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Title: In the Fire of the Forge: A Romance of Old Nuremberg — Volume 07
Author: Ebers, Georg
Language: English
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IN THE FIRE OF THE FORGE

A ROMANCE OF OLD NUREMBERG

By Georg Ebers

Volume 7.



CHAPTER X.

A few minutes later the sisters left the Town Hall.  Their white Rieses
were wound so closely about their faces that their features were
completely hidden, but the thin material permitted them to see Herr
Vorchtel, leaning upon the arm of the young burgomaster, Hans Nutzel,
leave the Council chamber, where the other Honourables were still
deliberating.  Pointing to the old man, the city clerk told Els with a
significant smile that Ursula Vorchtel was engaged to the talented,
attractive young merchant now walking with her father, and that he had
promised Herr Vorchtel to aid him and his younger son in the management
of his extensive business.  This was a great pleasure to the noble old
merchant, and when he, the city clerk, met Ursula that morning, spite of
her deep mourning, she again looked out upon the world like the happy
young creature she was.  Her new joy had greatly increased her beauty,
and her lover was the very person to maintain it.  Herr Schedel thought
it would be pleasant news to Els, too.  The young girl pressed his hand
warmly; for these good tidings put the finishing touch to the glad
tidings she had just heard.  The reproach which, unjust as it might be,
had spoiled many an hour for Wolff and entailed such fatal consequences,
was now removed, and to her also "Ursel's" altered manner had often
seemed like a silent accusation.  She felt grateful, as if it were a
personal joy, for the knowledge that the girl who had believed herself
deserted by Wolff, her own lover, was now a happy betrothed bride.

Ursula's engagement removed a burden from Eva's soul, too, only she did
not understand how a girl whose heart had once opened to a great love
could ever belong to anyone else.  Els understood her; nay, in Ursula's
place she would have done the same, if it were only to weave a fresh
flower in her afflicted father's fading garland of joy.

The city clerk accompanied them to the great entrance door of the Town
Hall.

Several jailers and soldiers in the employ of the city were standing
there, and whilst their old friend was promising to do his utmost to
secure Ernst Ortlieb's liberation and recommending the girls to the
protection of one of the watchmen, Eva's cheeks flushed; for a messenger
of the Council had just approached the others, and she heard him utter
the name of Sir Heinz Schorlin and his follower Walther Biberli.  Els
listened, too, but whilst her sister in embarrassment pressed her hand
upon her heart, she frankly asked the city clerk what had befallen the
knight and his squire, who was betrothed to her maid.  She heard that at
the last meeting of the Council an order had been issued for Biberli's
arrest.

His name must have been brought up during the discussions of the slanders
which had so infamously pursued the Ortlieb sisters, but she could not
enquire how or in what connection, for the sun was already low in the
western sky, and if the girls wished to see their father there was no
time to lose.

Yet, though Katterle had just said that Countess von Montfort was waiting
outside in her great sedan-chair for the young ladies, they were still
detained, for they would not leave the Town Hall without thanking the
city clerk and saying farewell to him.  He was still near, but the
captain of the city soldiers had drawn him aside and was telling him
something which seemed to permit no delay, and induced the old gentleman
to glance at the sisters repeatedly.

Eva did not notice it; for Biberli's arrest, which probably had some
connection with Heinz and herself, had awakened a series of anxious
thoughts associated with her lover and his faithful follower.  Els
troubled herself only about the events occurring in her immediate
vicinity, and felt perfectly sure that the captain's communications
referred not only to the four itinerant workmen and the three women who
had just been led across the courtyard to the "Hole," and to whom the
speaker pointed several times, but especially to her and her sister.

When the city clerk at last turned to them again, he remarked carelessly
that a disagreeable mob in front of the Ortlieb mansion had been
dispersed, and then, with urgent cordiality, invited the two girls to
spend the night under the protection of his old housekeeper.  When they
declined, he assured them that measures would be taken to guard them
from every insult.  He had something to tell their uncle, and the
communication appeared to permit no delay, for with a haste very unusual
in the deliberate old gentleman he left the two sisters with a brief
farewell.

Meanwhile Countess Cordula had become weary of waiting in the sedan-
chair.  She came striding to meet her new friends, attired in a rustling
canary-green silk robe whose train swept the ground, but it was raised so
high in front that the brown hunting-boots encasing her well-formed feet
were distinctly visible.  She was swinging her heavy riding-whip in her
hand, and her favourite dogs, two black dachshunds with yellow spots over
their eyes, followed at her heels.

As it was against the rules to bring dogs into the Town Hall, the
doorkeeper tried to stop her, but without paying the slightest attention
to him, she took Els by the hand, beckoned to Eva, and was turning to
leave the path leading to the market-place.

In doing so her eyes fell upon the courtyard, where, just after the Ave
Maria, a motley throng had gathered.  Here, guarded by jailers, stood
vagabonds and disreputable men and women, sham blind beggars and
cripples, swindlers, and other tatterdemalions, who had been caught in
illegal practices or without the beggar's sign.  In another spot, dark-
robed servants of the Council were discussing official and other matters.
Near the "Hole" a little party of soldiers were resting, passing from
hand to hand the jug of wine bestowed by the Honourable Council.  The
"Red Coat"--[Executioner]--was giving orders to his "Life"--
[Executioner's assistant ("Lion")]--as they carried across the courtyard
a new instrument of torture intended for the room adjoining the Council
chamber, where those who refused to make depositions were forced to it.
In a shady corner sat old people, poorly clad women, and pale-faced
children, the city poor, who at this hour received food from the kitchen
of the Town Hall.  A few priests and monks were going into the wing of
the building which contained the "Hole," with its various cells and the
largest chamber of torture, to give the consolations of religion to the
prisoners and those tortured by the rack who had not yet been conveyed
to the hospital at Schweinau.

The countess's keen glance wandered from one to another.  When they
reached the group of paupers they rested upon a woman with deadly pale,
hollow cheeks, pressing a pitifully emaciated infant to her dry breast,
and her eyes swiftly filled with tears.

"Here," she whispered to old Martsche, taking several gold coins from the
pocket that hung at her belt, "give these to the poorest ones.  You are
sensible.  Divide it so that several will have a share and the money will
reach the right hands.  You can take your time.  We need neither you nor
Katterle.  Go back to the house.  I will carry your young mistresses to
their father and home again.  Where I am you need have no fear that harm
will befall them."

Then she turned again towards the "Hole," and seeing the people yelling
and shouting while awaiting imprisonment, she pointed to them with her
whip, saying, "That's a part of the pack which was set upon you.  You
shall hear about it presently.  But now come."

As she spoke she went before the girls and urged them to step quickly
into the large, handsome sedan-chair, around which an unusual number of
people had assembled, for she wished to avoid any recognition of the
sisters by the curious spectators.  The gilded box, borne between two
powerful Brabant horses in such a way that it hung between the tail of
the first and the head of the second, would have had room for a fourth
occupant.

When it moved forward, swaying from side to side, Cordula pointed to the
curtained windows, and said: "Shameful, isn't it?  But it is better so,
children.  That arch-rascal Siebenburg robbed the people of the little
sense they possessed, and that cat of a candle-dealer, with her mate, the
tailor, or rather his followers, poisoned the minds of the rest.  How
quickly it worked!  Goodness, it seems to me, acts more slowly.  True,
your hot-tempered father spoiled the old rascal's inclination to woo
pretty Metz for a while; but his male and female gossips, aunts, cousins,
and work-people apparently allowed themselves to be persuaded by his
future mother-in-law to the abominable deed, which caused the brawling
rabble you saw in the Town Hall court to content themselves with a hard
couch in the 'Hole' overnight."

"They have done everything bad concerning us, though I don't know exactly
what," cried Els indignantly.

"Wished  to do,  Miss Wisdom," replied the countess, patting Els's arm
soothingly.  "We kept our eyes open, and I helped to put a stop to their
proceedings.  The rabble gathered in front of your house, yelling and
shrieking, and when I stepped into your bow-window there was as great
an outcry as if they were trying to bring down the walls of Jericho a
second time.  Some boys even flung at me everything they could find in
the mire of the streets.  The most delightful articles!  There was
actually a dead rat!  I can see its tail flying now!  Our village lads
know how to aim better.  Before the worst came, by the advice of the
equerry and our wise chaplain, whom I consulted, we had done what was
necessary, and summoned the guard at the Frauenthor to our assistance.
But the soldiers were in no great haste; so when matters were going too
far, I stepped into the breach myself, called down to tell them my name,
and also showed my crossbow with an arrow on the string.  This had an
effect.  Only a few women still continued to load me with horrible abuse.
Then the chaplain came to the window and this restored silence; but, in
spite of his earnest words, not a soul stirred from the spot until the
patrol arrived, dispersed the rabble, and arrested some of them."

Els, who sat by Cordula's side, drew her towards her and kissed her
gratefully; but Eva's eyes had filled with tears of grief at the
beginning of the countess's report of this new insult, and the hostility
of so many of the townsfolk; yet she succeeded in controlling herself.
She would not weep.  She had even forced herself to gaze, without the
quiver of an eyelash, at the sorrowful and horrible spectacle outside of
the "Hole."  She must cease being a weak child.  How true her dying
mother's words had been!  To be able to struggle and conquer, she must
not withdraw from life and its influences, which, if she did not spare
herself, promised to transform her into the resolute woman she desired to
become.

She had listened with labouring breath to the speaker's last words, and
when Els embraced Cordula, she raised her little clenched hand,
exclaiming with passionate emotion: "Oh, if I had only been at home with
you!  You are brave, Countess, but I, too, would not have shrunk from
them.  I would voluntarily have made myself the target for their malice,
and called to their faces that only miserably deluded people or shameless
rascals could throw stones at my Els, who is a thousand times better than
any of them!"

"Or at you, you dear, brave child," added Cordula in an agitated tone.

From the day following the burning of the convent the countess had given
up her whim of winning Heinz Schorlin.  She now knew that all her nobler
feelings spoke more loudly in favour of the quiet man who had borne her
out of the flames.  Sir Boemund Altrosen's love had proved genuine, and
she would reward him for it; but the heart of the pretty creature
opposite to her was also filled with deep, true love, and she would do
everything in her power for Eva, whom she had loved ever since her
affliction had touched her tender heart.

Both sisters were now aware of Cordula's kind intentions, and the warm
pleasure she displayed when Els told her what the Council had determined,
showed plainly enough that the motherless young countess, who had neither
brother nor sister, clung to the daughters of her host like a third
sister.  Old Herr Vorchtel's treatment of the man who had inflicted so
deep a sorrow upon him touched her inmost soul.  It was grand, noble; the
Saviour himself would have rejoiced over it.  "If it would only please
the good old man," she exclaimed, "I would rather offer him my lips to
kiss than the handsomest young knight."

Though two of Count von Montfort's mounted huntsmen and several
constables accompanied the unusually large and handsome sedan-chair,
a curious crowd had followed it; but the opinion probably prevailed that
the countess's companions were some of her waiting-women.  When they
alighted in front of the watch-tower, however, an elderly laundry-maid
who had worked for the Ortliebs recognised the sisters and pointed them
out to the others, protesting that it was hard for a woman of her chaste
spirit to have served in a house where such things could have happened.
Then a tailor's apprentice, who considered the whole of the guild
insulted in the wounded Meister Seubolt, put his fingers to his wide
mouth and emitted a long, shrill whistle; but the next instant a blow
from a powerful fist silenced him.  It was young Ortel, who had come to
the watch-tower to seek Herr Ernst and tell him that he and his sister
Metz, spite of their mother and guardian, meant to stay in his service.
His heart's blood would not have been too dear to guard Eva, whom he
instantly recognised, from every insult; but he had no occasion to use
his youthful strength a second time, for the soldiers who guarded the
tower and the city mercenaries drove back the crowd and kept the square
in front of the tower open.

The countess would not be detained long, for the sun had already sunk
behind the towers and western wall of the fortress, and the reflection of
the sunset was tinging the eastern sky with a roseate hue.  The warden
really ought to have refused them admittance, for the time during which
he was permitted to take visitors to the imprisoned "Honourable" had
already passed.  But for the daughters of Herr Ernst Ortlieb, to whom he
was greatly indebted, he closed his eyes to this fact, and only entreated
them to make their stay brief, for the drawbridge leading to the tower
must be raised when darkness gathered.

The young girls found their father, absorbed in grief as if utterly
crushed, seated at a table on which stood a leaden inkstand with several
sheets of paper.  He still held the pen in his hand.

He received his daughters with the exclamation, "You poor, poor
children!"  But when Els tried to tell him what had given her so much
pleasure, he interrupted her to accuse himself, with deep sorrow, of
having again permitted sudden passion to master him.  Probably this was
the last time; such experiences would cool even the hottest blood.  Then
he began to relate what had induced him to raise his hand against the
tailor, and as, in doing so, he recalled the insolent hypocrite's
spiteful manner, he again flew into so violent a rage that the blow which
he dealt the table made the ink splash up and soil both the paper lying
beside it and his own dress, still faultlessly neat even in prison.  This
caused fresh wrath, and he furiously crushed the topmost sheet, already
half covered with writing, and hurled it on the floor.

Not until Els stooped to pick it up did he calm himself, saying, with a
shrug of the shoulders, "Who can remain unmoved when the whirlwind of
despair seizes him?  When a swarm of hornets attacks a horse, and it
rears, who wonders?  And I--What stings and blows has Fate spared me?"
Els ventured to speak soothingly to him, and remind him of God, and the
saints to whom he had made such generous offerings in building the
convent; but this awakened an association, and he asked if it were true
that Eva had refused to take the veil.

She made a silent gesture of assent, expecting another outburst of anger;
but her father only shook his head sorrowfully, clasped her right hand in
both his, and said sadly: "Poor, poor child!  But she, she--your mother--
would probably----The last words her dear lips bestowed upon us concerned
you, child, and I believe their meaning----"

Here the warden interrupted him to remind the girls that it was time to
depart; but whilst Els was begging the man for a brief delay, Herr Ernst
looked first at the paper and writing materials, then at his daughters,
and added with quiet decision: "Before you go, you must hear that, in
spite of everything, I did not wholly lose courage, but began to act."

