As soon as the sufferer's condition would permit, Kuni left her, went to the window of the taproom in The Blue Pike, and surveyed its inmates.
Most of them were already asleep on heaps of straw, which were raised at the head by chairs turned upside down. The richer guests had gone to the bedrooms, which, however, they were obliged to share with several others. Some of the strollers were lying on the floor with their knapsacks under their heads. A few of the musicians were still lingering over the wine which the travelling merchants and artisans had ordered for them. Others had gone with some of the vagrants into the little wood beyond the meadow, where they danced, fiddled, and sang.
Their loud shouts were borne by the cool night breeze to the sufferer in the cart. The gentlemen from Cologne, without troubling themselves about the boisterous merriment of the burghers or the transformation of the room into a sleeping apartment, were still sitting at the table talking together eagerly.
The dealer in the indulgences, too, had not yet gone to rest. A tall, broad-shouldered sergeant belonging to the escort had just purchased—for the larger part of the zecchins won as his share of the booty in the Italian war—the indulgence which he thought would secure him from the tortures of the fire of purgatory. Before opening the door, he struck his broad breast as though relieved of a heavy burden.
The ropedancer looked after him thoughtfully. The paper had now lightened the sergeant's heart as it had formerly done her own. Would she not have been wiser to give her money for the redemption of Nickel's lost soul than for the orphans, whom the charity of the people would perhaps have succoured without her? Probably, too, it would have afforded still greater consolation to the poor dying woman, whom nothing troubled so sorely as her guilt for the doom of her unfortunate husband.
Yet, even thus she had succeeded in making the dying mother's departure easier, and what she had commenced she intended to complete at once.
With a tender smile that lent strange beauty to her pallid, grief-worn face she continued her survey.
She had previously noticed an old priest, whose countenance bore the impress of genuine kindness of heart. She soon found him again among the travellers sleeping on the straw; but the old man's slumber was so sound that she felt reluctant to wake him. Among the Dominicans from Cologne, most of whom were also asleep, there were none she would have trusted, nay, she even thought that one was the very person who, shortly before her fall from the rope, had pursued her with persistent importunity. But the Abbot of St. AEgidius in Nuremberg, who had dined with the ambassadors from his native city, was also a man of benevolent, winning expression. His cheeks were flushed, either by the heat or the wine which he had drunk, but there was a look of attractive kindness upon his well-formed features. When he went through the room a short time before, Kuni had seen him pass his hand caressingly over the fair hair of the pretty little son of a potter's wife from Reren on the Rhine, whose cart was standing outside in the meadow by the Main. He was scarcely of the same mind as the gentleman from Cologne, for he had just waved his plump hand in protest.
Perhaps she might even do him a favour by summoning him. But dared she, a poor vagabond, disturb so distinguished a gentleman at his wine?
Yet there was danger in delay. So she resolved to ask the assistance of the landlady of The Pike, coughed with her handkerchief pressed over her lips, in order not to disturb the sleepers, and turned to leave the room.
But Gitta had just been to see the sick mother, and told Cyriax that Kuni, silly, softhearted thing, had wasted her gold coins on the dying woman.
The blasphemer flew into a great rage, muttered a few words to pock-marked Ratz, and then staggered toward their lame travelling companion to bar her passage across the threshold, and ask, in angry, guttural tones, how much of the Groland gold she had flung into the dying woman's grave.
"Is it any business of yours?" was the reply, uttered with difficulty amid her coughing.
"Mine, mine—is it any business of mine?" gasped the tongueless man. Then he raised his heavy fist threateningly and stammered jeeringly: "Not—not a red heller more nor less than my cart—in the name of all the fiends—than my cart is of yours. Four heller pounds, Ratz, and the donkey and cart are yours."
"Done!" cried the vagrant, who already had his money ready; but the tongueless blasphemer chuckled with malicious pleasure:
"Now you have it, fool! Whoever doesn't share with me—you know that—doesn't ride with me."
Then he staggered back to Gitta.
