Her greatest sorrow had been that she was not permitted to see and embrace him, and the knowledge that another filled the place in his heart which belonged to her; but lesser troubles had also gnawed at her soul.
It had been especially hard to bear that, as the object of the greatest Emperor's love and the mother of his son, she had so long felt that she was reluctantly tolerated, and not really recognised in the circles which should have been hers also. Moreover, the consciousness of exercising an art over which she had once attained a mastery, yet never being able to shake off the painful doubt whether the applause that greeted her performance was genuine, spoiled many a pleasant hour.
Still, all these things had probably been only the tribute which she was compelled to pay for the proud joy of being the mother of such a son.
Now she at last felt safe from these malicious little attacks. She had gained a good social position; she was not only valued as a singer, but always sought wherever the women of Ghent were earnestly pursuing music and singing. The invitation to the Rassinghams flung wide the doors which had formerly been closed against her, and she might be sure of not being deemed the least important among the ladies of her party to whose hearts the cause of King and Church was dear.
When she returned to Ghent, even if Don John had not been appointed governor, she might even have ventured to make her house the rendezvous of the heads of the royalist party.
But now that her son entered the Netherlands as the leader, the representative of the sovereign, to reign in Philip's name, everything she could wish was attained, and his father's "More, farther," had lost all meaning for her.
She could meet her happy son as a happy mother; she said this to herself with a long breath. These thoughts had animated her restless half slumber during the nocturnal drive, and she still dwelt upon them all the following day.
Toward evening they reached Luxemburg. At the gate, where every carriage was stopped, the guards asked her name.
At the reply the inspector of taxes bowed profoundly, and signed to the Spanish officer behind him.
He was waiting for her, by the command of the captain-general, who longed to see her, and with the utmost courtesy undertook the office of guide.
Then the carriage rolled on again, and turned into the magnificent park of a palace, which belonged to the royal governor, Prince Peter Ernst von Mansfeld.
A gentleman dressed in black, whose bright eyes revealed an active mind, while the expression of his well-formed features inspired confidence, Don John's private secretary, Escovedo, of whose shrewdness and fidelity Barbara had often heard, ushered her into the apartments assigned to her.
In two hours, he said, the captain-general would be happy to receive her. He first wished her to rest completely after the fatiguing journey.
Barbara dismissed, without making use of their services, the pages whom he placed at her disposal. The more than luxurious meal which was served soon afterward she scarcely touched; the impetuous throbbing of her heart choked her breathing so that she could scarcely speak to Lamperi.
With eager zeal the maid tried to induce her to put on the fresh and extremely tasteful Brussels gala robe. The candlesticks, with the dozens of candles, the elegant silver dishes, the whole manner of the reception, led her to make the suggestion. But Barbara had scarcely noticed these magnificent things.
Her every thought and feeling centred upon the son whom she was now actually to see with her own eyes, whose hand she would touch, whose voice she would hear.
The splendid costume did not suit such a meeting after a long separation, so solemn a festal hour of the heart.
A heavy black silk which she had brought was more appropriate for this occasion. Only she allowed the pomegranate blossoms, which had remained perfectly fresh, to be fastened on her breast, that her dress might not look like mourning. While Lamperi was putting the last touches to her toilet, a priest came for her, as Escovedo had arranged, exactly two hours after her arrival. This was Father Dorante, Don John's confessor, an elderly man with a face in which earnest piety was so happily mingled with kindly cheerfulness that Barbara rejoiced to know that such a guardian of souls was at her son's side.
While he was descending the stairs with her, Barbara noticed one of the searching glances he secretly cast at her, and wondered what this man's pure, keen eyes had probably discovered.
The spacious apartment into which she was now ushered was hung with costly bright-hued Oriental rugs.
"Gifts from the widow of the Turkish lord high admiral," the priest whispered, pointing to the superb textures, and Barbara nodded. She knew how he had obtained them, but the passionate agitation of her soul deprived her of the power to inform the monk of this knowledge, of which probably she would usually have boasted to a friend of her son so worthy of all respect.
The folding doors of the adjoining room were open. Surely John was there, and how gladly she would have rushed toward it! But the confessor asked her to sit down, as the captain-general still had several orders to give. Then he entered the other room.
Barbara, panting for breath, looked after him and, as she glanced through the open door, it seemed as though her heart stood still.
Yonder aristocratic gentleman, in the full prime of youthful beauty, must be her son.
The man from whom she had so long been parted looked like the apparition of the Count Egmont, at whom she had once gazed full of admiration, with the wish that her John might resemble him; only she thought her John, with his open brow and floating, waving golden locks, far handsomer than the unfortunate victor of St. Quentin and Gravelines.
