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In The Fire of the Forge
by Georg Ebers
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A female figure glided into the dark street after them. A black shawl concealed her head and the upper part of her figure, and she held a bundle in her hand.

It must be Katterle.

Where was she going at this hour? As she was carrying the package, she could scarcely intend to help in putting out the fire. Was she stealing away from fear of punishment? Poor thing! Even the maid was hurled into misfortune through her guilt.

It pierced her very heart. But while she called to Katterle to stop her, something else, which engrossed her still more, diverted her attention—the loud voice of Countess Cordula reached her from the street door. With whom was she talking? Did the girl, who ventured upon so many things which ill-beseemed a modest maiden, intend to join the men? Eva forgot that she, too, would have hurried to the nuns had not her father prevented it. The countess was already standing in the courtyard.

After Eva had given her a hasty glance she again looked for the maid, but Katterle had already vanished in the darkness. This grieved her; she had neglected something which might have saved the girl, to whom she was warmly attached, from some imprudent act. But while attracted by the strange appearance of the countess she had forgotten the other.

Cordula had probably just left her couch, for she wore only a plain dress tucked up very high, short boots, which she probably used in hunting, and a shawl crossed over her bosom; another was wound round her head in the fashion of the peasant women who brought their goods to market on cold winter days. No farmer's wife could be more simply clad, and yet—Eva was forced to admit it—there was something aristocratic in her firm bearing.

Her companions were her father's chaplain and the equerry who had grown grey in his service. Both were trying to dissuade her. The former pointed to a troop of women who were following the chief of police and some city constables, and said warningly: "Those are all wanton queans, whom the law of this city compels to lend their aid in putting out fires. How would it beseem your rank to join these who shame their sex——No, no! It would be said to-morrow that the ornament of the house of Montfort had——"

"That Countess Cordula had used her hands in extinguishing the fire," she interrupted with gay self-confidence. "Is there any disgrace in that? Must my noble birth debar me from being numbered among those who help their neighbours so far as lies in their power? If any good is accomplished here, those poor women yonder will make it no worse by their aid. If people here believe that they do, it will give me double pleasure to ennoble it by working with them. Putting out the flames will not degrade me, and will make the women better. So, forward! See how the fire is blazing yonder! Help is needed there and, thank Heaven, I am no weakling. Besides, there are women who want assistance and, to women in peril, the most welcome aid is woman's."

The old equerry, his eyes glittering with tears, nodded assent, and led the way into the street; but the countess, instead of following instantly, glanced back for the page who was to carry the bandages which she had learned to use among her retainers at home. The agile boy did not delay her long; but while his mistress was looking to see that he had forgotten nothing of importance, he perceived at the window Eva, whose beauty had long since fired his young heart, and cast a languishing glance at her. Then Cordula also noticed her and called a pleasant greeting. Eva was on the point of answering in the same tone, when she remembered that Cordula had spoken of Heinz Schorlin in the presence of others as if he were awaiting her in all submission. Anger surged hotly in her breast, and she drew back into the room as if she had not heard the salutation.

The countess perceived it, and shrugged her shoulders pityingly.

Eva, dissatisfied with herself, continued to gaze down into the street long after the crowds of people flocking from the city had concealed Cordula from her eyes. It seemed as though she would never again succeed in anything that would bring contentment. Never had she felt so weak, so ill-tempered, so devoid of self-reliance. Yet she could not, as usual, seek consolation with her saint. There was so much here below to divert her attention.

The roseate glow on the linden had become a crimson glare, the flickering light on the opposite walls a dazzling illumination. The wind, now blowing from the west, bore from St. Klarengasse burning objects which scattered sparks around them—bundles of hay caught by the flames—from the convent barn to the Marienthurm opposite, and into the street. Besides, the noise above and behind, before and below her, grew louder and louder. The ringing of the bells and the blare of trumpets from the steeples continued, and with this constant ringing, pealing, and crashing from above, mingled the high, clear voices of the choir of nuns in the convent, beseeching in fervent litanies the help of their patron saint. True, the singing was often drowned by the noise from the street, for the fire marshals and quartermasters had been informed in time, and watchmen, soldiers in the pay of the city, men from the hospital, and the abandoned women (required by law to help put out the fires) came in little groups, while bailiffs and servants of the Council, barbers (who were obliged to lend their aid, but whose surgical skill could find little employment here), members of the Council, priests and monks arrived singly. The street also echoed with the trampling of many steeds, for mounted troopers in coats of mail first dashed by to aid the bailiffs in maintaining order, then the inspector of water works, with his chief subordinate, trotted along to St. Klarengasse on the clumsy horses placed at their disposal by the Council in case of fire. He was followed by the millers, with brass fire engines. While their well-fed nags drew on sledges, with little noise, through the mire of the streets now softened by the rain, the heavy wooden water barrels needed in the work of extinguishing the flames, there was a loud rattling and clanking as the carts appeared on which the men from the Public Works building were bringing large and small ladders, hooks and levers, pails and torches, to the scene of the conflagration.

Besides those who were constrained by the law, many others desired to aid the popular Sisters of St. Clare and thereby earn a reward from God. A brewer had furnished his powerful stallions to convey to the scene of action, with their tools, the eight masons whose duty it was to use their skill in extinguishing the flames. All sorts of people—men and women—followed, yelling and shrieking, to seek their own profit during the work of rescue. But the bailiffs kept a sharp eye on them, and made way when the commander of the German knights, with several companions on whose black mantles the white cross gleamed, appeared on horseback, and at last old Herr Berthold Vorchtel trotted up on his noble grey, which was known to the whole city. He still had a firm seat in the saddle, but his head was bowed, and whoever knew that only one hour before the corpse of his oldest son, slain in a duel, had been brought home, admired the aged magistrate's strength of will. As First Losunger and commander in chief he was the head of the Council, and therefore of the city also. Duty had commanded him to mount his steed, but how pale and haggard was his shrewd face, usually so animated!

Just in front of the Ortlieb mansion the commander of the German knights rode to his side, and Eva saw how warmly he shook him by the hand, as if he desired to show the old man very cordially his deep sympathy in some sore trouble which had assailed him.

Ever since Wolff's betrothal to Els had been announced the Vorchtels had ceased to be on terms of intimacy with the Ortliebs; but old Herr Berthold, though he himself had probably regarded young Eysvogel as his "Ursel's" future husband, had always treated Eva kindly, and she was not mistaken—tears were glittering on his cheeks in the torchlight. The sight touched the young girl's inmost heart. How eagerly she desired to know what had befallen the Vorchtels, and to give the old man some token of sympathy! What could have caused him so much sorrow? Only a few hours before her father had returned from a gay entertainment at his house. It could scarcely concern Herr Berthold's wife, his daughter Ursula, or either of his two vigorous sons. Perhaps death had only bereft him of some more distant, though beloved relative, yet surely she would have known that, for the Ortliebs were connected by marriage both with the old gentleman and his wife.

Tortured by a presentiment of evil, Eva gazed after him, and also watched for Heinz Schorlin among the people in the street. Must not anxiety for her bring him hither, if he learned how near her house the fire was burning?

Whenever a helmet or knight's baret appeared above the crowd she thought that he was coming. Once she believed that she had certainly recognised him, for a tall young man of knightly bearing appeared, not mounted, but on foot, and stopped opposite to the Ortlieb house. That must be he! But when he looked up to her window, the reflection of the fire showed that the man who had made her heart beat so quickly was indeed a young and handsome knight, but by no means the person for whom she had mistaken him. It was Boemund Altrosen, famed as victor in many a tournament, who when a boy had often been at the house of her uncle, Herr Pfinzing. There was no mistaking his coal-black, waving locks. It was said that the dark-blue sleeve of a woman's robe which he wore on his helmet in the jousts belonged to the Countess von Montfort. She was his lady, for whom he had won so many victories.

Heinz Schorlin had mentioned him at the ball as his friend, and told her that the gallant knight would vainly strive to win the reckless countess. Perhaps he was now looking at the house so intently on Cordula's account. Or had Heinz, his friend, sent him to watch over her while he was possibly detained by the Emperor?

But, no; he had just gone nearer to the house to question a man in the von Montfort livery, and the reply now led him to move on towards the convent.

Were the tears which filled Eva's eyes caused by the smoke that poured from the fire more and more densely into the street, or to disappointment and bitter anguish?

The danger which threatened her aunt and her beloved nuns also increased her excitement. True, the sisters themselves seemed to feel safe, for snatches of their singing were still audible amid the ringing of the bells and the blare of the trumpets, but the fire must have been very hard to extinguish. This was proved by the bright glow on the linden tree and the shouts of command which, though unintelligible, rose above every other sound.

The street below was becoming less crowded. Most of those who had left their beds to render aid had already reached the scene of the conflagration. Only a few stragglers still passed through the open gate towards the Marienthurm. Among them were horsemen, and Eva's heart again throbbed more quickly, but only for a short time. Heinz Schorlin was far taller than the man who had again deceived her, and his way would hardly have been lighted by two mounted torch bearers. Soon her rosy lips even parted in a smile, for the sturdy little man on the big, strong-boned Vinzgau steed, whom she now saw distinctly, was her dearest relative, her godfather, the kind, shrewd, imperial magistrate, Berthold Pfinzing, the husband of her father's sister, good Aunt Christine.