"That is right, dear  father," exclaimed Els, and told him briefly and
quickly what the Council had decided, how warmly old Berthold Vorchtel
had interceded for Wolff, and that the management of the business was to
be confided solely to him.

These tidings swiftly and powerfully revived the fading hopes of the
sorely stricken man.  He drew up his short figure as if the vigour of
youth had returned, declaring that he now felt sure that this first star
in the dark night would soon be followed by others.  "It will now be your
Wolff's opportunity," he exclaimed, "to make amends for much that Fate
But I was commencing something else.  Give me that bit of crumpled paper.
I'll look at it again early to-morrow morning; it is a letter to the
Emperor I was composing.  Your brother ought not to have given up his
young life on the battlefield for the Crown in vain.  He owes me
compensation for the son, you for the brother.  He is certainly a fair-
minded man, and therefore will not shut his ears to my complaint.  Just
wait, children!  And you, my devout Eva, pray to your saint that the
petition, which concerns you also, may effect what I expect."

"And what is that?" asked Eva anxiously.  "That the wrong done you, you
poor, deceived child, shall be made good," replied Herr Ernst with
imperious decision.

Eva clasped his hand, pleading warmly and tenderly: "By all that you hold
dear and sacred, I beseech you, father, not to mention me and Sir Heinz
Schorlin in your letter.  If he withdrew his love from me, no imperial
decree--"

The veins on the Councillor's brow again swelled with wrath, and though
he did not burst into a passion, he exclaimed in violent excitement:
"A nobleman who declares his love to a chaste Nuremberg maiden of noble
birth assumes thereby a duty which, if unfulfilled, imposes a severe
punishment upon him.  This just punishment, at least, the tempter shall
not escape.  The Emperor, who proclaimed peace throughout the land and
cleared the highways of the bands of robbers, will consider it his first
duty--"

Here the warden interrupted him by calling from the threshold of the room
that the draw-bridge would be raised and the young ladies must follow him
without delay.

Eva again besought her father not to enter an accusation against the
knight, and Els warmly supported her sister; but their brief, ardent
entreaty produced no effect upon the obstinate man except, after he had
pressed a farewell kiss upon the brows of both, to tell them with
resolute dignity that the night would bring counsel, and he was quite
sure that this time, as usual, he should pursue the right course for the
real good of his dear children.

Hitherto Herr Ernst had indeed proved himself a faithful and prudent head
of his family, but this time his daughters left him with heavy, anxious
hearts.

Fear of her father's intention tortured Eva like a new misfortune, and
Els and the countess also hoped that the petition would go without the
accusation against Heinz.

Whilst the sedan-chair was bearing the girls home few words were
exchanged.  Not until they approached the Frauenthor did they enter into
a more animated conversation, which referred principally to Biberli and
the question whether the Honourable Council would call Katterle to
account also, and what could be done to save both from severe punishment.
Cordula had drawn aside the curtain on the right and was gazing into the
street, apparently from curiosity, but really with great anxiety.  But
Herr Pfinzing had done his part, and with the exception of several
soldiers in the pay of the city there were few people in sight near the
Ortlieb mansion.

A horse was being led up and down on the opposite side of the courtyard,
and behind the chains stood a sedan-chair with several men, to whom Metz
had just brought from the kitchen a coal of fire to light their torches.
The pretty girl looked as bright as if she felt small concern for the
severe wound of the grey-haired tailor who had chosen her for his wife.



CHAPTER XI.

As the young girls were getting out of their sedan-chair, the Frauenthor,
which was closed at nightfall, opened to admit another whose destination
also seemed to be the Ortlieb mansion.

Katterle was standing in the lower entry with her apron raised to her
face.  She had learned that her true and steadfast lover had been carried
to the "Hole," and was waiting here for her mistresses and also for Herr
Pfinzing and his wife, whom old Martsche had conducted to the sittingroom
in the second story.  Herr Pfinzing, in her opinion, had as much power as
the Emperor, and his wife was famed all over the city for her charitable
and active kindness.  When the noble couple came down Katterle meant to
throw herself on her knees at their feet and beseech them to have mercy
on her betrothed husband.  The sisters and Cordula comforted her with the
promise that they would commend Biberli's cause to the magistrate; but as
they went upstairs they again expressed to one another the fear that
Katterle herself would sooner or later follow the man she loved to
prison.

They found Herr Pfinzing and his wife in the sitting-room.

Katterle was not wrong in expecting kindly help from this lady, for a
more benevolent face than hers could scarcely be imagined, and, more
over, Fran Christine certainly did not lack strength to do what she
deemed right.  Though not quite so broad as her short, extremely
corpulent husband, she surpassed him in height by several inches, and
time had transformed the pretty, slender, modest girl into a majestic
woman.  The slight arch of the nose, the lofty brow, the light down on
the upper lip, and the deep voice even gave her a somewhat imperious
aspect.  Had it not been for the kind, faithful eyes, and an extremely
pleasant expression about the mouth, one might have wondered how she
could succeed in inspiring everyone at the first glance with confidence
in her helpful kindness of heart.

Her grey pug had also been brought with her.  How could an animal supply
the place of beloved human beings?  Yet the pug had become necessary to
her since her son, like so many other young men who belonged to patrician
Nuremberg families, had fallen in the battle of Marchfield, and her
daughter had accompanied her husband to his home in Augsburg.  The
onerous duties of her husband's office compelled him to leave her alone a
great deal, and even in her extremely active life there were lonely hours
when she needed a living creature that was faithfully devoted to her.

She was often overburdened with work, for every charitable institution
sought her as a "fosterer."  True, in many cases their request was vain.
Whatever she undertook must be faultlessly executed, and the charge of
the orphan children in the city, the Beguines, and the hospital at her
summer residence occupied her sufficiently.  During the winter she lived
with her husband at his official quarters in the castle, but as soon as
spring came she longed for her little manor at Schweinau, for she had
taken into the institution erected there for the widows of noble
crusaders, but in which only the last four of these ladies were now
supported, a number of Beguines.  These were godly girls and women who
did not wish to submit to convent rules, or did not possess the favour or
the money required for admission.

Without pledging themselves to celibacy or any of the other restrictions
imposed upon the nuns, they desired only, in association with others of
the same mind, to lead a life pleasing in the sight of God and devoted to
Christian charity.  Schweinau afforded abundant opportunity for
charitable women to aid suffering fellow-mortals, since it was here that
the unfortunates who had been mutilated by the hands of the executioner
and his assistants, or wounded on the rack, often nearly unto death, were
brought to be bandaged, and as far as possible healed.  The Beguines
occupied themselves in nursing them, but had many a conflict with the
spiritual authorities, who preferred the monks and nuns bound by a
monastic vow.  The order of St. Francis alone regarded them with favour,
interceded for them, and watched over them with kindly interest, taking
care that they were kept aloof from everything which would expose them to
reproach or blame.

Frau Christine, the Abbess Kunigunde's sister, aided her in this effort,
and the Beguines, to whom the magistrate's wife in no way belonged, but
who had given them a home on her own estate, silently rendered her
obedience when she wished to see undesirable conditions in their common
life removed.

Els, as well as Eva, had long since told Frau Christine, who was equally
dear to both, everything that afforded ground for the shameful calumnies
which had now urged their father to a deed for which he was atoning in
prison.

When, a few hours before, a messenger from her husband informed her of
what had occurred, she had instantly come to the city to see that the
right thing was done, and take the girls thus bereft of their father from
the desolate Ortlieb mansion to her own house.  Herr Pfinzing had warmly
approved this plan, and accompanied her to the "Es," as he, too, was fond
of calling his nieces.

When she had been told what motives induced Eva not to confide herself
just now to the protection of the convent, Frau Christine struck her
broad hips, exclaiming, "There's something in blood!  The young creature
acts as if her old aunt had thought for her."

Her invitation sounded so loving and cordial, her husband pressed it with
such winning, jovial urgency, and the pug Amicus, whose attachment to Eva
was especially noticeable, supported his mistress's wish with such ardent
zeal, that she called the sisters' attention to his intercession.

Meanwhile the girls had already expressed to each other, with the mute
language of the eyes, their inclination to accept the invitation so
affectionately extended.  Els only made the condition that they were not
to go to Schweinau until early the following morning, after their visit
to their father; Eva, on the other hand, desired to go as soon as
possible, gladly and gratefully confessing to her aunt how much more
calmly she would face the future now that she was permitted to be under
her protection.

"Just creep under the old hen's wings,  my little chicken; she will keep
you warm," said the kind-hearted woman, kissing Eva.  But, as she began
to plan for the removal of the sisters, more visitors were announced--
indeed, several at once; first, Albert Ebner, of the Council, and his
wife, then Frau Clara Loffelholz, who came without her husband, and the
two daughters of the imperial ranger Waldstromer, Els's most intimate
friends.  They had come in from the forest-house the day before to attend
Frau Maria Ortlieb's burial.  Now, with their mother's permission, they
came to invite the deserted girls to the forest.  The others also begged
the sisters to come to them, and so did Councillors Schurstab, Behaim,
Gross, Holzschuher, and Pirckheimer, who came, some with their wives and
some singly, to look after the daughters of their imprisoned colleague.

The great sitting-room was filled with guests, and the stalwart figures
and shrewd, resolute faces of the men, the kind, good, and usually
pleasing countenances of the women, whose blue eyes beamed with
philanthropic benevolence, though they carried their heads high enough,
afforded a delightful spectacle, and one well calculated to inspire
respect.  There could be no doubt that those whose locks were already
grey represented distinguished business houses and were accustomed to
manage great enterprises.  There was not a single one whom the title
"Honour of the Family" could not have well befitted; and what cheerful
self-possession echoed in the deep voices of the men, what maternal
kindness in those of the elder women, most of whom also spoke in sonorous
tones!

Els and Eva often cast stolen glances at each other as they greeted the
visitors, thanked them, answered questions, gave explanations, accepted
apologies, received and courteously declined invitations.  They did not
comprehend what had produced this sudden change of feeling in so many of
their equals in rank, what had brought them in such numbers at so late an
hour, as if the slightest delay was an offence, to their quiet house,
which that very day had seemed to Frau Vorkler too evil to permit her
children to remain in its service.

The old magistrate and his wife, on the contrary, thought that they knew.
They had helped the sisters to receive the first callers; but when Frau
Barbara Behaim, a cousin of the late Frau Maria, had appeared, they gave
up their post to her, and slipped quietly into the next room to escape
the throng.

There they retired to the niche formed by the deep walls of the broad
central window of the house, and Herr Berthold Pfinzing whispered to his
wife: "There was too much philanthropy and kindness for me in there.  A
great deal of honey at once cloys me.  But you, prophetess, foresaw what
is now occurring, and I, too, scarcely expected anything different.  So
long as one still has a doublet left compassion is in no haste, but when
the last shirt is stripped from the body charity--thank the saints!--
moves faster.  We are most ready to help those who, we feel very sure,
are suffering more than they deserve.  There are many motherless
children; but young girls who have lost both parents, exposed to every
injustice----"

"Are certainly rare birds," his wife interrupted, "and this will
undoubtedly be of service to the children.  But if they are now invited
to the houses of the same worthy folk who, a few hours ago, thought
themselves too good to attend the funeral of their admirable mother, and
anxiously kept their own little daughters away from them, they probably
owe it especially to the right mediators, noble old Vorchtel and
another."

"To-day, if ever, certainly furnished evidence how heavily the testimony
and example of a really estimable man weighs on the scale.  The First
Losunger interceded for the children as if they were his own daughters,
attacked the slanderers, and of course I didn't leave him in the lurch."

"Peter Holzschuher declared that you defended them like the Roman
Cicero," cried Frau Christine merrily.  "But don't be vexed, dear
husband; no matter how heavily the influence of the two Bertholds--
Vorchtel's and yours--weighed in the balance, nay, had that of a third
and a fourth of the best Councillors been added, what is now taking place
before our eyes and ears would not have happened, if---"

"Well?" asked the magistrate eagerly.

"If," replied the matron in a tone of the firmest conviction, "they had
not all been far from believing, even for a moment, in their inmost souls
the shameful calumny which baseness dared to cast upon those two--just
look more closely."

"Yet if that was really the case--" her husband began to object, but she
eagerly continued: "Many did not utter their better knowledge or faith
because the evil heart believes in wickedness rather than virtue,
especially if their own house contains something--we will say a young
daughter--whose shining purity is thereby brought into a clearer light.
Besides, we ourselves have often been vexed by--let us do honour to the
truth!--by the defiant manner in which your devout godchild--yonder
'little saint'--held aloof in her spiritual arrogance from the companions
of her own age----"

"And then," the corpulent husband added, "two young girls cannot be
called 'the beautiful Es' unpunished in houses which contain a less
comely T, S, and H.  Just think of the Katerpecks.  There--thank the
saints!--they are taking leave already."

"Don't say anything about them!" said Frau Christine, shaking her finger
threateningly.  "They are good, well-behaved children.  It was pretty
Ermengarde Muffel yonder by the fireplace who, after the dance at the
Town Hall, assailed your godchild most spitefully with her sharp tongue.
My friend Frau Nutzel heard her."

"Ah, that dance!" said the magistrate, sighing faintly.  "But the child
was certainly distinguished in no common way.  The Emperor Rudolph
himself looked after her as if an angel had appeared to him.  You
yourself heard his sister's opinion of her.  Her husband, the old
Burgrave, and his son, handsome Eitelfritz--But you know all that.  Half
would have been enough to stir ill-will in many a heart."

"And to turn her pretty little head completely," added his wife.