How noble and yet how easy was the bearing of the dignitary, who was still less than thirty years old!
His figure was only slightly above middle height. What gave it the air of such royal stateliness?
Certainly it was not merely his dress, which consisted wholly of velvet, silk, and satin, with the gold of the Fleece that hung below the lace ruff at his throat. True, the colours of the costume were becoming. Dark violet and golden yellow alternated in the slashed doublet and wide breeches. His father had worn similar apparel when he confessed his love for her.
Should Barbara regard this as a good omen or an evil one?
He was not yet aware of her arrival for, completely absorbed in the subject of their conversation, he was talking with his private secretary Escovedo.
How animated his beautiful features became! how leonine he looked when he indignantly shook his head with its wealth of golden hair!
Oh, yes! Women's hearts must indeed fly to him, and Barbara now understood what she had heard of the beautiful Diana of Sorrento, and the no less beautiful Alaria Mendoza, and their love for him.
Thus she had imagined him. Yet no! His outer man, in its proud patrician beauty and winning charm, even surpassed her loftiest expectation. One thing alone surprised her: the seriousness of his youthful features and the lines upon his lofty brow.
Why did her favourite of fortune bear these traces of former anxieties?
Now the priest interrupted him. Had he told her John of her entrance?
Yet that was scarcely possible, for his face revealed no trace of filial pleasure. On the contrary. He rallied his courage, as if he were about to step into a cold river, straightened himself, and pressed his right hand, clinched into a fist, upon his hip. Perhaps—the saints be praised!—Father Dorante might have reminded him of something else, for he turned to Escovedo again and gave him an order.
Then he waved his hand, flung back his handsome head as King Philip was in the habit of doing, but in a far nobler, freer manner, hastily passed his hand through his wavy hair, as if to strengthen his courage, and then walked slowly, with haughty, almost arrogant dignity, to the door.
On the threshold he paused and looked at her. How bright were the large blue eyes which now gazed at Barbara with an expression far more searching than joyous.
Yet even while, with one hand resting on the back of the chair and the other pressed upon her panting bosom, she was striving to find the right words, Don John's glance brightened.
She was not mistaken. He had dreaded this meeting, and now with joyful surprise was asking himself whether this could be the woman who had been described to him as a showy, extremely whimsical, perverse person, who used her son's renown to obtain access to aristocratic houses and as many pleasures as possible.
She must at any rate have been remarkably beautiful, and how wonderfully her delicately chiselled features had retained a charm which is usually peculiar to youth! how well the now dull gold of her thick tresses harmonized with the faint flush on the almost unwrinkled face! and how dignified was the bearing of her figure, still slender, in spite of her matronly increase in flesh!
No wonder that she had once fired the heart of his distinguished father! Now—that sunny glance could not deceive Barbara—now her appearance had ceased to be unpleasant to him; nay, perhaps even pleased him. And now she could bear it no longer; from the inmost depths of her heart rose the cry: "John, my child! My dear, dear son!"
Again, with the speed of lightning, the question darted through Don John's mind: "Is this the woman whose voice, I was told, offended the ear? Spiteful, base slander!" How fervent, how gentle, how full of tender affection her cry had sounded! Not even from the lips of Doha Magdalena, his much-loved "Tia," had his own name ever echoed so musically as from those of yonder woman, whom he had just shrunk from meeting as though it were an inevitable misfortune.
Shame, regret, love, seethed hotly within him. It was long since he had felt emotion like that which mastered him when her tearful eyes again met his, and now, in the enthusiastic soul of this favourite of fortune, whose lofty flight neither glory, nor fame, nor disappointment could paralyze, in the bosom of this good, high-minded young human being stirred the consciousness that a great new happiness was in store for him, and from his lips rang the cry for which Barbara had waited so long with vain yearning, "Mother!" and again "Mother!"
It seemed to her as if the bright sun had suddenly burst in its full, dazzling radiance from midnight darkness. Three swift steps took her to Don John and, no longer able to control herself, she seized one of the hands which he had extended to her to kiss it; but his chivalrous nature forbade him to permit this, and at the same moment he had obeyed the impulse to kiss the face upturned to his with such loving tenderness.
On the way she had pondered long over the question how she should address him; but now she knew that she need not call him "Your Excellency," far less "Your Highness." To impose so severe a constraint upon her poor, poor heart was no longer required and, though interrupted by low sobbing, she again cried with all the fervour of the most tender maternal love: "My son! My dear, dear child!"