If he looked up he would tell her about old Herr Vorchtel. Nor did he ride past his darling's house without a glance at her window, and when he saw Eva beckon he ordered the servants to keep back, and stopped behind the chains.

After he had briefly greeted his niece and she had enquired what had befallen the Vorchtels, he asked anxiously: "Then you know nothing yet? And Els—has it been kept from her, too?"

"What, in the name of all the saints?" asked Eva, with increasing alarm.

Then Herr Pfinzing, who saw that the door of the house was open, asked her to come down. Eva was soon standing beside her godfather's big bay, and while patting the smooth neck of the splendid animal he said hurriedly, in a low tone: "It's fortunate that it happened so. You can break it gradually to your sister, child. To-night Summon up your courage, for there are things which even a man—To make the story short, then: Tonight Wolff Eysvogel and young Vorchtel quarreled, or rather Ulrich irritated your Wolff so cruelly that he drew his sword—"

"Wolff!" shrieked Eva, whose hand had already dropped from the horse. "Wolff! He is so terribly strong, and if he drew his sword in anger——"

"He dealt his foe one powerful thrust," replied the imperial magistrate with an expressive gesture. "The sword pierced him through. But I must go on Only this one thing more: Ulrich was borne back to his parents as a corpse. And Wolff Where is he hiding? May the saints long be the only ones who know! A quarrel with such a result under the Emperor's eyes, now when peace has just been declared throughout the land! Who knows what sentence will be pronounced if the bailiffs show themselves shrewder this time than usual! My office compelled me to set the pack upon him. That is the reason I am so late. Tell Els as cautiously as possible."

He bowed gallantly and trotted on, but Eva, as if hunted by enemies, rushed up the staircase, threw herself on her knees before the prie dieu, and sobbed aloud.

Young Vorchtel had undoubtedly heard of the events in the entry, taunted Wolff with his betrothed bride's nocturnal interview with a knight, and thus roused the strong man to fury. How terrible it all was! How could she bear it! Her thoughtlessness had cost a human life, robbed parents of their son! Through her fault her sister's betrothed husband, whom she also loved, was in danger of being placed under ban, perhaps even of being led to the executioner's block!

She had no thought of any other motive which might have induced the hot-blooded young men to cross swords and, firmly convinced that her luckless letter had drawn Heinz Schorlin to the house and thus led to all these terrible things, she vainly struggled for composure.

Sometimes she beheld in imagination the despairing Els; sometimes the aged Vorchtels, grieving themselves to death; sometimes Wolff, outlawed, hiding like a hunted deer in the recesses of the forest; sometimes the maid, fleeing with her little bundle into the darkness of the night; sometimes the burning convent; and at intervals also Heinz Schorlin, as he knelt before her and raised his clasped hands with passionate entreaty.

But she repelled every thought of him as a sin, and even repressed the impulse to look out into the street to seek him. Her sole duty now was to pray to her patron saint and the Mother of God in behalf of her sister, whom she had hurled into misfortune, and her poor heart bleeding from such deep wounds; but the consolation which usually followed the mere uplifting of her soul in prayer did not come, and it could not be otherwise, for amid her continual looking into her own heart and listening to what went on around her no real devotion was possible.

Although she constantly made fresh efforts to collect her thoughts, and continued to kneel with clasped hands before the prie dieu, not a hoof-beat, not a single loud voice, escaped her ear. Even the alternate deepening and paling of the reflection of the fire, which streamed through the window, attracted her attention, and the ringing of bells and braying of trumpets, which still continued, maintained the agitation in her soul.

Yet prayer was the sole atonement she could make for the wrong she had done her sister; so she did not cease her endeavours to plead for her to the Great Helper above, but her efforts were futile. Yet even when she heard voices close by the house, among which she distinguished Countess Cordula's and—if she was not mistaken—her father's, she resisted the impulse to rise from her knees.

At last the vain struggle was ended by an interruption from without. After unusually loud voices exclaiming and questioning had reached her from the entry, the door of her chamber suddenly opened and old Martsche looked in. The housekeeper was seeking something; but when she found the devout child on her knees she did not wish to disturb her, and contented herself with the evidence of her eyes. But Eva stopped her, and learned that she was searching for Katterle, who could neither be found in her room, or anywhere else. Herr Ortlieb had brought Countess von Montfort home severely burned, and there were all sorts of things for the maid to do.

Eva clung shuddering to the back of the prie dieu, for the certainty that the unfortunate girl had really fled was like strewing salt on her wounds.

When Martsche left her and Els entered, her excitement had risen to such a pitch that she flung herself before her, as if frantic and, clinging to her knees, heaping self-accusations upon herself with passionate impetuosity, she pleaded, amid her sobs, for pardon and mercy.

Meanwhile Els had been informed by her father of her lover's fatal deed, and as soon as she perceived what tortured her sister she relieved her, with loving words of explanation, from the reproach of being the cause of this misfortune also, for the quarrel had taken place so early that no tidings of the meeting in the entry could have reached young Vorchtel when he became involved in the fray with Wolff.

Nor was it solely to soothe Eva that she assured her that, deeply as she mourned the death of the hapless Ulrich and his parents' grief, Wolff's deed could not diminish either her love or her hope of becoming his.

Eva listened to this statement with sparkling eyes. The love in her sister's heart was as immovably firm as the ancient stones of her native stronghold, which defied every storm, and on which even the destroying, kindling lightning could inflict no injury. This made her doubly dear, and from the depths of dull despair her soul, ever prone to soar upwards, rose swiftly to the heights of hopeful exaltation.

When Els at last entreated her to go to rest without her, she willingly consented, for her mother was comfortable, and Sister Renata was watching at her bedside.

Eva kept her promise, after Els, who wanted to see the Countess von Montfort, had satisfied her concerning the welfare of the nuns and promised to go to rest herself as soon as possible.

The stopping of the alarm bells proved that the fire was under control. Even its reflection had disappeared, but the eastern sky was beginning to be suffused with a faint tinge of rose colour.

When her sister left her Eva herself drew the curtains before the window, and sleep soon ended her thoughts and yearnings, her grief and her hope.



CHAPTER XIV.

Countess Cordula von Montfort's room faced the east and looked out into the garden. The sun of the June morning had just risen, filling it with cheerful light.

The invalid's maid had wished to deny Els admittance, but the countess called eagerly to her, and then ordered the windows to be opened, because she never felt comfortable unless it was light around her and she could breathe God's pure air.

The morning breeze bore the smoke which still rose from the fire in another direction, and thus a refreshing air really entered the room from the garden, for the thunderstorm had refreshed all nature, and flower beds and grass, bush and tree, exhaled a fresh odour of earth and leafage which it was a delight to breathe.

The leech Otto, to whom the severely wounded Ulrich Vorchtel had been carried, had just left the countess. The burns on her hands and arms had been bandaged—nay, the old gentleman had cut out the scorched portions of her tresses with his own hand. Cordula's energetic action had made the famous surgeon deem her worthy of such care. He had also advised her to seek the nursing of the oldest daughter of her host, whose invalid wife he was attending, and she had gladly assented; for Els had attracted her from their first meeting, and she was accustomed to begin the day at sunrise.

"How does it happen that you neither weep nor even hang your head after all the sorrow which last night brought you?" asked Cordula, as the Nuremberg maiden sat down beside her bed. "You are a stranger to the Swiss knight, and when we surprised you with him you had not come to a meeting—I know that full well. But if so true and warm a love unites you to young Eysvogel, how does it happen that your joyous courage is so little damped by his father's denial and his own unhappy deed, which at this time could scarcely escape punishment? You do not seem frivolous, and yet—"

"Yet," replied Els with a pleasant smile, "many things have made a deeper impression. We are not all alike, Countess, yet there is much in your nature which must render it easy for you to understand me; for, Countess——"

"Call me Cordula," interrupted the girl in a tone of friendly entreaty. "Why should I deny that I am fond of you? and at the risk of making you vain, I will betray——"

"Well?" asked Els eagerly.

"That the splendid old leech described you to me exactly as I had imagined you," was the reply. You were one of those, he said, whose mere presence beside a sick-bed was as good as medicine, and so you are; and, dear Jungfrau Els, this salutary medicine benefits me."

"If I am to dispense with the 'Countess,'" replied the other, "you must spare me the 'Jungfrau.' Nursing you will give me all the more pleasure on account of the warm gratitude——"

"Never mind that," interrupted Cordula. "But please look at the bandage, beneath which the flesh burns and aches more than is necessary, and then go on with your explanation."

Els examined the countess's arm, and then applied a household remedy whose use she had learned from the wife of Herr Pfinzing, her Aunt Christine, who was familiar with the healing art. It relieved the pain, and when Cordula told her so, Els went on with her explanation. "When all these blows fell upon me, they at first seemed, indeed, unprecedented and scarcely possible to endure. When afterwards my Wolff's unhappy deed was added, I felt as though I were standing in a dense, dark mist, where each step forwards must lead me into a stifling morass or over a precipice. Then I began to reflect upon what had happened, as is my custom; I separated, in my thoughts, the evil menacing in the future from the good, and had scarcely made a little progress in this way when morass and abyss lost their terrors; both, I found, could be left to take care of themselves, since neither Wolff nor I lack love and good will, and we possess some degree of prudence and caution."

"Yes, this thinking and considering!" cried the countess, with a faint sigh. "It succeeds in my case, too, only, unluckily, I usually don't begin until it is too late and the folly has been committed."

