On the way Lady Wendula induced Eva to tell her many things about herself, urging her to describe her father and her dead mother. Her daughter Maria, on the other hand, was most interested in her sister Els, who, as she had heard from Biberli, was the second beautiful E.
Eva liked to talk about her relatives, but her depression continued and she spoke only in reply to questions, for the Minorite's death had affected her, and her heart throbbed anxiously when she thought of the moment that she must appear amongst the courtiers and see the Emperor.
Would her errand be vain? Must poor Biberli pay for his resolute fidelity with his life? What pain it would cause her, and how heavily it would burden his master's soul that he had failed to intercede for him!
Not until Lady Schorlin questioned her did Eva confess what troubled her, and how she dreaded the venture which she had undertaken on her own responsibility.
They were obliged to wait outside the Thiergartnerthor, for it had just been opened to admit a train of freight waggons.
Whilst Eva remained on the high-road, with the castle before her eyes, she sighed from the depths of her troubled heart: "Why should the Emperor Rudolph grant me, an insignificant girl, what he refused his sister's husband, the powerful Burgrave, to whom he is so greatly indebted? Oh, suppose he should treat me harshly and bid me go back to my spinning wheel!"
Then she felt the arm of the dignified lady at her side pass round her and heard her say: "Cheer up, my dear girl. The blessing of a woman who feels as kindly towards you as to her own daughter will accompany you, and no Emperor will ungraciously rebuff you, you lovely, loyal, charitable child."
At these words from her kind friend Eva's heart opened as if the dear mother whom death had snatched from her had inspired her with fresh courage, and from the very depths of her soul rose the cry, "Oh, how I thank you!"
She urged her nimble palfrey nearer the lady's horse to kiss her left hand, which held the bridle, but Lady Wendula would not permit it and, drawing her towards her, exclaimed, "Your lips, dear one," and as her red mouth pressed the kind lady's, Eva felt as if the caress had sealed an old and faithful friendship. But this was not all. Maria also wished to show the affection she had won, and begged for a kiss too.
Without suspecting it, Eva, on the way to an enterprise she dreaded, received the proof that her lover's dearest relatives welcomed her with their whole hearts as a new member of the family.
On the other side of the gate she was obliged to part from the Swabians.
Lady Wendula bade her farewell with an affectionate "until we meet again," and promised positively to go to the reception at the castle.
Eva uttered a sigh of relief. It seemed like an omen of success that this lady, who had so quickly inspired her with such perfect confidence, was to witness her difficult undertaking. She felt like a leader who takes the field with a scanty band of soldiers and is unexpectedly joined by the troops of a firm friend.
When Arnold, the warder from Berne, helped Eva from the saddle, a blaze of light greeted her from the imperial residence. The banquet was just beginning.
Frau Gertrude had more than one piece of good news to tell while assisting the young girl. Among the sovereign's guests was her uncle the magistrate, who had accompanied the Emperor to the beekeeper's, and with his wife, whom she would also find there, had been invited to the banquet. Besides—this, as the best, she told her last—her father, Herr Ernst Ortlieb, had returned from Ulm and Augsburg, and a short time before had come to the fortress to conduct Jungfrau Els, by the Burgrave's gracious permission, to her betrothed husband's hiding place. Fran Gertrude had lighted her way, and a long separation might be borne for such a meeting.
The ex-maid was obliged to bestir herself that Eva might have a few minutes for her sister and Wolff, yet she would fain have spent a much longer time over the long, thick, fair hair, which with increasing pleasure she combed until it flowed in beautiful waving tresses over the rich Florentine stuff of her plain white mourning robe.
The Swiss had also provided white roses from the Burgrave's garden to fasten at the square neck of Eva's dress. The latter permitted her to do this, but her wish to put a wreath of roses on the young girl's head, according to the fashion of the day, was denied, because Eva thought it more seemly to appear unadorned, and not as if decked for a festival when she approached the Emperor as a petitioner. The woman whose life had been spent at court perceived the wisdom of this idea, and at last rejoiced that she had not obtained her wish; for when her work was finished Eva looked so bewitching and yet so pure and modest, that nothing could be removed or—even were it the wreath of roses—added without injuring the perfect success of her masterpiece.
Lack of time soon compelled the young girl to interrupt the exclamations of admiration uttered by the skilful tiring woman herself, her little daughter, the maidservant, and the friend whom Fran Gertrude had invited to come in as if by accident.
While following the warder's wife through various corridors and rooms, Eva thought of the hour in her own home before the dance at the Town Hall, and it seemed as if not days but a whole life intervened, and she was a different person, a complete contrast in most respects to the Eva of that time.
Before the dance she had secretly rejoiced in the applause elicited by her appearance; now she was indifferent to it—nay, the more eagerly the spectators expressed their delight the more she grieved that the only person whom she desired to please was not among them.
How easy it had been to be led to the dance, and how hard was the errand awaiting her! Her heart shrank before the doubt awakened by the flood of light pouring from the windows of the imperial residence; the doubt whether her lover would not avoid her if—ah, had it only been possible!—if he should meet her among the guests yonder; whether the eloquent Father Ignatius, who had followed him, might not already have won from the knight a vow compelling him to turn from her and summon all his strength of will to forget her.
But, no! He could no more renounce his love than she hers. She would not, dare not, let such terrible thoughts torture her now.
Heinz was far away, and the fate of her love would be decided later. The cause of her presence here was something very different, and the conviction that it was good, right, and certain of his approval, dispelled the pain that had overpowered her, and raised her courage.
Unspeakably hard trials lay behind her, and harder ones must, perhaps, yet be vanquished. But she no longer needed to fear them, for she felt that the strength which had awakened within her after she became conscious of her love was still sustaining and directing her, and would enable her to govern matters which she could not help believing that she herself would be too weak to guide to their goal. She felt freed from her former wavering and hesitation, and as formerly in the modest house of the Beguines, now in the stately citadel she realised that, in sorrow and severe trial, she had learned to assert her position in life by her own strength. Her father, whom she was to meet presently, would find little outward change in her, but when he had perceived the transformation wrought in the character of his helpless "little saint" it would please him to hear from her how wonderfully her mother's last prophetic words were being fulfilled.