Then suddenly the words she had vainly sought came voluntarily, and in fluent speech she told him how her heart had so long consumed itself with yearning for him, and that she had now left everything behind to obey his summons; and he thanked her with eager warmth by raising the hand which clasped his to his lips.
What he desired of her would be hard for her to do, but now that he knew her it was far harder to ask. Yet it must be done, because upon this might perhaps depend the great hopes which he fixed upon the future, and which would atone for what had so cruelly embittered and poisoned the past.
Barbara gazed more intently into the noble face whose blooming youthful beauty had just delighted her, and in doing so perceived far more distinctly the sorrowful, anxious expression which she had formerly thought she noticed. In pained surprise she inquired what cause he, whom Heaven had hitherto loaded with its most precious gifts, had to complain of Fate, as whose spoiled favourite she, like all the rest of the world, had believed him happy.
He laughed softly, but with such keen bitterness that it pierced her to the heart, and the bright flush with which joy had suffused her cheeks suddenly vanished.
Her favourite of Fortune indignantly rejected the belief that he had reason to look back upon his past life with gratitude and pleasure.
It was incomprehensible and, carried away by the violent agitation which seized upon her, she described with fiery vivacity how the conviction that he had gained everything which her hard sacrifice and her prayers had sought, had beautified her life and helped her to bear even the most painful trials with quiet submission, nay, with joyous gratitude.
Stimulated by the power of the extraordinary things which she had experienced, she described in a ceaseless flow of vivid words how she had torn her child from her soul in order to place it in the path which was to lead to fame, splendour, and honour—in short, to everything that adorns and lends value to life.
"And why, in the name of all the saints," she concluded, "why must I now tell myself that I endured this great suffering in vain, and that what filled my heart with joy was only an idle delusion? Yet I watched your steps as the hunter follows the trail of the game. I saw how every fresh onset led you to greater splendour, higher renown, and more exalted grandeur."
His cheeks, too, had now flushed. What life was still pulsing in the veins of this woman, already past her youth! with what impressive power she understood how to describe what moved her! Yet how mistaken was the view to which maternal love and the desire of her heart had led her artist nature! She had seen only the light, not the shadow, the darkness, the gloom, which had clouded his course of fame.
To secure splendour and grandeur for him, she had yielded to the most cruel demand, and what had been the result of this sacrifice? What had she gained by it?
How had the happiness in which she fancied she saw him revelling been constituted?
The power of the newly awakened experiences bore him away also, and he described no less vividly what he had suffered.
Yes, indeed! He had not lacked great successes, far-reaching renown, high honours, and some degree of glory. But what a tale he—not yet thirty—now related! He, the son of an Emperor, the brother of a powerful King, who was adorned by as many crowns as there were fingers on his hand!
He had been King Philip's servant and useful commander in chief, nothing more.
And now he described the sovereign's cold nature, unfeeling calculation, and offensive suspicion. He, Don John, the not all unworthy son of the great Emperor Charles, was not born to obey all his life, and allow himself to be turned to account, worn out, and abused for the benefit of another. He, too, might lay claim to the right of governing a kingdom of his own as its ruler, benefactor, and Mehrer.
After Lepanto, the crowns of the Morea and Albania had been offered to him. Then, after he had conquered Tunis for his brother Philip, he had wished to reign over that country as its king. Had it been ceded to him, large provinces would have been taken from the infidels. This, it might have been supposed, was sufficient reason for Philip to intrust it to his government. But although the Holy Father in Rome and other rulers had recognised the justice of these wishes, his royal brother could not be persuaded to grant his just demands, and destroyed these hopes with cruel coldness. He had not even been induced to recognise him as Infant, as a lawful member of his family.
With trivial pretexts, and promises which he never intended to fulfil, the hypocritical, selfish, niggardly man had repulsed, delayed, and put him off.
So his life had been spoiled by the most cruel disappointments, by a succession of the bitterest wrongs. Since Lepanto, no pure happiness had bloomed again for him. He was a miserable, disappointed, ill-treated man, who could never regain his former happiness until he obtained, on his own account, what he himself called greatness, honour, glory, and power. The gifts, no, the more than well-earned payments for which he was indebted to the King, were only a bodiless shadow, a caricature of these lofty gifts of Heaven.
His mother, alarmed, cried in terror, "What an ambition!"
But Don John, with increasing excitement, exclaimed: "Yes, mother! I am so ambitious that, if I knew there was another man who more ardently desired renown and honour, I would throw myself out of this window. 'Who does not struggle ward, falls back!' has long been my motto, and I am struggling upward and know the goal."