"Then, henceforth, you must reverse the process," answered Els cheerily. But directly after she changed her tone, which sounded serious enough as she added: "The sorrow of the poor Vorchtels and the grief my betrothed husband must endure, because the dead man was once a dear friend, certainly casts a dark shadow upon many things; but you, who love the chase, must surely be familiar with the misty autumn mornings to which I allude. Everything, far and near, is covered by a thick veil, yet one feels that there is bright sunshine behind it. Suddenly the mist scatters——"

"And mountain and forest, land and water, lie before us in the radiant sunlight!" cried the countess. "How well I know such scenes! And how I should rejoice if a favourable wind would sweep the grey mist away for you right speedily! Only—indeed, I am not disposed to look on the dark side—only, perhaps you do not know how resolute the Emperor is that the peace of the country shall be maintained. If your lover allowed himself to be carried away——"

"This was not the first time," Els eagerly interrupted, "that young Vorchtel tried to anger him in the presence of others; and he believed that he was justified in bearing a grudge against his former friend—it was considered a settled thing that Wolff and his sister Ursula were to marry."

"Until," Cordula broke in, "he gazed into your bright eyes."

"How could you know that?" asked Els in confusion.

"Because, in love and hate, as well as in reckoning, two and three follow one," laughed the countess. "As for your Wolff, in particular, I will gladly believe, with you, that he can succeed in clearing himself before the judges. But with regard to old Eysvogel, who looks as though, if he met our dear Lord Himself, he would think first which of the two was the richer, your future brother-in-law Siebenburg, that disagreeable 'Mustache,' and his poor wife, who sits at home grieving over her dissolute husband—what gratitude you can expect from such kindred—"

"None," replied Els sadly. Yet a mischievous smile hovered around her lips as, bending over the invalid, she added in a whisper: "But the good I expect from all the evil is, that we and the Eysvogels will be separated as if by wall and moat. They will never cross them, but Wolff would find the way back to me, though we were parted by an ocean, and mountains towering to the sky divided——"

"This confidence, indeed, maintains the courage," said the countess, and with a faint sigh she added: "Whatever evil may befall you, many might envy you."

"Then love has conquered you also?" Els began; but Cordula answered evasively:

"Let that pass, dear Jungfrau. Perhaps love treats me as a mother deals with a froward child, because I asked too much of her. My life has become an endless battue. Much game of all kinds is thus driven out to be shot, but the sportsman finds true pleasure only in tracking the single heathcock, the solitary chamois. Yet, no," and in her eagerness she flung her bandaged hand so high into the air that she groaned with pain and was forced to keep silence. When able to speak once more, still tortured by severe suffering, she exclaimed angrily: "No, I want neither driving nor stalking. What do I care for the prey? I am a woman, too. I would fain be the poor persecuted game, which the hunter pursues at the risk of breaking his bones and neck. It must be delightful; one would willingly bear the pain of a wound for its sake. I don't mean these pitiful burns, but a deep and deadly one."

"You ought to have spared yourself these," said Els in a tone of affectionate warning. "Consider what you are to your father, and how your suffering pains him! To risk a precious human life for the sake of a stupid brute—"

"They call it a sin, I know," Cordula burst forth. "And yet I would commit the same tomorrow at the risk of again—Oh, you cautious city people, you maidens with snow-white hands! What do you know of a girl like me? You cannot even imagine what my child life was; and yet it is told in a single word—motherless! I was never permitted to see her, to hear her dear, warning voice. She paid with her own life for giving me mine. My father? How kind he is! He meant to supply his dead wife's place by anticipating my every wish. Had I desired to feast my eyes on the castle in flames, it would, perhaps, now lie in ashes. So I became what I am. True—and this is something—I grew to be at least one person's joy—his. No, no, at home there are others also, though they dwell in wretched hovels, who would gladly welcome me back. But except these, who will ask about the reckless countess? I myself do not care to linger long when the mirror shows me my image. Do you wish to know what this has to do with the fire? Much; for otherwise I should scarcely have been wounded. The lightning had struck only the convent barn; the cow stable, when we arrived, was still safe, but the flames soon reached it also. Neither the nuns nor the men had thought of driving the cattle out. Poor city cattle! In the country the animals have more friendly care. When the work of rescue was at last commenced the cows naturally refused to leave their old home. Some prudent person had torn the door off the hinges that they might not stifle. Just in front of it stood a pretty red cow with a white star on her face. A calf was by her side, and the mother had already sunk on her knees and was licking it in mortal terror. I pitied the poor thing, and as Boemund Altrosen, the black-haired knight who entered your house with the rest after the ride to Kadolzburg, had just come there, I told him to save the calf. Of course he obeyed my wish, and as it struggled he dragged it out of the stable with his strong arms. The building was already blazing, and the thatched roof threatened to fall in. Just at that moment the old cow looked at me so piteously and uttered such a mournful bellow that it touched me to the heart. My eyes rested on the calf, and a voice within whispered that it would be motherless, like me, and miss during the first part of its life God's best gift. But since, as you have heard, I act before I think, I went myself—I no longer know how—into the burning stable. It was hard to breathe in the dense smoke, and fiery sparks scorched my shawl and my hair, but I was conscious of one thought: You must save the helpless little creature's mother! So I called and lured her, as I do at home, where all the cows are fond of me, but it was useless; and just as I perceived this the thatched roof fell in, and I should probably have perished had not Altrosen this time carried my own by no means light figure out of the stable instead of the calf."

"And you?" asked Els eagerly.

"I submitted," replied the countess.

"No, no," urged Els. "Your heart throbbed faster with grateful joy, for you saw the desire of your soul fulfilled. A hunter, and one of the noblest of them all, risked his life in the pursuit of your love. O Countess Cordula, I remember that knight well, and if the dark-blue sleeve which he wore on his helm in the tournament was yours—"

"I believe it was," Cordula interrupted indifferently. "But, what was of more importance, when I opened my eyes again the cow was standing outside, licking her recovered calf."

"And the knight?" asked Els. "Whoever so heroically risks his life for his lady's wish should be sure of her gratitude."

"Boemund can rely on that," said Cordula positively. "At least, what he did this time for my sake weighs more heavily in the scale than the lances he has broken, his love songs, or the mute language of his longing eyes. Those are shafts which do not pierce my heart. How reproachfully you look at me! Let him take lessons from his friend Heinz Schorlin, and he may improve. Yes, the Swiss knight! He would be the man for me, spite of your involuntary meeting with him and your devout sister, for whom he forgot every one else, and me also, in the dancing hall. O Jungfrau Els, I have the hunter's eyes, which are keen-sighted! For his sake your beautiful Eva, with her saintly gaze, might easily forget to pray. It was not you, but she, who drew him to-night to your house. Had this thought entered my head downstairs in the entry I should probably, to be honest, have omitted my little fairy tale and let matters take their course. St. Clare ought to have protected her future votary. Besides, it pleases the arrogant little lady to show me as plainly as possible, on every occasion, that I am a horror to her. Let those who will accept such insults. My Christianity does not go far enough to offer her the right cheek too. And shall I tell you something? To spoil her game, I should be capable, in spite of all the life preservers in the world, of binding Schorlin to me in good earnest."

"Do not!" pleaded Els, raising her clasped hands beseechingly, and added, as if in explanation: "For the noble Boemund Altrosen's sake, do not."

"To promise that, my darling, is beyond my power," replied Cordula coolly, "because I myself do not know what I may do or leave undone tomorrow or the day after. I am like a beech leaf on the stream. Let us see where the current will carry it. It is certain," and she looked at her bandaged hands, "that my greatest beauty, my round arms, are disfigured. Scars adorn a man; on a woman they are ugly and repulsive. At a dance they can be hidden under tight sleeves, but how hot that would be in the 'Schwabeln' and 'Rai'! So I had better keep away from these foolish gaieties in future. A calf turns a countess out of a ballroom! What do you think of that? New things often happen."

Here she was interrupted; the housekeeper called Els. Sir Seitz Siebenburg, spite of the untimely hour, had come to speak to her about an important matter. Her father had gone to rest and sleep. The knight also enquired sympathisingly about Countess von Montfort and presented his respects.

"Of which I can make no use!" cried Cordula angrily. "Tell him so, Martsche."

As the housekeeper withdrew she exclaimed impatiently: "How it burns! The heat would be enough to convert the rescued calf into an appetising roast. I wish I could sleep off the pain of my foolish prank! The sunlight is beginning to be troublesome. I cannot bear it; it is blinding. Draw the curtain over the window."

Cordula's own maid hastened to obey the order. Els helped the countess turn on her pillows, and as in doing so she touched her arm, the sufferer cried angrily: "Who cares what hurts me? Not even you!"

Here she paused. The pleading glance which Els had cast at her must have pierced her soft heart, for her bosom suddenly heaved violently and, struggling to repress her sobs, she gasped, "I know you mean kindly, but I am not made of stone or iron either. I want to be alone and go to sleep."

She closed her eyes as she spoke and, when Els bent to kiss her, tears bedewed her cheeks.

Soon after Els went down into the entry to meet her lover's brother-in-law. He had refused to enter the empty sitting-room. The Countess von Montfort's unfriendly dismissal had vexed him sorely, yet it made no lasting impression. Other events had forced into the background the bitter attack of Cordula, for whom he had never felt any genuine regard.