"That, by our Lady, Christine," protested the magistrate, "that, at
least, did not happen.  It ran off from her like water from an oil jar.
I noticed it myself, and the abbess--"

"Your sister," interrupted the matron thoughtfully, "she was the very one
who led her into the path that is not suited for her."

"No, no," the  magistrate eagerly  asserted.  "God did not create a girl,
the mere sight of whom charms so many, to withdraw her from the gaze of
the world."

"Husband! husband!" exclaimed Frau Christine, tapping his arm gaily.
"But there go the Schurstabs and Ebners.  What a noise there is in the
street below!"

Her husband looked out of the bow window, pointed down, and asked her to
come and stand beside him.  When she had risen he passed his arm around
the slenderest part of her waist, which, however, he could not quite
clasp, and eagerly continued: "Just look!  One would think it was a
banquet or a dance.  The whole street is filled with sedan-chairs,
servants, and torch-bearers.  A few hours ago the constables had hard
work to prevent the deluded people from destroying the house of the
profligate Es, and now one half of the distinguished honourable
Councillors come to pay their homage.  Do you know, dear, what pleases
the most in all this?"

"Well?" asked Frau Christine, turning her face towards him with a look
of eager enquiry, which showed that she expected to hear something good.
But he nodded slightly, and answered:

"We members of patrician families cling to old customs; each wants to
keep his individuality, as he would share or exchange his escutcheon
with no one.  Then, when one surpasses the rest in external things,
whatever name they may bear, no one hastens to imitate him.  We men are
independent, rugged fellows.  But if the heart and mind of any one of us
are bent upon something really good and which may be said to be pleasing
in the sight of God, and he successfully executes it, then, Christine,
then--I have noticed it in a hundred instances--then the rest rush after
him like sheep after the bellwether."

"And this time you, and the other Berthold, were the leaders," cried Fran
Christine, hastily pressing a kiss upon her old husband's cheek behind
the curtain.

Then she turned back into the dusky chamber, pointed to the open door of
the sitting-room, and said, "just look!  If that isn't----  There comes
Ursula Vorchtel with her betrothed husband, young Hans Nutzel!  What a
fine-looking man the slender youth has become!  Ursel--her visit is
probably the greatest pleasure which Els has had during this blessed
hour."

The wise woman was right; for when Ursel held out her hands to her former
friend, whom she had studiously avoided so long, the eyes of both girls
were moist, and Els's cheeks alternately flushed and paled, like the play
of light and shadow on the ground upon a sunny morning in a leafy wood
when the wind sways the tree tops.

What did they not have to say to each other!  As soon as they were
unnoticed a moment Ursel kissed her newly regained friend, and whispered,
pointing to her lover, with whom Fran Barbara Behaim was talking: "He
first taught me to know what true love is, and since then I have realised
that it was wrong and foolish for me to be angry with you, my dear Els,
and that Wolff did right to keep his troth, hard as his family made it
for him to do so.  Had my Hans met me a little sooner, we should not now
have to mourn our poor Ulrich.  I know--for I have tried often enough to
soothe his resentment--how greatly he incensed your lover.  Oh, how sad
it all is!  But your aunt, the abbess, was right when she told us before
our confirmation, 'When the cross that is imposed upon us weighs too
heavily, an angel often comes, lifts it, and twines it with lovely
roses!'  That has been my experience, dear Els; and what great injustice
I did you when I kept out of your way so meanly!  I always felt drawn to
you.  But when that evil gossip began I turned against them all and bade
them be silent in my presence, for it was all false, base lies.  I upheld
your Eva, too, as well as you, though she had been very ungracious
whenever we met."

How joyously Els opened her heart to these confessions!  How warmly she
interceded for her sister!  The girls had passed their arms around each
other, as if they had returned to the days of their childhood, and when
Ursel's lover glanced at his betrothed bride, who, spite of her well-
formed figure and pleasant face, could not be classed amongst the most
beautiful of women, he thought she might compare in attractiveness with
the loveliest maidens, but no one could equal her in kindness of heart.
She saw this in the warm, loving look with which he sought her pleasant
grey eyes, as he approached to remind her that it was time to go; but
beckoning to him, she begged him to wait just a moment longer, which she
employed in whispering to Els: "You should find shelter with us, and no
one else, if my father----  Don't think he refused to let me invite you
on account of poor Ulrich, or because he was angry with you.  It's only
because----  After the session to-day they all praised his noble heart,
and I don't know what else, so loudly and with such exaggeration that it
was too much to believe.  If he interceded for the Eysvogel firm and you
poor children, it was only because, as a just man, he could not do
otherwise."

"Oh, Ursel!" Els here interrupted, wishing to join in her father's
praise; but the latter would not listen and eagerly continued:

"No, no, he really felt so.  His modesty made him unwilling to awaken the
belief that he asked the betrothed bride of the man--you understand and
her sister into his house, to set an example of Christian reconciliation.
False praise, he says, weighs more heavily than disgrace.  He has already
heard more of it than he likes, and therefore, for no other reason, he
does not open his house to you, but upon his counsel and his aid, he bids
me tell you, you can confidently rely."

Then the friends took leave of each other, and Ursula also embraced Eva,
who approached her with expressions of warm gratitude, kissed her, and
said, as she went away, "When next we meet, Miss Ungracious, I hope we
shall no longer turn our backs on each other."

When Ursel had gone with her lover, and most of the others had followed,
Els felt so elated by thankfulness that she did not understand how her
heart, burdened with such great and heavy anxieties, could be capable of
rising to such rapturous delight.

How gladly she would have hastened to Wolff to give him his share of this
feeling!  But, even had not new claims constantly pressed upon her, she
could on no account have sought his hiding-place at this hour.

When the last guest and the abbess also had retired, Aunt Christine
asked Els to pack whatever she and her sister needed for the removal
to Schweinau, for Eva was to go there with her at once.

Countess Cordula, who, much as she regretted the necessity of being
separated from her companions, saw that they were right to abandon the
house from which their father had been torn, wanted to help Els, but just
as the two girls were leaving the room a new visitor arrived--Casper
Teufel, of the Council, a cousin of Casper Eysvogel, who had leaned on
his arm for support when he left the session that afternoon.

Els would not have waited for any other guest, but this one, as his first
words revealed, came from the family to which she felt that she belonged,
and the troubled face of the greyhaired, childless widower, who was
usually one of the most jovial of men, as well as the unusually late hour
of his call, indicated so serious a reason for his coming that she
stopped, and with anxious urgency asked what news he had brought.

It was not unexpected, yet his brief report fell heavily on the heart of
Els, which had just ventured to beat gaily and lightly.

Her uncle and aunt, Eva and the countess, also listened to the story.

He had accompanied Casper Eysvogel to his home and remained with him
whilst, overflowing with resentment and vehement, unbridled complaints of
the injustice and despotism to which--owing specially to the hostility
and self-conceit of old Berthold Vorchtel--he had fallen a victim, he
informed Fran Rosalinde and her mother what the Council had determined
concerning his own future and that of his family.

When he finally reported that he himself and the ladies must leave the
house and the city, Countess Rotterbach, with a scornful glance at her
deeply humiliated son-in-law, exclaimed, "This is what comes of throwing
one's self away!" The unfortunate man, already shaken to the inmost
depths of his being, sank on his knees.

Conrad Teufel had instantly placed him in bed and sent for the leech;
but even after they had bathed his head with cold water and bled him he
did not regain consciousness.  His left side seemed completely paralysed,
and his tongue could barely lisp a few unintelligible words.

At the leech's desire a Sister of Charity had been sent for.  Isabella
Siebenburg, the sufferer's daughter, had already gone with her twin sons,
in obedience to her husband's wish, to Heideck Castle.

She had departed in anger, because she had vainly endeavoured to induce
her mother and grandmother, who opposed her, to speak more kindly of her
husband.  When they disparaged the absent man with cruel harshness, she
felt--she had told her cousin so--as if the infants could understand the
insult offered to their father, and, to protect the children even more
than herself, from her husband's feminine foes, she left the falling
house, in spite of the entreaties and burning tears with which, in the
hour of parting, her mother strove to detain her.

Ere her departure she gave her jewels and the silver which her
grandfather had bequeathed to her to Conrad Teufel, to satisfy the most
urgent demands of her husband's creditors.  Her father and she had parted
kindly, and he made no attempt to oppose her.

No one except the Sister of Charity was now in attendance upon the old
gentleman; for his wife wept and wailed without finding strength to do
anything, and even reproached her own mother, whom she accused of having
plunged them all into misfortune, and caused the stroke of paralysis from
which her husband was suffering.

The grey-haired countess, the cousin went on, had passed from one attack
of convulsions into another, and when he approached her had shrieked the
words "ingratitude" and "base reward" so shrilly at him, in various
tones, that they were still ringing in his ears.

Everything in the luckless household was out of gear, and its noble
guest, the Duke von Gulich, would feel the consequences, for the servants
had lost their wits too.  Spite of the countless men and maids, he had
been obliged to go himself to the pump to get a glass of water for the
sick man, and the fragments of the vase which the grandmother had flung
at him with her own noble hand were still lying on the floor.  His name
was Teufel--[devil]--but even in his home in Hades things could scarcely
be worse.

When Herr Teufel at last paused, the magistrate and his wife exchanged a
significant glance, while Eva gazed with deep suspense, and Cordula with
earnest pity, at Els, who had listened to the story fairly panting for
breath.

When she raised her tearful eyes to Herr Pfinzing and Frau Christine,
saying mournfully, "I must beg you to excuse me, my dear aunt and uncle;
you have heard how much my Wolff's father needs me," all saw their
expectations fulfilled.

"Hard, hard!" said the magistrate, patting her on the shoulder.  "Yet the
lead with which we burden ourselves from kindly intentions becomes wood,
or at last even feathers."

But Frau Christine was not content with uttering cheering words; she
offered to accompany Els and secure the place to which she was entitled.
Frau Rosalinde had formerly often visited the matron to seek counsel, and
had shown her, with embarrassing plainness, how willingly she admitted
her superior ability.  She disliked the old countess--but with whom would
not the self-reliant woman, conscious of her good intentions, have dared
to cope?  Since the daughter of the house had left her relatives, the
place beside his father's sick-bed belonged to the son's future wife.
Frau Rosalinde was weak, but not the worst of women.  "Just wait, child,"
Aunt Christine concluded, "she will see soon enough what a blessing
enters the house and the sick-room with you.  We will try to erect a wall
against the old woman's spite."

Conrad Teufel confessed that he had come with the hope of inducing Els,
who had nursed her own mother so skilfully and patiently, to make so
praiseworthy a resolution.  In taking leave he promised to keep a sharp
lookout for her rights, and, if necessary, to show the old she-devil his
own cloven foot.

After he, too, had gone, the preparations for the sisters' departure were
commenced.  Whilst Cordula was helping Eva to select the articles she
wished to take to Schweinau, and her older sister, with Katterle's
assistance, was packing the few pieces of clothing she needed as a nurse
in the Eysvogel family, the countess offered to visit Herr Ernst in the
watch-tower early the following morning and tell him what detained his
daughters.  Towards evening Eva could come into the city under the
protection of her aunt, who had many claims upon her the next day, and
see the prisoner.

This time, to the surprise of her sister, who had always relieved her of
such cares, Eva herself did the packing.  When she had finished she led
the weeping Katterle to her uncle, that she might beg for mercy upon her
lover.

The magistrate was thoroughly aware of the course of affairs, and talked
to the maid with the gentle manner, pervaded with genuine kindness of
heart, which was one of his characteristics.  Biberli had already been
subjected to an examination by torture; but even on the rack he had not
said one word about his betrothed bride, and had resolutely denied
everything which could criminate his master.  A second trial awaited him
on the morrow, but the magistrate promised to do all in his power to
obtain the mildest possible sentence for him.  At any rate, like all
whose blood was shed by a legal sentence, he would be sent to Schweinau
to be cured, and as Katterle would accompany Eva there, she could find an
opportunity of nursing her betrothed husband herself.

With these words he dismissed the girl, but when again alone with his
wife he admitted to her that the poor fellow might easily fare badly--
nay, might even lose his tongue--if on the rack, which was one of the
instruments of torture to which he must again be subjected, he confessed
having forced his way into the house of an "Honourable" at night.  True,
the fact that in doing so he had only followed his master, would mitigate
the offence.  He must bind the judges to secrecy, should it prove
impossible to avoid the necessity of informing them of Eva's
somnambulism.  If the sentence were very severe, he might perhaps be able
to delay its execution.  Sir Heinz Schorlin, who stood high in the
Emperor's favour, would then be asked to apply to the sovereign to annul
it, or at any rate to impose a lighter punishment.

Here he was interrupted by his nieces and Cordula, and soon after Frau
Christine went out with Els to go to the Eysvogels.  Herr Pfinzing
remained with the others.

A personage of no less distinction than the Duchess Agnes had complained
to him of the reckless countess.  Only yesterday she had ridden into the
forest with her father, and when the young Bohemian princess met her,
Cordula's dogs had assailed her skittish Arabian so furiously that it
would have been difficult for a less practised rider to keep her seat in
the saddle.  This time the docile animals had refused to obey their
mistress, and the duchess expressed the suspicion that she had not
intended to call them off; for, though she had carelessly apologised, she
asked, as if the words were a gibe, if there was anything more delightful
than to curb a refractory steed.  She had an answer ready for Cordula,
however, and retorted that the disobedience of her dogs proved that, if
she understood how to obtain from horses what she called the greatest
delight, she certainly failed in the case of other living creatures.  She
therefore offered her royal condolence on the subject.

Then she remarked to the magistrate that the incident had occurred in the
imperial forest where, as she understood, the unrestricted wandering of
strange hunting dogs was prohibited.  Therefore, in future, Countess von
Montfort might be required to leave hers at home when she rode to the
woods.

The magistrate now brought the complaint to the person against whom it
was made, adopting a merry jesting tone, in which Cordula gaily joined.