A startling suspicion seized Barbara, and with anxious caution she whispered:
"Do I see aright? You have learned from Flanders and Brabant how bitterly King Philip is hated there, and you now hope to contend with him for the crown of the Netherlands? The victory you, my hero, my general, you would surely attain—" But here she was interrupted.
Don John cut short her words with the cry, "Mother!" and then went on indignantly: "If any one else had given me this advice, I would deprive him of any inclination to repeat it. God granted Don Philip the sovereignty. My oath, my honour, forbid me to rise against him. He has lost all claim to my love, my gratitude, but he is sure of the fidelity of his ill-treated brother. Besides," he added proudly, "my wishes mount higher."
Barbara had listened to her son with the utmost eagerness; now, taking a locket from the breast of his doublet, he whispered:
"Do you know whom this lovely picture represents? No? Well, these are the features of the fairest and most unfortunate of women. Mary Stuart, the hapless Queen of Scotland, the devout, patient sufferer for our holy faith, looks at you from this frame. She does not refuse me her hand. The Holy Father in Rome and the Guises in France approve the bold enterprise; but I shall take the army under my command by sea to England. I am sure of victory in this conflict. With the most beautiful of women, I shall gain the crown which I need and which will best suit me."
"John!" Barbara exclaimed, carried away by the daring of this proposal, and her eyes sparkled with enthusiasm. "This desire is worthy of you and your great father. If I can aid you in its realization——"
"You can," Don John eagerly interrupted; "for the first step is to gain the consent of the States-General to despatch the army, which must now be sent back to Spain, thither by sea. When the troops are once on the way they will steer to England, instead of southward. But even to embark these forces I shall need the consent of the representatives of the country. Therefore, difficult as it is for me, the words must be uttered: Your residence in the provinces will prevent my obtaining it. Spare me the mention of my reasons; but the circumstance that you always opened your house to the Spanish party must fill the King's enemies with distrust of you. Besides, it is scarcely credible; but you must believe Escovedo, to whom I owe this information. How petty people in the provinces can be about such matters! An edict was recently issued which commands the removal of every official who can not prove that the union of the parents who gave him life was consecrated by the Holy Church. Alas, mother, that I should be compelled to wound you at our first meeting! But if your love is as great as your every glance tells me, as you have just confessed with such touching warmth——"
"And as I shall confess," she cried impetuously, "so long as a single breath stirs this bosom; for I love you, John—love you with all the strength of this poor, sorely tortured soul. But, child, child! What you ask of me—It comes so unexpectedly—you have no suspicion how deeply it pierces into the very heart of my life. I must leave the country which has become my home, the city where prejudice and enmity greeted me, and where I have now obtained the position that befits me. A venerable sick man is in my house, longing for the return of the nurse who left him for your sake. My poor—The rest that I must cast aside and abandon is more than I can enumerate now. Nor could I, this request bewilders me so—Give rue a little time to collect my thoughts, for you see—But if you look at me so, John, I can—Yet no!—It certainly is not necessary that I should say yes or no at once. I must first learn whether you—whether the sacrifice I made for your glory and grandeur—it was in Landshut, you know—whether it was really so useless, whether you are in reality as unhappy as you, the fame-crowned, beloved, and lauded child of an Emperor, would have me believe, or whether—Forgive me, John, but before I make this terribly difficult decision I must—yes, I must see clearly. As surely as your hero soul harbours no falsity, it would be unworthy of you to show your mother a distorted image of your inner life; you must confess whether you—"
"Whether," Don John, with a smile of sorrowful bitterness, here interrupted the deeply troubled woman—"whether, in order to soften your heart, I am not painting in blacker colours than reality requires. Oh, how little you know me yet! I would rather this tongue should wither than that I should unchivalrously permit it to deviate one straw's breadth from the truth in order to attain a selfish purpose. No, mother! My description of the grief which often overpowers this soul was far too lukewarm. If your first sacrifice was intended to make me a happy man, its effect was no stronger than the light of the candle which is burned amid the radiance of the noonday sun. Perhaps I should have been happier had I been allowed to grow up in modest circumstances under your tender care; for then my course would have been long and steep, and I should have been forced to climb many steps to reach the point where barriers are fixed to ambition. But as it is, I began at the place which many of the best men regard as the highest goal. The great man whom you loved understood life better than you. Had I obeyed his wish, and in the stillness of the cloister striven for blessings which do not belong to this world, this miserable existence would have seemed less unendurable to me, then doubtless a much wider space would have separated me from despair; for I am so unhappy, mother, that I envy the poor peasant who in the sweat of his brow gathers the harvest which his sterile fields produce; for years I have been as wretched as the captive lion in its cage, the lover whose bride is torn from him on the marriage day. Imagine the wish as a woman, and beside her a magician who, by virtue of the power which he possesses, cries, 'The fulfilment of every desire you strive to attain shall be forever withheld,' and you will have an idea of the devastated existence of the pitiable man who, if it were not sinful, would curse those who gave him the life in which he has long seen nothing save the horrible, jeering spectre of disappointment."