She was emerging from the forge fire of life, steeled for every conflict, yet those would be wrong who believed that, trusting to her own newly won strength, she had forgotten to look heavenward. On the contrary, never had she felt nearer to her God, her Saviour, and the gracious Virgin. Without them she could accomplish nothing, yet for the first time she had undertaken tasks and sought to win goals which were worthy of beseeching them for aid. Love had taught her to be faithful in worldly life, and she said to herself, "Better, far better I can certainly become; but firmer faith cannot be kept."
Wolff's hiding place was a large, airy room, affording a view of the Frank country, with its meadows, fields, and forests. Eva saw there by the light of the blazing pine chips her father, sister, and brother-in-law.
Yet the meeting between all these beloved ones after a long separation partook more of sorrow than of joy. Els had really resolved to leave the Eysvogel mansion, yet she met her Aunt Christine with the joyful cry: "I shall stay! Wolff's father and I have become good friends."
In fact, a few hours before Herr Casper had looked at her kindly and gratefully, and when she showed him how happy this rendered her, warmly entreated her in a broken voice not to leave him. She had proved herself to be his good angel, and the sight of her was the only bright spot in his clouded life. Then she had gladly promised to stay, and intended to keep her word. She had only accompanied her father, who had unexpectedly returned for a short time, because she could trust the nun who shared her nursing of the paralysed patient, and he rarely recognised his watcher at night.
How long Els had been separated from her lover! When Eva greeted the reunited pair they had already poured forth to each other the events which had driven them to the verge of despair, and which now once more permitted them with budding hope to anticipate new happiness.
Eva had little time, yet the sisters found an opportunity to confide many things to each other, though at first their father often interrupted them by opposing his younger daughter's intention of going to the Emperor as a supplicant.
The girl whose wishes but a short time ago he had refused or gratified, according to the mood of the moment, like those of a child, had since gained, even in his eyes, so well founded a claim to respect, she opposed him in her courteous, modest way with such definiteness of purpose, Biberli's fate interested him so much, and the prospect of seeing his daughters brought before the court was so painful, that he admitted the force of Eva's reasons and let her set forth on her difficult mission accompanied by his good wishes.
Els had dropped her maternal manner; nay, she received her sister as her superior, and began to describe her work in the hospital to Wolff in such vivid colours that Eva laid her hand on her lips and hurried out of the room with the exclamation, "If you insist upon our changing places, we will stand in future side by side and shoulder to shoulder! Farewell till after the battle!"
She could not have given much more time to her relatives under any circumstances, for the Burgravine's maid of honour who was to attend her to the reception was already waiting somewhat impatiently in Frau Gertrude's room, and took her to the castle without delay.
The place where they were to stay was the large apartment adjoining the dining hall.
The confidence which Eva had regained on her way to her relatives vanished only too quickly in the neighbourhood of the sovereign and the sight of the formal reception bestowed on all who entered. Her heart throbbed more and more anxiously as she realised for the first time how serious a step she had taken; nay, it was long ere she succeeded in calming herself sufficiently to notice the clatter of the metal vessels and the Emperor's deep voice, which often drowned the lower tones of the guests. Reverence for royalty was apparent everywhere.
How much quieter this banquet was than those of the princes and nobles! The guests knew that the Emperor Rudolph disliked the boisterous manners of the German nobility. Besides, the sovereign's mourning exerted a restraint upon mirth and recklessness. All avoided loud laughter, though the monarch was fond of gaiety and heroically concealed the deep grief of his own soul.
When the lord high steward announced to the maid of honour who had brought Eva here that dessert was served, the latter believed that the dreaded moment when she would be presented to the Emperor was close at hand, but quarter of an hour after quarter of an hour passed and she still heard the clanking of metal and the voices of the guests, which now began to grow louder, and amidst which she sometimes distinguished the strident tones of the court fool, Eyebolt, and the high ones of the Countess Cordula.
Time moved at a snail's pace, and she already fancied her heart could no longer endure its violent throbbing, when at last—at last—the heavy oak chairs were pushed noisily back over the stone floor of the dining hall.
From the balcony of the audience chamber a flourish of trumpets echoed loudly along the arches of the lofty, vaulted ceiling of the apartment, and the Emperor, leading the company, crossed the threshold attended by several dignitaries, the court jesters, and some pages.
His august sister, the Burgravine Elizabeth, leaned on his arm. The papal ambassador, Doria, in the brilliant robe of a cardinal, followed, escorting the Duchess Agnes, but he parted from her in the hall. Among many other secular and ecclesiastical princes and dignitaries appeared also Count von Montfort and his daughter, the old First Losunger of Nuremberg, Berthold Vorchtel, and Herr Pfinzing with his wife.
Several guests from the city entered at the same time through another door, among whom, robed in handsome festal garments, were Eva's new Swabian acquaintances. How gladly she would have hastened to them! But a grey-haired stately man of portly figure, whose fur-trimmed cloak hung to his ankles—Sir Arnold Maier of Silenen, led them to a part of the hall very distant from where she was standing.
To make amends, Count von Montfort and Cordula came very near her; but she could not greet them. Each person—she felt it—must remain in his or her place. And the restraint became stronger as the Duchess Agnes, giving one guest a nod, another a few words, advanced nearer and nearer, pausing at last beside Count von Montfort.
The old huntsman advanced respectfully towards the Bohemian princess, and Eva heard the fourteen-year-old wife ask, "Well, Count, how fares your wish to find the right husband for your wilful daughter?"
"Of course it must be fulfilled, Duchess, since your Highness deigned to approve it," he answered, with his hand upon his heart.
"And may his name be known?" she queried with evident eagerness, her dark eyes sparkling brightly and a faint flush tingeing the slight shade of tan on her child face.
"The duty of a knight and paternal weakness unfortunately still seal my lips," he answered. "Your Highness knows best that a lady's wish—even if she is your own child—is a command."
"You are praised as an obedient father," replied the Bohemian with a slight shrug of the shoulders. "Yet you probably need not conceal whether the happy man, who is not only encouraged, but this time also chosen by the charming huntress of many kinds of game, is numbered among our guests."