The girl watched him silently for a while. At last she passed her hand quickly across her brow, as if to dispel some unpleasant thought, and shook her burning head, half sadly, half disapprovingly.
She had done a good deed—and this, this—But she had not performed it for the sake of reward, she had only desired to aid the sufferer.
Straightening herself proudly, she limped toward the kitchen.
Here, frequently interrupted by fits of coughing, she told the landlady of The Pike in touching words that the sick mother, whom she had so kindly strengthened with nice broth, desired the sacrament, as her life would soon be over. The Lord Abbot of St. AEgidius in Nuremberg was still sitting over his wine.
She went no further. The landlady, who, while Kuni was talking, had wiped her pretty flushed face with her apron, pulled the rolled up white linen sleeves farther down over her plump arms, and gazed with mingled surprise and approval into the girl's emaciated face, interrupted her with the promise to do what she could for the poor woman.
"If it were any one else," she continued, significantly, "I would not venture to try it. But the Abbot of St. AEgidius, in his charity, scarcely asks, when help is needed, whence did you come, who are you, or what do you possess? I know him. Wait here a little while. If he condescends to do it, you can take him to the poor creature at once."
While speaking she smoothed, with two swift motions of her hands, the brown hair which had become a little disordered while bustling to and fro to attend to the business, dipped her hands into the water pail, dried them quickly on her apron, untied it, and tossed it to the maid. Then she cleared her throat vigorously and left the kitchen.
In reply to the anxious question of her husband, whom she met on the threshold of the room, as to what she was seeking there, she answered firmly, "What is right and pious"; then modestly whispered her request to the abbot.
Her wish was fulfilled without delay, nay, it might really have been supposed that the interruption was very opportune to the distinguished prelate; for, with the brief exclamation, "Imperative official duty!" he rose from the table, and went first with the landlady to Kuni and afterward with the latter to the cart beside the laden potter's wain, whose white tilt gleamed in the darkness.
The landlady had undertaken to send to the sexton, whose house was near, that he might immediately obtain everything the abbot needed for the dying woman's viaticum.
Kuni told the sufferer what an exalted servant of the Church was ready to receive her confession and give her the sacrament.
Then she whispered that she might mention Nickel's burdened soul to the abbot. Whatever happened, she could now depart from earth in peace.
Reserving for herself half of the flowers she had gathered in the garden she glided away, in order not to disturb the dying woman's confession.
At the edge of the meadow Kuni paused to reflect. She would gladly have flung herself down on the dewy grass to rest, stretched at full length on the cool turf. She was worn out, and her foot ached and burned painfully after her long walk in the warm August night; but something else exerted a still stronger attraction over her poor longing heart; the desire to see Lienhard again and give him the pinks as a token of gratitude for so much kindness.
He was still sitting with the other gentlemen at the table in front of the tavern. One of the torches threw its light full on his manly face. Kuni knew that he could not see her in the darkness surrounding her figure, yet it seemed as though she was meeting the gaze of his sparkling dark eyes. Now he was speaking. How she longed to know what he said. Summoning up her courage, she glided along in the shadow of the wall and sat down behind the oleander bush on the sharp edge of the tub. No one noticed her, but she was afraid that a fit of coughing might betray her presence, so she pressed her apron firmly over her lips and sat straining her ears to listen. In spite of the violent aching of her foot and the loud rattling in her chest, she thought it a specially favourable dispensation of Providence that she had found her way here just at this moment; for Lienhard was still speaking. The others had asked him to tell them connectedly how the beautiful Katharina Harsdtirffer had become his wife, in spite of the opposition of her stern father and though the Honourable Council had punished him for such insubordination with imprisonment and exile.
He had already related this in detail when Kuni came to listen. Now, pointing to Wilibald Pirckheimer, who sat opposite, he went on with his story, describing how, thanks to the mediation of the latter and of the great artist, Albrecht Durer, he had obtained an audience at Innsbruck with the Emperor Maximilian, how the sovereign had interceded personally in behalf of himself and his betrothal, and how, in consequence of this royal intervention, he had attained the goal of his wishes.
