranean, and it was Don John who had broken the power of the Turks.

Alas, that her father could not have lived to witness this exploit of his grandson! What a happy man the victory of Lepanto, gained by his "Wawerl's" son, would have made him! How the fearless old champion of the faith would have rejoiced in this grandchild, his deeds, and nature!

And what honours were bestowed upon her John!

King Philip wrote to him, "Next to God, gratitude for what has been accomplished is due to you." A statue was erected to him in Messina. The Pope had used the words of Scripture, "There was a man sent by God, and his name was John." Now, yes, now she was more than rewarded for the sacrifice of Landshut; now the splendour and grandeur for which she had longed and prayed was far, far exceeded.

This time it was gratitude, fervent gratitude, which detained her in church. The child of her love, her suffering, her pride, was now happy, must be happy.

When, two years later, Don John captured Tunis, the exploit could no longer increase his renown.

At this time also happened many things which filled the heart of a woman so closely connected with royalty sometimes with joy, sometimes with anxiety.

In Paris, the night of St. Bartholomew, a year after her son had chastised the Moslems at Lepanto, dealt the French heretics a deep, almost incurable wound, and in the Netherlands there were not gallows enough to hang the misguided fanatics.

Yet this rebellious nation did not cease to cause the King unspeakable difficulties and orthodox Christians sorrow. On the sea the "Beggars" conquered his Majesty's war ships; Haarlem, it is true, had been forced by the Spanish troops to surrender, but what terrible sacrifices the siege had cost where women had taken part in the defence with the courage of men!

And, in spite of everything, Alba's harshness had been futile.

Then Philip recalled him and put in his place the gentle Don Luis de Requesens, who had been governor in Milan. He would willingly have made peace with the people bleeding from a thousand wounds, but how could he concede the toleration of the heretical faith and the withdrawal of the troops on which he relied? And how did the rebels show their gratitude to him for his kindness and good will?

The Beggars destroyed his fleet, and, though the brother of William of Orange had been defeated upon the Mooker-Heide, this by no means disheartened the enraged nation, resolved upon extremes, and their silent but wise and tireless leader.

In Leyden the obstinacy of the foes of the King and the Church showed itself in a way to which even Barbara and her party could not deny a certain degree of admiration. True, the nature of the country aided the rebels like an ally. Mortal warriors could not contend against wind and storm. But he who from without directed the defence here, who had issued the order to break through the dikes, and then with shameful effrontery had founded in the scarcely rescued city a university which was to nurture the spirit of resistance in the minds of the young men, was again the Prince of Orange; and who else than he, his shrewdness and firmness, robbed Requesens of gratitude for his mildness and the success of his honest labours?

But how much easier was the part of the leader of the enemy, who in Brussels had escaped the fate of Egmont, than the King's kindly disposed governor! When Barbara chanced to hear the men of the people talking with each other, and they spoke of "Father William," they meant the Prince of Orange; and with what abuse, both verbally and in handbills, King Philip and the Spanish Government were loaded!

To Barbara, as well as to the members of her party, William of Orange, whom she often heard called the "Antichrist" and "rebel chief," was an object of hatred. Now he frustrated the kind Requesens's attempt at mediation, and it was also his fault that two provinces had publicly revolted from the Holy Church. The Protestant worship of God was now exercised as freely there as in Ratisbon. Like William of Orange, most of the citizens professed the doctrine of Calvin, but there was no lack of Lutherans, and the clergyman whose sermons attracted the largest congregations was Erasmus Eckhart, Barbara's old acquaintance, Dr. Hiltner's foster-son, who during the Emperor Charles's reign had come to the Netherlands as an army chaplain, and, amid great perils, was said to have lured thousands from the Catholic Church. Deeply as her sentiments rebelled, here, too, Barbara had become his preserver; for when the Bloody Council had sentenced him to the gallows, she had succeeded, with great difficulty, through her manifold relations to the heads of the Spanish party, in obtaining his pardon. A grateful letter from Frau Sabina Hiltner had abundantly repaid her for these exertions.

The boldness with which William of Orange, who was himself the most dangerous heretic and rebel, protested that he was willing to grant every one full religious liberty, had no desire to injure the Catholic Church in any way, and was even ready to acknowledge the supremacy of the King, could not fail to enrage every pious Catholic and faithful subject of King Philip.