"Unfortunately he is denied the pleasure, your Highness," replied the count; but Cordula, who had noticed Eva, and had heard the Duchess Agnes's last words, approached her royal foe, and with a low, reverential bow, said: "My poor heart must imagine him far away from here amid peril and privation. Instead of breaking ladies' hearts, he is destroying the castles of robber knights and disturbers of the peace of the country."
The duchess, in silent rage, clenched her white teeth upon her quivering lips, and was about to make an answer which would scarcely have flattered Cordula, when the Emperor, who had left his distinguished attendants, approached Eva, with the Burgravine still leaning on his arm.
She did not notice it; she was vainly trying to interpret the meaning of Cordula's words. True, she did not know that when no messenger brought Heinz Schorlin's intercession for Biberli, in whose fate the countess felt a sincere interest, she had commanded her own betrothed husband to ride his horse to death in order to tell the master of the sorely imperilled man what danger threatened his faithful servant, and remind him, in her name, that gratitude was one of the virtues which beseemed a true knight, even though the matter in question concerned only a servant Boemund Altrosen had obeyed, and must have overtaken Heinz long ago and probably aided him to rout the Siebenburgs and their followers. But Cordula read the young Bohemian's child heart, and it afforded her special pleasure to deal her a heavy blow in the warfare they were waging, which perhaps might aid another purpose.
The surprise and bewilderment which the countess's answer had aroused in Eva heightened the spell of her beauty.
Had she heard aright? Could Heinz really have sued for the countess's hand and been accepted? Surely, surely not! Neither was capable of such perfidy, such breach of faith. Spite of the testimony of her own ears, she would not believe it. But when she at last saw the Emperor's tall figure before her, and he gazed down at her with a kind, fatherly glance, she answered it with her large blue eyes uplifted beseechingly, and withal as trustilly, as if she sought to remind him that, if he only chose to do so, his power made it possible to convert everything which troubled and oppressed her to good.
The tearful yet bright gaze of those resistless eyes pierced the Emperor's very soul, and he imagined how this lovely vision of purity and innocence, this rare creature, of whom he had heard such marvellous things from Herr Pfinzing during their ride through the forest, would have fired the heart of his eighteen-year-old son, so sensitive to every impression, whom death had snatched from him so suddenly. And whilst remembering Hartmann, he also thought of his dead son's most loyal and dearest friend, Heinz Schorlin, who was again showing such prowess in his service, and had earned a right to recognition and reward.
He did not know his young favourite's present state of mind concerning his desire for a monastic life, but he had probably become aware that his swiftly kindled, ardent love for yonder lovely child had led him into an act of culpable imprudence. Besides, that very day many things had reached his ears concerning these two who suited each other as perfectly as Heinz Schorlin seemed—even to the Hapsburg, who was loyally devoted to the Holy Church—unfit for a religious life.
The Emperor could do much to further the union of this pair, yet he too was obliged to exercise caution. If he joined them in wedlock as though they were his own children he might be sure of causing loud complaints from the priesthood, and especially the Dominicans, who were very influential at the court of Rome—nay, he must be prepared for opposition directed against himself as well as the young pair. The prior of the order had already complained to the nuncio of the lukewarmness of the Superior of the Sisters of St. Clare, who idly witnessed the estrangement from the Church of the soul of a maiden belonging to a distinguished family; and Doria had told the sovereign of this provoking matter, and expressed the prior's hope that Sir Heinz Schorlin, who enjoyed the monarch's favour, would be won for the monastic life. Opposition to this marriage, which he approved, and therefore desired to favour, was also to be expected from another quarter. Therefore he must act with the utmost caution, and in a manner which his antagonists could not oppose.
At this reflection a peculiar smile, familiar to the courtiers as an omen of a gracious impulse, hovered around his lips, which during the past month had usually revealed by their expression the grief that burdened his soul and, raising his long forefinger in playful menace, he began:
"Aha, Jungfrau Eva Ortlieb! What have you been doing since I had the boon of meeting so rare a beauty at the dance? Do you know that you have caused a turmoil amongst both ecclesiastical and secular authorities, and that many a precious hour has been shortened for me on your account? You have disturbed both the austere Dominican Fathers and the devout Sisters of St. Clare. The former think the gentle nuns treat you too indulgently, and the latter charge the zealous followers of St. Domingo with too much strictness concerning you.
"And, besides, if you were not so well aware of it yourself, you would scarcely believe it: for the sake of an insignificant serving man, who is under your special protection, I, who carry the burden of so many serious and weighty affairs, am beset by those of high and low degree. How much, too, I have also suffered on account of his master, Sir Heinz Schorlin—again in connection with you, you lovely disturber of the peace! To say nothing of the rest, your own father brings a charge against him. The accusation is made in a letter which Meister Gottlieb, our protonotary, was to withhold by Herr Ortlieb's desire, but through a welcome accident it fell into my hands. This letter contains statements, my lovely child, which I—Nay, don't be troubled; the roses on your cheeks are glowing enough already, and for their sake I will not mention its contents; only they force me to ask the question—come nearer—whether, though it caused you great annoyance that a certain young Swiss knight forced his way into your father's house under cover of the darkness, you do not hope with me, the more experienced friend, that this foolhardy fellow, misguided by ardent love, with the aid of the saints to whom he is beginning to turn, may be converted to greater caution and praiseworthy virtue? Whether, in your great charity—which I have heard so highly praised—you would be capable"—Here he paused and, lowering his voice to a whisper, added:
"Do me the favour to lend your ear—what a well-formed little thing it is!—a short time longer, to confide to the elderly man who feels a father's affection for you whether you would be wholly reluctant to attempt the reformation of the daring evil-doer yourself were he to offer, not only his heart, but the little ring with—I will guarantee it—his honourable, knightly hand?"
"Oh, your Majesty!" cried Eva, gazing at the gracious sovereign with an expression of such imploring entreaty in her large, tearful blue eyes that, as if regretting his hasty question, he added soothingly:
"Well, well, we will reach the goal, I think, at a slower pace. Such a confession will probably flow more easily from the lips when sought by the person for whom it means happiness or despair, than when a stranger—even one as old and friendly as I—seeks to draw it from a modest maiden."