When the old gentleman asked whether she had previously angered the
irritable princess, she answered laughing, "The saints have hitherto
denied to the wife of the Emperor's son, as well as to other girls of
thirteen or fourteen, the blessing of children, so she likes to play with
dolls.  She chanced to prefer the same one for which she saw me stretch
out my hands."

The old magistrate vainly sought to understand this jest; but Eva knew
whom the countess meant by the doll, and it grieved her to see two women
hostile to each other, seeking to amuse themselves with one who bore so
little resemblance to a toy, and to whom she looked up with all the
earnestness of a soul kindled by the deepest passion.

While the magistrate and the countess were gaily arguing and jesting
together she sat silent, and the others did not disturb her.

After a long time Frau Christine returned.  Traces of tears were plainly
visible, though she had tried, whilst in the sedan-chair, to efface them.
The scenes which Els had experienced at the Eysvogels' had certainly been
far worse than she had feared--nay, the old countess's attack upon her
was so insulting, Frau Rosalinde's helpless grief and Herr Casper's
condition were so pitiable, that she had thought seriously of bringing
the poor girl back with her, and removing her from these people who, she
was sure, would make Els's life a torment as soon as she herself had
gone.

The grandmother's enquiry whether Jungfrau Ortlieb expected to find her
Swiss gallant there, and similar insolent remarks, seemed fairly steeped
with rancour.

What a repulsive spectacle the old woman, utterly bereft of dignity,
presented as with solemn mockery she courtesied to Els again and again,
as if announcing herself her most humble servant; but the poor child kept
silence until Frau Christine herself spoke, and assigned her niece to the
place beside Herr Casper's sick-bed, which no one else could fill so
well.

Stillness reigned in this chamber, and Els scarcely had occasion to dread
much disturbance, for the countess had been strictly forbidden to enter
the sufferer's room.  Frau Rosalinde seemed to fear the sight of the
helpless man, and the Sister of Charity was a strong, resolute woman, who
welcomed Els with sincere cordiality, and promised Frau Christine to let
no evil befall her.

The sedan-chairs were already waiting outside, and the lady would have
gladly deferred her account of these sorrowful events until later, but
Cordula so affectionately desired to learn how her friend had fared in
her lover's home, that she hurriedly and swiftly gratified her wish.
Speaking of the matter relieved her heart, and in a somewhat calmer mood
she was carried to Schweinau.



CHAPTER XII.

The little Pfinzing castle in Schweinau was neither spacious nor
splendid, but it was Fran Christine's favourite place of abode.

The heat of summer found no entrance through the walls--three feet in
thickness--of the ancient building.  Early in the morning and at evening
it was pleasant to stay in the arbour, a room open in the front,
extending the whole length of the edifice, where one could breathe the
fresh air even during rainy weather.  It overlooked the herb garden,
which was specially dear to its mistress, for it contained roses, lilies,
pinks, and other flowers; and part of the beds, after being dug by the
gardener, who had charge of the kitchen garden in the rear, were planted
and tended by her own hand.

The hour between sunrise and mass was devoted to this work, in which Eva
was to help her, and it would afford her much information; for her aunt
raised many plants which possessed healing power.  Some of the seeds or
bulbs had been brought from foreign lands, but she was perfectly familiar
with the virtues of all.  Schweinau afforded abundant opportunity to use
them, and the nurses in the city hospital, and the leech Otto, and other
physicians, as well as many noble dames in the neighbourhood who took the
place of a physician among their peasants and dependents, applied to Fran
Christine when they needed certain roots, leaves, berries, and seeds for
their sick.  Nor did the monks and nuns, far and near, ever come to her
for such things in vain.

True, the life at Castle Schweinau was by no means so quiet as the one
which Eva had hitherto loved.

When she accepted the invitation she knew that, if she shared all her
aunt's occupations, she would not have even a single half hour of her
own; but this was not her first visit here, and she had learned that Frau
Christine allowed her entire liberty, and required nothing which she did
not offer of her own free will.

When she saw the matron, after the mass and the early repast which her
husband shared with her before going to the city, visit the aged widows
of the crusaders in the little institution behind the kitchen garden and
inspect and regulate the work of the Beguines, she often wondered where
this woman, whose age was nearer seventy than sixty, found strength for
all this, as well as the duties which followed.  First there were orders
to give in the kitchen that the principal meal, after the vesper bells
had rung, should always win from the master of the house the "Couldn't be
better," which his wife heard with the same pleasure as ever.  Then,
after visiting the wash-house, the bleachcry, the linen presses, the
cellar, the garret, and even the beehives to see that everything was in
order, and emerging from the hands of the maid as a well-dressed
noblewoman, she received visit after visit.  Members of the patrician
families of Nuremberg arrived; monks and nuns on various errands for
their cloisters and their poor; gentlemen and ladies from ecclesiastical
and secular circles, in both city and country, among them frequently the
most aristocratic attendants of the Reichstag; for she numbered the
Burgrave and his wife among her friends, and when questioned about the
Nuremberg women, the Burgrave Frederick mentioned her as second to none
in ability, shrewdness, and kindness of heart.

Both he and his worthy wife sometimes sought her in the sphere of
occupation which consumed the lion's share of her time and strength--the
superintendence of the Schweinau hospital.  True, she often let days
elapse without entering it; but if anything went wrong and her assistance
was desirable or necessary in serious cases, she remained there until
late at night, or even until the following morning.

At such times even the most distinguished visitors were sent home with
the message that Frau Christine could not leave the sick.

The Burgrave and his wife were the only persons permitted to follow her
into the hospital, and they had probably gained the privilege of speaking
to her there because they were among its most liberal supporters, and
three of their sons wore the cross of the Knights Hospitaller, and often
spent weeks there, as the rule of the order prescribed, in nursing the
sufferers.

Women also had the right to enter the hospital to be cured of the wounds
inflicted by the scourge or the iron of the executioner.

Each sufferer was to be nursed there only three days, but Frau Christine
took care that no one to whom such treatment might be harmful should be
put out.  The Honourable Council was obliged, willing or unwilling, to
defray the necessary expense.  The magistrate had many a battle to fight
for these encroachments, but he always found a goodly majority on the
side of the hospital and his wife.  If the number of those who required
longer nursing increased too rapidly they did not spare their own fine
residence.

The hospital and the hope of being allowed to help within its walls had
brought Eva to Schweinau.  The experiences of the past few days had swept
through the peace of her young soul like a tempest, overthrowing firmly
built structures and fanning glimmering sparks to flames.  Since her
quiet self-examination in the room of the city clerk, she had known what
she lacked and what duty required her to become.  The bond which united
her to her saint and the Saviour still remained, but she knew what was
commanded by him from whom St. Clare's mission also came, what Francis of
Assisi had enjoined upon his followers whose experiences had been like
hers.

They were to strive to restore peace to their perturbed souls by faithful
toil for their brothers and sisters; and what toil better suited a feeble
girl like herself than the alleviation of her unhappy neighbour's
suffering?  The harder the duties imposed upon her in the service of
love, the better.  She would set to work in the hope of making herself
the true, resolute woman which her mother, with the eyes of the soul, had
seen her fragile child become; but she could imagine nothing more
difficult than the tasks to be fulfilled here.  This was the real fierce
heat of the forge fire to which the dead woman had wished to entrust her
purification and transformation.  She would not shun, but hasten to it.
While her lover was wielding the sword she, too, had a battle to fight.
She had heard from Biberli that Heinz wished to undergo the most severe
trials.  This was noble, and her enthusiastic nature, aspiring to the
loftiest goal, was filled with the same desire.  Eager to learn how they
would bear the test, she scanned her young shoulders and gazed at the
burden which she intended to lay upon them.

When, the year before, her aunt took her to the hospital for the first
time, she had returned home completely unnerved.  She had not even had
the slightest suspicion that there was such suffering on earth, such pain
amongst those near her, such depravity amongst those of her own sex.
What comparison was there between what Els had done for her gentle,
patient mother, or what she would do for old Herr Casper, who lay in a
soft bed--it had been shown to her as something of rare beauty, of ebony
and ivory--and the task of nursing these infamous gallows-birds bleeding
from severe wounds, and these depraved sick women?  But if God's own Son
gave up His life amidst the most cruel suffering for sinful humanity, how
dared she, the weak, erring, slandered girl, who had no goodness save her
passionate desire to do what was right, shrink from helping the most
pitiable of her neighbours?  Here in the hospital at Schweinau lay the
heavy burden which she wished to take upon herself.

She desired it also in order to maintain the bond which had united her to
the Saviour.  She would be constantly reminded here of his own words,
"Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren,
ye have done it unto me."  To become a bride of Jesus Christ and, closely
united to Him in her inmost soul, await the hour when He would open His
divine arms to her, had seemed the fairest lot in life.  Now she had
pledged herself in the world to another, and yet she did not wish to give
up her Saviour.  She desired to show Him that though she neither could
nor would resign her earthly lover, her heart still throbbed for the
divine One as tenderly as of yore.  And could He who was Love incarnate
condemn her, when He saw how, without even being permitted to hope that
her lover would find his way back to her, she clung with inviolable
steadfastness to her troth, though no one save He and His heavenly Father
had witnessed her silent vow?

She belonged to Heinz, and he--she knew it--to her.  Even though later,
after all the world had acknowledged her innocence, the walls of convent
and monastery divided them, their souls would remain indissolubly united.
If there should be no meeting for them here below, in the other world the
Saviour would lead them to each other the more surely, the more
obediently they strove to fulfil His divine command.  As Heinz desired to
take up the cross in imitation of Christ she, too, would bear it.  It was
to be found beside the straw pallets of the wounded criminals.  The
fulfilment of every hard duty which she voluntarily performed seemed like
a step that brought her nearer to the Saviour, and at the same time to
the union with her lover, even though in another world.

The first request she made to her aunt on the way to mass, early in the
morning of the first day of her stay in Schweinau, was an entreaty for
permission to work in the hospital.  It was granted, but not until the
eyes of the experienced woman, ever prompt in decision, had rested with
anxious hesitation upon the beautiful face and exquisite lithe young
figure.  The thought that it would be a pity for such lovely, pure,
stainless girlish charms to be used in the service of these outcasts had
almost determined her to utter a resolute "No"; but she did not do it;
nay, a flush of shame crimsoned her face as her eyes rested on the image
of the crucified Redeemer which stood beside the road leading to the
little village church; for whom had He, the Most High, summoned to His
service and deemed specially worthy of the kingdom of heaven?  The
simple-hearted, the children, the adulterers, the sinners and publicans,
the despised, and the poor!  No, no, it would not degrade the lovely
child to help the miserable creatures yonder, any more than it did the
rarest plant which she raised in her herb garden when she used it to heal
the hurts of some abandoned wretch.

And besides, with what deep loathing she herself had gone to the hospital
at first, and how fully conscious of her own infinite superiority she had
returned from amongst these depraved beings to the outdoor air.

Yet how this feeling, which had stirred within her heart, gradually
changed!

During her closer acquaintance with the poor and the despised, the nature
and work of Christ first became perfectly intelligible to her; for how
many traits of simple, self-sacrificing readiness to help, what touching
contentment and grateful joy in the veriest trifle, what childlike piety
and humble resignation even amidst intolerable suffering, these
unfortunates had shown!  Nay, when she had become familiar with the lives
of many of her protegees and learned how they had fallen into the hands
of the executioner and reached Schweinau, she had asked herself whether,
under similar circumstances, the majority of those who belonged to her
own sphere in life would not have found the way there far more speedily,
and whether they would have endured the punishment inflicted half so
patiently or with so much freedom from bitterness and rebellion against
the decrees of the Most High.  She had discovered salutary sap in many a
human plant that had at first seemed absolutely poisonous; where she had
shrunk from touching such impurity, violets and lilies had bloomed amidst
the mire.  Instead of holding her head haughtily erect, she had often
left the hospital with a sense of shame, and it was long since she had
ceased to use the proud privilege of her rank to despise people of lower
degree.  If sometimes tempted to exercise it, the impulse was roused far
more frequently by those of her own station, who were base in mind and
heart, than by the sufferers in the hospital.

She had become very modest in regard to herself, why should she wake to
new life the arrogance now hushed in Eva's breast?

Much secret distress of mind and anguish of soul had been endured by the
poor child, who yesterday had opened her whole heart to her, when she
went to rest in her chamber.  How lowly she felt, how humble was the
little saint who recently had elevated herself above others only too
quickly and willingly!  It would do her good to descend to the lowest
ranks and measure her own better fate by their misery.  She who felt
bereaved could always be the giver in the hospital, and she felt with
subtle sympathy what attracted Eva to her sufferers.

The magistrate's wife was a religious matron, devoted to her Church, but
in her youth she had been by no means fanatical.  The Abbess Kunigunde,
her younger sister, however, had fought before her eyes the conflict of
the soul, which had finally sent the beautiful, much-admired girl within
convent walls.  No one except her quiet, silent sister Christine had been
permitted to witness the mental struggle, and the latter now saw repeated
in her young niece what Kunigunde had experienced so many years before.
Difficult as it had then been for her to understand the future abbess,
now, after watching many a similar contest in others, it was easy to
follow every emotion in Eva's soul.

During a long and happy married life, in which year by year mutual
respect had increased, the magistrate and his wife had finally attained
the point of holding the same opinions on important questions; but when
Herr Berthold returned from the city, and finding Eva already at the
hospital, told his wife, at the meal which she shared with him, that from
his point of view she ought to have strenuously opposed her niece's
desire, and he only hoped that her compliance might entail no disastrous
consequences upon the excitable, sensitive child, the remarkable thing
happened that Frau Christine, without as usual being influenced by him,
insisted upon her own conviction.

So it happened that this time the magistrate was robbed of the little
nap which usually followed the meal, and yet, in spite of the best will
to yield, he could not do his wife the favour of allowing himself to be
convinced.  Still, he did not ask her to retract the consent which she
had once given, so Eva was permitted to continue to visit the hospital.