To spoil a Requesens's game was no difficult task for the man who, though by no means as harmless as the dove, was certainly as wise as the serpent; but that the Duke of Alba, the tried, inflexible commander, had been obliged to yield and retire vanquished before the little, merry, industrious, thoroughly peaceful nation which intrusted itself to the leadership of William of Orange, had been too much for her and, when it happened, seemed like a miracle.

What spirits were aiding the Prince of Orange to resist the King and the power of the Church so successfully? He was in league with hell, her old confessor said, and there were rumours that his Majesty was trying to have the abominable mischief-maker secretly put out of the world. But this would have been unworthy of a King, and Barbara would not believe it.

In the northern provinces the Spanish power was only a shadow, but in the southern ones also hatred of the Spaniards was already bursting into flames, and Requesens was too weak to extinguish them.

The King and Barbara's political friends perceived that Alba's pitiless, murderous severity had injured the cause of the crown and the Church far more than it had benefited them. Personally, he had treated her on the whole kindly, but he had inflicted two offences which were hard to conquer. In the first place, he urged her to leave Brussels and settle in Mons; and, secondly, he had refused to receive her Conrad, who had grown up into a steady, good-looking, but in no respect remarkable young man, in one of his regiments, with the prospect of promotion to the rank of officer.

In both cases she had not remained quiet and, at the second audience which the duke gave her, her hot blood, though it had grown so much cooler, played her a trick, and she became involved in a vehement argument with him. In the course of this he had been compelled to be frank, and she now knew that Alba had persuaded her to change her residence at the King's desire, and why it was done.

She afterward learned from acquaintances that the duke had said one was apt to be the loser in a dispute with her; yet she had yielded, though solely and entirely to benefit her John, but she could not help confessing to herself that her residence in the capital could not be agreeable to him. The highest Spanish officials and military commanders lived there, as well as the ambassadors of foreign powers, and it was not desirable to remind them of the maternal descent of the general who now belonged to the King's family.

The case was somewhat similar, as Alba himself had confessed to her, with regard to her son Conrad's promotion to the rank of an officer; for if he attained that position he might, as the brother of Don John of Austria, make pretensions which threatened to place the hero of Lepanto in a false, nay, perhaps unpleasant position. This, too, she did not desire. But in removing from Brussels she had possibly rendered Don John a greater service than she admitted to herself, for, since her son's brilliant successes had made her happy and her external circumstances had permitted it, she had emerged from the miserable seclusion of former years.

Her dress, too, she now suited to the position which she arrogated to herself. But in doing so she had become a personage who could scarcely be overlooked, and she rarely failed to be present on the very occasions which brought together the most aristocratic Spanish society in Brussels.

So, after a fresh dispute with Alba, in which the victor on many a battlefield was forced to yield, she had obtained his consent to retire to Ghent instead of Mons.

True, the duke would have preferred to induce her to go to Spain, and tried to persuade her to do so by the assurance that the King himself desired to receive her there.

But she had been warned.

Through Hannibal Melas and other members of her own party she had learned that Philip intended, if she came to Spain, to remove her from the eyes of the world by placing her in a convent, and never had she felt less inclination to take the veil.

Her departure from Brussels had done Alba and his functionaries a service, for she had constantly forced herself into the government building to obtain news of her son.

The great and opulent city of Ghent, the birthplace of the Emperor Charles, of which he had once said to Francis I, the King of France, that Paris would go into his glove (Gant), had been chosen by Barbara for several reasons. The principal one was that she would find there several old friends of former days, one of whom, her singing-master Feys, had promised to accept her voice and enable her to serve her art again with full pleasure.

The other was Hannibal Melas, who before Granvelle's fall had been transferred there as one of the higher officials of the government.

She also entered into relations with other heads of the Spanish party, and thus found in Ghent what she sought. The pension allowed her enabled her to hire a pretty house, and to furnish it with a certain degree of splendour. A companion, for whom she selected an elderly unmarried lady who belonged to an impoverished noble family, accompanied her in her walks; a major-domo governed the four men-servants and the maids of the household; Frau Lamperi retained her position as lady's maid; the steward and cook attended to the kitchen and the cellar; and two pages, with a pretty one-horse carriage, lent an air of elegance to her style of living.