"Our Honourables," he concluded, "now willingly permitted me to return home, and Hans Harsdtirffer, Katharina's father-Heaven rest his soul—relinquished his opposition to our marriage. Perhaps he would have done so earlier, but for the keen antagonism which, owing to their totally different natures, had arisen between the stern man and my lighthearted father, and displayed itself in the Council as well as in all the affairs of life. Not until his old opponent, to whom I owed my existence, was on his death-bed, did Herr Hans clasp hands with him in reconciliation, and consent to our betrothal."
"And I know," Wilibald Pirckheimer interrupted, that among the many obstacles which his foes placed in his path, and which clouded his active life, you two, and your loyal love, gave him more light and greater consolation than anything else. I have often heard him gladly acknowledge this, and as for you, friend Lienhard."
"I know," replied the young Honourable modestly, checking him, "that he was right in deeming the immature youth, which I was at the time of my first wooing, unworthy of his daughter."
"Though you had been the peer in strength and beauty of the valiant Achilles, and in wisdom of the subtle Ulysses, son of Laertes, I would not contradict you," interrupted Pirckheimer; "for, gentlemen, this gallant husband's wife is a jewel of a peculiar kind. Nuremberg is proud of calling Frau Katharina her daughter. Far as the German language is spoken, her equal would be sought in vain."
"You are an enviable man," said little Dr. Eberbach, turning to Lienhard. "But probably you will permit me one question. Even when a boy,—as we heard, you loved the child Katharina. As a youth, you took this love across the Alps to Padua and Bologna. But when, like the noble Virgil, I perceive that 'Nowhere is there aught to trust-nowhere,'—[Virg. AEn. iv, 373.]—and find that the esteemed Catullus's words, 'No man passes through life without error,'—[Catull. Dist. I, 5.]—are verified, I would fain learn whether in Italy also you held fast, in small things as well as great ones, to the—among us men—rare bird of the fidelity sworn to the woman whom we love. I, who compared to you, am like a faun with pointed ears beside the handsome Ares, nevertheless know by experience how easily the glowing eyes of that country kindle conflagrations. Was the armour of a former love really strong enough to guard your heart from every flame, even before any vow bound you to the child whom you chose so early for the companion of your life"?
"It was the same before the priest's consecration as afterward," replied the young Councillor, gravely and firmly.
Then, changing his manner, he held out his brimming glass toward the Thuringian and gaily continued:
"It ought not to seem so amazing to a man of your learning, my incredulous Herr Doctor. Surely your far-famed Propertius says, 'Love is benefited by many things, a faithful nature and resolute persistence.' Believe me, doctor, even without the counsel of your experienced Roman, I should have kept faith with the lovely child at home. From my boyhood, Katharina was to me the woman, the one above all others, the worthy Tryphon, my teacher of Greek in Bologna, would have said. My heart's darling has always been my light, as Helios was that of the Greeks, though there were the moon and so many planets and stars besides."
"And the vagrant we saw just now, on whom you bestowed a golden shower of remembrance as Father Zeus endowed the fair Danae?" asked Doctor Peutinger of Augsburg, shaking his finger mischievously at his young friend. "We humanists follow the saying of Tibullus: 'Whoever confesses let him be forgiven,' and know the world sufficiently to be aware that within the walls of Ilium and without enormities are committed." —[Horace, Epist. 1, 2, 16.]
"A true statement," replied Lienhard. "It probably applies to me as much as to the young girl, but there was really nothing between us which bore the most distant resemblance to a love intrigue. As a magistrate, I acquitted her of a trivial misdemeanour which she committed while my wedding procession was on its way to the altar. I did this because I was unwilling to have that happy hour become a source of pain to any one. In return, she grew deeply attached to me, who can tell whether from mere gratitude, or because a warmer feeling stirred her strange heart? At that time she was certainly a pretty, dainty creature, and yet, as truly as I hope to enjoy the love of my darling wife for many a year, there was nothing, absolutely nothing, between me and the blue-eyed, dark-haired wanderer which the confessor might not have witnessed. I myself wonder at this, because I by no means failed to see the ropedancer's peculiar changeful charms, and the tempter pointed them out to me zealously enough. Besides, she has no ordinary nature. She had accomplished really marvellous feats in her art, until at Augsburg, during the Reichstag, when in the Emperor's presence, she risked the most daring ventures—"
"Could it be the same person who, before our poor Juliane's eyes, had the awful fall which frightened the child so terribly?" asked Doctor Peutinger earnestly.