The nurse, a woman of estimable character and strong will, would
faithfully protect her whatever might happen.  Frau Christine had placed
the girl under her special charge, and the Beguine Hildegard, a woman of
noble birth and the widow of a knight who had yielded his life in Italy
for the Emperor Frederick, received her with special warmth because she
had a daughter whom, just at Eva's age, death had snatched from her.

Yet the magistrate would not be soothed.  Not until he saw from the
arbour, whilst the dessert still remained on the table; Cordula riding up
on horseback did he cease recapitulating his numerous objections and go
to meet the countess.

To his straightforward mind and calm feelings the most incomprehensible
thing had been Frau Christine's description of the soul-life of her
sister and her niece.  He knew the terrible impressions which even a man
could not escape amongst the rabble in the hospital, and had used the
comparison that what awaited Eva there was like giving a weak child
pepper.

As Countess Cordula, aided by the old man's hand, swung herself from the
saddle of her spirited dappled steed, he thought: "If it were she who
wanted to tend our sick rascals instead of the delicate Eva, I wouldn't
object.  She'd manage Satan himself whilst my little godchild was holding
intercourse with her angels in heaven."

In the arbour Cordula explained why she had not come before; but her
account told the elderly couple nothing new.

When she went to see Ernst Ortlieb in the watch-tower that morning he had
already been taken to the Town Hall.  No special proceedings were
required, since he was his own accuser, and many trustworthy witnesses
deposed that he had been most grossly irritated--nay, as his advocate
represented, had wounded the tailor in self-defence.  Yet Ernst Ortlieb
could not be dismissed from imprisonment at once, because the tailor's
representative demanded a much larger amount of blood-money than the
court was willing to grant.  The wound was not dangerous to life, but
still prevented his leaving his bed and appearing in person before his
judges.  The candle-dealer was nursing him in his own house and
instigating him to make demands whose extravagance roused the judges'
mirth.  As after a tedious discussion Meister Seubolt still insisted upon
them, the magistrates from the Council and the Chief of Police, who
composed the court, advised Herr Ernst to have the sentence deferred and
recognise the tailor's claim that his case belonged to the criminal
court.  Out of consideration for the citizens and the excited state of
the whole guild of tailors, it seemed advisable to avoid any appearance
of partiality, yet in that case the self-accuser must submit to
imprisonment until the sentence was pronounced.  This delay, however, was
of trivial importance; for Herr Pfinzing had promised his brother-in-law
that his cause should be considered and settled on the following day.

Herr Berthold had told his wife all this soon after his return, and
added, with much admiration of the valiant fellow's steadfastness, that
Biberli, Sir Heinz Schorlin's servant, had again been subjected to an
examination by torture and was racked far more severely than justice
could approve.

The countess reported that after her friend's father had been taken back
to the watch-tower a few hours before, she had found him in excellent
spirits.

True, the Burgrave von Zollern had not come to visit him in person, like
many "Honourables" and gentlemen, but he had sent his son Eitelfritz to
enquire how he fared, and the prisoner was occupied with the petition
which he wished to send the sovereign the next day through Meister
Gottlieb von Passau, the Emperor Rudolph's protonotary.  He had told
Cordula, with a resolute air, that it contained the charge that Sir Heinz
Schorlin had found his way into his house at night, and would not even
suffer her to finish her entreaty to omit the accusation.  "And now," the
countess added mournfully, "I urge you, to whom the young girl is dear,
to consider the pitiable manner in which, by her own father's folly,
Eva's name will be on the tongues of the whole court, and what the
gossips throughout the city will say about the poor child in connection
with such an accusation."

Frau Pfinzing sighed heavily, and rose, but her husband, who perceived
her intention, stopped her with the remark that it would be useless to go
that day, for the sun was already setting and the watchtower was closed
at nightfall.

This induced the matron to return to her seat; but she had scarcely
touched the easy-chair ere she again rose and told the servant to saddle
the big bay.  She would ride to the city on horseback this time; the
bearers moved too slowly.  Then turning to her husband, she said gaily:

"I thank you for the excuse you have made for me, but I cannot use it in
this case.  My foolish brother must on no account make the charge which
will expose his daughter; it would be a serious misfortune were I to
arrive too late.  What is the use of being the wife of the imperial
magistrate, if a Nuremberg drawbridge cannot be raised for me even after
sunset?  If the petition has already gone, I must see Meister Gottlieb.
True, it was not to be sent until to-morrow, but there is nothing of
which we are more glad to rid ourselves than the disagreeable
transactions from which we shrink.  Give me a pass for the warder,
Pfinzing; and you, Countess, excuse me; it is you who send me away."

Whilst the maid brought her headkerchief and her cloak, and the
magistrate in a low tone told he servant to have his horse ready, too,
Frau Christine asked Cordula to bring Eva from the hospital, if she felt
no disgust at the sight of common people suffering from wounds.

"The huts of our wood-cutters, labourers, and fishermen look cleaner, it
is true, than the hovels of the charcoal burners and quarrymen in the
Montfort forests and mountains; yet none of them are perfumed with
sandal-wood and attar of roses, and the blow of the axe which gashes one
of our wood-cutter's flesh presents a similar spectacle to the wounds
which your criminals bring with them to Schweinau.  And let me tell you,
I am the leech in Montfort, and unless death is near, and the chaplain
accompanies me bearing the sacrament, I often go alone with the
manservant, the maid, or the pages who carry my medicines.  Since I grew
up I have attended to our sick, and I cannot tell you how many fractures,
wounds, hurts, and fevers I have cured or seen progress to a fatal end.
I stand godmother to nearly all the newborn infants in our villages and
hamlets.  The mothers whom I nurse insist upon it.  There are almost as
many Cordulas as girls on the Montfort estates, and in many a hut there
are two or three of them.  Michel the fisherman has a Cordula, a Cordel,
and a Dulla.  Therefore it follows that I am accustomed to severe wounds,
though my heart often aches at the sight of them.  I know how to bandage
as well as a barber, and, if necessary, can even use the knife."

"I thought so," cried the  magistrate, much comforted.  "Set my delicate
little Eva an example if her courage fails; or, what would be still
better, if you see that the horrible business goes too much against the
grain, persuade her to give up work which requires stronger hands and a
less sensitive nature.  But there are the horses already.  I want to go
to the city, too, Christel, and it's lucky that I don't have to go alone
at night."

"So said the man who jumped in to save somebody from drowning," replied
Fran Christine laughing: "It's lucky it happened, because I was just
going to take a bath!"  But it pleased her to have her husband's
companionship, and she did not approach her horse until he had examined
the saddle-girth and the bridle with the utmost care.

Before putting her foot in the stirrup, she told the old housekeeper to
take Countess von Montfort to the hospital and commend her to the special
care of Sister Hildegard.  She would call for Cordula and Eva on her
return from the city; but they must not wait for her should the strength
of either fail.  She had ordered a sedan-chair to be kept ready for her
niece at the hospital.  A second one would be at the countess's disposal.

"That's what I call foresight!" cried the magistrate laughing.  "Only, my
dear countess, see that our little saint doesn't attempt anything too
hard.  Her pious heart would run her little head against the wall if
matters came to that and, like the noble Moorish steeds, she would drop
dead in her tracks rather than stop.  Such a delicate creature is like a
lute.  When the key is raised higher and higher the string snaps, and we
want to avoid that.  With you, my young heroine----"

"There  is no danger of that kind," Cordula gaily protested.  "This
instrument is provided with metal strings; the tone is neither sweet
nor musical, but they are durable."

"Good, firm material, such as I like," the magistrate declared.  Then
he helped his wife mount her horse, placed the bridle in her left hand,
looked at the saddle-girth again, and, spite of his corpulence, swung
himself nimbly enough on his strong steed.  Then, with Frau Christine,
he trotted after the torch-bearers towards the city.



CHAPTER XIII.

The drawbridge before the watch-tower was promptly lowered for the
imperial magistrate and his wife.  He would have dissuaded Frau Chris the
from the ride and come alone, had not experience taught him that Ernst
Ortlieb was more ready to listen to her than to him.  But they came too
late; just before sunset Herr Ernst had availed himself of the visit of
the imperial forester, Waldstromer, to give him the petition to convey to
the protonotary, by whom it was to reach the Emperor.  Nor did he regret
this decision, but insisted that his duty as a father and a Nuremberg
"Honourable" would not permit the wrong done to his child and his
household by a foreign knight to pass unpunished.

True, Fran Christine exerted all her powers of persuasion to change his
opinion, and her husband valiantly supported her, but they accomplished
nothing except to gain the prisoner's consent that if the paper had not
yet reached the Emperor the protonotary might defer its presentation
until he was asked for it.

Herr Ernst had made this concession after the magistrate's representation
that Sir Heinz Schorlin had been subjected to an experience which had
stirred the inmost depths of his soul, and soon after had been
unexpectedly sent in pursuit of the Siebenburgs.  Hence he had found no
time to speak to the father.  If he persisted in his intention of
entering a monastery, the petition would be purposeless.  If it proved
that he was merely trifling with Eva, there would be time enough to call
upon the Emperor to punish him.  Besides, he knew from Maier of Silenen
that the knight had firmly resolved to renounce the world.

But the magistrate and his wife did not take their nocturnal ride in
vain, for after leaving the watch-tower they met the protonotary at St.
Sebald's.  He had received the petition, but had not yet delivered it to
his royal master, and promised to withhold it for a time.

Rejoicing over this success, Herr Pfinzing accompanied Fran Christine,
who wanted to visit Els, to the Eysvogel residence.

The din of many voices and loud laughter greeted them from the spacious
entry.  Three mendicant friars, with overflowing pouches, pressed past
them, and two others were still standing with the men and the
maidservants assembled in the light of the lanterns.  They had filled the
barefooted monks' bags, for the salvation of their own souls, with the
provisions of the house, and were talking garrulously, already half
intoxicated by the jugs of wine which the butler willingly filled to earn
a sweet reward from the young maids, who eagerly sought the favour of the
rotund bachelor whose hair was just beginning to turn grey.

The magistrate's entrance startled them, and the butler vainly strove to
hide a large jar whose shape betrayed that it came from Sicily and
contained the noble vintage of Syracuse.  Two of the maids slid under
their aprons the big hams and pieces of roast meat with which they had
already begun to regale themselves.

Herr Berthold, smiling sadly, watched the conduct of the masterless
servants; then raising his cap, bowed with the utmost respect to the
disconcerted revellers, and said courteously, "I hope it will agree with
you all."

The startled group looked sheepishly at one another.  The butler was the
only person who quickly regained his composure, came forward to the
magistrate cap in hand, and said obsequiously that he and his fellow-
servants were in evil case.  The house had no master.  No one knew from
whom he or she was to receive orders.  Most of them had been discharged
by the Honourable Councillor, but no one knew when he was to leave or
whom to ask for his wages.

The magistrate then informed them that Herr Wolff Eysvogel had the right
to give orders, and during his absence his betrothed bride, Jungfrau Els
Ortlieb.  The next morning a member of the Council would examine the
claims of each, pay the wages, and with Frau Rosalinde and Jungfrau Els
determine the other matters.

The butler had imbibed a goodly share of the noble wine.  His fat cheeks
glowed, and at the magistrate's last remark he laughed softly: "If we
wait for the folk upstairs to agree we shall stay here till the Pegnitz
flows up the valley.  Just listen to their state of harmony, sir!"

In fact the shrill, angry accents of a woman's loud voice, with which
mingled deeper tones that were very familiar to Herr Berthold, echoed
down into the entry.  It certainly looked ill for the concord of the
women of the house; yet the magistrate could not permit the unprincipled
servant's insolence to pass unpunished, so he answered quietly:

"You are right, fellow.  One can put a stop to this shameful conduct more
quickly than several, and by virtue of my office I will therefore be the
one to command here.  You will leave this house and service to-morrow."

But when the angry butler, with the hoarse tones of a drunkard, declared
that in Nuremberg none save rascals were turned out of doors directly
after a discharge, the magistrate, with grave dignity, cut him short by
remarking that he would do better not to bring before the magistrates the
question of what beseemed the servant who wasted the valuable property
entrusted to his care, as had been done here.

With these words he pointed to the spot where the jug of wine which he
had plainly seen was only half concealed, and the threat silenced the
man, whose conscience reproached him far more than Herr Pfinzing could
imagine.

Meanwhile quiet had not been restored upstairs.  Frau Christine had
released Els from a store-room in which the old countess, after
persuading her daughter to this spiteful and childish trick, had locked
her.  A serious discussion amongst the women followed, which was closed
only by the interposition of the magistrate.  Perhaps this might have
been accomplished less quickly had not the leech Otto appeared as a
welcome aid.

Frau Rosalinde penitently besought forgiveness, her mother was again
forbidden to come to the lower story, and threatened, if she approached
the sick-room, with immediate removal from the house.

This strictness was necessary to render it possible for Els to maintain
her difficult position.

The day had been filled with painful incidents and shameful humiliations.
The old countess had summoned two relatives, both elderly canonesses, to
aid her in her assault upon the intruder, and perhaps they were the
persons who advised locking up Sir Casper's nurse, to whom they denied
the right of still calling herself the bride of the young master of the
house.

Frau Christine had arrived at the right time.  Els was beginning to lose
courage.  She had found nothing which could aid her to sustain it.

Since Biberli had been deprived of his liberty she had rarely heard from
Wolff, and his invalid father, for whose sake she remained in the house,
seemed to view her with dislike.  At first he had tried neither to speak
to nor look at her, but that morning, while raising a refreshing cup to
his parched lips, he had cast at her from the one eye whose lid still
moved a glance whose enmity still haunted her.

Even the priest who visited him several times was by no means kindly
disposed towards her.  He belonged to the Dominican order, and was the
confessor of the old countess and Frau Rosalinde.  They must have
slandered her sorely to him; and as the order of St. Francis, to which
the Sisters of St. Clare belonged, was a thorn in his flesh, he bore her
a grudge because, as the Abbess Kunigunde's niece, she stood by her and
her convent, and threatened to win the Eysvogel household over to the
Franciscans.