Here he paused; he had just recognised Lady Wendula Schorlin. Waving his hand to her in joyous greeting, he ordered a page to conduct her to him and, again turning to Eva, said: "Look yonder, my beautiful child: there is someone in whom you would confide more willingly than in me. I think Sir Heinz's mother, who is worthy of all reverence and love—"
Here surprise and joy forced from Eva's lips the question, "His mother?" and there was such amazement in the tone that, as the Lady Wendula, bowing low, approached the Emperor, after exchanging the first greetings which pass between old friends who have been long separated, he asked how it happened that though Eva seemed to have already met the matron, she heard with such surprise that she was the mother of his brave favourite.
Lady Wendula then confessed the name she had given herself, that she might study the young girl without being known; and again that peculiar smile flitted across the Emperor Rudolph's beardless face, and lingered there, as he asked the widow of his dead companion in arms whether, after such an examination, she believed she had found the right wife for her son; and she replied that a long life would not give her time enough to thank Heaven sufficiently for such a daughter.
The maiden who was the subject of this whispering, whose purport only a loving glance from the Lady Wendula revealed, pressed her hand upon her heart, whose impetuous throbbing stifled her breath. Oh, how gladly she would have hastened to the mother of the man she loved and his young sister, who stood at a modest distance, to clasp them in her arms, and confide to them what seemed too great, too much, too beautiful for herself alone, yet which might crumble at a single word from her lover's lips like an undermined tower swept away by the wind! But she was forced to have patience, and submit to whatever might yet be allotted to her.
Nor was she to lack agitating experiences, for the Emperor's murmured question whether she desired to hear herself called "daughter" by this admirable lady had scarcely called forth an answer, which, though mute, revealed the state of her heart eloquently enough, than he added in a louder tone, though doubtfully: "Then, so far, all would be well; but, fair maiden, my young friend, unfortunately, was by no means satisfied, if I heard aright, with knocking at the door of a single heart. Things have reached my ears—But this, too, must be——"
Here he suddenly paused, for already during this conversation with the ladies there had been a noise at the door of the hall, and now the person whom the Emperor had just accused entered, closely followed by the chamberlain, Count Ebenhofen, whose face was deeply flushed from his vain attempts to keep Sir Heinz Schorlin back.
Heinz's cheeks were also glowing from his struggle with the courtier, who considered it a grave offence that a knight should dare to appear before the Emperor at a peaceful social assembly clad in full armour.
His appearance created a joyful stir among the other members of the court—nay, in spite of the sovereign's presence, cordial expressions of welcome fell from the lips of ladies and nobles. The Bohemian princess alone cast an angry glance at the blue ribbon which adorned the helmet of the returning knight; for "blue" was Countess von Montfort's colour, and "rose red" her own.
The ecclesiastics whom Heinz passed whispered eagerly together. The Duchess Agnes's confessor, an elderly Dominican of tall stature, was listening to the provost of St. Sebald's, a grey-haired man a head shorter than he, of dignified yet kindly aspect, who, looking keenly at Heinz, remarked: "I fear that your prior hopes too confidently to win yonder young knight. No one walks with that bearing who is on the eve of renouncing the world. A splendid fellow!"
"To whom armour is better suited than the cowl," observed the Bishop of Bamberg, a middleaged prelate of aristocratic appearance, approaching the others. "Your prior, my dear brothers, would have little pleasure, I think, in the fish he is so eagerly trying to drag from the Minorite's net into his own. He would leap ashore again all too quickly. He is not fit for the monastery. He would do better for a priest, and I would bid him welcome as a military brother in office."
"Bold enough he certainly is," added the Dominican. "I would not advise every one to enter the Emperor's presence and this distinguished gathering in such attire."
In fact, Heinz showed plainly that he had come directly from the battlefield and the saddle, for a suit of stout chain armour, which covered the greater part of his tolerably long tunic, encased his limbs, and even the helmet which he bore on his arm, spite of the blue ribbon that adorned it, was by no means one of the delicate, costly ones worn in the tournament. Besides, many a bruise showed that hard blows and thrusts had been dealt him.
At Heinz Schorlin's quarters the day before his young hostess, Frau Barbel, had had the costly armour entrusted to her care, and the trappings belonging to it, cleaned and put in order, but her labour was vain; for Heinz Schorlin had ridden directly to the fortress from Schweinau, without stopping at his lodgings in the city.
Only a short time before he had learned that his two messengers had been captured and failed to reach their destination. He owed this information to Sir Boemund Altrosen—and many another piece of news which Cordula had given him.
The main portion of Heinz Schorlin's task was completed when the countess's ambassador reached him, so he set out on his homeward way at once, and this time his silent friend had been eloquent and told him everything which had occurred during his absence.
He now knew that Boemund and Cordula had plighted their troth, what the faithful Biberli had done and suffered for him, and lastly—even to the minutest detail—the wonderful transformation in Eva.
When he had ridden forth he had hoped to learn to renounce her whom he loved with all the might of his fervid soul, and to bring himself to close his career as a soldier with this successful campaign; but whilst he destroyed castles and attacked the foe, former wishes were stilled, and a new desire and new convictions took their place. He could not give up the profession of arms, which all who bore the name of Schorlin had practised from time immemorial, and to resign the love which united him to Eva was impossible. She must become his, though she resembled an April day, and Biberli's tales of the danger which threatened the husband from a sleep-walking wife returned more than once to his memory.
Yet what beautiful April days he had experienced, and though Eva might have many faults, the devout child, with her angel beauty, certainly did not lack the will to do what was right and pleasing to God. When she was once his she should become so good that even his mother at home would approve his choice.
He had wholly renounced the idea of going into the monastery. The Minorite Ignatius, whom Father Benedictus had sent after him that he might finish the work which the latter had begun, was a man who lacked neither intellect nor eloquence; but he did not possess the fiery enthusiasm and aristocratic confidence of the dead man. Yet when the zealous monks, whom the prior of the Dominicans had despatched to complete Heinz's conversion, opposed him, the former entered into such sharp and angry arguments with them that the young knight, who witnessed more than one of their quarrels, startled and repelled, soon held aloof from all three and told them that he had resolved to remain in the world, and his onerous office gave him no time to listen to their well-meant admonitions.