"The very same," replied Lienhard in a tone of sincere pity; but the Augsburg doctor continued, sighing:
"With that sudden fright, which thrilled her sensitive nature to its inmost depths, began the illness of the angel whose rich, loving heart throbbed so tenderly for you also, Herr Lienhard."
"As mine did for the peerless child," replied the young Councillor with eager warmth. "While Juliane, who sickened at the sight of the girl dancing on the edge of the grave, was pointing out to me some pages in the manuscript of Lucian, which I was to take from you to Herr Wilibald yonder, the unfortunate performer met with the terrible accident. We thought that she was killed, but, as if by a miracle, she lived. Ropedancing, of course, was over forever, as she had lost a foot. This, we supposed, would tend to her welfare and induce her to lead a regular, decorous life; but we were mistaken. In spite of her lameness, Kuni's restless nature drove her back to the highroad. Yet she would have been at liberty to remain in the convent as a lay sister without taking the vows."
"My wife, too, had opened our house to her for Juliane's sake," added Doctor Peutinger. "The sick child could not get the fall which had frightened her so terribly out of her head. Her compassionate heart was constantly occupied with the poor girl, and when she urged her mother to provide for her, she willingly gratified her wish and often inquired about the sufferer's health. How Juliane rejoiced when she heard that the bold and skilful dancer's life would be saved! But when, through the abbess, my wife offered her a situation in our home, the vagabond disdained what the mother and daughter had planned for her, Heaven knows how kindly."
"She treated the gift which we—my wife and I—left in the convent for her in the same way," added Lienhard. "Why did she refuse the aid I offered no less willingly? Probably because she was too proud to accept alms from a man from whom her ardent heart vainly desired something better."
Here Lienhard Groland hesitated, and it sounded like a confession as he eagerly continued:
"And, gentleman, she often seemed to me well worthy of a man's desire. Why should I deny it? Within and without the walls of Troy—we have just heard it—sin is committed, and had not the image of another woman stood between us, as the Alps rise between Germany and Italy-perhaps—But of what avail are conjectures? Will you believe that there were hours when I felt as though I ought to make some atonement to the poor girl?"
"In your place I should have done it long ago, for the benefit of both," protested little Doctor Eberbach merrily. "The commands of conscience should be obeyed, even when, by way of exception, it requires something pleasant. But how grave you look, sir. No offence! You are one of the rare specimens of featherless birds endowed with reason, who unite to the austerity of Cato the amiability of Titus."
"All due honour to Cato," added Wilibald Pirckheimer with a slight bend of his stately head; "but in my young days we had a better understanding of the art of reconciling stern duty with indulgent compassion, when dealing with a beautiful Calypso whom our sternness threatened to wound. But everything in the good old days was not better than at the present time, and that you, whom I honour as the most faithful of husbands, may not misunderstand me, Lienhard: To bend and to succumb are two different things."
"Succumb!" Sir Hans von Obernitz, the Nuremberg magistrate, here interposed indignantly. "A Groland, who, moreover, is blessed with a loyal, lovely wife, succumb to the sparkling eyes of a vagabond wanton! The Pegnitz would flow up the castle cliff first. I should think we might have less vulgar subjects to discuss."
"The daring, skilful ropedancer certainly does not belong to the latter," Doctor Peutinger eagerly retorted. "Besides, who would not desire to know how the free, hot-blooded daughter of the highway settled the account with you, friend Lienhard? Love disdained is said to be the mother of hatred, and from the days of Potiphar's wife has often caused cruel vengeance. Had this girl whom Sir Hans holds in such light esteem really possessed an evil nature, like others of her class—"
"That she does not," Lienhard Groland here warmly interrupted the Augsburg guest.