The experiences of the last few hours had converted the carefully bedizened gallant into a coarse fellow, whose outward appearance bore visible tokens of his mental depravity. The faultlessly cut garment was pushed awry on his powerful limbs and soiled on the breast with wine stains. The closely fitting steel chain armour, in which he had ridden out, now hung in large folds upon his powerful frame. The long mustache, which usually curled so arrogantly upwards, now drooped damp and limp over his mouth and chin, and his long reddish hair fell in dishevelled locks around his bloated face. His blue eyes, which usually sparkled so brightly, now looked dull and bleared, and there were white spots on his copper-coloured cheeks.

Since Countess Cordula gave him the insulting message to his wife he had undergone more than he usually experienced in the course of years.

"An accursed night!" he had exclaimed, in reply to the housekeeper's question concerning the cause of his disordered appearance.

Els, too, was startled by his looks and the hoarse sound of his voice. Nay, she even drew back from him, for his wandering glance made her fear that he was intoxicated.

Only a short time before, it is true, he had scarcely been able to stand erect, but the terrible news which had assailed him had quickly sobered him.

He had come at this unwontedly early hour to enquire whether the Ortliebs had heard anything of his brother-in-law Wolff. There was not a word of allusion to the broken betrothal.

In return for the promise that she would let the Eysvogels know as soon as she received any tidings of her lover, which Els gave unasked, Siebenburg, who had always treated her repellently or indifferently, thanked her so humbly that she was surprised. She did not know how to interpret it; nay, she anticipated nothing good when, with urgent cordiality, he entreated her to forget the unpleasant events of the preceding night, which she must attribute to a sudden fit of anger on Herr Casper's part. She was far too dear to all the members of the family for them to give her up so easily. What had occurred—she must admit that herself—might have induced even her best friend to misunderstand it. For one brief moment he, too, had been tempted to doubt her innocence. If she knew old Eysvogel's terrible situation she would certainly do everything in her power to persuade her father to receive him that morning, or—which would be still better—go to his office. The weal and woe of many persons were at stake, her own above all, since, as Wolff's betrothed bride, she belonged to him inseparably.

"Even without the ring?" interrupted Els bitterly; and when Siebenburg eagerly lamented that he had not brought it back, she answered proudly "Don't trouble yourself, Sir Seitz! I need this sacred pledge as little as the man who still wears mine. Tell your kinsfolk so. I will inform my father of Herr Casper's wish; he is asleep now. Shall I guess aright in believing that the other disasters which have overtaken you are connected with the waggon trains Wolff so anxiously expected?"

Siebenburg, twirling his cap in confusion, assented to her question, adding that he knew nothing except that they were lost and, after repeating his entreaty that she would accomplish a meeting between the two old gentlemen, left her.

It would indeed have been painful for him to talk with Els, for a messenger had brought tidings that the waggons had been attacked and robbed, and the perpetrators of the deed were his own brothers and their cousin and accomplice Absbach. True, Seitz himself had had no share in the assault, yet he did not feel wholly blameless for what had occurred, since over the wine and cards he had boasted, in the presence of the robbers, of the costly wares which his father-in-law was expecting, and mentioned the road they would take.

Seitz Siebenburg's conscience was also burdened with something quite different.

Vexed and irritated by the countess's insulting rebuff, he had gone to the Green Shield to forget his annoyance at the gaming table in the Duke of Pomerania's quarters. He had fared ill. There was no lack of fiery Rhine wine supplied by the generous host; the sultry atmosphere caused by the rising thunderstorm increased his thirst and, half intoxicated, and incensed by the luck of Heinz Schorlin, in whom he saw the preferred lover of the lady who had so suddenly withdrawn her favour, he had been led on to stakes of unprecedented amount. At last he risked the lands, castle, and village which he possessed in Hersbruck as his wife's dower. Moreover, he was aware of having said things which, though he could not recall them to memory in detail, had roused the indignation of many of those who were present. The remarks referred principally to the Ortlieb sisters.

Amid the wild uproar prevailing around the gaming table that night the duel which had cost young Vorchtel his life was not mentioned until the last dice had been thrown. In the discussion the victor's betrothed bride had been named, and Siebenburg clearly remembered that he had spoken of the breaking of his brother-in-law's engagement, and connected it with accusations which involved him in a quarrel with several of the guests, among them Heinz Schorlin.

Similar occurrences were frequent, and he was brave, strong, and skilful enough to cope with any one, even the dreaded Swiss; only he was vexed and troubled because he had disputed with the man to whom he had lost his property. Besides, his father-in-law had so earnestly enjoined it upon him to put no obstacle in the way of his desire to make peace with the Ortliebs that he was obliged to bow his stiff neck to them.

The arrogant knight's position was critical, and real inward dignity was unknown to him. Yet he would rather have been dragged with his brothers to the executioner's block than humbled himself before the Swiss. But he must talk with him for the sake of his twin sons, whose heritage he had so shamefully gambled away. True, the utmost he intended was the confession that, while intoxicated, he had staked his property at the gaming table and said things which he regretted. Heinz Schorlin's generosity was well known. Perhaps he might offer some acceptable arrangement ere the notary conveyed his estate to him. He did not yet feel that he could stoop so low as to receive a gift from this young upstart.

If his father-in-law, who supported him, was really ruined, as he had just asserted, he would indeed be plunged into beggary, with his wife, whose stately figure constantly rose before him, with a look of mute reproach, his beautiful twin boys, and his load of debt.

The gigantic man felt physically crushed by the terrible blows of fate which had fallen upon him during this last wakeful night. He would fain have gone to the nearest tavern and there left it to the wine to bring forgetfulness. To drink, drink constantly, and in the intervals sleep with his head resting on his arms, seemed the most tempting prospect. But he was obliged to return to the Eysvogels. There was too much at stake. Besides, he longed to see the twins who resembled him so closely, and of whom Countess Cordula had said that she hoped they would not be like their father.



ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:

Abandoned women (required by law to help put out the fires) The heart must not be filled by another's image



IN THE FIRE OF THE FORGE

A ROMANCE OF OLD NUREMBERG

By Georg Ebers

Volume 4.



CHAPTER XV.

The city gates were already open. Peasants and peasant women bringing vegetables and other farm produce to market thronged the streets, wains loaded with grain or charcoal rumbled along, and herds of cattle and swine, laden donkeys, the little carts of the farmers and bee keepers conveying milk and honey to the city, passed over the dyke, which was still softened by the rain of the preceding night.

The thunderstorm had cooled the air, but the rays of the morning sun were already scorching. A few heavy little clouds were darkly relieved against the blue sky, and a peasant, driving two sucking pigs before him, called to another, who was carrying a goose under each arm, that the sun was drawing water, and thundershowers seldom came singly.

Yet the city looked pleasant enough in the freshness of early June. The maidservants who were opening the shutters glanced gaily out into the streets, and arranged the flowers in front of the windows or bowed reverently as a priest passed by on his way to mass. The barefooted Capuchin, with his long beard, beckoned to the cook or the tradesman's wife and, as she put something into his beggar's sack and he thanked her kindly with some pious axiom, she felt as if she herself and all her household had gained a right to the blessing of Heaven for that day, and cheerily continued her work.

The brass counter in the low, broad bow window of the baker's house glittered brightly, and the pale apprentice wiped the flour from his face and gave his master's rosy-cheeked daughter fresh warm cakes to set on the shining shelves. The barber's nimble apprentice hung the towel and basin at the door, while his master, wearied by the wine-bibbing and talk at the tavern or his labour at the fire, was still asleep. His active wife had risen before him, strewed the shop with fresh sand, and renewed the goldfinch's food.

The workshops and stores were adorned with birch branches, and the young daughters of the burghers, in becoming caps, the maid servants and apprentices, who were going to market with baskets on their arms, wore a flower or something green on their breasts or in their caps.

The first notes of the bells, pealing solemnly, were summoning worshippers to mass, the birds were singing in the garden, and the cocks were crowing in the yards of the houses. The animals passing in the street lowed, grunted, and cackled merrily in the dawn of the young day.

Gay young men, travelling students who had sought cheap quarters in the country, now entered the city with a merry song on their lips just shaded by the first down of manhood, and when a maiden met them she lowered her eyes modestly before the riotous fellows.

The terrors of the frightful thunderstorm seemed forgotten. Nuremberg looked gladsome; a carpet hung from many a bow-window, and flags and streamers fluttered from roofs and balconies to honour the distinguished guests. Many signs of their presence were visible, squires and equerries, in their masters' colours, were riding spirited horses, and a few knights who loved early rising were already in the saddle, their shining helmets and coats of mail flashing brightly in the sunshine.

The gigantic figure of Sir Seitz Siebenburg moved with drooping head through the budding joy of this June day towards the Eysvogel dwelling.

His gloomy, haggard face and disordered attire made two neatly dressed young shoemaker's apprentices, on their way to their work, nudge each other and look keenly at him.

"I'd rather meet him here in broad daylight among houses and people than in the dusk on the highway," remarked one of them.

"There's no danger," replied the other. "He wears the curb now. He moved from the robber nest into the rich Eysvogel house opposite. That's Herr Casper's son-in-law. But such people can never let other folks' property alone. Only here they work in another way. The shoes he wears were made in our workshop, but the master still whistles for his pay, and he owes everybody—the tailor, the lacemaker, the armourer, the girdlemaker, and the goldsmith. If an apprentice reminds him of the debt, let him beware of bruises."