For the religious service, which was directed by her own chaplain, she had had a chapel fitted up in the house, according to the Ratisbon fashion. The poor were never turned from her door without alms, and where she encountered great want she often relieved it with a generosity far beyond her means. Under the instruction of Maestro Feys, she eagerly devoted herself to new exercises in singing. Doubtless she realized that time and the long period of hoarseness had seriously injured her voice, but even now she could compare with the best singers in the city.

Thus Barbara saw her youthful dreams of fortune realized—nay, surpassed—and in the consciousness of liberty which she now enjoyed, elevated by the success gained by the person she loved best, she again followed her lover's motto. With the impelling "More, farther" before her eyes, she took care that she did not lack the admiration for which she had never ceased to long, and to which, in better days, she had possessed so well-founded a claim.

Now a lavish and gracious hospitality, as well as her relationship to the greatest and most popular hero of his time, must give her what she had formerly obtained through her art; for she rarely sang in large companies, and when she did so, no matter how loudly her hearers expressed their delight, she could not regain the old confident security that she was justly entitled to it. But she could believe all the more firmly that the acknowledgments of pleasure which she reaped from her little evening parties were sincere. They even gained a certain degree of celebrity, for the kitchen in her house was admirably managed, and whatever came from it found approval even in the home of the finest culinary achievements. But it was especially the freedom—though not the slightest indecorum was permitted—with which people met at "Madame de Blomberg's," as she now styled herself, that lent her house so great an attraction, and finally added the more aristocratic members of her party to the number of her guests.

The very different elements assembled in her home were united by Barbara's unaffected vivacity and frank, enthusiastic temperament, receptive to the veriest trifle. These evening entertainments rarely lacked music; but she had learned to retire into the background, and when there were talented artists among her guests she gave them the precedence. The way in which she understood how to discover and bring out the best qualities of every visitor rendered her a very agreeable hostess.

Maestro Feys made her acquainted with his professional friends in Ghent, and her opinion of music was soon highly valued among them. Where women choirs were being trained, she was asked to join them, and often took a part which seemed to the others too difficult. Thus Barbara was heard and known in larger circles, and she had the pleasure of hearing her admirable training and excellent method of delivery praised by the director of the choir of the Cathedral of Saint Bavon, one of the greatest musicians in the Netherlands. But it afforded her special gratification when a choir of Catholic women chose her for their leader. She devoted a large portion of her time and strength to it, and felt honoured and elevated by its progress and admirable performances.

Although nearly fifty, she was still a very fine-looking woman. The few silver threads which now mingled in her hair were skilfully concealed by Lamperi's art, and few ladies in Ghent were more tastefully and richly apparelled.

Among the guests who thronged to her house there was no lack of elderly gentlemen who would gladly have married the vivacious, unusual woman, who was so nearly connected with the royal family, and lived in such luxurious style.

Never had she had more suitors than at this time; but she had learned the meaning of a loveless marriage, and her heart still belonged to the one man to whom, notwithstanding the deep wounds he had inflicted, she owed a brief but peerlessly sublime happiness.

She could not even have bestowed upon her husband the alms of a sincere interest, for, in spite of the increasing number of social and musical engagements which filled her life, one thought alone occupied the depths of her soul—her John, his renown, grandeur, and honour.

Her son Conrad had no cause to complain of lack of affection from his mother, but the victor of Lepanto was to her the all-animating sun, the former only a friendly little star. Besides, she rarely saw him now, as he was studying in Lowen.

As she had modelled her housekeeping after that of the Castilian nobles, and her guests almost exclusively belonged to the royal party, she also sought Spanish houses or those of the city magistrates who were partisans of the King.

News of her son would be most fully supplied there, and many an officer whom she met had served under her John, and willingly told the mother what he admired and had learned from him. The young Duke of Ferdinandina, a Spanish colonel, who had studied with John in Alcala, and then fought by his side at the conquest of Tunis, stirred her heart most deeply by his enthusiastic admiration for the comrade who was his superior in every respect.