"Whatever Kuni may lack, and whatever errors she may have committed, she is, and will remain a rare creature, even among the few whose lofty spirit can not be bowed or broken by the deepest calamity. When I met her here again at The Blue Pike, among the most corrupt vagabonds, ill and poor, perhaps already the victim of death, I thought it a fitting time to renew the gift which she had refused. I would gladly do more for the poor girl, and my wife at home certainly would not be vexed; she, too, is fond of Kuni, and—I repeat it—this girl has a good, nay, the best nature. If, instead of among vagabonds, she had been born in a respectable household—"
Here the young envoy was suddenly interrupted. His table companions also raised their heads in surprise—a strange noise echoed through the night air.
Little Doctor Eberbach started up in affright, Hans von Obernitz, the Nuremberg magistrate, grasped the hilt of his sword, but Doctor Schedel instantly perceived that the sound which reached his aged ears was nothing but a violent, long-repressed fit of coughing. He and the other gentlemen were gazing at the oleander tree whence, before any one approached it, a groan of pain was heard.
The experienced physician shook his white locks gravely and said:
"Whoever uttered that is near the end of his sufferings."
He made a movement to rise as he spoke; he felt that his help was needed.
But another incident diverted the attention of his companions and himself.
Dietel, the waiter, had at last been released from his confinement in the cellar, and instantly began the search for the thief in the garden with twofold zeal.
Without considering how long a time had passed since he first tried to bring the culprit into the clutches of the law, he had resumed the pursuit where it was interrupted. As a thoughtless child whose bird has flown from the cage looks into the water jug to find it, he had turned the light of his lantern upon places where a kitten could not have hidden itself, and had even been to the meadow on the bank of the Main to seek Kuni with the widow of the thief Nickel; but here the sacrament was just being given to the sufferer, and to interrupt such a ceremony would have been a great crime. His eyes were keen, and the red pinks had gleamed from the straw on which the dying woman lay in the light of the lantern, whose long pole the sexton had thrust into the soft earth of the meadow. Those flowers must have come from the garden of the landlady of The Pike, and she valued her pinks more than anything else. The ropedancer had gathered them for the sick woman, and certainly had not stopped at that one act of theft. How far these vagabonds' impudence went! But he, whose duty it was to look after the property of The Blue Pike, would spoil their pleasure in thieving.
The dog Phylax had soon put him on the trail, and before any of the gentlemen could reach the groaning person Dietel's triumphant shout rang from behind the oleander:
"Now we've caught the pilferer, and we'll make an example of her!"
His first glance had fallen on the little bunch of pinks in the girl's hand, and the vein on his forehead swelled with wrath at this damage to his mistress's favourite flowers.
But when he shook the culprit by the shoulder and, to his surprise, met with no resistance, he threw the light of the lantern upon her face, and what he saw there suddenly troubled him, for the girl's lips, chin, and dress were covered with bright blood, and her head drooped on one side as if it had lost its support.
This frightened him, and instead of continuing to boast of his success, he called for help.
The Nuremberg gentlemen soon surrounded Kuni, and Doctor Hartmann Schedel told the waiter to carry her, with the aid of his assistants, summoned by his shout, into the house and provide her with a comfortable bed.
Dietel obeyed the command without delay—nay, when he heard the famous leech whisper to the other gentlemen that the sufferer's life was but a failing lamp, his feelings were completely transformed. All the charity in his nature began to stir and grew more zealous as he gazed at Kuni's face, distorted by pain. The idea of giving up to her his own neat little room behind the kitchen seemed like a revelation from St. Eoban, his patron. She should rest in his bed. The wanderer who, a few years ago, had scattered her gold so readily and joyously for the pleasure of others certainly would not poison it. Her misery seemed to him a touching proof of the transitory nature of all earthly things. Poor sufferer! Yet she ought to find recovery on his couch, if anywhere; for he had surrounded it with images of the saints, pious maxims, and little relics, bought chiefly from the venders who frequented the tavern. Among them was a leather strap from St. Elizabeth's shoe, whose healing power he had himself tested during an attack of bilious fever.