"The Emperor Rudolph ought to issue an edict against such injustice!" wrathfully exclaimed the other and taller youth, the handsome son of a master of the craft from Weissenburg on the Sand, who expected soon to take his father's place. "Up at Castle Graufels, which is saddled on our little town, master and man would be going barefoot but for us; yet for three years we haven't seen so much as a penny of his, though my father says times have already improved, since the Hapsburg, as a just man——"

"Things have not been so bad here for a long while, the saints be praised!" his companion broke in. "Siebenburg, or some of his wife's rich kindred, will at last be compelled to settle matters. We have the law and the Honourable Council to attend to that. Look up! Yonder stately old house gave its daughter to the penniless knight. She is one of our customers too; a handsome woman, and not one of the worst either. But her mother, who was born a countess—if the shoe doesn't make a foot small which Nature created big, there's such an outcry! True, the old woman, her mother, is worse still; she scolds and screams. But look up at the bow window. There she stands. I'm only a poor brewer's son, but before I——"

"You don't say so!" the other interrupted. Have you seen the owl in the cage in front of the guardhouse at the gate of the hospital? It is her living image; and how her chin projects and moves up and down, as though she were chewing leather!"

"And yet," said the other, as if insisting upon something difficult to believe, "and yet the old woman is a real countess."

The Weissenburg apprentice expressed his astonishment with another: "You don't say so!" but as he spoke he grasped his companion's arm, adding earnestly: "Let us go. That ugly old woman just looked at me, and if it wasn't the evil eye I shall go straight to the church and drive away the misfortune with holy water."

"Come, then," answered the Nuremberg youth, but continued thoughtfully: "Yet my master's grandmother, a woman of eighty, is probably older than the one up there, but nobody could imagine a kinder, pleasanter dame. When she looks approvingly at one it seems as if the dear God's blessing were shining from two little windows."

"That's just like my grandmother at home!" exclaimed the Weissenburg apprentice with sparkling eyes.

Turning from the Eysvogel mansion as they spoke, they pursued their way.

Siebenburg had overtaken the apprentices, but ere crossing the threshold of the house which was now his home he stopped before it.

It might, perhaps, be called the largest and handsomest in Nuremberg; but it was only a wide two-story structure, though the roof had been adorned with battlements and the sides with a small bow-windowed turret. At the second story a bracket, bearing an image of the Madonna, had been built out on one side, and on the other the bow window from which old Countess Rotterbach had looked down into the street.

The coat of arms was very striking and wholly out of harmony with the simplicity of the rest of the building. Its showy splendour, visible for a long distance, occupied the wide space between the door of the house and the windows of the upper story. The escutcheon of the noble family from which Rosalinde, Herr Casper's wife, had descended rested against the shield bearing the birds. The Rotterbach supporters, a nude man and a bear standing on its hind legs, rose on both sides of the double escutcheon, and the stone cutter had surmounted the Eysvogel helmet with a count's coronet.

This elaborate decoration of the ancient patrician house had become one of the sights of the city, and had often made Herr Casper, at the Honourable Council and elsewhere, clench his fist under his mantle, for it had drawn open censure and bitter mockery upon the arrogant man, but his desire to have it replaced by a more modest one had been baffled by the opposition of the women of his family. They had had it put up, and would not permit any one to touch it, though Wolff, after his return from Italy, had strenuously urged its removal.

It had brought the Eysvogels no good fortune, for on the day of its completion the business received its first serious blow, and it also served to injure the commercial house externally in a very obvious manner. Whereas formerly many wares which needed to be kept dry had been hoisted from the outer door and the street to the spacious attic, this was now prevented by the projecting figures of the nude men and the bears. Therefore it became necessary to hoist the goods to be stored in the attic from the courtyard, which caused delay and hindrances of many kinds. Various expedients had been suggested, but the women opposed them all, for they were glad that the ugly casks and bales no longer found their way to the garret past their windows, and it also gratified their arrogance that they were no longer visible from the street.

Siebenburg now looked up at the huge escutcheon and recalled the day when, after having been specially favoured by Isabella Eysvogel at a dance in the Town Hall, he had paused in the same place. A long line of laden waggons had just stopped in front of the door surmounted by the double escutcheon, and if he had previously hesitated whether to profit by the favour of Isabella, whose haughty majesty, which attracted him, also inspired him with a faint sense of uneasiness, he was now convinced how foolish it would be not to forge the iron which seemed aglow in his favour. What riches the men-servants were carrying into the vaulted entry, which was twice as large as the one in the Ortlieb mansion! Besides, the escutcheon with the count's coronet had given the knight assurance that he would have no cause to be ashamed, in an assembly of his peers, of his alliance with the Nuremberg maiden. Isabella's hand could undoubtedly free him from the oppressive burden of his debts, and she was certainly a magnificent woman! How well, too, her tall figure would suit him and the Siebenburgs, whose name was said to be derived from the seven feet of stature which some of them measured!

Now he again remembered the hour when she had laid her slender hand in his. For a brief period he had been really happy; his heart had not felt so light since early childhood, though at first he had ventured to confess only one half his load of debt to his father-in-law. He had even assumed fresh obligations to relieve his brothers from their most pressing cares. They had attended his brilliant wedding, and it had flattered his vanity to show them what he could accomplish as the wealthy Eysvogel's son-in-law.

But how quickly all this had changed! He had learned that, besides the woman who had given him her heart and inspired him with a passion hitherto unknown, he had wedded two others.

Now, as the image of old Countess Rotterbach, Isabella's grandmother, forced itself upon his mind, he unconsciously knit his brow. He had not heard her say much, but with every word she bestowed upon him he was forced to accept something bitter. She rarely left her place in the armchair in the bow window in the sitting-room, but it seemed as if her little eyes possessed the power of piercing walls and doors, for she knew everything that concerned him, even his greatest secrets, which he believed he had carefully concealed. More on her account than on that of his mother-in-law, who did nothing except what the former commanded, he had repeatedly tried to remove with his wife to the estate of Tannenreuth, which had been assigned to him on the day of the marriage, that its revenues might support the young couple, but the mother and grandmother detained his wife, and their wishes were more to her than his. Perhaps, however, he might have induced her to go with him had not his father-in-law made his debts a snare, which he drew whenever it was necessary to stifle his wishes, and he, too, wanted to retain his daughter at home.

Since Wolff's return from Italy he had become aware that the stream of gold from the Eysvogel coffers flowed more sparingly, or even failed altogether to satisfy his extravagant tastes. Therefore his relations with his brother-in-law, whose prudent caution he considered avarice, and whose earnest protests against his often unprecedented demands frequently roused his ire, became more and more unfriendly.

The inmates of the Eysvogel house rendered his home unendurable, and from the experiences of his bachelor days he knew only too well where mirth reigned in Nuremberg. So he became a rare guest at the Eysvogels, and when Isabella found herself neglected and deceived, she made him feel her resentment in her own haughty and—as soon as she deemed herself injured—harsh manner.

At first her displeasure troubled him sorely, but the ardent passion which had absorbed him during the early days of their marriage had died out, and only flamed up with its old fervour occasionally; but at such times the haughty, neglected wife repulsed him with insulting severity.

Yet she had never permitted any one to disparage her husband behind his back. True, Siebenburg did not know this, but he perceived more and more plainly that both the Eysvogels, father and son, were oppressed by some grave anxiety, and that the sums which Wolff now paid him no longer sufficed to hold his creditors in check. He was not accustomed to impose any restraint upon himself, and thus it soon became known throughout the city that he did not live at peace with his wife and her family.

Yet five weeks ago matters had appeared to improve. The birth of the twins had brought something new into his life, which drew him nearer to Isabella.

The children at first seemed to him two lovely miracles. Both boys, both exactly like him. When they were brought to him on their white, lace-trimmed pillows, his heart had swelled with joy, and it was his greatest delight to gaze at them.

This was the natural result.

He, the stalwart Siebenburg, had not become the father of one ordinary boy, but of two little knights at once. When he returned home—even if his feet were unsteady—his first visit was to them, and he had often felt that he was far too poor and insignificant to thank his neglected wife aright for so precious a gift.

Whenever this feeling took possession of him he expressed his love to Isabella with tender humility; while she, who had bestowed her hand upon him solely from love, forgot all her wrongs, and her heart throbbed faster with grateful joy when she saw him, with fatherly pride, carry the twins about with bent knees, as if their weight was too heavy for his giant arms to bear.

The second week after their birth Isabella fell slightly ill. Her mother and grandmother undertook the nursing, and as the husband found them both with the twins whenever he came to see the infants and their mother, the sick-room grew distasteful to him. Again, as before their birth, he sought compensation outside of the house for the annoyance caused by the women at home; but the memory of the little boys haunted him, and when he met his companions at the tavern he invited them to drink the children's health in the host's best wine.

So life went on until the Reichstag brought the von Montforts, whom he had met at a tournament in Augsburg, to the city of Nuremberg.

Mirth reigned wherever Countess Cordula appeared, and Siebenburg needed amusement and joined the train of her admirers—with what evil result he now clearly perceived for the first time.

He again stood before the stately dwelling where he had hoped to find luxury and wealth, but where his heart now throbbed more anxiously than those of his kinsmen had formerly done in the impoverished castle of his father, who had died so long ago.

The Eysvogel dwelling, with its showy escutcheon above the door, was threatened by want, and hand in hand with it, he knew, the most hideous of all her children—disgrace.