All the pictures of Don John, the young officer who had shared his tent declared, gave a very faint idea of his wonderful beauty and bewitching chivalrous grace. Not only women's hearts rushed to him; his frank, lovable nature also won men. As a rider in the tournament, in games of ball and quarter staff, he had no peer; for his magnificently formed body was like steel, and he himself had seen Don John share in playing racket for six hours in succession with the utmost eagerness, and then show no more fatigue than a fish does in water. But he was also sure of success where proof of intellect must be given. He did not understand where Don John had found time to learn to speak French, German, and Italian. Moreover, he was thoroughly the great noble. On the pilgrimage which he made to Loretto he had distributed more than ten thousand ducats among the poor. The piety and charity which distinguished him—he had told him so himself—owed to the lady who reared him, the widow of the never-to-be-forgotten Don Luis Quijada. His eye filled with tears when he spoke of her. But even she, Barbara, could not love him more tenderly or faithfully than this admirable woman. Up to the day she insisted upon supplying his body linen. The finest linen spun and woven in Villagarcia was used for the purpose, and the sewing was done by her own skilful hands. Nothing of importance befel him that he did not discuss with Tia in long letters.—["Tia," the Spanish word for aunt.]

Barbara had listened to the young Spaniard with joyous emotion until, at the last communication, her heart contracted again.

How much that by right was hers this worm snatched, as it were, from her lips! What delight it would also have given her to provide her son's linen, and how much finer was the Flanders material than that made at Villagarcia! how much more artistically wrought were Mechlin and Brusse laces than those of Valladolid or Barcelona!

And the letters!

How many Dona Magdalena probably possessed! But she had not yet beheld a single pen stroke from her son's hand.

Yet she thanked the enthusiastic young panegyrist for his news, and the emotion of displeasure which for a short time destroyed her joy melted like mist before the sun when he closed with the assurance that, no matter how much he thought and pondered, he could find neither spot nor stain the brilliantly pure character of her son, irradiated by nobility of nature, the favour of fortune, and renown.

The already vivid sense of happiness which filled her was strongly enhanced by this description of the personality of her child and, in a period which saw so many anxious and troubled faces in the Netherlands, a sunny radiance brightened hers.

She felt rejuvenated, and the acquaintances and friends who declared that no one would suppose her to be much older than her famous son, whose age was known to the whole world, were not guilty of undue exaggeration.

Heaven, she thought, would pour its favour upon her too lavishly if the report that Don John was to be appointed Governor of the Netherlands should be verified.

It was not in Barbara's nature to shut such a wealth of joy into her own heart, and never had her house been more frequently opened to guests, never had her little entertainments been more brilliant, never since the time of her recovery had the music of her voice been more beautiful than in the days which followed the sudden death of the governor, Requesens.

Meanwhile she had scarcely noticed how high the longing for liberty was surging in the Netherland nation, and with how fierce a glow hatred of the Spanish tyrants was consuming the hearts of the people.

But even Barbara was roused from her ecstasy of happiness when she heard of the atrocities that threatened the provinces.

What did it avail that the King meanwhile left the government to the Council of State in Brussels? Even furious foes of Spain desired to see a power which could be relied upon at the head of the community, even though it were a tool of the abhorred King. The danger was so terrible that it could not fail to alarm and summon to the common defence every individual, no matter to what party he might belong; for the unpaid Spanish regiments, with unbridled violence, rioting and seeking booty, capable of every crime, every shameful deed, obedient only to their own savage impulses, were already entering Brabant.

Now many a Spanish partisan also hoped for deliverance from the Prince of Orange, but he took advantage of the favour of circumstances in behalf of the great cause of liberty. The "Spanish" in Ghent heard with terror that all the heads of the royalist party who were at the helm of government had been captured, that province after province had revolted, and would no longer bow to the despot. Philip of Croy, Duke of Aerschot, had been appointed military governor of Brabant.

The inhabitants of Ghent now saw the States-General meet within the walls of their city, in order, as every other support failed, to appeal for aid to foreign powers, and entreat "Father William," who could do everything, to guard the country from the rebellious soldiery. Even those who favoured Spain now relied upon his never-failing shrewdness and energy until the King sent the right man.

Then the rumour that King Philip would send his brother Don John of Austria, that, as his regent, he might reconcile the contending parties, strengthened into authentic news, and not only the Spanish partisans hailed it with joyous hope, for the reputation of military ability, as well as of a noble nature, preceded the victor of Lepanto.

Barbara received these tidings through the distinguished City Councillor Rassingham, who invited her for the first time to a meeting of the Spanish party in his magnificent home—an honour bestowed, in addition to herself, upon only a few women belonging to the highest social circles, and which she probably owed to the summons to Don John. The members of the States-General who favoured the King were also to be present at this assembly, and a banquet would follow the political discussions. This invitation promised to lend fresh distinction to her social position, and open a sphere of activity which suited her taste.