The burden which he shared with his assistants was a light one, but he was not to reach his destination without delay—the little bunch of pinks fell from the hand of the unconscious girl, and Dietel silently picked up the stolen property which had just roused his wrath to such a degree, and placed it carefully on the senseless sufferer's bosom.
The second hinderance was more serious. Cyriax had heard that Kuni was dying, and fearing that he might be obliged to pay the funeral expenses he stuttered to the bystanders, with passionate gestures, that an hour ago he had discharged the cripple whom he had dragged about with him, out of sheer sympathy, long enough. She was nothing more to him now than the cock in the courtyard, which was crowing to greet the approach of dawn.
But the landlord of The Pike and others soon forced Cyriax out of the way. Kuni was laid on Dietel's bed, and the gray-haired leech examined her with the utmost care.
The landlady of The Pike helped to undress her, and when the good woman, holding her apron to her eyes from which tears were streaming, opened the door again and the Abbot of St. AEgidius approached the couch, to render aid to the dying for the second time that night, he saw by Hartmann Schedel's face that he had not come too soon.
The ropedancer had recovered consciousness, and the kind prelate's presence was a solace to her. The confession lasted a long time, and the story which she had to confide to the priest must have been as strange as it was interesting, for the abbot listened eagerly and with evident emotion. When he had performed the duties of his office he remained alone for a time; he could not immediately regain a mood in which he cared to rejoin the others. He did not ask for the gentlemen from Cologne; those from Nuremberg, whom he sought, had returned to the table in front of the tavern long before.
The waves of the Main were now reflecting the golden light of the morning sun. Dewdrops glittered on the grass and flowers in the meadow with the cart, and in the landlady's little garden. Carriers' men were harnessing the freshly groomed bays to the pole. The brass rings on the high collars of the stallions jingled loudly and merrily, and long whiplashes cracked over the four and six-horse teams which were beginning the day's journey along the highroad.
But even the rattling of the carts and the trampling of the horses' hoofs could not rouse the Cologne professors, who, with their clerical companions, had gone to rest, and slept in darkened rooms until late into the morning. Most of the humbler guests had already left their straw beds.
Cyriax was one of the first who followed the road. He had sold his cart and donkey, and wanted to burden his red-haired wife with his possessions, but as she resolutely refused he had taken the bundle on his own lazy shoulders. Now he dragged himself and his new load onward, swearing vehemently, for Ratz had remained with the cart in Miltenberg, where the sham lunatic no longer found it safe to stay. This time it was he who was obliged to pull his wife along by the chain, for she had long refused, as if fairly frantic, to desert the dying girl who had nursed her child so faithfully. Again and again the doubly desolate woman looked back toward the companion whom she had abandoned in her suffering until they reached Frankfort. There Gitta left Cyriax and accompanied Ratz. The cart in which her child had lived and died, not its repulsive owner, induced her to sever the bond which, for nine years, had bound her to the blasphemer.
The travelling scholars set off singing merrily; but the strolling musicians waited for the ship to sail down the Main, on whose voyage they could earn money and have plenty to drink.
The vagrants tramped along the highway, one after another, without troubling themselves about the dying ropedancer.
"Everybody finds it hard enough to bear his own cross," said Jungel, seizing his long crutches. Only "Dancing Gundel" lingered in Miltenberg through sympathy in the fate of the companion who had reached the height of fame, while she, the former "Phyllis," had gone swiftly downhill. It was a Christian duty, she said to the blind boy who begged their bread, not to let Kuni, who had once held so lofty a position, take the last journey without a suitable escort. When she heard that her former companion had received the sacrament, she exclaimed to her blind son, while slicing garlic into the barley porridge: "She will now be at rest. We shall earn a pretty penny at the mass in Frankfort if you can only manage to look as sorrowful when you hold out your hand as you do now!"