"Stop!" moaned Barbara sorrowfully, pressing her hand upon her brow as if frantic. "So even my hardest sacrifice was futile, and what rendered life valuable to my foolish heart was mere delusion and bewildering deception. What I beheld raising you to the stars, as though with eagles' wings, was a clogging weight; what seemed to me at a distance the bright sunshine irradiating your path, was a Will-o'-the-wisp luring to destruction. What I thought white, was black, the radiant daylight was dusk and the darkness of night. Oh, if it were really granted me Yet, child, you certainly do not know what you are asking. So, before it comes to the final decision, let me put this one more question: Do you believe, really and firmly, that if the confidence of the States-General permits you to take your army by sea, and you lead it in England and succeed in winning the crown and hand of this—whether she is guilty or not—beautiful, devout, and, whatever errors she has committed, desirable Queen, that the troubles which it is so hard for your ambitious soul to bear will then vanish? When you have won the woman for whom you yearn, the throne, and the sceptre, will your sore heart be healed and happiness make its joyous entry, and also remain in your soul, that is so hard to satisfy? For—I see and feel it—it is carried away by the 'More, farther,' of your father. Can you, my John, have you really the firm conviction that, if this lofty desire is fulfilled, you will be content and believe that you have found the summit and the limit of your feverish struggle upward and forward?"
"Yes, and again yes," cried Don John in a tone of immovably firm belief, while his large eyes beamed upon his mother with an expression of full and genuine trust. "The vainglory which your first sacrifice brought me was the source of this life full of bitter disappointment. The hand of Mary Stuart, the lovely martyr, the woman so lavishly endowed with every mental and physical gift, for whom my heart has yearned ever since I saw her picture, and the crown of England, the symbol of genuine majesty, will transform disappointment into the fulfilment which Heaven has hitherto denied me. If these both fall to the lot of the son, the mother's sacrifice will not have been in vain; no, it will bring him golden fruit, for the success of this enterprise will bestow upon your John, besides the fleeting radiance, the sun whence the light emanates. It will raise him to the height to which he aspires, and for which Fate destined him."
Here he hesitated, for the agitated face of Escovedo, who entered with a despatch in his hand, showed that something unexpected and startling had occurred.
The secretary, Don John's friend and counsellor, did not allow himself to be intimidated by the angry gesture with which his master waved him back, but handed him the paper, exclaiming in a tone ringing with the horror the news had inspired: "Antwerp attacked by his Majesty's rebellious troops, those in Alst, headed by their Eletto—burned to ashes, plundered, destroyed!"
With a hasty snatch Don John seized the parchment announcing the misfortune, and read it, panting for breath.
The Council of Antwerp had addressed it to King Philip, and sent a copy to him, the newly appointed governor.
When he let the hand which held the paper fall, he was deadly pale, and gazed around him as though seeking assistance.
Then his eyes met those of his mother who, seized with anxious fears, was watching his every movement, and he handed her the fatal sheet, with the half-sorrowful, half-disdainful exclamation:
"And I am to lead this abused people back to love the man who sent them the Duke of Alba, that he might heal their wounds with his pitiless iron hand, and who let the poor, brave fellows in his service starve and go in rags until, in fierce despair, they seized for themselves what their employer denied."
The sheet Barbara's son had handed to her trembled in her hand as she read half aloud: "It is the greatest commercial city in Europe, the fosterer of art, knowledge, manufactures, and the Catholic faith, which never wavered in obedience to the King, hurled in a single day from the height of honour and happiness to a gulf of misery, and become a den of robbers and murderers, who know nothing of God and the King. Old men, women, and children have been slaughtered by them without distinction, the goods belonging partly to foreign owners have been stolen and burned, and the magnificent Town Hall, with all its treasures of documents and patents, has become a prey of the flames."
"Horrible! horrible!" cried Barbara, and Don John repeated her words, and added in a hollow tone: "And this happened yesterday, on the selfsame Sunday which saw me ride into the Netherlands! These are the bonfires which redden the heavens on my arrival!"
"William of Orange will call them incendiary flames crying aloud for vengeance," fell in half-stifled accents from Barbara's lips.