He was not created for the monastery. If Heaven had vouchsafed him a miracle, it was done to preserve his life that—as Eva desired—he might fight to the last drop of his blood for the Church, his holy faith, and the beloved Emperor. But if he remained in the world, Eva would do the same; they belonged to each other inseparably. Why, he could not have explained, but the voice which constantly reiterated it could not lie.
After he had slain Seitz Siebenburg in the sword combat, and destroyed his brother's castle, his resolve to woo Eva became absolutely fixed.
His heart dictated this, but honour, too, commanded him to restore to the maiden and her sister the fair fame which his passionate impetuosity had injured.
During the rapid ride which he and Boemund Altrosen took to Nuremberg he had stopped at Schweinau hospital, and found in Biberli, Eva's former enemy, her most enthusiastic panegyrist. Heinz also heard from him how quickly she had won the hearts of his mother and Maria, and that he would find all three at the fortress.
Lastly, Sister Hildegard had informed him of the great peril threatening his beloved faithful servant and companion, "old Biber," which had led Eva there to appeal to the Emperor.
Beside the body of Father Benedictus he learned how beautiful had been the death of the old man who had so honestly striven to lead him into the path which he believed was the right one for him to tread. In a brief prayer beside his devout friend Heinz expressed his gratitude, and called upon him to witness that, even in the world, he would not forget the shortness of this earthly pilgrimage, but would also provide for the other life which endured forever. True, Heinz had but a few short moments to devote to this farewell, the cause of the faithful follower who, unasked, had unselfishly endured unutterable tortures for him, took precedence of everything else and would permit no delay.
When the knight, with his figure drawn up to its full height, strode hastily into the royal hall, he beheld with joyful emotion those who were most dear to him, for whose presence he had longed most fervently during the ride—his mother, Eva, his sister, and the imperial friend he loved so warmly.
Overwhelmed by agitation, he flung himself on his knees before his master, kissing his hand and his robe, but the Emperor ordered him to rise and cordially greeted him.
Before speaking to his relatives, Heinz informed the monarch that he had successfully executed his commission and, receiving a few words of thanks and appreciation, modestly but with urgent warmth entreated the Emperor, if he was satisfied with his work, instead of any other reward, to save from further persecution the faithful servant who for his sake had borne the most terrible torture.
The face of the sovereign, who had welcomed Heinz as if he were a long-absent son, assumed a graver expression, and his tone seemed to vibrate with a slight touch of indignation, as he exclaimed: "First, let us settle your own affairs. Serious charges have been made against you, my son, as well as against your servant, on whose account I have been so tormented. A father, who is one of the leading men in this city, accuses you of having destroyed his daughter's good name by forcing yourself into his house after assuring his child of your love."
Heinz turned to Eva, to protest that he was here to atone for the wrong he had done her, but the Emperor would not permit him to speak. It was important to silence at once any objection which could be made against the marriage by ecclesiastical and secular foes; therefore, eagerly as he desired to enjoy the happiness of the young pair, he forced himself to maintain the expression of grave dissatisfaction which he had assumed, and ordered a page to summon the imperial magistrate, the First Losunger of the city, and his protonotary, who were all amongst the guests, and, lastly, the Duchess Agnes.
He could read the latter's child eyes like the clear characters of a book, and neither the radiant glow on her face at Heinz Schorlin's entrance nor her hostile glance at the Countess von Montfort had escaped his notice. Both her affection and her jealous resentment should serve him.
The young Bohemian now thought herself certain that Heinz Schorlin, and no other, was Cordula's chosen knight; the countess, at his entrance, had exclaimed to her father loudly enough, "Here he is again!"
When the princess stood before the Emperor, with the gentlemen whom he had summoned, he asked her to decide the important question.
"Yonder knight—he motioned towards Heinz—had been guilty of an act which could scarcely be justified. Though he had wooed the daughter of a noble Nuremberg family, and even forced his way into her father's house, he had apparently forgotten the poor girl.
"And," cried the young wife indignantly, "the unprincipled man has not only made a declaration of love to another, but formally asked her hand."
"That would seem like him," said the Emperor. "But we must not close our ears to the charge of the Nuremberg Honourable. His daughter, a lovely, modest maiden of excellent repute, has been seriously injured by Heinz Schorlin, and so I beg you, child, to tell us, with the keen appreciation of the rights and duties of a lady which is peculiar to you, what sentence, in your opinion, should be imposed upon Sir Heinz Schorlin to atone for the wrong he has done to the young Nuremberg maiden."
He beckoned to the protonotary, as he spoke, to command him to show Ernst Ortlieb's accusation to the duchess, but she seemed to have practised the art of reading admirably; for, more quickly than it would otherwise have appeared possible to grasp the meaning of even the first sentences, she exclaimed, drawing herself up to her full height and gazing at Cordula with haughty superiority: "There is but one decision here, if the morality of this noble city is to be preserved and the maiden daughters of her patrician families secured henceforward from the misfortune of being a plaything for the wanton levity of reckless heart breakers. But this decision, on which I firmly and resolutely insist, as lady and princess, in the name of my whole sex and of all knightly men who, with me, prize the reverence and inviolable fidelity due a lady, is: Sir Heinz Schorlin must ask the honourable gentleman who, with full justice, brought this complaint to your imperial Majesty, for his daughter's hand and, if the sorely injured maiden vouchsafes to accept it, lead her to the marriage altar before God and the world."
"Spoken according to the feelings of my own heart," replied the Emperor and, turning to the citizens of Nuremberg, he added: "So I ask you, gentlemen, who are familiar with the laws and customs of this good city and direct the administration of her justice, will such a marriage remove the complaint made against Sir Heinz Schorlin and his servant?"
"It will," replied old Herr Berthold Vorchtel, gravely and firmly.
Herr Pfinzing also assented, it is true, but added earnestly that an unfortunate meeting had caused another to suffer even more severely than Eva from the knight's imprudence. This was her older sister, the betrothed bride of young Eysvogel. For her sake, as well as to make the bond between Sir Heinz Schorlin and the younger Jungfrau Ortlieb valid, the father's consent was necessary. If his imperial Majesty desired to bring to a beautiful end, that very day, the gracious work so auspiciously commenced there was no obstacle in the way, for Ernst Ortlieb was at the von Zollern Castle with the daughter who had been so basely slandered.