Now he also remembered what he himself had done to increase the peril menacing the ancient commercial house. Perhaps the old man within was relying upon the estate of Tannenreuth, which he had assigned to him, to protect some post upon which much depended, and he had gambled it away. This must now be confessed, and also the amount of his own debts.

An unpleasant task confronted him but, humiliating and harassing as was the interview awaiting him beyond the threshold before which he still lingered, at least he would not find Wolff there. This seemed a boon, since for the first time he would have felt himself in the wrong in the presence of his unloved brother-in-law. Even the burden of his debts weighed less heavily on his conscience than the irritating words with which he had induced his father-in-law to break off Wolff's betrothal to Els Ortlieb. The act was base and malicious. Greatly as he had erred, he had never before been guilty of such a deed, and with a curse upon himself on his bearded lips he approached the door; but when half way to it he stopped again and looked up to the second-story windows behind which the twins slept. With what delight he had always thought of them! But this time the recollection of the little boys was spoiled by Countess Cordula's message to his wife to rear them so that they would not be like him, their father.

An evil wish! And yet the warmest love could have devised no better one in behalf of the true welfare of the boys.

He told himself so as he passed beneath the escutcheon through the heavy open door with its iron ornaments. He was expected, the steward told him, but he arched his broad breast as if preparing for a wrestling match, pulled his mustache still longer, and went up the stairs.



CHAPTER XVI.

The spacious, lofty sitting-room which Seitz Siebenburg entered looked very magnificent. Gay Flanders tapestries hung on the walls. The ceiling was slightly vaulted, and in the centre of each mesh of the net designed upon it glittered a richly gilded kingfisher from the family coat of arms. Bear and leopard skins lay on the cushions, and upon the shelf which surrounded three sides of the apartment stood costly vases, gold and silver utensils, Venetian mirrors and goblets. The chairs and furniture were made of rare woods inlaid with ebony and mother of pearl, brought by way of Genoa from Moorish Spain. In the bow window jutting out into the street, where the old grandmother sat in her armchair, two green and yellow parrots on brass perches interrupted the conversation, whenever it grew louder, with the shrill screams of their ugly voices.

Siebenburg found all the family except Wolff and the twins. His wife was half sitting, half reclining, on a divan. When Seitz entered she raised her head from the white arm on which it had rested, turned her oval face with its regular features towards him, and gathered up the fair locks which, released from their braids, hung around her in long, thick tresses. Her eyes showed that she had been weeping violently, and as her husband approached she again sobbed painfully.

Her grandmother seemed annoyed by her lamentations for, pointing to Isabella's tears, she exclaimed sharply, glancing angrily at Siebenburg:

"It's a pity for every one of them!"

The knight's blood boiled at the words, but they strengthened his courage. He felt relieved from any consideration for these people, not one of whom, except the poor woman shedding such burning tears, had given him occasion to return love for love. Had they flowed only for the lost wealth, and not for him and the grief he caused Isabella, they would not have seemed "a pity" to the old countess.

Siebenburg's breath came quicker.

The gratitude he owed his father-in-law certainly did not outweigh the humiliations with which he, his weak wife, and ill-natured mother-in-law had embittered his existence.

Even now the old gentleman barely vouchsafed him a greeting. After he had asked about his son, called himself a ruined man, and upbraided the knight with insulting harshness because his brothers—the news had been brought to him a short time before—were the robbers who had seized his goods, and the old countess had chimed in with the exclamation, "They are all just fit for the executioner's block!" Seitz could restrain himself no longer; nay, it gave him actual pleasure to show these hated people what he had done, on his part, to add to their embarrassments. He was no orator, but now resentment loosened his tongue, and with swift, scornful words he told Herr Casper that, as the son-in-law of a house which liked to represent itself as immensely rich, he had borrowed from others what—he was justified in believing it—had been withheld through parsimony. Besides, his debts were small in comparison with the vast sums Herr Casper had lavished in maintaining the impoverished estates of the Rotterbach kindred. Like every knight whose own home was not pleasant, he sometimes gambled; and when, yesterday, ill luck pursued him and he lost the estate of Tannenreuth, he sincerely regretted the disaster, but it could not be helped.

Terror and rage had sealed the old countess's lips, but now they parted in the hoarse cry: "You deserve the wheel and the gallows, not the honourable block!" and her daughter, Rosalinde Eysvogel, repeated in a tone of sorrowful lamentation, "Yes, the wheel and the gallows."

A scornful laugh from Siebenburg greeted the threat, but when Herr Casper, white as death and barely able to control his voice, asked whether this incredible confession was merely intended to frighten the women, and the knight assured him of the contrary, he groaned aloud: "Then the old house must succumb to disgraceful ruin."

Years of life spent together may inspire and increase aversion instead of love, but they undoubtedly produce a certain community of existence. The bitter anguish of his aged household companion, the father of his wife, to whom bonds of love still unsevered united him, touched even Seitz Siebenburg. Besides, nothing moves the heart more quickly than the grief of a proud, stern man. Herr Casper's confession did not make him dearer to the knight, but it induced him to drop the irritating tone which he had assumed, and in an altered voice he begged him not to give up his cause as lost without resistance. For his daughter's sake old Herr Ortlieb must lend his aid. Els, with whom he had just spoken, would cling firmly to Wolff, and try to induce her father to do all that was possible for her lover's house. He would endeavour to settle with his own creditors himself. His sharp sword and strong arm would be welcome everywhere, and the booty he won——Here he was interrupted by the grandmother's query in a tone of cutting contempt: "Booty? On the highway, do you mean?"

Once more the attack from the hostile old woman rendered the knight's decision easier, for, struggling not to give way to his anger, he answered: "Rather, I think, in the Holy Land, in the war against the infidel Saracens. At any rate, my presence would be more welcome anywhere than in this house, whose roof shelters you, Countess. If, Herr Casper, you intend to share with my wife and the twins what is left after the old wealth has gone, unfortunately, I cannot permit you to do so. I will provide for them also. True, it was your duty; for ever since Isabella became my wife you have taken advantage of my poverty and impaired my right to command her. That must be changed from this very day. I have learned the bitter taste of the bread which you provide. I shall confide them to my uncle, the Knight Heideck. He was my dead mother's only brother, and his wife, as you know, is the children's godmother. They are childless, and would consider it the most precious of gifts to have such boys in the castle. My deserted wife must stay with him, while I—I know not yet in what master's service—provide that the three are not supported only by the charity of strangers—-"

"Oh, Seitz, Seitz!" interrupted Isabella, in a tone of urgent entreaty. She had risen from her cushions, and was hurrying towards him. "Do not go! You must not go so!"

Her tall figure nestled closely against him as she spoke, and she threw her arms around his neck; but he kissed her brow and eyes, saying, with a gentleness which surprised even her: "You are very kind, but I cannot, must not remain here."

"The children, the little boys!" she exclaimed again, gazing up at him with love-beaming eyes. Then his tortured heart seemed to shrink, and, pressing his hand on his brow, he paused some time ere he answered gloomily: "It is for them that I go. Words have been spoken which appeal to me, and to you, too, Isabella: 'See that the innocent little creatures are reared to be unlike their unhappy father.' And the person who uttered them——"

"A sage, a great sage," giggled the countess, unable to control her bitter wrath against the man whom she hated; but Siebenburg fiercely retorted:

"Although no sage, at least no monster spitting venom."

"And you permit this insult to be offered to your grandmother?" Frau Rosalinde Eysvogel wailed to her daughter as piteously as if the injury had been inflicted on herself. But Isabella only clung more closely to her husband, heeding neither her mother's appeal nor her father's warning not to be deluded by Siebenburg's empty promises.

While the old countess vainly struggled for words, Rosalinde Eysvogel stood beside the lofty mantelpiece, weeping softly. Before Siebenburg appeared, spite of the early hour and the agitating news which she had just received, she had used her leisure for an elaborate toilette. A long trailing robe of costly brocade, blue on the left side and yellow on the right, now floated around her tall figure. When the knight returned she had looked radiant in her gold and gems, like a princess. Now, crushed and feeble, she presented a pitiable image of powerless yet offensively hollow splendour. It would have required too much exertion to assail her son-in-law with invectives, like her energetic mother; but when she saw her daughter, to whom she had already appealed several times in a tone of anguished entreaty, rest her proud head so tenderly on her husband's broad breast, as she had done during the first weeks of their marriage, but never since, the unhappy woman clearly perceived that the knight's incredible demand was meant seriously. What she had believed an idle boast he actually requested. Yonder hated intruder expected her to part with her only daughter, who was far more to her than her unloved husband, her exacting mother, or the son who restricted her wishes, whom she had never understood, and against whom her heart had long been hardened. But it could not be and, losing all self-control and dignity, she shrieked aloud, tore the blue headband from her hair and, repeating the "never" constantly as if she had gone out of her senses, gasped: "Never, never, never, so long as I live!"

As she spoke she rushed to her startled husband, pointed to her son-in-law, who still held his wife in a close embrace, and in a half-stifled voice commanded Herr Casper to strike down the gambler, robber, spendthrift, and kidnapper of children, or drive him out of the house like some savage, dangerous beast. Then she ordered Isabella to leave the profligate who wanted to drag her down to ruin; and when her daughter refused to obey, she burst into violent weeping, sobbing and moaning till her strength failed and she was really attacked with one of the convulsions she had often feigned, by the advice of her own mother, to extort from her husband the gratification of some extravagant wish.