"And this time with some reason," replied Don John in a tone of assent, "for the men who kindled them are mercenaries of the King, formerly our own troops, who have been driven to desperation." Then he continued passionately: "And Philip sends me—me, a man of the sword—to these provinces. What is the warrior to do here? This blade is too good to deal the death-blow to the body which is already bleeding from a thousand wounds. If, nevertheless, I did it, I should destroy the most productive fountain of the King's wealth. It is not a man who can fight and command an army and a navy that is needed here, but a woman who understands how to mediate and to heal. The King sent me to this country not to gather fresh laurels, but to be shipwrecked, and with bleeding brow return defeated. Oh, I see through him! But I also know—Heaven be praised!—what I owe to myself, my father's son. If the States-General permit me to take the troops away by sea, I will gain the woman and the crown that are beckoning to me in another country, and his Majesty may send a more pliant regent of either sex to the provinces to continue the battle with William of Orange, who fights with weapons which my straightforward nature and firm sword ill understand how to meet. This sheet places the decision before me. Real, genuine glory, the fairest of wives, and a proud crown—or defeat and ruin."
The close of this outpouring of the young hero's heart sounded like a manly, irrevocable resolution; but his mother laid her hand upon his arm, and said quietly, "I will go."
A sunny glance of gratitude from her son rested upon her; she, however, only bent her head slightly and went on as calmly as if she had found the strength to be content, but with warm affection:
"My first sacrifice was vain. May the second not only aid you to gain the splendour of a crown, but, above all, instil into your soul the satisfaction with that longed-for highest happiness which your mother's heart desires for you!"
Then Don John obeyed the mighty impulse of his soul to pour forth to his mother the gratitude and love which her unselfish retirement wrung from him. His arms clasped her closely and tenderly, and never had he rewarded even his foster-mother in Villagarcia for her love and faithfulness with a more affectionate kiss.
"My gratitude will die only with myself," he cried as he released her. "Blessed be the day on which I found my own mother! It led you, dear lady, not only to your John, but to his love."
Escovedo, moved to the depths of his heart, had listened in surprise to this outburst of feeling from the famous son of the Emperor, whom he loved, to whom he had devoted his fine intellect and wealth of experience, and for whom it was appointed that he should die.
Thus ended Don John's meeting with his mother, which he had dreaded as an inevitable evil. Alba, who described her as an extremely obstinate woman, had advised him to use a stratagem to induce her to yield to his wish and leave the Netherlands. He was to represent that his sister, the Duchess Margaret, who was holding her court at Aquila, in the Abruzzi Mountains, invited her to visit her in order to make her acquaintance. She would not resist this summons, for she had often made her way to the government building, and took special pleasure in the society of the aristocratic Spaniards. When she was once on board a ship, she would be obliged to submit to being carried to Spain, whence her return could easily be prevented.
To set such a snare for this woman had been impossible for Don John. Truth and love had sufficed to induce her to fulfil his wish.
Senor Escovedo had witnessed much that was noble during this hour, but especially a mother whom in the future he could remember with gratitude and joy; for Don John's confidant knew that of all he saw and heard here not a word was false and feigned, yet he knew better than any other man his master's heart and every look. Barbara, too, believed her son no less confidently, and as the shout of victory reaches combatants lying on the ground, wounded by lances and arrows, the cry of a secret voice within her soul, sorely as she was stricken, great as was the sacrifice and suffering which she had imposed upon herself, called upon her to rejoice in the highest of all gifts—the love of her child, to whom hitherto she had been only a dreaded stranger.
She could not yet obtain a clear insight into the result of the promise which she had given her son; it seemed as though a veil was drawn over her active mind.
Yet again and again she asked herself what power could have induced her to grant so quickly and unconditionally to the son a demand which in her youth she would have refused, with defiant opposition, even to his ardently loved father. But she took as little trouble to find the answer as she felt regret for her compliance.
The world to which she returned after this hour had gained a new aspect. She had not understood the real nature of the former one. The exclamation which her son's confession had elicited she still believed after long reflection. What she had deemed great, was small; what had seemed to her light and brilliant, was dark. What she had considered worthy of the greatest sacrifice was petty and trivial; no fountain of joy, but a fierce torrent of new wishes constantly surpassing one another. With their boundless extent they had of necessity remained unfulfilled. Thus woe on woe, and at the same time the painfully paralyzing feeling of the hostility of Fate had been evoked from its surges and, instead of happiness, they had brought sorrow and suffering.
Pride in such a son had been the delight of her life; henceforth, she felt it, she must seek her happiness, her joys, elsewhere, and she knew also where, and realized that she was receiving higher for smaller things. Instead of sharing his renown, she had gained the right to share his misfortune and his griefs.