The monks, the dealer in indulgences, the burghers and artisans who were just preparing to embark for the voyage down the Main, gazed in bewilderment at the distinguished gentlemen who, incredible as it seemed, had actually—for Dietel said so—foregone their morning nap for the sake of a vagabond girl. The feather-curler shook his head as if something marvellous had happened when he heard the ambassador of the Honourable Council of his own native city, the distinguished Herr Lienhard Groland, say to old Doctor Schedel:
"I will wait here with you, my venerable friend. Since the poor girl can live only a few hours longer, I can join the others, if I hurry, before they leave Frankfort."
"That's right, Lienhard," cried Wilibald Pirckheimer, and the Abbot of St. AEgidius added approvingly:
"You will thereby do something which is pleasing in the sight of Heaven. Yes, gentlemen, I repeat it: there are few deathbeds beside which I have found so little reason to be ashamed of the fate of being a mortal as by the humble couch of this vagabond girl. If, before the judgment seat above, intention and faith are weighed with the same scales as works, few who close their eyes behind silken curtains will be so sure of a favourable sentence as this poorest of the poor."
"Did the girl really keep no portion of Herr Lienhard's rich gift for herself?" asked the Nuremberg imperial magistrate.
"Nothing," replied the abbot. "She gave the whole, down to her last copper, to the stranger, though she herself must remain here, poor, lame, and deserted—and she had only met the sick woman by accident upon the highway. My duty forbids me to repeat the details, and how she bore herself even while at Augsburg, but, thanks to the confession which I have just received, I shall count this morning among those never to be forgotten. O gentlemen, death is a serious matter, and intercourse with the dying is the best school for the priest. Then the inmost depths of the soul are opened to him."
"And," observed Wilibald Pirckheimer, "I think the psychologist would then learn that, the deeper we penetrate the human breast, the darker is the spectacle."
"Yes, my learned friend," the abbot answered, "but we also perceive that the deepest and darkest shafts contain the purest specimens of gold and silver ore."
"And were you really permitted to find such in this neglected vagabond, reverend sir?" asked Doctor Eberbach, with an incredulous smile.
"As certainly," answered the prelate with repellent dignity, "as that the Saviour was right when he called those who were pure in heart blessed above those who were wise and overflowing with knowledge!"
Then, without waiting for the Thuringian's answer, he hastily turned to the young ambassador and begged him to grant the dying girl, who clung to him with tender devotion, a brief farewell.
"Willingly," replied Lienhard, requesting the physician to accompany him.
The latter had just beckoned Doctor Peutinger to his side, to examine with him the indulgence which he had found under the kerchief crossed over the sick girl's bosom. It did not secure redemption from the flames of purgatory for the ropedancer's soul, as the gentlemen expected, but for another, and that other—the learned humanist and Imperial Councillor would not believe his own eyes—was his beloved, prematurely lost child. There, in large letters, was "Juliane Peutinger of Augsburg."
Astonished, almost bewildered, the usually quiet statesman expressed his amazement.
The other gentlemen were preparing to examine the paper with him, when the abbot, without betraying the secret of Kuni's heart, which she had confided to him in her confession, told Juliane's father that the ropedancer had scarcely left the convent ere she gave up both the Emperor's gift and the viaticum—in short, her whole property, which would have been large enough to support her a long time—in order to do what she could for the salvation of the child for whom her soul was more concerned than for her own welfare.
The astonished father's eyes filled with tears of grateful emotion, and when Lienhard went with the gray-haired leech to the dying girl Doctor Peutinger begged permission to accompany them. The physician, however, requested him to remain away from the sufferer, who would be disturbed by the sight of a strange face. Then Peutinger charged his young friend to give Kuni his kind greetings and thank her for the love with which she had remembered his dear child.
The young Councillor silently followed the physician to the sick bed, at whose head leaned a Gray Sister, who was one of the guests of The Blue Pike and had volunteered to nurse the patient.