The Emperor asked in surprise how they came there, and then ordered Eva's father and sister to be brought to him. He was eager to make the acquaintance of the second beautiful E.
"And Wolff Eysvogel?" asked the magistrate.
"We agreed to release him after we had turned our back on Nuremberg," replied the sovereign. "Much as we have heard in praise of this young man, gladly as we have shown him how gratefully we prize the blood a brave man shed for us upon the Marchfield, no change can be made in what, by virtue of our imperial word——"
"Certainly not, little brother," interrupted the court fool, Eyebolt, "but for that very reason you must open the Eysvogel's cage as quickly as possible and let him fly hither, for on the ride to the beekeeper's you crossed in your own seven-foot tall body the limits of this good city, whose length does not greatly surpass it—your imperial person, I mean. So you as certainly turned your back upon it as you stand in front of things which lie behind you. And as an emperor's word cannot have as much added or subtracted as a fly carries off on its tail, if it has one, you, little brother, are obliged and bound to have the strange monster, which is at once a wolf and a bird, immediately released and summoned hither."
"Not amiss," laughed the Emperor, "if the boundaries of Nuremberg saw our back for even so brief a space as it needs to make a wise man a fool.
"We will follow your counsel, Eyebolt.—Herr Pfinzing, tell young Eysvogel that the Emperor's pardon has ended his punishment. The breach of the country's peace may be forgiven the man who so heroically aided the battle for peace."
Then turning to Meister Gottlieb, the protonotary, he whispered so low that he alone could hear the command, that he should commit to paper a form of words which would give the bond between Heinz Schorlin and Eva Ortlieb sufficient legal power to resist both secular authority and that of the Dominicans and Sisters of St. Clare.
During this conference court etiquette had prevented the company from exchanging any remarks. Whatever one person might desire to say to another he was forced to entrust to the mute language of the eyes, and a sportive impulse induced Emperor Rudolph to maintain the spell which held apart those who were most strongly attracted to each other.
Meantime, whilst he was talking with the protonotary, the bolder guests ventured to move about more freely, and of them all Cordula imposed the least restraint upon herself.
Ere Heinz had found time to address a word to Eva or to greet his mother she glided swiftly to his side and, with an angry expression on her face, whispered: "If Heaven bestowed the greatest happiness upon the most deserving, you must be the most favoured of mortals, for a more exquisite masterpiece than your future wife—I know her—was never created. But now open your ears and follow my advice: Do not reveal the state of your heart until you have left the castle so far behind that you are out of sight of the Bohemian princess, or your ship of happiness may be wrecked within sight of port."
Then, with a well-assumed air of indignation, she abruptly turned her back upon him.
After moving away, she intentionally remained standing near the duchess, with drooping head. The latter hastily approached her, saying with admirably simulated earnestness: "You, Countess, will probably be the last to refuse your approval of my interference against our knightly butterfly and in behalf of the poor inexperienced girl, his victim."
"If that is your Highness's opinion," replied Cordula, shrugging her shoulders as if it were necessary to submit to the inevitable, "for my part I fear your kind solicitude may send me behind convent walls."
"Countess von Montfort a nun!" cried the child wife, laughing. "If it were Sir Heinz Schorlin to whom you just alluded, you, too, are among the deluded ones whom we must pity, yet with prudent foresight you provided compensation long ago. Instead of burying yourself in a convent, you, whom so many desire, would do better to beckon to one of your admirers and bestow on him the happiness of which the other was not worthy."
Cordula fixed her eyes thoughtfully on the floor a short time, then, as if the advice had met with her approval, exclaimed: "Your Royal Highness's mature wisdom has found the right expedient this time also. I am not fit for the veil. Perhaps you may hear news of me to-morrow. By that time my choice will be determined. What would you say to the dark-haired Altrosen?"
"A brave champion!" replied the Bohemian, and this time the laugh which accompanied her words came from the heart. "Try him, in the name of all the saints! But look at Sir Heinz Schorlin! A gloomy face for a happy man! He does not seem quite pleased with our verdict."
She beckoned, as she spoke, to her chamberlain and the high steward, took leave of her imperial father-in-law and, with her pretty little head flung proudly back, rustled out of the hall.
Soon after Herr Pfinzing ushered Ernst Ortlieb, his daughter, and Wolff into the presence of the sovereign, who gazed as if restored to youth at the handsome couple whose weal or woe was in his hands. This consciousness afforded him one of the moments when he gratefully felt the full beauty and dignity of his responsible position.
With friendly words he restored Wolff's liberty, and expressed the expectation that, with such a companion, he would raise the noble house of his ancestors to fresh prosperity.
When he at last turned to Heinz again he asked in a low tone: "Do you know what this day means to me?"
"Nineteen years ago it gave you poor Hartmann," replied the knight, his downcast eyes resting sadly on the floor.
The kind-hearted sovereign nodded significantly, and said, "Then it must benefit those who, so long as he lives, may expect his father's favour."
He gazed thoughtfully into vacancy and, faithful to his habit of fixing his eye on a goal, often distant, and then carefully carrying out the details which were to ensure success, ere he turned to the next one, he summoned the imperial magistrate and the First Losunger to his side.
After disclosing to them his desire to allow the judges to decide and, should the verdict go against Biberli, release him from punishment by a pardon, both undertook to justify the absence of the accused from the trial. The wise caution with which the Emperor Rudolph avoided interfering with the rights of the Honourable Council afforded old Herr Berthold Vorchtel great satisfaction. Both he and the magistrate, sure of the result, could promise that this affair, which had aroused so much excitement, especially among the artisans, would be ended by the marriage of the two Ortlieb sisters and the payment of the blood money to the wounded tailor. Any new complaint concerning them would then be lawfully rejected by both court and magistrate.
Never had Heinz thanked his imperial benefactor more warmly for any gift, but though the Emperor received his gallant favourite's expressions of gratitude and appreciation kindly, he did not yet permit him to enjoy his new happiness.
There were still some things which must be decided, and for the third time his peculiar smile showed the initiated that he was planning some pleasant surprise for those whom it concerned.