The more and the more eagerly she pondered in silence, the more surely she perceived that earthly glory and magnificence, which she had thought the greatest blessings, were only a series of sunbeams, swiftly following one another, which would be clouded by one shadow after the other until darkness and oblivion ingulfed them.
Like every outward splendour, fame dazzles the eyes of men. It would dim her son's—she knew it now—whether he looked backward to the past or forward to the future. The greatness he had gained he overlooked; what awaited him in the future, having lost his clearness of vision and impartiality, he was disposed to overvalue.
From her eyes, on the contrary, this knowledge removed veil after veil.
It was a vain delusion which led him to the belief that the Scottish and English crowns possessed the power to render him happy, and end his struggle for new and higher honours; for royalty also belonged to the glory whose worthlessness she now perceived as plainly as the reflection of her own face in the surface of the mirror.
Barbara saw her son for only a few more fleeting hours; the "Spanish fury" which destroyed the flower of Antwerp doubled his business cares, forbade any delay, and imperiously claimed his whole time and strength.
The mother watched his honest labours sorrowfully. She knew that the chivalrous champion of the faith, the sincere enthusiast, to whom nothing was higher than honour and the stainless purity of his name, must succumb to his most eminent foe, the Prince of Orange, with his tireless, inventive, thoroughly statesmanlike intellect, which preserved the power of seeing in the darkness, and did not shrink from deceit where it would promote the great cause which she did not understand, but to which he consecrated every drop of his heart's blood, every penny of his property.
Her son came to the country as a Spaniard and the brother of the hated Philip on the day of the most abominable crime history ever narrated, and which his followers committed; and who stood higher in the hearts of the people of the Netherlands than their beloved helper in need, their "Father William"?
She saw her son go to this hopeless conflict like a garlanded victim to the altar. She had nothing to aid him save her prayers and the execution of the heavy sacrifice which she had resolved to make. The collapse of her belief, wishes, and expectations produced a transformation of her whole nature. A world of ideas had crumbled into fragments before and within her, and from their ruins a new one suddenly sprang up in her strong soul. Where yesterday her warlike temper had defied or resisted, to-day she retired with lowered weapons. To contend against her son, and force her new knowledge upon him, would have seemed to her foolish and fruitless, for she desired and expected nothing more from him than that he should keep for her the love she had won.
So she yielded to his desire without resistance. However his destiny might turn, he should be obliged to admit that his mother had omitted nothing in her power to open to him the path which, according to his own opinion, might lead to the height for which he longed.
She made use of his affectionate readiness to serve her only so far as to beg him to take charge of her son Conrad. He did so willingly, and endeavoured to induce the young man to enter the priesthood. He wished to spare him the disappointments which had marred his own life, but Conrad preferred the army.
His mother did not forget him, and did everything in her power for him. He remained on terms of affectionate union with her, but he did not see her again until the gold of her hair was changed to silver, and he himself had risen to the rank of colonel.
This was to happen in Spain. Barbara had gone there by way of Genoa under the escort of Count Faconvergue, commander of the German mercenaries, and while doing so had been treated with the respect and distinguished consideration which was her due as the mother of Don John of Austria, who had now acknowledged her.
Like every other wish of her son, Barbara had fulfilled with quiet indulgence his desire that she would not again enter the Netherlands and Ghent.
From Luxemburg she directed what should be done with her house, her servants, and the recipients of her alms. Hannibal Melas relieved her of the care of Maestro Feys, which she had undertaken, and under his faithful nursing the old musician was granted many more years of life. The Maltese also distributed among her poor the large sums which the sale of Barbara's property produced.
In Spain she was received with the utmost consideration by the Marquis de la Mota, Dona Magdalena de Ulloa's brother, and later by the lady herself. But at first there was no real bond of affection between these women, and this was Barbara's fault, for Dona Magdalena's experience was the same as Don John's. She perceived with shame how greatly she had undervalued Don John's mother—nay, how much she had wronged her—but her sedulous efforts to make amends for the error produced an effect upon Barbara different from her expectations; for the great lady's manner seemed like a confession of guilt, and kept alive the memory of the anguish of soul which Dona Magdalena had so often inflicted upon her.
The early death of the young hero whom both loved so tenderly first drew them together. Barbara had witnessed with very different feelings from Dona Magdalena and her brother how the former regarded every false step of Don John, and especially that of his expedition to England, as a heavy misfortune, and as such bewailed it. Dona Magdalena had been firmly convinced that the spell of fame which surrounded the victor of Lepanto, and the irresistible lovableness characteristic of his whole nature, would finally win the hearts of the Netherlanders, and even induce the Prince of Orange, whose friendship Don John himself hoped to gain, to join hands with him in the attempt to work for the welfare of his country.