Indignant, yet full of sincere sympathy, Herr Casper supported his wife, whose queenly beauty had once fired his heart, and in whose embrace he had imagined that he would be vouchsafed here below the joys of the redeemed. As she rested her head, with its long auburn tresses, still so luxuriant, upon his shoulder, exquisite pictures of the past rose before the mental vision of the elderly man; but the spell was quickly broken, for the kerchief with which he wiped her face was dyed red from her rouged cheeks.

A bitter smile hovered around his well-formed, beardless lips, and the man of business remembered the vast sums which he had squandered to gratify the extravagant wishes of the mother and daughter, and show these countesses that he, the burgher, in whose veins ran noble blood, understood as well as any man of their own rank how to increase the charm of life by luxury and splendour.

While he supported his wife, and the old countess was seeking to relieve her, Isabella also prepared to hasten to her mother's assistance, but her husband stopped her with resistless strength, whispering: "You know that these convulsions are not dangerous. Come with me to the children. I want to bid them farewell. Show me in this last hour, at least, that these women are not more to you than I." He released her as he spoke, and the mental struggle which for a short time made her bosom heave violently with her hurried breathing ended with a low exclamation, "I will come."

The nurse, whom Isabella sent out of the room when she entered with her husband, silently obeyed, but stopped at the door to watch. She saw the turbulent knight kneel beside the children's cradle before the wife whom he had so basely neglected, raise his tearful eyes to the majestic woman, whose stature was little less than his own and, lifting his clasped hands, make a confession which she could not hear; saw her draw him towards her, nestle with loving devotion against his broad breast, and place first one and then the other twin boy in his arms.

The young mother's cheeks as well as the father's were wet, but the eyes of both sparkled with grateful joy when Isabella, in taking leave of her husband, thanked him with a last loving kiss for the vow that, wherever he might go, he would treasure her and the children in his heart, and do everything in his power to secure a fate that should be worthy of them.

As Siebenburg went downstairs he met his father-in-law on the second-story landing. Herr Casper, deadly pale, was clinging with his right hand to the baluster, pressing his left on his brow, as he vainly struggled for composure and breath. He had forgotten to strengthen himself with food and drink, and the terrible blows of fate which had fallen upon him during these last hours of trial crushed, though but for a short time, his still vigorous strength. The knight went nearer to help him, but when he offered Herr Casper his arm the old merchant angrily thrust it back and accepted a servant's support.

While the man assisted him upstairs he repented that he had yielded to resentment, and not asked his son-in-law to try to discover Wolff's hiding place, but no sooner had food and fiery wine strengthened him than his act seemed wise. The return of the business partner, without whose knowledge he had incurred great financial obligations, would have placed him in the most painful situation. The old gentleman would have been obliged to account to Wolff for the large sum which he owed to the Jew Pfefferkorn, the most impatient of his creditors, though he need not have told him that he had used it in Venice to gratify his love of gaming. How should he answer his son if he asked why he had rejected his betrothed bride, and soon after condescended to receive her again as his daughter and enter into close relations with her father? Yet this must be done. Ernst Ortlieb was the only person who could help him. It had become impossible to seek aid from Herr Berthold Vorchtel, the man whose oldest son Wolff had slain, and yet he possessed the means to save the sinking ship from destruction.

When the news of the duel reached him the messenger's blanched face had made him believe that Wolff had fallen. In that moment he had perceived that his loss would have rendered him miserable for the rest of his life. This was a source of pleasure, for since Wolff had extorted his consent to the betrothal with Els Ortlieb, and thus estranged him from the Vorchtels, he had seriously feared that he had ceased to love him. Nay, in many an hour when he had cause to feel shame in the presence of his prudent, cautious, and upright partner, it had seemed as if he hated him. Now the fear of the judge whom he saw in Wolff was blended with sincere anxiety concerning his only son, whose breach of the peace menaced him with banishment—nay, if he could not pay the price of blood which the Vorchtels might demand, with death. Doubtless he had done many things to prejudice Wolff against his betrothed bride, yet he who had cast the first stone at her now felt that, in her simple purity, she would be capable of no repudiation of the fidelity she owed her future husband. However strongly he had struggled against this conviction, he knew that she, if any one, could make his son happy—far happier than he had ever been with the tall, slender, snow-white, unapproachable countess, who had helped bring him to ruin.

While consuming the food and drink, he heard his wife, usually a most obedient daughter, disputing with her mother. This was fortunate; for, if they were at variance, he need not fear that they would act as firm allies against him when he expressed the wish to have Wolff's marriage solemnised as soon as circumstances would permit.

It was not yet time to discuss the matter with any one. He would first go to the Jew Pfefferkorn once more to persuade him to defer his claims, and then, before the meeting of the Council, would repair to the Ortliebs, to commit to Herr Ernst the destiny of the Eysvogel firm and his partner Wolff, on which also depended the welfare of the young merchant's betrothed bride. If the father remained obdurate, if he resented the wrong he had inflicted yesterday upon him and his daughter, he was a lost man; for he had already availed himself of the good will of all those whose doors usually stood open to him. Doubtless the news of his recent severe losses were in every one's mouth, and the letter which he had just received threatened him with an indictment.

The luckless Siebenburg's creditors, too, would now be added to his own. It was all very well for him to say that he would settle his debts him self. As soon as it was rumoured abroad that he had gambled away the estate of Tannenreuth, whose value gave the creditors some security, they would rise as one man, and the house assailed would be his, Casper Eysvogel's.

The harried man's thoughts of his son-in-law were by no means the most kindly.

Meanwhile the latter set out for the second distasteful interview of the morning.

His purpose was to make some arrangement with Heinz Schorlin about the lost estate and obtain definite knowledge concerning his quarrel with him, of which he remembered nothing except that intoxication and jealousy had carried him further than would have happened otherwise. He had undoubtedly spoken insultingly of Els; his words, when uttered against a lady, had been sharper than beseemed a knight. Yet was not any one who found a maiden alone at night with this man justified in doubting her virtue? In the depths of his soul he believed in her innocence, yet he avoided confessing it. Why should not the Swiss, whom Nature had given such power over the hearts of women, have also entangled his brother-in-law's betrothed bride in a love affair? Why should not the gay girl who had pledged her troth to a grave, dull fellow like Wolff, have been tempted into a little love dalliance with the bold, joyous Schorlin?

Not until he had received proof that he had erred would he submit to recall his charges.

He had left his wife with fresh courage and full of good intentions. Now that he was forced to bid her farewell, he first realised what she had been to him. No doubt both had much to forgive, but she was a splendid woman. Though her father's storehouses contained chests of spices and bales of cloth, he did not know one more queenly. That he could have preferred, even for a single moment, the Countess von Montfort, whose sole advantage over her was her nimble tongue and gay, bold manners, now seemed incomprehensible. He had joined Cordula's admirers only to forget at her feet the annoyances with which he had been wearied at home. He had but one thing for which to thank the countess—her remark concerning the future of the twins.

Yet was he really so base that it would have been a disgrace for his darlings to resemble him? "No!" a voice within cried loudly, and as the same voice reminded him of the victories won in tournaments and sword combats, of the open hand with which, since he had been the rich Eysvogel's son-in-law, he had lent and given money to his brothers, and especially of the manly resolve to provide for his wife and children as a soldier in the service of some prince, another, lower, yet insistent, recalled other things. It referred to the time when, with his brothers, he had attacked a train of freight waggons and not cut down their armed escort alone. The curse of a broad-shouldered Nordlinger carrier, whose breast he had pierced with a lance though he cried out that he was a father and had a wife and child to support, the shriek of the pretty boy with curling brown hair who clung to the bridle of his steed as he rode against the father, and whose arm he had cut off, still seemed to ring in his ears. He also remembered the time when, after a rich capture on the highway which had filled his purse, he had ridden to Nuremberg in magnificent new clothes at the carnival season in order, by his brothers' counsel, to win a wealthy bride. Fortune and the saints had permitted him to find a woman to satisfy both his avarice and his heart, yet he had neither kept faith with her nor even showed her proper consideration. But, strangely enough, the warning voice reproached him still more sharply for having, in the presence of others, accused and disparaged his brother-in-law's betrothed bride, whose guilt he believed proved. Again he felt how ignoble and unworthy of a knight his conduct had been. Why had he pursued this course? Merely—he admitted it now—to harm Wolff, the monitor and niggard whom he hated; perhaps also because he secretly told himself that, if Wolff formed a happy marriage, he and his children, not Siebenburg's twin boys, would obtain the larger share of the Eysvogel property.

This greed of gain, which had brought him to Nuremberg to seek a wife, was probably latent in his blood, though his reckless accumulation of debts seemed to contradict it. Yesterday, at the Duke of Pomerania's, it had again led him into that wild, mad dice-throwing.

Seitz Siebenburg was no calm thinker. All these thoughts passed singly in swift flashes through his excited brain. Like the steady monotone of the bass accompanying the rise and fall of the air, he constantly heard the assurance that it would be a pity if his splendid twins should resemble him.

Therefore they must grow up away from his influence, under the care of his good uncle. With this man's example before their eyes they would become knights as upright and noble as Kunz Heideck, whom every one esteemed.

For the sake of the twins he had resolved to begin a new and worthier life himself. His wife would aid him, and love should lend him strength to conduct himself in future so that Countess von Montfort, and every one who meant well by his sons, might wish them to resemble their father.