The mention of the blood money which Herr Ernst Ortlieb owed the slandering tailor, who had not yet recovered from his wound, induced the Emperor to look at the father of the beautiful sisters.
He knew that Herr Ernst had also lost a valiant son in the battle of Marchfield, and Eva's father had been described as an excellent man, but one with whom it was difficult to deal. Now, spite of the new happiness of his children, the sovereign saw him glance gloomily, as if some wrong had been done him, from his daughters to Heinz, and then to Lady Schorlin and Maria, to whom he had not yet been presented. He doubtless felt that the Emperor had treated him and his family with rare graciousness, and was entitled to their warmest gratitude yet, as a father and a member of the proud and independent Honourable Council of the free imperial city of Nuremberg, he considered his rights infringed—nay, it had cost him a severe struggle not to protest against such arbitrary measures. He had his paternal rights even here—Els and Eva were not parentless orphans.
The noble monarch and shrewd judge of human nature perceived what was passing in the Nuremberg merchant's mind, but the pleasant smile still rested on his lips as, with a glance at the ill-humoured Honourable, he exclaimed to his future son-in-law: "I have just remembered something, Heinz, which might somewhat cool your warm expressions of gratitude. Yonder lovely child consented to become yours, it is true, but that does not mean very much, for it was done without the consent of her father, by which the compact first obtains signature and seal. Herr Ernst Ortlieb, however, seems to be in no happy mood. Only look at him! He is certainly mutely accusing me of vexatious interference with his paternal rights, and yet he may be sure that I feel a special regard for him. His son's blood, which flowed for his Emperor's cause, gives him a peculiar claim upon our consideration, and we therefore devoted particular attention to his complaint. In this he now demands, my son, that you restore to him, Herr Ernst Ortlieb, the two hundred silver marks which are awarded to the tailor as blood money and he must pay to the injured artisan. The prudent business man can scarcely be blamed for making this claim, for the wound he inflicted upon the ill-advised tradesman who so basely, insulted those dearest to him would certainly not have been dealt had not your insolent intrusion into the Ortlieb mansion unchained evil tongues. So, Heinz, you caused his hasty act, and therefor, are justly bound to answer for the consequence; If he brings the accusation, the judges will condemn you to pay the sum. I therefore ask whether you have it ready."
Here Herr Ernst attempted to explain that, in the present state of affairs, there could be no further mention of a payment which was only, intended to punish the disturber of his domestic peace more severely; but the Emperor stopper him and bade Heinz speak.
The latter gazed in embarrassment at the helmet he held in his hand, and had not yet found; fitting answer when the Emperor cried: "What am I to think? Was the Duke of Pomerani; wrong when he told me of a heap of gold——"
"No, Your Majesty," Heinz here interrupter without raising his eyes. "What was left of the money would have more than sufficed to cover the sum required——"
"I thought so!" exclaimed the sovereign with out letting him finish; "for a young knight who like a great lord, bestows a fine estate upon the pious Franciscans, certainly need only command his treasurer to open the strong box——"
"You are mocking me, Your Majesty," Heinz quietly interposed. "You are doubtless well aware whence the golden curse came to me. I thrust it aside like noxious poison, and if I am reluctant to use it to buy, as it were, what is dearest and most sacred to me, indeed it does not spring from parsimony, for I had resolved to offer the two remaining purses to the devout Sisters of St. Clare and the zealous Minorite Brothers, one of the best of whom laboured earnestly for the salvation of my soul."
"That is right, my son," fell from the Emperor's lips in a tone of warm approval. "If the gold benefits the holy poverty of these pious Brothers and Sisters, the devil's gift may easily be transformed into a divine blessing. You both—" he gazed affectionately at Heinz and Eva as he spoke—"have, as it were, deserted the cloister, and owe it compensation. But your depriving yourself of your golden treasure, my friend—for two hundred silver marks are no trifle to a young knight—puts so different a face upon this matter that—that——" Here he lowered his voice and continued with affectionate mirthfulness—"that a friend must determine to do what he can for him. True, my gallant Heinz, I see that your future father-in-law, the other Nuremberg Honourables, and even your mother, are ready to pay the sum; but he who is most indebted to you holds fast this privilege, and that man am I, my brave champion! What you did for your Emperor and his best work, the peace of the country, deserves a rich reward and, thanks to the saints, I have something which will discharge my debt. The Swabian fief of Reichenbach became vacant. It has a strong citadel, from which we command you to maintain the peace of the country and overthrow robber knights. This fief shall be yours. You can enjoy it with your dear wife. It must belong to your children and children's children forever; for that a Schorlin should be born who would be unworthy of such a fief and faithless to his lord and Emperor seems to me impossible. Three villages and broad forests, with fields and meadows, pertain to the estate. As lord of Reichenbach, it will be easy for you to pay the blood money, if your father-in-law is not too importunate a creditor."
The latter certainly would not be that, and it cost Ernst Ortlieb no effort to bend the knee gratefully before the kindly monarch.
The Emperor Rudolph accepted the homage, but he clasped the young lord of Reichenbach to his heart like a beloved son, and as he placed Eva's hand in his, and she raised her beautiful face to him, he stooped and kissed her with fatherly kindness.
When Wolff entreated him to bless his alliance in the place of his suffering father, he did so gladly; and Els also willingly offered him her lips; when he requested the same favour her sister had granted him, that he might boast of the kisses bestowed on him by the two beautiful Es, Nuremberg's fairest maidens.
Heinz heeded Cordula's warning. In the royal hall every one would have been justified in believing him a very cool lover, but during the walk with Eva to the lodgings of his cousin Maier of Silenen, where the Schurlins, Ortliebs, Wolff, and Herr Pfinzing and his wife were to meet to celebrate the betrothal, the moon, whose increasing crescent was again in the sky, beheld many things which gave her pleasure.
The priest soon united Heinz and Eva, but the celestial pilgrim willingly resigned the power formerly exerted over the maiden to the husband, who clasped her to his heart with tender love.
Luna was satisfied with Wolff and Els also. She afterwards watched the fate of both couples in Swabia and Nuremberg, and when the showy escutcheon was removed from the Eysvogel mansion, and a more modest one put in its place, she was gratified.