Before the magistrate and his wife left their niece, Herr Berthold
ordered the men and maidservants to stand in separate rows, then, in the
physician's presence, introduced Els to them as the mistress whom they
were to obey, and requested her to choose those whose services she wished
to retain.  The rest would be compensated at the Town Hall the next day
for their abrupt dismissal.

Els had never found it harder to say good-by to her relatives; but the
leech Otto remained with her some time, and was soon joined by Conrad
Teufel, thereby rendering it a little easier for her to persist in the
performance of her difficult duty.  On the way home to Schweinau the
magistrate and his wife talked together as eagerly as if they had just
met after a long separation.  They had gone back to the query how nursing
the wounded criminals would affect Eva, and both hoped that Cordula's
presence and encouragement would strengthen her power of resistance.

But what did this mean?

As they approached the little castle they saw from the road in the
arbour, which was lighted with links, the figure of the countess.  She
was sitting in Frau Christine's easy chair, but Eva was nowhere in view.
Had her strength failed, and was Cordula awaiting their return after
putting her more delicate friend to bed?  And Boemund Altrosen, who stood
opposite to her, leaning against one of the pillars which supported the
arched ceiling of the room, how came he here?  The Pfinzings had known
him from early childhood, for his father had been a dear friend and
brother in arms of the magistrate; and--whilst Boemund, as a boy, was
enjoying the instruction of the Benedictines in the monastery of St.
AEgidius, he had been a favourite comrade of Frau Christine's son, who
had fallen in battle, and always found a cordial reception in his
parents' house.

With what tender anxiety the knight gazed into Cordula's pale face!
Something must have befallen the blooming, vigorous huntress and daring
horsewoman, and both Herr Berthold and his wife feared that it concerned
Eva.

The young couple now perceived their approach, and Cordula, rising, waved
her handkerchief to them.  Yet how slowly she rose, how feebly the
vivacious girl moved her hand.

Herr Berthold helped his wife from the saddle as quickly as possible, and
both hurried anxiously towards the arbour.  Frau Christine did not remain
in the winding path, but though usually she strictly insisted that no one
should tread on the turf, hastily crossed it to reach her goal more
quickly.  But ere she could put the question she longed to ask, Cordula
sorrowfully exclaimed: "Don't judge me too severely.  'He who exalts
himself shall be humbled,' says the Bible, and also that the first shall
be last, and the last first; but I have been forced to sit upon the
ground whilst Eva occupies the throne.  I belong at the end of the last
rank, whilst she leads the foremost."

"Please explain the riddle at once," pleaded Frau Christine.

Sir Boemund Altrosen came forward, held out his hand to his old friend,
and spoke for Cordula "The horror and loathsomeness were too much for
her, whilst Jungfrau Ortlieb endured them."

"Eva remained at the hospital," the countess added dejectedly, "because a
dying woman would not let her go; whilst I--the knight is right--could
bear it no longer."

Frau Christine glanced triumphantly at her husband, but when she saw
Cordula's pale cheeks she exclaimed: "Poor child!  And there was no one
here to----  One moment, Countess!"

Throwing down her riding-whip and gloves as she spoke, she was hurrying
towards the sideboard on which stood the medicine-case, to prepare a
strengthening drink; but Cordula stopped her, saying: "The housekeeper
has already supplied the necessary stimulant.  I will only ask to have my
horse brought to the door, or my father will be anxious.  I was obliged
to await your return, because----  Well, my flight from the hospital
certainly was not praiseworthy, and it affords me no special pleasure to
confess it.  But you must not think me even more pitiful than I proved
myself, so I stayed to tell you myself----"

That it is one thing," interrupted Sir Boemund, "to nurse worthy wood-
cutters, gamekeepers, fishermen, and charcoal-burners, who, when wounded
and ill, look up to their gracious mistress as if she were an angel of
deliverance, and quite a different matter to mingle with the miserable
rabble yonder.  The bloody stripes which the executioner's lash cuts in
the criminal's back do not render him more gentle; the mutilation which
he curses, and the disgrace with which an abandoned woman----"

"Stop!" interrupted Cordula, whose lips and cheeks had again grown
colourless.  "Do not mention those scenes which have poisoned my soul.
It was too hideous, too terrible!  And how the woman with the red band
around her neck, the mark of the rope by which she carried the stone,
rushed at the other whose eye had been put out!  how they fought on the
floor, scratching, biting, tearing each other's hair----"

Here the tender-hearted girl, covering her convulsed face with her hands,
sobbed aloud.

Frau Christine drew her compassionately to her heart, pressed the
motherless child's head to her bosom, and let her weep her fill there,
whilst the magistrate said to Sir Boemund: "And Eva Ortlieb also
witnessed this hideous scene, yet the delicate young creature
endured it?"

Altrosen nodded assent, adding eagerly, as if some memory rose vividly
before him: "She often looked distressed by these horrors, but usually--
how shall I express it?--usually calm and content."

"Content," repeated the magistrate thoughtfully.  Then, suddenly
straightening his short, broad figure, he thrust his little fat hand into
a fold of the knight's doublet, exclaiming: "Boemund, do you want to know
the most difficult riddle that the Lord gives to us men to solve?  It is
--take heed--a woman's soul."

"Yes,"  replied  Altrosen  curtly; the  word sounded like a sigh.

While speaking, his dark eye was bent on Cordula, whose head still rested
on Frau Christine's breast.

Then, adjusting the bandage which since the fire had been wound around
his forehead and his dark hair, he continued in a tone of explanation:
"Count von Montfort sent me, when it grew dark, to accompany his daughter
home.  From your little castle I was directed to the hospital, where I
found her amongst the horrible women.  She had struggled faithfully
against her loathing and disgust, but when I arrived her power of
resistance was already beginning to fail.  Fortunately the sedan-chair
was there, for she felt that her feet would scarcely carry her back.  I
ordered one to be prepared for Jungfrau Ortlieb, though I remembered the
dying woman who kept her.  As if the matter were some easy task, she
begged the countess to excuse her, and remained beside the wretched straw
pallet."

The deeply agitated girl had just released herself from the matron's
embrace, and begged the knight to have her Roland saddled; but Frau
Christine stopped him, and entreated Cordula, for her sake, to use her
sedan-chair instead of the horse.

"If it will gratify you," replied the countess smiling; "but I should
reach home safely on the piebald."

"Who doubts it?" asked the matron.  "Give her your arm, husband.  The
bearers are ready, and you will soon overtake them on your horse,
Boemund."

"The walk through the warm June night will do me good," the latter
protested.

Soon after the sedan-chair which conveyed Cordula, lighted by several
torch-bearers on foot and on horseback, began to move towards the city.

At St. Linhard, Boemund Altrosen, who walked beside it, asked the
question, "Then I may hope, Countess?  I really may?"

She nodded affectionately, and answered under her breath: "You may; but
we must first try whether the flower of love which blossomed for you out
of my weakness is the real one.  I believe it will be."

He joyously raised her hand to his lips, but a torch-bearer's shout--"
Count von Montfort and his train!"--urged him back from the sedan chair.
A few seconds after Cordula welcomed her father, who had anxiously ridden
forth to meet his jewel.



CHAPTER XIV.

"I can hardly do more, and yet I must," groaned Frau Christine, as she
gazed after the torch-bearers who preceded Cordula.  Her husband,
however, tried to detain her, offering to go to their young guest in her
place.

But the effort was vain.  The motherless child, whom the captive father
probably believed to be in safety with her sensible sister, was at a post
of danger, and only a woman's eye could judge whether it would do to
yield to Eva's wish, which the housekeeper had just told her mistress,
and allow her--it was already past midnight-to remain longer at the
hospital.

She would not have hesitated to require her niece's return home had not
maternal solicitude urged her to deprive her of nothing which could aid
her troubled soul to regain its poise.  If possible at all, it would be
through devotion to an arduous work of charity that she would understand
her own nature, and find an answer to the question whether, when the
slanderers were silenced, she would take the veil or cling firmly to the
hopeless love which had mastered her young heart.

If she succeeded in remaining steadfast here and, in spite of the glad
consciousness of having conquered by the sign of the cross, was still
loyal to her worldly love, then the latter was genuine and strong, and
Eva did not belong to the convent; then her sister, the abbess, was
mistaken in the girl whose soul she had guided from early childhood.

Frau Christine, who usually formed an opinion quickly and resolutely, had
not dared to give Eva a positive answer the previous evening.

With sympathising emotion the matron had heard her confess that during
her nocturnal wanderings a new feeling, which she could no longer still,
had awakened in her breast.  When she also told her the image of true
love which she had formed, she could not bring herself to undeceive her.

The abbess had made a somewhat similar confession to her, the older
sister, when her young heart--how long ago it seemed!--had also been
mastered by love.  The object of its ardent passion was no less a
personage than the Burgrave von Zollern.

Frau Christine had seen his marriage with the Hapsburg princess awaken
her sister's desire to renounce the world.  Kunigunde was then a maiden
of rare, majestic beauty, and only the Burgrave's exalted station had
prevented his wedding "Eva," as she was called before she took the veil.

As a husband and father, he had found deep happiness in the love of the
Countess Elizabeth, the future Emperor Rudolph's sister, yet he had
remained a warm friend of the abbess; and when he treated Eva with such
marked distinction at the dance, she owed it not only to her own charms
but also to the circumstance that, like the girl whom he had loved in his
youth, she bore the name of "Eva Ortlieb," and the expression of her eyes
vividly recalled the happiest time in his life.

The abbess, after a still more severe renunciation, had attained even
greater happiness in the convent.  Her sister could not blame her for
wishing the same lot for the devout young niece, whose fate seemed to
bear a closer and closer resemblance to her own; but yesterday she had
argued with her, for Kunigunde had insisted firmly that if the girl did
not voluntarily knock at the convent door she should be forced to enter,
not only for her own sake but also Sir Heinz Schorlin's.  Nothing could
rouse the ire of every true Christian more than the thought that a noble
knight, for whose conversion Heaven had wrought a miracle, could turn a
deaf ear to the summons for the sake of a girl scarcely beyond childhood.
To place convent walls between the pair would therefore be a work
pleasing in the sight of God-nay, necessary for the example.

This statement sounded so resolute and imperative that Frau Christine,
who knew her sister's gentle nature, had been convinced that she was
obeying the mandate of a superior.  Soon afterward she learned that
Kunigunde had followed the dictates of the zealous prior of the
Dominicans, who was regarded as the supreme judge in religious affairs.
At a chance meeting she had imprudently asked this man, who had never
been friendly to her or her order, to give his opinion concerning this
matter, which gave her no rest.

Frau Christine had eagerly opposed her.  The case of Heinz Schorlin was
different from that of the Burgrave Frederick, who could never be
permitted to wed the daughter of a Nuremberg merchant.  If the Swiss
renounced his intention of entering the monastery, there was nothing to
prevent his wooing Eva.  It should by no means be as the prior of the
Dominicans had said: "They must both renounce the world," but, "They must
test themselves, and if the world holds them firmly, and the Emperor, who
is a fatherly friend to Heinz, makes no objection, it would be a duty to
unite the pair."

The decisive hour for Eva was now at hand, and Fran Christine, eager to
learn in what condition she should find her niece, had herself carried to
the hospital.

Her husband and several men-servants accompanied her, for at this late
hour the neighbourhood, where so many criminals were nursed for a short
time, was by no means safe.  Companions, friends, and relatives of the
criminals were often attracted thither by sympathy, curiosity, or
business affairs.  Whoever had occasion to shun appearing by daylight in
a place which never lacked bailiffs and city soldiers, slunk to the
hospital at night.

As a heavy rain had just begun to fall, the short distance to be
traversed by the magistrate and his wife was empty.  Ample provision also
seemed to have been made to guard the place of healing, for several armed
troopers belonging to the city guard were pacing up and down before he
board fence which surrounded it, and the approach of the late visitors
was heralded by the deep baying of large hounds.

The magistrate was well known here, and the doorkeeper, roused from his
sleep, hastened to light the way for him and his wife with a lantern.
In spite of the planks which had been placed in he courtyard, the task of
crossing it was by no means easy; for the night was intensely dark, and
the foot passed beyond the boards, it plunged into the mire, on which
they floated rather than lay.

At first the barking of the dogs had drowned very other sound, but as
they approached the house thatched with straw, where the wounded men were
nursed, harsh voices, interrupted at times by the angry oaths of some
patient roused from sleep, or the watchman's command to keep quiet,
reached them in a loud uproar.

A narrow passage dimly lighted by a lantern led to the women's quarters,
where Eva had remained.  The magistrate entered the men's dormitory to
make an inspection, while his wife, needing no guidance, passed on to the
women, meeting no one on her way except a Sister of Charity and two men-
servants who, under the guidance of a sleepy Dominican monk, were bearing
out the corpse of some one who had just passed away.

Sister Hildegard, who was sitting at the door of the dormitory, half
asleep, started up as Frau Christine crossed the threshold.

The knight's widow, a vigorous matron, whose hair had long been grey,
pointed with the rosary in her hand to the end of the long, dimly lighted
apartment, and said in a low tone: "The sick woman seems to be asleep
now.  The prior sent the old Dominican to whom Eva is talking.  He is
said to be the most learned and eloquent member of the order.  If I am
right, he came here to appeal to your niece's conscience.  At least his
first question was for her, and you see how eagerly he is speaking.  When
yonder sick woman seemed to be drawing near her end she asked for the
sacrament, which was administered by the Dominican.  It was a sorrowful
farewell on account of her children, but the barber thinks we may perhaps
save her yet.  Father Benedictus, the old Minorite, who was found on the
road and brought to us, seems, on the other hand, to be dying.  We will
gladly keep him in the Beguines home until the angel summons him.
Unfortunately, yonder poor woman's third day will end tomorrow.  We are
not permitted to shelter her here any longer, and if we turn her out--"

"What is the matter with the woman?" interrupted Frau Christine, but the
other gazed into her face with warm sympathising affection and such
tender entreaty that the magistrate's wife, before she began her reply,
exclaimed: "So it is the old, pitiful story!  But let her stay!  Yes,
even though, instead of every pound of farthings, she cost us ten times
as much in gold!  But we will spare what is necessary for her.  I see by
your face that it will not be wasted."