The King's cause was hers, and to be permitted to work for it gained a special charm by her son's appointment to be governor of the country, which filled her with mingled anxiety and joy. If he were regent, every service which she rendered the party would benefit him personally.

Yet it was not perfectly easy for her to accept Rassingham's invitation.

Nothing could be more desirable and flattering than to obtain admittance to this house, from which all foreign and doubtful elements were excluded with special care, but she would be obliged to remain there until late at night, and this was difficult to reconcile with certain duties she had undertaken.

Her old music teacher, Feys, to whom she was so much indebted, had been attacked by slow fever, and she had received him in her house five days ago, and provided with loving devotion for his nursing. The bachelor of seventy had been so ill cared for in his lonely, uncomfortable home that her kind heart had urged her to take charge of him.

She had left him only a few hours since he had been under her roof, and if the banquet at the Rassinghams, after the deliberations, lasted until a very late hour, she would, for the sake of her invalid guest, great as was the sacrifice, attend only the former.

Yet she was pleased at the thought of sharing this festal assembly, and she, her companion, and Lamperi all went into ecstasies over the dress she intended to wear, which had just arrived from Brussels.

Maestro Feys passed a restless night, and Barbara watched beside his couch for hours. In the morning she allowed herself a little sleep, but she was obliged at noon to dress for the assembly, which was to begin before sunset.

She had just sat down to have her hair arranged, which occupied a long time, when one of the pages handed her a letter brought by a mounted courier.

She opened it curiously, and while reading it her cheeks paled and flushed as in the days of her youth. Then it dropped into her lap, and for a moment she remained motionless, with closed eyes, as though stupefied.

Then, rising quickly, she again read the violet-scented missive, written on the finest parchment.

"Your son," ran the brief contents—"your son, who has so long been separated from his mother, at last desires to look into her eyes. If the woman who gave him birth wishes to make him feel new and deep gratitude, let her hasten at once to Luxemburg, where he has been for several hours in the deepest privacy. The weal and woe of his life are at stake."

The letter, written in the German language, was signed "John of Austria."

Panting for breath, Barbara gazed a long time into vacancy. Then, suddenly drawing herself up proudly, she exclaimed to Lamperi: "I'll dress my hair myself. Yesterday Herr De la Porta offered me his travelling carriage. The major-domo must go to him at once and say that Madame de Blomberg asks the loan of the vehicle. Let the page Diego order post and courier horses at the same time. The carriage must be ready in an hour."

"But, Madame," cried the maid, raising her hands in alarm and admonition, "the Rassinghams are expecting you. The honour! Every one who is well disposed in the States-General will be there. Who knows what the party has in store for you? And then the banquet! What may there not be to hear!"

"No matter," replied Barbara. "The chaplain—I'll speak to him-must send the refusal. No summons from Heaven could be more powerful than the call that takes me away. Bestir yourself! There is not an instant to lose."

Frau Lamperi retired with drooping head. But when she had executed her mistress's orders and returned, Barbara laid her hand upon her shoulder, whispering: "You can keep silence. I am going to Luxemburg. He who calls me is one whom you saw enter the world, the hero of Lepanto. He wants his mother. At last! at last! And I—"

Here tears stifled her voice, and obeying the desire to pour out to another the overflowing gratitude and love which had taken possession of her soul, she threw herself upon the gray-haired attendant's breast, and amid her weeping exclaimed: "I shall see him with these eyes, I can clasp his hand, I shall hear his voice—that voice—His first cry—A thousand times, waking and sleeping, I have fancied I heard it again. Do you remember how they took him from me, Lamperi?

"To think that I survived it! But now—now If that voice lured me to the deepest abyss and called me away from paradise, I would go!"

The maid's old eyes also overflowed, and when Barbara read her son's letter aloud, she cried: "Of course there can be no delay, even if, instead of the Rassinghams, King Philip himself should send for you. And I—may I go with you? Oh, Madame, you do not know what a sweet little angel he was from his very birth! We were not allowed to show him to you. And it was wise, for, had you seen him, it would have broken your poor mother heart to give him up."

She sobbed aloud as she spoke. Barbara permitted her to accompany her, though she had intended to take her companion, and would have preferred to travel with the woman of noble birth.