She soon saw that a change had also been made in the one above the door of the Ortlieb house, for the Ortlieb coat of arms, in accordance with the family name, had borne the figure of a cat, the animal which loves the place,—[Ort, place.]—the house to which it belongs, but on the wedding day of the two beautiful Es the Emperor Rudolph had commanded that, in perpetual remembrance of its two loveliest daughters, the Ortliebs should henceforward bear on their escutcheon two linden leaves under tendrils, the symbol of loyal steadfastness.
When, a few months after Wolff's union with his heart's beloved, the coffin of old Countess Rotterbach, adorned with a handsome coronet upon the costly pall, was borne out of the house at the quiet evening hour, she thought there was no cause to mourn.
On the other hand, she grieved when, for a long time, she did not see old Casper Eysvogel, whose tall figure she had formerly watched with pleasure when, at a late hour, he returned from some banquet, his bearing erect, and his step as firm as if wine could not get the better of him. But suddenly one warm September noon, when her pale, waxing crescent was plainly visible in the blue sky by daylight, she beheld him again. He was less erect than before, but he seemed content with his fate; for, as a cooler breeze waved the light cobwebs in the little garden, into which he had been led, his daughter-in-law Els with loving care wrapped his feet in the rug which she had embroidered for him with the Eysvogel coat of arms, and he gratefully kissed her brow.
It was fully ten years later that Luna saw him also borne to the grave. Frau Rosalinde, his son, and his beautiful wife followed his coffin with sincere sorrow. The three gifted children whom Els had given to her Wolff remained standing in front of the house with Frau Rickel, their nurse. The carrier's widow, who had long since regained her health in the Beguine House at Schweinau, had been taken into Frau Eysvogel's service. Her little adopted daughter Walpurga, scarcely seventeen years old, had just been married to the Ortlieb teamster Ortel. The moon heard the nurse tell what a pleasant, quiet man Herr Casper had been, and how, away from his own business affairs and those of the Council, his sole effort had seemed to be to interfere with no one.
The moon had forgotten to look at Frau Rosalinde. Besides, after her mother's death she was rarely seen even by the members of her own household, but when Els desired to seek her she was sure of finding her with the children. The parents willingly afforded her the pleasure she derived from the companionship of the little ones, but they were often obliged to oppose her wish to dress her grandchildren magnificently.
Frau Rosalinde rarely saw the twin sons of her daughter Isabella, who took the veil after her husband's death to pray for his sorely imperilled soul.
The Knight Heideck, the uncle and faithful teacher of the boys, was unwilling to let them go to the city. He ruled them strictly until they had proved that Countess Cordula's wish had been fulfilled and, resembling their unfortunate father only in figure and beauty, strength and courage, they had grown into valiant, honourable knights.
Wolff justified the expectations of Berthold Vorchtel and the Honourable Council concerning his excellent ability. When, eight years after he undertook the sole guidance of the business, the Reichstag again met in Nuremberg, it was the house of Eysvogel which could make the largest loan to the Emperor Rudolph, who often lacked necessary funds.
At the Reichstag of the year 1289, whose memory is shadowed by many a sorrowful incident, most of the persons mentioned in our story met once more.
Countess Cordula, now the happy wife of Sir Boemund Altrosen, had also come and again lodged in the Ortlieb house. But this time the only person whose homage pleased her was the grey-haired, but still vigorous and somewhat irascible Herr Ernst Ortlieb.
The Abbess Kunigunde alone was absent. When, after many an arduous conflict, especially with the Dominicans, who did not cease to accuse her of lukewarmness, she felt death approaching, she had summoned her darling Eva from Swabia, and the young wife's husband, who never left her save when he was wielding his sword for the Emperor, willingly accompanied her to Nuremberg.
With Eva's hand clasped in hers, and supported by Els, the abbess died peacefully, rich in beautiful hopes. How often she had described such an end to her pupil as the fairest reward for the sacrifices in which convent life was so rich! But the memory of her mother's decease had brought to Eva, while in Schweinau, the firm conviction that dwellers in the world were also permitted to find a similar end. The Saviour Himself had promised the crown of eternal life to those who were faithful unto death, and she and her husband maintained inviolable fidelity to the Saviour, to each other, and to every duty which religion, law, and love commanded them to fulfil. Therefore, why should they not be permitted to die as happily and confidently as her aunt, the abbess?
Her life was rich in happiness, and though Heinz Schorlin as a husband and father, as the brave and loyal liegeman of his Emperor, and the prudent manager of his estate, regained his former light-heartedness, and taught his wife to share it, both never forgot the painful conflict by which they had won each other.
When Eva passed the village forge and saw the smith draw the glowing iron from the fire and, with heavy hammer strokes, fashion it upon the anvil as he desired, she often remembered the grievous days after her mother's death, which had made the "little saint"—she did not admit it herself, but the whole Swabian nobility agreed in the opinion—the most faithful of wives and mothers, the Providence of the poor, the zealous promoter of goodness, the most simply attired of noblewomen far and near, yet the most aristocratic and distinguished in her appearance of them all.
Hand in hand with her husband she devoted the most faithful care to their children, and if Biberli, the castellan of the castle, and Katterle his wife, who had remained childless, were too ready to read the wishes of their darlings in their eyes, she exclaimed warningly to the loyal old friend, "The fire of the forge!" He and Katterle knew what she meant, for the ex-schoolmaster had explained it in the best possible way to his docile wife.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
His sole effort had seemed to be to interfere with no one No virtue which can be owned like a house or a steed Retreat behind the high-sounding words "justice and law" Strongest of all educational powers—sorrow and love Usually found the worst wine in the taverns with showy signs
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS FOR THE ENTIRE FIRE OF THE FORGE:
Abandoned women (required by law to help put out the fires) Deem every hour that he was permitted to breathe as a gift False praise, he says, weighs more heavily than disgrace His sole effort had seemed to be to interfere with no one No virtue which can be owned like a house or a steed Retreat behind the high-sounding words "justice and law" Shipwrecked on the cliffs of 'better' and 'best' Strongest of all educational powers—sorrow and love The heart must not be filled by another's image Usually found the worst wine in the taverns with showy signs Welcome a small evil when it barred the way to a greater one