"Certainly not," replied Sister Hildegard gratefully.  "Oh, how she came
here!  Now, it is true, she has more than she needs.  Your dear niece--
she is an angel of charity--sent her Katterle out to get what was wanted.
But where is the girl?  "She gazed around the spacious chamber as she
spoke, but could not find Katterle.

True, a dim light pervaded the whole apartment, and Sister Hildegard,
referring to it, added "The light keeps many of the patients awake, and
we have a better use for the pennies which the oil and chips cost.  When
there are brilliant entertainments to be given, or works of mercy done
which the whole world sees, the Honourables let their gold flow freely
enough, but who beholds the abodes of horror?  We look best in the dark,
and no one will miss what we save in light."

Certainly no one present incurred any danger of seeing at this hour the
pitiable spectacles visible by day; for what was occurring at the
opposite end of the room could not be perceived from the door.  So when
it closed Eva could not distinguish who had entered.

But this was agreeable to Frau Christine; for before going to her niece
she wished to inquire about the woman by whom she had been detained.

Like the others, she was lying upon the board platform which surrounded
the four walls of the room, interrupted only by the door through which
she had just passed.  It rose in a slanting direction towards the wall,
that the sufferers' heads might be higher than their feet.  Instead of
cushions, it was covered with a thick layer of straw, the beds of the
patients who were nursed here.  It seemed to be changed very rarely, for
especially near the door at which the two women were still standing a
damp, unpleasant odour emanated from the straw.  It belonged here,
however, as feathers are a part of birds, and the people who were nursed
within its walls were accustomed to nothing better.  When, fifteen years
before, the oversight of the hospital was entrusted to Frau Christine,
she had found the condition of affairs still worse, and the idea of
procuring beds for the injured persons to be cured here was as far from
her thoughts, or those of the rest of the world, as cushioning the
stable.

That was the way things were at Schweinau.  Straw of all sorts might be
expected to be found here, not only on the wooden platform but on the
floor, in the yard, and everywhere else, as surely as leaves upon the
ground of a wood in the autumn.  To leave the house without taking stalks
in the hair and garments was as impossible as for any person accustomed
to better conditions, who did not wish to faint from discomfort, to do
without a scent bottle.

Formerly Frau Christine had endeavoured to obtain better air, but even
her kind-hearted husband had laughed at the foolish idea, because such
things would benefit only herself and some of the nurses.  In the taverns
usually frequented by the inmates of the hospital they learned to endure
a different atmosphere, which was stifling to him.

After contagious diseases certain precautions were always taken.  On
Sunday morning it was even fumigated with juniper-berries on hot tin and
boiling vinegar.

Frau Christine had introduced this disinfectant herself by the advice of
Otto the leech, when all who had been brought hither with open wounds,
among them vigorous young men, had died like flies.  At that time the
distinguished physician had even succeeded in getting the Honourable
Council to defray the cost of having the walls newly white washed and
fresh clay stamped on the floor.  He had also directed that the old straw
should be replaced by clean every Sunday morning, and now matters were
better still, for the rule was that every sick person should have a fresh
layer.  True, it was not always fulfilled, and many a person was forced
to be content with his predecessor's couch.

In the women's room, however, the change of straw was more rigidly
required.  The nurse herself attended to it, and Sister Hildegard gave
her energetic assistance.

In difficult cases the influence of the leech Otto was called to her aid,
but he had grown old and no longer came to Schweinau.  Two barbers now
cared for the bandaging and healing of the wounds, and if they were at a
loss the younger city physician was summoned.

Sister Hildegard now pointed to the couch beside which the Dominican was
talking to Eva, and said: "She is the widow of a carrier and the child of
worthy people; her father was the sexton of St. Sebald's.  True, he died
long ago, at the same time as her mother.  It was twelve years since,
during the plague.

"Reicklein, yonder, had no other relatives here--her parents were from
Bamberg--but she was well off, and her husband, Veit, earned enough by
his travels through the country.  But on St. Blaise's day, early in the
month of February, during a trip to Vogtland, it was at Hof,  he was
overtaken by a snowstorm, and the worthy man was found frozen under a
drift, with his staff and pouch.  The sad news reached her just after the
birth of a little boy, and there were two other mouths to feed besides.
Her savings went quickly enough, and she fell into dire poverty, for she
had not yet recovered her strength, and could not do housework.  During
Passion Week she sold her bed to pay what she had borrowed and to feed
the children.  It was cold, she had not a copper, nor any possibility of
earning anything.  Then the rest went, too, and there was no way of
getting food enough for the children and herself.

"But as her father had been in the employ of the city and was an honest
man, by the advice of the provost of St. Sebald's, who had been her
confessor from childhood, she applied to the Honourable Council, and
received the answer that old Hans Schab was by no means forgotten, and
therefore, to relieve her need, she was referred to the beadle, who would
give her the permit which enabled her to ask alms from those who went to
St. Sebald's Church, and had already afforded many a person ample
support.

"For her children's sake she crushed the pride which rebelled against it,
and stood at the church door, not once, but again and again.  The other
mendicants, however, treated her so roughly, and the cruel enmity with
which they tried to crowd her out of her place seemed so unbearable, that
she could not hold out.  Once, when they insulted her too much, and again
thrust her back so spitefully that not even one of the many churchgoers
noticed her, she, fled to her children in the little room, determined to
stop this horrible begging.  This happened the Saturday before
Whitsuntide, and as she had gone out hoping this time to bring something
back, she had promised the children food enough to satisfy their hunger.
They should have some Whitsuntide cakes, too, as they did years ago.
When she reached the house and little Walpurga--you'll see her presently,
a pretty child six years old--ran to meet her, asking for the cakes and
the bread to satisfy her hunger, while Annelein, who is somewhat older,
but less bright and active, did the same, she felt as if she should die,
and carrying the baby, which she had held in her arms while begging at
the church door, back into the room, she told Walpurga to watch it, as
she had long been in the habit of doing, until she came back with the
bread.

"For the children's sake she would try begging once more, but she could
not go to St. Sebald's.

"So she went from house to house, asking alms; but she was a well-formed
woman, who did not show her serious illness.  She kept herself tidy,
too, and looked better in her poor rags than many who were better off.
Had she carried her nursing infant, perhaps she might have succeeded
better, but even the most compassionate housewives either turned her from
their doors or offered her work at the wash-tub, or in cleaning or
gardening.  The weakness from which she had suffered since the birth of
her child made stooping so painful that she could not do what they
required.

"When she was at last obliged to turn homeward, because the baby had
probably been screaming for her a long time, she had only one small
copper coin, with which she went to the baker Kilian's, in the
Stopfelgasse, to ask for a penny's worth of bread.  The baker's wife was
not there, and her spinster sister-in-law, an elderly, ill-natured woman,
was serving the customers in her place.

"As she turned to cut the bit of bread, and all sorts of nice sweet cakes
lay on the shining counters before poor Riecklein, the children seemed to
stand before her, headed by Walpurga, asking for the cakes and the bread
she had promised them to eat their fill; and as no one was passing in the
quiet street, Satan stirred within her for the first time, and a sweet
jumble slid into the little basket on her arm.  Had she stopped there she
might have escaped unpunished; but there were two hungry little beaks
agape in the nest, and she saw a pretty lamb with a little red flag on
its back.  If Walpurga could only have it!  And with the clumsiness due
to her inexperience in such matters she seized that, too, and put it with
the other.

"Meanwhile the sister-in-law had turned, and instead of enquiring at a
time so near the holy feast what had induced her to commit such a crime,
she shrieked, "Stop  thief!"  and  similar cries.

"So the widow was taken to the Hole, and as she had hitherto borne an
unsullied reputation and was the child of a good man, justice allowed
itself to be satisfied with having her scourged with rods privately
instead of in public.  So she came here.  But as her poor body was too
fragile to withstand all the trouble which had come upon her, she had a
violent attack of fever, and a few hours ago death stretched its hand
towards her."

"And  the children?"  asked Frau  Christine, deeply moved.

"She was allowed to have the baby," answered Sister Hildegard, "but she
told us about the others and their desolate condition.  In the delirium
of fever she saw them stealing and the constable seizing them.  Then your
Eva encouraged me to send for them by promising to provide their food.
So they came here.  The worker on cloth from whom she rented her little
room had helped them, and it was from her that Sister Pauline, whom I
sent there, first learned that Walpurga, for whose sake she had so sadly
forgotten her duty, was not even her own child, but an adopted one whom
her late husband, on one of his trips, had found abandoned on the
highroad at Vierzehnheiligen, beside an image of the Virgin, and brought
home with him."

Here Sister Hildegard paused, and Frau Christine also remained silent a
long time.

Yet, it was horrible here, and the air was impure; but had Countess
Cordula looked more closely she would probably have seen one of the
beautiful flowers which often bloomed amidst all the weeds, the poisonous
and parasitic vegetation.

Eva was right to pity this woman, and if her life could be saved she
herself would relieve her necessities and secure her children's future.
She silently made this resolve whilst the Sister led the way to the couch
of the scourged thief.  The unfortunate woman should learn that God often
compels us to traverse the roughest and stoniest paths in the wilderness
ere he leads us into the Promised Land.

Eva was so deeply absorbed in her conversation with the Dominican that
she did not see her aunt until she stood before her.

They greeted each other with a silent nod, and a smile of satisfaction
flitted over the girl's face as she motioned to the sleeper whose slumber
she was watching.

The young mother's pretty face still glowed with the flush of fever.  One
arm clasped the baby, which lay amidst the white linen Katterle had just
brought.  He was a pretty child, who showed no traces of the poverty in
which he had been reared.  Beside the widow were two little girls about
six years old.  The one at the left was sound asleep, with her head
resting on her little fat arm.  The other, at the sick woman's right,
pressed her fair head upon her breast.  Her slumber was very light, and
she often opened her large, blue eyes and gazed with touching anxiety at
the sick woman.  This was the adopted child, Walpurga, and never had the
matron beheld amongst the poor and suffering so lovely a human flower as
this little six-year-old child, struggling with sleep in her affectionate
desire to render aid.  The other little girl's free hand also touched her
mother, and thus these four, united in poverty and sorrow, but also in
love, seemed to form a single whole.  What a peaceful, charming picture!

Frau Christine gazed with earnest sympathy at each member of this group.
How well-formed was every one! how pure and innocent the features of the
children looked! how kind and loving those of the suffering mother, who
was a thief, and whose tender back had felt the scourge of the
executioner!

The thought made her shudder.  But when little Walpurga, half asleep,
raised her tiny hand and lovingly stroked the wounded shoulder of her
adopted mother, the matron, as usual when anything pleasant moved her
heart, longed to have her husband at her side.  How easily, since he was
so near, she could afford him a sight of this touching picture!  It
should prove that she had been right to let Eva remain here.

Faithful to her custom of permitting no delay in the execution of a good
resolution, she wanted to send Katterle to call her husband, but the girl
could not be found.

Then Frau Christine went herself, beckoning to Eva to follow; but they
had scarcely reached the centre of the room when a peal of shrill
laughter greeted them from a couch on the left.

The person from whom it came was the barber's widow, whose attack had
alarmed Eva so terribly the day before in front of the pillory.  It
pealed loudly and shrilly through the stillness of the night, and when
the matron turned angrily to reprove the person who so inconsiderately
disturbed the rest of the others, the woman clapped her hands and
instantly a chorus of sharp, screaming voices rose around her.  The
barber's widow, who knew everybody who lived in Nuremberg, had recognised
the magistrate's wife at her entrance, and secretly incited her
neighbours to follow her example and, as soon as she gave the signal,
demand better fare and make Frau Christine, the patroness of the
hospital, feel what they thought of the cruelty of her husband, who had
delivered them to the executioner.

The female thieves and swindlers-in short, all the reprobate women around
Frau Ratzer, whose feet had just been tied on account of her unruly
behaviour in the Countess von Montfort's presence--obeyed her signal,
and the fierce voices raised in demand and invective woke those who were
sleeping farther away.  Weeping, wailing, and screaming they started up,
clamouring to know what danger threatened them, whilst Frau Ratzer and
her fellow-conspirators shrieked for beer or wine instead of water, for
meat with the black bread and wretched broth and, yelling and howling,
bade the patroness tell her husband that they thought him a brute and a
bloodhound.

There was a hideous, confused, ear-splitting din, which threatened
serious consequences, for some of the women, leaving their straw beds,
hastened towards the door or surrounded Frau Christine and Eva with
uplifted fists and threatening nails.

The warning voices of the matrons, to whose aid the Beguines had
hastened, were drowned by the uproar, but the danger which specially
threatened Eva, whom the barber's widow pointed out to her neighbour who
had stolen a child to train it to beg, was soon ended, for the wild cries
had reached the men's building, from which Herr Berthold Pfinzing came
hurrying in, accompanied by the superintendent, his assistants, and
several monks.

If the women reproached the magistrate, who in reality was a lenient
judge, with being a cruel tyrant, they were now to learn that he
certainly did not lack uncompromising energy.  The unpleasant position
in which he found his wife and his beloved godchild did not incline him
to gentleness.  He would have liked to have tied the hands of all these
women, most of whom had forfeited the consideration due their sex.  This
was really done to the most unruly, while the barber's widow was carried
to the prison-chamber, which the hospital did not lack.