Barbara knew that this expectation deceived him.
Toleration and liberty were the blessings which the Prince of Orange desired to win for his people, and both were hateful to her son, reared at the Spanish court, as she herself saw in them an encroachment upon the just demands of the Church and the claims of royalty. Fire and water could harmonize more easily than these two men, and Barbara foresaw which of them in this conflict would be the extinguishing flood.
She perceived how waterfall after waterfall was quenching the flames which burned in Don John's honest soul for the supposed welfare of the nation intrusted to him. He was reaping hatred, scorn, and humiliation wherever he had hoped to win love and gratitude in the Netherlands. His royal brother left him in the lurch where he was entitled to depend upon his assistance. But when Philip let the mask fall and showed openly how deeply he distrusted the glorious son of his dead father, and to what a degree his ill will had risen—when he committed the cruel crime of having Escovedo, the devoted, loyal friend and counsellor of the victor of Lepanto, assassinated in Madrid, where he had come to labour in his master's cause—the most ambitious and sensitive of hearts received the deathblow which was to put an end to his famous career and his young life.
Scarcely two years after Barbara's meeting with Don John, the Emperor Charles's hero son died. Even in the Netherlands he had remained to the last victor on the battlefield. Alessandro Farnese, his dearest friend, his companion in youth, in study, and in war, had valiantly supported him with his good sword; but his faithful friendship had been unable to heal the sufferings which wore out Don John's strong body and brave soul when, to the severest political failures, was added the bloody treachery of his royal brother.
The death of this son doubtless first taught Barbara with what cruel anguish a mother's heart can be visited; but her John had not really died to her. Accustomed to love him from a distance, she continued to live in and with him, and in her thoughts and dreams he remained her own.
At first, without leaving the lay condition, she had joined the Dominican Sisters in the Convent of Santa Maria la Real at Cebrian; but even the slight constraint which life behind stone walls imposed upon her still seemed unendurable, so she retired to the little city of Colindres, in the district of Loredo. There stood the deserted house of Escovedo, the murdered friend and counsellor of her John and, as everything under its roof reminded her of the beloved dead, it seemed the most fitting spot in which to pass the remnant of her days. In it she led an independent but quiet, secluded life. She spent only a few maravedis for her own wants, while she used the thousands of ducats which, after her son's death, King Philip awarded her as an annual income, to make life easier for the poor and the sick whom she affectionately sought out.
With every tear she dried she believed that she was showing the best honour to her son's memory.
She was denied the pleasure of placing a flower upon his grave, for King Philip had done his dead brother the honour which he withheld from him during life and, though only as a corpse, received him among the members of his illustrious race. His coffin had been entombed in the cold family vault of the Escurial, where no sunbeam enters.
But Barbara needed no place associated with his person in order to remember him; she always felt near him, and memories were the vital air which nourished her soul. Music remained the best ornament of her solitary existence, and never did the forms of the son and the father come nearer to her than when she sang the songs—or in after years played them on the harp and lute—to which her imperial lover had liked to listen.
The memory of her John's father now taught her to change the "More, farther," of his motto into the maxim, "Learn to be content," the memory of the son, that every sacrifice which we make for the happiness of another is futile if, besides splendour and glory, fame and honour, it does not also gain the spiritual blessings whose possession first lends those gifts genuine value. These much-envied favours of Fortune had little to do with the indestructible monument which she erected in her heart to her son and her lover. What built it and lent it eternal endurance were the modest gifts of the heart.
She now knew the names of the blessings which might have guided her boy to a loftier happiness and, full of the love which even death could not assail and lessen, mourned by many, Barbara Blomberg, at an advanced age, closed her eyes upon the world.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
The greatness he had gained he overlooked Who does not struggle ward, falls back
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS FOR THE ENTIRE "BARBARA BLOMBERG":
A live dog is better than a dead king Always more good things in a poor family which was once rich Attain a lofty height from which to look down upon others Before learning to obey, he was permitted to command Catholic, but his stomach desired to be Protestant (Erasmus) Dread which the ancients had of the envy of the gods Grief is grief, and this new sorrow does not change the old one Harder it is to win a thing the higher its value becomes No happiness will thrive on bread and water Shuns the downward glance of compassion That tears were the best portion of all human life The blessing of those who are more than they seem The greatness he had gained he overlooked To the child death is only slumber Who does not struggle ward, falls back Whoever will not hear, must feel