The nun shook her head sorrowfully as the two men crossed the threshold. She knew how the dying look, and that the hand of death already touched this sufferer. Yet her kind, colourless face, framed by the white sides of her cap, quickly regained its usual quiet, placid expression.
The regular features, now slightly flushed with the fever, of the patient in her charge, on the contrary, were constantly varying in expression. She had noticed the entrance of the visitors, and when she opened her sparkling blue eyes and saw the person to whom her poor heart clung with insatiable yearning they were filled with a sunny radiance, and a smile hovered round her lips.
She had known that he would come, that he would not let her die without granting her one more glance.
Now she would fain have nodded to him and expressed in very, very appropriate words the delight, the embarrassment, the gratitude which filled her soul, but her panting chest could give no breath for utterance. Nay, extreme exhaustion even prevented the movement of her lips. But her heart and brain were by no means inactive. A wealth of internal and external experiences, long since forgotten, rose before her mind. First she fancied that she saw Lienhard, as at their first meeting, approaching the garlanded door of St. Sebald's with his beautiful bride, arrayed in her wedding robes. Then she was transported to the court room and felt his hand stroke her hair. The hours at Frau Schurstab's when she had awaited his visits with an anxious heart came back to her memory. Then she again saw herself upon the rope. Lienhard was toying with the little elf below. But what she beheld this time was far from awakening new wicked wishes, for Juliane once more wore her laurel crown and beckoned kindly to her like a dear, familiar friend. Finally, pale little Juli appeared, as if shrouded in mists. Last of all, she saw herself filling the jug for the sick woman and gathering the red pinks for her and Lienhard in the landlady's little garden by the shimmering starlight. The flowers, whose fragrance was too strong, yet which she had not the strength to remove, lay on the coverlet before her. They were intended for Lienhard, and as she stretched her slender fingers toward them and tried to clasp them she succeeded. She even found strength to hold out her right hand to him with a beseeching glance. And lo! ere her arm fell again the proud man had seized the flowers. Then she saw him fasten the pinks on the breast of his dark doublet, and heard the thrill of deep emotion in his voice, as he said:
"I thank you, dear Kuni, for the beautiful flowers. I will keep them. Your life was a hard one, but you have borne the burden bravely. I saw this clearly, and not I alone. I am also to thank you and give you very friendly remembrances in the name of Doctor Peutinger, of Augsburg, little Juliane's father. He will think of you as a mistress of your art, a noble, high-minded girl, and I—I shall certainly do so."
He clasped her burning hand as he spoke; but at these words she felt as she had probably done a few hours before, when, hidden behind the oleander, she listened to the conversation in which he mentioned her kindly. Again a warm wave of joy seemed to surge upward in her breast, and she fancied that her heart was much too small for such a wealth of rapture, and it was already overflowing in hot waves, washing all grief far, far away.
Her gift had been accepted.
The red pinks looked at her from his doublet, and she imagined that everything around was steeped in rosy light, and that a musical tinkling and singing echoed in her ears.
Never had she experienced such a feeling of happiness.
Now she even succeeded in moving her lips, and the man, who still held her little burning hand clasped in his first heard his own name very faintly uttered; then her parched lips almost inaudibly repeated the exclamation: "Too late!" and again, "Too late!"
The next instant she pressed her left hand upon her panting breast. The rosy hue around her blended with the red tint of the pinks, and another haemorrhage bore the restless wanderer to that goal where every mortal journey ends.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Repeated the exclamation: "Too late!" and again, "Too late!
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS FOR THE ENTIRE "IN THE BLUE PIKE":
Arrogant wave of the hand, and in an instructive tone Buy indugence for sins to be committed in the future Honest anger affords a certain degree of enjoyment Mirrors were not allowed in the convent Ovid, 'We praise the ancients' Pays better to provide for people's bodies than for their brains Repeated the exclamation: "Too late!" and again, "Too late! Who watches for his neighbour's faults has a hundred sharp eyes Who gives great gifts, expects great gifts again