He walked on, holding his head proudly erect. Seeing the first worshippers entering the Church of Our Lady, he went in, too, repeated several Paternosters, commended the little boys and their mother to the care of the gracious Virgin, and besought her to help him curb the turbulent impulses which often led him to commit deeds he afterwards regretted.

Many people knew Casper Eysvogel's tall, haughty son-in-law and marvelled at the fervent devotion with which, kneeling in the first place he found near the entrance, beside two old women, he continued to pray. Was it true that the Eysvogel firm had been placed in a very critical situation by the loss of great trains of merchandise? One of his neighbours had heard him sigh, and declared that something must weigh heavily upon the "Mustache." She would tell her nephew Hemerlein, the belt-maker, to whom the knight owed large sums for saddles and harnesses, that he would be wise to look after his money betimes.

Siebenburg quitted the church in a more hopeful mood than when he entered it.

The prayers had helped him.

When he reached the fruit market he noticed that people gazed at him in surprise. He had paid no heed to his dress since the morning of the previous day, and as he always consumed large quantities of food and drink he felt the need of refreshment. Entering the first barber's shop, he had the stubble removed from his cheeks and chin, and arranged his disordered attire, and then, going to a taproom close by, ate and drank, without sitting down, what he found ready and, invigorated in body and mind, continued his walk.

The fruit market was full of busy life. Juicy strawberries and early cherries, red radishes, heads of cabbages, bunches of greens, and long stalks of asparagus were offered for sale, with roses and auriculas, balsams and early pinks, in pots and bouquets, and the ruddy peasant lasses behind the stands, the stately burgher women in their big round hats, the daughters of the master workmen with their long floating locks escaping from under richly embroidered caps, the maidservants with neat little baskets on their round arms, afforded a varied and pleasing scene. Everything that reached the ear, too, was cheery and amusing, and rendered the knight's mood brighter.

Proud of his newly acquired power of resistance, he walked on, after yielding to the impulse to buy the handsomest bouquet of roses offered by the pretty flower girl Kuni, whom, on Countess Cordula's account, during the Reichstag he had patronised more frequently than usual. Without knowing why himself, he did not tell the pretty girl, who had already trusted him very often, for whom he intended it, but ordered it to be charged with the rest.

At the corner of the Bindergasse, where Heinz Schorlin lodged, he found a beggar woman with a bandaged head, whom he commissioned to carry the roses to the Eysvogel mansion and give them to his wife, Fran Isabella Siebenburg, in his—Sir Seitz's—name.

In front of the house occupied by the master cloth-maker Deichsler, where the Swiss had his quarters, the tailor Ploss stopped him. He came from Heinz Schorlin, and reminded Siebenburg of his by no means inconsiderable debt; but the latter begged him to have patience a little longer, as he had met with heavy losses at the gaming table the night before, and Ploss agreed to wait till St. Heinrich's day—[15th July].

How many besides the tailor had large demands! and when could Seitz begin to cancel his debts? The thought even darted through his mind that instead of carrying his good intentions into effect he had not paid for the roses—but flowers were so cheap in June!

Besides, he had no time to dwell upon this trifle, for while quieting the tailor he had noticed a girl who, notwithstanding the heat of the day, kept her face hidden so far under her Riese—[A kerchief for the head, resembling a veil, made of fine linen.]—that nothing but her eyes and the upper part of her nose were visible. She had given him a hasty nod and, if he was not mistaken, it was the Ortlieb sisters' maid, whom he had often seen.

When he again looked after the muffled figure she was hurrying up the cloth-maker's stairs.

It was Katterle herself.

At the first landing she had glanced back, and in doing so pushed the kerchief aside. What could she want with the Swiss? It could scarcely be anything except to bring him a message from one of her mistresses, doubtless Els.

So he had seen aright, and acted wisely not to believe the countess.

Poor Wolff! Deceived even when a betrothed lover! He did not exactly wish him happiness even now, and yet he pitied him.

Seitz could now stand before Heinz Schorlin with the utmost confidence. The Swiss must know how matters stood between the older E and him self, though his knightly duty constrained him to deny it to others. Siebenburg's self-reproaches had been vain. He had suspected no innocent girl—only called a faithless betrothed bride by the fitting name.

The matter concerning his estate of Tannenreuth was worse. It had been gambled away, and therefore forfeited. He had already given it up in imagination; it was only necessary to have the transfer made by the notary. The Swiss should learn how a true knight satisfies even the heaviest losses at the gaming table. He would not spare Heinz Schorlin. He meant to reproach the unprincipled fellow who by base arts had alienated the betrothed bride of an honest man—for that Wolff certainly was—when adverse circumstances prevented his watching the faithless woman himself. Twisting the ends of his mustache with two rapid motions, he knocked at the young knight's door.



CHAPTER XVII.

Twice, three times, Siebenburg rapped, but in vain. Yet the Swiss was there. His armour-bearer had told Seitz so downstairs, and he heard his voice within. At last he struck the door so heavily with the handle of his dagger that the whole house echoed with the sound. This succeeded; the door opened, and Biberli's narrow head appeared. He looked at the visitor in astonishment.

"Tell your master," said the latter imperiously, recognising Heinz Schorlin's servant, "that if he closes his lodgings against dunning tradesfolk—"

"By your knock, my lord," Biberli interrupted, we really thought the sword cutler had come with hammer and anvil. My master, however, need have no fear of creditors; for though you may not yet know it, Sir Knight, there are generous noblemen in Nuremberg during the Reichstag who throw away castles and lands in his favour at the gaming table."

"And hurl their fists even more swiftly into the faces of insolent varlets!" cried Siebenburg, raising his right hand threateningly. "Now take me to your master at once!"

"Or, at any rate, within his four walls," replied the servitor, preceding Seitz into the small anteroom from which he had come. "As to the 'at once,' that rests with the saints, for you must know——"

"Nonsense!" interrupted the knight. "Tell your master that Siebenburg has neither time nor inclination to wait in his antechamber."

"And certainly nothing could afford Sir Heinz Schorlin greater pleasure than your speedy departure," Biberli retorted.

"Insolent knave!" thundered Seitz, who perceived the insult conveyed in the reply, grasping the neck of his long robe; but Biberli felt that he had seized only the hood, swiftly unclasped it, and as he hurried to a side door, through which loud voices echoed, Siebenburg heard the low cry of a woman. It came from behind a curtain spread over some clothes that hung on the wall, and Seitz said to himself that the person must be the maid whom he had just met. She was in Els Ortlieb's service, and he was glad to have this living witness at hand.

If he could induce Heinz to talk with him here in the anteroom it would be impossible for her to escape. So, feigning that he had noticed nothing, he pretended to be much amused by Biberli's nimble flight. Forcing a laugh, he flung the hood at his head, and before he opened the door of the adjoining room again asked to speak to his master. Biberli replied that he must wait; the knight was holding a religious conversation with a devout old mendicant friar. If he might venture to offer counsel, he would not interrupt his master now; he had received very sad news, and the tailor who came to take his measure for his mourning garments had just left him. If Seitz had any business with the knight, and expected any benefit from his favour and rare generosity——

But Siebenburg let him get no farther. Forgetting the stratagem which was to lure Heinz hither, he burst into a furious rage, fiercely declaring that he sought favour and generosity from no man, least of all a Heinz Schorlin and, advancing to the door, flung the servant who barred his passage so rudely against the wall that he uttered a loud cry of pain.

Ere it had died away Heinz appeared on the threshold. A long white robe increased the pallor of his face, but yesterday so ruddy, and his reddened eyes showed traces of recent tears.

When he perceived what had occurred, and saw his faithful follower, with a face distorted by pain, rubbing his shoulder, his cheeks flushed angrily, and with just indignation he rebuked Siebenburg for his unseemly intrusion into his quarters and his brutal conduct.

Then, without heeding the knight, he asked Biberli if he was seriously injured, and when the latter answered in the negative he again turned to Seitz and briefly enquired what he wanted. If he desired to own that, while in a state of senseless intoxication he had slandered modest maidens, and was ignorant of his actions when he staked his castle and lands against the gold lying before him, Heinz Schorlin, he might keep Tannenreuth. The form in which he would revoke his calumny to Jungfrau Ortlieb he would discuss with him later. At present his mind was occupied with more important matters than the senseless talk of a drunkard, and he would therefore request the knight to leave him.

As Heinz uttered the last words he pointed to the door, and this indiscreet, anything but inviting gesture robbed Siebenburg of the last remnant of composure maintained with so much difficulty.

Nothing is more infuriating to weak natures than to have others expect them to pursue a course opposite to that which, after a victory over baser impulses, they have recognised as the right one and intended to follow. He who had come to resign his lost property voluntarily was regarded by the Swiss as an importunate mendicant; he who stood here to prove that he was perfectly justified in accusing Els Ortlieb of a crime, Schorlin expected to make a revocation against his better knowledge. And what price did the insolent fellow demand for the restored estate and the right to brand him as a slanderer? The pleasure of seeing the unwelcome guest retire as quickly as possible. No greater degree of contempt and offensive presumption could be imagined, and as Seitz set his own admirable conduct during the past few hours far above the profligate behaviour of the Swiss, he was fired with honest indignation and, far from heeding the white robe and altered countenance of his enemy, gave the reins to his wrath.

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