After quiet was at last restored and Frau Christine had told her husband
that she had been attacked while on her way to show him a delightful
scene in the midst of all this terrible misery, he angrily exclaimed:
"A magnificent picture!  Balm for the eyes and ears of your own brother's
virginal daughter!  The saints be praised that you both escaped so
easily.  Can there be in the worst hell anything more horrible than what
has just been witnessed here?  Really, where a Countess Cordula cannot
endure----"

Here Frau Christine soothingly interrupted her irate husband, and so
great was her influence over him, that his tone sounded like friendly
encouragement as he added: "You wanted to show me something special, but
I was detained over there.  Though it was late, I wanted to see the
worthy fellow again.  What a man he is!  I mean Sir Heinz Schorlin's
squire."

"Poor Biberli?" asked Eva eagerly; and there was a faint tone of reproach
in her voice as she continued, "You promised to look after him."

"So I did, child," the magistrate protested.  "But justice must take its
course, and the rack is part of the examination by torture.  He might
easily have lost his tongue, and if his master doesn't return soon and
another accuser should appear, who knows what will happen!"

"But that must not, shall not be!" cried Eva, the old defiance echoing
imperiously in her voice.  "Heinz Schorlin--you said so yourself--would
not plead in vain for mercy to the Emperor; and before I will see the
faithful fellow----"

"Gently, child," whispered Frau Christine to her niece, laying her hand
on her arm, but the magistrate, shaking his finger at her, answered
soothingly: "Jungfrau Ortlieb would rather thrust her own little feet
into the Spanish boot.  Be comforted!  The three pairs we have are all
too large to squeeze them."

Eva lowered her eyes in embarrassment, and exclaimed in a modest,
beseeching tone: "But, uncle, do not you, too, feel that it would be
cruel and unjust to make this honest fellow a cripple in return for his
faithful services?"

"I do feel it," answered Herr Berthold, his face assuming an expression
of regret; "and for that very reason I ventured to take a girl over whom
I have no authority out of her service."

"Katterle?" asked Eva anxiously.

Her uncle nodded assent, adding: "First hear what interested me so
quickly in the strange fellow.  At the first charge, which merely accused
him of having carried a message of love from his master to Jungfrau
Ortlieb, I interceded for him, and yesterday the other magistrates, to
whom I had explained the case, joined me.  So he escaped with a sentence
of exile from the city for five years.  I hoped it would not be necessary
to present the second accusation, for it was signed by no name, but
merely bore three crosses, and for a long time most of the magistrates,
following my example, have considered such things as treacherous attacks
made by cowards who shun the light of day; but it was impossible to
suppress it entirely, because the law commands me to withhold no
complaint made to the court.  So it was read aloud, and Hans Teufel's
motion to let it drop without any action met with no approval, warmly as
I supported it.

"We must not blame the gentlemen.  They all wish to act for your benefit,
and desire nothing except a clear understanding of this vexatious
business.  But in that indictment Biberli was charged with having forced
his way into an Honourable's house at night to obtain admittance for his
master.  In collusion with a maid-servant he was also said to have
maintained the love correspondence between Herr Ernst Ortlieb's two
daughters, a Swiss knight, and Boemund Altrosen."

"Infamous!" cried Eva.  "What, in the name of all the saints, have we to
do with Altrosen?  "You certainly have very little," replied Frau
Christine, "but the Ortlieb mansion has all the more.  To-night he will
again be seen before its door, and if still later he appears with his
lute under Countess Cordula's windows and is heard singing to her, it
wouldn't surprise me."

"And people," exclaimed Eva with increasing indignation, "will add
another link to the chain of slander.  If a Vorkler and her companions
repeat the calumny, who can  wonder?  But that the magistrates should
believe such shameful things about the brothers of their own fellow-
member----"

"It was precisely because they do not believe it and wish to keep you
away from the court," her uncle interrupted, "that they insisted upon the
examination.  They desired to show the people by their verdict and the
severity of the procedures how thoroughly in earnest they were.  But
whilst I was compelled to absent myself an hour because the Emperor
wished to inspect the new towers on the city wall, and I had to attend
him in the character of showman, they sentenced the poor fellow, since
his loose tongue had brought the whole rout and rabble against him, to
torture so severe that I shuddered when told of it."

"And Biberli?" asked Eva, trembling with suspense.

"All honour is due the man!" cried Herr Berthold, raising his cap.  "The
rods scourged his fettered limbs, his thumbs were pressed in the screws,
bound to the ladder, he was dragged over the larded hare---"

"Oh, hush!" cried Fran Christine with uplifted hands, and her husband
nodded understandingly.  Then, with a faint sigh, he added:

"Why should I torture you with these horrors?  Nothing was spared him.
Yet the worthy fellow stuck to his statement that he had accompanied his
master to your house in the full moonlight to take a somnambulist who had
wandered out of the open door back to her friends.  Sir Heinz Schorlin
had met Jungfrau Ortlieb only once--at the dance in the Town Hall.
Though he had sometimes appeared before her father's house, it was not
on account of Herr Ernst's daughters, but--and this was an allusion to
Cordula von Montfort--for the sake of another lady.

"After the lightning had killed his master's horse under him he had
avoided every woman, because he wished to enter a monastery.  He could
prove all these statements by many witnesses.  Yesterday he named them,
and Count Gleichen and his retainers appeared with several others. The
Minorite Benedictus was vainly sought at the Franciscans."

"He is here in the house of the Beguines," replied Frau Christine, "and
weak as he is, he will have strength enough to make a deposition in the
knight's favour."

The magistrate said that this might be necessary if a new charge were
brought against the servitor, Katterle, and perhaps even Sir Heinz
Schorlin himself.  Rarely had he seen a bad cause maintained with so much
obstinacy.  The complainants had witnesses who testified under oath what
they had heard in taverns and tap-rooms from Sir Seitz Siebenburg and
those who repeated his tales.  Their examination had lasted a long time,
and what they alleged was as absurd as possible, yet for that very reason
difficult to refute.  These depositions had aided the cause of the
accused, but in consequence of such numerous charges many questions of
course were put to Biberli, and thus the torture had been cruelly
increased and prolonged.

Here Eva interrupted the speaker with another outburst of indignation,
but he only shrugged his shoulders pityingly, saying: "Gently, child!
A shoemaker who recently upbraided the 'Honourables' for something
similar was publicly scourged, and if cruelties have been practised here
it is the fault of the law, not of the judges.  But worse yet may come,
if the pack is not silenced by a higher will."

"The Emperor?" asked the girl with quivering lips.

"Yes, child," was the reply, "and your old godfather had thought of
bringing this evil cause before our royal master.  He gladly exercises
mercy, but only after carefully investigating the pros and cons.  In this
case there is but one person in whom he has full confidence, and who is
also in a position to tell him the exact truth."

"Heinz Schorlin!" cried Eva.  "He must be informed at once, without
delay."

"Certainly," replied Herr Pfinzing quietly.  "And since, as the uncle and
godfather of Jungfrau Eva, who would have gladly undertaken the ride, I
could not order her horse to be saddled, I sent some one else whose heart
also will point out the way."

"Uncle!" Eva eagerly interrupted, raising her clasped hands in gratitude.
"But whom can you----"

Here she hesitated, then suddenly exclaimed as if sure of her point: "Oh,
I know the messenger, Countess von Montfort----"

"You've aimed too high," replied Herr Berthold smiling, "yet I think the
choice was no worse.  Your maid, child, the poor fellow's sweetheart."

Frau Christine and Eva, in the same breath, uttered an exclamation of
surprise and assent, and both asked how the magistrate had chanced to
select her.

A waggon from Schwabach, which happened opportunely to be on its way to
Siebenburg, had brought Biberli to Schweinau on its homeward trip, just
before the magistrate and his wife reached the hospital.

Katterle had been present when the tortured man was brought out and laid
upon his couch of straw.

She did not recognise him until, with pathetic reproach, he called her
by name and, horrified by the spectacle he presented, she fell upon her
knees.  But the couch at her side had already been prepared for him, and
she did not need to rise again in order to stroke him, comfort him, and
promise not to desert him, even if he should be a miserable cripple for
life.

When the magistrate approached the couple, to offer Biberli his friendly
aid, the latter faltered that he had only one desire--to see his beloved
master once more.  Besides, his case was hopeless unless the knight
obtained a pardon for him from the Emperor Rudolph, for his persecutors
would not cease their pursuit of him, and he could not endure the torture
a second time.

Here the magistrate paused in his narrative, for he thought of an
incident which he was reluctant to mention in the presence of the
Dominican who had administered the sacrament to the suffering widow and
now joined the group of listeners.  This was, that a member of the
latter's order had approached Biberli and exhorted him not to fear
another examination by torture, for the Lord gave the innocent strength
to maintain the truth even under the keenest suffering.  A peculiar smile
hovered around the lips of the poor tortured fellow, which Herr Berthold
fully understood; for the brave servitor had by no means stuck to the
truth during the pangs inflicted upon him.

"Oh, my dear ones," Herr Pfinzing continued, "a harder heart than mine
would have been touched by what I saw and heard beside that couch of
straw when I was left alone with poor Biberli and his sweetheart.  If you
could have seen how Katterle threw herself upon her lover after I had
told her that even the most agonizing torture could not force him to
confirm the charge which had been brought against her!  Rarely does one
mortal pour forth such a flood of ardent gratitude upon another; and when
Biberli repeated that his dear master's help would be necessary to
protect her and him from another examination, she offered to go in search
of him at once, notwithstanding the rain and the darkness.

"Then I thought that no messenger could be found who was more familiar
with the course of affairs, and at the same time inspired with more
loving zeal.  So, as the waggon in which Biberli had come was still
waiting outside, I spoke to the carter, who had brought a load of wheat
to Nuremberg, and now, on his way home, had ample room under the tilt.
I knew the man, and we soon came to an agreement.  From Schwabach, his
brother, who knows every foot of the road, will take her to the imperial
troops who are fighting with the Siebenburgs.  I undertook to arrange
with you for her absence.  She is now rolling along in the old carter
Apel's waggon towards Schwabach and Sir Heinz Schorlin."

Hitherto the magistrate had maintained his composure, but now his deep
voice lost its firmness, and it was neither the loving words of
appreciation whispered by his wife nor the gratitude which Eva tenderly
displayed that checked his speech, but the remembrance of the parting
between the man so cruelly tortured and his sweetheart.

Biberli had hoped that she would nurse him; the sight of her would have
cheered his eyes and heart, yet he sent her out into darkness and danger.
Gratitude and love, the consciousness that just now she could be of
infinite importance to him and do much for him, bound her to his couch
like so many fetters, yet she had gone, and had even assumed the
appearance of doing so willingly and being confident of success.

How their faces had brightened when the magistrate told them that his
wife and Eva would take charge of him, and he himself would see that he
had a better bed!

Biberli murmured sadly: "Straw and I have been used to each other in many
a tavern, but now a somewhat softer couch might be of service, for
wherever my racked body was touched I believe there would be something
out of joint."

Herr Berthold had no reason to be ashamed of his emotion, for he had
learned from the barber that the poor fellow had by no means exaggerated,
and, as a witness of part of the torture, he knew that even the most
cruel anguish had not conquered the faithful Biberli's firm resolve to
bring neither his master nor his sweetheart before the judge.

In recalling this noble act of the lowly servitor he grew eloquent, and
described minutely what the poor fellow had suffered, and how, after
Katterle had left him, he lay motionless, with his thin, pale face
irradiated by a grateful smile.

The women, too, and the monk AEgidius, an old Minorite, who had been
watching beside the aged Brother of his order, Benedictus, and had just
joined them, shed tears at his story; but Eva, from the very depths of
her soul, exclaimed aloud, "Happy is he who is permitted to endure such
tortures for love's sake!"

The others gazed in surprise at the young girl who, with her clasped
hands pressed upon her heaving bosom, and her large eyes uplifted, looked
as if she beheld heaven opening before her.

The old Minorite's heart swelled at this confession and the sight of the
maiden.  Thus, though far less richly endowed with the divine gift of
beauty, he had seen St. Clare absorbed in prayer.  The words uttered by
the fresh lips of this favoured girl, whom he beheld for the first time,
expressed a feeling which might guide her into the path of the Holy
Martyrs and, filled with pious enthusiasm, he approached, drew her
clasped hands away from her breast, pressed them in his own and,
remembering what the Abbess Kunigunde had told him yesterday beside
the couch of Benedictus concerning her severe conflict, exclaimed:

"Whoever said that, knows the words of Holy Writ which promise the crown
of eternal life to those who are faithful unto death.  Obey the voice,
my child, which unites you to those who are called.  St. Clare herself
summons you to her heavenly home."

The others listened to the old monk in silence.  Eva slightly shook her
head.  But when the disappointed Minorite released her hands she clasped
his thin one, saying modestly: "How could I be worthy of so sublime a
promise?  The poor servant on his straw bed, with his T and St
embroidered on cap and cloak, of whom my uncle told us, has a tenfold
greater claim, I think, to the crown of life, for which, as yet, I have
been permitted to do so little.  But I hope to win it, and the saint who
calls everything that breathes and lives brothers and sisters, as
children of the same exalted Father, cannot teach that the fidelity shown
in the world deserves less reward than that of the chosen ones in the
convent."

"That is a foolish and sacrilegious opinion," answered the Dominican
sternly.  "We will take care, my dear daughter, to guide your soul from
pathless wandering into the right path which Holy Church has marked out
for you."

He turned his back upon the group as he spoke, but the grey-haired
Minorite, smiling sadly, turned to Eva, saying: "I cannot contradict him.
Fidelity to those whom we love, my child, is far less meritorious than
that which we show to Heaven.  To you, daughter, its doors have already
opened.  How strong must be the pleasure felt by the children of the
world in this brief earthly happiness, since they are so ready to
sacrifice for it the certainty of eternal bliss!  Your error will grieve
the abbess and Father Benedictus."

With these words he, too, took his leave, but Frau Christine whispered to
her niece: "These monks are not the Holy Church to which we both belong
as obedient daughters.  To my poor mind and heart it seems as if the
Saviour would deem you right."

"Amen," added the magistrate, who had heard his wife's murmured words.



ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:

False praise, he says, weighs more heavily than disgrace





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