Besides, she could have confided the care of her sick guest to Lamperi more confidently than to the other. But the faithful old soul's wish to see the boy whose entrance into the world she had been permitted to greet was too justifiable for her to be able to refuse it.

How much Barbara had to do before her departure! Most of the time was consumed by the suffering maestro and the arrangements which she had to make for him. She did not leave his bedside until the arrival of the sister who was to assist her companion in nursing her old friend until her return. She certainly would not be absent long; the important things John had to say might probably require great haste, while, on the contrary, whatever needed time for execution could be comfortably despatched during his stay in the Netherlands. So she assured Feys, who regarded her as his good angel and felt her departure painfully, that she would soon be with him again, and then gave the order to ask Hannibal Melas, in her name, to pay frequent visits to the sick maestro. It was very hard for her to leave him and neglect the duties which she had undertaken, but in the presence of the summons addressed to her every other consideration must be silent.

When Barbara returned to her own apartments Lamperi was still busied with the packing.

Several dresses—first of all the new Brussels gown and its belongings, even the pomegranate blossoms which the garden city of Ghent had supplied as something rare in November for her mistress's adornment—were placed carefully in the largest trunk, while Barbara, overpowered by inexpressible restlessness, paced the room with hasty steps from side to side.

Only when one or another article was taken from a casket or box did she pause in her walk. Among the things selected was the pearl necklace which Charles had given her, and the only note her royal lover had ever written, which ran, "This evening, quia amore langueo." This she laid with her own hand among the laces and pomegranate blossoms, for this cry of longing might teach her son what she had once been to his father. When John had seen her and felt how clear he was to her, he must become aware that he had another mother besides the Spanish lady whom he called "Tia," and who made his underclothing; then he could no more forget her than that other woman.

Lastly, she summoned the major-domo and told him what he must do during her absence, which she thought would not exceed a week at the utmost. The guests invited for Wednesday must be notified; the women's choir must be requested to excuse her non-appearance; Sir Jasper Gordon, her most faithful admirer, an elderly Englishman, must learn that she had gone away; but, above all, writing tablet in hand, she directed him how to provide for her poor, what assistance every individual should receive, or the sums of money and wood which were to be sent to other houses to provide for the coming winter. She also placed money at the majordomo's disposal for any very needy persons who might apply for help while she was out of reach.

Before the November sun had set she entered the La Porta travelling carriage. The chaplain, whom she referred to the major-domo for any matters connected with the poor, gave his blessing to the departing traveller, whose cheerful vivacity, after so many severe trials, he admired, and whose "golden heart," as he expressed it, had made her dear to him. The servants gathered at the door of the house, bowing silently, and her "Farewell, till we meet again!" fell from her lips with joyous confidence.

While on the way she reflected, for the first time, what John could desire of her for the "weal and woe of his life." It was impossible to guess, yet whatever it might be she would not fail him.

But what could it be'

Neither during the long night journey nor by the light of day did she find a satisfactory answer. True, she had not thought solely of her son's entreaty. Her whole former life passed before her.

How much she had sinned and erred! But all that she had done for the man to whom the posthorses were swiftly bearing her seemed to her free from reproach and blameless. Every act and feeling which he had received from her had been the best of which she was capable.

Not a day, scarcely an hour, had she forgotten him; for his sake she had endured great anguish willingly, and, in spite of his mute reserve—she could say so to herself—without any bitter feeling. How she had suffered in parting from her child she alone knew. Fate had raised her son to the summit of earthly grandeur and saved him from every clanger. Providence had adorned him with its choicest gifts. When she thought of the last account of him from the Duke of Ferdinandina, it seemed to her as if his life had hitherto resembled a triumphal procession, a walk through blooming gardens.

What could he mean by the "woe" after the "weal"?

John was to her the embodied fulfilment of the most ardent prayers. The blessings she had besought for him, and for which she had placed her own heart on the rack, had become his-glory and splendour, fame and honour.

She had not been able to give them to him, and undoubtedly he owed much to his own powers and to the favour of his royal brother, but Barbara was firmly convinced that her prayers had raised him to his present grandeur.

What more could now be given to him? Everything the human heart desires was already his. His happiness was complete, and during recent years this, too, had cheered her heart and restored her lost capacity for the enjoyment of life. She had been carried to the very verge of recklessness whenever bitter grief had oppressed her heart.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13     Next Part
Home - Random Browse